JLI Podcast – Meanwhile… Justice League of America Unaired Pilot (1997)

PATREON PICK! Because the Patreon supporters demanded it, we tackle the 1997 unaired pilot for JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA! Rob Kelly, Chris Franklin, and Max Romero join The Irredeemable Shag to discuss (and try to find joy within) this train wreck of a pilot!

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27 responses to “JLI Podcast – Meanwhile… Justice League of America Unaired Pilot (1997)

  1. Pandemic, economic collapse, murder hornets, cicadas, political strife, & now this?! Haven’t we been through enough?

  2. Does this mean there’s a patreon tier to make Rob do a whole series on Superman 4??? Tell me more!

  3. I’ve never seen this, and now I never will. Thank you for your service.

    In seriousness, great show, guys. Fun, lively discussion.

  4. I bought this pilot at a comic shop and watched it (and the Legends of the Super Heroes Specials) with my girlfriend. And we really enjoyed it. As a matter of fact I watched it again just last night just to refresh my memory and I still enjoy it. (Mind you the last time I watched it before last night was just after I saw the Justice League movie about three years ago.)
    I do recall a wizard/JLA special that said the existence of this pilot was actually listed as a reason why it took so long for Justice League the Animated series to be made.

  5. I had the good fortune(?) of purchasing a bootleg of the extended pilot with the interstitials. A few thoughts:

    First off, exceptional job. I wish Ryan and Cindy had been there to add their perspectives, but I know how hard it is to corral everyone. Given the length of the episode, I’m surprised you didn’t opt for doing a commentary. Especially since these are Shagg’s bread and butter characters for this show.

    Warners had been trying to get a Justice League show live action show off the ground since Batman hit big. That’s how you ended up with the Flash – he spun out of a different pitch.

    Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo had been asked to consult on this thing. They quickly stepped away after seeing what was happening with it.

    Personally, I side with my brother Rob on this one. Its heart is in the right place. And I agree that the highlight of the show are the ‘confessionals’. And the best one of those was the one that ended with Settle’s, “…and he’s GREEN…”

    Costumes – yes, they aren’t good. yes, they are rough. But I think you guys are forgetting something pretty important from a production standpoint — the costume dept. is responsible for multiple versions. There are at least 2 outfits made per main character. And the “hero” version (the one for close-ups) is always the most expensive. The show needed a set for each main character. That eats up significantly into the budget.

    The special effects – Wonky, yes. But this was the late 90s. And while Star Trek was around, they didn’t have to create an effect for each of their leads. This show had to figure out how to do an icing effect, flying, 3-d green constructs, shrinking, morphing, fire stuff, speed, and the weather stuff. That’s a lot. And that eats into your budget, too.

    I think the problem is this show tried way too much.

    As for the performances, I think they were all pretty solid. Not everyone was given great material with which to work, but it was an honorable effort.

    I forgot who mentioned that this thing failed as a pilot because it wasn’t broadcast. That’s not really how it worked back then. Sometimes a network would show a pilot as a movie of the week to test interest. Sometimes they’d be burned off in the summer months as ‘specials.’ Just because it didn’t get aired doesn’t make it a failure. It was a failure because it wasn’t picked up.

  6. I’m only a few minutes in, but it occurs to me that Patreon works as a kind of 21st century dunking booth.

    I approve.

  7. I thought I had seen this pilot before on YouTube about ten years ago. And I do remember going “Wow! I don’t have to do that again. I hope in the future, some pack of fools offer me an opportunity to pay them to HAVE to watch it.” My master plan evolved.

    Now that Shagg posted that Daily Motion link, I thought “well, I suppose I should pander to the children and watch again.” And I’m glad that Shagg posted it — and that I watched it!

    The interstitials as you called them – we’re completely new to my memory, and to the production’s credit – made an entirely different movie out of it. It truly was the water cooler pitch of: “what if Friends met the JLI from the late ’80s?”

    Unfortunately, the time span from back of conceal napkin to filming, a number of things happened, and as Rob said, has to be brought into account. I do think now that Marvel MCU and to some extent the DC EU, and the Berlanti verse, has given us all of the cookies and ice cream we wanted — and left us with a snobbish aftertaste of the old ribbon candy left in Grandma’s living room.

    In terms of the study of history, we call that “Presentism”, and it’s never a fair assessment of a bygone era or project. I agree with what everyone has said about it, and now that I see that FULL production (Snyder cut parallels, anyone?)- I think the JLA pilot does have more of a cookie flavour than we know.

    I’m not sure what they spent on this film, but it certainly wasn’t the 2017 JL film’s bloated budget — but I don’t know. I have to say that 1997 does give me a nice snack that didn’t make me start screaming for a new version. (Snyder cut parallels, anyone?)

