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Ask Matt: Shondaland Thursday, Madam Secretary vs. Race, Superheroes, Outlander and More

Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter! Question: I'm wondering what you think about the scheduling of ABC's Thursday night programming. I don't even KNOW if there's a Family Hour any more, but it seems to me that Scandal is pretty heavy on the sex and violence and may not work so well at the 8 pm (Central) hour. Do you see ABC getting complaints about it and possibly switching Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder? — Jan

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter!

Question: I'm wondering what you think about the scheduling of ABC's Thursday night programming. I don't even KNOW if there's a Family Hour any more, but it seems to me that Scandal is pretty heavy on the sex and violence and may not work so well at the 8 pm (Central) hour. Do you see ABC getting complaints about it and possibly switching Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder? — Jan

Matt Roush: That ship sailed long ago in this DVR Nation of ours, and I doubt ABC is all that concerned about how people will respond to the outrageous antics of Scandal airing one hour earlier. (When you consider all the hospital-bed-hopping that once was a staple on Grey's Anatomy, which now leads off the night at 8/7c, it would seem it takes a lot to shock us anymore.) Besides, the Murder pilot has its fair share of steamy moments — as you'd expect in a Shonda Rhimes-produced melodrama — so the best way to think about ABC's all-Shonda Thursday lineup is as a smorgasbord of guilt-free guilty pleasures.

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Question: I was looking at the fall TV schedule and remembered that The Amazing Race was going to be on Friday nights this fall. I was wondering if CBS might move it back to Sundays if one of its new shows on Sunday night, especially Madam Secretary, which took its place, bombs. Do you think CBS would make the move in the fall or would they wait till The Amazing Race' spring season and move it back to Sunday nights then? — Joel

Matt Roush:Such things are awfully hard to predict at this early stage of the season, and I'm not the best handicapper. But I'd be surprised if CBS doesn't give Madam Secretary a fairly decent chance to establish itself, at least through the fall, although if it becomes clear that the show isn't succeeding, CBS is not a network known for letting dogs (sleeping or otherwise) lie, and would likely exercise some sort of damage control. (Although I'd bet the network's initial move to tweak an ailing Sunday would be to bring back The Mentalist earlier than expected, rather than move The Amazing Race back to the night.) If the longtime Emmy champ Race suffers too badly on Fridays, a night on which CBS does pretty well (with minimal expectations), it might get moved back to a weeknight, to fill some other problematic time period, which to CBS's credit, it has very few. The good news about Race airing on Fridays, even with potentially lower ratings, is that half the country won't have to worry about those pesky football overruns.

Question: The problem I have with Madam Secretary is that I already know how it goes: Woman enters "old boys' club," is met with skepticism over whether or not she can do the job, has success, earns the respect of her doubters, episode closes with her harshest critic paying her a compliment and she's left sitting at her desk working as the screen goes black. It has been done before. I get that most concepts by this point have, but this one seems especially tired at this point, mostly because it still holds on to the premise that there are jobs for men and jobs for women. — Chip

Matt Roush: This having been sent to me before Madam Secretary even premiered illustrates the dangers of pre-judging a show. There are some predictable elements to the series, to be sure, as I noted in my own mixed-to-positive review (written after seeing three episodes), but one refreshing element of the premise is that no one doubts Elizabeth McCord's abilities, and her gender is pretty much beside the point. Yes, she clashes with establishment rivals, and in the early going, too often proves them wrong, although she wins few friends or converts with her headstrong methods. The title character is a bit too perfect, although Téa Leoni is quite appealing, and I'll be curious to see how the show deals with failure if/when Elizabeth makes an incontrovertibly wrong call during an international crisis (which, in the first weeks, are often too easily resolved). Madam Secretary isn't a perfect show, but it's solid and entertaining, and like many new series, shouldn't be dismissed by how it comes across on paper or in the promos. (You should see some of the mail I'm already getting on the CW's delightful Jane the Virgin, based on its title alone.)

Question: So as of late, the superhero/comics craze is expanding onto TV more than in the past. This upcoming season there will be Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, Constantine, iZombie, and you can kind of throw Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into this group. With announcements from Fox, ordering a pilot for Lucifer, and CBS, ordering a pilot for Supergirl, assuming the pilots are picked up and all the previous mentioned shows are renewed, that brings the total of superhero shows to EIGHT. Do you think this would be an overabundance of the genre? My argument is that it isn't. Look at all the shows about cops, lawyers and doctors/nurses, and you never hear anyone asking are there too many, or networks reducing the number of these shows. Same with the situation with singing competition shows: The X Factor, The Voice and The Sing-Off diluted the power of American Idol, but with the exception of The X Factor (and I guess The Sing-Off) these shows do better than most comedies and dramas on TV right now. Thoughts? — Justin

Matt Roush: Actually, I do hear frequently from people complaining there are too many of most types of shows (cops, lawyers, doctors, etc.) — and that includes singing competitions. The issue is that there just might be too much TV on TV, but that's another story. With the superhero/comics genre, the sky's probably the limit as networks continue to seek pre-sold concepts in a fantastic genre that has proven successful on the big (and lately small) screen, and as long as each show is distinctive enough, as the individual comics source material seems to be, then I see no reason to cry overkill. Given that Gotham, The Flash and Constantine are among the very few impressive fall drama pilots this season, I say, bring 'em on.

Question: I watched the "sneak" showing of The Mysteries of Laura last Wednesday ... for as long as I could stand it, and your review was only off on one item: The show is too awful for USA Network, but it might get by as a story in Mad magazine. Please! Make NBC cancel this dud. — Joe

Matt Roush: If only mere critics had such superpowers. Laura actually got pretty decent sampling by benefit of airing after the America's Got Talent finale, so NBC did its job by getting it seen. Now the challenge is for the show to kick off the Wednesday lineup at 8/7c, which will likely be a much more difficult task. Especially for a show this toxically cloying.

Question: OH MY GOD, episode 6 of Outlander was everything my book lover's heart could want and more!! I totally see what you meant when you described this as a pivotal point in the show! Having seen the first six episodes, and reading ALL the books, I'm a little surprised how heavily Starz marketed this as a romance. To be sure, it's an epic love story and a whole bunch of sexy times, but there is so much more to the show, and we're six episodes in with barely any romance and pretty much no sex. Do you think Starz hurt themselves by not emphasizing more the political and historical aspects, as well as the whole giant war a-coming? The ratings for Outlander are good, but I feel like so many people who would potentially be fans have written it off as a smutfest only for women. — Meg

Matt Roush: This question was sent in before Saturday's torrid "The Wedding" episode aired, which pretty much resolved those "where's all the sex?" queries. Still, by pay-cable standards (including on Starz, which once upon a time gave us the ultra-graphic Spartacus), the restraint shown by Outlander's producers has been remarkable and admirable. But I have few qualms with Starz's marketing of the show as a historical romance, which (sci-fi/time travel trappings aside) is what it boils down to. Although it has been interesting to be watching this in light of Scotland's recent vote on independence, right? Wonder how these Highland rebels would feel if they could jump to 2014? Still, stressing the political/historical elements at the expense of the provocative love triangle — woman torn between two worlds, times and men (plus one evil doppelganger) — ignores what the real appeal of the story is, at least initially. When the series moves more into battle mode (I've only read through the second book at this point), it might be a good idea for Starz to accentuate that in the marketing.

Question: The recent cancellation of Longmire made me wonder what the process is for collecting DVR statistics. I watched the show, and I am in their target age demographic. At this point, I almost exclusively watch shows that I have recorded or that are On Demand or available via Netflix. I would guess that this is true for most people in my age group. Are these numbers collected and considered when ratings are assessed? — Kristi

Matt Roush: All of these elements are being factored in more and more in assessing a show's true value. Some cable networks like FX are even choosing not to disclose or discuss same-day ratings, because that's only part of the metric they're now using to determine viewership. Still, if you're waiting to watch Longmire on Netflix, long after the actual season finished airing, that will have little if any impact on a show's current ratings status. A sale to Netflix does help a show's bottom line, but with Longmire, because the network didn't have an ownership stake in the show, it didn't help when it came to A&E's unfortunate decision to cancel it.

Question: A&E executives have said that canceling Longmire is simply a business decision. Well, as a "customer" decision, I plan to say goodbye to watching A&E. I was a fan of The Glades (canceled when still going strong and on a cliffhanger) and even more of a fan of Longmire, especially this last season (canceled even though ratings were strong). As many have pointed out, the episode with the grave-robbing scene, and that entire episode, were excellent. My decision: Stop watching A&E. If I do not watch shows on A&E in the future, then I will not have to worry about being into a show and having it yanked out from under me. I am insulted by executives who don't care what viewers want to see. I am insulted that, as a viewer, I am dismissed so easily with the reason that it was a business decision. — Sherry

Matt Roush: Far be it from me to plead A&E's case in this mess, but if you're going to take such a hardline view on the sorts of business decisions that are made all the time in TV, you're going to left with precious few options. The Longmire cancellation has become a true watershed, though, especially coming a year after the network's equally abrupt axing of The Glades, and while I understand how personally the fans have reacted to this news, my greatest puzzlement is why A&E got back in the scripted business to begin with if it wasn't going to accept the demographic realities associated with projects like this.

