Ask Matt: Serial-Killer Thrillers, CSI: NY and Criminal Minds Renewals
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Question: This TV mid-season has brought us three dramas about serial killers: The Following, Hannibal and Bates Motel. Why do competing networks often program similar TV shows? Remember the recent explosion of shows set in the 1960s (The Playboy Club, Pan Am, The Hour)? Last year we had the more successful slate of fantasy universe-meets-modern universe shows (Grimm, Once Upon a Time). What gives? Are the networks just waiting around for word of what their rivals are doing so that they can make a duplicate? Or is it all just coincidence? — Sam
Matt Roush: Usually coincidence, although sometimes these programming/development mini-trends can be traced to a desire to echo (or rip off) other happenings in the culture at large. The '60s boomlet, for instance, was widely seen as an attempt by the networks to make more commercial versions of Mad Men (didn't work). We're probably going to see this type of seemingly copycat programming occur with even more frequency, considering how many more outlets are in the original programming game — and because there's only so much originality and so many genres to go around. Besides, it's not like anyone would confuse Once Upon a Time with Grimm. Regarding the current so-called "serial-killer" trend, while on paper they may sound a lot alike, in execution and impact they're quite different: The Following is by and large a chase thriller (lopsided, because the good guys are so bumbling), Bates Motel is a psychosexual character study/mystery-soap about the making of a legendary killer, and Hannibal (like Bates Motel a prequel) is a procedural-with-a-twist, and the most artful of the lot, in which the killer is hiding in plain sight. These could be seen as variations on a theme, but they rarely hit the same notes, so the similarities are really in the mind of the beholder.
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Question: As an on-again, off-again fan of The Walking Dead, I was really expecting a high-end conclusion to Season 3, but I was disappointed that they did not kill off the Governor or have a better/closed conclusion to his arc. It reminded me of how the writers chickened out about killing Daniel on Revenge. I don't mind villains popping up here and there in the series, but when you have a sadistic character like the Governor, you want him dead. I would have rather liked if they decided to bring back the Governor in Season 5 instead of Season 4. It is like it's a continuing arc with Season 3, and we'll still be focusing more on the Governor vs. the prison instead of a new location, new villain, new arc. There wasn't a huge action/scene between Daryl and the Governor for killing his brother. As much as viewers hated Andrea, I think her death could have been handled better: Maybe give her a chance for redemption as she takes a bullet trying to protect the group, or get bitten while trying to protect them. Did the writers chicken out about killing the Governor? Could Andrea's death have been handled better?
Mini-question regarding Revenge: We know Aiden is the obvious choice/guess as the secret son of Victoria, but what is the theory of Nolan being the son? I know it is a long shot, but Nolan could have found out about Victoria a long time ago or while working for David Clarke. He could have lied to Emily about his past or made up his past. Crazy theory, but Revenge is a soap opera. — Aadil
Matt Roush: Is there really such a thing as an on-and-off fan of The Walking Dead? That seems to be an incredibly committed audience. I had no problem with the Governor surviving to menace our heroes another day, and I also thought Andrea's death was appropriately disturbing, unsettling and tragic. (I wasn't among the character's haters and I hated seeing her go.) The Walking Dead is a horror/action series at its most pure and primal, and it's to the show's credit that it rarely panders to the audience's need for quick gratification and easy uplift. This is a bleak world populated by monsters, both zombie and human, and this season rarely let us forget it.
Regarding Revenge: I've fallen behind on the disappointing second season of this show since the anti-climactic death of Faux-manda (in part because there are so many better options on Sundays), and thus have no theories of my own about this latest twist. But I wouldn't put anything past Revenge. The more improbable the better, I'd imagine.
Question: Have the people behind NCIS ever publicly thanked the people at USA Network for their success? I seem to remember not remotely being aware of NCIS before I started watching reruns on USA Network several years ago, then all of a sudden boom!, it was the highest rated show on TV. By the way, just my opinion, but there is just too much damn TV to watch these days. Between BBC America, FX, AMC, Bravo, TNT, ABC, CBS, USA, Lifetime, someone could make a full-time job out of watching all the shows ... oh, wait, now I realize what you do. (LOL) — Bill
Matt Roush: Do you see me complaining? TV can be an embarrassment of riches, and while even us full-timers can't keep up with everything as much as we'd like to, it's an exciting time to be a fan and critic. (Our own Michael Schneider recently filed a terrific story on this topic.) Regarding NCIS and its cable exposure: USA could just as easily return the compliment, given how well these repeats perform for the network. For the record, NCIS was a hit long before it began airing off-network repeats on cable, but as happened before with shows like Law & Order and many others, a show's cultural footprint only tends to grow with this kind of repeated exposure. It's hardly unique to NCIS, but it does help explain how this show's ratings continue to grow from season to season, defying the conventional-wisdom odds.
