Plenty of shows get canceled after a single season, but others only dream of that kind of success. Some shows don't make it past the pilot, and others are canceled before they even air. But not all of them are obscure titles you've never heard of. Among the following unaired TV pilots are big-name properties, like Wonder Woman and Clerks.
There are a lot of reasons these shows didn't work out, and it's not always because they're bad. Some were based on a successful movie that studios were trying to capitalize on - too early, as it turned out. Others suffered from being ahead of their time.
Whether these pilots were terrible or the world just wasn't ready for them yet, they're all fascinating in their own right.
At the height of Smallville's success in 2006, WB took a stab at another member of the Justice League. The Aquaman pilot (originally titled Mercy Reef) actually boasted some pretty big names, including Ving Rhames, Lou Diamond Phillips, and an up-and-coming Adrianne Palicki. The show centered around Arthur Curry (Justin Hartley), a young man who discovers that he's a super-powered Atlantean just as some weird things start happening in the Bermuda triangle.
The show's failure to launch may be due to bad timing. After WB merged with UPN to become The CW, the new management chose not to pick up Aquaman (somewhat ironic, given that the network is now bursting with DC properties). Despite some requisite cheesiness, Aquaman actually received a decent reception. In fact, The CW has even made the pilot available on iTunes. You can also watch the trailer on YouTube.
David E. Kelly, the creator of Ally McBeal, led this attempt to bring Wonder Woman back to the small screen. That might be all you need to know to understand why this 2011 pilot didn't work out. Part comedy, part drama, part social commentary, this version of Wonder Woman wasn't really sure what it wanted to be. In essence, the show struggled to find an identity.
Adrianne Palicki plays Diana Themyscira, CEO of Themyscira Industries, who escapes the limelight under her alter ego name, Diana Prince. If that wasn't complicated enough, Themyscira Industries is a toy company that actually sells Wonder Woman dolls - something that upsets Diana. Why the CEO doesn't just tell her own company to stop manufacturing the dolls is never explained. Palicki certainly looks like Wonder Woman, but that's about the limit of the pilot's success. NBC passed on it, but you can watch it here.
Heat Vision and Jack is about a man named Jack (played by Jack Black) who, through various remarkable "scientific" events, becomes a super-genius when exposed to the sun - and gets significantly dumber when the sun goes down. His roommate, meanwhile, is turned into a talking motorcycle (voiced by Owen Wilson).
This 1999 pilot was directed by Ben Stiller and written by Dan Harmon, who went on to create the shows Community and Rick & Morty. If it sounds like gold, it's because it is - but sadly FOX passed on it. It was full of quirky humor and over-the-top ridiculousness, and it gained a cult following from the people who actually managed to watch it. Thanks to the internet, you can easily find the pilot online.
Lookwell was a 1991 comedy written by Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel, and starred Adam West as a former TV action star who decides he wants to recapture fame by solving cases in the real world. Ty Lookwell is an actor who takes himself very seriously, dropping lines of wisdom that lack wisdom with grace and poise. The only problem is that he can't get another acting gig despite his moderate success as a TV detective, so he has to take matters into his own hands.
The pilot was shot in the now-ubiquitous single-camera format with no laugh track, which was unheard of at the time. It received a positive critical reception and would probably see wild success today. Alas, it was not to be, but you can watch the pilot here.