TV 15 Great TV Shows That Had Really Terrible First Seasons  

Alexandra Plesa
641 votes 177 voters 5.0k views 15 items Embed

List Rules Vote up the shows with the most awful initial runs.

Not all great TV shows start off with a bang. Some need time to find their footing and figure out their characters and tone. Unfortunately, in today’s competitive TV landscape, a show has slim chances of survival if it doesn’t rack up millions of fans or positive reviews from the start. Back in the day, though, networks were more willing to give creators some breathing room.

A lot of good shows with bad early episodes were given a second chance and managed to eventually exceed expectations. A few of the best shows with the worst first seasons even became some of the greatest TV shows of the last 20 years, proving that a rough start doesn’t necessarily equal a colossal failure. While there are certain shows that were so bad they just needed to be put out of their misery, in some cases a bit of extra time made a huge difference. It allowed the series to become better or to build a solid following.

Unfortunately, not every promising show gets that second chance. All too many got cancelled after a single season (RIP, Firefly). But when they soldier on, amazing things can happen. There are actually quite a few great TV shows with bad first seasons that really improved, and they're all worth a watch.

1
29 14

American Dad!


American Dad! is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 15 Great TV Shows That Had Really Terrible First Seasons
Photo: FOX

When it premiered, American Dad! was clearly overshadowed by its more popular companion series: Family Guy. At first, it offers more of the same vulgar humor to viewers, which makes it feel like a lame rip-off.

Thankfully, the show soon evolves in a more fantastical direction, proving it can more than stand on its own.

More About

Actors: Seth MacFarlane, Wendy Schaal, Dee Bradley Baker

Premiered: 2005

Number of Seasons: 8

Also Ranked

#49 on The Best Shows Currently on the Air

#7 on The Best Fox Comedies of All Time

#18 on The Best TV Shows Streaming On Hulu

#62 on The Best Cartoons of All Time

see more on American Dad!

Parks and Recreation is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 15 Great TV Shows That Had Really Terrible First Seasons
Photo: NBC

In Season 1, Parks and Recreation is very different from what it eventually becomes. The humor is dry, the jokes don’t land, and Leslie Knope is far less likeable. Plus, secondary characters like Donna and Andy are under-developed (and less funny).

Just like its sibling series The Office, Parks and Rec took some time to establish its own incredibly charming tone. On Rotten Tomatoes, Season 1 isn't rated fresh, but all subsequent seasons are.

More About

Actors: Amy Poehler, Jim O'Heir, Nick Offerman

Premiered: 2009

Number of Seasons: 4

Also Ranked

#3 on The Best TV Shows Streaming On Hulu

#14 on The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch

#34 on The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years

#12 on The Best Series Finales

see more on Parks and Recreation

Star Trek: The Next Generation is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 15 Great TV Shows That Had Really Terrible First Seasons
Photo: CBS

Star Trek: The Next Generation was a highly anticipated show, but its first season wasn’t quite the hit everyone expected. The lack of chemistry between the cast, the weird costumes, and the abundance of clichéd storylines made the series awkward out of the gate. In the show’s defense, however, large casts usually need time to settle in. Once that happens, Stark Trek: The Next Generation successfully outgrows its initial awkwardness.

More About

Actors: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes

Premiered: 1987

Number of Seasons: 7

Also Ranked

#56 on The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch

#19 on The Best Teen Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Series

#2 on The Best Sci Fi Television Series of All Time

#10 on The Greatest TV Shows of All Time

see more on Star Trek: The Next Generation
4
23 12

Seinfeld


Seinfeld is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 15 Great TV Shows That Had Really Terrible First Seasons
Photo: NBC

Seinfeld was an innovative series, there’s no arguing that. But when it first aired, it wasn’t as well-received as you might expect. The pilot doesn’t even feature Elaine! The entire first season relies too much on Seinfeld’s standup bits, and it received mostly negative feedback from test audiences. As one viewer put it, "If, by chance, there existed some poor soul who had never seen the show and was interested in watching chronologically, it'd be hard to even argue this season as essential viewing."

The team behind the show took note of the criticism, and things gradually improved from Season 2 on.  

More About

Actors: Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards

Premiered: 1989

Number of Seasons: 9

Also Ranked

#16 on The Best TV Shows Streaming On Hulu

#10 on The Most Important TV Sitcoms

#33 on The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch

#5 on The Greatest TV Shows of All Time

see more on Seinfeld