Question: If NCIS: Red is half as bad as it looked during its two-part introduction, then I think it has a chance to be the worst spin-off since Joey. The premise is preposterous, and what's worse, the characters seem clichéd and lifeless. I think back to how JAG introduced NCIS and compare it with this dreck and can't help but think "Oh how the mighty have fallen." Some spinoffs have been great successes: NCIS, Frasier, The Jeffersons, The Facts of Life, Stargate: Atlantis come to mind. This isn't even on a level with CSI: Miami or Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. Please let this show die a quick death so that the actors involved can go on and find better projects to work on. — Chip
Matt Roush: I'm not a particular fan of the spinoff assembly-line mindset, especially when we get into the third iteration or so, revealing such a lack of originality on the part of the programmer that I'm happy to let the super-fans nip this one in the bud. (Because so far I have yet to receive any mail encouraging CBS to take Red to series.)
Question: What can you tell me about the future of CSI: NY and Criminal Minds? These two shows are great, and I haven't heard anything about them being renewed. If NY gets canceled, I feel CBS will be at fault for moving it to Friday nights. Criminal Minds if canceled will be for the person who replaced Paget Brewster. — Sharon
Matt Roush: Speaking of third-generation spin-offs, CSI: NY has been on the "bubble" for several seasons, in part because of how expensive these shows get the longer they last — it just ended its ninth season, and that's a long run by any standards — but also because of CBS' need to refresh its lineup by eventually retiring some of its long-running procedurals to make room for a new generation of potential hits. Making room for new shows also helps explain why the show moved to Fridays and why the mothership now airs on Wednesdays, opening up Thursday to shows like Person of Interest and Elementary. With Criminal Minds, my understanding is that a renewal won't be made official until all of the various talent deals are worked out (again: the $ issue), but Minds and the original CSI are still big enough draws it would be a surprise if they aren't renewed.
Question: I am an avid fan of the multi-camera sitcom style. In my opinion, the format allows for an overall "funnier" experience, if not more sophisticated and nuanced. Every year, networks not called CBS order some multi-cams but usually pass over most of them. This pilot season, it seems like there are a good number of promising multi-camera pilots (to name a few, the John Mulaney comedy, Friends With Better Lives, the Victor Fresco and Sean Hayes project). However, I felt the same way about many multi-camera pilots last season that ended up not going forward. Do you foresee a resurgence in the format any time soon? After all, single-cams were popular before the '80s-'90s and only began to make a comeback during the 2000s. Is this perhaps a cycle of audience preference? — Steve
Matt Roush: Let's put it this way. Who in the industry hasn't noticed the incredible popularity of The Big Bang Theory, and who wouldn't want a broad-appeal and hilarious show like that on their own schedule? (No disrespect to critical darlings like Parks and Recreation, which has become more endearing by the season, but copying that style of niche comedy as relentlessly as NBC did for a number of years is not the way to turn around a losing network's fortunes.) There is a bias, including among a number of critics (and Emmy voters), against the classic multi-camera format, and often they have a point. There are as many lousy and derivative shows filmed in this style as there are overrated shows filmed the single-camera way. But some of the best and most popular shows ever — including on NBC, the former home of Friends, Cheers, The Cosby Show, etc. — were multi-camera comedies, so you never know. On another point, it's always a danger during pilot development season to pin one's hopes on any specific show, let alone a trend, until it has actually been produced and screened. So if some of these multi-camera pilot projects don't go forward, it may not be the genre or industry at fault, it could just be a bad show.
Question: CBS is bringing back the previously canceled Unforgettable on July 28. Do you think that CBS or any other network or cable channel will bring back CSI: Miami with all-new episodes or a TV-movie? — Ron
Matt Roush: Doubtful, though we've learned never to say never. Unforgettable wasn't on the scrap heap for very long before CBS opted to renew it as part of this year's summer strategy (albeit with budget/cast trims). CSI: Miami has been MIA for a full year and most of its cast have gone on to other things by now. Reviving the actual series is almost certainly out of the question, and reuniting for a TV-movie is not much more likely, given the dormant state of the TV-movie industry. Sometimes when a show's canceled, it's really over.
