The All-Time Greatest TV Pilots

39k votes 3.8k voters 99k views 180 items tags f p @

List Criteria: Pilot episodes only

The greatest TV pilots of all-time are single episodes of television that introduced us to what would soon be iconic characters and casts. A TV pilot is the first episode of a TV sitcom, drama, cartoon, or even reality show that introduces the cast and story to audiences and asks them (in as little as 22 minutes) to stick around and watch the show throughout its run. While many of these shows are now considered to be among the best TV shows of all time, many didn't know they were watching the beginnings of history when they tuned in to these top TV pilot episodes.

Some of the greatest TV pilots featured things you didn't think you'd ever hear on television (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), the introduction of characters that would drive the top cult TV shows of all-time (Twin Peaks, The X-Files), and even moments in TV history that- even a decade before their release- would have been censored and disallowed from ever airing on television (The Following). These greatest TV pilots became some of the best TV shows currently on the air with some of the greatest TV characters ever.

What was the best TV pilot ever? That's what this list is here to help the TV viewing public decide. This list is a round-up of the best sitcom pilots, best sci-fi pilots, and the best drama pilots ever to make it to air on television. If you don't see your favorite TV pilot on the list, make sure to add it so it can compete for the #1 spot on the list of the all-time greatest TV pilots.
Collection Photo: via hbo
  • 68 ReRanks
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  1. 1
    + 876
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    most listed
    Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas

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  2. 2
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    - 460


    Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn

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  3. 3
    + 724
    - 429

    often listed
    Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs

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  4. 4
    + 966
    - 546


    Naveen Andrews, Matthew Fox, Jorge Garcia

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  5. 5
    + 851
    - 398


    Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington

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  6. 6
    + 891
    - 409


    Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies

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  7. 7
    + 298
    - 329

    the people's #1 & often listed
    Ted Danson, Rhea Perlman, John Ratzenberger

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  8. 8
    + 243
    - 227

    often listed & added by PeteBoyle
    Topher Grace, Laura Prepon, Mila Kunis

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  9. 9
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    - 370


    Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi

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  10. 10
    + 452
    - 274


    Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk

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  11. 11
    + 396
    - 259


    David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi

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  12. 12
    + 292
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    often listed & ranked high on reranks
    Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser

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  13. 13
    + 379
    - 291


    Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Sarah Chalke

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  14. 14
    + 293
    - 148

    added by isadora
    Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Jim Beave

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  15. 15
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    - 317

    often listed & ranked high on reranks
    Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Mädchen Amick

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  16. 16
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    - 301

    ranked low on reranks
    Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders

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  17. 17
    + 471
    - 327


    Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan

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  18. 18
    + 240
    - 144


    James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco

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  19. 19
    + 418
    - 263


    Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal

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  20. 20
    + 362
    - 287


    Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Jamie Bamber

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  21. 21
    + 239
    - 199


    Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney

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  22. 22
    + 89
    - 116

    often listed & added by lostshadow
    Cybill Shepherd, Bruce Willis, Allyce Beasley

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  23. 23
    + 211
    - 223


    Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride

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  24. 24
    + 358
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    ranked low on reranks
    Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow

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  25. 25
    + 251
    - 230


    Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco

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  26. 26
    + 194
    - 178


    Fred Savage, Dan Lauria, Daniel Stern

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  27. 27
    + 332
    - 249

    ranked low on reranks
    Ed O'Neill, Sofía Vergara, Julie Bowen

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  28. 28
    + 78
    - 77

    often listed & added by lemonhead
    Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern

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  29. 29
    + 248
    - 240


    Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan

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  30. 30
    + 88
    - 110

    often listed & added by Linus
    Mary Tyler Moore, Edward Asner, Gavin MacLeod

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  31. 31
    + 326
    - 255

    ranked low on reranks
    Joel McHale, Danny Pudi, Donald Glover

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  32. 32
    + 210
    - 184

    added by The Enforcer
    William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley

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  33. 33
    + 59
    - 51

    often listed & added by penguinchick
    Rob Morrow, Janine Turner, Barry Corbin

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  34. 34
    + 99
    - 45

    added by SteveGraham
    Hugh Laurie, Omar Epps, Robert Sean Leonard

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  35. 35
    + 230
    - 213


    Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Carlos Bernard

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  36. 36
    + 232
    - 191


    Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, Rupert Friend

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  37. 37
    + 80
    - 30


    Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, Loretta Swi

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  38. 38
    + 212
    - 233


    Kristen Bell, Percy Daggs III, Jason Dohring

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  39. 39
    + 84
    - 109


    Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Holly Taylor A pair of deep-cover Soviet spies masquerades as a typical DC couple whose children, neighbors, coworkers & friends are completely unaware of their activities. At home, they're the stereotypical

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  40. 40
    + 61
    - 65

    often listed & added by Roseannadanna
    Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies

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  41. 41
    + 200
    - 176


    Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell

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  42. 42
    + 121
    - 100

    added by Dismalhead
    Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes

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  43. 43
    + 111
    - 117

    often listed & ranked high on reranks
    Mary-Louise Parker, Hunter Parrish, Alexander Gould

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  44. 44
    + 256
    - 159

    ranked low on reranks
    Hayden Panettiere, Jack Coleman, Milo Ventimiglia

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  45. 45
    + 195
    - 150

    added by NickMaes
    Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Matt Smith

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  46. 46
    + 116
    - 103


    Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards

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  47. 47
    + 211
    - 168


    Lady Gaga, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett

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  48. 48
    + 31
    - 55
    Here Come the Brides is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The All-Time Greatest TV Pilots

    often listed & added by mclewis
    Bruce Lee, Joan Blondell, David Soul

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  49. 49
    + 179
    - 190


    Dominic West, Lance Reddick, Sonja Sohn

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  50. 50
    + 205
    - 170

    ranked low on reranks & added by WarrenMitchell
    Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez

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181 +

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