Ask Matt: Is Cloris a Dancing Distraction? Is Heroes Becoming Less Super? And More!
Question: I'm a huge fan of Dancing with the Stars. However, I need to vent. I have no problem with an 82-year-old woman being a participant of DWTS. I like old people — I am one myself. However, can you please get a message to Cloris Leachman for me? Tell her that I am embarrassed for her. Not because of her age, not because of her dancing skill, but because of her sophomoric actions that are not funny. People are not laughing with her, Matt, they are laughing at her. A funny person can also act smart and inspiring. An 82-year-old person can still have fun, dance, sing, laugh, entertain and be an active part of the world. A funny person doesn't have to try too hard, and Ms. Leachman is trying too hard. I believe that she is extremely desperate for as much attention as possible. I imagine that ABC is doing anything they can to keep her on the air in an effort to get more seniors to watch. We're watching, and ABC and DWTS both are actively embarrassing an actress who at one time was a TV icon. They should be ashamed of themselves. If they are continuing the Leachman lunacy because they think it is getting viewers, they are mistaken. This show of bad taste is losing viewers. Whoever Cloris Leachman turns to for advice should tell her to stop acting like the village idiot. Thanks, Matt, for letting me vent. I'll keep reading TV Guide for all the up-to-date information on DWTS, but I won't be able to watch ABC or support their sponsors until Ms. Leachman is off the show and they get back to dancing. — Ashley B.
Matt Roush: First off, don't fool yourself that ABC is doing anything to drum up business among the seniors. Nothing against them — some of my best friends and family members, etc. — but that demographic, you may have heard, isn't exactly advertiser-friendly, more's the pity. The issue, though, is Cloris, isn't it? She killed at the Bob Saget roast. (Watch her on YouTube.) She rocked the house on Dancing with the Stars' opening night, milking the comedy with her shameless interaction with the judges. Moments never to be forgotten in the DWTS annals. It doesn't surprise me to hear that some of her peer group, and I'm sure it doesn't stop there, are more embarrassed than amused by her antics, and the shtick is getting a bit tired, I'll agree. But this bit of stunt casting came with the acknowledgement that she's a loose cannon, and she has more than lived up to that reputation so far. I get a kick out of Dancing, but I tend to look at the show as one long grin, and there's room for at least one clown per season, at least for a while. She may not be dancing as much as being led around the stage, but she is putting on a performance (which is more than you could ever say about the dreadful Kim Kardashian). We are getting close to the point where if Cloris's gimmicky popularity keeps her on the show much longer, it will be at the expense of contestants with actual talent, and that will be a true point of contention. But doesn't it feel good to get this off your chest?
Question: Care to weigh in on Heroes? Do you find it quite mediocre in comparison to former times? With an arc entitled "Villains," one would expect a juxtaposition of good versus bad with the introduction of a series of antagonists. But I think the writers would rather have us care about Peter being trapped in Weevil's body (forgetting that Peter has spent the last year being an annoying amnesiac) than working on the themes of heroism the show has been so sorely lacking for a while now. In its defense, I'm enjoying what they're doing with Hiro and his speedster nemesis Daphne. And speaking of bad blood, Cristine Rose was the single best thing about the premiere! But there are still many holes. Doesn't Sylar's acquiring Claire's ability not undermine the "save the cheerleader, save The World" principle we were working with in season one? Wasn't the whole point of saving the cheerleader so that Sylar wouldn't become unkillable? I guess they can pin it on the so-called "Butterfly Effect" (aka scapegoat). And the insertion of Ali Larter's new personality presents us with yet another unrelatable character on the show, which doesn't help. I wish the writers would start delivering introspections into their vast array of characters and return to the stepping-stone approach of telling a story about normal individuals ascending a path to heroism, rather than simply having a load of action figures pointing at each other. — Chris
Matt Roush: To be honest, even at those times when I've enjoyed the show, I've found it to be mostly mediocre in its writing and acting, including during the overrated first season. (Production values, that's another story.) I'm not hating the "Villains" arc because I've come to peace with Heroes being a flashy but rather hollow live-action comic book that so breathlessly churns out plot it leaves little space for the kind of introspective depth — and Mohinder's hopelessly pretentious voice-overs don't count — you seem to desire. I'm enjoying Hiro's pursuit of his "nemesis" Speedster and all of the foreshadowing of his possible-future estrangement with his sidekick Ando, but otherwise, it's the same old jumble I could never understand the popularity of in the first place. This is a show with such arbitrary plotting that I can't even begin debating issues about who lives, dies and are resurrected and what it means for whoever to possess whatever powers they have at the moment. I truly do believe this is one of those shows that makes it up as it goes, which can make for a fun if incoherent ride. For the moment, I'm just settling on the "fun" part and refuse to take any of it very seriously.
