Ask Matt: America’s ‘Talent’ Looking Awfully Familiar & Emmy Reactions

Skylar Astin and Jane Levy in Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist - Season 2
Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/Lionsgate
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic — also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist” — Matt Roush, who’ll try to address whatever you love, loathe, are confused or frustrated or thrilled by in today’s vast TV landscape. (We know background music is too loud, but there’s always closed-captioning.)

One caution: This is a spoiler-free zone, so we won’t be addressing upcoming storylines here unless it’s already common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] (or use the form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.

Haven’t We Seen Some of This Talent Before?

Question: My wife and I have enjoyed America’s Got Talent for years, mainly because it helped showcase amateur talent or people who have not gotten their big break. However, this year has bothered us. Within the last several weeks, three acts have appeared who really don’t need the spotlight as they have already achieved fame. Josh Blue won Last Comic Standing, I believe, and has at least four comedy specials on Netflix and/or Amazon Prime. Gangstagrass, a musical group, was heavily featured on the great series Justified, has been on tour and has records out; I know because I have one! To cap it off, Michael Winslow, a sound-effects person, has been in many comedy films already and is quite well known.

Why is AGT letting these seasoned performers, who are already professionals and doing quite well, on the show? It takes away from talent like the young autistic and blind man who won the whole thing a few years ago. I can only assume these folks want to get a gig in Vegas, especially after a year of not performing live. — John C, Denver, N.C.

Matt Roush: The trend may have accelerated this year because of how many careers stalled during the pandemic, but it’s not called America’s Got UNKNOWN Talent, and there have been other instances where contestants have auditioned despite having found some success in their field, though maybe not on this level. While it’s unusual for a reality-competition winner to try their hand at another reality contest, AGT is such a big platform and opportunity that many must see this as one of their last big chances at a game-changing career boost. I admit I was startled recently when I tuned in and saw the Sklar twins, who’ve been doing comedy for years in TV and movies, and it would be disingenuous for the judges to treat them like a discovery. But if they’ve still got the goods and the audience responds in kind, maybe it’s unfair to deny them this shot.

Regardless, I doubt any of these more familiar acts will reap the top prize. America’s Got Talent is much more skewed to human-interest stories of those who could probably never achieve this sort of exposure any other way.

Not Laughing at the Emmy Nominations

Comment: I would like to share my frustration about the 2021 Emmys’ comedy nominations. I was hoping Superstore’s final season and Girls5eva would get some love from the Academy, but I’ve been disappointed. I think both are better than Ted Lasso. I didn’t watch the other nominated shows this season, so I can’t comment on them, but I have watched Season 1 of black-ish and if Season 7 was similar to that, then it’s a show that wouldn’t get my vote. Meredith Scardino did get a writing nomination for Girls5eva so that’s something, I guess. It deserved more. — John

Matt Roush: I’m with you on Girls5eva — not so much with the diss on the lovable Ted Lasso and the enduring, if somewhat fading, appeal of black-ish, one of the very few broadcast contenders. And while I admired Superstore and thought it had a fine final season, a show isn’t likely to break through at the Emmys on its last lap when it’s flown completely under the radar, however unfairly, through its entire run. I thought the Tina Fey (an Emmy darling) connection might boost Girls5eva’s profile, but Peacock is still an emerging streamer, and even though streaming is where it’s at for many Emmy voters, this might have just been too fringe. (I was bummed it didn’t even get a song or music nomination.) So many good comedies got passed over this year — in favor of Emily in Paris?

How to Give the Broadcast Networks Their Due?

Comment: The Emmy nominations are now in for this year. They really need to have two Emmy Award shows: one for the streaming networks and one for the regular TV channels’ shows. Many people cannot afford those extra channels, and the nominees this year and for the last number of years for these streaming networks are over 75%. It’s not an enjoyable show to watch any longer. Regular shows — some of which are wonderful — are surely missing out on their fair share. — Lenny

Matt Roush: Didn’t take long for this refrain to be heard, and it’s as inevitable a complaint as “My cable bill’s too high.” It used to be that the dominance of HBO and other high-end cable networks (FX, AMC) prompted the cry to give broadcast network their due, and now streaming has become the major force to be reckoned with — especially now that HBO’s identity is impossible to separate from its HBO Max streaming partner (ditto FX and FX on Hulu). I’ve always held the belief that to segregate shows because of how they’re delivered — over the air, on cable, and now streaming — would wrongly penalize shows that rise above their limitations, as NBC’s This Is Us continues to do (though not as well as it used to) by still earning major nominations. They should all be able to compete with each other, even though it’s obvious to everyone that it’s not an even playing field (in terms of budgets as well as content restrictions, not to mention the voters’ tunnel vision).

