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Question: I was saddened to learn of the cancellation of Lights Out. It has been a great show with great performances. If I had any complaint about this outstanding series, it would be that there could have been more boxing, especially early on in the series. Do you think that was a contributing factor, or is it just another case of a good show not finding its audience in a competitive time slot? This has also made me concerned about my favorite prime-time sitcom, Archer. The writing and voice acting are insanely brilliant. (For me, I rate it a hair above Community.) Do you think it will come back for a third season? Will we need to let slip the hogs of war to convince FX to keep it? I have been seeing the ads for Wilfred. I have only seen bits and pieces of the original Australian production, but the American version has me intrigued. Elijah Wood looks especially promising. Have you previewed any episodes yet? Does the show look good? — Todd
Matt Roush: I was also sad though not terribly surprised when FX chose not to renew Lights Out (same with Terriers early this year). FX takes more risks than most programmers, and its shows veer purposefully from standard TV formula. Which brings great rewards when it works (The Shield, Rescue Me, Sons of Anarchy, Justified) but also great frustration when some of the shows fail to catch on and, like most everywhere else in TV (except maybe HBO), succumb to the realities of this unforgiving business. With Lights Out, the hurdle to me wasn't so much that there wasn't enough boxing as it was the downbeat nature of Lights' life that he was fighting back from: the health and financial problems piling on along with the more contrived scandals that come with this shady business. Lights was the opposite of an escapist, romanticized Rocky-style romp, and that may have hurt it. Regarding Archer: No worries. That one's a perfect fit for FX's irreverent brand, and I've seen reports that they may be working on a two-season renewal. As for Wilfred: They sent out the pilot a while ago, and it is so weirdly wacky that it's either going to be a big hit or a notable failure. But much like Archer, it's perfect for FX, where for better or for worse there is no middle ground.
Question: Does the timing of Lights Out's cancellation mean the cast will be available to do fall pilots? (I am trying to look on the bright side here.) Holt McCallany in particular is a phenomenal actor and he should have been a big star from this role. Since it didn't happen for him this time, I hope he gets back out there, since I'm sure it will once he finds the right show. Somebody should snap him up ASAP. — Jake
Matt Roush: I'm still seeing casting reports on a number of fall pilots, so it may not be too late. But the pilot development process never really ends, and like you, I hope Lights Out put Holt McCallany on a lot of people's radar, so keep an eye on someone who I expect to be a rising — and in the best of all worlds, in-demand — star. (The show may not have been a popular hit, but it and he earned quite a bit of critical attention.)
Question: Do you have any opinion to offer on Showtime's The Borgias yet? I really like Jeremy Irons, but I'm afraid to watch it after seeing the hatchet job that The Tudors did on historical fact. I'm not terribly interested in watching another costumed fantasy. — Diana
Matt Roush: I'll be posting a review later this week (which will appear in the magazine soon as well), but Jeremy Irons' deliciously debauched performance is reason enough to watch — although I understand in physique he's the total opposite of the actual Borgia-who-becomes-Pope. If you're looking for documentary-like veracity, this may not be your thing. But most people are going to tune in for a peep-show window into power-grabbing mendacity and murderously nasty doings. In which case, this show delivers. I had the reservations you had with The Tudors, and I was put off when they refused to age Jonathan Rhys Meyers appropriately. (I didn't make it much past the Anne Boleyn period.) But I would venture that the history of The Borgias is much less familiar to most viewers—and as others have noted, is clouded by the fact that their story is often interpreted from the perspective of their rivals and successors. My advice: Sit back and enjoy.
