Darrell Vickers – Have Mercy Part IV – Show Them No Mercy!

As this happy-go-lucky little episode commences, Andrew and I were un-merrily scampering back to our very temporary offices on the Warner lot to begin unnecessary script rewrites while simultaneously searching for a new leading lady. Mr. Steinberg had wandered off in search of a phone to fire our old leading lady. We, by far, had the easier task. David said that Heather cried limpid, glistening, voluptuous tears that you could sell in any adult book store in America when she received the unfortunate news.

Actually, he simply said she wept, I just imagined the rest. But, on the bright side, getting shit-canned from our show did allow Ms. Locklear to join Melrose Place and become one of the most successful TV actresses of the ‘90’s. You’re welcome, Heather!

To make our appointed task even harder, Teri Hatcher was no longer available. Since losing out on the role, Ms. Hatcher had been freed up to star in four hugely successful seasons of Lois & Clark. You’re welcome, Teri!

We wearily dispatched invitations to a couple of our previous feminine favorites for one more quick run-though of lines we’d heard a millions times. One of our enchanting-actress callbacks was Isabella Hoffman. Isabella had just come off 4 years as a regular on Dear John. She was funny, smart and as sexy as all of Sharon Stone plus a Demi of Moore. But Isabella also possessed an inner strength that was vital for the role. She was hired. Finally, we had our Janet! Who knows what magnificent, life changing career opportunity would have come her way if we’d picked someone else! Sorry, Isabella!

Ms. Hoffman was a dream to work with. We loved her but I guess she was having problems in her marriage (since dissolved). One of our writers became quite upset because her husband would sit in the stands during rehearsals and say snide things about her performance under his breath. Fortunately, she was a total pro and none of her personal problems impacted her brilliantly funny performance.

More about our Famous Director

Our Famous Director with Famouser TV Host We Wrote For

During the many years Andrew and I worked with David, he was always full of surprises. Our first voyage into the unexpected came at a sumptuous lunch we sat down to immediately apres our topsy-turvy, starlet-firing table read. The waiter approached our table at the Warner Brothers’ eatery, as we eyed the snootily calligraphied list of overpriced victuals on offer. David ordered some vegetable dish and a highfalutin brand of bottled water and then turned to us. “I’m not a bleeding-heart animal lover… my brother is walking around with someone else’s heart in his chest.” Gee, you learn something new every day.

The WB menu actually had a tasty fruit plate on it – including that big green berry that looks like an airsick gerbil.

As I stated in an earlier blog, David loved to tinker with people’s heads. Every reading of the script receives a large stinky pile of unwanted network and studio “help.” It usually means dismantling the script and then having to spend all night and half the next morning trying to piece it back together again. One such suggestion was proffered by the powers that be. “Fuck,” thinks I. “That obliterates our entire second act.”

While this was a champagne fountain of piss for the writers, it was also a gigantic headache for the director. The more we rewrote the script, the more work David had to do blocking the altered scenes and trying to pound all the new dialogue into the actors’ brains.

David thought for a moment. “You know what I’m kind of concerned about?”

He paused contemplatively so all about the table leaned in to hear his sage comedic counsel.

David wrinkled his visage in deep-rooted concern. “That first exchange between Danny and the cab driver.”

I was a little confused. It was a rock solid joke and got a huge laugh at the read-through. Then, I saw his genius blossom and bloom before me like that big whiffy flower at Huntington Gardens.
”Really?” responded a dubious studio exec.

“I thought it went really well,” remonstrated a network stooge.

“It did get a terrific response, David,” I added.

Steinberg shrugged and then mentioned something about lunch or the weather. Whatever it was, we never ever got back to discussing that original highly disruptive network note.

As the years, the pilots and the episodes drifted on by, I learned to keep an eye out for these little mental sleights of hand. You had to. Sometimes they were for your benefit and sometimes they weren’t.

This show had just about everything. Stars dropping out. Stars being fired. A 12-episode commitment. A no-episode commitment. A producer with no discernable sense of humor. Marital disunity. Childbirth (Andrew’s son Cody was born while I was interviewing Gregory Harrison for the lead role). We even had an earthquake.

Now, after you’ve lived in L.A. for awhile, you react to these little tremblers differently than the average Joe from somewhere else in the country.

Back Story

One day in 1980, Andrew and I got the bright idea of driving into Toronto from Oshawa to drop off our resume at the CBC Yorkville offices. We had about as much chance of landing a job there as Charlie Sheen does of making it to 60, but there were very few places to earn a crust in Canadian showbiz and besides, there were a lot of great places to eat lunch in The Big Smoke. We listed all the shows we’d worked on in radio and TV and for the heck of it added that punch-up was a specialty.

