Darrell Vickers – Kevin’s Castle Part Two: A Huge Amount of Castle Hassle

A Huge Amount of Castle Hassle

As we touched down in Toronto to start production, the weather was absolutely insulting. It was bitterly cold with this bizarre form of precipitation that refused to go away, even after it had fallen from the sky. It just lay around on the streets and people’s lawns like a drunken uncle and got in everyone’s way. Not the triumphant return to our beloved homeland that we had anticipated.

Alas, naughty Mister Winter was going to be the least of our problems.

Luckily, it wasn’t all off-putting and worrisome news as Robby Benson was brought on as our director. Robby had helmed a raft of sitcoms, including multiple episodes of Friends and had the reputation of being a standup fellow. Finally, one positive entry in a ledger practically brimming with betrayal and distrust.

Small Aside:

Robby has been plagued with heart problems for a goodly percentage of his life. He told Andrew and me over dinner one night that he was running marathons at one point and a year later he couldn’t even get out of bed without gasping for air. Yes, life can sure deal good people some shitty cards. I only hope that having to suffer through our wretched pilot didn’t cause too much undo stress on his already intermittently precarious health. Alas, he was forced to have yet another major heart operation later that year.

Back to Our Story:

Another positive was Steven (the creator). He turned out to be a capital chap. Very down-to-Earth and no ego. It was difficult to imagine this suave, meticulously attired gent as the Roller Derby king of the Southeast! While we were up in Toronto, the Super Bowl was going on. Steven spent a few days in tearful shock after Nashville lost by a matter of last-second inches to the dreaded St. Louis Rams.

Our own personal Waterloo would be far, far less in question.

On the way to the studio on the first day, the weather had turned from abusive to murderous. As we swerved along the splenetic roadways down to the lakeshore where the studio was located, we espied a woman, bent almost in two, clutching a hood over her blizzard-ravaged face, trying to walk against the staggeringly brutal wind. We both laughed our asses off. How easy it was for us to rudely chortle, since we were only going to be marooned in Ice Station Zebra for a couple of weeks. Sun and sea breezes awaited us once our Tinseltown toils were completed.

When we arrived at the studio, we were guided to the tiniest office you could find that didn’t contain a coat-hanger rack. And we had no assistant. What kind of line producer doesn’t provide an assistant to the showrunners? But were we the showrunners? During the entire chaotic debacle that was Kevin’s Castle, it was infuriatingly impossible to tell.

On Your Marks! Get Set… Hold It a Second!

There was a full production meeting that evening. The studio and network seemed to be pleased enough with the script and the sets but there was something not quite right in the room. Stone-faced people kept wandering in and out. Serious, whispered conversations were popping up like mushrooms in Mickey Rourke’s underwear drawer. More people left the room.

Steven later made us wise to the expensive skinny (I really know the lingo). Our line producer, Mary, had not T.O.D.-ed Deb O’Dell like we’d suggested/commanded. Miss Quite Contrary, of course, knew better. Now, we were due to begin shooting the next day and we had no deal with our lead actress. Her agent – as any agent would – was proceeding to violate our rectums with extreme prejudice. Not only did he demand twice the salary of anyone else on the show, Deb also acquired the unheard of option to take any better offer that came along and dump us. Thanks to our brilliant producer, were in second position to a first position show that didn’t even exist!

When we finally landed on our impressive set with the actors, one of my biggest fears was realized. “Kevin” was taller than his mother. The kid was not only enormous; he had some kind of attention deficit disorder. Robby was finding it very hard to give him notes. At awkward moments during scenes that the kid was just not getting, Robby had to clutch the young lad’s face in his hands and say, “Look into my eyes,” before giving him marching orders.

And our “star” wasn’t the only one not responding to instructions.

Every time I told someone on the crew to do something, that very same person would bleet, “Well, I’ll have to ask Mary about that.”

But Mary was hardly ever there and impossible to get a hold of. Running a sitcom pilot is two full-times jobs – it’s unbelievably demanding – but she was off attending to three other shows. Ms. Multi-Fiasco was basically running our pilot in absentia. At one point, I told the wardrobe woman to give Deb high heels so Kevin would look like her son and not her husband. She nodded pleasantly and then I’m sure she checked with Mary because, come the first scene, Deb was in flats with her freakishly large offspring towering over her. WTF?

A Case in Pointless:

There was an actor I wanted to shoot a small scene with at the end of the day. Come the final shot, the guy had fucked off home. I asked the floor manager who had released him. He shrugged. “The director?”

I called Robby over. He hadn’t released him. I’d been uncharacteristically pretty even-tempered until this point but I let the guy have it. “We’re the Executive Producers and this is the director. We’re shooting a fucking pilot here, so for Christsakes, don’t send any other actors home without asking us first!”

He nodded but who knows if any of what I was screaming at him was actually sinking in.

It was fucking obvious that Mary had sent the guy home without telling anyone – and she absolutely knew that I wanted to use him for something.

This just went on and on. The pilot was suffering from paralysis. Changes were impossible to make, no matter how necessary, because there was no one on set to okay them.

Everything was done by halves. One night poor Deb got food poisoning and became exceedingly ill. So bad, we didn’t know whether she was even going to make it in the next day. Because we were on such a tight schedule, this would have been a disaster… well, another disaster. Luckily, Ms. O’Dell was a trooper and showed up, looking a little pale but game to do the work.

I called a runner over and told him to go out and buy her as many flowers as he could get for 200 bucks. The guy came back with a reasonable bunch of flowers and 50 bucks in change. What about “as many flowers you can get for 200 bucks” did this guy not fucking understand?

The production stumbled along on thus, with things not getting done, other things nobody asked for getting done and Andrew and I trying to keep this chaotic stinkpot from falling down around our ears.

