Darrell Vickers – The Ballad of Sweet John Dugan Part Two: Danger Bay, Will Robinson!

The moment of truth was upon us like a bachelor elephant on a Mr. Peanut love doll. We had journeyed nigh on one hundred yards and walked up a full flight of stairs, but now, with our treacherous trek finally at an end, we found ourselves comfortably seated before the bewigged-one. Benevolent John shone his blinding light of ultimate cognition, and the need for a gripping act break, upon our eager and sponge-like cerebellums. Soon we were armed with the scads and skeins and scoops of essential information required to make a whiz-bang sale.

“Danger Bay” revolved around the work and home life of an aquarium vet, played by Donnelly Rhodes – who would go on to become the smoking doctor on Battlestar Gallactica. Donnelly’s character was papa to a couple of youngins and there were a lot of fish around in lieu of a wife.

Approximately 90 seconds after our detailed briefing, Andrew and I were back in our hovel of an apartment pounding out some inventive and deeply meaningful oceanicly themed premises. A couple of days and 90 seconds later, we delivered our pelagic pitches to Shallyn and voyaged home to anxiously await his adjudication.

Apparently, upon scanning our pages, John excitedly waved them in the air and declared, “Now, these are writers!” I’m guessing some of the other submissions he’d received were of the same quality as his production offices.

Eureka and whoop-de-do! We sold an episode right off the bat. It was basically a veterinarian version of Country Mouse/City Mouse. As an indication of how long ago and startlingly medieval 1984 was; to research our episode, we plodded on down to the Sherman Oaks library and flipped through actual books, written on paper, detailing the fascinating world of animal husbandry. The script that resulted was well received but we did receive a few peculiar notes.

A Pet Peeve:

Throughout our tenure on “Danger Bay” we had a bitch of a time with the CBC censor.

Andrew and I are thoroughly convinced that a lot of the people who work in S&P (Standards and Practices) are mentally ill. They invent affronts in their own minds that aren’t actually in the script and then they virulently object to them. This was essentially a kid’s show – we weren’t trying to sneak sex scenes with penguins into our episodes but we still ran afoul of their smut smiting eye.

Our initial disgraceful act of moral turpitude was ferreted out of our very first script. Donnelly was heading to the country so we needed a farewell scene. Andrew and I wrote, “The jeep is loaded and ready to go.” Well they picked up on this sneaky sinful sentence in the time it takes a gnat to have an orgasm! We were immediately commanded to change the word “Loaded” to “Packed” because “Loaded” had a drinking connotation. This was just in the goddamn description!

Our third episode was an assignment as opposed to a pitch. The show had access to a trained orangutan named Ponga. We were given a list of cute activities that the ape loved to perform so we could work them into the plot. Apparently, an exceedingly enjoyable orangutanian lark was to repeatedly put on and take off a baseball cap. We gladly added it to the story. The lady at S&P immediately and bitterly complained that we were insulting Ponga’s dignity. Firstly, this was a divertissement Pongo already relished. We didn’t sit around saying, “Hey, how can we make this helpless ape look like a mentally defective simpleton? Secondly, the young woman seemed to be blithely unaware that show business is an insult to the dignity of everyone involved.

The noble simian did bring a smile to the cast and crew, however. There was an actress on the series that was excruciatingly difficult to get along with. Nobody, but nobody, seemed to like her. One day she ignored warnings not to get between Ponga and his trainer and the great ape sank his teeth into her hand like it was a Quizno’s Philly Sandwich. Her munched-on mitt didn’t taste a lot like chicken, though. Because she was an actress, it tasted more like ham.

The third bizarre note came from a Disney executive who was irate about an exchange that had already been filmed for one of our episodes. The awful, offending scene in question involved Donnelly arriving at a farm to inspect a stallion. She was practically vibrating with rage as she recalled the scandalous interaction that shook her to the very core. “The woman looks him up and down and asks, ‘Are you a horse’ doctor?’” Apparently, she believed that millions of innocent children watching the Disney Channel would instantly jump up out of their Donald Duck recliners and scream, “Mom, she’s asking him if he has a big dick!”

