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written by Don Harden
originally published in Stardate 14, March 1982

Just as we have done with the two previous seasons of Star Trek, we can divide the third season into two parts. The first part is made up of those episodes produced both by Fred Freiburger and Robert H. Justman as co-producers (episodes #56 to #70, or from "Spectre of the Gun" to "Let that be Your Last Battlefield"). The second part consists of those shows Freiburger produced without a co-producer (#71 to #79, or from "Whom Gods Destroy" to "Turnabout Intruder"). Gene Roddenberry was still listed as executive producer during the third year.

The associate producers were Edward Milkis (formerly assistant to the producer and post production supervisor), and Gregg Peters (formerly first assistant director and unit production manager). William Shatner, in the first season blooper film, boldly announced in all good humor that Milkis was the star of the series. Peters, at least according to David Gerrold on page 137 of The Trouble with Tribbles, was the fellow in the same blooper reel who was shown shoveling coal into the ship’s engines.

The script consultant for the third year was Arthur H. Singer. Dorothy Fontana’s reason for leaving Star Trek as script consultant was given by her on page 7 of Starlog #41: "I had told Gene Roddenberry that I did not wish to continue on Star Trek as story editor because I wanted to freelance and write for other series. I did, however, want to continue to do scripts for Star Trek. Gene was agreeable to this, and I was given a contract in February of 1968 which called for a guarantee of three scripts, with an option for three more. Whenever anyone has asked why I chose to leave Star Trek’s story editorship, I have always given this reply."

In Enterprise Incidents #7, Dennis Fischer asked Fontana to comment on "The Enterprise Incident," "Joanna" and "That Which Survives": "I took my name from those last two you mentioned. "The Romulan Incident"—"The Enterprise Incident"—was heavily rewritten much to my alarm, and I wanted to take my name off it. Gene talked me out of it, but I ended my contract shortly thereafter because I did have a contract to do three or four. And when they—the producer of the show—told me that Dr. McCoy was Kirk’s contemporary and was not old enough to have a daughter at twenty-one years old, I realized they hadn’t even read the Writer’s Guide. I didn’t want to work for anybody who didn’t even have a working concept of the show. In fact, the story editor some three months later wandered onto the set and asked our set decorator, "By the way, what does that transporter thing do again?", at which point most of the crew gave up caring. Because when you do not have people doing the stories who are knowledgeable about what the entire show is about, you can’t keep up pride in your work because you’re being given drek."

In Starlog #39, Freiburger said, "Star Trek became the legend it’s become when it went into syndication...Never in prime time... The problem I was facing was how to broaden the viewer a science-fiction show but get enough additional viewers to keep the show on the air. I decided to do what I would hope was a broad canvas of shows, but I tried to make them more dramatic and to do stories that had a more conventional storyline within the science-fiction frame. Now, if some science-fiction fans didn’t like it because it went too dramatic....(I’m) guilty. That was deliberate." Of script assignments, he said there were "a lot for writers who had already written for the show."

In Starlog #41, Fontana added that "NBC asked Gene to produce the third season, and he agreed to do so, provided that Star Trek got a good time slot. He was promised it would be either Monday night at 8:00 (opposite Gunsmoke) or Tuesday night at 7:30 (opposite two new shows: Lancer and Mod Squad, the latter of which was produced by Harve Bennett).

This conflicts somewhat with a quote from Roddenberry on pages 261-263 of The World of Star Trek: "I went to NBC, and I said, ‘I love this show. I think it could run for as long as Gunsmoke, if you’ll give it another season, and so, NBC, I am prepared to make this offer: if you’ll put Star Trek on for a third year, I will come back, I will come out of the Executive Producer spot. I will go back and personally line-produce the third year the same way I did the first year. I guarantee it to you that if I have to work 14 hours a day, we’ll have the same kind of scripts we had, the same kind of attention, and all I ask in return is that if I do that, you’ll give me a good time slot. Don’t kill the show with a bad time slot, because you’ve moved us twice now into increasingly worse spots.’ NBC said to me, ‘Yes, okay, we accept your offer. You can have either 7:30 Monday or 8:00 Tuesday.’ And I said fine. 7: 30 Monday was fine, and I was prepared to do it."

