Today, we look at a failed attempt to launch a new show out of Knight Rider, but the failure led to a brief success via a revamped approach.
This is Back Door Blues, a feature about “backdoor pilots.” Backdoor pilots are episodes of regular TV series that are intended to also work as pilots for a new series. Sometimes these pilots get picked up, but a lot of times they did not get picked up. I’ll spotlight examples of both successful and failed backdoor pilots.
December is a month of Back Door Blues!
CONCEPT: All That Glitters – An acrobatic federal operative who normally works alone gets a beautiful new partner.
SERIES IT AIRED ON Knight Rider
The actual pilot season tends to be in the Spring, so it makes sense that backdoor pilots also frequently appear in the back end of the seasonal run of a TV series. In Episode 19 of Knight Rider Season 2, “The Mouth of the Snake,” Michael Knight (the star of Knight Rider, which featured Knight, played by David Hasselhoff, a former cop who barely survived being shot in the face, saved by a billionaire who gave him plastic surgery and a new identity to serve as the main operative for his “public justice” group – another word for private vigilante group, teamed up with a super-car with an artificial intelligence named KITT. Kitt was voiced by William Daniels) helps a woman named Joanna St. John (Joanna Pettet) track down an arms dealer who killed her ex-husband.
Knight and St. John run into a charming federal agent named Dalton (Charles Taylor), who is tracking down the same arms dealer. So they all team up together. Dalton is very acrobatic, and his fighting style is strikingly agile. Here is the final fight of the episode, which ends with St. John recruited to be Dalton’s new partner…
DID THE PILOT GO TO SERIES? It did not. However, NBC felt it had enough promise that it had Glen Larson revamp it, with a new pilot made where Dalton was now more of a Rambo-type, a loner traveling the country meting out justice with his fists. NBC didn’t like the new pilot, either, but when it burned it off as a TV movie called Code of Vengeance, it was a surprise hit (it aired on TV during the Summer of 1985, right after Rambo: First Blood Part II came out, and it was promoted as being Rambo-esque). So NBC ordered six episodes of this new version of the show, but then canceled it when only four episodes had aired. The plan was to release the episodes as two two-hour movies, Code of Vengeance II and Code of Vengeance III, but after Code of Vengeance II bombed, NBC canceled plans for the third TV movie.
Then, as luck would have it, NBC needed some programming to fill some empty slots, so it then released Code of Vengeance as a mini-series, airing all four produced episodes (breaking Code of Vengeance II into two episodes of the series). It came and went without much attention being paid (outside of some people noting how unusual this was to get canceled repeatedly and yet still keep going).
SHOULD IT HAVE? Taylor was good as Dalton, but probably not.
Okay, that’s it for this installment of Back Door Blues! I KNOW the rest of you have suggestions for other interesting backdoor pilots, so drop me a line at email@example.com (don’t suggest in the comments, as this way, it’ll be a surprise!).