16 June 2015

Books: These Are The Voyages: Star Trek: TOS: Season One By Marc Cushman (2013)

Over the years, I've read many books on the making of Star Trek (TOS). I've leaned a great deal about it from it's first pilot to its second pilot, to its three season run on NBC and then its afterlife in syndication -where I first discovered it (thanks to my older brother). I've read stories in magazines like Starlog, I've heard stories told at conventions and I've heard the truths, the lies and everything else in between. 
Sometime in the 1980s, TOS creator Gene Roddenberry and Producer Robert Justman gave author Marc Cushman everything that had been saved during that classic series run and told him tell the "real story"of Star Trek. What is presented here in These Are The Voyages is perhaps the most detailed look at the creation of this legendary franchise. Through the kept -and prolific- memos between the production team and Roddenberry, along with production schedules, budget breakdowns, memories from actors (both the main cast and guest cast, along with the background performers), from the producers, writers and directors, you get an astonishing level of detail about the trials of bring Star Trek to TV in the mid 1960s when most, if not all television series, were massed produced. 
Star Trek was ahead of its time and there is no doubt what Roddenberry and Company were attempting to do in an era where TV shows were made on assembly line format which left little room for growth or being different because shows were running 30 to 35 episodes a season. It was, in some ways, very revolutionary. I mean, never had a TV series before TOS attempted such a bold move as to not to insult its audience (those shows did exist before TOS, but they were always regulated to anthology shows that populated the Big Three during the 1940s, 50s and early 60s). They assumed (both Roddenberry and NBC somewhat) that there was an audience for adult science fiction, a show for those whom had grown weary of cowboy shows and pointless sitcoms, and who wanted a drama that offered something to touch the intellect as well as the heart. So Roddenberry sold NBC on the idea that could give the viewers of Star Trek a grand rip-roaring adventure each week that could also carry a message, the same way Roddenberry's literary hero Jonathan Swift had done in the 19th Century.
But as we see (and know) much of what Roddenberry wanted never came easily. Part of the problem was Roddenberry himself. In this first volume, at least in my opinion, he comes off somewhat as a dick. I mean, yes, he wanted the best show on TV and hired some the most well know writers of science fiction of the day like A. E. van Vogt, Jerry Sohl, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Sheckley, and the Great Curmudgeon of the Universe, Harlan Ellison only to rewrite their initial scripts (so much so, at times, Roddenberry got credit and thus residuals). You cannot help but think he did this because he didn't really know anything about science fiction and needed some help by hiring real, well known science fiction writers. But you don't invite these prestigious writers (don't tell Ellison I said that) to help plan a party only to take some of their ideas, rearrange them, repackage them, slice and dice them and then call them your own (Roddenberry never passed up an opportunity to score money from writers, let alone money from merchandising). 
Plus as the series evolved over its first season (it's a rarity a show comes out fully formed, and Star Trek was no exception), it does seem apparent that Roddenberry never communicated to these writers how the show had changed over the months since NBC okayed the series in March of 1966. Well, that may be a little bit of a lie, but from what I read here, either the words fell on deaf ears of the writers, or the production staff was not very clear on what was wanted. Part of the problem, as well, for those bushel of writers was they were creating scripts without ever seeing an episode. So as far as they knew, the sky was the limit when telling their stories. Of course, for writers of books and short stories, they have unlimited budgets. But on TV, in the 1960s, budgets for shows were significantly small -which was why science fiction was hardly done on TV in those days, and still today they're very, very expensive (and Robert Justman became my hero here as he sent copious memos on why 95% of what the writes wrote could not be done on TV. Despite his complaints, he seemed to always keep a sense of humor).

So the show changed from its initial origins and changed again half way through its first season when Gene Roddenberry had to step away due to extreme exhaustion (and his never ending battle to piss off network executive Stan Robertson and NBC's Broadcast Standards -which allowed almost nothing that the viewer might see as unpleasant- and even Desilu Studios) and Gene Coon came in as showrunner for the second half. While the scripts from these prominent writers continued to be re-written by Coon, by D.C. Fontana (Roddenberry's secretary whom eventually wrote several episodes and served as script editor), John D. F. Black, and George Clayton Johnson, Coon was instrumental in bringing humor to the show that it was lacking in the first half and creating some the most signature aspects of Star Trek: the Federation, The Untied Federation of Planets, Photon Torpedoes, and the Klingons. He is also credited for seeing the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate and exploiting it. Sadly, much of it, if not all of it, is credited to Roddenberry himself.
In the end, I did learn some new things and the book is an easy read (though while some might see this book more as a reference guide than sitting down and reading it from cover to cover), so I was still enthralled with it. I look forward to reading the other two books in the near future. 

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