Louis C. K. and Sarah Baker
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Question: I am sure many people were disappointed by the cancellation announcements this year. I was especially sad to see Trophy Wife taken too soon. But it left me wondering why ABC didn't try a different time slot, and then I realized overall it seemed as though none of the networks moved shows around the schedule like they have done in the past. Do you think this strategy helps or hurts shows struggling to find an audience? — Rob
Matt Roush: It's a good question and a fresh angle, and gives me the opportunity to start off this week's column by noting to all of those who wrote in wondering whether their favorite show that just got canceled might be picked up by another network, the answer 99 percent of the time is: No. If you're not reading that a show is being shopped around, it probably isn't, and tends to happen only to shows that have created some sort of buzz and/or lasted more than a season (which is why shows like Suburgatory and Community might still be in play, though even then it can be a long shot). And if a pilot that caught your attention wasn't announced as part of a fall lineup or midseason backup, it's most likely dead, though there are always exceptions.
But to Rob's question: I would have loved to see ABC try Trophy Wife on Wednesday before or after Modern Family for a few weeks to see if a little extra exposure might have helped boost its low profile. But the networks have learned the hard way that there's something to be said as well for the stability of keeping a show where it is without moving it around too often and confusing the audience. In this case, though, a little experimentation might have helped, especially when it became clear that Super Fun Night and (of all shows) Mixology weren't going to be keepers. With its wonderful cast and smart writing (in everything but its misleading title), Trophy Wife deserved a bigger spotlight. But at least ABC gave it a full season to entertain its small but fervent fan base.
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Question: Can we talk about that wonderful, wonderful speech on Louie last Monday? Vanessa (Sarah Baker) gave a heartbreaking, hilarious and extremely brave speech about being overweight that shocked even Louis C.K. — and me as well. Louie consistently proves to be one of the funniest and bravest shows on TV right now. I use Louie as an example in the "Broadcast vs. Cable" debate. Vanessa gave a speech that isn't so scandalous or dirty that it couldn't be shown on a broadcast network, but it's still raw and uncomfortable. I wish network comedies would take note. I can't remember the last time Phil Dunphy, Sheldon Cooper or even Leslie Knope gave such an inspiring speech. I suppose I haven't seen every network comedy, but do you know of any shows that are as brave and poignant as Louie? I'd love to know. — Jeffrey
Matt Roush: There's little doubt that Louie is in a league of its own, and the episode featuring Sarah Baker's remarkable performance and climactic wake-up call was among its finest moments. Can't praise it, or her, high enough, and recommend to anyone who may have missed it to find it on demand or online. (Emmy guest category, do not forget Sarah Baker.) That said, to use this example as a club to hammer home cable's superiority to broadcast TV, especially in the comedy arena, doesn't work for me. But then, I'm not a cable snob. Louie is amazing for what it is: a deeply felt, incredibly hands-on and personal look at the world in all of its anxieties and random absurdities, painstakingly crafted, always surprising, and at times (as in this case) even profound. But that doesn't diminish the excellence of what's being accomplished on more mainstream shows like The Big Bang Theory (which has been brilliant in its own right this year, and the finale with Sheldon going off on his own was quite poignant), Modern Family (with its culturally resonant gay-wedding finale this week) and Parks and Recreation (with its unusually sweet core and a distinctive voice and tone all its own). The real point to celebrate here is that FX has provided a platform on which Louis C.K. can realize his vision in a way he'd probably never be able to flourish in a more commercially driven and mass marketplace.
Question: I'm hoping you loved Person of Interest's season finale as much as I did. I can't really imagine the last time a show did such a major change of direction throughout a season: start it with our heroes assisting a sailor and Carter putting the pieces together re: HR, end it with mass murder under the dystopian installation of Skynet — I mean, Samaritan — and our heroes scattering throughout the world in their new identities to survive and fight another day. Lost and the third season finale's introduction of the flash-forward is the only instance I can think of that even approaches it. Personally, I think it's one of the gutsiest story moves I've seen on TV (at least genre TV) in a long time. What about you? And can you surmise why such an intelligently written and produced show gets so little attention from mainstream media (yourself excluded, thank goodness!)? — Sandra
Matt Roush: See the above discussion of cable-vs.-broadcast attitudes as one possible explanation of why the daring leaps taken this season by Person of Interest (which began its life looking like an unusually high-concept CBS procedural) may be of less interest to some. But I certainly agree that its evolution has been exhilarating, and next to this week's stunning climax of FX's The Americans and Sunday's The Good Wife finale, this was probably my favorite of the seasonal finishes. As discussed in last week's column, POI has evolved into a terrific high-tech/sci-fi thriller, and the activation of Samaritan and (for now) dissolution of the team are true game-changers. Can't wait to see what lies ahead next season.
