Maura Tierney
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 would never argue that ER is "Must See TV" as it was in its glory days, and I don't disagree with your recent comments about the "miserable and morose" characters and situations. The past few years, ER has been a show that typically piled up on my TiVo for a few weeks before I'd catch up on a Sunday afternoon. However, after last week's farewell to the character of Abby Lockhart, I'm reminded of two aspects of storytelling ER has always done exceptionally well: character development and emotional resonance. Take the character of Archie Morris. If I recall correctly, you were particularly critical of Morris when he joined the show, and I was right there with you. I couldn't stand him. Yet over the years, the writers and Scott Grimes have developed this callow, irresponsible loudmouth into a committed friend and doctor, and a man I truly root for. Despite the many depressing traumas and dramas — which can certainly be a bit much — it's the development of the characters and the superb acting that has kept me as a viewer. The casting department certainly deserves kudos for excellence in choosing everyone from George Clooney right down to the smallest of the multiple guest roles each week. Now, the emotional resonance. It's impossible to count how many times ER has made me cry over the years, but let's just say I've reached for the Kleenex on many, many occasions. In this final season, they are using bittersweet nostalgia to their best advantage. The scene where Haleh and Abby looked at the wall of nameplates of doctors and nurses past conjured up many memories of names I'd forgotten, and those I hadn't. After everything they've been through, seeing Luka and Abby ride off into the sunset together reminded me why I've stuck with this show, and made me glad I have. I certainly don't bemoan the fact that this is the last season, and I wish networks wouldn't beat great shows into the ground. I hope ER goes out on a high note. The show, and the fans, deserve it. — Keira

Matt Roush:
Maura Tierney as Abby Lockhart was the last best reason to keep watching this show, and I'm pleased to hear (through co-workers and several other e-mails) that this episode did her justice. It's way too late for ER to be able to boast about "going out on a high note," but the most we can hope for are episodes like these that will satisfy the loyal fan and give them the emotional payoffs they deserve. I agree the show has generally done a great job with casting, including finding terrific actors to replace those who go through County General's revolving door, but then letting them down in recent years with subpar and grindingly downbeat material. Sorry, the character of Archie is still a deal-breaker for me.

Question: After watching the season premiere of Eli Stone, I have to say I'm somewhat concerned. I loved the first season of the show precisely because of the balance it struck between faith and skepticism. While the viewers could deduce that there was something more to his visions than simple hallucinations, the characters on the show could not. It was engaging to watch all of the characters affected, particularly Eli, as he struggled over the question of what his visions meant: whether he had some greater purpose or whether they were simply a product of his potentially fatal medical condition, and whether this possible greater purpose was worth losing those closest to him. This is a question which all of us can relate to in some way. This season, based on the season premiere, it seems as if they're going in a different direction. Any doubt about the nature of his visions has essentially been removed (not only from Eli, but from most of the crucial secondary characters as well), and with it, most of the genuine internal conflict of the show. Is this a sign of things to come? Have they switched from a complex question of faith to a simple question of whether Eli is strong enough to do God's work? — Alex

Matt Roush: I'm more concerned with the show's sagging ratings than I am with its content, but maybe they're connected. For me, Eli Stone is all about taking a leap of faith, both on the part of the characters and the viewer. While the show now has made it clear that Eli's visions are spiritual and not medical in nature (as if there were ever really any doubt), I don't think it's simplified the situation at all. How he fulfills his mission, and at what cost, are still pretty potent plot points. There may be less conflict between him and some of his co-workers, but there will still be plenty of fallout between Eli, his followers and the outside world, including in the courtroom and the boardroom. The first season was about getting those closest to Eli (his brother, secretary, boss, ex-fiancée) to accept what's going on, not unlike how the first season of The Closer was about Brenda Leigh winning over her Priority Homicide squad. The canvas is now a broader one. I only hope the show gets a chance to fully explore it.

Question: Have we really seen the last of Sara Sidle on CSI? Last week's ending of Episode 2 was heartbreaking. The creators have invested years hinting at, building up and finally revealing the relationship between Gil and Sara. I appreciate that it hasn't been all hearts and flowers, but now that Petersen is leaving the show anyway, why not let these two tortured characters have a happy ending together? — Patrice

Matt Roush: There's still a way to go before Grissom takes his final bow, and it's not in my nature to spoil any details of his final chapters even if I could. But an editor here who oversees CSI was told before the season began that Jorja Fox was set to appear in three episodes, so given that she walked away (rather powerfully, I thought) at the end of the second, there's a probability she'll be back at least once more before Gil's story is fully told. Whatever happens, I would imagine his and her fate will be left rather open-ended.

