Flashback: Tracy Tormé – DragonCon 1997

Written by: Earth Prime · June 27, 1997

As interviews go, Tracy Tormé’s 1997 DragonCon appearance is second to none in terms of candor and information presented. It came at a critical period of time for Sliders — the show had just been canceled by FOX and rumors were circulating about the show’s move to either the Sci-Fi Channel or USA Network — and Tormé spoke frankly about the show’s mismanagement, eventual demise, and resurrection.

The panel was hosted by author and was to also feature John Rhys-Davies, who could not attend due to injury. Not to worry, however; as the original transcriber notes, “Tracy certainly had enough to say!” What follows below is an abridged version of the interview which separates the chaff from the wheat — no witty banter, just the meat of the conversation. Thanks to “Raydelle” and “Sliderray,” who taped the panel and then painstakingly transcribed it over 10 years ago!

Brad Linaweaver: So in case you didn’t know this, it’s renewed for 22 episodes, 22 new episodes, which will be done with the USA/Sci-Fi people. As you know, as the show’s quality has gone down, a lot of humor has also vanished. I’m hoping that the rebirth of Sliders on the Sci-Fi channel is also the rebirth of the real Sliders. I’m assuming that everybody here feels the same way.

Tracy Tormé: Hello. Sorry I’m a little bit late; they sent me to the oddest places and I finally found this. Where’s John? It’s like filming again, John!

I just realized I can now talk about John because he’s not here. [Laughter] That’s the beautiful part of this. No, I’d better not.

Before you showed up, we were talking about the big announcement. Maybe you’d like to make the announcement yourself. I already did it, but they’ll pretend they’re hearing it for the first time.

We are coming back for 22 shows, and it’s going to be on the Sci-Fi Channel and USA simultaneously. [Cheering, applause] Now, the big question is what kind of show are we going to come back to. And there’s quite a battle going on about that. I’d like to return the show to it’s original roots. If I told you some of the things that I heard before I left L.A. about what Universal is thinking right now, you’d be very frightened. So it’s worse than you can imagine as far as who they think should come back to the show and what the direction should be and so there’s going to be quite a little struggle about that over the next month or so, I think.

I think that the key thing is can we deliver the show we used to deliver and will we go back in that direction. I’m going to try everything I can to do that. A lot of it’s about money; the budget won’t be as high, which in a way is kind of good because it’s gonna force us to do more character shows. They’re not going to be chased by giant snakes and vampires.

And so that’s the good news. So we will be back. They’ve bought the rights to all 48 previous episodes and there’s 22 more coming down the pike. That’ll bring us up to 70 and so it bodes well for us to be in syndication for a long time and now it’s just really a question of trying to get the show back on track and doing a decent show again, because I was quite embarrassed by last season.

Well, is it true that the basic three, right, will still be the core?

That’s one of the things we’re fighting about. [Audience gasps, moans, “Please, dump Maggie!”] Yeah! They say the basic three. I won’t say anything about her except to say Meryl Streep is safe. [Laughter] I wish I could come in and tell you that we’re back on course. We’re back, but as far as being back on course, that’s another story. So, I’m going to try everything I can. Bob Weiss, who co-created the show with me — a lot of you might not know him, but he produced all the Naked Gun movies and the Blues Brothers, and all this other good stuff — he’s been away from the show for a couple of years, and he’s now trying to get back with me to sort of go in as the original creators and try to right the course of the show basically.

So, in other words it’ll be science-fiction again.

Yeah. I mean, that’s one of the things… yeah. I think so. That’s one of the things we want to do. But mainly, you know, the show this last season, it lost all the comedy, it lost all the satire, it lost all the sort of cross-cultural stuff from one world to another, it lost all the music. I mean, Rembrandt’s now talking about being in the Navy. I don’t know where that came from. That’s all he does really.

And Quinn, you know, again, if you look at it, a classic example is Quinn.When Quinn was first devised, he was supposed to be this guy who was a little bit of a misfit. He did all all his science in the basement because he was a little bit ashamed of his intellect, and he was sort of an outcast as The Guardian showed, he was a couple of years ahead of his time and smaller than the other kids and younger and all that, so he had no idea of the way of life and all that.

