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@example.com (or use 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: I know you don't dabble in spoilers, so I hesitated even sending this question in, but because this information has already been announced by the network, what do you make of the news that Jason George (Ben) is leaving Grey's Anatomy to transition to its firefighter spinoff? Aside from his momentary heroics in last season's finale, this doesn't make much sense for him from a character standpoint. He was originally introduced way back in season 6 as an anesthesiologist, and then he gave that up to pursue his dream of becoming a surgeon. Now, after years of high-stakes training, he's apparently going to decide that he'd rather be a firefighter and start from the ground up with that training? From a business perspective, it makes sense because ABC wants to have a familiar character from the original show to anchor the spinoff, but I feel like this is going to be a massive and bizarre transition for his character, and it increases my skepticism for the spinoff—even more so if it were to cause Ben and Bailey to split, which absolutely should not happen, as they are one of the most adult, reasonable couples on the show. Your thoughts? — Jake
Matt Roush: There’s a difference between spoilers (which would be revealing who if anyone dies on Chicago Fire) and commenting on actual TV news that has already widely circulated. Subsequent reports have quoted Jason George as saying he believes his move to the spinoff won’t affect the Ben-Bailey relationship, and I hope that’s the case. In fact, you could imagine a scenario in which Ben gets fed up with the hospital bureaucracy and all of those church/state conflicts that come from working for one’s wife. By grounding him on the new show, that presents opportunities not unlike NBC’s Chicago franchise for the two Seattle-based series to cross over seamlessly. Can’t say the prospect of another Grey’s spinoff fills me with joy, but I’d rather give it a shot than another season of How to Get Away With Murder.
The Emmys: Feud Furor and TV-Movie Madness
Question: My quick ruminations about the Emmys: complete shock that Feud: Bette and Joan got completely shut out, and who knew that Saturday Night Live, not This Is Us would save face for the broadcast networks? The nominations (and subsequent win) that baffle me are Sherlock and Black Mirror for best movie? Black Mirror: San Junipero is only an hour long and is episode 4 of Season 3. Perhaps if each episode came four months apart, I might consider it, but it is part of an anthology series released at the same time. Though each episode has nothing to do with the other, they all share the common tech thread. Can we now retroactively consider each episode of The Twilight Zone a stand-alone movie? Sherlock: The Lying Detective is actually episode 2 of season 4. This movie makes no sense if you didn't know Mary, Sherlock and Watson's relationship history, or many of the side characters. With this precedent, I would encourage no-longer or never nominated or even canceled shows to nominate a very strong episode in the movie category. How did the TV movie get so easily redefined? — Brian
Matt Roush: The movie category is an utter mess, that’s for sure, and had to stretch as far as the latest Dolly Parton holiday schmaltz-fest to fill the five slots this year. Earlier this decade, the Emmys combined stand-alone TV movies with miniseries (now “limited series”), which put the shorter films at a decided disadvantage, probably accounting for why they split the categories again in 2014. PBS’s Sherlock set the precedent (and won last year) by submitting a movie-length episode of an ongoing series of mystery movies into the category.
It’s a murky history. If you look back as far as Columbo and other “mystery movies” of the ’70s, they sometimes competed as a drama series—which is where Sherlock rightly belongs—and other times as a limited series. Black Mirror is an anomaly as well. Back in the day, The Twilight Zone competed with other drama series, and I don’t see why Black Mirror shouldn’t either. (Each episode could be eligible for writing on its own merits.) There was one movie-length episode of Mirror last season (Hated in the Nation), and as powerful as San Junipero was, it does feel more like an episode of a themed anthology. It’s up to the TV Academy to set the rules for this kind of hair-splitting, and there’s no doubt that San Junipero is a lovely short film. I’d be more upset if I felt a worthy candidate had lost, but it’s such a weak category. And from the individual shows’ perspective, they obviously have a much better chance being rewarded as TV movies than having to compete against such a rich array of drama series contenders, so unless the Emmy board decides otherwise, we’ll probably see more of this blurring of lines in the future.
