WITH SHOWS LIKE BABYLON 5 TAKING ON STAR TREK, THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS FOR CONTROL OF THE CATHODE-RAY COSMOS
During its soon-to-conclude seven-year mission, the starship Enterprise has saved the galaxy from invading Borg space zombies, ended the Klingon civil war, and time-traveled back to Earth’s Old West for a rendezvous with Mark Twain. In the end, though, not even the mighty Captain Picard and crew could resist that awesome cosmic force to which all Star Trek series sooner or later succumb: a movie deal. This summer, after 178 episodes, Star Trek: The Next Generation will be warping off the air and setting a new course into film production. Details of the show’s final episode-as well as the movie that will follow next winter-are being kept as hush-hush as the secret of the Romulan cloaking device. One thing is certain, however: Next Generation’s decampment from television will leave a black hole that network and syndicated programmers are already scrambling to fill. With a fleet of new space invaders zooming toward the airwaves, the stage is being set for the biggest sci-fi showdown since the original Trek locked phasers with Lost in Space in the mid- 1960s. Two new sci-fi series are arriving in syndication this month-a space- station melodrama called Babylon 5 (beginning Jan. 26) and TekWar (Jan. 17), a cyberpunkish detective series based on ex-Trekker William Shatner’s best-selling novels. They join a slew of sci-fi sagas already in progress, including the syndicated cop-of-the-future action series, Time Trax; Fox’s unexplained-phenomena mystery, The X-Files; NBC’s Steven Spielberg-produced submarine drama, seaQuest DSV; and, of course, the Next Generation spin-off, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Other shows reportedly in the works: Earth 2, another NBC/Spielberg production, this one about the colonization of an alien planet, scheduled for next fall; and Star Trek: Voyager, a third Trek spin- off, set to debut in January 1995 (see sidebar). You don’t need Mr. Data’s positronic brain to figure out why TV is suddenly so space-happy. Next Generation’s stellar success has given science fiction a new geek-chic respectability. Since its 1987 debut, the first Trek spin-off has been the highest-rated hour-long drama in syndication, with as many as 20 million viewers a week. Among males ages 18 to 49-the classic Trekkie demographic-Next Generation is the No. 1 show on television, period. Even old episodes do well: Shown nightly in 142 markets across the country, reruns pull in millions more viewers every week, while video stores are busy renting episodes from the show’s first four seasons. ”We proved that science fiction can garner huge audiences and huge profits,” says Rick Berman, the executive producer of both Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. ”And in this town when people see something that works, they copy it.” Of course, following in Trek’s tracks is no guarantee of success. It takes more than warp engines and dilithium crystals to make a spaceship fly. Which of the new shows will have the right stuff? Which will survive this season’s star wars? Not even Spock could know for sure, but here’s a behind-the-scenes peek at the major contenders.