Question: There has been a new term for a character on TV called the "anti-hero." I am a bit confused on this term, in that it has had such characters as Tony Soprano, Dr. House, Tommy Gavin and the cops on The Shield (haven't watched the last). Anyway, what I am confused with is that how are some of these considered 'heroes?" They don't really give anything positive back to the community, where some do. I see that they all have personality flaws which we all have, but the heroes thing is what irks me. — Glenn Z.
Matt Roush: This isn't so much a new term — anti-heroes have been around in literature and movies, etc., for a long while — as it has become a significant TV trend in recent years, especially in the wake of The Sopranos, and later The Shield, which pushed basic-cable envelopes, with the oversexed Nip/Tuck doctors and the self-destructive Tommy Gavin of Rescue Me to follow. Anticipating all of these was Dennis Franz's unforgettable Sipowicz on NYPD Blue, who was heroic beyond doubt in his pursuit of justice but in many ways a lost soul whose redemption became the backbone of that terrific series. Why this is all so notable is that TV protagonists, for most of TV's history, were supposed to be first and foremost "likable," and this new breed of lead character asks us to sympathize or least empathize with people who act horribly and often do reprehensible things, up to and including (in the case of Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey and Dexter) murder. Anti-heroes are a window into morally ambiguous worlds that TV used to pretend didn't exist. I'm sure many viewers wish TV didn't go to these dark places so frequently, but it can make for fascinating viewing.
Question: I heard a rumor over the summer that NBC will be showing shorter versions of Friday Night Lights than what DirecTV viewers will see. Do you know if there's any truth to that? — Jon
Matt Roush: It's not a rumor, it's a fact. DirecTV has even been promoting that it's airing extended, commercial-free episodes — the season premiere roughly clocked 50 minutes, considerably longer than a regular network episode — that will be trimmed for NBC broadcast. I would assume the full-length versions will be made available either online or certainly on the third-season DVDs, whenever they're released. But I'd also assume that the edited versions will not be missing any of the major moments.
Another FNL question, from Dan: "As a fan of Friday Night Lights, I have always been trying to figure out NBC's decision to place Friday Night Lights on Friday nights. It seems that during the first season of FNL, NBC was trying hard to promote FNL and they seemed to be doing well. The second season rolls around and NBC decides to put the show on Friday nights. Most viewers of the show seemed to be those who enjoy high school football. Most high school football takes place on Friday nights, so why place a show about high school football on Friday nights when most of your core audience would be out watching high school football instead of home watching a television show about it? It seems that FNL had a severe drop in viewership from Season 1 to season 2 and that is why the show almost failed. Do you think NBC's decision to place FNL on Fridays is what almost killed the show? Notice that the show is now back to Wednesday evenings."
Ancient history, and accusing NBC of trying to kill a show it has gone to great (and with the DirecTV deal, somewhat historic) lengths to keep alive is just a bit ungenerous. There's no question the Friday night time slot wasn't in Friday Night Lights' best interests, logically or otherwise. But the show's renewal for a second season was by no means a sure thing, and NBC's scheduling was intended to put it in a place and on a night where expectations would be at their lowest. Yes, it would be great if the show had been given a slot on a more heavily trafficked weeknight. But given that despite the acclaim and media attention, the show was clearly never going to become a hit, the Friday slot was realistically about as good as it was going to get. DirecTV has no such competitive issues, which is why the Wednesday time slot works for them and is such a bonus for the lucky viewer who has access to the show on satellite.
