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Pilot Error: Making a First Impression

Sometimes a pilot is aired but not the way it was shot. There are often times multiple versions of a pilot shot before the network is ready to go. An actor may be recast or something may be added to accentuate something or scenes may be deleted outright. Lets take a look at some pilots which you saw… but not in the way they were originally shot. Look at my Munsters installment and you can see how reshoots and recasting can dramatically alter a pilot.

Birds Of Prey was the 2002 WB disaster of a series which was both a brilliant idea at the same time being a collage of cocaine fueled insanity.

The central conceit being a Batman series without Batman. This in and of itself is not a terrible concept. Taking place in a future where years earlier Batman killed The Joker after Barbara Gordon was shot in the spine and Batman had retreated into seclusion. This would be the world Batman left behind with his actions. All in all this COULD have worked… in fact it did at first. The unaired pilot for Birds Of Prey was dark, moody and engaging. Nice characters and tone and a cool story. Apparently the WB was not satisfied with this so network monkeys decided to get involved.

The tone was (literally) lightened, darker scenes were cut, new scenes of comedy were added, the music was changed from metal to pop and Harley Quinn (the main villain) was recast from Sherilyn Fenn to Mia Sara. Why? Fenn played the character too dark. In other words the original pilot was Burton Batman and The WB wanted Schumacher Batman. The show was a ratings disaster (despite the UNAIRED PILOT being favorably reviewed) and was quickly cancelled. Good job WB execs.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer is the show everyone knows where Alyson Hannigan played the lesbian witch Willow. Well there was a “test pilot” made earlier where Willow was played by Riff Regan. This was as I stated a test pilot, it was a half hour long and more or less followed the same plot as the 2 hour series pilot but at a greatly accelerated rate.

The Willow character as played by Regan was vastly different than what Hannigan would bring. For one thing Regan is… larger in stature than Hannigan and that became part of the plot. This Willow was shy, introverted and most of all played the perpetual damsel in distress.

Now, Hannigan has never been that good of an actress but her casting greatly altered the persona to the point I argue that these 2 actors were not even really playing the same character.

Fastlane is the millennial version of Miami Vice.

A 2002 FOX series that was all about flash and excess. The show had a huge budget, tons of chases and explosions, massive guest stars and a soundtrack that rivaled the aforementioned Vice. The show was almost literally a new Miami Vice. 2 cops (one black, one white) are part of an elite undercover unit which goes after the biggest targets. They use the cars and money confiscated from past busts to boost their cred all the while attempting to stay focused on the task at hand. Also just like Vice the black character is doing this to find the killer of his brother. It was a cool show honestly and yet the unaired pilot was vastly better than what aired. The unaired pilot runs 8 minutes longer, has a different soundtrack (it’s amazing how the choice of background songs can change the tone) and features a subplot that the series proper would later pick up but which was deleted from the early episodes of the show.

Firefly is the much loved by fans and hated by executives series from Joss Whedon.

The pilot I am referring to is the unaired version of the real pilot… you know, the one that FOX aired as the 8th episode because fuck us being able to follow the story right?

Well the unaired pilot is mostly the same as the aired one (the 8th episode one… you know what I mean) with one major change.

In the aired version the battle of Serenity was shown as a flashback whereas in the unaired version this tragic battle was described to us via Mal and Zoe’ dialog in great detail. They always say “show don’t tell” but there are cases where telling works better.

The sequence in the aired version is standard sci-fi war stuff… but the acting and delivery of the audible retelling brings the gravity of it along with the horrors the troops suffered much better. I prefer the spoken scene over the visual battle.

Painkiler Jane was a comic book created in 1995 by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada. In 2007 it was turned in a “meh” TV series for the Sci-Fi Channel… but before that it was a “TV Movie” (unsold pilot) in 2005.

The series itself starred Kristanna Loken as the titled Painkiller Jane, a DEA agent who accidentally becomes a mutant with regenerative abilities. Eventually she is tasked with working for a secret organization with the purpose of hunting down other mutants or some shit.

The 2005 TV movie on the other hand was similar and yet completely different. Emmanuelle Vaugier was Jane this time and had more superpowers than the series version. Also the bad guys were not mutants but superpowered zombies (reanimated soldiers). The tone of the TV movie was more science fiction whereas the series was more action. I have not watched the TV movie since it first aired in 2005 but I remember Vaugier being better in the role. Loken is cute as hell but she was never a strong actor.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  Goddamn I loved this show. This is the story that Terminator 3 SHOULD have been instead of the whiny bullshit we got.

Sarah is preparing John for war in 1999 when Terminators attack (as they are wont to do) and as always a protector is sent along. This time though, as Terminator 3 established that Sarah dies of cancer in the late 90’s, they timejump over this event to 2007 and start the battle anew.

Anyway, this series was quite inventive all around and it had a GREAT pilot. That pilot was not the one that aired though. Okay, most of it aired, there were a few deleted and/or altered scenes but the main difference is the character of Charlie Dixon. In the series Dixon is played by Dean Winters and is a strong (if somewhat broken) man to whom the team can turn to in need.

In the pilot Dixon is played by Tim Guinee and is much more of a softer character. The dialog and actions are more or less the same but the differences in the performances change the characters completely. Also I am still pissed off that amazing cliffhanger ending was never resolved.

Occasionally recasting hurts a pilot, occasionally it aids it. Usually the former.

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