Every year around this time, I get a bunch of phone calls from friends ”outside the business,” all saying the same thing: ”Wow, if the networks are putting on crap like [insert The Mike O’Malley Show, Wind on Water, Costello here], I’d hate to see the stuff that didn’t make the cut.”
But truth be told, there are plenty of inventive pilots out there that, for whatever reason, you guys decide to discard. Case in point: ABC’s 1996 reject Where’s Marlowe?, a faux Blair Witch-y documentary about a struggling detective, which is being released as a feature film next month. Here are the funky forgotten vehicles from this past pilot season that we would have given the green light:
Heat vision and Jack
Looking for a way to reinvent the sagging action genre? Pilots don’t come more imaginative than this Ben Stiller-directed parody of such shows as The Six Million Dollar Man and Knight Rider. Jack Black (star of HBO’s music farce Tenacious D) shines as an astronaut who becomes freakishly intelligent after a close encounter with the sun. His partner? A talking motorcycle. His catchphrase? ”I know everything!” His enemy? Bad-guy actor Ron Silver as…bad-guy actor Ron Silver.
Less mushy than 7th Heaven, as frank as any highfalutin family drama, this cozy hour from director Michael Steinberg (The Waterdance) offers a fresh take on the nuclear unit: After spending months in the hospital, a macho-cranky building contractor returns home in a wheelchair to find his wife and kids moving on without him. Sound depressing? That’s what they said about Party of Five.
Think Melrose Place. Now add 50 IQ points. A sophisticated L.A. soap, Oaks tracks adults of various levels of happiness and income as they tackle all kinds of moral and financial dilemmas. But instead of shoving all the characters into the same apartment complex, the series uses L.A. to deftly interweave its multiple story lines, giving it a Robert Altman Short Cuts vibe. There’s also dandy casting: Gary Cole as a philandering doc, Jonathan Silverman as a people-pleasing businessman, and Esai Morales as a down-and-out boxer trying to support his family. Hey, fellas, we’ve got your diversity right here.
The last thing anyone wants is yet another sitcom set at a magazine. But why not a drama? I know what you’re thinking: Central Park West. But hold on; this glitzy-gritty serial — about a hip investigative Bay Area glossy — is a much more grounded and insightful saga than CBS’ disastrous 1995 fairy tale. And not only does it offer myriad story possibilities and a handsome unknown cast, there’s room for choice real-life cameos (hint: Call my agent).
Forget Two Guys and a Girl and Oh Grow Up. Here’s a jaded, offbeat sitcom (from Swingers star Jon Favreau and Seinfeld producer Larry Charles) that unspools young- adult-dating-and-marriage-high-jinks without feeling so canned, so dumbed down, so … you know, sitcom-y. And talk about broadly appealing plots: Who hasn’t had a bad sushi date end in a carjacking?
Okay, this Bebe Neuwirth sitcom was abandoned three years ago, but we still can’t believe ABC turned it down. Celebrating the travails of a 40-year-old married mom, Diary is a burst of alluring wit and brisk frankness, a sort of Sex and the City: The Next Generation. (Sample voice-over: “Sunday, the kids caught me snoring on the couch. Tuesday, I wore suede in the rain, and last night Tom and I had lousy sex.”) But don’t take my word for it: After ABC passed, Diary won an Oscar in 1997 in the best-short-subject category.