While most shows' pilots air as their first episode, some shows get a do-over to make creative changes, improve production, or appease the network. We look at some of the pilots that didn't make it and how the shows changed.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Riff Regan vs. Alyson Hannigan)
What they changed: Joss Whedon financed the original pilot himself, formatting it as a half-hour episode. It is, for the most part, a shortened version of "Welcome to the Hellmouth," but with different casting. The role of the Sunnydale library was played by Torrance High School's library — a much larger and airier room than the cramped Hellmouth library we've come to know and love, with a handy second floor for showing off those Buffy backflips. Instead of Ken "Hyena Chow" Lerner as Principal Flutie, we get a much more straightlaced interpretation from character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. But perhaps the biggest difference is in the role of Willow. Instead of Alyson Hannigan, the geeky witch was originally played by Riff Regan.
How might the series have been different? Flutie probably would have still ended up in the stomachs of his students, but the Scooby Gang might have never been the same. Regan's Willow was a sweet doormat, but she didn't have quite the neurotic, eager-to-please quality Hannigan brought to the role. Incidentally, it wasn't the first time Hannigan replaced an actress after the filming of a show's initial pilot. In 1989, she took over the role of Jessie Harper in the fantasy sitcom Free Spirit.
Unaired Pilot with Stephen Tobolowsky and Riff Regan:
Official Pilot — "Welcome to the Hellmouth:"
Dollhouse (Joss Whedon vs. Fox)
What they changed: The premise and the characters are the same, but the stories unfold in a rather different way. We're initially introduced to Echo through a trio of very different engagements: one philanthropic, one as a revenge date, and one where she talks down gangsters in Espagnol. Boyd is already Echo's handler, and Topher has already caught onto Echo's bison-like grouping with Victor and Sierra. Agent Paul Ballard also comes face-to-face with Echo in the original pilot...when Topher programs Echo to kill him.
How might the series have been different? The original pilot played more as the start of a noir series than as a proof-of-concept for an engagement-of-the-week serial (which is what the official pilot "Ghost" suggests). We probably would have leaped to Dollhouse's underlying plot more quickly, and spent more of the season focusing on Echo's emerging awareness. Plus, it seems the Dollhouse was originally going to be more hands on in addressing Ballard's investigation. We see some of that noir (and slightly more classically Whedonesque dialogue) in the original pilot clip below:
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Bad-Ass Sarah vs. Vulnerable Sarah
What they changed: The most readily obvious difference between the unaired pilot and what aired on Fox is that Tim Guinee, who played Tomin in Stargate SG-1, was originally cast as Sarah's jilted fiance Charley, but was replaced in the official pilot by Dean Winters. But more significant is a key change in the final scene. In official pilot, when Sarah Connor delivers her final voiceover, we see her caress her son's face before walking into her home. In the original pilot, we instead see her pulling a gun out of its hiding place while Cameron and John sit in the same room preparing their weapons, showing that Sarah's focus is on the coming war.
How might the series have been different? It's hard to say to what extent this change represents a shift in tone across the series, but we worried that it signaled a "wimpifying" of Sarah Connor, showing her vulnerability where it could have shown her strength and determination. You can scene the unaired scenes and their official pilot counterparts below: