Once upon a time, television networks would air their unsold pilots as an ersatz anthology series, essentially to fill up summertime broadcasting hours and to show why the programs really didn’t have enough of an “oomph” to make it to series.
In 1991, one enterprising viewer actually videotaped one of those “failed pilot” episodes, and uploaded it to YouTube.
Which, now that i found it on YouTube, I get to share it with you.
Take a look at The Danger Team.
What you see here is a 1991 ABC pilot that tries to create a “high-concept” TV series of three animated puppets who help a budding detective solve crimes. I mean, it sounds as ludicrous as it looks. No, seriously, it looks plenty ludicrous.
The plot is simple – Sheryl (Kathleen Beller, “Dynasty”), struggling at the local detective agency, spends the night at the apartment of her animation director boyfriend Chris (Steve Levitt, “The Paper Chase”). Meanwhile, Chris is involved with creating new characters for a safety video, and using stop-motion animation to build his new characters. When Chris is captured by crooks in a case of mistaken identity, the stop-motion animated clay creatures come to life, and they (along with Sheryl) rescue Chris. Closing credits.
Um … yeah.
I can see right off the bat that this show was terribly cast. Kathleen Beller plays the role of an aspiring detective with the same aplomb as the third-string understudy in a Moonlighting episode. And the rest of the human characters are written with barely one dimension to share between them. About the only laugh I picked up from this series was the detective agency that was named after Warner Bros. music director Carl Stalling, the man famous for orchestrating nearly every Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon short.
As for the “Danger Team” – three sentient, shape-shifting animated clay figurines – they are part comedic touch, part Greek chorus, but they’re written in such a way that you aren’t sure if the program is a comedy or a drama or an action series … and after 30 minutes of watching this program, I STILL can’t make up my mind one way or the other.
This show actually could have been a big hit if it was aimed more at the Saturday morning children’s audience. Put this program alongside Super Friends and Lidsville and ABC would have been printing money with this show. But even with all that, this high-concept series would have cost a fortune. Stop-motion animation, for example, is a very laborious process, which is why there’s only about three or four Will Vinton Claymation specials out there. To put this together as a weekly series – you would have needed a monster budget and a monster team of animators.
Still, this half-hour pilot does show what could have been … and, more realistically, why it wasn’t.