Sunday, November 1, 2015

Credit Where Credit is Due: Producing Star Trek's Second Season

Still of Gene Coon's on-screen credit for "Errand of Mercy" (1967)
This piece is in response to a conversation I've been having with several readers about (what else?) claims made by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn in These Are The Voyages — TOS: Season Two (2014). Specifically, it is about claims regarding who should have received on-screen credit for producing several episodes during the middle of Star Trek's second season, when Gene Coon stepped down as the show's producer and was replaced by John Meredyth Lucas. As broadcast, 'Journey to Babel' has always credited John Meredyth Lucas, while 'Bread and Circuses' and 'A Private Little War' have always credited Gene Coon. According to These Are The Voyages, however, Gene Coon should have been the credited producer for all three episodes:
“Journey to Babel” was a rush job. It was the 15th episode produced for the second season, but the producers and NBC were so pleased with it that “Babel” was 10th to air. To meet the air date of the coming attraction trailer, one week before the episode itself, a different optical house had to be called in, which is why the effect in the trailer for the Orion ship speeding past the Enterprise is different than what appears in the actual episode. 
John Meredyth Lucas received his first Star Trek producing credit with this episode. It was a mistake; Gene Coon was the actual producer. However, by the time the production had ended and credits were added, Coon had left Star Trek . The name of Lucas, Coon’s replacement, was inserted by the post-production crew because of this staffing change. The error has never been corrected. 
--Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages — TOS: Season Two (2014), p.363-364
There are several issues with this passage. To begin with, there's no evidence in the Gene Roddenberry and Bob Justman papers at UCLA that 'Journey to Babel' was "rushed" to air because NBC and the producers were so pleased with it. In point of fact, all the existing correspondence about the episode pertains to D.C. Fontana's story and script; there's nothing indicating how either party felt about the completed episode. What we do know is that from the end of principal photography (September 28, 1967) to the show's first broadcast (in Canada, on November 15, 1967), the production had 48 days to deliver an episode of television. Although this marked the fastest turnaround of an episode during Star Trek's second season (the runner up, 'Obsession,' took 58 days from wrap to air), it's worth noting that 'Journey to Babel' contained only a few new visual effects and was tracked with previously recorded music, both factors that would have sped up post-production.

Stills from 'Journey to Babel' (1967) [Left: trailer; Right: final episode]
There is also no evidence that a second vendor was brought in to complete a temporary visual effect of the Orion ship darting past the Enterprise in time to include it in the trailer for 'Journey to Babel.' In fact, based upon a comparison of the trailer to the final episode (above), the shots appear largely identical — the difference being that the effect in the trailer had yet to be composited onto the Enterprise viewscreen. Even if the Orion ship was noticeably different, however, Bob Justman was the one who prepared the coming attractions trailers for Star Trek, and he was constantly looking for ways to tighten the budget, not grow it. Indeed, a February 26, 1968 memo from Justman to Roddenberry shows that one of the primary reasons Star Trek delivered trailers to NBC (the network did not require them) was as a cost-savings measure. A one minute trailer cost about $750 to produce; one minute of story material was inevitably more expensive. A scenario in which Justman negated these cost-savings for an unremarkable visual effect that wouldn't even be featured in the final episode itself is, frankly, absurd.

