Script writer Thomas B. Cavanagh Nickelodeon interview

When witnessing wacky, zany fun on your television screens you have to ask yourself,”how do these people come up with this”? This can also attributed to Nickelodeon in the 90s. The game shows and sitcoms were a full inside scoop of stepping into a kids mind. Script writer Thomas Cavanagh was the full writer for many of the game shows and variety shows such as Nick Arcade, Get the Picture, Outta Here, Double Dare, What Would You Do. Here he talks of how the brilliance of Nick Studios, how one particular variety show was a hard formula to do, and the evolution of filming in Florida through the years. His website you can learn about him here http://www.thomasbcavanagh.com.

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1. How eventually did you get started writing scripts for Nickelodeon?

 

I had been working as the Production Coordinator for the Disney Channel’s new Mickey Mouse Club but wanted to be a writer. When that show went on an extended hiatus between casts, I had planned to move to Los Angeles. However, I was invited to submit an audition writing sample for the new Let’s Make a Deal, which was shooting at the Disney/MGM Studios in Orlando. While I was waiting to hear back, I was offered my first writing job at Nick for a daily variety show called Outta Here. I accepted and then had the opportunity to write for a number of other shows over the next few years. I did not get an offer from Let’s Make a Deal, by the way.

 

2. What was your first impression of the Nickelodeon Studios when you got there?

 

I had seen it before it opened. Having worked in the Orlando film and TV market, I had been able to visit Universal Studios Florida and see some of the Nick property. But being in it as a working contributor was fun.

 

3. What was a typical day like being there?

 

There was a cool energy. A lot of young-ish people pulling long hours but having fun. Ironically, compared to a lot of other jobs, I spent relatively little time on the set or in the control room (which was also visible on the studio tour). As a writer, most of my time was spent in the Nick offices, well, writing. Although the money wasn’t very good, it was some of the most fun I’ve had in my career. Where else could you get slimed as part of your job?

 

4. One thing I wanna talk about is the show called Outta Here in which you wrote for. If you can recall was it something that wasn’t taken too lightly from network execs which is why the show is hard to find online?

 

I really enjoyed working on that show and made some lifelong friends I have kept to this day. But it had something of an identity crisis. It was a variety show that didn’t know if it wanted to be a game format like Double Dare or a comedy like Welcome Freshmen. The budget was very limited and sometimes the only way I could get something on the air was to do it myself. A lot of the staff popped up in bits because we would do it for free. There was also a requirement to feature the Universal Park in the show so we had to make sure to fit that in.

 

Outta Here also taught me that what I thought was funny was not always what kids thought was funny. I wrote some bits for Outta Here that I thought were hilarious but did not have a proper kid sensibility. For example, we sent one of the hosts out into the park to ask people if the rumors about Elvis being alive were true. While the tourists in the ride line answered, a white jumpsuit-clad Elvis would be buying a hot dog in the background. We all thought it was funny but kids didn’t get it. It was too subtle and, newsflash, they have no idea who Elvis is.

 

5. Was there a particular show there you loved visiting the set of?

 

They were all kind of cool in their own ways. I would say that Hi Honey, I’m Home or Clarissa Explains it All (neither of which I worked on) were neat because they were sets for narrative sitcom formats.

 

6. Orlando back then was shaped up to be Hollywood East but never lived up to it. As a Florida native how great was it to have all the tv and film production going on in the area and why do you think it has since decreased?

 

It was fun. When I worked on the Mickey Mouse Club, we had Superboy filming in the stage next to ours and we used to see Superboy zooming around backstage on a gas-powered skateboard. Several movies passed through, as well, such as Days of Thunder when it filmed in Daytona and Quick Change, which shot the airplane scene in a Delta jet fuselage that Disney had in a third soundstage. When I worked at Nick, I think Swamp Thing and Seaquest DSV were filming on property. It was cool. I’m not sure why things never took off, but I don’t think Hollywood ever saw Orlando as anything more than a glorified location.

 

7. When the game shows were being produced there did it matter to make every script, involving jokes and giggles, more bigger and better than the next one especially since they had a live audience?

 

We were always pushed to make them the best they could be. There was always a very genuine ethos to always respect kids, make it fun for kids, make it about kids being in charge. The live audience helped the energy but, honestly, it could get tough keeping them engaged when you were shooting five episodes of a game show per day. I worked on several things that did not have a live audience and the energy was not the same.

 

8. Did the sound stages help out alot to make your job easier considering how the large the studio was?

 

Not sure I understand the question. As a writer, the sound stages didn’t really affect my job at all.

 

9. Have you been slimed yourself?

 

Yes. I was also the referee in a giant wrestling ring of whipped cream for an episode of What Would You Do.

 

10. Did you have a favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida? Past and present.

 

At the time, Spider-Man was great. The park has expanded now to include Islands of Adventure, so I would have to say the Harry Potter Ride and Jurassic Park are my new favorites.

 

11. In terms of the actual lines you wrote was there any original story-line you would’ve to kept for any show but had to change it instead?

 

I mostly wrote game shows (Nick Arcade, a few Double Dare episodes, Get the Picture, some pilots, etc.), variety (What Would You Do, Outta Here, You’re On), comedy (Welcome Freshmen sketches), some educational (Launch Box), and some promos. Everything gets re-written either by me, if I was head writer, or by the head writer/producer. It’s all about getting the best material on screen. Rewriting is part of the process.

 

12. How great was all the staff who worked there? I always hear positive stories. 

 

Super cool. As I said earlier, some are friends to this day. Thanks to Facebook, we all still keep up. The same for the alumni of the Mickey Mouse Club.

 

13. You may not be aware but how do you feel knowing that all of 90s Nickelodeon shows made such a positive impact on fans and is still loved today?

 

If it comes up in conversation, I am always amazed at the reaction I get when someone learns I once wrote for Nickelodeon. There really is a genuine nostalgia for those old shows. People loved them and I am happy to have been a small part of it.

 

14. What have you been up to these days?

 

I am currently the Associate Vice President of Distributed Learning at the University of Central Florida. My media work eventually led me into the exciting world of e-learning. But I have continued to write. I have published three crime novels, including a two-book series from St. Martin’s Press. One of my novels won the Florida Book Award Gold Medal and was nominated for a Best Novel Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America. For more about me and my books: http://www.thomasbcavanagh.com   

 

15. Favorite behind the scenes memory.

 

Too many to share here. Every time I and the other staff and friends got to do something on camera was a hoot. Walking through the park on the way to the cafeteria with Marc Summers and getting mobbed by kids was surreal. I do remember the first time I saw words that I wrote come out of someone’s mouth on a TV monitor. That was cool.

 

16. Do you think your experience being there was a learning process in terms of the work you do now in a beneficial way?

 

Absolutely. I would say that everything in my career has helped me in some form or fashion.

 

17. What do you think made Nick Studios so great and special? 

 

At the heart of Nick was the emphasis on kids. Kids were the bosses, kids made the rules. That was the idea anyway and that made it special.

 

18. Would you like to see it be re-opened?

 

 

That would be great. I have heard that from others. It’s likely however, that the time for Nick Studios has passed. I’d love to see those crazy shows return, though. Just look at the popularity of shows like Wipeout and American Ninja Warrior to see the grown-up versions. I believe that kids would love to see an updated Double Dare, for instance.

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Grady Bishop interview

Grady Bishop is a well respected stunt coordinator around Hollywood and Florida who has worked on a ton of different movies and tv shows ranging from 2 Fast 2 Furious to the Disney and Universal parks to We’re the Millers. In the old days he made up stunts for the Nickelodeon tv series”The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo” and had the time of his life with the crew and at Nickelodeon Studios! Read our interview below and see him explain just how much fun it was and what went wrong with the show.

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How did you get started in the entertainment business?
Started when I was three riding in Wild West Shows and Rodeo’s
When you were approached to do Shelby Woo how did you react?
I was grateful for the opportunity for a series. The Prod Coord Norma Sardy called me in and Executive Producer Angie Bartenbach initial interview and Alan Goodman interviewed and hired me. Best Producer I ever worked for to date.
What was a typical day like at Nickelodeon Studios?
Family and team effort. Taking action to hire place than ever before without losing srory or credibility.
Do you remember other shows being filmed where you were at?
Yes I would run from Shelby to SeaQuest, to Fortune Hunter, to Swamp Thing, to Superboy, to Thunder In Paradise.
As a Florida native how great was it to have tv production going on in the area and why it has since decreased? I’m a native Texan where the work wasnt. Made the move to Florida to do Miami Vice Stunt Show at Universal and Indiana Jones at Disney between movie jobs.
I always hear positive stories about the staff down there how great were the people that you worked with?
It was a family and team effort. No egos in the bunch ever. Until the end when NY sent Jim Burns in. That’s when all went to Hell in a hand basket and IATSE set up a picket line on show 8 of 13 that was proving we could shoot film without LA or NY helps. NY sent help and we died. As did the Studio which in now the Blue Man Group Dinner Show and the grave site of what once was Nickelodeon and family of Shelby Woo.
Considering Shelby Woo was a  children’s show and high budget did that help for your arrangement in casting stunt players for the show?
It got larger each year. All Stunt Players were on AFTRA Contacts and paid well. Nothing like film but professional rate although we did it as much for the fun and teamwork than the money.
Were there any props that you ever get to see from the studio that looked cool for you to own?
I had couple for years. When we died I went to sound stage to pick up left stunt equipment. I sat in Shelby’s living room and police station set and wept. I’m not to big to say I cried off and on for several days. I grew there had my daughter while there and built great relationships and had great mentors there like Alan Goodman, Norma Sardy.
What was the most fun action sequence that you got to do on the show?
All of em. But blowing up the house was the best.
The sound stages were very large there but the show also shot on location. Was that also an advantage in playing big action stuff?
The backlot at Universal was back then a real backlot was our best asset.
Were you ever slimed at one point or seen someone else get it?
Never me but saw numerous friends slimmed.
Did you have a favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida?
Yep but its gone Kong and Back To The Future and ET because their old school.
There was also a studio tour where guests could look down above on the cast & crew working. How often was it that you could interact with them?
Yes we had fake film crew and did highfalls firegags shootouts on the lot and spoke with the guests.
Favorite behind the scenes memory.
Pre-Production meetings and anytime on set. Was warm helpful friendly supportive crew. They loved Alan the Cast and tasks handed us each week. Never the money was the story more than anything else we were rich in value of teamwork and friendship.
What do you think made Nickelodeon Studios so great and special?
The People the local people LA and NY were always jealous of us but always always liked working with us.
Would you like to see Nick Studios be reopened?
Everyday
The funniest thing that happened on set.
Scared Director Chuck Vincent with life size fake alligator on set at 5:30am. Whole crew was in on it he never got me back but swore to. Great Director and friend.
Do you think your experience at the Nick Studios was a learning process in terms of the work you do now in a beneficial way?
Every Day Every Set. Will carry what I learned to the grave.

Moira Quirk interview

From 1992-95 “Guts” on Nickelodeon set a new boundary for kids across the country. It combined extreme sports for and athleticism for kids. Swimming, running track, boat paddling, and of course the final challenge–the famous Aggro Crag is what made it was one of Nick’s groundbreaking game shows of all time. It was so successful that it spawned a spin off titled “Global Guts” which featured kids,not just U.S. this time, from countries all over the world competing on the show. I guess you can say Guts in the 90s was a great time for kids to be active pre obesity and technology of the new millennium.  Well the “On your mark. Get set. *blows whistles*” game referee Moira Quirk who we knew as “Mo” on the show took the time for me to interview her to discuss what it was like filming at Nickelodeon Studios Florida and her time on the show. Do you have it?

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Now
1. How did you get the role in Guts?
It was simply an audition… or a series of them. They kept bringing me back to show me to the next person up the Nickelodeon line.
2. What was a typical day like at Nick Studios? I know the cast & crew filmed in Soundstage 21 as opposed to Stage 18 and 19 if I’m not mistaken.
I remember it was the largest soundstage Universal Studios had. We’d shoot three shows a day. Then we would or wouldn’t go home.
3. I know you’ve answered this before but describe climbing the Aggro Crag.
It wasn’t quite the same for me as when the contestants climbed it. I didn’t have Mylar being shot at me for a start. I remember being surprised that the ground below me was squishier than I had anticipated!
4. What was one of the good things about living/working in Orlando?
I made great friends in Orlando with amazingly talented people. A few are still there, but most of us are in LA and New York and Chicago now. As for Orlando, or rather Florida, the heat and humidity was too much for me. The cockroaches were too much for me. But I loved going to the ocean and the beautiful beaches. I lived in a lovely old Southern Gothic Victorian by a lake and I loved that!
5. Orlando,FL had a reputation of being known as Hollywood East in the early 90’s. Do you remember any other shows being filmed where you were at?
Other than Nickelodeon shows, not really.
6. What was it like to see all these other nations, particularly your hometown England, compete on Global Guts? It was really like a mini Olympics to me.
It was fun! It was a great way to see the show out.
7. What did you think of the 2008 revival “My Family’s Got Guts”
I’m embarrassed to say I never saw it.
8. Do you still talk to Mike O’Malley?
Of course!
9. You were also appeared on Figure It Out sometimes. How much fun was that show?
Perhaps it was my schedule, but I always felt I walked off the plane, walked onto the set, got slimed and then had to fly home. So, if it was a fun show, I never had time to notice.
10. Describe the feeling of getting slimed.
Well, if you can imagine a really slimy substance landing on you… it’s like that.
11. Speaking on upcoming projects you do alot of voice acting these days. is there a difference between that and regular acting?
Implying it’s irregular acting? Hmm! But yes, voice over is my gig now. Sometimes you might actually see me in person- check out Dirty Work at dirtywork.com (only if you’re older!)- but usually I’m in front of a microphone. There is definitely a different skill set involved, even between the different types of VO work I do. An audiobook is very different from a BBC radio play, which is different from an LA Theatre Works play-recording, which is different from a game like Skyrim, which is different from a game like Star Wars or X-Com, which is different from a Marvel cartoon which is different from Madagascar.
12. Did you have a favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida?
I did! At that time there was the Hanna Barbera ride. It was a simulator ride and you would chase Dick Dastardly and Muttley. I am hugely into Hanna Barbera cartoons, so that was like my happy place. Mostly because there was an interactive area attached and my favourite spot was where you could push the buttons to make the sound effects (like ‘zup zup zup’ when someone takes off really quickly!) I could waste quite a lot of time in that room.
13.How do you feel knowing that Guts is loved today along with the other Nickelodeon shows during that time?
It’s rather nice. I still remember shows I enjoyed as a kid, so if GUTS evokes those same feelings that’s pretty cool.
14. Any other behind the scenes or fan moments that happened on set at the studios?
Honestly, it’s all the behind the scenes tomfoolery that really informs a show. And my lips are sealed.
15. What do you think was the best thing about Nickelodeon Studios?
Its love of orange.
16. Would you like to see Nick Studios be reopened?
I don’t know what studios might already be there and operating, but if Nick wanted to reopen and run a union operation and it was beneficial to the region, then godspeed!