Now if you look at Quinn, I mean, he’s like an action hero. He should be in the store next to GI Joe, you know, and he’s got a really GQ look going, he’s punching people out every week, and really that’s what they’ve done to Rembrandt also. He’s the same thing now, he just goes in and fights everybody. And that’s the sad part, the people in power and the network and studio believe that’s what the audience wants. I’ve been swimming against the current for 3 years and finally this year I decided that for a lot of reasons I was going to back away and hope they knew what they were doing.

I wrote the story for The Guardian and was writing [my] second episode when I got word they wanted John Rhys-Davies off the show. I was just finishing a big, big episode about Rhys-Davies, so that was the last straw for me because the reasons that they wanted him off the show were not correct. So, I threw that script away basically. It’s an almost completed script. Maybe one day it will come out somewhere else. And I just really decided that to stay involved with the show in the direction it was going, you know, I would lose this hair pretty rapidly. [Laughter]

So I just decided that I had to back off completely and hope that they knew what they were doing, so I stopped reading the scripts, I stopped watching the dailies, and I stopped being involved, and then I got talked into watching the Roger Daltrey episode which I had been told was going to be our big seminal episode. It was going to be the greatest Sliders episode of all times. And I watched the second part of it with some friends and, you know, it was horrifying. It was just, I thought it was one of the worst hours of television I’d ever seen, and I thought that the show, that nobody really cared about the show in a million ways. I mean, everything was just shoddy.

The production was bad, the writing was bad, the acting was ridiculous. Things didn’t tie together. I later discovered one of the executive producers running the show’s standard answer for everything was, “Aw, it’s a parallel world, no one cares!” So, when we say ‘why is Roger Daltrey running the American military with a British accent?’, “Aw, it’s a parallel world, who cares?” So, that’s like the answer to everything, which is why you got the show you got the third season. So now, it’s an interesting thing. I mean, is it going to be more of the same or are we going to get back on track? And that’s the real question, which I can’t honestly say that we’ll win this fight. It may end up being season three going into season four. Or worse.

When will you know if victory is possible? In other words, at what time will the handwriting be on the wall?

There’s a certain person who right now the studio would like to bring back to run the show who would be a terrible mistake. And they want to do it strictly for financial reasons. They have to pay him for another season, so they feel they don’t want to have to pay him to sit around and do nothing, or they don’t want to pay him to go on another show with less episodes. So it’s, that’s all it comes down to now — the person at the studio that had been protecting him all of last year has been fired.

So there’s nothing, now that forces us to do this other than money. From their point of view, this is a money thing. They want to get Sliders into syndication, they want a certain number of shows, and it’s hard when you go in there with them to try to convince them that they should spend all this extra money because its the right thing to do.

I think The Guardian is one of the most powerful [episodes of] Sliders, and when you consider what that was and what came not long afterward. What a contrast between what Sliders could be and what Sliders became.

And that was a show that they never, ever wanted to do. That was a show that we had to sort of force.

I mean, if it wasn’t me sort of riding it, and forcing my way to do it, we never would’ve done that show. Because it was a character-driven show, and it had — you know, it wasn’t like The Island of Dr. Moreau rip-off, or Twister rip-off, and I could go on and on.

I found out, and this is quite interesting, the reason we did all the “Movie of the Weeks” was because Fox at one point called up and demanded that. I can’t even lay that off on people that ran the show last year. Fox came in and said, “Find popular movies and just put the Sliders in them because that’s what people want to see.” [“No!“] You don’t have to tell me that!

But that’s why you got like 15 out of 25 shows were Nightmare on Elm Street or something like that.

Actually, to understand the dynamic of it, the first two seasons and the pilot, we did the show we wanted only by being subversive and telling the network we would do something and then doing something else and hoping they were too busy to notice. [Laughter] And people say, “Well, Fox! Fox is the ‘Anything goes’ network!” Well, that’s true for comedy. You know, The Simpsons is probably the greatest show ever, but for the drama department, it’s all Beverly Hills 90210 and that kind of stuff. That’s what they have all over the walls all over the place, Beverly Hills 90210 and Party of Five and shows like that. That’s what they want to be doing. So when we come along, they’re not really that comfortable with the direction we’re going. They would much rather we were just sort of a straight forward action show. That’s what they wanted all along. They always felt uncomfortable with all the different elements of Sliders. They always felt like people would never be able to put it in a nice, neat box and know what it was because there was too many things. And you know, maybe there was a sense that maybe we would never be a massively popular show as far as, you know, we would never be a Melrose Place or something like that.

