“Well, the way they make shows is, they make one show. That show’s called a pilot. Then they show that show to the people who make shows, and on the strength of that one show they decide if they’re going to make more shows. Some pilots get picked and become television programs. Some don’t, become nothing.”
— Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction
Every year in Hollywood, dozens of television pilots are produced that never see the light of the network broadcast schedule. What’s not so commonly known is that many of these unaired pilots actually get advance reviews from magazine television critics. Due to the vagaries of print production schedules, these reviews are often prepared before the final decision on picking up the program has been made.
Well, as it happens, I have a friend in the business who collects these unpublished gems. Let’s call him David H. to protect his anonymity. Actually, let’s make that D. Harrison. “D.” has agreed to share these nuggets with me and you, with the caveat that we not disclose the publication in question. (I don’t see the harm in a little hint, however: It’s TV Guide). So scroll down, gentle reader, for glimpse of a TV landscape that might have been.
(Wednesdays, 8 pm, NBC)
This solid midseason replacement from NBC revisits that most enduring of action-comedy premises: the invisible sports car. Starring Matt LeBlanc as the mysterious “Driver”, Ghost Car treads much of the same ground as previous prime-time vehicles like Phantom Cruiser and Steve McQueen’s underrated Transparent Trans-Am ’77. Veteran thespian Angela Lansbury provides the voice for the car, and regularly brings down the house with arch one-liners like, “Do I make myself clear?” (Har!) In the pilot episode, Driver gets himself in a sticky situation when the villainous Dr. Fowler traps the car in a vat of rice pudding. Director and series creator Paul J. Heltzel breathes new life into the de rigeur pudding scene we’ve seen this scenario countless times in the invisible sports car genre but Heltzel somehow manages to keep it fresh. Also starring Joyce DeWitt as Sexy Nurse, and Peter “Chewbacca” Mayhew as the streetwise hustler, “Clutch”.
Seriously, Dude, I’m Hemorrhaging
(Day and time TBA, Fox,)
Fox ups the ante of outrageousness with this reality show special in which contestants participate in staged car accidents, then attempt to convince onlookers they’re suffering from massive internal bleeding. Hidden cameras capture the action as participants are rigged with dental blood squibs and state-of-the-art special effect makeup. Passersby who lend aid are rewarded with secret Samaritan Points, while those who refuse aid or ignore the situation (“Bad Samaritans”) win nothing. And here’s where it gets really good: cameramen follow one “Bad Samaritan” per episode, and later ram their car at high speed with a reinforced production van. When the injured “Bad Samaritan” exits the wreck, he or she is confronted by the previous “victims” of the set-up accident the “Bad Samaritan” chose to ignore, as cameras roll to capture the moment. A little too self-consciously postmodern, maybe, but as reality television goes, SDIH must be at least given credit for its fresh premise. Hosted by a delightfully impish Joe Pesci.
Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors 2006
(Fridays, 9 pm, ABC)
In what can only be called a dubious high-concept premise, ABC resurrects the Bard’s comedic classic and updates it for the busy 21st century. The action is moved to modern-day Los Angeles and set amongst the privileged high schools of Malibu and Beverly Hills. Here’s the intriguing part: Instead of detailing the mistaken-identity mix-ups of two sets of twins, as per the original, CoE 2006 introduces four sets of quadruplets. Predictably, chaos reigns as four virtually indistinguishable 20-something actors portray 16 indistinguishable teenage characters via special effects and CGI trickery. Starring Haley Joel Osment as Antipholus (“A-Pho”) of Ephesus High, and Edward James Olmos as President Solinus. Other Shakespeare comedies are to be explored in future seasons, including “A Midsummer Morning’s Hangover,” “Antony and Cleopatra and a Girl and a Pizza Place,” “Love’s Labour Found,” and Othello II: More of the Moor.”
Deal or No Deal or Dobermans!
(Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8 pm, NBC)
Prime-time game shows have a famously limited shelf life; Who Wants to be a Millionaire flared and died within a year, and other contenders such as Kube of Krugerrands lasted only a few episodes. NBC has hit on a novel way to extend its Deal or No Deal franchise by actually updating the show each season with a third option for players. This fall’s novel twist? Rather than choose from amongst multiple briefcases representing cash amounts, contestants can go all-or-nothing by arm-wrestling touch-phobic host Howie Mandel. Defeat Howie, and players win the grand prize! Lose, and they must square off against a pack of vicious, trained, Doberman Pincers, armed only with a some lip balm and a bucket of Paris Hilton’s bathwater. While NBC has declined to speculate on future DoNDoD installments, rumored outlines include Deal or No Deal or Naked Deal and the intriguing Deal or No Deal or Taste This.
Untitled Young Single Woman in New York City Who Works for a Magazine Project
(Saturdays, 10 pm, CBS)
Audacious in both concept and tone, UYSWNYCWWMP mines the undocumented and rarified world of the young, modern professional in New York City. Unafraid to tackle issues that might be considered untoward or even sexual, UYSWNYCWWMP stars Portia de Rossi as Kara Jameson, a strong, independent career woman who is nevertheless stymied in her attempts to find True Love in the Big Apple. The pilot episode sets the stage for what is sure to be a water-cooler favorite when Kara’s new executive assistant turns out to be a terrible employee but a fantastic lover! Ms. de Rossi displays a deft comic touch as her personal and professional worlds improbably collide. Also starring Rachel Griffiths as Kara’s imperious boss, Ms. Rhodes; Rachael Leigh Cook as Kara’s aspiring-actress sister, Florentine; and Evan Rachel Wood as Kara’s neurotic roommate, Rachel.
Other failed pilots in D.’s collection include: Home Lives of Celebrity Judges, Womanimal, Mimes on Parade, and CSI: Akron. Unfortunately, we’re out of time. Tune in next week when we’ll chronicle D.’s collection of unproduced screenplays, unpublished manuscripts, unsigned emo bands, and German scat porn.