Question: I'm a fan and read your column every week. I've watched the pilots for Forever and Red Band Society, and have added them to my list of shows I'll be watching. I hope they do well. I was wondering if you have seen them, and if so, what did you think? I found Red Band Society to be a feel-good show. I can't help but wonder, though, if it shouldn't be on a younger TV station like MTV, and the fact that it isn't makes me worry about its chances, as it is geared toward a younger audience. Forever is very Sherlock Holmes, which is right up my alley, and I love it whenever Ioan Gruffudd is on my TV screen. Do you think making the pilots available early hurts a TV show? What are your thoughts? - Carmelita
Matt Roush: Thanks for giving me another opportunity with this question to point out that TV Guide Magazine is in full fall throttle, with the Fall Preview issue currently on stands, the Returning Favorites issue out later this week and a Fall Cable Preview out the following week. Busy times. When it comes to making pilots available for early screening, I understand the networks' desire to get certain shows sampled early — cutting through the fall clutter is the greatest hurdle for many of these shows — and it makes sense for both of these particular series to get that sort of exposure. Red Band Society is a risk of sorts because its hospital setting might sound more depressing than the show actually is, but I wouldn't worry about it skewing young, because from Fox's perspective — and don't forget, this is a network that came to prominence with youth-appeal shows like Beverly Hills, 90210 and the great Party of Five — this would be a great problem to have. Forever is airing in a tough time period for ABC (Tuesdays at 10/9c) and has a quirky high concept (immortal crime solver who dies, and is resurrected, with unusual frequency) that needs to be seen to be enjoyed. It's the best role Gruffudd has yet had on a U.S. network, and Forever could turn into a Castle-style sleeper. But first, it has to get on people's radar. So this early-screening strategy might pay off — even if it slightly depresses the opening-night ratings.
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Question: Please, please, please tell me ABC is going to bring back The Quest. That show was fun from beginning to end. What a novelty: a reality show where the participants enthusiastically embraced the premise of Everrealm and saving the Kingdom. I enjoyed the scripted characters, special-effects makeup and the sets. No gratuitous sex, screaming, back-biting, finally a reality show I can escape in and care about. Any chatter on this great show returning? — Linda
Matt Roush: There's chatter among fans, for sure, but not a great deal of optimism for its future, given ABC's track record with such shows, and the additional hurdles that, although The Quest was originally announced last year to air during the regular season (as a thematic filler or companion for Once Upon a Time), it was burned off on Thursdays during the late summer, and once the dismal ratings kicked in, ABC ended up stacking back-to-back episodes for several weeks, never a good sign. But I agree, The Quest was great fun, reminding me of how I got hooked on The Mole (not the celebrity version) back in the Anderson Cooper day, but with higher production values and, as you noted, a rousing sense of uplifting adventure and escapism. One thing in its favor is that there are some powerful and talented producers involved in making this show, and they know they didn't get a fair shake from ABC, scheduling or promotion-wise, so maybe they'll find a way to continue. But for now, I'd take some comfort in the fact that ABC actually aired the show, in its entirety, and we can enjoy it as a fun summer lark.
Question: I tried to get excited about another reality show, so I decided to give Utopia a chance. Ugh, I barely got through the first show (two hours, really?) and I wanted to jump through my TV and slap some people and slap them hard! 1. The drunk girl and her alcohol poisoning; 2. The construction dude and his never giving anyone a chance to talk, and his talking through the prayer (I'm an atheist myself, and even I would give the minister his time); 3. The yoga zen girl who can't seem to make up her mind on the construction dude to stay or go or whether she wants to jump his bones (that last part is strictly my interpretation); 4. The vegetarian girl that wants to get lucky on the first night with a complete stranger; 5. And, mercy me, the hillbilly who I would just downright throw myself on his scrawny a-- and choke the life out of for his ranting and raving incessantly and wasting all that water! After the premiere, I immediately deleted the series off my DVR and hope to never hear another word about that sorry mess of people!! I guess I'm done with reality television again! — Amy
Matt Roush: I'll be honest. Even if Utopia were well done, I'd probably despise it. (This is among my least favorite sort of "reality" show.) But it's so horribly executed, and pathetically cast with one obnoxious "type" after another, that I'm not surprised it has proved to be such a turn-off in its first week. Will they really make those cretins stay in "Utopia" for a full year if nobody's watching? That's the only aspect of that show that interests me in the slightest.
