Ask Matt: Shondaland’s Move to Netflix, CBS Leaves Viewers in ‘Doubt,’ ‘Will & Grace,’ ‘Broadchurch,’ ‘This Is Us’

Shonda Rhimes; Producer/Writer Shonda Rhimes attends Fergie, First Lady of Los Angeles Amy Elaine Wakeland & Barneys New York Host Dinner to Welcome Cindi Leive & Glamour's 2016 Women of the Year to the West Coast on November 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Glamour
Producer/Writer Shonda Rhimes

Is Netflix’s Gain ABC’s Loss?

Question: What do you think of Shonda Rhimes’ move over to Netflix? Since ABC appears to be willing to hand a pilot green light to almost any drama series she comes up with, I’m surprised she chose to leave. Scandal famously encourages live viewing with the full cast usually tweeting during the airings, and how-can-it-top-itself type twists that you’d want to watch live for fear of getting spoiled (at least when the show was at its height). So it will be interesting to see how being on Netflix will change the type of content she delivers, since they will obviously release all episodes all at once, and live viewing is not really an issue there.

I also wonder if the Grey’s Anatomy spinoff was some kind of trade with ABC in exchange for ending Scandal, which I’m sure the network does not actually want to lose. Now that this Netflix news has broken, I feel like the spinoff might actually have been a bargaining chip that ABC wanted in exchange for letting Rhimes out of her contract with the network/studio, which wasn’t set to expire for another year. Like, “If you give us a Grey’s spinoff, you can leave early.” If this actually is the case, do you think that’s really the best way for a show to come into being? Last time, Addison was a popular character who had outlasted her original purpose on Grey’s, so it made sense to give her a show. (Also, it’s worth noting that Private Practice did not receive a series order until after the backdoor pilot aired, whereas ABC has already green-lit multiple episodes of the firefighter show—which at first glance seems to be more driven by ABC’s desire to extend the franchise than a strong narrative idea.) Of course, I will watch the backdoor pilot like I do all Grey’s episodes. I hope it’s good and I would like nothing more than to enjoy the spinoff series. But right now, my first impression is not great. Your thoughts on all this? — Jake

Matt Roush: This may all be overthinking it a bit. The announcement that Shondaland was pulling up stakes from ABC to Netflix certainly sent shock waves through the industry, one of the clearest signs of the talent drain affecting broadcast TV as more seasoned show-runners opt for the relative freedom that streaming or high-end cable offers. (Another case in point: the equally prolific David E. Kelley, whose recent projects have been for Amazon, with Goliath; HBO, with Big Little Lies; and AT&T Audience Network, with Mr. Mercedes. I don’t see him looking back, either.) The symbolism was lost on no one when days later, ABC snagged Lost’s Carlton Cuse to a production deal.

I won’t pretend to know what business discussions led to the Grey’s spinoff or ultimately to Shonda Rhimes’ departure, but like Jake, I am curious to see if the shows she develops for Netflix will have a different feel and tone to them, given the way the shows will be consumed. On the other hand, considering what a mess Scandal can be and what a train wreck How To Get Away with Murder has become, there’s cause to be skeptical that this move will result in great TV. As for the Grey’s spinoff, this feels more like a reaction to Dick Wolf’s procedural-soap factory in Chicago than an organic extension of the Grey’s brand. I guess we’ll eventually see.

The Shadow of a Canceled Doubt

Question: I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the first two episodes of Doubt, and was shocked when it was canceled after just two showings. However, when the rest of the episodes were shown to complete the first season, I was overjoyed! This show was so entertaining in every way. Please tell me that it has been “un-canceled”—the last episode ended with an amazing cliffhanger and with me wanting more, more, more! There are so few good dramas and a lot of garbage these days. Please give us something great to talk about for a change. — Lois

Matt Roush: Sorry, it’s a goner. But I got quite a bit of mail after the finale aired last Saturday, so I revisited the show and was frankly amazed that, given its fate, they’d leave things on such an ambiguous (if not exactly unforeseen) twist ending. But then, the show was called Doubt, right? As we’ve discussed before, when CBS yanked the show so quickly back in February, the network was probably spooked when the first episodes got terrible ratings, with a heavily serialized storyline (on a network still specializing in close-ended procedurals) making it that much harder to grow the audience. There’s an upside for fans like Lois in bringing a show back to burn off the remaining episodes in the summer, but the downside is that it then plays out like an aggravating tease, especially when the story isn’t fully resolved.

