Four Unaired Pilots That Were Totally Different from the Official Show
TV shows have a lot of advantages over other forms of media: You can cram hundreds of hours worth of content into them, viewers can trick themselves into believing that a dozen episodes are actually shorter than a movie and you don’t have to deliver a finished product straight out of the gate. You only get one shot at an album or a film, but TV shows can take years to find their footings (if streamers don’t write them off for tax purposes first). Sometimes, even the episode that was created to sell a show ends up looking completely different from what eventually reaches our retinas. Like…
Game of Thrones
Remember in the first episode of Game of Thrones, when Jaime Lannister’s first words to Cersei are literally “As your brother”? Were you like, “Yeah, dude, she knows”? It turns out the writers originally gave us a lot more credit — to their detriment. In the unaired pilot, that scene didn’t exist, and all of the dialogue was written to sound more like “real” conversations, meaning it didn’t contain a bunch of extraneous information the other characters presumably already know just to convey it to the viewer. That must have been nice for word nerds, but it meant viewers didn’t know Jaime and Cersei were siblings or even that Cersei was married to the king, which is why we ended up having to sit through Arya screaming, “That’s Jaime Lannister, the Queen’s twin brother.”
That wasn’t the only change, but it was definitely the only arguable artistic sacrifice. Everything about the unaired pilot looked cheap, from the wardrobes (Lena Headey described her costume as “medieval Dolly Parton”) to the cinematography, which contained none of the sweeping landscapes the show became known for and prompted worried execs to declare that they could have “shot it in a car park.” Several actors were recast, including Jennifer Ehle as Catelyn Stark, who decided she didn’t want to move to Northern Ireland, and Tamzin Merchant as Daenerys, who allegedly had no chemistry with Jason Momoa. Despite their wedding night being written as a more consensual encounter, as in the book, it’s apparently possible to not have that with that guy.
The Gilmore Girls
Get ready to have your mind blown: Because it was filmed in Unionville, Ontario, the version of Stars Hollow in the unaired Gilmore Girls pilot looks like an actual city instead of obviously one square block of studio lot. Look at this real-ass street Rory and Lane are walking down:
There are casting changes here, too, most notably Alex Borstein as Lorelai’s best friend and business partner, Sookie, later played by Melissa McCarthy. Borstein had to drop out of the show due to scheduling conflicts, and it’s a good thing, too — she’s not bad by any means, but she plays Sookie as more of an absentminded professor versus McCarthy’s violent enthusiasm. There’s also Rory’s first love interest, Dean, who is played by Nathan Wetherington, a man visibly seven years older than Alexis Bledel. The official reason for his recasting was to reimagine Dean as a less “alternative type,” but it was definitely also because Rory looked like an impending kidnapping victim.
There was, most significantly, a very subtle title change as well. Apparently, someone told creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, “Drop the ‘the.’ Just ‘Gilmore Girls.’”
Anyone with Photoshop can get some cheap views by turning iconic black and white images into color, including stills from episodes of The Munsters, but they needn’t have bothered. We know exactly what The Munsters looks like in color because that’s how the unaired pilot was filmed. When it was refilmed, producers switched to black and white because it was cheaper, which meant we (and those colorizations) missed out on an amazing joke: the actors being made up in black and white.
Of course, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably guessed that some of those actors were different. The role of Lily Munster was originally named Phoebe and played by Joan Marshall, but producers worried her resemblance to Morticia Addams would make the show look like an Addams Family rip-off (which it kind of was). Meanwhile, Butch Patrick was cast as Eddie Munster after audiences thought Nate Derman’s portrayal was a whiny little bitch, and Beverly Owen, the original Marilyn Munster, left the show to get married (you couldn’t do both in 1964).
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The biggest difference between the pilot Joss Whedon cobbled together to sell Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the WB and what eventually became “Welcome to the Hellmouth” is that there’s just a lot less of it. Many have pointed to the character of Willow, not played so memorably by Alyson Hanigan but an actress named Riff Regan, who is probably a very nice person who quit Hollywood shortly after being recast for reasons that are unfortunately apparent, but even that isn’t as jarring as the defiant lack of plot. Weighing in at just over 25 minutes, there’s no mention of the Harvest, no peek into Buffy’s home life (meaning no Joyce), and even no Angel. That’s like Friends with no Ross, Cheers with no Diane — okay, bad examples, but you see what we mean.
They did manage to find time for a scene directly ripped off from Clueless where Xander walks Buffy around the quad pointing out the different cliques, but where it serves as important world-building for Cher and friends, it’s mostly a pretense for lame jokes like nicknaming a group of hygiene-challenged ladies “The Dirty Girls.” It even ends with Buffy grinning and throwing a stake like a dart through a Nosferatu poster like some kind of gothic Mentos commercial. The biting humor for which Whedon was briefly lauded is largely missing; for example, instead of the anecdote about burning down the gym, Buffy simply alludes to “incidents like at my old school” when talking to Principal Fl— holy shit, is that Steven Tobolowsky?!
Okay, it’s got one thing going for it.