With the release of the new series, Strange New Worlds, fans are beginning to once again question what the best Star Trek series ever is. Star Trek has garnered universal acclaim over its more than five decades of existence, but some TV series within the franchise are more popular than others. Star Trek began in 1966 and is still generating content to this day with no signs of stopping. To date, the franchise has spawned 9 TV shows, 13 movies, and a whole host of other media such as books, podcasts, and video games. Television, however, is what makes up the backbone of the franchise, and the critical and commercial success of Star Trek’s TV shows tells a fascinating story of how the property has continually appealed to fans since its inception.
The recent advent of streaming services has kicked the Star Trek franchise into overdrive, and all series are available to stream on various platforms. This makes it important to take into account all factors that make up the overall popularity of every Star Trek series including viewership numbers (when available), critic and fan reviews, and how the popularity of the series may have evolved over time due to things like syndication.
Updated on May 9th, 2022 by Tanner Fox: Older than almost any other television series relevant in popular culture today, Star Trek is a phenomenon that sparked a perpetual fascination with science fiction in avid TV viewers. It’s gone through many changes over its half-century-long run, and not every project bearing the Star Trek tag has been successful. Still, most television outings related to the property tend to be well-received.
The continued competition between major streaming services has ushered in a new era for Star Trek, and, while shows like Below Decks may not have captivated audiences as the original animated series has, there’s still every chance that the franchise continues to grow in popularity in the foreseeable future.
10 Star Trek: Prodigy
Star Trek: Prodigy isn’t necessarily going to get set in stone as the least-popular outing for the sci-fi property, but it’s definitely an unconventional one that’s tough to compare to the more established series. Intended for younger audiences, Star Trek: Prodigy debuted on Nickelodeon in 2021 and sees a cast of characters learn the virtues of teamwork as they commandeer the abandoned U.S.S. Protostar in order to escape the Delta Quadrant.
Thus far, the series seems to have garnered positive responses from fans, but it’s tough to gauge the show’s overall popularity given how new it is and the fact that it was intended to target a totally new audience who may not be familiar with Star Trek.
9 Star Trek: Lower Decks
Star Trek: Lower Decks is part of the recent Star Trek renaissance. Season 1 of Lower Decks premiered in August 2020, and the second was released in October 2021. Lower Decks is available on Paramount+, the streaming service from ViacomCBS that was rebranded from CBS All Access earlier in 2021. It is one of the only animated shows in the franchise, and its writing and comedic style have earned both praise and criticism from fans.
It is also one of the lowest-rated Star Trek shows to date, earning a scant 67% at Rotten Tomatoes. Likewise, although not much data is available, Star Trek: Lower Decks did not break any streaming records for CBS All Access during its first season unlike its sister shows Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard. Despite a relatively lukewarm response, fans of the show have praised its humor and references to the wider Star Trek universe.
8 Star Trek: The Animated Series
Star Trek: The Animated Series aired between 1973 and 1975. It was a direct sequel to Star Trek: The Original Series and a response to the popularity TOS had gained in syndication. Most of the regular cast from TOS returned to reprise their roles in The Animated Series.
Although the show is often overlooked by fans and has a questionable place in the canon, it was actually quite popular when it aired, and it continues to be relatively well-reviewed today by those who remember it. In fact, TAS had the opposite problem that The Original Series did while it was airing; ratings for the show were high, but it did not appeal to a younger audience, the demographic it was marketed to. Despite its apparent popularity, Star Trek: The Animated Series is not nearly as well-reviewed or well-remembered as most other Star Trek series.
7 Star Trek: Enterprise
Star Trek: Enterprise ran from 2001 to 2005 and was broadcast on UPN. Enterprise was a prequel to the franchise up until that point and was set in the 22nd century, chronicling the adventures of Captain Jonathan Archer and his crew on the very first Starship Enterprise. The premiere episode was watched by 12.5 million viewers, and ratings for the show continued to be good for a little while before beginning to decline at the end of the 1st season.
In an effort to bring them back, the third and fourth seasons featured more serialized storylines, but Star Trek: Enterprise continued to see a steady decline in ratings, which ultimately got the show canceled after 4 seasons. This has been attributed to both the storylines and the fact that UPN was flagging as a network. The show continues to have a small but devoted following in the fandom, but with only a 57% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.5/10 on IMDb, it seems that modern reviewers don’t hold it in very high regard.
