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Question: I was just watching Human Target, and as someone who lives in San Francisco, I was wondering how often shows are actually shot on location and what are the factor conditions. I get a San Francisco vibe from Human Target, which I didn't get from Monk. Both Dexter and Burn Notice take place in Miami, but I usually get more of a Los Angeles vibe from Dexter. Many shows have episodes that take place at universities and I swear I am always looking at the UCLA campus.
Obviously Law & Order actually filmed in New York, but there is an acting pool and tax benefits to doing that, and it is really really obvious when they try to make Los Angeles look like New York City. I also assume Hawaii Five-0 is shot in Hawaii, because that can't easily be faked, and I know other popular shows, Lost in particular, were shot there. When I think of a show like Supernatural, which is in a new place every episode, I assume it's all sound stages and back lots. The Mentalist is supposedly headquartered in Sacramento, and has episodes set all over California, but again everything looks like the outskirts of L.A. So when it comes to shows like The Defenders (Las Vegas), Psych (Santa Barbara), Grey's Anatomy (Seattle), Justified (small town Midwest), what city am I actually watching, or is everything just sound stages and stock footage with sweeping city landscapes? — Pallas
Matt Roush: It really depends on the show, but you're right that in most cases, TV is faking it. (Surprised?) Human Target, like many shows (including Psych and Supernatural from your question), is shot in Vancouver, for financial reasons as well as the fact that the city and its environs can look like just about anyplace. Most shows that are filmed in California but pretend to take place elsewhere (the CSI shows, Dexter, The Mentalist, Grey's Anatomy, Castle, etc.) often visit the actual locations at least once a year to do second-unit work and ground the regulars in the real setting, at least momentarily. Justified filmed its pilot in and around Pittsburgh (passing for Kentucky), but the regular series was filmed in California (and you could have fooled me). But when a show is filmed on location, it's usually a very good thing. Burn Notice is an excellent and rare example. It is filmed in and around Miami, and it shows (in the colors, the settings, and the fact you can actually see the characters perspire). Hawaii Five-0 of course is shot in Hawaii, and its natural beauty has also come in handy for shows like Lost and the upcoming Off the Map (where it doubles for the South American rain forest). Sometimes the production choices are peculiar, but happen for either monetary reasons or because, in the case of a show like The Good Wife, that's where the star lives and prefer to work. Wife is set in Chicago, but is filmed in and around New York—which always makes me wonder why they didn't just set the show in New York or New Jersey, given that corruption and scandal are just as common there. Whereas Fox's upcoming The Chicago Code was filmed on location in the Windy City, making me that much more eager to see it.
Question: While Friday Night Lights continues to be one of my favorite shows, despite the recent Jerry Springer moment at Julie's dorm, I feel kind of gypped about Landry. Last we saw him, Julie left him getting drunk at The Landing Strip the day before he was to leave for college. Is that it? That's the ending we get for him? While he wasn't as centralized a character as Matt Saracen, he was no less loved by us, the fans, and speaking as a fan, I say he deserves better than J.D. McCoy and Santiago. Please tell me if you know anything about him or any of the other moved-ons coming back during these precious last few episodes. I have a feeling we might be seeing Tim Riggins out early for good behavior at the very least. — Gene
Matt Roush: You should know by now that this column isn't the best place to come for spoilers, but here's our most recent story about what to expect as Friday Night Lights winds down. You will see Landry again, along with many other beloved characters, before the final chapter is written. (And oh how I wish it didn't have to be.) But to address your criticism, one of the things I most appreciate about FNL is that it doesn't give all of its characters "endings." Landry has moved on, and life goes on in Dillon without him. That's kind of how it works in the real world, and I can think of few shows that feel more real than this one. I'm glad he's coming back before it's all over so we can learn how he's faring — surely better than Julie Taylor — but I like some things being left to the imagination. With Friday Night Lights, I'm not sure how much closure I'm going to be able to stand.
