Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tonight on FAILURE THEATRE

Back in the 70’s and 80’s when we had “Failure Theatre” networks would air their unsold pilots. Here are just a few. Some are included because they’re particularly wacky, others are intriguing, and a few sound downright great.

A DOG’S LIFE – People dressed as dogs. Starring Barney Martin (SEINFELD) and Charles Martin Smith (AMERICAN GRAFFITI). No actors were injured in the making of this pilot.

DUFFY – A dog with human qualities. Dogs were in back then. I guess penguins are the new dogs.

DINER – Barry Levinson who wrote and directed the movie, wrote and directed the pilot as well. With Paul Reiser and James Spader (BOSTON LEGAL).

ETHEL IS AN ELEPHANT – MR. ED with very wide master shots. Starring Todd Sussman who, during that period, starred in fifteen or twenty failed pilots. Ethel’s career never recovered from this project.

THE FESS PARKER SHOW – The man who played Davy Crockett starred in a comedy.

FRANKIE & ANNETTE: SECOND TIME AROUND
– You loved them in the Beach Party movies and wondered how long could they remain a couple before they finally had sex? According to this pilot, twelve years and counting.

FRAUD SQUAD – from Jack Webb productions. Frank Sinatra Jr. as the head of the LAPD Fraud Squad. Not intended to be a comedy but ohhh mannn…

FROM CLEVELAND – Featuring Bob & Ray and the brilliant cast of SCTV.

GHOST OF A CHANCE – Shelley Long, pre-CHEERS, as a zany ghost.

GOOBER & THE TRUCKERS’ PARADISE – The title alone should have warranted a pick-up. This is a spin-off of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and marks the very first appearance of Gomer Pyle.

GOOD PENNY – Billed as a comedy about an emotionally disturbed woman (that must’ve been a helluva pitch). Well cast with Rene Taylor in the starring role.

GREAT DAY – another premise chock full of comedic possibilities. Skid row derelicts in Los Angeles. Featured Al Molinaro (HAPPY DAYS) and as “Jabbo “– Spo-De-Odee.

HARRY’S BATTLES – Dick Van Dyke and Connie Stevens did not have the magic of Dick and Mary Tyler Moore, or even Dick and Hope Lange.

HIGH SCHOOL USA – After his “Garden Party-take-me-seriously-as-an-artist” period Rick Nelson starred as the principal in a series that featured a ton of 50’s and 60’s family sitcom cast members including Harriet Nelson, Jerry Mathers, Ken Osmond, Paul Peterson, Dick York, and Barbara Billingsley. Also Crystal Bernard (WINGS) who must’ve been 9 then.

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING – Adaptation of the Broadway smash. Written by Abe Burrows. NOT directed by James Burrows.

HUMAN FEELINGS – Billy Crystal playing an angel.

IF I LOVED YOU AM I TRAPPED FOREVER? Not only is that a great title, it was written by Larry Gelbart (MASH, TOOTSIE, OH GOD). This is one I’d really like to see.

KANGAROO IN THE KITCHEN – A Greenwich Village apartment overrun with animals. To me the real show would have been the poor people in the apartment directly below.

LOVEBIRDS – Eugene Levy in a sitcom.

ME & MRS. C. – Another comic goldmine premise: A widow living on Social Security. Starred Doris Roberts (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND).

MR. & MRS. DRACULA – After 618 years of marriage they move to America. Bats out of water. Written by Robert Klane (WHERE’S PAPA, WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S) so it was probably damn funny.

NEWMAN’S DRUGSTORE – A Brooklyn diner during the Depression. God, I’d love to go in to Fox and pitch that today.

OFF CAMPUS – Coed rooming house starring Marilu Henner (TAXI) written by Marshall Brickman (ANNIE HALL, JERSEY BOYS). This is one of about seventy college dorm/sorority/coed rooming house pilots done during that era. Another one featured Michelle Pheiffer.