But we, the first two seasons, just to tell you, we did the show we did by going around them. And then, the third season, all of my allies were gone, fired, or everything, or had been fired over the last couple of years, and I was the only one left, and I was really with a bunch of people who believed that the show — this was the kiss of death — that the word came down that the show was too cerebral. [Laughter, groans]

And so, there was this mandate; they wanted it to be what I call “Chinese food television”. That’s basically where you’ve watched it and five minutes later you’ve forgotten what you’ve seen, but you’ve supposedly eaten some popcorn and had a good time. That’s what they wanted the show to be. The words were “eye candy,” “action-adventure,” “don’t get into all this intellectual…” intellectual? Don’t get into the political stuff, don’t get into satire. And so, you know, that’s what they always wanted the show to be.

I can tell you a quick anecdote that when we did the pilot they pretty much left me alone. They let me do the pilot that I wanted to do. We were off in Vancouver, going way over budget, and they were sort of asleep at the wheel, and we got to actually do the movie we wanted to make. Except, there were two big battles with them. And one was, and you’re all going to groan, but this is totally true, is that they told us that the communist America that we went to, which was really a satire of communist America, [had to be taken out] because communism was a thing of the distant past that nobody related to. [Laughter, groans] And at that time, the Berlin Wall had gone down like two years before.

So they really fought with us about that. Communism was just out of date, no one related to it, no one remembered it, it’s a thing of the past, and then, People’s Court was really the thing that horrified them because they thought, you know, you’re going to do this sort of comedy thing right in the middle of a sci-fi show. You’re going to lose the audience. And everyone in Cincinnati is going to turn the set off the second this happens. And, I really fought them for this. Now, this started a pattern of fighting them about every show. But, I fought them for this and just said, “It’s gonna work. Trust me.” So we got to shoot the Judge Wapner stuff with the attitude basically they had that they’ll probably cut it out and it’s probably not going to work, but they’ll at least let us shoot it. And so we shot it and it was one of the most popular things that we did. But that didn’t turn them around. And then the very next show, they were into, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.”

Whenever you were proven right, what was their explanation? It was a fluke every time?

You’re never proven right with the network. [Laughter] They basically had that idea themselves by the time you were done.

I see hands, so maybe we can go to, this hand’s been up for awhile, so let’s go to Q&A.

[Something about Fox allowing X-Files to do what it wants but Sliders being accused of being “too cerebral”]

Well, to be fair to Fox, a few things about that. Chris Carter told me that they drove him absolutely crazy with over-management until the show got popular and then they left him alone. And once it reaches a certain level of popularity, then you can do what you want. You can do Millennium, you can do all these other shows and they’ll back off. We haven’t reached that level. We’re not a massive mega-hit or anything like that. The second thing is, in fairness to Fox, they openly admit that they micromanage, but they said that its because they’re the smallest of the networks and they have to keep our hands on everything because every ratings point is critical to them. And I’m not saying that as a facetious thing. That’s true. That really is true. So they are much more hands-on than anyplace else I’ve ever worked with.

But the problem is the regular process would be to turn in an outline. First, they turn down most of the good shows; they don’t want to do most of the best ideas. And you find an idea they find not too offensive. So then you start to work on it, you give them an outline, they give you a big batch of notes. Then you sort of incorporate a few of their notes and give them a second outline, then they give you a new batch of notes. Then you do the script and then they give you a whole new batch of notes. Then you do the second script and they give you another batch of notes. What often happens is there’s like six guys, and men and women, who are in charge. And so maybe number five didn’t even get to the script until the first draft of the script and now his notes come in. And now suddenly you have like a scene that has never been touched before and now suddenly that scene now has, they want this and that to be different. It’s miraculous we did the show we did the first two years because we just learned how to just to fool them as much as we could. [Laughter]

But the third season, there wasn’t anyone but me that wanted to fool them anymore. I mean, everyone else wanted to go in that direction and be chased by snakes for an hour . I mean, that was what they thought the show should be, so for a lot of personal reasons and other reasons I just got tired of fighting that battle and that’s why I walked away from it.

