The Science Fiction Sitcoms That Never Were

Illustration for article titled The Science Fiction Sitcoms That Never Were

What do Alan Alda, Andy Kaufman, and Matthew Perry have in common? They all filmed pilots for failed science fiction sitcoms before doing the series that made them stars. We look at those, and other scifi sitcoms that never were.

Stick Around: Before landing on Taxi, Andy Kaufman shot a pilot for this futuristic sitcom. Doing a version of the "Foreign Man" schtick that would make Taxi's Latka so popular, Kaufman played Andy, an oft-malfunctioning android servant for a couple living in 2055. Vance Keefer, Andy's owner, owned an antiques shop, but was often misinformed as to the original uses of his inventory.

Red Dwarf USA: Long before the US moved The Office to Scranton, Pennsylvania, Universal Studios tried remake the hit science fiction comedy Red Dwarf for American audiences. Two pilots were shot for the US version, with different actors in the roles of Cat and Rimmer (the second pilot even pulled a gender switch on Cat, casting Terry "Jadzia Dax" Farrell in lieu of the first US pilot's Hinton Battle), but Robert Llewellyn reprised the role of Kryten in both pilots. Despite the recasting and refilming, executives were never quite pleased with the US version, and neither pilot ever aired in the US or UK.

Babylon Fields: When the dead rise from the grave in New Jersey, the don't start randomly chomping on the brains of their former friends and family members. They just want to go back to their lives — their families, their old jobs — and pick up right where they left off. The pilot episode indicated the series would be part zombie comedy (complete with a rigor mortis sex joke) and part procedural drama, with zombies seeking the help of law enforcement to solve their own murders.


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Heat Vision and Jack: Ben Stiller directed the pilot episode of this send-up of the scifi action genre. Jack Black played Jack Austin, a former astronaut who became hyperintelligent after being exposed to extreme levels of solar energy. When his unemployed roommate Doug (Owen Wilson) gets zapped with a ray and merges with his motorcycle, the two team up to evade the evil forces of NASA. In a nod to his villainous roles, Ron Silver plays the NASA employee hunting down the duo — a character who just happens to be a sometimes actor named Ron Silver. The team tried to sell the series to Fox, but to no avail.

Area 57: Paul Reubens, Matthew Lillard, and Jane Lynch were signed as the on-screen comedy team for a Roswell-themed sitcom. Lillard was set to play Colonel Steven Isaacs, who had just joined a top-secret mission that involves observing a passive-aggressive alien (with some messy bodily fluids) played by Reubens. We never got to see what particular torments the captive ET had planned, since NBC failed to order the pilot.

Poochinski: Part reincarnation fantasy, part buddy cop comedy Poochinski is a bizarre chapter from the annals of poorly executed animatronics. Peter Boyle was somehow roped into this ill-conceived pilot about a murdered cop whose consciousness is somehow transferred to a bulldog. Naturally, he convinces his ex-partner to team up with him to bring his own killer to justice.

Gay Robot: Adam Sandler's bit about a sexually frustrated male robot who is attracted to human men made it into a full-fledged pilot. Comedy Central filmed the pilot in 2006 but never picked up the series, which is just as well since it felt like a Saturday Night Live sketch gone too long.

The Remnants: During the Writers' Strike, screenwriter John August teamed up with the likes of Ernie Hudson and Ze Frank to film a pilot for a possible web comedy, about a group of post-apocalyptic survivors who break into suburban houses and raid their fridges for non-perishable foods, while avoiding the human-looking monsters that lurk the streets. Ultimately, August says, they had trouble figuring out the business model, so a full series never emerged.


Where's Everett?: This proposed 1966 sitcom involved an alien ship landing in a quiet suburb and leaving an invisible baby in a basket on the doorstep of a kind-hearted human couple. The antics of an invisible infant probably sounded like a good idea until the writing staff had to come up with a second episode, but the project did have at least one feather in its cap: casting a pre-M*A*S*H Alan Alda as the adoptive father.


LAX 2194: Matthew Perry never would have been in Friends if the 1994 pilot for LAX 2194 had been picked up. The series would have starred Perry and The Drew Carey Show's Ryan Stiles as baggage handlers at a futuristic LAX Airport. In interviews, Perry seems generally relieved that he ended up sipping coffee in New York instead of handling alien suitcases in Los Angeles.

Starship Regulars: Starship Regulars was one of the early hits of online television, following the misadventures of a group of redshirts aboard a starship. Featuring the voices of Diedrich Bader and Michael Dorn, the original Flash cartoon series proved enough of a hit on that it was purchased by Showtime. Showtime looked into adapting the series as a full-length, live-action show, but sadly it never came to fruition.


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Annalee Newitz

I would have watched Heat Vision and Jack. Can't have been worse than the remake of Knight Rider.