Question: Season 1 of Outlander is said to be 16 episodes, except it ends on Sept. 27. When will we see the next eight episodes? — Nancy
Matt Roush: Like many cable series these days, Outlander is splitting its season into two halves. Starz hasn't announced a return date yet, but it will most likely be in the early spring. And while we're on the subject, you do not want to miss this Saturday's penultimate episode of the first half of the season. It's titled "The Marriage," and if you've been impatiently waiting for Claire and Jamie to take things to the next level, let's just say you're in for a treat.
Question: Madam Secretary looks like one I want to watch! But it curiously looks like it is loosely based on Hillary Clinton. What's your opinion? — Don
Matt Roush: Comparisons are inevitable, given the job (Secretary of State) and Téa Leoni's hair color. But the circumstances and details, both domestically and politically, couldn't be more different, and the most cogent comparison to be made here is with The Good Wife, for which Madam Secretary is intended to be a compatible companion piece. I find the show a little too earnest off the bat, but I like the workplace tensions, and Leoni has a nicely unaffected style (and Tim Daly as her religion-professor hubby offers great support), so I'm initially rooting for it.
Question: What happened to Extant? Started off so good and then ended up being The X-Files but worse (I enjoyed The X-Files until they extended it longer then they had to). Too many storylines going on at once and way far-fetched, with somehow the character Molly gets out of everything that is in her way, and that is when I lost interest. The show is now off my DVR and free for another fall TV show. I am pumped for Gotham. What do you think of Scorpion? — Mike
Matt Roush: I'm afraid I bailed pretty early on Extant. The summer was awfully busy, TV-wise, and this obviously didn't click the way CBS wanted it to — probably wise on your part not to get too attached. I'm pumped for Gotham, too, especially where the villains are concerned. And Scorpion feels very indicative of the unimpressive new season as a whole. It's OK but nothing special, in part because it feels so familiar. ("Let's put Big Bang Theory-style misfit geniuses in a crime caper!") It might work for CBS, and it gets a big boost its first week by airing after a Big Bang Theory double-header, but I figure it will get lost (for me) in my desire to keep up with more urgently compelling Monday shows like Gotham, Sleepy Hollow and The Blacklist.
Question: I used to get so excited about the networks' new fall shows, but knowing that there is over a 90 percent chance they will be canceled, why bother. Last season I picked 10 new shows to watch/DVR, and only one was renewed for a second season. I don't want to invest my time watching anything new that the networks have to offer anymore. The networks don't care how many millions of viewers watch a show, they only care what the demo is. Even if a network orders a full season for the freshman shows, there is still a chance they'll cancel the show. I personally think that if a series gets a full-season pick-up its freshman year, it should automatically be renewed for a second season. If word of mouth doesn't grow viewership or the ratings tank in the second season, cancel it. I know that the networks are running a business, and as a consumer I'm taking my business elsewhere. I've moved my freshman-show viewing to basic and premium cable only, because those shows are more likely to get renewed. Are there any freshman basic and premium cable shows to look out for? - Nori
Matt Roush: I get what you're saying, although given the cost of making and developing TV these days, it's an unrealistic expectation that any network would invest "automatically" in a second season of a show with iffy potential. The real point here, though, is that it's not as if the high failure rate of network TV is anything new — as long as I've been covering TV, the odds for success have been perilous — and looking back at last year's Fall Preview grid, of roughly 23 new shows, eight made it to a second season, so it looks to me like you just made some iffy picks. (With few exceptions — Trophy Wife and The Crazy Ones, most notably — the shows that got canceled largely deserved it.) Last season gave us a few breakouts including The Blacklist and Sleepy Hollow, and a few critical faves like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Mom, and while it's too early to know if this fall's batch has any keepers of that magnitude (I'm high on The CW's Jane the Virgin and The Flash, neither of which are likely to burn up the ratings), I will continue to argue that taking such a negative blanket attitude about broadcast TV puts anyone at risk of missing out on outstanding programming like, say, The Good Wife or (depending on your taste) Hannibal.
