Today, we look at how Facts of Life just couldn’t stop trying to spin off a show about a nearby boys school.
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: The Academy – Following the adventures of Stone Military Academy, a boys school nearby the all-girls Eastland
SERIES IT AIRED ON Facts of Life
As I noted recently, in Season 3, The Facts of Life, about a group of friends at a private girls school, tried to spin off a series about a nearby all-boys Military School, Stone Military Academy, centering on Jimmy Baio’s Buzz, basically the guy version of Jo (Nancy McKeon), a scholarship kid living with a bunch of mostly rich kids.
The other main characters were his main rival, George (Peter Frechette), and Buzz’s two roommates and best friends, Alfred and Chip (played by John P. Navin Jr. and David Raynr, respectively). The show didn’t get picked up, but the producers obviously though that the idea was too good to give up on, so in Season 4’s “The Big Fight,” they tried a SECOND time to make it work.
Okay, here’s the thing – let’s say that you think that the concept really IS a good one, then wouldn’t you think that the reason the show failed was because of the actors chosen for the pilot? The Facts of Life famously dropped a good chunk of its cast and re-focused in its second season on its three best cast members, plus McKeon’s new character, Jo. So when this pilot didn’t work, you would think the producers would just center the show on a NEW group of students at the school, right? Especially since it wasn’t like the other characters were recurring characters on The Facts of Life. They all just appeared in that one Season 3 episode! But nope, the show stuck with the same cast, just adding in an extra nerd character, played by the professional nerd, Eddie Deezen (famously Eugene the nerd from Grease).
Fine, then I guess they’ll at least center the episode around their one halfway decent character from the first go-around, Baio’s Buzz, right? WRONG!
Nope, this time around, Alfred, who was barely a presence in the previous episode, is now the centerpiece of this episode, as he decides to enter a boxing tournament at the school to impress his General father, who was a former boxer. His dad, though, clearly doesn’t care about Alfred, and so he doesn’t show. Alfred still goes through with the fight, though (Buzz luckily convinces Alfred’s opponent to take it easy on him because he is failing Physics, and Alfred is the best Physics tutor at the school). Natalie (Mindy Cohn), who was Alfred’s date in the previous episode, is there at the school to cover the tournament for the Eastland school paper.
DID THE PILOT GO TO SERIES? Nope, and this time, strike two was enough for them to be out.
SHOULD IT HAVE? Again, the idea of a boys school series makes some sense, so I guess? The actors weren’t very good, though, and Deezen would not have helped.
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!).