Most of the problems when you put television on [come from] two kinds of people: lawyers from the Ivy League who really don’t want to get into mainstream law — they want to run TV or a studio so they come out, have no talent [or] creativity, but they’re lawyers and they run things — and then agents and ex-agents. If you’re an agent, the popular thing now is to become an ex-agent. They’ll run the studio, run the TV network, become an executive. And the problem with that is that most of these are people who, they want to do a creative thing but they can’t. So what they do is they are now in a position to tell everybody else what they can and can’t do. It reminds me of like coaches in high school that were frustrated athletes that never made it themselves but took it out on everyone below them. I mean, it has that element to it unfortunately. And that’s why you get what you get on television.

The people who are making the ultimate decisions, you know, they’re not very creative, to be honest with you, and they’re driven — not all of them, of course — but they’re driven by the bottom line, the pressure to make money and the pressure of it. That’s what happened to the Sliders, you know. When the show comes down, they say, “okay, we’re going to order 13 shows or 8 shows” or whatever we did the first season. There are people in big conference rooms sitting around going, “Oh, what is this show? Is it a science-fiction show? Is it a comedy show? Is it a satire? What is this stuff, going to other worlds? And the same people but they’re meeting themselves? No one’s going to understand this.” You know. There’s a little bit of panic there.

“Uh, oh. We’re doing something that the audience is just going to, it’s just going to go over everyone’s head.” Which is nonsense.

[Concern for Tracy’s father, singer Mel Tormé]

His health is not good and, you know, it would be great to work with him again, but that would be way down the road and a few miracles down the road, but thanks for that. Thank you. Thanks for asking.

Aren’t there still some cuts of his having done country western songs from that episode that haven’t appeared?

Yeah, I wrote this country and western song for him. We really were going to use him as just sort of a cameo on another show that was actually played by Isaac Hayes. And then I thought, if we’re going to use him, let’s really use him. You know, let’s use the concept in a world where he’s not nearly himself. He hates country music, he’s not religious, and the last place he’d live is in a chicken ranch in Nashville. He’d never do it. So, that was the fun of it was to just sort of give him a part that was sort of the antithesis of what he really is. And the song was a song called “Praying to Jesus” that I wrote. A very long song which was shot in, like, a four-minute version of him doing it. He kept trying to change the song, too. That drove me crazy. [Laughter] Everytime he tried to change it, I’d say, “Will you leave my song alone?” It ends up that by the time the show was cut, it was 30-45 seconds of it, but, yeah, somewhere there’s a long version of that song.

I’m sure this audience would like to buy something like that. It’s the hit single.

[A question about Luck of the Draw’s cliff-hanger]

The story of the cliffhanger is probably one of the worst ones of all. They came to me at the beginning of the second season and they said there would be no cliffhanger payoff, that the show had been off for a while and nobody even remembered Quinn got shot. They said to just go on with the show like it didn’t happen. And then, I said, “Oh, no, you can’t do that!” They finally agreed, “Well, how about if Quinn and Wade were walking along somewhere in the first show, second season: ‘Boy, it’s good I found that good doctor that got that bullet out of me.'” [Laughter]

Well, this became the beginning of my reputation of being a loose cannon at Fox because I just wouldn’t let this go. And I really got under their skin about it. They were very upset that I wouldn’t drop this. So, I just kept saying again and again, “Our main character’s in a pool of blood, we took a new Slider with us, we took a dog with us, we’ve gotta do something about it.”

The reason didn’t want to payoff the cliffhanger also, in fairness to them, was they never wanted to be locked into a certain order of the shows. They felt that they always wanted to have the right to run the show in whatever order they wanted, which is why in the first season Summer of Love, [which] is supposed to explain all the rules of sliding, ran fifth, and we had to cut all the explanation scenes because they didn’t make sense anymore.

So I wrote the show Into the Mystic and they wouldn’t commit that that would be the first episode. So I wrote a teaser [for] “Into the Mystic” where they landed on a world full of lawyers and just to buy a hamburger, you have to fill out all these forms. And eventually they decided, okay, “Into the Mystic” is going first. So now, what was I going to do? The “Into the Mystic” teaser had nothing to do with paying off what happened to Quinn or anything. So they very reluctantly agreed, decided that I was the biggest pain in the ass that ever walked the earth, that they would now let us replace the teaser from “Into the Mystic” with the payoff of what happened. The problem was that the scene I’d written to pay off the cliffhanger was seven minutes long and the “Into the Mystic” teaser was about 2 minutes and 20 seconds. So, the final decision was, “You can do it if it’s 2 minutes and 20 seconds long because that’s the only way it’s gonna fly.”

