It is generally estimated that each season, over 500 ideas for new TV series get pitched to the executives of the major American networks, with only 20 receiving the greenlight for the filming of a pilot episode. Of these, perhaps eight will result in the production of a series, with no more than one or two surviving to a second season or better.

It’s a miracle, really, how so much crap still makes it onto the air.

As this brief outline makes clear, there are a variety of fates that might befall a pilot episode. It might air as is, the lead-in for the series to follow; it might be re-tooled, sending the series into a direction different from that initially conceived; it might be re-cut into a made-for-TV movie, as a way of recouping costs (or, in the case of Mulholland Drive, as a way for its director to score a Best Director win at Cannes and an Academy Award nomination while making the ABC executives look more than ordinarily foolish); or it might end up simply as filler, offering bewildered viewers a tantalising glimpse into the might-have-been…and the what-the-hell-were-they-thinking!?

So join us as we take a look at some of the pilots that made it – and others that never stood a chance.

It’s TO BE OR NOT TO BE – all through May at the B-Masters’ blog!


Hercules and the Princess of Troy

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1000 Misspent Hours and Counting I’m quite taken aback by how good Hercules and the Princess of Troy is. Not that it’s especially wonderful, or anything, but I was expecting far, far less than it delivered. I mean, it’s a failed TV pilot in a genre that people had stopped giving a crap about, designed to copy, on an even smaller budget, the esthetics of movies that were already bywords of badness for many if not most of its era’s cinephiles. It’s hard to be much less auspicious than that! But in all seriousness, I would definitely have watched this show had it been picked up by anyone.
And You Call Yourself a Scientist! Baffled! While Baffled! certainly is entertaining, it must be admitted that, for modern audiences, a large part of that derives from factors quite other than its concept and story—namely, its exceedingly large Leonard Nimoy Entertainment Quotient, and its more-than-average Clunky Seventies Entertainment Quotient: the combination of which carries the production over a raft of painfully awkward dialogue, and some plot-holes you could drive a 1927 Bentley through.
Braineater The Norliss Tapes There’s also the little matter of David Norliss’s transformation from hard-headed skeptic to expert on the occult. You’d think that would be the heart of the script, wouldn’t you? At least you’d think it would provide some dramatic tension. But whatever inner conflict Norliss experiences, it all happens off-screen… if it happens at all: it seems as though Norliss has already changed his mind the moment Ellen Cort tells her story, fifteen minutes into the movie. By the end of the movie, he’s making magic potions out of human blood.
Dark Intruder Kingsford impulsively picks up the figurine, but Chi Zan instructs him to put it down at once. Too late: the figure has suddenly grown hot in his hands, and as he hurriedly drops it, its talons scratch his wrist as though the thing were alive. Of course that’s impossible. It’s only a statue… isn’t it? No, says Chi Zan; it’s not a carving after all. The ugly little thing is a mass of mummified flesh and bone…
Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension Steel Justice Given this, raging mirth is the only proper response to the notion that this immortal guy had traveled the globe, training (for instance) the guys who made Stonehenge and the Trojan Horse, just so that millennia later he could similarly teach a self-pitying, sad sack cop to use the same powers to turn his dead kid’s dino doll into a big, goofy flame-throwing robot to help him fight drugs dealers and the like. Presumably the Immortal Traveler’s next gig after this will be to help a guy in Slovenia in the year 2179. There he will instruct his student on how to Transform a pair of desk scissors into some giant sheers, which will be used to open a new, highly futuristic but dystopian strip mall.
Teleport City Buck Rogers in the 25th Century As a kid, I had “high” expectations for Buck Rogers (as high as one can expect from a kid who went on to like Treasure of the Four Crowns and Gymkata), and they were met. As an adult, I still had high expectations, and I was happy to find that my enjoyment of the “movie” had not diminished over time. It’s goofball fun, though with older eyes I was also a little surprised to pick up on the faint melancholy and darkness that exists under the surface. Don’t misunderstand, it’s a very faint melancholy, but there a few spots where Buck’s realization of his predicament makes for slightly deeper television than the rest of the run time.
The Unknown Movies The Hanged Man For starters, take the character of Devlin. Being given a second chance of life is an intriguing prospect. It would no doubt lead you to rethink your life and struggle to make changes in your behavior. But this doesn’t really happen in this case. Before his hanging, Devlin has the sympathy of many characters (his lawyer, the town sheriff) and is portrayed as a nice guy who was accused of something he didn’t do. Yet after he’s hanged, he is more or less the same man as he was before.