Tracy Tormé: The 2009 Interview

“Over the past few days, I sat down and worked on something Sliders-related for the first time in 13 years,” states Tracy Tormé. “Two ideas, one story.”

It’s as surprising a revelation as Sliders fans would expect to hear, yet it’s delivered coolly, casually. Maybe it’s because we’ve covered a lot of ground by the time this bombshell is dropped, maybe it’s because the tenor of the conversation is relaxed; whatever the case, the news itself is exciting.

“I have to speak with a few people,” he adds suggestively. “The problem is I am just the creator. You’d think that would give me some pull. I have just as much power as you — isn’t that funny?” I reply that, as a seasoned writer and television producer, I would hope he has slightly more power in the industry than me. He laughs.

So what spurred Tormé to think back on his erstwhile creation? As noted above, it’s been more than a decade since he scrapped participation in Sliders both as producer (to spend more time with ailing dad Mel Tormé) and writer. “Heat of the Moment,” his final script, lays unfinished at the bottom of a box of production notes in his basement. He’s got several projects in the works. Most important, he walked away at just the right time. Why revisit the past now?

Simple — he opened that box.

“I though I’d lost it all until the other day, when I found it in a bin. I was rummaging through some forgotten items; a story outline for Star Trek: The Next Generation I never submitted, my Sliders script that was never produced. I just got the dust off of it; I think from a fan’s perspective it may very well be the Holy Grail.”

It may be, but as you’ll see below, “Heat of the Moment” isn’t the only thing Tormé is willing to talk about. It may be the most personal, however.

The Heat is On

Tracy isn’t kidding when he likens “Heat of the Moment” to the Holy Grail; ever since revealing its existence at the 1997 DragonCon, Sliders fans have both discussed it and used it as a lightning rod for the show’s failures in subsequent seasons. While production was writing episodes about giant worms, scarabs, and snakes and forcing John Rhys-Davies out, Tracy elected to hold back his character-driven tale about the end of the world.

While digging, “not only did I find the incomplete script, but the original story outline that dates back to July 1996. I wrote the script in late November, early December, before John was fired.

“The outline was very different,” he notes. “The entire story is read through Wade’s journal in the outline but not the script, Rembrandt dies in the script but not in the outline, and the Sliders are unsuccessful in saving the world in the script but Bennish and Arturo save it in the outline. I believe that after my father had a stroke I changed a lot of things while writing the script. It made me start thinking about death, so I incorporated a lot of tragedy when making the transition from outline to script.

“You don’t realize how much a father means until it’s too late. I’ll never forget the influence he had in my life — I truly loved him.”

Did Mel Tormé’s illness affect The Guardian as well?

“Life changes things,” he says. “I’ve always incorporated life into my scripts. It’s quite funny, actually — I wrote the Professor’s illness into the show, and while [that episode] was being filmed I think my father had the stroke. It was a difficult time.”

The script for “Heat of the Moment” continues to hibernate in Tracy’s files, but he was kind enough to write up the definitive outline of what he’d gotten to before FOX requested a Maggie-centric retool. “I had almost finished the fourth act,” he says. “I had 41 pages.”

T4

Talk of “Heat” moves nostalgia in a different direction. “I was looking through the pile of Sliders production stuff and found a small piece of paper dated November 1996,” he says. “It was a note to myself; I guess back at that time I was also jotting down ideas that would make season four if it ever happened.

“I believe I must’ve kept it either by accident or because you never throw out a good idea. Keep in mind it wasn’t an outline or a script, just a set of notes for things I felt needed to be covered in the future.”

According to the note, season four kick starts with an episode entitled “Slide Effects.” The Sliders find themselves home, with everything just as it was. In fact, it’s like they’ve never left — it’s 1994, Wade’s still working at Doppler, Arturo is teaching, and Rembrandt is working with his agent.

“Quinn is the only one that remembers sliding and he feels like he’s losing his mind,” the note continues. “Ryan, Gillian, Sid, Logan — all familiar and important characters are here. Quinn is relentlessly trying to prove to his friends that they actually went sliding. Make it look like it’s not a Kromagg show, and then bring the Kromaggs back in the end. End revelation.”

Like that? The story beats below are equally tantalizing:

  1. Ask John how he feels his character is going; how can I make him happy?
  2. More Quinn and Wade stuff;
  3. Onliners comic;
  4. Kromagg follow up — SURREAL — they [FOX] don’t want a Kromagg show, make it look that way [see Slide Effects above];
  5. Episode about the Professor’s son;
  6. “Which Arturo Slid?” debate;
  7. Jerry wants his brother on more episodes — come up with something;
  8. Arturo’s disease/Invasion/PTSS
  9. An Elston Diggs ep?
  10. Remember: Kromaggs idea

I laugh when I see item seven, because Jerry definitely inserted Charlie O’Connell into Sliders. “Jerry was always asking me so we put him in the show,” Tormé remarks. “He was almost Elston Diggs.”

