Ask Matt: ‘Roseanne’ and ‘The Middle,’ ‘SVU’ Melodrama, Globes, Fox post-Disney, and More

Sara Gilbert, Roseanne Barr and John Goodman in Roseanne.

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. Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays and Fridays.


Will Roseanne Upstage The Middle?

Question: When ABC announced that the Roseanne revival will bump The Middle a half-hour later to 8:30/7:30c starting in April, I’ve seen that some people were upset that The Middle is being moved to the later time period. I don’t really get that argument. The Middle has demonstrated in its earlier moves (first from 8:30 on Wednesdays to 8, then from Wednesday to Tuesday) that its fans will find it wherever it goes. Bumping it back by half an hour doesn’t take it outside of early primetime family-viewing time, and, by pairing it with Roseanne, it is going to get a buzzy lead-in from a likely very popular returning show, which will actually shine a spotlight on The Middle as it heads into its final episodes. I didn’t watch Roseanne during its original run and probably won’t watch now either, but I really don’t see a downside to this move, do you? — Jake

Matt Roush: The only downside I could see is if Roseanne steals The Middle’s thunder to a degree that Middle’s departure at season’s end would be overshadowed by the comeback. I agree that the promotional boost Roseanne is getting could elevate Middle’s profile and maybe even bump the ratings a bit. On a thematic level, it’s even more appropriate, because I’ve long felt The Middle was the true inheritor of Roseanne’s legacy of depicting people from the part of the country too often ignored by network TV: middle-America, mid-to-lower income, struggling to get by without losing their sense of humor and affection. Maybe because The Middle was never a Top 10 hit or an awards darling (no matter how hard I lobbied for it), and was never dogged by controversy, it never developed the meta self-consciousness that tarnished the latter years of Roseanne and has me a wee bit worried about the new version. I’m hoping the new/old Roseanne lives up to its reputation in the manner of NBC’s Will & Grace reunion, and if that’s the case, that will only be to the benefit of The Middle in its glorious final season.


Too Much Olivia Trauma on SVU?

Question: I have watched every episode of Law and Order: SVU, but I’ve found the last season and a half almost unwatchable. I’m getting really sick of the Olivia drama. Did the show forget that they have other characters? So far, Olivia has been kidnapped and tortured by a psychopath, forced to listen while a minor was raped in the next room, investigated for child abuse, nearly lost her son to his biological family, and now her son was kidnapped (I’m sure there’s more that I’m forgetting). It’s getting pretty ridiculous. They seem to start and abandon storylines for the other characters (wasn’t ADA Barba being targeted by the Cartel?). Do you think this show is going to find its way again, or is it going to continue to be the Olivia’s-terrible-life show? — Unsigned

Matt Roush: At least she got her kid back last week, so it’s not all bad news. The way I look at SVU these days, and have ever since Christopher Meloni left the show, is that it’s a star vehicle for Mariska Hargitay, with occasional subplots for those in her squad. I don’t see that changing, although it will be a relief if they just let her do her job for a while without all that suffering. (Although with those allegations of abuse still hanging over her …)


A Global Disparity?

Question: I was sorry to see that Feud: Bette and Joan did not win any awards yet again at the Globes, but maybe there is hope with the other upcoming award shows. However, my question is about Sterling K. Brown’s win in the leading male category (which he totally deserves), but his castmate and TV sibling Chrissy Metz was nominated in the supporting actress category. Why was she not in the leading category? Do they submit to the category based on the chances of winning, and who makes the decision of which category? — Samantha

Matt Roush: If it’s anything like the Emmys, the decision of what category to submit oneself in is up to the individual or his or her representatives, often in consultation with the show, studio and/or network. With a sizable ensemble cast like This Is Us, it’s a pretty fuzzy distinction as to who is lead and who is supporting. It’s even more complicated at the Globes, because of the catch-all nature of the supporting acting categories, which lump together performers from episodic comedies, dramas and limited series/TV-movies. Can’t blame him from steering clear of that mess. Brown was submitted as a lead actor for the Emmys as well, and it paid off there, too, so you can’t fault his strategy—and I’m more focused on the historic nature of his win rather than the logistics of the nominating process. And while there’s an argument to be made for either category, Randall’s storyline with his biological father William in the first season (which aired during the eligibility period) was substantial enough to qualify. At present, it appears that the only other actors from this cast that submit as leads are Randall’s adoptive parents, played by Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia.


