The pilots that fell short -- A run down of shows that you won't be seeing on the air included stars like Jane Seymour, Debbie Reynolds, and Della Reese

By Mark Harris
Updated August 30, 1991 at 04:00 AM EDT
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After a season that yielded Baby Talk and Black Jack Savage, it’s hard to believe that there are some shows the networks won’t air. But when this fall’s new series were selected, more than 75 were left on the screening-room floor. Here’s why those pilots fell short:

1. Too difficult to execute well
Many of the coming season’s rejects looked good on paper. Passion, a comedy starring Jane Seymour as a magazine editor, was hailed by a CBS executive as ”the next Murphy Brown.” But when the pilot aired Aug. 17, one difference became clear: Murphy Brown is funny. In another CBS deal, Carrie Fisher (Postcards From the Edge) created a comedy pilot for her mother, Debbie Reynolds, about a woman in a coma. But the show ran into script trouble, so viewers won’t be seeing Wake Me When It’s Over anytime soon. NBC busily wooed several impressive names: Molly Dodd creator Jay Tarses came up with Baltimore, a comedy about a struggling jazz trio; Rain Man director Barry Levinson was asked to launch a reality series; and Prince of Tides author Pat Conroy was enlisted for Printer’s Alley, a drama about a novelist with Southern roots. Don’t look for the shows this fall.

2. Too familiar
Although the networks are relying on the tried and true, some stars have already been tried too often. Veterans left on the unemployment line after appearing in pilots last spring include Angie Dickinson, Brian Keith, James Coburn, Susan Sullivan, and Robert Wagner.

3. Too weird
After Twin Peaks‘ failure, many shows with supernatural elements were given the cold shoulder. Fox passed on Blood Ties, a serial about vampires, and ABC turned down The Craft, about a coven of witches (the pilot will air Sept. 8). And it’s probably understandable that ABC didn’t see a future in Moe’s World, a fantasy about an 11-year-old inner-city kid who’s dead.

4. Too bad
When CBS aired its pilot for Claws Aug. 10, it was one of the week’s flops. It was easy to see why: The cast was composed of live cats.

In fact, most pilots are rejected for an obvious reason: They’re not good enough. That can leave actors scrambling, although some recover quickly: When ABC spurned The Coltons, a MacGyver spin-off, Della Reese grabbed a role in CBS’ new The Royal Family. Megan Gallagher jumped from Baltimore to NBC’s Pacific Station. And sometimes a pilot itself gets a second chance. Last spring, CBS said no to Stand by Your Man, a comedy about two prison inmates’ wives. Later this season, the series will air after all — on Fox.

Baby Talk

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