Whenever a television series makes it to air, it’s all due to the pilot episode. The pilot is the way a show is pitched to a network once they decide to pony up the dough to make it. If they do well with test audiences, a network will then have the choice of either picking up a series or dumping it and never letting it get to air. This happens all the time in Hollywood and dozens of pilots are made each year you never got to see.
Then there are those pilots that the network feels would make a great series so they pick them up for air. You have seen the results of these in every television series that has aired, but occasionally, a pilot episode will do so poorly or offend audiences so viscerally, the network has no choice but to cancel the series.
Normally, this occurs after a season, or at least, after a few episodes have aired. For this list, we are focusing on television series that aired their first pilot episode to the public but were then immediately canceled by the network. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of any of these… frankly, you shouldn’t have unless you were unlucky enough to watch.
These are 15 TV Shows That Never Made It Past The Pilot
15. Osbournes: Reloaded (2009)
When The Osbournes hit the airwaves thanks to MTV, Ozzy Osbourne’s career regained momentum and his family was granted the status of celebrity. The show was a huge hit so after it went off the air, the famous family felt they could make a variety show work on the Fox Network.
It seems many Fox executives didn’t agree. While they did produce the show and greenlight it, they ended up cutting 25 minutes of its premiere episode in favor of American Idol, which held the timeslot just prior to Osbournes: Reloaded. Given that the entire show was meant to be 60 minutes, cutting almost half the episode didn’t help viewers connect.
The show was universally panned by critics and viewers seem to have absolutely hated it too. Fox spent a lot of money on the series and promoted it widely, but this show had very little chance of succeeding. Fox tried, but none of their affiliates agreed to air any of the remaining five episodes that were shot and edited.
14. QUARTERLIFE (2008)
Pretty much anyone reading this list has a Facebook account. It’s the dominant social media platform on the planet, but back in 2008, it was only gaining traction while MySpace was still dominating the market.
MySpace was doing so well, they decided to launch a scripted web series featuring a group of bloggers in their twenties called Quarterlife.
Each episode was eight-minutes long, but NBC was interested enough to pick up the television rights so they could air it on their network.
NBC compiled the webisodes into a single hour-long pilot episode they aired in 2008. This was prior to the rise of YouTube and the world just wasn’t ready to embrace the webisode format… even if it was compiled into a network television series.
13. EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT (2006)
Emily’s Reasons Why Not premiered on ABC in January 2009 with Heather Graham attached as the star of the show. It’s likely Graham’s star power is what first got the show the green light because it was later reported that ABC executives gave the show a go-ahead without bothering to see the pilot.
That was probably not the best call to make since the show was, in a word, terrible. The premise held that Graham was a single woman, unlucky in love, who decides the best way to get through life is to create a list-making system that would help her determine when it was time to give up on her endeavors and move on to the next thing.
ABC’s programming chief Steve McPherson knocked the show off his lineup the day after it premiered, saying that it was “not going to get better and we needed a quick change.”
12. SECRET TALENTS OF THE STARS (2008)
Secret Talents of the Stars is what the title suggests: celebrities have talents that we might not know about, so they showed off their abilities in a series hosted by John O’Hurley. Basically, it’s a talent show for the talented.
While that doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world, the celebrities who appeared on the pilot episode ended up showing off talents that weren’t too far from what we knew them for already.
Sasha Cohen, a figure skater showed off her abilities as a circus acrobat, which isn’t unlike figure skating while Mya, a singer showed off her ability to tap dance, and George Takei showed off his singing abilities.
What we ended up with was a series where famous folks showed off some of the reasons they were famous, but we never got to see a movie star perform magic or a comedian knitting a sweater… that might have been interesting.
11. Public Morals (1996)
While there was a same-named series released in 2015 that didn’t last very long, the first show called Public Morals was a series created by Steven Bocho with the intent of capitalizing on the success of NYPD Blue, another of his series.
The show was similarly-themed and even had several of the characters from NYPD Blue walk on for bit roles. The inclusion of those characters created a canonical link between the two series and the intention was to continue that trend.
Even though the network had 13 episodes filmed and ready to go, they canceled it after the first episode premiered. The main reason the show was killed had to do with the only thing network executives seem to care about: ratings.
10. South of Sunset (1993)
Fans of the American rock band the Eagles may recognize Glenn Frey as one of its founding members and frontmen. While he did dabble in the acting trade from time-to-time, he was only ever offered one major starring vehicle: South of Sunset on CBS in 1993.
The series was your standard detective drama, but it did suffer from a conflict with real-world events when it aired in 1993. When the pilot episode hit the air, Malibu was burning… literally. Several wildfires caused the media to preempt the pilot episode with coverage of the ongoing disaster. This included numerous cities’ key stations on the West Coast to include the ever-important market of Los Angeles.
9. LAWLESS (1997)
It’s very rare to take a professional athlete and turn him or her into a successful actor. Besides Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a few others, there just aren’t too many. That doesn’t mean they don’t try to cross the line from athlete into actor all the time. Fox gave it a shot with former NFL player Brian Bosworth with 1997’s Lawless.
The premise centered on John Lawless, a former member of the Special Forces who became a private investigator in Miami’s South Beach. Oh, and he rides a motorcycle, which is a character attribute for some reason.
The premiere episode performed so poorly that Fox killed it almost immediately. The first episode was the only one anyone ever saw.
