Reminder: A terrible 'Coming to America' TV pilot happened in 1989

Paramount Pictures/CBS

Judging by this past Halloween, the most accurate pop cultural barometer known to humankind, Coming to America is enjoying a full-on renaissance. Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Blue Ivy drew costume inspiration from the movie (as did plenty of normals), and a Chicago hot dog restaurant celebrated the holiday by disguising itself as McDowell's, the McDonald's knockoff where the main characters work.


In the beloved 1988 romcom, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) abandons his royal roots in his native Zamunda for a shabby apartment and a fast-food job in Queens, all in search of a bride who'll love him for who he really is, not for his crown. It's great.

But before you clamor for a reboot, be careful what you wish for.

Shortly after the release of Coming to America—and its resounding commercial success—CBS produced a sitcom pilot based on the John Landis-directed film. The small-screen version stars a young Tommy Davidson, the stand-up comedian later known for In Living Color and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, as Prince Tariq.

Eddie Murphy as Prince Akeem and Tommy Davidson as Prince Tariq.
Paramount Pictures/CBS

Unlike Akeem, Tariq is a prankster who's been exiled to attend college in America by the king, his brother. It takes only nine days living in Queens for Tariq to blow his allowance, to the chagrin of his long-suffering aide Oha (Paul Bates, the only cast member who also appeared in the film). To make ends meet, they find jobs in the diner owned by their landlord, Carl Mackey (John Hancock).


The pilot didn't sell, and for good reason: It is bad. The movie is to the television show as McDonald's is to McDowell's.

Tariq lacks Akeem's irresistable Pollyannaish charm, and Coming to America mostly functions as a disjointed vehicle for Davidson's Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson impressions. It's also worth noting that the pilot features a head-scratcher of a Donald Trump reference. At one point, Tariq shows up at the restaurant with a copy of The Art of the Deal, which he explains that someone threw at him (?). Tariq believes he's "just like this Donald Trump guy," and that he'll get rich by buying and selling property, despite the fact that he doesn't have any money.


If you can bear to remove your nostalgia goggles for half an hour, you can watch the ill-fated Coming to America pilot here.


Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.

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