Monthly Archives: June 2016

By the time (Star Trek) Enterprise found its footing, the carpet was yanked…

As we celebrate fifty years of Star Trek, CultofWhatever is looking back on each of the shows and film franchises that defined the Final Frontier.

We’ve talked about the Original Series and how, when it was great, it embraced the sixties social revolution. On the other hand, when the Original Series stumbled, it slipped into every silly cliche that doomed science-fiction from that era. The Next Generation took a little bit to find its mojo, but when it did it managed to surpass the original by expanding the franchise’s horizons. Deep Space Nine followed soon after, and though it was the red-headed step-child of the brand, it dared to be different and was rewarded with loyal fans, many of whom regard it as the best of the bunch. And then there’s Star Trek Voyager, which tried to be “more TNG” but ended up being “lesser TNG.”

Voyager, like DS9 and TNG before it, finished its run on its own terms after seven years on the air. But unlike TNG, which ended with higher ratings than it started with, and unlike DS9 which ended with more critical acclaim than it started with, Voyager limped to its finish line. Ratings were down, even as the UPN network had expanded its viewerbase, and the show never found the spark to launch it into the stratosphere of critical popularity. TNG started as a C- show that ended up an A+ program. DS9 started as maybe a C+/B- series that concluded with a string of A+ seasons and a final ten-episode stretch that was a Star Trek franchise-highlight. Voyager began as a C+ and basically ended the same way. After a decade and a half on the air the initial buzz that came with TNG’s premiere (“Star Trek is back on TV!”) had long since ended and the stories Rick Berman’s team were churning out were mostly filler-episodes; the stand-out gems were few and far between.

And yet, before Voyager’s meandering seventh season even began, Berman and Paramount announced that the next Star Trek show would launch only a few months after Voyager’s series finale. The promise was to return the show to its “Original Series” roots, making the new series a prequel to the adventures of Kirk, with a swashbuckling captain, less reliance on technobabble…and more sex, because nerds.

star-trek-enterprise-jolene-blalock-tpol-connor-trinneer-charles-trip-tucker

Much more sex.

The idea of returning the Star Trek franchise to (before) its roots was an exciting prospect, but the announcement came with immediate red flags being raised. First of all was the fact that Rick Berman would continue to Executive Produce. While he mostly left Michael Pillar to run Roddenberry’s The Next Generation, he was very involved in the two spin-offs. But after DS9 got its feet wet, Berman shifted his focus to the upstart Voyager and allowed Ira Behr to guide the direction of DS9 (to that show’s great success).

There are multiple reasons why DS9 succeeded where Voyager stumbled, but one that can’t be ignored is the fact that Berman’s fingerprints were all over one from the very beginning and basically non-existent on the other after the first couple years. Really the only edict from on high that Berman ever insisted upon to the TNG and DS9 writers was that they should (barring a few notable exceptions) keep any and all references to the Original Series out of their scripts. The general consensus was that Berman was embarrassed by the kitsch and cheese of TOS and wanted “his” Star Trek show to be its own thing. Having him oversee a show that was supposed to take inspiration from TOS concerned many Star Trek fans.

Another problem was Berman’s choice of show-runner: Brannon Braga. He was a veteran Star Trek writer, having worked on TNG and Voyager, rising from writer to producer to co-executive producer. Enterprise was to be a show co-created by him, with his own personal flair being given to it. And what is Braga’s flair? High concept scripts that were reliant on technobabble, scenarios that required rabbits being pulled out of hats to solve the problem and very little humanity.

Braga’s best work was when he was teamed up on TNG with Ronald Moore. Together they were like Star Trek’s Lennon/McCartney. One had the big ideas but usually lacked the heart, and the other had the heart but occasionally had a wicked good idea too. After Moore left Star Trek (due to being fenced out of the Voyager writer’s room), Braga was left to handle the creative side of the show by himself. The tired plots of Enterprise’s first two seasons have Brannon Braga’s signature all over them, with big ideas wasted on characters the audience is never given a reason to care about.

Without a competent co-writer to pick up the slack on Braga’s limitations the show suffered out of the gate. Actually, I should correct myself: Braga did have a co-writer on Enterprise: Over half of Enterprise’s episodes were co-written by Braga and Rick Berman himself, the man with one previous Star Trek writing credit before Enterprise: TNG’s mediocre episode “A Matter of Time” (he also co-wrote the good TNG episode “Brothers” with Michael Pillar). So I guess, no, I don’t need to correct myself, since I said Braga needed a “competent” co-writer, and he didn’t have one.

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Enterprise stumbled and bumbled along for a year and a half when UPN stepped in and said that the show wasn’t working. Either a new direction would have to be given to the series or the show would be cancelled. Ratings were okay but not okay enough to justify the high budget each episode demanded.

