Ask Matt: The End of ‘The Middle,’ ‘Modern Family,’ ‘Outlander,’ ‘Will & Grace,’ and More
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 questions and comments through the form at the end of the column and follow me on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays and Fridays.
Question: What is your reaction to the upcoming season being the last for The Middle? It has been so consistent for a show this long running: warm and quirky and funny and relatable. I’ll miss it—but what a really good run it has had! It’s a shame that apart from you it didn’t get a lot of critical buzz. And more of a shame that Eden Sher never got any awards love for Sue. Maybe she’ll get a yearbook signed by everybody! — ML
Matt Roush: I know I’d sign that. My feelings about this are bittersweet, as they always are when a show I’ve treasured comes to its natural end. Which I do believe is the case with The Middle, heading into a pre-conceived (by its creators) farewell season. I look forward to seeing the Hecks go out with dignity next spring, but I am sorry the show rarely got the respect critically, and certainly from the industry, that it deserved for shining a light on a funny family in middle America struggling with good humor to make ends meet as so many American families do. It’s an underappreciated classic, and much as I’ll miss it, I’m at peace with nine seasons of great comedy. (Interesting to note that Patricia Heaton’s last comedy classic, Everybody Loves Raymond, also went out after nine seasons with the creative energy still strong.)
This was a popular topic in my mailbag, so here are a few more angles:
Should Modern Family Follow Suit?
Question: I would like to be devastated by The Middle ending, but I’m not. I will miss the Hecks terribly, who have been my favorite sitcom family for years, and I wish we never had to say goodbye to them. But as this news sinks in, I’m mostly grateful for this show: that it exists in the first place, that ABC has stood by it despite Modern Family making more noise throughout their shared run, and that, remarkably, the quality of the show has never lessened, but only gotten better with age. I don’t want to see this end, but at least the creators are going to get to end it the way they want to, rather than either dragging it out beyond its freshness date or being canceled after-the-fact by ABC without closure. So, as much as I’m going to hate facing the 2018-19 fall schedule without the Hecks on it, I would mostly like to thank everyone involved in this wonderful show, and thank ABC for allowing it to end with grace.
Modern Family‘s two-year renewal now ensures that it will outlast The Middle, but I can’t help but think that they should make a similar announcement and begin to plot the endgame for that show, which has not been as consistent as The Middle in its later years, but which absolutely deserves the opportunity to go out on their terms, (hopefully) on a high. — Jake
Matt Roush: No argument on The Middle and its history on ABC. It’s worth keeping in mind that even if the ninth season weren’t intended to be the last, it’s very likely the negotiations to keep the show going to Season 10 and beyond might result in a very different looking show. And yes, as important as Modern Family was and still is to ABC’s current family-sitcom renaissance, building toward a definite end date would be a mercy for everyone.
Could There Be a Last-Minute Emmy Bump?
Question: Well, regarding your “the Emmys is not a popularity contest” response to Mary’s recent question about the lack of nominations for NCIS, some might beg to differ. It’s just that it’s a different sort of popularity contest that has nothing to do with fans and/or ratings. How else to explain the continued Best Comedy nominations for Modern Family well past the time such a thing was truly merit-based? Speaking of a lack of nominations and rightful attention, do you think ABC’s early announcement of the upcoming season being the final one for The Middle, which I know you’ve always been a fan of, might be enough to shine some attention on the series and give it a chance for one of those “career achievement” Emmy nominations that underappreciated, long-running show sometimes finally get once their run is complete? I doubt it, but I suppose there’s always a long-shot hope. — Todd
Matt Roush: I would love for that to happen, but there are some shows that somehow never make it onto the Emmy radar, and given the current environment of so many series jockeying for attention, it would be a minor miracle for The Middle to break through now. Regarding Modern Family, which won five times in a row (last time in 2014), there’s no doubt the show has peaked, but given its Emmy history, it will be more of a shock when it finally falls off the list, if it ever does, that it is when it continues to make the cut in an increasingly crowded field.
Why No Love for Outlander?
