A pilot episode for an American version of Red Dwarf (known as "Red Dwarf USA") was produced through Universal Studios with the intention of broadcasting on NBC in 1992. The show essentially followed the same story as the first episode of the original series, using American actors for most of the main roles: Craig Bierko as Lister, Chris Eigeman as Rimmer, and Hinton Battle as Cat. Exceptions to this were Robert Llewellyn, who reprised his role as Kryten, and the British actress Jane Leeves who played Holly. (According to the documentary "Dwarfing USA", Danny John-Jules was impressed by the casting of Battle who, like himself, had an extensive dance background.) It was written by Linwood Boomer and directed by Jeffrey Melman, with Rob Grant and Doug Naylor on board as creators and executive producers, although Naylor states in "Dwarfing USA" that most of his and Grant's suggestions for script improvements, which at one point involved them completely rewriting the script overnight, were rejected. During filming of the pilot the audience reaction was good and it was felt that the story had been well received.
Among the substantial differences is that some of the later retconning of the Red Dwarf having a crew of thousands rather than a couple of hundred prior to the accident is maintained, Holly has a female form from the beginning (rather than changing later), and Kryten joins the crew prior to the accident. The episode also begins near the start of Red Dwarf's original voyage, rather than some time later.
The studio executives were not entirely happy with the pilot, especially the casting, but decided to give the project another chance with Grant and Naylor in charge. The intention was to shoot a 'promo video' for the show in a small studio described by the writers as 'a garage'. New cast members were hired for the roles of Cat and Rimmer; Terry Farrell and Anthony Fuscle respectively; the character of the Cat was changed with the casting of a female in the role. With a small budget and deadline, new scenes were quickly shot and mixed in with existing footage of the pilot and UK Series V episodes. Rather than being a complete storyline, the new pilot was more a highlights reel of potential story ideas.
The American version retained some of the jokes from the original series: the "novelty condom" joke, and the joke about cup o'noodle being worse than dog food. Despite the re-shoots and re-casting, the option on the pilot was not picked up.
Neither version of the pilot has ever been broadcast, though both pilots have been heavily bootlegged. The Series V DVD release includes a documentary on the making of the pilots, "Dwarfing USA", which includes footage from the first version of the pilot, but not the second as BBC Video was unable to obtain licensing rights to it. The documentary includes Craig Charles criticizing the second pilot as being "White Dwarf" due to the lack of any black actors in it.
In a later interview, Craig Bierko admitted that the fact that they cast him as Lister was the main reason the pilot didn't work, and recommended fans watch the original version and not the American version (Craig Charles, on the other hand, claimed in "Dwarfing USA" that Bierko was very good (that's what pissed him off), but was 6 foot 4 and handsome). The failure of the Red Dwarf USA pilots allowed two of its actors to go on to success in other series: in 1993, Leeves began an 11-year run on the sitcom Frasier as Daphne Crane, while Farrell was cast as Jadzia Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which began airing in 1993.
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