Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard

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Question: Needless to say, the very end of last week's House episode was a shocker. Do you think that this will be some catalyst to finally cause a permanent change in House and that the last episodes are watching that happen? That being said, I hope that next week's portrayed ending is not as drastic as it appears [in the teaser]. Irony aside, it just wouldn't be fair to the impacted character, and it would be too pedestrian a reason for such a transformation in House. — Suzie

Matt Roush: Nice job tip-toeing around last week's big reveal, and SPOILER ALERT for those who haven't been watching, but Dr. House's BFF Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), a cancer doctor, revealed last week in an out-of-nowhere game changer that he has cancer, and I have to assume with a storyline and character of this magnitude that we will be watching the fallout over the final weeks to come. Fox has been circumspect in revealing storylines, but tonight, in an episode directed by Hugh Laurie, we're told they "take a little vacation" (which isn't likely to be as relaxing as it sounds), and by next week, House will have "mysteriously gone missing" to his team, and so on. This does sounds like Wilson's illness will be a wake-up call for House to (as the series finale description indicates) "examine his life, his future and his own personal demons." Many had speculated House would die (for his sins?) in the finale, titled "Everybody Dies," which I always felt was unlikely, but forcing him to confront the mortality of the one friend and colleague he not only respected but who kept him tethered however tentatively to humanity is at least a more potent dramatic hook than we've seen lately on this show. True, it's also potentially a rather pat and tidy device, but let's see where the show takes us in these last episodes before judging.

Question: As I watch House limp (ha!) towards its unremarkable conclusion, I am interested in your analysis of its decline. The ratings are dismal, and they continue to fall despite all the press about the approaching series finale. I've heard all the explanations about aging shows, loss of cast, etc. But then I remember M*A*S*H, which ran for 11 seasons, had to replace half of its major characters and bowed out with 106 million viewers. There are similarities between the shows: a complex and not always likable lead, deeply flawed supporting characters and a repetitious storyline. What did M*A*S*H do that was so right, and what has House done that has gone so wrong? — Alex

Matt Roush: The situations are so different it's hard to know where to start — except to be fair by pointing out that even hit shows have been struggling in the ratings this spring for whatever reason, though it's true that House's numbers haven't got much of a ticking-clock-to-the-end boost. I'm curious if that will change given the Wilson storyline, causing lapsed fans to tune back in at long last to see how this tragic twist in the bromance turns out. (Wilson's Song, anyone?) Even at its height, though, House was never a M*A*S*H-level phenom. Almost nothing is anymore the way it was when only three networks ruled the airwaves and a long-running show like this became part of the national consciousness. The M*A*S*H finale was such a monumental event, a shared experience, signaling not only an end to a fictionalized war but also an era of irreverent and socially conscious comedy on CBS. Comparing Hawkeye to House is like comparing a lovable rascal to an incorrigible misanthrope. We're meant to love or at least admire House despite his flaws, but as he jumped on and off the redemption bandwagon, more than a few fans lost patience over the seasons. But for me, the real difference is in how successfully M*A*S*H repopulated its ensemble — none more memorable than Harry Morgan as Col. Potter, taking over for the mourned Henry Blake — while House dropped that ball repeatedly. I will never fully fathom why the show felt the need to shake up and break up the original team so early in its run, and then replacing them with dour, dull — and this season unbearable — characters made even less sense. For me, that's the biggest reason for the fall of House, although this has been a wildly successful run by almost any contemporary measure.

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Question: My girlfriend and I watched The Killing all last year and didn't return for this year. (Whenever I mention the show, she curls into a ball, rocks back and forth mumbling like Brando: "...the sweaters... the sweaters..."). Mainly, like a lot of people, we felt taken for a (water) ride, but caught up in the decision to seek dryer ground was that we felt we were slowly becoming voyeurs of a band of devolving, dysfunctional drips, churning through scene after scene, episode after episode with the show's central, least-likable, most-depressing, omnipresent character: the dank, dark, Seattle overcast. How the reader who "all in one gulp" watched the first season in two weeks lived to tell the tale is a small miracle. Please send them the antidote: Both seasons of Pushing Daisies. Stat!

For us, the most entertaining new show of 2011-12 is Once Upon A Time, but, like us, when you started watching, did you get the impression that the show might be the victim of its own success? After all, when the heroine rescues everyone, the show's over — which might take years — but that's what we've all tuned in to see at the end of this year. Now we love the show: They've done a wonderful, creative job within the bounds of the traditional characters and stories (and no ugly sweaters in sight), but doesn't any show having a singular pillar holding it up have to feel the strain from the diametrically opposed force from the obvious commercial need to keep such a popular show in production? How long do you think the show can postpone its resolution before it devolves into "How I Met Your (Fairly God) Mother"? — Wes From Cincinnati

Matt Roush: First, your take on The Killing is a scream. Another frustrated viewer, Michael M., wrote in desperately wanting to know "how many episodes are left in The Killing. I feel like I want my money back on this show. I can't wait for it to finish." (The answer, if I'm doing the math right, is roughly June 17, so the light at the end of that tunnel is distant indeed.) And yes to Pushing Daisies as a TV cure-all! And your question about Once, so cleverly phrased, touches on the challenge facing any high-concept premise: how to keep it going in the long run without frustrating viewers (who'd like to see the Evil Queen vanquished, and soon), which often means finding a way to reinvent and refresh the show from season to season while staying faithful to the spirit and tone of the conflict that drew us to the show in the first place. There's no easy way to handle any of this, but the fun is in watching them try.

