Ask Matt: ‘Blue Bloods’ Death, ‘The Good Doctor,’ ‘Ten Days in the Valley,’ ‘NCIS,’ 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.
Feeling Blue Over Linda’s Departure
Question: After watching the season premiere of Blue Bloods, I was dismayed, blindsided and saddened to discover that Amy Carlson, Danny’s wife, is no longer on the show. Her exit was so unexpected, it was truly shocking. Why did she leave? I have always loved the show, and her absence, in my opinion, diminishes the whole family dynamic that I have so admired about the show. I only hope it was her choice and not the producers. — Sandra
Matt Roush: From what I can tell, including a report on Deadline, this was Amy Carlson’s choice not to renew her contract after the seventh season. This is not an uncommon occurrence at this juncture of a long-running show, but what is rare is for this sort of cast departure to be such a well-kept secret.
Echoing this is Mary K, who wrote in to say: “It sure is a lethal year to be a wife on a CBS show [i.e., NCIS: Los Angeles]. Linda Reagan’s death on Blue Bloods came as a shock to many fans, me included. I like the show as a good it’s-Friday-night-I-don’t-want-to-think procedural, so I’m rarely surprised by the plot twists. I like that this one did surprise me. It’s much more impactful when I don’t expect it. And the angry fan reaction over the weekend indicates this impacted a lot of people.”
Matt again: For me, if a character’s death on a show has dramatic impact and feels earned, I don’t feel cheated, although the sideways method in which Linda’s death was revealed obviously felt like a cop-out to some. My hope is that Blue Bloods continues to grieve or at least acknowledge her absence in a way that honors the character, the way (as an example) Ray Donovan has done this season with the demise of Abby (Paula Malcomson). Sunday’s episode, which finally dealt directly with the circumstances of Abby’s final day, was a truly powerful hour, and even those who’d wished for a happier fate for Ray’s long-suffering spouse had to be impressed. (Could a long-overdue Emmy nomination be in the offing?)
Who Is This New Liz?
Question: I just watched the season premiere of The Blacklist. What happened to Elizabeth Keene? Now that she knows Red is her father, it’s like she is a new person. Prior to this, she was so serious and she would have never gone along with any of his schemes, now she seems to revel in it. And she seems happy he is her dad—again SO out of character. It’s just so weird. At least they could have made these changes gradually. It’s like they are inventing a new series but calling it by the same name. — Anita K
Matt Roush: I’m all for a show reinventing itself at this stage (five seasons) of a long run, and lightening up a bit, especially in the wake of the big reveal, doesn’t sound like the worst thing that could happen to Liz or to The Blacklist. I consulted with our in-house expert about this, who tells me the producers have hinted that Liz will likely allow herself to reflect even more of her father as the season progresses. (One clue: When the crook in the first episode talks about nature winning out over nurture.) I get that transitions like this can feel abrupt, but given how long they stretched out the whole is-he-or-isn’t-he storyline, this seems like a refreshing change of pace.
A Prescription for The Good Doctor
Question: I really wanted to like The Good Doctor, but the pilot left me cold. I wanted to see an autistic young man manage the hurdles of a professional career. Instead, I had to watch one tragedy after another befall him in his childhood, so contrived I was completely disengaged from the rest of the episode. Let’s not even mention the weird Grey’s Anatomy-style subplots of doctors sneaking off to rooms for recreation. I loved, loved the entire cast. (Richard Schiff! Freddie Highmore! Nicholas Gonzalez!) So I’m holding out hope. Have you seen more than the pilot, and does it settle down into a more realistic depiction of Shaun Murphy’s life as a young surgeon, or should I just remove it from my DVR now and avoid the heartbreak? Love your column! — Annie
Matt Roush: ABC only made the pilot available for review, which unfortunately is common network practice, especially for fall premieres (because of production schedules, etc.), so I try not to read too much into that. For shows that have been on the shelf a while that only let you view the pilot, you’re usually right to suspect the worst. With The Good Doctor, though, I chose to accentuate the positive in my own initial review, figuring that the first episode was suffering from what I call pilot-itis, a condition in which a show feels it must over-explain the premise to the point where you really just want to see what an ordinary episode looks like. I’ll be watching along with you these next few weeks with an open mind for the same reasons you gave this a fair shot: the cast, the premise, the possibilities. (And like you, the Grey’s-style shenanigans among the hot docs was annoying. Less of that, please, more of Dr. Shaun.)
Stranded in the Valley
Question: Can you explain what ABC is thinking with its scheduling of Ten Days in the Valley? I thought the pilot was very good, and I’m invested now for the remainder, but the show seems oddly placed after the unscripted lineup ABC now has earlier on Sundays. I get that Shark Tank has been a hit for them (albeit on Fridays for most of its life), but it just seems bizarre as a lead-in for a high-end scripted show like this. I see that the ratings started soft last night, and I can’t help but think it might have been more sampled if airing behind something more compatible. I’m not sure what that would be, but Kyra Sedgewick obviously has her fans from The Closer. Why strand her return to TV as the sole scripted show of the evening? If the ratings stay as they are or get worse, do you think we will see all 10 episodes in this slot, or are they likely to banish it somewhere even lower-rated? (I hope not.) — Jake
Matt Roush: Too early to panic on this one, although you’re absolutely right from a scheduling point of view that airing Valley on a night otherwise devoted to reality (led by the wretched The Toy Box) does the show no favors. And it’s especially problematic for a series that is so heavily serialized. Sunday is such a packed TV night that it’s possible Ten Days in the Valley will benefit from delayed DVR viewing as well as On Demand and streaming (on Hulu). It’s quite addictive. I’ve seen the first four episodes, which builds to yet another game-changing twist in the mystery, and I’m thinking this could also be a popular mini-binge once we’re further into the season. Valley is an unusual project, because it feels more like something you’d see on cable (or these days, streaming). And if it ends up getting cable-size numbers, with a very engaged but limited audience, I’ll be interested to see whether ABC sees it as a success or failure. It’s one of the few network dramas this fall that made me sit up and take notice.
