For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with TV pilots.
TV pilots of all kinds. Shows which eventually made it to the screen virtually untouched as part of a series, like The Young Ones episode Demolition. Shows which made it to screen, but which were substantially or entirely reshot for the series proper, such as Citizen Smith. One-offs which aired, but never became a series – remember Mirrorball? And then there’s my favourite: pilots which were never broadcast, either because they were never intended to be in the first place, or because substantial changes happened between the pilot and the series… or because they were a complete fucking disaster in every single respect.
There are so many of these unbroadcast pilots I’d love to see. There’s the 1986 pilot Dungeon Doom… followed by a second, also unbroadcast pilot under the more familiar name Knightmare in 1987. Similarly, 1983 saw an unnamed pre-pilot, followed by a full pilot called UNTV… with a series appearing the year after, a certain Spitting Image. Then there’s Paul O’Grady’s version of The Generation Game, which by rights should have been the BBC’s big entertainment hit of 2003… and wouldn’t you just love to watch the two pilots they made to see exactly why that didn’t happen?
Occasionally, such pilots get to see the light of day on DVD, if they ended up as successful shows. Sherlock saw its unbroadcast 60 minute version of A Study in Pink released. The Day Today is one of the most obvious comedy examples, with the bare bones of the show there… but the visual panache of the series very much not. And then there’s Doctor Who, where the DVD set The Beginning contains the complete unedited pilot recording, and a brand new edit combining the best of all the raw session’s takes. Because, y’know, Doctor Who.
With comedy, it’s easy to wish so much more was released.1 Blackadder is the most obvious example here, with a pilot which had never been officially put out on DVD, presumably due to somebody not wishing it to be out there.2 Slightly further afield, I would do anything3 to see A Big Bunch of Hippies, the pilot for the underrated sitcom Hippies – and even if you didn’t like the show, its unbroadcast pilot was the last TV show scripted jointly by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, which is surely of interest to the discerning comedy fan.4
But occasionally, we get lucky. Hello Drop the Dead Donkey, Channel 4’s truly excellent 90s newsroom sitcom… which actually released its unbroadcast pilot on DVD in 2005. And watching it in the context of that first series from 1990 is rather instructive.
Admittedly, comedy in general has it better than game shows, or entertainment shows in general. Duncan Norvelle’s pilot edition of Blind Date is the stuff of legend, and we’ve never seen so much as a field of it. UPDATE: Thanks to Ben Baker, who points out that parts of this pilot were seen in the documentary Who Killed Saturday Night TV? Now I’ve just got to pluck up the courage to watch it. ↩
To be honest, it shuffles round the net so often like the proverbial video ghost that you’d think whoever it is might as well just throw up their hands, give in, and accept a few pennies out of it. ↩
MAX BYGRAVES: Name something people take with them to the beach. BOB JOHNSON: Turkey. MAX BYGRAVES: The first thing you buy in a supermarket. BOB JOHNSON: Turkey. MAX BYGRAVES: A food often stuffed. BOB JOHNSON: Turkey! [laughs]
– Family Fortunes, Series 5 Episode 3. TX: 28th October 19831
You’ve all heard of the Family Fortunes turkey incident, right? The Johnson Family get to the final round, Bob Johnson takes the stand, and proceeds to answer “Turkey” for the first three questions, and runs out of time for the last two. Cue a shot of one member of his family looking particularly murderous.
Hey, describing it removes all the fun. Take a look at the entire round below:
I specifically wanted to give a TX date for this episode, as it’s rarely mentioned whenever this incident is discussed, but nailing it down has been slightly tricky. The episode number and TX date I’ve stated are taken from IMDB, but it’s worth noting that IMDB can be inaccurate when it comes to things like this. A comprehensive list on Digital Spy claims the Johnson v. Dalby show is actually Episode 3, broadcast on the 28th October 1983. This seems to be some kind of confusion between two different Johnson families – next time I’m near a TV Times archive I’ll clear this up once and for all.
UPDATE: This piece originally gave the TX date as 18th November 1983, along with the ass-covering above. Many thanks to Steve Williams, who has confirmed that it was actually 28th October 1983. ↩
If you haven’t heard of the project, this from the Indiegogo page sums it up:
“In the 90’s, The Crystal Maze, was one of the UK’s favourite television shows. Now we’re planning for it to return as a live immersive experience right in the heart of London!
You’ll get to play the maze just as contestants did on the original show – placing you at the centre of the action. What we really want, is for people to live the magic of the hit television programme for themselves.
We will be lovingly recreating the famous set just as it was on the original show. All four famous zones will be present; Aztec, Medieval, Industrial and Futuristic, not forgetting of course, The Crystal Dome!”
But the part I want to concentrate on is the following:
“Modern audiences want to do, not watch. In recent years, there has been a cultural shift towards entertainment that audiences can engage with in a more active way. More and more we are finding new audiences who want to experience, interact, and play as opposed to watch.”
It’s about the second series of his “sitcom” Derek – and if you think I’m being mean with the scare quotes, Gervais himself invites them in the interview. Those who know me may be absolutely astounded to know that I have an awful lot of issues with what he says. But let’s skip past all the disability stuff, and just focus on the bit where he insults 50% of the population instead:
“The comic is keen to get under the skin of those “real” people – and one of his favourite themes is ‘men acting childishly’, which he describes as ‘my weakness’.
‘They just should know better, men don’t grow up – that’s always the theme I’ve had, women as adults and men as boys. Women don’t act like that! Proper stupidity is fascinating.'”
Really? Women don’t act like that? Bollocks. Utter horseshit. Some of the most fun times in my life have been spent with women behaving absolutely ridiculously.1. I can’t think of a more boring way to write female characters than “women as adults”. Not allowing women to be silly is not only a fairly fundamental flaw when it comes to writing comedy, but it makes you wonder exactly how Gervais sees the world.
It all reminds me of the very weakest parts of Men Behaving Badly. Gary and Tony get to do all the stupid fun stuff, and then we cut back to Dorothy and Deborah being sensible and tedious. The best moments were when Nye realised the women could be ridiculous too, and that just didn’t happen often enough.
If you want a sitcom that’s an antidote to all this crap, may I recommend Mom? Two lead female characters, doing things that are as stupid and as idiotic and as hilarious as can be. Real characters, not “sensible women” ciphers.
It’s not just how I like my comedy. It’s how people are.
Beware: this post is at the extreme end of television geekery. If you object to that, pop off to Digital Spy, now.
Back? Good. Here then, is something I guarantee you haven’t noticed before about Father Ted, brought to my attention by the not-literally eagle-eyed Danny Stephenson. The episode in question is Are You Right There, Father Ted? – take a look at the beginning of the bedroom scene between Ted and Dougal. (Ignore the ad break that’s been cut out there for the DVD release – that’s a whole separate issue…)
Because there clearly aren’t enough of them in the world, here’s the first in a new venture on Dirty Feed – a podcast. This episode, I use Victor Lewis-Smith’s 90s series TV Offal as an excuse to play a one minute long jingle from a radio station in Denver:
These will be published WHENEVER I CAN BE BOTHERED, and are deliberately starting off pretty short. Feedback more than welcome – I’ve been involved in G&T’s Dwarfcasts for over five years now, but this is the first time I’ve done one myself.
Give it a listen! Or: don’t.
With thanks to David Barras, Bigdave, Robin Blamires, jlehmann, jonno, Sean Martin, and mjb1124 on JingleMad for help and audio.