Did We Get Away With Murder or What
(We spoke to Dan and John as they were sunning themselves in the lobby of the luxurious Alps Arms. Still fabulously well-heeled from their Galaxy Rangers royalty checks, they were glad to briefly give us some behind-the-scenes into on their rags-to-riches television careers. It wasn't too hard for us to talk to Dan and John. We are Dan and John.)
DF: So, John, just how did you begin writing for The Galaxy Rangers?
JR: Uh, you got me involved, Dan. Remember?
DF: Ah, yes. I submitted Captain Useless, an ancient radio script we wrote.
JR: It was about a super-hero who had no control over his powers. Whenever he tries to fly, he explodes or turns into a rowboat or something. Robert loved it, and hired us.
DF: By the way, do you mind if we refer to each other by initials for the rest of the interview?
JR: No. Incidentally, why are we interviewing each other?
DF: Blatant self-publicity.
JR: Ah, yes. I'm glad we cleared that up.
DF: Which brings me to this: we've written Rangers episodes together as well as individu- ally. Your first episode was Tune Up, right?
JR: Right. Tune Up, in fact, was the first script to be finished and approved for production. The first one by anybody.
DF: But it wasn't the first episode aired. The powers-that-be wanted to start off with a more Western story.
JR: We don't even see a Ranger until halfway through Tune Up, so it wouldn't be a good one to start the series with.
DF: We both tended to put the secondary characters in the spotlight, while everyone else was churning out Goose stories.
JR: They did Goose, we did Waldo, Zozo and Buzzwang.
DF: The original idea for Tune Up was Buzzwang as kind of a sorcerer's apprentice.
JR: Yeah, Robert wanted Buzz to find a bunch of robots that come to life and steal Q-Ball's inventions. It was my idea to get Buzz's head stuck in a Xerox machine.
DF: Uh huh.
JR: Around this time I saw the early designs for Buzzwang.
DF: One artist drew Buzz with a telephone dial on his chest.
JR: Yeah, but Robert didn't go for it. At this point you were working on The Ax.
DF: Oh. That.
JR: Would you care to expand on that?
DF: I guess. The Ax went through five rewrites. He started out as a really neat indestructible super robot with all these built-in weapons.
JR: Then he became sort of a Frankenstein creature.
DF: Yes, word came down that robots were out. People felt that the robot shows were hitting the saturation point, so we had to avoid using them.
JR: Then Robert gave you the crystal statue design.
DF: Right, The Ax became this guar- dian statue, like the Golem, who protected an ancient tomb. This was scrapped for an Indiana Jones-type of chase in the tomb. Then they made some more changes after that.
JR: I remember sitting with you when we both first saw it and saying out loud, "Sonic meld plates?"
JR: I like Burro-5000 in this episode. Maybe because he doesn't talk.
DF: I wrote him that way. An occasional "Hee-haw," but that's it.
JR: Who needs a talking mule robot anyway?
DF: Somewhere along the line, Burro turned into a hi-tech Francis. In Boom Town again I wrote Burro silent, but they started feeding Roy's lines to him.
JR: That happened with the Kiwi kids too.
DF: Originally, they were called the Kiwi babies.
JR: In the script I wrote for Show- time, which is the first Kiwi kids appearance, they spoke alien baby talk. All they ever said was "Urgle" and "Ook." But in the final version, they say things like "Double wow" and other stuff. I named Swee after my cat.
DF: You don't have a cat.
JR: All right, my roommate's cat, if you want to get technical
DF: Hey, speaking of Showtime, how does Goose escape from Gelati-nous anyway?
JR: Goose tries to lasso Gelatinous and fails, since Gelatinous is made of alien jello or some- thing. So Gelatinous jumps Goose and tries to suffocate him by wrapping around him. Goose hits his badge and he's supposed to grow a snorkel out of his mouth so he can breathe. I think someone felt it made him look too ridiculous, so in the final version Goose just hits his badge and breathes. Kind of a let-down, huh?
DF: Oh, I'm sorry, were you saying something?
JR: Never mind. They nicknamed one of the pre-production guys Gelatinous. What shall we talk about next?
DF: How about Progress?
JR: I was sure Progress was going to be a huge embarrassment.
DF: Me too. It went through something like 109 rewrites, didn't it?
JR: Maybe more. I lost count. It was originally called "Swamp Mess," and it was a mess. We had beautiful footage of Goose. saving his dolphins from an alien submarine.
DF: That was from the original demo-reel.
