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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Bullz-Eye’s 2011 Fall TV Preview: What’s New for The CW

Monday

Hart of Dixie

(9 – 10 PM, Sept. 26)

The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), Two and a Half Men / Mike & Molly (CBS), The Sing-Off (NBC), House (Fox)

Starring: Rachel Bilson, Jaime King, Wilson Bethel, Cress Williams, Scott Porter

Executive producers: Leila Gerstein, Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Len Goldstein and Donald Todd

What the network says: “Fast-talking New Yorker Zoe Hart has her life all figured out: after graduating top of her class from medical school, she’ll follow in her father’s footsteps as a cardio-thoracic surgeon in New York City. But life has other plans for Zoe. Turned down for the prestigious fellowship she had been certain she would get, Zoe is without a job and without a plan. Desperate, she decides to finally respond to the kindly stranger, Dr. Harley Wilkes, whom she met at her medical school graduation and who had offered her a place at his small medical practice in Bluebell, Alabama. She swallows her considerable pride and heads down South – temporarily, she assures herself.”

What we say: If you thought the worst thing about “Hart of Dixie” would be trying to buy Bilson as a surgeon, you’re wrong. In addition to painting the character of Zoe with the sort of broad strokes where she starts the pilot as a complete bitch who’s dismissive of living in a small Southern town and ends it as a thoughtful young woman who believes the people of Bluebell just might have a few life lessons to teach her, the proceedings tend to be little more than cornpone cliches slathered atop a heaping helping of schmaltz. There are a few clever lines and amusing characters, like the mayor of Bluebell, a former football player who regularly refers to himself in the third person, but viewers below the Mason-Dixon line will likely sneer at the way they’re portrayed, while everyone else will just roll their eyes and switch over to…well, just about anything else, really.

Tuesday

Ringer

(9 – 10 PM, Sept. 13)

The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), The Biggest Loser (NBC), New Girl / Raising Hope (Fox)

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nestor Carbonell, Mike Colter, Ioan Gruffudd

Executive producers: Pam Veasey, Jon Liebman and JoAnne Colonna

What the network says: “Bridget Kelly is a recovering addict, struggling to turn her life around. She’s six months sober, and beginning to get back on track, when she witnesses a professional hit. She’s placed in federal protection under the watch of Victor Machado, an agent determined to see that justice is done. But Bridget knows that Victor can’t keep her safe and she flees, telling no one, not even her close friend and Narcotics Anonymous sponsor Malcolm Ward. Hoping to buy some time, Bridget contacts her identical twin sister, Siobhan Martin, and joins her in New York City, reuniting with her for the first time in six years. Siobhan is fabulously wealthy, with a strikingly handsome husband, Andrew, who has no idea that Bridget exists. When Siobhan suddenly disappears, seemingly taking her own life, Bridget makes the split decision to take on her sister’s identity.”

What we say: With so many unabashed “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fans among the writing staff, no one wants to see Sarah Michelle Gellar succeed in a series more than Bullz-Eye, but for that to happen, viewers are going to have to get past the painful sequences at the beginning of the pilot where Gellar interacts with herself. If you can get beyond that, Gellar’s interactions with the trifecta of Carbonell, Colter, and Gruffudd may offer enough charisma to keep people coming back, but given that we weren’t even halfway through the pilot before we started wondering incessantly just how long Bridget was going to be able to perpetuate her chicanery, things are going to have to get really interesting really quickly for the show to maintain the initial “welcome back to the small screen, Sarah Michelle” momentum in the ratings.

Wednesday

H8R

(8 – 9 PM, Sept. 14)

The competition: The Middle (ABC), Survivor (CBS), Up All Night / Free Agents (NBC), The X Factor (Fox)

Host: Mario Lopez

Executive producers: Mike Fleiss, Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, Mario Lopez and Jeremy Spiegel

What the network says: “Celebrities are constantly in the public eye – but not everyone is a fan. Each week, celebrities from the world of television, sports and music will come face-to-face with their biggest ‘haters’ to try to win them over.”

What we say: All we’ve seen thus far is a “presentation” to give us a feel for what the show will be like, but it now appears that the season premiere is going to feature the same material, namely Snooki from “Jersey Shore” and Jake Pavelka from “The Bachelor” each confronting a “hater.” The concept itself isn’t so awful – it’s about time some of these internet trolls were taken to task by the people they’re mouthing off about from the safety of their computers – but based on the sampling of future “stars” who’ll be appearing on the show, it’s clear that the word “celebrity” is going to be pretty relative. Given the competition, it’s hard to imagine that reality-show alumni facing off against their “haters” are going to pull sufficient ratings to make much of a ratings dent against actual reality shows like “Survivor” and “The X-Factor.”

Thursday

The Secret Circle

(9 – 10 PM, Sept. 15)

The competition: Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), Person of Interest (CBS), The Office / Whitney (NBC), Bones (Fox)

Starring: Britt Robertson, Thomas Dekker, Gale Harold, Phoebe Tonkin, Shelley Hennig, Jessica Parker Kennedy

Executive producers: Kevin Williamson, Andrew Miller, Les Morgenstein and Gina Girolamo

What the network says: “Cassie Blake is a normal, happy teenager, leading an everyday life with her devoted single mom, Amelia. But when her mother dies in what Cassie thinks is a tragic, accidental fire, her world is turned upside down. Cassie moves in with her warm and loving grandmother Jane in the beautiful small town of Chance Harbor, Washington – where the residents seem to know more about her than she knows about herself.”

