Friday, September 7, 2012

STAR TREK: The Freiberger Factor

-- Author's Note ---
While the following interview is entirely fictional, it is based on several weeks of research concerning Star Trek, The Wild Wild West and Space 1999.

When the original incarnation of Star Trek was canceled in 1969, a great deal of the blame was placed upon the shoulders of third season Producer Fred Freiberger. Initially taken to task in several show biography books that were written and published in the 70s and early 80s, Fred's reputation began to gradually rise after Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation stumbled considerably under the leadership of series creator Gene Roddenberry.

Although he is mentioned positively or negatively in books written by several other people Fred chose to stay away from writing his own "Tell All" book. So we present to you the opportunity to hear his side of the story in Star trek: The Freiberger Factor.

Travis: You've had a fairly interesting career as a writer and producer for movies and television.
  • The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
  • Rawhide
  • Ben Casey
  • Star Trek
  • Ironside
  • Space 1999
  • The Six Million Dollar Man
  • Superboy
And You were one of the original driving forces on The Wild Wild West TV series. In fact, you helped create one of television's most enduring villains.

Fred: I worked with actor Michael Dunn to create the character of Doctor Miguelito Loveless and I had the distinction of lasting the longest of the five producers that worked on the show in season 1. The CBS brass couldn't make up their mind on what they wanted the show to be and each time they changed direction, they fired the current producer. Gene Coon did 6 episodes. I managed to last for 10.

Travis: And you both later worked on Star Trek.

Fred: I think that almost wound up being one of the qualifications for being hired as a producer by Trek. You had to be fired from Wild Wild West first.

Travis: What did you think of the 1999 Wild Wild West movie.

Fred: I almost wanted to strangle Jon Peters and Barry Sonnenfeld with my bare hands.

Travis: Why?

Fred: Two reasons.

1 - They took a good idea, Secret Agents in the Old West, and perverted it into a bad ripoff of Steam Punk.

2 - They totally screwed over my villain.
Miguelito Loveless was a multi layered character. An incredibly talented gentleman who winds up turning to crime because too many of the people of his day refused to take a dwarf seriously. And my friend Michael Dunn played the part with an incredible degree of dignity and panache.

The movie scrapped this beautifully tragic character and replaced him with a smart ass paraplegic. Arless Loveless was little more than a series of bad jokes about people who are Southern and people who've been crippled. Peters and Sonnenfeld thought it was somehow funny to show a character who used used all sorts of Steampunk like travel contraptions to prove that he didn't need legs to be a super villain. All of the humanity and emotion that Michael and I had put into Miguelito got stripped right out and all their version of Loveless was left with was a bad southern accent and a bunch of outlandish wheelchair substitutes.

Travis: Okay. Let's move onto Star Trek. How do you respond to critics who complain that the first incarnation of the show crashed while you were at the helm?

Fred: I'd say that "On The Surface" its a valid observation. I was the guy flying the plane when it crashed. So I do bear at least some of the responsibility. But I'd also say that you often need to dig beneath the surface and investigate the things that aren't that obvious.

Did they give the pilot enough fuel?

Did he receive proper support from Ground Control?

Were there any gremlins on the plane?

Travis: What was the lack of fuel?

Fred: Not nearly enough money! The show had to endure an insane budget cut at the beginning of season 3.

Travis: And what do you define as improper ground control?

Fred: Paramount playing both sides against the middle.

Travis: How so?

Fred: Going into Season 3, Paramount was promising NBC that they were totally committed to producing a quality show. But the company was already fearing that a cancellation notice would be handed out by NBC in just a few weeks and it was already doing everything it could to tie up loose ends and be ready for it.

Travis: And what gremlins did you have to face?

Fred: The main gremlin was actually the executive producer ... Gene Roddenberry.

Travis: So you're saying that Roddenberry was one of the factors that brought down the show in Season 3?

Fred: Absolutely!

Before Gene made the decision to hire me as the show's Producer, he had already made another decision. To be Executive Producer in title only.

