Darrell Vickers – Have Mercy Part 1 – I Cheat the Hagman

Andrew Nicholls and I hardly had a moment to paint an old lady during the hustley-bustley year of 1991. We were as hot as Meg Ryan before she surgically turned her lips into sea-plane pontoons.

Looking back, I have no idea how we found time to fit in all the mad scribbling we did. Weekends and evenings were taken up with massive amounts of brain-crushing toil instead of the coked-up supermodels in penguin suits that I’d envisioned, once success in Sin Town was mine. ~Sigh~  In the waning days of Camelot we had signed an overall deal with Lorimar but were still furiously shoveling carloads  of comedy coal into The Tonight Show boiler. Simultaneously, we were funneling highly risible works of art (scripts) and reams of whimsical one-liners to Drexell’s Class. If that wasn’t sufficiently exhausting, Andrew and I were also airlifting pallets of punch up to a remarkably dreadful Canadian series about a talking dog but we regretfully had to bow out before our heads exploded like Louis Del Grande in Scanners.

Our Pound of Flesh Comes Due:

When a major studio offers you an overall, they don’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts. For sure not! They have no hearts. Studios are Alien-like creatures, burrowing deep into the bellies of their writer/producers, omnivorously feasting off their talented hosts ‘til they have drained and stained all that is original and unsullied from their corporeal remains. And once the insidious, intemperate Glitter Machine believes they have sucked your well completely dry, they gnaw off the last pieces of gristle and spit your marrow-less bones onto the sidewalk.

Fresh Meat:

Les Moonves (the criminally friendly president of Lorimar) had already phoned all over town to find out what kind of commitments they could stockpile on our behalf, before we were offered a bent, moldy nickel. In other words, Les was betting on a sure thing. Akin to laying down money that cross-eyed, syphilitic McDonalds clerk has just rubbed his dick on your ice cream cone. Equivalent to the chance that the shower soap is dry at Mickey Rourke’s house. On par with the probability that every one of those people over there eating Lithuanian food is Lithuanian.

The phone rang a yoctosecond after our iffy contracts were signed, and off to their Burbank headquarters we gamboled. Time to suckle the expectant beast. Our honeymoon period at Lorimar was still in the thralls of its most romantic and tender moments. We’d been carried over the threshold but they hadn’t fucked us yet.

Our comedy point man at Lorimar was a tiny malevolent insect with almost no sense of humor, named Davey. He was a stocky, conniving little shit that shamelessly turned his sails in the direction of any breeze, regardless of how anemic, that he perceived to be blowing in the right direction. His word was as worthless as a Trump University degree. He was a beady-eyed, furtive little troll and it is an honor and a privilege not to call him friend.

As we sauntered into his office, Davey leaned his short, pudgy carcass back into his overstuffed executive chair, with an iniquitous grin. “I’ve got some good news, boys. We’re going to give you Larry Hagman.”

A Good Start:

Now, besides still being alive at the time, Larry was a major, major star and had a 13 episode pay-or-play deal with CBS. Apparently he’d been yapping with Patrick Duffy, who was playing straight-man to Suzanne Somers on Step By Step and enjoying the shit out of it. And there was a heck of a lot of shit to enjoy in Step by Step.  J.R. had read our original version of Shut Up Kids and decided that he wanted us to write his pilot but he had one condition. He didn’t want to work with children. Fine. Children always make a production more difficult. We’re in.

A few pages off our Far Side calendar later, we were invited to drive out to Larry’s remarkable Malibu domicile. I think it might be the only time that I’ve actually been inside the super-exclusive gated part of the colony. Of course I’ll happily return come the revolution, to pitchfork and behead, sparing no one but children and pets.

Larry had a reputation for being a bit of an eccentric. Word was that he didn’t speak on Sundays. He would communicate by pointing and whistling. Luckily, we weren’t there on a Sunday or it would have been a short meeting. Larry was also known to have an abiding thirst which would eventually send him in search of another man’s liver. When we arrived at his manse-by-the-sea, Mr. Hagman was already riding the bubbly tide. He was voraciously glugging Mumms at his living room bar as we ambled into his pricey abode. His wife Maj, who seemed a very decent sort of lady, was far quieter but no more sober. His head immediately swung around like a Scottish pub door as he filled our first flutes of the evening and excitedly introduced us. “Honey, these are the guys I told you about. I read their script the other day and LAAAAAAUGHED!!”

Okay. Things seemed to be off to a good and tasty start.

We really didn’t talk much about this future sitcom we were going to do together. The evening mostly consisted of a tour of his home. And an extensive tour, at that. One of the first eye-popping exhibits on show was his famous retractable roof. With the bibulous flick of a switch, his living room roof pulled back like it was the Skydome, revealing the ultra-ritzy Malibu evening sky.

