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)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

'While He Wanders His Galaxy' -- Gene Roddenberry's Controversial Star Trek Lyrics



Alexander Courage's credit on "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (1965)
In June, I wrote an article about Alexander Courage's time on Star Trek, and some of the incorrect information that has circulated about his contributions to the series. In that piece, one of the topics discussed was the friction that occurred between the composer and Gene Roddenberry, due to the controversial lyrics Roddenberry penned for the show's theme music. Since publishing that piece, I have found further documentation which more fully illustrates what happened, and confirms a few of the claims made in Herb Solow and Bob Justman's book, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996).

To begin with, here is the version of events related by Herb Solow in that book:
When Sandy Courage was given his contract to write the Star Trek music, he was unaware of a two-sentence clause toward the end of the agreement. Thinking it was more of the usual boilerplate, Sandy signed the agreement without reading it fully. The clause, inserted by Gene's attorney, Leonard Maizlish, gave Gene the right to write a lyric to Courage's theme.
Almost two years later, after NBC put Star Trek on its schedule, Sandy received a call from Leonard Maizlish: "Listen, from now on we will be collecting one-half of your royalties." Sandy, confused as to how this could happen, spoke to Desilu Music Department head Wilbur Hatch and Desilu attorney Ed Perlstein. "They told me there was nothing that could be done, legally," said Sandy, and when he questioned Roddenberry, Gene explained, "Hey, I have to get some money somewhere. I'm sure not going to get it out of the profits of Star Trek."
-- Herb Solow, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1966), p.185 
And here's what David Alexander's authorized biography of Roddenberry has to say on the subject:
In early December [1965], Gene finished the lyrics to the Star Trek theme and sent them to Ed Perlstein. The lyrics would be a small source of income, but it cut the royalty in half for the writer of the music, Alexander Courage, and engendered some bitterness on his part. Two and a half years later, on October 3, 1967, Gent wrote to Courage in an attempt to straighten things out. 
--David Alexander, Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry (1994), p.235 
These two accounts are somewhat contradictory. According to Solow's account, Roddenberry did not write his lyrics until Star Trek had been placed on NBC's schedule; in Alexander's version, however, Roddenberry's lyrics were written in December of 1965, a few months before NBC ordered the first season. Luckily, the archival evidence is enough to point us in the direction of the version closer to the truth.

On December 16, 1964, Desilu attorney Ed Perlstein sent a memo to Shirley Stahnke asking her to draw up two contracts with Alexander Courage, "one covering his services as conductor and arranger, and the other covering his compositions in respect to the one-hour pilot film 'Star Trek' for a total fee of $2,000 or scale, whichever is greater." In the very next paragraph, Perlstein addressed the issue of royalties, writing, "Please provide the 50-50 split with respect to monies received from exploitation of the music other than from BMI (Desilu is to receive the BMI publisher's share of royalties and Mr. Courage will receive composer's BMI royalties)."

This initial (and typical) royalty split, however, did not last long. Two weeks later, on December 30, 1964, Perlstein sent Stahnke another memo asking her to revise the terms of Courage's contract:
Please alter the Alexander Courage contract with Desilu for the "Star Trek" pilot to indicate that Gene Roddenberry has the right to write lyrics for the theme music and continuity music, and that in the event Gene Roddenberry writes lyrics for the theme music and/or continuity music, Gene Roddenberry will receive one-half of the composer's share of the BMI royalties for the theme music whether or not such lyrics are used on the television series; and if Gene Roddenberry writes lyrics for the continuity music and such lyrics are utilized on the series, then Gene Roddenberry shall also share the composer's BMI royalties with Alexander Courage for the series.
According to Courage, he didn't read his contract fully, and was therefore unaware of this last-minute addition to it. Star Trek's first score was recorded a few weeks later, on January 21, 1965.  The response to the music seems to have been quite positive, and there's no evidence of any friction between Courage and Roddenberry a this point. In a March 5, 1965 letter from Roddenberry to Courage, for example, the writer-producer wrote:
The reaction to the music you composed and directed for STAR TREK has been so universally outstanding that I thought I owed you this letter. What we have had is not just an occasional compliment but rather consistent praise. 
You successfully avoided all of the stylizations [sic] and other traps of science fiction, successfully blended feelings of past and present and personal identification, in short did really outstanding work. You've made a lot of admirers and friends during this job.
On March 29, 1965, Roddenberry sent Courage a short letter informing him that NBC had ordered a second pilot episode for the series and on July 6, 1965 he sent the composer a complementary letter along with the script for "Where No Man Has Gone Before." In that letter, Roddenberry wrote:
There has never been any question in my mind that you are the man to do this one too -- and I have hopes this episode will put us over the top and into a long association together. 
As you probably know by now, one of the primary things we must prove in this episode is that we can bring STAR TREK in on budget. As a result, budget and cost is very important to us on this one. My hope is that we can use at least fifty percent of the music from the previous show and devise the rest with an eye to doing the best possible job at the least in men and time. Because this is so important, it is probably wise that you have this script well in advance so that you can begin to do some thinking on it. 
Assume the deal has been made -- if not, or if there are any problems, please let me know immediately. I the meantime, looking forward to seeing you soon.
The production's plan to reuse music from the first pilot in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was ultimately abandoned. On November 29, 1965 (the same day Courage recorded his score for the second pilot), Ed Perlstein wrote a memo to Shirley Stahnke explaining the change in plans:
In as much as we will not be using any of the music with respect to the first "Star Trek" pilot film in connection with the second "Star Trek" pilot film and the amount of original music that will be composed, arranged and conducted by Alexander Courage will be equal to, if not more than the original 25 to 26 minutes of music originally scored, it is agreed that Alexander Courage will receive a fee of $2,000 instead of $1,2500 for conducting, composing and arranging for the second "Star Trek" pilot film.
Alexander Courage's score for the second Star Trek pilot featured a new theme, although the production ultimately opted to use Courage's theme music from "The Menagerie" when Star Trek became a weekly series. December 1965, the month after the score was recorded, is when David Alexander claims Roddenberry wrote his lyrics to Courage's (first) Star Trek theme, but in fact, Roddenberry wouldn't pen his lyrics until a full year after this date.

