Ask Matt: ‘Scandal,’ New Season Scheduling (‘This Is Us,’ ABC Comedies), ‘Downward Dog,’ ‘NCIS,’ More

Matt Roush
ABC/Richard Cartwright

Kerry Washington in the season finale of Scandal

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.

 

Is Scandal Making Its Exit Too Late?

Question: What did you think of Scandal's decision to end next season? It's one season too late in my opinion. The end of Fitz's presidency and Olivia handing over OPA to Quinn would have been a fitting series finale. Why start a brand new chapter with Mellie's presidency if it'll only last one season? Seems it would have been a better idea to end Scandal this season and do a spin-off if Shonda Rhimes was that interested in exploring a Mellie White House. - Carol

Matt Roush: Please, no spin-offs! (One of the biggest groans during the just-concluded week of network Upfront presentations was ABC’s decision to green-light what amounts to a Seattle Fire spin-off of Grey’s Anatomy next season. Not only is it pathetically unoriginal, but unnecessary.) I tend to agree with anyone making a less-is-more argument when it comes to the wacky political melodrama of Scandal, and you’re right that the events of last week would have made for a decent, if anticlimactic, end point. But I’m on board with the Shondaland folks ending the show on their own timetable, with a full season to wind things down (or up).


Does It Matter When ‘This Is Us’ Airs?

Question: NBC's decision to move This Is Us to Thursday nights has me wondering if time slots really matter anymore. I recently read Warren Littlefield's Top of the Rock about the Must-See-TV era, and he talked a lot about scheduling. Do networks still take this approach, given new viewing opportunities like streaming, DVRs and On Demand? - Monty

Matt Roush: This question comes up a lot, and during CBS’s Upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall, the network even brought out its head scheduling guru, Kelly Kahl, to set up the new lineup. He acknowledged that in today’s environment, scheduling is considered something of a lost art, but he also noted that on CBS anyway, 2/3 of the viewing is done live. So yes, it still matters, though not to the degree that it used to. And because network TV is still a business, and Thursday is still seen as an important night for certain kinds of ads (weekend movie releases, for one), that’s why Thursday has suddenly become a battleground again—one of the few interesting developments to emerge from a mostly meh week of Upfront previews.

Not only did NBC move a big hit like This Is Us to Thursday, kicking off the night with the season’s most anticipated reboot (Will & Grace) in an attempt to seize back that “must-see” mantle that kept the network dominant for so many years, but Thursdays will also host high-profile transplants including Fox’s Gotham and The CW’s Arrow as well as the promising Big Bang Theory spin-off/prequel Young Sheldon. All are taking on, as referenced earlier, the “TGIT” Shondaland crazy train including the final season of Scandal. A busy night for sure, and the scheduling is purposeful.


the-middle

Not Laughing at ABC’s Comedy Moves

Question: What do you think of ABC's schedule? I am not particularly pleased with the musical chairs of their comedies. I love The Middle but can't stand any of its Tuesday companions this year, so shifting American Housewife into the Wednesday block is going to leave me with three half-hours there instead of the full block. I've already been wavering in my commitment to Designated Survivor this season, so having a show I abhor in front of it is just more likely to make me turn off the TV completely after Modern Family.

I also don't like Fresh Off the Boat (I tried—it's just not for me), so I'll end up with a half-hour to kill in between The Middle and black-ish. I will turn the TV back on for black-ish, of course, but I liked it better when it was airing alongside other shows I like. This year, The Middle has been my only Tuesday show, so I've been able to be done with TV completely after it ends.

And I continue to not understand the value of renewing Once Upon a Time and then sticking it on Fridays. - Jake

Matt Roush: It’s next to impossible for a network to program a full night’s lineup of shows, particularly comedies, that will appeal to every taste. Even NBC during its classic “must-see” period tended to air duds between the hits more often than not. My advice, since you seem to be watching live on air: Use that free half-hour for something useful, like paying bills or whatever else you tend to neglect for TV. Looking at ABC’s new fall schedule, by stacking The Middle, Fresh Off the Boat (which I like more than you) and the transplanted black-ish on Tuesdays, it now looks to me a far stronger lineup than Wednesdays, still anchored by Modern Family (which has lost much of its juice for me in recent seasons), though Speechless is the Wednesday standout. The renewal of a completely revamped Once Upon a Time is a puzzlement to me as well—why not just end it with Emma’s story?—but pairing it with one of the Marvel superhero shows for a fantasy block on Fridays seems like a way for it to do minimal damage to the schedule. And for all I know, Once still has some value as an extension of the Disney brand.


