Notes re. The City On The Edge Of Forever....

Discussion in 'Star Trek - The Original & Animated Series' started by Warped9, Feb 16, 2013.

  1. mos6507

    mos6507 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    As far as the collaborative medium aspect, we have a tendency to want to believe in auteur theory, which is why Gene got all the credit for Trek, and prior to the prequels, Lucas got all the accolades for Star Wars. It's only later is it better understood that what we saw was the combined influence of many creative forces, sometimes working in sync, and sometimes in fierce opposition, leading to some sort of compromise. Back in the 60s I can only think of one television writer who was known for having his scripts delivered straight through, and that's Rod Serling, since TZ was built around him, but even he had his share of nasty fights with the execs, at least by the time you get to Night Gallery.

    What to the people who made these things might have seemed like a tragic capitulation might to the audience appear as a great piece of entertainment. But if you want to align yourself with one particular strong personality with an axe to grind (and Ellison is certainly known for both) then it's easy to take sides, when in effect, it's a very gray area.

    There is also the issue of authorship. Someone known for writing novels is not going to be used to the rewrite process, but there isn't the same purity in screenwriting. I don't know how it was then, but these days it's uncommon for anything to have a single writer attached to it, especially big box-office movies. Even take someone like Christopher Nolan. He works with his brother on scripts. Usually the collaboration makes for a stronger story. You need a strong devil's advocate by your side to challenge all your ideas.
     
  2. Marsden

    Marsden Commodore Commodore

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    Wow. Thanks for posting this!

    I only have the prologue and act one from the second revised draft, as I read through the draft and memo I see what Justman is refering to, but it's strange what he gets wrong.

    It was already posted the dog was in The Enemy Within, not the Man Trap, but that isn't the only thing off.

    On page 2:
    He complains about Sulu announcing "so soon" about Dr McCoy "going ape" but the script scene discribes Dr. McCoy assaulting Mr. Spock and 2 other crewmen. It doesn't mention them alerting security, but why wouldn't they? Then Justman asks how Kirk knows McCoy has 2 hours to live in his narration in scene 16, but the last words of scene 15, which is the end of the teaser, Spock states "He'll be dead in two hours."

    I wish I had the whole script, and I don't have page numbers, but I can guess that page 14a which caused him to be cruel to his family is when Dr. McCoy uses Janice Rand as a shield, maybe? That's the end of what I have. It's strange how Justman actually has a lot of good points but has so much wrong. I really like the episode as filmed much better, no animal bite, no backwards chronometers, and some of the descriptions of Dr. McCoy's appearance is kept. Also, why do they beam down so far away from where they are going and the Guardian was much better as that big gateway than a fishbowl.

    Finally, the speech on page 11 that Justman says would change it from a drama to a comedy is probably,

    "I always thought stories about time machines were drunk-stuff of lab technicians when they'd had too much pure grain to drink."

    Wow. The fundamental story, the basic idea, is good, but the dialogue sure isn't! I was neutral about the whole "he changed my story" crap, but I hate how some people have had to spread lies or have skewed opinions to support their side. Not here, I mean in different print through the years.
     
  3. FormerLurker

    FormerLurker Commodore Commodore

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    I've been saying for years that as a scriptwriter, Harlan Ellison is a great short storyteller. The first draft of COTEOF is all the proof I think I need.
     
  4. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The first draft of anything is usually bad.
     
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    For me, the proof is in the later drafts -- the fact that the producers gave him an unprecedentedly long time to revise and rework his script over and over to fit their production and continuity requirements, and he still couldn't give them something that could be filmed on a TV budget.

    Which isn't a criticism of Ellison's writing. Different formats/media have different requirements, and not many writers can adapt from one to the other. A lot of prose authors can't write scripts, and a lot of screenwriters can't write novels. The parameters are just so different. Screenwriting is more external, more visual, more minimalist, more concise. I like to say that Ellison's imagination was just too big to be constrained by the limits of TV. Which was why it took experienced TV writers like Roddenberry and Fontana to take the core of his story and adapt it into a filmable form.

