"Rule of thumb: whenever a show does an episode focusing on a bunch of people you've never seen before and never do again, it's a pilot for a new show."
Episode in which the show's primary characters take a back seat to secondary or, more likely, brand new characters in order to test the waters for a separate show. Differs from the traditional Spinoff
in that the characters are clearly jammed in there just for the sake of the new show; it's not a matter of primary characters becoming popular enough to break out on their own. Not many of these pilots get picked up, however.
Another common term for this is "backdoor pilot"
; however this can refer to other things as well, most notably a pilot broadcast as a special or Made-for-TV Movie
that will be picked up as a series only if the ratings are good enough.
Much like any pilot, the version of the series that makes it to air may have actors or settings changed. The version of Empty Nest
that made it to TV was much different than the Poorly Disguised Pilot
on The Golden Girls
, and the proposed Aquaman
series would have starred a different actor than the one who guest-starred on Smallville
As a general rule, if you're watching a show and you find yourself asking questions like "Where did everybody go?", "What are we doing here?", "Who are these people?", or, above all, "What is going on here?", then you're watching a Poorly Disguised Pilot
Other symptoms of a Poorly Disguised Pilot
Before the concept of the Season Finale
took off, these were often aired as the last episode of a season.
The Opposite Trope
is Fully Absorbed Finale
, when what is functionally the last
episode of a show appears in another show. See also Pilot Movie
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Anime and Manga
: Remember, films that are created with the idea of releasing an Animated Adaptation
in mind are Pilot Movies
and should be listed there.
- Yes, this happens in film. Blade: Trinity was partially intended as a Poorly Disguised Pilot for Hannibal King and Abigail Whistler's "Nightstalker" characters. It didn't work out.
- Similarly, the Wolverine film has been stated to be a testing bed for films based on Gambit and Deadpool.
- And Marvel seems to like this a lot, because their first five films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were meant to collectively lead into an Avengers film.
- Daredevil was basically hacked to pieces by Fox executives to serve as a pilot for the Elektra spin-off. When given the opportunity to put out the movie as it was originally conceived, the director cut Elektra's screentime substantially, restored a half dozen missing subplots, and turned it into a movie that was actually worthwhile.
- Before the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies came out, producers announced that they were planning a spinoff movie series featuring Michelle Yeoh's character Wai Lin. That never happened, but similarly, there was much talk of a spinoff featuring Halle Berry's Jinx character from Die Another Day. The extent to which they were truly serious about either notion is unclear. Some suspect the talk in each case was simply pre-release hype ("The heroine in our next picture is such a great character, we're giving her a movie series of her own!").
- A script for a Jinx movie got two months into writing before poor performances of ''Charlie's Angel: Full Throttle' and the 'Tomb Raider' sequel led to it being canned.
- There was talk of a Catwoman movie as a follow-up to Batman Returns. Michelle Pfeiffer wasn't very excited about the project and it never came to fruition until long after the Batman movie franchise had died. Eventually, the project was revived as a vehicle for Halle Berry, resulting in Catwoman.
- Godzilla vs. Megalon was intended in part to launch a new Giant Hero, the robotic Jet Jaguar, for Toho Studios.
- Indiana Jones
- Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer is one for Silver Surfer. Many things in the movie don't happen (like the appearance of the Big Bad) in order to allow for the Silver Surfer spinoff, which never happened.
- You wouldn't think this could happen in book form, but it has. Nancy Drew Files #39: The Suspect Next Door focused heavily on Nancy's neighbor, a girl named Nikki Masters. Not too long after, Nikki got her own spin-off, a romance series called River Heights. It lasted about 16 issues before getting run off the face of the earth and is largely forgotten now.
- Rinkitink in Oz is a book in the Oz series of books that was originally written as a standalone fantasy novel in the land of Pilgaree. It didn't get published in that form, but eventually, L. Frank Baum changed it into an Oz book just by putting in what amounted to a gratuitous Crossover with some Oz characters. Mind you, at this point in his career, Baum was finding that whether he liked it or not, his books could only be commercially successful if they were Oz books.
- Averted in Animorphs. A large cast of new characters, amply named the Axillary Animorphs, were introduced into the series near the climax. One would think this would mean shoehorning them into getting a spinoff right? Nope, they were all unceremoniously killed off.
- The "Kelly's Kids" episode of The Brady Bunch was meant to be a backdoor pilot. In that episode, Ken Berry played a friend of the Bradys who, with his wife, adopts not only a white orphan but also his black and Asian best friends as well, much to his bigoted neighbor's chagrin. The pilot didn't sell... or at least not until twelve years later, when the concept was revived as Together We Stand, a short-lived CBS sitcom starring Elliot Gould.
- Diff'rent Strokes had a few:
- Hello, Larry is often referred to as one of these, but actually debuted as a separate show. However, when NBC put it in the time slot directly following Diff'rent Strokes, they wrote in a connection between McLean Stevenson and Conrad Bain's characters that allowed for several crossovers between the shows. It was an (unsuccessful) attempt to boost ratings for Larry, but not a spinoff.
- The Facts of Life started this way, following from the episode "The Girls School" (albeit with some significant changes from the pilot.)
- The episode "Almost American" was a failed pilot for a show about immigrants studying for their citizenship exams, featuring a Czech immigrant named Milo.
- The Facts of Life, in turn, tried to launch other shows this way. Seven times, in fact, none of which resulted in a series:
- "Brian & Sylvia" was about Tootie's cousin's interracial marriage to a pre-MacGyver Richard Dean Anderson.
- "The Academy" was a third-season episode about Stone Academy, a boys' school near Eastland. It failed, but they tried again with another Stone Academy episode with the same cast the next year, "The Big Fight."
- "Jo's Cousin" would have led to a show about, well, Jo's cousin, a 14-year-old girl growing up in Brooklyn in a family full of men.
- "Rumor Has It..." and "Peekskill Law" was a final-season two-parter that would have led into a show featuring Blair and her law-school mentor.
- "Big Apple Blues", also from the final season, showcased Natalie and would have led to a show about her moving to New York and living in a Soho loft with several eccentric tenants(one of whom was pre-SNL David Spade as a young medical intern).
- Finally, the series' last episodes, "The Beginning of the End/Beginning of the Beginning", ended with Blair buying the Eastland school, turning it co-ed, and presiding over it in a would-be continuation series.
