TV Discussion

Wonder Woman – Pilot Error!

Every year, of the dozens of pilot episodes that are made for TV, some don’t get picked up, while others are changed significantly or even remade when they become a full series. Our series Pilot Error! takes a look at some of them, including the ones that got away.

For moviegoers, Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman, who has most recently appeared in Wonder Woman 1984. As a result of the ongoing global Coronavirus pandemic, however, it seems the only way that most people will have been able to see the film is on the small screen, via pay-per-view.

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As the first ever live action version of the character was seen on TV, it feels as if things have come full circle. What might not be widely known, however, is that Lynda Carter was not actually the first actress to take on the role; there have been several attempts, both before and since, to bring the DC Comics character to television…

Wonder Woman – ‘Who’s Afraid Of Diana Prince?’ (1967)

“Wonder Woman, who knows she has the strength of Hercules. Who knows she has the wisdom of Athena. Who knows she has the speed of Mercury. And who thinks she has the beauty of Aphrodite.”

Having brought Batman to the small screen for ABC in 1966, as well as launching a spin-off from the series in the form of The Green Hornet, producer William Dozier (who happened to provide the voiceovers for both shows, using the name of ‘Desmond Doomsday’ as a pseudonym) was looking to add a further comic book character to the network’s line-up, in the form of Wonder Woman.

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Dozier commissioned a pilot script from Stan Hart and Larry Siegel, who both wrote material for MAD Magazine, as well as The Carol Burnett Show, entitled ‘Who’s Afraid Of Diana Prince?’, which was intended as being the very first episode of the Wonder Woman series to be made – just like Dozier’s other shows – by his own company, Greenway Productions. A five minute portion of the script was filmed, intended as a ‘proof of concept’ presentation to network executives, with Dozier once again on narration duties.

In the short filmed scene, Diana Prince (Ellie Wood Walker) is seen living with her domineering mother (Maudie Prickett), who knows all about her identity as Wonder Woman, yet she nags Diana about eating a home cooked meal before dashing off to the aid of Steve Trevor; in addition, she also harangues Diana about being the talk of the neighbourhood, as Diana is still single, and yet to find a husband. It appears that Wonder Woman may be almost indestructible, but is not impervious to criticism, even at the age of 27 million.

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After changing off-camera into her Wonder Woman outfit, Diana rather bizarrely decides to then spend over a minute preening and admiring herself in a full-length mirror, with an instrumental version of the song ‘Oh, You Beautiful Doll’ playing. Even more oddly, the reflection is not that of Ellie Wood Walker, but is instead played by Linda Harrison (who went on to play the role of Nova in the original 1968 Planet Of The Apes, along with the sequel), showing her as a more glamorous version of the character.

The pilot script submitted by Hart and Siegel was reported to be unsuitable, with Dozier apparently asking Batman writer Stanley Ralph Ross to do a rewrite. It has also been suggested that by only having shot a short segment, instead of the full script, Dozier may have had misgivings about the project. In the end, ABC decided not to pick up the series, which may in part be down to the fact that The Green Hornet had not met with the same level of success as Batman, maybe indicating the TV superhero bubble had burst.

Wonder Woman (1974)

“The amazing Amazon Princess comes to television!”

Ironically, after being involved with the very first attempt to bring Wonder Woman to TV, Stanley Ralph Ross was asked in 1973 by producer Douglas S. Kramer whether he would be at all interested in writing a script for a new pilot film featuring the character, with the aim of it going to series if successful. However, Ross turned down the offer, as he was unhappy at the project being centred around the current comic iteration of Wonder Woman, as well as the actress who had been cast in the lead role.

Cathy Lee Crosby was an ex-professional tennis player who had played twice at Wimbledon before she left the sport and turned to acting instead. Crosby had beaten off competition from a number of other contenders for the role, from a field which included Angie Bowie (who was David Bowie’s wife at the time, and mother of Duncan Jones, director of 2009 sci-fi movie Moon), who auditioned under her modelling name ‘Jipp Jones’. Another unsuccessful candidate was Miss World USA 1972, who was an as-yet unknown actress by the name of Lynda Carter.

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The characterisation was based around the 1968 to 1973 era of Wonder Woman in DC Comics, where she gave up all of her Amazonian powers and found a mentor named I Ching, who gave her martial arts training; she also moved away from her usual costume for something far more contemporary, as the stories veered into spy and espionage territory, being rather influenced by the vogue at that time for the genre, including Diana Rigg’s portrayal of Emma Peel in The Avengers.

However, the move was not seen as a popular one, as it had taken a strong female character, depowered her, and made her reliant upon the tutelage of a man. It led to a movement by leading feminist Gloria Steinem to return Wonder Woman to the strong female role model she had previously been, so she was restored to her original status and outfit before the pilot was aired, featuring a more mortal take on the lead; the look of Crosby‘s Wonder Woman was also contentious, as she wore a tracksuit and was blonde haired.

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The script by John D. F. Black – who was associate producer for ten episodes of the first series of the original Star Trek – saw Diana Prince as the assistant of Steve Trevor (Kaz Garas), who works for the US Intelligence Agency. Steve knows that Diana is actually Wonder Woman, and he sets her the task of tracking down and retrieving a set of code books, which have been stolen by Abner Smith (Ricardo Montalban); the books hold crucial information about US government field agents. An extra complication comes in the form of Ahnjayla (Anitra Ford), a rogue Amazon who is Smith’s bodyguard.

The pilot was broadcast by ABC on Tuesday March 12th 1974, and rerun later that same year, on Wednesday August 21st. It failed to attract enough of an audience to get picked up for a series, but it seems ABC still had enough faith in the concept, as Stanley Ralph Ross was asked to come up with his take on Wonder Woman; he wrote a brand new pilot film – The New Original Wonder Woman – which was much more faithful to the character’s comic book heritage, and ended up going to a full series, which ran between 1975 and 1979.

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Crosby did not return for The New Original Wonder Woman, with the part being recast; she later stated she was given the opportunity to reprise the role, but rejected the offer, which meant a new Wonder Woman was required. Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jackson – later to appear in Charlie’s Angela – were amongst the large number of actresses who went up for audition, along with Lynda Carter again. Joanna Cassidy was initially cast, but director Jack Arnold apparently refused to be involved with the TV series unless it was Carter who played Wonder Woman.

Crosby’s one-off stint as the character had seemed destined to be consigned to relative obscurity; however, in issue #6 of DC Comics’ Infinite Crisis series in May 2006, she featured in a single panel, as the Wonder Woman of the Multiverse’s Earth 462. In May 2015’s Wonder Woman ‘77 Special #1, the first of a comic book series based upon Carter’s portrayal, the tale ‘Who Is Wonder Woman?’ has a fake Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor, with their likenesses being based on Cathy Lee Crosby and Kaz Garas from the 1974 pilot.

In December 2012, the 1974 pilot was finally made available to purchase on DVD by Warner Archive Collection, a division of Warner Bros in charge of putting out unreleased films and TV series on DVD-R, as a ‘manufactured-on-demand’ direct online retail service, rather than those particular titles being mass produced and sold in stores.

Wonder Woman (2011)

In October 2010, it was announced that writer and producer David E. Kelley – best known for creating such shows as Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, and Doogie Howser, M.D. – would be working on a pilot for a proposed brand new Wonder Woman television series. In January 2011, Kelley pitched the show to all the major American networks, each of whom initially told him they were not interested in picking up the spec script he had written.

ABC – who had previously aired the 1974 pilot film, as well as the first season of Lynda Carter’s run as the character – were purchased in 1996 by Disney, who later acquired Marvel for a sum of $4 billion at the end of 2009; by early 2011, ABC were already working on a number of Marvel-related series, which included Guillermo del Toro‘s proposed Hulk (which was put on pause in 2013, in favour of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.), along with Jessica Jones and Cloak & Dagger (both of which ended up on streaming services instead).

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CBS – who picked up the second and third seasons of Lynda Carter’s turn as the heroine, under the revised title The New Adventures Of Wonder Woman – had executives who were divided about whether to take on the pilot. Fox felt the show would not be a good fit with their network’s style. The CW – who were due to wrap up their superhero hit Smallville later that year – balked at the cost, feeling that it would be much too expensive to produce. NBC also turned down Kelley, only to do a sudden about-face a short while later.

