No More Voyager for Ithaca Viewers

January 10, 2001 by Mark H. Anbinder

Six years ago this month, the January/February 1995 14850 Magazine cover story talked about two new networks, a new television program, and Ithaca's bad luck. The two new networks were Paramount's UPN and Warner's WB, the new television program was Star Trek: Voyager, and Ithaca viewers, lacking a UPN affiliate, couldn't watch the new Trek series.

The Voyager cast out of uniform. (l-r) Robert Picardo, Garret Wang, Roxann Dawson, Robert Beltran, Kate Mulgrew, Robert Duncan McNeill, Jeri Ryan, Tim Russ, and Ethan Phillips. All Voyager images on this page courtesy UPN.The Voyager cast out of uniform. (l-r) Robert Picardo, Garret Wang, Roxann Dawson, Robert Beltran, Kate Mulgrew, Robert Duncan McNeill, Jeri Ryan, Tim Russ, and Ethan Phillips. All Voyager images on this page courtesy UPN.

WNYS, a Syracuse television station, soon remedied the situation, but this month, Ithaca viewers are in a daze as they realize they once again can't watch Voyager, as the series nears its climactic ending.

To UPN or not to UPN...

Back in 1995, Ithaca's difficulty was that no UPN affiliates were within broadcast range. WNYS, the low-power Syracuse station that carried UPN programming, didn't have a strong enough signal at the time. Following a transmitter upgrade, WNYS's signal was strong enough in Ithaca that the FCC's "must-carry" provisions forced cable provider Time Warner Cable to include the station in its basic line-up.

Today, the problem is that WNYS has decided to jump ship, ditching its UPN affiliation in favor of the WB. The Warner Bros. network, which got its start at nearly the same time as UPN, features such popular weekly programs as Dawson's Creek, Felicity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, The PJs, and Charmed. WNYS became a WB affiliate on January 15th. (As of this writing, several days later, their web site still says "Coming soon.")

The January/February 1995 issue of 14850 Magazine.The January/February 1995 issue of 14850 Magazine.

Not only does this shift leave Time Warner Cable in Ithaca without a UPN affiliate, it leaves them with two WB affiliates, and the FCC requirement to block network programming from the more-distant affiliate. In this case, TWC must block WB shows such as Dawson's Creek on WPIX, one of Warner's flagship stations and a long-time favorite of Ithaca cable subscribers.

Time Warner general manager Tom Doheny fears there's no quick solution that will restore UPN programming to Ithaca viewers in time for Voyager's impending series end. While there are other central New York UPN affiliates, none is near enough for its signal to be received in Ithaca so that Time Warner can redistribute it.

Voyager is slated to wrap up with a two-hour finale, to be broadcast on Wednesday, May 23rd. UPN will air a retrospective of the series the night before, along with a "viewer's favorite" episode to be voted on by fans.

Beyond that, UPN's fate is unclear. There are already rumblings that UPN may be replaced by a "Paramount Network" with a different focus. The current network's most popular offerings seem to be WWF wrestling matches, which don't necessarily mix well with weekly dramas.

Seven Years

Robert Picardo as the computerized "EMH" ministers to 7 of 9, the rescued Borg portrayed by Jeri Ryan. Robert Picardo as the computerized "EMH" ministers to 7 of 9, the rescued Borg portrayed by Jeri Ryan. Looking back at our early overview of Voyager's crew in 1995, we're pleased to see that Robert Picardo's character, the computerized emergency medical hologram who took over for the flesh-and-blood doctor killed early in the first episode, did indeed turn out to be popular with viewers. We've even gotten to meet the flesh-and-blood "Dr. Zimmerman" whose medical knowledge, voice, and appearance the holodoc inherited.

Captain Kathryn Janeway (played by Kate Mulgrew) earned mixed reviews from Voyager fans. Her gruff voice made her seem a plausible commander to some, and too wooden to others. Writers briefly explored a relationship between Janeway and Robert Beltran's Commander Chakotay, the former Maquis leader who Janeway made her second-in-command, but apparently decided to restrict her to the occasional implied fling with guest-starring aliens or holographic characters.

