: 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
: Yeah. 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.
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 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 pilot episode of Star Trek: The Original Series
, which was recycled into the two-part episode "The Menagerie".)
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 pilots are therefore notorious for clunky expositional dialogue
. 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
Animation often does the same thing, except it is usually a 5-10 minute example of what the series is going to be like: action, characters, dialogue, setting. This may give way to an actual television series, but the pilot itself is not considered a part of canon
. Live-Action TV
may do the same thing.
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.
open/close all folders
- 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), and Orihime's father is the vengeful lonely hollow envious for her attention, instead of her older brother.
- 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).
- Lupin VIII is the pilot episode for a potential France-Japan studio teamup for the Great-great-great-grandson of Lupin III.
- 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 and rules, which pretty much resembled the show's final product. The only difference was that #1 depicted a loss and #2 depicted the highest possible win in the Money Cards (which also happened once in the real game). 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, a portion of the February 1975 pilot King of the Hill (not that one) became the Bonus Round to Card Sharks.
- 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, however, had much lower clue values — the first used the 1978 values of $25-$125 and $50-$150, while the second had $50-$250 and $100-$500.
- The Jokers 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; the first third was axed after the taping, replaced by a pitchfilm with creator Jack Barry explaining that it wasn't good (it was a lame Newlywed Game derivative). 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 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 two pilots (What the Blank! in 2004 and Match Game in 2008) had been made since then, but it went nowhere until 2012.
- Surprisingly averted with The Price Is Right. When Mark Goodson began the revival in 1972, he instead created a pitchfilm that included him and host Dennis James discussing the game. They played two mock pricing games (which eventually became Take Two and Ten Chances), followed by a clip of Dennis filling in for Monty Hall on Lets Make A Deal. Very few of the eventual show's elements are in place at this point, and neither CBS nor Bob Barker were involved yet.
- The original 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...so NBC slotted Price opposite CBS megastar Arthur Godfrey. It managed to develop a following and beat Godfrey pretty bad in the ratings.
- 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.
- Pyramid 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 one with one celebrity for each category, one 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).
- NBC accidentally aired the second pilot of the 1990 revival of To Tell the Truth on the east coast. This was notable as Richard Kline hosted the two 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 (1973) was Shopper's Bazaar, 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. 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 the Byrnes format with Chuck as host, who of course was replaced by Pat Sajak in 1981. More info on these pilots can be found here.
- 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.
- Last, but not least, instead of "Do it, Rockapella!" the pilots used "Hit it, Fellas!".
- David Letterman hosted two pilots of The Riddlers in November 1977. The first pilot was shown on GSN, and Dave talks about it here.
- Pass the Line is an abysmal 1954 "game" 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.
Live Action TV
- 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.
- "Invasion of the Bane", the first episode of another Whoniverse series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, aired as a stand-alone story like a pilot, but, again, the BBC had already agreed to make the first season.
- 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.
- 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 60s televisions, many of the special effects shots from the pilot were re-used 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.
- 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 become 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 Favourite 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 Global Frequency pilot episode was leaked onto the Internet after the series was shelved, where it garnered widespread rave reviews. Unfortunately, the leaking ticked off the executives in charge so much that any chance of reviving the series, or even releasing the pilot properly, went up in smoke. You'd think that, the illegality of the leaking aside, the possibility of having a show about which such good word of mouth had spread that it had a better chance of success than most other untested pilots would be worth giving a shot to anyway, but apparently not.
- 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 plot lines the proper way, and Firefly was canceled 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 6 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 included on DVDs or any other official release. 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!".
- 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.
- 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.
- Joe Murray intended for Rocko to be a light yellow, and animated him as such in the pilot. However, Merchandise-Driven-based Executive Meddling forced him to change him to his final beige color, which required the pilot to be recolored digitally.
- 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 also adapted into the Season 2 episode "First Day". In 2013, Uncle Grandpa became the second show to rise from The Cartoonstitute's ashes.
- And speaking of Regular Show, its pilot for The Cartoonstitute — which was only about 8 minutes instead of 11, and had cruder animation and more mellow voice acting (despite all the voice actors being the same) — was Re Tooled into the Season 2 episode "First Day".
- 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.
- 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.
Never got beyond pilot stage