    I shared all the quibbles – the defanged Green Lantern HalGuyKyle hodge-podge, the weak-sauce Flash (maybe he meant to say “Bart” Allen? – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and the first hack at-it costumes – I can’t say I hate it. And I think I like this Ray Palmer better than the overgrown fan boy from Legends of Tomorrow – at least he acts like a scientist.

    Well, this was a great show, everyone, even Shagg, and I think this filled a hole in our understanding of how under-funded our genre was, before the suits and the Mouse actually started to take it seriously.

    Fan the Flame and Ride the Wave, all.

    Ranger Gord.

  8. Obviously live action versions of JLI are cursed, killing any show they appear on! Personally I’m a character kind of person, obviously, so I quite liked the talking head moments the most though I didn’t recall much of the plot so that says a lot really.

    Of cause at least they have had live action appearance, unlike someone I could mention 😀 , still if Star Girl can have Johnny bloody Thunder that there’s hope for the future…

  9. Thanks guys, I haven’t laughed this hard in two months. But I have to admit , I going to dig this out in the morning. Once again thank you for the joy.

  10. I have never seen it before, so thank you Shag for posting the link to view it before listening to the show. And you know what? That’s a sincere “thank you.” Was it a good pilot? Nah. But did it have good things? Heck yeah! I have no regrets watching it.

    The actors did a really good job overall, and the Friends parallel is hilarious. As for who is “Rachel”, in terms of personality, definitely B.B. In terms of role in the show, Rachel was the new element to the group and Ross immediately was attracted to her, which makes the character Tori. Showing they didn’t stick to the formula 100%, which is fine, and worked well for these actresses, as well as their Fire and Ice personas.

    Wait, is “B.B.” an incredibly oblique nod to Blue Beetle?

    Oh, Blue Lantern’s costume. When I first saw the images, I thought “oh no, his costume’s blue.” But now another thought. What if the costume was blue intentionally with the idea of using some special effects for its color? And then realized they had no budget left until it was too late? I know, very unlikely.

    Just one final thought. Another infamously bad TV pilot was made for Power Pack. Louise Simonson said of it on another podcast, “They … tried so hard.” I felt the same about this.

    Your discussion was hilarious. Thank you all so much!

  11. Hey guys, loved the show. I had no clue this was supposed to be a Friends Super Ripoff, and I am a huge Friends fan from the first season on so I am surprised I did not catch on to that.

    I have to say, there is one real good special effect in the show. The Tidal wave scene. You may not know this, but I am sure you do, but the tidal wave scene was taken from the deleted scenes of James Cameron’s “The Abyss”. I spotted it the very first time I watched this pilot, though I have not seen the version with the interstitials.

    I am going get my wife and son to watch this with me now to see if we can tell who is supposed to be which friend.

    Don’t stop recording, I’ve got a fever, and it’s the only cure.
    Brian Hughes
    3rd Degree Byrne

  12. I had been aware of this show since 1997, but – other than a couple of still photos – had never seen it until Shag posted the Daily Motion link on Twitter, so… errr…. Thanks? I think?

    I had always wondered how this came to be made; why would DC award the licence for one of their flagship titles to a production company who were never in a position to have the budget to invest in the necessary effects, costumes & props? The ways of the entertainment industry are dark and mysterious indeed.

    There seemed to me to be far too much “Tell, Don’t Show” in the script: Tori/Tora’s opening words of the pilot are about how under-confident she is, and Ray tells us in every other sentence what an unlucky-in-love nice guy he is. In any medium, a more engaging story would show those traits being played out in the scenes, rather than a character verbalising them right out loud.

    The female characters are much better developed than the boys, who are just off the rack stereotypes, but understanding the ‘Friends’ parallel did help to make more sense of what might have been intended for Guy, Ray and Barry in particular. However, radically altering the nature of these named characters was never going to play well with the geek audience, and anyone unfamiliar with comics who might be tempted to watch this thing wasn’t going to know or care anyway.
    My main issue with the characters was that I just wasn’t that interested in them. The team’s civilian identities were all – to one extent or another – dull losers, and in ways that were well-worn and predictable tropes.

    Being unfamiliar with ‘The Real World’, the interstitial interviews to camera reminded me of nothing so much as the couples interviews during the movie ‘When Harry Met Sally’ – perhaps that might explain why the JLofA characters seemed more flirtatious and intimate with one another in these scenes?

    Oh, and as someone who grew up on 70’s Dr Who, let me assure Rob that you can still do some OK costumes on more limited budgets than this show had!

    All snarkiness aside, this was a fascinating time-capsule back to the mid-1990’s, and – if it was a flop – the team involved certainly tried to create a series with its own sense of quirky charm. Thanks for the opportunity to experience it 23 years after the fact. (…although I’m not sure it merits a re-watch, though!)

  13. Okay, so I tried to do my homework and watch the pilot, and I didn’t make it very far. I got to the scene where “Guy” has to bail on his date after singing to her, and I just couldn’t take any more. The characterization of “Barry” was bad enough, but I’ve seen so Barry Allen given the personality of at least some version of Wally West enough times now that I guess this time just got some kind of a retroactive “pass.” However, seeing Guy portrayed as Kyle Rayner (maybe?) was just too much. The amateurish/bad acting I can forgive, as I can actually enjoy the “Superboy” live action show for what it is, but the utterly random characterization just yanked me out of the show. Yes, it’s a case of knowing the source material being an obstacle to enjoyment, but if they didn’t want to use Guy Gardner, why not just call him Kyle Rayner? I mean, it’s not like Guy was a well-known cultural touchstone for the Green Lantern brand out there in the mainstream at the time. However, I agree that the lack of cynicism was apparent, and it anything, all of your comments during the wrap-up have perhaps (perhaps!) convinced to give this…thing…another shot. Excellent episode! This is when you really see how Patreon makes a difference! Also, of course, thank the Source for Xum and all he still continues to give us.

  14. Impressive podcast. Most impressive. I saw this on U tube years ago. Before it got pulled. Oh my body shaming David Allen Ogden Stiers ? That’s just wrong. Just cause he’s not bathing suit model ready. Oh my. Ware is Gal and Gerard Conway to be out raged. I guess if the Man hunter did a diamonds are a girls best friend then they would be mad, but no…. no one cares. Or had Crimson Fox show up to badly pic pock a Dimond from the Weather Wizard. Also the Super Hero Roast had a better Huntress costume in it than BOP. So this pilot has a lot in conmen with the BOP movie. And This tv show also has a plot… unlike BOP. So this pilot Ok moving on. That was my last BOP joke. I’m not sure

    But, Miguel Ferrer’s ascent may have hurt him as J’ohn. Since he sounds very New York. Maybe give him a wig and he could have been Guy. And Matthew Settle could have been J’ohn. With David as the Weather Wizard. Kimberly Oja was great as Ice. As for homes acting like Hal, hey it works since Ryan Reynolds basically played Guy in the Green Lantern movie. So it works. John Kassir was cool as the Adam. And since he was once married to Julie Marie Benz. The Man has game so I can believe he could date Ice.

    Yeah he’s basically Peter Parker as an adult when he was a teacher. Iraqi father from Mosul and a Syrian headage. There Atom is now Arabic. No Rob is wrong THe Corban FF is bad. Johny humping a lazer beam to stop it. Was just no. So no. David Krumholtz was fine… he was a teen…. em he’s now 42. I feel old now. Ah well. His plot was meh. Sorry. Elisa Donovan was good. Even if her character was….oy. She could have been Crimson Fox or Power Girl. Michelle Hurd was great as Fire…and yeah Shagg is right she was Rachel. Ice was kind of Phebie. Only she didn’t sing. If they brought the cat in from THE JLE she could have sung smelly cat. Ah well. Kenny Johnston was… fine. Though he was more Wally than Barry, but barely.

    I can see if Miguel Ferrer had been the Man Hunter he may have got some Duplex cookies and ate them in the interview bit. To go with J’ohn’s obsetion with Oreos. Since Duplex are the store nock offs of Oreos. Wait if this got green lit would Elisa Donovan become Sapphire? That may have been good. It was fine, but yeah Super Hero movies were on their way out. So I can see why they were so cheep. Saddly, but at lest the Manhunter didn’t shred caution tape and ware it as arm bands. Fine I had to throw one more in there. Sadly J’ohn didn’t get a great live action part till Super Girl. ( I hate that show.)
    In Small ville homes was fine, but not quite J’ohn. Same here. This wasn’t great, but sadly I’ve seen worse Super Hero movies. No Ice puns or Bat credit card here. No Super hero doing the John Travolta walk to Staying alive. No every hero has their power based on their emotion. No Thor calling the Hulk a troll. No Renee Montoya talking like Micky Spillane Novel …oh wait it was more like the Garfield’s car toon ware he was a gum shoe. Any way can’t wait TO hear the next episode.

  15. I’ll give them this. They tried. They failed spectacularly, but they tried hard.

    Although I will say, I think David Ogden Stiers spent more time in green makeup during this piiolot than all the other MM actors combined.

  16. Yes indeed, brilliant episode. I’m glad this was a round table rather than a commentary, I really can’t be bothered with those things.

