TV is a fickle game, and loving TV is like being married to a bipolar flamethrower. Whether you’re basking in the glory of a perfect show as it gets canceled and ripped from your life forever, or that one show you used to love just keeps piling up on your DVR after the past three seasons of mediocrity, to watch TV is to flirt with danger.
But for every TV show you’ve fallen in love with are a hundred more that you never got the chance to see. These are the shows that, for some reason or another, never made it past their pilot and, as a result, you never got a chance to see what could’ve been. To honor these shows that tried their hardest to make you love them but never even got the chance to say hello, we’re taking a look at pilots of the past that sound so good on paper but ultimately never came to be.
Here’s the 10 Most Promising TV Pilots That Never Got Picked Up.
HBO in 2012 seemed to be the year of high-profile family dramas gone awry. Though we have an idea of what The Corrections - the next show on our list - might have looked like, HBO’s All Talk was an unknown entity right up until its extremely undramatic death. Set to be the next project from novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, All Talk was being developed by Scott Rudin and Ben Stiller, who was also attached to star and direct.
The pilot was described as a “politically, religiously, culturally, intellectually and sexually irreverent” comedy, and was to focus on the life of a family in Washington, DC. Alan Alda was in negotiations to star opposite Stiller, and the pilot was to be shot in the fall of 2012 right up until….it never happened.
Unlike most shows on this list which died in a blaze of glory, All Talk just kind of vanished, and there hasn’t been a single mention of it ever since it was announced. No one ever talked about its demise, no one ever confirmed that it existed, and there’s a very real chance that the pilot is just an intense fever dream of every TV fan across the world.
Jonathan Franzen’s massive novel The Corrections is one that seems perfectly suited to get the HBO treatment. The novel spans years and generations and is a true epic, almost like Game of Thrones but on a deceptively simple Midwestern level. The book follows the Lambert family through the decades leading up to the final Christmas dinner at the Lambert’s old house. The richly drawn characters and all-encompassing themes would have translated fantastically to a sprawling family drama along the lines of Parenthood or Friday Night Lights, and the cast would have elevated the material to a premium cable-worthy level.
Set to star Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Dianne Wiest, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, director and co-writer Noah Baumbach looked like he was putting together something spectacular. According to Baumbach, the problem with the pilot was that it felt more like a movie, and he found it challenging to adapt the novel to an open-ended series where stories would need to be generated every episode. But despite those problems, with a script co-written by Jonathan Franzen and so much potential upside to an ongoing Corrections TV show, it was a shame to see the pilot fall through HBO’s massive cracks and not get picked up to series.
Remember The Office? It was a cultural institution, it lasted nine seasons, it launched the career of Steve Carell, and when it went off the air in 2013 it was seemingly never mentioned again. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened had the planned Dwight Schrute-centered spinoff gone forward at NBC. Maybe instead of reading this list right now you’d be reading 10 Reasons Season 4 of The Farm Is the Best Thing Ever Made. But that’s not the world we live in, because The Farm was never picked up and it was instead cut into a mediocre episode of The Office’s final season.
While we can’t say Rainn Wilson was better off without The Farm – he starred in last year’s Backstrom, which was poorly reviewed and quickly canceled – The Farm’s failure to secure a pickup was definitely good news for potential series-star Thomas Middleditch, who eventually landed on Silicon Valley and is currently doing the best and most underrated work on TV. So while we’ll never know what could’ve been had NBC opted to continue to live in the world of Scranton, what we do know is that TV comedy survived (though it has all but died on NBC) and – with the help of shows like Silicon Valley – has reached even higher highs than the brightest days at Dunder Mifflin.
Back when How I Met Your Mother was ending its nine season run, CBS put hope in fans’ hearts everywhere by announcing a new show called How I Met Your Dad. Would it follow any of the same characters? Would the show be as funny and charming as the first few seasons of HIMYM? Would it be as tedious as the last few? Why isn’t this new show called How I Met Your Father? These were the questions fans asked, but ultimately no answers came as the show died a death similar to the titular mother in the original; before we had a chance to get to know the show it was already gone.
With CBS chief Nina Tassler saying she was “heartsick” over the decision to not pick up the show, she also confirmed that she wanted creators Carter Bays, Craig Thomas, and Emily Spivey to shoot a new pilot. And while all reportedly agreed to try again in order to tweak the series, the producers also wanted a series order, which CBS declined to grant. So while it seems that creative differences ultimately killed HIMYD, there were still rumblings that the show would be shopped around to other networks or that it would get another chance in the current 2015-2016 TV season with recasting and reshooting. Considering it’s now 2016 and we’re not watching How I Met Your Dad on ABC, it looks like none of those plans will come to fruition and we’ll be left to forever wonder how exactly someone’s dad ended up being met.
On the heels of Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, Judd Apatow wasn’t giving up TV without a fight. He famously didn’t want to let any of the cast he had discovered go, often referring to himself as the father of a family that everyone was trying to pull apart. So despite bitter failures at the hands of idiot network execs who couldn’t sense brilliance, Apatow kept going, eventually developing a show called North Hollywood in 1999; something that looked to be as Apatowian as anything he’s done since.
North Hollywood starred Jason Segel as a struggling actor who worked as Frankenstein at Universal Studios, and the series was supposedly a result of Apatow being upset that NBC wouldn’t let him cast Segel as the lead in Undeclared. So, he cast him as the lead here and threw in Amy Poehler and Kevin Hart for good measure, or possibly as a planned “screw you” to every executive that doubted him; a screw you that would take effect a decade later when all three actors would become A-list stars. ABC – the network that ordered the pilot – eventually passed because, while they were looking for edgier shows at the time when they ordered it, they eventually decided that edgier shows weren’t for them. So, you know, at least their reasoning was totally rock solid and not at all inconsistent.
