One challenge Tormé continually faces as one of the show’s producers is dealing with the cast’s morale. While everyone agrees that Sliders is a happy set, it is Derricks who points to a lone disgruntled voice among the principals.
“There have been reports that John rags the writing on the show a great deal,” he says somewhat sheepishly. ” The writing is not this, and the writing is not that, it’s horrible’ I think John says that only because he wants the show to work. I don’t think it has anything to do with him, per se. It’s about making the show work, and I think we all came in with that hope and that dream, because we all believed in the show.”
When asked about his role in Into the Mystic” Rhys-Davies smiles impishly, as if he’s holding back in the name of good sportsmanship. “My role in this episode is, uh…well, I’m there; I’m certainly there. I don’t see myself as a vehicle for the plot so much as… sort of walking furniture. It’s a very special episode written by the remarkable producer, writer and originator of our show, Mr. Tracy Tormé. And I’m sure I have a function.”
It’s obvious that Rhys-Davies’ ideas for his character haven’t met with overwhelming enthusiasm by the show’s co-creator. “Saving the world is out this year,” the actor says disappointedly. “Thy don’t want the Professor to save the world anymore. This is very much a make-or-break season, I think. And setting the actual direction that we want the show to go in has been a difficult one. There are those who see the show more as light comedy, and those, like myself, who would rather push it into a harder world of science fiction. At the moment, the light comedy people have the assent. Who knows? They may be right.”
Apprised of Rhys-Davies’ comments, Tormé decides to air his difference with the Sliders co-star. “I created the character, and I always saw Arturo as having dark shading. If you look at the pilot, there were many things that showed he’s a complex person with a dark side to him. John has always felt that the character should be heroic across the board, and that Quinn should learn from Arturo and be almost like Arturo’s protégé. I’ve never seen the show that way, and I still don’t.
“When working on Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of my complaints [about that show] was that everyone got along with each other at all times. I found that to be a little boring. So, I didn’t want this show to be about four people patting each other on the back every week. I wanted there to be some spark between the characters. I also wanted to make sure that Arturo didn’t step all over Quinn, because I think Quinn is more fundamental to the show.
“One of the interesting things about John is that at times he seems to have trouble distinguishing himself as a person from Arturo as a character. So if Arturo does something that John sees as cowardly or underhanded, John seems to take it personally. That’s what we’ve been dealing with for two seasons. The choices were to make it the Arturo and Friends go Sliding Show, or keep it what it is. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to give in to that. All I can do is ask John to be professional and to do the scripts as written, and when he has input, I’m happy to listen. He often adds good little touches to the scenes, but fundamentally, we have a difference of opinion about the character.”
Rhys-Davies wants it understood that his complaints about Sliders extend beyond his participation. “This show could be Fox and/or Universal’s Star Trek,” he remarks. “It could be the most considerable show they have, with a worldwide audience and a lifetime that will more than amply reward its makers. I do not think they fully understand the potential of this franchise.
“I think Sliders could be the most audacious show on television. It can go anywhere, any place, any time. It should have an edge like Quantum Leap or The X-Files. I believe that the balance of this show should be the pursuit of reason and man’s use of intelligence, understanding, intellectual excitement and passion in completely alien situation, rather than situations which simply lend themselves to light sitcom.”
The actor appears to have given considerable thought to his character’s function — or lack thereof — in Sliders. But today, at least, he doesn’t sound very optimistic about Arturo’s future. “Unless the Professor has a purpose, he could easily evolve into a cliché character, sort of the standard butt of jokes and things like that. That would be a sorry way to do it. I would certainly prefer not to do that. If you want the show to go in a certain direction, particularly if you’re aiming for a more youthful audience, it might actually be better to do with one less Slider. If I was producing this show, and if the professor truly didn’t have a function, it would be better to let him go and concentrate on the others.”
If the Professor sticks around, Rhys-Davies has his own ideas as to which of his qualities the writers should emphasize. “I think he should be the father figure to young Quinn, the one who’s pushing his student, whom we know had got more in him to go father than the Professor has. And yet I know there is a feeling that there should be more tension between the characters, to make it more interesting. I think this is a mistake. The conflict should come with the limits of our intelligence against completely haphazard and irrational occurrences in each parallel universe. The question for the writers is, do they want to make Arturo jealous of Quinn’s genius — which I think diminishes the character — or do they want to make the Professor a sort of teacher who expand the possibilities of his prodigy? Because that is part of the Professor’s genius. It’s an unresolved argument at present.”