Priority One Alert: That Joss Whedon Thing

So, hey, if you’re reading this, you’ve noticed that the blog is behind schedule. By like a year.

I’d post some big spiel on how it happened and everything, but I’m sure no one wants to hear what amounts to be some bad excuses.

Anyways, this post is the one that would actually go on August 17th of this year (as opposed to early August of last year, which is where the upcoming post on “Mudd’s Women” should have been posted), and is happening because gossip has come out that pretty well intersects with the sorts of things I cover: namely, that Joss Whedon has, according to his ex-wife, has been a hypocrite when it comes to his long-professed feminist values.

Now, obviously, I’ve criticized Joss Whedon before on this very blog. And I have a great deal of further criticisms of his work, and certainly of his politics. insert your preferred “Bernie Would Have Won” meme [HERE] But this one cuts deep. And not just because of how much the man’s work means to me. That’s because one of the main inspirations of this whole “lets blog Star Trek” idea was found out to be not such a great person in much the same way as Joss, not too long ago. And while this isn’t a huge shocker, it’s nonetheless a massive disappointment. And it’s incredibly relevant to Star Trek Debriefed.

It’s no secret that Gene Roddenberry was horrendously flawed, and seemed to sabotage himself constantly. Granted, the acts of self-sabotage were often because Roddenberry demanded a level of control over his show that wouldn’t be granted to any producer before the ’80s (and not consistently until around the time that Whedon developed Buffy for television), but his flaws played a huge part in why Star Trek only lasted three seasons. Despite being an era of out loud massive sexism everywhere, NBC held it against Gene for having affairs, as much because he used his position to cast his mistresses in prominent parts as because his interpersonal skills with network executives frankly sucked. But with fans and more than a few actresses, Gene did possess the charisma necessary to get the adoration he craved. And this is where Gene Roddenberry and Joss Whedon are woefully alike: when in possession of power over people, they both used that power to manipulate people.

But there are two things that separate Roddenberry and Whedon: one, studio and network executives never gave Roddenberry a whole lot of power. In fact, they seemed to revel in stripping Gene of his power as much as possible. Second, Roddenberry never seemed to actively engage in presenting a false of himself to the public. Granted, Gene allowed the fans to create the illusion of him being an impeccable human being, but he certainly wasn’t above, say, complaining about the Star Trek films in public, or allowing his hanger-ons to decanonize the Filmation series when that studio was closed (and the legal status of the series was placed in flux for a time). Bot Joss loudly and proudly has proclaimed himself to be a feminist, and did use his marriage as cover for the problematic parts of his work. And while Gene kind of hand-waved (or, more accurately, never was forced to acknowledge) most of Star Trek‘s issues (except Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s notorious episode “Code of Honor”, for which the blame was laid squarely upon the feet of that episode’s director), Joss has constantly side-stepped those same concerns because he’s declared himself to be a feminist and ally. Worse, he never did mount that vigorous of a defense of Marti Noxon when she was showered with a ton of flack for “ruining” Buffy while that show was on UPN. Contrast this with how Gene protected Dorothy Fontana for decades by accepting credit for rewriting “City on the Edge of Forever” (and therefore saving her the from direct-and sometimes quite sexist-bile of Harlan Ellison), and you may, like me, find Gene Roddenberry to be a more sympathetic figure in regards to gender politics at this juncture (which is a rather nihilistic state of affairs if you ask me).

And worse, since I’ve long identified with Xander, the original Joss Insert Character/Problematic Joss White Male Character, I find myself wondering if the redemption I see in Xander and seek for myself is a total pile of bullshit. While I generally refuse to announce myself as a feminist or an ally because I’m certain that I don’t do enough to help and I certainly bear far too many scars of privilege and upbringing to be worthy of such titles, I now wonder if I’m full of shit and am merely another one of those “good guys” who is anything but. And this is only emphasized by the fact that the next post I’m writing is about “Mudd’s Women”-an episode of Star Trek with some obvious and notoriously troublesome issues with its sexual politics (to say nothing of the loads of male gaze baked into the plot). These are issues that I was going to be addressing here, but now it’s going to come with a lot more doubt and introspection.

These Are The Voyages: “The Corbomite Maneuver”

Written by: Jerry Sohl

Directed by: Joseph Sargent

Production code: 6149-3

Principal photography: May 24th, 1966-June 2nd, 1966 (6 1/2 days)

Score: Fred Steiner (partial; recorded September 20th, 1966); also uses material composed by Sol Kaplan (from “The Enemy Within”), Steiner (from “Balance of Terror” and “Charlie X”), and Alexander Courage (from “The Man Trap”, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, and “The Naked Time”)

Final episode cost: $190,430 (approximately $1,416,693 in 2016 when adjusted for inflation)

First Aired: November 10th, 1966

Initial Nielson Ratings: 15.9 Rating/25.9% share (first half hour-third place), 16.4/25.9% (second half hour-third place)

The Enterprise is engaged in a routine star-mapping operation (much to the consternation of ship’s navigator Dave Bailey) when it encounters a giant glowing cube, which blocks the ship’s path. As the Enterprise slows to a dead stop, Mr. Spock orders a Condition Alert, and has Mr. Sulu summon Captain Kirk to the bridge.

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 1512.2. On our third day of star-mapping, an unexplained cubical object blocked our vessel’s path. On the bridge, Mr. Spock immediately ordered general alert. My location: sickbay. Quarterly physical check.”

Dr. McCoy continues running Kirk through his paces, even as he notices the Red Alert lights flashing, much to the captain’s annoyance when the physical is completed. After speaking with Spock, Kirk heads to the bridge, but decides to change instead after determining through his first officer that the threat is not immediate. After scolding Mr. Bailey for being inefficient, Spock further confirms with Kirk that the cube has no life forms aboard, and that attempts have been made to contact it. Upon arriving, Kirk receives reports on the size, distance, and shape of the object from Bailey, Sulu, Mr. Scott, and McCoy, but none on how it works and of its purpose. The navigator declares that they should blast it with their phasers, which Kirk soundly rejects.

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 1513.8. Star maps reveal no indication of habitable planets nearby. Origin and purpose of the cube still unknown. We have been held here, motionless, for 18 hours.”

