John C. Strong Interview--Part Four
- BEGINNING OF PART FOUR
A: You mentioned you had an original Scanner prop and an artcard from the series...
Note: During our initial phone conversation, Strong related to me that he was in possession of the show's original Scanner prop, as well as an handmade artcard with the red, blue, and white SEARCH logo that Strong says he designed for NBC's approval.
A: ... Any other remnants (from the show)?
S: You know what? When I sold my last house, the last four stills from Probe Control... went in the dumpster. I think they were three-by-four production stills. One of Hugh O'Brian in Probe Control... one of 'Buzz'... one of the whole cast...
A: Wow. Very sad. But you saved a Scanner?
S: I saved the TWO Scanners... the 'action' Scanner...
A: You had two 'hero' Scanners, sir?
NOTE: Use of the term 'hero' within the movie industry often refers to a prop built with enough detail to photograph well in a close-up. In the case of many props, a second--perhaps less-sophisticated version--is constructed that will serve the purposes of day-to-day shooting and rougher handling. The 'non-hero' SEARCH Scanner props were worn by the actors throughout the course of shooting in rough-and-tumble action scenes, in sand, water, and the like. This day-in, day-out Scanner, which was never shot in close-up, wasn't as detailed as the 'hero'. The 'hero' prop is often more costly, and is protected by the propmaster, who would allow the 'hero' prop to be used only in situations that required close-up photography and special handling. Often, because of budgetary limitations, only ONE 'hero' prop exists. But sometimes, a second version is created as a back-up. Do a Google search under "hero prop" and you'll find some interesting movie and TV items.
A: Were there two 'hero' Scanners, sir?
S: There was only one. And I've got it.
A: No kidding. One 'hero' Scanner?
S: That's right.
A: I'll bet the Propmaster looked after THAT!
S: Well, I did.
A: Well... (laughs)... so the other 'workhorse' Scanners that were worn day-to-day... what were they? Hand-painted resin copies, or what?
S: No, they were metal... just not quite as detailed.
A: And you say you designed the original red, blue, and white SEARCH logo?
S: That's correct.
A: The same one that was used all the way through the show, on the paperbacks, and on the View-Master packet?
S: That's correct.
A: Were any other mass-market items BESIDES the View-Master reels or the Weverka paperbacks ever considered, to your knowledge?
S: We were gonna do the Scanners... we were gonna do a little earpiece radio...
S: We were gonna do a lot of little things. Not the Dental Implant... we couldn't do THAT...
S: ... just the Scanner. But there were some (other) things we were gonna do. We were gonna do a PROBE CONTROL GAME... We had a number of things in mind. (pauses) You know, Leslie had a wonderful resolute quality. And being a talented man, he wanted whatever he did to have a touch of quality to it. And when somebody wants to devoid something of the quality, you... disassociate yourself with it.
A: Understood. And that's why (Stevens) left? Because he disagreed with the network's requests?
S: That's right. And he told me that I was to stay on... to finish the show... to make sure that whatever we had in it... didn't erode.
A: He entrusted YOU...
A: And I think Anthony Spinner was part of that, too--late in the game.
S: Yeah. Late in the game. And Bobby Justman, who was an Associate Producer on, uh...
A: STAR TREK?
S: STAR TREK... and THEN CAME BRONSON...
A: Right. And Justman was there for the first half of the series, and Spinner was there for the second half. Did Justman leave (SEARCH) for the same reasons that Stevens did?
S: Kind'a. Bob Justman didn't write. And the network felt that (Justman) was more of a Production Manager-type Producer, and wasn't essential to the show's 'new look.' Tony (Spinner) didn't produce... he was just a writer. And (Spinner's) skew was somewhat different from OURS, you know?
S: But they needed me and my group to complete the episodes, so it didn't make any difference. I told Tony and 'Huge' and Doug what needed to be done, and they DID it.
A: Did you, Stevens, Spinner, and Justman have differing views on how the series was to be done?
S: Well, I mean differing from one another, yes sir.
