Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reviewing a New TV Show

Every fall season, as a way to promote their upcoming shows, the networks send out DVD screeners to the country's top critics.  The networks' marketing departments can use certain snippets of the reviews and place them in the commercials.  Anyone who has ever been exposed to commercials (in the DVR era, watching TV doesn't mean watching commercials) has seen an advertisement where they see "**** Four Stars." The movies studios have been using this marketing technique since television existed and
now websites like Rotten Tomatoes and MetaCritic tabulate aggregate score for the movies based off the reviews.  

But reviews for new TV shows can be different since the critic has only seen a portion of the actual show.  Actually, for most of the fall's most anticipated shows, the critics have only seen the pilot episode.  So the networks are able to use critical or raves (or strategically placed wording) for promoting future episodes.  In fact, I think ABC was using the reviews for the pilot to promote its Season Six DVD set.

The only network show that is being appraised across the board this year in FOX's 'Lone Star.'  In many of the reviews, however, the critic cites that they are unsure how the show's premise will work in a weekly episodic format.  That is because no one has seen an episode beyond the pilot.  And we all know that television pilots tend to more expensive and cinematic in nature than the average episode.  So the pilot's quality may not be the best indicator of the future quality of the show.

Now, like I said, Lost was reviewed in this same way.  That show's producers ended up living up to the cinematic quality far beyond the pilot.  But other ABC shows (The Nine, V, FlashForward) that have will forever have high scores at metacritic.com did not sustain the "quality" of the pilot.  I put "quality" in quotes because I wasn't really impressed with any of those shows premiere episodes.  Another program that got great reviews based off its pilot was Reaper on The CW.  All the critics loved it.  Four episodes later they were deleting form their Season Pass.

So size does matter...sampling size.  HBO and FX tend to send out a handful of episodes for review (although, now always).  For HBO's new drama 'Boardwalk Empire,' critics received the first six episodes of a twelve episode season.   That is half the season.  So one episode of a network show is the equivalent of pay cable's hour long drama?  It's pretty clear which review would be more reliable.

I am not at all criticizing the critics (haha).  No, I am just saying that the "Fall Preview" pieces that their editors ask for can be a little misleading.  Someone might have a list of the "Five Best Shows of the Fall" when he or she has only seen the pilot for four of the five show.  For the fifth show, the critic has seen six episodes.  It just an extremely inconsistent process.

I saw the first episode of Boardwalk Empire on Sunday night along with the rest of HBO subscribers.  So I am still five episodes behind the rest of the critics.  Now, I am not going to wait until the sixth episode to review the show.  Instead, I am going to write a review after the third episode(airing on Ocotber 3).  I will also write reviews for shows like The Event, Lone Star, Hawaii Five-O and other new programs after three episodes.  This way I have enough to make a solid opinion, and everyone is playing on a level field.

From that point on I will either do a weekly recap or write updates on how I think the respective shows are holding up.

So this is why I won't be posting any reviews for new shows this week (except maybe Nikita, whose third episode airs this week).  A Nikita review depends on how quickly I will recap Community and Fringe.   I also plan to do another recap of Rubicon this Sunday.  I also want to review Mad Men's season and/or do a recap of this coming week's episode.

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