a look at behind-the-scenes of the Star
written by Don Harden
first published in Stardate 5, October 1980
One problem with Star Trek is that there are so many myths and legends connected with it that it becomes difficult for fans to mention the show without overpraising its creator, Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry was an interesting and intelligent person, among other things, but he was not a god.
Most fans are aware of the Star Trek books available, such The Making of Star Trek (by Stephen Whitfield & Gene Roddenberry) and the David Gerrold books (The World of Star Trek & The Trouble with Tribbles). While these books have much good information in them, they also have their flaws and some contents conflict with other information, especially printed interviews with production crew members. This series of articles will be an attempt to compile of this information to generate new concepts for fandom to consider.
One of the more interesting interviews to be released has to be the Robert Bloch interview in Enterprise Incidents #7. Bloch said, "I was in the first group that was invited to see the show, see the pilot, and they just asked me to do one; no particular circumstance.... my arrangement with my agent is that I never solicit an assignment.... They call me in and I either go or don't go depending on whether or not the thing seems suitable for me; but they (the people from Star Trek) called me in almost at once." Star Trek fans generally pride themselves on their knowledge of the series, yet Bloch's statement provokes a number of question, the most important of which is, why isn't this in the Star Trek books? And what did Bloch mean by the "first group"?
The writers for the series are the most overlooked aspect of production. Part of this is briefly described by Gerrold on page 152 of The Trouble with Tribbles. "The free-lance writer--that is, the average television writer--is not considered a member of the [production] team...He sells his ideas, his words...and is never heard from again....He's just some flunky they hired to do some typing. In Hollywood, you know you're going to get screwed--the time to complain is when you're not enjoying it."
One writer who has done his share of complaining about his experience with Star Trek is Harlan Ellison. Many fans realize his script, "The City on the Edge of Forever," was extensively re-written; however, fewer fans know that this same script was among the first that were written for the show. In fact, it was delayed into the network "options" portion of the broadcast first season, and barely missed being held until the second season.
In Six Science Fiction Plays, edited by Roger Elwood, Ellison briefly revealed his dealings with Gene Roddenberry. "...For many years after ["City"]....Gene Roddenberry and I did not speak to each other. Considerable bad vibes and poisoned blood between us. I felt I'd been badly used; Gene felt I was being unfair and unnecessarily condemnatory (not to mention loud-mouthed) about my treatment on the series. Those days are past. Gene and I have reached rapprochement, and he has done a number of very gentlemanly, wholly unsolicited good deeds in my behalf. So I won't lay them out here like dismembered corpses." Despite this, Ellison spoke harshly of Roddenberry in his Starlog review of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Ellison wrote, "It is clearly his heavy hand of the shoulders of all those who tried to beat this script that crushes any hope of originality. The critical assessment is this: For all his uncommon abilities as producer and developer of science-fictional ideas for television, Gene Roddenberry is not a very good writer."
The book, The Making of Star Trek, mentions almost nothing about Star Trek writers except for a few paragraphs on p. 304 about how Roddenberry left town for a week during the filming of the episode, "Shore Leave," and assigned the rewrite to a new staffer. On p. 302, there is mention that Roddenberry line produced the "first dozen" episodes, to be exact: from "The Cage" to "Dagger of the Mind." Following that, he then became the Executive Producer, thereby relinquishing his controlling interest in the series. Gene L. Coon became the new line producer, and Dorothy C. Fontana became the new script consultant. There are many fans who are under the impression that Roddenberry line produced every Star Trek episode up to "Assignment: Earth." He left as producer well before the famous third season time slot controversy.
Fred Freiburger, producer of the third season Star Trek, has been roundly criticized by the fans primarily because of the writings of David Gerrold in The World of Star Trek. However, a Starlog interview with Freiburger reveals much. First, it was Roddenberry himself, not NBC, who invited Freiburger to work with Star Trek. He was even contacted right after the completion of "The Cage," but Freiburger could not accept the job of producer at that time.
In the same interview, Freiburger gave his views on Roddenberry and his relationship with NBC. He said, "Anybody who knows Gene Roddenberry has got to be crazy to think that anybody could make him do anything he doesn't want. I watched him in operation...with the heads of the network, and he intimidated them! They didn't intimidate him. So that statement is a fabrication on somebody's part."
Freiburger added that Roddenberry was involved in the fan mail, but did not go beyond that. It would be interesting to know just how much Roddenberry was involved in the fan mail because Roddenberry always denied what he says was NBC's accusation that he was behind the Star Trek letter campaigns.
Freiburger readily admitted that the third season shows he produced were "more dramatic" because he was faced with doing a science-fiction show and getting enough additional viewers to keep the show on the network. Freiburger's approach to the program may have kept it from being cancelled in the middle of the third season.
Freiburger also responded to David Gerrold by quoting Arthur Singer (third season script consultant) who called Gerrold "amateurish" and "terrible." According to Freiburger, he fought his own staff to keep Gerrold on the show because he had faith in the "Tribbles" segment.
Freiburger mentioned a lot of other things in passing references, the cumulative effect of which makes one wonder who is telling the truth about Star Trek. At least we have different sides of the story these days.
The truth is something that will have to be sorted out by the fans as more information is released.
Clarke, Mike and Bill Cotter, "An Interview with Fred Freiburger," Starlog 39, October 1980, p. 49-52.
Ellison, Harlan, "Ellison Reviews Trek," Starlog 33, April 1980, p. 61-63.
Fischer, Dennie, "Star Trek Oriented Interviews with Dorothy Fontana, Robert Bloch and George Takei," Enterprise Incidents 7, November 1979, p. 24-39.
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