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Stardate 0008.21: UPN Smackdown!

Plus: Q Returning?; Trek Books; Who's Dying?

By Michelle Erica Green     August 21, 2000

Months of acrimony between Viacom, Inc. and Chris-Craft, who jointly owned UPN until Viacom forced Chris-Craft to sell earlier in the year, came to a head this week when Chris-Craft shocked Viacom by revealing a deal with another media giant, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. News Corp. will now control the 10 UPN-affiliated television stations Chris-Craft operates in major markets like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Though no official announcements have been made, many industry analysts expect UPN to fold in the near future if an agreement cannot be reached quickly to keep UPN programming on these stations. Given Chris-Craft's frustration with Viacom and the hundreds of millions of dollars in losses accrued by the fledgling network, the end of UPN may be approaching.

The Wall Street Journal and other business news analysts suggest that UPN's value lies primarily in its network of stations and the resources they offer as a broadcast venue, not in its original programming. Now that Viacom has acquired CBS, it might make more sense for Viacom to operate its UPN affiliates as independent stations, using programming culled from CBS and from Paramount's vast film and television archives. The Washington Post made much of the possibility that on Thursdays in the spring, The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather could be followed by WWF Smackdown!, but in truth that could be a more lucrative situation for Viacom than keeping the successful wrestling show on the struggling network.

UPN recently announced that it would relaunch in January as the Paramount Network, and it is still possible that Chris-Craft will continue to run UPN programming on the ten stations to be acquired by News Corp. The Los Angeles Times quoted sources stating that Murdoch would shut down UPN programming on those stations in January in order to air sports and entertainment coverage generated by News Corp. But because of FCC regulations limiting the number of stations a single corporation may control in any given market, News Corp. could have to sell its stations in Salt Lake City and possibly Minneapolis before then. In addition, Murdoch could be forced to choose between ownership of the New York Chris-Craft station and The New York Post, because of similar regulations restricting the types of media that can be dominated by one corporation.

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal quoted UPN President Dean Valentine as stating that UPN will open talks with Chris-Craft on a possible new affiliation agreement. Though Valentine added, 'No one wants to shut down a broadcast network,' Viacom Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin has already threatened to eradicate UPN if the network doesn't stop its huge losses. On the other hand, a quick shutdown would leave 20 Viacom-owned UPN affiliates without programming, including major markets like Washington, DC. And some media analysts expressed concern that the minority-themed shows in UPN's lineup, the most on any major network, would be lost if a shutdown was imminent.

Legal challenges to Murdoch's media control have already been put forth, and rumors suggest that if the deal falls through, Barry Diller's USA Network might seek to acquire Chris-Craft. Diller might be more willing to make a deal to keep the ten stations affiliated with UPN.

And now for the important question: What could all this mean for the future of Star Trek: Voyager and other Trek shows? A TrekToday reader called Paramount Television and was told that the developments would in no way affect Voyager's last season, and that viewers would see the new episodes to the very end, but Paramount Television probably doesn't have ultimate say in this decision. Since shooting has already been completed on several final season episodes, it is likely that Paramount will air them in syndication if UPN ceases to exist.

On the other hand, if UPN continues broadcasting in January without the Chris-Craft stations, audiences in several major markets might have no access to the network's programming. The network might find other outlets for its programming in those cities, but they would likely be lesser-known stations that would have a hard time attracting new audiences.

Speaking during News Corp.'s quarterly financial presentation on Wednesday, Murdoch said he has held informal talks with Viacom about becoming a co-owner of UPN. Viacom refused to comment, but this might be the best solution for everyone involved, if egos don't get in the way.

The bottom line? Stay tuned.

Q Who?

Caution! Possible Spoilers Ahead!

Pam Rowden of Willowe Magazines in Britain writes that the new edition of Star Trek Monthly has resurrected the rumors that Q will return to Trek this season. It has long been speculated that Q could provide the deus-ex-machina for bringing Voyager home, though both executive producers were concerned that a Q appearance would have to bring something new to the series and the character.

Brannon Braga noted that if Q would return, he would like the character to regain his former villainous persona. The staff felt that 'The Q and the Grey' was 'a solid episode, but maybe we had moved too far away from Q the villain.' If they were to use Q again, 'it would have to be something very special.'

Though Rick Berman said the staff is always looking for ways to keep John DeLancie around, he admitted, 'It's difficult to deal with someone who is omnipotent' in terms of coming up with a good script. Given that a return home trip by Q would be predictable and probably feature that nice-guy persona, it sounds unlikely, though the Section 31 Website has a long 'spoiler' for what it claims is the series finale, stating that Q will judge the crew and that they will come home just in time to save Earth by sacrificing Voyager and ending up back at the Caretaker's array.

Meanwhile, Star Trek Monthly suggested that Voyager's homecoming could generate appearances by Deep Space Nine actors. 'Maybe, towards the last episodes of Voyager, some of the Deep Space Nine people that returned to Earth will get to star on Voyager.'

