SPACE: 1999


Written by Kevin McCorry

Gerry Anderson and Fred Freiberger.

Exclusive Interview With Fred Freiberger


You produced the first season (not the last) and the definitive episodes of The Wild, Wild West, right? Allan Asherman's Star Trek Compendium has printed that you were involved in the third and final season.

I was brought onto The Wild, Wild West after five other producers failed to come up with a workable concept. A number of scripts were actually shot and abandoned. The first ten scripts on the air were mine. The Wild, Wild West became a smash, helped no doubt by the introduction of Dr. Loveless and his giant henchman, created by a writer named John A. Kneubuhl. It might interest you to know that I had to fight furiously to use those two characters because there was strong resistance to them by some of the brass at CBS.

As has been stated by your Star Trek colleagues, your contributions in its final season had no effect (negative or positive) on the foregone conclusion of NBC cancelling the show. What do you feel was the reason for its cancellation?

The show was cancelled because our ratings were never good in prime-time. Our share of the audience ran between 25 to 28, all three seasons. It was only when the show went into syndication so that the kids could view it at 5 or 6 in the afternoon that it became a smash. Of course, today, a 25 share puts a series in the Top Ten.

Did you also write scripts for All in the Family in its early seasons?

Yes. One story.

What was the status of Space: 1999 at ITC when you were summoned from the U.S. to appraise the series for a second season? Was it on an extended hiatus? Was it slated to be cancelled and given a last-minute reprieve? Or was it already cancelled and then revived?

ITC didn't summon me. Gerry Anderson came to Los Angeles, where he interviewed me for the story editor job. He wanted me to come to England for a short period... I believe four weeks... where we would assess the series. It seemed that Lord Grade (at that time Sir Grade) would make a decision during that period as to whether to pick up Space for a second year. I arrived in London with my wife and a lot of luggage. She was reluctant to go to England, but I persuaded her by stating that I had a job I liked... story editor... dealing only with writers, and we'd have loads of leisure time to enjoy London.

We were in our fourth week in England (in 1975) when Gerry informed me that Lord Grade decided to cancel the show (after Season One). My wife and I were packing to leave... and I'm a bit hazy about the exact sequence of events. I don't remember whether Gerry suggested it or I did- that I take a shot at reviewing some episodes of Space... state where it fell short and suggest where it could be helped. I did a critique, added the character of Maya. Gerry sent the material to Lord Grade, and the series was given a second chance. At our next meeting, Gerry told me that he would like me to produce the series. I was reluctant to get into that area again because being a producer entailed a lot of hard work in dealing with actors, directors, writers, cameramen, the studio, the networks, cutting one film while preparing another to shoot, etc. etc. etc.. I discussed the situation with my wife, and she reminded me how I expected to have an easy and relaxed life in England, and cautioned me about all the exploding egos I'd have to contend with. I mentioned the good rapport I had with Gerry Anderson, and I felt he seemed to be asking for my help, and I didn't want to turn him down. So, I made the decision to accept his offer. A decision that now, in hindsight after 23 years, I realise was the dumbest one I ever made in my entire life.
NOTE: The last comment here is made in reference to information provided to Mr. Freiberger about the incessant attack upon him in absentia by fans of the show.

Is it fair to say that had it not been for your input, suggestions, and addition of Maya, there would not have been a second season?

Yes.

In Tim Heald's The Making of Space: 1999, you are quoted as saying, in a letter to Sir Lew Grade and Abe Mandell, that you had viewed 8 episodes of Season 1 of Space: 1999 as per their request, before assessing the series as you did. Can you recall which episodes you viewed?

No.

Were you involved in any way in the termination of Barry Morse and other first season regular cast members from the series, or was their departure entirely extraneous to your plans for Season 2?

When the series was given its second life, Lord Grade gave us that life on condition that Gerry would pledge to keep the production budget in bounds. When the word got out that we were picked up, the actors demanded raises. They were refused as Gerry honoured his pledge to Lord Grade. Barry Morse's agent hit us with an ultimatum. If he didn't get get a raise, he would leave the show, which is what happened.
NOTE: Mr. Morse has said that he also had creative differences with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson during production of Season One.

Now, I was not unhappy with that development. In my critique of Space, I had made the point that more youth in the cast was essential. Barry Morse is an excellent actor, but with his withdrawal, we had the opportunity to cast a young actor in his place.

Some first season supporting cast members have expressed their dismay that they were not under contract in Season 2, though they did appear in some episodes. Were you involved in the decision not to contract with certain actors, actresses, or artists?

