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Ask Matt: True Blood, Work of Art, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men and More

Send questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter!  Question: I have recently discovered True Blood and spent the summer watching seasons 1 and 2. Alan Ball and company did all the right things to get me to invest completely in Bill and Sookie. So much so that now I physically hurt at the thought that things might not work out for them. (Kudos to them for getting that kind of response for fictional characters.) I know that things aren't following the books exactly, which is fine by me, since I haven't read them. However, I am getting a little worried about ...

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

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

 Question: I have recently discovered True Bloodand spent the summer watching seasons 1 and 2. Alan Ball and company did all the right things to get me to invest completely in Bill and Sookie. So much so that now I physically hurt at the thought that things might not work out for them. (Kudos to them for getting that kind of response for fictional characters.) I know that things aren't following the books exactly, which is fine by me, since I haven't read them. However, I am getting a little worried about the book fans and their demands for an Eric hook-up and their constant reviling of Bill. They don't seem to want to go with Alan's version of Bill being a better, er, person. Anyway, do you have any idea of what percentage of the True Blood audience has actually read the books? Or are they just louder fans than those of us who only watch the series? Do you think that Team Bill fans will have their hearts ripped out a la Maryann? — Dana

Matt Roush: Haven't a clue how many True Blood watchers are also readers of the Charlaine Harris books, but I've done both and find each experience satisfying in its own way (although I wasn't crazy about the most recent book). They are just different enough—kind of like the Dexter books vs. the Showtime series—that I find myself enjoying them for their differences. And that includes the way the Sookie-Bill-Eric triangle is playing out. (This season complicated by the arrival of Alcide; insert wolf whistle here.) I don't know exactly where Alan Ball's version is headed, but I would expect a major upheaval between Sookie and Bill before long, just to keep things interesting. [MILD SPOILER ALERT] Whether any estrangement will be as long-lasting as what happens in the books, I don't know, but I would doubt it—mostly because of the on- and off-camera chemistry of the leads and because it's probably not in the show's best interest to marginalize Bill over the long haul.

Whatever happens, and I'm still rooting for the show to tackle the fourth book at some point (with a very strong Sookie-Eric story), I'm betting True Blood will give both Team Bill and Team Eric opportunities to win and lose a few along the way. And while it's fun to take sides, my advice as always is to take all the fan noise from either camp with a pinch of salt—or in this case, garlic.

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Question: As the Bravo show Work of Art: The Next Great Artistwinds down, my reality competition-crazed friend and I were discussing the merits of this show and wondering if it will get another season. While we like the contestants and the format showing the creative process, the judging can be very harsh though reasonably consistent from the regular judges. The guest judges are wild cards and the term "literal" is thrown around with abandon to describe almost anything the judges don't like. This dislike of "literal" has almost rigged the show in favor of Miles who doesn't seem to have a "literal" bone in his body. I don't know if he'll win, but artists with other styles, abilities and visions have been shortchanged by this theme of the judging. We decided that Work of Art just doesn't work for us and should not get renewed. Have you seen it? What do you think? — Frank

Matt Roush: I've been watching and enjoying it, and think it should and probably will get a second season. As always in these shows, the judging can be problematic—really? Peregrine in the finals?—and I often think the producers take too heavy a hand in keeping some "personalities" around past their expiration date just because they're provocative and/or sexy. (Like the self-absorbed and rather one-note Jaclyn.) And I would also agree that it feels at times like the entire competition has been stacked in Miles' favor, since there's no behavior or quirk they won't indulge on his behalf. But it's the eccentricities of the contestants, and the creative process (sometimes disturbing, sometimes inexplicable) as they express themselves in the most peculiar ways in these challenges, that have helped make Work of Art a fresh new contender in the reality-competition genre. (Sure beats the stupefying Shear Genius.)

