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Tonight, UPN will broadcast the first episode in the second season of "Star Trek: Voyager."

Oh, I know what you're thinking. "Voyager" started airing previously unseen episodes four weeks ago.But those were shows that were held over from the show's first season. The first real second season episode airs tonight (8 p.m., Ch. 14).

You can expect to see a few changes this season - and not just Capt. Janeway's new hairdo. But the premise for the show will not undergo any major, or even minor, changes.

And that premise was throwing the Voyager and its crew to the other side of the galaxy where they have to fend for themselves while they try to find a way home.

"We knew that one of the risks that we took when we developed this show was in cutting off the audience from everything that was familiar," said executive producer Jeri Taylor. "But we felt that that was a good thing to do. It challenged us creatively."

The Alpha Quadrant - the part of the galaxy that was the setting for the original "Star Trek" as well as "Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine" - was "getting to be a little bit like `Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,' " Taylor said. "It was very cozy. Very comfortable. You knew everybody. That sense of the unknown, of wonder, the excitement, was not necessarily there.

"So we feel the (`Voyager') franchise is working. It is our responsibility to populate the Delta Quadrant with fascinating new aliens who will be just as interesting to the audience, eventually, as the Klingons are to them now."

To that end, "Voyager" will be dealing more with one alien race in particular.

"A commitment we've made for this season to really open up and meet the aliens and the canvas of this quadrant," said executive producer Michael Piller. "We met the Kazon last year, and we have been formulating quite a deep investigation of their culture that will turn them, I think, into perhaps one of the top five adversarial alien races in `Star Trek' history."

The show intends to open things up in terms of action and adventure, as well. And to spread those action shows move evenly among the episodes.

"We'd like to keep the franchise of the show, which is we're out there in the unknown. We don't know what's coming around the next star or the next nebula," Taylor said. "There will be monsters out there (that) we are going to run into."

And the producers plan to "space some of those bigger action, shoot-'em-up kinds of adventures throughout the season."

NO PIRACY HERE: It's not hard to tell that the executive producers of "Star Trek: Voyager" are getting tired of hearing that some of their episodes are rather reminiscent of episodes of the original "Star Trek."

Asked (rather stupidly) if that's intentional, Berman shot back with, "Yes, we try to steal stories. That's our basic objective."

But Taylor said any similarities are strictly coincidence.

"Most of us are not that familiar with the original series," she said. "So I think you all know that there are so many stories in the universe and what's important is how they're told."

As they've said many times before, the producers reiterated that the original vision of "Voyager" - to put it in a place where it was pretty much on its own - was an attempt to return to the spirit of the original "Star Trek."

"There was a conscious attempt to rekindle that sense of adventure," Taylor said. "But in terms of storylines, of course not. We try to tell fresh stories as uniquely as we can."

As a matter of fact, they try not to repeat what has gone before in any of the three other "Trek" series.

"It's a litmus test that we put every idea through - what does this touch that we've done before? How can we make it different?" Piller said. "How do we get away from what we've done before and do something different? We always ask that question."

Still, questions about similarities are not something Berman wants to hear.

"There have been over 350 hours of `Star Trek' produced, and I would challenge anybody to come up with a story that would not relate in some way to one of those 350 stories," he said. "There's always going to be similarities between stories about a group of people in a space. . . ."

WHAT'S IN A NAME? Fans of "Voyager" know that the show's holographic doctor, played by Robert Picardo, is becoming an increasingly important member of the crew.

And that he still doesn't have a name.

And even Picardo doesn't know if that's going to change anytime soon.

"I have been asked this question so many times that I have written an open letter to (executive producers) Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor, which I now read at conventions as a way of fending off the question in the future," Picard said.

"I hope I get a name this season. I don't know, in point of fact, if and when I will, but I've suggested to our producers that because it was so popular when they shrank me down to the size of a fire hydrant last season, that they do that again in an upcoming episode and I choose the name Dr. Ruth."

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A FEW EPISODES MAKES: Roxann Biggs-Dawson, who plays half-human/half-Klingon B'Elanna Torres on "Voyager," said her own family has quickly come around and become Trekkers.

She said that when she first showed her parents a picture of herself in the make-up that was being developed for B'Elanna, the reaction wasn't exactly positive.

"I sat down to dinner and showed the Polaroid to my father and he just started laughing hysterically and said, `Who got you this job?' " Biggs-Dawson said. "And now I go home and he shoves about 10 pictures in front of me to sign before I even say hello."

Q BE OR NOT Q BE: Cut off as they are from the Alpha Quadrant, it's not like it's easy for characters from other "Trek" shows to cross over onto "Voyager."

(Although an alternate reality put "Voyager's" Tuvok on "Deep Space Nine" last season and a holographic Lt. Barclay of "Next Generation" appeared on a recent episode of "Voyager.")

The one character who could rather readily make the trip to the Delta Quadrant is the omnipotent Q (John de Lancie). But while the producers acknowledge that it could happen, they aren't saying it will.

"We've given it a great deal of thought and tried to figure out if that is appropriate or not," Taylor said. "There are serious questions as to whether it is, even though he is acknowledged as a very popular character.

"First out all, you ask the question - why would Q appear on `Voyager'? Does he only go to star ships that have their own series?"

And, oddly enough, some of the people calling for an appearance by Q are the same fans who complain about the similarities between "Voyager" and the earlier "Trek" series.

"What more could we do with Q?" Taylor asked. "It would not be enough creatively to have him repeat the same kind of relationship with Capt. Janeway and the crew of the Voyager as he did with Picard on the Enterprise. If he just drops in to bedevil humans, I think that's an arc we've played out.

"So, if we come up with a wonderful story or a wonderful reason to bring Q in . . . then, of course, we'll do it."

"MAYBE" NOT: It has been suggested that perhaps your local television editor was a bit too harsh when he reviewed both Marie Osmond and her new sitcom, "Maybe This Time" the week before last.

Your local television editor, however, maintains that he actually was rather mild in his criticism of both Osmond (who can't act) and the show (which is remarkably awful).

Here's a bit of what very talented TV critic Robert Bianco of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had to say about Osmond and her show:

"If `Maybe This Time' used a Marie Osmond mannequin instead of the real thing, would anyone notice?

"The problem is not so much that Osmond's terrible (though her only two expressions are a toothy grin and a vaguely perplexed look that could either be confusion or constipation) as that she's negligible. While sitcoms have often prospered with a straight man or woman at their center, "Maybe This Time" has no center. It's like watching a sitcom version of "Weekend at Bernie's," only there, the star played dead on purpose."

Gee, I wish I'd written that.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: ABC has finally given firm dates for "The Beatles Anthology."

The six-hour history of the group, told in the Beatles own words, will be seen in three two-hour segments - Sunday, Nov. 19, Wednesday, Nov. 22 and Thursday, Nov. 23.

It will also feature the debut of a couple of "new" Beatles songs - vocal tracks laid down by John Lennon before his death to which the remaining trio have added their talents.

TV critics have only seen a few clips at this point, but those clips made even someone who's by no means a big fan sit up and take notice.

WAITING FOR "BLUE": Fans of "NYPD Blue" may be wondering what happened to their show.

Yes, that was "Murder One" in "Blue's" regular Tuesday-night time slot next week. And, yes, "Murder One" will also be there this week and next week.

But it's only temporary. "NYPD Blue" will return on Tuesday, Oct. 24.

It's a little late, but on the other hand there will be fewer repeats and pre-emptions over the course of the season once it gets going.