He'd removed himself from day to day involvement in the goings on at Paramount and already had an office over at Warner Brothers where he was developing story ideas for them.

Travis: Was he still collecting a salary from Star Trek for serving as Executive Producer?

Fred: A substantial one. And that money was further draining my weekly production budget.

The Star Trek Executive Producer salary Gene was collecting from Paramount was helping his bank account stay afloat because the development money he was receiving from Warner wasn't enough to support his wife and family while he was also carrying on a relationship with Majel Barrett.

Travis: Was Roddenberry really as much of a philanderer as some people have claimed?

Fred: Let me put it this way. When I took over as Season 3 Producer, I inherited Gene's old office. Like I said, he was packing up and moving to Warner. He was out of it one afternoon and I moved in just a few days later.

As I was moving my stuff into the office, I noticed there was a peephole in the door. This seemed a bit odd to me, so I asked my Co Producer Bob Justman about it. Bobby explained that Gene would occasionally have a "conference" with a young actress and that he would check the peephole when they were finished to make sure that his wife or another actress wasn't in the waiting room. If he needed to, Gene would step out to the waiting room and engage that person in conversation and then lead them away. Five minutes later, the girl could sneak out of Genes office.

It's common knowledge that during season 1, Gene was carrying on with both Majel Barrett and Nichelle Nichols. This three way situation might have continued on for seasons 2 and 3 if Nichelle hadn't made it clear to him that she'd been feeling a bit of guilt about being the other woman and was then seriously pissed to find out that she was in fact the "other" other woman.

Travis: Would you say that you and the show were betrayed by Gene?

Fred: I think it was a case of "what goes around will quite likely come back around".

Whatever betrayal might have been displayed by Gene Roddenberry in Season 3 ... It basically evolved from NBC and Paramount repeatedly betraying him.

Travis: How so?

Fred: Let's begin with NBC.

In season 1, the show had been on Thursday evenings at 8:00. A time where the adults were ready to kick back, relax and enjoy some TV but the kids hadn't headed for bed yet. Essentially a decent night and a solid time slot and Trek pulled in respectable ratings.

In season 2, NBC kept the 8:00 o'clock time slot but moved it to Fridays. A less advantageous day and the ratings began dropping.

Travis: If I recall correctly, NBC canceled the show near the end of 2 and then the fans pitched a fit. Which caused NBC to quickly renew the show and promise a better time slot.

Fred: Then NBC wound up with a major conflict. They'd allowed Gene Roddenberry to believe that he'd get Mondays at 8 for season 3. And that was considered prime real estate.

But just after leading Gene to believe he'd get Monday at 8, the NBC brass sat down to have a good look at the Spring Ratings for 1968. A newly premiered NBC comedy show called Laugh In was kicking up a storm on that evening at that time and the people at NBC realized that they really didn't want to move a brand new hit to make room for a two year old cult favorite that might die off anyway.

So Gene got a phone call telling him that the network had studied the schedule and found the prefect spot for his show. They were keeping it on Fridays and moving it to 10.

Travis: Known by most TV Producers as "The Death Slot".

Fred: Exactly.

And that's where Trek began the massive downward spiral. As soon Friday at 10 was official, Paramount cut the budget.

The corporate bean counters were certain the show wouldn't make it past 13 more episodes and they wanted to spend as little money as possible on the old horse before it finally gave up and died.

Travis: How much did that cut affect production?

Fred: As I was walking in the front door, we'd already lost our safety net.

Travis: Can you give a good explanation on what a Safety Net is for a TV Producer?

Fred: To produce a season that contains 20 to 30 quality TV episodes, you've got to have several things going on at the same time.

Talented writers who begin the original idea process.

Two or three rewrites to iron out small inconsistencies.

A fourth or fifth rewrite to help tone up the occasional weak script.

A chance for the cast to comment on the second draft and the third draft and maybe even a fourth or fifth draft so they can properly express their concerns on what isn't working for them.

