TV 15 Great TV Shows That Had Really Terrible First Seasons  

Alexandra Plesa
868 votes 257 voters 8.6k 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.


Star Trek: The Next Generation is listed (or ranked) 1 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.

Actors: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes

Premiered: 1987

Number of Seasons: 7

Also Ranked

#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

#7 on The Best Series Finales

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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.

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

#12 on The Best Series Finales

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

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Fringe


Fringe is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 15 Great TV Shows That Had Really Terrible First Seasons
Photo: FOX

Fringe is rightfully hailed as one of the most complex science fiction series of all time. And yet, Season 1 is a muddled mess. It sticks to a procedural structure and only introduces the serialized elements towards the end. In all, the whole season feels like one long pilot that one critic described as "an uneven, unwieldy piece of work."

Once the series starts to unfold its own mythology, however, it becomes much more compelling.

Actors: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Jasika Nicole

Premiered: 2008

Number of Seasons: 5

Also Ranked

#73 on The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch

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

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

#17 on Canceled Shows We'd Most Like to See as Movies

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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.  

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

Premiered: 1989

Number of Seasons: 9

Also Ranked

#15 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

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