An Interview with Fred Bronson, Part 2: The ’70s
Fred Bronson, who wrote an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series (i.e., “The Counter-Clock Incident”) and co-wrote installments of The Next Generation (“Ménage à Troi” and “The Game”), describes himself as someone who feels “lucky to have introduced two things into canon: Robert April and oo-mox.” In this interview, we primarily discuss his activities in the 1970s, including writing “The Counter-Clock Incident” and appearing in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
What memories do you have of working on “The Counter-Clock Incident”?
I knew I wanted to write ever since I was five years old. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew. And growing up, I read mostly science-fiction. So when The Original Series came along, I really wanted to write for it. But I was seventeen, with no idea of how to get a script to someone, and didn’t think I would be considered as a professional writer, since I had no credits to my name. I did write a full one-hour script for Star Trek in a college class but never showed it to anyone outside of the class (the title, by the way, was “Monument”). Then Star Trek was cancelled and I thought, that’s it, I will never have a chance to write for Star Trek, because there will be no more Star Trek, ever.
In 1971, I was hired to be a publicist at NBC. In 1972, I was assigned to be the publicist for the pilot The Questor Tapes, so that was the first time I worked with Gene Roddenberry (although the first time I met him was in early 1967, when I interviewed him for my college newspaper). The reason I was assigned to the pilot is that my boss knew I was a huge Star Trek fan. In fact, I marched on NBC in 1968 to protest the possible cancelation of the series (this was the march organized by John and Bjo Trimble). And the NBC executive who addressed the crowd was Hank Rieger, who is the person who hired me three years later to work in the publicity department.
In 1973, when NBC decided to put an animated Star Trek series on the air, I was once again the logical (no pun intended) choice to be the series publicist. I treated it like a primetime show, worked closely with Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott at Filmation, and set up many interviews with the press for Gene. I also thought, maybe I could write for Star Trek after all? I did submit some ideas to Dorothy Fontana during Season 1, but she didn’t go for any of them. When a very short Season 2 was commissioned, I again figured if I don’t write for the series now, there will never, ever be any more Star Trek.
I came up with an idea for an episode that I called “War Game”. I submitted it to Filmation and they liked it but NBC did not. Our head of Saturday morning programming didn’t want to do an episode that re-created Earth’s World War II on another planet.
At this point, there was only one slot left, so I had to come up with something right away. And what I came up with was a universe where time runs backwards and the crew becomes too young to run the ship. I quickly wrote “The Counter-Clock Incident” on a typewriter in my apartment in Burbank, California. I submitted it to Lou Scheimer and he liked it, and this time, our NBC executive said yes. Finally, I had sold a script to Star Trek, and not only that, it was going to be the last episode of Star Trek, ever.
I understand that you were the person who introduced Susan Sackett to Gene Roddenberry. How did that come about, and how did you feel upon discovering that they’d had an affair?
I met Susan at an NBC event in June 1970 when I was an intern in the publicity department, a year before I was hired. We became friends and remain friends to this day.
In 1974, Gene was moving off the Warner Brothers lot and his assistant did not want to leave the studio because he had seniority there. Gene needed a new assistant, and I helped Susan to get an interview – and then she was hired.
Although I spent a lot of time with Susan and Gene, I did not know about their personal relationship until several years after it began. So, I was surprised when Susan told me – mainly surprised that I did not realize sooner. Other than that, I had no judgment and we all continued to be friends for many more years – Gene up until the day he died, and Susan to this day.
In “The Counter-Clock Incident”, you established that the mandatory age of retirement from Starfleet was seventy-five. So, how did you feel when Gene Roddenberry brought back Leonard McCoy in the TNG pilot “Encounter at Farpoint” as an admiral aged 137?
After writing my animated episode in 1974, and way before the TNG pilot, I regretted making the retirement age seventy-five. I wasn’t thinking far enough into the future! I still regret that.
What do you recall of being on the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture?
In 1978, Susan called and said that Gene wanted to put us in the movie as extras, along with a few other folks (including Chris Doohan, John & Bjo Trimble, and David Gerrold). We could also invite our friends to audition to be extras, but the people Gene asked did not have to audition; we were automatically in.
There was an evening when we all went to Paramount for the auditions, and I did invite three friends. All of the people there who had to audition were lined up and director Robert Wise went down the line, personally selecting each extra. Two of my friends made it (and are shown prominently in the film) and one did not.
That evening, we were all assigned times to return to Paramount to be fitted for shoes. I was concerned that my assigned time was going to conflict with my job at NBC, so I traded times with someone else.
Then came the day we were to film, in October 1978. We were all told to get haircuts before we arrived, and once we were on set, they cut our hair even shorter. We got into costume and put on our shoes. All of my friends (and the Trimbles and David) were positioned down front (Susan was on the second level) and I went to join them and was told I couldn’t. Why? “Because you have the wrong shoes,” I was told. Arggh! If I hadn’t switched shoe times, I would have been down front and much more visible.
It was a long day of filming and involved a lot of sitting around. But… it was still fun. I never had any interest in being an extra ever again, but I was thrilled to be in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
In part three of my interview with Fred Bronson, we will discuss his experiences of writing for Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Webmaster of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Also known as “The Scotch Trekker”, Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course run at Glasgow Clyde College, and ran The Scotch Trekker YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.