Ask Matt: ‘Star Trek’ for a Fee, ABC’s ‘The Mayor,’ TV and Vietnam, Emmys 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 your questions and comments to [email protected] (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 watched the pilot of Star Trek: Discovery on Sunday. I enjoyed it and will eventually watch future episodes. However, I will not be subscribing to CBS All Access. It is not worth it to me to subscribe for just one show that will air for only 15 episodes a year. I would rather spend the money to buy the inevitable DVD set or digital download of the episodes, even if I have to wait a year to do it. I already own or have recorded every Star Trek movie and episode. What CBS All Access needs to do is to develop multiple shows that would appeal to a similar audience to justify the subscription. I would also suggest that CBS rerun Star Trek: Discovery during the summer over the air, many weeks after the episodes have all been released. — Jeremy
Matt Roush: This is certainly the prevailing sentiment among those who write into this column, and I get the resistance to add yet another subscription to one’s monthly bill just for one show. On the other hand, CBS sees this as an investment in its digital future, and more shows are in the pipeline, though whether they’ll be compatible with Discovery is unclear. CBS issued a release after the premiere, crowing about a record number of sign-ups Sunday and in the week and month leading up to the Trek launch, so for them, it appears to be paying off in the short term. (Though CBS didn’t give specific numbers, which is typical of streaming services.) The pilot got a lot of sampling on CBS, which was also the point. And even that upset some viewers, as you’ll see.
Question: Why didn’t you critics say the “free” premiere of Star Trek: Discovery was a cliffhanger? I have lost all respect for the producers and CBS in general. What a dirty rotten trick to get more subscribers. — Diane Z
Matt Roush: Critics and reporters who screened the first three episodes were under an embargo until after the pilot aired, and even if not, the tendency would be to avoid even that kind of spoiler. The real issue is why you would think the first episode wouldn’t be a cliffhanger. Much of the publicity in advance of the premiere indicated Discovery would be the most serialized Trek series yet, and the primary goal of putting the first episode on CBS was to get viewers hooked. That’s how TV works.
ABC’s Campaign for The Mayor
Question: I was surprised to see that ABC decided to offer the first episode of The Mayor on its streaming platforms before the premiere. Won’t this lower the broadcast ratings and make it look like the show is performing worse than it actually is? A similar thing happened this summer when TNT made the first six episodes of Will available on its app immediately. The show wound up canceled for low ratings! What are the networks thinking, and will this become more common in the future? — Unsigned
Matt Roush: It’s fairly common now. Not so much making multiple episodes available in advance, which may have inhibited Will’s on-air performance, though that was always going to be a mainstream long shot. But releasing a pilot episode of a new show on one platform or another is accepted nowadays as a strategic way to get exposure for a series and help it break through what is now an overwhelming clutter of choices. ABC will take into account the fact that some may have watched the first episode of The Mayor online. What matters is whether they’ll come back in future weeks (and I hope they do), having sampled the show however they saw fit.
Did ABC Take The Middle for Granted?
Question: In my opinion, I could see The Middle was not going to last much longer in the way ABC decided to promote The Goldbergs more. I love both shows, but it was pretty obvious which show ABC seemed to love more. I’ll miss The Middle a lot, but at the same time looking forward to The Mayor. It looks as if it could be funny from the start.
Just wanted to give you a long overdue thanks! If it wasn’t for you, there are some shows I wouldn’t even know existed and never bothered to have watched. There is so much on that I have taken to putting reminders on my phone so I know when to record or watch. Thanks again! Although, I wished you would have let me know more about The Sinner. That’s eight hours I’ll never get back. — Teresa
Matt Roush: I don’t have any tangible proof that ABC favors one of its family sitcoms over another when it comes to promotion, but it’s not surprising that a long-running sitcom takes a back seat to newer shows (last season Speechless was a priority), and I never felt that ABC had given up on The Middle. In fact, moving it to Tuesdays last season, opposite a behemoth like NCIS, showed how much confidence the network had in the show to launch a new comedy block, which now includes black-ishm> and the very promising The Mayor.
