Sela Ward and Gary Sinise Sela Ward and Gary Sinise

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Question: What are your thoughts on the new Grey's Anatomy additions of Jackson and April? I know Grey's fans have been very vocal about how useless they are. I however never saw what the big deal was till the episode in which our residents became attendings for a day. I noticed that when Cristina didn't answer questions, I was upset and heartbroken to see her so helpless, and when Alex and Meredith rocked their surgeries I felt proud. But when I was watching April and Jackson struggle, I realized I didn't care, and I think when a show has characters people don't care about, that's a problem. I understand why they made April and Jackson regulars. Every show needs new blood and I saw the potential. I saw them being a threat to Alex, Cristina and Meredith, and they could have brought that competitiveness the show has been missing, but Shonda seems to be sp focused on making people like them that all of them are suddenly great pals. Every time I watch Meredith tell April she likes her or Jackson makes a comment like he knows these people, I fight the urge to roll my eyes. I know they went through something traumatic together, but all these bonding moments seem so fake to me. I don't care for them at all. At least if I didn't like them, I'd actually have feelings about them, but I got nothing. All I want to do is fast-forward through their scenes. — Z.A.

Matt Roush: Few things are more difficult in the life of a long-running ensemble drama (or comedy) than bringing in new characters to refresh the show, or to fill the void left by cast members who leave for whatever reason. (And on Grey's, departures tend to be rather messy.) ER had mixed success in bringing in new characters, and the situation grew much worse as the show plodded on. It's fair to say Jackson and April so far are among the least inspired new characters Grey's has yet welcomed. Last week's spunky outburst by April during trauma certification may have been intended to endear her to us, but much as I've enjoyed Sarah Drew in previous roles (especially on Everwood as Hannah), this character is even more annoying than early Lexie. Jackson I get as eye candy, but beyond that, he's a seriously underdeveloped character so far. I can't really blame you for your antipathy, but I've seen worse, and so far, the season as a whole is working for me, so I'm not going to dwell on it. Unless, of course, one of them starts seeing ghosts.

Question: Have the people of Seattle Grace gotten behind on the electric bills? I have never seen a TV show that is supposed to be in a hospital with such BAD lighting. Dark surgeries? I don't think so. If Grey's Anatomy thinks it makes it more interesting, they need to think again. It only makes me change the channel. — Dorothy

Matt Roush: Now that's a funny nit to pick! Never really thought about it, but the mood lighting in those surgery scenes does make it look like they're working in a cave at times.

Question: I admit it. I loved Undercovers from the moment I saw the pilot episode. I still think it's one of the most clever and entertaining shows of the new season. And the fact that it was truly color-blind casting and featured a roster of fabulously talented actors was just icing on my cake. And then I realized what their time slot was: 8 pm/7 Central? Really? Well, Matt, imagine Burn Notice (which I also love) or Alias at 8...and 7 CENTRAL! Better yet, just add it to the long list of minority-starring one-hour shows that have been given deadly, or shifting, time slots over the years. I didn't know that even a mega-watt producer like J.J. Abrams could be shoehorned into a ridiculously inappropriate time slot. What a waste! — Lorrie

Matt Roush: All I can say is: Enjoy it while you can. While I agree Undercovers would have been better suited as a 9 pm/8c show, I doubt the time period has that much to do with this show's failure. (And it's not as if the competition was all that stiff on Wednesday, plus there's an argument that one of J.J. Abrams' greatest hits, Lost, launched to great numbers in that very time slot.) The real problem to me — and we can agree to disagree on its creative merits, especially as it regards the supporting cast with the exception of Gerald McRaney — is that there just never seemed to be anything at stake here, which is rather shocking for a J.J. Abrams show. And the lack of tension or excitement might have played even worse later into the night. I enjoyed the look of the production, and like nearly everyone else applauded the matter-of-fact color-blind casting of the appealing lead actors, but neither Sam nor Steven ever seemed terribly at risk, physically or (worse) emotionally. They seemed to get more worked up about their catering business. The comedic elements weren't funny enough, the spy capers weren't thrilling enough to suit most critics and, from what I can tell, viewers.

Question: I recently heard that The Chicago Code is putting Lie to Me into another hiatus. After the first hiatus of the second season, Lie to Me's ratings dropped and they are still falling now. I was wondering if you knew anything about it or if it might be cancelled. I would like to know if I should prepare myself for a cancellation since Fox has already pulled Lone Star off the air? — Hannah

Matt Roush: It's probably wise to stop using Lone Star as a yardstick by which to measure any other show's chances for success. That was (unfortunately) an ambitious but immediate noble failure, and except for the fact that Lie to Me was rushed back on the schedule to fill its time slot, the two shows have nothing in common. Lie to Me seems to me destined to be a somewhat undervalued utility player for Fox, the kind of show that often looks like it's being taken for granted or badly used. Witness how Fox burned off so much of the second season during the summer months, and then slapped it on Mondays with very little warning. (Not that Fox had a choice.) The fact that Lie to Me will once again fall off the schedule in February when The Chicago Code premieres is hardly surprising, given that prime-time real estate is at a premium in the back half of the season on Fox once American Idol kicks in. But I'm not sure this necessarily means the show is in immediate danger. Networks need shows like this to fill troublesome holes on the schedule, and while it's unlikely to ever be a breakout hit, I'm hoping Lie finds its place on the network as Bones eventually did.

