Every year, the television networks order pilot episodes for dozens of potential series to premiere in the fall. Only a select few will be picked up. The rest will remain unsold. This three-part special feature examines the 96 pilots developed for the 1974-1975 season, drawn from a list published in the March 4th, 1974 issue of Broadcasting magazine, which included limited information on cast and key creative personnel.
Additional details have been drawn from a variety of sources including Lee Goldberg’s wonderful Unsold Television Pilots Vol. #1, 1955-1976 as well as contemporary newspaper articles and TV listings.
According to Broadcasting‘s March 1974 list, ABC had a total 36 pilots in development for the 1974-1975 season, the most of any network. Only nine of the pilots were picked up for Fall 1974, including That’s My Mama, Nakia, The Texas Wheelers and The New Land. A tenth show, The Sonny Comedy Revue, was also introduced by ABC but wasn’t included in the list. You can read all about ABC’s Fall 1974 here.
ABC picked up two other pilots for later use: Barney Miller premiered in January 1975 while Mobile One debuted as part of the network’s 1975-1976 schedule.
Mama (half hour; comedy)
Screen Gems, with Theresa Merritt, Clifton Davis, Ed Bernard.
Fate – Picked up! Clifton Davis starred as Clifton Curtis, a young man who owned a barbershop in Washington, D.C. and loved his bachelor lifestyle. His mother, played by Theresa Merritt, wanted him to settle down. It was retitled That’s My Mama and premiered on Wednesday, September 4th and was renewed for the 1975-1976 season but cancelled half-way through it. A total of 39 episodes were produced. A previous pilot called “Furst Family of Washington” aired in September 1973.
Availability: Both seasons of That’s My Mama were released on DVD by Sony in 2005. Not included was the “Furst Family of Washington” pilot.
The Karen Valentine Program (half hour; comedy)
20th Century-Fox, with Karen Valentine
Fate – Unsold. This was the second of two ABC unsold pilots starring Valentine. She played a young divorcee working at a law firm and living next door to her parents. The network kept trying and in January 1975 introduced Karen, a short-lived sitcom that ran for just 13 weeks.
Paper Moon (half hour; comedy)
Paramount, with Jodie Foster
Fate – Picked up! Based on the 1973 film starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal (itself adapted from Joe David Brown’s 1971 novel Addie Pray) about a 1930s con man and the young girl who might or might not be his daughter. The series premiered on Thursday, September 12th and was off the air 13 weeks later.
The Life and Times of Captain Barney Miller (half hour; comedy)
4-D Productions; with Hal Linden and Abby Dalton
Fate – Picked up! Retitled Barney Miller and retooled to remove much of Miller’s family life, the series premiered as a mid-season replacement on Thursday, January 23, 1975. The pilot aired in August 1974 as part of ABC’s summer replacement series Just for Laughs.
Availability: Included in the Barney Miller complete series set released by Shout! Factory in October 2011.
The Barbara Eden Show (half hour; comedy)
Lorimar Productions/MiBar; with Barbara Eden, James Gregory, Ruth McDevitt, Nebamiah Persoff
Fate – Unsold. Eden played a toymaker living with her father (a widower) and her grandmother (a widower). The pilot was later retitled “The Toy Game” but was never broadcast.
The Hogg Family (half hour; comedy)
Fate – Picked up! The series was retitled The Texas Wheelers and premiered on Friday, September 13th but was pulled after just four weeks. Another four episodes were later aired in July 1975. A total of 13 are believed to have been produced.
The Fireman’s Ball (half hour; comedy)
Fate – Unsold. Two pilots were produced under this title, with different casts but both about the crazy antics of firefighters. The first never aired but did get the series picked up by ABC. The network retitled it Where’s the Fire? and gave it the 7-7:30PM time slot on Sunday. When the networks were forced to cut back on prime time programming due to an appeals court ruling, Where’s the Fire? was dropped. The series was kept in development as a potential mid-season replacement and a second pilot was shot. ABC ultimately passed but the second pilot was aired in May 1975.
