What Happens to All Those Rejected TV Pilots? Will We Ever See Them?
Burning Question: What will happen to all the failed pilots and TV series that the networks rejected this year? Who owns them, anyway? — J. Meister
I like to imagine that they're destined for an "Raiders of the Lost Ark"-like warehouse where series go to die — a tomb filled with dusty DVDs and VHS tapes, the only existing evidence that Pee-wee Herman ever played an alien or that Norman Lear once made actors dress up as dogs.
Back in the day — ahem, say, 10 years ago — failed pilots didn't have many chances at a second life. A network would reject them, the writer-producers who created and owned the shows would hold on to them, and ... that was about it.
"Used to be, in the olden days, that the networks would air them in the summer as sort of a repertory slot filler," recalls TV executive turned talent manager Marissa O'Leary.
If the pilots had a respected writer or talent, then the shows might re-emerge during the odd private party or convention. The fan fave "Locke & Key," inspired by a comic book of the same name, drew huge buzz during the 2011 pilot season, but it never got picked up, and it ended up being screened at San Diego Comic-Con instead.
[Related: The Big-Name TV Pilots You'll Never See]
Other concepts never quite live but never completely die, either. Take "Wonder Woman," the 2011 pilot based on the female superhero. NBC declined to buy the series, but a new version of the old idea, called "Amazon," is currently kicking around at The CW.
For years, the fabulous Los Angeles-based writer and comedian Beth Lapides would screen the pilots at a club, in a series she called "The Other Network." To this day, Lapides tells me, fans still rave about certain legendary pilots such as "Heat Vision and Jack" — which starred a premillennial Jack Black and Owen Wilson — and "Lookwell," a rejected 1991 show co-created by Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel and starring Adam West of "Batman" fame.
"That one is legendary," Lapides recalls. "They really tried something new."
Nowadays, though, there isn't as much of a need for an Other Network.
"There are so many outlets now for people to put material out, so fewer things are remaining unseen," Lapides says.
Case in point: four new episodes of Lapides's live comedy show, "UnCabaret," which she recently made available via Amazon.
Meantime, if you're curious about the much-adored "Lookwell," I did manage to dig it up on YouTube.