The Best TV Pilot of the Last 15 Years, Part 1: Vote Now on Lost, 24, Arrested Development, Modern Family, and More

UPDATE (9/3): Elite 8 voting is now open!

As of today, we're about three weeks away from the official start of the fall TV season. Before long, we'll all be abuzz about the glut of new pilots. Lots of them will be pretty bad, and a select few of them might turn out okay, but based what we've seen so far, we're not expecting any all-time greats to emerge.

Anyway, this year's relatively sorry prospects got us thinking about the TV pilots we do consider to be all-time greats—and then we decided to ring in the start of the new season by naming the best pilot of the last 15 years. That's where you come in: We've engineered a bracket-style race featuring the 16 best pilots of the last decade-and-a-half, as chosen by your trusty TV.com editors. We'll do our best to convince you of each one's merits, but then it's all up to you. Your votes will determine which pilots advance in each round, until we've crowned a winner.

Here's the full bracket:

Before you flip out, remember that we're just talking about pilot quality here; it doesn't matter whether the series went on to delight or disappoint. And as these things go, there several contenders that just missed the final cut; the bracket could have easily expanded to 32. 

So let's get to it, shall we? This post contains the first four match-ups, and you can find the next four right here. You have a full week to vote in this first round.


COMEDY REGIONAL 

Arrested Development vs. Glee

THE CASE FOR ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: Very few contemporary comedies come to us as fully formed as Arrested Development did. It's amazing how many of the series' long-running gags are established in the opening 22 minutes: the banana stand, Lucille's winking, Tobias's outfits, and on and on. Although AD became an even better show once the jokes and storylines began to weave together and on top of one another, the pilot still told a sharp story about Michael's inability to escape his family's slimy, criminal activities. 

THE CASE FOR GLEE: Remember when this show had all sorts of promise? Back before behind-the-scenes tragedies, overcooked plots, and all that hype took over, Glee was a simple story about a few people trying to chase their dreams in a dead-end town. At the pilot stage, Will Schuester was an admirable, lost man looking for a way out, and the goofballs in New Directions were his salvation. In the four years that've passed since Glee's debut, the show has run "Don't Stop Believing" into the ground—but by the end of the pilot, that performance was more than earned. It was an easy mission statement to buy into. 

THE RESULTS:


Modern Family vs. How I Met Your Mother


THE CASE FOR MODERN FAMILY: One of the best comedy pilots ever—we even named it the best thing about TV in 2009, the year it debuted—Modern Family's opener borrowed elements from ultimately better shows (most notably the mockumentary style of The Office) and combined them in a slick, populist package. The characters were efficiently introduced, the jokes were well-timed, and Ty Burrell and Eric Stonestreet delivered great comedic performances. 

THE CASE FOR HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: Nearly a decade after HIMYM's series premiere, you're probably burned out on the show's signature brand of timey-wimey humor and the mystery surrounding the Mother's identity. But when you first saw the pilot, so many years ago? It was a breath of fresh air, from the clever conceit to the reveal that Robin wasn't the Mother. Like all the best episodes of the now long-running sitcom, the pilot was smart, witty, and heartfelt, but the beginning of the story was so charming and thrilling that it's really no surprise we got hooked so many years ago. 

THE RESULTS:



ACTION-ADVENTURE REGIONAL

Lost vs. Alias


THE CASE FOR LOSTMay I remind you of that opening sequence, with Jack running around the beach, saving various people from the carnage of the plane wreckage? May I remind you of Jack and Kate counting to five? May I remind you of the polar bear, the noise in the woods, the trip to the cockpit, the rain, Shannon screaming, etc.? All of the pilots in this competition are great; Lost's pilot is almost certainly the greatest

THE CASE FOR ALIASJJ Abrams' work on the Lost pilot is something to behold, but it wouldn't even have happened if not for the things he did with the first episode of Alias. The openers of both Lost and Alias benefitted from an extended runtime, but Alias's took advantage of the additional length by speeding through a whole lot of stuffIt was easy to invest in Sydney's various relationships, only to watch the pilot blow them up and start again, something Alias would keep trying—ultimately to lesser effect—as the series progressed. Jennifer Garner's star power has diminished quite a bit over the years, but watch this pilot again and you'll remember how fantastic she was in the role. 

