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'Enterprise' takes the 'Star Trek' franchise into a sexier galaxy

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

By Sharon Eberson, Post-Gazette Sunday Magazine Editor

Abandon the Vulcan ways." That was the first order of business for "Star Trek: Enterprise" costumer Bob Blackman entering this third season of the UPN show. Throw logic out the space portal. Get downright emotional. And dress T'Pol, the logic-loving, unemotional Vulcan portrayed by Jolene Blalock in as little as possible.

Jolene Blalock's T'Pol wore more Vulcan-like clothing in the first two years of the series.

Mr. Spock never raised a slanted eyebrow at the scantily clad aliens paraded before viewers during the original "Star Trek" series' run (1966-69), and Blackman didn't, either, when "Enterprise" producers mandated a sexier show.

Why the sudden change in fashion statement?

"The ratings dropped," Blackman said. "That's the frank, real answer. If you want the show to run seven years, you have to think about demographics."

The folks over at "Enterprise," the fifth TV entry in the "Star Trek" franchise, a prequel to the original, felt they held no sway with the coveted 18-34 male demographic.

"There wasn't enough raw sex appeal," says Blackman.

"Obviously, there's the ratings," "Enterprise" co-creator and executive producer Brannon Braga said of T'Pol's makeover. "But the primary reason was a creative one. Last season ended with T'Pol leaving the Vulcan high command, so she would no longer wear the same uniform.

"And, after two years, our leading lady needed a change. She had been in that brown uniform with that little bowl haircut ... and Bob Blackman came up with some dynamite costumes."

Those of us watching the third-season opener of "Enterprise" got a revealing glimpse into the new T'Pol. There she was, appearing very un-Vulcan-like in a brightly colored jumpsuit that hugged Blalock's supermodel-esque figure. Later, in a scene with sexual overtones, the camera caught more breast than one usually sees this side of cable networks or "NYPD Blue."

Now that was a scene that would have raised a few eyebrows in the Vulcan high command.

 
 
'Star Trek' women

There have been many notable women in the "Star Trek" universe. These are the major characters with the actors' names in parentheses.

Classic "Star Trek"
Lt. Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols)
Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney)
Nurse Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett)

"Star Trek: The Next Generation"
Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis)
Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden)
Dr. Kate Pulaski (Diane Muldaur)
Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg)
Ensign Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes)
Security Chief Natasha Yar (Denise Crosby)

"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"
Lt. Cmdr. Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell)
Presider Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor)

"Star Trek: Voyager"
Capt. Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew)
Lt. B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson)
Kes (Jennifer Lien)
Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan)

"Star Trek: Enterprise"
Sub-Commander T'Pol (Jolene Blalock)
Ensign Hoshi Sato (Linda Park)

   
 

Braga said the old look was "stripping away" Blalock's beauty, plus the story has called for loosening up T'Pol's character. "A new wig and a new uniform ... she's never looked better. But the main thing is, it was believable that this change was happening."

Since "Star Trek" first hit the airwaves in 1966, over three sequel series, 10 movies and, now, one prequel, female crew members have been dressed in everything from miniskirts to unisex uniforms to reveal-all catsuits.

On board for 15 years, beginning in "Star Trek: The Next Generation's" third season, has been Bob Blackman. The costumer became a hit with that crew when he took the actors' pleas for comfort to heart and changed Star Fleet uniforms from Spandex to wool gabardine and from a jumpsuit to two pieces. One thing that went unchanged was what Trekkers would recognize as the "Picard pull."

Blackman explains that Patrick Stewart, who played Capt. Picard, "is very smart. When he would be seated in the captain's chair and the cameras were coming in for a close-up, he'd tug the Spandex suit so it wouldn't wrinkle." When they went to two pieces, what was by then a signature move remained.

Now, he's re-designing a sexier generation on "Enterprise." And, while fashion of the day, the latest from NASA and other technical considerations inform the choices for outfitting female guest aliens and crew members, this time, it's about survival.

"We're up against 'Smallville' [on The WB, also airing Wednesdays at 8]," Blackman says. The producers are very aware that "Smallville" earns its audience with mostly youthful older actors playing teens, while UPN's "Enterprise" employs mostly "more mature individuals, with the exception of Linda Park [Hoshi Sato], Blalock and Anthony Montgomery [Travis Mayweather]."

This year, soldiers were added to the Enterprise, now on a new mission to destroy an alien race, made up of five species, that has attacked Earth. With all that to do, from a design standpoint, T'Pol remains the central figure for change on the show. The bright colors strengthen her visual image in both a provocative and practical way.

