Ask Matt: 'One Day,' Shorter Seasons ('Manifest,' 'Million Little Things'), 'AGT,' 'Amazing Race'
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 Is (or Is) No One Watching One Day?
Question: I am surprised that no one watches One Day at a Time. It's pretty bad that the cast and writers/producers have to beg for people to watch every season, you'd think with the constant fuss over diversity those same people would watch it. I mean, it's got Rita Moreno for God's sake! But anyway, could it be because of the multi-camera format? Because look at Mom or The Big Bang Theory. Or is it because instead of the live audience with laughs that are natural, when I checked it out, it sounds like canned laughter. Which is a huge turn-off today. It's not like shows like The Andy Griffith Show or M*A*S*H or Leave It to Beaver or The Munsters or Hogan's Heroes, Green Acres, etc. where it works. Today it just seems obnoxious. — Ryan
Matt Roush: Given that Netflix doesn’t release viewer data, I’m not sure it’s known just how many watch One Day at a Time—but the combination of critical acclaim and its social relevance and inclusiveness (and the Rita Moreno of it all) help boost its media profile, so I’m hoping it continues a while longer. As for the live audience/“laugh track” debate, I’m over it. When you say, “look at Mom and Big Bang,” what am I supposed to be looking at? Both are enormous successes, and while many do say they find audience laughter (obviously souped-up in some cases) a turn-off, these tend to be among TV’s most popular series, and it’s curious that your examples from TV’s golden age of sitcoms are all single-camera comedies with actual “laugh tracks” added, because they were not performed in front of a live audience. I grew up with these shows and accept them for what they are—although M*A*S*H being a hybrid dramedy is maybe the most unsettling with its canned laughter—but saying what works and what doesn’t then and now is obviously a matter of taste.
If One Day at a Time does struggle for viewership, it may be because some may believe it’s too message-oriented and won’t be funny. The opposite is true. It’s one of the warmest, most enjoyable shows anywhere—cornball at times, in the best and most traditional ways, but also meaningful. (And stick with Season 3. It gets better as it goes.)
Why So Many Short Seasons?
Question: Criminal Minds ends the first week of February. Manifest only has a few episodes left. A Million Little Things has only a couple of little shows remaining. The Good Place is gone until next year. The Orville only produces a limited number of hours, as does The Connors. And This Is Us is already hinting about its finale. I get that shows are really expensive to produce and they’re making fewer episodes of them. But I can’t recall a time when series were wrapping this soon, some as early as February, traditionally a sweeps month. Whatever happened to an actual TV Season? — Aaron F
Matt Roush: There’s still a “traditional” network TV season from September to May, but only a handful of shows—mostly procedurals and sitcoms—hew to it anymore. What you’re seeing play out is a combination of factors: fewer episodes to be sure (shows like This Is Us and Good Doctor averaging 18 instead of the traditional mid-20s), but also generally airing fewer repeats, which brings their seasons to a close even sooner. (Million signs off the last week of February, Doctor is done in mid-March, and This Is Us closes shop the first week of April.) Some producers purposefully choose to make fewer episodes per season, opting for quality over quantity, though when a show like Criminal Minds is limited to 15, that’s almost certainly an economic decision as that series nears its finish line.
In the bigger picture, the networks talk about being in the year-round programming business, which means staggering premieres throughout the year and even into summer to keep their lineups somewhat fresh even in off months. It makes for some confusion and frustration from those who yearn for the old days, but that system is fading fast as viewing habits continue to evolve.
Who’s Voting for Champions?