Question: Is Sarah Shahi going to join the cast of Person of Interest next season? There was the POI episode about Agent Shaw (Shahi) with very little Reese and Finch. Then Shaw makes another appearance last Thursday. POI fans on Facebook like the idea, while some others do not like it. They like it as a two-man show, with help from Detectives Carter and Fusco of course. — Hiram
Matt Roush: She may recur next season, in much the way that Paige Turco's similarly appealing character, Zoe, reappears from time to time, but I doubt she'd become a full-time regular. It's all part of expanding the universe that Reese, Finch and their cop colleagues inhabit, keeping POI from being altogether formulaic. Which is part of what makes it such fun.
Question: I've noticed in the last year or so that if two shows are well-written but on different networks, one is considered great while the other isn't as good even if it pretty much does the same thing. Like why are people unhappy that Brodie is still alive on Homeland while no one is really complaining about "The price is right, come on down and take a whack at killing the Governor" in each episode of The Walking Dead? I love how both were going at the end of each season, but it seems like people love the networks that they are on more than they do the show itself. It's like there is "Showtime is a great network but it's not as good as FX or AMC" type of logic. While it should be the shows and not the network that should be focused on. Another example is The Killing. People watched it because it was on AMC, not because it was a well-written thriller, then when it came time for the great and infamous first season to end, people were upset by it when it worked for the series. So what I'm saying is, have you noticed this trend? — Dail
Matt Roush: It's probably true that networks with a solid track record for bold, challenging TV are given the benefit of the doubt in some corners when it comes to judging or at least anticipating their new programming, but every show needs to be held to its own standards, and in most cases with most discriminating critics and viewers, they are. I don't really agree with some of your generalizations. No one was beating up on Homeland (which I enjoyed despite its increasing improbabilities in the second season) because of an anti-Showtime bias. Some of the more outlandish twists in the second half of the season took the show from the realm of a rich psychological thriller to a melodrama with gaping plot holes, and many critics lodged understandable vocal complaints, but only because the bar had been set so high in the first year. Using your logic, if AMC gets a pass for the plotting on The Walking Dead (which this season was absolutely riveting) because of the network on which it airs, then the backlash against The Killing wouldn't have been as noticeable. Again, it's the show, not the network, that let its critics down, this time for stringing out the solution of what had been an absorbing mystery over two increasingly plodding seasons. (Although The Killing's own publicity strategy also often worked against it.) And while AMC has earned a great reputation with shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, reviews were not universally glowing for some of its other series: the inert spy drama Rubicon and the trite Western Hell On Wheels, to name a few.
Question: I find myself caught up in Vikings, which had followed the 10-hour mini-series of The Bible via History. What can you tell me about this series as to how many episodes remain, ratings, etc? — Eva
Matt Roush: Thanks no doubt to that robust Bible lead-in, Vikings has done very well for History, enough to earn a second season. There are three more episodes left for this round, with the finale scheduled to air April 28.
Question: A couple of months ago, the great and not-so-wise Syfy network stopped airing Merlin Season 5 in favor of "Rock em Sock em Robots" and delayed the last five episodes until May. I just learned the show will be out on DVD on April 9. Have you ever heard of anything similar happening before, where a show will be available to fans on DVD a month before the network is supposed to finish airing it? I know Downton Abbey fans can get the sets long before PBS even shows the new season, but an arbitrary delay when there's only five episodes left and you can get the whole season before the network is done with it? That's a new one to me. What does this carelessness say to you about where Syfy is as a company that once upon a time graced fans with Stargate, Farscape, BSG, etc? — Scott
Matt Roush: This sort of thing happens when a network acquires a show, often from another country (in this case, England and the BBC) and has no control over its distribution on other platforms, including DVD. Syfy often breaks seasons of its various series into halves, but why it interrupted Merlin this close to the end, after the show had already aired overseas and was heading toward a DVD release, is a mystery. I'd read the situation that Merlin, not being one of Syfy's own original properties, may not have been a very high priority. And at least these final episodes are being shown for the benefit of those who don't want to shell out for the DVDs.
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