So we pulled the teaser from “Into the Mystic” and it later ran in, I believe, in Greatfellas, in the show with my Dad down the road, and that’s why the character who is the sorcerer’s wizard’s assistant is in that show. And we had 2 minutes and 20 seconds to pay everything off. So if you ever get to watch it again, you’ll see that, I mean, I was writing like — I was telling the actors “Speak fast, cut fast, move fast…” I tried to get to as much as I could of an explanation into that. The original idea was we were going to open on Quinn’s tombstone. It was going to be a very, very intense funeral scene for Quinn which ends up being a dream. And then there was a payoff to Ryan, there was a payoff to the dog, there was a payoff to all of that stuff. In 2 minutes and 20 seconds, we just had to sacrifice certain things. And so if you ever see it again, you’ll see that there was a desperate attempt to try to pay off the cliffhanger, and in fact, I really thought that people would just savage us for it. They’d say, “What is up with this show?” People watching it, there wasn’t a tremendously negative reaction to it. Um, which there probably should’ve been if you didn’t know the circumstances. But that’s what we did. We tried to fit it into the 2 minutes and 20 seconds. That’s why you never see the dog. I think you see Ryan.

That’s another thing, because they wanted to recast Ryan but they didn’t want to pay to bring him to Vancouver, and they said, you know, “We’ll just find another actor.” And again, I tried to explain to them on this show when you’re meeting your double and things like that you cannot do that. Now, I know in the third season, for instance, they recast the father again because they didn’t want to bring him down from Vancouver and pay him $2500. What can I say?

You were having cliffhanger problems back in the first season because everybody used to talk about the tidal wave. Would you like to tell that story?

That just shows the shows were run out of sequence. I mean, originally, Summer of Love ends with a tidal wave coming, and then Prince of Wails starts with them hanging onto the top of the tallest building in San Francisco after the tidal wave hit and they are still wearing their hippy clothes. So, when they ran it out of sequence, it just kinda didn’t make a lot of sense. But, you know, at that point, that was the least of our worries.

We often did things at the end of shows that lead to; I put all of these things in. Anytime I inserted [something] into somebody else’s show because I wanted continuity — the ending of the Kromagg episode was meant obviously to lead on to other things — no one ever wanted to follow up on it. And, again, it came from again, Fox, thinking that they might want to show it out of sequence.

Which Arturo slid?

I know in my head which one we took, but I — [Audience says, “Which one?” Tracy laughs] — I’m sworn to secrecy! No, but that was the idea. And that would’ve been a great thing to play with. That was one of my favorite episodes, though, I liked that episode a lot. And, you know, that was designed to come back to it later and play around with and they just never followed up. Maybe that’s something we can do with the fourth season.

I just always wondered since the pilot when they started out, when they first slid, they had this entire basement full of equipment. This big turbine that was going around, this huge room full of stuff took him years to build, and as the show went on all he really seemed to need was this little cell-phone.

Well, there’s two things. The basement, which is where all the sliding equipment was, but the timer was what activates it all. So, the timer is what moves them from world to world. Now what you never saw was that, what was supposed to be in The Summer of Love and you would’ve seen, was that the timer was really damaged when they left that one world too early. And it can’t be fixed. But what they did is they modified it and they went into this whole theory about how there’s this one gateway between parallel earths that’s different on every world. And you know they have one minute to get out of there so they reset the timer to count down to that number which we would see every week and if they miss that minute they’re stuck for 29.7 years.

So it’s already there. They’re just getting to it.

Yeah, I mean the connection between the timer and the orignal basement is not, people think that they are interconnected, they really are not. I mean, he’s now independantly using the timer to open the gate by itself completely apart from what was in the basement.

What was the reason that John Rhys-Davies finally wanted to leave?

The network thought they wanted somebody that was more sort of MTV friendly. [Groans from audience]

In the pilot, why, at the end of the story, does Rembrandt sing “Amazing Grace” when he’s wanted to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” all along, and it’s so appropriate with the revolution going on?

