In the Original Babylonian

The evil done to Harlan Ellison’s television scripts by cigar-chomping producers has long been part of his (and Cordwainer Bird’s) legend. So naturally many fans will be intrigued to read the master’s own versions of these scripts, the prose as it came directly from his Olympia manual typewriter, when the publisher releases a three-volume set this fall titled Brain Movies: The Original Teleplays of Harlan Ellison:

Brain Movies: The Original Teleplays of Harlan Ellison Volume 1
Reprinted from Harlan Ellison’s original typescripts for the first time: his scripts for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (two different drafts!), The Outer Limits, The Hunger and “Paladin of the Lost Hour” (featuring the unfilmed original ending) and “Crazy as a Soup Sandwich” from The Twilight Zone, along with their original treatments.

Brain Movies: The Original Teleplays of Harlan Ellison Volume 2
Reprinted from Harlan Ellison’s original typescripts for the first time: his scripts for Ripcord, four episodes of Burke’s Law—weighing in at an average of 75 pages each—and the Flying Nun teleplay (and treatment) written in the hopes of landing a date with Sally Field.

Brain Movies: The Original Teleplays of Harlan Ellison Volume 3
Reprinted from Harlan Ellison’s original typescripts for the first time: his unmolested teleplay for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, two episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Cimarron Strip, the pilot for Ellison’s own series The Starlost (recently adapted into a graphic novel by IDW) and a bonus treatment for the Logan’s Run tv series.

Volume One presents six of Harlan Ellison’s teleplays reproduced from actual file copies, including his handwritten deletions and emendations. Readers also have an immediate opportunity to order the “Limited Babylonian edition” of Volume One signed by Ellison and J. Michael Straczynski which features three documents Straczynski commissioned Ellison to write at the outset of Babylon 5:

(1) A detailed manifesto explaining to potential writers for the series what not to do in science fiction television.

(2) The UNABRIDGED opening narration to be read by Michael O’Hare as Commander Jeffrey Sinclair over the beginning of each episode, written in collaboration with Straczynski and never featured in its entirety in the finished episodes.

(3) Thirteen never-heard humorous voice overs written to be spoken over the Warner Bros. logo that ended each episode. What you heard spoken was, “Babylon 5 was produced by Babylonian Productions Inc. and distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.” But Ellison had other ideas.

Straczynski has written an open letter to Babylon 5 fans plugging Ellison’s collection:

In many cases, the book contains both the script and the treatment, something almost never seen outside the studio. Most amazing of all, the book contains not just the shooting script for Harlan’s HITCHCOCK episode, it contains an earlier draft filled with his handwritten annotations and changes.

When an episode is broadcast, you don’t get to see the writer’s mind at work, don’t have the opportunity to experience the moment he decided to make a line of dialogue or a scene go this way instead of that way, how a turn of phrase was altered in just the right way at the last moment, you see only the end product. By including the draft with the handwritten annotations, you can see the creative process being enacted right before your eyes. The opportunity to see inside the writer’s mind is unspeakably rare.

Best of all, these are not re-typeset versions of the script, they are painstakingly scanned reproductions of the ORIGINAL SCRIPTS, exactly as they were written.

And for the budding science fiction writers out there, what better than having Harlan Ellison break down in his manifesto how to write effectively in the genre, how to avoid various kinds of traps and make your writing better?

Not just those budding writers, many fans who have followed Ellison’s print and media work over the decades still have infinite curiosity about Harlan Ellison’s writing process. What a window this will be into his creative process.

It’s a characteristically bold move, Ellison giving any interested reader the opportunity to compare his original vision to the aired episodes and understandably betting on himself.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the link.]

2 thoughts on “In the Original Babylonian

  1. Isn’t it disgusting how cavalierly people treat the work of other people working for them in the creative fields businesses? Look at all the time and work Mr. Ellison had to put into this project in order to get the product of his artistic efforts out there before the public after all of these years, especially in view of his diminishing health and strength.

    Oh, by the way – while putting this report together, did anyone think to ask if we might soon be seeing Last Dangerous Visions………

  2. Rather than resort to the more hackneyed forms of Ellison baiting (see above), I’m going to ask, Where’s The Oscar?

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