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Written By:

Alan Boon
The Amazing Screw-On Head, 2006 2

Ah, telephemera… those shows whose stay with us was tantalisingly brief, snatched away before their time, and sometimes with good cause. They hit the schedules alongside established shows, hoping for a long run, but it’s not always to be, and for every Street Hawk there’s two Manimals. But here at STARBURST we celebrate their existence and mourn their departure, drilling down into the new season’s entertainment with equal opportunities square eyes… these are The Telephemera Years!


If you wanted to be an American Idol or go Dancing with the Stars, the top of the TV ratings for the 2006-07 season made pretty good reading, with the top five slots filled by these newfangled variety showcases. Underneath, crime and medical dramas thrived, but there was slightly more quirky available from Lost and new arrivals Heroes and Ugly Betty.

That wasn’t all as 2006 was FULL of new hits, whether it was The WB’s One Tree Hill, Smallville, and Supernatural, serial killer fun on Showcase with Dexter, or 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights on NBC. That slightly made up for the losses of The OC, Gilmore Girls, The Sopranos, Stargate SG-1, and Masters of Horror, all of which were taking their final laps this year. Those, of course, are the shows that managed to secure an audience but there were some that didn’t even make it series; this is the story of 2006’s unsold pilots…

Aquaman (The CW): After five seasons of bringing small town superheroics to the small screen, Smallville producers Millar Gough Ink felt the time was right for another show following their successful pattern. They’d already introduced Bart Allen (aka Impulse) during season four and season five brought two more heroes from the wider DC universe in the shape of Cyborg and Aquaman. Something of a running joke to non-comic readers, Aquaman first appeared in November 1941 and was one of the few DC heroes to survive the end of the Golden Age of comics, his adventures published continuously through to the early 1960s. Like The Flash and Green Lantern, Aquaman was given a makeover as the Silver Age arrived, even earning a slice of animated action from Filmation in the late 1960s, but quips about fish-based powers saw him fade into the background.

Aquaman underwent another reinvention in 1993 and it was this more serious tone that Smallville producers sought to bring to screen, along with some smouldering shots of a topless young man for the girls, gays, and theys in the audience. Casting former American Idol contestant Alan Ritchson in the role as an Arthur Curry out to protect the seas by any means necessary, his introduction was the highest rated episode in season five and a pilot for a solo series was ordered.

Aquaman, 2006

Miles Millar and Alfred Gough had previously considered a spin-off for Lois Lane but landed on Aquaman, although they did not consider it a spin-off proper, and a Smallville-style title tweak was in the offing. With Ritchson overlooked to emphasise that this was a different Aquaman, Will Toale was initially cast as Curry but they pivoted to soap opera actor Justin Hartley, filling out the cast with veterans such as Ving Rhames, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Adrianne Palicki as Nadia, a villainous siren determined to seize the throne of Atlantis.

It was expected that the pilot would be a shoo-in to be picked up by The WB but the channel underwent a merger with UPN, emerging as The CW, and the new network declined to bring the show to series, although they dangled the prospect of a mid-season pick-up before eventually passing altogether. Wanting the show to be seen, Millar and Gough arranged for it to be released digitally through iTunes, quickly becoming the most downloaded show and earning favourable reviews. With Aquaman dead in the water, Hartley was cast as Oliver Queen on Smallville, joining the Justice League as Green Arrow on that show, alongside Ritchson’s Aquaman. The Aquaman pilot was later released as a bonus on the animated Justice League: A Crisis on Two Earths.

Lipshitz Saves the World (NBC): You are an ordinary teenager, although you’re probably something of an outsider, if truth be told, and if anyone asked you whether you were important, you’d most likely tell them you were nothing. Life passes you by every day until one day Leslie Nielsen – played perfectly by, erm, Leslie Nielsen – comes to your house and tells you that you are “He,” the most important person in the world and possibly the only one who can save it…

This is how Lipshitz Saves the World begins and it becomes immediately clear that this is not your usual sitcom. For a start, Jack Carpenter is a wonderfully meek Adam Lipshitz, the most unlikely candidate for herodom who is given no wider information by Nielsen other than he must complete a series of tasks to gain the items and abilities he will need for the coming apocalypse. First up, get the hottest girl school to give him her bra, which contains a secret, and – and this is important – also feel her right breast.

Lipshitz Saves the World, 2006

Lipshitz was the creation of Dan Fogelman, a writer with a one-series sitcom – 2003’s Like Family – and the Pixar movie Cars under his belt. Fogelman had failed to get offbeat baseball comedy The 12th Man past the pilot stage a year before and was determined that Lipshitz would be like nothing else on the air; at that, at least, he succeeded. Joining Nielsen and Carpenter in the cast were Brooklyn Decker as the hot girl and Dawn of the Dead‘s Ty Burrell as the sinister Man in Red, who Nielsen tells Lipshitz he must avoid at all costs.

