Zero Hour

Question: Zero Hour canceled. OK. I get it. The ratings were too low in that time slot. But then I don't get it. This was, what, a planned 10-episode season? Three down, seven to go. It was always planned to be a mid-season short-run program. Aren't all the episodes already filmed and ready for broadcast? So the ratings are so low that they are willing to call it a complete loss? And execs think that reruns will generate more revenue in that same slot against the same competition? If you are losing the time slot ratings already, how does airing reruns change that result? And why not move shows like this to Saturday? They have already given up on Saturday programming as it is. At least let seasons like this run their course. — Joe

Matt Roush: I received similar questions from as far away as Brazil about this situation. And while my take on this mess involves asking a bigger question — Why did ABC greenlight such an unpromising heap of ludicrously overheated poppycock in the first place? — the reality is that Zero Hour was shedding audience every week, and while nothing's going to stop the bleeding against hits like The Big Bang Theory and American Idol in what has become a Thursday death slot (Ugly Betty, we miss you!), it probably is easier to sell established reality properties like Shark Tank and Wipeout at a lower risk, because each has at least a core following in the right demographic. I'll be surprised if ABC doesn't schedule a show of this sort in the 8/7c hour on Thursdays next season, because it's clearly not hospitable to dramas of any sort. (I still think ABC yanked Last Resort prematurely, but that's another story.) I have read some reports that suggest Zero Hour may join 666 Park Avenue as a possible summer offering, and I agree that burning the episodes off on Saturdays (or at least making them available online, as has been done before) is a better option than just having it disappear mid-story.

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Question: I know you will probably give me your stock answer about "ships" and the realities of TV business, but don't you think the break-up of Sara and Grissom on CSI was unusually cruel to the long suffering fans of this couple? I know William Petersen won't be back on the show, but would it have been so bad to keep him off-screen like he has been, and let the writers keep their marriage safe and in the background? It's a procedural, for heaven's sake, not Grey's Anatomy. And their fans would be content to at least know they have a good, albeit non-traditional marriage. This just seems so harsh to me. There was a carefully constructed arc for their story over 12 years; in a few episodes it seems to be completely destroyed. The show will probably not be around much longer, so why? They seem to not care about their old loyal fans, and certainly have disregarded the avid GSR fanbase. I know it's silly to get caught up in fictional 'ships (and this is the only one I ever became invested in), but this one seemed like it would really make it after that wonderful final scene of Grissom and Sara in the jungle. Now it's just ... ugh ... so frustrating. It taints the whole series for me, and certainly erases Petersen's wonderful exit arc. — Jan

Matt Roush: I'm not sure how wonderful or satisfying Grissom's exit arc was — the show never really recovered from losing him — and I always found this off-camera relationship puzzling and a bit off-putting, but I'm more upset to think I have a "stock answer" for this sort of thing. Because I do think you have a point where this show and these characters are concerned. At least Nick was able to express the feelings I imagine so many longtime CSI fans have, that we accepted and perhaps even embraced the idea of the Sara-Grissom marriage because it sustained a connection, however tenuous, with the show's most beloved character. I may not be as upset as the "shippers" about the dissolving of the marriage — how many long-distance relationships ever work? — but the way it was addressed so off-handedly, keeping the drama of the split off-stage as usual, would have to be a letdown to anyone who has an investment in these characters. That said, I thought Jorja Fox did a fine job expressing Sara's sadness and loneliness, even in the context of yet another episode in which a crime-solver is accused of a crime she so clearly didn't commit.

Question: The Americans had become one of my must-watch shows after the first episode. The second was OK. But when we learn that Elizabeth, the cold fish, has been having an affair with Gregory for 15 years, was a pot smoker and had been playing Philip, who was depending on her for his life, I was as mad and hurt as Philip was. Their relationship is as important as the spy stuff and now I won't believe a word she says. I wonder if she knew Granny was going to kill the baby's mother and send him to an old couple in Russia! The writers really blew it. It isn't reasonable to believe that a dedicated KGB officer would be diverted from her mission to join the civil rights movement, to prefer an American traitor that would kill a young mother and her baby to her handsome Russian husband whose first priority is his family. He should turn her in to the FBI and become a spy for America or have her re-assigned to Gregory and sent from her nice suburban life to the crime-ridden part of town where Gregory lives. Keri Russell is a beautiful woman, but on the show she looks like a dried-up prune. I like to see how accurate life is portrayed in 1961 and 1982. I don't like my characters to suddenly change from what I was led to believe they are. If they change Philip to an unsympathetic character too, I won't watch any more. — Nadine