What we say: The fact that it’s from Williamson, most recently known to CW viewers as the man who brought them “The Vampire Diaries,” may lead everyone who’s aged out of their teens to believe that “The Secret Circle” will be at best no more than another guilty pleasure that they’ll never publicly admit to watching. “Circle,” however, begins without the bandwagon-jumping feel that “Vampires” had at the outset – “It’s just like ‘Twilight,’ except it’s on every week!’ – and instantly offers a dark, intriguing premise as well as all the teen angst you’ve come to expect from a Williamson project. Yes, many oldsters will smile knowingly at the similarities to “The Craft” when the bitchy teen witches hit the screen, but it feels more like an homage than a rip-off. This could prove to be one of the more enjoyable series of the season. Stay tuned.

  

HS TV 101: 12 Great Shows Set In or Around High School

High school: it’s a rite of passage we all must endure. Some of us weep when it’s over, others can’t wait to say goodbye forever, but for better or worse, it’s an experience that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. The same goes for some of the many TV series that have been set in high school. Here at Bullz-Eye, we’ve polled our writers for their favorite shows within the genre, and the end result is, not unlike high school itself, a mixture of both comedy and drama.

12. Life As We Know It (ABC, 2004 – 2005): Lasting only 11 episodes before ABC unceremoniously yanked it from the air, “Life As We Know It” premiered during perhaps the most cancel-happy era in television. Developed by two of the producers of “Freaks and Geeks” (maybe the writing was already on the wall), the series may have ultimately been undone by poor ratings, but the Parents Television Council’s campaign against the show’s sexual themes certainly didn’t help. Then again, when you green light a series based on a controversial young-adult novel called “Doing It” that follows the exploits of a trio of best friends (Sean Faris, Jon Foster and Chris Lowell) navigating the highs and lows of adolescence, you can hardly pretend to be surprised when its characters discuss sex on a fairly regular basis.

Featuring a great cast of young up-and-comers that also included Missy Peregrym and Kelly Osbourne (yes, that Kelly Osbourne, who’s never been cuter than she was here), “Life As We Know It” certainly wasn’t perfect by any means, but it easily outshined similar shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “The O.C.,” particularly in its handling of its adult characters. The series wasn’t without the usual high school clichés, but the writers never shied away from edgier material, either – like a student having a secret affair with his teacher or a star jock dealing with performance issues – resulting in a smart, sweet and incredibly honest look at how sex changes everything. – Jason Zingale

11. Welcome Back, Kotter (ABC, 1975 – 1979): Despite suffering through remedial classes and acting far more rebellious than was deemed socially acceptable, Gabe Kotter (played by the suspiciously similarly-named Gabe Kaplan) still somehow managed to graduate from James Buchanan High School, but who would have thought that the dreams that were his ticket out would lead him back there? (John Sebastian did, of course, but that’s not really relevant to this discussion.) With his teacher certification tucked into his back pocket, Kotter returns to his alma mater and takes on the challenge of trying to educate the new generation of remedial students. Oh, sure, their names have all changed since he hung around – now they’re called Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes) – but they’re still “sweathogs” all the way.

Most would likely agree that “Welcome Back, Kotter” was at its best when it was still the original four Sweathogs, i.e. before Travolta slipped away from television, put on a white suit, and found big-screen success on the dance floor, but even at its funniest, few would probably describe it as the most realistic look into high school life.

“I don’t think anyone was trying to replicate the high school experience so much as they were trying to service those particular characters and write stories about them,” said Mark Evanier, who served as a story editor for the show. “If you could get a good joke out of it, great…though there were times I think we settled for a decent catch-phrase.”

While the words “up your nose with a rubber hose” lend credence to Evanier’s theory, the Marx-Brothers-inspired chemistry between the Sweathogs helps their slapstick shenanigans hold up nonetheless. And, besides, who needs realism when you’ve got Gabe Kaplan doing Groucho? – Will Harris

10. Glee (Fox, 2009 – present): Is it telling that one of the most popular current shows on TV came it at only the #10 spot? If nothing else, maybe it proves we here at Bullz-Eye aren’t prone to fads. Except that maybe we are, as “Glee” has made it onto our TV Power Rankings lists time and again since its debut. But this list isn’t about what entertains us in the broader sense; it’s about great high school shows. As entertaining as “Glee” can be, it has almost nothing real to say about the high school experience, and in fact most of the high school kids I know find it to be pretty nonsensical.

The one area that it seems to excel in as far as capturing the high school experience is in its ability to play romantic musical chairs with its cast of teenage characters. These kids are fickle, and the only guarantee that seems to come with a relationship on “Glee” is that sooner or later it’s going to end. Some props should probably also be given for their attempt to zero in on the bullying issue that so seems to afflict kids today, but “Glee” chose to unfortunately treat the topic with kid gloves rather than say something truly meaningful. None of this is to say that “Glee” isn’t one hell of an entertaining series, because it is, but anyone looking for something a little deeper would do best to dust off their old DVD of “The Breakfast Club.” – Ross Ruediger

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