Interesting sets and costumes.

Talented guest stars who can simply walk in and play the part with little rehearsal.

As much shooting time as possible to give the actors the chance to give their best performances and provide the editors a lot of options to choose from.

And as much editing time as possible so you can correct some of the mistakes on the back end.

You need every single bit of this or you don't have a credible safety net. And doing all of it cost about 10 to 15 percent more than Paramount was giving us in Season 3.

Travis: And this safety net disappeared between the end of 2 and the beginning of 3?

Fred: The thing was totally gone by the beginning of 3. It actually started disappearing before the beginning of 2.

Travis: And what caused this gradual erosion of the safety net?

Fred: In season 1, Desilu was asking Roddenberry to average $183,500 per episode.

A few of the shows might get produced for as little as 175 and that would mean a higher budget for a filming a money hog script later on. City On The Edge Of Forever cost about 225 and Trouble with Tribbles was somewhere above 190. But 183.5 was what Gene needed to average.

What you need to understand is that 183.5 was actually a few thousand dollars more than Desilu was receiving from NBC. The production studio had gambled the show would have a good 5 to 7 year run on the network and then Desilu would be able to rake in the profits from American syndication and overseas sales.

Travis: This strategy had worked for I Love Lucy and The Untouchables and Roddenberry was hoping it would work this way again.

Fred: That was the plan.

Travis: What went wrong?

Fred: Just a few months after Star Trek went on the air, Desilu was sold to the Gulf + Western Consortium. This group had also bought Paramount Motion Pictures and the two production studios were sitting right next to each other. The new owners wound up merging the two of them and what had been Desilu Productions became the television division of Paramount.

Gene Roddenberry no longer had Lucile Ball as his business partner. He now had to deal with the Paramount bean counters who were too often being penny wise and pound foolish.

NBC was paying 170 per show in year 1 and 173 in year 2. In Season 2, in spite of receiving more money from NBC, Paramount handed Gene the same 183.5 per show and that began a constantly growing problem. Every season a show is renewed, the cast is usually guaranteed a pay raise and a few more perks.

Travis: So year 2 had the same budget from Paramount but more expenses to pay.

Fred: Which meant a few less background extras in the cast and a bit less money for costumes and scripting and such.

Travis: And what was the budget situation for Season 3?

Fred: Going into that year, NBC had actually raised their portion of the funding to about 178,000 per show. This happened when they originally promised Gene a better time slot. But even after moving the show to 10 on Fridays, NBC held firm on the extra money. So we'd have had about 192,000 per show if Paramount had used the same funding formula as in year 1.

On that budget, Bob and I would have had the resources to turn out a very good product and we might have been able to lure viewers away from CBS or ABC or possibly convince a few thousand other people to stay home and watch us instead of going out bowling or whatever.

Travis: Both Dallas and Miami Vice bucked the curse and became hits in a Friday Night time slot that most TV executives would consider deadly as Hell.

Fred: Exactly!

But as soon as the move to 10 on Fridays was announced, Paramount was immediately sure Trek was going to sink like a lead weight so we saw only the 178 that was coming from NBC. The studio completely backed away from contributing any out of pocket money to the show.

Travis: Let me try to put Paramount's tightwad behavior into perspective.

Fred: Be my guest.

Travis:  In 1968, a family could walk onto a Ford or Chevy lot with $14,000 ... Flat out buy a brand new car for the father, the mother and the oldest kid and still have a significant amount of cash left over.

Fred: Correct. Instead of receiving an additional 8.5 grand, we actually went backwards by five and a half.  Withholding the extra $14,000 meant that we had to make our way through Season 3 doing bare bones on everything.

Stopping the scripting process at 2 or 3 rewrites.  Which meant fewer chances to polish the story and catch script mistakes.

Fewer sets

Fewer extras

Stopping the shooting day two hours earlier to avoid paying the crew overtime.

Almost no location shooting

Significantly reducing our editing time.