I know it’s called the “Rogers Center” now but they can go lick a disabled-tree-frog’s dick, if they think I’m going to call it that. Label me an old-fashioned Marxist fuddy duddy, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s still Candlestick Park and not named after a bunch of assholes who sell Scotch fucking Tape. We’re only a couple of rogue Replicants away from living in Blade Runner, for Christ sake. It’s hard to find an institution or public edifice these highly sponsored days that isn’t begging to sell its very last ball hair to the nearest soulless greed factory with “inc.” at the end of its moniker.  How long before we start seeing signs above outhouse doors declaring, “When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best?” A “Red Roof Inn” or “Home of Der Wienerschnitzel” logo over your girlfriend’s hoo-haw?

This kind of corporate lingual-proctology has got to stop?

Back to the Tour:

Larry led us through every room in his knick-knack and memorabilia-laden residence. We were allowed to inspect his custom-crafted Dallas shotgun with the entire cast engraved into the main gunny part’s solid silver. He also showed us these cool works of art he had on display in his closet. Apparently when Larry was on Failsafe, Henry Fonda used to do pencil drawings between takes to kill the time. When he was called back onto the set, Henry would throw them in the trash. Sneaky Larry would then tip-toe over and snatch them out of the trash. I occasionally wonder where those wonderful and historic drawings are today.

We were also granted a look-see into Mary Martin’s bedroom, unchanged since her death the previous year. The entire time, we were being flooded with lashings of medium-priced imported champers. It was an amazing and head-spinning evening.

After bidding our sottish host farewell, we floated on back to the valley and set to work on a suitable televisual vehicle for our assigned star. Over the next couple of weeks, Andrew and I threw three or four possibilities together and motored over to CBS on our lunch break. This was our first time getting to meet the legendary Tim Flack. Tim was super smart, rail thin, bitingly witty and flamingly gay. I only mentioned the latter because Tim wore his gayness proudly. He reveled in his flair and gleefully took everyone around him on a ride down his own personal Rainbow Highway. The town was awash in Tim Flack stories. Tim was at a club and said this. You won’t believe what Tim Flack said to (major star’s name here). He was truly one of a kind and is sorely missed.

Back to CBS:

There are two types of pitches: Those where the exec sits there like Bullwinkle high on Ludes and politely listens to your idea and those where the network wants to be in business with you. The former is like trying to pick up a Du-Pars waitress with “I love you!” written in raisins glued to your forehead. While theoretically not impossible, I can tell you from lamentable personal experience, your chances are infinitesimally slim.

CBS not only wanted to be in business with us, we had Larry fucking Hagman attached! It was like shooting fish in a sardine can. They listened politely, enthusiastically at times, and then we trotted off back to work.

I don’t remember any of our other ideas we proffered that day, and I don’t know why we pitched Have Mercy (it had a child as one of the three main leads) but BOING! That’s the fucker that CBS picked.  I was a tad concerned about Larry’s one stated caveat but Davey, the uber-shallow simpleton, cared not. It was a sale. A sale with a 13-order commitment attached to it. Damn the torpedoes!

Now, if you’re lucky enough to sell a pilot – it in no way means it’s going to get made. It merely guarantees that they’re going to pay you to write the script. If that script is approved by the geniuses at the network, you would then be handed a casting-contingent pilot order. That means they expect you to hook a major star for your sitcom or they’re not going to make it. CBS (and almost all networks and streamers) are avaricious star fuckers. They want a famous celebrity attached to anything they green light as badly as a new swimming complex wants to be named Masengill Springs. Once you’ve snagged your superstar, you produce a pilot and send it off to the Up Fronts. The Up Fronts are where the Networks port all their televisual treasures cross-country to New York and attempt to peddle them to their advertisers. Depending on how Madison Avenue reacts to the booze, food and hookers they’re plied with during the week and… oh, yes, the marketability of your pilot, you either sink or swim. Sometimes you might be tossed a measly mid-season death slot – but that’s pretty well just prolonging the misery.

That is the traditional route, but those multitudinous pesky and fraught steps are blissfully whisked aside if you have a “13” on the air, guaranteed. While all those other suckers are sweating it out over the myriad backdoor dealings in New York, you’re smearing your loins in bacon fat and hanging around in dog parks… figuratively speaking, of course.

Well, after weeks of warning Lorimar (mostly little Davey) that writing a pilot with a child at the center of it was probably going to end as well as hiring Jeffrey Epstein to drive a school bus, they hubristically shipped the finished script off to Larry. He gave it a ruddy-cheeked read and passed. Suddenly and oh-so predictably, we had a casting-contingent, New York Up-Fronts nail-biter of a pilot on our hands.

Hold that bacon fat!

=DV=

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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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