Voyager took one of its most controversial steps when, at the beginning of its fourth season, producers brought on board "7 of 9," a Borg drone who Captain Janeway rescued in the season's cliffhanger-ending season premiere. The character, played by the tall, buxom Jeri Ryan, has never gotten around to donning a Starfleet uniform, sticking to form-fitting jumpsuits that show off her body to the delight of the significant teenage and twenty-something male portion of Voyager's audience.

Called just "Seven" now that she's been separated from the Borg Collective and carried along for Voyager's ride, Ryan's character has faced several personal crises such as a resurgence of memories from childhood (before being assimilated by the Borg) and even an attempt by the Borg to recapture her. Trek's caretakers must carefully walk the line between letting Seven slip into the background too far, and spending too much time on her character's development or travails. Mulgrew is said to have announced she was tired of sharing so many scenes with Ryan's breasts. In fact, Ryan is at her most attractive when the script calls for her to appear in more normal clothes, with her hair down instead of fastened tightly to the back of her head.

One nice advantage to Seven-heavy episodes is that they often also feature Naomi Wildman, a young girl born to a member of the ship's crew early in Voyager's run. Naomi helps Seven to find her human side hidden within, and of course adorable little kids never hurt a TV show.

The Women of Voyager

Voyager's women: Kate Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, and Roxann Dawson. Voyager goes a long way toward repairing the gender inequity from the generationally appropriate original Star Trek series, whose women were mostly glorified secretaries or telephone operators. Voyager's women: Kate Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, and Roxann Dawson. Voyager goes a long way toward repairing the gender inequity from the generationally appropriate original Star Trek series, whose women were mostly glorified secretaries or telephone operators. Seven and Naomi Wildman aren't the only noteworthy female characters on Voyager. In fact, this show joins "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and its sequel, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," in offering strong women in clear counterpoint to Star Trek's origins.

The original Star Trek pilot featured a female first officer, but network execs balked, saying viewers would never accept a woman in such a position of authority. The character, called "Number One" two decades before Will Riker hit the scene, was played by Majel Lee Hudec, who appeared later, under the name Majel Barrett and Majel Barrett Roddenberry, as Nurse Chapel and Lwaxana Troi. That pilot wasn't broadcast in its original form, and the second pilot and later episodes instead featured a Vulcan first officer. Gene Roddenberry's widow, meanwhile, still provides the voice for most of the computers in Star Trek's various vessels and is one of the most popular guests at Star Trek conventions around the country.

The original "Star Trek" proceeded with female yeomen, little more than secretaries, and a female communications officer, Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols. Nichols complained that she rarely got to do more than "open hailing frequencies" to contact that episode's alien or Starfleet Command, but as one of the few black women in mainstream '60s TV, was considered lucky to get what lines she did.

The late '80s and early '90s were a different story, so TNG and DS9 each featured women in more prominent, active roles. These, like Voyager, were much more ensemble shows than the original Trek, so each character got a reasonable amount of attention over the course of a season, or the series.

By the time production began on Voyager, a female starship captain made plenty of sense. Genevieve Bujold, hired as the no-nonsense leader, lasted only a few days before realizing the rigors of weekly television were far more strenuous than the feature films she'd done to that point, and Mulgrew was quickly brought on to replace her.

Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris and Roxann Dawson as Belanna Torres. The pair is hardly the first Star Trek couple, but they're the first major characters to wed. Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris and Roxann Dawson as Belanna Torres. The pair is hardly the first Star Trek couple, but they're the first major characters to wed.

Another female character aboard Voyager since the first episode is Belanna Torres, a half-Klingon member of the Maquis crew Voyager was chasing. Now the starship's chief engineer, Torres has never appeared completey comfortable as a part of a Starfleet crew, and she, perhaps more than Chakotay, is an occasional reminder that this crew was once two separate, enemy crews before fate threw them together.

