13 attempted TV comebacks that failed to get off the ground

They can't all be winners. Even if you're Andy Griffith and Lucille Ball.

Each year, networks produce dozens of pricey pilot episodes. In the end, only a fraction make it to air — and even fewer stick around for another season. It's no wonder producers play it safe by casting familiar faces.

However, a beloved TV actor at the top of the bill does not always equate to success. Even small screen legends of the 1960s suffered their fair share of failure. 

Here are an unlucky 13 television pilots that were not picked up. They range from the fascinating to the forgettable. A few of them aired as TV movies, some were never seen. In any case, we'd watch them now if we could.

1. Adam West in 'Lookwell'



The Batman icon starred in a brilliant premise from creators Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel. West played a washed-up 1970s television actor, formerly the star of a Baretta-like cop show, who now fancies himself a true crime solver. Don't worry, as you can tell by the names involved, it was a comedy.

Image: NBC / Broadway Video / YouTube

2. Dick Van Dyke in 'Harry's Battles'



Van Dyke starred alongside Connie Stevens in an adaptation of the British series A Sharp Intake of Breath. His character was a supermarket manager in Pittsburgh who struggled to keep his cool while cutting through the red tape of everyday life. Diagnosis: Unfunny.

Image: ABC / YouTube

3. Bob Denver in 'Scamps'



A sort of update on The Little Rascals, Scamps hoped to not just revive the career of the erstwhile Gilligan, but the creator of Gilligan's Island, too, Sherwood Schwartz. Joey Lawrence played one of the young rapscallions. Unfortunately, this was more Dusty's Trail than Gilligan's Island. Denver had tried another comeback a few years earlier in The Invisible Woman, which fused his style of slapstick with the typical sci-fi adventures of the '70s.

Image: NBC / YouTube

4. Alan King in 'The Alan King Show'



The acerbic comedian looked to score with his own sort of Family Ties. The generation-gap sitcom would have also starred Sarah Jessica Parker, who was looking to take the next step up from Square Pegs by playing King's daughter.

Image: NBC Universal

5. Telly Savalas in 'Hellinger's Law'



The Kojak man did not stray too far from formula here, playing a gritty, swaggering criminal lawyer. All he was missing was the lollipop. Perhaps that was the problem.

Image: Universal Television / YouTube

6. William Shatner in 'Indict & Convict'



A sort of early take on Law & Order, this criminal-justice procedural mostly served as scenery for the former Star Trek captain to chew fantastically. This baby is just chockablock with the most Shatnerian Shatnerisms, as the actor turns the minor act of eating a breath mint into a minute of Shakespearean melodrama.

Image: Universal Television / YouTube

7. Leonard Nimoy in 'Baffled!'



The title might have better described the audience, which was used to seeing Nimoy as the cold and logical Spock. In Baffled!, the actor played a cocky, swinging racecar driver who is granted psychic powers after an accident. Able to foresee murder, he teams with an occult psychiatrist (Susan Hampshire) to solve crimes.

Image: NBC

8. Lucille Ball with 'Bungle Abbey'



Ball did not act in this religious comedy set in San Francisco, but the I Love Lucy legend did just about everything else for the Lucille Ball Production. The pilot episode, starring Gale Gordon, is notable as being her only solo directorial credit. It was a rough season for Ball, as her other comeback, Life with Lucy, was critically panned and clobbered in the ratings.

Image: AP Photo

9. Desi Arnaz in 'Doctor Domingo'



Desi Arnaz attempted a TV comeback, too, by way of a backdoor pilot in Ironside. The former Lucy lover starred as Juan Domingo in the episode "Riddle at 24,000," which was meant to spawn a series for the crime-solving doctor. Alas, Doctor Domingo did not click. Arnaz made just one more appearance on television. It would have been nice to see him act in his autumnal years as a Quincy type.

Image: The Everett Collection

10. Andy Griffith in 'McNeil'



Griffith was somewhat obsessed with turning the 1972 James Garner film They Only Kill Their Masters into his latest television vehicle, in which he would play a far different sort of sheriff — one solving crimes at a ski resort. "Winter Kill" was just the first of five pilots made with the concept, each with subtle tweaks, including "Adams of Eagle Lake," "The Girl in the Empty Grave" and "Deadly Game." Matlock erased those woes.

Image: The Everett Collection

11. Fred MacMurrary in 'The Chadwick Family'



If you liked My Three Sons, you'll love "My Three Daughters and Son and Two Son-In-Laws and Daughter's Chinese Boyfriend." At least, that seemed to be the pitch here, which saw MacMurray and his onscreen wife (Kathleen Maguire) heading a huge clan in the 1970s.

Image: The Everett Collection

12. Don Adams in 'Three Times Daley'



The sitcom centered around three generations of Daleys — and had nothing to do with Chicago politics. Instead, the former Get Smart agent was the middle man in a family of newspaper workers.

Image: The Everett Collection

13. Sally Field in 'Hitched'



Gidget and The Flying Nun were cultural phenomena, if not lasting successes. Field was still in the dawn of her career when she landed this gig alongside Tim Matheson (looking very Harrison Ford-ish here) playing teenage newlyweds in the Old West. Familiar Western character actors such as Denver Pyle and Slim Pickens pop up, too.

Image: The Everett Collection



Bette Davis, Gene Roddenberry and Elizabeth Montgomery had some flop comeback attempts in the '70s, too. READ MORE

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CapnHawk 29 months ago
Three Times Daley was on the cusp of being picked up when one of the Daley's, actor Liam Dunn, passed away. The pilot episode got very good ratings, thanks to a strong cast and great writing.
JediJones 41 months ago
Bob Denver's Invisible Woman aired after Scamps, not before.
Delmo 43 months ago
"It was a rough season for Ball, as her other comeback, Life with Lucy, was critically panned and clobbered in the ratings." Life With Lucy debuted in 1986, not in the same season as 'Bungle Abbey', which was 1981.
RedSamRackham 43 months ago
* Lets not forget the Henry Fonda & Ron Howard dud The Smith Family! YUK. ♣
idkwut2use 52 months ago
The bizarre thing about “Indict and Convict” is that, somehow, the words don’t actually rhyme...:o
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