JR: Right. Robert wanted to use this footage in a story about pollution. He had a design for a monster that lived in a polluted swamp. Plus there was a storyboard of the Rangers chasing this monster through the swamp on their hover-cycles. Also they decided this was the perfect script to feature every single piece of Rangers hardware ever designed.
DF: And you had to put this all together into a coherent, plausible, 23-minute storyline.
JR: Naturally, I began throwing in some of my own stuff. I wanted the Rangers to have some strange contraptions to go along with their standard hardware. So the flying sub has a kind of hi-tech rowboat in it. Then there's Pixel.
DF: Doc's crazy mixed-up computer program.
JR: I originally named him SWEN.
DF: SWEN? What the hell kind of name is that for a computer program?
JR: I guess that's what they thought, too. But he origin- ally had a Swedish accent and was called SWEN.
DF: Anything you'd like to say about those aliens, the screaming mimis?
JR: The Lingorians are one of my favorite races in the whole series. They actually sang a song in one of the first hun- dred drafts. I like Progress, but the more you watch it, the more holes you see. I mean, psychic dolphins? Psychic dolphins? It's bad enough they can talk, do they have to be able to hear telepathic distress calls from other planets? This message comes from umpteen-kazillion light- years away, and they know right where it came from, but once they land on the planet, they can't find it.
DF: Didn't that have something to do with the pollution?
JR: Right. The pollution. Everything has something to do with the pollution.
DF: Like Buzzwang's Folly?
JR: That has nothing to do with pollution, you boob!
DF: Well, as long as I brought it up, let's talk about Buzzwang's Folly.
JR: It was your original concept, maybe you should start.
DF: It began as a parody of the rash of Transformer/Gobots/ Voltron/Robotech convertible robot hero shows. They're really stupid, you know?
JR: I know.
DF: I mean what kind of advanced superior alien intelligence would build a race of super robots that can convert into a Volkswagen Beetle?
JR: Or a triceratops?
DF: "Hey guys, let's make this robot look like a dinosaur. That should be pretty incon- spicuous. So we had Buzz accidentally produce a bunch of robots that turn into coffee machines and jukeboxes.
JR: Don't forget Gumby the gumball machine.
DF: Duly noted. After we ripped off the plotline of Laurel and Hardy's The March Of The Wooden Soldiers, it was a snap.
JR: Zozo and Waldo were Stan and Ollie, Lazarus was Mr. Barnaby, and then we had to come up with a bunch of ugly creatures to parallel the Bogeymen.
DF: So we created the Plaguos. Any significance there?
JR: None whatsoever.
DF: Come on.
JR: Okay, we named them after our college humor magazine The Plague.
DF: NYU's only intentionally funny publication. Ha ha...
JR: . . . Ha ha . . .
DF: . . . Ha ha . . .
JR: ... Ha. Anyone who worked on the magazine was a Plaguo. Too bad about the animation on Buzzwang's Folly, huh?
JR: I could have done better animation than that. And I'm not even Japanese.
DF: Now, now. Tell everyone the story of how we prevented thousands of kids from electrocuting themselves.
JR: It would probably be more accurate to say, "Tell everyone the story of how we prevented a couple of trumped-up lawsuits." We wanted to have Buzzwang plug his finger into the computer console.
DF: He had a computer interface in his fingertip.
JR: In Buzzwang's Folly, we wanted to use that for a kind of "boy with his finger in the dike" story. If Buzz unplugs his finger, Beta Mountain will explode. It was Robert's original idea, but he had to change it. He was afraid some impressionable kids would start sticking their fingers into electrical outlets.
DF: No doubt the kids of people who put towels around their necks and jumped off roofs after watching Superman.
JR: Or the kids of people poked their eyes out after watching The Three Stooges.
DF: Right. Stupid kids.
JR: So Buzz uses a key instead, and I guess millions of kids electrocuted themselves by sticking keys into electrical outlets instead.
JR: In order for us to write an episode together, we had to split our usual fee. In other words we got paid half as much as what we'd get for writing an episode on our own. Why the heck did we do that?
DF: I don't know. What's half of 28 bucks? 14, right?
JR: Yeah. I guess it wasn't that much of a difference.
DF: Not after taxes.
JR: Then came Space Moby.
DF: My Star Trek-Moby Dick-Jonah- Greenpeace-Jaws-Pinnochio ecology tribute.
JR: Tribute hell, you ripped them off.
DF: Only what I needed.
JR: You did an interesting thing with Goose in that episode.
DF: Yeah? What?
