In 1976, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro delivered one
Television success is the Holy Grail for many. As many episodes as your concept can sustain, freedom from the time constraints of feature film, and the potential for mega success in syndication are tempting but nearly impossible. It is the “nearly” part that keeps people trying. Once you convince a network or studio that your pilot script is better than the thousands they get, you get a pilot. This is where the concept is really tested. Many are great and move on to a full season, but some are totally insane. Truly insane. These are six of the craziest television pilots that never made it to another episode.
Bark Bent is a journalist working for editor Terry Bite, but when he’s not scooping for news he’s scooping for, well you get the idea. After producer Whitney Ellsworth’s Adventures of Superman came off the air in 1958, he had an idea for a show that would save money and use underutilized sets and scripts from Superman, Superpup. The pilot featured actors in dog suits and basically played out like a gimmicky Superman story.
Chain Letter (1988)
Ian McShane (Deadwood and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) starred in this high-concept thriller pilot as a man working for Satan to barter for souls. Doing the devil’s dirty work, McShane’s Messenger of Death would make deals with unsuspecting people that, once the deal is made, they are whisked away to Hell. Sounds so damn cheery.
Alias Sherlock Holmes (1976)
JR Ewing as Sherlock Holmes sounds like an awful Halloween episode of Dallas, but that is what happens when Larry Hagman played an amnesiac cop who believes he’s Sherlock Holmes. You read that right. A Sherlock Holmes-reading motorcycle cop gets into a car accident and wakes up believing he’s Sherlock Holmes. He returns to the Precinct with his assistant Dr. Watson (Jenny O’Hara) as they play “master detective.” You can wake up from that fever dream now.
Time of the Devil (1977)
Dack Rambo stars in this supernatural thriller as Andy Stuart, a man who falls for the worst possible woman – Satan’s girlfriend. He decides to hire an exorcist (Dan O’Herlihy) to help him find his newfound love and save her from a cult. Yeah, that would fit in a lineup that includes Grimm, Vampire Diaries, and True Blood, but it is still pretty bugnuts.
McGurk: A Dog’s Life (1979)
Super-producer Norman Lear (All in the Family and The Jeffersons) swung for the fences with his post-All in the Family sitcom. McGurk is a dog, well a man in a dog suit, that lives a normal life (as dog people do), but he gets himself into funny little situations that are only funny because he’s a man in an anthropomorphic dog. Like a poorly conceived, bargain bin step-cousin to the great FX show Wilfred, McGurk fails at every level. He has 12 puppies and a girlfriend, but his owner is never seen – only voiced off camera like a nightmare episode of Peanuts.
Steel Justice (1989)
Robosaurus’s claim to fame was as a car-crushing, demolition derby machine, and, in perfect late-80s fashion, was given the small-screen pilot treatment. A detective’s son is killed in a car crash only to be reincarnated into a toy dinosaur. After some convincing, the detective gets help from an ancient sorcerer that allows his toy dinosaur son to turn into a giant, metal dinosaur that fights against crime in the post-apocalyptic city. Yeah, I wish I could make this stuff up.