Ask Matt: Nashville and More Cancellation Anxiety, Downton, Justified, Big Bang
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Question: I've never written to you before, but I'm hoping you can look into a crystal ball for me and reassure me about the fate of Nashville. I'm totally hooked by this show, which is saying a lot since I haven't watched anything regularly on the big three networks for about 10 years or so. I'm extremely worried that Nashville is doomed for cancellation, since it appears that the ratings are pretty lackluster. Any gossip or buzz that you can pass on to reassure me? As an aside, this is probably why I've generally watched more series on cable networks and entire series on DVD's rather than prime time — I hate nervously awaiting the verdicts of the networks if they will continue good shows like Nashville and Friday Night Lights. Cable networks are so much more patient. — Natasha
Matt Roush: These days, the networks would almost kill for "lackluster," so while Nashville isn't what you'd call a runaway hit, it's doing OK, and because it's going the right way creatively (pulling out of its first-half slump), and like Glee and Smash it has a separate revenue stream with its music downloads and CD releases (which seem to get good reviews, though I'm not a music critic), I'm cautiously optimistic that ABC will renew it. As our in-house ratings guru puts it when we gather to discuss such things, they can't cancel everything. And to be fair, where your cable-vs.-network argument is concerned, even cable networks cancel shows from time to time. If they mass-produced shows in the volume that the broadcasters do, their failure rate would likely be much higher.
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Question: I think the recent fuss on Downton Abbey about Thomas totally ignored a huge problem. Thomas kissed Jimmy while he was asleep and had every expectation of safety and privacy. That's deeply creepy. Consent can be complicated to interpret, but I think it's a bit of a stretch to think that it's ever appropriate to caress a co-worker while they're asleep. Employees (male or female) have the right to be protected from that kind of thing, and I really don't think there's much gray area there, no matter what era is being portrayed. Another issue entirely is that Thomas has always been entertainingly monstrous and creepy in all sorts of ways, for all sorts of reasons, but he's never been portrayed as any kind of sexual predator. It does strike me as odd that he'd make that kind of move. It seems out of character, even for Thomas. I've always thought Thomas had questionable taste in men, but it honestly never occurred to me that his choices might have been limited enough that he was truly desperate. Even in that era? That gorgeous man? Not likely. — Anna
Matt Roush: Reality check: At that point in history, homosexual conduct was illegal in the UK. Of course a gay servant's options would be limited, especially in that class system, and a person like Thomas would have no option but to be desperate. He's a right bastard of a character to be sure, which is why he's also entertaining, but as Downton has deepened our understanding of his need for affection and connection, especially as he became a victim of O'Brien's wicked manipulations this season, it's ungenerous not to see him as a tragic figure as well. Yes, it was creepy for him to sneak into Jimmy's room that way, but I saw it (as I imagine most did) as a sad expression of unrequited affection, not a predatory act of molestation. Although Jimmy, also an unknowing victim here, was right to be shocked and, given the times, perhaps even horrified. But the real point of this storyline was drummed home by watching so many of the other characters react to the situation in different ways, from Carson's disgust to Mrs. Hughes' compassion and even Robert's mildly amused nonchalance, given his exposure to such behaviors (much more easily dismissed) at Eton.
If this created a stir, I can only imagine the mail I'll be coming back to (post vacation) regarding the events of the season finale!
Question: Will we see Elston Limehouse later this season on Justified? And how are you liking this season's "big mystery" as opposed to a "big bad" like the previous two seasons. I quite like the change myself, as it allows the show to stay fresh in that it's not repeating itself. Obviously it hasn't done so before as the difference between Mags and Quarles was quite far-reaching, but you get my point. — Ben
Matt Roush: I've heard that Mykelti Williamson may reprise his role sometime this season, but can't say when or how. (I'd like it to be a surprise, should it occur.) Regardless, I'm loving this season, as I have the past three, in part because it's so different from what's come before. Still the same blend of action, intrigue and wry humor that we can't get enough of, but once again the show is taking us into new areas of Harlan mythology, from the brutality of the hill people to the murderous machinations of the Clover Hill power-brokers, with whom Boyd and Ava have memorable dealings this week. This Tuesday's episode gives Elmore Leonard a story credit, and it introduces one of my favorite characters from his recent novel Raylan. I'll let you discover her for yourself, but I'm curious what avenues she'll eventually lead our besotted marshal down.
