Wednesday, March 1, 2017

We Burn The Schoolship

Episode 16

"An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." 
Ernest Hemingway

"I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me." 
Hunter S. Thompson 
* * *

Okay, Who Stole
The French Fries?
Chris gave me the elbow and stage whispered, "Did you fucking see that, Cole?"

Eyes cut toward us and I ducked my head, hissing, "Shut the fuck up! Everybody can hear you!"

Chris shrugged, then attempted to lower his voice. "Yeah, but did you fucking see it?"

I had. And it was disturbing.

We were sitting at the Galactica table in the Universal commissary. I was having the Jack Klugman sandwich - A Philly Cheese Steak, natch; while Chris was finishing up the Telly Savalas Greek Grinder.
Who Loves Ya, Baby?
Sandwiches at the commissary were named for Studio stars. Klugman was the coroner lead of Quincy M.E. And Telly Savalas was the forever "Who loves ya, baby" who had Universal over a contract barrel that could only be concocted by a wily Greek accountant whose ancestors, no doubt, designed the Trojan Horse.

Of course, if your show was canceled and they were tearing up your contract, your sandwich would vanish from the Big Menu Board that graced one wall of the commissary. More often than not, the chef would be told before you or your agent, so the first time you learned that your ass was fired when you looked up on the Menu Board and your sandwich was gone.

As much as we longed for such an honor, there was no Bunch & Cole sandwich. And if there were, we'd want it canceled in the worst way. Because at this point in time we were five weeks into our threatened seven-year indenture to MCA/Universal and everybody on the Glen Larson created disaster was slowly coming apart at the seams. To cope, they were developing bad new habits or relapsing into old ones.

Witness the "did you fucking see that, Cole" incident that Chris was referring to. One of the handsome young Galactica stars - who normally spent hours in the weight room and the treadmill to keep camera fit, and who denied himself all but the healthiest and least caloric foodstuffs - had suffered a minor breakdown when he left our table.

As he passed by a table a busboy was clearing away, he made a quick snatch for a handful of leftover fries. The commissary made outstanding fries. Thick and sizzled crispy on the outside and moist on the inside from being bathed in hot vats of pure white Crisco lard, they probably weighed in at a zillion calories a fry.

And the minute our young star thought he wasn't being watched, he stuffed the whole handful in his mouth. Chewing surreptitiously, he ducked out of the commissary before anyone noticed his mushmouth.

"Yeah, I saw," I told Chris. "One of the busboys said half the regulars are sneaking things off plates. They've had to dodge forks or risk having their fingers chomped by pearly whites. Apparently busing dishes for the Galactica table is not a job for the faint of heart."

Chris chuckled, then said, "A Teamster told me his old man owns one of those We Care And We Bail limo services that contracts to the studios. I guess Saturday night bar hopping has gone through the roof. And he has no idea how half our cast makes the Monday morning call."

(TV people work incredible hours, especially the actresses who have to get to work at least two hours early for makeup and hair. And on a science fiction show aliens and other critters have to get there even earlier. The schedule these days is pretty much the same as when I toiled the fields of Galactica. A typical shoot is Monday through Saturday. You get Sunday off, but that's usually when the script is delivered for the shoot the following morning. While we're all binging on The French Village, they're memorizing their lines.)

Chris raised his empty beer glass and across the room our waitress caught the signal, nodded and hustled off to fetch us two more. Then he said, "Let's make this our last round. For now, anyway. Our booze level has started to creep up, in case you haven't noticed."

"Creep up?' I said, incredulous. "It grabbed us and ran off about week two of this bullshit show."

"When you're right, you're right, Cole," Chris said. "What we need to do is impose some fucking discipline before our livers call it quits."

The waitress arrived with our beer and Chris took a thirsty gulp, put the glass down and pulled over a placemat. Fished out a ballpoint and clicked it into action.

"Let's lay down some rules," he said. "Then stick with them."

"Agreed," I said, taking a honk off my own beer.

Chris said, "First thing I noticed is that we're starting to put Drambuie in our coffee when we get to work in the morning." He wrote on the placemat, saying, "Rule Number One - No more morning Drambuie."

I started to agree then thought of something. "What if it's a Futterman Morning."

"Shit," Chris said. "That's a tough call."

A Futterman morning was when we had to deal with the ABC censor, one Susan Futterman. The lady you met in last week's episode, Meatballs In Space - The Larson-Futterman Wars.

Chris scratched out Rule Number One. Then rewrote it. "No more Drambuie in the coffee," he labored, "except on Futterman Mornings." He raised his head, then said, "And if she's really shitty, we get a consolation hit after we get off the phone."

"Good," I said. "Except let's make it Remy (the cognac) instead of Drambuie.

"You got it," Chris said, making the correction. "And if she really pisses us off we get doubles."

