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Star Trek - Original Series The one that started it all...

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Old October 8 2011, 05:35 PM   #1
KirksStuntMan
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TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

IMO, the 3rd season of TOS had a fairly even mixture of good, fair, and poor episodes. I've read many different accounts of why the 3rd season had apparent quality problems, ranging from budgetary cuts to inexperienced Sci-Fi writers. What's your opinion on why the 3rd season appeared to stray from the ideas and ideals of the other 2 seasons???
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Old October 8 2011, 05:50 PM   #2
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

KirksStuntMan wrote: View Post
IMO, the 3rd season of TOS had a fairly even mixture of good, fair, and poor episodes. I've read many different accounts of why the 3rd season had apparent quality problems, ranging from budgetary cuts to inexperienced Sci-Fi writers. What's your opinion on why the 3rd season appeared to stray from the ideas and ideals of the other 2 seasons???
All of the above. Ultimately the network is to blame. They wouldn't give Roddenberry a decent time slot, so he walked. They cut the budget and brought in the hack Frieberger. That sealed the 3rd seasons fate. Most 3rd season shows could have been saved if treated properly.
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Old October 8 2011, 06:03 PM   #3
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

Ultimately, the blame falls to Roddenberry. Everyone seems to agree that he basically ditched Star Trek in its third year. His only notable involvement was a meeting with Fred Freiberger, Shatner, and Nimoy. The Shatner/Nimoy feud had come to a head, and Freiberger decided that the way to squash it once and for all would be an official ruling from GR as to who was the series lead -- Shatner or Nimoy?

After much gnashing of teeth, GR stated that the series lead was Shatner.

I sympathize with GR, however. He'd been busting his butt with Star Trek since 1964, had written or re-written more than half the scripts, and was burned out. His best writer/producer, Gene Coon, had also burned out and left the show. GR had been told by NBC that he'd get a good time slot in S3, and on that basis decided to keep busting his butt and continue line producing.

Then NBC put the show in the graveyard slot. GR decided that it wasn't worth burning out worse for a show that would absolutely not last more than one season, so he backed out to exec producer. This freed him for other projects, and he did a movie among other things.

Unfortunately, he didn't do the smart (or honorable) thing and bump Bob Justman up to line producer. Instead he brought in Fred Freiberger, who knew absolutely nothing about Star Trek. It showed -- badly. It's not really Freiberger's fault: he was brought in to produce something he knew nothing about.

I think if GR had made Justman line producer, S3 would probably have been much better. Very little would have saved it from the graveyard slot, but a producer who'd been intimately involved with the show almost since its inception would have helped a hell of a lot.

Basically, GR gave up on Star Trek, and it shows.

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Old October 8 2011, 06:05 PM   #4
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

Kail wrote: View Post
All of the above. Ultimately the network is to blame. They wouldn't give Roddenberry a decent time slot, so he walked. They cut the budget and brought in the hack Frieberger. That sealed the 3rd seasons fate. Most 3rd season shows could have been saved if treated properly.
Agreed. I have a very low opinion of Freiberger's "accomplishments" on ST. I still don't understand why the late Bob Justman wasn't promoted to producer for the 3rd season. He was intimately involved with the series from day one, and he was a dedicated proponent of what ST stood for.
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Old October 8 2011, 06:09 PM   #5
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

Can one actually blame Roddenberry though? The PTB PROMISED him a good time slot..then backed out on what they told him..

"Gene! Baby, we got you the absolute best time slot for Star Trek...Friday nights at 10PM!!..Now, have your girl call my girl and we'll do lunch and discuss how this can be the best season ever!!"

Shit!, I'd have walked too...
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Old October 8 2011, 06:15 PM   #6
KirksStuntMan
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

DakotaSmith wrote: View Post
Unfortunately, he didn't do the smart (or honorable) thing and bump Bob Justman up to line producer.
Yes, the late Bob Justman left ST before the 3rd season was complete because he felt betrayed by GR over not being named producer. He was also frustrated with the poor quality of the episodes being written, directed, and produced.
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Old October 8 2011, 06:27 PM   #7
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

MANT! wrote: View Post
Can one actually blame Roddenberry though? The PTB PROMISED him a good time slot..then backed out on what they told him..
I've always been on the fence about this. As I say, I sympathize with GR: burned out from his very hands-on approach to the show, and having done it since 1964 -- longer than anyone else. When presented with a valid reason to stop doing it (NBC was killing the show), I can understand bailing.