Two Paws Up for Downward Dog

Question: I will never understand how ABC gave Imaginary Mary the in-season scheduling (or why they picked it up in the first place) over Downward Dog. I really hope Downward can connect enough to come back. The pilot was so sweet. – BTVF

Matt Roush: As my review of Downward Dog attests, I agree with you on the merits of this unexpectedly charming sleeper. (Can’t tell you how many skeptics I’ve tried to convince that a talking-dog comedy can be both funny and smart.) Premiering Dog after the Modern Family season finale gave it some decent sampling, so I’m hoping that airing during a time when there isn’t as much competition will help this mutt of a show to find an audience, though I’m not expecting miracles. How Mary got green-lit, produced and scheduled during the regular season will remain one of the great mysteries. If there was a more annoying show to air this season, I missed it or have banished it from memory.


110359_WB_1804b

Ending the Season With a Big Bang

Question: I was with someone watching the finale of The Big Bang Theory and we both thought it would end differently. I thought it would end like it did: a proposal. He said, "No, that would be too simple, what everyone would think, that's not how it is going to end. He will go to his mom’s! Nana’s! Bob Newhart!" But no, it did end, very nice and sweet, topping off a great episode. But were you at all hoping (that is if you were like me, assuming a proposal was minutes away) that it wouldn't end that way. I knew what was coming, and I loved it. My friend loved the episode and knew what was coming, but was so hoping for something else. What say you? — Shelby

Matt Roush: Sometimes predictability can be very satisfying, and that’s how I felt as Sheldon traveled cross-country to pop the big question. (How Amy answers will be revealed in the fall.) I tend not to pay a lot of attention to promotion, so if CBS was teasing the episode with a big twist, that may have undercut the surprise of the moment. And trying to overthink a show’s next move isn’t my favorite way to watch TV. So because I have loved every step of the development of this sweetly awkward relationship, I applauded this one as well.

Question: After every episode of The Big Bang Theory, Chuck Lorre writes a note and it flashes by so fast so that you can barely read the first line let alone the whole thing. Are these notes available on line or in print? –Helen

Matt Roush: I have learned to keep my remote handy to hit pause whenever a new vanity card pops up. To discover what you’ve missed, you can go to chucklorre.com, where you’ll find a complete archive of Chuck’s barbed messages.


Pregnancy as an NCIS Desperation Move?

Question: Is NCIS (the original) having ratings problems and heading towards the last crisis or investigation? It seems any time a series is heading towards oblivion, they introduce—yes!—a baby! And now we have Tim's wife, Delilah, ready to have a kid in a not-so-subtle attempt to bolster ratings. This will bring about such scenarios as the crisis which arises when Tim brings the baby to work, Abby gets all misty-eyed over the baby and decides she wants one, etc. All the same old tired, worn-out plot lines involving a main character's baby. Is next season going to be the end of NCIS? – Rick

Matt Roush: Like everything else on TV, NCIS isn’t drawing as big an audience as it used to, but it’s still among TV’s highest-rated programs, and until the network (or the show’s stars) decides on an exit strategy, I wouldn’t expect the mothership to end anytime soon. Regarding the baby, I’d feel your pain more if one of the core cast was expecting. While I get that you won’t be handing out cigars on this blessed occasion, McGee seems the most natural to experience new fatherhood, and I can’t imagine NCIS suddenly turning into Three Agents and a Baby.

Question: Am I the only one who feels that the quality of NCIS has seriously diminished during this year? Not only is the absence of Tony a blow, but the new characters are not properly introduced, there are too many of them. The writing and plots have seriously deteriorated. This was our favorite show on TV and has now become one we can live without! - Dolores

Matt Roush: If there’s any constant in the world of TV, it’s that people resist change, especially when it comes to their favorite long-running shows, which almost inevitably have to reinvent themselves over time and rarely to the longtime fan’s satisfaction. NCIS underwent more of a transformation this season than usual and may have gone overboard trying to compensate for Michael Weatherly’s departure by adding so many new characters. The outcry this season pales compared to the backlash when Bishop arrived to fill Ziva’s shoes, but it has been significant. And not in the least surprising.


Will & Grace, Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes, Megan Mullally

The Comeback of Will & Grace

Question: I am asking about Will & Grace. In anticipation of NBC giving Will & Grace a 9th season to air this fall, I decided to go back to where the momentum for this new season began: the presidential election special that was released online last fall. While watching this special, I wondered is there any way that the special, or the actors themselves, could be nominated for any Emmys this year? Since there are categories for just about anything on TV and online, this special has to fall under some pre-existing category, right? – Jawalk

Matt Roush: There are categories for short-form comedy (as well as drama, variety, nonfiction/reality) and the performers within, so it’s possible they’ll get some Emmy love, though I’m not sure the rules apply to a single 10-minute video. Even one as good as that one. And if you liked the first reunion video, by all means check out the new musical video created for NBC’s Upfront this week. Of all the reboots and comebacks heading our way, Will & Grace seems to have the most momentum. Not to mention relevance.

 

Update From Last Week: Hulu is now streaming the fourth season of British police drama Line of Duty.

 

That’s all for now. We’ll pick up the conversation again next week, by which time more of the news from this week’s Upfronts will likely generate more questions. 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.