The Crazy Ones

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Question: Recently, Amy Sherman-Palladino gathered some of the cast to film a goodbye dance to the much-beloved ABC Family series Bunheads. I admit it, watching it made me a little misty. I wish more creators respected their fans and casts enough to provide such closure. Do you think such series codas will, or should, become more common? Also, do you think they are a good or bad thing for fans and show runners? Meaning: Does it just prolong the fans' agony of letting a favorite show go by keeping them hoping for one more taste and, on the creative side, label creators as undesirable to work with if they're unable to let their failed ideas go, potentially preventing them from getting future projects produced because no one just wants a copy of something that didn't work elsewhere?

Also, and more specifically, leaving Bunheads dangling for so long really was a shame, but ABC Family's decision to give it an extended purgatory, rather an outright death sentence, indicates at least some interest in continuing with the project. Even though I'm aware they were holding on to Bunheads "just in case" none of their new series caught on, I'm still baffled as to why they didn't use that time to attempt to drum up more interest for the show. Plug it into different time slots with reruns (did they ever replay this show?) and/or give it a marathon to see if you got a ratings uptick. Issue the series DVD and see how it sold. Dedicate some promotion to the show that's one of the network's few (only?) critical darlings. All seem like easy and relatively cheap things a network could do if they had any actual interest in "saving" one of their shows. In this case, I'm particularly baffled by their lack of support, as Sherman-Palladino's Gilmore Girls took several seasons to develop into a solid show for The WB, thus seeming to set a precedent for a build in audience interest over time. And while I know this is now a lost cause, I'm curious as to why Bunheads, unlike other critical favorites canceled way too soon, never seemed to garner any interest in moving to another network. Lifetime, perhaps? Or somewhere else it could be a better demographic fit than ABC Family's teen-skewing channel. I certainly hope Amy Sherman-Palladino will continue to create quality TV. Her quirky, fast-paced voice is much needed. Any news indicating she has anything beyond Bunheads in the works? And do you think this show will ever be released on DVD now that, sadly, it's really and truly totally dead? — Susan

Matt Roush: Lots of questions here, but let's start with the most important: the sweet grace note that Amy released to YouTube, a final bow from her young and talented cast. There's no downside to such a gesture, and while it would be nice if other cut-too-short shows had the ability to produce such a treat for their fans, in many cases by the time this sort of unfortunate decision is made — and yes, it took ABC Family a painfully long time to make this one official — it can be difficult logistically or cost-prohibitive to bring everyone together this way. But no way does this mark Amy as "undesirable," any more than anyone is who is quirky and exacting with an unmistakably distinctive voice. In terms of other networks picking up the show, that's even more rare when the show is generated on cable than when it starts on broadcast TV. Maybe ABC Family wasn't the perfect fit, but you make good points that the network appeared to give up on the show way too soon and keep it hidden when it should have found more ways to keep it in the public eye. As for a DVD afterlife and Amy's future plans: Haven't a clue, but I bet Bunheads would do well on DVD — the full season is currently available for streaming on Amazon and iTunes and maybe elsewhere — and I certainly hope this experience hasn't soured Amy on TV (which I would doubt). The passion among the fan base — and tributes like this summer's TCA Award for youth programming — should encourage her to keep trying.

 

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Question: So I see that A&E cancelled The Glades?! Are you kidding me? They are going to leave us with a cliffhanger? Will A&E at least let us fans have some closure to the story line or is it over with for good?! Also, could there be a chance that it can come back like Drop Dead Diva did? I was surprised when Lifetime canceled that show and then renewed it. A&E will most likely lose a lot of fans (most likely not any of the Duck Dynasty fans, but still) and get a lot of hate mail as well for canceling what I thought to be one of the better shows on TV! What are your thoughts on A&E's cancellation of The Glades? — Amy

Matt Roush: Lots of angry mail about this cancellation, which took me (and obviously others) by surprise. Seemed to me that A&E had fashioned a nice summer block with The Glades and Longmire — I consider the latter to be a far superior show, but I get why people liked the easy breezy Glades — and was dismayed to learn the show was in limbo after it ended the season, quite misguidedly in my estimation (especially if the producers had any idea a renewal wasn't a cinch), with a cliffhanger instead of wrapping up the wedding story as a gift to fans. It seems unlikely that the show would return in either short or long-form to mollify fans — these kinds of deals aren't as easy as they sound (if they were, Longmire's renewal would already have been announced, though it appears to be a sure thing) — but never say never.

One of the angrier reactions came from Franni, who described herself as "madder than a wet hen" at being left up in the air over the fate of Jim Longworth. "Who do they think they are?" she demanded of A&E's execs. "It's as if we, the viewing public, have no say-so as to what happens to the show and its characters ... because we are a minority, or the show costs too much to make, or the actor quits, or the million excuses the powers that be gives to the public for them to cancel the show. I don't like the show ending, but if they would just have one final show to wrap things up, I would be happy." That's a common refrain this week, as you'll see in the next question.

