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Abandoned Backdoor Pilots

by Ethan Tussey

by Carolina Hernandez for IN MEDIA RES

Backdoor pilots for spin-off series live in a sort-of purgatory. They neither exist as part of the shows they become, nor do they ever feel like they belong to the shows from which they spun-off. However, perhaps more confusing is the backdoor pilot that is never picked up by a network. These episodes generally end up being ignored by fans of the original show, which is easy to do since they typically have little connection to any other storylines. What do we make of these abandoned backdoor pilots then? What, if anything, does it say about the writers that create them and the audiences that ignore them?

Take as an example the featured clip. You might not be able to guess right away that this scene is from The Nanny unless you are a fan of the show and have seen every episode. Not one of these characters ever appeared before on the show, nor did they ever again. The purpose of this is to allow the potential new series to differentiate itself from its parent show. However, it creates a confusing and disorienting situation, particularly for the casual viewer that happens upon the episode in syndication.

The Nanny is not the only show to attempt to capitalize on its growing audience by acting as a springboard for an unrelated new series, and certainly not the only one that failed. As early as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and as recently Gossip Girl, many shows have unsuccessfully tried to spin-off a new series (see the A.V. Club's list of 21 unsuccessful backdoor pilots). Even when the show is picked up, there is no guarantee that it will last. This was the case with the recent spin-off from Bones called The Finder. Its quick demise earlier this year due to very low ratings leaves a backdoor pilot without support from the audience of the show that kickstarted it and with barely a fanbase that will remember it.


The Nanny Backdoor Pilot

The Nanny Backdoor Pilot

from The Nanny (1995)
Creator: Fran Drescher; Peter Marc Jacobson
Distributor: Columbia TriStar Television
Posted by Ethan Tussey