Here is a story from Old(ish) Hollywood of Kafka-esque proportions, a story that sounds so crazy…it just might be true. And it is true.
Once upon a time, Mel Brooks had a hit with a comedy called Blazing Saddles. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It was so successful when released in 1974, that studio Warner Bros. had dollar signs in their eyes and wanted to make sequels. Brooks, on the other hand—being a sort of unicorn of integrity in a town where that was just square—was not so hot on making sequels.
Per Brooks, his lawyer had what he thought was the perfect solution:
“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. … In 1977, three years later, Warner Bros comes to me and says they want to make another Blazing Saddles, and I say, ‘No. You don’t have the right to do that.’ They say, ‘Yes we do, we’ve been making a TV series and still control the rights.’ What TV series? I haven’t seen a TV show. They take me onto the lot, into a projection booth, and show me three episodes.”
So Warners…almost really to be spiteful and petty, in my opinion…created about 4 seasons of a secret Blazing Saddles TV series called Black Bart which Mel Brooks had zero knowledge of. It’s almost as if Joss Whedon stepped into directing one of those Zack Snyder DC movies and gave Superman a really bad CGI job.
Future Oscar-winner Louis Gossett Jr. starred in the role made famous by Cleavon Little, and Steve Landesberg played not Gene Wilder’s part exactly, but a very Wilder-esque (lot of “esques” in this post) character. And they, many other actors, and in fact an entire crew, labored in the years that followed on six-episode “seasons” of a show that was not meant to exist. A series that was only made to cynically hold on to the rights of a movie to create a sequel that was never even made.
Black Bart was, in Landesberg’s words, a “sick joke.”
Now, the pilot was aired in 1975, and you can watch the mini-documentary on the excellent Hats Off Entertainment YouTube channel for all the deets & to check out some clips. The Black Bart pilot is also included in the Blazing Saddles 30th Anniversary DVD and Blu-ray.
As for the rest of the episodes? Were they even edited? Are they in a vault somewhere? And in this time of uncovering and releasing as special editions all sorts of “lost” movie & TV ephemera…is it time to unearth the complete Black Bart?