SITCOM – A spoof of the genre, following the Gooseberry family. Created by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses (THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, BUFFALO BILL). I read this script. HILARIOUS! And while we’re on the subject of Tom & Jay…

THE CHOPPED LIVER BROTHERS – Patchett & Tarses wrote and starred as two struggling stand-up comics. Add 50 years to them and you have…

THE SUNSHINE BOYS – Neil Simon wrote the pilot from his play, this time starring Red Buttons and Lionel Stander. I wonder if the network gave him notes.

I’m sorry but I would rather see any of these over the schlock reality shows that are being jammed down our gullets this summer. Bring back “Failure Theatre”!

COMING UP TOMORROW: Allan Burns, one of the creators and executive producers of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW shares his rememberances of the classic "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode.

57 comments:

The Mad Accountant! said...

Wow, those are some pretty nutty ideas! hahaha!

http://account-for-this.blogspot.com/

Len Dreary said...

I always thought any of those dog sitcoms were doomed to failure however there's a newish Australian comedy called Wilfred that has the main character in a dog suit, wearing a big rubber nose and chain smoking.
It's very funny and has survived its first season but you might have to be Australian to pick up the jokes.
They sell a dvd over at the SBS.com.au site if you're brimming with money and enthusiasm.
(Disclaimer: I have no association with the show. I only came here to comment on the Mary Tyler Moore clip.)

Jack Book said...

only 2/3 i recognize them :)

iris said...

ha ha. like your funny bone!

Tallulah Morehead said...

"MR. & MRS. DRACULA – After 618 years of marriage they move to America. Bats out of water. Written by Robert Klane (WHERE’S PAPA, WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S) so it was probably damn funny."

As the widow of Count Vlad Tepes, known in vulgar circles as Count Dracula, I was forced to hit Bobby Klane with an injunction on this one.

I've been very tolerant of all the movies slandering my late husband - Christopher Lee has made a whole cottage industry out of impersonating Vlad (It's only because he likes to pretend he's married to me, the dreamer!) - but when Klane added someone playing ME to the mix, and portrayed me as being over 600 years old (That's off by WEEKS!), I was forced to put my foot down, on his. And my heels are sharper than any wooden stake.

And this was the treatment I received, when I was one of the three people who read Klane's 1968 novel "THE HORSE IS DEAD A Tasteless Novel", a book so funny, people confuse it with my book. Well, that's Hollywood gratitude for you.

Geoduck said...

Frankie and Annette also made a movie version of their sitcom (Maybe not officially, but from the sound of it that's essentially what it was..) called Back To The Beach. Tying in nicely with a previous thread, Peewee Herman cameos in the film and sings Surfer Bird.

No, really.

Hypnosis said...

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Justin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin said...

In case anybody never heard of it, in 1990 the UK had a sitcom called 'Heil Honey I'm Home': Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva live somewhere in 1930s American suburbia, next door to a Jewish couple, Arny and Rosa Goldenstein, and their dour niece, Ruth.
It actually got made, but only one of eight episodes got shown.

Blogger said...

Do you know that your blog is in Blogs of Note?

Ken Levine said...

Yes, and I'm thrilled. I hope the new readers like what they see and bookmark me. (hint hint)

It's hard to build an audience two eyeballs at a time.

Willy B. Good said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Willy B. Good said...

Kangaroo in the Kitchen was the last tv appearance by Skippy before his tragic death in the boxing ring fighting Duffy and Charles Nelson Smith for a Fox pilot.

Rob Halford said...

Very interesting blog!!! :)

The Crutnacker said...

Did some research on the only one of these I remember seeing, High School USA. And since IMDB has key facts like Stephen Spielberg was a key grip on original 10 Commandments, you know it has to be right.

According to the notes there, High School USA was a movie that was supposed to be a pilot. Yes, Chrystal was there, but so were Michael J Fox, Anthony Edwards, Nancy McKeon, Lauri Hendler (Gimmee a Break), Crispin Glover(!), and the only people to appear on IMDB, The Smoking Gun AND America's Most Wanted's websites, Dana Plato and Todd Bridges. And Gilligan, Mary Ann, Dobie, and a ton of other 50s stars. The one person I don't see is Rick Nelson, although David was there.

