Everyone has their favorite TV show, whether it’s a sci-fi series or a comedy about cops. But what if your favorite show was completely different? For some shows, the original pilots had so many elements that either weren’t included in the official pilot or were just plain scrapped. Maybe they were good to start with, but just needed a little tweaking. Some premises were even so bad to start with that writers were asked to change everything about the show.
But regardless of how they started, the following 16 shows eventually became ones we know and love… they just happen to be completely different from the original concept.
17. This is Us
This NBC hit stole viewers’ hearts from the moment it premiered in the fall of 2016. In just two seasons, it’s become a fan-favorite. The TV show tells the story of the Pearson family, both through flashbacks of the ‘Big Three”s childhood with their parents (played by Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia) and present-day storylines. But it might shock some viewers to know that this family of five was almost a family of TEN… and nearly a feature-length film.
The original concept that creator Dan Fogelman came up with was that it was a story about octuplets – and it was going to be a big plot twist at the end of the film that all the characters were actually related. Ultimately, Dan turned the story into a TV show because he couldn’t find a way to “beginning-middle-and-end” all the characters in a concise way – and thus, we got the Big Three instead of the Big Eight (which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, anyway).
16. Hey Arnold
Hey Arnold! was a children’s Nickelodeon show that ran from 1996-2004. It was an animated series about a fourth grader named Arnold living in a city and generally getting up to typical childhood antics, like having crushes and befriending the local Birdman.
The show was almost totally different thanks to a major character that was decidedly left out. Lana Vail was supposed to be one of Arnold’s neighbors that would have a crush on the 10-year-old. Luckily, network execs realized that might be a little too inappropriate for the show, and Lana was reduced to a minor background character for the first season.
Heroes was an NBC staple from 2006 to 2010. The show was centered around stories of ordinary people who discover they have superpowers and how they learn to use and harness their skills while also trying to save the world from catastrophe.
The original script showed a couple of plot lines that presented a very different and much more violent side of the show. DL appeared as an inmate in prison with a grudge against the prosecutor who put him there — Nathan. Matt Parkman’s childhood friend was a member of a terrorist cell that was responsible for a train wreck in Texas. Isaac Mendez has the worst storyline of all, though. As he handcuffs himself to a pipe to withdraw from Heroin, it ends up not working, and he saws his own hand off and overdoses instead. Yikes!
Scrubs was a medical comedy that ran on NBC/ABC from 2001-2010. In it, Zach Braff plays the lovable Dr. John “JD” Dorian, whose flashbacks and daydreams are the frame for the series. Viewers follow a team of doctors and nurses (and a janitor!) around Sacred Heart teaching hospital, where madness and slapstick constantly ensue.
According to Bill Lawrence, the show’s creator, it would have been completely different if the show had been canceled after season one. If he had received word of its premature cancellation, Lawrence insists that he would have revealed that the janitor was a figment of JD’s imagination the whole time. If the reveal went as planned, it would have shifted the show from a zany group of hospital workers to unreliable daydreams from the perspective of someone with a mental illness.
13. The Sopranos
This mob crime drama is widely considered one of the best TV shows of all time, and it ran on HBO from 1999 to 2007. In it, a New Jersey-based Italian mobster, Tony Soprano, tries to balance personal and business-related aspects of his life. The show also follows around his family, which has one of the biggest differences in what the show could have been and what it was.
Tony’s wife, Carmela Soprano, had a character arc based on her own morality and what it meant to be married to a mobster. However, in the original pilot, Carmela hears a noise outside and takes an assault rifle to investigate. This obviously insinuated that she was much more on board with the mob operation of her husband than she is shown to be in the actual series. In the original pilot, Tony was also referred to as the “Don” of New Jersey, when in reality he was just a high-ranking Mafia captain. Imagine how different it would have been if he ran the entire state’s mob!
12. Power Rangers
The newest Power Rangers movie may have defined each character by a personal problem they’re having in their lives, but the original series called Mighty Morphin Power Rangers that started its run in 1993 had the superheroes facing normal problems like homework, extracurriculars, and bullies.