JR: The thing with his ears.
DF: Oh-oh-oh yeah! The first draft was sent back because Goose didn't use his powers and, at one point, to get him out of the way, he gets knocked out from behind. Apparently, Goose can't get knocked out from behind.
JR: So you invented the bagpipes of death.
DF: Right. The bagpipes emit a super high pitch frequency which incapacitates people. So, to get Goose out of the way, Captain Mylox plays these hi-tech bagpipes. Then, get this, Goose touches his badge and his ears disappear. So Goose can't hear the pipes and he can get Mylox.
JR: But he doesn't get Mylox. Mylox goes off in a shuttle- craft after the great white and then blows up.
JR: What about Buzzwang's feet?
DF: What about Buzzwang's feet?
JR: Who's ears disappeared anyway? Buzz's feet. Talk.
DF: One of the original running gags for the series was Buzzwang getting his limbs destroyed all the time.
JR: Pretty funny gag.
DF: Buzz keeps getting these tem- porary replacement parts that don't fit. So Buzz's feet dissolve away in the whale's stomach acid, and in the closing shots -
JR: - he has feet the size of watermelons.
DF: Who's telling this?
DF: - He has feet the size of watermelons! There! But you need a VCR to catch it. It's subtle.
JR: My next script was -
DF: Did I mention Space Moby was Chris Rowley's favorite episode?
JR: He never said that, Dan.
DF: Well, he liked it a lot.
JR: As I was saying, my next script was -
DF: Days of Moonshine.
JR: That's Days of Starshine, nitwit!
DF: Oh yeah.
JR: It was never produced, but the story might sound familiar. Goose meets up with this girl supertrooper who he's always been in love with. She still lives on Earth, she's hiding out in the Arizona desert. Kilbane, of all people, tells Goose where she's hiding. Goose turns in his badge because he doesn't want to arrest her.
DF: That was before Zach resigned in Psycho-Crypt.
JR: Yeah. In the end, she gets injured and the only way Goose can save her life is to bring her in to the cryogenic labs and freeze her. The script wasn't too well-received. Goose cries in it, and I think they felt it made him look wimpy. I don't think so. If you can't cry, you're not much of a hero. Anyway, the next thing I knew, Tom De Haven had written a script based on the same story idea. I don't know if he had the same idea or if he was asked to write it because I was working on too many other scripts at the time. I really wish I had the chance to finish that one. It would have been great to do a tear-jerker after all these wacky comedy scripts, but it didn't work out. That's show biz.
DF: So Galaxy Stranger kind of grew out of Good Morning Starshine.
JR: Days of Starshine! The two scripts are actually very different, but they're both based on the same plot idea, and once they did one, they couldn't do the other.
DF: That brings us to our next project together, Murder On The Andorian Express.
JR: Ah, yes. That was Starlog magazine's favorite episode.
DF: Starlog never said that.
JR: Well, they liked it a lot.
DF: There is a lot to like. It's. got Kubla Dutch--
JR: - and his wife Madonna-
DF: How in God's name did we get away with that?
JR: It also has Snivel the pedulont-
DF: Part pen, part elephant.
JR: That can't be right...
DF: - And Captain Kidd and Nimrod, all jammed into a pseudo-Agatha Christie whodunit.
JR: The only murder mystery in which no one gets killed.
DF: Well, in our script Snivel got bumped off, in the airlock sequence. But apparently they're real squeamish about murder in kid-vid. That's why He-Man has to battle the same villain day in, day out. They wouldn't even let me kill some whales in Space Moby.
JR: We named the Reaper after the mascot on The Plague
DF: A humor magazine called The Plague, with the Reaper as its mascot. Pretty hilarious, huh?
JR: Hey, it was college.
DF: Should we mention about the stupid key card? The clue that wasn't supposed to be there.
DF: Or the fact that, although Snivel is rescued, he vanishes for the rest of the story?
DF: Or the crowded stateroom scene we wrote that the animators put about five people into?
JR: Listen, if the story's good enough for Starlog, it's good enough for me.
DF: Okay. Be like that.
JR: My favorite line in that one is "What am I, psychic?"
DF: You did a rewrite on someone else's script around this time.
JR: Invasion Of The Toy Robots by Zev Slashinger.
DF: You're making that up, right? There isn't any Zev Slashinger is there? You got two checks for writing that script didn't you? Who are you, Stephen King/Richard Bachman? Huh? Well?
JR: ... Invasion Of The Toy Robots by Zev Slashinger
DF: His name isn't in the credits at the end of the show.
