Most successful TV series are made on a foundation of failed pilots that were pitched, filmed (and even aired) before being turned down for one reason or another. Every year, producers, writers and directors scramble to get their pilot made, pouring their heart and soul into the chance to make a hit TV show that will resonate with audiences.
But even when these pilots get made, networks can still refuse them, ensuring that very few people will ever see these shows. It’s a long, treacherous road towards a successful career in television, and many, many failed pilots line the ditches. Sometimes they simply didn’t drum up enough interest. Others were bland, derivative or badly made.
Then there were the ones so weird, it’s hard to believe that a single sane person working in the TV industry ever thought they’d be a good idea; in fact, the mind boggles at how some of these even became ideas in the first place. From metal spirit dinosaurs to glimpses at the mundane lives of, uh, “the Hitlers,” here is Screen Rant’s list of 10 TV Pilots So Weird You Won’t Believe They Exist.
The Adventures of Superpup (1958)
It was the 1950s and Superman was in his popularity prime. So when the highly successful George Reeves-starring Adventures of Superman had just finished, something needed to fill the void… and the answer was obvious: people in dog suits.
The Adventures of Superpup was set in an alternate universe populated entirely by anthropomorphic animals with heads far too big for their frail, human-shaped bodies. The starring character was Bark Bent (Billy Curtis), a canine Superman with a name so lazily parodied it almost hurts to say it out loud. Instead of the Daily Planet (or the…Beagley Barkit?), Bark works for the Daily Bugle, which makes you wonder if the writers knew exactly which superhero they were working with. The rest of the cast included news editor Terry Bite (sound like Perry White – geddit?? – played by Angelo Rossito) and absolutely no one else from the comics, because animal puns are so hard, you guys. Lois Lane was therefore skipped over for “Pamela Poodle” (Ruth Delfino).
Aside from the unsettling uncanny valley aspect of the anthropomorphic dogs, the series never generated much interest and wouldn’t be seen by the public for decades afterwards, which surely devastated that fringe group who were holding out for an epic Spider-Ham crossover. You can check out the pilot online – HERE.
Steel Justice (1992)
There’s really nothing bad that can be said about a 40-foot metal dinosaur that breathes fire and eats cars. This makes the utterly bizarre failure of Steel Justice even more inexplicable, because even an awful show about a crime-fighting robot dinosaur had to be watchable based on the fact that it featured a crime-fighting robot dinosaur.
Surprisingly, Steel Justice wasn’t a product of the eighties. Conceived in 1992, the show featured a dystopian America rife with gang warfare, depleting resources and travelling mystical shamans. Our hero is David Nash (Robert Taylor), a cop who’s still hung up on that one time a gang leader exploded his son with a rocket launcher, and he’s kept his son’s favorite Robosaurus toy as a painful reminder. The pilot was adapted to a TV movie, so over the course of 90 minutes, David comes to realize that due process and proper detective work are no match for the ability to summon a giant metal dinosaur animated by a love of eating cars. He proceeds to summon said dinosaur to eat said cars in a spectacularly expensive finale that utterly destroys any semblance of tension or realism that remained, if any.
It’s almost a shame that Steel Justice didn’t get any further than a pilot, since it would’ve been fascinating to see exactly where they went next with the premise of a relatively-immobile, car-eating dinobot. There were really only so many times the gangsters could be demoralized by their cars being eaten (because cars are expensive) before they just gave up crime and the series ended. You can check out clips from the pilot – HERE.
Heat Vision and Jack (1999)
As soon as you hear the name ‘Jack Black’, you should know you’re in for something wacky. Heat Vision and Jack was exactly that. The show featured Jack Black as Jack Austin, an astronaut who gains superhuman intelligence from sunlight after being exposed to solar energy. His wisecracking partner is Heat Vision, who also just happens to be a human mind fused with a motorcycle, voiced, of course, by Owen Wilson. We’re told that this happened after he was struck by a ‘ray’. Science, everybody!
There really isn’t much to be said after a premise like that, except perhaps that the pilot included a cameo by Ben Stiller as a DJ and Heat Vision has extreme trouble with door handles. Despite all the inherent weirdness, this particular pilot never quite crosses the line into unwatchable; Heat Vision and Jack was endearing by way of its level of self-awareness. In fact, one of the pilot’s creators was Dan Harmon, the creative mastermind behind all the meta-comedy on Community and Rick and Morty.
It did sort of have a plot, and the actors are clearly treating the whole thing like serious business, even if that business is mostly caused by alien possession and magic science lasers. But hey, at least it doesn’t make us sit through an origin story. Modern superhero flicks could learn a thing or two from this one. You can check out Harmon’s first attempt at the wacky humor he became known for – HERE.
A dog who solves crimes? Sure, why not!
Poochinski featured a Chicago police detective (Peter Boyle) whose soul finds its way into a bulldog after he’s killed in action. He refuses to let that stop him in his pursuit of justice, a premise which must’ve been just wonderful for fans of the hard-boiled, flatulent canine detective genre. Still, there was no need to worry about animal cruelty; Poochinski was mostly portrayed by a dead-eyed puppet with severe lip-syncing issues. And yes, there were dog puns, including the essential ‘putting the bite on crime’.
The pilot was aired, but was ultimately never picked up for a full season. That probably should’ve been obvious from the trailer, which describes the series as ‘touching…poignant…unforgettable!’ straight after the scene where a puppet dog bites a man’s crotch. You can check out the trailer for this masterpiece – HERE.
Wishman was set to ride on the success of E.T. as another kindly monster in need of saving from an evil government agency. The series also starred The Terminator‘s Linda Hamilton, who no doubt would rather be hunted by unstoppable kill-bots from the future than spend another minute in the company of Wishman.
