Ask Matt: A ‘Middle’ Endgame? Plus ‘Designated Survivor,’ ‘Outsiders’ RIP, ‘Sun Records’ and more

ABC/Michael Ansell
Patricia Heaton

Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic (also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist”) Matt Roush, who’ll address whatever you love, loathe, are confused or frustrated or thrilled by in today’s vast TV landscape. 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. Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays and Fridays.


How Many More Years for The Middle?

Question: If I didn’t know it was already renewed for another season, I would think The Middle was coming to an end. I have sensed the end may be near for a while, but this week’s episode felt like the beginning of the end between Brick and Sue giving their pool to the neighbor children and Axl getting a suit for job interviews. I’ll be sad when this wonderful show that balances humor, heart and the woes of the middle class so well goes off the air. I’m just happy to have another year with the Hecks! Do you think next season will be its last? – Amy

Matt Roush: Hard to say. I usually answer questions like this by noting that it’s obvious the show is closer to the end of its run than the beginning, and I believe that’s true for The Middle, but it has shown more resilience than most family comedies in sustaining its quality as the kids age and move on. Maybe when it’s time for Brick to leave Frankie and Mike in a truly empty nest, it will be time to close shop. Still, when ABC announced the early pick-up for a ninth season, the network didn’t indicate it would be the last, and for now, I’m not looking at it that way. Long live the Hecks!


Who’s Running the Show on Designated Survivor?

Question: What is so hard, specifically, about running Designated Survivor that would cause them to go through three show-runners and be looking for a fourth in the course of one season? I really don’t understand what is going on over there. I still find myself reasonably diverted by the show most weeks, but I’ve been DVRing it more frequently than usual lately, when I typically watch live. It can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a political soap or an espionage drama, and the two strands are not always co-existing well. But I can’t imagine the constant change in direction as the show transitions from one leader to the next behind the scenes is particularly helpful in this regard. Is a top-shelf show-runner really going to find rescuing this show attractive? And what do you think the chances are that whoever they get next will stay long-term? – Jake

Matt Roush: You may have answered your own question with your astute observation that Designated Survivor hasn’t really decided on an identity or tone in its first season, risking creative whiplash as it veers from 24-like conspiracy thriller to mawkish political drama to domestic First Family soap. As my colleague Lesley Goldberg of The Hollywood Reporter has explained each time one of these changes occurs, the show is a logistical nightmare, with production in Toronto and the writers based in Los Angeles and the show’s creator in New York, with star/producer Kiefer Sutherland also involved in the creative development of the show. That’s a lot of cooks in this kitchen. That said, a job’s a job—and who knows who’ll be doing what or when if/when a writers’ strike gets underway—and the challenge of putting a high-profile network drama on a proper course would look appealing to many writer-producers, I’d bet, despite the show’s rocky history.


Question: What is a “show runner?” – Sonny

Matt Roush: Thanks for asking. It’s always good to be reminded when talking inside baseball that certain terms we take for granted aren’t part of most people’s everyday conversation. A show runner is pretty much what it sounds like: The person who runs the show creatively, which usually means the head writer who oversees the writing staff and creative direction of the show as well as many aspects of production. If the buck stops anywhere, it’s with the show-runner—who’s often one of what seems a laundry list of producers and executive producers, and please don’t ask me what all of them do.


Seeking TV Guidance

Question: Now that Bones and Grimm are gone, I’m wondering what else to watch. Humans won’t be back for a while, so now what? What’s coming up that might keep me entertained without giving me nightmares? I’m a fan of great characters with stories to tell, love a bit of humor, and some romance doesn’t hurt. Not a fan of emotional manipulation, or randomly being jerked around. I’ve lost my taste for intense violence and overly convoluted plots that turn on a dime, and gave up on The Walking Dead franchise when Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s insufferable character showed up. Any thoughts? – Anna

Matt Roush: These questions are so hard to address, because everything’s a matter of taste, and using the examples you cite, it’s difficult to know what you might consider emotional manipulation. But in terms of genre, two shows that just finished their second seasons on Syfy might be worth checking out On Demand or online: The Magicians and The Expanse. I fell behind on both this year, and hope to catch up with them before their third seasons begin. Also: Fargo. You can’t go wrong there. And Bates Motel. These may be too violent for some, but they’re among my current favorites.


On the Outs With WGN

Question: What do you think of WGN America canceling Outsiders after two seasons? I know that there was some behind the scenes shake-ups at WGN, and that the new president of the network said in a publicized statement that he canceled the show so that he could put on new diverse programming on the network, but the idea that the network heads canceled their highest-rated show doesn’t make any sense whatsoever! — Chris

Matt Roush: The decision seems to have less to do with ratings than with the fact that WGN America’s corporate parent, Tribute Media, is going through major restructuring, as many media companies are nowadays. This usually entails cutting costs, and with only Underground currently left standing on WGN America—and they’d better not screw with that terrific series—I’m thinking expensive scripted dramas may not be as prominent in the channel’s immediate future. Though it’s hard to tell from the statement you referred to from the company’s new interim president and CEO, which was notable for its vagueness, saying “we will be allocating our resources to a more diverse programming strategy and to new structures,” whatever that means. My main concern is that Underground continues, either on WGNA or elsewhere.


Time Travel Woes

Question: I have been enjoying Fox’s Making History and probably would never have heard of it without your review. It has been off for a couple of weeks, so I looked it up and saw that they had only made nine episodes. With that, the lack of advertising and the poor time slot, I have to wonder if there is any hope that this show will get a second season. – Kristi

Matt Roush: This hasn’t been an easy season for time-travel shows, whether comedic or dramatic (although it can be argued that ABC’s short-lived Time After Time was inadvertently ridiculous). It’s rarely a positive sign when a show’s initial episode order is reduced, although it’s sometimes more about the network’s needs and inventory at midseason. This run should be looked at as a tryout, but given that Making History hasn’t made much noise on Sundays, I agree there’s cause for concern. And with NBC’s Timeless still in renewal limbo, I wonder if any of the shows from this genre will make it to a second year.

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Series Forecasts

Question: I’ve got some quickies before the TV meetings in May. Will Krypton go to series from Syfy? Will The Mayans go to series from FX? Since The CW renewed almost everything, will they have room to send Black Lightning to series with Cress Williams? — Richard

Matt Roush: While tempted to respond “How would I know?” I will say I’d be very surprised, given the titles and the talents involved in each, if any of them didn’t make it to air. A Superman prequel, a Sons of Anarchy spinoff, and roughly the 400th superhero series from Greg Berlanti on The CW, this time with an African-American hero? These all seem like slam-dunks to me.


Canceled Or Not Lightning Round

Question: After last week’s episode, when Walter fired Paige, I wondered if this was the end of Scorpion. Please say it isn’t so and that it has been renewed for another season. I am a big fan. — Jackie

Matt Roush: It isn’t so. The show has been renewed for next season. And I’m betting Walter and Paige will be just fine in the long run.

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Question: I really enjoyed the 8-part series on CMT of Sun Records. Do you know if it has been renewed? The story was not close to a conclusion. I loved the songs within the plot and the performances were terrific. — Peter

Matt Roush: It has not been renewed yet, but it just finished its run last week, so there’s time. When the show was originally announced as Million Dollar Quartet (based on the Broadway hit), there was a sense it might be a limited series. But given that the various characters have yet to come together in the legendary recording session that gave the original play its name, I’m thinking there’s more story to come.


My Obsession: Bates Motel

Question: What else does Freddie Highmore have to do to take home the award for best actor in a leading role in a drama for his performance of perfection in Bates Motel? — Unsigned

Matt Roush: I promise I didn’t write this question myself, but it gives me one last opportunity to recommend Bates Motel in this space before its series finale airs on Monday. And to answer the question: Maybe he could kill someone, and that would get Emmy voters’ attention? But wait, he has already done that (as Norman and Norma). Seriously, this is incredible work in a reinvention of an iconic character, and attention should be paid.

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That’s all for now. We’ll pick up the conversation again next week. Thanks as always for reading, and remember that I 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.