For 'Next Generation' fans, there's no tomorrow A TIME WARP

May 23, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

These are dark days in Trekker Country -- the land where real fans of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" live. After seven years and 16 Emmys, "The Next Generation" makes its final first-run flight this week.

Followers of the series are taking it hard -- very hard.

"It's a spiritual thing to me, and I'm going to be really emotional watching that last episode," says Randy Christy of Hamilton.

"I'm an addict of the show . . . and I'm angry and upset to see it go off the air," says Sara Conway.

"Don't ask. I can't even think of watching the final episode. Right now, I think I'm in total denial about it coming to an end," says Commander Data of Dundalk.

Yes, fans of "Melrose Place" might throw campy parties for that show's season finale. And sure, "Seinfeld" addicts play party games based on "Seinlanguage." But devotees of "Star Trek" are in a galaxy of their own when it comes to TV as lifestyle.

Take Commander Data, of Dundalk. Maybe you were wondering about the name. Isn't it the name of a "Next Generation" character played by Brent Spiner?

Actually, the TV character is Lieutenant Commander Data. Commander Data is the name of an ardent 19-year-old female fan in Dundalk.

"That's her real name," says Data's mother, Evelyn Elizabeth. "She has actually, legally, changed her name to Commander Data. Her first name is Commander and her last name is Data, and she has painted NCC-1701-D USS Enterprise on all four sides of our car."

Says Data: "It's hard to imagine not ever being able to see another new episode. I really do think my mind's in denial. But I've been recording every episode for more than year now so that I'll have them to watch again when it ends."

Data, who says she is 80 pages into writing her own "Star Trek" novel, is not alone in her intense relationship to "The Next Generation." Not by a long shot.

The Sun asked fans of the show to call us via Sundial to share their feelings and help us get a sense of the richness of this TV relationship. More than 160 called. And a dozen of those callers spoke to us in follow-up interviews.

At one point or another, most TV watchers have been involved in a similar relationship with a character or a show -- be it Mary Richards of the old "Mary Tyler Moore Show" or Sam Malone of "Cheers." We get real pleasure from them and go though withdrawal when the relationship ends.

But the bond that fans have formed with "Star Trek" and now "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is unique in its intensity.

For example, Edward Gross is among several area fans leaving this week on an eight-day Alaskan cruise with cast members from "The Next Generation" and 700 other trekkers -- all of them trying to shape-shift their feelings for "Next Generation" to "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

"I can't believe it's going to end," says Lola Woods of Baltimore. "I swear to God, I'm going to miss this show. I have the uniforms. I have a real phaser from the show. I have autographed pictures of a lot of the members of the show. I've got a stinking piece of the Enterprise that I took when I was in California and I was on the set of 'Star Trek.' It's going to ruin my life."

In a sense, "Star Trek" helped Al Purvis get his life together.

"My wife and I met at the opening of the 'Star Trek' movie, that was 'Star Trek VI.' We eventually got married, and the theme of our wedding reception was 'Star Trek: The Next Generation.' We attend all the local 'Star Trek' conventions, belong to the fan club and are going on the cruise," says the 34-year-old Baltimorean.

Many viewers respond intensely to the show because they feel it has given them something special -- or, in the case of Jennifer Jeske, helped them through special times.

"I became hooked on the show after my daughter was born. It really helped me make the transition from career woman to full-time mommy," says Jeske, of Catonsville.

"When my son was born 18 months later, my husband and TC watched two episodes of 'Star Trek' in the hospital while I was in labor. I was kind of upset when they took me to the delivery room before the second one was finished -- it was a first-run episode."

More than 100 viewers who called Sundial said they would miss the show's "messages" and "themes."

Cooperation. The show "showed me how people of different races and sexes could come together and try to make the ship work," says Teresa Allen of Baltimore.

Inclusion. "What I liked most . . . everybody struggled together," says Alma Bell of Baltimore. "I remember one episode in which there were two guys -- one whose face was black on one side, and the other whose face was black on the other side. It's a message that we are all the same under the skin. . . . I'll miss seeing that."

Racial harmony. "I've enjoyed 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' because it promoted racial harmony. It showed men and women from all over the universe working together, and I think this could be a model for us of what we could achieve," says another caller, Mike Myers.

Many callers talked about technology, sociology and the vision of our future offered by the show. For most, however, the connection was more direct and basic.

"I just really like the characters a whole lot, especially Data," says Dundalk's Commander Data. "I enjoy them. They're sort of like family members or something like that. I really look forward to seeing them every week."

Except that next week they won't be back -- except in rerun.

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