No quibbles were heard from my side of the table.

The list went on from there. I thought I had a copy of the original. I distinctly remember folding the placemat up and tucking it aside to go with other memorabilia that will someday be on display in the Bunch & Cole Wing of the Library Of Congress. My searches have failed to turn it up thus far, but I'm pretty sure I can reconstruct the list.

It went something like this:

Rule Number One: The above-mentioned ban on starting work with Drambuie-laced coffee - except on Futterman Mornings.

Rule Number Two: No more than four beers each were permitted at lunch. Except for the day of the list-making, that is, since we'd already passed that point. In addition, we would no longer order four beers at a time (two each) to save the waitress the walk. This way we could spread the beer out and even the score with the waitress by upping the tip.

Rule Three: We'd stick to coffee as best we could, then in the afternoon we'd switch to extremely strong pots of tea. To encourage that switch, we permitted ourselves one cup of Earl Grey laced with Tia Maria liqueur after lunch and another at 5 p.m.

Rule Four: In the Evening we were allowed as much scotch and soda as seemed fit. (We always had to work late because of Jeff (The EatAnter) Freilich’s insistence on stupid meetings. Chris, if you recall, dubbed Jeff The EatAnter after the whiny character in the B.C. comic strip. Once he made us wait a couple of hours in his backyard on a Saturday morning while he and his wife got their weekly massage. Afterward, Chris gave him a Wedgie and he never did it again.)

Rule Five: No drinking on the drive home, unless The EatAnter had been particularly whiny, then we were allowed a nip or three from the hip-flask of Drambuie we always kept handy for traffic emergencies.

There were other inducements and inducement-bearing people - as well as firm rules governing same - but they shall remain unremarked upon to protect the astonishingly guilty.

I'm mentioning the above to illustrate the tremendous pressure everyone was under. Five weeks felt like five centuries. Unlike us, most people feared for their jobs. Here they were working on the most expensive TV show in history and it was quickly going down the tubes. My God, there might not be a pickup! No second season!

In short, the ratings were as abysmal as Glen Larson’s scripts.

Of course, what made a loser show in those days would make a winning program today. There were basically only three networks – meaning three channels – and somewhere between 75% to 90% of the public watched one of those three networks from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night. (And everybody, but everybody watched Johnny Carson at 11:30 on NBC five nights a week.)

A top ten show, like Quincy, would usually get over 30 Nielsen Ratings points. (Simply put, a rating point is a little over a million viewers, so a rating point of 30 would mean an audience of over 30 million.) A number one show like Sixty Minutes – which was opposite us on Sunday nights – would garner 40 rating points or even more. Today, if a hot show like Blinspot or Mr. Robot gets 11 rating points they break out the champagne.

What was the doomsday number for Galactica 1980?

"Thirteen," our producer/mentor Al Godfrey told us over lunch one day.

"If the show weren't so expensive and Larson wasn't such a pain in the ass it might hang on a little longer at that number," he said. "But I double-damn guarantee you that the day the Nielsen's hit 13, the Network will cut Larson off at the knees."

After lunch, Chris made up a big sign and posted it on our office door. Very simply it read:


Freilich had just come in and he peered at the sign, puzzled. Finally, the EatAnter asked: "What's that mean?"

"That's our lucky number," I said.

"Since when is thirteen lucky?" he said. "For most people it's in the toilet time."

I jumped in before Chris could say, "That's where we were hoping the show will go - down the fucking toilet."

I delivered the answer we'd planned all along: "We're resurrecting the old Thirteen Club," I said.

"Yeah," Chris said. "If it was good enough for Chester A. Arthur, it's good enough for me and Cole."

"The Thirteen Club?" Freilich scoffed. "There's no such thing."

"Wanna bet?" Chris said.

Freilich laughed nervously and shook his head. "You guys!" he said, backing out the door to avoid another Wedgie attack. 

He also didn't bet and later Dolly came in laughing, saying his lovely red-headed assistant just reported that the EatAnter had made her call Studio Research about The Thirteen Club.

"And you know what?" Dolly said. "It really did exist. They used to enter the meetings by walking under ladders, and the dining room floor was covered with spilled salt. A lot of very important people belonged to it."

The Man:
Chester A. Arthur
"Including Chester A. Arthur," Chris said. (And it's true. We looked it up before we posted the sign.)

Dolly gave him a look. "What're you boys really up to?"

"No good," Chris said.

After that we made it a point to have a different answer when anybody asked us what "Come On 13" meant. Meanwhile, week by week as each episode aired, the ratings dropped lower and lower. Steadily sinking toward that mark of the mortally wounded 13.

"Makes you believe maybe there really is a fucking God," Chris said, reviewing the Nielsen's one bright - for us - Monday morning.