    I was lucky enough to see this on broadcast TV in the UK years ago, Channel Five, I think, and found it fun. We had the print with the interviews. You know within two minutes it’s not going to be a true-to-the-comics masterpiece, but what proportion of anything is brilliant? It’s cheesy nonsense inspired by the Bwaa-ha-ha Justice League and as such, a fun time-passer. The Friends thing makes sense, it had never struck me.

    But who’s the Gunther?

    I wanted to hug Rob, he was so wonderfully understanding of the film.

    I’m with Max, the simpler looks can be best… have you seen how great TV Flash’s costume looks now they’ve made it brighter and less fussy? Grant Gustin suddenly looks like an early Silver Age Carmine Infantino drawing.

    Shagg, you listed so many things you liked in the film, especially when looking for the funniest bit… you can’t still dislike it that much, surely?

    Miguel Ferrer was great, I’ve only just realised that he’s not Audrey Hepburn’s son, he’s Rosemary Clooney’s. It’s so sad he died so young.

  17. An excellent episode, gentlemen! I was more than happy to do my “homework” for this episode as I had never seen this pilot before. I had known about it, seen pictures, and the odd 10 second clip, but I had never actually seen the whole thing so thanks for the link!

    Chris, I’m with you that I think I saw pictures of the pilot in Comic Scene magazine back in the day, which would have upcoming comic book movie/tv coverage. I loved that magazine as it gave such hope to comic book nerds like myself. I would love to see old articles of all the failed projects that didn’t make it. Didn’t Stan Lee promise a Silver Surfer movie at one point?

    I agree that it looks like they tried to do something with the limited funds they had and that “something” just didn’t work out. But they tried. There were parts that were enjoyable (all the Ice/Atom interaction) but you could almost hear an executive producer saying things like, “I don’t get this, why are there two green heroes and an alien who has a green face? Too much green. Make one teal. The public will understand it better.” It feels like the pilot was suggested by comic fans and run into the ground by producers. Or at least twisted to something that never resembled the original pitch?

    The one fun moment that made me laugh out loud is when, during the interstitials, Ray Palmer is sinking down to the floor like he is going down in a elevator and you can hear someone off screen laugh. I agree with Shag that some of these were probably ad-libbed and he just made some of the crew laugh.

    Well done in trying to find your joy in this show. I enjoyed all of this discussion and did really enjoy watching this pilot. I’m not sure I would watch this as a series, but in 1997, I would have ate this up. If this is an example on how great Patreon can be to bring all of you together, then shut up and take my money! Well, I guess, don’t shut up. That’s the whole point of a podcast. Keep talking and take my money!

  18. Irish embassy calling and really enjoyed this review of the Justice League pilot. The film (with all the interview sections included) was actually shown on Irish TV. I remember in the 1990s, looking at the Irish TV listings in the newspaper, and seeing the Justice League film advertised to be shown…….at 4.30 in the morning! I set the VCR to tape it and watched it the following day. It was …….no what I expected! LOL Really enjoyed the show and hearing what you all thought of this – maybe with a bit more budget, we could have had a series.

  19. So, I’m going to rip this band-aid off quick.

    I never liked Friends.

    Not in any kind of elitist, hipster way. The show just never appealed to me. I’d watch the odd episode here and there and I found the characters annoying. This is probably why I never connected it to this pilot.

    Anyway, great discussion on this movie. You were tough but fair. Rob once again caused me to stop an episode because I was laughing so hard at his comparison of this pilot and Superman IV. Scared the hell out of my dog too because the room was pretty quiet and suddenly I’m laughing. I did not hate this back in 1998 or 1999 when I got my hands on an interviews-less version of the film. It felt very much like something produced in the early nineties being released in the late nineties. I dug the cast, I thought the woman playing Ice was cute (I had a similar reaction to Rebecca Staab, the woman that played Sue Storm in the Corm FF movie), and figured it was a noble failure.

    Three quick notes.

    1. I like Daniel Krumholtz in anything. I realize he was too old for this creepy character, but I liked him in the role, if that makes any sense.

    2. A few years back I was watching NCIS because I am preparing to be an old person and there was a woman that ended up being the killer and I couldn’t place here and HOLY CRAP THAT’S THE WOMAN THAT PLAYED ICE IN THE JUSTICE LEAGUE PILOT.

    3. Rob made a 1st and Ten reference when describing the Atom’s costume. Not only was this a deep cut reference to a late eighties HBO series that I watched because it was on, but (and I know he didn’t do this on purpose) it was an even better reference because John Kassir was ON 1st and Ten.

    Great episode, everyone. Well worth the money people spent on it.

    1. Ok, Michael Bailey. I watch NCIS every week. Are trying to you think of as a old person. Right a minute, I’m 65. Guess you are right. Never mind.

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