Question: I do not understand how Friday Night Lightscan only have one more season to go! It is one of the best shows I have ever watched, and I watch a LOT of TV. Wouldn't the ratings do better if it wasn't on Friday night? Friday night always seems like the night where "shows go to die!!" — Sheri

Matt Roush: Terrific season finale Friday, wasn't it? While I empathize with your separation anxiety, you need to see the big picture here. Friday Night Lights' situation isn't about ratings or time slot any more. It's a miracle we got the last three seasons (including the upcoming fifth and final one). If it had been left up to NBC, where the show struggled pretty much from the start, Friday Night Lights wouldn't have made it past two years. The shared arrangement between DirecTV and NBC ensures that the show will end next season on the creative team's own terms, and that's the best outcome you could hope for a show that attracted such a niche, if loyal, audience. Anyone who's rooted for these characters over the last few years would love it if the show ran forever, I know, but that's not the way it works. Sometimes you have to accept the reality of a limited run, and at least we'll get an actual ending. Most shows in FNL's situation aren't so lucky.

Question: I was SO INSULTED when I read the Roush Review suggesting that the new show,Rubicon, may be "too intelligent." In the same issue of TV GUIDE, I found out FX has cancelled Damagesand "sold" it, evidently, to DirecTV. Guess that show was too intelligent, also, and it will never be the same on DirecTV as they are cutting the budget—no more guest stars. I do not have DirecTV!! Other shows that were "intelligent," like 3 Pounds, and the list goes on, have also been canceled. Guess I should continue to be "entertained" by The Exterminator, DWTS, The Bachelorand Bachelorette, Intervention, Celebrity Rehab, Hoarders, The Amazing Race, Survivor, etc. Egads, I've had enough!! What are us "intelligent" people supposed to watch!! — C.H.

Matt Roush: The headline "Can a Show Be Too Intelligent?" was meant to be provocative (and a play on words, given Rubicon's milieu in the world of government intelligence) but not insulting. Sorry if anyone took offense. The point being made in that review, and it's a point I'm sure many took issue with, is that merely being "smart" isn't always enough. There's no question that Rubicon is a thoughtful, intelligent show, but it felt lifeless and rather obvious to me. (Ooh, shadowy people are following the hero. When aren't they in shows like this?) I appreciate the puzzle aspect of the show, but would a little pace and tension kill them? For the record, I was a big fan of this last season of Damages as well, but to condemn FX for canceling it after three seasons of stubbornly small ratings is to ignore the rest of this cable upstart's lineup of groundbreaking, envelope-pushing dramas—shows like The Shield, Rescue Meand most recently Justified, which qualify in my book as "intelligent," provocative TV.

I should have predicted someone would use that "intelligent" hook to slam the medium in general, but I'm just not that big a TV snob. I abhor some of the reality shows ranted about above, but certainly not all of them. Sometimes a show many may consider "stupid" or merely escapist can be entertaining, and sometimes a show that aims very high can fall flat. However one feels about Rubicon, I think this is a valid argument to have made and I stand by it. (Although if the show grows on me as it goes along, you can bet I'll make note of it. I'm certainly going to keep watching. If I can stay awake.)

Question: Around the time of NBC's upfront this past May, there was some speculation about NBC producing wrap-up specials for both Heroesand Law & Order. If there's ever been a show not needing such an honor, it's Law & Order, as its strict adherence to its procedural formula has left little interest in back stories of individual characters. I have to admit, however, that I would watch any such episode NBC saw fit to produce, as I have been a fan of the show for most of the last 15 years. My question is whether you know anything of the status of this project. — Alex

Matt Roush: As Dick Wolf told the TCA in late July, Law & Order classic "has moved into the history books." As far as I know, there are no plans to wrap things up with a movie or a special—although I personally like the idea of a series of Law & Order movies using the most recent cast. Wish the networks still went in for things like that. It remains one of the lingering disappointments of last season that NBC's late-in-the-game cancellation of the mothership meant there was no buildup or fanfare as the show went to black. But at the moment, the company's energies are focused on launching the Los Angeles version of the original format.

