Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A jaw dropping pilot you've got to see

This is IT'S A DOG'S LIFE from 1979. It was produced by Norman Lear's company (although his name is nowhere to be found). In fairness, it was written by a terrific writer but the concept and execution is just so stupefyingly terrible that it hardly matters.

This pilot aired once on "Failure Theater" (code name for when networks aired unsold pilots in the summer to burn off their cost -- still a better alternative than reality shows). Friend-of-the-blog, Howard Hoffman taped and saved it (God love 'im) and now for the first time since Carter was President, here's IT'S A DOG'S LIFE.

I'll be anxious to get your reaction. And see if you even made it all the way till the end. Like me, you'll be thanking and cursing Howard Hoffman.

77 comments:

zesty pete said...

I managed to watch it until the theme song and opening credits at which point I think I passed out due to the pure awfulness of it all.

Mike said...

I remember seeing this and I couldn't believe how bad it was. I had been told by my college professor (Broadcast History) about it before it aired and I had to see it for myself. No one ever believes me when I bring it up. Thanks for the proof Ken!

Tewilliger said...

I dunno. The same hit and miss effort of any sketch comedy. The only real oddity is that they thought they could sustain a full season of episodes on the premise. If they'd done it as an animated cartoon, they might have gotten away with something.

MikeNJD said...

Why do I have the feeling Andrew Lloyd Webber somehow saw this and thought, "Wow, that's kind of terrible, but you know what WOULD work? Singing and dancing CATS!!"

John E Williams said...

I have been enjoying Unseen Pilots Week immensely. My own experience with this end of the business came in the late nineties, when I was invited to a screening that took place in (of all places) Bethesda, Maryland, featuring several recently-produced pilots. It sounded like a fun night out, so I grabbed a couple of pals and off we went. It turned out to be an excruciating night out, the highlight being a deeply awful attempt to revive Valerie Harper's sitcom career.* I don't remember the details of her show, something about Rhoda as a newspaper or magazine editor, but it was so bad that my friends and I decided to leave. We were immediately blocked by the program's presenters, who actually told us we were violating the 'contract' of our invitation and that we were legally obligated to stay. We laughed and pushed our way out the door, but I think in that moment I felt deeply for those poor idiots. Imagine that's your job, making legal threats to force people to watch your execrable TV shows. Is that how According to Jim made it on the air?

*(I sure hope that Valerie show wasn't one of Ken's.)

Anonymous said...

I wrote something like that in 2nd grade. It was about 5 lines long and was just as funny. I barely made it out of the intro. This is most definitely old shame for all the actors involved, and also the make-up people, and camera operators, director and pretty much everyone remotely connected to it including craft services.

Björn Reinhardt said...

I wonder how the actors can actually fill themselves with enthusiasm for a show like this.

I mean, do they come home, hug their wife and say something like: "I`m so close to my breakthrough. My agent got me this role in this new pilot where everyone wears dog-costumes and we make all this funny dog-related jokes, you know? I think it`s gonna be a hit..." ?!

Adam Ruse said...

Wow, what an absolute mess. A group of adults dressed as dogs, and that theme song sent chills down my spine. I'm still curious as to whether this was aimed at children or adults. I hope not the latter.

It's almost like they were mocking us with this pilot...

At least Barney Martin made up for this performance with Morty Seinfeld!

Melissa said...

Wow, scary bad writing. If only they'd had Wilfred back then.

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

On paper it might have been a good concept but certainly doesn't translate to the screen.

Small Wave Dave said...

I dunno. That Lois IS one fine bitch.

Me, myself, and I said...

Stopped watching as soon as I saw the guy in a dog costume.

Johnny Walker said...

Same here. I made it 16 seconds in. I already felt physically ill.

Johnny Walker said...

Apparently the show's fill title was "McGurk: A Dog's Life" (not sure if that was reflected in the opening credits as I never made it that far.

Proof, if any where needed, that actors act. (If you see what I mean.) Although, of course, somebody had to write it, too.

Johnny Walker said...

According to Wikipedia it had loft aspirations, which helps sell the concept a LOT better (even if it's still a tough sell, you can see why someone might buy into it after ALL IN THE FAMILY): "Lear's intention was to do an All in the Family style show using the dog's point of view to discuss controversial social and racial biases.".

Bob Summers said...

At my high school, the advanced English class students had a tradition of writing and producing short plays. This reminds me of something they would try to execute. Intersting for what it is, but memorable for how crazy the dog suit part was.

Lew Hunter in his screenwriting book described a similar situation. He thought a script he read about a box some kid made as a play robot that came to life was amazing. Another reader was not so impressed. It boiled down to viewers would never be able to get passed it was a guy dressed up in a box outfit. Same deal here and with Howard the Duck.

Brian Phillips said...