THE RESULTS:



The Walking Dead vs. 24 


THE CASE FOR THE WALKING DEADThere's something lazy about comparing TV to movies, but I'm going to do it anyway: The Walking Dead pilot looked, sounded, and felt like a feature film, and a very good one at that. The way Frank Darabont used the southern setting and minimal dialogue to establish the horrifying and eerie aftermath of the zombie outbreak was so special. Rick's journey down to Atlanta showcased a handful of iconic shots, and the set piece in the tank proved that the series knew how to craft intense action. Even though the pilot was followed by meandering and sometimes lackluster content, you can't hold that against it.

THE CASE FOR 24It's been so long since 24 first debuted that the series eventually became a parody of itself, and now it's somehow being resurrected despite that fact. And yet, 12 years ago, this opening effort gave us a number of fascinating markers that have yet to really be emulated successfully. The real-time element was a cool gambit in its own right, but the split-screen simultaneous storytelling was wonderful, too. Most importantly, it was nice to see that Jack Bauer was actually once a human being, and not a breathing, growling superhuman. 

THE RESULTS:


You have a full week to vote on the regional match-ups—it's up to you to decide you moves on to the Elite 8.  This was Part 1; click here for Part 2.

Comments (205)
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Sep 03, 2013
Lost vs Alias??? that's like making me choose between my mom and dad, it's mean!!
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Sep 03, 2013
LOST vs Alias in the first round is sad, because I think those might be the #1 and #2 of all time! Plus, some of those other categories are really small.