As for The Sinner, my initial review (based on watching only the first two episodes, if memory serves) did describe the show as “relentlessly depressing and, at times, gratuitously unpleasant.” That’s not exactly an endorsement, although I was compelled to keep watching to the end. At least the story resolved its central mystery, so whether you enjoyed the ride or not, I’m not sure it was an entire waste of time. Even if we agree to disagree on that point, I appreciate your feedback and affirmation of my efforts to steer you toward TV that truly matters.
The Sinner in Limbo?
Question: I was glad to see a recent question about The Sinner, and even happier to read that if it’s picked up for a second season, Bill Pullman’s Detective Ambrose will be back. I have found that he’s the key to the show, as I have been underwhelmed with Jessica Biel’s performance (although the story in general has kept me involved). When will we know if the show will return, and how does a network like USA make that type of decision? — Felicia
Matt Roush: Those are questions I can’t easily answer. If a show isn’t renewed during or immediately following its run, it’s anyone’s guess when the network will make the call. (It often has to do with contracts and business matters that industry-trade reporters are more inclined to keep up with.) The factors involved in renewing a show can be very complex. It’s not merely ratings anymore, though if a show tanks (which The Sinner apparently didn’t), it’s usually toast. If USA feels a second season fits into its branding game plan, and has enough buzz and digital footprint to make it worth the investment, then you’ll get your wish. On this one, I haven’t a clue.
Paging Madam Secretary
Question: What happened to Madam Secretary? That is such a good show. Sure hope they didn’t cancel it. — Nancy
Matt Roush: It’s coming back, but not until next Sunday, Oct. 8. The news that will rile most fans is that CBS has moved Madam Secretary back to the 10/9c hour, which viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones will know is a treacherous slot on those Sundays when football overruns go so far over that the final show of the night sometimes doesn’t even air (or goes on past some of our bedtimes). This will likely prompt a round of “is CBS trying to kill this show” questions, to which the answer is no. CBS just issued a release about the show’s future in syndication and streaming (on Netflix), which suggests a longer life on air. But CBS has to put something in that time period, and thi fall, CBS is trying to launch a new show (the dismal Wisdom of the Crowd) after 60 Minutes, which pushes the rest of Sunday’s schedule back. My hope is that if Wisdom fails as it deserves to do, Secretary can be restored to a friendlier hour.
Vietnam War, China Beach and Language
Question: I have been watching the wonderful documentary of The Vietnam War by Ken Burns. I don’t think there is any topic he cannot make into an insightful and emotional journey for the viewer. I always look forward to what he will focus on next. My question (which you have probably been asked before) is why has there not been a release of China Beach either on streaming platforms or on one of the nostalgia TV stations. If it is on somewhere, I haven’t heard about it. China Beach was one of those shows that even now I still have emotional memories of many episodes. It certainly deserves to be seen again by a new audience. — JG
Matt Roush: I’m gratified that the response to The Vietnam War has been so positive. I found Thursday’s final installment perhaps the most moving of all. And it’s a fact that China Beach has been mentioned frequently in this column. It took many years for the show to get the full DVD release it deserved (in part because of music rights), but I’m no help when it comes to understanding what archival series make it onto streaming or syndication platforms. It could once again be an issue with the music rights for those vintage 1960s songs—Ken Burns credits the “favored nation” rate given by artists, their estates or labels for his series’ remarkable soundtrack. Whatever calculus or algorithm these services use to decide what to acquire is beyond me. Perhaps the success of The Vietnam War will inspire someone to bring this wonderful drama series (which I covered faithfully during its original 1988-91 run) back into the spotlight.
Question: I’ve been watching The Vietnam War and it has been a magnificent achievement (as I’ve come to expect from Ken Burns), and I agree with you wholeheartedly that in light of the subject matter and what’s being shown on screen and the heartrending stories being told by the soldiers who fought and their families, the editing out of certain words is insulting. These men and women lived through hell—and if that’s the way they want to express themselves, they should be permitted to do so. To have the courage to go on camera and to relive these life-altering moments for the elucidation of others who weren’t there and can’t fathom what it was like, is to EARN the right to tell their stories using whatever language THEY deem appropriate. Not the network. Hell, I watched Better Things on FX last night and Pamela Adlon (amongst other things) dropped at least three unedited F bombs. — Michael
Matt Roush: Huge gap between the PBS and FX worlds, obviously, and I’m sure if PBS had its way, without worrying about political blowback or other issues, they would run it as is. But as some of my readers, including Ken, have pointed out: “On the PBS streaming site, there is an explicit version of The Vietnam War with all the language (and all the episodes). The explicit language definitely makes the story much more real. The explicit language really conveys the emotion of the stories.”