At some point in late 1966, Desilu made an agreement with Dot Records to have Charles Randolph Grean record a pop version of the Star Trek theme. On December 2, 1966, Ed Perlstein sent a memo to Howard Rayfiel, the resident counsel for Desilu Productions, along with the Dot Records contract for the recording of the Star Trek theme:
The contract indicated the composer as Alexander Courage but I inserted the name of Gene Roddenberry with Alexander Courage because Gene is writing the lyrics to the Star Trek theme even though the record which has been prepared for distribution, which, incidentally, will be released within the next week or so, does not contain lyrics. The proper composers and lyricists for receipt of their share of royalties are Alexander Courage and Gene Roddenberry. 
Gene has advised me he is currently writing the lyrics and will be submitting them shortly. The covering letter requests that we furnish Dot with the author, which we have, the publisher, which is the Bruin Music Company, and copyright registration data, which I am sure you have, and two copies of the music and lyrics of said composition. I am enclosing herewith two copies of the music for the composition.
The contracts cannot be returned to Dot until we have the lyrics and I am sure, by copy of this memo, Gene will get to it and get the lyrics to you as quickly as possible.
A week later, on December 9, 1966, as the record was about to be released, Roddenberry sent his lyrics to Perlstein along with a short note:
Per your request, attached are my STAR TREK lyrics. 
Is this sufficient?
Although Roddenberry's lyrics have been printed elsewhere (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story includes the sheet music with the lyrics on pages 179-182), eagle-eyed fans will notice a slight difference between Roddenberry's initial version of the lyrics (below) and those which were later printed on the sheet music and reproduced elsewhere:
    STAR TREK     
(lyrics) 
Beyond the rim of the star light
My love is wandering in star flight
I know he'll find in star clustered reaches
Love, strange love, a star woman teaches 
I know his journey ends never
His star trek will go on forever
But tell him while he wanders his galaxy
Remember
Remember me
Although the album had been recorded and manufactured prior to the date when Roddenberry actually wrote the lyrics, contractually, that didn't matter -- Roddenberry would receive half the music royalties related to the record, in addition to any other use of the theme.

The record in question -- only Courage, not Roddenberry, is credited
The arrangement between Star Trek and Dot Records and Charles Randolph Grean appears to have gone well. On December 14, 1966, Herb Solow sent Ed Perlstein a memo encouraging him to pursue the record deal with Dot Records, because "the more time we can get the name 'STAR TREK' in front of the buying public, the better it is for all of us." Ten days after he submitted his lyrics, on December 19, 1966, Roddenberry sent Ed Perlstein a memo requesting promotional copies of the record and inquiring about a proposed album by Leonard Nimoy:
Reference promotional copies of the STAR TREK theme record, this office could use five dozen of them for “thank you” give-aways to science fiction “greats” who are currently helping us out on a mail campaign, and other similar places. 
In the matter of the Leonard Nimoy album, since it will undoubtedly contain something of the STAR TREK theme, I would expect to receive a lyric royalty. And, since “Mr. Spock” is a creation of mine (maintained against some odds) I would like to have some voice in the nature and direction of this album, nor do I feel that a special arrangement with myself and Norway Corporation on profits from that album would be at all out of order. 
Reference both items in the preceding paragraph, would very much appreciate an answering memo on them at your earliest convenience. 
-- Quoted by Herb Solow and Bob Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1966), p.184 
When the promotional records finally arrived at Desilu, Ed Perlstein sent Gene Roddenberry a memo, dated January 11, 1967:
I am delivering to you some four to six dozen records (I haven't counted them) which were ordered by me from Dot at a cost of 15¢ per record which we are charging to earnings from the Dot recording deal and any other record deals we may make on STAR TREK. This is per your request for submitting records to various science fiction writers, etc. 
In a previous letter which I forwarded to you which included a letter from Dot, Dot indicated they had neglected to put your name down as author of the lyrics in the first Dot release but will do so in connection with future releases of this Dot record.
The Masterpiece (1972) also neglected to credit Roddenberry
Although Dot Records would credit Roddenberry on at least one other version of the Star Trek theme they released (1967's Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space), subsequent re-releases of the version recorded by The Charles R. Grean Sounde in 1972 and 1975 still omitted Roddenberry's name, crediting only Courage.

The Leonard Nimoy record deal, of course, went through and led to a number of successful albums. After concluding the recording sessions on the first, Charles Grean wrote to Ed Perlstein in which he praised Nimoy's performance.
The finished album has eleven numbers -- six of them vocals and recitations by Leonard (who, incidentally, did a wonderful job and was most cooperative). Although it is really no concern of mine, I think Nimoy should be given a higher percentage than you have offered him, since he actually performs on more than half of the album, and since he worked so hard and so efficiently to make this an outstanding record. He also will do a great promotion job for the album, and has shown the ability to do this while in New York the past few days. Again, I say, this probably isn't any of my business, but since Desilu will receive money from four copyrights, I think Leonard deserves his proportionate share. I have not discussed this with him.
Nimoy's first album -- the aforementioned Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space -- included a version of Courage's Star Trek theme. When the royalty money from the record arrived at Desilu, Ed Perlstein issued a memo to Art Baron (with royalty recipients Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon, Wilbur Hatch, Lalo Schifrin, and Alexander Courage on carbon copy) detailing money to be paid to the composers of the various compositions on the album. When Courage saw the following line item, it must have prompted him to call Roddenberry and ask him to explain the situation:
STAR TREK THEME
Alexander Courage (composer) $ 77.06 
Gene Roddenberry (lyricist)    77.05 
Bruin Music Company          154.11 
$308.22
The content of that conversation is unknown, but Roddenberry's written follow-up to Courage, dated October 3, 1967, is not:
Dear Sandy: 
After the telephone conversation with you, I sat down and spent some time going over old notes and jogging my memory regarding our conversations so long ago regarding STAR TREK music. Perhaps this will help refresh your memory -- in my old office, the small bungalow across the lot, you and I sat down one afternoon and discussed sharing the credits on the music. I recall very distinctly that you shook your head and stated you would naturally prefer not to split the money on the theme but, on the other hand, since this was the way it was and since we were working closely together on the concept you would go along with it. You may recall that shortly afterwards I assigned you to do the theme on POLICE STORY, unfortunately not sold, and did not ask for a similar arrangement since I had no strong notions about that music and did not expect to work as closely with you on it. 
I think you know it has never been my way or policy to be unfair. On the other hand, I have always considered handshake agreements not only to be as binding as written agreements but also more important. I am certain you feel the same way and intend no effort to violate such agreement. 
I am sending the enclosed to you in all hopes that a reference to your old notes on the subject will recall to your mind that conversation.
Although Inside Star Trek: The Real Story indicated that Courage's absence* during the second season was due to the composer being upset over splitting the royalties, as I wrote previously, the vast majority of the second season's original scores had already been recorded by the time Courage seems to have been made aware of anything unusual with his royalties from the theme music.

