The Catacombs Catacombs Reference Library
An Interview with Fred Freiberger

An Interview with FRED FREIBERGER Part II

By Mike Clark and Bill Cotter, Starlog 40, November 1980, p58-61 Cybermuseum version

p58 p59 p60
Editor's Note: The following is the second part of our exclusive interview with the controversial producer. In the first part, Mr. Freiberger discussed his involvement with the Star Trek television series, among other projects he as worked on during his career. Part II focuses on Freiberger's involvement with Space: 1999.

STARLOG: Tell us about your work on Space: 1999. How did it come about?

FRED FREIBERGER: We had meetings with Abe Mandell and Gerry Anderson, and I went over to England for three weeks to discuss the feasibility of continuing the series. We had to generate enough enthusiasm and confidence in Mandell and Lew Grade's organization to make it a viable series the second year. Gerry and I sold them on continuing the series based on this new character, Maya. One of the reasons I was able to come up with Maya was part of my science-fiction background. I worked three years with Hanna-Barbera on their Saturday morning shows. Working in kid's television sparks your imagination; you can do some wild things.

SL: Some viewers have expressed the thought that Maya was a "token alien."

FF: Nobody was thinking "token" anything. Star Trek did a lot of morality plays - that wasn't my concern here. I was there to get a show back on the air again that would get ratings and would be entertaining in the American sense.

SL: Was Catherine Schell your original choice for the Maya part?

FF: No. We went after Teresa Graves to be Maya. We wanted her but we heard that she was deep into religion and had gone into retreat somewhere... had left acting. The original Maya was to have been a black girl. We did test a lot of black girls in England. We would have loved Teresa Graves, but we couldn't get her. Abe Mandell recommended Catherine Schell; we looked at the Pink Panther film she was in and were quite impressed. The character of Maya was a tough concept to sell to the British writers, but for some reason, easier to sell to the Americans. I knew that science-fiction fans would accept this character if we did it right.

SL: Were you considering major cast changes for Year II?

FF: When I went over to England, Barry Morse played a scientist in the series. I said, "Gerry, if you're going to have anybody as a professor, he should be a young kid with a beard. Do something different. Another problem with the show is that you can't have people standing around and talking and being philosophical with these long speeches... nobody will hold still for it. Let's do some switches on the characters." There was a big question of the budget. We made several trans-Atlantic calls to Martin Landau and Barbara Bain... would they take a salary cut? They wouldn't take a cut. People assume when you're making an offer that you're lying and that they're in the driver's seat. This show was on the edge for weeks... it looked like we were finished. I stayed an extra week, and then it looked like 1999 had a life when I came up with Maya.

SL: What happened to Barry Morse?

FF: Barry Morse's agent came in demanding a big raise. Gerry made him a counter-offer. Morse's agent made a bad tactical error which was sheer insanity for an agent. He said, "No. If it's not going to be that amount we're finished. We're out." So immediately Gerry said, "Okay, you're out." What an agent should say is, "He's out... except... I'll have to check with him." We had big discussions about how to explain the disappearance of Professor Bergman, that he had a disease or something, and they asked us to take it out. Barry Morse is an excellent actor, but I felt his part was all wrong.

Like the Landaus, Morse was actually offered less money. After negotiations, he accepted a lower offer, but was dropped anyway.

SL: How did the changes in Barbara Bain's character come about?

FF: When I had spoken on the phone to Barbara, whom I had never met, she was charming and delightful. I said, "Barbara, why don't you do that in the series?" Her training at the Actor's Studio in New York told her: Be economical, which was all wrong for the type of show. I tried to give her more to do. I tried to give her some sense of humour because she's a natural in social situations. She's sharp. She knows story and character very well. Marty [Landau] was a delight, an excellent actor and fun on the set... he tells beautiful stories. I have great respect for Marty and Barbara, but I think science-fiction should have young faces.

SL: Why was the character of Sandra seen sporadically in Year II?

