Category: Backstage Pass


Review by C.J. Bunce

Actor Vic Mignogna, who has played Star Trek’s Captain Kirk on the fan-made series Star Trek Continues, has taken on an enormous task in his latest project, narrating the mammoth behind-the-scenes look at classic television and creator/producer Gene Roddenberry in an audio play adaptation of the Saturn Award-winning These Are the Voyages–ST: TOS Season One–nearly 29 hours in all.  Master researcher and TV historian Marc Cushman has meticulously crafted several volumes detailing the Golden Age of Television, including four volumes (and fifth on the way) of Star Trek history.  With the new audiobook, Cushman has assembled nearly 100 voice actors, including several Star Trek insiders quoted in the book, who returned to voice their contributions from Cushman’s first book in his series.  Among the voices you’ll hear writer Dorothy Fontana, writer Ronald D. Moore, actor Clint Howard, casting director Joe D’Agosta, actor Sean Kenney, and director Ralph Senensky, plus sons of Leonard Nimoy (Adam) and James Doohan (Chris) voicing their fathers’ quoted material, and other surprises, like Mythbusters co-host and Star Trek Continues actor Grant Imahara as the voice of George Takei.  The result is a fantastic way to kick back and enjoy the long-lost past and inner-workings of your favorite 1960s sci-fi series.

Marc Cushman’s adaptation of his own work, with Susan Osborn, smartly distills his lengthy first volume into the key narrative elements–Gene Roddenberry’s arrival in Hollywood, the development of Star Trek, Roddenberry’s assemblage of creators, directors, producers, writers, and actors for his series, and the episode by episode chronicle of the ups and downs of season one.  Mignogna is a fantastic choice to walk the audience along, a mix of 1930s radioplay storyteller and Ken Burns’ award-winning series of documentaries.  For anyone afraid of embarking on a lengthy 658-page non-fiction book, this is your answer.

Actor Vic Mignogna with Star Trek repeat guest actor Clint Howard.

Voice actor Ralph Miller really nails the talkative and often irritable Gene Roddenberry.  The less-known players in the story often provide the most interesting performances, men and women reproducing 1960s inflections and accents in a myriad of types believably well.  The dialogue in the book has a more lively feel and effect when spoken.  As an example, Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies’ discussions (originally via written correspondence) over details of military components to be incorporated into the series sets provides for some humor in the drama.  Listeners will really get a good picture of these two negotiating over who was better able to sign-off on the look of the practical, visual bits of the series.  And the production values are spot on–These Are the Voyages–ST: TOS Season One is a well-produced, entertaining work full of trivia for Star Trek fans and classic TV buffs, presented in an unusual, unexpected way.

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Secrets of the Force

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you skip over the commentary from the critics and modern writers, and focus on the quotes from the past from the actual filmmakers and actors, you may find some new details behind the nine Star Wars movies in a book coming in July.  In their two volume treatise The Fifty-Year Mission, The Complete Uncensored Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek, authors Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman compiled quotes from dozens of people inside Gene Roddenberry’s creation, which meant a lot of what you’d expect by way of discussing the creation of the franchise, colliding with what you might not expect–speculation, ranting, gossip, and even anger among the crew.  With their new book the authors switch gears to compiling quotes from people behind the scenes of George Lucas’s creation, including many expected, nostalgic trips to the past coupled with equal parts speculation, ranting, gossip, and anger. Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars explores the Star Wars material in a single volume.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

TV historian and Star Trek expert Marc Cushman has returned with his next volume in the history of the creators of Star Trek, the 1960s television series, the hardcover book These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, Volume 1 (1970-75).  At a massive 763 pages, Cushman uses his trademark style of sifting through every available source to collect details about Hollywood, executives, writers, actors, and everyone in between to provide a history of television via the extensive use of contemporary, primary source materials.  The book includes dozens of black and white photographs, screen shots, marketing images, and behind the scenes photographs.

Fans of Star Trek: The Animated Series and the tie-in novels that began with author James Blish should take note: Much of the book is about Star Trek: The Animated Series, the marketing of Star Trek by Roddenberry’s company Lincoln Enterprises, and several studio tie-ins during the 1970s, including the Gold Key comics, and Blish’s famous run of novels–all which kept Trek fans engaged for a decade without a live-action presence.  The rest is devoted to Roddenberry’s personal projects before and after The Animated Series.