In the briefing room, the staff labors over the cube, coffee cups in hand, as Spock announces that the cube is either a space buoy……or fly paper. Understanding that the time for action has come, Kirk begins to issue an order to Mr. Bailey, who misinterprets it as a sign that his earlier suggestion will be followed. Instead, the captain orders that a spiral course away from the cube be plotted. On the bridge, the cube continues to block their way, and begins emitting radiation. After the Enterprise stops, the cube closes in and the radiation increases, leading Kirk to order the ship to retreat, at increasing speeds. The cube still closes in, at which point Kirk orders Bailey to fire phasers. The navigator freezes momentarily, but he does indeed fire, and the cube explodes in a great cataclysm.

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 1514.0. The cube has been destroyed. Ship’s damage: minor. But my next decision: major. Probe on ahead, or turn back?”

Kirk asks Spock to speculate on what they’ll find if they continue on, and the science officer declares that they’ll likely find something not only different from them, but superior, as well. Spock points out that it’s inefficient for the captain to ask his advice when he knows what he’s going to do, but Kirk merely admits that it provides him with comfort. With their course plotted and laid in, Kirk orders a series of simulations to improve the crew’s efficiency right as McCoy arrives. The doctor leaves the bridge with the captain, and proceeds to question his timing, and of the promotion of Bailey, who might be a bit green….but also similar to how Kirk was in his younger days. In Kirk’s quarters, the two share a drink as the simulation is completed. Kirk orders another round to increase the crew’s efficiency (to which Spock agrees) when Yeoman Rand arrives (to the captain’s annoyance) with his dinner…..a dietary salad (to the captain’s even greater annoyance). Shooing away his yeoman as she hovers over him, Kirk complains about having a female yeoman after she leaves, only to be teased by McCoy. However, the ship encounters a bigger object than the cube, and Kirk rushes to the bridge. Once there, Kirk receives a report just before the entire ship is shook by a tractor beam as the object, a huge, glowing sphere. Bailey is too stunned to answer Kirk’s request to see the entire ship, and is covered for hastily by Sulu. Uhura tries to contact the ship, and receives to apparent reply…..until Bailey picks up the answer over his navigation beam. The commander of the vessel, Balok, announces that his vessel, the Fesarius, has come in the name of the First Federation to deal with them for trespassing and destroying a warning buoy (the cube). Kirk tries to answer, but Balok probes the Enterprise with a sensor beam instead, and warns that any action will lead to their destruction. Kirk orders Bailey to launch a recorder/marker, and again the navigator freezes before complying. The device is swiftly destroyed, and Balok announces that he is giving the Enterprise 10 minutes before he destroys them. McCoy and Scotty arrive on the bridge, and the former informs Kirk that the entire crew heard the message. As the captain addresses the entire crew in an effort to ease their fears, Bailey wavers. Kirk then tells Balok that he intends to turn back, and Bailey freezes-again-but it’s of no use: Balok has the ship firmly in his grasp. Spock is able to pull up a visual from inside the Fesarius, revealing Balok’s fearful appearance to the bridge crew. After listening to Balok’s threats and notification that there are 8 minutes left, Bailey has a full-on meltdown and is escorted to his quarters by McCoy. Kirk attempts to reason with Balok, but is told that the ship has 7 minutes remaining. Three minutes pass, when Spock mentions chess, and specifically checkmate moments before McCoy returns to criticize Kirk for how he has handled Bailey, causing the captain to blow his stack and call the doctor on his bluff…..just as Balok announces that there are 3 minutes left. And then it finally hits Kirk: the game is not chess. It’s poker. Emboldened, the captain hails Balok and informs him that the Enterprise is built using a material called corbomite, which will destroy any attacking ship will even greater force than was unleashed upon it in the first place. To further sell the bluff, Kirk taunts Balok, but receives no reply, except for the announcement that there is 1 minute left. Bailey returns, hat in hand, and is welcomed back to his post moments before the countdown ends…..with no action by the Fesarius. After nearly a full minute, Balok replies that the destruction has been delayed pending further information on the corbomite (which Kirk refuses). Then, a smaller ship breaks off from the Fesarius, and Balok informs the Enterprise crew that they shall be taken to a planet and interned and their ship destroyed, before he activates a tractor beam, taking the Enterprise in tow.

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 1514.1. The Enterprise is in tow. To this point, no resistance has been offered. My plan: a show of resignation. Balok’s tractor beam has to be a heavy drain of power on the small ship. Question: will he grow careless?”

Eventually, Balok eases off on both his ship’s power and the tractor beam, and Kirk pounces, ordering the Enterprise to break free. After a tense struggle that pushes the Enterprise to the brink of explosion, the tractor beam has broken. Balok’s ship, however, is in dire straits, as Uhura picks up a faint distress signal. Kirk, still attempting to open diplomatic relations, goes back to aid Balok, bringing along Dr. McCoy and Lt. Bailey. Once aboard, they find Balok…..both the puppet that had threatened him, and a small, smiling humanoid, who offers them a drink of tranya, much to the astonishment of the landing party. The entire affair has been a ruse by Balok, who was testing the Enterprise crew. But Balok is alone on his ship, and suggests that someone from Kirk’s crew stay aboard, as a form of cultural exchange. Bailey leaps at the chance, while freely admitting to his own imperfections, and Captain Kirk slyly notes that he’ll be getting a better officer in return once the exchange has ended. Balok laughs heartily at Kirk’s joke, and then proceeds to give a tour of his vessel.

Despite having two chances to nail down the show’s look and format, “The Corbomite Maneuver” is an incredibly primitive hour of Star Trek in its presentation. There’s a bit more exposition than would become normal for the series, and the plot develops at a far more leisurely pace (which is probably why NBC never wanted it to be the first aired episode of the series). Despite Jerry Finnerman’s camera work being mostly consistent with his later work, the vintage of this episode is glaringly obvious because the uniforms are almost appallingly unrefined: the zippers and seams of the uniforms are very visible (with some of them being retrofitted “Where No Man Has Gone Before” uniforms) and quite ill-fitting (likely because they’re too big, so as to extend their usable lives, as the velour shrunk after being cleaned per union rules). Also, Spock’s uniform has a higher collar for some reason, and Uhura is dressed in command gold (and her outfit is the worst fit of all, owing to Nichelle Nichols’ last-minute casting).

