George Carlin – Part Three: Simon Says

And the years passed quickly, much like that Kentucky Fried Chicken I found at the side of the highway.  

Although we occasionally admired the same stalks of corn in a field, it took nigh on a decade before Andrew and I had the honor of working for Mr. Carlin again. Ten years in television is equivalent to 17 lifetimes in any other profession. In that devilish and dastardly decennium, we had tragically transmogrified from a couple of talented, plucky kids to gnarly old men who had to chip the barnacles off their souls each morning before coming into work.

As our story unfolds, Nicholls & Vickers were eking out a living from levity on the Warner Brothers lot and so was George. Weary of the road, he had finally decided to take the plunge back into sitcoms with The George Carlin Show on Fox but there was a problem. Well, two problems.

Numero Uno: The show wasn’t nearly funny enough to satisfy the number one comedian of his generation.

Numero Due: It’s a matter of public record that George did not care for Sam Simon (the show runner), or his highly combative way of dealing with people.

I don’t recall who talked to whom but one post-barnacle-chipping day I received a call from Sam wondering whether we’d be interested in writing an episode for the show. We had a few scraps of time available before burying ourselves in the worst and most successful sitcom of our careers, so we basically said “Thunderbirds are go!”

A Little Jam About Sam

L to T – Jaundiced Cartoon Goldmine – Sam Simon

Mr. Simon had a reputation in the biz of being a bit of an eccentric. He was very big into animal rights (which was more than praiseworthy) and huge into martial arts (which could be a little off-putting). His office was littered with Eastern weapons of death and mayhem and occasionally he would casually toss a Shuriken Star across the room.

He also had the laudable habit of bringing his dogs into work. However, these dogs would not have been out of place on the Baskerville moors. One of his assistants visibly shuddered when she mentioned them to me. The meek, middle-aged woman was not at all a fan of being trapped in a snug, drab space with a couple of pony-sized, intimidating beasts.

While Andrew and I were not that popular among the executive branch at Warner Brothers, Mr. Simon had earned a far more elevated level of resentment. One fine afternoon, I was in Little Davey’s office as he was conniving with the powers at Fox. Davey was the diminutive twerp who convinced us to join him at Warners and then betrayed us at every opportunity.

“Well, maybe if you guys and us gang up on him, we can get Sam to do what we want,” he cackled into the phone.

An Aside:

When you’re approached by a studio to come aboard, the big lie they all sell is, “We’re going to help and support you at every turn and protect your unique vision.” Fox, Warners, Universal, or whoever, want to make it possible to create your passion project. Something that you can pour your heart and soul into.

The second you sign away your dreams, the unique vision that they initially professed to adore instantly turns to calcified shit and an affront to Western civilization. You then find out that studio execs despise heart and soul much like a vampire despises sunbathing.

Back to Our Story:

Mr. Simon certainly had a different approach to the business than Nicholls & Vickers. Sam rang up Andrew one blazing morn as we were wading through the shit-storm of getting “The Parent’ Hood” up and running. Casting was hell. Getting Warners to agree on the writers we wanted was hell. The exec we were dealing with at the WB was insane and Robert Townsend was busily concocting new and extra-toasty types of hell to put us through. Sam asked how things were going. Andrew replied that we were mired in the usual grief of development. Sam paused for a second.

“What grief? I love development.”

How Could This Be?

Samuel lived in an entirely different world than Andrew and myself. He possessed that one vital ingredient for happiness that we lamentably lacked. It’s known in the business as “Fuck You Money.” While Andrew and I had big houses and private schools to pay for, we only had the residuals from a Love Boat segment starring Charlene Tilton to fall back on should we be dropkicked out of the workforce.   

Sam was being tossed multiple millions a year because of his participation in the early days of “The Simpsons”(and his estate still is).

Thus, he could simply say “Fuck You,” any time he didn’t like how he was being treated. Oh rapturous circumstance! This allowed him that oh-so-rare and resplendent ability to do things the way he wanted or else. It’s a power the studios and networks hate and fear.

