Writing for “Sliders”
“Yes, Java Jive was originally called Black and Bluesy because it was in a 1920’s nightclub that had mostly black patrons,” recalls writer Janét Saunders. “I guess some people were offended by the title, but I do remember it was the network’s favorite show and everybody loved the song and dance routines. Everybody (office and studio people) went down to the set to watch; that rarely happens.”
But who is Saunders and how was she able to pitch two separate episodes of Sliders to production? Simple – she worked for the show for three years as David Peckinpah’s assistant.
“At the end of season 4 I told David ‘next year I’m writing a show,’ and he didn’t argue with me,” she says. “Knowing budget restraints I drove around the lot one night looking for locations they hadn’t used thus far. But first I wanted to write a musical story to feature Cleavant’s talent. That was the main pitch. I naturally saw it in the 20’s in a black speakeasy world.
“It was originally a kidnapping story but the staff wanted us to change it. David’s friend, Pete Andrews, wrote the song and it was supposedly the network’s favorite show. The day they filmed the dance scene the stage was so crowded. Everyone loved it.”
If everyone loved it, what kind of changes were pushed through by production to get it to what we saw on screen? Well, now you can read for yourself; Janét and Jennifer’s original pitch, dated September 16, 1998, is now available below. Many thanks to Janét Saunders for providing this… and other tidbits to come!
We wanted to write one for Cleavant’s singing and playing talent, so we decided on the colorful setting of the speakeasy.
The Sliders land on a downtown street that looks like the 1920s. (On this world, Eli Whitney didn’t invent the cotton gin, which caused industrialization to begin much later.) Diana tells them they’ll be there for two days. No sooner do they comprehend the time period when they hear the unmistakable sound of machine guns firing.
From around the corner an attractive, young, black woman named ANGIE comes running straight at them, begging for their help. Remmy acts swiftly, shoving everyone into an open store. He turns the lock, turns the open sign around to read “Closed”, and they all duck down below the glass windows. Next we see some black gangsters, Dropper Daddy’s Gang, and their car, slowly searching the area for Angie. One of them peers into the store window, but can’t see them stooped down below the windows.
After a few minutes the gangsters leave and Angle can’t thank Remmy enough. She is hysterically crying now. Between breaths, she tells the Sliders Dropper Daddy’s Gang just shot her boyfriend, Harrell, who was an undercover federal agent working as a bass player in her father’s club, the Velvet Slipper. Harrell had been gathering information on the local gangs and kept all the information in a secret file. She thinks Harrell was just about to tell the feds the name of a crooked special agent when he was gunned down.
Angle tells the Sliders she’s a singer at the Velvet Slipper where Harrell was working undercover. The Sliders tell her they’re from out of town and need work and a place to stay for a few days. Angie takes them home with her and later to the Velvet Slipper. Remmy offers that he’s a bass player and Angie sees no problem getting him the gig. When Maggie tells her she can sing, Angie tells her “Not in this club, honey.” Later when the club is open, we see Maggie is a cigarette girl, Michael is bussing tables, and Diana posing as a customer watching the show — The Sweet Thunder Revue. Remmy loves this club! It is full of beautiful, black women in dance hall costumes. Here we feature one really great, old, blues song, soulfully sung by Angie and Remmy.
Later, on a break, they all pour out the side alley entrance where they are overtaken and Angie is grabbed by a group of gun toting mobsters. The Sliders can’t help her. They can only watch as the mobsters drag her off to their car, blindfold her, and take her to their illegal booze warehouse where she is tied to a chair. They want to know where Harrell’s file is. She won’t tell them. They slap her around.
After the Sliders regroup, they search backstage at the Velvet Slipper and find Harrell’s secret file hidden in his bass case. Now that they know where Dropper Daddy’s Gang’s warehouse is, they decide Remmy has to go try to rescue her.
Unbeknownst to him, his double on this world is the crooked federal agent on the take. At the warehouse, when the gang sees him, they let him in and wonder why he appears a little strange. After a beat, they realize this isn’t their Joe Pearson – ‘Just who in the hell are you?!” Now the real Joe Pearson shows up, so they throw Remmy in the room with Angie and tie him to a chair too. Prisoners together, Angie and Remmy bond and he tells her where they’re from, not that she believes him for a minute. They sing a poignant, acapella song.
It’s getting late. Maggie, Michael, and Diana have been outside waiting nearby in Angie’s Dad’s Model A Ford. When Remmy doesn’t come out, they go to plan B: The next night at the Velvet Slipper Diana approaches the gangsters flirtatiously as an attractive, but brainy scientist. She hints around at all the recent deaths from bad liquor, “I hear you’ve got a problem with purification …. You know, I could help you out with that. .. ” At first they laugh her off, but she quickly rattles off her credentials and they are impressed by her knowledge. They wonder about her interest, she says like everyone else, she enjoys a stiff drink now and then. They agree to take her to their warehouse, but she insists on meeting Mr. Big and also wants to get paid. They like her spunk, so they arrange this, and take her there, blindfolded. Michael and Maggie follow in the Model A.
Meanwhile at the local federal office, the Chief and his agents are talking about their problem. They suspect Joe Pearson is on the take because of subtle, but expensive, recent purchases he’s made and how last week’s bust at the Ruby Club was a failure. But mainly, the Chief thinks that Joe turned the gang on to Harrell, who, the night he was killed, was supposed to meet with the Chief to give him the secret file. Because of Pearson, Harrell is dead, the secret file is hidden they know not where, and now Angie Morgan has been kidnapped because she probably knows where it is. The feds decide to visit Thomas Morgan at the Velvet Slipper.
At the warehouse, Diana and the guys are waiting for Mr. Big. Diana purposely asks to go to the bathroom and one of them takes her down the hall where she accidentally sees Angie and Remmy in a room with a high window. It’s a quick look, but the information she came for. When she returns to the main office, she meets with Mr. Big, who is impressed. She flirts with him and gives him the formula he needs for purification. They go back to the Velvet Slipper arm-in-arm. Chagrined, Michael and Maggie follow.
Later that night, after Diana has slipped away from Mr. Big, Maggie, Michael, and Diana go racing to the warehouse. Through the high window they manage to get Angie and Remmy out. About this time, Mr. Big and the gang show up. There’s running and shooting involved, and Angie is fatally wounded. They barely escape in Angie’s Dad’s car, racing back to the Velvet Slipper, all the while Remmy is cradling Angie in his arms. She dies in the car and he carries her into the club to the shock and dismay of her father. Michael calls the cops, while Maggie gets Harrell’s bass case and brings it out to show to everyone.
Suddenly, Dropper Daddy’s Gang shows up demanding Harrell’s file. Guns aimed at Sliders, who nervously ask each other how many minutes until they slide – Two! Just then, the feds come in up behind them. The gangsters try to shoot it out, but the feds clearly outnumber them.
Remmy, so sad about Angie, hands the secret file over to the Chief, “Everything you need is in here.” The Chief tries to question and detain them, but Diana says they have to go and she opens the vortex. The feds are dumbfounded and amazed. The Sliders say good-bye and jump out.
Download the pitch
Want to save this for posterity? “Black and Bluesy” is also available to download as a PDF: