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Ask Matt: The Missing, Person of Interest, Ascension, CW and The 100, American Idol and More

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Matt Roush
Matt Roush

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Question: Just wondered if you were watching The Missing on Starz, and what you think of it. It's horrifying and sad but riveting and very well acted. -- Jean

Matt Roush: I was hooked from the start (here's my initial review), and with the finale looming on Jan. 10, I can assure you it never lets up and is likely to haunt you for some time to come. If this sort of emotionally charged British mystery series appeals to you, let me also recommend Netflix's Happy Valley (deceptively benign title, that), which I'm sorry I let get by me when it premiered (as often happens with streaming services) during one of my busiest times, in the late-summer buildup to the new fall season. Sarah Lancashire (of Last Tango in Halifax) is superb as the harried police sergeant, and its blend of suspense and personal drama is just as powerful as in The Missing and Broadchurch. Also of note: a wonderful performance by Siobhan Finneran (formerly Downton Abbey's despicable O'Brien) as Lancashire's supportive sister, and a chillingly villainous turn by James Norton, who'll show a thoroughly different side to his personality as the charismatic crime-solving vicar in the Masterpiece Mystery! series Grantchester in mid-January.

Question: I was completely addicted to The Missing on Starz. I was thrilled to hear it was nominated for a Golden Globe for best drama and that Frances O' Conner was nominated for best actress. What I can't understand for the life of me is how James Nesbitt was not nominated for best actor. His performance was so heartbreaking and emotionally draining right up to the final scene of the series that you could almost see him aging right before your eyes. It was a terrific performance in a show that might not have been so compelling without a brilliant actor to identify with. -- Steve

Matt Roush: James Nesbitt is indeed outstanding here -- and while we're on the subject of actors with great range, in early January you can see him dabbling in dark comedy as a ferocious police commissioner in Danny Boyle's Babylon on SundanceTV -- but he faced a tougher field, competing in the miniseries category against two high-profile leads in both True Detective and Fargo, leaving only one open slot. And while I might have favored Nesbitt over The Normal Heart's Mark Ruffalo, I'm not terribly surprised that a relatively small series like this was overlooked for another of HBO's prestige projects.

Question: I know this has probably been laid out before, but I was wondering about your thoughts regarding the reasons behind Person of Interest's ratings drop and its chances of renewal. The numbers have dipped, including a 1.3 for the fall finale (although I think a large part of that episode's performance is the bizarre scheduling on the part of CBS, and the network's refusal to promote it adequately). I consider myself a huge fan of the show, and I see so many comments out there from people so divided on POI's future and the reasons behind the drop. There are those who think it's just because they killed off Carter (give it a rest already -- great shows have to take chances), because it moved from Thursdays, it moved to a later time slot, it has become more serialized. I think it's probably a combination, although the DVR numbers take a significant jump, so I imagine the later time slot would be one of the main reasons behind the lower live viewer numbers.

I think there are so many factors involved in renewal decisions that we don't know about that it's impossible for the viewers to have any chance of predicting the future of a show just based on the numbers alone. I've heard theories of it being based on a combination of overnight ratings, how these ratings compare against those on other networks, how these ratings compare to shows on its own network (and it seems that all CBS dramas have dropped), the DVR numbers, the total number of viewers, numbers needed for syndication, etc. From what I can tell, POI seems to perform better than other CBS shows in that time slot, so I imagine that's a consideration as well. I know there's no sense in worrying about it. Personally, I think POI is going to be around for at least a fifth season, if not more. But if it isn't, I would much rather have POI on for a shorter run and keep the high level of quality it has, rather than the powers-that-be compromising on quality in order to increase ratings and its chances of renewal (something that this show's creators seem determined to avoid, thank goodness). There are far too few shows on TV withPOI's combination of great writing, acting, intelligence, and willingness to take risks. Frankly, I'd love to see it go on for at least another couple of years, even if it has to go to another network that realizes what a gem it has in this show. -- Chris

Matt Roush: There is no fool's errand greater these days than sweating over live-viewing ratings, which as you suggest are just part of an ever-more-complicated calculus in determining a show's status. (And yes, CBS did this series no favors by scheduling a single -- and pivotal -- episode on Dec. 16, surrounded by weeks of pre-emptions and repeats.) Person of Interest would no doubt be doing better (even without the Det. Carter character) if it had stayed nestled on Thursdays in a cushier 9/8c time period, but even with the declining ratings (which as you note is hardly peculiar to this series these days), it has boosted CBS's position in a long-precarious later-on-Tuesday time slot. The only way CBS could probably do better there is to run three straight hours of NCIS programming -- and with all deference to that franchise's many fans, who wants that? To me, the bigger picture here is that POI has evolved into the sort of series that often gets punished for being on CBS: a heavily serialized, defiantly unconventional, dark and twisty futuristic thriller about warring artificial intelligences and the human heroes (and villains) caught in the harrowing, violent and often perplexing crossfire. This is one of the hours of TV I most look forward to any given week, and I'm not going to fret about its future until CBS makes it an issue. From what I can tell, the network is still behind it, and I'd be surprised if it doesn't earn a fifth season (although I also wouldn't be shocked if an endgame strategy is announced sooner than later).

