Jon Povill, part 2

Written by: Matt Hutaff · March 01, 2008


If you haven’t seen the first season Sliders episode Luck of the Draw, you’re missing out on one of the seminal experiences from the series’ run. It’s an award—winning piece of science fiction that writer Jon Povill is extremely proud of, even years later.

Look for Povill to take the helm of Star Trek: New Voyages in 2008 as he heads east to direct the original version of “The Child” he penned for Star Trek Phase II.

To begin: any tidbits about the script you’d care to share that we may not know about?

Rhys—Davies was furious about the dog. Hated the dog. Hated working with the dog. Threatened numerous times throughout the shoot not to do scripted scenes with the dog. Quoted the overused missive of how actors should avoid working with children or animals. (Wonder if he bitched to Spielberg about working with the monkey in Raiders. Never thought to ask him.)

Was the initial treatment of the story more in tune with Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” before hiatus was announced? How did the plot progress differently from your Writer’s Draft (which in itself is vastly different from the filmed version)?

I never read “The Lottery.” I assume [Show creator] Tracy [Tormé] did, as he seemed to be aware of it. If I remember correctly, it was his suggestion to do a “Lottery” based story — but I took it from there and developed it according to my inclinations without any knowledge of where the Jackson’s story went. My intent with it was very much to have us on a world that seemed totally great, and have the conflict arise from us (very naturally) not understanding the rules of how this particular world operated. It seemed to me that that paradigm needed to be the essence of the show going forward as it would be the most realistic aspect of sliding into strange worlds. The worlds do not have to be inherently dangerous and foreboding inasmuch as any world is dangerous if you don’t understand the rules by which the society operates.

In keeping with that MO, I did not want any “Lottery Police” or any sense of a coercive society or infrastructure. If the values of a community are to “make way” then there is no need for such institutions. From my perspective, it would have been far better for the authorities to be completely befuddled by Wade’s reluctance to die as it would be virtually unprecedented. The societal norm would dictate that anyone taking money from the lottery machines was aware of the consequences and entirely willing to accept them. The network imposed the police state environment, which, I think, worked against everything the show was trying to accomplish and at least to some degree brought us reight back into the realm of another “bad” world.

Was the abovementioned network imposition the impetus for the cliffhanger? Can you share some insight into the rumors concerning the hiatus between seasons one and two?

The original order was 9 hours — 8 episodes including the two—hour pilot. No one orders 22 out of the box anymore; you’re lucky to get 8. They want to see how something works. We were very much on the bubble that first year. I’ve heard, but never had it confirmed, that Luck was what tipped the scale in favor of renewal.

There was no change of the order. Luck was simply episode 8 and the mandate was to hit one out of the park. Part of what was good about Luck was that it broke with what had been our pattern of coming into worlds with huge problems and thus opened the possibilities for stories that dealt not with the problems of the world, but with the problems of our Sliders in a particular world, good or bad. This considerably broadened the base of the kinds of stories we could tell and gave the network the sense that there was a great deal of fresh material we could mine in year two. Still, they did very much resist the idea of linking episodes and having to air them in a particular order and they made us wrap up the cliffhanger in the shortest time possible.

What was the mood like around the production offices when hiatus was announced?

Anxious.

Whose decision was it to leave the episode on such a jarring cliffhanger?

I don’t even remember. It might have been Jacob. It might have been Tracy. It might have been me. Whoever had the idea, it was met with instant consensus.

If there had been no cliffhanger decision, how else would you have ended the episode?

If not for the gunshot, I’d still have ended with Ryan coming through the wormhole and complicating our next world. Of course, Fox still would have killed that. Go figure. Now it’s hard to find a show that doesn’t feature an ongoing storyline. It’s the right way to go to build a loyal following.

Why the decision to remove the sexuality of Quinn and Wade’s relationship? Was there a conscious effort to keep the relationship platonic?

Network decision. They wanted the leads to be able to have relationships with guest stars. Thought it made the characters more exciting, desirable, and opened up more story opportunities.

Richard Simmons, Robin Leach and Geoff Edwards — were the first two going to appear only to face scheduling conflicts? If not, any reason for the change in Lottery hosts?

I believe I was simply writing in who we wanted to get and continued to adjust the names until we got who we got. (I don’t even remember who ultimately did it.)

Any particular reason for the name metamorphosis from Martin DeLeo to T.J. to Ryan?

Just Jacob tinkering. He didn’t like the previous names, so I kept changing them till I found one he did.

Tormé has stated in interviews that:

“Ryan was going to be in several episodes at the start of the second season and I worked out with Jacob Epstein, who was also executive producer that year, the path that Ryan would take. We had in mind three or four shows to do with him. By the fourth show, something shocking was going to happen to him.”

When you brought Ryan and the dog along on the slide at the end, was there any particular arc you had in mind for him/them? Do you remember what Tracy and Jacob’s “shocking” plans were for the character?

I don’t remember knowing anything about Tracy and Jacob working out an arc for Ryan. I do agree that the original intent was to keep him around a bit longer and to work the dramatic tension of the rivalry between him and Quinn. I don’t remember any specifics for a shocker though I have no doubt that we would have intended a shocker to make the best use of his character and his departure. Perhaps he’d have sacrificed himself to save Wade’s life or, even more shocking, Quinn’s. I’d have voted for the latter.

Were you pleased with the resolution in “Into the Mystic?”

No.

What was it like winning the Turner Prize for your screenplay? Do you know what part of it in particular wowed the voting panel?

The prize is awarded to the show that best addresses issues related to population. “Luck” dealt with the connections between population, pollution and scarcity. The impact we have on the planet is in many ways more a function of our numbers than our technology, commerce and “productivity”. Environmental groups often avoid this connection, as they don’t want to alienate religious constituencies but the planet cannot long sustain our numbers combined with the current level of pollution per capita. “Luck” raised these points and I suspect that’s what caught their eye.

What is your opinion of the ethical and moral debate you present in this episode? Do you think that world was “right,” per se? Is there anything you feel our society can draw from this take on population control?

Well, I’m not advocating a “Luck” style lottery, but I do think it would be healthy if we focused on quality rather than quantity of life and I certainly think that our numbers must decline. If we fail to reduce our numbers voluntarily, the planet will do it for us by way of famine and disease. We need to create a culture of responsible parenting — no more than two children per couple — rather than continue to have groups (religious and otherwise) seeking to enhance their positions numerically by encouraging reproduction on the part of their constituents. Also, we need to fully recognize the intricate web of the ecology and come to value it in its entirety rather than our constant focus on the “value of human life”. If we sacrifice the value of plant life, insect life, fish life, coral life, animal life and whatever I’m leaving out of the web, there will be no value to human life. Our numbers suck up inordinate resources and spew out inordinate pollutants.

Far better to act with a bit of foresight than to deal with the kind of massive privation nature will impose if we pass the tipping point on sustainability. We’re on the cusp right now. Let us pray for wisdom.

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