In the original pilot, however, the masked crusaders were a little bit more physically violent then they would later become. The first episode, called “Day of the Dumpster” saw Bulk and Skull as part of a large gang that engage the Rangers in a fight in a bowling alley. In the episode, the colorful heroes are seen beating up the villains, though the show later had the Rangers rarely fighting human opponents in a serious manner. We almost got a much more physical version of the kid-friendly crusaders.
11. The X-Files
Though The X-Files is a sci-fi show that originally ran from 1993 to 2002, it was picked back up by FOX in 2017 and given the revival treatment. The show centers around Fox Mulder, an FBI agent tasked with following leads from the X-files, or the supernatural/unconfirmed cases the bureau is called to. His associate is Dana Scully, a doubtful skeptic who always pursues the scientific side of the phenomena instead of resorting to calling it supernatural activity.
In the original pilot, however, Scully was much more of a man’s stereotype of women, and she was pictured quite a bit in her underwear instead of her typical business attire. The original Scully also had a light-hearted demeanor and would often come close to believing that cases were caused by the supernatural, much like Mulder’s character. TBH, we’re glad we got the version of Scully we did. It probably wouldn’t have been as much of a hit otherwise!
10. Saved By The Bell
Saved By The Bell was a teenage comedy that aired on NBC from 1989 to 1993. The show centers around a group of high school students who get into normal teenaged antics, as well as heavy social topics that were relevant during the time of its airing.
The show was never supposed to be a stand-alone; in fact, it was conceived of as part of the Disney Channel show Good Morning, Miss Bliss. The unaired pilot for Miss Bliss featured Brian Austin Green as Adam Montcrief, a teenager who wore suits to school and took everything extremely seriously. Jaleel White was also featured as another wisecracking student. NBC would eventually pass on the Miss Bliss pilot, which then went to Disney Channel, though they used it as a starting point for Saved By The Bell.
9. Star Trek
The original series of Star Trek ran from 1966 to 1969 on NBC and gave sci-fi fans a taste of a possible future among the stars. The show followed the crew of the USS Enterprise as they explored strange new worlds, sought out new life and new civilizations, and boldly went where no man had gone before. But, the original pilot had the show written pretty different than how it actually turned out.
It followed Captain Christopher Pike (Kirk who?) and the Enterprise crew as they were on their way to the Vega Colony to aid wounded crew members. Many considered this episode a bit risque due to a sequence with a dancing, half-dressed green alien. Leonard Nimoy was still featured as Spock, but he wasn’t a First Officer or the logical thinker as he is depicted to be in the actual show.
Archer is an animated adult sitcom on FX that started in 2009. In it, Sterling Archer (played by H. Jon Benjamin) and his team of fellow spies are followed around on their various exploits that end up dirty and very dysfunctional.
In the original pilot episode, however, the titular character was nowhere to be found. Instead, the episode, titled “Archersaurus” followed the exact same plot as the normal show, but the protagonist was a Velociraptor without the ability to talk. As a nod to the unaired episode, a documentary titled “Archersaurus: Self Extinction” chronicled the rise and fall of the character in the second season of the show.
7. 30 Rock
Tina Fey’s 30 Rock aired from 2006 to 2013 on NBC and centered around the behind-the-scenes antics from the cast and crew on a major sketch television show. The unaired pilot didn’t have much difference from the show itself — Tina Fey was still the writer, the show featured a number of celebs like Tracy Morgan and Alec Baldwin, and the cast had great on-screen chemistry. Where the main change lay, however, was in the casting of Jenna Maroney.
While the role eventually went to Jane Krawkowski, it started out with Rachel Dratch in the role of then-called Jenna DeCarlo. DeCarlo was written to be the host of a show called “The Girlie Show” and she was a bit unconventional — just like most of Dratch’s characters. While Dratch was later given multiple cameos on the show, the network felt that DeCarlo was too strange and out of place on the sitcom-to-be. Thus, Jenna Maroney was created, and the show moved forward.
6. Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar: The Last Airbender was featured on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008 and followed twelve-year-old Aang, who is the last remaining Airbender. The show also centers on his two friends, Katara and Sokko, as the three children attempting to bring peace to the world by ending the war between the Fire Nation and the other elements. The original pilot for the show, however, had Aang already unfrozen from a block of ice before the show even began. He and his three friends were also already on the run from the Fire Nation. The pilot ultimately ended with a confrontation between Aang and Prince Zuko, which takes much, much longer in the actual show. Much less was offered on the history of the region and the backstory on the characters as well. We’re happy with the version we got.
5. The Munsters
The Munsters, which ran from 1964 to 1966, was CBS’ solution to the other popular supernatural-themed sitcom of the time: The Addams Family. The show focused on a family of non-harmful monsters and their day-to-day lives, including the crazy antics they always seem to get up to.
The original unaired pilot shows a show that’s just a bit different. The actor playing Phoebe Munster was too much like Morticia Addams in the studio’s eyes, due to her quirkiness and brooding nature. The most obvious and startling difference is that the pilot was actually in color! While the show is famous for its black and white style that matches the gothic horror style that served as inspiration, the pilot tried the series in color first.
4. Gilligan’s Island
Gilligan’s Island ran from 1964 to 1967 on CBS. The show followed seven castaways who use each episode to try to get off of the island on which they had been stranded.
In the original pilot for the show, Mary Ann (a simple girl from Kansas) hadn’t even been created yet. Instead, the castaways were joined by two secretaries, Bunny and Ginger, who were so unmemorable the network cut them almost immediately. The biggest difference, though, was the theme song. The show is known for its catchy and storytelling theme “The Balla of Gilligan’s Isle,” but in the pilot, the show opened with a sort of calypso-style music.
3. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was a sci-fi spin-off of The Terminator movie franchise. The show followed Sarah and John Connor as they react to the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
The most significant difference between the show’s unaired pilot and the one that aired is the final scene. In the actual show, Sarah Connor delivers her final voiceover while caressing her son’s face before walking into her home. The original pilot, however, Sarah is seen pulling out a gun out of a hiding place while Cameron and John prepare their weapons in the same room. This shift’s Sarah’s entire personality. Imagine if she had been shown as more willing to resort to guns instead of showing her strength.
Dollhouse was a sci-fi show that ran on Fox from 2009 to 2010 with Joss Whedon at the helm. The show centers on a corporation running numerous underground establishments (called Dollhouses) that program real humans with temporary personalities and skills for ~special clients~. The agents then were used for various purposes, including sex, heists and assassination.
The characters and plot in the original pilot are the same, but the storylines themselves unfold very differently. Viewers are introduced to Echo, the main ‘Doll,’ for example, through a series of different engagements: philanthropic, a revenge date, and a scene where she talks down gangsters. Agent Paul Ballard also comes face-to-face with Echo when Topher tries to kill him. The tone of the original pilot also skewed more to noir style – but that didn’t stick.
1. Big Bang Theory
Big Bang Theory is a show that started in 2007 and is still running on CBS. The series follows a group of scientist friends as they fumble and bumble their way through dating, normal life, and other such situations where nerds aren’t always the savviest.
One of the biggest changes the show underwent before airing was the addition of Penny — an attractive neighbor who lives across the hall. Penny is now considered a sweet, funny, and “normal” part of the established friend group – and Kaley Cuoco has become the face of TBBT. But Penny wasn’t a part of the initial premise.
The character’s name was originally Katie, and she was written as a tough street kid who was often mean to the other characters. Due to negative reactions in pilot screenings, Katie was cast away to make room for her rewrite: Penny. Another considerable change to The Big Bang Theory was that Sheldon was originally written to be romantically active and a crazy kinkster who would often discuss his odd fetishes. Now, however, he’s an awkward and uncertain nerd who took many seasons to even consider intimacy.