Abandoned Backdoor Pilots

Curator's Note

Backdoor pilots for spin-off series live in a sort-of purgatory. They neither exist as part of the shows they become, nor do they ever feel like they belong to the shows from which they spun-off. However, perhaps more confusing is the backdoor pilot that is never picked up by a network. These episodes generally end up being ignored by fans of the original show, which is easy to do since they typically have little connection to any other storylines. What do we make of these abandoned backdoor pilots then? What, if anything, does it say about the writers that create them and the audiences that ignore them?

Take as an example the featured clip. You might not be able to guess right away that this scene is from The Nanny unless you are a fan of the show and have seen every episode. Not one of these characters ever appeared before on the show, nor did they ever again. The purpose of this is to allow the potential new series to differentiate itself from its parent show. However, it creates a confusing and disorienting situation, particularly for the casual viewer that happens upon the episode in syndication.

The Nanny is not the only show to attempt to capitalize on its growing audience by acting as a springboard for an unrelated new series, and certainly not the only one that failed. As early as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and as recently Gossip Girl, many shows have unsuccessfully tried to spin-off a new series (see the A.V. Club's list of 21 unsuccessful backdoor pilots). Even when the show is picked up, there is no guarantee that it will last. This was the case with the recent spin-off from Bones called The Finder. Its quick demise earlier this year due to very low ratings leaves a backdoor pilot without support from the audience of the show that kickstarted it and with barely a fanbase that will remember it.



Backdoor pilots are just so odd. I find them crass, disruptive, and way too fascinating. Even more so than the demo pilots I talked about yesterday, here's a cheap pilot whose costs are made a part of the seasonal budget for a show! I mean, that's just ingenious.

So what's the reason for doing them? Obviously there's the financial incentive, but from a creative standpoint...? Is it boredom with the current project? As you point out, the backdoor pilot (and often its series if it makes it that far) feels isolated from its home show, leaving fans wandering why they should bother watching. Is it too much of an assumption that "If they like X, they will like Y, too?"  

Also: I remain convinced that every Cutie Mark Crusaders episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is just a backdoor pilot. (Kids-targeted animation is really good at working backdoor pilots.)

Wow, yes, so jarring. I *might* (probably not) have guessed this episode was related to The Nanny, but I hadn't watched enough of the series to catch this one before. I do recall the episode of Gossip Girl mentioned in The Onion, though, and reacted differently to that one. As a fan of that show--and of backstory narrative details too, I guess--I sort of longed for that flashback to reccur or be developed further in subsequent episodes. It wasn't strong enough for a spin-off, but it added a new dimension (well, or just some fun '80s nostalgia) that made me want more. I really would not be interested in seeing more of this beauty-shop spin-off though....

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