Ask Matt: Community, Mentalist, NFL Overruns, Cancellations and More
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Question: Should they just have canceled Community? NBC's decision to fire Dan Harmon from Community baffles me. Replacing the showrunner on a show with a narrative voice as unique and distinctive as Harmon's seems bound to alienate its cult audience. I've been trying to think of examples that would hint at a glimmer of the logic here — Gilmore Girls was on the decline when Amy Sherman-Palladino left, but still, you could feel the difference. Frank Darabont was replaced on The Walking Dead, and it continued to be great, but the new writers stayed the course and were not trying to make the show into something else. Here, the powers that be seem to want to make Community more commercial, thus making it a new show. I understand TV is a business, and unlike many other fans I understand when networks cancel unprofitable shows. It would be a perfectly rational decision to cancel Community. But if you hire people to make Community more mainstream, you are basically pushing away the audience that likes it because it is out of the box in favor of a new audience. Why not just put a new show on the air to give it a chance to get a new audience? I feel like I'm a fairly savvy TV watcher, but I'm at a loss here. — Rebecca
Matt Roush: You're hardly alone. In retrospect, letting Community go would have been the kindest and smartest decision — there would have been an outcry, but nothing compared to the outrage greeting NBC and Sony's determination to dump the auteur without whom Community would have ended up on NBC's slag heap of failed sitcoms long ago. The main reason Community made it through three low-rated seasons before this debacle was not merely that NBC is overrun with flops and can't cancel everything, but because this was something special, risky and rewarding in its hilariously surreal genre-busting, worthy of critical acclaim and fan devotion — the show made TV Guide Magazine's Fan Favorite cover, after all — and it's all attributable to the cranky, difficult genius of Dan Harmon.
Community is not just another commodity, but that's how NBC and especially Sony (which is trying to boost the show's number of episodes for syndication) are treating it. The only upside here is that Harmon created a wonderful template and put together a magical ensemble who may still be able to pull off a (presumably) final batch of episodes that will entertain and not alienate the small cult that might yet seek it out in its ridiculous new Friday time period with its unsuitable and sorry lead-in of Whitney. In some ways, Community is a victim of its own non-success on NBC, and Sony probably wouldn't be trying to eke out this fourth season if the show hadn't been renewed against the odds after the first and second years. So I'm wishing the cast and crew and new team of writers well, while lamenting that it has come to this.
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Question: Is CBS giving up on The Mentalist? I just read where they are putting it in the "death spot" of Sunday nights at 10 pm/ET. This is where Cold Case and most recently CSI: Miami met their ends. The problem, of course, is football, which constantly throws off the time of the show. Due to the [late] game, the show seldom starts at 10, and sometimes it gets so late that they don't even show it. I thought The Mentalist was a pretty big hit. Why are they doing this? — Larry
Matt Roush: No explanation will ever satisfy the fan of whatever show is unlucky enough to draw the last-show-on-Sunday card on CBS. But the network has two goals in a move like this: to strengthen Sundays by putting a still robust hit in this competitive time period — and CBS knows the pitfalls of the football overruns (in Eastern and Central time periods) and won't punish The Mentalist for it. The second and possibly more important goal is to continue to refresh the lucrative Thursday lineup so it doesn't grow stale. They did an excellent job this season by moving a revitalized CSI to Wednesdays, opening up Thursday's anchor slot to the distinctive and addictive Person of Interest. Now they're adding Elementary, an intriguing twist on the Sherlock Holmes franchise (though not exactly new to those hooked on PBS' Sherlock), in place of The Mentalist, hoping for increased buzz on a night that will likely be strengthened already by re-teaming The Big Bang Theory with Two and a Half Men. These aggressive moves make sense, at least strategically. As for The Mentalist, it's heading into its fifth season from a position of strength, and the network believes (probably rightly) that its audience will follow it anywhere, even if it means putting up with those aggravating delays. This is not an immediate death sentence for The Mentalist, which likely has another two or three seasons minimum before CBS begins weighing the cost and return factor (as it did with Cold Case, Without a Trace and most recently Miami) and deciding when to retire it. But not quite yet.
