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March 6th, 2005, 10:58 AM
From the Toronto Star:


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Mar. 6, 2005. 09:31 AM

Can sci-fi fans face the future?

From mailing bras to starting malicious Internet rumours, devoted
viewers try all sorts of things to protect what they love.

Yesterday was her 30th birthday, but the celebration was likely
somewhat muted ... because yesterday was also Jolene Blalock's last
day in outer space.

Star Trek fans Trekkies, as they are somewhat grudgingly known
predictably reacted with outrage and indignation to last month's
announced cancellation of the current spinoff series, Enterprise.

On Friday, Feb. 25, a couple hundred of them gathered outside
Paramount Studios in L.A., capping a week of sign-waving, banner-
bearing protest, from New York to L.A. and as far away as Germany,
Israel and the U.K.

Inside the studio gates, on the Enterprise soundstages, the mood was
one more of subdued resignation, as the cast and crew some of them
Star Trek veterans of 18 years prepared to start filming the
series' final episode, which wrapped yesterday and is scheduled to
air May 13.

"It is sad," related Blalock earlier that week. "I think most of us
here are still in active denial. But you've got to know, going in,
that these last few days are going to be highly emotional."

To the fans, perhaps a startling admission from the woman they have
come to know as the ostensibly emotionless Vulcan, T'Pol.

But then, being a Star Trek fan has never been about having a firm
grip on reality.

A strong sense of community, yes. Admirably utopian ideals of
inclusion and tolerance and benevolent technology ... absolutely,
yes. A smug, blindly righteous sense of entitlement when it comes to
their shared obsession ... yes, of course. That's what makes them the
acknowledged gold standard of cult and genre fandom.

But that isn't going to save their show. Not this time, anyway.

Truth be told, not even the Trekkies have been particularly
enthusiastic about Enterprise, a prequel series set during the
formative days of Star Trek's galactic "Federation," a hundred years
prior to the original adventures of Capt. James T. Kirk and his
intrepid crew.

Even Bjo Trimble, the mother of all Trekkies, the original fan
activist who "saved" the 1960s' Star Trek with a then-unprecedented
letter campaign, and who then spearheaded the successful initiative
to have the first NASA space shuttle officially
dubbed "Enterprise" ... even she has gone on record as one of
Enterprise's earliest and harshest critics.

"Get someone who knows Trek to write the scripts," she famously
complained. "Get someone who knows Trek to direct ... but do you
think Paramount has the good sense to see this? Nah!"

"I don't think you can just throw anything out there and expect
people to swallow it," agrees Blalock. "There is Trek lore and Trek
history to be followed and adhered to."

A former fan herself (her favourite character as a kid was, not
surprisingly, Mr. Spock), the actress, despite her vested interest,
has never been shy about dissing her own show.

"I mean, we started out with 13 million viewers on the pilot, and we
somehow managed to drive 11 million of them away."

Ironically, things had improved dramatically in terms of content,
if not resultant ratings in this fourth and final season, under the
stewardship of producer and self-confessed Trek geek Manny Coto, who
brought back a lot of the self-referencing retro continuity the
hardcore fan just can't get enough of.

"That was a treat, a joy to do," Blalock enthuses. "It was an
unexpected surprise to have the scripts that we did (this season).
And I am grateful and thankful for that. It was fun to come to work

"And it was certainly much better than spending another season doing
what we had been doing. It said a lot about the potential of the

There is an awkward silence when the subject of the final episode is
broached. "I don't know where to begin with that one," she finally
stammers. "The final episode is ... appalling."

She feels sorry for the fans. "I really am touched by their outpour
of support, and their display of passion for the show. I was sort of
caught off-guard. I didn't know that they were so adamant.

"But, you know, they really aren't saying anything new. They're just
saying it louder."

The Enterprise protests, however sincere and passionate, have fallen
on deaf ears even the pointy ones within the Trekkie community. The
turnout for the Los Angeles rally was a mere fraction of the number
of fans who will routinely line up for hours for an autograph from
any anonymous alien actor at even the smallest Star Trek convention.

There have been full-page ads in showbiz trade papers, letter-writing
and Internet campaigns, and an amusingly ambitious fundraising effort
intent on raising the $36 million required to underwrite another
season themselves (one fan organization claims to have already
collected more than $60,000 U.S., with $3 million more promised
from "anonymous sources" all together not quite enough to keep the
show going for even two more episodes).

