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Columns
The Other Network' shows pilots that went off course

Friday, May 23, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Watching a failed television pilot -- the first episode of a proposed series -- is like getting a look at a prototype car that never went into production or a proposed toy that was never made in mass quantities.

In the '80s, networks routinely aired their failed pilots in the summer after they passed on putting them on their fall schedule. CBS even made a series out of it. "CBS Summer Playhouse" aired from 1987 to 1989 between television seasons.

Just last week, the broadcast networks announced new series that they'll produce at least six episodes of next season. Left behind were dozens more shows that won't be seen outside executive screening rooms.

These failures are fodder for "The Other Network," a traveling festival of failed pilots that stops at The Andy Warhol Museum tonight as part of the museum's "Good Fridays" series.

Two comedy pilots will be featured, plus an unaired episode of Fox's animated comedy "Family Guy."

"Heat Vision and Jack," a 1999 pilot, stars Jack Black ("High Fidelity") as Jack Austin, an astronaut who flew too close to the sun.

"Apparently the human brain is not unlike cookie dough," Jack says. "Mine was baked by the sun, causing it to rise, increasing its cognitive capacity. Now I'm up to three times smarter than the smartest man in the world."

Directed by Ben Stiller, this proposed half-hour sitcom riotously sends up '70s- and '80s-era superhero shows, particularly "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "Knight Rider." The special effects are purposefully made to look dated, and the dialogue, by writers Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon, is hilarious.

Jack travels the country with a talking, moody motorcycle, Heat Vision, voiced by Owen Wilson. They're pursued by Ron Silver as Ron Silver, sometime actor and former astronaut.

"Heat Vision, we've stumbled onto the scene of a very unusual crime," Jack says.

"We tend to do that, don't we?" Heat Vision replies.

Fox considered "Heat Vision and Jack" for its fall 1999 schedule but ultimately decided against it, probably because it's just too smart. More viewers would stumble upon it and think it's just a bad TV show than would understand it's a parody of a bad TV show.

Judd Apatow has sold several series, but they never seem to last long. He was executive producer for NBC's "Freaks and Geeks" and created Fox's "Undeclared." In spring 2001, Apatow tried to sell ABC on "North Hollywood," which he calls the final series in his "trilogy of failure."

The show chronicles the lives of young actors trying to find work. Jason Segal, who appeared on both "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared," stars as an actor who pays the rent by appearing as Frankenstein at Universal Studios. Amy Poheler ("Saturday Night Live") plays the assistant to Judge Reinhold, who hilariously spoofs himself.

In an introduction, Apatow illustrates one of the truisms of the TV business: Networks are fickle. When Apatow sold ABC on making the pilot, network executives said they wanted to be more like Fox. By the time the network planned its fall schedule, executives had decided they wanted their schedule to be more like ABC circa 1977.

Regardless of ABC's positioning, "North Hollywood" is probably too "inside" to succeed on any broadcast network. It's amusing and sly, but not laugh-out-loud funny.

Finally, "The Other Network" presents the "Family Guy" episode "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein," which series creator Seth McFarlane says Fox deemed "too offensive for television" in an introduction.

In the episode, written by Ricky Blitt, Irish-Catholic family guy Peter Griffin concludes that Jewish accountants could help improve his financial situation and sings, "I Need a Jew." Later, he tries to bar-mitzvah his dim-witted teenage son.

Better episodes of "Family Guy" aired on Fox, and though the show wants viewers to laugh at Peter's ignorance and stereotyping, it's understandable that network executives would be nervous about airing this one.

Greg Miller created "The Other Network" with comedian Beth Lapides last summer, debuting it at a Los Angeles nightclub where it became a huge hit among members of the Hollywood creative community.

"We realized at a certain point we knew a dozen people who had pilots they'd poured their heart and soul into for a year or more, and then nothing ever happened with it," Miller said. "Nobody ever saw it. These are fantastic writers and we said, let's see what they're doing. If we're interested, I bet other people will be, too."

"The Other Network" eschews drama pilots in favor of comedies, because Miller said those play better in a club setting. Now Miller receives unsolicited pilots from TV show creators, rejecting some "that weren't so good, and we agreed with the network and also didn't want to air them."

Miller and Lapides are in talks with cable networks, online entities and DVD distributors about making "The Other Network" available to a wider audience.

"It's a very complicated rights situation," Miller said of broadcasting these unaired pilots. "We're trying to make it happen, and I believe it will."

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

PREVIEW

'THE OTHER NETWORK'

WHERE: The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side

WHEN: 8 tonight

TICKETS: $5

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