FF: Zienia Merton, who played Sandra, wanted more to do and was offered a job somewhere else, so we lent her out for several episodes and brought in the character of Yasko, director Ray Austin's wife. We kept Nick Tate. Nick was very nervous when Tony Anholt came in, and always had his agent on us. We tried to use everybody. The New York office told us to drop Tate; I said no, it would be wrong.

See Zienia's comment below. It seems that Gerry Anderson pushed for Nick Tate, and Freiberger was initially ignorant of his popularity in the show.

SL: Tell us about other changes for 1999's second year.

FF: We cut down the whole vast control centre... cut down the loss of Eagles. I felt if we were going to use violence of that sort... use it meaningfully. The English, when they did these shows, desperately wanted to reach the American market, since that's where all the money is. And they would interpret "action" literally as action--shooting down a million Eagles... blasting away and doing wild physical things... instead of dramatic action... conflict. These are tough concepts for them to be able to understand and accept.

SL: Overall, what were the problems with 1999, as you saw them?

FF: They were doing the show as an English show, where there was no story, with the people standing around and talking. They had good concepts, they have a wonderful characters, but they kept talking about the same thing and there was no plot development. 1999 opened extremely well in the United States and then went right down the tubes. There was nobody you cared about in the show. Nobody at all. The people themselves didn't care about each other. I did a whole thing where I at least had a scene where somebody said, "My God! He's gonna be hurt! Is he dead? Is he alive?" They just didn't do that. In the first show I did, I stressed action as well as character development, along with strong story content, to prove that 1999 could stand up to the American concept of what an action-adventure show should be. Abe Mandell was pretty nervous, but we were well received by the reviewers.A few of them said, "Gee, the show is vastly improved, but it's too late to save it."

SL: Why were there no American guest stars on 1999?

FF: British union rules. Marty and Barbara are both Americans. Even when I came over, they had to get special dispensation for me. For there to be an American guest star, I think there would have been big problems with the unions.

SL: Were you able to use any American writers?

FF: I was allowed six American writers, but in answer to your question, no. I didn't want to work from 3,000 miles away.

SL: Were you getting acceptable scripts from the British writers?

FF: At the beginning of the season you're very fussy about scripts, but as the year goes on and you reach 18 or 20 episodes, the stuff that looked terrible to you at the beginning starts to look like pure gold. I would explain things to the English writers very carefully--because I was sensitive to their feelings--how the script should be written for the American viewer. They were very cooperative, very creative. There were several English plot structures I came across that I felt weren't right for us (mostly in terms of character), for an action-type series. As a television series producer, if you do 24 one-hour episodes, and end up with four clinkers, I think you've got one hell of an average. I wrote three scripts under the table, using the pseudonym "Charles Woodgrove." I took the job and was just paid expenses. My stories were "Space Warp," "The Rules of Luton" and "The Beta Cloud."

SL: Coincidentally, we wanted to ask why Maya's metamorph abilities were changed in "The Rules of Luton" script. In other stories, Maya could change from one form to another without reverting back to her normal self. In "Luton" she is changed into a bird, captured and held prisoner in a small wire cage, unable to change into something smaller and escape. Why was this done?

FF: In this case I'll just have to claim "writer's license."

SL: "Beta Cloud" seemed to be a rehash of the standard B.E.M. (Bug-Eyed Monster) type of story.

FF: What I did was try to get into the situation. How do you defeat the undefeatable? What intrigued me is that the Alphans could not seem to defeat this creature. Finally, Maya becomes a bee and enters the creature's ear, discovering it to be a machine. David Prowse, who of course is now famous as Darth Vader, was in that costume.

SL: How many days on the average were you given to shoot an episode of 1999?

FF: Ten days, not including our special effects stage; nine hours of shooting a day. In the U.S., you begin work at 8 a.m. and pull the plug at 6 p.m. In England, its 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The shoot more in the U.S., too, because there's overtime built into the budget.

SL: In a press release sent to STARLOG, ITC says the second season budget for 1999 was upped from $6 million for Year I to $7.2 million for Year II. This would break down to $300,000 per episode. Was that your typical working budget?