That said, even cable isn't immune to canceling shows, but admittedly it is more rare, in part because those outlets tend to produce fewer shows in less volume, and the need to satisfy a mass audience is less vital. The only new cable series for this fall that has caught my eye is Showtime's The Affair, which looks excellent and provocative — but we've just come out of a summer where cable produced quite a few new winners, and most will be taking a bit of a breather before premiering new shows.
Question: Do you think TV shows will ever come out with an "expiration date?" For example, I read that Guillermo Del Toro envisioned The Strain lasting about five seasons. This would allow the writers to compose with more purpose. It would also give the audience a sense that we are moving toward closure. How long can you really stay under a dome, anyway? Some shows just lend themselves better for long-term such as police procedurals. But shows like Hostages, one season and we are done. Can't stay a hostage indefinitely. Thoughts? — Kelley
Matt Roush: Some networks, like Fox with the upcoming Gracepoint, are toying with the notion of "limited-run" series with distinct end points — in other words, miniseries (a format that used to be a network staple) — and there are rare cases like The Strain (based on a trilogy of novels, also building toward a definite finish line, so a multiple-season miniseries), which know from the start where it's headed and how. I like this concept in theory, because it does provide a tighter focus for the storytelling — and it's clear by now that Under the Dome could have used such discipline. But even a self-contained story like last season's Hostages (which I suppose would have dramatized a different hostage crisis if there had been a second season) went off the rails pretty quickly, so it's no guarantee of quality. And these shows are still the exception, because the U.S. TV model, even for serialized dramas, continues to be based on open-ended runs, with the theory that in success, less is never more.
Question: As far as the Emmys and other awards shows go, I for one cannot fathom how Matthew Rhys still isn't recognized for The Americans. His performance is absolutely outstanding and nuanced. Season 2 was fantastic, even better than Season 1! He has so much material that is worthy — in particular, the scene last season where he rips Paige's Bible after he finds out she's been going to church. In fact, he should be nominated solely for his American accent! In general, he's been a great actor, even back on Brothers & Sisters, but this performance really elevated him to the ranks of more seasoned actors. It's worth noting that the entire cast and show is Emmy-worthy with many great performances and great writing. Speaking of The Americans, any tidbits about Season 3? — Jessica
Matt Roush: I'll back you up on your praise for the egregiously overlooked Matthew Rhys, and for the show itself, which I'd like to think might get some notice now that Breaking Bad is out of the running. If the third season (about which I know absolutely nothing and am content to stay that way, without spoilers, until it's back) lives up to the standard of the first two, I'm sure we'll be championing The Americans again in hopes the Academy will finally listen.
Question: A little Longmire perspective: Yes, the show ended with a cliffhanger. We may never know who shot who in that final scene, but at least we know who killed Walt's wife and pretty much why. — Steven
Matt Roush: In all of the furor over A&E's cancellation, this is a good point — that the show did resolve many of the big-picture issues this season, especially where Walt's back story is concerned, and looking back, it might seem as if the show were heading toward an end point. But it still deserved better than it got from the network, and I wish the writers hadn't included that last gunshot, an unnecessary annoyance given what came later.
Question: To all those who, like me, want Longmire to continue, I say read the books! They are really great and more detailed. As to Rizzoli & Isles, I continue to watch because I really like Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander, but I can't stand Lorraine Bracco's mama character. Does she grate on other people? — Ann
Matt Roush: Reading, what a concept! And while we're on the subject, if you've made your way through the Longmire books (by Craig Johnson), let me recommend C.J. Box's Joe Pickett series, which would also make a terrific TV show. And I can personally attest that you're not the only one for whom Bracco's performance acts as nails on chalkboard.
Matt Roush: No word that I'm aware of, but of the two, Unforgettable is more likely to stick around as summer filler as it has the last two years, as they've seemed to have worked out a formula to make it affordable for the off-season. I'd be surprised to see Reckless return, as it didn't do much in the ratings or buzz department. At least CBS played the full season out — though burning off the final two episodes on a Saturday doesn't exactly send a signal of confidence.