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Question: Last year the TV season came and went without a breakout hit, and with more cancellations than usual. I'm interested in the strategy that the networks seem to be going for this year to make up for the extremely lackluster last season, especially over at Fox. I don't know exactly what Fox's expectations for The X Factor were, but I'm guessing that they're somewhat disappointed today. 12.5 million seems a bit of an underperformance, especially given that Two and a Half Men had double that many viewers. I was really surprised that New Girl (which I found absolutely delightful) not only matched Glee's numbers, but in fact did significantly better. Given that New Girl had been available online for several weeks prior, I'm surprised that so many people tuned in. This is perhaps a bit reminiscent of Fox's bold move in previewing the pilot of Glee in the spring after Idol, which paid off well (at least in its first season). I'll be interested to see where things go with Terra Nova, though I feel that the over-hype and delay could hurt it. Things were very interesting on CBS last Monday, with the insane amount of people that tuned in to see the revamped Two and a Half Men, the large number that stuck around for the delightful 2 Broke Girls, and the almost record number that watched How I Met Your Mother. Things look less optimistic at NBC, but that's hardly surprising. What do you think that the networks learned from last year's generally off year, and what do you think about the performance of the networks so far this season? — Alex
Matt Roush: All in all, it was a good premiere week for network TV (unless you were NBC, which is still struggling most nights), with decent sampling for a number of new shows — New Girl and 2 Broke Girls in particular, but the back-to-back Modern Family episodes gave Revenge a bigger boost than I'd expected, and Up All Night is making a case for being rescued from NBC's Wednesday sinkhole. Yes, X Factor's opening week has to be seen as a disappointment for Fox, but I'm personally gratified to see comedies, dramas and reality being able to coexist on those nights, with the strongest of all of them drawing solid numbers. In terms of overall strategy for this season, you're seeing the networks taking bigger swings with shows like Terra Nova, Pan Am and Person of Interest (not a typical whodunit), to name a few, in reaction to last season being such a creative dud. And wait until you see some of the shows waiting in the wings for midseason: Awake, Smash and The River are very ambitious. They might not all work, but if they do, it will be almost as exciting as what happened two seasons ago when Glee, Modern Family, The Good Wife, The Middle and Cougar Town arrived the same season. I do think we have at least a few keepers this fall.
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Question: I love Fringe and have been watching it faithfully from the beginning. I know you are a big fan as well. However, after watching the first episode without Peter, I have to admit to being thoroughly or almost thoroughly confused. I realize this is kind of playing out in a sort of It's a Wonderful Life way — Walter has difficulty staying grounded at all without Peter being there, etc. But other than understanding that, I didn't get what was happening with faux Olivia (is that what we called her and is she being kept confined somewhere?), and I thought Agent Lincoln Lee (now with glasses) had a double in the alternate universe as well, but am not sure. Any help or explanation is appreciated. If a fan like me is confused, I'm wondering about others who haven't seen the show at all? — Faye
Matt Roush: This Friday's episode, which I'll preview in my weekend guide later this week, should give you a better sense of how the two worlds (and the various doppelgangers) are co-existing. And yes, alt-Lincoln was well established last season before we met "our" version, who I liked very much. But there's no question that Fringe isn't the easiest show to make sense of, so to address your last question, I think Fox and the producers have pretty much given up on the idea of growing the audience. (That's why Friday is as habitable a perch as the show can expect.)
Question: I seem to remember that after last season's Mentalist finale that the writers promised that, yes, Patrick Jane really killed Red John. I personally like keeping the mystery alive, but I wish shows wouldn't make such grand statements and then reverse them on a whim. According to the season premiere, that is exactly what happened. Do you know what changed their mind? — Dan
Matt Roush: I'm fairly sure this twist is what they had in mind all along. It's possible the producers were purposefully misleading in some of their interviews after last season — how much do you want show-runners to reveal their hand, anyway? — but the way I understood the intent of the cliffhanger is that we were meant to believe that Patrick Jane in that moment believed he had killed the real Red John. It was only when Jane realized he'd been set up (with the missing gun, etc.) that he knew he'd been manipulated to kill the wrong fiend. I wouldn't call the producers' statements a lie (if in fact they did) as much as misdirection (which is what you should expect from people running a mystery series).
Question: Wondering if others watched Prime Suspect Thursday night and found themselves slightly agog at its awfulness. Maria Bello is a good actress, but Jane Timoney is really, really, really hard to take. At least as she's written in the first episode. The original British series had the virtues of Helen Mirren as a fully human, sympathetic character. Ditto for the stateside gold standard Cagney & Lacey, which had the peerless duo of Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly. Certainly, Jane Tennison, Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey "busted balls" when they had to, but those women also had charm, humor and tenderness (to varying degrees) in the character mix. Bello's Timoney is almost a cartoon of over-the-top aggressiveness and intensity. I can't imagine viewers wanting to tune into such hostile hard-assedness week after week. (And, let's be honest, the fedora is a silly affectation.) What's your take? — Cathy
Matt Roush: No one seems to like Jane's hat, and judging from last week's ratings, few seemed compelled to check Prime Suspect out at all. I'm OK with Maria Bello's toughness in the role, but they've softened the character in so many other ways: for instance, making a joke of her trying to quit smoking, as opposed to the career-threatening alcoholism of the peerless Jane Tennison of the British original. (Which, by the way, is available on DVD from Acorn Media, and well worth seeking out.) I was more put off by the cartoonish sexism of the goons she works with. You can hardly blame this Jane for putting up a combative shell. But I can see where it could all be off-putting.
