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A television pilot, also known as a pilot episode and series premiere, is the first episode of a television series. At the time of its inception, the pilot is meant to be the "testing ground" to see if a series will be possible and successful and therefore a test episode of an intended television series. It is an early step in the development of a television series, much like pilot lights or pilot studies serve as precursors to the start of larger activity, or pilot holes prepare the way for larger holes. Networks use pilots to discover whether an entertaining concept can be successfully realized. After seeing this sample of the proposed product, networks will then determine whether the expense of additional episodes is justified. They are best thought of as prototypes of the show that is to follow, because elements often change from pilot to series. Variety estimates that only a little over a quarter of all pilots made for American television succeed to the series stage,[1] although the figure may be even lower.[2]


As distinguished from "first episode"

A pilot episode is generally the first episode of a new show, shown to the heads of the studio it is marketed to.

The television industry uses the term differently from most viewers. Viewers frequently consider the pilot to be the first episode available for their viewing. They therefore assume that the first episode broadcast is also the episode that sold the series to the network. This is not always true. For instance, the episode "Invasion of the Bane" was not a pilot for The Sarah Jane Adventures because the BBC had committed to the first season before seeing any filmed content[3]—yet it is routinely referred to as a pilot.[4][5]

Sometimes, too, viewers will assign the word "pilot" to a work that represented the first appearances of characters and situations later employed by a series—even if the work was not initially intended as a pilot for the series. A good example of this is "Love and the Happy Days", an episode of Love, American Style which featured a version of the Cunningham family. It was in fact a failed pilot for the proposed 1972 series, New Family in Town, not a successful pilot for 1974's Happy Days.[6] So firmly embedded is the notion of it as a Happy Days pilot, however, that even series actor Erin Moran views it as such, as well as its creator, Garry Marshall.[7]

On other occasions, the pilot is never broadcast on television at all. Viewers of Temple Houston, for example, would likely have considered "The Twisted Rope" its pilot because "The Man from Galveston" was only publicly exhibited in cinemas four months later. Even then, "The Man from Galveston" had an almost completely different cast, and its main character was renamed to avoid confusion with the then-ongoing series.

Also, the pilot of Invader ZIM was actually never shown in the series. The episode was not an introductory episode like the "pilot" shown on air, but rather a test episode. Billy West was the voice of Zim in this pilot.[citation needed]

Types of pilot


Standard pilot


Pilots are expensive to produce and when they aren't totally sold on the idea and want to see the execution of it, a network may only order a pilot-presentation; a one-day shoot that, when edited together, gives a general idea of the look and feel of the proposed show. Presentations are usually between seven to ten minutes, however, these pilot-presentations will not be shown on the air unless more material is subsequently added to them to make them at least twenty-two minutes in length, the actual duration of a nominally "thirty minute" program (taking into account commercials). Occasionally, more than one pilot is commissioned for a particular proposed television series to evaluate what the show would be like with modifications. Star Trek and All in the Family are famous examples of this situation.

An example of change between the making of a pilot and the making of a series is To Tell the Truth in 1956. The original title of the pilot was Nothing But the Truth and the show was hosted by Mike Wallace. The program host was changed to Bud Collyer, and the title changed.


Pilots usually run as the first episode of the series, unless the series ended up being so different from the pilot that it wouldn't make sense (in this case the pilot (or portions of it) is often re-shot or rewritten to fit the rest of the series). The pilot for Gilligan's Island, for instance, showed the castaways becoming stranded on the island. However, three roles were recast before going to series, with the characters either modified or completely altered to the point where the pilot could no longer be used as a regular episode. The series began with the second produced episode, with the characters already on the island. The story from the pilot was largely reworked into a flashback episode which aired later, although with several key scenes re-shot. Even the theme song, which was originally done as a calypso number was rewritten to be completely different.

A similar situation occurred on The Patty Duke Show. The original pilot episode was filmed in Hollywood, with San Francisco established as the program's setting. However, in order to take advantage of less restrictive child labor laws which permitted Patty Duke to film more hours in any given day, production shifted to New York for the series, two cast members were replaced, and New York became the series' focal point. The unaired version of the pilot was reworked and partially refilmed as a "flashback episode" at the end of the first season.

