Ask Matt: Would Revenge Be Better Shorter? Plus: Grey's, Glee, Hannibal, Good Wife
Emily Van Camp, Josh Bowman
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Question: I just read that Mike Kelley, the creator of Revenge, is leaving the show after this season. I will admit that this season isn't as good as the first, but it's OK. There are reports that Mike Kelley wanted shorter seasons, like on cable, with 13 episodes instead of the regular 22 moving forward. Since that wasn't going to happen, he left. What do you think? Do you think the show would work better with a shorter episode order? Also, if Kelley knew the show wouldn't work with longer seasons, why didn't he speak up the first season? Do you think someone else stepping in will freshen the show a bit? I will admit the time I started to take a step back and realize the writers were going too far was when they revealed Victoria had yet another child. Really?! Did you think the writers went overboard with that storyline in particular too? I also don't agree with the assertion that Scandal has replaced Revenge. The writing on Revenge just isn't as good as it was on Season 1. Had it been, there wouldn't be as many complaints about the plots this year and people would be watching both shows. Thoughts? — Cyrus
Matt Roush: Well, your last hypothetical puzzles me. If the writing (and ratings) were as good this season, none of this would even be an issue, would it? At this pace, how long before Revenge introduces an Evil Twin for Victoria (shades of Krystle trapped in the attic while Rita wreaked havoc in Dynasty)? Revenge was ludicrous long before the secret-child reveal. It's that kind of show, and not nearly as entertaining in its excesses these days as Scandal. But that's perhaps debatable.
The issue of doing shorter seasons is actually interesting, as it gets at yet another flaw in the network system, where less is almost never more, especially if your show is seen as a hit. (On the other end of the equation, though, how wonderful that NBC has renewed Parenthood for a full 22-episode season for the first time in three years. That show at least can support it.) There's little doubt that Revenge would be a better show if its arcs were tighter, allowing for sharper and possibly smarter plotting, and scheduling a shorter season with fewer breaks could also benefit a heavily serialized show like this. (Imagine how much happier Marc Cherry would have been, and how much better Desperate Housewives could have been, if it had subscribed to this theory.) So there's value in Kelley's logic, but unfortunately this sort of vision doesn't correspond to the network's need to milk a new hit for as many episodes as possible, especially this early in the game. With Kelley stepping aside, it's possible Revenge will get a new burst of creative energy, but I'm not sure it will ever recover from the missteps of this season: too much focus on the (yawn) Initiative, whatever it is they've done with Nolan's character, anything that takes the focus away from Emily's vendetta against the Graysons.
Question: I'd like your opinion on something. I realize Grey's Anatomy is considered to be "not what it used to be." I know a lot of people write it off or wonder why it's still on the air. I see some call it a guilty pleasure. For me, though, I love it as much as I did from day one. Let's talk about Chandra Wilson. I know the show is called Grey's Anatomy, but really, who needs Grey? We have Bailey. Bailey is the heart of the hospital. I just watched last week's episode ("Sleeping Monster") and Chandra broke my heart. If Miranda Bailey gets teary-eyed, I get teary-eyed. If Miranda Bailey cries, I cry. If Miranda Bailey is angry, I'm angry. So, in your opinion, why hasn't Chandra received an Emmy for this role? She obviously deserved it the year she lost it to Katherine Heigl. She's clearly deserved it several times since then. So why hasn't she won it? Do you think we'll see her win one before the show ends? — Mark
Matt Roush: Any episode built around Bailey is likely to be a winner, and Chandra Wilson rose to the occasion again last week. She's not just the heart and soul of the show, she's its resilient spine, and to see her knocked down like that was tough, but great drama. It is a shame she wasn't honored back when the show was at its peak in terms of media and even critical buzz, but I'm afraid that ship has almost certainly sailed. Outside of The Good Wife, it's hard for any dramatic series actor on network TV to get much attention and awards buzz these days, given all the activity and accolades focused on cable. Grey's in particular is a show and ensemble that have fallen way off the industry radar, and you have a point that it doesn't deserve to be taken quite so for granted, especially where much of its cast are concerned.
