Today, we look at how Facts of Life decided to try to basically spin Jo off into her own show, only keeping Jo on The Facts of Life.
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 Largos – A single Italian-American father in New York tries to raise a tomboy daughter who is starting to want to embrace her femininity
SERIES IT AIRED ON The Facts of Life
As I’ve noted before, one of the biggest factors in the big Season 2 revamp of The Facts of Life that saved the show from cancellation was the addition of Nancy McKeon as Jo, the tomboy counterpart to Lisa Whelchel’s Blair. The give and take out of those two polar opposites becoming best friends was a huge part of the show’s success.
It seemed as though the show’s producers felt that the character of Jo was so compelling that it would make sense to spin her off, but they obviously couldn’t afford to lose McKeon, so instead, they did the next best thing, in Season 3’s “Jo’s Cousin,” Jo goes to visit her cousin, Terry Largo (Megan Follows), who is basically a mini-version of Jo, a tomboy raised with two older brothers and a single father, Sal Largo (Donnelly Rhodes). Terry is struggling with the fact that she is starting to like boys, and wanting to embrace her femininity, and her father and brothers have NO idea how to deal with that, and, well, that would be the central conflict of the theoretical sitcom spinoff.
DID THE PILOT GO TO SERIES? It did not.
SHOULD IT HAVE? I mean, the episode wasn’t really that bad, except everyone’s New Yawk accent was TERRIBLE (Follows and Rhodes are both from Canada). So probably not. Amusingly, soon after this, Rhodes played a single father on ANOTHER sitcom, Double Trouble, which, like The Facts of Life, was dramatically revamped for its Season 2, with Rhodes being dropped from the show (it didn’t work as well for that series).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org (don’t suggest in the comments, as this way, it’ll be a surprise!).