Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The New TV Season: Week Two

It’s only natural to judge a show by its pilot. That’s the point of it. Networks decide what shows to order based on pilots, and you decide which shows are worth your time from watching the pilots.

And now it’s week two. You’ve seen some pilots. One or two you thought were God awful. What was the network thinking? You can only imagine how bad the pilots that didn’t get on the air were based on this stinkburger. Fair enough. They had their shot. They sucked. You’re done.

And then there were the pilots that were just okay. But there was something about them that was surprisingly and delightfully not terrible. Enough so that you’re willing to give them another look next week.

Hopefully, one or two pilots knocked you out. You can’t wait for week two.

Most likely you missed a lot of the pilots. But for whatever reason (good buzz, mad crush on the lead, last week you were in jail; this week you're on parole) you are motivated to watch the second episode of some new series.

May I make a suggestion that applies to all of these scenarios?

Don’t judge the second episode. Give it a pass.

Chances are it will be weak.

Why? Several reasons.

In general, the second episode is just a retelling of the pilot. But the writer has to walk a fine line. The show must introduce the series to the new viewer and yet not be so repetitive that anyone who did watch the pilot feels hosed.

Just the task of retelling the pilot is a bitch. Most pilots are premise pilots. The two leads meet for the first time and decide to move in together. Week two: “Hey, remember when we met last week and decided to move in together?” Not as good.

Another problem: It often takes time to really find your groove. Sometimes a whole season. You learn what works and what doesn’t. Week two you’re really just feeling your way in the dark. Over the next few weeks you’ll make adjustments and tweaks. In every series I’ve ever co-created, the second show has always been the worst. And in every series I’ve ever co-created, I wrote the second episode.

So don’t judge a series by week two. On the other hand, it’s fun to watch the creative process in action. See from week to week how the show evolves. You’ll learn as they learn.

As my writer friend, Dave Hackel used to say, “At the end you’ll have a beautiful baby. But sometimes they come out feet first”.

25 comments:

Fitz said...

Well, 2 Broke Girls appears to again be leaning heavily to se/excretion jokes, whether human or horse.

Charlie O'Brien said...

2 best pilots in my mind: "New Girl" on FOX and the king of pilots- J.J.Abram's new show "Person Of Interest." POS is a complicated premise but they made it work.

Gierow said...

Don't think Whitney could get any worse... I was hoping you'd eviscerate it here, because (apparently) I'm a mean little girl.

However, New Girl was really quite good.

Melissa Banczak said...

Haven't seen any second eps yet. 2 broke girls last week didnt make me laugh even once., I did crack a smile when the one girl was tasered but she got back up. New Girl tried way too hard. By the end, liked the guy who kept having to put a dollar in the jar and liked the bartender. She needs to tone it down 464% and the coach is not a necessary character. I will catch Terta Nova on Ondemand thid weekend but nothing else sounds interesting. Maybe next season will be better but I have a feeling I will be turning to box sets of classics, like always.

Ed Blonski said...

Is this the way TV works today or has it really be this way all along?

Because by all reports, MASH shouldn't have made it to a second season or even to the end of the first season.

Apparently no one was watching that first season. And the pilot episode was really bad. Alan Alda especially was trying way to hard. And the cast were nobodys so there was really one thing going for the series - the movie.

Rachel said...

Really wanted to like Whitney, but it's just not that great. Was really excited for Up All Night and liked the first episode, but the second was ho-hum. Pan-Am and Playboy Club? Didn't hold my interest. Finally saw 2 Broke Girls - unwatchable! Felt like all Kat Dennings did was deliver one-liners. Terrible. New Girl - yawn. So I'll stick to my staples - Modern Family and Parenthood.

David Schwartz said...

I enjoyed 2 Broke Girls because Kat Dennings has a really good presence that seems made for sitcoms. I do agree that she just seems to parrot one liners that are not very funny, but if they can give her three dimensional dialogue, the series could really work.
word verification: insinu: When you presume something before you've eaten.

David Schwartz said...

wv correction: insinu: When you subtly suggest something before you've eaten. (Yeah, like that's better...)

Mac said...

"Hey, remember last week when we couldn't work out if that stain was clam chowder?"

Mike said...

It's funny you should mention this today -- "New Girl" had another problem adding to the 2nd episode woes (replacing an actor from the pilot) which was actually able to help some of the problems with the pilot because they were able to re-introduce the characters and premise by, well, introducing the new character to the new girl and integrating him back in the group. Obviously wasn't the plan, but it did seem to be a little bit of "lemonade out of lemons" situation.

And now, with my second New Girl related comment of the day, I'll try, from here on out, prove that I'm not an astroturfing Fox shill (though if someone wants to start paying me good money to comment on websites, I will... I'll just do it on sites I don't like)

LAprGuy said...

Good advice, Ken. I have NEW GIRL on the DVR but haven't decided whether to watch the 2nd ep yet.

I didn't like 2 BROKE GIRLS despite really liking Kat Dennings' work, and only gave ep 2 a couple minutes. Maybe I'll sample ep 3.