Much less of everything that was needed to keep the show consistently functioning at A- or above.

The best we could hope for was a solid B. And occasionally, we couldn't even hope for that.

Travis: You say that Paramount was only expecting NBC to buy 13 shows that year. How many did NBC actually order?

Fred: My staff and I kept the show alive for a full season of 24 episodes. It was the shortest of the three seasons but it was technically a full season.

All in all ... I think we got it right more often than we got it wrong. But when it went wrong ... It unfortunately went horribly wrong.

Travis: And where did it go horribly wrong?

I think the two most glaring instances were pretty early in my tenure.

1 - And The Children Shall Lead

2 - Spock's Brain

I'll take a considerable amount of blame for the first one. Spock's Brain was a bit more a case of things being beyond my control.

Travis: How were you at blame for "And The Children Shall Lead"?

I was basically an overconfident rookie. I knew science fiction and I knew television production but I was really needing a crash course in Star Trek. My Co Producer Bob Justman could only do so much in the way of on the job training. We really needed Gene standing right beside me every day for the first six to eight weeks but that wasn't going to happen.

The first episode of Trek that I produced was Spectre Of The Gun. And I think that Bob and I managed to make lemonade out of tangerines on that one. When Bob complained that we didn't have the budget to do a western town or to go out and shoot on location, I had this fit of insane inspiration and said that we didn't need an entire town because this was all just an illusion. All we needed were bits and pieces of a town. Bob somehow found a way to make my crazy idea work. Spectre almost always gets included in a list of the top 30 favorites.

Our number two episode was Elaan Of Troyus and then we filmed The Paradise Syndrome. And although Bob and I were working under heavy pressure because of money being tight, I thought we did a very good job on each of those first three. We were having to trim every single budget to the bone but things were looking reasonably easy.

Travis: Which is usually when the anvil drops.

Fred: Which was NBC forcing us to do a soul purging rewrite on number four, The Enterprise Incident. As Executive Producer, Gene Roddenberry should have been the one wrestling with the executives at Paramount and NBC. Going to bat for us and making the case for preserving the already established nature of the show. But Gene was already settled in at Warner and wasn't going to set foot on the Paramount lot unless he personally needed something.

Losing the arguments concerning that rewrite caused us to lose the story's author, Dorothy Fontana. She'd been Star Trek's script editor ... The first person in charge of preserving continuity and integrity. Our number five episode was coming up rapidly. It was the one titled And The Children Shall Lead".

To replace Dorothy as script editor, Bob and I quickly hired a talented fellow named Arthur Singer. The problem with this emergency reshuffle was that Star Trek was even newer to Artie than it was to me. Usually, a seasoned producer takes a few weeks to break in a new script editor. I wasn't yet running at full speed when it came to Star Trek and Bob was already running around making sure all the nuts and bolts were properly oiled. I think Artie and I did a pretty good job of making several individual parts of the script work okay but they just didn't come together and tell a cohesive story. There were holes in the plot that you could ride a bicycle through.

Then I made the mistake of joking to Leonard Nimoy that Children was going to be the slam bang episode that Miri should have been. Sometimes you're under obscene pressure so you blow off steam. Unfortunately, Leonard took me seriously and was deeply offended by the comment because he considered Miri to be a masterpiece.

Travis: And what went wrong with the story that became Spock's Brain?

Fred: Essentially a case of the corporate bean counters winning a battle and the show losing the war.

Every TV show is going to buy more story ideas than it uses. It's the nature of the game. Some of them you never use. Others can sit on the shelf for two or three years before someone comes up with a way of taking that neat little 10 page outline and making it into a workable script.

Travis: I've heard it said that some of the best stories in the later years of Mash or Next Gen came from someone finally figuring out a way to make use of a story idea that had been plopped on the "wait and see" shelf at some point earlier in the show.

Fred: That's often how it happens.

