Friday, December 19, 2014

Recommendations: Space Doubt and Return to Tomorrow


Still from "Assignment: Earth" (1968)
I haven't been writing much lately -- I've been rather busy with real life, although I do have a few pieces in the works -- but I wanted to take a moment and recommend a couple of Star Trek related items that should be of interest to readers of this blog.

First up is a series of blog posts that I've been enjoying this week over at Space Ghost. That blog's author, who calls himself "Sham Mountebank," has been doing research into a mostly undocumented portion of Star Trek history: the show's initial and subsequent transmissions on the BBC. These began in 1969, not long after the show was cancelled by NBC, and continued throughout much of the 1970s. Star Trek's initial run on the BBC wasn't without a little controversy, as it turns out.

Mountebank has written five pieces on Star Trek so far, covering the show's transmission on the BBC in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, and 1974-76.

A painting by Roger Stine, which adorns the cover of Return to Tomorrow (2014) 
Secondly, I'm recommending the new book from Creature Features publishing, Return to Tomorrow, which isn't just a great book about the making of Star Trek--The Motion Picture, but is a remarkable piece of nonfiction, period. The author, Preston Neal Jones, does an superb job of juxtaposing interviews with countless members of the cast and crew into a compelling and rich narrative, and he does it with a minimum of editorializing. Better yet, these interviews were all conducted during the film's lengthy post-production process, leaving the memories of all involved fresh and detailed.

Love or hate the film (and, to be honest, I've always been a bit indifferent, although the movie has grown on me), Star Trek fans won't want to miss out on this remarkable book, which is limited to 1,000 copies.

Hopefully, by the end of this weekend, I'll be able to finish my piece fact-checking some of the claims made in the newest issue of CBS Watch, which is dedicated to the original Star Trek. Suffice it to say, many of the images inside are beautiful and well-worth the $9.99 list price of the magazine, but some of the claims in the text leave this fact-checker scratching his head.

Images courtesy of Trek Core.

Friday, November 28, 2014

TV's First Interracial Kiss?

Still from "Plato's Stepchildren" (1968)
Last weekend, The Agony Booth posted an article which examined the familiar claim that William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols' kiss in the Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren" was the first interracial kiss on television. There is a lot of worthwhile research to be found in the article, which I encourage you to read in full, but the author ultimately reaches this conclusion about the infamous scene between the Enterprise's captain and communication officer:
...short of watching hundreds of hours of TV programming produced prior to 1968, much of which isn't currently available to watch in any form, there’s no way to conclusively state that any of these kisses were truly 'the first.' But simply going by the list above, were Kirk and Uhura really TV’s first interracial kiss? Heck, no; it’s Emergency — Ward 10 all the way. I think even that episode of Sea Hunt is far more deserving of the title than Star Trek.
Unfortunately for Star Trek fans, Shatner and Nichols may have to settle for the qualified title of 'first black/white kiss on a scripted American TV drama,' which doesn't quite roll off the tongue. But this may be our answer for why the kiss, as brave and daring as it was, went almost completely unnoticed by the public for years: there were so many noteworthy kisses that came before it that by the time Star Trek shattered that particular taboo, it wasn't much of a taboo anymore. And I think recognizing that fact is far more important than bestowing a questionable accolade upon a TV show decades later.
In general, I find the author's argument here to be well-supported, and I think it's especially valuable to point out the difficulty of making claims about television firsts when so much of television history is unavailable. However, I do think it's worth pointing out a couple of Star Trek-related details that the author gets wrong. At one point, for example, they make the following claim:
As it turns out, the first references to Star Trek having 'TV’s first interracial kiss' don’t show up until the 1980s, and the mainstream media didn't take notice until the early 1990s, which was not-so-coincidentally about the same time Shatner and Nichols were putting out memoirs that talked about filming the episode.
This is actually a revised version of the passage, which originally stated, "the first references to Star Trek having 'TV’s first interracial kiss' don’t show up until the early 1990s." Eagle eyed readers at the TrekBBS* quickly pointed out that Alan Asherman's Star Trek Compendium (first published in January of 1981) described the scene as "the first interracial kiss on network television." Not long after those comments were made, the passage in question was updated.

However, even the updated version isn't entirely accurate. A brief search of newspapers from 1968 to the present (utilizing ProQuest) brings up a number of references to Star Trek depicting the first interracial kiss on TV in the mainstream media, the first of which predates Asherman's book by more than two years. The three pictured articles below are the oldest publications to show up in ProQuest when searching for "Star Trek" and "interracial kiss."
No Title (The Chicago Tribune, January 4, 1987)
"Nichelle Nichols zooms thru space on Star Trek II" (New Amsterdam News, June 19, 1982)
"A Visit to Star Trek's Movie Launch" (Boston Globe, December 10, 1978)
ProQuest also locates a dozen other articles from several mainstream publications from 1990-1992, which describe the moment as "television's first interracial kiss." All of these articles were printed at least a year before the publication of the relevant memoirs by William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols (Shatner's Star Trek Memories was published in October 1993; Nichols' Beyond Uhura was published in October 1994), which makes it hard to buy the claim that the mainstream media didn't take notice of the kiss and its alleged relevance until those memoirs came out.

That said, I think the author is absolutely right in their judgment that "TV's first interracial kiss" was a retroactive label applied to "Plato's Stepchildren," not one used at the time of the episode's first broadcast. Although a few ProQuest searches are far from definitive, the fact that the first two instances I've found where Star Trek is lauded for depicting the first interracial kiss on television appear in pieces promoting Star Trek--The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan leads me to wonder if this chestnut was generated by Paramount's publicity machine? Decades after the fact, it may be impossible to locate its origin (although I welcome comments below if somebody can find earlier instances of the claim, or knows more than I do).

Another claim made in the article is something I've addressed before, but it is worth briefly tackling again. The author writes:
There’s a long, documented history of skittish network executives and censors meddling in the creative affairs of TV shows, and pretty famously in the case of Star Trek, too.
For one obvious example, season one’s “The Alternative Factor” cast a black actress as a Starfleet officer who was originally supposed to have a romance with the episode’s white villain Lazarus. That aspect of the plot was mysteriously jettisoned at the last minute, leaving huge holes in the plot and lots of downtime to be filled by pointless shots of Lazarus wandering around a planet’s surface (and now you know the real reason why “The Alternative Factor” ended up so incoherent).
There actually isn't any evidence to support the theory that an NBC executive or a censor in standards and practices had the script to "The Alternative Factor" gutted at the last minute to eliminate a potential black/white romance. It's plausible, and others have suggested it before -- Alan Asherman speculated this may have happened in 1981's Star Trek Compendium, and Dave Eversole similarly speculated as such in an article about the script currently available at Orion Press -- but I've been looking for a memo or an interview actually confirming that speculation for years now, and have yet to locate one. Indeed, the closest piece of evidence I've found thus far, a Roddenberry story memo, suggests the romance was dropped because of similarities to "Space Seed," not because of any network or studio interference (and, again, I'm happy to be proven wrong here; if somebody has been able to turn up something that I haven't, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below).

