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COVER STORY

Not-So-Free Enterprise

September 08, 1996|David Kronke

One of the tenets of Gene Roddenberry's vision of a utopian future was the fact that money wouldn't exist. Such a concept, of course, would be blasphemy on the Paramount lot, where the "Star Trek" franchise has generated income measuring in the billions of dollars, a full billion and a half coming from licensing.

In their zeal to facilitate the churning out of products in a fashion that strikes not a few members of the "Trek" casts as unseemly, Viacom Consumer Products has demonstrated a taste for acquisition that makes the latinum-greedy Ferengi of the sundry series seem circumspect, even philanthropic, by comparison.

Terry Farrell, who plays Dax on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," reveals: "We're not getting paid what's in our contract--I haven't gotten one statement [on sales of merchandise featuring her image]. Not one. There are certain percentages [due us]. Nothing. I haven't seen anything. Clearly, I'm not the only one. Other people have gotten bizarre little statements here and there.

"We sign the contract before we do our final reading, so you don't even know if you have the job, you're still in just beggar's mode," she says, imitating a poor, pathetic contract signer: "Oh, I get merchandising? Oh!'

"Then, it's 'Did you get a check?' 'No. Did you get a check?' 'Did you get a statement? Aren't we supposed to get a statement?' 'What do we do?' "

Rick Berman, who oversees all "Star Trek" productions for Paramount Pictures and Television, said he doesn't get involved with actors' licensing contracts, and Viacom Consumer Products officials said they don't discuss actors' deals.

Actually, this is nothing new to the "Star Trek" universe: Leonard Nimoy sued Paramount in the '70s when he discovered that the studio was licensing his image without permission or payment. No prospective "Trek" projects were realized until the lawsuit was cleared up.

Today, more than 1,000 "Trek" items come out a year. The most expensive products include a chess set from the Franklin Mint and a 2-foot-long hand-tooled brass replica of the Enterprise, both of which went for $2,000.

Books perennially beam cash into the Paramount coffers--13 are sold every minute in America. Two paperback novels and a hardcover novel are published monthly.

Which is not to say that the folks at Viacom Consumer Products say yes to licensees indiscriminately. One proposal that was turned down was to build a to-scale replica (roughly 300 yards long) of the Starship Enterprise in downtown Las Vegas, which would have served as an exhibit-museum-ride. Also nixed: "Trek" toilet paper (no doubt for all the Klingon gags it would inspire).

When "Star Trek: First Contact" comes out this Thanksgiving, 150 to 200 items will accompany it in stores, including trading cards, comic books, a novelization, interactive games and T-shirts.

And, of course, action figures. Most characters on "Star Trek" have had multiple incarnations cluttering store shelves.

When William Shatner saw his Capt. Kirk action figure, he says, "I thought, 'I wish I looked that good.' It had more expression than I did."

Kate Mulgrew says of the mini- Kathryn Janeway: "Oh, my God. If I had to meet that one in a dark alley--she looks treacherous, shocking. I saw one hanging from someone's rearview mirror, right in front of the rosary beads--I almost freaked out."

Michael Dorn, who plays Worf, says: "I remember what my brother and I used to do to our GI Joe dolls when I was a kid, and it wasn't pretty. I had a feeling that it was sort of like karma--I did that to GI Joe, and now somebody's doing it to me. Our GI Joes never made it through a battle without losing some kind of limb."

Particularly bizarre, even for Dorn, are the Klingon language tapes (one is "Conversational Klingon").

"If you think of it as fun and cute and interesting and a little witty, I think it's fine," he says. "But when you spend a lot of time, and it becomes a real thing to some people who take it very seriously, that's when it gets a little scary. At that point, with all the stuff that's going on, it's like everybody's cashing in. It's kind of gone beyond being a fun show."

"I have seen 'Star Trek' everything," says "Voyager" executive producer Brannon Braga. "I have seen 'Star Trek' doorstops, 'Star Trek' 'Do Not Disturb' signs, 'Star Trek' pot handles, 'Star Trek' barbecue bibs, 'Star Trek' stove-burner covers--I've seen everything. It's ubiquitous. There's been too much exposure for my taste. I'm a little sick of it, to be honest."

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