But to your other point, yes on Feud. Can’t say why that didn’t click with voters, but once it became clear that Big Little Lies was on such a roll, it didn’t stand a chance. A pity, because it also provided a terrific showcase for some great actresses. (And I still believe Jessica Lange’s complex channeling of Joan Crawford was the performance of the year.)
The Emmys: But How Did You Like the Show?
Question: My nominations for what was wrong with this year's Emmy Awards show: 1) That ANNOYING loud, brash, egotistical announcer who kept stumbling over his fragmented comments. Bring back the lady with the Velvet Voice. 2) Really lame comedy bits, like the interview with the Emmy statue and the Westworld parody. 3) Colbert's disappearance mid-way through. 4) A jerky, jittery pacing. I think the show works better when awards are grouped into genre categories, instead of presented randomly throughout. 5) John Oliver's second win for best variety talk show. All he does is rant for a half hour. (Seth Meyers’ “A Closer Look” segments are much more insightful and entertaining.) And James Cordon's imagination, daring and multiple singing/dancing/comedy talents have helped reinvent the late-night talk show format. 6) Again, no big award for The Big Bang Theory. 7) No sight of popular or acclaimed genre shows like The Walking Dead. No sight of Orphan Black (which should at least get a technical achievement award). Which leads again to my repeated suggestion that the Emmy folk create a special Vanguard Award that honors daring, innovative shows that break the mold or don't easily fit into the traditional categories.
And once again I suggest a need for a separate awards show for cable and streaming services. If Emmy doesn't want to do it, maybe some TV entrepreneur or the outlets themselves can create a separate show, the way Dick Clark created the American Music Awards as an alternative to a once staid, unhip Grammys, which spun off the Latin Grammys into its own show).
What worked? The opening song-and-dance number, Sean Spicer's appearance, other pointed political jokes and comments, TV theme songs played into and out of breaks, the tribute to those who passed. But in my opinion, not much else. — Maurice
Matt Roush: Your overview and my own review of the Emmy show aren’t that far apart. My household was also less than enchanted by the inane howling of Jermaine Fowler (Superior Donuts) from the announcer’s booth, and I must have repressed that unpleasant memory while writing my review. I would have preferred Samantha Bee winning the variety-talk award, and Seth Meyers for writing, but HBO’s hold on the Emmy voter (and the sense that John Oliver is the true inheritor of the Jon Stewart throne) is obviously very strong. Orphan Black wasn’t eligible this year, and I just can’t agree that streaming and cable should be segregated from a TV awards program because they keep broadcast shows from getting their due. I do feel that more traditional crowd-pleasers like The Big Bang Theory deserve the attention they’ve been denied lately—don’t get me started on The Middle—and I’m glad This Is Us at least got mentioned in the same breath as The Handmaid’s Tale and The Crown. But it’s hard to look at this year’s list of winners and not be impressed by the variety and quality, and in many cases the diversity, of those who won.
Defending The Orville
Question: I knew The Orville was going to get slammed! I loved it, simple funny humor. Seems like Seth McFarland is always being criticized no matter what! So since I like the show, I'm sure it'll get canceled! Keep the terrible shows! — Shirl
Question: Please get on board The Orville and help it get an audience. TV Guide Magazine and critics are missing the creative entertainment. Seth is very good with intelligent, thought-provoking dialogue. Cast and sets and ship are futuristic cool!! I'm 70 with no cable and I want this show. — Luci
Matt Roush: The Orville may be one of those shows that thrives despite a lack of critical acclaim (it happens). Fox seems pleased with the first-week numbers, boosted by scheduling behind football on Sunday to the highest ratings for a Fox drama premiere since Empire. The network has also double-run the first two episodes in prime time to increase exposure—the second episode repeats Tuesday—but no question the real test will come when it settles into its regular Thursday night time period this week with its most serious episode to date. And Luci should be pleased that an upcoming issue of TV Guide Magazine will feature an in-depth look at the Orville set, which truly is one of its better assets, however derivative.