On the other hand, another person might have chosen to struggle on, even knowing the show was in its last year.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other, to my mind. The reality is that GR wasn't there and the show was produced differently as a consequence. Was GR justified? Probably. But it meant that the show was produced differently, and it showed.

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Old October 8 2011, 06:33 PM   #8
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

I remember seeing a recent interview with George Takei. During his initial introduction to Star Trek in the early 1960's, he was very impressed with the quality of GR's series ideas. However, George predicted that the show would only last 2 seasons because television networks are not interested in quality shows, only in high ratings and huge profits.
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Old October 8 2011, 06:34 PM   #9
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

Kail wrote: View Post
All of the above. Ultimately the network is to blame. They wouldn't give Roddenberry a decent time slot, so he walked. They cut the budget and brought in the hack Frieberger. That sealed the 3rd seasons fate.
That's not exactly true. Inside Star Trek explains what happened. First off, Herb Solow, the Desilu exec who'd worked closely with Roddenberry from the beginning of ST, resigned not long after Gulf + Western bought out the studio and merged it with Paramount. Gene L. Coon and D. C. Fontana went off to pursue their own projects. Story editor John Meredyth Lucas wasn't asked back for the third season. Roddenberry did stay on as executive producer, but because he was certain the show would be cancelled, he shifted his attention to developing new series ideas and no longer rewrote any of the series' scripts. It was actually Roddenberry who picked Fred Freiberger as the new producer, choosing him over Bob Justman, the associate producer who'd effectively become the de facto producer by that point.

So the problem isn't just Freiberger. The problem is that practically everybody who made Star Trek what it was in the first two seasons -- Roddenberry, Solow, Coon, Fontana, Lucas -- was either gone or effectively uninvolved when season 3 came around, and Justman was put in a subordinate position. So Freiberger and his story editor Arthur H. Singer (who had actually been Justman's recommendation for that role) were dropped into the middle of an ongoing series and had very little help getting a handle on its style and approach.

So I don't think there's any simple blame that can be placed here. There were a lot of reasons why it happened; it was essentially a perfect storm of circumstances that caused the show to lose most of its key creative minds after season 2. But how many of those individual decisions are really worthy of "blame," in the sense of being bad or ill-intentioned choices? Solow left because he felt the G+W execs didn't understand show business. Was that wrong of him? I don't think so. And was it wrong for Coon and Fontana to want to advance their careers and develop their own projects? I don't think so. Lucas wanted to stay on as story editor, but it's unclear why he wasn't asked back. Was it even wrong for NBC to move Star Trek to a bad time slot? Maybe bad for the show, but they had to consider their entire lineup, find the balance of shows and slots that would work best overall. ST was not one of their strongest performers ratings-wise, so it was a logical decision to put stronger shows in the good time slots. You can't even blame them for bringing in a new producer rather than promoting Justman, because Justman didn't have enough experience on the creative side, at least on paper.

Assuming Inside Star Trek's account is reasonably accurate, the only person who seems to have made any questionable decisions here is Roddenberry himself. He could've made more of an effort to supervise Freiberger's work and help him learn the ropes. He could've asked Lucas to stay on as story editor. And even with cancellation likely, he could've chosen to remain actively engaged with the show and done all he could to give it a strong finish, rather than just giving up and ignoring his responsibilities as Executive Producer. But given the way the business works, maybe he can't be entirely blamed for focusing his efforts on securing his next job before his current one ended (even though he never got another successful series-producing gig until TNG).

EDIT: And I see DakotaSmith has eloquently argued Roddenberry's case up above (that's what I get for trying to post and research while eating lunch). The burnout factor is definitely worth taking into account in his defense. Probably if more of the staff had stuck around, GR could've handed the showrunner gig over to Gene Coon and the show would've stayed terrific. (Fontana did a good job as showrunner on TAS, but I'm not sure they would've let a woman run a primetime show in 1968.) But practically everybody was gone by then, and GR couldn't handle it on his own.

So yeah, I don't think any one person or factor deserves blame here. It's just a bunch of separate, mostly understandable decisions that converged in the worst possible way.
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Old October 8 2011, 07:17 PM   #10
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

Christopher wrote: View Post
So I don't think there's any simple blame that can be placed here.
Well, it's a complex situation, yes, but it ultimately comes back to GR's choices.

