"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.
- A large chunk of the plot in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, such as Harry Osborn's transformation into the Green Goblin and subsequent meeting with Gustav Fiers in The Stinger, was clearly meant to set up the Sinister Six movie.
- 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 X-Men Origins: Wolverine has been stated to be a testing bed for films based on Gambit and Deadpool.
- The fact that the two were the most common points of criticism (Gambit for Advertised Extra, Deadpool for They Changed It, Now It Sucks) would tell you it didn't work. However, Ryan Reynolds' Wade Wilson from before his disfigurement (and The Stinger with him) was considered quite awesome and so far, he's still intended to be the lead actor should a Deadpool film be made. However, though the movie left him salvageable (with the brainwashing apparently undone in the end, he's free to put on a mask and act like the Wade from the scenes people liked while having the comics' version of the face behind the mask) it still probably won't follow from the movie because comic Deadpool usually doesn't have Eye Beams or Teleportation.note
- 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!"), although they did seem to at least make effort for the Jinx movie, for which they hired Stephen Daldry as director, got two months into writing the screenplay and had the series' production and costume designers create some early concept art before the poor performances of Charlies Angels Full Throttle, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life and especially Catwoman 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.
- 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.
- Super Mario Bros.:
- Super Mario Land and Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins were extremely popular games for the Game Boy, so when Nintendo decided to create a Spin-Off game starring Wario, the villain of the latter, it was titled Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 despite not really being a Super Mario Land game. When that game proved popular, the sequel was simply titled Wario Land II, and so on for all the later Wario Land games.
- Similar to the Wario Land example, Yoshi's first major starring game was titled Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island despite being a prequel to Super Mario World and all the other Mario games. Also similar to Wario Land, the Super Mario World part was dropped for all subsequent Yoshi games.
- Super Mario 3D World featured several mini levels where you controlled Captain Toad, who couldn't jump, in a more puzzle-oriented environment. Flash-foward to E4 2014 and Nintendo announces Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, an entire game starring the titular character and based around these kind of levels.
- Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne's bonus campaign "The Founding of Durotar", with its shift from RTS to RPG gameplay, was a PDP for World of Warcraft.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wait Till Your Father Gets Home was one of two animated segments of Love American Style prepared as potential pilots (this was titled "Love And The Old Fashioned Father"). The second, Melvin Danger (as "Love And The Detective"), did not get past its initial airing on Style.
- 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.
- 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 as a Villain of the Week) 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.
- Played With in South Park with "Butters' Very Own Episode." It seems like A Day in the Limelight episode, but actually set the stage for Butters to become an Ascended Extra after Kenny's longer-than-average death.
- Tijuana Toads, a 1970s series produced by De Patie Freleng Enterprises, 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 crossovers with 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 Incredible Hulk appeared in backdoor pilots in both Iron Man and Fantastic Four, before being spun off into his own cartoon (which aired on UPN rather than Fox Kids).
- Ghost Rider appeared in an episode as a backdoor pilot for his own cartoon on UPN, which was not picked up. This had the effect of preventing the character from appearing in Spider-Man: The Animated Series, as the Fox execs did not want to promote a character who was going to be used by a rival network.
- 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.
- Ben 10: Omniverse put the characters of Gwen and Kevin on a bus, but three episodes focused on how they were doing at Gwen's college. Those episodes gave Gwen a new superhero identity (Lucky Girl, a revamp of an old alias from the original series), supporting cast members like Professor Xagliv and a reformed Hex, stuck Charmcaster in a position where Gwen says she can also reform and become a friend, and set the evil alien turtle Adwaita loose to become a potential Big Bad to Gwen. Word of God is that these episodes could be spun off into a Lucky Girl show for CN Asia (where Gwen is immensley popular), though it hasn't happened yet.
- 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. Eventually, 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 Disgustoids 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. Ultimately, though, no new GL show came of it and when Justice League came along, the main Lantern was John Stewart. This episode remains Kyle Rayner's only animated appearance, if we don't count a few tiny cameos in JLU.
- The "Doof 101" episode of Phineas and Ferb is so obviously this, with all the focus on Doof, Vanessa and Perry and only a brief glimpse of the title characters, plus the fact that it had its own theme song, no running gags, and an inexplicable subplot about talking bugs.