Question: It's been a while since we saw Belle's character on Once Upon a Time and wondered if the show has any plans of exposing the truth about where she is being held and who is holding her, and Regina knowing that she is alive and not dead. Or do the writers plan to just let this go and focus on other plots? — Estela

Matt Roush: I try not to get ahead of where the story is going on shows like this, but I think it's fair to assume (given these producers' track records) that all of these characters will be revisited at some point, when it helps drive the plot. That includes Belle.

Question: Now that the season is winding down, what are your thoughts about Grimm vs. Once Upon a Time? When the two fairy-tale shows premiered last fall, I really thought I'd prefer Once Upon a Time, because Grimm looked too, well, grim. But now I enjoy Grimm tremendously, while Once Upon a Time is annoying me more and more each week! I find good character growth in Grimm, as Nick wrestles with the effects of his new calling on his relationship with his girlfriend, and I love his growing friendship with the Blutbad, Monroe. And it's a hoot watching him trying to keep Wesen from panicking every time they realize he's a Grimm! But Once Upon a Time is getting boring and frustrating for me and I'm not keeping up with it anymore. What's your take on these two shows? — Pat

Matt Roush: Regarding the frustration element of Once, see the earlier question. It comes with the territory. My take on these fairy-tale-derived shows is that they're very different creations aimed at very different sorts of audiences. Once Upon a Time is trying to reach as broad and demographically wide an audience as possible, which means it lapses frequently into the land of the corny, obvious and twee. But despite a few thudding episodes, and a general yearning to throttle the sanctimonious Mary Margaret — and how stupid is David for getting drawn into Regina's web (by lasagna?) — I tend to enjoy Once as a pleasurable, relaxing hour of mass-appeal entertainment. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's easily my favorite ABC show on Sundays now. I also figure if Once was going about it the way of Grimm, it might also be airing on Friday nights to a fraction of the audience. Which isn't a slam on Grimm, which has grown on me as well, as it has deepened its mythologies while finding its own clever horror twists on fairy-tale legends. I'm still not enamored with the lead Grimm, but I can't get enough of Monroe. Bottom line: I enjoy them both for what they are, and am not inclined to give one higher critical marks simply because it appeals to a passionate cult. One of the nicest surprises about this TV season is that both of these shows were able to defy expectations and find their own path to success.

Question: Like all Fringe fans, I am delighted by the news that Fringe has been renewed for a 13-episode final season. I am relieved that Fox found a way to make it happen, despite the fact that Fringe is not exactly prospering as far as ratings are concerned. However, while I have been nervous about the uncertain future of Fringe all season, I had long expected that Fox would give Fringe a chance to end properly, and here's why:

1. At this point, Fringe is an established show. If this had been Fringe getting renewed for a second or even third season, it would not have surprised me if Fox had pulled the plug on it, considering the ratings. But this is a show going into a fifth season. By this point, both Fox and fans have invested a lot in the show. It has been allowed to get this far, and it only seems reasonable that it be allowed closure. 2. Fringe is well loved by critics, fans and Fox executives alike. Sure, a network loves all its shows and wants them all to succeed. But I've always gotten the impression that Fox executives had a more personal interest in Fringe, almost like they too were invested in seeing how the show would end. In any case, knowing how committed Fringe fans are, it seems the smartest move Fox could make would be to renew the show for one final run with enough notice that fans could prepare themselves and show-runners could properly wrap things up. 3. Fringe has been in the Friday night death slot. Fox would have to take that into consideration as well when making the renewal decision.

All that said, I've seen various statements claiming that all of these considerations are meaningless and the one and only reason Fox renewed Fringe was because they got an amazing deal from Warner Bros. I've seen it suggested that Fox executives could care less if fans love Fringe if that is not reflected in the ratings. While I completely understand that Fox is a business and they are not in the business of losing money, I believe that Fringe is one of those rare exceptions where there was more factoring in to their decision than the ratings and the deal. It just seems narrow-minded for that to be the only reason to renew Fringe. And if that really was all that mattered to Fox, I don't think they would have tried so hard to renew Fringe. What are your thoughts? Was Fringe in a unique position? Does it really not matter to Fox how much support fans have shown Fringe? — Michelle

Matt Roush: Of course it matters. All of it matters. The survival of Fringe into an unlikely fifth season is a testament to the value of viewers' engagement with a show, even if it isn't reflected in the same-night ratings. Fringe's situation really is a perfect storm of circumstances where everything plays a part in the argument for renewal. If Fringe weren't so well and thoughtfully executed, it would be gone. If the media hadn't embraced it, it would be gone. If Fox didn't believe in it, it would be gone. If it aired on another night of the week, where it dragged down ratings that made more of a difference, it would be gone. If Warner Bros. didn't make it financially feasible for Fox to take it to the end, it would be gone. It's wrong to oversimplify this extraordinary renewal as merely a business decision (although that's part of it), because if Fringe weren't this special, none of it would have mattered.

