Ask Matt: Analyzing Daisies' Wilting Ratings, Defending Grey's Creator and More!
Anna Friel and Lee Pace, Pushing Daisies
TV Guide's Senior Critic Matt Roush takes your TV questions. Have a rant, rave or burning question about your favorite show you'd like addressed? E-mail him here!
Question: I'm devastated, but not necessarily surprised, by the early ratings for Pushing Daisies. I thought it was risky of ABC to leave a show this fragile and unique off the air for so long and expect viewers to flock to its return. When I saw the ratings for Chuck, I knew that Pushing Daisies would get similar ratings because of their similar programming history. My question is three-fold. ABC promised a splashy "re-launch" for their Wednesday shows, but other than the normal promotion that goes into their fall marketing campaigns, I saw nothing overly unusual about how they promoted these shows. Yes, there were ads during ABC's higher-rated shows, but there were ads for everything else, too. Second, why didn't they release the Season 1 DVD sooner than a week prior to Season 2's premiere? Does the network have a say in when the DVD is released? Even if it was by a month, it would have allowed more viewers to see the show, especially those using Netflix (which is becoming an increasingly influential avenue to view television shows on DVD for those that don't want to shell out the cash to purchase them). Third, I know the networks have been shying away from programming low-rated repeats in the summer, but would nine repeat episodes of Pushing Daisies really have been that much lower than ratings disasters like High School Musical: Get in the Picture? Even if it would have added a million viewers to the Season 2 premiere, it could have been worth it. It's sad that something this unique, this creative and this original just can't "click" with a general public that would rather wallow in dreck like Criminal Minds, but my hope is that the demos are decent enough that it will make it through at least 12 episodes and give us fans a proper, affectionate sign-off. — Andrew M.
Matt Roush: Let's not suggest the show be pushing up daisies just yet, though the opening numbers were dismaying. I can only hope ABC won't let this delightful show go down without a fight (the same argument I've been adopting lately for Fox's struggling Terminator series). But I agree the out-of-sight, out-of-mind argument has been devastating for this show in particular. Couldn't ABC have even struck a deal with its cable offshoot ABC Family to rerun the show between seasons, even in a marathon format? (Complicating matters, possibly, is the fact that the show is produced by Warner Bros., not Disney.) Can't really comment on DVD timing issues — not my specialty — but there's a school of thought that releasing the DVD set shortly before premiere is a good promotional tool, though I agree with you that having it available earlier might have whetted the appetite. But regardless of what did or didn't happen to promote the show, the reality is that Pushing Daisies is an almost overwhelmingly distinctive show that isn't going to be to everyone's tastes. (In other words, the opposite of mainstream, which is why it's likely to struggle in a world where CBS crime dramas dominate on nearly every night.) Given its early time period, where it's being asked to jump-start a night of relatively new programming — new in the sense these shows have been off the air for nine months — Daisies is a risk, and ABC knows it. The network also knows it's a very special property, and if the Emmy attention Daisies got matters at all (I hope it does; why else do those awards matter?), then let's hope the network will be patient until after the political and baseball seasons wrap up and we get a true lay of the prime-time landscape.
Question: I was thrilled to watch last Wednesday's premiere of Pushing Daisies. It encompassed everything I love so much about the show: the beautiful writing, the witty wordplay, the colorful characters, sets and plotlines, the wonderful twists and brilliant invention. But the next day, I was quite upset and disturbed to hear about how low its ratings were. I know that practically all the new shows with strike-shortened seasons last year have been experiencing ratings drops, and I was wondering whether there's any need to be concerned yet about any of these shows' futures (Pushing Daisies and Chuck, in particular). Or, do you think the networks will have taken this viewership drop-off into account as an effect of the long hiatuses these new shows have had and give them further leeway, for a time at least. — Robert
Matt Roush: Leeway is the word. As most already know, Chuck was given a full-season order even before the show returned — a blessing given the disappointing numbers it has posted so far this season. This was a creative decision, one I applaud, that acknowledges the quality of the show regardless of how it will perform in one of the week's most difficult and overcrowded time periods. Pushing Daisies is in a similar situation, airing at an early time (albeit against generally weaker competition) and with the handicap of being both offbeat and off the air for too long. Despite what you might think, the network heads aren't dummies and they understand the challenges. Which doesn't mean they're not disappointed in how the sophomore class is currently underperforming, but it's early days still, and it's not like they have a lot of back-up options right now.