Lost In Space's original pilot episode, "No Place To Hide", was heavily reworked and refilmed before the series' premiere (including the addition of Dr. Zachary Smith and The Robot) into the "official" pilot episode, "The Reluctant Stowaway". Elements of the unaired pilot were then utilized during the series' initial episodes.

There have been exceptions to this rule when a network or a producer has chosen to run the pilot at a later date. Series for which this has happened include the first Star Trek series, where the second, modified pilot ("Where No Man Has Gone Before") was aired as the third episode, and footage from the original unaired pilot ("The Cage") was edited into newer footage to produce the two-part episode "The Menagerie". (However, at the time it was common for a series' episodes to be shown out of the order in which they were produced.) The more recent television show Firefly set a particularly curious example, where the series was officially canceled before the pilot aired as the final televised episode. Critics of the Firefly move complained that the networks decision to air the series out of sequence made it difficult for audiences to understand what was going on; when the series was subsequently released on DVD, the episodes were listed in Joss Whedon's intended order, with the two hour pilot as the first episode.

Unsuccessful pilots were often previously broadcast as episodes of an anthology series. For example, Seven Against the Sea was a one hour war drama which originally aired as an April 1962 episode of Alcoa Premiere, reworked into the half-hour situation comedy McHale's Navy the following fall. Occasionally pilots that fail to launch a series are nonetheless broadcast as TV-movies, shown outside the United States as a feature film (To Trap a Spy the 1963 The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot), or as specials, usually as filler or as attempts by networks to recoup some of their investment in the production. Examples include the one-hour 1982 pilot for a never-produced Modesty Blaise series, and a 1986 pilot for The Saint in Manhattan, which had failed to launch a new series of Simon Templar adventures for television. Presumably, strong ratings for such broadcasts are capable of changing the network's mind, but this rarely occurs. On some occasions, a pilot film for a televised series will air separately long after the series itself has been cancelled. Such was the case with the pilot film for A Man Called Sloane, which featured a different actor in the title role. After it was not picked up for the 2006 fall season, the Aquaman pilot became available on the iTunes Store. A few cable networks, such as the now defunct Trio, showed various pilots (and even episodes) of failed or canceled television series.

The pilot episode of The A-Team features a different actor (Tim Dunigan) in the role of Face, the part that Dirk Benedict would become well known for in the following series. In fact, creators Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo had wanted Benedict from the beginning, after seeing him as Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, but network executives insisted on a different actor in the role. Upon completion of the pilot (given the title 'Mexican Slayride' in syndication), they changed their minds, feeling that Dunigan wasn't right for the part, and the role was given to Benedict after all.[8]

In addition to the occasional occurrence of a different actor or actress playing a lead character, the main set may be different — sometimes substantially — than the one used during the rest of the series. For instance, on The Cosby Show, the Huxtables' living and dining rooms in the pilot episode are different from the ones used in subsequent episodes. This is also the case with the first official episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which was filmed several months before the rest of the series [January 1961]; the only room of the Petrie's house was their kitchen, which looked different also. Another good example is on The Nanny, the Sheffields main living room is flipped around with some different colors, the den is reversed, and the dining room is re-dressed. In the case of I Dream of Jeannie's original pilot episode (filmed in December 1964), khaki uniforms were utilized instead of traditional Air Force dress blues, and Tony Nelson's living room was considerably different, including the omission of a winding stairway leading to an attic study that was seen in later episodes.

The television show Even Stevens had an unusual way of airing its pilot. The original pilot was made two years before the show was picked up so the actors looked younger than they did when the series eventually aired. Taking advantage of this, Even Stevens' tenth episode used the pilot as a flashback for when the characters were much younger. Newer footage was mixed in to show the main characters daydreaming about the events in the pilot while being trapped on a Ferris wheel. The pilot originally contained inconsistencies too, such as the Stevens' last name being the Spiveys. Because of this, some dialogue was overdubbed before it aired.


