Star Trek: The Next Generation ran for seven seasons (1987-1995). Voyager ran for seven seasons (1995-2001). Deep Space Nine ran seven seasons (1993-1999). When Star Trek: Enterprise premiered on UPN in Fall 2001, then, it would have been reasonable to expect a similarly lengthy run. After all, Star Trek had been a television staple for the last 18 years, a new Star Trek film had been hitting theaters every 2-3 years since 1979, and Enterprise starred none other than Quantum Leap‘s Scott Bakula. But then Enterprise was cancelled by the network after four seasons. There have been a lot of reasons tossed about for the show’s failure – it being essentially a prequel to the Trek universe, the very fact that it was on now-defunct UPN – and now a former castmember on the show is tossing out another. In an interview with Indystar.com, John Billingsley (Enterprise‘s Dr. Phlox) says the show failed because of a combination of studio greed and losing sight of the franchise’s soul.
In the interview, Billingsley discusses everything from the current casting and work environment in Hollywood to the state of television and the Star Trek franchise. His view on the decline of televised Star Trek in the new millennium is that constant demands from Paramount executives for the producers of Voyager and Enterprise to produce more and more (easily digestible and commercial) content that they could sell. It became an entity owned and subject to the whims of the marketing department, which gave it no room to explore the very things that made Star Trek a success.
When the show premiered in the 1960s we were going through a period in our history not unlike the period we’re going through now. There was a tremendous amount of divide in our country … race riots, divisions over the Vietnam War, we’d lost a president, we were in a tremendous amount of social turmoil. And I think Star Trek suggested it was possible to get through that.
I think the thing that made it successful … also is where Star Trek kind of got lost a little bit, because I think the challenge was to start asking the questions, well how? How do you put all those problems behind you? That’s what I was told what “Enterprise” would be about, it was a flashback, a show that predated the original series and attempted to suggest that here’s how it began, this exploratory process.
Instead, Billingsley says, Enterprise and Star Trek-at large became self-congratulatory. Additionally, he thinks Enterprise failed to grab the imagination of Trek fans who had watched for years and just failed to see anything new in the series. Billingsley says it’s “a miracle” that the poorly-rated show didn’t get pulled after one season, let alone four. Perhaps surprisingly, though, he thinks the new films will probably do just fine. It was just the television side of the franchise that needed a break, if not a wholesale end.
If you’re interested in learning about Billingsley’s upcoming projects and his appearances (like this weekend’s Starbase Indy convention in Indianapolis), you should definitely read the full interview.