Michael Lombardo, HBO’s president of programming, recently talked with Vulture about the status of some of the network’s projects. Among them was the scrapped adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The series, which was originally supposed to be six seasons long, didn’t come to fruition because “we couldn’t craft the script as good as we needed it to be.” It’s definitely disappointing — though it’s better to have no adaptation than a bad one — but American Gods isn’t the first time a highly anticipated show was dead before it even started. Here are ten other potentially great shows that never made it to air.
Perhaps inspired by his time on the set of High Fidelity, Jack Black served as executive producer of Black Market Music, a half-hour comedy about 20-somethings working in a record store. Everything about it sounded great: Black likened it to High Fidelity meets Taxi, the pilot reunited Jason Segel and Seth Rogen (who also both co-wrote it), the plan was for the show to feature real musicians, and it would air on HBO, a network that would give them all the freedom in the world.
Cruel Intentions was such a big hit, especially among the teen crowd, that everyone expected it to be adapted into a TV series. It was, sort of. In 1999, Fox picked up Manchester Prep. It was a watered down, episodic version of Cruel Intentions set in an Upper East Side prep school. The series attracted a heap of controversy due to its racy sex scenes, and the network soon scrapped the TV project. Manchester Prep would have been a definite hit in the teen demographic — it can be viewed as a precursor for popular shows like Gossip Girl and The O.C. — but instead the producers added more nudity and sex, poorly edited the episodes into a feature-length film, and released it as the direct-to-video sequel Cruel Intentions 2.
Timms Industrial Piping (IFC)
In 2013, IFC announced an ambitious and creative comedy slate featuring a handful of pilots that fit the network’s off-kilter brand. Some made it to series (Garfunkel & Oates will premiere in August), but most didn’t (Megan Mullally’s Two Idiots, Chris Gethard’s Stupid Life). Timms Industrial Piping (later retitled Timms Valley), created by Steven Conrad, was a stop-motion soap opera featuring voice work from Maria Bamford, Nick Kroll, Giancarlo Esposito, Elizabeth Banks, and more. The show wasn’t picked up, but the pilot is available on YouTube. Watch it above.
Hoping to capitalize on the popularity of dystopian YA novels, Fox picked up an adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s Delirium. In Delirium, a 17-year-old girl (played by Emma Roberts) falls in love with someone while living in an alternate society where love is illegal. It’s a story that would work better as a film or miniseries (or maybe on a different network, like The CW), and Fox decided not to pick up the series, despite online campaigns from the books’ fans. Last week, it was announced that Hulu would air the pilot episode for a limited time.
HBO seems to love picking up projects adapted from beloved books but then declining to pick up the full series. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections was set to get the TV series treatment in 2012, and it seemed like a sure bet. Everyone was talking about Franzen, Noah Baumbach (Kicking & Screaming, Frances Ha) was co-writing the script with Franzen, and the cast boasted big names like Ewan McGregor, Dianne Wiest, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. But HBO passed on the project.
Murder Police was an animated comedy series that took a satirical approach to cop shows. At its center was a dedicated detective whose attempts to be a good cop are thwarted by his ineptitude and his lazy coworkers. It was the first animated show Fox had picked up in two years, but it was canceled in October of last year, a few months before it was scheduled to premiere. The cancellation was disappointing, but at least we got the live-action version in Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
In 2012, it was announced that Louis C.K. was teaming up with Seinfeld writer Spike Feresten for a sitcom pilot. The weirdest part is that the show was for CBS, a network notorious for its awful and aggressively unfunny multi-camera sitcoms. The untitled sitcom, which would have starred Disney darling Ashley Tisdale, had a fairly generic plot: young and broke friends trying to make it New York City. Nothing about it sounded special except the intriguing idea of Louis C.K. attempting a CBS sitcom — FX’s Louie is the antithesis of something like Two and a Half Men or The Big Bang Theory. But the script was strictly mediocre, and the network passed. I would have loved to see it, but I’m not complaining; now he has more time to spend on Louie.
I’ve been able to forgive HBO for many of the pilots that it passed on, but People in New Jersey still stings. The show would have followed two adult siblings (played by Sarah Silverman and Topher Grace), their mother (Pattie LuPone!), and their lives in New Jersey. If that cast wasn’t enough to catch your attention, the crew behind it was just as impressive: the People in New Jersey pilot was executive produced by Lorne Michaels, written by Bruce Eric Kaplan, and directed by Paul Feig. It was a comedian’s dream but HBO didn’t give it a chance.
Not to be outdone by HBO, Showtime has made some questionable decisions, too. In 2009, it passed on all its pilots, including Jenji Kohan’s Ronna and Beverly and the Matthew Perry dark comedy The End of Steve. Recently, it passed on 2013’s The Vatican, a high-profile drama that was rumored to have a disappointing pilot episode. It’s a shame because the pilot, written by Paul Attansaio and directed by Ridley Scott, had an original premise: a genre thriller about politics and spirituality set within a modern-day Catholic church setting. Most importantly, it starred Kyle Chandler as a Cardinal and Anna Friel as his hard-partying sister.
Before there was Orange Is the New Black, HBO toyed with the idea of adapting Susanna Moore’s novel The Big Girls into a TV series. The Big Girls is about a young psychiatrist who works with the criminally insane in a maximum security women’s prison while also dealing with her own issues. The unaired pilot was written by Adam Mazer (You Don’t Know Jack) and was set to be directed by Joel Schumacher.