Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Is Our Patience Really Dead When It Comes to Trying New Shows?

Here's something to add to today's conversation about how hard viewers can be expected to work when watching comedies. The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman argues that in a world with nearly 500 channels of options, "patience is dead." If a show isn't fully formed right out of the development womb, audiences and the network will drop it like a hot potato. As evidence, he offers up the incredibly low numbers of last year's new scripted shows that were renewed this year: 2 out of 10 new shows on ABC, 3 out of 8 on CBS, 3 out of 7 on Fox, and only 1 out of 12 on NBC. In Goodman's view, the pressure is on for shows to be amazing, immediately:

"The solution is pretty simple: Make better shows. And make them strong from the start. That fourth- or fifth-episode stride you're talking about? That's a fantasy. Chances are you're dead by then, and you don't even know it."

If he's right, it's too bad. So many great shows take a few episodes to figure themselves out. And part of that process necessarily happens outside the writers' room, once production starts and the actors make their own choices that help define their characters. What if the American Office had never been allowed to move past its first episode, where Michael Scott was mostly a carbon copy of David Brent? What if Parks and Rec hadn't gotten another shot after its, let's be honest, kinda weak first half-season? If audiences and networks don't give shows a chance at finding a groove, I hate to think what we'll miss out on.

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  • http://asianniceguy.com El Sabor Asiático

    Two other great shows that I think suffered from "meh" openings were Arrested Development and Community. Arrested Development comes off initially as overly broad and goofy, and it takes a couple of episodes for the sublime weirdness to sink in. And Community had, it must be said, a truly underwhelming first episode, that made the show look like it was just going to be some cookie-cutter comedy about an unlikeable douchebag chasing community college tail.

    Probably most ensemble comedies take a while to catch on, since the appeal comes from our familiarity with and investment in the characters.

  • iamjustryingtolive

    i have a theory (congratulations) that the best comedy makes the viewer come up to its level. We'd never seen anything like AD before so we had to hone our own sense of humor to meet its so we could get it. I think a show in its first episode needs to demonstrate that it is worthy of the investment to come meet its comedic demands.

  • http://asianniceguy.com El Sabor Asiático

    Yeah, I think your theory is spot on. I rejected Arrested Development on first viewing because, in retrospect, I approached it as if it were a conventional comedy. So my existing biases caused me to interpret the humor as mere slapstick. But at some point the show just clicked with me, and afterwards everything (including the first episode) suddenly became hilarious. But yeah, I definitely had to sort of go to where the show was in order to appreciate it.

  • Francis Rizzo III@twitter

    I was listening to an interview with Paul Scheer on Earwolf, and it was mentioned that they were trying to convince networks to try shows as podcasts before committing to them as series (like the BBC has done. I think that's a brilliant concept, as you can easily develop the characters to the point where they will be fully formed for a TV launch, and then revisit the formative moments in later episodes.