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    9 Times TV Shows Had Drastically Different Pilots That Never Actually Aired

    I'd like to thank Hollywood for giving all of our faves a second chance.

    1. Game of Thrones

    the game of thrones opening title
    HBO / Via youtube.com

    Why didn't the original pilot air?

    HBO / Via giphy.com

    Because the only thing more brutal than Game of Thrones itself was the reaction to the awful original pilot. After seeing the rough cut, producer Craig Mazin told creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, "You guys have a massive problem." HBO didn't abandon the super-expensive show because, at the very least, Benioff and Weiss knew that there were issues and had plans to fix them.

    What's different about it?

    Tamzin Merchant (the original Daenerys) and Emilia Clarke (who played Daenerys in the series)
    Jay Brady / Everett Collection / Priscilla Grant / Everett Collection

    Benioff and Weiss recast two starring roles between the making of the first and second pilots: Jennifer Ehle was replaced by Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark, since Ehle didn't want to move to Northern Ireland, and Tamzin Merchant was replaced by Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, because Merchant's scenes with Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo) weren't quite right.

    The unaired pilot was apparently super ambiguous about the nature of Jaime and Cersei's relationship, and audiences missed the fact that they're siblings. But the showrunners were actually more faithful to a key sequence from George R. R. Martin's book during their initial attempt: Daenerys and Drogo's wedding night, rewritten to be a rape scene in the second pilot, was first shot as a consensual encounter, just like it is in the source material.

    Some production elements were changed as well, from the timing of scenes (the wedding was originally filmed at night, and "quite a lot of money had been spent on seeing absolutely fuck-all") to the costuming (apparently, Cersei looked like a "medieval Dolly Parton" in her first incarnation).

    Can I watch it?

    An ice dragon burns down the wall
    HBO / Via youtube.com

    Not unless you have access to some super secret HBO vault. Understandably, they've kept this one close to the chest.

    2. Avatar: The Last Airbender

    The title sequence for Avatar
    Nickelodeon / Via youtube.com

    Why didn't it air?

    Nickelodeon / Via giphy.com

    The creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, wrote this pilot in 2003 in order to pitch the show to Nickelodeon; it was never intended to be used as the final product. The actual pilot of the show debuted in February 2005.

    What's different about it?

    Kya and Katara side-by-side, waterbending
    Nickelodeon / Via youtube.com / youtube.com

    In this "first draft," so to speak, of the Avatar universe, Katara is named Kya (the name that would eventually be given to her mother), Aang is voiced by Mitchel Musso of Hannah Montana fame (Zach Tyler Eisen would take over the role in the series proper), and Iroh doesn't exist. Also, Zuko casually murders the unagi, a giant sea monster, and takes its head as a trophy. And it's good they cut it, because it's tough to redemption arc your way out of that one.

    For a more comprehensive look at the differences between this pilot and the series as a whole, check out this post.

    Can I watch it?

    Aang entering the Avatar state in the unaired pilot and first episode
    Nickelodeon / Via youtube.com / netflix.com

    Previously, it was only made available as a DVD extra, but in August 2020, Nickelodeon streamed it on their Twitch channel. Unfortunately, it looks like it's been taken down. Until it reemerges, you can watch this compilation of all the bending moments in the pilot.

    3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

    The opening titles for Buffy
    Hulu / Via hulu.com

    Why didn't it air?

    Hulu / Via giphy.com

    Like the unaired pilot of Avatar: The Last Airbender, this pilot was produced as a "presentation" to pitch the show to networks.

    What's different about it?

    Riff Regan and Alyson Hannigan, both playing Willow
    Hulu / Via youtube.com / hulu.com

    The Buffy we all know and love is an hour-long drama, but the original pilot was a half hour. What became Sunnydale High is called Berryman High, Angel is nowhere to be found, and no one mentions the Master, the first season's main villain. Most significantly, witchy queer icon and fuzzy sweater lover Willow Rosenberg is played by Riff Regan rather than Alyson Hannigan. While Regan's performance "just didn't work," Hannigan got the role because "every line that somebody else would play like they were sad, Alyson was joyful about."

    Can I watch it?

    Hulu / Via giphy.com

    Creator Joss Whedon once said that the episode will never be officially released "while there is strength in these bones." While he recognized its value as a piece of pop culture history, Whedon didn't think much of its quality (his exact words were "it sucks on ass"). That being said...it's not exactly hard to find...

    4. Sherlock

    Sherlock opening titles
    BBC / Via youtube.com

    Why didn't it air?

    BBC / Via giphy.com

    The original "A Study in Pink" was an hour-long pilot, but the BBC had it reshot when they decided to produce Sherlock as "three feature-length episodes" instead of six shorter ones.

    What's different about it?

    The cabbie tells Sherlock "people like to die at home"
    BBC / Via youtube.com

    In addition to being a half hour shorter than "A Study in Pink," some central aspects of the setting, plot, and Sherlock's character are absent or unrecognizable here. No texts or emails appear onscreen, and Moriarty is not connected to the murder mystery (or, if he is, it goes unmentioned). Mycroft doesn't show up, either. One of the most significant shifts is how exactly Sherlock ends up in the same room as murderous cab driver Jeff Hope: In the final version, Sherlock willingly and confidently engages with him, while in the original, he is drugged and kidnapped by the serial killer.

    Can I watch it?

    BBC / Via giphy.com

    You sure can! It's included on the Sherlock DVDs as an extra and is available to rent from Vudu for $1.99.

    5. The Big Bang Theory

    CBS / Via youtube.com

    Why didn't it air?