FF: That's nonsense! We brought them in for $185,000 per episode, which got them fantastic production values. That $300,000 figure is probably just for publicity. In England, at that time (1976), the pound dropped to $1.80, so they got enormous revenue in terms of dollars. The 1999 budget was predicated originally on pounds. When the pound dropped to $1.80, for the dollars they got in domestic sales here, they got that many more pounds in England. So, in essence, that budget leaped way up. The studio had legitimate costs of about 25 percent. No way can you get a show in America for $200,000. The fringe benefits alone amount to one-third. A second assistant director in America gets $900 a week! And that's not counting overtime. We did a black panther sequence on 1999 (in "The Exiles") ... Catherine Schell made a leap and transformed into this panther... in mid-air. We spent the whole day and it cost us $5,000. In America it would have cost us $50,000!

SL: Is it still a good idea to do a series in England?

FF: I think so. I still think you can get, probably for two thirds of the cost here, the type of production values necessary. The facilities are great, and so are the people.

SL: Had Space: 1999 been renewed for another season, what changes would you foresee?

FF: Well, I don't know if I'd make any changes. I think I injected a lot of humour, especially between Tony and Catherine. As for Martin and Barbara, I think I beat the bad relationships. I think if they would have the budget for not only American guest stars, but if they could have really paid for high-class English actors, they would have had a hell of a lot better acting. But, in terms of changes, I think that American guest stars would be appealing for the American audience.

SL: Could you give our readers an idea of what's involved in writing for a television series?

FF: Using the Harlan Ellison Star Trek script as an example... Roddenberry and Gene Coon rewrote his "City on the Edge of Forever" and Ellison submitted his first draft to the Writer's Guild awards, and it got the award. Now, that doesn't mean that the staff people were wrong in what they wanted to do, or that he was right. This is the nature of this business. If people come in to produce a show... Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon or whoever, that show has to be shaped in terms of what they think. There are 1,200 active writers in the Writer's Guild. Writers have fragile egos. The come in and submit something. You generally know your show better. You change that show; you rewrite the show. You suggest what they do. You make suggestions. The professional writer is one who has been in the business and knows what it is. No writer likes to have what he's done changed. Some of them will accept the fact that some good suggestions are made and will follow the guidance of the people who are running the show. The writer comes to the producer and tells him the idea. The get the assignment. All are cut-off assignments, cut off after story. They then come in with the story and discuss it. They adjust. At no time does a writer have to, if he's got such integrity, and I do not say that disparagingly, accept the change. All he has to do is leave and say, "Just pay me my money for that story and I'm finished." They don't have to go on with it after that.

The people who are running a show have to run that show. The can't let 22 different writers come in and determine how the show should go. You've got to shape it, rightly or wrongly, ratings and otherwise. The average writer that I know, if he's been around, he gets 50 percent up there on the screen.

There isn't too much joy in the actual writing. The term "hack" has a stigma attached to it, but it shouldn't, because it's much tougher to hack out a job for a format show than to write an anthology show, where you have no restrictions. But if you're "hacking" out a job on Ben Casey or Star Trek, you've got to handle their characters. You've got to shoehorn your story into a situation where these characters can come in where they probably don't even belong. You're stretching the story and doing things to get these people into that show. And it's very tough. You have to be a real craftsman. But if you hack out a job for one of these shows, you're doing pretty damn good. And they would always pay more money for an anthology show than for an episodic show, and we couldn't understand why, because it was so easy to do an anthology show as opposed to the other.

Integrity's a wonderful thing when you can afford it. I have no great admiration for the guy who wouldn't work in television or wouldn't work in a show and chose to stay in a garret and starve to death. I don't want to live that way, but I admire and applaud his right to do that, if that's what he wants.

With Beyond Westworld behind him, Fred Freiberger is now concentrating on a new project, Space Station Starburst. Projected as a Saturday morning show for CBS, this live-action series would chronicle the first manned space station in Earth orbit. The show will be realistic, with background information supplied by NASA. If the series is sold, a start date for the 1981-1982 TV season will be set


Starlog 42, letters

I'd like to make some comments regarding the second half of your interview with Fred Freiberger in STARLOG #40. First of all, I think perhaps I should explain how he became involved with Space: 1999. From my point-of-view, after the completion of series one, the New York office of ITC Entertainment asked me to find an American head writer. I went to Hollywood to seek out someone who knew anything about SF and who was prepared to come to England immediately and stay for a year. It was quite a project to find someone like that who was available. When I found Fred I, of course, contacted ITC-New York and they said, 'Fine, but why is he available?' When you think about it, it was kind of silly since a person who wasn't available would be of no use to us at all.

