Ever watch an episode of a show you like and see that the main characters of your show are either not there or there in spots and you see some other people there ,sometimes you never saw then before? You might have a back door pilot . (or you changed the channel with out knowing it) Backdoor pilot is an episode of TV show being used to make another series, but it's like viewer testing where maybe if the viewers like it the network will pick it up. It could be used to give a character from the show their own series so the episode may focus on them. Many times these aren't picked up and they air as the most random episode of a TV Show in repeats.
"Married with Children" is one of FOX's early successes as a network the show being the opposite of other sitcoms with families in it at the time so of course why not use a hit show to get another one made from it? That's takes us to an episode from Season 5 called "Top of the Heap". The episode starts with a guy named Charlie and his son Vinnie (played by Matt Leblanc) and they live in apartment in Chicago (same city as Married with Children) They also have a cat named
Mr. Fluffy (because why not?). It's not sitcom with out a neighbour who likes one of the main characters that that would be Mona. 5 Minutes in , so far you would think you were on the wrong show or FOX screwed up the theme music or something , so they end up at Al Bundy's shoe shop.
Good thing too, I was thinking Al and Peggy look different /copyright Sony
Vinnie lost a fight last night and Al lost his TV in a bet (I hate when that happens). Vinnie has gotten a new job as a bus boy. Charlie has a plan , that his son has to meet a rich woman , the place that Vinnie will be busboying (is that word ) will have a bunch of rich people and Charlie's plan is to get him to meet and marry a rich woman. (thanks Dad?) Vinnie doesn't find one to marry ,but he does have enough for a year's worth of "dates". Charlie urges Vinnie to stay with the plan or something bad will happen to his cat. Near the end , Al breaks into Charlie and Vinnie's apartment and steals their TV. That's pretty much the episode,it's doesn't have a finish point of a conclusion but that means it was setting up to be a series and needed to be open ended to get there.
I got it now., after this didn't do well Vinnie ran to New York city and became "Joey" /copyright Sony
The next question we ask .... is did it make it to a series? The answer : Yes.
Top of the Heap came out on FOX in April of 1991 , the series started with the re-airing of the pilot above. The series itself ran for 7 episodes but then was canceled. But that's not the end of it In 1992, the series was spun off with a series called Vinnie and Bobby, Bobby is a roommate construction worker who replaces Charlie , who I guess left. Vinnie now also works as a construction worker and series focuses on those two. After 7 episodes this series was canceled and no more spin offs.. Well Matt Leblanc did well I think he ended up on some NBC show or something.
For a back door pilot it did well, where doing well means that it gets picked as series ,then it did well and even spawned it's own spinoff. Many back door pilots don't get that lucky. Looking the episode itself it's premise was interesting and does have a subversion of many TV shows much like Married With Children did. I am not sure how the series looked because I can't find it , but FOX probably saw a potential in the series because the first episode does seem to give the show a plot of a father and son trying to make it rich. I also didn't get to see the spinoff , which from it's premise seems to be more like a buddy show ,but probably in a subversive style.