Ask Matt: USA Cancellations, Revolution Hiatus, Community, X Factor and more
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Question: Been a follower for some time now. I'm happy to say you're usually a fan of the same shows as me, and we're close enough that I use your take on upcoming shows I'm on the fence about. My question is regarding the recent USA cancellations of Common Law and Fairly Legal. Well, maybe more of a comment. I'm glad to see USA cleaning house of the cookie-cutter shows that have begun to litter a once-perfect track record of original programming. My friend and I discuss the "Royal Collar Divide" whenever we discuss USA. It appeared that starting with White Collar, the shows became more about the brand and procedural format than the quirky characters and good stories that had come before. On recent seasons, I have moved White Collar to the good side of the divide, and Suits and Political Animals are notable exceptions to the rule. Do you think this recent slate of cancellations will push USA to stop looking for the next quickie procedural and try and devise a show more focused on character as earlier USA shows? "Characters Welcome" was a perfect brand for the network up until a few years ago. I would also like to see another good USA series with a female lead. There hasn't been one since In Plain Sight, in my opinion. Pick up Political Animals as a series! Here's hoping USA moves back to the good side of the divide. — Rob
Matt Roush: Well, since this arrived in my e-mailbag, Political Animals has also been scrapped, so be careful how much of a house-cleaning you wish for. I'm sorry that particular experiment in political melodrama isn't getting a longer life, and I know I'd watch a spin-off built around just the gay son and the feisty grandma going on a nightclub concert tour. They were a hoot together. And regarding shows with female leads, have you tried Covert Affairs this season? It's much improved, because of some judicious trimming of the cast and stronger story arcs that put Annie (Piper Perabo) in the center of some emotionally charged and complicated missions, with lots of in-house tension back at the CIA. But to your main point, while there are always going to be fans upset by any show's cancellation, I don't disagree with USA's calls on these lesser shows that did feel more formulaic and might have been dragging them down. The network, like any other, needs to keep shaking things up, and with plans to expand into comedy and non-scripted formats, USA probably needed to weed out some of the shows that weren't pulling their weight, whether in ratings or creatively. And looking to the future, I am curious about the newest green-lighted drama, Graceland, which sounds like a potentially appealing formula hybrid in which agents from three government agencies live in the same beach house. That one's coming in 2013, with a telegenic cast including Rescue Me's Daniel Sunjata, Broadway's Aaron Tveit and Vanessa Ferlito.
Question: Two questions about unrelated shows. First: Why is NBC deciding to keep Revolution, a show that can be considered a hit for them, off the air until March after the show's winter finale? Hasn't NBC learning anything from The Event or from ABC's FlashForward? Neither show was able to regroup its audience after being off the air for an extended time. Absence doesn't always make the heart grown fonder, so what does NBC hope to gain from this move? Second: For all the discussions about the break-ups on Glee, I have a simple question. Do we, as an audience, honestly know that Blaine did cheat on Kurt, as in had sex with Eli? Yes, the implication was there but we never actually saw Blaine with Eli. So I am wondering if Blaine really did commit that level of infidelity? Blaine obviously feels guilty about whatever transpired but it was certainly left ambiguous. I would think that might make a difference in how his relationship plays out with Kurt and those around him? — BRJ
Matt Roush: One difference between Revolution and The Event or FlashForward: Those shows were already struggling by the time they went on their hiatus, but it's true they never recovered and it hurt more than it helped. In this case, it seems that NBC is trying to keep Revolution from falling into the trap of other heavily serialized genre faves like Lost and 24, which suffered major blowback from fans frustrated by repeats and the kind of off-and-on scheduling that tends to happen to any show in the back half of a season. By keeping it off the air until late March (after it wraps the current arc of new episodes at the end of this month), and then finishing the season with no breaks, NBC is treating Revolution more like a cable series, splitting the season into halves, and when it's back, airing it straight through to the end — it's the USA Network approach, or even how something like The Walking Dead is being scheduled in two separate pods. You have to imagine that when Revolution returns, the promotion (alongside a new season of The Voice) will be as intense as it was during the Olympics this summer. If it still backfires, then NBC will have to figure out how to handle this hit franchise in future seasons: Delay it until the back half of the season, the way Fox did with 24 and ABC with Lost, or find some other way to run it straight through without risk of stalling its momentum. It's definitely a risk.