"You wouldn't think it, but what I have noticed is that in L.A., the uplink quality is the lowest in the country," Blackman said. "The picture has much more degeneration, and the detail is lost, especially in scenes that are shot very darkly."

As a designer, there also was the appeal of having the go-ahead to be edgy. "I always want things to be more interesting, more unique," Blackman says.

Edgy fashions are not new to "Star Trek." Series creator Gene Roddenberry and the original designer, William Ware Theiss, populated the 23rd century (when the original series is set) with female crew members in miniskirts and go-go boots. The guest aliens tested censors' patience.

"William Ware Theiss had an interesting notion of changing erogenous zones in the future," Blackman said. "That's why you saw holes and openings in odd places."

Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lt. Nyota Uhura, the communications officer in low-cut minidress and go-go boots in the original series, says Roddenbery insisted on femininity and sexiness for "Trek's" women.

"Gene never confused the sexes," Nichols told www.bbc.co.uk. "People do, but Gene didn't. He loved women to look like women. He didn't think it was awful for a woman to be over size 2 or not look like a boy."

Putting it simply, "Sensuality has always been a part of 'Star Trek' " Braga said.

Times change, rules of fashion and propriety change. And so did the "Trek" universe. By the time "The Next Generation" came along, Star Fleet crew members were in unisex uniforms. Only the ship's counselor, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) could be seen showing lots of leg or cleavage. Eventually, she, too, was commissioned, and, from "TNG" through "Deep Space Nine," the women were, in military fashion, dressed like their male counterparts.

Then along came "Star Trek: Voyager," and the franchise's first female captain. Kate Mulgrew's Capt. Janeway never had a uniform redesign, but, in efforts to soften her image over the course of the show's three seasons, she literally let her hair down, going from a prim, pulled-back bun to a sweeping page-boy.

Even then, the producers of the series, Rick Berman and Braga, knew that sex appeal could be make-or-break for series survival, and they feared their new series was lacking that essential element. So, along came Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine, a human-turned-alien (by a mechanical/biological race called the Borg) who now was struggling to regain her humanity.

Blackman relished the task of "de-Borgifying" Ryan. He launched into a long explanation, discussing the merits of Ryan's statuesque figure and how he created a suit that would seem to sustain Seven of Nine in her new life.

"It's a funny kind of push me, pull me process of creating," Blackman said. "It was all based on how you keep it looking very sensual and keep the young boys around" without crossing the line.

He was disappointed when that outfit apparently jumped that line -- and not because it worried the studio. The show's producers decided it was a distraction.

"It was silver, and it was contoured to every shape of Jeri Ryan's body," he says, meaning like a second skin. Because of the color and lighting, there was no more to Ryan than met the eye. Ryan, meanwhile, who became a favorite Internet pinup girl, couldn't change the "Voyager's" fortunes for long. She was added to the lineup of "Boston Public" last season to pump up the sex appeal on that Fox show.

Then came "Enterprise," set about 150 years before that first miniskirted Star Fleet crew was launched. But on this ship, with the exception of T'Pol, women crew members dress like the men.

This being a prequel, how can the fashions evolve from "Enterprise" to the "Star Trek" of Capt. Kirk and crew?

"It's a dodgy line," Blackman says. "We go back and forth over the notion of what the future is about. Because it's only 150 years in the future, the producers wanted to stay away from the fantastical and go with what's acceptable to a broad-based audience."

That means trying to be true to loyal fans and gain new ones, always a dicey deal when it comes to this franchise.

What we get, instead of something that looks like it's leading up to the 1960s, is something that seems possible standing here in the newly dawned 21st century. That's why, for the first time in any version of "Star Trek" the uniforms have visible closures.

"There are 13 zippers in the uniforms, and shirts button the way shirts should," said Blackman. "I love to see scenes where they're taking their clothes on or off and you can see that they have zippers and buttons."

He was talking about scenes in the decontamination chamber or locker rooms, not, particularly, the scene in that first episode, when T'Pol unbuttoned her night shirt, and then took it off.

It's her look in her new uniform, however, that has the cast and crew of "Enterprise" entranced.

"When the first set of dailies came, we were kind of blown away," Braga said. "Scott Bakula [Capt. John Archer] was kind of making the joke, why have anyone else in the scene?"


Sharon Eberson can be reached at seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.

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