Ask Matt: ‘Kids’ Cancellation, ‘Madam Secretary’ Endgame, Constance Goes Woo-Woo, ‘Hawaiian’ Crossover and More

Jeff Neumann/CBS

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 Friday.

No Kidding: This Cancellation Isn’t Alright

Question: Please, can you help me understand why ABC let The Kids Are Alright go? The show had better ratings than several shows that ABC kept, and better 18-49 demos than at least six of the shows ABC renewed! Kids had such wonderful reviews and already a Writer’s Guild nomination. WHY would ABC choose the other shows over Kids? It’s driving me nuts — the decision seems so idiotic! — Marly

Matt Roush: And now we come to the time of year that most tries TV fans’ souls — the announcement of the new (at the network Upfronts) that confirms the cancellation of the old. Or in the case of Kids, not so old. Without question, this cancellation generated the most immediate reaction in my mailbag — possibly because I have championed the ABC family sitcom so often during its one and only season. (When the news settles in, I’m sure I’ll be hearing from devotees of Life in Pieces, Whiskey Cavalier and a few more — although for the most part, I wasn’t surprised by any cancellation more than ABC jettisoning Kids.)

I don’t study the ratings all that carefully anymore so will accept Marly’s analysis. Kids was in that nebulous area where it was neither a breakout hit nor a dud, but it had a fair amount of critical support (including from me) and its quality from the writing and performance standpoint was unquestionable. The way I see it is that the show was the victim of network politics, not helped by the decent early numbers for midseason entry Bless This Mess — which I won’t. Mess was developed at and by Fox, and when that studio was absorbed into the Disney empire this year, the Fox execs who came over to ABC/Disney appear to have championed Mess, and it looks like that came at the expense of Kids, even if it wasn’t that simple of a direct result. Kids also didn’t have the benefit of being a spinoff, since ABC in the fall will now have hour blocks of black-ish paired with mixed-ish on Tuesday and The Goldbergs with (ugh) Schooled on Wednesday. Not a lot of real estate left for something this fresh and distinctive. For me, the cancellations of Kids and (though less unexpected) Speechless — which at least got a creatively satisfying final arc — were the ones that pain me the most this year.

Here’s a sampling of other reaction (with my commentary) to Kids’ cancellation.

From Ben: “Sucks about The Kids Are Alright. What’s wrong with ABC; do they just not like success? I mean they lost The Middle, which was the best sitcom since the likes of Frasier and Raymond went off the air, so now they have another instant classic that was genuinely good and they throw it away without even trying to save it? But it’s too bad Kids didn’t come out just a few years earlier. It could’ve been a great follow up to The Middle. Could you imagine?”

Matt: I’d like to. I often said/wrote that Kids to me was the natural successor to The Middle in terms of tone and the hilarity of the individual kids (and parents). What a lost opportunity.

From Mark: “They canceled The Kids Are Alright! What do we do, Matt? What do we do?! I’m beside myself. It makes no sense to me.”

Matt: Me neither, the above analysis notwithstanding. You can go the usual route of writing to the network or joining a social-media fan campaign, finding community in your shared bafflement. This is where I’m often asked how likely it is for Kids to find a new home. Since this was an in-house ABC/Disney production with only a single season’s worth of episodes, the odds sadly are stacked against it.

From Lester: “Just came to say how pissed I am about the cancellation of The Kids Are Alright. This is why so many people complain about television, because they cancel anything that’s actually good and keep the superficial garbage. R.I.P. Kids.”

Matt: This may be an overstatement, hardly uncommon this time of year, but looking at some of the comedies spared from the ax on ABC’s lineup, while Kids and Speechless go missing, it’s kind of hard to argue.

Too Much TV, Not Enough Nurturing

Question: All these hysterics over all the network cancellations. Are people still shocked? This is 2019, where there are more shows on the air then there are people on the planet. I think TV shows had it much easier and better back when we only had three or even four channels. Much longer shelf for some shows that would’ve been canned two episodes in today and gave the chance to shows that didn’t do gangbuster ratings at first (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld, Family Ties, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc.). Sometimes less really is more. — Ken

Matt Roush: This is an interesting point, but I think it underestimates how tough the TV business has always been. Back in the day when three (or even four) networks ruled the industry, the threshold for success was much higher, and these examples you state of shows that got to stick around long enough to become hits are exceptions to the rule. (Cheers, Family Ties and maybe even Seinfeld may never have found their mass audience if not for The Cosby Show reigniting NBC’s comedy fortunes.) These days, shows are rarely pulled off the air after just a few episodes, because the networks are using so many more metrics beyond the overnight ratings to gauge a show’s potential. Even non-starters usually get to play out a full 13-episode order, and sometimes an entire season, before they’re taken off. But there’s an undeniable impact with the glut of Peak TV and a steady flow of streaming options (especially in the bottomless pool of Netflix) that it’s getting harder each year for even worthy network shows to pop the way they used to.

