"The way they make shows is: they make one show. That show’s called a pilot. Then they show that show to the people who make shows, and on the strength of that one show they decide if they’re going to make more shows. Some pilots get picked and become television programs. Some don’t; become nothing."—Pulp Fiction
Most people don’t realize that for all the TV shows they see, there are a great number of shows they never get to see. For every TV show that makes it to the air, there are five pilots that the network passes on. These are filmed and shown to Network Monkeys (Executives), who proceed to kill any future episodes and, in most cases, shelve the pilot. They have various reasons for doing this, everything from "it’s not right for our network at this time," to "I just didn’t get it," to "GET THE HELL OUT OF MY OFFICE!!!" These reasons are rarely good reasons. Of the unaired pilots I have viewed (and I’ve seen a lot), over half of them are as good or better than the shows that actually make it on the air. Hell, there are some pilots that are just brilliant and would make amazing series, but whatever network forked over the dough was perhaps too scared to put it on the air. To be fair, they do let you see some of these from time to time. You would not believe how many "TV Movies" are really failed two-hour pilots. Failed pilots are also often run as "specials." What follows is a discussion of both unaired and unsold pilots. Cable channels such as Trio or the Sci-Fi Network will occasionally air pilots as a treat to viewers. Even then, there are usually still differences from the copies on the bootleg market to the ones that air, such as music changes and scenes cut out to make more room for commercials. In at least two cases, there were multiple episodes filmed of a series rather than just the pilot, before the simians in suits decided to stop production. "Manchester Prep" (three episodes) and the "NYPD Blue" spin-off, "Public Morals" (thirteen episodes), are two such series. Also, there are times when a pilot gets picked up to become a series, but only after some network tinkering; everything from changing casting to rewriting the premise of the show. I will try to give a good breadth of information about the pilots I discuss as best as I have the information (as most of these were never meant to be seen, there is very little info out there about them). I will also be giving my opinion of these pilots, which is purely subjective.
"Adventures in Babysitting"
This was a pilot that aired on CBS in 1989 that was meant to turn the hit movie into an ongoing series. The pilot was awful, and while I am not sure that is why CBS chose not to pick it up as a series, it might be a good indication as to why the ratings for it were in the toilet. The cast were all nobodies, unless you count a very young Joey Lawrence. They even seemed to renew the THOR license with Marvel Comics as THOR imagery is seen throughout the pilot, and is a part of the plot. We as viewers are no worse off for this never making it to a series.
Okay, we all remember this post-9/11 CBS series about the CIA, produced by Shaun Cassidy and Wolfgang Petersen. It was a pretty good series, actually, had some good stories, and even a crossover with fellow CBS series "The District." The show was originally set to debut on Sept 11th, 2001, but, as the morning of 9/11 rolled around, this pilot was dead in the water. Even after the networks returned to regular programming, "The Agency" was being gutted. The pilot episode was actually about Osama Bin Laden, who was mentioned by name, planning to blow up a government building in London. There is also a shootout with the CIA and terrorists inside the World Trade Center. Needless to say, in the post-9/11 days, this could not air. So, rather than film a new pilot or simply make edits, they just took the second episode of the series and edited into the new pilot the scenes from the original where the characters are introduced. The editing was clunky and the show would go on to last two seasons. Later, they did show the original pilot but, with edits made, the WTC was no longer the location of the shootout. Instead, they renamed the building. OBL was changed to a generic name, and the terrorists plotted against a fictional building. Ah, but there is more: even before CBS picked up the show as a series, there was a change made. In the original pilot, the Lisa Fabrizzi character was not played by Gloria Reuben but instead by Andrea Roth, who would go on to "Rescue Me," so all of the Fabrizzi scenes had to be edited and re-shot as well. All in all, the series was a good one, but the unaired pilot was great.
Brad Johnson stars as a small-town Alaskan sheriff on the border of the U.S. and Canada. A vile murder has been committed just over the Canadian border—by a U.S. citizen. Johnson and the DA, Michael Ironsides, attempt to find out what happened without crossing jurisdictions. Not a bad pilot, but I am not sure how far "small-town sheriff and DA in the middle of nowhere" would have gone as a series.
This sitcom pilot, starring Nathan Fillion (of "Firefly") and Paula Marshall, had Fillion as a former NASCAR driver who married his high school sweetheart years ago, and now works for her father at his seafood restaurant in the titular Alligator Point. They are now divorced, her father is dead, and she owns the restaurant. Since her father loved Fillion, she keeps him on as an employee. Paula Marshall is a big-town doctor who just moved to Alligator Point. Fillion and Marshall go on a date, which upsets his ex-wife. Let the hilarity ensue. This comedy was not picked up, probably because it’s not funny at all.
"All in the Family"
First there was this British series called "Till Death Do Us Part," about a family that fought non-stop and dealt with issues of the day. American TV Producer Norman Lear bought the rights to this series, wrote his own characters, moved it to America, and changed the title to "And...Justice for All." At this early stage, the family’s last name was Justice, not Bunker. The first pilot was filmed in black & white and minus Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers. It was shown to ABC; they passed. The second pilot was filmed with the characters still called Justice, but the title changed to "Those Were the Days." Still no Rob Reiner or Sally Struthers; and Mike was not Polish in this version. He was Irish, so instead of "Dumb Polack," Archie called Dickie (his name in this version) a "Stupid Mick." "Those Were the Days" was shown to CBS and they liked it, but they still had problems with it. A third pilot was made, this time called "All in the Family," with Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers as Mike and Gloria, and that’s the version that made air in 1971. The "Those Were the Days" pilot aired on TV Land in the mid-’90s as a special one-time thing from the Museum of Radio and Television, but the "And...Justice for All" pilot has never aired. Norman Lear fears it does not exist any longer, because it cannot be found.
In this 1987 attempt to make a series out of a fairly famous fictional location, Bud Cort and Lori Petty star in this "spin-off" of the PSYCHO film franchise. However, the connection is tenuous at best. Bud Cort was in the nuthouse with Norman Bates at some point. After Norman died, he left the Bates Motel to Cort. Okay, sounds alright at this point—but wait, here is where things go wrong. Cort wants to run the motel as a serious business and gets lots of odd guests. Turns out only one, Lori Petty, is real. The rest are ghosts. Cort and Petty solve problems for these "guests." This show missed the boat on the current slew of "dead talking to the living" shows like "Ghost Whisperer," "Medium," and "Raines." The 90-minute pilot drags, and there was a need for more of a connection to PSYCHO than this show was willing to give.
This one is really odd. Starring Johnny Galecki, Samantha Mathis, Gerald McRaney, and Sally Struthers, "Becoming Glen" was produced by Ricky Blitt. This pilot was made in 2003 and was passed on by FOX, but in a truly bizarre turn of events, it has since been made into a new show called "The Winner." The cast is completely replaced and all traces of humor seem to have been removed, thanks to Seth "Family Guy" MacFarlane. The plot has protagonist Glenn Abbott looking back at the summer of 1994, the year he became a man and the year he turned 32. Glenn is an OCD case, do-nothing layabout who has not left his house in six years, because his spastic colon once caused a homophobic homeless person to lose both his legs. His dream girl moves back in after having lived in Los Angeles for years. To win her affections, he tries to get a job and honestly befriends her neurotic son Josh. "Becoming Glenn" is funny as hell, with the jokes coming out of left field. For safety’s sake, most of those jokes have been surgically removed for "The Winner."
"Birds Of Prey"
The unaired pilot of "Birds of Prey" was really good, while the version aired was a joke; and not a killing joke. The dark tone and several story points were in keeping with Alan Moore’s Batman comic story, "The Killing Joke." That Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott) was the daughter of Selena Kyle (Cat Woman) and Bruce Wayne (Bat Man) was implied in the unaired pilot. In the aired version it was expressly stated. Other major changes included numerous re-shot scenes that included bad, snarky dialog with a "hipster" feel to them. The biggest casualty of the unaired pilot has to be poor Sherilyn Fenn. Not only was Fenn replaced by Debra Messing in "Hungry for Survival"—the pilot version of "Prey"—but she was dropped from "Birds of Prey" as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, better known as "Harley Quinn." Mia Serra took over the reins as the psychotic Arkham Asylum psychiatrist. The unaired version felt akin to the Batman of Tim Burton while the aired version recalled the Joel Schumacher atrocities.
This misfire was Mel Brooks trying to make his hit film, Blazing Saddles, into a TV series. In 1975, there was no way that any of the humor used in Blazing Saddles could be used on television, so the jokes here are watered down to the point that they pack absolutely no punch at all. Louis Gossett, Jr. takes over for Cleavon Little as Bart, the black sheriff of a small town in the old west. He is still not taken seriously, yet is still called on to continuously save the day. This was aired as part of Trio’s "Brilliant but Canceled" week, and I experienced physical pain when seeing how bad this was.
