The Light from the TV Shows: Failed Pilots with All-Star Casts

As the new TV season rolls out, let’s take a look back at a few series that never actually made it on the air. Not that there aren’t plenty such series every single year, but sometimes you look back and wonder, “How could a show with all of these talented people not get on the schedule?” Not that we have an answer to that question, you understand, but at least we can all be mystified and annoyed together.

Next! (2001)

Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Fred Armisen, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn, Nick Swardson
What you missed out on: After Bob Odenkirk and David Cross decided to put a bullet in their HBO sketch comedy series, “Mr. Show” (that’s right, it was their decision, not the network’s), the guys attempted to go their separate ways, with Odenkirk setting up shop at Fox with a pilot for a new sketch comedy series. If you think the above names are impressive, consider that several other “Mr. Show” alumni were in tow as well, including Jerry Minor, Jay Johnston, and Jill Talley, with Patton Oswalt also participating in some capacity or other. And, yes, if you’re wondering, Cross made an appearance in the pilot, too. So what happened? Apparently, Fox basically flipped a coin to decide which new sketch comedy series they’d add to their lineup, and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” won the toss. Oh, what might’ve been…

North Hollywood (2001)

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Judge Reinhold as himself
What you missed out on: Judd Apatow has never been ashamed to admit that the only reason that this pilot ever came into existence is that Fox refused to let him cast Jason Segel as his lead in the short-lived but highly-regarded “Undeclared,” but you can’t say he didn’t do his best to surround Segel with top-notch talent. Segel, Amy Poehler, and Kevin Hart played roommates, with Segel a struggling actor, Hart a struggling actor/comedian, and Poehler serving as Judge Reinhold’s personal assistant. There’s a more detailed look at the pilot here, but the long and the short of it is that, although Apatow admits that he really didn’t know if there was a decent series to be had in “North Hollywood,” he thinks the pilot’s pretty decent, but its tone didn’t match the sitcoms filling ABC’s lineup at the time, so they took a pass on it.

Saddle Rash (2002)

Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry, Mitch Hedberg
What you missed out on: Created by Loren Bouchard, best known to animation fans as one of the creative forces behind “Home Movies,” “Saddle Rash” seemed to have all the elements necessary for a successful Adult Swim series, so why didn’t it make it beyond the pilot stage? Was it that westerns weren’t exactly in vogue at the time? Was there some sort of stigma attached to the project because they brought in country artists to continued voice work (including Waylon Jennings as a very special guest in the pilot)? Whatever the case, the pilot got aired – no doubt mostly because Adult Swim has a tendency to air just about every pilot it orders, whether it actually ends up going to series or not – but that was the end of the trail for the series.

Hollywood Division (2004)

Starring: Nathan Fillion, Leighton Meester, Moon Bloodgood, Geoff Stults, Rockmond Dunbar
What you missed out on: Director James Foley has got kind of a weird track record, having helmed “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Who’s That Girl,” “At Close Ranger,” and “The Corruptor,” but there’s enough good stuff in there to make you take note when he directs the pilot of a series. Yes, it was probably at heart just another cop drama, but there’s no denying that there was going to be plenty of talent in the squad room. There was, at least, a happy ending: series co-creator Barry Schindel went on to serve as a writer and executive producer on “Castle” a few years later. Guess he and Nathan Fillion got along.

In the Game (2004)

Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Alyson Hannigan, Sara Gilbert, Ed O’Neil, Christine Baranski
What you missed out on: The premise of the series involved Hewitt playing a single-mom sports producer who ends up as highly successful on-air talent, but despite taking two stabs at a pilot, the show never gelled properly. On the other hand, while she was filming one of those pilots, the producers of “Ghost Whisperer” came by and pitched Hewitt their show, thereby providing her with an instant fallback position which she was more than glad to take when “In the Game” fell apart.

