Earlier this year, I fried my jump-drive. A real panic of an afternoon as I watched several weeks’ worth of work disappear into the electric mists. I consoled myself with a TOS Netflix binge, starting with the movies and working my way back to the ‘The Cage’. Not necessarily my best idea. Somewhere around hour 30 my brain collapsed.
I found myself watching ‘The Alternative Factor’ and thinking it wasn’t that horrible.
Perhaps some perspective was in order.
Shortly before I started my TOS marathon, I came across Mark Cushman’s These are the Voyages: Volume 1. That’s not quite right. I already had the book, picking it up sometime last fall after reading about it in the middle of the Axanar Kickstarter Campaigns. So by ‘came across’ I think what I really mean is ‘read’.
Not a bad decision. The book is pretty good
These are the Voyages is one man’s attempt to tell the ENTIRE story behind every episode of TOS from concept to completion, and by extension, the story of Star Trek. It’s a pretty ambitious project, and was done with the ‘endorsement’ of Gene Roddenberry and the help of ‘many others’ (items in quotes are taken from the author’s website). I’m making a little fun of the schlocky pimping of the book, but in reality, it’s an entertaining read. Cushman did A LOT of research for this book. A lot. Using Roddenberry’s own notes and memos, as well as those from producer Bob Justman and several others, studio archives, and one on one interviews, Cushman gives us a pretty good idea of what it took to transform an idea into something filmable, and then how much more work it took to get it on the air.
Sometimes you read through the notes and ask yourself ‘Ugh. Why bother?’ (Alternative Factor)
There are three volume in the series, one for each season of the show. Every show gets its own chapter, with an episode synopsis, story development timeline, the story behind the story, production diaries and finally ratings and critical reception. There’s also a number of chapters dedicated to the people and events behind the show. It’s an eye-opener. I’ve seen the stories regarding Gene’s propensity for rewrites and the hurt feelings he left in his wake, but in reading the story notes from the Gene, the producers, other writers and even the studio, you come to suspect that getting rewritten wasn’t as bothersome as the way in which the rewrites were handled.
*koff* *koff ‘City on the Edge of Forever’ *koff* *koff*
By far, the best parts of the book ARE the stories behind the stories. They really illuminate the challenges of creating a weekly show that tried to tell stories that were better than ‘space monster of the week’. Whether complaining about bad writing or skyrocketing production costs, script notes from producer Bob Justman are just flat out funny. I can’t recommend those sections of the book enough.
The rest of the book…. well, I still recommend it, just not as much.
Voyages is self-published so there are some issue with it. I have both the print and Kindle versions. My print version is an early printing and it’s plagued by typos. Plague might not be the right word, but it has a bunch and they’re distracting. The print quality and binding are decent, but not great. I think it feels like a textbook, or maybe a dissertation. One that could have used an editor. As I’ve said, the story behind the story sections are excellent. The production diary, critical reception and memories all need some help. A stong editorial hand would have tightened things up quite a bit.
Also bugging me is the lack of ‘great’ photos. Oh, there’s plenty of images scattered throughout the book, but they’re taken from common sources and they’re ALL black and white. With as much time as was spent digging through archives, I felt like Cushman could have found some better photos. Actually, I think he kind of owes it to his audience to step up his game considering he’s trying to present such a comprehensive overview of the show. Self-publishing isn’t cheap, but he should have sprung for color.
And maybe a math class. Let me explain.
There’s an old adage when dealing with statistics that liars figure and figures lie. Cushman makes a big deal out of setting the ratings record straight. Popular opinion has always been that Trek was never a big hit and eventually succumbed to poor ratings, which, if you think about it, is why most shows get cancelled. No one’s watching. Cushman spends a lot of time abusing a selective rating metric to make the point that Trek was a hit, and deserving of better treatment. Certainly, NBC didn’t do the show any favors with their scheduling choices (Friday against the number one show on TV, Gomer Pyle), but it wasn’t like Trek was rolling in viewers. There’s a great article online that details all the ways Cushman’s math is wrong and how he’s trolling the numbers to force his point. I think that article goes too far the other direction, but he is trying to blow a hole in Cushman’s argument. All things considered, it’s best to say that Trek was a bubble show. It did well, probably better than an untested property in the same time slot, but it didn’t set TV sets on fire.
Hmm...the last three paragraphs sound like I'm down on the book, but not at all. I heartily recommend this book for any and all Star Trek fans. If nothing else, it gives you a real appreciation for how different Trek was from other TV shows, and how challenging it was to make. If you can, watch TOS while you’re reading Voyages. It forces you to look at the episodes differently, and if you’re like me, makes you watch episodes you’ve never seen before (The Conscience of the King).
Above all else, it makes you realize just how good that first season truly was.