Question: As much as I love The Blacklist and the perfect casting of James Spader as Red, I like many other fans whose comments I've read am very confused and frustrated about Red's connection to Liz. There have been teases all season that made many/most of us believe he is her father: his annual attendance of that ballet, his buying that house where he had memories of a little girl playing in the yard, the music box he presented to Liz that just happened to play the song her father used to hum to her, and the burn scars on his back, etc., but the writers, et al., insist he's not her father. If that's the case, then why all those misleading "clues?" I really hope they don't drag the mystery out for another whole season — I mean, even if Liz doesn't find out or figure out who Red is to her for awhile, then at least let the audience in on the secret, geesh! A loyal but frustrated fan ... — Jamie
Matt Roush: I'm afraid the mystery of Red's fascination with Liz (which I wish I shared) is likely to be this series' Red John — the bugaboo that will haunt the characters for as long as the writers feel they can get away with stringing them and us along. I understand the desire to sustain the enigma of Red's background, but frankly, there's not enough else going on with the underpowered supporting ensemble to make the experience as dramatically satisfying over the long haul. (Case in point: the death of Parminder Nagra's Meera in the finale, which might have had some impact if they'd ever let her come alive in the first place.)
Question: Everybody seems to be concerned about Scandal and The Blacklist facing off in early 2015 on Thursdays at 9/8c. But depending on how ABC schedules Scandal, that might actually not even happen as often as everybody thinks. I know that the main reason they took February off this year was to skirt the Olympics, but since they have announced the intention to do split-season scheduling again, it's entirely possible that Scandal could be off for at least the beginning of The Blacklist's Thursday run. Why is everybody getting so worked up about this months and months before it actually happens? If people are fans of both, they'll find a way to watch both, and if they're not, then their choice has already been made. (I don't watch Blacklist, so sticking with Scandal isn't even a question.) I'm more interested in how Grey's Anatomy will do at 8/7c on Thursdays, although I suppose they'll be happy if they retain most of its current viewership and keep the lights on in that hour. — Jake
Matt Roush: Hard to imagine Scandal taking next February off in 2015, it being a non-Olympics sweeps month. But I do agree it's a bit early to start obsessing about this particular time-slot face-off, given that lots could happen between now and next winter to affect NBC's and ABC's schedules. And I would also bet there's likely to be room for both to perform well even in direct competition. As for how Grey's will fare at the earlier hour, it's a given that it will take a bit of a ratings dive (especially when The Big Bang Theory is factored in by late October), but it's also bound to improve what has been a disastrous time period for ABC for years, so they'll be able to spin it as a win.
Question: So while I have missed (have them on my DVR) the past couple episodes of Castle, I did make it a point to watch last Monday's season finale. I was not pleased with it at all, particularly the ending. But the business with Beckett having been married before and not realizing it was a major writing problem. She definitely would have required a major background investigation prior to being selected by the FBI, and it's extremely unlikely they wouldn't have noted her prior marriage. Certainly a County Clerk doesn't have the resources available to the FBI. Particularly since her husband had a number of prior criminal violations, including impersonating someone in the FBI. Another significant problem I had with this — although not as much as the above — was the sudden change in venue to Castle's house in the Hamptons. Why wasn't that considered previously? It seemed like in the latest episode that I saw prior to this one, they were making such a big deal about the importance of the venue and then they do this.
