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Saving Star Trek
We are in the commercial space flight industry and would like to testify that at least one out of two of all the actual entrepreneurs involved in this industry has been inspired by Star Trek; and we are not only good at watching TV sci-fi , we are also good at writing checks, big checks. The people airing this kind of TV have a responsibility; inspiration. Star Trek has inspired us, and particularly Enterprise, with its superb theme song that tells so much about our struggle to move space travel forward and closer to the public, this inspiration is so self evident, that Virgin Galactic has ordered a 5-sub orbital ship fleet from Scaled Composites, a 100 million dollar investment, and the first one being built is going to be christened ‘VSS Enterprise.’ Now doesn’t that ring a bell in Paramount’s ears?
I wonder who the anonymous donors are? Bezos? Musk? Allen himself?
While I don't doubt the statistic, a lot of people conclude from things like this that Star Trek fans are interested in space. Largely they're not. While a lot of people interested in space got that way through watching Star Trek, that doesn't mean that it had that effect on most fans. There are many more Star Trek fans than space enthusiasts. I say this based on personal experience in sending out appeals for space activist donations to Star Trek data bases, and attending a conference or two. Trekkers are largely interested in Trek, not in space. It's a very poor ore for space activism--in my experience, you'll do better among the general public.
Still, even if shows like this inspire only a few, that's probably reason enough to keep them going.
[Update at 6 PM EST]
Here's another one. They should merge and pool their resources, but if they're anything like space activist groups, they won't. They'll instead splinter into five more. You'll have one that just wants to save those episodes that focus on time travel, and another one that wants to see more episodes in which T'Pol goes into Pon Farr.Posted by Rand Simberg at March 02, 2005 03:03 PM
I have mixed feelings about it. I gave up on Enterprise when they kept doing Deus Ex Machina time travel stories. I have seen a couple of recent episodes, because I had heard they got away from that nonsense, and they are doing better, but ...
I've talked to intelligent folks that like Star Trek who are SHOCKED that it could take months or years "just" to go to Mars. Star Trek is fun, but it is really fantasy. I don't have a problem with it as such, but what I would really like to see are tv shows about human civilization expanding into the solar system - lunar, Mars, O'Neill, and asteroid colonies. The sort of things we know are possible without resorting to magic technology. I think a show like that would be much better at inspiring real visions for the future.Posted by VR at March 2, 2005 03:23 PM
Another question: why is Paramount cancelling it? Is it due to low viewership? If so, why are we bothering to save a program that's not good enough to capture a modern audience?
I enjoy Star Trek and TNG, but Enterprise is definitely one of the weaker spin-offs. How many kids today are being inspired by it? Is it worth the money?Posted by James at March 2, 2005 04:07 PM
Maybe most Trekkers are interested in an idealized form of space travel, one in which a journey to Alpha Centauri lasts a few hours and you meet nifty pointy-eared humanoids everywhere you go.Posted by B.Brewer at March 2, 2005 04:54 PM
I'm certain Trek has, and does, inspire a certain number of folks to support space travel and, for some, it is the inspiration for a technical career.
I've always thought, though, that the primary appeal of Trek wasn't space travel, but rather the fact that it is based in a quasi-utopian society that has resolved all the seemingly unresolvabe problems we face today. Simply put, watching the Federation in action makes people proud to be Terrans.
That said, it was UPN, not Paramount, that pulled the plug, UPN decided a while back to target an audience different than Trek attracts. If the show was called "Star Trek: Teen Models in Space" I suspect it would have survived quite nicely.
As for the money pledged to these campaigns, anyone know if any of it has actually been collected? A bagful of promises won't impress any network, but cash in the bank might.
I know that viewership was down, leading to the cancelation. Since I'm not the demographic they are shooting for, I can't say what the "average joe" looks for, but I had given up on the show some time ago, as had several "I'll watch nearly anything" science fiction loony friends. In my view, it had gotten worse than Voyager, and had much the same feel.
Pledge drives like this aren't new, it is just the amount of money a couple of doners have offered. But I doubt that will have any affect.Posted by VR at March 2, 2005 05:38 PM
My favorite ST series was DS9. I watch Enterprise and I kept hoping that they would get some decent writers. Everything in Enterprise seems to be a rehash of an old story from the orignal or TNG.Posted by Joe Schmoe at March 2, 2005 08:11 PM
Enterprise debuted with decent ratings four seasons ago. The ratings dropped substantially in the first season and then continued to decline in the second and third seasons, eventually bottoming out (something that happens with all plots on a curve--viewer ratings for a TV show will never actually reach zero, because the show will be canceled before then).
