Is there scientific evidence that shows are better in their earlier seasons, or is it just nostalgia

The simpsons and married with children had their best episodes in the first few seasons.

But I feel that south park had its best episodes in the later early seasons (5-10, that range).

I’m not sure when the best episodes of Seinfeld were.

The early/mid 90s episodes of SNL sucked, but the modern show is a lot better IMO.

So I’ve seen shows where the good episodes were in the first seasons, shows where the best episodes were in the middle seasons, and shows where the best episodes are in the later seasons.

Anyway, is there any reliable formula for when the best episodes of a TV show are, or is it just user preference? I know people like to say the earlier episodes are better, but that could just be nostalgia (especially childhood nostalgia).

On one hand it’ll be hard to keep coming up with ideas the longer a show lasts, but at the same time you have more time to build the characters and learn how they relate to each other.

I’ve always felt that most shows sort of suck the first season or two, hit their stride around the midlife of the show, and then jump the shark and the characters sort of become the ridiculous extreme of whatever their original small character quirks were in the earlier seasons, they become almost a parody of themselves in later seasons.

I don’t see how their could be a scientific formula it’s all just subjective opinion, maybe Nielsen ratings would provide clues?

That’s usually how it goes for me, too, but not always. Simpsons was definitely best from Seasons 3-7 or 8 or so. First two are okay, but they don’t really start hitting their stride until season 3. I though SNL was great in the early 90s, but I’d agree it slipped by the mid-90s. (I’m thinking for the good early 90s run, the seasons with Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Chris Farley, Kevin Nealon, Dennis Miller, Chris Rock, Jan Hooks, Jon Lovitz – not all together, depending on the year.) Today’s SNL I find completely unwatchable.

Similar with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; first season kinda sucked. Second season showed promise. Third season was also fairly ho-hum. Then seasons 4, 5, 6, 7 just fired on all cylinders.

On the other hand, I found Arrested Development to best in Seasons 1 & 2, and started to peter out at Season 3. The two seasons since then have been okay, but nothing on the level of the first two.

So it depends on the show. But, for me, for a long-running series, I find typically around 3-4 seasons in to be the sweet spot when it starts being consistently good.

I don’t know how you measure it.
In recent times when shows would get yanked quickly if they don’t catch on, there might be a bias for early seasons being better since shows with good early seasons are the ones which survive. Not that I know what “good” is.
ST-ToS was best in the early seasons. ST-TNG was best in later seasons.
After four or five years the creative intelligence behind the show has left to to more interesting things, some of the cast might have moved on, and all the good ideas have been used up so you get stupid long arcs. But when that starts depends on the show.

Check this out:

It tracks the IMDB user scores of the episodes of hundreds of TV shows, in graph form. Probably as close to a scientific analysis as you’re going to get.

I spent parts of September and October watching the first season (1966–67) of Mission: Impossible.

Hoo-whee, did it suck! Part of the reason was Steven Hill’s limited engagement in the series (as an Orthodox Jew, he refused to work after sundown on Fridays), but mostly it was the level of writing. The plots were ludicrous in the extreme, and the dialogue was horrendous. Things improved (a little) when Peter Graves took over as the lead, but not by much. Looking back on it, I’m amazed the show was renewed for a second season, and that I was ever as intrigued with it as I was (in 6th and 7th grade).

With very few exceptions (like “Some of My Best Friends Are Rhodas”), the early episodes of Mary Tyler Moore also sucked big time, especially when compared to the later ones centered on her supporting characters. Her early brand of “sophisticated comedy” seemed to focus on her dating dweebs who looked like they’d just walked off the set of a cheap porn flick.

Going farther back, Combat! had pretty much run its course by its fifth and final season, when they switched from B&W to color. Nothing unusual about that; the well of story ideas had finally dried up. What is remarkable, though, is that the excellent early episodes directed by Robert Altman were intended to bring Hanley, Saunders, et al. from D-Day (5–6 June) to the liberation of Paris (25 August). They were then faced with the task (like MASH*** in Korea) of stretching out the North European campaign far longer than it actually lasted. So we were treated to, among other things, an episode where Caje showed off his skiing abilities in the dead of winter. (IRL, Pierre Jalbert was a champion skier from Quebec, not a Cajun from the wilds of Louisiana.)