Question: I saw the announcement of the new George R. R. Martin book (A Dance With Dragons) finally being released in July and thought of you, as I remember reading you are a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series. Now with the HBO version (Game of Thrones) premiering next month, I wondered again: When should a book be turned into a TV show or miniseries or movie? I know each brings its own pros and cons, but I am troubled by the trend to convert books, if only because it shows a lack of originality. Aren't there thousands of new stories to be told? What's your perspective? — Megan
Matt Roush: Couldn't be more thrilled that the next volume is finally being published, and now that I've had a taste of the HBO adaptation—I'll be watching more of it this week to prepare a review—I can't really think of a downside of HBO going this route. Film and TV have turned to literary and theatrical source material from the very beginning to adapt some of the greatest stories ever told. And some are even better told on film. It's not a matter of originality as much as it is in finding inspiration and executing it with style and care. (You want to see a lack of originality? Try making it through the upcoming Kennedys miniseries.) George R. R. Martin's story unfolds on such an extravagant canvas that TV is the ideal medium for it to come to dramatic life, and because of its harsh and raw content, HBO is the perfect venue. Of course, original visions are just as valued, from The Sopranos and The Wire to Treme, but I see no reason to denigrate any project for being adapted from another format. Besides, look at True Blood. It brings a new audience to the enjoyable book series while forging new territory of its own.
Question: I've been reading your column for a long time and gotten a lot of very good recommendations out of it (Veronica Mars, Friday Night Lights, etc) and I'm glad to see you've caught up with Supernatural, but I wanted to ask about Southland. I've loved the show since it started on NBC. I was especially drawn in by the story of Ben Sherman (and Ben McKenzie — who knew?) and his supervising officer, as I think most viewers are. I know you've said several times that McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz are the heart of the show, but I have to say that Regina King's character has become the soul of the show in my view, and I'm wondering why I never see her mentioned in any of the reviews or praise that it receives. It's certainly not the most dramatic or showy role, but when I think back on the scenes that I really remember, a lot of them tend to involve her. Often it's the more quiet, exasperated moments where she shines, while the others are out chasing people on the streets, her scenes dealing with the shooting victim waiting for his girlfriend to say goodbye, or back to the first season when she had to handle the baby found alone in a street, really stick with me. It's not acting in capital letters, like being addicted to painkillers or haunted by an old assault in the family, but that's what makes her so believable, a detective who goes about her work without major drama but with all the day-to-day trials and tragedies that rarely seem to register with detectives on other shows like Law & Order or The Closer. You can tell just in the way Lydia carries herself that the things she has to deal with do get to her, and you feel for her. Or at least I do. So I'm just wondering, am I alone in that? Or is there a reason she seems to get overlooked? — Leigh
Matt Roush: You're absolutely right that acting "not in capital letters" often tends to get overlooked, but I think most people who take Southland seriously regard Regina King as an essential part of the show's DNA. (And by the way, great news about last week's renewal. Whew!) Her eyes convey such a silent sorrow at the daily tragedies Lydia observes, and her no-nonsense approach to the work is very compelling. I think the patrol team of Sherman and Cooper got more attention because you don't see that particular daily grind as frequently or with such authenticity on TV, whereas detectives are pretty much a dime a dozen (although rarely as soulful as the way King plays it). I think Southland improved a lot once it moved to TNT, in part because there's a tighter focus on the best characters, and Lydia is one of them.
Question: Do you get frustrated by the number of people who complain that TV never has anything new or creative but then don't actively seek lesser publicized shows like Terriers? I'm afraid we are going to lose Detroit 1-8-7 and Nikita because people are too lazy to program their DVRs and give new shows a chance before it is too late. — David
Matt Roush: Sure, it's frustrating, but I often have to remind myself that there's only so much time and so much TV that most people are willing to commit to. And while my job often is to champion shows that take risks and break the mold, an awful lot of people enjoy the mold (so to speak) and aren't always looking to add new, challenging shows to their plate. There's never an easy or safe time to launch a show anymore — for example, I can't remember an April as busy with new shows as the one we're about to go into. There's also no single or simple explanation for why a show fails to catch on, although the way many of us are consuming TV nowadays (DVRs, the Internet) in an era of constant bombardment of info and social media can make it a lot tougher for a show to break through instantly. I try not to let the noble failures get me down, in hopes that the next time someone swings the bat, people might actually take notice. It happens. See The Good Wife. Or (for all its problems) Glee. Or Justified. Or Fringe. You win some, you lose a lot. That pretty much has always been the case.
