Question: How do you feel about the subject matter on Parenthood this season? Some of my favorite moments on the show have always been the lighthearted sibling moments with the jokes and teasing. Those moments are all but gone as the Kristina storyline has taken precedence this year. From the Twitter and Facebook comments I've read, it is really ringing realistically to many viewers. The show is handling it with grace, but it's so very heavy that it seems like a departure for a show that has always had a good dose of comedy in each episode. I doubt that they're gaining viewers this year. My fear is that for a show that has always seemed to get renewed by the skin of its teeth, this feels like the end. Do you have any insight as to ratings or where it stands with NBC? — Jennifer
Matt Roush: Let me start by saying this is my favorite season to date of Parenthood, in large part due to the remarkable work of Monica Potter and Peter Krause — and in the few episodes where she came home from college, Sarah Ramos as a necessarily matured Haddie. The scene where she quietly made a sandwich for her overwhelmed mother moved me greatly. And while it's true that the material can be heavier than the norm, I've seen the next two episodes (background for a review column that will appear in this week's magazine) and am happy to report that while there are still plenty of reach-for-the-hanky tear-jerking moments, the cancer storyline isn't quite as prevalent, and the Kristina-Adam moments tend to be less depressing and wrenching: this week focusing on getting Max to attend a school dance, and next week Kristina delivers one of my favorite scenes of the season, harking back to the desire to see more comedy, when Julia comes to the house to get parenting tips from her supermom "guru," only to find Kristina stoned. The advice Kristina gives is hilarious, very real and refreshingly angst-free.
I'm also loving the poignant romance between Amber and troubled war-vet Ryan, with great chemistry between Mae Whitman and Matt Lauria. (On the other hand, the situation dramedy in which Sarah finds herself, making bad decisions as she tries to balance her boss Hank's needs against her duty to her boyfriend Mark, is nothing short of exasperating.) Regarding the show's status and future: Parenthood is never going to be mistaken for a hit, and being on NBC these last few seasons has been something of a blessing, since nothing was doing well, so why single this one out for cancellation? This fall the network has been on an upswing, but even so, Parenthood is competitive in its time period, often winning in the important demos, so I wouldn't worry too much about its chances. The shortened seasons may also be a cause for concern, but in this case, I tend to think of Parenthood as being handled more like a cable series. And while I'd like more, if NBC is happy with airing it for half a season, I'll take what I can get.
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Question: The Good Wife has long been "a cable series that happens to be on network TV," to quote its star Julianna Margulies. Now that it is four seasons in, is close to hitting its episode requirement for syndication, and most importantly that its ratings have continued to soften this season (damn that NFL overrun), might the show move to cable or find some other arrangement that allowed Friday Night Lights and Damages to continue without ratings being so much of an issue? I know CBS loves The Good Wife and enjoys the accolades it brings to the network, but it seems like its weak 18-49 rating (1.6 low this season) can only go on so much longer when it already has several other veteran dramas. Also, as a huge fan of The Good Wife, I am proud of the quality it maintains across a 22-episode season, but I have to admit I'd love to see what the writers could do with a tighter 10-12 episode run. What do you think? For a show that has long seemed made for cable, might it be possible for it to move there for a final few seasons at reduced episode orders? — Stephen
Matt Roush: I get your point, especially the less-is-more argument, but moving to cable is the last thing I'd like to see happen to The Good Wife. As the lines continue to blur between network and cable (often favoring cable when it comes to creative freedom), and the bar lowers in terms of what constitutes a success — in our office, we have a new saying: "[Just Being] On is the New 'Hit'" — I hope and believe that CBS will stick with this for a few more seasons, regardless of ratings. Network TV needs more shows that raise the bar in terms of quality and (in this case) casting, and of all networks, CBS can afford to support something of this caliber for a while longer, hopefully for as long as the show's creative team wants to keep doing it. (A solid seven-season run sounds about right to me. No need to push it.) If its run were to be cut short for the usual depressing reasons, cable or other platforms would certainly be an option, and these days I wouldn't count anything out. But I admire what The Good Wife stands for as a top-drawer network drama, and even with the aggravating Sunday overruns, I'd hate to see that change.