Question: I am totally addicted to HBO's True Blood and loving every moment of it. After the show started, I read a bunch of the Charlaine Harris books, and I see that Alan Ball is following an outline of the events in the book but fleshing out the characters, particularly the intensity of the love story between Sookie and Bill. Ball and Stephen Moyer have made Bill much more "human," and we are all falling in love with him. I think Ball is making the story much more enjoyable than the books. The problem I see is this: As the books proceed, Bill is basically phased out as Sookie moves onto other "boyfriends" from the supernatural world. I am hoping that Alan Ball won't do that to Stephen Moyer's Bill. I'm sure there are lots of fans of the show that want Bill and Sookie to be together for "eternity." According to many websites, fans are coming back each week for their love story. — Lori

Matt Roush:
Funny how you bring up addiction, since that's another undercurrent to the show (Jason getting hooked on V-juice) that Alan Ball has played up more than it is in the books (at least in those I've read so far). What I'm hoping is that True Blood will go the path of Dexter, and after producing a first season that follows the introductory book fairly closely (but by no means with slavish devotion), it will then chart its own path and use the world Charlaine Harris created to tell its own stories. I can't imagine, given the chemistry between Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer, that the show will do anything to diminish that in seasons to come. At the same time, tempting Sookie with other supernatural diversions could provide a source of juicy conflict. I'm also hoping that the show stays closer to Bon Temps than the next few books did (which took her and Bill to Dallas and Jackson, Mississippi).

Question: A viewer recently wrote in wondering where all the family shows have gone. While it does seem that the "Big 3" are more focused on chasing after other demographics, I feel that the CW should be thanked for hanging onto a gem like Everybody Hates Chris. It's a small show that gets little notice and hardly attracts the scores of tweens and teens than other shows the CW heavily promotes, but it has a true heart of gold and is a wonderful throwback to classics like The Wonder Years. It also should be commended for another reason: Its cast and creative team are African-American, something sadly lacking on the other networks as well. While many shows like Pushing Daisies and Ugly Betty may appear to be family friendly, their themes are decidedly adult and not intended for younger viewers. What I love about Everybody Hates Chris is that it provides a good model of what modern family viewing should aim for. So please recommend this show to the reporter to whom you spoke with. I'm sure they will grow to love Everybody Hates Chris, too! — L. Wagner

Matt Roush: Any discussion of family TV today should include Everybody Hates Chris, and I'm sorry I left that out. Last week's episode, with its loving (if broad) homage to The Cosby Show, just reinforced how much has been lost by network TV's neglect of the family audience. (The CW banishing Chris to Fridays, where it's predictably dying, isn't helping matters.)

Question: There has been a lot of talk lately about the character of Ryan on Brothers & Sisters. And with that, actors' names have been thrown around as casting suggestions. What's interesting to me is that no one has mentioned any actor's names that aren't caucasian. While I completely understand that it's a normal, logical leap, wouldn't it be an interesting dynamic to add to a show that tackles family issues in a real way and challenges what truly makes a family unit? Look at where Brothers & Sisters is set: LA is one of the most racially diverse places in the world. Ryan could easily be of mixed race: African American (Gaius Charles), Asian American (Ivan Shaw), Hispanic American (Jay Hernandez), just to name a few. What are your thoughts, if any, on the potential for the new Walker sibling to be of mixed race? — Jeramie

Matt Roush: Would you accept invisible as an option? (This storyline comes close to the Rebecca-Justin canoodling as my least favorite part of the show right now.) As reported earlier this week, it looks like the show may have found its Ryan, and he looks pretty vanilla to me. I agree that if he were of a different ethnicity, that would be an interesting and refreshing twist on what we already know about the late William Walker's secret life. (Although the baby photo that helped reveal Ryan's existence to his half-sibs last season was an early give-away that this isn't where the story was going.) It's not as if the show isn't somewhat diverse: racially in the guest arc featuring Danny Glover last season, and more notably in the storylines involving Kevin's sexual orientation at home and at work. But like most shows, it could do better to reflect the part of the world in which it lives (including depicting some of those who work for Ojai Foods).

Question: I am thrilled that NCIS is moving up in the ratings. It is a great show. The episode which introduced us to Jackson Gibbs, Jethro's dad, was one of the best episodes I have seen. It also showed us flashbacks of how Gibbs met Shannon, his murdered wife, for the first time. Finally we know how the rules originated and how truly special the relationship between Gibbs and Shannon was. It brought tears to my eyes. Have I mentioned I love this show? — Susan

Matt Roush: NCIS has been a major hit for quite a while, but this season, it's even more noticeable because it's performing so well against Fox's monster hit, House. (NCIS wins in total viewers, while House has the edge in the younger demos.) I agree about the Jethro-goes-home episode, and the casting of Ralph Waite (Papa Walton) as his dad couldn't have been more TV-perfect.

