The All-Time Greatest TV Pilots

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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.
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  • 70 ReRanks
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  1. 1
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    most listed
    Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas

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  2. 2
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    Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn

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  3. 3
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    often listed
    Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs

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  4. 4
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    Naveen Andrews, Matthew Fox, Jorge Garcia

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  5. 5
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    Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington

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  6. 6
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    Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies

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  7. 7
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    the people's #1 & often listed
    Ted Danson, Rhea Perlman, John Ratzenberger

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  8. 8
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    Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk

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  9. 9
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    often listed & added by PeteBoyle
    Topher Grace, Laura Prepon, Mila Kunis

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  10. 10
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    Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi

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  11. 11
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    Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Mädchen Amick

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  12. 12
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    added by isadora
    Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Jim Beave

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  13. 13
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    David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi

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  14. 14
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    often listed & ranked high on reranks
    Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser

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  15. 15
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    Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Sarah Chalke

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  16. 16
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    Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders

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  17. 17
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    Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan

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  18. 18
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    James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco

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  19. 19
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    Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal

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  20. 20
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    Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Jamie Bamber

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  21. 21
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    Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney

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  22. 22
    + 96
    - 127

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

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  23. 23
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    added by lemonhead
    Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern

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  24. 24
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    Fred Savage, Dan Lauria, Daniel Stern

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  25. 25
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    Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride

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  26. 26
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    ranked low on reranks
    Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow

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  27. 27
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    Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco

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  28. 28
    + 349
    - 262

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

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  29. 29
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    often listed & added by Linus
    Mary Tyler Moore, Edward Asner, Gavin MacLeod

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  30. 30
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    Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan

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  31. 31
    + 334
    - 266


    Joel McHale, Danny Pudi, Donald Glover

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  32. 32
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    - 52

    ranked low on reranks & added by SteveGraham
    Hugh Laurie, Omar Epps, Robert Sean Leonard

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  33. 33
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    - 189

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

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  34. 34
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    often listed & added by penguinchick
    Rob Morrow, Janine Turner, Barry Corbin

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  35. 35
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    Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, Loretta Swi

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  36. 36
    + 133
    - 107

    added by Dismalhead
    Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes

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  37. 37
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    - 167

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

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  38. 38
    + 237
    - 221


    Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Carlos Bernard

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  39. 39
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    - 118

    often listed & ranked high on reranks
    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
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    Kristen Bell, Percy Daggs III, Jason Dohring

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  41. 41
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    - 199


    Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, Rupert Friend

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  42. 42
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    - 185


    Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell

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  43. 43
    + 67
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    often listed & added by Roseannadanna
    Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies

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  44. 44
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    ranked low on reranks & added by NickMaes
    Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Matt Smith

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  45. 45
    + 115
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    Mary-Louise Parker, Hunter Parrish, Alexander Gould

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  46. 46
    + 119
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    Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards

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  47. 47
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    ranked low on reranks
    Lady Gaga, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett

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  48. 48
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    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
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    Dominic West, Lance Reddick, Sonja Sohn

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  50. 50
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    often listed & ranked high on reranks
    John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs

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187 +

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