Moving on to the matter of the credits, after examining the production files at UCLA, there's no question who should have been credited as the producer of 'Journey to Babel.' According to the cast sheet for the episode (dated September 19, 1967), John Meredyth Lucas was the show's producer:
Cast sheet for 'Journey to Babel' (September 19, 1967)
The episode's shooting schedule (undated, but probably September 19 or 20, 1967) also lists Lucas as the show's producer:
Shooting schedule for 'Journey to Babel' (approximately September 19-20, 1967)
The show's credits memo (dated October 13, 1967), which was approved by Ed Perlstein, an attorney with Desilu's business affairs department, lists the following credits for producer and executive producer:
Credits memo for 'Journey to Babel' (October 13, 1967)
The opening and closing titles for every Star Trek episode were based on credit memos like this one. Cushman and Osborn suggest that crediting John Meredyth Lucas as the episode's producer was a mistake made by "the post-production crew" when the titles were added to the episode, but in fact, crediting Lucas was a decision made when this memo was written in early October of 1967. A memo from Ed Perlstein to Bob Justman written on September 21, 1966 makes it clear who created Star Trek's credits — not an anonymous member of the post-production crew, as Cushman and Osborn seem to suggest, but associate producer Bob Justman (other memos make it clear that the credits were prepared in consultation with Gene Roddenberry, Desilu Business Affairs, and NBC Standards and Practices):
As I indicated to you today, our obligation to John D. F. Black for Associate Producer credit should only be with respect to those programs on which he rendered services, subject, however, to granting credit to Steve Carabatsos on those shows on which he performed services as Script Supervisor. 
In my conversation with you today, we agreed that John was not to receive credit with respect to the program MIRI [sic] as he did not perform any services whatsoever on this show. 
In making up your credits, please take this memo into consideration.
The final nail in the coffin in Cushman and Osborn's claim about the credits is John Meredyth Lucas' Star Trek deal memo, dated August 30, 1967 (the day after 'The Trouble with Tribbles' finished filming, which also marked the beginning of the show's Labor Day hiatus). The one page memo lays out which episodes Lucas would receive credit for in black and white. It says, in part:
We have engaged JOHN MEREDYTH LUCAS to act as Producer of Episodes #15, 17, 19, 21, 22 of "STAR TREK". 
His services will commence on September 5, 1967. He is to receive the sum of $3,000 per episode for Episodes #15, 17, and 19.
For his services in producing Episodes #20, 21, and 22, he is to receive $1,500.00 per week. 
Upon completion of principal photography of Episode #19, Paramount has an option to extend LUCAS' employment for the balance of the season at $1,500.00 per week. In the event that Paramount does not wish to extend said employment, it must notify LUCAS of its said election, in any event, at the time of completion of principal photograph [sic] of Episode #19. 
In the event that LUCAS writes an original teleplay during the term of this employment, he shall be entitled to "top of the show". In the event that he directs an episode of "STAR TREK", he shall be entitled to "top of the show". 
As producer, he is entitled to single card credit on each episode of the series on which he renders his services. In the event that he writes or directs, he is entitled to the appropriate credit.
Episode 15 — Lucas' first episode as the new producer of Star Trek — was 'Journey to Babel.' It should be noted that this deal memo has at least one typo in it, since the first paragraph does not mention Lucas producing episode #20, but the third paragraph does. It also manages to introduce a new mystery, since it does not name Lucas as the producer of episode #18, even though Lucas would ultimately be credited as the producer of that episode.

On August 31, 1967 — one day after the ink dried on Lucas' deal memo — Daily Variety ran a news item announcing the staffing change. This same story was reprinted in Weekly Variety on September 6, 1967:

Weekly Variety (September 6, 1967, p.43)
In These Are The Voyages — TOS: Season Two, Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn offer their own version of Gene L. Coon's departure from Star Trek and his subsequent work in Hollywood:
Days after his release, and weeks before he would actually leave the Star Trek offices, Coon made arrangements to go to work for Universal, where he had helped develop McHale’s Navy and other series in the early 1960s. As Daily Variety reported, his first job, once he cleared Star Trek, was to write a feature film script for his new employers -- the western Journey to Shiloh, based on a novel by Will Henry (aka Henry Allen), and starring James Caan. After that he would be put back to work as a writer/producer in television, with Glen Larson as his associate producer, on It Takes a Thief, slated for a midseason premiere on ABC in early 1968. 
--Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages — TOS: Season Two (2014), p.327-328 
Unfortunately, this account does not line up with the facts. Gene L. Coon did adapt Journey to Shiloh for Universal, but it was not his first job after being released from Star Trek. According to Daily Variety, filming began on the William Hale-directed Western on March 28, 1967. By July of 1967, production on the film had been completed, and the cast and crew moved on to other projects. It's not clear when Coon penned the screenplay for the film, but it was certainly before he left Star Trek.

