Not Quite Ready for Primetime

Unsold Television Pilots

Television has always been a battlefield, when it comes to getting a show actually on air, and the P.I. genre has had it as rough as any other genre, although the nineties were particularly unkind. Some of these aired and nobody bit, and some of them may have never been aired at all.

Still, it's fascinating to see what might have been.

A pre-Ward Cleaver Hugh Beaumont as a not-so-mighty San Francisco private eye.

This unsold pilot boasted the acting talents of one "Touch" Connors, as one half of a team of former FBI agents now working as private eyes. "Touch"? His real name was Krekor Ohanian, although followers of this site may recognize him as Mike Connors, of Mannix fame.

A.A. Fair's mismatched detective duo were featured in this (probably) unaired pilot, but failed to set the world on fire, despite a brief intro by Fair himself (aka "Erle Stanley Gardner).

A pilot aired during the summer of '59, but failed to find an audience.

    (1968, CBS)

An ex-pat American living in London works as a private eye, helping foreign travelers in trouble.


This comedy had Arte Johnson as a bumbling private eye whose only real talent was for disguises. Not very interestink, apparently.

    (1975, NBC)

Larry Hagman was to play not-particularly-bright private eye, Dennis O'Finn, in this half-hour sitcom that was supposed to spoof many of his hard-boiled contemporaries.

There was no huggy for this turkey. This backdoor pilot aired as an episode of Starsky and Hutch, intended to spin-off their flamboyant informant into his own show, with an uptight white guy P.I. as his partner. Apparently, fans of S&H consider this one of their least-favourite episodes.

    (1981, CBS)

A down-on-his-luck ne'er-do-well, Elliot Cooper, inherits an LA detective agency, only to discover that it's haunted -- by his late father, T.C. Cooper.

    (1983, CBS)

Attempts to spin-off St. Louis gumshoe Luther Gillis from the popular Magnum P.I. show, this one never caught on, despite four or five "very special" episodes that served as backdoor pilots.

    (1993, CBS)

Here's a trend -- private eyes in the days of ancient Rome. With the popularity of Lindsey Davis' Marcus Didius Falco and Steven Saylor's Gordianus the Finder in the nineties, it was only a matter of time, I guess.

    (1993, ABC)

Produced by Frank Lupo, this one featured obnoxious comedian Andrew Dice Clay as the leader of a small gang of crimefighters. What? Ford Fairlane wasn't enough?

    (1993, ABC)

A down-but-not-quite-out TV actor decides to become a detective. His credentials? Well, he played one for several years on the boob tube. HEY! Isn't that the premise for Two of Diamonds?

Relates the adventures of an armless private eye. Outlandish as hell, except for the fact it's based on a real-life private eye and, yep, that's his real name. There was even a book about him, co-written with Frederick Nolan, in 1976.

They aired this as a made-for-TV movie, but it was essentially a pilot. James Russo starring as Jon Kane, a Venice Beach private eye on a wandering husband job.

Intended as a pilot done for the 2002 TV season, this made-for-TV flick starred Lynn Collins as Janet Evanovich's bestselling bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. It wasn't picked up, however, because, according to a reliable source who saw it in a test screening, "it was abysmal."

Following the success of the 1998 feature film, NBC decided to try a TV show, starring Alan Cummings in the title role (replacing Bill Pullman)), whose assistant was a character called Jeff (played by David Julian Hirsh) whom I assume was the fill-in for Arlo (who had been played by Ben Stiller) Alas, it was all for naught, because ultimately, NBC chose not to pick up the series.

Tentatively scheduled for the 2003 season but so far unaired, this one focused on an Oakland-based private eye played by Danny Glover. Lee's is a former Oakland police officer who spent 18 months in prison for "protecting a fellow officer" (that's a crime?) upon his release he becomes a private detective.

This one certainly looked good on paper -- it was going to be a character-based P.I. show featuring a reluctant New York City gumshoe, played by Stanley Tucci, with Bobby Canavale as his brother and Ben Gazarra as their dad, and it was developed by directed by Barry "Get Shorty" Sonnenfeld. I'm not even sure if it ever aired.

Preliminary list respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Lord knows I've missed a ton of 'em, so feel free to help me out.

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