Characters are also quite unrefined, particularly Dr. McCoy, who, as I inferred when I reviewed the first episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe over a decade ago, is far more hostile in his demeanor than in any other episode, and for seemingly no reason as there’s not much in the script that’s inconsistent with the McCoy we know and love (with the bit where the good doctor talks to himself eventually resurfacing in Star Trek V to great comedic effect). Spock also suffers from growing pains, which is not helped by his running training drills, interactions with Lt. Bailey (which are more in character for Commander Tuvok’s interactions with Neelix and Tom Paris on Voyager, frankly), and some curious camera angles that Finnerman would never again attempt. Perhaps oddest of all is Spock’s comparison of Balok to his father, which comes along with something of a smirk. Yeoman Rand fares even worse, as she is little more than a waitress, serving Kirk a dietary salad and then, much later, coffee to the entire bridge crew (which she gamely admits she heated using a phaser). A deleted scene was filmed (but has not been discovered) that features Rand laying out a uniform for Kirk (probably to have taken place during the first act) and that’s probably even worse. Granted, yeomans on Star Trek have a rather nebulous function compared to naval yeomans (who do mostly clerical work), but that deleted scene veers a bit too much into Crazy Ex-Girlfriend territory (but minus the songs and fun self-awareness). Oddly, given our shipper-crazy world of television today, it was NBC who demanded the scene be excised, as they were tetchy about the captain flirting with a subordinate in a microskirt.

Also unrefined beyond the characters are some of the camera angles. While part of this involves a sequence that essentially establishes the layout of Stage 9’s corridor set (which includes sickbay and Kirk’s quarters) and the aforementioned strangely composed shots with Spock, we also have a brief overhead shot which on its own possibly accounts for the half day over the episode went. (And if not for Sargent being a highly in-demand director with an Emmy in his future, I’d argue that this was what sunk any future chances of him directing for the series.) Furthermore, in some of the crew shots (which were clearly created with stock footage in mind), there is a crewman wearing what appears to be a mundane 1960s radiation vest. Another features Eddie Paskey in a gold uniform right in the center of the frame (and appears directly after a shot where Paskey, as Lt. Leslie, is seated at his usual bridge station).

But even with these lengthy statements of what isn’t refined, there is much that is on point. The effects, which are spectacular (and well they should be, given how late they were), also belie the patchwork nature of Enterprise footage from here on out: the opening shot is from “The Cage”, for instance, and sticks out like a sore thumb with its prominent, moving stars and unlit ship model. The music, which in addition to being a partial score, features multiple cues from later episodes, and this is the first episode to feature Steiner’s revised “cello” version of the opening theme song. (Courage’s rarer, “electric violin” version, while mostly restored to the episodes they aired on these days, was scrubbed from the syndicated prints I grew up on.) And while the performances are rough, there are many touches in the episode (most introduced in Gene Roddenberry’s revisions to Jerry Sohl’s script, but some at the behest of Joseph Sargent) that ring true for these characters: in particular, the discussion of chess and poker are defining moments for Kirk and Spock: naturally, Spock is an expert and enthusiast of chess, a logical game with predictable, proven strategies (and predictable, proven outcomes), while Kirk appreciates poker, which values instinct, skill, and perhaps most importantly for this series, the ability to be a bullshit artist bluffing. Not only does it get him out of danger, we see Kirk doing the same with Bailey: here is a slightly green officer with whom the captain relates (as McCoy astutely surmises) and sees a world of potential in. And while the gamble initially fails miserably, it pays off even greater in the end, just like the corbomite gambit.

The deliberate pace of this episode (which was mandated by Roddenberry, even as Stan Robertson, in the first of many memos that would make more sense coming from a modern network executive, demanded that the episode progress at a greater pace) is key to its success, with a real-time 10-minute countdown (which includes and accounts for a commercial break, predicting 24‘s primary conceit by some 4 decades) as its centerpiece. Credit must go to Anthony Call for his performance as Lt. Bailey, as he looks utterly out of his depth when the cube begins to spew radiation, and even moreso when the Fesarius arrives. Best of all is Bailey’s meltdown, which is as much about Kirk’s mistake in rushing him through the ranks as it is about Bailey not being ready for the pressure of being a bridge officer. And, in classic Roddenberry fashion, this imperfect, green officer is chosen to represent humanity because humanity’s flaws are just as important as their achievements.

However, the truest and most memorable part of this episode is Balok, whom is presented to us as a truly fearsome adversary for most of the episode until the final moments, in a twist worthy of a veteran Twilight Zone writer like Jerry Sohl (who had written three episodes of the series for Charles Beaumont as the legendary writer fell victim to what is now acknowledged as a severe case of bromide poisoning). However, this twist was introduced by Roddenberry, but Sohl introduced the concept of Balok’s initial, sinister appearance being a puppet. Besides providing one of the iconic end credits images (Balok would appear in the end credits of this, and many other episodes, eventually settling as the image seen during Desilu’s and Herb Solow’s credits during the second season), the Balok puppet is on its face one of the more obvious reveals in the entire series. As the show has been restored and remastered over the years, it has become increasingly obvious (even with the superb water-like distortion effect) that the Balok puppet is just that. But luckily, the twist is still out of left field, as Balok really resembles a child. And moreover, the child in this instance is Clint Howard, who is as known for looking odd as he is for being Ron Howard’s brother. But since a little kid’s voice is neither threatening (for the puppet) or authoritative (for the man), voice actors were employed. And Star Trek hit a home run.

For the sinister puppet Balok, Ted Cassidy, infamous as Lurch on The Addams Family, was cast in the wake of his appearance in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” It was basically kismet in this instance, as Cassidy had just begun a fruitful career in voice acting, starring in Hanna-Barbera’s Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles and voicing two of Space Ghost’s nemeses, Metallus and Moltar. Cassidy’s voice acting career was loaded with phenomenal successes, and Balok is no different. For the unmasked Balok, character actor Walker Edmiston was chosen. At the time, Edmiston was best known in the LA area as a children’s TV show host, but just like Ted Cassidy, he was far more familiar to me in the ’80s for his voice work: he voiced some of his most prominent roles right around the time I first started watching Star Trek, namely Inferno on The Transformers, Harvey Gabor on Jem, and briefly assuming the role of Ludwig von Drake for Disney.

