With the impending return of the X-Files, Full House and, yes, Coach, we thought it would be appropriate to look back at fifteen series that never had the chance to capture the large, passionate audiences of those beloved shows. Sadly, they will never be rebooted. They were never even booted in the first place.
Sludge (CBS, 1983-1984): Dabney Coleman stars as veteran Salt Lake City Judge Sherman Lipschitz decides to use the power of the bench to combat environmental pollution when his son grows a third arm after swimming in the lake. A pre-Ghostbusters Ernie Hudson co-stars as Bailiff Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, with a cherubic Jerry O’Connell as Sherman Jr., the boy with the extra appendage. The series started strong, but suffered a huge ratings hit when it was accused by both Exxon and the EPA of being “wildly, willfully and dangerously inaccurate.”
Nine Lives (Syndicated, 1987): After crossing paths with a black cat on a Halloween, unemployed comic book artist Freddy Cheshire (Zach Galligan) wakes up to realize that he has developed feline-like reflexes and agility, as well as an insatiable hunger for Fancy Feast and a hatred of mice. By night he uses his new powers to fight crime, by day he transfers his recent experiences to his newest comic creation, Super Whiskers. Dom DeLuise appears as criminal mastermind and comic book store owner, Dom Dominos.
Whiskers (Syndicated, 1987): A retooled, comedic-approach to Nine Lives now features Freddy trying to hide his feline-leanings from his new roommates, including Matt (Matt LeBlanc), Steve (Steve Burton) and his big-crush, aspiring singer-songwriter Marisa (Ellen DeGeneres). Freddy can only reveal his special condition – and his true feelings for Marisa – to pet store owner and close confidant, Mr. Byrnes (Brian Doyle-Murray).
Where There’s a Will (NBC, 1984, 1987): After a car crash claims the life of greedy, self-obsessed estate lawyer Will Christman (William H. Macy), he’s sent back to earth to fulfill all the Last Will and Testaments he had blithely ignored over the years. Notable for featuring one of Orson Welles final appearances as the voice of God. Briefly resurrected in 1987 with Billy Baldwin in the lead role.
DOM! (Fox, 1989-1990): The late Dom DeLuise starred as Dom DiLorenzo, a retired Broadway actor who opens up his downtown Chicago apartment to his struggling progeny (real-life sons Michael, Peter and David), despite living alone for the past 30 years. With the womanizing, scheming, unpredictable Dom as the head of the household, it’s hard to tell who’s the father and who’s the son. But who says an old dog can’t learn some new tricks? A young Jack Black co-starred as the youngest DiLorenzo, Nick.
From Riches to Rags (NBC, 1987-1988): When the wealthy Sheraton girls – Cindy, Mindy, Lindsay, Winny and Barry – lose their parents in a freak Aspen gondola accent, they also lose their sprawling mansion in Beverly Hills. With their inheritance squandered by their father on his secret family, and nowhere else to go, the girls are adopted by lonely plumber Joseph Pulaski (Joe Bologna), and move into his two-bedroom basement apartment in the Valley. Slowly but surely they learn that there are some things in life that can’t be bought, and love is worth more than money. Executive produced by Robert Zemeckis and with a pilot directed by Clint Howard, the series premiered to big numbers, but never recovered after being pre-empted for Brian Boitano’s gold-medal winning performance at the ’88 Olympics in Calgary. Most remembered for Paula Poundstone’s role as oldest sister Barry, and Nora Dunn’s winning performance as Terry, a cold but caring social worker.
Drexell’s Class (Fox 1992-1993): Starred Dabney Coleman in the role of Otis Drexell, a fifth-grade teacher at fictional Grantwood Elementary School in Cedar Bluffs, Iowa, and a formerly famous corporate raider who lost a large sum of money on a failed venture was subsequently arrested for tax evasion. At his court case, he was told that he would receive a suspended sentence on the basis he work as a teacher in the undermanned school until he pays his back taxes. This was a real show.
The Dog House (ABC, 1993-1994): Dabney Coleman returns (again) as gruff Detective Mitt Morgan, whose drinking problems lead him to bungle a murder case and convince his wife to throw him out of the house. Busted down to canine patrol, and living in his mother’s basement with his new partner, Bartleby, Mitt tries to put his personal and professional lives back together. But Mitt soon learns that the dog days are just beginning. Chi McBride co-starred as Mitt’s former partner and best friend, Chi and the late Jean Stapleton received her final Emmy nomination as no-nonsense widow, Louise Morgan.
Spuds (ABC, 1988): After the smash success of Dynasty, Executive Producer Aaron Spelling turned his Midas touch to a sprawling potato farm in Idaho’s Sun Valley and the filthy rich but morally bankrupt Van Vondren clan. Family patriarch Geoff Van Vondren (John Aniston), who inherited the estate from his late father under suspicious circumstances, struggles to keep his house in order and to cover up all the secrets – including a second wife, a mistress, a shady deal with a Russian vodka company, and hypertension – that could ruin him. Aniston famously broke his Days of our Lives contract for the opportunity to portray Geoff and act with his daughter, Jennifer, in her first television role. The family was rounded out by Shelly Duvall as Geoff’s jilted wife Yvonne, Daniel Baldwin as eldest son Carmichael, Rick “Ricky” Schroeder as youngest son Michael, Dick Van Patten as the ghost of Gerry Van Vondren, and Temla Hopkins as Geoff’s jilted lover, Sadie, and later featured a visit from Ted McGinley as Geoff’s cousin Clay Fallmont, a reprise his Dynasty character. Despite the all-star cast, it was more famine than feast, as the show was unable to capitalize on its popular lead-in (Battle of the Network Stars), and was soon banished to Saturday nights. The show ended on a cliff-hanger, with the Van Vondren family facing a hostile takeover from arch rival Oral-Ida Corp.
