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Friday, September 30, 2011


Dolly’s voice came over the speakerphone: "Look alive, boys. Frank Lupo's on the line." 

We looked alive... scooping the pages of Sten #1 into our desk drawers, getting out notebooks and pens, whirling fresh sheets of paper into our IBM Selectric II typewriters. I picked up the phone, told Frank’s secretary we were there, then nodded for Chris to pick up as well.

"Hey, guys," came Frank’s cheery, but gravelly voice. "How’s it goin'? Okay?" We both said everything was just fine by us.

He said, "Good... How’s the book comin’ along?" Frank knew, and approved of our working on our first novel during the ton and half of spare time we had while being ignored on Galactica 1980. Even so, we both felt guilty for goofing off.

Lupo was the boy genius in Larson’s stable. He was in his twenties, but when he spoke The Boys With The Big Telephones listened. Frank had the air of a knock around, street wise kind of guy. But he was a man with a purpose. The story was that he set his sights on a writing career in his college days. A liberal arts degree, plus a wife and kid later he headed out to LA and drove cabs to support his family while hammering out spec scripts on the side.

His work and bearing impressed the hell out of so many people that he ended up being Glen Larson’s right hand man when he was no more than 26. Galactica 1980 was his first real showrunner's gig and to Frank’s supreme credit, he did his damndest to finesse the failing Galactica 1980 along through many inept hands, and shined like gold despite the show’s imminent demise. When it finally died, nobody would blame Frank.

"What do you need, Frank?" I asked.

"I want you guys to go to dailies."

Chris groaned aloud. "Aw, Jesus, boss," he griped. "Dailies blow big green Donkey dicks."

"Nah, much worse," I said. "With the Schoolship episodes we are talking about blowing elderly camels."

Frank laughed. "Yeah, yeah,"" he said. "I heard it all before from you guys. But I need you to go. There’s gonna be fallout and I’m depending on you guys to fix some of it."

"Boy, when the shit hits the fan," Chris said.

"Look at it this way, guys," Lupo said. "You’ll be doin' me a favor."

The way it turned out is over the years that favor led to many hundreds of thousands of dollars in our coffers. But, we didn’t know that at the time. Frank was one of the good guys, in our estimation. And he had done much to try to lessen the misery of our tenure.

Besides, we were The Boys From Dover. The Fix It Guys. Bunch & Cole & Cole & Bunch. So we went.

A couple of Teamster Jokes later (told by our driver) we found ourselves in the screening room where the Dailies - the results of the previous day’s shoot - were being shown to a large number of Suits.

There were Suits from every Universal Studios department. Suits from every segment of ABC Television, and Suits from advertisers who were (unhappily) chained by contracts for the run of the show. (A happy few had Give-Back deals pegged to the ratings. The lower the Nielsons went, the more free ad time they got on other ABC shows.)

And then there were the hordes of producers from Galactica 1980 - including Glen By-God Larson Himself, who sat at the command station in the center of the screening room. Perfumed women assistants sat on either side of him, refreshments and soothing words - if needed - at hand.

Chris and I moved quickly down the aisle just as the room darkened, passing the command group in time to see Lupo there as well, along with Jeff (The EatAnter) Freilich, his co-supervising producer.

Directly in front of the command group was Vince Edwards, the director of the episode. He didn’t look well. But maybe it was the lighting.

Chris and I found a place out of the line of fire, where we could see both the screen and the Suits. The lights dimmed further, but I could still see Larson’s weirdly lit face - colors playing over it - and one seat in front of him, Vince Edwards.

The former Dr. Ben Casey lit a cigarette and the smoke curled back toward Larson. Someone said "Fuck." I think it was Larson. And Edwards hastily put out the cigarette.

The footage rolled. It was herky jerky at first but soon settled down. We were looking at the bridge of Galactica’s Mother Ship.

Adama (played by our buddy, Lorne Greene) was conferring with his right hand super genius Dr. Zee, who held court in a huge, futuristic command-type chair.

Zee was a Larson creation to satisfy the FCC's children’s hour dictates. The character was supposed to be a child in body and age, but very wise, very adult, but with really, really long sideburns. A Disco-era hair style on steroids. Zee was played by a 12-year-old named James Patrick Stuart. He was a nice kid. For trivia freaks, his father was Chad Stuart, of the ‘60’s pop group, Chad and Jeremy. His mother, Jill Gibson, a supremely talented lady, collaborated on most of the group’s albums.

The point being, we all assumed the kid had the part because his dad was a friend of Glen (Twenty Six Miles Across The Sea) Larson from his days in the music business. If friends they were, I would not have wished what followed on the kid of any friend of mine, much less the snot-nosed delinquent of my worst enemy.

First off, the kid’s voice was starting to change so it cracked at every other syllable. When he said Adama, for example, it came out ah-Dam!-ah. Low at the start, cracking high in the middle, back to low at the end. Making things worse, he was plainly terrified.

Anyway, the idea of the scene was that Dr. Zee was warning Adama that the evil Cylons had targeted the fleet’s school ship and would attack at any moment.

But as he shrieked his lines he sat stiff as a board in his chair, not moving a muscle. He stared straight ahead as if his head were mounted on a Popsicle stick instead of a neck. (We were told later that he was scared spitless of Vince Edwards, who was said to be displeased with the boy’s performance. This may, or may not have been true.)

We heard Larson’s voice boom from behind us: "What the fuck’s wrong with the kid’s neck? Can’t he move it? Jesus Christ! Somebody call his mother. Call his teacher. Call the fucking doctor. Do Goddamned something, Goddamn it!"

I glanced back and saw Vince Edwards’ cringe at the explosion going on behind him. I don’t know if Larson realized he was there or not, but he cussed a blue streak.

Beside me, Chris muttered, "I almost feel sorry for the poor bastard."

Things deteriorated from there. The next bits were supposed to portray the aftermath of the Cylon attack on the schoolship - Zee's chirps of warning apparently came too late.

The corridors were filled with smoke and flames. Alarms were blaring. There were off screen shouts and screams and the sounds of laser-fire and rocketry.

Meanwhile, in a series of shots, our heroes are shown walking casually through the chaos as if they were on a Sunday school outing. Later footage showed them leading kids to safety, with equally slow calm.

If this was an emergency, you sure couldn’t tell it by our actors. Plus, if any of them started to quicken his or her steps, you could hear Edwards’ off screen voice commanding: "Slow down!"

I think in whatever he called a teeny mind, Edwards believed that the slower the actors walked and the calmer they appeared, the more heroism they would be displaying. But what was in fact happening is that Edwards was ruining all sense of danger or suspense that several millions of dollars of special effects were aimed to evoke.

Once again we heard Larson’s booming voice: "What the fuck is this? Who directed this turd? Who? Who?" We heard someone whisper something to Larson. "I don’t care if he is here. He’s ruining my show, Goddamnit. Lift on this nonsense. Lift! Lift!" (Lift is a film editor’s term that means to remove, to edit out. In this case, Larson was not speaking of running celluloid through the splicer, but Vince Edwards.)

Somehow order was restored and the screening room guy resumed torturing the boss - and the rest of us - with the dailies.

Chris and I were quiet as little church mice. It was no time to draw attention to ourselves. Especially since...impossible as it seems... things got worse. Not just blowing donkeys or camels worse, but stinky-breath monitor lizards worse.

It was like this: We were watching the most expensive scene of all. The scene in which a missile fired by the dastardly Cylons blows up the bridge of the schoolship.

Tens of thousands of dollars had been deployed getting ready for this scene. (Remember, in its time, this was the most expensive episode of television ever filmed.)