I didn’t recognize the connection.

But Edmiston’s take on Balok is everything that Cassidy’s isn’t, and helps greatly to send the episode off on a happy and positive note. (He even covers expertly for Clint Howard, who furiously overacted his reaction to the tranya because he absolutely hated pink grapefruit juice, which was chosen for the occasion.) We quickly believe that Balok is a good man, and much of this is because of Edmiston’s warm, disarming portrayal.

Next time, we’ll introduce one of Star Trek‘s great scoundrels….and one of the studios that helped the show’s special effects get back on track.

Guardians of Forever: The Breakdown(s) of Darrell Anderson and Eddie Milkis

Here on Star Trek Debriefed (Chronically Behind Edition), it’s July 14th, 1966. The series is set to premiere in less than two months, and the cast and crew are in the middle of filming “Charlie X”, the sixth regular episode of the season, and multiple episodes had assembly edits ready for the special effects to be edited in. The show was operating at a relatively healthy surplus and though there were some problems with the writing and the directors, things seemed to be going well.

This, however, was a complete and utter fiction.

The reason can be summed up in a memo that Gene Roddenberry wrote to Darrell Anderson of the Howard A. Anderson Company:

“The purpose of this note is a friendly reminder that you and I have agreed that every basic stage and component of optical work will be shown to us for comment and approval. As such, if we should turn down a fully composited optical on which I have not had the opportunity to see the component parts, I would regretfully be placed in the position of having to refuse payment for the cost of making it.”

This was not the first memo Roddenberry had sent to Anderson. And at this point, the Andersons were three episodes behind the schedule devised by Desilu’s Head of Post Production, Bill Heath.

NBC had already made it clear that these three episodes, “The Corbomite Maneuver”, “Mudd’s Women”, and “The Enemy Within”, would not be the first episode to air.

And with not a single frame of space footage turned in, not even for the intro, things were coming to a head. And for reasons lost to history, Bill Heath seemed to be completely unconcerned. After sending Bob Justman to check things out, Roddemberry had an idea of how bad things were going. And they were bad.

Motion control photography was in its experimental stages, and therefore unavailable to the Andersons. This was certainly a challenge, but the real problem was lighting: between the lit model and the hot studio lights. The studio lights would heat up the model, forcing production to stop at fairly regular intervals until the model cooled down. Part of this is because the model was a huge, 11 foot behemoth, and part of it was because the Andersons’ work space was so small. And the lighting inside the model (which was not part of the original build, and had also been increased after production of “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, with the most noticeable new element being the lit nacelle domes) certainly complicated matters.

Regardless, things fell behind, forcing Fred Steiner and Alexander Courage to score the first few episodes of the series (and for Courage, the theme song) half-blind, Roddenberry to write the title narration without any visual aids, and ultimately resulting in “The Corbomite Maneuver” to have its airing delayed until November. Finally, at the end of August, Gene’s temper gave out, and Herb Solow hastily arranged for a screening that was attended by Roddenberry, Bob Justman, and Darrell Anderson. (Bill Heath, who was invited, was not present.)

It lasted a whole two minutes.

Worse yet, as Justman later related in Inside Star Trek, there were maybe a half-dozen “good” shots, and a few more “passable” ones. With the direness of Star Trek‘s predicament laid bare, Anderson stood up, shouted that the show would miss its premiere, and ran from the room. Justman followed after Anderson, and had to console the weeping, broken man. Later on, he would discover that Darrell Anderson’s breakdown was his third. The other two were following the production of “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. Star Trek had literally broken him.

That night, Roddenberry and Justman cobbled together the opening credits with the footage they had, and chose the shots needed to get “The Man Trap” ready to air on September 8th. (They used footage from both pilots.) And after that, Roddenberry hired a man to actually perform Bill Heath’s job.

Eddie Milkis was born on July 16th, 1931 in Los Angeles, got into show business as an assistant editor in the late ’50s on movies like North by Northwest. He served as an editor on The Lieutenant, turning down offers to work on Star Trek‘s pilots in favor of working in real estate. And other than a couple of artists’ renderings, that’s literally all that’s know about his pre-Trek life, as Milkis gave two interviews (one of which was with William Shatner for his autobiography) during his life. And here he was, taking the role of post-production supervisor (and receiving a vague credit as Assistant to the Producer), doing his best to get the show’s visual effects produced. It was a horrifically difficult job, and ultimately, Milkis arranged for a total of three additional studios to work with the Andersons. And he excelled. So much so that Shatner dedicated a chapter of his book to Milkis, Justman heaped praise on him in Inside Star Trek, and most famously with fans, was declared as the “star” of the series in a humorous voiceover in Star Trek‘s second season blooper reel.

Next time:

Guardians of Forever: Gregg Peters, Irving Feinberg, and Jim Rugg

As with all TV shows, it takes a veritable army to produce a series. And as with any army, there are always new people joining the production, especially at the start of a season. This time, we’ll discuss three lesser known but vital members of Star Trek‘s crew.

With Bob Justman now officially installed as Associate Producer, Star Trek needed an Assistant Director. Thankfully, Gregg Peters had been the unofficial AD for “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, and he happily joined the crew as the series started up. Born on August 2nd, 1925, Peters served in the Air Force as soon as he was eligible, and was discharged at the end of World War II. Following that, he enrolled at UCLA and graduated in 1950 with as B.A. in Business Administration with a Theater Arts minor. And after breaking into television by working on various shows on NBC, Peters took his first AD job, on the film Gypsy for Warner Bros. Like so many others, Peters had worked on The Outer Limits before catching on at Desilu. Suffice to say, Star Trek had a top-notch Assistant Director, and an instantly recognizable one, too: with his bald head, Gregg Peters became quickly known on set as “Mr. Clean”, after the cleaning mascot.