Since the mid 1990s, television producers and networks have increasingly used presentation tapes called "demos" in lieu of full-length pilots.[2] These demos tend to be substantially shorter than a standard episode, and make limited use of original sets and post-production elements. The idea is merely to showcase the cast and the writing. These types of pilots are rarely broadcast, if ever, although the material is sometimes partially retrofitted onto a future episode of the resulting series.

Some series sold using demos:

Backdoor pilots

A backdoor pilot is defined by Variety as a "pilot episode filmed as a standalone movie so it can be broadcast if not picked up as a series".[9] It is distinguished from a simple pilot in that it has a dual purpose. It has an inherent commercial value of its own while also being "proof of concept for the show, that's made to see if the series is worth bankrolling".[10] This definition also includes episodes of one show introducing a spin-off. A typical unsuccessful example was the final episode of One Day at a Time in May 1984, which was supposed to serve as a spin-off featuring Pat Harrington, Jr.'s "Dwayne Schnieder" character in a new setting. The network ultimately passed on the potential series.

A historically important venue for backdoor pilots has been the anthology series. They have variously been used as a place to show work still being actively considered for pickup, and as a venue for completed work already rejected by the network. With the decline of anthology series, backdoor pilots have increasingly been seen as episodes of existing series, one-off television movies, and mini-series. As backdoor pilots have either failed to sell or are pending the outcome of the broadcast, networks will not advertise them as pilots. It is thus often unclear to initial viewers of backdoor pilots that they're seeing a pilot of any kind, unless they have been privy to knowledgeable media coverage of the piece.

Mini-series or movie pilots

  • The ABC mini-series Dinotopia was turned into a short-lived series.
  • The 4400 on USA Network was initially broadcast as a miniseries, and was later picked up as a full series on the same network.
  • The reimagined Battlestar Galactica was initially broadcast as a miniseries on the Sci Fi Channel, and enormous popularity caused it to be picked up by the network.
  • The Cartoon Network series Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends and Samurai Jack debuted as television movies and were later picked up as series.
  • The popular 80's soap Dallas was originally intended to be a simple five part mini series, but was eventually picked up by CBS after the last episode of the primary series brought in more than substantial ratings.
  • The Doctor Who telemovie was to serve as a backdoor pilot for a new series with the Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann. The series was not picked up, but the series was later revived in 2005 by BBC Wales. Prior to that, McGann would reprise his role for a series of Big Finish audio adventures licensed by the BBC.
  • The 2008 Knight Rider movie served as a backdoor pilot for NBC's reprisal of the 1982-86 original TV series, which was picked up and debuted on September 24, 2008.
  • Similarly, One Piece had a pilot original video animation.
  • Eureka was planned as a TV movie on the Sci Fi Channel. After seeing the movie, executives turned the story into a series.
  • Fluppy Dogs, an hour-long animated TV movie from 1986, was intended as a pilot for an ABC television series. The movie was not well-received, and the series was never picked up.
  • Groove Squad, an animated movie featuring three superhero cheerleaders, was made as a pilot. The series was not picked up.
  • Something is Out There, a science fiction mini-series aired by NBC in 1988, proved popular enough that a TV series was commissioned for the following fall.
  • The mid-1980s science fiction series V was commissioned after the success of two mini-series, V and V: The Final Battle.
  • Babylon 5 began with the pilot film The Gathering. Babylon 5 also had a sequel series, Crusade, which began with a pilot advertised as a Babylon 5 TV-movie, Call to Arms. Another (later) Babylon 5 TV-movie was intended as the pilot for a second sequel series, which was to have been called Legend of the Rangers. This series was not picked up, and its pilot episode (which bore the title To Live and Die in Starlight) was aired as Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers.

Pilots within other series

There are many television pilots that appear as episodes of already existing shows. This way, if any of the pilots are unsuccessful, they can still be seen as individual episodes.

