Chicago Code

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Question: I really like the new show The Chicago Code; I am from Chicago and also love the fact that it is shot on location here. My only issue with the show is Jennifer Beals' HORRIBLE attempt at a Chicago accent (and I love her). It is especially grating when she is narrating the story. I have lived in Chicago my whole life, and I can tell you that most people do not have that Dennis Franz (or the SNL characters') accent. That is a South Side thing and only a portion of the South Side actually talks that way. I will say that Jason Clarke not only nails the South Side accent but also the whole South Side mentality of a diehard White Sox fan who hates the Cubs (Sox fans are an angry bunch). Everyone I know that has watched the show has had the same reaction to her and it almost makes the show unwatchable. What do you think? Why can't they just let her talk normally? The Good Wife is set in Chicago and they don't find it necessary for their cast to talk with a South Side Chicago accent. I know they are trying to capture Chicago in an authentic way, but since most people don't talk with that accent, then it is not really necessary to have every character attempt to pull it off. I really look forward to and enjoy your column every week. — Cathy

Matt Roush: Thank you, and thanks for keeping it real. I haven't spent enough time in Chicago to verify your problems with the accent, although I agree with you about how terrific Clarke is. And not only is he mimicking a South Side accent, but he's masking his own Australian dialect. But from the first time I saw the pilot, I figured Beals' character would be the most polarizing aspect of The Chicago Code, which to me is the standout show of the network midseason. I wouldn't be surprised if viewers have credibility issues in accepting Teresa Colvin as an authority figure, not so much because of her gender or because of her manner of speech, but because she seems so young, and of course being so Hollywood beautiful. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, and we accept this sort of thing on shows as varied as Law & Order and The Mentalist.) I'm actually OK with her, and I especially like how she's messing not only with the city's criminal element but also with the deadwood in her own department. Ballsy stuff. I also like how the show splits its point of view among the many characters, so even if Teresa annoys you, it shouldn't be a deal-breaker. But I'll take your word for how it's coming across with the natives. I just hope the show survives. Quality-wise, it's a keeper.

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Question: I love the show Castle. It seems to me that each actor is perfectly suited for their role. But I watched a clip where the actors were discussing their respective roles on the show and Stana Katic kept her head down, turned to the side with her hair covering her face and never looked up even when talking. Last week's episode really showed how great an actor Katic can be: i.e, the bar scene where she gets close to a suspect to arrest him. My question after watching this clip: Is Katic not happy with her role and planning on leaving the show? I certainly hope not. After all, how can you replace perfection? — Tom

Matt Roush: Perfection? If you're that big a fan, by all means get your hands on this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, with its cover story on Castle — and a cover photo shoot where Stana Katic really brings it. From the outtakes I saw with her and Nathan Fillion, I didn't sense any unhappiness there. I'm not familiar with the clip you're referring to, but maybe she just wasn't feeling it that day. Nothing I've heard or seen indicates she's out of sorts or unhappy with how they've developed Beckett. Seems to me like she'd consider the character a gift.

Question: I know you rarely talk about sports in this column, but I'm sure you have probably heard about the possibility of an NFL lockout for 2011. If the league doesn't play any games this year, it would not only anger fans but it would probably upset the networks who air NFL games as well. For NBC, this would probably hurt them the most because if there was no Sunday night football, they would have to fill the spot with something else. Meanwhile, CBS and Fox would be affected too, as I'm sure they wouldn't want to lose all the money they make on Sunday afternoons. So my question is: How bad would it be for the networks if there was no football next year? — Allan

Matt Roush: I can't think of a bigger disaster than a possible disruption of this cash cow. (Well, maybe another writers' strike.) Pro football is one of the few surefire ratings draws in this world of fragmented viewership, which is why even with astronomical rights fees, the networks would take a huge hit if the NFL was absent from next season. The value of having NFL on the schedule — and that includes ESPN on Mondays — is incalculable, but you're probably right that NBC would be especially damaged, as Sunday Night Football is one of the network's few bright spots. And without that to fall back on as NBC's new regime rebuilds for next season, that's the kind of challenge nobody wants or deserves. Hoping both sides can come to an agreement and avoid this worst-case scenario.