Shirts/Skins (half hour; comedy)
MGM Television, with John Pleshette, Oliver Clark, Bill de Vane, Bob Sampson
Fate – Unsold. Based on the October 1973 made-for-TV movie of the same name about six businessmen who have been playing a weekly game of basketball for years. The pilot was never aired.
Ann in Blue (half hour; comedy)
Fate – Unsold. Penny Fuller starred as the head of an all-female police unit tired of only working behind desks. Aired in August 1974 as part of ABC’s summer replacement series Just for Laughs.
Only in America (half hour; family comedy)
20th Century-Fox, with Topol
Fate – Unsold and unaired. Topol starred as a carpenter living with his family in New York City.
The Muppets (half hour; variety)
Fate – Unsold. Also known as “The Muppets Valentine Show,” this was the first of two ABC pilots starring The Muppets, neither of which were picked up. Mia Farrow served as guest host. This one aired in January 1974. The second pilot aired in March 1975. ABC may have regretted passing on the pilots given the success of The Muppet Show (1976-1981) in syndication.
Availability: Included in The Muppet Show Season 2 DVD set released in July 2007 by Walt Disney.
Kodiak (half hour; drama)
Kodiak Productions; with Clint Walker
Fate – Picked up! Walker played a state trooper solving crimes in the rough Alaskan wilderness. The series premiered on Friday, September 13th and was cancelled less than a month later.
Variety (hour; variety)
Norman Rosemont Enterprises/Viacom
Fate – Unsold. Hugh Downs hosted this variety series, named for the famous industry magazine. The pilot aired on March 31st, 1974.
The John Denver Show (hour; variety)
John Jer Productions
Fate – Unsold. ABC aired this as a one-off special in March 1974. It was the first of more than a dozen TV specials to feature John Denver, most of which were broadcast by ABC.
Lampoon (hour; variety)
George Schlatter Productions
Fate – Unsold and unaired. The National Lampoon, Inc. sued ABC, producer George Schlatter and his production company over the use of the word “lampoon” as the title for this variety pilot and won an injuction that was affirmed on appeal.
Harry O (hour; private eye)
Warner Bros., with David Janssen
Fate – Picked up! ABC aired a telefilm called Such Dust As Dreams Are Made On in March 1973 starring Janssen as a former police officer who became a private investigator after being injured in the line of duty. A second pilot telefilm, Smile Jenny, You’re Dead, was produced and aired in February 1974. The weekly series premiered on Thursday, September 12th. The series was retooled halfway through its first season and was renewed for the 1975-1976 season. It was cancelled after its second season. A total of 44 episodes were aired.
Availability: Smile Jenny, You’re Dead was released on DVD by Warner Archive in June 2011. Both seasons of Harry O have also been released on DVD; included in the Season 1 set was Such Dust As Dreams Are Made On.
The Douglas Family (hour; drama)
Lorimar Productions, with Hari Rhodes, Lynn Hamilton, Bea Richards
Fate – Unsold. Rhodes starred as a Southern preacher who attempts to revive a California church and its congregation. The pilot telefilm for this proposed series was called A Dream for Christmas. It aired in December 1973. In Unsold Television Pilots, Lee Goldberg states this was a reworked version of an unsold pilot called “Pomroy’s People” written by Earl Hamner, Jr. that ABC developed for the 1973-1974 season.
Christie Love (hour; detective)
Wolper Productions, with Teresa Graves, Harry Guardino
Fate – Picked up! Graves played a female police detective who often worked undercover. The series was retitled Get Christie Love! and premiered on Wednesday, September 11th. It was cancelled at the end of the 1974-1975 season after 22 episodes had aired. The pilot telefilm aired in January 1974.
Availability: The pilot telefilm is apparently in the public domain and has been released on DVD many times.