That could include Miles and Keiko O'Brien, Jake or Joseph Sisko, and any number of visiting guests like Admiral Ross. Moreover, if Voyager docked at the station en route to Earth--which seems unlikely, as the sets have been destroyed, but one never knows--they could encounter Kira, Quark, Dax and Bashir. All this of course presupposes that Voyager will get home, in the correct timeline and universe--to which executive producer Ken Biller still hasn't committed.

The official Star Trek site has put up official information about the episode 'Repression,' expected to be the fifth show aired this season. A psychological thriller in which Maquis crewmembers are stalked by an unknown assailant, 'Repression' places Tuvok in charge of investigating this threat to the entire ship. Biller himself wrote the story, while Mark Haskell Smith provided the teleplay. Winrich Kolbe, who directed the series premiere, 'Caretaker,' among many other episodes, helmed 'Repression.'

Most interestingly, the Bolian Maquis Chell is named on the cast list for the episode. Chell appeared in 'Learning Curve,' one of the Maquis upstarts whom Tuvok had to retrain in Starfleet protocols. The episode will also feature Ensign Tabor, who appeared in 'Nothing Human' as a Bajoran who wanted to resign from Starfleet in protest against the holographic use of an unscrupulous Cardassian doctor.

Trek Books: Star Trek S.C.E.: The Belly of the Beast

Simon and Schuster announced last week the immediate release of an all-new Star Trek novel, published in eBook format only. The electronic-only series Star Trek S.C.E., which stands for Starfleet Corps of Engineers, will include at least two more titles to be published in September and October. Developed by Pocket Books editor John Ordover and writer Keith R.A. DeCandido, Star Trek S.C.E. introduces the division of Starfleet responsible for investigating alien machinery, assisting in the repair of unique equipment, aiding in the building or dissection of any form of technology imaginable--plus some that really aren't imaginable, but the team tries anyway. The corps is headed by beloved Captain Montgomery Scott, who oversees them from an office at Starfleet HQ.

Ordover noted that the new Microsoft Reader seemed like the perfect delivery system for a series about how Starfleet deals with new technology. The first novel, Dean Wesley Smith's The Belly of the Beast, was supposed to be available on Aug. 8 through Microsoft Reader and Barnes and Noble's Websites...but as happens so often with new technology, the release was delayed a few days because the links weren't working, giving the idea of a corps of engineers for similar 24th-century crises a certain relevance. Despite the glitches, it's exciting to have an original Trek series being offered for download, and at $1, the first offering is a bargain, though it's also rather short for a Trek novel.

Smith doesn't spend much time introducing the new characters, plunging instead straight into an engrossing action narrative in which the Enterprise barely defeats a massive starship in battle, leaving LaForge to hook up with the crew of the U.S.S. Da Vinci to explore the strange vessel. LaForge meets up with Sonia Gomez from the Next Generation episode 'Q Who,' though we don't get much background from the episode for those who haven't seen it. He also works with Captain David Gold, whose highly-educated complement includes Bashir's Academy nemesis Dr. Elizabeth Lense, a bonded pair of Bynars (from '11001001'), plus a tough security officer, Corsi.

Over the course of 114 widely-spaced pages, the group explores a magnificent alien cruise ship, solves the horrifying mystery of what happened to its original crew, and discovers a new threat to the Federation. Despite the engineering focus, Smith tells the story with a delightful lack of technobabble. It's nice to see a Jewish captain--married to a rabbi, no less--as well as the many clever, resourceful female characters, including Gomez (who has a romantic interest on her ship, though not much in this story), Enterprise security chief Christine Vale (who has a mysterious history with Corsi), Lense (who appeared on Deep Space Nine in 'Explorers'), and the insectoid alien Pattie.

Unfortunately in this volume we don't learn much about these folk other than through their actions, and due to the story's events, one of the more interesting aliens will be profoundly changed in the next volume. The crew of the Da Vinci should be rather traumatized by the horror they witness; one wonders whether future S.C.E. missions will focus more on the glory of exploration rather than the risks taken by these adventurers, and how they cope with the stress.

Still, it's a well-done story that leaves one hungering for more, which I'm sure was the intention. It will be interesting to see what DeCandido and popular Voyager novelist Christie Golden produce in the second and third novels in the series. Look for The Belly of the Beast in Microsoft Reader format at www.barnesandnoble.com/ebooks, where you can find 100 free classics, or go directly to http://shop.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=0743419014&EB=Y to order. The books will be available in other eBook formats later on.

Dead Captains' Society

UPN, which may have death on the mind this week, is running a promo for Voyager's seventh season containing the ominous declaration that some heroes die young. This would seem to lend credence to recent rumors that one of the crew of Voyager will be sacrificed to bring the ship home. Though most speculation has focused on Chakotay, because Robert Beltran said a few weeks ago that he wouldn't be surprised if the character died at mid-season, Kate Mulgrew recently echoed her remarks of last year by suggesting that Captain Janeway should go out in a coffin.

