Five Pilot Episodes of Popular TV Shows

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

"Family Guy" pilot

We all have to start somewhere, right? Prior to becoming your favorite way to waste a half-hour, a pilot episode must pave the way for a television show to make it on air. Over time, these relics become forgotten – and in some cases, remain practically unseen. Here are five interesting pilots of shows that have become household names.

The Flintstones

This short cartoon, clocking in at just over a minute and a half, introduced “The Flagstones” as they were originally called. Created in 1959 (a year before The Flintstones debuted on TV), the plot of this demo reel would eventually be incorporated into the episode “The Swimming Pool.”

You may recognize the voice of Wilma, as it is portrayed here by Jean Vander Pyl, who would continue as Wilma in the series. However, in this short, Betty is voiced by the legendary June Foray (known for her work as Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Cindy Lou Who, Magica De Spell, and a million other characters), while Fred and Barney are voiced by Daws Butler (Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, and Huckleberry Hound).

The show eventually featured Alan Reed as Fred, Bea Benaderet as Betty, and Mel Blanc as Barney — though Daws Butler would step in to play Barney for five episodes in season two while Blanc recuperated from a car accident.


When the first episode of Seinfeld aired on July 5, 1989, it was known as The Seinfeld Chronicles. The pilot episode, written by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, was well-received by critics — but it was reviled by test audiences, and the network decided to pass. However, thanks to the tenacity of NBC executive Rick Ludwin (who put up some of his own money just to get the deal done), a four-episode first season was ordered — the smallest episode order in history.

More than 25 years later, Seinfeld continues to make history, as Hulu has paid a record $160 million licensing deal to air every episode of the show.

South Park

A large portion of the South Park pilot, “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe,” would air as the first episode (with the same title) on Comedy Central. However, there are some differences here.

First, the original pilot shows the Cartman family with a father and a sister present, rather than just Cartman and his mom. The school nurse — sans conjoined fetus — makes her debut, as does the “6th Grade Leader” kid. Most interestingly, Cartman’s reason for farting fire is explained.

While the entire unaired pilot was created with handmade cutouts, the edited first episode contains some scenes created with computer animation. This was done to fill in the gaps due to the deleted scenes.

Family Guy

The original test pilot of Family Guy may look crudely drawn, but it served its purpose in exhibiting the show’s style of humor, as well as most of its primary characters. In addition to the entire Griffin clan, Quagmire, Cleveland, Mike Tucker, and Diane Simmons are among those who appear. The plot of this short closely resembles that of the first episode, “Death Has a Shadow.”

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

With a camcorder and less than $200, creators Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and Rob McElhenney filmed the pilot episode of what was originally titled “It’s Always Sunny on TV,” a show about three struggling actors in Hollywood. Once the show was picked up by FX, its location was changed from LA to Philadelphia, McElhenney’s hometown.

The plot of the pilot episode would later become the basis of the plot of the show’s fourth episode, “Charlie Has Cancer.”

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