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.