While the evolution of the industry has made the Emmys less relevant to those who haven’t jumped on the streaming bandwagon for whatever reason, the fact remains that there’s an overwhelming amount of product to choose from, even in a pandemic year, and the traditional formats of procedural dramas and sitcoms are going to find it harder and harder to get noticed. What’s really depressing is when a show that aims to be different, like Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (more on that below) is mostly shut out. It’s possible that we’ll someday see categories that specifically honor broadcast TV, so they’re not entirely left in the cold. But that day hasn’t arrived yet, and I wouldn’t hold my breath. (I guess it’s ironic that CBS, which is broadcasting the Emmys Sept. 19, managed only 26 nominations, mostly for late-night and special events and technical categories, with only The Amazing Race and Mom’s Allison Janney scoring what we would consider above-the-line nods in prime time.)

Could the Emmys Help a Show like Zoey?

Question: Do you think the five Emmy nominations for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist will have any impact at all in helping it to find a new home? They’re not exactly in major categories, but a nomination’s a nomination. I read that the Lionsgate studio is still “having conversations” about where it could go. But I also saw that the actor who plays Tobin signed on as a series regular for a new NBC show recently. (They could probably bump him down to recurring without doing fundamental damage to the show.) But what happens if the show’s central players get offered another job? It sounds like everybody wants to come back, but the contracts lapsed at the end of June and they can’t defer other work forever. So I would imagine any rescue has to happen sooner than later if it’s going to, yes? — Jake

Matt Roush: Hope dies hard, I know, and I’m still waiting for a minor miracle to happen for any of my broadcast favorites this season — and there were many — that got cut short. (Zoey, Prodigal Son, and The Unicorn are my Top 3 laments.) But I’ve pretty much given up hope at this point, and time is not in any of these shows’ favor. (There’s still a chance, it seems, for ABC’s For Life at IMDb TV.) If it hasn’t happened yet for Zoey, the choreography and music/song nominations aren’t likely to move the needle. But how nice for the immortal Bernadette Peters to get a guest-actress nomination.

Question: It’s been a month and I find myself still in shock that NBC canceled Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. Is there any hope that good family programming will ever have a place in our lives again? It seems the only programs that get renewed all have some semblance of violence or blood. Zoey was just flat-out good entertainment as was Smash many years back, but none of these programs ever seems to make it. — GS

Matt Roush: This may be more of an indication that Glee was an aberration and musical series are a really tough sell on network TV. Speaking of musicals, consider this another plug for the fabulous Schmigadoon! on Apple TV+.

Should the Studio Have Waited for Tomorrow?

Question: I just saw The Tomorrow War and wondered why the production company wouldn’t wait to put it in the theaters instead of on Amazon Prime Video. It would have been a summer blockbuster. Especially with gorgeous Chris Pratt. — Harriet

Matt Roush: You’re probably right, but Paramount is likely crying all the way to the bank with the roughly $200 million it’s reported that Amazon paid for the rights to stream what apparently is its most-streamed movie to date. The Tomorrow War was one of many casualties of the Hollywood studios’ desperation to make good on big-budget investments by selling their rights to streamers while movie theaters were mostly closed. Now that we’re returning to the big screen, though maybe not at a pre-pandemic level yet, the jury’s out on whether these sales were a good or bad move. (For Marvel’s Black Widow, which reportedly did well at the box office and as a Disney+ premium, it seems to have been a win-win.) This has certainly blurred the lines between what’s a feature film or a streaming efilm, and we probably won’t get this genie back in the bottle for a while to come.

And Finally …

Comment: I hadn’t thought about how Young Sheldon dresses (from the July 13 Ask Matt column) other than thinking it was true to the era and how in each show Sheldon was dressed as geekily as possible. One other possibility: In Young Sheldon, his mom undoubtedly bought his clothes, while in The Big Bang Theory he was buying his own — though the bow tie would have certainly been his own choice. — David F

Matt Roush: Thanks for chiming in on this fun topic. You’re right that Mary probably does the shopping for her kids, but you know that young Sheldon made a list for her and wouldn’t have settled for anything that brother Georgie is more likely to wear.

That’s all for now. We can’t do this without your participation, so please keep sending questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below. (Please include a first name with your question.)