The Munsters Reboot Series That Almost Happened

Sitcoms were all the rage in U.S. television during the 1950s and '60s, which also meant that writers had to get more creative with their conceits when creating new ones. This is how we ended up with more than one sitcom where the female lead has magic powers ("Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie"), as well as shows that subverted the notion of the ideal nuclear family ("The Addams Family"). Among the other TV series that hewed on the satirical side from that period was "The Munsters," a sitcom about a lovable clan of Universal monster pastiches that aired for two seasons on CBS from 1964-66.

Despite its relatively short run (one that still spanned 70 episodes, mind you), "The Munsters" thrived in syndication, giving rise to several made-for-TV "Munsters" movies over the decades that followed, along with a sequel series entitled "The Munsters Today" in the 1980s. The Wayans brothers then tried to revive the property as a movie in the mid-2000s, but the project never made it past the early stages of development. And while a similar fate befell Seth Meyers' plans for a modern "Munsters" series in the late 2010s, there actually was a reboot that made it to the screen as a TV pilot-turned Halloween special.

Bryan Fuller's Mockingbird Lane

Developed by Bryan Fuller, NBC's "Mockingbird Lane" re-imagined "The Munsters" as more of an outright horror comedy series that fully embraced the idea of the titular family being, well, monsters. For example, in this iteration, the vampire Grandpa Munster (Eddie Izzard) had a proper blood lust and didn't blink twice about the idea of killing Steve (Cheyenne Jackson), a kindly widower and scout master to his grandson Eddie (Mason Cook), to harvest his heart for the Munsters' Frankenstein Monster-style patriarch Herman (Jerry O'Connell).

Speaking of which, "Mockingbird Lane" brought some true body horror into the mix with Herman, who's less a jovial re-animated corpse (like the character in the original "Munsters") and more of a regular, caring person stitched together almost entirely out of parts from other people's bodies. Along the same lines, Eddie was a seemingly average kid until he began turning into a werewolf and attacked his scout troop. Even Marilyn (Charity Wakefield), the gentle sister of the Munsters' refined vampire matriarch Lily (Portia de Rossi) and the clan's sole non-monstrous member, got a darker backstory that involved her mother wanting to eat her (before Grandpa talked her down).

Here's how Fuller described "Mockingbird Lane" at Comic-Con International in 2012:

"I thought now was a good time to see a show about a family of monsters doing monstrous things. With the pilot, you'll see it's about monsters but also parents trying to craft a way for their child who's a little different."

Why It Didn't Take Off

Fuller's series are renowned for their visuals, and "Mockingbird Lane" was no exception. With great production values (as one would expect, given its $10 million price tag) and sumptuous cinematography by Guillermo del Toro's frequent collaborator Guillermo Navarro, the show's pilot looked exceptional. So why did NBC dump it as a one-off special on October 26, 2012, after passing on a series order? Here's the explanation the network's former chairman, Robert Grenblatt, gave:

"We felt great about that cast. But we tried to make it not just a sitcom. We tried to make it an hour, which ultimately has more dramatic weight than a half-hour. It's hard to calibrate how much weirdness vs. supernatural vs. family story. I just think we didn't get the mix right."

From what I recall, "Mockingbird Lane" was intriguing yet wobbly in terms of its tone. Where Fuller deftly balanced dark whimsy with pathos right out the gate on "Pushing Daisies," it felt as though his "Munsters" reboot needed more work. Maybe with a lower budget, NBC would've picked up "Mockingbird Lane" and given it a chance to find its footing, but in the end, that didn't happen. 

On the plus side, this did allow Fuller to focus his attention on the other NBC series he was developing at that time: the delectable "Hannibal." And who knows, perhaps Rob Zombie's "Munsters" film reboot will achieve the right mix of weirdness and sincerity that "Mockingbird Lane" couldn't quite figure out.