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Roddenberry's Trek Record : 'Star Trek's' Successor Hits a New Time Warp: The 80th Episode

October 28, 1990|DANIEL CERONE | Times Staff Writer

Captain's Log, Star Date 1990. The U.S.S. Enterprise has taken up position directly outside the Forbidden Zone--an uncharted television quadrant where no starship has ever entered. The last man this close to the zone was the impetuous Capt. James T. Kirk, who recorded 79 "Star Trek" missions in as many episodes.

But in 1969, after three seasons, Kirk and the Enterprise succumbed to a power greater than any laser blast or photon torpedo. The low-rated show was canceled by NBC.

Now, 21 years later, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and his crew will boldly go where no starship has gone before when the 80th episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Channel 13. In doing so, the syndicated revival series will eclipse the original service record of Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy and open up new worlds for trekkies everywhere.

"After we went on the air, what I began to grow aware of was this vast network of enthusiasts for the show," said Patrick Stewart, the stately British actor and former member of England's Royal Shakespeare Company who plays Capt. Picard.

"They quickly made it clear to me that this was not just another television show, but something that very much belonged to the whole cultural fabric of North America," he said.

Indeed, the original "Star Trek" series has never really been out of reruns since its cancellation and currently airs in more than 40 countries. All of the episodes are available on videocassette.

The five "Star Trek" movies have grossed about $400 million domestically. A 25th-anniversary film is now being written for Paramount Pictures for release next year, once again reuniting William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and the crew.

And last month's season premiere of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," concluding the series' first cliffhanger, beat out the networks to become the highest-rated program in its time slot in Los Angeles. The syndicated series, now in its fourth season, is also top-rated nationally, and there are tentative plans for a motion picture.

Every movement has a leader, and creator Gene Roddenberry answers the call for the "Star Trek" franchise.

"Many people haven't thought deeply what it is they like about ('Star Trek')," Roddenberry said. "They're not crazy about rocket ships or space travel. It's none of those things."

Roddenberry, 69, spoke with the fervor of a visionary. The 6-foot-3 executive producer received a Distinguished Flying Cross for flying B-17 bomber missions in the South Pacific during World War II and started writing TV scripts while moonlighting as an Los Angeles police sergeant.

Now, he sat on a dressing room couch--lost on the sprawling, techno set of the Enterprise--and leaned forward on his cane.

"What our show does," he said in a hushed voice, "we take humanity maybe a century into the future. Our people do not lie, cheat or steal. They are the best of the best. When you watch the show, you say to yourself, at least once, 'My God, that's the way life should be.' "

Like the original, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" follows the voyages of the Starship Enterprise and stresses intelligent drama over mindless action. Rather than clone the original "Star Trek" principals, Roddenberry created a radically diverse bridge crew that includes an android with heart (Brent Spiner), a fierce Klingon security officer (Michael Dorn) and a starship counselor (Marina Sirtis) who is a telepathic expert in human engineering.

Plotting courses in the 24th Century, about 85 years after the journeys of Kirk on a bigger, fifth-generation Enterprise, the crew's continuing mission is "to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before."

Take note: The old Enterprise used to go where "no man has gone before." The switch to "no one" reflects the kind of forward thinking that has become Roddenberry's trademark. That's why Whoopi Goldberg, who plays the recurring role of Guinan, a sort of ancient, omniscient bartender in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," asked to join the series in 1988.

For the new show, Roddenberry retooled his legendary "bible," a volume of "Star Trek" facts, figures and ideology, which he now updates each season to help keep writers of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" on track.

In Roddenberry's brave new world, free of network interference, gone are the militaristic uniforms and attitudes from the original "Star Trek." The metallic sterility of the old Enterprise has been refined, thanks to a form of technological progress that 24th-Century poets call "Technology Unchained." The quest to build human-like machines is over, because their creation would be more of a stunt than something of practical value.

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