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The Final 'Trek'

'Star Trek Enterprise' wraps up the series and the franchise

After tonight, "Star Trek" won't be boldly going anywhere anytime soon.

The two-hour series finale of "Enterprise" (7 p.m., UPN/Ch. 24) is more than just the end of a show. It's the end of an era — the end of 18 years of unbroken "Trek," with at least one (and sometimes two) TV series on the air. And half a dozen theatrical films.

After tonight, there will be no new "Trek" TV series on the air — or in development — for the first time since 1987. And while a theatrical film is in the early stages of development, it may or may not ever come to fruition.

But Rick Berman, who succeeded series creator Gene Roddenberry as the master of all things "Trek" in 1989, isn't ready to write off the franchise.

"The fact that we're going to go two, or three, or four years without a television series and the fact that the specifics of the next movie are not locked down in no way means that 'Star Trek' as a franchise is over," said Berman, who was co-executive producer of "Next Generation" when it premiered in 1987 and has headed every series since.

Berman and his partner, executive producer Brannon Braga, are convinced that "Trek" fatigue made "Enterprise" the first series since the original that didn't run for seven seasons. (It was axed after four.)

"I think that after 18 years . . . the audience began to have a little bit of overkill with 'Star Trek,' " Berman said. "And I think that had a lot to do with it. If you take a look at the last feature film we did, 'Nemesis,' which I still believe was a fine movie, it did two-thirds of the business that the previous films had done. So I think that it's another example of the franchise getting a little bit tired."

" 'Star Trek' hit its apex during 'Next Generation.' . . . There has been an erosion in the fan base, so it did not stop with 'Enterprise,' " Braga said.

It's hard to argue with their reasoning, or with Berman's assertion that, "We found ourselves in competition with ourselves" — as "Enterprise" competed with syndicated reruns of the four previous series. But Berman and Braga aren't big on accepting any part of the blame themselves.

Certainly, part of the blame for the demise of "Enterprise" lies in the mediocre-at-best quality of the show for its first three seasons. The series premiere in September 2002 attracted 12 million viewers; that number fell by half by the end of the first season.

This year, "Enterprise" was lucky to pull 3 million viewers to an episode; it ranks 150th among all the series that have aired on the various broadcast networks this season.

Trekkers are notorious for their exacting, demanding nature, and "Enterprise" was roundly criticized — even reviled — by the fans. Ironically, the show finally hit its stride creatively in the first season, fulfilling its original promise as a prequel to the original series by concentrating on showing fans the early days of Earth's space exploration and the founding of the Federation. But the fans had already fled, and they didn't come back.

"We felt we were taking creative chances with the show all along the way, not to say that every one of them hit," Braga said. "We felt there was more potential to come. The series could have continued, and we had a lot more that we would have liked to do. However, we are very happy with 'Enterprise.' We set out to do a particular kind of show that was more character-oriented, and that's what we did. We're very proud of the first couple of seasons of this show. We made some course corrections in the third season and took some big creative chances, and we were very happy with the way they paid off. The fourth season has been a real barn-burner.

"If I have any regret it's that it didn't last longer, but we are very happy with the show for no other reason than it was just a great group of actors playing a great group of fully-realized characters."

This finale is about more than just the end of a series, however. It's about the end of an era. "We were aware of the fact that this 18-year run was coming to an end, and we wanted to create something that, in a sense, encompassed a little bit more than just 'Enterprise,' " Berman said.

So the final hour (the second of two that air tonight at 7 and 8 p.m. on Ch. 24) features two "Next Generation" stars. Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) are on the 24th-century Enterprise's holodeck looking back on the exploits of Capt. Archer (Scott Bakula) and his crew. Specifically, six years after that second-to-last episode, Archer and the Enterprise return to Earth for the decommissioning of the ship and the signing of the Federation charter. But first they mount a dangerous rescue mission to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of Andorian Commander Shran.

"We were looking for a way to pay homage to these ('Enterprise') characters," Berman said. "We needed Jonathan Archer to sort of segue into being an epic 'Star Trek' hero. We felt the best way to do it was . . . the idea of Commander Riker, having a big decision to make in his life, deciding to go onto the holodeck of the 24th-century Enterprise D and go back and study certain events that happened at a very crucial time near the end of the mission of Jonathan Archer."

"We hope (the fans) like it," Braga said. "One of the reasons we did it was we wanted to say kind of a thank-you to people who have not only watched 'Enterprise' but maybe some of the other shows."

The powers-that-be at Paramount are certainly hoping that resting the franchise for a while will build interest in its next incarnation. Even the announcement of "Enterprise's" cancellation included a statement that Paramount is looking "forward to a new chapter of this enduring franchise in the future."

But are there any vague plans right now? "None that I'm aware of," Berman said.

Berman is predictably tight-lipped about the movie that's "in an early stage of development," but he did say it won't be an "Enterprise" adventure. (Reportedly, it will be set between the time of "Enterprise" and the time of the original series and will feature an entirely new set of characters.) "As to when and whether it comes to fruition, it's really too early to tell right now," he said.

Just as it's too early to say what the next iteration of "Star Trek" is going to look like. It's just difficult to believe that after nearly four decades, 708 live-action episodes, 22 animated episodes, 10 movies, more than 100 books and countless toys, gadgets and conventions, "Trek" has reached its final frontier.