*Author's note: I currently post on the Trek BBS under the username Harvey. Thanks to Trek BBS users Indysolo (for pointing out the passage from Alan Asherman's book, and sending me scans of the pages in question) and Ssosmcin (for noting that this language first appeared in the original, 1981 edition of the book).

Top image courtesy of Trek Core.

Sources:

The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

Star Trek Memories (William Shatner with Chris Kreski, 1993)

Beyond Uhura (Nichelle Nichols, 1994)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Read Bob Justman's Resignation Letter from Star Trek (and Gene Roddenberry's Reply)

Gene Roddenberry and Bob Justman (1989)
The third season of Star Trek was not a pleasant time for Bob Justman. Although he had been bumped up from associate producer to co-producer, he felt slighted that Fred Freiberger had been named the show's producer instead of him. Likewise, his friends and collaborators were mostly gone. Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon, D.C. Fontana, and John Meredyth Lucas all contributed scripts to the third season, but they were no longer a part of the day-to-day process of making the show. Nearly three decades later, Justman would write:
I despaired about the show's loss of quality. By the time episodes were filmed, whatever excitement existed in the original stories and scripts had been diluted by a rewriting process that was no longer overseen by Gene Roddenberry; it was now strictly budget-driven. There were no highs and no lows—just a boring in-between. My never-ending battle to cut costs without compromising quality had failed. The Star Trek I knew, and was proud to be a part of, was no more.
By the midpoint of the production season, I dreaded coming to work every day. It felt like being in prison—and I wanted out.
-Bob Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1966), p.407
Nowhere is Justman's disappointment more clearly reflected than in his memos for Star Trek's third season. During the first and second seasons of the series, his nearly daily ritual of lengthy memo writing was as notable for its wry sense of humor as it was for its attention to detail. By the time the third season rolled around, however, many of Justman's memos were short* and humorless. As Justman would later say, "the thrill was gone."

Ultimately, as filming wrapped on 'That Which Survives,' the fourteenth episode of the season, Justman decided to walk away from Star Trek. It would be eighteen years before he was allowed to walk on the Paramount lot again, to help develop Star Trek: The Next Generation. As he was leaving, Justman took the time to write a letter of resignation to Gene Roddenberry, who had offered Justman the job of associate producer in 1964, and finally got him to take the job in 1965:
Mr. Robert Justman
[Address redacted]
Los Angeles 24, California
October 3, 1968
Mr. Gene Roddenberry
National General Corp.
6330 San Vicente
Los Angeles, California 90038
Dear Gene:
Evidently one of the eggs that the Great Bird Of The Galaxy laid a couple of years ago has finally hatched and the fledgling is ready to fly away.
You know that a young bird is always eager to try its wings because it feels it can soar like an eagle.
And yet, this young bird feels its heart wrenching at the thought of leaving the nest. It wants to stay with Poppa Bird and relive all the good and bad times they lived together. It’s funny how bad times either seem never to have existed, or else seem to have been transformed into the very best of times.
However, birds are like human beings. They can’t live their lives over again and the tenderness of their formative years can never really be recaptured. They'll have tender years later on, but they won’t be the same tender years and with the same tender people.
Remember what we said a few years ago? “... To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
You taught me how to fly. I have to go where I've never gone before.
Love,

BOB
To his credit, Roddenberry showed no bitterness in his reply to Justman's resignation:

October 8, 1968
Mr. Robert Justman
Paramount-Gower
780 North Gower Street
Hollywood, California 90038
Dear Bob:
I suppose everyone has a secret dream that he might someday do something important enough to justify a feature biographer rummaging through his papers. Your lovely letter is the kind of thing that he would hope he found there.
Just to keep the record straight, however, I learned a great deal from you during the years you mention. Star Trek could never have been made without your considerable talent and knowledge. Most important of all, I had your friendship.
Go boldly!
Best,

Gene
Special thanks to TrekBBS user and TOSGRAPHICS.COM proprietor feek61 for passing along the Bob Justman Profiles in History auction catalog from 2002, which includes a legible photograph of Roddenberry's reply to Justman's letter.

*When Bob Justman sold most of his original Star Trek files as part of a Profile in History auction in 2002, according to averages derived from figures in the auction catalog, he wrote 12.2 pages per episode in season one, 15.5 pages per episode in season two, and 5.9 pages per episode in season three (counting only the episodes that credit Justman as co-producer). Those aren't precise figures, since they only reflect what Mr. Justman put up for auction in 2002, but if the materials he donated to UCLA are any indication, his collection was remarkably intact at that time.

Image courtesy of Trek Core.

Sources:

The Paramount Collection, UCLA

The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

Inside Star Trek : The Real Story (Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, 1996)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Read Gene Roddenberry's Letter to Gene Coon about 'Spectre of the Gun'

Still from "Spectre of the Gun" (1968)

In early July of 1968, Gene Roddenberry was mostly absent from the Star Trek offices on the Paramount lot. Instead, he was at National General Pictures, writing a treatment for a Tarzan feature that ultimately went unproduced. He must have felt the irony. Just the year before, he had been complaining to NBC that Star Trek was being hurt by a poor lead-in. The show in question? None other than Tarzan (1966-68), produced by Banner Productions, a division of National General.

Roddenberry wasn't entirely absent from Star Trek, however. As the show's executive producer, he had certain duties to meet. One of those duties included watching the final cut of each episode as it was completed, and delivering his comments to producer Fred Freiberger and co-producer Bob Justman. After screening 'Spectre of the Gun,' the first episode of the third season to go before the cameras, Roddenberry sent a short letter of appreciation to the episode's writer, former Star Trek producer Gene Coon:

National General Corporation
One Carthay Plaza, Los Angeles California 90048
[phone number redacted]
July 11, 1968
PERSONAL
Mr. Gene Coon
4421 Huesta Court
Encino, California 91316
Dear Gene:
Just wanted you to know I saw a final cut on a rather bizarre type of western, written by a mutual friend of ours, and it looked very good indeed!
Just finished up the Tarzan screen treatment and am appalled to see that it runs over a hundred pages in total. Well, I guess it’s better to write more than I need than less -- easier to take out than to add, I hope.
How are things going? In case you want to get in touch with me and I’m not at Paramount, the National General number is: [phone number redacted] – Ext. 451 or 452.
Give my regards to all of yours.
Best,
Gene Roddenberry

Recently, it has been suggested that Coon and Roddenberry had a professional falling out partway through Star Trek's second season. Given the tenor of this letter, and the fact that the two writers collaborated on the script to The Questor Tapes (1974) just a few years later, I tend to view these claims with a healthy dose of skepticism, but I cannot comment on them definitively.

