For the first time in 18 years, the ''Star Trek" franchise is going off the air.
Yesterday, UPN announced that in the face of weak ratings it is canceling ''Star Trek: Enterprise," which is the last surviving spinoff of the famed 1966 science-fiction series.
The Friday night show, which is a prequel to the original ''Star Trek," will broadcast its finale May 13. Details of how the series will end have not yet been released.
''We believe in the show creatively but viewer levels just weren't there," said Joanna Massey, a spokeswoman for the network that has aired ''Enterprise" since 2001. This season, its fourth, ''Enterprise" has averaged just 2.9 million viewers, down dramatically from its first season average of 5.9 million viewers.
UPN's move comes amid a strategic shift by the network to target more female viewers with hit shows such as ''America's Next Top Model" and ''Vernonica Mars." The vast majority of ''Enterprise" viewers are male, UPN said.
''Star Trek" has long been a phenomenon in popular culture. The original show, which aired on NBC for just three seasons in the 1960s, became a force in syndication and inspired five television spinoffs, including a cartoon, as well as 10 feature films. It brought phrases like ''warp speed" and ''beam me up" into the vernacular. Legions of fans have supported ''Star Trek" conventions, websites, books, and products ranging from T-shirts to toys. For decades, their fanatical devotion has been spoofed on late-night television and in movies such as ''Galaxy Quest."
The franchise has been a constant presence on television since 1987, when ''Star Trek: The Next Generation" began a seven-year run. It was followed by ''Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and ''Star Trek: Voyager."
Now, the thought of it all coming to an end has sent sci-fi fans into ''red alert" mode, even though Paramount Pictures, which owns the rights to the franchise, hinted yesterday in a statement that a ''new chapter" could unfold at an unspecified time in the future. The company said nothing specific is planned yet.
''I'm devastated," Tim Brazeal, a computer system administrator in Maryville, Tenn., said in an interview yesterday. '' 'Enterprise' is quality entertainment, not like those reality shows that have taken over TV. I love the exploration part of it. You get out and boldly go to many new civilizations. They are encountering different things every episode and I'm on the edge of my seat the whole time."
Brazeal, who launched www.saveenterprise.com last year amid rumors of a cancellation, vowed yesterday to step up his campaign, which to date has included bombarding Leslie Moonves, the co-president and co-chief operating officer of UPN's owner,
Brazeal said he plans to encourage people on his website to go on with a scheduled protest rally in front of Moonves's office building in Los Angeles next month during Grand Slam XIII: The Sci-Fi Summit in Pasadena, Ca. He's mulling whether the fans should come in ''Star Trek" costumes. ''Viacom owns Paramount," Brazeal said. He believes that means Moonves has ''the ultimate authority on whether the show will be picked up somewhere or not," he said.
Brazeal's website, in conjunction with www.enterpriseproject.org, started collecting money two weeks ago to run an ad in USA Today explaining the show's peril. To date, about $4,000 has been raised.
''Other shows have come back because of fan reaction," said Marsha Robertson, a spokeswoman for www.enterpriseproject.org. ''We won't quit until they tell us there's no way to get it back."
To be sure, the ''Star Trek" franchise has been in a downward spiral for some time. While the first ''Star Trek" movie earned a reported $67.5 million at the box office in 1979 (10 years after the original program went off the air), the 10th feature film, 2002's ''Nemesis," earned about $43 million, the least in franchise history.
''Star Trek: The Next Generation," the first spinoff, which picked up 80 years after the original show, ran from 1987 to 1994. ''Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," which took place aboard a space station, aired from 1992 to 1999. ''Star Trek: Voyager," which featured a female commanding officer, aired from 1995 to 2001.
''My sense of the franchise is that it needs a rest," said Ron Moore, who wrote the screenplay for ''Star Trek: First Contact" in 1996. Moore also wrote episodes for ''The Next Generation," ''Voyager," and ''Deep Space Nine."
''The franchise is a strong idea. The character concepts are great. It just isn't being written in a fashion that is grabbing the audience anymore," he said. ''In some ways, the continuity of the show is starting to work against it. There is such a complete universe with so many characters that it's a bit daunting for new audiences."
Moore, whose reinvention of the 1970s series ''Battlestar Galactica" is now airing on the Sci-Fi Channel and getting better ratings than ''Enterprise," said ''Star Trek" can also be reborn.
'' 'Galactica' has proven that the space-odyssey genre is viable. It's just a matter of trying new ideas," he said. '' 'Star Trek' may go away for a few years. But Paramount Pictures will eventually sit up and say, 'Hey, don't we still own ''Star Trek?' " You can count on Paramount's greed to bring it back."
Suzanne Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.