How to Catch Up on Will & Grace?

Question: Like another reader, I’d like to watch Will & Grace via streaming before the reboot. Why can’t NBC make it available on its own app? This also makes me wonder why many networks don’t put more full, previous seasons of ongoing shows on their network apps. Seems to me it would be a great way for people to catch up. — Unsigned

Matt Roush: When I addressed this issue in a recent column, quoting the Will & Grace producer who hopes the show will be streaming soon, the point I was trying to make is that while it’s great that we’ve been spoiled by so many complete series being made available for streaming on a variety of platforms, these deals are complex and nothing’s truly free. NBC can’t just plop the show on its app because it wants to. In an industry once reliant on syndication sales to bolster profits, the new universe of streaming creates new complications that we’ll continue to see arise in the never-ending negotiations with all sorts of unions.

Question: This isn’t really a question, but a comment that Will & Grace is currently being shown on WE tv in case anyone wants to do some catching up. — Laura C

Matt Roush: Not only that, but on Saturdays starting this weekend and continuing through Sept. 16, the channel will be airing daylong Will & Grace marathons (10 am/9c to 5/4c) themed to each of the major characters, starting with Will (Eric McCormack) and concluding in mid-September with great guests including Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and the inevitable Kevin Bacon.

In Praise of Broadchurch

Question: I finally watched Broadchurch on Netflix a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t stop myself until I knew whodunit—in both seasons! What a great show! With the third and final season wrapping up on BBC America, do you know when it will be available on Netflix? The suspense is killing me softly! P.S. Love the column! Never miss it! — Melissa

Matt Roush: You’re in for a treat, because Season 3 did not disappoint, as I’ve noted all through the BBC America run, which concluded Wednesday. Can’t say when it will arrive on Netflix. (Hard enough to keep up with what’s happening in first-run, I can’t begin to track the aftermarket of shows.) But if history is a guide, Season 2 of Broadchurch aired on BBC America in the spring of 2015 and it showed up on Netflix in December of that year. So give it a few months.

Yearning for This Is Us Repeats

Question: At the beginning of the summer, NBC was showing repeats of This Is Us on Wednesdays at 10/9c. Then, about two months ago, they changed it unexpectedly to Law & Order: SVU. Are they going to bring back the repeats of This Is Us before the new season starts? If so, what time and day? — Beth

Matt Roush: I wouldn’t count on it. I’ve seen the network’s listings up through Sept. 10, and there’s no mention of This Is Us repeats airing on NBC just two weeks before the new season starts on Sept. 26. The full first season is available, though, on (“for a limited time,” it currently says), and on Hulu as well. I know streaming isn’t an option for everyone, but that’s how NBC is keeping the series available at present. I guess the ratings for the repeats weren’t strong enough to keep them going, which isn’t uncommon for shows this serialized, and I can see why NBC wouldn’t want to blunt the build-up for the new episodes in what’s going to be an essential season to gauge the staying power of this special series.

How to Test Drive TV’s New Mercedes

Question: I was anxiously awaiting Mr. Mercedes, only to find out that the Audience Network is ONLY available if you have DirecTV. Any idea if it is, or will be, available on any other platform (Hulu, Netflix, etc.), and have you seen it or have any comments about it? — Don

Matt Roush: For now, it’s exclusive to the AT&T Audience Network, and like other series made exclusively for subscription services, it will likely stay that way for a while. Most Stephen King-based projects, like Hulu’s adaptation of 11/22/63, eventually end up being marketed on DVD and iTunes and the like, and I’d think something with this much appeal will follow a similar track, but I can’t say for sure. I am sure, though, that this is the best King TV project I’ve seen in some time, as I noted in my recent review. Well worth seeking out, or finding a friend who has DirecTV.