"The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H."
Talk about a complete reboot: this shortlived series from CBS a few years ago was about three brothers in the small town of Poland, New Hampshire. One was the town sheriff, one was the mayor, and one was a slacker. Produced by David E. Kelley, the show started to confuse viewers right from the first episode. The pilot episode was never shown on TV because, as David E. Kelley put it, "The pilot was not representative of the series as a whole." So, while a few scenes were edited into the second episode, which aired as the pilot, there were things that the characters referenced in the past tense that the audience never saw. This might sound odd, because you would wonder why they would film the pilot in such a manner that it did not represent the series, but having seen the pilot, I can attest that it did not. The unaired pilot was very violent, unlike the series. It had a dark tone, but the series had a much lighter tone, while remaining serious, and it started two plot lines that the series would ignore outright. You can kind of understand why it was not aired. A lot of people did not like this series, but I was one of the people that did. Seeing the pilot that CBS and David E. Kelley didn’t want you to see only serves to enhance the series.
Bobbie Phillips is a genetically altered super agent in the future who can blend in with her surroundings (and inexplicably make her clothes do the same). It had a fairly large budget for a TV pilot, but really came off as a weak idea. ABC must have really liked Bobbie Phillips or this premise a lot. They filmed three separate pilots for this, none of which they picked up. All three have since been released to video as Chameleon, Chameleon II: Death Match, and Chameleon III: Dark Angel. This could really throw some people off. While the videos sound like they are a series, the three have no connection to one another besides the premise. The first pilot had a small role for a very pre-"Farscape" Anthony Simcoe.
In 1982, Jamie Lee Curtis was just coming off Halloween II and was trying to not get typecast. I guess she thought a pilot that combined Raiders of the Lost Ark with goofy comedy would be the answer. Hart Bochner was Callahan, a blatant Indiana Jones knock-off, and Curtis was his new secretary. They have odd adventures searching for treasure and whatnot. Not really bad, just bland. Never picked up, but aired as a special in ‘82. Apparently, it was in vogue to rip off Raiders of the Lost Ark, as "Tales of the Gold Monkey" came out the same year.
This series takes place in real time, even accounting for commercials. The premise allowed viewers to see the last hour of a SWAT rescue every week. The pilot concerns a bank robbery gone wrong. The bank manager has a bomb strapped to his chest, SWAT arrives, and we are introduced to the main characters. There are no credits, but the only actor I know offhand was Chi McBride. In the next 40-some minutes, the robbers are killed and the cops win. Nothing distinctive about this pilot at all, and its failure to go to series is not a surprise.
Kelly McGillis stars in this 1995 pilot, and Steve Harris has a supporting role. McGillis is a detective who gets caught up with a corrupt partner, and blah, blah, blah— you have heard this plot tons of times before on dozens of other shows. Nothing new here, cop show with a female lead, nothing new—very Lifetime-y. IMDB lists this as a series, but I can find no information on other episodes being made (the pilot was never even aired in the U.S.; I saw mine from a Canadian broadcast).
This was the most expensive pilot in the history of the WB (as of 2001, when it was made) and the fact that they spent so much and still didn’t air it was a crime. I recognized quite a few actors in this, but the only one I know the name of is Brad Johnson (from "Soldier Of Fortune, Inc." and, as this list attests, quite a few more unaired pilots). Written by Michael Piller ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," "The Dead Zone"), "Day One" is based on a British mini-series called "The Last Train." Our main characters, as well as some that don’t survive the pilot, are each shown boarding a train near Pittsburgh and we get a bit of story with each character. One guy in particular is really nervous. He’s shown placing a call to his wife and talking about cryptic things like not getting to his destination in time and if he will ever see them again (at the time, we have no idea what he is talking about). After a few minutes on the train, things start to shake and the nervous guy releases a canister of something that seals the train compartment and literally freezes everyone inside. As things thaw out (in a matter of seconds), the nineteen or so people emerge to find the tunnel emptying into what looks like the "Land Of The Lost" (minus the dinosaurs). Turns out that Mr. Nervous was a NASA scientist who knew of an asteroid that was going to hit the earth, and he was trying to get to the safe bunker that the government had set up (freezing everyone was the contingency). These people have been frozen for seventy years, and, since they were sealed in that compartment, they survived the Armageddon that came. The asteroid impacted in Russia and sent the toxic hydrocarbons in the massive oil deposits and petrol into the atmosphere that killed most life on earth (except plants, which have overrun everything), and even these people have to fear the air. Nothing mechanical works as the petrol has since seeped into everything from engines to the gunpowder of bullets. A few people explore the city and try to deal with what has happened, while a few others refuse to accept the truth and "go for help" (these people get killed by a pack of wild dogs). In the end, they find a car that still works (it was sealed in long-term storage) and, as they drive off, the silhouettes of human-shaped figures are watching them in the distance. One of the figures turns to reveal mutated eyes… The End. I loved this pilot. Characters reactions were realistic, the story was engaging and the plot had lots of possibilities. In the post-"LOST" era, this might have been picked up.