A Huge Digression:

I was having high tea at the Four Seasons in Toronto with producer/pathological-salesman Charles Falzon. Over scones and tiny sandwiches, he asked me what I thought about hiring Frank Peppiatt to run “Check It Out.” I strenuously counseled against it. Regardless of what I thought of Mr. Peppiatt’s writing, he had made an inexplicable mess o’ millions from “Hee Haw.” I cautioned Charles that Frank was the proud owner of “Fuck You” money.

“Living out of a hotel room while you produce a show in Toronto is not a lot of fun. The second something happens to piss him off – and something most definitely will – he’s got more than enough accumulated dosh to just say ‘Fuck it’ and merrily take wing back to L.A.”

I came to discover that when Charles asked you a question, it didn’t matter what your answer was. He’d already made up his mind. He instantly hired Mr. Peppiatt. One episode into his tenure, the head of the CTV yelled at him about an unsatisfactory script and Frank buggered off back L.A. the next afternoon. Sorry, Charlie.

Back to Our Story – Again!

Andrew and I typed up a few ideas to pitch and escorted them over to Sam’s production office. We had a great meeting and he picked a plot where George decides to recapture his youth by boosting a truck – but the only item in the back of the stolen vehicle is a statue of Jesus. Complications ensue. It turned out to be one of the highlight episodes of the season.

Immediately after production week, I got a call from George. First off, he apologized for the way the show ended up. “You know, things happen during the week that you can’t control.”

Looking back on the episode now, I think it turned out pretty well and retained a surprising amount of our original script. Most times, what comes out the other end of a production week is unrecognizable – much like Scottish cooking.

George then inquired if we’d come on board to help punch up his show. This was a tough ask. We were up to our man-tits getting our pilot up and running at the time but we loved George and had a few weeks before we began shooting “The Parent’ Hood”. We agreed to work on casting and rewriting our pilot during the day and punch up “The George Carlin Show” evenings and on weekends. We did not receive an additional nickel for our supplementary labors but there are some things that have deeper meaning than a paycheck. George had been very good to us when we were a couple of young struggling Canucks lost and drowning in Hollywood. Now, we were being given an opportunity to say thank you.

At some point, we were also requested to pen the premier episode of the second season where George O’Grady discovers he has a son. Throughout the half-hour, George continues to make pointed references concerning his surprise progeny’s sexual leanings, which finally leads to the following back and forth.

Friend: “What’s the big deal George? A lot of people have gay sons…” 

Son: “I’m not gay; I’m a male flight attendant!”

George: “Boy, there’s a sentence you don’t hear every day.”

See for yourselves.

A Sad Farewell:

The last time I saw George was at a goodbye party he threw for his brother Pat. Patrick was moving back East to the Woodstock area. Probably the most appropriate place on Earth for that crazy old Weednick to live out his spacey days. In fact, it was Pat who called me in tears to let me know that his beloved younger brother was gone.

  When George left this Earth, it was a huge loss for me. Sure, it was a loss of someone I knew, someone I’d worked with, someone I really admired, someone who was an undisputed genius, but it was also a loss for that 15-year-old kid, driving around Oshawa, listening to “FM/AM” over and over again on a clunky eight-track tape machine.

Sleep well sir. You are sorely missed.

Epilogue:

Yes, it was a daunting grind pounding out material for two productions at once but I was more than a little forlorn when our time on the “George Carlin Show” was at an end.

Plus, if I’d had the slightest inkling as to the blistering, pitiless, poisonous pit of despair I was about to be thrown into on “The Parent’ Hood,” I’d have nailed my teeth to Sam Simon’s parking spot to be allowed to stay on his show.

But that is a story for another day.

=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

One Response to “George Carlin – Part Three: Simon Says”

  1. excellent writing! a real joy of a sitcom, pre Fox turning into “all trump all the time” … 😉 The writing on that epi is so far ahead of it’s time that it was last seen heading even further out, into another galaxy …

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