Men of the Dragon (hour; adventure)
Wolper Productions, with Jared Martin, Katie Saylor, Robert Ito
Fate – Unsold. Martin and Saylor starred as siblings who decide to open a martial arts school in Hong Kong. The pilot telefilm aired in March 1974.
Wonder Woman (hour; action/adventure)
Warner Bros., with Cathy Lee Crosby
Fate – Unsold. This was the second attempt to bring Wonder Woman to television after William Dozier’s failed 1967 presentation film for a proposed sitcom version. The pilot telefilm aired in March 1974. ABC and Warner Bros. made a third attempt with The New Original Wonder Woman, a telefilm starring Lynda Carter and Lyle Waggoner that aired in November 1975. A pair of hour-long specials followed in April 1976, then 11 more between October 1976 and February 1977. Two additional seasons aired on CBS between 1977 and 1979.
Availability: Warner Archive released the pilot telefilm on DVD in December 2012.
Purvis, G-Man (hour; action)
American International; with Dale Robertson and Steven Kanaly
Fate – Unsold. Based on the life of FBI agent Merlvin Purvis, who helped capture the likes of John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. American International Pictures was the production company perhaps best known for the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach party movies. The pilot telefilm aired in April 1974 as Melvin Purvis: G-Man. A sequel telefilm, The Kansas City Massacre, aired in September 1975, produced by ABC Circle Films, ABC’s in-house production unit
Availability: Although not available on DVD, the telefilm can be streamed via Amazon Instant Video. It was also released on VHS in the late 1980s.
Parsons (hour; western)
Danny Thomas Productions, with Marjoe Gortner
Fate – Unsold. Based on Jack Ehrlich’s 1972 novel The Fastest Gun in the Pulpit. Gortner starred as a gunfighter on the run who impersonates a deceased minister and helps a small town deal with an evil landowner. The pilot telefilm aired in April 1974 under the title The Gun and the Pulpit.
Availability: Released on DVD a number of times and available on Amazon Instant Video.
Judge Dee (hour; mystery)
ABC Circle Films
Fate – Unsold. Produced by ABC’s in-house production unit and based on Robert van Gulik’s 1961 novel The Haunted Monastery. Set in 7th century China, Khigh Dhiegh headed the entirely Asian cast as crime-solving Judge Dee. The pilot telefilm aired in December 1974 under the title Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders.
The New Land (hour; family drama)
Fate – Picked up! Based thematically on a pair of Swedish films (The Emigrants and The New Land), this family drama followed the adventures of an immigrant family starting a new life in Minnesota in the 1850s. The series premiered on Saturday, September 14th, opposite All in the Family and Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers on CBS as well as Emergency! NBC. It bombed in the ratings and was off the air after just six episodes had aired.
Cro-Magnon (hour; family drama)
Fate – Unsold. The unusual story of a Cro-Magnon family battling the elements and Neanderthals for survival during the Ice Age. The pilot telefilm aired in December 1974 under the title The Tribe.
McNeill (hour; police)
MGM Television, with Andy Griffith
Fate – Unsold. Andy Griffith tried hard throughout the 1970s to return to television as a small-town sheriff. This pilot telefilm aired in April 1974 under the title The Winter Kill, with Griffith playing Sherriff Sam McNeill. A pair of hour-long specials followed in early 1975, with Griffith as Sheriff Sam Adams. Those were followed in September 1977 by a telefilm called The Girl in the Empty Grave, with Griffith as Sheriff Abel Marsh. A sequel telefilm, Deadly Game, aired in December 1977.
Availability: Released on DVD by Warner Archive in February 2010. Also available on Amazon Instant Video.