Mulgrew, who was once a student of Stella Adler's acting studio in New York, spoke to fans and would-be-actors at the Adler studio in Los Angeles last weekend. A report on the Totally Kate! Website at http://sites.netscape.net/totallykate/adler1/adler.html says that, after demurring that she probably shouldn't say anything out loud, the actress declared that she would like Janeway to be dead in the final scene of the final show. She stated something similar on the Late Late Show this week, claiming she had been ordered not to say it but she was doing so anyway.

At this point, it's admittedly hard to take Mulgrew seriously when she talks about the show, given the number of reversals she's made on issues like whether Janeway should date Chakotay, whether Janeway should have friends on the crew or keep her distance from them, whether Janeway should let her hair down or keep it up, etc. So it's rather remarkable that Mulgrew should be consistent on the question of whether or not she wants Janeway dead.

Mulgrew has been quieter about her dissatisfaction with Voyager than has Beltran, but that may just mean she's better at covering it up. She's made it amply clear that she resents Seven of Nine's screen time just as much as the rest of the cast. At an Australian convention this season she came close to expressing disgust with Janeway's character development. This season, she told the Adler audience, will be her 'quiet' or 'still' year, as Mulgrew tries to infuse Janeway with some quietness and stillness 'hoping that the characters around her will be forced to respond and therefore make the scenes interesting.'

So in order to allow her co-stars to shine, Mulgrew's acting technique now is to refuse to play the larger-than-life, dominating captain of the starship--a part she got because Genevieve Bujold was allegedly too quiet and still? How gracious of Kate to give the rest of them a chance. In fairness, Mulgrew is probably right to play quiet and still, since Janeway is given such dry material that she looks over-the-top when she tries to emote. Still, at least Beltran has been straightforward in declaring that he sleepwalks through his scenes because he just doesn't care--he doesn't try to pretend that his passivity is for the good of the show.

Mulgrew and Beltran are both seasoned industry professionals. Surely they know that the steady work they have on Trek is something most actors dream about. It must be unique for two leads on a show sold largely by the franchise rather than the actors (unlike Moonlighting or even The X-Files) to be so bored sick that they'd reject the possible feature films, TV movies, guest appearances on future shows and all the rest of the offers that could come their way if only their characters survive. I suppose it's possible that the studio has sent them out to spread false rumors, suggesting that they discuss their characters' possible deaths to gauge reaction and stir up interest, but the studio has never seemed so clever when it comes to publicity.

Paramount essentially killed off Captain Sisko when he went to join the Prophets in the final episode of Deep Space Nine. How's it going to look if they kill off their female captain while Picard goes on saving the universe? Not good, methinks. Janeway is still a role model for women in science, no matter how frustrating her week-to-week characterization may have become. If the writers keep the captain alive, even if Mulgrew swears she'll never do another Trek, at least they'll all have the option to change their minds.

Actresses over 35 have a notoriously difficult time finding any work at all, let alone central roles in huge Hollywood franchises like Star Trek. Yet Mulgrew would sever her connection to the series she once credited for giving her the role of a lifetime and saving her home in the process. Ideally, I guess all actors would like to have the equivalent of Martin Sheen's terrific role on West Wing, but how many thousands of them would give an arm to be where Mulgrew is right now, even given the frustrations of working in the sci-fi franchise?

The Deep Space Nine Companion, which came out a few weeks ago, features interviews with that show's production team about the phenomenal guest cast. Producer Ira Behr points out how wonderful it was to watch certain characters evolve based purely on the performers' dedication to making their small roles interesting. As a case in point, he mentions Kai Winn's aide Solbor, introduced as a throwaway character in ''Til Death Do Us Part.' 'The actor came in playing this kind of shaky, emotionally constipated guy who radiated fierce devotion. He delivered his lines in a way that showed multiple levels. He was a hoot!'

Voyager's had people like that in the supporting cast--Martha Hackett, Joel Grey, J. Paul Boehmer. Among the main cast, the much-maligned Garrett Wang has given exceptional performances in thankless episodes like 'Pathfinder,' where he had to play a holographic version of himself, yet we don't hear him complaining that he's being repressed as a performer. Ditto Roxann Dawson and Robbie McNeill, who have arguably suffered the most from having Seven of Nine take over aspects of their characters' roles on the ship. They don't always give a thousand percent like they did in earlier seasons, but at least they're not begging to be killed off. Bob Picardo is so committed that he writes his own material when he wants to make something happen--he doesn't get paid to play his evil twin, he does it because he loves his character and he loves performing. That's all.

On second thought, maybe it's time to give the leads what they're asking for. If Janeway and Chakotay are going to die, let's have it happen soon instead of later. Then the writers can turn their attention to the people who want to stick around, and bring home the characters who deserve to get there, while there's hopefully enough time to remind us why we cared about them in the first place.

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