Six Hours On The seaQuest Set…
By Julia Simpson
“In the mid-90’s when seaQuest was still on the air, fans met and enthused via early internet services like Prodigy, Genie, and AOL. Lisa, Missy, Chris, and I first met in seaQuest fan groups on these sites, and when the show moved production to Orlando, we met up often and had some unforgettable seaQuest-related experiences…
We rode the Universal Studios production tour tram hoping to spot our favorite seaQuest actors, we ate dinner at places where the cast and crew were rumored to hang out, and thanks to Chris’s Universal connections and Lisa’s ability to make friends within the production, they even got to be extras in the third season episode, Brainlock. Of all the memorable experiences we had, though, the one that topped them all was our visit to the seaQuest set in November 1995…
It was the show’s third season and it was still struggling in the ratings. Fan groups had rallied together and campaigned NBC to keep the show on the air, but it didn’t look good. Sensing that it might be our last opportunity to gather while the show was still in production, Lisa and Missy came to Orlando, and on the night of November 16th, we visited the Ale House hoping to rub elbows with cast and crew. As luck would have it, some were there, including Michael DeLuise and a lighting tech named David –
NBC had just delivered the news that the show was cancelled, and the episode currently being filmed–Weapons of War–would be the show’s finale. The mood was understandably melancholy, and when David asked Lisa if we’d ever been on the set and Lisa said we hadn’t, David was determined to remedy that…
The following day, David arranged a set visit for us. Lisa, Chris, Missy, and I all met up and headed to Universal Studios. Chris led us through the theme park to the front lot security gate where David left our passes and instructions for where to meet him –
We visited soundstages 23 and 24 (to my recollection) – one of which contained the bridge set where they were currently filming a scene. In the meantime, David took us on a tour of the other sets including the moon pool, botanicals lab, and Bridger’s quarters. It was a little bit mind-bending to see the wooden studs and metal scaffolding behind these places that were so real to us, but all the various trappings of production (extension cords, lights, gaffer tape, marker notes on set pieces…) brought it home that we were in the place where the magic happened –
Eventually, we ended up on the bridge set where they were between takes, and we were introduced to the episode’s director, Steve Beers. Mr. Beers was friendly and welcoming, and he invited us to stay and watch the next take if we promised to be quiet. Needless to say, our lips were sealed! If my memory serves me correctly, we were seated on a big metal equipment case, and we were right behind Mr. Beers, maybe ten feet from the seaQuest bridge. We even had a view of his small director’s monitor, so we were able to see what the scene would look like on TV. The cast and crew got into their places, the lights dimmed, a loud bell rang, and action was called. Before our very eyes, a new-to-us scene from our favorite show was unfolding in real-time. It was surreal! Don Franklin, Ted Raimi, Michael Ironside, and Julia Nickson transformed into their characters and a tense scene played out. We had no idea what was going on since we didn’t know what the episode was about, but it didn’t matter. We were in seventh heaven! When the take was finished, everyone relaxed and the characters melted away, turning back into the people who portrayed them. Some grabbed something to eat or drink, others did stretches or left the soundstage, and a few came over to say hello.
Mr. Beers said he was impressed with how quiet we were, so he gave us his blessing to stay as long as we wanted. The hours passed in a series of takes and long pauses between, with many memorable interactions with the cast with the cameras weren’t rolling. We got to hear Don Franklin, Ted Raimi, and Jonathan Brandis casually singing as they walked by; we babysat Michael Ironside’s coffee and he joked around with us; Jonathan Brandis spent a few minutes chatting with Chris about her being a Universal Studios tour guide, and with me about taking film and television classes. In an absolute blink, the afternoon passed into evening and we’d been there for six hours. We were getting tired and didn’t want to overstay our welcome, so we said our goodbyes and wandered out to the front lot on cloud nine, excited to share our experience with our friends in the groups.
In the coming month, the seaQuest cast all left town and the crew went on to other productions. The sets were broken apart and auctioned off at Universal in December, and Lisa and I were able to attend the auction. We saw even more sets and props than during our set visit, though it was heartbreaking to see so many memorable pieces stacked in bins or broken apart outside the soundstages –
It was also a solemn reminder of how incredibly lucky we were to have had the experience we did, especially at the eleventh hour. In the twenty-five years since, so many of the details have faded, but the friendships have remained and the memory of the day itself is something we’ll always remember fondly…”
Set Tour – Season One
Designed by James Lima, the innovative, cathedral-like set of the seaQuest bridge was assembled on Stage 28 at Universal Studios, famous for housing Phantom Of The Opera decades earlier (where part of the original sets remained!)
The gallery below (courtesy of Fred Tepper) provides an exclusive look into the interior and exterior of the studio (now demolished) circa 1993, where signs and large banners announced the season premiere. On the set, the full-size WSKR prop opened up for the episode ‘Bad Water’ and a rare look at the animatronic Darwin puppet resting in its cradle. The final two pics are the World Power control Room from the season finale ‘Higher Power..’
Set Tour – Season 2
The relocation of the production to Orlando for the second season provided the opportunity to redesign the seaQuest Bridge set to be sleeker and more dynamic, with the Captain afforded his own chair and the crew positioned forward at their consoles so they didn’t spent less time looking over their shoulders. The set designers utilised and redressed much of the old set (corridors etc.) and new sets such as the Medbay and Crew shower rooms were introduced along with the wood-panelled interiors such as the Captain’s Quarters and Ward Room.
Below is a set of never-before-published images taken from the various sets created for the Season 2 stories, everything from the Bridge itself to UEO Headquarters and undersea caverns, providing an insight into the extraordinary efforts of the Production Designers and crew to create new and believable undersea environments each week…