Matt Roush: Let me remind you that you are watching a show about people whose entire lives are built on lies, on a network well known for challenging the audience by presenting its main characters in very unflattering lights. Among the aspects of The Americans that is most interesting to me is that it dares to subvert gender expectations by making Elizabeth the badass, the hard-liner, the zealot, while Philip is generally the softer touch, the one for whom making these impossible choices seems to come harder. Even so, Keri Russell a dried-up prune? Are we watching the same show?

Question: I believe that Southland is probably one of the most underappreciated shows on television. Every week my heart is pounding and the stories they tell are so amazingly realistic. The two major characters driving the show are Ben and Cooper. I really want to know whether a reunion between Cooper and his former "boot" is in the works. I've been waiting to see these two get together since last season and I am getting impatient. — Jess

Matt Roush: If such a storyline is forthcoming, I'd as soon be surprised by it than have it spoiled, so let's see how it plays out. But should Ben and John Cooper not be paired up again, that for me would be yet another example of how Southland favors realism over pandering cliché. Cooper is a training officer, and while the chemistry between Michael Cudlitz and Ben McKenzie was sensational, that's the past. Although there are any number of storylines that could find them getting in each other's business, and that would make more sense. Either way, I couldn't agree more that Southland has evolved into one of TV's most riveting police dramas, transcending the procedural format, and it's a shame more aren't watching.

Question: I really wanted to like The Following. I still want to like it. Last week's episode had all the trademark tension and back-story of the previous five episodes. It was also like the previous five in that yet once again the entire FBI team is outmaneuvered. I don't expect the entire situation to be resolved, but a few small victories to wipe a wee bit of smugness from Joe Carroll would be nice. Please tell me that we will start to see a few more small successes in the weeks to come. This show is starting to give me that giddy dread that Battlestar Galactica did. I stuck with that drama and for now I'm sticking with this one. But even BSG dropped in some hope every three or four shows. — Lee

Matt Roush: Joe Carroll as Cylon, I like it! But seriously, you're hardly the only one to raise this red flag. Mike wrote in to remark on how "conveniently there were always Joe's cult followers where needed to help the boy get away," concluding that if this keeps up, "I will not continue to make it part of my must-see TV watching." And Jason more pointedly declared, "Did all the CTU agents get reassigned to law enforcement in the mid-Atlantic states? The whole alphabet soup of FBI, ATF, SWAT, HRT, etc., have the bad guys surrounded in two locations and all four bad guys and their primary hostage get away. Really? I haven't seen law enforcement this bad since 24."

I don't entirely disagree — how many plants does Carroll have lying in wait to ambush the good guys, because that trick is already getting tired — but to play devil's advocate a bit, I did enjoy how Ryan Hardy was able to mess with the kidnappers' heads and rescue the grocery-store hostage, causing serious damage to Paul along the way while killing Hank the week before. Small wins, maybe, when little Joey is still in awful Emma's clutches. But it does feel like piling on when in the middle of this high-alert situation, the tables are turned by both the local female cop and the thugs who take down the SWAT team before invading the house. It ultimately begins to feel silly. I'm not as frustrated as Lee yet, because these are early days and Joe's "plan" is still unfolding, and from the start, The Following has established itself as a show with a decidedly mean streak, so I imagine few victories will come without a price, which I'm OK with. The trick for this show is how to keep the twists coming without feeling as repetitive and ridiculous as it did last week.

Question: I know Lost did not invent the "flashback" device, but the show used it in one of the most effective ways on TV and then continued to reinvent how it was being used throughout the show's run. Since then, it seems like more and more shows are using flashbacks as an ongoing part of the narrative. Off the top of my head there's Revolution, Once Upon a Time, The Following, plus some aspects of Scandal, Person of Interest, the flash-forwards in Golden Boy, and so on. Some of them are effective storytelling, but do you think it's becoming a little too common or a storytelling crutch? It's gotten so that I half expect any new drama to have some sort of flash-framing device. — Larry

