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Thursday, August 9th, 2012

The Lost Projects of Chuck Lorre

Chuck Lorre’s name may not inspire the same kind of admiration in the hearts of comedy fans as  hipper auteurs like Judd Apatow, Tina Fey, Dan Harmon, or Louis C.K. (in fact, he may inspire quite the opposite), but the man behind three of the biggest comedies on TV (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly) is every bit as powerful and influential in the humor world as some of these more revered figures, if not more so. Let’s take a look at some of the TV shows that the Two and a Half Men man has tried to get on the air over the years. At the very least, it should make you comedy snobs thankful he only has three shows on TV right now.

After stints as a staff writer for Charles in Charge and My Two Dads in the 80s and early 90s, Chuck Lorre was catapulted to the top of the sitcom writer food chain after finding success as a writer/producer on Roseanne, and he was given the chance to create his own show. He created or co-created Grace Under Fire, Cybill, and Dharma & Greg in quick succession, and all of them became hits, making him one of the most sought-after creators in the TV world.

It’s Good to Be King (1997)
Jim Belushi and Jon Cryer starred in this aborted ABC series as a pair of manager-owners at a struggling blues club in Chicago (Belushi’s hometown). The network picked up It’s Good to Be King for a 13-episode order and scheduled it for midseason, but after the pilot failed to impress, Chuck Lorre reworked the show to focus on Jon Cryer and a female character and Jim Belushi left the project. It’s Good to Be King never made it to air.

Venus on the Hard Drive (1997)
Andy Comeau and Oded Gross starred in the scrapped Chuck Lorre show about two twentysomething guys who discover a computer-generated woman named Venus (voiced by The Simpsons’ Maggie Roswell). Created by a secret govnermnet agency, Venus is a beautiful 2D lady confined to the duo’s computer screens. It’s a pretty blatant Weird Science knockoff with early traces of The Big Bang Theory present. Apparently, the computer woman was also trained by the government in cheesy sitcom jokes, as evidenced by her AOL references and digs at Pauly Shore. Fox executives shelved the show, claiming they wanted to upgrade the technology and that it wasn’t cancelled, and then waited a year to cancel it without airing a single episode.

Check out a clip from the pilot below. The technology is super outdated and cheesy, the jokes moreso.

Slightly Damaged People (2001)
Chuck Lorre sold Slightly Damaged People (also called Last Dance) to NBC in 2001, and it bears more than a striking resemblance to Mike & Molly, a show he sold to ABC eight years later. If attorneys weren’t so expensive, suing Lorre for a chunk of his Mike & Molly millions would be a nice first step towards NBC getting out of debt. Slightly Damaged People was about two alcoholics, a cop and a movie star who fall in love after meeting at the Betty Ford rehab center. Mike & Molly is about two overweight people, a cop and a schoolteacher, who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous group.

The show, starring Paget Brewster and David Keith, was picked up by NBC for 13 episodes but the network scrapped the series before it made it to air.

Nathan’s Choice (2001)
It may surprise Chuck Lorre’s critics to hear him say he’s attempted to experiment with the sitcom format, but here he is in a 2004 LA Times profile, claiming exactly that:

I've had my own personal war with the sitcom format. I've tried to do different shows that threw out the format. But I've concluded that there's nothing wrong with the form. Fundamentally, it's theater. The only difference is we get to do 'Take 2' if an actor forgets his lines. If you're doing it right, there's no situation. It's a story.

Perhaps the most glaring example of Lorre toying with sitcom structure is the failed Fox pilot Nathan’s Choice. Nathan’s Choice was an interactive show starring JD Walsh as a college grad named Nathan, and the program allowed viewers to vote to decide the outcome of Nathan’s decisions week-to-week. Fox passed on the pilot, and STOLE HIS IDEA THE FOLLOWING YEAR FOR AMERICAN IDOL!!!

Two Families (2002)
Chuck Lorre created this CBS pilot, starring Brian Dennehy and Anne Meara as two widowed people who decided to pull their extended families together as one. Nothing’s funnier than widows/widowers.

The Tyler Perry Show (2003)
Chuck Lorre and Tyler Perry are two very similar figures in the entertainment industry, in that they both create wildly-popular works that are mostly derided by critics ("Why don't you try creating something!?!" one of them might say) . In 2003, before Tyler Perry had begun making films, Chuck Lorre was working with him to develop a pilot called The Tyler Perry Show for CBS. Lorre’s Two and a Half Men co-creator Lee Aronsohn worked on the Tyler Perry pilot with him, and here’s Aronsohn explaining the situation in a 2010 profile:

"I needed a job," Aronsohn said. "I told Chuck if we wrote ('Two and a Half') together, I would help him write the Tyler Perry thing. We figured ('Two and a Half') would be a script and out. We figured we would be working on the Tyler Perry show for years to come. As it turned out, CBS turned down the Tyler Perry show."

Untitled Jenna Elfman Project (2004)
One of Chuck Lorre’s biggest-ever successes was Dharma & Greg, and he and Dharma star Jenna Elfman attempted to recreate that magic in 2004 when they reunited to make a new show that CBS was quick to pick up for midseason. A few months after the deal was done, the network announced the project wasn’t moving forward but didn’t specify why.

Untitled Allison Janney Project (2007)
Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn wrote a CBS pilot for Allison Janney, in which the West Wing actress was to play “a successful woman who’s re-examining the relationships in her life.” The pilot was never filmed, but Lorre had a great deal of success during the 2007 season when The Big Bang Theory launched and became a massive hit. It was almost as big a deal as when the original Big Bang created the universe.

Other unrealized projects
Hardcore Chuck Lorre fans (or Lorremaniacs, as they prefer to be called) know that the Big Bang big shot includes a different hidden message at the end of the credits of each of his shows. In one of these secret transmissions, he listed some of his failed projects, including these titles, which I could not find any info on after scouring the Internet for 22 minutes (plus commercials): DIRTY GIRLS, FEEDING THE MONSTER, COUPLES, and THREE CINDERELLAS. Can any Lorremaniacs enlighten me as to what any of these shows were about, or do I have to wait until the convention in November?

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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  • Mikejzim

    He is the anti-comedy.

  • NoPantsMcLane

    I wish all of his projects were lost.