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Wackiest Failed TV Pilots
By: Hoju Koolander
If you look back at some of the wild premises of 70's, 80's and 90's TV shows we all enjoyed, it's pretty amazing that they were financed by any network. I mean a slacker, puppet alien that eats cats living with a suburban family? Who knew ALF would catch on as a national phenomenon? Just think about Herman's Head...'nuff said.
Yet for all the shows ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX took a chance on, there were some that didn't make it past their pilot episode. Thanks to a book from my private library called Unsold TV Pilots by Lee Goldberg, I can now share with you details from some of the wackiest shows ever pitched to network executives that failed to get the "Green Light".
The Clone Master, 1978
Premise: A scientist makes 13 clones of himself then sends them out into the world to fight evil. Each episode would focus on one of the clones having an adventure.
Analysis: Very much in the vein of The Incredible Hulk TV series starring Bill Bixby, in fact this guy could have been Bruce Banner's cousin, for how similar the stars of those shows look. I guess you could say this premise would be any actor's dream, "Me, Me and more me? I'm in!". Art Hindle got the role, but I just don't think audiences wanted to see 13 of this guy running around with mustaches or glasses to differentiate one clone from the other.
When you really think about it, what's the point of the cloning? Without any super powers being added to the clones, the stories could just as easily focus on one heroic scientist who helps out people in need each week with his scientific knowledge. I guess being able to clone yourself is some form of immortality, but that didn't seem to be the theme of the show. Overall this thing is just bland.
13 Thirteenth Avenue, 1983
Premise: A single dad moves with his son into an apartment building populated by working professionals who just happen to be vampires, werewolves, witches and trolls.
Analysis: For all the potential craziness in the premise, this one seems to play like your standard 80's sitcom with a few pairs of vampire teeth thrown in. What really makes this pilot special is what the show's cast went on to star in. First off, Wil Wheaton was the kid you loved to hate as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation 4 years later, not to mention (except I just did) his theatrical debut in Stand By Me.
Ilene Graff, seen here playing a sassy red-headed Witch went on to play the Mom on Mr. Belvedere for several seasons. But the star of this show to me is that little bald Troll (no seriously, the character was a troll) played by Ernie Sabella. You might know him best as the voice of Pumba in The Lion King, but in my mind he will always be Mr. Carosi from the Malibu Sands Beach Club episodes of Saved By The Bell.
Premise: 4 highly skilled female operatives make up a covert team called Velvet while posing as aerobics instructors in a health spa.
Analysis: A very intentional update of Charlie's Angels for the 80's, this was mega producer Aaron Spelling's way of cashing in on the Aerobics phenomenon sweeping the nation. The theme song is pretty great and the hair was big enough, but these women are hard to take seriously as helicopter pilots and motorcross daredevils. It was such a testosterone fueled decade, I just don't think this premise could compete with the wild stunts of the A-Team or Knight Rider.
You may or may not recognize Leah Ayres as the love interest for Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport or Mary-Margeret Humes as the titular character's mother on Dawson's Creek in the 90's, but you absolutely remember Michael Ensign, right? Of course you do! He was the snooty hotel manager in Ghostbusters who calls the boys out for their first job to catch Onionhead aka Slimer. Here he is playing the Velvet team's version of Q (from James Bond, not Star Trek). I may have tuned in for the leotards, but I would have stayed for the nerdy balding guy with a mustache.
Premise: An eccentric scientist creates a teleportation device that accidentally fuses him with a robotic probe called Infiltrator created by fellow scientist, Kerry Langdon. When in danger his body parts are replaced with the robotic devices of the Infiltrator.
Analysis: Scott Bakula is best known for his time starring on Quantum Leap and to a lesser extent Star Trek: Enterprise, but apparently he always had his foot in the world of science fiction. I have to believe that the reason this show didn't get picked up is that Bakula plays the hero way too whiny in his human form. A reluctant hero is fine, but a wussy one just doesn't play well for an action series.
Then there's the fact that the Infiltrator suit looks like the lovechild of the generic soldiers from Spaceballs and killer computer HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bakula actually looks pretty cool when he's wearing just his robotic launching grappling hook arm, but the full transformation is very awkward. Pretty cool premise, pretty lame execution.
Nick Knight, 1989
Premise: An 800 year old vampire fights crime working nights for the San Francisco police and is forced to hide the fact that he has to drink blood and can transform into a bat-man.
Analysis: Though it sounds like the name of the lost mascot for the Nick At Nite network, this supernatural detective drama was a star vehicle for 80's pop rocker (Jesse's Girl), Rick Springfield that tried to show off his prowess as an action hero. Aside from the transformations into vampire mode which take away the pretty boy's good looks, there's also a segment where he visits a tanning salon to (I assume) hide the fact that he is a ghastly, pale creature of the night.
It feels like they were aping Miami Vice a lot, with the hero driving around on dark streets in a 50's convertible looking cool, then The Lost Boys takes over as he battles another evil vampire with similar powers. Though this outing failed, Nick Knight was eventually re-made successfully as a syndicated series called Forever Knight that ran for 4 seasons without Springfield in the title role. Though he did eventually get his own syndicated series as a surfing private eye in a show called High Tide.
Premise: A tough, ill-mannered cop named Poochinski is killed in the line of duty, then re-incarnated as a flatulent, talking English Bulldog who continues to fight crime with his human partner.
Analysis: How do you shake up the buddy cop genre? Talking dogs! This show has its place right next to ALF for crazy concepts if you ask me. You probably know Peter Boyle best as the grouchy Grandpa from Everybody Loves Raymond or the monster from Young Frankenstein, but here he is giving voice to a talking puppet dog with attitude. This series also featured Amy Yasbeck from The Mask, Frank McRae who played the screaming Lieutenant Dekker in Last Action Hero and was produced by John Ritter of Three's Company fame.
The surreal nature of the show shouldn't be surprising since it was also brought to us by Lon Diamond, who was the creator of Parker Lewis Can't Lose that premiered on the FOX network that same year. Still the idea of a dog who breaks wind and bites bad guys in the crotch as his most identifiable traits was probably less family friendly than what ABC television wanted to project.
Though not necessarily in the decades we're focusing on here, allow me to share with you a bonus failed TV pilot from the 1960's starring Alan Alda of M.A.S.H. fame, that had me in stitches.
Where's Everett?, 1966
Premise: An all-American family adopts an invisible baby left on their doorstep by aliens.
Analysis: Ahhhh-hahahahahahahaha! Sold!
So what did you think? Would you have watched any of these shows as a kid? You can catch at least a glimpse of these failed productions on YouTube, if you want to know for sure. I have many more of these shows that never were to share with you, so stay tuned for part 2.
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