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original airdate: 10-22-04

Reportedly the budget for Enterprise has been reduced for this season. In order to keep it on the UPN airwaves, the producers are sucking in their financial belts. Now they’re struggling to gain a bigger audience with fewer resources. Many fans fear this will result in a string of bad episodes, leading to a fiery end for Enterprise. But more optimistically, it could result in stronger, more compelling episodes like this week’s "Home."

The first two episodes of season four wrapped up the three year story line of the Temporal Cold War (as well as the season long Xindi saga). So this week we slow it down and check in with the crew’s emotional barometer.

Does this sound familiar to anyone else? In season four of The Next Generation, Picard and crew docked at Earth a few episodes into the year and dealt with their emotions after the infamous Borg incident (when Picard was assimilated).

So this is a time tested formula. And just like TNG, "Home" serves a dual purpose. It’s rich with character detail. But poor in cost.

To save money on PRODUCING an episode of Star Trek means saving money on PRODUCTION. And the only way for a low cost show to survive is with strong scripts.

"Home" deals with three very heavy issues. Dr. Phlox encounters post-Xindi-war xenophobes. He has a run in with some local racists and inflates himself like an alien puffer fish. In the end he gives in to the xenophobes and hides away on the ship.

Tripp flies to Vulcan with T’Pol and watches the hot pointed eared scientist drown in politics and ancient marriage rituals. To save her mother from public disgrace she fulfills her arranged marriage – right in front of Tripp. Talk about the plot thickening. These two have been rather familiar lately. With T’Pol returning to the ship, what steps will their relationship take next?

And Captain Archer, in the only story with a happy ending, climbs a mountain to hide from his success. He’s the hero of Earth, but harbors more guilt than ships in the Utopia Planitia Yards. He made some difficult moral choices in the expanse and now reflects on how his mission and life have changed course. At the top of the mountain Archer gets cuddly with an old friend, who will soon captain the second Warp 5 ship. At least someone on the senior staff is getting it.

The writers are doing their part. But what about the rest of production?

With computer graphics revolutionizing television, a ‘cheap’ episode is becoming more and more easily achieved. Tripp and T’Pol walk along the ruins of Vulcan. A few years ago they would’ve been giant matte paintings. Now, they’re simulated on a green screen.

Limiting the number of aliens in the episode also cuts down on costs. Make-up isn’t cheap. When Archer dreams of a Xindi ambush on the mountain, there seem to be 5 to 7 lizard men attacking him. But there are never more then three aliens on the screen at once. Clever editing can save thousands.

Shooting on location can be expensive, but much easier than building a forest on a sound stage. So if you’re going to build a set, make sure you shoot the hell out of it. There were only a handful of new locations in "Home," giving the stories a more on-stage feel (rather than TV), which only reinforces the drama.

These are the sort of things we can look forward to in season four. Deeper stories. More drama. Go ahead, slash the budget. With a clever staff it’ll only make the show stronger.

Necessity truly is the mother of invention. Remember the original Star Trek survived on a pathetic budget. And it was thanks to penny pinching that Roddenberry dreamt up the transporter. They didn’t have the funds to build a shuttle pod set. What sort of clever creations will come out of Enterprise?

Part of this question will be answered next week when Brent Spiner returns to Trek. He doesn’t come cheap, so the Enterprise maybe replaced by a cardboard box for a couple of weeks.

But it’ll be a REALLY WELL DONE cardboard box.

Kevin Miller

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