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

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Old December 9 2013, 04:10 AM   #1
Lance
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Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

Season 3 of TOS was not received well by the fandom at the time. There was a perception of a reduction in quality from the previous two years (in particular season two, which was seen as almost uniformingly stellar), and that the series petered out in a very flat way. And a lot of that got blamed on new producer Fred Freiberger at the time (and sometimes still does to this day).

On the other hand, we know there were outside factors for some of this. In particular a reduction in budget. The inability to go out on location as much as they had done did definitely result in a season where more and more episodes seemed to take place on the Enterprise itself, which felt constricting. It reached it's nadir with "The Mark Of Gideon", where the need to place the script on the regular sets resulted in a glaring plot hole that has been rightly criticized over the years (how could an overpopulated planet build a replica of a ship the size of the Enterprise anyway?). But again, one feels some sympathy for Freiberger. I don't think he would have chosen to have the story written that way if he had any other choice. Having only a few pennies to rub together means desperate measures must be taken sometimes.

As to the charge that the quality of the stories went down, well, I've *never* really seen this. Oh sure, something like "Spock's Brain", "Turnabout Intruder" or "The Way To Eden" aren't the greatest things TOS ever gave us. But offsetting this, we have IMHO some of the strongest scripts in all of Star Trek: "The Enterprise Incident", "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield", "All Our Yesterdays", "Whom Gods Destroy", "Day of the Dove"... I'd place all of these in the top episodes of TOS any day of the week. "Elaan Of Troyus" and "The Empath" have got strong characterization, "The Wink of an Eye" an excellent sci-fi concept. And most, if not all, of the scripts remain indeliably Star Trek to the core. They remain true to the themes of Roddenberry's universe, some of them more so than others I'll admit.

Yes, Frieberger brought his own take on things. Yes, it didn't sometimes match up to the high standards of previous seasons. But on the other hand, some of TOS's best hours did happen on Freiberger's watch. "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" in particular gets held up as one of TOS's best instalments, but Freiberger doesn't get credited for that. It's almost as if some people think season 3 "sucked", and that any moments where it didn't were just the exceptions rather than the norm. Whereas in my view, I often wonder if Freiberger achieved some great things in Season 3 despite a crippling lack of money and a network that was basically less than supportive of Star Trek by that point anyway. A lot of it falls down, but I think it falls down due to factors outside Freiberger's control

Is it time season 3 was finally more fully embraced by fandom?
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Old December 9 2013, 04:51 AM   #2
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

Not long ago I revisted the third season and I found easily half it as solid, about another quarter was okay and only a handful of episodes I found to be varying degrees of disappointing. By contemporary Trek standards I found TOS' third season to be at least average overall or better.

This is how I summed things up during my last revisit.

Warped9 wrote: View Post
So how have things shaped up?

Season 1 scored 127 of 145 = 87.5% = an episode average of 4.37 of 5.
Season 2 scored 97 of 130 = 74.6% = an episode average of 3.73 of 5.
Season 3 scored 79 of 120 = 65.8% = an episode average of 3.29 of 5.

***** Excellent = 4 episodes = 16.6%
“Elaan Of Troyius”
“The Enterprise Incident”
“Is There In Truth No Beauty?”
“The Tholian Web”

**** Good = 8 episodes = 33.3%
“Spectre Of The Gun”
“The Empath”
“Day Of The Dove”
“Plato’s Stepchildren”
“That Which Survives”
“The Cloud Minders”
“The Way To Eden”
“Requiem For Methuselah”

*** Fair = 6 episodes = 25%
“The Paradise Syndrome”
“For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky
“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”
“The Lights Of Zetar”
“The Savage Curtain”
“All Our Yesterdays”

** Poor = 3 episodes = 12.5%
“Spock’s Brain”
“The Mark Of Gideon”
“Turnabout Intruder”

* Bad = 3 episodes = 12.5%
“And The Children Shall Lead”
“Wink Of An Eye”
“Whom Gods Destroy”


Breakdown by Season
Good to Excellent - Season 3 slips about ten percent from Season 2. But even so half of its episodes are respectable and can stand with the better episodes of the previous two seasons.
Season 1 = 82.7% (24 episodes)
Season 2 = 61.5% (16 episodes)
Season 3 = 50% (12 episodes)