Marginalizing Madam

Question: In your column I read that there was some question about Madam Secretary returning for a sixth season. To be honest, I’m surprised it has lasted this long in CBS’ 10 pm/9c Sunday time slot. To me it seems that place is where CBS sends programs it wants to end. It began with CSI: Miami, followed by The Mentalist, and now Madam Secretary. Sports programs preceding those shows usually run late [in the East and Central time zones] so the shows are forced way back. I remember some episodes that were pushed back so far, the 11 pm news programs just ran in their place and the superseded episodes were not aired. Nowadays when I program my DVR for the week, I always add 45 minutes to the end time and sometimes it looks iffy if that is going to be enough. They should name this time slot the Sunday evening graveyard. — David, Orlando, FL

Matt Roush: Usually, I field this complaint in the fall, when the football overruns are especially irksome. But yes, whenever CBS moves a show to that vulnerable last hour of the Sunday lineup, you know it’s no longer being considered a player. Not that the network is trying to “kill” the show (as fans often charge), but with Secretary in particular, which is a bit of an outlier on CBS’s procedural-heavy schedule, it almost felt protected to me by airing in the late hour, because the expectations weren’t as high as when it was airing directly behind 60 Minutes — which I loved as a usually satisfying two-hour block.

I bring this up because while I’ll miss Madam Secretary when it’s gone, I applaud CBS’s decision to give the series a final 10-episode season to conclude the story with Elizbeth’s run for the presidency. This shows respect for the show’s fans, and for the good work the show has done over these last five years.

What Was Constance Thinking?

Question: I have to say I was shocked by Constance Wu’s reaction to her show Fresh Off the Boat getting renewed. Now she’s trying to backtrack, but she can’t erase what she said no matter what she meant, It’s 2019 and what’s on Twitter is forever. Anyway, I get a TV actor wanting to break into movies, but they should be grateful for being blessed enough to have a regular job when sooo many talented actors out there haven’t gotten their own TV series, if even a walk-on part on a hit show. I remember Tom Selleck in 1980 being contractually bound by Magnum P.I. so he had to pass up Indiana Jones, but you never heard the man bitching about starring in his own TV series that became a massive hit and launched his 30-plus-year CONSISTENT career. He seems to still love and feel protective of that show, too. I ask you, why do these hotshot actors today who are lucky enough to have a job forget to be grateful? — Mary-Ann

Matt Roush: I can think of few more chilling words than “what’s on Twitter is forever.” It’s pretty clear by now that Constance Wu regrets her Twitter and social-media outburst, expressing the sort of ungenerous thoughts to a typically celebratory moment that one should never take beyond private e-mail, if that. But I’m equally disturbed by the unforgiving nature of people who won’t accept an apology and just move on. Which is really the only way to go here. The show is coming back, and she is contractually bound to return, even at the cost of a more fulfilling or challenging project, and I hope everyone will just rise above when the cameras begin to roll again. It’s obviously an awkward and humiliating situation for her, one likely to haunt her for a long while whenever she’s out promoting anything. I’m sure that despite the current frustration, she is grateful to Boat for giving her this wonderful role (for which she has long deserved Emmy recognition) that has opened the door for so many other opportunities. She has said as much, even if it doesn’t erase her ill-advised Tweets. The real lesson here, one everyone should adopt whatever the provocation: Think before you tweet. Because there are almost always consequences.

Tropical Neighbors Fighting Crime

Question: Is the new scheduling set-up, moving Hawaii Five-0 to Friday at 8/7c, followed by Magnum P.I. at 9/8c, so CBS can do a H50/MPI crossover? — Bruce

Matt Roush: Count on it.

Separation Anxiety

Question: I just read that Modern Family is ending next year? This is the first I heard of it. My question: Why? — Kate

Matt Roush: I know it’s hard to keep track of everything in this busy TV world, but the announcement of Modern Family getting an 11th and final season was made back in February, and has been widely promoted while the current season laid the groundwork for one last victory lap come fall. As for why: 11 years is an extremely long run for a family comedy, and not unlike when a hit like Everybody Loves Raymond signed off after a mere nine seasons at the height of its popularity, this was a decision agreed to by producers, studio and network to allow the series to prepare a fitting finale and to leave before they run out of creative juice (which some might argue happened a few seasons ago).

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.