Follow TV Tropes


Five-Episode Pilot

Go To

When a new series is kicked off not by a single pilot episode, but by an entire five-episode miniseries that is either a) premiered one at a time, b) an episode for each weekday or c) all at once as a Compilation Movie.

This particular trope was common for animated programming during the 1980s, with many of these shows being Sixty Five Episode Cartoons that were generally First-Run Syndication, and thus had a more than large enough episode order to begin on such a note. With that in mind, the five-episode pilot often went on to be the only real story arc in the entire show, establishing the Series Goal and laying the foundation for a bevy of episodic adventures.

The upshot of this format for distributors was that when the shows were later released on home video, these first five episodes could be grouped into the aforementioned compilation movie. Because of this, the storyline often ends with the arrest or (apparent) death of the Big Bad or an unrelated Starter Villain, with the sixth episode picking up by showing the villain returning to action or introducing the "real" bad guys respectively.

With the decline of syndication, this trope has since died out in favor of premiering with the shorter "two-parter", or "three-parter" at absolute maximum. After all, if the studio is commissioned to only make 13-to-20 episodes to start for a network or streaming service, instead of creating a colossal 65 episodes themselves to sell to said networks, you don't want to waste such a substantial chunk of the first season on just establishing the premise.

Compare Multi-Part Episode, which can occur at any point in a show's run. Often overlaps with Pilot Movie and From Special to Series.


    open/close all folders 

    Asian Animation 

  • Relativity is an online series of short stories. The first story, "Lost & Found", is novel-length.

     Live-Action TV 
  • The 1984 version of The $100,000 Name That Tune with Jim Lange as host. Had several major set differences and a different second round.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) series began with a pilot miniseries on two consecutive nights.
  • The 4400 was originally a 5-episode miniseries, after which three 13-episode seasons were produced.
  • Dinotopia began as a 6 hour miniseries (3 episodes of 2 hours each). This later spawned a full series, albeit with a completely different cast.
  • Lexx premiered with a miniseries of four TV movies, which became eight episodes in syndication.
  • The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nóg started with nine episodes setting up the story before getting to the Monster of the Week format: two for the knights finding Tir Na Nog and their weapons, one for each of the four knights fighting their Threshold Guardians and winning their armor, two for taming Pyre the Dragon, and one for Rohan discovering he's The Chosen One they'd been waiting for.
  • Dallas premiered with a 5-episode pilot season.
  • As did T.J. Hooker.
  • Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation began with the five-part arc "East Meets West," sees the turtles finally defeat long-time enemy Shredder, while introducing the new turtle, Venus de Milo, and the new antagonist, Dragonlord. This sets up the show's new status quo, which remains unchanged for the duration of the series. The remaining episodes are much more episodic, though there is a four-part episode towards the end of the show's run.
  • Ghostwriter had not one, but two of these: The five-part episode "Who Burned Mr. Brinker's Store" was intended to be the pilot episode, with the Ghostwriter team already formed and solving cases. However, this was pushed back to the second episode so that "Ghost Story", a more conventional pilot, could made. "Ghost Story" also had five episodes and detailed how each member of the team met Ghostwriter and each other.

