‘Heat Vision and Jack’: Knowledge is Power… For Real!

The wonders of sharing footage and communicating with sapiens of similar tastes can be a blessing or a nuclear bomb for television nowadays. Forums of a show can be where creators get their most intimate feedback, and fan pages are where a show might be petitioned to return, sometimes to actual avail. But one of the more fascinating uses for TV fans on the internet is the ability to witness behind the scenes footage and features, things that never made it to the airwaves. This is the case for failed pilots like Conan O’Brien’s satirical crime show Lookwell, the clumsy American remake of Spaced that existed for all of five seconds, and possibly the buried pleasure of unaired pilots: Heat Vision and Jack.

In 1999, Ben Stiller created the pilot of Heat Vision and Jack for Fox. Channel 101 and The Sarah Silverman Program co-creaters Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab wrote the sitcom’s pilot. The show stars Jack Black, Owen Wilson’s vocal chords, and Ron Silver in the role of his lifetime: himself. Framed as the fourteenth episode in an ongoing saga, it shared a fragment of the adventures of renegade ex-astronaut Jack Austin (Black), who flew too close to the sun, leaving him with the side effect of his brain expanding at exposure to sunlight; alongside Heat Vision (Wilson), a talking motorcycle fused with the brain of Jack’s old roommate, he flees from the lengthy reach of Ron Silver (Silver) and NASA, who are determined to experiment on Jack. Along they way, they encounter supernatural and extraterrestrial crimes that only the expanded brain of Jack can solve. It’s high concept.

For a while, the pilot seemed scheduled to fade into the sunset in the memories of the cast, crew, a few critics, and executives whose jobs were to reject Ben Stiller. However, with the advent of YouTube, the pilot found its away online to a wider audience than ever before. Journalists revered it. Civilians embraced it. YouTube user frivolitom wrote, “This is honestly the best thing I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a chick naked.” It gained a cult following of people that probably would have watched it had it been picked up.

Many journalists have reviewed the pilot and observed how it was practically a new entry in the 80’s action show genre. Noel Murray of The A.V. Club noted that it might be best that this pilot never got picked up as it remains a relic of the 90’s that cannot be changed. No arguments there, it does remain a remnant of the growing style of humor that folks like Ben Stiller and Dan Harmon would embrace in the future. That’s where today’s big question comes in: Would FOX have picked up Heat Vision and Jack had it been pitched within the past four years?

Some could argue that, most definitely, Heat Vision and Jack could have been picked up and ran a season or half at the very least. The 21st century of television has become a lot less united in themes and genres. There are no shows that will easily get as many viewers as  Friends or even Cheers might have on an off day.

The fragmented viewership has lead to different types of shows emerging in television’s culture and a lot more niche type shows becoming frequent. This can be attributed to cable for channels like IFC and Adult Swim, but even the broadcast networks have joined the trend. Just look at Dan Harmon’s very own Community, a tongue-in-cheek, trope loving romp through community college, the show is on its fifth season, something that might have never happened in the 90’s on a broadcast channel.

Heat Vision and Jack will remain a 90’s pilot that never saw the light of day. Everyone involved went on to be successful in some shape or form for some duration of time. Nonetheless, if it were pitched years later, we’d be seeing people on forums hoping that it gets picked up for a second season and that a true episode fourteen would be reached.

About Alex Prekop

Film student. Likes film. Does not actually resemble Alfred Hitchcock.

Posted on August 10, 2013, in Cool TV Video of The Day, Failed Pilots, Fox, Sitcoms, TV Shows You Should Know and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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