Wondering what your thoughts are on this and also why they felt it necessary to throw in a major problem at the very end — namely Castle's car over the cliff? Why can't viewers of shows like this get the satisfaction of a good wedding? - Faye
Matt Roush: You kind of buried the lead there. The final twist is what most fans had problems with. Your other gripes amount to nitpicking, which for a show this blithely escapist seems to be missing the point. (Yes, it's improbable that no one would have discovered this blip in Beckett's past in prior background checks, but when isn't Castle improbable?) The bigger issue with the finale is the producers' decision to once again delay gratification for this couple by not only denying them, and their fans, the long-awaited wedding, but throwing in a ridiculous burning-car cliffhanger.
A few sample reactions from my mailbag. From Brenda: "Can you give a big Jeer to the season-ending show of Castle? They should have been married. I waited the whole season." From Sarah: "Seriously: Richard Castle's car goes over a cliff and bursts into flames minutes before his nuptials? Does anyone else think it's Castle's CIA operative dad 'crashing' the wedding? (Yes, of course, pun intended.)" From Aadil: "Really, Castle? Castle could be dead? Haven't we done this before when Kate was shot in a previous season finale? I mean there is no way they are going to kill off the titular character, so why go through this?" Why indeed.
Question: I'm a big fan of Patricia Arquette and am anxiously awaiting her new CSI: Cyber series. I was disappointed to read that CSI: Cyber won't begin until all the original CSI episodes have aired in its new Sunday time slot. Does that mean Cyber won't start until May, or will the original CSI have a shortened season? — Victoria
Matt Roush: The idea as I understand it is to run CSI's 15th season straight through until early spring with no repeats, and that would most likely be a full-season order of 22, which means Cyber would probably get the short order of its initial 13-episode pickup without a back-nine — the spring tryout (probably starting in March or thereabouts) presumably leading to a full-season order for year two if all goes well.
Question: Is ABC going to air Modern Family's finale, because there's a fire that ruins the wedding and the timing isn't great because of the fires in San Diego? And how come The CW and Fox don't have a third hour of programming each night like ABC, CBS & NBC? If they did, they could have more programs and not have to cancel many beloved programs, and not have to wait till midseason to air programs. — Jonathan
Matt Roush: At the moment, it's all systems go for Modern Family's finale (the subject of TV Guide Magazine's cover this week, check it out) to air this Wednesday, despite the unfortunate coincidence. I'm sure they haven't considered postponing this rather historically significant episode, but it's possible they could put a disclaimer before it acknowledging the terrible situation in California.
And to your second question, which comes up every so often: the business models for Fox and The CW (and UPN and The WB before that) were always constructed around a shorter nightly schedule, and given that The CW doesn't even program on the weekends, the likelihood of that mini-net expanding its nightly load is nil. Same for Fox, which can barely fill the lineup it already has. (Two hours of Utopia a week in the fall? Good luck with that.) Plus: Consider the failure rate for shows all across the broadcast spectrum. Producing original programming isn't getting any cheaper, and it's almost a wonder that the Big Three haven't shrunk any further than they have, given that they've already abandoned Saturdays and use reality programming to fill so many hours through the week. Shows (beloved or otherwise) are always going to get canceled, and adding more hours to the schedule won't change that.
Question: I wanted to discuss last week's Revenge finale. Was that really David Clarke at the end? And I thought only one main person was supposed to die, does this mean that Conrad is merely injured and not dead like we think? Also I don't think Emily knows that David is alive, do you think she knows? And if she doesn't, I would expect when she found out she might be a bit angry. I am excited for the next season as long as it stays on track. — Danielle
Matt Roush: Disclosure: I gave up on Revenge around the time of the death of Faux-Manda a season ago, but I consulted one of my colleagues who has stayed loyal (and who may have convinced me to give next season a try, given these latest twists) — and what I'm told is: Yes, that is really David Clarke (took him long enough to show up) and yes, you're meant to believe Conrad is dead. Although on ridiculous shows like these, who can say for sure that they stay dead ... and I find it hard to imagine Revenge without Henry Czerny. And finally, I would think Emily's joy at reuniting with Long Lost Dad would be tempered by a certain amount of "where the hell have you been" fury. But I guess we'll have to wait to see. (This being a spoiler-free zone.)
