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Thursday, April 26th, 2012

The Lost Roles of Norm Macdonald

While not the most versatile SNL cast member ever, Norm Macdonald is certainly one of the most beloved in the show’s storied history, having achieved cult hero status with comedy fans for his blunt, aloof style and his razor-sharp wit. Since he was ousted from the Weekend Update desk and subsequently left Saturday Night Live, Macdonald has struggled to find the proper vehicle for his comedy in the world of TV and films. His sitcoms (The Norm Show, A Minute with Stan Hooper) and Sports Show didn’t last long, while his movies (Dirty Work, Screwed) both flopped. Still, Norm Macdonald’s one of the funniest guys around, whether it be as a stand-up, on Twitter, or as an outstanding and unpredictable talk show guest. What makes Macdonald so funny might just be what makes him such a hard guy to base a conventional show or movie around: he’s at his best when he’s completely spontaneous, and that’s something that’s hard to capture in a sitcom.

Throughout Norm Macdonald’s career, there have been many attempts to base movies and shows around him. While some have made it to air, others never got off the ground. Let’s take a look at the Norm Macdonald projects we never got to see, including a sitcom in which he played roommates with Jon Lovitz, his nixed Comedy Central sketch show, and a faux reality show that would have seen him starring opposite Garry Shandling.

How to Pick Up Girls (feature film, in development 1998)

Just before the Norm Macdonald movie Dirty Work came out, Norm and writing partner Frank Sebastiano, whom he worked with on SNL, The Norm Show, and Dirty Work, signed a deal to script How to Pick Up Girls. Using the same title as a popular 1970 book by Eric Weber, How to Pick Up Girls would have starred Norm as a psychology grad student who uses his book learnin’ to pick up women and then opens up his own pick-up artist school, only to find himself competing with one of his teachers. Shortly after selling the movie pitch to the studio, Norm left SNL and had his first movie Dirty Work bombed, which is likely the reason for this project falling apart.

Doing the news on Howard Stern’s late night show (1998)

When Howard Stern was prepping his CBS late night show, which aired Saturday nights opposite big-time sketch comedy programs SNL and MADtv, he wanted to snatch Norm Macdonald from SNL to do a “fake news” segment on the show. According to Studio Briefing, NBC refused to allow Norm out of his contract, even though he’d already been removed from Weekend Update and his SNL days were winding down. Norm Macdonald’s presence might have bolstered the popularity of Stern’s show and drawn a little bit of attention away from Lorne Michaels’s Saturday night juggernaut, given how popular Macdonald was with SNL’s audience in 1998.

Turk (feature film, in development 2000)

When Adam Sandler founded his production company Happy Madison in 1999, he immediately started greenlighting projects for his SNL buddies. One of these films was Turk, a baseball comedy to be written by and star Norm Macdonald. Turk was never made, with no new news about the project coming in after it was announced. Adam Sandler has produced movie vehicles for many of his SNL cohorts, including Rob Schneider, Dana Carvey, and David Spade, but he has yet to hand Norm Macdonald a starring role. Norm did, however, play minor roles in Sandler-produced hits like Grown Ups, Jack and Jill, and both chapters of the Deuce Bigalow duology.

Leave Me Alone (2002 NBC sitcom)

After Norm Macdonald’s first sitcom, ABC’s The Norm Show, was canceled, he signed on to star with Jon Lovitz as a pair of mismatched roommates for the ABC pilot Leave Me Alone. The show was set to be Happy Madison’s first venture into TV, but a dispute between Happy Madison and the network over syndication rights kept it from happening. While the pilot was written and sold to NBC, it was never filmed. To get a taste as to what the show would have been like, here’s the plot summary for Leave Me Alone that was written to entice studio audience members to attend the pilot taping that never took place:

NBC Studios and Adam Sandler present Norm Macdonald and Jon Lovitz starring in a new comedy about an unhappily married middle-aged suburban accountant who decides he's had enough and moves to New York to be an entertainer. He moves in with his brother-in-law, a hot dog vendor who moonlights as a ticket scalper.

