Sunday, January 21, 2007

Heaping Helping

Jaime Weinman has a post about stealth spinoffs, a once-common practice in which existing shows would do an episode, or "stealth pilot," about new peripheral characters for the sole purpose of setting up a potential spinoff series. This is taken from my comment on his blog, but I thought I'd cross-post it here since I haven't had much time to post myself lately:

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The only stealth pilot I remember seeing was the Married...With Children episode that was really a pilot for the Matt Leblanc show Top of the Heap. It aired on a night when Fox promoted back-to-back episodes of Married... but I remember being very annoyed that the second episode was obviously not an episode of Married... at all.

Top of the Heap was about a lower class father and son (Leblanc) who constantly tried to better themselves through ill-conceived get rich quick schemes. I think the stealth pilot involved them dressing up in tuxedoes and crashing some sort of rich peoples' event. The father was supposedly a friend of Al's, and Leblanc was dating Kelly Bundy for a while (and even appeared one or two more times on Married... after TOTH started running).

Al Bundy appears at the start of the episode, in which the new characters come by the Bundy house. The rest of the Bundys are absent, and the story soon abandons Al completely. At the episode's conclusion, Al breaks into the father and son's apartment and steals their TV set because the father owes Al money.

Right after that, I think Fox aired a commercial promoting the further adventures of these new characters we had ostensibly just fallen in love with. I remember thinking that was a terrible way to launch a pilot, since instead of enjoying the characters I was hating them for hijacking the show I had actually wanted to watch.

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The dirty little secret revealed by this post, is, of course, that I really enjoyed Married... With Children. I'm not going to claim that it was an unequivocally great show, or that it holds up today, but at the time it was wonderful in its own little way. Ed O'Neill and Katey Sagal were excellent in their roles, the insults never stopped, and the tone was mercilessly unsentimental in an era when sitcoms were more painfully saccharine than ever. Sure, it was frequently misogynistic, but in making Al the butt of the joke, it was often self-aware and tongue-in-cheek about it (even if the studio audience never realized it). Amazingly, it's still less crass than, say, Two and a Half Men.

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4 comments:

Matthew said...

During that stealth pilot, there's a scene where the dad is at a fancy party and he walks around knocking women's purses off tables so they'll bend down and pick them up. One of the hot women was my friend's mom. That was a little weird.

Also, Married... was a great show, if only for its unabashed antiheroism (in, as you said, a sea of saccharine sitcoms). It was also a prime example of a network running a show into the ground to an embarrassing degree. I think during the final season FOX kept on hyping the fact that it was the longest-running sitcom in history, a slot that I believe has since been (or soon will be) overtaken by the Simpsons.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I don't think anybody should feel guilty about liking Married... With Children. It was a breath of fresh air for the reasons you mention, and most "quality" sitcoms only dream of coming up with a character as great as Al Bundy or a performance like Ed O'Neill's. The fact that he never got nominated for an Emmy was always (and was cited at the time as) a prime example of the Academy neglecting an obviously Emmy-worthy performance because they were being all snobby about the show.

Of course, I'm a person who openly confesses to liking The Facts of Life, so I'm not the best person to turn to for advice on what is and isn't a guilty pleasure... but Married was a good show.

Steve said...

After reading your first paragraph, I immediately thought of TOTH.

I agree about MWC. It's not like it was the paragon of brilliant television, but I enjoyed watching it for many years.

crystal! said...

I remember that. Another one could be "Melrose Place." They had Jake on 90210 for a bunch of episodes flirting with Kelly and then dating and then there was this 2 hour 90210 thing with a bunch of them on this new show with 20 somethings living around the pool. After about 2 eps of Melrose Place the 90210 people were no longer crossing over and it took off as it's own thing.