Craig T. Nelson
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Question: In this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, Stephen Battaglio closes his column, "Why ABC Lost Hope for Its Soaps," with the following: "Many viewers will miss the soaps, just as some miss the variety show, the big-budget miniseries and other TV fare of a bygone era. It's the price viewers pay for living in a multi-channel world, where they can watch what they want when they want." Then in your Roush Review column in the same issue, "Stumbling to This Season's Finish Line," you close by saying: "After a season of coasting, let's hope the networks raise their game come fall. It's never too late." Are you perhaps using "never" too loosely?
The genres Battaglio refers to had their highlights in the days when broadcast networks had no competition from cable. Are broadcast networks, too, becoming relics of a bygone era? Two observations suggest so: In general, shows can survive on cable with lower ratings than they could on the broadcast networks. Thankfully, some have been rescued by cable after dying elsewhere, with Southland perhaps being the prime example. (Merlin also moved to Syfy after one season on NBC, but I don't know the reason.) Broadcast networks are expected to produce three hours of prime-time original programming (or two, in the case of Fox and the CW) from five to seven days a week, whereas cable networks get by on far less. Even TNT and USA, perhaps the basic cable leaders in original hour-long series, don't produce them for every day of the week. What do you think? — Hal
Matt Roush: It's true that the cable and broadcast models of programming are very different, and there's no question that certain cable networks are able to support a type of show that would never survive in the broadcast marketplace. (But then, cable seasons tend to be far shorter as well, which frustrates some viewers. So neither model is perfect.) I'm thrilled cable exists because of the diversity of programming we're now exposed to — although there's a ton of crud generated by many of these outlets as well — but I'm not inclined to write off broadcast TV just yet. It was just a year ago that we were reveling in a bounty crop of terrific new network shows (many of whose sophomore seasons I write about in the issue on stands this week) including The Good Wife, Modern Family (and its ABC companions The Middle and Cougar Town), Glee, Community, even a truly guilty pleasure like The Vampire Diaries. I don't know where on cable, except maybe the pay channels, you'd find a show produced on the scale of Glee. And while cable networks like USA, ABC Family, TNT and others are increasing their inventory of original series, something you'll notice in full force this summer, it's not always fair to point to their individual signature shows as a way to indict the more mass-market networks. The point I was making in the Review column Hal referenced is that the current broadcast season was almost entirely a letdown, following an unexpectedly strong performance the year before. Still, I see no reason to think the networks, especially those in rebuilding mode (NBC and ABC), should be thought of entirely as dinosaurs (Terra Nova excepted).
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Question: I was wondering if you noticed a recent overuse of a clichéd writing technique: emotional turmoil and/or excessive drinking expressed through vomit. Within one week, I saw the following six characters get sick: Jess on Friday Night Lights, Jamie on The Killing, Alex on Nikita, Amy on The Big Bang Theory, Alex on Grey's Anatomy and Britta on Community. I hope this was purely coincidence and not an increase in the trend.
On another note, I was wondering if you have some insight into why How I Met Your Mother has gone down the tubes (at least in my and my husband's opinion). Has there been a change in the writing staff over the past couple seasons, or are they just out of good ideas? I still watch it because I like the cast and care about the characters. But it's a sitcom, so I should be laughing. I used to laugh out loud all the time, or at least smile a lot. Last year, I found it uneven. This year I don't think there has been a single episode that I loved, and I'm not sure I've laughed at all. Sometimes I even cringe. I keep hoping for it to improve. But now I find myself wishing it would get canceled just to wrap up the story. — Beth
Matt Roush: Isn't it enough to make you sick, all that barfing? (I will say, for what it's worth, that Jamie's rush to the bathroom stall in The Killing was the most disgustingly realistic I've seen in a while.) It is a very forced cliché and often a laughable one (and rarely convincing), but sometimes — like Amy going into upchuck mode after her first kiss with Sheldon (not the cause) — it works. Still, enough already, I agree.
Regarding Mother: Six seasons and some 130 episodes in, it's understandable to be experiencing show fatigue. I have it, too, and much as I enjoy this cast and am glad they still all have a day job, I didn't exactly do cartwheels when CBS announced a two-year renewal. I don't think the show has ever truly recovered from breaking up Barney and Robin so quickly a while back and then having him revert back to form. Since then, with the exception of poignant storylines like the death of Marshall's dad, and Barney's discovery of his real dad (the great John Lithgow), I find it hard to stay engaged — especially when they let you know that a promising new character like Jennifer Morrison's Zoey isn't a keeper. And now watching them try to gin up some sort of mystery around the wedding that bookends this season? Who cares? I'm not watching the show only because I'm curious about who the "mother" is, but by this time in the show's life, dangling that as a hook without resolving anything has become awfully tiresome.