That’s a great question. The problem with Amazing Grace was when we used it, I thought, “Oh, this is cool. Let’s use ‘Amazing Grace’.” And then eight other shows used “Amazing Grace” right at the same time; it was so overdone now. But, there was a good reason for that. We did shoot — we went up to Candlestick Park in San Francisco, and in fact, the Atlanta Braves were playing there, and 40,000 people were attending and Cleavant went out to the pitcher’s mound, we all stood out next to him. It was really exciting. He sang his version of the National Anthem before the game and with cameras on him and his version is hilarious. It’s like an 8 minute version of the National Anthem. [Laughter] And people in the stands had no idea what we were doing but they loved it. They gave him a huge ovation afterwards. And we had planned to use that in the scene where he’s in jail in communist America and he’s daydreaming. We were going to use the daydream of him singing the National Anthem at Candlestick Park. And that was not in the piece really because that was an editorial decision. That kinda slowed the story down a little bit at that point.

And that’s why; we didn’t want to do the National Anthem twice. “Amazing Grace,” based upon the scene, was such a good choice. I was really cringing later because it really has been used. It’s the standard thing now to use if you want a serious, weepy scene is somebody singing “Amazing Grace”. But that was the coffin scene I think where the American Revolutionary men had died and all that. I really liked that scene when it came out, so…

It seems like these early shows had much more of a focus on history — actual American history and doing these alternate histories if things had gone differently, and also there was alot of concern with fighting tyranny. It seemed to me in some of these early shows there’s a strong pro-freedom, what might be called the original American attitude in there. So, would you comment on that?

That’s really perceptive of you; I’m really happy that you picked that up. There is definitely a Libertarian tone to the show. I can’t stand political correctness. I just think it’s like the most dishonest thing to ever come along. [Applause] So that’s another thing that I loved, I love taking on political correctness in any way, shape or form. I’m to the left by nature in the sense that I’m sort of a radical environmentalist, I’m sort of a radical animal rights person. So my nature is to the left and that’s why political correctness bothers me so much because it’s the great lie of the left.

You know, I used to be able to point at people on the right and talk about how wrong they were, and political correctness is where the people on the left now have to lie consistently to try to make their point and the lieing really bothers me. We had that problem with Rembrandt initially. There was a whole what I take to be a politically correct issue with that. Rembrandt was not really designed as a black character. Rembrandt was designed as a show biz character. The whole idea that I came up with again that made the networks quite uneasy was to have this sort of elliptical character that didn’t fit the other three, that got dragged in, and that would represent sort of every man, not a scientist.

And my take on it was I’ve been around enough show business people who were totally out of it, people that were popular at one time and then kinda lost it. It’s a very kind of a sad and funny situation. So I saw the character that Rembrandt became as being a guy who was really out of touch with the world. He had been a big star. As soon as he left his group they had 13 number one singles and he’s now playing bar mitzvahs on the side and this is going to be his big comeback, you know. So originally, when he stepped around the corner and he’s wearing a red ribbon and he said, “Nineties, baby! The Crying Man is back!” the deal was he didn’t know what the red ribbon meant. He had just seen all these people wearing it and thought, “Oh, this is cool.” You know, “I’m back.” Well that of course, that caused a big problem. That was one battle we could never win because they thought we were going to offend the gay audience or offend people who were into the AIDS issue and all that. So then we put 8 ribbons on him. [Laughter] That was the solution to that.

And it is funny. It is funny the way you fixed it.

But Cleavant, they originally wanted a character that, you know, to speak like a lawyer and to never use contractions and to be somebody that could never offend anybody and I said, “this is a guy who grew up in the South, who’s been on the road since he was twelve, the ‘Little Rembrandt and the Imperials’ or whatever I called them, and show biz is a throwback. He has to be a bit larger than life and he has to be kind of a guy just to tell the egghead, ‘Wait a minute! What are you doing?'” And it got misconstrued, again, as being something that was never meant to be. Cleavant never, ever had a problem with any element of that because he knew what we were doing. But Rembrandt, again, is a character that in my mind has been watered down, watered down, and watered down to the point to where now he and Quinn are like Batman and Robin. And that’s not the way it was meant to be.

Did you write “Tears in my ‘Fro“?

Yeah, I wrote all of the music. I wrote all the big rap songs, all the music that you see anyone singing I wrote. That was one of the fun things about doing the show. Again, you’ll notice that there’s none of that in the third season. In fact, what really got me mad was they occasionally have him singing “Tears in my ‘Fro” in the third season and the words are all wrong. Nobody even took the time to even like look it up. So he’s singing, you know, he’s singing that or Cry Like A Man or whatever and they’re not even getting the words right.