Note that Fontana says that NBC asked Gene to produce the third year, while Roddenberry says he made an offer which was accepted by NBC. Note also the different times given for the "promised" time slots.

NBC seems to be too convenient an entity. Exactly who was Gene dealing with whenen certain time slots were promised? It’s possible that the person with whom Roddenberry was dealing may have left NBC or that particular position when the decision was made to slot Star Trek for 10:00 Friday night.

At any rate, the story gets more complex. Fontana, in her Starlog #41 letter, mentioned that "Gene at the time did not take on a story editor, preferring to get stories going, working directly with the writers himself." This was confirmed by Freiburger in Starlog #39, but he added that "when I went on Star Trek, Roddenberry, who had thought the show was dead after the second season, had given out seventeen story assignments... for whatever reason. I honored those assignments...I may have cut off a couple of them because they didn’t work out, so let’s say there were 15 out of 22 that were not mine." It would appear that when one criticizes the apparent quality of the third season scripts as compared to the efforts of the two previous seasons, one should be careful to include Roddenberry, not just Freiburger, as part of "the blame."

One of the main problems with the third season is that there is nothing printed in books about its production. The Making of Star Trek stops at the end of the second year. Gerrold’s books describe mainly his own experiences with Star Trek during the "Tribbles" segment. We therefore have to rely on interviews, and most of these people are being asked to recall things from decades ago and 100% accuracy cannot really be expected.

Some of Gerrold’s observations on the third season as listed in The World of Star Trek are valid, but he should have at least had the integrity to specifically name Freiburger or anyone else who cay have been responsible for the oft-mentioned quality of the third season. Also, we must recall that Gerrold’s story about "The Cloud-minders" was rewritten by the third season staff, so Gerrold cannot be said to be totally unbiased in this respect.

Aside from all this, the overall look of the series did change somewhat. For example, blue lettering rather than yellow was used for the first time in the shows opening titles and closing credits. The quality of the optical effects were improved, and we got to see some different views of the Enterprise. The famous and uncomfortable velour uniform tunics were reportedly replaced with more comfy loot shirts.

In contrast to these improvements, the show had budget problems which were worse than in the first two years. In Starlog #39, Freiburger said that "the licensing fee came down from the network, which means they’re paying us less money. The studio then cane down on whatever their budget was for Star Trek. In addition to this, the stars got a raise. This meant I had even less money to go with. So, naturally, the special effects got cut down...your sets, too. It meant that about every fourth program had to be done exclusively on the Enterprise." This problem is glaringly evident in "The Mark of Gideon." Instead of building sets to actually show a vast overpopulated society, a "duplicate" of the Enterprise was used extensively in order to save money. All we really saw of an overpopulated planet were short glimpses of about a dozen people crowded together.

Allan Asherman, on page 165 of his Star Trek Compendium, questions how a group outside of the Federation could learn the intimate details of starship construction and build an entire starship so convincing that it fools its own Captain and Vulcan Science Officer even down to the sounds of the ship. And where did they find the room to build such a structure if people on Gideon had to fight to find a place for themselves? If they could find such a place at all. All this not withstanding, the script was apparently seen as a budget-saving blessing, and it was produced. This was probably the case also with "Spectre of the Gun." The incomplete western town in that episode provides an interesting atmosphere, but it probably served budget purposes better. Unfortunately, it also makes the Melkotians seem less the "formidable true telepaths" they are made out to be since their illusions are incomplete.

Some of the criticism leveled against the quality of the third year is certainly justified when one considers such episodes as "Spock’s Brain" and "The Way to Eden." But, as we have seen, the problems the show had went beyond simply the choice of producer(s) for the show. In fact, according to Freiburger in Starlog #39, it was Roddenberry who hired him, not NBC. Another thing which hurt the third season, though it was not necessarily a fatal flaw, was the absence of top science-fiction writers, with Jerome Bixby being the sole exception. The writers for year three were an amalgam of those who did write for the show before, writing teams, collaborators, hack writers and even actor-writers.