Kolchack (TBA; contemporary bizarre)
ABC Circle Films
Fate – Picked up! In addition to misspelling Kolchak as Kolchack, Broadcasting noted that it might be a series or a series of movies/specials. The character of Carl Kolchak was introduced in a January 1972 ABC telefilm called The Night Stalker. A sequel, The Night Strangler, followed in January 1973. A third telefilm was planned by ABC decided it wanted a weekly series instead. It premiered on Friday, September 13th but wasn’t renewed for the 1975-1976 season. A total of 20 episodes were produced and aired.
Availability: Both pilot telefilms were released on DVD in 1998 and later re-released in August 2004. The series was released on DVD by Universal in October 2005.
The Hunters (hour; action/adventure)
Fate – Unsold. I haven’t been able to find any information about this pilot, which was reportedly a two hour telefilm. Confusingly, Sam Rolfe was attached as producer at the same time he was producing another pilot telefilm called The Manhunter for Quinn Martin Productions, which led to a weekly series on CBS during the 1974-1975 season. John Llewellyn Moxey was set to direct, with Ron Bishop writing the script based on a story by Herman Miller.
Bridger (hour; western)
Fate – Unsold. James Wainright starred in this fictionalized account of explorer Jim Bridger, who cut many a trail throughout the Western United States between 1822 and 1865. I’m not sure when this pilot was actually produced. ABC considered it again for the 1975-1976 season but passed once more. It eventually aired in September 1976.
The Chadwicks (hour; Family Drama)
Fate – Unsold. Fred MacMurray starred as the patriarch of a large family that includes a son, three daughters (two married) and several grandchildren. The pilot telefilm was broadcast in April 1974 under the title The Chadwick Family.
The Last Angry Man (hour; medical)
Fate – Unsold. Gerald Green wrote the script for this telefilm, based on his 1956 novel (which in 1959 was turned into a feature film starring Paul Muni). Pat Hingle starred as a Depression-era doctor trying to make his patients lives better. The pilot telefilm aired in April 1974.
Parker (hour; police show)
Fate – Picked up! Retitled Nakia, the series premiered on Saturday, September 21st and ran for 13 episodes. Robert Forster starred as Native American sheriff Nakia Parker, hence the original title. The pilot telefilm for the series aired in April 1974.
The Champions (hour; contemporary/drama)
Quinn Martin Productions
Fate – Unsold. Denver Pyle starred as a defense attorney working alongside his son, played by Bradford Dillman, to defend a doctor on trial for the mercy killing of his wife. The pilot telefilm aired in April 1974 under the title Mercy or Murder.
Availability: Not available on DVD but released on VHS in the late 1980s.
The Hanged Man (half hour or hour; western)
Bing Crosby Productions; with Steve Forrest
Fate – Unsold. Forrest played a gunslinger who, after somehow surviving his execution by hanging, decides to redeem himself by helping others. The pilot telefilm aired in March 1974.
Availability: Released on DVD a number of times. Two versions are available on Amazon Instant Video, one digitally remastered from 2012 and another from 2007.
Mobile Two (half hour or hour; Adventure)
Universal/Mark VII Productions
Fate – Picked up (sort of)! ABC passed on this series about a TV electronic news gathering team for the 1974-1975 season but did pick it up for the 1975-1976 season, retitled Mobile One. Jackie Cooper, Julie Gregg and Mark Wheeler, starred. The pilot telefilm aired in September 1975. This was the only series produced by Mark VII Limited that aired on ABC.
Planet Earth (90 minutes; science fiction
Fate – Unsold. The second of three pilots involving concepts developed by Gene Roddenberry, all of which involved a post-apocalyptic world and an organization named PAX. None were picked up but all three pilot telefilms were aired. The first, Genesis II, aired on CBS in March 1973. Planet Earth aired on ABC in April 1974. Roddenberry was not involved in producing the third telefilm, Strange New World, aired on ABC in July 1975.
Availability: Released on DVD in November 2009 by Warner Archive. Also available on Amazon Instant Video and Warner Archive Instant.
Check back next Tuesday for a look at the 26 pilots CBS had in development for the 1974-1975 season.