Ask Matt: Upfront Fallout: 24 and "Event" Series, Parenthood, Bones, Wonderland
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Question: I'm shocked and delighted by Fox's announcement about bringing back 24, but honestly, I think this points to the future of television. It's the same thing with The Following: Give us shorter seasons, TV Gods! Seriously, 22-episode seasons just don't work for so many shows, especially the serialized ones. How much filler was there in any given 24-episode season of real-time 24? A ton, inevitably. And every other heavily serialized show you can point to is eventually going to fall back on filler episodes, or extended (and frustrating) wheel-spinning, etc. It's just inevitable, and the best serialized shows are the ones that best manage this reality: for instance, The Vampire Diaries splits its season into three or four tightly focused mini-arcs that pack as much into each mini-arc as most shows cover in a whole season. But when you cut the episode season order down to 12-13 episodes, everything changes. The entire season arc tightens up, the storytelling becomes more focused, you can draw in more talent (i.e. Kevin Bacon, who was only interested in doing a short season like this), all of it.
Cable has figured this out, but network TV is just catching on (old habits die hard). And the added benefit, which should have been the wake-up call for networks years ago is that you get so much more flexibility in your scheduling: more shows to fill more slots, fewer ridiculous hiatuses between long-running serialized shows (I'm looking at you, Revolution), and potentially even doing away with the summer dead season entirely (cable networks run successful summer shows; with DVRs, there's no reason networks couldn't have at least some new programming over the summer, or at least shorten the window between May/September). You could potentially have twice as many shows: a true fall season followed by a winter/spring season, with all the serialized shows falling into one (but not both) of those camps, and the less serialized stuff continuing to act as the glue to give the network schedules some consistency. More shows — more revenue streams, with less risk to the networks for each of those efforts, etc. Everyone wins! — Jeff
Matt Roush: All good points, although even the big broadcast networks don't have an infinite budget to produce an unending string of new and never-repeated episodes of expensive scripted product. The industry still puts a high priority on the NCIS-CSI-Law & Order style of show that can sustain a full season's worth of easily (and successfully) repeated episodes through the season. And comedies of course are known to repeat well. (Look at The Big Bang Theory.) But from a creative and critical perspective, this new trend toward short-run "event" series, using them to give longer running serialized shows a rest at midseason and reducing the reliance on repeats (which never do well for this sort of programming), is one of the most promising developments of the new season. Even CBS, the most traditional and seemingly conventional network, is sharing a time period on Mondays between Hostages (the trailer looked good) in the fall and Josh Holloway's Intelligence (ditto) in winter/spring. Let's hope the shows live up to the strategy. It's certainly encouraging to see the networks try to shake things up even a little bit.
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Question: Parenthood is one of my favorite shows. The past few years, I was disappointed with the short seasons and often worried it would be canceled by NBC. When I heard it had been renewed and for a full season (22 episodes), I was thrilled! I was less than thrilled, however, when I saw NBC's new fall schedule and that Parenthood will be up against Scandal. I love both shows and obviously I can record one and watch the other one, but with Scandal's increasing popularity I am worried NBC is dooming Parenthood by scheduling it against such a popular show like Scandal. I'm not sure how Elementary does in the ratings (I don't watch it), but it gets a strong lead-in from Person of Interest. Do you think Parenthood has a chance in this new time slot? — Dee
Matt Roush: A chance to win? No. An opportunity to improve the network's performance in the time period on a critical night? Very possibly. No matter where Parenthood airs, it's never going to be mistaken for a blockbuster hit like Scandal, but it does have a loyal and passionate following. Thematically, it may benefit by airing after a string of family-focused new comedies on NBC, and there will be a big promotional push for The Michael J. Fox Show, its immediate lead-in. (By the way, Elementary, which is very successful, will no longer be paired with Person of Interest — which somewhat ironically will move to Tuesday's 10/9c time period — but the Sherlock drama remains formidable competition as well.) The bottom line here is that NBC is sticking with Parenthood, which is a very good thing. And if things go south on Thursdays, where it's hard to imagine it getting much worse for NBC than what happened this season, there will likely be other programming options before they give up on it.
