The ethereal image of an alien-looking probe reaching out from the murky depths under the headline of ’20 Gazillion Megabytes Under The Sea’ would be the first tantalising glimpse for US audiences of the bold new joint venture between Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and the NBC Network, seaQuest DSV.
Daniel Cerone’s five-page cover story for the LA Times Calendar (read transcript here or click on images for larger) serves not only as an exciting introduction to the concept and theme of the show, but also showcases exclusive images, including the first photograph of star Scheider on-set and in uniform alongside producer Spielberg and a gallery of detailed sketches from production designer James Lima.
While the wisdom, aspirations and dreams of scientific consultant Bob Ballard regarding the future of the ‘Down World’ are laid out clearly here, between the lines already there is an undercurrent of tension behind the scenes due to a volatile combination of creative differences and a hitherto absent Executive Producer. Indeed, with such a clear and concise brief for the show as created by Rockne S. O’ Bannon, financed by NBC, pitched to Scheider and overseen by Ballard & Spielberg, one wonders just how why and when the show got off to such a false start.
The fall guy (at least as of this writing) seems to be one Tommy Thompson, ambitious young producer fresh from ‘Quantum Leap’ and apparently keen to make seaQuest into a Saturday evening adventure show of the same ilk. In fairness to Thompson, it would appear that a suitable compromise between the factual/documentary aspects favoured by camp Ballard & Scheider and the action/adventure genre had yet to be determined and in trying to please all parties had failed to accommodate either.
Despite sensationalist reports that would emerge later suggesting Thompson and Scheider would have furious rows onset, Scheider is eloquent in his determination here that Thompson was simply the wrong man for the job. Nevertheless, the conflicts resulted in production being shut down merely two episodes in, and while the introduction of Producer David Burke may have steadied the course of the show, it could be argued that the compromise between fact and drama would plague the entire season and beyond…
The second and final part of the retrospective on legendary director Irvin Kershner comes from Issue #69 of Starburst magazine, where interviewer Joe Nazarro teases out some startling commentary on the seaQuest pilot broadcast in the fall of 1993 –
Foremost among the revelations here is that Kershner’s version of ‘To Be or Not To Be’ was in fact never aired. Despite his cut being preferred by most, NBC executives intervened and re-shot and re-edited without his input. To add insult to injury, the network edition was recut entirely for European territories with around 20 minutes of footage excised.
The problems with the beleaguered production had started early according to Kershner, who, while enthused about the concept (and casting of Roy Scheider) was less than enamoured with the script. Branding it simply ‘very bad’ Kersh seemed to share Scheider’s concern early on that the focus of the show was not exploration but ‘who sends the torpedo’s first’. Between this and the constraints and politics of shooting for Television (as opposed to features where the Director has creative control) Kershner is clearly frustrated about how his contribution was diminished and rightfully outraged about how his work was butchered.
In the midst of this, the turmoil during production about who did have creative control of the show was seemingly never fully resolved. From creator Rockne S. O’Bannon’s unprecedented early departure to Quantum Leap Producer Tommy Thompson’s furious on-set clashes with Scheider (more about that to come!) all compounded by Executive Producer Steven Spielberg’s absence meant the show could and would not depart on an even keel.
Despite the odds being against him, Kersh, (who died in 2010 aged 87) managed to deliver the highest-rated Drama Fall Premiere in six seasons for NBC with a 17.8 Rating and 28 share. Kersh himself may not have been proud of it but his efforts were acknowledged by by the Writers and Artists Agency (who took a out a congratulatory ad in Variety) and the pilot is still regarded by many as one of the best episodes of the first season.
Having left such a legacy (not to mention being responsible for countless global box-office receipts) it seems almost evident and proper that The Kershner Cut of the seaQuest pilot should rise from the depths and be not only released in his memory, but as testimony to a visionary whom, for all we know, may have set the seaQuest on the right course…
The premiere issue of the (very) short-lived sci-fi magazine Not Of this Earth contained features on both men at the helm of the upcoming show for the NBC network produced by Steven Spielberg –
Indeed, this wasn’t the first rodeo for veteran actor Scheider and Director Kershner (having worked together years before on Loving) with both going on to contribute to numerous genre projects and considerable box-office success. The powerhouse combination of their names, plus Spielberg meant that executives were probably justified in their belief they had the hit of the season in their grasp.
With the pressure on once an order for a full 22-episode season was made, filming the pilot for seaQuest DSVwould represent a challenge for the actor on his first television series (Scheider had sworn off TV since Assignment: Munich in 1972) and a Director also more accustomed to shooting for the big screen. However, despite the limitations of the set and a script in need of a few more revisions, ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ was nonetheless a huge ratings success and set the bar for subsequent episodes.
While Scott Nance interview with Roy Scheider is one of very few coversations on record with the actor about the series, look out for more insights to come from the much-missed Director as the SQV posts more vintage interviews with Kirshner about his experiences on the pilot.
Finally, although it may not seem that posts are few and far between recently, I direct your attention to the Main Menu navigation bar above where I have spent considerable time updating and reorganising to build up the site to make it even better. The SQV is always a work in progress and relies heavily on contributors and fans so please DO go to the ‘Mission’ page to submit any suitable content.
“Dropping on The Geek Authority’s YouTube Channel with your host Lorenzo Marchessi on Wednesday, February 10th, 2021 – The Geek Authority dials in the United Kingdom and talks to Martin Lakin – an amazing man and father who admires a TV show from the 90’s that we miss so dearly – seaQuest DSV! He has original props, costumes, continuity Polaroids and so much more. Fun and incredibly charming it is a great conversation from across the pond! Don’t miss it..!”