Ask Matt: Colbert’s Post-Super Bowl Gig, ‘Big Bang’s Spoiled Twist, ‘Sleepy Hollow’, ‘Supergirl’ 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 unless it’s common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] (or use the new form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter.
Question: I always thought of the post-Super Bowl slot as the most precious prime-time piece of real estate a network could own, hence it was destined for the most promising prime-time shows. As a consequence, I was really surprised when CBS announced that this year’s post-Super Bowl honor was going to Stephen Colbert’s late night show?! Don’t get me wrong, I think Colbert is fantastic and I am sure he and his team will do a terrific job. Nonetheless, it made me wonder: Are the best days of network TV over? CBS is not having any stellar results from the new fall shows: Limitless and Supergirl are performing OK, while Code Black is a disaster even by this year’s very low standards. The only way I can interpret Colbert’s post-Super Bowl assignment is that the network realized that they shouldn’t grant this spot to just an average show (barely surviving) which wouldn’t be able to capitalize on the opportunity. My take on the whole situation is that networks need to evaluate this disastrous Fall Season and go back to the drawing board to get some new and fresher concepts. CBS is actually in good shape in comparison to the rest of the networks, so it can afford a couple of misfires. In any case, I would have thought that CBS could have explored the comedy route and given The Big Bang Theory or Mom a shot.
On that note, I need to applaud Mom’s first episodes so far this season. They have been funny, sad, riveting and compelling in every possible sense. It is rare that in 30 minutes I am able to laugh at the top of my lungs while also crying. This show is fantastic, one of the best TV comedies of our time. I won’t be surprised if by next year Allison Janney has another Best Supporting Actress Emmy as a result. In light of this, I would have suggested for CBS to give Mom the post-Super Bowl spot; this would have been the perfect opportunity for the network to fully get behind this show. — David
Matt Roush: Interesting question, but I’m not sure the Colbert pick says as much about the sorry state of prime time as it does about CBS’s investment in its new late-night stars (James Corden will also do a show on Super Bowl night after affiliates’ late local news). This spotlight gives Colbert in particular a chance to make a big impression in front of a huge audience, establishing a brand the way Jimmy Kimmel has been able to do on ABC after major sporting events and especially post-Oscars. The goal in programming after the Super Bowl is to create a sense of “event,” and the Late Show producers will need to rise to that occasion, which I imagine they can, potentially having more impact than a super-sized episode of Big Bang or some other weekly series.
That said, couldn’t agree more about Mom, which isn’t just one of TV’s best comedies but also one of the few that feels set in a real world of struggles with addiction and income inequality and broken families, where Christy and Bonnie have formed an unconventional support group of survivors who laugh through their woes. Scheduling an episode after the Super Bowl would have been incredible exposure, to be sure, but I’m not sure it’s the best fit after a night of rowdy celebration (and all of those beer ads). The good news is that Mom is doing just fine, so doesn’t really need the lift.
Did Big Bang Spoil Its Big Twist?
Question: [Big Bang SPOILER ALERT] So I know that your column is spoiler-free, and I love that. That’s why I want to ask you what you thought about The Big Bang Theory basically spoiling itself re: the announcement that Sheldon and Amy will soon have “coitus,” to use the show’s phrase. I mean, I love Big Bang and will watch anyway, but it’s sort of bothering me that now I know what’s going to happen. They basically spoiled themselves. It would have been a more powerful thing to be surprised with it, I think. Why would they have released that bit of information? Do they really need to drum up interest in this way? What do you think about it? — Sarah
Matt Roush: Pardon the expression, but I agree that it will be a bit of an anticlimax on Dec. 17 when this act transpires, now that everyone knows in advance. But that’s the way of the business nowadays, that it’s almost impossible to keep any significant TV plot point under wraps, and I can only imagine that the Big Bang producers knew that once the episode was filmed (in front of a live audience, don’t you know), that it would be unlikely for the “news” not to leak, so why not get out in front of it. Being coy would turn this into another “will they or won’t they” moment, which isn’t what they’re going for here. (If you saw last week’s Thanksgiving episode, with its touching reveal at how much Amy wanted to rekindle the relationship with her oddball off-and-on boyfriend, you know the producers have more in mind here than just some raunchy, impulsive roll in the hay.) So let’s just hope the episode lives up to expectations, and try to look past the hype.