Coon eventually did join It Takes a Thief as a writer and producer, but Cushman and Osborn neglect to mention that he did not do so until midway through the program's first season. Variety reported that Coon had joined It Takes a Thief in its January 16, 1968 issue (the same day the second episode of the series was broadcast). Reflecting this late start, Coon did not receive a producing credit on the show until its eighth aired episode. Additionally, during the first season, his associate producer was Mort Zarcoff, not Glen A. Larson. Larson wouldn't assume the role of associate producer until the program's second season; during the first season of It Takes a Thief, he was just a freelancer who wrote a single episode.

Elaborating further on Coon's departure and the reactions of the staff, Cushman and Osborn offer the following:
Perpetuating the “official story” 30 years after the fact, Robert Justman went on record in his book with Herb Solow (Star Trek: The Inside Story), saying, “I wrote my last memo to Gene Coon on September 5, 1967, one day after the Labor Day holiday. He left the show that week, exhausted; he had come close to a complete nervous breakdown.” 
Ande Richardson-Kindryd disputes Justman’s claim that Coon was having anything close to a breakdown. And while it is true that Justman began addressing his memos to Roddenberry and Lucas after September 5, with “cc” to Coon, it is also true that Coon was still the series producer, and held that position for another month. There was a different reason for Justman’s memos not going to Coon. 
To Justman’s thinking, Coon was abandoning Star Trek. Further, he was turning over his job -- as top producer -- to someone who barely knew the show and, as Justman would write in numerous memos, was not proving to be a good Star Trek writer. Worse, Coon had not even considered offering the job to Justman, which would have advanced the talented and hardworking associate producer to being the series’ primary producer. 
--Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages — TOS: Season Two (2014), p.327-328  
It's not clear to me how Justman was perpetuating the "official story" when, thirty years later, he wrote that Coon left the Star Trek offices exhausted on the week of September 5, 1967. The account given to Variety at the time — that Coon wanted to take time away from TV to work on a feature film script and would work on the series for an additional five weeks — would seem more appropriately the "official story."

Cushman and Osborn's explanation for Justman directing memos to Lucas with Coon on carbon copy makes even less sense. For one thing, Cushman and Osborn omit the fact that D.C. Fontana and Gene Roddenberry (the rest of the show's small staff) also started directing their memos to John Meredyth Lucas around the same time, with Gene Coon on carbon copy (or not on copy at all). For another, in Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996; Cushman and Osborn misidentify the title of the book in this passage), Bob Justman is very direct about being hurt by the fact that Gene Roddenberry chose Fred Freiberger over him to produce Star Trek's third season (in addition to confessing hurt that Roddenberry didn't involve him in the production of Star Trek—The Motion Picture at all). Why be so honest about his hurt feelings in these cases, but leave out being hurt over John Meredyth Lucas being hired? More likely, I think, is that Justman wasn't expecting a promotion like that in the midst of the show's second season.

Returning to the matter of screen credit, Cushman and Osborn go on to offer the following description of the closing credits for 'A Private Little War,' the next episode produced after 'Journey to Babel':
In the end titles of the episode, Janos Prohaska is credited with playing the “gumato.” This was actually the mugato. In the script it was called a “gumato,” which is why it is listed that way in the credits. But DeForest Kelley had trouble pronouncing the name, so it was changed during filming.
Also in those end titles, as Gene Coon’s credit appears, we see the Enterprise orbiting a different planet than before. The continents and oceans we had previously seen are missing and the planet is now smaller, darker, and presented in various shades of blue. The reason for the switch: the company that prepared the titles for Star Trek had made a mistake. Gene L. Coon was supposed to receive the producer’s credit here, as well as on “Journey to Babel,” but the title card read John Meredyth Lucas instead. When “Journey to Babel” was aired on November 11, 1967, someone noticed that Lucas was listed as the producer. Roddenberry was notified of the mistake and discovered the same error with “A Private Little War.” Before shipping the latter episode to NBC, the end title card from “Catspaw” crediting Gene Coon, was spliced in, replacing John Meredyth Lucas’s name.
--Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages — TOS: Season Two (2014), p.383
Once again, there are issues with this account, although Cushman and Osborn are right about the "mugatu" being an on-set name change. In Gene Roddenberry's September 25, 1967 re-write of the episode, the creature is called the "gumato" throughout, a spelling which was later reflected in Bob Justman's November 11, 1967 credit memo:
Credit memo for 'A Private Little War' (November 11, 1967)
Also reflected in Justman's credit memo? Gene Coon's producing credit:
Credit memo for 'A Private Little War' (November 11, 1967)
Additionally, it should be noted that 'Journey to Babel' premiered on NBC on November 17, 1967 (not the eleventh, as Cushman and Osborn incorrectly claim in this passage), which means that the credit memo listing Coon as the producer of 'A Private Little War' actually preceded the broadcast of 'Journey to Babel.' For this reason, it is highly unlikely that 'A Private Little War' ever carried a producing credit for John Meredyth Lucas instead of Gene L. Coon.