At the beginning of year 3, Star Trek had about seven or eight of these diamonds in the rough that had been piling up since the beginning of year 1. And Bob, Artie and I were were perfectly happy to go back and look at them and see if we could make use of any of them.

Unfortunately, an edict came down from the top dogs at Paramount just a day or two after I walked in the door. It basically told us that by the end of the 13th episode filmed, there would be no more unused outlines. They wanted to be able to close the books on the show and have everything all nice and neat and tidy. So whether or not we actually had a clue on what to do with with these unused story ideas, we had to put the damn things on film.

Travis: And I take it that Spock's Brain was one of these outlines.

Fred: Gene L. Coon had been the show's producer during the last half of Year 1 and the first half of year 2. Late in 1967, he was forced to walk away from Trek because of being worn out and tired all the time. As Coon was leaving the show in 67, Gene Roddenberry did his outgoing right hand man the favor of buying 4 story ideas that were only moderately fleshed out. Roddenberry didn't really care if these outlines ever got scripted up an filmed, he just wanted to be able to hand his friend an extra few thousand dollars.

Paramount was now mandating that we had to use those stories as soon as possible. This wouldn't have been a problem if Coon had stayed retired and was working freelance here and there and could pound out a few scripts for us. But the man had rested for a few months, gotten most of his health back and gone to work for Universal Studios producing the second season of It Takes A Thief.

Gene Coon was a totally driven man with amazing writing ability. He could drive home on a Friday afternoon, with his own half assed outline or someone else's poorly written first draft. On Monday morning he'd walk into the studio holding an almost perfect shooting script. My problem was that I didn't have the use of those weekends. Gene was already doing his rewrite magic for Universal and I had to take whatever was left over.

Gene managed to supply a perfectly acceptable script for Spectre Of The Gun and then things started to bog down with Spock's Brain. Coon knew where he wanted to go with the story but there weren't enough hours in the day for him to do his regular job for Universal and also finish this script for me. And I couldn't exactly drive over to the Universal offices and sit down for a conference with the man. Which meant that Arti Singer had to step in, do the best job he could on short notice and all of us had to pray to God that NBC would bury this thing somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas where everybody was off doing their holiday shopping.

In their infinite wisdom, the programming wizards at NBC selected Spock's Brain as the season's opening episode.

Travis: What became of Gene Coon's other two story ideas?

Fred: I wound up having to strike a deal with Gene to let me turn the script development of his last 2 stories over to someone else. Arthur Heinemann wound up completing the script for Wink Of An Eye and Oliver Crawford did a marvelous job on Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. We wound up being lucky enough to snag Frank Gorshin and Lou Antonio for Battlefield. You might remember Frank as the guy who played the Riddler on Batman. Frank received an Emmy nomination for his performance on that episode.

Travis: Even with the bad time slot and the budget cuts, could Trek still have worked? Could you have done well enough on 3 to keep the audience happy and to earn a fourth year?

Fred: We might have had a better than average chance if Gene Roddenberry had been totally out of the picture.

Travis: You wouldn't have wanted him there with you on a day to day basis?

Fred: If I'd had access to the Gene who'd been involved with Trek in year 1 ... Sure.

My problem was that Star Trek began Season 3 as a widow. The version of Gene Roddenberry she'd known in Season 1 was already dead and gone. He'd been gradually strangled to death by NBC and Paramount. What Bob and I were left occasionally dealing with was a man who still believed he could do wonderful thought provoking television but that he'd have to do it in an alternate universe.  One that wasn't inhabited by NBC, Paramount and Star Trek.

In year 3, anytime Gene had a quality idea that might have been good for Trek, he was diverting it to his new job over at Warner. A lot of those creative gems went into a series project called Genesis II that he would eventually pitch to CBS and then ABC.

In year 3, if Gene got involved with Trek, it was usually an attempt to bleed out a little more money and put it into his own pockets.

Travis: I assume you're talking about the infamous IDIK rewrites.

Fred: Let me count the ways.