Do you remember the short-lived FOX series with John Goodman called "Normal, Ohio?" It’s the same premise but with a different cast (only cast members on both versions are Goodman and the actor that played his kid). This version had Ellen Muth of "Dead Like Me" and Anthony LaPaglia from "Without a Trace" as the friend and friend’s daughter. While this version isn’t funny, it’s not as bad as the version that aired.
"The Elvira Show"
Can Elvira go mainstream? This 1993 pilot had the lovely Cassandra Peterson and her assets on display. Co-starring Katherine Helmond, "The Elvira Show" was written, produced, and starred the bodacious horror hostess. Peterson and Helmond are real witches that run a "medium" business that is mostly fraud (they have powers but don’t use them much) when the local DA stings them. Everything turns out okay and nothing funny happens. Also, Elvira’s virginal niece moves in and is also a witch but hates it. I really like Elvira but this was horrendous. The jokes are all forced that they lack humor while the acting is as stiff as a pedophile in a grammar school.
Edie Falco takes over for Frances McDormand as our preggers cop in this 2003 pilot that was meant to follow the movie. Lots of oddball people about town, an investigation into a murder, and other small-town nonsense make this a fairly fun hour. I have never seen Fargo (I know, flog me) so I am not sure how this holds up to the movie in tone or style, but I liked the pilot.
Based on the book series by Francine Pascal, this pilot was as dumb as they get. It’s about a girl born without the gene that causes fear. I always thought fear was a chemical reaction in the brain based on the stimuli supplied to it rather than a genetic predisposition, but what the hell do I know? Somehow this lack of fear makes her superhuman. She can survive drops from the tops of fivestory buildings and can move in "bullet time" to dodge projectiles. It also makes her nearly emotionless, which isn’t the best trait in a main character. Starring Rachel Leigh Cook as heroine Gaia Moore, the show moves Gaia out of high school and into the FBI. Her partner, Jordan Gray, is played by Ian Somerhalder. Their performances, along with that of professional show-killer Eric Balfour, are terrible. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the WB canned this show shortly before it was to air in 2004, despite the commercials and ads that ran in Entertainment Weekly. The lack of "Fearless" is not a loss to the world.
Based on the Warren Ellis comic book of the same name, "Global Frequency" stars Michelle Forbes ("Star Trek: The Next Generation") as Miranda Zero, the head of a secret organization of global operatives who are activated as needed. This network of experts is the Global Frequency. Directed by Nelson McCormick, the pilot was very well made and stuck fairly close to the comic. The casting of Forbes was ideal. Fast-paced but not at the expense of characterization, the rampant bootlegging of the unaired WB pilot was such that the network almost relented and greenlighted the series.
Alexis Denisof is a phony psychic. Unfortunately for him, after he’s killed his ghost remains behind, trying to convince a detective that he’s really a ghost and that she should solve his murder. Made in 1998, this pilot has a Fox feel to it. Its tired "I don’t believe in ghosts but there’s one talking to me now" shtick falls flat. Opening scenes are played as darkly serious. Then the story moves into slapstick territory. It’s obvious that the producers were not sure if they wanted a drama or a comedy. As a dramedy, it fails.
Filmed twice with two different casts for ABC, this show never got off the ground. The premise (of both) follows the lives of the residents and service personnel of a luxury high-rise off of Gramercy Park. The first version was called "111 Gramercy Park," and the second was simply "Gramercy Park." Between the two, there was a large pool of interesting actors, including Paul Blackthorne, Gina Torres, Frank Langella, Tippi Hedren, Mimi Kuzyk, Kate Hodge, Joanna Going, John Kapelo, and the late Jonathan Brandis. It kind of makes you wonder when the network tries so hard to get a show off the ground and nothing happens with it.
