TV Discussion

Halloween With The New Addams Family – 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.

As TV sitcom contemporaries, it would appear The Addams Family and The Munsters are hardy perennials, having seen a number of different attempts at revivals over the decades since the shows went off the air only a few short weeks apart in 1966. These things do tend to come in cycles, so 2022 has already seen Rob Zombie’s movie prequel of The Munsters, and late November brings us Netflix’s Wednesday, an eight-part mini-series, from Tim Burton, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar.

Some of the efforts to reanimate both properties have seen varying degrees of success. The Munsters was first to have a crack at the big screen, in 1966’s Munster, Go Home!, but it would be more than two decades before they were to return to television. For The Addams Family, the first try at giving them a new lease of life on the cathode ray tube came with a TV special made in 1972, The Addams Family Fun House. It was a pilot produced for ABC, which took on the format of a musical variety show.

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The script for The Addams Family Fun House was written by Jack Riley and Liz Torres, who also appeared in the special as Gomez and Morticia. Riley was best known for his recurring role on The Bob Newhart Show, and would later provide the voice of Stu Pickles in Rugrats. The only original member of the original TV version of The Addams Family to return was Felix Silla playing Cousin Itt. In a curious twist, Butch Patrick – Eddie Munster in The Munsters – would end up portraying Pugsley Addams.

The 30-minute pilot featured song and dance numbers, as well as comic skits, with the style having been described as being reminiscent of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. It would be aired across the country in 1973 and 1974, after not being picked up for a full series by ABC. The Addams Family Fun House remains something of an enigma, as copies of it have yet to surface, and the status of the master copy is unknown, so it is considered to be a piece of lost media. So far, the only known visual evidence of it is a single cast photograph which was printed in issue 21 of Castle Of Frankenstein magazine in 1974.

In fairness, while The Addams Family Fun House was to be their first live-action return to the small screen, they were seen in animated form turning up in an episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which aired in the September of 1972. In ‘Scooby-Doo Meets The Addams Family’, several of the TV sitcom players would response their roles, with the return of John Astin (Gomez), Carolyn Jones (Morticia), Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester), and Ted Cassidy (Lurch). The characters were drawn in line with the artwork of cartoonist Charles Addams, rather than how they had appeared in the flesh.

This episode would appear to have acted as something of a backdoor pilot, as Hanna-Barbera – who had produced The New Scooby-Doo Movies – were commissioned to produce an animated version of The Addams Family for CBS. It ran on Saturday mornings from 1973 to 1975, with only Coogan and Cassidy returning to provide vocals for their characters, and everyone else being recast. Interestingly, one of the actors in the cartoon was a ten year old Jodie Foster, who – rather than playing Wednesday, as one might expect – actually provided the voice of Pugsley.

With The Addams Family cartoon being transmitted during the 1970s, and the original version broadcast in syndication, Charles Addams’ creepy creations were seemingly never far from the public gaze. The idea of a ‘reunion show’ was still a relatively new innovation, with only a couple of examples of this having aired, one of which was a feature length pilot for a revival of 1950s detective drama Dragnet, which was to hit the airwaves in 1969. It would be one of the first examples of a TV show being revived with original cast members, and as a continuation of the series, rather than a reboot.

The idea seemed to have gained traction in 1977, with a pair of made-for-TV movies reuniting the cast of sitcom Father Knows Best, which were shown in May and December of that year on NBC. The network would also air Murder At Peyton Place in October 1977, bringing back the stars of the 1960s prime time soap opera Peyton Place, the programme which had originally been inspired by the success of Coronation Street in the UK. Something certainly seemed to be in the air that year, as networks started to look for other properties to try and resurrect.

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Before 1978 saw the return of both Maverick and Gilligan’s Island for further outings, The Addams Family would pip them to the post, with a reunion special that was produced for airing at Halloween 1977. Whereas the original series had been made for ABC, NBC seemed to be riding the nostalgia bandwagon, as they picked up this new production, adding to the roster of Father Knows Best and Peyton Place revivals on the network from the same year.

The title of the special – Halloween With The New Addams Family – was something of a misnomer, as it would see the return of the majority of the original actors from the 1960s series. The only notable exception here was Blossom Rock as Grandmama, as the actress had suffered a stroke in late 1967 which had affected her speech, and prevented her reprising the role, with the part being taken on instead by Jane Rose. Rock is reported to have watched the special upon broadcast while in hospital, and she passed away a few months later, in January 1978.

With Lisa Loring and Ken Weatherwax playing older versions of Wednesday and Pugsley – who were studying at a music academy, and away training to be a witch doctor at a Nairobi medical school, respectively – there were two new additions to the family, with Wednesday Junior (Jennifer Surprenant) and Pugsley Junior (Ken Marquis), as Morticia and Gomez’s newest offspring. Henry Darrow would also join the line-up as Pancho Addams, Gomez’s untrustworthy brother, who once courted Morticia, and still lusts after her.

Halloween With The New Addams Family was produced by Charles Fries Productions, which was also behind the CBS TV movie Spider-Man, transmitted on September 14th 1977, and was the pilot for the series starring Nicholas Hammond as the wallcrawling webslinger. Dennis Steinmetz was given the task of directing the special, having previously helmed eleven episodes of the fantasy series Land Of The Lost, and would go on to produce and direct on daytime soaps The Bold And The Beautiful and Santa Barbara.

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Composer and screenwriter George Tibbles – who co-wrote ‘The Woody Woodpecker Song’ – would pen the script, with David Levy – who originally brought The Addams Family to television in 1964 – acting as the producer. Vic Mizzy – who had composed The Addams Family theme music – returned to score the special, including a rather strange version of the famous opening tune. The only exception here was the song ‘A Merry, Shh, Creepy Hallowe’en’, which was the joint work of Levy (words) and Tibbles (music).

Since the end of the original series, the house that was used as the exterior of the Addams’ residence – 0001 Cemetery Lane – was no more. The location was 21 Chester Place, with the land on which it sat being a satellite campus of St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles. Shots of the house exterior had been augmented with props and matte paintings in order to give that distinctive look to the Addams’ family home. In 1967, with the series having ended a year earlier, 21 Chester Place was demolished by the college and turned into a parking lot, with the site later being turned into a track and field facility in the 1980s.

As a result, a new location was now required to double for the Addams’ casa de familia, with the job ultimately going to the Higgins/Verbeck/Hirsch Mansion, which can be found at 637 South Lucerne Boulevard in LA. Left to fall into disrepair over the years, the house was used for both interior and exterior filming on Halloween With The New Addams Family. It was later to be employed as a location for a Halloween episode of Beverly Hills 90210, and horror movie Willard, before it was finally retired from showbusiness duties and fully restored, being designated a Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Monument in 1988.

Whereas The Addams Family was shot on black and white film, Halloween With The New Addams Family was recorded on colour videotape, which gives it quite a garish appearance in comparison to what viewers were used to seeing, and makes it feel rather cheap. However, there is at least some novelty value here in seeing (most of) the original cast appearing in colour, and getting one last outing. It may have been purely an economic measure, as videotape could be reused, and it would allow for multiple takes, whereas budget would limit the amount of coverage able to be shot on film.

The story of Halloween With The New Addams Family sees Gomez being lured away from the Addams’ residence under false pretences, as preparations are being made for a family Halloween party. Behind the ruse are a bunch of criminals, hoping to steal away the vast fortune they think is secreted in the homestead, and attending the Halloween shindig by pretending to be distant relations of the Addams clan. The celebrations are based around the legend of Cousin Shy, a Santa-like character who carves pumpkins and also brings presents at Halloween.

Broadcast on October 30th 1977, Halloween With The New Addams Family had been planned as a pilot for a potential new series, but nothing came of it, and this would be the last occasion that the principal cast of The Addams Family would ever appear together in character on camera. The possibility of there being future reunions was thwarted by the death of Ted Cassidy in January 1979, following complications after a surgical procedure. Carolyn Jones passed away in the August of 1983, having suffered from cancer, and Jackie Coogan died in March of the following year from cardiac arrest.

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Halloween With The New Addams Family had vanished into relative obscurity for a number of years, before finally seeing a release on VHS in 1989 by GoodTimes Home Video. It also had a rerun as part of Elvira’s Halloween Movie Schlock-A-Thon in 1993. In our current digital, on-demand streaming age, it was only a matter of time before Halloween With The New Addams Family was made available legitimately again, rather than people having to rely upon dodgy ripped copies uploaded to video sharing platforms, and it has been added to American services such as Pluto TV, Hulu, and Amazon’s Prime Video.

With its references to Jimmy Carter and Star Wars, you could say that Halloween With The New Addams Family is a rather curious piece of ephemera, and in some ways it also feels to have dated less well than its progenitor series. However, any opportunity to have the original Addams clan back in action one more time is still a welcome one, and with this special’s 45th anniversary approaching, there certainly seems like no better time than now to make a call on The Addams Family, and spend 74 altogether ooky minutes in their company for this final gathering.

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