For comparison’s sake: Voyager debuted (along with the UPN network) to 20 million viewers. That’s a staggeringly high number today, especially for a start-up network, but it was only considered “pretty good” in 1995. It ended it’s truncated first season with a little over 8 million viewers. After that, the show settled in at around 5 million viewers for the next several years, before dropping to an average of 3 million and then finally, in its seventh season it dipped to the low 2 million range. Enterprise premiered to only 12 million viewers, dropped to 9 million for its second episode and was down to 5 million at the end of its first season. By the end of its second it was under 4 million.

The shakeup Berman and Braga decided upon was a 9|11 allegory, by having a hitherto unknown alien race attack earth (because “earth” is basically “the U.S. in space”), killing millions. Enterprise then ditches its mission of exploration to become a war machine bent on finding the aliens and bringing them to justice. That sounds exactly like what Gene Roddenberry envisioned! Remember when everyone was angry that DS9 featured a war as the show’s major focus? No one cared anymore by the time Enterprise one-upped it.

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The third season of the show was a departure for Star Trek in one specific area: It tried to be more serialized. Berman’s insistence that Voyager and Enterprise offer a “new adventure a week” was finally out the window…sort of. There were still well-defined plots with beginnings, middles and ends every week, but there was a more clearly-defined arc that carried the show through the third season.

Credit where it’s due, though: This was long before the days of Netflix-binging. TV viewing habits were still focused on sitting down in front of your screen at a predetermined time once a week every week. Cable shows were beginning to offer serialized shows, but the networks were leery of scaring away casual viewers. Everyone likes to compare Enterprise’s season three with Ronald Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, but BSG didn’t air its first proper episode (the brilliant “33”) until sixteen months after Enterprise season three began. This was a very forward-thinking move, but it was probably a few years too early to catch on with network TV viewers: Ratings for the season continued to drop, with the show notching it’s first episode under 3 million viewers halfway through the year.

By the end of the third season Paramount ordered real change and Berman/Braga were out as the day-to-day creative force and Manny Coto (a guy who had written a couple season three episodes and, before this, was most famous for his work on Odyssey 5 on Showtime) was in. Coto took Berman’s serialized idea and simplified it, turning the fourth season into a series of mini-arcs that lasted 2-3 episodes at a time. His biggest contribution to the show, however, was his genuine love of The Original Series and his focus on making the fourth season into an exploration of the lore of Star Trek.

The fourth season was the ultimate in fan service. Old ideas were resurrected (the Gorn, the Tholians, the mirror universe, Kahn’s Eugenics Wars, and the formation of the United Federation of Planets). Old questions were answered (how did the Klingons get their ridges; how did the Vulcans become so logical). For the first time, Enterprise finally became the show it was promised to be: It was fun, it was fresh, it was “retro,” and it was well-written.

Naturally UPN cancelled it.

The ratings just weren’t there. A fifth season was teased, ideas were planned and concepts were talked about, but in the end it was not to be. It’s like…you know how John Lennon’s solo career started out really strong, with Plastic Ono Band and Imagine being just amazing records? And then he went and released Sometime in New York City and it was like he lost the ability to make good music. Mind Games wasn’t much better, either. Soon after he retired from recording, but a few years later he got the itch again and recorded Double Fantasy. It’s a great record (the songs he sings at least; ignore the Yoko stuff) and it looked like he was finally back to the Lennon of old. And then Chapman put a bullet in him. Just as he was singing about “starting over” and celebrating a new beginning and how excited he was about raising his child and growing old with his wife…boom: dead. Just like that.

That’s what happened to Enterprise. Just as the show found its groove and Star Trek looked to be back, it was gunned down tragically.

There are a few episodes (see page 2) that stand out, however. Setting aside the stellar fourth season, there are some episodes from the first—and much maligned—two seasons that offered the fools gold that the show—with Network support and better writers in the beginning—might have blossomed into a very good Star Trek series.

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By the time (Star Trek) Enterprise found its footing, the carpet was yanked…

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World Wrestling (WWE) Poised for Growth: Should You Hold?

World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE Analyst Report) is executing a five-part strategy to strengthen and expand the WWE Network. Recently, the company sealed a major deal in China. We believe that these strategic initiatives will boost the company’s performance.

Hidden Catalysts

In order to boost revenues of the WWE Network, the company has been implementing certain strategies. These include development of fresh content, execution of customer acquisition and retention programs, increase in distribution platform, introduction of new features and foray into new locations. These strategies have started to bear fruit as evidenced by growth in the company’s subscriber base.

In fact, WWE Network’s total subscriber base jumped 10.7% to 1.469 million year over year during the first quarter of 2016. The number of average paid subscribers surged 39% from the first quarter of 2015 to above 1.29 million. WWE Network is also available in the Indian subcontinent, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Japan.

Management expects contractual increase of television rights fees as well as the acquisition and retention of WWE Network subscribers to be the primary growth drivers in 2016 and beyond.

