Vincent: What's a pilot?
Jules: Well, you know the shows on TV?
Vincent: I don't watch TV.
Jules: Yes, but you're aware that there's an invention called television, and on that invention they show shows?
Jules: Well, the way they pick the shows on TV is they make one show, and that show's called a pilot. And they show that one show to the people who pick the shows, and on the strength of that one show, they decide if they want to make more shows. Some get accepted and become TV programs, and some don't, and become nothing.
Jules: Well, you know the shows on TV?
Vincent: I don't watch TV.
Jules: Yes, but you're aware that there's an invention called television, and on that invention they show shows?
Jules: Well, the way they pick the shows on TV is they make one show, and that show's called a pilot. And they show that one show to the people who pick the shows, and on the strength of that one show, they decide if they want to make more shows. Some get accepted and become TV programs, and some don't, and become nothing.
At the dawn of every TV show, only one episode is produced. This is called a pilot. If a network approves, more episodes are funded. Rejected, only one episode it remains.A pilot is a "test run" of a series concept, filmed and assembled to give the network an idea of what it will look like, how it will play, and (via viewer testing) what kind of demographic it will appeal to. Usually the network will turn down the pilot. Sometimes it will throw it back to the producers and say, "try again". There are probably ten pilots made for every one series that actually makes it on the air, at least in American TV - some insiders have snidely claimed that Hollywood is more about making pilots than actually making shows. (The term "pilot" is used in this sense outside the entertainment industry; a "pilot plant", for example, may be a smaller-scale power plant that's used to test some new generation technology.) Even when a show is picked up and given a timeslot, there is no guarantee that a pilot will ever reach the air. They often do, usually as the premiere. Sometimes, usually with those shows whose producers were told "try again", the original pilot is so different from what reached the air that they don't try to use it (as is the case with Gilligan's Island), or they reuse it in an innovative manner later in the series. (A good example of the latter would be "The Cage", the first pilot episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, which was recycled into the two-part episode "The Menagerie".) Live-action pilots often have somewhat larger budgets than a typical episode of the series, but fewer purpose-built sets. A hospital or school or graveyard in a pilot is likely to be the real thing - no sense building an elaborate set for a pilot that probably won't be picked up. As such, if the series is picked up and purpose-built sets are built to replace these locations, then eagle-eyed viewers might be able to spot differences between the characters' base of operations from the first week to the second. The writing in a pilot can be significantly worse than in regular episodes. Introducing all the characters and setting up the situation in a limited time can be difficult to do in a natural way, and even the best pilots can be privy to clunky exposition. In addition, pilots often are slightly differently-shaped than the series that coalesce if the show gets picked up; for example: in the pilot of Gilmore Girls Sookie is a Dojikko (this trait fades away by the fourth or so episode), Lorelai drives a different car, and many of the sets are not the ones used later in the show, as a real street in Toronto was used rather than the "Main Street" set at Warner Bros. Studios which was used as Stars Hollow for the rest of the series. Pilots may also be filmed on a different stock than the rest of the series; the pilot may look more 'cinematic' in film story and cinematography than other episodes in the series. If it's the length of a film and presented as such, then it's a Pilot Movie. The same rules roughly apply to animation, except that pilots in that industry usually never exceed eleven minutes unless it is the aforementioned pilot movie. Should a pilot be integrated into another series, it's a Poorly Disguised Pilot. Most pilots fall into the category of the Welcome Episode or Everyone Meets Everyone. It'd make more sense to list the exceptions than the examples. They may also contain a First Episode Spoiler. Many, many pilot episodes are simply named "Pilot", making "Pilot" the most common episode title among all series. The Futon Critic has reviews for many of the successful pilots and now the unsuccessful ones.
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- Dragon Ball had one in the form of Dragon Boy. The main character who would be the inspiration for Goku was named "Tanton" and had bat-wings instead of a monkey tail. The character Bulma was an Expy for was a princess. The Dragon Balls had a small dragon instead of stars on them.
- Naruto wasn't a ninja series, but instead involved magic. Instead of wanting to be Hokage, Naruto was sent on a quest to find friends under the orders of whom would later become Hiruzen Sarutobi after one prank too-many. Instead of a demon being sealed inside Naruto, the Demon Fox was his father.
- Fist of the North Star had Kenshiro as a teenager. He is then on the run after being framed for killing his girlfriend.
- Bleach had one similar in tone to the earlier chapters of the series, with a few key differences: Rukia giving her Shinigami powers to Ichigo caused her to shrink to a miniature size (she's slightly taller than a pack of cigarettes, bathes in a coffee mug full of hot milk, and uses a toothbrush to scrub herself), Orihime's father is the vengeful lonely hollow envious for her attention, instead of her older brother, and Orihime dies and is taken to Soul Society at the end of the pilot.
- Lupin III
- Lupin III Pilot Film was the first anime adaptation, and has the distinction of being two slightly different pilots. Both are about twelve minutes, and contain the same art. The first was cut at feature film aspect ratio. The second was cut at television aspect ratio, and included an entirely different cast of voice actors. Video was later modified into the opening for Lupin III (Green Jacket).
- Kirby of the Stars had a four-minute clip made to celebrate the release of Kirby Air Ride in Japan.
Needless to say, there's a lot. The Game Show Pilot Light has reviews on a very large number of pilots, both sold and unsold.
