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How Many Episodes?

By RD Heldenfels Published: August 3, 2005

Last night I watched three episodes of the new comedy ''Starved'' and another three of ''It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.'' (My review of the shows will be in Thursday's Beacon Journal.) Last week I watched five episodes of ''Weeds.''  Before that, I saw three episodes of ''Over There'' before reviewing it, and three of ''Wanted.''

There are still plenty of times when I end up reviewing a new series based on a single episode. But we TV writers have come to more often expect at least a couple of episodes of significant programs on which to base our reviews. At the recent TV critics' press tour, a common refrain was, ''I want to see another episode'' -- to see if the quality of the pilot held up, or if the problems in the pilot might be overcome in a second telecast.

And, when I get more than one episode of a show, I try to watch the extra ones, since it may change how I perceive the show. ''Wanted,'' for example, took what looked like an interesting turn in its third episode. ''Over There,'' in several critics' view, was much better in its second and third episodes than it was in the first. I probably liked ''Starved'' a little better after seeing three than I did after one. And with ''Weeds'' and ''Philadelphia,'' I at least knew there was a disappointing consistency in the show's quality.

But there's a glitch in that all extra viewing which involves you, the people I write about television for. Some shows just on paper are not going to appeal to you, and you're not going to watch even once. And, if you do watch once, chances are you will make up your mind on that single viewing and not bother to come back if you're not impressed by what you have seen. So with something like ''Over There,'' a relatively weak first episode may keep you from coming back for more -- even if what's down the road is good.

Still, I do try to point out in reviews how much of a show I have seen -- and what you can expect beyond the first episode -- since it explains why my view of it may differ from what you see at first glance.

This gets into one of the challenges facing any TV series. It's not just about making a great episode and then stopping. It has to keep going, week after week. And conscientious viewers have to check in from time to time to see how things are going. And we're going to all need to do more of that in the fall. The success of ''Lost'' has led to a host of new shows where you'll be asking questions at the end of the first episode, and the third, and the tenth. Assuming, that is, that the show lasts that long.

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