Testing Bob (2006)

Starring: Peter Dinklage, Dave Foley, Busy Phillips, Tina Majorino
What you missed out on: Although I loved him on “Threshold,” I certainly couldn’t begrudge Peter Dinklage for moving onward when that show was canceled and taking a shot at headlining his own series. Given that it took place in a high school, the possibilities for “Testing Bob” would seem to have been endless, but it never got off the ground.

The Amazing Screw-On Head (2006)

Starring: Paul Giamatti, David Hyde Pierce, Patton Oswalt, Molly Shannon
What you missed out on: Unlike the rest of these pilots, the one for this animated series actually received a DVD release, thereby showing the world at large just how completely bizarre it was. It’s not like anyone can possibly be surprised that even Sci-Fi thought the show was too kooky for mainstream audiences to ever embrace it, but at least we can take comfort in the fact that it’s built a small but loyal cult following over the years.

Women of a Certain Age (2006)

Starring: Heather Locklear, Illeana Douglas, Peri Gilpin, Brittany Robertson
What you missed out on: Several years before Scott Bakula, Ray Romano, and Andre Braugher offered up their TNT series, the opposing gender had already made an attempt at getting on the air under a suspiciously familiar title. It would’ve been nice to see Gilpin somewhere other than ABC Family’s “Make It or Break It,” but it was not to be.

Area 57 (2007)

Starring: Paul Reubens, Jane Lynch, Bruce McGill, Matthew Lillard
What you missed out on: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to guess the premise of this sitcom: it was intended to show all the shenanigans that go on inside the top-secret government base reputed to be the home of alien lifeforms. Did we say “reputed”? Given that Paul Reubens was credited on IMDb as “The Alien,” maybe it’s not so reputed after all.

Pretty/Handsome (2008)

Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Blythe Danner, Robert Wagner, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jonathan Groff
What you missed out on: Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find a network that would take a pass on anything with Ryan Murphy’s name attached to it, but in his pre-“Glee” days, Murphy was mostly still viewed as “that weird ‘Nip/Tuck’ guy,” and this series – about a married man with two sons who has to tell his family that he’s a transsexual – probably didn’t do much for that particular reputation. Probably the only surprising thing about the non-pickup for “Pretty/Handsome” is that the network that turned it down was the same one that put “Nip/Tuck” on the air in the first place. Presumably there were no hard feelings between Murphy and FX, though, given that it remains the home of his “American Horror Story.”

Good Behavior (2009)

Starring: Catherine O’Hara, Mae Whitman, DJ Qualls, Gary Cole, Jeffrey Tambor, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Treat Williams, Marilu Henner
What you missed out on: Based on the New Zealand series “Outrageous Fortune,” “Good Behavior” would have followed the life of a family of criminals who decide to live life on the straight and narrow after their father ends up behind bars. If the premise sounds familiar, it’s because it ended up being revisited a few years later as “Scoundrels,” which only lasted eight episodes. You’d like to think that “Good Behavior” would’ve lasted longer.

The Wonderful Maladys (2009)

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nate Corrdry, Molly Parker, Adam Scott
What you missed out on: Although HBO is known for putting some seriously great series on the air, they’re pretty picky about what makes the final cut. For instance, this show about three siblings – played by Gellar, Corrdry, and Parker – adapting to life after the death of their parents, never saw the light of day. On the other hand, though, if it had, then Scott (who played Gellar’s ex-boyfriend) wouldn’t have been available for “Party Down,” so it all worked out in the end.

Rex Is Not Your Lawyer (2010)

Starring: David Tennant, Jerry O’Connell, Abigail Spencer, Jane Curtin, Jeffrey Tambor
What you missed out on: In the waning days of his stint on “Doctor Who,” David Tennant decided to expand his horizons and make a break for American television, headlining an NBC series about an attorney who, due to his recurring panic attacks, starts coaching his clients to defend themselves in court…or something like that, anyway. Tennant put on his best American accent – you’ve got to have one if Jane Curtin’s going to play your mother, haven’t you? – and teamed up with a solid supporting cast, but although NBC kept it in play for a decent while, the series never made the schedule.