On the upside, the cast – minus our lead – were all terrific.

Plus, Steven informed me that Disney had three pilots on the go and they needed to put two of them on the air. We stood a very, very good chance of getting our show picked up despite all the ratfucking that had transpired.

Lamentably, once the actual shooting ended, the real trouble commenced. We stayed in town an extra couple of days for our editing pass. The traditional post sequence is editor first, followed by director and the final pass falls to the executive producers. Then the studio and network give their notes. Due to scheduling, Robby had to rush back to Glitzville, so his thoughts would have to come at a later point.

When Andrew and I showed up in the editing bay, we were informed that Mary had only okayed a fraction of the video shot to be processed. So here we were trying to edit but we had almost no alternate takes! We did what we could, which was practically nothing. When Robby got a copy of the pilot he put together seven full pages of detailed, single-spaced notes on what needed to change.

Unbeknownst to any of us, one of the three owners of Nelvana had been walking past the editing bay one fine winter’s day and decided that he’d do all the editing personally. The thing was a total mess. Words were mispronounced. The continuity was off. Weird cuts made some of the scenes seem ungainly. All fixable mistakes. But… fixable, schmixable! Not only did Mr. Genius Owner not take almost any of Robby’s notes, or ours, he refused to take Disney’s notes! For good or for bad (mostly bad), Disney was the network. They’re paying the money… eventually… and they get all the say. Nelvana didn’t seem to see it that way. This knucklehead believed that the project was way too important to entrust it to the buyer. In the real world, it would be like your butcher saying, “I know you’re paying for porterhouse steak but I’m going to give you these odd smelling sausages instead.”

The Obvious:

A distinctly disgruntled Disney may have needed two shows out of the three pilots but they predictably decided to pick up only one and it definitely was not ours. After months of Nelvana systematically and unmercifully strangling the chicken, the bird was finally good and dead.

You’d think that getting dumped by the network would have been the end of this festering corn-nibletted shit log but we had only begun to suffer.

Follow the Money:

Andrew and I were being paid a fair sum to executive-produce the pilot but that was sort of moot because we were on an “overall.” That means these fees would be counted against the salary Nelvana was already paying us. But there was a problem. When we got the readout from the company, they were only crediting us with two thirds of what was agreed upon. It didn’t matter about the salary but it meant a great deal to our pension and health plans. We called the agent in charge of doing the deal and asked him to look at our contract. Turns out there wasn’t one. WHAT???

Michael hummed and hawed and said he believed that we had agreed to the figure Nelvana was claiming. Unluckily for us, C.A.A. also represented Nelvana. Despite Micheal’s sincere assurances and heartfelt protestations, we had all the emails where the deal points were clearly spelled out. Once we’d proved conclusively that we were being ripped off, Michael stopped returning our calls. We haven’t heard from him since.

He was eventually fired for C.A.A. for trying to become the head of production for Oprah Winfrey while supposedly acting as one of her agents.

Justice Denied:

We did have one ace in the hole, though. Nelvana needed to recoup their tax credit money. To do that, Andrew and I needed to sign papers stating that we were Canadian citizens and yes, a deal memo.

We refused. They were ripping us off and I felt we didn’t owe them any favors. One sunny day (possibly accompanied by some sea breezes), I got a call from somebody in accounting. She was trying to pressure me into signing the papers. I told them that there was a very simple way to get me to do that – stop being fucking criminals. Apparently, that was not an argument that held any sway with Nelvana back then.

“You know, there are a lot of people who work at this company who need to feed and clothe their families,” she righteously proclaimed.

“Hey, I actually have a family of my own and all I’m asking you to do is ‘The Right Thing!’”

Obviously, I was a raving madman to make such a request. She sadly hung up the phone.

So, now Nelvana was stuck. Without an existing contract, they couldn’t legally air the pilot (a pre-requisite for Canadian grant money), since Andrew and I owned full copyright over the material until we signed it away.

Unfortunately, Nelvana had a loophole in their back pocket. Since they were all fucking crooks, laws meant nothing to them. They aired the pilot on The Canadian Family Channel in September of that year, even though they had no legal right to do so. I can only assume that they forged our signatures on the Canadian content forms as well.

We wrote to the CRTC – surely they’d bring the wrath of God down on these dishonest, writer-cheating bastards.  They told us to get a lawyer. The Writers Guild of Canada was also of similar non help. Also, most of the larger legal firms in Canada had had Nelvana as a client at one point or another (when you operate like they did, you go through a lot of lawyers) and could not represent us.

The big lesson we learned was: showbiz contacts are virtually worthless. If the company is big enough and they do not want to honor their commitments – “Take us to court!” This is basically Disney’s standard operating procedure. But you could also point to Paramount and Coming To America, Universal and The Purge, Fox and Dead Men Can’t Jump and Warner Brothers with Friday the 13th.  Steven Bochco won a huge suit against Fox over NYPD Blue profits. Mel Gibson was ripped off on the profits for a movie he financed. The list is endless.

The agencies that negotiate these contracts usually talk their clients down rather than confront a big studio that they have to do business with in the future. Needless to say, we were not Steven Bochco and did not receive compensatory satisfaction in any way for this brazen and provable act of perfidy.

Oh, the Irony:

A few years later – someone wanted to hire us on a Nelvana series. The producer said he approached the company and was told that we were blackballed by the company though no one was quite sure why.

The punch line was – at the time, we were working with two of the three ex-owners of Nelvana at Cookie Jar. And the train kept a-rollin’.

Legally Astute Statement:

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Let it be know… Corus Entertainment now owns Nelvana and they had nothing to do with any of our dubious dealings with the previous scurrilous proprietors.


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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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