This 2002 abortion was a blatant attempt to make a new "Married with Children." It was about a family of low-class people that reveled in being low class (and trust me, the jokes were worse than low class). It was not funny in the slightest. Despite a decent cast with the likes of Randy Quaid, Carol Kane, and Michael Cera, and songs in the pilot by Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper, the show was crap. And, Randy Quaid’s character said on the promos for the show, "Son, when life gives you crap, make Crapenade." Sadly, that must have been one of the jokes that the creators found funny.
A David E. Kelley show about young doctors trying to make it in their first year of residency. Does this 2005 pilot sound a lot like "Grey’s Anatomy?" Made at about the same time for the WB, this is just as bad as "Grey’s," but an even less-appealing cast.
This 2005 pilot was led by Marcia Gay Harden as an obsessive-compulsive police captain that heads the Manhattan Hate Crimes unit. Think "Monk" with less strained jokes. The pilot was obviously made for either HBO or Showtime, as there are a number of "f-bombs" peppering the dialog and a graphic male-on-male rape scene. The audience is made privy to characters’ inner-thoughts via voice over á la Wings of Desire or Dune. Other than this interesting aspect, this should be considered simply a more focused and graphic "NYPD Blue" clone. I liked this pilot and I would have watched this as a series.
Gary Busey and Russell Wong starred in this 1997 attempt to revive the original series that put "5-Oh" in the popular lexicon. Rather than a remake, this was a continuation of the original with original actors playing their characters as old farts (Danny "Dano" Williams (James MacArthur) is a retiring captain in this). Wong is taking charge of the new department and Busey is (what else?) a grizzled, burnt-out cop on the edge who is brought in to find who put a hit on Dano. Wong and Busey have to work together to solve the mystery. Nothing really new or original, but it was not as bad as it could have been and would have made a decent new version of an old classic. Producer Stephen J. Cannell also seemed to spare no expense in producing this; if it was not filmed in Hawaii, it fooled me.
I have no evidence of this, but I have a sneaking feeling that this was a very early attempt at what would become "Freakylinks"—perhaps somewhere before "Freakylinks" was called "Fearsum." Same basic idea, same character dynamics, and same network (this was for FOX as well). Although the tone was completely different and this had nothing supernatural about it, this was documenting serial killers instead of the supernatural while using lots and lots of handheld camcorder footage shot by the characters. Starred Melissa George ,and created by Shaun Cassidy and Wes Craven.
This incredibly funny show was one of the rare comedies lacking a laugh track. Set at an isolated research station in the Arctic, Ryan Reynolds, Michael Jeter, and Leland Orser star. Good jokes run alongside odd subplots, including a female penguin with a crush on Reynolds and Orser being so obsessed with "Star Trek" that he wears a Star Fleet uniform and records all of his logs with "star dates." This show had potential to be really cool (no pun intended).
A prequel to the film of the same name, this 2003 show stars Kiefer Sutherland as Detective Jack Vincennes, David Conrad as Detective Ed Exley, and Melissa George as Lynn Bracken. According to an interview with Sutherland, "L.A. Confidential" was to be an HBO series. The version I saw runs a little over forty minutes, with nothing objectionable for network TV. When it was aired on Trio it bore a frustrating "To Be Continued" at the end, finishing on a cliffhanger moment.
"Life on Parole"
Pilot made in 2003 starring David Herman, Jon Polito, and Ana Ortiz as parole officers and the odd people that they have to deal with day in and day out. Filmed as a single camera comedy with no laugh track, it was actually kind of funny (a few jokes worked).
One of the most famous unaired pilots out there, "Lookwell" has been called "the best show that never was" in some circles. Created by Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel, Adam West is Ty Lookwell, a ’70s TV cop who thinks he is a real crime fighter. Not only was this actually funny (a rarity for O’Brien), but West is so self-deprecating that I was impressed at how far he was willing to go to make fun of himself.
