Ask Matt: Hostages and "Limited" Series, Glades, Pilot Season, Big Brother
by Matt Roush
Question: What do you think about new shows that have a premise that seems unsustainable beyond one season? When Revenge was announced, it seemed like a good idea for a miniseries rather than a long-term program, and with the results we saw in the second season, that doesn’t seem so far off. The new CBS show Hostages sounds interesting, but it doesn’t seem like something you could continue beyond the initial 15-episode run without the writers coming up with convoluted ways to keep situations from being resolved or having it turn into a different show entirely. So I guess my question is: Do you think networks are getting desperate to have instant hits and aren’t thinking about whether or not the show can last and still be good? — Mike
Matt Roush: Two different issues here. Yes, the networks are more desperate than ever for hits, instant or otherwise (though instant is better). A high-concept thriller like Hostages is one way to aim big and worry about the consequences later. Which leads to the next point. It’s hard to pre-judge heavily serialized shows like these until we see how they play out, and all I know from the pilot episode is that the basic situation piles on complications within secrets within twists and should generate enough pure plot to sustain a limited-run season. Of course we have every right to be skeptical about what a second season would look like or if it’s even necessary, but if Hostages is a hit (see: Under the Dome), there’s no way CBS won’t want to milk more out of it. The producers say they have a plan, but it had better be a good one. The model that intrigues me most right now is what FX is doing with season-long anthology series: American Horror Story (though generally not a fan of its monster-mash overkill) and next year’s reboot of Fargo, intended to be a self-contained story which, if renewed, would tell an entirely different story in a second season. Maybe that’s the way Hostages will go, although that really would be a departure for network TV.
Question: I have a question that really would be more for cable networks. With critically acclaimed shows such as Terriers and Lights Out, could you ever see either networks or writers just developing a one-season run of a series so they don’t have to worry about being picked up? — Glenn
Matt Roush: That would be called a miniseries, and I do think we’re seeing the renaissance of this long-neglected form in certain corners — on cable for sure (Sundance’s Top of the Lake, to name an excellent example), but also on Fox, and it will be interesting to see what happens with projects like next year’s 24 reboot, M. Night Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines and the remake (however unnecessary) of BBC America’s outstanding Broadchurch. The economics of this sort of self-contained long-form programming can be prohibitive, which is where international sales come in. But as mentioned earlier, if any or all of these are successful, they’ll almost certainly generate sequels — which make them series, not miniseries.
Question: Like many you have heard from, I am upset over The Glades being canceled and leaving the show on such a cliffhanger. I only watch the show on Hulu as I assume many do who no longer want to pay so much for cable TV. My question is: Does the network take that into account when they decide something like canceling a show, do they consider the thousands of Internet viewers that still watch ads during the show and pay subscription fees to Hulu for example? If they don’t, they are not properly understanding the popularity of Internet-provided shows. Personally, I thought The Glades was smart and witty. Too bad it is gone. I am very disappointed. — Kevin
Matt Roush: These viewers on other platforms (including the network’s own website) are counted, although with services like Hulu I’m not sure how immediately. But very generally speaking, it’s the tune-in on the primary channel that has the most impact on the bottom line, so if the show isn’t pulling its weight there, that’s what tends to matter most. At least for now.
Question: So I’ve been following the news regarding the upcoming development season, and I can’t help but notice that there are quite a few scripts ordered with put pilot commitments and penalties involved. More so than other years. Any theory as to why that seems to be the trend for the 2014-15 season? Do you think maybe Kevin Spacey’s recent speech, and the success of the Netflix model and others like it, might have something to do with this approach the mainstream broadcasters have taken? Could it be that maybe, possibly, finally networks are trying out a different pilot season model? – Alexandra
Matt Roush: Again, I’d caution against describing the Netflix model as a “success” until they start releasing information about how many people are actually watching their original shows. And I’d also caution against obsessing too much about all of these development and pilot deals, because with a few exceptions — like last cycle’s bidding war over Michael J. Fox, which ended with NBC committing to a full 22-episode season sight unseen — there’s no guarantee of any of these shows’ future. But because I tend to keep blinders on when it comes to pilot deals, I turned to a true expert, our L.A. bureau chief Michael Schneider, who added this valuable perspective:
“This has less to do with the Netflix model and more to do with the networks falling back into their old habits of spending more money to compete for hot properties. Competition is fierce for hot scripts and big-name producer/writers, and the networks feel the need to compete with cable networks and digital platforms like Netflix to land that talent. But that means the agents can pit more networks against each other and score a bigger deal. ‘Put pilots’ and ‘penalties’ don’t mean these projects will ever get made or see the light of day, but it does mean the networks will have to shell out more money to the writers and studios than the usual fees they pay for scripts if the projects don’t move forward. (And as we know, most of them won’t.) The industry always goes through ups and downs when it comes to deal-making, particularly if there’s one desperate network driving up the bidding. These days, every network is desperate.”
