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.