Darrell Vickers – Kevin’s Castle Part One: I Nelvana Promised You a Rose Garden

I Nelvana Promised You a Rose Garden

Show business careers are all about ebb and flow. Minor ups and seemingly endless, bottomless, psyche-demolishing downs. As this story pops its initially happy head out of its comfy gopher hole, Andrew and I were flowing to beat the band. We were being paid a king’s ransom and change to consult on the cursed and doomed and damned Magic Hour when we received a call from CAA. A producer had just sold a pilot concept to the Disney Channel and they wanted Andrew and my humble self to develop it and, if it was picked up, to executive produce the pilot. Well, sure.

We were selected because of our brilliant writing, dazzling charm and girl-pleasing packages, but mostly because of our Canadian passports. The pilot was going to be produced north of the border to save cash and if there is one thing the Disney Corporation is all about, it’s squeezing every last drop of blood and sweat possible out of a nickel and then some.

The pilot was entitled Kevin’s Castle and considering it was a lowly kid’s show (which mostly consist of thinly veiled toy prostitution and overly religious vegetables) it was a very cute idea. A young lad and his widow mom pack up their car and motor off to the cottage but when they return, Kevin discovers that his house has been replaced with a colossal castle he’s inherited. A huge middle-ages fortress on a normal suburban street. Andrew and I got to work expanding on the concept.

Why Does a Kid Get To Own a Castle?

Apparently Kevin was sixty-eighth in line for the crown to the Kingdom of Subservia – we even wrote a National Anthem – but when the other 67 nobles ahead of him were deposed, denounced and, most importantly, decapitated in an uprising, Kevin became da man! The surviving castle staff wisely chose to sneak off for pastures less bloody and, with 100,000 menservants, transported the entire castle and its grounds, prisoners and moat creature to The New World – specifically Kevin’s neighborhood.

We cobbled a bubbly bible together for the show and Disney said they loved it. The pilot was greenlit!

Now all that was needed was a Canadian company to partner with the Miserly Mouse to produce our precious project on the cheap.

Coincidentally, Andrew and I had also just signed an overall deal with Nelvana. They were a large Canadian animation company that had also done the odd live action series (The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries). In one our dumbest career moves (and we’ve had some doozies), we proposed that Nelvana be the Canadian production arm for the pilot. We thought we’d make nice with our new employers and toss them a tasty bone, right out of the gate. This mindless act of criminally naïve kindness was one that everyone, including Nelvana would live to sorely regret.

The creator of Kevin’s Castle – Steven Land – turned out to be a really good guy. He’d earned a massive amount of ooftish producing roller derby shows in the Southeast. I believe he lived in Nashville. A very appropriate musical abode, because soon, we would all be sittin’ on our rears and cryin’ in our beers.

Right out of the galling gate there were problems. In an early story meeting, Disney announced that they didn’t get the concept. The one they’d just purchased. Now, anybody with a soupcon of common sense would realize that a kid getting to live in a real-life castle with medieval servants and a cobwebbed dungeon would be a dream beyond imagining.

Not Disney. Had any of them ever even talked to a fucking child???

At first they pushed the idea that Kevin would live in his original house, which would be situated in the giant courtyard of the castle. “But he’s already living in his own house,” I countered, “How aspirational could that be?”

Still, when Disney gets a rock-bottom stupid idea, they stick to it like it was Debbie Harry’s buttocks smeared in Super Glue. Eventually, after meetings, pleading and tears, they agreed to a minor compromise.

Kevin could live in the castle but it would be inexplicably equipped with the modern-day kitchen from his original house. Huh? I think it also had to have a modern-day couch in the living room area.

This brainwave tested just how you’d think. Nobody knew why the hell there was a modern kitchen in an ancient castle. It made about as much sense as Charlie Sheen’s “My Violent Torpedo of Truth Tour.” And these guys weren’t high on crank… we assumed.

The second bump in this increasingly rough-hewn road was the casting of Kevin. As I’ve stated before, every jack-off and his three-speed, vibrating hand attachment thinks he can cast. We did have some good (though not fantastic) young actors audition for the part but Disney insouciantly tossed them all aside. With time running scarce, they informed us that they’d finally deigned to select someone. When we checked the audition tapes we discovered they’d settled upon an abnormally large 12 year old. Let’s call him Bruno. He didn’t look like the kind of sweet and loveable boy that an audience would want to inherit a castle. He looked like the bully that would steal the sweet kid’s castle off him at recess. Bruno was a tall, stocky brute with a truculent visage that had you immediately reaching for your lunch money.

