Ask Matt: Bring Back ‘JAG,’ Renewal Worries (‘Kids,’ Midseason Shows), ‘Modern Family’ and More
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,
A New JAG Would Be a Hit
Question: Regarding the recent concern expressed about whether NCIS would end if Mark Harmon left the show: Don’t forget that NCIS was spun out of the hit military show JAG, which is currently enjoying rerun success on the micro channel Heroes & Icons. It would be easy for producers to duplicate that move again and create another military themed procedural. Better yet, why not just reboot JAG itself, with an all-new cast? The original show was broadcast at the time of the Iraqi war. JAG’s success was due to at-the-time contemporary storytelling, which included a deft mix of action, courtroom drama, humor and well-written character development. The show provided an insightful look at military life, which included a fanatical attention to detail, thanks to an always-on-the-set military advisor (which I learned from a JAG DVD special feature). JAG’S popularity, and positive view of the Armed Forces, actually sparked an increase in military enlistments. In this day and age, I think a JAG reboot that kept true to its roots would be an instant hit. — Maurice
Matt Roush: A couple of points here. CBS already has a new hybrid military/legal drama on the horizon: The Code (starting Tuesday, April 9, before moving to Mondays at 9/8c), which if successful could make a JAG reboot redundant — not that such a thing has ever bothered clone-crazy CBS. And in case you missed the news, the original JAG star, David James Elliott, is reprising his role as Harmon Rabb (now reportedly the XO Captain on the USS Intrepid) in a multi-episode arc of NCIS: Los Angeles. Whether that leads anywhere remains to be seen, but it’s the first such callback since NCIS became its own hit franchise and I imagine this will be very pleasing to longtime fans. All of which is to say that I’d be shocked if rebooting JAG hasn’t crossed CBS’s mind over these many years. It’s how the Eye (network) rolls.
In Favor of NCIS’s Many Cast Changes
Question: I feel sorry for Lily, who wrote you last week because she stopped watching NCIS after certain people left. She is missing out on a very good show and the change has been great. She did not like it when the two divas left, and I on the other hand thought it was great. Wilmer Valderrama and Emily Wickersham have been a great addition to the show. It was sad to see Pauley Perrette leave, but she deserves to follow a different path, and her replacement (Diona Reasonover) is funny and just as quirky as Pauley. But I do agree if Mark Harmon should leave the show then it would be over. My only question would be, when do you think this could happen? I am hoping that the show makes it to 20 years but time will tell. — Mike
Matt Roush: NCIS will be heading into its 17th season in the fall, and I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Mark Harmon decides to hold on until it reaches a milestone season, whether it’s the 20th or the 25th or whatever makes sense to him, the network and the studio. (Although the decision most likely will hinge on the star’s willingness to continue.) Just last week, NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit made history by announcing it was extending to a 21st season, more than any prime-time drama before (although still dwarfed by Gunsmoke’s total 635 episodes — the first few seasons of which were 30 minutes in length, and at a time when many more episodes were produced a season). SVU will likely continue as long as Mariska Hargitay wants it to. These seemingly endless runs are a sign that networks will do anything these days to hold on to shows with established fan bases — even if shrinking — because it’s so hard to create new hits in this fragmented marketplace.
Regarding your defense of NCIS in its present state: I’m glad you’re still on board, and I’ve learned over time that there are as many opinions about a show like NCIS as there are viewers — but the conventional wisdom is that (much like many of us have our Dream Team of original Law & Order characters) NCIS was at its peak in its first decade, when Tony, Ziva and Abby were still in their prime on Team Gibbs. Change is inevitable, and NCIS has weathered it better than most.
Will Kids Be All Right?
Question: I know you’re a fan of ABC’s The Kids Are Alright. I’ve read so many different things about its future. One day I read it’s safe, the next day I read that it’s not going to be picked up for another season. Then I read it’s a sure bet for season two, then it’s on the bubble. I don’t follow ratings. I watch what I like and skip what I don’t. This back-and-forth about the show, though, tells me the ratings aren’t the best. I really don’t understand it. (I’m still confused about why American Housewife isn’t a #1 show.) In your opinion, why isn’t Kids doing better in the ratings? Do you think we’ll see a second season? If ABC doesn’t renew it, is it a show that another network or steaming service could benefit from? I really don’t want to lose this gem. — Mark
Matt Roush: Like you, I don’t obsess on ratings, especially in recent years when viewing patterns have been so disrupted by time-shifting, streaming options and the like. It’s clear when a show is a hit, and sometimes (less frequent anymore) when it’s an instant dud. But most shows, like Kids, live in the uncertain middle, and unless they get early pickups from the network, it’s understandable that fans will fret until they’re actually renewed — at this point in the year, most likely to be known during the Upfronts in May when the new schedules are announced. I could be wrong, but I’m not too worried about Kids, in part because it’s an ABC Studios production and thus worth nurturing by the network. But it’s also a creative triumph, and from what I can tell, holding its own in a competitive time period against a former juggernaut (NCIS) and disadvantaged by not having a hit comedy as its lead-in. However, should the worst case happen and Kids isn’t renewed, I wouldn’t count on a white-knight rescue scenario. With only one season worth of episodes, it may not be worth a streaming service investing in its future — although with Disney’s majority stake in Hulu, you never know. I’m just going to stay hopeful and enjoy the rest of this funny first season.