    Although I do think the Roddenberry/Fontana version was a stronger story dramatically in a lot of ways -- we could identify more with McCoy, be more emotionally engaged with him as the source of the threat, than with some guest-star drug dealer. But again, that's a difference in style rather than ability -- Ellison was used to doing standalone, self-contained stories, so didn't think as much in terms of the audience's emotional identification with series regulars.
     
  6. mb22

    mb22 Commander Red Shirt

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    And of course, in Ellison's original draft, it is Spock who prevents Keeler from being saved, not Kirk, who was supposed to be the series leader and man of action.
     
  7. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    The heck with the man-of-action stuff -- what makes the aired version better is that it's a more wrenching choice for Kirk to make. If Kirk tries to save Edith and Spock stops him, as in Ellison's version, then each is just following a simple, linear path, making the choice they were already inclined to make. But what we got is much more powerful, because Kirk resisted his personal feelings to make the harder choice, and has to live with the guilt and pain of that decision.

    And it's a better arc for the relationship between Kirk and Spock, because Kirk listens to his friend and has his mind changed, rather than just following his own impulses and ignoring Spock's warnings. And Spock's line at the end -- "He knows, Doctor. He knows" -- shows his sympathy for what Kirk is going through.
     
  8. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Justman could indeed be snarky, but keep in mind they are working in an incredibly pressurized environment and when they were TYPING memos they didn't have a DELETE key to make snarky, or even snotty, comments go away. No time for re-writes there...while Whitfields "Making of..." is clearly sanitized it does hint that one of the ways the crew dealt with pressure was with juvenile humor and pranks. I can see how someone might see Justman as being overbearing and insulting, but I don't think it's all that bad, really. As for Ellison, well it wasn't like he was a virgin when it came to TV. He had written for other shows and in the case of at least one episode of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" he had his name taken off the credits and changed to "Cordwainer Bird" (Or was it Cordwainer Smith?), so it's hard to really feel sorry for him. If he needed the money, he should have taken the money and shut up. If he was writing for TV to fulfill some artistic need, then he was in the wrong medium.
     
  9. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I don't think Justman was being overbearing or insulting. As anyone who's read The Making of Star Trek should know, Justman and other ST staffers wrote their memos with tongue firmly in cheek. It's a jokey, playful tone, part of the way the people doing this busy, stressful job let off steam and had fun.

    Ellison's pseudonym was Cordwainer Bird, which was partly in honor of Cordwainer Smith, the pseudonym author Paul M. A. Linebarger used on his science fiction. He used the Bird pseudonym as sort of his personal Alan Smithee, when he wanted to take his name off of something in protest. So it's odd that he left his real name on "City" when he's been protesting about it ever since.
     
  10. feek61

    feek61 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I thought in Harlan's book there were several different versions of the story. I may be mistaken; it has been a long time since I read it. In any case I do remember thinking that it was a good story but not good as a trek episode as originally written. In the book I believe that at least three others tried to rewrite it not including Harlan's own stabs at it. As a trek fan of course I prefer the filmed episode but it is always cool to see the beginning of such things.
     
  11. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

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    Roddenberry apparently talked Ellison into using his real name on the episode (he managed the same thing with D.C. Fontana on "The Enterprise Incident"). Amusingly, an earlier draft of the episode was (jokingly) credited to Cordwainer Bird. That, obviously, was before Ellison's relationship with Roddenberry and Star Trek went south.
     
  12. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

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    It has two drafts of the story outline, but only one (complete) draft of the teleplay. In addition to the second, incomplete teleplay in the book, Ellison also wrote a third draft teleplay (because he so disliked Steven Corabatsos' re-write, as I recall).
     
  13. Marsden

    Marsden Commodore Commodore

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    The book I have has the teaser and the first act. Plus the original and another draft.