S.P.U.D.s. (Fox, 1995-1996): Following the brilliant but canceled The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Fox and Executive Producer Carlton Cuse re-teamed for the farcical action-comedy S.P.U.D.s (Shelly Potato Uniformed Division). Cuse once again set the story out west, but this time in the small, potato-loving town of Shelly, Idaho. Bruce Campbell also returned, starring as Captain James “Jim” Progresso, a former NYPD detective who was dismissed from the force for insubordination (and an unfortunate incident at the Thanksgiving Day Parade) and moves out to Idaho for a fresh start heading up Shelley’s potato protection squad. Yes Dear’s Anthony Clark co-starred as bumbling Deputy Dave, along with Marcia Gay Harden as hard-nosed local policewoman Diane Schmatz and California Dreams’ Kelly Packard as Julienne, the Mayor’s daughter and Progresso’s romantic foil. The infamous season (and series) finale found most of the town being destroyed by an at explosion at the annual Spud Day Festival, a deliberate and somewhat spiteful decision by producers who knew that cancellation was imminent. The story was continued, however, in a 6-part limited comic book series penned by Cuse and illustrated by Campbell himself, which followed Progresso and his trusty Golden Retriever Russet on a quest for revenge that turns the Idaho potato fields into the killing fields.
Gängers (WB, 1998-1999): In his last major role, Dom DeLuise returned to primetime as successful businessman Dom DeDavinci, whose life is turned upside down one when he encounters his doppelgänger, local chef Paul LaViolette, played by real-life celebrity chef and DeLuise’s close friend, Paul Prudhomme. Brothers from another mother, Dom and Paul get the sibling they never had, and, by swapping jobs, a new outlook on life. Designed to pick up where Sister, Sister left-off, the series never clicked with the WB’s more urban demographic, and the show was pulled after the controversial episode “Strange Bedfellows” in which Dom and Paul sleep with each other’s wives (Wendie Malick and the late Wendie Jo Sperber).
Cat’s Cradle (Fox, 1999): Rebounding quickly after the cancellation of The Single Guy, Jonathan Silverman stars as Gregg Greenberg, a recent widower and struggling architect who lives in an Upper East Side apartment with his nine-month old son Glenn and tabby cat Elvis Pawsly. With Gregg barely finding the time to watch his son and meet his deadlines at a fledgling design firm, it falls on Elvis to take care of little Glenn when Gregg’s not watching. Home Improvement‘s Debbe Dunning played building superintendent and object of Gregg’s affection, Debbe, and Corey Feldman provided the cool-dude voice of Pawsly. A flood of letters from concerned parents, public advocacy groups, PETA and the American Humane Society, as well as a stunning lack of jokes, convinced Fox to ax the series only four episodes into its run. However, its final episode, “You Aint Nothing But a Pound Dog,” featured television’s first and only canine-feline pregnancy scare (until the most recent season of Girls), and won no awards. Despite a public plea (and particularly graphic threats) from Feldman, Cradle was quickly replaced by a seventh weekly airing of episode of Cops, and ratings immediately skyrocketed.
Bulworth (UPN, 2001): Perfect Strangers’ Mark-Lynn Baker returns to television in this small-screen adaptation of the “hit” film, taking on the title role. After narrowly surviving his assassination attempt – picking up where the film left off – Sen. J Bulworth retreats to his home town of Modesto, CA with new main squeeze Nina by his side (Stacey Dash, stepping in for Halle Berry). While recovering in his parents’ guest house, he recaptures his love for local politics and decides to run for city council. The incomparable Marion Ross and Al “Grandpa Munster” Lewis co-star as Bulworth’s parents, whose old-school perspective clashes with Bulworth and Nina’s interracial relationship, often to hilarious results and Flavor Flav appears as Bulworth’s campaign manager and hype man, Flav Flavor. Pulled after only one episode in response to very valid complaints by the NAACP, among other many justly outraged organizations.
Splitsville (ABC, 2000): The Alphabet Network’s entry into the great bowling alley-sitcom wars of 2000 (see: NBC’s beloved but barely-watched Ed), Splitsville starred Joe Bologna and Annie Potts as a recently divorced couple who agree to joint custody…of their bowling alley. The late William Hickey earned a Golden Globe for his guest appearance as Bologna’s father, Col. Mickey T. Splits, despite passing away three years prior. Infamously, it’s widely considered the death knell of the first incarnation of TGIF, particularly due to rabid unpopularity of Bologna’s signature dance “The Split,” which was a thinly veiled ripoff of “The Urkel” (itself a thinly veiled ripoff of “The Bartman”).
Dabney (NBC, 1995): Dabney Coleman comes back to the small screen as an author of do-it-yourself books who leaves New York City to run a bed and breakfast in a small, rural Vermont town that features no shortage of colorful, eccentric characters. Production was stopped immediately when producers were informed that this is the exact plot of Newhart.