Ask Matt: The New ‘Jeopardy!’ Champ, ‘Fosse/Verdon,’ Saying Goodbye to ‘Santa Clarita’ and ‘Preacher,’ 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 theform at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter. Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays and Fridays.
Winning Big for $20,000, Alex!
Question: We are fascinated by the continued success of James Holzhauer on Jeopardy! His speed, his broad knowledge, his aggressive and fearless wagering setting new records in a way we haven’t seen since Ken Jennings. I’ve heard rumblings in the press and social media that he’s ruining the game for some, or even that his dominance is somehow boring, but I don’t see it. Do you think his approach will change the way Jeopardy! is played going forward, and is that a bad thing for my favorite quiz show? — Dana
Matt Roush: For Jeopardy! to become a national obsession again in its 35th season is remarkable, and so is the game play of the current champion. Just about everyone I know (including my mom, who watches precious little TV anymore) is talking about him, almost always admiringly. His bold approach to working the board from the bottom in the first round, amassing a bank his opponents can rarely keep pace with — and then going all in on Daily Doubles — is riveting. The opposite of boring, in fact. Will this change the way the game is played going forward? It’s possible, although when things get back to “normal” once James’ run is over — and one of these nights he’ll make a big wager, get stumped and not be able to recover — we’ll likely learn that very few can successfully adopt James’ strategy. There will always be players who try to shake things up, but there are just as many who revere the game played traditionally. I’m just glad Jeopardy! has become must-see-TV again, not that it has ever been anything else but that for me.
(A note: I’ve been ducking questions speculating about any replacement or substitute for Alex Trebek should that become an issue as he continues treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I’d rather accentuate the positive that he’s carrying on for now, and was able to complete taping for the current season. Let’s all wish him the very best.)
Bravo for Fosse/Verdon!
Question: I just want to comment on one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in years. I am absolutely blown away by FX’s Fosse/Verdon! Sam Rockwell is one of the best actors of his generation, and he is fabulous as Bob Fosse (especially impressed by his dancing). And Michelle Williams is spectacular as Gwen Verdon. Sometimes I think I’m actually watching Sam Rockwell interact directly with Gwen Verdon. Williams has totally captured her look and her voice. What’s your opinion now that we’re a few shows in? Also, are others watching, or is this going to be another example of an excellent show that no one sees until it shows up on Netflix? — Sharon
Matt Roush: This series, which I love as well (see my review), is pretty much the definition of niche programming — if you’re into the subject matter, you’re likely to swoon; otherwise, maybe not so much. But the commitment of the actors and producers to tell this story‑especially giving Gwen Verdon her due in her creative partnership with the driven-by-demons Fosse — is something to behold. As someone who was obsessed by Fosse’s movie All That Jazz (which this often echoes) and whose first Broadway musical I saw live was the original Chicago (with Verdon), I look at Fosse/Verdon and think: Was this made just for me? It’s possible it will have a more fruitful life on a streaming platform, because the ratings as far as I can tell are pretty puny, but kudos to FX for taking a swing on such a fascinating show-biz story and for executing it with such passion. I also agree about Michelle Williams, who is killing it as Verdon. I’ll end with a plug for next week’s (May 7) episode, which plays like a one-act drama during an eventful weekend in the Hamptons and is, so far, the dramatic high point of the series. Which is saying something.
End of the Road for Netflix Series
Question: Netflix has their research saying it doesn’t profit them to go past three seasons unless it’s one of their mega-hits, seen again with Santa Clarita Diet. How long before that thinking comes back to bite them, when viewers continually find series they love, only to have them almost all end abruptly. They know they’re most likely not going to renew a show, why not at least film series finales instead of constant cliffhangers or new directions that will never be resolved. — Unsigned
Matt Roush: Typically, when anyone has ever asked me about filming wrap-up episodes for canceled series, it’s usually regarding broadcast network (or sometimes cable) shows, and my answer is nearly always the same, that it’s logistically and financially unfeasible for a show to go back into production for one last episode to tie up loose ends, if that’s even possible. I’ve read some of these reports about the mysterious algebra Netflix uses to determine how long to keep an original show going, and if they’re true, then it really does behoove the creators working for Netflix, and their own programmers, to begin facing this situation head-on. If there was even a remote possibility going in to the third season that a show as twisty as Santa Clarita Diet wasn’t going to be extended, then it should never have engineered another cliffhanger — or, as suggested, that some alternate scene could have been written or produced to give fans some sense of closure.
