As any self-respecting geek would know, there have been some pretty wild ideas for science fiction TV shows. It must have taken a certain warped genius to come up with Doctor Who, Quantum Leap, Lost or The 4400. Of course, those were hits. But some weird ideas didn't catch on so well. Take K-9000 (1990), about a cop who is telepathically linked to a talking, bionic police dog. Or L.A.X. 2194 (1994), a sitcom starring the not-yet-famous Matthew Perry and Ryan Stiles as baggage handlers at Los Angeles Airport, 200 years into the future. Strangely, neither of those made it beyond a pilot episode. The following shows didn't last so long, either. But when you read about them, you can't help thinking "What a wild idea!" (or perhaps "How did they expect anyone to watch that one?")
1. My Living Doll (1964-1965)
How's this for an idea? Build a shapely female robot and give her to a lady-killing military psychiatrist so he can teach her how to be (ahem) a perfect woman. Despite that foolproof concept, this sitcom about Rhoda (played by Julie Newmar, TVs first Catwoman), who lives with Bob McDonald (Robert Cummings) and avoids the lecherous advances of their neighbour, Peter Robinson (Jack Mullaney), only lasted one season. It was long enough for Bob to leave the series, so that Rhoda was placed in the care of"¦ Peter! Naturally, the best man for the job is the guy who spent all his time leering at her. Of course, the joke was on him. How could you have a relationship with a machine? (Of course, as this was a sixties sitcom, they never really covered that"¦)
2. Alternative 3 (1977)
Even in the seventies, people were worried about global warming. With this in mind, Alternative 3 was about a secret colony on Mars, built by American and Russian scientists because planet Earth was a lost cause. (The title came from the three alternatives: cut population, cut consumption, or the one they eventually chose: cut and run.) Not a bad idea for a TV series, perhaps. But no, the makers of this one-off British special decided to do it as a mockumentary. The result: thousands of panicking viewers phoned the production company, demanding to know how long they had left to change planets. Writer David Ambrose was unrepentant, saying that he was "constantly amazed at the gullibility of people." American networks turned it down, remembering the panic that happened when Orson Welles scared the U.S. public with his 1938 War of the Worlds radio play.
3. The Ultimate Impostor (1979)
Another pilot that didn't hit the big time. In this one, a secret agent's brain is erased by the Russians. As a replacement, a computer is implanted into his skull that programs him with a new personality each week. But he has limited time to use each personality, as they fade after 72 hours. If this had been a series, it might have been a great role for a versatile character actor, who would basically get to play a different character each episode. As it was, it didn't turn lead actor Joseph Hacker into a star "“ and neither did anything else. Still, he's been busy ever since, playing numerous character roles. So maybe he could have done it"¦
4. Cold Lazarus (1996)
Dennis Potter was known to many in Britain as the Shakespeare of television writers. His miniseries, like Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective (both turned into Hollywood movies), were critically acclaimed—and to be honest, downright weird. But his last miniseries (filmed after his death) was possibly the weirdest. Set 400 years into the future, it was about a virtual reality environment created from the visions and memories of playwright Daniel Feeld (Albert Finney). The thing is, Feeld has been dead for years, so the scientists take all of his visions from his disembodied and cryogenically frozen head. Raising the question: did Potter intend to put his own head in deep freeze?
5. Day Break (2006)
Remember Groundhog Day, the classic 1992 comedy in which Bill Murray lives the same day over and over again? How about Groundhog Day: The Series—minus the laughs. Yes, really. In Day Break, Taye Diggs played a police detective framed for a murder, who relives the same day in each episode, always getting closer to finding the real murderer. You might not think that this idea can sustain a whole series"¦ and you might have a point. It was pulled after six episodes due to dismal ratings. The ABC put the remaining seven episodes on its website, so that fans (few as they were) could relive the day a few more times.
6. Gilligan's Planet (1982-1983)
Everyone knows Gilligan's Island, that 1960s sitcom about seven people stranded on a desert island. Sadly, while they seemed to know their location, none of them—not even the Skipper or the all-knowing Professor—was able to build a boat. An animated sequel, however, made a logical suggestion: they built a spaceship (out of trees, coconuts, the usual stuff) and blasted off, hoping to return home. Instead, they went off-course, crashing on an alien planet, where they would be stranded. Hoo boy. Strangely, this possibly wasn't the dumbest idea for a cartoon based on a sitcom. It might come a close second to The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang (1980), in which Richie, the Fonz and their pals get stuck in a time-machine and have adventures in different times while trying to return home to the Milwaukee of 1957. Yeesh!
Don't believe us? Here's a clip:
Mark Juddery is a writer and historian based in Australia, with books, scripts and countless articles to his credit. Learn more at markjuddery.com.