Regarding Kurt and Blaine on Glee: I haven't seen any of the new episodes post-hiatus, but it seems to me we're meant to take Blaine at his word, that he cheated on Kurt in some regard, and mightily regrets it. It's not like he's going to have start walking around with a scarlet "A" or anything — unless he sees it as a fashion statement. These are young and resilient people, and the break-up opens up storylines for both of them in the short run, so let's try to look at it as a painful life lesson for now. The sort of thing that makes for really good dramatic solos.
Question: Community always has amazing Halloween and Christmas episodes, and if they'd premiered on October 19 (the actual date, not the state of mind), I assume they would have stuck with tradition and knocked it out of the park again. Any idea how far production runs on the series? Did they already film/write Halloween or Christmas episodes? What will happen to those now that the show isn't premiering until February? — Danielle
Matt Roush: I'm told Community has produced holiday-themed episodes for this season, covering Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas. But it comes with the territory for this show to have "timeline" issues, so the expectation is that they'll all air at some point when Community returns, and we can just pretend the timing makes sense. At least we'll get to see them, and on Thursday nights no less, which already seems a small miracle, no matter how long the delay.
Question: Is it just me, or is American Horror Story: Asylum all over the place? The seemingly immortal psycho killer. The mad doctor and his forest-dwelling Frankenfreaks. And aliens and demons. What is up with the random monster mash-up this season? Aliens and medically engineered mutants, within this fictional world of course, have more scientific explanations, whereas demons sprout from religion and the mystical, and I'm just not seeing how that's all going to connect in the end. And we still don't know the deal with Bloody Face. Isn't it a little much? — Heidi
Matt Roush: A little much? Try a lot. This show has never held back, and as incoherent as these various lurid threads may be, I still prefer it to last season's haunted house with a hundred random ghosts running around. The '50s time period, the creepiness of the asylum and its inhabitants (more than a few trapped against their will), the clash of twisted science and perverted faith all work better for me — also, the casting is stronger, so I find I almost care what's happening to some of these wretched people. It's obviously way overstuffed, with Bloody Face and the space alien and the freaks in the woods all screaming for attention. But how can you be surprised that it's a hot mess? That has been one of American Horror Story's selling points from the start.
Question: I am a faithful reader of your column and have been for years. You always seem to say exactly what I'm thinking, and you've introduced me to many great shows, and we definitely agree that The Good Wife is the best drama on network TV. So it is with much respect and curiosity that I write seeking your opinion on the new fall series Elementary. I've watched all the episodes and feel it has a lot working for it, especially its compelling lead actor, Jonny Lee Miller, who is doing his best work since Eli Stone, a show that deserved a much longer shelf life. I think they've found a stylish and compelling way to update the Sherlock Holmes franchise and make it relevant to today's viewers. I feel, though, that it is struggling in one area. Is it just me or does it seem like this show has a distinct lack of character development for its supporting players? I understand that the entire concept is built around Holmes solving each case with his outlandish techniques, but I can't help feeling that even by CBS crime procedural standards that the cops on this program are being underwritten and often come across as lacking any experience in police procedure, interviewing witnesses or how the criminal mind works. Perhaps I'm taking this show too seriously, but I feel like the cops on this show are being purposely written as intellectually inferior to Holmes, something that is both painful to watch and makes the show markedly less interesting than it could be and should be. I am especially talking about the characters played by Jon Michael Hill and Aidan Quinn; it seems both would benefit greatly from an increase of back-story and a marked increase in their general intellect. They both seem to come across as very novice and amateurish.
What are your thoughts on this new show, and do you think there are areas it can improve? Lastly, what are your thoughts on Lucy Liu's performance, and do you think the show could benefit from beefing up the Watson character, giving her more edge and making her more of an equal to Holmes in terms of the crime-solving aspect? What if she became a cop herself and had to help him from within the police department? I know it would be a departure from the standard Holmes formula, but they've already changed it enough by making Watson a woman. Thoughts? — Matthew
Matt Roush: I get your point, but don't think the cops on Elementary are any more ineffectual than on shows like The Mentalist or Castle, where you wonder how they ever solved anything until the armchair consultant arrived to show them the light. I understand that Aidan Quinn's character of Capt. Gregson will get a larger role in some upcoming episodes, and that would be a good thing. But this is a flaw common to this type of formula procedural, and I still think Elementary stands out by nature of Jonny Lee Miller's charismatic take on a damaged but still dynamic Sherlock. The puzzles have generally been above par as well, and I love the credit sequence with the Rube Goldberg-like mousetrap device. And I'm OK with how Lucy Liu is carefully underplaying the Watson role for now. The most recent episode gave us more insight into just how wrecked she is as a doctor, and watching her rebuild her life alongside Sherlock should be part of the show's appeal. I like her as an outsider, too, so hope they won't deputize her, which shouldn't keep her from having insights that will help Sherlock work his magic from time to time.
