Question: Last week, you wrote about how producers "often — too often, to be honest — try to end their seasons with a bang ... in hopes of stimulating interest for when they return several months later." I understand the reasoning, and it definitely worked for me with Person of Interest— it was game-changing and left me very curious to see how it goes, but satisfying. However I had the opposite reaction to Castle, which looked to be heading for a good place to pause with a minor game-changer (Mr. & Mrs. Castle), even got some nice wedding emotion going, and then threw in a ridiculous "dun-dun-dun" moment which had zero emotional impact as no one believes Castle could be dead. Most of these cliffhangers now seem to me like cheap tricks, a shyster trying to "buy" your viewing next fall, while moving the story to a new level seems a legitimate way of keeping interest and far more likely to have a good payoff in terms of the story next year. Anyway, it led me to wonder are there any "cliffhangers" of the past that you remember with pleasure and/or satisfaction, or is it only the game-changers that stand out in your mind? As always, thanks for an interesting column. — Elle
Matt Roush: I was weaned on the classic prime-time soaps and remember vividly living through the long "Who Shot J.R.?" summer while in college, so I have a fondness for an earned cliffhanger, one that a season builds toward and is as much payoff as tease. But it has clearly become an overused device that's as likely to try a fan's patience as tantalize us (Castle's an especially contrived case in point). One of my favorite classic cliffhangers occurred at the end of the eighth season of Knots Landing (probably the best of that era's soaps), when Abby spent most of the episode desperately trying to dispose of the body of the cad Peter Hollister, and after burying him in cement, realized there was a crack in the foundation and her work was for naught. For more great season, and series, finales, here's a top 60 list I helped compile as part of the TV Guide Magazine's recent 60th anniversary celebration. This season alone gave us three new contenders: The Good Wife (Diane joining Alicia and Cary's firm? Alicia considering a run for office?), The Americans (The Russians want Paige?) and the bloody who-survives finish of Hannibal's second season.
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Question: I was wondering what you (and other viewers) thought about the finale of The Mentalist. I was very disappointed. For one thing, I'm with Cho: I've always thought of Jane and Lisbon's relationship as more of a brother-sister thing, so having them become a couple is just weird. But putting that aside, the whole ending was so cliché and ridiculous. In fact, I'm wondering if, in next season's premiere, the ending will have been one of Jane's dreams. That's exactly what it felt like, a dreamlike happy ending. If that's the case, it will be easier to swallow. Anyway, this show was so great in the first few seasons, but the last few, not so much. Especially the way they dragged out the whole Red John storyline to the point where nobody cared anymore. And now that everything's changed, and they're with the FBI instead of the CBI, it just feels tired. It doesn't have the energy it once had. What do you think? — Camille
Matt Roush: Can't speak for anyone else, but the Mentalist finale felt to me as if the producers were hedging their bets in case this had been the series finale — and given how touch-and-go the renewal was, they were probably right to do so — so I had no real problem with Jane's over-the-top romantic gesture to win Lisbon's affections. Yes, the set-up of storming the plane was silly, but score one for the shippers. One of the more positive responses I received was from Deana, who wrote: "It was so good that Simon Baker's Aussie accent slipped through several times. A very good way to cap the season." But I agree that the Texas reboot hasn't exactly recharged the show, which seems whenever I tune in to be just going through the paces with a spottier ensemble. Maybe bringing the romance to the foreground (in the tradition of Bones and Castle) will bring some spice back to the show, even at the risk of alienating those who preferred their relationship platonic.
Question: Is there any chance The Mentalist writers would give another shot at a Red John closure? I was among the fans who didn't like the "Red John finale" because, come on, McAllister is Red John? He appeared in what, two or three episodes? I expected something much more creative from a show such as The Mentalist. And Jane pulling out a pigeon from his jacket and throwing it in the sheriff's face? I don't even know how to describe that! I think the Red John episode was kind of lame, and even though the show has moved on, I'm still hoping the writers will surprise us regarding this Red John thing. Do you agree with what I said? Or were you satisfied with the closure they gave Red John? — Alyssa
Matt Roush: There was plenty of room for criticism in the way the show resolved the Red John storyline, but the last thing The Mentalist needs to do at this stage is to go back to that empty well. I can only imagine the mail I'd get if they went there again. Whether you liked it or not, it was way past time to move on, and they have. And so should we.
