Topic: Interview with Jacob Epstein

I've been sitting on this for a while but finally found time to wrap it up and publish. Behold, something actually Sliders-related for this Sliders discussion board!

I corresponded with Jacob earlier this year. This may be the first of a multi-part session if I can get some free time to work on part 2, but don't hold your breath. Enjoy!

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Re: Interview with Jacob Epstein

I'll work on Part 2 if you want. ;-)

Anyway. What a great interview! Fascinating that he felt certain Season 2 would come and that FOX didn't interfere with the show and was happy with the episodes when FOX put the show on hiatus after the first nine episodes, refused to let Jason Gaffney return in Season 2, aired episodes out of order, etc. I bet your friend Jon was touched by Epstein's fond remembrances.

It's interesting to note that the Landis Group was a factor in production, something that hasn't really been touched on; most of what we've learned over the years has been the production team versus the network with Universal being distantly indifferent.

Re: Interview with Jacob Epstein

That's all really interesting.  Good work!

I hadn't heard that JRD was causing problems because he thought he was the star.  I'd always thought the problems were when the show became dumb - I didn't realize his issues went back as far as season 2.

Re: Interview with Jacob Epstein

It's interesting. During Seasons 1 - 2, John described his role as "walking furniture" and ranted about what he felt was the poor quality of the scripts and his disdain for Arturo being written as cowardly or unheroic. Torme's view was that John needed to stop seeing an unflattering portrayal of Arturo as an unflattering portrayal of John. John was also unhappy about the sliders surviving the multiverse in Season 2 as opposed to a single Season 1 episode where they saved a whole planet. He also disliked the "light comedy" approach of Season 2.

However, after Torme left the show and Peckinpah took over and fired John, John took a completely different view in his latter interviews. "I think Tracy did a very nice job early on," he said after "The Exodus Part 2" had aired. Clearly, John saw the Season 3 changes and realized what Torme had been holding at bay -- except Epstein would have us think FOX didn't interfere with SLIDERS at all?

Re: Interview with Jacob Epstein

Great interview! Very insightful! The trouble with the Landis group does make a lot of sense. Everyone seems to have loved working with Nan Hagan, interesting.

Re: Interview with Jacob Epstein

That's pretty interesting.  Maybe it's only because I've only been familiar with post-S3 JRD quotes, but I always figured that JRD was completely on board with Tracy and his vision.

Outside of simply making Arturo the star and doing less comedy, do we know what JRD would've done differently?  It seems like you're saying he wanted them to do more "Last Days" stuff where Arturo saves the world? Just episodes where the Sliders arrive, and Arturo uses his massive science brain to save the day?

Re: Interview with Jacob Epstein

Kyle Counts, Starlog #225, April 1996 wrote:

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.”

The upshot of this seems to be that John didn't like Arturo being played as the butt of jokes (like being mistaken for Pavarotti and crowd surfing in "The King is Back"). He didn't like the Professor's occasionally dark or non-existent sense of morality (such as in "El Sid" and PTSS where he seems to steal Quinn's invention). He didn't like the Professor's occasional cowardice (see previous). He didn't like the Professor's jealousy towards Quinn. He felt Arturo should be completely heroic without flaws or failings.

The great irony of the situation: John got almost exactly the characterization he wanted in the season that he hated most, Season 3.

With the mild exception of "Rules of the Game" where he's defeatist and cruel and the teaser of "Murder Most Foul" where he lands in garbage, the Season 3 Arturo is a badass grandfather who can deliver babies and repair robots and beat up trained security guards and outrun motorcycles and knows exactly what to do in nearly every crisis with his only problem being that he's occasionally bad tempered and doesn't consider robots to be living beings.

Aside from being derided briefly and his final story where he gets shot and blown up after getting his brain sucked out, Arturo is entirely heroic with barely any failings or weaknesses, exactly as John wished during Seasons 1 - 2 -- which, I suppose, freed John up to focus his frustration on the stories around Arturo rather than the characterization of Arturo.

Quite hilariously, while Torme expressed great frustration towards David Peckinpah, Alan Barnette and Robert Greenblatt in interviews (without naming names), Torme didn't blame them for Arturo becoming so safe and bland. He blamed John, saying John had been pushing for Arturo to be "the wise old guy with no dark side" for two years and got his way in the end only to hate the show even more.

Temporal Flux (I think) once asked John to autograph a script for "Into the Mystic," and John grimly scrawled the following inscription: "God, I hated this script."

On a tangential note, at a 2012 convention in Toronto, some obsessive fan of whom we know nothing dared to ask John to describe the circumstances in which he was fired off SLIDERS. John gave the usual vitriolic responses, and then this daring fan whose name is lost to history proceeded to ask John which episode of SLIDERS he liked best.

John Rhys-Davies wrote:

Clearly, this man has balls! Which episode was my favorite? The last one.

Re: Interview with Jacob Epstein

I think John had a good point, and season 3 wasn't a fair litmus test on his take of the character because the stories were contrary to what he thought the show should be.  not a light sitcom, not an action/horror movie-rip off, but something pretty much like the more cerebral TNG stuff. 

the thing is, john wasn't writing/producing the show, others were, and they pretty much have to carry out their vision and what they feel capable of doing, which also can work.  both visions could work, and i agree with john in the potential he saw for the concept (let's face it, if they did execute it perfectly with his vision, maybe it could have even become a movie franchise).

but since he didn't originate the show, nor was the one carrying out the writing and producing, i think not embracing the vision of those who didn't probably was unnecessary.   it's like if you have a car that is trying to get somewhere.  there are multiple routes to take.  there's even different places you can go.  but when you have people wresting over the steering wheel, you risk getting nowhere.  which is worse than not just getting to the less cool place.  you have to let the person driving do the driving, and do what you can do to support them so the very best version of their vision comes through.

that does not mean not providing constructive feedback.  but it also means, letting it go once it's been heard and not creating unnecessary tension either.  and if you have ideas that are so great, then go find one and creating something where you get to have the steering wheel.  that is the right place for you to want to drive.

all that being said, john was marvelous as arturo, and was tremendous when the camera was on.  he even tried to come back after he was fired.  i'm not saying any of john's creative opinions are wrong but the structure was the structure, and not everyone can execute your ideas, or can just switch from their own.

Re: Interview with Jacob Epstein

Shame on me for not reading this sooner, but great interview Matt!  Really throws you for a loop, as it seems Epstein was the glue that held the series together up in Vancouver.  Clearly you see how it went off the rails after his experience left.