S: Well, you know... if you have a pocketwatch that ticks well and keeps good time... you don't (need to) FIX it. And, what you NEED to do is have more INVENTIVE ways to bring your show up from a 14-point... (pauses) If any show on television gets a 14.7 or a 16 or 18 rating TODAY... it's a HIT. We had those then, and it wasn't ALL IN THE FAMILY. Y'know?
S: It was very good. A 22 rating is not bad. But it wasn't... a 40 (rating).
A: Which the network was looking for...
A: Was SEARCH considered to be a high-budget show for Warners?
S: No. We never did anything high-budget.
A: Well, it LOOKED it.
S: Like, for example, on the show that I wrote--'In Search of Midas', the studio didn't want to do that because to go to Vegas, it would cost them $75,000. I went to a production meeting with Charlie Greenwell and Ed Morey...
NOTE: Edward Morey Jr. started at Republic Studios as an assistant director, working on films such as 'Legend of the Lost' and 'The High and the Mighty.' In the early 1950s he directed the first commercials for MGM. He served as executive production manager at Allied Artists and for MGM Studios, and then moved to the Mirisch Studios in 1969. In 1970 he was named VP in charge of production at Warner Bros., where he worked for 13 years, until returning to MGM. More on Morey can be found at: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/variety/20041011/va_mi/edward_morey_jr&e=2
S: ... and I said, "Let me explain something to you. It's NOT going to cost $75,000." And Ed Morey got up and said, "YES IT IS! My f****n' department..." I said, "No, it's NOT going to cost $75,000." I had a real friend there--a wonderful man who I met at Universal, called Jerry Adler, who was Vice-President at Warner Bros. at the time. And I said, "It's NOT going to cost $75,000. I'm gonna subcontract it. I'm going to do it All-Union DGA (The Director's Guild of America), and I'm going to do it for $4,500." (Morey said,) "Ah, you CAN'T DO THAT!" I said, "Well, listen... If I CAN'T do it, and I go overbudget, you've always got my salary. And I KNOW you guys don't LIKE me here...
S: ... because I'm cocky, and I deliver, and I do what I say... and I DON'T do it within the studio framework. So... here's the deal: I'll post my salary if I fail. And if I succeed, I get to keep the difference between the $4,500 and what I spend." So I went to Vegas with a buddy of mine named Paul Dark, who I was in business with, and we shot ('In Search of Midas') in Vegas... we had the run of the city... and we came back home. It cost me $2,800, including my salary, including (Dark's) salary for the DGA, and uh... we split, I think a grand.
A: (laughs) And it was a wonderful, fun episode.
S: Yeah. Thereafter... nobody ever bothered us!
A: (laughs) Speaking of locations... The World Securities building--seen in the PROBE pilot. Which building is that?
S: (laughs loudly)
A: Stock footage?
S: Just stock. Just stock.
A: The exterior sign was filmed in Los Angeles?
S: That's correct. It was a little cement thing... we put a 'skin' on it.
A: Right. A different building was used for exterior entrances and exits?
A: In San Francisco?
S: In L.A.
A: Do you recall the specific building?
S: No. We just shot whenever and wherever we could...
A: Okay. (laughs)
S: ... with the budget we had.. which was VERY limited... we delivered a HELLUVA show.
A: Was SEARCH's budget a pretty standard one for a 1972 hour-long adventure show?
S: Uh... maybe a little bit less...
A: Wow. No kidding.
S: Yes. Our reputation was--we DELIVERED. And when we said we'd deliver in a (unintelligible), that's what we delivered it as.
A: Wow. With all the extra gadgets and Probe Control and the technology that you guys had to...
S: But you have to understand... I built all that for the pilot...
A: Well, that's true. That cost was...
S: That cost was already amortized.
A: That's true.
S: And all I did was I created the opticals, of all the extra stuff... figured out to shoot 'Buzz' in his domain, with everybody... because if you shot it all... we only shot seven days. Okay? That was an eighth day, so you couldn't DO that. You follow?
A: Exactly. You figured out solutions to accomplish what you needed to for the amount of money that you had.
S: That's correct.
A: And made it look like a helluva lot more than what it was.