Question: As in the question regarding no Emmy nominations for NCIS, a great show, why is Outlander neglected by the Emmy committee? It is beautifully written, wonderfully acted and very exciting. Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies are never recognized. Whereas Game of Thrones, which I don’t particularly care for, is given nomination after nomination. I really feel that they don’t care about a good show, they just have their pets and heaven forbid it should be very, very popular as NCIS, that is a sure killer for obtaining a nomination from the Emmys. After all, the Emmy people think, what does the average person know about good shows??? Nothing, in their eyes, I guess. — Connie
Matt Roush: Whether you like Game of Thrones or not (and I do), there’s no denying its scope and ambition—it’s TV’s closest equivalent to Lord of the Rings-level epic fantasy—as well as its enormous following. Being popular, when you’re a certain sort of show, can be a boon—though not when the fantasy is as grisly as that on The Walking Dead, which even in its better seasons was pretty much shunned in the major categories. None of which is meant to slight Outlander, which deserves attention in its own right for its gorgeous production values and most excellent cast. (NCIS is a different story altogether. While a global powerhouse and an undeniable crowd-pleaser, its more formula-driven procedural genre is never likely to register with Emmy voters.) I don’t have easy answers for why Outlander is such an outlier, but it may be disadvantaged by Starz being overshadowed by HBO in the premium arena—even Showtime has trouble breaking through these days—and by dramas like The Crown and Stranger Things on Netflix, the industry’s current obsession.
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Will Will & Grace Ever Stream?
Question: With the Will & Grace reboot coming in the fall, do you think any of the streaming platforms will acquire the rights for fans to binge the original eight seasons? – Jenna
Matt Roush: This subject came up when the Will & Grace cast and producers met the press during NBC’s day of the still-ongoing TCA press tour, and here’s executive producer Max Mutchnick’s response: “We’d love the show to be stream-able, so we are working on it. But it’s super complex. There are a lot of parts to that, and we are working on it, and we hope that soon we’re going to be making the show available in that form, because it should be.” So I’d expect the sitcom to show up somewhere, maybe even around the time the beloved series returns to NBC’s Thursday schedule in late September, who knows. But Max’s comments are a reminder that deals like these can be complicated, especially when a show has had a successful syndication run, and rights have to be worked out before a streaming platform can acquire the entire library.
Why So Angry at CBS All Access?
Question: Playing armchair executive: With the backlash (maybe a bit of a strong term) CBS is getting for putting high-profile programs such as Star Trek: Discovery and The Good Fight on their streaming arm, CBS All Access, would the service have benefited from a different name? Had they not so obviously tied themselves to the CBS network that people are used to getting for “free” with their cable subscriptions, would there be an issue? If the new Star Trek went to Netflix or Hulu, would people be complaining as much? — Steven
Matt Roush: That’s an interesting question, and with Star Trek: Discovery in particular, it may not have caused a stir if an independent streaming service had snagged rights to that franchise. But that wasn’t going to happen with this title, because as Star Trek fans likely are already aware, CBS All Access already streams the entire Trek TV catalog from the original series onward, because its archive comes from the CBS/Paramount vaults. The Good Fight backlash—and I do think that term is merited (see David Bianculli’s recent column)—came from loyal CBS fans smarting at having to pay extra to see the sequel (and even more if you want to watch without ads).
In past columns, we’ve argued that The Good Fight probably wouldn’t even exist except for CBS’s need for exclusive titles to drive traffic to All Access. A new Trek series was more of an inevitability, and becomes the real litmus test for how willing consumers are to add yet another streaming outlet to an already considerable bill, depending on the household. Whether CBS should have attached its brand to the name of this streamer is another interesting point, but considering how specific the programming on the site is (featuring past and present CBS shows along with Paramount classics), at least there’s no confusion to what they’re selling.
Notice to Deutschland Fans
Question: No question, but I saw your column included a mention of Deutschland ’83, and wanted to pass this on: Netflix is offering a similar series called The Same Sky starring the wonderful Tom Schilling, which I really enjoyed just as much as Deutschland ’83. If you agree, maybe you can recommend it to viewers anxious for new episodes of Deutschland ’83. — Paul
Matt Roush: Happy to forward this recommendation. These days, it’s hard enough to keep up with Netflix’s original series, and impossible to track all of the acquisitions (which aren’t nearly as well promoted). If Netflix and its competitors would ever take a pause in dropping new series every week, I might even find time to watch something like this.
[Note: Apologies to those who noticed Suits mentioned in the headline of the most recent Ask Matt column, with no question following. I had intended to address the show, but decided I couldn’t answer the specific topic adequately, so went with something else and forgot to change the headline, and will try to return to the subject at another time.]
That’s all for now, and we’ll pick up the conversation again soon. Thanks as always for reading, and remember that I can’t do this without your participation, so please keep sending questions and comments via the handy form below, or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush).