Marc Cushman is an author and Los Angeles based screenwriter and director. His television writing assignments include scripts for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, and Diagnosis: Murder. His feature film credits include Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney, The Magic of Christmas, and In The Eyes Of A Killer. As a writer/producer, Marc created and served as show runner for two TV series: the cult comedy Channel K and its spin-off, the original Bachelor Pad. Marc is the author of the "biography of a TV show," I Spy: A History Of The Groundbreaking Television Series (McFarland & Co., 2007), and the definitive examination of the making of the original Star Trek series, with his 1,700 page, three-volume set,These Are The Voyages, TOS. The first volume -- Season One -- was published in August 2013 by JacobsBrown Press, with Season Two due in late 2013 and Season Three in early 2014.
An interview with Marc Cushman about the writing of "These are the Voyages..."
Marc, what lead you to write "These are the Voyages..?"
I interviewed Gene Roddenberry for a TV special about the Star Trek phenomenon in 1982. He gave me all the scripts and showed me the immense amount of documents he had saved from the production of the series and suggested I take the research for the TV special, expand on it by utilizing the gigantic "show files" and turn it into a book. I interviewed him at that time and again in 1989 when I pitched the story for the episode "Sarek" to him for Star Trek: Next Generation. I was too busy with my own career as a screenwriter and director to begin work on the book until after Gene had passed, but, during those years, I continued to collect interviews from the creative staff (Bob Justman, D.C. Fontana, John D.F. Black), as well as members of the production crew, the cast, and guest players. I finally began writing the Star Trek book in 2007. And it was meant to be one book. Six years later it was roughly 1,700 pages in length, and had to be divided into three books (one for each season of TOS).
What are the most amazing facts that you uncovered?
I'd say that about 30% of the info out there on TOS -- on the internet, in other books and articles -- is false. There is a remarkable amount of folklore about the history of Star Trek, which has been reported in other sources as if true, while so many unknown facts have been left unreported. For one, the writers whose names appear on the screen often did less than 50% of the work on particular episodes. Gene Roddenberry rewrote the first 13 episode of TOS almost entirely. Gene Coon handled much of the rewriting after that and, between himself and Dorothy Fontana, and Roddenberry, a good percentage of the dialogue we heard in every episode came from their typewriters, without credit. It is fascinated to see the memos that flew back and forth between the creative staff as they assessed and reworked the scripts. And to find out how many stories and scripts by famous science fiction authors did not get filmed. We see how the staff thought, what they liked and what they worried about. And there was much more drama behind the making of Star Trek than I'd never realized, even though, as part of my research, I'd read hundreds of articles, all the books written about the making of the series, including the memoirs from all the cast members, and visited all the internet fan sites. There are many stories out there, but they are merely the tip of the iceberg. The show files -- the immense amount of documents saved by Gene Roddenberry and Robert Justman -- tell of all the ups and downs and strange turns that the production went through, week after week. The increasingly restrictive budgets, the battles with the network, cast problems, such as when Leonard Nimoy almost quit the show at the end of the first year over a contract dispute and they had even hired a replacement to be the new resident Vulcan on the Enterprise, and so much more. But the biggest revelation, for me, was the ratings. NBC claimed Star Trek was a failure in the ratings and this myth has been repeated over and over for 45 years without anyone bothering to verify the statement. I licensed all the ratings reports from A.C. Nielsen and include them with each episode. These reports contradict what we have always been told, showing that Star Trek was often the network's top rated Thursday night show and, on many occasions, won its time slot. Even when moved to Friday nights at 8:30 for its second year, which is covered in Book 2, Star Trek again, more often than not, was NBC's top rated show for that night. And yet they tried to cancel it, which was stopped by a massive letter writing campaign from the fans. So the network moved it to Friday's at 10 p.m. for its third year (covered in Book 3), known as "the death shot," the worst time period of the week. And, even then, the ratings were better than we have been led to believe.
Have you heard from any of the original cast since the release of the first book?
Grace Lee Whitney was the first, who said she "loved" the book. Walter Koenig took a copy up on stage at a Star Trek convention and talked about it for a couple minutes, saying it he "guaranteed" it was the best documentation on the making of the original series to be published. A gentleman who worked in the V.I.P. section at the Los Vegas Star Trek convention came to the publisher's booth and told us that William Shatner was carrying a copy of the book around back stage and suggested he come get himself a copy. And Leonard Nimoy called to tell me that he felt the research was "astounding." He said it was "an incredible job; a tremendous amount of good information" and that "the reviews are wonderful and well deserved." That coming from Mr. Spock, impressed by the amount of research. You just can't beat that.
What's in store for fans in books 2 and 3?
Book 1 has been extremely well received, but I feel Book 2 and 3 will be even more surprising, because the story of the making of Star Trek gets far more dramatic; the conflicts and challenges are greater, as the show progressed into its second and than third seasons. As Gene Roddenberry's relationship with NBC deteriorated, and the budgets were slashed, the time slots got worse, and the threats of cancellation grew louder. They would often be filming an episode in the middle of a season without knowing if they would even be making any more, with scripts being prepared to film one week later just in case the network decided to order additional episodes. It was an enormous strain for all of them -- the producers, writers and stars -- to be working under that, with a possible death sentence hanging over their heads. It was really quite cruel the way television operated back then, mostly as a result of an adversarial relationship between a producer and the network. Gene was telling stories the network was not comfortable with -- stories about Vietnam, racism, sexism, religion, over-population, you name it. It is all revealed in the memos, as well the production schedules, budgets, and ratings, episode by episode, as we progress through the "Classic 79." It was a remarkable trek.