Damien Lewis, Claire Danes Damien Lewis, Claire Danes

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Question:
Homeland is excellent! Absolutely loved the first episode! I love the drama, storyline and just how it was set up for the entire season. My question to you is if this show is supposed to be only one season or depending on the ratings may extend to another season? ­— Mike

Matt Roush: Isn't it great! Let's hope Homeland runs for as many seasons as the story allows. You always have to figure shows like these are intended to run beyond a single season. (If not, we'd be calling it a miniseries.) But I do understand the question, because the initial premise of the show — is Brody a sleeper agent, or is Carrie crazier than she seems? — makes you wonder where the story will go once we get to the root of what happened during Brody's captivity and whether that figures into a larger terrorist conspiracy. Preferring to go on the ride without knowing where it's heading (no spoilers here, obviously), I'm basically looking on this season as the first chapter in what is promising to be an emotionally compelling thrill ride.

Question: For the first time in years, I am finding myself really enjoying many new fall shows. What are your thoughts on Revenge? I have really enjoyed the episodes so far. The cast is stellar and the story leaves enough twists and turns to keep me guessing. But I am concerned about the sustainability and longevity of the show. I know producers have promised to run a couple of "revenge" stories per year, but so far it seems like everything is leading up to an "end." What do you think about its chances for long-term success? — Rob

Matt Roush: Hard to say. I wasn't sold on this one initially, though I do understand its appeal as a melodramatic guilty pleasure with a healthy dose — maybe overdose — of class warfare wish fulfillment. (A pox on those hateful rich-bitch Hamptonites!) My problem as I've watched the successive episodes so far is that it keeps hitting the same beats rather slavishly — Emily certainly makes her payback schemes look ridiculously easy — and even the overripe showdowns between Emily and queen bee Victoria feel repetitive to me. (Plus, when the focus shifts to blah subplots like the Romeo and Juliet relationship of Declan and Charlotte, I feel I'm trapped in ABC Family hell.) But if the producers stick to their guns and move the story forward in presumably surprising ways after this initial arc of Emily's cross-off-the-next-victim game plan, that could make for a more interesting show. Revenge opened strong but has lost ground a bit, though it's still doing considerably better than any other drama ABC has tried in that tough time period in recent seasons. So I can't imagine we won't get a full season of this show, and what happens in the back half will determine whether this really is worth watching for the long haul.

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Question:
I enjoy reading critical opinion about TV, especially yours, but sometimes I feel like TV critics get stuck on an idea and echo-chamber something into the ground. I definitely feel that way about critical response to Free Agents, but I'm writing particularly about Prime Suspect. I know critics watched, and loved, the Helen Mirren version, but I feel like it's blinded you to how good the Bello show is, just because it's called the same thing. Critics appear to have gotten stuck on the Prime Suspect title and decided that the show could only be a pale imitation. I've seen some of the Mirren Prime Suspect and found it excellent, but I can divorce that from what Maria Bello and co. are quietly and competently (dare I say more than competently) doing over on NBC. I think that thanks to critical drubbing, this show is on the cancellation track when the elements are all there for success. I definitely disagreed with critics about what they considered to be the weaknesses of the pilot. I think it's telling that most of the critics complaining about the "cartoonish" sexism were men, because I'm a woman in a heavily male work environment and I can tell you they didn't go far enough and obvious enough. I acknowledge the hat and Jane's rough edges are a stylistic choice that may not be to everyone's taste (though I like them), but nobody can deny that you can look at this character and tell exactly who she is. I just feel like this show was judged and found wanting without a fair trial, and I'm sorry that it's probably going to be canceled, because it's a great show, with some amazing talent doing better-than-solid work in front and behind the camera. — Nika

Matt Roush: Don't give up on this one yet. I haven't. Although I'm also not going to apologize for comparing it unfavorably to the British series — they asked for it, after all, by naming it Prime Suspect (a title that doesn't really even apply to this more generic series) — or for criticizing the over-the-top portrayal of the "beef trust" in the pilot episode. Which seems to have been scaled back since, as promised. I liked Bello's portrayal from the start, but wish they'd toughened the character even more. (Case in point: Substituting Jane Tennison's self-destructive alcoholism for the new Jane's nicotine habit, played for laughs, feels like such a "network" sort of compromise.) NBC is probably going to be patient with this one as best it can — giving it some additional exposure the next few Mondays (in the Playboy Club slot) is a good start — but if it fails, it won't be a result of critical derision but because it didn't stand out enough from the oversaturated field of police dramas. And with this pedigree, it should have.

