Darrell Vickers – Shut Up Kids

For the Want of a Horse

Andrew Nicholls and I were finishing up our last year of The Tonight Show and we were busier than Robert Downey Jr.’s lawyer in the ‘90s. Any reasonably priced writing assignment that didn’t involve a rapping kangaroo was graciously accepted.

Young Darrell  and Equally Young Andrew 

One hectic and sweltering afternoon, we got a call from our hectic and sweltering agent to hie on down to Fox Studios to meet an exec named Stu Cheslow. It’s a long, hot, joyless drive from Burbank to Fox. Especially at rush hour. This was rush hour. Despite our sustained efforts to attain a speed faster than the car parked in front of us, we were late and Stu had flitted off home. We were weary, disappointed and flambéed but even so, Andrew and I remained gentlemen. We only briefly considered wringing our L.A. rush-hour butt sweat into his pencil drawer.

But, as the subsequent sun arose in a smoke and soot sullied sky, the phone rang afresh. Fuck!! It was Stu again and he was still at Fox. After some majorly suasive coaxing from our dogged ten-percenter, we donned ultra-absorbent dungarees and agreed, once again, to jump into our Easy-Bake-Oven-on-wheels brave the 405 Southbound.

Upon our more timely arrival, a miraculously present Stu informed us that he had a producer he wanted us to meet. A wunderkind with an overall deal and a boffo idea for a sitcom. David Neuman had worked in the White House for our-third-or-fourth-worst president and now had his own bungalow on the lot of the second worst studio.

Oh great! Yet another trip down the 405 at rush hour!

But – this one was worth it.
David was unlike a lot of studio execs. For one thing, you didn’t want to dropkick him in the trachea before he could draw one more unspeakably odious breath. More differences: Mr. Neuman was exceedingly smart. He also had a great sense of humor to go along with a warm smile and humble charm. Unfortunately, he also had a terrific idea for a sitcom, which led to lies, ridiculous rewrites, bad casting, false accusations, withholding of monies owed and eventually cancellation.

But First the Idea:

The concept was fairly simple, as most good ideas are. What if a W.C. Fields-type character named Otis Drexel was forced by foul circumstance to become a teacher. This pugnacious little premise was to be entitled Shut Up Kids. Wowsers! Talk about tailor made. Being rude and offensive was what I did best. Especially after a couple of glasses of wine. We loved it. Andrew proclaimed that we wanted to write this pilot for him, just to protect it.

The Script:

So, we hied on back to Sherman Oaks to formulate an appropriate plot. Right from the get-go it was important to illustrate just how miserable and disliked Otis was at work and how put upon he was by his unhappy superiors.

Part of the opening scene between Drexel and Principal Itkin:

ITKIN

You know what I see here, Mister Drexell?  I don’t see a teacher.

(SHE SLAPS THE FILE CLOSED)

ITKIN

I see a dishonest, misanthropic, hedonistic drifter who has somehow crawled out of a sewer grate into my school to preach his amoral poison in front of 20 impressionable children.

OTIS

(SHIFTS, CLEARS HIS THROAT)

You know, I have an extra ticket to the fights tonight and I was wondering, if you’re not doing anything and you don’t mind getting a little blood on you…

ITKIN

If I had an inkling of your sordid history when the Board placed you here I would have dug a moat around this school with my bare hands to keep you out.

OTIS

And may I say, you’ve picked just the right dress for it.

ITKIN

(RE-OPENING FILE)

Chronic tardiness… discourtesy to fellow staff members… pinching the student teachers…

OTIS

Only the women.

ITKIN

…laundering hosiery in the staff room sink.  You’ve spent more time in this office in disgrace than most of the students.

OTIS

They’re short.  I’m more conspicuous.

(ITKIN HOLDS UP A LARGE ENVELOPE)

ITKIN

Do you know what this is?

OTIS

An advance on next month’s salary?

ITKIN

It’s your Waterloo.

OTIS

Am I Wellington or Napoleon?

ITKIN

This is your six-month report.  Part “A” is the in-class evaluation I’ll be conducting today.  Part “B” is the State exams your class took last month.  And part “C” is my personal assessment of your character.

OTIS

Say, is that a new hairdo?

ITKIN

I won’t keep you in suspense; you’ve already failed part “C.”

OTIS

(A NEW TACK)  I wasn’t planning to tell you this…

ITKIN

What is it, the truth?

OTIS

I didn’t want to worry you unnecessarily but I’m gravely ill.

ITKIN

What makes you think that you being gravely ill could possibly worry me?

OTIS

They say I’ve got what killed Will Rogers.

