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Waiting for a date

Shelved shows seek alternative outlets

NBC execs hope you forget about “Thick and Thin.”

Wait a sec — you probably never knew about “Thick and Thin.” The comedy, from “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels, was slated to hit the air this spring. The show was cast, written, shot, edited and sent out to critics.

It’s now July, and “Thick and Thin” has about as much chance of getting on the air as Star Jones Reynolds has of being asked back to “The View.”

This is what could be called network purgatory — where shows that never make it on the air now lie in limbo. They didn’t “premiere,” so they were never really “cancelled.”

These phantom shows simply take up space in someone’s closet.

“In many cases, they’re complete write-offs,” says 20th Century Fox TV prexy Gary Newman. “Sometimes, despite our best efforts, they don’t work. You have to be realistic.”

At least the film world has the direct-to-video market, or even a pay cable window for films that fail to score wide release. Until recently, TV had nothing.

But these orphaned shows now have hope of being adopted by the DVD market, or getting uploaded to a Web site like YouTube.

Pariah Ent. principal Gavin Polone still believes enough in his 2003 show “The Ortegas” that he’s talking to distributors about releasing it on DVD.

Six episodes of “The Ortegas” were produced, and Fox even put it on its sked — but the show, based on the hit BBC series “The Kumars at No. 42,” never aired.

Still, Polone believes there would be interest in the series, which starred Cheech Marin and Al Madrigal as part of a family that builds a talk show studio in their San Fernando Valley house. Not only did several famous guests show up in the six segs, but Polone says the show should appeal to Latino auds.

“I think it has some value as an original series that never made it to air,” Polone says. “I thought the show was funny and the talent terrific, but the networks are so easily spooked by one concept or another.”

Polone says he’s been itching to finally bring “The Ortegas” to the public, but just recently hammered out a deal with U.K. production company Hat Trick (which produced “Kumars”) to secure DVD rights.

DVD releases of never-aired shows are still rare; you’re more likely to see shows that premiered, but quickly failed. (Witness the success on DVD of short-lived skeins like “Firefly.”)

In that scenario, Newman hasn’t ruled out the possibility of putting the John Stamos laffer “Jake in Progress” on DVD, even though the show’s second season was canceled after one episode.

Internet could also be an option — witness “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence’s recent attempt to drum up support for his pilot “Nobody’s Watching” by posting it on YouTube.

But Newman warns that music clearance and other issues may make even an Internet run unlikely (unless, a disgruntled cast or crew member with access to the episodes uploads them).

“If those costs are substantial, it makes no economic sense at all,” Newman says.

Of course, because shows like “Thick and Thin” and “The Ortegas” didn’t make it to air, any afterlife is still small consolation: It’s not going to make up for the cash the network and studio were forced to eat by keeping the show hidden from view.

“It takes a really small amount of sting out,” Newman says. “It’s not going to offset your deficit.”

In these competitive times, cold feet has become more common. And unlike the old days, the nets aren’t willing to burn off their mistakes in the summertime.

So you’ll never catch Fox’s drama “Still Life” either. And don’t count on ever watching ABC’s reality skein “Welcome to the Neighborhood.”

“You most likely don’t have any holding deals with the talent or anyone, so that oftentimes when you put them on, it already doesn’t matter how it does,” says one exec, who did not want to be identified. “You can’t unscramble the egg. So you’re better off not putting it on, which might create more problems for you.”

And by the time a show is pushed to summer, net execs will usually decide they have bigger priorities than putting a show on that has no future — especially when it comes to allocating promo time.

The exec says viewers can also sniff out whether a network is truly behind a show that’s been cast aside.

“They say to themselves, ‘The network won’t make a commitment to the show, so why bother?’ ”

No network exec would admit it, but there’s also a chance that, by airing a show they’ve already given up for dead, they could be proven wrong.

NBC came close to dumping “Just Shoot Me” before it aired; but with eight episodes in the can, the Peacock relented — and the show lasted seven seasons.

In other cases, there’s just not enough rationale to go to air — even though the show’s been paid for and the episodes are completed.

With “Thick and Thin,” net execs weren’t overjoyed by the pilot, which starred Jessica Capshaw as a once-overweight woman who slims down and must adjust to her newly svelte life. And, they thought, the show never got any better.

And when it came to “The Ortegas,” Polone says Fox didn’t believe the talkshow portion was attracting enough high-profile guests. It was a quiet demise for a show that initially sparked a fierce bidding war between NBC and Fox.

“It was frustrating in that they never called me personally,” Polone says. “They were really cowardly about it.”

“Still Life” had its fans and detractors at Fox, but the detractors won out. “Neighborhood” didn’t have quality problems — just fair- housing ones, as ABC’s lawyers got antsy over its premise (let homeowners choose their neighbors, a no-no in real life).

The oddest case of a shelved show goes back to 1976.

In one of the most infamous last-minute yanks, NBC had several episodes of comedian David Brenner’s hairdresser comedy “Snip” ready to air in 1976. The show was heavily promoted, but NBC execs allegedly realized at the last minute that one of the supporting characters was gay. (A lot has changed in 30 years.)

Your best bet to see a shelved show? Move to a foreign country.

Some shows that never see the light of day in the U.S. still manage to get an airdate overseas. As part of the majors’ international output deals, foreign outlets still receive copies of shows even if they didn’t air in the States — and many of those broadcasters air ’em anyway.

That’s how episodes of ABC’s short-lived (and by that we mean one episode) “Emily’s Reasons Why Not” wound up running in Latin America, even though the Alphabet canned the show before Reason No. 2.

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