The television term "pilot" is an apt aeronautical reference because the vast majority of them never fly. And tomorrow night offers a couple of unusual chances to view the process:
* At 11:30 on WJZ-Channel 13 comes the premiere airing of "The Raven," the creation of a husband/wife Baltimore production team which is intended as a glitzy, predominantly black, late-night soap opera on the order of "Dallas" or "Dynasty."
"We're banking that the public is ready to see this kind of story line," says Darryl Pugh, co-producer with Renee Pugh in the firm of Mirror Image Productions. With an all-local cast of some two dozen, the 60-minute pilot was produced on a tight budget here this fall and is being pitched to CBS, as well as to national syndicators for potential first-run placement.
Darryl Pugh says the idea has been a dormant dream after an earlier pilot produced seven years ago did not find backers, although it was presented at a National Association of Broadcasters meeting and generated some interest.
A preview tape of this second pilot shows all the elements of the soap opera genre: rival family members, good-looking lovers, long lost family members, a criminal investigation sub-plot and even a show-business aspect that offers musical interludes. There also are a lot of nice Baltimore scenes.
The setup involves the death of a powerful man and the struggle between his surviving offspring for control of his recording studio/nightclub chain enterprises. But how did he die? (There's a cop on the case.) And where is his estranged twin brother? (In a mental hospital.) Those are just a couple of the elements of the boiling pot.
Although not up to slick network production standards, "The Raven" certainly engages attention as a novel local effort. WJZ spokeswoman Phyllis Reese says the station agreed to air the show "as an opportunity to showcase and provide a vehicle for home-grown talent."
* The second pilot is on the Showtime cable service at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Unfortunately, "The Steven Banks Show" illustrates the folly of trying to make a sitcom out of something else.
Banks is a young comedian whose one-man show on cable last year (and earlier, on the stage) was flat-out hilarious. His character was a guy who can't keep his mind on things longer than a few seconds, instead frequently soaring off into wild imitations of rock stars and other pop culture icons. Clever and creative, Banks was a hoot in that context.
In this pilot, however, the gimmick wears thin from the beginning, largely because of the conventions of a sitcom. Because there must be other characters with whom the star interacts (a landlord, a girlfriend, office workers, etc.), there's just not enough time for viewers to begin to get into Banks' best impersonations.