How to Save Salvation
Question: Salvation would have been more interesting if they had picked up the pace, added a bit more of the science stuff, and wrapped the whole thing up by the end of the first season as a one-off series. I would have been happier if they had blown up the Earth and sent their picks off in the ark into space rather than ending with a cliffhanger where the president was miraculously alive (a reveal which surprised me not at all and one they wasted too much time figuring out). If the ratings were good, they could pick up next summer with a new storyline with the ark (or borrow from Ascension and have the Ark launch being fake and Earth still intact) or something. Instead the series basically ended with nothing but textile rehashed memes. I am sick and tired of cliffhangers from shows that are unlikely to be renewed. It is a disservice to the viewers who gave affection and time to a series and never really get the payoff. It's actually quite rude. There is a lot to be said to waiting to watch a series until it's on Netflix and well into its second or third year to see if it will succeed before giving it your time. I'm continually disappointed by shows that leave a bug cliffhanger and disappear. I can understand this strategy more with a regular season show than with a summer one. — Karen
Matt Roush: You may have been a bit premature with this rant, because according to my calendar, the actual finale of Salvation airs this Wednesday. So while I doubt the entire story will be wrapped up, there’s still hope it won’t end on too annoying of a cliffhanger. (I’ll be most likely watching the season finale of The Sinner on USA, so will have to hear what happens second-hand.)
Burning the Midnight Oil
Question: I've become a fan of Midnight, Texas on NBC this summer! You have said in previous columns that you would be surprised if the network didn't renew the show for a second season. However, the ratings for the last two episodes that aired this past Monday and Wednesday both declined to low ratings and a 0.6 18-49 demo rating! I'm pretty sure that Hurricane Irma and a Monday Night Football game that was preempted in a few local network affiliates in L.A., Minneapolis, and New Orleans, were responsible for the downturn in the ratings, but I'm worried that NBC might cancel this show not only because of low ratings, but because of how expensive the show is to film with those CGI special effects. I don't want to get attached to a show that might get cancelled after one season! Why do you think that Midnight, Texas will get a Season 2 renewal despite modest ratings? — Chris
Matt Roush: Sometimes I just like being an optimist. As one of my former colleagues once said, they can’t cancel everything. And Midnight seems to have generated a bit more buzz than most this summer, and its ratings weren’t a complete disaster—not that I obsess on ratings, to be honest. They’re still an important measure of success, but the metrics have changed so much in this multi-platform world that there are other forces in play that could determine a show’s future. Engagement, quality (he says hopefully), media support. Cost could be a factor, that’s very true. But for now, still staying positive on this one, though I’m rarely surprised anymore when my hopes are dashed.
Where Did All the Chicago Shows Go?
Question: Tell me where in TV Guide Magazine is Chicago Med and Chicago Justice! Didn't see them listed in the new fall issues. Please don't say they’re canceled. — Sharon
Matt Roush: Good news and bad news. Chicago Med will be back at midseason, not yet scheduled—though it’s likely to take over for Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders when that eight-episode run is over. Med wasn’t mentioned in the Returning Favorites issue because we’re not sure when it’s returning. Chicago Justice was canceled, so won’t be back, but its star, Philip Winchester, will be reprising his character in episodes of Law & Order: SVU, so not all is lost.
A Final Word on Judges’ Reactions (or Not)
Question: Hi, Matt! Will you please let Joel know that So You Think You Can Dance is the ONLY reality talent show that HAS NEVER cut from a performance to see the judges’ reactions. He must not be a dedicated fan? In 14 seasons, there have only been full performances before the judges’ commentary. I was disappointed this show was lumped into that category. — Todd
Matt Roush: Done. I should have made that clarification myself, except I sat out a season here and there (can’t watch everything every year) and figured if I made such a declaration someone would contradict me. I’ll take your word for it. Dance is the least objectionable of these series, and even in Dancing With the Stars, when you see the judges reacting, they tend to be in the background and the camera never loses sight of the actual performances.
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 about TV to firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below.