Lost Roles is a weekly column exploring “what might have been” in movie and TV comedy as we take a different actor, writer, or comedian each week and examine the projects they worked on that never made it to the screen.
This week, we’re taking a look at the lost works of writer Alan Spencer, creator of the ‘80s comedy series Sledge Hammer! and, most recently, IFC’s short-lived Bullet in the Face. After befriending luminaries like Andy Kaufman and Marty Feldman by sneaking onto movie studios as a teen, Spencer became the youngest-ever creator of a network series (at the time) at age 26 when his crime comedy Sledge Hammer! got on the air at ABC. Sledge Hammer! was ahead of its time, becoming a cult hit that would pave the way for the dense off-the-wall comedy found on Adult Swim and in series like Archer. After Sledge Hammer!’s cancellation, Spencer spent some time as a script doctor before returning to TV writing in the mid-2000s. Here’s a rundown of some of Alan Spencer’s projects that never made it to the screen, including a nixed Naked Gun sequel, a comedy about sci-fi cops, and a sitcom starring Psycho’s Anthony Perkins.
The Ghost Writer (1990)
Just after Sledge Hammer!’s cancellation, Alan Spencer began working on this multi-camera sitcom starring Psycho’s Anthony Perkins. Spencer tells Splitsider, “Anthony Perkins was a friend of mine and he asked if I’d create a sitcom for him. He was actually a light comedian in the theater long before Alfred Hitchcock ever turned him into a horror icon and mother’s boy. Perkins’s sole prerequisite was that it would be a live audience show, a multi-camera half hour, but I wanted to keep it innovative so I made it more theatrical with live special effects and expansive Gothic sets.”
The Ghost Writer was originally developed for ABC, but the network heads thought it was too dark, so the project moved to the fledgling Fox network. The show tested well, but part of the reason Fox passed on it is that Spencer was already working on a show he created for NBC with Mel Brooks called The Nutt House and couldn’t devote his full attention to The Ghost Writer. Spencer recalls, “Anthony Perkins was a great guy. We taped the pilot at Universal Studios and once wandered the lot after dark. When we reached the Psycho house, I kept him in front of me at all times.” A truncated version of the pilot was burned-off on Fox during one airing, but the full thing has surfaced on YouTube:
Galaxy Beat (1994)
A sci-fi comedy about a ragtag group of peacemakers patrolling the worst part of the galaxy, Galaxy Beat was Spencer’s next attempt to get a show on the air. Spencer reminisces:
“CBS kept pursuing me saying they had a desire to try things that were offbeat, despite not actually airing shows of that type, meaning you’d be ostensibly beaten off. I’ve always had an interest in science fiction, so I whipped up a special effects-laden half-hour comedy called Galaxy Beat and populated it with a recognizable cast who had some genre cred, most notably the voice of Roddy McDowall who was thankful just to voice a character without having to withstand long hours in the makeup chair like he did during Planet of the Apes. The pilot screened well, but just tested okay for the network’s staid demo group. When they passed, the then head of the network said: ‘We’re really glad we made this pilot, but it’s just not for us.’”
Taking a break from comedy, Alan Spencer wrote a two-hour sci-fi movie-of-the-week called The Tomorrow Man in hopes that it would become a series. Here’s Spencer explaining what happened:
“The initial people who read it thought another ‘Alan Spencer’ had penned this as it wasn’t what I was known for. CBS bought the project and ordered it straight into production. We cast topflight actors like Julian Sands and Giancarlo Esposito who were a dream to work with. When screened for the same CBS exec that passed on Galaxy Beat, he expressed surprise this wasn’t funnier despite it being a drama. One executive cited a passage of dialogue as ‘pretentious’ without realizing it was actually a quote from Shakespeare. The entire team got booted out the door not long after, scuttling the hopes for this being considered for a mid-season entry. The Tomorrow Man has only been broadcast outside of the U.S. where it was also available on home video.”
After stepping away from TV to work as a Hollywood script doctor for a few years, Alan Spencer returned to TV development at ABC to work with Jim Abrahams with Crime Team!, a half-hour parody of police procedurals. The show revolved around an injured football player making a career transition into law enforcement, upsetting all of his new co-workers. ABC picked up the Geico commercial-inspired Cavemen instead to fill
The Naked Gun: What 4? The Rhythm of Evil (2009)
Paramount’s direct-to-DVD division began developing a Naked Gun sequel a few years ago and proceeded with the project despite the original Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team tried to stop it from happening. According to Alan Spencer, he signed on to write the film as a “rescue mission” to save an inferior sequel from happening. The script impressed the Paramount folks (and online reviewers) so much that it was briefly shifted to the theatrical department. Spencer wrote a sizable role for Leslie Nielsen, who would be passing the torch to a new generation on incompetent cops, but Paramount asked him to reduce the part to a cameo for budgetary reasons and then decided to remove Nielsen’s character altogether. Spencer respectfully left the project when he was asked to take Nielsen’s character out, and the movie never got made.
Man Up! (2010)
Not to be confused with the short-lived ABC series of the same name, Spencer developed this comedy for SPIKE with Adam Sandler’s company Happy Madison onboard to produce. Man Up! followed a paramilitary group who had to perform all their commando exercises and training in civilized society, not in the field. SPIKE passed on the project when they decided to shut down all script programming.