Writer, Broadcaster

Tag: Barry Morgan

Faster Than Light: The Second and Third Pilots

An excerpt from Something Technical:

As I’ve written earlier, after the success of the Faster Than Light pilot, we did not receive a green light to proceed with a series. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The Director of Radio Programming at the time, Adrian Mills, did not reject the show outright. The following summer James Roy, now Acting Director of Radio Drama, approached me about doing another pilot for a summer run of the show. Presented in a half hour format, it would be Faster Than Light “light”.  Unfortunately, James had no budget for it.

Robert J. Sawyer
Host of Faster Than Light

No problem. We took a radio play directed by Bill Lane from the archives and built a show around it. I wrote a frame for the show about auditioning for a new host. Rob’s main competition was a robot called Huey (played by Julian Ford) whose main claim to fame was starring as a robot in the classic science fiction movie Silent Running with Bruce Dern. Huey didn’t get the job. Linda Spence also acted in this pilot as a fictional Associate Producer. The concept for Faster Than Light was gradually crystallizing in my mind: it would be a fictional show about making a science fiction radio show. A show within a show. Very meta.

Faster Than Light #2

The summer series didn’t pan out, though. James was willing to proceed, but with no funding and very little time to write and produce ten episodes, I didn’t think I could do the show justice. Seeing as it appeared we’d have an opportunity to try again later with proper funding and adequate time, I opted to wait. 

That fall we did get funding to do another pilot. For this attempt, I brought in Fergus Heywood to co-produce. Fergus had been highly recommended to me by Greg Sinclair. He enthusiastically agreed to help out. We were assigned Alison Moss as Senior Producer, who I always loved working with. I would eventually work with her on the summer replacement series Next with Nora Young. So it was a good team.

Chris Boyce, Head of the Program Development Committee, organized a facilitated session to help us further define the show. Fergus, Alison, Rob Sawyer, Chris Boyce and I all sat down to figure it out. Richard Handler, an experienced Arts producer, was also involved. This third pilot was a serious effort, but the whole spirit was completely different than the first pilot. The show would be half hour instead of an hour. It would include one full cast radio play instead of two, and it would not include a continuation of Captain’s Away, although I had written several episodes.

Chris had us come up with a mandate:

“To fire the imaginations of Canadians by presenting thought provoking encounters with masters of science fiction and fantasy along with engaging dramatizations of their work.”

When we were finally ready, I hired Wayne Richards to write and record original theme music for the opening of the show. We would use an original composition from Fergus Heywood for the closing. Having decided to make the theme of this pilot “The Other,” we secured the services of Cathi Bond, an experienced freelancer, to produce a short documentary on “the other” in science fiction films throughout history.

I wrote a high production frame for the episode that consisted of three parts. In the opening, a mad scientist creates a host for the show in an homage to Frankenstein, a classic “other” in science fiction. The mad scientist was played by Tony Daniels, who did a brilliant German accent as Dr. Frankenstein. Once the host has been created, he takes over and introduces the show. After the first part of the show, a second interlude or frame features the mad scientist conducting an experiment in which he accidentally transforms himself into a fly (an obvious homage to The Fly). Rob the host returns to usher us into the next part of the show, an original adaptation of Born of Man and Woman by Richard Matheson, adapted and directed by Barry Morgan. The end credits featured Rob as the host along with the mad scientist. Not realizing that the fly trapped in the studio with him is the mad scientist, Rob swats him.

FTL #3

I was attempting to seamlessly mix representational radio with presentational radio. The drama and the high production intro, middle and extro were all representational. You listened to those the way you would watch a movie or television show. They weren’t talking directly to the audience. They were meant to be entertaining as opposed to informative. Whereas the bits with Rob talking directly to the audience, and Cathi Bond presenting her short documentary, were presentational. The trick was to guide the audience from one style of radio to another without confusing them.