Agents of Change on NCIS
Question: As a fan of NCIS from the beginning, I’ve stuck with the show through all of its (often wrenching) cast changes. I have to say now, though, that I’m unhappy with Jennifer Esposito’s departure. Her character seemed to have become an integral part of the team. On the other hand, Duane Henry’s British agent character, however debonair, has never seemed to be more than an odd adjunct to the group. What’s the reasoning for dropping a wonderful major character and keeping a less interesting peripheral one? — Judy
Matt Roush: Remains to be seen, and the real effect of the latest change won’t be evident until Maria Bello joins the cast on Oct. 17 as a new special agent and forensic psychologist. When it was announced Jennifer Esposito wouldn’t be back, it was framed as a creative decision, and it would be something of a miracle if NCIS’s ever-critical fan base welcomed the new agent, Jacqueline “Jack” Sloane, with open arms. I thought Esposito was a refreshing addition as well, but the mail I got on Alex was 50/50, you either loved or hated her. (Duane Henry as Clayton Reeves never generated much reaction in my mailbag, positive or negative, make of that what you will.)
Supersized Episodes, or Just Back-to-Back?
Question: Why, when there’s a two-hour special episode, do networks break it into two parts? The most recent example was this season’s opener of Grey’s Anatomy. Why not just make it a two-hour episode? I’ve seen this several times and never understood it. — Jamie
Matt Roush: Seems to me the most basic common-sense answer would be that because these episodes will most likely always air separately in the syndication market, and they were produced (though not scheduled) as separate entities with different directors, this sort of two-parter is in actuality not a two-hour episode, but a back-to-back scheduling stunt.
Beaming Trek Into Streaming
Question: This is a follow-up question regarding CBS All Access and Star Trek: Discovery. How long do you suppose it will take CBS to start moving the more popular shows to All Access? And, moreover, if CBS is even modestly successful, how soon will the other major networks (perhaps even some basic cable channels) follow suit? When this happens, the $10 per month charge (commercial free) for All Access will quickly grow. Lastly, where will the profits go: to content (doubtful), or to pad the pockets of the executives? — MLH
Matt Roush: I write about TV, not economics, so will leave the speculation about profits to those experts. While I understand the cynicism and the impulse toward conspiracy theory, the reality is that the other major networks already have invested in a streaming service—Hulu—the difference being that the shows they’re putting on Hulu after broadcast are also available first over the air. I doubt we’ll see much if any of ABC’s, Fox’s and NBC’s original product put exclusively behind a paywall. Same for CBS’s regular lineup.
For CBS, creating the All Access streaming site, which includes an archival library of CBS and Paramount programming, is an investment in the digital future, which is why they’re producing a handful of original shows to drive traffic, in addition to making most of their original schedule available for streaming (saves space on the DVR). As viewing habits evolve, these streaming platforms become essential for the long-term survival of some shows. Obviously, this is not a popular strategy for those frustrated that CBS wouldn’t air two of its most intriguing shows—The Good Fight and Discovery—on the broadcast network. But this is where the industry’s heading, though it doesn’t mean you’ll have to pay more than you already do (the cable bill) to see shows like NCIS and The Big Bang Theory.
Question: Not really a question, more like a rant. I was one of those people who signed up for CBS All Access to watch Star Trek: Discovery. I’m sure I’m counted as a subscription when I’m cancelling before the end of the free preview. I can’t justify paying for ONE show on a service that glitches when it breaks for commercials, and I definitely can’t justify paying for ONE show at the commercial-free rate. Are there any concerns that the bulk of Trek fans feel this way? Discovery is one of the most pirated shows, are they really surprised their tech-savvy fans don’t want to pay a monthly fee for not a lot of content? The worst part is the teaser after the second episode makes Discovery look halfway decent (although I still don’t understand how Spock has yet another sibling he never mentioned). — Veronica
Matt Roush: This is very much still an experiment, and if Discovery gets at least some customers in the door to sample the service, that may be enough for the time being. Who knows? (It’s not like they issue actual streaming statistics.) As you noted, Sunday’s third episode was in many ways the actual start to the series, as Burnham finally makes her way onto Discovery. The question is whether enough Trek fans are devoted enough to pay for this ride, and I know I don’t have the answer to that.
Question: I think I know why CBS and Paramount had to put Star Trek: Discovery behind a paywall. There are four Producers, two Consulting Producers, and 14 Co-Executive and Executive Producers! How many brother-in-laws can one series have on payroll? — E.B.
Matt Roush: Thanks for the laugh. It takes a village, or in this case a small galaxy, to run a show any more. Don’t even ask me what some of them do (many are writers, others directors, but beyond that, hard to say).
And Finally …
Question: I noticed in the Returning Favorites issue of TV Guide Magazine, notably missing were Quantico, Taken, Chicago Med and Shades of Blue. What is the deal? — Lane
Matt Roush: These shows will return, but not until midseason, and none have been definitively scheduled yet. The fall Returning Favorites issue only deals with shows that are scheduled with air dates in the first half of the season. It’s probably worth including a list of confirmed shows on the shelf for later in the season, so thanks for bringing that up.
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.