*As several readers have pointed out -- and as I wrote about last year -- Courage wasn't totally absent during the second season, as was asserted by Solow and Justman in Inside Star Trek: The Real Story and has been repeated in various places online. In fact, on June 16, 1967, he conducted thirty minutes of library music (much of it newly composed), as well as a new arrangement of the Star Trek theme.

Image from 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' courtesy of Trek Core.

Editor's Note: A few readers have asked if I will be reviewing Marc Cushman's These Are The Voyages - TOS: Season Two. If I get my hands on a copy of the book, I will certainly take a look at it, but I won't be spending any money on it. In other news, I'll be moving next week. While I'm getting settled in my new place, it might be a while until I manage to write anything new. If you'd like to drop me a line while I'm away, ask me a question, or send me behind-the-scenes documents, feel free to send me an email.

Sources:

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

Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry (David Alexander, 1994)

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

Star Trek: The Original Series Soundtrack Collection (Liner Notes by Jeff Bond, 2012)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Unseen Trek: Star Trek Stories by Gene Roddenberry

Gene Roddenberry on the set of "The Menagerie" (1964)
Stories written by Gene Roddenberry (undated, possibly 1966)
Review and Analysis by David Eversole
Originally posted at Orion Press

THE STORIES:

This collection of short (one-half to two-thirds of a page each, single-spaced) premises are springboards from which longer outlines could be written. They laid out the bare bones of the plot, usually only from Kirk's viewpoint.

"MACHINE X1004"

On a world paralleling 1966 Earth, an Enterprise landing party goes in search of an earlier landing party which has disappeared. They find a world where every action seems scripted. The people go through their life's routines, never missing a beat. Any deviation is punished, and it is surmised that the earlier landing party was so punished. Soon we discover that these are actually robots emulating the behavior of their long-dead creators.

But a few nonconformist robots have developed sentience and do not play along.

"REGULATION 11"

Kirk is more than a bit angry when Earth Base replaces Mr. Spock with an irritating new officer -- one who seems bent on inciting mutiny and in general upsetting the normal routines of the ship. Kirk begins to wonder if the guy is an alien planted there to bring his ship down.

But no, just the opposite. The guy is a loyal officer, placed there to ferret out suspected aliens bent on bringing the ship down.

"PASSENGERS FOR DIMOS"

The Enterprise is assigned the duty of transporting prisoners to Dimos, a penal planet. But a young officer falls in love with a prisoner who insists she is innocent. Complications arise when Kirk discovers that there might be an alien race living on Dimos who will destroy the prisoners once the Enterprise departs.

"STAR TREK TIME MACHINE"

The Enterprise discovers a planet where time travel has been realized. A guest star crewman steals a time machine, goes back in time and does something that affects the present. Kirk and Spock go back and stop him. They return to find everything has been set right.

It ends with a suggestion that this could be the pilot for a Star Trek "Time Machine" spin-off series.

"VALLEY OF THE GIANTS"

The Enterprise discovers a world where the super intellects amuse themselves by bringing back to life great men from Earth's past. Luminaries such as Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Washington, Lincoln, Richard Wagner and Bluebeard. Kirk and crew are pitted against these giants in a life and death struggle.

"GHOSTS"

No storyline is presented in this one sentence premise. Roddenberry simply proposes a world where ghosts are the norm and the living are the interlopers.

"TURNABOUT"

A planet where a "sex warp" switches the gender of anyone going ashore. Roddenberry wonders if they can pull off a story with Bill Shatner playing a woman without becoming too "fey."

ANALYSIS:

Good heavens, the worst of the lot actually made it to air! Minus the "Sex Warp," thank goodness.

As these are merely springboards, one wonders if they could have been given to other writers to develop… The time machine sounds a lot like "The City on the Edge of Forever," but then again, most time travel stories sound like that if you break them down to the bare bones. Could it have come early in Roddenberry's musings for "Assignment: Earth?" And yes, "Machine X1004" does have a few slight similarities to "The Return of The Archons," though I'd be hard-pressed to say if the story originated there. "Valley of the Giants" is reminiscent of "The Savage Curtain." Could "Passengers For Dimos" been the notion behind "Dagger of The Mind" or did "Regulation 11" lead to "I, Mudd?" The connections are tenuous at best, I know, but it is fun speculating.

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

Editor's Note: Although "Machine X1004" may have a few similarities to "The Return of The Archons," that episode's origins are much earlier, as one of Roddenberry's three original outlines submitted to NBC in 1964 as candidates to be developed into the first pilot.

Image courtesy of Trek Core.

Review originally posted at Orion Press.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Unseen Trek: "The V.I.Ps" by Gene Lesser & Malachi Throne

Malachi Throne in "The Menagerie, Part II" (1966)
Story Outline by Gene Lesser & Malachi Throne (undated)
Review and analysis by David Eversole
Originally Posted at Orion Press 

THE OPENING PARAGRAPH OF THE OUTLINE:

The civilization of an unexplored galaxy – existing unseen... and unknown... in the black end of the light spectrum – almost incinerates the Enterprise and its crew when it arrests the ship’s course to capture it.

SYNOPSIS:

Soon Tares (of the planet Thades, a member of the Thedusian System) communicates his desire to study the ship and its inhabitants. The Thedusians live on a different "light wave length" and they and their planetary system cannot be seen by those living on different light wave lengths. Kirk agrees to host the visitors, despite the manner in which his attention was gained. 

Three "AMORPHIC LIGHT-HAZE" Thedusian V.I.P.s (Tares, himself, among them) arrive on the ship and are given a tour. Despite their outward kindness and pleasant voices, their presence makes the humans aboard fill distinctly ill at ease. The feeling grows to near hysteria. Even Kirk and Bones feel uneasy, but manage to control it. Only Spock is unaffected. The VIPS leave because of the fear they are inducing.