- The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Assignment: Earth" ends with Kirk and Spock assuring everyone that they are sure Roberta Lincoln (played by then-unknown Teri Garr) and her super-spy boss Gary Seven (played by Robert Lansing) will have many more interesting adventures to come. Sadly, they didn't; the most they got was an occasional appearance in the Expanded Universe. The episode was originally written as a straight pilot and then reworked to include the ''Trek'' characters when a buyer couldn't be found. Note how Kirk and Spock are rather awkwardly shoehorned into a storyline to which they contribute very little. As Kirk himself put it in the episode, "I have never felt so helpless."
- One reason the pilot failed to sell is that Robert Lansing (who had previously quit "12 O'Clock High") made it clear he wasn't interested in returning to the weekly TV grind (not at that time, anyway - he was later a regular on Automan and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues).
- Diagnosis: Murder had several episodes intended to be spin-offs but none were ever picked up:
- "Retribution," a two-part episode was intended to be a pilot for "The Chief." Fred Dryer starred at the hard-nosed Los Angeles chief of police who played various political games to provide law and order. Neal McDonough would co-star as Ross Canin, a mob boss who was actually an undercover policeman acting as Masters' ultimate inside man.
- "A Mime is a Terrible Thing to Waste" featured Rachel York as Randy Wofle, an eccentric woman with various jobs who gets involved in murder cases.
- "Blood Ties" was to be a pilot for a series called "Whistlers" with rule-bending detective Amy Devlin (Kathy Evison) and her more outrageous partner Taylor Lucas (Zoe McLellan).
- Ironically, Diagnosis: Murder itself was a spinoff of Jake And The Fatman (which itself, in turn, spun off from Matlock).
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation did this to launch CSI: Miami, which in turn launched CSI NY.
- And the episode "Hollywood Brass" certainly feels like a PDP. Were they thinking about a Jim Brass spin-off set in LA?
- Similarly with the episode "The Thing About Heroes" of CSI NY, which introduced at least one major character from the Chicago police department.
- Rumours circulated for a while about a possible CSI London (Although for accuracy, it should be SOCO London, as the real-life CSI equivalents of the British Police are called Scene Of (the) Crime Officersnote ) such that, when Mac Taylor of CSI NY visited London, there was an expectant hush among some viewers... which dissipated almost immediately, since London was just a stock-footage pretty backdrop for a mystery phone call, part of a very definitely American story arc.
- The final season of Highlander is an example of this. It featured a string of episodes centered around various new female Immortals, an attempt to see which one the audience liked best for a female-centric spin-off. The attempt was unsuccessful, and ultimately, recurring Immortal Liz Gracen was spun off to the short-lived Highlander The Raven series. One of those female test runs was called The Raven. That ended up being the name of the new series, even though it didn't star that character and Liz Gracen's character Amanda had never been associated with a black bird of portent before. It took an incredibly clumsy credit sequence that tried to make the case that thief Amanda is like a Native American mythological Trickster God Raven to justify the title. Why not just call it Rule of Cool and be done with it?
- The third season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers began with a three-part episode titled "A Friend in Need", which was basically an advertisement for Saban's Masked Rider series, an Americanized version of Kamen Rider Black RX that premiered a few weeks after the three-parter aired. Aside for a passing mention during the Aquitian Rangers story arc and a brief cameo/team-up in a one-shot Masked Rider comic book by Marvel, Dex and the Rangers never encountered each other again. However, an episode of Power Rangers Time Force has Nadira watching an episode of Masked Rider on TV.
- The Crossing Jordan episode "Sunset Division" is another example; however, the pilot was never picked up.
- Empty Nest began on The Golden Girls this way with the episode "Empty Nests". However, the actors, characters, and premise were very different from the show that actually made it to air - David Leisure was the only actor to be retained, and even he was playing a different character (in the pilot he was playing a test pilot called Oliver).
- The Knight Rider episode "Mouth of the Snake" had Michael and KITT playing second fiddle to a Sentinel-like crimefighter and his sidekick in what appears to have been a Poorly Disguised Pilot for a show that was never picked up. (Actually, it did; it was called Code of Vengeance, but was extremely short-lived and changed much about the premise, to the extent that most people couldn't tell it was a Spin-Off.)
- MacGyver: "The Coltons", after a 3-4 minute scene with Mac, became entirely about the exploits of a family of bounty hunters, each of whom had previously appeared in the series separately. The series never came to pass, but individual Coltons did continue to turn up for the remainder of the series.
- The Rockford Files had at least three Poorly Disguised Pilots during the run of the series. It did succeed in spinning off one short-lived series, Richie Brockelman Private Eye, a series that had already had one stand-alone pilot two years earlier on the NBC Mystery Movie.
- Smallville had an episode almost entirely devoted to a reinvention of the classic Aquaman character, with little relation to the regular plot. It was later revealed that The WB planned to launch a Smallville-esque Aquaman series. The proposed series would have diverged widely from the episode's version of the character; in the unaired pilot, Aquaman was played by Justin Hartley rather than Alan Ritchson, who played the character in Smallville. After the pilot failed, Hartley was cast as Green Arrow on Smallville.
- Although nothing official has been stated, there was an episode of Smallville that quickly trapped Clark in order to bring in the newly formed Justice League (Green Arrow, Cyborg, Aquaman, and Impulse). This may have been testing the waters for a Justice League TV show, or it might just have been a ratings grab. The original actor playing Green Arrow has dismissed ideas of starring in a GA spin-off, feeling that this would be disloyal to the series. The resulting show is not even a spinoff, but has since gone forward starring a different actor with a completely different plot and version of the character.
- The third-to-last episode of Smallville centered on Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, possibly as a test for a future series, but nothing has come of it since then.
- Married... with Children
- The episodes "Top of the Heap" (the 100th episode and one of the few episodes that didn't have the entire Bundy family. It had Al in the beginning trying to get his TV back from his friend and in the ending where Al breaks in and takes the TV) and "Oldies but Young'uns" (which didn't focus much on Al's friend and his dim-witted son played by Matt Le Blanc, but did have them in the plot for the B-story about Kelly dating the dim-witted son) were used as test-pilots for the eventual spinoff Top of the Heap, which only lasted six episodes.
