How Do Know When You Like a TV Show?

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Each year during fall premieres, TV-watching folks everywhere survey the new crop of shows, read about them online, and debate the best and worst new offerings with friends and co-workers. Heck, those of us who work at do it for a living (or at least a paycheck). Which got us wondering: How do you know when you like a new TV show?

It seems that people give new shows a chance based on one of three things: 1) they think the premise looks interesting; 2) the ad campaign is loud/clever enough to be heard/intriguing, but not so loud that it gets annoying (take note, My Generation!); or 3) it features a favorite/familiar actor who they've enjoyed on other TV shows. TV pilots are designed to hook us as quickly as possible, with snappy premises like “It’s a family... of superheroes!” or “They’re lawyers... in Vegas!” And regardless of whether a pilot appeals to you from the start or makes you roll your eyes, a lot is riding on how well it sells the overall idea. For me, a lot is also riding on whether the idea is actually original: Is it a fun new type of show, or is it the same “It’s a married couple... who's just like you!” idea we’ve seen a hundred times, plus one “fun” twist (oh hi, Mike & Molly)? With so many many things to watch these days, even remembering to set the DVR can be a real commitment—so to win over my eyeballs even for a few episodes, a show least has to try.

But when you sit down to watch something new, what are you looking for? What do you notice first: Whether a show looks good aesthetically? If it's a sitcom, whether it's single-camera (like The Office) or multi-camera (like The Big Bang Theory)? Whether the characters seem like people you'd want to hang out with? For me it's sometimes all three. When I first tuned in for $#*! My Dad Says, the look immediately turned me off—but I soldiered through like a true Shatner fan, only to find it disappointed me in other ways. I’m a fan of complex characters—characters who have different, sometimes opposing motivations, who are more than just “the angry guy” or “the ditz”—and the characters on $#*! My Dad Says didn’t feel like real people to me. Instead, they felt like cartoons—not people I could relate to, cheer for, or even hate with any enthusiasm. And worse than that, the show wasn’t funny, a cardinal sin for a sitcom.

Sometimes I like a show from the start (The Event, with its tension and hints of aliens among us). Sometimes I’m not sure about show but am willing to give it another shot (Running Wilde, with characters I love but narration that annoys me). And sometimes I find that, despite what everyone on the internet says, a show just doesn’t feel right, the way cilantro tastes awesome to some people and like soap to others (Raising Hope). But maybe it's a waste to judge so soon. Seinfeld is a great example of how shows sometimes just need a chance to find themselves: If you go back and watch that pilot, it actually looks pretty lame, and just... off. But there's still something refreshing about it, even now: Even if Jerry and the crew weren’t likable people, I still wanted to be around them.

I suppose that in the end, the question I ask myself of every new show—as a TV fan, not a writer—is, "Do I want to be transported to that world again?" The answer might be depend on any number of things: an enthralling story, relatable characters who remind me of me, fascinating characters who don't remind me of me, an interesting setting. But if I don't, I’m changing the channel.

How do YOU decide if you like a show or not? What criteria do you use, and what made you like or hate this season's new shows?

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