10 movies that were actually unsold TV pilots

Originally intended for the small screen, these movies all played in theaters!

For every hit TV show, there are countless unsold pilots that never see the light of day. Often fully filmed and edited, these one-off episodes languish in obscurity. Sometimes, however, the hard work put in by the actors and crew is not in vain.

Here are ten projects intended for television that were turned into movies. Whether they were made from multiple episodes, or with added footage to pad the run time, these former pilots found new life on the big screen.

1. Ride the High Iron


Image: The Everett Collection

A year before taking on his most famous role, Raymond Burr almost starred on TV as a completely different character. Luckily for Perry Mason fans, his turn as scheming public relations man Ziggy Moline was released as a theatrical film instead of on the small screen. Ride the High Iron also starred Don Taylor as a working-class Korean War veteran and Sally Forrest as the high society socialite he falls in love with. Taylor acted in guest-spots on TV through the 1960s but found his true calling as a director. He directed episodes of The Rifleman, Dr. Kildare, Mannix, and later movies like Damien: Omen II and The Final Countdown.

2. The Man from Galveston


The one-season 1963 drama Temple Houston tried to take advantage of the popularity of both Westerns and court shows by combining the two. It starred Jeffrey Hunter, who played Captain Pike in the original Star Trek pilot “The Cage,” as a lawyer who was as handy with a gun as he was with a law book. Speaking of original pilots with different casts, Temple Houston was changed so much after the first episode was shot that it became unusable. Rather than let the old footage sit in a warehouse, it was edited into a 57-minute film and released to theaters as The Man from Galveston. The movie featured another Star Trek actor, Yeoman Rand herself Grace Lee Whitney, and was directed by Cannon star and Gunsmoke radio voice William Conrad.

3. Agent for H.A.R.M.


In the mid-Sixties, spy shows were the coolest things on TV. The globetrotting adventures in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and others inspired many copycats. One such imitator, complete with its own acronym, was Agent for H.A.R.M. The pilot was not picked up for series but the science fiction elements enabled it to stand on its own as a Cold War B-movie. It starred Peter Mark Richmond as a secret agent working for H.A.R.M or Human Aetiological Relations Machine. Yes, this American agency uses the British spelling of “etiology”— the study of causation. Richmond’s Adam Chance must protect an ex-Soviet scientist who has information about a weaponized fungus that can slowly consume the human body. Talk about harm!

4. Invisible Avenger


This 1958 film, also known as Bourbon Street Shadows, started as an attempt by Republic Pictures to produce a TV show based on the popular radio and pulp magazine crime fighter The Shadow. When the two-part pilot didn’t get picked up, it was edited into a feature film and released in theaters. Richard Derr plays Lamont Cranston, along with his elusive alter-ego The Shadow, who investigates the murder of a New Orleans bandleader with connections to a Caribbean dictator.

5. Kona Coast


After playing Paladin in Have Gun – Will Travel and hosting his own short-lived anthology series, Richard Boone moved to Hawaii. He wasn’t done with Hollywood, however, as he hoped to establish a booming industry in his new tropical home. The 1968 movie Kona Coast was the project he thought would kickstart it all. Filmed as a movie but intended to spawn a TV series, it followed Boone as boat Captain Sam Moran, who vows to bring his daughter’s murderer to justice. The majority of the budget was provided by CBS in hopes it would lead to a successful series but a short theatrical release is all it received.

6. Hell Ship Mutiny


A much lighter film than its name implies, this former TV pilot for a show called Knight of the South Seas follows Captain Jim Knight, his chimpanzee, his parrot and human crew members as they sail the Pacific Ocean. Actor Jon Hall, who grew up in Tahiti, played Knight while John Carradine and horror icon Peter Lorre both played villains in the film. The full movie was cut together from multiple episodes filmed for the series. It was released to theaters in 1957.

