My favorite writing project to work on?

Hands down, FTL Newsfeed for the Sci-Fi Channel.

Yes, I know it's Syfy now, but back then it was the Sci-Fi Channel.

FTL was the first – and for a while the only – original programming on the Sci-Fi Channel. It was an interstitial show, a daily one‑minute news blurb from 150 years in the future that ran at various times during the day Monday through Friday, and repeated on the weekends. In fact, an FTL was the very first piece of programming broadcast by the channel (introducing Star Wars).

Let me give you a little background.

In the summer of ’92 I got a call from a guy named Bob Siegal from USA Network saying they were launching the Sci-Fi Channel soon and could I design a world 150 years in the future? I said sure. Then he said he needed it all done and set to go in 6 weeks. I was finishing The Select at that time, trying to get it ready for the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair, and knew I couldn't deliver. Matt Costello and I had shot the bull a few times at various NECons and I'd been impressed with how bright and quick and versatile he was; I'd also gathered that he had a work ethic similar to mine (which is, simply, sit down and do it). Plus he lived only an hour outside the city. (The Sci-Fi Channel was Manhattan based.) So I gave his name to Bob Siegal.

Matt called me back and asked if I was sure I didn’t want it. I reconsidered and said why don’t we split the work? We worked our butts off, meetings, conference calls, faxing, modeming, and finally e‑mailing files back and forth – this was cutting edge in 1992. We delivered (on time, I might add) a future scenario detailing the socio‑political‑economic‑technological status of the entire globe and near space for the year 2142 that, quite frankly, blew them away.

We didn't write the actual scripts at first. A fellow named Russ Firestone adapted them from our bible. We'd lay out the story arcs in narrative and in a flow sheet that showed what was happening when and where throughout the year on a month‑by‑month and week‑by‑week basis. We'd usually hand that in during the summer, then get called sporadically throughout the year to provide fillers for the newsfeeds. But they let Russ go after two seasons and asked us if we wanted to do the whole thing. We signed in July 1994, and from September '94 onward, scripts as well as story were all ours.

That was when the fun began.

As before, Matt and I would meet a couple of times a year to map out the large story arcs. But as scripters we’d sit down every quarter and break the arcs into 13-week sections, then block out the 65 individual spots (5 per week for thirteen weeks) that were taped in NYC over a four-day period every three months.

We’d sit in one or the other’s kitchen and toss quips back and forth, each taking the topic in question to the next level of possibility, until we started laughing. That was when we knew we’d gone too far, and we’d back up a step.

Matt and I were very well paid for having a lot of fun – hell, we would have done it for free. Plus, we were given carte blanche. The folks from USA Network (the parent company) running the channel weren’t sci-fi oriented; it was a kind a mystery to them, so they let us do what we wanted. The show was surreal in a way: serious, sinister storylines peopled with goofy characters. I remember executives coming up to us and saying, "Is this really science fiction?" We'd nod sagely. "Absolutely." They'd walk away scratching their heads. But we had an insurance policy: We’d cast the head of USA Network, Kay Koplovitz, in a major role as (what else?) the president of the North American Union. Not a Glenn Close by any means, but she was a trouper, learning her lines and hitting her marks.

Not only was it hands-on experience in screenwriting – the equivalent of writing a four-hour-and-twenty-minute movie every year – but we got to work with great people. We had Gilbert Gotfried, Timothy Leary, Peter Straub, Jeffery Lyons, Kreskin and others doing guest spots. Rhonda Shear (remember USA’s “Up All Night” movies?) was a regular as Bimbetta Mondaine; so was Tom Monteleone as a future mafia capo. Vida Pelletier took over as our producer and we loved her. She was up for anything. We’d make an off-the-wall suggestion and she’d say, “Yeah, we can do that.” We got to work with the crazy people at Image Post who did fabulous editing. All those crawls you see on the news stations now? FTL had those to the Nth degree back in the early 90s.

In the fall of ’96, after a run of a little over 4 years, we received word that this current batch of newsfeeds we were taping would be the last. The network wanted the FTL budget for its own movies and such. The last feed aired Christmas week. We wished we’d had enough warning to allow us to tie up some of the storylines, but all in all, no regrets.

FTL launched 9/24/92 and ended 12/20/1996. Where are those 1,106 episodes? I doubt very much anyone has them all – including USA Network. (Or, if USA does they have them, I doubt they know where they are). I have most of them, but a gap occurred when the network switched video production companies. So I think I can safely predict that there will never be a complete compilation of FTL Newsfeed. And as time goes on, my videotape copies will deteriorate to the point where they are unplayable.

Sic transit Gloria.