What Happens to All Those Rejected TV Pilots? Will We Ever See Them?

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Adam West, Adrianne Palicki, and Jack Black

Burning Question: What will happen to all the failed pilots and TV series that the networks rejected this year? Who owns them, anyway? — J. Meister

I like to imagine that they're destined for an "Raiders of the Lost Ark"-like warehouse where series go to die — a tomb filled with dusty DVDs and VHS tapes, the only existing evidence that Pee-wee Herman ever played an alien or that Norman Lear once made actors dress up as dogs.

But no.

Back in the day — ahem, say, 10 years ago — failed pilots didn't have many chances at a second life. A network would reject them, the writer-producers who created and owned the shows would hold on to them, and ... that was about it.

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"Used to be, in the olden days, that the networks would air them in the summer as sort of a repertory slot filler," recalls TV executive turned talent manager Marissa O'Leary.

If the pilots had a respected writer or talent, then the shows might re-emerge during the odd private party or convention. The fan fave "Locke & Key," inspired by a comic book of the same name, drew huge buzz during the 2011 pilot season, but it never got picked up, and it ended up being screened at San Diego Comic-Con instead.

[Related: The Big-Name TV Pilots You'll Never See]

Other concepts never quite live but never completely die, either. Take "Wonder Woman," the 2011 pilot based on the female superhero. NBC declined to buy the series, but a new version of the old idea, called "Amazon," is currently kicking around at The CW.

For years, the fabulous Los Angeles-based writer and comedian Beth Lapides would screen the pilots at a club, in a series she called "The Other Network." To this day, Lapides tells me, fans still rave about certain legendary pilots such as "Heat Vision and Jack" — which starred a premillennial Jack Black and Owen Wilson — and "Lookwell," a rejected 1991 show co-created by Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel and starring Adam West of "Batman" fame.

"That one is legendary," Lapides recalls. "They really tried something new."

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Nowadays, though, there isn't as much of a need for an Other Network.

"There are so many outlets now for people to put material out, so fewer things are remaining unseen," Lapides says.

Case in point: four new episodes of Lapides's live comedy show, "UnCabaret," which she recently made available via Amazon.

Meantime, if you're curious about the much-adored "Lookwell," I did manage to dig it up on YouTube. 

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