Today, we look at how Facts of Life tried to spin Natalie off into her own weird late 1980s version of Friends with David Spade and Richard Grieco.
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: Big Apple Blues – Following the adventures of Natalie and her housemates trying to make it in New York City
SERIES IT AIRED ON Facts of Life
In the penultimate episode of The Facts of Life, which had once been about a group of girls at a private school who were forced to live together as a punishment, but by the ninth and final season had become some weird mish-mosh where the characters, now all college students or just flat out adults, all sort of had their own plots going on only barely connected to a shared experience together, the show decided to throw original cast member, Mindy Cohn (who played Natalie) a bone by trying to give her a possible spinoff after the series ended.
Natalie and her best friend, Tootie (Kim Fields) are in New York City for Tootie to go to an audition. A friend of theirs said that they could crash on the couch in her apartment, but when they arrive, they learn that their friend had moved out recently. The other housemates they meet, eccentric artist Claire (Michelle Little), aspiring dancer Nina (the always underrated Terrah Bennett Smith) and dimwitted but gorgeous wannabe actor,
Joey Tribbiani Ben (Richard Grieco) are all cool with these strangers crashing at their place for the night.
Here is how Natalie and Tootie met them for the first time…
The fourth roommate, though, third-year medical student, Scott (David Spade), is more ornery. In any event, Natalie decides that she will take over the room of the friend who moved away, and move to the city. However, she is not exactly rushing to move her stuff from Peekskill just yet. She has a good scene with Scott, where he is a jerk to her, but reveals that he just lost his first patient, which is why he is particularly crabby. She bonds with him, telling him about her late father, who was a surgeon, and how he always said the worst part was not being able to cry when something like that happened.
Natalie is later mugged, and she has second thoughts about moving in, but Scott turns her heartfelt advice around on her, telling her his mother was once mugged, and that the worst part was not being able to cry when something like that happened. It makes Natalie laugh, and she decides to officially move in with the others, in this weird, proto-Friends series, with quite nice casting (Spade and Grieco before they hit it big, and Bennett Smith is always good whenever she shows up in something) but awful dialogue.
DID THE PILOT GO TO SERIES? Nope
SHOULD IT HAVE? It would have kept Spade from being on Saturday Night Live, but in general, I mean, I guess it would have been fine? It wasn’t a good episode, but so many other terrible sitcoms aired with even WORSE premises than basically the premise of Friends, so why 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 firstname.lastname@example.org (don’t suggest in the comments, as this way, it’ll be a surprise!).