    CBS / Via giphy.com

    Nina Tassler, the CBS Entertainment chairperson, asked creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady to rework the original pilot after it wasn't picked up by any networks for the 2006–7 television season. Lorre said the first version of the show "sucked," except for "two remarkable things that worked perfectly, and that was Johnny [Galecki] and Jim [Parsons]."

    What's different about it?

    the two female leads who were written out of the show
    CBS / Via youtube.com

    First of all, Sheldon is more "sexually adept," so make of that what you will. There are two female leads, Gilda and Katie, who were written out by Lorre and Prady in round two, and leads Penny, Raj, and Howard don't exist yet. Also, the theme song is "She Blinded Me With Science" instead of "The Big Bang Theory," which in my mind is a mistake, but the show ran for 12 seasons, so maybe they knew what they were doing.

    Can I watch it?

    CBS / Via giphy.com

    The unaired pilot is included as an extra on some DVDs, and there are some clips floating around on YouTube, too.

    6. 30 Rock

    The opening titles for 30 rock
    NBC / Via youtube.com

    Why didn't it air?

    NBC / Via giphy.com

    After filming the first pilot, Tina Fey and the other producers decided to move the show in a different direction and refocus from sketch comedy to a more traditional sitcom format.

    What's different about it?

    Rachel Dratch as Jenna in the unaired pilot
    NBC / Via youtube.com

    One of the few differences between this pilot and the one that aired was a major recasting decision. Originally, Rachel Dratch played Jenna DeCarlo, the character that would eventually become Jenna Maroney. Dratch was replaced by Jane Krakowski following this episode, since the show needed "more of a sitcom actress, as opposed to a character actress." Dratch was still included in the cast, though she played a variety of different, smaller roles instead of a starring one. During an interview, Dratch said she was actually excited by the opportunity to play different characters, but "the media kind of ran with this 'demotion' thing, so that was kind of a bummer."

    Can I watch it?

    Dratch as Jenna says "I'm living in New York, I have my own TV show, dreams do come true, right?"
    NBC / Via youtube.com

    You can watch Dratch's scenes from the unaired pilot right here.

    7. Drake and Josh

    The opening titles of Drake and Josh
    Nickelodeon / Via youtube.com

    Why didn't it air?

    Nickelodeon / Via giphy.com

    After selling the show to Nickelodeon with this unaired pilot, creator Dan Schneider had to recast the role of Josh's dad, weatherman Walter Nichols. The actor originally cast in the role, Stephen Furst, was "busy with another commitment," so Jonathan Goldstein was brought in as a replacement.

    What's different about it?

    The unaired parents from Drake and Josh vs. the aired parents
    Nickelodeon / Via youtube.com

    The most significant change is weatherman casting related, though there are also some "set design deviations" and minor changes to the plot, according to the online detectives who have sought out this piece of lost Nickelodeon history. For instance, when Drake tosses a basketball at his new stepfather in the first pilot, he hits him in the head and knocks him over. In the second pilot, his stepfather catches the ball and spins it on his finger, but ends up breaking a lamp when he tries to toss it back to Drake.

    Can I watch it?

    Supposedly, "Drake Bell" comments on a petition to release the pilot
    change.org / Via change.org

    The original pilot was briefly on YouTube before being made private, but if you're that invested, you can sign this petition to get Nickelodeon to officially release it. It's 3 years old, but you do you.

    8. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

    The CW / Via youtube.com

    Why didn't it air?

    The CW / Via giphy.com

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was developed as a raunchy half-hour comedy at Showtime, but when the network passed on the pilot and the CW picked it up, there were some substantial changes that needed to be made to make it work on cable.

    What's different about it?

    The CW / Via giphy.com

    The CW wanted the show to be a companion of sorts to Jane the Virgin, and so it was expanded from a half hour to an hour. One cast member, Michael McDonald, decided to leave the series after this change was made, since he was hoping to direct some of the episodes, but "with the format change" no longer could. Certain changes to its content also needed to be made in order to make the show fit to air on a non-premium network. But after "foul-mouth language and a blowjob scene" were removed, everything else pretty much worked, and when the CW screened the original pilot alongside the rest of its new pilots for that season, "it was a runaway hit."

    Can I watch it?

    The CW / Via giphy.com

    Nope, but the pilot that ended up airing did include some footage from the show's first incarnation.

    9. Gilmore Girls

    The opening title for Gilmore girls
    The CW / Via netflix.com

    Why didn't it air?

    The CW / Via giphy.com

    Like a few other entries on this list, the unaired pilot was shot to pitch the show to networks, and though they managed to shoot most of the script on a shoestring budget, pretty big changes had to be made after it was picked up.

    What's different about it?

    The two different Deans in their introductory scenes
    The CW / Via youtube.com

    If you're a fan of Gilmore Girls (or The Gilmore Girls, as it was originally titled), there are a couple of big casting differences that would freak you out if you happened across this unaired pilot. Alex Borstein was the first Sookie St. James, but she was replaced by Melissa McCarthy after Mad TV wouldn't let Borstein out of her contract (luckily, Borstein thought McCarthy was "fucking amazing" in the role). And Rory's love interest Dean Forester is played by Nathan Wetherington rather than Jared Padalecki. Wetherington, who said that he felt "uncomfortable in my own skin" while filming Gilmore Girls, was also almost cast in two other early 2000s roles: Seth in The O.C. and Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels.

    Can I watch it?

    Alex Borstein and Melissa McCarthy, who both played Sookie
    Priscilla Grant / Dee Cercone / Courtesy Everett Collection

    You can watch Wetherington as Dean in this clip but be warned: It's weird.

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