But the WD vs 24 one was the toughest call for me. Ultimately I went with 24 because it was more unique than the WD pilot. Don't get me wrong, the WD pilot was absolutely fantastic in how well executed it was, but it was still a bit derivative.
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Sep 02, 2013
How is AD and glee even a contest? its offensive that you have to cast votes, because it suggests glee might have a chance in hell of being better, which is ridiculous...
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Sep 02, 2013
Come on people! the pilot of Alias should win it all! It's basically a tv-movie. MI:3 is a complete rip off of that episode!!!! Not fair to pair it to Lost, when people are actually voting on the series as a whole and not just for the pilot... (n)
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Sep 01, 2013
LOST vs. Alias... just not fair. Match these two up further down the road!
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Sep 01, 2013
MAD MEN had the best PILOT EVER!
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Aug 31, 2013
yeah , absolute best for a pilot was prison break with Walking Dead being on a 2nd place.
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Aug 31, 2013
Can't vote. No Breaking Bad.
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Aug 31, 2013
Oh no... 24 and Walking dead?? :( ....Well, although I may lose here, because of my Bauerology, I am voting for 24..
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Aug 31, 2013
Alias vs Lost? I liked them both, despite how they ended, but that doesn't look like much of a fight.
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Aug 31, 2013
Prison Break???
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Aug 31, 2013
No Battlestar Galactica???? Crappy list
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Aug 31, 2013
This comment has been removed.
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Aug 31, 2013
No kidding. The list could have used a few more genres instead of cramming them all into "action/adventure".
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Aug 31, 2013
Last Resort! It had an extremely powerful pilot.
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Aug 31, 2013
I also don't like the list,
yeah, these shows had pretty good to fantastic pilot episodes but they're here because they stayed popular.
I can argue that shows like "Heroes" and "Prison Brake" had better pilots than almost all of them but got forgotten because of how those shows turned out.
Also, was expecting "Futurama" and "Breaking Bad" to be on your list.
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Aug 31, 2013
BSG better not be on this list just because of the technicality that it aired as a mini-series at first ... otherwise - sacrilege!
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Aug 31, 2013
Terrible list.... Lost and Awake are about the only two I could even call memorable in their pilots. And where are actually great pilots like Psych, BSG, Supernatural, Grimm, Person of Interest, Chuck... I mean, I could really go on about shows in the past 15 years that are leaps and bounds ahead of practically this entire list in having the best pilot....
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Aug 30, 2013
It's so sad you put Alias vs Lost :( I loved both. Same with 24 vs The Walking dead :(
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Aug 30, 2013
Where is "The 4400"??
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Aug 30, 2013
where is Prison Break?? that was the best pilot ever!! that show should be on this list.
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Aug 30, 2013
how can i choose between 24 and the walking dead?? @@ or between lost and Alias ??? well i can say lost is better but i can't choose between walking dead and 24 ...
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Aug 30, 2013
I felt bad voting for Lost... Both pilots were perfect, but lost had better visuals and you can actually see the money and effort they put in that pilot...
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Aug 30, 2013
Alias is about a bad ass lady who kicks ass & takes name. Lost is about dead people, slowly being killed off on an island with polar bears.
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Aug 30, 2013
Are you sure you understood 'Lost' finale, dear?
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Sep 01, 2013
Did You? explain please ;)
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Sep 01, 2013
I don't really care to explain, but Lost is not about dead people, it's about people on an island that has supernatural elements... And after these people died (either on the island or not), they all reunited in the afterlife...
By the way, I'm not defending the finale, there was still a few unanswered questions, but I can live with that!
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Aug 30, 2013
Wait!? Wut!? No Scrubs!? Dr Cox pushing a stiff about, Kelso's evil reveal, the Janitor and the penny in the door? JD and Karla? Pee's on Glee, HIMYM and MF.
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Aug 30, 2013
Love both shows but C'mon! Modern Family Pilot was by far much better than himym's!
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Aug 30, 2013
Not even fair. Alias is a superb pilot. Netflix it kids.
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Aug 30, 2013
More thumbs for this guy, stat!
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Aug 30, 2013
Fringe had a very good pilot episode.
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Aug 30, 2013
Battlestar Galactica has the best pilot ever!
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Aug 30, 2013
Doesn't count, TV movie is a backdoor pilot. Which BSG, original recipe or extra modern?
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Aug 29, 2013
I think people are voting for their favorite shows and not their favorite pilots. Modern Family had an amazing pilot, while HIMYM wasn't anything special. This is my opinion of course, but its true.
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Aug 30, 2013
"this is my opinion of course but it's true" lol what
I agree though
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Aug 29, 2013
SUITS SUITS SUITS !!! best pilot ever made
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Aug 29, 2013
Hate to admit it but I think Lost wins, no other pilot captured excitement like Lost did for me. 24 evolved into one of the greatest series I've ever seen though.
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Aug 29, 2013