According to IMDB, this was envisioned as a project for Mystery Science 3000 creator Joel Hodgson, who turned it down.

It was directed by Rodney Amateau, whose last credit is the Garbage Pail Kids. He must be so proud.

The writers are credited with a few scripts for Angie, Family Matters, and others and YIKES... Saved by the Bell.

And of course, it is available on DVD.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

There is an excellent book about this from 1990. It's called Unsold Television Pilots and I believe I bought my copy from. It lists 2269 failed pilots from between 1955 and 1989, including ones that were mentioned or commisioned, but nog shot. There is also a much cheaper abbreviated version of the book, which I should have lying aroun dhere somewhere but I can't find it. I wish someone would do an update on that.

I remember seeing a pilot with Howie Mandell as an undertaker having to take care of his niece or something like that when I was over on holiday in the summer of the early nineties. Never heard about it again, although I quite liked it.

And on another holiday I went to the television museum and screened a failed David Lloyd pilot about the american ambassy in Moskou - which disappointed me.

The Crutnacker said...

Perhaps you have a great idea on your hands here....

Why not compile a bunch of these failed pilots starring well known actors and put them out on DVD?

Mike McCann said...

Always fascinated by oldtime Hollywood, I still recall a mid-'60s SUMMER PLAYHOUSE episode on CBS starring Joan Blondell as the secretary of a Louis B Mayer/Jack Warner type studio boss. For whatever reason, the show just struck me (about 12 years old at the time) as being darned good. And of course, it was never to be seen again.

Ken, do you know if royalties or other fees preclude networks from "burning off" such unused pilots these days. If not, I would love to see SITCOM from Patchett and Tarses, as well as a few others on the list.

David J. Loehr said...

I would love to see "From Cleveland," having grown up on both Bob and Ray and SCTV. (And Bob Newhart, just for reference.) And "Sitcom" sounds wonderful.

I've missed Failure Theatre for years. When TV Land first started up, they used to show some of these, and some of the four-episodes-and-out type of shows. No more, unfortunately.

One pilot I've always been curious about is "Where's Norman?" It starred Alan Alda as the adoptive father of an invisible alien baby. It was the late '60's. Mercifully, it didn't go to series.

The other pilot I'd wanted to see--and finally did, thanks to the late, lamented Trio channel--was "Dear Diary," with Bebe Neuwirth, which went on to "become" a short film and won an Oscar.

CJB said...

I also vote for FROM CLEVELLAND as the one I would most like to see. Bob and Ray plus the SCTV folks???

Someone told me you can see the hour long pilot at the TV museum?

Maybe "Cleveland" was the weak link that kept it from getting anywhere? It didn't 'rock' so much in those days.

NYLouOC said...

Another interesting one to see, keeping with my Trek oriented posts, would be Roddenberry's 1965 POLICE STORY, with DeForest Kelley as a crusty police lab tech. This literally was his springboard to Trek -supposedly Roddenberry had wanted Kelley for Where No Man Has Gone Before, but NBC rejected him. But when Kelley got good reactions from test audiences for POLICE STORY, that allowed Roddenberry to put him in the series.

"John Galt" said...

Are copies of any of these shows available?

Victorya said...

Love it! They sound great, oh my, I often wonder what people are thinking (or if they are) when they greenlight things.

Linda Wallace said...

Of course dogs were in back then--who could resist Lassie saving the ducklings?

Dante Kleinberg said...

I wish Trio was still around...

The networks should band together and issue a DVD set once a year of Shows That Didn't Make It

I'm not saying I'd buy it, but I'd rent it at least

estiv said...

And of course often the pilot that should have failed gets picked up.

The great British comic actor Peter Cook did an American TV series more or less by accident. The story is that he was visiting friends in LA when he got a call asking him to make a sitcom pilot. Since he didn't want to be committed to working in the US instead of at home in London, he said no. Then his friends, knowledgeable Hollywood insiders, told him to do it, that there was no way the pilot would ever be picked up, he'd just be making some easy money for a few days work. So he signed the contract, made the pilot, went back home and forgot about it. Months later he's told to report for work back in LA because the pilot sold. If from some reason you ever want to see an extremely funny person just hit his mark, say his lines, and do nothing else at all, watch an episode of "The Two of Us." Or watch one of Eddie Murphy's later movies.