Emmy Debates, Continued
Question: I saw the snarky comment in the Oct. 2 issue of TV Guide Magazine about the ratings for the latest Emmys hosted by Stephen Colbert. I think they missed the point about why Emmy viewership is down. I watched the opening segment (Stephen Colbert is wonderful!) and then turned off the rest of the show because I have not seen most of the nominees. I don’t pay-per-view or stream TV. Like many (older) folks, I watch the shows I like on network TV, am happy I can usually catch them on the network website for free if I miss one. But the Emmy nominees are dominated by shows that many of us John Q. Public folks refuse to pay for. Your thoughts? — Allison
Matt Roush: The comment in question in the magazine’s “America’s Most Watched” ratings column suggested Colbert as host may have contributed to the ratings decline. I tend to agree more with you, though it wouldn’t have been able to be reflected so pithily in that small editorial space. There’s little doubt that the Emmys shifting away from even the best of broadcast TV to the premium niches of cable and streaming have contributed to a disconnect with many viewers—not unlike how the Oscars often favor arty fare over popular blockbusters, and that show’s ratings are on the decline as well. Still, at the risk of repeating myself, I look at this year’s list of winners and can’t really argue, because The Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies, The Crown and others that didn’t even win much of anything were just that good.
Question: Can you tell me why the Emmys were so rude to Sterling K. Brown? Why was he unable to finish his acceptance speech? I found that very disrespectful, rude and just plain not nice! — Jettybo
Matt Roush: I made note of this “shameful orchestral play-off” in my own Emmy-show review, and while it’s really not about singling this actor out, it’s a failing of awards shows in general that they pad the broadcast with uneven gags and banter, and then when the show appears to be running long, they rush even some of the higher-profile winners through their speech, which upsets the winner and often enrages the viewer. Nominees are asked, quite rightly, to keep their speeches to a reasonable length, and if they’re just looking down at a piece of paper and reciting names of agents and publicists, they kind of deserve the bum’s rush. But when someone like Sterling K. Brown is entertaining the room with a thoughtful expression of gratitude, he deserves to be heard in full, and it’s the producers’ fault when awkward moments like this occur.
Question: One more comment about cable and streaming shows competing in the Emmys. I know these shows are a permanent fixture at the awards and that something like the CableACE awards won’t come back. However, what is the likelihood of new categories? Have a category for best drama and best comedy on a paid source, such as HBO or Netflix, and best shows on non-premium sources such as the big 4 (5? Is CW considered a part of the “Big” yet?) networks and cable channels? I know that would appease the cable vs. streaming vs. premium crowd. Is it an unreal suggestion? — Mark
Matt Roush: Not unreal, but unlikely. And as I’ve suggested before, unwise. What about when a show like This Is Us breaks through and can truly compete against the best of Netflix, HBO, etc.? Should it be segregated to what would amount to the “kids’ table” of broadcast-network nominees? Even though it would stand a better chance of winning, this would look to me like a consolation prize, like winning in a second-tier category. There are already so many Emmy categories by genre (comedy, drama, limited series/movie, sketch/variety) that adding yet another layer would dilute the process even further.
Question: How to Get Away With Murder is the best show on TV. Superior storyline and great acting. Viola Davis is awesome! With a huge following, so how about a word of praise? — Teddi, Utah
Matt Roush: How about, I loved her in Fences (on film and on Broadway). Also enjoyed her Tony-winning performance in King Hedley II, and one of my favorite Viola Davis performances was off-Broadway in Intimate Apparel. You can be a fan of a star but not of the project, and not since her soul-baring work in the first season of Murder have I felt this increasingly ridiculous show has been worthy of her. I assume this was in response to my dismissing the show in a response to a question about a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff. I’ll accept Murder as a guilty pleasure, but the best show on TV? Not even the best show on ABC on Thursday night.
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 [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below.