JR: Neither was Lance Strate, who wrote Ghost Station. I have no idea why that happened. I never met Zev, but his script had some good moments. He wrote the showdown scene, where Zach steps on the toy cowboy.
DF: Funny scene.
JR: I changed the title to Invasion because I didn't want to give away the shocker twist ending.
DF: Uh-huh. Stan and Ollie was your contribution, right?
JR: Yup. You can't have too much Laurel & Hardy in a sci-fi western kid's cartoon, if you ask me. In Zev's script, Zach is hit in the face with a pie and Doc gets shot in the rear end with an arrow. I left it out of my first draft because seemed too silly. But Robert asked me to put back the part where Doc gets shot in the butt.
DF: Hold it. The man who has Buzz breakdanclng to a Kiwi rap song in Mothmoose thinks a pie in the face is "too silly."
JR: Buzz breakdancing was Robert's idea, too. Did you know that Mothmoose was Jim Therry's favorite episode?
DF: John, I don't think -
JR: No really, he was struck dumb by it! After he saw it, his only response was "What?"
DF: Maybe he should have turned the volume up.
JR: The original idea for the Mothmoose was even sillier. He was kind of a Bullwinkle with wings. I think I made him a more serious Mothmoose.
DF: A more realistic Mothmoose.
JR: Well, I gave him the power to make things grow. That made him more mystical.
DF: The episode became another ecologically bent tale. Come to think of it, that was a very strong theme in the series Man and nature. Preserving the environment.
JR: I think that's Chris Rowley's influence. You see it in Scarecrow, in a lot of his scripts.
DF: Doesn't your script hurt the Kiwi's reputation as farmers? They don't have to be agricul-tural geniuses if they have this flying moose that makes plants grow.
JR: That didn't occur to me at the time. Of course, they don't bring him along to every planet with them.
DF: This story is centered around the "two friendly aliens," but the Kiwi seem more alien than friendly. They want the League of Planets to launch a full- scale attack on Tortuna.
JR: Yeah, Mothmoose really shows off the quirks of the Kiwis just like Showtime shows off the quirks of the Andorians. These are two very advanced races, and I wanted to explore their darker sides. Kiwi-fu is kind of a joke, but I doubt those guys could survive in a universe of big bad aliens unless they knew martial arts.
DF: This is the only episode where you see one of the parsley monsters.
JR: The Ribans were a natural for this episode. There was a reference to them in Showtime, which didn't make it to the final version. Zozo said, "What a way to spend a weekend! Discussing mathematical principles with the parsley monsters of Ribus-61" and Waldo said, "I hardly think it will help diplomatic relations to refer to the Ribans as parsley monsters!"
DF: What came next? Space Maverick?
JR: Space Maverick! All these titles nobody ever heard of. Yeah, I wrote that with my roommate, Scott Benkel.
DF: The real owner of Swee.
JR: Space Maverick was about a wily outlaw named Jake Arrows, who makes Cody Wildfire look like a girl scout. It was a pretty daring script, with a real Sergio Leone flavor, lots tricks and double-crossing and stuff. There's a scene where Jake holds up mourners at a funeral. Maybe we'll eventually see this script in the next season.
DF: There hasn't really been much clamoring for a second season of material.
JR: There hasn't been clamoring for the first season yet. But with the Roy Rogers Buzzwang Brunches and videotapes and other junk, maybe that'll change. Next came Boom Town
DF: Working title: "Gold Rush."
JR: This one sure reminds me of Shaky. Why is that, Dan?
DF: Amazing coincidence?
JR: No, really.
DF: Robert asked me to work on a story where Old Roy finds a planet filled with starstones and then it blows up. - That may be a slight oversimplifi-cation of the premise. Apparently, Robert had another writer working with the same concept. He came up with Shaky, another "bad guys chase the good guys" script. I, however, wrote an epic evoking the rough-and-tumble world of the frontier boomtown.
JR: That's nice. What happened to all the jokes in your script?
DF: They were cut. As I was saying, I found out the ending to both scripts involved planets blowing up. Wanting to avoid identical endings, suggested that instead of my planet blowing up, Roy's claim turns out to be fool's stones - you know, like fool's gold? Robert loved this concept, but he liked the way my planet blew up, so Shaky winds up with the fool's stones. That's why the planet Shaky, which looks like it's going to blow up any min- ute, doesn't. While my nice, safe, stable planet blows up.
JR: Blows up real good. You overwrote the heck out of this script, didn't you?
