Darrell Vickers – Ted Zeigler Part 11: B**bs

Andrew and I Write for B**bs

Not every writing assignment Ted netted us during his arduous and high-spirited job trawling expeditions turned into pure gold. We once ended up in a condo in Encino teeming with a heap of people just exploding with excitement over their a once-in-a-generation project. They just needed some writers to help put it over the top. The premise was “Don’t Love.” That was basically it. The creator had come up with and patented a heart with a diagonal line through it. To indicate that he “didn’t love” something – I believe broccoli might have been one of the subjects of his copyright-protected stricken heart. That was it. Now go and conjure us up an award-winning show, fellas!

I think we got paid the same amount as the idea was worth.

Andrew and I Write for Literal Boobs:

My favorite non-paying flop idea, though, was “The Brough Twins.” This odd adventure started out by simply sittin’ down to a meetin’ with their agent – quite a nice-seeming woman. Randi and Candi (I’m not making this up) Brough were Doublemint Twins. The comely, not to mention chest bumpy, sisters had appeared on the odd episode of television for a few years but now they felt they were ready to hit the big time. All they needed was the right vehicle.

Randi and Candi Brough

Andrew and I came up with a show proposal entitled “The Perfect 20.” Get it? They were the Perfect 10 times two – because there were two of them.

We fashioned a few pages of undeserved superlatives to make the case for giving these two pulchritudinous performers a show of their own and thought that would be it. But that wasn’t it.

The next thing we knew, we were attending meetings in an old, musty building just north of Sunset on Vine to discuss the project.

Tody Smith was the brother of Bubba Smith. He’d also been a football player but injuries cut short his career. He’d bounced around the employment world for a few years before eventually becoming his brother’s agent. His small, Sam Spade-like office was populated with a number of odd characters. One guy, let’s call him Dan, was Michael Winslow’s roommate in college. Both being aspiring actors, they’d made a pact that whichever one made it (that would be Michael) would help the other one out. I did not discover this curious fact until late in the proceedings.

Bubba and Tody. Yipes!

Michael Winslow was riding high on the Police Academy movies – as was Bubba. Somehow, Dan used the Winslow-through-Bubba-through-Tody connection to become attached to “The Perfect 20.” As what? You tell me. Dan was a bartender. I remember he wore a flat cap and sat in the corner of the room like he possessed all the show business wisdom in the universe. He’d toss out ideas and tell us all how he saw things going, and I had no idea who the fuck he was.

I didn’t quite know why any of these misfit characters were there and that included Andrew and myself. They’d talk about where they’d position the show and the best guests to have on but I didn’t ever hear any concrete plans on how we were actually going to sell this four-breasted juggernaut (that’s almost a naughty pun, isn’t it?).

The only business that was actually discussed, to my knowledge, was Tody trying to convince Ted that Andrew and I shouldn’t be paid much, should the show go forward. That was very generous, considering that we were the only ones doing anything other than empty-jabbering and big-talking. 

My “shady people” radar was borne out one day when Ted and Andrew shared an elevator with Tody. A tight fit at the best of times. When they got off on the main floor, a man walked up to our do-nothing producer and asked him whether he was Tody Smith. When Tody answered in the affirmative, he was immediately served with a subpoena.

In the end, I didn’t really mind not getting paid or respected or even having to work with borderline criminals. My one regret was not even getting to meet the bodacious Broughs! I mean, shit, if we couldn’t get paid, at least we could have had a brush with inflated-ness greatness.

This was disappointingly similar to the time we wrote a pilot starring Dolly Parton for CBS and didn’t get to meet her. At least we got paid for that one, but there are things a lot more fun than money and the Broughs and Dolly both owned them in spades.

Andrew and I Play the Boob:

Just before we set sail for fame and fortune and Tody Smith in L.A.., Andrew and I penned a spec sitcom pilot called “Diplomatic Immunity.” It revolved around the embassy for a horrible, tiny, bankrupt, war torn country called Subservia. The desperate staff converts the embassy building into a hotel so they can make enough money to keep it afloat and not have to return to their despicable homeland.

To be honest, it owed an awful lot to “Fawlty Towers” for its setup and interpersonal dynamics. But hey, Fawlty was the greatest sitcom ever made – why not steal from the best? 

I can remember Andrew coming up with a wonderful exchange between the wife and the Ambassador as we were walking around Camp Samac in the north of Oshawa.

