New Gods for Old

The story for “New Gods For Old,” written by David Gerrold, was actually purchased last year for season four. The early version had Colin in the role of the nanite-infested Slider. But sometime after the initial purchase the story was shelved as the season arc veered off in a different direction. The fourth season ended with “New Gods” never seeing the lens of a camera.

It must have been providence. By the time we got up to speed with season five we realized that “New Gods” would fit perfectly into the new series arc as a Mallory vehicle. We still owned the story. We gave David some new notes on his treatment. It was re-worked and the script finally written.

David, an author of countless books and television scripts, is best known for the famous Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” We had a nice long chat one day, though I avoided any mention of tribbles. After thirty years in the business I knew there was more to this man than an old, albeit classic, Star Trek episode. What is not as widely known is that, among other things, David also ran The Land of the Lost, a show that entranced me at an early age for its smart writing and imaginative story telling. Despite appearances it was not your typical seventies Saturday morning program (oops, dating myself here) and he shared with me some interesting insights about its production. It was great to meet him.

“New Gods” took place entirely on the Universal lot and backlot, as did most of our shows. For those who have not been out to Hollywood to take the tour, the backlot is a large collection of fake buildings and artificial communities that cover several hundred acres on the studio property. A number of these buildings at Universal (which aren’t really buildings at all but three sided shells) have been around since the days of silent films. Occasionally to clear my head I would take walks through this architectural menagerie. Interestingly enough, these afternoon sojourns bore some resemblance to sliding. One minute I would be walking down a street in the old west (used in Way Out West). The next I’m standing on the steps of the Bates Motel (used in Revelations) …and all without the aid of a timer. Also among the facades are several New York streets, a Mexican village, a European street and my favorite, the famous town square from Back To The Future. All of which at one time or another were used as sets for Sliders.

Sending a cast, crew and armada of support trailers off lot is expensive. The more budget savvy alternative for us was to find an area of the backlot that would fit the bill for each episode, which we did as often as possible. The third choice would be to write and produce something called “a bottle show.” That is an episode that takes place solely on a show’s standing sets. On Star Trek when a show takes place entirely on the Enterprise it’s a bottle show. In our case The Alternateville Horror might be considered a bottle show. It was shot (almost) exclusively on The Chandler Hotel set. But for us, producing a large number of bottle shows has never really been an option. For a series like Sliders you have to travel to a new exotic locale every week. The Universal backlot was a vital component in creating these worlds at budget.

A Sliders viewer with a keen eye might recognize some of the backlot facades that we have reused. The trick to avoiding this recognition for our crew is to dress the set (“dressing” is the term used to describe how a set is decorated) in such a way as to make it unrecognizable when compared with its previous uses.

The nice thing about “New Gods” was that we visited three different worlds in one episode, a rarity for our show. Of course, the fact that each world was almost identical to the other two and that we used the backlot sets accordingly helped just a teeny bit. Talk about more bang for the buck. We shot on European Street, an area of the lot that resembles an old French village. Our more astute viewers might have also recognized the setting as the same one used in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “The Killing Game”.

“New Gods” finally went before the lens on November 18, 1998. It was a terrific blend of character study, parallel-world exploration and science fiction. All in all, one of our best.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about that funny silver device that Diana has been carrying around. She’s had it since leaving Dr. Geiger’s lab in The Unstuck Man, and it once again made an appearance in “New Gods.” The device is called a Paddle.

Early in the season we raised some concerns about the timer and its capabilities. There were occasions in episodes past when that miraculous little TV remote seemed to perform a myriad of scientific functions above and beyond its original design. It has been used to take strange energy readings and to calculate and solve a number of pan-dimensional puzzles. We needed to take another look at the functions of the timer and to limit its applications. Since the beginning of our season included the introduction of a high-tech heroine who had access to a lab, I suggested we use this opportunity to add a new piece of equipment to the Sliders’ array of tools. Thus, the Portable Dimensional Laboratory (a.k.a. Paddle or PDL — both are used interchangeably) was born.

The Paddle would be a cross between a laptop, a tracking device and a kind of dimensional weather station. However, it would not be a crutchlike end-all and be-all oracle of scientific knowledge. It wasn’t a tricorder (although early drafts from our freelancers had them using it as such and needed rewrites were made and, yes, it looks an awful lot like one… sigh). The Sliders would use it when they needed answers to questions that specifically related to sliding and the multiverse. With it Diana would be able to analyze the interspatial areas between dimensions, take mass-energy readings and create a database of pan-dimensional coordinates.

Originally the Paddle was also a vital component in our now-discarded season arc. Our intent was to have Diana constantly tinkering with the device. Secretly modifying it for the day when she would use the amassed data to bring back and stabilize her mentor, Dr. Geiger. This, of course, was when we were still considering Diana for early villainhood. By the time we produced “New Gods for Old,” that character arc had been long forgotten. By episode five both she and Mallory were shaping up into the new Sliders that we’ve all come to know and love.

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