As the internet emerges as the place to find failed television shows, mass audiences are logging on to see the strange ideas that fail to make it to network television. Although TV audiences may never see these unaired pilots, some shows may still manage to flourish online. Shows like the WB’s doomed fake reality TV show Nobody’s Watching (which recently got the attention of NBC) and the odd but hilarious Ben Stiller pilot, Heat Vision & Jack, draw hundreds of thousands of hits on youtube. In the wake of such incredible internet buzz, I went to the MT&R in midtown Manhattan to dig up the shows and view them as they were intended. On television, that is.
My first trip to the museum was around ten years ago. Since then extensive renovations have been done to several viewing rooms. It looked promising as I went on their server and searched through the massive computer archives of shows and commercials. I sent my choices to the front desk, and they escorted me downstairs to the viewing area, which is where my gripes soon began. The deteriorating TV sets that lined the walls were attached to uncomfortable headsets that seemed to function at their own will. Plugging the shows into the directory didn’t work so well either. I assumed the museum had a digital archive, but on further inquiry, I learned that all the programming ran on Super 8—a cumbersome and freeze-prone media that, like the headphones, worked when it wanted to.
I assumed I could set up a personal viewing schedule, so I put a few commercials in between my shows. I had the afternoon all mapped out. I could see the imaginary TV Guide schedule in my mind: one of those ‘50s Old Spice commercials to start, the experimental Heat Vision & Jack, three or four hand picked Super Bowl commercials, followed by the Nobody’s Watching.
After the gerbils in the back started running on their wheels, I was confronted with the truth that commercials came in bundles; putting a single commercial on a Super 8 would be a waste of money and time, so several commercials were on a tape. I gave up on the idea of seeing the Old Spice spot after several minutes of fast-forwarding. But, the museum at least delivered the shows I wanted to see.
It was obvious from the start why both shows never aired and why they now hold sizeable cult followings. They’re different and strange and bold. Nothing like them is on television. Heat Vision & Jackstars Jack Black as an ex-NASA astronaut who has an accident in space that leaves him super-intelligent, Heat Vision (Owen Wilson) is Jack’s best friend who inhabits a motorcycle, and Ron Silver is the tough policeman who hunts down Jack, using forceful methods to get what he wants. With cheesy computer graphics and Zoolander-esque punch lines, the show can be hit or miss, though I still have not met a single person who has detested it.
Nobody’s Watching, from Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, is about two brothers who write to the networks complaining about poor programming. They boast that they could write a sitcom that would be a hit. WB hires them to do a year-long reality TV show in which they are to create a sitcom. The president of the WB has no plans for them to actually finish their idea for a hit show, thinking it may make a great reality TV show instead. Part EdTV and part Joe Schmo, Nobody’s is nonetheless original in its abrupt scenes and sharp dialogue, its behind the scenes look at the studios and jagged character relationships.
As programs get their second (and sometimes first) wind online, I predict a wider diversity of shows appearing on the networks in the next few years. With such a cheap and easy way to test offbeat content, networks may be more likely to run with sleeper shows.
By Intern Michael Singer