This column is no longer Pilot Error.
Why? Because I just signed a book deal with Schiffer publishing to write them a book on unaired TV pilots so continuing that here would be a tad redundant.
This is now Death Slot where I will look at obscure television from all genres. Depending on how much there is on a given series it may be 2-3 per entry, or simply 1 if the backstory is great enough. That said while I have a huge list of shows I want to eventually talk about in this space I also wanted to open it up to you guys and gals.
Any short lived oddball TV shows you want me to examine?
With Halloween coming upon us faster than we might like I thought we could start this with the 2 “name” TV series of the late horror cycle that each had their own ups and downs. Freddy’s Nightmares and next time, Friday the 13th: The Series. Now. these may not be obscure in the same way that if I had chosen to look at something such as Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, or perhaps the James Coburn Darkroom series, but these shows have been all but left to die by today’s audiences.
A Nightmare on Elm Street was the surprise hit of 1984 and almost single handily put New Line Cinema on the map as being a contender for one of the “Mini-Majors”. This was so true that by the late 1980’s New Line was pejoratively nicknamed “The House That Freddy Built” as the Nightmare on Elm Street (NOES) movies were the only consistent hits the studio could churn out.
With sequels rolling out annually and with an arguable peak to “Freddy Mania” in 1987 into 1988 it was only a matter of time before Freddy came to television (although not to “Prime Time Bitch”).
Around this time child murderer Fred Krueger became almost as large of a horror poster child as his Paramount rival Jason Vorhees. Freddy was appearing on merchandise of all kinds from toys to shirts to Nintendo games and even an obscure computer game. In this era Freddy was unstoppable so a television series was quickly thrown together.
Produced by New Line Television in conjunction with Stone Television and distributed by Lorimar-Telepictures (later Warner Bros. after they would acquire Lorimar-Telepictures). Originally titled “Freddy’s Nightmares A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series” the show was meant to be a LATE NIGHT syndicated program. Being an after midnight series allowed for a great deal of graphic violence, graphic sex and borderline nudity that could never have slipped through on network television. This would later cause the series loads of problems as various stations would run the show in prime time to snag better ratings and the outcry nearly doomed the show.
Thankfully it had been secured for a 44 episode (2 season) run right off the bat so it was never really in danger of being cancelled perse. If a station bought the show they bought all 44 episodes. In season 2 the title dropped the A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series and merely went as Freddy’s Nightmares.
What was the show about though as it would have gotten VERY stale very quickly if it was simply Freddy chasing teens every week. Freddy’s Nightmares was an anthology series with continuity. Each episode was more or less self contained (although some later episodes were direct sequels to earlier episodes) and was made up 2 half hour stories which were linked. Typically the second half would focus on a character who was supporting the first half. Only rarely did the episodes feature a single hour long story with a single protagonist. This allowed for foreign markets to cut the episodes into 2 half hour shows which was a popular tactic at the time.
The episodes would also be linked in that they all took place in or around Spingwood, Ohio (the location of the movies). Sometimes these episodes were directly related to Freddy Krueger but the majority of the shows were simply horror stories that happened to have small touches of Freddy.
In the show, Freddy was more or less a Cryptkeeper/Alfred Hitchcock/Rod Serling type host, only commentating and popping in before and after a commercial. A few episodes did have Freddy in direct conflict with the unlucky characters but he was mostly relegated to hosting duties. Another thing about the series stories was the ever present nihilism of them. In the 44 episodes only about 8 times did the characters win or come out okay in the end. The show was all about battling uphill against all odds and still losing at the end.
Robert Englund only agreed to be on the series under two conditions. One was that they pushed the envelope as far as television would allow, and two that he could direct a few episodes (he directed two episodes, one each season).
With the series being shot on the cheap (this is an understatement as the show was so low budget it was shot on commercial grade video tape which makes it look exactly like a soap opera of it’s time) it did not really attract high profile guest stars or directors but this then allowed up and comers to get experience alongside slumming old timers. Among the notable faces in front of the camera were Morris Chestnut, Mariska Hargitay, Eva LaRue, Bill Moseley, Yvette Nipar, Lori Petty, Brad Pitt(!), Tim Russ, Jeffrey Combs, Diane Franklin and George Lazenby.
Behind the camera it was even more open. New Line Cinema head Robert Shaye even said that he literally didn’t care about the series as it was nothing more than a marketing gimmick to him and that as far as he was concerned anyone could write or direct an episode if they could do it on time and under budget.
With that said a nice line up of directors either wanted to get their chance to do something or just have some fun.
Tobe Hooper, Tom McLoughlin, Mick Garris, Tom DeSimone, Dwight Little and William Malone all directed episodes. In fact the pilot episode, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” was from Tobe Hooper and was in fact a prequel to the first movie, showing us the events that lead to the burning of Fred Krueger (although very much contradicting the movie version of events).
The show was hardly a hit but it did act to keep the Freddy Krueger “brand” in pop culture until the 5th movie came out. Personally, I find if you can get past the bargain basement production (which the KNB FX team once called the most appallingly terrible show on TV) that there are some good episodes. Granted, there are more duds than there are hits with this particular series but it’s worth checking out.
Checking it out is somewhat of a problem though. After it’s syndication run the show was very hard to find. 5 VHS tapes were released in the US (8 in the UK) and that was it. No Sci-Fi Channel reruns, but in the early 2000’s the Chiller channel began airing butchered episodes (missing 2 minutes of footage per episode). Currently the series airs on the El Rey network and a few episodes were included on the DVD set of the movies. That is it though. New Line has publicly stated there are no plans for a DVD release.
All in all if you are a horror fan I would say check out Freddy’s Nightmares if not for the show itself, but to see just how fucked up late night TV used to be in the 1980’s.