It’s generally accepted among fans that the third season of Star Trek stunk because the network had no faith in it and Freddie Freiberger was incompetent. The latest in the book series These Are The Voyages, though, paints a very different and fascinating picture.
These Are The Voyages is the brainchild of pop culture historian Mark Cushman, and the previous two books, one for each season, got into granular detail and followed each episode from conception to air. He sticks to that process here, and honestly, even if you hate Star Trek, it’s probably the most instructive read about how a TV series can go to hell inch by inch.
In particular, you start feeling bad for Freiberger quickly, as it becomes clear he couldn’t win right from the start. He’s caught between a network demanding more elaborate episodes, a studio cutting his budget, and an executive producer, Gene Roddenberry, who’s given up and is actively encouraging the show’s fans to troll the network. If there’s a villain in this story, it’s actually Roddenberry; it’s no secret he was a liability during the third season, but you start to wonder if he actively hated the show and wanted it dead as he screws Freiberger at seemingly every turn.
What really hurts is that, again and again, Cushman breaks down how some of the series’ more infamous episodes actually started out as pretty cool ideas. But then something happens; the budget gets cut, the writer quits in a huff, the network demands changes, everything short of meteor strikes, and then you wind up with space hippies.
Cushman also dips into studio and network politics a bit, in an effort to address fan beliefs versus the reality of what happened. It turns out that NBC wanted to save Star Trek, but couldn’t move it from Friday nights thanks to, of all things, the greed and ego of Jerry Lewis.
It’s a surprisingly detailed, even-handed, and even funny look at the season, and it’s packed full of both trivia and fascinating personal anecdotes. If you’re a fan of Star Trek, or just want to know how the sausage was made back then, it’s worth the $30 price tag.