Question: I am a huge fan of Mad Men: its writing, its storytelling, wardrobe and acting. I am hoping Jon Hamm wins the Emmy this year. Playing roles that are subtle in their acting are often overlooked, I think, but I think Jon did an exceptional job this season, especially with his "confession" to Betty about Dick Whitman. Do you think he has a ghost of a chance to win? — Lianne

Matt Roush: I think everyone in that very tough category has a fighting chance. Don Draper is such a star-making role, and Jon Hamm had so much great material to play. It's hard to believe he hasn't won already. But the same can be said for Hugh Laurie, who has yet to win an Emmy as House (although he has two Golden Globes), and Michael C. Hall as Dexter. Don't count out Bryan Cranston three-peating for Breaking Bad, which had arguably its best season yet. And Matthew Fox's performance in the heart-rending Lost finale makes him a contender for his overdue nomination. And underdog Kyle Chandler! How great would that be? This is almost an impossible choice. I could make an argument for any of them, and whoever wins I think I'll be at peace. You make a good point that the subtlety of Hamm's work makes him a dark horse, but he's such a dynamic leading man as well as an instant pop-culture icon that I wouldn't count him out.

Question: I don't watch much summer TV, soBig Brother, Bachelorette, America's Got Talent, Hell's Kitchenand Rookie Bluehave been keeping me happy, but now I'm looking forward to the fall unveiling of Hawaii Five-O (Alex O'Loughlin's been on my A-list since Moonlight), The Defenders, Undercovers, Human Targetand my other favorites, as well as the return of American Idol, now that it's being completely revamped. So that brings me to three questions for you.

Do you have five new shows on network TV that you're expecting to be hits? (Know Human Target has been on the air already, but barely, so I'm still counting it as "new.") I was excited at Nigel Lythgoe coming back to AI but I was hoping he'd put himself in as a judge—he can be as acerbic as Simon Cowell—and I was sort of hoping for Paula Abdul's return, though I'd thought she was a lock for Cowell's new show, and would have loved Sir Elton, though I didn't think he'd be interested at all. Now, with Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and the sweet "Dawg" happy Randy Jackson, whom I love, but whose wishy-washy comments don't help lead a contestant to improvement, I'm rather disappointed. I know the two new judges are superpowers, but what they'll bring to the judging panel is anybody's guess, and I'm really skeptical, so though I think viewers will tune in to test out the dynamics, I don't know whether it'll help rebirth this show. I know it remains to be seen what will occur, but do you have any early thoughts on it?

And finally, Rookie Blue got very bad initial critical comments, but it's now touted as TV's hottest new summer show and I've been enjoying it from day one. Have you changed your mind about its value? — Dorothy

Matt Roush: Some pretty wide-ranging topics there. To answer in order:
1) Regarding the new season, I'm not sure if you want me to pick hits or critical faves, which are rarely the same. The shows I'm most excited about are Fox's Lone Starand Raising Hope, but I'm hedging my bets when it comes to predicting they'll be instant hits. (Human Factor, airing on Fridays, is a cult item at best, but I'm looking forward to it.) CBS has the most commercial lineup, and I'll be surprised if shows like Hawaii Five-0, The Defenders and Mike & Mollyaren't immediately successful—a combination of the right show on the right night on the right network. I'm hoping NBC's The Event opens strong and that it holds up creatively, because TV could use another high-concept thriller to blow our socks off. Beyond that, it's kind of slim pickings.

2) American Idol. Because as I write this, the new judges' deals have yet to be signed, I'll reserve judgment, but my initial reaction to a judging panel of J. Lo, Steven Tyler and the numbingly predictable Randy Jackson is several notches less than euphoric. Still, if any show needs an overhaul, it's this one.