Question: What will ABC do with its post-Desperate Housewives Sundays-at-9/ET timeslot? Could newcomer Revenge inherit that spot? Will Grey's Anatomy return to Sunday nights? It seems unlikely a new show would launch in that slot, especially since the time slots on either are currently occupied by newcomers [Once Upon a Time at 8/7c and GCB at 10/9c]. — Rion

Matt Roush: All good guesses, but we're still a few weeks away from knowing for sure just how ABC will rebuild Sundays. Unfortunately, the network's experiments this season to create the next Housewives weren't exactly slam-dunks: Pan Am was a sleek-looking dud and GCB a spirited but pale shadow. Unless ABC develops what it believes to be a new instant home run the way Housewives was, you may be right that an established show would be the best thing to move into its longtime home — and the most likely candidate might be Once Upon a Time, now ABC's most successful show on the night (although I personally prefer it airing in the 8/7c time period as a family-friendly launching pad). GCB is also an option, but will have to step up to be a self-starter, which I'm not sure it can pull off. Moving Revenge would leave an open hole on Wednesday that ABC struggled for years to fill, so it may be too soon and not the right fit, though it does have momentum and buzz. Returning Grey's to Sunday for what could be the show's final stretch would be an interesting move, but it has long been a valuable anchor on Thursdays, and though long in the tooth, still does well enough there. This is obviously a critical hour for ABC to program strategically. In the best-case scenario, ABC would introduce a can't-miss new property it will put a ton of promotion into launching (again, the way it worked with Housewives and Lost during that magical fall of 2004)

Question: Here's my Ringer Season 2 pitch: Having been cast aside by the men they love, with no money and no hope, the sisters must move in together. Bridget and Siobhan share an apartment in the city and wacky high jinks ensue. Did I mention I was rebooting as a comedy? Thoughts? Who do I contact about this? — Steven

Matt Roush: Just be careful that whoever has rights to the old corny classic The Patty Duke Show doesn't sue. There's even a ready-made theme song, substituting "sisters" for "cousins," and you get: "Still they're sisters. Identical sisters and you'll find, They laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike — you can lose your mind! When sisters are two of a kind!" Actually, we could retitle Ringer as Two of a Kind. Oh wait, didn't the Olsen twins already do that? Thanks for the laugh.

Question: What's with the version of the season finale list that shows Person of Interest and Awake both at 9/8c on Thursday, May 17? Please tell me that's not so! The two shows that I really like on at the same time? I'm hoping it's a mistake and will expect an Awake season finale at another time. But it would be nice if you would reassure me! — Judy

Matt Roush: Well, you're in luck. The original plan was for NBC to air a two-hour season finale of Awake on May 17 — being the last Thursday of the official broadcast season, it's full of finales airing opposite each other, what a mess. Awake's first hour would have gone head-to-head with Person of Interest's finale. But late last week, it was reported that NBC instead is going to blow out the remaining episodes of Community that night, three in all plus the 30 Rock finale forming a two-hour comedy block. Awake now will air the first part of its finale in its regular 10/9c time period, with the actual finale now airing a week later, on May 24, when there won't be nearly as much conflict. (But airing the episode outside the regular season isn't much of a sign of confidence in Awake's future, which shouldn't be a surprise, though it makes me sad this is another of the season's big swings that didn't catch on.)

Question: Bones has always been one of the worst offenders of "embedded advertising," but a recent episode reached a new level of ridiculous. Sure, I'll buy that everyone on the show drives a Toyota, but the "Look at my fancy GPS! And I get sports scores!" conversation between Booth and Sweets had me rolling my eyes and saying "Seriously?" I can deal with the Toyota promotion on Modern Family, where everyone drives them but doesn't constantly talk about all the awesome features of their cars, so why is Bones so in your face about it? Who makes the decisions for such obnoxious advertising within shows, and why is it worse on some shows than others? Are we likely to see more embedded advertising since more people are DVRing shows and fast forwarding through commercials — Alex F

Matt Roush: I didn't see this particular episode, but I can't say I'm surprised. Product placement has become more obvious and intrusive in this DVR age, and some do it better than others. Any time you feel like you're watching an ad instead of a show, it's not a good thing for the show — and most times not the advertiser, because it rarely breeds good will. But in many cases this is the cost of doing business and staying alive in this new marketplace, so the answer to your question is yes, it's likely to get worse before it gets better, if it ever does.

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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