To Catch a Slider

The idea for To Catch A Slider came about when David Peckinpah approached us about doing a “caper” episode. Something along the lines of the film To Catch A Thief. He wanted to place our characters in a situation where they actually had to pull off some kind of heist. We knocked around a number ideas for several weeks, covering everything from a cold war intrigue between the U.S. and Mexico and the L.A. Wall that divided the two countries (my personal favorite) to a major jewel heist a la The Hot Rock.

We eventually settled on the latter. The real problem was not so much in the story concept but in the idea of turning The Sliders into thieves. Certainly our characters have been thrust into situations before where they had to bend the letter of propriety in their favor. However this was a little bigger than stealing someone’s lemon-fresh laundry off a clothes line. It was still a question of survival for our four heroes yet we didn’t want to encourage anti-social behavior in our younger viewers (tongue firmly planted in cheek). This was a family show, after all. It was decided to make that dilemma a legitimate issue in the episode. A question of how far should our characters go to ensure their continuance. It allowed us to draw some differing moral lines in the sand for our characters while at the same time telling an interesting story.

We still had to create a need for the heist. One that would necessitate such unlawful measures. One day over lunch the question was thrown out (I don’t remember who threw it) on whether or not our intrepid travelers ever changed the batteries in the timer. It was a legitimate question, one that had never been addressed and the answer was… “no.” Things sort of took off from there. It was suggested that we make the gem heist into a technical fix for the failing timer, specifically the power supply. We also thought it might be fun to set this problem up in an earlier episode, hence the rationale for our hero’s splashdown in Heavy Metal.

Somewhere between those two episodes, as the premise was fine tuned, the “living gems”, which were supposed to replace a failing power supply eventually became a functioning component of the unit rather than just a battery. I suggested that this made more sense given that crystals vibrate. In theory the dimensions we visit all vibrate at different rates – their signatures as it were. The crystal in the timer could then serve as a kind of a tuning fork, aligning each sliding pathway to a dimensional frequency. Unfortunately, by the time we firmed up this background tech we had already shot the battery scenes in Heavy Metal, leaving us with a small continuity hole. Stuff happens.

I went off to begin work on The Seer while Chris and Bill continued to hammer out the story, which Bill would eventually script. Early drafts of “To Catch a Slider” actually dealt with the living gems as an endangered species from South America. The character of Grant Curtis was an environmentalist sworn to protect the gems. Much of that was dropped as the script progressed leaving us with just some sketchy information on what these gems actually were. The absence of such did not detract from the story so it was permanently left out. The episode also became more light-hearted and spoofy than what was originally intended. In the long run it was probably a more satisfying romp than something that may have otherwise been bogged down with a message and an overt heavy-handedness.

“To Catch a Slider” was a bottle show, making use of the backlot and our standing Chandler sets. At this late point in the season and the entire series for that matter, there was probably no place at Universal which we didn’t use to cut a corner here and there. The setting for the posh fancy restaurant was actually the Universal commissary, which came complete with its own movie poster wall decor. We left those hanging considering our characters were attending a film festival. As a matter of fact, the breakfast booth used by Diana and Grant is where I would often meet with my agent over lunch. Ah, memories.

Cutting corners like that allowed us to amortize money to other areas like stunts and effects. “To Catch a Slider” features one of our most ambitious physical stunts of the season – the wire slide from the front of The Chandler into the street. I happened to be on hand to watch it that night and it was impressive. The stunt guys and the entire crew make that stuff look far too easy. What audiences don’t realize is that what lasted mere seconds on screen actually took hours to set-up. Not only did the stunt have to be rehearsed so that it would go safely and without a hitch, but ground units, people and vehicles, all had to be coordinated together to create one seamless street scene.

For the wire slide multiple cameras were on hand to catch the event at a variety of angles. We even had a small 35mm camera mounted on a helmet which would be worn by the stunt man. The unit was clunkier than your average helmet video cams, which are common today, but we were shooting on film. Our Unit Production Manager Kevin Donnelly, being a skydiver, was able to supply the gadget. This provided our audience with a burglar’s point of view it might not otherwise have had from a static camera. It’s those little bells and whistles that added higher production values to our show.

During the last two seasons our crew was able to pull off some terrific stunts, all under the professional guidance of our stunt coordinator Gary Baxley. This year we blew up the occasional stunt man with an air ram – a pneumatic platform device used to propel stuntmen through the air (see Strangers and Comrades). Last year we hung Kari and Cleavant’s stunt doubles from the Universal Tower, one mondo tall building — very scary.

But my favorite stunt was done with no risk to Gary or any other stuntmen. Plus, it cost relatively little to produce. In Asylum last year we saw our heroes jump from a burning airplane into an awaiting wormhole. This was accomplished by using the stunt footage from the short-lived show Spy Game. All our production team had to do was provide the matching airplane set, costuming that matched the stunt players in the sequence and, of course, a wormhole. If our people were anything, they were resourceful.

« »