Question: I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the latest episode of Glee, namely Ryder's abuse storyline: I was completely shocked at Ryder's confession about his babysitter molesting him when he was a kid, then utterly horrified and appalled at Artie and Sam's reaction to it. I kept hoping that over the course of the episode, Sam and Artie would realize that what they had said was wrong but it didn't happen. I couldn't enjoy the rest of the story because I couldn't get past the fact that they'd written those characters as having that reaction. I mean, he was supposed to have been 11 when it happened, just a kid. How could they think, just because his babysitter was female, that it was OK? I know that Glee's not a perfect show. Lord knows, it has major continuity issues at times, particularly when it comes to its characters, but I do still enjoy it and I love most of the musical numbers. However, this just crossed the line for me. I cannot believe that they thought it was okay to have two well-loved characters react the way they did to Ryder's story and then not even follow up on it later. This is the first time that I really found Glee offensive and I'm not entirely sure how to get past that. — Lauren
Matt Roush: Did you think Glee was condoning their behavior? The show made it pretty clear that their response was inappropriate and immature. The real twist here is that Ryder found a sympathetic ear in the unlikely person of the usually hideous Kitty. For all of Glee's flaws, it can be brave in allowing even its more sympathetic characters to look bad from time to time, and while it seemed particularly out of character for Artie to be so callous, the show has from the start made it clear than high school is a cruel place, sometimes even within the confines of the chorus room.
Question: Holy Hannibal! I'm a fan of the show, but I find myself consumed with a desire for details on what I have come to call the "Episode 4 Debacle." As you know: NBC announced it was pulling the episode due to sensitivity regarding "recent events" including Newtown and the Boston Marathon bombings. One article I read indicated that in fact, the e-mail from network brass actually was sent the morning of the bombings, before they happened. Another article I read said that the screeners sent to critics included episodes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. This, to me, indicates trepidation that goes back further than the bombings. Then, of course, they released excerpts from the episode, eliminating all aspects of the "crime of the week" which involved Molly Shannon. Question 1: Is there any indication that there were other reasons that the episode was pulled? And why it wasn't included in the screeners? The description of that storyline in which guest star Shannon plays a teacher who manipulates students to kill their parents certainly sounds grim, but I can't help but wonder if, after filming, they felt the episode didn't work and are looking for reasons to scrap it without losing the mythology-heavy stuff in the scenes with the series regulars. Have you seen the full episode? Do you have any other theories? Will we ever see the full episode? — Aaron
Matt Roush: To my knowledge, no one has seen the full episode, and until and unless it's included in the DVD release, only overseas audiences (and those technologically gifted enough to bootleg such things) will get to bear witness. Critics were given five episodes to review before premiere, and this episode was conspicuously absent — it was clear while watching them in order that some threads of the Abigail story were missing — so it seems fairly clear that there was ambivalence early on about sharing or broadcasting this episode, from the network's and presumably the creator's point of view. (Unless Bryan Fuller was being disingenuous during his intro to the online clips, we're meant to believe he had a hand in this decision.) I understand the cultural sensitivities up to a point, but for all of its macabre elegance, Hannibal is a fairly twisted show with a very sick sensibility in its death-scene fetishes — those angel wings last week, so creepy! — so I'm not sure why flagging this episode with viewer advisories wouldn't have been enough. If you're watching Hannibal voluntarily, you could probably handle it. If you're the sort that would get upset by this perverse kind of storytelling, you're probably not watching anyway.
Question: I am a fan of The Good Wife, the show and the title character. Am I the only person not buying the on/off romance angst between Alicia and Will? I see no chemistry being generated in the office, but the campaign bus is another matter! Peter and Alicia have an undeniable connection compared to what seems like kissing-cousin law partners played by Julianna Margulies and Josh Charles. Am I in the minority? — Dena
Matt Roush: I'm sure you're not alone, and I imagine there is a Team Peter vs. Team Will debate going on somewhere out there, especially after Sunday's finale. (Sidebar: Were you fooled by who was behind Alicia's door at the end?) I get where you're coming from — there was more passion between the Florricks during this campaign season than ever before, and I enjoyed that — but I also appreciate the complications that have kept the smoldering Will-Alicia affair on ice, especially given everything that's happened in the workplace this season. I do buy the unresolved nature of their relationship, and of course am curious where it's headed, now that Alicia has taken her latest leap into the professional unknown. What a spectacular season finale!