- Card Sharks filmed two pilots in 1978 with the same set, which pretty much resembled the show's final product. The only difference was that #1 depicted a Money Cards loss and #2 depicted the highest possible win in the Money Cards (which also happened once in the series). Two revivals (one on CBS, one syndicated) aired in the late 1980s, apparently without pilots.
- There was also an unsold 1996 pilot which greatly altered the format, and another in 2000 that eventually became upgraded to the 2001 revival.
- While it never made it to series, the Bonus Round of the February 1975 pilot King of the Hill (not that one), called The Money Hill, became the Money Cards on Card Sharks.
- In April 1994, Mark Goodson Productions taped a pilot called Cash Tornado hosted by Jim Perry, which took the Price Is Right idea of "games based around a central theme" and adapted it to luck. The show was intended for licensing to various state lotteries and, while not selling in this specific form, surfaced a few months later as Illinois Instant Riches, spawning a plethora of lottery game shows based on the Cash Tornado format and changing the face of that subgenre. Even longtime California Lottery stalwart The Big Spin began using the format after a while.
- To put this into perspective: before Cash Tornado, lottery game shows were either "spin a wheel for money" or "pick boxes for money", although a few shows had a twist on the latter note . After Cash Tornado, lottery game shows became Minigame Games and considerably more varied as a result; even shows as recently as Monopoly Millionaires' Club owe their basic formats to this little pilot.
- Cash Tornado itself remained pretty much under the radar until 2014, when Wink Martindale's group put up the show's sales presentation. Notably, it was taped at Television City, used many set pieces from the 1993 pilots of what eventually became the Doug Davidson Price later in '94, used a vamp of said version's theme as its own theme, and had longtime Price producer Roger Dobkowitz as a contestant (playing Force Field, which is shown in its entirety on the sales presentation).
- Jeopardy! had quite a few:
- A "test" episode recorded March 5, 1964.
- Following its 1975 demise, two pilots were made for a revival under original host Art Fleming. The first, in March 1977, used a much different format which started off with each player playing as many questions as possible in 30 seconds apiece (with no penalty for wrong answers) before finishing off the rest of the board normally. After that, the lowest-scorer was eliminated, the two remaining contestants played an unaltered Double Jeopardy! Whoever had the higher score after this moved on to a Bonus Round with a 5x5 board, and had to get five right answers in a row within 90 seconds for a bonus.
- The 1978 pilot omitted the timed portion of Round 1 and eliminated the time limit from the bonus round, but also ended the bonus round if three wrong responses were given. Under these radically changed rules, Jeopardy! aired just five months.
- The current Alex Trebek version, which began in 1984, also had two pilots. Both returned to the original format of straight-up answer-question gameplay that's still in use today. The first (1983) had Jay Stewart announcing with the same set layout and music cues as the 1978 version, including pull-card clues in the maingame and (like the original Fleming era) whiteboards in Final Jeopardy! The second (1984) had an Obvious Beta of the Season 1 set. Both pilots also had much lower clue values — the first used the 1978-79 values of $25-$125 and $50-$150, while the second had $50-$250 and $100-$500.
- The Joker's Wild had two pilots in 1968-69 hosted by Allen Ludden, the first having a panel of celebrities asking the questions. A third pilot comprised the last two-thirds of the awkward 90-minute The Honeymoon Game (1970), hosted by Jim MacKrell note . After airing for three months on KTLA in 1971, Joker's wheels spun from 1972-75 on CBS and 1977-86 in syndication, an amazing run for a game show.
- Match Game had one for the more staid 1960s format and at least two for the more familiar 1970s format (all hosted by Gene Rayburn), a week for a 1990s revival that lasted one season (Bert Convy hosted the pilot week, but Ross Shafer hosted the series after Convy was diagnosed with a brain tumor), and an unsold 1996 pilot with Charlene Tilton and a radically-altered bonus round. The last one evolved into a shorter-lived 1998-99 revival hosted by Michael Burger.
- At least three pilots (one for What the Blank! in 2004 and two for Match Game in 2008) have been made since then, but it went nowhere until 2012, when the franchise finally saw the light of day again. Granted, it was in Canada, but it was the first English version in North America since 1999.
- The original version of The Price Is Right was originally called Auction-Aire, but when the pilot proved disastrous NBC wanted to buy out the show's contract and cancel it. Creator Bob Stewart asked for a leap of faith — 13 weeks, and if the show didn't click, NBC could cancel it. NBC agreed...and slotted Price opposite CBS megastar Arthur Godfrey. Despite negative initial reviews, Price managed to develop a following and was beating Godfrey pretty bad in the ratings by the end of February 1957.
- While Mark Goodson was developing the New version in 1972, he and host Dennis James taped a pitchfilm on February 16 that consisted of the two discussing the revival, playing two mock pricing games (which eventually became Take Two and Ten Chances), and showing a clip of Dennis filling in for Monty Hall on Let's Make a Deal. Very few of the eventual show's elements were in place at this point, and neither CBS nor Bob Barker were involved yet.
- Per the show's official records, the revival taped a pilot on August 15, 1972, one day after the set was put up for the first time. Neither Bob nor Dennis served as host (and it's not known who did), and the footage has seemingly been lost to time. It's pretty much become a Holy Grail as a result.
- The short-lived 1994-95 version hosted by Doug Davidson taped two pilots in 1993: one hosted by Davidson, the other hosted by local Los Angeles weatherman Mark Kriski.
- The $10,000 Pyramid evolved from an unsold pilot called Cash on the Line, whose bonus round became the maingame of Pyramid. Supposedly, the bonus round of the unsold pilot was the only part of the format that execs liked.
