I’ve had the privilege of reading all three volumes of Marc Cushman’s mammoth These Are the Voyages – The True History of Star Trek: The Original Series. Without question, we now have the most comprehensive and authoritative history of the first three-year run of Star Trek we’ll ever need.
All three volumes share the same deep well of sources and the same detailed format. For one matter, both Gene Roddenberry and producer Robert Justman gave Cushman access to a treasure trove of original studio archives including staff memos, contracts, schedules, budgets, and network correspondence no one else has had access to. Over the past 20 years, Cushman interviewed many of the participants including writers, directors, and guest stars as well as members of the main cast.
No wonder it took so long to synthesize all this information, especially when Cushman took the time to also find out what the actual Nielsen ratings were for each original broadcast. For decades, the story has been told that Star Trek was cancelled, twice, for substandard ratings. That story was far from the truth. In his examination of the third season, Cushman exposes even more myths of Star Trek lore.
Few have questioned that Star Trek‘s last season declined in quality because show creator Roddenberry virtually abandoned his creation. This resulted from his fight with NBC over the network’s decision to move Star Trek to a 10 PM Friday slot, a move the network hoped would lead to the show’s demise. But, as Cushman demonstrates, the story is more complex than one time slot shift.
To begin, NBC felt Roddenberry was a troublesome producer to work with, the network brass wasn’t keen on much of the series’ subject matter in the series, and both the network and Paramount Studios weren’t happy about the budgets.
In addition, when Roddenberry made himself a very remote Executive Producer, he didn’t promote Robert Justman, the associate producer who richly deserved to take over. Instead, Roddenberry tapped Fred Freiberger as his successor, an outsider who knew little about what made Star Trek tick. Ever since, Freiberger has been vilified as the man who ruined Star Trek.
Cushman shows, episode by episode, that blaming Freiberger for what happened on the Paramount lot simply isn’t fair. Freiberger was a man who had a challenging show dumped into his lap, a show that the network didn’t want and the studio didn’t care about. It was Freiberger who was caught in ongoing duels with Paramount’s Douglas Cramer, who was also making life miserable over at Mission: Impossible, over how to make a quality show on the lowest budgets possible. The Enterprise’s halls were empty because extras cost money. There was no shooting on location. Directors were brought back, or not, based on whether or not they could wrap up filming in the time frame expected.
It was now Freiberger who had to deal with often odd criticism from Stanley Robinson of NBC’s Broadcast Standards and Practices who worried about females showing navels, and open-mouthed kisses. Also, in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, Star Trek wasn’t the only series asked to tone down on screen violence, which led to shorter fight scenes between Captain Kirk and his foes. As readers will discover, often Freiberger did quite well managing under such constraints and, equally as often, he was the man making exactly the right calls.
Among the many changes between the second and third year was new story editor Arthur H. Singer taking over the role formerly filled by the legendary D. C. Fontana. Like Freiberger, Singer too has taken shots over the years for his role in the disappointing third season, but Cushman ably demonstrates he was really an unsung hero of the show. In fact, the major contribution of the These Are the Voyages books is the extremely detailed examinations of how scripts evolved from draft to draft and the various participants, like Singer, who had a role in the changes, often for the better, sometimes for the worse.
Another unsung hero would have to be the often helpful Joan Pearce at De Forest Research, who was especially good at pointing out scientific problems with story premises or noting where names and terminology could be improved. In short, many third-season Star Trek episodes got very careful attention, which resulted in some pretty good shows. But as time went on and the writing was on the wall for the show’s future, or lack of one, morale declined, Justman departed, and scripts were rushed as Freiberger didn’t know from one week to the next how many, if any, shows NBC was going to buy.
Readers investing time in Cushman’s trilogy can’t complain about what might have been left out of his books. For each episode, Cushman opens with an analysis of what the program included, or should have included, before those detailed analyses of each script. Then he reveals what happened on each day of filming, what sets were used, and what times filming began and ended. These descriptions often include memories of what happened by both regular and guest cast members. These are followed by post-production notes including broadcast data including those revelatory Nielsen numbers.
But wait, that’s not all! Along the way, Cushman provides cultural context by telling us what songs were topping the charts each week of filming, how other shows were faring at the time, and what historical events occurred each week in question. Naturally, he describes the careers of guest stars and crew including their credits before and after Star Trek. He also includes (often pointlessly, I must admit) episode synopses by TV critics of the time, along with memories and letters by fans then and now. Perhaps to provide balance to his own critiques on each episode, he brings in perspectives by other Trek experts who have different views on particular episodes. Add to all that his sidebars on subjects such as an overview of women writers in the third season and the merchandising of memorabilia, and the numerous illustrations, notably the many unaired film trims courtesy of Gerald Gurian.
What stones didn’t Cushman turn over? The mind boggles to think there might be a pebble or two that was missed. If there are any complaints to make, the most obvious is the repetition. The most glaring example would be those Nielsen numbers. They are first laid out in the episode descriptions, then repeated for the nights they were broadcast while other episodes were being filmed, then repeated again in a section going show-by-show to nail down once again that Star Trek rarely beat out ABC’s Movie of the Week but ran pretty much neck-and-neck with CBS’s Judd, for the Defense. Based on the numbers, it’s more than clear Star Trek‘s demise had nothing to do with the viewership.
I don’t know how my review copy of the book might match up with the copy you might purchase, but you’re also likely going to come across scattered editing and proofreading issues. Cream’s chart-topping 1968 double-album was Wheels of Fire, not “Wheels on Fire.” But such nitpicking does not diminish Cushman’s impressive achievement. While these books are more for reference than for cover-to-cover reading, every Star Trek devotee will find them essential and often surprising. Credit Cushman not only for the fruits of his research, but also for his balance in presenting where the documents took him, and he takes us where no others have gone before with authority and depth.
The third volume of These Are the Voyages – The True History of Star Trek: The Original Series will be available for pre-ordering on or shortly after December 16, exclusively through Jacobs/Brown Press at Jacobs/Brown’s web store and the book series’ own website.