Question: Like you, I'm a big fan of The Big Bang Theory. Maybe it's my own physics degree background that makes me enjoy the subtle science references and jokes. Anyway, I'm sensing a change in the basic story arcs recently that I'm not sure I'm 100 percent fond of. It seems to have gone through a subtle change from a show about four lovable geeks and their relationship to each other (and the occasional female) to a show about three females and how they deal with their geeky boyfriends/husband. Don't get me wrong, I love the added nuances the girls as regulars give to the show, but have the writers crossed a line making it more about them than the original focus (i.e.: has the show been "Urkel-ized" as Family Matters became)? — Dave
Matt Roush: It's true that Big Bang has evolved into a different sort of relationship show than when it was mostly a buddy comedy (with Penny across the hall for perspective), and that's especially true when the show tackles holidays including Valentine's Day, but it's hard to argue that the women have taken over the show like an invasion of Myrtle Urkels. Sheldon is still without question the show's breakout character and primary comic engine, but he has become funnier with Amy Farrah Fowler in his life, and any scene Sheldon shares with Penny is, as it ever was, pure gold. Likewise, Howard has his best foil in Bernadette, and even Raj is finding weirdly funny solace with Stuart this season. I admire how Big Bang doesn't just repeat itself but has expanded its world, even in those weeks when the girls are the focus. The good news is that their characters are strongly developed enough to handle it.
Question: I recently started watching Once Upon a Time and then noticed its ratings fall off a cliff. Golden Globes, football championships, Grammys and now President's Day holiday weekend: Granted it's been a busy time, but could ABC have done better scheduling to give the show a chance at decent numbers? As a viewer of Missing (which needed to die) and Last Resort (bet ABC regrets canceling that now), I'm just a little concerned that I'm cursed when it comes to watching shows on this network! Do I need to be worried about losing my new favorite show? — Laura
Matt Roush: In this case, a resounding do not worry. Once Upon a Time is a key franchise for ABC and, despite these recent setbacks, is a long way from running out of juice. The network is in a tough situation with this show and Revenge — which has finally started getting more interesting again, though how obvious was it who was going to meet their watery death? — because Sundays are such big TV event nights, especially this time of year. And while for momentum's sake the network can't bench these shows indefinitely, and in a DVR age it's a safe bet many fans are time-shifting them, ABC did Once no favors by airing originals in mid-January against the Globes and the NFL championships. Once things settle down a bet, I'd be surprised if Once's numbers don't pick up a bit.
Question: I really, really like Up All Night, but I fear the show is doomed. There have been so many changes: getting rid of the Ava show at the beginning of this current season and the plan to move to a multi-camera/live audience format later this season. The show is going to be unrecognizable if/when it returns. And now, it loses Christina Applegate? There are reports they are courting Lisa Kudrow, but for what role? The new Reagan? Just replacing her like on a soap opera? That seems ridiculous. Will they kill off Reagan or something? Also seems ridiculous for a show like this. Honestly, can Up All Night survive this? And even if it does, is it worth saving? The "new" Up All Night would be a completely different show!
Also, I know Happy Endings is one of the shows "on the bubble," and I think a big part of that has to do with it constantly changing nights (that and the fact that people in the age range that watch the show use DVR, downloads, etc, not live viewing). Wednesdays, Tuesdays, Sundays, and now Fridays! Seriously?! I fear the end is near for one of the funniest, smartest comedies around. What are its chances? And what's maybe more sad is that its time slot on Tuesdays is being filled with sub-par reality shows: Celebrity Wife Swap, The Taste and Dancing With the Stars. Sad day for television. — Danielle
Matt Roush: The situation with Up All Night brings to mind the metaphor about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. What is the point? Nothing happening on the show is as fascinating or laughable as what's taking place behind the scenes. If we ever see it again in any shape or form, I'll be amazed. And outside of professional morbid curiosity, completely uninterested as a viewer. Let it go. Regarding Happy Endings' current misadventures in ABC limbo, I knew it was the odd ensemble out in the current schedule (not unlike Cougar Town before it), but until the news that the remainder of episodes would be burned off on Friday, I didn't view it as necessarily endangered. Now it's hard to see it as anything but. (Which of course will prompt questions about whether someone will swoop in to rescue it, like TBS did with Cougar Town. I usually don't encourage such speculation, but while I'm not especially fond of Happy Endings, it generates enough buzz and media attention to make it a good candidate.)
Question: Can you tell me what is going on with Touch? I understand having to leave NYC and go on the lam from Aster Corp., but I really miss the worldwide connections that were presented every week. Now everything is related to finding new character Lucy's (Maria Bello) daughter. Prior to all of this, they aired "The Road Not Taken" episode on Sept. 14, 2012, which in that chronology is after Martin and Jake meet Lucy at the pier in what should have been the last episode from Season 1. Are you still with me? Do you think this show will settle down and get back to global mysteries at least in some fashion? — Kevin
Matt Roush: Forget anomalies like that randomly scheduled September episode. Touch, much like Up All Night, is a possibly even weirder example of a show reinventing itself midstream, abandoning the original mystical/mathematical premise to become a straight-up paranoid chase thriller. The original concept was at least something new, although ultimately unsustainable. I don't see Touch going back to what it was, and what it is probably won't be with us much longer either.
