Generally this gets put down to the almost total lack of even half decent small screen sci-fi at the time, but I think, as we'll discuss, that's a little unfair and season 1 is a lot more watchable than it's usually given credit for.
Over here in the UK TNG had the misfortune to coincide with a period when the BBC were in full on “Science fiction isn't popular” mode (it was at the same time they were desperately hoping if they ignored the Sylvester McCoy Doctor Who years it would just vanish in a puff of smoke) meaning it was met with almost complete disdain despite the original series being a tea-time staple since the end of the 60's. The new show would eventually, half apologetically, come to BBC2 in 1990 in a time slot that would often see bits cut out or entire episodes cancelled in order to make way for such deeply exciting sporting events as International Amateur Tiddlywinks. Not to mention a whole episode being banned for a pro-IRA line when just cutting the line if it was unacceptable would have made more sense. Despite this and (bar a Radio Times cover to launch the run) a general lack of publicity it did very well for our second channel. So well they lost the first run rights to Sky after season three.
Pre-BBC 2 though we had the sell through video market that was my first exposure to the series. Thanks to my Mother being a massive Trekie (around this time she even went to a convention in Birmingham. For which Sylvester McCoy was guest of honour) we got the various rental tapes and their increasingly odd looking artwork that made the subsequent “Randomly cut out photo” sell through covers look like design classics. The drawn by a five year old Tasha on the original Skin of Evil cover is marvellously tacky.
So despite the BBC's disinterest I saw, and enjoyed, most of the first season of TNG relatively close to it going out in America, with magazines like TV Zone and Starburst making later episodes sound exciting and exotic. As a family watching it we weren't blind to the show's faults- Troi is possibly the single most pointless character in all of fiction- but we enjoyed it nonetheless.