Does Binge-Watching Make TV Better, Or Worse?
Question: I’ll preface this by saying first, that I have been waiting expectantly for The Man in the High Castle since Amazon showed the pilot back in January (actually since I first read the novel in 1962), but I’m not sure yet how I’ll watch it. Which leads to what I want to ask you: Whether you find that the ability to binge-watch changes the way you see TV, both as a fan and a critic. Maybe because I started watching TV long before there were any real choices, my habits are just ingrained, but I find that part of the enjoyment I get out of episodic TV is the anticipation of each upcoming episode, particularly as a story arc reaches a climax. I get almost as much pleasure out of anticipating the episode as I do watching it. That element is missing when I binge-watch a show, and eventually I have to stop for a few days.
Curiously, I enjoy binge-watching some shows I’ve already seen. Watching a show with a dense mythology, like Lost or Person of Interest, the first time through I just roll with the punches and enjoy the ride. When I binge those shows, I can concentrate on the mythology without interruption. But I would never have enjoyed watching the shows for the first time like that. I realize that as the model for TV changes, this will be more common (and maybe even the standard) in the future. But I can’t help but feel that we lose something. What are your thoughts on this? — Rick
Matt Roush: Thanks for the thoughtful question. Well-timed, too, because on a busy pre-holiday weekend where I would have liked to have finished the first season of Amazon’s excellent The Man in the High Castle—I watched the first six in advance of my review, leaving four to go—I spent what screening time I had burning through all 10 episodes of the second season of Amazon’s remarkable Transparent (dropping Dec. 11) for an upcoming review. As always, there’s just never enough time for all this TV on these new platforms. But Castle aside, which I devoured like a good novel, I tend to find the binge-watching experience more exhausting and enervating than enjoyable, and it rarely makes a show look better. The binge tends to heighten a show’s flaws and repetitive weaknesses—even Castle‘s, and certainly the case with Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix, which after seven previewed episodes I was itching to just jump to the end. I’d have enjoyed that one twice as much at half the length.
I’ve argued before that I’d like to see a model somewhere between Netflix’s and Amazon’s all-episodes-at-once format and Hulu’s weekly rollout of episodes, which echoes the network model. I’d like to see someone try releasing a limited number of episodes (four sounds about right for an hourlong series) to whet the appetite, then release the next batch the following week, and so on until the finale. It’s a serialized model that has worked since the age of Charles Dickens, and I agree that anticipation is one of the things that can make network TV so enjoyable. But we live in a time of instant gratification, where we want what we want when we want it—and that usually means now—so there probably isn’t a chance of putting this genie back in the bottle. The good news is that you can choose to watch these shows however you want, taking your time and savoring a pause of whatever duration between episodes. The only drawback is that you might need to be careful around social media so as not to be spoiled.
Why Hasn’t Fox Capitalized On Empire?
Question: I don’t claim to be an expert on how to run a network, but I had been under the impression that using a big, established hit as a lead-in was a solid strategy for elevating viewership of the show airing after it. Also, it’s clear to me (and everyone else) that Fox is seriously struggling to attract viewers to anything other than Empire. Can you help me understand why on earth Fox hasn’t been airing any original programming in the time slot after Empire this season? Even if it lost more than half of its lead-in, that show would still be pulling in better numbers than anything else on the network. Any idea what Fox is thinking here? — Andrew C
Matt Roush: Kind of hard for Fox to schedule a show after Empire when the network only airs two hours of prime time every weeknight. (And that business model isn’t likely to ever change, in case you were thinking of asking.) Fox might have considered moving Empire to the 8/7c time period to open up a slot after such a self-starter, but it seems more appropriate to be airing this outrageous series at 9/8c. And as it turns out, there’s such a potent halo effect to Empire that it has even lifted the numbers of the mediocrity (Rosewood) that airs in front of it—although Fox was also cunning in promoting Empire-related content in Rosewood‘s commercial breaks. I do think Fox has squandered an opportunity by pairing Empire with such a lightweight as Rosewood, but the real issue here is that Fox has yet to come up with anything on any night as urgent, relevant and entertaining as Empire. So no matter where you program something, it’s the content that really counts.
