My 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…
8 thoughts on “Unsold Television Pilots: Everything You Never Saw on TV”
My wife and I watched both specials on YouTube the other night. Fun! My vote for the all-time weirdest would be the show about the dead kid reincarnated as the toy dragon robot.
You know, all that new material would make great entries for your blog…
I found an abridged version of this book 15 years ago and demanded that the store owner track down a copy for me that omitted NOTHING! Turns out there isn’t a huge demand in the mid 90s for such a thing. It took a little work for him to track it down and I think he said his cost on the thing was $70-$80. I forget what the mark up was, but it was worth every penny.
I’m pleased to say the unabridged version is now available for a mere $4.99 as an ebook or $27 as a trade paperback. I always thought the cost of the hardcover was astronomical, but the publisher was working with the library reference market, where I guess those prices are, sadly, the norm.
That’s kind of funny. I like the dedication! A lot of people will start something like that and just never get around to finishing it. You spent A LOT of time on it. That’s how you know you’re in love with what you’re doing. Just remember that even though it can be embarrassing to have your mistakes pointed out to you, there is always something to learn! I am definitely inspired by you as a writer.
Hi, did you ever find out if Four Star really made a HIGH NOON TV pilot in 1966? It was called THE CLOCK STRIKES NOON. Peter Fonda was in it. I remember reading about it in your book but I’ve never found it –nor have I ever seen a photo or clip from it. Do you know if it was really made? If so, is there a way I can get it on DVD? Thank you. Richard Campbell.
I have no idea if the footage still exists anywhere…and I seriously doubt its on DVD. Unfortunately, very little effort is made to preserve flop pilots. And even when the footage is retained somewhere, often the rights/ownership to it are murky. We ran into this problem a lot when we did the clip show specials based on my book. On those occasions when we *were* able to find rare footage, who often could get the legal clearance necessary to air it.
I’m watching Faith Ford hosting a CBS TV special about unsold pilots. At the beginning of show, Ms. Ford states there are 3,000 copies of unsold pilot TV shows stored in a warehouse somewhere. Do you know if that’s true? Would seem there is a market there. At least for some fans.
No, there is no single warehouse full of unsold pilots. You took the introduction of the special, which I produced based on my book, way too literally 🙂