"Lost in OZ"
Not to be confused with the Tim Burton-produced Lost in Oz of 2000, this 2002 unaired pilot was very interesting. Alex Wilder (Melissa George) is a Kansas girl swept up in a tornado with her horse (she was hiding in a barn when she got nabbed). The pair land in Oz, where she encounters some fragments of the yellow brick road and the burnt-out remains of the Munchkin village. Seems some bad shit happened in Oz since the events of The Wizard of Oz. After Dorothy murdered the Wicked Witch (that is how it was perceived by the Oziens), all hell broke loose. The essence of the Wicked Witch found a new host. Apparently, there is a need to keep balance in the universe. If either a Wicked Witch or Good Witch dies, their essence will find a new host. Loriellidere (Mia Sara) is the new Wicked Witch, and Bellaridere (Lynn Whitfield) is the new Good Witch. Alex meets up with an Air Force pilot, Caleb Jansen (Colin Egglesfield). Though she’s traveled from 2002, he arrived in Oz in 1939 and has only been there for a few months. Time moves oddly in Oz. In a strange bit of self-reflexivity, the pilot has seen The Wizard of Oz, though he refuses to believe that he’s living in an actual incarnation of the movie’s setting. The two team up and are given a guide by the Good Witch. This guide hates the new Wicked Witch with a massive passion, as her essence took over her friend. The group is attacked and taken to the new Wicked Witch’s castle. Let me back up a bit—the new Good Witch gave Melissa George a sphere that contains a magic tornado that can get her and the pilot home, or it can be used to rescue the princess of Oz, but not both. Alex uses it in the manner that keeps them in Oz and therefore the promise of more adventures. Oh—and we find out that if Alex kills the new Wicked Witch, the essence will take her over next and she will be the next Wicked Witch. Honestly, the above sounds like a lot of back story and exposition, but this was a damn good pilot (and I am not a fan of the Oz movies) and was really dark and grim for the fairly light-hearted tone that the movies had.
"Lost In Space"
Poor Brad Johnson; you may notice his name on quite a few entries here, and this is yet another one. This was a 2004 updating of "Lost in Space" (no relation to the 1998 movie) directed by John Woo. This time, Earth just finished a massive and devastating war with a very hostile alien race about 200 years in the future. Brad Johnson is Capt. John Robinson (not a scientist anymore), the hero who won this war for us, although details are never given as to how he did this. He and his family (In another large change from the old series and the movie, there is another kid here, an 18-year-old son, as well as the 10-year-old Will, 13-year-old Penny, and 20-year- old Judy.) on the way to settle a new world, their ship is attacked by the aforementioned alien race and the 18-year-old son is captured while the rest of the family is trapped in an escape pod with a pilot (Don West). They drift off, truly lost in space. All in all, this was not bad, but the WB seemed to pull the plug before this was even completed (there are numerous scenes with just blue screens, and two scenes in which the wires holding actors up are clearly visible). If this was made, I would definitely have watched it.
Joss Ackland heads a secret government organization with a mandate to police criminal abuses of science (that is, keep anything manmade in check). For the pilot, it turns out that a former agent (who the organization thought was dead) has figured out a way to completely cloak himself from electronic devices (cameras, radios, motion detectors, etc.) and commit robberies all over the U.S. Not a bad show, but it feels derivative of "Alias" and the non-alien/non-supernatural "X-Files" episodes.
In the late ’90s, Fox meant to turn Cruel Intentions into a TV series. After Fox execs saw the shows (three episodes were filmed), they knew that they were too sexually explicit to air on TV. It was shelved and in 2000, the episodes were edited together with newly shot footage to make the direct-to-video movie Cruel Intentions 2 (see Cashiers du Cinemart #13 for a review).
Like the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" pilot, this was a "test pilot" rather than a real pilot. It ran about 30 minutes and used stock footage from Starship Troopers and Armageddon in it. Basically, it was just made to show what the real series would be like. For those who don’t remember "Mercy Point," it was a UPN series about a space station hospital that treated alien races. Think "St. Elsewhere" meets "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." The unaired pilot featured the same basic story as the aired pilot, but moved briskly.
Filmed in the ’80s, this pilot starred soap actor/singer/teen heartthrob Rick Springfield as Nick Knight. Sharing the basic story as the two-part pilot of "Forever Knight," "Nick Knight" has some major differences, including a sex change (the doctor played by Catherine Disher in the series is a male here); different actors (other than Springfield, John Kapelos is the only other hold-over from the pilot); budget (the pilot had much larger budget than the series—a situation lamented on the "Forever Knight" DVD sets); location (the pilot takes place in Los Angeles, not Canada); and survival rate (not everyone who lived in "Forever Knight" made it through the pilot intact).