Question: With Sunday nights so cluttered with excellent programming and the viewer fall-out and critical backlash CBS received this past fall for so many delays to their Sunday-night lineup due to NFL overruns, has it ever been considered or suggested to move up the NFL games by an hour to help alleviate the late runs? I know NFL already airs so early on the West Coast, but would another hour really make that big of a difference? Seems to me that if CBS would position the Sunday NFL games at 12 noon and 3 pm (ET) instead of 1 pm and 4 pm, they could stop ruining my viewing of The Good Wife! — Jennifer
Matt Roush: This complaint is hardly new to last fall and The Good Wife. It's been going on for years. And while it is a recurring annoyance for fans of the prime-time lineup, it's not going away. (CBS has tried to soften the blow and alleviate the confusion lately by posting updates on Twitter as soon as the game is over, and adding alerts at the bottom of the screen throughout the night to make sure everyone knows when the next show is starting.) The one thing that isn't going to happen is for the network to try to get the NFL to change its ways (including start times) and alter the way Sundays are programmed on either Fox or CBS. NFL calls the shots, and until it stops being the most popular, profitable and powerful of all sports franchises, that's not going to change. Fox has mostly fixed the overrun problem by not starting their animation lineup until 8 pm/ET during the regular season. CBS doesn't have that luxury. 60 Minutes is a still a key part of its Sunday schedule, and while people have argued in this space that CBS News could shrink that show so the following series could begin on time, that's a non-starter. Even with its older demographics, 60 Minutes is too profitable and too much of an institution (and of a far higher quality than the more malleable Dateline) for its stories to be sacrificed or chopped up.
[Note: The next few questions refer to a piece in my magazine Review column in which I took a look at the survivors of this year's freshman network class and cited a short list of standouts. I named Person of Interest the best new drama, New Girl the best new comedy, Revenge the best new guilty pleasure, and Once Upon a Time the best new fantasy, with Grimm as runner-up. As usual, a list like this sparks some debate.]
Question: I agree on Person of Interest and Revenge, but I was shocked by your choice of New Girl as the season's best new comedy. 2 Broke Girls and Suburgatory got little buildup, but quickly found an audience. New Girl had a tremendous buildup and a built-in fan base of young people who had watched Zooey Deschanel's indie films, but its ratings dropped throughout the season so that, according to what I read, the last show had half the ratings of the first. That's the sound of failure, not success. My wife and I watched the first show and thought it dreadful. Halfway through the season, we decided to give it another try. It hadn't improved. Zooey is supernaturally cute but she needs more help from her cast. — Glenn
Matt Roush: That list wasn't exactly intended to be a popularity contest, in which case 2 Broke Girls definitely would have been the front-runner — and at the start of the season, it was one of my early picks. And while I still enjoy the chemistry of Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, the show itself is so aggressively crude and tawdry and the supporting cast so lacking in any appeal whatsoever I quickly soured on it as a quality pick. New Girl had an uneven freshman season, to be sure, but on the whole I still found it the freshest new comedy of the pack, especially toward the back half of the season, as Schmidt (the invaluable Max Greenfield) and Cece began their unlikely romance and Nick nearly backslid with his ex — in other words, when it wasn't only about the new girl, as cute as she is. Suburgatory was a close runner-up, and I love how it fits into ABC's top-notch Wednesday comedy lineup, but despite your contention that New Girl had all the build-up (i.e., hype), it was more of a self-starter against some tough competition, so even if it didn't always sustain, I'm still behind it.
Question: How could you not include Smash in your list of new shows you got hooked on? OMG! There's talent everywhere — but especially with Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty. They're each a trifecta: They sing, dance and act fabulously and effortlessly! The finale was incredible! I know; we're all concerned about Kate Beckett and Richard Castle on Monday evenings — but that's what VCRs/DVRs are for! — Christine
Matt Roush: The talent on Smash is undeniable, especially in the musical category, but dramatically, the show became tone-deaf pretty soon after the knockout pilot and struggled to the end. The season finale raised the bar again, focusing more on the show-within-the-show than the clumsy subplots and was nearly as enjoyable as the pilot, but not enough to erase the season's many irreparable flaws (Ellis, Dev, Julia's family, the affair storyline, Tom dropping the lawyer for the preposterously saintly chorus boy, the list goes on). I am very happy Smash will get a second season with a new showrunner to theoretically right the wrongs and prove itself — I believe in the idea of Smash and want it to succeed — but no way does the first season deserve a best-of-anything, except maybe for its original musical score.