Items six and eight hold equal interest for me, and apparently Tracy, too.

“For what it’s worth, I believe the wrong Arturo slid,” he says matter-of-factly. “And he was the one with the implant.”

“The way I was going to do it, Invasion was intended to be the season finale. I also referenced the Kromaggs in Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome until we cut it. I wasn’t sure what to do with the two professors, but I would’ve probably left the real one on the world with the Azure Gate Bridge. He would’ve had the implant and the Kromaggs would have showed up there.

“Unfortunately, it went on for too long. I didn’t want the wrong professor to be with our group forever. It was one of those things that was forgotten.

“I don’t like how FOX wanted writers to think with closed minds,” he adds. “If I had to write the Professor out — which I wouldn’t like in the first place — I would have made a real character episode where the Professor finally admits to being a fraud, the wrong one, and the Sliders go on knowing the real one is trapped somewhere. I wanted to let John leave with some dignity; instead, they hack him to bits and shoot him.”

Missed Opportunities

Any other missed opportunities? “There was another idea I jotted down for the third season that never made it into a script,” Tracy notes. “The Sliders land in a field and see some Klu Klux Klan members. As they’re spotted, Arturo suggests Rembrandt hide, but when the leading member of the KKK takes off his mask, he’s black. It would’ve been great.”

“I also always wanted Quinn to find out his father didn’t die in a ‘car accident’,” he says. “It was set up in the pilot.” So what killed Mike Mallory, a conspiracy to keep sliding down? A repo man for all those Tesla coils Quinn bought? “I can’t really remember,” he answers. “I just remember it was set up obviously. The Sliders would have finally gotten home, but, because his father was back, they would have slid again, like in Into the Mystic.”

On the coattails of the ‘Mystic’ reference, I ask if he remembers any details regarding Ryan, the fifth Slider who vanished into a haze of Fox-mandated discontinuity at the start of the second season.

“Oh, yes,” Tormé answers. “It was originally a five-episode story, a love triangle between Quinn, Wade, and Ryan. He was a good guy in love with Wade; we likely would have had an episode dedicated to Quinn’s jealousy. Also, one story involved a Ryan double.

“Originally, Invasion was slotted fifth and featured Ryan’s disappearance. He wasn’t going to die, however,” he adds, “he was going to become involved with the Kromaggs, and he would report back to them as a recurring character.”

By force or by will? “Some kind of force, some kind of will. He would have had a dark side.”

Unfortunately, like many dropped side plots seen throughout the series’ run, Ryan disappeared so the network could air episodes at their discretion. “Fox wanted to air episodes in whatever order they wanted and — because the second season was essentially a mid-season replacement — they thought no one would care.

“By the way, Jason Gaffney — who played Bennish — was supposed to be on the fifth season,” he says. “They wrote an arc for him and everything.”

Say what now?

Oh Bennish, Where Art Thou?

It’s been rumored for years Sliders production sought input from Tormé during the final season, and that his request for appeasement was more Bennish. The confirmation is shocking.

“They asked what would make me happy,” he says. “Although nothing would really make me happy I said Bennish. It was obvious he was a close friend of mine and I loved the character — why not bring him back? It would make the fans happy, right?

“I spoke with Bill Dial over the phone regarding several possibilities and knew Jerry wouldn’t be returning. In his stead, Bennish would return as his original character on Earth Prime. He was helping the government to track the Sliders’ whereabouts and would also star as double versions of himself. Scripts were made with a new character — I think her name was Melissa — who was also from Earth Prime. She slid to find the Sliders but her timer burnt out.

“They changed the character to Diana because it was too costly to fly Jason back and forth from Canada; they also felt the home world story didn’t fit well with the story arc from season four. When Keith Damron came aboard he rewrote 90% of what they had already down pat. From what I hear, Damron didn’t even acknowledge the stories Bill came up with.”

To further jog his memory, Tracy rifles through that magical box from the basement and sorts through his notes on season five. I ask why they kept sending him notes and scripts after the Bennish arc felt apart, and even he doesn’t know. “For some reason they just continued to do so,” he says.

Surprisingly, he returns with a comprehensive timeline of August-October 1998, which also includes some of the proposed storylines running through production while the O’Connell brothers were still in contract negotiations.

“From what I gather,” he starts, “I first received a fax on August 10 from Bill Dial saying he was going to be executive producer of season five. We then conversed about Bennish; he said he’d throw him into the show as a recurring character.

