Friday, June 17, 2011


Back in the mid-1980's, my collaborator Reaves dragged me kicking and screaming into writing animation for the tube. I was a book guy, not interested in television, but he convinced me it would be 1) Fun 2) Interesting and 3) Lucrative, and on balance, it turned out he was right.

I took the big metal bird to L.A. and went with Reaves into a meeting with a bunch of other writers, a cattle-call wherein we were given the bible and basic information at Ruby-Spears, for a syndicated show called Centurions.

There were times when it wasn't as much fun, nor really interesting, but the money, which, by the by, is considered chump-change in LaLaLand, where animation is the salt mines of TV, was good for how much work you had to do. Scripts ranged from a couple thousand bucks on the bottom, up to three or four, sometimes more for 22-minutes–half hour show, with eight minutes for commercials. Once you got into the flow, it took all of two or three days to do one. There were a few I did in one day, and a couple-three or four grand for one afternoon in front of the word processor was more than I could make doing honest work ...

Over the course of the next few years, when there were toons popping up everywhere, I wrote a couple score of 'em for different shows, mostly with Reaves, sometimes with others or on my own.

I lived up here, Reaves and I collaborated on the Centurions scripts via MCI Mail and by snailmailing floppy disks.

I wrote several with the show's story editor, Ted Pedersen. 

And I actually sent them in electronically, which, in 1986, was a big deal. Pedersen was a techno-geek, and he set up a BBS for delivery. This was before the web, and when email ran at speeds of 300 baud–about as fast as I am typing this ...

You kids today don't know how good you've got it. You have more memory in your cell phone than all of us who wrote for that show had in all our computers combined. 

That first meeting was hilarious. They had mock-ups of the toys, kind of like G.I. Joe, in their spiffy sci fi costumes, with guns, and helicopter attachments and the like. Jake, Ace, and Max were the heroes. The funny sidekick was a female orangutan, Lucy, and there was a professor and a girl, and assorted nasty villains. When the super-suits were beamed onto our heroes, they would say "Power Extreme!" and there'd be EFX and all.

Essentially a half-hour ad for the toys, they moved fast and didn't stop to think. Once, trying to be clever, I offered a reason why a couple of guys in spacesuits tromping around on the moon could hear a rocket landing. Radio interference with the coms, some kind of standing EMP. I was proud of that. Wow, one of my suited guys said, listen to how loud that is!

Naturally, it was amended: "Yeah, and it would be a lot louder if we didn't have these helmets on!"

I wanted to scream. Science was never big on these shows, even though the story editor promised us it would be, the first sample script I saw had fifty-foot tall mummies running around shooting blue death rays from their eyes. Science ...

Um. Anyway, the meeting:

There we were, grown-ups, listening as the showrunners, babbled on about which way Jake's chest-mounted Gatling gun rotated. This was not amusing, this was a matter of gravity, serious stuff here. Nothing funny about it, thank you.

Come again, was that clockwise on Jake's cannon? Thanks, I'll make a note of that ...

It was funny, and I'm not now, nor have I ever been known for controlling my laughter. 

I sat across from another writer, Michael Cassutt, who went on to bigger and better things in live TV, and he was doing that thing my little brother used to do at the supper table when my father was irritated at us, trying to make me laugh. He didn't have far to go to achieve that.

If I laughed at supper as a kid when I was told to sit still and be quiet, I was gonna get whacked; and if I laughed at that TV meeting, I wasn't gonna get the work, and having been tempted by the Hollywood Satan, I wanted that money. I had to look away and bite my lip. 

It is a fond memory. 

Um. All of this leads to a less-happy time. The story editor, Ted Pedersen, had been working in television since the mid-seventies, and had a host of credits, from Space Academy to the Bionic Woman to Flash Gordon to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles–the list goes on and on, scores of episodes on three dozen shows.

He liked Reaves and by extension, me, and he favored us with work. I think I had a hand in ten episodes over the series's run.

Eventually, the show ended, and we all went our separate ways. As one does, you lose track of folks you don't try to keep up with.

And tragedy befell Ted Pedersen. 

I am hazy on the details, it has been years, but what I recall is that he was in New York City when a bus hit him. It might have jumped a curb, I seem to remember that. He very nearly died, and his recovery was slow and never complete. There was a settlement, and in recent years, Ted lived in an assisted living facility in Seattle, where he grew up, and continued writing, including a book on the history of the area.

His health was never good after the accident. A couple years back, he sent me DVDs of the show, and a year or so ago, we exchanged a couple of emails. He was in the VA hospital, not doing well, secondary to chemotherapy and radiation, mostly. I wished him well, and didn't hear back. 

According to Mark Zicree, Ted has passed away. I don't have any details other than that. 

Adios, Ted. 


Anonymous said...

So why did they go with the name Centurions? I checked wikipedia and imdb and found nothing.

halojones-fan said...

I remember one of the episodes featuring a giant black panther monster that ate energy. Imagine my surprise when later I read "Black Destroyer" and found that it was a reference to a classic sci-fi story!