Question: I've watched Missing from beginning to end and thought it was really good. I knew it was not renewed for next season and thought it would wrap up with a nice bow and Michael and Becca would be reunited. Yay, they were, until Becca goes missing and blood is found in her car. What's the scoop? Is that it? Are we not going to know what happens? Is a movie set to wrap it up? — Jean
Matt Roush: This is another unfortunate example of a showrunner tempting fate and thus punishing the audience (what there was of it, which wasn't enough for renewal) by building in a cliffhanger when there was no guarantee of a second season. I only saw the end of the Missing finale because I was planning to watch the Grey's Anatomy finale that followed in real time — usually I time-shift on a busy night like Thursday, but I was commenting live on GetGlue — and when I saw the cliffhanger, I sighed. Why not just reunite the family and then suggest there's danger afoot, instead of setting up a mythical second season where Becca is now the missing one? (And you know she's not dead; I'm sure she would have survived whatever they had in store for her.) Hubris once again backfired, and no, there are no plans to wrap it up with a movie or anything.
Question: I have a comment regarding the yearly negativity surrounding the network Upfronts. We don't have to like the "whats" (cancellations, Nielsen ratings, scheduling) to understand the "whys" (the reasons behind those things). It is easy to watch these shows for free and get mad when they are gone when we are not the ones who lost a lot of money in the process. It is easy to wish that we could dictate a schedule based on our preferences while ignoring that other fans may have other preferences that are as important as ours and that other shows shouldn't have to be in the bad position that we feel some of our shows are in. (If a certain show is in a bad slot it should be on another night and a show that we don't like should be in the bad slot, right?) Being a television viewer involves us supporting networks, but do you feel that it also involves us (the common viewer as opposed to a critic like yourself) being selfish? — Zerbert
Matt Roush: There's no doubt this time of year is one of the most trying for the die-hard TV fan, who often feels betrayed when a favorite show is axed, regardless of the reality of the situation (lousy ratings, lousy reviews, high price tag, or some other explanation). I've learned over time that even the biggest dud has someone watching and caring about its fate — well, maybe not Work It! And I really don't expect the average viewer to care as much about the networks' investment in the shows as their own, and even I nurse selfish grudges towards networks over making bad calls regarding shows I love — although in the case of something like Awake, I'm just glad NBC took the risk in the first place, and I'm more disappointed that America didn't give it a chance. But what I think you're suggesting is a reality check about the nature of a business with such a high failure rate, and I'd never argue against that.
Question: Obviously you watch a lot of TV with your job. Do you still invest in shows and characters? Emotionally, I mean. I'm bitterly angry with Fox for the continuous cancellation of shows I fall for and invest in ... and they don't. Fox buys and cancels dramas like they were a cheap pair of shoes. Now I will admit I take it too far, but I truly will not be watching anything on Fox for a least a year. Probably longer. I got attached to some characters these last two years and feel completely betrayed by the network's casual disposal of them. Four shows in two years, I'm done. And it isn't about paying back Fox for canceling the shows. It's knowing myself and how I emotionally invest in shows and just simply refusing to be betrayed again. Do you ever get emotionally attached or do you have to maintain a certain amount of detachment from all shows? Just curious. Because I couldn't do your job. — Renee
Matt Roush: My job wouldn't be worth doing if I didn't get involved emotionally with the shows I most care about, and that has never changed, no matter how many times I get my heart broken. I am not detached when it comes to watching TV, but I do need to stay objective when analyzing the tough business of TV. I don't know which canceled shows you're referring to, but I've often given Fox credit for taking big chances and big swings, even when they don't ultimately work, and the one thing I would disagree with you about is that these choices are not made easily, no matter how it looks. A lot of money, time and effort go into the decision to put these shows into play in the first place, and when I see Fox taking great pains to allow a show as adventurous as Fringe (which may not be your thing) to continue into its fifth and final season, it's hard for me to take their other cancellations personally. I do think Fox made a major error a year ago when they blanket-canceled three crime/action dramas — Human Target, Lie to Me, The Chicago Code — without keeping even one as a back-up, and this year by not giving the ambitious but flawed Terra Nova a second chance to learn from its growing pains. But that's the way it goes, and I'm already over it. And by the time Fox premieres the midseason thriller The Following, should it live up to its premise and potential, I know I'll be urging everyone to get on board.
