Monday, June 18, 2007

"Failure Theatre"

Oh, good -- Ken Levine is writing about the old network practice of burning off unsold pilots in the summer. I don't know about you, but I loved that, and for the reasons he mentions: it allowed us to see what the networks had rejected, speculate on why these things got rejected, and in some cases, decide that they were better than the things that got picked up.

Actually, when I first came upon some of these pilots, I thought they were previews of actual upcoming shows, and expected to find some of them on the fall schedule. That might be another reason why networks stopped airing these things; viewers might have mistakenly assumed that these shows had been picked up, and (if the pilot was any good) feel disappointed not to find them again.

I suppose we all can remember one or two of these pilots if we think back hard enough. I can remember two, neither of which was any good. One was a Cosby-style family sitcom about a recent graduate who takes a corporate job that he hates, just to please his dad. His girlfriend gives him some lecture about how he shouldn't pretend to be what he's not, and so he quits the job, and argues with his dad about following his dreams and stuff, and they make up or something. I remember two lines of dialogue. One was the hero singing "I'm hating my job, I'm hating my life, I'm hating my job." The other was their idea of a great joke:

GIRLFRIEND: You did great things in school. You even got one of the Jacksons to appear at our prom.
HERO: Well, to be fair, it was Tito.

The other one was about a woman who marries into a family of witches. It was like The Cosby Show meets Bewitched, and the only line I remember is a bit where the Rudy-ripoff little girl tells the nice widower father that one of the sons doesn't want to go out in the rain:

NICE WIDOWER FATHER: Son, I told you, you won't melt if you go outside!

I suppose I could find out actual titles for these pilots if I consulted one of the books on unaired and unsold pilots, but somehow I prefer letting them live in my memory as vague but painful experiences.

There's also one other pilot I remember, about a bunch of people working as ushers at an old movie theatre called The Majestic. The plot of the pilot was that the theatre was going to be torn down, and the act break line was "They're gonna destroy the Majestic!" Everyone looks shocked, fade to black. I don't remember how they got out of that one. (Update: it turns out that this was actually a series, albeit one that only lasted six episodes.)

Any bad (or good) burned-off pilots that you remember seeing?


Edward Hegstrom said...

I remember something from the late seventies called "Escapade"--it was written by Brian Clemens as a fairly transparent Americanized "Avengers" knock-off. The script may well have been clever, but its merits were obliterated by its star, the charisma-free Granville van Dusen.

Anonymous said...

I remember one from the early 70's called "Inside O.U.T." that I think had Bill Daily in it and was a comedy about a spy organization.I was only about 7 years old but for some reason it made enough of an impression on me for me to remember the title.

Anonymous said...

I believe the show you mention about the old movie theatre may actually have been Barry Kemp's short-lived sitcom THE POPCORN KID, which had a six episode run in 1987, I think on CBS.

My favorite unsold pilot is still "The Fountain of Youth," Orson Welles' late '50s attempt to create a half-hour anthology series for Desilu. I loved the style and feel of this show, full of wit and innovative ideas; I wish it had managed at least a short run as a series.

Vince said...

I remember The Ugily Family. Not "ugly" but "you-gee-lee," a joke that was run into the ground within the first ten minutes. It was an attempt to turn Al Molinaro from Happy Days into a sitcom lead. He moves his New Jersey family to California and ... that was pretty much the set-up. If I recall correctly, Doris Roberts and Lyle Waggoner were also in the cast, but I could be wrong. I tried to block a lot of that show out.

VP81955 said...

I remember a mid-sixties Dwayne Hickman post-"Dobie Gillis" vehicle named "Mr. Hannan," where he played an elementary school teacher. It wasn't very good, and Hickman eventually went into working as a comedy executive at CBS (where this aired as well as "Dobie").

Bryan CastaƱeda said...

I can't remember the title or anything about it, but it featured Scott Valentine, the dude who played Nick on Family Ties.

Anonymous said...

I distinctly remember seeing a pilot for a romantic comedy type sitcom that was to have starred Karen Valentine and Fred Dryer but IMDB yields nothing about that dream cast ever working together.

VP81955 said...

The witch pilot is intrigung because a few years ago, there supposedly was a pilot made for a proposed series called "Spellbound," produced by some of the people associated with "Frasier" (though I don't believe Ken Levine was one of them). The lead character was a male witch who falls in love with a mortal woman. But what made this interesting was that his witch parents were played by Barry Bostwick and Christine Baranski -- and Christine would have probably made the most sultry, tantalizing adult witch this side of Beth Broderick (Aunt Zelda from "Sabrina"). Sorry this series never came to fruition.

Linda said...

OMG! I remember INSIDE O.U.T. It was broadcast in the summer of 1971 (IMDb says 1971) with two other unsold pilots--I think the banner name was "NBC Comedy Playhouse" or something similar. One of my favorites, Alan Oppenheimer, was also in it. I don't remember the third entry, but the other was IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? with William Windom as a doctor hiring another doctor to join his practice and finding out {gasp!} she's a woman.

Matt said...

I remember seeing a "Three's Company" style sitcom about newlyweds with the dumber Landers sister (Audrey or Judy?).

You can also see unsold pilots at those demographic studies where people are invited to comment on a show (they pretend to be interested in the show when they're really studying reactions to the commercials). That's how I saw one sitcom about two sisters, one wild and one straight-laced. Sally Kellerman played the wild sister and they had the standard wisecracking hispanic maid, but that's all I remember about it.