There’s always something to be said about stories that build to some crescendo; carefully laid groundwork, subtly placed in the background, culminating in a jaw dropping climax. Television sometimes has this luxury, but often not. New shows typically need to prove themselves or their given the axe. Many concepts aren’t fully fleshed out at the pilot stage, and the writers and showrunners need time to find their footing.
Two of the best examples are The Office and Parks & Recreation, both spearheaded by Greg Daniels. Each kicked off with a 6 episode first season that was nearly unwatchable. I tuned in to the premier of The Office, thinking it was stiff and awkward. By the third episode, I was out. Parks & Rec was similar. Seeing Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope obsess fall into the some pit she was crusading about in the pilot turned me off. Slapstick aficionado I am not.
Word of mouth brought me make to both a few seasons later. The Office had established itself by the second season, fleshing out the background characters more while moving the main cast in a different direction from the UK incarnation. Parks & Rec somewhat ignored the characterization established in the first season, changing nearly the entire cast, personality wise. Most notably was Andy (Chris Pratt). At first he was a jobless layabout, now he’s a well meaning buffoon, almost like a dog.
Community is another comedy that needed time to establish what sort of show it wanted to me. I tuned in at first because of Joe McHale, but immediately dropped out. Two years later I suffered through the first 8 or so episodes before the cast began to gel. Initially, Jeff (McHale) was meant to be the leader of a ragtag group of college misfits. The show became something entirely different, with each member of the study group given a unique personality. Pop pop!
Comedies aren’t the only type of show that sometimes need a little restructuring. Fringe, while lasting 5 seasons, nearly didn’t make it past the first. The show was very much like X-Files, delivering standalone stories each week that were decent, but pointless. Fearing cancellation, the writers moved up their plot lines. Somewhere around episode 10, everything changed. The first season ended in an amazing moment that altered the landscape of the show, one that wasn’t meant to happen until season 3 or 4. Yeesh.
Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse was in the same boat. Nearly every episode of the first season seemed to change some core concept in an attempt to see what stuck. Mostly as an apology for Firefly, Dollhouse was renewed for a second season. Eventually the show found it’s niche, becoming something entire different, yet interesting, by the end. Too little too late though, the show was cancelled.
This grace period, allowing writers to workshop, is typically only seen in network shows (22 episode seasons). Cable shows (typically 13 episode seasons), don’t have that luxury. They are what they are from launch. Maybe it’s do to the amount of content required each season, but cable shows need to be tightly scripted from the start. Networks look for endless concepts, while cable have built in limiters, enhancing creativity. Then again, some shows are just garbage from the start.
Have a show you came back around to? Any other slow starts you’ve noticed? Comment below!