Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Few Thoughts on These Are The Voyages, TOS, Season One (Revised and Expanded Edition)


Three months ago, I published a less than enthusiastic review of Marc Cushman’s These Are The Voyages, TOS, Season One, which quickly became the most read item on this blog. In that review, I advised readers to wait for a second edition, and hoped that it would address the book’s many problems. Less than six months after These Are The Voyages was first published, a “revised and expanded” second edition hasbeen made available.

I can’t publish a review of this revised volume, because I haven’t picked it up. Thanks to a lengthy sample which can be read on Amazon, however, I can express a few thoughts about the second edition and the book in general.

In my review of the first edition, I criticized These Are The Voyages for being sloppily proofread. Cushman downplays this issue in his revised author’s note, writing, “Some errors were also found in regards to copy editing.” This is quite the understatement, but I can happily report that the sample pages from the second edition have been much more thoroughly proofread than the first edition. A few typos can be found (e.g. “Mr. Distract Attorney” instead of Mr. District Attorney or “Line-Up” instead of The Lineup), but they are few and far between.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the book’s more serious problems appear to be fully intact. Minor factual errors still abound, the author continues to conflate his own speculation with verified fact, the editing remains lackluster, and the book is still illustrated with fan-restored photographs that were taken without permission.

Consider, for example, the number of factual errors that slip into Cushman’s account of NBC and Desilu before Star Trek. In one passage, he writes:
Los Angeles contributed the filmed series, with The Lone Ranger being the first western, Dragnet the first cop show, and I Love Lucy the first sitcom, all shot on film.
Cushman is right about The Lone Ranger and Dragnet, but he’s wrong about I Love Lucy. The earliest sitcom to be shot on film was actually The Amos ‘n Andy Show, which was piloted a full month before I Love Lucy, and went to air on June 28, 1951, four months ahead of Lucy Ricardo’s debut in ‘The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub,’ which was broadcast on October 15, 1951.

Discussing the early days of Desilu, Cushman mangles the facts and repeats a popular myth about Desi Arnaz and I Love Lucy, writing:
Desi [Arnaz] had a better idea. He had watched the way live sitcoms from New York, such as The Honeymooners, were being shot before studio audiences with three video cameras running at once, each aimed at a range of wide and close-up shots. His idea was to use the same approach but substitute film cameras for those which fed out a live video signal.
Desi Arnaz couldn’t have been influenced by The Honeymooners. The show didn’t exist as a standalone sitcom until 1955, and as a recurring sketch on Cavalcade of Stars, it didn’t debut until October 5, 1951. By that point, there were already five episodes of I Love Lucy in the can, along with the unaired pilot, which had been made more than seven months earlier.

Moreover, Arnaz shouldn’t be credited with the three-camera filming system. The first television series to shoot on 35mm film, using multiple cameras, in front of a live studio audience, and on a regular basis was Truth or Consequences, a game show which debuted in 1950. The three-camera system on Truth or Consequences was set up by associate producer Al Simon, who later worked with cinematographer Karl Freund to set up the three-camera system used on I Love Lucy.

Writing about the sale of I Love Lucy’s rerun rights to CBS in 1956, Cushman writes:
Desi sold the I Love Lucy rerun rights to CBS for a cool million and then set out to buy a studio, ending Desilu’s need to rent space and materials.
In actuality, Arnaz sold the rights to rebroadcast I Love Lucy to CBS for five million dollars.

Later, when describing the history of NBC, where Star Trek eventually landed, Cushman writes:
In 20 years of broadcasting, the network [NBC] had never aired anything even remotely resembling science fiction
The author’s larger point is that a sf program like Star Trek was unlike anything else on NBC’s broadcasting schedule in the middle of the 1960s, which is certainly correct, but his hyperbolic assertion that NBC had never show “anything even remotely resembling science fiction” until Star Trek is simply false. Indeed, sf programs broadcast on NBC during this period include:
Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (aired on NBC, 1951)
Operation Neptune (aired on NBC, 1953)
Atom Squad (aired on NBC, 1953 - 1954)
Commander Cody (theatrical serial syndicated on NBC, 1955)
Fireball XL5 (aired on NBC, 1963 - 1965)
These programs, of course, don’t account for any of the feature films that NBC broadcast in the 1950s and early 1960s. I don’t have a listing of these titles, but I would be willing to be that at least one resembled science fiction.

This is far from the only time that Cushman exaggerates in the book. Elsewhere in the sample pages, he claims that Gene Roddenberry “change[d] the course of network television.” Star Trek has become a cultural touchstone, and has influenced a number of subsequent television programs, but I’d be hard-pressed to explain how it changed the course of network television.

Beyond hyperbole, These Are The Voyages continues to have the problem of conflating the author’s speculation with established fact. For example, he writes:
James Goldstone, a well-regarded TV director, was offered the job [of directing the first pilot]. Roddenberry knew him from The Lieutenant. Solow, on behalf of Desilu, approved of the choice. So did the network. But Goldstone had a ‘scheduling conflict.’ A man with no reputation could find one at Star Trek. An established reputation, however, could be ruined with a job like this.
It is unclear where Cushman got the idea that Goldstone’s scheduling conflict was disingenuous, since he doesn’t cite a source. Even if he did, however, the idea makes little sense. If Goldstone was worried about working on an expensive science fiction show which would stretch a network television budget, why did he direct episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Outer Limits? If he was worried about being blamed for the failure of an expensive pilot, why did he agree to direct ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before,’ less than a year after passing on ‘The Menagerie?’

