Backdoor Pilots

Just for the hell of it, how many examples of back-door pillots can we come up with?

A backdoor pilot is when an established, on-going series abruptly changes it’s settings and characters for one episode, allowing either supporting or new characters take the center stage and set-up a situation that is obviously intended to be spun-off into a new series.

For example, the final episode of Star Trek (original series) second season titled Assignment: Earth; the episode begins with the Enterprise already having traveled back in time to 20th century Earth (apparently just an ordinary, hum-drum, routine business-as-usual mission for the Enterprise based on Kirk’s Starfleet Log transmission) and detect an alien craft approach Earth. While Kirk & Spock follow the trail of the ‘visitor’, the bulk of the episode is taken up introducing two new characters Agent Seven and his flighty secretary, and setting them up as a more sci-fi type of Avengers-style adventurers. At the end of the episode, Kirk remarks that the historical records state Agent Seven and his secretary are destined to have many exciting adventures together in the late 20th century.

Well, if they did, the Trek audience never gets to see it. “Assignment: Earth” never became an ongoing series. Still, upon watching the episode, it’s obvious this was meant to become a spin-off series.

Maude was a backdoor pilot that did get spun-off: Bea Arthur’s character Maude was originally planned to be just a recurring character on “All in the Family”; a stubborn, opinionated liberal who could butt heads with Archie. But Arthur’s portrayal went over so well, Norman Lear wanted to give her her own series. Just to test the waters though, Lear wrote an “All in the Family” episode in which Archie & Edith go to visit Maude’s home. Archie & Edith simply arrive at the Findlay residence at the start of the episode, then disappear off-stage while Maude wrestles with a problem with her daughter. At the end of the episode, Archie & Edith show up again just long enough to say goodbye and leave. The Findlay house setting became the principle setting for the “Maude” TV show, and the new characters all became “Maude” show regulars (though some of the roles were recast with different actors.)

So how many other backdoor pilots can we remember?

In an episode of Arrow, a promising young CSI from Central City comes to Starling City to help out with a case. While there, he makes friends with members of Oliver Queen’s Arrow team. Returning to Central City, he’s injured in a particle accelerator accident and becomes The Flash.

Bones / The Finder

There was an NCIS episode (it may have consisted of two episodes, the first being “continued”) in which the characters — the Red Team, IIRC — working with a different cast operating out of two double-wide trailers trucking around the U.S. Southwest.

It was even sillier than NCIS New Orleans, where, at least, spies, pirates and the U.S. Navy don’t sail around in the desert.

“Cavender Is Coming”…the only Twilight Zone episode with a laugh track, and was designed to be a backdoor pilot for what was supposed to be a new sitcom with Cavender (portrayed by Jesse White) as the main character. I can’t help but feel that if such a show had gotten off the ground, it would have also starred Burnett, who was relatively fresh off being a three year regular on The Garry Moore Show.

Carol deserved an immensely better Twilight Zone eppy and sole appearance than that one. sighs

Drat, I came in here to post this.

(Finder - Cancelled too soon).

B.J. and the Bear ---------> The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo

Ritchie Brockelman, Private Eye was originally a TV movie intended as a pilot for a series. The network was not interested. The character then made guest appearances on The Rockford Files. Then he got a series.

On an episode of The Danny Thomas Show (née Make Room for Daddy), Danny drove through the small town of Mayberry and ran through a stop sign. Sheriff Andy Taylor ended up throwing him in jail, so Danny watched as Opie, [del]Otis[/del] Will, [del]Aunt Bea[/del] Henrietta, et al. visited Andy.

I remember an ep of “Married with Children” that was a bd pilot for a Matt LeBlanc series about which I’ve mercifully forgotten everything.

The Brady Bunch/Kelly’s Kids

Mork & Mindy spun off from Happy Days.

“Good Times” spun off from “Maude.”

“Laverne & Shirley” from “Happy Days”?

“The Jeffersons” from “All in the Family.”

I don’t think any of these are backdoor pilots - the OP is talking about an episode of a series that is clearly meant to be a pilot episode for a spinoff series.

What also doesn’t “count” is when a character is briefly shown on a series when it has already been established that the new series is being made. Examples: Diff’rent Strokes - Hello Larry, and Happy Days - both Blansky’s Beauties and Out Of The Blue.

Ones I can think of that haven’t been mentioned yet:

The Streets of San Francisco - Bert D’Angelo/Superstar

The Partridge Family - Getting Together (starring Bobby Sherman)

Quincy had one featuring a psychologist, but I don’t think it had an official title (and it wasn’t picked up)

But were any of these actually cases of backdoor pilots? I think they were simply spinoffs of popular or memorable characters that were decided upon after the fact. Sort of like Better Call Saul is a spinoff of Breaking Bad but did not originate as a backdoor pilot.

Was it actually “cancelled”? As in, for bad ratings? I always suspected the show ended because Michael Clarke Duncan had died. Although I suppose you could still call that being “cancelled.”

“Top of the Heap” - also starring Joe Bologna as his dad, an old friend of Al Bundy’s.

Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior started out as a backdoor pilot on the more successful Criminal Minds on CBS. I was watching the episode and about halfway through I realized it was a backdoor pilot. Never watched the regular episodes of Suspect Behavior but it only lasted a season.

The US version of The Office ran an episode in the last season called The Farm that was a backdoor pilot, but they decided against the spinoff.

This was the first time I heard of a backdoor pilot. Even as a very young kid, it was jarring how odd the episode was, in that it had so little to do with the main cast.

OK, I can’t resist any longer.

When I read the thread title, I can’t help but think of the Curtis-Wright XP-55 Ascender. It was a canard design, so it looked like it was flying backwards. Hence the sarcastic nickname, ‘Ass-ender’. :stuck_out_tongue: