Failed TV Pilots of the 1970s
Potential Weekly Series That Never Made the Grade!
This article offers up a brief listing of unsold television pilots that aired during the 70s. Some of these were shown as specials while others were broadcast as a movie of the week. Popular and big name stars like Leonard Nimoy, Bette Davis, Billy Dee Williams did their best to capture the attention of the network executives as well as the viewing audiences but failed to do so.
What is a pilot?
A pilot is a sample episode of a proposed weekly series. Its job is to establish the basic concept of the series, acquaint the audience with the characters and give their history as well as help to establish the relationships between the characters. A pilot often is a stand alone episode that concludes in a satisfactory way, but yet leaves openings for further exploration which is what is covered in future episodes should the series be picked up. Pilots end up on network schedules as specials, television movies, or even as an episode on an already established television series.
Do all pilot episodes become series?
Not all pilots that are proposed end up as series, many are given air time, but simply don't meet the standards necessary to be turned into a series. These unsold pilots are sometimes revamped and offered up again, but that doesn't mean their chances to be bought and made into a weekly series has improved.
Can there be more than one pilot episode?
Yes, as mentioned above, this happens on occasion when the pilot can undergo changes such as plot line, change of setting, actors involved, etc. One example of this came in the form of Mr. and Mrs. Dracula, a pilot that aired first in 1980 on ABC and was rejected. It went through some revamping and second pilot was produced that aired in 1981 also on ABC, but fared no better than the first.
Other examples of pilots being tried more than once: Cat Ballou (both in 1971), The Goodbye Girl (1981 and 1982), Love at First Sight (1980 and 1982).
Does the failure of a pilot episode to be turned into a weekly series mean that it was of bad quality?
While it is true that a pilot episode can be rejected for being just really bad quality, it isn't always correct to assume that is the reason for all unsold pilots. There are a few gems out there that received good ratings and good reviews from critics. Christmas Lilies of the Field had good ratings, a fine cast, good story line and good reviews, but it never made it beyond pilot status.
Leonard Nimoy as a Race Car Driver Turned Psychic in Baffled
Baffled: This 2 hour TV movie aired on NBC January 30, 1973 and starred Leonard Nimoy as race car driver Tom Kovack who after being involved in a car accident discovered that he had psychic abilities. His new abilities were in demand from the police as well as government organizations. He was aided in his work by a female psychiatrist Michelle Brent (Susan Hampshire) who specialized in the world of the occult. (Some sources state that Brent was a dealer of rare books and ESP enthusiast). He also received help from his chauffeur, Hopkins (Ewan Roberts). This movie was filmed in England.
Additional Cast: Rachel Roberts, Valeria Taylor, Ray Brookes, Angharad Rees, Milton Johns, Al Mancini, John Rae, Patsy Smart, Shane Rimmers, Roland Brand, Bill Hutchinson, Michael Sloan, Dan Meaden
Additional Details: Arena Productions and ITC Entertainment. Director: Philip Leacock. Executive Producer: Norman Felton. Producers: Philip Leacock and John Oldknow. Writer: Theodore Apstein. Music: Richard Hill.
- Nimoy was a licensed pilot and made his first solo flight at an airfield near London, England when he was filming the TV movie Baffled.
- Some sources state that the original title of the television pilot movie was "Baffle" as opposed to "Baffled".
Nimoy's Baffled did you ever see it?
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Billy Dee Williams as Homer Smith in Christmas Lilies of the Field
Christmas Lilies of the Field: The two hour TV movie aired on NBC on December 16, 1979.
It was classified as the sequel to the 1963 film Lilies of the Field starring Sidney Poitier. Billy Dee Williams was Homer Smith (the role played by Poitier in the film), a carpenter who was asked to build an orphanage next door to the chapel that he built in the original film.
Additional Cast: Maria Schell, Faye Hauser, Lisa Mann, Hanna Hertelendy, Judith Piquet, Donna Johnson, Bob Hastings, Jean Jenkins, Fred Hart, Sam Di Bello, Timmy Arnell, Oliver Nguyen, Regina Simons, Juilie Delgado, Rachel Ward, Danny Zapien, Adolpho Flores.
Additional Details: Rainbow Productions and Osmond Television Productions. Director: Ralph Nelson. Executive Producer: Ralph Nelson. Producers: Jack N. Reddish and Toby Martin. Writers: John McGreevey and Ralph Nelson from characters created by William E. Barrett. Music: George Aliceson Tipton.
- Ralph Nelson who wrote, produced and directed this television movie also directed and produced the original 1963 Oscar winning film.
- If the pilot had been picked up by the network, Williams was prepared to continue with the role of Homer Smith having signed a contract with Universal.
- The television movie took 20 days to film at a cost of $1.6 million.
