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And now today's post...
Here’s one of those Friday Questions that became an entire post.
I never knew what happens to a rejected pilot. Can't you pitch it the next year or a couple of years from when it got shot down? I mean, if you think the idea is good enough to write a pilot and try to make a show out of it, wouldn't you want to keep trying? Has this ever happened or do people just move on and never look back? And if so, why?
Most failed pilots just die and are never heard from again. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s networks would recoup some of their production costs by airing them in the summer. From their perspective it was original program and saved them some coin. The industry nickname for this practice was “Failure Theater.” We had a pilot that aired on NBC at 11:30 PM on Sunday night in 1980, and I bet more people saw it than watched any episode of THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW.
Sometimes networks took heat when failed pilots were perceived as way better than the dreck they actually picked up. Networks do not like being embarrassed.
You may say, well then why don’t they just go ahead and order these shows to series if they were so well received? Because when you do a pilot you have a hold on the cast for a limited period. By the time these failed pilots aired those hold period were over and the actors had already scattered to do other things.
There have been instances where failed pilots have been shopped around and land on other networks. 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN was made for ABC. They passed. NBC picked it up and it became a big hit. Networks soooo hate to be embarrassed that because of that and a few other similar examples, that there was a period in the ‘90s and early ‘00s when they would not release failed pilots. They’d rather just eat the money than see it become a hit elsewhere.
And then the economy changed. Belts were tightened, and networks realized that they hate to lose money more than they hate to be embarrassed. So they again agreed to release pilots. If another network is willing to pick up a failed pilot and compensate the production cost then God bless 'em.
But by far the most bizarre case of a failed pilot getting a second life is DEAR DIARY, a 1997 half-hour single camera sitcom starring Bebe Neuwirth. ABC passed, the production company (Dreamworks) released it theatrically, it made the festival circuit, and WON the Academy Award for best short film.
You sure can't call that "Failure Theater."