While Matt Jefferies and Wah Chang were still working on Star Trek (the latter was constructing the now-familiar tricorders and hand phasers while the former was involved with the construction of the show’s permanent sets on Desilu Stages 9 and 10), there was still a need for a Property Master to not only help build and acquire the more mundane objects used on the show, but to make sure that the props are not lost, stolen, or broken during the making of an episode. This is one of the hardest jobs in film and television, and it requires a talented, tenacious, and smart person. And with the possible exception of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (who had two such individuals, “Toolmaster” Jef Maynard and “Prop Diva” Beez McKeever, over its long run), Star Trek had the best luck anyone ever has with their Property Master.

Irving Feinberg was part of Desilu’s existing staff, having worked on The Untouchables in addition to other shows in an uncredited fashion. But none of those shows were anything like Star Trek. It didn’t matter in the end, though, because Feinberg’s props fit in with the others perfectly, so much that the cast and crew started calling the props “Feinbergers” in his honor. And as to his role as protector of the various props, Feinberg was even more notorious. As soon as the director yelled, “Cut!” he would snatch up the props without fail. So protective was he that Feinberg was known for slapping the hands of the cast, writer David Gerrold, and even a young girl visiting the set. But given Star Trek‘s great fame (and great budget problems), this behavior was completely and utterly justified.

To handle the special effects, another highly experienced and capable man was hired: Jim Rugg. Born on January 29th, 1919 in Lidgerwood, North Dakota, Rugg and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was five, and attended UCLA and Pepperdine while becoming a ham radio operator in the late ’30s. With the advent of World War II, Rugg joined the Army and became a radio operator. Following the war, he moved into television and began a long career designing special effects for shows like Perry Mason and feature films such as Mary Poppins. On Star Trek, Rugg’s role was, to quote William Shatner in his memoir Star Trek Memories, very straightforward: “If it blinked, beeped, moved, lit up or even exploded, it was rigged by Jim Rugg.”

Or, at least, that job description was straightforward. The reality was far more complicated.

One of Rugg’s first tasks was to rig the newly relocated bridge set, which included separate wiring for each and every panel. Even today, this is a rather large task, but in 1966? This was a massive undertaking-and that’s just for one part of two rather decent-sized sets! The hard work did pay off, though, as this setup allowed for some pretty elaborate pyrotechnics. And if there’s anything that Jim Rugg was good at, it was at making things go boom. And boy did they go boom (which we’ll discuss eventually). If NBC wanted excitement, Jim Rugg was certainly going to be a big part of it.

Next time, we’re going to discuss the crisis that nearly got Star Trek cancelled before it even began.

Guardians of Forever: Fred Steiner

While it is now standard practice for TV shows to be scored entirely by one person (and that one person increasingly seems to be Bear McCreary), for years it was expected that shows would employ a variety of composers to provide the music. The primary benefit of this situation was that if an episode was a comedy or a romance or suspense, the producers could hire a specific composer who specialized in a specific style of music. On Star Trek, however, the production staff more often than not called one man for every occasion: Fred Steiner.

Born on February 24, 1923 in New York, Steiner was a bit of a prodigy, and by his early 20s had followed in his father’s footsteps and was playing in orchestras for radio shows, eventually orchestrating and then becoming the music director for This Is Your FBI before TV became a thing, at which point Steiner moved to Hollywood and began scoring for the medium and for feature films. By the time Star Trek came calling, Steiner was one of the top names in the business, or at least the most recognized, as he was responsible for contributing to two iconic TV shows:

For Perry Mason, Steiner only contributed the theme song, which is almost as famous as the series itself, but for The Bullwinkle Show, Steiner was tasked with re-imagining the series’ music after the show moved from ABC to NBC (shedding the show’s original name, Rocky and His Friends, in the process), when it was discovered that Frank Comstock, who had been the composer for the show up to that point, actually owned the music lock, stock, and barrel. So, with the exception Fractured Fairy Tales and Aesop and Son (for reasons that escape me), Steiner replaced every bit of music in the series. And while Peabody’s Improbable History fared poorly (to the point that Comstock’s music was returned for syndication), the rest of the music Steiner composed gained at least equal footing with that of Comstock’s. And with the rather wide range of themes, all played straight (one of the few things to be played as such on the series), it’s no shocker that Steiner excelled with a wide range of episode plots on Star Trek.

However, part of this was not merely Fred Steiner’s considerable talents, but one dictated by circumstance: after a few episodes, Alexander Courage was unavailable to the Star Trek staff, as he was working as an orchestrator for two films released in 1967-A Guide for the Married Man and Doctor Dolittle. The former is little-remembered (and rather ironically has both Majel Barrett and Jeffrey Hunter in its cast) while the latter was an utter disaster on every front, with major reshoots and plot restructuring complicating the scoring of the picture (which was a musical). Steiner became so essential in this period that he re-recorded the opening title music when it was decided that Courage’s version dominated by the electric violin wasn’t going to cut it.

Next time, we’ll round out our discussions of Star Trek‘s crew.

Assignment: 1966: The National Organization for Women

It’s June 30th, 1966. The top 3 songs in the country are, in order, “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles, “Strangers in the Night”, and “Paint It Black” (the rest of the Top 10’s a bit of a train wreck, however). The Mothers of Invention release Freak Out!, their debut album, on the 27th. The album is initially a bomb, but as the Mothers (and Frank Zappa especially) rise in popularity in the ’70s, it’ll be hailed as a classic. The Beatles, who are said to be influenced by Freak Out! (despite being referred to by Zappa as “only in it for the money”), begin an Asian tour in Tokyo at the Nippon Budokan, which will become not only a popular venue for rock acts, but for acts to record live albums in after Cheap Trick’s popularity exploded worldwide in the late ’70s in the wake of Cheap Trick at Budokan. In non-music news, Dr. Maurice Hilleman announced that a vaccine for mumps was successfully tested on Saturday the 25th. The Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York was decommissioned as a result of the increasingly huge ships being unable to pass under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. On the 26th, the “March Against Fear”, by now having over 16,000 marchers after being started by one man, James H. Meredith (who was shot and hospitalized after starting), ends at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi. In lighter news, J. J. Abrams is born the next day, and John Cusack and Mary Stuart Masterson the day after that. And throughout the week, there are some big sports stories: Dikembe Mutombo and Mike Tyson are born on the 25th and 30th, respectively, and Ron Santo of the Chicago Cubs is hit in the face by a wild pitch on the 26th, breaking his cheekbone. When he returns on Independence Day, Santo will begin wearing a helmet with an earflap, which eventually lead to them being made mandatory by baseball in 1983.