Tares still wishes to know more and insists the Enterprise visit his world. Kirk reluctantly agrees and the ship is put through a "light wave warp affect [sic]" and Kirk  sees for the first time the six Thedusian planets which have been moved into a spherical shell nearer to their sun to maximize its beneficial effects.

Tares informs Kirk that his people once visited Earth thousands of years ago, and even attempted to help the humans. However their advances were repelled and they left. He was surprised to discover an Earth ship passing through their system, and stopped it out of curiosity to see if humans had made any progress. He admits that they have advanced "some."

Tares goes on to tell of how his people planted colonies in those long ago days in the "Earth Galaxy" and his people have been curious as to how they evolved. Imagine his surprise when they detected a descendant of one of those seeded worlds onboard the Enterprise… Mr. Spock. They hope his development can provide an answer to one of their most pressing problems.

Furthermore, since they fear their existence would become known and invite invaders, the Enterprise cannot be allowed to leave the Thedusian system.

Kirk attempts to assure Tares that the people of the Earth Galaxy are no longer war-like, but he will not listen. Tares reminds Kirk of how everybody on the Enterprise reacted in fear and uneasiness when he and his two fellow light creatures came aboard. Plus, they have a great secret that must not be known. And Tares, the gentle being of light, begins to change… into a leathery-skinned, cloven-hoofed creature. A DEVIL. (Dave intrudes -- Hey, these CAPS are not my own, okay?)

A separate city simulating Earth conditions will be built for the crew of the Enterprise. All will live out their lives in peace and harmony.

Tares wants to know exactly which planet in the Earth Galaxy (I love typing that) Spock hails from. Once known, the Thedusians will locate planets of similar chemical make-up, go there and be able to change their appearance so that everybody they meet won't hate them.

(Okay…)

What if you can't find similar planets, Kirk asks. Tares hesitates. Spock surmises that the Thedusians would then seek out his home world and take it over. Therefore Spock refuses to tell them which planet in the Earth Galaxy he is from.

Tares pleads, and Spock is sympathetic. He agrees to tell which planet in the Earth Galaxy he is from… if Tares will release Kirk and the others. Kirk is having none of it, and denies Spock's sacrifice. Tares grows angry, his body pulsates with heat, fire erupts from it, threatening to engulf every crewman on the ship. Kirk ain't impressed. But he does offer to make a deal.

If the Enterprise is released back to their light wave length, he will make a "memory tape" of Spock's mind and transmit it to Tares. Tares huffs and puffs and pulsates, but, you see, its just a show. He really couldn't hurt anyone. He agrees.

Back on the Enterprise, Kirk has McCoy hook Spock to an electrode cap with wires leading to an ionized leaden container to tape his memories. Once done, they transmit it to Tares, and the Enterprise leaps into "ram-warp" speed to escape. But the ship shudders with a "tremendous electronic shock blast," and everyone is stunned "into comatose." 

When Kirk revives he sees that Spock is still sitting there, unmoving, mindless, with the electrode cap on his head. McCoy moves to him, notes the wires which run to the container which is labeled "SPOCK TAPE." McCoy feeds the Spock tape back into Spock's brain -- he revives as well and opines that the escape attempt from the Thedusians was obviously successful.

Huh?  What? What are Thedusians?

FROM THE OUTLINE:

Spock looks at his colleagues – realizing the truth. He mumbles something about having had a dream...Kirk agrees...the heat band they just passed through was a rough one. A report comes through from communications. In checking the tapes – they’ve discovered every tape aboard ship shows a blank.... since hitting the heat wave...but the tapes appear to have run through a two-day period – and they seem to have been wiped clean...simoultaneously [sic].

Kirk looks questioningly at Spock – who merely shrugs. It must have been the heat....“Correct our course for Athosargasa...”


THOUGHTS:

I have nothing but admiration for the acting talents of the late, great Malachi Throne (in fact I wish I had such a cool name -- show me a name more euphonious and impressive than MALACHI THRONE!). He was a fine, fine character actor whose presence lent a gravitas to roles others would have been forgettable in, but as a writer...

Pass.

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

Editor's Note: Although Malachi Throne (1928-2013) had a prolific career as an actor, as far as I've been able to determine, he never had a produced screenplay or teleplay. Gene Lesser (born 1925) appears to have been active as a television writer from 1958 to 1968, during which time he wrote for Death Valley Days, Zane Grey Theater, and Lock Up.

Image courtesy of Trek Core.

Review originally posted at Orion Press.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Finding a Composer for Star Trek's First Pilot

Still from 'Requiem for Methuselah' (1969)
The process of hiring a composer to score 'The Menagerie' was an arduous one. According to Herb Solow, "We approached agents and managers, only to discover their top film and pilot composers were working elsewhere or not interested."  After so many rejections, Solow says, "Wilbur [Hatch] came to us with a suggestion, volunteering the name of an arranger working at Twentieth Century Fox." The name of that arranger was Alexander Courage, and rest is history.

Almost fifty years later, however, it's fascinating to read the names of some of the other composers who were considered for Star Trek's first pilot, which we have thanks to notes taken during a music meeting held on December 8. 1964. As music historian Neil Lerner points out, the list is a fascinating mix of "well-established names (such as Franz Waxman, David Raksin, Hugo Friedhofer, and Elmer Bernstein) and up-and-comers who have since become quite famous, like Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams."

This behind-the-scenes document has been printed before, in Lerner's informative essay, "Hearing the Boldly Goings: Tracking the Title Themes of the Star Trek Television Franchise, 1966-2005," although the version found there has been edited from the original.  What follows is a complete transcription of the original document, found in the Gene Roddenberry Star Trek television series papers held by UCLA. The misspellings are the work of whoever originally typed up the notes, possibly D.C. Fontana, who was Roddenberry's secretary at the time. My notes are in brackets.

NOTES ON MUSIC MEETING - 12/8/64

1 - Jerry Goldsmith - Not Available [Eventually hired by Roddenberry to score Star Trek--The Motion Picture in 1979]

2 - Elmer Bernstein - Interested - likes pilot - wants to read script. Wilbur sending script to Bernstein.

3 - Harry Sukman - MGM - Available [Scored an episode of The Lieutenant and the unsold pilot 333 Montgomery Street, both for Roddenberry]

4 - Les Baxter - Available - Wilbur Hatch reluctant to recommend.

5 - Dominic Tronteri - Available [Scored multiple episodes of The Outer Limits, which involved associate producer Byron Haskin and assistant director Robert H. Justman]

6 - Franz Waxman - Available

7 - Sy Coleman - Suggested by Oscar Katz - Wilbur checking him out.

8 - Alexander Courage - Young composer - up and coming.

9 - Hugh Friedholder - Did some of the original music on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

10 - David Raxton - Wrote Laura. Works closely with the producer.

11 - Johnny Green - Would love to do a series. Did music for Empire.

12 - Leith Stevens - Doing Novack. Did the last few shows for Empire. Score a feature with a Science Fiction theme. [Scored Roddenberry's unsold pilot, A.P.O. 923, as well as the Haskin-directed The War of the Worlds (1953)]

13 - Johnny Williams - Did Checkmate - Presently doing music for "Baby Makes Three" pilot for Bing Crosby Prods.

14 - Jack Elliott - Suggested by Oscar Katz - Feels that he has great potential. Wilbur checking him out.

15 - Wilbur Hatch checking out the composer of "The Man from Iphania" [The identity of this composer remains a mystery to me]

16 - Will Markowitz - Wilbur checking him out. [Richard Markowitz was later hired to score episodes of Mission: Impossible and Mannix for Desilu]

17 - Lalo Shiffrin - Recommended by Wilbur Hatch and Herb Solow - Wilbur checking him out. [Later hired to score Desilu's two other successful pilots from this era -- Mission: Impossible and Mannix]

18 - Nathan Van Cleave - Wilbur checking him out. [Van Cleave had previously worked with Byron Haskin on two features, Conquest of Space (1955) and Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)]

Image courtesy of Trek Core.

Sources:

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

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

Music in Science Fiction Television: Tuned to the Future (edited by K.J. Donnelly and Philip Hayward, 2013)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

An Evening with Robert Butler: Full Transcript

Director Robert Butler and Archivist Mark Quigley (January 24, 2014)

Last month I promised I would transcribe the rest of the Q&A with director Bob Butler if there was sufficient interest. There was, and today I finally finished that transcription. Enjoy!

(Recorded January 24, 2014 at the Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles, California)

Robert Butler: I don’t see any costumes.

(Audience laughter)

Butler: I welcome you whole-heartedly, with the confession, with the admission that I have spent a couple hours lately on the Star Trek DVDs that show the gatherings in various cities around the country. I was trying to figure out you, the Trekkies, and the legs, the popularity, the quick popularity of the show. The thought I’m left with is that I found you Trekkies a little less weird than I thought you might be.

(Audience laughter)

Butler: I drew the conclusion that between us normal civilians and weirdness and Trekkies and civility must be a measure that’s identical.

(Audience laughter)

Butler: Anyway, welcome Trekkies, whoever you may be. We’ll find you out!

(Audience laughter)

Mark Quigley: So, this pilot, NBC decided they wanted another pilot. You had already worked with Gene Roddenberry on The Lieutenant. Do you remember the reaction to this pilot? You were offered the subsequent pilot, but you turned it down.

Butler: Yeah, I turned it down simply because I’d been there. I think it was a couple years later. We were talking about that. Gene had gone ahead, I think, and produced more of a television series that he had on the air at the time and I moved on to other things. And then he came to me with the offer and I passed because I’d been there. I had heard, at the time, probably reasonably, that the network thought and said, “We like it, we believe it, we don’t understand it, do it again.”

(Audience laughter)

Butler: So Gene moonlit another script as he was making his subsequent existence, work, and the show was the result of that.

Quigley: And then this episode ended up getting cannibalized when they ran out of money later in the season with 'The Menagerie.'

Butler: Yes. I looked at 'The Menagerie' the other night and thought a lot of the manipulation was kind of clever. They had this Captain, Jeffrey Hunter, as a very distorted remnant of what he used to be, enabling an actor to sit and play him scarred and in the present at that time, answering with light signals and so on. It was kind of creepy and probably a very good idea at the time. Incidentally, fifty years ago, I saw a lot of innocence and sweetness and trust and less cynicism than we see now. Not that I endorse either one, but this is very aimed at us fifty years ago, when we were more acceptable. I mean, the special effects are a little questionable in spots, and we can see budgetary all over the screen compared to what we see today, and yet those legs, that suspension of willing disbelief that we all seem to do, happens again. We follow the damn thing. It has some beckon for us that works.

I felt that when the first shot kind of goes into the flight deck and we see the crew there, sitting there in control, and then there’s that subsequent Doctor-Pike scene that’s so good. We’ve seen that scene thirty, sixty, a thousand times – the enervated hero needs a lift, confessing to his mentor, whomever – and yet, that beckon was in there. Those legs were playing and (chuckles), in spite of the directorial superiority, the damned thing works. It’s okay!

Quigley: I had fun teasing you about this the other day, but let’s talk about your proposed title change for the series.

Butler: Yes, I thought Star Trek was heavy. I tried to get Gene to change the title to Star Track. That seemed lighter and freer.

(Audience laughter)

Butler: It’s not my business to be able to do that, and yet I was trying to convince him. I believed in it and, you know, water off a duck’s back!

(Audience laughter)

Butler: Which is okay.

Quigley: Let’s spend a few minutes going back, because you have the type of storybook beginning that people can only dream about now. This really wouldn’t be possible. You started as an usher at CBS.

Butler: Yes, I sure did. I wore a uniform for about a week with the Uni High quarterback with whom I shared some celebrity at Uni High. He and I, Ray Bindorff and I, put on the blue uniform and passed out the tickets on Hollywood and Vine to get people to come to the radio and occasional television shows. That’s pretty fascinating. Ray is here somewhere.

Then, seven years later he was on into his business career and I left TV City to take a job with my next partner, Gene Reynolds, with whom we shared an early comedy, Hennesy. We alternated for six episodes until we were both dumped and then we were out on the marketplace wailing away. Ray was there first, Gene was there second, and we’re all here now together, which is good.

(Audience applause)

Quigley: In between your being an usher and working on Hennesy, you worked your way up through what we now call the Golden Age of Television, as an associate and assistant director on Climax! and Playhouse 90. That was where you cut your teeth.

Butler: Television city at Fairfax and Beverly was the best kindergarten for learning the alphabet of storytelling that you can imagine. It was live, you went on the air every week, every other week, whatever, you saw your results that night. I watched terrific directors, associate directors, producers, writers, actors – I mean the whole operation. The cast being put together as the story told unit was just 3-D schooling. It was breathtaking and I learned a lot in those seven years. A lot of it shows, some of it’s still pretty green here, beyond the green dancer.

(Audience laughter)

Butler: But that was a great experience.

Quigley: I think you were telling me, you threw one of the first cues out of TV City onto television – the first broadcast from TV City.

Butler: Great point. TV City was being constructed and finished and was to go on the air on a given night. Shower of the Stars was to go on at seven or eight or whatever, and at that time I was a stage manager and I threw the first cue to the background projectionist who rolled the film that projected starbursts on a screen in front of which our host stood. So, I started that.

(Audience laughter and applause)

Quigley: Now, from there, after Hennesy you did The Dick Van Dyke Show [and] The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. How did you become the go-to guy for TV pilots? How did that start?

Butler: Well, after crediting Television City and all that good experience, I happened on a pilot where the director had gotten gun shy or something and needed to be replaced on a given afternoon. They weren’t shooting yet, they were in preparation, and my agent said, “I’m going to get you a show.” He got me into that producer, and we talked, and I got the job of Hogan’s Heroes. A half-hour, one camera comedy, in black and white, and black and white helped the Nazi comedy, if that isn’t an oxymoron.

(Audience laughter)

Butler: But, it was a terrific experience and that was early in my working life. I don’t remember what the second pilot was, but with that start, and that good, hit reaction that that show made, I’m sure that’s in the mix there, somehow an issue.

Quigley: And then, shortly after that, would have come Batman.

Butler: Yeah…

(Audience laughter)

Butler: I say that out of admiration for preposterousness because that’s totally what that was. Lorenzo Semple was a good family friend – a terrific writer, a well-known craze-o, intellectual, creative guy – whether Lorenzo turned that crank or the reputation about pilotry [sic] was at work, I don’t really know. I remember thinking that the material had to be treated very genuinely because it was so crazy. I mean, Batman explains the villain to the police commissioner, the Riddler, “He contrives his plots like artichokes. You have to strip off spiny leaves to reach the heart.”

(Audience laughter)

Butler: Well, that isn’t a joke, exactly, but it sure ain’t reality, either. So I was aware it had to be carefully handled and I did, with good support from the studio boss at that time, Bill Dozier, who was very wise to have hired Lorenzo in the first place. I mean, that’s crazy writing, and really good, and your friendly director got it, and understood it, and delivered it in an appropriate style for it.

Quigley: You came up with the motifs of having the canted angles for the villains and some other things that just stayed with the series – became hallmarks of the series?

Butler: I just felt we couldn’t not, because when you opened a Batman comic book, which I certainly did as a younger kid, why, the pows, and the zowies, and the biffs and bapps were highlights of the action sequences in the comic strip. Well, how do you do that in Technicolor without biff, boom, bang? You know, [we] just had to. It sounds like an innovation, and honest to God it’s just something that we were conditioned to do. We couldn’t not, so that’s directorial genius again.

(Audience laughter)

Quigley: Now, you and I have talked about this, but Batman was a cultural phenomenon at the time, but for you it was just – you moved on relatively quickly. You did, I think, three sets of two, and one of your villains was George Sanders?

Butler: Yes, yes.

Quigley: But you didn’t get caught up in the cultural phenomenon that was Batman at the time?

Butler: No. I’m paid not to. You know, I’m paid to get that story told and delivered and the disbelief suspended as effectively as I possibly can, and that’s what I do and always did concentrate on, maybe to a fault, but that was my interest: the story, the behavior of the characters, the assistance to the actors in doing what they were trying to do, and the delivery of all that to the audience. There aren’t any tens, there’s no pure vacuum, and the actor is never quite right, the scene is never quite right, [and] the finish has not been applied until take two plus all the post-production and the appreciation. Then it gets…closer to good or excellent or perfect. Perfect is just way below what I’m talking about, somewhere else.

Director Robert Butler and Archivist Mark Quigley (January 24, 2014)
Quigley: Decades after Batman, you’re called to launch another comic book series with The Adventures of Lois & Clark.

Butler: Yeah, Lois & Clark was much the same thing. The writing wasn’t as crazy…it wasn’t less established, certainly. Superman was certainly as established as Batman, and yet there was more sadness in Superman, because here was this person from somewhere else, who was trying his best to fit in and being too, too, too exceptional, etc. That rode with that character a lot, and it was in the writing and in the concept, maybe. I don’t remember the comic strip that well. I have a feeling it probably wasn’t included in the comic strip. It probably was increased for the living rooms and the understanding of a superhero. We were always pleased with the thought that Batman was a human being, who had resources and Superman was this invincible…beyond person. One was for sure going to win; the other, Batman, had to engineer and persevere his winnings. But, on the other hand, Superman had the sadness. He was a freak, he was a foreigner. It cracks me up to think of the guy, you know, and that was played, granted, not a lot, but that’s in there. That brought legs. The audience is being carried in the suspension of disbelief being pursued and realized.

Quigley: In the history of TV, statistically, I mean I haven’t done the analysis, but I really don’t think there’s any other director that directed as many different series as you did. Part of that was by design. You didn’t like to stay in one place too long, but if you look at the scope and scale, you went from Batman to Ironside to Kung Fu to Hawaii 5-0, just to rattle them all of. What was it that propelled you to all these different [shows]? You were welcome wherever you went, you could do any show you wanted, and you did as many, it seems, as you could.

Butler: Well, the freelancing I adored. Doing different things, not knowing what two months was going to bring, and where the pay window was. I loved the freedom and the disconnection of all of that. I mean, it took me a year and a half to get used to it because, you know, I was a middle class kid raised on order and process and repetition and all the rest of it. As a young kid musician I may have gotten into that less known pattern, and maybe that’s why, and I really adored that and was confident that it would turn up in three weeks or three months. It was luck. One can’t dismiss the marketeering and concentrate on the issue. You’ve got to do both and for some reason I did much more of the storytelling preoccupation than the marketeering of myself and the results were good enough so that positive results followed me, or something.

Quigley: I think one of the other most remarkable things about your career is that decades after you started you had reinvented the medium with Batman in the sixties and with Star Trek and then this kind of all culminates in Hill Street Blues, which, again, is something that redefined television, and redefined television in the eighties. Let’s talk about Hill Street Blues and let’s talk about that whole philosophy of “making it dirty.”

Butler: It was a great collision of a number of elements. Timing, of course, had a lot to do with everything. I was at a point where I could act on some of my hatreds, namely, cleanliness. I hated cleanliness. Star Trek was so cleanly [sic]. I tried to get the scenery butchered up as though it had been in use, and I couldn’t do it. The production designer was already working, and I lost that argument. It’s largely as many arguments as you can win. The more arguments you win, the more singularity the yarn has. It’s not rocket surgery, it’s singularity, recognition of people at work and at play consistently and clearly and understandably. That’s what we’re trying to do, so we win as many arguments as we can.

I took Remington Steele to Grant Tinker, who was a friend of mine on The Dick Van Dyke Show. We’d known each other a long time. And he said, before I give you an answer on Remington Steele, let me give you a script, and he sent Hill Street Blues to me. And, immediately, the directorial disdain surfaced.

(Audience laughter)

Director Robert Butler and Archivist Mark Quigley (January 24, 2014)
Butler: Do we really need another cop show? So that kind of cleared my head and I knew I had to go to work again. And, I had the boss’s ear. Grant Tinker was the boss. I had the certainty, which was that cleanliness was hideous and messiness was appropriate, and more real and more recognizable also, so I was able to shake that execution of that story up, overlap the dialogue, [and] make the lighting look kind of routine and hideous and improper in places. Truly, the cinematographer, a very knowledgeable Hollywood guy, knew when I said, “Look, let’s make this thing look awful. I want it to look awful.” He knew I was talking about Hollywood awful.

I mean, we were going to be able to see everybody, it was going to work fine, but it just was going to be less shiny, glossy, perfect, surface-y, clean. So he would come up to me, I think just to assure himself, and he would say, “Listen, man, it’s looking pretty bad.”

(Audience laughter)

Butler: And I would always say, “Good. Make it look worse.”

(Audience laughter)

Butler: And that’s really the truth of the way we worked. You know, the show had legs. Let’s face it, it had legs. I remember the fourth act in the hour form having not much action. There’s a tie-down situation around a liquor store where there’s some hostages inside. That’s not a very big opportunity for a chase with people tied down and movies finish with some form of action, chase, gunfight, whatever, and I remember mentioning to the guys, “Guys, we’ve got a talky fourth act.” I mean, sure, the EATers, Emergency Action Team that Howard Hunter, Jim Sikking, he’s here tonight with us, were active and they blew up the back door and then shot up the liquor bottles, etc., but it was clever and it was wordy and it was somewhat action-less. I expressed this as humbly, secretly, arrogantly, as I possibly could, and blank faces. You try to win an argument three times and if you don’t you forget it and move on because the clock is ticking, the sun’s going down, the teacher is going to take the kids away from you, and you have to get the damned thing shot. So, I gave in, and your friendly director was wrong, man, because the fourth act played great. So bet on me less than a hundred percent of the time.

Quigley: Well, they invited you back to direct more than just the pilot of Hill Street, so you did something right. We have time to take some questions and then we want to come back to introduce Columbo, but let’s first take some questions.

Audience Member #1: Hi, you said you went to Uni High here in West Los Angeles. What were your goals as a high school student, and how did you get into directing? You started as an usher, but what was your experience in directing, and did you learn directing in college like they do these days? What were your goals when you were in Uni High?

Butler: My answer, the director’s answer, is get as close to the scene as you possibly can. The making of the scene – the actors, the directors, what’s happening there. That’s where the action is. That’s where the storytelling takes place. You combine the page with the actor with the cinematography and all of it, and you deliver that to the audience. I knew in high school with my dance bands, because I led them easily and got good results in the rehearsals and so on, that I was some kind of idea man, but I didn’t know what, so I sent letters out to studios and got no results and went to work at CBS as an usher and, more importantly, got into production, got near the storytelling. Not at it yet, but near it. Usher, receptionist, production clerk – a couple, three years of production clerk. What lenses are to be ordered, what cable pullers are to be ordered, how many extra cameras, production, how you do it, the tools that make it work – production assistant. Then stage manager, handling the cast, being there during rehearsals, and watching the director and the actors put the show together and make it recognizable and kind of real and believable. I stood right next to the directors as that was happening as a stage manager. Then, co-pilot, associate director. I did it with directors and now I’m in the booth, in the control room, with the pilot, and I’m like the co-pilot, readying the shots and taking care of the crew, all well-rehearsed under the director’s captaincy, of course, but then co-piloting and then getting a break on Hennesy. Those are the steps.

Sidebar – I’m sitting at NBC playing trombone with the teenagers on a radio show. That’s radio show.

(Audience laughter)

Butler: I’m watching this guy called a contact producer – he’s the director – Ed Cashman, apparently a very well-liked, effective guy. Brooks Brothers suits, kind of jazzy, I knew it wasn’t totally sincere, his act. I realized there was a lot of frosting going on there, but I was watching this guy. He fascinated me, and the idea dawned on me, and this is partly in answer to your question, he’s having fun while he’s working for a living. Ding!

(Audience laughter)

Butler: That was new to me at age sixteen or seventeen, and I carried that with me, and have told our kids, “Don’t work for a living. Find another way.” That’s in the mix, but that’s a capsule of moi.

(Audience applause)

Audience Member #2: As you look over your respected career being the director of so many pilots, I wanted to ask, as you look as the pilots transitioned to series, did you agree or disagree within any casting changes between the pilot and the series, and on those few pilots like Sirens, The Brotherhood, and Our Family Honor that were not a success that Star Trek and Batman and Hogan’s Heroes were, did you understand, perhaps, why those pilots or series did not follow the success of your initial presentation?

Butler: The second part of the question very much has to do with legs. Does it work? Is it believable? Do the audiences recognize the people? Do they sympathize with them? Do they pull for them? Does the notion have legs? Does it carry its audience? Certain ideas just do and certain do less so. Cop shows, wearying as they may be, have legs. The doctor shows used to have, more than currently in our lives, legs. And that’s very mysterious. Only you really know what legs are. We’re trying to figure them out and label them, but you know, and we, as we sit with you in test nights, we can – it’s amazing the way you speak to us as we’re watching a piece of work – where you’re quiet, where you’re fidgety, where you chuckle, where you laugh, whether you’re quiet as a cemetery. All that is clear beyond our knowledge – you know what legs are and we’re always trying to figure out legs and retrospectively, I can see largely, that some of the shows, have better legs than the other[s].