The emphasis has been placed on the hopes of a pickup by the Sci Fi
Channel, the genre-dedicated American cable service analogous to our
own Space: The Imagination Station. And indeed Sci Fi would appear to
be the logical second home of an extended Enterprise run until one
takes into account the fact that, historically, the channel has run
only the syndicated original episodes of the 1960s Star Trek, and
none of its subsequent spinoffs.

Fans tend to gloss over the realities of the business, like the fact
that the four Star Trek franchise series are produced and owned by
Paramount, which is owned by Viacom, which also owns CBS and several
cable services ... none of which is the Sci Fi Channel, which is in
fact part of the GE-owned NBC Universal conglomerate.

So a deal would be in nobody's corporate interests. The bottom-line
decision has already been made to focus on the moribund Star Trek
movie franchise. A script has been commissioned (from Band Of
Brothers scribe Eric Jendresen) for an 11th Star Trek film, also a
prequel, supposedly set between the Enterprise era and the original
adventures of Capt. Kirk.

The idea being, one can fairly safely deduce, to re-purpose expensive
existing props and sets while hiring an all-new cast of unknowns,
rather than pay the inflated fees routinely demanded by established
series actors.

Enterprise itself will survive, on DVD the initial release is
cannily scheduled days before the final episode's air date and also
in television syndication, where it has already been pre-sold in 49
of 50 major U.S. markets, and here in Canada on Space.

As for the Sci Fi Channel, well, whatever money they have is being
spent on shows in which they have an active interest, such as the
Farscape miniseries and the reborn Battlestar Galactica ...

Genre television has a long history of proactive protest. Following
in the fannish footsteps of Bjo Trimble, there have been several
similar, if smaller successes since: the restoration of Quantum Leap
(soon to be revived yet again as an all-new series); UPN's adoption
of Buffy The Vampire Slayer; the feature-film resurrection of creator
Joss Whedon's also-cancelled Firefly (the film, Serenity, premieres
Sept. 30), the dramatic re-invention of Battlestar Galactica ...
though to be fair, in most of these latter cases, fan action was
really only partly responsible.

Not so the rebirth of the fan-favourite Farscape, which was axed
abruptly in 2002 by the originating Sci Fi Channel, also at the end
of its fourth season and, much to viewers' chagrin, at the point of
a very provocative cliff-hanger plot turn.

The series makes a miraculous return (to Canada it has already
aired in the States) two weeks from now, March 25 and 26, on Space. A
two-part miniseries, Peacekeeper Wars, will answer all the unanswered
questions and give the fans some well-earned closure.

"This special television event would not be a reality were it not for
the tireless, unwavering efforts of the Farscape fans," acknowledges
director and executive producer Brian Henson. "They believed that the
epic story we were telling was something special and deserved a
proper ending."

`The person who sits there on the Internet attacking you is the first
person to come up to you at a convention and love you.'

**major snippage**

But don't cry for Jolene Blalock for her, unemployment is likely to
be a very temporary situation.

"I'm just coming from an audition right now," she reveals, "and I'm
very excited about it.

"I love auditioning, the entire process, going out and meeting people
in the industry. It's been four years since I've been out pounding
the pavement, and I miss it. It's a place of the unknown, and a place
of infinite possibilities. And I like that."

Pre-Star Trek, and post-modelling career, the San Diego-born Blalock
got her earliest on-camera experience here in Toronto, co-hosting a
TSN show called The Big Spike with the late Dan Gallagher, while
studying comedy improvisation at Second City.

"I was dating my husband (Michael Rapino), who lived there at the
time, and I would spend my summers there. I loved Toronto. I had a
great time there."

Unlike many of the Star Trek actors who preceded her, between
Enterprise's abbreviated run and her essential unrecognizability
under the Vulcan wig and ears, she has no fears about being typecast.

"I've been blessed," she says. "I've been working incognito. No one
really knows what I actually look like."

Which does not take into account the nearly naked photo spreads in
Maxim and other men's magazines. But it's pretty clear what she
means. She does not expect the Star Trek association to affect her
future acting career one way or the other.

Although she readily admits that, just in case, "I am going to keep
the ears."

Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited




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