As I wrote late last week, this blog has been blessed to have some enormous talent join me in "conversation" that I am then able to pass on to you my readers.
I really get lucky today because Gregg Taylor, the mastermind and do-it-all (or almost all) of Decoder Ring Theatre agreed to answer a few questions.
For those who have been on another planet, Gregg (who I guess will one day be a bazillionaire) writes and records the Red Panda and Black Jack Justice and has his hands in other things as well. While these series are modern, they are written and performed better than many old-time radio shows, in my estimation. They are honestly a joy to listen to.
I hope you will take the time to visit Decoder Ring's excellent web site and you can download all you want. You definitely need to check it all out - as it's all good stuff, that's a promise.
Gregg Taylor: Well, yes, it was exactly that. I've always loved old-time radio, having grown up with a station nearby that played the old shows. I worked on a few projects geared toward old-time radio, but it was really the mp3 revolution that made the Decoder Ring Theatre shows possible... now at last you weren't hearing odd episodes here and there, but able to really jump in with both feet and listen through hundreds of surviving episodes in series after series, and really get a feel for how this was done back when radio drama was the dominant popular art form. Of course, like a lot of OTR fans, I also have a love for the classic adventure pulps and golden age comics, so both of those had a hand in the Red Panda's development as well.
OTR BUFFET: I've heard about 35 of the Red Panda shows. I thought they were excellent - so much so that I long ago voiced my approval for you guys on my blog. The Red Panda and Flying Squirrel are superheroes - but they seem to be a cross of several superheroes. For instance, it seems the Red Panda is a cross between of The Shadow, Batman, Kato and maybe a few others. Is that about right? How would you describe the Red Panda and Flying Squirrel?
Gregg Taylor: You know, back before it becamse considered "realistic" for people with fantastic powers to walk around moaning "why oh why was I cursed with these terrible superpowers", it wasn't at all out of the popular imagination that a wealthy man might devote his life to protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty. Heck, if I had a fat stack of cash, I might do it myself. So yes, heroes in the "wealthy young man about town" mold are definately the model for the Red Panda. He has elements of the Green Hornet, of classic Batman, of both the radio and pulp Shadows, who were very different. But there's also a good deal of Will Eisner's Spirit in him... less grim around the edges than he might have been. As for Kit Baxter, his trusty driver who joins him in his fight as the Flying Squirrel.... she has elements of Kato and Robin to her makeup, as well as being the genuinely strong partner that I always wished the Lane girls (Margo and Lois) could have been. I'm wildly biased, of course, but she may be my favorite female superhero. In many ways we have really been telling her story all this time. There is also a fair amount of Dr. Who in the show, mostly revealed in dialouge, and obviously heavier in some episodes than in others.
OTR BUFFET: It's really astounding that you write as much as you do and well as you do. Plus you are an actor and I know you do a promotion for Decoder Ring and...well, are you sure you aren't Orson Welles? Do you write all of the shows by yourself?
Gregg Taylor: Ha! In truth I do much more of the writing than Orson really did, but also without his spectacular success. But I appreciate the comparison, even if it is only properly contained within a thought constructed like this: "Gregg Taylor, unlike the much more fabulous Orson Welles..." But Orson also didn't usually work a full-time job either, so I suppose he had more time to be fabulous.
I write the Red Panda stories and the Black Jack Justice mysteries. We do six or seven episodes a year under the "Showcase" banner, and those aren't mine (well, okay, I wrote one). Of 155 episodes released by Decoder Ring Theatre at time of writing, I wrote 117 of them. To date I've also released 3 pulp adventure novels set in the Red Panda continuity (the Tales of the Red Panda books) and the first Black Jack Justice novel is waiting for a cover, and will soon be out. Clearly I need to get out more.
OTR BUFFET: Can we assume that Clarissa Taylor (the Red Panda's sidekick, Flying Squirrel) is in reality, your wife?
Gregg Taylor: Yep, sorry fellas. I had just started dating Clarissa when I was writing the Season One scripts, and I wrote Kit for her. I worked fairly quickly on both fronts and we were married about three months before we started releasing the shows.
OTR BUFFET: When I listen to the show, I hear a lot of humor - all different kinds! There are puns, slapstick etc. Where do you get your inspirations for the humor and how long does it take you to write a script?
Gregg Taylor: Depends on the script, but obviously when you're averaging about 18 scripts per year, plus other projects, plus directing, mixing and editing the shows, plus working for a living and having two kids, you've got to get used to a certain pace. Black Jack takes longer to write, mostly because your pallate is less unlimited with a detective show. They don't work "for justice" they work for money, and there's a fairly limited range of tasks a private detective can be hired to perform. And you can't talk your way out of a situation with some mock-scientifc gobbledygook. Anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks I guess. Some scripts just come out funny. Black Jack will usually have 1 episode a season that is essentially a 1 act farce. Those are fun to write.
OTR BUFFET: I also hear sexual innuendo in there - but it's all done very carefully and cleverly. I want to tell you that I appreciate that - because I know kids are listening. You say what you want to say but you do it very nicely!
Gregg Taylor: Again, it's the OTR influence. Yes, we get away with more than they ever did, but I try and conform loosely to the broadcast standards of the era.
OTR BUFFET: Who is it listening to your shows? Is it children? Fans of old-time radio? The current generation?
Gregg Taylor: All of the above. I'm always very proud of the number of kids listening, and the number who find their way to classic OTR because of time spent with the Red Panda. I also appreciate that when I look at contact lists of our supporters, they are usually at least 50% female. Superhero and detective stories usually inspire something more like a sausage party, fan-wise, so I think we must be doing something right.
OTR BUFFET: From the time you start recording an episode, how long does it take to finish (on average?)
Gregg Taylor: We'll record the guts of a number of episodes in a single day, and I plug away at them until they are done. We're not that effects-heavy, and that's by design. The effects are there to support the story, not the other way around. That's what I like as a listener, so that's what I create. Usually by the time I finish writing a set of scripts, I am desperate to start mixing again, and by the time I finish I'm sick of it and ready to write. There's such balance in nature, man.
OTR BUFFET: When I listen to the Red Panda series, I get such a vivid picture of what is going on. I know you have the pulp version - what about animation? Any chance we will see that from you in the future?
Gregg Taylor: Yes. There is a chance. I would love to see that happen, but it's a huge undertaking. It would make an awesome cartoon, no question.
OTR BUFFET: Can you tell us about the other series at Decoder Ring?
Gregg Taylor: Well, the only other "unlimited" series is Black Jack Justice, a noir detective series inspired by Sam Spade, Richard Diamond, Philip Marlowe and the like. Except that the narrative voice is split between Jack Justice and his partner, Trixie Dixon, girl detective. So you have, in essence, his & hers detectives who don't like each other very much often contradicting each other in their own visons of how the case unfolds. It's fun. There have been a number of nice short-run series contained iunder the Showcase banner, comedy, western, science fiction and some Suspense-style anthology shows. We like to mix it up.
OTR BUFFET: Thank you again, Gregg!
Gregg Taylor: Awesome, thank you.
[Thanks to Radio's Revenge's Peter Church for helping me supply questions!]