When Netflix pulled the plug on Sense8 after two seasons, there was enough outcry that a special series finale was produced. That’s likely to be the exception, and I don’t imagine Santa Clarita has enough cultural clout to force Netflix’s hand. It is a shame, though, that a network pouring so many resources and money into a staggering (some might say ridiculous) number of series can’t figure out a way to conclude something this original in a more satisfying manner.
Amen to Preacher
Question: The upcoming season of Preacher is supposed to be the last. This is a shocking development, since AMC is known for canceling series abruptly after a cliffhanger has already been filmed or aired. Is it known if Preacher took advantage of this advanced notice or can we expect another reason to be mad at AMC? — Martin
Matt Roush: You can be mad at AMC for ending Preacher’s run after four seasons, but it’s almost always a good thing when the end game is announced well in advance. Can’t say for sure, but given that executive producer Seth Rogen made the announcement earlier this month, I’d have to think they knew this was coming with enough time to fashion an ending of some sort that won’t just leave us hanging. Let’s hope so, anyway.
New Notes in The Voice Formula
Question: I am a huge fan of NBC’s The Voice. I love everything about the show, especially how refreshing the coaches’ take is while nurturing new talent. However, I was a bit bored of the same formula seasons after season; the thing is that no matter how good reality TV is (and The Voice is great!) it tends to get old and repetitive with time — now being on Season 16, I believe The Voice’s appeal was wearing off. I was almost going to give up altogether until I watched the Cross Battles! This new twist adds some new excitement to the competition and brings a much-added element of surprise. Suffice to say that I am hooked all over again. I just wanted to ask you about your impressions on this new spin NBC has introduced, and if you think The Voice has any gas left? Maybe one cycle per year could be beneficial, leaving the audience with a bigger gap between seasons. — David
Matt Roush: On your last point, I’m a proponent of the “less is more” school of reality programming, especially in this genre, and should NBC see enough slippage that taking The Voice to once a season be its lifeline for future longevity — maybe airing it during American Idol‘s off-season? — I’d be on board. It’s also a good idea for these shows to find ways to shake up the formula, and the Cross Battles is as good as any, although I tend to lose interest in The Voice once the Blind Auditions are over and the teams are formed. There’s just not enough actual judgment going on, and for whatever reason, the team format tends to work against individual singers emerging as future superstars the way Idol achieved in its prime.
Crunch Time for Network Series
Question: As I look at TV Guide Magazine‘s list (in the April 29 issue) of TV shows already renewed versus those where the jury is out, I wonder how much thought is given to the social value of the lineup or whether ratings are the sole determination. The original Star Trek series did not have good ratings at first, but went on to become an empire of spinoffs. As I look at The Rookie on the “Jury’s Out” list, I feel like a worthwhile and realistic program that may better help the public understand the trials of police officers may be lost. Every season, fans of canceled shows are disappointed. Quality programs don’t seem to get long enough trial runs. With so many different channels to choose from, networks would probably be wise to hold on longer to enable the audience base to build. Do you agree, or do you think networks have developed an excellent method to determine what stays and what goes? — Bruce, Modesto, CA
Matt Roush: The ratings system is obviously imperfect, but the determinations of which “bubble” shows to renew or cancel are made by weighing many factors, though I’m afraid “social value” is probably rather low on the list. (And remember that Star Trek didn’t really take off, or certainly spin off, until well after it became a success in syndication.) Networks try to gauge whether a show has potential to grow, whether there’s something new in the pipeline that might do better in the time period than what’s already there, and on occasion might even take into consideration elements like quality and critical acclaim.
And while it’s easy and natural to complain about the networks’ cancellation tendencies, it seems to me that in recent years, especially after the disruption of streaming services and the measuring of delayed viewing came into play, that networks aren’t pulling the trigger nearly as quickly as they used to. Whether The Rookie returns or not, it got a full season to tell its story, without being moved around the schedule, even after it failed to pop the way ABC hoped and expected any Nathan Fillion series to do. Personally, given ABC’s longstanding problems with that Tuesday time period, I think they’d be nuts not to nurture this one at least one season longer. But, as we noted, the jury’s out — and we probably won’t know for sure until around the time of ABC’s May 14 Upfront announcements.
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.