Many themes are brought to light as Cushman tracks Roddenberry’s career and efforts to revive Star Trek after the 1960s series cancellation.  Roddenberry’s in-your-face nature with studio executives didn’t help him any, yet his persistence kept him in the business.  William Shatner was able to rely on his past success as an actor to easily move ahead with his career and lay the groundwork to become the icon he is known as today.  Leonard Nimoy benefited the most directly from Star Trek–he became a sex symbol, and moved from a music career to becoming co-star of the original Mission: Impossible.  He also didn’t miss a beat continuing his acting with major stage productions.  The rest of the cast was type-cast, having more difficulty finding work, especially Walter Koenig, who was even denied a voice-acting role on The Animated Series.  But The Animated Series would prove several things: Every member of the cast was ready to jump at the chance of returning to Star Trek despite their other projects.  Nimoy was at first hesitant, but when seeing the rest of the cast join up he seemed to not want to be left behind.  This included the writers for the original series–everyone asked to provide a script for The Animated Series wanted to return to the unique science fiction material–and did.

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Our borg Best of 2020 list continues today with the Best Books of 2020.  If you missed them, check out our reviews of the Best Movies of 2020 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2020 here, and the Best in TV 2020 here.  Our list continues tomorrow with the Best Comics and Games of 2020.  And we wrap-up the year with our additions to the borg Hall of Fame later this month.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t publish reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going!

Best Sci-Fi, Best Thriller Novel Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson (Tor Books).  It’s a far-out science fiction novel with all the right notes of a good supernatural fantasy.  And it has an easy pace and an impending, looming darkness waiting ahead that will keep you planted firmly in your seat until you get to the last page.

Best Tie-In NovelBloodshot novelization by Gavin Smith (Titan Books).  A great update to the genre that began with Martin Caidin’s Cyborg, Smith creates an exciting, vivid novelization of the comic book character adapted to the big screen.  Honorable mention: Firefly: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).

There are many more best book selections to go…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

TV historian and Star Trek expert Marc Cushman is back to continue his second trilogy of books about the development, production, and struggles behind the first two decades of Star Trek.  In These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, Volume 2 (1975-77), at last we get to delve into the biggest Star Trek project never delivered: The 1970s Star Trek: Phase II series that would be parted out and become Star Trek: The Motion Picture and later Star Trek: The Next Generation.  And that’s not all–ideas and early scripts for Phase II continue to be tapped in the 21st century Star Trek series and films.  Even better, Cushman digs into the ever-developing Star Trek novels, conventions, and more, which became the practice grounds for the wider, broad world of pop culture fandom as a whole.  How did Star Trek finally movie forward from the original series to become what it is today?  How did the fans play a major role in making that happen?   Continue reading

We’ve been speculating about a new animated Star Trek for years (like back here at borg), and it’s sort of like the folks at CBS and Paramount listened to us.  Ideas of an animated Star Trek have finally taken hold of late, first with Ira Steven Behr’s Deep Space Nine documentary, and even more recently with announcements of three shows in development for 2020 or 2021: two animated shorts, an animated comedy series by Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan about the lower decks crew of a Starfleet ship, and a Nickelodeon series aimed at kids.  Is there an interest in animated Treks?  We loved that replica costume company Anovos was offering pre-orders for a cool, purple–and screen-accurate–cartoon-style Klingon uniform. Unfortunately Anovos reported production was canceled for insufficient interest.  But Behr’s documentary amped up the buzz for the potential of the medium, especially as a way to bring back actors who may not want to appear in front of the camera anymore, via voice work.  Audio genius company Big Finish has made a big business of resurrecting most of its 50 year history of Doctor Who actors (and their companions) via new audio stories, even without the animated visuals.  Want more William Shatner as Captain Kirk?  This is the way to do it.

Just two months ago we reviewed here at borg television historian and researcher Marc Cushman’s latest brilliant deep dive into vintage television in his book These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, Volume 1 (1970-75) It is a highly recommended, monumental 764-page treatise on Roddenberry, his development of the animated series, and a guide to each episode with exhaustive behind the scenes crew information.  If the future of Star Trek is, indeed, animated, it makes sense another book is coming your way, this time a full color pictorial look at the classic animated series called Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series, and you can check out some preview pages below.

