Ask Matt: Comedy Conundrums, Big Bang Couples, Glee, Homeland, Walking Dead, More
Mayim Bialik, Jim Parsons
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Question: So now that we have quickly and predictably sorted out CBS's switch of We Are Men with Mike & Molly (and you called that one out a long time ago), can we now focus on further obvious moves for the Fox, NBC and ABC sitcom slates? I know Fox wants to be in the Seth MacFarlane business, but how soon can we banish the 1990s relic Dads and replace it with Raising Hope, which is just screaming to be back on Tuesdays? Can NBC just return low-rated but at least cult classic Community back to Thursdays where yes, it will do poorly but at least it has 80-plus episodes to its name and more value than these dire new cadets, so bye-bye Welcome to the Family, which was wrongly paired with Parks and Recreation to begin with. I can also live without Sean Hayes' and Michael J Fox's "supposed" comebacks, but one step at a time for poor NBC.
My biggest reservations are for ABC, which has notoriously mistreated its sitcom slate (apart from Modern Family and The Middle) for years now. Why is Suburgatory being treated as this season's Cougar Town, and why couldn't ABC move back Tim Allen's dull but harmless Last Man Standing back to Tuesdays where it did pretty well years back? The TGIF resurrection is not working, let's just call that a day. Couldn't a proven star at least have more value than the weird double team of The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife? Even The Neighbors (which I like; yes I'm in the minority here) is better used on Wednesdays, too. ABC hasn't launched a breakout comedy hit since 2009, so are they just going to hang onto their only two hits for the next 10 years? Why not try and nurture shows rather than just churning out new ones a couple of times a year? I simply am appalled by ABC's four new sitcoms this year, and knowing that Suburgatory, Last Man Standing and Neighbors are likely fighting for survival this year just astounds me. I know I am playing TV programmer from the couch here, but it's frustrating to watch networks play the programming game like it's bingo. — Chris
Matt Roush: Being a backseat amateur programmer comes with the territory this time of the year as we sort through the various wreckage of the fall onslaught. Taking your points in order: Yes to a Dads-Raising Hope switch. Double yes on bringing Community back to Thursdays pronto. And I agree that Suburgatory has no more business being on ABC's back burner than Mike & Molly, with a proven star in Melissa McCarthy, should ever have been relegated to pinch-hitter status on CBS. I understand why ABC continues to try to establish a comedy footprint on Tuesdays, but The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife are mismatched for sure, and either would be better suited for Wednesdays — and while Super Fun Night is neither super nor much fun, I get why ABC gave a major talent like Rebel Wilson the post-Modern Family slot (for now), but yes, it's all pretty much a mess. I'm not sure the TGIF strategy is such a bad one, though. Expectations are low, and Last Man and Neighbors are living down to them with innocuous but harmless content that might not be indulged on nights when more is at stake.
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Question: I feel Sheldon and Amy and Penny and Leonard have zero chemistry as couples on The Big Bang Theory. Do you see any chance for Sheldon and Penny as a couple? I see them on a Sam/Diane type level. — Steven
Matt Roush: Couldn't disagree more, but then, what's more subjective than comedy? The way I see it is that the establishment of these couples has raised Big Bang's game exponentially. Penny and Leonard are the real Sam and Diane here (with genders switched) and have been from the start. She's the girl of his dreams, and he's the nerd she never knew she wanted, who's helping her better herself by baby steps. Sheldon isn't likely ever to have a conventional romance with anyone, especially someone as "normal" as Penny, and ugly-duckling Amy is his perfect and needy complement. Chemistry, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, but there's something wonderfully poignant and funny about Amy trying to crack Sheldon's shell and his android-like attempts to understand the nuances of having a girlfriend even in name only.
