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Ask Matt: Once Upon a Time, Pilot Season, Luck and HBO, Revenge and More

Question: I've been watching Once Upon A Time from the beginning, and I thought by now, we'd start to see some real movement towards the present-day fairy-tale folks realizing that something was amiss. But it seems to be dragging and dragging, and while the "fairy tale" portions are fun to watch, there's nothing there that gives one hope that finally, someone other than Henry knows something's amiss. It's getting boring. Any tidbits as to when that ...

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

Question: I've been watching Once Upon A Time from the beginning, and I thought by now, we'd start to see some real movement towards the present-day fairy-tale folks realizing that something was amiss. But it seems to be dragging and dragging, and while the "fairy tale" portions are fun to watch, there's nothing there that gives one hope that finally, someone other than Henry knows something's amiss. It's getting boring. Any tidbits as to when that might finally happen? — Holly
Matt Roush: We're only 11 episodes into the first season (which didn't even premiere until late October), which seems awfully early to be getting impatient for game-changers. Although I've felt from the start that the Storybrooke stories tend to pale next to what's going on back in fabulous Fairy Tale Land. And judging from the questions I've been fielding lately, the entire convoluted premise of the town living under this curse has thrown lots of fans into a nit-picking frenzy. I won't project what's down the road because this isn't a spoiler column, but your dissatisfaction with the present-day stuff seems more a reflection of the show's overall unevenness — and I'm speaking here as someone who's learned to enjoy the show — than a problem with pacing, because they're actually breaking a fair amount of story from week to week. Just not the story you'd like to see being played out quite yet. But give it time. These are early days, and Once Upon a Time is going to be with us for a long time to come.
Question: How likely is the chance that Harry Potter would become an HBO show? One book per season or two for the big books. It's made all the money it's going to make from the movies save for DVD sales, but those get surges when released, and there are no more movies. I get it would be a gamble to do a Kid to Young Adult show in the vein of Game of Thrones (minus sex, cursing, heavy bloodshed and incest). The only issue with the movies was they couldn't show everything, but with 10 hours or more of content per book, one would think it could bring the books alive in a different way. And again make loads of money. (Also all the people that started with those books would be late teens to early-to-late-20s by now, so that would be a prime demo ratings get for any show.)
Secondly, in magical quandaries, Once Upon a Time is, I think, the best new show on TV. I'm wondering your thoughts on my theory that Prince Charming 1.0 (aka James's dead twin brother) was the Evil Queen's love. His father the king was poor, and his son was his best chance at saving the kingdom. He would have paraded him around the differing kingdoms looking for an alliance, and he was of the same age as Snow. I could see Prince Charming 1.0 going to meet King Leopold and Snow only to find them away temporarily with lonely unloved Queen Regina to entertain them. She could have told Snow about this hoping that she would turn the prince down were he to return or something like that, only to have Snow betray that misplaced trust. In the last episode, King Leopold was already reading Regina's personal diary, indicating he didn't trust her. So either King Leopold or maybe Regina herself (if his father demanded the Prince to marry so she decided no one gets to have him) had a reason to ensure Prince Charming 1.0's death at the hands of the brute. I just think it would be interesting if part of the reason the Evil Queen cursed all of Fairy Tale land was because Snow was married to the same face/same body that she loved. I could see that as a motive. Plus let's be honest, it would make for a great contrast to have David/David's twin to share loving scenes with both Snow White and the Evil Queen. — Trenton
Matt Roush: Have you considered a future in fan fiction? I like your final image of a flashback to the twin princes pairing off with very different love interests, but beyond that, I confess I haven't given a great deal of thought to any of this, and I'm more interested in how the whole Snow/Prince Charming story plays itself out. Regarding a reboot of the Harry Potter franchise: One thing in its favor is that HBO is part of the Warner Bros. empire, so that makes a certain business sense. But it's way too soon for anything like this to happen. A generation has grown up on the movie series, and taking over for Daniel Radcliffe & Co. will be an unenviable proposition whenever the time should come, if it ever does. I imagine someday someone will want to tackle these iconic stories again — and the canvas of TV would be the natural medium for going even deeper into the books than the movies could do — but it won't be soon, and it's a stretch to imagine HBO pouring its resources into a more PG-style operation. Still, what an interesting question, and looking at it objectively, Harry Potter would be an amazing TV character.