7. Chamber of Horrors


This 1966 scary movie was deemed too bloody for the small screen. Originally meant to be a pilot for a show called House of Wax, it was released in theaters and came with its own warning system for queasy viewers— though it was most likely also intended to heighten the intensity. Before any violent scenes, the screen would flash red and a horn would sound. The plot revolved around two wax museum owners and amateur sleuths as they try to catch a murderer who can attach various deadly weapons to his severed arm. The period-piece horror contained cameos from Tony Curtis and Suzy Parker and also featured Wayne Rogers six years before he became Trapper John in M*A*S*H.

8. The Perils of Pauline


Image: The Everett Collection

This wacky adventure film is not hard to envision as a 1960s fantasy series along the lines of I Dream of Jeannie or Batman. That was exactly plan— if it had been picked up. After it was rejected, Universal Pictures released the three finished episodes as a movie. Inspired by the 1914 silent film serials of the same name, The Perils of Pauline followed the title character in her adventures to the Middle East then Africa and eventually outer space. Pamela Austin, most famous for her Dodge car commercials from that time, played Pauline and singer Pat Boone played her star-crossed lover.

9. Belle Sommers


Image: The Everett Collection

Actor and singer Polly Bergen played the title character in this pilot-turned-film from 1962. David Janssen, a year before starring in The Fugitive, played a press agent who helps Ms. Sommers get back to her former glory as a famous nightclub singer. The film also featured a “young” 38-year-old Carroll O’Connor still early in his career and character actor Warren Stevens who was in everything from The Twilight Zone to Bonanza to M*A*S*H.

10. Sabu and the Magic Ring


Sabu, star of 1940s adventure films like The Thief of Bagdad and Arabian Nights, was recruited by George Blair to act in a TV show. Blair, one of the minds behind the successful 1950s series Adventures of Superman, directed Sabu in two different pilots that went unsold. Undeterred, Blair edited the footage into a one-hour movie that was released to theaters as Sabu and the Magic Ring in 1957.  The film also starred Daria Massey, who appeared in shows like McHale’s Navy and Wagon Train, and William Marshall as a towering magic genie.

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Mark92677 33 months ago
I love "Hogans Heroes" and why can't they slot "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." right before it?
DocSavage98 33 months ago
Now I want to find some of these one off movies!
HalCromwell 34 months ago
A TV movie was made as a pilot that was not picked up. It was "Evil Roy Slade" and it stared John Astin and Pamela Austin (in supporting roles, Micky Roony, Milton Berl, Dick Shawn, Henry Gibson among others.)
scp 34 months ago
I've seen Chamber of Horrors (TCM runs it every so often). It's not a bad way to spend a few hours.
I don't think I've seen any of the others, though.
I think you mean Peter Mark Richman. You can find him in your "In Memoriam: Remembering the TV stars we lost in 2021" list.
PaulTakeo 34 months ago
Richard Boone failed to kickstart Hawaii's film industry but Jack Lord and CBS did and then Tom Selleck and CBS then William Conrad with 'Jake and the Fatman'. Hawaii's TV and film industry has been rolling continuously ever since.
bdettlingmetv 34 months ago
The author(s) left off one clear example: "The Questor Tapes". Starring pre-M*A*S*H Mike Farrell and familiar-at-the-time Robert Foxworth, and written by Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon. The cast also included a smattering of Star Trek TOS alumni as well as great character actors such as John Vernon. Like "Earth II" it was meant to be picked up by the networks.

Now that I think about it, the MeTV folks could probably devote an entire article to failed Gene Roddenberry pilots, and maybe already have.
Kenner 34 months ago
FYI: Agent From H.A.RM. was done over by the MST3000 folks.
Lantern 34 months ago
Didn't know that Don Taylor was such a prolific director. I only remember him from acting in such films as Stalag 17 and Father of the Bride.
DethBiz 34 months ago
Roger Corman's Target Harry with Vic Morrow.
TheDavBow3 34 months ago
I would like to see these shows 😊
If only there were Rerun (Classic?) TV networks with 24 hours a day to schedule...
That would be great!
justjeff 34 months ago
I actually remember seeing "The Perils of Pauline", one of the *many* remakes of the silent-era Pearl White 1914 melodrama. This version was corny enough as it was, but when you factor in Pat Boone, it became boringly vanilla.