Question: I knew that watching Glee's farewell to Finn ("The Quarterback") was going to bring tears to my eyes. Especially when you knew that the emotions expressed by the cast members were genuine. I initially thought that Ryan Murphy's decision not to reveal the reason for Finn's death was a mistake. But I must admit that the lines spoken by Kurt early on made sense, and you were able to just watch the episode and grieve along with these people as they said goodbye to someone they cared about. I have thought about the death of Cory Monteith and the reaction to it and have wondered why someone who died because of his addiction should be getting the amount of attention as his passing has. I guess it is true that you have to know the person in more than the one aspect of his life. All in all I think they did a good job, in particular Finn's mother Carole (Romy Rosemont), displaying the varied stages of grief, though I am sure it must have been hard for Jane Lynch, given the confines of her character's history with Finn and the others in general. So goodbye Finn and goodbye Cory and may your friends heal soon. — George
Matt Roush: No question that the scene with Finn's mother (and Romy Rosemont nailed it) was one of the most effective dramatic scenes in the episode, and so was Sue's later and thankfully quieter moment with Santana when she reflected on Finn: "It's just so pointless. All that potential." That was the true message of the episode, regardless of the actual circumstances of the character's death, since everyone knew going in how tragically senseless Cory Monteith's own passing was. This tribute to Montieth and Finn was a tricky thing to pull off, and in musical terms (from the "Seasons of Love" group opener to Lea Michele's wrenching solo), I thought Glee did a fine job. Even the cutaways to the cast listening to their friends singing had me choked up. Some of the individual dramatic scenes (like Coach Beiste with Puck, who was more effective in his musical spotlight) felt overwrought and maudlin, but even then, the emotions expressed were so genuine and raw that criticism seems beside the point. This was a necessary moment for everyone (cast and fans) to get through, and may be the last time that Glee looms this large in the pop-culture consciousness.
Question: I know you weren't so impressed with Once Upon a Time last year, but I still love that show, and of course checked out Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, which I also liked very much. Now the ratings have come in, and they're low per usual for that Thursday time slot. When is ABC going to accept that their Thursday 8/7c time period is inhospitable to scripted fare? The original plan to air Wonderland while the original Once is on hiatus seems better to me. Or if they want Wonderland to be in contention for a 22-episode season, they should move it to Sundays and maybe bump Revenge to 10/9c, which would solve their Sunday problem (Betrayal). I just can't shake the feeling that Wonderland would have done better in another time slot. How many good shows need to die there before they just plug in Wipeout and call it done? — Jake
Matt Roush: Here we are, back in junior programmer mode. You're probably right that Wonderland would have been better suited as Once Upon a Time's hiatus place-holder between story arcs, but airing as a two-hour Sunday block would be way too much of an iffy thing, even if it would effectively purge the schedule of the dreary Betrayal. And while it's probably inevitable that ABC will fall back to Wipeout to fill that Thursday hole (though not until Wonderland gets to play out its story, I'm betting), the network will almost certainly keep trying to land a scripted show there — if only to appease the sales department, which might prefer to target even a smaller upscale audience on a crucial night than the broader demo Wipeout generally attracts.
Question: Will The Mentalist ever wrap up the Red John scenario? I loved the show when it started as kind of a quirky fun Columbo, but this fixation on Red John is just a drag. - Deborah
Matt Roush: The Mentalist is heading toward a major reveal, promised for next month, in which Red John's identity will finally be exposed, which is why this season's episodes have been dealing so heavily with the subject. Whether that will be the end of the story is another matter, and given the show's history, I'd tend to doubt it. But at some point, the balance between this manhunt and the case-of-the-week is likely to level off again, and you'll get the show you prefer back. (This same tension bedeviled the USA Network audience for much of the summer, as many of their shows became darker and more serialized at the expense of the weekly caper.)
Question: What do you have against Blue Bloods that you would suggest sending a crap show like Hostages to the 9/8c hour before it? I think Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods make a perfect combination on Friday nights, so I don't get why you would send H50 back to Monday nights and put Hostages in its place. — Jennifer
Matt Roush: That's what I get for playing backseat programmer. And you're in luck because I don't get to make those kinds of calls. The question I was addressing last week was about Hostages' long-term future, and I still doubt that it will stay on Mondays for much longer. But when CBS made its first cut on Monday night (canceling We Are Men), Hostages was left in place for now. The main reason I suggested swapping Hostages with Hawaii is that Mondays are a higher-profile night, and Hawaii is a proven commodity there (though it's unlikely to topple The Blacklist at this point). But I'm sure CBS agrees with you that the Hawaii-Blue Bloods combo is a decent fit on Fridays and may not be willing to mess with that. It's also possible that if the numbers continue to slip, CBS will just let Hostages run out on Saturdays in place of the usual repeats. But what to do with the Monday hole? Thankfully, that's not my job.