Alex Franco, a cop from "today" is comatose after a hit-and-run suffered while investigating Harlan Kroger, a rich man who’s murdered his wife (you can guess who arranged the auto accident). The cop’s wife agrees to a radical new procedure to freeze the brain of her husband. In 2069, he is awakened and finds that a lot has changed (turns out many others have been revived, but he is the only one that recovered completely). Not only has he been cured of his brain damage, but policing has changed radically in the intervening years. Does this sound like Demolition Man to you? After acclimating to this new world, he is offered a chance to be a cop again, although under a false name as they want to keep him being a 20th-century cop under wraps. The justice system is a completely new monster now; trials are held on scene and executions are carried out by the officers (and all officers wear glasses that transmit all video and audio to the precinct). All U.S. citizens’ D.N.A. is on file, so all crimes can be solved nearly right away. Sounds like a Republican’s wet dream of the justice system. Anyway, our main cop friend is dealing with all of these new procedures, as well as keeping a false identity and dealing with the fact that his wife died while he was in stasis and his son is now an old man with Alzheimer’s. This was actually a pretty cool pilot made for Fox by Steven Bochco in ‘04 that was not picked up.
"The Pool at Maddy Breaker’s"
Watching this 2003 pilot actually gave me dain bramage, I think; it was that bad. Not a single joke in this laugh-free sitcom worked. Three dumb-as-a-stump "pretty" girls were the total peak of coolness in high school; everyone wanted to hang out at the pool at Maddy Breaker’s house. Flash forward six-or-so years and all three girls are still dumb as dead cats, but are depressed that they reached their peak in life as seniors in high school. Nicholas Brendon from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is just as bad of an actor here as he is in "Buffy." This also featured Jodi Lyn O’Keefe as Maddy. Seriously, this is in the top three worst pilots I have ever seen, only slightly edging out "The Grubbs."
Ed O’Neill takes over for Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle in this attempt to bring The French Connection to the small screen. NBC aired this in 1986 as a TV movie. It wasn’t bad. Not amazing, but not bad either.
Based on the Marvel comic about kids of various ages with super powers, this light-hearted pilot was obviously made for a 12-year-old audience. It’s hell on earth for an adult to sit through.
Produced by Sandra Bullock, this is based on the movie Practical Magic. Kim Delaney and Jeri Ryan take over for Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. The story picks up shortly after the film, with Jeri Ryan being beaten by her no-good boyfriend. She uses some rare herbs to put him to sleep so she can get away. However, she uses too much and he dies as a result. She runs to her sister Kim Delaney’s house to hide out. Meanwhile, Delaney is trying to leave magic behind and raise her daughters after the death of her husband. Ryan’s boyfriend comes back as a ghost and, as you can imagine, he’s kind of pissed off. The sisters have to team up and use the magic to dispel the spirit. Overall, not bad, but I am not sure how long it might have lasted as a series.
More than simply a pilot, this was a pretty much an unaired series. Twelve of the thirteen episodes filmed never aired, and the one that did, wasn’t the first, but fifth, episode! "Morals" was a quasi-spin-off from "NYPD Blue" with the complication that "Blue" was airing on different networks and, thus, could not reference each other. The two series shared a character with John Irvin (Bill Brochtrup). After he left "NYPD Blue" to work "upstairs," he went to this show and the Public Morals division of the NYPD. Think of this as the opposite of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Lou Grant." "Public Morals" wasn’t a gritty cop drama; rather, it was a sitcom with laugh track and goofy set-ups. There were some funny jokes, but most fell flat. Ultimately, after one episode, the show was canceled. Officially, it was due to low ratings but there were numerous complaints about the sexually graphic dialog (admittedly pretty damn raunchy for network TV). I have seen all thirteen episodes, and some cable channel should give this show a run just so people can see it.
"Sick In the Head"
Trio aired this a few years ago as a "Brilliant but Canceled" special. Apparently, Trio and I have different ideas of what "brilliant" means, as I found this pilot about a fresh-out-of-college psychiatrist who gets too close to his patients to be tedious and not the least bit funny. A very young David Krumholz is our main character ,and he delivers his lines like he is rehearsing rather than filming. No one missed anything with this crap not being picked up.
Glen Morgan, Darin Morgan, and Jim Wong: damned if they didn’t have the worst time trying to get pilots picked up. They had something like five unaired pilots from four networks in six years. This one was for CBS in 1998. It starred George Eads (CSI), Arsenio Hall, Cloris Leachman, Doug Hutchison, and future Morgan Kirstin Cloke (she and Glen Morgan got married a few years later). There was also a really funny cameo by David Duchovny. With that name, you can guess that this was about skip chasers—bounty hunters who catch bail jumpers. Hall is a mailman who screws up a capture by Eads, Cloke, and Hutchison and now has to help them fix it. They all work for Leachman at her agency. At the end, Hall joins up with the agency. Overall, it was a good pilot. It was funny; witty (sci-fi movie references and a really funny riff on the old cliché of tracking someone down in a strip club); had good performances (even from Hall); and might have worked. Morgan & Wong were told by CBS that, while it was not picked up in 1998, they would pick it up for mid-season. That never happened.
"Tales of Frankenstein"
This ’50s black-and-white pilot for a new series was created by the thennew Hammer Studios, who would go on to revitalize the horror genre in the ’70s. As you can guess, it’s about Dr. Frankenstein stealing corpses and trying to make a monster, and the people who try to stop him. The pilot is about what you would expect: nice B&W film, an interesting concept, but ultimately, no surprise that it was not picked up as a series.
A 2003 update by Fox to the old ’60s series. Andrea Roth stars. Seems, while creating a (you guessed it) time tunnel, the U.S. government created a "time wave" that is moving backwards in time and messing things up, therefore altering the future. The only people who are unaffected by the time changes are the scientists who were working on the tunnel when the accident happened. Now, they have to fix whatever changes the wave makes, without changing anything else. This was actually fairly good, making me interested in seeing more. This is included as an extra on the final DVD release of the old "Time Tunnel" show.
This 2003 pilot by the people who bought us the amazing "Action" in 1999, starred Mike Erwin, Richard Burgi, and Lisa Blount (with a cameo by Charles Napier) and was not only funny (with jokes that you never saw coming), but also had the potential of have quite a few differing stories told. Mike Erwin lives in a trailer park with some of the oddest residents in the world. He makes digital videos of these folks all the while trying to keep his mom from losing the trailer (they just got the car repossessed because his dad hadn’t made the car payments for six months). "I guess the cost of whores and coke went up." He has a best friend in Gypsy, a punk girl who is clearly in love with him, but whom he is completely clueless. He also has a new job as the lawn boy for the Blu family, a rich, snotty family "on the hill." Turns out his mom used to be in love with Bud Blu and there is no shortage of bad, bad blood between these families. Bud tries to keep Mike Erwin from his daughter Luna and let’s just say the Blu lawn would make helicopter pilots giggle by the time Erwin is done getting revenge. This was a hilarious pilot that had good production values and great direction that really deserved to be picked up. I have no idea what network this was for, but it feels like it was made for Fox.
"Venus on the Hard Drive"
Oh, Jennifer Aspen, why must you always be in shitty sitcoms? While I love Jennifer Aspen as an actress, this was an awful pilot. A pair of computer nerds gets a program, Venus, from the net. This advanced defense program is visually a hot chick rendered in really bad late- ’90s CGI. This is WEIRD SCIENCE meets WAR GAMES meets S1M0NE meets "Max Headroom" meets a dumb sitcom.
Just how far can Corbin Bernsen fall? From being a huge name on "LA Law" to doing direct-to-video movies and horrid sitcom pilots, I actually feel for the guy. Here our falling star runs Veronica’s Video, a shitty video store in a shitty neighborhood. He got the store from his ex-wife and is forced to employ his college dropout son whom he does not get along with at all. For a sitcom set in a video store, you would think that there might be some jokes here. You’d be wrong.
"Witches of Eastwick"
Five years after the feature film came this attempt to turn the movie into a series. Ally Walker of "Profiler" fame stars with Julia Campbell and Catherine Mary Stewart. The plot concerns our witches conjuring up the "perfect" man. Turns out he’s just too darned perfect and they have to "recall" him. This takes some dark arts know-how. The light-hearted story didn’t fit with the darker tone of the film.
"The Wonder Cabinet"
Another Morgan and Wong failed pilot, and another one that would have been a great series. This had an impressive cast: James Morrison, Poppy Montgomery, Currie Graham, Kim Coates,and Glenn Morshower. You may not know them by name but you’d recognize them on sight. For a plot, we go back to the day when people collected odd items of human interest and kept them in what was called a "Wonder Cabinet." These days Kim Coates is the liaison for a shadow group that is collecting evidence of medical and scientific changes in the human species. He gets a group of outcasts from their respective fields (we have a famous heart surgeon who crashed and flushed his career down the toilet; a medical student who shares views that put her at odds with the Establishment of sciences; and a neurosurgeon who lost his license to practice due to gambling issues) to find these items all over the globe. That’s the premise. Very "Chicago Hope" meets the "The X-Files." While I thought it was good, ABC didn’t agree. As you can see, a good chunk of the time, what you finally see when your favorite show hits the air differs greatly from the original intent of the producers.