Best Pilot Episodes in TV History, Ranked – MovieWeb

If a TV series hopes to captivate the audience, then it needs an effective pilot episode. Let’s take a look at some of the best ones in TV history.
Producing a TV series takes a lot of time, hard work, and money. Development stages can often take years to complete and, therefore, suffer some unexpected changes. For this reason, the greatest satisfaction that a TV show's team can have is to see it succeed and become a hit worldwide. But this does not always happen. There are productions that, regardless of the teams' efforts and having recorded footage, sometimes get canceled before they even air an episode. Such was the case with The Dictator, per TV Line, the CBS series that would have starred Christopher Lloyd as Joseph Paul Domingo, a dictator exiled in New York. Meanwhile, some shows make it to the premiere, but after a few episodes, or even seasons, they get canceled for different reasons, which usually leaves viewers feeling disappointed.
There is one fundamental element that can fully influence the destiny of a TV series: its pilot episode. While many series take some time to establish themselves and start building their fan base, others manage to do so from the very beginning, successfully introducing their themes and characters. The responsibility laid on the pilot episodes is exceedingly heavy, because in a short amount of time they have to deliver loads of content and convey the essence of what the show is going to be like. If a pilot episode flops, the series itself may not achieve as much hype as its production expects. But when they do succeed, they set the stage for what is expected to be a great show, and often rank among the best episodes of the entire series. Check out some of the best pilot episodes in TV history.
"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", the pilot episode of Mad Men, goes the opposite way of the rest of the pilots: rather than answering some of the questions surrounding the main character, it raises many more. This episode, written by creator Matthew Weiner in 2000, is set in 1960 and features Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a genius ad man from New York City, his girlfriend, and the rest of Sterling Cooper's employees. Just to prove that Draper is truly an enigma, the episode wraps up by introducing the man's wife and children, who were never mentioned before. To this day, Mad Men is widely considered one of the best TV series of all time.
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The Good Place is a series created by Michael Schur that revolves around Eleanor (Kristen Bell), a young woman who dies and is received in the Good Place, a heavenly utopia for those who do some good deeds in their lifetime. But something doesn't seem right: Eleanor was a horrible person when she was alive, so she must reformulate her behavior if she intends to maintain her spot in the Good Place. The pilot episode "Everything is Fine" premiered in September 2016 and made it to 8.04 million household viewers.
May 2015 witnessed the release of "eps1.0_hellofriend.mov", the pilot episode of Sam Esmail's series Mr. Robot. It features Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a cybersecurity engineer diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and clinical depression, who works at a company called Allsafe. But this man is hiding a big secret: at night he works as a computer hacker. When he is recruited by the mysterious Mr. Robot, Elliot is forced to choose between fulfilling his desires or protecting his stability and his company's interests.
"I Wasn't Ready," the opening episode of Jenji Kohan's Orange is the New Black series, follows Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a woman who is forced to leave her home and fiancé Larry because she was sentenced to 15 months in prison on a decade-old drug trafficking charge. Once in her new home, Litchfield Penitentiary, she must adapt and learn the rules quickly if she wishes to protect herself from other inmates. This pilot episode premiered in July 2013, and was highly acclaimed by audiences and critics.
Glee is one of the most popular teen series in history. Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, the series premiered on May 19, 2009 with a pilot episode that nicely introduces the main characters, the students of William McKinley High School and how they formed the Glee Club, letting people know that throughout the series they would deal with issues that deeply affect teenagers.
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On September 10, 1993, the pilot episode of The X-Files premiered, presenting two characters that went against the established stereotypes: special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who teamed up to work on the X-Files. Mulder strongly believes in all things paranormal and otherworldly, while Scully is skeptical and considers that everything can be scientifically explained. The pilot of this Chris Carter series was very well received, and quickly built up a huge fan base that turned it into a cult series.
"Winter is Coming". The title of Game of Thrones' pilot episode couldn't have been more spot on. This series, created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, conquered audiences right from the start. The first episode, released in April 2011, introduces the main noble Houses of Westeros and Essos, and with them, a major part of the cast. A lesser-known fact about the series is that its pilot episode was filmed twice, per EW, as the first version did not quite convey the essence of the show.
Vince Gilligan was in charge of writing and directing the pilot episode of Breaking Bad, and from the very first moment the tension and chaos that reigns in the lives of its protagonists becomes palpable. Breaking Bad revolves around Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a chemistry teacher who, upon discovering that he has an inoperable cancer, decides to team up with Jesse (Aaron Paul), one of his former students, to produce and distribute crystal meth in order to provide for his family after he dies. The pilot episode received very good reviews and even nominations.
In April 1990, Twin Peaks changed the history of television with its pilot episode, originally known as "Northwest Passage". In it, the audience is transported to the quiet town of Twin Peaks, where the peace is completely disrupted when Laura Palmer's (Sheryl Lee) body is found in a lake. The man in charge of solving the case is Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), who is about to dig up some of the town's darkest secrets. In case the series was ultimately not put into production, another version of the pilot was shot including additional footage to be released as a TV movie.
Lost is one of the landmark productions in the history of TV series. The pilot episode was divided into two parts and premiered in September 2004, attracting 18.6 million viewers. After a series of unusual events, Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 crashed on an unknown isolated island. The surviving passengers must now figure out how to adapt to this new environment while waiting to be rescued, and in order to do so, they need to establish alliances. But they soon discover that the island hides many more secrets than they anticipated.

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