- The franchise would later have no fewer than ten pilots recorded between 1996 and 2010 that went unsold. Several of these pilots strayed very far from the format, including two in 1996-97 with one celebrity for each category, one in 1999 with a rock & roll format (perhaps inspired by Rock & Roll Jeopardy!), and two in 2010 hosted by Andy Richter. And this isn't counting the two revivals that did make it to air - Pyramid in 2002-04 (hosted by Donny Osmond), and The Pyramid in 2012 (hosted by Mike Richards).
- Second Chance taped three pilots in November 1976, which led to a short-lived run in 1977. The most notable difference is that there were no ways to get extra spins.
- The show's revival, Press Your Luck, taped a pilot in May 1983. It had only a single Whammy animation (redrawn for the series), a Big Board color scheme mostly consisting of blue and green slides, a different logo, and a similar-sounding theme ("Flash", by Keith Mansfield).
- Whammy taped two pilots in February 2002: one with Peter Tomarken hosting, the other with Todd Newton at the helm. While Todd was chosen for the series, the editing job on the Tomarken pilot has led some to suggest he was never actually being considered for the revival.
- The original pilot of To Tell the Truth in 1956 was called Nothing But The Truth, with Mike Wallace as host and a different mascot.
- The 1990-91 revival had two pilots...and NBC accidentally aired the second one on the east coast instead of the series premiere. This was notable as Richard Kline hosted the pilots, but Gordon Elliott was the actual host of the series (for a few months, at least) and the set was entirely different.
- Wheel of Fortune had three pilots.
- The first was Shopper's Bazaar (1973), hosted by Chuck Woolery. It featured a vertical Wheel, a much larger emphasis on prize-buying over gameplay (even in comparison to the shopping rounds used until 1989), a phone that delivered clues to the contestants, no Bankrupts, a confusing scoring system, and a pretty easy Bonus Round. More info on this pilot can be found here.
- The second and third (1974) were much closer to what made it to air, but were hosted by a drunk Edd "Kookie" Byrnes. When the show finally made it to air in 1975, it used a slightly altered Byrnes format with Chuck as host.
- Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego had two pilots: "The Purloined Pooch" and "The Disoriented Express"). What made these relatively unique was that they were aired during Season 1 (as episodes 58 and 62, respectively) with a disclaimer at the start noting that there were some differences. Among the differences...
- Rockapella wore street clothes. They continued to do so in the first few tapings of the actual series.
- Host Greg Lee was introduced as "The man who will lead the investigation", instead of as "Special agent in charge of training new recruits".
- Lee also didn't have his hat off for the main game, and was standing to the right of the main monitor as opposed to the left.
- The gumshoes started off with 125 points, and a correct guess would cost them 10 while an incorrect one would cost them an additional 5. The wagering for the final clue was 0-5-10-15-20-25 instead of 0-10-20-30-40-50.
- Pilot #1 featured a ransom note from Patty Larceny (one of the crooks on the show, and the one responsible for stealing the Lhasa Apso from the East African Kennel Club Dog Show). It was never used again, being replaced by a phone tap conversation between Carmen and the crook.
- In the final round, there would be audience members supporting the gumshoes. This trend continued in the first few tapings of the actual series.
- In both pilots, it didn't matter which order the gumshoe had to find the loot, warrant, and crook in for the final round. As long as he or she found them in one turn, that was all that mattered. By the time production began on the actual series, it was changed so that the gumshoe had to find them in the right order, as police officers do the same thing in real life when looking for a stolen person, place, or thing.
- In both pilots, the gumshoe sending the crook to jail wasn't used at all. Instead, it just cut to Greg and the winning contestant at the final round.
- The United States was the only map used for the endgame in the pilots, and state flags were used as markers. The likes of the maps of Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America would eventually be added to the show. One episode of the actual series was shot so early that they didn't have the Africa map ready it, and the endgame had to be filmed a few weeks later into production of Season 1.
- In the pilots, the endgame featured sound effects from the Nickelodeon game show Double Dare.
- Instead of "Do it, Rockapella!", the pilots used "Hit it, Fellas!".
- Are You Being Served?: Its "Pilot" was originally an episode in the BBC Anthology series Comedy Playhouse in 1972.
- Babylon 5: Name a problem a Pilot Movie could have, and it's there. The creator re-edited it several years later to make it stink less. (The radical changes in characterization and the transformation of Delenn from an androgenous Uncanny Valley dweller to exotically attractive female are the major differences.)
- Bar Rescue taped one in 2010. It aired in 2014 as "The Lost Episode"; of note is the fact that star Jon Taffer didn't wear his usual sportcoat.
- Being Human: Notable in that two of the three main characters, as well as the big bad of the first season, were recast between the pilot and the start of the series.
- Also notable for having been broadcast as a pilot: it was among three pilots shown on BBC3 before any of them had been commissioned as series. The public response to Being Human's pilot ensured it was picked up.
- Bones: Notable in a bad way, with dialogue that clunks like a jackhammer and lead characters that come off as completely psychotic. These problems rapidly improve in the regular episodes.
- Doctor Who had a pilot episode (actually several, since they re-made it several times, using the same script) which, despite being a British show from 1963, survived. It was similar to the first episode, but with different costumes, a scene with Susan drawing a bizarre inkblot, and a statement that the Doctor and Susan come from the 49th Century. Because it was produced after the series was accepted rather than to sell the series, it may not technically be a pilot by some definitions.