Question: Just wanted to know what's going on with the schedule for The Mentalist next season? Why did CBS renew it then decide to wait until next spring for the Season 7 premiere? And switch so many shows around? I can bet that some of these new shows won't get the ratings either. We #Jisbon fans waited so long for them to get together, and now we have to wait again! I think that USA Network should pick it up or another network, so we have a full season! If Season 7 is the last season, we the fans have a right to a full season. At least give it a proper send-off!! — Jessica
Matt Roush: Would you rather The Mentalist have been canceled altogether? That was a real possibility for a show this "mature" and expensive — and it's unlikely that anyone would have picked up the tab to keep it going if CBS hadn't stepped up. It's not entirely clear how many episodes this renewal entails, but just because it's not on the fall lineup doesn't necessarily mean a drastically shortened season. And if it does turn out to be the last hurrah, CBS will likely make some promotional noise out of that. In the bigger picture, because I'm something of a programming nerd, I always look forward to CBS's Upfront announcement to see how the network will juggle its assets from season to season. Putting aside the numbness that ensues from so much alphabet-soup sameness on the schedule, moving NCIS: Los Angeles to Mondays makes them more competitive on a night where they've struggled, and moving the durable CSI into Mentalist's worrisome Sunday time period (plagued so often by football and other sports overruns for more than half the year) is another interesting experiment. If any of CBS's new dramas flop, I'd bet The Mentalist would be rushed back on the schedule, possibly creating a new set of scheduling dominoes.
And a few thoughts on a couple of shows that got canceled that I really liked: Trophy Wife needed a different name and a stronger lead-in than two rookie shows. I wish they would have brought it back for a second season and paired it with a better show. This show was too good to be 1-and-done. And Friends With Better Lives is another show with no lead-in, since How I Met Your Mother went off the air right as Better Lives came on. This show is a lot funnier than The Millers, which I found to be a snooze fest and won't watch next season, and I think Better Lives is better than what Two and a Half Men has become. Swap FWBL with The Millers and see which one does better. My money would be on FWBL. — James
Matt Roush: First, Penny Dreadful. As I wrote in my latest weekend roundup, I'm getting more engrossed each week, which is a good sign, although I still have no clue where the show is heading with its mash-up of horror legends. Right now I'm much more intrigued by the Frankenstein/creature story than anything happening with the other characters in the search-for-Mina plot, so the unevenness is a bit troubling. But I'll definitely stay tuned through this first season. (And I don't think it would have mattered where that misbegotten Dracula aired. That was one of the most wrong-minded "re-imaginings" of anything I've seen, or hope to see, in a long while.)
And on the cancellation front: I've said before that ABC should have sampled Trophy Wife on Wednesdays for at least part of the season (especially when you consider what clunkers ABC put behind Modern Family all year), and it's a sad waste of a great ensemble. And while I don't share your enthusiasm for the smarmy FWBL (although I'm no fan either of The Millers, which puts some terrific talent to poor use, and let's just pretend the pathetic remnant of Two and a Half Men is already history), it would have had to be a self-starter, which it wasn't, to earn an unlikely renewal. When CBS decided to double down on dramas next season, effectively ending the two-hour Monday comedy block that had been in place for decades, marginal shows like this were doomed. And however one feels about the way The Millers rides the coattails of The Big Bang Theory, CBS wasn't likely to break up that pairing after just one season.
Question: Florrick, Agos and Lockhart? Awesome! And I've loved Michael J. Fox pretty much my entire life, it's really fun — and weird — hating him. I love The Good Wife so much! — Melissa
Matt Roush: Me, too. The twists just kept coming to the last minute. What a remarkable season to happen this late in the show's run. Now that's one crown jewel CBS won't be messing with anytime soon.
Question: I love your column! I love how you respectfully answer real questions. Answers we want to know, so thanks. I love all things TV and hope you can answer some of my questions. What are USA Network's plans for the future? I feel they have a hole in their schedule without Burn Notice and Psych, and I'm not interested in their reality shows. I like Graceland, but that can be a little dark/heavy. Any good "blue skies" one-hour shows in the works? Any lighter fare coming besides Royal Pains?
I know you have discussed giving shows a chance and moving them around to build an audience. You see both sides and I do, too. If you move it, more people may see it. If you keep it on the original spot, you cater to the core audience. I think there is a third option. USA seems to promote most of their shows with a designated time slot and then they broadcast the rerun a few times on a different time and day. I got hooked on a lot of shows like that. Another way I've gotten hooked (Longmire, Eureka) is having a show marathon. Can you explain why network TV doesn't do this? And is network TV making accommodations to have their shows begin on time after football games? Or is it my DVR that needs adjustment? — Laurie
Matt Roush: Thanks for the feedback. Beyond a few trailers, I haven't seen the new shows in USA's pipeline yet, but most of them seem to be of the edgier variety established by Suits, so I'm not sure your escapist dreams will be fulfilled. But at least Royal Pains will be back sooner (June 10) than later.
And the reason why broadcast networks don't give their shows the multiple exposures you find on cable has to do with limited and very expensive real estate. Cable channels tend to program only a fraction of their schedule with original scripted fare, and they have fewer late-night commitments than the broadcast networks (including whatever syndicated shows the affiliates have shelled out for), so it's much easier for cable to do marathons or multiple nightly runs of a series. On the plus side, most networks are much more invested in making many of their shows available online or On Demand, so there are plenty of opportunities to get hooked. (And depending on the network and show, some series do get second runs on dead nights like Fridays for Fox and Saturdays for the others.) And when it comes to sports overruns, that's not going to change, so always set your DVR accordingly — rule of thumb: build in an extra hour to be safe.
Question: While I'm very thrilled that The Flash pilot has been picked up to series by The CW, I'm shocked that the network decided to renew its lowest-rated show, Beauty and the Beast, for another season because of how the show performs well in other countries. Why in the world would the network brass at The CW renew a show based on international success when the show isn't really a success in this country, even after they pulled the show off the air midway through the show's second season to air the rest of the remaining season's episodes during the summer? Can't the network only air the show only overseas and not in this country instead since it's so successful in other parts of the world? And why would Beauty get renewed over The Tomorrow People (which you were never a fan of, but I personally liked the show), which had higher ratings? Is it because like you've said before that "they can't cancel everything" (the network also renewed Hart of Dixie, which performed with the same ratings as Tomorrow), or are the people in charge at The CW blinded by greed of international sales? - Chris
Matt Roush: It's beyond me to explain the way The CW runs its business and makes its choices — often looks to me like rearranging deck chairs on the proverbial Titanic — but it may be helpful if you think of it as less of a network than as a pipeline for the Warner Bros. and CBS studios to distribute their shows, some more successfully than others. The only justification I can imagine to explain why shows like Beauty and the Beast and Hart of Dixie continue into a third and fourth season is to build up their portfolio of episodes for the syndication marketplace. Still seems an iffy investment.
Question: I loved your guest spot on TCM! The two of you were a wealth of info about the film and it was an excellent exchange. I'm so glad you gave your readers a heads-up about your appearance. I'm writing to rant about Fox's decision to cancel two great, laugh-out-loud shows: Rake and Surviving Jack. What on earth are they thinking? The shows were both so smart, with great dialogue, and I do mean great, and fresh main characters and storylines. This is NBC-esque, to develop quality shows and then cancel them. I realize Fox's prime-time schedule is especially tight, but really, Fox? I Wanna Marry Harry? — Denise
Matt Roush: Thanks. The TCM gig was a blast. And you can at least take some small comfort that Harry appears to be an instant dud, not that it would have affected the fate of the shows you're mourning. I enjoyed Jack more than Rake, which I found too derivative in its anti-hero antics, but figured when both were scheduled on one of Fox's more challenged nights (Thursdays), they were facing an uphill climb to survive the midseason. I'm also sorry Fox couldn't have put more support behind Enlisted. A very disappointing season with more undeserved casualties than usual.
Question: Why is NBC only renewing Parenthood for one more year? To me it's their best show on TV. Do the stars only want to do it for one more year? - Jeffrey
Matt Roush: I'm going to miss it, too, but let's be grateful we're getting this final season. Given the unfortunately marginal ratings and the high costs involved in keeping this large a cast afloat — apparently negotiations were trickier than usual in securing this sixth season, but I'm also sure the actors would love to keep playing these roles as long as the network and studio would let them — the fact that Parenthood made it this long is something of a miracle. And knowing in advance that this is the last run will make each of these final episodes more special. Better than having the show just disappear.
Question: I see that you and other critics like FX's new series Fargo, but I find myself so put off that I am dropping the show. It has none of the love that the original movie had for its characters, and far too many supporting characters are portrayed as stupid. — Howard
Matt Roush: We can agree to disagree on this one, but really? I know this sort of show isn't to everyone's taste, but if you can't see the affection the writers have for the characters of Molly (a wonderful star-making role for Allison Tolman) and her dad, and for Gus (the best role Colin Hanks has had to date) and his daughter at the very least, you're not trying hard enough. Even the original movie took some knocks for its patronizing attitude toward the local yokels, and FX's version is not immune from that (especially where Molly's co-workers are concerned), but the playful malice of Billy Bob Thornton's villain and the warped pathos of Martin Freeman's murderous schnook and even the operatic angst of Oliver Platt's patsy are riveting and original twists on the formula. You might not enjoy Fargo for any number of reasons, but a lack of empathy and compassion for its characters is not one of its failings. For me at this point, next to The Good Wife, this is the finest show of 2014.