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Adam said...

Fox's current 'on the lot' seems like the epitome of failure theatre...couldn't watch more than 30 seconds. perhaps it is alive and well.

howie14 said...

In 1990, CBS aired a failed pilot I never forgot for some reason. It was called "The Bakery" and it was a cross between "My Life and Times" (you have to look that one up, too) and "Hill Street Blues". The Bakery was an old bakery which had been converted into a police station and the episode jumped from decade to decade-some in the future-throughout. The veteran cop with the rookie partner in 2010 was a shift commander in 1998. We have no idea how or why he was busted back in the meantime. It was quite odd.

For some reason, I picture David Dukes in the danged thing, although I can't actually remember for sure.

BTW, I went to some silly TV panel at a hotel ballroom once and they used failed pilots (claiming they were shows still under consideration) as an excuse to expose us to new commercials and measure our reactions to them. One of the pilots had Karen Valentine, another the immortal Cassie Yates.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

(slumping in my seat and turning red)

I videotaped "It's A Dog's Life" when it ran. When I saw it coming up in the TV Guide, I knew I had a keeper. I was not disappointed. It's required viewing for anyone who feels they can't sell a pilot.

If I find it I'll definitely YouTube it.

Alina said...

I also went to one of those hotel things where they tell you you're there to see a pilot, but in reality it's just for television commercials. The pilot I saw, something about a hotel, starred Leonard Frey. I asked the moderator, "This is a new pilot?" "Yes." "Made this year?" "Yes." "Leonard Frey has been dead for three years."

Silence.

My favorite burned off pilot was musical called "Shagri-La" starring Terrence Mann, Jeff Yagher and Melora Hardin. All singing. About life in a mall.

There are songs about doughnuts, car washes and penises falling off.

It was FANTASTIC.

Anonymous said...

The "30th Anniversary Special Edition" DVD of "Blazing Saddles" includes the failed "Black Bart" pilot, starring Lou Gossett as the sheriff -- interesting to see (once), but a real disappointment.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I'd love to see The Fess Parker Show and High School USA. Whose cage do we rattle to have these, and others, aired.

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Paul Duca said...

Actually, Pfeiffer's show did have a short run--DELTA HOUSE, the official TV spin-off of NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE. A flop, even with John Vernon again playing Dean Wormer (plus Stephen Furst and Bruce McGill continuing there roles as Flounder and D-Day). I think the frat house they built on the Universal lot is now one of the residences of Wisteria Lane.

And to Crutnacker...the story of Joel Hodgson and HIGH SCHOOL U.S.A. is interesting. He was under NBC contract--the same type that Harry Anderson had, and the network felt this show would do for him what NIGHT COURT did for Anderson. But Hodgson refused. They kept offering him more money...he was just not interested in Hollywood style stardom.

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Dan Fiorella said...

I think I remember "Harry's Battles' it was Dick Van Dyke as the beleagured everyman and whether it was getting into a hospital or renting a car, they had the same pair of actors as the bureaucrats who were aggrievating him.

azurerocket said...

It's a shame those were all before my time! Bring back Failure Theater, indeed!

Dwacon said...

You heard it from me first... so five or ten years from now...

The concept of networks will eventually go extinct as entertainment media evolves.

We will soon have an "pot" of programming with "e-bots" swimming through the soup. A user will program their likes and dislikes into their DVR via a PC or PDA and will also be able to key in items that have a viral buzz... the way you tube gets millions of hits now.

Programs with sufficient interest will gather enough ad revenue to continue. Those that do not will give way to selective evolution, or the programming version.

I believe this...

But maybe I've been spending too much time hanging out at Howard Bloom's place?

Wonder if I can copyright this? Nah...

Mike B. said...