Successful Pilots

  • All in the Family served as backdoor pilots to two different shows, each of which led to a spin-off of a their own.
    • The first was for Maude, in which Archie and Edith are invited to Maude's daughter's wedding, which Archie ruins when he calls the cops on the bachelor party. (Subsequently, the show Good Times was spun off from Maude).[citation needed]
    • The second backdoor pilot within All in the Family was The Jeffersons. The Jeffersons, regular characters on All in the Family, move out of the house next door to the Bunkers in Queens and into a new condominium in Manhattan. The Jeffersons subsequently spun off the short-lived 1981 show Checking In, centered on the character of Florence Johnston (played by Marla Gibbs), the Jeffersons' maid, who goes to work as executive housekeeper for a posh Manhattan hotel.[11]
  • Happy Days (which itself began as a backdoor pilot aired as a segment on Love American Style – "Love and the Happy Days") also served as backdoor pilot to three different shows.
    • The first launched the successful series Laverne & Shirley in 1976, after the title characters appeared in Happy Days as dates of Ritchie and Fonzie.
    • The second launched the successful series Mork & Mindy, after Mork the space alien visited earth and did battle with Fonzie.
    • The third launched the brief series Joanie Loves Chachi, in which the title characters, regulars on Happy Days, fall in love and live near each other in Chicago.
  • The Andy Griffith Show: In May 1964, on the season-four finale, Andy's friend, Gomer Pyle, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in a backdoor pilot for Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. Also, in May 1968, the series finale was actually a backdoor pilot for Mayberry R.F.D. The Griffith show itself had sprung from a backdoor pilot on Make Room For Daddy, Danny Thomas' earlier television series; Thomas drove through Mayberry on his show and was arrested by Sheriff Andy.
  • The Twilight Zone itself was a development from a backdoor pilot ("The Time Element") written for Playhouse 90 but finally airing as an installment of the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse: the cover page of the shooting script refers to "The Twilight Zone". The airing of a second, more conventional, pilot episode ("Where Is Everybody?") followed 11 months later and served as the first official episode of the legendary series.[12]
  • CSI: NY began as an episode of CSI: Miami, which itself began as an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Both spin-off series featured crimes being investigated by the CSI units from both cities and series.
  • Top of the Heap, a short-lived television series starring future Friends cast member Matt LeBlanc, began as an episode of Married...With Children. After the series failed, LeBlanc continued to appear on occasion as his Top of the Heap character Vinnie Verducci in a number of Married With Children episodes until Friends premiered.
  • The pilot episode of Private Practice (a spin-off from Grey's Anatomy) was first shown on May 3, 2007, in a special two-hour episode of the main show.
  • An episode of the The Cosby Show also served as a pilot for the spin-off series A Different World.
  • The popular show Xena: Warrior Princess had its starting premises on three episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (first season's "The Warrior Princess", "The Gauntlet" and "Unchained Heart").
  • An episode of The Golden Girls served as a backdoor pilot to the series Empty Nest (although Empty Nest would undergo a number of changes before airing as a series).
  • The military investigative drama NCIS was launched from a two-part backdoor pilot episode in the drama series JAG. In the pilot, the NCIS investigators came in to investigate the death of the pregnant Lieutenant Singer, a former (and ill-liked) member of the JAG corps. This backdoor pilot differed markedly in style and feel from regular episodes of JAG so as to be a thinly disguised stand-alone pilot. NCIS would in turn air a two-part backdoor pilot for a spin-off called NCIS: Los Angeles, which was aired on 28 April 2009 (the sixth season episodes "Legend (Part 1)" and "Legend (Part 2)").
  • An episode of the detective series Burke's Law served as a pilot to spin off another detective series, Honey West.
  • An episode of the comedy/mystery series "Psych".

