Darrell Vickers – Your Package Has Arrived

When The Tonight Show was cantering through its year-long goodbye victory lap, Andrew Nicholls and I were far from coasting to the finish line, sipping jumbo daiquiris and hoovering astonishing powders out of topless starlets’ Miu Miu pumps. While Johnny was retiring to enjoy his riches, Malibu estate, yacht and the loving arms and legs of his young 4th wife, Andrew and I had accumulated families that required regular feedings.

Johnny and Alexis Maas – His 4th and Final Pair of Loving Arms and Legs

So, we doggedly set to work to ensure that our assorted babies and brides would continue to receive an ample supply of Klondike Bars and Yoo-Hoo. In that final year of the legendary show, we wrote monologue and produced desk spots by day and penned pilots for half the comedy shops in Hollywood by night. In between breaths we also punched up a series in Canada about a cop who was reincarnated as a dog. It wasn’t nearly as good as it sounds. If that wasn’t sufficiently arduous, we were hired to write emergency dialogue for Michael Caine in the movie version of “Noises Off” – because audiences couldn’t understand what was going on in the original screenings. (There’s a crazy story behind our involvement in “Noises Off” – but that’s for a future column.)

1991-1992 passed by in a blur. If only that were true of 2020!

From Little Acorns

When in Los Angeles, this is where you cut off your Slauson

In the fall of 1991, we received a call from our agency to rush on down the 405 to FOX Studios, at an average speed of 3 ½ miles-an-hour, to meet David Neuman. Mr. Neuman was a young, energetic, super-smart producer who had a peach of an idea. Usually when a producer comes up with such a thing, he is brutally beaten and left for dead at the side of the road but amazingly David had managed to evade being biffed insensate by the Quality Police. His concept for a series centered around an alcoholic teacher who hated children, to be entitled “Shut Up Kids.” We loved the premise and rushed home to fashion a “Fawlty Towers” for early education. I will leave the head-scratching “Shut Up Kids” stories for another Pulitzer Prize-worthy article, but that script made us one of the hottest writing teams in town. Slithery agents immediately attempted to poach us from our “boutique” representation. While these smarmy come-hithers were flattering and tempting, Andrew and I are remarkably loyal individuals/chumps/dupes/patsies/hoodwinkees and nobly rebuffed all such sordid entreaties and inveiglements.

Meanwhile, we were being pursued by all the major studios big-time. Paramount, Warner Brothers, Aaron Spelling, Sony, Columbia – you name the entertainment giant and we dragged our risible dog and pony show into their offices in an attempt to replace a portion of our generous Tonight Show remuneration.

Because of “Shut Up Kids” – later rechristened “Drexell’s Class” (don’t get me started), Fox was one of the most aggressive studios in pursuit of our lucubrationary services. A late entry into the Nicholls & Vickers sweepstakes was Lorimar TV.

Lorimar Trivia:

Lorimar, in its early days, was owned by the mob. Apparently (and I know this from someone who was personally involved), they used to shoot TV shows on the sets by day (The Waltons,” “Eight is Enough”) and shoot porn films on them at night.

Back to the Story:

One of the FOX executives (and there was a veritable shiver of them) working on Drexell’s Class had slithered his way over to Lorimar. Let’s call him Davey.  Now, Davey was more than a little ethically challenged and about as sharp as a wet brick. We were once discussing a scene where someone walks onscreen and delivers a line to one of the other characters. Pretty simple doin’s really. Mr. Deep Thinker stopped the meeting – like he was Jonas Salk about to cure polio – to suggest that we have the camera show a shot of the door so the audience would understand how he got into the room.

But, while little Davey barely had the brain power to chew gum at the same time; he did see real value in our talent and recommended us to Les Moonves.

Les already had a reputation about town, but not the one that would eventually sink him like the Exxon Valdez. I called around to a few showrunners under the Lorimar flag and the consensus seemed to be that Mr. Moonves was a world-class asshole but he sure knew how to get shows on the air. Hey, we’d worked for Hall of Fame corn dispensers before and there wasn’t a studio head e’er born that wouldn’t slit your throat to get a better spot in line at Walgreens. That was just the nature of the business. Sure, throw Lorimar into the pot of contenders.

Over the next month, the serious were separated from the merely curious and the multitudes were winnowed down to two top contenders. Fox – our original fans and the Johnny-come-lately Lorimar. Let the bidding war begin!

Our agency (Shapiro/Lichtman) hammered out the details while we continued to wrap up our tenure on the Tonight Show. One day, I get a call. The final decision was in. “It’s Lorimar.” I was a little disappointed but money is money and they had put the most attractive package on the table (much like what Les was apparently doing in his office, when the door closed). But more importantly, all our financially anxious moments and career uncertainty were now in the past. We could relax.

And Then:

A few days later, as I was pulling my sporty import into the parking lot at NBC, I spotted Stuart Sheslow walking across the tarmac. Stu had been a leading executive at Fox and a major force in trying to bring us under their shingle.

Shit! I tried to keep my head down, so he didn’t see me. I’m exceedingly uncomfortable in commonplace social situations and this one was really, really awkward. It was like running into the nurse who just gave you your colonoscopy, while you’re holding three jumbo chili cheesedogs.

