Last year, I asked Mark Clark, author of Star Trek FAQ, why we needed a new book on the creation of the original Star Trek. His reply was that while Trekkies and Trekkers and other devoted fans might like a shelf full of books on the venerable series, casual fans should appreciate having just one volume containing the essential story of the cast, crew, episodes, etc. In addition, he said his book disproved long held myths about the early production, notably that the first bridge crew of the unsold pilot wasn’t as ethnically mixed as later lore would hold. It was the network, not Roddenberry, that Clark said wanted a stronger place for minorities on the screen.
Recently, I asked Marc Cushman, author of the three-volume series, These Are the Voyages: The Original Series, a similar question. Is there anything new to say that hasn’t been said before in print, online, and on all the DVD commentaries about the first missions of the Enterprise crew? Not surprisingly, his answer was also a resounding yes, in part, because so much information we take for granted isn’t always quite accurate.
What Cushman offers that is new is a detailed history that was expressly authorized back in the 1980s by “The Great Bird of the Galaxy” himself, Gene Roddenberry, as well as Star Trek producer, Robert Justman. That permission came with a treasure trove of original studio archives including staff memos, contracts, schedules, budgets, network correspondence, along with the often strange censor reports from NBC Standards and Practices. In addition to synthesizing all this material, for the first time, many of the views of the legendary Gene Coon are presented in his letters and memos as he never granted interviews during his lifetime. As a result, Cushman is able to take readers both inside the offices of Roddenberry and this team, but also on the Desilu soundstages and on location where the episodes were shot. In fact, for all the episodes broadcast from 1966 through 1967, he has a day-by-day description of what was shot, where, and when. That “when” becomes important as many previous reference books don’t have the production order correct.
Along with inside stories, Cushman licensed the official Nielsen Ratings for each episode and, for the first time, proves Star Trek wasn’t the ratings loser many believe. True, it competed with popular shows like My Three Sons and Bewitched, but also one season flops like The Tammy Grimes Show and Love on a Rooftop. Remember them? As it turns out, Star Trek was normally number one or two for its time slot, often besting even Elizabeth Montgomery’s beloved twitch. NBC had other reasons to try to get rid of Star Trek, but the ratings weren’t among them.
So, why did it take Cushman so long to finally complete his epic? For one matter, he conducted two decades worth of interviews, including talking with the guest stars who appeared in many of the episodes. He admits he got involved with other projects like his history of I Spy — the first full-length book on that ground-breaking series — as well as many of his own productions. Estimating it takes about two years to write a worthwhile TV book, Cushman discovered it took about six years to complete what he thought was ultimately an overlong single tome. But his publishers didn’t think there was anything they wanted to cut, so divided the work into three volumes, one for each season. Volume One came out in June, Volume Two is scheduled for November, and Volume Three is set for February 2014.
What makes these books most readable is that Cushman follows a chronological flow to the story, taking the reader along for the ride as the saga of Star Trek begins, develops, evolves, falters, adapts, and blossoms for its first innovative year. It’s like taking a time jump and arriving in Hollywood just as a new era in television begins when Lucille Ball backed two potentially money-losing productions at the same time, Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. Ball, Roddenberry, Justman, and so many others boldly took us where television had never gone before, and now we can learn more about what happened than we imagined. As Rod Roddenberry, son of Gene, says, these are the new essential Star Trek reference books. Amen.