The animated voyages often represented the lighter side of Star Trek that was picked up on by Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer in their story for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, incorporating more bits of humor that would become an integral part of what makes Star Trek… Star Trek from then on.  One of the biggest curiosities of post-Animated Trek is not including the unique alien bridge officers Arex and M’Ress as characters in the movies and series since.  Both have only had appearances in DC Comics’ Star Trek monthly and various novels.  Years ago Gene Roddenberry acknowledged the costs–of requirements like heavy prosthetic and makeup–required of bringing these characters to live-action versions were too burdensome for television production, yet similarly styled characters have cropped up in Star Trek IV and V and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  With the kind of makeup work done by Oscar-nominated creator Joel Harlow in Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Beyond and Emmy-winner James MacKinnon for Doug Jones in Star Trek Discovery, a live-action Arex and M’Ress could happen.

Take a look at this preview for Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series, available for pre-order now here at Amazon:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The most comprehensive retrospective analysis of a film you’ve probably ever read has arrived.  For the 40th anniversary of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, film historian Marc Cushman saved his best for last, These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s Volume III (1978-1980), the sixth in his volume of comprehensive histories of the people and productions before, during, and after the original 1960s Star Trek TV series, forming a complete biography of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (who was born 99 years ago this week).  The creative vision and determination of Roddenberry came to its zenith in the period leading up to and during the filming of 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and a series was resurrected and turned into a major franchise.  Cushman reviewed archives, records, contemporary articles, and interviewed key players for this book, to flesh out once and for all Roddenberry’s successes and failures with the film’s script and his pressure on the studio to maintain creative control, successfully spurring what would become 40 more years (and counting) of Kirk, Spock, and friends.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Many products oversell themselves with some flavor of marketing puffery, they claim to be better than they ultimately are, or give consumers only the best content in the previews.  That’s not the case with Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross’s second chapter in their two-volume chronicle The Fifty-Year Mission, The Next 25 Years: From The Next Generation to J.J. Abrams, The Complete Uncensored Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek (I’ll shorten that hefty title to The Next 25 Years for this review).  With the first volume–The First 25 Years–coming in at 577 pages, it probably evens out that this second volume is a lengthy 864 pages considering all it needed to cover (everything from Next Generation onward).  Key words to note in that long title are unauthorized, meaning CBS and Paramount didn’t publish this (like the These Are the Voyages trilogy of books from Marc Cushman), complete meaning once you’re finished there is no possible way there is anything left to say about the production of the Star Trek TV shows and films, uncensored meaning Hollywood creators you may have idolized when beginning the book show a side of their personalities that remove the magic, awe, and spark you felt about them.  And oral as in stories passed down via the oral tradition, because The Next 25 Years features stories being told by hundreds of players (and a few non-players) via a loose outline broken down within topics Star Trek: The Next Generation, followed by the TNG movies, followed by Deep Space Nine, then Voyager, then Enterprise, stop-start show ideas, and then a too-brief section on the J.J. Abrams’ produced movies.

As for the “oral,” The Next 25 Years feels only a bit like what a historian may document as an oral history in that it consists nearly entirely of quotes from those who made these productions with only the barest of context added to try to keep the reader (and contributors) on-topic.  The Next 25 Years was published in 2016, so it includes contributions from those alive at the time the book was written, but also shuffles in comments of those creators who died long before, as if they were speaking along with the living contributors.  Neither is this a work of journalism or scholarly creation, because absent citation references–as Cushman used quite well as an integral part of his trilogy–it’s difficult for anyone to use the book as a reliable reference.  “When did Gene Roddenberry say this?”  “When did David Gerrold say that?”  Even more confusing, it’s obvious that the compilers of these quoted statements showed certain statements to others and allowed them to comment and respond.  When was this allowed, and when wasn’t it allowed?  Readers just don’t know, because the compilers of these statements don’t provide context.  Was Rick Berman given an opportunity to rebut this disparaging comment?  Did Michael Piller, who passed away in 2005, get the opportunity to ever respond to such statements?  Did he even know these people thought these things about him?  Timing matters so much in communication and memory, yet it’s missing here.  Around 2006 I read Piller’s unpublished (later on-demand released) manuscript about the making of Star Trek: Insurrection–it doesn’t make those associated with the production look very good, which is likely why publication of that book was originally cancelled by the studio.  The Next 25 Years will provide a similar vibe for franchise fans reflecting the memories (good or bad) of Star Trek’s execs, writers, and actors.

Those who have read every magazine and book on Star Trek over the years already know most of the gossip found here from a 30,000 foot view.  The Next 25 Years is a “tell-all” book.  What may be different is you get the details from multiple sources and in more detail than a passing fan would probably care to read.  It’s one thing to read a tell-all article in a magazine, and quite another to read all the tell-all tales of a subject of this massive scope over 864 pages.  But don’t walk away–there are some good nuggets along the journey.  Like some detail on the several attempts to make spin-off series that failed after Enterprise, F. Murray Abraham’s view of making Star Trek: Insurrection, Kate Mulgrew’s approach to Captain Janeway, and how Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Brannon Braga, and others cyclically stepped into Gene Roddenberry’s shoes initially with new ideas, but ultimately came back to his approach.  So diehards will want to read it simply for their niche fandom area of the franchise.  Actor/director Jonathan Frakes, for example, never appears in the book as anything but professional, positive, and contemplative about the past.  Gene Roddenberry’s son Rod is similarly diplomatic despite all of the negative statements lobbed against his family members.  Others reveal their flawed humanity for all to see, the colloquial “airing the dirty laundry” comes to mind.  Just keep in mind that other saying: “Don’t believe everything you read.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The Virginian, Ironside, Amy Prentiss, Kolchak: The Nightstalker, and CHiPs.  For modern TV watchers and students of film and production, these series from the 1960s to 1980s won’t come to mind as the most memorable TV series to use to teach a TV production course.  But they are enough for Cy Chermak–TV executive producer, producer, story editor, and writer of those series and more–to incorporate into a step-by-step narrative providing an insider’s view of show process and studio politics in his new book The Show Runner: An Insider’s Guide to Successful TV Production. 

Nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, Chermak successfully–and sometimes not so successfully–negotiated the tiers of studio department hierarchy to create a lucrative career for himself.  In this autobiographical account he provides dozens of golden nuggets that any prospective TV writer will find insightful in understanding how an episode of television is created, from idea to final edit.  In addition to Chermak’s anecdotal lessons, he simplifies the duties and relationships of the production department from a show runner’s standpoint–a biased view, but a unique and interesting look from the top.  He uses an episode of his short-lived series Amy Prentiss–a 1974 series with Jessica Walter (Archer, PCU, Ghost in the Machine, Play Misty for Me) as the first woman chief of police in San Francisco–to take the reader on a walk-through as assistant to mentor Chermak as executive producer.

Along the way Chermak introduces us to the difficulties of ego and personality that seem to go with the territory of both studios execs and actors.  His examples include his personal interactions with Raymond Burr and Darren McGavin, who Chermak presents as particularly difficult to work with.  Chermak remains completely personable along the way, as if he’s putting his arm around the reader’s shoulder and giving the full studio tour, complete with interesting name dropping.  Chermak is quick to point out his own shortcomings and missed opportunities, like letting go by a young, yet-to-be-discovered Steven Spielberg making his way onto the studio lot as if he worked there to bump elbows with anyone who might screen his student film, Amblin.  Chermak’s first screenplay for the big screen was a movie called 4D Man, literally the first 4D movie (in addition to the 3D visuals it included physical effects, a concept taking off again at select theater chains today), featuring well-known actors Robert Lansing (Star Trek, Simon & Simon, The Equalizer), Lee Meriwether (Batman, Star Trek, Barnaby Jones), and Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker, The Streets of San Francisco).  

One of many rounds of re-write discussions for the short-lived series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

For kids of 1970s and 1980s television, look for Chermak’s discussion of the problem of dual lead actors, as he recollects a battle of ego between CHiPs stars Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada, which ultimately spelled doom for Wilcox and Chermak, and cancellation of the entire series a year later.  “A year later” becomes a theme for Chermak.  He notes several instances of a series folding a year after he was removed as show runner of the series.

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