It's exhilarating when you begin a television series, and it hooks you from the beginning. When a series has an exceptional “Pilot” episode, it does not guarantee a successful show. Still, at least it gives the series a great starting point. On a popular online forum, many tv fans discuss some of the greatest pilots ever. And there are some spectacular examples of how to begin a show right.
1. Lost (2004)
At the time, Lost's “Pilot” was the most expensive one ever made, estimated at 10 to 14 million dollars. That hefty price helps with the remarkable production value to showcase the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 on a mysterious remote island.
The “Pilot” is exceptional because it builds tension, creates mystery, and introduces multiple characters just enough that you already feel attached to them, most of all the main character, Dr. Jack Shepherd. I've watched Lost's “Pilot” numerous times, and I'm thoroughly captivated every time. One fan recalls, “Never been more pulled into a show after Charlie's ‘guys…where are we?'” I completely agree.
2. The West Wing (1999)
The “Pilot” of Aaron Sorkin's absorbing drama surrounding those who work in The White House and Washington D.C. introduces a series slightly different than the one we got. Initially, the series was meant to focus mainly on the characters played by Rob Lowe and Moira Kelly. At the same time, Martin Sheen's President Bartlett was conceived as a minor role.
And still, the first episode sets up the tone and all the characters that would inhabit this ensemble. The story focuses on everyone dealing with the President's cycling accident. Sheen is only in a few minutes of the episode but makes a lasting impression and solidifies the “Pilot” as one of the greats.
3. Cheers (1982)
The Boston bar “where everybody knows your name” has an excellent introduction. The Cheers pilot, titled “Give Me a Ring Sometime,” presents every colorful character and their varying personalities. These include the arrogant bar owner and former baseball pitcher Sam Malone, scrappy and tenacious waitress Carla, sweet and straightforward Coach, and pretentious Diane, who finds herself at a crossroads.
It takes excellent acting and a tight script to make an episode in one location entertaining. Cheers does just that in the first episode and much of the series. The pilot establishes the characters with hilarity and unexpected gravitas and sets up one of the finest “will they/won't they” couples in television history.
4. Hill Street Blues (1981)
According to many users, a revolutionary show also had one of the best pilots ever. The police drama is memorable in giving the audience a surprising twist at the end when we learn the police captain and district attorney, who had been arguing the entire episode, are romantically involved. One person asserts, “The dialogue and the characters are so detailed and layered that you can watch it more than once and still see something new every time.”
The first episode lit the match for a trailblazing series.
5. NCIS (2003)
This long-running series about Naval Criminal Investigative Service starts with one of the most captivating pilots ever. It is genuinely like a mini-movie as far as the plot. Aboard Air Force One, a Naval officer mysteriously collapses and dies. The thrill is on with lead NCIS investigators and a secret service agent trying to find the culprit and thwart future threats to the President.
The “Pilot” is fast-moving and intriguing and establishes the tone of the widely popular series.
6. Alias (2001)
This spy thriller starring Jennifer Garner began its exciting and emotional run with the pilot entitled “Truth Be Told,” which establishes what makes Sydney Bristow tick, all of her essential relationships, new and old, and the twisty nature of the series.
One individual says, “I love that the Alias pilot follows the format of how each of the seasons worked with the twist in the middle…and then the big shocker at the end.”
They are right on the money. Alias hooks you in instantly, showcasing that the series will be both enthralling and have a poignant central heartbeat because Sydney is a strong woman with a tremendous heart.
7. Timeless (2016)
This time travel series is an intelligent, edge-of-your-seat thriller from the first jump back in time. The Timeless “Pilot” manages to fully flesh out the four main characters in only 42 minutes, tell an entire adventure in the past, and leave the viewer wanting more.
In the first episode, the “time team” travels to the crash of the Hindenburg, attempting to stop a renegade from changing history, thus establishing the show's core premise. It's fast-paced, funny, and poignant.
8. Pushing Daisies (2007)
This whimsical show is endlessly creative, with a beginning that is one for the story books. With inspired narration by Jim Dale, we learn about Ned. He can bring dead things back to life, but only for a minute. He becomes a pie-maker and uses his gift to solve crimes. But the true center of the first episode is when he brings his deceased childhood sweetheart back to life but can never touch her again.
Full of color, clever dialogue, and wonderfully varied characters, Pushing Daisies showcases an equally macabre and wholesome tone from the onset. The series is so creative that this first Emmy-winning episode is entitled “Pie-lette.”
9. Once Upon a Time (2011)
One of my all-time favorite shows is this fairy tale series set in the modern world. And that is due to the quality of the “Pilot,” which flashes back and forth between the magical Enchanted Forest and the mysterious town of Storybrooke, Maine. It's a show that captured my heart and imagination instantly.
We see a curse befall the land, while in the present, a precocious boy named Henry finds his birth mother, Emma Swan. He believes she is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. She is destined to break Storybrooke's curse and awaken all the residents who have been frozen in time and don't remember who they are.
This first episode is intriguing and moving, leaving us wholly enchanted and needing to know what happens next. One fan of the series states how it “caught my interest right off the start [as] something unique.”
10. Mad Men (2007)
This riveting and provocative period drama set in the 1960s world of advertising began with intrigue and surprises. The pilot primarily focuses on Don Draper, head ad executive at Sterling Cooper on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, New York. He's charismatic, abrupt, drinks heavily, and is a notorious lady's man, which makes the end of the episode so fantastic.
Numerous viewers praise this episode called “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” A few call it a “chef's kiss” and “spectacular.” Especially lauded is the ending: “After all the drinks and womanizing, in the end, he returns home to his perfect family in the suburbs.”
11. Twin Peaks (1990)
This wonderfully weird series began grippingly, creating a show that lives in infamy for its oddball characters and intriguing mystery. As one watcher proclaims, “Twin Peaks' Pilot episode sets the stage for a surreal and mysterious murder investigation in a small town. The pilot, directed by David Lynch, was praised for its unique atmosphere, unforgettable characters, and intriguing narrative.”
12. Star Trek (1966)
“Space- the final frontier” is how this groundbreaking science-fiction series began. The original “Pilot” goes down in history as one of the best for its originality and creativity. Audiences never saw anything quite like it on television.
This thread inspired this post.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency. She writes on her own website TheGirlyNerd.com, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video