Question: I'm sorry if I missed you saying anything on American Horror Story. It originally looked interesting, fun and scary. Plus, I do like Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott. My question is, have you seen any episodes and do you think Ryan Murphy will pull a Nip/Tuck on us (now that I've read a bit more on it) and get more disgusting as it goes along? Or are we there already? Is this just going to be too gross, weird and sexual for most people to stomach? — Connie
Matt Roush: My review of FX's American Horror Story will be in this week's TV Guide Magazine (part of a horror combo including BBC America's Bedlam, which premieres this Saturday), and I'll be posting a review online closer to its Oct. 5 premiere. I did write about it after this summer's TCA screening, and looking at it again recently, my opinion didn't really change. It's a hot mess of a show, berserk and overstuffed to a fault, sometimes truly frightening and often gruesomely unnerving but just as often crossing the line from scary into silly — and this being Ryan Murphy in his Nip/Tuck psychosexual mode, it will be seen by many as grossly graphic in its attempt to be sexually provocative. (And I can't imagine what people are making of its poster, which instead of selling the haunted house premise is showcasing the surreal kinky image of a rubber-suited ghoul looming over a half-naked woman.) That said, there are moments when I felt I was watching a Hollywood Gothic classic, especially when Jessica Lange shows up as a loony and possibly sinister neighbor. I give Horror Story high marks for originality — there's nothing on TV quite like it, and FX is unquestionably a perfect home for it — but if only it didn't feel like it had been edited by a Cuisinart. This show will almost certainly be one of the fall's hot topics. I just wish it were one of the fall's best shows.
Question: [From Twitter] Do you think that Rosie's unsolved murder hurt The Killing's Emmy chances? — Sam
Matt Roush: I'm sure it didn't help. But six nominations for the first season is a very strong showing, including lead and supporting actress, plus writing and directing nominations. It's another indication of AMC's reputation within the industry that The Killing could be taken this seriously, even with the controversy over the non-resolution of the season finale. But even if we'd learned who killed Rosie Larsen, it probably wouldn't have affected the results. The competition in these categories was very strong, and as much as I admired Michelle Forbes' work (to single one out), I was thrilled to see that Emmy go to Justified's Margo Martindale on behalf of an overall much stronger series.
Question: So I thought Mad Men had lead actor, writing and drama all wrapped up with "The Suitcase" episode. I was thrilled that Friday Night Lights and Kyle Chandler was able to break up the party a little bit (though not enough to steal Drama Series away from Mad Men); however, "The Suitcase" will remain, in my mind, one of the best-written hours of TV for some time.
But I want to ask you about the Emmy telecast. How can it be so chronically terrible? This is a show on television dedicated to celebrating the best shows on television, and we are very lucky to have so much good television abounding right now, from the networks to basic cable to premium cable. Yet it is consistently just a horrible awards show. I know the Tony Awards are a different beast (they try to promote Broadway as much as present awards), but I still have this year's Tony telecast on my DVR. The "Not Just for Gays Anymore" opening number and Neil Patrick Harris's closing rap make it just too hard for me to delete it. I live far from New York, I haven't seen any of those shows, and I doubt I'll make it to New York before those shows close, but I enjoyed that program immensely. Conversely, I watch TV (some might say too much TV) on a highly regular basis, my friends and family ask me what they should be watching, and I enjoy the stories that can be told only on TV as opposed to less expansive media. I should be the ideal Emmy viewer. Yet I had to turn the Emmys off after only an hour because it was so horrible. Is there hope for the Emmys, or should I, in the future, just plan to watch Sunday Night Football and wait for the winners to show up on the web? — Erin
Matt Roush: First, "The Suitcase" episode of Mad Men. It's impossible not to exult over Friday Night Lights' come-from-behind victories this year after so many seasons of being shunned — I got quite a lot of mail (and a fair amount of re-tweeting) over Kyle Chandler's win, especially — and it's likely the case that a series finale as well executed as FNL's has an emotional power that overshadows even a brilliant piece of writing like "The Suitcase." So I'm at peace with the way the Emmys went, especially since Mad Men took the Best Drama prize (sharing the wealth), and it's not as if "The Suitcase" was lacking in acclaim.
As for the Emmys show: It is a paradox that a ceremony intended to celebrate TV so frequently proves to be nearly unwatchable. The bells and whistles this year (the EmmyTones, the horrendous announcer) were especially annoying. But to be fair, the best-produced awards shows tend to be those that honor and showcase live performances, such as the Tonys and the Grammys. Like you, I've kept this year's Tonys in my permanent collection, and regardless of the network, I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't make Neil Patrick Harris their go-to host these days. (Well, he or Hugh Jackman. Their duet at the Tonys was pretty amazing as well.)
