Concept needs reinvention, say creators

So how do you know when a franchise has run its course?

Sometimes it’s the money that slows to a trickle, sometimes the creative juices go dry, sometimes it’s a combination.

Take “Star Trek.” Except for James Bond, no Hollywood franchise has remained as durable as the outer-space juggernaut, which is finally being dry-docked.

Dismal ratings prompted UPN to announce Feb. 2 it was pulling the plug on “Star Trek: Enterprise,” with the skein ending a four-season run on May 13; downbeat results for 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis” -the worst performer of the 10 films — have curbed the studio’s appetite to move quickly on more features.

With an 11th feature film at the early stages of development and no plans for a sixth TV series, Paramount will soon find itself “Trek”-less for the first time since 1986. During the past 19 years, Par launched seven features and four series containing 600 hours — all amid the continued syndication of the five series plus massive video sales.

“So each time we started something else, we were competing against the previous shows so as the number started to accumulate, we started to see franchise fatigue,” admits Rick Berman, who exec-produced and co-created the last four series. “You could see it with the performance of the last film, which was a wonderful movie. You can only squeeze so many eggs out of a golden goose.”

Berman says the whole “Trek” concept has been so exposed that it needs to be re-invented. Another series would be at least three years away; and if a film goes forward, it will be the first that won’t be based on already established TV characters.

Roger Nygard, who put together the “Trekkies” and “Trekkies 2″ docs, believes that taking a break is the sensible course.

“It’s a little like after you’ve eaten Thanksgiving dinner, you really don’t want any more turkey,” he notes. “There’s been so much for so long that the feeling is that it’s OK to take a pause.”

The original series, created by Gene Roddenberry, launched in 1966 on NBC with William Shatner’s memorable voiceover promising a five-year mission. Despite the catchy interplay between Spock, Kirk and McCoy and phrases like “Beam me up, Scotty,” ratings were unimpressive and NBC cancelled the show after two seasons, revived it for a third after a letter-writing campaign, then killed it for good.

And that would have been that except for the solid success of “Trek” in syndication and the mobilization of the fan base via conventions, books and merchandise. In 1979, Paramount released “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”; fans, who had only the original 78 episodes to cling to up to that point, overlooked the movie’s slow-moving pace and drove domestic grosses to a very solid $82 million.

Trekkies continued to support the next three films, which grossed a combined $263 million domestically, so Paramount started “The Next Generation” in 1987 with Berman and Roddenberry co-exec producing.

“I think we’re unique in Hollywood in people working here for 12, 15 even the full 18 years so that’s the sad part — the family we’ve had here splitting up,” Berman notes.

Berman’s teamed with Jordan Kerner and Kerry McCluggage to develop an 11th feature; Erik

Jendresen has signed on as writer.

On the one hand, the 10 films have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide and there’s a multitude of potential characters and scenarios; on the other, it’s a time of uncertainty for Par with Viacom co-prexy Tom Freston and new studio chief Brad Grey seemingly intent on aiming for younger moviegoers rather than their parents.

“I don’t think it’s going away,” asserts Par Network prexy David Stapf. “We look at this as a hiatus.”

Nygard’s not worried.

“We asked the question in ‘Trekkies 2′ whether ‘Star Trek’ would be around in another 50 years and it was unanimous that it would be in some incarnation. It’s worth noting that ‘Star Trek’ didn’t really begin to flourish until it had been off the air for awhile the first time.”

Walter Koenig, who portrayed Chekov in the original series and the first six films, also believes it will be back eventually.

“I really don’t think that the series cancellation is its ultimate demise, although that may be just a reflex on my part,” he says. “At some point, everything loses a little bit of its glow but ‘Star Trek’ has shown an uncanny ability to survive.”

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