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Question: I just read the news that Sandra Oh has decided to leave Grey's Anatomy at the end of the season. I'm sure a lot of fans will be upset or disappointed, but I actually respect her choice to leave and am grateful she has given so much notice to the writers so that they will be able to find a way to write her out effectively, which Grey's has not always had in the past. However, the broader question here is how much longer the show should run. I can't really imagine right now what it will be like without Christina, but there was also a time when I couldn't imagine it without George and Izzie and the show has remained strong without them. So the issue isn't really if Shonda Rhimes can transition the show to a place where an original cast member is not present. The issue is, really, how many people have to leave before she decides to end the show.
I've read all the recent stuff where she said she's not looking at this as the final season, and ABC's Paul Lee would like to see the show go on for several more years, etc. But once again, the deals are up for the entire main cast at the end of the year. If Oh is not the only one who decides to leave — hypothetically, let's say that two or three others also decide to leave — then at what point does it become okay to just decide to end the show instead of having all these people exit at the same time? Throughout the course of the show, a lot of non-original cast members have come in and made a great impression: Sara Ramirez, Jessica Capshaw and Kevin McKidd, for example. But sooner or later the show has to end, and I'd hate to see it limp to a conclusion after the majority of the well-loved characters go. I know you didn't care for Private Practice, but I thought bringing the curtain down on that show when Kate Walsh left was great, as it allowed us to leave the characters in a good place, and I'd like to be able to imagine something similar when Grey's ends instead of having to watch half the cast disappear before it's over. If Grey's were to end sometime in the next couple of years, ABC could simply upgrade Scandal to the 9/8c hour and still have a big hit to anchor the night, so it's not like they are in desperate need of something to fill the void. Thoughts? — Jake
Matt Roush: I'm pretty sure ABC would see the end of Grey's Anatomy as opening up a big void, Scandal or no Scandal. But there's no doubt losing Sandra Oh will be the most significant cast departure yet for a show that has managed to hold on to a surprising number of its core cast members. (I've often contended that Grey's is in much better shape at this stage in its life than ER was.) I basically agree that if more of the cast decides to cash out — Meredith and/or Derek especially, but I'd put Bailey in that mix as well — it will be time to think seriously about ending things while there's still a pulse. The latest batch of interns has added little but distraction to the show, and without a Grey as the focal point, what would be the point? If the rest of the gang signs on for another season or two, it would give Shonda Rhimes and her team a chance to figure out an endgame, and maybe Meredith losing her "person" will be the catalyst for that to happen. Given the nature of network TV, I wouldn't be surprised if ABC tried to keep this going at some point with or without Rhimes' participation, let alone the key cast members, but I hope they'd have the good sense to rename the show something like Have Mercy (West) and just leave Grey's out of it.
Question: Broadchurch knocked me out. Great photography, a slow-burn storyline and now Fox gets to screw it up? — Bob [via Twitter]
Matt Roush: It is a puzzlement to imagine what the upside is in Fox's decision to announce a remake of this series before it even aired in the U.S., to so much critical attention and acclaim. The more I've talked it over with colleagues and fellow fans, the more I hope Fox finds some new direction to take the story in the American version, but it's hard to think they'll end up doing anything but diminishing the franchise. Still, best not to prejudge. And while Broadchurch is enjoying some of the best reviews this summer this side of Breaking Bad, it's almost inevitable that when I go out on a limb to reward a show a "10" that there will be someone challenging such enthusiasm. Read on ...
Question: I tend to trust your recommendations and put Broadchurch on my list after you buzzed and wrote a review. After watching a few episodes, I feel like praising the show as something that's above what The Killing has been (at least before this season) is a bit much, even verging into hyperbolic territory. The biggest complaint about The Killing has to be too many red herrings. Broadchurch seems to be attempting to exceed the amount of red herrings in the first two seasons of The Killing in a third of the time. I don't mind the premise of everyone being a suspect, but my patience is tested heavily when it's played up so much. We see way too many scenes where two characters have ambiguous secret conversations ("We need to talk," "We can't," "Something is going to happen," "We can't do anything about it," "I'm going home. Cheers."). Every character in this small town acts like they're Walter White and secretly had a brawl with Spider-Man last night. No one cooperates with the police. Even Miller's son is hiding something. It was more than aggravating to see Mark being cagey to the point where he would be arrested for impeding the investigation, all because he was cheating. Why would anyone choose to increase the appearance of guilt over the murder of their own child rather than admit infidelity discreetly?
