The Flashback… A Distorted History Of What Really Happened… Well, Sort Of…
WHEN the longest running Science Fiction Sitcom Series in Canadian history was suddenly cancelled earlier this year by executives at the CNIBC, (Canadian National Independent Broadcasting Corporation), few people were prepared for the public outcry that ensued. Having been on the air for just six seasons, many considered the decision to cease production just as season seven was going before the cameras, a complete tragedy for an otherwise promising year. The Head of Programming and Acquistitions, Sheila McMaster released a statement on May 7th defending the decision of the Programming Committee:
“After much consideration on the part of the committee, and by weighing all the variables at our disposal at the time, it was felt that this series… as well as several others… could not be adequately sustained by the network into 2011…”
Budgetary issues and a decreasing commitment on the part of the Canadian government via its funding agencies were said to have been the final nail in the coffin, sealing the fate of the six-year-old show. Rumours of cutbacks had been circulating since 2008, but after the lowest viewer ratings the show ever received, (for the 2009 season), the CNIBC took the position of bailing ship. That decision left the series without a definite ending, and according to the show’s Producers, makes any new sales of the series almost near improbable.
“What’s even more irksome is the sad result of this arbitrary decision,” director Ed Sinclair said in a reaction to McMaster’s statement, “It was obviously handled in a very poor way since one of their (the CNIBC’s), first complaints was over rising budgetary costs, and yet they allowed the entire season to be written by the scriptwriters… useless hacks the lot of them. But I suppose as a director and co-producer, I really should have seen it coming when they reduced our budget from $120,000 an episode to $450 last season.”
Cutbacks alone were not totally responsible for the show being axed, according to McMaster. Some disputes over actors’ salaries and the overall image the show had been receiving helped to sway a handful of members of the committee. Reports dating as far back as 2005 pointed to a definite pay inequity between the lead actors’ wages. One report stated that the take-home pay of actor Tara Samuel was $3,000 an episode for 26 episodes, and yet an insider at Revenue Canada released a document showing that Samuel had made over $27 Million in 2005 alone. When asked about the discrepancy between the figures, Samuel stated that she made the extra cash that year appearing in a series of commercials for a well-known hemorrhoid cream.
DEBUTING in October 2004, FLASHBACK was an instant hit. The story centred around the lives of twin characters living on two very different, although completely parallel planets. The arrival of two alien historians accidentally triggers a collapse in the fabric of the space/time continuum, and the two planets start merging together, one materializing in the space formerly occupied by the other one. Not knowing how to reverse this unfortunate event, the aliens concoct a plan to warn the peoples of both worlds of their impending integration and alteration of the natural historical timeline. Unfortunately this starts suspicion brewing, and because no-one trusts anyone any more, the entire planet buys into a hokey alien invasion/government involvement conspiracy.
Season One: (2004)
NOTE: Seasons 1 – 3 were composed of 6 episodes each, seasons 4 and 5 were each extended to 12 episodes. Season 6 and the proposed season 7 were upgraded to 26 episodes.
THE FLASHBACK: (the Pilot Episode) Series Code: FLASH01AP
Earth is decaying with dysfunctional communication technology. Alt.World is an animated society where technology serves only decorative purposes. Two interstellar historians, BEV and BEVERLY unwittingly cause a merging of the worlds which results in the sudden invention of television advertising on Alt.World.
AFTEREFFECTS: Series Code: FLASH01B
When worlds start to collide, everyone’s stories become confused. BEV and BEVERLY are seemingly being controlled by two new aliens and, overwhelmed with paranoia, they decide to abandon the BOOKSHIP. Everybody exhibits their worst personality traits while they competitively try to decode the scrambled alien messages appearing on television sets the world over. A gateway accidentally opens up allowing access and communication between the realities.
TOMORROW AFTER TOMORROW: Series Code: FLASH01C
It is the morning after and still no-one understands what’s actually been happening. Oddly enough though, people’s’ lives continue: doppelgängers fall in love with each other, analogue and digital technology integrates and the question of dual identity doesn’t seem to faze anyone too much.
A TEMPORARY CONDITION: Series Code: FLASH01D
Having gained control of all Alt.World media, RETONIVIR and ABACAVIR decide who will get to be on television and who will not. Back in our own world, inventor TOM SWYFT heads a pirate radio station designed to organise a rescue mission into Alt.World. The rescue mission goes slightly astray and turns into all out media war with commercial interruptions.
SUMMONING THE SILENCE: Series Code: FLASH01E
Parallel characters realise there is strength in numbers. They form a small, dysfunctional army to stop the television-obsessed aliens once and for all. As the head writers of every new television show, BEV and BEVERLY become desperate for plot resolutions. They invoke the powers of an ex-pop diva and a mind-reader from yet another dimension. Guest stars abound.
FINAL EFFECTS: Series Code: FLASH01F
With time to relax before the final onslaught, the now unified army of parallel characters settle down for an evening of music and dancing. RETONIVIR and ABACAVIR send BEV and BEVERLY out on a mission to find the Resistance and broadcast their demise on Alt.World television. In the Resistance Fighters’ camp, the merriment comes to an abrupt halt when something horrifying appears in the skies…
Season Two: (2005)
RE-SHOT, REBROADCAST, REPEATED: Series Code: FLASH02A
The Resistance has taken refuge in a Victorian Bakery. Everyone seems to be living out World War Two fantasies. When BEV and BEVERLY report back to RETONIVIR that they have managed to trap the rebels in the vaults of the History Channel, the aliens celebrate by cancelling Bravo! the arts network and start forcing people to watch re-runs of Sandford and Son.
THEIR PENCILS ARE LEADED: Series Code: FLASH02B
BELLISSIMA and BARROQA awaken on the BOOKSHIP after having stumbled into a transporter beam. Separated from BELINDA, they don’t know which way to turn and aimlessly wander the corridors of the ship for hours. BEV and BEVERLY, having returned empty-handed from an unsuccessful script meeting with ABACAVIR, suddenly take the girls hostage…
WHO WROTE CRAP THIS ANYWAY? Series Code: FLASH02C
TOM SWYFT and ROY RUGGERS test out a new Space Kite and set out to locate their parallel identities. Fortunately SMOOKIE the ROBOTOID picks up RETONIVIR’s latest evil plan on short wave and convinces TOM to land the Kite at Broadcast Centre in order to steal a microwave partical reversal antenna that will save BELLISSIMA and BARROQA.
MIND OVER MATTER-OF-FACT: Series Code: FLASH02D
Life at the Victorian Bakery seems to be strangely idyllic until BELINDA realises her croissants aren’t browning the way they should. She uncovers a secret plot to turn the lives of the Resistance Fighters into Martha Stewart’s latest batch of underpaid slaves, but can she convince the rest of the group before the final credits roll?
WHEN YOU FALL IN LOVE, EVERYTHING BECOMES BIOMORPHIC ENERGY: Series Code: FLASH02E
BELLISSIMA and BARROQA escape from the clutches of BEV and BEVERLY’s SCRIPTO-MATIC machine and find a way to beam back down to the surface of the planet. Unfortunately they arrive on a bleak hilltop in Alt.World. They are befriended by ALICE who talks them into venturing underground to research an upcoming biopic.
THE LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW: Series Code: FLASH02F
THE CONSOLE teams up with TOM SWYFT and ROY RUGGERS to infiltrate Alt.World television in the hopes of rescuing the Resistance Fighters, now lead by BELINDA. Unfortunately BRAD the ARTIST and ALT.BRAD flip between stations at the wrong time and are catapulted into the future 9000 years to the end of humanity…
Okay, so what is all that about? Actually it was co-writer Michael Balser in 2001 having fun imagining a fictional scenario in which our series rose to popularity and then fell into obscurity, rather than simply falling into obscurity as it had more or less done. But I suppose it is one way to work out the angst of rejection. What is also surprising is that, while not much exists any more on paper or electronic documentation of the original series ideas or scripts, that little snippet of Michael’s writing was saved and I am able to reprint it here. He never did get around to writing out the plots of seasons 3 – 6 but there is a list of Titles in another file that I will one day post here I suppose. Some are funny but in fact some were the basis to the new story ideas I concocted for the audio series.
While the plots mentioned above certainly have their moments, I couldn’t in all clear storytelling methods create a new series using that as a template. You see, whatever mood Michael was in when he was writing was reflected in the dialogue or scenarios he would construct, some of which were excellent and well-thought out, while others were a little rough around the edges, unfocused or even too convoluted to use. That seems to be the way with artistic geniuses.
But what that fictional history and outline above has made me think of doing is titling our ten episodes, which at the moment are just called thrillingly enough, Episode One, etc. I think as a further homage to Michael’s efforts into Flashback I’ll have a look through all the available titles and choose appropriate ones for the new storylines, although his idea for the title of Season Three, episode two: Ten Garbage Cans and a Spotlight, may not be as appropriate now as it might have been then!