3) Rookie Blue. I will admit that the pilot episode I was judging the show on, with its first-day-on-the-job clichés, was the worst episode I've seen to date. But it's still such a trite and retro rookie-cop show, I feel whenever I watch it I've seen it already. It's harmless enough, though, and as a summer diversion, I'm glad that ABC is thrilled with its success. But I still wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it.

Question: I have been wondering what has happened to the excellent HBO show In Treatment? It was so fascinating and Gabriel Byrne is a terrific actor. It came back a while ago for just a few episodes. — Joyce

Matt Roush: To clarify, In Treatment completed two full seasons, so it's not like it was cut short. A third season is underway, with Debra Winger joining Dr. Weston's roster of patients and Amy Ryan replacing Dianne Wiest as Paul's own therapist. No air date yet, but I imagine you'll see it return in early to mid 2011.

Question: We agreed with you about the last episode of Lost (both of us wept openly, LOL) so I was wondering how you felt about the last 15 minutes of the Doctor Who finale. I thought it was remarkable and amazing and just perfect. When Amy did the wedding speech and got to the "something blue" part, I yelled happily at my TV. Just great stuff. — Greg

Matt Roush: Couldn't agree more. I was charmed and moved, as I was throughout much of this last season of Who. Let me take this opportunity to plug the next project from Steven Moffat, who so successfully shepherded the new Doctor through this transitional year. Mark your calendar for Sherlock, a three-part series of Masterpiece Mystery! movies on PBS in October that updates the classic detective to the 21st century. Looks like great fun.

Question: I just need to get this off my chest. I appreciate YOUR appreciation of Archie Panjabi's great work on The Good Wife. And I know you are a big champion of Mad Men and Christina Hendricks in particular. Something just rubs me wrong about her nomination, though. Even TV GUIDE admits that Christina was hardly ON the show last season! Should she have been nominated in previous seasons? Sure. But NOT last season based on ONE great episode. One episode does NOT a "supporting" actress make! It does not seem fair that someone in this category should only be allowed to submit just ONE episode of their work to be judged for the entire season! That is just ridiculous!! They have separate categories for "guest appearances," which means ONE EPISODE! SUPPORTING means the work they did throughout the ENTIRE season, not just in ONE episode. It's bad enough that cable shows only produce about half the number of episodes that network shows do. If the people who vote for the awards aren't interested in watching a show for the entire season, then how can they really judge WHO supported the leading actors best? One episode most certainly does NOT define that. I love Mad Men and I think Christina Hendricks is great on the show. In actuality, I like all of the actresses who are nominated in this category, but I would hate to see someone actually WIN IT for ONE episode rather than for the supporting work they did throughout the entire season. Nothing disgusts me more than when voters realize that they didn't reward someone who deserved it in previous years, so let's just give it to them now whether the current work is worthy or not. Thanks for letting me vent. And GO ARCHIE!! — Beverly

Matt Roush: OK, even the writer of this rant knows she went a bit over the top (the all-capital spellings are all Beverly's). But she does bring up some interesting points here, including what constitutes a "supporting" vs "guest" performance. (The fact that Showtime submitted John Lithgow's work as a "guest" performance guarantees a win, but how was this "special guest star" who appeared through the entire season considered a mere "guest" shot?)

As with the Oscars, where a single electrifying scene can win someone a supporting actor trophy (see Beatrice Straight in Network, for a famous example), "supporting" work at the Emmys shouldn't be judged only on the frequency of appearance. Christina Hendricks is a series regular on Mad Men, but the story last season (in which she left the ad agency, only to come back at a critical time) kept her off screen for a significant period of time, and I don't see why she should be penalized for that. Any time Joan appeared, her presence had incredible impact, and to me, that's a testament to her powerful work in this role and not a consolation prize for having overlooked her in seasons where she had more to do. Which doesn't mean Archie Panjabi is any less worthy for her consistently scene-stealing work as Kalinda. It's a competitive category, and Hendricks earned her way into it.

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

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