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October 13, 2015

Harlan Ellison bests CBS Paramount over 42 year-old Star Trek episode

by Allison Waldman, posted Oct 24th 2009 10:02AM
city_on_the_edge_of_forever_STYou have to admire the tenacity of writer Harlan Ellison. He filed a lawsuit against CBS Paramount accusing the company of not paying him for all the ancillary income the company earned from the episode of Star Trek he wrote in 1967, "City on the Edge of Forever." Yesterday, Ellison announced on his web site that he had settled with CBS Paramount and he was very, very pleased. He didn't reveal how much money he made, but he probably did quite well.

After all, CBS Paramount has done very, very well with that original Star Trek episode. It's regarded as -- and is -- the all-time best show in the entire original ST canon. Ironically, Ellison never liked what Roddenberry and company had done with his script.

He accepted the accolades that the show won -- a WGA best original teleplay honor and a Hugo award -- but he bitched and moaned about Star Trek. Among Trekkies or Trekkers (whichever camp you're in), Ellison was both revered and reviled.

It's understandable that Ellison wasn't thrilled with the changes made to his script back in 1967, but he did take the awards the show won. And it's also understandable that Ellison was looking to cash in on the success of that particular episode. When he saw talking Christmas ornaments based on the guardian of forever (from his script), he must have thought that he earned a piece of the action (another episode that he had nothing to do with).

So, Ellison sued and today they settled. Good for him. I hope that in the years ahead he'll stop kicking Trek and appreciate that 42 years after the show aired, it remains the preeminent episode of an iconic series.

I can hope, but I don't think hard-hearted Harlan will ever be so sanguine.

[Check out Star Trek episodes on SlashControl.]

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Samuel John Klein

If anyone wants to know exactly how Harlan feels/felt about the COEF story, original screenplay and all, you would do well to acquire (by hook or by crook) a copy of "Harlan Ellison's City On The Edge Of Forever: The Original Screenplay That Became The Classic Star Trek Episode" (ISBN 13: 978-1565049642). It not only has the original version of the screenplay and some alternative treatments, epilogue comments from many of those with at least a tangential relationship (Dorothy Fontana, David Gerrold, Walter Koenig, et. al.), and a wonderfully written, heavily opinionated, frank, blunt, classically Ellisonesque remembering by The Man Himself of the whole thing.

I have this book and recommend it highly, at least as a look inside television for fans. It's very compelling. Several copies are available at Amazon; if your local library is wise and enlightened, they may have a copy.

It will clear up a lot of questions about how it really was and how Harlan felt about it.

(Disclaimer: I am an avid Ellison fan. I am in no way connected with Amazon or any entity that will benefit from any sales of the aforementioned book. I speak only for myself.)

October 25 2009 at 11:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Paul McCall

"He accepted the accolades that the show won -- a WGA best original teleplay honor"
The WGA award was for his original screenplay, not what was altered and then filmed.

October 24 2009 at 11:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Paul McCall's comment
Vincent J. Murphy

Correct. And he accepted the Hugo in memory of the original butchered screenplay, so he's been pretty consistent.

October 24 2009 at 5:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Gunter

As I recall what Ellison wanted for the ending was very dark and very different than what Star Trek symbolized and stood for.I believe he wanted Kirk to choose letting the history he had come from implode in order to save Edith Keeler (sp?) thereby rendering everything that had come afterwards previously nonexistant and creating a history where Hitler ruled the world.Not exactly warm and fuzzy huh?If that's true he shouldn't be surprised or angry that it was changed and yes he should be reviled.He should also be looked at as a bit overly materialistic for so strongly chasing the money for something he can only claim some credit for.

Can you imagine the reception for the episode had it been as it is reported he wrote it?

October 24 2009 at 11:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to David Gunter's comment
King Zilch

Trouble is, D, that part of the story--having to let Edith Keeler die for the sake of history--survived more or less intact. The full original script was published in book form, and was vastly different:
--Instead of McCoy's accidental drug overdose, they are on the Forever planet to execute a crewmember for killing another crewman who caught him dealing narcotics. It's that crewmember who alters time.
--There is a whole subplot where, after Kirk and Spock travel through the Guardian, Uhura and several others return to the Enterprise to find that, due to the meddling in time, it's now crewed by vicious pirates.

The ending is more or less the same, and that, to me, is the problem.

I know I'm going against Trek orthodoxy, but as much as I admire Harlan Ellison and support him in this...City On The Edge Of Forever was never that great an episode, in any form.

Yeah, the love story that forms the central conflict is a good idea, but everything surrounding it - the Enterprise being gone/altered but everyone remembering it, the "mnemonic memory circuit" that magically lets Spock see the possible future, but only in this episode - is just illogical, kludgy storytelling.

October 24 2009 at 5:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can't reply to Zilch's comment for some reason, but he exactly reverses the Keeler/history choice that D mentions. I'm just sayin'.

At the risk of generalizing, I've always felt that "Edge of Forever" is the consensus choice for best Trek episode among SF fans who watched Trek but never considered it "real SF." "Forever" had Harlan Ellison, therefore it's the best episode. If it had been written by Jean Lisette Aroeste or Steven Carabatsos, it would be remembered as just another raid on the Paramount costume shop.

For me the best episodes will always be "Balance of Terror" (Paul Schneider) and "Is There In Truth No Beauty?" (Aroeste). Both of them pure TV and pure Trek.

October 24 2009 at 7:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I consider myself a casual Trekkie but I don't know the episodes by name. Chances are I'd recognize a general rundown of the plot, though.

October 24 2009 at 10:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim Kosmicki

Why does everyone think so dichotomously? Why does it have to be all or nothing? Harlan is justly proud of his original script and idea. The basic story and a large part of the script were not changed. Harlan never likes anyone changing anything he's written. Why he keeps getting involved in a collaborative medium with that attitude is a different question. I can see why he would accept the kudos and awards for the majority portion of the episode that was his while also acknowledging that there were changes made that he felt made it weaker than what it COULD have been. In my experience, the Trek fans who can't handle Harlan have problems with anyone having any critical opinion towards the franchise that isn't part of the accepted canon. Tain't nothin' perfect, puddytat - not even your beloved Star Trek. I have always found Ellison to be an intriguing mixture of bombast and talent - I never expect to agree with the entirety of his arguments, but can almost always see where he is coming from. He makes ME think more complexly about things, and that's what a good critic does.

October 24 2009 at 10:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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