Question: Big Brother is ending in less than two weeks. With only five players left, there is a possibility of a controversial contestant winning first or second place. GinaMarie was fired from her job for using the “N”-word and making racial comments, and Spencer made racially insensitive remarks and joked about child pornography. If either or both of these players make it to the finals and somehow win, how would this impact the show’s future and the reputation of CBS? — KM
Matt Roush: You’re not knocking on a very sympathetic door here. If CBS really cared about its reputation, this wretched show would no longer exist. But since it does, and will continue to do so as long as Julie Chen (who has a fair amount of clout at this network) is involved and the demographics hold up, the real issue here is whether this year’s heinous casting will backfire on more than just the current participants. My guess is that it won’t, and likely will go forward with the bottom-feeding producers seeking ever more outrageous contestants for future seasons, all of whom have been weaned on this sort of programming, knowing going in that the real goal is to earn as much face time as possible, which means making noise. I suppose this year’s fallout may be a cautionary tale for future casts to keep their racist and homophobic opinions to themselves, which would be a plus. But not much of one.
Question: My question has to do with the PBS Masterpiece Mystery! lineup. Over the years we have seen such high quality shows such as Inspector Morse, (Inspector) Lewis, Wallander, Vera, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, etc. but I would love to see current (current for the U.S.) episodes of Midsomer Murders. Years and years ago, this brilliant show ran on A&E. Once A&E went lowbrow, it was dropped, never to be seen on American television again. I believe that next to Doctor Who, it is one of Britain’s longest running shows. A huge success that similar to The Walking Dead has had major cast changes and continues to thrive. I understand about PBS being viewer sponsored/funded, but I heard that Midsomer Murders has some special deal that prohibits it from shown in the U.S. anymore. — John
Matt Roush: Masterpiece can import only so many British mysteries, and Midsomer has never been part of that franchise and doesn’t appear to be on the future agenda. The series is available to U.S. public TV stations through a syndication deal with American Public Television, and I’m told approximately 50 stations air it — though those episodes don’t appear to be the most current. For that, you’d have to subscribe to Acorn TV’s streaming service (www.Acorn.TV), which features all of the episodes through Series 14, or get your hands on Acorn’s DVD/Blu-Ray releases.
Question: I just watched the first five episodes of The Fall with Gillian Anderson on Netflix. I am hooked. I found the way the story was told to be very riveting. It was so bizarre to see this loving family man become Serial Killer Crazy Man at night. And Gillian just kills it as Stella Gibson. Excellent acting and storytelling. How soon after the show aired on BBC did the show become available on Netflix? And the big question: How long will I have to wait for the second season (or should I say series)? — Jo
Matt Roush: Wasn’t that a sensational series — next to Orange Is the New Black, my favorite of Netflix’s “originals” this year. And yes, as I wrote back in May, Anderson is simply ravishing — and Jamie Dornan is awfully compelling as the twisted killer. The show got lost in the hype for Arrested Development because both were issued on Netflix the same week, but I’m glad to see that people are discovering and enjoying it. From what I can tell, The Fall began airing on BBC2 in mid-May and was still in progress when Netflix launched the entire five-episode run in late May. No word on when the second series of episodes will be filmed. Probably depends on when the very busy Anderson (who booked the midseason Crisis on NBC) is available.
Question: My questions are about two very different shows not from the big four networks. First: TNT’s Franklin & Bash, a fun, funny summer show that is light and feels smartly written to me. Any word on how well it’s doing and if it will be renewed? At just a few episodes per season (it goes by too quick), it seems like as long as the stars are willing to play, they could keep it going for a while. My second question is: Have you learned any information about the BBC’s Sherlock? I enjoy watching it much more than CBS’ take on the Holmes myth. I’m late to the show, but just caught the second season finale on Netflix and was blown away. I hope there are plans for a third season even though I know both Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are busy with movies now. — Jeremy
Matt Roush: Hard to say about Franklin & Bash. It’s among several TNT shows in limbo, and last year it wasn’t picked up until late September, so there’s probably time on their contracts for the network to figure out its options. (There are some very intriguing shows in TNT’s development slate for next year, which may decide the fate of its more marginal current offerings.) The good news is that there definitely will be a third season of Sherlock coming to PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! in 2014. Air dates not yet established here or abroad, and there has been talk that unlike Downton Abbey (which airs here months after the British run), Sherlock may air in closer conjunction with the U.K. premieres. It will certainly be among the most highly anticipated shows of early next year. (And a fourth series seems a certainty, though much will hinge on the suddenly high-profile stars’ increasingly busy schedules.)