Question: What's your take on the America's Got Talent: The Champions show? As someone who lived in England and likes Britain's Got Talent (even more so than AGT actually), I was excited to see some of my favorite acts. But the show lost me at this "super fans" voting. What on Earth?!?!? No live voting? Fifty random people from across the country we never know anything about get to choose who wins? I'm assuming there's a business reason behind this somewhere—challenges with scheduling the "champions" season between the regular seasons, perhaps? I don't know. But from a viewer standpoint, it's a big disappointment and a wasted opportunity. — Kirsten
Matt Roush: My understanding is that because the entire season was pre-taped, they enlisted a shadow group of “super fans” to decide the winners. While I applaud opening the field to a global array of Talent winners, the fact that it was all canned (and not allowing the TV audience to weigh in) made the entire exercise less interesting to me. Plus: talent show fatigue. I passed.
Will Race Become a Summer Staple?
Question: Regarding the recent discussion of CBS' reality programming, you noted The Amazing Race is finally being slated to begin in late May. While the era of two versions of the show each year seems to be over for good, I'm wondering if starting the new season at such a date is a tryout to see if it could join the list of annual "summer series" on the network. That's when the likes of Survivor and American Idol got their starts, after all, and it's not as if CBS's attempts at summertime drama series have been especially successful (just as last summer’s Salvation looked as if it might be about to get interesting, the network canceled it, giving viewers another reason to never get invested in such shows).
Of course, if CBS once again doubles up episodes of Race as it did last year—half the season consisted of two-hour blocks on a single night—in order to get it off the air as quickly as possible, there'd be less opportunity and/or reason for people to come to expect such familiar programming over the course of the entire summer since it'll be gone again almost as soon as it'd returned, and that'd be a shame. Oh, and just to give a programming note to recent Ask Matt contributor/reality show hater Marilyn, it should be noted that the new Amazing Race cast will be made up entirely of people from other CBS reality shows, so I'm sure she'll want to make a note to tune in—or not, I'm guessing. – Todd S
Matt Roush: Gotta say, loading up a new season of Amazing Race with reality-show veterans doesn’t make me all that eager to watch, either. But I probably will, because it’s been too long. (When CBS chose to counterprogram the most recent season of Race opposite the Winter Olympics last year, I missed most of the last running.) I’m sorry the network has so marginalized this terrific series outside of the regular season, but you may be right that turning it into a summer staple could be its salvation. And let’s hope they don’t double up episodes this time. That’s too much of a good thing.
In Defense of Rent
Question: Must the readers of your column refer to Rent on Fox as a "colossal ratings flop"? In the 18-49 demographic that the networks primarily use to measure success, it won every half hour of its three-hour broadcast, was the #1 show of the night across all of broadcast or cable TV, and placed #9 out of over 100 broadcasts that week. Maybe "disappointing" given other TV musicals, but this viewer did not find seeing Jonathan Larson's triumph for the first time in over 10 years the least bit disappointing. — Rob R
Matt Roush: Maybe “dud” would have been more a judicious description, but however you parse the numbers, averaging under 4 million viewers for what was billed as “event TV” has to be seen as disappointing. This Rent had its moments, as I noted in my otherwise mixed review, and it was an ambitious choice of material—and while it’s unfortunate it wasn’t able to be performed live for the actual TV audience, I’ll give it this: I enjoyed it more than the film version.
Question: It’s more of a comment than a question, but on the Feb. 7 episode of Will & Grace, I was concerned that the ambulance never came to their apartment! It was for sure a funny scene, but I was just wondering during the entire sequence why the medics never arrived in what was probably at least a decent amount of time! — AC
Matt Roush: It might have been a nice button on the scene, to have first responders show up for a very live “corpse,” but this thought never occurred to me—a sign the gags were working.
Question: With the episodes of The Rookie and New Amsterdam that were pre-empted by the on/off/on again State of the Union, when will we get the episodes that were to air Feb. 5? This coming week (Feb 12) are not the ones that were listed for the episodes we missed. — Natalie
Matt Roush: According to my files, the originally scheduled episode of The Rookie (“Caught Stealing”) will now air Feb. 19, and because New Amsterdam is more serialized, the New Amsterdam episode that would have aired Feb. 5 (“The Blues”) was pushed back to Feb. 12 and aired this week. You haven’t missed anything.
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.