Jim Nabors and Courtney Cox costarred in a flop 1980s sitcom
He played her uncle in a pilot that never got picked up.
Read to Me
Show business is full of "what if" stories. From alternate casting choices to accidents that changed a plotline mid-shoot, there is plenty to ponder when it comes to events that almost happened.
One consistent contributor to the chapters of hypothetical Hollywood history is the failed television pilot. Shows as varied as The Rifleman, The Brady Bunch and Green Acres all aired episodes toward the end of their runs' that were backdoor pilots intended to launch spinoffs. Obviously, none ever got off the ground.
The list of failed television pilots could stretch to the moon and back. Most weren't picked up for the same reason they've been lost to history — they were just plain dull. But sometimes, a pilot that didn't pique anyone's interest at the time now seems downright intriguing in hindsight.
One such pilot is the 1986 sitcom Sylvan in Paradise. It follows a bumbling hotel bell captain named Sylvan Sprayberry who works at a resort in Hawaii. Sylvan is surrounded by other oddball characters like Polly, who runs the puka shell gift shop, and Sparky, a bellboy who is engaged to Sylvan's niece, Lucy.
It came at the tail end of a wave of vacation and Hawaii-themed episodes and shows vying for airtime. In fact, one of the aforementioned Green Acres spinoffs was meant to take place at a Hawaiian hotel.
Sylvan in Paradise would be nothing more than a footnote in a story about a larger TV trend were it not for the fortuitous casting that elevates it from a ho-hum disappointment to an interesting failure.
Jim Nabors played the title role with his trademark Alabama twang, clearly meant to be the show's main draw. But what really makes this half-hour of television stand out are two of the other actors.
Courtney Cox, eight years before she became known to millions of people around the world as Monica in Friends, appeared as Nabors' niece, Lucy. Though Sylvan was still years before her most famous role, if this kooky pilot had become a successful show, it could have continued into the Nineties and changed the makeup of the now-iconic sitcom about six friends in New York.
Sylvan in Paradise (which also kicked around the potential title Hotel Hawaii) aired on August 2, 1986, a Saturday evening, sandwiched between Golden Girls and Remington Steele reruns. It performed quite well in the ratings, landing in the Top 10 for the Nielsens that week. And yet, NBC opted to pull the plug.
A much more immediate result of Sylvan in Paradise getting the boot connects to a show that debuted just one year later — Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The overbearing manager of the hotel in the pilot, Clinton C. Waddle, was played by a young actor who had been appearing on TV for a few years but only in small roles. He was about to get his big break, just not from the pilot costarring Gomer Pyle. Brent Spiner played Mr. Waddle in the Sylvan pilot, before winning the fan-favorite role of Data in the Star Trek series.
If Sylvan in Paradise had gone on to air just a few seasons, Spiner may never have auditioned for his career-defining sci-fi franchise role.