It's tragic when promising television series are canceled too soon, but it's even worse when fans never even get a glimpse of what could have been. These promising unaired TV pilots weren't made into promising TV shows, meaning passionate fans probably will never get to see some of their favorite actors, writers, and directors best (and sometimes only) forays onto the small screen. From many, many snubbed Judd Apatow ideas to passion projects by the world's biggest directors, these television pilots that never saw the light of day are going to give you major FOMO.
The Corrections was based on a Jonathan Franzen novel so popular that the acclaimed author told Oprah’s Book Club “No, thank you,” and declined her endorsement. Maybe the Noah Baumbach-helmed pilot became the stuff of urban legend as karma for good old Jonny boy insulting the talk show queen. Regardless, after a film adaptation of the same source material fell apart, Noah’s project followed suit, ostensibly due to its high price tag. The family drama saw Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest as midwestern parents whose grown children, likely castmembers Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Greta Gerwig, moved to the east coast despite their father’s worsening Parkinsons.
Thank God Krysten Ritter got the critically-acclaimed series she deserved with Jessica Jones. Her ABC comedy Don’t Trust The B was tragically cut-short, her Gossip Girl spin-off wasn’t picked up, and Mission Control was passed on by NBC the same year they foolishly gave up The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which has nothing to do with this point other than to show that NBC was making some big mistakes). The series would have seen Krysten as a badass aerospace engineer leading a team at NASA during the 1960s space race.
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After Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared were cruelly ripped from us after one season, glutton for punishment Judd Apatow didn’t want to let the family of gifted comedians he had found be ripped apart just because Hollywood apparently has it out for him. He developed a series called North Hollywood starring Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, and Kevin Hart before any of them were A-Listers. The show was mostly to get back at NBC for refusing to cast Jason on Undeclared, but ABC passed on the pilot because it was too edgy, after specifically requesting an edgier show when they ordered it. Hollywood has it out for Judd Apatow, no clickbait.
20th Century Fox
There were a few key mistakes made when developing the Mr. And Mrs. Smith television series. While a show about dueling spies in love would have been a fun time (and the NBC show Chuck which would end up airing around this time showed that audiences were craving some espionage), trying to follow up the Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt film that ruined a million marriages including Brad’s immediately after its release without the original actors was never going to work. Mr. And Mrs. Smith would have been a sequel, following the spies six months after the events of the film, but ABC passed after test audiences questioned the leads' chemistry.
After the insane success of The Office, its Dwight Schrute spin-off The Farm seemed like a sure thing. While bits and pieces of the pilot were Frankensteined into an episode of The Office’s final season, we still think it counts as an unaired pilot because it clearly wasn’t meant to be torn apart and reused as a ploy to get people to watch a season of The Office that didn’t feature Michael Scott. We don’t know why The Farm wasn’t picked up, but star Thomas Middleditch instead thrived on the underrated Silicon Valley, so at least we know there was a silver lining around this tragic loss.
Jack Black said this show would have a Taxi feel, but we’re hoping it was more closely inspired by his role in High Fidelity. The Tenacious D actor would have executive produced Black Market Music, a comedy about 20-somethings working in an early-‘00s record store. The show would have starred writers Jason Segel and Seth Rogen (two notable Freaks and Geeks alumni, again supporting our theory that Hollywood hates Judd Apatow) and would have featured real musicians if HBO had brought it to series.
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John Boyega could’ve had his big break long before Lucasfilm came calling. The young Brit was cast in Spike Lee’s HBO drama Da Brick when he was newly twenty years old as a teen who tries to create a life for himself through boxing after being released from juvie. The script was penned by 12 Years A Slave writer John Ridley based on Mike Tyson’s formative years, but HBO passed on the script in favor of The Newsroom. Looking at HBO's history with diverse casting, that sounds about white.
YellowUmbrellaHIMYM.com via TVLine
How I Met Your Dad was going to be great. Its parent series, How I Met Your Mother, lasted nearly a decade on CBS and is still beloved despite a truly terrible finale. When the pilot wasn’t picked up by CBS, the network execs still tried to make it work by expressing interest in allowing the team to shoot a new pilot. Producers would only do it with the promise of a series order, and seeing as this isn’t an article about “20 Amazing Things We Want To See In HIMYD Season Three,” we think you can see how well that ultimatum went.
Lauren Oliver’s hugely popular Delirium series could have been a teen soap dream with future scream queen Emma Roberts cast as the lead. Fox didn’t pick up the series despite a near-guaranteed recipe for success on par with Pretty Little Liars or Riverdale, but they’ve never been big on the young adult drama market. We’d love to see Lauren’s series about a dystopian future where love is considered a disease that must be cured upon adulthood through a mandatory surgery retooled for the CW, a network that thrives on troubled teen romances.
At this point, we could basically just start copy and pasting the same paragraph every time Judd Apatow tries to give us amazing content: [Insert Show Here] starring [every funny person you’ve ever loved, plus some more people from Freaks and Geeks] had a great premise and creative team, but it was prematurely slaughtered for no apparent reason. Sick In The Head, no relation to the novel, was another Amy Poehler vehicle following a psychiatrist’s first day at work. Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig had also come back for round two in another of the five failed Judd Apatow pilots the world will never get to see.