I can definitively comment, however, on the claim that "the episode is stamped with Gene Coon’s pseudonym, Lee Cronin, a moniker he slapped on all his show’s after leaving the series in the second year, when they were re-written." In actuality, there's no evidence that a writer other than Gene Coon wrote 'Spectre of the Gun' (the collections at UCLA include two story outlines and a teleplay for the episode -- all by Coon). According to Bob Justman:
'The Last Gunfight' was one of the stories that [Gene Coon] was developing at the time he left Star Trek. But now, Coon was working elsewhere on an exclusive contract, and legally he could write only for Universal Television, his new employer. Intending to honor that contract, Coon explained that he would not be able to write the teleplay for 'Gunfight.' Being a man of his word, however, Gene Coon arranged for 'Lee Cronin' to complete the assignment. It was filmed and retitled 'Spectre of the Gun.'
-Bob Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996), p.402 
Image courtesy of Trek Core.

Sources:

The Paramount Collection, UCLA

The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

Inside Star Trek : The Real Story (Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, 1996)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Lieutenant Lee Kelso...on ice!

Paul Carr as Lieutenant Lee Kelso in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (1965)
Amongst the bonus features that accompany the first season of Star Trek on Blu-Ray is a picture-in-picture commentary track dubbed "Starfleet Access." Featured on six episodes -- seven, if you buy the set on the now defunct HD-DVD format -- it includes text information as well as on-camera interviews with cast, crew, and other participants.

On the Starfleet Access track for "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the late Paul Carr talks about his role as the doomed Lieutenant Lee Kelso in the show's second pilot. Recalling a conversation with producer/creator Gene Roddenberry that occurred just before Kelso's death scene was filmed, Carr claims:
[Roddenberry said] 'Don't worry about it, kid. We're gonna freeze you and bring you back!' And they never did.
Until recently, this recollection struck me as rather unlikely, but a discovery in the Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection at UCLA suggests to me that it may have a kernel of truth to it, although it seems to have been greatly exaggerated.

On January 20, 1966, Roddenberry sent off a number of form letters to the cast and crew of "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Roddenberry's letter to Paul Carr, however, was slightly different. The first two paragraphs were exactly the same as the letters sent to everybody else in the production, but Roddenberry added a third paragraph specifically addressing Carr:
Dear Paul:
Just a note to keep you in touch with the STAR TREK situation. As you may know, NBC has a new policy this year in which they view films but give no comments on them until after a network "party line" has been established. But we do have some private comments from good friends there that the showing went well and there was even some enthusiasm. We do know they like the quality of the film and the quality of the performances, and the final verdict will probably now depend upon how it fits into their scheduling, what their audience tests show re attitudes toward sf adventure, etc. But we are encouraged and in fact we have yet to get a negative comment.
I will leave for New York on Tuesday for some sales meetings, hopefully explain the direction of the series, answer questions, etc. As soon as we have any definite news, will let you know.
Paul, the reason I send this note to you is that we were all so much pleased with your performance we hope to resurrect "Lt. Lee Kelso". Some of this will depend on audience test reaction to the character, NBC attitudes and so on, but just wanted you to know I am definitely thinking in that direction.
Sincerely,
Gene Roddenberry
Forty years later, Carr remembered Roddenberry's promise to resurrect Lee Kelso as something that happened while the second pilot was being shot in July 1965, but Roddenberry's letter suggests the thought didn't occur until well after the pilot had been completed and shown to NBC executives in January 1966.

Ultimately, nothing came of the idea, which may have simply been an empty promise of the kind that Gene Roddenberry liked to make to keep actors in his good graces. Carr never appeared on camera as Lee Kelso or any other character on Star Trek again (I've been unable to confirm it, but Carr may have had a small voice over role as a Denevan pilot in "Operation--Annihilate!").

Author's note: Apologies for the title. I couldn't help myself.

Image courtesy of Trek Core.

Source:

The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Unseen Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever by Steven Carabatsos

Still from "The City on the Edge of Forever" (1967)
Written by Steven Carabatsos (re-write of Harlan Ellison's teleplay; undated, probably October, 1966)
Report and Analysis by Dave Eversole
Originally posted at Orion Press

TEASER

The Enterprise approaches a planet near the center of the universe, the fabled ancient home of the time vortex. Energy patterns -- "Dextrite 7 through Y, inclusive" -- are emanating from the planet, causing severe shudders throughout the ship. Sulu's station is hardest hit -- he tumbles to the floor. McCoy is called to the bridge and administers Milikren Adrenaline, which revives Sulu. Another ship shudder and McCoy falls on his hypo, injecting himself. Delusional, convinced that Kirk will kill him, McCoy chokes the captain. Spock applies the SPOCK PINCH and McCoy falls unconscious.

ACT ONE

McCoy is confined to a bed in Sickbay.

Kirk, Spock, Yeoman Linda Bennet, Security Officer James Donelly and Assistant Science Officer Pete Kelso beam down to the barren planet. There they discover that their chronometers are running backward and they are experiencing a kind of time loop. They repeat actions without remembering, or barely remembering that they just did them (Kirk issuing the same orders twice, Donelly forgetting that he was sent to walk a security perimeter about the others, etc.). Spock is least affected, but cannot explain what is happening to them.

Sulu visits McCoy in sickbay. With the Medic attending him gone from the room, he has Sulu bring him an antidote to the adrenalin poisoning from a cabinet. Sulu does so, and McCoy surreptitiously breaks it. Sulu releases the doctor so that he may save some of the antidote. Once released, McCoy slugs Sulu and escapes.

Kirk and party explore and discover the Time Vortex, a pillar of light, from which a voice emanates, introducing itself as the Guardian of Forever. Before the vortex is a squat and massive machine, a corroded computer which records all history, everywhere, throughout the universe -- "the memory for the vortex."

Yeoman Linda tries to contact the Enterprise and discovers that their communicators will not work in the vicinity of the vortex. Kirk is eager to get back to the Enterprise to help McCoy, but Spock wants to study the machine closer. Kirk tells him he has an hour, then leaves with Yeoman Linda to go back to their original beam down point where they know that their communicators will work.

On the bridge Uhura tells Briggs, the acting Captain, that McCoy has overpowered the transporter tech and beamed down to the planet.

McCoy materializes near Kirk and Linda Bennet. He attacks Kirk and they fight. Linda screams and runs off, yelling for Kelso and Donelly to come help the captain.

McCoy bashes Kirk over the head with a rock and runs off in the general direction of the vortex. A moment, Kirk comes to, staggers after him.

