Star Trek: Voyager made history when no other Star Trek had.
Star Trek: Voyager broke the mold when it was made. It was one of the most watched pilots in Star Trek history, second only to Star Trek: The Original Series “Man Trap”. The Man Trap pulled in 42% of the viewable audience for its timeslot and had a rating of 25.2. The numbers in the millions are a bit unclear but they may have pulled in around 40 million viewers for the premiere. Considering there were only three channels, that’s actually not that surprising.
The Original Series aired on NBC, and therefore was not a syndicated series, but would later become one when Paramount sold its rights to syndication. So when the next set of shows came along, many expected them to all be on broadcast television.
Voyager ended up being the first show of the new era to end up on a national network. It did so by posting the second-best pilot rating of 21.3 million viewers, way up from the 15.7 million of The Next Generation nearly a decade prior on syndication.
Fans historically site The Next Generation as the “better” franchise over Voyager, but no one wanted The Next Generation, so it was sold to syndication. So why did Voyager get to be the first Trek show in the history of the franchise to arrive on network television?
The Next Generation paved the way for Voyager
Despite the films doing well at the time, and buzz around a revival series dating back a decade, Star Trek was just not a hot item when The Next Generation was being produced. CBS wanted to turn it into a television movie and Fox ordered a 13-episode order, but due to the production costs involved, the folks running the show had to bow out of those options.
So The Next Generation made it possible for Voyager to appear on broadcast television first. However, that wasn’t the only reason why.
There were two things happening at the same time as one another and were indirectly connected. The first involved the decline of the syndication market while the other was the rise of UPN. The syndication television fell apart. The bubble burst on the market as it always seems to, and due to the rise in cable, and smaller channels being bought by larger outlets, like UPN, there just wasn’t the financing around to support a show like Voyager.
More importantly, UPN was Paramounts’ own broadcast channel to compete with NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and eventually the WB. This meant that Voyager was always going to appear on UPN, as they needed a heavy hitter to bolster their network.
No different than when CBS All Access launched with Star Trek: Discovery, despite the show costing far too much against the audience it brought in.