The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (partially found UPN sitcom; 1998)
The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer was an American sitcom that aired on UPN in 1998, starring Chi McBride as Abraham Lincoln's Black English butler, Dann Florek as Lincoln himself, Max Baker as Nibblet, Desmond's assistant, and Christine Estabrook as Mary Todd, the President's wife.
The sitcom was very likely influenced by the BBC series Blackadder the Third, starring Rowan Atkinson, Tony Curtis, and Hugh Laurie, in which Atkinson played the smart, witty, dishonest unlucky man, Robinson the comic fool and Laurie the noble/socially important dumb man. These roles mirror the ones that McBride, Baker, and Florek had on Desmond Pfeiffer.
Nine episodes were recorded, but only four aired, because the series was the subject of controversy, perhaps undeservedly so, because the accusations don't appear to be based on the actual content. It was reported - even before it aired - that it made light of slavery, even though the known episodes do not justify that claim at all. Chi McBride, appearing on Roseanne, explained that this was nonsense, but to no avail. Additionally, poor ratings and the fact that President Lincoln and his administration were made fun of may have contributed to the early cancellation of the show. (Blackadder the Third made fun of a prince, but one who was remembered without much regard anyway; plus, antiheroes are a staple of British humor that just does not seem to be possible in the USA - a reason why 95% of US remakes of UK shows don't make it past an abysmal pilot episode.)
The episodes that aired have not been seen since the original airing date, and the unbroadcasted ones have never been made available to the public ever, though synopsis for episodes #5 and #7 are available. Videos of episodes #1, #2 and #4 have been leaked on the net by people who recorded the original broadcasts, but episode #3 doesn't seem to have circulated much.
While there's no reason to think that the master tapes of the episodes do not exist anymore, the sitcom is considered so controversial and unpopular that it won't be likely released on DVD anytime soon. It is often listed today as one of the worst TV series of all time, although one might again ask if this isn't some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy - the sitcom "Thanks" (1999) similarly made fun of a period in American history, but is never mentioned as a special low point, even though it could hardly be said to be superior in writing or humor.
Plot details of controversial pilot episode
In 2022, a post on Reddit's r/lostmedia forum unveiled a Metro Silicon Valley article and an image of unknown origin (likely a magazine) which revealed further unknown details of the lost Pfieffer pilot episode, which led to much of the show's controversy in the first place. The image reveals the character of Desmond's boss Kilbourne, played by John Fleck, who is described as insulting and 'politically incorrect'. The pilot opens with a hanging scene set in 'Merry Olde England' before it is revealed Desmond is kidnapped and sent as a slave to America.
|#||Episode Title||Air Date||Status|
|1||A.O.L.: Abe On-Line||October 5, 1998||Found|
|2||Up, Up and Away||October 12, 1998||Found|
|3||Saving Mr. Lincoln||October 19, 1998||Found|
|4||Once Upon a Mistress||October 26, 1998||Found|
|9||Guess Who's Coming to Dinner||Unaired||Lost|