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.

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A Chat with Nick Swardson

It would be fair to say that the comedy of Nick Swardson is an acquired taste, as anyone who’s seen his films, including “Grandma’s Boy” and “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star,” or his TV series, “Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time,” can tell you. With the latter now back in Comedy Central’s Wednesday night line-up for its second season, Swardson took a few minutes to chat with Bullz-Eye about what we can expect from Season 2 of “Pretend Time,” what he thinks of his lack of critical love, and more.

Bullz-Eye: To start off by kind of stating the obvious, I’m sure you’re psyched about your show returning for a second season.

Nick Swardson: Yeah, I am. I’m really excited, ‘cause I feel like, no matter what happens, this is the show I wanted to make.

BE: So what are the origins of “Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time,” anyway? Did you pitch them the idea, or did they come to you with the idea?

NS: My friend Tom (Gianas) actually pitched me the idea. He created “Human Giant” and ran that show on MTV, and he did “Tenacious D” on HBO. He’s an old friend of mine. He directed “Gay Robot,” this original pilot that I did years ago. He’s really, really brilliant, and he came to me with this idea. I’ve always wanted to do sketch comedy, and I trust Tom a lot, so I was, like, “All right, let’s do it.” And we just jumped into the show. We pitched it to the network, and they bought it off the pitch. We didn’t even get a pilot. They ordered six episodes. Which was kind of good and bad. I kind of wish we had a pilot, because it was kind of a tricky show to make. (Laughs) We didn’t really have that trial by fire. We were just kind of thrown into the volcano.

BE: You have a pretty vocal fanbase. I presume you’ve gotten some advice, either helpful or otherwise, as far as where to take the show in its second season.

NS: Yeah, it’s been interesting, because people didn’t really know what to expect from the show. My fans were kind of, like, “Well, wait, what is it? Is it stand-up? I don’t understand what it is.” They were kind of confused. Obviously, comedy’s subjective, and people either bought the show or they didn’t. (Laughs) But the people who got it, they loved it.

BE: So is Season 2 along the same lines as Season 1, or do you think you’ve kind of fleshed it out a bit more as far as what you want from the show?

NS: Um… (Long pause) I mean, it’s more aggressive. Like, there’s some really crazy stuff. (Laughs) It’s really aggressive. But we’ve kind of counterbalanced this season with doing more of a live element and more storytelling than stand-up.

BE: How much flexibility do you have with Comedy Central as far as your vision for the show? Has there been any point when they were, like, “Uh, can you dial it back a bit?”

NS: Uh, yeah. (Laughs) At the beginning, they were, like, “This is way too aggressive.” But that’s the whole point of having and doing a show. Why not make it the most aggressive thing you can do? I just didn’t want to play it safe. I wanted to just throw it against the wall, and hopefully it works. Hopefully people will dig it.

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