The pilot episode used to be the litmus test for TV shows - screw it up and you can forget a full series commission, attract limp ratings and you won’t be getting a second season.
It wasn’t a good thing for television, forcing creators to cram in as much action and event and information as possible into the first hour of a show in the hope that it would hook people in, often at the cost of their original, true conception of how the narrative should unfold.
This is changing however, on streaming services at least, where the lack of advert breaks and spacing out of episodes means that viewers can chew through multiple episodes of a show before making the decision whether to stick with it.
Netflix crunched the data and discovered that different shows hooked people in at different times, often with plot twists that came later in the first seasons.
Breaking Bad for instance, had a pretty damn compelling pilot, but it was when the dissolved corpse of a former drug dealer rained down from Jesse’s ceiling that viewers stayed locked in to find out how Walt and Jesse would clean their mess up.
Mad Men took an average of six episodes to hook viewers in meanwhile, presumably down to its slow burn nature, while it took users eight episodes to decide if they found the How I Met Your Mother gang funny.
“Given the precious nature of primetime slots on traditional TV, a series pilot is arguably the most important point in the life of the show,” said Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer for Netflix.
“However, in our research of more than 20 shows across 16 markets, we found that no one was ever hooked on the pilot. This gives us confidence that giving our members all episodes at once is more aligned with how fans are made.”
The pilot is not only less of a concern for the modern viewer, but also for Netflix itself when it comes to commissioning.
"When we’re giving these shows full seasons at a time (it's originals often get season 2 commissions before the first has even aired), it lets the showrunner create more closely to how people like to watch," Sarandos added to The Independent. "In other words, they’re willing to give a show more time - creators shouldn’t have to artificially jam every character’s life story into the first episode of the show because I don’t think it makes for a good viewing experience."
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