Friday, April 1, 2011


I was reading about how the never-finished 'Doctor Who' story "Shada" by the late Douglas Adams is being re-worked to be a novel, with the blessings of the Adams estate. And it got me thinking about some other TV show episodes that, for one reason or another, never were completed......

So I've put together a Super Six List of the more interesting examples, starting with the oldest one I could find:

1] 'BONANZA' In "The Ponderosa Birdman", Buster Keaton was scheduled to portray crackpot inventor Phineas T. Klump back in 1965. That was the one where Hoss Cartwright was supposed to be the guinea pig for an experimental flying device.

But Keaton raised too many objections about the script. He felt that his character should be the one to test the device out; that he could come up with some funny routines based on his old silent movie material. But as the producers pointed out, they needed the participation of one of the Cartwrights, or it wouldn't be a 'Bonanza' episode.

So then Keaton suggested that Little Joe would be the more logical since Michael Landon was smaller and lighter. Keaton tried to put a polite spin to it by saying that Dan Blocker was not "aerodynamically sound".

Again, the producers stepped in saying that the image of Hoss with wings would be funnier, but Keaton insisted that the basis of humor needed believability, and that a fat man with wings was not funny, just stupid. It was all the stage-hands could do to keep Dan Blocker from tackling Buster Keaton.
Ultimately, Keaton was paid off and let go. The producers brought in Ed Wynn to play Klump. (Coincidentally, Wynn had visited the set just a few days earlier to see his old friend.) Keaton never held a grudge about it and went off to make a few "Beach Blanket" movies instead.

While in England during the summer of 1972 to film establishing location shots for "Dagger Of The Mind" later that year, Peter Falk was introduced to Sir Laurence Olivier. Sir Larry let the star of 'Columbo' know that he would be delighted to get the opportunity to play a murderer on the American detective series. Eager to land the "Master Thespian" for a guest spot, the script for "Greenhouse Jungle" was hastily written with Olivier in mind to play Jarvis Goodland. Unfortunately, a computer glitch caused problems for Olivier in securing a work visa in time for the shooting schedule. Since Falk had worked with Ray Milland previously in the episode "Death Lends A Hand", he was brought in to play the role instead. It was a rush job, evident in Milland's performance, and was put on the schedule ahead of "Dagger Of The Mind".Sadly, the opportunity for Peter Falk to work with Laurence Olivier on 'Columbo' never presented itself again.

3] 'SOAP'
Halfway through the first season of 'Soap', producer Susan Harris made inquiries to Jackie Gleason's people to see if he would be open to the idea of playing a character on the soap opera spoof. It would have been nothing elaborate - she knew Gleason's reputation for wanting it all done in one take - and would have just been a recurring role leading up to the season finale cliff-hanger. Ms. Harris had it in mind for "The Great One" to play Judge Petrillo, who would preside over the murder trial for Jessica Tate. But Gleason was only interested in doing a cameo, as his own character of Reggie Van Gleason, and he wanted Witt/Thomas/Harris to bring the production down to Miami.

Susan Harris realized it would have been more trouble than it was worth, so the offer was withdrawn. Eventually Charles Lane was hired to play the role of Judge Petrillo.

(Rumor has it that Gleason was hoping to revive interest in Reggie Van Gleason for his own show. He thought the time was right, since there was so much fascination with the rich in the prime-time soaps, to use Reggie {his own personal favorite character} to mock the genre.)

Salem Saberhagen was a sorcerer who was serving a term of punishment by being transformed into a black cat. For the most part, his time on 'Sabrina The Teen-age Witch' was spent tossing off one-liners from the sidelines.

Voiced by Nick Bakay, Salem was supposed to get his own spin-off series. But the pilot didn't test well with the research audiences. Remembering the ratings debacle of the pilot for 'Toonces, The Cat Who Could Drive A Car', the network didn't want to risk burning off the pilot by airing it and thus harming the character's potential on the parent series.

Instead, they killed the project and quietly re-edited certain scenes back into the 'Sabrina' series as a cost-cutting measure.
During the first season of the con man series on TNT, a very special script was written for a very special guest - Patrick McGoohan. "The Six Days Of Christmas Job" was about a shopping mall Santa Claus who was targeted for murder and who may have been a spy but who retired from the business long ago.
The script was full of references to McGoohan's career - the action took place at the Village Mall, where the Santa had been hired by the firm's "Number Two"; the activity area for children had a giant inflatable white ball; and McGoohan's character's name was supposedly "Drake Rafferty". There would have been a variation on his famous "I am not a number; I'm a free man!" speech, and even the title of the episode carried a reference to his character from 'The Prisoner'.

(By the end, it would still remain a possibility that McGoohan was appearing as Number Six. But as was the case in never identifying Number Six as John Drake of 'Danger Man'/'Secret Agent', it was deliberately left vague to avoid paying a license fee.) Unfortunately, McGoohan was only around long enough to be fitted for a costume and pose for a few publicity photos before he took ill. He died in January of 2009. The producers later took that script and reworked it for a 2010 episode, "The Ho Ho Ho Job".