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Another HBO reject, Tilda would have told the story of a reclusive Hollywood reporter played by Diane Keaton and her power-hungry assistant, Ellen Page, as a pseudo-biopic about the founder of Deadline Hollywood. Director Bill Condon and creator Cynthia Mort publicly feuded during filming, real-life inspiration Nikki Finke was seemingly paid off in exchange for her silence in regard to the project, and the president of HBO programming and his deputy were at odds over whether to bring the show to series. It’s a damn shame Tilda was so embroiled (not unlike its subject) because an HBO series about a woman who was once called the "most feared, despised, and uncompromising journalist in Hollywood” before practically disappearing all together would have been a fascinating watch.
Utopia was one of two pilots directed by David Fincher for HBO, but we’re much more upset about losing the former to corporate bureaucracy. Utopia would have been written by Gillian Flynn. That’s right, David Fincher and Gillian Flynn were about to become HBO’s dream team for a series starring Rooney Mara and Jason Ritter. Utopia had a series order before the pilot was even shot, naturally, but a five million dollar difference between David’s requested hundred-million-dollar budget and the offer from HBO led to the series falling apart.
Audiences know and love Miranda Otto as the devilish Aunt Zelda on Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but in 2011, she was working alongside Jesse McCartney (who could’ve really used the comeback) in a horror comic-book adaptation directed by Stephen King’s son Mark Romanek. It had a similar premise to American Horror Story, which was also developed during that pilot season, but Fox passed on the show seemingly based on nothing but gut feelings. The writers went on to shop the adaptation as a movie trilogy at Universal, but instead, an entirely new team will be creating a different version of Locke & Key for Netflix in 2019.
No, this did not go on to become Young Pope nor did it star a sexily devout Jude Law, but surprisingly those aren’t the reasons why The Vatican never made it onto Showtime’s weekly schedule. The Ridley Scott pilot saw the comeback of Kyle Chandler following his five-year stint on the smash hit Friday Night Lights. Kyle would have portrayed an American cardinal whose political ambitions get him tangled up in the dark world at the very center of the Catholic Church. Behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the series high-powered creator, the head writer, and Ridley’s conflicting visions made The Vatican a risky sell.
The Weinstein Company
The late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman was about to jump into television for the first time before his untimely death on Happyish, a series that would have seen the actor as a Don Draper-type who fears that at forty-two, he’s already become culturally irrelevant. The pilot was produced and screened for select critics, but fans still haven’t been blessed with one final performance by the prolific actor because there’s still hope that the series can be made with a new lead. Seeing how doggedly Showtime pursued Philip for the role, we won’t be holding our breath.
Superstar director Katheryn Bigelow directed The Miraculous Year for HBO, with Stephen Sondheim set to compose musical numbers for the series’s show-within-a-show. Starring Norbert Leo Butz with Eddie Redmayne, Patti LuPone, Lee Pace, and Susan Sarandon in featured roles, the show would have followed a wealthy New York family whose dysfunctional lives cross paths with the Great White Way when their famed composer son mounts a new musical. The series was a veiled story about Sondheim himself creating Sweeney Todd which hit so close to home the composer reportedly asked writers to change some of the more obvious parallels. It would have been an entirely new direction for Katheryn artistically, who was coming off of one successful war film and gearing up to begin another, but HBO didn’t think the series would have found a wide-enough audience. First Smash, now this? #Justice4BroadwayStans
Even though Judd Apatow was nowhere near this pilot, this still counts as proof of the mounting conspiracy against his sense of humor and entire being. Director Nicholas Stoller was a writer on the criminally short Apatow series Undeclared before becoming a reliable comedy director at the big box office with Forgetting Sarah Marshall (starring Apatow favorite Jason Segel) and Get Him To The Greek. He returned to television with a project firmly within his comfort zone about a recent college graduate who gets dumped, only to accidentally end up working at the same ad agency as his ex. The series would have starred Brie Larson, and reporters were shocked when CBS passed on the comedy because they thought it wouldn’t pair well with The Big Bang Theory. We didn’t need another reason to hate The Big Bang Theory, but here we are.
Day One was given a series order, produced a handful of episodes, and then was promptly abandoned by NBC, never to see the light of day. The network spooked after Heroes took a ratings dive and decided to leave Day One on read, claiming it would air as a miniseries, then backtracking to say they’d just air a lengthened pilot as a TV-movie before silently ghosting the show. The series about a ragtag group that have to team up to combat the mystical arrival of gigantic structures that came from nowhere was obviously super buzzy (or super expensive) for NBC to continue trying to rework it, but all fans were left with were YouTube trailers for a show that never happened.
It seemed like fans of Jane The Virgin would have a shiny new spin-off to help ease the pain of the telenovela ending in 2019, but the deeply hyped Jane the Novela isn’t moving forward. The show would have been an anthology series based on Jane’s fictional books starring Hunter Parrish, Marcia Cross, and Ivonne Coll trying on a role other than Jane’s abuela. The first installment would have taken place at a Napa Valley vineyard, but The CW passed in favor of Batwoman, Katy Keene, and Nancy Drew. Can’t we just have them all?
All the way back in the 1990s, The WB filmed a pilot based on Francine Pascal’s 36 book YA series Fearless starring Racheal Leigh Cook. The premise would have been changed from a teen girl who can’t feel fear to a college grad working for the FBI, which basically took most of the things people liked about Fearless and replaced them with the fictional fourth season of Veronica Mars we never got. It didn’t work then, and it didn’t work now. Its time slot was given to One Tree Hill, so all’s well that ends well.