Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Blast from the Past: When the future of Trek seemed endless

As Trek fans everywhere ruminate the gradual decline of Trek's popularity and profitability during the last decade, Trekdom brings a blast from the past: A 1994 Paramount press release celebrating the 7th season of TNG while making optimistic claims about Star Trek's limitless future.

While you bite your fingernails, praying to the gods of scifi that Abrams' reboot will reinvent the franchise and return it to the pinnacle of cultural phenomenon that it once was, enjoy a trip back to a time when anyone predicting the demise of the franchise would have been mocked and shunned:


With its origins in a show which had an inauspicious tenure at best, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION has catapulted into an unequaled realm of success, reigning as a leader in demographics, ratings, licensing and merchandising, and drawing new parameters for a syndicated series.

The facts of an award-winning top 10 show -- with advertisers' dream demographics, inspiring products reaching nearly a billion dollars in retail sales, attracting an amazing range of high-caliber guest stars, spawning a smash series and soon a feature film -- represent just a smattering of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION's substantial impact. An exploration through the "Star Trek" phenomenon reveals much more.

In 1966, the legendary futurist Gene Roddenberry created a science fiction-based television series called "Star Trek." While it lasted three seasons on NBC-TV, the show had its most promising finish its first season -- at number 52 for the year -- after such now-lesser- known series as "Iron Horse" and "Mr. Terrific." Despite letter writing campaigns that had assured its renewals for second and third seasons, "Star Trek" was canceled in 1969 because of its disproportionately high children and teen viewership which made it unattractive to network advertisers.

However, Roddenberry's compelling vision of the future has proven to hold a timeless appeal, when now -- 25 years later -- a new version has lured fans of the original and countless more. From network to syndication, from television to motion pictures, the "Star Trek" franchise has garnered one of the most loyal followings in entertainment history.

Ratings and Demographics Out-of-this-World

Since its premiere in 1987, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION has been breaking non-network boundaries and setting precedence for syndicated television, while admirably competing in its own right against network series. Comparable to network fare on many levels, the series has won 16 Emmy awards (more than any syndicated series ever), a Peabody, a Hugo, and was the first non-network show to be endorsed by the Viewers for Quality Television. Its 46 Emmy nominations to date make it the most-nominated dramatic series currently on television surpassing "Murder, She Wrote," "Northern Exposure" and "LA Law."

A bonafide hit since its first season, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION set ratings history during its sixth season as it ranked number one for an unprecedented four consecutive weeks, marking the first time in Nielsen ratings history that King World's "Wheel of Fortune" had been shut out of the top spot consecutively.

Ironically, the original "Star Trek" was discarded after criticism for attracting the wrong demographics while STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION has remained the number one hour-long series among the prized demographic groups of men, ages 18 - 49 and 18 - 34. It consistently outdelivers all network prime-time hours including "60 Minutes" and "Northern Exposure." And, in fact, during the November 1992 sweeps period, beat all network prime-time programming in men 18 - 34 including "ABC Monday Night Football," "The Simpsons" and "Roseanne."

In 1993, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION posted stronger household ratings than the average prime-time network hour. The series captured an enormous viewing audience, 66 percent of which were between the ages of 18 - 49.

The seventh season premiere captured an extraordinary 15.4 rating/22 share in Los Angeles beating season premieres of CBS's "Murphy Brown" and "Love & War," with other markets mirroring Los Angeles's success with their own airings.

As STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION finishes its seventh season, it remains one of television's top 10 hour-long series, amassing some of its highest ratings to date.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION's appeal encompasses more than just the series itself. When Patrick Stewart graced the cover of TV Guide January 2, 1993, millions sold ranking it as the best-selling regular issue of 1993. Additionally, Patrick Stewart's stint at guest-hosting "Saturday Night Live" February 5, 1994 brought ratings above that show's average and ranked among the top five "Saturday Night Live" programs.

The Stellar Influence of the Show

Because of its sweeping interest in the prosperity of the human race, the cache of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION has been instrumental in beaming aboard an eclectic slate of guest stars from sports, science, pop culture, music, film and television. A sampling of those who have made an Enterprise expedition a part of their career: world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, Los Angeles Laker James Worthy, Mae Jemison, the country's first African-American woman in space, Emmy and Tony award winner Bebe Neuwirth, "Entertainment Tonight"'s John Tesh, Fleetwood Mac's namesake, Mick Fleetwood, all-around entertainer Ben Vereen, film legend Jean Simmons, comic Joe Piscopo -- as well as the recurring guest star, Oscar(R)-winning comedienne Whoopi Goldberg.

Incarnations Orbiting Film, Television and Publishing

After its initial run, "Star Trek" came back to television before STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, in a Saturday morning cartoon which ran from 1973 - 75, with the original cast supplying the voices.

Then, "Star Trek" segued to the big-screen in 1979 with "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," which grossed an astonishing $112 million. The film's success inspired five sequels: "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn " (1982), " Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (1984), " Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (1986), "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989) and "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (1991). Each motion picture was subsequently released on video cassette with 10 million video cassettes sold in 1991 alone.

In 1993, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION began to spin tales with its own heritage. By offering elements like the Bajoran race, the characters of Chief O'Brien and his wife, Keiko, and a Picard confrontation for its pilot, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION provided the impetus for another 24th century show, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," starring Avery Brooks. An instant success on more than 200 stations covering more than 99 percent of the country, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" -- chronicling the adventures of a team of Starfleet officers who take command of a remote alien space station -- set ratings history as it became the highest-rated series premiere in syndication history and stands poised to continue the trends of its predecessor.

Capitalizing on its indefatigable lure while seeking to quench its fans' unending appetite for more, principal photography begins this Spring on "Star Trek: Generations" scheduled for a Thanksgiving 1994 release. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" executive producer Rick Berman will serve as producer, Bernie Williams as executive producer; David Carson directs.

And "Star Trek" adds another docking point to its programming travels when a third installment, "Star Trek: Voyager," begins production in August 1994. An hour-long action adventure, the series will premiere in January 1995 as the linchpin of the new Paramount Network. "Star Trek: Voyager" will veer in a different direction by taking place aboard a new class of Starfleet vessel. In the storyline, the heroes join a renegade team of former Starfleet officers when both groups are trapped at the galaxy's edge leading them to find a new way home.

*Read the full press release here.