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New series includes the themes that made `Trek' work

Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated new science fiction show to come to television this season is based on a script that was written more than two decades ago.

Of course, the fact that it was written by "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry has a lot to do with that."Earth: Final Conflict" is the show, and while it's not yet another version of "Trek," Majel Barrett Roddenberry - Gene's widow and an executive producer of the new show - assures viewers they won't be disappointed.

"The themes we use are the same ones that Gene has always written about," she said. "Again we have peace, tolerance, justice, hope, and a lot of environmental responsibility. And then, of course, his favorite subject - the greatness of the human spirit.

"Space is not our final frontier. The human soul is. And these shows will deal with the same philosophy or legacy that Gene has always written about. They deal with issues such as war, drugs, mortality, trust, power, greed, love, envy, sex, fear, prejudice and an endless variety of human frailties."

Unlike "Trek," which went to the stars, "Earth" brings the stars to this planet. The show is set in the early years of the 21st century, and aliens have contacted mankind.

About three years before the show picks up, Earth began receiving radio signals from space saying, "People of Earth, we are the Companions. People of Earth, we hope to bring our great culture together with yours."

After the first panic, a series of transmissions came in offering answers to the world's problems.

Shortly thereafter, 71 aliens themselves landed on the planet. Hunger, disease and war have been eliminated, and the world has entered a golden age.

But a small group of humans - led by an enigmatic billionaire (David Hemblen) - form a resistance movement. They are wary, certain that the Companions (or Taelons) have something else in mind.

And, indeed, the aliens have a "far more deadly purpose," according to Barrett Roddenberry - but that remains veiled from both the characters and the viewers as the show begins.

The Resistance sets out to recruit William Boone (Kevin Kilner), a dedicated police officer who saves the American Companion, Da'an (Leni Parker), from an assassination attempt. Boone is of great interest to the resistance because he is also recruited by Da'an to become his head of security.

Boone becomes a double agent. He has an alien Cyber-Viral Implant placed in his brain, increasing his mental capacities immeasurably. But a human doctor (Majel Barrett Roddenberry in a recurring role) has altered the CVI so that it does not force total loyalty to the Companions.

"To the rest of the world, this resistance . . . is like the IRA. They're kind of truly despised by the rest of the world," said executive producer David Kirshner. "And our hero is a man that walks a razor's edge because he is in charge of inter-species relations and security for the Companions. And yet, he is a mole. A plant. A spy for the underground."

"Earth: Final Conflict" shows promise, but it has a few kinks to work out. There are good special effects and the premise is intriguing, but the story lacks the passion of "Star Trek" and is pretty much completely humorless, at least in the first two episodes.

But, again, it does show promise.

" `Earth' was not designed as a show about science or technology, it's about what good drama has always been about. It's about people, humanity, about you and about me," Barrett Roddenberry said. "And the theme, as laid out by Gene, is not matter what the rewards for obedience or what the punishment for noncompliance, there is always that faction of humanity that will fight to the death for individual freedom. Because fat-and-happy slavery is nonetheless slavery."

(And that's a theme that continues to be replayed in the current incarnations of "Star Trek.")

Barrett Roddenberry discovered - or, rather, rediscovered - the "Earth" pilot script while going through hundreds of boxes of Gene's notes. CBS had been interested in the show, but Roddenberry was in England working on a TV movie at the time and was unable to break free.

"He was sending back pages (to CBS), and that's how the whole thing got together," she said.

And then "Star Trek" intervened - in the form of the first theatrical movie.

"Paramount called and said, `Hey, we need you for the movie.' Well, he put the (`Earth') script on hold and just pushed it over on the back burner," Barrett Roddenberry said. "And, unfortunately, that's just where it stayed. The rest is history. . . . The movies went on, and `Trek' became a way of life."

Still, even 21 years removed from when the original script was written and nearly six years after Gene Roddenberry's death, the executive producers of "Earth: Final Conflict" insist that the show is true to his original ideas.

"We have creative control," Barrett Roddenberry said. "So I can tell you it's close to Gene. It's right on. It's on the nose, including all of his writings and all of his notes that he made afterward."

Characters' names have been changed, and some plot points were shifted about.

"He also had some terrific characters that, in the first piece, didn't make it. They died," Kirschner said. "And we decided to hold onto them because he's created such fantastic characters, and there was so much we could do with those characters."

And, of course, Roddenberry only wrote the pilot episode.

"It is only one script, but an awful lot of notes," Barrett Roddenberry said. "I mean, boxes and boxes of them. And David knows everything because I've let him go through absolutely everything that Gene has done."

Somewhat in the fashion of "Babylon 5," there's a long-term plan for "Earth: Final Conflict."

"This is a five-year plan," said Kirschner, comparing the progression of the show to peeling back layers of an onion. "The skins are being removed on a weekly basis and building toward something else, and yet on a host of different levels."

"But they are stand-alones," Barrett Roddenberry interjected. "It's not like the `Babylon 5' series . . . one (episode) does not really depend on the other."

As much as the show is openly trading on the Roddenberry Legacy - his name is above the title, after all - the show's producers are quick to make it clear that fans should not expect a fifth "Trek" series.

"We're not the next installment of `Star Trek,' but this is something else that Gene Roddenberry created," Kirschner said. "He took us into space for 30 years and now's he's brought the farthest reaches of space to Earth."

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Wednesday debut

"Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict" premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on KJZZ-Ch. 14.