The Star Trek ConspiracyBy Michael Hinman
Posted at December 7, 1999 - 6:00 AM GMT
In the United States, we recently got to see a halfway decent episode of Star Trek: Voyager called "The Voyager Conspiracy." It was hardly one of my favorite episodes, but since it is just the prelude to such a major event (as "Sound of her Voice" was to Jadzia Dax's death on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), I cut it a little slack.
Seven of Nine, in looking to be more efficient in her information gathering, was able to start downloading entire libraries of information into her mind. However, one side effect she didn't realize was that it made her paranoid, and she began speculating the most highly improbable.
She first turned against Captain Janeway, blaming her for stranding the crew in the Alpha Quadrant. She then turned against Commander Chakotay, claiming he was readying the Delta Quadrant for a Maquis/Cardassian invasion.
It was very easy for Seven of Nine to pin all the misfortunes of the Voyager crew on just one or two people. And using what she thought was empirical evidence, was able to back up her claims enough that even had Capt. Janeway suspicious.of her First Officer.
Someone once said that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." I'm sure that the character of Fox Mulder from the X-Files would tell you, if asked, that "truth is also in the eye of the beholder."
We all have different perspectives of what we believe to be truth. There is no one on this planet who is immune to that.
If you came up to me, and said, "Michael, who is the greatest athlete of all time?" I, without hesitation, would say, "Michael Jordan, of course."
Obviously, at this point, my answer is pure opinion. However, I start backing it up with what I feel is valid empirical evidence.
"Michael Jordan equaled the great Wilt Chamberlain in the number of scoring titles, and broke many other scoring records as well. Besides scoring points, he was also considered to be one of the top defenders in the league, a regular leader in the steals stats. He also transformed what we once knew was the game of basketball, and turned sports in general into one of the premiere entertainment venues in the world."
Of course, if someone went up to John Doe, and asked him who the world's greatest athlete was, he could answer without hesitation, "Muhammad Ali." And of course, he could go on and on about all the major accomplishments the boxer had achieved both in and out of the, and the impact he made in the world of sports.
With my evidence, I have a strong case that Jordan is the greatest athlete of all time. However, Mr. Doe also has a strong, if not stronger, case in support of Ali.
So, we ask a young lady named Jane to tell us which of the two is the greatest of all time. Her answer? "Who cares? They both contributed to sports and were influential in their own way. They are both equal."
Does that argument remind you of anything? It sure reminds me of a battle that seems to have been brewing for the past 13 years. It all started with Kirk vs. Picard. Then it went to the original Enterprise vs. the Enterprise-D, and on and on and on, until it became Classic Trek vs. Modern Trek.
There was no Star Trek: The Next Generation when I first fell in love with Star Trek. I didn't get to see Picard and the crew go to space for the first time until I was 11 years old. My love for Star Trek came from the weekly adventures of Captain James T. Kirk, Science officer Spock, Dr. Leonard McCoy, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, Lt. Sulu, Ensign Chekov, and communications officer Lt. Uhura.
By the time I was born, the original Star Trek had already become a huge sensation in syndication .. something that was nearly unheard of before. So, my entire life, I have been a fan of Star Trek. But I never considered myself a Trekkie until October 1987, when I watched Encounter at Farpoint, and got to experience a Star Trek the way Gene Roddenberry meant for it to be done ... following the path so well laid out by TNG's predecessor, Star Trek.
Now don't misunderstand me .. this is not to imply that TOS was not a key part of the legacy. But, anyone will tell you from Gene Roddenberry on down that there was just so much more they could have done if they had a bigger budget and less brass riding their butts day in and day out.
Gene was said to have been proud of Star Trek: The Next Generation, despite some of the changes that were made to the show after he handed over many of the reins to executive producer Rick Berman, the man he hand-picked to continue his legacy.
Rick Berman is hardly a stranger to the entertainment business. He had been a producer for Paramount pictures for some time before he was approached by Gene Roddenberry. Berman could have continued on a decent career path, even if it never did cross with Star Trek. However, he knew that there was a lot of potential that could still be tapped into in Star Trek, and he knew the only way that the franchise was going to survive is if it started to distance itself more and more from the original.
In late 1987, early 1988, if I were to ask you your biggest complaint you had of Star Trek: The Next Generation, what would it be? I know what I used to hear: "They are trying to copy Kirk and company. Why can't they do their own thing."
That's exactly what Berman did with TNG beginning late in the first season of the show. Of course, giving TNG that fresh blood meant saying goodbye to some of the old guard. Sure, we missed people like D.C. Fontana and Robert Justman, but even though they both shared the same name, people didn't want to see a cheap copy of the series that made Star Trek what it is today.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, in its seven years, did more than continue the legacy of Star Trek .. it changed the entertainment industry.
How did Berman handle modern Trek?
Television networks were getting bigger and bigger in the late 1980s, despite the potential growth the cable industry was on the verge of creating. Rupert Murdock's News Corporation launched the "fourth network" called Fox Television, but it was growing ever so slowly, trying to find it's niche in an already heavy market.
Networks like NBC, ABC, and CBS provided on average about nine to ten hours of programming to their local affiliates each day. That's a lot with morning shows, soap operas, sitcoms, movies and such. However, it still left more than 14 hours that the local affiliates had to fill. That's where syndication came in.
The hottest property in syndication at the time (and even today) was Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. They were not linked to any networks, but because they were cheap to produce, they had a healthy life in first-run syndication. Also going strong were talk shows like Donahue and Oprah Winfrey (whose shows at the time would rival Jerry Springer of today).
There were, of course, the many reruns like "Star Trek," "Three's Company," "The Jefferson's," and others that would also make up the syndication market. But doing a syndicated weekly drama .. especially one that would cost more than $1 million per episode, was virtually unheard of. Even the concept was laughed upon.
Star Trek: The Next Generation broke down those barriers and created a monster that would eventually come back to haunt them. Not only did Paramount do the impossible, they made it successful within two years! All of it with the help of Gene Roddenberry .. and Rick Berman.
There is a common misperception that Gene was in control of the TNG franchise right up to his untimely death in 1991, just a week before the Spock crossover episode, "Unification," was to air in most markets. Gene actually gave up many of his powers of executive producer over the course of 1988 and into the beginning of 1989. He was happy with Berman's work, and although Berman's philosophy of where Trek should go differed from Gene's, the point was that it was successful, it made a lot of money, and it looked like the Trek legacy would remain intact.
However, the boom created by TNG's success in the syndicated market hardly went unnoticed by other television production companies, especially after new cable channels started to erode away viewership of the major networks. Paramount wasn't blind to it either.
Berman realized that TNG would not last forever. He knew with the imminent retirement of the TOS cast that they would eventually have to graduate the Next Generation crew to the silver screen. Star Trek was still very hot, and Berman knew there was still much more potential in the franchise.
That was the beginning of the birth of Deep Space Nine. Doing another Enterprise and another crew would not only interfere with the changing guard in the movie franchise, but it would also overuse a concept that needed to be retooled a little bit.
So, instead of having a captain and his crew exploring the stars, it was decided to work on a series were space would come to the crew. Deep Space Nine was that results of that concept and premiered in 1993 during the start of TNG's sixth season.
Who know's if anyone could have realized how saturated the market really had become. Science fiction adventures were popping up all over the place. And having two Star Treks running concurrentely -- no matter how different the concepts were -- wreaked havoc on the ratings of both the series.
In 1994, after spending a season and a half sharing the small scene with its spinoff, Captain Picard and the crew of the NCC-1701-D said goodbye after a highly successful run.
When TNG had first premiered, both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy had spoken out very publicly against the new series, and wanted to be no part of it. In fact, the late DeForrest Kelley only appeared in the series premiere as a favor to his good friend, Gene.
However, by 1991, Leonard Nimoy had made a huge guest appearance on the show, and following his lead, Shatner agreed to resurrect his character for the new cast's first movie, 1994's Star Trek: Generations.
Berman had turned the TNG show around from a copycat of TOS, to an independent show worthy of a legacy all of its own. Now, Deep Space Nine would have to work in a similar way.
Its ratings never enjoyed huge success as those of TNG, but DS9 was in a much different market than what its predecessor was. Where TNG was only going against reruns in most cases, DS9 had to compete against more than two dozen first-run shows that were quickly crowding the market. It was never an easy fight.
DS9 was obviously much different than any Trek before it. Not only did it institute a major story arc beginning late in the second season, it was far more political than anything we were used to in the aliens of the week in the first two Treks.
In 1995, Berman helped create Voyager to continue that legacy, which premiered on the United Paramount Network.
When DS9 signed off the air in 1999, Trek was suffering from oversaturation, a weak network series in Voyager, and what had been a disappointing box office appearance with "Star Trek Insurrection."
After all these years of history, this just seemed to be way too many strikes against the Star Trek legacy .. and with many pundits calling the phenomenon known as Star Trek dead, many fingers were being pointed -- directly at Rick Berman.
But is Berman really to blame? If so, what do we blame him for? And should we forget everything good he has done for the franchise?
When I talk with people about Berman, many of them go on and on about how he destroyed Star Trek. I stop them, and ask .. "What about The Next Generation? That show is highly successful." And they look at me, and with a matter-of-fact attitude, say, "Of course, but that was because of Gene Roddenberry, not Rick Berman."
So I ask .. would you rather they stopped the Star Trek franchise with the end of TNG and at Star Trek VI, and offer no more? TNG wasn't going to continue forever .. especially with roles popping up for actors like Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner. They weren't going to stay onboard the Enterprise forever.
What would be your opinion if right now, there was never a DS9 .. never a Voyager .. never a Generations .. never a First Contact ... never an Insurrection? Of course, your opinions would be mixed considering a lot of the negativity shown toward those properties, but don't you think you would be out picketing for more Trek?
Without the influence of Berman, you're talking about no Trek movies in eight years. No Trek television in five years. No Trek at all.
The fact is, they were here, and they are here. And thanks to the hard work of people like Rick Berman, the franchise will continue well into the future.
Anyone who thinks that Paramount continues Star Trek for the sake of their fans is sadly mistaken. I'm sure the people at Paramount are all great people individually, but the bean counters run things there, and they only like to continue things that are in the black.
Right now, despite the low ratings of shows like Voyager, and despite the lesser-than-expected turnout for Insurrection, Star Trek is making Paramount money .. a lot of money. You can take all the money Titanic made for Paramount, and multiply it by three, and that is about what all the different merchandising, licensing, show production of Star Trek generates for Paramount each and every year. You don't really think the money Viacom has to buy CBS came from their ownership of MTV, do you?
Star Trek may not be the best it could be, and maybe there are a few heads that could roll here and there. But the point is, Star Trek is going to survive, and it is going to continue. Berman has helped to produce more than 300 hours of entertainment for us that we may not have been able to experience if he wasn't involved.
We all like different things. Is Star Trek dying? Or is it propsering? I don't know what could be considered the truth, but that truth is in the eyes of the beholder.
Michael Hinman is is the webmaster of Sci-Fi news site SyFy World.