Ultimately the fate of the show would be determined by the Program Development Committee, a group of several experienced broadcasters assembled by Chris Boyce. I remember one of the members of this group listening to the opening of the show after I had finished mixing it. I was quite proud of it. I thought it was funny and that the sound effects and mix had achieved what I’d set out to do. This person listened to it, gave me no feedback whatsoever, and left the studio. My impression was that he didn’t get it, and didn’t like it. This did not bode well.

We finished the pilot and submitted it to the Program Development Committee. A representative of the committee phoned me sometime afterward to tell me the bad news. They weren’t going to pick up the show as it stood. They just didn’t think it worked. More work was required.

I didn’t entirely disagree. I didn’t think it had worked as well as the original pilot. The original pilot had had room to breathe. It possessed a certain charm. We hadn’t overthought it. The elements stood on their own. Rob brought a passion and an authenticity to it. The second pilot had itself been a Frankenstein monster. I liked the frame we had created for it. But I had been forced to edit the heck out of the radio play that I’d borrowed from the archives to make it fit. Even the audio quality of the radio play hadn’t been up to snuff; it had originally been recorded on tape and sounded a few tape generations old. The third pilot had more going for it. I liked the frame. I liked the opening and closing music. I liked Barry Morgan’s Richard Matheson adaptation. I liked Cathi’s piece. But somehow it didn’t all gell the same as the original.

Nevertheless, the committee still hadn’t given us a definitive “no.” They offered us a chance to make yet a fourth pilot. By now people in the drama department were calling me Wing Commander Joe, I had so many pilots under me.

 So, with a thread of hope still dangling before us, Fergus, Rob, Alison and I got together to talk about it. Rob made the point that maybe the show needed to be more serious, that our problem was trying to mix humour with seriousness. Thinking of shows like MASH and Life is Beautiful, I didn’t think that was the issue, though it could well have confused the Development Committee. Rob also objected to the CBC’s obvious efforts to make the show “stealth” science fiction. They didn’t want the show to be overtly about science fiction and fantasy. They wanted it to be something else that happened to include science fiction and fantasy. I agreed with Rob on this point. There seemed to be a slight bias against science fiction and fantasy. And not only that: against radio plays, too. Against storytelling. Against the representational. (This would be made abundantly clear when the entire radio drama department was shut down a few short years later, ostensibly as a response to financial pressures.)

Which was too bad. Because by now I had refined the concept even further. I was thinking that the host should be a sonic sorcerer, with the power to do anything, be anywhere. This concept, coupled with effective, liberal use of sound effects, would have several virtues. It would allow us to harness the enormous imaginative potential of radio. If the host wanted to be on the surface of Mars, he could be there in the blink of an eye—faster than light, if you will.  If he wanted to lasso a comet by the tail, he could.  He could pilot a spaceship, visit Heaven or Hell, single-handedly battle an army of knights… or simply conduct an interview. It solved the conceptual problem of how to veer from the fantastic portions of the show’s “frame” to the magazine elements of the show:  

SFX: STATIC

FEMALE VOICE: (TREATED) Incoming vessel. You have three seconds to identify yourself before we open fire.

HOST: (TWO SECOND BEAT)  (TREATED)  I’m Robert J. Sawyer, commanding Faster Than Light on CBC Radio. Be advised that if you open fire, we will respond.

FEMALE VOICE: Acknowledged, Faster Than Light.  What, may I ask, will you respond with?

ROB:   How about an interview with Canadian Independent author Maaja Wentz?

You see how it would work? Playful and imaginative. Veering seamlessly from fantasy to reality. It would itself be science fiction and fantasy while presenting the same to our listeners.

Alas, it never happened. The committee never did say no outright, but the truth is, Faster Than Light as we conceived of it never stood much of a chance. What we wanted to do was too much at odds with what the powers that be at the time were willing to let us do. Greg Sinclair was head of the drama department at the time (but did not represent the Program Development Committee… I felt he was on my side). We discussed the project and mutually decided to pull the plug. To make it work for the CBC, we were going to have to turn it into a show that none of us believed in or wanted to do. Greg informed Rob Sawyer.

We never got the green light that I had dreamed about for so long.

Rollback, by Robert J. Sawyer

Still, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. I’m proud of all three pilots. Rob and I became friends. I thank him for his generosity and time in trying to make it work. Later, he asked me to read and comment on the third draft of his novel Rollback (about a man and a woman in their eighties who agree to undergo a procedure to make them younger. It only works on the man. Of course, this has huge implications on their relationship. It’s a great read.) Rob made the protagonist a CBC Recording Engineer/Producer, which is what I aspired to be. He also featured me as a character in the novel, on page ninety-nine.

I went back to my normal life working on other people’s radio shows. That year CBC Radio launched a show called WireTap. I could barely make myself listen to it, out of jealousy, I suppose. Finally listening to an episode one day, I found myself impressed. I wrote the producers of Wiretap and told them how much I liked the episode, which had included some scby Roience fiction. I used my cbc.ca email address so that they would know that it came from a colleague. Nobody from the show ever responded.

Had I managed to get Faster Than Light on the air, I would have personally responded to every single email the show received.                      

Assorted Nonsense: The Podcast

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

One day in the not too distant future, when I have time, I might try my hand at a podcast. And when I do, it might turn out something like the script I’ve pasted below. I wrote this back around 2006 and actually produced a version of it a few years later with my buddy Matt Watts, but it never saw the light of day.

The mini-radio drama referenced near the end, Born of Man and Woman, was produced by my friend and colleague Barry Morgan for the third pilot we produced for Faster Than Light, but like that pilot, it was never aired, which is a shame, because Barry’s take on the story was actually quite good. Born of Man and Woman is a great little short story if you can get your hands on it, by Richard Matheson, author of What Dreams May Come and I am Legend. As for Barry Morgan, I really miss him. What a privilege it was to know a guy like that.

This script, you will see, is rather silly, but dammit there’s a place for silly in this world. Isn’t there?

ASSORTED NONSENSE

Episode #1

PART ONE

1. SFX:                                   SHUFFLING PAPERS, CHAIRS SQUEAKING

2. JOE: (STAGE WHISPER)  Play it. Play it!

3. MATT: (STAGE WHISPER) What? 

4. JOE: (STAGE WHISPER) The theme!

5. MATT: (STAGE WHISPER) Oh.  Which button…?

6. JOE: (STAGE WHISPER) Try the red one. (FREAKS OUT) NO! No, the green one.

7. SFX: CLICK!

8. THEME: ASSORTED NONSENSE THEME BG

9. MATT:                               Hi and welcome to Assorted Nonsense.  I’m Matt Watts…

10. JOE:                                  And I’m Joe Mahoney.  Welcome to Assorted Nonsense.

11. SFX: QUACK QUACK

12. MATT:                             Every edition of Assorted Nonsense is special, of course, but today’s show is extra special because not only will you hear the usual assorted nonsense…

13. JOE:                                  You’ll hear all sorts of extra goodies, just like on your favourite Star Wars DVD.

14. MATT:                             For instance, in today’s show we’ve included two scenes so poorly written and acted…

15. JOE:                                  So unbelievably awful…

16. MATT:                             That normally they would have been deleted.

17. JOE:                                  Without question.

18. MATT:                             Today we’ve kept them in.  Just like our bloopers.  During the making of every Athorted Nonsenthe… of every Athorted… oh for the love of –

19. SFX: BLEEP!

20. JOE:                                  You need to work on that lisp.

21. MATT:                             I need some water.  Can we do that again?

22. PRODUCER:                    (OVER TALKBACK) Pick it up at “During the making of.”

23. MATT:                             Okay. Ready?

24. JOE:                                  Go for it.

25. MATT:                             During the making of every Assorted Nonsense, Joe and I make plenty of mistakes.  Normally we edit them out.  Not today.

26. JOE:                                  Today we’re keeping them in.  And if you listen closely…

27. MATT:                             Really, really closely…

28. JOE:                                  You’ll hear a special commentary track in which Matt and I comment on the very show you’re listening to —

29. MATT:                             — while you’re listening to it. 

30. JOE:                                  How cool is that?

31. MATT:                             When the show’s finished, make sure you turn it over to hear a special behind-the-scenes making of featurette. 