ITKIN

A plane crash?

We reveal that Otis is justifiably teetering on the precipice of getting shitcanned, and if he does, he goes to jail for failure to pay back taxes. Further tipping the scales against our loveable anti-hero, Drexel is a souse, a liar and can’t help insulting people he doesn’t care for. In essence, the character that David Neuman had envisioned.

Itkin’s Secretary

How’d it go?

OTIS

I held my own.  Had to, or she would have ripped them off.

(OTIS POURS A COFFEE)

Itkin’s Secretary

You know, drinkin’ that stuff ain’t very kind to your heart.

OTIS

Why should I be kind to something that’s eventually going to kill me?

He’s also not a big fan of his students.

OTIS

Is that gum or poison in your mouth, Willie?  If it’s gum, spit it out.

KENNY

Sir…I’ve got a question.  Sir?  Sir?

OTIS

Kenny, if I give you 50 cents will you go play on the other side of the street?

KENNY

Sure!

OTIS

Here’s a quarter.  Go stand in the middle.

When all hope is seemingly lost, Drexell gets tossed a lifeline. A former racetrack worker gives Otis a tip on a series of fixed horse races. With a small initial bet and reinvesting the winnings, he’d be a millionaire by the end of the day. Of course, Drexel has no money so he steals the school’s petty cash (which is going towards purchasing a swing set for the children) and he enlists the aid of a 10-year-old student who is even less scrupulous than he is to place the bets.

(NICOLE WALKS IN.)

NICOLE

I ordered your grapefruit, Mister Drexell.  In fact, the first (BIG WINK) “grapefruit” came in while I was there.

(OTIS REALIZES SHE’S WISE.)

OTIS

Excellent. There may even be a taste of the citrus in this for yourself, if you can keep iet-quay.

NICOLE

Ifty percent-fay?

OTIS

O to hell-gay.

As time goes hilariously by, his picks begin to bear substantially sizeable fruit. The fourth race is a winner as Drexell goes gleefully home to pack. This is where we run into his daughters. Their opinion of “Daddy” does not diverge significantly from that of the general public.

GLORIA

Why’s all your stuff beside the door?

OTIS

Fredda, Gloria…what’s the best news you could possibly hear?

FREDDA AND GLORIA

We’re adopted.

OTIS

To think I could have gone bowling those two nights…

By the time Otis returns to school, he has been victorious in six of the seven races. The big comedy scene then unfolds in the staff room. The staff and parents alike are screaming at Drexel for the many outrages he has perpetrated upon them during the day but by this time his final horse is five lengths ahead with no other nag capable of catching him. In less than a minute, Magic Moment will cross the finish line and he’ll be a millionaire! Otis is now exultantly released from the kowtowing shackles of his penury. Thus, he wisely chooses to enlighten all those present on exactly what he thinks of them.

OTIS

And you, Kalb!  I’m free of you at last!  I’m not a vindictive man but I hope you’re fired and your hair mates with sewer weasels!

(ROSCOE BACKS AWAY FROM OTIS IN TERROR.  ROSIE ENTERS WITH THE MANILA ENVELOPE)

ITKIN’S SECRETARY

Mrs. Itkin, the State exams arrived.

OTIS

You won’t need those to get rid of me, you inflexible, barren, potato-shaped sack of malice!  Because I quit!  I only wish I could take those children with me so I could save them from your dreary, repetitious, mediocre…

          TRACK ANNOUNCER (V.O.)

Magic Moment has fallen!

OTIS

…excuse me.

(OTIS PICKS UP THE TV AND SHAKES IT, TRYING TO GET THE JOCKEY BACK ON THE HORSE)

OTIS (CONT’D)

Get up!  GET UP!

TRACK ANNOUNCER (V.O.)

The jockey may have broken his leg.

OTIS

What does he need his leg for, he’s riding a horse!  Get back on, you hormone-deficient coward!

TRACK ANNOUNCER (V.O.)

The horse doesn’t appear too badly hurt… they won’t have to shoot him.

OTIS

Shoot him!  Shoot him anyway!  Then shoot the jockey!  Then shoot me!

Otis then faints from overwhelming despair. Losing is not received well by his 10-year-old partner in crime.

NICOLE

I’m standin’ here with a taste of nothing, you big fat swindler!

(NICOLE BEGINS KICKING OTIS. SHE APPEALS TO THE ADULTS WHO ARE LOOKING AT HER IN HORROR)

NICOLE (CONT’D)

C’mon, I’m just a kid!  Somebody help me!