    I don't even think Harlan was a bad fit for tv, just not Star Trek. He wrote two Outer Limits episodes, and they were two of the best of the show.


    Good enough for turning into Terminator. ;)

    Really, drug dealers and space pirates are not really Star Trek things. It makes me wonder if the space pirate version of the Enterprise inspired the Mirror Universe.
     
  14. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    I have to take issue with that. We're talking about an episode that won a Hugo, and that is generally very highly regarded, by both Star Trek fans and non-fans alike. We just don't have this episode without Harlan Ellison, period.
     
  15. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    But he still needed Bob Justman to rein in his imagination to make it affordable to shoot. Ellison's "Demon With a Glass Hand" was supposed to be a chase across Los Angeles, and Ellison couldn't give them a draft that would be affordable to shoot, so they were on the verge of scrapping it altogether -- until Justman had the brainstorm to set the entire thing inside the Bradbury Building.


    The original idea behind "Mirror, Mirror" wasn't about an evil Enterprise at all. Bixby's outline was just about a different version of the Federation with various differences -- Kirk was married, McCoy had a beard, and some technology was more advanced, but they didn't have phasers, and thus they were losing a war to hostile aliens (though Spock himself was more savage). Although it's possible Ellison's script may have influenced the decision to rewrite "Mirror, Mirror" with an evil-twin Enterprise instead.
     
  16. trevanian

    trevanian Rear Admiral

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    not sure if it is in his CITY book or a video magazine interview, but at one point Ellison indicated the reason Cordwainer Bird didn't stay on was that Roddenberry insisted on keepin the name for SF marquee value and the threat was that he would do what he could to blacklist Ellison. While that shouldn't carry much weight, remember that Ellison was already persona non grata at ABC over the two Adrian Samish incidents (Samish supposedly killed his BATMAN script around this same time.)
     
  17. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    Are you talking about "The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face"?

    All I know about it, I just found out by Googling:
    http://www.66batman.com/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1239570180
    http://rmoa.unm.edu/docviewer.php?docId=wyu-ah06851.xml

    This one below, a bit more on the rumor side, led me to those above:
    http://about-faces.livejournal.com/79095.html?nojs=1&thread=1584375
     
  18. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I some years ago pointed out that Ellison's first draft didn't contain significantly more characters or sets than the finished episode, so I think Justman didth protest too much (and I say that as a professional Producer). Until we're privy to Ellison's later drafts it's all he-said stuff based on a few memos, memories and snarky comments. I frankly think both sides of the story are factually incorrect and overdramatized.

    Trevanian: when you say "remember that Ellison was already persona non grata at ABC over the two Adrian Samish incidents", the presumes said incidents are common knowledge...I think it's safe to ay they're not, so I think some illumination is in order.
     
  19. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Once again we need to keep the realities of what producing a show is like. Stuff like Justman's memo probably survived more or less as fluke. Certainly no one was thinking in C.Y.A. terms in case of future blowups. No one could have known that COTEOF would become a classic episode and that TOS would become such a classic series where every incident would analyzed and broken apart. Certainly even Ellison with his grudge holding and egomania, I'm sure had better things to do than to document his role in writing a script for a marginally successful (at the time) TV series. Any documentation that would definitively settle the matter had I'm sure long since gone down the nearest memory hole long before the matter became a topic of interest to Trek fandom. It is fascinating to me that with such an acclaimed script is one that no one can really show who did what to it. I also find it somewhat interesting that just about everyone involved ended up hating each other with differing "Rashoman" style versions of what happened.
     
  20. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

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    Well, that's not entirely true. Although some of the drafts held at UCLA do not credit the author, the collection there does include Ellison's two drafts of the story outline and three drafts of the teleplay, as well as the re-written teleplay by Steven Corabatsos which Ellison hated.

    Who knows what else the Roddenberry estate has that it hasn't released to the public. The Justman memo, for example, isn't in the UCLA collection.