Question: Would it be feasible that when a show is canceled unexpectedly that the network to pacify viewers would allow a one- or two-hour wrap-up so people aren't left hanging? It seems to me that would make fans happy, and possibly be a ratings boost for those episodes since "that's all, folks." Also, cable shows have short seasons and long times between seasons. Does that affect how many people watch or lose interest? — Steve

Matt Roush: I've tried to address the first part of the question in the Bunheads discussion, but it really depends on the nature of the show and the timing of the cancellation whether any sort of satisfactory conclusion can be produced. In the best case, which is fairly rare with new series, a network could inform the show's producers that they're not going forward and an ending of sorts can be crafted while they're still in production. In the year to come, shortened final runs of Syfy's Warehouse 13 and The CW's Nikita will give those shows' creators that opportunity, but unless A&E announces otherwise (the news of the Glades cancellation is still pretty fresh), I would have to assume it's over for The Glades.

Regarding the way many cable shows are scheduled, the long gap between seasons isn't always a negative. Because cable networks tend to produce fewer series than broadcast — although USA and TNT defy that model with night after night of original summer programming — they can devote quite a bit of promotional effort to relaunching a signature show from season to season. (See: Sons of Anarchy, returning next week amid considerable hype.) And if the show is popular enough, the pent-up demand among fans for new episodes will result in a win. But more and more cable series are splitting their seasons into multiple parts, airing at different times of the year (at the risk of confusing the consumer) in an attempt to reduce the impact of this particular issue.

Question: I am a huge fan of Downton Abbey and I cannot wait for the new season to start. As an Israeli, one thing intrigues me. Lady Cora's maiden name is Levinson. Given her status as a department store heiress, it would imply, almost stereotypically, that she is Jewish, assuming that her mother, Mrs. Martha Levinson, is also a Jew. Marrying into the British aristocracy would have been quite scandalous in Victorian England. By tradition, her daughters and their offspring would also be of the faith. Any comment on that and if it ever will be addressed? — Danny

Matt Roush: Don't know if this will ever be specifically addressed, but according to the book The Chronicles of Downton Abbey (co-written by series creator Julian Fellowes' niece Jessica), the Levinson ladies are Episcopal, so no scandal brewing at least on the religious front. According to Martha's (Shirley MacLaine) backstory, she married Isidore Levinson, who was Jewish, but she raised their children in the Episcopal faith.

Question: As always at this time of year, there are the shows I know I'm going to watch, the ones I know are no-chancers and then some in the middle that might prove interesting. Usually I'd watch the trailers and then the first few episodes of those and make my decisions from there. But this year some of the previews (for example, The Crazy Ones and The Blacklist) seem to have given away the complete story for the first episode, leaving little point in watching it when it airs. Given that seeing any story as a four-minute recap giving away the ending is unlikely to really grasp your attention or affection, I have to wonder what the purpose is. There is no suspense in how the situation is resolved, so I'm not going to watch for the story, but no real development of the characters, so I'm not going to watch for them either. It seems a sure way to shoot themselves in the foot and reduce the audience for that all-important first airing. By week two my likes and dislikes are more set and I'm less likely to remember to make time to even try their show if I haven't bothered to watch the first episode. Do you have any idea what the networks are thinking here? — Elle

Matt Roush: The most important goal at this time of year for the broadcast networks is to get their new shows noticed amid the constant clutter. As aggravated as you are by the promos — and yes, these can be times that try the souls of even the most devoted TV fan — the fact that you can even single out The Blacklist and The Crazy Ones will be seen as a triumph by their respective networks. The challenge, as it is with movie marketers — and how many times have you felt like you've seen an entire movie by sitting through those big-screen trailers? — is to convey as much as possible about a show's premise without giving it all away or turning people off. (I haven't seen the Blacklist promos, but having seen that pilot, one of the best the fall has to offer, I would bet there are at least a few twists that they don't reveal.) In recent years, there has also been a push among some networks to give viewers an advance look at selected full pilots to build buzz, so the first-week ratings aren't always as live-or-die as you might think.

 

Question: What do you think about Kevin Spacey's recent speech at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival? I want to agree with him, because things like personal electronic devices and Netflix/Hulu have flipped television on its head (the very word is a misnomer in today's age). All we viewers want is a good story, we don't really care how it's delivered. But I also think it's coming from kind of an elite perch — it's easy to say to go to Netflix when you're David Fincher and Kevin Spacey — what about the thousands of writers and actors who are just trying to get their story told? Should they shun NBC? The questions in your column remind me week after week that there is still a huge part of the population that watches "television" the old fashioned way, through their television. Is the network model really an endangered species, or is it too soon to ring the bell just yet? — Ryn

Matt Roush: No one would dispute the fact that "pilot season" — and much of the entire pilot process — is flawed, riddled with absurdities as well as a complete crap shoot. And there's also no doubt that the traditional models of TV are changing quickly and irrevocably. I admire the passion and wisdom of Kevin Spacey's speech, but it's a bit early in the game to declare Netflix's approach to production and distribution to be a game-changer as much as it is a way for Netflix to make noise, which it surely has done. We still don't really know how many are watching these original Netflix series, though they've certainly made an impact in the media, and even progressive outlets like FX, AMC and the premium pay-cable networks are likely to remain in the business of programming their shows on a weekly as opposed to all-at-once basis (while making them increasingly available on multiple platforms, which is the real point here). As the renowned TV veteran Ken Levine writes in his excellent blog, it's an incredible gamble to greenlight a 13-episode series without benefit of a pilot. (It helps in House of Cards' case to have major talent attached in front of and behind the camera and to be based on a legendary British miniseries.) So while Spacey has right to be proud, he also seems a little bit smug. And you're absolutely on point that for the majority of writers, producers and stars, there is no shame in reaching for the brass ring that would be a hit on broadcast network TV.