Question: I am looking for a positive spin on CW's Nikita ratings. Do you have one to offer? The show is phenomenally good and I hate that all the press right now is coming down to ratings. — Sabrina

Matt Roush: The best way to spin those numbers is to put them in context. We're talking the CW here, and Friday night TV, so figure that expectations are low. I can't imagine the CW expected Nikita to do much better than it's doing in this lousy Friday time period, where it has to be a self-starter. In the bigger picture, Nikita is the kind of slick action thriller that can sell well internationally, so it may be in the best corporate interest (of Warner Bros., the "W" in the "CW" equation) to keep the show going regardless of its ratings. I'm enjoying the rogue nature of Nikita this season, but its dense mythology probably doesn't help when it comes to attracting new viewers, even if the show hadn't switched nights.

Question: I am watching Dancing with the Stars for the first time this season. I read in TV Guide Magazine this week that ratings have dropped 18 percent mainly due to the "lackluster cast." Well, it's the cast that drew me to watch the first week and to continue watching. It's a mix of people I have liked for years (Ricki, Chynna, David, Carson), people that I wanted to see a different side of (Nancy, Chaz), and people I only vaguely recognized but was curious about (Hope, Rob, J.R.). It's the first time in ages that I knew who most of the "stars" were. Approaching week 4, I'm running into two obstacles to enjoyment: two-hour episodes plus an hourlong results show, and fans voting off superior performers. Although I wasn't crying in my beer when Ron/Metta, Elisabetta and Kristen were eliminated, it didn't seem right for them to be sent off when they had done so well by the judges' scores. Still, someone must go every week and the heavy weighting of the fan votes keeps the competition interesting for them.

The long episodes in the early weeks are justified because we see the hard work in rehearsals and the developing chemistry (or not) of the stars with their pro partners. I have watched episodes both live and recorded and can't get through the recordings in less than 95 minutes because I like to run a couple of the dance routines back and watch them again. I only watched one of the results shows all the way through and liked it OK, but a whole hour seems unnecessary. As much as I am enjoying this season so far, I can't justify devoting three hours a week to it, so I'm not. This is a beautifully produced show, so should I feel guilty about enjoying it on my own terms? Is there any realistic solution to the time problem? — Frank

Matt Roush: I'm always interested in someone's first-time take on a long-running phenom. Your learning curve is, I'm betting, not that much different than how the rest of us have adjusted to watching Dancing over time. In other words, NEVER IN REAL TIME. The padding of these two-hour performance shows and especially the hourlong results shows are excruciating to watch in anything but fast-forward mode. Like you, I have replayed some of my favorite (or most indelibly train-wreck) performances along the way, and I figure there are many fans who regard the results show, with the guest performers and dancers, as a throwback of sorts to the old-fashioned variety show. But three hours of this, and four hours of The X Factor some weeks, is just too much. I certainly don't have the time or inclination in a brand-new season to spend infinite hours with these shows, but at the same time, if you enjoy the rehearsal footage and production values, there's nothing to be guilty about, however you choose to indulge. As we recently reported in the same issue you referred to, these super-sized reality shows aren't going to shrink anytime soon, even as their ratings have gone down noticeably this fall. Regarding Dancing's numbers and the current cast, I'll be curious if the ratings start improving, now that they've shed most of the "who-are-these-people" contestants. But in analyzing the Dancing numbers, it's not just about the show but about the environment, and Mondays are much more competitive this fall, with bigger-than-usual numbers for the CBS comedies plus fresh meat like Terra Nova.

Question: If Whitney is supposed to be "taped before a live audience," then why the annoying laugh track?? Oh yeah, I know — because it is NOT funny. — RJ

Matt Roush: Whitney is a very grating show, which makes the pumped-up laughter that much more irritating, but as I've said before, I don't buy into the snobbery concerning the classic sitcom format. My advice is to get used to it. And not just because Whitney got a full-season pickup. (Sigh.) Especially with the mega-ratings for CBS' traditionally filmed comedies (Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory and even the resurgent How I Met Your Mother, which employs a laugh track without benefit of a studio audience), I'm betting you'll see a higher percentage of shows in the pipeline embracing the old format, which includes actual laughter from the studio audience, though often sweetened in the final mix. If the show is funny, like Big Bang, I don't mind it. And the brilliance and success of Modern Family aside, many of TV's most enduring and successful comedy hits have come accompanied with the sound of unseen people's laughter.

Question: While I enjoyed the previous season of Harry's Law, the new season is even better. Gone is the fluffy romance of Jenna and Malcolm from the first season (In fact, Aml Ameen is nowhere to be seen). In contrast, the new season has a tougher edge, with Jean Smart's bitchy DA Remmick as the perfect foil for Harry. Also, Alfred Molina has been superb as the dangerously disturbed murder suspect Eric Sanders. If this first three-episode arc is any indication of what we will be treated to this year, Harry's Law may become something NBC hasn't seen since their Law & Order heyday: a hit drama. Your thoughts? — Carl

Matt Roush: I wasn't shy about sharing my feelings about Harry's Law last season, so it's probably not a surprise that in my estimation, the show had only one way to go, and that's up. So yes, I'm on board with the changes, including the addition of the always-welcome Mark Valley, and even when I'm not a fan, I can appreciate that David E. Kelley shows have always been strong in the guest-casting department, and that's been the case in the first arc this season, especially watching Jean Smart go head-to-head against Kathy Bates. Even so, classifying this show as a hit is a stretch. It skews very old (which isn't a negative in my eyes, but I'm not an advertiser) and is in a terrible time period, where it's being outpaced by bigger hits like Modern Family, Criminal Minds and The X Factor. It's lucky to be on NBC, where so much of the schedule is in tatters that it's likely to be left alone for a while.

