As Fall TV pilots air and verdicts come in from critics and audiences alike, I’ve been thinking a lot this year about how pilots are different from episode 2.
Pilots are written usually by one person (or the initial creative team/duo) and shot early in the year. By May there’s usually a greenlight verdict, when shows can go forward with production of season one. This is when the writing rooms are hired and the creative team proper begins to form.
[This Washington Square Journal article from gives a mini breakdown of the pilot season schedule from pitches in summer to writing in fall to pilot requests in January to pick ups in May. TV writing books break it down better but I couldn’t find a handy link.]
So the writing process for episode 1 sometime in December or so of the year before is going to be different from an episode written by a writing room, sometimes with a different showrunner, and with additional network and studio notes going forward. Most times this coalesces the show into something that gets better and better as the season(s) progress. Though of course, sometimes instead of getting better, a show can get worse for these very same reasons.
In this way, television boldly asks for a second chance at a first impression. This is why characters go missing from pilot to episode 2 or get dropped very early on, why sets look different. TV Tropes related to his phenomenon: Chuck Cunningham Syndrome, Dropped After the Pilot, Early Installment Weirdness. More people are making decisions and this can help or hinder a pilot in the view of the audience.
Pilots have too much work to do. A lot of pilot episodes place a character in a new setting and they must meet their supporting cast and get a feel for the many different problems a character could face in that situation/place. Pilots are about potential. Episode 2, on the other hand, gives you a better feel for what the show will be on a weekly basis. Where the pilot may introduce many different characters and problems, episode 2 can settle and focus on one of those problems, episode 3 another.
Some of the criticism of Gotham, for instance, has been all of the baby villains being shoehorned into episode 1. Sure, it was a clunky way of doing it, but it was about potential. If episode 2 features all of these cameos with little reason for them, then I’d be concerned, but I am hoping that they will take one piece of episode 1 and focus on it in episode 2, therefore giving us room to breathe in the story. Other shows struggle do this as well. Lost was known for introducing loads and loads of characters in its pilot (though it’s pilot is a bit unfair as it was 2 hours long and produced like a feature film), then focusing on one character per episode via the flashbacks.
On the comedy side, I think of the comparisons of black-ish to The Cosby Show. As I state in my black-ish post, it’s a bit soon to be comparing black-ish to Cosby at its height and when comparing pilots, I think The Cosby Show‘s is stronger writing and humor-wise. But I think Cosby brings to mind something that I hope remains true for black-ish. It had really great ratings (of course it is–it has the coveted Modern Family lead-in and a summer’s worth of anticipation), but it wasn’t flaw free and many are concerned about the message it’s presenting about “being black”–a discussion for another day–so they may not tune in for episode 2. The Cosby Show pilot, besides having a different set, also only features four Huxtable children–poor Sondra was all forgot about (ahem, didn’t exist) when Claire/Cliff (I forget which) states that they have four children. I bring this to mind to say that between the writing of the pilot and episode 2, a decision to make the family actually match Bill Cosby’s real-life family make up was made and the show progressed from there and gained additional story potential for it.
Anything can happen between episodes 1 and 2, there’s so much time between them. So if there’s a show you were invested in and the pilot didn’t quite grab you, at least give episode 2 a shot. Things could have changed for the better.
More Diversity in Prime Time: It’s Not Your Imagination – The Root
This article mostly talk about black-ish in the aftermath of it’s premiere yesterday, but it also spotlights Jane the Virgin, which I must say was probably my favorite pilot this fall. Check it out!
Also check out two more articles regarding blackish:
In ABC’s ‘Black-ish,’ everyone has racial issues [Washington Post]
Black-ish: “Pilot”: Don’t call it the black Modern Family [AV Club]
My intro post on my visit to the NYC Paley Center for their Fall TV Previews screenings. I watched ten different pilots and will post reviews on all of them. First four will be up, other links added later. What's the biggest pilot surprise of the season?
What are you watching this fall? What should I be watching? Can you squeeze in all this year's fall TV into your everyday life? Share your potential fall schedules!
Fox Pulls Plug on ‘Hieroglyph’ – Hollywood Reporter
Oh no! FOX cancels Hieroglyph before it’s fall debut! I was looking forward to checking this out, due to the diverse casting (though had qualms about it after learning the true lead was another white male), but looks like I won’t be checking it out after all.
The article mentions Kevin Reilly, entertainment chairman of FOX, and his initial decision to “end pilot season” before stepping down only a few weeks ago. I suppose only he was ready to revamp the way we greenlight shows, since this show is being cut. THR states some creative differences, but it makes me wonder if other shows from the Reilly era are safe before fall…
I could just stare at that promo poster featuring Condola Rashad all day; perhaps I’ll make a poster in memoriam of this series that was truly nipped in the bud.
I still can’t tell how I feel about this show. I believe it will pick up, but waiting for it to pick up in the way that I want is rough. But I can tell they’re laying some foundations and working out relationships so I’m giving it more time. And it has both the money and the audience to actually give us time to watch it grow. Unlike every other Whedon show. I remember not being sure how I felt about Dollhouse and then episode 6 came along and I was in for the ride.
Why can’t Skye have a tech S.O.? lol I suppose Ward does tech stuff as he showed when he cut off her offer to do some techy bits.
i enjoyed Fitz/Simmons’ outfits.
I think I’m not alone when I say I’m not a fan of Skye’s double agent act (though most people, from what I gather, are not fans of Skye herself. I don’t quite like her too much either). I think her cockiness is what i dislike about her. And she’s selfish? Though, perhaps, maybe that’s just in the context of SHIELD. She doesn’t really know or care about these people yet and the show hasn’t given her an opportunity to yet. Maybe she cares about other people on a larger scale? but her cockiness is annoying. I did enjoy her “Nope!” though. Skye’s cockiness drops quick when there are like 5 dudes after her!
Whats wrong with Coulson’s muscle memory? There’s definitely more to this than we know (what happened in Tahiti? Did he actually ever go to Tahiti? What did SHIELD do to him to bring him back?). What are they foreshadowing to be wrong with him? I really want more Coulson. And more Melinda May! She’s definitely my second favorite character and I want to know more about her and her backstory (and why she didn’t want to join in–what happened in her last mission– and does that have to do with not liking being called The Cavalry). More Melinda and Coulson being Agent Bros, please!
Hmm, I don’t know why I wasn’t feeling Skye’s emotional turn around at the end. Her life was threatened in the two episodes before, why was this one so much more traumatic for her? Half of the time she was threatened in the episode, she was being her normal, cocky self. I get that it’s a defense mechanism, given when we could assume about her even before she revealed her backstory, but I don’t feel like we earned that story based on what she went through in the episode. I could get some introspection, but not a full out reveal to Ward about her past. I don’t get if she’s suddenly on their side or if she’s playing the “hide deception in honesty” card as she did with Quinn in the episode. I just don’t think we earned her confession.
I liked the tag more than the episode as a whole. As a non-comic book reader, I didn’t quite understand what was happening, but tweets sort of made me pull it together at the end. I think my problem with this episode is that it’s exposition for Graviton the Villain and exposition can be the most boring part (even in a great story). It’s why I’m giving SHIELD so much of a chance (that’s a lie. It’s because it’s Joss. and because it’s not bad, it just hasn’t really found it’s footing yet, but I know it’s coming), all of these beginning episodes are exposition for something greater to come. I don’t think Disney/Marvel would have greenlit it yet if they weren’t shown a larger, fuller story trajectory that we’re not seeing yet.
I’m interested in seeing how the Graviton arc plays out (as I think that’s what this show really needs, to start showing us it’s arcs. A comic book story, a Whedon story doesn’t work story of the week; those stories are best told in arcs. We’re just getting the seeds right now.
“ESSENCE: It’s so great to see a Black woman on prime time as the lead. Besides Kerry Washington, there’s you. Pressure?
NB: Yes, I think you just put the pressure on. [Laughs] My shoulders just fell. One thing I have considered is that the success of a show like Scandal and [Kerry’s] presence and Shonda Rhimes has opened up the minds of studios and executives. They know it’s possible. Even before that I liked Living Single. To me, all those shows were proof that of course it’s possible. Not only is it possible, but extremely entertaining and enriching.”
“I’m 5’1’’ and an African American woman. I just didn’t think anyone would hire me to play the cop. There’s a certain demographic of girls who look the same in every action piece and I didn’t think that that was going to be me. I’ve always been a big sci-fi person. I love fantasy, so when the opportunity presented itself I wanted to take a shot at this. Getting to hold a gun and running away from witches and incantations…there’s so much more that you’re going to see in the season that just doesn’t really fit into what I keep seeing on Twitter or what I keep hearing some people saying like ‘Yes, you’re the Black person who doesn’t die.’ A lot of people were like, ‘You’re going to die soon right?’ and I’m like I don’t know you have to watch. I haven’t died. It’s kind of a joke in the community like we always die within 20 minutes.”
Nicole Beharie is my new favorite person. She like sci-fi/fantasy, is a black nerd girl it seems, and I love her voice. I’m so excited that there is another black female lead, and as she says, the success of this show and Scandal will show producers and networks that choosing a black lead works. People will watch it (Sleepy Hollow and Scandal are doing extraordinarily well). I can’t wait to see what this inspires next.
I, for one, am very happy that this is a sci-fi/fantasy show, a realm you don’t get to see many black people (or black females) act in (outside of an ethnic magical person or wacky disbelieving sidekick) so black girls like me can know that black people do like sci-fi, we do like fantasy, we do act in these things and it’s ok to write them and explore them.
This show is making me very happy.
(really, yesterday, but I had to rewatch because I was so tired and couldn’t blog)
Parks is easily one of my favorite shows on television. From lovable, hilarious Amy Poehler, to snarky and dark April, and tough as nails but the best giggler on television Ron Swanson; comedy fans across the nation have fallen in love with Parks and Recreation. The only people who don’t seem to love Parks is the Emmy nomination committee, who nominate it but don’t acknowledge the brilliance of the show or its lead. So of course I am super excited it is back on my television.
