Fred Freiberger (1915-2003)

Legendary television writer and producer Fred Freiberger, who died in March, aged 88, had been a producer on American television series such as The Wild, Wild West and Star Trek prior to becoming head writer and producer on the second season of Gerry Anderson’s Space:1999. Making drastic changes to the series’ original format that offered Space:1999 a reprieve from cancellation after the first season, Freiberger instigated the addition of the Psychon metamorph Maya (portrayed by Catherine Schell) and security chief Tony Verdeschi (Tony Anholt) to the cast, moved the focus of Moonbase Alpha operations away from Main Mission into a smaller Command Center set, and injected humour and warmer interaction between the characters into the dialogue. Apart from rewriting the majority of the Year Two scripts, Freiberger also contributed complete scripts for three episodes (The Rules Of Luton, The Beta Cloud and Space Warp) under the pen name Charles Woodgrove. He also worked with Gerry Anderson on abortive attempts to develop the series concepts Rescue 4 and Starcruiser for American network television.

Born on 19th February 1915 in New York, Fred Freiberger began his career in advertising in the late 1930s and was then stationed with the US 8th Air Force in England during the Second World War. In November 1943, he earned the Purple Heart after being shot down over Germany, where he spent 22 months in a prisoner of war camp. Liberated at the end of the war, he moved to Hollywood where he began his career in the film industry as a film publicist, but a Hollywood strike and the subsequent shortage of films to promote led Freiberger to try his hand at writing. He became closely involved with Comet Productions, run by Mary Pickford’s husband Buddy Rogers, and wrote the screenplays for 13 feature films including The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Egypt By Three (1953), Big Chase (1954), The Black Pirates (1954), The Beginning Of The End (1957), Blood Arrow (1958) and Crash Landing (1958).

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Freiberger became increasingly prolific as a television writer and worked on series such as Zane Grey Theater, Ford Theater, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Have Gun Will Travel, Wanted: Dead Or Alive, Rawhide, Bonanza, The Fugitive and The Big Valley. In 1961, he became one of the producers of the ABC medical drama Ben Casey, and went on to produce CBS’s fantasy western series The Wild, Wild West in 1965. Three years later, he replaced Gene L. Coon and John Meredyth Lucas as producer on the third season of Star Trek, overseeing the classic series’ final 24 episodes. Here, Freiberger produced many memorable episodes including fan favourites such as All Our Yesterdays, The Tholian Web, Is There In Truth No Beauty?, Spectre Of The Gun, The Enterprise Incident and Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, in addition to the infamous Spock’s Brain, The Empath and The Way To Eden episodes.

Further television writing assignments followed on Josie And The Pussycats In Outer Space, Petrocelli, S.W.A.T. and Starsky And Hutch before he relocated to England in the autumn of 1975 for 18 months’ work on Space:1999 at Pinewood Studios. Three weeks after Freiberger’s arrival, he and Anderson were informed by ITC managing director and financier Lew Grade that he had decided to cancel Space:1999‘s second season, but Freiberger produced a critique of the first season and suggested new ideas that would endear the programme to American viewers, finally convincing Grade to give the series another chance. Although many of Freiberger’s ideas broke the boundaries of what Gerry Anderson considered to be ‘credible’ within the context of the programme and often infuriated series star Martin Landau, he nonetheless produced a wide variety of entertaining and memorable episodes that remain popular with fans, including The Metamorph, Journey To Where, Brian The Brain, New Adam New Eve, The AB Chrysalis, A Matter Of Balance, The Immunity Syndrome and the two-part story The Bringers Of Wonder.

After Space:1999 was cancelled, Freiberger returned to Hollywood where he became executive story consultant on Kazand producer on the fifth season of The Six Million Dollar Man. On the latter series, he deliberately introduced more science fiction elements into the scripts with episodes such as Dark Side Of The Moon, Return Of The Death Probe, The Lost Island, Date With Danger (all two-part stories), Bigfoot V and Just A Matter Of Time. He later wrote for The Dukes Of Hazzard, produced the short-lived CBS series Beyond Westworld, script-edited the first season of Cagney & Lacey and became executive story consultant on the long-running Superboy series.

Fred Freiberger died of natural causes at his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles on Sunday, 2nd March, aged 88. He leaves his wife Shirley, a daughter, son and two grandchildren.

Originally published in FAB 46.