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Rejected pilots find life as cream of the slop

Times Staff Writer

Every year, the networks make close to 200 TV pilots among them, only about one-third of which ever make it on the air. The rest are consigned to oblivion, or some kind of storage facility. A few of them, though, wind up on the Other Network.

Created by Beth Lapides and Greg Miller in 2002, the Other Network began as a weekly screening series held at a club on Robertson called Luna Park (no relation to the newish restaurant of the same name). The series was successful; the club -- which eventually shut down and reopened as Moomba, then shut down and reopened as Dorscia, then just shut down -- was less so. Meanwhile, the Other Network was taking its proto-shows on the road, to New York, Boston and Washington D.C., and basking in the fulsome attention of the press.

Now it’s back in L.A. after a six-month hiatus. Reincarnated as “a floating festival” dedicated to showing “the best unaired TV shows ever made,” “The Other Network” takes over the main stage at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood at 7:30 tonight, Sunday and Feb. 7. Like a proper festival, this limited run has a slightly more curatorial air than before. The three-night run is book-ended by solo shows; tonight is All-Apatow night and Feb. 7 is All-Odenkirk night, featuring the pilots of writer-producer-comedians Judd Apatow and Bob Odenkirk, respectively, whom Miller calls “the closest thing we have to TV auteurs,” and who will introduce their work in person. Then there’s a sort of experimental group show in between.

Tonight’s screening includes three of Apatow’s pilots: “Life on Parole” (2002), “North Hollywood” (2001) and “Sick in the Head” (1999), all produced by DreamWorks, for Fox, ABC and Fox respectively.

“Life on Parole” stars David Herman as a parole officer who pretty much hates his job but cares enough to temporarily house one of his cases. “North Hollywood,” which stars Amy Poehler and Judge Reinhold as himself, is about a group of struggling actors living in North Hollywood. Poehler plays the out-of-work Reinhold’s personal assistant and baby sitter. Colin Hanks plays himself landing the lead role in the movie “Orange County,” which, in fact, he did. “Sick in the Head” stars David Krumholtz as a therapist just starting out. Poehler returns as his insane -- and only -- client, who gets involved with Krumholtz’s roommate, an out-of-shape personal trainer played by Kevin Corrigan. All three have screened before but are worth seeing together.

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The Feb. 7 screening features Odenkirk’s unaired sketch comedy pilot, “Next!” produced by 20th TV for Fox in 2002; “Highway to Oblivion,” produced by and for Comedy Central in 2003; and “Life on Mars,” produced by and for HBO in 1994. “Next!” recalls a sketch comedy show in the British style, free-form and associative, though only intermittently funny.

“Highway to Oblivion” and “Life on Mars” are worth catching, if only to marvel at what it would have been like if they had actually gone to series. Both are panicky and suffused with a weird sense of dread, and darkly funny in the way that can keep you up at night. “Highway,” which is structured exactly like an E! True Hollywood Story, is about a celebrity-obsessed, delusional loser who leaves his hometown for Hollywood after briefly meeting the actor Dave Foley (who plays himself, post “News Radio”). Erskine takes him up on a casual, insincere invitation to look him up if he’s ever in town. “Life on Mars” is a surreal, meandering drama-comedy starring Janeane Garofalo and Odenkirk as Hollywood writers who hang out at a cafe and organize a poetry reading for their idol, Warholian protege Lou Cage. There is no speedier way to describe “Life on Mars” than as the anti-"Friends.” It would have premiered in the same year as that show, which would have only added to its thwarted evil-twin potential.

On Sunday, the Other Network presents greatest hits from another popular local series, Channel 101, which normally screens Sundays at Cinespace, in Hollywood. The series presents original five-minute shows, many of them by veteran TV writers, created for the Channel 101 series and shown to a live audience. The audience votes for the series they’d like to see continue into the following week. Some last for months until they are voted out of existence. Channel 101 was conceived by and is programmed by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab, the people responsible for the legendary “Heat Vision and Jack,” the “Citizen Kane” of DOA sitcom pilots (if “Citizen Kane” was about an omniscient former astronaut and his talking motorcycle starring Jack Black and the voice of Owen Wilson).

Current shows in the Channel 101 series include “The ‘Bu” (about a group of beautiful, artfully awkward and studiously squirrelly teenagers in Malibu, and an animated network mascot that keeps intruding on their deep scenes) and “Time Belt,” also featuring Black. Canceled, long-running favorites include an animated show about an aristocratic alligator and his loutish arachnid sidekick, called “Ringwald and Molly.”

If Channel 101 at once mocks and embraces the TV-making process, the All-Apatow and All-Odenkirk evenings exude a sort of combat fatigue and site-specific malaise. “Sick in the Head,” “North Hollywood,” “Life on Mars” and “Highway to Oblivion” are all set, more or less explicitly, in what would typically be described as “the underbelly” of Los Angeles, even though it actually composes the larger part of the hog. They feel, curiously, like industrial byproducts, albeit useful ones, like petroleum jelly. It’s like TV for people who make TV, or want to make TV, or watch so much TV that life seems to imitate it.

*

‘The Other Network’

Where: The Knitting Factory, 7021 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: 7:30 tonight (All-Apatow night), Sunday (Channel 101 night) and Feb. 7 (All-Odenkirk night)

Ends: Feb. 7

Price: $10

Contact: (323) 463-0204


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