Retooled ideas

  • An episode from February 1960 of The Danny Thomas Show served as a backdoor pilot for The Andy Griffith Show. In the episode, Danny Thomas' character is arrested by Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) of Mayberry, North Carolina for running a stop sign. The Andy Griffith Show was retooled from this episode and debuted on October 3, 1960.
  • Magnum, P.I.: After playing the very similar character of pilot Grady Dancer in two episodes of Magnum co-creator Donald P. Bellisario's 1982-3 series Tales of the Gold Monkey, William Lucking was introduced as ace pilot Sam Hunter, a treasure hunter like Grady. Again a series wasn't picked up (although Bellisario went on to rework the 'adventures of an ace pilot' concept in Airwolf).
  • Robin Williams appeared as "Mork" on the series Happy Days. His overnight success led to his own series, Mork and Mindy.
  • An episode of Diff'rent Strokes featured a woman who taught a class of immigrants a course on English. The show was never picked up, however this premise for a series was used in the 1986-87 syndicated sitcom What a Country.[citation needed]
  • Who's the Boss? spawned two short-lived spin-offs.
  • Charmed Lives was a sitcom about two women up for a job, starring Fran Drescher and Donna Dixon; it only lasted three episodes and was immediately taken off the air.
  • Living Dolls, premiering and ending in 1989, the show starred Leah Remini, Michael Learned, and Halle Berry. The show featured Remini, who had appeared in two Who's the Boss? episodes as a friend of Samantha's, as a homeless model taken under the wing of an agent played by Learned.
  • Several episodes of the sixth season of Highlander: The Series were intended as auditions for a female lead for a spinoff. The four episodes were Sins of the Father, with Dara Tomanovich as Alex Raven; Patient Number Seven, with Alice Evans as Kyra; Justice, with Justina Vail as Katya; and Deadly Exposure, with Sandra Hess as Reagan Cole. All of these episodes starred Adrian Paul as series lead Duncan MacLeod. A fifth episode, Two of Hearts, starred Claudia Christian as an immortal woman, Katherine, and Steven O'Shea as Nick, her mortal husband, and did not include Duncan MacLeod at all. But because Claudia Christian was an American, and the producers believed they needed a Canadian or EU citizen as the lead of a potential spinoff to secure funding, it was not considered as an actor audition like the other four episodes. Ultimately, the producers decided against using any of the four audition characters, and instead decided on using the already established character of Amanda, played by Elizabeth Gracen, as the co-lead for Highlander: The Raven. (Somewhat ironically, Gracen was an American citizen.)