The first part of the question I think has to do with casting and execution further down the line. That’s very personal. That has to do with winning arguments, as I say. You’ve got the character on the page, and the actor walks in, and in eighty percent of the cases you can tell within the first six footsteps across the room whether that actor is going to be in the neighborhood for this part or not be. It’s very clear and it’s very personal. You have to win the argument with the others in the room, the producer and the network, whomever. That’s kind of wordy. What it has to do with is, as you’re telling that initial story, you try to make it as clear as you possibly can with the use of the casting trickery, whatever that may be. Later, as you watch the show, you don’t care, man, you’re on to other things. You’re interested in the next job, not the last one, the next one, or something.

Audience Member #3: What was your technique with the actors, and did it change if it was a pilot, or did it change according to the actor?

Butler: Yes, it did change with almost each actor, slightly. What you’re trying to do is get the actor to be his or her best. I don’t necessarily mean shriekiest [sic] or loudest or more teary or with bigger whimpers. There’s something else inside that’s organic that they are expressing, the character they have read on the page, with who they are. Relaxation, like in sports, is the best way to get there. I ‘m told that in baseball, when you hit the home run, there’s not a crash or a bang or a crunch, there’s a click. All the energy is channeled and it’s efficient and the thing goes over the fence. If you’ve got the actors confidence to the extent that he/she can relax and believe what you’re saying, or question what you’re saying, and go 180 to argue with you. If they’re comfortable enough so that they can get conversant and comfortable with what they’re trying to do, and you chose them or didn’t in those first seven steps across the office, then you’re doing a good job with them. As it changed through the years…

[At this point, my phone reached its recording limit, resulting in about 30 seconds of missing audio.]

Butler: You’ve realized that they’ve done semblances of what they’re going to do with you thirty, fifty, a hundred and fifty times. They know how to do that. Now, the thing’s that different, is that the words are different and their partner is different. So you’re getting a new combination of a recognizably comfortable character like Tilly who lives down the street or George on the next street over. You recognize those people and you don’t want to get beyond, too far, you want to be a little beyond the recognition, which is another point I grant, but you want to be a little beyond the recognition so it’s fresh and unusual and slightly startling. Slightly – not usually startling because you don’t know what the hell you’re looking at, except it’s an odd combination of the discreet sell-out (chuckles). The intelligent sell-out with the audience being considered at every turn, every single constant turn, only the audiences know for sure.

Director Robert Butler and Archivist Mark Quigley (January 24, 2014)
Quigley: That’s a perfect segue to talk about one of the most distinctive shows, if not the most distinctive television series of the seventies, which is Columbo. [It] basically broke a lot of rules, and there was a lot of reasons why it worked and a lot of it had to do with the directors that were working on it and the star as well.

Butler: Yeah, I was going pretty well, so it wasn’t unreasonable of me to be offered a Columbo or two and the producer was a terribly good guy and a funny guy and so on. Peter, as a trained accountant, with his accountant and lawyer, had determined before I got on the scene in the third or fourth season that everybody was making a zillion dollars and he didn’t have to grind them out so bad. They were all scheduled at nine days, and they all went ten, eleven, twelve, and nobody was saying anything. You go over a day or two and boy, they’re on your back, they’re above you like flies, and I kept looking around and there was nobody there. I had a good time, but it was odd and questionable, and really fun. The content was fun, Peter was fun, very respectful, interested guy, who said, “Great, let’s move on. Oh, oh, oh, no, man, let’s just, let’s just, do we have time for one…” [Peter was] always sane, reasonable, encouraging, [and] respectful. “Do we have time for one more shoot?” What am I going to say? No?

(Audience laughter)

Butler: “Yeah man, sure, let’s do it! Go, guys, let’s go.” That’s where the time goes – Peter perfecting and refining. Again, there’s no perfect, it’s refining what he’s doing for that audience. And I said, to Roland Kibbee, the producer, because of the conditions I’ve outlined to you, [it] was strange, I said, “You know, this is really a good show. I’d love to direct one sometime.” And he said, “Yeah, I’ve got a lot of writers not writing ‘em, too.”

(Audience laughter)

Quigley: Really quickly, your take on the Columbo character that you can enlightened Peter Falk a little bit, in a way, is pretty interesting.

Butler: Yeah, Peter hadn’t thought of an idea that was obvious to me, and I hung my interpretation on, and that was that Columbo wanted everybody he dealt with not to be guilty. He wanted them to be innocent (chuckles). I mean, you know the scene. “Listen, Mr. Stone, I’m so sorry that I had bad thoughts about you. I promise that I won’t do that again, sir. Really, good luck in your life, and all your thievery, and all the rest of it.”

(Audience laughter)

Butler: “I just want to say it’s been an honor being with you, sir.” And he walks to the door, and he stops, and he turns around and says, “There’s just one thing…”

(Audience laughter)

Butler: And you know that in the next three minutes the villain is going to get it in the neck. That’s the way the show was built. In answer to Mark’s question, it was an absolutely magnificent marriage of the man on the page and the actor. Whether all that fiddideling [sic] that Peter did was in the original material, or whether it was just suggested, I don’t know, but his training, his orientation, his positivism, I guess, with that character was just strong as an ox. As we will see, he is irresistible. The people around him are good, the performances are good, good people are hired, Jim Sikking is in one of the scenes… It’s just a very, very well-mounted, well-organized, supremely performed show. Now, we can get snobby and say it gets a little cute at times, and what he does is a little redundant, but try and resist it. Try and resist it! You can’t, man. The guy knows the character, he knows the show, and he knows how to reach us, and he did time after time after time.

Watch for one scene. Mariette Hartley, a very nice actress, plays an editor in the show [‘Publish or Perish,’ a season three episode of Columbo], and she and he have a scene that’s just very quiet and natural. It’s not unlike the Doc and our Star Trek hero, Jeff Hunter, that early scene that I’ve said we’ve all seen many times before. There’s a solidity and a familiarity and an ease by them and by us because we know what they’re dealing with and what they’re doing is so terrific and solid. You’ll notice that scene with Mariette and Peter in Columbo.