Question: I love Game of Thrones. I think it is so ambitious, unique, well-acted and produced. My one issue is the time allotted for the ever-engrossing and expanding cast. If they follow the books at all, the cast would grow even more. How successful does a show have to be for HBO to consider making either more episodes per season or having longer episodes per season? It's not network TV so they don't have commercial considerations to fight against. Every year and week anymore, it seems like GOT is breaking some record in viewers. Always the most pirated show. Don't have a clue about DVD sales. Just seems to me that we are starting to and will continue to lose something from this show by only getting five minutes with each character. It's like by the time I'm really enjoying it, the episode is ending. Is adding to episode orders or time something that is possible or discussed? Would be such a shame if they didn't continue on a brilliant adaptation. And I would think this show makes HBO money and a lot of it. If it didn't, I would understand how my idea would be the stuff of grumpkins. -- Trenton
Matt Roush: The way I understand it is that limiting each season to 10 episodes is more a production issue than a money issue -- although the show, because of its scope, is undoubtedly HBO's most expensive enterprise, but since all that investment is up on the screen, it's obviously worth it, blockbuster ratings aside. On a show this ambitious and massive, with so many concurrent locations and storylines, adding to the quantity (including substantially growing the length of episodes) might theoretically affect quality, but you certainly have a point. And I'm worried as well that the series will suffer as the book series did (especially in volume 4) by overreaching and losing focus on core characters, a number of whom were entirely absent from the fourth book, which is a mistake the series can never afford to make. (And while volume 5 was an improvement, I'm not sure the book series has yet recovered.)
You do bring up a good point about the episodic structure of the series as it continues and as the world of Thrones threatens to expand even further. The least satisfying episodes are those that tease us with a few minutes of each character but offer little in the way of narrative momentum for any of them. Since HBO's treatment is moving further away from a season-per-book model, I'd like to see episodes in future years be more focused, with a through-line for each hour, maybe with a recap at the start to refresh our memory of who's where, but only dwelling on a small number of stories per episode to give each of them more impact. There's no question this is one of the most challenging book-to-film adaptations ever attempted, and it's not likely to get any easier.
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Question: Thanks very much for your useful and entertaining column every week! I'm writing to get your opinion about the role that TV shows can play in the evolution of our culture. Certain shows have helped the country address persistent and troubling social issues: for example, All in the Family dealt with racial and ethnic stereotypes, and Will & Grace with gay rights. When these shows aired, the nation was in need of a national discussion about these issues, and after they ended, their legacy remains as a cultural signpost.
I'm asking because my favorite new show, Enlisted, is not only the funniest military comedy since M*A*S*H but apparently is "on the bubble" due to low ratings. Despite a fun premise and excellent cast, Fox did it no favors by exiling it to Friday nights. However, in a country that has been at war for more than 12 years but with the smallest percentage of citizens ever serving, a show like Enlisted has let us explore many of the issues that returning soldiers face: our rationale for going to war, PTSD and the effects of multiple deployments, and the role of women in the military. Given that many service men and women feel unappreciated and disconnected from American society when they return from combat, having a show like this on the air might give the nation a chance to explore some of these questions in a way that news reports do not. I would hate to see it canceled when it could still have a huge social impact. In your opinion, should a show that can serve a useful social function get any extra slack ratings-wise? In other words, do networks recognize any additional social and cultural responsibility with their programming other than just making money? -- Zenith
Matt Roush: Thanks for such a thoughtful question. I'm not sure Enlisted was conceived with such a lofty purpose other than to entertain, although honoring men and women in service is a terrific and valuable byproduct. I've never seen this to be as much of an "issue" show as M*A*S*H (a much more politically conscious comedy) or as groundbreaking in intent as some of the other comedies you've referenced, so your question was a bit of an awakening, but I already did think it deserving of a second chance, especially when you consider some of the other low-rated sitcoms Fox has already renewed for next season. Scheduling Enlisted on Fridays felt like a death sentence from the start, and the camaraderie and chemistry among this cast is something that should have been exposed to a wider potential audience (even on a test basis). In the bigger picture, though, TV is a business first and foremost, so even if the best-intentioned show doesn't click or engender passion from the audience or the media, then it's probably doomed. But this very likable show barely got a chance to find an audience, and many that found it by and large seemed to embrace it, and it would be a shame not to see if it would grow. And perhaps fulfill the mission you describe so eloquently. Or at the very least make people laugh.
Question: I'm so happy (and surprised) that The Mindy Project got a renewal in March. It has been fantastic this season and I can't wait to see more from Kaling & Co. My question to you is: What do you think Fox can do to shore up its comedy block and increase ratings, since all their shows are struggling on Tuesdays? A different time slot? Better marketing? I'm sad people saw early episodes of Mindy and decided to never give it another shot, since it's so funny.