Question: Please help me understand the wisdom of NBC effectively sabotaging the Jimmy Smits drama Outlaw before it had any chance to catch on. This is a wonderfully innovative show with a very popular star! And the premise of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice actually resigning to become a criminal defense attorney is awesome! Yet, after a rousing debut on Wednesday, the network buried it on Friday up against Blue Bloods, the big Tom Selleck family cop show. Outlaw never had a chance! So why did NBC bother at all if they weren't going to support this interesting and different project? — Dot

Matt Roush: With no offense intended, most critics questioned NBC's wisdom in green-lighting Outlaw in the first place, because the premise felt like a ludicrous non-starter. (One person's "awesome!" clearly being another's "huh?") We can second-guess a network's scheduling decisions from Monday to Sunday (skipping Saturdays, of course), but NBC at least took a stab at scheduling something scripted on Fridays, and used a major star as bait, not unlike Blue Bloods. If Outlaw had been a better show, maybe it could have taken a bite out of CBS. And while CBS has the best track record on Fridays, no new venture (even one starring Tom Selleck) can be considered a slam-dunk out of the gate. In this case, the superior show won. And what could NBC have done to boost its fortunes? It's not as if the network has a big hit show it could schedule Outlaw behind. In this case, it was sink or swim, and we can see how that turned out.

Question: Please help me out here. Last season, CSI: NY tried to introduce a "twilight love triangle" — as Pam Veasey called it — with Mac (Gary Sinise's character). That episode, the introduction of Aubrey Hunter, at that time was the lowest-rated episode in the series history, proving that fans didn't want him involved in soapy nonsense. Peyton (Claire Forlani) returned and the ratings didn't improve. It was refreshing to hear that Mac this season (season 7) was going to focus on crime. The episode after the one that had Mac/Jo (Sela Ward) flirt a little dropped in ratings. It's very obvious that fans don't want him in a love triangle. Why the sudden about-face? Why after having him this season, Veasey has said, "He'll be too busy focusing on crime to focus on his love life," so why now change that and have him in a possible love triangle with Sela Ward and the soon-to-cameo David James Elliot? There are already too many cancellation rumors. Fans don't want that for him. Please explain why the wishy-washiness? Gary Sinise is not a player. — AiP

Matt Roush: You've clearly studied this situation more than I have, but I find it hard to believe there's such a hard-and-fast quid pro quo where CSI: NY is punished in the ratings every time it flirts with romance for Mac. (Which, for the record, I agree with you that few things could interest me less.) That said, bringing Sela Ward on board has to be seen as a plus for the show during this challenging season on its new night — where it's doing rather well, all things considered, so stop with the cancellation rumors — and you'd have to blind not to try to explore some chemistry between Mac and his fetching new lady partner. Sela Ward changes the chemistry of any show she appears on. (Loved her on House.) And how can it be a negative for CSI: NY to bring in David James Elliott as Jo's FBI ex-husband? Looking back over my years doing this column, I can guarantee there are few TV stars whose return would be welcomed more — especially by the loyal CBS fan base.

Question: I'm wondering what happened to Jean Philippe on Fox's Hell's Kitchen, and who the heck is opening the door now? — Sara

Matt Roush:
Jean Philippe was in the U.K. assisting in opening one of Gordon Ramsay's new restaurants — in other words, doing his real job — and was unavailable during filming. Taking over the maitre d role this season: James Lukanik, who's made customers happy — happier than they tend to be on this show, anyway — at the fabled L'Orangerie restaurant and the Bel Air Hotel.

Question:
Outcasts has been on the "coming soon" page of BBC America's website for many months now. Latest from their press website: "Currently in production in South Africa, the U.S. premiere season of Outcasts begins late 2010." Can you shed any light on when this program will begin to air, and if you have any opinion on whether it might be worth a watch, I'd love to read it. — Mariah

Matt Roush:
No firm air date yet, but look for it in early 2011, at which time I'll offer an opinion, since I haven't seen it so can't possibly handicap it yet. But BBC America's track record is fairly good when it comes to speculative fantasy and sci-fi, so I'm excited to at least sample this one. The cast is promising, including Jamie Bamber and Eric Mabius among the pioneers establishing a civilization on a new planet after Earth is no longer habitable. Not a brand-new premise, but I always look to the British to put a new spin on classic genres.