32. MATT:                             And as an extra special bonus, today’s show is available in the following languages: 

33. JOE:                                  English.

34. MATT: Assorted Nonsense.  Radio that answers the burning question:

35. JOE AND MATT: (TREATED HARD RIGHT AND LEFT) What the heck?

36. THEME:                          UP AND OUT

PART TWO: CONSTRUCTION SITE

1. SFX: CONSTRUCTION, BULLDOZER IN DISTANCE

2. MATT:                               Hey Joe.  What’goin’ on?  What’s all this?

3. JOE:                                    Oh hey Matt.  I’m just building my own radio show, so I can be my own boss, do my own thing.  You know, the kind of show I’ve been talking about for like forever.

4. MATT:                               I’m sorry, did you say that you’re… building a radio show?

5. JOE:                                    Yeah, that’s right.  Once I get all the pieces.

6. MATT:                               Pieces?  Radio shows come in pieces?

7. JOE:                                    Of course.  You know… radio pieces.  Themes, hosts, music, stories… you know, radio stuff.

8. MATT:                               Huh.

9. JOE:                                    Only problem is this is one a them “do-it-yourself” radio shows.  I gotta figure out how ta bolt it all together.  For instance, getting this… sub-text in place…

6. SFX:                                   DRILL

7. JOE:                                    There.

7. SFX: BULLDOZER

8. MATT:                               Joe…

7. JOE: (EXCITED) Oh hey look, they’re bringing in the theme!  Ooh, this is very exciting.  Put it over there, boys! 

8. SFX: THEME SETS DOWN WITH A THUD

9. MUSIC:                             AS IT HAPPENS THEME

16. JOE:                                  Oh. Hmm, I dunno.  I didn’t order a current affairs theme. (OFF) Guys!  Guys!  You’re gonna have to take that theme back.  Can we get something a little less… Moe Koffman-y?

25. MUSIC: THEME DEPARTS WITH BULLDOZER

11. JOE:                                  Hand me those nails?  Thanks.

12. MATT:                             Joe you can’t just… build a radio show.

13. SFX:                                 HAMMERING

14. JOE:                                  I can’t?

15. MATT:                             No.

26. JOE:                                  Here, hold this while I tweak the focus.  Thanks.

27: SFX:                                 FOCUS TWEAKING

17. MATT:                             Have you thought this thing through?

18: JOE: (STRAINING) And now for the dramatic structure…

19. MATT:                             Do you have any idea –

18. SFX:                                 JACKHAMMER

19. MATT: (YELLING) Joe, Joe listen to me!  Do you have any idea how –

20. SFX: JACKHAMMER STOPS

21. MATT:                             (STILL YELLING) big a radio…? (SIGHS, LOWERS VOICE) How big a radio show can be? 

22. JOE: Whaddaya mean?

23. MATT:                             Where ya gonna put it? 

24. JOE:                                  It’s just little, only half an hour.  Fits anywhere.

25. MATT:                             You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, do you.  Joe… radio shows… radio shows are like cats.

26. JOE:                                  Cats?

27. MATT:                             You might even be allergic for all you know.

28. JOE:                                  I –

29. MATT:                             Do you have any idea what a radio show can do to your furniture?

30. JOE:                                  Uh —

31: MATT:                             You’re not thinking of having it declawed, are you?  ‘Cause if you are, then —

32. JOE:                                  (LIKE HE’S CRAZY) Matt, Matt.  It’s not a cat.  It’s a radio show.

33. MATT:                             (BEAT) Oh you are so wrong.  Cuz ya see Joe, a radio show is exactly like a cat.

34. JOE:                                  (LONG BEAT) Except for the fur, and the… head?

35. MATT:                             Joe, what’s the one thing that cats have more than any other creature on this planet?

36. JOE: Hairballs.

37. MATT: Attitude, Joe.  There ain’t no other creature on this planet with more attitude than a cat.  (BEAT) ‘Cept maybe a beaver but the point is that that’s what makes a cat tick.  Attitude.  For a radio show to really rock, it’s gotta have attitude. 