Question: While watching the Emmys, it occurred to me that the only cable channels represented were AMC & HBO. Quite honestly, I find the AMC shows a bit boring after a few episodes and I don't have HBO so have never seen their shows. TNT, Lifetime, USA, even sometimes FX & TBS all have shows which are good quality, worthy of Emmy consideration. Are they just not eligible? The committee should really consider them, as some of us are not on the "Mad Men/Game of Thrones/Sopranos" bandwagon as it were. And you know what, those of us with basic cable actually watch more television than those with the premium. — Jen
Matt Roush: Not wanting to sound elitist — because I enjoy a number of USA and TNT shows, and FX for the record does occasionally crack into the Emmy ranks (with Justified, Damages, The Shield and assorted others) — but what's boring to you is seen as richly and deeply satisfying to others. Given the current strength of this remarkable season of Breaking Bad, look for that show to have a major comeback next year. The Emmys obviously isn't a popularity contest — if it was, formula procedurals like NCIS would dominate — and the best analogy I can make is to look at book awards, which rarely go to popular genre fiction, favoring works that aspire toward literature. I would argue, and have for years, that shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, the best of HBO and the channeling of Elmore Leonard we see on Justified qualifies as TV literature.
Question: Alphas was my new favorite summer show. I especially enjoy the Gary character. He portrays an autistic person very well in my opinion. Does the show have an autistic person as an advisor? — Gayle
Matt Roush: Gary really is the breakout character on this show, isn't he? (Alphas, by the way, airs its season finale tonight, following a daylong marathon of the entire first season.) According to Syfy, the show does have an autism consultant advising production: Dr. Susan Bookheimer, a professor of cognitive neurosciences at UCLA. Ryan Cartwright also did research of his own to help him develop the character.
Question: I'm usually content just to read the questions of others, but I'm getting very tired of seeing complaints everywhere about the continuous "teasing" on How I Met Your Mother. Does no one else understand that the show isn't *really* about the mother? The mother gimmick is just a way to give an interesting and unique purpose to the story, but the story itself is the point of the show. The day we find out who the mother is, the story will be over and the show will have to end. I would understand the impatience if this were a drama, and the "tease" was something that actually mattered to the plot, but the mother isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things. The show is about five friends and their journey. And actually, HIMYM is better than most TV shows when it comes to tying up loose ends. When a random comment is made about a goat, or an argument, it's always explained later. We know the answers will come before it's over, so why not enjoy the feel-good, comedic ride for as long as it lasts, instead of obsessing about a character who ultimately will only be a very small part of the whole? Am I crazy? — Stephanie
Matt Roush: You're right up to a point, but Mother is now in its seventh season, and I can't blame people for thinking we've all treaded water long enough. If Ted's dating misadventures were even the least bit compelling anymore, that would be another story. But the season of Zoey and The Captain is best forgotten. And now they're teasing us about the identity of Barney's bride? It's all just too coy for my tastes. But wow, the halo effect of Two and a Half Men's comeback last week resulted in some mighty powerful ratings for this show. So maybe you're just too fixated on the haters, because someone besides you must still be enjoying it. Although I'm not convinced that once we know who the "mother" is, that's the end of the show. I'd like to think we'd get at least a bit more of the journey to let us know just what it is that makes this woman the one.
Question: If Shonda Rhimes' idea of Meredith and Derek acting like grown-ups is Derek running off and pouting every time these two have an argument, then Shonda needs her head examined! This is nuts. Why is it that only the women can screw up on Grey's Anatomy, but the men can do whatever they want? Derek breaks the rules and all he gets is a slap on the wrist and a "Don't do that again" and yet Meredith gets fired? What gives? If my husband verbally abused me every time he got angry, I would be gone. Meredith is expected to forgive him and just go on with her life. Yet Derek can hold a grudge like there is no tomorrow. Now it appears they lose Zola and I am sure Derek will find a way to blame her for that too. If this is how they are going to treat their actors, I hope Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey run after this season and don't look back. It's an insult to not only the fans but the actors the way they treat these characters! — Nancy
Matt Roush: Seems to me that Alex paid a pretty steep price for ratting on Meredith in terms of his friendships, so it doesn't always come down only on the women. (Although did they have to make April such a ninny on her first day as chief resident?) Everyone on this show makes mistakes, and usually, they pay for it somehow. I'm a big believer in dramatizing consequences, and it was pretty clear that once Meredith messed with Derek's trial, even for the best of reasons (Adele), it was going to blow up badly. It's called conflict, and Grey's Anatomy is a romantic melodrama, so there's always going to be something rocking everyone's world. And if this couple didn't have some problems, I'd be hearing just as many complaints about how boring they've become. These days, Meredith and Derek's main arena of conflict has been the workplace, and she threatened his professional reputation by damaging his trial, so he's got a right to be upset. But there's no question that watching him get in a pouty snit every time he saw Meredith for the entire two-hour opener was no fun to watch.
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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Ask Matt: The New Season, Plus Fringe, Mentalist, Prime Suspect and More!
Send questions to email@example.com and follow me on Twitter!