The Second Episode

The second episode of a new TV show is a fascinating thing. To the average consumer, the second week of new Fall TV which ends tonight is nothing special. However, for the creatives behind the scenes it can be considered far more important than even the first episode. I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate my second post to explaining why.

The first thing to know about how network television production works it something called the pilot process. Through this, a writer with an idea for a series must pitch that idea to a room full of studio executives. If they like it, then they will buy it.

Once they buy the idea you develop it. Through this, all the execs offer their advice and criticism until the idea becomes, what they deem to be, ready for production.

The final part of the pilot process is filming the pilot and having those same executives vote on whether it should be given a season order or just forgotten about. But we are not here to talk about the pilot, although I am sure I will some day.

This all brings us to the second episode, which only begins production after the series has been ordered from the network. While a pilot can be described as a kind of mini movie, generally with a higher budget than an average episode, the second episode is the first one of general production.

That means for the writer’s room, some new cast members, and even most of the crew, it’s their first episode of the series. The pilot was filmed in February and then people went home, but now their jobs have begun full time until the end of the season, 21 episodes down the road.

The other thing to notice is how much the series may have changed between the pilot and the second episode. Sometimes you can see it on the screen, like in Burn Notice when a character suddenly no longer has an Irish accent, or in New Girl when Coach vanishes and Winston appears. Sometimes you can’t, like the massive amounts of behind the scenes turmoil that went into much of this Fall’s TV. Networks have been firing showrunners, the lead writer and producer of a given show, and replacing them before they even begin general production.

That decision usually comes when the network likes the show and the concept, but not the actual narrative. For example, Blood & Oil was deemed not soapy enough, but ABC still wanted the drama about striking oil, so they just fired the guy who created it and promoted one of the other writers to take it over.

As an aspiring writer, I can’t imagine a worse feeling than that.

All of this means something very simple. You can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t judge a TV series by its pilot, or first episode. It’s the second episode when the series truly begins and you can begin to see what it will become.

It’s a fun thing to look at. Which old series you love had a good or bad second episode.  Most series are still finding themselves at that point. In the second episode of Person of Interest, the heroes save a girl on the run. It’s fine but kind of boring. In the second episode of Community, Senor Chang is introduced and Jeff and Pierce do a weird class presentation together. It’s funny, but it isn’t “Community” yet. Hell, on the subject of comedies, Parks and Recreation didn’t find itself until its second season!

What I’m saying is this. The second episode is as important as the first, if not more. It’s like the second date, the second read of a book,  the second year of your life when you go from infancy to being a toddler, or even the second post on your blog. Hey! It’s a big lurch from a storytelling perspective and it’s always interesting to see how it turns out.


P.S. As far as great second episodes go, I keep getting stuck on Daredevil. You know, the one with the hallway fight? Anyway, feel free to comment with some second episodes you think are excellent or featured some interesting changes!


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