In 2005 after four seasons, Star Trek: Enterprise was canceled, ending a continuous run of Star Trek shows on television that started with Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. Now the man who played Dr. Phlox, John Billingsley, diagnoses what killed the show, along with some help from his co-stars Connor Trinneer (Trip Tucker) and Dominic Keating (Malcolm Reed).
Enterprise actors point to studio and network for the show’s struggle
Last week Galaxy Con Live held a virtual panel with Star Trek: Enterprise stars John Billingsley, Connor Trinneer, and Dominic Keating (who dipped in and out due to tech issues). The panel covered a wide range of subjects, including how the show is finding a new audience in the age of streaming. After joking about how “we were the show that killed the franchise,” John Billingsley offered some of his own analysis of why the show wasn’t as big of a ratings success as previous Trek shows:
Billingsley: We came on after so many years of Star Trek, and in a number of those years, double-dipping. Deep Space Nine actually overlapped with Voyager, for instance. I think by the time we aired there was fatigue, understandable fatigue. The show did really at least need a year off. I always felt badly for [co-creators/executive producers] Rick [Berman] and Brannon [Braga] that they weren’t given that time…The bible for the show just needed a little more work. I think the notions were strong and I think with the character development they had some clarity. But in terms of an arc for the first season, I think the Suliban wasn’t quite as thought through as it maybe needed to be. I think there was a little bit more work needed on what the tonal balance was between the darkness of we are the first fucking ship and we don’t know what the fuck we are doing and the nature of what Star Trek is supposed to be, the optimistic spirit… It is a hard tone to strike for what they were trying to do.
Trinneer agreed with Billingsley’s assessment, adding ” You are right that things weren’t quite fleshed out.”
Billingsley then used a specific example from the episode “Strange New World” as an example of how Paramount and their former network UPN were not willing to take risks with the show:
Billingsley: And the studio itself also needed to kind of grapple with what they wanted to achieve. I remember there was an early episode where a crew member is transported and they come back. And in the first draft… it was pretty cool because this guy comes back and his head is where his ass is supposed to be and [flails around] ‘what the fuck!’ and we are afraid of the transporter. By the time it emerges and we are shooting it, the guy comes back from the transporter accident and he has got a little twig sticking out of his forehead. And that to me early on crystalized where I think the timidity of the network actually fucked us. To me there was another level of scariness that the show wanted to move towards, and I felt that the powers that be said, “But, but, but.”
Billingsley and Trinneer also added that the show suffered due to UPN not being available in some major markets, and that Enterprise was often preempted to make way for local sports events.
Manny Coto’s season four too meta?
Billingsley had high praise for writer Manny Coto who joined the series in the third season and became showrunner in the fourth:
Billingsley: It’s absolutely no slight to Brannon and Rick, but they had been writing Star Trek for many years. For Manny, I think there was a sense of joyousness of, ‘Oh boy, I get to write Star Trek!’ He was a lover and appreciator of the first series. A lot of the Mirror Universe, the how did the Klingons get their new faces, a lot of those love-letter episodes in the third and fourth seasons came about because Manny was deeply enamored with Star Trek.
However, the actors also had some disagreement on the fourth season, including those Mirror Universe episodes:
Trinneer: I did not like [the Mirror Universe episodes].
Billingsley: The fans kind of I think dug the Mirror Universe stories more than I did. I think it was all effect and no point. They said if the show had continued they would have gone back to that world and it would have been developed more, but I thought it was sort of banal.
Trinneer: I thought it was pandering.
Keating: They were good fun, John.
Billingsley: I don’t know. There are a few episodes I adored. There are some episodes in the third and fourth season that I thought were a little too meta.
GalaxyCon has more virtual Star Trek panels line up for Summer 2020.
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