Throughout the years, beloved cartoons have come and gone, gracing our television screens, only to inevitably end, making room for the next beloved cartoon. From big name franchises to barely remembered one-season obscurities, television has seen all manner of cartoons, some of which have gone on to cultivate devoted fans all over the world. But it’s not like a cartoon just suddenly appears on your TV set; no, that cartoon had to undergo a creative process, notes from studio executives, and, most importantly, a pilot. This pilot allowed the cartoon to establish its look, humor, and world, and would set the pace for every episode of that cartoon to follow. But that’s not to say that every cartoon that makes it to the pilot stage is destined for TV; in fact, there have been plenty of rejected cartoon pilots.
Many pilots are screened before network executives and turned down on the spot; for the lucky few, sometimes a cartoon pilot will make it onto the air, but still fails to get that coveted series order. From cartoons just too weird for TV, to cartoons just made at the wrong time, hopeful animators have seen their cartoon pilots turned down for numerous reasons. Today, CBR invites you to join us as we take a stroll down memory lane to look at the cartoons that could have been, maybe should have been, and never coulda been. These are 15 rejected cartoon pilots!
15. HE-HOG THE ATOMIC PIG
You may know John Kricfalusi as the mind behind Nickelodeon’s popular Ren and Stimpy, but John K., as he’s better known, is a prolific animator that worked on dozen of projects over the years. But Ren and Stimpy was far from John K.’s only foray into television; in 1999, he would oversee the rejected pilot for a truly bizarre superhero spoof show entitled He-Hog The Atomic Pig.
Following the oddball misadventures of the titular He-Hog, this was chock full of John K.’s trademark bizarre comedy. The hero was a psychiatrist by day that spent the pilot interviewing a busty woman going through puberty, the hero touted X-Ray nipples and the ability to taste evil. He-Hog was assisted by Half-Life The Decaying Molecule, a kid sidekick composed entirely of molecular symbols. Maybe this cartoon was just a little too weird for TV.
Here’s a cartoon pitch that sounds less-than-stellar on paper: an adult cartoon created by Adam Carolla centered around a cantankerous woodshop teacher character that Carolla created for the puppet crank call show Crank Yankers. Despite the not-so-great origins of the show, the rejected pilot produced for Birchum showed great promise.
Birchum followed the eponymous Mr. Birchum as the no-nonsense teacher at George Washington Carver Junior High as he dealt with snotty kids, a complicated home life, and changing times. A slice-of-life blue collar comedy in the same way as King Of The Hill, Birchum had funny quips (“Remember when we were growing up? Other kids’ Dad’s could hit you! Simpler times.”) and a solid premise. Unfortunately, Fox passed on the show, leaving Birchum as just another rejected cartoon pilot.
As Adult Swim’s never-ending avalanche of shows has proven, there’s a thin line between “weird and funny” and “weird and stupid.” Supanaturals managed to toe that line, leading to a bizarre cartoon that could best be described as “Indiana Jones meets Clueless.”
Here’s the elevator pitch: Supanatural follows two sassy women who split their time between rescuing ancient artifacts and working at the mall. Just as comfortable fighting giant spiders as they are throwing shade, our heroines are foul-mouthed adventurers that trash talk the Pope and bicker with the woman that mans the mall kiosk. Throw in a liberal helping of talking crystal skulls, a book bound in human skin, and Satanic ritual, and you’ve got one truly unique show. Ultimately, the cartoon made it into Amazon Prime’s “Pick Your Pilot” test program but failed to gain traction, and the studio ultimately passed on the show.
12. VERNE ON VACATION
A common complaint levied against modern cartoons is that there is an inherent “sameness” in design. Derisively referred to as the “CalArts Style,” critics complain that cartoon designs begin to bleed together, leading to one, big uninspired lump of character designs. But you’d be hard pressed to make this accusation against Verne On Vacation, as there simply aren’t any other cartoons that look like it.
Created in 2009 by animator Sylvian Marc in collaboration with Cartoon Network Europe, Verne On Vacation followed an energetic little boy named Verne as he explored the farm he is spending Summer vacation on while palling around with his friends, Gaston the pig and Horace the monster. The show featured bright, charming visuals and lively animation, setting the cartoon apart from the rabble. But Cartoon Network Europe ultimately passed, leaving the whimsical Verne On Vacation as just another rejected cartoon pilot.
