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David Gerrold Interview

Mr. Gerrold kindly agreed to the following e-mail interview with me to which he responded on 7/16/99.  There is some small bit of duplication of answers to these questions...not being a live interview, I tried to ask what I thought would cover all the bases on these subjects.

Thank you, David!

--Clayton Barr


Clayton Barr: Though creation of Land of the Lost (LOTL) is credited to Sid and Marty Krofft and Allan Foshko, it has been widely said that you conceived a majority of the concepts of the first season. Did the Kroffts approach you about putting something together for them or did you come to them with LOTL (or another project) in mind?

David Gerrold:  I'd done two scripts for Star Trek Animated, so Filmation asked me to do some development scripts for an animated Tarzan. The NBC guy liked them and asked me if I wanted to do some live action, he sent me over to talk to the Kroffts. (I had really wanted to do the Tarzan project, but ... that's a different misadventure.)

Alan Foshko, who I only met once or twice, and Sid Krofft had put together a book of pictures cut out from the covers of various science fiction magazines. They had a waterfall, a jungle, a giant bee, Tarzan, dinosaurs, monkey people, and maybe a couple other things. They asked if I could make it work as a TV series. They had a title and a book, that was pretty much it. I scratched my head, thought about it, figured that I could probably do something with it. I wrote an outline for the first two episodes, they liked it, and I wrote an hour-script which became the first two episodes.

I included everything they had in the book. I hated the waterfall, because it was going to be expensive and wouldn't look very good, but Sid Krofft insisted on it, so I just sighed and tried to work around it. I also dropped the Tarzan character because I had just come off the Tarzan development thing and I thought it might be a conflict of interest for me to do a Tarzan-like character on another show. Also, Sid wanted his "mystery man" unable to speak English. So if I couldn't use him as an "explainer," how could I use him at all. Sid was disappointed, and if I hadn't had that conflict of interest, I'd have tried to put the mystery man in.

Once we had sorted all that out, I created the idea that the Land of the Lost was a separate dimension, I created the characters of Will, Holly, and Marshall, added the lost city and the Sleestak to the LOTL, and essentially created the whole mythos. I hired the writers, decided which stories would be written, got them approved by NBC, and guided the writers as best I could. I also did whatever rewriting was necessary -- which wasn't much. I picked the best writers I could find. The best was a fellow named Dick Morgan, twice as old as me and three times as talented. He had written my favorite TV series when I was a kid, Space Patrol, and it was a privilege to put him back to work and just let him write whatever he wanted. I'd tell him about an idea I had and how I thought it might work out, he'd run with it and turn it into gold. He was the best.

I was also lucky enough to get good scripts out of DC Fontana, Norman Spinrad, Ben Bova, Wina Sturgeon (wife of Theodore), Walter Koenig, and Larry Niven.

CB:  As story editor, were you responsible for writing the series bible and, if so, is that how your contributions to the show's concepts came to be as you filled in the gaps?

DG:  I wrote the bible and pretty much determined the limits of the LOTL. Sid and Marty were so busy with their show in Vegas and a couple other deals they were working on that they gave me a lot of freedom. So I pretty much created all of the details -- the circular river, the pylons, the various folks who dropped in and out, the pakuni, the sleestak. Enik was Walter Koenig's idea. In his draft, Enik was from the far future. I suggested that we make Enik from the far past, so he knew about the ruins of the city and how everything was supposed to work, and the pylons. So that gave us an access to more information about how the LOTL was constructed. Other than that one suggestion, the rest of the script was Walter's.

The most fun for me was creating the dinosaurs as personalities. We had an arrangement with Gene Warren (who did most of George Pal's spfx, so he was another hero of mine, and I made sure he knew it) to buy 40 minutes of stop motion animation for the whole season. So we had a lot of talks about how to use and reuse the same shots. If you look, you'll see that we used the same animation more than once, sometimes with a bush in the way or sometimes flopped. We did three or four episodes where Grumpy, the T-Rex would chase the kids -- and each time, we would reuse shots, but in a different order, to create a sense of new animation. Gene Warren Jr. did most of the animation, and even with those limits, he surprised the hell out of me. Everything was very smooth. Sometimes he'd have a dinosaur taking a drink of water, and when it lifted its head, water would trickle out of its mouth.  (Cellophane.) Another time, we had a shot of Big Alice walking across the land bridge that we used a lot. Suddenly in one show, Alice almost slips and falls off the bridge, then catches her balance, and I thought, "Hey! Where did that come from?" Gene had done the shot and I hadn't known about it, so it got slipped in there and that was a pleasant surprise.