I also have a problem with Miller early in the story. Olivia Colman is great, but the character acts like Hardy is being a cold and detached professional, but he's not even really asking the hard questions. He's asking the obvious ones. Miller refused to treat anyone as a suspect and actively ignored evidence and leads. I almost feel like she could be the killer. I am so glad that Hardy took the job from her because her elevation up the police hierarchy would have been a Michael Scott level of failed leadership. I'm glad she's growing, but I feel like a guy who just watches TV shows shouldn't have better instincts than a career police detective. The exchange in which she told Hardy, "I hate what I'm becoming ... hardened" makes me hopeful for her, but I wish she would feel fed up, betrayed even, over her fellow townies and their inability to cooperate. I must praise David Tennant's performance as Hardy, who precisely mirrors my own frustration with these weird, secretive people. My hopes with the show is that it will get better and less annoying the more red herrings they weed out and get closer to the truth. Could you say that these hopes will be proven, even exceeded, or will I see more people up to no good of the non-murder variety cluttering up the earned emotions of the detectives and the mother Beth? I'd like to know more of what you think and what made you overlook some of these shortcomings in your review. — Gene
Matt Roush: It's possible you'll be the rare viewer who's simply unsatisfied by this series. To clarify (as opposed to try to justify) my praise for the show, I don't suggest that Broadchurch redefines the whodunit as much as it refines the form with an emotional power I've rarely encountered before (maybe in the early going of The Killing, which lingered on the Larsen family's despair). And I appreciate its economy, juggling so many characters and storylines within a tight eight-episode format. Red herrings (aka working through a list of suspects) are a staple of the genre (and were hardly The Killing's only or main problem), and where Broadchurch works for me in this regard is that the poison of suspicion lingers with so many of these characters even after they've seemingly been cleared, because of the close-knit nature of this community. (Even the dad's infidelity, which initially feels like a bit of a cliché, adds to the sense that everyone in this town somehow let this boy victim down, but I won't say more about that for the sake of spoilers.) And Ellie Miller's flaws add to the drama for me. She may not be the detective Alec Hardy is, but that's not the point. (For one thing, she's never had to be, living in sleepy Broadchurch.) Her resentment of him and his exasperation with her myopia make them a more interesting duo, and their bristly wit leavens some of the tension. But basically, any nitpicking I had with the storytelling — and there are a few moments in the later chapters that are regrettably heavy-handed — was more than outweighed by the quality of the acting, the writing, the freshness of the setting and by the emotional pull it had on me from the get-go. It's going to be hard to dislodge this from near the top of my Top 10 list of 2013.
Question: So what did you think of this past season of The Killing? I was absolutely enthralled by it. The first two seasons were just OK in my opinion, but this season was endlessly fascinating. It was much more dark and even scary at times while the leads continued to have crackling chemistry. When I first heard that Peter Sarsgaard was joining the cast, I became very excited and he did not disappoint. Speaking of Emmy snubs, where is his recognition? Even minor subplots such as the death-row guards were brilliant. This season did not have any happy endings, but it knocked it out of the park for me. — Thomas
Matt Roush: Sarsgaard and the show, which premiered in June (outside of eligibility), will be contenders for next year's Emmys, and I'd like to believe that he would be remembered in the supporting category a year from now. The episode dealing with the day of Seward's execution was one of the most exceptional hours of the TV year. He was terrific, and the show itself was very much back in top form, grim and compelling as it operated on a wider canvas of intrigue, although I wouldn't entirely disagree with anyone who may have felt that the ending came a little too out of left field and forced its bleak ending, veering into hysterical melodrama. Still, overall an unexpectedly successful and memorable comeback season.