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I was wondering with Alcatraz and the new show Touch on Fox, where does that leave Terra Nova for Monday nights? Terra Nova started out with a bang, but it fizzled midway through the season then had an interesting cliffhanger for the winter finale. Is Terra Nova gone the way of The Event, or is it coming back at a different time and or day? — Stephanie
Matt Roush: Terra Nova is done for the season, so is currently in limbo, and its renewal chances are probably dimming, given the solid performance of Alcatraz and the strong opening of Touch in its sneak-peek premiere. If Touch and Alcatraz hold up, Fox may not need to bring back Terra Nova, which was already pretty much "on the bubble" at the time of its December finale. On the other hand, if Fox were to plot out a schedule where some of these shows were renewed for shorter 13-episode seasons (if the economics made sense) and shared time periods the way Terra Nova and Alcatraz (and later, Touch) have done this year, maybe the show could be saved.Question: I watched Touch, and I really enjoyed it. However, I have my concerns over whether the premise could be stretched out into a series that could potentially last years. The idea, in fact, seemed far more conducive to a two-part miniseries or movie-length format. Interestingly, I've found that problem with a lot of shows: The premise is awesome, the pilot interesting, and then over time the idea becomes stretched so thin that the story starts running out of steam. I'm thinking of shows like Touch or Alcatraz or even a show like Ringer. Do you think American television will ever take a note from Spanish-language TV and its concept of telenovelas? That is, shorter-run series that have a defined running period? Or is that a pipe dream? — Barb
Matt Roush: This is a question that dogs any long-running serialized show built around a tantalizing high concept. It's almost inevitable that whenever an out-of-the-box pilot captures our attention, especially those that play more like a movie than a formula TV show, that we end up asking: How long can they sustain it? Even something as captivating as Showtime's Homeland has us wondering, after the first season: What next? How can they top it? Should they even try? Currently, I'm wondering how far they can take the thrill ride of ABC's riveting The River beyond the first eight-episode season should it explode the way it deserves to. Some premises do seem better suited for miniseries (the telenovela concept) than for the long-run, but the networks have turned away from that format, and if a show somehow becomes a hit, the bottom line typically demands more, not less. I do think we'll see (and to a small degree are already seeing) the networks moving closer to the cable model, and this midseason could provide a few watershed moments in watching limited-run series — like The River and NBC's fascinating Awake — try to break through.Question: As a longtime reader of TV Guide Magazine, I have noticed the last week all the networks announcing pilot pickups and orders for new shows. Now the question is, with what appears to me to be the most successful TV season in years now underway, where are the spots for these new shows? I would think most cancellations already have taken place. Are shows on the block that you would think are safe? One example is ABC who ordered at least six shows, but they are having the best year of any network. — Jeffrey
Matt Roush: This is pilot season, business as usual, and keep in mind that just because pilots are going into production is no guarantee they will make it to air. And no matter how well a network is doing — and ABC is doing better than many, having produced keepers like Once Upon a Time, Revenge, Suburgatory and Last Man Standing this season — the last thing they can afford to do is to be complacent and stop developing for the future. There are still a number of holes on ABC's schedule (on Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday) to be addressed in the season ahead. Even CBS, the most stable and successful of the mainstream networks, is deep in development and always on the lookout for new tentpoles. At some point, even long-running franchises tend to be phased out — I'll be surprised if CBS keeps all three CSI series another year (NY being the most vulnerable) — and if any of the networks think they have come up with the next big thing, they're always going to be able to find room for it.Question: Watched the first episode of Luck. It looked gorgeous. The cast is outrageously talented. Unfortunately, it felt like John From Cincinnati. Is this worth sticking with, or is this another HBO vanity project whose grasp exceeded its reach? — Rick
Matt Roush: Luck is nowhere near as inscrutable and self-consciously opaque as John From Cincinnati, although even when you can understand what the actors are saying — lots of method mumbling going on here, delivering that peculiar David Milch-ian syntax — you may not always understand what they're talking about, because they often speak in horse code. There's no question Luck is a test of the viewers' patience, and like many HBO dramas, isn't always seen to its best advantage in weekly hour-long chapters. But even consuming the entire nine-episode series over a couple of days, as I did earlier this year, wasn't as satisfying as I'd hoped, though as you'd expect, there are some terrific and moving moments along the way, usually involving horses, and there are some exceptionally acted character studies. For some, including a stable of discerning critics, that's enough to balance things out in the win column. I'm not so sure.Question: What is going on with HBO? Luck was a bore and had horrible ratings. Showtime's Sunday line-up continues to beat HBO with amazing shows like Homeland and Shameless. Meanwhile HBO's line-up continues to disappoint and fail us viewers with awful shows like Luck, Treme and Enlightened. To make matters worse they cancel Bored to Death! This show was one of the few bright spots on the HBO schedule. I am truly angry that Bored to Death was canceled and Enlightened was renewed. Showtime has such great variety and manages to keep producing edgy, interesting and iconic shows.The decline of HBO has been going on for several years. Are they aware that their programming is forcing viewers to cancel their subscriptions? The lackluster line-up of original programming is really bothersome and is forcing me to consider canceling HBO. I just wanted to get your opinion on why HBO is running itself into the ground. Is this a social experiment? Are the viewers being tested to see how much horrible programming we could tolerate? Can this all be a colossal joke? Matt, is there any way that you can make HBO realize that their original programming needs to be restructured? I am tired of waiting for HBO to step up their game. Is there still hope? Showtime is now my favorite network but I still have a soft spot for HBO. — Liz
