The opposite of Jumping the Shark, Growing the Beard is the definitive moment when a series begins to become noticeably better in quality. This often involves a new writer or other creative person coming on board, the happy discovery of a popular character, or the exit of a meddling executive, or simply realizing what works. In general, this is where the franchise starts to find its voice. Getting someone new into a series with an abysmal beginning can be difficult, as they only have one's word that "it gets a lot better, really." Can occasionally accompany a downplay or removal of less popular characters.
If it is a comedic series, then this is usually when it deviates from an overall lighthearted tone and reaches an impressive emotional depth. If it is a drama (or something in between), this would be when the character dynamic is spelled out clearly and starts to resonate with the storyline. In the case of science fiction another major characteristic of this trope is that the show will begin to develop actual continuity (generally spanning the lifetime of the series once begun), rather than just spending its time on one-off episodes which don't mean anything outside each individual episode itself. While there may not be a true Myth Arc as such, there will still be some form of memory, and you can expect to see events from episodes referenced by characters later.
The key to this trope is seeing a dramatic "before and after" difference along the life of a series. The element can sometimes be attributed to a single, outstanding episode that defines the show. Other times it is just a general improvement, like the Trope Namer Star Trek: The Next Generation. Fans of the series noticed a sharp increase in quality and consistent stories and it coincided with Commander Riker, Jonathan Frakes, growing a beardnote and helping the show gain its own identity, even though it still took a little more time before it really took off. The term has spread into internet vernacular to the point that Frakes has even brought it up. History repeated itself a few years later when fans noted a marked improvement in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine after lead actor Avery Brooks grew a beard (and shaved his head, to boot).
It's almost worthwhile to call this Finding the Beard, because nearly every serial media that persists has some degree of change from its initial variation. Continuity Creep, Win the Crowd, Story Arc and Myth Arc are all strong reasons why this can happen, helping the audience grow more interested in this new show. See also Surprisingly Improved Sequel.
Take note that this is not a requirement with every series. They may have just fallen away unnoticed. Maybe it started at a high quality and there is no dramatic difference in quality as mentioned, unless it only went downhill from there.
In general, this happens only once during a series run. But there are times where long after Growing the Beard a show starts to hit a low point like a Dork Age or Strictly Formula. A second Growing the Beard can occur with a refreshing of ideas and hitting a new high. We might well call this trope "Greying the Beard".
Also note that just because a series eventually grows a beard doesn't mean it was actually bad to start with. Sometimes it's just a case of smoothing out any elements of Early Installment Weirdness. Being So Okay, It's Average is sometimes the worst offense a show can have before it evolves, or it takes a season or two of being just "good" before it develops the myth arc it became famous for. For example, Calvin and Hobbes may have needed some time to develop into a truly great piece of work, but it was still an excellent and clever strip from the very beginning.
Also note that fans can be starkly divided as to whether a change is Growing the Beard or Jumping the Shark. Usually such judgments cannot be made objectively or definitively at the moment it happens.
A beard growing moment is also called a Riker's Beard moment.
See My Real Daddy, if a specific person causes a work to grow a beard.
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