Fair - Interestingly Season 3 stays pretty close to same as Season 2 in terms of watchable episodes.
Season 1 = 17.2% (5 episodes)
Season 2 = 26.9% (7 episodes)
Season 3 = 25% (6 episodes)

Poor to Bad - Here is the swing. What Season 3 lost in top tier episodes it dropped to disappointing efforts.
Season 1 = 0% (0 episodes)
Season 2 = 11.5% (3 episodes)
Season 3 = 25% (6 episodes)

In the end Season 3 isn't as bad as what seems to be the generally held perspective. At least half of the episodes are respectable and if you include the watchable ones as well that's three quarters of the season is at least acceptable. That is still a damned good batting average. And while I don't have the hard numbers compared yet no TNG season did much better than that.

It's also interesting that Season 3's budget constraints didn't really make itself apparent as often as might be believed. Even under budgetary constraints quite a few episodes still put on a good show. And there was sufficiently abundant creativity and resourcefulness apparent throughout much of the season.

Where Season 3 fell down was in terms of careless thinking and careless execution. Things went south when ideas weren't thought through enough and the general execution felt rushed just to get the show in the can. A little more attention and overall polish could have gone a long way.


Series Breakdown:
Good to Excellent = 65.8% (52 episodes)
Fair = 22.7% (18 episodes)
Poor to Bad = 11.3% (9 episodes)

TOS certainly doesn't follow the "one third" results of my TNG revisit where I found about one third of the episodes Good-Excellent, one third Fair and one third Poor-Bad. For TOS I find nearly two thirds of the series to be Good-Excellent, a bit less than a quarter of it Fair and a little more than a tenth of it to be Poor-Bad.
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Old December 9 2013, 05:09 AM   #3
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

The charge that bottle episodes were intrinsically a problem doesn't bear close examination. Going back to season two, these were all bottle episodes, and each top-notch:

The Doomsday Machine
Journey to Babel
The Ultimate Computer

Bottle episodes, in both the first and second season, with simple, additional, one-shot sets would have to include, again each top-notch:

The Corbomite Maneuver
Balance of Terror
Mirror, Mirror

Simply a comparison of the bottle episodes will tell you that the overall drop in quality in season three, compared to the other two, was real.
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Old December 9 2013, 05:27 AM   #4
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

It wasn't entirely Freiberger's fault, no. A large part of the problem was that most of the brain trust behind the previous seasons, such as Gene Coon, D.C. Fontana, and John Meredyth Lucas, had moved on from the writing staff, though they still contributed on a freelance basis. A bigger part was that, once TOS was moved to a time slot that Roddenberry believed (with reason) would kill it, he pretty much gave up on the show and stepped back from his position as head writer. He no longer rewrote scripts to give them a consistent voice and outlook, and that, along with the lack of continuity in the writing staff, meant that the newcomers, Freiberger and his story editor Arthur H. Singer, didn't have much guidance or instruction in how to write for the world and its characters. They were kind of thrown into the deep end and expected to learn to swim on their own.

So I'd agree that Freiberger has gotten something of a bum rap. We don't know what he might've accomplished if he'd been better prepared, if Roddenberry had shepherded him through the transition or if Lucas had stayed on as story editor (I think he wasn't even asked).
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Old December 9 2013, 05:33 AM   #5
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

Freiberger deserves some blame, but there were certainly other reasons why the third season was lesser in quality than the first two.

D.C. Fontana left her job as script consultant before Freiberger came on, and her replacement, Arthur Singer, wasn't a good fit for the show. Her departure from the staff had nothing to do with Freiberger (although Fontana's decision to only write three episodes, and take her name off two of them, certainly had to do with Freiberger's management).

Gene Coon stopped producing the series before the end of season two, which meant he wasn't around to do rewrites. Also, in the scripts he did write for the series, I think the fact that they were written "after hours" is pretty evident. These things weren't Freiberger's fault.

There were also the mid-season departures of Bob Justman and Jerry Finnerman. Finnerman left because he wanted to do a movie; his replacement, Al Francis, was fine, but not as exceptional. This had nothing to do with Freiberger. Justman's reasons were more complicated, but I suspect he was more dismayed by the studio people who took over the series when Paramount bought Desilu and Herb Solow resigned than he was over Freiberger's management. Justman also was a little resentful that Freiberger was given the producer job over him, but, again, that wasn't Freibeger's fault. He didn't hire himself.