38. JOE:                                  Like a cat.

39. MATT:                             Or a beaver.

40. JOE:                                  And you know this because…

41. MATT:                             I used to have one.

42.  JOE:                                 A cat?

43.  MATT:                            (BEAT) A beaver.

44.  JOE:                                 Well I appreciate the advice Matt but I’m still gonna build my own radio show.  *Now if you’ll excuse me I’m gonna have to trim this item cause it’s already gone on way too long…

44. MUSIC: *START OVERBLOWN MUSIC BG

45. SFX: SAWING

45. MUSIC:                           FEATURE, THEN FADE BG

46. MATT: (OVERLY DRAMATIC)

And so Joe built his radio show.

He built it with his own bare hands.

He built it though it made no sense to do so. 

He built it out of spare parts left over from a misspent youth. 

He built a radio show fluent in four different languages, not a one of them spoken on Earth.

He coated it with a super special polymer material, able to withstand hurricane forces and the probing hands of small children.

He made his radio show sveglia impermeable.

He put little air holes in it so that he could breathe. 

He painted it bright orange with gigantic purple spots. 

Joe built a radio show the envy of the entire… that… some people could tune into if they wanted to. 

Joe built his radio show unaware that as he did so, elsewhere in the universe mysterious aliens plotted the fate of humanity:

PART THREE: STUDIO

1. SOUND:                             INTRO OF SHOW STARTS AGAIN

2. JOE:                                    Hi, I’m Joe.  I’m one of the people in the show that you’re listening to.

3. MATT:                               And I’m Matt, I act in the show, and I do the show’s laundry.

4. JOE:                                    As we promised a little earlier on, we’re about to do a commentary track for today’s show.  But just a commentary for the, uh, intro, the beginning of the show, because, uh…

5. MATT:                               Well the show hasn’t actually finished yet. So we can pretty much only comment on the beginning, maybe a bit of the middle, depending.

6. JOE:                                    Yeah, so here it is, this is the beginning of today’s show, which you would have heard only a few minutes ago.  I put it together late last week, if I recall, Thursday, I think, round suppertime, while eating a baloney, ah…

7. SOUND:                             SHOW PLAYS BG UNDER

8. MATT:                               So… was it you who wrote this?

9. JOE:                                    Yep.

10. MATT:                             I mean… it was you, wasn’t it?  That wrote the intro?  ‘Cause I don’t…

11. SOUND:                           BIT OF THE INTRO

12. JOE:                                  Uh huh.  Yeah.  I’d have to say that it was pretty much me, not sure what you were doing that day, playing Resident Evil or something, but… that’s the two of us reading it, though.

13. MATT:                             Yeah.

14. SOUND:                           A BIT OF THE INTRO

15. MATT:                             So were you a little pressed for time then, writing it, or…?

16. SOUND:                           A BIT OF THE INTRO

17. JOE: Whaddaya mean? 

18. MATT:                             Well it’s not very good, is it?

19. JOE:                                  You don’t think?

20. SOUND:                           BIT MORE OF SHOW

21. MATT:                             Have you heard it?

22. JOE:                                  Uh… well yeah.  Yeah, I mixed it, I put the whole thing together, so… yeah, I… you know I don’t even know where you were.

21.  MATT:                            There’s no need to get defensive.  I’m just saying that it could’ve been… better.

22. JOE:                                  Oh yeah?   Well how?  How could it’ve been better?

23. MATT:                             Well.  You know.

24. SOUND:                           BIT MORE OF THE SHOW

25. JOE:                                  No.  No I don’t know.  Why don’t you tell me?

26. SOUND:                           BIT MORE OF THE SHOW

27. MATT:                             Well you know if I’d written it.  I think if I’d written the intro it would’ve… you know… been better.