Also, do you plan on watching Starz's Outlander this summer? What are your thoughts and expectations for it after seeing the trailers and who's behind the show? -- Megan
Matt Roush: Maybe a first step to improve Fox's comedy fortunes would be to include Enlisted in the lineup? (I'm kind of joking. It wouldn't be likely to jump start that or any night. But it's hard to see how it could get much worse.) Second, more real, suggestion: Keep the sinking ship of Glee far away from the sitcoms for its lame-duck final season, which I can't imagine will be scheduled anywhere but Fridays, or where it can do the least damage. Or, as you suggest, find a night other than Tuesday to program a live-action comedy block. With The X Factor mercifully extinguished, that opens up some prime real estate. But it would be helpful for Fox to develop an actual broad-based comedy hit that might ignite a night of comedy. Brooklyn Nine-Nine could get there (and there are worse pipe dreams than pairing it with the equally irreverent Enlisted), but whatever the charms of New Girl and Mindy, they're awfully precious and unlikely to break out of their niche without help.
As for Outlander: Very eager to see it. I read the first in that book series, and am looking very forward to seeing what Ron Moore and his team does with this lusty time-tripping bodice-ripping adventure.
Question: I always enjoy your articles and would like to get your opinion on a matter. I stumbled upon WGN's Salem one Saturday night and although I enjoyed seeing Janet Montgomery again, I found the show to be too creepy. What are your views on this show? Is it worth the time and effort? -- Jodi
Matt Roush: I've only seen what has aired so far (I saw the pilot in advance, but since then, am watching along with everyone else -- on a delayed basis, because there's too much else on Sunday nights), so can only advise you gauging from your first impression, which I'd imagine would only have been exacerbated by the second episode, which was just as gory and extreme. In my initial review, based on the pilot, I described Salem as a "lurid and often ludicrous free-for-all of graphic sexuality and violent retribution." I also punningly referred to it as Freaky Hollow and Early American Horror Story. All of which should tell you if this is your sort of show. I agree Janet Montgomery is the standout here, but WGN is aiming more for a Walking Dead than a CW vibe here, so plan accordingly.
Question: Have enjoyed The Good Wife from the beginning and it just keeps getting better. Any chance it will finally be recognized with an Emmy this year? Mainly I want to say thank you for all the opinions you pass along. I rarely disagree with you (Fargo) and you've saved me many wasted hours. -- Sally
Matt Roush: The Good Wife has won several Emmys in its history, primarily for acting (Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi once each, with guest-acting wins for Martha Plimpton and Carrie Preston), but I assume you're asking about the big prize, the Best Drama award, for which it shamefully wasn't even nominated the last two years. I do hope it will be recognized with a nomination for this excellent and daringly transformative season, which it most certainly deserves, but winning against the last half of Breaking Bad's final season or other cable standouts like True Detective or (more deserving) Masters of Sex would be asking more of Emmy voters than I'm willing to predict will happen. In this case, earning its way back into the top tier of nominees will almost be triumph enough. But if ever there was a season deserving a win, it's this one. And while we disagree about the merits of Fargo, I'm already rooting for that to win best miniseries.
Question: I must protest your review of Bad Teacher. Yes, she starts out each episode as just a gold digger, but her morals get the best of her by the end of the episode and she does the right thing for her students. I find the actress to be a knockout both in terms of talent and looks, and I hope this series lasts many seasons. -- Chris
Matt Roush: My objection to Bad Teacher isn't that Meredith is a gold digger but that she's so obvious about it. And the fact that she ends up doing the right thing most weeks is such a predictable sitcom trope that it becomes a second strike against this contrived, unconvincing show. You're free to protest, but I'm not changing my opinion on this bad apple.
Question: During the last session of The Blacklist, there was a scene where there was a large table with many small glass jars that held marijuana samples from Denver, and some kind of fast reference was made to his associate behind the table who looked like he was eating out of an ice cream container. Maybe the idea was that he had the munchies? A comment was made that they were looking for warehouse space and business options in Denver, what was this about? Did I miss something? It seems like the marijuana legalization and present conditions here in Denver/Colorado are working their way into several TV programs. I was surprised. -- George
Matt Roush: That was basically a throwaway gag, some welcome light comedy relief with a bit of topical humor to remind us how many pots (so to speak) Red is stirring in the world at large and how he doesn't miss an opportunity to add to his fortune and influence. Moments like that are nice gifts by the writers.