Don't get me wrong... as a crooner, Pat Boone had some good songs to his credit ("Love Letters in the Sand", "Moody River", "April Love", etc.) - but when he tried to cover R&B hits in the 1950s, those versions sucked like a high-power vacuum.

Despite being a distant relative of both Daniel Boone and Richard Boone, his "squeaky clean" image made even Doris Day's 'good girl' persona seem wild by comparison...
OldTVfanatic justjeff 34 months ago
Remember Pat Boone’s attempt at metal?
justjeff OldTVfanatic 34 months ago
Sure do... that was a gag - and it got him in a lot of trouble with Southern Christian Conservatives - who [generically speaking] had no sense of humor for anything that wasn't by the [Good] book...
OldTVfanatic justjeff 34 months ago
The funny thing about Pat’s metal album is that a lot of heavy metal stars loved it. In fact, the late metal legend Ronnie James Dio sang on it and I think Metallica’s Lars Ulrich played drums on the album.
leelee1009 justjeff 34 months ago
Boone condemned the Vietnam War Protest Movement but called himself a conscientious objector when avoiding service during the Korean War!
scp OldTVfanatic 34 months ago
I actually have Boone's heavy metal album, and it's good. I actually think I like his cover of "Stairway to Heaven" more than the original.

Fun fact: Pat Boone and Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne were neighbors for a while, and, by all accounts, got along famously.
BobZayas 34 months ago
The villain in Chamber of Horrors was a far more interesting character than was either of the two insipid recurring heroes which certainly would not bode well for making the show a series. Besides the story was set in the exotic location of Baltimore which may not have helped a whole lot.
MrsPhilHarris 34 months ago
Love the eye in the goo. 👁
justjeff MrsPhilHarris 34 months ago
..which is always better than having goo in your eye!
TazMDevil justjeff 34 months ago
Unless you like that sort of thing
BrittReid 34 months ago
The only thing I remember is Pamela Austin. "Number 12 Looks Just Like You". Join the Dodge Rebellion commercials and being on The Wild Wild West.
cperrynaples 34 months ago
Here's a great bonus question: What MeTV series' pilot got a full theatre release BEFORE it was shown on TV? And no Maverick is wrong because the pilot and the movie were 2 different things!
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LoveMETV22 cperrynaples 34 months ago
Good question and good answer Moody. Didn't most of the character names transition from the movie to the series. Different actors in both with the exception of Radar and the drop of the Duke Forrest character. Thank you, always enjoy a good question .
leelee1009 cperrynaples 34 months ago
Season One tried to maintain the tone of the movie. Richard Hooker, who wrote the novel, liked the movie but NEVER watched the television adaptation!
OldTVfanatic leelee1009 34 months ago
That’s because he couldn’t stand Alan Alda.
SusanKite cperrynaples 33 months ago
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I watched it in the theater where it did rather well. It was changed a bit to show as a two parter.
teire 34 months ago
I vaguely remember The Perils of Pauline. Some of these sound like they would’ve been fun. As a movie or a series.
Michael teire 34 months ago
In the seventies, a local tv station here ran movies, I guess after the Flintstones at noon. Every qeek day, so they went through a lot of films, sometimes lesser of made for tv. It was more accessibke than midnight movies. Except, on school days, I got to see a little but then had to go back to school after lunch. But it was great on.holidays, I saw lots of movies that way.

And Periles of Pauline was one of them.
LoveMETV22 34 months ago
Sounds like Hollywood's version of Re-use/Re-cycle. I liked the comment in #7 "Before any violent scenes, the screen would flash red and a horn would sound". I can't imagine how that was received by movie goers back then. 🎥 🎦 🎞️ 🍿
LoveMETV22 34 months ago
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stephaniestavr5 34 months ago
This comment has been removed.
LoveMETV22 stephaniestavr5 34 months ago
Yes she does have a Gaborish look in that pic.
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