When I got home the phone rang. It was the CBC. Wow! The woman on the other end of the line said, “So, you’ve done a lot of punch-up.”

I said, “Yeah, I guess so. Sort of.”

“Because that’s what we’re interested in.”

“Well, you’re talking to the busiest punch-up guys in Canada,” I deftly pivoted.

And “Bing!” we were hired to punch-up the second season of Flappers.

It was a glorious time. We actually earned actual money for actual writing. Unprecedented! Every week we would receive a script from a Canadian writer living in L.A. I don’t think there was a single episode written by a lowly scribe who was still forced to reside in his native land. There was a lot of that back in those days. If you still lived in Canada, how good could you really be? Two of the scripts were actually written by an American from New York. Her name was Marianne Meyer and they were a clear cut above the other piles of paper we were employed to breathe life into.

Ten Years Later

We had a small budget to hire a couple of writers. We immediately hired Bob Smith – from the Tonight Show – possibly the funniest writer of his or any other generation. I have worked with a few geniuses in my life and Bob certainly has a comfy seat at that illustrious table. And we still had enough money to bring in a second scribe. Hmm. Who? Warner Brothers thought it would be good to have a woman – to shave the edges of our often caustic humor here and there. Marianne’s name came up and we sent her a letter. When she saw it in her stack of mail, an envelope from The Tonight Show – she thought is was some sort of promo-material and didn’t open it at first. I can only imagine what she thought getting a note out of the blue, offering to fly her out to L.A. from a couple of guys she’d never met and hadn’t heard from in a decade. Luckily, she accepted our unexpected offer – though she did wisely ask us to send along confirmation of her plane ticket before saying yes.

 

Back to the Story

The Marianne, The Me, The Andrew

So there we were, sitting around late, late one night and the capricious ground began to move beneath our sleepy feet. The windows started bang. The lights wavered. The usual palaver.

Marianne turned whiter than Casper’s albino cousin and bolted for the door like Mike Pence in a room full of divorcées. The rest of us “West Coasters” remained in our chairs. When an earthquake begins, you wait. Unless it’s a San Francisco/Fukushima city-leveler, you hang tight to see how big it’s going to get before deciding on the next course of action. It stopped after a few seconds and our next course of action was to order some Chinese food.

On With the Show, This Is It!

When the big day came, Andrew and I were as nervous as a sore nipple at a baby convention. As with most multi-camera shows of the day, Have Mercy was shot in front of a studio audience. David dashed back and forth between the set and the recording booth – regularly dropping by the greenroom, where Andrew and I were hunkered, to see how we thought things were going. It was going well. Very well. Lots of laughs!

There was a genuine good feeling at the end of the night. The cast stayed around for promo shots and I think everyone was pretty optimistic about their chances for future employment.

And then it was done and we went back to The Tonight Show.

Had we had a few more sitcom pilots under out belt, I think we would have done a much better job in post. We certainly wouldn’t have allowed our humorless line-producer do the bulk of the editing. Andrew and I simply didn’t know how things worked well enough to pull up our huffy pants and say, “We think it’s a bad idea to hack out all the jokes.” Plus, the opening music for the bargain basement credit sequence was tepid to say the least. Looking back at the end product today, it’s a little uneven. In a perfect pilot producing world, you’d start with a well crafted script and make minor adjustments during the week to really put a shine on it. In the real world, executive producing a pilot is like driving a speeding car on a winding mountain road with three feet of give in the steering wheel.  You’re so busy trying to keep the car from plummeting into the flaming, screaming gorge of closed-casket death that you never quite get around to finding the perfect adjustment for the seat.

Luckily, things were so hectic; we had nary a moment to stew over what we could no longer control. Especially with Warners pestering us to punch up their various other smile-less pilots in the spare three seconds we had between our full-time jobs and families. One evening Andrew found himself chained to his computer pounding out jokes for a puppet dragon with a sick baby in his arms. Good times.

Epilogue

The Tonight Show ended on a Friday (May 22nd). On Monday we moved into our exceedingly modest office on the Warners lot. On Tuesday, Fox announced that Drexell’s Class would not be coming back for a second season. On Thursday the phone rang. It was Tim Flack from New York. He dolefully informed me that our pilot had not made the cut. “Wow,” I said. “Andrew and I have lost three shows, all in one week. First the Tonight Show, then Drexell’s Class and now you fuckers.”

And that was the end of Have Mercy.

(Huge thanks to Marianne Meyer for the Mercy pics in this and previous blogs)

=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

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