Question: I generally agree with your reviews of shows. However, I can't say that about your Mr. Selfridge review. I love the series on Masterpiece Classic. Two wonderful hours on Sunday night, Call the Midwife (just amazing) and Mr. Selfridge, that I so look forward to. I don't see Jeremy Piven's performance as overselling — perhaps he researched the real Harry Selfridge, who may actually have been quite a P.T. Barnum-esque character. Or, if nothing else, really colorful. I thoroughly enjoy the wonderful performances of these quite interesting characters. I really think Harry deserves more than a 5! Won't you reconsider? Regardless, I am thoroughly hooked! P.S.: There is a three-part miniseries that just started this past Sunday directly after Mr. Selfridge — The Bletchley Circle — another winner in my opinion. — Louise
Matt Roush: We're on the same page regarding Call the Midwife (a favorite of mine since last season; it was on my year-end Top 10 list alongside Downton Abbey) and also with the very intriguing and enjoyable Bletchley mystery miniseries. But we'll have to agree to disagree about Mr. Selfridge. I have an affinity for British period drama, but I have to be honest if one disappoints me, and I think a "5" score in the magazine column was more than fair. This felt very formula to me, without any real distinction; I'm not surprised fans of the genre would find things to enjoy, but compared to the usual Masterpiece standards, it seemed terribly mediocre (not to mention overextended), down to the trite subplots for the store employees. And Piven's performance came off as forced and inauthentic throughout, whether being blustery in public or mannered in private. I'm just not buying it. But if others are, that's OK, as long as they can acknowledge that just because the franchise is called Masterpiece doesn't mean it's always so.
Question: Is CSI: NY done for good? I see actors from the show on summer show promos, and it's making me wonder if the show is over. Also, the way the season ended with everyone getting on with life, like the final episode of CSI: Miami, it's kind of spooky that they would end both programs the same way. Any hints? — Ramona
Matt Roush: Not so much spooky as common sense, seems to me. CSI: NY has been on the cancellation "bubble" for the last few seasons, as it gets more expensive and the network seeks to refresh its lineup with fresh titles and potential new hits. This year, with a reduced episode order reinforcing the writing on the wall, the producers apparently felt the urge to end this season with a sense of closure, mercifully not with a cliffhanger. Its future isn't sealed, though. It has escaped cancellation before, and much depends on CBS' development for next season and if the network feels it's worth the risk to try something new in front of Blue Bloods in the fall.
Question: Your April 22 edition of "Ask Matt" included a comment about how "the broadcast networks ... deal with a much higher volume of programming and thus have a much higher failure rate (than cable networks)." Failure rate is a percentage and is not dependent on volume. One in 10 is the same failure rate as 10 in 100. However, I think your brain was wrapped around the right basic idea, which is that the cable networks, because they have fewer original shows, tend to be more inclined to nurture the ones they have. I also think it's true that the execs at the cable networks are a bit more in touch with reality in modern times. People's lives aren't centered around prime time like they were a few decades back. A new show that airs once, sometimes twice, during the week, in prime time, has fewer chances to attract new viewers than a cable show that is aired several times throughout the week and at different times of day. Even though the DVR has become rather ubiquitous these days, many people simply don't know how, or don't bother, to program them, and they're more likely to watch a cable show when they have a selection of air times. I've never been able to figure out why the networks haven't ever made a better stab at using cable TV to their advantage.
