Friday, April 20, 2018

Pilot Week! The Oddities of TV Land

The saddest fact about pilots is that the vast majority of them will never see the light of day. The networks receive thousands of scripts each year. They buy options on hundreds of them, produce about 25 or 30 and purchase 10-15 of them. It’s a struggle for any project to make it air, much less get renewed. Even if the show does get picked up, there are few guarantees that it will last long. Typically new shows will get a 10-15 episode order for a first season with an option for what is called the “Back 9” which fills out a full season order. The competition to get a role in a pilot can be pretty fierce. Sometimes, even if one gets a role on a pilot they might not go much further even if their show gets picked up.

The most visible case of this was Empty Nest. The show was originally supposed to star Rita Moreno and Paul Dooley as a married couple who lived next door to The Golden Girls. They were introduced in a back door pilot, though when it got picked up the next season, only David Leisure and the set returned. Richard Mulligan took up residence in the house and its previous occupants were never spoken about again.

Growing Pains originally featured a different actress in the role of Carol Seaver- Elizabeth Ward. When ABC picked up the show, it held a viewing of the pilot before a test audience. After evaluating the feedback, the network chose to replace Elizabeth Ward with Tracey Gold, who had originally been rejected for the role. To save money, the network only reshot Carol Seaver’s scenes. Eagle-eyed viewers can still catch a glimpse of Elizabeth Ward in the background of one scene.

Most of the time a show whose pilot was rejected is, for the most part, dead. The networks typically won’t revisit a project they’ve rejected. In the case of ABC’s The Middle, the original pilot starring Ricki Lake as Frankie Heck was rejected in 2007. Two years later, ABC would revisit the show with a mostly new cast. The only actor who was asked back was Atticus Shaffer.