McCoy approaches the vortex. Spock and Kirk try to calm him, close in slowly, but he turns and leaps into the pillar of light. (Carabatsos calls for a special effect to show that all time from 1930 to the present has been changed. No real detail, he just asks for one to visualize this.)

Since Kirk and McCoy were near the vortex, they have not been erased from existence by the changes McCoy made in the past. But Linda, Kelso and Donelly, out of range of its influence, are gone, as is the Enterprise.

Kirk realizes they are trapped there forever.

ACT TWO

Spock tells Kirk that he has two recordings in his tricorder. One taken before McCoy went back, and one taken after he went back. He can compare the two and find the divergence, find what McCoy did that changed time. So Kirk and Spock walk through the vortex and emerge on a street in New York in the 1930s.

Trooper, a legless veteran who fought at Verdun, rolls by on his small board with skate-wheels, selling apples. Not understanding the exchange of currency for items, Kirk and Spock take apples, and cannot pay Trooper, who believes they are "swell" rich boys from "uptown," out partying amongst the poor.

Others nearby also decry the two. They wander into a nearby mission where Sister Edith Keeler is helping the homeless and downtrodden. She is arguing with a rodent-like man named Keefer. Keefer blames all his troubles on others. He wants to knock a few of those foreigners' heads together, teach 'em something. He is really quite sick of Edith and her preaching. Edith is equally sick of his phony flag-waving and pretend patriotism.

Kirk and Spock interrupt this argument. Edith also mistakes the two in their nice uniforms for rich boys out slumming and asks them to please leave.

Spock steals some clothes for them from the mission's charity bins, and he and Kirk are chased by an angry mob, but find a basement to hide out in. Since Spock surmises that no one would hire him, Kirk goes out and gets a job as a dishwasher while Spock stays in the basement comparing the two versions of history he has in his tricorder.

One night, after work, Kirk wearily walks home, but stops back in at the mission and talks with Edith. They connect instantly, she forgives him for his and Spock's theft of the clothes and calls him "Jimmy" as she closes up for the night. Happy, Kirk leaves, but is attacked in an alley by Keefer and his thugs.

ACT THREE

Spock rescues Kirk and hurries them back to their basement. He is close to finding out what change McCoy made. He doesn't know exactly what it was, but he does know that it kept the United States out of World War II, allowing Hitler's Germany to win and rule the world.

Kirk is revitalized after meeting Edith, happily goes to work washing dishes. There is a spring in his step now. He has dinner with Edith and drops a line of poetry on her -- "When night proceeds to fall, all men become strangers." When Edith professes her unfamiliarity with the poem, Kirk tells her it is by Coulson Nine, whose work is considered the most beautiful in the galaxy.

Kirk and Edith declare their love for one another.

In the basement Spock reacts to something on his tricorder... something stunning. He grabs his jacket and runs out...

Spock interrupts Kirk and Edith at dinner. There is something he must tell the captain. Edith tells Kirk to go ahead. She needs to check in on a new man living at the mission, one who stumbled in just a few days ago, a cranky sort of fellow who prescribes his own medicine. Kirk asks his name.

Edith replies, "McCoy. He asked to be called Bones."

In the Mission Sick Room, Kirk and Spock are reunited with McCoy. Edith leaves the three friends. Spock explains what he found on the tricorder. Tomorrow night, Sister Edith Keeler will hold a peace rally. It would have been the first of many, and would have kept the United States out of the coming war. But she will be killed by an angry mob, lead by Keefer.

Spock tells them that McCoy changed history by saving her life after she was beaten by the mob. Kirk must not allow this to happen.

Edith Keeler must die.

ACT FOUR

In the mission, Jim and Edith talk. He is distant. She knows that he is going away from her, but can't understand why. She walks away from him and sets up her podium.

Kirk and Spock get McCoy and they leave the mission. McCoy is angry as hell, does not want to let Edith die, cannot understand why they can't just take her back to the future with them, stop her from starting the peace movement. Spock tells him that in her absence, her friends and followers would redouble their efforts in her memory and the result would be the same.  She must die.

They wait on the street outside the mission. A song from within, a lovely beautiful song. Soon Edith is singing solo and it breaks Kirk's and McCoy's hearts as Keefer and his thugs rush in. They listen as Edith screams in pain as she is beaten. McCoy makes to go inside, but Kirk grabs him, holds him, will not let him go to her.

Finally Kirk can stand it no longer, and rushes in, followed by Spock and McCoy. They disperse the mob, and Kirk holds the badly beaten Edith in his arms, assures her of his everlasting love as she dies.

They are instantly jerked forward in time and stand before the Guardian of Forever. All has been set right. The Enterprise is in orbit as it should be.

On the bridge Spock asks Kirk to come to Vulcan to heal himself of the pain of Edith's loss. McCoy assures Jim that he will forget the pain. Spock tells McCoy, "He was prepared to offer her the universe for love. How can he forget?"

A few thoughts on why this draft just did not work for me.

-- Trooper, a character who actually meant something in Ellison's draft, is wasted here. He rolls by, we feel sorry for him, and he is gone.

-- Spock's role in the story is basically reduced to sitting in the basement, reading. He does not work, does not even have to build any 1930s memory boards, nothing. His commentary on the times is gone, his active role, his concern, all gone.

-- Keefer is beyond nasty. Now I know there are more than a few real-life Keefers out there, blaming their laziness and failure on "damn furriners," but his beating of Edith is just grossly obscene, even though it is off screen. Yeah, getting hit by a truck ain't pretty, either, but it is the damn randomness of the latter that breaks all our hearts.

-- Linda is another fairly inept woman. I much prefer the strong role Ellison originally wrote for Rand.

--------------

Editor's note: Although almost no memos remain in the UCLA collection related to "The City on the Edge of Forever," numerous script and story drafts survive. The only major draft not present in the collection is Harlan Ellison's December 1, 1966 rewrite (according to a memo made available here, this draft wasn't actually delivered until closer to December 20, 1966). Although Ellison made the teaser and first act of this draft (his last) available in his excellent book on the episode in 1996, as far as I know, the rest of the script has never been publicly available. If anyone can prove me wrong, drop me a line using the contact box to the left, or leave a comment below.

Image courtesy of Trek Core.

Review originally posted at Orion Press.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Truth About Star Trek and the Ratings

Still from "Court Martial" (1967)
Introduction: Success or Failure?