The Right Now! Show is any comedy nerd’s fantasy. It was an hour-long sketch show developed by Scott Aukerman, featuring a cast that included James Adomian, Maria Bamford, Ian Edwards, Natasha Leggero, Mike O’Connell, Paul Rust, and Casey Wilson. The show was planned to be a mix of sketches filmed in front of a live audience, shorts, animated segments, and stand-up, and knowing Scott Aukerman’s sense of humor, almost all of it would have been weird as hell.
With Ruben Fleischer of Zombieland fame directing, we’re certain that the show would have had sufficient visual flair and could’ve rivaled Aukerman’s current Comedy Bang! Bang! in terms of absurdity (but not in terms of exclamation marks in the title). Developed for Fox in 2007, the network eventually decided that the world was moving away from sketch shows (tell that to 2015) and they ended up passing on the series, freeing up all involved for the levels of greatness they would eventually reach.
Another failed Judd Apatow pilot, Sick In the Head – unrelated to Apatow’s spectacular 2015 book of the same title – starred David Krumholtz and Amy Poehler (yep, he really was on to something with her) in a multi-camera sitcom where Krumholtz played a psychiatrist on his first day on the job. While Sick In the Head and North Hollywood were only two of five failed Apatow pilots, Sick In the Head is the stuff of legend because it would have reunited Apatow with Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig.
So not only do we have to live in a world where Freaks and Geeks only lasted 18 episodes, but we also have to deal with the fact that we’ve never seen even one episode of Sick In the Head. The whole pilot sounds wonderfully dark and absurd – like that moment when Apatow allowed himself to let loose and end 40 Year Old Virgin with a dance number – with Kevin McDonald playing a client who has a different disorder each week and Poehler as a “sassy, suicidal patient.” While Apatow claimed that the show turned out great, Fox just wasn’t having any of it, as they were apparently going by their mandate of the time time to “screw over Apatow and the TV-loving audience as much as we possibly can.”
If you’re creating a show about an infamous Hollywood gossip columnist then it’s only fitting that your show would appear in the trades and generate as much salacious gossip as the person you’ve set out to portray. This was the case with Tilda, a comedy starring Ellen Page and Diane Keaton as a blogger based on Deadline creator Nikki Finke. The project was set up at HBO and written by Cynthia Mort and directed by Bill Condon, before Cynthia Mort was told not to come to set one day and everything erupted from there.
Reports were that Mort clashed with everyone on the set of the show – including star Diane Keaton – and picked fights with just about everyone she could. When Mort was told not to come to work, she sent an email to the production studio and director Condon to say that no one knew what they were doing and that the show would fail. So even though HBO remained high on the project and ordered additional scripts by Six Feet Under’s Alan Poul, the actors’ contracts expired and HBO scrapped the project, just one in a long line of many that sounded too good to be true; and ultimately that’s exactly what they were. As evidenced by the next two shows...
Of all the shows that could’ve been, the two that hurt the most are certainly Videosynchrazy and Utopia, the two shows that were set to team David Fincher up with HBO; the latter of which would have seen him direct an entire season with scripts by Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn. Yes, that is physical pain you’re feeling right now.
Earlier in 2015 everything was going well and we were able to cope with Fincher’s lack of upcoming film projects by consoling ourselves with two amazing sounding HBO shows. One was Videosynchrazy, a 1980s set comedy in the music video world that actually filmed upwards of five episodes before production was abruptly halted and the cast was sent home. HBO said that they were trying to tweak scripts before more was filmed, but the project ultimately fell apart and there are no plans to get it going again.
The second project, Utopia, was an adaption of the British series of the same name and had immense pedigree bursting out of every corner. Directed by Fincher, written by Flynn, and set to star Rooney Mara, Colm Feore, and Jason Ritter, rehearsals had been ongoing for a month before everything dissolved into HBO's pit of oblivion and the cast was released from their contracts. While this suspiciously happened around the time of Videosynchrazy’s falling apart, reports were that – though the show already had a series order – Fincher wanted a $100 million budget while HBO would only go as high as $95 million. The two sides were unable or unwilling to reach an agreement and the unthinkable happened; two sure-bet David Fincher series at HBO vanished within months of each other. Even worse, it now looks like our collective dreams of Fincher and HBO teaming up will never happen in a million years.
When Kyle Chandler decided to come back to TV after five seasons of one of TV’s best shows – Friday Night Lights – a bunch of film roles playing authority figures, and one Emmy later, he was going to do it in style. The Vatican was a prestige premium cable drama on Showtime. Chandler was set to star in the thriller that was said to blend spirituality, power, and politics into the backdrop of the modern Catholic Church. Sony Pictures Television was developing the project based on an original idea by ex-Sony chairman Amy Pascal, and the pilot was directed by Ridley Scott.
But all that talent in front of and behind the camera couldn’t stop the show from unraveling, as writer and showrunner Paul Attanasio was said to clash with numerous people behind the scenes and ultimately left the show after the pilot. Despite reshoots and another chance at getting it right, the pilot reportedly just didn’t come out well and the show was scrapped, freeing up Chandler to move onto Netflix’s Bloodline, a fantastic show whose first season has already nabbed him an Emmy nomination.
The above shows demonstrate the pains of following TV too closely instead of just being happy with whatever the powers at be shove in front of our faces. Which of these shows not being in your life hurts the most? Are there any we missed? Let us know in the comments!