Saturday, September 12, 2015

Hilarious unsold pilots

You think some of today’s shows are strange? Friend of the blog and writer extraordinaire, Lee Goldberg once wrote a book listing unsold TV pilots from 1955-1990.  He has recently updated it.  You can buy it here.  I recommend it.  Some of these are priceless.  These are actual projects.  Writers pitched them with a straight face and sold them.  Scripts were commissioned and then networks said, "Sure, we'll shell out millions of dollar to make these".   Can you imagine what didn't get picked up?   Anyway, with the new development season in full swing, let's go back and relive past gems. 
 
DANGER TEAM ABC-1990 – Kathleen Beller plays a bookkeeper-turned-private eye who solves crimes with the help of three animated clay figures. (Whatever happened to Kathleen Beller (pictured above)? She was soooo hot.)

GOOD AGAINST EVIL ABC-1977 -- Dack Rambo is a writer who happens to fall in love with Satan’s girlfriend.  (Don't you hate it when that happens?)

HIGH RISK ABC-1976 -- Six former circus performers team up to solve crimes. (A better title might have been JUSTICE DU SOLEIL.  Notice how many of these delightful dramas were developed by ABC?)

JUDGE DEE ABC-1974 -- Khigh Dhiegh is a roving judge in seventh century China, deciding right and wrong and solving crimes. (We had an idea for a show but it was set in the eighth century and no one wants that era.)

MADAME SIN ABC-1972 – Maybe my favorite of all of them. Bette Davis as an all-powerful dragon lady who kidnaps a former C.I.A. agent (Robert Wagner), brainwashes him with a special ray gun, and enlists him in her high-tech global intelligence agency that operates out of her Scottish castle. (Again, I'm not making these up. I couldn't.)

McCLONE NBC-1988 – Master thespian, Howie Long is pursued by evil clones.

MOMMA THE DETECTIVE CBS-1981 – Esther Rolle (from GOOD TIMES) as a maid who solves crimes.

NICK KNIGHT CBS-1989 – I bet we see a new version of this in like five minutes. Rick Springfield is a crimefighting vampire on the San Francisco police force.

HURRICANE ISLAND & STRANDED – two of the many “people are shipwrecked on a remote island” pilots. But none of them had the hatch.

ETHEL IS AN ELEPHANT CBS-1980 -- A New York photographer who shares his apartment with a baby elephant.

GREAT DAY ABC-1977 -- As described: “This pilot was supposed to illustrate how fun life is as a skid row bum in New York’s bowery.” Featured in the cast: Billy Barty and Spo-De-Odee.

A LITTLE BIT STRANGE NBC-1989 – A widower raising a bizarre family. He and his son are warlocks, his daughter is a witch, his mother-in-law is psychic, his brother a soul-singing bat (yes, a bat), and his nephew is made of mud. A “normal” girl marries into this family.

MARS: BASE ONE CBS-1988 -- A family adjusting to life on Mars, where they live next door to a Soviet technician and his American-stripper wife. (Note: the 1988 WGA strike forced cancellation of this project. I think part of the problem was that they wanted to shoot on location.)

MIXED NUTS ABC-1977 – (not to be confused with MIXED NUTS -- one of the worst movies of all time) The lives and hilarious misadventures of the doctors and psychiatric patients of a mental institution.

MR. AND MRS. DRACULA ABC-1980, 1981 -- The Dracula family moves to a New York apartment. In the second version they live in the South Bronx. Okay, now that makes sense.

SGT. T.K. YU NBC-1979 – Korean stand-up comic Johnny Yune is a Korean LAPD detective/stand-up comic. (This pilot was in competition with one of ours, about a guy-girl comedy team. And neither got on the schedule. Instead, NBC picked up PINK LADY AND JEFF, a comedy-variety show starring a stand-up comic and Japanese girl group who couldn’t speak English.  Sometimes the most absurd pilot gets on the air.)

Tomorrow: More pilots include one with Alan Alda raising an invisible baby and Sonny Bono fighting crime.  You're gonna wanna be here!

51 comments:

Peter said...

"ETHEL IS AN ELEPHANT CBS-1980 -- A New York photographer who shares his apartment with a baby elephant"

I'm sure that was supposed to also say "who solves crimes".

Kosmo13 said...

Kathy Beller married Thomas Dolby. Just a few months ago she was listed as one of the guests at a Celebrity Autograph show. I'm hoping the latter means she is resuming her acting career

Aaron Sheckley said...

I swear I remember seeing Judge Dee.

Bill Avena said...