- ER: Written in 1974 and filmed in 1994 with only minimal changes to the script, this is an extreme example of the gap between pilots and regular episodes. A male doctor was even changed into a woman - without altering his dialogue.
- Notable also in that it ends with the suicide of a character—Nurse Carol Hathaway—who would turn up alive and well in the fall and stay with the show for six seasons.
- The pilot for Evening Shade is notable for being double the length of an average episode, something normally reserved for dramas rather than sitcoms. (Although few series nowadays of any type go for the extended pilots, with Lost the most high-profile exception.)
- Game of Thrones had an original pilot, the script for which made it online. In it, we get a few scenes viewers wished had been retained, such as a heart-to-heart between Arya and Jon Snow, a confrontation between Robb and Joffrey that was heavy with foreshadowing, a less "rapey" wedding night for Daenerys and Drogo, and a scene in which Jon Arryn actually utters his infamous final words. However, Sansa had no lines whatsoever, Hodor is not included and the scene where John asks Benjen to take him with him to the wall dissatisfied many fans. Also, Jennifer Ehle played Catelyn, Tamzin Merchant played Daenerys and Roy Dotrice played Pycelle. Guest stars included such names as Ian McNiece and Jamie Campbell Bower.
- The pilots for both Get Smart and Hogan's Heroes were filmed in black-and-white; all of the other episodes were in color.
- Lost: One of the most expensive pilots ever made, but worth every penny for both the critical reaction and the ratings success.
- Also notable for being one of the few times "Pilot" has independently made sense as an episode title.
- Ranked by TV Guide as the fifth best television episode of all time, the only pilot in the top ten.
- Funnily enough, the guy who approved it (and its budget) was fired before the show was aired for investing such a large amount of money into a risky project.
- My Name Is Earl: Somehow manages to painlessly explain a convoluted backstory in only 22 minutes and still be funny.
- The pilot episode of Seinfeld is not only considered the worst in the series, but the producers can't even agree on the title. The current decision is The Seinfeld Chronicles, which was the original title for the show. TV Guide gives it as Pilot, but that was changed to avoid confusion with the Season 4 finale The Pilot. The most unusual name for it is Good News, Bad News. Don't ask me how they got there.
- Also, this pilot aired over a year before the first season began, which kind of showed how much hope NBC had for what would later become one of their biggest cash cows.
- And Elaine isn't in it. Instead there's a Deadpan Snarker waitress at the restaurant who was going to be the show's moral center. But she proved to be wildly unpopular with test markets. So when the show was picked up a whole year later, Elaine was created to add a female character to the show.
- And Kramer's name is "Kessler," which was used as an In-Joke later in the series.
- Star Trek: The Original Series had two pilots, which was unusual back then. The first one ("The Cage") didn't sell because Gene Roddenberry produced a dramatic show instead of the action show he had promised. It was later worked into the two part "The Menagerie". The second pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before" lacked Dr. McCoy and was aired (in a slightly re-edited version) as an early episode of the series.
- One of the things that changed between the pilot and the regular series was the design of the Enterprise - due to the high cost of special effects and the low resolution of 1960s televisions, many of the special effects shots from the pilot were reused in the series, even though the ship looked subtly different.
- By the time of the spinoffs, the franchise was so large that any pilot was pretty much guaranteed a green light for a season. In fact, Deep Space Nine was picked up for multiple seasons right off the bat. (This is presumably why they felt safe with having the main character, Commander Sisko, openly express contempt for the beloved Captain Picard - they knew they had time to win audience sympathy for Sisko.)
- 30 Rock: Rather mediocre pilot and quite possibly the worst episode of the whole series. Tina Fey herself has said "if I never see that pilot again, it will be too soon". Also notable in that the scenes with Jenna were refilmed before it aired, replacing Rachel Dratch with Jane Krakowski.
- Ironically, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, another NBC show that started in 2006 and takes place behind the scenes at a sketch comedy show, is generally considered to have had a great pilot and quickly gone downhill from there.
- Incidentally, in her book Bossypants, Tina Fey, while proclaiming her own negative opinion of the 30 Rock pilot, cited Cheers as an example of a sitcom with a great pilot.
- Kids Incorporated shot a pilot featuring most of the actors who became the first season cast but very different sets and a radically different format, using only the flimsiest of plots to link together not entire songs, but a series of medleys, mostly not by the main cast. The pilot was never aired, but it was intercut with some new footage in the form of bridging sequence with Rassan Patterson (who had not been cast for the pilot) and released as a direct-to-video feature with a framing story of how his character came to join the band - in the final sequence, quite obviously filmed much later than the rest of the episode, we're offhandedly told that three members of the pilot cast had suddenly moved out of town, leading to the Kid's invitation to join the band (no similar explanation is given for Stacy and Renee, who in the pilot had clearly been meant as supporting characters rather than band members).
- Heroes' pilot was an hour and a half long, and many of the "lost" scenes and characters that didn't make it into the premiere were recycled in modified ways (the Terrorist character of The Engineer was changed to the neurotic Ted Sprague, for instance).
- The pilot of Arrested Development was shot in an actual model home which featured an elegant sweeping curved staircase leading to a barren unfinished attic.
- After the pilot of 3rd Rock from the Sun, significant alterations were made to the sets. For example, the entrance to the apartment became the door to Dick's bedroom and a staircase was added. There was also an earlier, unaired version of the pilot in which Dick's love interest was a secretary. It was felt that the character wasn't working and needed to be more of a Comically Serious type. She was subsequently split into two separate characters, Mary and Nina. Thus, Jane Curtin and Simbi Khali joined the cast for the second pilot.