It’s part of the popular understanding of Star Trek that the original series was a ratings disappointment during its first run, which was cancelled by NBC due to low ratings. This view has been reiterated in memoirs, newspapers, documentaries, and academic studies. As Herb Solow and Bob Justman put it in their book about the making of the series:
From the premiere of 'Man Trap' to the finale 'Turnabout Intruder,' despite all the letter-writing campaigns, marches on and harassment of the network, after all the petitions and phone calls and everything else, Star Trek’s Nielsen ratings had dropped by well over fifty percent from birth to death. 
- Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996), p.415
Recently, however, author Marc Cushman has been challenging this account in a series of self-published books and a flurry of interviews promoting them (my review of Cushman’s first volume, These Are The Voyages: TOS – Season Onecan be found here). In one of those interviews, at Trek Core, Cushman said:
Star Trek was not the [ratings] failure that we had been led to believe. 
It was NBC's top rated Thursday night series and, on many occasions, won its time slot against formidable competition, including Bewitched, ABC's most popular show. And when they banished it to Friday nights, as Book Two will reveal, it was the network's top rated Friday night show. Yet NBC wanted to cancel it! Even when they tried to hide it from the fans at 10 p.m., during Season Three, it's [sic] numbers were not as bad as reported. So, once I made this discovery, then, of course, I needed to find out the real reason for the way the network treated Star Trek, and the documents regarding that, which build as we go from Book One to Two and then Three, are quite fascinating.
Cushman elaborates upon his argument near the end of his first volume, These Are The Voyages: TOS – Season One:
One must wonder why a network would even consider cancelling a Top 40 series that was almost always a solid second place in the ratings -- often hitting the No. 1 spot in its timeslot -- against formidable competition, pulling in, on average, just under 30% of the TVs in use across America. (On the few occasions when it slipped to third place, it was always in a close race for the number two spot.) 
- Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages – TOS: Season One (2013), p. 541
The views expressed in These Are The Voyages about Star Trek's ratings performance are, needless to say, irreconcilable with previous accounts. Either the series was a ratings failure -- as has been so often understood -- or it was, as Cushman argues, a ratings success. In order to determine what is fact and what is fiction, I must first lay out the terrain of television audience measurement in the 1960s, and from there examine the methodology, claims, and reasoning of Cushman's argument in detail.

Still from "Assignment: Earth" (1968)
Television Ratings in the 1960s

For a variety of reasons, the landscape of television ratings has changed dramatically in the past fifty years. In the 1960s, when Star Trek first aired, ninety percent of the television audience was tuned in to one of the three broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC). Today, with the proliferation of hundreds of cable channels, only about twenty five percent of the television audience watches one of the broadcast networks – of which there are now five – and that percentage continues to decline. In 1960, a program watched by thirty percent of that night's television audience (or, in ratings parlance, a "thirty share") might have been cancelled due to low ratings. Today, a thirty share would indicate a monster hit. Thus, it is nearly impossible to usefully compare ratings from the three network era with those from today.

Additionally, in the 1960s, the A.C. Nielsen company wasn't the only ratings game in town. Although Nielsen was the largest ratings service at that time, it had three notable competitors – American Research Bureau (ARB), Trendex, and Pulse – which published their own ratings reports based on their own research methodologies. ARB and Nielsen largely derived their ratings through the use of an automatic recorder, although at the local level they still used the diary method, or:
...a form on which one household member recorded, in prescribed manner, information on television viewing. It typically asked for such information as program name, channel, and sex of listeners by quarter-hours. Diaries provided total audience ratings, computed by quarter-hours, and so did not yield average minute ratings. To calculate total audience ratings, the number of households counted in fifteen-minute intervals was expressed as a percentage of a specified base, usually the potential television audience.
- Katherine Buzzard, Chains of Gold: Marketing the Ratings and Rating the Markets (1990), p.49
In contrast, Trendex and Pulse derived their ratings reports based on two different types of personal interviews:
...the telephone coincidental...used by Trendex, and the in-home interview used by Pulse. The telephone coincidental questioned in-home respondents about what they were viewing when the phone rang, and secured information as to others watching at that time. In addition to being subject to problems of representiveness [sic] (only telephone homes could be reached), the telephone coincidental was expensive.
The personal in-house interview, by contrast, represented television viewing during the preceding twenty-four hours by individual household members.  It was a recall method and provided a measure of total audience. Details of viewers and household characteristics were collected. Pulse, the firm most identified with this method, used a program schedule to reduce the problem of memory loss. The personal interview method was also criticized for contributing to human error by interviewing one family representative for the entire family’s viewing. Its big advantage was the qualitative information it provided about the purchases of TV audiences. Its high cost limited it mostly to metropolitan areas.
- Katherine Buzzard, Chains of Gold: Marketing the Ratings and Rating the Markets (1990), p.50
The differences between these varying methodologies make it somewhat difficult to directly compare the ratings measured by one ratings service to those of another, and their conclusions were sometimes dramatically different. The September 14, 1966 issue of Daily Variety, for example, pointed out that, "ABC contends it is penalized from 10 to 15% in the national Arbitrons, a contention challenged by the other two networks. CBS and NBC, on the other hand, maintain that Trendex inflates ABC ratings."

Finally, it is important to understand that Nielsen, which was already the dominant ratings service in the 1960s, published several different kinds of television ratings while Star Trek was on the air. The backbone of Nielsen's ratings service was the National Television Index (NTI), also known as the "national pocketpiece" or the Nielsen national ratings. The NTI measured ratings based on a two week period using the Nielsen Audimeter:
...an unobtrusive little device which can hide in a closet, yet it records all video set usage – is the set off or on, to what channel is it tuned, what switches are made to other channels, is a second or third set also on, or even a portable one in the backyard? 
- Clay Gowran, "TV Today: How Nielsen Arrives at Those TV Ratings," Chicago Tribune (May 26, 1968)
Because of the sample size (1,190 homes), the technology being used (the Audimeter used a film cartridge, which the participant had to remove and mail to the A.C. Nielsen company at the end of each reporting period), and the time it took to generate a ratings report, the NTI took Nielsen two weeks to create once the reporting period was finished. In order to furnish the three networks with more immediate ratings information, however, Nielsen provided two other notable ratings services – the Multi-Network Area ratings (MNAs) and the "overnights."

The MNAs were based on a subset of the homes sampled for the NTI, and were focused on the thirty largest television markets in the country. Nielsen provided the MNAs on a weekly basis, and at a faster pace than the NTI (it took about a week for Nielsen to process the MNAs, compared to two weeks for the National Nielsens). The most immediate Nielsen ratings, however, were the overnights, which were released within twenty-four hours of being measured. The Nielsen overnights were based on a sample taken from the New York area market (measuring about ten percent of the national television audience). The ratings information found in the overnights, which measured a more urban audience, often painted a different picture than the ratings information found in the National Nielsens, which measured more rural television viewers. The Multi-Network Area ratings painted a picture that was somewhat in the middle.

