Look...I know what you're thinking. "What...another book about Star Trek? Don't we have enough of those things already?"
Trust me... there's never been a book about Star Trek like this one. Marc Cushman has pretty much put out the last word on the subject of the making of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS for short) with this exhaustively researched, yet lively and endlessly fascinating volume.
Several years ago, Cushman (with co-writer Linda J. La Rosa) wrote I Spy: A History and Episode Guide to the Groundbreaking Television Series - easily one of the best books of its type. That book, detailed as it was, covered all three seasons of I Spy. Cushman does the same thing here with Star Trek, only writ large. He's given each season of classic Trek a whole 600 plus page book. Getting to know Gene Roddenberry near the end of his life, along with production manager Robert Justman, Cushmas gained access to somewhere between 60 to 70 boxes of correspondence, inter-office memos and other paperwork produced during the production phase of the show, and has culled a wealth of never before seen, behind-the-scenes details about the making of this iconic science fiction TV series.
After a lengthy prologue delineating the trials and tribulations of making the show's original, rejected pilot, "The Cage," and the long process of getting the series on the air, the remainder of the book is generally organized into chapters dedicated to each episode of the first season, broken down into separate sections, starting with a plot synopsis (courtesy of the original NBC press release), with additional comments from Cushman; then "Sound Bites," which includes some pithy quotes from the episode; then "Assessment," a mini-essay with the author's own critical take on the episode. Then the real research kicks in, with "The Story Behind the Story," which includes highly detailed, blow-by-blow analysis of the scripting process through to finished, ready-to-air product, covered in separate sections labelled "Script Timeline," "Pre-Production," "Production Diary," and "Post Production," all of these liberally sprinkled with quotes from most of the people involved. He then finishes up with sections titled "Release/ Reaction," which covers the ratings situation for that given episode against its nightly prime-time competition; a "From the Mailbag" snippet which includes fan letters to the show's producers; and "Memories," which features final comments from the the various actors, crew and writing staff involved with that episode. (To check out some lengthy excerpts from Volumes One and Two, head over to the writer's dedicated website here.)
Simply put, this is great stuff. Some interesting revelations come to light in the book, including Cushman's debunking of the long-accepted myth that Star Trek fared poorly in the ratings. The author provides data proving that - for the first season, at least - this is just not true. TOS actually did very well in the ratings, competing head to head with juggernaut hit Bewitched and usually coming in a close second, and on more than one occasion, winning its time slot.
Another thing that becomes abundantly clear while going through this book is just how much of a total bitch this program was to put together. How it ever got made and on the air in the first place verges on the miraculous. From the massively-detailed look at the process of commissioning scripts (many from established sci-fi authors who, though talented in their own field, knew virtually nothing of the strictures and specialties of writing for television), trying to get the scripts into workable shape, with many hands (including Roddenberry, Gene L. Coon and others) re-writing and polishing them many times over, to getting the stories passed by the studio's censors and executives, to the travails of the physical production, wrangling the actors, props, make-up, costumes and set designers to complete shooting within the restrictions of budget and a 6 to 7 day schedule - the work involved was enormous and constantly challenging. Not to mention the nightmare of perpetual delays in getting workable special effects from the multiple F/X houses scrambling desperately to keep up with the production and editing schedule, as well as all the other myriad problems that typically plagued a TV production at the time...really, it's incredible that the series ever lasted beyond the first half of its inaugural season.
All in all, I can't recommend this book highly enough - for fans of Star Trek, or television science fiction in general. At all times, Cushman never loses sight of making this a fun read, keeping the masses of detail interesting and including lots of great quotes, anecdotes and observations from all the key players behind and in front of the camera. Really, this is the neo plus ultra of all Star Trek books. I can't wait to get my hands on Volume 2 - available on Amazon now.
My Grade: A +
A few images found in the book, courtesy of http://www.thesearethevoyagesbooks.com/
Welcome to the Armchair...
Look out the window. It’s a dark, cold, rainy day. Too nasty to go outside.
Better stay inside, read a good book.
There’s a bookcase over to your left. Run your fingers over the spines. Books of all shapes, sizes and genres; hardbacks, paperbacks. Take your time browsing through the titles. No rush. Find something that feels just right.
Now turn around. Over in the corner is a beat-up, black leather armchair. The leather is faded and cracked in places, the cushions battered. This chair has seen better days. But boy, does it look inviting...
Next to the chair is a standing lamp and a small table. Plenty of room for a nice cup of tea, a plate of cookies, whatever’s your poison.
So switch on the light, settle down with your book, open to page one, put your feet up, and let the author whisk you away to another world.
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