11. PLASTIC MAN
It was a good year, in 2012, to be a fan of DC cartoons. Cartoon Network debuted “DC Nation,” a block of programming themed around DC Comics, putting shows such as Young Justice and Teen Titans Go! back-to-back. In addition to these established shows, Cartoon Network and DC used the programming block to test the waters with shorts based on smaller characters, leaving open the possibility of converting these shorts into full-blown shows. While DC Nation featured numerous popular programs, one of the more popular reoccurring shorts followed the stretchy hero Plastic Man.
Across six minute-long “episodes,” Plastic Man fought crime, wrestled with mailing his water bill, and got trapped inside a TV. Unfortunately, despite the popularity of the shorts, Cartoon Network opted to let Plastic Man end, stomping out all hope of a full-blown series.
10. PARTY WAGON
You may not know the name Craig Bartlett, but you definitely know his most famous cartoon creation: Hey Arnold! As one of the most popular Nick toons, Craig Bartlett managed to stay plenty busy during Hey Arnold!‘s original run. While Hey Arnold! would return as a TV movie in 2017, there was a period after the series ended in which Bartlett hoped to move away from Arnold and start a new series. Thus, in 2004, Bartlett turned to Cartoon Network with a pilot for Party Wagon.
In this western cartoon, a band of misfits sharing a wagon train come upon a map leading to a hidden jewel mine, forcing the motley assortment of travelers to put aside their differences and work together to find the treasure. The pilot aired on Cartoon Network, and the cable channel showed interest in the series, but the deal fell apart, leaving Party Wagon on the cutting room floor.
9. CONSTANT PAYNE
Let us paint you a picture, dear reader. The year is 2001, and anime is all the rage. While Cartoon Network’s popular Teen Titans was still two years away, cartoon channels were eager to get a piece of that sweet, sweet anime money. Enter Constant Payne, an anime-inspired action cartoon that looked to bridge the divide between Eastern and Western animation.
Created by animator Micah Wright, Constant Payne followed the exploits of action-scientist Dr. Payne and his daughter Amanda as they fought evil in a steampunk-esque city. Positively dripping with anime influence (which makes sense, as the pilot was animated by famed anime studio Madhouse), Constant Payne very nearly became Nickelodeon’s first action-adventure series. Ultimately, Nick opted to pass on the cartoon, leaving fans of the pilot to wonder what could have been.
8. AJ’S INFINITE SUMMER
Every year, just about the time when school is set to resume, every red-blooded American child wishes for the same thing: a summer that would never end. Who can blame them? All that freedom, all the fun, gone! While a never-ending summer sadly remains a pipe dream, one failed cartoon pilot set out to show a world where summer never has to end: AJ’s Infinite Summer.
In this oddball slice-of-life comedy, we follow AJ, an average teen that just wants to enjoy his Summer vacation. In the pilot, AJ is hired by an unfeeling corporation and nearly forgets the meaning of Summer, only to leave the job and resume hanging out with his friends. Unfortunately, despite receiving critical acclaim, the network opted to pass on the series.
Let’s make this perfectly clear: Jammers is not for everyone. In fact, there are plenty of people that are vocal in their hate of this pilot, and it’s easy to understand why; after all, Jammers is super weird. But for this very same reason, Jammers has amassed a legion of devout fans. Whatever your feelings on Jammers, we can all agree that this failed pilot was certainly unique.
The premise of Jammers is simple: Carol, an imaginative, boy-crazed middle schooler, deals with bullies, hangs out with her best friends Jeremy and Danny, and argues with her subconscious, who takes the form of a floating head named “Lil’ Carol.” Also, Carol converses with a mute humanoid frog named Tim Tam and a character farts a woman into existence. It’s weird, but the manic energy of the show earned Jammers plenty of buzz. Unfortunately, Cartoon Network opted to pass on the show,
6. A KITTY BOBO SHOW
In the early ’00s, cartoons set in the city were rare. Sure, Hey Arnold! followed the adventures of kids in the inner city, but there weren’t any other prominent cartoons that explored life in the urban jungle. A Kitty Bobo Show looked to remedy that by bringing hip, city-dwelling twenty-somethings to Cartoon Network.
The oddly named A Kitty Bobo Show followed the titular Kitty Bobo as he hung out in diners with his friends, enjoyed his newly purchased cell phone, and generally… existed. The pilot gave a glimpse at A Kitty Bobo Show’s muted, calming color palette and general low-key nature, which set A Kitty Bobo Show apart from the more energetic cartoons found on TV at the time. Perhaps A Kitty Bobo Show was just a little too different for Cartoon Network, as the studio passed on the cartoon in favor of Codename: Kids Next Door.
5. THE MODIFYERS
Sometimes, life just ain’t fair. Perhaps a pilot is created that features an interesting world, fun characters, and shows great promise, but is ultimately pushed aside for inane reasons. Such was the case for The Modifyers. Pitched to Nickelodeon by animators Chris Reccardi and Lynne Naylor, The Modifyers follows Agent Xero, who, along with her transforming sidekick Mole, fights the villainous Baron Vain in a vibrant world inspired by ’60s British mod fashion.
Across the pilot, Xero deals with Vain’s sidekick Rat and tussles with the putrid pair for the fate of the mystical All Seeing Eye. Despite eliciting strong fan interest and strong critical reviews, Nickelodeon opted to pass on the show, citing the failure of previous female-led cartoons on the network. Still, a strong fan following has sprung up around the failed pilot, with hopes that The Modifyers might one day make it to TV.
4. THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD
Listen, not to be dramatic or anything, but the fact that The Amazing Screw-On Head didn’t get turned into a full series is one of the greatest tragedies of all time. A beautifully animated cartoon, featuring famous actors, based on a Mike Mignola character? This show had it all!
Here’s the basic concept: a steampunk robot with a screw-on head (voiced by Paul Giamatti) works for President Abraham Lincoln fighting supernatural evil, and is constantly dogged by the insidious Emperor Zombie (voiced by David Hyde Pierce), an undead crime-lord with a penchant for smoking his victims. With a unique premise and an art style that looked like Mignola’s moody comic had jumped right off the page, The Amazing Screw-On Head seemed destined for greatness, but the Sci-Fi Channel would opt to not pick up the series, leaving fans wondering what could have been.
3. VERY IMPORTANT HOUSE
You may not know the name Jhonen Vasquez, but you have definitely encountered some of his most popular creations in your local Hot Topic. Responsible for Nickelodeon’s Invader Zim, along with darkly comedic underground comics such as Squee and Johnny The Homicidal Maniac, Vasquez has amassed himself a legion of diehard fans. While Vasquez is set to return to Nick with an Invader Zim TV movie, the cartoonist very nearly made the jump to the Disney Channel to spearhead a new show entitled Very Important House.
While little is known of Very Important House, clips of the pilot were released by Vasquez online, highlighting a show that would have seen main character Frolie visiting a planet of puppies, drinking bubble tea with a mustachioed cat named Grampa, and meeting a flame-headed man from a reality beyond time and space. Fan interest was strong, but Disney ultimately passed on the cartoon.
2. WELCOME TO ELTINGVILLE
We nerds are a weird group. While loving comics, anime, or whatever-your-obsession is just fine, nerdom seems to give rise to “mega-nerds,” those nerds that believe themselves to be the only “true” fans, thus making them superior to their fellow nerds. These kind of nerds are awful. Welcome To Eltingville follows these kinds of nerds.
Adapted from the popular underground comic The Eltingville Club, Welcome To Eltingville follows The Eltingville Club, a group composed of four argumentative, holier-than-thou uber-nerds, as they bicker, complain, and fight about nerdy things. In the pilot episode, the group fights over D&D, engage in a Star Wars trivia-off, and break a rare Bob Fett figure. Welcome To Eltingville was great because it was just so damn real. Despite a promising pilot, Adult Swim opted to not pick up the series, leaving fans of the comic to wonder what could have been.
1. KORGOTH OF BARBARIA
Legend has it you can still hear the moans and cries of animation fans lamenting the fact that Korgoth of Barbaria wasn’t picked up. It’s easy to understand how Korgoth amassed such a cult following: after all, this is a show that was one part Conan, one part Metalocalypse, and all parts crazy.
A tongue-in-cheek tribute to sword-and-sorcery books such as Conan, Korgoth of Barbaria followed the titular Korgoth, a brutish barbarian, as he drank, stabbed, drank, maimed, drank, drank some more, and murdered his way across the dangerous lands of Barbaria. Featuring plenty of gags and stomach-churning violence, Korgoth was as pretty to look at as it was funny, thanks in no small part to acclaimed animator Genndy Tartakosky directing the animation of the pilot. Despite ample interest from Adult Swim and fans, the network was forced to pass on the show, as it was deemed too expensive to produce.
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