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Pilot Error: ‘Black Bart’, ‘The Owl’, ‘The Strip’, and ‘Kung-Fu: The Next Generation’

Lets look at a few more Pilot Errors shall we? This time, as with the last column, these all aired on TV but odds are you didn’t see them.

Black Bart

In 1974 Blazing Saddles was a real shocker of a movie and looking back at it the film was even more amazing in that you could NEVER get away with today what you could in 1974 in terms of language and racial content.

black-bartSo in 1975 someone decided it might a good idea to make that into an FCC applicable TV show.

Yup, Black Bart is Blazing Saddles the series with all the raunch and style leeched out of it. Sure, they still get away with a few “ni**er” drops here and there but this was 70’s TV, you could do that but this entire thing feels so… neutered.

Directed by Robert Butler (he of the original Star Trek pilot director fame) with no flair whatsoever Black Bart feels as tame and watered down as one might suspect, even with Louis Gossett Jr. being quite charismatic as Bart the sheriff. The plot is bland and really something straight out of a sitcom simply featuring characters from the movie.

Here is the weird thing though… this may be an unsold pilot, but it’s also an unsold SERIES.

Due to a wacky clause in Mel Brooks contact (by the way, Brooks had nothing at all to do this with this show, he didn’t even know about it until the 80’s) Warner Brothers retained the right to make Blazing Saddles sequels as long as they were PRODUCING something under the banner.

10They didn’t have to air something, just produce something.

So what they did was they shot 4 seasons, FOUR FUCKING SEASONS, of this show with no intention of ever airing them. Louis Gossett Jr. and others have confirmed that 20+ episodes were shot (6 per “season) and for some reason only the pilot was aired… once (not counting Trio’s reairing decades later). So while this an unsold pilot it is kind of a harbinger of an entire series of blandness that is sealed in a Warner Brothers vault somewhere.

Perhaps it’s better that way.


The Owl


Remember before Adrian Paul was a Highlander that time he thought he was The Punisher? Well that really happened and it was The Owl.

Paul plays Alex L’Hiboux, a man with a rare disorder that requires no sleep for his body and mind to function so by night he prowls the streets taking out the scum, scum like the type who murdered his wife and daughter years earlier.

While that all sounds pretty much like Frank Castle with insomnia it’s actually based on an 80’s book series from Robert Forward (who is a writer for many 80’s cartoons). This pilot was even directed by Tom Holland (yes, Fright Night Tom Holland) although you might not know that since the credit is for that stalwart of credibility Alan Smithee. Yeah, this was such a disaster that the man who took credit for The Langoliers thought this was embarrassing. That really says something.

Honestly it’s not that bad, it’s by the numbers and Paul is really playing a swordless proto-Duncan McCloud here (same attitude, same delivery style, same fighting stance) but I enjoyed The Owl for what it was except for ONE element. I guess someone at the network thought we can’t have a brutal vigilant killing up the streets and breaking thugs faces without something for kids to identify with so Erika Flores is his teenage ward/sidekick and every time she is on screen this thing stops DEAD in it’s tracks. This is almost Nikko in Robocop 3 annoying.

All in all there are worse pilots than The Owl but this has not aged well at all since it’s single 1991 TV airing.


The Strip

MV5BYmM3ZjVkMGUtY2ZiNS00MjE2LThlMGQtNzMyMjZkYzYzMWM4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjcyMDU4NA@@._V1_Who else watched all 10 episodes of this 1999 UPN series besides me? Anyone? I guess that’s why it was only on for 10 episodes. Or perhaps you confused it with the other 6 TV series called The Strip (seriously why are so many shows titled the same bland way)?

Anyway the series starred Sean Patrick Flanery and Guy Torry along with a pre-right wing nutbag Stacy Dash and was about 2 former Las Vegas cops working as hotel security for a gangster on THE STRIP.

It was a fun show and hit the right notes of late 90’s Miami Vice with “we know how cliche this all this and lets have fun with that” vibe.

The reason this is on a Pilot Error entry is that only the first 9 episodes are part of the series proper, the 10th episode was bizarre.

It was obviously the original pilot as the characters are meeting again for the first time, in a manner quite different than they do in the series and the biggest thing that sticks out is that this original pilot was clearly shot for a cable network and not for UPN. 7 instances of “shit” being bleeped out, one instance of “fuck” and a few shots of mosaiced out titties make it glaring that the episode simply titled “Episode 10” (all the shot for UPN episodes had onscreen titles) was an unsold pilot version of The Strip.

Honestly though? I liked both pilots here… the original and the retooled one. How often can you say that?


82eb6efb7702057074dbca89c3a62b11Kung-Fu: The Next Generation

Not to be confused with Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (airing from 1993-1997) or Kung Fu: The Movie (1986 TV movie) this is an actual 1987 pilot to kickstart the classic 70’s series for the 80’s generation.

David Darlow takes over as the current Kwai Chang Caine (remember, all the Kung Fu shows share continuity so there are multiple generations of Caine’s out there) and his son is Johnny Caine played by Brandon Lee.

That was a really odd choice, not so much so that it was Brandon Lee but that Lee had already played a DIFFERENT character in the 1986 TV movie, which took place in the old west setting of the original series.

Confused yet?

Anyway, in this pilot we have Caine (Kwai) living a simple life in LA, in a rundown home and communing with nature and all that other Buddhist stuff from the old show. This time though he has a son in Johnny who lives like a typical LA teen of the 80’s, listening to rock music, chasing girls and being an ace cat burglar (it was an 80’s thing). Johnny get betrayed by his best friend (Miguel Ferrer play a scumbag traitor? Get out of here with that) and as part of his probation has to live as his father wishes and must channel the old ways. Oh and lots of bad guys get beat up as Johnny and Kwai break up a burglary ring too.

Here is the thing about Kung Fu: The Next Generation, in it’s 1987 place it was not too bad, a different direction sure (and the first attempt to update the original series to a modern setting) and it might not work today but this was an average network pilot back then. Not bad, not good, just average. The biggest issue with this one today is that with the far superior The Legend Continues coming only a few years later this just pales in comparison. David Carradine declining any involvement also sticks out pretty glowingly.

Another wave of Pilot Errors has been aired in the pilot light and it’s up to you to decide of they should have remained buried.

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