CB:  Were you the one responsible for bringing in the incredible writing talents (Niven, Sturgeon, etc.) who worked on the show or did they come to you?

DG:  My job was to deliver 17 scripts. (I was told I could write five of them.)

I got on the phone and started calling the best writers I knew. Star Trek had succeeded in its first year and a half because Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon had been hiring science fiction writers to do scripts. Spinrad, Ellison, Bixby, Bloch, Matheson, Sturgeon, and so on. So I did the same thing. I started with Harlan -- who wasn't interested. (Sort of. As a joke, he submitted two-thirds of a brilliant outline, but refused to give me act three unless I bought the outline without it. I would have called his bluff, but the network wouldn't have allowed it.) I got Ben Bova, Norman Spinrad, DC Fontana. Theodore Sturgeon didn't have the time, but his wife Wina took a crack at it and came up with a great story.

CB:  In an interview, Larry Niven said he recalled an unproduced LOTL script written by Harlan Ellison, though he couldn't recall the premise. As both a LOTL and Harlan fan, I'm dying to know what that script was about. Do you happen to remember it?

DG:  Yes. It involved the discovery of a vast underground cavern. It was a three page outline, brilliantly written, absolutely riveting. The first act got us into the cavern. The second act gave us hints at the dangers below. There was no third act. Harlan typed, "I tie up everything neatly in the third act, trust me." He was joking, and it was a brilliant joke, and I was this close to putting my butt on the line and buying it and making him write it -- but I couldn't see myself fighting with the network vice president on an incomplete outline. To this day, I regret not going for it.

CB:  Did you instruct the writers to include particular premises in their scripts (e.g. the closed universe concept, the introduction of Enik, etc.)?

DG:  I blocked out the entire first season at the very beginning. I did this for budget reasons. We had three dinosaur stories, three pakuni stories, three sleestak stories, one Will story, one Holly story, one Marshall story (each actor was entitled to an episode of their own), three stories involving a drop-in guest, and two wild cards left over. One wild card story got us in, and the other "circle" got us out.

So as I started planning the scripts, I knew that we wanted to do a storyline with the pakuni where we made friends with them a little more each episode, the same with everything else. We wanted to learn a little more about each thing in each new episode. So there was always a forward motion. Then I knew I would cycle through, so that in any given month, there would be no duplication of story areas.

Once I had that plan, then I started looking at specific stories in each area. I came up with three or four good pakuni stories, a couple good dinosaur stories. And so on. My standard was that a story had to be something I wanted to write -- just in case I had to do the rewrite on the script, at least I'd have enthusiasm for the idea. So I handed out the story ideas for Stone Soup and the one with the diary that led the Marshalls into the lost city. DC Fontana suggested Elsewhen, her story about Holly, and Walter Koenig pitched the story about Enik. Enik was originally Eneg, Gene spelled backward, I nixed that, I think he was disappointed, I just didn't like the sound. Sorry, Walter. Wina Sturgeon pitched "The Hole" and I thought it was the single best idea anyone had brought in, I bought it immediately. She was a little wordy, it was her first script, but it made a great episode.

I came up with the stories for the episodes Larry and I wrote together, he did first draft and I polished. I gave Dick Morgan two ideas, I think he came up with the third. I gave Margaret Armen her story -- I think that was the one with the baby bront.

CB:  (Okay, here's the fanboy in me REALLY surfacing.) It's been said that the extraordinary episode "Circle" was intended as the series finale, and it certainly seems to wrap up the Marshalls' story. Obviously, it has to be conveniently ignored to allow the events of the following seasons. Yet, even within the first season, "Circle" seems to play havoc with the continuity. On the one hand, if the Marshalls return to Earth in the end, then the episode must take place after all of the other first season episodes; on the other, the Marshalls are depicted as discovering, for the first time, the Sleestak in their dormant season. This despite the fact that in the earlier aired episode "Follow That Dinosaur" the Marshalls are already aware of the Sleestak's hibernation status and actually witness the end of their dormancy. My question is, was "Circle" filmed and more-or-less finished when additional episodes were unexpectedly ordered for the first season? If so, what gave the Kroffts such sudden confidence in the show that they were willing to spend that much more money on an unaired property?

DG:  We had a buy order of 17. There was no unexpected order of more episodes. We knew from the beginning we had to do 17 episodes.

It had always bothered me about other series that they never had an ending episode. But at the same time I knew we couldn't take the Marshalls out of the Land of the Lost at the end of the first season, because we would probably get renewed. So I needed an episode that would get them out and put them back at the same time. I wrote Circle as a way of tying everything into one great big knot and demonstrating the circularity of time. I didn't worry about continuity with other episodes because we'd already been sloppy about a lot of stuff. We didn't intend to be -- but sometimes you don't have the time, the money, or the resources to do what you want to do; so you change a line of dialog that saves you ten thousand dollars. And sometimes when you're doing 17 episodes, you forget that what you plan for episode 12 conflicts with what you're doing in episode 4. You do your best.

CB:  Why did you leave the show after the first season?

DG:  I wasn't particularly happy with the way the director was rewriting scripts behind my back and not telling me. I didn't discover how extensive some of his rewrites were until I visited the set and saw that entire scripts had been gutted of dialog, jokes, meaning. As the season progressed, it got worse and worse. By the end of the season I felt that he had so taken over my job, there was no point in doing it anymore. I didn't understand the office politics that had gone on, and I didn't want to. I'd busted my butt to bring in the best writers and produce scripts that were tight, funny, and dramatic. The story I did about the Possession of Chaka was so unlike what I had turned in, I almost pulled my name off the credits. That was the turning point.

A few years later, I was working on another show and the director's agent called and pitched him. I said no. The agent asked why. I said, "I've worked with him before." The agent said, "No, he's much better now." I said, "No thanks, anyway." I hung up the phone, sat back in my chair and breathed a huge sigh of relief. It hadn't been me, after all. Well, not all me. I admit to being something of a hothead. I demand that I do my best, and I demand that everyone around me do their best too -- and respect the contributions of each other. I've seen some horribly insensitive stuff done by producers. I promise myself over and over that I don't want to be that kind of person.

CB:  At the time, did you watch the second and third season episodes to see how LOTL was being handled after your departure? Do you have any particular opinion on those later episodes or on the '90s version of LOTL?

DG:  The episodes I saw of the second season were quite good. Tom Swale and Dick Morgan were handling the story-editing chores and they did a fine job. They both understood the logic that had been established. I passed on a few suggestions of story areas that I had wanted to explore and they used a couple of them -- the robot dinosaur was one of them. That came about because Gene Warren Jr. had an armature he hadn't put flesh on, and I thought wouldn't it be neat to just use the armature?

The third season, they weren't there. I don't remember the name of the guy who took over. But he didn't seem to care about the logic. Here's an example. In the first season, Marshall says, "There has to be a reason for everything here. We just don't know what it is yet." In the third season, Marshall says, "This is the land of the lost, anything can happen." That should tell you about where the creative vision was. The third season was a different show, and the fans tell me it was quite a let-down after the first two. By then, I was so busy elsewhere I didn't have a lot of time for it.

CB:  Do fans often ask you about LOTL?

DG:  Well, not quite.

But there's a very interesting thing that happens when I speak in public. I mention Star Trek and there's always a good round of applause. I mention tribbles, and there's a better round of applause. I mention Land of the Lost, and there are these gasps of surprise and awe and then wildly enthusiastic applause -- and that's when I know that the show touched a nerve that goes way deeper than Star Trek for the fans. And I think it's because of the sense that the LOTL, for all the deficiencies of production, was a very real place for the audience.

CB:  If approached, would you be interested in writing the movie that's been discussed for the past several years?

DG:  Apparently, the LOTL movie went through three or four screenwriters over at Disney and no one could make it work, so it's in turnaround. Which means that if someone else wants to try and reimburse Disney, they can buy it out.

Personally, I think I understand the underlying logic of the LOTL better than anyone, simply because I created it at the beginning. I built it. I made it up as we went along. I established its internal logic.

And if somebody came to me and said, "Do you think you could make this work in a 110-minute film?" I'd jump at the chance to demonstrate it. And I think I know how to do it too.

I'd drop the Marshals into the LOTL, I'd introduce the various critters, and get to the dinosaurs and sleestak as fast as possible. There's a story we didn't get to do about the kids hatching a sleestak egg. I'd use that as the connecting line. That would motivate all the rest of the action. Then from there, we could play havoc with the rest of the LOTL. I'm not sure what I'd do for the big action finish, but I'd like to end with a circular exit, just like the first season. Why? Because I think fans of the original series would like to see it expanded -- but they'd also like to see the logic of the original maintained. IMHO.


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