It is pilot season, which means networks are deciding which scripts they want to see made into pilot episodes and then, ultimately, which of those pilots will get made into full series. While we wait to see which shows will get picked up this year, I started thinking about my favorite pilots. Not all of these shows made it past their first season, some of them did and eventually lost me, but they all had great first episodes. For fun, I put them in chronological order, and there are definitely spoilers.
1. Cheers – Give Me A Ring Sometime
While waiting for her fiancé Sumner to get his grandmother’s ring from his ex-wife so they can go to Barbados and get married, Diane Chambers is introduced to all the interesting employees and regular patrons at this Boston bar. After Sumner returns an hour later only to leave again, Diane calls the airline to change their flight and discovers that he has left her and gone to Barbados with his ex-wife. Owner Sam Malone feels bad for Diane and offers her a job. This is still one of my favorite series of all time, and it all started with this episode. Sometimes you really just wanna go where everyone knows your name.
2. My So-Called Life – Pilot
So, she started hanging out with Rayanne Graff, because it seemed fun and because, it seemed like if she didn’t, she would die. That may sound overly dramatic, but that is exactly what Angela says in voice over at the beginning of this series. Angela is a typical high school student in the suburbs. She starts hanging out with new friends that her parents do not really approve of and she lies about where she’s going. She thinks about having sex with the boy she has a crush on, and she daydreams about him in class. From this very first episode, this show just felt like it was about my life and it still speaks to me today. The characters talked to each other like real teenagers. They did not have philosophical conversations about issues happening in the world, they talked about the things that teenagers talk about: things that directly affect their lives at that particular moment.
3. Sports Night – Pilot
This show takes place at a fictional sports show called Sports Night, with anchors Dan Rydell and Casey McCall. It is executive produced by Dana Whitaker, with the help of associate producers Natalie Hurley and Jeremy Goodwin, and their staff. They all work under managing editor Isaac Jaffe for the Continental Sports Channel (CSN). Still getting over his recent divorce and becoming disillusioned by the state of sports, Casey contemplates leaving the show. After an argument with Dan and a historic run by a South African distance runner, Casey ultimately decides to stay. In this episode, we also see how much Dana and Isaac butt heads with the network, but also how loyal they are their staff. Awful laugh track aside, this pilot is still one of my favorite episodes of television ever.
4. Alias – Truth Be Told
Sydney Bristow is a typical grad student. She has two best friends, Will and Francie, and she just got engaged to her doctor boyfriend, Danny. Oh, and she also works for a covert branch of the CIA called SD-6. After Sydney decides to her fiancé her secret, the agency kills him and tries to kill her as well for breaking their number one rule of secrecy. She then learns from her estranged father that SD-6 is actually not the CIA, but an enemy organization, so she goes to the actual CIA to become a double agent. Even though I was not a huge fan of this show as a whole, it started off strong and the pilot drew me in with its kick ass lead character and its secret agent storyline.