Question: Don't the casting people understand that whenever they cast a well-known actor for an appearance in a series, that tells us this person is the murderer, the kidnapper, the villain, etc. It happens 95% of the time. Just watched Hawaii Five-0 and I knew from the start Nick Lachey was the culprit. Kind of ruins the suspense. — Nancy

Matt Roush: That's the downside of sweeps stunt casting, isn't it? Why bother if the role isn't juicy enough, and few guest roles are juicier than the villain of the piece. Although there are times — like the guest-casting of Jeremy Irons on a recent Law & Order: SVU, where the disturbing situation wasn't as cut and dried — when an inspired star turn can actually elevate a show. And sometimes a clever show can use a "special guest star" as a red herring to subvert our expectations. But you're right that it's usually groaningly obvious when a too-familiar face is part of the suspect pool. This can be especially apparent on lower-budgeted cable series where there may only be two or three guest roles per episode, and a big name tends to stand out even more. Which is why it's probably wise when casting a well-known star as the villain to just announce it up front and not try to make it a surprise. We've all seen enough TV to know better.

Question: I just read in USA Today that toward the end of the season, the writers of Hawaii Five-0 are going to break up the team. Can this be true? Will they put them back together? They have a hit on their hands, why mess up a good thing? — Mary

Matt Roush: I wouldn't lose any sleep over this one. This is how season cliffhangers tend to work. The quote you're referring to is a tease from Alex O'Loughlin, saying, "You'll never believe how McGarrett ends up. ... One of the things we'll be looking at is a fracture and a separation of the Five-0 team. They're going to shake everybody up." The more significant quote, for me, came earlier in the story, when O'Laughlin spoke about what gets him excited doing the show. "The week-to-week stuff is boring, formulaic. For some reason, people tune in because they can tune out when they tune in. The arc is the stuff we love as actors." And this is why the writers try to shake things up from time to time, to keep the show interesting for those who do the show, even if some of the fans would prefer the status quo never to be upended. But whatever the writers have in mind for the team, I imagine it wouldn't be permanent. Although I'd embrace any attempt by producers to give procedurals like this an element of surprise.

Question: I'm becoming a big fan of several of USA Network's original shows (Burn Notice, In Plain Sight, Covert Affairs, Royal Pains and now Fairly Legal), because I love character-driven shows. I'm also a big fan of some of SyFy's original shows (Eureka, Warehouse 13 and to a lesser extent Haven). But I'm wondering why, when these shows are in their off-season, the networks aren't running more of their reruns? Not that I don't enjoy the continual NCIS and L&O marathons on USA, but wouldn't they get some interest in their existing original shows if they actually SHOWED them to the public? SyFy is especially bad for this, running a never-ending parade of cheesy B-movie monster flicks, which I simply cannot believe give them good ratings. Why not try running episodes a few of their own shows every so often? They would have to be essentially free to run, and it seems like it would be good advertising for the upcoming new seasons of these shows. Can you explain this to me? — Kerry

Matt Roush: It's not entirely true that these series vanish entirely between seasons — it appears that Warehouse 13 is currently being repeated on Monday nights (and episodes of many of these shows are still available online) — but I get your point. The practical answer to this question is that repeats of these cable originals probably don't pull the ratings of off-network rebroadcasts of mainstream hits like NCIS and the various Law & Order shows. And as cheesy as those Syfy movies can be, there's an audience that eats up that campy stuff. The more strategic way to look at this, though, is to consider these series, with their limited seasons of original episodes, as highly marketable "events." And one way to make a new season feel special is to limit its exposure between seasons, so when the new episodes return, the audience hasn't been oversaturated with repeats of the same few episodes. (This seems especially fitting for cable series that produce fewer episodes than the broadcast network norm.) It feels to me that what's driving this complaint is the same as those that can't understand why every series isn't available online so people can see anything they want to see when they want to see it. The economics of TV still require trying to maximize a show's value in its original first run, and that's as good an explanation as any for why many of these series aren't on 24/7 all through the year.

