Tonight from 8-10PM NBC will broadcast The Jensen Project, a made-for-TV movie produced by Walmart and Procter & Gamble (which apparently goes by P&G these days) that will be available on DVD tomorrow exclusively at Walmart. According to Variety, the two companies purchased the entire two-hour block of time on NBC, which otherwise has nothing to do with the project. However, if it does well enough NBC could use it to launch a weekly series. A similar made-for-TV movie, Secrets of the Mountain, aired on Friday, April 7th. So is this a true backdoor pilot or just a one-off telefilm that could possibly result in a television series if, against all odds, it does incredibly well in the ratings? I’m inclined to say it isn’t really a pilot of any sort. It’s just a two-hour advertisement for the DVD Walmart will begin selling tomorrow.
So what was the most recent backdoor pilot to be aired on one of the networks? Made-for-TV movies are rare enough as it is these days, primarily confined to Hallmark Hall of Fame and the Jesse Stone series, both on CBS. Off the top of my head, I’d say NBC’s Knight Rider, which aired on February 17th, 2008, is the most recent backdoor pilot. It led to a short-lived weekly series that aired during the 2008-2009 season. The most recent backdoor pilot that didn’t result in a weekly series might be NBC’s Homeland Security, which aired in April of 2004. Prior to that were The Lone Ranger on The WB, broadcast in February 2003, and War Stories on NBC, broadcast in January of 2003.
Somewhat more common these days are pilot episodes that air as episodes of another program like the two-part episode of JAG that led to NCIS and the two-part episode of NCIS that led to NCIS: Los Angeles. If made-for-TV movies were more profitable, I’m sure we’d see them more often. Like the miniseries, however, it seems the networks have all but surrendered the made-for-TV movie to cable.