[Something about producing a bloopers tape?]

Yeah, there have been those kinds of tapes made at the end of every season so they do exist, you know, kinda like the old Star Trek stuff. It would be fun to do that. There are some pretty hilarious moments. In fact, John — who I can now talk about a little bit because he’s never showed up [laughter] — John decided in the pilot that he was going to do his own stunts. [Laughter] And I remember two moments in the making of the pilot that I’ll never forget. They both happened late at night when John decided that the others were doing their stunts, I’m doing my stunts.

One is when we were running, you know that shot that we use a lot where they’re coming across the bridge and they’re in silhouette and we use it at the beginning of the show and there’s a lot of smoke and stuff? They ended up diving into the wormhole near the statue of Lincoln in the park and John just landed. I mean, John dove into this flowerbed like an anvil and, uh, we were like, “Oh, no!” [Laughter] And he dusted himself off. He was a total trooper.

Then, there’s the scene where they’re escaping the Soviet prison and John has to roll underneath a truck and come up on the other side. And I was watching on a monitor. This was like 3 in the morning in Vancouver on like a freezing night and there’s John, he’s dressed as a KGB general, and he starts to roll under the truck and I hear this horrible clang. [Laughter] Then he comes up on the other side with a gash, and bleeding; he hit a pipe or something when he was rolling. And we used to, we played the tape of that many, many times. [Laughter]

I was just curious. The character of Wade has kind of made a lot of changes. And it seems that at some point they said, okay, we can’t just make her this person who kind of is Quinn’s friend. We have to give her some characteristics and they made her kind of a computer hacker. Was that you, was that network?

Well, you know, what we did to Wade, I’ll take responsibility for that one because I think we went a little too far with it. The idea was that she was too mousy in the pilot, so there was a conscious effort made to make her more aggressive and more assertive. And I think, when I was watching the second season, I was thinking, boy, you know she’s really getting kind of bitchy about everything. Always kind of complaining, and she’s on everyone’s case.

But you know what I liked about that was, you know, one of the things that Star Trek, you know, I’ve been known to say when I was first there was that everybody always got along all the time. I mean, they were always ready to surrender the ship every five minutes and everyone was always stroking everybody and everybody was looking out. And I used to tell them I used to say, “you know, you’ve got the Klingon character. Why is he so lovable? What’s going on? And then he wants to rip your throat out because he’s a Klingon.” So that was one of my complaints about Star Trek originally.

Now, I always really wanted there to be conflict in Sliders and, so what I think sort of developed that really kind of worked was fun was the Professor and Wade sort of being on opposite sides of the issue because in reality, he would see her mystical side as being, you know, ridiculous. And she would see his stuffiness. She sort of sees through him and sees, you know, the Professor was written to be the guy who never got his just due in the scientific world, so on the surface he was very blustery and egotistical but underneath he was very insecure. And Wade picks up on that, calls him on it. And, you know, I think that came out in the first couple of seasons. And we may have gone a little too far with Wade, but that was the intention was that they’re not always going along great patting each other on the back all the time.

What happened with the plot with Bennish and the agents finding the Sliding machine?

Okay, I’m glad you mentioned Bennish because Bennish is one of my favorite characters and he’s also a good friend of mine. His wife and my wife are very good friends. We travel together. And it was very embarrassing that we couldn’t use him again. Now, the reason Bennish wasn’t in, before I answer your question really, Bennish wasn’t seen more is because there was a character on VR5 apparently that had long hair and was sort of smart, and they decided that that was too close to Bennish. So right from the beginning every time we had Bennish on the show they’d want to take him out. He was in a lot of other shows.

Now, in the show that I wrote that is never going to be seen, the one with John in it, it’s a world where the earth is slowly moving towards the sun and Bennish on that world is a millionaire tycoon. He invented the “ice hat”, and it’s a hat you wear on your head with ice in it to keep your brain kind of cool. [Laughter] And he’s made like millions off of that, he’s like a tycoon. And he and the professor end up teaming up again like they did in Last Days to try to save the world and stop the earth’s orbit from decaying.