Question: What did you think of last week's Glee? I saw it in your weekly "picks" column, but I also know a lot of us have been really disappointed in the way some of the stories have been going, yet this time I kind of thought they'd redeemed themselves a bit. I thought Emma's OCD behavior, washing each grape, was a bit over the top — though I'm sure some people have these major problems, I don't want to have to spend so much time seeing them — but I was glad she finally had an inkling that "this is the way I am" doesn't mean this is the way she has to be. Ditto the theme for the group. And some of the things they came up with and ways they went about handling them (Lebanese, indeed) and, best of all, the singing, the wonderful singing, topped by Kurt — what a golden voice — and what a wonderful homecoming. I'm happy. I'm sure it won't last, but then I'm one of the people that will keep watching Glee even when the story line disappoints because the music seldom does. — Dorothy
Matt Roush: I say much the same thing about Glee in this week's magazine Review column, that even when the show aggravates us with its cartoonish melodrama and whiplash-inducing lack of character and dramatic continuity, the music tends to save the day. I liked the "Born This Way" episode fairly well, although it got a bit preachy in its self-acceptance teachings. (And what was that flash-mob number doing in this episode? They already did a variation of that once, and better.) Didn't miss Sue at all, and like you, I'm glad to see Kurt back at school where he belongs. His moment in the diva-solo spotlight was classic Glee extravagance. Hate it or love it, there's nothing else quite like Glee.
Question: In my not so humble opinion, Justified and Sons of Anarchy are easily two of the best shows on television and it's a crying shame that the shows and their actors don't get more award consideration. Not only are you right to promote Margo Martindale, but I would also throw Walton Goggins and Jeremy Davies into the mix. My only complaint (other than the show's short run) is the woeful way they underutilize Jacob Pitts. In the few scenes/episodes that he's in he's always good, the perfect counter to Olyphant's Raylan. I get that Raylan being a loner makes it hard for him to have a partner tagging along with him, but is there any way they can get more out of Pitts? — Chip
Matt Roush: Justified is an embarrassment of riches, and I'd love to see any and all of this season's major players get some Emmy love. Regarding Jason Pitts as Tim, the episode where he was assigned by his boss to keep tabs on Raylan was probably his best showcase this season, and while it's true he's underused, you could say that about most of the U.S. Marshal office this season, given the focus on the Bennetts and their long-running feud with the Givens family as well as the Crowder factor. Plus, Raylan's other major storyline has involved Winona, not so much the workplace. Maybe next season if the storyline involves the marshals more, he'll get more to do. But on balance, I couldn't be more satisfied with this season — or more excited to see Wednesday's finale.
Question: I'm sure I'm far from the only person to write in regarding the complaints about Parenthood in last week's column. While I do agree with you that the more contrived plot points (basically any story Sarah has ever been given) are a weak point, as someone with personal experience with autism, I have to disagree about Max. First and foremost, I have to say that the actor who plays him does a wonderful job. Not merely in "throwing a tantrum every week," but in the smaller points that make you forget it's a performance: communicating only in facts, avoiding eye contact, limiting emotion. At a young age, he has to do the opposite of what every other actor does, and create a character that is all about not connecting. I would think even for an adult, it would be difficult to play scenes where you're never allowed to look at the actors opposite you or express the affection that you know, deep down somewhere, the character does feel. Max can't even get a hug because he would only squirm uncomfortably out of it. That rings true, and it is the tragedy of the disorder, and the show and the actor do a good job of conveying it.
Secondly, I know the facts of the character's story may not be the same as every family with an autistic kid who might tune in, but that's why it's called the autism spectrum. There are a wide variety of stories, and right now American TV is telling two of them, one fictional on Parenthood, and one real on American Idol. If every show on TV were to introduce an autistic character, perhaps we'd begin to come close to grasping the range of the subject that more and more families are dealing with, but right now we have two examples, and to criticize an honest attempt to shed light on a little understood situation seems short-sighted. I don't think the problem is that Parenthood is doing a bad job, I think the problem is that everyone in the autism community looking to have their experience explored on TV has only one show to speak for them, and that's simply too much to ask of a single production. Thanks for letting me throw in my two cents. — Leigh
Matt Roush: Leigh, that was more like a shiny half-dollar. Thanks for these observations, and thanks to the others who shared similar impassioned and personally informed defenses of this storyline and character. I tend to agree, and I wish I could share them all, but space is limited — and I already get enough grief from some readers who feel I let my correspondents go on at too much length. Bear with me, because another elaborate defense of the show follows.
Question: Perhaps I'm being too sensitive here, but (as you predicted) I was rather annoyed by the rant from a Parenthood watcher on how awful the show is. The main thing that truly sets Parenthood apart from other TV is that it's trying to be realistic and relatable. And for the most part, I believe it succeeds. Often TV is an escape into another world, but Parenthood is a refreshing break from that. So many times this season some small event (for example, Sydney declaring to Julia and Joel that she had become a vegetarian; I had almost the exact same conversation with my parents at that age) mirrored something that happened in my own life. I don't find that too often on TV, and I feel like I have a connection with these characters.
As for the storyline with Sarah's play: It certainly wasn't the most interesting or best thing that happened this season, but I believe it served its purpose of giving Sarah something to do other than yell at Amber, or whine about her job. It gave her a sense of purpose and happiness, which she had been missing for much of the season, and it was certainly nice to see Jason Ritter again in the midst of it. Yes, the whole thing did unfold more quickly than a play really would, but I imagine that people would also have been whining had it been more drawn out.
There have been some very good and original plots this season. Max finding out that he had Aspergers as a result of the fight between Adam and Crosby, how that was handled, and how it played into the season finale ("Are you mad at me because I have Aspergers?") was wonderfully done. Also, the season-long arc of Haddie and Alex's relationship, especially the episode with Haddie's "pocket call" to her parents. I thought that was very original, and something that could definitely happen, and then the way that Adam handled the fact that his daughter was having sex, almost completely cutting off communication, but then coming through as the wonderful dad that we know he can be.
Parenthood is a family drama. Shouldn't you expect there to be some boring and overdone storylines about job drama and affairs? It certainly does have its flaws, but I'm more than willing to put up with them to watch such quality TV, especially on NBC. A note to Gene: If you don't like the show, then don't watch it. It's probably going to be around next season, and deservedly so. — Alex
Matt Roush: I agree on most of these points, especially where the "pocket call" episode is concerned. I did get rather fed up (and even had to skip) some of the episodes where Adam and Cristina were objecting to the early stages of the Haddie-Alex relationship, but it did build to something memorable. My biggest problem with Sarah's play isn't that it jumped so fast to a staged reading but that the play, and by extension Sarah, got a standing O in the season finale. I hate when that sort of thing happens in the movies or on TV, unless it's earned, which this most certainly wasn't. I really want to like Parenthood more than I do some weeks, and daring to criticize it at all in the last column got at least one reader to declare she was shunning me for life. (Don't I get some credit for championing shows like Friday Night Lights or, going back to a truly poignant family classic, Once and Again back in the day?)
Question: Is it just me, or has March and April been nothing but reruns on most of the popular shows, i.e. NCIS, How I Met Your Mother, CSI, etc ? Sure seems like every night my faves are repeats. I'm glad the cable series aren't rerun city like the pathetic network shows. — Pete
Question: I was wondering why they skip so many episodes on Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice, and now Off the Map says it's not airing for 14 days. I don't understand? They are awesome shows, why wait weeks? I almost want to stop watching due to the constant inconsistency — Jenna
Matt Roush: I bundled these last two questions to give you a sampling of the many gripes I get this time of year regarding network repeats in the spring — like this is something new, which it isn't. The good news is that the May sweeps and the countdown to the end of the season have begun, meaning a respite from episodic repeats. (Advance warning: Many of the shows that repeat poorly will vanish during the summer, replaced by reality; try not to vomit — see earlier question.) Between February and May sweeps, every network either shifts into heavy repeat mode or uses certain time periods to try out midseason shows (Off the Map, for the record, has finished its run and won't be back unless ABC renews it). The reason for these repeats is to ensure there will be original episodes during May. It can be very noticeable some weeks when CBS, for example, goes almost entirely dark, with no new episodes of almost anything but Survivor and The Amazing Race. But that's the way the system works. It really is no worse this season than it has been in the years that I've been covering TV.