No... Let me qualify that. Maybe.

Who was it who did not want Nick Tate to reprise his role of Alan Carter? Is it true that you championed the cause of retaining Tate?

At first, I thought Nick Tate might be superfluous. On second thought, I decided that he was a real asset to Space.

Some fans very obtusely allege attempts (among them the "imposition" of Maya) on your part to destroy Space: 1999 (i.e. that you came to England intending malice upon the show). Do you fully repudiate this view?

I have been accused of causing last year's El Nino and this year's earthquakes in South America, but this accusation is the wildest one yet!

Did your idea for Maya stem from your reading of Johnny Byrne's script for "The Biological Soul" as a personalised, female extension of Byrne's notion of a machine capable of transforming a planet, or had you decided on the "metamorph" concept before Byrne's script was presented to you?

No. In Greek mythology, Zeus transformed himself into a swan to seduce Leda. Horror fiction is loaded with werewolf characters. In fairy tales, princes are turned into frogs. For any of us to claim originality with the device of a being changing into another life-form is sheer arrogance.

Did you extensively study Greek legend and/or language in your school days?

I was always interested in mythology.

Are there any specific myths or periods of myths (ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, medieval, etc.) that interest you the most?

Greek and Roman.

To what extent was your work in children's television, at Hanna-Barbera and on The Superfriends, a factor in the creation of Maya?

I created a live series for Hanna-Barbera. In discussing with Joe Barbera about another live series, the subject came up about an American Indian medicine man who could transform into a bird.

How did you arrive at the Maya name? Were you aware of its etymological origins, meaning "illusion", or did it just sound right to you somehow?

The name of Maya just sounded right.

Why was Tony Anholt's character's name changed from Simon Hays to Tony Verdeschi?

A friend of mine in the 8th Air Force was named Tony Verdeschi.

Who was responsible for the assigning of days-after-breakaway to the episodes? Did the production schedule have the most influence upon this? Not that the dates on the episodes entirely correspond with production order, but the first 7 or 8 episodes were the first 7 or 8 to be filmed, etc.. When it came to decide what the date should be on an episode, was it you who had the final word?

Not me.

Why were the dates given to the final seven episodes so peculiarly ordered, with "Dorzak" and "The Seance Spectre" occurring within 3 days of each other, and with three episodes, "Devil's Planet", "The Lambda Factor", and "The Immunity Syndrome", transpiring over a six-day period?

I don't know.

The opening episode of the second season, "The Metamorph", was given a days-after-breakaway date of 342 days. Why was the first season not given a wider berth in terms of time passage, such as 1000 days, instead of a mere 342?

I don't know.

Was Season 2 intended as a remake of Space: 1999 rather than as a continuation?

Season 2 was intended to keep the series alive. It had been cancelled and then revived as noted earlier.

Were you aware at the time of your assessment that the first season had a metaphysical element to its stories and deux ex machina (i.e. the intervention of an intangible and spiritual force for the resolution of several of Alpha's predicaments)? Did this bother you in addition to the preponderance of long conversations in the stories, lack of humour, vague or uncertain conflicts, slow pacing, and almost non-existent characterisation?

The first part of your question doesn't ring a bell. The second part is right on target.

How would you respond to the Season 1 fan refrain that Maya's power was itself a deux ex machina, that the Alphans depended on Maya to save them from every difficult situation?

Maya certainly helped the crew a lot, but I wanted Martin Landau and Barbara Bain to be instrumental in solving problems.

Are you of the belief that philosophical commentary at the denouement or conclusion of a story is not essential to convey a message of moral or philosophical import (i.e. that such a message can be presented subtly inside a story)?

Messages should be presented inside the storyline and never obviously.

How did your pseudonym of Charles Woodgrove come about?

I don't remember exactly, but I would assume we were hungry for scripts. Also, we were restricted as to the number of Americans permitted on the show. So, it wasn't the most honourable way to go. Gerry came up with the Charles Woodgrove name which I believe is a pseudonym he used. You'd better check with him on that one since I am hazy on the details.
NOTE: This is probably correct. Gerry Anderson's Space Precinct is credited as a work of Grove Productions- and Mentorn Pictures.