First they had lovingly constructed the bridge, which bristled with faux controls and winking lights. Then explosive squibs were carefully placed here and there. Smoke generators were mounted just out of sight of the cameras. Hidden gas lines snaked about to feed and control the flames when they were ordered up by the director. They even had ram jets installed beneath the decking to throw stuntmen hither and yon.

Finally, an explosives expert had set things up so that after a huge explosion stunt people and debris would be hurled everywhere and the bridge would be destroyed.

In other words, there was no possibility of retakes, because the bridge would really-o, truly-o be burned to an fucking crisp. Utterly destroyed.

As you shall see.

On screen you could see Vince Edwards putting his people through a dry run. He pointed at the bridge’s large consul and said, "Fire." Meaning, following his command, a fire would be caused to erupt.

Then he directed the two male leads to come running out (well, strolling, really) onto the bridge proper...look about and react: Oh, my, god, holy shit, etc.

Then Edwards would order the camera to pan left, and the two leads would be replaced O.S. (off screen) by brawny stuntmen. Return to scene: And Vince would say, "Explosion," indicating that at this command there would be an explosion. The ram jets would hurl the stuntmen fifteen feet or so across the smoking bridge.

Then the footage showed Edwards looking up and the camera tilting to show - high overhead - a muscular grip perched over a fake steel beam (which probably weighed several hundred pounds).

 And as he indicated that particular prop he’d say, "Beam!" and the grip was supposed to let loose with the beam, which would crash to the deck.

A cheater angle would make it appear that it almost hit the stuntmen. They’d immediately be replaced by our leads. Who would leap to their feet and rush off, leaving a destroyed set behind them.

I heard Larson mutter, "Okay, okay, this is going to be good. Never mind the other shit."

The on screen Edwards ducked out of sight and started calling out directions as the real deal unfolded on screen.

He called out "Action," his assistant repeated "action" and the shoot began.

Then he called, "Fire!" and his fire wrangler repeated, "fire" - and a fire erupted from the bridge’s big console.

The two leads ran out, looking wildly about. The camera swung away to show the fire getting larger, giving the stuntmen time to replace the leads.

Then Edwards called, "Explosion!" The explosives wrangler repeated, "Explosion," and there was a big damned explosion and the ram jets rammed right on schedule hurling the stuntmen across the bridge.

There was a long pause of apparent confusion. Then we saw the leads back on screen again, rising from the deck, looking about in much bewilderment. And they weren't acting. They really were confused. Something was definitely wrong! But what?

Then they practically shrugged and trotted off the set.

Suddenly the on-screen Edwards burst into view. He was totally bewildered. He said, "What the fuck happened to the beam?"

Up above we heard the grip shout, "Beam!"

And ka-fucking-bang! The steel girder came crashing down missing Edwards by no more than Dr. Zee’s pinky.

"Holy fucking shit!" Larson roared behind us. "It’s ruined! Totally ruined! Lift! Lift! Lift!"

The lights came on and Chris and I dashed through a crowd of very angry suits who were descending on Edwards. Well, he must have survived because I see by his entry that he lived on until 1996.

However, if you should be unfortunate enough to be stuck somewhere and forced to see the schoolship episode of Galactica 1980, you’ll understand why the scene is so weirdly empty. And when it is over, you’ll feel that there is something missing in the sequence. Which was the beam that almost pegged Edwards, but never appeared in the show.

Because, like I said, we really did burn down that schoolship and there was no going back. The sucker aired a couple of weeks later as is.

Chris and I took turns holding our breaths.

Would the ratings fall further?

Would the show sink to 13, the magic Nielsen ratings-point that guaranteed cancellation?

Would Peter Thompson let us out of our seven-year contracts so we could return to freelancing and finish the first Sten?

Stay tuned Gentle Reader and all shall be revealed.



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we're now knocking at the door of 110,000) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    


Relive the fabulous four-day Stregg-laced celebration.  Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. New recipes from the Eternal Emperor's kitchen. Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. Sten's thrill-packed exploits at the Emp's castle. How to make your own Stregg. And, did I mention, Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever?

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