Question: If Fox doesn't have room for shows like Lie to Me and Human Target due to limited days of programming and Idol, why not make them into a summer season. People no longer tolerate summer repeats of regular season shows as the only thing to watch. There are many other options other than repeats and more reality. Cable has done well with limited-season summer and winter programming. Why can't Fox and the other broadcast networks do the same with the series that they consider marginal that people love, like Lie to Me. It's a win-win, is it not? — Ronda
Matt Roush: You may recall that Fox aired the second half of Lie to Me's second season during the summer months last year, which is probably why Fox shortened its episode order this season. I would love for the networks to air more scripted shows during the summer — and not just burn-offs like NBC's upcoming romantic anthology Love Bites — but economically, I can understand why they mostly don't. With lower viewing levels for network TV during the off-season, which is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy after years of neglect and programming reality schlock, I'm not sure the networks could charge ad rates that would justify the expense of some of these dramas. As I noted recently, we might see some of these series return next season with shortened episode orders as they had this year, but airing first-run episodes during the summer, at a time when the cable glut is also at its peak, is still unlikely.
Question: After tuning into the premiere of The Killing on your recommendation, I told my friends about it immediately because of its great quality. However, more than one of them said, "I don't want to watch a show called The Killing, why is it called that?" to which I said, "I promise it's not that gory, but it's called that because it's about a murder investigation." Their argument then became that there are lots of crime shows which don't have titles that dark, and that AMC should have called it something else. My argument was that the title is representative of its moody, challenging nature and completely appropriate.
Eventually, I wore these people down and they like the show now; one even told me it is now his favorite show surpassing Friday Night Lights and Justified, and he almost didn't watch. This begs the question: Do you think the title is repelling people who might otherwise be inclined to watch and don't have friends willing to push them like I was with mine? Have you experienced this in your recommendation of the show to others? If so, why did AMC not go with something more marketable? I stand by my opinion of the title's appropriateness, but if it's keeping people from the show, that's a shame. Your thoughts? — Jake
Matt Roush: I don't really see The Killing's title to be a handicap, the way (for a recent example) FX's Terriers seemed to confuse people and possibly limit its sampling. (Terriers, being offbeat hybrid of comedy, drama, caper and tragedy, wasn't an easy sell to begin with.) The Killing as a title is very simple, direct and effective in its promise of what the show is about: the mystery surrounding the tragedy of a killing, and its impact on a community and family. Given the popularity of procedurals, it actually seems the most commercial of AMC's titles next to The Walking Dead. I suppose if people thought the show was nothing but people killing people every week, that might be a turn-off. But I have no issues with how AMC has promoted this series. That said, the show's not always easy to watch and never will be as popular as a CSI or NCIS style show. Which is why we should be thrilled cable networks like AMC exist to provide the alternative.
Question: Do you ever root for a show you loved and still like somewhat to be canceled? I find myself wanting Brothers & Sisters to end this season. I still like it for the Kevin and Scotty stories and Nora's stories and sometimes Luc and Sarah and Justin's, but the reveal of Brody being Sarah's father was just one too many skeletons coming out of the closet. If B&S does continue, I don't want to see any more long-lost children or fathers and no more old enemies of William bent on destruction of the Walker family. Why can't I just quit this show? Sally Field. I have been a fan since Gidget, and she remains a bright spot in this messy show in spite of all the stupid plot machinations Nora gets caught up in. Bringing in her Norma Rae co-star Beau Bridges as old flame Brody was a great casting move I enjoyed. I would be quite happy for Nora to go off to Fresno with Brody and live happily ever after. — Frank
Matt Roush: To actively "root" for a show's cancellation doesn't seem very professional, but I know where you're coming from, and I've often expressed a desire for a show to bow out gracefully before it has entirely worn out its welcome. I fear Brothers & Sisters crossed that threshold for me a while back. I stayed loyal for as long as I could, for many of the reasons you state (Sally Field's performance; the Kevin and Scotty story), but this season grated on me, and I had to bail on both this and Desperate Housewives (talk about desperation). Reading about storylines like Sarah's surprise-daddy reveal only reconfirmed my decision. I'll tune in for the finale to see how it wraps up, whether it's for the season or for good, but I agree that putting this one to rest would almost be a mercy killing.
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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