Outside of a mundane theme that I am genuinely shocked to see Pete Rugolo's name attached to, yes, it is rather bad, but perhaps it was meant to be a children's show. The concept, with better writing, could have worked, however, this is another example of an idea that is better as a sketch or an improv skit, potentially fleshed out to a series. Also, lest you think I am a nut, a show about a guy that had talking furniture and flowers and silly friends was not only a hit, but got written up in "The New Republic" (Pee-Wee's Playhouse). In all fairness, Paul Reubens had this character developed before the run of the TV show.

I liked the Glen Campbell joke, but I also know who Glen Campbell IS.

I may be the wrong person to ask about this. I have a bit of a block against people dressed as animals (perhaps for a hallucinatory or a dream sequence and even then you are headed for Elvis Presley's "Edge of Reality"-Land). I watched "Wilfrid" and it left me bewildered.

An unwitting commentary was made on this type of show was made on the Simpsons, their "138th Show Spectacular", in which they do a sketch (note that it is a SKETCH) as gophers.

LouOCNY said...

oh. my. god.

Please Leave Name said...

Here's an interesting tidbit: when you check out the credits on McGurk: A Dog's Life you find out that Sherry Lynn (Camille) has had quite the film career. She's the highest earning actress in animation for instance AND (this is the most fascinating thing) she starred in McGurk in 1979. And what's so interesting about that you ask? Well, for starters she was born in 1981.

Not a word about Iris, aka Beej Johnson, though. Damn.

And yeah, I watched the whole thing. With a little re-tooling the show might've worked.

iain said...

Were they targeting the coveted "Furry" demographic?

It does show that even the involvement of some pretty heavy hitters (Hauck,Julian,Bonerz) can't save a stinker.

Twintone said...

I wonder if they were making a crack at this show when Bill Murray was revisiting his past in Scrooged. He played a character named "Frisbee the Dog."

ajm said...

Peter Bonerz went from THE BOB NEWHART SHOW to... this.

WilfredFan said...

I saw this on FX but they called it Wilfred.

sartorias said...

When the requisite sexy broad had two tits instead of six, I knew it was going to hit the empyrean realm of specialness that I never thought I'd see matched: it was around 1977, at CBS Studio Center, the son of [Famous Person] kept touting his pilot script that "everybody had loved" at UCLA Film School, the premise being that adults play kids and kids play adults. The dialogue was every bit as excruciating as this one.

Birdie Twobits said...

So the lead dog went on to father Seinfeld and Charlie Martin Smith went on to become Charles Martin Smith and was able to dance with his own wolves. Pretty pathetic, but I guess if you're name was Norman Lear, you could get anything on the air, once. Now those hamsters that are starring in the Kia Soul commercials, those are real actors!

Great Big Radio Guy said...

You can bet NBC jumped at the chance to carry a Norman Lear show, even if it had this horrible premise. From what I've read about it, the original idea was to take on the issues as Lear's other shows did, except from a dog's POV.

This is total guessing on my part, but with that in mind, this pilot probably dealt with euthanasia with Lear's trademark heavyhandedness. After the network did their rewrite, Lear may have pulled his name as executive producer. I could be 'way wrong, but after reading Ken's work here, I need to be convinced that didn't really happen.

But what really amuses me about this is the billing. Even though Barney Martin plays the lead (the show was almost named "McGurk"), the top credit went to Charles Martin Smith. I would KILL to hear that meeting between Smith's agent and T.A.T.!

John Fox said...

It wasn't as bad as "Turn On" ten years earlier. But ... damn!

The only truly, irretrievably (or is that irretriever-ably) awful thing about it was the title sequence. That could've used a little punching up by Seth Green ... or better yet, a punching out by Mr. T.

Where were the butt-sniffing jokes? Why didn't they name Charles Martin Smith's character "Terry the Toad"? By the way, how DOES an actor go from "American Graffiti" to this, to "The Untouchables?" The only genuinely funny joke would have been if that was Charlie's real hair.

Other than that, I liked it better than Willard.

John Fox said...

...or Wilfred. Whatever. Yeccchh!

Kathy said...

I made it to 3:16. And I'm exhausted.

RCP said...

Made it to 13:01. There actually were a couple of funny lines, but when you feel like you're forcing yourself to watch something in order to give it a fair assessment...

As usual, the laugh track adds insult to injury.

beingbrad said...

Charlie Hauck also wrote for Maude, Home Improvement and Frasier (among others) and Arthur Julian wrote for I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, M*A*S*H and Maude (among others).

Bulldog said...

I think that I'd rather get a prostate exam from a doctor with really huge knuckles that watch any more than the 2 or 3 minutes I just sat through.

Mike said...

Charlie Hauck actually produced Maude and Home Improvement, and created Valerie Harper's successful comeback vehicle, "Valerie".