With NBC now on board, the attention would inevitably turn to who would play Wonder Woman. Eliza Dushku – who was known for playing Faith in Buffy The Vampire Slayer as well as spin-off Angel – had previously expressed her interest in taking up the role when a big screen version was being talked about; although Dushku was inevitably linked with the pilot, and Lynda Carter had previously endorsed her for a film, she distanced herself from such chatter here. The South African model and actress Tanit Phoenix was also rumoured to be in the running.

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A few weeks later, Adrianne Palicki was announced as being picked to play the Amazon Princess. Palicki had form when it came to genre shows, as she had previously appeared as Sam Winchester’s girlfriend in the first episode of Supernatural, as well as playing Jody Robinson in John Woo’s 2004 pilot of The Robinsons: Lost In Space; in addition, she had been cast to play an early version of Supergirl in the third season finale of Smallville, and the makers of that show used her again in 2006 for the unsuccessful pilot of a mooted spin-off series, Aquaman.

Palicki had to actually play a triple role in the series pilot, as not only was she Wonder Woman, as well as her secret alter-ego of Diana Prince, but she also had a third identity: Diana Themyscira, head of Themyscira Industries, a company that funds her crime fighting activities (with the public knowing she is Wonder Woman), with a line of merchandise which is based around the Amazon being a lucrative revenue stream. The day-to-day running of Themyscira Industries is carried out for Diana by Henry Johns (Cary Elwes).

The pilot sees Veronica Cale (Elizabeth Hurley), the head of a pharmaceutical company, being behind the distribution of a performance-enhancing drug which is turning its users into super-soldiers, but can also be fatal following repeated use. Diana is keen to expose Cale’s plan, but finds herself at risk of being on the wrong side of the law, as her activities could be considered as vigilantism. She also has to deal with the local Police, via her liaison Ed Indelicato (Pedro Pascal), and the US Justice Department as well, with her former boyfriend Steve Trevor (Justin Bruening) being her point of contact.

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There were several controversial elements in the pilot, such as Wonder Woman torturing someone for information, and then later killing a security guard by impaling him through the neck with a piece of broken pipe. Wonder Woman’s secret identity of Diana Prince is written here as something of a sad, lonely spinster, who spends her evenings alone with her cat, watching romantic films, and updating her Facebook status. One scene at Themyscira Industries sees Diana Themyscira in a rather heated argument about the size of the breasts on the Wonder Woman doll they are selling.

Had it gone to a series, then Kelley’s Wonder Woman was to have seen flashbacks to Steve Trevor’s crash on Themyscira, as well as a potential appearance by Lynda Carter (possibly in the role of Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta). However, early shots that showed Palicki in one of her three Wonder Woman costumes whilst filming on Hollywood Boulevard had drawn some negative reactions, and the pilot seems to have tested poorly; as a consequence, NBC elected to pass on the project, leaving the pilot episode unbroadcast.

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It was not the end of Palicki’s association with adaptations of comic book properties for TV, as from 2014 to 2016, she was Bobbi ‘Mockingbird’ Morse in ABC’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.; a pilot for a spin-off featuring the character – called Marvel’s Most Wanted – was made in 2016, but not picked up. After this, Palicki went on to portray Commander Kelly Grayson in Seth MacFarlane’s science fiction comedy The Orville. As for Pedro Pascal, not only did he play the lead in Disney+‘s Star Wars series The Mandalorian, he was also cast as the villain Maxwell Lord in 2020’s Wonder Woman 1984.

In addition, this was not to be the only appearance of one of Palicki’s costumes, as it was reused by David E. Kelley in his series Harry’s Law – the episode ‘Gorilla My Dreams’, aired on NBC in January 2012, presented Erica Durance (formerly Lois Lane in Smallville) as a woman who suffered a mental breakdown after years of abuse, and had created a persona where she believed she was actually Wonder Woman, so she went around beating up abusive spouses.

Amazon (2012)

It was just over a year after David E. Kelley’s pilot had been turned down by NBC when it seemed that Wonder Woman might be returning to television after all. The CW network’s DC Comics adaptation Arrow was due to hit the airwaves in October 2012, and in the month before that show’s debut, it was announced that they were also considering a pitch for a Wonder Woman prequel series, to be set during the heroine’s formative years.

Entitled Amazon, it would follow the ethos of the “no tights, no flights” rule of Superman prequel Smallville, which never showed the lead suiting up and taking on their persona until the very last episode. As such, it would be an origin story for the character, set in the present day, and without reference being made to her fantastical backstory. In January 2013, the pilot was pushed back by the network to the 2014/15 season, with the script being worked on by Allan Heinberg.

