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Pilot Errors: 3 Sci-Fi Shows That Didn’t Take

Okay, another look at some Pilot Errors.

Remember in the first column when I mentioned that some pilots were designed as 2 hour backdoor “movies”? This installment we are going to look at 3 of these.

All 3 of these aired on TV (years after the fact) as “movies” without ever telling anyone of their TV pilot status, although this becomes glaringly obvious as you watch them. A pilot is usually pretty easy to spot.

 

Warlord: Battle For The Galaxy

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Who else remembers that time Joe Dante (!) tried to make a TV series to rival Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5? I do.

Warlord was made for CBS in 1997 but was not picked up and eventually aired as a “movie” on UPN in 1998 with little to no fanfare. Why? Because it’s fucking BORING. This being a pilot it was a 2 hour exposition dump of backstory, character dynamics and future plot threads mixed with cheap sets, bizarre costumes and stilted dialog. As a series all of this could have been fixed but as it stands the “movie” is just yap yap yap, space battle, yap yap yap, gun battle, yap yap yap, space battle… with no arc, no point and even less substance. Dante even told me when he was on my show that this completely does NOT work since it’s all exposition and nothing really happens in 90 minutes. It’s all setup that never pays off.

You might want a plot synopsis huh? Well I am not doing that. Why? Because this thing is so laden with backstory upon backstory that it becomes more complicated than Dune all while maintaining to be uninteresting. Seriously I could spend 1000 more words detailing this mess and still leave out some thread that was meant to be dealt with in the series proper.

The cast is… odd to say the least.

Ever wanted to see John Corbett play a sleepy Han Solo? Here’s your chance. Now, I like John Corbett when he is in the right role but damn he plays his illiterate yet expert thief (queer combination that) the same as he played Chris Stevens on Northern Exposure, kind of a stoner who thinks he is a badass (oh and he gets his ass kicked in every fight in this 2 hours; our hero, ladies and gentlemen).

Then we have Carolyn McCormick fresh from Law & Order looking as uninterested as she can while still getting paid as a master “negotiator” who seems to get them into more trouble at every turn.

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John Pyper-Ferguson is the titular “Warlord” of the title who is a smarmy arrogant tool who rules the outlaws of the galaxy and it turns out is really the last descendant of a monarchy which is thought to have died out in the “old Republic”. Honestly Ferguson is really damn fun in this as he is clearly having a good time and not taking this role seriously in the least.

The rest of cast are filled by various levels of “That guy’s”. Oh and this being a Joe Dante piece Dick Miller shows up in a scene so that is always cool.

I LOVE Joe Dante so please don’t mistake what I am about to say but there are NO signs of Dante on this. This is directed in such a workman like fashion that if I didn’t know Dante indeed directed this (and produced it as well) I would never have guessed it. None of his flair or visual style is present here. Perhaps due to the lower budget this thing obviously had. The sets look like sets, the costumes are straight out of a prop room and the visual effects are what you expect from 1997 TV. The writing is pseudo-ponderous while being laborious and really coming off like a weak Babylon 5 episode.

Why was this not more famous? Dante believes that it was sabotaged by CBS. It seems they were interested in it but wanted to bargain down the budget and selling price but Dante would not budge so CBS intentionally waited to pass on it until it was too late for any other network to do so. If we can’t have it then no one can.

If you missed it on it’s one airing in 1998 too bad, it was never aired again in the US… but was released on VHS in the U.K. as The Osiris Chronicles (the original title, which Dante prefers).

 

Bloodsuckers/Vampire Wars: Battle For The Universe

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Remember that time Matthew Hastings made that movie about space vampires and somehow managed to make it monotonous, tepid and boring? Also, another Battle For The Universe?

Anyway, this was originally made as a pilot for the Sci-Fi Channel (they had not decided to change their name to sounding like a strain of nerd VD yet) and was given the green light over a fifth season of Farscape. Yup that really happened and then Sci-Fi executives didn’t even pick the fucking thing up. How rude.

Many years in the future space travel has become mundane and humanity decides to spread it’s wonderfulness into the galaxy… turns out there is life on other planets though… and to quote the movie “The universe was filled with intelligent life… most of it vampiric”. So yeah vampires mixed with Star Trek… and not that good. The plot (such as it is) details how a crew of V-San (Vampire Sanitation, basically space cops specializing in vampires) get betrayed and have to uncover a plot that a vampire warlord (ugh) is in collusion with the head of Earth to do something… it’s all rather yawn inducing. The plot is dull, the acting is either wildly over the top or straight out of a soap opera stiff.

