Unsold Television Pilots: Everything You Never Saw on TV

Unsold TV Pilots by Lee Goldberg

Unsold TV Pilots by Lee GoldbergMy book UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS 1955-1989 is back for the first time ever as an ebook (for Kindle, Apple, and Nook) and as a single volume trade paperback. I began writing it when I was nine years old. By the time I finished it, I was in my early twenties and was far enough along in my TV career that one of my filmed, unsold pilots actually became an entry in this book (If You Knew Sammy, a potential spin-off from Spenser: For Hire). I appreciated the irony. It somehow seemed fitting.

The book was written in those dark ages when information couldn’t be Googled….when research meant spending thousands of hours in libraries, going through books, magazines, newspapers, and microfiches (remember those?) and digging through dusty file cabinets.

At the time, unsold pilots were a mystery, and there was no single resource for finding out information about them. This book became that resource. It was the first compendium of its kind.  And to my shock, and delight, the book became a sensation when it was published, leading to scores of articles, national TV interviews, a paperback abridgement (since republished as The Best TV Shows That Never Were), and over the years not one, but two network TV specials, The Greatest Shows You Never Saw (which I produced) on CBS in 1996 and The Best TV Shows That Never Were (which I wrote and produced) on ABC in 2004. The biggest thrill for me, though, was sitting in the audience of The Tonight Show with my wife Valerie while Johnny Carson, a certified TV legend, held the book in his hand, talked about how much he liked it, and then did a comedy bit based on it.

Over the years, readers have alerted me to mistakes in the book… the most embarrassing of which were the inadvertent inclusion of a few pilots that actually did sell and became series. Cringe. I’ve deleted those entries from this edition but made note of them to preserve the integrity of the original index (the pilots are listed by entry numbers, not page numbers).

I’ve also received hundreds of letters and emails from many attentive readers, who corrected errors, gave me additional details on dozens of pilots and alerted me to some unsold pilots that I’d missed. I’d like to single out Barry I. Grauman and Bill Warren for their eagle eyes and keen knowledge of television.

I’ve corrected most of the errors in the book (I say most, because I did my best to get’em all but I’m sure I missed some) and added some of the new details. However, I haven’t added any substantive new material. The few unsold pilots that I missed in the book have since been noted in the other reference works on the topic that followed mine over the last twenty-five years.

Oh, who am I kidding? The truth is, I didn’t add any new stuff because that would be the path to madness for me. I wouldn’t be able to stop until I brought the book entirely up-to-date, adding all of the unsold pilots produced since 1989.

I’ll share with you my dark secret. Since the day I finished this book, I’ve continued to compile information for a follow-up edition and possible new TV specials. I’ve transferred all my old VHS tapes of unsold pilots to DVD…and I grab any new unsold pilots I can get my hands on or that I can record off-the-air. I still clip, literally and virtually, every article that I see about pilots-in-development. But in this age when it’s so easy to find information on the web, when everything is databased (including, probably, every word of this book), it becomes increasingly unlikely that I’ll ever write a sequel to this book covering 1989-to-present.

And yet… I keep gathering the information. So why do I do it?

It could be because I’m mentally ill. Or maybe because it’s a habit that I started when I was seven years old and I’ve never entirely grown up. I’m still that kid inexplicably fascinated by all those lost pilots, those would-be TV series that never were…

 

The Lost Ella Clah Pilot

Ella Clah cover
The cover for “Aimee & David Thurlo’s Ella Clah: The Pilot Script.” The paperback, nook and kobo editions will be available soon.

Aimee & David Thurlo‘s Ella Clah, a Navajo Police special investigator, is one of the most enduring and popular characters in detective fiction today. Ella’s dedicated fans have long dreamed of the bestselling, critically acclaimed series coming to television…and it almost happened.

In 2001, CBS commissioned a pilot script, a sample episode of a proposed series, from William Rabkin and yours truly. Sadly, the Ella Clah pilot ultimately wasn’t produced, but ever since, the script has been hotly sought-after by fans. So we decided that it was time, at long last, to make that rare pilot script available to fans… along with the original sales treatment, six episode ideas, a foreword by the Thurlos, and a detailed account from Bill and me about how we approach our adaptation and what our plans were for the TV series. The book is called Aimee & David Thurlo’s Ella Clah: The Pilot Script and is now available on Kindle and Kobo (Paperback and Nook editions are coming soon) Here’s an excerpt from our introduction…

It was the end of the 2000-2001 TV season. CSI had become an unexpected hit on CBS. Every network was suddenly looking for a new spin on the traditional cop show and we thought we had one in Aimée & David Thurlo’s Ella Clah novels…but we’d have to make some big changes to pull it off.

In the books, Ella is an ex-FBI agent working as a special investigator in the Navajo nation’s police force. It was a character, and a world, that we hadn’t seen on television before. And we knew we never would. That’s because the concept had three big strikes against it: the setting was rural, the stories were all about Native Americans, and the lead was a woman. Remember, this was twelve years before Justified and Longmire, both of which are on networks that had yet to produce an episodic drama series, and there hadn’t been a hit, female-lead cop show since Cagney & Lacey.

Despite those major drawbacks, we believed there had to be a way we could make Ella Clah work within the current television landscape. So we went back to the books and analyzed what the key elements were that attracted us to them. And, not surprisingly, it came down to Ella herself, a woman torn between two different cultures; mainstream America and the Navajo nation…

To find out more, you’ll have to read the book. We hope it’s an exciting story for Ella Clah fans and aspiring TV screenwriters alike…and a cool peek behind-the-scenes of network television.