S: That is correct.
A: So I'm guessing that Control Data Corporation supplied some of the rented computers that were on the outer perimeter of Probe Control, and you constructed the specially-made consoles... is that correct?
S: Yeah. That's exactly right. Freddy Harpman did them.
NOTE: Strong is referring to Production Designer Fred Harpman. Interestingly, imdb.com lists Harpman's first TV credit as the SEARCH TV series. More here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0364010/
A: Some of the consoles used optical effects on occasion. (Were there) any special challenges for a director when the shot called for an optical effect?
S: No, I did them all.
A: Well, there you GO, then. (laughs) The Main Viewscreen was used in a limited fashion. Was that because of budgetary considerations?
S: Well, the Main Viewscreen--I shot ten different angles of the Main Viewscreen.
A: Originally, right?
S: Originally. Over the characters, and over 'Buzz' walking back and forth. And shots of it alone, from different angles and different points of view. So if Byron Chung or Ginny Golden on the left were looking at it, you see it from (their) point of view. If Cheryl Stoppelmoor's on the left, you see it from her point of view... A. Martinez on the right, you see it from his point of view. And from different angles. Close, closer, closest...
A: So, basically, you shot your stock footage, and used it for the rest of the series.
S: That is correct.
A: The reddish lighting that covered so much of Probe Control in the early episodes--was that footage shot in normal light, and then a red filter added later?
S: That was all stainless steel... and we just lit it red.
A: So it WASN'T tinted with a red filter. So for the second half of the series, where the 'new' Probe Control was lit in more normal light--you did NOT have to go back and reshoot footage of the Main Viewscreen, etc.?
S: (We did), but that only took an hour. We shot the gizmo (the Main Viewscreen?) with a white screen. And I took it to the Optical house, and I formed my own... (pauses) See, what nobody's ever thought of before, was that I made my own Holdout and Burn-In mats.
NOTE: A matte originally meant a separate strip of monochrome film that is transparent at places, on a corresponding strip of color film, that one wishes to preserve and opaque elsewhere. So when placed together with the strip of color
film and projected, light is allowed to pass through and illuminate those parts desired but is blocked everywhere else. A Holdout Matte is the complement: It is opaque in the parts of interest and transparent elsewhere. In both cases, partially dense regions allow some light through. More details at: http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:pDyFhgANhKMJ:www.cse.secs.oakland.edu/isethi/visual/assignments_files/Paper2.pdf+%22holdout+matte%22&hl=en
If I'm interpreting him correctly, Strong shot the Main Viewscreen in Probe Control with a white 'screen' portion, and added the appropriate video optically-- inside the screen portion--in post-production.
S: So that white screen had a built-in Holdout Matte/Burn-In Matte.
A: It was set, and you just went from there... week after week.
S: That's right. Week after week.
A: The filmclip frames of clapboards that are archived at the www.probecontrol.com website show that multiple cameras were used during the Probe Control filming...
S: Right. That's what I told you before...
A: Right. Was this as a time-saver and a budget-saver, and also to give the scene a 'seamless' feel?..
S: Absolutely. As I told you earlier, when we made up Probe Control, and we had people in there with 'Buzz'... you had to have different cameras, because if you use ONE camera to set it all up... (pauses) 'Buzz' read off a teleprompter...
A: Oh, he did?
S: Yes. And when you see Buzz in his close-ups... there's a teleprompter on his right, there's a teleprompter in the center, and there's a teleprompter on the left.
A: Like The President has when he gives a speech.
S: That's correct. So, if he was talking to Ginny Golden, he'd say her name, reading off the (appropriate) teleprompter... he'd look at the screen, he'd say, "Lockwood! LOCKWOOD!!! Look out BEHIND YOU!"
S: Okay? Then he'd go to A. Martinez and say, "Give me a readout." (pauses) Okay? And that's how we did it.
A: Understood. It saved money, saved time... looked great. It worked.
S: Saved money.... saved time... looked great. We were able to do three 'movies' in a seven-day period. Six and one. Actually, I think I we shot them in SIX days.
A: You alluded to 'seven' earlier, and that was one question that I meant to get a definitive answer on...
S: We shot'em in six days. Not seven. I forgot. Forgive me.
A: (laughs) Well, it's been a few years... (laughs)
A: Dominic Frontiere's beautiful (SEARCH) theme--Was it ever released commercially?
S: No. But what Dominic... Oh, I'm not gonna say anything. (pauses) Um.... He put (the SEARCH theme) on an Aaron Spelling show the week before we ran...
NOTE: In 1971 and 1972, Aaron Spelling, one of Hollywood's most successful and prolific producers, had no fewer that 21 TV movies produced, and a single series (THE ROOKIES) on the air. imdb.com lists the TV Movie, THE LOVE WAR--which was originally televised on March 10th, 1970--as the only joint venture between the two during that time period. However, Strong would not be referring to THE LOVE WAR, because the PROBE pilot aired almost two years later on February 21st, 1972. It's anyone's best guess as to which Spelling film or TV series the SEARCH theme appeared in.
More on Spelling at: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005455/
Frontiere is 'notorious' for reusing and re-recording his own music cues for various TV shows, TV movies, and theatrical motion pictures. More on Frontiere at: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006089/
S: ... even though he did it EXCLUSIVELY for US.
A: Well, I know Frontiere liked to reuse a lot of his own music.
S: Well, he was ALLOWED to...
A: The same incidental scores turn up different movie and TV projects...
S: That's right. But I don't wanna make any comment about that.
A: Does a (SEARCH) Writer's Guide still exist?
S: If it DOES, it's been gone out of MY files, and been gone for years.
A: Do you recall any details from the network pitch meeting? Was any other network interested BESIDES NBC?
S: Well, NBC was our 'home.' We'd done NAME OF THE GAME, McCLOUD, and THE VIRGINIAN for NBC. So, Stanley Robertson, John McMann, er, excuse me, Herb Schlosser, and Mort Werner... we were one of their output groups...
After he was a Program Manager at the network, Stanley Robertson was later a one-time Vice-President of NBC. More on Robertson at: http://www.itseemslikeyesterday.com/1999_spring/article_color.asp and http://www.londonscriptconsultancy.com/1Home/aiii_Producers.html There's a picture of Robertson at: http://www.readinkbooks.com/si/9142.html (he's the man leaning back in his chair in the furthest right-hand part of the photograph).
Herbert Schlosser was a one-time Wall Street lawyer turned broadcaster who was one-time joint Head of Programming of NBC, and later became President of that network (in 1974). More on Schlosser at http://www.cedmagic.com/mem/whos-who/schlosser-herbert.html
Mort Werner was at one time NBC's Executive Vice-President of Programming
S: ... we were 'spearhead boys' for them.
A: So there was never any other network consideration for SEARCH, then.
S: No. Tom (unintelligible) and Jerry Leider just sold the show to NBC in a pitch fall...
NOTE: Jerry Leider was made President of Warner Bros. Television in 1969, a job he held for five years. Successful TV productions during this time included THE FBI, KUNG FU, HARRY O, WONDER WOMAN and ALICE. More on Leider at: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0500107/bio
S: ... It was great.
A: Did you feel that NBC properly supported and promoted the series?
S: Uh, yeah. It's very difficult sometimes, in a network job, to guess right about your OWN security and future. Okay? And, for Herb Schlosser we delivered McCLOUD, and it was a hit. NAME OF THE GAME was a hit. STONEY BURKE was a hit. THE OUTER LIMITS was a hit. So, when you come up with a 'high concept' idea like 'World Securities' and 'Probe'... (pauses) We attracted a lot of major, big-time names: Sir John Geilgud is not a piece of 'Swiss Cheese.' Elke Sommer...
A: Maurice Evans...
S: That's correct. We had a pretty good cast. Even in our pilot. And we all used 'movie names'... and we got'em because we produced 'quality.'
END OF PART FOUR
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Thank you SO very much for this! This interview was the most
enjoyable thing I've read on the Internet in weeks!
Robert J. Sawyer