- The pilot episode for Law & Order, "Everybody's Favorite Bagman", was filmed a couple of years before the series, and later incorporated into the series... eight episodes in. This led to the rather amusing continuity error in which Detectives Logan and Greevey met A.D.A Robinette for the first time when they've already worked with him for seven episodes.
- Worse yet, this pilot featured a different District Attorney (Wentworth) from the rest of the season. Thus, if you watch the episodes in order, you see D.A. Schiff for several episodes, then Wentworth for this episode, then back to Schiff for the next 10 years.
- The pilot episode of Alias was 69 minutes long, and originally aired commercial-free.
- "Serenity", the two-part pilot episode of Firefly, is notable in that it was not the episode the network first aired. The consequence of this action was that viewers didn't get introduced to the characters, the universe, and the plotlines the proper way, and Firefly was canned halfway through its run.
- The pilot episode of Ghost Whisperer, also titled "Pilot", focused on the ghost of a Vietnam War pilot.
- The pilot episode for Kyle XY was reshot at a later date because it was considered to be too downbeat and dragging. This led to a difficult scenario where all the cast were a year older. Josh, for instance, had to have all his lines redone because his voice was an octave lower.
- Sherlock has a 60-minute pilot version of "A Study In Pink", with the idea of this being the first episode of a series of 60 minute episodes. Instead, the BBC, despite loving the pilot, asked for three higher-budget, 90-minute episodes. This led to the pilot needing to be scrapped and a new version of the same story being written. The 90-minute version is considered much stronger than the pilot, as it spends more time establishing the characters, fixes some elements of the sets and plot that didn't work the first time, and also added the "archnemesis" subplot. Though the pilot version of "A Study in Pink" never aired, it is included in its entirety on the home release of the series.
- The original pilot for Married... with Children has never been aired on TV, and featured different actors playing Bud/Kelly.
- The pilot for The Bob Newhart Show gave Bob Hartley the extra job of heading his apartment building's Action Board when the writers feared his psychologist practice wouldn't supply enough storyline possibilities. Also, Bill Daily was not in the pilot, but interestingly the actor who filled his position of Wacky Neighbor would later return to play his brother Warden Gordon Borden in an episode of the series.
- Sesame Street had five pilots produced and shown to children in early 1969. The biggest difference between these and what would eventually air is that the Muppets are kept separate from the humans, but since kids paid more attention to the Muppet and animated segments, they were integrated into the street once the show got off the ground, arguably for the better.
- One segment that never made it into the actual show but was heavily advertised even before the street segment was set in stone was "The Man from Alphabet", a spoof of detective shows. It failed in testing due to the lesson never getting across to the kids.
- The six-minute test pilot of Walking with Dinosaurs has never been made public in its entirety, as it was merely meant for the execs at BBC to watch and decide if they should fund the project. It featured (to modern eyes) rather crude animations of the dinosaurs Eustreptospondylus and Cetiosaurus, a flock of flying Rhamphorhynchus and a swimming Liopleurodon that later gets beached. Although most of the animal designs and the special effects quality differed greatly from those in the finished product, apart from the Cetiosaurus, just about every element of the pilot was carried over into the series' third episode. A few of these clips can be watched on the Walking With Monsters DVD.
- The People's Court had its first pilot episode taped in October of 1980 (a bit under a year before the first episode aired), as well as a second pilot episode which was taped in January of 1981.
- The unaired Dollhouse pilot was deemed too confusing, so a more linear version was shot. It could be said to be a case of Viewers Are Morons, but it could also be said that throwing the viewers in the deep end wasn't the best idea for a high-concept show in which they were essentially asked to cheer for slave owners.
- The pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was made with virtually no budget and was never intended for the airwaves; it was just to give the WB network an idea what the show might be like. The pilot's been widely circulated online, but series creator Joss Whedon has kept it from being officially released. He really thinks it's a piece of crap.
- Police, Camera, Action! had an interesting case with its pilot episode(s). The first-ever episode was called Police Stop! but the Name's the Same as the VHS series (which caused confusion), so it quickly switched to the better-known title of Police, Camera, Action! from November 1994. The pilot episode had a sort of visual pun; Alastair Stewart in the police helicopter with his name captioned in Helvetica Bold. Also, the end credits were on a blue background with white Futura Condensed font on. Two edited versions were then re-shown in 2006-2007 as "Danger! Drivers Ahead" and the opening titles re-edited to POLICE CAMERA ACTION!.
- Episode 2 was closer to the show as we know it today; the Creative Closing Credits were in the white-text-on-black-background that we know today, and the only major difference was there was no Episode Title Card with police clip background; and Alastair Stewart's name was rendered as ALASTAIR STEWART in Gill Sans MT Bold, rather than the later Frutiger Italic and Futura Condensed that would be seen from 1995 onwards. The actual 1995-1996 series was British Brevity (unless you consider them as Series 1 as a whole, and not Series 1, 2 etc....
- The first pilot of Full House was largely identical to the first official episode ("Our Very First Episode") with nearly the entire cast in place, with the very obvious exception of John Posey (essentially a stand-in for an unavailable Bob Saget) as Danny Tanner.
