Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?
Coach Comet wrote:
You know, I'm not saying that the behind-the-scenes info that we have on The Questor Tapes is false (I mean, how would I know, right?), but we already know that Roddenberry's version of events with respect to, how do I put it, some of the other shows he's worked on are at least somewhat dodgy. Given that we're talking about something that arguably would have sabotaged the premise of the show, I'd like to understand more fully what the sources are for the narrative. Because it sure sounds incredible.
Actually this information doesn't come from Roddenberry, for the most part. There's a great article with interviews with all the major decision-makers which unfortunately went offline five years ago, but thank goodness for the Internet Archive:
Although proud of what had been accomplished in the film, Roddenberry had a number of run-ins with network and studio executives that made bitter the making of a film that would ultimately be embraced by the critics. Despite this, a 13-episode go-ahead was given for The Questor Tapes, with Foxworth and Farrell continuing in their roles. Joining the actors behind the scenes, besides Roddenberry, were producers Michael Rhodes and Earl Booth and story editor Larry Alexander, who notes that there were numerous creative differences with NBC and Universal.
Perhaps the biggest "innovation" was the decision to abruptly drop the Jerry Robinson character. This alteration is best summed up in a November 7, 1973 revised bible to the series which is simply called "New Questor Series Format." On page one, it notes, "Questor is a dual-quest series. He is being sought and, at the same time, is a seeker himself. Questor is a fugitive from the five-nation combine headed by Darro or a Darro-type. They know the android is alive somewhere and want to recover what they consider to be a fantastically valuable ambulatory computer. Questor is himself a seeker, his quest being to discover his purpose and reason for having been constructed and given the imperative of helping mankind. Why am I here? Who and where is this mysterious Vaslovik who created me?" The paragraph concludes with this particular beauty, "We ignore the ending of the pilot in which he did find Vaslovik and got a full explanation of his identity and purpose."
One of the primary proponents behind this shift was producer Michael Rhodes, who points out that it was his suggestion; a suggestion the studio seemed to support completely.
"What Universal had bought in their own minds, maybe without realizing it, was the relationship between Mike Farrell and Robert Foxworth," opines Rhodes. "But in developing the scripts for the series, we realized that each character was flawed in their own way and as long as they were together they were perfect. They made a complete person, so you really couldn't create any jeopardy for them because they had each other to handle what the other was missing. You had to separate them, but when you separated them you didn't have the relationship. It was really a vicious circle. It didn't work."
Rhodes is the one who thought it would be best to forget Questor's discovery of his purpose. "It was radical surgery," he says, obviously the only person on the creative team who thought that this was the way to go. "It's The Fugitive, then, because you've got all these government bad guys chasing him. He is still very vulnerable because he's incomplete. He's got parts missing and can make the same kind of relationships in each episode that he had with the Mike Farrell character."
Earl Booth was not pleased with this direction, noting that it felt like the decision to drop Robinson was made "overnight."
"It mystified me," he admits, "because whatever the thrust of the show was, you had an alien -- really -- whose communication with the modern world was completely nil unless he had someone to talk to, and it was then that I began to see that what the people at Universal wanted was basically a carbon copy of The Fugitive, which they have tried to copy many times and for the most part have been unsuccessful. I personally felt that this was wrong. To have this unique being constantly chased by people who are after him for whatever stupid reason, I could never tell, was ridiculous. From that point on, things went downhill."
Throughout the preparation period, Farrell was in almost constant contact with the producers and Gene Roddenberry. One day, however, his phone call to Michael Rhodes went unreturned. He wasn't concerned until a second phone call wasn't returned either.
"It was a Friday -- I'll remember that for the rest of my life," he reflects. "Over the weekend, all of those little gremlins went to work on me. Finally, my agent called and said, 'I don't know what this is about, but I've got a message here that you and I are being asked to come to a meeting at the Tower on Monday morning.' Over the weekend I didn't sleep well and I thought, 'I'm being dropped from this goddamn show and I can't understand it.' I finally got a hold of Gene and he said, 'Oh my God, nobody called you? Yeah, there's a problem. Some people think the series will work better without the Jerry character.' I may be creating dialogue to serve myself but as I recall, Gene said, 'I think it's a crazy idea, but we have to bow to some degree to the powers.' Anyway, the long of the short of it was that the decision was made that Questor would more likely be in jeopardy if he didn't have Jerry to get him out of trouble, so they were dropping the Jerry character."
Farrell's tale doesn't end there, though. A couple of months later he received a phone call from an executive named Mervin Gerard, who had been given the assignment of making the series "happen." The first thing he did was view the original pilot film.
"I will forever hold Mervin high in my regard," smiles Farrell. "He told me that after watching the pilot he went to [Universal's] Frank Price and said, 'Tell me who the idiot is who decided he wanted to drop Mike Farrell from the show.' 'I'm the idiot.' 'What works about this show is the chemistry between these two characters; they together become the one person that we root for and you destroy it by eliminating the human character. I'm not going to do this show unless we resurrect the Jerry character.' By this point I said to Merv, 'You're very sweet to tell me this story, because it obviously does a lot for my ego, but I wouldn't touch this thing with a ten-foot pole after what they did to me. That feels like exactly the wrong move.' He tried to persuade me, but as I understand it, for reasons having nothing to do with that, they finally decided just to shelve the whole thing.
By the time that Gerard had tried to convince Farrell to come back to the series, Roddenberry himself had decided that he had had enough and left. Having come off of his well-documented battles with NBC executives during the run of Star Trek, he had no interest in going through that again.
"I think the Jerry Robinson character was vital to Questor," he said in the mid '70s. "You can't have just the android; you've got to have a partnership between an android and a human. Then they wanted Questor to be constantly on the run from the scientific consortium. That's not the way I wanted to go and maybe I was wrong. But I really didn't want to do a chase series. So I just let it die."
So that's confirmation from multiple people, including the very person whose idea it was to drop Jerry and change the ending.
I think Rhodes was shortsighted there. You could say that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy make one perfect person among them, complementing one another's weaknesses, but that doesn't mean it was impossible to put them in jeopardy or conflict.
-- Christopher L. Bennett's blog and webpage