When the idea for “A Current Affair” was pitched to us by Steve Stoliar, (Paradise Lost, Net Worth) everyone in the room was enthused about it except me. It’s not that I didn’t like the idea. It’s just that I never thought it would fly when it filtered up to the network. The country was right smack in the middle of the real sordid business and I thought the story would be considered too controversial by the powers that be. I didn’t think it had a snowball’s chance in hell.
Shows you how much I know. Obviously I was wrong and pleasantly surprised to be so. It was then I began to realize just how hands off and supportive a number of the V.P.’s were at Scifi/USA. The script notes we received from them on each episode were often minimal if not non-existent. Paul Leonard once told me we were working in a different environment than the very hands-on one they experienced during the third season of the show. Paul, our associate producer in charge of post production, would know. He had the distinction of being one of two current staffers who had been on Sliders since day one. The only other “original Sliders” that were still around were executive in charge of production Robert Minkoff and, of course, Cleavant Derricks. If you needed background on anything that may have transpired over the past five years Paul was usually your answer man.
The script came in almost ready to shoot with very little re-writes required. Good for me, I was up to my neck in another project at the time. On the freelance jobs Bill would typically pass any scripts that needed structural alterations on to me. Sort of the heavy lifting of the re-write process. He would then do a dialogue polish himself (lighter duty) prior and through production. Bill, of course, could get away with this being my superior (it’s good to be the king). I think the fact that I deified him early in the season for having worked on my favorite sitcom of all time, WKRP, may have had something to do with his power over me. After all, he did write the famous turkey episode.
I did, however, expect better treatment from him. There was the time when he threw a party in his office, which was next door to mine, and didn’t invite me. On that day I was stirred from a deep contemplative funk, a communion with my computer if you will, to the wails and hoots of some noontime revelry resonating through the walls. I detected the pungent scent of macaroni salad and monterey jack seeping under the adjacent door and knew good times were afoot. As I poked my head into the room I immediately saw Cleavant, Kari, Robert, Tembi, Bill and the others all in stitches as if someone had pumped the room full of nitrous. I then realized this was no party. Just a lunchtime table read through of “A Current Affair”. All concerned seemed to be enjoying it very much. “Hmmm,” I gleefully thought to myself, “the script must work.”
I was also was happy to see that we had gotten Eric Pierpoint (Alien Nation) to play the role of the president. I was always a big proponent of tapping into the scifi genre pool, so to speak, for our guest talent and Eric was a great choice. I cast a friendly wave and nod to my colleagues then returned to my “cave”, the name given to my office by Bill and Chris because I almost always kept it dark. I sat down to my work hoping that in an hour or so there might be a morsel or two of leftover redskin potato salad for me.
Speaking of leftovers, a fortunate economical turn for A Current Affair came with the availability of a new set left standing next door on Stage One. It had been built for a Columbo made for TV movie. They were finished with it and they offered it to our show. We graciously accepted. We needed a presidential suite for “A Current Affair” and desperately wanted a new look. Frankly, we were getting pretty sick of The Chandler. That new set went on to serve us through the end of the season, undergoing a number of re-dresses along the way. Aside from the stock facades on the backlot it’s not the first time Sliders has used leftovers from other shows. Most notably were the impressive sets used in Slidecage which were actually the main sets for the short lived series Timecop.
For the outdoor press conference scene it was decided not to use the backlot. Instead the company was re-located a mile or so up the hill to the Hilton Hotel where most of the Universal Studios theme park visitors stay. As with our new interior set, moving off the backlot always gives us a different look. The only problem was it also gave us a very large exterior space which had to be filled with reporters and other press type people. Way too many extras for our budget. It has often been said that the greatest visual effects are those that you don’t see. Such was the case with “A Current Affair.” Instead of quadrupling the number of extras, the ones on hand were moved and shuffled around the frame of the shot and filmed four separate times. All four shots were then composited together into a single image. A viewer with a keen eye (or a paused four head VCR) will notice each extra appearing four times within the shot. All thanks not so much to the magic of Hollywood, but the magic of Hollywood number-crunching.
We shared a number of other resources with the Columbo people including a bungalow for half the season. It was there, in the confines of my own office, that I experienced a brush with greatness. One of those inevitable encounters that occur when you work in Hollywood. On this occasion the legendary Patrick McGoohan of The Prisoner fame walked into my cave. He was on the lot directing the latest Columbo movie but what could he possibly want from me? Could he be looking for a writer to script The Return of The Prisoner? A TV movie version? Perhaps a whole new series? Turns out he mistook my office for the men’s room. I re-directed him, we both shared a chuckle and he graciously excused himself. You win some you lose some. I later thought about slipping a writing sample under his stall door but was quickly dissuaded by the image in my mind of a security guard escorting me off the lot. As T’Pau once said, “…keep thy place.”
In this case she was right. I had no complaints.
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