Sunday, May 28, 2006

Unsold TV Pilots

Lee Goldberg’s UNSOLD TV PILOTS, published by Citadel Press in 1991 is actually an abridged version of his similarly titled small press book often found in the reference sections of libraries. Besides research, though, either version can be just plain fun to read as the author describes scores of the most bizarre concepts ever greenlighted. Many of these shows aired as TV movies or episodes of already existing series. Others never aired at all. Some prime examples of actual unsold series included are:
THE RETURN OF THE ORIGINAL YELLOW TORNADO- 1967-Mickey Rooney and Eddie Mayhoff as retired super-heroes. This was written by Jack Benny’s former writing team!
GOOD AGAINST EVIL-1977- the late Dack Rambo starred as a writer who falls for…wait for it…Satan’s girlfriend, then teams up with an exorcist to get her back, righting wrongs and solving crimes along their way.
HIGH RISK-1976-Victor Buono, BATMAN’s King Tut and Joanna (ISIS) Cameron as two of a group of circus performers who use their skills to solve crimes.
ALIAS SHERLOCK HOLMES-1976- Larry (JR) Hagman as a delusional motorcycle cop who thinks he’s the world’s greatest detective and, with the help of his female psychiatrist, conveniently named Dr. Watson, solves crimes.
SHOOTING STARS-1983-Parker Stevenson and Billy Dee Williams (Lando!) as two former TV detectives who become detectives in real life and…you guessed it, solve crimes.
VAMPIRE-1979-Created by HILL STREET BLUES’ Steven Bochco and directed by Bridget (HERE COME THE BRIDES) Hanley’s ex-husband, E.W. Swackhammer, this was the story of a guy (THE EXORCIST’S Jason Miller) who ticks off a vampire (Richard Lynch) and teams up with a retired cop (E.G. Marshall) to stop him…no doubt solving crimes as they do so. A good cast included Barrie Youngfellow, Jessica Walter and Michael Tucker.
BUNGLE ABBEY-1981-Lucille Ball and her husband Gary Morton produced this as a vehicle for her long time co-star Gale Gordon as an Abbott. His "Costellos" included Monks Gino Gonforti, Graham Jarvis and Charlie Callas. As far as I know, they didn’t solve crimes.
YAZOO-1984-William (CANNON, NERO WOLFE) Conrad was legendarily dissed when his hit radio series GUNSMOKE came to television and the CBS brass decided that the portly actor didn’t "look the part." Strange then that somebody somewhere felt the actor WAS right for this series that found his character, a widowed journalist, learning about life in a magical land populated by puppets! (Wonder if they had any crimes to solve?)
WHERE"S EVERETT?-1966- Very early Alan Alda as a man who finds an invisible alien baby on his doorstep one morning. Needless to say, he and his wife decide to adopt and hilarity ensues. Just keeping up with an invisible baby, alien or not, left him little time to solve any crimes even if he wanted to!
SAFARI-1962-Dick Powell produced this AFRICAN QUEEN remake that would have found James Coburn and Glynis Johns having adventures and …aww, YOU know…every week.
THE SUNSHINE BOYS-1977-Red Buttons and Lionel (HART TO HART) Stander as Neil Simon’s "geriatric odd couple" here forced into becoming roommates.
HIGHER GROUND-1988- Singer John Denver as a former FBI agent who avenges his partner and vows to continue to solve crimes in Alaska!
SAVAGE-1973-The producers of COLUMBO brought their boy wonder director Steven Spielberg to this pilot featuring long-time couple Martin Landau and Barbara Bain as an investigative TV reporter and his producer solving political crimes.
OUT OF THE BLUE-1968- Academy award winning actress and future Partridge Shirley Jones is, along with the great Carl Ballantine and several others, an alien visiting our planet to see if they’d like to settle here. Hmmm… probably too much crime.


  1. Anonymous7:04 AM

    I've had the pleasure of reading this book, and I thought it was great! Either I checked it out of a library or borrowed it from a friend-- I really should find a copy of it to keep. There was a time in the early to mid-90s that I was very, very interested in behind-the-scene television stuff, mostly about pitching pilots, writing and producing shows, things of that nature. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Anonymous6:12 PM

    I do remember seeing a Larry Hagman tv movie back in the 70s which must have been the pilot for "Alias Sherlock Holmes"

  3. Oh I so need a copy of this book!

  4. Thanks for all the kind words about the book. All the versions of the book have been reissued by iUniverse. The book reviewed above can be found here:

    The original, unabridged edition has been split into two volumes. Here are the links:

    The book became the basis for two, hour-long TV specials -- "The Best TV Shows That Never Were" on ABC and "The Greatest Shows You Never Saw" on CBS.


  5. I own both the paperback version and the original single volume hardcover from MacFarland.

    I've found them both to be great resources when doing research on roles played by various actors which you can't normally find by visiting sites like the IMDb (not perfect, but it's still a helpful site).

    Without those books, I'd never have learned about a pilot which had Eddie Albert attached in which he would have been a journalist who could travel through time and space. Sort of an American 'Doctor Who'....

    I wish I had seen that "High Risk" pilot. Sounds kind of like a mash of 'Carnivale' and 'The A-Team', and Buono was always fun to watch. It seems like the kind of concept where he could go really over the top.

    I would think there must be a market out there for some company to get the rights to these old pilots and release them in DVD boxed set collections.

    But then again, what do I know?

  6. The costs would be astronomical, as I discovered first-hand when compiling unsold pilot clips for those two TV specials. To give you an example, one studio charges $30,000 for 60 seconds of footage. That doesn't include SAG, WGA and DGA payments and music clearances. Some actors have negotiated the right to charge an additional fee to have their clips used. Those fees can be free (Tom Selleck let us use whatever we wanted) to tens of thousands of dollars (one former sitcom star wanted $25,000 to use his ten second clip). Also, in some cases, the pilots have never aired, so showing the clips triggers additional contractual payments. All of these costs combined can make it prohibitively expense (We scraped several great clips because they were too costly). And that's just for 30 seconds. Getting the rights to an entire 30 or 60 minute pilot, clearing all the rights and royalty elements, and then securing world-wide homevideo distribution rights, could cost a fortune.

  7. I didn't take the real world details into consideration. Ha! That's usual procedure for me.

    I guess I'll just have to stick with the bootleg market to find some of these. And maybe suggest to the MT&R that they should try to get copies of unaired/unsold pilots for their archives as well.

  8. Anonymous9:57 PM

    I have the complete Hardcover edition of this book.
    It's really a great read and quite the collectable.

    I got it from a very cool and obscure book club called the Movie/Entertainment book club which sadly went under in the late 90s. I joined it in 1989 I think.

    I got many a great episode guide from this club including a hardcover Gunsmoke episode guide and episode guides for 70s TV cop shows, Mission Impossible and a great Charlie Chan encylcopedia.

    Great book. I never bought the abridged edition...didn't need it.

    I still buy episode guides of various shows when I spot them in book stores.

    alan bryan
    aka jettblackberryx