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A plot retrofit for ailing 'Enterprise'

Forget the Klingons. The latest 'Trek' show hopes to lure back TV viewers with a new alien force and a few changes in personality.

August 18, 2003|Michael E. Hill | Washington Post

Not so long ago, and not so very far away, Michael Dorn, who played Lt. Worf, the Klingon weapons specialist in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," relaxed between scenes on the set of that series and explained his role in the science-fiction space drama.

"At the start of the show, we often encounter some new aliens," he said. "My first impulse is to blow them out of the sky."

But, he said, the captain and other cooler heads would prevail and try to work out differences with the newly encountered species. But reason and understanding go only so far.

"By the end of the hour," Dorn said, "they've pretty much come around to my way of thinking."

That wasn't the plot line of every episode, of course. But it was the basic setup for the "Next Generation" series -- the aggressiveness of Worf balanced by the measured understanding and determination of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, played by Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart.

With Jonathan Frakes as Picard's second-in-command, William T. Riker, and LeVar Burton as the blind Geordi LaForge, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was the first of four TV series derived from the classic "Star Trek" series of the '60s. Running from 1987 to 1994, it also was the most successful show in the franchise.

Now, the current rendition of the "Star Trek" mythology, UPN's "Enterprise," is in trouble. And its producers may be coming around to Worf's way of thinking.

After encountering a ratings slump last season, the show's executives are implementing a number of changes in the show. Some of the retooling is complicated and may prompt some fans of the show and critical TV watchers to wonder whether the end of the series' run isn't imminent.

"Enterprise" fans already saw some signs of pending change in the closing episodes of last season, and more are on the way. The captain is becoming more rigid, his Vulcan shipmate is becoming more relaxed, and this season, the ship's crew will have to contend with a new alien force that comes in five flavors. And taking a page from the Worf guidebook, there will be more action through the series.

Brannon Braga, a creator and executive producer of "Enterprise," elaborated on some of the changes at a recent meeting with reporters in Hollywood.

"The show is going to be more action-packed, action-oriented, faster-paced, and we're doing some interesting things in that direction," Braga said.

"We're not going to be seeing a lot of familiar faces next season, because we want to take the ship into a region where there are a lot of dangerous new species.

"We're going to be focusing a lot of our attention on the brand-new race of aliens called the Xindi, who are comprised of five different, distinct species, two of which are computer-generated creatures. And so we're not really planning to bring Klingon and Borg and those kind of things into the third season."

Braga was joined at the conference by fellow creator-producer Rick Berman and three cast members, including Scott Bakula, who plays the captain in the series set in a time frame before the period depicted in the original "Star Trek."

Bakula and the producers maintained there was no desperation behind the changes.

"It seemed to me that this has followed a natural progression with this franchise," said Bakula. "We're always looking for new ideas to ramp up the show," Berman said. "It's no secret that our numbers [viewership] fell last year more than we expected them to. And obviously, we, like any other responsible producers, wanted to do what we could to lure back some of our viewers."

Amid all the coming changes, the producers expressed optimism about the prospects for the series. "Is the franchise waning?" Braga asked. "Probably somewhat. But it's been around a long time. Is it going away? I personally don't think so."

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