Question: I'm worried! Is Bones — now that it has been assigned to "the Friday graveyard" — on its way out? After this great run, I'd hate to see it sliding downhill towards oblivion. I'd much rather it go out in a shortened season of resolutions (and get the Hodgins money back!) than slowly decomposing. — Connie
Matt Roush: Nice metaphors! But fear not, at least not yet. I've lost count of how many times Fox has released a provisional schedule at this time of year that threatens to move Bones to Fridays in first-run at midseason (or in this case, late fall to make way for Almost Human on Mondays after post-season baseball). Given that Bones is a known quantity and delivers a steady audience, the likelihood of this actually happening is 50/50 at best. Possibly/probably less. These early schedules never take into account the possibility of failure in the fall line-up, and given that the very risky-sounding Sleepy Hollow will be airing alongside Bones when the season starts, there's a bit of hubris in suggesting that Hollow will stay on Monday while Bones is banished to Fridays. Let's not worry about this until/unless it happens, and even then, Bones will remain useful as a utility player as long as the network and studio feel it makes financial sense. But Bones is heading into its ninth season, so at some point soon the powers that be will likely need to start thinking about an end game. Though not quite yet.
Question: When word of the Once Upon a Time spin-off first started, I had heard it was envisioned as a limited series designed to air while the original series is on hiatus. And yet Once Upon a Time in Wonderland landed on Thursdays at 8/7c. Haven't the last several seasons demonstrated that nothing will stick there? Why spin off one of your most successful properties only to throw the spin-off to the wolves? I guess the thinking might be that an established brand will draw more than an entirely new show in the time period, but this is not a traditional spin-off like Private Practice in which one of the main characters of the original show is going to the spin-off, which basically means it is a new show. What is the thinking here? If Wonderland crashes and burns as so many of its precursors in the time period did, then they will have damaged the Once brand for nothing. Especially with [ABC Entertainment president] Paul Lee saying that he's going to schedule serialized dramas in uninterrupted blocks anyway, the original idea of airing the spin-off while the original series is taking a break seems like a way safer option. What do you think?
Also: What is with the exclusion of Suburgatory? The last time a once-promising comedy had its scheduling messed around with on ABC in its second season and was held for midseason the following year, TBS had to rescue it. Even The Neighbors is on Friday (thankfully it can be ignored there) and Suburgatory is totally gone, despite ending its season earlier than any other show, which means it will have a really, really long hiatus between seasons. I hope they recognize what a valuable asset Suburgatory is and intend to keep it. — Jake
Matt Roush: First, Wonderland. It is puzzling that ABC wouldn't contain the Once Upon a Time brand to Sunday and, as originally expected, air Wonderland in its place while the mothership rests between story arcs. But these Thursday time periods are important real estate, and ABC won't throw this one away on another cycle of Wipeout (less attractive to the sales department) until it's forced to. It's not lost on anyone that ABC has struggled in this time period for years (RIP, Ugly Betty, they never knew how good they had it with you), but Wonderland does have a brand name association to help sell it, and as discussed earlier with Parenthood, could help improve ABC's performance in a tough time period, even if no one expects it to dominate against hits like The Big Bang Theory. As for damaging the Once Upon a Time brand: Didn't the second season of the original show do that already?
Regarding Suburgatory: It's now officially a "bubble" show, living in limbo, which is never a happy place to be on this network. Although airing on Fridays might actually be a worse fate (sayonara, Happy Endings). But with ABC launching four new sitcoms this fall, including two on an entirely brand-new Tuesday lineup, the network is going to need some back-up bench strength, and Suburgatory could live long and prosper if it proves itself to be a reliable utility player. The same thing is happening to CBS' Mike & Molly this season, and few expect that show to be left on the shelf for long, either.
Question: I never got into Once Upon a Time; I was excited for it and tried to watch it, but lost interest around Christmas of its first year. Now I am excited about the new Wonderland spin-off. But I can't tell from the preview if it's a literal spin-off, or just a spin-off in terms of theme. Do you have any idea if it's building on the original, or is completely independent?
On an unrelated note: I have never really understood, or been able to identify, "good acting." Especially on TV I really have no idea how to judge acting ability, or what roles are more difficult. That being said: I'm really impressed by Tatiana Maslany on Orphan Black. It really seems to me that she does a fantastic job differentiating her different characters in a very believable way. What is your opinion of her performance? — John
Matt Roush: I've only seen the trailer for Wonderland, but all indications are that this is intended to stand on its own as a distinct fantasy creation — with a very intriguing madhouse framing device that doesn't exist on Once Upon a Time at all. If there are crossovers, which may be inevitable, it shouldn't inhibit enjoyment among those who are new to the franchise. Regarding gauging "good acting," all that should matter to the viewer is if the character rings true and if the actor is engaging your attention and emotions. If so, they're probably doing it right. And Tatiana Maslany is absolutely doing it right on the wildly entertaining Orphan Black. It's a tour-de-force breakthrough performance with incredible range, and if she isn't acknowledged at awards time, it will only be because of the industry disregard for fantasy TV.
Question: I just watched the NCIS: LA finale and I think this goes way too far. The last scenes were really cruel, and I heard that even executive producer Shane Brennan had to look away. What did you think of these final moments, specifically the tortures scenes? And what did you think of the finale in general? — Daniel
Matt Roush: My usual problem with shows like this is that they rarely go far enough in conveying the true danger of these missions. It was unpleasant, for sure, especially when they started drilling into Deeks' mouth — shades of the classic Marathon Man — but I'm not sure it went further than shows like 24 have done. That said, this was one of the season's more over-the-top cliffhangers, including actually dangling Sam's wife out of a window. Kind of hard for me to take it so seriously, although if they damage Deeks' smile for good, there will be hell to pay.
Question: What can you tell me about the NCIS spin-off NCIS: Red? Will it join the other two NCIS shows? Finally got a chance to watch the two-part introduction to the characters and really liked it. — Joe
Matt Roush: From all accounts, Red is dead. And to be blunt about it, I'm glad. Even a network as fat and happy as CBS can't continue to clog its schedule with countless spin-offs of hit franchises. With Law & Order and CSI down to one each, that seems appropriate. And the Red premise, involving a team solving cases around the country with a giant mobile van (hardly clandestine, that), never made sense to me, and I didn't feel much chemistry among the actors. And furthermore, while it's only purely anecdotal, most of the response in my e-mailbag was negative, including this one from Amy, who wrote in before CBS's announcement under the assumption that the network was giving this an automatic green-light:
Writes Amy, in part: "Really??? I am a fan of NCIS and NCIS: LA. I own them on DVD, I watch them during a season. So when I say this I have experience to back it up: Red Team was horrible. I forwarded almost entirely through the second part of that arc. No one speaks Spanish? Really, this is the elite team? Tony, Ziva, Gibbs, Sam, G. Callan all speak other languages, some more then one. ... I would watch John Corbett read a phone book, he is that good, but he does not fit on this show. Which is what I kept thinking during the parts I did watch. He does not belong. Someone fresher does. If CBS does not fix this show before fall, it may have its first NCIS failure." Now a moot issue
Question: This has been a great season for cliffhangers! [SPOILER ALERT for those still catching up] From our favorite NCIS team turning in their badges to protect the revered Gibbs, to the lives of their L.A. counterparts left up in the air on NCIS: LA, and did Neal (I'm guessing he is really Peter Pan) make it through the portal on Once Upon a Time? Even Beauty and the Beast (whose writing I often find to be over the top with too much killing and over-dramatic declarations of love) had a decent cliffhanger with Vincent being flown off via cargo net with unknown potential bad guys one of whom was, predictably, Catherine's biological father. So why then, do you think, Elementary opted for a two-hour finale (that was by far its best episode of the year) instead of also ending with a cliffhanger? Turning Holmes' love Irene Adler into Moriarty was brilliant and even more tragic for an already tragic hero. Revealing Moriarty's identity certainly would have drawn viewers back next year, and the second half of the last episode could have easily been a fantastic beginning of a second season. So why do you think they opted to tie it all up in a neat little bow, giving us nothing monumental to anticipate this fall? BTW: Jonny Lee Miller was captivating in this episode! — Tina
Matt Roush: If you loved the episode, and Miller's performance, isn't that enough? Frankly, the whole "cliffhanger" thing this time of year gets to be overdone, so I respect a show like Elementary in giving us a surprising and satisfying finish without contriving some sort of OMG moment that when resolved (or not) in Season 2 might leave us less happy campers. While I imagine we haven't heard the last of Moriarty, I'm glad she's not another Red John. Plus, we already know that Elementary's season opener is being filmed on location in London, so that already gives us plenty to anticipate.
Question: First, an aside about your list of the best comedies of all time: I don't think I can agree more! It occurs to me that all of these shows have something — a catchphrase or two (or 12) — that almost everyone everywhere recognizes. Even my kids, born after Seinfeld signed off, know what I am doing when I say, "No soup for you!" How special to have these cultural phenomena that are so widely appealing and enduring.
Now, to my question: It seems like everywhere I turn online, there are links for trailers to the networks' new series. I don't remember there being such a push before — or am I forgetting last year (so many new shows were terrible, perhaps that's why?) My guess is that this is how they are reaching the Internet surfers, but would love to hear your take on the whole thing. — Ann
Matt Roush: Thank you for that positive feedback. As you'll see in the next few exchanges, the usual reaction to lists like these — the Top 10 can be found here; the rest are in the current issue of TV Guide Magazine with Big Bang on the cover — is more of the "how could you forget (fill in the blank)" variety. Lists are meant to stimulate debate, and this one certainly did. To your question about early links to new-season show trailers (and eventually full pilots, depending on the network and show): This push to market the shows as soon as they're announced is relatively new, but seems more aggressive each year. There's understandable desperation to get these shows sampled and on people's radar, but to me this kind of early hype runs the risk of burning out our enthusiasm for any of them by the time the fall season rolls around.
Question: How could you leave The Office (American) off your list of 60 greatest comedies? — Anthony (via Twitter)
Question: How in the world could you not have The King of Queens? It was on for nine seasons! And you forgot Reba! — Marcia
Matt Roush: See what I mean? The Office came up quite a bit, possibly because of the timing of the list coming out just as the series went off the air. At least Anthony was polite enough not to suggest (as another did) that I was unqualified to write about TV because I ignored it. Which I didn't. I just never seriously considered it. These are subjective lists, to be sure, and nothing's more subjective than comedy, but they are also collaborative, and no editor or colleague suggested I should include this — especially at the expense of the much more brilliant Ricky Gervais original. Besides, any show that doesn't know when to call it quits and stays on way past its expiration date already has one strike against it. And while I do think the NBC version grew into its own identity and had several great seasons, when stacked up against all of the comedies over all of the various eras (and I tried to represent them all, not just the shows we like now), it just didn't measure up.
As for shows like King of Queens and Reba, I didn't forget them. Longevity was not a criterion for this list, for one thing. And if these lists are good for anything, it's to help stimulate memories of shows you may have forgotten, and rekindling your own passion for shows that might not have made the cut. With only 60 to include, I had to leave out some of my own personal favorites as well.
Question: Did CBS sabotage Vegas? Their own show. Pre-empted once a month, put on hiatus, then moved to Friday nights? Fans of Vegas tweeted, wrote feedback, Facebook posted and voted in polls that we wanted the show renewed. CBS didn't care. — Nori (via Twitter)
Matt Roush: Sabotage seems an awfully strong word. At least the network played out the entire season — but the writing was on the wall as soon as CBS decided not to return Vegas to Tuesday after its hiatus (a last-minute decision that caused an awful lot of scheduling and listings confusion). That was a clear sign that the network had given up on the show, the latest casualty of that troublesome Tuesday time period. (The network hopes it has fixed the Tuesday post-NCIS problem by moving Person of Interest there in the fall instead of trying out yet another sacrificial "lamb," no pun intended.) Social media has its place in building buzz for a show, but it would have had to surge in the ratings on Friday to survive. No one, and especially not CBS, is going to keep a show alive based on Twitter and Facebook traffic. (Well, maybe The CW.)
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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