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Backdoor Pilots With Guns and Badges

What happens when a backdoor pilot is not really a backdoor pilot? I mean when it’s not officially a pilot nor intended as a spin-off despite so clearly being such?

One thing about backdoor pilots is that they tend to pop up near the end of a season (allowing for the new show to start the following season). This is usually a huge red flag when all of sudden new characters or settings are brought in a few episodes before the end of the season. So when what is clearly a spin-off pilot airs as a late season episode and then nothing comes of it then it is even more queer.

CSI was the early 2000’s television juggernaut well known today for the multitude of sister shows rampaging the airwaves. Well there was one that never made it and even curiouser it was never once announced as a spin-off and yet so clearly was.

By the time CSI was ending it’s fifth season they had already spun off CSI: Miami but had not yet spun off CSI: New York. Seems they had a CSI:Los Angeles planned as well.

Now, remember this was never announced as a spin off nor that the main character here was ever going to leave the main show… but the second to last episode of season 5, “Hollywood Brass” is a backdoor pilot make no doubt about it.

Paul Guilfoyle was around as a main cast member since the pilot episode of CSI as Jim Brass and in this episode he goes to LA to help out his junkie hooker daughter. While out there he meets up with an old cop buddy (Dionna Murphy) and her main CSI (Matthew Glave). They get lots of backstory and character moments (you know, like they are going to be main characters of a new show) and it turns out that CSI‘s Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan) is in town for a conference. Only 2 of the other main CSI characters appear and they are cameos at best.

All the characters team up to solve the murder of Brass’ daughter’s girlfriend who it turns is out was beaten to death by a washed up action TV star now running for mayor. A massive conspiracy is uncovered to clean things up and protect the mayor to be… and then nothing. Nothing at all. Brass and Warrick go back to Las Vegas and the new characters are never seen or mentioned again (even when Brass’ daughter shows back up in Las Vegas these events are never brought up).

The conspiracy is never brought up again and neither is the mayor plotline. It’s like after it was decided not to go to series with CSI: Los Angeles they wanted the plot threads of this episode to just go away. That is the weird thing about this episode. It is SO clearly a backdoor pilot, in every way and yet there was seemingly never an intent to make the show. That is what makes this episode so odd, it’s like an episode of another show that just happens to have a few characters we know it.

Hell, when Rob Zombie would make his CSI: Miami episode he would take those characters back to LA and yet NOT to finish this storyline. It’s frustrating.

So with the CSI situation we have a backdoor pilot that was never a backdoor pilot… what about a damn series that was backdoor pilots?

Who remembers the 70’s cop show Police Story?

Police Story might be the longest TV franchise that no one remembers. Running for 95 episodes, 8 TV movies and 3 full spin offs Police Story is remarkably obscure.

The show was an anthology series but not in the normal sense. Each episode was a single story (sometimes a 60 minute episode, sometimes a 90 minute one) showcasing an aspect of police life in LA. One week it could be a beat cop, the next set in Vice, the next following an undercover unit etc… but with the connecting thread of regular background characters. Every episode had the same coroner, the same DA and the same bartender at the local cop bar. Otherwise each week it was a new main character, mostly.

Mostly because sometimes a guest actor would appear in a later episode as the same character again. So Darrin McGavin or John Saxon may appear in a season one episode and then again in a season four episode. Police Story was an anthology series with continuity.

Police Story also was the first time TV cops were arguably realistic (at least as realistic as TV cops could be in the 70’s). They screwed hookers, they smacked around junkies, they had bad marriages, they drank and most of all… they didn’t always win.

Police Story broke the mold by not always having the cops get the bad guy. Up to this point TV cops like Kojak or Columbo would always get the villain… Police Story showed you that the sometimes the guilty get away with it. The show was also honestly progressive in showing female cops and non-white cops in a positive light without it feeling pandering. The attitude towards homosexuality was also very daring for the 70’s.

The season one episode “Ripper” is about a serial killer ripping up openly gay men and treated this with a shocking amount of sensitivity and realism. Some of the cops didn’t care but the main detective (Darren McGavin) tears into them and demands that gay people be treated just like everyone else. It may not sound like it but for 1973 NOT demonizing gays was a huge step forward. The gay bar scene is all full of swishy lisps though so one step forward… one step back I guess.

The list of guest stars is staggering.

Claude Akins, Ed Asner, Jim Brown, Chuck Connors, James Cromwell, Louis Gossett Jr., Clu Gulager, Casey Kasem, Sally Kirkland, Cheryl Ladd, Jerry Lee Lewis, Cleavon Little, Tony Lo Bianco, Darren McGavin, Cameron Mitchell, Kurt Russell, John Saxon, William Shatner, Sylvester Stallone, Dean Stockwell, Jan-Michael Vincent, Fred Williamson, Claudia Christian, Mykelti Williamson, Billy Zane, Lori Petty, Karen Black, Meg Foster, Robert Conrad, Ed O’Neill, Anthony LaPaglia and Benjamin Bratt just to name a few.

With this (mostly) anthology show format it was very easy to make stand out episodes act as pilots to give those characters their own shows.

Angie Dickinson was in a single Police story episode and then she got her own series as the same character for 4 seasons.

David Cassidy was in a 21 Jump Street style pilot titled Man Undercover for 10 episodes.

Lloyd Bridges had his appearance on Police Story get him Joe Forrester as a spin off for a season.

So yeah, Police Story lasted longer and had more spin offs than most modern series and yet I bet 99% of those reading this had never even heard of it before this writing.

Next time I still have a few more shows you didn’t know were set to be franchises.

 

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