Question: Have our standards really lowered to the point that the majority of TV critics like the dull and boring time-waster Worst Week? I don't like the actors, the writing is lazy and it is a direct rip-off of Meet the Parents (which was great for almost an hour). Let's set the bar a little higher! — Mike
Matt Roush: To what, the late and unlamented Do Not Disturb? Kath & Kim? (Which I defy anyone to watch when it premieres this Thursday and think is funnier than Worst Week). Face it. Hot new TV comedy is in very short supply these days, and maybe you should forgive us for embracing something that actually made at least a few of us laugh out loud. If the ratings are a clue, and in this case they probably are (judging from the drop-off from lead-in Two and a Half Men), Worst Week is not going to be to many people's taste. It's a departure for CBS (which rarely goes well for this most traditional of networks) and an odd duck in being both a very broad slapstick what-could-go-wrong-next farce and yet being played naturalistically, in the prevailing one-camera filmed format. I happen to like the lead actor, Kyle Bornheimer, quite a bit, because he doesn't overplay it, and comes off more Charlie Brown than hyper Ben Stiller. (The similarities to Meet the Parents are lost on no one.) As his foil, Kurtwood Smith is a pro, and I don't think we're setting the bar very low when we point out these assets. But without question, Worst Week is hardly a model of sophistication, and some of the gags are painfully telegraphed (especially, in week two, Sam attacking the brother who's trying to break into the family's house). Still, there's a goofiness about the whole thing and a likability to poor Sam that makes me smile. Comedy is, as always, subjective. You should see the divergent mail I get on shows even as non-controversial as The New Adventures of Old Christine, which I wish still occupied this time period. Something tells me we may not have that many weeks of Worst Week to argue about.
Question: As the ninth season of CSI approaches, I can't help but fear a new year of Marg Helgenberger's ridiculous wardrobe. In a recent interview, I heard her bemoan the fact that she didn't have Julia Roberts' career. Well, that would be because Julia, 9 years her junior, has only dressed like Catherine Willows in two roles: a hooker in Pretty Woman and a woman constantly ridiculed for her cleavage in Erin Brockovich. Why are we supposed to believe that a forensic scientist would be able to walk around a garbage dump looking for clues with perfectly coiffed and styled hair, the make-up of a showgirl, cleavage-squeezing tops, high-heeled boots and jeans so tight that walking looks difficult? I can't help but feel disappointed that the message Marg seems to be sending is that you can be a post-40s actress and land a great, professional role, but only if you still dress like you're 25 and heading to a club. Why can't we all take a page from Helen Mirren who was wild and sexual in her "prime" a couple of decades ago, yet now manages to look classic, sexy and radiant without showing off all of her assets in one go? As a girl still in her 20s, I find it disheartening that this isn't the message that CSI's only remaining female lead is putting forward. Why does it seem like television, and this character in particular, is intent on telling us that a middle-aged woman on TV has to look like a Real Housewife of Orange County? Rather than being sexy or empowering, it just feels desperate and sad. — Victoria L.
Matt Roush: Ouch! I agree the styling of Catherine Willows verges on the ludicrous many weeks, but how is this different than the parade of babe-licious DAs on the various Law & Order franchises or the spectacle (to name another for instance) of CSI: NY's Melina Kanakaredes strolling through crime scenes with that mane of hair untamed? None of these shows or characters aims for the realism of Helen Mirren's classic Prime Suspect franchise. Why single her out, and so personally? Although admittedly it's hard to disagree.
Question: One of the nicer surprises over the summer was Swingtown on CBS. I know you weren't a huge fan of the show, and I agree with you that the series wasn't Emmy-caliber, but as a distraction from all of the Wipeouts, Japanese Games Shows and Greatest American Dogs, Swingtown did succeed in providing me with some kitschy, retro drama moments that fulfilled what TV sometimes means to do: entertain. I just got (prematurely) excited when I saw that Bravo had picked up Swingtown. Unfortunately, it was for the rebroadcasting of the original 13 episodes already shown on CBS. My questions are these: Has CBS officially canceled Swingtown? Will Bravo be producing any new episodes? And if the answers to the first two questions are a "yes" and a "no," are the actors/crew still under contract to return to the series should Showtime pick it up? — Sean S.
Matt Roush: The answer, to my knowledge, is a "no" and a "no." At the moment, the fate of Swingtown has not yet been determined, either on CBS or Showtime or anywhere else, but Bravo's acquisition is purely a second-run window for a show the channel feels would be compatible with its own campy lineup. Bravo has no intention of producing fresh episodes, but the additional exposure and promotion Swingtown is likely to get on Bravo has to be seen as a plus.