Question: As a gay man, I find The New Normal as condescending, insulting and oh so self righteous as I find Partners, Modern Family, etc. These shows are both boring and patronizing to gays. One of the partners in the relationship in all the shows is always a loud queen, thus perpetuating the heterosexual view of what gay people are like. How come there are no couples who live and act in a more masculine manner? I could never spend an hour, much less a relationship, with one of those loud obnoxious queens. I guess the truth doesn't make for laughs, which is why my friends and I will continue to boycott all these shows and encourage others to do the same. — Dave
Matt Roush: In the spirit of healthy and friendly debate, who's being self-righteous here? I get what you're saying, of course, and often wish Modern Family would dial back Cameron several decibels — although who on that show isn't a bit over the top in their own way? It's a comedy. And I do cringe at much of The New Normal's heightened and ostentatious flamboyance and preachiness. But is it really being patronizing, or is TV's growing inclusiveness of gay characters the real point here, and something that should be celebrated (though, when appropriate, criticized)? I'm fairly sure most gays didn't feel this way about the truly groundbreaking Will & Grace. And if you saw some of the mail I got from people who wish all of these characters would just become invisible again, maybe you'd see why I regard this talk of boycott with a bit of skepticism.
Regarding The New Normal in particular: I am more than aware of its flaws, but my opinion is leaning more and more toward the positive, as I have come to appreciate the show for its willingness to tackle issues of the moment, including current politics — even giving the other side a voice — and, most memorably, spirituality in a recent episode in which Bryan (the "loud queen" with whom Dave has issues) goes back to church as he and Dr. David mull the prospect of choosing a godparent for their unborn child. That's something you rarely see on TV, and a few off-color gags aside, the notion of gays struggling with religion is an important topic I'm glad got some airtime this season. It certainly spoke to me. Plus, for all the clichés Bryan may represent, when have you seen a gay character as grounded as Justin Bartha's Dr. David, who's as uncomfortable with the stereotypes as the critics of these shows seem to be. There's a genuine affection and chemistry in this relationship that you don't even see on Modern Family that much these days. I just don't see this as an insult, except maybe to actual bigots.
Question: In the most recent Ask Matt column, you said with Private Practice ending, the most sense is to put Body of Proof in that Tuesday 10/9c time slot. While that may be easy, I don't think that makes the most sense for the network as a whole. Last Resort and Nashville are great shows, but are suffering in the ratings. I think this is because of poor time slots and pairings. Nashville should move to the Tuesday 10/9c slot. It will have less competition and pairs a lot better with Dancing With the Stars than the comedy lineup. Move Last Resort to Wednesday at 10/9c. It seems like a better 10 o'clock show anyway and won't have to compete with CBS' Thursday comedies and would easily be at least the No. 2 show in the slot but could even hang with CSI. Put Body of Proof on in the Thursday-at-8/7c slot. Better subject continuity with Grey's Anatomy and it's basically dead anyway, so who cares that it loses to The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. More movement, but this seems like the most logical lineup to try to get viewers into these two great shows which would be far better for the network in the long run. — Matt
Matt Roush: For the record, I suggested Body of Proof returning to its old Tuesday home was a logical move, not necessarily the best move. But you're probably right that since Proof failed to catch fire on that night in several tries, ABC might be better off juggling its other assets around the schedule, although what we see in action on Tuesday (and several other nights) is the difficulty of any network series drawing much of an audience in that 10/9c hour — when people are often playing back things they recorded earlier in the night on their DVR or checking out the edgier stuff airing on cable. That said, I'd like to see ABC give Last Resort a shot in a later time period, and maybe Nashville would work better elsewhere — I'm thinking Sunday after the similarly soapy, but much trashier, Revenge might give it a boost. And while we're on the subject. ...
Question: Why can't ABC garner the viewership its excellent programming deserves? I am obviously asking about Last Resort and Nashville. These two programs stand out, to me, as well written and well performed. I wonder why, after all the buzz and the testament of truly fabulous episodes, why can't these programs catch their audience? — MT
Matt Roush: These are the sorts of questions that dog everyone in the business, whether programmer or critic or fan. These were among the best-reviewed pilots of a subpar season, and I'm still enjoying them, despite some early hiccups after their outstanding pilot episodes (which is fairly common in new series). But you can't force people to watch what doesn't grab them right away — and I've had at least one spirited conversation on the radio with someone who bailed on Last Resort because of how preposterous the premise is, though I figured later it might also have something to do with the show not being able to push the violent extremes it might be able to on cable (or in a later time period). Likewise, Nashville is a country-music soap opera, but it's not trashy or (often) ridiculous, which means it may not be of interest to those who prefer train-wreck TV — which, face it, Revenge mostly is these days. I'm not saying these particular shows are "too good" for TV, but they are too good to be dismissed too soon.
