Here’s some of what you won’t see on network TV this fall: a talking dog, a runaway robot, a puppet with an attitude problem, a 6-foot sixth-grader, a 4- foot sex therapist, a buffalo with his own talk show, and a soap opera set on the moon.
This fall, like every fall, some of TV’s most outrageous new programs won’t be appearing on a set near you. Of roughly 100 pilots taped last spring, only 34 made it to weekly prime-time-series status. The rest have become the newest members of the Dead Pilots Society. Some have slipped onto the airwaves disguised as one-time specials or TV movies; most will never be seen or heard from again.
As usual, most of the perished pilots were comedies. Two of the wackiest were NBC’s The Jackie Bison Show, an animated series about the first buffalo with a TV talk show, and Red Pepper, in which a strong-headed marionette pulls the strings on his own variety show. ABC’s Dad’s a Dog starred David Steinberg as a highbrow New York actor who moves to Malibu for a TV gig and ends up offscreen as the voice of Scooter, the show’s talking pooch. Other failed pilots followed more traditional sitcom lines: At Fox, I’m Home starred SCTV alum Andrea Martin as a rich socialite whose life is turned upside down when her daughter comes home from college pregnant, while The World According to Straw was an anti-yuppie satire focusing on a wheeler-dealer maintenance man in a New York City office building. ABC, meanwhile, cast the world’s shortest sex expert, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, in her first TV comedy, Dr. Ruth’s House; she played a liberal-minded psychology professor who shares her home with a brood of sexually confused college students.
Plenty of cops-and-robbers pilots also bit the dust. CBS’ Hanging Judge was the most paranoid: A cross between Batman and Perry Mason, it chronicled the escapades of a vigilante magistrate who kept an arsenal of high-tech weaponry in a cavernous secret courtroom beneath his regular chambers. At ABC, Danger Team starred Dynasty‘s Kathleen Beller as a mild-mannered female bookkeeper who joined forces with three tiny clay animation figures to solve crimes, and Tag Team featured muscleman Jesse ”The Body” Ventura in a real stretch role as a pro-wrestler-turned-cop.
There were two intriguing sci-fi pilots, both produced by ABC. Project: Tin Man chronicled the adventures of an escaped military robot (Hunt Block of Knots Landing), while Plymouth dealt with the residents of a town, all of whom relocated to the moon after a toxic spill poisoned their homes on earth.
Many of the rejected pilots were riffs on feature films. NBC (the network behind this season’s TV versions of Parenthood and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) tried a half-hour drama based on 1988’s The Witches of Eastwick, with three comely devil- worshippers sharing a Boston town house. CBS tried small-screen variations of Big (starring Bruce Norris) and Steel Magnolias (starring Cindy Williams and Sally Kirkland). ABC tried its own Days of Thunder with Checkered Flag, about a team of Indy race-car drivers, and a TV version of 1988’s cop- dog comedy K-9, with Robert Carradine in James Belushi’s human role. The partner, played by a canine actor named Jerry Lee, wasn’t the only dog we won’t see.