To be fair to Bosworth, he didn’t end his acting career with Lawless. He continued to work in film and television walk-on roles but has not been given another show to carry since Lawless aired and then got the axe.
8. THE WILL (2005)
The Will premiered on CBS in January 2005 with its debut episode, but was, of course, canceled immediately following the airing of the episode.
Consider the premise and then ask why it was canceled: a reality show in which the members of a family would compete against one another to be named the sole beneficiary of a will.
That essentially means that the winner of the show only retains their winnings should another person, presumably someone they love given that it is a family member, die. The premise is rather disgusting and crass so it’s no wonder it didn’t survive airing.
7. HEIL HONEY I’M HOME! (1990)
Whichever network executive thought it would be a good idea to greenlight a show like Heil Honey I’m Home! has hopefully regretted that decision for a long time.
The premise for this series revolves around none other than Adolf Hitler and his lovely wife, Eva Braun, who live next door to a nice Jewish family.
The series never made it beyond the pilot (for what should be obvious reasons), but in several unaired episodes, the Hitlers plot to kill their Jewish neighbors.
This series attempted to take one of the most reviled monsters of the 20th century and turn him into a source for comedy, which disrespected the millions of people who died as a result of his actions.
6. CO-ED FEVER (1979)
Sometimes, an idea that works in a film just doesn’t fly when it comes to television. Following the success of National Lampoon’s Animal House, the three networks launched similarly-themed shows. NBC went with Delta House, ABC went with a show called Brothers and Sisters, and CBS aired Co-Ed Fever.
Unlike NBC and ABC’s series, which lasted about a dozen episodes each, Co-Ed Fever didn’t make it past episode one.
The premise of the series held that a school, which was previously only open to women, had switched to co-ed. With the inclusion of a bunch of horny teenage boys, the school launched a great deal of innuendo and sexism that absolutely did not work on network television at the time.
5. THE RICH LIST (2006)
The Rich List was axed after its first episode, which ended up costing the network considerable money due to their heavy promotion during the 2006 World Series.
The show was based on a British program created by the folks who were behind The Weakest Link and Dog Eat Dog, but that pilot wasn’t picked up.
The premise was that contestants would be required to name lists of various things within a given time limit. Essentially, Holmes would prompt the contestants to list as many Beatles songs or films by George Lucas, and whoever gave the most correct answers would win.
It’s not the worst premise for a game show that’s ever been given the green light, but it pulled in comparatively low ratings compared to other shows in its time slot.
4. FORD NATION (2013)
Remember the Toronto Mayor who had some trouble a few years back? He was caught smoking crack and messing around with prostitutes, but despite his many shenanigans, he remained in office. It seems his on-air time in the media garnered the attention of Sun News Network since they decided to greenlight his very own show, Ford Nation in 2013.
Ford sat alongside his brother, city councillor Doug Ford, Jr., and the two would discuss their opinions about all manner of political topics. Within only 24 hours of its debut, the series was canceled due to the high production costs and advertising issues with the controversial Mayor.
Despite the problems, it was “by far the most successful thing, from an audience perspective, the network has ever done” according to Sun News VP, Kory Teneycke.
3. Melba (1986)
Melba was a family sitcom designed around Melba Moore, a popular R&B singer. Melba was a single mom, raising her daughter with the help of her mom. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the plot, the actors, or the writing so you might be wondering why it was canceled.
Melba suffered from a confluence of events that brought about its demise. Imagine if a show premiered on 9/11–it wouldn’t do very well in the ratings because hardly anyone would tune in to watch. That’s what happened to Melba, which premiered on January 28th, 1986. That was the day of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which was the deadliest event in NASA history at the time.
Hardly anyone bothered to tune into CBS to watch a show about a single mom raising her nine-year-old kid when a bunch of American heroes had died in a horrific accident just a few hours prior. It didn’t take long for executives to kill the show, which is unfortunate, since they could have just re-aired the pilot on the following week.
2. WHO’S WHOSE (1951)
Who’s Whose holds the distinction on our list of being the oldest example of a television series to never make it past its pilot as well as the first series to suffer that fate. The first episode premiered in 1951 and it was immediately canceled.
Who’s Whose had a fairly decent premise in that it had three standing celebrities on the series: Robin Chandler, Art Ford, and Basil Davenport, who appeared alongside a guest panelist Emily Kimbrough in the premiere episode. Radio comedian Phil Baker and his on-air assistant named Gunga, who wore a turban, would pit the panel of experts against three men and three women.
The panel would then, through questioning, attempt to determine which man was married to which woman. It was fairly simple and somewhat standard for a panel quiz show in the early 50s, but it was so poorly produced and badly received, the network refused to move forward with it.
1. TURN-ON (1969)
While each of the pilot episodes listed previously were able to air before cancellation, Turn-On has a special place in history. Its first episode was canceled and pulled from the network before it even finished airing!
The ABC series was a variety comedy show similar to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. It was considered to be offensive with strong sexual content and political humor, which was a bit more risque back in 1969 than it is today.
WEWS in Cleveland, Ohio decided to pull the show after its first commercial break, meaning the show just ended and never returned after breaking for commercials the first time. Other stations refused to air it on the West Coast and ABC pulled it immediately from their lineup.
Were you unfortunate enough to catch any of these when they hit the air? Sound off in the comments and tell us your tale!
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