- The Big Bang Theory had two pilots, the second one being the first episode of the series and the only characters to transfer over is Leonard and Sheldon. The "genius characters" premise was still intact, but the story had them meet a girl named Katie on the street having a hard time and invite her to have dinner with them, eventually taking her in as a roommate. They have another female friend and co-worker Gilda, who is just as intelligent as them, and has an admitted crush on Leonard. Katie has a tough exterior and rooming with Leonard and Sheldon would help her to soften up. Test audiences hated Katie, but Leonard and Sheldon were extremely well received. Many lines of dialogue were reused in the first few episodes and much of the series proper was taking consideration for the failure of the first pilot:
- They made Penny as a new neighbor (making the dinner invite more natural) and is warm, friendly and bubbly to avoid the Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist that was Katie.
- Leonard and Sheldon were a hit, so they made two more with Howard and Raj. Gilda was dropped, presumably to offset the gender balance more, but some of her traits were given to recurring character Leslie Winkle.
- Sheldon was very similar in personality to Leonard, just more neurotic and once had sex with Gilda. The series made him asexual, The Comically Serious and with a "blinders on" approach to social conventions.
- The set design was overhauled, creating the spiral stairway with the broken elevator and making the guys apartment very clean and tidy. The original set was a standard sitcom set with an "L" shaped hallway and was more run down.
- The pilot episode of The 100, viewed in light of the rest of the series, seems like a Lighter and Softer version of the show, with very clearly defined good guys and bad guys, and a lot more focus on the teen characters having the fun and getting the hots for each other. Standard advice from fans of the show is not to judge it based on the pilot, but watch until episodes three, four, or five to see what the show's really like.
- The pilot episode of The Monkees ("Here Come The Monkees") was filmed in 1965. It is very different from the later episodes. In it, the band has a manager played by Bing Russell, Davy plays a guitar (which is bigger than he is!), the band wears yellow shirts and brown vests as stage costumes, Micky Dolenz is credited as Micky Braddock, etc. When the series got picked up, it was edited and aired as the tenth episode! As an added bonus, Davy and Mike's audition tapes were tacked on to the end of the episode.
- Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers has two pilots. One was aired as a TV special on Fox Kids in 1999, though in an edited form and another pilot remains unaired but some scenes were used in "Big Sisters". The former had differences from the final version:
- Trini was played by Audri Du Bois than Thuy Trang.
- The local hangout was not the Angel Grove Juice Bar but a bowling alley.
- The Rangers used physical violence towards the bullies.
- Skull was played by Bobby Val than Jason Narvy.
- Kimberly was far more self-absorbed and had little to no martial arts or gymnastic talent that was shown.
- Bulk and Skull were part of a gang of five bullies.
- Alpha's appearance was more boxier.
- King Sphinx was the primary monster the Rangers confronted.
- Billy's glasses were thick framed than wire framed.
- The morphing sequence resembled more like its Sentai counterpart.
- In its unaired and unedited form, Zords were originally called Droids, Zordon was originally named Zoltar and the Power Morphers were referred as the Transmorphers.
- The long-running weekend series Monitor (1955-75) did a test hour on NBC Radio's closed-circuit feed on May 2, 1955, just over a month before the show's debut on June 12 and a month after then-network president Sylvester L. "Pat" Weaver outlined his ideas for the show.
- South Park has three pilots. In the first one (Jesus vs. Frosty, 1992), Cartman is called Kenny, no name is given to the other three, and both "Kenny" (Cartman) & Nameless Kenny die. In the second pilot (Jesus vs. Santa, 1995), the town of South Park is firmly established and the characters have personalities, to the point where Kyle is Jewish. All of the characters have the names they currently have (all except Wendy, who didn't have a name yet), and Kenny's the only one who dies. This could be considered Canon, but in Season 4, the kids made it themselves, to provide example of something kids would make. Comedy Central saw the second pilot, and they asked Trey Parker & Matt Stone to make a 22-minute pilot. They made it with cutout animation just like the previous two, and it was accepted (although alterations were made before it actually aired, such as dropping Kenny's Back from the Dead stunt from the ending). Later episodes used Maya instead for Conspicuous CG.
- Executive Meddling forced the Pilot Episode of Robot Chicken to be broadcast as the 11th Episode.
- The Pilot Episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force was 16Min instead of the usual 11. Frylock was more robotic & subservient to Shake.
- Following ATHF's success, the shelved Space Ghost Coast to Coast script Baffler Meal, featuring the original conception of the Aqua Teens was dusted off and made into What Could Have Been a Poorly Disguised Pilot had the script been used when it was originally written. Shake is even bossier (but humorless), Frylock is a completely different design and personality with a chipper high pitched voice, and Meatwad, looking closest to the actual character is less naive and much more an exaggerated The Eeyore.
- The pilot for The Ren & Stimpy Show is "Big House Blues". Unlike most pilot episodes, pretty much everything, from Ren and Stimpy's designs, voices and personalities to the animation is fine-tuned from the get-go. Nickelodeon aired it several times, albeit with some sexually-suggestive footage removed.
- The Pilot Episode of The Drinky Crow Show is the only episode not in HD.
- Batman: The Animated Series: The famous opening sequence where Batman foils some bank robbers is similar in the general style of their animated pitch.
- ReBoot: Did not have a pilot because of the expense of CGI hardware back then. It was an entire season or nothing.
- Inspector Gadget's pilot had the inspector himself with a mustache and a British accent (provided by Gary Owens). When the show was picked up as a series, they had to throw in a Hand Wave in the aired version explaining the mustache. US tropers, however, can see the aired version here.