Question: Is it just me or is this one of the funniest lines ever spoken on TV, from The Kids are Alright, “Wendi’s House,” ep. 16, March 19? Lawrence: “Father, is that cockroach story one of the parables?” Joey: “No, I’m trying to get you to grow a parables.” — Maria
Matt Roush: I’m not always a fan of puns that aim below the belt, but this was clever enough to earn a big laugh. As most of Kids does most weeks.
Bad Vibes for Feel-Good Village
Question: I read your review of NBC’s The Village, and it seems like you compared that show unfavorably to This Is Us — which is not the first show to have a feel-good, warm and fuzzy, family-friendly vibe, since shows like Parenthood, 7th Heaven, The Waltons and Little House On The Prairie basically had the same tone! And shows like This Is Us, The Good Doctor and The Village won’t be the last shows of this feel-good ilk! You also compared The Enemy Within unfavorably to The Blacklist. It’s like all the “Expectations vs. Reality” memes I see on the Internet! Another thing about The Village is the show’s ratings, which are low (though not at disastrous levels like ratings for other shows at 10/9c on other networks). It seems that The Village lost half of its retention from This Is Us in its first two episodes. What were NBC’s expectations for The Village ratings-wise? Did the network expect the ratings to be higher than they were?
I noticed that other broadcast network dramas like Whiskey Cavalier and The Rookie (both on ABC) are fractional like The Village, but ratings always tend to be lower for all the shows on broadcast networks during midseason. Will time-shifted viewing numbers be the saving grace for these 10 p.m. shows, or is it too little too late? I know that it’s still early days for The Village (which will move an hour earlier the This Is Us timeslot when TIU wraps its third season), but all I see in the comments section of some websites that solely report on TV ratings is that the show is DOA, which may unfortunately be right! — Chris
Matt Roush: There may be such a thing as obsessing too much on ratings, or (more obviously) on internet comments. But to your point on what a show like The Village — or This Is Us — represents, which is of more interest to me, of course these shows didn’t invent the feel-good-by-feeling-bad tearjerker. The issue is which shows do it well — I would put This Is Us and Good Doctor on that short list — and by that measure, I find The Village lacking in originality or authenticity (or, This Is Us’s hallmark, surprise). The reason I felt comfortable comparing Village to This Is Us, or The Enemy Within to Blacklist, in my mini-reviews is because it’s so obvious that NBC was hoping to have lightning strike twice with both shows. They only exist because the network is looking to capitalize on what worked before, and as is usually the case, the copycat doesn’t feel as fresh or inspired as the original.
I can’t pretend to understand the metrics anymore that guide a network’s decisions on which shows to keep and which to cancel, but the test for The Village will be when it moves to the earlier time period and will need to stand on its own. Having lost so much of the This Is Us lead-in audience already isn’t a good sign.
Shows in Midseason Limbo
Question: Are there any updates on whether Fox’s The Passage or ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier will be renewed for Season 2? — Sami
Matt Roush: Nothing official, and there may not be until May’s Upfront announcements. (A constant refrain this time of year.) Both shows are on brand for their respective networks, so while both are “on the bubble” — Whiskey at possibly more of a disadvantage because it comes from Warner Bros., thus not an in-house production — I wouldn’t count either of them altogether out.
Feeling a Modern Malaise
Question: I have a question about the writing on Modern Family. When the show first started, it seemed fresh and different, but the same miscommunication jokes that made it seem fresh in the beginning have now grown stale, and I’m puzzled as to why the writers haven’t tried to take the show in a new direction. Why continue to stick to the same approach that has clearly gone stale? I like the characters and think the show still has some life in it if they just changed the writing style. I still watch, but most of it has become a bit of a groan because it seems like they’re holding on to the past instead of embracing change and something new. (P.S. I’m not saying they should jump the shark with crazy storylines, just change up the writing style. I’d love to see a whole episode with no miscommunication jokes. Ugh!) — GC
Matt Roush: Unlike The Middle, which started the same year as Modern Family but never enjoyed as much acclaim or attention (except by certain critics), Modern Family has been trapped to some extent by its more innovative formula: the “mockumentary” approach of asides to the camera that once felt so new but now just seems tired, and the farcical construct of so many episodes (the “miscommunication” aspect you describe) that is almost impossible to pull off consistently over the very long run. As is often the case on TV, it’s a victim of its own success, and I suppose if the writers changed things up too much, it wouldn’t feel like the same show. Which might not be the worst way to go out next year.
And Finally …
Question: What happened to Hallmark’s When Calls the Heart, is it still on? It has not been on for the last couple of weeks, though it’s listed in the TVGuide, but doesn’t air. — Donna
Matt Roush: We’ve addressed this issue before, but I keep getting asked about it several times every week, so here’s the bottom line: Hallmark has severed its relationship with Heart series star Lori Loughlin in the wake of the college admissions scandal, and pulled the show from the schedule while they rework the series going forward. When Calls the Heart is not canceled and will return to the schedule, no date announced yet. Loughlin’s other projects for Hallmark, including the Garage Sale Mysteries movies, are also in limbo, unlikely to be seen again.
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.