Question: I know it's a bit early to be thinking about this, but given the larger-than-usual number of strong pilots for midseason and obviously limited shelf space on the networks, what do you think the chances are of fall series being picked up for a full season this year? Fox has already said that Terra Nova won't have a back-nine order due to its long turnaround time, but what about other shows? I know ABC has to be looking for a new hit to replace Desperate Housewives next year, and if the subsequent episodes stay as fun as the pilot was, I'd be pretty okay with Pan Am moving up an hour to do that. But will they even give it a full season to grow, with shows like Good Christian Belles and The River waiting in the wings? Is it possible that some of the fall shows could be expected to return next fall, without back-nine orders? Such a long hiatus (albeit for strike-induced reasons) ultimately doomed Pushing Daisies and Dirty Sexy Money, which started off strong pre-strike, and obviously Terra Nova will have the same problem if it launches again next fall. I just hope that all the good stuff this fall gets to stick around long enough to stay visible. — Jake

Matt Roush: I'm sorry to say that it's not looking as if Pan Am has the lift to fill Desperate Housewives' pumps after all. Although I'll be surprised if it doesn't get a full-season pickup to prove its case. Maybe GCB will have better luck at midseason. And don't rule out Once Upon a Time as a sleeper contender. I just watched a second (actually the third) episode, and I'm now on board with this fanciful series in a way I wasn't after my first look at the overstuffed pilot. To answer your actual question, I don't think any successful first-year show except Terra Nova (which has a limited first season for logistical reason) will be denied a full-season pickup because of midseason replacement needs. There's ample time to rest shows in the spring to give midseason hopefuls a tryout and then bring them back (when warranted) to finish the season. You're right that benching shows too early makes it more difficult to relaunch them the next year. But I don't see that affecting any of the breakout shows this season.

Question: Maybe I'm a huge dork, but I love the show Parenthood. There never seems to be any buzz about it at all. Don't get me wrong. I'm in love with The Good Wife, one of the absolute best shows on TV now and maybe ever. I've adored Julianna Margulies since ER, ditto with Josh Charles since Sports Night. The writing, the acting, everything is impeccable. Desperate Housewives needs to go from Sundays immediately. So stupid and badly written and acted at this point. But Parenthood is an extremely moving show. Is it only on the air because NBC has crap programming? Does it get any ratings at all since it's up against Body of Proof? Can't tell you how tired I am of shows about a medical examiner who goes everywhere when the real ones do post-mortems in the lab and visit crime scenes. Only. Parenthood is the only "family" show that I'm interested in. Are there any others at this point? I hate how they just stop story lines, although many shows seem to do this. The Lauren Graham character was becoming a successful playwright and it was cool. Now she's back to having no direction and her only activities are bugging her daughter and dating the teacher. It's all pathetic and ridiculous. This is the star of Gilmore Girls, after all. She's a phenomenon, for goodness sake. But I love the new venture with Colby and Adam and the Julia thing with the coffee girl and her baby. Yes, the parents are meddlesome. This is not uncommon. The Asperger's thing is done really well, I think, having known a few people with this condition. I'm just curious if it has any future and if I'm the only one watching it. — Teddy

Matt Roush: Parenthood is a rarity on TV, dealing with multigenerational family issues in a more-or-less realistic manner, with humor and warmth (and at times maybe a bit too much hysteria). I'm kind of glad they dialed back on Sarah-as-budding-playwright, because I like that the Bravermans for the most part aren't living a heightened-for-TV lifestyle. And the Asperger's storyline for Max has always been the most moving and successful aspect of this series. The fact that NBC recently increased the show's order this season from 16 to 18 episodes is a welcome sign of support on behalf of a network that has very few bright spots. Parenthood isn't what you'd call a hit, but its concentration of younger viewers makes it more competitive than most dramas on the NBC schedule. I've always been struck by how people say they want to see shows like this on TV, and then tend to ignore them when they're on, in favor of the kind of formula TV (like Body of Proof and, even worse, Unforgettable) you can watch virtually any hour of the week. Parenthood's future is directly tied to NBC's fortunes — if the network starts doing better, it will begin to shed its more marginal players — but I sense NBC really believes in this show and isn't looking to dump it.

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

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