As with every new year of television, the weakest shows that cost the most money are often cancelled after airing a handful of episodes. For example: this season, we’ve already seen The Playboy Club get shuttered, among others. TV shows are often about the ensemble, and most of their casts need time to work together to see how their chemistry develops over longer stretches of time. With comedies, that energy and chemistry is pivotal, and with so many shows put together through high-concepts or based around a name talent, everyone needs to find their footing. With that in mind, here are five shows that started rocky, and became brilliant.
5. 30 Rock:
When 30 Rock debuted, it was coming out the same time as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Both were thought to be “takes” on Saturday Night Live with Tina Fey’s version supposedly the more friendly one. It was going to be about a sketch show where Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) fought with unstable, Martin Lawrence-esque Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), and their struggles with the company’s owner Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). Though the residue of that remains, the show never became about the fake show as much as it became a workplace comedy, and spun off in all sorts of other different directions once the ensemble found their groove. In 2006, Studio 60 had a brilliant pilot, and 30 Rock had a first episode with some scattered laughs. By mid-season, Studio 60 was done, and 30 Rock congealed into near-greatness. Alas, that groove meant removing Rachel Dratch from the show.
4. Cougar Town
When Cougar Town hit the scene, even the creators knew the title was the terrible hook. At the time, Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel spoke of how the Cougar Town was a joke premise that became the pitch, and so for the first episodes it followed the newly divorced Jules (Courtney Cox) as she started dating younger men. But that idea couldn’t sustain a show, and so it quickly became about her Cul-de-Sac friends, and their neighborhood adventures. Everyone hated the title so much that season two offered a running joke during the credit sequence where they would actively make fun of their own name. But once it became about the ensemble, the show became about it’s goofy, wine-drinking, but loving family of misfits.
3. The Office
The first episode of The Office was nearly (and originally) a shot-for-shot remake of the first BBC episode of The Office. The original ran for two British seasons, and had a Christmas Special, and is one of the most perfect TV shows to ever air. Steve Carell couldn’t really do the same sort of desperate and obnoxious as Ricky Gervais – no one could. When Carell did his take on David Brent (renamed Michael Scott) it came across as too loud for America, and the cast couldn’t slip as easily into the same roles without it coming across as a bad cover. The first season, which ran six episodes (smart for comedies), is mostly a misfire with some good stuff here and there. But over the summer break they figured out their angle on the character – he’s just a good salesman who got promoted beyond his skill set – and everyone else started falling into place.
2. Parks and Recreations
Ironically, what hurt Parks and Recreations was a similar problem to that of The Office. The concept seemed to be that Amy Poehler was going to play a Michael Scott-esque small town bureaucrat whose reach exceeded her grasp. She made a new best friend (Rashida Jones), and kept interacting with a possible love interest (Paul Schneider). Like most of the shows on this list, those elements are now either removed (in Paul Schneider’s case, he left after season 2) or reconfigured to better fit another workplace comedy. The main thing was figuring out Pohler’s Leslie Knope, and that she shouldn’t be incompetent so much as perky. Once they made her goofy and loveable, they had a lead to hang the show upon.
The best example of giving a show a chance to develop its own aesthetic, Seinfeld started out as another in a long line of sit-coms based around a stand-up in the hopes of repeating the success of The Cosby Show, etc. Jerry Seinfeld played a variation on himself and had wacky friends. The first season – which ran four episodes – was hurt by studio interference, with Julia-Louis Dreyfuss’s Elaine character acting as an ex-girlfriend the studio wanted to make a possible love interest. Once the show was free from those sorts of notes, it kept getting weirder, better and less forced sit-com. Ironically, it’s now one of the templates for situational comedies.