Question: I finished Ascension last night on Syfy. I loved the show. Spoilers ahead for those who haven't seen it yet! Going through the first two hours, I was perplexed as to how a ship from the '60s could be interplanetary. I was blown away, however, by the big reveal at the end of the first two hours. Wow, what a twist. Then I couldn't wait to see the next two nights. Ended great and I hope they bring it back as a series à la Battlestar Galactica. But ... I was disappointed in the fact that there wasn't any real '60s slang woven into the dialogue as well as any new slang like "frack" from BSG. A culture detached from the core community is bound to develop their own slights on the English language. But my big question is why didn't they just go ahead and give us six or seven more episodes for a full season as per the opening credits it was written like six episodes instead of three two-hour events? I read already that this was a costly event show with a real working elevator and all. Second question is: What are the real chances of this going to series? -- Gene

Matt Roush: Syfy made quite an investment in this project (I wish they'd been as visionary in the spotty casting as in the elaborate production design), so I think the odds are fairly good that we'll see an initial series extension, although it was a calculated and possibly foolhardy risk to schedule this "limited event series" over three consecutive nights in mid-December. (Again, parsing the ratings for the nights the show premiered won't tell the whole story here.) If the episodes had aired weekly over five or six weeks, it might have built audience and stimulated interest, especially as the twists in the premise became apparent, but this sort of miniseries strategy can also be effective. And I have no problem in shorter-order test-runs like this, although this being something short of a BSG home-run in execution leaves its future somewhat in limbo. To your interesting observation about '60s slang, I wasn't bothered by that, because the cocooned society Ascensionportrays was launched in the early part of the decade with no exposure to the cultural revolutions that followed, so the fact they seem preserved in '50s looks and attitudes wasn't a surprise. It would make sense, though, for a civilization this cloistered to develop its own manners of speech and behavior, so good fracking point there.

Question: I wasn't planning to watch Ascension, since it looked kind of cheesy, but on your recommendation I gave it a try, and I have to admit I enjoyed it, despite the mostly cardboard characters and the writers trying to stuff as muchstuffintothelast15minutesastheycould. And I'd like to see some character development before the protagonist coldly pushes his boss off a ledge to her death. My problem is with Syfy calling this an "event series." I have expectations that an "event series" is like a mini-series and has some sort of resolution, even if it leaves room for further development as a series. You called this a "back-door" pilot, but there was nothing back-door about this one: It was pounding on the front door singing Christmas carols. Other than the relatively minor matter of who actually committed the murder on the ship,nothing was resolved or explained. This is clearly meant to be a continuing series, and advertising anything else was misleading at best and a cynical ploy at worst. This reminds me of ABC advertising the "season finale" of Last Resort after they had already canceled the series. -- Rick

Matt Roush: In both cases, the networks had to call them something. (With Last Resort, everyone knew the show was dead and had to rush to its conclusion; in this case, we have a network that could have used a bit more confidence in defining just whatAscension is, if it even knows.) Fair point about the whole "back-door pilot" thing, but we're all savvy enough to understand that Syfy was testing the waters here. Final point: I had to write my initial review after watching only the first of the three nights (the remainder wasn't available until after my deadline), and if I'd known then how busy the story would get with so little resolution, I might have been more cautionary.

Question: I never thought that three of the network shows I look forward to most each week would be on The CW: Arrow, The Flash and Jane the Virgin. All well done, well acted and seem to have some buzz behind them (so excited about Jane the Virgin's Golden Globe nominations!) To some extent they all have the CW look and feel, but I think they are better and more compelling than much of what is on the main networks. (I don't really care for procedurals.) So why do more people not watch these shows or other CW shows for that matter? Why can't CW shows get the same amount of views as even the lowest-rated big network shows? Is it advertising? Accessibility? The stigma of The CW (and The WB before)? Maybe the answer is obvious, but I just don't get it. - Amy

Matt Roush: Always a puzzlement, though it's probably best to think of The CW as a cable network that just happens to air its shows on broadcast TV. Many of their series are genre and niche, which limits their mass appeal, but because the network operates primarily as a distribution system for shows produced by the parent companies (CBS and Warner Bros.), and are made available on multiple platforms (including Hulu) for viewing at will by its younger target audience, ratings hardly seem to matter (a theme this week, and for me a not especially unhappy one). What's important in all of this to me is that The CW has raised its game qualitatively this year, with two of the few distinctive new shows of the season, and even the industry is beginning to take notice (with Jane, anyway). And now to discuss a fourth CW up-and-comer!