If I were CBS, for example, I'd want a cable channel that showed all my prime-time shows from the last week or two, over and over. There's 22 hours of prime time a week, so each day could play a week's worth of programming. You could give viewers a chance to see any show from the previous week once a day, or you could show two weeks with every show airing every other day, etc. It would give viewers a lot more options. Did you miss CSI last night? It's on the cable channel tomorrow at 11 am and the next day at 4 pm. It would be very cost-efficient, I would think, and it would probably grab a lot of viewers who don't watch much prime-time TV. Seems like a no-brainer to me. — Mike
Matt Roush: The networks are already doing this to some extent, making so much of their prime-time product available On Demand or online, to be watched at one's convenience. (There are exceptions, of course, with some shows being unavailable on any other platform, if the studios refuse to cut a deal.) But your "TV anytime all the time" pipe dream ignores one important aspect of the way TV works: It's not just about the shows, it's a business, one that involves a network of affiliates that still places some value on shows being scheduled on a specific night and time. And to be honest, there is still some cultural cachet and pleasure to be had in knowing that signature shows like 60 Minutes, The Good Wife, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, The Simpsons, etc. will all show up many weeks with new episodes on Sunday (and NCIS on Tuesdays and Grey's Anatomy on Thursdays, and so on). Even if we choose to watch these shows at various times and different nights, which is happening with more frequency to be sure, there's something to be said for the ability to have that shared experience, and that isn't going to go away anytime soon.
To your first point: I don't agree that cable programmers are that much more nurturing to their shows than broadcast networks. If a show's a dud, it will just as likely be canceled. The real difference is that because the cable channel probably doesn't have a back bench of product to fall back on and replace it with, even a DOA series usually gets to play out a full season before it's terminated.
Question: This is more a commentary than a question about Dallas, but you are correct regarding Christopher's parentage: He is Kristen's son by her then-boyfriend, not J.R. Pam and Bobby did a thorough investigation and when they learned Kristen's boyfriend also died, that's when they adopted Christopher. My theory about the reboot: J.R. was a one-of-a-kind iconic character, brought to life by Larry Hagman. J.R.'s rivalry with his brother Bobby, whom he believed was his father's favorite, was what made the show a hit. With Hagman gone and only 10 episodes a season, it's hard for the audience to establish a connection to the younger generation. I think John Ross and Pamela are terrific but the rest leave a lot to be desired. Elena, Emma and Drew didn't have enough meat to their stories for the audience to care, and Emma's character was wishy-washy. And Christopher is so-o. As I watch Patrick Duffy, I realize I underappreciated his acting talents. His Bobby is anything but boring; hard to pull off when all the other actors are chewing the scenery, and so far Christopher is a bit dull. If the show is to stand a chance, there needs to be more "personal" than "business" stories and the younger generation needs to expand their acting chops.
Also, I just started Scandal right around Christmas, and it is now my favorite show. I believe I read that the show has gotten lots of great buzz and is doing well in the ratings. Was this a surprise to the critics and the network? I don't remember hearing any buzz on the show prior to its launch last year. Shonda Rhimes's last show was a bomb, so I suppose ABC has a long-term deal with Shonda and that due to the success of Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice, they will put on anything she creates in the hopes of having another hit? — Erin
Matt Roush: We're pretty much in sync on all of your Dallas observations. With Scandal, it was a bit of a sleeper in its initial midseason run. Critics were able to see all seven episodes before it premiered, which is a good thing, because it got much better and juicier as it went on, and I'm still rather pleased with my initial review, in which I described the show as "a preposterously propulsive exercise in popcorn TV. With crazy-sauce butter on top." It was a somewhat slow build, but I'm glad it caught on and I hope it can sustain this berserk high-wire act. Regarding Rhimes' relationship with ABC: It's true her track record, though not without flops (Off the Map), can get a pilot green-lit at ABC faster than most, but there's never a guarantee. Last year, her period-piece pilot Gilded Lilys didn't make the cut. (But really, could it have been worse than Zero Hour?)
Question: I got a strong feeling that when Julius Caesar entered the Spartacus story that the writers and producers were leaning toward a spin-off. (I don't, however, remember reading anything about Spartacus and Caesar ever meeting.) I can see them taking the young Caesar and getting two or three good seasons of material out of it, similar to the way The Tudors tackled Henry VIII. Thoughts? — Paul
Matt Roush: Right now it's all speculation, with nothing official, but it wouldn't surprise me at all should Starz decide to continue the franchise with a Caesar-centric series (heading toward its own bloody, brutal ending, naturally). Spartacus' creator, Steven S. DeKnight, has reportedly given the idea of a follow-up series his blessing, but he probably wouldn't be involved, as he's busy developing his next project, a sci-fi epic for Starz titled Incursion. But a Caesar series in Imperial Rome sounds like it would a sure thing, and a good companion piece to Da Vinci's Demons.
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