Back to Norm (2005 Comedy Central sketch show)

After Leave Me Alone fell apart, Norm Macdonald starred in the sitcom A Minute with Stan Hooper for Fox, only to have the show canceled after just a few weeks. His next TV venture, Back to Norm, saw Macdonald escaping to basic cable to return to his sketch comedy roots. The sketch comedy show ended up being a more suitable vehicle for his comedy than a three-camera sitcom, but Comedy Central didn’t order the show. The network did, however, air the pilot, which you can see the first half of below:

Rob Schneider’s Hard R (feature film, in development 2005-06)

At the peak of his powers circa 2005, Rob Schneider started prepping his own sketch comedy film in the vein of Kentucky Fried Movie or Amazon Women on the Moon. Calling the film Rob Schneider’s Hard R, Schneider recruited Bill Murray, David Spade, and Norm Macdonald to appear in the film, but the movie never materialized.

I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007 feature film)

According to IMDb, Norm Macdonald was originally cast in a supporting role in this direct-to-video rom-com from writer/director Amy Heckerling. IMDb says he grew a bushy moustache for the movie but that he quit when Heckerling asked him to shave it off. Jon Lovitz played the part in his absence.

Sausagefest (2009 NBC sitcom)

Josh Heald, a comedy writer best known for co-scripting Hot Tub Time Machine, sold the comedy Sausagefest pilot to NBC in 2009. The show would have followed a pair of twentysomething guys “whose lives are complicated by their clingy dads, one a thrice-divorced misogynist who means well and the other a gentle widower.” I’m assuming that Norm Macdonald was to play the divorced misogynist, but you know what they say: you can never really predict a show called Sausagefest.

The Norm Macdonald Reality Show (2010 FX sitcom)

Norm Macdonald signed a deal to star in and create a pilot for FX in which he would have played a fictionalized version of himself starring in a reality show. Here’s Norm talking about the plot:

“The premise is my career has fizzled into oblivion, so they give me a reality show, which I reluctantly take. So I have to date the Barbi twins and do all this weird… stuff. Now I don’t know how to drive in my actual life — so in the show they teach me to get a license, [and]… during the driving lesson, I accidentally kill the teacher. And then all hell breaks loose. I start to become famous again, and the show becomes a hit, and the trial starts. I get my fame that I didn’t want in the first place. But there’s a lot of funny stuff in it. I guess I’m telling it like it’s not funny.”

The show was meant to be a companion to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but The League ended up filling that spot instead. FX canceled The Norm Macdonald Reality Show when it was halfway through filming but kept it in development for another season. At this point, Garry Shandling was added to the cast, in what would have been his first regular TV role since The Larry Sanders Show. The second iteration of Norm’s faux-reality show also didn’t go through. He moved on to Comedy Central, where he co-created and starred in Sports Show, which quickly flamed out in the way that we now expect Norm Macdonald’s TV projects to. If he keeps plugging away like this, it’s only a matter of time before Norm Macdonald finally finds a TV show that works for him. Until then, take comfort in the fact that America’s Greatest Talk Show Guest still has plenty of free time to appear on talk shows.

Previously: The Lost Roles of Rainn Wilson

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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  • I'm Gary@twitter

    Leave Me Alone would be huge for CBS.

    • regisphilbdog

      @I'm Gary@twitter Yeah, definitely. I think it would have been a fit for NBC 10 years ago but not now.

  • Slutface

    F/X is sitting on "The Norm MacDonald Reality Show" but airing a show like Charlie Sheen's show? I hate the world.

  • Rob Brayer@facebook

    Great comfort should be taken from the fact that he remains one of the funniest standups working today. I just saw him a few months back and that is far and away the best forum for his particular brand of madness

    That said, he KILLED as Burt Reynolds' son on My Name is Earl.

  • Pat Mongeau

    What if there was a talk show where the host changed every week but the GUEST was always NORM MACDONALD?