Yes. The infamous IDIK rewrites which were shoved into "Is There In Truth No Beauty" to introduce a medallion so a jewelry company Gene was involved with could sell copies of it.

Also the fact that the Trek production unit was paying the Paramount copy center to print twice as many scripts as the show actually needed. And the ones that didn't get delivered to my people seemed to immediately show up for sale in mail order catalogs.

And the fact that large numbers of film clips were regularly disappearing from the film vault and showing up on those same mail order listings.

In year 3, each time Gene walked onto the Paramount lot, resources walked out with him as he was leaving.

Travis: Okay ... If season 3 were being done with Gene totally out of the picture, who should have been doing the Executive Producer job?

Fred: Plain and simple answer. Bob Justman.

But the powers that be weren't going to let that happen.

Travis: Why not.

Fred: Bob could smell a quality script from one hundred feet away but he'd never made a name for himself as a writer.

Travis: And that's what kept him from being put in charge of Star Trek?

Fred: Let's step back and look at how things took a wrong turn early on.

Roddenberry was the hands on Producer during the first half of season 1. Starting with the filming of episode 12, he took a step up and became Executive Producer. Gene Coon was the new man in charge of day to day operations while Roddenberry allowed himself to be more concerned with the overall flow of things. Bob Justman was still there as Associate Producer so everything was moving along just fine. Gene Coon had the opportunity to learn on the job and make a few mistakes without them ruining an episode because Roddenberry and Justman would catch and correct them.

At the beginning of season 2, Justman should have been given a title promotion and become Co Producer. That promotion didn't happen, mainly because there was this mindset in 1960s Hollywood that you absolutely had to start off as a writer in order to be a producer. Bob's talent is that he's a marvelous "nuts and bolts" man. David Gerrould once described Bob as someone who could read a script and then tell you how much it would cost to shoot, down to the last cup of coffee that an extra might drink. Having worked with Bob for the first half of season 3, I can tell you that David's assessment wasn't all that far from the truth.

So when Gene Coon left in the middle of season 2, Co Producer Justman should have been elevated to Producer and a new associate producer should have been hired. What happened in the real world was that Associate Producer Justman got passed over and John Meredith Lucas came on board as Producer. John was as talented as the day is long but there was a much larger gap to fill than he'd realized.

By the mid point of season 2, the production budget was already tighter than it should have been and Roddenberry had already started coasting just a bit. He was expecting Coon and Justman to catch the problems and solve them without him ever having to worry about it. Being brand new to Trek, John M. Lucas was missing a few things that Gene Coon would have caught and the show was starting to suffer for it. Had Bob Justman been the Producer, he would have been in the position to kick his immediate boss in the ass and say "We need you Mr. Roddenberry. Do your job or I go and talk to the people above you."

Travis: So at the beginning of 3, Roddenberry was basically sitting on the sidelines when he needed to be totally in the game or totally out of the stadium.

Fred: And if he were totally out, Bob Justman should have been Executive Producer and someone like John Lucas or myself should have been Producer. Associate Producer could have been someone like Dorothy Fontanna or Arthur Singer.

If Bob had been the top dog, we wouldn't have had Gene Roddenberry collecting several hundred dollars a week for doing little more than answering a question every now and then and generally getting in our way when he wanted something.

Travis: I believe that Bob Justman wound up quitting on you halfway through season 3.

Fred: Just after the end of episode 14. And I'm surprised I didn't lose him sooner?

Travis: You don't begrudge him for leaving?

Fred: I think Bobby got out at just the right time. He stayed just long enough to help Arti and me get up to speed on what was happening and he still got out in time to keep from having a nervous breakdown. Eddie Milkis and Greg Peters had spent the first half of the season proving they could function very competently as Associate Producers. They took on Bobby's chores when he left and they did a first rate job.

Even with all the crap we were facing in Season 3, I felt like we were usually producing a show that was better than two thirds of what was out there. But Bobby could remember a time when he, Roddenberry, Coon and Dorothy were doing a show that was consistently better than 85% of what was out there. And there's a serious quality difference between 85% and 67%.

We were a few episodes into Season 3 and Bobby complained about the fact that we were compensating for the budget shortfalls by simplifying the scripts to require less camera set up time and fewer scene changes. "It feels like we're writing radio shows," he said. "All the actors are just standing around and talking to each other."

Travis: Let me read the audience what Nichelle Nichols said about your involvement in season 3 of Trek. About the budget cuts and the rising salaries for the actors.

"you saw fewer outdoor location shots, for example. Top writers, top guest stars, top anything you needed was harder to come by.

In the third season the new producer Fred Freiberger did everything he could to shore up the show. I know that some fans hold him responsible for the show's decline, but that is not fair. Star Trek was in a disintegrating orbit before Fred came aboard. That we were able to do even what we did is a miracle and a credit to him. One day Fred and I had an exchange, and he snapped at me. Even then, though, I knew he wasn't angry with me but with his unenviable situation. He was a producer who had nothing to produce with."

Fred: She's always been very kind. Shatner has also spoken well of me.

Travis: And Nimoy?

Fred: Leonard and I had several clashes that season. But looking back on things, he and I have admitted that I sort of inherited a feud he was already having with Roddenberry and NBC. The show was supposed to have 2 stars. Shatner playing the romantic swashbuckler and Nimoy being the intellectual with repressed emotions that were seething beneath the surface.

But NBC saw Kirk as the STAR the show. In spite of what many of the fans wanted, there was always tremendous pressure from the network to make sure that Shatner had a much larger presence in the script.

Travis: Moving past Star Trek. How did you get hired as the second season Producer for Space 1999?

Fred: Season 1 had been Gerry Anderson's last attempt at working with his wife Sylvia and she'd basically been given free reign to develop the series as she pleased. And her production style was visually stunning but Sylvia had this obsessive fascination with how immense and awe inspiring the universe is. Many of the episodes had really great ideas for a science fiction program but there were too many times when the ending didn't match the set up.

So when it hit the American airwaves, a lot of people were initially impressed by the show but started getting turned off after 6 or 7 weeks. Because this mysterious unseen guardian angel type of thing kept rescuing the Moonbase inhabitants from the brink of disaster every time someone turned around. That's okay for maybe 1 show a season but it seemed like it was happening every third week on Space.

Gerry Anderson had already tried to hire me on a couple of occasions but I was always obligated elsewhere. When he contacted me wanting to see if I had any ideas for a new series, I told him that Space had actually been a good concept but his now ex wife had squandered some really good story lines. After we'd talked for a little while, Gerry asked me if I could fly to the UK and help him sell a second season to the distributor.

Travis: I take it that this pitch went well.

Fred: Gerry and I had a bit of good luck that was quickly followed by a bit of bad luck. ITC had been looking to do a different project but that had fallen through so they were willing to give Space a second chance. Our bad luck was that although the show was brand new on American Television, it had been out of production for almost a year. We'd have to scramble to rehire as many of the cast as possible and rebuild a lot of sets very quickly if we were going to do a season 2 of the show. Essentially, we'd be starting about 2 or 3 months behind where we really wanted to be.

Gerry talked me into taking their offer.

Travis: What did all the rushing around do to you?

Fred: It was kind of the opposite of what I'd had with Star Trek. Even though Gerry and I had agreed to do season 2 on less money, we had as much as we needed because Sylvia had been spending an outlandish amount on season 1. The problem was that we had to squeeze the production of 6 episodes into the time Pinewood Studios would usually use to do 3 or 4.

Travis: It was being quoted that you had a larger budget for season 2.

That's because the American publicity company was reporting the amount in U.S. dollars. We were producing the show in the UK and working with British pounds. The value of the pound had risen greatly against the dollar and this was causing a 15% budget cut to look like a 10% increase. But like I said before, money wasn't the problem. It was time.

Travis: How did you get around that?

