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10 High-Profile TV Pilots That Didn’t Get Picked Up

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Amazon

The start of the summer television season finds all the new shows created for the fall season either going to series or being dropped from a network’s lineup. Many pilots have a lot of star power behind them, either in front of or behind the camera. But just because a pilot has some clout to it doesn’t mean it will be picked up for an entire season run. Here are 10 high-profile TV pilots that didn’t make it to series. 

1. Zombieland (2013, Amazon.com)

Originally conceived as a TV series in 2005, Zombieland was re-tooled and re-written as a feature film in 2009. The movie was a smash hit with an all-star cast, including Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. Instead of a sequel, the film’s writers, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, re-developed Zombieland for the online retailer Amazon.com’s new video streaming service Amazon Instant in 2013.

As part of Amazon’s original programming, viewers would choose TV shows based on their pilot episodes' strength. But with negative ratings and comments from its audience, Zombieland failed to get Amazon’s attention. It was eventually dropped from the online retailer’s emerging online roster.

Reese took to Twitter when he got word that Amazon passed on Zombieland. He blamed the fans for the series’ demise, as he believed that they “successfully hated it out of existence.”

2. Locke & Key (2011, Fox)

Based on horror author Joe Hill’s best-selling graphic novel, Locke & Key followed three siblings who became the caretakers of a New England mansion full of secrets and magic. With award-winning director Mark Romanek, writing duo Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, and super producer Steven Spielberg at the center of its production, most assumed that Locke & Key would be picked up for Fox’s 2011 fall TV season—but the network opted not to buy the series due to its rising production cost.

3. Mulaney (2013, NBC)

Former Saturday Night Live writer John Mulaney left the late night variety show to pursue Mulaney, a semi-autobiographical series that followed a struggling young stand-up comedian living in New York City with his two roommates (stand-up Griffin Newman and SNL’s Nasim Pedrad), while dealing with his game show host boss (Martin Short) and his gay neighbor (Elliott Gould). With SNL producer Lorne Michaels and 30 Rock producers Robert Carlock and David Miner behind the scenes, Mulaney had an impressive cast and crew—but all that talent couldn't make NBC pick up the comedy after its pilot episode.

4. Black Market Music (2003, HBO)

After the Judd Apatow-created Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared were canceled, Seth Rogan and Jason Segel, along with Jack Black, co-created a comedy about two best friends who open a hip record store in Los Angeles. The series incorporated real musicians making cameo appearances and performing in the trendy record store. Although HBO passed on the series, its creators and stars Seth Rogen and Jason Segel went on to Hollywood stardom in the movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin and the TV series How I Met Your Mother, respectively.

5. Delirium (2013, Fox)

Based on science fiction author Lauren Oliver’s best-selling young adult book series, Delirium is set in a dystopian future where romantic love is seen as a disease. Fox ordered a pilot of Delirium based on its passionate fan base, and Emma Roberts was cast as the lead, Lena Haloway—but the network ultimately passed on the series.

6. Sick in the Head (1999, Fox)  

Created and developed by Judd Apatow and Paul Feig at the same time as Freaks & Geeks, Sick in the Head followed actors David Krumholtz as an inexperienced therapist, Kevin Corrigan as his loser roommate, and Amy Poehler as his spunky suicidal patient. Freaks & Geeks was picked up by NBC, but Fox passed on Sick in the Head.

Sick in the Head was just one of five failed or short-lived series that Apatow developed with DreamWorks Entertainment: Life on Parole and North Hollywood never aired, while Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared lasted for only one season each.

7. Beverly Hills Cop (2013, CBS)

Based on the popular film series from the 1980s, Beverly Hills Cop was an almost surefire hit. Shawn Ryan (The Shield) was helming the series, Barry Sonnenfeld (Men In Black) was directing the pilot episode, and Eddie Murphy was making a cameo appearance as his character Axel Foley. Actor Brandon T. Jackson would star in the series as Foley’s detective son Aaron. CBS dropped Beverly Hills Cop from their fall TV lineup, but Sony is still looking to find a home for the show on another network.

8. Hey Neighbor (2000, Fox)

After the sketch comedy troupe The State broke up in 1995, four of its members—Thomas Lennon, Ben Garant, Kerry Kenney, and Michael Ian Black—created Hey Neighbor, a comedy that focused on a wealthy family who were forced to live in a poor neighborhood when they entered into the FBI’s Witness Relocation Program.

The show would’ve been a mix between sitcom narratives with various sketches. After Fox passed on Hey Neighbor, Michael Ian Black went on to star in Ed for NBC, while Lennon, Garant, and Kenney created Reno911! for Comedy Central.

9. Lookwell (1991, NBC)

One of the most well known TV pilots, Lookwell starred Adam West as an aged actor who used to be the star of a popular police procedural in the 1970s. Created by writers Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel, Lookwell aired during the summer TV season on NBC in 1991. Although it was NBC Chairman Brandon Tartikoff’s personal favorite TV pilot of the year, the TV comedy was not picked up for series.

O’Brien and Smigel would go on to host and write, respectively, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, but not before O’Brien took a two-year stint as a writer on The Simpsons from 1991 to 1993. Lookwell is celebrated for Adam West’s brilliant deadpan humor as a washed-up TV action hero.

10. Heat Vision & Jack (1999, Fox)

Created by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab, Heat Vision and Jack starred Jack Black as Jack Austin—a former astronaut who gains super-intelligence after being exposed to an inappropriate level of solar energy—and Owen Wilson as Heat Vision, Jack’s talking motorcycle sidekick. Ron Silver, Christine Taylor, and Vincent Schiavelli also starred in the comedy, and Ben Stiller directed the show's pilot episode. Still, Fox didn't pick up the show.

In 2007, talks of a Heat Vision & Jack movie surfaced—Schrab mentioned a full-length feature film screenplay was in the works during an interview with Wizard Magazine. So far, nothing has been made official about the film’s production.

Jack Black and Owen Wilson would go on to become among the most successful comic actors in the following decade, while Ben Stiller became a notable actor and film director. Rob Schrab later directed episodes of Children's Hospital, Parks and Recreation, and all three seasons of The Sarah Silverman Program, while Dan Harmon created the cult-hit comedy Community for NBC. 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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May 23, 2017
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