2002年，《周六夜现场》首席编剧蒂娜·菲向全国广播公司提出制作一部有关有线新闻网络的电视剧集，但后者没有接受。两年后，菲再次联系全国广播公司，方案与上次相似，讲述的是一个名叫《女子秀》（The Girlie Show），与《周六夜现场》类似电视节目的幕后故事。全国广播公司于2006年5月批准了这个项目，节目制作不久得以展开。这一集获得了评论员的普遍好评，其播时时段在所有18-49岁年龄段观众中收视率排在第三位。评论员称赞了杰克·麦克布瑞尔和简·科拉克斯基的表演，两人分别在剧中扮演肯尼斯·帕塞尔（Kenneth Parcell）和简娜·玛隆妮（Jenna Maroney）。
The show begins with Liz Lemon, the head writer of the television series The Girlie Show, attempting to buy a hot dog before work. After a fellow commuter begins an argument, Liz buys $150 worth of hot dogs and distributes them to random passersby, hobos, and colleagues. When she arrives at work, she is embarrassed when she is forced by Kenneth, the naїve NBC Page who conducts tours around 30 Rock, to introduce herself to a group of Girlie Show fans.
Liz and her producer Pete Hornberger (Scott Adsit) meet with The Girlie Show's new network executive Jack Donaghy. Jack tells Liz and Pete that he has been sent to 30 Rock to re-tool The Girlie Show. After he inadvertently insults her, Liz takes an initial dislike to Jack. Jack asks Liz to hire Tracy Jordan, star of the film Honkey Grandma Be Trippin', as part of the cast. Liz is skeptical as Tracy has a history of problematic behaviour, including running down New York State Route 405 in his underwear while shouting "I am a Jedi!" and falling asleep on his neighbor's roof. In comparison to Liz, Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), the narcissistic star of The Girlie Show, takes to Jack upon their first meeting. She begins to worry when she hears that Tracy may become the new star of the show.
Against her own judgment, Liz meets Tracy at a restaurant, but when Tracy discovers that he does not like the food they go to another restaurant. While Liz tried to convince Tracy not to join The Girlie Show, he discusses conspiracy theories. After the meeting, Tracy offers to take Liz back to the studio, but he makes a detour to a strip club in the Bronx. While trying to get home, Liz learns that Jack fired Pete earlier that day. Tracy and Liz arrive at the studio halfway through the live broadcast of the show. Liz sends Tracy out on stage to talk off the last bit of the show, much to The Girlie Show studio audience's delight and Jenna's shock. Backstage, Liz forces Jack to rehire Pete and to promise to guarantee Jenna's job security.
Fey worked with Jennifer McNamara and Adam Bernstein for the casting of the series. Their first decision was for Fey to portray the lead character, Liz Lemon. Fey acknowledged similarities between Liz and her own life when she became head writer on SNL, primarily a heavy focus on her job. Fey asked one of her castmates on SNL, Tracy Morgan, to play Tracy Jordan. Morgan believed the role was "right up [his] alley and it was tailor made for [him]", and Fey noted that Tracy Jordan "acts wild" like Tracy Morgan did at SNL.
Fey wrote the character of naїve NBC page Kenneth Parcell with her friend Jack McBrayer in mind, who has been described as "the show's brightest discovery". She has said that she "really wanted him for that part and was very happy when no one objected". Shortly after McBrayer's casting, Alec Baldwin was cast as Jack Donaghy, the "totally uncensored" Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming. Fey had written the part with Baldwin in mind, but was "very pleasantly surprised when he agreed to do it". As the series progressed "the push-pull [relationship] between Fey's character, Liz Lemon, the harried head writer of The Girlie Show, and Alec Baldwin's domineering network executive, Jack Donaghy" helped the show find "its rhythm".
Judah Friedlander was cast as the staff writer of The Girlie Show, Frank Rossitano. Before auditioning for the role, Friedlander and Fey had never met. His character was based on at least two writers that Fey used to work with at SNL, but he "certainly brought some of [his] own things to it as well", including his trucker hat wearing persona. Fey based the role of Pete Hornberger, a long time friend of Liz's and producer of The Girlie Show, on Scott Adsit, who agreed to portray the character.
In an unaired pilot for 30 Rock, Rachel Dratch, a former SNL cast member, originally played the role of Jenna DeCarlo. In August 2006, executive producer Lorne Michaels announced that Dratch would be replaced as Jenna but would portray different roles in other episodes. In the re-tooled pilot, Dratch appears as The Girlie Show's cat wrangler. Later in the month, NBC announced that Jane Krakowski had replaced Dratch in the role of Jenna, and that the character was renamed Jenna Maroney. Michaels said that "everyone is thrilled that she is joining the cast", and thought she was going to be a "perfect fit".
This episode was viewed by 8.13 million viewers and received a Nielsen rating of 2.9/8 in the key adults 18–49 demographic. This episode was the highest rated of the series until October 2008 when the third season premiere episode, "Do-Over", was viewed by 8.7 million viewers. That episode received a 4.1/10 in the 18–49 demographic. In the United Kingdom, the episode attracted 700,000 viewers, 6% of that time slot's viewing audience. The director of this episode, Adam Bernstein, was nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for "Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series", in 2007. Bernstein lost to Richard Shepard for his work on the Ugly Betty pilot.
"Pilot" was generally well received by critics. Metacritic gave the episode a Metascore–a weighted average based on the impressions of a select thirty-one critical reviews–of 67 out of 100. Tom Gliatto of People Weekly and Anna Johns of AOL's TV Squad declared 30 Rock the best new comedy of the season. Johns described Tracy Jordan's line "I'm from the government and I'm here to inspect your chicken nuggets" as "confoundingly funny", and praised Jane Krakowski's replacement of Rachel Dratch in the Jenna role. Keith Watson of Metro said that "It may just be a Mary Tyler Moore Show for the [21st century] but 30 Rock, er, rocks". Watson rated the episode 4 out of 5 stars. Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal praised the "hilarious scenes and fine ensemble cast", particularly commenting on Jack McBrayer's performance as Kenneth Parcell and Rachel Dratch's portrayal of the cat-wrangler, Greta Johansen.
Not all critics liked the episode. Oscar Dahl of BuddyTV felt that this episode did not live up to the show's potential. San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman lamented that "the original [episode] was funnier" than the one that aired. Tom Shales of Washington Post said that "the show needs a better premise and funnier dialogue". Despite this, Shales said that 30 Rock "is not a self-important bore like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip", and praised Tracy Morgan's performance as Tracy Jordan. The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley praised Alec Baldwin's "slyly absurd comic presence that is bigger and brighter than any joke or character actor on the show", but mentioned that "Nothing very funny happens on 30 Rock until Alec Baldwin enters the room, and suddenly this new NBC sitcom comes alive".