There were other reasons, of course, why the overall quality of the season plummeted. But, I'm too lazy to write anything else at the moment, so I'll leave it to others.
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Old December 9 2013, 05:42 AM   #6
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

Christopher wrote: View Post
...or if Lucas had stayed on as story editor (I think he wasn't even asked).
You made a lot of points better than I. Just one note -- Fontana was the story editor (or "script consultant"). Lucas took over for Gene Coon, as the producer, during the latter part of season two. For whatever reason, Roddenberry didn't ask for Lucas to come back, and instead hired Freiberger.
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Old December 9 2013, 06:35 AM   #7
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

Harvey wrote: View Post
Christopher wrote: View Post
...or if Lucas had stayed on as story editor (I think he wasn't even asked).
You made a lot of points better than I. Just one note -- Fontana was the story editor (or "script consultant"). Lucas took over for Gene Coon, as the producer, during the latter part of season two. For whatever reason, Roddenberry didn't ask for Lucas to come back, and instead hired Freiberger.
Harvey, have you ever seen anything documented about why Lucas wasn't asked back for the third season? I have always wondered what Roddenberry (or the studio, or the network) was thinking in removing him. It must have been a pretty amicable departure - he was back as writer and director of Elaan of Troyius early in the next season. You would have thought Star Trek could use a guy talented enough to write, direct and produce, but for some reason he was let go late in Season two.

Just speculation, but maybe he overdid the historical episodes. I recall an interview with Jimmy Doohan once where he said that Lucas was fascinated by World War 2, and totalitarianism - maybe he overdid it, but his episodes I thought were mostly quite good given the budget cuts that were beginning to be evidenced by the end of that second season.

As for season three, Freiberger you will notice stripped out a lot of the banter between the characters, and the "fun" disappeared from Star Trek. I'm not saying his approach was a change for the better, but I have a theory as to why. The show's ratings were terrible - something needed to be changed. Perhaps he saw what was happening around him : the King and Kennedy assassinations, a worn out President Johnson retiring as Vietnam raged and colleges were being turned into war zones over the war and civil rights issues. Perhaps it wasn't the optimistic 60's any more, and the peace and love had disappeared, and become something a bit darker. It's hard to see how ending episodes with everyone rolling around on the floor with laughter would have suited the college viewers of 1968. Perhaps the Star Trek of Coon didn't work for the times.

As for the content of the plots, let's not forget that a number (the majority?) of the scripts were handed to Freiberger by Roddenberry, who was all set to produce season 3, but suddenly turned his back on the show when it needed its creator the most.

The budget cuts were horrible - watching Season 3 on DVD back to back really is difficult - there was just too much talking, and with virtually every episode confined to the Enterprise, you needed a lot of extra/secondary characters to give the impression there were 400-odd people walking around - unfortunately the ship looks like it is manned by 12 people in season 3.

Word has it that the construction of the fantastic obelisk set in the park by the lake soaked up far too much of what meagre budget they were left with, the lead actors also got pay rises, and the uniforms were all changed - an odd decision for a show that supposedly was doomed by its new timeslot. Also, you can bet that although he was contributing nothing, GR was pocketing a salary even though he was off creating cinematic masterpieces like 'Pretty Maids All In A Row'.
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Old December 9 2013, 06:52 AM   #8
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

I haven't found anything indicating why Lucas wasn't asked back yet. I'm sure Cushman will have his own pet theories in his season two book, but as far as the archival evidence goes, I haven't found anything indicating why Lucas didn't continue in the role of producer.

From my perspective, the episodes which credit Lucas as producer in season two have a recognizable drop in quality from the ones with Coon's name on them. But, that may just as well have to do with the end of the season rush to finish, rather than the change from Coon to Lucas, since Coon had a hand in many of the scripts which don't have his name on them as producer.