Question: While watching the most recent episode of Brothers & Sisters and seeing the youngest Walker and the former Walker sucking face, it really left me feeling kind of weird. I have to admit that I wasn't all too thrilled about Rebecca's de-Walkering last season and the thought of Justin and Rebecca bumping uglies pretty much grossed me out, but over the long summer I decided to really keep an open mind about the whole thing and see how it plays out. However, we are only two episodes into this season and watching the two of them go at it just makes my stomach turn. Am I the only one who feels this way? Could this be the reason that the two characters have decided to wait to "go all the way"? Is the network/show trying to ease us gently into this new relationship so that when/if they finally do the deed we accept it? What do you think? Are other fans accepting this relationship as it is now or are they reacting the same way I am? — Sarah K.
Matt Roush: I wouldn't speak for anyone but me, or in this case you, but I agree. This storyline is ridiculous as well as unappetizing, and just because Justin is confronting it head-on (having too many ludicrous TMI conversations with his sister about it, I might add) doesn't make it any more palatable. But honestly, the entire series so far this season has been so annoying it's hard for this element even to stand out. More than usual, the Walkers are acting like spoiled idiots — I call it the Private Practice syndrome (grown-ups acting like bratty children) — and even this fine cast is having trouble rising above such lame storylines as Kitty's "surprise" tell-all book. A year or so ago, Desperate Housewives was a way station waiting for Brothers & Sisters to come on and close the night on a high note. Now the situation has reversed. Housewives is the network show to watch on Sundays, and Brothers is becoming an "oh-brother" time-waster that's making me think I could make better use of the hour by playing back something else.
Question: What did you think of the "revamped" Private Practice? It feels pretty much the same to me, except the actors appear to be much more settled into their roles this time around. I never thought the show was that bad to begin with — it's just average compared to the complex web Grey's Anatomy has had four seasons to spin. I really buy the great cast as a group of friends, but in the face of harsh reviews, do you think the star power is enough to keep the show around for a full season and beyond? Also, do you like the ethical dilemmas angle they're using to play out the medical story lines? Is that going to be a regular thing? It might be tiresome to watch these doctors battle over treatment plans each week. As an aside, I think KaDee Strickland's Charlotte would make a better best friend for Addison. They have great chemistry in the scenes they play together. As a duo, Naomi and Addison are a bit dull, and it's nice to actually see some "drama" between them (Addison betraying Naomi to Sam) that doesn't involve crying while eating cake. — Phil
Matt Roush: Still early days, but I'm not yet convinced this show will ever live up to the promise of its cast. I'm actually hopeful that a stronger focus on morally and ethically charged medical subplots will bring some needed gravitas or at least dramatic focus to what was a sophomorically silly show. Developing the Addison-Charlotte "friendship" makes sense if they're going to have Addison spend more time in the hospital, but they need to do a better job of developing each of the characters at the Wellness Center so that you can believe and care about them as a workplace family.
Question: I'd like to know how you feel about David Letterman these days. I have been a big fan of his work for many years, going back to the very first week of his late-night NBC series in 1982. His offbeat, ironic humor has always been a welcome change from some of the drivel that passes for humor. That said, much of his humor this political season has morphed from ironic into just downright mean. Yes, I get it, he was angered (probably rightfully so) by John McCain's last-minute cancellation in the wake of the financial crisis, only to appear on Katie Couric's evening news at the same time. But that horse was beaten to an absolute pulp, and Dave's constant criticism of McCain and Sarah Palin has really crossed the line from topical political humor into what often sounds like the ramblings of a bitter, bitter old man. I know Johnny Carson was Dave's inspiration, and I'm sure Dave would be the first to admit that there will never be another Carson. But one of Johnny's strong suits that I wish today's mainstream hosts like Letterman and Leno would emulate was his good-natured, equal-opportunity political humor. Nobody was safe from being the target of his jokes, but — and here's the important part — he never went too far one way or the other. You couldn't tell from his monologues what Johnny's personal political views were, and that's what made it special. In 1976 he would make fun of Gerald Ford's perceived clumsiness, then in the next breath make a joke about Jimmy Carter as a small-town hick. The same with Reagan and Mondale, Bush 41 and Dukakis, etc. Letterman might as well be wearing a "Barack the Vote" T-shirt as he delivers his monologues and desk-side bits every night. Your thoughts? — Leonard
Matt Roush: What separates Johnny Carson from today's late-night hosts and allows him to loom so large in our fond memories is that he was first and foremost a class act, who rarely if ever devolved into the bitterness that you see in Letterman, or the vapid innocuousness others see in Leno, or the smarminess that defines Kimmel and so on. Dave's rant on John McCain, which appears to be in the process of being remedied (according to recent news reports), was pure explosive theater, and even if Letterman may have milked it past the point of endurance, that's hardly surprising. I don't see that as an endorsement of his rival, although it is also an undeniable fact this year that McCain and especially the cult of personality that has built up around Sarah Palin makes them more ripe for caricature and parody than the Obama-Biden ticket.
Question: Other than The Shield (fantastic), the best premiere I've seen this fall was The Unit. Great action, plotting and really snappy dialogue without profanity. So here's my question: With a top-notch ensemble cast, consistently good episodes and with each season improving over its last, why doesn't The Unit get more attention from critics? As far as this TV addict is concerned, that show is aces. — Robert G.
Matt Roush: The new time period on Sunday isn't going to help The Unit in the buzz marketplace, but in the bigger picture, shows like this are basically victims of CBS's overall success. Though The Unit is refreshingly different from the glut of CBS crime procedurals, it gets lumped, however unfairly, into that genre, and like the much more successful NCIS, with which it was successfully partnered until this season, it is probably seen as too mainstream to be of much critical interest. I agree this season of The Unit has gotten off to a strong start with the relocation of the reluctant spouses and the threat from terrorists who are trying to undermine the government at large and destroy the Unit from within. It will be interesting to see if this new storyline generates critical buzz, but I wouldn't count on it.
Regarding the same show, BJ writes: "I couldn't help but notice some inconsistencies in last week's episode of The Unit. The specific two I remember are when Sgt. Gerhardt answers his cell phone "Gerhardt, go." Isn't he supposed to be using his new identity so as not to tip off anyone tracking his cell phone? Also, near the end of the show, Tiffy is accosted by the older woman neighbor and a man on the balcony. When they drag Tiffy back into her apartment, the man said "We're with the Unit". How can they pass that off, because there are no women in the Unit. They are going to turn out to be some of the bad guys, aren't they? I can see it coming. What do you think?"
No real opinion on Gerhardt's phone protocol. Sloppy continuity? Nit-picking? You decide. As for the neighbors who scared Tiffy straight, I think they work for the Unit without being in the Unit. The fact that we were meant to think she had put herself in danger by blowing her cover in public, only to be lectured by these watchers, tells me the bad guys haven't yet infiltrated their new living quarters. But I could be wrong.
Question: My enthusiasm for Project Runway has waned considerably this season. First, I think it came back too soon after the last season, not giving us a long enough break in between. And the show continues to keep designers around long after their expiration date (Suede anyone?). But the last straw was the episode where Jerrel clearly won the challenge and Kenley clearly lost it. So instead of sending the "troublemaker" home, they pull a fast one, and announce that no one is in or out for Bryant Park. I know they do this every season (i.e. Santino and Wendy Pepper), but this time, it was too much. It's so aggravatingly obvious! I'd rather watch good designers make clothes than watch them bicker and fight over nothing. That's what all the other reality shows are for. — Aaron F.
Matt Roush: Couldn't agree more that, especially after she flamed out the last few weeks besides being a total pill (and unbearably rude to Tim Gunn and the judges), Kenley (who had been an early favorite of mine) should not have been spared elimination. Total cop-out. I guess the idea here was to generate some suspense for the first part of the two-part finale, but with the result of rendering the actual final challenge a waste of time if we're to always assume nothing's actually at stake.
Question: Why is everybody getting their knickers in a twist over whether or not a couple (Meredith and Derek) are going to be together forever? It would be one thing to expect it if, like some other shows, Grey's Anatomy had an end date. Since the show is still open-ended, most absolutes need to be open-ended. I don't love or hate Meredith and Derek, but I think Shonda Rhimes was right to say they were going to get together to stay for now. I was getting very weary of the "getting together, only to immediately split apart, only to immediately get back together." It was time for the writers to either put them together or split them up and mean it for the foreseeable future. However, there may come a time when a TV couple will be more interesting apart than they are together. If it is done well and results in a great, character-progressing story (rather than stirring things up just to stir and then return to normal), then even if it is a couple I love, it can still be worth watching. It is valid not to want to be jerked around, and it is also valid to want the show to own a thought. But to want a guarantee for any couple until the end of the run is not only unreasonable, it could stifle future creativity. Time to relax and be glad the show is going to tell the story of Meredith and Derek for now. — Karen L.
