May 15, 2011 12:53pm PT by Tim Goodman
Perils of the Preview: Don't Believe the Hype
It's reckless for anyone, especially a critic, to make snap judgements based on teaser clips. That's something to bear in mind when watching the clips that NBC has released prior to its upfront announcements in New York on Monday.
The same will hold true for the other networks likely to follow. Just as you can't tell whether a series is any good by the premise on paper, a couple of minutes of footage is hardly a good barometer on quality. This is particularly true of dramas but far less so for comedies. It's not like this should be breaking news to anyone, but there's certainly a truism in the fact that people who get a sampling of something -- bite of food, picture of any new Apple product, film trailer, etc. -- will form some kind of opinion.
Just be forewarned that you might have to publicly flip-flop when you see the entire pilot. Or, more accurately, when you've digested four episodes.
While there's no formula for gauging any of this, it's no doubt heartening to sociologists that even the most jaded among us want, as Fox Mulder once did, to believe. We want NBC's remake of Prime Suspect to not be awful, as many suspect it might be. The clips? Maria Bello's performance looks good, for all of what, two to four minutes? But that tells us nothing -- the show could be two notches above Law & Order for all we know and that will not, I'm telling you now, be enough for this critic to hold back from a beat down. On the other hand, maybe Prime Suspect will surprise, like the American version of The Office did. Maybe NBC will send out two episodes instead of just the pilot (one can dream) and the series will be something that raises our hopes or, at the very least, tamps down our pent up prejudice.
How about Smash with Debra Messing and Katherine McPhee? Well, the clips don't suggest much of anything. Just remember that musicals on television have a spotty track record, Glee included.
Who doesn't love Jason Isaacs? Does this mean Awake will be any good? It does not. He'll be fantastic -- that much is almost guaranteed. But will the material be there to suit his talents? Will the premise be watchable? Will it hold up?
And how about Grimm -- you've got a nice little twist on the standard procedural, but these kinds of genre series have, at best, settled somewhere into the middle of the pack, hoping every year for renewal. Will Grimm be different - an out of the box smash hit or, say, something along the lines of No Ordinary Family or some less than engaging Night Stalker wannabe?
Nobody knows from those clips. We might not even know from the pilot. But you can't fault NBC -- and the other networks -- for getting those promos out there. This is where the hype begins. This is that beautiful time of year when there are no failures, no catastrophic network blunders, no schedules that implode from awful development seasons. No, everything is golden now. Everything has potential.
And yet -- you knew that was coming -- what about this theory that it's far easier to prejudge a comedy on limited exposure than a drama? I mean, if you held a gun to my head after watching the clips for Whitney, I'd have to tell you that I've got some serious worries about it. The clip wasn't funny. And -- dear God -- who let that laugh track into the mix? Painful.
But hey. The first four or five episodes of Parks and Recreation were, let's be honest here, pretty lousy. Then, in its full second season, it became the obvious winner for Most Improved Show. And it's fantastic. Even the first three or so episodes of 30 Rock looked disastrously ill-advised (and that was after revamping the pilot entirely). So who knows? (are you sensing a theme here?). Maybe Whitney will be hilarious.
But after the clip, when the NBC logo asks, "Want more?," my initial reaction was, "No, not really." But of course I do. I want the pilot and the first three episodes. That's how you judge a show. Not on the clips. It's not human nature, but it's the right thing to do.