He lowered his issue of Variety. "Makes me feel kind of guilty, though," he said. "We want out of here the worst way. But to do that a lot of nice people will have to lose their jobs."

I sighed my agreement. "Not our fault," I said. "Larson's the one who's making this such a shitty show. Hell, if it were any good, I might not mind working here so much."

Then we consoled one another by letting up a tad on the Drambuie in the coffee rule. The fact of the matter is that a lot of people’s livelihoods are involved in any television series and I'm not talking about rich people. There are far more working stiffs than stars; guys and gals and who lay carpet, knock the sets together, paint, wire, set up lights, fix cars – you name the trade and it is represented in any Hollywood production.

Even so, we felt like slaves under that Peter Thompson mandated Universal Studios contract. Which said, in short, that we were their virtual bondsmen for a period of seven years – unless they decided not to pick up our contracts, in which case our asses were fired and free.

We wanted fired and free. Back to freelancing TV shows, writing our books and living healthier lives that required fewer inducements to get through the day.

Besides the "Come On 13" - we wanted to post another sign aimed at our youthful audience (Ha!) that said: WHY AREN'T YOU LITTLE BUG SNIPES WATCHING 60 MINUTES, but feared that would tip our hand.

Meanwhile, Management, was desperately trying to turn the tide away from 13 toward a more desirable number that equaled a pickup for a second, and then hopefully a third season. Because back then three seasons - 66 episodes - is where the Syndication Bucks cut in to the tune of many millions of dollars an episode.

And so a Big Meeting Of The Suits was decreed. Yachting vacations were cut short. Mistresses were left to paint their nails in fancy suites. Company jets were commandeered to fly from New York to the Left Coast. An entire floor of the Universal City Hotel was roped off. (Except for Telly Savalas' suite, of course, where he and his family, along with his aged mother, lived free - courtesy of the afore mentioned Trojan Horse contract.)

And the Dawn To Martini Hour meetings at the Black Tower commenced. Gloom was parsed. Doom was dissected. And unbeknownst to them, all the actors and actresses came under the baleful gaze of various Big Telephone Guys, who wondered aloud if the fault was theirs.

The funny thing is, nobody questioned the writing. Nobody observed that the scripts were so bad that as Lorne Greene had complained when he visited our office: "Lord Lawrence, himself, couldn't rescue (the scripts) from the lavatory."

Glen Larson
At this point, Glen Larson, the man who was truly to blame, went into high meeting gear. A consummate salesman - albeit a lousy writer and committed borrower of better men's ideas - Larson, we were told, was at his most eloquent. He promised this. He promised that. He promised all the other things in the world. In short, he said he was going to film the most spectacular episode - no, two episodes - that have ever been created for television. No expense would be spared.

The senior vice president at Universal assured the network that they were putting their money where… well, I’ll skip this comment out entirely. Where Hollywood is concerned it could be considered XXX rated. Suffice it to say, they swore that if required, they would swallow.

Larson promised them a thrilling, two-part episode in which the evil Cylons gave it everything they had. The bad guys would ambush the heroic Galactica fleet in such numbers that many a human hero would meet his or her fate.

Moreover, if only they would promise to bar the dreaded Susan Futterman from the set, Larson said, the finale would be an all out attack on the school ship. The huge spaceship that carried the hopes and dreams of Galactica, and therefore Humankind.

And get this, he said. The Cylons will succeed! They’ll blow the be-jesus out of the school ship while our cast of handsome heroes and comely heroines race to save the children.

In short, in the last scene of Episode One we will see the whole damned school ship ablaze while innocent little rug rats in spacesuits shrieked and wailed for their mommies.

Hot Damn! Was the reaction of one and all. Fan-fucking-tastic!

But then the ABC Biz Affairs Veep became suspicious and asked," What’s the estimated cost of these episodes?"

Larson nodded at the Universal Studios rep, who spoke up: "We have budgeted $3.2 million for both episodes..." (According to my handy-dandy cost-of living calculator that would be $8,310,679.61 in today's money.)

The ABC Biz guy lifted an eyebrow. (Or so I was told) "That’s well above our license fee," he pointed out with a wolfish grin. The license fee, was about $750,000. The studio ate the difference for every episode, which - as I said before - was well over a million bucks. (For a lesson in TV deficit financing and the benefits of same, you’ll have to wait for future episodes of these Misadventures.)

Everybody was convinced. The show would go on. At least for the next two-part episode.

Unsaid was that if the show did not rise in the ratings, burning schoolships be damned, it was going to be All Over Now, Baby Blue.



Can't wait to read the blog each week to find out what happens next? No problem. Click the following link and buy the book. 

