Monday, September 24, 2007

You can't judge a series by its pilot

The new TV season is all up on us, which means that the networks are madly flinging pilots at us and looking to see what sticks. These days, networks are only too eager to pull middling-rated shows after as little as the first episode (latest casualty: Anchorwoman). For the most part, these are the irredeemably bad shows. At least, we assume they are – how do we know how the rest of the series takes off if we don't see the second episode? How do we know what the series is really like from week to week if all we see is the set-up in the pilot?

The pilot serves two purposes: to set the tone and to provide exposition, telling you what the show's going to be about. But it's the second episode that shows you what the show actually be. Once we've been introduced to everyone and the situation has been all set up for us – teenage private eye! SNL-like show! SNL-like show, only for serious! – the second episode is able to get on with the business of the show, and to put all those characters you met the week before into new and hopefully exciting situations. It'll give you a taste of what the show will be like, well, every other week, for the rest of its run.

This is why I always wait for the second episode before I decide if I like a show or not. Pilots aren't everything. You remember that great pilot for Studio 60? Yeah. That was a high-flying pilot, but the landing gear was stuck. Then there are the pilots clogged with too much "meet the characters, dammit!" that they forget to be entertaining or funny (sorry, Tina, but 30 Rock was like that – and hey, I grew to like it, didn't I? Also, you have an Emmy, so relax). Or the show is retooled following the pilot. Yeah, I know, usually it's a bad sign, but it happened with my beloved NewsRadio. Sometimes they just need an episode to figure out what they're doing. (And sometimes they need an entire season to figure it out. Ask a Blackadder fan, we'll tell you – first season isn't worth it.)

So please try to keep the networks from screwing us out of the next great show by watching beyond the pilot. It's okay to bail out after episode two if it still sucks – in fact, I encourage it, it'll save room for actually good shows, or repeats of good shows – but remember, even the greatest shows sucked sometimes. Except for Arrested Development.

8 comments:

vance said...

no. sometimes even a first season needs to be figured out before it gets REALLY good in the following seasons (Sex and the City, Seinfeld) so shows really need a chance to breathe after a pilot. That being said, I'm still so excited and proud of our little bloggers chart based solely on the pilots! ha!

Liz said...

You SHOULD be proud--it's awesome! And yeah, The X-Files didn't even come into its own until the THIRD season! But hey, you need to weed out the junk somehow, right? My DVR is already outpaced just from Tuesdays at 9!

vance said...

seriously. Im having headaches just thinking what Im going to do next week when How I Met Your Mother goes against a new Chuck I havent seen yet. Or on Thursdays... eeks.

(life's good when that's my biggest headache! too much good TV!)

Liz said...

My most immediate problem is tomorrow night, when Reaper, House, Eureka, and Boston Legal all overlap. Thankfully, that seems to be a Perfect Storm of summer shows and extended premieres that hopefully won't reoccur. Wednesdays are also looking ugly. So...basically every night is tough.

David said...

There seems to be a lot of love for "Pushing Daisies."

Every time I see a preview for "Chuck," I can't help but think that it would be a really good premise for a movie (with someone like Ed Norton or Jason Schwartzman in the lead role), but that as a TV show, it will fizzle out quickly.

vance said...

Oh crap. I just realised the overlap on Tuesday after you mentioned it...

yeah. essentially, I can no longer go out on Mon-Thursdays anymore. (not that I should be anymore... I'm not young anymore, ouch, Im in pain from last night still... remind me never to stay out late on Sundays). bye bye friends...

hello TV! you've been good to me!

Liz said...

I hear ya on the limited concept thing for Chuck, David, but I'm just hoping the writers will be able to find a way around it.

Pushing Daisies had a really great pilot. However, with a smaller budget and no more Barry Sonnenfeld, I'm worried it may go downhill after a couple of eps.

And yeah, Vance, this fall is BANANAS. I'm going to have to make some serious cuts if I can even think about having an outside life...

Dan said...

Brava, Lori. In all this fall season fervor, you've got to wonder whether some of these shows are going to tank or soar after the pilot. I remember cringing during the 30 Rock pilot -- and now, of course, I love it.