- "Radio Free Trumaine", revolving around a radio station at Bud's college (with Steve Rhoades getting a job as a college dean), and "Enemies", about a group of Kelly's friends and starring Alan Thicke. Neither was picked up by the network.
- The finale, focusing on Kelly, was to be spun off into a series about her moving out and starting her own life away from the Bundys. Contract disputes and lack of interest kept that from happening.
- Another Married...With Children spin-off would have been centered on Al and his friends from "NO MA'AM" (National Organization for Men Against Amazonian Masterhood), but the FOX network was afraid that it would have been too misogynistic.
- The Gilmore Girls episode in which Jess goes to find his father in California was an obvious pilot for a series that was never picked up. Apparently, it was supposed to be called Windward Circle. Adrian Pasdar tried out for, but didn't get, the role of Jess's dad.
- The 1996 Touched by an Angel episode "Promised Land" was a pilot for the series of the same name that would run for 3 seasons.
- Even though the organization must have been involved in a large number of previous cases, NCIS only makes a prominent appearance in two episodes of JAG: "Ice Queen" and "The Meltdown", a two-parter Poorly Disguised Pilot.
- An interesting side note is the changes that were seen from this testing. Most notably, the female character was replaced by a Secret Service liaison, and the romantic tension between Abby and DiNozzo was completely dropped.
- Further interesting side note: The first season of JAG played much more like NCIS than the rest of the series; in fact, the season ended in a never-resolved cliffhanger due to cancellation by NBC, before the show was picked up by CBS. The first season of NCIS retreads many episodes of that canceled season.
- NCIS launched its own spinoff with the two parter episode "Legend". The new series was billed as Legend, other titles included NCIS: OSP (Office of Special Projects) and NCIS: Undercover, but would eventually get the much-less-compelling name NCIS: Los Angeles.
- NCIS Los Angeles tried to launch another spinoff in a two-parter titled "Red", featuring a mobile NCIS unit; this appears to have been passed on as of May 2013.
- The Bionic Woman:
- Episode "Biofeedback" appeared to be a Poorly Disguised Pilot for a series about another super-powered OSI agent, Darwin Jones.
- The second episode featuring Max the bionic dog only had Jamie Sommers in it at the very beginning and the very end; sadly, The Bionic Dog never got produced as a series.
- The Six Million Dollar Man episode The Ultimate Imposter, barely featuring Steve Austin at all, was a Poorly Disguised Pilot for a series about an OSI agent who had skills directly uploaded to his brain. The series was never made, and eventually resulted in an unrelated TV movie.
- Blatantly used in the episode of Greys Anatomy in which Addison travels to California, the setting for her spin-off Private Practice.
- One of the earliest examples of this was on The Danny Thomas Show, which had the title character arrested and sent to jail in the small town of Mayberry — home of Sheriff Andy Taylor and son Opie. This was the official pilot for The Andy Griffith Show.
- The Andy Griffith Show produced one itself when Gomer Pyle joined the Marine Corps, leading to the spinoff Gomer Pyle USMC.
- The last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was full of Poorly Disguised Pilots, from reintroducing Faith to giving Dawn her own supporting cast for an episode. Joss Whedon has also mentioned in interviews that Spike's one-episode appearance in Season Three was meant to appear like one of these, in order to distract from the rumors of the upcoming Angel spin-off. Two Buffy episodes that season can be seen with hindsight as genuine Poorly Disguised Pilots for Angel: "Anne" had the dark-fantasy-LA setting and some of the atmosphere, and "Amends" introduced the audience to the idea that Angel had way bigger issues than just the conflict between the happiness curse and loving Buffy.
- Mork and Mindy and Laverne and Shirley spun off of Happy Days in this way. (Mork and Mindy didn't even take place in the same time period, which was handwaved away.)
- Although the original Mork episode of Happy Days wasn't intended as a backdoor pilot, since it turned out to be a dream at the end. But Robin Williams proved so popular that Mork was retconned into a real person and spun off into his own series. Before Mork and Mindy premiered, the Happy Days Mork episode was rerun with the original ending replaced by a new ending revealing that Mork was real after all and had only made Fonzie think he'd been dreaming.
- There was a much lesser-known spinoff called Out of the Blue about an angel named Random, that was tied in with an episode in which Chachi sells his soul to the devil. Yes, this was post shark-jumping.
- And the final episode of Laverne and Shirley featured Carmine going to New York to try to become a Broadway Actor/Dancer in an obvious busted spin-off pilot.
- And Happy Days was spun off this way from Love American Style, which by the nature of the program could try out all kinds of pilots without making them too poorly disguised.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch attempted a spinoff named Witchright Hall in an episode where Sabrina's cousin Amanda starred as a new student in a school for delinquent witches. The episode where Amanda's mother got together with a plumber was supposed to lead to a spinoff, too. Marigold had two daughters, he had three sons, you can do the math. Amanda had no spinoff luck.
- The Quincy episode "Suffer the Little Children", with Tony Dow as an on-site therapist who lives with troubled families. The very last episode of Quincy, "The Cutting Edge," was another one of these.
- An episode in All in the Family's second season introduced Edith's cousin Maude Findlay, who was even more of a fiery liberal than Mike and massively feuded with Archie. When audiences responded favorably to the character, Norman Lear made the second season's final episode a pilot for a spinoff, where the Bunkers visit Maude and we meet the rest of her family (even though Carol is played by a different actress).
- Also, the season 5 episode "The Jeffersons Move on Up", which had the Bunkers' neighbors moving to Manhattan as a springboard for their own series.
- And the season 2 episode of Maude, titled "Florida's Goodbye," could also be considered a poorly disguised pilot for Good Times. However, it is interesting that in Good Times the Evans family had been inexplicably relocated from New York (where Florida's husband Henry was a firefighter) to Chicago (where husband James was often unemployed). And that the Findlays were never mentioned at any time during the series.
- The Incredible Hulk series was given a follow-up made-for-TV movie trilogy after its cancellation, but the first two installments, "Return of the Incredible Hulk" and "Trial of the Incredible Hulk", were really just tryouts for other Marvel Comics heroes, namely Thor and Daredevil.
