Sunday, October 8, 2023

Hot Hero Sandwich — Short Take on John Nicolella, Consultant/Location Producer

by G. Jack Urso

Scene from the opening credits.

Hey, who is that guy?

In interviewing the cast for Hot Hero Sandwich, I sometimes ask questions on a very small point. What kind of equipment did they use, do they remember the audition process, where did they live, etc. At times, I’m almost embarrassed to ask some of these questions, but the historian in me hates to leave no stone unturned.

Having watched the opening credits an umpteenth number of times, I noticed that besides the main cast, there is just one other individual (not including the dog) who appears in the opening credits — the driving instructor in the car with Vicky Dawson as she gets picked up by the gang in the Hot Hero van. It is only a few quick seconds, but I was curious. Was it maybe an actual driving instructor and his car hired for the shoot? An extra? I had a chance to ask Vicky Dawson about it and naturally after all these years she wasn’t sure, but thought it was a local actor.

I was curious, so I reached out to series writer Sherry Coben and her husband series film editor and associate producer Patrick McMahon, and their response proves that some of the most interesting stories can be found in the unlikeliest of places — right in front of you along.

Coben noted that the driving instructor was their friend and colleague John Nicolella who served as free occasional consultant to Bruce and Carole Hart. He was a producer and director (Saturday Night Fever and Miami Vice) who started as an assistant director in NYC. The NYC film/TV community was close and collegial and such favors were common. Nicolella helped the Harts put together the crew for the film shoot of the opening credits, and since he was there on location with him, they put him in the car.

In reviewing Nicolella’s credits in the Internet Movie Database, I was surprised to find out that in addition to production/producer credits on Saturday Night Fever and Miami Vice, he also directed some of my favorites shows, including the four excellent martial arts Vanishing Son TV movies featuring my local hometown hero actor Russell Wong and an episode of one of my favorite, if short-lived, superhero series, M.AN.T.I.S. starring Carl Lumbly. Nicolella’s last credits were as executive producer for Don Johnson’s Nash Bridges TV series (he also directed Johnson’s music video for his song “Heartbeat”) before passing away far too early in 1998.

Amazingly, I had been a fan of Nicolella’s work all this time.

According to Patrick McMahon, John Nicolella was an experienced and successful assistant director turned film producer. He met Bruce and Carole Hart in New York when the Harts asked him to produce their TV movie Sooner or Later . . . (1979). Nicolella was busy as he was producing a movie for Robert Stigwood at the time, but he worked up the budget for the Harts’ film in pre-production and, according to McMahon, “was quite taken with them . . . with their Sesame Street and Free to Be . . . You and Me (1974) background."

About a year later, while working on Hot Hero Sandwich, the Harts called Nicolella for advice on the film shoot of the title sequence. Nicolella hired the crew for them and supervised the one-day shoot. In gratitude, the Harts made him the driving instructor in the Vicky Dawson clip.

John Nicolella setting up a shot for Miami Vice (

A few years after that, when Nicolella was producing and sometimes directing the hit show Miami Vice, the Harts called him again. They were doing a TV movie called Leap of Faith (1988) and they wanted to use the Eagles song “Desperado” in their film but didn't have the budget for it. Glenn Frey, who wrote the song, was working as an actor on Miami Vice at the time and had become friends with Nicolella and, without a problem, the song was approved for that movie.

While members of the crew sometimes turn up in a scene on a film they’re working on, I’ve found no such mention for Nicolella and it may be that this one brief scene may be among his few, and perhaps his only, appearance on film in a career he devoted his life too.

Everyone deserves the spotlight sometimes, including the ones operating it.

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 1 Opening Credits.

[Note: According to Jarett Smithwrick in his interview: “The opening was shot in Westchester, a van sequence was shot in a park.  I remember it was in a recreation area we used to take kids to, when I worked as a camp counselor in High School. Yonkers was the location for the remaining scenes if memory serves me right.”]

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1 comment:

  1. Interesting and excellent piece on the provrrbial .man behind the scenes. I am a big fan of unsung heros, and those who write about them. Like the last sentence, nice touch.