Should Supergirl Be Flying Higher?
Question: I know it’s a bit soon to be starting the save-my-show talk, but with Supergirl not really pulling in the ratings I’m sure CBS had hoped, what are the chances they’ll move her over to CW to play with Arrow, Flash and the rest of the DC TV Universe? Although CW runs the risk of becoming the DC Network, with even iZombie being a DC Comics imprint in Vertigo Comics. What about testing the Star Trek waters by moving her to CBS All Access? — Steven
Matt Roush: Still early days, but I’d be surprised if CBS doesn’t stick with this one for a while, at least for a full season. It’s not out of the question that Supergirl could eventually migrate to CBS’s smaller, more genre-oriented sister channel if the economics made sense, because it would certainly be compatible not just with the CW’s superhero bent but also with the network’s female skew. (I could settle in for a Supergirl-Jane the Virgin night.) But let’s not jump the gun here. CBS might be content with the younger demos if not the total ratings numbers, especially in today’s climate. And it’s way too soon to suggest leaping straight into the digital waters. I’m still a bit skeptical that the new Star Trek will be content to exist solely in that new frontier.
Question: I’m enjoying Supergirl, but I’m a bit worried that the plot line with Henshaw, the head of the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, is too similar to The Flash and Harrison Wells, especially given the same creative team. I’m wondering your thoughts. – my0402
Matt Roush: A fair observation, but I’d be more worried if Henshaw had been introduced as more of a friendly mentor to Kara the way Wells seemed to be nurturing Barry. This guy’s always been a bit prickly, and Kara and Alex already don’t trust him. So I’m hoping the twists for this character go more of a counterintuitive way. Remains to be seen.
Is It Time to Put Hollow to Sleep?
Question: I was wondering what you thought the chances are that Sleepy Hollow will get another season after this one is over. From what I have read, the ratings are not very good so far. I think putting it on Thursday night wasn’t giving it a good chance since there is so much else on that night. I can’t help but think back to Pushing Daisies with Lee Pace being the same kind of handsome, charming leading man that Tom Mison is, and both being in a somewhat non-traditional series. I know Fox giving Sleepy Hollow this third season was a gift to the fans, but I’m afraid that like Pushing Daisies it may have run its course. Is it too early to tell yet? — JG
Matt Roush: The big difference here is that Pushing Daisies in its second season was hobbled by a writers’ strike from which it couldn’t recover. Always a big risk for ABC, it never got a chance to “run its course,” while I’m not sure the same can be said about Sleepy Hollow, which had a famously rough second season. I’m afraid this show has gotten away from me lately on Thursdays—it’s a tough and overcrowded night, but Fox probably figures it could do worse, and owning the show, they may see some benefit in keeping it around—but I do agree that whatever happens, we’ll always look back fondly on Sleepy for introducing us to Tom Mison. The show’s future probably depends on whether Fox develops something they believe in more strongly for next season, so it may not be until spring that we have a better read on its odds for survival.
Can’t Get No Satisfaction
Question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Have you seen the second season of Satisfaction? Has anyone? In addition to airing it weekly, USA Network has even made the whole season available for streaming. I’ve seen it and thoroughly enjoyed its dedication to the crazy, but it may be all in my head. Maybe there isn’t a second season at all. – Brian
Matt Roush: Thanks for letting me end this pre-Thanksgiving column with a good laugh. I swear, if you’d asked me if this was still airing, let alone currently airing (which you kind of did), I’d have had to look it up. (Which I did, and was shocked to see it’s still in first run, airing in the Friday graveyard.) I don’t remember USA sending any of these episodes out for review—if they did, I missed it in the fall crush—and since I gave up on the show before the first season even ended, I wasn’t inclined to check it out during this busy period. But to say there’s no buzz around it would be kind. I don’t know anyone who’s seen it except you, but glad to hear you were satisfied, even if you feel a bit lonely out on that limb.
That’s all for now, but we’ll pick up the conversation again soon, so keep sharing your thoughts on new and returning series and other TV matters. I can’t do this without your participation, so please send questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Or submit your question via the handy form below.