By the time Manny Coto became an executive producer on the show’s fourth and final season, Enterprise was already a show in trouble. It had been an ungainly beast from the start: a Frankenstein’s monster pulled back and forth between conflicting desires to do something new and to maintain the safe status quo of the Star Trek franchise. It wasn’t entirely Enterprise’s fault, but when it wrapped up in 2005, it marked the first time since The Next Generation’s 1987 premiere that there wasn’t at least one current Star Trek series on the air. That left the Trek franchise in such a mess that they decided to take drastic action, which led to J.J. Abrams’ divisive reboot in 2009. But Manny Coto? He was just a lifelong Trek fan who tried really hard to salvage a ship that was already in bad shape.
In an extensive interview with StarTrek.com, Coto reminisced about the challenges of Enterprise — what accomplished, what he hoped to accomplish, and what never came together. Enterprise tried to revinvent itself nearly on a season-by-season basis, and when Coto got the big chair with season four, he focused on making the show’s connections with Trek history, especially that from the Original Series episodes, more explicit. Coto says:
I wanted to tell more complex stories. One of the first things I wanted to do was to tell stories in three-episode arcs, where we could actually create little mini-feature films. Television has become… an episode is now 42 minutes of actual content. It’s very hard to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end when you only have 42 minutes. The Original Series, they had 50 minutes. They had almost an hour to tell a story. That makes a difference. I wanted to tell epic tales, so we had to tell them over more than just a 42-minute period. So we came up with the idea of doing two- or three-episode arcs. And I wanted to tell more sweeping tales that tied into The Original Series, because Enterprise was a prequel and I felt that, at a certain point, the show should begin to tack toward things that we remembered from The Original Series. I thought it would be nice and fun and tremendously rich to explore facets of The Original Series and of the Star Trek universe that were there but had not been fleshed out.
Coto also delves into one huge idea that simply never came together, and which, who knows, might have given Enterprise enough renewed momentum to keep things rolling. Namely: a Kirk appearance. Coto wanted William Shatner to appear during the fourth season “Mirror Universe” arc, where he would have once again played that alternate reality’s version of Kirk. Coto recalls:
That was one of the disappointments. Shatner would have played his Kirk counterpart from the Mirror Universe, which is a whole other story. We talked to Shatner and he was ready to do it. I thought that would have had a chance of really popping in the ratings and maybe opening up a new audience to come in and say, ‘Hey, wow, look what this show is doing now.’ Paramount wouldn’t pay the money, and so that never happened. So that’s a long way of saying there was a small hope (of getting a fifth-season green light) and the Shatner idea was one small way to maybe bring in a new audience or bring back our old audience.
Naturally, Coto’s grand plan for Enterprise didn’t end with season four…well, it wouldn’t have if the show had gotten a fifth season, anyway. Coto says he’d hoped to explore the Romulan war and delve into other Original Series elements such as the floating city of Stratos, which appeared in the 1969 episode “The Cloud Minders.” You have to wonder if Coto’s ideas about visiting the Romulan war sounded like a good idea to somebody among the powers that be: that conflict was central to Star Trek: The Beginning, a pre-Abrams script that was intended to jump start Trek with a pre-Original Series trilogy of feature films. You can read our script review of that aborted project right here.
While Enterprise’s final episode was the controversial “These Are the Voyages…”, Coto says the two penultimate episodes — “Demons” and “Terra Prime” — were the ending he intended for the show. He says:
My heart was really in that because I felt it was a fitting end for the series. The show ended up coming back to Earth and to our solar system, and the idea was that humanity still had one hurdle to go through, and that was a part of humanity was not accepting of aliens and aliens on our world, because some people felt we were being corrupted. We had to exorcise our last vestige of xenophobia. I thought it was a really fitting end for Enterprise because one of the basic tenets of Star Trek is Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. This was a way to address that idea, that we’d not quite reached there yet. You had a character played by Peter Weller who wanted aliens to leave the Earth and was against comingling with aliens. And we ended with a wonderful speech by Captain Archer and a wonderful performance by Scott Bakula in front of the nascent Federation, which kind of laid down the idea for Star Trek. It basically said that despite the myriad species we’re all the same and we all share the same heart. I remember being there on that day for the shooting of that. We knew at that point that this was the last season, so it was particularly touching to know that this was a fitting finale, as I saw it, for the show.