“Dial said he had come up with several ideas including Bennish — a five-episode arc where Bennish from Earth Prime would appear at the beginning of each episode to show the viewers they were trying to get the Sliders home a la my idea in Summer of Love. I guess they were trying to impress me.”

Redemption

“They were sure Jerry and Charlie would return for at least six episodes,” Tormé continues, “so Bill made his own series outline — no script, just an outline. Quinn and Colin appear together in the first five episodes, and in the fifth episode they land on Kromagg Prime. Colin unsuccessfully tries to kill Quinn, but Quinn escapes to Earth Prime in a slide without the others — learning it was not the one taken over by Kromaggs.

“Rembrandt and Maggie continue on, Colin keeping his secret. In the sixth episode, however, Colin would be exposed by Rembrandt and be left behind. In the final episode of the series Rembrandt and Maggie meet up with Quinn on Earth Prime. Originally there was only one new character — Melissa Hunter from Earth Prime, someone working with the FBI and Bennish — who gets lost sliding and ‘coincidentally’ meets our Sliders.

“This might make more sense to you than it does to me,” he adds as an aside. “I haven’t watched these episodes.”

After the O’Connell brothers backed out of season five, however, Dial scrapped most of his ideas, but Bennish still lived on in the next incarnation. “It was called ‘Redemption’ and included Rembrandt and Maggie sliding, losing Quinn and Colin, and meeting Melissa Hunter and con artist Derek Quade. The new season outline consisted of a group of ideas with these new characters; the arc held the conceit that Quinn and Colin would be somewhere with the Kromaggs and Wade, mentioned but never seen throughout the episodes.”

To wrap things up, Tormé also received outlines from Dial where Bennish’s scenes were changed to Oberon Geiger’s and the Sliders get home in an idea called “Journeys End.” Shades of The Expert!

Tracy sums the situation up perfectly: “Season five — worse than seasons three and four. It just got so bad in the end.”

The Time Trial of Horror

But enough about the past — let’s talk about the future. Since leaving Sliders, Tormé has worked on a number of notable genre television shows — Odyssey Five, The Outer Limts, and Carnivàle among them — and he’s gearing up for more sci-fi adventure and alien abductions. “I’m Tracy Tormé,” he says with a laugh. “Everyone knows I am obsessed with UFOs. They torment me about it.”

The first project recalls his roots as the man behind Fire in the Sky. It’s a film adaptation of what’s know as the Zeta Reticuli Incident, or the story of Betty and Barney Hill. One of the most infamous abduction cases of the 20th century, it’s got extraterrestrials, UFOs, precognition, crazy nightmares, military intervention, amnesia, and more. “If you like Fire in the Sky, you will like this,” says Tormé, “and if you’re not familiar with the story, you should be!”

The other project is a return to television, an exciting bit of science fiction that harkens back to the halcyon years Sliders enjoyed under Tormé’s thumb. “Maybe I’m trying to fix Sliders with this new pilot I’m working on,” he says. “It’s just as good.”

Called “The Time Trial of Horror,” “Time Trial,” or even just “ORB” — take your pick — Tracy’s latest story follows a group of friends in the aftermath of a UFO discovery. “It’s in the early concept stage,” he says. ” The main character, Luke Fradsham, is new to town. The teenagers follow Luke’s golden retriever into the wreckage and, once inside, find a handheld sphere-like device that’s adjustable, like an advanced Rubik’s cube.

“When they take it home and ultimately use it, the group becomes lost in time. One of them stays while the others travel to a future where aliens have invaded and the friend they left behind is now an old man. I’m pitching it as Sliders meets Fire in the Sky meets The Goonies meets Quantum Leap. I’m exploring networks.”

I tell him that, as a dog lover, I’d watch just for the golden retriever. He laughs. “It really is like Sliders meets Quantum Leap,” he says, “and believe it or not, back in 2000 when we were considering a Sliders movie the thought crossed my mind to have a spinoff where Quinn finds himself living a life of his double in each episode But it felt like a Quantum Leap ripoff.”

And we’re back to Sliders. “I must feel like Gene Rodenberry did in 1976,” he admits, referring to the Great Bird’s efforts to relaunch Star Trek on network television. “It seems like, since I created Sliders, I could write a new script and you guys would probably die.”

I tell him yes, it would be exciting. Yes, fans would freak out. I tell him most television is shit, and that if a new script featuring the classic cast were to arrive, we would flip out. And that’s when he drops the revelation.

“Over the past few days, I sat down and worked on something Sliders-related for the first time in 13 years,” states Tracy Tormé. “Two ideas, one story.”

What does that mean? I’m as curious as the rest of you.

  • Pickee

    Make it happen. This show deserved a proper sendoff. Bring back the original 4 for one last hurrah. I would be happy with a 2 hour movie but absolutely thrilled for a 2 parter (4 hours).