#3. The Original Shrek, Starring Chris Farley
Shrek was a surprise smash hit, leading to three (or maybe it's four? We kind of lost track) sequels, various spin-offs and minor depression in people who liked the first two and decided to see the others. But the Shrek we know is almost unrecognizable from its original inception many years earlier as a vehicle for Chris Farley.
And we all know how Chris Farley treated vehicles.
The film is actually loosely based on a children's book by William Steig called Shrek!, a title so exciting it demanded an exclamation point. The book detailed the coming-of-age story of a young ogre. After Steven Spielberg bought the rights, it was in development hell for years -- it was at one point intended to be a hand-drawn film, then stop-motion animation and finally, motion-capture like Avatar.
Farley was hired to play the lead, who at this point was a shy and sensitive ogre still living with his parents and being pressured into the family business of scaring people. The glowing review from DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg was, "It looked terrible, it didn't work, it wasn't funny and we didn't like it." That wasn't Farley's fault -- by all accounts he did an astounding job recording 95 percent of the film's dialogue before he passed away.
Instead of trying to patch up the remaining audio with a soundalike, the studio decided to let Farley's legacy lie and recast the role with fellow SNL alum Mike Myers. Myers had only one minor request -- a total Page 1 rewrite, radically changing the story and changing Shrek from shy, sensitive and Chris Farley-esque to an older, curmudgeonly misanthrope. It wasn't the last ridiculous demand that he would make -- after years of production and before Shrek hit cinemas, Myers changed his mind about the dialogue and asked if he could start all over again with a Scottish accent, a request we imagine was followed by five straight minutes of disbelieving stares.
"Also, Smashmouth songs. All over the goddamn place."
Luckily for DreamWorks, Myers really seemed to know what he was talking about. A film that Katzenberg admitted was 90 minutes of slow, agonizing train wreck became a smash hit at the box office and beat Pixar to the Oscar. But somewhere, deep in the vaults of DreamWorks Animation, there are locked away the Shrek recordings that Chris Farley made, presumably next to the Ark of the Covenant and all those novels J.D. Salinger wrote in New Hampshire when he wasn't drinking his own urine.
#2. Muppet High
The Jim Henson Co. had one exceptional breakout hit, and you better believe they milked it for all it was worth. But for some reason, one of the company's greatest successes came after it took the actual Muppets out of the picture and forayed into animation. Muppet Babies was a surprise phenomenon, so much so that Henson soon started to think about how many stories he could squeeze out of the intermediate years between Muppet Babies and, well, regular Muppets.
You're crossing lines that shouldn't be crossed, Henson!
The words "Muppet" and "High" go together like peanut butter and lint. But Muppet High, the developed-but-never-completed TV series featuring everyone's favorite non-pornographic puppets, was not the Cheech-and-Chong inspired take on the franchise we've all been waiting for, but rather a series recasting the Muppets as high school students in the 1950s. Muppet High would have recast Kermit as a motorcycle-riding, leather-jacket-wearing, Fonzie-style greaser; Fozzie Bear as a soda jerk; Gonzo as a nerd; and Rowlf as a varsity football player. Because that all makes sense.
Unlike Gotham High, which had Batmanability on its side, it's questionable how seamlessly the Muppets could temper their genuine zaniness to accommodate for realistic teenage problems. Then again, the Muppet Babies didn't ever confront real "baby issues," focusing instead on however much stock footage from old movies they could cram into 30 minutes.
The answer was "a lot."
Also, why the 1950s? Would the series have been a nostalgia-infused look at a simpler time, or taken more of a Mad Men-style approach, viewing the underlying hypocrisies of the era through the prism of floppy animal puppets?
Nerdy Gonzo's life is a never-ending sea of alienation.
Unfortunately, we may never know how Kermit would have reacted to Sputnik, or Gonzo's take on rock 'n' roll. When Jim Henson died, Muppet High died with him, but the Henson company still managed to squeeze some money out of it in the form of merchandising, proving that no matter how nonsensical children's toys may appear, kids will buy whatever Kermit the Frog tells them to.
#1. The Krusty the Clown Spinoff
The Simpsons is perhaps television's greatest aberration -- it's likely to carry on until the sun explodes, and not once have they tried to cash in on a spin-off series. What you may not know is that Matt Groening has bounced around a lot of spin-off pipe dreams over the years, including a live-action Troy McClure movie, the adventures of young Homer, and a full length feature film parody of Fantasia. None saw the light of day, but the one that came closest to actually appearing on your TV screen was a sitcom starring Krusty the Clown.
Oh, and here's the twist: It would have been live-action.
Nothing unsettling about that.
The show would have starred Dan Castellaneta, the actor who voices Krusty in the cartoon and who has the benefit of being an accomplished real-world actor as well. The show was going to be all about this guy, in Krusty makeup, moving to L.A. and hosting a talk show.
Proving once and for all that Matt Groening has been shithouse crazy for years.
It's unsure whether the show would have branched continuity or whether the Simpsons' Krusty would have dramatically left Springfield like Cleveland from Family Guy. And even though The Simpsons is pretty much inextricably bound with the zeitgeist, there's no guarantee that everything it spawned would have been up to the same high standards. After all, there's only a very thin line separating Frasier from The Tortellis.
Unfortunately, Groening's script called for Krusty's house to be held up by wooden stilts that were being slowly eaten away by beavers, which probably would have been hilarious, we guess, but Groening was told by the studio that either trained or animatronic beavers were prohibitively expensive commodities, and for some reason he preferred to shelve the idea rather than compromise on this plot point. Instead, he began developing some dopey series that takes place in the future or something.
Anthony Scibelli is a handsome stand-up comedian and comedy writer. You can find him at his blog, "There's No Success Like Failure."
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