Question: I have to disagree about the comparison — positive or negative — of The Middle to Roseanne in last week's Ask Matt column. I love The Middle because I happen to live in the "middle" myself, in this case, Texas. But I see The Middle as the much-needed descendant of Malcolm in the Middle. Brick is like Charlie Brown come to life. Sue is a wonderful middle-child character. And Axl is refreshingly not the "mean-spirited" teen that's more common in other series (think "Reese" from Malcolm.) What's wonderful about The Middle is that it's told from the long-sufferin' mom's point of view. The only gripe I have about the show is the increasingly blatant commercial tie-in's. The VW Passat episode was nothing more than a commercial for the car. And a couple of months later, I rolled my eyes when the Heck family — longtime eaters of burgers and fried chicken — was suddenly chowing down on Subway's! — Harrison
Matt Roush: You make some excellent points about The Middle — which from the start invited comparisons to Malcolm with its title (and led some to write this off as derivative, which couldn't be further from the truth) — especially that the mom's point-of-view is what makes this one sing, along with the comic specificity of each of the Heck kids. But that was the case with Roseanne as well, which was always an expression of its title character/star's worldview, and the working-class milieu applies to all of these shows, so while we should acknowledge the debt to Malcolm, the comparison to Roseanne still applies. And yes, I'm not crazy about overt product placement, either, even if it does help pay the bills in a DVR time-shifting commercial-skipping age. (We only have ourselves to blame.)
Question: I am furious at NBC. After the Jay Leno debacle, I thought the network learned the lesson and was willing to reinvent itself and try to create some new hits. However, after looking at the mess they have done with the 2012 fall schedule, I am prepared to declare NBC a lost cause. There are two issues that don't make any sense (at least to me). First, why does a network that allegedly is trying to win rating battles schedule Rock Center With Brian Williams on Thursday nights? I would understand the move if Rock Center had been a hit, but it is nothing close to that. NBC is wasting one of the most important time slots on primetime TV for a show that does not have the numbers or the buzz. Secondly, can someone please explain to me the reasoning behind canceling Harry's Law. The show is averaging around 8 million viewers a week, hence it is NBC's second most watched show (just behind The Voice). I accept that in the coveted demo Harry's Law is a complete failure, but closing the door to older viewers who evidently watch the show is just the most ridiculous move ever. If we were talking about CBS (the house of hits) or even ABC or Fox, I would understand, but NBC has almost no hits whatsoever. Bottom line, come next fall I am going to be delighted when CBS, ABC and Fox put the final nail on NBC's coffin. I would really appreciate your thoughts on these issues. — David
Matt Roush: I understand your confusion, even if I'll stop short of dancing on any particular network's grave just yet. With Rock Center on Thursday, this has nothing to do with ratings and more to do with plugging a hole as cost-effectively as possible. The last few seasons, NBC has poured millions into this time period to no avail — this year with a show (Prime Suspect) that should have budged the needle, and didn't — and the sad reality is they've just given up for the time being, realizing they just can't break through so are settling for maybe breaking even. There is precedent for a newsmagazine in this time period (ABC had one for years in PrimeTime Live and 20/20 before it moved to Fridays), but you're right that NBC's history on Thursdays (from Hill Street Blues to L.A. Law to ER) makes this look especially unfortunate. The Harry's Law situation is a particularly nasty example of the tyranny of demographics. I'm no fan of this show, but given the fact that its audience is amazingly loyal and more sizable than the NBC norm, I am surprised the network didn't at least give it a reduced-order pickup as a backup, which heaven knows they'll need. But the truth is: It's not an easy sell to advertisers when a show skews this old, and if NBC wasn't making money on what looks like a fairly expensive franchise, something's got to give. I still think they may regret this call.
Question: I don't understand why Emily Maynard was chosen to be The Bachelorette. I really don't think she's as sweet and innocent as she presents herself to the viewers. I think she will never be satisfied with any man because her priority is always going to be her daughter and no man will be good enough to be with her and her daughter. Just watch — whoever she picks will last about three to six months. What a waste for a show that could have chosen someone that hadn't had "a chance at love." — Teresa
Matt Roush: If Emily's priority isn't her daughter, she has no business being on this or any other show, but to be bluntly honest, at the risk of seeming cynical, The Bachelorette has about as much to do with real love as Grey's Anatomy has to do with real medicine. I assume The Bachelorette's producers decided Emily makes for good TV, and being a mom makes her a novelty (if not exactly a role model). And given this show's track record, your prediction of how long she and whoever she picks stays together seems generous.
Question: The Finder has been canceled and the final episode ended with a cliffhanger. Since The Finder started as a spin-off of Bones, would you please put a note in the ears of the powers in charge of Bones to end The Finder cliffhanger on Bones? — Dewey
Matt Roush: Consider it done. It only seems fair.
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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