With a tagline of “Who’s the Shitz? He’s the Shitz,” the pilot went before NBC executives in July 2006 for consideration as a mid-season replacement, but they ultimately passed, feeling that Fogelman had made a show too weird for network TV. After writing several more films for Pixar, and enjoying success with the movies The Guilt Trip and Crazy Stupid Love, Fogelman would finally land another TV show with 2012’s The Neighbours and is probably best known now as the creator of heartwarming triplet comedy This Is Us but if you want to see what was too weird for NBC, Lipshitz Saves the World is on YouTube.

The Amazing Screw-On Head (Sci-Fi): While working on his magnum opus Hellboy, comic book auteur Mike Mignola would occasionally create side stories, spin-offs, and other flights of whimsy, and in 2002 he came up with the idea of The Amazing Screw-On Head. A robot living during the administration of Abraham Lincoln, the eponymous hero is called upon to save the world from Emperor Zombie, an occultist bent on using an ancient jewel with enormous supernatural power.

Mignola had been inspired to create the comic by the endless variations of Batman action figures, envisaging a hero who changed his head to suit specific missions, and a one-shot comic book was released by Dark Horse Comics to popular acclaim. One of those amused by the story was Dead Like Me‘s Bryan Fuller, who wrote a script based on Mignola’s story and acted as Executive Producer to get a pilot made for Sci-Fi, with animation duties provided by Chris Prynoski’s Titmouse Inc.


The Amazing Screw-On Head, 2006

Several changes were made for the TV show, with background stories given to most of the principals, and a tweak to make Emperor Zombie a former assistant of the Head who has killed the seven men who followed him in that role as an act of petty revenge. Patton Oswalt voices Mr Groin, the current man in the assistant position and he must ready the Head (Paul Giamatti) for battle with David Hyde Pierce’s Zombie, and the cast also featured Corey Burton, Molly Shannon, and Mindy Sterling in various roles.

The pilot aired on Sci-Fi’s website on July 12th 2006, alongside a survey to decide whether it should be picked up as a series. In November 2006, Mignola revealed that Sci-Fi had decided not to progress the show to series, and it was released on DVD in January 2007, as were two animated Hellboy specials, produced by Revolution Studios. Mignola had so far not produced any further Screw-On Head stories but there are several stories set in the same universe, collected as The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects by Dark Horse in 2010.

Ultra (CBS): Born to Filipino parents in California, Jonathan and Joshua Luna grew up as fans of the comic books they read whilst traveling between US bases with their military father. Returning to the US in their late teens for college, the brothers began to create their own comic books while studying for Fine Art degrees, selling one of their first creations as a blind submission to Image Comics in 2004.

Ultra: Seven Days told the story of superhero celebrity Pearl Penalosa (aka Ultra), who has been nominated for the 77th annual Superhero Awards after becoming a idol of abstinence. That this purity is purely accidental after a bad break-up is besides the point, and Pearl goes out to celebrate with fellow superheroes Olivia and Jennifer (or Aphrodite and Cowgirl in their other guises). They visit a fortune teller, who tells them that Pearl will find love within seven days, and this is at the forefront of her mind when she meets a man and sleeps with him on their first date.

Ultra, 2006

Unfortunately, the man sells pictures and stories of their night together to the media and this sets off a chain of events involving Olivia, Jennifer, and Pearl that culminate not in a climactic battle but in a story of friendship, celebrity, and sisterhood that met with rave reviews when the comic was released in August 2004. The Luna Brothers moved on to their next epic, Girls, but Ultra was optioned for TV by Barbara Hall, best known for Judging Amy and Joan of Arcadia. Hall sold CBS on a pilot and brought in Helen Shaver, a former TV actress who had moved behind the camera, as director.

English actress Lena Headey, soon to break through with 300, was cast as Penny Penalosa and the script removed Olivia and Jennifer altogether. Joshua Luna later described it as being “Ultra in name only” and the changes were either too much or not enough for CBS, who passed on taking the show to series. No footage and very few photos have ever been released from the pilot, which is probably for the best as the comic book remains the definitive Ultra statement. After Girls, The Luna Brothers produced The Sword (both through Image Comics) but then had a falling out, with Joshua making some accusations of controlling behaviour against his brother. They continue to produce comics individually.

Next time on The Telephemera Years: Oh, to be a kid in 2006! Yo Gabba Gabba! and Legion of Super Heroes are just two of the treats in our round-up of new kids’ shows!

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: 1966 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1968 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1969 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1971 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1973 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1975 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1977 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1978 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1980 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1982 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1984 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1986 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1987 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1989 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1990 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1992 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1995 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1997 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2000 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2003 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2005 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2006 (part 1, 2)

The Telephemera Years: 2008 (part 1, 23, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Irwin Allen

Titans of Telephemera: Stephen J Cannell (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: DIC (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Hanna-Barbera (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Sid & Marty Krofft

Titans of Telephemera: Glen A Larson (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Quinn Martin (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Ruby-Spears

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