Elsewhere in the sample pages, when discussing Roddenberry’s affairs, Cushman writes:
Even before any of the lovers went public, the rumors were rampant and quite a few made it back to the network. It was a touchy subject in 1963, so much so that executives at MGM and NBC were nervously not seeing, not hearing and, except behind closed doors, not speaking about these matters.
Once again, without a source, it’s hard to figure out how Cushman knows what happened behind closed doors at MGM and NBC in 1963.

Lastly, there’s the subject of the photographs used to illustrate the book. Cushman downplays the controversy in his revised author’s note:
On the few instances when two fan sites either claimed credit for the restoration of an image or legal justification to contribute the image to this work, both sites have been listed.
Contrary to this note, the issue was not isolated to a “few instances,” but was rampant throughout the first edition. I cannot speak to the extent of the changes to the photo credits in the revised and expanded edition of These Are The Voyages, since I have only seen the sample pages, although it is odd that the source of the cover image (probably taken from here) is not credited. I can, however, speak to the fact that neither the publisher , nor the author, have bothered to contact Star Trek History or birdofthegalaxy to try and sort out the controversy. Their behavior in this matter has been and continues to be unethical. I cannot in good conscience recommend the book because of it.

Thanks to TrekBBS users Maurice (who helped me revise this post considerably) and plynch (who has provided me with a lot of information about self-publishing, which has been particularly helpful in evaluating These Are The Voyages; he is the author of the book Live Like Louis!, which is available for purchase here).

7 comments:

  1. Thank you very much for the shout out! I am glad I could be of help. This is very cogent and thorough. I too have only read the sample pages and I really want for this project to be well done and have its facts straight. I think everyone critiquing it wishes this. -Plynch aka Phil Lynch, Escanaba, Michigan

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  3. Great work! As a frequent contributor to startrekhistory.com, I was disappointed to learn that the publisher took Curt and Dave's work without giving them the credit they deserve. It also explains why many of the rarer items I've sent them recently are under wraps for now. Thank you for the heads-up!

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  4. Given the vitriol I have seen regarding this book, I hesitate to post here, but here goes. Cushman said I Love Lucy was the first sitcom shot on film. You say that it was The Amos ‘n Andy Show. My understanding is that The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show was the first sitcom shot on film. Starting with their 7th episode, which aired in 1950.

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    1. Hi, texasflyer. I appreciate the comment.

      I haven't seen a lot of "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show" (which is a shame, as what I have seen is easily as funny as "I Love Lucy," a program that I adore and am delighted is being released on Blu-Ray), but my understanding is that Burns and Allen didn't start shooting on film until their third season on CBS (which began airing on October 9. 1952). From skimming the book "George Burns Television Productions: The Series and Pilots, 1950-1981," by Richard Irvin, I gather that the production did move from New York to Hollywood after the first six episodes -- but remained a live production until the start of season three.

      Speaking more generally, I hope the tone here isn't vitriolic. Although I'm clearly frustrated by the sloppy scholarship and frequent historical invention in the Cushman/Osbron books, I'm certainly as prone to human error as the next person, and hope that when I make mistakes here, that someone will be kind enough to correct me.

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  5. Thanks for the Irvin reference, it really helped.

    Just to be clear, the vitriol I was thinking about was on another site, but was in reference to the Cushman book. After re-reading your article, it seems your main complaint is in regards to the images used throughout the book. I continue to be baffled why this would be of concern to anyone other than perhaps CBS.

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    1. Cushman and Osborn used the images restored by Curt and Dave at www.startrekhistory.com without asking their permission or – in almost all cases – giving them credit. In fact, most of the images restored by Curt and Dave that are used in the books are actually credited to someone else. When called out on this behavior, the authors (or their representatives) tried to deny that they had taken images from www.startrekhistory.com at all. I’ve seen enough online chatter about the books to know that this behavior doesn’t bother everyone, but it seems totally disrespectful to Curt and Dave to me (full disclosure: before the first book came out I had never spoken to Curt or Dave, but I have corresponded with both of them frequently in the two years since).

      The matter of the images is hardly my main complaint about These Are The Voyages, however. To be blunt, the books have so many errors in them that they’d be better off if they were shelved in the fiction section (that is, if bookstores actually carried them). The authors’ knowledge and understanding of the television industry and its history is, frankly, so shallow that they lack the ability to put almost anything they write about in the proper context. This is most apparent when it comes to their downright bizarre conclusions about Star Trek’s ratings (which I wrote about extensively here: http://startrekfactcheck.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-truth-about-star-trek-and-ratings.html), but it is evident in many other areas of the books as well. Worse, when it comes to documenting the production history of the show, the books are rife with errors that could have been easily corrected had the authors paid closer attention to the public collections at UCLA (as well as other sources – like, for example, the production stills used to illustrate the books, which contain information that flatly contradicts the text a number of times).

      My biggest issue with the books, however, is not that the authors are sloppy researchers and lousy historians (although they are). Rather, my biggest issue with the books is that Cushman and Osborn frequently engage in outright invention. They just make things up, again and again, in order to present a cleaner narrative. Genuine archival history just isn’t so – there are gaps in the record and questions that can never be answered with anything other than educated speculation. I’m happy to discuss these issues and more in private. Feel free to drop me a line using the contact form on the right.

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