UPN was going to cancel the show during its third season. However, Paramount made them a deal: they cut the fee they charge UPN to show Enterprise in return for a fourth season. UPN renewed the show and put it on Friday nights. Paramount cut their fee because it is easier to syndicate four seasons (approximately 100 episodes) than three seasons. Plus, another season means another DVD set at inflated rates (Paramount charges a lot for Trek DVD sets and never offers discounts). But the writing was clearly on the wall last year and the only thing that would have saved the show this season would be an actual increase in ratings. Instead, ratings dropped by 25% with the move to Fridays. This season, by most fan accounts, has been much better than previous ones. But the entire Trek "franchise" is clearly burned out. The last movie, Nemesis, for instance, tanked at the box office.
As for the comment that Trek fans are not space fans, this is generally true. There are a large number of people who got into the space or science and engineering fields and claim that they were inspired by Trek. But generally if you talk to a bunch of committed Trek fans, they are not space supporters.Posted by Louis Caneretti at March 2, 2005 08:17 PM
SIMBERG: Here's another one. They should merge and pool their resources, but if they're anything like space activist groups, they won't. They'll instead splinter into five more
Posted by Keith Cowing at March 2, 2005 09:13 PM
Well, this just goes to show that there is no "one size fits all" flavor of Star Trek. Everyone has the series they like best. Personally, the Enterprise episodes are among my favorites. And I do enjoy plots about time travel too without feeling as a scientist I have to scoff at them.
Perhaps it's time that Hollywood embraced the Vulcan ideal of "infinite diversity in infinite combination". Then again, it's seemingly the antithesis of today's programming executives.
VR makes a good point though that "tv shows about human civilization expanding into the solar system - lunar, Mars, O'Neill, and asteroid colonies" are what's needed. There is an element of exploration combined with the strange and unintuitive realities of space that 2001 Space Odyssey captured, and nobody has properly recaptured since. It's not much of a surprise since these kind of sci-fi books aren't often turned into scripts. I think there's room for progress on this front. Maybe this is a challenge Jim Cameron would take up?Posted by Kevin Parkin at March 2, 2005 09:19 PM
Star Trek is well past it's day. I stopped watching it at the NG stage when it's cultural assumptions changed from optimistic cornicopian to smug malthusian. Star Trek would be well characterized as "Firefly for children".Posted by E. Bryan at March 3, 2005 01:09 AM
The one thing i dont like about Trek is that the ships are loaded with government employees. It gives people wrong ideas about how to "do" space.
Do a space soap opera based on Ben Bova's novels ( with some more depth in characters, please ) and im all ears.Posted by kert at March 3, 2005 01:40 AM
Yea I've talked to lots of Trekies that know everyting about a starship inside and out from all the fictional technical manuals and books: warp fields, artifical gravity, replicators, and the infinite power of Tachyon particles. But then you bring them back into reality and most of them will fall into two camps: either they will immediately say, "Oh there is no way any of it will work and humans will never survive in space", or "We just need to discover that one bit of unattainium and it will suddenly become clear how it all works."Posted by Josh "Hefty" Reiter at March 3, 2005 05:37 AM
Kert, the diplomatic and war ships that are seen in the main story-line of the Star Trek franchise are manned by government employees. Most war machines are indeed government-owned and operated. However, there are plenty of references to independent entities in space, using ships to build mining colonies, run shipping lines, etc. In fact, the navigator on Enterprise is a kid who grew up on a family-owned transport ship.
As far as some people being inspired into careers because of Star Trek, etc., here's my take: The stereotypical image of a "Trekkie", especially the ones that dress up in full costume for conventions, is an image of a person that, well, rarely leaves their couch or house.
The people in space-related fields may contain a high percentage of Trek-inspired people, but they certainly represent a small population of the "avid" Trek community...Posted by John Breen III at March 3, 2005 09:59 AM
Say what you want to about ST:Enterprise and it's ratings. The shower scene in the first season is classic.
RichPosted by Rich at March 3, 2005 12:59 PM
My experience was and still is that most people who are interested in space are interested in Star Trek, but there is a weaker correlation in the other direction.