The premise was that a government agency created Wishman (Mark Dodson), a glassy-eyed mutant toddler, as a genetic experiment. They then wanted to dissect him for science, as shadowy government agencies are wont to do, but he is rescued by a guilty scientist (Joseph Bottom) and his completely innocent wife (Hamilton). Very little footage of the show exists, save for an impressively snarky trailer voiced by someone who clearly wasn’t quite on board with the vision of the project. He repeatedly encourages us to root for the bad guys, on account of Wishman being an abomination. This was presumably the reaction of any and all test audiences, meaning that the show never made it past the pilot.
As the narrator so delicately states, “Man, if my dog looked like that I’d shoot it.” You can check out a clip from the pilot – HERE.
Heil Honey, I’m Home! (1990)
There are some who say that there are no subjects that can’t be turned into comedy. Those people have never watched Heil Honey, I’m Home!
Exactly how this made it to the pilot stage is a mystery for the ages. In any case, Heil Honey, I’m Home! was a short-lived sitcom about the Hitlers at home coping with their Jewish neighbors, and that is not a sentence that should ever exist. Ridiculing Hitler may have been effective propaganda during the war, but Heil Honey was made in 1990, long after he became the poster child for pure evil. No, it’s not hilarious that Adolf Hitler can’t get along with the Goldensteins next door. We all know what that relationship was like in real life, and it’s doubtful that the studio audience will be chuckling by the time the season finale rolls around.
The fact that the series was meant to lampoon ridiculous 60s sitcoms is really no excuse for making light of the holocaust, and the show was axed after just one episode. The show itself being eye-scrapingly terrible and horribly written really didn’t help things. You can check out the controversial pilot yourself, right – HERE.
B Men (1989)
The trend of older actors playing teenagers is commonly known as “Dawson Casting,” named after everyone’s favorite ’90s teen angst-a-thon Dawson’s Creek. It’s the type of thing you probably didn’t notice while you were watching Power Rangers, because kids see everyone older than twelve as fully-grown adults. The same couldn’t be said for B Men, a failed pilot that featured ‘teenagers’ who looked like they should’ve been picking their kids up from school rather than attending it (or is the title supposed to be a giveaway?). The plot featured two high-school screw ups (James MacDonald and David Arnott) who take up bounty hunting.
The show was rife with shoddy acting, clichéd dialogue and two leads who looked like they should’ve been complaining about the economy and their aching joints rather than calling each other ‘dude’ and one-upping teachers. You also never need to worry about what to feel at any point, as the rampant and over-the-top musical cues have that covered.
Stick around for the first few minutes, though…there’s an epic fight scene involving an angry Spanish teacher and her pointing stick. It’s definitely the most compelling action B Men has to offer, but you can check it out yourself – HERE.
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl (2001)
The original 1976 version of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl was a playful lampoon of Batman and Robin, complete with silly gadgets, dramatic villains and conveniently timed gadgetry. It was a both a fun spoof and a product of its time. The 2001 reboot decided to ditch the charm in favor of plunging necklines and 90s mall-rock. The pilot isn’t without charm – Markie Post as a washed up, trailer-trash Elektra Woman is surprisingly endearing – but the whole thing is a little too bizarre to be taken seriously.
Remember, this was 2001. X-Men had come and gone a year earlier, showing people that big-budget superhero films didn’t have to be embarrassing. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man would be along a year later. And yet, Elektra Woman and Dyna Girl was a bizarre pastiche of past failures. The whole thing just feels out of its time, with its faux-risque humour, “beaming-at-the-camera” opening credits and sitcom-esque approach to the superhero genre. Hopefully, YouTube stars Grace Helbig and Dannah Hart have better luck with their new web series reboot. The pilot still manages to entertain, but it probably came about two decades too late. You can check it out – HERE.
Area 57 (2008)
The best that can be said about Area 57 is that it’s not entirely awful. Jane Lynch stars as a Sue Sylvester-esque army captain, Kelly Hu is… a character, and you might get the occasional chuckle from the first few minutes. Then we’re introduced to Paul Reubens as a flatulent alien and things go downhill from there.
The show was clearly aiming for the wacky premise of a hapless human trying to get close to a mysterious visitor, but any real poignancy is ruined by the aforementioned toxic flatulence and the constant underlying racism. The alien is referred to as an Eskimo, Mexican and ‘some kind of Chinese person’, and the audience is supposed to think it’s funny every time. On top of that, there are only so many times we can look at Paul Reubens’ E.T. makeup before the mischievous charm evaporate and we’re left with a series about a creepy alien that makes everybody hate everybody else. You can check it out – HERE.
Young MacGyver (2003)
At some point, somebody in some executive studio asked the question: “What if we made MacGyver about twenty years younger and slightly more precocious?”
Young MacGyver is the answer. Starring Jared Padelecki, who you might recognize from that one show about ghosts, the show featured Angus MacGyver’s nephew Clay, who swaps his uncle’s impractical mullet for an impractical fringe. Never mind that the original MacGyver was an only child and never married, exactly where they pulled Clay from probably crosses into science fiction. Not that we’re saying that cloning MacGyver would be a bad idea.
Strangely, the series could quite easily have been about an actual young Angus Macgyver rather than shoehorning in mentions of him around his nephew’s less-exciting exploits. It would’ve spared us the awkward “your uncle fixed my hearing aid with a paper clip!” elevator scene. Yes, we get it. MacGyver exists. He’s resourceful. Can we maybe make Clay something other than a de-mulleted copy? Anyway, you can watch the pilot – HERE.
Any weird and wonderful pilots from TV history that deserve a mention? Let us know in the comments!