If you want to see a whole bunch of game show pilots reviewed, go here: http://www.mikeburger.com/pilots

Adam said...

Let me share with you something I have started called "Buy Me A Mogul.com". I have recently started in response to iPhone nuts all over the world who can't seem to stop talking about one of the most overhyped and yet already-underwhelming-out-of-the-box (in terms of its technological specs) products of our lifetime.

When I learned last night of Sprint's launch of the HTC Mogul, I thought it might be funny to start a similar site for myself. But then I started to look at the tech specs, and compared them to the Mogul...and they're not even in the same league. Everyone likes the iPod because of its slickly-designed, high-contrast home screen. Guess what? On a Mogul or ANY Windows-based Pocket PC/PDA/Smartphone, you can design the home screen HOWEVER YOU WANT. Attention has also been drawn recently to person who have attempted to mimic the iPhone interface on their Windows-based device.

Last week, a good deal of blog attention was focused on the founder of www.buymeaniphone.com. In following his story, I learned that he now claims to have been conducting a "social experiment" by seeing if people would actually donate to him. They did, and he's not giving back their money. He's still taking the phone.

Please visit www.buymeamogul.com, and help vote against the iPhone!

My sister works for AT&T, and a good friend of mine plans to be first in line for his iPhone the day they are released. They have both been brainwashed...and I want to be able to try to save them from buying a five- or six- hundred-dollar toy when they could get much more, for much less. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got.

Let me be honest, though. The main reason: I just want one.

Thanks!

Sincerely,

Adam.
adam@buymeamogul.com

Ken Levine said...

Thanks Adam but what does that have to do with any topic discussed on this blog?

Dwacon said...

Congratulations Ken, you got your first spam (from Adam). No wait, I see another one...

The Crutnacker said...

It's not SPAM, it's product placement.

Seriously Ken, why don't you add a few ads onto this blog with Google's Adsense.

If you can find a funny way to work the word mesothelioma into your blog, you could make a ton of money per click.

http://www.cwire.org/highest-paying-search-terms/

Dwacon said...

Well, maybe if Ken wrote that episode of "Mister Terrific" where Stanley Beamish developed mesothelioma from taking his super pills and it was cured when he ate some spam, eggs, sausage and spam from the diner where the singing Vikings had their breakfasts.

Or did I hallucinate that one?

Scott said...

there was a pilot in the 1980s called City. it was a Valerie Harper vehicle, and also starred Todd susman who of course was one of the PA announcers on MASH

that never saw the light of day either

Alina said...

Actually, The City ran for several episodes. In addition to Harper and Sussman, it starred Louanne Ponce, who was the sister of Danny Ponce who'd just played one of Valerie's twins on the show that was named after her -- then fired her.

I believe it may have run for six episodes. Estelle Getty guest-starred on one of them.

Obviously, you can see what all the brain cells other people use for math were doing in my case during high school.

Randy Sexer said...

I think it's weird that Star Trek got cancelled after fewer seasons than Martin.

Also, I think there should be a sitcom about the bad guy from that old Stallone movie Cobra (the NightSlasher), focusing on his Pagan army and their wacky adventures.

mrfriendly said...

Great stuff, Ken!

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I swear Me and Mrs. C was a mid-season replacement that aired on NBC in the late 80's. The premise: an independent widow who takes in an African-American female with a criminal record as a boarder. However, I'm pretty sure Doris Roberts did not play the widow.

Noah said...

I'm told "Mr. and Mrs. Dracula" was hilarious, one of the funniest half hours of all time. But nobody could ever write a second episode.

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Tallulah Morehead said...

"I'm told 'Mr. and Mrs. Dracula' was hilarious, one of the funniest half hours of all time. But nobody could ever write a second episode."

Not while my lawyers still draw breath.

David J. Loehr said...

And even better, City was created and written by Paul Haggis, of Crash, Due South and EZ Streets fame. It was pretty good, as I recall.

Tom Dougherty said...

Crawdad and Skid Mark, The Ptomaine Ptwins, I Married Uni-Bot, Gigolo Junior- good criminey! Why do so many of these suck so much?

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