I always thought it was interesting that Norman Lear put his name as producer on some of his shows ("All in the Family", "Maude", "The Jeffersons") but not others ("Diff'rent Strokes", "The Facts of Life", "Hello Larry").

Phillip B said...

Made it through the whole thing by taking breaks to watch results from Wall Street. Now there's a comedy....

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded just how awful "Wilfred" is. At least they don't attempt the singing...maybe on season two?

Brian Phillips said...

Dear Please Leave Name:

Beej Johnson was also in:
Muggable Mary, Street Cop (1982)
You Can't Go Home Again (1979)

Kevin Rubio said...

I didn't make it to the opening credits. Perhaps another time when I'm more in a sadomasochistic mood.

Hack said...

"Thanks for seeing us, Mr. Silverman. Now, like a lot of people, you probably think no one could ever come up with a worse premise than 'My Mother, the Car.' Well, we have a little surprise for you..."

Talking dogs and Death; what's not to love?

GhostOfTyrone said...

They certainly made it easy to distinguish the male dogs from the female dogs.

Happy Wenesday

Mac said...

That was brutal. I didn't make it to the end.
Given the loss of dignity already on display, I was afraid there might be a scene where McGurk licks his own balls.

Cody said...

I've never had the motivation to stab myself in both eyes with a plastic dog whistle before, but in this case I'd make an exception.

ajm said...

All I can guess is... Norman Lear's production company produced DIFF'RENT STROKES for NBC earlier that season, which was the network's first breakout sitcom hit in years, so NBC execs must have asked in desperation, "You guys developing anything ELSE?"

(And make no mistake: NBC in the late-1970s was desperate with a capital "D." This was the era when NBC gave us SUPERTRAIN, HELLO LARRY, PINK LADY & JEFF, the GILLIGAN'S ISLAND reunion movies, etc.)

Anonymous said...

This is one of those things you have to assume is a spoof. It has to be an SNL skit that just ran terribly long.

Right?

purplejilly said...

I could only make it through the theme song.. Was that main dog Jerry Seinfeld's dad?

Wow, seeing these things make some of my crazy ideas not seem so awful.

-bee said...

I found that really interesting - and a great gateway into approaching the whole concept of the suspension of disbelief

I think the concept might have been workable back then (not sure about now) but the execution was just so atrocious I don't even know where to begin - every single choice made to create an alternative reality was wrong.

Anyway, this makes me think of Gilligan's Island, which IMHO was the rare show that managed to tread a delicate balance between a realistic narrative and complete absurdity.

J S Swanson said...

I loved it! If they could've gotten Ann Jillian to play Barney Martin's paramour Iris -- this would've been an 8pm show on NBC in '79.....

l.a.guy said...

I only made it 10:00 minutes, but as a show I didn't find it to any more painful to watch than 50% of what is on television today.

You have to wonder what the calls from the actors to their agents must have been like after the first day of rehearsal. What a cruel joke; you're cast in a Norman Lear show and you end up playing a dog in a giant puppet suit.

sephim said...

As an Australian, I'd like to apologise to everybody in the world for 'Wilfred'.

I have no idea how that even got to filming stage, never mind how it got to a second season here.

I do hope it is doing as badly as it should be for a show of its "stature" and is cancelled very soon.

The unfortunate side effect will be that when it comes time to lay the blame as to why the show "didn't work" in the US, it will be because the US audience "didn't get it."

I know this will not be the case, but this is just how it goes in situations like these.

I'm sorry.

MikeBo said...

This show's reason for drawing even a breath of exposure, was obviusly,in God's mind, his way of prompting people, years after the fact, to write some of the funniest material in their comments, that ever existed. I can't wait not to watch this. I've got to get through "E Entertainment" first.

benson said...

(And make no mistake: NBC in the late-1970s was desperate with a capital "D."

So...kind of like...now?

I can't believe I'm saying this, but given the era, would it have been less horrible had it been on film rather than video tape?

(Yes, better for Kodak!)

Thank you very little, Howard :)

Paul Duca said...

Yes, I sat through the whole thing--I've been through enough hells of my own to do so. We have to give props to McGurk for one thing...82 offspring (that's more than Screaming Jay Hawkins).

And for Howard Hoffman to have it...he does live up to the title someone here gave him--"A national treasure and a local pain in the tuckus". Of course, in my eyes Howard will always be the man who celebrated New Year's Eve the way I wanted--in the WABC studios, ringing in 1980.


"And now Barbra Streisand will tell us what's at the end of her nose"
(opening of "The Main Event") "Extra, extra..."

MikeBo said...

OK. My curiosity got to me....I lasted through 2:31 before I had to step out for some fresh morning air.

What were they thinking?

Cap'n Bob said...

