Pilots That Didn’t Fly & Spin-offs That Didn’t Spin
Television has always been a battlefield when it comes to getting a show actually on the air, and the P.I. genre has had it as rough as any other genre, although the nineties were particularly brutal. Some of these aired and nobody bit, and some of them may have never been aired at all. And some of them may have never gotten past the wet dream stage.
Still, it’s fascinating to see what might have been.
- ALIAS MIKE HERCULES
A pre-Ward Cleaver Hugh Beaumont as a not-so-mighty San Francisco private eye.
- PERSONAL REPORT, INC.
This unsold pilot boasted the acting talents of one “Touch” Connors, as one half of a team of former FBI agents now working as private eyes. “Touch”? His real name was Krekor Ohanian, although followers of this site may recognize him as Mike Connors, of Mannix fame.
- COOL AND LAM
A.A. Fair’s mismatched detective duo were featured in this (probably) unaired pilot, but failed to set the world on fire, despite a brief intro by Fair himself (aka “Erle Stanley Gardner).
- SAVAGE IS THE NAME
The pilot for this proposed show aired as an episode of Pursuit, the short-lived mystery anthology series, and starred Barry Sullivan as Henry Savage, a former FBI Agent turned security specialist for a major airline. There were plans to spin it off into a series, but there were “script” problems, and the project fell through.
- BROCK CALLAHAN
A pilot aired during the summer of ’59 featuring William Campbell Gault’s ex-jock PI, but failed to find an audience.
- NERO WOLFE
The episode, “Count the Man Down,” was intended as a pilot, and starred Kurt Kasznar as Nero Wolfe, and William Shanter (yes! Captain Kirk) as Archie. Unaired and unsold, but occasionally available on YouTube.
- EUROPEAN EYE
An ex-pat American living in London works as a private eye, helping foreign travelers in trouble.
- CALL HOLME
This comedy had Arte Johnson as a bumbling private eye whose only real talent was for disguises. Not very interestink, apparently.
- THE DETECTIVE
Larry Hagman was to play not-particularly-bright private eye, Dennis O’Finn, in this half-hour sitcom that was supposed to spoof many of his hard-boiled contemporaries.
- LAST HOURS BEFORE MORNING
Ed Lauter starred as 1940s house dick Bud Delaney in this fondly remembered made-for-TV flick, but the network passed on it.
- HUGGY BEAR & TURKEY
There was no huggy for this turkey. This backdoor pilot aired as an episode of Starsky and Hutch, intended to spin-off their flamboyant informant into his own show, with an uptight white guy P.I. as his partner. Apparently, fans of S&H consider this one of their least-favourite episodes.
- GABBY & GANDY
The Rockford Files episode “Just Another Polish Wedding” (February 18, 1977), was intended as a spin-off for a series about odd couple P.I.s Marcus “Gabby” Hayes (Lou Gosset, Jr.) and Gandolgh “Gandy” Fitch (Isaac Hayes), but it never quite got there.
- KATE BLISS AND THE TICKER TAPE KID
Suzanne Pleshette starred as a private detective in the last days of the old West, in this unlikely 1978 pilot. It was billed as a romantic comedy, but viewers didn’t fall in love with it.
- QUICK AND QUIET
A down-on-his-luck ne’er-do-well, Elliot Cooper, inherits an LA detective agency, only to discover that it’s haunted — by his late father, T.C. Cooper.
- LUTHER GILLIS, P.I.
There were four or five attempts to spin-off St. Louis gumshoe Luther Gillis from the popular Magnum P.I. show, but it never caught on.
- SHOOTING STARS
Parker Stevenson and Billy Dee Williams are TV actors who get canned from their roles as police detectives in a successful series, and naturally decide to become actual private eyes. At one point, one of the bad guys urges them to “Get out of the detective business!” Viewers agreed.
- AGE OF TREASON
Here’s a trend — private eyes in the days of ancient Rome. With the surprising popularity of Lindsey Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco and Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder in the nineties, it was only a matter of time, I guess.
Produced by Frank Lupo, this one featured obnoxious comedian Andrew Dice Clay as the leader of a small gang of crimefighters. What? Ford Fairlane wasn’t enough?
- CORVETTE JONES
A down-but-not-quite-out TV actor decides to become a detective. His credentials? Well, he played one for several years on the boob tube. HEY! Isn’t that the premise for Two of Diamonds?
- J.J. ARMES
Relates the adventures of an armless private eye. Outlandish as hell, except for the fact it’s based on a real-life private eye and, yep, that’s his real name. There was even a book about him, co-written with Frederick Nolan, in 1976.
- DOUBLE DECEPTION
They aired this as a made-for-TV movie, but it was essentially a pilot. James Russo starring as Jon Kane, a Venice Beach private eye on a wandering husband job.
- ONE FOR THE MONEY
Intended as a pilot done for the 2002 TV season, this made-for-TV flick starred Lynn Collins as Janet Evanovich’s bestselling bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. It wasn’t picked up, however, because, according to a reliable source who saw it in a test screening, “it was abysmal.”
- THE ZERO EFFECT
Following the success of the 1998 feature film, NBC decided to try a TV show, starring Alan Cummings in the title role (replacing Bill Pullman)), whose assistant was a character called Jeff (played by David Julian Hirsh) whom I assume was the fill-in for Arlo (who had been played by Ben Stiller) Alas, it was all for naught, because ultimately, NBC chose not to pick up the series.
- THE LAW AND HENRY LEE
Tentatively scheduled for the 2003 season but so far unaired, this one focused on an Oakland-based private eye played by Danny Glover. Lee’s is a former Oakland police officer who spent 18 months in prison for “protecting a fellow officer” (that’s a crime?) upon his release he becomes a private detective.
- THE WEBSTER REPORT
This star-studded premise certainly looked good on paper — it was going to be a character-based P.I. show featuring a reluctant New York City gumshoe, played by Stanley Tucci, with Bobby Canavale as his brother and Ben Gazarra as their dad, and it was developed by directed by Barry “Get Shorty” Sonnenfeld. I’m not even sure if it ever aired.
(2007, ABC/Touchstone Pictures)
The less you think or Chandler or Marlowe, the more you might enjoy this generic P.I. outing. It starred Jason O’Mara (who?) as a contemporary Marlowe, alongside Adam Goldberg, Amanda Righetti, Sherman Augustus, Jamie Ray Newman, and Clayton Rohner, and was directed by Rob Bowman. The tentative first episode, “Choices,” never even aired, but if you’re diligent, you might spot it on YouTube.
- Goldberg, Lee,
Unsold Television Pilots, 1955-1989 (aka “Unsold TV Pilots: The Greatest Shows Youy Never Saw”) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
McFarland & Co., 1991
How geeky do you want to get? A true fan’s guide to those shows that coulda been contenders, and those that never stood a chance in hell. Lee, of course, has written a ton of TV shows in our genre, and his insider’s take on the good, the bad and the WTF? is a blast from start to finish. Most recently revised in 2015.