Matt Roush: Good observation, but I wouldn't necessarily call this a crutch. Some of these shows are among the most enjoyable on TV right now, in part because of the way these devices help the writers shake up the storytelling. (I often noted during the first half of Revolution's season that I found the flashbacks more compelling than the real-time quest story.) If they were all using time jumps in the same way, it might worry me more. Once Upon a Time's leaps aren't just temporal but between worlds, and the framing device of Golden Boy distinguishes it from the typical CBS procedural, foreshadowing the darkness in this hero's journey. In other cases, a flashback is just a flashback, and when last week's Following gave us a flashback within a flashback to dramatize Agent Parker's family connection to a cult, that was more than a bit distracting from the main action. The gimmick that gives me most pause is when an episode opens on a bit of action, and then we cut to "two days (or hours) earlier" — but even then, a show like Southland uses this set-up every week, and because it tends to illuminate character more than incident, I'm OK with it.

Question: Was the recent episode of Person of Interest that guest-starred Sarah Shahi a back-door pilot? I found the episode to be fantastic, and if they were going to spin it off, I would watch it in a second. — Mike

Matt Roush: My understanding is that she will return later this season as part of an arc, with the potential of being integrated into the larger world of the show, not unlike the equally appealing recurring character of Zoe, played by Paige Turco. At the moment, a spin-off doesn't appear to be on CBS' development roster, but that doesn't mean it's out of the question. We already know CBS isn't shy about offshoots of its most successful franchises, but Person of Interest is awfully offbeat, so I'm not sure it lends itself to this quite as easily.

Another POI fan, Tommy, writes in to observe: "The last half-dozen episodes have been spectacular. Excellent writing and storytelling that has exceeded even The Good Wife, in my opinion. Moving on from the Elias storyline last season to a broader exploration of The Machine has really raised the bar this season. Is there a smarter series on network TV today? Does that bode well for renewal?"

Matt again: Person of Interest is way too young, and way too good, to have to worry about cancellation anytime soon. It's also too different from The Good Wife for me to want to declare one "smarter" than the other — let's just be glad that a network as successful as CBS can support both of them.

Question: I read somewhere that Law & Order: SVU, among a list of other shows, has lost ratings this year, which really surprises me, and I guess there's a chance the show could face being cut from NBC's schedule. I can only say that SVU, which had become so predictable and just plain stale, totally reinvented itself when Stabler's character was written out of the show two seasons ago. There must have been a change in writers as well as the new cast members added, because the storylines became so much fresher, and this show just seemed like a brand-new totally fresh product. I can't remember when I've seen such a totally successful transformation of a program. I hope NBC doesn't give up on this quality show and that people who might have quit watching it when Christopher Meloni left SVU will give it a look. I can't believe they will be disappointed. — Gretchen

Matt Roush: SVU is hardly alone among NBC shows, and network TV in general, in suffering significant ratings declines this season. If NBC does drop the show, which is by no means a certainty, it would be more a reflection of its cost than its quality. I agree there have been quite a few standout episodes in the post-Stabler era, since Warren Leight took over as show-runner in the 13th season, and as always the show attracts a very high caliber of guest stars, but you might be in the minority thinking SVU is better off since Stabler left.

Question: Do you think the declining ratings of Glee will finally force the show to reduce the massive cast size for a fifth season? — Traci

Matt Roush: It wouldn't surprise me. Ryan Murphy has teased there will be more changes next year, which seems inevitable after this weirdly disjointed transitional season, and whether that means more of a focus on the original core characters who've made it to New York — which makes the most sense — and fewer cameos by those who've taken a different road, and what that would mean for the folks and students back in Lima, or for the new set of graduates, all remains to be seen.

Question: How does it look for Go On to make it another season? I love Matthew Perry. He is so funny and the rest of the characters are wonderful. I know it's a tricky subject, dealing with a group of people going through major life changes or loss, but I find something in it that makes me laugh. I watch reruns in the morning as I get dressed for work to start my day with a smile. I guess I can relate to the people, although I haven't had a spouse die like Perry's character. I have had to go through my own "life changes" and mourning in different ways. Please tell me it is coming back. — Melissa

Matt Roush: I can't guarantee it, but the odds are favorable. Go On started off strong, helped by airing behind The Voice on Tuesdays in the first half of the season. Like most everything else on NBC, it has suffered erosion lately, but the fact that audiences found it at all, plus the Matthew Perry factor, should keep it going on at least for a second year. As we like to say in our office, they can't cancel everything.

Or can they?

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