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When To Bail on a New Show

The fall TV season is upon us with plenty of new shows vying for our viewing time.

So how long do you give a new show until dump it from your lineup?

There are few people as critical and judgmental as me, and yet, in the past once I started a show I typically see it through for its first season. But I’m now convinced that was wrong, that I’ve been wasting my time

There’s simply too much good TV out there to keep waiting and waiting to see where a show is headed, if its plot and characters interest you.

One episode should be enough to sell you.

The pilot/first episode is in fact usually a pretty good indication of the direction of a show’s first season. That is, I can’t think of many shows where the first half of the freshman season was terrible, and then things suddenly turned around in the second half.

Increasingly TV drama have intricate season long plotlines where the first few episodes of the seasons are primarily exposition. A show can get away doing that in its second or third season, but it doesn’t have that luxury in its first season, even if the whole season has already been green lit and produced.

The first episode should leaving you wanting more not because it seems like interesting things might happen, but because so much did happen in that episode and you want to see what happens next.

And great shows with complex season arcs manage to do this.

For example, consider the first episode of Breaking Bad.

Walt starts cooking meth and gets his first kill. That episode sets the trajectory for the whole series. What the show is about is immediately established.

Or consider The Wire, where there actually is a lot of exposition in the first few episodes of the series.

It still gets its hooks in you because it lays out what the season is going to be about. You don’t walk away from the episode unclear about what is going on, where it’s headed — you know it’s going to be about taking drown a drug organization, but the question is how, especially given that they just beat a murder rap and the police bureaucracy is intransigent.

That was its sales pitch.

None of this is to say that it doesn’t take a season or two for shows to hit their stride, that some shows do have mediocre first seasons, but we all have a finite amount of time.

At some point — sooner rather than later — you have to cut your losses and leave it to other people to let you know if you should revisit the show at a future date.

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