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A veteran writer for both TV and comics, Heinberg had been involved in the 2006 relaunch of Wonder Woman for DC, in the wake of their Infinite Crisis crossover event, which was to end up rebooting the company’s continuity of its ranges. Heinberg had also penned an off-Broadway play in the early 1990s called The Amazon’s Voice, about a cartoonist who is given the task of retooling the character of Wonder Woman for the modern age; the cartoonist was played by Tim Blake Nelson, who would later appear in 2019’s Watchmen series for HBO.

After talking to Damon Lindelof – who would later become the showrunner on HBO’s Watchmen – about the network’s requirement to deliver a more grounded version of Wonder Woman, Heinberg was advised by Lindelof to just write what he wanted. Heinberg produced a script which saw Diana as a warrior on Themyscira, who encounters Steve Trevor after he crashes there, giving Diana her first exposure to the outside world. She accompanies Steve when he leaves the island, to see what lies beyond the world of the Amazons.

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Scenes apparently hailing from the script were used in order to carry out auditions for the two roles, with the identities of Steve and Diana being hidden under the aliases of ‘Pete’ and ‘Iris’, in order to avoid attracting attention. Scottish actress Amy Manson – who had featured in Being Human and Once Upon A Time – was tipped as the front runner to play Diana. With the show still in development, May 2013 brought news of Heinberg’s script being dropped by the network execs, as the approach he had taken was felt not to be quite what they were looking for.

Heinberg was replaced by Aron Eli Coleite, another writer for both TV and comics; Coleite worked on the NBC genre show Heroes, as well as penning Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men comic book from 2008 to 2009. His script is said to have had more of an Alias-type feel, with a young Diana rebelling against Queen Hippolyta, as she yearns to see what lies outside the confines of Themyscira, and ending up becoming involved in an international conspiracy. Coleite‘s take was felt to be too dark for the network, and in July 2013, it was announced the pilot of Amazon was on pause.

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There were a number of other factors which appear to have contributed to this decision. Firstly, a spin-off from Arrow had been announced, with The Flash being fast-tracked for production; the character had guest-starred in Arrow, and proved popular. Gal Gadot had also recently been revealed in May 2013 as taking on the mantle of Wonder Woman on the big screen, for Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice; both DC and Warner Bros were known to be wary of having more than one live action version of a character at a time, although this seems to have since softened.

In January 2014, it was confirmed that The CW had finally passed on the second pilot script, and they had no plans to revisit Amazon unless they had the right material in place. The final nail in Amazon’s coffin eventually came in August 2017, where the success of that year’s Wonder Woman film ended any prospect of the project being revived. Ironically, the screenplay for the Wonder Woman film was written by Allan Heinberg, who had been working on the film prior to the departure of the original director Michelle MacLaren in early 2015.

Wonder Girl (2020)

In November 2020 came the news that The CW was looking to further expand its slate of ‘Arrowverse’ shows based upon DC Comics characters, with a Wonder Girl pilot script being written by Dailyn Rodriguez. Unlike the Wonder Woman TV show from the 1970s, and the numerous unsuccessful pilots, the lead character here would not actually be Princess Diana of Themyscira; instead, it would be a wholly new character, Yara Flor, who is the daughter of an Amazonian Warrior and a Brazilian River God.

Yara was introduced into the comics in January 2021, as part of a DC Comics event known as Future State, which is set in a possible near-future within the DC universe, and introduces a number of new versions of existing heroes. While Yara was formally Wonder Woman in Future State, the mooted series would see her as Wonder Girl, and would tell her origin story. She would also be the first ever Latina character to headline a DC Comics TV adaptation.

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However, in February 2021, Rodriguez announced on Twitter the Wonder Girl script she wrote was not being picked up by The CW, and they were not moving forward with the project. While it has been suggested that the show may be pitched to streaming service HBO Max – which is part of WarnerMedia, who are joint owner of The CW, as well as owning DC Comics – there has not yet been a formal approach; HBO Max have a DC adaptation of their own already in the works, in the form of a Green Lantern series.

Of course, it seems curious that a Wonder Woman TV series has yet to be picked up by Amazon Prime Video…

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