ByLauren Hutchinson, writer at
Find me on Twitter: @DowntonAbbey_
Lauren Hutchinson

A television pilot usually makes or breaks a series. First impressions are everything unless you have an audience willing to wait it out and come back for more.

As a huge fan of storytelling, especially in the media format, I’ve experienced a wide range of genres including the TV pilots that come with them.

Let’s have a look at my top five TV pilots and why I think they’re worth checking out:

5. Sherlock (2010–)

BBC’s Sherlock was the first television series to opt for a modern-day version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes book series.

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the titular roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, this contemporary take on the late 19th century characters, works surprisingly well and takes its audience on a thrilling ride from the get go.

At the end of the day, pilots have to keep you coming back for more. There's no point creating a story that ends after the first episode!

In spite of drawing from Arthur Conan Doyle's original source material and characters etc, Sherlock is very unique in it's own way thanks to it's setting in modern-day society. With modern-day society comes technology and a variation in the way Sherlock solves his crimes. From the pilot episode, I was incredibly intrigued and absorbed in the Sherlock universe, partly thanks to it's combination of the traditional and the modern.

4. House M.D. (2004–2012)

There may never be a more unique doctor than that of House.

Starring acting veteran Hugh Laurie, House M.D., or more commonly known as House, ran for eight seasons and followed the medical genius Dr. Gregory House as he solved the toughest of all medical problems.

House’s sharp personality and mind games dubbed him somewhat of a medical Sherlock Holmes and made the television series one of the most memorable dramas to date.

What I particularly liked about House's pilot episode was it's original take on the medical drama. Unlike most medical dramas that are set in the ER (because that's where all the action happens), House took it's audience into a more intimate setting with a smaller team. Because of House's genius capabilities, the patients' stories are always the challenging ones, allowing a unique and fascinating window into the medical world.

3. Once Upon A Time (2011–)

What do you get when transport fairytale characters into the modern-day world? Once Upon a Time.

Created by the writers of Lost Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, Once Upon a Time tells the story of Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) as she’s brought to a small town known as Storybrooke by the son she gave up years ago. The catch is, Henry believes she is the long lost daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming so it's her destiny to break the curse and save the town.

Once Upon a Time manages to integrate childhood stories to a mature audience through captivating storylines and characters. The costume department also deserves some serious credit. Those gowns and battle outfits are stunning!

One thing I've loved about Once Upon A Time since the pilot was it's ability to challenge genres. There's nothing worse than getting excited about a new show and telling yourself you've seen that kind of stuff before. The integration of the fairytale world and the real world was nothing I had ever experienced on TV, especially for the various genres it feel in to.

2. Downton Abbey (2010–2015)

Taking us back to the year 1912, we are introduced to the Crawley family who, after the sinking of the Titanic, have lost their two male heirs for their estate known as Downton Abbey.

ITV’s Downton Abbey took the world by storm by in 2010 and helped reinvent the costume drama.

In order for a pilot to ultimately succeed, it must establish a good story. As simple as this may sound, I'm sure a lot of us can name many shows that fail to do this!

Downton Abbey's pilot sets the bar high with an intriguing storyline and rich characters. With an incredibly strong cast of actors and actresses (Maggie Smith, anyone?), no character is unimportant or uninteresting upstairs or downstairs.

It's also good to mention that Downton Abbey was written by one man, Julian Fellowes, unlike many television shows that opt for a large team of writers.

See Also:

1. The Walking Dead (2010–)

Officer Rick Grimes is shot in the line of duty, putting him in a coma for weeks. When he wakes though, he finds himself all alone and in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.

Putting aside the action and gore, The Walking Dead is also very much a drama and focuses heavily on Rick Grimes’s need to survive and be reunited with his family.

The pilot episode establishes the exciting and terrifying new world Rick has woken into by keeping you on the edge of your seat and forming emotional connections with its characters.

I stayed away from The Walking Dead for a long time in fear of its horror. As soon as I watched the pilot though, I realized the horror was just a part of the story and didn't necessarily dominate it. It also pushed aside frivolous tasks or worries of everyday life, striping our world and it's characters down to provide complex, emotional and real characters and relationships.

See Also:

Leave your recommendations in the comments below or let me know what TV pilots got you hooked!


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