Please Press One

“Please Press One” is one of several season-five scripts that I believe harken back to the type of Sliders worlds explored by our heroes in the first and second seasons. That is, a parallel Earth where a societal trend has taken an oblique turn, resulting in some kind of cultural aberration (by Earth Prime standards, that is). Typically, this aberration caricaturizes a current trend in our own society and somehow our main characters are swept into it. Though rather clinical-sounding by description, these episodes tend to be the most fun to write. Especially if you have a beef and want a soapbox to stand on. Bill, Chris and I, all at various times having been frustrated with both telemarketing and push-button automated customer-service lines, were all intrigued by the premise and felt it our duty to start shooting back at these telecommunication demons. So the story and script were assigned on September 18, 1998.

“Please Press One” was written by Bill Bigelow who was responsible for the season four scripts The Dying Fields and The Chasm. Too often a typical Sliders story falls into a slightly overused formula. Our heroes arrive in [fill in the blank] world, one or two are captured, the timer is taken, then the other non-captured Sliders try to rescue their incarcerated companions and retrieve the timer. Then, before the Sliders leave, they somehow solve the world-in-question’s problem. We heard a lot of pitches like this. Each of us at one time or another have even written episodes that follow the same formula. We were determined this year to avoid repeating that as much as possible. Unfortunately, this script did just that. But we were sufficiently enamored by Bill Bigelow’s story idea that we decided to run with it and make some adjustments on it as we went. After submission on November 6, the script underwent a number of rewrites. Mostly to fine-tune the premise and create a greater emotional hook for our heroes.

As the rewriting process proceeded, we managed to continue building Mallory’s backstory and to create a nice moment between him and Remmy that we were all very happy with. We also changed Arlo from a high-tech whiz-kid surfer-type (an idea that’s been done to death) to the middle-management sales rep who had been ousted by his employer, Data Universal. After a number of rewrites the script went into pre-production on November 18.

This episode presented a number of technical challenges. The first was how to come up with a functional, believable scoop truck. The script originally called for the vehicle to race up to Maggie, “a pneumatic arm sweeps out from the rear of the truck and snatches her, lifting Maggie off the ground, depositing her in the truck’s hold.” The script’s description on how this would work was a little vague, but we got the idea. In the first rewrite we changed the arm to a claw to help clarify how it might work. It also allowed me to write in a piece of business where Rembrandt later wrestles with the claw, eventually jamming into its maw a trashcan that is subsequently crumpled like tinfoil. A cool action bit, but it really didn’t resolve how to pull off the stunt in a safe credible way. Then there was the question of what this scoop truck should look like. We obviously couldn’t build one from scratch. We had to find a unique-looking vehicle that would fit the bill.

Our line producer, Paul Cajero and transportation coordinator Gary Hellerstein discovered a miniature trash truck, some kind of futuristic-looking prototype model which was perfect for our needs. All they needed to do was rent it and have the property department figure out a way to rig the claw.

In the re-write as a result of my notes we also added a device called a mini-scoop. We needed a kind of automated sentry to escort Maggie through the Data Universal processing center. It was to be a menacing device, with its own claw arm and a nasty spinning blade to keep its prisoners frightened and in line. The prop department was sent off to come up with such a device. Things were falling into place for “Please Press One.”

However, not everything ends up the way you envision it. Especially in television where one of your greatest nemeses is often a lack of time. It’s always a race against the clock to have every single prop, set, costume and all other details in place by the time the camera rolls. Each episode of Sliders had six days to prep prior to going into production. With time at such a premium, often compromises must be made to meet the deadlines.

On one of the backlot shooting days Bill, Chris and I went out to Courthouse Square (made famous by Back to the Future) to watch the “scooping scene.” By now I had moved on to another script. I was pretty much out of the loop and was unaware of some of the more recent production changes.

Keith: Where’s the scoop truck?
Paul: (points) We couldn’t get it. We got that instead.

It was a small black panel van that looked like something a satanic mailman might drive.

Keith: (disappointed) Oh. (beat) Where’s the menacing mini-scoop?
Paul: Look down.

Scurrying around at my feet was the radio control “mouse robot” that would take the place of my previously conceived deadly diabolical contraption.

Paul: What do you think?

I said the first thing that came to mind.

Keith: It’s…uh…very cute.

The claw also proved to be a very difficult stunt to prep and it was decided to use a computer generated tractor beam instead. Of course, changes like these happen all the time, are expected and in the case of Please Press One had no effect on the story. It’s all part of producing a television show. Until the final print is “locked” everything and anything is subject to change.

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