I stealthily parked and sat there for a minute or two, like a teenage girl in her underwear hiding from a goalie-mask-wearing psycho. Then…

Knock. Knock. Knock.

It was him.

FUCK!!!

I smiled wanly and got out of the car to meet my fate. To my surprise, Stu was in a great mood.

“Hey man, glad I ran into you. We’re going to do some great things at Fox.”

What was happening? Didn’t he know? Obviously, he didn’t know. But how could he not know?

“Yep, the deal is almost done,” he beamingly continued.

“That’s great,” I replied, smiling like a brain-damaged gibbon.

“We want you to head up our new John Ritter project.”

“Hey, wow. I’m a big fan.” More gibbon grinning.

“You made the right decision, buddy.”

“That’s what I’m famous for. Ha ha.” Oh God.

The torturous march to the studio reception area seemed to last for hours. I hadn’t lied or smiled that much since my dating days.

When I got back to the office, I was in shock and exhausted. Like I’d just lost my virginity to a Walmart paint shaker.

What the fuck was going on? And… how could Fox not know that we had signed with Lorimar? How can a bidding war end with one side not being aware that they had lost? Doesn’t the loser have to decide to stop bidding and concede?

My post-traumatic call to our agency shed nary a foot-candle of light on the situation.

“Fox made a bid and Lorimar’s was better,” my disingenuous agent informed me.

“But why didn’t you go back to Fox?”

“Because, they said that was their bid. They weren’t going to go any higher?”

“Didn’t you ask them?”
”Didn’t need to.”

Eventually, the truth came out. The reason for all the mysterious negotiations/non-negotiations was… Fox didn’t offer a package deal and Lorimar did. As part of a standard package deal, the agency received a percentage of the licensing fee of any series we created. This can be tens’s of thousands of dollars per episode. In return, the writer gets to keep his-or-her traditional agency commission. There was a huge – obviously, irresistible – incentive to go with the studio offering instant riches, rather than just settle for 10 percent of the idiot client’s paltry takings.

We had been sold down the river. Hung out to dry. Butt-buttered and hosting an unwelcome penis party. Needless to say, we were about as happy as Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes. But, as with most bad faith buggerings in life, things were about to get much, much worse.

All hell broke loose when Fox caught wind of the shifty shenanigans that had transpired. Harris Cattleman (the head of the studio) immediately rang Les and loudly demanded Fox be allowed to buy our purloined contract from him. Harris’s intemperate but not-totally-devoid-of-reason request quickly had its pants kicked down the stairs.

The back-and-forth squabbling escalated. We were the ever-lovely Jean Seberg, while Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin were in the next room loudly bickering over whose night it was to bone us.

And then it got even worse…

It’s midnight on a Saturday and I’m snuggled up in the warm and comforting embrace of sweet Morpheus. RING!!! My phone bursts to life like Carrie’s arm shooting up from the grave. What the fucking shitpot? Is it a family member? Is somebody dead? Has something horrible happened?

Oh, yes it had.

On the other end of the line was an apoplectic Harris Cattleman. I had never even talked to the man before in my life, but here he was, the head of a major studio calling me at home, at midnight, and screaming blue murder into my auditory canal. “This is a fucking outrage! You got fucked! We got fucked! Shapiro/Lichman are fucking scumbags! I’m banning every one of their shitty clients from my lot. Get out now! Fucking leave!”

And on he bellowed and threatened and snarled for a good 15 minutes with no more than a micro-second or two between a fiery flurry of “fucks,” “assholes” and “cocksuckers”. And I was the victim! By the time our remarkably one-side conversation had surceased, I was partially deaf in one ear and required a Xanax the size of a Smart Car to get back to sleep.

After another week or so, the inter-studio vituperation, finger-pointing and bellicose remonstrations finally settled down and we spent 3 ½ very up and down years at Lorimar/Warner Brothers. During our tortured tenure at Moonves Manor, we were treated to plethora of perfidious prevarications, bushels of betrayals, masses of misery and eventually Robert Townshend. But very little of that originated with dear old Leslie. Perhaps he was too busy inappropriately cavorting with myriad womenfolk to really pay us no nevermind.

Davey, the little pudgy rodent, is now executive producing shows I’ve never heard of and I’m sure he’s as giddy as he is short, making other, better people’s lives a living hell.

Andrew and I waved so long to Shaprio/Lichman, soon after this double-dealing debacle, for a top-tier agency that turned around and ripped S/L off for millions of dollars. Darn! I just hate when that happens.

Now, thanks to the Writer’s Guild, the type of package deal that cost us money, sleepless nights and the lining of my stomach, is about as popular as a seersucker condom – a Pop Rocks enema – elevator music at a hanging.

In Conclusion:

Who knows what would have happened if things had turned out differently and we’d ended up at Fox and worked with John Ritter. Alas, the unstoppable and oft-times-cruel hands of time only swing forward and you can never go back. That’s what daydreams are for. To be able to close our eyes on a perfect and sunny spring morning and imagine a fairytale land where no one had ever even heard of Robert Townsend. Sigh. Ah, what a wondrous world that would have been.

Robert “Meteor Man” Townsend

=DV=

Please scroll down to leave Your Comments, Kudos, and Complaints

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

One Response to “Darrell Vickers – Your Package Has Arrived”

  1. Philip Billnitzer Says:

    love it

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