The Unstuck Man

It was a nerve-wracking summer way back in 1998. For weeks the question that was first and foremost on my mind was, “would Sliders get picked up for a fifth season?” Finally, I got the call. An additional 18 episodes had been ordered for the fifth season of Sliders. The reason for this odd number, I quickly learned, (a typical season is 22 episodes) was to round out the total number of existing episodes to 88. The fifth-season order would complete a comprehensive syndication package. Sliders‘ eventual destiny would be to live on in syndicated-rerun perpetuity. But for the present day this would also mean, in all likelihood, that I would be working on the very last season of the show. Better late than never. I reported for work at Universal Studios on August 17, 1998.

Our writing staff was small. Bill Dial, the co-executive producer last year, would be the show-runner (executive producer). Chris Black would move up to full producer. And then there was me. To take up the slack of our 18-episode order, we would have to rely on freelance writers. We had 10 weeks ahead of us before production began. Time enough to generate some stories ourselves (in-house) and to hear pitches from some of last year’s contributing freelancers (more on that later). But first we had a bigger problem to iron out.

The pick-up date for contract options had come and gone in the early weeks of summer and our lead, Jerry O’Connell, had been freed up to become involved in other projects — productions that conflicted with and prevented him from rejoining Sliders. We weren’t sure if he would be available for all or even part of the season. We couldn’t proceed much further in the story department until we knew whether or not Jerry would be returning. The contract negotiations were in the hands of higher powers and all we could do was sit back and twiddle our thumbs until they arrived at a solution. Finally, word came down. Neither Jerry nor Charlie O’Connell would be involved in the fifth season of the show.

We were now faced with the challenge of introducing two new characters into the series. The big question was, how do we replace the lead? The Sliders cast had always been a strong ensemble. But the Quinn character was undeniably the glue and driving force of the group. He was the reason they were on their journey to begin with and he was the only one with the scientific background needed to wrangle their way through each pan-dimensional conundrum. Someone would have to fill that void.

There were a number of ways we could have pulled this off. We could have pulled a “Darren Stevens” (a la Bewitched fame) and simply, inexplicably placed a new actor in that role. But that approach is rarely practiced in television anymore. It always comes across as a clumsy contrivance and besides, when people tune in to see Quinn they want to see Jerry and no one else. It was starting to look like we’d be creating a new male “leading type” scientist from scratch.

What I found most unfortunate with this new twist was that we would be losing four years of experience, memories and relational bonds established between Quinn and the other characters. I suggested we use the old Doctor Who solution: We create a new character, but one who still has the essence of our old Quinn inside. Just as Doctor Who would “regenerate” each time a new actor took on the role, our new Quinn would retain the memories and experiences of the old Quinn, while adding a new voice and perspective to the character. We would merge our old Quinn with a fraternal duplicate and achieve the best of both worlds. The new amalgamated Quinn was known for a short period as Quinn 2 and was listed as such in the first shooting script. We later decided to call him Michael, after his father. But eventually, by the time the second script was well underway, he became Mallory.

One thing I quickly learned about Bill and Chris is that they seem to possess an uncanny mental database of seemingly every restaurant in Hollywood. Every day was a new adventure in dining. Over one of our many “working” lunches, Bill mentioned that he’d like to see a recurring villain this season. I had been knocking around an idea for a character who was dimensionally unstable, or “unstuck,” as we say. The idea … well … stuck, and we decided to make him instrumental in our fifth-season “regenesis.” That villain became Dr. Oberon Geiger. More about him shortly.

There still remained the question of what to do about the fourth Slider. Our boss, David Peckinpah, had decided that the new character would be female and a scientist. This added a new twist to the development process. Mallory would no longer be our science guy, as it were. That job would fall on the shoulders of our new character, who, for a very short period, was known as Jill Clayton. She eventually became Diana Davis and was introduced as Dr. Geiger’s “fiercely loyal” lab assistant.

The raw materials were now in place to piece these people together into our introductory episode for the season, “The Unstuck Man.” We further fine-tuned the premise. The foundation for the story is based on the notion that, in most of the worlds in the multiverse, there are alternates of everyone on each of these worlds. That, as most viewers know, is a given.

But there is only one Dr. Oberon Geiger.

The most advanced quantum thinker of his world, Geiger, while exploring the limits of multidimensional experimentation, inadvertently eradicated all of the alternate Geigers on all the alternate Earths of the multiverse. The experiment also altered Geiger himself. His vibrational frequency is now variable, in a state of flux. As a result, he can exist in a dimension for only as long as his vibrational rate is in sync with that world. For years he has bounced from dimension to dimension. He has tried, on countless occasions, to stabilize his own frequency but has failed each time. He has devised a sort of stabilization chamber to anchor himself in a single dimension. But the device is more like a cage. He desperately wants a normal life and will do anything to get it.

He eventually devised the notion of bringing the mountain to Mohammed, as it were. If he can’t alter himself, perhaps he can alter his environment. He theorized that if he brought all the universes into sync, they would coalesce into a single dimension. With no other universes to bounce to, Geiger would, by default, become anchored in the newly created hybrid universe.

We join our characters at this point in the story. The rest becomes the body of our opening episode.

Not wanting to close any doors, we decided to make Colin “unstuck” instead of killing him off altogether. We weren’t entirely sure if we would see Charlie again and we wanted to keep all our options open. We also had a new motivating force that brought our characters together and that drove them forward — to separate the amalgamated Quinn, a.k.a. Mallory, and to restabilize Colin.

Things were getting pretty complicated. As we waded (no pun intended) further into the present mythology, we began to realize there were many loose ends to tie up if this was to be the final season. Among them would be the Wade issue, the search for the weapon to defeat the Kromaggs and liberate Rembrandt’s world, and to rescue Quinn’s adoptive mother, who was left behind in a Kromagg labor camp last year. It was going to be a busy season.

The search began in early September for our two new cast-members. Robert Floyd was cast to play Michael, and Tembi Locke was tapped for the role of Diana. Production of “The Unstuck Man” began on October 15, 1998…

…but in the weeks that preceded that, we continued to develop stories in-house, began the freelance-pitching process and further fine-tuned our new characters.

More next time….