Star Trek may be the most written about TV show in the history of the medium. Now celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, (1966-2016), there are thousands of magazine and newspaper articles, blogposts, and hundreds of books about every aspect of the original show. The idea that someone could write a book about this phenomenon with brand new information in it seemed remote, and yet, that is exactly what Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn have done. In fact they have not just written one book, they have written three, one about each season of the show. The books are These Are The Voyages, Season One, Two and Three.
Unlike many books about this much chronicled subject, which repeat previously published accounts, these volumes draw heavily upon series creator Gene Roddenberry’s private files (which the authors were give exclusive access to) that have never been seen by the general public. These files contain interoffice memos, letters, unproduced script proposals, notes, correspondence with network executives and much more. The results add up to an unprecedented cornucopia of inside information, new to anyone outside Roddenberry’s immediate circle. All this is augmented by interviews with writers, actors, and production people that worked on the series, as well as newspaper and magazine articles on Star Trek published over the last fifty years. The scholarship is nothing short of astounding. The mix of the new with the old, often from obscure sources, is staggering.
One of the myths about Star Trek that is laid to rest by Cushman and Osborn is that the show was a ratings failure during its original run. To counter this oft repeated falsehood, the authors cite actual Nielson ratings for that time which prove beyond a doubt that Star Trek was consistently in the top ten. Why do people to this day believe that Star Trek was a flop? Cushman and Osborn explain that this idea was a piece of disinformation concocted by NBC executives at the time, as a justification to cancel the show. In fact, the real reason was that the network could not get along with Roddenberry, and wanted a cover story to use in order to cancel the show. This scenario sounds more like a plot for an episode of Mission Impossible (shot on the same studio lot) than Star Trek.
These Are The Voyages have their share of humorous moments too, especially the memos between Roddenberry and series associate producer (then co-producer), Robert Justman. These highly amusing missives alone are worth the price of the books. Justman, who wrote his own excellent book (with Herbert F. Solow) about Star Trek (Inside Star Trek:The Real Story) was in charge, among other tasks, of keeping the show on budget. His intelligent, (dare I say logical) criticism of the scripts along with his often vetoing of various sets, special effects, and outside locations in favor of cheaper in studio shoots, are often laugh out loud funny. Justman seemed like the ego to Rodenberry’s id, always trying to keep things sensible.
Also of particular interest in these books are the accounts of the writers who worked on scripts for Star Trek. The books track the genesis of many now classic episodes, from their original inceptions, to the early drafts and the inevitable rewrites at the hands of one or more of the show’s staffers. The process was difficult and frustrating, especially for some of the excellent prose writers who were not used to working in the collaborative medium of TV. Also of note are the rejected and unproduced ideas for episodes.
These Are The Voyages, like Star Trek itself, work on many levels. They are at once a history and a sociological study of a cultural phenomenon, but they also provide an inside look at Hollywood, complete with all the politics and infighting that goes on during any production. In addition, these books are also a time capsule of an era when there were only three networks and mass media, compared to today, was in its infancy. These Are The Voyages are a fascinating reading experience and a must for any serious fan of the show.
A few other excellent books about Star Trek, well worth reading:
The Making Of Star Trek, by Stephen E. Whitfield, is the granddaddy of not only Star Trek books, but all books about TV production. This book was first published when Star Trek was still on the air, and offers a unique portrait of the show, in its preproduction and first and second seasons.
The World Of Star Trek and The Trouble With Tribbles, both by David Gerrold, a wonderful writer of his own (non-Star Trek) novels, and short stories. The World Of Star Trek has excellent insights, ideas, and observations about the show. The Trouble With Tribbles, is a great memoir of his experience writing that excellent episode and seeing it through to the actual production. A unique and one of a kind book.
The Longest Trek: My Tour Of The Galaxy, by Grace Lee Whitney. Written by the woman who played Yeoman Rand during the first season of Star Trek, this honest and often heart breaking book stands out from others because of its brutal portrayal of a life with incredible triumphs and equally horrible losses. Whitney tells of her journey from successful singer, film and TV actress, to her decline into alcoholism, drug addiction and homelessness. Her rise back to sobriety, and success over adversity is truly inspiring. As much as The Longest Trek is a behind the scenes show business story, it is also an important book on recovery, healing, faith and one woman’s struggle to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.