28.  SOUND: PARTICULARLY LAME PART OF THE SHOW

29. MATT:                             A lot better.  Wait… wait!

30. JOE:                                  What?

31. MATT:                             Shh!  This is my favourite part.

32. SOUND:                           EVEN MORE BANAL PART OF THE INTRO

33.  JOE:                                 I thought you said you didn’t like the intro.

34. MATT:                             What?  Oh, well I thought that I liked that one part, but… huh.

35. JOE:                                  What?

36. MATT: (DISMISSIVELY) Ah, it wasn’t as good as I thought it was.

37. SOUND:                           FEATURE INTRO

38. SOUND:                           TRANSITION

PART FOUR: SPECIAL FEATURE PRESENTATION

1. JOE: Time now for today’s Special Feature Presentation!

2. MUSIC:                                         TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX THEME

3. MATT: It’s at this point in the show that you might want to find someone or something to hold onto.

4. JOE: Why do you say that?

5. MATT: Well it’s just that I think that what we’re about to play represents a bit of a departure in tone.  You know, in the tone that I think you and I have worked so hard to establish in today’s show.

6. JOE: You mean the fact that what we’re about to play is not particularly funny.

7. MATT:                                           I mean the fact that it’s actually kind of good.

8. JOE: Oh yeah, yeah there is that. 

9. MATT: But you’re right, it’s not particularly funny either.  It’s actually kind of scary.

10. JOE: So you think this is a problem, then, this change in tone?

11. MATT: Well no, it’s just I just wouldn’t want any of our listeners to, you know, blow a gasket or something.  We’ve only got three.

12. JOE: Gaskets?

13. MATT: Listeners.

14. JOE: Ah, yes, yes this is true.  It is a well-known fact that if listeners are forced to switch too quickly from one kind of programming to another, they explode.

15. MATT: Very messy.

16. JOE: Yeah.  So, um, listeners, if you think there’s any chance at all that you might explode because of the rapid transition from sort of “funny” radio to sort of “serious” radio, you might wanna just… what.  Turn the radio off?

17. MATT: Well no, no, let’s not get carried away.  I think it would suffice if you just… you know, stood back from the radio a bit.  Probably a good idea to keep the volume down.  And then, as you get used to the change in programming, as you begin to feel more comfortable with it, then you can… try edging in a bit.  But slowly!  No sudden moves.  And if you feel like you might explode anyway, try not to do it on the carpet.

18. JOE: Perfect.  The last thing we need is one of our listeners exploding.

19. MATT: We’ve only got three.

20. JOE: And we have a responsibility to those three to keep them from exploding.

21. MATT: (WHISPER) It’s probably okay if one explodes.

22. JOE: Shh!  Okay, so without further ado here’s our special feature presentation, a little something called Born of Man and Woman.   

23. MATT: By Richard Matheson, produced by Barry Morgan.  Okay, play it.

24. JOE: Okay, ah… how do I…

25.MATT: The green button.  NO!  NO!  The red one.

26. SOUND: CLICK!

27. ITEM:       DRAMA “BORN OF MAN AND WOMAN”

  • IN:      …Door slam                                                            RUNS:  8’00” aprox 
  • OUT:  …Music

PART FIVE: THAT’S ALL SHE WROTE

1. JOE:                                    Born of Man and Woman, by Richard Matheson, adapted and produced for radio by Barry Morgan.

2. MATT: Featuring Wayne Robson, Ray Landry, and Sarah Orenstein.  A true story, based on Joe’s early childhood, if I’m not mistaken.

3. JOE:                                    (BEAT) I don’t wanna talk about it.

4. MATT:                               And that’s all she wrote, that’s our show for today.

5. THEME:                            UP AND UNDER

6. JOE:                                    For today’s show only the part of Matt Watts was played by Joe Mahoney. 

7. MATT:                               With the part of Joe Mahoney being played by Matt Watts. To complain about Assorted Nonsense, e-mail Assorted Nonsense Audience Relations at:

We have a team of operators standing by to receive your complaints.  Assorted Nonsense is written and produced by Joe Mahoney with Matt Watts.  See ya.

8. JOE:                                    Later.  

9. THEME: FEATURE, THEN DOWN FOR:

10. THEME:                          UP AND OUT

END

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