The (Mostly) Failed Pilot Project: The Popcorn Kid (1987)

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Welcome to (or back to) 80s Baby! If you’re new here, I spent a year publishing essays about the things I loved as a child and the role that they played in shaping who I eventually became as an adult. If you enjoy this article please stick around and check out some of that writing. After that first year, the pace of keeping to the M-W-F schedule while also working an actual job got to be a bit much for me and I took a step back. Since then, I’ve made a few attempts to update the site, but for the most part I haven’t done much writing here in the last two years. 

This represents an effort to try to change that. Today I’d like to present to you the first entry in The (Mostly) Failed Pilot Project. With these entries I intend to watch and review pilot episodes of television shows that either went unsold or resulted in very short-lived television series. I decided to take up this topic because I am fascinated by failed television pilots. The universe of what could have been in terms of television is in many ways much more interesting than what is and was, mostly I think because the shows that succeed tend to fit into well-established categories. When presented with something a little less common versus something that’s been proven to work, it’s obvious what the choice is going to be. There’s a reason that police procedurals choke the airwaves and sitcoms featuring talking marionettes that belonged to somebody’s late great-uncle do not. 

Of course, a lot of these pilots didn’t succeed because they were terrible, not just because they were cop or lawyer free. The fun is in the finding out. For awhile around 2018 I did a podcast about failed pilots called “Small Screen Casualties.” I don’t think it’s around anywhere because I stopped paying for hosting and I wiped the files to save harddrive space, but if you’re so inclined you can poke around online and try to locate them. If you were a listener, I’m going to try to avoid re-watching the pilots I covered on it. It’ll depend on how long I keep these essays going. I am going to start out attempting to update at least a few times every month. Okay, that’s enough prelude. Let’s get into it!

What we are getting into is The Popcorn Kid, a 1987 CBS sitcom that ran for a month and aired six episodes. Those additional five episodes is why I added “Mostly” to the title; when I put it on I didn’t realize it wasn’t a one off, but I ended up engaged enough to still want to cover it. Before I go further, if you don’t want a 35 year old sitcom pilot spoiled for you, you can watch it here

Oh good, spoilers averted. The first thing that jumped out at me when I put on The Popcorn Kid was the level of talent involved. While I wasn’t familiar with the lead, Bruce Norris, the other three actors who play high school aged ushers are Penelope Ann Miller, Jeffrey Joseph, and Faith Ford. Penelope Ann Miller appeared in Adventures in Babysitting the same year that this tv show debuted, and a few years later she became a legitimate movie star. Jeffrey Joseph may not be a household name but he works steadily, most recently in recurring roles on Ghostwriter, A Million Little Things, and Big Sky, and if you did any stand up in NYC in the last 15 years you probably attended or appeared on a show he was on. I personally get excited when I see him show up in Scrooged during our annual December viewings. Like all normal 8 year olds I was a Murphy Brown fan, so of course I know Faith Ford. Overall, pretty solid cast and a treat to see them playing high school students. 

Faith Ford

The plot is straight forward if thin: The main character Scott Cressman works at the Majestic Theater in St. Louis because he dreams of being involved in show business in some capacity. His love for movies is illustrated by him sneaking off to the projectionist’s booth to watch the movies being shown with Marlin the projectionist. Gwen (Miller) is the usher next door who quietly crushes on Scott, Willie (Joseph) is the jock and ladies’ man who works at the theater to finance his dating life, and Lynn Holly (Ford) is the school cheerleader and object of Scott’s affection whose parents have decided needs to hold a job. When a planner arrives to talk to theater manager Leonard Brown, the ushers discover that unseen theater owner Mr. Tuttle is going to turn the Majestic into a multiplex to make more money. Scott makes an impassioned plea to Tuttle over the phone to reconsider, pointing out that if the theater instead received landmark status, it would be a tourist attraction and Tuttle would get a tax break. The episode ends with Tuttle having decided to consider it and Brown commending Scott for his passion. 

That was pretty much it for The Popcorn Kid. It’s an easy watch but the lack of stakes explains why it only lasted six episodes before cancellation. 

At some point in the series Ed Asner shows up.

Did this show deserve a longer shelf-life? Not really. The primary appeal for me was seeing Miller, Joseph, and Ford as young actors playing teens. I do think that if this had been made ten years later it would have been crammed with movie references to establish Scott’s bonafides a la Dawson Leery in Dawson’s Creek, which probably wouldn’t have made it a better show but we could have gotten some incredible insight into the filmmaking genius of Steven Spielberg, I guess.

Any Memorable Quotes? I enjoyed when Marlin said, “This is all I know how to do. Well this, and shadow puppet theater.”

Hey, thanks for reading. If you’d like to check out future entries provided I actually stick with it this time around, sign up for email notifications.


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