Question: It's been a few weeks since How I Met Your Mother closed up shop and the dust is still settling as to its legacy in the pantheon of series finales. With that in mind, I wanted to offer an opinion from a slightly different vantage point: that of binge watcher. I hadn't seen the show at all during its run, but was intrigued by the critical response to the final episode. So the day after it aired, I started watching Season 1 on streaming media. I soon found myself on a spree, finishing the final season a few days ago. Looking back, the most vocal critics appeared upset about the brief amount of time allotted to Tracy, the long-sought Mother (I think these folks didn't watch the whole season); the relatively short marriage of Robin and Barney after a season-long wedding buildup (I've known shorter ones); and ultimately returning to the Ted-Robin relationship after Ted had mourned Tracy's untimely death (as a cancer survivor, quite heartwarming). All that aside, not having had to wait a week for a new episode, months for a new season, or years for a series conclusion, I experienced the show's course corrections differently from other fans. To me, the Ted-Robin attraction was still fresh at the end -- and incredibly moving -- and if any season got bogged down in a questionable character arc (for me, the second Robin-Barney relationship) or veered too far from the search for The Mother, I wouldn't have to wait long until future episodes righted the ship. I certainly understand that a fan's invested time is relative -- nine years of waiting vs. two weeks of near-instant gratification -- but I wonder if posterity will assess the finale differently once Future Ted's peers view it in binge-worthy fashion. -- Jonathan
Matt Roush: It's possible, but I doubt it. And can you blame anyone for not watching that abysmal final season in its overextended entirety? The sole saving grace were those moments, and occasional episodes, that introduced and focused on Tracy, who if she wasn't the love of his life seems to invalidate the premise of the series, which I still think is the point here, regardless of time invested. I appreciate the way the finale calls back many of our reactions to the pilot, which amounted to "What do you mean Robin isn't the Mother?" But after all that buildup, to write the Mother off within an hour that was something less than a grand finale, and then to have her kids basically react to Ted's story with a shrug: still unacceptable.
Question: There is a lot being said about superheroes these days! They seem to be all over the place. My daughter and I have been watching Smallville and just finished Season 9. We don't want it to end! What are the chances of us seeing a Smallville reunion and seeing Tom Welling play Superman? We need to find out that Chloe lived happily ever after and really want to see Michael Rosenbaum play an more evil Lex. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, there were a lot of successful TV reunion movies, where are they now? -- Ray
Matt Roush: Haven't heard anything to this effect, but I guess we shouldn't rule it out. One main complication probably being that DC Comics as a company might not want a TV version of the Superman story conflicting with whatever's happening with the big-screen franchise. But I'd bet The CW would welcome anything that would bring those characters and stars back to the network. Still, this being something of a long shot for now, let me pass on a recommendation for the Smallville "Season 11" comic book series written by former staff writer Bryan Q. Miller, who has managed to keep the story going.
Question: Thanks to your review of Black Box, I was prepared that the show could be difficult watching, but I tuned in anyway because the premise seemed interesting and I have an interest in psychological disorders of this type. Nothing could have prepared me for my reaction to the show, though. I actually turned it off with a few minutes to go because I just couldn't take it any more. My question is: Why would network executives greenlight a program that is totally devoid of sympathetic or likable characters? In this case, populated solely by loathsome characters? None of the main protagonists showed even a modicum of humanity. And if this is the state at which neurological therapy is in 2014, it looks like we have not evolved beyond caveman tactics. "You are terrified? Well, walk toward the source of your terror and I, a person you don't even know and who has not explained to you what is happening to your brain, will magically make everything go away once you touch my hand." Give me a break! The creators may have been going for a House effect, but Dr. House had a glimmer of humor and gruff compassion, not complete self-absorption. And the boyfriend? You reveal to your loved one that you have a mental disease which causes you to act out, and said boyfriend kicks you out of his car in the rain and drives away. Are we supposed to relate to him? And did this even happen considering that when we next see him, the couple has miraculously found forgiveness and is back on track? This was one ugly mess. I wonder how long you think it will be on the air? - Myra
Matt Roush: Sorry you had to go through that. I had hoped my review would be warning enough. What a dreadful misfire. I wouldn't be surprised if Scandal repeats start showing up before the end of May, but that's probably wishful thinking. It's possible ABC will let this play for its entire tryout run, but I also wouldn't be surprised if the network moves up the return of summer favorite Rookie Blue before the scheduled date of June 19.
Question: I work most weeknights, and therefore cannot watch prime-time shows when actually scheduled, so I rely on Hulu, Netflix and cbs.com to catch up on the weekends. My question is why do networks not use the ridiculous amount of advertisements on these sites to highlight similar upcoming shows? They advertise their new or returning shows live, but when you watch online you are stuck with five ads, three of which seem to be those annoying Geico commercials with the paintings on the wall, and for some reason those are always much louder than the actual show. I try to read your column regularly, and use my TVGuide app to keep updated with what's going on in TV, but I haven't seen a single ad for new shows like Enlisted, Surviving Jack or Bad Teacher, because I watch all of my shows online. I actually like the aforementioned first two shows (the pilot of Bad Teacher didn't sell me) but wouldn't know about them without your column. If networks realize that their ratings are boosted with online viewing, why are they not advertising their other shows to those viewers? Thanks for letting me rant, and providing your feedback! -- Will
Matt Roush: Not a terrible idea, but I can't remember anyone ever advocating for more network promos before. Brave new TV-Everywhere world, I guess. The bottom line is, of course, the bottom line, and on those sites, I'd presume that networks would rather air sponsored (paid) ads than fill that time with promos, but you're right that it's a missed opportunity not to try to lure online viewers to new programming on those sites somehow, whether with banner ads on the home page -- no pop-ups, please! -- or some other device. You like promos? Try watching something On Demand.