- The last two episodes of Green Acres: one takes place in a hotel in Honolulu, the other is about Oliver's former secretary. Neither show got made, of course.
- The final season of The Practice seemed like a lame last attempt to pump life into a dying show by adding a new main character, the "dastardly" Alan Shore, but it culminated in him leaving the firm and joining a new one, which spawned the more popular (and decidedly more comedy-based) Boston Legal.
- When Murder, She Wrote star Angela Lansbury started to tire of the pace of a weekly network show, a strategy was devised that would allow the network to do a full season without Lansbury having to do a full season. Slightly more than half of the episodes of the season would be full adventures of Lansbury's character, mystery writer Jessica Fletcher. The remainder would be Poorly Disguised Pilots, for which Lansbury as Fletcher would film bookend sequences, explaining the new character we'd be seeing for the next hour — sometimes "real-world" acquaintances of Fletcher, sometimes Jessica's own fictional characters. Ironically, only one series ever actually spun off of Murder She Wrote — The Law and Harry McGraw, whose title character had appeared in Murder She Wrote back in the very first season, long before the seasons heavy on the PDPs showed up.
- The Man From UNCLE second season episode "The Moonglow Affair" was a Poorly Disguised Pilot for the U.N.C.L.E. spinoff series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E..
- The Stargate SG-1 two-parter "Lost City", the season 7 finale, is a Poorly Disguised Pilot for Stargate Atlantis, introducing Elizabeth Weir, ZPMs, and the Antarctic outpost. Originally, it was supposed to be a separate movie between the two series and the Antarctic outpost was supposed to be Atlantis itself, but the spin-off was moved to a different galaxy when SG-1 was renewed for the eighth season.
- The Nanny had 2nd season episode "The Chatterbox", where Miss Fine took Maggie to get her hair done at a salon called "The Chatterbox", the workers at which had a surprising amount of screen time. The series wasn't picked up by CBS.
- Charmed attempted to do this with the Billie character, but it didn't work out. The 5th season opener, "A Witch's Tail" effectively served as one of these for Brad Kern's spin-off Mermaid, though the plan didn't make it past pilot stage. The producers claim that the PDP nature of "A Witch's Tail" was unintentional, and that it was only after making that episode that they realised the potential in the idea.
- The Twilight Zone TOS episode "Cavender is Coming", a pitch for a sitcom about a bumbling guardian angel and his various encounters with other "deserving humans" in need of heavenly assistance. Just to make sure the viewer got the idea, it was even broadcast with a Laugh Track. (This was actually the second time the show tried to sell a series on this theme; "Mr. Bevis," in which the title character was under the care of a guardian angel, was the first. Neither sold.)
- Walker, Texas Ranger had an episode called "Sons of Thunder", which served as the pilot for an identically named spin-off. The episode featured the new characters almost exclusively over the regular Walker cast.
- The two-part Grand Finale of Filmation's The Secrets Of Isis was evidently an excuse to get three high school "Super-Sleuths" on screen, to the point of neglecting the mandatory 1970s moral at the end.
- Jack Webb would often use one of the shows he produced to promote or introduce another:
- The Emergency! episode "905-Wild" was a pilot for another Jack Webb production centered on animal control officers, starring Mark Harmon and Albert Popwell, which did not get picked up.
- The Adam-12 episode, "A Clinic on 18th Street" served as the pilot for a show featuring Fraud Division. The cast of the pilot (including future Switch!/Cagney & Lacey star Sharon Gless, who gets the Welcome Episode treatment), are all listed in the opening credits as "Special Guest Stars". Reed and Malloy only appear in the beginning and end of this story of a doctor peddling electronic health belts to diabetics and fake blindness cures to little girls. Jack Webb directed, but not in his trademark Dragnet style.
- The entire last season of Alias was used as one, suddenly introducing three new characters into the mix who quickly became the main focus of the show as Vaughn and Weiss were removed as regular characters and Jennifer Garner's pregnancy was also given to Sydney, preventing her from going into the field much. When it became clear that things weren't going to work out, two of them were killed off with little resolution of their own story arcs.
- Gossip Girl featured a backdoor pilot for a prequel spin-off (called Valley Girls) about the teenage life of Lily Bass. While the creation of the spin-off was announced before the backdoor pilot premiered, the network ended up canceling Valley Girls before it ever aired.
- House had a PDP story-arc that lasted for several episodes. House and Wilson were feuding, and House hired a private investigator to follow him (and patients). The network admitted the character was introduced purposely to see if audiences would be interested in a spinoff. Reaction was mixed, and eventually the character disappeared. Not one single episode, but still definitely falls in this category. Instead of being ultimately forgotten, the scrapped character returned lately on season 6 with a more reasonable tie to the plot and far less air time. He's also basically the same character only un-Flanderized.
- Virtuality was a pilot presented as a special TV Movie.
- Threes Company had one of these, to get the Ropers to their own show (it worked, although The Ropers wasn't nearly as big a hit).
- Considering that Threes Company was a remake of the British show Man About The House, it makes sense that the American version would attempt their own version of George and Mildred.
- And the hour-long final episode rushed through wrapping up Terri and Janet's storylines in order to (literally) set the stage for Three's A Crowd, an Americanized version of Man About The House's spin-off Robins Nest.
- Hercules The Legendary Journeys had a couple of episodes at the end of the fourth season ("Twilight" and "Top God") that had Hercules and Iolaus reminiscing about their younger days as teenagers for no particular reason. These episodes served as the basis for a later spin-off titled Young Hercules, which aired on Fox Kids. Ian Bohen, the actor who originally played the "Young Hercules" in the flashback episodes, ended up being replaced by Ryan Gosling in the actual spin-off. Just for clarification, Young Hercules already had a pilot in the form of a feature-length movie, which was filmed during the parent series' third season and being shopped around on its own. The parent series also did four "Young Hercules" episodes during its fourth season. "Regrets... I've Had A Few" was a holdover from the end of the third season and Word Of God states it was done to allow Kevin Sorbo to vacation early. Word Of God also states the remaining three ("Medea Culpa," "Twilight", and "Top God") were done to give Sorbo less to do so he could recover from health problems that year. That's not to say executives didn't consider the added benefit of making viewers aware of the "Young Hercules" concept ("Twilight" and "Top God" were likely filmed concurrently with the spin-off's production), but these episodes had more reasons behind them than being a Poorly Disguised Pilot. And of course there's the final two episodes of the first season which pretty was the PDP for Xena.
- The Cosby Show episode "Cliff's Birthday" was intended to set up a sitcom vehicle for none other than Lena Horne, playing herself as the owner of a jazz club. Tony Orlando's appearances running the community center and working with the problems of the poor kids there struck some as testing the possibility of a series based around his character, hence "Mr. Quiet." These were the last two episodes of the first season.
- Then there's A Different World, a spin-off series centered on the life of students at Hillman College.
- The Punky Brewster episode "Fenster Hall" was one of these. It was twice the length of your average episode, and aside from a brief scene in the beginning, pushed Punky and Henry into the background, not featuring any of the other main cast members at all.
- C Hi Ps featured an array of wacky martial artist characters called "Force Seven" who seemed to come out of nowhere for one episode. After the initial setup of the crime of the week, a phone call throws the story to them, while Ponch and John aren't seen again. The series also tried to launch a series about two female cops called Mitchell and Woods in an episode called... guess.
- Home Alone 4 started off as a stand-alone TV special, but during filming the producers decided that it would be a perfect lead-in to a Home Alone TV series, and got several of the key players to sign contracts for such a series, as well as making adjustments to the plot to facilitate it (Kevin's parents didn't get back together in the original script, but they did in the finished version). In the end though, Home Alone 4 failed miserably in the ratings, and the series was not to be.
- The TV remake of Stephen King's novel Carrie would have been a better and more faithful adaptation than the big screen version if the producers hadn't decided to try and turn it into a pilot for a TV series by adding an absurd new ending. Suffice it to say, the network wasn't interested and what resulted was a decent movie that gets done in by a terrible ending.
- Criminal Minds: In season five's "The Fight," the team is "assisted" by a secondary team, lead by Forrest Whitaker. The other team is given the larger share of screen time, and the main cast is mainly given dialogue to allow the new team to expound on their back story. The following year they got their own show, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. And that worked out well.
- The Season 7 Cold Case episode "Free Love" looked like a PDP for two reasons: 1) it wildly varied from other episodes, being set in New York instead of Philadelphia; having Lilly alone helping the FBI guy who was introduced two episodes earlier; and hints of them becoming an Official Couple, and 2) she considers joining the FBI in the episode, while he muses about the creation of a Cold Case FBI unit. Nothing came of it, though.
- Charles In Charge had three episodes in the final season which were failed attempts at a pilot for a new series. In each a character would visit somewhere where there would be a character that looked suspiciously like one of the regular cast members. Ellen Travolta, who played Charles mom had an identical twin sister who ran a car wash in New York. Willie Aames' character Buddy had an identical cousin working in a hotel in Hawaii. Nicole Eggert's character had an identical cousin living in New Mexico.
- Whos The Boss had a two-part third season finale in which Mona visits her brother who runs a hotel in NYC, but the planned spin-off was canceled before the episode aired because ABC feared that Mona's absence would hurt the parent show. Another episode launched Charmed Lives, which featured Fran Drescher and Donna Dixon and lasted three episodes. A third spinoff, Living Dolls, starred Leah Remini and Halle Berry as aspiring models; it had two Poorly Disguised Pilot episodes, the first of which was omitted from the original run.
- Charlies Angels had an episode called "Toni's Boys" where the angels met a team of Gender-Flipped counterparts — three young studs (with a habit of taking off their shirts) and an older female mentor. Nothing ever came of it, but it seemed like an attempt to introduce a second show using the Charlie's Angels formula, but aimed at a female audience instead - their "Charlie," Toni, was played by Barbara Stanwyck (and unlike John Forsythe, she appeared on screen!).
- The Dukes of Hazzard had more than one (the better-known one-season Enos was also a spinoff, but had a more traditional stand-alone pilot, and of course the character was already known by the Dukes audience):
- The second season gave us "Mason Dixon's Girls", a Poorly Disguised Pilot concerning a private detective and his two sexy Action Girl associates, the brunette Tinker and the blond Samantha. It's amazingly blatant, even setting aside the obvious Charlies Angels ripoff. The show's then story editor Bruce Howard 'fessed up to it being a disguised pilot (it was in his contract that he could write a spinoff).
- "Jude Emery", a show about an unconventional Texas Ranger who drove a Korean War surplus Jeep and had a gun that didn't work, was another — a Walker, Texas Ranger ancestor written by the show's creator Gy Waldron (this was the final episode he wrote for the series - he'd been thrown off the show after the first season).
- The third season finale of One On One, "Phatheadz," reduced star Flex Alexander to a bookending cameo and left out all the others to focus on a never-before-heard-of relative and the barber shop he ran, and the daughter of the owner of the shop (Shannon Elizabeth) who wanted it to become a hair salon. In the end they teamed up and called it "Pharenity" (Shannon wanted to call the salon "Serenity") - unlike most PDPs, this one also had a happy ending and eventually became the UPN sitcom Cuts.
- Episode 6.19 of Bones, "The Finder", featured the show's main cast taking a back seat to a new collection of characters led by an old friend of Booth's played by Geoff Stults. Yep, it was a Poorly Disguised Pilot for a new series which is also known as The Finder also created by Hart Hanson (the creator of Bones). (An early tip-off to the knowledgeable fan was this violated the normal format for episode titles: The X in the Y.)
- The episode "3...2...1..." of Warehouse 13 was this for an as-of-yet unnamed spin-off of the show featuring HG Wells.
- Xena: Warrior Princess had one in season 5 that explained that the Amazons were founded by a girl Trapped in Another World (played by Selma Blair of Cruel Intentions). According to the DVD special features, what actually happened here was that the original show, Amazon High, was developed separately from Xena, but wasn't picked up, so they decided to get a cheaper episode of Xena out of it.
- The series was eventually reworked into Cleopatra 2525 with the girl from the present day ending up in the future instead of the past.
- Early Edition had an episode that focused on a girl with psychic powers.
- Big Time Rush premiered a two-part pilot episode (Big Time Audition) as a "sneak preview" on November 28, 2009, but the series itself debuted the following year on January 18.
- An episode of the detective series Burkes Law served as a pilot to spin off another detective series, Honey West.