Question: I'm starting to develop a complex. Seriously, I am like a black cat. A broken mirror. The monkey's paw. I am cursed to forever love TV shows that other people don't. I can't tell you how often I have discovered a show only to have it canceled way before its time (in my opinion alone, obviously). I found Party Down two weeks before it was canceled. I started watching Arrested Development at the end of the second season. Deadwood, Firefly, Veronica Mars, Angel ... the list goes on and on.

This year, I have discovered (and now passionately adore) Community and Fringe, both apparent bubble shows. While the general consensus appears to be hopeful for Community (YAY!), the sites I read are mixed on the future of Fringe. The Friday night spot is never ideal, and Fox executives will hopefully keep this in mind, but the drop in ratings for two consecutive weeks has me concerned. I wrote to you earlier, complaining about the procedural feel of Fringe early on — well they seem to have abandoned that element altogether! I know most might consider embracing the mythology a risky move, but I think it's very smart; by catering to their rabid fan base, they ensure that while ratings may be low, they will be consistent (we genre fans are a dedicated bunch). Then again, last time I checked I wasn't a TV executive, so who knows how this will go? What are your thoughts? Should we be cautiously optimistic? And should I feel like a terrible person for kind of liking Fauxlivia? (I feel like I'm betraying Olivia). Secondly, do you see hope for us fans of programs that don't grab stellar ratings? Perhaps TV series on the Internet? I would love to see Joss Whedon do a show without network restrictions or interference. — Katelyn

Matt Roush: The good news is that Fringe's numbers perked up a bit this week, so I wouldn't sweat out every hiccup along the way. Fridays are not going to be easy for Fringe, but in this case, I do believe that the way the executives talk about it, that Fox truly is rooting for the show and believes in what the producers are doing, so I am cautiously optimistic. My hope is that Fringe will be Fox's version of Chuck, an underdog that is allowed to survive for several more seasons because of its solid and unwavering fan base, as well as positive media buzz, which usually isn't enough to save a show, but certainly can't hurt. You're right that Fringe has gone all-out with its mythology this season — it's not a show for casual fans, if it ever was — which means it has gone for broke. No half-measures here, which makes the show almost dangerously exciting. (Much the way that Community is developing into one of the most adventurous and form-breaking sitcoms of recent years, and NBC isn't about to drop it, especially as it tends to hold its small but devoted fan base even in the face of monster hits like American Idol and The Big Bang Theory.)

Regarding your big-picture question, I do think as TV and the way we watch it continue to evolve, the definition of success will change as well. The networks can't concede all the creative high ground to cable, so I'm fairly hopeful that high-quality genre shows like Fringe will still be able to break through and find their niche, even on the mainstream networks.

Question: My sister and I are so upset because our favorite new show this year — Detroit 1-8-7 — might well be canceled. Why is the network not doing anything to help, such as moving it away from The Good Wife (which I also love)? Detroit 1-8-7 is a good show with wonderful writing and great characters. It would be a sin to see it go away when maybe a little help could save it. —  Mary