Question: So I've noticed a real lack in dramas on Fox. Bones is coming into its final stretch and The Mob Doctor doesn't seem able to fill the void left by House, so that leaves The Following, Glee and Touch. Fox is so limited with their programming schedule since they don't air any prime time shows during the 10 pm/9c hour, with Sundays dedicated to their Animation Domination, and Wednesdays and Thursdays dominated by The X Factor and American Idol, so there isn't really any room to add more dramas to the network. I understand keeping the singing competition shows since they are major powerhouses in terms of ratings. What are your thoughts on either getting rid of the results episode that both shows air on Thursdays to add another drama or completely getting rid of the Animation Domination on Sundays, replacing it with comedies, and airing dramas on Tuesdays starting in the 2014-2015 season. Don't get me wrong, I love The Simpsons, but everything must come to an end sometime. These shows can live somewhere else. I can easily see another Simpsons movie coming out or having Bob's Burgers air new episodes on Adult Swim. — Justin
Matt Roush: If The Following lives up to its shocking and thrilling pilot, which pretty much upstages anything that aired on any network this fall (with the possible exception of Nashville, which has struggled to maintain the juicy vibes of its first episode), then Fox will be back in the drama game. But keep in mind that this is designed as a limited-run series, and unless they decide otherwise, it will be scheduled for half a season (15 episodes), much the way Parenthood has evolved, this time by choice. Fox's priority this fall was establishing a night of live-action comedy on Tuesday, with mixed results, but they're sticking with that for now. Your other suggestions fall under the heading of fixing what isn't broken, at least in Fox's eyes. The animation night is classic counter-programming for a younger audience on an overstuffed night, and I can't imagine Fox attempting dramas in that environment for the foreseeable future. The network's schedule has always been limited by its available real estate, which will become even more evident as American Idol takes hold in the winter with expanded audition episodes, but given how hard it is for the other networks to sustain 10 pm/9c programming, that's not going to change, either.
The real disappointment for Fox this season was the abysmal and inexplicable choice of The Mob Doctor to replace House in one of the few dedicated drama time slots the network has nowadays. (Once Fringe leaves, and Touch takes over, probably to collapse again, all bets are off whether that night ever sees a drama again.) The Following could go a long way to restore the network's luster in the midseason, but unless we hear otherwise, the network seems content with its emphasis on comedy and music-reality on other nights of the week.
Question: Please tell me that they are going to wind up Last Resort when it ends instead of leaving it hanging. Figures they canceled it, as this was one of the few shows I was watching this season. And if so, any clues as to how they resolve the situations? — Ronda
Matt Roush: According to my mailbag, the termination of Last Resort has struck the biggest nerve of any cancellation so far this season. (Or maybe it's just because I championed it, and it's the only cancellation that has surprised or dismayed me so far.) The good news, if there is any, is that ABC insists all 13 episodes produced will air, and the show's co-creator Shawn Ryan has teased that they've been able to tweak their storytelling to provide some sort of actual finale. On the day the news broke, Ryan tweeted, "We're going to give you a no-holds-barred kickass ending." Which is as much as we can hope for, I guess. Will it be as satisfying as if they'd been given a full-season order? Probably not, but then, one of the questions asked along the way even by fans is how long this show could sustain this high-wire act. Now ABC has made that question moot.
Question: I just love your column and the delicate way you state your opinions! Thanks for promoting Last Resort — it was great to see a show with a new and interesting premise and starring the talented Andre Braugher. It is a pity that the morons at ABC didn't follow your lead.
And I'd like your take on Flashpoint. I have enjoyed this series over the years and was sorry to hear that it had been canceled. The explanation which I read in TV Guide from its executive producers, "While the series is still at its creative apex, we've decided to end the series on a high note, and give those fans the satisfaction of a fitting series conclusion in our 75th episode," seemed pretty contrived to me. There are plenty of shows which should have ended years ago. So are we hearing pride at work or is it something more? And then ION TV runs the final season at 11 pm/ET on Tuesdays and Fridays, which screams "dump job," instead of prime time, when it would displace Criminal Minds reruns. Are the ratings for this show really that bad? — Jessie
Matt Roush: I have no problem with any show going out on its own volition, especially if they're able to provide an appropriate ending, which it sounds like they're doing here. Flashpoint is a Canadian TV production — CBS and ION were its distributors here — and I don't know enough about their industry to make any generalizations about how long their hit shows tend to last. But a five-season run is respectable for any show — only in the U.S. do we tend to let shows run seemingly forever (a trend unlikely to change as it becomes harder to launch new hits) and I couldn't agree more with your statement that there are plenty of shows that have overstayed their welcome. In this case, I'm inclined to take the Flashpoint producers at their word, factoring in the reality that shows almost always get more expensive the longer they run, often forcing budgetary choices that affect the cast and production, which is why the producers may feel this is the right time to end things before the inevitable decline. I don't know anything about ION ratings (or ION as a whole, for that matter), but agree that it's peculiar to air the final season of a former signature series, and an original to boot, outside of prime time.
