Star Trek: Enterprise is going where no Trek spinoff has gone before: To a (relatively) early grave.

And the sci-fi franchise itself may be going on shore leave.

UPN and Paramount announced Wednesday that Enterprise will be phased out in May after four underwhelming seasons. Arguably of even more significance was what was not announced: Another new Trek series.

If Paramount doesn't come up with a Starfleet-staffed show for the fall, and there is no indication one is the offing, it'll be the first time in a decade that an outgoing Trek series has not replaced by an incoming Trek series.

Couple that with the franchise's space-docked big-screen program, and Star Trek, in the words of one Federation expert, "may have run its course." At least for now.

"[A Trek] show has been on the air weekly for the past [18] years, producing hundreds and hundreds of episodes, and that may just have been too much," Christian Höhne Sparborth, founder of TrekToday.com, said in an email interview.

Enterprise, the fourth spinoff of the 1966-69 flagship, and the first prequel, contributed 98 episodes to the institution when it signs off on May 13. That's the shortest run since the original series was axed by NBC after only 80 adventures; it's the first spinoff series to last less than seven seasons.

"We believe in the show creatively, but the ratings just weren't there," a UPN spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Reportedly ordered to shape up or ship out last spring, Enterprise is averaging 2.9 million viewers on Friday nights this season. Of late, the show has dipped so low--2.5 million for last week's episode--that it's being matched, sometimes even surpassed, in its time slot by Sci-Fi Channel's Stargate SG-1.

The numbers are a long way from September 2001 when 12.5 million monitored the premiere.

Enterprise, starring Scott Bakula as Capt. Jonathan Archer, was a creative disappointment to many fans in its first three seasons, Sparborth said. But in its current and, as it turns out, final season, the show rallied and "became the fans' ultimate dream."

Taking advantage of its position in the Trek timeline as a forerunner to the days of captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko and Janeway, Enterprise "dealt with the roots of Vulcan logic, the founding of the Federation, and it will soon even air two episodes explaining why the Klingons didn't have bumpy foreheads in the original series, but do now," Sparborth said.

With Enterprise's passing, TV viewers look to be without fresh Trek for the first time since before September 1987, when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in syndication. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine arrived in 1993, followed by Star Trek: Voyager in 1995.

The franchise's movie division isn't looking any healthier. No new Trek feature has been announced since Star Trek: Nemesis, featuring the Next Generation crew, bombed at the box office in 2002.

According to Walter Koenig, who played Ensign Chekov on Star Trek, even the once-thriving Trek convention circuit has taken a hit.

"The latest incarnation [Enterprise] has not done as well, and I think that has led to perhaps [a] diminish[ment] of conventions and the number of people who attend them," Koenig said last summer.

In a 2003 lawsuit brought by Activision against Paramount's corporate bosses over a videogame entanglement, the company argued that the Trek franchise was "stagnant" and in "decay."

In a statement Wednesday, Paramount Network Television president David Stapf preferred to describe the franchise as "enduring." He also talked, in non-specific terms, of "look[ing] forward to a new chapter."

To Sparborth, Star Trek isn't terminal; it's just begging for a new format. He, for one, would suggest the TV movie.

"The potential to tell stories is almost unlimited. With such movies it would be possible to realize plot ideas that have long been popular with fans," Sparborth said, suggesting telepics reuniting the Deep Space Nine cast or focusing on the goings-on at Starfleet Academy.

With a nod to franchise founder Gene Roddenberry's optimism, the future always looks bright on Star Trek. Right now, it's the present that's a little murky.

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