Matt Roush: All excellent points, and all of which underscores my ongoing philosophy that we shouldn't judge a show before we actually see how things play out. On the one hand, we have suffered through some very unfortunate periods of Grey's Anatomy, and some of the back-and-forth regarding the core couple has been aggravating, so I can understand the skepticism and cynicism. Just doesn't mean I have to approve of or agree with it.
On a similar note, Claire writes: "Thank you for your responses to the Grey's 'for now' nonsense. I agree it's silly and I don't get the hatred towards Shonda. She created the characters 'fans' claim they love, Meredith and Derek fans are getting their payoff this season, and so on. The drama on Grey's has always been delivered through the relationships since the start of the show, so I'm not getting why some would expect this to change. Just because a creator doesn't deliver the story some conjure up in their heads doesn't make her evil. I also believe a creator can change her story in the future as she see fit. It's her story to tell. I say sit back, watch, relax and enjoy the story, especially at the start of a new season. On to better things: I am in love with Mad Men! I was wondering if there has been any confirmation for a season three yet. I am really hoping that AMC will bring the show back despite the low ratings. I just can't get enough of this show!"
No confirmation of a third Mad Men season just yet, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time (and working out the deal). No way does AMC let an Emmy-winning best drama get away. And I couldn't agree more about the tone of the personal attacks delivered against those who've created the shows that engage our passions. Which leads me to the next question:
Question: I am writing in response to the fervor over Shonda Rhimes' comments about her show. I can definitely understand the frustration of the fans, and can see why they feel lied to (I myself do not watch Grey's Anatomy, so I was unaffected by the hubbub). However, it appears that fans have really lost faith in the people who run their shows. I have noticed in the past few years that more and more fans feel they should have a say in how the narratives of their favorite shows progress. The first time I noticed was when Vaughn was supposed to die on Alias, and since then, fan outrage appears more and more influential in how the show runners structure a storyline. I'm sure it must be a result of mass rant sessions on the Internet, but I fear that it has a detrimental effect on the quality of the shows. Thinking back to several of my faves, I was devastated when Fred died on Angel, but that led to the extraordinary Illyria story arc. I would have been opposed to killing Tara on Buffy, but then Willow would not have gone dark. I was emotionally disturbed and against the Dexter/Lila relationship, which turned out to be entirely necessary for wrapping up the Doakes storyline and leading Dexter to his new "calling." I should note, I don't mean to say that show runners never make poor decisions on their own, just that an increasing number of poor decisions appear to be driven by a fear of upsetting the audience, which I believe is a mistake, because we don't always know what is best for us or what will result in the most interesting storytelling. What are your thoughts? Does the audience hold more pull on television than previously, and if so, do you see this as a positive or negative change? — Katelyn
Matt Roush: The creator-fan relationship is a very complicated issue and I don't pretend to understand how show runners truly regard the fan feedback they get on the Web or otherwise — and that extends to the critical community as well, I suppose. But I have to hope that they can put it all in perspective, the fawning as well as the sniping, and focus on telling the stories they want to tell without losing sleep over the knee-jerk responses that come with the territory. I appreciate your well-chosen examples of how arcs that at first appear to be very risky or damaging to a show can ultimately result in some of their most memorable moments. I would hate to think that Internet "flaming" would have a chilling effect on show-runners, inhibiting them from taking the leaps of faith necessary to take their shows to that proverbial next level, even at the risk of occasional failure.
Question: As far as I know, there were invitations to an advance screening of the two-hour 24: Redemption prequel movie recently. If you did attend that particular screening (or any of your press friends, for that matter), would you be so kind as to publish some thoughts on the prequel? I know for this type of screening, there is an agreement for the press not to divulge too much, but perhaps it can be done with a certain amount of analysis of the prequel without delving into major spoiler territory. — Yong
Matt Roush: I did attend a recent New York screening of the 24 movie, under the understanding that it was for background only and not as the basis for a review, which I'll publish closer to the November 23 airdate. There has been plenty of reporting on the Season-7 prequel already, so I'm not spoiling anything by saying the main action happens with Jack in Africa, protecting local children from a revolutionary militia on the same day the new female U.S. president (Cherry Jones) is being sworn in stateside. It's a hectic and typically suspenseful two hours to be sure, setting up some interesting conflicts, and I was fascinated by watching Jack Bauer operate somewhere other than Los Angeles without benefit of his CTU cronies. I enjoyed it and was impressed as usual by 24's lavish production values. But the bottom line is that it served its purpose by whetting my appetite for the new season, which is pretty much why this movie exists in the first place. A very smart move on Fox's part, and I hope it pays off.