Feb 6, 2020
Alexander the Great “Pilot” (part 1 of 7)
Note from the author: This recap was originally posted in 2005. It was updated March 14, 2010 with new screencaps and new snarky comments, thanks to the long overdue DVD release of the Alexander the Great pilot, available now from Amazon.com!
SUMMARY: Alexander is a really awesome guy. You might even call him great. He has lots of friends and they’re always partying and drinking wine and having toga parties, and they’re always going out on these long hikes through the desert. They get together on weekends to beat the crap out of Persians, but not like hate crimes or anything, because that would be bad, and certainly not great.
Also, I heard this was all based on some historical figure from history or something? I don’t know. I only passed history class in high school because of a bitchin’ grading curve, so don’t ask me.
Every now and then, I watch something that simply begs to be recapped here. In the case of Alexander the Great, a rejected TV pilot from the ‘60s, there are two big reasons I’m writing about it: One, I originally intended to post this to coincide with the release of Oliver Stone’s Alexander, which… didn’t quite happen. But more importantly, Alexander is played by William Shatner, everybody! If I had to estimate, I’d say the Oliver Stone movie was 5% of my motivation in writing this. The other 95%? All Shatner, baby.
Folks, it’s time for us to face the complete reversal of a truism we’ve held dear for nearly forty years: William Shatner is a good actor. That’s right. I said it. He totally is!
If you don’t believe me, will you take the word of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences? They’re the ones who gave him an Emmy in 2004. For acting. In a competitive category. Yes, William Shatner won a real, valid, non-counterfeit Emmy for being the best actor out of a group of five. What’s next, the star of Booty Call winning an Oscar? Oh, yeah, right.
Shatner is currently appearing as attorney Denny Crane on ABC’s Boston Legal, showing a range that few knew he had. I’ve watched a lot of Star Trek in my life, obviously, but I never think of Captain Kirk while watching Denny Crane, which says a lot.
Denny Crane is the role that won Shatner his Emmy, which was well-deserved, and all the more so because he’s been a mainstay on TV screens since 1951. In addition to starring in hits like T.J. Hooker and Rescue 911 (and yes, those were hits, and I’m not listening to you, la la la), Shatner has guested on every TV series ever made, from the original Twilight Zone to Columbo to Mork & Mindy to Saturday Night Live to 3rd Rock from the Sun. He’s also appeared in a number of TV movies, some great (The Andersonville Trial ), and some not so great (The Horror at 37,000 Feet).
And befitting his status as a TV journeyman, it should come as no surprise that Shatner made his fair share of unsold pilots. One of these saw him cast in the unlikely role of Alexander the Great.
Shatner is no stranger to the Agony Booth (meaning this website, not the actual agony booth, but that too), not only appearing a couple of times in the Worst of Trek section, but also singlehandedly turning the film Impulse into one of the sleaziest (and thus, greatest) camp classics ever made. Therefore, thanks to this recap, William Shatner has become this website’s very first Three Strikes Repeat Offender!
But whereas Impulse showed us Shatner a few years after the glory of Star Trek’s original run, Alexander the Great takes us to a much more pleasant time: 1963, a few years before Shatner landed the role of James T. Kirk.
It’s easy to see why Alexander the Great was never picked up. Following Alexander’s historical exploits in a weekly series isn’t all that bad of a premise, but this pilot is a real yawner. There’s nothing you haven’t already seen in a thousand sword and sandal films, and overall, it’s a pretty pale imitation of the 1956 film Alexander the Great, which featured Richard Burton wearing an even worse wig than Shatner in his T.J. Hooker days.
But this pilot is still worth delving into, not only because of Shatner’s appearance, but because it also features John Cassevetes, Joseph Cotten, and Adam West [!], all in small supporting roles. This is hardly a full-tilt camp classic, but at least it’s somewhat leaning in that direction, thanks to the presence of Shatner and West and Cotten and Cassevetes all tramping around the desert in man-skirts and chest plates.