The All-Time Greatest TV Pilots

44k votes 4.2k voters 106k views 187 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.
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  • 74 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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    Naveen Andrews, Matthew Fox, Jorge Garcia

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  4. 4
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    Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs

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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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    David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi

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  9. 9
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    Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk

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  10. 10
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    added by isadora
    Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Jim Beave

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  11. 11
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    Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi

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  12. 12
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    Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan

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  13. 13
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    Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Mädchen Amick

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  14. 14
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    Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders

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  15. 15
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    often listed & added by PeteBoyle
    Topher Grace, Laura Prepon, Mila Kunis

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  16. 16
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    Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Sarah Chalke

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  17. 17
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    often listed & ranked high on reranks
    Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser

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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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    Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco

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  22. 22
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    Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride

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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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    Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney

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  25. 25
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    ranked low on reranks
    Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow

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  26. 26
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    often listed & added by lostshadow
    Cybill Shepherd, Bruce Willis, Allyce Beasley

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  27. 27
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    Fred Savage, Dan Lauria, Daniel Stern

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  28. 28
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    Ed O'Neill, Sofía Vergara, Julie Bowen

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  29. 29
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    Joel McHale, Danny Pudi, Donald Glover

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  30. 30
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    ranked low on reranks & added by SteveGraham
    Hugh Laurie, Omar Epps, Robert Sean Leonard

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  31. 31
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    often listed & added by Linus
    Mary Tyler Moore, Edward Asner, Gavin MacLeod

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  32. 32
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    Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan

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  33. 33
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    added by The Enforcer
    William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley

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  34. 34
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    ranked low on reranks
    Hayden Panettiere, Jack Coleman, Milo Ventimiglia

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  35. 35
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    Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell

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  36. 36
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    Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, Loretta Swi

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  37. 37
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    added by NickMaes
    Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Matt Smith

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  38. 38
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    Kristen Bell, Percy Daggs III, Jason Dohring

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  39. 39
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    Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Carlos Bernard

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  40. 40
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    added by Dismalhead
    Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes

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

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  42. 42
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    Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, Rupert Friend

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  43. 43
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    added by WarrenMitchell
    Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez

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  44. 44
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    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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  45. 45
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    added by Roseannadanna
    Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies

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

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  47. 47
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    Mary-Louise Parker, Hunter Parrish, Alexander Gould

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  48. 48
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    ranked low on reranks
    Lady Gaga, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett

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  49. 49
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    Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior

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  50. 50
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    Dominic West, Lance Reddick, Sonja Sohn

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188 +

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