- An episode of Diff'rent Strokes featured a woman who taught a class of immigrants a course on English. The show was never picked up, however this premise for a series was used in the sitcom What A Country.
- Thats So Raven had an episode entitled "Goin' Hollywood" featuring a young girl (Alyson Stoner) who acted on a fictional show about the 1950s called "Better Days". The series would have followed the girl's attempts to balance her acting career with her normal life as a middle schooler. The series was not picked up, but the idea was later re-tooled into Hannah Montana.
- The producers of Starsky & Hutch considered giving informant Huggy Bear a spin-off. The second season episode "Huggy Bear and the Turkey" (which would have been the name of the proposed series) saw Huggy paired with former Sheriff "Turkey" Turquet (Dale Robinette) as Private Investigators who have been hired to find a woman's missing husband. The series was never made.
- Magnum, P.I. had at least three:
- The first season episode titled "J. Digger Doyle" presented the character of security expert Joy "Digger" Doyle of the episode title, in hope of launching her own series, but the idea didn't follow through.
- The third season episode "Two Birds of a Feather" again served as a potential pilot for a new show, which didn't sell, but was heavily reworked to become Airwolf.
- The fourth season episode "The Return of Luther Gillis" (a sequel to the same season's "Luther Gillis: File #521"), featuring old-fashioned hard-boiled St. Louis private eye Luther Gillis, was planned as a pilot for a spinoff - it didn't sell, but unlike J. Digger Doyle this character did appear in later episodes.
- The Martin episode entitled "Goin' for Mine" was a backdoor pilot, about Pam James wanting an A&R job at a record label by trying to get an unsigned singer signed. Martin Lawrence, the star of the series was only shown in the cold open and the episode featured a number of actors that were to star in the proposed series. The show was not picked up as a full series.
- The last original episode of Miami Vice shown on NBC, "Leap of Faith," was a backdoor pilot about a Youth Crime Unit going undercover as college students, a somewhat similar concept to the series 21 Jump Street (and The Mod Squad, which predated both). The show's main stars Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas are seen only in the first few minutes of this episode, and none of the other regulars appear at all.
- Being Human had an episode centering on a young(looking) vampire named Adam, who ate up most of the screen time. He became a central character in the online young-adult spinoff Becoming Human.
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show averted this trope with its three actual Spinoff series, which all had separately produced pilots. However:
- The final episode of its second season was used for an attempted backdoor pilot starring Bill Daily as an incompetent city councilman.
- One episode's plot involved Rhoda almost moving back to New York, a few seasons before Rhoda was launched. It doesn't appear to have been intended as a backdoor pilot per se, but may have been a trial balloon for the concept.
- Cartoon Network has tried this twice, both times being in the form of Made for TV Movies: Re-Animated (which spawned Out of Jimmy's Head), and more recently Level Up.
- Averted on Prison Break. The producers planned a spin-off with the working title Prison Break: Cherry Hill, which was to focus on a woman escaping from a maximum security prison. The main character was to be introduced in an episode of its parent show, but first it became too difficult to steer its serpentine plot in a direction that could accommodate ''Cherry Hill", then casting the lead became a chore, then finally the writers' strike made it more trouble than it was worth.
- It would take less time to list the installments of The Disney Sunday Movie that weren't Poorly Disguised Pilots. And even less time to list the pilots that became series, because only one did (The Last Electric Knight, which became Sidekicks).
- The Home Improvement episode "Talk to Me" had Real Life friends Dave Chappelle and Jim Breuer appearing as two friends that were in the Tool Time audience and get advice from Tim about relationships (which unsurprisingly leads to trouble for all three). The intent was apparently for the duo to get their own Spin-Off show from there, but then Executive Meddling intervened. Buddies saw much of it - leading to it not premiering for a year and Breuer replaced by Christopher Gartin. The show bombed out quickly and Chappelle considers it an Old Shame.
- Dawsons Creek introduced a new character, Will Krudski, into the gang for one episode in Season 3, who would serve as the protagonist for spin-off series Young Americans.
- Between 1956 and 1989, it was not uncommon for American networks to fill time in the summer months by airing failed pilots. Since actually saying "Hey, come watch these shows that we passed on!" wasn't likely to draw viewers in, the networks often packaged them as Poorly Disguised Pilots of a different sort. By dressing them up as part of a "series," they could perhaps pick up a few more viewers by hiding the fact that they were failed pilots. This web article describes the phenomenon and provides several examples of the form, with titles like Preview Tonight, Comedy Theatre, and the longest-running, Vacation Playhouse, which ran on ABC from 1963 to 1967.
- There is a run of episodes during Season 9 of Roseanne that revolve around Roseanne and Jackie causing a commotion amongst rich folk while wearing expensive, tacky clothes. In case you didn't already suspect it was a stealth pilot for Roseanne's planned American version of Absolutely Fabulous, the stars of the original British version even turn up in one of the episodes.
- The 1950s western series Trackdown had an episode called "The Bounty Hunter" which was a stealth pilot for Wanted: Dead or Alive.
- Spoofed in NTSF:SD:SUV:: with the "Time Angels" episode, which sees NTSF:SD:SUV agents team up with a group of hot time-traveling crime fighters who basically do everything and overshadow the regular cast. As Trent Hauser says at the end of the episode, "If they had weekly adventures I could watch or DVR, I would do it in a heartbeat." During credits, there's a fake ad for the Time Angels spinoff. Note that, since NTSF:SD:SUV:: itself spun off from Childrens Hospital after a one-off gag appearance, a Time Angels show isn't out of the question. In season three the gag got even more blatant, with an entire episode dedicated to the Time Angels wherein only two regular characters show up, and even then only in the Framing Device..
- Eight Is Enough had a two-part episode where David, the oldest son, who was about to get married, inexplicably drove off with his fiance's sister, where they got involved with competitive hang gliding before driving off into the sunset. (When the pilot did not get picked up, David returned, got married to his original fiance...and later got divorced.)
- The Office (US) season 9 episode "The Farm" was originally the pilot for a Spin-Off about Dwight's family. When the pilot wasn't picked up, it was re-edited into an episode of the regular series.
- The pilot of Garrisons Gorillas was made as an episode of Combat, although it ended up not being shown as part of that series.
