EW goes behind the scenes of the UPN prequel that's shaking up the sci-fi universe
Linda Park, Scott Bakula, ...
Credit: The Enterprise: UPN

The Sept. 26 debut of ”Enterprise” — the fifth ”Star Trek” series in 35 years — was a space ace in the hole, beaming up a stellar 12.5 million viewers. How earth-shattering an event was that for UPN? You’d have to time-warp back to 1995 — for the unveiling of ”Star Trek: Voyager” — to see numbers bubblier than that. ”It’s a reenergizing of the franchise,” proclaims UPN chief Dean Valentine. ”The battery power was still there and it was working fine, but this completely turbocharged it.”

Even juicier than the ratings, though, is the prospect that ”Enterprise” could actually shape-shift the aging ”Trek” franchise into a more mainstream success (currently, ”Enterprise” is the season’s top-rated freshman drama among 18- to 49-year-olds), pulling in the kind of folks who don’t own Federation-issue bedsheets. It’s far from coincidence that the ”Trek” overlords decided to drop two of the most hallowed words in sci-fi from the show’s title. ”I didn’t want this to be ‘Star Trek: The Next Thing,”’ sums up ”Enterprise” cocreator Rick Berman. ”I wasn’t going to just create another spaceship and put another crew on it. I couldn’t do it. I knew the fans had enough, and I knew that we all had enough. We had to do something dramatically different in as many ways as possible.” Just how different? Let us count those ways….

It takes a quantum leap away from ”Trek” geek-ology. Are you the kind of person who thinks the words ”Star Trek” sound more intimidating than a Limp Bizkit mosh pit? Before you run screaming from the galaxy, there’s a guy sitting in the captain’s chair who has a few words of encouragement for you. ”It’s me! There’s a familiar face here!” says Scott Bakula, 47, who is personally offering to ease you into the series. ”It’s like, ‘Well, Scott will hold our hand. Come on, it’s Noah! Everybody get on the ark and we’re going to be fine.”’ The ”Trek” producers were certainly quick to jump on Bakula’s bandwagon — though they insist the idea of helming the ship with an established TV star (Bakula anchored NBC’s 1989-93 time-tripping drama ”Quantum Leap”) was not the motivating factor. ”I was looking for somebody who had that kind of Sam Shepard, ‘Right Stuff’ quality and Han Solo fly-boy quality,” Berman explains. ”If you take those two images and marry them, you get something that’s pretty damn close to Scott Bakula. And he’s got that boyish charm. You’d be hard-pressed to find a woman who didn’t find him attractive.”

And this new captain promises not to steer you straight into a fearsome black hole of complex ”Trek” mythology. Remember, this show is a prequel, taking place more than a century before Kirk & Co. blasted off. ”I keep telling everybody that you don’t need to know anything,” says Bakula. ”’Star Trek’ can be daunting in that it’s 35 years and it’s the history of this and that. And now we’re starting from scratch. You don’t need to have this big dictionary to back up everything happening on the screen.

So that would explain the sudden emergence of phrases like ”son of a bitch” and ”knock you on your ass” in the normally hypersanitary franchise. ”[It makes] the show seem more realistic,” says Braga. ”Some people were offended by the expletives, though they were very tame by most standards.” Diehard fans were also miffed by ”Enterprise”’s opening theme music, ”Faith of the Heart,” which forgoes a sweeping orchestral score for a schmaltzy pop tune with — gasp! — lyrics. ”I wouldn’t approve of this soft-rock garbage for a family sitcom 10 years ago,” huffed one ”Trek” message board post, ”much less for a new 2001 ST series.” Well, at least the nitpickiness of the fans hasn’t changed.

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