Here’s an intersting euology for Star Trek courtesy of Tech Central Station.* Kern is right in that Trek was New Age religion for geeks, but its appeal was far too broad to be exclusively that. Trek, in its prime, was the sci-fi manifestation of the liberal ideal of its era—from the New Frontier optimism and racial integration of the originial series, to the muscular U.N. in a spaceship of NextGen, to the galaxy’s peacekeepers of DS9. Recent series generally stepped away from that vision (perhaps because liberalism itself has lost its moorings). Voyager was not about boldly going where no man has gone before, but rather going home. The recently-departed Enterprise, as a prequel, was looking towards a future that 35 years of television, movies, novels, and computer games had already plotted out. Therefore, despite being set in the future, much of the visionary thing was missing—we knew how this story would end (probably the biggest problem with the Star Wars prequels as well). I watched Enterprise for the first season, and while it was a good show, there was really nothing compelling or unique about it to make me keep watching after it returned from summer hiatus for season two, so my viewings of it has been sporadic over the past couple years. I did, however, make it a point to watch the last few episodes. Like James Lileks, I regard the second-to-last episode as the real series finale. The final episode, featuring Riker and Troi from NextGen following the Enterprise’s crew five years into Enterprise’s future at the end of the mission (if that makes sense), was basically a love note to fans of the recent (last 15 years) of Trek series. The episode was thoroughly wrapped up in Trek lore and probably meant little to casual non-Trekkies.
I could see Star Trek returning to tv sometime within the next decade. What remains to be seen, however, is if future incarnations of Trek will ever have the same broad, cross-demographic appeal that the original series did. Perhaps future generations of Trek will have to live on the Sci-Fi Channel as series or miniseries, where its ready-made niche market would translate into high ratings, rather than relatively low ratings on a broadcast network.
*which may feature some of my writing in the near future