Ask Matt: Vampire Diaries’ Future, Younger’s Charms and Backdoor Pilots
Welcome to our twice-weekly 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. Don’t ask me what’s going to happen on a show. I prefer to find out along with everyone else. Send your questions and comments to [email protected], follow Matt on Twitter, and visit TV Insider on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.
Question: Once upon a time, The Vampire Diaries was a favorite guilty pleasure of mine. I enjoyed the soapy drama and character arc growth, but also liked how the show-runners giddily burned through (often ridiculous) story at a satisfying pace. The plotting was brisk and it all felt like anything could happen, so I was happy enough to not get caught in the weeds of trying to remember all the many details because in the big picture, it felt like it was about the characters/relationships moving forward.
Well. Closing in on the end of Season 6 and the news that Elena (Nina Dobrev), who is the heart of the series (and the origin story in the Salvatore brothers’ love triangle) is leaving, it occurred to me that I couldn’t care less. In part because I realized that for a long time now, TVD has had so little at stake anymore (obligatory pun intended) that I merely shrugged. In the early seasons, it felt like lives were truly on the line, that it made me care about the characters when Jenna or Alaric and even Jeremy “died.” But now that resurrection is a regular occurrence (don’t even get me started on how rampant it is on The Originals) that Elena allegedly leaving doesn’t stir my emotions at all. It just makes me assume that they will write her off, somehow compelled to forget the last six years or something equally convenient to have the option to bring her back for a guest spot whenever the series finale occurs. With this news and how I now have completely lost the thread in the details, I’m feeling like I’m ready to let this show go, which is a shame because it was once a favorite go-to on the DVR. It’s sad that I’ve come to wish that the most satisfying goodbye to me for Elena would be if they truly just ripped her head off so we’d know it was indeed the end. Sorry this has turned into more of a rant with no real question, so I guess I’ll pose: What main/core character leaving a show can you think of that has been executed successfully, and what made you feel that it was done right vs. so many that are done wrong? (ER/ensembles don’t count; I mean shows that truly revolved around designated leads). Thanks for listening as always. — CK
Matt Roush: The first example that comes to mind is Diane (Shelley Long) leaving Cheers after five seasons, and the show thrived equally long without her. I’m sure there are more, but I’d rather focus on the Vampire Diaries situation, because I empathize with you. I rode this crazy train for the first few seasons, but eventually bailed because it so rarely committed to letting dead characters lie, cheapening any sense of actual danger or tragedy. You’re probably right that they’ll find a way to keep a supernatural back door open for Elena to return for the finale (if not before), but losing her makes it even less likely for me to ever seriously return to this fold.
Question: I am loving the new show Younger. It is so good, and I am appreciating the adult content. The fact that it is on TV Land has to help it ratings expectations-wise. Have you watched it? If not, shame, shame, you are missing out. — Amy
Matt Roush: As I wrote upon its premiere, I’m happily surprised by how much I like Younger, especially its star (Sutton Foster), and even with the racier material, there’s a sweetness to its silly premise that has me rooting for it. Not a groundbreaking show, and from what I can tell not exactly burning up the ratings (whatever they mean anymore), but a pleasurable diversion that’s a cut above most of the lousy rom-coms the networks assaulted us with this season.
Question: Why do shows wait two to three weeks between episodes instead of playing straight 13-22 weeks? – Joycelyn
Matt Roush: Simple question, somewhat complicated answer. The bottom line is that the broadcast networks, unlike cable, are mostly working on a September-to-May schedule, and unless they’re purposely airing a show with a shorter episode order—Fox’s Empire, most notably of late—they need to stretch out the scheduling of a show, with either a sizable off-the-air hiatus or a string of repeats to fill the gap, either option tending to annoy and sometimes confuse viewers. (Although every time I hear this complaint, I wonder how the idea of repeats can be a surprise to anyone. They’ve been a fact of TV life for as long as I can remember.) What’s happening more and more frequently, and it makes sense to me, is that networks are airing repeats in clumps, so that when a show is new, it’s airing more originals in a row, instead of alternating repeats and originals on a seemingly random basis. (This is especially true for serialized shows; procedurals and sitcoms tend to repeat better.) But until the business model entirely changes, this is how the networks will continue to operate.
Question: The recent question about backdoor pilots got me thinking about something. I don’t watch any of the shows that have aired backdoor pilots this season, but typically when I am dedicated to a show, I watch every episode of it without fail. Several years ago, Grey’s Anatomy included a normal storyline in Seattle with the show’s main characters in the same episode, which also featured Addison visiting L.A. as the backdoor pilot for Private Practice. So whether you liked the Private Practice stuff or not, you still had to watch the backdoor pilot episode because if you didn’t, you would miss story points with Meredith, whose stepmother died in the same episode, which impacted Grey’s storylines going forward that season. You couldn’t just separate out the Private Practice set-up stuff.
So how does a network look at the ratings of a backdoor pilot episode and use that as a barometer of what the proposed new show will do? Similarly, my mother watches NCIS and watched the backdoor episodes they’ve had, but she has never actually tuned into one of the spinoffs. It just seems to me that because the show is set up as an episode of an existing series, the ratings for that episode are likely to be comparable to what the show normally does anyway. So how exactly do network executives try to figure out whether the proposed spinoff is going to pull its own weight once it is separated from the main show? — Jake
Matt Roush: That’s probably more of a creative than ratings-driven decision—not that spinoffs are all that creative a way to program TV, just lucrative. The very process of producing and casting a spinoff within an ongoing show’s season is a sign that the network is already pretty much on board with green-lighting it. (A rare exception was the projected 2013 NCIS spinoff Red, which didn’t really seem like a workable premise, and the casting was also lacking, and CBS eventually passed, leaving the door open a year later for the more conventional NCIS: New Orleans to take off.) Not all spinoffs work—remember Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior?—but that isn’t stopping CBS from trying again.
Question: I must say that I get tired and irritated every time I hear someone complain about the same shows winning the Emmys year after year. If Academy voters actually think a show or actor deserves the highest honors for its productions during the year, of course they should honor them even if they’ve been honored before. Does the winner of the Super Bowl get disqualified from competing in subsequent years until all the other teams have won? What would be the point of giving an Emmy to a show when the voters actually think another show is more deserving, but are forced to give it to a new show because the old one has already won an award? — Paul
Matt Roush: Unlike the Oscars or the Tonys and (for the most part) the Grammys, the Emmys are in the peculiar situation every year of dealing with a playing field littered with past winners that are still contenders, often justifiably but also nearly as often lazily, as the voters tend to nominate the familiar over the new. This isn’t always the case, obviously, and many series hold up year to year and deserve the repeat attention. I understand your being irked by this criticism when it’s used as a blanket statement, but there is truth in it. (Example: Did Mad Men really deserve yet another best-series nod for last year’s terribly uneven and incomplete half-season? I didn’t think so. The jury’s out so far this year.) What I always argue for is for the nominations to reflect a show’s current year, not its history. When that happens, I can’t complain when a still-terrific show or performance (like, say, Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep) not only keeps getting nominated, but keeps winning.