Matt Roush: Another fan, Kathy from Florida, writes: "It gets lost in the fact that there are three shows on at the same time that are great." Which doesn't take into account all of the terrific options on cable in the same Tuesday time period: USA Network's White Collar, TNT's Southland, FX's Lights Out, to name just a few. Kathy wonders: "Don't the studios [or, rather, networks] take this into consideration?" The answer is: Of course they do. ABC has struggled in this time period since Boston Legal went off the air. It's a very competitive hour, and between seasons of Dancing With the Stars when there's no results show to prop up the lineup, it's especially rough for ABC, which faces juggernauts like CBS' NCIS duo and Fox's Glee in the earlier hours. Detroit has a negligible and somewhat incompatible lead-in with V, and for whatever reason, it hasn't broken out of the pack the way it deserves to. It's truly not a good sign that ABC has bumped Detroit again this week, replacing it with an episode of the hidden-camera show What Would You Do? to lessen the damage during a sweeps week, when affiliates seek the strongest lead-ins possible for the local late news. A Very disappointing development. But it's hard to imagine where ABC could move Detroit to give it a better shot. None of Tuesday's shows airing at 10/9c are ratings blockbusters, so this was probably the best shot it was going to get. Wish I felt more hopeful about its chances. My advice, as it usually is in such matters, is to just enjoy it while you can.

Question: For the second time in a week, I've heard a TV character make fun of a fat white guy by referring to him as "Chastity Bono." The second time was on Mr. Sunshine (and the character sort of resembles Bono a little). What's that about? I'm not complaining about it from the "jokes regarding gays, lesbians, etc." angle. But what has Cher's only child ever done to deserve this singling out? — Mike

Matt Roush: These are cruel jokes, to be sure. I caught the one on Sunshine; not sure what the other show is you're referring to, but it could be just about anything, because the fact is that Chastity (or, rather, Chaz) is a very public figure, and such people often have to put up with this sort of ridicule. Chaz's fairly singular life story carries a certain notoriety as well, not just from growing up in a crucible of publicity as the only child of Sonny and Cher, but later in life undergoing a much-chronicled gender transition. This is the sort of thing that makes for an easy, cheap joke, which is why they go there.

Question: After giving two episodes of Mr. Sunshine a try, the show is just terrible. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't even crack a smile once. What's weird is the cast is fantastic, and last week Kathy Najimy made an odd appearance and I was wondering if she will be a regular. (Love her.) I was wondering what you thought about the show and what is so wrong ... the writing I guess would be the culprit. I so want Cougar Town back! ABC took off the brilliant Better Off Ted and they come up with crap like Mr. Sunshine. I was really looking forward to Matthew Perry back on TV. — Sharon

Matt Roush: The writing is certainly an issue, but from what I've seen so far, the problem with Mr. Sunshine is really one of tone. As I noted in my initial online review,  (I've seen two more episodes since), the show lacks focus as it zips between workplace mayhem and broadly drawn character comedy involving characters it's awfully hard to care about or relate to. We know Matthew Perry can be a funny guy, but here he's mostly dour, and I'm not sure I want to go on his journey of self-discovery. For him to be basically the put-upon straight man surrounded by zanies, including Allison Janney as the wacky boss and Nate Torrence as her nincompoop son, seems like a waste. It's not so much that Mr. Sunshine is a bad show, although it may well be, but it certainly seems like a terrible idea.

Question: Whatever happened to the reboot of The Rockford Files with Dermot Mulroney? There was a big splash about it and about him being chosen and then nothing. Also haven't seen anything with Dermot Mulroney since The Wedding Date. What's up? — Jo Anne

Matt Roush: Here's an object lesson about putting too much stock into any of the hype generated during pilot season. This one was shot down last year after the NBC execs saw the pilot and rejected it. There has been talk about the project still having some life in it (no doubt with a new star), but with a new regime in place at NBC, and current energies devoted there to remakes of Wonder Woman (the network apparently having learned nothing from the Bionic Woman debacle) and the British classic Prime Suspect, this one may stay on the back burner. Out of respect for the late Stephen J. Cannell and for the legendary James Garner, maybe this is the best thing that could have happened to such an iconic character. As for Mulroney, his most significant TV work lately was a fairly compelling performance in the Lifetime adaptation of The Memory Keeper's Daughter in 2008.

That's all for now. Keep sending your questions and opinions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!

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