Question: How much longer do you think CSI will last? I'm fine with the new characters, but it is not as good as it used to be. The show was always at its best when it dealt with the forensics aspect of the show, but lately, they have been dealing too much with characters' personal lives, especially Sara's marriage to Grissom. — Connie
Matt Roush: I can't say the CSI mothership (which may be the last one standing after this season, we'll see) will endure as long as the original Law & Order and make it to a 20-year milestone — this is currently down the stretch of its 13th season — but I wouldn't be surprised if CBS didn't try to keep it going to make some sort of TV history, barring some sort of collapse. Which they did a pretty good job of forestalling with the new recastings. It doesn't look like a show on its last legs.
But I am always intrigued by what fans find to take issue with, whether it's too much personal stuff getting in the way of the forensics, or the case of Smokey, who wrote in to observe: "Is George Eads still a cast member on CSI? Because I hardly ever see him on there anymore. It's all Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue with a bunch of Jorja Fox thrown in for good measure as she and her off-screen/out-of-town/sometimes appears on the phone husband, the gone-for-years-now Gil Grissom. Is there any chance of Eads' character, Nick Stokes, getting any kind of storyline in the near future? Eads is the only actor on the show besides Paul Guilfoyle who has been there since the very first episode, and it seems a shame that he and his character are relegated to basically supporting roles in favor of brand new actors and characters. I know during the break in filming last summer he worked on a movie, Gutshot Straight, so is there a chance he might leave CSI after this season to pursue other interests? And when can we look forward to seeing the movie?"
Matt Roush: Don't know about the movie (no release date that I can tell), or any movie for that matter, and I wouldn't want to speak for the actor, but I would think he'd have to consider himself one of the luckiest guys in the business to be riding the CSI train as long as he has. I'm sure he'd enjoy more stories like the one earlier this season involving the K-9 dog, but he's part of a fairly large ensemble that just acquired two new stars recently, so this is nothing new for him or the rest of the underused co-stars.
Question: I was a huge fan of the original Dallas even through it was before my time. I grew up watching the reruns on TNN back in its heyday. What kid would not want to grow up to be J.R.? I found myself really liking the new Dallas even through it does not have the magic of the original. I have found it very likable and a great must-see TV program, but the ratings this season seem to be really down from last season. I know it is getting a lot of buzz and I have read there is a huge international interest in the program. I was wondering is it in any danger of cancellation or can its fans breathe easy. — Nicholas
Matt Roush: You're not the only one who's concerned — and my word, hasn't cancellation anxiety been a theme this week. Brian also wrote in to wonder: "Why are Dallas' ratings so low? It is better now than the first season. Is TNT really committed to it and making it work?" The answer to the last question is yes, of course TNT is committed to the show, at least for now. Why in the world wouldn't they want it to work? (I never understand questions like this.) And I imagine they'll wait until after putting the J.R. character to rest before worrying about the long-term prospects of the show. The only theory I have about Dallas' second-season slump is that maybe this works better as a summer show. Premiering new episodes in the middle of a midseason glut may have worked against it (certainly didn't help launch its companion piece, Monday Mornings). And while I thought the publicity around Larry Hagman's untimely death might spur interest in watching his final episodes as J.R., maybe it's turning out to be too sad and creepy for many longtime or even newer fans.
Question: So without question, Supernatural is my favorite show on TV right now. Partly due to loyalty, since I've been watching the show since it premiered and it helped to feel the void of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. So as much as I love this show, I was surprised at the CW's decision to air it with Arrow instead of Nikita. I really like Nikita as well and feel that it pairs up nicely with Arrow. Arrow could have been a great lead-in to attract more viewers to Nikita. Supernatural is a more established show, and while I am happy that Supernatural is getting more viewers, Nikita is left alone on Friday nights and the ratings are the worst out of its three season, although the ratings are somewhat better than when Season 3 first started. So my question is: What are your thoughts on Nikita being renewed for Season 4? Season three has been a big change for the show, and I feel that Percy shouldn't have died so soon, because it left a huge void, but that's another story. — Justin
Matt Roush: Looking at the bigger scheduling picture, it was more important for the CW to construct a strong (by that network's standards) Wednesday night by pairing its hottest new prospect with one of its most reliable longtime franchises. And it worked, so no second-guessing on their part. Nikita wouldn't have done much for Arrow or for the night in general. It's probably best off on Fridays where the expectations are low. The value of Nikita isn't as much to the CW's bottom line as it is to the Warner Bros. studio as an action franchise to potentially sell in syndication and abroad. Which is why a fourth season isn't out of the question, no matter how it's performing on Fridays (it could be doing worse). I get what you're saying about the loss of Percy, who is very much missed, but I think this is a stronger and more focused season than last year, with the Nikita gang running Division and chasing the rogue agents instead of being scattered all across the globe. But the show itself is always going to live on the bubble, so stay positive.
That's all for now, and for the rest of the month. I'm taking a break, so won't be filing Ask Matt columns or daily Playlist reviews until I'm back. But keep the questions coming to email@example.com, and we'll pick up the conversation again soon. Thanks as always for reading.
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