Ratings comparison for Nielsen ratings 9/12/66 to 9/25/66
Consider, for example, the Nielsen ratings measured during the two week period that elapsed from September 12, 1966 to September 25, 1966. During those two weeks, Star Trek broadcast its second and third episodes, "Charlie X" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Note that a simple average of thirty market MNA ratings produces different figures than the NTI, which measured a larger audience. Thus, in the MNAs, Star Trek was competitive against My Three Sons during this period, nearly tying it one week and beating it by more than a full ratings point the next. In the National Television Index, however, My Three Sons pulled ahead of Star Trek by nearly 3.5 ratings points, finishing 12th overall in the National Nielsens (Star Trek placed 33rd).

(Note: Nielsen NTI data found in the October 17, 1966 issue of Broadcasting Magazine. Nielsen MNA data found in These Are The Voyages - TOS: Season One.)


Screencapture from the These Are The Voyages website (2014)
Evaluating Cushman's Ratings Thesis

Having set the table in regards to how television ratings worked when Star Trek was on the air, I'll now delve into the arguments laid out in These Are The Voyages. To begin with, here's Marc Cushman's basic understanding of the way ratings worked in the 1960s, from an interview at Trek Movie:

Here’s how it work [sic] back in the 1960s and even the 1970s: There were two ratings services. One was A.C. Nielsen. The other was Home Testing Institute that did TVQ – competitors. Nielsen would send the network the ratings – a page for each night so it was a seven-page report for all three networks, all the prime time shows.

As already established, there weren't two ratings services in the 1960s – there were four – A.C. Nielsen, American Research Bureau, Trendex, and Pulse. Home Testing Institute was not, strictly speaking, a direct competitor of any of the four ratings services, because it measured totally different things (which I will explain in a moment).

Secondly, as previously established, Nielsen didn't just send the networks "a page for each night." In fact, Nielsen sent the networks several different ratings reports – the overnights, the multi-network area ratings, and the National Television Index ratings. The overnights and the MNAs were broken down nightly, but the NTI was an average of a two-week sample.

Home Testing Institute logo (1963)
On the subject of Home Testing Institute's TVQ, Cushman is continually mistaken about what it actually measures. For example, in his chapter about “Miri,” Cushman writes:

As in past airings, Nielsen’s National survey, factoring in rural communities, gave Star Trek a couple of percentage points less than the “overnights” conducted only in metropolitan areas. But Nielsen wasn’t the only service counting noses.

Home Testing Institute, A.C. Nielsen’s competitor, had a survey of its own called TVQ. For the month of October, which “Miri” closed out, TVQ prepared a Top 10 list and ranked Star Trek as being in a three-way tie for the fifth most popular series on TV, under Bonanza, I Spy, Walt Disney and Red Skelton, and tied with Mission: Impossible, Family Affair and the NBC Saturday Night Movie. The Time Tunnel and Gomer Pyle were at nine and ten, respectively.

- Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages – TOS: Season One (2013), p. 260

Cushman makes several errors in this passage. First of all, the ratings he identifies as Nielsen overnights were actually conducted by Trendex, and the ratings he identifies as "Nielsen's National survey" are actually the thirty market MNAs. These sort of mistakes are rampant in These Are The Voyages, which juxtaposes various Trendex, Nielsen, and Arbitron ratings with no explanation as to the different ways these ratings were measured or their various biases. From the revisions made to the second edition of These Are The Voyages – TOS: Season One, it appears that Cushman had trouble keeping the different ratings straight. Eight reports identified as “Trendex 26-city ratings” in the first edition of the book are relabeled as “Nielsen National ratings” in the second edition, and nineteen other reports initially identified as “Nielsen National ratings” have been relabeled “Nielsen 30-Market ratings” as well.

Perhaps a larger error is the characterization of TVQ as a nose-counting service, which is simply false. For reference, here is the TVQ report brought up in These Are The Voyages (printed in the December 5, 1966 issue of Broadcasting Magazine):

TVQ list from Broadcasting Magazine (1966)
To explain what TVQ actually measures, here is a selection from “TV’s Vast Grey Belt,” an article written by Walter Spencer, which appeared in the August 1967 issue of Television Magazine. Note the sentence I have placed in bold:

Another major grey-area yardstick for Klein [the vice president of audience measurement for NBC] is the “Q Number,” a service of TVQ. It is found by taking the number of people who consider a show among their favorites and dividing it by the total number of people who have seen the show. Thus a “high-Q show” has a dedicated following among people who have watched, although it may not have attracted a large audience.

Such a high-Q situation can occur when a good new show is put on the air against an established popular show; it may get a high-Q number as it picks up an interested audience from among those who tune in, while the majority of viewers are so busy watching their old favorite that they don’t soon get around to trying the high-Q show.

In other words, TVQ measures the dedication of a show’s audience, not the size of it. In spite of this fact, Cushman uses TVQ as an indicator of the size of Star Trek’s audience more than once, including in the following passage:

For its fourth week on the air, with “The Naked Time,” according to TVQ Star Trek won its time slot for the entire hour.

- Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages – TOS: Season One (2013), p. 280

Another component of Cushman’s argument is the notion that the three networks were very secretive about ratings information in the 1960s, because they were afraid that if certain stars or producers got a hold of it, they would use the information as leverage to negotiate a bigger payday:

In the 1960s, A.C. Nielsen delivered the gospel that the networks swore by. But there was an air of secrecy surrounding the gospels -- the ratings reports were not for public consumption. Nielsen would “loan” the survey documents to its customers -- NBC, CBS and ABC, who were very selective with whom the information was shared. Unlike today, those all-important life and death numbers for a television series were confidential. The theory was that if an actor, or producer for that matter, knew exactly how popular his show was, he would be all the more difficult to deal with. Time has proven this thinking correct. Consider how much more a star of a popular series is paid today compared to the 1960s. Shatner was a top-dollar star in 1966, but was only making $5,000 per episode. That would be comparable to around $35,000 now, a paycheck that most TV stars wouldn't even get out of bed for.

- Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages – TOS: Season One (2013), p. 279

Many of Cushman's assumptions in this passage are incorrect, and much of his reasoning simply doesn't hold water. The premise that television producers were denied access to Nielsen ratings information when Star Trek was on the air is incorrect. One of the ratings report sent to Roddenberry during the run of the series has been posted online, and others are available in Roddenberry's archival papers at UCLA (the source of most of Cushman's research material). The papers of writer/producer Bruce Geller, who created Star Trek's sister shows at Desilu (Mission: Impossible and Mannix) also include Nielsen ratings reports that he received during the same era.