Questipn: I was wondering about your thoughts on the Face Off finale being decided by audience vote. When they announced that the audience would be able to vote, I assumed that they meant that the audience would get a vote, not the vote. While I appreciated the opportunity to vote (and I voted for Nicole, though I would have voted for Roy if I could), it felt a bit strange to be deciding the winner. Other craft-based competition shows (Top Chef, Project Runway, etc) often have a fan favorite vote, but the fans usually stay out of the decision of the ultimate winner. In the craft shows, I usually trust the judges' eyes and experience to be a better arbiter than me, a viewer of a highly edited package who has little knowledge of what makes a great make-up. The judges are professionals, and wouldn't it give the show more credibility if judges actually named the winner? — Erin
Matt Roush: In this case, I liked the "event" feel of the live finale, and the judging on Face Off is on such a consistently high level that by the time we got to the finale this season, most viewers probably had a good handle on what was working and wasn't in the finalists' fabulous creations, so I was OK with the viewers deciding the winner. I agree that Roy should have made the finale, and he might even have won, although Nicole's comeback story was so strong she seemed a shoo-in by the end. (I was also a fan of Laura, who was consistent throughout the season.) I enjoy Face Off so much that I was jazzed to learn it will return in January, though I tend to think it makes sense to rest these shows for a longer period between seasons. (Given all the iterations of Top Chef these days, I'm finding it hard to get worked up about a new season starting this Wednesday. It's the law of diminishing returns.)
Question: I really enjoyed The X Factor during the first auditions and the judge's homes episodes. Then came the live show that was really just terrible! Over the top production, unneeded makeovers, audience cheering that overwhelmed the judges' comments, nervous judges (Britney Spears) and horrendous song choices made for unwatchable television. How could the producers not have seen what a mess this show has turned out to be? I'm wondering when a show is this BIG, will it try to correct itself? — Betu
Matt Roush: This show is still a work in progress, as far as I can tell, having changed half of its judging panel and its hosts between seasons. And I hope they're not any more satisfied with what they're seeing and hearing this time around. What a disaster Britney Spears is turning out to be, robotically chirping how "amazing" everyone is, while Demi Lovato wipes the floor with her when it comes to genuine enthusiasm, personality and insight. Even worse is Khloe Kardashian, stiff and woodenly croaking lines like, "This. Is. It." Why not just give the floor to Mario Lopez, who's no great shakes but at least has stage presence and the chops to keep things moving? But the real problem is the overproduction of the contestants' numbers, which look like some garish sub-Vegas sideshow and which tend to swallow the performers. Most times, it's about anything but the voice, and I think I even heard Simon Cowell say after one botched performance that it didn't really matter to him that the vocals were lacking. Huh? (I much preferred the "save-me" songs on last week's comparatively stripped-down results show, where the contestants chose their own material and got to do the song their way.) There is no question that NBC's The Voice is much fresher and more appealing. When they go head-to-head this Wednesday and Thursday, I know which one I'm rooting for.
Question: Well, it seems the networks have come up with a new way to turn off viewers. Watching Fringe this season, Fox is displaying a Twitter hashtag on the screen non-stop throughout the length of the entire episode! For instance, Friday's episode had the hashtag #ShowNoMercy. In addition to being a distraction, there is also a potential spoiler-ish element to this as well. (The previous episode's hashtag was #TurningPoint, as I recall.) I watched the previous four seasons of Fringe on DVD before starting to watch this season, because I wanted to watch the final season "live." But I'm not going to want to watch other shows "live" on Fox in the future if this is what I'd have to put up with. What's your take on this trend? — Chris
Matt Roush: It's not nearly as aggravating to me as the pop-up ads, often busily animated, which clutter the bottom of the screen on multiple networks, promoting upcoming shows. When a show's hashtag just stays put along with the see-through network logo, I can usually ignore it, but when it changes along with the storyline, as it does with Fringe, it can be distracting, I suppose. Still, given how hard it can be for any show to get noticed in today's environment, especially one on the fringes like Fringe, I can't really blame them for this kind of "hey, look at me" behavior. But if they start flashing or blinking their hashtags, or anything similarly annoying — not that I want to give them any ideas — that would require a call for action.
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to email@example.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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