Question: First of all, I want to say I am so happy to finally see an all-female team win The Amazing Race. It seems long overdue and Nat/Kat were great competitors. What I really wanted to write to you about, though, was the preview of the next season. At the end of the 16th season, I wrote to you about the Cowboys and the likelihood of them being a part of an All-Star show. Now that it looks like that has happened, and as a Cord/Jet fan, I am overjoyed, but as an Amazing Race fan I am worried. I remember how the last All-Star show fell flat, and if the Cowboys end up leaving early on, I think it will happen again. What are your feelings toward the All-Star show? — Mandy
Matt Roush: It really depends on the casting — and we should point out that the teaser that CBS aired at the end of the finale was misleading; not everyone shown — including Brook and a pregnant Claire and, one would hope, some of the others from the most recent season — will actually be taking part, although Jet and Cord seem to be among the most likely teams getting a second chance. (CBS hasn't made an official cast announcement yet.) I'd love to see them race again, but I'm not sure that an early elimination by a favorite team would spoil the whole season for me. For instance, I'm currently hooked on Top Chef: All-Stars, and the unexpectedly quick exit in the second week of former front-runner Jennifer Carroll seemed to intensify the competition, letting everyone know that no one is safe.
Question: Do you think Fox moving Fringe to Fridays is the kiss of death for the show? What's the reasoning behind the move? — Troy
Matt Roush: In most circumstances, I'd say without hesitation that a move like Fringe to Fridays is a harbinger of failure. But Fox is confronting the situation head-on, cutting an entertaining promo refudiating (as they say in some parallel universe) the gloom-and-doom prognosticators. Fox isn't doing this blindly. They know the challenges of getting an audience on Friday, and they also know Fringe's small but fierce fan base is a loyal one, so the hope is that if Fringe can carry enough of its audience to Fridays, factoring in strong DVR playback numbers as well, the network might still see this as a win. Not that anyone who has championed the show during this remarkable season is happy about this. But you ask why this happened, and the answer boils down to two words: American Idol. Nothing is more important to Fox's bottom line than this show, and with its new scheduling on Wednesdays and Thursdays, something had to give. And that something was Fringe. Which probably has the best chance among any of Fox's cult series to do business on Fridays, and those with long memories remember that The X-Files did OK on that night (although it did better once it was moved to Sundays). But honestly, spinning this positively is a case of desperately trying to find a silver lining in a pretty dark cloud.
Question: Perhaps you can help to settle a disagreement. My mom and I were discussing what our favorite shows are, and I was surprised that she left Boardwalk Empire off her list as she is an avid weekly watcher. She said that she didn't really qualify Boardwalk Empire as a show because it was a mini-series, and then HBO decided to do another season. She thinks that all of the episodes were filmed before the first episode ever aired, and that once they had all aired then that would be the end. I disagreed with her, saying that if HBO decided right after the premiere to renew it for a second season, that there was no way that all the episodes would have been filmed, and that they already had an "end" in mind. Boardwalk Empire seemed like a huge investment for HBO, given that many said it fills the void left by The Sopranos, that I can't imagine HBO didn't hope for it to be a huge success and hope for many seasons. — Alex
Matt Roush: You're on the right track. Production schedules really had nothing to do with HBO's handling of this show. (I'm not sure if the entire production had wrapped by the premiere, but most of it surely had; critics got screeners of the first half of the season well in advance of the series launch, and that's uncommon.) Boardwalk Empire was always intended to be a long-running, multiple-season series, not a miniseries (although these limited-run cable series always seem to blur the line). HBO made a huge investment in creating this world, and once the reviews and early ratings came in, HBO gave a second season an instant green-light. (Hardly unheard of at HBO and Showtime these days.)
