Star Trek: Enterprise is only the second series in the franchise's history to be cancelled by its network - so why did it get the axe? Launched in 2001 following the end of Star Trek: Voyager, Enterprise was to be a decidedly different Star Trek series. Set a century before the events of Star Trek: The Original Series, Enterprise chronicled humanity's first steps into deep space exploration. The show featured some aesthetically controversial new elements, such as a cheesy vocalized pop song for its theme song instead of the usual grand orchestral pieces. It was also simply called Enterprise until its third season, seemingly in an effort to distance itself from the franchise's increasingly complicated mythos.
Enterprise's first season was an unqualified success for network UPN, but by the second season the viewer ratings had dipped significantly. UPN mandated significant changes for the third season: the show transitioned from standalone episodes about humanity's earliest encounters with the likes of the Klingons and Andorians, to a serialized war story about new antagonists the Xindi, an effort to reflect the darker mood of post-9/11 America at the time.
The show's new direction was largely well-received by fans, but the ratings continued to fall, and Enterprise would endure yet another upheaval, as longtime Star Trek masterminds Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were essentially demoted in favor of new showrunner Manny Coto.
Coto's fourth season of Enterprise leaned hard on fan service. It explored the formation of the Federation, offered an explanation for the Klingon's wildly different appearances in The Original Series and the later Star Trek series, and even managed to sneak in a Star Trek: The Next Generation cameo in the show's extremely polarizing finale. However, by the fourth season the ratings were no longer sustainable, and UPN cancelled the series. In a callback to the letter writing campaign that saved Star Trek: The Original Series from cancellation after its second season, fans launched a massive effort to convince the network to revive the show for a fifth season, but there would be no eleventh hour reprieve this time - Enterprise, and the Star Trek franchise as a whole, was dead. It was the first time since 1987 there was no active Star Trek television production. The failure of the previous two Star Trek movies and Enterprise's cancellation were enough to put the franchise on ice until it was revived for the big screen by J.J. Abrams in 2009.
So why did Enterprise ultimately fail? The show, quite simply, was fatally flawed from the very start. The prequel setting lost its novelty almost immediately, leaving fans with a show where they felt they knew where things would eventually lead. With the exception of Scott Bakula's Captain Archer and John Billingsley's Dr. Flox, the cast was unremarkable, and easily the least memorable in Star Trek's history. The show simply never had an identity, and the more network changes were mandated, the more it felt like a grab bag of science fiction tropes rather than an actual Star Trek story.
Star Trek: Enterprise exists as something of a cautionary tale. Network meddling, poor creative choices, and a franchise running on fumes resulted in a bland, forgettable show that was incredibly hard to get passionate about. It stands as Star Trek's only true small screen failure, and hopefully the franchise's current gatekeepers learned from its mistakes.