GR alienated much of his writing staff. Various writers (not just Harlan Ellison) have said over the years that GR would tell them he wouldn't re-write their scripts -- and then he did it anyway. A different producer might have trusted his staff more, and as a consequence would have had experienced writers in S3.

Coon left due to burn-out he experienced doing Star Trek. A different producer wouldn't have let it come to that: he'd've insisted Coon spend fewer hours at the job, write fewer scripts personally, farmed re-writes to other writers rather than Coon, and so on.

GR hired Freiberger. A different producer would have elevated Justman to line producer.

If you go down the line, you find that S3 ultimately suffers from GR's cumulative decisions. He was a control freak, he wasn't particularly loyal to his staff, and Star Trek suffered as a consequence.

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Old October 8 2011, 07:30 PM   #11
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

DakotaSmith wrote: View Post
GR alienated much of his writing staff. Various writers (not just Harlan Ellison) have said over the years that GR would tell them he wouldn't re-write their scripts -- and then he did it anyway. A different producer might have trusted his staff more, and as a consequence would have had experienced writers in S3.
Well, it's a showrunner's job to rewrite all the scripts so that they have a consistent voice and continuity. So if that's true, the problem isn't that he rewrote them, it's that he claimed he wouldn't.

Which would seem to come down to his difficulties with confrontation. He didn't like to stand up to someone and say something they didn't like to their face; he'd instead make some mollifying promise and then turn around and do something else.


GR hired Freiberger. A different producer would have elevated Justman to line producer.
Well, Justman himself says in IST that he couldn't have realistically expected Paramount to accept him as line producer due to his lack of on-paper experience. It wasn't solely Roddenberry's decision there. Though it's true that he could've fought harder on Justman's behalf.


Otherwise, you do make some sound points, but I don't know if it comes down solely to GR. I mean, Herb Solow was very important to making ST what it was, and he left Paramount Television for reasons that had nothing to do with GR. If he had stayed, perhaps he could've served as a counterbalance to GR, or would've fought harder on behalf of Justman or Lucas, or would've been able to give Freiberger more guidance on how the show was supposed to work. But he left because of things that were happening on a much higher corporate level than anything to do with ST's production.
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Old October 8 2011, 08:19 PM   #12
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

I am not a supporter of Fred Freiberger, but I will give him credit for producing some of the early Wild Wild West shows. However, IMO he was out of his talent league when it came to producing ST. Obviously, like others have posted, it would have helped if GR had been there to guide Freiberger. As I recall, there was a ST Writer's Bible that was given to prospective script writers to help them format their stories. It appears that Freiberger and some of the 3rd season writers ignored some of the precepts that GR took the time to enter in this writers guide. The results were some of the worst ST episodes ever. Ugh!
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Old October 8 2011, 08:58 PM   #13
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

Fred Freiberger was called in to "save" ailing series usually in their final seasons..
because of his reputation with making "Ben Casey" a ratings powerhouse for ABC
in the early 60s.

To me, he simply didn't get the SF concepts for most of the shows he tried to save, Star Trek, Space 1999 and the final season of The Six Million Dollar Man were noticably inferior products compared to prior seasons.

His only original true SF genre show was "Beyond Westworld" with some rather poor stories.that only aired 3 episodes before it's cancellation..

Simply stated, he really didn't know the fanbase of any SF show he produced... Not his fault, but heck, he knew standard TV fare..just not SF.. and shouldn't have been let near ANY SF series..

Bob Justman was a far better candidate for Star Trek's producer slot after Gene walked.. but it probably wouldn't have sold with Paramount or the network..
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Old October 8 2011, 09:23 PM   #14
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

I read a comment made by Freiberger about his effect on ST. He said something to the effect that his tombstone inscription will read "The man who killed the Star Trek series." That could be appropriate, but then he seems to have murdered a lot of other television series as well. Has anyone else heard of the Peter Principle?
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Old October 8 2011, 09:47 PM   #15
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Re: TOS 3rd Season:Who's To Blame???

He also compared his time on Star Trek with his time in a German POW camp, noting that at least his time as a guest of the Third Reich only lasted four years.

How long has Freiberger been dead? And we're still raking him over the coals?
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