This is all secondary, however, to the formation of the National Organization for Women on the 30th. In the 50 years since, NOW has grown from 49 founding members to over half a million. While Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, is credited with touching off the “second wave” of feminism, it’s the formation of NOW that brought the movement kicking and screaming into the mainstream. More importantly, it forced the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to actually enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in regards to women. The problem with this is, however, is that it means that NOW is pointed at (primarily by critics) as the embodiment of all feminism. This just isn’t the case.

Firstly, NOW under the leadership of Friedan gave no time for its lesbian membership, a sad situation that Friedan spent that last thirty-some years of her life walking back from. Furthermore, a key complaint about The Feminine Mystique was that it ignored the plight of women who weren’t middle-class and white (without having actually sat down to read the book and make my own assessment, it sounds suspiciously as if Betty Friedan is the first person who was ever told to check her privilege). Lastly, and on a personal level, there is no monolithic standard for feminism, even if the core goal (equality for women) is universal.

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy who’d like to see himself as a feminist, or at least an ally, I’m sensitive to these schisms. I don’t look down at porn or Power Girl’s notorious boob window (or most of the more debated female superheroine costumes), and I’ve definitely staked something of a claim towards being far more sympathetic to Xander over at the StoryWonk forums than most (I’m about the only person who didn’t bury “Go Fish”, for instance). A lot of this is because I’m trying to not be a total hypocrite, but also because I’ve been that guy over the past 38 years way too many times, and I know first hand how hard it is to be a better person when literally everything drummed into you culturally says that it’s OK to be sexist (for instance). That white male privilege thing is absolutely real, everybody. On the other hand, I’d like to think I’m pretty ahead of the curve when it comes to bisexuality……but I also recognize that how I came to that position can be construed as being less than pure (which is why The Great Willow Sexuality Rant took months of writing and over 20 revisions before I published it).

But with those largely personal caveats aside, NOW has done a lot of great things in the world, and as with everything, the organization is constantly growing and changing. Not all at once, and maybe not perfectly, but they’re fighting the good fight as best as they can.

Next time, we inch ever closer to actual episode reviews again (yay!) by introducing Robert H. Justman’s preferred Star Trek music composer.

Priority One Alert: The New Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines

If the internet is known for one thing, it’s porn.

Wait, that came out wrong. Let’s start over:

If the internet is known for anything (besides porn), it’s shopping.

For fuck’s sake! Let’s do this right this time, OK?

If the internet is known for anything (besides porn and shopping), it’s for giving people a way to share their love for (or hatred for) just about anything (including, ironically, shopping and porn). Fanfiction, message boards (hey, StoryWonk forums!), social media (hey, #OddWonks!), fan art, podcasts, websites……seriously, people put a lot of work into goofing off on the internet. And they certainly aren’t doing it all alone, either, which was highly difficult to do before the internet became a thing. And with this interaction comes bigger and better things. Websites (not this one, obviously) are looking more professional than official websites, fanfic collaborations are happening with greater frequency, and since the rise of YouTube, fan films have become a new and promising avenue of creativity.

The birth of the modern fan film can be traced to Troops, a rather genius parody of both Star Wars and Cops. While Troops was not a “fan” film in the strictest sense (Kevin Rubio, the driving force behind the project, was working for Fox Kids at the time, and recruited people he knew from working in the industry, including the film’s top-tier voice cast), it inspired and entertained Star Wars fans across the globe, so much that Lucasfilm eventually backed a fan film competition, The Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards (which is now known as The Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge). It was an unprecedented show of support by an IP holder, and has been rewarded with an engaged fanbase (even as the Prequel Trilogy has become increasingly criticized and reviled).

Contrast this with Paramount (and, as a result of the Viacom Split, CBS as well), who has had a bit of a contentious relationship with Star Trek pretty much from the very moment they purchased Desilu in 1967. The series was a big money-loser and Gene Roddenberry wasn’t easy to deal with at all, so Paramount happily helped NBC to kill the show in the third season (after which they proceeded to gut Desilu’s other TV series, Mission: Impossible). And when fandom (which was powerfully active from the moment that the series began to air) exploded in the ’70s, Paramount cracked down on fanfic, declaring that it couldn’t be included in fanzines that charged money (a necessary move to help offset the costs of publishing).

Naturally, this backfired, and soon pornographic fanzines (including ones with the first examples of “slash” fan fiction involving Kirk and Spock) spread like wildfire.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, once the internet became a thing in the ’90s, Paramount C&D’d (cease-and-desisted) a number of fan websites into oblivion. Granted, the late ’90s were the days when many websites were loaded with itty-bitty, low-res screen grabs and dialogue quotes, but this was an extremely fan-unfriendly move (and one echoed by 20th Century Fox, who produced three shows with heavy internet popularity: The X-FilesThe Simpsons, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Now, however, Paramount and CBS have taken things to a new extreme: sparked in large part by their legal action against Alec Peters and the Axanar fan film, they have released a set of fan film “guidelines” which in essence shut down every single fan production. Stories can only be 30 minutes long, in two parts of 15 minutes, with no further episodes. No Star Trek veterans of any type can work on fan films. And any Kickstarter-type campaigns can only raise $50,000. Period.

The thing is, every one of the major fan productions (AxanarStar Trek: New VoyagesStar Trek Continues, and Star Trek: Renegades) has enlisted multiple alumni, with Renegades featuring Tim Russ (Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager) as director. Additionally, all of these projects have raised far more than $50,000, with the sets alone costing far more than that (James Cawley, the primary mastermind behind New Voyages, has sunk at least quadruple that of his own money on sets alone over the years). So, quite frankly, this shatters all further plans, including multiple episodes in various states of completion (as none of the crews want to be sued like Alec Peters).