Question: Going through your columns (which I love!), I learned that you have never answered (or perhaps got asked) a question about The CW's The 100. So I was wondering if you are actually watching that show. I know you don't have time for everything (neither do I), but the show is really good. In fact, I think it is outstanding, and it's one of the best shows I'm currently watching. I might be a bit delusional, but I think it deserves an award. The well-written storylines, its portrayal of strong women and the great acting are among the reasons I love the show. With The CW finally entering the Golden Globes race (though sadly not with The 100), do you think it's possible that The 100 could ever be nominated for a Globe or perhaps even an Emmy? Speaking of which, do you think the show will be renewed for a third season at all? I know its ratings are just OK, but they have been a tad higher than Reign and Jane the Virgin. Sadly, the latter two seem to be the personal preference of [CW president] Mark Pedowitz and the network, which does no good to The 100's renewal chances. -- Daniel

Matt Roush: I've been catching up on the second season of The 100 during the holiday break (which isn't much of a break, considering how much programming is on the way in early January), and what continues to impress me is how relentlessly brutal and uncompromising the action is, rarely sparing its protagonists any kind of suffering (including even death) in what seems to be TV's most effective embrace yet of the YA dystopia trend. But given the industry's general disdain (in awards arenas, anyway) for fantasy/sci-fi programming and for younger performers of any sort, I wouldn't expect The 100 to get much attention from the Globes or the Emmys. But if it gets ignored by genre-based institutions like the Saturn Awards, that would be a disappointment and a lost opportunity. As for its future: Not worried. This is a keeper.

Question: How is the voting going to work for American Idol when it gets down to the Top 10? If the loser will be announced that evening, does that mean only the East Coast will have votes? After all, the West Coast won't see the program until three hours later, and the loser will have already been proclaimed. -- Arthur

Matt Roush: Checked with my in-house Idol expert, and the details of how it's all going to work don't seem to be entirely clear. But figure that much like the way Dancing With the Stars now works, with eliminations built into the performance shows, any week's exit will most likely be determined by the votes from the previous week. (Not sure whether that means someone who the producers already know is leaving will perform that night.) What would make no sense is basing an elimination on a night of performances when a large section of the country hasn't had a chance to vote on them. To the bigger issue: Will I miss the three minutes it used to take me to fast-forward through the elimination shows to find out who was cut? Answer: No.

Question: Why has CBS positioned NCIS: LA against Castle and The Blacklist (now State of Affairs)? They could easily move it to Wednesday or some other day. I and many other people are caught in the middle. It's a great series, and I'd hate to lose it because some person thinks they know better than the fans. Thanks for listening to me. -- Deering M.

Matt Roush: CBS's blessing and curse is that it sustains such a stable and successful schedule on most nights. But even so, the network regularly feels (and I tend to agree with them) that it's necessary to shake things up to introduce new hits, and in the process moves established shows to open up their time periods to new series while theoretically shoring up more problematic time slots by transplanting shows with loyal followings. CBS struggled mightily on Mondays at 10/9c last season, and with NCIS: New Orleans in the pipeline, it made strategic sense to give the Tuesday LA time slot to the new spinoff while moving LA to Mondays, despite the tougher competition. LA has taken a hit with the move, but it has improved the time period for CBS, so even with the inconvenience to fans, it's not as if the show is in any immediate danger.

Question: I have enjoyed reading your column for years, although I have never written (until now). While I might not always agree, I know I always get a calmly thought-out and often witty analysis. I also appreciate your fairness to shows like NCIS, fan favorites but not critical darlings. For this reason, I hope you can explain your off-hand comment from mid-November about Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., when you wrote: "I figure [Arrow's third] season is building toward something, so I'll stick with it. Now Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., that's a show I wouldn't be able to muster an argument for these days." Nearly all the reviews I've read have praised S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Season 2 as fantastic compared to Season 1, and I think I'm missing something others see -- I'm just not seeing the qualitative difference. My interest has steadily declined since the Hydra reveal and hit rock bottom with the winter finale. (I'm not a S.H.I.E.L.D. basher -- I enjoyed the show from its start, particularly [in my opinion, underused] Elizabeth Henstridge in "F.Z.Z.T.") I was wondering what you thought of the show over its one-and-a-half seasons. -- Dee

Matt Roush: I wondered if someone would call me out on what really was an "off-hand comment" (and therefore, probably not worth making). Truth is: I watched the first few episodes of the second season of S.H.I.E.L.D. and was as underwhelmed as I had been by much of the first season. And with so much else on my plate (including all of the aforementioned, and to me superior, CW series), I haven't kept up, although I too have heard that it has improved, though not to the point of actual you-must-watch raves. So while I was in effect correct in saying I couldn't muster as enthusiastic an argument on behalf of the show as I could for Arrow, I'll refrain from further S.H.I.E.L.D. bashing until or unless I have more evidence to back me up. (Just don't hold your breath.)

