Hang 10: The Year’s Most Promising Failed Pilots

Roseanne, Sarah Silverman, Will Forte projects falter

Perhaps no exchange more efficiently lays bare the unsentimental heart of the TV business quite like the back-and-forth between Jules and Vincent at the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. As the two hit men are on their way to make a collection, Jules reveals that their boss’ wife, Mia Wallace, once starred in a pilot.

Because Vincent’s pop culture appreciation seems to have died out with Mamie Van Doren—“I don’t watch TV,” he says—Jules finds himself defining the term “pilot” for his dopey, dope-addled partner.

“Well, the way they pick TV shows is, they make one show. That show’s called a ‘pilot,’” Jules explains. “Then they show that one show to the people who pick shows, and on the strength of that one show they decide if they want to make more shows. Some get chosen and become television programs. Some don’t, become nothing. She starred in one of the ones that became nothing.”

This year, another 53 pilots joined Mia Wallace’s doomed Fox Force Five in the dustbin of TV history, a roster that includes a number of high-profile flameouts. What follows is a list of some of the more promising concepts that won’t be appearing on a TV set near you this fall.

Downwardly Mobile, NBC (Twentieth Century Fox Television)

Roseanne Barr

A multicamera family comedy starring Roseanne Barr as the soulful, sassy proprietor of a trailer park, this comeback attempt would have reunited Barr and John Goodman for the first time since 1997. Unfortunately for fans of Roseanne—and there were an awful lot of them; at its peak, the show averaged 21.5 million households—test audiences did not respond well to Downwardly Mobile’s brassy blue-collar comedic sensibility.

Super Fun Night, CBS (Warner Bros. Television)

Rebel Wilson

Conan O’Brien was an executive producer on this loopy comedy starring Bridesmaids scenery chewer Rebel Wilson. The Aussie comic wrote and created this multicamera sitcom about three girlfriends who dedicate their Friday nights to the never-ending pursuit of a “funcomfortable” good time. Jenny Slate of SNL/Marcel the Shell fame was set to play one of the female leads. (While CBS passed on the show, Warner Bros. is shopping Super Fun Night elsewhere, with an eye toward earning a spot on a basic-cable network.)

The Manzanis, ABC (ABC Studios)

Kirstie Alley

Yet another multicamera comedy, the script for this shrill sendup about a squabbling family that disrupts a quiet, WASPy New Jersey neighborhood reads like a primer on the most offensive Italian-American stereotypes. Former Cheers co-stars Kirstie Alley and Rhea Perlman were set to headline, and while poor testing put the kibosh on any hope of a series pickup, at least one Twitter account is trying to convince ABC to change its mind.

Susan 313, NBC (Twentieth Century Fox Television)

Sarah Silverman

Sarah Silverman wrote, starred and served as co-executive producer on this apparently autobiographical single-camera comedy about a woman struggling to return to her old life after a particularly tough breakup. The pilot was backed by serious muscle (Brian Grazer and Ron Howard), and Silverman is a popular stand-up comedian and performer. Still, her sensibility is rather raunchy for prime time—Silverman has made a cottage industry out of vagina jokes, so much so that Whitney Cummings should cut her a hefty royalty check—and the networks also tend to steer clear of comics who traffic in political material. Ultimately, the decision to pass on Susan 313 simply may have come down to NBC reversing course on its female-centric comedy strategy. After premiering Whitney; Up All Night; Bent; Are You There, Chelsea?; and Best Friends Forever in 2011-12, NBC elected to go with a broad slate of family comedies (Men With Kids, The New Normal), workplace sitcoms (Animal Practice, Next Caller) and the Matthew Perry comeback vehicle, Go On.

Friday Night Dinner, NBC (NBC Universal Television)