- iCarly episode "iMeet Fred" is the forerunner to the Fred show.
- Dallas had an episode "Return Engagement" which allowed Knots Landing to begin by showing Gary and Val getting married and moving into the cul-de-sac house recently built by Bobby Ewing.
- Pretty Little Liars launched Ravenswood this way, using the Season 4 Halloween episode as a setup for the Spin-Off. The main plot of the episode involved the girls looking for A in the town of Ravenswood, while the B-plot featured Caleb meeting Miranda Collins while riding a bus to Ravenswood to help Hanna. Once they arrive, Caleb and Miranda get dragged into one of the mysteries of the town and at the end, Caleb stays behind so he can help Miranda figure things out.
- One of the major plots you spend time investigating in Another Code R is the mystery of Matt's father and what drove his business into the ground. While the bulk of the mysteries surrounding it are solved and tie in well to the main story, the final fate of his father is unresolved. It was supposed to lead into a separate game where Matt would resolve this plot, but cruel fate had the company go under before it could be produced.
- The nightmare minigame in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was a tech demo for an original game that was being developed by the Zone of the Enders team titled Guy Savage. However, Guy Savage was canceled and the minigame was removed in later versions of MGS3.
- Not Invented Here was launched in Unshelved in fall 2009. Though it's not even poorly disguised, since they brought in the NIH artist as a guest artist.
- Prior to receiving her own series and eventually becoming the Platypus Comix mascot, Mulberry Sharona made some guest appearances in Marin Meadow, a series Peter Paltridge decided to discontinue around the time he came up with Mulberry.
- Although T Campbell has never said so outright, the Penny and Aggie arc "The New Reality" appears to have been in part a trial run for a spin-off set in Hollywood and focusing on Sara (like the arc itself). In late 2010, Campbell held an eBay auction for the privilege of having a character named after the highest bidder, in a new webcomic to be launched the following year. The listing stated that names which appeared in the Penny and Aggie cast page would be ineligible, as would the names "Lucy, Hilary or Martin," three of the characters from "The New Reality" arc. In the end, Campbell followed P&A with an entirely different spin-off, QUILTBAG, which starred Sara and Lisa as college roommates.
- Parodied in the AH.com: The Series episode "Ze Poorly-Disguised Pilot", which focuses on occasional guest stars The Germans and their adventures for a week instead.
- One episode of Wait Till Your Father Gets Home featured a Crossover with Car 54, Where Are You?, introducing Gunther as Erma's brother in law. The episode quickly focuses on the officers trying to find a missing kid, with the Boyles shoved into the background.
- The Andy Panda short "Knock Knock" was in actuality a vehicle short for Walter Lantz's intended new star Woody Woodpecker, with the bird getting much more screentime than Andy and his poppa.
- Gargoyles had "Pendragon", which ended with a resurrected King Arthur heading out to wander the world in search of Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table. This was in fact a Poorly Disguised Pilot for a show that never came to fruition.
- Fan speculation ran rampant that the Justice League Unlimited episode "Far From Home" was designed as a Poorly Disguised Pilot for a Legion Of Superheroes series that would have starred Supergirl and taken place in DCAU continuity; however, Bruce Timm denied this. The fact that a Legion cartoon started up the next year, starring Superman, is apparently just a coincidence.
- Two episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine's sixth series pushed the engines into the background, to focus on a group of construction vehicles called Jack and the Pack. The proposed series was not picked up, but 13 episodes were filmed and a few years later went straight-to-video (albeit with the titles altered to make it seem Thomas and Percy were the stars of most episodes).
- The last episode of Hong Kong Phooey, "Comedy Cowboys", used its full half-hour length to introduce a bevy of new characters (Honcho, The Mysterious Maverick and Posse Impossible) all evidently itching to get their own cartoon. (Only one, Posse Impossible, succeeded when it appeared on CB Bears.) Lampshaded in that Phooey does hardly anything in the episode, as they point out at the end.
- Curiously, the Batman Beyond episode "Zeta" was not originally intended to be a pilot for The Zeta Project, but it was deemed a good enough premise that it got its own show, albeit one Cut Short by cancellation. They did completely redesign Zeta for the spin-off to look more human-like, which doesn't stop Batman from recognizing him in the crossover episode.
- The episode "The Fear" from The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians is acknowledged by its writers as having been intended to lead into a solo Batman series. And in a way, it eventually did, since it was written by Alan Burnett, who went on to produce Batman: The Animated Series.
- The Rugrats episode "All Growed Up" features an odd "vision into the future" where all the characters are about twelve years older and have their adventures grounded in something resembling reality, as opposed to the usually surreal and fantastic nature of the exploits of their toddler incarnations. Sure enough, the episode was quickly transformed into a series, Rugrats: All Grown Up!, which shows the Rugrats as junior high schoolers.
- The episode where Suzie celebrates Kwanza with her family was meant to be this, as it was planned to have a spin-off featuring Suzie and her family. It never materialized.
- There was a spin-off called Rugrats Pre-School Daze which is about Suzie and Angelica during their preschool hijinks. Four episodes were made (with the first airing in Rugrats) before being canned.
- Parodied in the DVD Commentary of the Avatar The Last Airbender episode "The Western Air Temple", where they joked that Haru, Teo, and the Duke messing around in the temple was one of these for a spin-off called The Last Street Luger with a lost pilot episode that consisted of 22 minutes of Teo riding around in his wheel-chair while passing various kinds of plants.
- The Simpsons episode "22 Short Films About Springfield" was a backdoor pilot for a Simpsons spinoff called "Tales from Springfield" that would showcase the lives of every character on the show who wasn't a member of The Simpson family. But the crew decided it would be too much work and the idea was abandoned.
- The Fairly OddParents had an episode in their fifth season that was an episode of the Show Within a Show Crash Nebula. It was actually a pilot for a proposed spin-off, but plans never got off the ground.
- There was a two-part episode of Bravestarr called "Sherlock Holmes in the 23rd Century", which was clearly designed as a backdoor pilot for a potential new series that never entered production because Filmation had fallen upon hard times by this point (Bravestarr ultimately went on to become Filmation's final, fully produced series). This bore no relation to the later DIC Entertainment series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, which like the two part episode in question, was set in "New London" (Bravestarr was set on the planet of "New Texas").
