They say you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and that certainly applies to television pilots. It’s hard enough for the creators of a show to convince media moguls that their idea is a winner. Then there is the extra pressure of making a pilot whose plot and characters engage viewers and compels them to return to the series.
To determine the best TV pilots in history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on audience reviews for pilots from IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon, ranking them on IMDb user ratings as of March 2022. Only pilots with at least 1,500 user reviews were considered. Cast information also came from IMDb.
Several of the pilots with a rating of 9/10 or above – “Sherlock,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Game of Thrones” – scored even higher over the life of the series, obviously delivering on the expectations the pilot raised.
Several pilots on the list were for shows that lasted for only one season, intentionally or unintentionally, and they received Emmy Awards. The eight-episode crime drama “The Night Of” won five Emmys, while “Chernobyl,” depicting the nuclear power-plant disaster in the Soviet Union, ran for five episodes and won 10 Emmys. (These are the best TV shows that lasted just one season.)
Some of the series with notable pilots on the list are among the most honored series of all time, such as “Game of Thrones,” with 59 Emmys. The longest-running show on the list is the zombiefest “The Walking Dead,” 2010 to 2022, whose pilot was created by Oscar-nominated director Frank Darabont. (Here’s a list of the longest-running primetime shows in history.)
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