Television pilot episodes

I watch a lot of old TV series as I have quite a long commute into work every day.  This means I get to see a new pilot episode every couple of weeks.

It’s actually quite good as I get to catch up with series that I haven’t watched in many years or find something new to keep me entertained on the daily journey between Preston and Manchester.

Currently I’m watching the early 90s series, Space: Above and Beyond, one that I haven’t seen in a good many years but a couple of things struck me that seems to be a running theme when TV series go through their pilot phase.

Space: Above and Beyond cast photo from the pilot

These tend to be:

  1. The pilot tends to be 90 minute.  most of the time this is a single episode but for some series this can be broken down into a “2 part episode” that can be seen as a single, consecutive episode.
  2. If you don’t build a major set that appears in the pilot, no matter how briefly, it will never appear in the rest of, at least, the first season.
  3. A famous actor in a cameo is always useful so the series can stick in the mind as “Did you see such and such in that new TV series“. We had that with R. Lee Emery in Space: Above and Beyond’s pilot. This did make me smirk as he plays straight to type. This is an actor who doesn’t really care how typecast he is. He appears from around 1:45 and then starts shouting at people for the next couple of minutes.
  4. We have to find out the back stories of the major cast.  This can take quite a major chunk of the first half of the pilot so we know what sort of background they are from and subsequently what they will do in the rest of the series.

Next we have been introduced to the regular cast. No matter what happens around them 9 times out of 10 they will get through everything without a scratch on them.

If they do get injured they will either shrug off the injury and carry on fighting or, occasionally, they will be seriously injured and not appear in the next couple of episodes.  This is mainly down to the fact that the actor has other commitments and needs some time away to do that work.

In some episodes the group may grow by a couple of  people that you know will not live much past the next two or three minutes as they will be killed.

Sometimes this is because we need to see how the enemy’s weapons work or to set up the rest of the episode.  This set up this normally involves someone who is on their last mission, have a newborn or they just want to get back to the wife / girlfriend and live the rest of their life on a remote farm! Yes, this is a well worn cliché but it still rears its ugly head more times then you would believe.

The other thing about Space: Above and Beyond is the computer effects that are on the show.  This was made in the mid 90s.  This makes it a contemporary to the much better know show, Babylon 5.

A lot of the effects seem quite childish and primitive to today’s eyes but you have to remember that this show was in production almost 20 years ago and computers and computer generated effects have come a long way since then.

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