The one piece of paperwork at UCLA that might have led Cushman and Osborn to conclude that 'A Private Little War' carried the wrong producing credit is the cast sheet for the episode, dated September 29, 1967. That document credits John Meredyth Lucas as the show's producer rather than Gene Coon:
Cast sheet for 'A Private Little War' (September 29, 1967)
It should be emphasized, however, that on-screen credits were not based on cast sheets. As such, it's unlikely this error would have been reflected when the episode was aired (especially since the credits memo contains the correct producing credit).

Even if Cushman and Osborn's scenario was correct, and an incorrect credit on 'Journey to Babel' tipped off Roddenberry that a change had to be made to 'A Private Little War,' there's no reason for the final effect to have been rushed. 'A Private Little War' aired months after 'Journey to Babel' did, on February 2, 1968, which would have left the production plenty of time to fix one bad title card.

Indeed, if you compare the final title cards from 'Catspaw' to those from 'A Private Little War,' it's clear that they are completely different shots (note also that the planet in 'A Private Little War' does in fact have continents and oceans, and is roughly similar to the planet seen in other shots, contrary to Cushman and Osborn's description):

Stills from 'Catspaw' (1967)
Stills from 'A Private Little War' (1968)
Interestingly enough, although there's no documentation in the UCLA files supporting Cushman and Osborn's claim that 'A Private Little War' and 'Journey to Babel' carried the wrong producer credits at any point, there is a January 24, 1968 letter from Emmet Lavery (at the time, Vice President of Paramount's business affairs department) to Gene Roddenberry, which suggests that the producer credit on "The Immunity Syndrome" was possibly incorrect when first broadcast:
I have been advised by John Meredyth Lucas' agent that the episode of STAR TREK entitled "Immunity Syndrome" which ran Friday, January 19, 1968, carried a credit for Gene Coon as producer when in fact John Meredyth Lucas was the producer. 
Will you please verify whether this occurred and will you please investigate what the situation is on credits on up-coming episodes. 
To maintain good relations, it might be advisable, if the above situation has been accurately stated to me, to publish a trade story correcting the credit.
Unfortunately, there's no further correspondence about the matter in the UCLA archives, and I have been unable to find a retraction in one of the trade papers (although I haven't done the exhaustive research necessary to rule out the possibility of one having been published). However, since the credit memo for the episode (dated November 6, 1967) correctly lists Lucas as the show's producer, I doubt that Coon ever received screen credit for 'The Immunity Syndrome.' On home video, the episode has always credited John Meredyth Lucas as its producer. If there was an error, it was quickly and permanently corrected.

Once again, These Are The Voyages has presented a version of history based on incorrect assumptions and statements which appear to have been invented out of whole cloth. If Cushman and Osborn have other sources to support their narrative, it would certainly help their case to present them. As it stands, there's no evidence in the production files at UCLA, contemporary trade papers, or the final episodes themselves that any of the screen credits for 'Bread and Circuses,' 'Journey to Babel,' or 'A Private Little War' were ever incorrect.

Certain images courtesy of Trek Core.


