Today, we look at how Facts of Life might have kept Richard Dean Anderson from starring in MacGyver if his sitcom spinoff starring him as the White uncle of Tootie had been picked up.
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! This is a special week’s worth of Facts of Life-related backdoor pilots!
CONCEPT: Brian and Sylvia – The life of an interracial married couple in Buffalo.
SERIES IT AIRED ON Facts of Life
Unlike the show that it spun off from, Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life didn’t have any spinoffs of its own in its first season. Presumably this is because the show wasn’t particularly popular in its first season, leading to the show revamping itself for season two, paring the cast down to just four central girls (with one of the main girls, Nancy McKeon’s Jo, being a new addition to the series for Season 2). By the end of Season 2, the show WAS popular enough to merit wanting to spin something out of it, and that was the case for “Brian and Sylvia,” the 16th episode of the season.
Rosanne Katon played Sylvia Parker, the aunt of Kim Fields’ Tootie, who Tootie is visiting in Buffalo (with her best friend, Natalie). Sylvia recently married Brian Parker (a pre-MacGyver Richard Dean Anderson) who is, well, you know, White, while Sylvia is Black. Sylvia’s mother (and Tootie’s grandmother), Ethel, played by Ja’net Dubois (of Good Times fame, but also the woman who sang the theme song to The Jeffersons), is not a fan of her daughter being married to a White guy.
The other central conflict is Sylvia (who is a TV news anchor) getting a job opportunity in New York City, but Brian (a former Olympic hockey player who coaches youth hockey and is the director of the Buffalo Youth Center) doesn’t want to leave Buffalo. In the end, she decides to remain in Buffalo after the two had an argument on live television (granted, he DOES offer to go to New York City for her before she decides to stay, because she only wants to move if it is the right choice for the BOTH of them).
DID THE PILOT GO TO SERIES? Nope
SHOULD IT HAVE? Katon and Anderson are both quite good, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of “there” there, as they say. It doesn’t seem like there would have been enough plot for it to last as a series. An interracial couple in 1981 really wasn’t all THAT unusual, ya know? Interestingly, Rosanne Katon has been married to a White guy since 1984! I wonder if she was dating her future husband at the time she did this backdoor pilot.
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!).