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Official Article

Wackiest Failed TV Pilots Part 2


Last time around we explored a strange group of television pilots featuring clunky cyborgs, rock star vampires, talking dogs and action hero aerobics instructors that were too strange for prime time. This installment is just as wild and features quite a few familiar faces, so let's get onto more failed TV pilots of the 70's, 80's and 90's.

EXOman (1977)

Premise: A scientist becomes a parapalegic after being attacked in his lab by mobsters, then creates a robotic suit of armor that allows him to walk and stop bad guys.


Analysis: Iron Man this ain't. Sure he could walk (very stiffly), but the "fighting" of crime wasn't really his style. EXOman was more of a "Crime Interrupter" just getting in the way and confusing the bad guys enough that they hurt themselves. Apparently there was talk of merchandising the character, but the producers and studio heads disagreed on the EXOman design which led to the series being canned.

It's not like this concept couldn't be executed well, in fact a series with an identical concept called M.A.N.T.I.S. was picked up by FOX in the early 90's for 1 season and I remember thinking it was pretty cool. Of course that show was produced by Sam Raimi, with a story by the writer of Tim Burton's Batman so it had some creative juice behind it. I think EXOman could work nowadays as a psychological sci-fi thriller with a darker edge, rather than a poorly executed super hero tale.


Samurai (1979)

Premise: A half-American/half-Japanese San Francisco District Attorney by day and samurai sword wielding vigilante by night.


Analysis: It's true that a very white David Carradine found success in a role intended for Bruce Lee on the wild west martial arts series Kung Fu in 1972, but whitewashing Japanese iconography in a modern day setting just looks goofy. The popular Shogun mini-series was just 1 year away, so maybe they were on to something with the concept, but the idea of a sword wielding hero whose greatest enemy is the network censors that aren't going to let him slice up bad guys "Kill Bill style" feels like a tease.

There are a few familiar faces in the cast though. The star, Joe Penny would go on to play the thinner half of Jake and The Fatman for several years in the 80's private eye drama, while most would know Dana Elcar as MacGuyver's balding boss who sent him on missions. Also Michael Pataki who would later go on to play a Russian in Rocky IV was just fresh off a personal favorite of mine, The Amazing Spider-Man TV series, where he played the cop Capt. Barbera who was always in pursuit of the wall-crawler.


Poor Richard (1984) 

Premise: A millionaire loses his fortune and is mistaken for the Butler at his mansion when the new owners arrive. He attempts to keep up appearances with his rich friends, while playing servant to a family of new money hillbillies.


Analysis: Now this show sounds like the kind of 80's goofiness I could have totally gotten behind as a kid. It's the perfect set-up for all sorts of laugh inducing scenarios involving mistaken identities, but also a Love Boat style revolving guest star roster. This was the era of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, so you could have had people like Donald Trump stop by or Robin Leach himself filming an episode at the mansion while Richard tried to hide the film crew from the new owners.

Plus, I love George Hamilton. If you haven't seen Zorro, The Gay Blade you are missing out on some hilarious, if not entirely politically correct comedy. It's actually similar to the premise of this show, with a lot of comedic efforts to conceal a dual identity. Apparently this show also featured an early appearance by Alley Mills aka the Mom from The Wonder Years. Too bad we never got to enjoy the fun of Poor Richard.

I-Man (1986) 

Premise: A cabbie is exposed to strange gas while saving a trucker and becomes an indestructible man, who teams up with a female spy to save the world.


Analysis: Well, look who's back, our old pal Scott Bakula in another pre-Quantum Leap sci-fi adventure. Last time we saw him trying his luck as a transforming robo-man, but this time around ol' Scott's borrowed Wolverine's healing power.  So it's not that he can't be hurt or has rock hard skin, it's more that he's the Timex of action heroes, who can take a licking and keep on ticking. Ultimately I think it's just a weird concept that makes the hero feel more passive than active in saving the day.

Apparently this one is not as obscure as many others, since it was a TV movie produced by The Walt Disney Company for The Wonderful World of Color and actually got a VHS release at some point. It features the kid from Flight of the Navigator as Bakula's son and the female co-star Ellen Bry had also been on The Amazing Spider-Man TV show almost a decade earlier (that cast got around).

Higher Ground (1988)

Premise: A former FBI Agent (Denver) runs a charter airline business with his old partner in Alaska. But when his partner (Martin Kove) is murdered he has to hunt down the killers, then stays around to run the airline with the widow.


Analysis: I can understand giving lovable singer-songwriter John Denver a TV show, but what I can't comprehend is why they would try to make him a no-nonsense, fist-fighting FBI agent. Especially when you have Martin Kove aka evil Kobra Kai dojo sensei, John Kreese from The Karate Kid films as his soon to be killed sidekick. Then you throw Sallah/Gimli himself John Rhys-Davies into the mix as a small town cop? Miscasting at it's finest.

You want to know the crazy thing? John Denver isn't half-bad and I'm surprised this show didn't run for 3 or 4 years. It feels like MacGuyver mixed with Northern Exposure, which were never my cup of tea, but the benign weekly adventures of Higher Ground seem like they could have caught on with late 80's audiences. Of course the most disturbing part of all this is that the show revolves around flying small aircraft and that's how John Denver died in 1997 (cue the Unsolved Mysteries theme).


Microcops (1989)

Premise: Microscopic Alien cops Nardo and Bidra arrive on Earth, attaching their tiny spaceships to dogs, people, etc to help solve crimes, communicating through holograms or nearby computer monitors.


Analysis: OK, so there's zero footage of this show out there, besides this black and white publicity still. But honestly, how could they have missed with this idea? I mean, doesn't it sound like a the perfect way to capitalize on the success of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and the Martin Short/Dennis Quaid film Innerspace? Plus, one of the character's names was NARDO, as in "Wolfman's got NARDO!" I would for sure have tuned in every week, just to have a reason to talk about Nardo at recess the next day.

There were no major stars in this that I recognize, but Nardo himself was played by William Bumiller, who apparently had a recurring role on 24 with Keifer Sutherland years later. Also, Industrial Light and Magic was doing the special effects, so you have to imagine the show at least looked good. I'm going to guess the quality of the show was not the issue, but the cost of production was just too high to justify giving it the green light. You can purchase this photo on terapeak, if you're so inclined, also...NARDO!

The Danger Team (1990)

Premise: A bookkeeper becomes a private eye and solves mysteries with the help of 3 clay animated characters named Nit, Truk & Spex who are brought to life when a ball of glop from outer space crashes into the studio of her artist boyfriend. 


Analysis: Man, The Danger Team epitomizes what this article series is about. Having claymation puppets team up with a would-be detective to solve mysteries? I mean, who was the show aimed at? I guarantee that kids would have been the main audience, yet I'm willing to bet it was going to play in prime-time. Kathleen Beller as the lead was cute and all, but for me the biggest draw is who was voicing the stop motion heroes. 

For Nit you had June Foray who most famously played Rocky The Flying Squirrel alongside Bullwinkle. Spex was brought to life by none other than Chris Latta whose voice is burned in our brains as Cobra Commander and Starscream. But most surprising of all was John Wesley Shipp aka The Flash from the awesome 1990 TV series as Truk. This must have been his next gig when that show was cancelled after 1 season. Thanks to Zebradelic for the photos.


Well that's the end of this series for now, the source book Unsold TV Pilots by Lee Goldberg only goes up to 1990. but you can be sure there are more failed TV pilots to be found out there, so part 3 could be just around the corner.

Which of these shows gave you the biggest laughs or thought of a missed opportunity?

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Hoju Koolander Posted on Feb 22, 2017 at 08:18 PM

@Vaporman87 I like your Z Force idea. They didn't work separately, but with their pilot powers combined...

@jkatz Yeah, Heat Vision and Jack is probably the most well known failed TV pilot, but it wasn't laughably bad, just a missed opportunity.

jkatz Posted on Feb 22, 2017 at 07:16 AM

I saw footage of EXOman used in that "70s Avengers Into" video that was making the rounds online a few years ago. Cool to finally know where it's originally from.
As far as pilots that didn't get picked up go, Heat Vision and Jack had a lot of potential going for it.

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 21, 2017 at 10:40 AM

My word... there is so much gold here. I know a few times I have encountered EXO Man on the web, with people trying to claim it as an "Iron Man" TV series. Yeah, right.

But man alive... John Denver the butt-kicking agent, tiny crime fighters and claymation guys??? I want all of these ideas thrown into one series. Let's call it "Z Force" and have Scott Bakula play the role of "Z", who sends his minions out into the world to solve global mysteries in their funky, pastel-colored minivan.

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