A television pilot (also known as a pilot or a pilot episode and sometimes marketed as a tele-movie), in United Kingdom and United States television, is a standalone episode of a television series that is used to sell a show to a television network or other distributor. A pilot is created to be a testing ground to gauge whether a series will be successful. It is, therefore, a test episode for the intended television series, an early step in the series development, much like pilot studies serve as precursors to the start of larger activity.
The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (September 2022)
A successful pilot may be used as the series premiere, the first aired episode of a new show, but sometimes a series' pilot may be aired as a later episode or never aired at all. Some series are commissioned straight-to-series without a pilot. On some occasions, pilots that were not ordered to series may also be broadcast as a standalone television film or special.
A "backdoor pilot" is an episode of an existing series that heavily features supporting characters or guest stars in previously unseen roles. Its purpose is to introduce the characters to an audience before the creators decide on whether or not they intend to pursue a spin-off series with those characters.
Television networks use pilots to determine whether an entertaining concept can be successfully realized and whether the expense of additional episodes is justified. A pilot is best thought of as a prototype of the show that is to follow, because elements often change from pilot to series. Variety estimates that only a little over a quarter of all pilots made for American television proceed to the series stage.