The Future of Fox

Question: From what you can tell about Disney buying the Fox studios and the Murdochs saying that the new Fox network will be a mixture of news and sports programming, what will this mean for scripted programming on the network? Will this mean the network would almost be like My Network TV and not a legitimate broadcast network? — Derrick C, Van Nuys, CA

Matt Roush: This is a bit beyond my pay grade, and there are so many variables involved—including the deal being approved in the first place (though it probably will be)—that it’s hard to say how things will play out. The early reporting that the Fox network would shift to a menu of sports, reality and news at the exclusion of scripted programming was probably overstated, and much of that speculation was walked back during the recent TCA sessions. (“Business as usual” was said so often by Fox execs it became something of a meme.) The impact of this deal won’t be felt for at least a year or more, and even then, pre-existing Fox shows will continue airing on the network as long as they’re viable. Looking way down the line, once the studio is separated from the network it’s possible Fox won’t take as many big swings as it did during the glory days of The X-Files, 24, Malcolm in the Middle and Glee (to name just a few standouts). But just like I try not to prejudge shows before I see them, I wouldn’t want to forecast Fox’s fate until the outlook becomes clearer.


Life Is But a Stream

Question: I really enjoy your most enjoyable and informative column to which I look forward each week. Most particularly, I appreciate your ability to succinctly, efficiently and clearly answer complicated questions. So here’s one for you: What are the chances that series which appear on Amazon, Netflix, etc. (non-traditional viewing) will at some point be broadcast on traditional TV, i.e., networks and cable channels, and if that’s in the cards, what do you see as the time frame? I know this is a broad, general question, and I will not hold you to your answer inasmuch as I think, at this point, at least, it’s anybody’s guess. What say you? — Reese

Matt Roush: Thank you for those nice words, but I’m in the “anyone’s guess” camp on this one. My general answer when this subject comes up is that these streaming services invest in original programming that is exclusive to their subscribers and likely to remain that way, because that’s the lure to get people to sign up. Some of these shows are released on DVD if it’s seen as a profitable enough second revenue stream, though even that isn’t a given. But with the example of a show like Sex and the City eventually entering the syndication market, I’d never say never. I just wouldn’t hold your breath.

[Addendum: After posting this, there was a report in Variety that the distributor of Netflix’s animated hit Bojack Horseman is shopping the show to cable outlets for possible syndication. The same story reported that Sony had been testing the waters earlier for House of Cards, but no takers yet. Both were early hits for the streaming service, which reportedly now buys out the syndication window of its newer original properties, suggesting they won’t be put on the market anytime soon.)


Seinfeld’s Off-Season Start

Question: On Page 26 of the current issue of TV Guide Magazine, there is a feature touting “The Best Midseason Shows Ever.” If I am not mistaken, Seinfeld (not on the list) was initially a summer show with just a few episodes. Am I correct? — Chuck

Matt Roush: Yes, and that’s why we didn’t include it in that list. The first episode (then titled The Seinfeld Chronicles) aired in July 1989, and a four-episode season followed in 1990 from May 31 into June. This is officially the network off season, not the mid season, at least that’s the reasoning in deciding what made that list. Although it’s also true that the first full (12-episode) season of Seinfeld followed a more traditional midseason pattern, premiering in January of 1991 like so many midseason shows are now doing.


Remembering a Loner

Question: Inasmuch as a good Western is hard to find on TV, I have often wandered why after only one episode Lone Star was yanked off the airways a few years ago. Is there any chance it will ever be revived? — Eldridge, Atlanta

Matt Roush: In a word, no. This is one of TV’s more notorious insta-flops. And to be precise, two episodes aired before Fox yanked Lone Star in the fall of 2010. And I wouldn’t really classify this as a Western, despite its title. It was more of a contemporary drama with a Texas setting. And its problem wasn’t that it was a Western, but that its protagonist (introducing James Wolk, who went on to bigger things, most recently Zoo) was a two-timer living a double life. I remember studio and network types being worried in the build-up to the premiere that the audience would reject the premise, though the show was very well done. Turns out they were right.


That’s all for now. 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.