Darrell Vickers – Oh, You’re Back

From California to Coventry

As Inquisitionally torturous as traversing the U.S. of A. by bus had been heading due west, at least our ultimate destination was the undisputed entertainment capital of the world. Andrew and I were now being forced to endure the very same 72 hour crucible, trapped inside an unhygienic, glaciated stink-pit, just to get back to Oshawa. Clearly, we were being subjected to unspeakably cruel and unrelenting retribution for the simple crime of intermittently enjoying ourselves.

Friends and family exultantly cheered the unlaundered return of Nicholls & Vickers as we shakily exited our toilet-on-wheels prison. All assembled were anxious to be apprised of our sordid star-studded tales of life in the Hollywood Hills and Malibu but others were not. It turned out Andrew and I had grossly miscalculated our new standing. Not only weren’t our contacts at the Canadian networks impressed by our success, they were downright annoyed by it.

“Oh, we thought you’d gone for good,” executive after executive haughtily smirked when we inquired about writing assignments. Work dried up like the spiked punch at a church dance.

Good old reliable Graham Haley still engaged us for the odd drab industrial show but anyone else in the business with a pulse and a Rolodex had turned their snooty Canuckian backs on us. In our three-week absence, we’d gone from working on radio to radioactive.

When The Fifth Estate piece aired, our blackballed status didn’t get any less spherical or inky in the land of bagged milk and Swiss Chalet. In fact, it turned into an unexpected negative.

Soon after, the phone rang in Andrew’s abysmal apartment. It was Alan Thicke, the only person left in show business who was still talking to us. No, our luck had not turned from bituminous coal into Swiss chocolate. To our horror, he was more than a little miffed and raring to remonstrate. It turns out Eric Malling had risibly mentioned that we were being paid a paltry $250 between us per-week for all our various labors in the town of trashy street-corner prostitutes and Hugh Grant. Our thrifty employer was considerably irked that we’d made him seem like a tightwad on national television. The obvious and truthful answer was, “No Alan, the piddling amount of money you paid us made you seem like a tightwad.”

Luckily, we instantly recognized that “obvious and truthful” are the two deadliest poisons in the show business medicine cabinet.

Ten minutes of abject apologizing and unashamed groveling by my partner seemed to do the trick. Mr. Thicke hung up grumpily appeased and no doubt quickly returned to entertaining whatever diaphanously dressed damsel was gracing his guesthouse at that moment.

We just couldn’t seem to catch a break. Andrew and I had taken such a giant step forward and yet somehow we found ourselves behind where we’d started. It was akin to a musician playing backup keyboards for Arcade Fire at Maple Leaf Gardens on Friday and a plumber’s wedding in Solina on Saturday. We now found ourselves at that figurative nuptial and the father of the bride was insisting on paying us in wads of sink hair!

Smarter men would have certainly paused to reflect upon their careers at this point in time. It had been almost seven years since we’d left high school hoping to be sucked under the merciless wheels of insatiable commerce but thus far our chosen profession had yet to fully choose us. 

As winter began to cast its gelid shadow across the land, one small snowflake of good news lodged itself beneath our stranded toboggan. Todd Thicke (Alan’s younger brother) gave us an unexpected buzz from L.A. He needed a sitcom pilot written for Will Millar of the Irish Rovers. Were we interested? “Why yes, we might be,” Andrew calmly answered as I squeegeed his excitement-urine off the hideous sunflower wallpaper. Yet another non-Canadian-based job had saved our peameal bacon. Those precious greenbacks managed to squeak us through our sub-Bob-Cratchit Christmas and girded us to face the next twelve months of being spat upon by beggars.

What a Difference a Year Makes:

1983 was the year that changed everything. But once again, not in a land awash in butter tarts and Nanaimo bars. In fact, it has remained ever thus where Dudley Do-Right hangs his poorly drawn hat. For some reason, Andrew and I were never able to find favor in our home country again, no matter how much success we achieved in the City of Angels & Dodgers. I try not to take it personally.

Oh Joyous Beast!

Early in the annum, we received yet another call from deep beneath the 49th. Alan was in the process of cobbling together a new project with Fred Silverman. It was going to be a major syndicated late-night talk show and he wanted Andrew and me to come up with some chortle-worthy ideas for spots.

