Creating an eye-catching pilot episode for a new television show is no easy feat. Harder still though is maintaining those high standards throughout the show’s lifetime while continuing to build upon the foundations laid in the series’ debut outing. Over the years, plenty of television shows have mastered the former but have fallen flat at this challenging second hurdle.
A fascinating concept or some exhilarating action scenes can be a great way of getting viewers hooked, but reeling them in is typically nowhere near as simple as repeating the same formula over and over again. Without any noticeable development or a compelling reason to stick around, many viewers opt to jump ship, which can in turn lead to shows going under with a barely audible gurgle rather than an emphatic bang.
10 The Black Donnellys
The pilot episode of The Black Donnellys came as a real breath of fresh air; offering up a seldom seen take on petty and organized crime. Tommy’s dilemma serves as an excellent vehicle with which to introduce the Donnelly family while the narrative threads woven throughout the pilot set up the rest of the season almost perfectly. Unfortunately, however, those threads quickly begin to unravel with each passing episode.
Characters that once seemed so full of potential remain flat and the overarching narrative can at times feel just a little too convoluted. Ultimately though, the show just doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from other crime dramas of the era and never really comes close to living up to the promise of its strong pilot episode. Many still enjoyed the series, but it could have been so much more.
9 The Newsroom
With a strong cast and an excellent production team behind it, expectations were high for Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. A strong and well-written first episode only served to increase the buzz surrounding this compelling news themed show, but this excitement was quickly dampened as subsequent episodes began to broadcast.
For as strong as some of the acting performances are, they aren’t nearly enough to distract from the show’s preachy and, at times, pretentious storylines. For fans of Sorkin’s earlier work, this may not be an issue, but many viewers and critics were put off by the show’s regular attempts at appearing profound. As a result, they switched off not long after the opening headlines had been read.
8 Sleepy Hollow
Sleepy Hollow really isn’t a bad show. In fact, some supernatural drama fans might even argue that it is a good one. For many others, however, there was just far too much going on and not nearly enough substance to make sticking around a worthwhile endeavor. Although the show’s creators did address some of these narrative failings in season two, it was a little too late for a lot of viewers.
The show’s first episode attracted an audience of more than ten million people, but by the season two premiere, the number of viewers had fallen to around five and a half million. Ratings continued to decline at a fairly consistent pace and, by the time that the series finale finally rolled around, fewer than two million people were still tuning in.
7 Terra Nova
Terra Nova really hit the ground running when it debuted on Fox in late 2011. Set in a not too distant future in which life on earth is becoming unsustainable, the show takes viewers into a parallel dimension and introduces them to a cast of likable and fascinating characters. Sadly, neither the story nor the characters really go anywhere interesting following the show’s standout debut.
For as spellbinding as the show’s concept is, it never really feels as though the show’s writers knew quite what to do with it. Despite being voted one of the “Most Exciting New Series” at the Critic’s Choice Awards by reviewers who had seen the pilot episodes, it was officially cancelled less than one year later following a sharp decline in viewership.
6 Last Resort
Most will know Andre Braugher for his performances as Captain Raymond Holt in the police comedy show, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, although this wasn’t actually his first appearance as a Captain. That came around one year prior in the impressive series debut of ABC’s military drama, Last Resort.
The show’s pilot episode was full of suspense and energy and seemed destined to lead to success. Less than twenty days on from its broadcast, however, the network announced that it would not be picking the show up for a second season. Some blamed the show’s competitive time slot, but others felt that maintaining the pilot’s tension and tone throughout multiple seasons just wasn’t at all feasible.
FlashForward is a great example of how great ideas do not always translate into solid television shows. Based on the Robert J. Sawyer novel of the same name, the series follows a group of characters who, like the rest of the world, are given a glimpse into their futures following a mysterious global phenomenon.
Cramming all of this into the pilot episode made for an action packed hour of television while also posing plenty of interesting questions for future episodes to follow up on. Unfortunately, the methods by which the answers to these questions were obtained were often a little too mundane and this led to almost two thirds of viewers abandoning the show between its first and final episodes.
Kiefer Sutherland is an incredibly talented and versatile actor, although his best moments have arguably come in action-oriented shows and movies. Despite this, his portrayal of Martin Bohm in Fox’s 2012 drama series Touch was incredibly solid. Unfortunately though, the same cannot be said for the show’s plot.
The pilot episode is fairly reserved when it comes to laying down plot lines and instead focuses on the show’s biggest strength. Its characters. Once the series gets up and running though, the narrative begins to take some strange and often bizarre turns and any charm or personality that these characters once had is washed away by a river of ridiculousness. Viewers switched off in droves and the show was cancelled just over one year on from its successful pilot.
3 Under The Dome
When Under the Dome first debuted on CBS in mid 2013, it became the most watched summer premiere on any television network in more than two decades. Early reviews were also strong, but these quickly became mixed as more episodes of the sci-fi drama aired over the coming weeks.
Despite running for three full seasons, the show’s viewership fell consistently; with more than two thirds of viewers tuning out by the time it eventually came to an end. For all of its mysteries and its interesting premise, it just wasn’t able to capture the brilliance of the novel on which it was based and things quickly began to feel stale. As a mini-series it could have been brilliant, but, over 39 episodes, it really is a tough old slog to get through.
Jason Isaacs’ excellent portrayal of an LAPD detective living life in two different realities is, together with the show’s unique premise, one of the standout features of NBC’s Awake. Sadly, however, once the character and concept have been introduced to the viewer in the show’s pilot, neither really goes anywhere meaningful.
While Michael’s initial loss and subsequent gain did at times make for some great moments, there weren’t anywhere near enough of them to keep viewers consistently engaged. Even with its strong pilot episode, the show was never really able to find a proper audience and disappointing and diminishing viewing figures ultimately led to its cancellation after just a single season.
Post-apocalyptic sci-fi dramas are incredibly difficult to get right, but NBC seemed to be on the right track when Revolution made its debut in 2014. Directed by Jon Favreau, the beautifully shot pilot introduced plenty of intriguing characters and a horrifying future that was expertly balanced by a series of flashbacks. Sadly though, that’s arguably where the show peaked.
Characters who had earlier shown promise quickly fade away into the background while those who take center stage are often lacking any real depth. Much like other shows of this type, the world in which everything takes place is far more interesting than the events themselves and once the novelty has worn off, an air of genericism can very quickly creep in.