6 Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: Voyager was the series that came before Enterprise, airing from 1995 to 2002 on UPN. Voyager is best remembered as being the show with Star Trek’s first female captain and for its overall diversity of cast members, including the most female leads of any Star Trek series up until that point.
Unlike Enterprise, Voyager always maintained above a 3.0 on the Nielsen rating scale, something that a show needs to do to be considered generally successful. However, Voyager never came close to achieving the same ratings that shows like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Star Trek: The Next Generation did. Like Enterprise, Voyager continues to maintain a devoted following, and modern fan ratings are much better than Enterprise’s, as well. The show maintains a respectable 76% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.8 on IMDb.
5 Star Trek: Discovery
Premiering in 2017, Star Trek: Discovery served as a prequel to The Original Series until a time jump to the 32nd century in season 3. Discovery has almost exclusively been available on streaming but is the only modern Star Trek series to also have some more traditional data about viewership; the first episode and the first season were broadcast on CBS in 2017 and 2020 respectively. The 2020 full first season release saw a disappointing 1.7 million viewers tuning in, but this was likely because the show had already been viewed by many on streaming.
Discovery also set a subscription record for CBS All Access when the first season premiered, bringing in the largest number of subscriptions for a whole month after its release. Fan ratings place Discovery quite highly, with an average of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes for all 3 seasons. This percentage was helped significantly by the recent 3rd season which garnered high praise from all sides.
4 Star Trek: Picard
Star Trek: Picard is the most recent of the three modern Star Trek show that has aired on streaming services. Picard premiered in January of 2020, and both its fan and critical reviews are better on average than Discovery’s. After two seasons, Picard has an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and most critics praised actor Patrick Stewart’s performance in his return as the iconic Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In addition to this, Star Trek: Picard set the record for the second most subscriptions to CBS All Access, and it actually beat Discovery’s streaming record with 115% more total streams. That said, the audience response to the series hasn’t been quite as positive as the critical response, though it remains one of the most highly-acclaimed Star Trek projects in quite some time.
3 Star Trek: The Original Series
Although it is true that Star Trek: The Original Series was canceled in 1969 mostly due to low ratings, several factors contribute to it being higher in popularity than its cancelation would suggest. One of the main reasons is that, even though ratings declined over the course of TOS’s 3 seasons, the audience demographics for the show helped keep it alive. TOS has always had an extremely loyal and ardent fanbase which is perhaps best illustrated by the famous letter-writing campaign that fans put together after the second season amid rumors about the show’s cancelation.
The third season was unfortunately not enough to save TOS from being canceled, although its cancelation has mostly been attributed to budget cuts and bad time slot decisions from the network. After TOS was canceled, however, it became immensely popular in syndication in the 1970s, gaining the status of a cult classic and reaching an even bigger audience than it had when it was on the air. Today, of course, TOS is celebrated as the show that launched the entire Star Trek franchise.
2 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ran from 1993 to 1999 and achieved a high degree of both critical and commercial success. The show was a departure from traditional Star Trek up until that point both in terms of its setting and the darker themes incorporated into its plotlines. This did not hinder Deep Space Nine’s popularity, however.
Although Deep Space Nine was the first in the string of Star Trek shows that saw ratings steadily decrease over the course of its 7 seasons, it always maintained ratings well within the margin of what it needed to be considered a success. In 1999, it was reported that Deep Space Nine was the number 1 syndicated show for adults ages 18-54, and it was consistently rated better than Star Trek: Voyager even though the two ran concurrently. Additionally, with a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8/10 on IMDb, fan consensus proves that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is still held in high regard.
1 Star Trek: The Next Generation
Out of every show in the franchise, Star Trek: The Next Generation is universally the most popular. TNG aired from 1987 to 1994, and, although the first season is usually not thought of highly by fans, the show hit its stride quickly. Unlike The Original Series, TNG achieved wide mainstream success during its run, mostly due to the fact that it was created for syndication. TNG consistently maintained high ratings, often ranking in the top 10 of hour-long dramas, and is one of the few Star Trek shows that actually ended its run with higher ratings than when it began. Today, TNG has a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, but places just slightly higher than Deep Space Nine on IMDb with an 8.6/10
Star Trek: The Next Generation and many of the other best shows in the franchise ended well over a decade ago, but the endeavors of that era continue to be the most highly-rated. That said, Star Trek has nearly limitless potential, and it may not be long until a series garners acclaim equal to or greater than that of TNG.
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