- The pilot episode of The Venture Bros., "The Terrible Secret of Turtle Bay", is markedly different from those that follow. The larger budget allotted to pilots typically allows for better visual effects compared to those found in "normal" episodes; that is inverted here, as "Turtle Bay" is the only episode of the series to be animated using Adobe Flash. As a result, animation appears choppy and uneven when compared to later episodes, which are hand-drawn. Some characters are drawn in a different style or act with different personalities than in the main series; Dr. Venture, for example, is depicted as a successful, competent scientist rather than a neurotic failure. Several supporting characters from the series also appear, although they are unnamed at this point. The Venture Brothers themselves also have a pet dog named Scamp (based upon Jonny Quest's dog Bandit), which is never seen outside the pilot; a later episode mentions in passing that Scamp has since died.
- The pilot for The Amazing Screw-On Head animated series. Though the series was not picked up, the (awesome) pilot is avaliable online and on DVD.
- Futurama's pilot had a notable title, "Space Pilot 3000". (The second episode was named "The Series Has Landed".)
- KaBlam!! had "Your Real Best Friend!" for Sniz and Fondue, Prometheus and Bob, and Henry and June, "KaBlam! Gets Results!" had the Life with Loopy pilot, and the Action League Now pilot aired as part of All That.
- Sniz and Fondue's REAL pilot is a rarely-seen short called "Psyched For Snuppa", directed by Jon R. Dilworth. Aside from starring Snuppa and Bianca and featuring Sniz and Fondue (called "Squeaky") as supporting characters, it pretty much is identical to the eventual show. The pilot can be viewed here.
- The pilot for My Life as a Teenage Robot was shown on Oh Yeah! Cartoons. It was known as My Neighbor Was a Teenage Robot and had a different art direction. It was eventually remade as the episode "It Came from Next Door".
- The pilot for Rocko's Modern Life ("Trash-O-Madness") aired as the sixth episode. According to the creator he wanted the pilot to be just another episode that can be placed in any order without continuity issues. That said, the animation style is very different due to it being animated in-house rather than being outsourced to Korea.
- The Recess pilot, "The Break In" was made in 1996 and was aired as the first episode in 1997...at least the altered version. The "pilot" version had very different character designs, such as no one wearing their main outfit (except Mikey and the non-main six cast), T.J. being tall and skinny, Vince looking like a teenager, Spinelli looking like a kindergartener, and Gretchen with black hair (Gus wasn't in the pilot). When it aired as the first episode, it was re-drawn to look more like the series proper. Clips of the pilot version were seen in an ABC Saturday Mornings promo on the 1997 VHS to 101 Dalmatians (live-action), as well as certain station identifications for One Saturday Morning (depending on the ABC station). The pilot gave a good example of the show's setup and character personalities while not giving clunky exposition dialogue.
- Rugrats originally had "Tommy Pickles and the Great White Thing".
- Hey Arnold! had a pilot episode which originally shown in theaters with Nickelodeon's first movie, Harriet the Spy. This episode would later be remade into "24 Hours To Live".
- A number of Cartoon Network's original series have debuted as pilots on What A Cartoon! Show, including Dexter's Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, The Powerpuff Girls, Mike, Lu & Og, and Courage the Cowardly Dog. In 2000 came "The Big Pick", which was where The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones? and Codename: Kids Next Door got their start. For more Big Pick shows that never came to be, see "Never got beyond pilot stage" below.
- A similar project called The Cartoonstitute was planned, but it never got off the ground and only a few shorts were completed. However, Regular Show was spawned from the failed project. The Regular Show pilot was Re Tooled into the Season 2 episode "First Day". In 2013, Uncle Grandpa became the second show to rise from The Cartoonstitute's ashes.
- The Fairly Oddparents had a few of these on Oh Yeah! Cartoons.
- Invader Zim had a pilot episode which never aired on Nickelodeon, but was aired on Nicktoons on December 24, 2011 as part of Nicktoons' Winter Funderland.
- But interestingly, the pilot was never aired in its original state. Zim was originally voiced by Billy West in the pilot, but Nickelodeon had many lines redubbed by Zim's official actor Richard Horvitz in the version aired on Nicktoons. However, the original version of the pilot with all of Billy West's lines is up in its original 1999 version as a bonus feature on the Invader Zim: Vol 1 - Doom Doom Doom DVD release.
- The original short to pilot DuckTales was "Sport Goofy in Soccermania".
- The Amazing World of Gumball had a pilot (known as "Early Reel"), in which Gumball and Darwin had markedly different designs. The pilot was on YouTube for quite a while before the show was made, but Cartoon Network pulled it in 2010.
- Adventure Time's pilot was made for and aired on Nickelodeon's Random Cartoons, making it the rare show which aired on a different network than its pilot. Finn was named Pen in the pilot, presumably after creator Pendleton Ward. The main character's voice was also different, as the former voice actor is actually the older brother of the current one.
- Danger Mouse had two pilots, but only one exists. "The Mystery Of The Lost Chord" featured different voices for the characters and would be retooled in 1980 as series 1 episode "Who Lost The Bagpipes?"
- The pilot for Doug was "Doug Can't Dance", which is noticeably different from the series proper, specifically, the Squiggle Vision animation style. Nickelodeon aired it as the second episodes of the series, with a new scene added in to extend its length from 7 to 11 minutes.
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius originally had the pilot short "Runaway Rocketboy", but Nickelodeon was so impressed by it that they funded a whole feature length film based on it. But unlike the film or the series, the short had stiffer CGI, the characters had four fingers instead of five, and Jimmy wore a red and white stripped shirt instead of his red atom symbol shirt.