Matt Roush: I would look at the second season of Boss as a gift, and leave it at that. It's worth remembering that Starz picked up Boss for a second year before the first episode ever aired, which seemed like hubris at the time (especially after the show premiered to depressingly low numbers, which rarely budged) but was also a sign that this new network was serious about supporting its talent, regardless of the risk. Kelsey Grammer was terrific throughout in what often felt like a Herculean performance, and I enjoyed what I've seen of the second year more than the first — although I quickly grew weary of Martin Donovan as Mayor Kane's nagging ghost — but even so, the show was always so relentlessly downbeat that I'm not surprised it never grew its audience, which is why Starz couldn't keep it going indefinitely.
Question: I'm not sure if you still follow Law & Order: SVU, but after the Nov. 14 "Vanity's Bonfire" episode, I am seriously considering dropping the show. Spoiler alert! I find Olivia's actions to be unconscionable. The fact that they would let a murderer go free because they felt sorry for her dying mother is beyond belief. I realize the culprit was a 16-year-old girl and she was pushed to a breaking point, but she caved in someone's head in a fit of rage. Someone like that should not be walking free because the detectives feel she'll be okay. I know L&O has lived in the gray but I usually agree with their methods. Only once or twice did I find myself disagreeing with McCoy back in his cowboy days, but this is too much. What are you thoughts on this newest plot development? Was it done to be controversial in order to create discussion (like this) or a natural progression of Olivia's character? If it's done in typical L&O manner, then we'll most likely never see this plot line picked up again. In which case I can't bring myself to watch a character I don't respect anymore. — Rob
Matt Roush: That whole episode was over-the-top, which is hardly an uncommon occurrence on this series, and that includes the climactic reveal (not a huge surprise) that the daughter killed the mistress whose fraudulently adopted child was at the core of the whole mess — and as often happens on shows like this, I found myself more concerned for the little girl lost in the system (was she ever returned to her defrauded mom and dad?) than for the cogs in this overheated wheel. These days, when I watch SVU it tends to be more for the stellar guest stars than for the wacky plotting or any allegiance to what's left of the core cast. My take on Olivia's bizarre decision to ignore the culpability of the killer was that she likely saw the teenager as another victim of this fraud, and perhaps also to spare the dying mother (yet another casualty), but not to intervene somehow and make the kid seek help felt very out of character. Like you, I'd be surprised if we'll ever revisit this case, which means no consequences, and it's up to you whether this crossed the line (or as some like to put it, jumped the shark). I'm sure the twist was meant for shock value — whaddaya mean, she let her off the hook? — and I wouldn't read anything into it beyond that.
Question: Law & Order: SVU show runner/executive producer Warren Leight said in an interview before Season 14 aired that he and Dick Wolf were looking ahead at possibilities for the Law & Order franchise. I thought it was said that NBC wanted to use SVU to spin off the next L&O series. Is it possible that NBC would/is bring(ing) back the mothership series or Law & Order: Criminal Intent — with new casts/crews, most likely — versus a new series? I would rather NBC err on the side of caution and revive an old series, but I think I could watch a new L&O series, as long as it's not in Los Angeles or Dallas and Wolf hires new writers rather than transferring his old/current crews. Is any of this even possible? — Jamie
Matt Roush: Anything's possible, and I'm never surprised by anything Dick Wolf attempts in his zeal to keep this franchise alive. The biggest setback was the near-sighted decision to scuttle the mothership with so little fanfare, but that ship has sailed. And given the new burst of energy at NBC under Bob Greenblatt's leadership, I find it hard to imagine they'd go so retro as to reboot the original show right now, but that to me would probably be the best way to honor the brand, because it always represented Law & Order at its best (a few unfortunate castings aside). I'm not aware of any new Law & Order series in the pipeline, and would venture to say it's not as big a priority for Greenblatt as it is for Wolf, but sure, it's always a possibility, given its place in the network's history.