What happened with Bennish was if any of you saw him in the episode Invasion as the guy who had his eyes taken out, that was my little shot at Fox and I never told them that’s who was going to play the part. So I really did it just for the fans so that I thought, you know, once you really see the guy and some people would say, “My God! That was Bennish!” And that’s the reason we even got him into that. If they’d known it was him, they wouldn’t have let me do it. But, your question was?

The subplot with him and the agents finding the sliding machine?

Well, the idea is that back on Earth [Prime], you know, there’s somebody back here who pretty much dissected things and knows, and we even had an idea that there might be some FBI agents or people who would go after them at some point and get caught themselves in being lost from world to world. So that was just another one of those things, you know, that we set up and then it was never taken anywhere. That’s the answer to that.

That was one of my favorite scenes, though. I like that scene. Bennish is hitting on a bong when the FBI shows up and they thought it was like a vase or something. [Laughter]

I tried to tell Fox, I said, “okay, the guy on VR5 has long hair, but I go, Bennish is a Deadhead, a stoner who can build an atom bomb. If that’s too close to another character, you know, find him for me, because I don’t know where he exists.” It’s not, you know, going to be on the show with Urkel or anything like that. It’s like they never could get past that so we wrote Bennish into a lot of shows and then wrote him out again. That’s the unfortunate part of that.

Will John be on the new Sliders show?

I hope so. I mean, John’s expressed that — I was told that John called and said he would like to come back. Now, he’d have to confirm that, but I was quoted in USA Today a couple of days ago, they asked me that same question, and I said, you know, I’d love to have him back.

What is the significance of the 29.7 years?

That’s just one of those silly rules that, you know, you have to come up with for these things and it sounded better than 30. Because 29.7 years, we used to all go around… I got a lot of flack from that from other people. I mean, 29.7… in fact, it really bothered Bob Weiss. He kept insisting it’s gotta be a nice, round figure. I said, I am not budging on this! It’s 29.7! [Laughter]

Question: Why did you leave the show?

Haven’t you been here the last hour? [Laughter] Okay, why did I leave the show? Actually, a good question. I left the show because very early in the third season, there was a direction now that the other two executive producers wanted to go in, the network wanted to go in, and the studio wanted to go that I disagreed with, that I was now by myself. That’s the first thing.

And the second thing is my Dad got really sick, I had to start spending a lot more time dealing with that, so it took me away from the studio. It would have been like impossible to put the hours in, and I had just gotten married and that took a lot of my time, or some of my time, and then also, the other reason was the desire to create some new things. I was the one — some of you might have heard of I am Legend that Schwarzeneggar is supposedly going to do — that was my project, based on a Richard Matheson book. And I had to walk away from it which was very painful, but I had to finally say to them that I have too much work on Sliders‘ second season, I can’t deliver this script anytime soon, you’ve gotta find somebody else which they eventually did. So, I’m sort of aware of the fact that I devoted like two-and-a-half years to Sliders and then it was a constant struggle, you know, it was constantly a struggle to try to do the show that we wanted to do.

The first couple of years, I had people working with me who also wanted to do that struggle. So when a note would come in, we’d all sit around and work out how do we get around it. Now, I was working with people who liked those notes. So, I just sort of made a decision, and it is a good question, I made a decision at some point I had to leave and really leave. I mean, like leave totally because being sort of half-involved would’ve really bothered me because then I would’ve seen some of the things happening and I would’ve wanted to get back in and fight again.

So what I agreed to do was just to write two episodes and so I basically went off into my own thing and I started creating new shows and doing other things and I wrote The Guardian and I produced “The Guardian” and I stayed with that all the way through and acted like I used to act just for that one show. And then I was writing the second show. The second show would’ve really… I think it would’ve been the best show that I’d ever done. Not only was the earth falling towards the sun on this world, but Quinn and Wade get married, and Rembrandt gets killed, and it was a show that was, you know, kind of shocking things were happening — they can’t fix the world, they are going to all burn up in four months, and right after the wedding scene where Quinn and Wade get married, the gateway opens and our Sliders come out and we realize we’ve been watching other Sliders the entire time.

And that was as far as I got with that. And so that was called “Heat of the Moment”. And so it’s like 99% written and then I got the word that Fox wanted John out and John was leaving and John was at the center of the whole story. They came to me and said to rewrite it with the new character and I just refused. [Applause] Maybe someday that’ll see the light of day. Um, somewhere

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