Star Trek: Enterprise‘s John Billingsley , who played Phlox on the series, spoke about what made Star Trek great and why Star Trek: Enterprise ended so soon.
According to Billingsley, the future that Star Trek portrayed was a hopeful one. “For me, its success originally came from the idea that it was positing the hope and future for mankind, and (creator Gene) Roddenberry certainly was of a mind that Star Trek was designed to say first and foremost, ‘Yes we can.’ There is a time when different cultures and different races can bury the hatchet and we can find a way through our problems and thrive and grow.”
“When the show premiered in the 1960s we were going through a period in our history not unlike the period we’re going through now,” said Billingsley. “There was a tremendous amount of divide in our country…race riots, divisions over the Vietnam War, we’d lost a president, we were in a tremendous amount of social turmoil. And I think Star Trek suggested it was possible to get through that.”
Billingsley himself is not as optimistic about mankind as Roddenberry was. “While I admire the conceit of Star Trek, and the optimism of it, I don’t necessarily share that opinion,” he said. “I’m considerably more cynical about mankind.”
Star Trek: Enterprise ended after only four seasons, and Billingsley blames that on the studio and its greed. “But what happened with Voyager and our show Enterprise, and I don’t mean this in any way as a knock on our executive producers, …but Paramount was saying more, more, more, more, more, because they viewed this as a commercial product. Nothing (in television) works when it is brought into being by the marketing department. Paramount kind of sabotaged itself. I think they got greedy, and that’s what studios do, unfortunately, because they are run largely by bean counters.
“I say this, sounding harsh to my own ear: Everybody is in business to make a buck. But the idea that you have to have a product that has some artistic viability, that it just isn’t cash in, sometimes eludes the folks who are looking at the bottom line.”
Low ratings didn’t help the show either. “It’s a miracle we got four seasons,” said Billingsley. “Any other TV show would have been yanked after one season. Our ratings were abysmal. We opened well, we had a great audience for the first episode, and they watched it and they said, ‘This is nothing new. It’s the same Star Trek I’ve been watching for years and years. It’s a retread.’ And they ran away.”
Billingsley will be attending Starbase Indy, which begins today and runs through Sunday at the Indianapolis Marriott East in Indianapolis, Indiana.