The Java Jive

The pitch concept was sort of a cross between the films White Man’s Burden and The Cotton Club. It was supposed to take place on a world where black people were in the majority and whites were the minority. We had previously heard this same pitch from a number of other writers. Each time it was wrapped around a high concept that was either too on the nose for our tastes or that was just more premise than story. Personally, I was looking for someone to come in with a story on race. One with a good oblique scifi spin. That never happened. The Java Jive was more about the reverse racial gimmick which never really had much to do with the story. We passed on that idea but were intrigued by the caffeine bootleggers premise. We decided to buy it and would cast with a color blind eye. There was another selling point in this story that appealed to us. That was the opportunity to give Cleavant another chance to show his stuff.

Many shows currently in production have a stable of composers who alternate in the scoring of episodes. For us Danny Lux was our one and only. He wrote the music for the entire season. Not an easy task for one guy. Unlike the days of old when many a television show’s music cues were used repeatedly throughout a series run (who can forget the familiar fight music from Star Trek‘s Amok Time used over and over and over…) today each episode is scored individually. It was Danny’s job to crank out new background compositions for each episode of Sliders on a weekly basis. That he was able to be that prolific always impressed the heck out of me. Plus, our series wasn’t Danny’s only job. He also had gigs on other shows including The Practice. As a result, he had little time to do requests… like writing whole new featured songs.

Not that it was a major issue. We never had enough money for those musical extras anyway and how often did we need them? That is why you will never hear a popular copywritten tune in seasons four or five of Sliders. The licensing fees for existing works was beyond what our music budget could handle. Chris used to reminisce about a similar experience he had on Weird Science. They couldn’t afford to use any kind of popular music except for one song. For some strange reason the theme from “Car Wash” was in the public domain. Whenever Weird Science needed a popular background cue they would dust off that old ditty. Well, we now needed a song for Java Jive for Cleavant to perform. Over lunch one day Chris suggested we use “Car Wash” and jazz it up. As he picked the remnants of my Cobb salad out of his hair he realized he erred and we went on to discuss other real possibilities.

But seriously folks, that little money snag wouldn’t stop us for this episode. A way around the problem was actually achieved last year by remembering that one should always work from one’s strengths. Within our considerable talent pool we had a couple of actors whose musical abilities were being underutilized within the context of the show. I’m speaking of Cleavant, who really is a singer. He doesn’t just play one on television. Moreover, he won a Tony Award for his performance in the Broadway production of Dreamgirl. Kari has also been known to rattle off a tune or two. She recently released her first CD, “Shiny.”

In season four Bill and David managed to work around the expense of the current songwriter’s union rate by commissioning our stars to write their own songs. Cleavant wrote the song he sang in Asylum. Likewise for “Tight Pants”, which was written and sung by Kari for Way Out West. Their original songs could be commissioned for… well… a song. For The Java Jive Bill turned to his friend Peter Andrews to write “He Must Be Dreaming” (Peter can be seen in this episode as the trumpet player). This time not only did we need a song but a rather sizable arrangement (on our scale) for a Cotton Club-esque dance number.

For the routine Sandahl Bergman was brought in as the lead dancer. Genre aficionados will recognize her as Valeria from the first Conan feature film. But Sandahl is also a choreographer known for, among other things, her work in All That Jazz. Having Sandahl on board was a real feather in our cap.

I don’t think there was an event during the season more anticipated than “the big number” in “Java Jive.” To some members of the cast and crew, including Bill, this was the highlight of the year. For at least two weeks the only sound that seemed to emanate from his office was a recording of “He Must Be Dreaming” in its various incarnations. From the initial rough composition, through Cleavant’s recording of the vocal track that he would later lip sync to, through the dailies.

I really learned to hate that song.

But my discomfort was of no concern to Bill. On one occasion to formally log my vexation I engaged him in a sortie of Stereo Wars. It was my recording of the soundtrack to Gettysburg vs. the chorus of “Java Jive.” Being a film score audiophile I had a large arsenal of music to chose from. As a general rule and habit I listen to nothing but film scores when I write. The war ended when Chris, who never listened to anything when he wrote, threatened to bring in his John Tesh boxed set if we didn’t stop. The conflict was over with Bill declaring himself the winner because, well, he was the boss.

In all earnestness, the number turned out great. It also generated great deal of interest from all the executives in “The Tower” who came down to watch it being filmed. We had more people visiting the set that week than we had for any other episode. We all agreed with its seemingly high production values the number added a “touch of class” to the season. Chris was so enthused he wanted more. For the rest of the year he kept trying to pitch his idea for “Opera World.” We told Chris we’d get back to him.

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