Question: Not much has been written or said about A&E's Longmire, which I think is a spectacular program because it is so very different. Is this going to be one of those shows that will be canceled this second season before the viewing public has a chance to watch? It seems like some of the better and more diverse programs are relegated to a minor network. What are your views and do you have any information on a third season? — Hank
Matt Roush: It's probably too early for a renewal just yet — the season isn't over until next Monday (Aug. 26) — but I get no sense this show is in any danger. It doesn't generate all that much buzz, it's true, and I imagine it skews a bit older than some of the flashier procedurals, but Longmire has been one of my favorite summer surprises the last two years, and I hope that it's in for a long run. I enjoy the way the stories take advantage of the Western setting and temperament, and Robert Taylor is a model of taciturn strength and sorrow as the appealing leading man. If anyone's missing those Jesse Stone movies on CBS, Longmire has the same attributes of wry melancholy, quiet suspense and intelligence, only trading in a baseball cap for a Stetson.
Question: Are we close to anointing Breaking Bad as the best drama ever on television, or does The Sopranos still prevail? — Dan
Matt Roush: It's certainly among the best ever, and off to such a great start that if Breaking Bad's end is as satisfying as what's come before — and why should we doubt that it will be? — it will join the ranks of all-time classics without question. It pretty much already has. But maybe because I've been taking the long view for much of this year, as I've helped participate in TV Guide Magazine's various 60th-anniversary celebrations and lists, I'd like to caution those making "best ever" claims, especially those that seem to believe that the history of great TV drama began with cable, and HBO's The Sopranos in particular. (And what, no mention of The Wire? For shame!) There's no doubt that these rich, dark dramas have changed the face and tone of TV forever, but to ignore the legacy of Steven Bochco and David Milch (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue) — without whose creation of Andy Sipowicz there might not have been a Tony Soprano — and the great range of TV drama from the influential imaginings of Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) through the eloquent passions of Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), is to risk making a pretty hollow claim. Not that we shouldn't be reveling in the current genius of Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston et al. Breaking Bad is brilliant, but let's get to the end of the story before we start talking legacy.
Question: I am one of those viewers who was really angry at the way Downton Abbey producers handled Dan Stevens' exit from the show and their subsequent choice to kill off the character. I couldn't believe they didn't just recast. After all, they could have used the car accident as an excuse for appearance changes. But the sudden, violent killing of a character in which they (and the viewers) had invested so much just seemed thoughtless. At about the same time all of this was erupting, I was finishing watching DVDs of Foyle's War. Not only was Milner's wife changed, I now find out from the recent PBS special that the actor playing Samantha's husband is new. So, here is one show with two recasts without a fuss. It is too bad that Downton Abbey's production team were so unimaginative, so unprepared. It will be interesting to see how their ratings are affected when they return. The only reason I might watch is for Maggie Smith. — Lois
Matt Roush: At the risk of sounding like I'm impugning Foyle's War — a series I have long championed, and am looking forward to seeing the new "post-war" episodes, which begin airing on Masterpiece Mystery! Sept. 15 — there's really no comparison between the importance of these supporting characters to the world of Foyle's and the impact Dan Stevens had as Matthew on Downton. How exactly would recasting the role be "imaginative," anyway? It would be ludicrous and cheesy, and while no one pretends that Downton is anything but a high-toned and hugely enjoyable soap opera, it exists on a slightly higher elevation than a cartoon like Dynasty or Dallas, which might have been able to get away with this sort of thing — though it didn't work out that well with Miss Ellie, did it? I tend to agree that Matthew's death was clumsily handled and most unfortunate, but from the clips critics were shown a few weeks ago during PBS's Downton event at the press tour, the smartest thing the show could have done in the new season was to jump forward six months to show Downton and its inhabitants getting on with life — as one must. And I'm betting that as upsetting as the loss of Matthew is, it will not diminish the appetite for a new season of Downton Abbey on these or any other shores.