Wow! The possibilities swirled around in our heads like Michael Jackson’s old face parts in a blender. We’d already been invited down to the big town to write for his Canadian talkie offshoot; perhaps Alan would push the repeat button for this one! We bombarded him with sketches, concepts and one-liners galore and he would phone every week or so to say “Good work” or “What the fuck were you thinking?”

Leslie

We received the grand total of $250 (he really seemed to have a thing for that number) for three or four months of concentrated toil but it mattered not. This was an investment in a dream so fantastical, so totally unrealistic that it verily dwarfed me asking Leslie Warmer to a high school dance – which I never did because, well, she was Leslie Warmer.

The Wow Moment:

When poised, teetering precariously on the very edge of a vast and black eternity, most of us will gaze back reflectively upon those pivotal moments in our brief time on this green Earth. The roads taken and the byways left untraveled. The friends made and the bastard who stole your girl. The victories briefly celebrated and the losses bitterly mourned and gone over and over and over again in your head until foul and ugly thoughts begin to rage inside you like a demonic Jovian storm. Your cranial synapses begin to explode like overcooked popcorn and all sense and reason is frantically cast aside as you are sucked down and down, flailing and screaming into a soul-shredding vortex of irreversible madness.

But I digress.

In brief (how uncommon of me), you perpend the very largest plus and minus signs that make up the equation of your existence. These points of drastic life refraction, that unalterably redirect the course of our days, may be good (meeting your future spouse at a party you almost didn’t attend) or bad (deciding to invest your entire pension fund in a brand of chicken-flavored ice cream).

When I retrace my own squiggly line of transformative events, nothing comes close to the phone call Andrew and I received from Alan Thicke inviting us to hie on down to Los Angeles to work for him on a ten-week contract.

Our official job title during the day was to be “researchers,” but we’d be writing monologue for the Canadian version of the show in our spare time. No extra money, of course. Our pay was to be – you guessed it – $250 a week each.

June 5, 1983 was the magical date of our long awaited ascendance to the very pinnacle of showbiz success. We were going to be working on an honest-to-goodness “American Show”! In honest-officer-that-isn’t-mine Hollywood! On the televisual juggernaut that was going to kick The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’s ass clear off the air. Our days of privation and squalor were behind us. Farewell Scotch Brand frozen fishcakes! Soon we would be sinking our teeth into the fat-drenched, dry-aged Wagyu beef of our glory.

Now, I have made a lot of mistakes in my life – many of them, countless times. But one mistake I did not repeat was attempting to cross the entire fucking continent on a fucking bus! After selling my beloved Ibanez Les Paul Sunburst for much needed doubloons, Andrew and I booked our tickets to the zippy-da-doo-dah big time on the cheapest airline we could find. At that time cheap was spelled W‑a‑r-d A-i-r (Andrew still has his unused return-ticket somewhere).

This was a discount airline so free of frills; they didn’t even drop you off at the airport. They pulled up the rolling stairs and let you out in the parking lot. But Ward Air’s total lack of amenities and safety inspections were of no never-mind. Nicholls and Vickers were once again in a land of 18 sitcoms instead of two – One, if you discount the excrementally horrible and murderously unfunny Hangin’ In.

Full disclosure:

Jack Humphrey, the showrunner, was a peacock of a man. He enjoyed holding court in his office wearing fluffy sweaters and smoking big cigars. His immediate staff seemed to have been hired solely for their ability to be brandish baked on smiles as he pontificated at length. Jack once invited Andrew and myself to drive all the way into Toronto so he could inform us that we would never ever be hired on Hangin’ In. “Your scripts are just too dang amusing,” he pompously explained. We had previously helped punch-up his microscopically humorous Flappers and that foul deed had apparently kiboshed any chance of us working on his present sanctimonious dirge.

This is an actual quote from good old Jack. “We just finished an episode and there isn’t a funny line in the entire show but the direction is hysterical.”

The clearly psychopathic Mr. Humphrey also requested we stop sending in episode ideas (I think we’d submitted 139) because they were having a hard time coming up with stories we hadn’t pitched.

Where Was I?

Ah, yes. Andrew and I were picked up on the scorching tarmac by a buxom young blonde who whisked us away to a sequined citadel where angels on high would daub our nards with honey butter – but first we stopped off at The Sizzler for lunch. That meagerly paid 10-week contract was to be the start of a fantastical, totally unrealistic adventure that would last for the next 36 years.

Perhaps I should have asked Leslie Warmer to that school dance!… Nah.

=DV=

DBAWIS_Button

Darrell 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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: