Lee Goldberg is a veteran writer and producer with dozens of credits to his name. In addition to his numerous forays into the science fiction genre, he and writing partner William Rabkin have been the driving force behind a host of other styles of storytelling. He is also, in his own mind, “an ex-Navy SEAL, freelance Sexual Surrogate and a professional Pierce Brosnan impersonator.” To read more about Lee’s career, check out his website. To listen to him answer a solid baker’s dozen of questions about life and his short stint on Sliders, however, just keep reading.
How long have you been writing for television? What were the circumstances that led to you and William Rabkin teaming up?
Since 1985. I sold my novel “.357 Vigilante” to New World Pictures, they bought the movie rights, and I brought my friend Bill Rabkin in to write the script with me. We’ve been writing together ever since.
The movie didn’t get made, but we wrote a spec Spenser: For Hire that they bought and shot, launching our TV career. We have written well over 100 scripts since then.
You’ve written for many distinct genres. Which do you prefer the most?
I think I prefer the cop/crime/mystery show the most – perhaps because that’s also my favorite kind of show to watch.
It’s 1994. How did you hear about Sliders?
To be honest, I don’t remember. I do recall watching a rough cut of the pilot and loving it. We came up with three pitches (and no, I don’t remember what the other ones were!) and Tracy [Tormé] went for one of them in the room. We were the first freelancers that he hired – we were there before Jacob Epstein, Christian Williams and the rest of the producers were on-board.
Your episode was the third of the series. How do you write for characters of a brand new show? Were you given a show bible to guide you?
All we really had was the pilot and Tracy, but he was great. He had a firm handle on who the characters were and what their world was like. We listened to him to find the voice of the show. He really was the show, at least when we were there.
Who did you meet with when you pitched your episode? Can you describe what the pitch process was like for you?
We met with Tracy at first and two executives from John Landis’ company, though I don’t recall their names. Then we had a number of follow-up meetings with Tracy where we went over the broad beats of the story.
Were you offered other episodes to write/rewrite/polish? Or did you go into this knowing it was a one time deal?
They offered us a job as story editors on the show, but at the same time we were offered higher-paying, supervising producer positions on The Cosby Mysteries. So, naturally, we went with Cosby though we liked Sliders better.
As I recall, we pitched it. It may have evolved in the room – and probably did. Television is a group effort and the showrunner, who was Tracy at the time, really shapes the story to his liking as its being devised.
How much time were you given to complete the assignment?
It was probably the standard two weeks.
You had the opportunity to sculpt these characters in their infancy. Did you inject certain characteristics you hoped would continue forward?
Freelance writers don’t sculpt the regular characters, the producers do. We just wrote a script for the characters as Tracy Tormé envisioned them, and did another draft for Jacob Epstein when he came on-board (as I recall, he had a different take on the show and our specific episode than Tracy did).
What do you think about the episode’s plot similarities to the pilot? Did you have a chance to watch the first episode before you sat down to write?
We did. If there are similarities, it may have been a function of Tracy helping us shape the story, or it might have come in revisions after we turned in our script.
We’ve seen copies of early drafts, and the later acts are very different from what aired. Did you have a hand in the changes? If not, did you like the changes or would you have preferred they’d stuck with your original plan? How different was the finished version from the beat sheet/pitch you started with?
It has been so many years that I honestly don’t remember. I do recall being very happy with the version that aired.
Were you told to start the episode needed to start off with the Transamerica Tower scene as a payoff to previous episodes?
No, because at the time, our episode was the only freelance script that existed. They added that teaser.
Lastly, whose idea was it to transform Arturo’s double into a clone of Rush Limbaugh?
That was our idea from the start. It may even have been our inspiration for doing the episode. We hate Rush Limbaugh.