Earlier this year, an over-zealous writer and associate producer for the CW series 'Supernatural' had an idea for an episode that continued the meta humor standard set by earlier episodes "Changing Channels" and "The French Mistake". This time, he was hoping to develop a script in which the Winchester boys were given advice by a witch as they tried to save her grand-daughter and stop a hostile take-over of the Witches' Council.

And it wouldn't have been just any witch, but the most famous witch in all of TV Land. Samantha Stephens!

Astute readers of this blog will know that Elizabeth Montgomery, the actress who played Sam on 'Bewitched', passed away nearly sixteen years ago. Not that this writer saw that as a deterrent - apparently he previously worked on the 1990's HBO comedy series 'Dream On' which used clips from old Universal TV shows.  He was planning to use selected scenes from 'Bewitched' which would contain appropriate dialogue from the character of Samantha Stephens for "conversations" with Sam and Dean. (A recurring joke would have been for both Samantha and Sam to reply "Yes?" whenever Dean said "Sam".)

It appears he certainly did his home-work.  The plan was to utilize a plot point from the sitcom - that when a witch was close to death or losing her powers, she had to transform herself into something that would continue to be useful. Witches of 'Bewitched' had been transformed into objects before - chairs, bedpans.... (I once suggested that the house of Bartlett Finchley in 'The Twilight Zone' episode "A Thing About Machines" was full of objects that were actually transformed witches.)

The premise was established in a 'Bewitched' episode, "The Corn Is As High As A Guernsey's Eye", where Aunt Clara's powers were waning and she felt the time was right to follow the mandate to transform. (Samantha thought she then turned herself into a cow.)

In the proposed script outline for 'Supernatural', Samantha Stephens had become too ill for even Dr. Bombay to cure. And so at some point after the series ended, she tearfully said good-bye to her family and then used her powers to transform herself into something useful.

A television's remote control.

Sam and Dean Winchester confer with Samantha Stephens on their TV

And it was a universal remote, able to work on any TV. That way, she could "stay on the move" and be seen on any TV set, and the producer could also use black and white footage from the early years on a black and white TV.
See, Samantha was smart - she saw this as a way to remain in contact with her family there in Westport, Connecticut.
But somehow the remote control was stolen and Sam Winchester eventually came into its possession. And with Samantha's help, as she popped up on whatever video monitor was nearby, Sam and Dean would be able to put down a plot against the Witches' Council and rescue Samantha's grand-daughter. (The character's name was Lizbeth as a tip of the hat to Elizabeth Montgomery. But apparently it was Elspeth in an early draft.)

The twist to the episode was that it turned out Lizbeth was the mastermind behind the plot against the Witches' Council. In order to protect her from a more serious fate, Samantha and Tabitha had no choice but to punish her with transformation - into a framed photograph of herself. (My source tells me that in the script, Tabitha explained that they didn't make the same choice as Samantha did because Lizbeth was being punished - and that meant no TV privileges. Also, Dean mutters as they leave that it was creepy the way her eyes followed him across the room.)

My source for this information also said that the original script called for her to be transformed into a bowling ball so that she could still be part of the family routine of bowling night. [Tabitha married a mortal - like mother, like daughter.] But then the writer realized Dad would be sticking his finger in the holes. It was bad enough that Sam Winchester was always fingering Samantha's buttons on the remote.....

The writer was so confident that the script would work that he contacted Sony Pictures on his own for permission to use the clips. He even put together a demo film of Sam and Dean "talking" with Samantha, using the two lighting stand-ins for Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as substitutes to play the Winchesters in the scene. He also hired the actress he had in mind for playing Lizbeth. (I recognized her from the very grainy bootleg I saw - it's either Keri Lynn Pratt or Kirsten Prout. I'm always getting those two confused.)

But he didn't run the idea by the executive producers of 'Supernatural' first. So they were blind-sided when Robert Foxworth and Elizabeth Montgomery's family approached show creator Eric Kripke personally to lodge a complaint against the idea.
I'd tell you the name of this writer, but he was fired over the incident and I don't want to embarrass him even further. Besides, I'm sure you can look through the credits of the series on IMDb and see which writer/producer is no longer attached to the show.

The funny thing was, Sony Pictures was keen on the idea. (They also okayed the appearance of Bernard Fox as Dr. Bombay on 'Passions' during the 35th anniversary of 'Bewitched'.) And it looks like Fox and Erin Murphy (as Tabitha) would have been available to make cameos as their characters. But the protests by Ms. Montgomery's loved ones would have been publicity they just didn't need.  
So those are my choices for the top six TV show episodes that never saw the light of the broadcasting day.....



Brian Leonard said...

Very cool! A real shame that McGoohan didn't get to cap off his career that way.

Sean V Cleary said...

Happy April Fool's!


Great Post, Tube!!