The humor which so marked the second season was rare in the third season. "Spock’s Brain," for instance, could have been much improved with occasional bits of comic relief, but it was played far too straight, too dramatic, too grim and too campy for what it was. In recent years, it has been suggested that the episode was intended to be a comedy, but that Freiburger couldn’t recognize it as such. Unfortunately, most of the versions of the script don’t indicate it was intended to be a comedy. Other fans have suggested that this was a giant raspberry at Roddenberry and Freiburger from Coon whose decision to leave the series may have been the most damaging departure from any series.

One fault with Freiburger is that he did not write any original scripts for Star Trek. In Starlog #39, he said that he was asked early on by Roddenberry to write something to show what he could do. Freiburger’s attitude, which he said Gene seemed to appreciate, was that he was there to work as a producer, not to audition as a writer. He perhaps should have gone through a Star Trek writing exercise in order to appreciate the problems his writers were going through. Gene Coon once said that Star Trek was "the hardest show in television history to write for," according to David Gerrpld on page 177 of The World of Star Trek. On page 207 of the same book, Coon is quoted as saying, "All of your production problems can be solved best in the typewriter. They can be solved a lot cheaper and faster than they can on the set."

On the other hand, one must also observe that co-producer Justman wrote no scripts or story treatments either. At least, none that we know of. How often and how heavily these two co-producers rewrote scripts is also not known. Freiburger said that he had asked for certain changes in certain scripts, but his approach was to call in a hack writer to bring about the desired changes. On page 70 of The Trouble with Tribbles, Gerrold said that the thinking of Coon and Fontana at the time of the selling of his story idea which later became "The Trouble with Tribbles" ("The Fuzzies"), was to buy the story alone and assign it to a writer of already proven ability. As it happened, Gerrold said, things turned out differently. But this sort of thing seemed to happen more often in the third season.

In spite of all this, there were some well-made shows in the third year. Among the best ones were "The Paradise Syndrome,""The Enterprise Incident," "The Tholian Web" and "Turnabout Intruder." These easily outshine such earlier, supposedly "better" efforts as "The Apple" and "The Alternative Factor." As even David Gerrold observed on page 209 of The World of Star Trek, "If even the two top producers of the show could br responsible for weak scripts, then the cause of Star Trek’s occasional (and in the third year, frequent) failures must be something other than just an occasional poor writer. Part of the answer is that Star Trek was doing the equivalent of half a motion picture every six shooting days and there just wasn’t time or money to do everything they wanted to do. There isn’t time to polish the scripts like they should be polished."

I have already dealt myth all of Gene Roddenberry’s scripts and stories he wrote while serving as line producer. Since he was the series’ only executive producer, his writings while serving in that position must be noted now. In the first season, he is credited with one script ("The Menagerie"— truth be told, Roddenberry only wrote "The Cage" and John D.F. Black wrote the framing story) and one story treatment ("The Return of the Archons"). In the second season, he wrote one script ("The Omega Glory") and co-authored another ("Bread & Circuses," with Gene Coon). He also co-authored at least an early draft of "Return to Tomorrow" with John T. Dugan, since the final shooting script and the episode itself lists John Kingsbridge as the writer of that script. In the third season, he co-authored one script ("Savage Curtain" with Arthur Heinemann) and did two story treatments ("Savage Curtain" and "Turnabout Intruder").

Script consultant Arthur Singer did one script ("Turnabout Intruder"). And the most versatile member of the Star Trek production team was again John Meredyth Lucas, who has the distinction of being the only one connected with Star Trek to have written and directed his own episode ("Elaan of Troyius").

One sad note about the third season was given by Joan Winston on page 190 of Star Trek Lives! It was learned during the filming of the last episode, "Turnabout Intruder," that not only did NBC not renew Star Trek for a fourth season, but also passed on their option for to additional programs for the third season. According to Winston, Roddenberry said that William Shatner was to be the director of the last episode. Shatner became incensed, and finally had an fiery encounter with Herb Wallerstein, the director of "Turnabout" when the director asked him to exit through what had been established as a wall.

Perhaps one of the most surprising comments made about the third season comes from D.C. Fontana, who asserted on page 8 of Starlog #41 that, aside from "The Enterprise Incident," she did not see any of the other third season episodes. This is astounding when one stops to consider how often the entire series has been shown in syndicated reruns and in innumerable convention and other screenings.

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