Having trouble getting excited about any of the new shows this year, really.

rdcobb said...

Ed, television is completely different today...there's no such thing as a rerun season anymore (the slots are filled with cheap reality shows). It's my understanding that it was during summer reruns that shows like Cheers and MASH really won their audience.

Rich D said...

It’s nice to hear a professional validate a pet theory I’ve had ever since high school, though since I was watching primarily science-fiction series, that was all I applied it to.. I recall first realizing the “Second episode is always awful” trend back in the 80s with ABC’s “Max Headroom.” The second episode (“Rake Boarders”) was so bad that it evidentially burned its horrible title into my memory. Thankfully, I tuned back in for week three, which was much better. Though, I couldn’t tell you what the title of that episode is without running to Wikipedia. A couple of years later CBS comic-book adaption “The Flash” had a horrible second episode which stained the rest of the show’s rather good single season.

Chris said...

Question for friday related to this post: In The New Girl they had to write out Marlon Wayans after the first episode because Happy Endings got renewed and they brought in another character, does that make writing the second episode easier?

te said...

Second episode f 2 Broke Girls made 2 1/2 Men look like Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, though there were similar references to backdoor sex and masturbation in both.

On the other hand, as Fitz pointed out, one of the 2 Broke Girls fell into a very large pile of horse puckey, resulting in a large brown stain on her outfit. That is worse -- if admittedly more imaginative, seeing as they live in the middle of NYC -- than mom engaging in s/m sex, isn't it?

Rob said...

The second episode of "Cheers" (Sam's Women) was nearly as good as the first. The third episode filmed (the monk and the doughboy) was shelved for several months, but I always enjoyed it.

Cody said...

Has there ever been a pilot that was really, really well done but the network killed it for political (or spiteful) reasons? I remember reading Bill Goldman's 'Which Lie Did I Tell' where he outlined how features halfway through development, production, or even pre-release got killed because the new incoming studio chief didn't want to get tagged with it either way, good or bad (bad, it's his fault; good, it wasn't his movie). Does that happen in television with pilots? Way more than we realize? Rarely?

jbryant said...

Chris: I know it's hard to keep all the Wayans straight, but that was Damon Wayans, Jr. in the NEW GIRL pilot, not Marlon. I worked with Damon on a short for DEF COMEDY JAM a few years ago - he's hilarious, and it's great that he's finding success. Too bad he had to give up NEW GIRL though; looks like it's going to grab more eyeballs than HAPPY ENDINGS.

bevo said...

Charlie O'Brien said...
J.J.Abram's new show "Person Of Interest."

Like all Abrams' shows, PoS will be really good the first season and, by the end of the second season, you realize Abrams has no idea where the series is going. By the third season, well, you were warned.

On a different note, I have no idea why anyone waits for a second episode or a third episode. Does it take that long for the next episode to load on your DVD player?

Who watches television episodes on a weekly basis? It's unnatural. Wait for the season on DVD.

jbryant said...

Why are people abbreviating Person of Interest as "POS"? Freudian slip?

rhys said...

I thought the second episode of 2 Broke Girls was OK - but the Pilot was only OK too. I am still semi-enjoying it so I will stick with it for a little bit.

I actually thought the second episode of New Girl was much better than the first episode. I thought the first episode was way too contrived in how they made Zooey and the guys best of friends after a week of knowing each other - it really distracted me. Also, the way they tried to establish the guys' characters was really cheesy. The second episode seemed much more organic. I think it also avoided the pitfalls of a second episode in that the premise created a natural situation for the second episode to address, i.e., Zooey getting closure on the crappy boyfriend she left in the pilot, that allowed it to rehash the necessary stuff without being too contrived.

Whitney definitely sucks. I really liked Suburgatory though - I think it's the best new comedy of the season currently.

Also, random pet peeve and question, how about they stop naming the first episode of almost every show "Pilot"? Seems ridiculous to me.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

I am treating "Two and a Half Men" as a 'new' show because it bares VERY little resemblance to the original. I thought the first (PILOT) Ashton Kutcher episode was awful. It was like they were trying too hard to be funny. The laugh track has gotten even more annoying. Nothing worse than a joke that isn't even near amusing getting a big laugh. The second episode was even worse, so good bye. Too bad, I loved that show with Charlie Sheen. Looks like he got the last laugh with his $25 million payoff...

cadavra said...

I always thought the third episode was the best one to judge, since it had some physical continuity from the second, but YMMV.

I have to admit that despite my initial trepidation, I'm kinda liking 2 BROKE GIRLS. The finger-snapping bit in the pilot was smartly done, and the two ladies have a nice chemistry. Plus it's great to see a multi-cam comedy that really feels like one (i.e., theatre instead of film). It ain't Mary Tyler Moore, but compared to most of the rubbish out there, it shows real promise.

WV: Parbotti: Pasta favored by golfers.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

otoh, the second episode of The Big Bang Theory was one of the best they've ever made.

wg

june sullivan said...

Thanks for this Ken. I enjoyed Pan Am's premier episode. Last night I found its second episode disappointing and didn't know why. Now I do. I love your blog btw.