Ron Swanson is a fantastic character. I love how rough and gruff he is, but how deep his sensitiveness goes. His romantic yet brief gestures for
Xena (sorry, I must) Diane are completely sweet and completely in character. (He built her a canoe!!) And you can tell why he loves her so much because she’s also brief and to the point but still with a sly sense of humor. I can’t wait to see what kind of Dad he’s going to be. (I’m surprised he doesn’t already have older children but then again, with either of the Tammy’s, those families would have been jacked up.) I loved everything about their impromptu wedding, best of all Leslie’s joy and excitement, which as some posts on tumblr claimed, are how we all feel when watching our favorite TV show.
Everything about the Teaser was the perfectly the show.
London was a fun trip and I see some of the seeds of the rest of the season developing (Andy’s character development to match his hair and ab changes lol), also Ron and Chris/Ann becoming parents (and the latter’s departure). But I have to say that Tom’s storyline kind of bored me. There were perhaps too many Saperstein’s in the episode and they kind of cancelled each other out for me. Jean-Ralphio is my favorite, but mixed with Mona Lisa and their dad, it didn’t hold as much weight or excitement for me. I wonder, though, where the Tom/Jean-Ralphio relationship is heading, considering how frustrated Tom was with Jean-Ralphio in this episode. “I need some better friends.” Dr. Saperstein wasn’t as dynamic as he perhaps should have been for a father of JR and ML. He was kind of normal and oblivious to his children’s antics.
I am really in love with Leslie/Ben and it rivals my other 2 current TV couples for best post-will-they-won’t-they relationship upgrade. (Castle/Beckett and Nick/Jess are the other two.)
The best parts of the episode were the beginning and Jerry’s epic Jerry-ism with Chris and Ann. That scene cracked me up!
“When did you make the switch to boxer briefs?” More Donna, please!
I need Leslie Knope in my life, so she can help me figure out my life and get me awesome, super personalized and thought out gifts. LOL
“One bearded lady. She got all offended when I marveled at her.” I really dig April’s character development and how she showed her love of Leslie and supported Andy. And got to be Ron Swanson’s best man. She would’ve been the only choice for the job even had they decided to have a real wedding. Her letter to the committee about Leslie was so beautiful and made me tear up.
“I’m basically Babyface.”
Parks and Rec is not only super funny, but it’s got the most heart of any sitcom on television. And that’s why I love it. People can love Breaking Bad and Mad Men and things that focus on what’s dark in this world–and that’s fine–but we also need shows that focus on the good of people and friendship and love. We should focus on that equally as much.
Am I forgetting anything? I might watch MIchael J Fox’s new show, but I’ll add that when I decide what I want to do after I watch it on Thursday (should I remember to do so.)
What are you watching?
New Girl – Wow, this show is just so perfect. Almost too many jokes to mention. This show makes me laugh every commercial break, which is so important for a show. Genius move. Also cut on a hilarious joke and this show did that every act out for me.
I love the Nick/Jess moments. I love how much he wants to help her. I love watching Nick trying to juggle Jess’ AND Winston’s crazy. I’m really pleased with the Nick/Jess post hook-up dynamic. This has been a good year for couples I love getting together and getting better as characters/duos rather than falling flat or the writer’s trying to force them apart every moment they get. Let the characters get together and explore where that can take you! Too many shows give them 2 episodes together (this could be New Girl‘s approach, it’s honestly too early to tell, but I have hope) and then split them up and give them loads of angst. In this episode, you get the moments where they were together, but they also have the same dynamic as before which only makes watching their interactions even better. Great job to the writers.
I’m definitely Team CeCe. And I am so nervous for her and Schmidt’s dynamic when she finds out. She seems so pleased he picked her and happy to see him, her heart is going to be so broken. She really opened up her heart to him. Yikes, the angst will hurt. Hopefully they will keep Nick/Jess the way they are to keep me sane.
Poor Winston. But his “cat killer” crazy was hilarious and well-played. A broken heart made him a little psycho. Still thinking about how uncomfortable the licking sound the cat makes on Schmidt made me.
The Mindy Project – One piece whipped cream suit was an amusing sight gag. Though I’m still having trouble seeing Mindy and the Rev together. I don’t know if it’s because I approve of Mindy/Danny or if they just feel forced together.
Also, as I tweeted last week, I am super over James Franco. So I don’t care about him on this episode. And I maintain that Mindy is always less funny after the brilliance of New Girl. If they switched the times, Mindy might be funnier in comparison. Or perhaps it’s Sophomore Slump? One day I will stop saying this, sorry.
The theme song remains the best thing about this show.
Brooklyn 99 – I enjoy the theme song for this too. They feel similar, so I wonder if they were done by the same person? Or one inspired by the other. I liked the locker vs dumpster joke. Really good joke construction and delivery. Before the first act out, I laughed or smiled more than when I watched Mindy, but found myself not really caring about the plot. It was on in the background as I wrote these posts, but didn’t grab me to distraction from this task as trying to blog through New Girl did.