The premise that the Nielsen ratings "were not for public consumption" is true, but the suggestion that the three networks were the only clients who used the ratings services is false. According to an article in the May 26, 1968 edition of The Chicago Tribune:
The Nielsen company has something like 600 clients–advertisers, advertising agencies, networks, stations, and program producers – who pay from a minimum of perhaps $15,000 a year up to a beautiful maximum of hundreds of thousands of dollars each 12 months for those reports.
The suggestion that Shatner's $5,000 a week salary was chump change doesn't stand up to much scrutiny, either. The cast of Bonanza, which was the number one show on television during Star Trek’s first season, earned no more than $1,000 during their first season of production and, after seven annual raises, were still only earning $12,000 an episode during the 1966-67 season. The complete National Nielsen ratings may have not been printed every week, but the dominance of Bonanza in the top ten was well documented at the time. If access to ratings information was the key to negotiating for a much bigger payday, it raises the question – why did the cast of Bonanza settle for what Cushman seems to think was so little?

The truth of the matter is that for a mostly untested leading man – his previous series, For The People, lasted just thirteen episodes before it was cancelled – Shatner was earning good money (and, contractually, his salary went up each year). Cushman's premise that $35,000 a week would be on the low end for a leading actor of a major series today is certainly true. However, his conclusion that Shatner's salary must have therefore been on the low end is based on the incorrect assumption that television production has kept pace with inflation. In point of fact, the cost of television production has far exceed inflation since the late 1960s.

Star Trek and the Ratings: The First Season (1966-1967)

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering, how did Star Trek do in the ratings? The way Cushman sees it, Star Trek was a huge success right out of the gate:

“The Man Trap” hit big in the ratings, drawing 46.7% of the TVs in use throughout America. The rating was a triumphant 25.2, compared to the 14.1 attributed to The Tammy Grimes Show and the 9.4 to My Three Sons. (Ratings reflect the total percentage of TVs in use that evening, tuned to a particular show.) Star Trek remained the clear winner at 9 p.m., as well. ABC’s most popular series, Bewitched, drew a 15.8 rating. On The CBS Thursday Night Movie was The Ladies Man, starring Jerry Lewis. It only managed a 10.7. Star Trek towered above them with a 24.2 rating and 42.2% of the TV audience.

- Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages – TOS: Season One (2013), p. 279-280

Speaking broadly, Cushman is absolutely right – “The Man Trap” debuted to monster ratings. If Star Trek had been able to maintain these numbers, it would have finished squarely in the middle of the top ten for the 1966-67 broadcast season.

TV Guide advertisement for NBC's "advance premiere" week (1966)
There are a number of factors, however, that this gushing analysis of Star Trek’s debut numbers ignores. Chief among them is the fact that NBC decided to air three of their new shows for the 1966-67 season – including Star Trek – as “advanced premieres,” one week before the rest of the broadcast season began. This meant that My Three Sons, Bewitched, and even The CBS Thursday Night Movie were all reruns. Only The Tammy Grimes Show, which made its debut on ABC, would broadcast a new episode against Star Trek. As it turned out, The Tammy Grimes Show wasn't much in terms of competition. In fact, it was such a ratings disaster that ABC pulled The Tammy Grimes Show from its schedule after just four weeks, making it the first show of the season to be cancelled.

A secondary factor tempering this analysis is the fact that the numbers These Are The Voyages prints for "The Man Trap" were the multi-network area ratings, which drew from major metropolitan areas and favored Star Trek over its competition.

A third factor is that the ratings printed in These Are The Voyages are incomplete, since they only indicate how the show rated on the half hour. Luckily, when it comes to "The Man Trap," a more detailed ratings report exists in the UCLA archive to help fill in the blanks. Courtesy of the Gene Roddenberry papers at UCLA, here are the Nielsen MNAs for "The Man Trap," based on thirty television markets:
(Network – Show – Share)
8:30
NBC – STAR TREK – 46.7
ABC – TAMMY GRIMES – 26.1
CBS – MY THREE SONS – 17.4
8:45
NBC – STAR TREK – 43.3
ABC – TAMMY GRIMES – 27.1
CBS – MY THREE SONS – 19.6

9:00
NBC – STAR TREK – 42.2
ABC – BEWITCHED – 27.6
CBS – THURSDAY NIGHT MOVIE – 18.7
9:15
NBC – STAR TREK – 39.8
ABC – BEWITCHED – 29.8
CBS – THURSDAY NIGHT MOVIE – 19.0
These Are The Voyages reports the numbers from 8:30 and 9:00, but not the numbers from 8:45 and 9:15. An analysis of these figures shows that although Star Trek premiered to large numbers, it was shedding viewers every fifteen minutes, with an audience share that dropped from 46.7 at 8:30 to 39.8 by 9:15. By and large, these viewers weren't turning off their television sets when they gave up on Star Trek, but tuning into the competition on ABC and CBS.

When the multi-network area ratings from UCLA for Star Trek's second broadcast episode, "Charlie X," are added to the mix, the downward ratings trend continues:
(Network – Show – Share)
8:30
NBC – STAR TREK – 32.0
ABC – TAMMY GRIMES – 21.4
CBS – MY THREE SONS – 33.4
8:45
NBC – STAR TREK – 31.5
ABC – TAMMY GRIMES – 20.0
CBS – MY THREE SONS – 35.1
9:00
NBC – STAR TREK – 29.2
ABC – BEWITCHED – 25.0
CBS – THURSDAY NIGHT MOVIE – 36.0
9:15
NBC – STAR TREK – 26.6
ABC – BEWITCHED – 28.9
CBS – THURSDAY NIGHT MOVIE – 36.2

To be fair, these numbers represent the series’ ratings performance for only two weeks – specifically, on September 8 and 15, 1966. Unfortunately, the archival record at UCLA is incomplete – picked over by unscrupulous visitors when the library's reading room wasn't as well-monitored as it is today – but this data helps fill in a few blanks without having to absorb the cost of licensing ratings information form Nielsen.

Star Trek in the Top 40?

To truly get a sense of Star Trek’s ratings, you have to look at the numbers over time. As previously quoted, here is These are The Voyages' conclusion as to how the series rated, overall, during its first season:

One must wonder why a network would even consider cancelling a Top 40 series that was almost always a solid second place in the ratings -- often hitting the No. 1 spot in its timeslot -- against formidable competition, pulling in, on average, just under 30% of the TVs in use across America. (On the few occasions when it slipped to third place, it was always in a close race for the number two spot.)

- Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages – TOS: Season One (2013), p. 541

There are a number of claims that could be examined here, but the most eye-catching is the assertion that Star Trek was “a top 40 series” during the 1966-67 broadcast season. As far as I can tell, Cushman comes to this conclusion based on a single Nielsen NTI report from early in the season, covering the two week period of September 12-25, 1966 when "Charlie X"  and "Where No Man Has Gone Before" were first shown. This report came from the October 16, 1966 issue of Broadcasting Magazine, which can be viewed online here (the NTI ratings report is found on pages 68-69 of the PDF). For ease of use, I have reproduced the Nielsen NTI report below:

Nielsen NTI rankings for the second and third episodes of Star Trek's first season (1966)
Eagle-eyed viewers will notice a few things about this report. First of all, the version printed in These Are The Voyages (on page 281 of the first edition) omits several programs (mostly news and talk shows, although some remain on the list) beginning with NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report at number 81. This doesn't impact Cushman's argument pertaining to Star Trek, although it is rather sloppy. Secondly, as I pointed out in my comparison of multi-network area ratings with the National Television Index, My Three Sons is a full 3.4 ratings points ahead of Star Trek in this report, despite the earlier MNA numbers Cushman printed for those episodes showing Star Trek barely coming in second against My Three Sons with “Charlie X” and beating it with “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” The revised, national numbers evident in the NTI report reflect people in rural communities, who watched Star Trek far less than people in metropolitan areas.

Nielsen NTI rankings for the fourth and fifth episodes of Star Trek's first season (1966)

These Are The Voyages is right about one thing. In the NTI report covering September 12-25, Star Trek was in the top 40. It achieved this position, however, against the extremely weak competition of The Tammy Grimes Show, which was removed from the schedule after only four weeks and replaced with The Dating Game, which did far better in the 8:30-9:00pm timeslot on Thursday nights. Indeed, the very next NTI report, published (in part) in the October 25, 1966 edition of The Chicago Tribune, shows Star Trek plummeting from the 33rd spot to the 51st position (see above).

1966-67 programs rated 30-70 in the National Nielsens (1967)
This drop in position makes sense. Even if you only examine the Nielsen MNAs that are presented in These Are The Voyages, it is evident that following the cancellation of The Tammy Grimes Show, Star Trek's ratings position began to decline. Indeed, after ABC pulled The Tammy Grimes Show from its schedule, Star Trek only reached first place in its timeslot with four first run episodes, and only once held the first place position for the entire hour. By the end of its first season, Star Trek’s average ratings position was 52nd place, according to Television Magazine’s August 1967 issue. The show was no longer in the top 40 – it wasn't even in the top 50. At 52nd place, Star Trek was in the middle of the road, ratings-wise, and in the same issue of Television Magazine, it and Mission: Impossible were "cited as examples of marginal shows that got tapped for a second year."

Still from "Bread and Circuses" (1968)

Conclusion: Why Was Star Trek Renewed?

Marc Cushman closes These Are The Voyages – TOS: Season One by asking why NBC would even consider cancelling Star Trek at the end of its first broadcast season. This question, however, is predicated on the assumption that Mr. Cushman's argument about the ratings is correct. I believe I have pointed out enough flaws in his reasoning and presented enough counter-evidence that such claims should be held in considerable doubt. 

Therefore, I believe a more appropriate question to ask would be this: why was Star Trek renewed for a second season? After all, the show was an expensive one to produce, and following an initial flash of success, its ratings had dropped to a level that was nothing to shout about. I can think of three reasons which may have been the tipping point convincing NBC to go forward with the program – although I hope my readers will be able to come up with others that I haven't considered.

First, Star Trek had garnered some awards recognition at the close of its first season, with five Emmy nominations (including the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series) and a Hugo Award (for "The City on the Edge of Forever"). NBC may have hoped the publicity surrounding this recognition would have translated into increased viewership.

RCA ad for Star Trek and color television (1967)
Second, as argued by Solow and Justman in their book, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, at the time the series was produced, RCA was the parent company of NBC, and Star Trek helped sell color television sets for RCA:
In 1966, NBC, at the behest of RCA, commissioned the A.C. Nielsen Company to do a study on the popularity of color television series as opposed to all television series. The results were expected–and very unexpected.
Favorite series were popular whether or not they were viewed in color. For example, NBC's Bonanza series was a top-rated series on the overall national ratings list as well as on the color ratings list.
However, in December 1966, with Star Trek having been on the air only three months, an NBC executive called with some news. The Nielsen research indicated that Star Trek was the highest-rated color series on television. I distributed the information to the Star Trek staff. We thought it was all very interesting, nothing to write home about, and went back to work. We were wrong; we failed to see the importance of the research
Perhaps those initial and subsequent Nielsen color series ratings contributed to giving Star Trek a second year of life. Putting aside low national ratings and lack of sponsors, perhaps a reason for renewing Star Trek, other than all the phone calls, letters, and demonstrations at NBC, was its position as the top-rated color series on the 'full color network.' NBC's parent company was RCA. Star Trek sold color television sets and made money for RCA. 
- Herbert F. Solow, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996), p.305
Third, NBC may have simply had nothing better to replace the series with. Star Trek wasn't generating huge ratings, but the ratings weren't disastrous, either, at least not during its first season. According to Television Magazine in 1967:
Disaster...is the shock word in network programming. One of the best ways to avoid it is to put on even a weak grey-area show [a show ranked 30th-70th in the ratings] rather than take a chance with the least promising of the new batch of programs.
Fourth, renewing the series might have made sense because of the overall younger demographic it appealed to, which even in the late 1960s was becoming more important to advertisers. Paul Klein, the vice president of research for NBC, told Television Magazine in 1967 that "a quality audience – lots of young adult buyers – provides a high level that may make it worth holding onto a program despite low over-all [sic] ratings." He went on to tell the magazine that, "'quality audiences' are what helped both Mission Impossible and Star Trek survive another season." In a later TV Guide interview, Klein specifically mentioned Star Trek again, telling the magazine that the series was renewed in spite of weak ratings, "because it delivers a quality, salable audience...[in particular] upper-income, better-educated males."

Whatever NBC's reasons were for renewing the series, they made a commitment that Star Trek would be back for at least sixteen more episodes during the 1967-68 broadcast season. How the series performed ratings-wise in its second and third seasons may be the subject of a future post, but for now, I'll leave it at that.

Author's Note: Thanks to Dave T., Maurice M., and Kevin K. for reading an early version of this post and offering valuable feedback, which has improved it. Any remaining errors or logic gaps in the final version are entirely my own. If you've noticed any errors or have other feedback, please leave a comment or drop me a line using the contact form to the right. For more information about Star Trek's ratings performance, I can't recommend this piece at Television Obscurities enough. It certainly informed my approach to this post, and led to the discovery of a number of key sources.

Certain images courtesy of Trek Core.

Sources:

The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

Chains of Gold: Marketing the Ratings and Rating the Markets (Katherine Buzzard, 1990)

Inside Star Trek : The Real Story (Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, 1996)

"Cult Television as Digital Television’s Cutting Edge," in Television as Digital Media (Roberta Pearson, p.105-131, 2010)

These Are The Voyages: TOS, Season One (Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, 2013)