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The 10 Best TV Show Pilot Episodes of All Time (Pt. I)

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It’s that time of year. Pilot season is here and networks are starting to assemble production to begin shooting their potential new series. Some of them will be picked up, most of them won’t. For the last few years we’ve been hearing how much television and streaming services have stepped up against film in terms of quality production. But in the last couple of decades there have been lots of memorable pilot/premiere episodes. Here are some of the best, in no particular order.


The Newsroom

Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV baby started off with one of the most genius scenes I’ve ever seen, setting the tone for later episodes, where Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) would continue to be ruthless and dig for the raw truth in every interview.

Daniels was nominated for a Golden Globe and won an Emmy for his role in The Newsroom, and rightfully so. The way he conveyed Will’s character from the beginning of the series was very powerful, especially in the pilot and first season of the show, which was the best by far.


Lost

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Over 10 years ago, this show made a huge impact when it premiered. There wasn’t anything like it. Lost quickly became an unstoppable phenomenon, presenting mystery after mystery every week until it ended six years later with a series finale airing at the same time in several countries, something that had never been done before with a drama show. It was that important to fans avoiding spoilers.

The pilot, divided in two parts, both directed by J.J. Abrams, starts with a plane crash in the coast of an island. It presents three of the main characters, Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lily) and Charlie (Dominic Monaghan), using flashback scenes, a technique that would prominently be used throughout the rest of the series. This first episode broke a record in ratings, earning the attention of 18.6 million viewers.


 

The Walking Dead

Since this show was presented in 2010, it has been the subject of controversy, but it’s still going strong with plans for a new season later this year.

Based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels, The Walking Dead pilot starts with Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes waking up after having been shot to a world overrun by zombies (which are not called that… and they make sure to let us know). The beginning, contrary to what some might expect is not rushed and it doesn’t have a lot of action. But the emotion and drama is all in the right moments. The series in general might have had its ups and downs, but the pilot is not something to be missed.


 

Buffy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has always been one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Many of its season premieres were memorable (remember Dracula?), including the pilot.

Many showrunners choose to re-shoot the premiere episodes of their series once they’ve been picked up by a network. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, had the opportunity to do it and also find a replacement for the actress who first portrayed Willow. The addition of Alyson Hannigan to the cast was one of his best decisions as the character would be of vital importance later on.

In the pilot we also saw the first encounter between Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Angel (David Boreanaz), who would then get his own spin-off show as a private detective of the supernatural.

Sherlock

It’s widely known that BBC’s Sherlock is close to turning out perfect every single time, starting with the pilot. From Sherlock’s first appearance to his immediate impression on Watson (Martin Freeman), this first, very well crafted episode easily catches the viewers’ attention. It’s another one that was re-shot, adding the superimposed text messages, thoughts, clues, etc., a characteristic of this modern version of the classic Sherlock Holmes.

The show that catapulted Benedict Cumberbatch to fame is only 3 episodes long per season, each one having 90 minutes of duration. But its success has made it one of the most anticipated series whenever a new season has been announced (not every year, unfortunately).

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Elisabeth S. Contreras
Film enthusiast and sharer of words. Don't underestimate a woman with an opinion.