Our next problem (and this one was as big as Elton John’s snort cavity) was Nelvana. Animation shows are basically run by a line producer. The writers are in charge of the writing, but that’s the very first step in the process. Then comes the voiceovers and finally those shitty drawings that jerk around rather than move fluidly like old – more expensive – far superior cartoons. Almost the exact opposite of how live-action shows are produced. Unfortunately, Nelvana decided to approach our sitcom pilot the very same way they would a Care Bears episode. And as the razor-wired cherry on top of this toxic sundae, we were gifted a line producer – let’s call her Mary – who was the stuff that nightmares are made of.

Mary

She turned out to be a congenital liar. Not your average person who tells the odd fib when under pressure or to spare your feelings when you’ve gained 30 pounds and broken out in gum boils. No, Mary was a Donald Trump-type liar. She blurted out whatever she believed would benefit her in that specific micro-moment and lacked the slightest hint of shame or hesitation in flipping her story on its fabricated head in the next. As Theodore Roosevelt once opined about the Colombians – dealing with her was like trying to nail currant jelly to the wall.

As Republicans and the American people were to find out, you have absolutely no idea what’s happening around you when such a capricious individual is doling out the dubious information you’re desperately relying on.

A Case in Point

Andrew and I flew up to Toronto to do further casting. I had an actor friend that I thought might work out for one of the minor roles and requested he be brought in. When I got to town, I asked if he’d been contacted. “Yes he has and he’ll be there” Mary assured me.

The Very Next Day

We were beginning the auditions and his name wasn’t on the list. “Where is Paul,” I inquired.

“Paul?”

“That actor you told me you’d contacted and he’d be auditioning for us.”

“I never said that,” she shrugged.

“I have a really good memory,” I challenged her. “I 100-percent guarantee that we discussed Paul and you said he’d be here.”

“Nope.” Another shrug.

I was a little miffed. Steamed. My dudgeon was unusually high. About half-an-hour into the casting session Mary got cold feet and admitted to vaguely remembering our conversation.

Great. Now that it was too late to do anything about it. She had timed it just right to get her way. And I wasn’t even asking to give my friend the part. Just audition for it. Fuck!

It was this kind of stupid, unnecessary bullshit that would eventually sink our castle. I know for metaphoric purposes castles aren’t seafaring craft but a lot of them are built on some fairly soupy land so it could, in theory, be applicable.

We were also having trouble finding the right mom. We already had a lead kid who looked like George Chuvalo’s meaner brother, so having a comely but humorous mom was vital. Andrew and I were down at the Nelvana offices in Toronto, wading through piles of videos of perspective matriarchs, when we happened upon Deb O’Dell. She was as cute as a button, funny and had a comforting motherly quality about her. When her video ended I instantly told Mary to T.O.D. her.

“What’s that?”

Oh god, she didn’t know what a T.O.D. was. And this was our line producer!

“It’s short for Test Option Deal,” Andrew explained. “It commits the actor to a price if we choose them for the part but doesn’t commit us to anything.”

“Maybe we should hold off,” she sighed. “Who are these assholes?” she was thinking.

“It costs nothing and protects us from getting blackmailed by her agent,” I clarified. “Try to actually learn something,” I was thinking.

(More on this scintillating conversation in part 2.)

Next up was the pre-production meeting. And what a Magic-Mountain-level joyride that was. We arrived and plopped ourselves down at the head of the conference table. So far so good. People were gathered and saying hello to one another as we got our notes together.

Then

Andrew stood up and addressed the throng (like all other aspects of a show, the showrunner runs all the major production meetings). As Andrew went through the different departments’ duties and our needs, they just stared at us like we were insane homeless people who’d wandered in off the street and they were too afraid to say anything, lest we turn violent. Department heads confusedly answered our questions politely, like they couldn’t wait for this bad acid trip to be over.

The entire whirlwind tour had a slightly unreal vibe to it, like Rod Serling was waiting in the wings, sucking on a Pall Mall, ready to announce the startling reveal at any moment.

As we were leaving to go back to L.A., Mary shook Andrew’s hand and said, “Well, thanks for your input.”

“Input?” But, we’re the showrunners… aren’t we?

Yes, bad shit was definitely afoot.

=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

2 Responses to “Darrell Vickers – Kevin’s Castle Part One: I Nelvana Promised You a Rose Garden”

  1. marlene schuler Says:

    Oh boy … the headaches!

  2. VonRiesling Says:

    I think I’ve worked with “Mary,” unless she is one of many.

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