Question: As a huge fan of Grey's Anatomy, I'm so disappointed with the seventh season. Shonda Rhimes had promised that it would be refocused on Meredith, in contrast with the sixth season, when Ellen Pompeo was pregnant. So I hoped we could see a decent storyline for her. There was so much stuff to explore: the miscarriage, the consequences of the shooting, the building of the house, a baby, the relationship with Lexie and Thatcher, the choice of her medical specialty. But since the first episode, the only storyline for Meredith and also for Derek is about Cristina Yang! There's no storyline for MerDer. I'm aware that it cannot be as strong as the first seasons, but seriously! It seems to me that the seventh season is focused on Cristina Yang and Calzona! We see the main couple of the show two minutes at the beginning of the episode and two minutes at the end. On the other hand, we see Callie and Arizona talking about their careers, the color of their walls, the friendship with Mark. This year I have the feeling I'm watching Cristina's Anatomy and Calzona's Anatomy! I know that Grey's is not only about Meredith and Derek, but they're obviously lacking.
I don't understand the new direction of the show. The main couple became minor. Meredith seems to be only a foil for the other characters. Ten episodes to treat the aftermath of the shooting for Cristina but only one scene of two minutes for Meredith telling Derek about the miscarriage! Patrick Dempsey said Derek would be devastated by this news but I didn't see it! He was almost uninvolved. We learned that the uterus of Meredith was hostile, but since then, nothing. We know since season five that Derek is building a house but they never talk about that. I feel that the storylines that have most viewer interest get little to no development or screen time. I'm not convinced the second half of the season will be better. We'll certainly see the recovery of Cristina, her return at work, her marriage with Owen, and the journey of the reconciliation between Callie and Arizona. I'm OK with that, but I don't agree with the lack of balance in the storylines. I want MerDer too! And MerDer as a couple who build a life, who love each other and have a sex life, not as an old couple who has no more to talk about. Please tell me Shonda will do that! — Jennifer
Matt Roush: Can't speak for Shonda Rhimes, but it seems to me the reason our happy lead couple isn't as prominent lately may have to do with them being a happy couple. I agree with you that the resolution of Meredith's reveal of her miscarriage was anticlimactic, but the real issue here is that there isn't a lot of conflict in their union — occasional flare-ups on the work front, but rarely at home. And without conflict on a romantic melodrama like Grey's, there's not a lot to play. I'm OK with Grey's treating the aftermath of the hospital massacre seriously, including Cristina's psychic trauma, but as I've said in this space before, they played out her angst in particular for too long, and by the time she was flipping out as a barmaid, I was pretty fed up, so am glad it looks like that part of the story arc is over. With Callie and Arizona — I just can't bring myself to lapse into fanspeak and call them Calzona — the recent conflict was built in to give Jessica Capshaw a maternity leave. The challenge for Grey's, as with any very long-running show that burns up a lot of story each season, is to make couples like Mer and Der interesting again without putting petty-obstacle contrivances in their way. The one thing I don't want to live through again is fan fear that Shonda's going to split them up again. I'd rather them stay happy at the risk of them being a bit boring.
Question: Now I agree with your long-held stance not to pre-judge any show before it has even aired. However, there is an upcoming show I am already concerned about: The Cape. I like the premise; the comic-book nature is right up my alley, and the previews actually look interesting. My concern has to do with one major factor: It's on NBC. Can anything good come out of NBC these days, besides Chuck and the comedies, that is? The Event is...just OK to me. I was looking so forward to Undercovers and look what happened there. I almost have no expectations when it comes to NBC these days and I wonder whether The Cape will be yet another disappointment. Your thoughts? — Larry
Matt Roush: The good thing about lowered expectations is that there's always the possibility of being pleasantly surprised. So my advice, as it usually is in these cases, is to give a show a shot if it intrigues you, regardless of the network or the time period. (Look at Community, for instance. It's in a terrible time period on a bad-luck network, but still is one of the bright spots of the last year.) I'm not saying The Cape is the show that will reverse NBC's fortunes. In fact, I doubt it. But if you're a fan of comic-book superhero stories, you could do worse than this one. It's not bad, but unfortunately, it's nothing new. And NBC really could use something new and fresh, but I'm not seeing that a lot anywhere on the broadcast networks this season.
