Hope springs eternal in the TV executive’s breast. With the beginning of the fall TV season this week, the networks and cable channels will launch dozens of new series, with the hope that maybe one or two of them will be the next Modern Family or Good Wife. Given our short attention spans (and the even shorter attention spans of those panicky execs), many of those new shows will sink or swim based on the quality of their pilot episodes.
A pilot episode has one immediate requirement: it should intrigue you enough to make you want to come back for the next installment. An entertaining pilot doesn’t guarantee a great series (see: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), nor does a weak pilot mean the series won’t become a classic (see Seinfeld and Parks & Recreation). The pilots we remember best drew us into their series, but they also stand on their own today as great singular TV events. Here are ten of the most watchable pilots in TV history, episodes that, even though we know now what was to follow, still make us laugh or gasp or scream.