We’ve been watching TV series for so long and have gotten used to them, that some terms and jargon have stuck, and questioning them would be the last thing on our minds in favor of focusing on the entertainment in front of us. One such term is the “pilot episode” which is commonly known as the label for the very first episode of a new TV series. Why is the first episode of a show called a pilot episode?
One of the most critical junctures in this realm is the creation of the pilot episode. It’s a term familiar to anyone interested in the television industry, yet its significance is often underestimated. Hence we’re here to inform you of the origins of the term “pilot episode” and its pivotal role in the TV industry.
What is a Pilot Episode?
Simply put, a pilot episode is the foundational stone upon which a potential TV series is built. Contrary to popular belief, a pilot doesn’t necessarily need to be the first episode chronologically. Instead, it serves as a prototype, a proof of concept, or a spark that ignites the larger flame of a full-fledged TV series.
The primary aim of a pilot episode is to convince networks to greenlight the show and commit to a full season. This initial episode has the monumental task of setting the stage for the entire series, introducing characters, and establishing the overarching narrative.
Think of it as the show’s “test piece” for the executives and whoever will produce or fund the entire series.
Why is it called a pilot?
The term “pilot episode” has a multifaceted history.
Some suggest that it’s derived from the notion of a “pilot light,” akin to the first episode sparking the development of a larger series.
Others propose that it might be associated with a pilot guiding a boat or plane, symbolizing the role of the first episode in steering the rest of the series. However, the most likely origin can be traced back to the Greek roots of the word “pilot,” meaning to serve as a prototype.
A pilot episode functions as a prototype for networks to visualize what a fully commissioned show could look and feel like.
Some pilot episodes, such as the one in Breaking Bad or Lost, didn’t even change up the title and stuck with the “Pilot” designation. Meanwhile, shows like The Sopranos opted for a more refined naming scheme.
How are Pilot Episodes Made?
With passion, of course. Well, apart from that, the production of a pilot episode can follow two main paths according to Studiobinder:
- Pitched and Commissioned: Show creators with the right connections may pitch their TV series ideas directly to executives and networks. If the idea strikes a chord with the gatekeepers, they may commission a pilot episode. This serves as a test run, allowing them to evaluate the concept before committing to a full season.
- Produced Independently: If a show creator can’t secure meetings with the right people or faces rejection, they can opt to produce a pilot independently. This approach involves writing a spec script and creating a pilot episode as a proof of concept.
The Cutting Board for Pilot Episodes
When a network greenlights a pilot, the original pilot episode usually undergoes a lot of changes based on many factors.
Networks might opt to remake the pilot with a higher budget, a different cast, or other changes to align it with the show’s overall vision or the producer’s whims. This final step ensures that the pilot episode aligns perfectly with the series’ future direction.
The Importance of Pilot Episodes
The significance of pilot episodes cannot be overstated. They serve as the critical litmus test for a potential TV series, representing a bridge between the initial concept and a full series order.
These episodes carry the immense responsibility of demonstrating the show’s genre, premise, and tone, introducing characters, and highlighting the underlying themes and promises of the series. Since a lot of TV series take around an hour in their runtime, there’s even more pressure for pilot episodes to catch the attention of their viewers.
The significance of pilot episodes lies in their ability to serve as a proving ground, bridging the gap between creative concepts and successful television series. A lot of your favorite TV series these days owe their continued existence to the pilot episodes.