Call for Comments: Can you judge a show by its pilot?

From Mav: Back when the Game of Thrones aired their finale, we devoted an episode to not just talking about that finale, but the idea of finales in general. We talked about what makes a finale succeed or fail and what some of the best examples were. How important (or not important) is it to have closure in a story? We may have resolved nothing… but we had a great discussion about the significance to finale episodes to an overall television narrative. You should definitely go listen to it.

Anyway, with the new fall season of TV coming up, we thought we’d do the same thing with pilots. Or the opposite thing? Actually does TV even really have “seasons” anymore… at least in any meaningful way? A large portion of the shows that I watch these days are streaming…. and they just start whenever the hell the streaming service decides it wants to drop them… usually very staggered so as to make sure the network has stuff dropping all the time. Even the traditional networks do that these days. New series (and returning series) happen all year around. But, there’s still a bunch that show up in the fall. And other than just basically “tradition” there’s not much of a good reason for that anymore. But they still do. And that time is happening in a few weeks. And if you’re a big TV fan like me, then maybe you still get kind of excited about that.

Of course, there’s a funny thing about pilots. A lot of them actually kind of suck. In some respect they’re very important. They’re your first impression fo the show. However, it’s also just a “first impression.” Like a first date or a first day on the job. No matter how awesome it is — or how awful — that doesn’t necessarily tell you how the show ultimately will be in the end. There are a lot of shows that famously have mediocre to horrible pilots or even entire first seasons, only to pick up and get a lot better as the series goes on and finds its stride. The US version of The Office, for instance, was a very different show after the first season. It starts as a direct ripoff of the British show, and then mutates into something entirely separate.

And there are examples that go the other way too. Shows that started off with a great killer idea and then quickly squandered it and became something that couldn’t live up to its first episode. I know I’m in minority here, but for me Lost was one of those shows (I know, I know… I’m sure Hannah will skewer me on the show). I’ve never been a big fan. It just couldn’t get its hooks into me like it did with so many other people, but I will acknowledge that it has one of the greatest pilot episodes in television history. Granted the pilot episode cost more than a lot of movies to produce. It should be good! But still, on some level, that just shows some commitment.

There’s also shows that change directly after the pilot because it was shot far enough before the series was ordered and there have been concept changes and no-one wanted to bother paying for a reshoot and the network just decides to air it anyway. Characters get added, deleted or replaced. Settings or concepts change. A lot of the time when the concept is too different the pilot just never makes it on the air. But sometimes, they air it anyway and it just seems like a single episode anomaly…made even weirder by the fact that it’s the first. Seinfeld is a good example here.

So, that leads me to the questions. How important are pilots? What makes a good one? How do you decide which ones to bother watching? What do you need to get out of it in order to make you want to come and watch episode two or the rest of the season? What are some of your favorites of all time? What about least favorites? What are you looking forward to or not looking forward to this upcoming season and how do you decide if you’re even going to give it a chance?

2 Comments and 0 Webmentions for “Call for Comments: Can you judge a show by its pilot?”

  1. I don’t know if it happens as much nowadays but yeah the biggest issue for me is always the one where entire characters or plot elements get cut out or changed around between the pilot and the actual show. I think Pilots are good hooks, sure, but some of them are like night and day to the trajectory of a show.

    I can’t even begin to imagine what a Pilot for Agents of SHIELD would look like if it was premiering in 2019 for example. Agents of SHIELD is such a drastically different show from the “boring/sluggish” Season 1 that caused everyone to jump ship after 3 or 4 episodes.

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