What is the cause of First Season Sci-fi Syndrome?

Zontar

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There's something I've been trying to figure out for some time now, the cause of what I call First Season Sci-fi Syndrome, which is basically that the general rule for sci-fi television series is that the first season will typically be garbage compared to later seasons.

Examples include but are not limited to: Star Trek Next Gen seasons 1 and 2, Star Trek DS9 season 1, Star Trek Voyager season 1-3, Star Trek Enterprise seasons 1 and 2, Stargate SG1 season 1, Stargate Atlantis season 1, Stargate Universe season 1, Fringe season 1, X-files season 1, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1, and the list goes on.

Really the only exceptions to this I can think of in the past twenty five years seems to be Babylon 5 (which was made with 5 seasons in mind), the rebooted Battlestar Galactica (which had 2 decent seasons before having two progressively worst seasons that got so bad it was cancelled) and Doctor Who (which was a series returning more so then a new one starting).

So where does this apparent slow start to sci-fi series come from?
 

Armadox

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Aug 31, 2010
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Money.

Television shows require a lot of it, and the first season tv producers want to spend as little of it as possible in case of an accidental flop. Sci-fi shows and Cartoons are by their very nature expensive as hell to produce.

Most shows go through the first season blues ( Check out season one of the Simpsons). By season two they have delivered enough story to have fans and enough world building to skip ahead of that, and actually worry about the story rather then if anyone is actually listening..

Honestly there's nothing to it save that the show doesn't have an identity in the first season. Firefly being the exception..
 

F4TK

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Don't forget firefly. Season one was the best.

Sci-Fi tends to find it's feet after the writers have had some time to get comfortable with the universe and the characters that populate it. In the case of Trek you had an entirely new cast of characters nobody knew anything about running original series scripts in the late 90s. Once the show found its own direction the series improved greatly.

Damn, reminding me about SG:U. They didn't even do a book follow up on that, we'll never know if Ely saved the ship.
 

Blood Brain Barrier

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Zontar said:
Really the only exceptions to this I can think of in the past twenty five years seems to be Babylon 5 (which was made with 5 seasons in mind),
While I used to think Season 1 was pretty weak but now have a much better appreciation of it, I still think it's weaker than 2, 3 and 4. If you are doing a first time run-through of the show, I wouldn't blame you for giving up after Season 1, if you didn't know if would get better after that and what you are seeing is mostly setting things up for later on.
 

small

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well you are bringing together everyone from cast and crew, the show is finding its sweet spot, etc so it makes perfect sense that the first season of a lot of shows not just sci fi. that said star gate universe bored me sense less repeating the same story line over, and over.. ship put them in danger, oh wait ship is actually saving their lives
 

Thaluikhain

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Is it just sci-fi, though, or just shows taking a while to find their feet in general?
 

Kopikatsu

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I'd say that it's because the first season is largely used for establishing the universe and characters while the more interesting bits that utilize the previously established concepts come later. Because since it's sci-fi, there's usually some pretty crazy stuff going on that often requires a great deal of explanation.
 

TheRaider

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Shows do tend to get better if they were popular but I think it is a bit extreme to call some of those first seasons garbage.

I think defiance, farscape and lexx all had good first seasons. Torchwood was excellent at first (and probably never really got back to that level). But generally what you are saying is you like the later seasons because of the depth and you can't have that without building up the lore.
 

Nerexor

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thaluikhain said:
Is it just sci-fi, though, or just shows taking a while to find their feet in general?
I think the reason this may apply more to SFF than other shows is that the settings for a lot of regular TV is one we're already familiar with. Whether it be a cop show, endless sitcom, "reality" tv, um... are there other kinds of shows? I'm not even sure. Anyways, these shows have basic premises regardless of the spin. You can compare law and order and brooklyn nine nine, they still have the basic premise of police bringing down criminals in some way. All they really have to do is find a way to spin the premise and introduce characters into a familiar framework.

With SFF you have to do all the character work while actively building the framework as well. The more complicated your SFF world is, the harder that's going to be.
 

Thaluikhain

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Nerexor said:
thaluikhain said:
Is it just sci-fi, though, or just shows taking a while to find their feet in general?
I think the reason this may apply more to SFF than other shows is that the settings for a lot of regular TV is one we're already familiar with. Whether it be a cop show, endless sitcom, "reality" tv, um... are there other kinds of shows? I'm not even sure. Anyways, these shows have basic premises regardless of the spin. You can compare law and order and brooklyn nine nine, they still have the basic premise of police bringing down criminals in some way. All they really have to do is find a way to spin the premise and introduce characters into a familiar framework.

With SFF you have to do all the character work while actively building the framework as well. The more complicated your SFF world is, the harder that's going to be.
I suppose, but then, does this apply to painfully generic sci-fi shows as well?
 

Nerexor

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thaluikhain said:
Nerexor said:
thaluikhain said:
Is it just sci-fi, though, or just shows taking a while to find their feet in general?
Snip
I suppose, but then, does this apply to painfully generic sci-fi shows as well?
Is there a particular show you're thinking of? I've been thinking about most scifi shows I've seen and it'd be hard to label any of them particularly genreric.
 

Th37thTrump3t

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I wouldn't say that this is limited to the Sci-Fi genre, but more of a rule of thumb for pretty much all TV shows. Basically it all has to do with initial investment of both time and money. Would you rather spend your time and money on a generally untested and risky investment, or something that has already been proven to be profitable? The first season is never meant to be the best season, or even a good season compared to the others, it's supposed to test the waters and gauge public opinion on the series. If enough people say "Yeah, this series has potential," then season two gets put in the works with a much bigger budget.
 

Ihateregistering1

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I've honestly found that it's frequently the opposite. Shows have tons of great ideas that they use to fill the first two or so seasons with, but then once the show is a hit and they need to keep cranking out new episodes, they have to resort to either more and more gimmicky ideas, or the plotlines get so convoluted that it's just not even worth trying to keep track of it anymore.