Fred's comments about Catherine Schell, Barry Morse and the Landaus are basically correct. I'd like to emphasize that he is quite right about Barbara and Martin being very nice people. In fact, I had a very good relationship with them on both series and we kind of lived in each other's pockets for quite some time. Unfortunately, right towards the end of series two I had a bust-up with Barbara Bain that I have always regretted, but I think it was a result of the terrible pressures that were on me.

Regarding his comments on Zienia and Nick: because we had two American artists on the show, British Equity insisted that we carry a large British cast which resulted in too many actors on the show . We tried to be fair to them all. When you think about it from their point-of-view, after being on the show for a year, one would naturally feel that they've done well and should be deserving of more lines and a bigger part. That's perfectly reasonable, but it simply wasn't possible to accommodate all these people and, as a result, there were weeks when they didn't appear and there was some discontent. In retrospect, I feel that it was all totally understandable - regrettable, but understandable.

Fred's account of the changes for series two are, for the most part, correct. However, I think it was really wrong to say, "that series one bombed out and I, Fred Freiberger arrived in England to put it all right. I did put it all right and the show was much better. What a shame it didn't work because I arrived too late..." If it was going to be too late, then he shouldn't have accepted the job.

I think when a show is successful, everybody wants to prove that they were right and take the credit. But when a show goes wrong, it's the other guy's fault. I think the show failed to get the ratings ITC-New York expected because the show was produced in committee. You know the saying, "Too many cooks spoil the broth." As series one went along, the committee got bigger and bigger and I don't think this was the way to produce a show. I could have been the kind of producer that said, "Look, you do it my way or else," but then, of course, that's kind of abusing one's position. If I were writing out the salary checks each week from my own bank account, I'd be entitled to do that, but as long as other people's money was involved, I obviously had to take note of what they said. I was really an employee, not the employer. I think the way to make a TV series is to accept someone's idea for a show and back him if you like the concept.. If he does well, back him again, if not, throw him out and get somebody else. You don't just keep feeding ideas into the machine until it blows up.

It's very difficult to have ITC-New York telling us to use as many American writers as we can and then have our American story editor said, 'I could have used six writers, but I didn't want to work from 3,000 miles away.' It's a point I can understand but for the same token, why have an American head writer then?

He raised the point of the British writers having difficulty accepting Maya. This is fair comment. Generally speaking, we find it difficult over here to accept an idea unless it is really believable. If one could believe that Maya was undergoing this change, then I think the British writers would have written for it very easily.

Since Fred has gone on record as having written "Space Warp," "Rules of Luton" and "Beta Cloud," here are your genuine American scripts. How do you think they rate to the scripts for series one? Who am I to say if they're better or worse? To me, a good script is one that entertains.

I'd like to say that I did get on extremely well with Fred Freiberger so I don't want to knock him. He had great respect for the British crew and they got on well with him. The only criticism I'd go for is that I think that we're all big boys. Fred, ITC-New York and myself were all members of that committee and I think we all should accept our fair share of the responsibility where Space: 1999 went wrong.

I accept my share.

Regarding the pace at which Space: 1999 and other British TV series are shot, I'd like STARLOG readers to name one American-made show that had the quality and number of sets, amount of optical FX and process work that appeared in the average Space: 1999 episode that was shot faster in the U.S. for the cost of $185,000 per hour.

Lastly, which do you like better, series one or two? Write Dave Hirsch at STARLOG and let him know your vote.

Gerry Anderson

Buckinghamshire, England


Regarding Fred Frieberger's comments on me (STARLOG #40), how could I possibly have been "lent out," as he puts it, when I was not under contract in series two?

Zienia Merton

London, England