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Veteran actors such as Joe Lando (killed 20 minutes in) and Michael Ironside (2 scenes that amount to nothing) are wasted in glorified cameos and I guess Michael and Peter DeLuise pop in for a few blink and you miss them moments. The rest of the cast are stereotypes of every “ragtag group of misfits” that you have seen in so many better things all played to the hilt with the blandness of their one dimensional characters types (the angry woman that lashes out at anyone that does not think she is as good as a man, the cowboy – complete with hat and southern accent – who is a good old boy just out to have fun, the put upon upstart who has to rise to the occasion etc…). All played by nobodies that no one will recognize from anything… with the exception of Natassia Malthe as the half-breed vampire/human hybrid. Malthe must have been quite comfortable in that role as she would take over the duties playing Bloodrayne in the sequels to that movie.

Just like with Warlord/Osiris this does not work as a movie at all as the entire run time is setting up this world and dumping exposition on us with no payoff. Unlike Warlord though this does indeed have some clever moments in it such as the vampire types who wear the skins of their victims being called “Leatherfaces” and the unbridled insane types being “Vorhees”.

Still not a good movie and bizarre how it does not have a consistent title. When aired in 2005 on Sci-Fi it was simply titled Bloodsuckers. When released to home video it was renamed Vampire Wars: Battle For The Universe on the box cover and yet the onscreen title is still Bloodsuckers. Come on man, that’s just fucking LAZY. Pick a damn title and stick with it already.

 

The Adventures Of Captain Zoom In Outer Space

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Ron Perlman playing (not) Ming The Merciless? Fuck yes.

2322814,aqrftTPx_4d0+oa4PLoxnWs6q9k4lkHcJyW4DpDMCS91Em+3vDb9zfon3uv_jNxJfz3ogxTr3jHE26akqhRXcA==The Adventures Of Captain Zoom In Outer Space was a the old story of a “hero” being sought by a people who don’t understand that Television is.

Ty Farrel is a drunk 50’s kids show actor playing Captain Zoom every Saturday Morning on television… until Princess Tyra of the planet Pangea receives these transmissions and believes them to be historical documents of the hero Captain Zoom.

Farrel is quickly kidnapped to this other world where he is foretold to save the people from the evil Lord Vox of Vestron, despot of the damned. Farrel is really a coward and a blowhard yet he eventually stops Lord Vox of Vestron and becomes the leader of the rebellion on Pangea. Honestly Zooom comes off so my like Zapp Branagin I am fearful this was kind of an inspiration.

That’s the general plot but it’s more nuanced than that, full of biting humor at the expense of 90’s Scifi tropes and Sci-Fi Fandom along with a fun atmosphere evoking old movie serials with a 90’s edge.

For instance Lord Vox of Vestron (I love typing that) has a seer who guides him but she can only see the future if she is “pure” meaning she can’t ever have sex… and yet she is a nymphomaniac always on the hunt for man flesh. Zoom is a moron who stumbles about and accidentally keeps saving the day all the while being hailed as a gift from the gods by the morons who stranded him on this planet. He can go back to earth and be a nobody who was about to be fired from a crappy kids TV show or he can be a fake hero on this world.

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Ron Perlman plays Lord Vox of Vestron and he really is a doofus version of Ming The Merciless right down to the helmet and it’s glorious. Pearlman is having so much fun here it’s impossible to not side with his genocidal ravings.

Nichelle Nichols shows up at one point but doesn’t add anything to the proceedings.

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This thing is a victim of that mid-90’s first run syndication boom ushered in by Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and feels so much part of that era I was honestly surprised to find out that Sam Raimi did NOT produce this. It feels that much like one his productions.

The Adventures Of Captain Zoom In Outer Space is a very fun outing with just the right mix of being played straight and being in on the joke at the same time.

I am unsure of why this one was not picked up beyond it’s pilot as it received good reviews at the time and decent ratings. Perhaps the glut of first run syndicated shows in 1995 choked it out.

After it’s initial airing it showed up a few times on the Starz channel of all places and eventually was lost in the static of syndication which is too bad as this one could have worked.

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