Unused pilots

  • In 1976, the character of Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas) had become so popular in Starsky & Hutch that producers considered giving him a spin-off. The second season episode "Huggy Bear and the Turkey" (which would have been the name of the proposed series) saw Huggy paired with former Sheriff "Turkey" Turquet (Dale Robinette) as Private Investigators who have been hired to find a woman's missing husband. The series was never made.
  • Two second season (1979) episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard, "Jude Emery" and "Mason Dixon's Girls", served as backdoor pilots for would-be series. The former concerns a Texas Ranger, an unconventional lawman who drove a Korean War surplus Jeep and had a gun that didn't work, and the latter is about a traveling Private Investigator and his beautiful assistants, the brunette Tinker and the blonde Samantha; both were written by Dukes creator Gy Waldron in hope of launching new shows, but neither episode led to a series being commissioned.
  • Magnum, P.I.:
    • The first season (1981) episode titled "J. Digger Doyle" presented the character of security expert Joy "Digger" Doyle (Erin Gray) of the episode title, in hope of launching her own series, but the idea didn't follow through.
    • The third season (1983) episode "Two Birds of a Feather" again served as a potential pilot for a new show, which didn't sell, but was heavily reworked to become Airwolf (1984).
  • The feature-length (later airing in two parts in syndication) second season (1984) Knight Rider story "Mouth of the Snake" (a.k.a. "All That Glitters") introduced Charles Taylor as bionically enhanced David Dalton (the story is notable for little inclusion of series leads Michael Knight and K.I.T.T., or few other series regulars or locations). On this occasion, the concept actually was picked up, leading to several TV movies featuring Dalton in 1986; However they were not successful and a full series did not appear.
  • The first two seasons of the original Twilight Zone had several instances of backdoor pilots, none of which were successful in establishing a new series. Two episodes of the series were intended as backdoor pilots, both about guardian angels. One was called "Mr. Bevis", which starred Orson Bean as a down-on-his-luck man (Rod Serling originally envisioned Burgess Meredith in the role) who suddenly finds himself being assisted by his guardian angel; the other was called "Cavender Is Coming", which starred Carol Burnett as a down-on-her-luck woman and Jesse White as her angel (the potential series would have focused on Cavender's various encounters with other "deserving humans" in need of heavenly assistance). Neither were picked up, and neither were particularly well-received by Twilight Zone fans. Producer Buck Houghton has expressed particular disappointment with "Mr. Bevis."
  • Star Trek provides a famous example of the latter "backdoor pilot"-type with the episode "Assignment: Earth" where the crew of the Enterprise encounters Gary Seven, an Earth-man raised and trained by an advanced and unknown alien race to oversee and protect Earth in a story that was intended to introduce the character and other supporting characters and their adventures in a proposed spin-off series. It failed to become a series, however.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Disaster" featured isolated groups of the primary and supporting cast in semi-standalone stories throughout the ship. One of these, featuring Chief O'Brien and Ensign Ro, was intended to test the characters' chemistry and ability to hold audience interest, in preparation for the planned series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Colm Meaney went on to reprise his role as O'Brien as a main character on DS9, but Michelle Forbes (Ensign Ro) did not sign on for the series; the DS9 character was rewritten as Major Kira, played by Nana Visitor.
  • The TV movie Knight Rider 2000 was produced as a backdoor pilot for a series of the same name. However, the series was never made, and the franchise would have to wait for other projects to yield new series on air.
  • The MacGyver episode "The Coltons" is a backdoor pilot for a series about the Colton brothers, private investigators, which was not picked up as a series. While the plot is largely consistent with the trend of MacGyver episodes in its season, MacGyver himself is completely absent except for an introductory narration at the beginning and a post-climactic cameo at the end.
  • Sabrina, the Teenage Witch: a backdoor pilot featuring a witch and her two daughters (also witches, played by Sabrina actress Melissa Joan Hart's real life sisters) who fell in love with a mortal man with two sons. The show was never picked up. Another backdoor pilot featured Sabrina's cousin Amanda as a new student in a school for delinquent witches. This show was also not picked up.
  • "Diagnosis Murder" had several episodes intended to be spin-offs but none were ever picked up:
    • "Retribution," a two-part episode was intended to be a pilot for "The Chief." Fred Dryer starred at the hard-nosed Los Angeles chief of police who played various political games to provide law and order. Neal McDonough would co-star as Ross Canin, a mob boss who was actually an undercover policeman acting as Masters' ultimate inside man.
    • "A Mime is a Terrible Thing to Waste" featured Rachel York as Randy Wofle, an eccentric woman with various jobs who gets involved in murder cases.
    • "Blood Ties" was to be a pilot for a series called "Whistlers" with rule-bending detective Amy Devlin (Kathy Evison) and her more outragerous partner Taylor Lucas (Zoe McLellan).
  • The Crossing Jordan episode "Sunset Division" is another example; however, the pilot has not been picked up.
  • In the first season of The Cosby Show, the Huxtable family spent the weekend at a youth center run by a young Hispanic man played by Tony Orlando and his girlfriend/wife. This show was never picked up.
  • On the Disney Channel series That's So Raven, a backdoor pilot featuring a young girl who acted on a fictional show about the 1950s called "Better Days" was shown. The series would have followed the girl's attempts to balance her acting career with her normal life as a middle schooler. The series was not picked up, but it did inspire the Disney show Hannah Montana
  • The Fairly Oddparents had a backdoor pilot which starred Timmy Turner's television hero, Crash Nebula in 2004. The series was never picked up.
  • Smallville had an episode almost entirely devoted to a reinvention of the classic Aquaman character. It was later revealed that The WB planned to launch a Smallville-esque Aquaman series; this didn't come off, and the proposed series would have diverged widely from the episode's version of the character.
  • The Brady Bunch also had a backdoor pilot called "Kelly's Kids" in which Ken Berry played a friend of the Bradys as he and his wife adopted not only a white orphan but also his black and Asian best friends as well, much to his bigoted neighbor's chagrin. This pilot was not picked up either, although it was reworked into the 1986 show Together We Stand.
  • Episode 47 (2nd season) of The Nanny, entitled "The Chatterbox," was an unsuccessful backdoor pilot for a show based in a hair salon, starring Tracy Nelson.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends had two episodes focusing on a group of construction vehicles called Jack and the Pack. The proposed series was not picked up.
  • Hong Kong Phooey had an episode named "Comedy Cowboys", featuring a backdoor pilot for three different sets of possible cowboy cartoons: Honcho, The Mysterious Maverick and Posse Impossible. None of them were picked up as a full series, although Posse Impossible appeared on CB Bears.
  • Spacecataz was a Backdoor Pilot of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, shown during the cold openings of Season 3, after it failed because all of the characters died during the Pilot. Interestingly enough, Aqua Teen Hunger Force started as a Backdoor Pilot in Space Ghost: Coast To Coast.
  • The Tiny Toons episodes, "Take Elmyra Please" and "Grandma's Dead", featured Elmyra Duff's family,consisting of her inventor father Mac, her spaced-out mother Emily, her super-strong baby brother, her superhero wannabe brother Duncan and her teenage sister Amanda. The episodes were pilots for a possible series featuring Elmyra and her family, but it was never picked up. However network executives would later shoehorn Elmyra into Pinky and the Brain, becoming Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain.
  • Animaniacs tried the same thing with the Slappy Squirrel episode "One Flew Over the Cuckoo Clock", the pilot for a series featuring Slappy, Skippy and their friends and neighbours. The series was not picked up, although Animaniacs had more luck with Pinky and the Brain.
  • The Pinky and the Brain episode "Plan Brain From Outer Space" features Zalgar the Brain Eater. The episode was a backdoor pilot for a series featuring the brain-eating alien, but it was not picked up.
  • An episode or two of Gilmore Girls featured Rory's once-boyfriend Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) meeting his estranged father (Rob Estes) and considering moving to California to get to know him better. While this was meant to start a new series, the WB canceled plans because production costs were too high. Jess returned to the main show a few times, but only as a guest. Ventimiglia went on to star in Heroes.
  • In spring 2009, the cult TV show Gossip Girl featured an episode called "Valley Girls", which focused on the mother of Serena Van Der Woodsen as a teenaged girl in the early 1980s. It was meant to become a TV series, but the CW network passed.
  • Gargoyles (TV series) contained several backdoor pilots during its second season during the "World Tour" arc, including the New Olympians and a spin-off about King Arthur in modern times.

Pilots within anthology series

Television shows that spun off from anthology series usually started as a one-episode story but showed potential for a series.

In some cases, a series is created specifically to showcase pilots.

Unintentional pilots

While, as listed above, there are many telemovies or episodes within series intended as pilots, there are often telemovies or episodes within other series which are so popular that they inspire later TV series. A popular example is The Simpsons, which started as a set of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show.

Put pilot

A put pilot is an agreement between a network and a studio, where the network will incur substantial penalties if the pilot episode is not aired. This is a virtual guarantee that a pilot will be picked up.[14]

Unsold pilot

Unsold television pilots are pilots developed by a company that is unable to sell it to a network for showing.

Pilot season

In American television, pilots are generally sought at a specific time of year, called "pilot season". A phenomenon of the shape of the traditional broadcast season, pilot season occurs after August. During this time, the networks must decide what should go on the fall schedule. The networks look at the large pool of pilots, and then decide which ones they will keep for series. These are announced as part of the fall schedule or as mid-season replacements. It is not unusual for a pilot to be shopped to another network after it has been rejected.

Pilot season, when meant to include when actors/producers are working on pilots for the next season, is in the spring.

See also


External links

Simple English

Television pilot, usually called just a pilot, is a test episode made to sell a television series. It may be broadcast as the first episode if the series is sold to a network or cable channel, and sometimes has different actors or other differences to the real series. There are also many series whose pilot episodes are titled "Pilot". While many pilots are made, few make it to the screen, and even fewer go on to become full television series because of big competition between networks and producers.


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