- Arthur had a "Postcards from Buster" special, a while before the series.
- Inversion: Codename: Kids Next Door were actually supposed to be supporting characters in a series concept by Tom Warburton. Cartoon Network saw the potential of the neighbors, and next thing you know, a "Kenny and the Chimp" short without the KND (although the wacky scientist in that short did make a few appearances in the main show) ended up being part of the first KND episode instead of the other way around.
- "vs The Big One": Notice all the named characters introduced, including one whose name (or rather, a viewer-friendly anagram of his name) is shouted by SpongeBob every time he appears. Note the utter absence of the show's usual humor style. Note the fact that SpongeBob and the gang didn't act out of character so much as they acted without character. There could have been anybody standing in for them, and everything would have played out the same way.
- "The Bad Guy Club for Villains," which consists entirely of SpongeBob and Patrick watching an episode of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (similar to the "Crash Nebula" pilot above).
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The "Spacecataz" cold openings that aired during the third season were, when put together, intended to be the pilot of a spinoff miniseries featuring the Mooninites and Plutonians; the idea never got off the ground, and the show dropped the cold openings before the short could be aired in its entirety (though it's available on the volume 4 DVD.)
- Thundarr the Barbarian did an episode where the heroes meet a male and female pair of younger adventurers; it was likely an example of this trope.
- The episode where Uncle Scrooge becomes the crime fighting "Masked Mallard". Originally just a one shot story, the fans and writers liked it so much they started coming up with ideas for a sequel episode. Then finally deciding there were just too many good ideas that they wanted to do and created Darkwing Duck.
- The episode "Double-O-Duck" where Launchpad gets mistaken for a James Bond-style secret agent seemed to be the set up for a spin off, though the James Bond right-holders weren't too thrilled with the "Double-O" part. F.O.W.L.(Fiendish Organization for Wold Larceny), introduced in the episode, became the main villains for Darkwing Duck.
- Not really a pilot, but Cleveland got more attention than normal on Family Guy after his spin-off was announced.
- Parodied in South Park with "Butters' Very Own Episode." The episode was actually used to set the stage for Butters to replace Kenny for a season as an Ascended Extra.
- Tijuana Toads, a 1970s series produced by DePatie-Freleng, did this with Crazylegs Crane, Japanese Beetle, and the Blue Racer. The Blue Racer got his own series immediately after the Toads ended (with the Japanese Beetle appearing as a recurring character). Crazylegs Crane, however, had to appear in several Toads shorts (and even a few on the Blue Racer) before he finally got his own series in 1978, as a segment on the All-New Pink Panther Show.
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series was rife with cameos from the rest of the Marvel Universe, and the writers have since revealed that the two-parter with Daredevil was meant to launch another series, which ended up not being made. Also the last episode of season 4 really seems like they were trying start a Prowler TV spinoff.
- Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends also featured various episodes where the Power Trio would encounter several other Marvel heroes, including the X-Men. Notably, Wolverine used the same Australian accent he used on the later "Pryde of the X-Men" pilot, even though he's Canadian.
- The (alleged) Betty Boop short Popeye The Sailor. While Betty was in the cartoon for about 30 seconds, a certain one-eyed sailor took up most of the screentime, and then got his own cartoon series.
- The "Adventures of Sir Johan and Peewit" episodes in Season 2 of The Smurfs came off as this. This is the opposite of the original French language comic where the Smurfs originally appeared in the Johan et Pirlouit album La Flute A Six Schtroumpfs ("The Six Smurf Flute") before getting their own series. This also explains why the Smurfs take so long to turn up in the movie The Smurfs and the Magic Flute (based on the aforementioned album).
- Disney produced a CG/hand-drawn animated hybrid movie that served as the pilot to the TV series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, book-ended by the CG characters from Toy Story actually watching the movie in Andy's room.
- Pluto's Judgement Day: Despite being labeled as a Mickey Mouse short, this is actually one of the first Classic Disney Shorts to focus almost entirely on Pluto.
- Fluppy Dogs was intended as a pilot for a television series. The movie was not well-received, and the series was never picked up.
- Groove Squad, an animated movie featuring three cheerleaders who gain super powers by drinking fruit smoothies (one with x-ray and telescopic vision, one with super strength and one with flight) and are given gadgets by a former secret agent to battle a world domination obsessed Mad Scientist (who happens to be the father of their Alpha Bitch school rival), was made as a pilot. The series was not picked up.
- The Pixar Short Air Mater actually appears to be this to the spinoff film Planes.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy's Grand Finale Big Damn Movie "Underfist" was very obviously trying to phase out the titular trio to cast focus on the otherwise minor characters that composed Underfist, but it never got off the ground.
- Wonder Pets had an episode featuring Ming-Ming visiting a cousin of hers that was a poorly disguised pilot for a possible spin-off series with Ming-Ming as the lead character, but said spin-off was never made.
- Given the theme song is entirely about the Boo Brothers, with Scooby-Doo hardly mentioned, it's hard to believe that Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers wasn't intended as a pilot for a Boo Brothers series.
- Tiny Toon Adventures had several, notably the episodes with Elmyra's family.
- The first one introduced us to Mr. Skullhead, as the subject of Elmyra's imaginary TV show. He went on to become a recurring character in Animaniacs.
- Elmyra ended up starring in another show anyway, but her family (and even Furrball) got left out of it.
- "Fields of Honey" and "Two-Tone Town" were also suspected of being this; the latter even lampshades the show's eventual replacement (with "ACME Oop!", a.k.a Animaniacs).
- Speaking of Animaniacs, "Spellbound" gave Pinky and the Brain a full half-hour story before getting their own show.
- Secret Mountain Fort Awesome has the episode "Uncle Grandpa" nearing the end of its run, starring a completely different cast and only brief appearances from the main characters. This later turned out to be true, as Uncle Grandpa was greenlit for its own series. As a side-note, Uncle Grandpa was the star of the pilot the show was based on, before a tremendous Re Tool; the Disguistoids only had a brief appearance and were seemingly mindless monsters.
- Superman: The Animated Series had "In Brightest Day", an episode that focused primarily on the origin of Green Lantern, and did a pretty good job of establishing his mythology and arch-enemy Sinestro. Superman was a secondary character at most, and a victim of The Worf Effect.