Jayne Kennedy and Cornelia Sharpe in Cover Girls
Cover Girls: In this 90 minute television movie that aired on NBC May 5, 1977, Linda Allen (Cornelia Sharpe) and Monique Lawrence (Jayne Kennedy) traveled world as fashion models and no one would ever guess they are really secret agents who worked for James Andrews (Don Galloway).
Additional Cast: George Lazenby, Vince Edwards, Jerry Douglas, Michael Baselson, Don Johnson, Ellen Travolta, Sean Garrison, Bill Overton.
Additional Details: Columbia Pictures Television. Director: Jerry London. Executive Producer: David Gerber. Producers: Charles B. FitzSimons and Mark Rodgers. Writer: Mark Rodgers. Music: Richard Shores.
David Ackroyd as Exo-Man
Exo-Man: This 2 hour television movie aired on NBC June 6, 1977. This potential series was created by the author Martin Caiden, the same man who created the concept of The Six Million Dollar Man.
Nick Conrad (David Ackroyd) was a college professor who apprehended a bank robber and was then gunned down by a hit man for his efforts. Crippled from the attack, Conrad devised a suit that gave him super human strength and the ability to walk. When Conrad caught the hit man responsible for his disability, he decided to continue fighting crime with the aid of his suit.
While this plot did seem to have potential the television movie was horrible. The suit devised for Conrad made him look like a walking robot, a slow walking robot at that. Remember the Sleestaks from the classic Saturday morning live-action show, Land of the Lost, and how slow they moved; I think you get the idea.
Caiden complained that it was the marketing people at Universal who were responsible for the ridiculous costume. They wanted a superhero suit that was easy to mass produce when the time came to market toys. All I can think of when I look at the suit is that it reminds me of one of those old time diving suits with the big helmet. It is hard to believe that the suit took 10 weeks to develop at the cost of $100,000.
Additional Cast: Anne Schedeen, A Martinez, Jose Ferrer, Harry Morgan, Kevin McCarthy, Jack Colvin, Jonathan Segal, Richard Narita, John Moio
Additional Details: Universal Television. Director: Richard Irving. Executive Producer: Richard Irving. Producer: Lionel E. Siegel. Writers: Martin Caiden, Howard Rodman and Lionel E. Siegel from a story by Martin Caiden. Music: Dana Kaproff.
Peter Haskell in The Eyes of Charles Sand
The Eyes of Charles Sand: This 90 minute television movie aired on ABC February 29, 1972.
Peter Haskell starred as Charles Sand, a man who inherited the family gift "The Sight", the ability to see into the future from his uncle who had passed away. At his Uncle's funeral he meets a young woman named Emily who asks him to help prove her brother was murdered, even though her family insists that he was very much alive and living in London.
Additional Cast: Joan Bennett, Barbara Rush, Sharon Farrell, Bradford Dillman, Adam West, Gary Clarke, Ivor Francis, Owen Bush, Donald Barry and Larry Levine.
Additional Details:Warner Brothers Television. Director: Reza S. Badiyi. Producer: Hugh Benson. Writers: Henry Farrell and Stanford Whitmore from a story by Farrell. Creator:Henry Farrell.
- Aired as an ABC Movie of the Week
- Warner Brothers couldn't get a sound track made for the film because of a composer's strike, so they simply "borrowed" Henry Mancini's soundtrack from the film Wait Until Dark. When Mancini found out, he sued and won.
- Glen Ford's daughter-in-law, Lynda Ford, had a small role as a apparition seen by Sand while in a cemetery. Ford had given up teaching for an acting career.
Bette Was the Mysterious and Powerful Madame Sin
Madame Sin: This two hour (some sources state 90 minute) television movie that aired on ABC on January 15, 1972 starred the legendary Bette Davis is a rather strange role. She was Madame Sin, a strange and mysterious woman who kidnapped former C.I.A. agent Anthony Lawrence (Robert Wagner) and brainwashed him to work for her in her high tech intelligence agency that was headquartered in her Scottish castle.Sin wants Lawrence to steal a secret Polaris submarine.
Additional Cast: Denholm Elliott, Gordon Jackson, Catherine Schell, Paul Maxwell, Pik-Sen Lim, David Healy, Alan Dobie, Roy Kinnear, Al Macini, Charles Lloyd Park, Burt Kwouk, Paul Young, Jack Weir, Gerard Norman, Stuart Hoyle, Stuart McGugan, Gabriella Liqudi, Vanessa Kempeter, John Orchard, John Slavid, Barry Moreland.
Additional Details: ITC Entertainment. Director: David Greene. Executive Producer: Robert Wagner. Producers: Lou Morheim and Julian Whitle. Writer: Barry Oringer. Creators: Barry Shear and Lou Morheim. Music: Michael Gibbs.
- Aired as an ABC Movie of the Weekend.
- Was Bette's first television movie.
- Wagner came by the story when it was just an 8 page outline. It took a year and a half to develop it into a story that could be filmed.
- Filmed in London and the Isle of Mull, Scotland.
Sonny Bono Found Murder in Music City
Murder in Music City: This two hour TV movie aired on NBC January 1, 1979 and starred Sonny Bono as Sonny Hunt, a Nashville songwriter who buys a detective agency as a tax write-off and ends up taking over the business when the private eye is killed. Helping him with his "detection" is his bride, Samantha (Lee Purcell) who happens to be a model. All Sonny wants to do is make music, while his wife wants to pursue her modeling career, but the private detective stuff just keeps getting in the way.
Additional Cast: Lucille Benson, Claude Akinds, Belinda J. Montgomery, Morgan Fairchild, Michael MacRae, Harry Bellaver, Jim Owen, and T. Tommy Cutrer.
Country Music Performers: Charlie Daniels, Larry Gatlin, Barbara Mandrell, Ronnie Milsap, Boots Randolph and Ray Stevens make cameo appearances.
Additional Details: Frankel Films/Gank, Inc. Director: Leo Penn. Executive Producer: Ernie Frankel. Producer: Jimmy Sangster. Writers: Ernie Frankel and Jimmy Sangster. Music: Earl Hagen.
- Sometimes known as Music City Murders, Country Music Murders, Sonny and Sam. Sonny wrote the theme song.
- In an interview done in November of 1978, Bono claimed that the network had ordered four more scripts, but nothing ever came of it.
River of Gold
River of Gold: This ABC Movie of the Week aired on March 7, 1971. Beach bums Marcus McAllister (Roger Davis) and Riley Briggs (Dack Rambo) decide to take their boat down the coast of Mexico in search of sea treasure and pretty women. While Briggs is in the water searching for treasure, McAllister happens to notice guest arriving at a nearby yacht via helicopter. His attention is caught by what appears to be a woman who falls,jumps or is pushed from the helicopter and lands in the water. Briggs tries to find her but to no avail. Soon the two men find themselves mixed up in a missing person's investigation and have a run in with millionaire Evelyn Rose (Ray Milland) who would rather the missing woman remain missing.
Additional Cast: Suzanne Pleshette, Melissa Newman, Jorge Luke, Teddy Stauffer.
Additional Details: Aaron Spelling Productions. Director: David Friedkin. Producer: Morten S. Fine. Writer: Salvatore C. Puedes. Music: Fred Steiner
Sam Groom and Tom Hallick Were Time Travelers
Time Travelers: This 90 minute TV movie aired on ABC on March 19, 1976. This is Rod Serling's reworking of his old series, Time Tunnel.
Doctor Clint Earnshaw (Sam Groom) and a research scientist Jeff Adams (Tom Hallick) are faced with a disease that is spreading across the country. They believe that a cure for this had once been found, but the man responsible for it died in the Great Chicago Fire that happened over a hundred years before. They decide to travel back in time to find the cure before it goes up in flames in the fire.
Additional Cast: Richard Basehart, Trish Stewart, Booth Colman, Francine York, Walter Burke, Dort Clark, Baynes Barron.
Additional Details: Irwin Allen Productions and Twentieth Century Fox Television. Director: Alexander Singer. Producer: Irwin Allen. Writer: Jackson Gillis. Music: Morton Stevens.
Barry Bostwick in Slither
Slither: This 30 minute pilot which aired on CBS on March 21, 1974 was based on the 1973 feature film of the same name that starred James Caan as Dick Kanipsia an ex-con who had a habit of meeting strange people and getting mixed up in their lives. I have to admit the title of this makes me think more of snakes than ex-cons and comedy, but, what do I know?
Barry Bostwick took on the role of Kanipsia in the TV pilot.
Additional Cast: Patti Deutsch, Cliff Emmich, Michael C. Gwynne, Seamon Glass, Louis Quinn, Robert Stiles, John Delgado
Additional Details: MGM Television. Director: Daryl Duke. Producer: Jack Shea. Writer/Creator: W.D. Richter.
Jon and Jim Hagar Were Twin Detectives
Twin Detectives This 90 minute pilot movie aired on ABC May 1, 1976 and starred Jim and Jon Hagar probably best known as the singing twins on Hee Haw. This pilot had the brothers working as private detectives who pretend to be just one individual which gives them the added advantage of being able to be in two different places at the same time. A cute premise, eh? They certainly were busy in this episode because they unmasked a phony psychic, recovered stolen money and solved a murder.
Additional Cast: Patrick O'Neal, Michael Constantine, Otis Young, David White, Fred Beir, Randy Oakes, James Victor, Barbara Rhoades, Lynda Day George, Billy Barty and Frank London and the legendary Lilian Gish (in her television debut!).
Additional Details: Charles Fries Productions. Director: Robert Day. Executive Producer: Charles Fries. Producer: Everett Chambers. Creator: Don Sharpe. Writer: Robert Specht from a story by Everett Chambers, Robert Carrington, and Robert Specht. Music: Tom Scott.
© 2015 Glory Miller
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