Question: Do you think that for once House's producers will not lie to Cameron's fans (and Jennifer Morrison's fans), and we'll see her in the three episodes this season they promised us? — Lilou

Matt Roush:
You expect shows to keep their promises? There's a football somewhere Charlie Brown would like to show you. Personally, I'm happy to see Jennifer Morrison appearing on another show (How I Met Your Mother) and, for the time being, putting Cameron behind her. Why fans would want to be teased by yet another short-term return for a character so cruelly ignored and abused by the show's writers is beyond me. But my understanding is that while the producers have left it open as a possibility for her to return, there's no decision yet on when this will happen. So I wouldn't rule it out, but I also wouldn't hold your breath.

Question: Do you know if there will be another series of Wallander movies next year? — Kathy

Matt Roush: Yes, and yay, more Wallander movies starring the excellent Kenneth Branagh are in the pipeline, but it's not clear yet when they'll be available for scheduling in the U.S. for PBS' Masterpiece Mystery!, so can't guarantee we'll see them as soon as next year. Let's hope.

Question: I wouldn't be surprised if this question has already been asked and answered and I missed it, but what do you think of the increasingly disturbing and IMO gratuitously graphic violence depicted on Criminal Minds? Yes, the FBI characters' real-life counterparts deal with the worst of the worst and that's what the show's writers are depicting, but I don't necessarily need to "see" someone burned alive or a woman tortured. — Barbara

Matt Roush: Increasingly? This show from the start has always felt to me like the TV version of torture porn, exploiting its victims in the most banal and pretentious ways imaginable as it seeks new and gruesome ways to titillate the audience — and this opinion comes from someone who has a high threshold for such things in film, books and TV, when executed with skill. So I can't attest that it's gotten worse or somehow "more" lately, but yours isn't the only complaint I've seen. You want to see this sort of thing done right? Get your hands on BBC America's Luther. It's sensational and shocking, but also very clever, sharply character-driven in the cat and mouse between a tormented detective and a psycho killer soulmate, and uniformly well acted.

Question: I was reading an online article about Modern Family and was surprised by how many of the fawning comments made by readers were about the show's breaking of the fourth wall. All of their favorite bits seemed to happen during interviews or when a character gave a knowing glance to the camera. It got me thinking that this mock-umentary device might be the show's saving grace. Because it gives a wink and nudge to viewers who are waiting to be told what's funny. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great (and funny) show. I just think in another format it might be less popular, because outside of these moments its humor is more subtle.

Subtlety seems to be the kiss of death now. Look at Lone Star: It had an attention-grabbing premise but a restrained narrative style, and nobody watched. Huge on ABC Family was a unique and delicately detailed show. Now gone in favor of the obnoxious and shrill Pretty Little Liars and Secret Life of an American Teenager. There are many shows that were favorites, such as Ed, Once and Again, The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, My Boys, Frasier, etc, that I don't think would make it past a single season in today's environment. The closest I can think of on any cable or network channel is The Good Wife, and that show is equal parts comfort-food procedural and distinctive drama. In fact, you could make an argument that every current show (reality, drama, comedy) is now a procedural — by being so recognizably formatted (I'll only make exceptions for 30 Rock and every show on AMC). Do you think ingeniously low-key programming will ever return? Or has a dwindling audience forced all of us viewers into an overwrought, meta-referencing, and never subtle corner? — Nicolaus

Matt Roush: I'm not sure you're referring to "procedurals" in your final argument as much as the fact that so much of prime-time network TV is formulaic. Niche shows that push the boundaries are much more prevalent on cable networks like AMC, FX and the pay channels. (Here's my weekly plug for FX's Terriers, a show more people should be discovering before it's too late. And couldn't agree with you more regarding Huge and what tends to be popular on ABC Family.)

It is rare when a network show breaks form altogether, and we should be happy when something like The Good Wife comes along to remind us how original and entertaining a show still can be even when it conforms to certain rules (case-of-the-week legal drama). I'm not quite as gloomy as you when it comes to assessing popular taste — I would like to think shows like The West Wing, Frasier and Gilmore Girls would have enjoyed great success and long runs if they appeared today — but some of your faves lived "on the bubble" for their entire life. Quirky, emotional — and, yes, subtle — shows are always a gamble in this commercial mass medium, and few of them reach critical audience mass. But I'm not sure Modern Family conforms to this argument. Many of the sly asides are brilliant, but the main storylines are often as farcical and laugh-out-loud hilarious as the best of Frasier. It's just rare to see this level of sophistication applied to a family comedy. What's so great about this instant classic is that it can be both subtle and broad within the same episode, or even scene. That's genius. And its success (and that of The Good Wife) gives me hope that all is not lost on network TV.

That's all for now. Keep sending in those questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!

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