New Jersey Turnpikes (lost unreleased mockumentary basketball film; 1999)
New Jersey Turnpikes is a 1999 mockumentary film starring Kelsey Grammer, Tommy Chong and Orlando Jones. It was shot entirely in Toronto and directed by Bryan Buckley.
The film centers on the fictional basketball team, the "New Jersey Turnpikes," during the final days of the American Basketball Association. It features narration by Kelsey Grammer, who additionally plays the team's owner. "Kool Williams", played by Orlando Jones, is the only good player, as the team is known to be the worst in the league.
In 1990, the novel Loose Balls by Mark Pluto was published. It was later freely adapted into a screenplay by Hank Perlman and Michael Berg.
While the production itself went fine, although star Kelsey Grammar was "going through some personal stuff at the time" according to Alan Goluboff, the film's first assistant director. There started to be issues during post-production.
The executives at Universal Studios were fired and replaced, while the new executives were uninterested in the film.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and TriStar Pictures both expressed interest in purchasing the film for distribution. However, Universal was unwilling to sell the film. They had just sold off Shakespeare in Love to Miramax Films and the film went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Roy Jones, Jr., who cameos as a basketball player, claimed (in reference to the executives) "nobody wants to be embarrassed if it turned out to be a success."
A rough cut underwent test screenings in 1998, and posters were designed The movie performed poorly with test audiences and Universal order reshoots. However, the reshoots and reediting process did not involve director Bryan Buckley.
Buckley then went, with his cut, to the Tribeca Film Festival. Afterwards, Keith Olbermann, then of MSNBC, saw the film and gave it a review on television. A review was also done by a pseudonymous author known as Trent Walker Ain't It Cool News.
Universal did not like a review being done for a film of their's prior to it even getting a release. Because they did not want to sell it to another studio and the executives were uninterested, the film would go unreleased.
Afterwards, Buckley would pursue litigation against Universal, but it never went anywhere.
The film is still owned by Universal and the negative is still in the studio's vault.
Connection to Semi-Pro
While it may just be a coincidence, the 2008 film Semi-Pro, starring Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson and André Benjamin, features a similar plot. It is about a basketball team in the ABA in the league's final season, with Ferrell playing the head coach (who is also the owner and starting power forward) and Benjamin as the team's only good player.