     Western Animation 
  • The animated adaptation of Bucky O'Hare and the Toad Wars! kicked off with a 3-episode miniseries collectively called "War Of the Warts."
  • Superman: The Animated Series began with a three-part episode "The Last Son of Krypton". It introduced (and destroyed) Krypton, brought Superman to Earth, raised him in Smallville, had him move to Metropolis as a full-time superhero and reporter for the Daily Planet, and lastly revealed the nature of Lex Luthor and their long-lasting rivalry. Its sequel series, Justice League, did the exact same thing in "Secret Origins", a three-parter that introduced the characters, their relationships, and the format for the overall show. Unlike other shows, both these series maintained strong continuity throughout their runs, and regularly revisited plot-points from these episodes.
    • Batman Beyond also did this, and, like the above shows, sold the two parts of "Rebirth" and four other episodes, as "Batman Beyond: The Movie".
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero had two stand-alone mini-series ("The Mass Device" in 1983 and "The Weather Dominator" in 1984) before the first season proper began in 1985 with a third mini-series titled "The Pyramid of Darkness". The 1986 season began with yet another mini-series titled "Arise, Serpentor, Arise!", as did the later DiC series with the 1989 mini-series "Operation Dragonfire". Each of these mini-series were five episodes in length.
  • The Transformers received a 3-episode pilot before continuing with 13 additional episodes for its first season (including another 3-parter, but later in the season).
    • The third season did begin with a 5-part episode ("The Five Faces of Darkness") which was essentially like a new pilot, restarting the series after the massive amount of changes wrought by the events of The Transformers: The Movie.
    • Beast Wars premiered with the creatively-named two-parter "Beast Wars".
    • Transformers: Animated continues the tradition with the three-part "Transform and Roll Out!"
    • Transformers: Prime kept the route a-trucking with the five-part "Darkness Rising".
    • Transformers: Robots in Disguise's first two episodes, aptly named "Pilot, Parts 1 and 2", for a two-episode version. Of note, this show follows the "individually episodic, with strong arc undertones" formula for its stories.
  • Some series begin with an anomalous 5 or 10-episode arc like this even if the arc isn't intended as a pilot for the show. This was apparently the case with Lion Voltron.
  • The first five episodes of the animated Babar series chronicle Babar's dealings with the Hunter and his attempts to bring civilization to the jungle. The status quo is achieved at the end of the fifth episode and remains for the rest of the series.
  • Exo Squad started off with the "Fall of the Human Empire" five-parter, but didn't progress into episodic format until season two, as the remaining eight episodes of season one were neatly divided into two more large arcs. The second season also had a five-episode finale, aptly titled "The Fall of the Neosapien Empire".
  • Disney shows would often debut as a movie-length pilot on the Disney Channel which was then broken up into at most 5 episodes to be rerun with the first season in syndication.
    • DuckTales (1987) began this way, and later ran three other miniseries following the same formula. With the exception of one ("Catch as Cash Can"), they were also all originally aired as TV movies.
    • Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers. Like DuckTales (1987), it also aired in movie form, but what makes it odd is the fact that the episodes were aired as the opening to season 2 rather than season 1, and the movie version wasn't released until after the episodes had been released in syndication.
    • TaleSpin had a four-episode pilot that also aired as a movie.
    • Darkwing Duck was debuted a little differently: what eventually became the Two Episode Pilot in syndication was actually a hour-length debut special that aired on a Saturday afternoon the weekend prior to the show's syndication run beginning.
    • Aladdin: The Series almost had one as well. Aladdin: The Return of Jafar was written to be a three-part opener to the series (and a 90-minute movie special), but after rough animation of the opening scene came back from Australia, Eisner was so impressed with the movement of the horses he decided to release it as the first direct-to-video sequel. Tad Stones never intended for his script to be sold as a "real" movie, and remains embarrassed by The Return of Jafar to this day.
    • Buzz Lightyear of Star Command has its Pilot Movie, The Adventure Begins, released directly to video. When it got turned into a TV series, it was aired as the three-part pilot (with Patrick Warburton dubbing over Tim Allen).
    • Gargoyles, which dealt with the heroes being put to sleep in the past, awakening in the present, and being betrayed by Xanatos in its first five episodes. Unlike many of the other examples, it continued to be arc-based for the first two seasons of its run.
    • There was once a TV series based on Atlantis: The Lost Empire in production called Team Atlantis, but the plug was pulled on it after work had already been started. The first three episodes were far enough along that they were completed and had some transition scenes added between episodes to make it into a single DTV film, despite the fact that the three episodes don't have much to do with each other. In other words, they somehow managed to invert this trope.
  • Mummies Alive! begins with four episodes that set up the show's premise, establishing all the main characters. At the end of the forth episode, Big Bad Scarab is dragged into another dimension by Geb the Earth god. After the first four episodes, the rest of the series maintains the same status quo and the episodes can be viewed in basically any order, aside from one three-part episode at the end of the series run.
  • Jem has its first five episodes created from 15 seven-minute segments that aired in between boy action shows on the Super Saturday/Super Sunday block. Same with Inhumanoids, being made by the same company.
  • The Pirates of Dark Water started as a Five-Episode Pilot syndicated miniseries named Dark Water.
  • Filmation's Ghostbusters began with a five-part adventure where the current generation of Ghostbusters had to save both their fathers from Prime Evil.
  • The series of My Little Pony 'n Friends kicked off its run with "The End of Flutter Valley" which acted not only as a Ten Episode Pilot, but a sequel to the movie.
    • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic had the..."Friendship is Magic" two-parter, which shows Twilight Sparkle and Spike moving to the main setting, she and the rest of the Mane Five becoming friends, and an introduction of a tradition of having a one-off villain or threat for every season premiere two-parter.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) began this way, and those were the only five episodes not rerun when it was syndicated two seasons later (because they made no sense out of order). This was "remedied" by making a "new" episode for syndication that collected the explanatory flashbacks from the miniseries then summarized the entire miniseries using further flashbacks. And then shortly after the third season finished airing, those first five episodes finally were included in the syndication package.