Question: Why do reality-competition shows like The Voice need a full hour results show the next night? I've never watched one, so I have no idea what they do for the full hour that they can't do the following week like Dancing With the Stars does now. — Zack
Matt Roush: The answer: profits. When a franchise is this hot, the network will milk it for as long as it can. Think of how many hours of Fox's schedule American Idol used to hog when it was all that. (It isn't any longer, and next season, its footprint is likely to diminish even further.) Dancing used to air full-length results shows until its ratings began to fray, and as with Idol, they were so padded with time-wasting fluff to milk the suspense that I always recorded them to play back in fast-forward mode. But in the plus column, results episodes can sometimes take on the form of a variety hour, with special musical guests — and with my favorite, So You Think You Can Dance, those performances could often be truly special (I kind of miss it now that Dance is down to once a week as well) — and depending on the show, there can be some entertainment value to that. But mostly, the results shows tend to have about five minutes of actual content in them, and should the day come when The Voice and Idol shed them as well, I doubt many would complain.
Question: I have liked Mad Men over the years. Not loved it like the press does, as I thought some of Don's antics felt contrived and didn't work and they forced Betty to be grouchier than she should be. Now it feels like the writers are relaxed, the writing is fantastic, not that it hasn't been, but it just feels like there is this flow where each scene works. Even last week's when Don went into the meeting with the tobacco guys. It seemed so fresh and exciting, and Betty seems to have valid points now rather than just huff and puff. It's very rare to see a show in its last season to be this great. Am I wrong that it's that great? - DW
Matt Roush: Glad you're enjoying it, but I'm not feeling the love the way I used to. This season is an improvement on the last one, in part because Don's arc of redemption and reclamation of his place within the agency's hierarchy is a strong one. But beyond that, I find much of the drama heavy-handed (example: the metaphor of the IBM Computer That Displaced Creativity), and many of the characters dramatically diminished, especially longtime favorites like Joan and Peggy. I still feel the writers can't figure out what to do with Betty since the divorce. She comes off like a petulant child even when she has a point, like when she tried to express some political views in front of her boorish new husband. Still can't get past her hissy fit with Bobby during their field trip. And the new Mrs. Draper, Megan, is more at sea than ever in her Laurel Canyon abode. Does she want Don there or not? Hard to tell, week to week. The less said about Roger's adventure with his hippie daughter in Ashram-land the better (that one didn't miss a single late-'60s cliché). So while I will always acknowledge the greatness that this show represents, I don't see it raising its game in these self-consciously lugubrious final chapters. But I'll watch it to the end, though I hate the fact that the end won't come for another year.
Question: I know the writers/producers/etc. hope that each series will be a hit and be renewed for many seasons. But in order to escape the fans' ire when a show that is canceled ends in a cliffhanger, why aren't more series like American Horror Story, a new story that begins anew and concludes at the end of each season? P.S. Looking forward to your reviews of new fall series to help me decide what to watch. Even though I am retired and have lots of time, I can't watch everything! - Jeff B.
Matt Roush: Well, thanks. (And here's a not-so-secret secret: Neither can I, though I do my best to sample a bit of everything.) Your question has a bit of apples-and-oranges to its comparison. Each season of American Horror Story is close-ended because it's a different sort of show: an anthology, with new characters and settings every year and the story starting basically from scratch. (Same applies to FX's even-better Fargo and HBO's True Detective.) Most series hope to sustain an ongoing narrative with continuing characters for seasons on end, and producers often — too often, to be honest — try to end their seasons of such shows with a bang, with a major and potentially game-changing event in hopes of stimulating interest for when they return several months later.
Which is fine for shows that are already established and have little chance of being yanked off the air. But I absolutely agree that when a show is in any danger of being canceled, and most producers know if that's the case, then they should plan accordingly and give at least some satisfying resolution within the season finale while leaving more story to be told should they bes so lucky. The worst thing that can happen is a situation like A&E's The Glades (which I'm still getting angry mail about), which ended last summer on a Castle-like note with its main character in bloody jeopardy on his wedding day, and the network went and canceled it anyway. (I'd like to think as a complete surprise to the writers; otherwise, shame on them.) Of course we all know all of this is fiction, and if the show had continued, the star would have recovered and maybe even had a honeymoon in his future, but this left an incredibly bad aftertaste and in retrospect looks like an awfully bad call on everyone's part. I'd like to think that would be a cautionary note for shows to cool it on the needlessly contrived cliffhangers, but that's a lot to hope for.
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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