Fred: On the filming side of things it was relatively easy. If you watch all the episodes in the order they were filmed, you'll notice that the cast is often split up. Of the five main people, two will be featured prominently in one episode and the other three will have the leading roles in the next. This allowed us to have two different crews and directors filming two episodes at the same time.

Travis: Didn't you write a few scripts under an assumed name?

Fred: It was my practice that if I was selling a story to the same show as I was already on the staff of, I'd take the writing credit as Charles Woodgrove. Charlie did did eight scripts for Rawhide, 1 story for Wild Wild West and 3 for Space 1999.

Travis: And how happy were you with Charlie's work on Space?

Fred: I thought he did really well on The Beta Cloud. The Rules Of Luton and Space Warp needed at least one more good rewrite but even that might not have compensated for the fact that the investors had us under a mandate to use a certain formula for plotting out the scripts. Too many people with money had too big of a say in what was going on.

Travis: You're commenting on the fact that ITC had financed the show by recruiting numerous different investors?

Fred: Right.

The Italian investors wanted a strong Italian presence in the show so we had to add the character of Tony. But people in Australia were also strongly involved so we couldn't slight the character of Alan. And Martin and Barbara were being paid a lot of money to be the stars of a show that would appeal to an American Audience so I had to pad their parts in as many ways as possible.

Going into Season 2, I basically got handed a checklist that I needed to follow. Each script had to have a certain amount of action, a certain amount of humor and a certain amount of romantic entanglement. It wouldn't have been a problem if 6 to 8 of them had needed to be this way but when all 24 have to go like this you start losing some honestly needed drama and melodrama.

Travis: So the investors were mucking things up for you?

Fred: You should start getting nervous if a Jewish Boy like me begins to quote Jesus Christ, but he did give his followers a solid piece of advice. It's impossible to please two or more different Masters.

Space 1999 was being backed by a consortium of investors and each faction felt they had the right to tell us what to do. They had trusted Sylvia a bit too much during Season 1 and had been less than pleased by the what they saw so I sort of got chained to the wall of a few issues. In Season 2, I was often having to be overly simple on the scripts but the ratings were starting to pick up in certain areas of the world. From the news we were receiving, Gerry and I were expecting to go into a Season 3 with the creative leeway to do the show like it should have been done from the start.

Travis: And then you got canceled.

Fred: Technically ... We got renewed. The investors were happy enough with what they were seeing to offer to fund us for a third time. But the head of ITC pulled a fast one, put us on hold and diverted the money into completing another project. It was supposed to pay off within 6 months and then we'd be brought back for a season 3.

That project tanked. Which means that we tanked. And that was frustrating because 3 would have given me a degree of creative freedom that was much closer to what Sylvia had known.

This is not a business you want to be in if you expect life to make sense. But I've remained on good terms with Gerry Anderson. We've often given advice to each other on projects and made 2 or 3 attempts at working with each other again.

Travis: But you've never tried to work with Gene Roddenberry again.

Fred: When Next Generation started, I congratulated Bob Justman. But even then, it was apparent that he and other people were having problems with Gene. Bob was one of several people that quit the show at the end of the first year. David Gerrould and Dorothy Fontanna left the show during the middle of that first season and wound up having to take legal action against Gene and Paramount on several issues. Next Gen didn't really start finding its feet till Rick Berman came on board.

I honestly feel like Gene no longer had the heart and soul for Star Trek after the mess that occurred during the end of Season 2 and the beginning of 3. He came back to Star Trek: The Motion Picture and then to Next Generation thinking that he was ready to take another turn at tackling the beast. But something was missing and he never could quite find it again.

Travis: Thank you for your time, Fred.

Fred: You're very welcome, Travis.
Fred Freiberger died on March 2nd of 2003, at the age of 88. Upon hearing the news, Leonard Nimoy commented "I'm very sorry to hear that Fred has passed away. He was a gentleman and a gentle man. His presence in this world will be sorely missed."


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