Tales Sometimes Tall, but always true, of Allan Cole's years in Hollywood with his late partner, Chris Bunch. How a naked lady almost became our first agent. How we survived La-La Land with only the loss of half our brain cells. How Bunch & Cole became the ultimate Fix-It Boys. How an alleged Mafia Don was very, very good to us. The guy who cornered the market on movie rocks. Andy Warhol's Fire Extinguisher. The Real Stars Of Hollywood. Why they don't make million dollar movies. See The Seven Pi$$ing Dwarfs. Learn: how to kill a "difficult" actor… And much, much more.

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Ever since my British publisher put all eight novels in the Sten series in three omnibus editions, American readers have been clamoring for equal treatment. 

Well, my American publisher – Wildside Books – was listening and is issuing all three omnibus volumes on this side of the Atlantic. The first two volumes were issues at the end of 2016. Stay tuned for the publication date of the third and final volume

THE TIMURA TRILOGY: When The Gods Slept, Wolves Of The Gods and The Gods Awaken. This best selling fantasy series now available as trade paperbacks, e-books (in all varieties) and as audiobooks. Visit The Timura Trilogy page for links to all the editions. 

NEWLY REVISED KINDLE EDITIONS OF THE TIMURA TRILOGY NOW AVAILABLE. (1) When The Gods Slept;(2) Wolves Of The Gods; (3) The Gods Awaken.


A NATION AT WAR WITH ITSELF: In Book Three Of The Shannon Trilogy, young Patrick Shannon is the heir-apparent to the Shannon fortune, but murder and betrayal at a family gathering send him fleeing into the American frontier, with only the last words of a wise old woman to arm him against what would come. And when the outbreak of the Civil War comes he finds himself fighting on the opposite side of those he loves the most. In The Wars Of The Shannons we see the conflict, both on the battlefield and the homefront, through the eyes of Patrick and the members of his extended Irish-American family as they struggle to survive the conflict that ripped the new nation apart, and yet, offered a dim beacon of hope.



A True Story About A Boy,
A Teacher, And Earthquake,
Some Terrorists And The CIA

LUCKY IN CYPRUS is a coming-of-age story set in the Middle East during the height of the Cold War. An American teenager – son of a CIA operative – is inspired by grand events and a Greek Cypriot teacher. 

He witnesses earthquakes and riots and terrorist attacks, but in the end it is his teacher’s gentle lessons that keep him whole.

Here's where to get the paperback & Kindle editions worldwide: 

Here's what readers say about Lucky In Cyprus:
  • "Bravo, Allan! When I finished Lucky In Cyprus I wept." - Julie Mitchell, Hot Springs, Texas
  • "Lucky In Cyprus brought back many memories... A wonderful book. So many shadows blown away!" - Freddy & Maureen Smart, Episkopi,Cyprus. 
  • "... (Reading) Lucky In Cyprus has been a humbling, haunting, sobering and enlightening experience..." - J.A. Locke,



What if the Cold War never ended -- but continued for a thousand years? Best-selling authors Allan Cole (an American) and Nick Perumov (a Russian) spin a mesmerizing "what if?" tale set a thousand years in the future, as an American and a Russian super-soldier -- together with a beautiful American detective working for the United Worlds Police -- must combine forces to defeat a secret cabal ... and prevent a galactic disaster! This is the first - and only - collaboration between American and Russian novelists. Narrated by John Hough. Click the title links below for the trade paperback and kindle editions. (Also available at iTunes.)


A novel by Allan and his daughter, Susan

After laboring as a Doctors Without Borders physician in the teaming refugee camps and minefields of South Asia, Dr. Ann Donovan thought she'd seen Hell as close up as you can get. And as a fifth generation CIA brat, she thought she knew all there was to know about corruption and betrayal. But then her father - a legendary spymaster - shows up, with a ten-year-old boy in tow. A brother she never knew existed. Then in a few violent hours, her whole world is shattered, her father killed and she and her kid brother are one the run with hell hounds on their heels. They finally corner her in a clinic in Hawaii and then all the lies and treachery are revealed on one terrible, bloody storm- ravaged night.

BASED ON THE CLASSIC STEN SERIES by Allan Cole & Chris Bunch: Fresh from their mission to pacify the Wolf Worlds, Sten and his Mantis Team encounter a mysterious ship that has been lost among the stars for thousands of years. At first, everyone aboard appears to be long dead. Then a strange Being beckons, pleading for help. More disturbing: the presence of AM2, a strategically vital fuel tightly controlled by their boss - The Eternal Emperor. They are ordered to retrieve the remaining AM2 "at all costs." But once Sten and his heavy worlder sidekick, Alex Kilgour, board the ship they must dare an out of control defense system that attacks without warning as they move through dark warrens filled with unimaginable horrors. When they reach their goal they find that in the midst of all that death are the "seeds" of a lost civilization. 



Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with  a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is  "The Blue Meanie,"  a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself.

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