Question: I think I’ve realized why I’m disliking so many shows right now: the background story arcs have taken over as the “story” of the week. Example: Royal Pains. It used to be a different client each week and they’d go through the motions to find out what was wrong. With Boris being one week in a background arc, the next Paige/Evan, Evan trying politics, etc. Now it’s Paige/Evan, politics, Boris’s death/resurrection, Divya’s pregnancy, Hank’s pain/drug problem etc. Necessary Roughness with TK, the star-in-waiting baseball player, Nico/Dani, et al. And how about Covert Affairs with the CIA shake-up, Auggie/Annie, etc. This isn’t just limited to USA Network shows, but those jump to mind. I like the background arcs, but as background. I have enough, and mounting, drama in my life … I want some escape. I’m not asking if you like these or not (a person has a right to their own opinion despite what Internet comments would have you believe), I was just wondering if you see this new trend as well. — Scott
Matt Roush: No question this trend caught the attention of many, and has sparked an ongoing debate in this column throughout the summer, with some viewers championing USA’s (in particular) move into more serialized and, in most cases, darker arcs — which I do tend to believe makes the shows more interesting, though not every show can sustain it — and others like yourself who decry how they appear to have spurned their lighter, episodic escapism in the process. It’s a balance that works for some shows better than others, and it makes me really curious how White Collar (one of my faves) will play out when it returns later this fall.
Question: I’m an adult between the ages of 22 and 30 and can’t seem to get enough of Nick at Nite’s brilliant freshman comedy Wendell & Vinnie. Growing up, I watched quite a few Nickelodeon shows (All That, The Amanda Show, Kenan & Kel) and as I reached post-adolescence continued checking in on the Dan Schneider creations like iCarly and Victorious. While I’d never openly admit to watching kids’ shows to my grown-up peers, I don’t consider watching Wendell & Vinnie a guilty pleasure. It’s above all funny. It’s smartly written, has more heart then the top five network comedies and is well cast with the talented Jerry Trainor, Nicole Sullivan and Buddy Handleson. Is this now-canceled show Nick’s greatest? I feel that it deserves some award recognition for writing and acting in addition to six seasons and a movie. What are the odds this show filled with humor and heart-warming moments that appeal to both kids and grown-ups will receive any love? Finally, what do you feel is the state of children’s programming today? I feel it’s become more sophisticated and richly weaved over the years just as the people in my demographic have changed. It’s almost as if the Dan Schneiders of the world know I’ll keep watching as I grow older. — Nick
Matt Roush: I’m sorry this show never made it onto my radar, and given that its run is almost over, I fear it may not get its due unless discovered retroactively online or on disc (don’t know if Nick will continue to repeat it). But thanks for calling attention to it, however late in the game. To your bigger question: I don’t pretend to be an expert on current children’s TV, especially when it comes to comedies on Nick or Disney or elsewhere, so won’t even attempt to make generalizations based on what little I’ve been able to sample. I do regret not making Wendell & Vinnie‘s acquaintance, though — but with the new fall season gearing up as these episodes come to an end, I’m afraid this bandwagon’s going to have to go on without me for now.
Question: I’m not much of a summer TV viewer, but I’m glad for some of the network shows I’ve been enjoying, and I’m wondering whether two of them will be renewed, and if so, whether I’ll have to wait until next summer to see them. The first is my guilty pleasure, Mistresses. When I first watched it, I thought it was a mess of nothing but I soon got caught up in the lives of the characters and now I love it. The second is Unforgettable. I was glad it was resurrected, but disappointed it was no longer taking place in Queens, because I could recognize many of the neighborhoods and that adds to the mix for me, but I soon changed my mind because being in Manhattan gave them the chance to up the stories, and I think they’re doing a fantastic job each week, plus it’s probably garnering a larger audience because of its city shots, or just because of the new vibrancy it seems to have attained with its new locale and addition to the cast. So any hope for more? Or are their season finales going to be series finales? I’m looking forward to the return of some of the fall shows and the addition of new ones and your take on them. I read your posts all year ’round, but I’m especially happy when they’re on shows I watch. May it be a rewarding season! — Dorothy
Matt Roush: Hear, hear. Look for TV Guide Magazine‘s Fall Preview issue on sale this week. Hoping you’ll find something you like there. As for the summer shows — if either Mistresses (which pales next to the British original, so what else is new) or Unforgettable return, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do — they’ll almost certainly stay part of the summer schedule, which is becoming an increasingly important time for the networks to continue offering brand-appropriate originals that aren’t all of the cheap and cheesy “reality” variety. Can’t say I got attached to either, but they beat the alternative.