Disparagingly, of course, several fans have compared the concepts of Season 2 with those of the corny camp "classic", Lost in Space. There was an episode of Lost in Space that begins with Dr. Smith plucking a flower on an alien planet and being accused of murder by the vegetation of that world. This is also the inaugural premise of your Space: 1999 script, "The Rules of Luton". Most fans cannot seem to overcome this basic comparison, which really ends quickly after the hook of the episode, and enjoy "The Rules of Luton" as a solemn, not campy, trial-by-combat ordeal for Maya and Koenig (which in no way parallels the unfolding silliness of Lost in Space's "plant planet" story). Were Lost in Space's "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" and Star Trek's "Arena" episode both in your mind when you conceived "The Rules of Luton", or were the story elements arrived at entirely by coincidence?

I did not watch Lost in Space. Not because I had any quarrel with its quality, but simply because its time slot did not fit into my schedule.

Gerry Anderson rolls his eyes in a lamenting way and jests about the need for "men in white coats" to attend mental aid to you when he talks about your idea about "talking plants". How do you feel about this? Do you believe that it is against artistic integrity for one producer to publicly attack the ideas of a colleague?

If Gerry Anderson objected to the concept about talking plants, I wish he would have conveyed it to me. He was the executive producer... His objection would have been enough to cause me to abandon the story.

Mention has been made by the actors that "All That Glisters" was a difficult episode to shoot because the actors and director Ray Austin could not suspend their disbelief about the concept of a living, sentient rock. Do you recall any problems in filming that episode? Do you still feel that the notion of rocks on an alien planet possessing self-regarding consciousness (i.e. silicon-based intelligent life) is valid science fiction?

A lot of people on the show didn't accept the concept of a living rock. It surprised me that anyone involved with science fiction would have trouble with that concept.

Martin Landau has stated that you and he had many arguments about Koenig's actions. He says that in several instances, Koenig would make an unprovoked, preemptive attack against aliens, etc. (though I am at a loss to find any such action in any episode; all of his attacks or attempted attacks seem to me to be provoked and understandable). Do you remember such contretemps between you and him?

I do not believe I ever permitted an unprovoked attack on an alien. I did have discussions with Martin Landau when he felt his character did something "out of character". My point was that a character could act "out of character" if properly motivated.

Would you say that your relationships with cast and crew were pleasant in every case during the production of the second season?

I was under the impression that they were.

The sheer amount of still-photography done during production of Season 2 is astonishing. Several thousand (possibly more than 7,000) exposures were evidently shot and converted to slides. Were there photographers present on the set at all times?

I believe there were.

Did you write synopses of the episodes for ITC's information package that was distributed to television networks and stations? If not, do you know who did write them? These synopses were used by ITC for the jackets of laser videodiscs in 1991.

Frankly, I don't remember.

A scene in "The Metamorph" of Maya changing into an orange tree was in early prints of the episode that were sent to television stations for a special August, 1976 premiere of Season 2, and then was removed on all films of the episode from September of 1976 onward. What might have been the reasoning for this change?

I have no idea.

Donald James, who wrote "The Exiles", "Journey to Where", and "The Seance Spectre", had worked with Gerry Anderson in the 1969 feature, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, about a living mirror image of the Earth and all of its people on the opposite side of the Sun (a beautiful concept!). Yet, he evidently did not contribute to Space: 1999 until Season 2. Were any of his scripts "leftovers" from Season One, or were they newly written in 1976 and commissioned by yourself?

Newly written.

In "Journey to Where", Maya sips some of Tony's beer and teasingly changes into Mr. Hyde. Were her playful transformations such as this your idea or those of the script writers (in this case, Donald James)?

Donald James'.

Is it true that Abe Mandell decreed that there should be more monsters in the show and later totally reversed his directive and ordered the monsters stopped? The majority of fans who detest Season 2 always deride the "rubber" monsters of the middle episodes. Do you believe that they were suitably used in the context of the stories? Same for Maya's more exotic, otherworldly transformations?

Abe Mandell never interfered. Of course, I thought they (the monsters) were suitably used. Sometimes, they may not have come off as hoped.

Gerry Anderson has said that Mandell came to England a few times while Season 2 was in production to view the "rushes" and to recommend ways of further tooling the show for an American audience. According to Anderson, Mandell urged him to increase the monsters and then later wanted the monsters removed entirely from the remaining episodes. Is it possible that these deliberations were occurring without your knowledge?

I have no recollection of that situation.

To what extent were you involved in Moonbase and Eagle set redesign and Alpha wardrobe changes?

Very little involvement.

Gerry Anderson has said that Season 2 had inferior production values to its forebear and is therefore technically as well as artistically degraded. What is your view on this?

"Production values" was not my area.

