Ask Matt: Did ‘Rent’ Kill ‘Hair’? Plus: Reality Pros & Cons, Super Bowl, Sweeps Repeats

NBC; Getty Images
Rent on Fox; the Broadway cast of Hair

Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic (also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist”) Matt Roush, who’ll try to 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.

Why Did NBC Pull Hair?

Question: I was disappointed to learn that NBC had shelved its planned live production of the iconic musical Hair for May and will now go back to doing mostly mainstream “wide appeal” (code for “family-friendly”) musicals. Do you think the colossal ratings flop of Fox’s botched Rent production was the deciding factor in NBC getting cold feet? And do you think this may be the beginning of the end of such events? — Isabella

Matt Roush: It sure didn’t help that Rent flopped so publicly (and not just because of the cast injury, it would likely have been a mess anyway; see my review). The official line is that NBC balked when it realized its original May date clashed with the Game of Thrones and American Idol finales—anyone would be crazy to go up against the Thrones finale with an expensive production, that’s for sure. Of course dates can be changed, so the reasons for scrapping Hair are likely manifold: the counter-culture subject matter, including language and nudity (shocking for 1968, not so much now), may have scared them off, although the success of Jesus Christ Superstar last year suggests that concert versions of pop-rock musicals could work, especially if you cast with big-name stars like John Legend. (Rent was notably star-free.) A change in leadership at NBC, and the sudden death of one of the lead producers of NBC’s musicals (the late, great Craig Zadan) could also be contributing factors.

The network insists it is pursuing more iconic titles for future productions, so for now I’ll believe that the live TV musical isn’t dead, merely wounded. (That said, I’ll be surprised if Fox stays in the game.) But they’ll probably be fewer and farther between, at least for the near future.

In Defense (or Not) of Reality TV

Question: This isn’t a question but more of a statement. I just read the recent questions/comments about Big Brother and Celebrity Big Brother. I would like to make it clear that not everyone who watches Big Brother and other reality TV shows like myself are mindless morons, as one of your readers expressed in their opinion. I love reality TV, but also watch regular programs and enjoy them just as much. Everyone has their own taste and opinion on what they watch. That’s what makes TV great—there is something for everyone. Here is a thought: If you don’t like what is on, change the channel. That is what a remote control is for. Thanks, Matt, for letting me express my opinion. I always enjoy reading your articles. — Terri

Matt Roush: You’re welcome. In this forum especially, it’s important to keep in mind that TV is many things to many people, and we all watch differently. (If I only answered questions about shows I personally enjoyed, I’d be down to a monthly column.) That said, even I have trouble understanding Big Brother and its offshoots as anything but the guiltiest of pleasures. (Don’t get me started on the Real Housewives and other faux-“real-life” franchises that make celebrities out of exhibitionists, and dating shows like The Bachelor make my skin crawl, although I acknowledge their popularity.) I figure the reason this has become an issue right now is that CBS dropped the new Big Brother series into the midseason, pre-empting its regular schedule in an unusually disruptive fashion.

And this from Marilyn, who made the “morons” comment in the recent Ask Matt column, and added in a separate e-mail: “Another question: Why do we have to put up with the other stupid reality shows anyway? The other two I absolutely hate are Survivor and The Amazing Race. Put them on other channels besides CBS!”

Now here’s where I draw the line (while wondering if CBS is the only network Marilyn has access to). The reality of TV is that reality TV is an essential component, economic and otherwise, of any major entertainment network. No network can afford to produce an entire schedule of scripted entertainment anymore, and Survivor and especially the multiple-Emmy-winning The Amazing Race (which, sadly, has become marginalized on the network, not returning this year until late May) are among the best-produced class acts of the genre. Race can even be educational in its depiction of other cultures—though let’s not get carried away, it’s basically an elaborate team sport as travelogue. Shows like Survivor and Race create balance on the network’s lineup, broaden CBS’s demographic appeal—and, as Terri notes, millions of people actually like watching this sort of TV.

Too Much of a Best Thing?

Question: Do we really need another “talent show” like CBS’s The World’s Best? I can see why more and more people are turning to streaming. Ciao. — Marisa

Matt Roush: The answer, obviously, is no. But I was slightly amused that NBC attempted to preemptively upstage this new global extravaganza by staging a similarly themed America’s Got Talent: The Champions season this winter. And as expected, the ratings for World’s Best deflated in its two-hour (!) Wednesday premiere following the post-Super Bowl launch.

Kids Fudged Facts in Vietnam Episode

Question: My husband and I like The Kids Are Alright, but this week when they had the wrong information about how the draft lottery worked for the Vietnam War, we were disappointed that the facts were muddled up. We “Baby Boomers” knew all too well how they worked, and it was upsetting that yet another fact of our history was not told properly. All they had to do was look on the Internet to get the facts and rules of the times, but instead they chose to mix up all the facts for TV. Shameful! — Cheryl from Atlanta Area

Matt Roush: I get where you’re coming from—and as someone who was closer to Timmy’s age (the would-be magician) when all of that was happening in the early 1970s, I wish you’d elaborated in just what they got wrong, because I have no real memory of those TV lotteries. (They didn’t apply to anyone in my immediate household.) But to the bigger picture of a series like this getting the details right in recapturing a long-ago time, of course you have a point, though I’d give the writers some creative license. And to some extent, because we’re seeing this from Timmy’s POV as an adult, this could be his memory of how it played out—and as we saw, he was more focused on his magic act than on the fate of his older brothers. As I pointed out earlier this week, I thought the episode was terrific in its emotional dynamics, as the parents wrestled (sometimes comically, sometimes honestly) with the idea of their oldest boys going off to war. I don’t expect shows like Kids to be a documentary, but it’s too bad if the way they presented the lottery lessened your enjoyment.

Did Tony Ruin the Game?

Question: I do enjoy watching football games, but this year with Tony Romo doing whatever you call it. he drives me crazy. I will say that he just about ruined the Super Bowl for me. Enough is enough of his constant comments or whatever. There must be more fans that think as I do. Thanks so much for letting me vent. — Carole

Matt Roush: I don’t write much about (or cover) sports on TV, so the Super Bowl was my first extended exposure to Tony Romo’s commentary. And while I’m sure there are others who agree with you—I grew up with Howard Cosell, and understand how polarizing these personalities can be—to me he helped make palatable a snoozer of what felt like an endless night. I appreciated his humor and irreverence, and his attempts to enliven a frustratingly sluggish game.

Sweeps Have Been Swept Away

Question: I find it baffling that ABC would air comedy reruns on the first Wednesday in February, which was always considered a sweeps month. I realize sweeps isn’t as important these days, but reruns of hit comedies don’t make much sense to me. I fondly remember the years when networks would air special big episodes of shows, high-budget miniseries and theatrical movies during the months of November, February and May. Those days are sadly long gone. — Fred

Matt Roush: The obsolescence of the classic “sweeps months” (when networks traditionally would front-load the schedule with original episodes and stunts to boost ratings for the sake of local affiliates’ ad rates) is especially notable this month—except on Sundays, when the Super Bowl, Grammys and Oscars dominate three of the four weekends. ABC’s all-rerun Wednesday was startling, and The CW pretty much goes dark all of next week. This just reinforces that the old metrics of viewer measurement aren’t as critical as they once were. But what has been lost with the disappearance of those epic miniseries and other sweeps events is harder to calculate. TV itself feels less special in a February like this.

Lightning Round

Question: Is The Passage only on for a couple of months? I really like it. Or is it going to be scrapped like almost everything I like? — Louise

Matt Roush: The Passage is a midseason replacement, getting a tryout in hopes of returning next season, with a limited first season that will end in mid-March (making room for the return of 9-1-1). It’s still too early to predict renewal, but as readers of the Passage trilogy know, there’s a lot more story to tell, so stay hopeful.

Question: For three weeks, we have missed our favorite show, NCIS, on Tuesday evenings. Why?? — Vera

Matt Roush: It’s that time of year when the network is either in repeat mode or, in the case of CBS, stunting with special programming. Working backward: this week, CBS would not have an aired an original episode in front of the rescheduled State of the Union anyway, so chose to replay Sunday’s World’s Best premiere. The week before, it was the annual Super Bowl commercial retrospective special, and the week before that, the aforementioned Celebrity Big Brother was getting a weeklong push (again, replacing what would likely have been a January repeat). The good news: NCIS is back on the lineup with new episodes starting next Tuesday. And the network should have its head examined for disrupting its most popular show for so long.

Question: What has happened to my favorite Wednesday TV series, SEAL Team with David Boreanez? – Bob

Matt Roush: Another victim of CBS’s midseason madness. Pre-empted this week by a two-hour episode of World’s Best, and next Wednesday by the (blessed) finale of Celebrity Big Brother, the SEALs will be displaced by World’s Best until the military drama returns in its new time period, replacing Criminal Minds at 10/9c, currently scheduled to start on March 13. (Yet another reality competition series, Million Dollar Mile, will take over for World’s Best on Wednesdays at 9/8c in March.)

Question: Will Marvel’s Runaways be coming back for a third season? — Nana

Matt Roush: Hulu hasn’t announced a renewal (or cancellation) yet. I’d expect the former, just can’t say when.

That’s all for now. 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. Please include a first name with your question.