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It used to be that late June/early July was a slow time in the TV universe, allowing viewers the opportunity to finally clear their DVRs or catch up on things they missed or become hooked on new shows via repeats and giving critics the chance to watch the fall’s upcoming pilots in preparation for the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. Well, repeats don’t really exist anymore and neither does TV’s “slow time” and the prospect of “catching up” has become daunting for TV fans. However, the summer press tour is still just around the corner and critics still have 20-ish new shows to sample before then.
For the past 10 years (with a confusing gap in 2009), in various online publications, I’ve done a series of initial pilot gut reactions that I’ve dubbed Take Me to the Pilots. Yup, the first Take Me to the Pilots entry premiered back in June 2006, and I still can’t compete with Elton John (or even George Huff) when it comes to Google searchability.
Accompanying every Take Me to the Pilots entry has been a common preamble/reminder/refrain that I repeat here for The Hollywood Reporter readers unfamiliar with the series: THESE ARE NOT REVIEWS.
The Take Me to the Pilots series is about shooting from the hip on initial reactions to new shows, but they aren’t wholly developed and considered reviews any more than the pilots themselves are wholly developed and considered TV shows. As I like to say, networks use pilots as sales tools for billions in upfronts income, while I use my Take Me to the Pilots series as a tool for jotting down a few initial considerations and developing early opinions. Reviews might not be fair at this juncture, but huge costly decisions have been made off these costly appetizers, so I don’t feel bad giving my instincts in between 200 and 250 words, in big single-paragraph blocks. As I often try pointing out, my typical reviews run closer to 1,000 or 1,200 words and they have paragraphs and themes and throughlines and occasional writerly affectations.
Pilots change. Sometimes the changes are very obvious. Dougray Scott was not the worst part of ABC’s Quantico pilot that critics saw last summer, but he was still replaced by Josh Hopkins for the actual series. Some changes are more subtle. The Dr. Ken pilot sent to critics last summer was full of casual cruelty from the main character meant to show that even though Dr. Ken was a good doctor, he wasn’t really a nice person. By the time the pilot aired, Dr. Ken’s caustic sense of humor, both toward his patients and even towards himself, had been softened so that he was just a little prickly and awkward, rather than gross and irresponsible. None of these changes made Quantico or Dr. Ken good, but they reflected shifts in how both shows were viewing themselves or being viewed internally. And since it’s really hard for TV networks to justify scrapping a pilot entirely (unless it’s CBS and the pilot is MacGyver), the little tweaks and manipulations to a pilot often then become manifest more broadly in second and third episodes, even if it’s too late. Take ABC’s Selfie pilot from a couple years ago, an initially rough piece of business that made cosmetic trims to the pilot in order to soften and improve Karen Gillan’s character, but then starting making wholesale shifts, based around making that character less narcissistic and social media-obsessed, in subsequent episodes. The result was that Selfie was able to become a much better show in a hurry, but it wasn’t able to become a better show fast enough.
That’s why actual reviews of these shows in the fall will be based, ideally, on two or three completed episodes — I watch whatever and however much networks give me — and they’ll certainly be based on rewatching of either the original versions of the pilot or whatever revisions get made. As pilots change or don’t change, as shows evolve or shift in subsequent episodes, opinions may shift as well. I’ve been much more positive about shows in my initial Take Me to the Pilots reactions than when they actually premiered and probably I’ve warmed to some as well. A review may try telling you to watch or not to watch a show, but Take Me to the Pilots entries are about whether or not I’m jazzed to see what’s coming next.
Reviews will come in September and October, and Tim Goodman will do at least half of them. We’ll also revisit shows when our opinions shift and chatter about them in back-and-forths. The TV schedule is year-round now and the critical conversation about television is year-round.
So the Take Me to the Pilots entries ARE NOT REVIEWS.
And let’s get down to business…
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