I've always wanted to do a rant, and I'm home sick from work, hopped up on OTC medicine, so please indulge me.
Hear My Plea: Let Star Trek Go!
This is a different time and different conditions. I watched the original Star Trek episodes on their first run, which was shortly after the dinosaurs died. And it was exciting, because at that time (B.C., you know, Before Cable) there was little or no decent (or indecent for that matter) science fiction on TV at all. And when it was cancelled, well, there wasn't much other SF to watch and the fans were very disappointed. That was why the fans reacted then the way they did, and led to the letter writing campaigns etc., a short lived but pleasant victory. But then ST slowly became a cult, and I intend that the bad connotations of the word "cult" be inferred here. The ST franchise became something different from Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. I'm convinced that the ST franchise began to die when he died. But now, thanks to Mr. Roddenberry (and others),if ST dies there will be alternatives. And some of these might actually be better than ST (heresy!!!) And really, the last season or so of ST:TOS wasn't very good, and I thought so at the time. I kind of liked the "middle" seasons of ST:TNG, not much of the first and last few, found ST:DS9 boring, Voyager too P.C., and Enterprise pointless. Many will disagree with me, and that's great, that is what is wonderful about having an embarrassment of riches of viewing choices. We put up with at lot of bad SF TV back in the BC era, because when you only had 3, perhaps 4 channels (maybe more if you had UHF), you took what you could get and were happy with it. We don't have to do that now.
Gene Roddenberry did a wonderful thing, he showed that decent SF could appeal to a mass audience. In that sense Star Trek will never die. But the Star Trek franchise has probably played itself out (and then some). Let it go, let it rest. Don't mourn the passing away, celebrate the accomplishments.
(Mini-rant: One thing that always bothered me about the whole ST universe was, how many nearly-omnipotent beings could you have in a universe? If a Q disputes with a Organian, who wins? And there was too much time travel, which I could say about almost all SF series I've watched).Posted by Ray_g at March 3, 2005 02:55 PM
Useless but interesting info: In the above post, instead of the word "medicine", I originally used the word "medi*ation". (Change '*' to 'c'.) It thought that questionable content. Have the fringes hijacked another useful word? Or is the checker just too sensitive?Posted by Ray_g at March 3, 2005 03:01 PM
Well, the asterisk fooled it. I would have thought "hopped up" was more objectionable than "medi*ation". Oh well.Posted by Ray_g at March 3, 2005 03:04 PM
ST: Enterprise stunk. I thought ST: Voyager was bad, but Enterprise made it look like must see TV. The whole premise was stupid. As in; let's have a Star Trek show set only 150 years in the future. Big frickin deal. I'm surprised the show lasted 4 years. On the bright side... the Andorians. There's something to be said about a female with blue skin and antennae on her head.Posted by Jim Rohrich at March 3, 2005 05:41 PM
Let enterprise go, I tried watching it recently
Now b5 was well done mostly
To me real space is far more intersting, like a saturn moon which maybe artafical. sf may show realty maybe far stanger than fictionPosted by christopher coulter at March 3, 2005 06:17 PM
If you want to see the best SF on television in recent memory (and perhaps ever), please watch "Firefly". The DVD box set is available, and it's superb.
Readers of this blog especially would like it, with its anti-government libertarian themes, Heinleinesque women, and technical accuracy (no sound in space, people can die just by floating a few feet above their spaceship with no way to get back, etc.) Even the 'western' motif is true to Heinlein's vision of future pioneer colonies in space.
There will be a Firefly movie in theaters this fall. If you haven't seen the series yet, you should get it and catch up before the movie comes. I've gotten a lot of people to watch Firefly, and without exception every single one became a fanatic about the show after they had seen it.
I first watched Star Trek in 1967, while in the Army. I would show up early because if I didn't, I would not get a seat in the "Day Room". The room would pack out for only Two other shows each week, so I know it was popular with the Army Guys.
Posted by Edward Dijeau at March 6, 2005 10:45 PM
"tv shows about human civilization expanding into the solar system - lunar, Mars, O'Neill, and asteroid colonies"
Yes. They should also do the filming in orbit... but I imagine it's going to be a while before that occurs. I wonder how the actors would take to performing in freefall (in front of green screens I suppose?)
Early customers for the orbiting hotels?Posted by ken anthony at March 29, 2005 07:36 PM
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