Question: I've been reading your reaction to the recent Emmy snubs and agree with practically all of them, especially in the case of Monica Potter on Parenthood. But I would also like to point out the egregious snub of Eden Sher on The Middle. Sue Heck is one of the best characters on TV and I can't for the life of me understand how she, or The Middle, keeps getting passed over. Don't get me wrong, I love Modern Family, but there are many weeks where we laugh more at Sue's trials and tribulations than we do at the Dunphys and the Pritchetts. What does it take for a worthy program and actor to be recognized these days? — Craig
Matt Roush: I'm like a broken record when it comes to singing the praises of The Middle and its cast, most especially Eden Sher's inspired channeling of cheerfully resilient adolescent awkwardness. We who put together "dream ballot" Emmy lists tend to beat the drum for her year after year — and she did win (in a tie with The Big Bang Theory's Kaley Cuoco) a supporting trophy at this year's Critics' Choice Awards. But this particular modern-family comedy stubbornly continues to fly under the industry's radar, and I'm not sure if it will ever emerge from Modern Family's shadow to get the love it deserves.
Question: While it is very good news that TNT has renewed Rizzoli & Isles and Major Crimes, what does that mean for King & Maxwell and Franklin & Bash? Are they goners? — PJ
Matt Roush: Not necessarily — although really, TNT, a moratorium on the ampersand titles, OK? The early renewals (which includes Falling Skies and Perception as well) should, however, give you a sense of the network's priorities in the next year, so it's fair to see the also-rans as being very much "on the bubble," a situation made more acute by the fact that several of TNT's shows in development for next summer (The Last Ship, Legends) sound a lot less generic than these.
Question: I've been a fan of USA Network fare for years now, particularly Covert Affairs, Suits, Necessary Roughness, the gone-too-soon Common Law and the newly added Graceland. I've noticed the tone of the shows on the network slowly becoming darker and more character-focused, and while I understand that some people don't care for the change, I love it! With the addition of Graceland, can you tell me if the network has plans with more scripted shows in the direction of this darker tone? Also, will their current shows continue on this path? — Marc
Matt Roush: Graceland was a definite attempt to try something different, and with some of the others, it seems a natural progression to deepen the storylines with more elaborate and sometimes darker serialized story and character arcs. I'm not sure if this is coincidence of if the network itself is undergoing a purposeful sea change — USA didn't make a presentation at the summer press tour, so I can only gauge from what I see on air — but anything that keeps the shows from all blurring into each other is a plus in my book. Still, I imagine the network will still want to maintain a balance of lighter-skewing shows as it ramps up comedy and reality development.
Question: I have been reading about the new cable channels coming online soon and wondered what's your take on these new channels. I have been watching Fox Soccer Channel over the past year or so and have happily watched many hours of matches. With the move of the English Premier League to NBC, FSC wouldn't have much left except the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, so the switch to FXX makes sense. As the youngest skewing channel of the FX, FXX, and FXM family, they are slated to get a couple of FX comedies, some new comedies and reruns of Freaks and Geeks among others. In the discussion of the age groups these channels are aimed toward, they indicated that FXM might get original programming in addition to movies. It worked for AMC, but I wonder if this is really what they are intending as FX already has some very good original programs. It seems like they may be cannibalizing FX if they try to duplicate FX's original programming success on FXM. The change from Speed to Fox Sports 1 looks like an instant winner. They're promising some brash studio programs to challenge ESPN alongside the live sports including the UEFA Champions League, college football and hoops, MLB, and NASCAR (to keep the Speed fans tuning in). I'm most intrigued by the G4 to Esquire move. The only G4 show I watch is American Ninja Warrior, which will be carried over to Esquire, but most of the new shows look very different from G4 shows. The Getaway, Knife Fight and some of the other shows make this channel look like a male version of its sister Style channel. Will the G4 gamer-geek viewers get makeovers? Will Esquire's magazine readers and other urban sophisticates find this channel appealing? — Frank
Matt Roush: There's probably room for all of these cable newbies to thrive, especially in the robust sports arena. The FX expansion to FXX is the most interesting to me, but given that I tend to favor FX's dramas over its comedies (with the exception of Louie and Archer), the most intriguing aspect is if this opens up some real estate for even more high quality, high impact FX-style dramas on the mothership. From what I gather, any original programming on the FXM movie channel would take the form of limited-run series (aka newfangled miniseries), so I doubt it would cannibalize the brand much, but who knows. The Esquire Network would appear to be the hardest sell — something like a straight version of Bravo, I guess? — but much will depend on its ability to launch a signature show or two to quickly establish its brand and audience.
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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