Yes, it did. Pilot and most of first season of Lost were amazing, something new and they kept us glued to the sofa with our eyes wide open for the whole length. It is so strange to think about it now, after having seen the whole series.
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Aug 29, 2013
Whether you like it as a show or not , the best TV pilot in our time goes for "LOST" !!!
It was just PERFECT !
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Aug 28, 2013
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Aug 28, 2013
As much as Arrested Development is great - as with most great series it does not feature the best pilot.
Most Arrested Development are intricately planned, you have to pay attention to every detail often leading to just a single joke. Sometimes the writers spent the whole episode just building up to one punchline - an example would be the whole leather-buying deal just as preparation for the "Gothic Castle"-mixup, or Tobias receiving a cameraphone culminating in the "balls / chemical weapons"-incident... ;-)
The pilot like many is serving as introduction to a multitude of characters, and thus way more confusing in its structure than almost any other AD-episode. It's definitely not bad, but I would not call it among the best pilots of past years, just because it is surpassed by much of the rest of the series, although of course on a very high level.
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Aug 28, 2013
The most recent show, or the one with the longest run, are getting the most votes.
Who would have quessed?
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Aug 28, 2013
The LOST pilot will always be the most unforgettable...Kate and the handcuffs, the crashed plane and the mystery of it, Shannon's screaming....makes me want to go n watch it all over again
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Aug 28, 2013
The Lost pilot was so "good" that I never watched another episode....duh.
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Aug 28, 2013
The Lost pilot sucked, I never bothered to watch a single episode past that. My comedy choice should be quite easy to tell.
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Aug 28, 2013
What did you two dislike so much about it?
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Aug 28, 2013
My reaction to the pilot was exactly the same as yours. About as far away from getting hooked as possible. That's the only episode of Lost I ever watched.
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Aug 28, 2013
Ladies and gentlemen, we already have a winner- Lost had the best pilot I've ever seen IN MY LIFE! I will poop my pants if it doesn't win, that is how shocked I will be.
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Aug 28, 2013
I guess the competition is good to figure out 2nd and 3rd place. Regardless of whether or not you are a walking dead fan, the PILOT was hands down the best done pilot of all time. It will be hard to beat. Ever.
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Aug 28, 2013
The Walking Dead and Lost are still on the top of my list of pilot episodes.
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Aug 28, 2013
The Walking Dead pilot was damn near flawless, and is still one of the best episodes of the series, if that's saying much. Lost pilot was excellent too. Funny how Lost has two perfect examples: how to do a great pilot, and how to do a bad finale.
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Aug 28, 2013
Funny, non of my favourite pilots is in this compatition. My all time favourite pilot is the one for ALF, it cracks me up every time. It also give a good impresion of what to expect of the show, and If you don't know what the show is about after watching the pilot the first time, you will never know what the show is about. I think that is exactly what a pilot is supposed to do?
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Aug 28, 2013
There's one show that most people seems to have forgotten, one I loved deeply, which is Jericho. I loved one of the more realistic plots of bombing America ever portrayed.
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Aug 28, 2013
ICAM that was a really good show
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Aug 28, 2013
While I don't care for ALL 7 seasons of Lost, the pilot was genius. It still is probably the best pilot for a show I have seen (though neck in neck with Firefly). The first season of that show was great, and reinvented TV.
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Aug 31, 2013
Is that why you made it count for double? :P
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Aug 30, 2013
Lost had 6 seasons.
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Sep 01, 2013
Ahh, whoops. Thanks for catching that.
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Aug 28, 2013
The hardest one for me was definitely "WD" vs "24", cause, overall, the latter was (so far) a much better series, in my opinion. Yet, Jack Bauer didn't really become JACK BAUER until later that season; meanwhile, Rick woke up from a coma in the middle of the Z-Apocalypse.. so that pilot goes to the undead.
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Aug 27, 2013
Glee, Modern Family, Lost and The Walking Dead
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Aug 27, 2013
Not Lost vs. Alias! Two of my all-time favorites......but nothing, NOTHING, has even come close to Lost in anything, so easy decision ;)
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Aug 29, 2013
I watched the whole of Alias, but I didn't know what to think when I saw them paired together :)
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Aug 27, 2013
It's going to be almost impossible to separate the pilot from the rest of the show. Tbh, Arrested Development's pilot never grabbed me. It was around the 3rd or 4th episode that I really fell in love with it. But there is no conceivable way I'd vote for Glee over it. In fact, I can probably say that for 60-75% of the shows I love.
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Aug 27, 2013
How I Met, Lost and Walking Dead.
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Aug 27, 2013
Although the show went nowhere, I'd have to say Last Resort had a great pilot episode. It was actually probably its best episode.
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Aug 27, 2013
And Spartacus
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Aug 27, 2013
And Vikings
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Aug 27, 2013
And Hannibal
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Aug 27, 2013
And BSG
And Firefly
And... Ok good call I'm just going to go with your suggestions Cory
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