Black Bart (non-existent unreleased TV sitcom based on "Blazing Saddles" Western comedy film; 1975-1979)
Black Bart was a TV sitcom pilot starring Louis Gossett Jr. and Steve Landesberg that was broadcast on CBS on April 4th, 1975. The pilot was based on the 1974 satirical Western black comedy film Blazing Saddles, and was created without the involvement or consent of the film's director Mel Brooks (with creation of the project instead being accredited to Andrew Bergman, who came up with the initial idea for Blazing Saddles and assisted with the film's screenplay).
The pilot featured the continued adventures of Sheriff Bart (Louis Gossett Jr.) and his efforts to protect the town of Rock Ridge from criminal activity while also dealing with the racial prejudices of its townsfolk. Outside of the Bart character and the Rock Ridge setting, the events of the film are largely ignored within the pilot, with film characters such as Lili von Shtüpp and the Waco Kid being replaced with equivalents in the form of Belle Buzzer (Millie Slavin) and Reb Jordan (Steve Landesberg). The pilot is largely maligned by fans of the original film, many of whom criticize the poor production quality and lack of jokes, though some do give praise to Gossett's portrayal of Bart.
The pilot itself is not lost by any means, with it having been included in several of the home media releases of Blazing Saddles as a bonus feature. However, for many years following the pilot's release, it had been rumored that CBS had in fact produced four seasons worth of Black Bart episodes between 1975 and 1979 as part of a contractual obligation, but had never released any of them.
Alleged Production History
The alleged nexus point of Black Bart could be traced back to the initial release of Blazing Saddles itself in the early months of 1974. Mel Brooks knew that Warner Bros. had an obvious hit on their hands with the film and that they would want to produce a sequel to it with or without his involvement. Mel was displeased with both prospects, and so his attorneys advised him to put in a contractual clause that would practically guarantee a sequel would never get made. Mel would allegedly describe the nature of this clause in a 2005 college tour, stating that:
"My lawyers, bless their souls, came to me and said, ‘Warner Bros. is going to try and take away your control of the movie. Let’s put in a crazy condition that says they can’t do any sequels unless they make it right away or make a TV show out of it within six months.’ Which is brilliant. They couldn’t make a sequel in six months, and the movie was too vulgar to be a TV show. Now it would air in family hour if that was still a thing. So the lawyers put that in, never thinking they’d make a TV show."
Brooks had walked away from this ordeal satisfied in his belief that a Blazing Saddles sequel would never come to fruition, but Warner were reportedly even less willing to let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers than he had expected, as they immediately kick-started production on a Blazing Saddles TV sitcom that would never be viewed by the public (as Brooks' contract never specified that they had to release the series in any capacity).
This sitcom had reportedly been produced by CBS (with Warner offering them the sole TV rights to any and all Blazing Saddles films in exchange for production of the series), and would be filmed on a soundstage during the winter break, a time during which most other TV productions would be on hiatus. Every year, a six episode season of Black Bart (as opposed to the traditional twenty-four to twenty-six episode season of most sitcoms) would be produced, with Steve Landesburg allegedly stating in a 1996 interview that production of the series was "like a sick joke," and that "If I wasn’t under contract I would have walked."
Mel Brooks was in no way involved with production of the series and was entirely unaware of its existence until 1977, when Warner Bros. supposedly informed him of their intentions to make several more Blazing Saddles films, before showing him 3 episodes of Black Bart as proof that they held up their end of the deal. But in spite of Warner's best efforts, nothing ultimately came of their plans for Blazing Saddles, and by 1979, it had become very apparent to them that the market had changed and that a sequel was unlikely to ever happen, with this (alongside management changes at Warner taking place at the same time) leading to the alleged production on Black Bart being shelved that same year.
Aside from the pilot, none of the other rumored episodes of Black Bart had ever been released, with all of them reportedly being kept within the CBS vault due to an alleged dispute with the Screen Actor's Guild. However, these episodes would later be proved to not exist at all, with all the information about the alleged production of the series being traced back to a single post made by Facebook user Ormsby's Cinema Insane on June 6th, 2015. This post was taken entirely at face value at the time of its initial upload, with the information presented within it being subsequently spread to other online publications and treated as though it were the truth.
However, the Facebook post would later be amended on July 2nd, 2020 to confirm that it had been written as a joke and that none of the information present within it was factual. All the anecdotes supposedly made by Brooks and Landesburg about Black Bart had been entirely made up, and no episodes of the series beyond the initial pilot had ever been produced.
- Letterboxd page for Black Bart. Retrieved 27 Nov '20
- Facebook post presenting (and subsequently refuting) the alleged production history of Black Bart. Retrieved 12 Oct '22