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


Captain's Log, Star Date 1990. The U.S.S. Enterprise has taken up positiondirectly outside the Forbidden Zone--an uncharted television quadrant where nostarship has ever entered. The last man this close to the zone was the impetuousCapt. 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 powergreater than any laser blast or photon torpedo. The low-rated show was canceledby NBC.

Now, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and his crew will boldly go where no starship hasgone before when the 80th episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" airsWednesday on KCOP. Then the syndicated series will eclipse the service record ofKirk and Co. and open up new worlds for Trekkies everywhere.

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

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

Indeed, the original "Star Trek" has never been out of reruns since itscancellation and currently airs in more than 40 countries. All 79 episodes areavailable on videocassette. The five "Star Trek" movies have grossed about $400million domestically.

A 25th-anniversary film is being written for Paramount Pictures for release nextyear, again reuniting William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and therest of the crew.

And last month's season premiere of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," concludingthe series' first cliffhanger, beat out the networks to be the highest-ratedprogram in its time slot in Los Angeles. The series, now in its fourth season,is also highly rated nationally, and there are tentative plans for a motionpicture.

Every movement has a leader, and creator Gene Roddenberry answers the call forthe "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'snone of those things."

The 6-foot-3 executive producer received a Distinguished Flying Cross forflying B-17 bomber missions in the South Pacific during World War II and hestarted writing TV scripts while moonlighting as a Los Angeles police sergeant.

Now he sat on a dressing room couch on the sprawling, techno set of theEnterprise.

"What our show does," he continued in a hushed voice, "we take humanity maybe acentury into the future. Our people do not lie, cheat or steal. They are thebest 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 StarshipEnterprise and stresses intelligent drama over mindless action. Rather thanclone the original "Star Trek" principals, Roddenberry created a radicallydiverse bridge crew that includes an android with heart (Brent Spiner), a fierceKlingon 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 Kirkon a bigger Enterprise, the crew's continuing mission is "to explore strange newworlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no onehas gone before."

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

She was always a fan of "Star Trek's" black communications officer Lt. Uhura,"because it meant that we were in the future-black people," Goldberg told TheTimes in an earlier interview. "It was the only time that I had ever seen thatas a kid. You watch 'Forbidden Planet' or any of those movies, you don't see us.It was a relief to know that black people had survived."

Roddenberry had more in store for the original "Star Trek," such as casting awoman as Kirk's second-in-command, but he was short-circuited by NBC'sprogramming demands. In 1986 when Paramount began seriously discussing a "StarTrek" series, which Fox Television wanted for its new network, Roddenberry wouldhave no part of it.

"As I told them," he said with a sigh, "you couldn't pay me to go back. I'd getthe same network rules to work under, and I could never do the kind of show Iwanted. My whole life has been one of Let's fix 'Star Trek.' "

So Paramount suggested producing the series for syndication, giving Roddenberrycomplete control.

" 'Star Trek' is really is one of the crown jewels of Paramount," said JohnPike, president of Paramount's network TV division.

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