Question: Regarding the FX shows, Justified and Sons of Anarchy, I think they are awesome. Why don't they get more acknowledgment of their great stories and actors? I look forward to watching these every week. As to Boardwalk Empire, if Steve Buscemi does NOT get the Golden Globe, I will forever be disappointed. He has done an absolutely outstanding job in this series. I hope that it stays around for a long time. — Jan
Matt Roush: Depends on where you're looking for acknowledgement. The media (including TV Guide Magazine) give FX's shows quite a bit of attention and respect, and I included FX shows like Justified and Terriers (although not Sons, which I've never been a fan of) on my best-of-year list. But it's true that FX doesn't do as well on the awards circuit as it should, which can be very frustrating. (AMC has really stolen FX's thunder in recent years with shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and I've always argued that there wouldn't be an AMC without the breakthroughs on FX.) Regarding Buscemi on Boardwalk: I'm not surprised to see him getting this recognition at the Globes, the SAGs, etc., but to be honest, I'm rooting for Jon Hamm this year. Nucky's a curious character, for sure, and I applaud HBO for once again building a show around such an unlikely leading man, but the depth Hamm brought to Don Draper's emotionally harrowing arc this season is second to none in my book.
Question: In last week's column, you discussed how shows centered around family (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights) aren't embraced as well as the escapist stories in procedural shows. This year we have two shows which I've enjoyed which are great hybrids of the family-centered drama and procedural: The Good Wife and Blue Bloods. When each of these series premiered, I didn't watch for the first half of the season, as I don't tend to watch procedurals. Then I caught a couple of episodes randomly and was intrigued by the characters' storylines, not the episode story arc. After going back to see all the episodes in order, these shows have become must-watch shows for me. Why can't more networks choose shows that find the balance between strong characters in a family and the crime-of-the-week storyline? — Jen
Matt Roush: Excellent points. What makes these shows stand out from the run-of-the-mill courtroom or police drama is the strong character development that comes from the family context. They're still not exactly "family" dramas in the classic definition, because they're largely built around a case-of-the-week format, but maybe this is the best way to tell family stories on TV right now. It still seems a shame that well-told stories about everyday family life, where the characters aren't in heightened life-or-death occupations, can't find a home on TV.
Question: I love Hawaii Five-0. I've been waiting for something for Alex O'Loughlin to sink his teeth into ever since the demise of Moonlight. (Sorry!) I watched Three Rivers, just because he was on it, but now, finally, a show well worth seeing. I love the stories, the action, the chemistry and camaraderie between the cast, Jean Smart, the addition of "Danno's wife," the scenery, the excitement, and in case you didn't figure that out already, I love Alex O'Loughlin, and having him occasionally take his shirt off adds greatly to my pleasure, and that's where my question comes in. I've never seen a tattoo on his arm. Was it there before and covered up? Is it something new? Added for the "character" of the role? Or what!! I know this is a silly, inane question compared to the ones usually asked of you, but I bet there are lots of AOL fans that would love to know the answer. — Dorothy
Matt Roush: Don't be silly. It's kind of hard not to notice those tats when watching Hawaii Five-0 given how often he drops shirt. CBS tells me those are his, and not new or specific to Steve McGarrett. And the good news is you'll be getting many more chances to admire his bodywork. Alex O'Loughlin has finally found his hit series on CBS.
On that happy note, it's a wrap for 2010, and thanks to everyone who has challenged and entertained me over the last year (and past years) with your provocative, impassioned questions about our favorite medium. Let's keep the conversation going in the new year by sending your questions, thoughts and concerns to email@example.com, and follow me on Twitter while you're at it. Season's greetings and happy new TV year!