Our second successful sale to Danger Bay wasn’t even our idea. My future, and long suffering wife, was working on a big name television series, at the time. In one particular episode, they had some Koi (very large goldfish) on the set. Apparently in Japan, these fish can be worth tens of thousands of dollars but it all depends on the patterns and shapes of the markings on their scales. She thought there might be a good story in someone using ink to change the shape of ordinary Koi into super valuable ones.

Bingo! We sold it quicker than a Republican soul.

But how to reward this inventive gal for her vital contribution to high aquatic art?

When I used to visit at Judith’s apartment in West Hollywood (once voted the worst apartment building in all of Los Angeles!), we enjoyed barbecuing on her tiny porch with her even tinier hibachi. Thus my genius idea. If small was good then HUGE would be fantastic! Andrew and I would venture forth in search of a super deluxe grilling unit to replace Mr. Tiny. We then plotted to sneak the prodigious cooking apparatus into her apartment while she was at work.

Luckily, the store only had the display model in stock. They offered us a discount to take it, which we did. In actual fact, we should have paid them extra. This thing had a gazillion screws and bolts and other attachable bits. It would have taken us decades to assemble one out of the box. As it was, we just took a few bolts out of the leggy part and separated it from the big heaty thing on top (I really know the lingo).

Andrew and I arrived at Judith’s apartment building and knocked on the door of her landlord, an antediluvian, grouchy crank originally from Montreal. When he espied the ludicrously sized barbeque, a smile briefly creased his scowling countenance. When Judith got home that evening, she discovered that she could now barbeque in style on her porch. She just couldn’t stand on her porch while she was doing it.

Our Competion:

John also hired an English teacher or professor from Vancouver to pen an episode. When Mr. Dugan sent him notes on his draft and asked him to change it, the prof exasperatedly inquired, “Don’t you have secretaries to do that?”

Show business must seem very alien to non-pros. Not only didn’t The Sweet One have “secretaries,” he didn’t even have a secretary. The sum total of the “Danger Bay” production machinery was a garage-sale desk set up in the gulag-esque bedroom and a Goodwill coffee maker in the kitchen.

And…

Shallyn’s ex, Gil Shilton, is a Canadian director/writer. He also managed to cadge a couple of script assignments for the show. At one point he was in the “office” pitching and described a character as, “Much like yourself, aging but virile.” Well, Sweet John’s wig almost stuck to the ceiling. “Aging but virile!?” Gil’s script assignments immediately slowed to a trickle and in every subsequent conversation between the two of them, the phrase “aging but virile” would pop up like tits in a Paul Verhoeven film.

Another Oddball:

The owner of the production company was also quite a character. He’d made a lot, lot, lot of money producing the 195th version of “Anne of Green Gables” for Canadian television. Mr. Sullivan must have been quite the negotiator, also. He was constantly in the Writers Guild of Canada offices trying to figure out why he was being charged far too much for the scripts he required. We wrote three episodes for the series. Each one paid less than the last. This guy had more shifty moves than a Hawaiian dancer with crabs.

A Side Note:

The Canadian Writer’s Guild – in all its infinite wisdom – dumped the stupid old residuals formula for a cant-lose share of the profits! From now on, each lucky writer would receive a percentage of the adjusted gross plus a yearly financial statement from the production company for each episode penned. This was so plans could be prepared for how to spend the tidal wave of cash due to come their way.

Not only have we never received an extra nickel for “Danger Bay” – or any show we have written under this agreement, Sullivan Productions has inexplicably failed to send us a financial statement for 38 straight years and counting.

Epilogue:

The last ran into The Sweet Man during one of our many writers’ strikes. It was a typical lead-melting day in the Valley and we were picketing outside NBC. John took a few moments out of his adamant sign-waving and proletariat talking-point hollering to have a chin wag. He was still wearing his wig and rivulets of perspiration were flowing down his forehead. As we continued to chat about the present state of collective bargaining, Mr. Dugan quite casually used his index finger like a windshield wiper to periodically swish away his brow broth.

About seven years later, during our weary, dreary years at Warner Brothers, Andrew and I received a call out of the blue from Sweet John. He informed us that he’d just arrived back from a last cruise. His smoking et al had finally come home to roost and John joked about how little of him there was left after the doctors had finished removing all his disease-ridden body parts.

He was basically calling to say goodbye, but he still had that dark sense of humor and not a hint of self pity.

Sleep well, “Sweet” John Dugan. You were a true character and the world is a sadder place for your absence.

=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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