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

The Robert H. Justman Collection of Star Trek Television Series Scripts (1966-1968)

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

These Are The Voyages — TOS: Season Two (Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, March 2014)


  1. Thanks for posting a fine and thorough examination of this matter. It's fairly clear in sifting through the documentary evidence and the preponderance of accounts like Justman's that John Meredyth Lucas took over as producer of the original Trek series at the beginning of September 1967. All the evidence we have, including the various memos he issued at the time, shows that Gene Coon left the office and did not return. He did write memos from afar, and following a rewrite of "Piece of the Action", he submitted outlines and a few early drafts for later episodes. But he was no longer working in the office for Star Trek.

    Lucas' deal memo, which Cushman actually cites in his book apparently without having read it very carefully, makes fairly clear that Justman and Roddenberry were making a special arrangement to get themselves a new producer as soon as possible, while still trying to uphold outgoing Gene Coon's contract. Coon was supposed to produce eps 1-16 of the second season. But he left following ep 13, leaving three still in the hopper along with a potential two more to follow before a possible additional pickup. The production company could have just hired Lucas to handle the eps starting with 17, but that would mean they wouldn't have him until the interim eps were picked up. They could have just made him the producer of all eps starting with 14, but that would have meant slamming the door on Gene Coon, who they still wanted to work with again. They could have double credited producers for eps 14-16, but there was no need to throw away chunks of their budget. Or they could take a more novel approach - they paid Lucas on a different scale level for eps 15, 17, 19, and then put him on a more standard keel as of ep 20 (and then for the rest of the season). By paying Lucas more for 15, 17 and 19, they also covered the time he'd be around while other episodes were done. Like, perhaps, eps 14, 16 and 18. In other words, his deal memo is showing a kind of umbrella contract where Lucas was to be paid for his time in being around while they completed their initial order and got to the interim eps. Gene Coon, in turn, was still meant to be credited for 16 episodes, as that had been his contract. So this arrangement preserved Coon's credits for eps 14 and 16, with his remaining credit going to ep 18. In the end 18 would be credited to Lucas. But ep 15, per the deal memo and all the production paperwork, was always intended to credit Lucas. Hence, his credit at the end of "Journey to Babel" is accurate. Had Cushman taken just a few minutes to actually read the deal memo, he might have learned something interesting and useful. Instead, his predilection for misstatements and conjecture has continued to make his books a less than reliable source of information about the production of the original Trek television series.

    Kevin K

  2. Thanks for setting the record straight! It's great to have your tenacity and respect for facts looking into these things.

    The story Cushman tells that I'd really like some light on is the one he tells about "Wolf in the Fold." He says that Spock's role in this episode was deliberately kept to a minimum as a sop to William Shatner's ego after Nimoy was nominated for an Emmy and Shatner wasn't. Cushman talks about this in great detail, as if it's all true and certain, yet he cites no memos, no interviews, no supporting documentation.

    So, Michael -- is it true? Was Spock's role deliberately reduced because Shatner's nose was out of joint because Nimoy was nominated for an Emmy? Or is this another of the things that Cushman created out of whole cloth?

    1. The fact that Cushman is unable to cite a single piece of evidence supporting his narrative about 'Wolf in the Fold' is certainly suspect, isn't it?

      D.C. Fontana's earliest memo about the episode (4/25/1967; a week prior to the Emmy nominees being announced) asks, "Has it occurred to anyone that Mister Spock is hardly in this story either?" Later memos, from both Fontana and Justman, make the same observation, pointing out that Spock has a tiny role. Cushman "explains" that only Coon knew that Shatner's ego had been wounded by an Emmy snub, which he says is why Nimoy's role was minimized.

      In truth, though, Spock never had much of a role in any version of the story. Coon's rewriting (and his memo to Bloch, listing revisions he wanted made to the script) didn't expand Spock's role in the story -- but it didn't decrease Spock's role, either.

      Honestly, Cushman's version doesn't strike me as all that plausible.

    2. Thanks! The fact that Dorothy Fontana's memo about the paucity of Spock in that episode was written BEFORE the Emmy nominations were announced is telling, as is the fact that Coon's rewrite didn't diminish Spock's role. Those pieces of information don't support the story that Cushman is telling, and I wonder why he chose to tell the story he did.

      I guess we need a book probing Cushman's psyche, to make sense of all of this. :-)