Matt Roush: I'm not sure what I could add to your rant that would be any more forceful, and kudos on the "social experiment" crack, which made me laugh. It's curious that you would leave out of the discussion such breakout shows as True Blood and Game of Thrones, but maybe genre isn't your thing. But without them, and the occasional season of Curb Your Enthusiasm— which was great again last year, but who knows when we'll get the next one? — there isn't a lot on HBO these days that feels nearly as buzz-worthy as the best of Showtime: Homeland in particular, which for me exhibits everything you'd want from a pay-cable series, including actually being entertaining. HBO often seems to operate under the assumption that it's in the business of producing "important" art, which involves giving idiosyncratic producers free rein — some would say overindulging them — to pursue their vision to the fullest, ratings be damned. The result is a slate of shows that can be easier to respect than to enjoy, although each of the shows you mention has a passionate if small following. Even Bored to Death was a bit precious for my taste, but at least it attempted to be funny, which is more than can be said for many of the network's recent half-hours.Question: Can you explain what is up with the delay, re-runs, etc. with Revenge? This is a fairly new series, so why are they doing re-runs and not just airing the next episode? Is there anyway that they could/would state at the end of the show when a new episode will air? — K
Matt Roush: Doesn't matter that a show is in its first year, there are still going to be interruptions along the way if the network wants to stretch the season into May. It's especially noticeable this time of year, and more so when a show is this heavily serialized with built-in cliffhangers. I'm sure this complaint will rear its head again in the spring, when repeats and pre-emptions are common for many shows through March and April. But the good news that Revenge will be new the next two weeks, with pivotal episodes catching us up with the shooting on the beach that opened the series. There will be a pre-emption on Feb. 22 (try not to scream) for a special celebrity-themed "Before They Were Famous" edition of 20/20, but the story will pick up on Feb. 29 with the aftermath to the murder scandal. At that point, 16 episodes will already have aired, so expect more stops and starts before the season finale. There's nothing new in this — it's the arithmetic of network TV — and the only alternative would be for it to run straight through (a logistical improbability) and wrap the season several months early. Either way, someone's going to be disappointed.Question: There was some drama and confusion on Twitter about how Fringe is scheduled for the rest of the season and what that means for its future. I know it goes away for a few weeks in March but comes back with new shows. So could you explain what is going on and if it is as big a deal has some seem to think it is? — Amanda
Matt Roush: Drama on Twitter? Are you sure? That would be so out of character! Sarcasm aside, it's no bigger a deal than any other aspect of Fringe's precarious existence on Fridays. After airing originals all through February, Fox is apparently opting to remove Fringe for the first few weeks in March rather than run repeats, which would lower its puny ratings average even further. Fringe will return March 23 and play out the rest of the season without repeats. Again, nothing out of the ordinary here, except that it reinforces the show's lousy ratings, which only get worse in replays.Question: Another question about Fringe: People keep talking about it as if it were a Fox product, but my understanding is it's a Warner Bros. production purchased by Fox. I have no idea what the DVD sales look like or how it plays overseas (major issues for CW shows) but if it were switching networks just to make it to the 100-episode syndication mark, wouldn't the CW be a more logical place for it? I mean, Warners would own the rerun rights, not Fox? Fringe is one of the few shows I can watch multiple times. Which, given how little I usually like J.J. Abrams, says a lot. — Barbara
Matt Roush: With this, I think we have now exhausted in this column every single imaginable alternative for Fringe should Fox not renew it. You're right that Fringe is produced by Warner Bros., and since The CW basically exists as a distribution platform for WB and CBS/Paramount shows that couldn't survive anywhere else except maybe on cable, there is logic to this theory, given that the numbers it's pulling on Fox would look almost robust by The CW's standards. And it would be a relatively compatible show with Supernatural or shows of that ilk. So it's not the strangest scenario I've heard, though it's probably still a long shot, given budget and other issues (including that the CW is already busy developing for next season and may not be in a position to accept someone else's cast-offs).Question: I am a fan of the awards shows that come on in January and February. When I watched the Golden Globe Awards, I was very pleased to see my favorite drama series, Homeland, and actress Claire Danes deservedly honored in their respective categories. However, when I watched the SAG Awards on Jan. 29, neither of the lead actors nor the ensemble was even nominated. I was very disappointed. Did I miss something? Do you have an explanation for this oversight? — Sheila
Matt Roush: Doesn't make any sense to me either, except if you look at the TV results (nearly all of them repeat winners; I mean Alec Baldwin six times in a row?), I think they just dropped the ball all around, making some very lazy choices in the nominations and wins. I heard some buzz that maybe Homeland started too late in the year to get on their radar, but American Horror Story started around the same time, and Jessica Lange (the best thing about that show) was not only nominated, she won. So basically, no excuse.Question: Watching the SAG Awards, I couldn't help but wonder how come the television branch has no supporting actor/actress nominees? Even if they had them, the telecast would still be shorter than the rest of the award shows. Is there another different reason behind this? — Sonal
Matt Roush: There is a sense that the TV categories are a bit of an afterthought here and at the Golden Globes, which features a supporting category but lumps together comedy, drama and movie/miniseries actors, which is just bananas. I suppose that because the SAGs make a distinction in the TV acting categories between comedy and drama, unlike the movie categories (where everyone competes in either lead or supporting categories, regardless of genre), they've cast a wide enough net. And given that Jessica Lange won for what's basically a supporting role, maybe it is a fair playing field.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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