Question: I know you are not a fan of American Horror Story, but even you had to have loved Freak Show's Dec. 17 episode "Orphans." It wasn't the usual crazy/bloody episode, but a rather simple (at least by American Horror Story standards) episode about Pepper's story. Pepper's journey is heartbreaking from sitting alone in the orphanage corner to meeting Ma Petite and Salty for the first time to laying over Salty's dead body and trying to take care of her sister's baby and that could not have been done without Naomi Grossman's amazing performance. Grossman made me cry in every scene she was in this episode. Her simply naive look in the eyes to sad quiet tearful eyes over Salty's death and crying Lucas's name in the asylum. I am really hoping come Emmys nominations I see her name along with Finn Wittrock and Sarah Paulson, and I am really mad I didn't see Grossman, Wittrock or Paulson's name at the Golden Globes. Since you have more knowledge of Golden Globes rules and regulations, since some of American Horror Storyepisodes aired before Golden Globes nomination and some are airing after, do you think some of the cast can still score nominations next year for Freak Show? -- Aadil

Matt Roush: I agree with you about the evocative and moving welcome-change-of-pace Pepper episode, and its clever intersection with the Asylum season. And while this and past seasons of Horror Story have often made me cringe with the cloying sentimentality displayed toward misfits like Pepper and the pinheads (wouldn't that be a cool band name?), there was an uncommon restraint in this episode that I appreciated. That said, the last thing I feel this show needs or deserves is more nominations (Globes or otherwise), so I can't say I would be dismayed if any of these actors would be overlooked this year -- most especially Finn Wittrock, who I've seen do good work before (Broadway's Death of a Salesman, Masters of Sex on TV, and I haven't made it to Unbroken yet), but is just embarrassing in the worst and most overwrought of this season's typically and laughably garish subplots (though I blame the writing here more than the actor). And while it's possible that some Freak Show episodes may be eligible for Golden Globes recognition next year (not sure), it's not probable that they would be considered seriously with a successive season already in play.

Bonus Post-holiday Question!

Question: For the past several holiday seasons, CBS has been touting the fact thatRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is now in "Crystal-Clear High-Definition" with the colors at their truest and brightest. Granted, this print does look great, but what they don't tell us is that it's missing the instrumental break in the song "We Are Santa's Elves" that was restored in an earlier print that turned up and ran on CBS at some point in the 1990s for a few years. And also, the video portion which accompanies Rudolph and Hermey's singing "We're A Couple of Misfits" in the current version is actually the re-shot video first used with their singing of the shorter, later-added song "Fame And Fortune" with the sad result that the "Misfits" song is now chopped up, missing some lines and shoe-horned in to fit the action that originally was perfectly timed to fit "Fame And Fortune." In that '90s print, "Misfits" was sung unedited and the action was different and ran the full length of the song. It bugged me so much that I bought a DVD of the special, which isn't as visually eye-popping but has all of the missing footage restored. Couldn't CBS or Rankin-Bass have found an HD print that has all the footage my DVD has? CBS didn't have to cutanything out of the '90s print to fit it into an hour with all the commercial time, save for Yukon Cornelius' declaration that he found a peppermint mine just as Santa and the reindeer took off on that snowy night near the show's end.

I also recall that in the early airings of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the gang's end-of-show singing of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" was allowed to finish instead of trailing off and fading before the last line as it does now. Of course, there had been a "Holiday Wishes from your Coca-Cola Bottlers" sponsor tag which came on as they were singing the final "...Glory To The Newborn King!" in the 1960s airings, and that had to be excised later when they dropped sponsorship, but I feel it would be nice if they went back and dug out a print with the song sung all the way to the end, and over the restored last portion of the audio, used the visual end credit, A Charlie Brown Christmas -- The End" instead of having the song fade out unfinished and having "The End" shown with dead silence. What do you think? -- David

Matt Roush: I think, as I often do, that I learn at least as much from my correspondents in this column than they possibly could from me. Kudos on the deep detail dive, and as a rule, I would of course agree that the broadcasts of these annual treasures be as faithful to the original presentation as possible. (Was I aware of these discrepancies? No. It's been a while since I've actually watched any of these telecasts, owning DVDs of most of these shows.) But I would also think that the networks carrying these specials would be consulting with the legacy companies (Peanuts, Rankin-Bass) about the versions they air, so I imagine these edits weren't made lightly.

That's all for 2014, and once again, I thank everyone for reading and writing. and for keeping me honest and engaged with your thoughtful and perceptive questions, raves and rants. Until next time, keep sending your comments and questions here, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter! Happy New Year!

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