The Stunning Denouement:

By some miracle, Drexell’s class did exceptionally well in the State Exams and he avoids unemployment and a trip to the hoosegow. In the ultimate scene, his daughters come by the school to wish the somewhat dour and inebriated Otis a happy birthday. The final moment of the episode is Drexell blowing out birthday candles and his bibulous breath catching fire when it comes in contact with the flame. The end.

This script went around town like a case of the clap. It eventually landed us a big overall with Lorimar but Fox had some concerns.

“There’s an awful lot of horse racing in this.”

“Well, the horse race is what gives Otis the courage to go off on everyone in the block comedy scene. The scene that everyone loves.”
”Yeah, but there’s an awful lot of horse racing in this pilot.”

Well, you can’t argue with razor sharp reasoning like that, so we moved the horseracing to late in the first act.

“There’s still a lot of horse racing in this script.”

In-fucking-explicable. But hey, this was our first pilot for a major network, so we pushed all the horse racing into the second act and cut it down even there. Now it had a mere three mentions. The last being the block comedy scene which everybody loved. Surely…

“There’s an awful lot of horse racing in this.”

“But there isn’t a single mention of horse racing in the entire first half of the show.”

“I know, but you’re still thinking about it.”

WTF???

Well, this was absolute genius! Or, more to the point, the Fox execs imagined their home audience to be replete with absolute geniuses. Perspicacious enough to be reduced to an anxiety-ridden puddle over a minor, but important, plot point that wouldn’t even occur for another 11 minutes.

Typical Fox Home Viewers According to Fox

What these infantile fucknuts were actually saying was, “We don’t want to see a goddamn horse within 10 fucking miles of this pilot.” But instead of just reading the headline aloud – perhaps embarrassed that they were tearing apart an exceptionally well written script – they performed the death of a thousand cuts. It’s sooooooo much easier to force Andrew and Darrell to write three or more fucking drafts – while still holding down a full-time job – than it is to say, “Regardless of how good this script is, we want something completely different because we’re just that kind of capricious douchebags.”

That’s called honesty. You don’t have any choice about how jaw-droppingly stupid you are. You can’t help having no taste or a sense of humor. But you do have a choice about how honest you are. But apparently being three brain cells shy of a tasteless, humorless, dishonest gibbon will get you your name on the door of a Goodwill-decorated office on the Fox lot, so…

The script snippets above were not even the first draft. This was just the one I could lay my hands on. If all the versions of this script were turned into German soldiers, they could have reinvaded Poland.

The daughters were out. Then the daughters were back in. More children. Less children. Nicole (my favorite character in the show) lasted about as long as Rush Limbaugh’s Oxy stash.

And that was all before the production week, where all the really big and regrettable “adjustments” were made!

Ray Siller – the former head writer of the Tonight Show – once told us that he’d written an episode of Laverne and Shirley. He said by the time it hit the air, only two words remained of his original, well-received, script. “Chocolate Hernia.”

Similarly, we only had one phrase from those original pages remaining. “Holy Hopping Snot.” Yes, we were very proud.

In the few short months from concept to pilot, the script went from W.C. Fields to Field of Dreams. This once edgy tome was now as drippy as June Allyson after a 7-11 Big Gulp.

Did we protect it? Nope, we sure fucking didn’t. Was the end product an improvement on what we started out with? NO FUCKING WAY!!!

While it’s almost impossible to get a show on the air, it is far, far harder to get a show you’re even half proud of on the air.

It’s fortunate that David, Andrew and I – optimistic jaspers that we were – didn’t foresee the dark tumescent toxic clouds that would soon rain malevolent sprites, armed with staple guns and finishing nails, down upon us. Being forced to hack off big slices of our child with a Stupid Knife while wanly remonstrating that we liked the way she looked before.

Sigh.

Well, at least we got to keep David’s original title. No. Only kidding. We weren’t even allowed that small victory. The network changed it to the brilliantly prosaic Drexell’s Class.

Truth be told – and it almost never is in entertainment – most writing for television really comes down to the Steve Miller ditty, “Take the Money and Run.” But with Drexell’s class – we didn’t even get to do that!

But that story will have to wait for part 3.

=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

2 Responses to “Darrell Vickers – Shut Up Kids”

  1. Damon Hines Says:

    Faaah-aahh–aaahhh-kneeee!!

  2. Price Patricia Says:

    I think I had Mr. Drexel in 8th grade math. He had lost a hand and part of that arm in some sort of factory accident. He loved to torture us us by telling us that daily and rolling up his sleeve to expose the not particularly attractive stump.

    We all hated him but not nearly as much as he hated us.

    Sometimes having a good memory is a bitch.

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