Question: While I find Sleepy Hollow very entertaining, I do have a nit to pick. Will Ichabod Crane ever get some 21st-century clothes? After all, he had been buried for more than two centuries. Maybe some deodorant might help as well. — James
Matt Roush: Funny you bring this up (you're not the first), given that Abbie finally addressed it this week, telling Ichabod in Monday's episode, "You look good for 200. But a change of clothes wouldn't hurt." (This may be what the show's producers meant when they hinted during New York's Comic Con over the weekend that the issue of his unvarying costume would be addressed.) Still, no makeover for Tom Mison quite yet, so we just have to assume that between showdowns with demons, Ichabod is attending to his personal hygiene and keeping his limited wardrobe clean as best he can.
Question: The continuing daughter storyline on Homeland has me wanting to scratch my eyes out. The actress seems like she's on lithium and her story seems sophomoric next to the main storyline. Homeland is at its best when it sticks to the domestic terror threat as well as Carrie's attempts to hold on to her insanity. The melodrama of the daughter brings the momentum of the show to a halt, not to mention that the actress having sex when she looks all of 14 is ... creepy. Given Howard Gordon's (24) involvement in this show, I'm steeling myself for a predatory mountain lion in the near future. - Tim
Matt Roush: Wasn't Sunday's Dana-free episode terrific? The comparisons to Kim Bauer are inevitable, and probably reached fever pitch last year when, in an uneven season's worst detour, Dana and the vice president's son got involved in a hit-and-run nightmare. I do believe there is provocative story material in the family dealing with the repercussions of Brody's most-wanted-fugitive status, but putting so much of the focus on Dana rather than mother Jessica (so vibrantly played by Morena Baccarin) is puzzling, especially when it plays like bad soap opera. Dana's better moments are when she's sorting out her feelings over her missing father and his religion, but otherwise she's very much the weak link in this otherwise tremendous ensemble.
Question: Can you give me any hope that The Good Wife will not be canceled? This show continues to draw my attention each week and for me gets better and better with intriguing storylines and even better acting. Would CBS consider moving the show to a different night rather than canceling it altogether? (This is a pet peeve of mine with all networks, as they just cancel shows without playing with the scheduling first.) — Jessica
Matt Roush: Let me at least rest your mind enough to say that The Good Wife is likely to last as long as its creators and stars choose to keep it going. This has been another transformative season for the show, which is brilliant at reinventing itself, but the end is probably nearer than any of us would like. This is its fifth season, amazingly enough, and it's about to hit the 100-episode milestone, so at some point I wouldn't be surprised to start hearing talk of wrapping things up while the show is still creatively hot, maybe in a season or two. (CBS rarely lets even its marginal hits stay on forever, CSI being an exception to the retirement rule.) While far from a hit, The Good Wife is a prestige property — with continued Emmy cred, though not as much as it deserves — which CBS isn't likely to screw with, and leaving it on Sundays is probably the best option for now, because there's no real safe night for a series this dense and smart. Having invested this much time in a show they're proud of, I don't see CBS rushing it off the air until all sides agree on a timetable. And given how dynamic the conflicts are this season, I hope they postpone those talks for at least another year.