Question: Was it you who recommended Deliverance Creek? I watched it, using program-record, for the allotted two hours. And it looked like there was 10-20 minutes missing from the end! And when I looked for another time, nothing was listed for the next 10 days. On IMDB, someone said the ending was ambiguous. So maybe I only missed five minutes? I assume this was a failed series, or a pilot? Lots of storylines to work with. But what a waste, missing the ending. The movie wasn't bad, for Lifetime. At least she wasn't "15 and pregnant" at the time, and Lauren Ambrose wore the "prairie" look well — Jon

Matt Roush: Another critic friend of mine (who was a bit cooler toward the project) reported a number of complaints after the movie aired, because it left so many storylines hanging that viewers thought they'd missed something — so it's possible you didn't miss that much, given how abruptly the movie ended without tying up much of anything. Deliverance Creek was very much intended as a "backdoor pilot," with the potential to become a series (or, in my own best-case scenario though probably not Lifetime's, a series of movies). Haven't heard anything since last weekend's airing, so Lifetime may still be weighing its options. But I'd like to see the channel give a romantic Western a go. As long as they treat it better than A&E did Longmire.

Question: I've watched the fantastic So You Think You Can Dance since its beginning! Has it been renewed for next year? Usually Nigel Lythgoe will announce its renewal and I missed hearing it this season. Please tell me it's coming back!!! — Cindy

Matt Roush: Wish I could, but as of now, still no word — and in this case, I'm hoping that no news is good news, while Fox, under a new regime, figures out next summer's programming strategy. I'll be pleasantly surprised — OK, thrilled — if it comes back, but SYTYCD has been living on the bubble from season to season for a while, and at some point that bubble's going to burst. Just not yet, please.

Question: I am an avid follower of your column and look forward to your insights and opinions weekly. As such, I am wondering if you caught episodes of this year's The Bridge on FX, which I thought were outstanding and if there is any talk of a season 3. Also, I cannot understand by looking at the ratings why The Strain is not in the top 25, although it has been renewed. Come on, people — this show does for vampires what The Walking Dead has done for zombies. Finally, I watched Taxi Brooklyn and Rush and cannot believe each ended with multiple cliffhangers. After what A&E has done the last two years, do writers really believe this will bring them another season? I certainly hope so. — James

Matt Roush: Kudos on locating so many of my summer blind spots. I had become disenchanted with The Bridge by the end of the first season, and by the time I picked up on the fact that the buzz over Season 2 was considerably more positive, I was already way behind, and busy with TCA and a flood of new summer programming — and the fall onslaught to come — which is a roundabout explanation of why I let this one get by me this summer. If/when FX renews the show, as I expect will happen, I'll do my best to catch up before Season 3. I have, however, enjoyed the pulpy thrill ride of The Strain, and am as surprised as you that it hasn't achieved Walking Dead-level liftoff. Taxi Brooklyn and Rush were summer shows I found to be instantly disposable, and am not surprised that they ended on what sound like unsatisfying cliffhangers. If they don't get picked up, don't blame the networks (except perhaps for scheduling such derivative filler in the first place). Blame the writers for leaving you in this position.

Question: [SPOILER ALERT] I'm disappointed that Hell on Wheels killed off Elam (played by Common), and so shockingly so, after building up his return last week. Dadgummit, he was growing on me. And yet the show keeps that dastardly Swede around. That's one bad guy I wanted dead badly, even wished him decapitated by a boxcar wheel. He's so evil that I cannot watch any episode with him anymore. And double damn to those canceling Longmire. That was one gritty realistic sheriff. He'd do well in a Fargo series. Were you surprised about Common's demise? — Ralph

Matt Roush: Common is actually alive and well — and reportedly so eager to focus on his music career that Elam's violent exit on the show was arranged to suit his needs. I'm not a consistent watcher of this series, but it depicts a brutal world where no one's death, except perhaps of the series lead, Bohannon (Anson Mount), would surprise me.

That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!

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