Recently, WWE signed a multi-year agreement with China’s premier digital streaming company, PPTV. Per the agreement, the company will air its leading shows – Raw and SmackDown – in Mandarin. The company will also hold the live events in China for the first time in more than three years. The live event is scheduled for Sep 10, 2016 at 7 pm. Tickets for the live event have become available from Jun 18, 2016. WWE superstars Roman Reigns, Charlotte, John Cena, Seth Rollins and Sasha Banks will be present at the live events.

Concerns

Decline in pay-per-view revenues is a major concern for WWE. In 2015, the company generated pay-per-view revenues of $20.6 million compared with $45.2 million, $82.5 million and $83.6 million in 2014, 2013 and 2012, respectively. These represent 3%, 8%, 16% and 17% of total revenue in 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012, respectively.

Launch of the WWE Network was responsible for this sharp decline in pay-per-view revenues. The introduction of WWE Network had altered the distribution of WWE’s pay-per-view programs and lowered the monetization of assets via other platforms like pay-per-view as well as content distributed on digital platforms. The company continues to distribute programming via pay-per-view channels following the launch of WWE Network, however, some of the earlier distributors do not carry such programming anymore.

The company expects adjusted OIBDA of nearly $5 million to $9 million for the second quarter of 2016. This projection is lower than the company’s second-quarter 2015 OIBDA of $13.2 million, primarily due to tactical investments as well as the timing impact of WrestleMania production costs and fall in royalty rate related to the company’s franchise video game.

WWE, which share space with Live Nation Entertainment, Inc. (LYV Snapshot Report) , currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

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World Wrestling (WWE) Poised for Growth: Should You Hold?

Erwin Chargaff and also the Record of Genetics

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Hornswoggle Shoot Trailer, Charlotte's RAW Entrance, ICP Returning to Pro Wrestling, WWE Stock

– Kayfabe Commentaries has released their new shoot interview with former WWE Superstar Hornswoggle. The trailer is below:

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– WWE stock was up 0.06% today, closing at $17.75 per share. Today’s high was $17.96 and the low was $17.50.

– Former WWE, ECW and WCW stars The Insane Clown Posse will be returning to the ring for Pro Wrestling Syndicate at Summer Showdown on August 27th in Sayreville, New Jersey. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope will team with a partner to face former WWE Superstars Crime Time and a partner. Others announced for the event include Teddy Hart, The Sandman, Sabu, Homicide, Tito Santana and more. Tickets, matches and full details can be found at this link.

– WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte noted on Twitter that she missed her trademark wink last night on RAW in Tampa as she botched her entrance a bit. She tweeted the following in response to a fan who asked about the wink:

I may or may not have hit my head on on entrance

This Week's WWE RAW Viewership Down from the Post-MITB Episode

Monday’s WWE RAW, featuring AJ Styles vs. WWE World Heavyweight Champion Dean Ambrose in the main event, drew 3.093 million viewers. This is down from last week’s 3.467 million viewers for the post-Money In the Bank episode.

For this week’s show, the first hour drew 3.096 million viewers, the second hour drew 3.173 million viewers and the final hour drew 3.011 million viewers.

RAW was #3 on cable for the night in viewership, behind Rizolli & Isles and Major Crimes, and #3 in the 18-49 demographic, behind Love & Hip-Hop and Black Ink Crew.

Possible AJ Styles Title Plans, Major Tag Team Division Changes Coming?, WWE Ribbing Top Stars on TV, Vince McMahon Wants Famous Star, Title Plans for John Cena, Major WWE Plans for Kevin Owens and Big Cass, Alberto Del Rio and Paige Drama on WWE TV?, Heat on WWE Tag Team, Vince McMahon Tired of Roman Reigns’ Push?, Major AJ Styles Concern, Velvet Sky to WWE?, Heat Between HHH and Top WWE Star, Shane McMahon – WWE Creative, Backstage Big Cass and Vince McMahon Story, WWE Star Saves Career Backstage, Must See New Lana & AJ Lee & Maryse, Lots of New GIFs & Exclusives, More

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This Week's WWE RAW Viewership Down from the Post-MITB Episode

The Persian Hercules Wants WWE Spot (Photos), More Of John Cena On GMA, WWE RAW Twitter TV Ratings

– Above is another video from John Cena’s appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America to plug his hosting appearance on ESPN’s ESPY Awards.

John Cena Talks 14 Year WWE Run On ABC's GMA, Reveals Pat Tillman Award Winner

– Monday’s WWE RAW ranked #1 among series & specials for the night in Nielsen’s Twitter TV ratings. RAW had 146,000 tweets with 35,000 unique authors. This is down from last week’s show, which had 151,000 tweets with 31,000 unique authors.

– 24 year old powerlifter Sajad Gharibi from Iran is getting a lot of mainstream media attention this week after being featured by Maxim magazine. “The Iranian Hulk” or “The Persian Hercules” reportedly is hoping for a career with WWE. Below are some of his photos:

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The Persian Hercules Wants WWE Spot (Photos), More Of John Cena On GMA, WWE RAW Twitter TV Ratings