Question: I heard a rumor that AMC might spin off a Walking Dead series based on the Daryl character. Daryl is the coolest badass character on TV. He seems like the epitome of what a post-apocalyptic zombie killer would be. I hope that he gets his own show so that he is never killed off TWD. This character dying would be like killing off Spider-Man — it should never happen. — Norberto
Matt Roush: The proposed Walking Dead spinoff will not, at this point, feature any of the current show's characters. It will be set in this same world of a zombie catastrophe, but in an entirely different locale with characters not derived from the graphic novels or the TV series. That said, I'm with you on Daryl. He's essential and irreplaceable, and I love how he has become a local folk hero to the newbies in the prison. As he should be. No one is entirely safe on The Walking Dead, we know that by experience, but there are a handful of characters I can't imagine the show without: Daryl for one, Glenn and Maggie among the others. I suppose I'd learn to survive their loss, but hope it doesn't come to that.
Question: In last week's Ask Matt column, you mentioned several people agreeing with the person who felt that using Parkinson's for laughs was inappropriate. I have to wonder how many of those people actually live with a disability on a daily basis. My experience is that those who do not have disability in their life tend to go to two extremes: either they make a mockery of the disability and insult and belittle the people in the process, or they go so far to make sure nobody is offended that they end up missing all the things about having a disability that truly are funny. I thought The Michael J. Fox Show did an excellent job of pointing out how all-consuming a disability can sometimes be on your time and actions without ever losing sight of the fact that this was a person first. The jokes about his Parkinson's were no different in tone or quantity than jokes other shows make about some sister being ditzy or the dumb jock or hoity-toity neighbor. The dinner with suppressed patience leaking out to an annoyed "Can you not have a personal victory right now? We're hungry!" had me cracking up.
I get that some people don't understand the difference between laughing at someone with a disability and laughing at the reality of a disability, but isn't TV one of the great teachers for societal behavior? TV showed us women in the workplace, blacks in high-level professional fields (thanks, Huxtables!), homosexuals as humans and not caricatures (well, Will, if not Jack) and a dozen different villains as being not only human but sympathetic. Maybe laughing at Parkinson's in daily life is exactly what we need to "mainstream" disability in society and not just keep it to the supporting cast for very special episodes. I'm not saying The MJF Show is perfect, but as someone with a hidden disability whose siblings have the same, I've seen both sides of the coin and I can tell you that the show so far is basing the jokes in reality. The best jokes of course are the ones when the disability lets you play the jokes on others. At least those are the ones where I have the most fun! — Laura
Matt Roush: Thanks for sharing. Ultimately, while some people may choose not to watch the show because of their own comfort level, the more honest the series can be in its humor, the better. The real problem is that, aside from Fox's chemistry with the terrific Betsy Brandt as his supportive but sardonic wife, the actual family comedy isn't coming to life the way it needs to.
Question: I have a question about ratings. The following are the published ratings at 8/7c on Tuesday last week:
CBS: NCIS, 17.9 million viewers (2.7 demo rating); ABC: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., 7.7 million (2.8); Fox: Dads, 3.4 million (1.3) and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, 3.4 million (1.5); NBC: The Voice recap show 10 million (2.9) [8-10 p.m.]; The CW: The Originals 1.9 million (0.9). How important is the demo to a show's success? NCIS was by far the most watched show of the hour, but came in third in the demo. Which is the most important or best guide of a show's "success?" In a world where winning is everything, who technically won the hour? — Cynthia
Matt Roush: Let me take this opportunity to say that while I can't ignore ratings, I don't focus on them as much as I do on the programming itself. (Which is why you don't see me answer questions about the mechanics of the Nielsens or other systems of measurement.) In this case, though, it's interesting because different networks parse numbers differently to come up with bragging rights about who or what is No. 1 — and the metrics are changing as well as networks ultimately factor in data regarding time-shifting on DVRs and viewing on other platforms. To answer the direct question: Demographics are very important because that's how shows are sold to advertisers nowadays, and by that measure, The Voice (with essentially a repeat) wins and S.H.I.E.L.D. more or less ties (its young male demos are strong, which is key), with NCIS close behind — and the latter is the actual champion in most regards, because its audience is so huge and broad, almost matching the other two in the demo and swamping its competitors in overall live viewing. The great news about this time period is that there's room for three shows that can justifiably be seen as hits. And even way down in fourth place, I even take some small comfort that one of my favorite new comedies, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, builds on its sorry lead-in.
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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