On average, how much revision did you need to do to scripts?

It varied. Some very little. Some a lot.

The second season of Space: 1999 reportedly had a scientific consultant, Prof. John Taylor at Cambridge. To what extent was his advise sought?

I have a faint recollection that there was a technical consultant. I don't believe I ever met him. Gerry may have sent scripts to him for authenticity.

Who decided that pairs of episodes should be filmed simultaneously? What criteria was used in deciding which scripts should undergo revision to accommodate the limited availability of certain characters?

I don't remember.

Did your idea of Maya in "Space Warp" changing from creature to creature in a delirious attempt to leave Alpha and return to Psychon, arise from the necessity that Catherine Schell be on the outdoor set for the simultaneously filmed "A Matter of Balance"? Maya's transformations on Alpha in "Space Warp" were performed by men in monster suits, enabling Ms. Schell to appear extensively as Maya on planet Sunim in "A Matter of Balance".

As far as I remember, there was no connection.

Whose decision was it to shoot some episodes ("Journey to Where", "The Rules of Luton", and "A Matter of Balance") on location out of doors?

Probably Gerry Anderson's. I don't recall any problems.

Who decided on the order in which episodes were filmed? Was it a group decision, or did you or someone else have sole authority in this matter?

I had nothing to do with scheduling.

For how long did you remain in England after production finished on Season 2?

About a week.

Do you remember the sequence of events after the completion of "The Dorcons"? Reports were that ITC was considering a third season until as late as the end of 1977.

Not that I'm aware of.

Antipathy toward the second season has not diminished in the past 22 years. One would think that as people have aged, they would have mellowed somewhat and grown more appreciative of the series AS IT WAS, with its two styles. However, the opposite is true. Daily, glib attacks and personal slurs upon you mar the Space: 1999 Mailing List on the Internet, and a 2-hour videotaped documentary on the making of Space: 1999 produced and distributed by Fanderson in 1995, when dealing with Season Two, is essentially a prolonged diatribe against your work, with some major names scathingly assailing the second season and invalidating minority fans of Season 2. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

Everybody is entitled to his opinion.

How did you become producer of the final season of The Six Million Dollar Man?

Gerry Anderson and I had formed a company. We had submitted material to an American network. I was also in contact with CBS on a prospect for us. While I was waiting for reactions, a producer friend of mine asked me to be his story consultant. I agreed on the condition that I could withdraw if need be since I was hoping the reaction of the networks would be favourable and I could return to England. Nothing developed in that area, and four weeks later, Universal asked me to switch from story editor for Quincy to be one of the producers on The Six Million Dollar Man.

A two-part episode in that season was called "Dark Side of the Moon" In it, a prospector on the Moon was causing Lunar orbit to decay. Did your experience with the premise of Space: 1999 influence you to approve this script? It was a very interesting one.

No. It was the writer's idea.

In The Making of Space: 1999, you are paraphrased as saying that British science fiction writers are far ahead of their American counterparts in concept but are less good at structure. A very astute observation! The 27-year run of BBC's Doctor Who was almost always innovative in ideas, if somewhat slow in plot development, while Star Trek has resorted to repeating itself again and again. What is your opinion of science fiction today?

I loved science fiction as a kid, and I love it now.

What works of science fiction (books or movies) did you enjoy in your youth? Did you read Wells, Verne, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, etc.? What concepts impressed you?

All those mentioned. In addition, in the 1930s and 1940s, there were magazines published in the U.S.A. which I loved- Astounding Stories and Amazing Stories. Also When Worlds Collide, Dracula, The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2001, Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Mars" series, and so many more.

What is your opinion of Space: 1999 today?

Because the powers in control decided that the first season was not successful does not mean that the productions were not well done in terms of the acting, the directing, the stories. There are many reasons why a series is cancelled other than quality of the episodes. Ratings is the economic driving force. Are people watching the series? Obviously not enough. So, Lew Grade and his advisers decided that if the show was to succeed in the second year, it could not be the same as the first season. So, changes were made. And obviously, the public did not respond. So, the series came to an end. What I am saying is that it is a waste of energy, it seems to me, to argue that one year was better than the other. The single fact is that neither season attracted enough audience to sustain the series. Wouldn't it be pleasant if the fans accepted that all of those involved in producing, acting, writing, and directing did their best and are as disappointed as the fans that there wasn't a third, fourth, and fifth season? But life goes on, and we have to adjust. I find that for me the best thing to do is not hunt for someone to blame but to find solace in the future.