Question: So here we are on Saturday night and there are one or two lame new shows. Did network TV give up on Saturdays? On the other hand Sunday has so many shows on at the same time that I have to torrent on Mondays to see six or seven shows I have missed. I used to be disgusted, now I'm just amused! — Ron

Matt Roush: The "lame new shows" you spotted on Saturday must have been replays from shows that aired earlier in the week. With the exception of Fox's true-crime shows and CBS's 48 Hours Mystery, no one's producing original material for prime time anymore and haven't for years. (CBS was the last to give up the ghost.) The networks did give up, conceding the night to cable, movie rentals, whatever it was that kept people away from network TV. And to think the night used to host some of TV's biggest hits, from CBS's all-star comedy lineup of the '70s to NBC's successful run with The Golden Girls. Now insiders are taking bets on how long the networks will continue aggressively programming Friday nights, where the numbers are weakening by the year. For some networks, like Fox, it's pretty much considered a graveyard night — which is why fans freak every time the network threatens to move Bones there. (Thankfully, the show's doing so well now on Wednesdays that isn't likely to happen, even when American Idol comes roaring back.)

Question: You recently wrote about Pushing Daisies' too-early 8 pm/ET time period, and I think this is the problem. Daisies may be wholesome, but it's too smart and bizarre (the candy cane-colored morgue, for instance) for the 8 pm slot. This is a show that would appeal to the Boston Legal crowd and is what should have replaced Boston Legal at 10 pm Wednesdays (although why Legal had to suffer yet another move is beyond me). With the TV ratings system pointlessly but firmly in place, the fact that the networks stick to the decades-old "8 pm equals family time, 10pm equals adult time" concept is ridiculous. If Private Practice has all the young female fans that Grey's Anatomy has, then 8 pm would work for that show. And, since it is, in theory, ABC's biggest show of that night, why not kick off the night with it? — Keith

Matt Roush: As previously discussed, the family hour isn't what it used to be (in fact, by all appearances it's mostly obsolete), but asking shows like Pushing Daisies and Chuck to kick off their respective nights in the first hour of prime time just because they're light in tone fails to acknowledge the adult appeal of shows that are this cleverly executed. Daisies is in a real bind: It's airing too early for many to find it, but if it were given a more sturdy lead-in and lost too much of that audience, then even more red flags might go up. That said, I don't see Private Practice (with its relatively steamy content) being moved to an earlier time period. It's what's considered a "tent pole" for the night and would more likely be moved later, theoretically to boost audience for the local news. (And while this is the point where people tend to write in that scheduling strategies are immaterial in a DVR world, it still plays a part in deciding many shows' fate.) I just hope that before ABC gives up on Daisies, which I'd love to think it won't, the network tries something, anything, to boost its visibility.

Question: I was sort of intrigued by The Starter Wife last year when it first hit the scene, but I find myself a fan this year as it begins a regular set of episodes. The cast is full of some great people, but why do you think this part for Debra Messing, besides being a tour de force, resonates particularly when it's set in an area of life most of us have only seen on TV? I must admit that I'm also a big fan of Joe Mantegna and I know he's tied to Criminal Minds this year, but will he figure into this series prominently? As a writer of journals myself, the episode about the journal being splashed around the Internet is just so relevant right now. — Barbara L.

Matt Roush: Like you, I'm enjoying this more as a series than I did as a miniseries. The role's a perfect fit for Debra Messing, and I'd guess why Molly resonates, despite the opulence of the world in which she operates (Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Malibu) and the outrageous fabulousness of her friends, is that the premise of the show makes her an outsider as a consequence of her divorce, and who can't relate to that? There's a lot of wish fulfillment to The Starter Wife, as you'd expect in any romantic comedy, and while Molly isn't suffering nearly as much as most people in the real world, who would want her to? She's still lost something, and that no doubt makes her very appealing and sympathetic to the target viewer. As for Joe Mantegna's character: I'd be surprised to see him return, given his other series commitment. (Well, color me surprised. After this item was posted, USA Network rattled my cage to inform me that Joe Mantegna in fact will reprise his role of studio boss Lou Monahan for three episodes starting in mid-November. His storyline will involve a new character played by Jane Leeves, who's been much missed since her Frasier heyday.)