Question: Couldn't miss the opportunity to respond to your scathing rant of the TV-movie Liz & Dick. I have seen the previews and will be sure to miss it, as I couldn't agree with you more about Lindsay Lohan trying to impersonate such a legend. Liz Taylor will definitely be turning in her grave! They should have shown this one at Halloween. I'm sure Grant Bowler will do his best on Burton's persona, but I think you're correct about the need for ruggedness. Russell Crowe would've done him very proud. As for Liz herself, my choices would've been Charlize Theron or Michelle Williams. Williams did Marilyn Monroe real justice. Or possibly even Lana Parrilla. Dismissing Lohan's pathetic personal woes, she most definitely was not the right choice here. The actress assuming this part has to be young, beautiful, mature and a very good actor. In her day Liz Taylor made her share of mistakes, too, but could always rally because she was relevant and commanded respect as an actor, even among her peers. Lohan? Not even remotely close! — Sharon
Matt Roush: To cast actual movie stars to play these movie stars would have required an ambition and budget way beyond Lifetime's. I don't often encourage pre-judging anything, although if my pan (among other colorful reviews) helped steer anyone away from this pathetic and cynical exploitation, then we provided a public service. (My bet, though, is that the vitriolic reviews only served as catnip for those seeking the latest TV train wreck, and Lifetime will get decent or better ratings. In which case: yawn.) People often ask if there's a personal vendetta behind such blistering reviews, and the answer is no, it's all just part of the fun of covering such a lively beat. In this case, I was only vaguely aware of Lohan's personal roller-coaster through the tabloids, and my main apprehension was based on her lousy Saturday Night Live appearance a while back. If she had risen to the challenge this time, I'd have been happy to report that. The real culprits here are the producers and the network eager to cash in on something so depressing as the subtext of a too-soon-to-be-a-has-been like Lohan tackling a role obviously beyond her reach.
Question: What on earth are the producers of The X Factor thinking? That's actually my question. Do you have any idea? It's like they've never put on a reality TV show before and they're just winging it — like they had a brainstorming session in which everyone shouted an American stereotype ("Ooh, Britney Spears!" "A Kardashian!" "Lights!" "Glitter!") and that's all the thought that went into this show. Having lived in England and watched the British version of The X Factor, I was so excited when they brought it stateside. But... huh? That's what I keep asking myself as I watch this overly produced show with hosts that have all the personality of Stepford wives and judges who are thisclose to being utterly useless. Where are the actual critiques, the kind that make you think The Voice coaches actually know and think about the singers on their teams? That's the absolute worst part of The X Factor: There is zero sense that anyone, from the judges on up to the producers, truly cares about the singers, who are the ones we really want to see and get to know. Heck, a couple of weeks ago, L.A. Reid couldn't even remember one of his singers' name!
I feel like everyone involved with the show thinks that America is filled with 13-year-old screaming Justin Bieber fans, and they're the show's sole target demographic. How else to explain the categories: "Teens," "Just Slightly Older Than Teens," "Groups" and "Really, Really Old People (aka the Over 25s)?" So everyone involved must have been completely befuddled when, for the first two weeks of voting, Tate Stevens — the (gasp!) 37-year-old country singer — garnered the most votes. Truly, truly, I ask you: What on earth do you think the producers of The X Factor are thinking, and is it too late to save this show? Sorry for the long rant. But having loved this show in England, the American version has been a huge disappointment for me. Thanks. — Kirsten
Matt Roush: Thoroughly enjoyed this rant, in part because I agree with every point but also for the perspective from someone who saw the format executed better elsewhere. The one thing I do like about the show this season is the ranking of each of the acts at the end of the results episode. Adds a little suspense and lets some of the more self-impressed performers (and judge-mentors) know that they're not all that, although it also reveals how much low-hanging fruit there is this season. I love that the mature country singer is at the top of the leader board each week (trading No. 1 with little Carly Rose Sonenclar, the other front-runner), along with the scary-looking tattoo-head Vino Alan who's got "the voice" — to borrow from the other and better singing competition — but is surely not what The X Factor had in mind for the $5 million grand prize. I love watching this show's expectations be upended, because like Kristen, there's no way to look at The X Factor and not wonder what they're thinking of the mess they've created with this incredibly uninteresting and overblown show.
Question: Interesting take in the last column on Last Man Standing and the All in the Family influence. However, am I the only one to notice (I have preteens, by the way) that Malibu Country could easily be a carbon copy of Hannah Montana, minus the secret identity? It was in the back of my mind noodling around until it dawned on me. Am I crazy? — Stephen B
Matt Roush: No more crazy than anyone who's been exposed to what preteens are watching nowadays, I'm sure. I actually think Hannah Montana had more going for it than Malibu Country does. But I'm not the target audience for this one, and I'm sure ABC would be more than happy if its Friday sitcoms popped with kids and families the way shows have on Disney Channel or ABC Family or Nickelodeon. As we noted up top, why let cable have all the fun?