Darrell Vickers: It’s Hammer Time

darrell-vickersLife is a lot like the crack-lines in a sheet of ice when you hit it with a hammer.  They scatter out in all sorts of unpredictable directions and there’s no real way to predict where they will end up.

Andrew and I once received a call to create a pilot for Columbia/TriStar and ended up working with an actor who only had two days to live.

The First Crack

 When first the hammer blow struck, we were running a very enjoyable and quite funny show starring Monty Markham and produced by John Landis entitled Campus Cops.

capus cops with monty markham

Below is a short clip of some memorable moments from this epic televisual saga.

nude girl on Dream OnThis noble half-hour was being recorded in the building where “Dream On” was filmed.  You could almost sense the ghosts of all the naked women that had roamed those dingy halls, waiting for their call to whip ‘em out to be ogled and woggled by Brian Benben.  Alas, our show did not feature vast swaths of gratuitous and unwarranted female nudity.  Still, we were professionals so we persevered regardless.

One day the phone rang.  It was CAA informing us that our services were required on another project.  The execs at Columbia had conjured up an idea that they were smitten with and they wished for us to come hither to see if we would develop it for them.

scotsmanOur studio was situated as far north in “The Valley” as you could go without being attacked by mountain lions.  Columbia was practically at the equator compared to our humble converted industrial warehouse.  But again, when you’re dedicated professionals such as we, you suck it up like it was Dr. Brown’s Draft Style Root Beer.  After a long perilous drive in the rain, we had a terrific meeting with the three execs (that alone was about as rare as a healthy Scotsman).  Their idea was a cute one (now things were getting spooky).  “What if we follow the life of a Batman Villain rather than Batman?”  It was a big, funny concept with lots of possibilities.

A generous deal was struck for our services and we set to work on a treatment.  After a couple of weeks, Andrew and I returned to Columbia with our carefully crafted wares in hand and (grab an adult diaper – this may cause some leakage) THEY LOVED IT!  Was it now time to hire some double-jointed hookers and head to Vegas to celebrate our good fortune?

The Crack Branches Forth

benihana-shrimp-Within a week of that meeting, our three charming execs were summarily shitcanned and the project was as dead as a Benihana shrimp.  But darn it all…they still owed us the money.  Companies like Columbia don’t like to pay writers for doing nothing so they contacted our agent and asked if we would be nice guys and work off our princely sum on one of their existing shows.  We were nice guys, so we said yes.

The Next Crack In The Ice

amy shermanOne sleepy Monday morning, we found ourselves in the production offices of a sitcom called “Love and Marriage” run by Amy Sherman (who would later make it big with The Gilmore Girls).  Amy was an eccentric sort of person but a pretty good egg.  The rest of the staff were funny, quirky people and exceedingly pleasant to work with.  In short, we really liked them and they seemed to like us.  So much so, that when our dead-pilot money was all worked off, they offered us another sizeable sum to stay on for an additional 9 weeks.  What a wonderful way to add even more peach to an already peachy situation.  We, of course, said yes and…the next week the show was cancelled.  But darn it all…now they owed us all this new money.  Well, companies such as Columbia still didn’t like to pay writers for doing nothing – even though they’d committed to fork over this fistful of cash for a show they knew they were just about to cancel – so they asked us if we would be nice guys and work it off.  We were still nice guys, so we said yes.

Craaaack…

The next show dropped onto our punch-up plate was another kettle of fish entirely.

love and marriageUnlike the recently cancelled “Love and Marriage”, this “poisson de bouilloire” was not a happy place.  The original show runner had experienced some run-ins with the network and found himself “at liberty”.  Even though the borderline omniscient network people hated everything the executive producer did, the show was a hit anyway (go figure).  Did these savvy stalwarts of the creative process do the right and manly thing and admit they were wrong and hire back this visionary scribe?   No, they brought in a staggeringly mediocre talent who’d made a bazillion dollars shepherding his own long running and criminally pedestrian sitcom.  Let’s call him Jeff.  Now Jeffrey seemed to have some deep-seeded problem with women.  He had this maniacal compulsion to have sex with as many of them as his short little body could stand.  And, he did not seem to speak very kindly of them once his conquest was fulfilled.  Perhaps his mother had given him an accurate critique of his writing abilities as a youth and he was using his well-traveled penis to get back at her.

Joan's FaceThe staff were uneasy around Jeffy.  Fortunately we were only there one day a week, but you didn’t need to The Amazing Kreskin to sense the “Village of the Damned” vibe sitting in that writers’ room.  There seemed to be an awful lot of ass-kissing going on, like the Jefster would lock them in a dark closet with Joan Rivers’ leftover-face parts if he became displeased.  Or perhaps they feared that Jeff would partake in sexual congress with the close relatives or family pet of those who failed to posteriorally polish him with sufficient ardor.  It was hard to tell.

Now, as much as I found our Lilliputian lothario lacking in talent and couth, he did earn my undying respect for one aspect of his showrunner abilities.

What could this misogynistic no-talent possibly do to impress me, you quite rightly query?

Well…There was a leading actor on this sub-amusing buddy comedy.  Why don’t we call him Eddie?  Now this Ed character was possibly the meanest, most unpleasant person I have ever met in all my born days (And I have worked for and with some world class psychotic Beelzebubs.).

The Tuesday on a sitcom is traditionally when the actors run through that week’s scenes for the writing staff.  That was also the day Andrew and I toiled on this dour ship of sad souls.  At around 4 o’clock, down to the stage we would trudge to see what our delightful thespians had Eddie Freaks Outcooked up for us.  The other lead performer, while not a major comedic talent, had a smooth charm about him and seemed to be an okay fellow.  Eddie was somewhat more excitable.

He would act out each scene as he if were being tortured by Visigoths and then treat us to a ten minute splenetic diatribe about the shitty script and how we had failed him and humanity by having the unmitigated chutzpah (my word, not his) to foist it upon him.  Everyone would stand in horrified silence as the Edster pranced up and down in front of Jeff and practically set his hair on fire with a tsunami of vitriol and contumely.

I have never been partial to taking an undeserved verbal shellacking.  In fact, there is a legendary account of myself and the woefully untalented star of a sitcom standing nose-to-nose in the parking lot at Warner Hollywood screaming at each other while the audience waited for us to come back in and finish the taping.

Jeff’s approach was somewhat different.  He would wait patiently for Ed to run out of steam and acid-drenched invective and then look up at him from his chair and inquire, “Well, how would you like to see the scene, Eddie?”  This would take some of the bellicose wind out of the actor’s sails and he would commence elucidating his unassailable comedic vision to the shell-shocked wordsmiths.

The Final Crack

jason benardLittle did we know that our third and last week on this joy carnival would give us a story for the showbiz ages.  The episode was entitled “The Dead Guy”.  They had hired Jason Bernard, a very accomplished actor, to guest star.  He portrayed a despicable lout who fakes an injury so he can file a ruinous lawsuit against the bar/restaurant owned by our heroes (Jason was a seasoned sitcom vet and nailed the part wonderfully).  At the end of the first act, he ends up dropping dead in the restaurant’s kitchen just moments before the health inspector is due to call.  The second act is pretty well Weekend at Bernie’s…or Weekend at Bernard’s in this case.  Unfortunately, Eddie had some creative ideas concerning the script.  As the week progressed Jason’s part became smaller and smaller.  His lines were being systematically removed to allow Ed to say additional “funny shit”.  Plus, our poor guest star ended up dying far earlier in the episode so Eddie and his co-star could have more fun dragging his corpse around.

casketBy Thursday Jason had had enough of these shenanigans and words of an animated nature took place on set.  Feeling that things were spiraling out of control, Mr. Benard decided to retreat to the sanctity of his SUV and commune with his soul.  About an hour went by and someone decided they’d better go check on him.  Alas, when they knocked on his car window, Jason “The Dead Guy” was actually dead (of a heart attack).  He’d spent the entire week lying in a coffin and now he was going to be residing in one on a permanent basis.

The grief-stricken studio observed a suitable mourning period of about eight and a half seconds before grabbing the phone and calling around for a replacement.
The show was shot on Monjames hongday, instead of Friday, with James Hong taking Bernard’s place.  Luckily James was not quite the method actor as his predecessor and he survived the filming.cracks in ice

And on we go, following those unpredictable cracks wherever they may lead, till that hammer strikes down with its very last blow on our sheet of ice.

=DV=

If you like the writing, then check out my serial novel at the link below.

There is a new chapter every Monday.

http://chateaudietrich.blogspot.com/

Darrell Vickers appears here every 4th Monday 

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.co

DBAWIS_ButtonDarrell Vickers started out as one half of Toronto area band, Nobby Clegg.  CFNY fans may remember the cheery song “Me Dad” which still gets airplay.  From there, he valiantly ventured to L.A. and eventually became head writer for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Since then, he’s created numerous sitcoms and animation shows in Canada and the U.S.  He still writes music and has an internet band called Death of the Author Brigade (members in Croatia, Canada and the U.S.)   Mr. Vickers also had a private music mailing-list where he features new and pre-loved music.  Anyone who would like to be added to his daily mailing list, just write him at Radiovickers1@gmail.com .

 

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