Question: Has it been confirmed that ABC will try something different in the fall to run 12 consecutive episodes of Revenge, Scandal and Once Upon A Time and return in the early spring with the final 12 episodes? — Dwayne

Matt Roush: That's the plan, give or take a couple of hours depending on the show (and you can add Grey's Anatomy and, to a certain degree, Nashville to this list). This strategy, which involves creating distinct arcs for each half of the season, eliminates the aggravation of preemptions and repeats and allows the shows to step aside during the holiday weeks and then not have to compete against NBC's Winter Olympics. Some fans will likely still complain when their favorite shows disappear for roughly two months in the middle of the season, but it's another sign (along with limited-run series sharing time periods) that the networks are adjusting to the realities of the times while borrowing from the cable playbook. Seems an excellent idea to me.

Question: Wondering why BBC America is premiering Torchwood: Miracle Day, which I thought already ran here about two years ago on another channel. Was it Starz? As it was, I thought this was the least well-received of the Torchwood series, and the commercials make it seem like it is something new, which it isn't. — Faye

Matt Roush: It's new to BBC America (the correct terminology would be "basic cable premiere"), which is all that matters to the network that helped put Torchwood on the map — and which presented the high point of the show's existence in 2009's thrilling five-part Children of Earth. It's true that Miracle Day, despite an initially engaging premise, ultimately becomes a botched mess, leaving Torchwood fans hoping that this won't be the last chapter they ever get from the show, but given that Starz is a premium pay service with relatively limited reach among those unwilling to pay for the privilege, BBCA no doubt figures there are still enough fans out there who haven't seen Miracle Day to make it worth their while (at what I imagine is a cost-efficient price) to give it a run.

Question: Because I watch nearly as much TV as you do, I read your column faithfully, and am happy to report our tastes usually align. I have tried many shows based solely on your recommendation and am rarely disappointed. I just wanted to take a minute to give some love to a couple of shows probably low on everyone's radar. I know you didn't think much of Crossing Lines, but I have to say I loved it! I don't have any room in my schedule for yet another crime drama, but I think the international setting and cast makes this show very exciting and unique. I would have tuned in to see William Fichtner anyway, but I am more than happy to watch a sexy-even-with-short-hair Tom Wlaschiha. The season finale was truly thrilling and quite the cliffhanger. And even though Camp is only a summer filler and fairly light watching, I am thoroughly enjoying the silly, fun and easy 44 minutes I spend on it each week. It makes me nostalgic for my youthful summers, and there's something to be said for "light" TV. After all, isn't leaving reality behind for a short while one of the main reasons we watch? Your thoughts? — Scarlett

Matt Roush: Good news for Crossing Lines fans: It performed well enough overseas to merit a second season, regardless of whether NBC picks it up. The international co-production deal makes it financially appealing even if ratings in the U.S. leave something to be desired, so should NBC pass, I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up airing somewhere else next summer. As for Camp: Love Rachel Griffiths, and the show was harmless enough (all of the hormonal sex stuff aside), and I do agree about the need for light escapism — which must be why I'm still watching Under the Dome, having ratcheted my expectations way down — but in a TV summer this busy, I opted not to devote much time to either of these, mistakenly or otherwise. But if they brought you pleasure, more power to them.

Question: I would love to watch The White Queen, but it is on a pay channel (Starz) that I do not get. Frankly, in this economy, I don't really want to pay for a channel or even a group of channels so I can watch one show. The first episode is being shown on AUD, but that appears to be the only one. Is there a solution to this that doesn't come out of my pocket? — Doris

Matt Roush: Not during the show's initial run, which will be available only to Starz subscribers. (That's why they invest in expensive original programming, to try to lure people to sign up.) You most likely will have to wait until Starz' window of exclusivity is over to be able to stream the show from iTunes or other services, or if you're really patient, wait for the DVD release. In the meantime, you might want to check out the source material in Philippa Gregory's "Cousins' War" series of historical novels. They're fun page-turners.

Question: I've suspected this for going on a year now, but is there a contract between the Kardashians and E! that the Kardashians must be mentioned on every E! News broadcast? And must that mention be a positive one? — Patti

Matt Roush: I keep expecting any day for the E! to turn into a K! — but as long as shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians continue to draw a big audience for the channel (and heaven help us, they do), the only way to avoid the onslaught is to look elsewhere. And I can't imagine a piece of more useful advice with which to wrap this week's column.

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

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