- The finale for Hong Kong Phooey was a full half-hour episode ("Comedy Cowboys"), a thinly disguised pilot which featured characters that Hanna-Barbera hoped to groom for a separate series. One set of characters, Posse Impossible, would become a segment of CB Bears three years later.
- The original and unaired pilot for Ben10 had Gwen as Ben's friend than cousin and depicts her sporting a ponytail and a pink shirt.
Never got beyond pilot stage
- Virtuality is an unfinished Mind Screw of a pilot which one can only describe as 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Serial Experiments Lain meets Big Brother IN SPACE (with some Ghost in the Shell and eXistenZ for flavor) from the producers of Battlestar Galactica. It's bad enough the crew has to pilot an experimental ship and be Reality TV stars in space for 10 years, but then mysterious "malfunctions" kick in, the VR goggles start to blur the lines between fantasy and reality the captain gets killed yet his consciousness seems to have survived; a crew member gets raped in her own simulation by a man who may or may not be a computer virus. Notable in that it was aired despite the show itself being cancelled.
- In 2006, SpongeBob SquarePants writer Derek Drymon completed a 12 minute pilot for Nickelodeon called Diggs Tailwagger in which he voiced the title character. It never got picked up for series, and Drymon now works at Cartoon Network.
- Micah Wright, a writer for The Angry Beavers, created a pilot called Constant Payne that never sold.
- Heat Vision and Jack
- There is a pilot out there for a "show" called Mercy Reef, starring Justin Hartley as Aquaman, and Adrianne Palicki as the villainess. To the enragement of many a fan, it wasn't picked up, but it was leaked onto iTunes for free download. It is awesome.
- Nobodys Watching was a Bill Lawrence pilot built on unbridled Show Within a Show Up to Eleven. Ready? It was a sitcom within a reality show within a sitcom within a reality show within a sitcom. Despite being brilliantly written and unquestionably hilarious, its somewhat confusing "which show is it now?" plotline made it difficult to follow.
Slick, very funny,
- It lampshaded its own existence as a pilot both with a title card...
sequence to come, if
show is picked up.
Derrick: I don't think there's a theme song yet...
- ...and then again with a theme song by its stars.
Will: (singing) Derrick and Will go to Hollywood! They're gonna make a show that is really nah.
- Lookwell, a sitcom pilot written by Conan O'Brien in 1991 starring Adam West.
- There was a short pilot for a The Wheel of Time television series aired in early 2015 but the ensuing legal issues with the author's estate make it exceedingly unlikely as of this writing that it's going to continue.
- Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is two back-to-back pilot episodes of an anime that never got off the ground. Ironically enough, a large contingent of Sonic fans consider it better than the other four shows that did get picked up.
- Battletoads, an animated pilot based on the video game which aired in 1993.
- The unsold shows of Cartoon Network's Big Pick:
- The first one, in 2000, had Trevor!, Nikki, Foe Paws, Uncle Gus, Lucky Lydia, Longhair and Doubledome, Lost Cat, and Prickles. At least Longhair and Doubledome can can currently be found on YouTube. Its two competitors were both picked up for series: The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy and Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones?
- The second Big Pick produced these unsold shows: Captain Sturdy, Yee-Haw and Doo-Dah, Imp, Inc., My Freaky Family, Major Flake, Utica Cartoon, Swaroop, Ferret And Parrot, and A Kitty Bobo Show.
- What A Cartoon! Show, aside from the successful pilots that ended up becoming CN's signature shows, ended up with a series of unsold pilots as well, including Gramps, Yoink of the Yukon, The Fat Cats, The Adventures of Captain Buzz Cheeply, and Tales of Worm Paranoia.
- Both Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon irregularly upload various pilots onto their websites to gauge interest. Most of these pilots naturally end up in this category.
- Alex Trebek was the host of an unsold Game Show pilot called Malcolm that was meant to be sold to NBC. The real star was the titular animated character who would sometimes help the contestants answer questions whose answers always had two parts to them. Malcolm would often make wisecracks at the questions a la The Hollywood Squares before giving the right answer (though he always gives the right one in the end). A review can be seen here.
- Pass the Line is an abysmal 1954 "game show" created and hosted by Cliff Saber in which a professional artist drew something which was copied line by line by several panelists. Possibly the only redeeming quality is the presence of a very young Jonathan Winters.
- David Letterman hosted two pilots of a game show called The Riddlers in November 1977. The first pilot was shown on GSN, and Dave talks about it here.
- Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers, which was intended to be the lead-in to a new spinoff series (similar to the earlier TV film A Call To Arms, which led into Crusade).
- Lupin VIII was a potential France-Japan studio teamup featuring the great-great-great-grandson of Lupin III. Negotiations with Maurice Leblanc's estate failed, and DiC ended up making Inspector Gadget instead.
- The Global Frequency pilot episode was leaked online after the series was shelved, where it garnered widespread rave reviews. Unfortunately, the leaking pissed off the executives so much that any chance of greenlighting the series, or releasing the pilot properly, went up in smoke. You'd think that, the illegality of the leaking aside, the fact the show had such good and widespread word-of-mouth would give it a better chance of success as a series than most other untested pilots, but given the execs' response to the leaking it seems they never wanted to make the series in the first place.
- Bamimation, a cartoon starring and created by Bam Margera, was pitched to MTV in 2006.