Those two paragraphs read terribly, but, you get my point.
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Old December 9 2013, 06:55 AM   #9
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

I, for one, welcomed the generally more serious take of the third season. It was a step back more toward the first season's sensibilities. There were times during the second seasons I thought they could be a little too casual.
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Old December 9 2013, 06:59 AM   #10
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

The deck was stacked high against the series by the third season. Not only had they lost their marginally decent 8:30 Friday timeslot and stuck in the 10 pm Friday graveyard slot, but the budget was cut so much that, according to Bob Justman, they were reduced to producing glorified radio shows.

Bringing in a new producer who had to gain a 'feel' for the show didn't help either, although FF did have many fine production credits to his name and in fact, again per Bob Justman, was GR's original choice to produce the first season. (Don't you wonder what the series would have ended up like if that happened?)

Per Shatner's "Star Trek Memories," Majel Barrett had the all-time classic line regarding the third season time slot. (paraphrasing) 'The only person home to watch TV at 10 O'clock on Friday night was your Aunt Maude, and the Aunt Maudes of the world wouldn't have watched Star Trek if it were performed live for them in their living rooms.'
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Old December 9 2013, 06:59 AM   #11
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

The Lucas business always has bugged me too. But going with Freiberger may just be a matter of circling back to original choice, since supposedly FF was offered the job before Coon, but (and I can't remember which, maybe somebody with STAR TREK INTERVIEW BOOK or the old STARLOG interview can check) either wanted 6 weeks off first or had 6 weeks left on another job, maybe WILD WILD WEST, which Coon also had a hand in (a MUCH better hand IMO.)
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Old December 9 2013, 07:01 AM   #12
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

Warped9 wrote: View Post
I, for one, welcomed the generally more serious take of the third season. It was a step back more toward the first season's sensibilities. There were times during the second seasons I thought they could be a little too casual.
I've read that the two Gene's had a falling out in part over the amount of comedy Coon was injecting into scripts. I'm looking forward to the 2nd season edition of TATV for more insights on that situation.
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Old December 9 2013, 07:12 AM   #13
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

David Gerrold suggested that Roddenberry didn't like the comedy Coon was injecting into the series in an interview with the Mission Log podcast. He also claims that the serious tone in the third season was as much Roddenberry's choice as it was Freiberger's (although he also says that Freiberger didn't like 'The Trouble with Tribbles,' because he thought Star Trek wasn't a comedy). But, of course, Gerrold and Roddenberry had quite the falling out in the late '80s, so it's worth taking this with a grain of salt.
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Old December 9 2013, 08:41 AM   #14
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

Harvey wrote: View Post
David Gerrold suggested that Roddenberry didn't like the comedy Coon was injecting into the series in an interview with the Mission Log podcast.
If I remember correctly, the final straw was over the tenor of "Bread And Circuses." Does that jive with anyone else's memory?
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Old December 9 2013, 03:03 PM   #15
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Re: Has Fred Freiberger been misblamed for Season 3 over the years?

I always felt Freiberger got a bum rap, having blame heaped upon him by fans throughout the years. His rep wasn't helped by his handling of Space:1999's second year, but honestly, he was a fine writer/producer in his element - which wasn't science fiction. However, there is a lot to admire about the third season of Trek and even though there was a drop in quality, at least they tried to keep things up a level or two above the standard fare. It was still better than Land of the Giants.

What pisses me off is how he's totally dismissed even by authorized books on the subject. Pick up Star Trek 365 and try to find his name anywhere in the book. He's referred to by his title, but never by name and this is just ridiculous. I don't even think he's mentioned much, if at all, in the 3rd season special features on the DVDs and/or Blu-Rays. The only actor who really treated Freiberger with respect in print is Shatner. Of course, this may be because Freiberger pressed Roddenberry to admit that Shatner was the star of the series rather than Nimoy (which alienated Nimoy from both men), but in any event, everyone gives Fred all of the brickbats and none of the glory. As he himself said in effect, "if it was good, Roddenberry got the credit. If it failed, Freiberger was to blame." Even Plato's Stepchildren: to this day Roddenberry gets the accolades for the kiss (even from Nichelle Nichols) when Freiberger revealed that Gene wasn't anywhere near that episode.

99% of the people responsible for Trek's story quality left the series by season 3. That's the reason for the drop off. You can work around a low budget, but good stories come from good writers who have a handle on the format and characters. Only Bob Justman was left as a full-timer and he didn't write scripts. Still, even with all that, there were plenty of gems that year.
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