    • These episodes were later edited together as the "feature" entitled "The Epic Begins," and released on home video.
      • Market-Based Title: In the UK, the series was called Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles, and a rather insanely cobbled together version of the pilot was released on VHS as "How It All Began". This edit was, in fact, bits and pieces of the third season episode "Blast From The Past" (which contained flashbacks to the pilot) cut together with random episodes of season two. Worse, the tape ends half-way through the Eye of Zarnoth saga, leaving the viewer on a cliffhanger.
    • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) had a two-parter having the Turtles coming up to the surface for the first time, and encountering recurring enemies, the Kraang.
  • ThunderCats launched with a two episode pilot. Following this, the show's second year consisted entirely of a five-parter that was actually subtitled The Movie, and each of its subsequent three seasons began with a five-parter as well. The VHS includes the first four episodes as a movie-length feature.
  • She-Ra: Princess of Power was launched with a five-episode pilot; unusually, this actually was released as The Movie in theatres before the television launch of the series, though it was conceived as the standard five-episodes and also aired that way.
  • Samurai Jack and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends both debuted with a movie-length pilot episode, Samurai Jack: The Premiere Movie and House of Bloo's repesctivly, which was then broken into individual episodes for rerun (in both cases, three).
  • Phantom 2040 technically had a two part opener, but the first five episodes all act to introduce the main characters and establish the status quo that would remain for the remainder of the series. The first five episodes were also later reworked into a movie.
  • KaBlam!, being a sketch comedy, did not air as a movie pilot, but did have three individual pilots, though aired out of order. The first one in 1994 was made up of Henry and June, Action League NOW!!, and old Nicktoons shorts, and it did not air on TV (it was instead shown to Nickelodeon, which gave the creators the green light). The second one, "Your Real Best Friend!" was started in 1995 and finished in early 1996, and included the regular shorts. Unlike the first pilot, this one aired as part of the first season in 1996, but instead aired as the twelfth episode. The third pilot, "It's Flavorific!" was made in 1996 and also aired as part of season one, but as episode five. It contained all the original shorts.
    • A season one episode contained The Life with Loopy short, "Goldfish Heaven", which was the pilot for Loopy (notice that Loopy's hair decs are instead part of her hair, and Larry has a different outfit). "Goldfish Heaven", despite having the sequel, "Goldfish Ghost" aired on Nicktoons, this short wasn't re-run on Nicktoons due to quality concerns.
  • Challenge of the GoBots started with a five-part origin story in 1984, with the remaining 60 episodes following starting in September of 1985. The regular run featured another 5-episodes storyline, but despite picking-up from the ending of the original mini-series and featuring the origin of many recurring characters and concepts, the "Gobotron Saga" arc was broadcast late in the serie's run.
  • The first arc of The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin was aired on five consecutive weekdays. They then got combined into a movie in The '90s.
  • The 1963 animated adaptation of Snuffy Smith and Barney Google began with a 3-part storyline. Part 1 featured Barney Google taking Snuffy and Loweezy to the city in a scheme to make Snuffy a singing star, only to fail in the end. Parts 2 and 3 showed the trio trying to leave the city with no means of transportation (specifically, a wagon and a mule).
  • Centurions started with a five-part miniseries, and even ended with one (the latter being one overall story, where as the former contained five standalone and unrelated episodes).
  • Ultraman: The Adventure Begins (a.k.a. Ultraman USA), an animated pilot co-produced by Tsuburaya and Hanna-Barbera for an American Ultraman series that was never made, was broadcast in syndication as a four-episode mini-series.
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers had "Phoenix" and "New Frontier" acting as a two-part pilot.
  • The Legend of Korra had "Welcome to Republic City" and "A Leaf on the Wind" acting as a two-part pilot. Arguably, the third episode "The Revelation" counts as a belated third part to the pilot, as it introduces the antagonist and main story arc.
  • Rambo: The Force of Freedom began with a five-episode miniseries about the fictional country of Tierra Libre.
  • Magic Adventures of Mumfie's first season was made up of 13 10-minute episodes that told the story of how Mumfie met his friends. Later, they were combined into a Pilot Movie, which more people remember than the show the episodes came from.
  • The 2015 Inspector Gadget, a show that has 2 Quarter Hour Shorts for each of its episodes, began with the two-episode version, one in each of episode 1's two "shorts". "Gadget 2.0" is notably the only title so far to have a part one/part two set-up. Though primarily episodic, this show does have its Continuity Nods in later episodes.
  • "The Natural", a 3-episode version, makes up the opening story arc for Kaijudo: Rise of The Duel Masters, a heavily continuity-based show that alternates between multi-part episode arcs and standalone episodes throughout its 2 Season run. This 3-parter was first aired as a back-to-back sneak peek before the series began.
  • G.I. Joe: Renegades started off with "The Decent", a two-parter that sets the underlining story and long-term goals of the soon-to-be Renegades in question. It's also when the group gets their "acquired" traveling vehicle, dubbed "The Coyote" at a later date.
  • The continuity heavy Huntik: Secrets & Seekers opens with a two-part arc that brings together 3 of the 4 main characters and ends with them leaving the country on their first Seeker adventure. You can even extend this to the third episode that introduces the 4th main, Zhalia, as well.
  • "The Trilogy" prefixes the titles of the first 3 episodes of Voltron Force. Said "Trilogy" sees Daniel and Vince stealthily recruited by Lance as Voltron Force cadets, Keith finding and recovering his confiscated Black Lion, and the Voltron Force reuniting and forming a fully-functional Voltron once more, after years of a forced retirement.
  • The Netflix adaptation of Castlevania features one season of four 22-minute episodes that collectively form a set-up pilot. The conflict with Dracula is introduced, three of our protagonists (Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, and Alucard/Adrian Ţepeş), and plenty of world-building is put in place. A second season was greenlit immediately on release, and its length was confirmed to have been doubled.
  • Ninjago started out with four pilot episodes which inroduce us to the basic premise, characters, and backstory of the show, followed by six shorter, more serialized (and often more comical) "Mini Movies". These are still considered canon, but the season that followed is still called "season 1" due to it introducing the show's final format and episode length.