Today, we look at how the series finale of Laverne and Shirley followed a depressing Shirley-less season by halfheartedly trying to spin Carmine off into his own series.
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! Following our look at how The Facts of Life‘s series finale tried to set up a new series, we’ll look at a week’s worth of series finales serving as backdoor pilots!
CONCEPT: Carmine – Carmine (Eddie Mekka) moves to New York to try to make it on Broadway.
SERIES IT AIRED ON Laverne and Shirley
As I’m sure you know by now, the final season of Laverne and Shirley was extremely depressing, as Cindy Williams (Shirley) left the show at the start of the season, leaving Penny Marshall alone as Laverne sans Shirley. Marshall was obviously the star of the show, so it wasn’t quite as dramatic as, say, Williams had remained and Marshall had quit, but it was still very ridiculous.
I mean, well, come on, right? It’s still called Laverne and Shirley and there is no Shirley!
To add extra insult, Michael McKean (half of the other duo on the show, Lenny and Squiggy, with David Lander as Squiggy) ALSO left the series midway through the final season, so there was basically no cast, just Marshall and four extremely pointless supporting characters (Phil Foster as Laverne’s dad, Leslie Easterbrook as Laverne’s buxom neighbor, Rhoda, Lander as a Lenny-less Squiggy, and Eddie Mekka as Carmine “The Big Ragoo” Ragusa, who had been SHIRLEY’s love interest, so he had no real connection to Laverne).
So the show limps through an awful final season, and in the finale, I guess the producers figured they’d throw Mekka a bone for sticking with this turkey for ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY EPISODES, and the series finale is devoted to Carmine moving to New York to make it as an actor. He rents an apartment with another would-be musical performer, Rick West (played by Ben Powers, who had previously been Thelma’s husband in the final season of Good Times). Carmine first checks that Rick is not gay before becoming his roommate.
In any event, Carmine’s dreams actually come true in the episode, as he gets cast in Hair (so does Rick)! He calls Laverne, who lent Carmine the money that she had been saving up to buy a water bed (she sold her and Shirley’s old beds, so she temporarily has no bed), so she is sleeping in an inflatable kids pool, and Marshall’s final scene of the series is this depressing scene of her in this inflatable nonsense. Very pathetic.
DID THE PILOT GO TO SERIES? It did not.
SHOULD IT HAVE? Honestly, Mekka and Powers had good chemistry, and the musical number in the episode is actually quite good, so, I mean, maybe? It’d still be a sitcom based on CARMINE from Laverne and Shirley, so I guess not? But hey, I’ve seen far worse sitcoms from the early 1980s than this, so maybe!
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!).