Ask Matt: One Less ‘Law & Order’ Show on the Docket

Law & Order SVU Christopher Meloni Mariska Hargitay
Christopher Del Sordo/NBC
Law & Order: SVU

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.

Hard to Defend NBC’s For the Defense Debacle

Question: I don’t even watch the Law & Order shows on a consistent basis unless there’s a guest star I want to see, but the headline about NBC canceling For the Defense before it premiered caught my attention. I know it was a straight-to-series order and they skipped doing a pilot. But still: How does this happen after they presented an all-L&O Thursday schedule to advertisers? Since it seems like the fall season is going to start more or less on time this year, this seems like a particularly late and probably costly about-face to make. Like maybe they should have taken a little more time to develop the series before announcing it to advertisers. Thoughts? — JL

Matt Roush: It’s an embarrassing setback for sure, and not one that was decided upon lightly, I bet, given that mega-producer Dick Wolf was about to make TV history by having three shows each from three different franchises filling three consecutive nights’ lineup on two networks. (Three FBI shows, three Chicago shows, three Law & Order shows.) Producers of big hits like these have the clout to get shows green-lit without benefit of a pilot — examples: NCIS: Hawaii and FBI: International on CBS — and it’s easy to see why NBC jumped at the chance for an all-Law & Order night, given the success of the One Chicago franchise.

But this isn’t the first time Wolf’s team has reneged on a Law & Order spinoff, when the previously announced Hate Crimes was scrapped before it went forward, although that was never officially put on the schedule. Maybe the Law & Order brain trust just couldn’t bring themselves to produce a show from the other side of the legal divide that might show prosecutors and police in a less positive light. Whatever the reason, if they lost confidence in the show and came to believe that it wouldn’t work, isn’t it better to make the call now than to waste millions on a losing proposition? (NBC and Wolf are said to be developing yet another Law & Order show to fill this void, but no details yet.)

NBC’s Sad Thursday Night Plan B

Comment: I am literally shocked by NBC’s announcement that they are scrapping Law & Order: For the Defense even before the pilot was filmed! I’m guessing they and/or Dick Wolf felt it would have been too controversial, too boring or simply a dud. Now NBC wants to start off one of the most important nights of the week with the faded Blacklist?! ABC’s Station 19, CBS’s comedies and especially FOX’s NFL games will crush The Blacklist. NBC should start off the night with either unscripted or comedy, like an hour of SNL clips or the promising-sounding new American Auto and Mr. Mayor, which I loved last season. — Fred

Matt Roush: Again, it’s pretty clear that NBC was backed into a corner by this late-in-the-game switch. What’s really remarkable here is that in the fall, NBC isn’t scheduling even one comedy series on any night (not counting Saturday Night Live). So if we’re to play backseat programmer, maybe it would make sense to bring back Mr. Mayor earlier than planned and pair it with something new, even though they’d likely struggle against a hit like Young Sheldon. NBC’s Mayor didn’t exactly set the night on fire last midseason, but what does anymore? I imagine expectations will be limited on how well The Blacklist will perform when it returns to one of the many nights on which the show has previously aired, but they might be looking at this as a chance to reignite interest in a series that once again is reinventing itself. Or maybe it’s just one more mess on what used to be the network’s “must see” night.

Has Shark Week Jumped the You-Know-What?

Question: Is it just me or is Shark Week super gimmicky? This is a multiple part write-in. I hated the Michael Phelps special and feel that’s where it started. I feel now any Tom, Dick and Harry celebrity who ever heard of a shark has a show now? Also, what is with some of the shows going on the Plus services? I’m not into Plus services because I’m already paying for your network, why should I have to pay for basically the same shows but slightly different on a paid streaming service?! I’ve watched Shark Week forever and now really don’t care if I miss it or not because of the new format that’s been taking over since Michael Phelps’ year. – Unsigned

Matt Roush: Is Shark Week gimmicky? Shark Week is itself a gimmick, and what we’re seeing in recent years is a desperate attempt to keep topping themselves, as well as fend off competition from the even-longer-in-duration SharkFest over on National Geographic. Like so many things in TV, nothing breeds excess more than success. And while I get the dismay, it’s hardly a surprise that some of the programming will go behind the discovery+ paywall, because nothing is more important to these companies these days than building their streaming brands. They see this as their future, and they’re not wrong.

To Have Audiences (or Not) in Late Night

Question: I’m very confused. Jimmy Fallon has had a return of live audiences for two months. Jimmy Kimmel, too. Stephen Colbert, finally, is back in his theater. What was he waiting for? And why are James Corden and Seth Meyers still without live audiences? They are all much more entertaining with a responsive group than alone behind a desk with some of their staff. — Steve

Matt Roush: Both Seth Meyers and James Corden have given interviews recently suggesting they’re in no rush to bring live audiences back to their late-late shows, enjoying the freedom of their new formats and hoping to preserve some of that looseness when the time comes to welcome people back into their studios. I’d expect both hosts will play to audiences again in the fall, if things continue returning to normalcy without another setback. While I agree that it’s not as much fun watching hosts lob jokes into a vacuum, there is something encouraging in watching them play with the format, which is easier to do when you air while most of us are asleep.

A Wall-to-Wall NCIS Night?

Question: With the golden goose of the original NCIS moving to Monday to help launch NCIS: Hawai’i, why doesn’t CBS move NCIS: Los Angeles to Monday night also? That would avoid having it constantly pushed later on Sundays due to sports overruns. Make Monday a triple NCIS Night, like Tuesday is FBI night and NBC is all Chicago on Wednesday. To me and all NCIS fans, it’s a win-win. Put dead shows on Sunday night or more sports shows, not solid shows you need to see from beginning to end. — Ken M

Matt Roush: I’d be surprised if CBS hadn’t considered this, given the current trends. But despite the sports overruns on Sundays that we’ve managed to live with for as long as I can remember — and I’ve been doing this a while — NCIS: LA has done just fine on Sundays for years, and most of us in Eastern and Central time zones have learned that if you want to watch a CBS show on Sundays during the regular NFL season, you’d better either watch it live or extend the recording time (or tape the show afterward) to be safe.

And while an all-NCIS night might do well, unless this season turns out to be a tipping point and we learn that airing three of the same shows on the same night begins to have diminishing returns, NCIS isn’t the only game in town for the network, which also values its Monday night comedies. Finally, I’d hardly call 60 Minutes and the new Equalizer “dead shows.” The unpredictability that live sports brings to CBS’s Sunday schedule is irritating, but it’s not going away.

The Host with the Most

Question: I love Peyton Manning on NBC’s College Bowl, and Cooper too. I love Peyton’s voice and droll delivery. Any chance he will do more game shows? — Linda T

Matt Roush: As we’ve seen even before Peyton Manning hung up his jersey, he is very much in demand as a broadcaster — in commercials and other programming (Peyton’s Places on ESPN+), and now as host of a quiz show. I could do without Cooper’s dumb sidekick act, but I get it. And while I’m not aware of any plans for Peyton to stay on this track after College Bowl is over, I’m sure he’ll have many more opportunities to stay in the spotlight.

And Finally …

Question: Will there be a Season 4 for Amazon Prime Video’s Goliath? I loved this series, but we left it in a cliffhanger! — Unsigned

Matt Roush: A fourth, and final, season of Goliath has been ordered — no timetable yet — so we’ll get one more chance to see Billy Bob Thornton in this appealing underdog role. And they’d better not end it with a cliffhanger!

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.)