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ACD Stood for Nothing
ACD STOOD FOR NOTHING
By Tom Soter
ACD stood for nothing. That’s not quite true. The acronym stood for nothing, but the TR (as in tape recorder) network stood for something: entertainment, inspired lunacy, and bizarre 15-minute series, most with regular characters and intriguing monikers: WEST THAT WASN'T, GUN FOR HENRY, and, my favorite (for the title if nothing else), PLANET OF THE NUNS.
Most of these shows boasted a battery of writers, with such names as Fortuna Apar, Adolph Etler, and, my favorite (for the absurdity if nothing else) Look At Yourself. Of course, it was patently absurd that anyone could write such wild concoctions – they were obviously improvised efforts, mostly from the feverish brain of Christian Doherty.
If the acronym ACD stood for anything it could have been All Christian Doherty. Although he had collaborators – school chums Tom Sinclair, Alan Saly, and myself – Doherty was the chef who made all the elements work, the crazy man-of-a-thousand-plots-and-characters, some of them original, others a hodgepodge of ideas that he had picked up from movies, books, and television shows he had just seen and which he would then transform into something quite special. Often, when I would be working with him on a GUN FOR HENRY or a TALES OF MYSTERY, the wild story twists would make no sense to me – until days (or even years) later when I would happen on the show or movie or book that had inspired him.
But it wasn’t all about story-swiping: it was Doherty’s unique take on life. Who but Doherty could have dreamed up a character called “The Invisible Nun,” who needs to go to an invisibility refueling station to retain her powers? And he inspired us – Sinclair (or Siny, as we called him) created such unforgettable characters as THE FANATIC, the DRAFT-DODGER, and the terribly inept switchblade-toting mugger Jack Rosen (I played his brother Sam on three different series: STREET KID, MUGGER, and THE FISHBOYS); while Saly was the man behind the intricately plotted sci-fi series VOYAGE TO THE STARS and also the voices of countless British and German villains planning to take over the world (or at least the corner store); and I took some pride in the ridiculously German-accented nun Hedwig Zorb (in PLANET OF THE NUNS and THE SISTER; she was actually based on a real nun at high school who would give us “zero for the day” and make us sit on our hands if we were caught talking out of turn).
Doherty, on reluctantly listening to one of his old shows recently, said to me: “It’s just kids. We were little kids.” Yes, we were only 12 when we started creating ACD shows in 1968 as an after-school diversion, and not much older when ACD stopped operations in 1972/73 (at about the time our tape-recorders were replaced with Super-8 movie cameras – but that’s another story). In 1968, when we began ACD, we were concerned not as much with girls as with guns and death and the obsessive quest for identity that made The Prisoner TV series the obsessive touchstone of the better ACD efforts.
The stories are often very violent, silly, and sometimes incomprehensible. But some of them, thanks mostly to Doherty’s nutty genius, have touches of brilliance that make me proud of our misspent childhood. And those that are not quite so brilliant may at least give you a chuckle or two.