Question: I have watched the latest episode ("Original Song") of Glee four times already and kind of want to watch it a few more times. This is very unusual for me. Yes, part of it is due to the Kurt/Blaine scenes. But it overall felt like a return to the old Glee that I originally loved. I think Glee at its best has an emotional core of portraying youth who come to terms with and celebrate who they are and the struggles they have being different. This year, I feel like the show has deluded itself into a teen melodrama (and don't get me started on Sue). I don't think they handed the issues of teen drinking and sex particularly well (though the scene between Burt and Kurt was brilliant; I wish everyone had parents who would talk to their teens so candidly about sex). A good example is the character of Quinn. For someone who went through an incredibly adult and life-altering experience last year, her character has been reduced to a stereotypical popularity-seeking teen. Her character development last year was much more effecting on the issue of teen sex and there was still plenty of drama in the storyline. Ryan Murphy & Co. have the opportunity to be a positive influence on teens today (and I think they have been in some ways), but are sacrificing this for being over the top. Frankly, their characters are better than this. Do you think Glee can be course-corrected or is it too late? I know you comment fairly regularly on Glee, but I would value your thoughts on this subject. — Amy
Matt Roush: Using this season as a guide, I fear Glee is destined to be a show that is always going to give us whiplash, veering from terrific peaks — and I agree the "Original Song" episode was a high point — to many episodes that make us wonder what in the world they think they're doing. Some weeks, it feels like they're trying to give us a tricked-up modern-day Afterschool Special lacing the message-of-the-week with cheap-shock outrageousness that gets awfully tiresome. Character development from week to week is laughably inconsistent, and Quinn is hardly the only victim, though she's one of the more prominent ones. But despite the inevitable (and equally tiresome) backlash against the show's clumsy inconsistencies and excesses, including Sue's psycho-clown act that is becoming harder and harder to endure, I keep getting drawn back to Glee for its reckless energy, its fearless exuberance, and of course its embrace of diversity of all types, even when cringe-worthy episodes like "Blame It on the Alcohol" and "Sexy" make me want to drop out. Look at it another way: If it were perfect, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting.
Question: Two questions: Much has been said about shows being good, bad or uneven, like Glee. Most of these shows don't have a regular director but pass the job around. Watching the credits reveals some recognizable names like Dennis Smith, James Whitmore Jr, and recently Eric Stoltz. Did I see his name on a recent Glee episode? How much input does the director have versus the writers or the actors? Should the blame for a bad episode go to the director or is it usually the writers? Second question: On a December episode of L&O: SVU, I noticed the writer credit as George Huang. Is this a coincidence that the character played by B.D. Wong has the same name? — Sue
Matt Roush: When in doubt, blame the writing. That's the general TV rule, because it's a writer's medium. The director who has the most impact on a series is the one who sets the tone in the pilot, which tends to provide a visual template for other directors to follow. There are star directors, of course, who can put their own stamp on something (like when Quentin Tarantino moonlighted on CSI), and others on staff like House's Greg Yaitanes who you can often count on to go outside the norm for something special. For the most part, though, the executive producer/show runners are writers, and they're the ones who tend to make the final call and take the credit or blame for how it ends up. Which isn't to slight the role a good director has in terms of getting the best from the cast and making the most from what they're given on a very tight time frame. Regarding George Huang, whose credits include the movie Swimming With Sharks and numerous episodic TV assignments, I'm told that this is purely a coincidence, that the character wasn't named after the director. Small world, though, huh?