Worse, fandom has blamed Peters because he demanded that Paramount and CBS provide firm guidelines right as he was sued, as well as him taking a salary so he could devote all of his time to the project. Granted, that last part is rather dubious under the previous “non-profit” rule, but there is precedent (the heads of non-profit organizations in the real world do take salaries). There seems to be some accusations that Peters is trying to use Axanar to “go pro” (i.e., use this production as the basis for a professional, for-profit operation). This is where I cry foul, because let’s face it: fan films are posted to IMDb. So for the amateurs involved in these productions, these films have been a way towards building a legitimate career in film and television. (And for a number of actors in the fan productions, it has led to work on the franchise.) While Peters’ methods appear questionable, they aren’t so far removed from the norm, as there are people involved with these fan productions who do get paid. Peters was just open about it, and is the first showrunner to do so. While he’s not innocent, Peters is not the only guilty party here: Paramount and CBS went above and beyond by suing him, and have behaved even worse by invoking these new guidelines.

As a final postscript to this entire awful mess, Paramount and CBS have officially licensed James Cawley to offer tours of his version of the Enterprise TV sets. So, Star Trek: New Voyages, in some perverse fashion, gets officially sanctioned, but at the cost of multiple episodes (across the various fan productions) never getting finished, and likely never seeing the light of day. While it’s good that Cawley will eventually recoup the costs he incurred over the years, it was never about the money: it was about the love of Star Trek.

Next time, we discuss a milestone of women’s rights.

Assignment: 1966: Miranda v. Arizona

It’s June 13th, 1966. “Paint It Black” is the #1 song in the country, having displaced “When a Man Loves a Woman”, which fell to #4. Also in the Top 10: “Strangers In The Night” by Frank Sinatra and “Monday, Monday”. In further music news, Janis Joplin made her debut with Big Brother and the Holding Company on the 10th at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. The same day, members of the KKK’s Mississippi White Knights brutally murder sharecropper Ben Chester White as part of a scheme to lure Martin Luther King to the area in order to mount an assassination attempt. On the 11th, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? made its premiere after Jack Valenti gave the picture special dispensation to be released in theatres, though with a warning that only adults could be admitted. However, the big news comes from the Supreme Court, who rules in Miranda v. Arizona that Miranda’s confession was inadmissible because he had not been notified of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights (and therefore had not legally waived those rights).

The effect of this was massive. Suddenly, there was a check on coercive interrogations, which could be notoriously harsh (read: violent) depending on the municipality and the race of the suspect. But, for the average American, this decision was felt in one extremely visible way: TV cop shows (and cop movies, for that matter) suddenly featured a scene where the bad guy (or the hero, if need be) was told that he had the right to remain silent, and that anything they said could be used against them in a court of law. An important protection was not only confirmed, but it became an ingrained part of American culture (which, thanks to the exportation of our films and TV shows, is also well-known abroad). It was a landmark decision not only for the legal ramifications, but because of the widespread cultural effect.

But it’s not that simple. Miranda was actually convicted on retrial, because their were actual eyewitness accounts. This meant that the Phoenix Police Department was also guilty of laziness, which is about as damning a criticism as you can have of a police force. But, on a greater scale, this ties into the notorious racial politics of Arizona. This was the home of Barry Goldwater, whose 1964 Presidential campaign was the birth of the modern conservative movement, which in case you haven’t noticed, is notoriously extremist and racist. (Moreover, Ronald Reagan and Phyllis Schlaffly got involved in politics as a result of Goldwater’s Presidential run). And in 1990, Arizona voters notoriously rejected making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a state holiday, costing Phoenix (and Sun Devil Stadium, which was an ungodly dump of a football stadium at the time) Super Bowl XXVII. Furthermore, Phoenix is in Maricopa County, home the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Joe Arpaio, whose policies are so mindblusteringly racist as to defy belief. So, yeah, institutional racism? Kind of a factor here.

And, of course, there’s Berghuis v. Thompkins, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that ruled that an “ambiguous or equivocal” statement (or no statement at all) did not mean that the police could halt an interrogation. This, of course, totally gutted Miranda, a rather standard state of affairs for the more recent, conservative, iterations of the Supreme Court.

Next time on Star Trek Debriefed (Catch Up Edition), it’s time to pause and discuss a certain notorious new edict from Star Trek‘s rights holders.

Priority One Alert: Muhammad Ali 1942-2016

There are a great many people and things that Star Trek Debriefed has allowed me to talk about and wax poetic about, and even more to come. However, this weekend, one of the people I have most enjoyed writing about, Muhammad Ali, died this past weekend (I’m sure you heard about it). I’ll spare a recanting of Ali’s backstory since I covered the basics in last year’s Ali/Liston II post, but that post was really only the beginning. I’ve yet to talk about his conscientious objector status to the Vietnam War, or his brave condemnation of America’s inherent racism, and really, the entire larger legacy that the man left.

Yes, Muhammad Ali was an incredible athlete, and an epic trash talker, but it’s what he did-and how he did it-outside of the ring that is why his passing was such huge news. Ali not only stood up to power, he punched it in the face with the same ferocity as his opponents in the ring. In defying the Draft Board, he correctly and bluntly explained why no person of color ’60s America would ever want to fight in any war, much less Vietnam. It wasn’t so much as objecting to the war as it was objecting to an entire corrupt society. Not shockingly, most everyone in the establishment turned against Ali, who was widely loathed for his religion and his brash behavior.

However, Ali never buckled, and took his fight all the way to the Supreme Court, and won in a unanimous decision. The Muhammad Ali of the ’70s was not only wiser, but more emboldened: he cast himself even more strongly as someone fighting against the corrupt, white system and his foes were even more brutally dismissed as Uncle Toms (with Joe Frazier getting the worst of it, being dubbed “The Gorilla”). The irony, of course, was that Ali had more whites in his entourage than most of his opponents, to say nothing of his famous friendship with Howard Cosell. However, it was also during the ’70s that Ali took the physical punishment that most agree resulted in the Parkinson’s that slowed him down in the last three decades of his life, as a result of his famous “rope-a-dope” strategy.

Ali’s greatest impact, though, may have been on hip hop culture. His interviews and press conferences were biting and filled with rhymes, and seemingly crafted on the fly. That, of course, is the very definition of freestyling, one of the cornerstones of rap and hip hop, especially on the streets. LL Cool J even admitted to Ali’s influence, and Public Enemy definitely continued with his condemnation of the white establishment. (This, of course, is one of the things that people are trying to whitewash out of remembrances of Ali.) In fact, calling Ali an influence is grossly understating things: he was a part of hip hop culture, and quite arguably started it himself.

There have been far too many words said and written about Muhammad Ali in the past week, but it’s vital that we remember him as a revolutionary figure. Whitewashing his image (if you’ll pardon the pun) or downplaying the sheer influence of Ali outside of the ring is cheating history of its true shape. Yes, he was a superb boxer, but he was so much more.

Next week, it’s time to discuss a Supreme Court decision whose most visible legacy was its effect on TV cop shows.

Mirror, Mirror: Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA on CBS

It’s time for the NBA Finals, and today that means Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But for most of the storied history of the National Basketball Association-and especially in the 1980s, the Finals meant that either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics would be playing for the title, and for most of the decade, they would be doing it against each other. And for the nation, the games were televised not on ABC, but on CBS.

When CBS acquired the rights to broadcast NBA games in the late ’70s, the deal because quickly seen as something of a poison pill: ABC, who had broadcast the league’s games for some time (and who were quite rightfully known for their superb sports coverage) started aggressively counter-programming against CBS’s coverage. This was bad enough, but a number of events also conspired to sap the league’s popularity: a lack of superstars (and then, when the rival American Basketball Association folded into the NBA, the New York Nets were forced to move to New Jersey and give up Julius Erving, the league’s biggest star), a dearth of success for the biggest market teams (the champions from 1977-1979 were the Portland Trailblazers, the Washington Bullets, and the Seattle SuperSonics, in that order), a change in scheduling that caused the Finals to shift from its usual June time frame to the middle of May sweeps, and most fatally to the league’s reputation, violent brawls were all too common in the NBA. The nadir was a now-infamous fight between the Lakers and the Houston Rockets where Lakers forward Kermit Washington punched Rockets forward Rudy Tomjanovich. Tomjanovich was severely injured (his skull was so damaged that he could taste spinal fluid during his five-month recovery), but the damage to the league’s reputation was sealed, and CBS started tape-delaying games, even those of the NBA Finals.

Salvation for CBS and the NBA came in the form of two men who could not be more different: Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson. The two had faced off to much hype in the 1979 NCAA Tournament Final, and they found themselves on the two most storied teams in the league: Bird with the Celtics, and Johnson with the Lakers. Both players fit their teams like gloves: the Celtics were a hard-working, blue-collar team playing in the decrepit Boston Garden, while the Lakers were flashy and watched by numerous movie stars in the fabulous LA Forum. Magic was a flashy passer running Pat Riley’s vaunted Showtime offense with a perpetual smile on his face, while Bird was a gritty defender capable of shooting the lights out known for his continuous stream of trash talk, which he backed up with cool efficiency. Their teammates fit them just as well. On the Lakers: Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, master of the Skyhook (who famously appeared in the classic comedy Airplane!), bearded, goggles-wearing “Big Game” James Worthy, defensive stopper Michael Cooper, Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes, and popular everyman Kurt Rambis, who was likened to Clark Kent because of his glasses and average ability. On the Celtics: the Chief, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge, perhaps the most unlikely two-sport athlete in history, bruising Sixth Man Kevin McHale, and the perpetually underrated Dennis Johnson.

The contrasts extended even to the teams’ announcers. Johnny Most, the perpetually disheveled, gravel-voiced, and curmudgeonly voice of the Celtics openly rooted for the team on air, while the well-dressed, slick-voiced Chick Hearn was as famous for criticizing players for bad play as he was for never missing a single game. But, much as with the teams themselves, Most and Hearn respected their rivals, even as the fans did not. On CBS, broadcasts had a decided Boston flavor in the ’80s: lead announcer Dick Stockton began his career calling Red Sox games, and his on-air partner was Celtic legend Tommy Heinsohn, who was regularly accused of being a huge homer (which, in retrospect, is rather silly, since Heinsohn calls Celtics games nowadays, and is infinitely more biased than he ever was on CBS).

However, every story needs a villain, and the NBA provided a doozy in the ’80s: the Detroit Pistons. Known as the “Bad Boys”, the Pistons were about the dirtiest team that ever walked onto a basketball court, and they seemed  pretty proud of that fact. The worst offender: Bill Laimbeer, the Pistons’ center, who over the course of the decade got in high profile fights with not only Bird, Parish, and Kareem, but Philadelphia 76ers power forward Charles Barkley. (As an odd contrast, Magic was good friends with Pistons guard Isiah Thomas, with whom he shared friendly kisses at midcourt before Lakers/Pistons games-something that was savaged in the ever-so-homophobic ’80s.) And games against their division rivals, the Chicago Bulls, often devolved into nastiness, especially once Michael Jordan began to emerge as a superstar in his own right.

And this is where I come in: the 1988 NBA Finals. The Pistons, long stymied by the Celtics, finally made it to the Finals, and as expected, it was a knock-down, drag-out affair. The stakes were their highest: there had not been a repeat champion in the NBA since 1969, when the Celtics had beaten the Lakers at the Forum in Game 7. Moreover, the Lakers had lost five NBA Finals Game 7s without a win since moving to LA in 1960, all in devastating fashion: besides 1969, they had lost to the Knicks in 1970 when an injured Willis Reed started the game, completely psyching the team out, and 1962, 1966, and especially 1984 also saw painful losses to the Celtics in the Garden. Detroit built a lead in the first half, but led by James Worthy (who was named Finals MVP after the game), the Lakers built a big 15 point lead in the third quarter…..only to see it evaporate in the fourth quarter. But the Lakers held on, and they exorcised the team’s demons (much to the relief of general manager Jerry West, who had taken part in most of those prior Game 7s, and is infamously superstitious). Good won, evil lost, and I was probably the only Laker fan in New England.

Next time, it’s back to Star Trek proper, where we’ll meet the show’s most prolific composer.