DS9 is now and was during its original run my favorite of the Star Trek spinoffs. I remember during the show's original run, most of my 'Star Trek friends' either didn't like the show or had stopped watching it after its first season (which granted the first two years were pretty awful). Many of them would comment that it was too dark, or too boring, or not really star trek. Even Paramount treated the show a bit like the ugly middle child rarely promoting it. Rick Berman's daily involvement in the show pretty much stopped after the first season as he focused on Voyager (which is probably why it was so good). Even today it's easy to find TOS, TNG and VOY reruns but DS9 doesn't rerun very often.
Ah, the ugly middle child/stepchild, etc narrative. That's what DS9 fans tell themselves to make themselves feel better and try to play a Star Trek version of the victim card. DS9 got better ratings than Voyager
. Matching up season by season from 95-99, Voyager only averaged 85% of DS9's ratings and episode by episode, only the smallest handful of VOY episodes beat the DS9 episode of the week. Indeed, many DS9 reruns beat VOY new episodes.
And advertising was a result of Voyager being on a network, DS9 being in syndication at a time when WB & UPN appeared, which affected what promos could be aired when. In my area, DS9 was on a WB affiliate and DS9 promos (and/or Herc, Xena, EFC, Andromeda) were only shown during an increasingly smaller block of time. You used to be able to catch the promos during the week at times but by 98 or 99, the promos were only on Saturdays, the same day the shows all aired (and only during that block of synd. shows). It wasn't that Paramount didn't promote it, it was the nature of syndication promos in general (if Paramount didn't promote it, neither did Renaissance Pics for Herc/Xena, nor Tribune for EFC, Andromeda).
And Berman ignoring DS9 is what made is so good is another cliche. They had oversight over it, they just chose to give the lead writers Wolfe, the other guy, Beimler, a freer hand. Voyager had more demands being a network show (UPN can make demands, network shows are regulated more than syndicated shows. This difference was hugely apparent in network vs. syndicated cartoons back in the '80s & '90s). And remember, Pillar had oversight to til 1996.
And while Voyager looked like it had a stable timeslot, it really did not. Many UPN affiliates were also NBA, NHL, MLB affiliates and would pre-empt Voyager for sports. This was especially the case when it moved to Wednesdays (more games on Wed nights than Mon nights). The Detroit UPN affiliate IIRC carried Tigers, Red Wings *and* Pistons, which meant loads of pre-emptions for Voyager & Enterprise. WB had a similar problem for a few years until WB started strongarming some of its affiliates to drop their sports to carry WB. I see this same mentality in CW in baseball games being bounced over to a secondary channel so they could air their May sweeps episodes without the ratings taking a dip from big markets missing.
In the '90s, syndication had better ratings than UPN or WB. Voyager was the best rated show on UPN til SmackDown in 1999 and factoring out that show as sports/not a scripted show (even though it *is* scripted), Voyager was the highest-rated show on UPN from Seasons 1-7. Voyager also had better ratings than any WB show until 7th Heaven I think in 98-99 and Charmed I think ~2000. Even then, it was the 3rd highest rated show between UPN & WB. Enterprise is the one whose ratings sunk lower and lower relative to the rest of UPN & WB. And compared to syndication, Voyager would finish in 4th until 99-01, when it moves up the pack. TNG always beat DS9 (except for the earliest DS9 eps) but from 94-95 to 98-99, DS9 was always ranked 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. DS9 (let me bold this) had higher ratings than Baywatch
and when not in 1st, the only shows beating it were Xena & Hercules. If TNG was the King of Syndication, DS9 was the Prince (or the Queen).
A lot of DS9's problem stems from having a very dull Season 1. That alienated a lot of people. Season 2 was much better (underrated), Season 3 got better, Season 4 was better in some ways, but rather trying in others (Klingon war distraction), then Season 5 & 6 were pretty strong (Season 6's spring block tended to really suck though) and Season 7 felt kind of empty, dull... but not that dreadful style of dull Season 1 had, then came the final arc which went off on a strong note overall (though the final episode ended up with a mixed reception). Some of it was the Bajorans. People didn't care for Bajoran episodes and Season 1 was packed with 'em. DS9 fixed the space station issue by exploring the area around DS9 and exploring the other side of the wormhole finally in Season 2, then using the Defiant for missions that require a small starship in Seasons 3-7. A Star Trek show can be set on a space station, but it needs at least some exploration.
My question is, had DS9 come on the air a decade or more later than it did, do you think it would have achieved a higher degree of success? And do you think more Star Trek fans are embracing DS9 now?
No. Critical acclaim? It seems to have been the most acclaimed Star Trek series in the '00s with a lot of fans active online and a lot of high praise being written about it. In the '00s it was held well above Enterprise as well as Voyager. Ratings? No way! Syndication rapidly died over the early '00s. DS9 would have gotten really crappy ratings in syndication because primarily of audience fragmentation due to cable and syndicated shows getting bumped to ever-crappier timeslots (and not in DS9's case, but international funding/support for many shows, particularly in Canada, dried up).
DS9 did strongly use the themes of the '00s but I would say it was still a '90s show because it showed restraint. If it aired in the '00s, it would have been a lot more like BSG & 24. Heck, look at Enterprise and how it changed. Besides being sexed up more for ratings (rub on decontamination), it got a lot darker in tone and film style (e.g. during parts of the Xindi Arc it's most obvious). The darker, more edgy, less restained style may be seen as a good trend, but the '00s had many bad trends in tv shows and their style and those would have been at play too. Heck, DS9 got all its seasons in during the good years; Voyager's last 2 seasons suffer from the fin de siecle effect that was really strong in the late '90s (Xena, X-Files, even Voyager veer strongly towards comedy at times, trying to be a multi-genre show, which actually started to piss off viewers with the comedy overkill in serious shows. Xena, X-Files turned serious again in Fall 2000 and Voyager did except for "Body and Soul", "Q2") and from a kind of rot that started to show up around then in shows that premiered in the mid '90s and earlier.
It was best for DS9 to be produced in the '90s. It got the benefit of high production standards and more concern for the writing, it got higher ratings because the audience wasn't so fragmented and syndication was strong then, and it got better timeslots as the #1/2/3 show in syndication than it would in the '00s (just imagine most of the country needing to catch DS9 between Sat 10PM & Sun 4AM or Sun 10PM & Mon 4AM). DS9 is not the failure or shunned black sheep people think it is. They think the sheep is black; it's not black, it's just standing in the shadow of TNG.