Question: To expand a little on Erin's recent question about Netflix and House of Cards: I think somebody should seriously consider bringing back Jericho as a full-fledged series in this same way. DirecTV kept Friday Night Lights going, and maybe a new kind of platform might work for one of my favorite shows. The language could be saltier, the situations a little more graphic, and it would be available ANY time. These days, a show about regular Americans fighting back against the government might be a good thing to see, because we seem to be on the verge of a revolution, anyway. I have always felt that Jericho was canceled because the show was too plausible, and the government got scared that the people might see the hope in it. I would imagine that House of Cards is going to be virtually commercial free, so let's see them take my favorite story and run with it. Pass this on to someone who actually will stand up for quality TV. I don't watch many of the reality shows. I prefer to be entertained, and maybe watch a show that makes you think. Jericho did that for me. I like the question Erin offered at the end of her letter: "Will it be just another cable outlet, albeit one that's entirely 'on-demand,' or will the inclusion of original programming that people can access without cable, a dish or even a TV cause ripples throughout the industry?" — Jim
Matt Roush: As I said the last time this subject came up, I wouldn't read too much — yet — into a single series being developed on this distribution model. If it works and becomes a new outlet for ambitious adult quality programming, that would be great. But the one thing I would definitely caution against is expecting Netflix or any other outlet to become the next white knight to rescue failed network series — especially one like Jericho, which got a second chance from its own network. (Even DirecTV is retreating from this strategy, declaring Damages to be their last such resurrection from the dead.) And spare me conspiracy theories about why Jericho was canceled. The government has bigger things on its mind.
Question: I'm hoping you can give some insight into the debacle that has become Grey's Anatomy this season. Meredith and Derek have been virtually non-existent thus far, and now with last week's episode "This is How We Do It" they actually used a scene between Meredith and Derek from season 5 instead of filming a new one. As a fan of Meredith and Derek, I feel insulted. Why should we not get new scenes between them? This made me wonder if perhaps this was ABC stepping in to insert Meredith and Derek scenes as a result of falling ratings. I can't remember a time in television where actual character scenes were re-used. I feel like there must be an explanation. The "new" scene is just cut-together footage of the old one. I feel like there must be a behind-the-scenes reasoning for all of this, and fans have been dealt a raw deal. Do you think this was ABC overruling Shonda Rhimes' decision about use of screen time? — Kate
Matt Roush: No. I think the answer is much simpler, even if it isn't likely to satisfy the die-hard Meredith-Derek fans. Looks to me as if Shonda Rhimes was just saving everyone a little money, re-using a cuddle from a previous episode as part of a wordless montage instead of going to the great expense of a full set-up. This wasn't a scene, it was a shot. And I'm betting the Grey's producers figured most people wouldn't notice. Most people didn't. I surely didn't, but I also realize this tempest in a teapot feels to super-fans like pouring salt in a festering wound. The real issue here is that Meredith and Derek are ostensibly the stars of this ensemble, and it doesn't really seem that way lately. Now that they've recovered from the shooting trauma — and I won't disagree that they underplayed the impact of Meredith's miscarriage — this couple's main narrative line right now, besides the clinical trial at the hospital, is their efforts to conceive a baby, which has been overshadowed by the cartoonish baby drama between Callie-Arizona and Mark. (We'll discuss further, I'm sure, after this week's musical episode, triggered by Callie's injury in the car accident that concluded last week's episode.) Grey's is a very large, possibly too large, ensemble that doesn't always spread the dramatic wealth equally, and I imagine that's become a particular problem with Meredith and Derek since they've become such a happy, content couple. Unless the writers contrive ways to turn them against each other, which tends to freak the fans out as well, it doesn't seem to be as easy these days to make them interesting.
Question: There are many serialized shows that get canceled without wrapping up the story, and as you mentioned with V, it might not be in the producer's [financial] interest to create a wrap-up movie to close out the loose ends. While some shows may have a natural opt out to continue in comic book form (think Buffy), some don't (think FlashForward). For those shows where the producers do not see another press at the olives, why don't they create a website where they say, "Here are the back stories we had for the different characters and this is where we wanted to go with the story." If nothing else, it would give comfort to people who are afraid to commit to a show if they know that in the end the questions will be answered even if the show is canceled. — Alex
Matt Roush: This isn't a bad idea, and some producers of shows that left fans hanging after a premature cancellation have given exit interviews or otherwise provided information suggesting where their stories might have gone if given the chance. I especially remember the case of Fox's Reunion, a short-lived time-tripping season-long murder mystery from 2005 that never got to make it to the reveal. After it was axed, the producers let it be known who the killer was, for those who still cared. In this age of Twitter and Facebook and infinite fan sites, it makes perfect sense for more to play this game. Are you listening, producers of The Event?
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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