It's no LASSIE.

To be exact, Barney Martin was Jerry Seinfeld's second father. Another actor played the dad ahead of him.

benson said...

Which would segue perfectly into a wonderful reworking of "My Two Dads".

Maybe not.

Carson said...

Mike,

TV writers, when they've move up the ladder past executive story editor get producer credits as part of their contract.. They doesn't mean they actually did more than write the show. The last season of Friends, practically every writer had executive producer credits.

Do you know what a consulting producer is on a scripted TV series is? No one does. The title exists for writers not important enough or long enough on the show to be a co-exec.

Alan C said...

I actually watched the whole thing. I actually laughed a couple times. Boy, have my standards gotten low.

I cannot imagine how there'd be material for more than the one episode. And props to the cast for their valiant efforts to polish this dog turd.

James said...

I purposely skipped it, because I saw it the first time it aired. As they say in the Fark comment threads, what is seen cannot be unseen.

I lost it long ago, but I remember reading a long article that discussed the development of this show. The article was in Penthouse magazine, of all places. An amazing story.

JRB said...

I sent this on to three different friends, and all three of them stopped at the exact same point: "Tennis, anyone?" Amazingly, that's precisely where I had turned it off as well. 5:32.

xjill said...

Sweet lord in heaven WHAT THE FRAK is that title sequence?! I AM SERIOUS. I am laughing so hard I may have hurt myself. OMFG.

p.s. I am drunk right now...

jbryant said...

Those poor actors. I'll bet none of their friends could look them in eye for months after this.

I did enjoy Beej Johnson. Is that a stage name she chose because she had to "beej" someone's "johnson" to get the role?

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Holy mother of God.

John Pearley Huffman said...

Who knows what premise will work?

MASH's premise is hilarity in an army hospital drenched in blood and death.

Cheers is set in a bar where the customers seemingly stay for hours every night. In real life those customers would be called "drunks."

The Simpsons is about a family where no one has more than four fingers on each hand.

Give the creators of "A Dog's Life" credit for at least trying something absurd. That's a lot better than another conventional show about lawyers or doctors or a family in a living room.

So it was a failure. Next!

SteveM05 said...

Still...it is better than Wilfred. And I say that not only as an Australian, but as a talking dog.

selection7 said...

The overall badness is obvious, but I thought its problem wasn't that it didn't get anything right but instead how wrong the wrong was. And the actors...If you'd put your favorite comedians in those roles would they have shined? They had good chemistry at least.

And that lead actor really shamelessly sold it. That's what writers want right? Regardless of what you think of the script, give it your best.

William Whiley said...

What an utter lack of charm.

I hated the first "dog". He (the actor) looked at a lame script, decided to put his all into it, and somehow butchered it even worse.

Then they break out in a little dance number that sucks.
They are out of sync with each other the whole time, and not in a charming way, in a "Please I just wanted to get it over with" way.

I didn't watch past that.
It's one thing to be absurd.This is just a bunch of idiots in dog suits.

Eric said...

It's Wilfred's family!

Ken Lavine (yes that's my real name) said...

I know that late 70's early 80's comedy could never really be accused of being sophisticated, but this show makes Alf look like Masterpiece Theatre.

Anonymous said...

This show, for all its oddities, is fantastically well written

Anonymous said...

This really was horrible, but it's like the early inspiration for the FX show Wilfred which is oddly a big hit. Maybe because they didn't go for the musical angle like this did.

The Joe said...

I tried... I really did! I wanted to see if this was up my alley of humor, and I now wish I hadn't. I no longer have a sense of humor. Watching this show sucked it from me in order to gain some kind of "funny", as I can only assume it has done to countless others. Now I have the strange compulsion to go out and write a college-age comedy tour where I run around on-stage like a douchebag on a rotating platform emblazoned with a stupid hand gesture that I made up. Maybe I'll scream out some highly irritating noises while talking about punching babies...
See? It's already begun! This show must be stopped!

Cracked-head said...

I'd bend the blonde one over, even in the suit. Is that wrong ... O.o

boooratt said...

Wow I read about this on Cracked... it was a chore to get through the intro...

wayne said...

Crap. I waited too long. Episode no longer available

Simon said...

Is there any way this can be put back online? I only saw the first few minutes before and really want to see the rest! Thanks!

kkeisel@gmail.com said...

Can Mr. Hoffman please repost this episode, or contact me directly at kkeisel@gmail.com? I have been trying to get a copy of this episode ever since 1979. I was told by NBC that the only surviving copy was in the Library of Congress.

Anonymous said...

To "Please Leave Name"
While you are correct about Sherry Lynn's voice/anime credits, I can assure you she was not born in 1981. How do I know? Because at the time she was filming "McGurk: A Dog's Life" she was my girlfriend!...