Top 25 Television Pilots

by scarecrow_n_tinman | created - 15 Sep 2013 | updated - 1 month ago | Public

Pilots are an interesting breed of television episode. Not only does it have to tell a story, but it also has to setup the series; the character dynamics, the tone of the show, the themes, etc. And while a strong pilot will set a show off in the right direction, it doesn’t always guarantee a long and successful series. The selected pilots reflect this dichotomy, yet each showed extraordinary potential for their series.

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1. Lost (2004–2010)
Episode: Pilot: Part 1 (2004)

TV-14 | 42 min | Adventure, Drama, Fantasy

Forty-eight survivors of an airline flight originating from Australia, bound for the U.S., which crash-lands onto an unknown island 1000 miles off course, struggle to figure out a way to survive while trying to find a way to be rescued.

Director: J.J. Abrams | Stars: Naveen Andrews, Emilie de Ravin, Matthew Fox, Jorge Garcia

Votes: 8,351

2. Justified (2010–2015)
Episode: Fire in the Hole (2010)

TV-MA | 50 min | Action, Crime, Drama

Marshal Givens returns home and is assigned a case involving an old friend from his coal mining days who has become a white supremacist and blew up an African American church.

Director: Michael Dinner | Stars: Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Jacob Pitts, Erica Tazel

Votes: 1,788

3. Once Upon a Time (2011–2018)
Episode: Pilot (2011)

TV-PG | 42 min | Adventure, Fantasy, Romance

Emma Swan is taken to a strange town by her son Henry, who she gave up for adoption years ago, and tells her of a curse cast by the Evil Queen.

Director: Mark Mylod | Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas

Votes: 3,284

4. Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009)
Episode: 33 (2004)

TV-14 | 43 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

The Galactica and the other remaining ships - with about 50,000 people aboard them all - are being pursued by the Cylons. They are forced to jump into hyper space every 33 minutes. Somehow,... See full summary »

Director: Michael Rymer | Stars: Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber

Votes: 2,292

5. Arrested Development (2003– )
Episode: Pilot (2003)

TV-14 | 21 min | Comedy

After his father fails to promote him within the family business, Michael accepts a job in Arizona -- until his dad is arrested for shady bookkeeping.

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo | Stars: Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera

Votes: 2,797

6. Damages (2007–2012)
Episode: Get Me a Lawyer (2007)

TV-MA | 54 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Hot-shot, high-stakes, New York City attorney Patty Hewes hires a new associate, the bright, ambitious, but somewhat naive Ellen Parsons, to help her as she tries to ruin billionaire Arthur... See full summary »

Director: Allen Coulter | Stars: Glenn Close, Rose Byrne, Zeljko Ivanek, Noah Bean

Votes: 595

7. Life (2007–2009)
Episode: Pilot: Merit Badge (I) (2007)

TV-14 | 43 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Exonerated after serving 12 years in prison for murders he didn't commit, policeman Charlie Crews is restored to duty as a detective. As an imprisoned policeman, Crews had a very difficult ... See full summary »

Director: David Semel | Stars: Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi, Brooke Langton, Robin Weigert

Votes: 458

8. Dexter (2006–2013)
Episode: Dexter (2006)

TV-MA | 53 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Dexter takes part in the investigation of a serial killer who drains his victims of blood. He also kills two criminals, and his romantic relationship may be going to the next level.

Director: Michael Cuesta | Stars: Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King

Votes: 6,724

9. Felicity (1998–2002)
Episode: Pilot (1998)

TV-14 | 44 min | Drama, Romance

A high-school graduate makes a momentous decision that puts her life on a much different track than either she or her parents envisioned.

Director: Matt Reeves | Stars: Keri Russell, Scott Speedman, Amy Jo Johnson, Scott Foley

Votes: 126

10. Homeland (2011– )
Episode: Pilot (2011)

TV-MA | 55 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

A CIA case officer becomes suspicious that a Marine Sergeant war hero rescued after eight years of captivity in Afghanistan, has been turned into a sleeper agent by Al Qaeda.

Director: Michael Cuesta | Stars: Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin, David Harewood

Votes: 3,707

11. Futurama (1999–2013)
Episode: Space Pilot 3000 (1999)

TV-PG | 30 min | Animation, Comedy, Sci-Fi

A down-on-his-luck pizza delivery guy is accidentally frozen on New Year's Eve 1999, and wakes up in 2999.