Howie Long isn't so improbable as thespian compared to Dick Butkus. All those TV guest shots and the acting coach never knocked that South Side accent out of his mouth. "Daaa Bearz."

Anonymous said...

Nick knight became Forever Knight and ran for three seasons on CBS's crimetime after primetime.

BrettJ said...

I had a friend who could recite Chapter and Verse of several episodes of "Forever Knight". Note the operative word - HAD. This kind of weirdness was one of his more normal quirks. BTW, I think the show was produced here in Canada.

Mark Fearing said...

I don't have the experience you do Ken, but from what I saw the idea that the 'best' thing gets on the air was rarely right. There are a lot of decisions and people and politics that go into what gets picked up. Even what pilot gets made and who directs it. The quality or not quality of the work isn't the final issue. Nor, I suppose, should it be as what is being made isn't binary. Shows can succeed because of the timeliness of their POV, a particular actor or writer ETC. And what's good isn't always what audiences watch.

Terence Towles Canote said...

I don't know if you remember it, but I remember when I was a kid there was a pilot for a sitcom called A Dog's Life with actors dressed up as dogs. Even as a kid I thought it was a fairly silly idea.

therealshell said...

Kathleen Beller is married to musician Thomas Dolby.

sumerlad said...

I remember a detective show with Johnny Yune that lasted about 5 episodes.

Michael said...

As I recall, the beginning of Robert Altman's "The Player" is best known for the continuous shot, but the other thing is that the movies being pitched in that sequence were all supposedly real movie plots that had been pitched--and of course were mostly insane.

Glenn said...

With some decent writers, I could see the Mixed Nuts one working.

Astroboy said...

NICK KNIGHT CBS-1989 – I bet we see a new version of this in like five minutes. Rick Springfield is a crimefighting vampire on the San Francisco police force.

Well we do have on TV right now 'iZombie' about a medical resident who is a zombie, who (wait for it) helps the police fight crime!

Igor said...

As funny (laughing AT them) as those are, wouldn't "ALF" fit well among them... that is, if ALF had never been produced?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I was meaning to point you to this page I found just yesterday, which lists all the proposed pilots from 2011:

http://nymag.com/arts/tv/upfronts/2011/pilots-2011-5/

Note how few made it to air - and that only one (Tim Allen in LAST MAN STANDING) is still in production.

wg

Jeremiah Avery said...

Funny thing about "Nick Knight" - it actually was later remade (and recast) as the show "Forever Knight" and ran for 3 seasons. Took place in Toronto rather than San Francisco.

Rashad Khan said...

Esther Rolle in "Florida Loves a Mystery"!

SharoneRosen said...

I just barely got beyond "three clay figures" before convulsing!

I'd have paid extra to see the crime solving maid!

Johnny Yune, darling of the Catskills had a hit Jewish album. No, I'm not kidding.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VsYCnYVbnY

Robert Brauer said...

@Terence Towles Canote: Considering Wilfred had a pretty successful run on FX, maybe that idea wasn't as farfetched as it seemed.

Robert Brauer said...

The Howie Long series from 1988 seems to be incongruous to me; given that Long was still smack in the middle of his NFL career at the time, I have to wonder if he would have committed himself to doing a potential weekly series.

Of course, I could see him doing movies and guest appearances on TV(a la what O.J. Simpson did during his career), but not a regular show.

Anonymous said...

Aaron Sheckley, you very probably DID see "Judge Dee". There was a Movie of the Week called "Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders" and, though melodramatic, it was surprisingly faithful to the original book (the story was fairly melodramatic to begin with)
If I remember rightly it was unusual for the time in having an all-asian cast playing all the parts

Mike Schryver said...

Was delighted to see there's a Kindle version, and I purchased it (having promised I would when Lee visited these pages once before.) One of my favorite popcorn books ever. I also saw some of these pilots when they aired. I hadn't seen MADAME SIN and sent away for a tape of it some years ago - very odd. I've also seen GOOD VS. EVIL, but mostly found it boring. Actually, MADAME SIN was pretty boring.

cd1515 said...

worst sports-related sitcom actor: Butkus, Valvano, Uecker or Vitale?

MikeK.Pa. said...

"(Whatever happened to Kathleen Beller (pictured above)? She was soooo hot.)"
She had eyes as big as the moon. The shot of her coming out of the pool in THE BETSY was forever emblazoned in my adolescent brain. THE BETSY was one of many movies Sir Lawrence Olivier made when he was slumming for big bucks.

"Notice how many of these delightful dramas were developed by ABC?) "
I'm guessing some of this was on Fred Silverman's watch when he was running amuck there.

"Dack Rambo is a writer who happens to fall in love with Satan’s girlfriend."
I remember he was a good-looking guy who couldn't act and had a twin brother, also an actor.


"Maybe my favorite of all of them. Bette Davis as an all-powerful dragon lady who kidnaps a former C.I.A. agent (Robert Wagner), "
I'm sure Miss Davis was a treat to work with on that set! Wagner lucked out. This was just two years after IT TAKES A THIEF end. After this pilot failed he did COLDITZ, SWITCH and HART TO HART without missing a beat over the next decade plus. Odd to see his name here. He was the victim of a death hoax on Thursday.

Alan said...

I'm sad Judge Dee didn't get made. My wife is a big fan of the stories, both the 18th century story and the 20th century new ones.

Mark said...

The Judge Dee film is available on YouTube. It's pretty good (which isn't surprising given the talents involved

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Haunted_Monastery

In 1974 the novel The Haunted Monastery was produced as a TV movie by Gerald Isenberg with the title Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders.[3] It was filmed with Khigh Dhiegh as Dee and an all Asian cast (including Mako, Keye Luke, Soon-Tek Oh and James Hong). Writing was credited to Nicholas Meyer and Robert van Gulik. It was nominated for and Edgar Award, for Best Television Feature or Miniseries in 1975.

Mark said...

I sought out Madame Sin based on a very positive Maltin review. It really is a lot of fun.

Bill Avena said...

cd1515 : I will not tolerate any slander of The Uek! If you wanted to go into ancient history, there's Don Drysdale on The Brady Bunch, though at his worst he would have been better than that show.

Rob Larkin said...

I don't know if it's true or not but actor David McCallum said he was asked if he wanted to do a TV series based on the biblical figure he played in "The Greatest Story Ever Told". He sensibly told them he didn't think a series about Judas would last long.

Peter said...

I saw a documentary years ago about Hollywood and one part was about the worst scripts people had read. One of the people interviewed, I think it was producer Lawrence Gordon, said he was sent a script and the premise was: man turns into a hamburger.

thirteen said...

I'm pretty sure I saw Momma the Detective around that time (1981). There's a scene where somebody offers to do Momma's taxes for free, and she shows up with a huge basket of unsorted receipts. That's about all I remember. You could probably have gotten three seasons out of the audit alone.

Mike Barer said...

If the recordings are still around, this could make a great
TV special or maybe a weekly TV show.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I'm glad I'm not crazy about remembering Judge Dee. I thought maybe I was confusing it with one of the flashback scenes from Kung Fu.

James Van Hise said...

I saw Madame Sin (basically a female Fu Manchu) in the 1970s when the networks still showed unsold pilots in order to make back some of their money. The star of the film was actually Betty Davis, not Robert Wagner, as he is disposed of at the end of the episode as one supposes Madame Sin eventually does to all of her pawns.

Mike said...

All I'll say is: Heil Honey, I'm Home! (UK, 1990). Adolf & Eva move in next door to the Goldensteins. 6 episodes filmed, 1 aired. The rest is history. Pilot here. I suppose it's a satire of American sitcoms as much as anything.

"Mr & Mrs Dracula Move In Next Door" was an excellent childrens' programme that ran for 5 series: Young Dracula (UK, 2006-2014). The Countess ran off with a werewolf, living the Count with the kids. Pilot here.

For everything else, I refer you to Diagnosis: Murder.

Bud Wilkinson said...

Ah, Kathleen Beller. Remember her well. Had just been appointed TV critic for The Columbus Dispatch in 1977 when she came through town promoting, I believe, the made-for-TV movie "Mary White." She was very pleasant but was attired in a distracting tight sweater and kept stretching, which served to accentuate her, ahem, form. A great baptism to star interviews.

Paul Duca said...

That Esther Rolle pilot I saw as a TV-movie titled SEE CHINA AND DIE...

JUDGE DEE--it would have been a change of pace for Wo Fat to be a good guy

Ralph C. said...

"Poochinski"..."Poochinski".

Klee said...

I wonder if it "Ethel" was an elephant reincarnation of his mother, this pilot would've probably sold...And yes, I remember watching Judge Dee as a weekly TV movie. It was surprisingly good, but then I was a teenager then. I haven't watched it since them.

Cap'n Bob said...

Friday question: There was a show called ROLL OUT, starring Stu Gilliam, "from the producers of M*A*S*H." It was about a group of black soldiers in WWII. Did you have anything to do with it? Not the war, the show.