Torres occasionally explores her Klingon heritage, and her long-standing relationship with Tom Paris even saw the pair married recently. While the recent crop of Trek series and movies have done a bit more exploring with inter-character romances than the original, wholly episodic Star Trek series allowed, it wasn't until "Voyager" stranded a cast of characters halfway across the galaxy that a serious long-term relationship made sense.

One woman we hoped would last was Kes, an alien the crew picked up early in its voyages, played by Jennifer Lien. The character was an Ocampan, a short-lived species whose members reach late adolescence about a year after birth. By the end of the series, Kes should have reached old age, but the character was written out of the show when Lien decided the ensemble approach didn't allow her enough exposure.

More about the men

Perhaps the least-exposed member of Voyager's ensemble crew is Garret Wang as Ensign Harry Kim. His is probably the least-developed character. Other than a tendency to fall for alien women, we've unfortunately seen little more than the fresh-faced recent Academy graduate we met in 1995.

Tim Russ's Vulcan security officer, Tuvok, is a well-liked character, not surprising considering Spock's popularity. We're impressed with how long producers waited before taking advantage of the obvious plot device, the "pon farr" mating instinct that comes over Vulcans once every seven years; they waited until several episodes into this final season before exploring the issue.

Tuvok most often expresses his Vulcan nature, a lack of emotionality, when Neelix is around. This castaway crew member, played by Ethan Phillips, calls Tuvok "Mr. Vulcan" and often manages to pry some friendship out of an otherwise stoic exterior. Neelix is awfully reminiscent of Phillips's character on the old "Benson" sitcom; he's well-intentioned but often seems in the way. Neelix has adopted the role of morale officer and serves as Voyager's chef.

Robert Beltran as Chakotay occasionally gets to explore the character's Native American heritage, but is often wasted. We were hoping the character's developing relationship with Captain Janeway would go somewhere. Instead, we usually just get comments from Chakotay along the lines of, "Captain, I don't think that's a good idea." At least his Maquis past occasionally manifests itself.

The best-utilized and best-developed of the male characters is Robert Duncan McNeill's Tom Paris. Belanna Torres's husband began the series as a barely-trusted man getting a second chance aboard Janeway's vessel, and has often proven a bit too independent-minded for the Captain's taste. Paris was even demoted as a punishment a while back, and was promoted back to the rank of Lieutenant more recently. (Poor Harry is still an Ensign.)

Paris has a penchant for silly space opera and fast cars, or their 24th century counterparts. His "Delta Flyer" has proven a useful small vessel when it's time to separate a few cast members from the safety of the starship.

Coming home

Whether Ithaca viewers can watch or not, Paramount is wrapping up Voyager's seven-year trek this spring. Still unanswered is the question, "Will Voyager make it home?"

Starship Ithaca  USS Accord is a chapter of STARFLEET: the International Star Trek Fan Association. The group meets the second Saturday of each month at 4:30 pm at the Cayuga Heights Fire Station, and hosts an annual hike at the Watkins Glen State Park that attracts dozens of STARFLEET members from out of town each fall.  For more info, visit <a href=Starship Ithaca USS Accord is a chapter of STARFLEET: the International Star Trek Fan Association. The group meets the second Saturday of each month at 4:30 pm at the Cayuga Heights Fire Station, and hosts an annual hike at the Watkins Glen State Park that attracts dozens of STARFLEET members from out of town each fall. For more info, visit http://www.ussaccord.org/ " width="200" height="60" />

It seems like a foregone conclusion that the season would end with the lost starship's dramatic return, but cynics have suggested Paramount might end the series with a cliffhanger to be resolved in a motion picture, for which Voyager fans would have to wait, and shell out $8.

At the Springfield, Massachusetts "United Fan Con" last fall, Phillips revealed that Voyager would end with a several-episode story arc culminating in... the end of the series. Just what would happen, he claimed not to know.

If we're lucky, our friends will tape it for us.

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