Directors: Rich Moore, Gregg Vanzo | Stars: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Dick Clark

Votes: 2,508

12. Leverage (2008–2012)
Episode: The Nigerian Job (2008)

TV-PG | 42 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller

When Nathan Ford, a former insurance company investigator, is approached by a man asking him to help retrieve some stolen property, he is dubious. When he finds out that the job requires ... See full summary »

Director: Dean Devlin | Stars: Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Christian Kane, Beth Riesgraf

Votes: 870

13. Alias (2001–2006)
Episode: Truth Be Told (2001)

TV-14 | 66 min | Action, Drama, Mystery

Sydney Bristow discovers that her job as an agent for SD-6, a top-secret division of the CIA, is not what she thought it was. Sydney's father, Jack, also tells her the truth about his work ... See full summary »

Director: J.J. Abrams | Stars: Jennifer Garner, Ron Rifkin, Michael Vartan, Bradley Cooper

Votes: 779

14. Veronica Mars (2004– )
Episode: Pilot (2004)

TV-14 | 42 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Meet Veronica Mars. Your typical high school student and private eye. A year ago, Veronica's best friend Lilly was murdered. Her father, Keith, then the town sheriff, accused Lilly's ... See full summary »

Director: Mark Piznarski | Stars: Kristen Bell, Percy Daggs III, Teddy Dunn, Jason Dohring

Votes: 1,321

15. Dark Angel (2000–2002)
Episode: Pilot (2000)

Unrated | 87 min | Action, Drama, Mystery

12 genetically enhanced childern escape from a military base that created them. 10 years later, after The Pulse, a magnetic bomb that destroyed every computer in USA, has struck, Max ... See full summary »

Director: David Nutter | Stars: Jessica Alba, Michael Weatherly, Alimi Ballard, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn

Votes: 2,271

16. Family Guy (1999– )
Episode: Death Has a Shadow (1999)

TV-14 | 30 min | Animation, Comedy

After drinking too much at a stag party and falling asleep at work, Peter loses his job, signs up for welfare, and gets more money than expected.

Directors: Peter Shin, Roy Allen Smith, Seth MacFarlane | Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Rachael MacFarlane

Votes: 2,454

17. The Critic (1994–2001)
Episode: The Pilot (1994)

TV-14 | 24 min | Animation, Comedy, Drama

A beautiful actress falls in love with Jay, but he worries that she just wants a good review for her latest film.

Director: Rich Moore | Stars: Jon Lovitz, Nancy Cartwright, Christine Cavanaugh, Gerrit Graham

Votes: 154

18. Burn Notice (2007–2013)
Episode: Pilot (2007)

TV-PG | 65 min | Action, Crime, Drama

Michael Weston, a contract agent for various agencies including the CIA, finds that a burn notice has been issued for him. Stranded in Miami, he takes the case of a caretaker accused of stealing millions from his boss.

Director: Jace Alexander | Stars: Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell, Sharon Gless

Votes: 800

19. Supernatural (2005– )
Episode: Pilot (2005)

TV-14 | 44 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Sam and Dean Winchester were trained by their father to hunt the creatures of the supernatural. Now, their father has mysteriously disappeared while hunting the demon that killed their mother, 22 years ago.

Director: David Nutter | Stars: Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Sarah Shahi, Adrianne Palicki

Votes: 6,434

20. The Following (2013–2015)
Episode: Pilot (2013)

TV-14 | 46 min | Crime, Drama, Horror

Former FBI agent Ryan Hardy is brought on board as a consultant when the serial killer he arrested many years before, Joe Carroll, escapes from prison killing several guards in the process.... See full summary »

Director: Marcos Siega | Stars: Kevin Bacon, Jeananne Goossen, Natalie Zea, Shawn Ashmore

Votes: 2,193

21. The Walking Dead (2010– )
Episode: Days Gone Bye (2010)

TV-14 | 67 min | Drama, Horror, Thriller

Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes awakens from a coma, and searches for his family in a world ravaged by the undead.

Director: Frank Darabont | Stars: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden

Votes: 18,908

22. Elementary (2012–2019)
Episode: Pilot (2012)

TV-14 | 46 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Sherlock Holmes, fresh out of rehab, is teamed with a sobriety partner, a former surgeon named Watson. They have to learn to work together even as they tackle their first case, the mysterious death of a doctor's wife.

Director: Michael Cuesta | Stars: Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, Dallas Roberts

Votes: 1,865

23. Person of Interest (2011–2016)
Episode: Pilot (2011)

TV-14 | 44 min | Action, Crime, Drama

When the social security number of a young prosecutor comes up, Reese and Finch work together to figure out if their person of interest is the victim or perpetrator.

Director: David Semel | Stars: Jim Caviezel, Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Chapman, Michael Emerson

Votes: 4,328

24. Castle (2009–2016)
Episode: Flowers for Your Grave (2009)

TV-PG | 43 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

After a serial killer starts displaying the victims the way done in Richard "Rick" Castle's books, Castle teams up with Detective Kate Beckett to solve the case. He then starts to shadow her for his new book.

Director: Rob Bowman | Stars: Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Susan Sullivan, Monet Mazur

Votes: 1,777

25. Dead Like Me (2003–2004)
Episode: Pilot (2003)

TV-MA | 74 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Georgia 'George' Lass is an emotionally lost, 18-year-old slacker whose life changes (or ends) when she is killed by a toilet seat that falls from the sky after being separated from the ... See full summary »

Director: Scott Winant | Stars: Ellen Muth, Rebecca Gayheart, Callum Blue, Jasmine Guy

Votes: 601

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