VP81955 said...

I've also seen GOOD VS. EVIL, but mostly found it boring.

There was a short-lived late '80s show by that name starring Teri Garr (she played the "evil" sister). The Dack Rambo pilot Ken mentioned was called "Good Against Evil," and apparently was a decade or so earlier.

Donald Benson said...

I recall a half-hour animated special based on Carlton, the unseen doorman from "Rhoda." Aside from some cartoony gags (Carlton disguising his ill-tempered cat as a tenant's dog, after said dog has a coronary in Carlton's care), it played like a sitcom episode down to the final freeze. Always wondered if that was one-off goofery or an actual pilot.

Another oddity was "The B.B. Beagle Show", a note-for-note American knockoff of "The Muppet Show" with a cast of puppets and human guest stars. A couple of intended laughs, but the real entertainment was the sheer brazeness of the imitation.

"Micro" something was obviously inspired by Innerspace. Two alien cops in a flying craft pursue a criminal on earth. Because they're microscopic in size, cops and crook slip into that week's guest humans and manipulate them as Dennis Quaid manipulated Martin Short. About the same time somebody aired the similar "What on Earth", about benign aliens who study earth at arm's length. One alien goes out in the field and violates the prime directive by helping a pretty guest star, having sex with her, and trying Mexican food.

Favorite comedy one-shot was "Inside O.U.T." starring Bill Dailey. It was a "Mission Impossible" parody, and their plan involved lowering a chimp through a vent into a bank. It turned out the bank had a uniformed chimp security guard, leading to undercranked chimp combat. Their mission, by the way, was retrieving currency upon which drunk mint employees replaced Lincoln with a coworker.

"Return of Sherlock Holmes" (1987) had Margaret Colin as a Watson descendent who defrosts the great detective Her proper, gentlemanly Holmes had to bring himself up to speed on technology and other changes (He walks into an Adult Book Store, assuming it's reading matter for adult reading levels. He walks out, shell shocked.). The film was a light comic mystery and loaded with clever references.
"Sherlock Holmes Returns" (1993) had another female Watson standin and a sexier Holmes in modern San Francisco. It was more obviously a pilot.
The idea of a defrosted Holmes actually flew -- sort of -- in an animated series that delayed his awakening to the 25th century. It was a strange beast, mixing sci-fi reworkings of the original stories with attempts at educational value and kidvid insipidness.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Wow! I auditioned for Ethel Is An Elephant. I can't remember anything about the script except for something about an elephant. The director was the terrific John Astin. Came network close to getting the part, but it eventually went to Todd Sussman, another good guy and also part of the MASH family.

H Johnson said...

Good Lord! I clicked on the link to 'Heil Honey I'm Home'. I thought it was a joke, but it was real. Setting aside the poor taste for a moment, I have to ask the question, What planet do TV producers live? And how hungry as an actor do you have to be? Jeez, I thought my opinion of Hollywood was pretty low before, but that dreck sets a new low.

I shut it down after five minutes but I'm sure I'll never be able to un-see it. Thanks @Mike, I owe you one.

No Aloha

ScottyB said...

>>> NICK KNIGHT CBS-1989 – I bet we see a new version of this in like five minutes. Rick Springfield is a crimefighting vampire on the San Francisco police force. <<<

Hasn't that five minutes already happened with 'iZombie' currently on the WB?

Googleheim said...

Looks like the beautiful Ms. Beller stayed home to have and raise kids. She's probably more than ready for a comeback now!

Jake Mabe said...

Kathleen Beller and Pamela Sue Martin on the same show was the sole reason I watched "Dynasty" -- for a short while.

Jake Mabe said...

"The Return of Sherlock Holmes" with Margaret Colin and Michael Pennington was very funny and could've been a good series, if handled right. Another good scene is when he finally wanders into Lake Havasu after being stranded in the desert and thinks he's gone to heaven.

McAlvie said...

NICK KNIGHT

I'm pretty sure there WAS another version of that. At least I'm pretty sure I remember a vampire detective. I always wondered how he got out of working the day shift.

Anonymous said...

FOREVER KNIGHT was what NICK KNIGHT apparently ended up as. They just moved the setting to Toronto so it could get those sweet Canadian subsidies. I liked it, at the time. I wonder if it's still good...

Lee Goldberg said...

You can see clips from POOCHINSKI, K-9000, ETHEL IS AN ELEPHANT and GOOD AGAINST EVIL in my special THE BEST TV SHOWS THAT NEVER WERE, which was based on my book...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7fu7Nn_Tdk