Ambassador: “I need time to think.”

Wife: “No dear, you need a brain to think.”

You get the idea.

Like every other project we wrote on spec in Canada, it went nowhere. Thank you Lawrie! Once Ted became our manager, however, things were markedly different. Early in our relationship, we handed the brutally ignored script to him. Not only did he actually read “Diplomatic Immunity,” he flipped over it.

Meanwhile, in deepest, darkest Montreal, CTV was in the midst of pumping out one of the worst sitcoms ever made, entitled “Snow Job.” You could find more amusing things to look at in a phone-booth hobo turd. Playing “The Immigrant Song” on your kneecaps with a ball peen hammer was more fun. Having your anus invaded by cantankerous, pointy-hatted gnomes was a more enjoyable way to spend a half hour. Apparently, even the fine people at CFCF Television fretted about a populous uprising or assassination attempts, should they choose to produce another toxic season of this affront to humor and basic human decency.

An Opportunity!

On one of Ted’s expeditions up to Montreal, he pitched Andrew and myself to the powers that be at his old station. They were intrigued. In those days, the least talented Canadian writer on Earth, as long as he or she was living in L.A., was a thousand times more desirable than the most talented, hard working scribe abiding in his or her home and native land.

Within a half hour, Ted had sold them “Diplomatic Immunity!” Perhaps they wouldn’t have to install that bullet proof glass in their office windows after all!

He negotiated a deal that paid us 10 grand American for a script we’d already written! Now, this wasn’t a ton of money for a pilot – even in those days – but it was a fortune to a couple of guys trying to keep their cockroach-infested apartment in Van Nuys. It wasn’t cheap to stay there. We had a lot of tiny mouths to feed.

We gave it a quick polish and excitedly sent the script off to the town that killed Houdini. They liked it! But hey – compared to “Snow Job,” the Unabomber manifesto was a non-stop laugh-fest. We were on our way to getting the project greenlit.

Immediately, Ted’s arch enemy at the station mentioned “kickbacks.” I don’t know if this happened with all their shows but he – or they- wanted to receive a healthy slice of the production money in under the table payments. Zeigler was an honest man, dammit, and told them to forget that. It wouldn’t happen on this show!!!

Meanwhile, our stalwart manager also arranged for a highly successful associate producer to get involved on our behalf. Let’s call him Gary. Mr. Beancounter was a somewhat cynical man. He told us that every show is the same. “Only the deal is different.” He also longed for the days when he was rich. Apparently, those glorious days living on a sprawling ranch in Southern Cal. had ended abruptly when he took up with a younger woman and his wife took up with half of what he had. He didn’t want the old wife back. Just the old money and the ranch.

Gary met us in a coffee shop to talk about setting up a budget for the show. Andrew and I knew nothing about budgets and the kind of cash to expect from a Canadian production.

The Reality:

Unless you have a foreign partner, the money to make a show in Canada is almost nothing because there just isn’t the population to support expensive or even reasonably budgeted productions. It’s the same today. Nobody wants to produce Canadian content. Companies want to produce American content in Canada and grab the tax breaks. That’s where the money is.

The Fantasy We Were Sold:

Gary was exceedingly helpful and generous. He started throwing around figures that made our heads spin. I don’t remember what we were earmarked to receive as show-runners but it would have had our cockroaches sitting pretty for decades to come. What we didn’t know was; Gary was working for Champlain Productions which owned “Snow Jobs.” He wasn’t helping us with our budget; he was pricing our show out of the market.

Sure enough, CFCF passed on our ridiculously expensive, no kickbacks, gold-plated pilot and series and foisted another year of laugh-defying, sticky poo-poo on the already shattered and battered Canuckian psyche.

A few months after we were turned down at CFCF, George Carlin read the very same script and loved it so much, he hired us to help him write his pilot for HBO.

Theodore L. Zeigler turned our lives around and got us to the very top of the Hollywood comedy writer food chain but he had one enormous weakness. He believed in people and trusted them even though he had experienced an entire lifetime of those very same people letting him down. In a future column I will document his Don Quixote-esque devotion to a conniving, thieving, unspeakable animal species that wasn’t fit to lick his boots.

The Famous Teddy Z

Join me next time as Andrew and I write for fish and end up buying a barbeque.

=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.co

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