Monday, April 26, 2010

New Sheriff In Town

"Sheriff Who?" was a failed sitcom pilot that was broadcast precisely once, on September 5, 1967. To the best of my knowledge, it has not been shown publicly since then.

The rather whacked-out premise was -- get this: Evil Roy Slade, the meanest outlaw in the west, rules over a small western town. Every week some passerby gets suckered into taming the town and bringing Roy to justice -- and every week Roy runs him out of town.

This is what I call a "3 AM idea" -- it sounds brilliant after a long night of writing, but when you wake up the next day you realize it's unworkable.

It's hard to believe this premise even got to the writing-the-pilot stage. Even in a zany sitcom, I can't see it working. It's a bit like making Siegfried the star of a sitcom called "KAOS!" and having him kill a new Control agent every week.

The closest equivalent I can think of in a series would be Police Squad always killing off their "Special Guest Star" in the credits. But that was irrelevant to the plot, and we all know how long PS lasted anyway.

The thing is, those fortunate few who saw "Sheriff Who?" in its only airing claim it is one of the funniest half-hours of all time. Dick Shawn plays Crawford Offwhite, "The fastest interior decorator in the West", who is conned into becoming sheriff. John Astin is Evil Roy Slade and the script is by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson.

Marshall and Belson would try again a few years later, making two hour long pilots with Astin as Evil Roy Slade. Shawn is back but plays a different character, sort of a combination of Roy Rogers and Paladin. These pilots were edited into a two hour movie and aired in 1972. This version is now available on DVD. It has some classic gags and Shawn is hilarious.">

There are some slow spots (inevitable given its editing) and frankly, I would've preferred casting a real western villain as Slade rather than Astin. Perhaps Neville Brand. Still, there are enough great moments to make it must viewing for comedy fans.

And someday maybe, just maybe, we will get the chance to see "Sheriff Who?"

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