Question: There clearly must be something magical about Mondays. What is it with the insistence of every network to schedule all of their decent shows on Monday evening? In just the one night, I am expected to watch Prison Break, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Heroes, How I Met Your Mother and now Chuck as well. Yet, come Wednesday, the schedule is about as interesting as Paris Hilton reading a book entitled "The Future of Plumbing". I can't be the only person who shares an interest in these same shows, so would it hurt to spread them out a bit, please, people? — Craig R.
Matt Roush: The Monday battleground has been a very popular topic so far this season, and now that nearly everything is in place — with only NBC's My Own Worst Enemy (premiering next week) a no-show so far — the dilemma is becoming even more pronounced. I'm with you that a few of these shows should be given a chance elsewhere on the schedule, and Wednesdays would seem a likely option for both NBC and Fox. I'd love to see Fox try pairing the imperiled Terminator at 9/8c after Bones, now that the comedy block has collapsed, and Chuck could be rescued as well from this logjam. (As I've previously suggested, hammocking Chuck between Deal or No Deal and a rescued Law & Order would be one solution, once Knight Rider and Lipstick Jungle, neither of which deserved a fall slot, are kicked to the curb.) This is all backseat amateur programming, of course, but it's hard not to play the game when you look at the landscape and make the common-sense observation that Mondays are entirely too full and Wednesdays entirely too empty. One explanation why Mondays are so busy is that the networks (Fox, CBS and NBC in particular) use their Sunday football franchises to heavily promote programming for the following night. The problem is: Most football fans are already engaged with Monday Night Football over at ESPN, and football fans are notoriously fickle when it comes to luring them to most scripted programming of any sort.
Question: A lot has been mentioned by you and others about the overcrowding on Monday nights, especially in the 8 o'clock hour. Chuck and the CBS comedies are must-DVR's for me, but I also love Sarah Connor. My situation is further complicated by the fact that I work nights and thus don't have the option to watch one and record two. I would hate to see any of these shows canceled (either mid-season or before next year) because they were simply in the wrong time slot. With that foundation, I have a couple of related questions. First off, do networks take the level of competition into account when looking at a show's ratings and deciding whether to keep it or axe it? Also, how are the number of people who DVR a show counted? How about those who stream them online? Is there enough evidence out there to support streaming a show online later versus DVR-ing it when it comes to the effect on how a network views its survival chances? — Davey Y.
Matt Roush: It's all very complicated and still a work in progress in terms of how all of this data is analyzed, but it's fair to say that all of these factors are taken into account, and no one in the business is blind to the challenges of any show breaking out in this time period — especially when a 500-pound gorilla named Dancing with the Stars is dominating the competition. DVR viewership within a week of the airdate is counted, though it takes more time to measure than the standard overnight Nielsens, and online streaming is also becoming more of a factor in terms of gauging a show's following. But even so, if a show isn't pulling its weight where it most matters, in prime time with live viewership, it's fair to assume its commercial viability (including where ad dollars are concerned) will be called into question. I can't imagine this Monday mess won't claim at least a few casualties.
Question: I was wondering who decides which shows post full episodes online. I ask because the traffic jam that is Monday night (with someone who doesn't have a DVR and is working with the old VCR) prevents me from watching The Big Bang Theory live. Currently, CBS is not posting full episodes online but only clips of the show, which is a disgrace given how great this little-known gem is. I admit that in the interest of instant gratification — since the CW refuses to post Gossip Girl episodes online until Sunday or even Monday — I always watch this guilty pleasure live so I don't have to wait a week to catch up. I am reduced to watching grainy versions of Big Bang online when CBS could be inundating me with ads online in exchange for viewership. I'm not complaining, since it is truly fun to have so many shows I enjoy watching. Really, when were Mondays ever this packed? — Alice
Matt Roush: As far as I know, these are contractual matters, and the whole idea of making shows available online has been a sticking point in those ugly labor negotiations from guilds who aren't all that keen on giving away the store for free, so to speak. There's an upside in giving shows this extra exposure, but also a downside in giving viewers more options not to watch things live, which is where the money still is. For the most part, but certainly not exclusively, the shows most likely to be streamed on a network website are those the network's parent company owns. The fact that The Big Bang Theory is produced by Warner Bros., not CBS/Paramount, may have something to do with its unavailability online, but I'm not an expert on this. The good news is that Big Bang is the kind of show, unlike many nowadays, that tends to air repeats, so you will eventually have more chances to catch these episodes, which I, of course, highly recommend.