DF: I guess. Somewhere along the line, we were told to cool it with the new characters.
JR: The show had about 3 million characters at this point.
DF: I decided if we had to re-use old characters, why not use every one of them? I figured, hey, this is a popular planet, everybody wants these star- stones. So I put in Roy, Burro, the Queen, her crown agents, slaver lords, the Black Hole Gang, Captain Kidd, Squeegie, Mogul, Larry and the demons, Tetragram (the mining company from Space Moby), even Jake Arrows.
JR: And the Rangers, too.
DF: Who? - Anyway, I had all these characters trying to get star- stones, and I ended it in a big fight. Sort of a cross between It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World and Blazing Saddles.
JR: Two more great science fiction influences.
DF: They cut it down to 23 minutes, but it's still pretty decent, I guess. At the same time we were working together on Buzzwang Gets The Ax. Another "lost" episode.
JR: Our Road Runner-Three Stooges- Laurel and Hardy tribute.
JR: By this point, it seemed every- one was writing comedies and there was a glut.
DF: I like to think it was our comedies which warped the other writer's sensibilities. By this point a lot of them were handing in offbeat stories.
JR: Like Rusty And The Boys, Marshmallow Trees --
DF: Battle of the Bandits.
JR: Unfortunately, it kind of crowded us out.
DF: Suddenly we were not unique.
JR: A couple of our later scripts got held over for the second season, whenever that is.
DF: Want to tell the folks at home the plot of Buzzwang Gets The Ax?
JR: Sure. Buzz and Q-Ball are try- ing to fix the charging plat- form and Buzz uses a dime to unscrew something and ZAP, he's hit with a beam from the charg- ing chamber! This affects one of his internal chips, so he goes nuts whenever he hears "Pop Goes the Weasel." It's too dangerous to keep him around in this condition, so he gets The Ax. That is, Commander Walsh asks him to turn in his badge.
DF: This was after Psycho-Crypt.
JR: Sh! Meanwhile The Ax lands on Earth and kidnaps Jessica and Little Zach. Buzz follows them to the planet Avery. The second half of the episode is Buzz zipping along on a motor scooter that goes "beep-beep" and The Ax trying to drop boulders off cliffs on him. Finally The Ax catches up to Buzz, and it looks like curtains for our hero, but then Jessica plays "Pop Goes The Weasel" on her space-flute and Buzz goes crackers and knocks the jewel out of The Ax's forehead
DF: Last but not least, Henpecked.
JR: Not least at all Henpecked. It concerns another strange creation by the Po mutants, the people who brought you the emotion doll. This thing was called the Bejeweled French Fry of Infinity.
DF: The Bejeweled French Fry of Infinity?
JR: Captain Kidd steals it from the Po mutants and gives it to his wife as an anniversary present.
DF: The Bejeweled French Fry of infinity?
JR: It has the power to make wishes come true. But Bertha Kidd doesn't know this, and every time she opens her mouth, something weird happens. At one point, she transforms two slaver lords back into a bunch of gurkins.
DF: I remember Robert wanted you to change that, because it didn't exactly fit the reality of the slaver lords.
JR: Right, but it did fit the reality of the Bejeweled French Fry of Infinity! See, once you buy the premise of a magic charm, you're stuck with it. That was great, it was one of the few times I had a perfectly logical reason for a ridiculous plot development!
DF: But ultimately it's meaningless because the script wasn't produced.
JR: Well, yeah. Did I mention it's one of my favorite episodes?
DF: But it's not really an episode Yet.
JR: Well, when they produce it, it'll be my favorite episode
DF: Well, I think that covers everything, except the episodes I was working on when they pulled the plug. Zach, The Giant Killer, Injun Trouble, The Great Space Bank Robbery and Zozo's Christmas Massacre.
JR: That's all I have to say. Any- thing else you'd want to add?
DF: Sure! We have lots of paper left Just that it was a real hoot working on this. When I met Robert and he explained the project to me I thought, "Uh-oh, science fiction! I'm in trouble." Then he showed me the character out-lines and I read the one about Mogul. It said that Mogul has a helper named Larry. I looked at Robert and said "Larry? This demon-lord's assistant Is named Larry?" Robert said, "Why not?" And I said to myself "I'm home!"
(And so, as the sun sets slowly in the west, we bid a fond farewell to everyone's favorite Galaxy Ranger writers. - well, they're our favorite Galaxy Ranger writers. John and Dan. Two guys who have no business interviewing each other. So long, and remember: no plots, no stories!)