Ask Matt: ‘Dynasty,’ ‘Knots,’ CW Blanket Renewals, Network Cancellations, ‘Chernobyl’
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.
Bursting the Bubble of a Soap Reboot
Question: Am I the only one who has stopped watching the new Dynasty? The casting is misguided, the production looks cheap, it has none of the sophistication of the original series. It is a caricature targeting the lowest common denominator. I will spend my time watching The Young and the Restless instead—which is like Masterpiece Theatre compared to this terribly written series, a parody of the original. — Jeff, Atlanta
Matt Roush: Obviously you’re not alone, but also obviously, someone is still watching—though not many. (Only the late and critically beloved Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a cult show if ever there was one, falls below Dynasty in end-of-season rankings.) Of all of The CW’s renewals (see more on that below), this to me was the most surprising. I started on the TV beat back when every new casting (or rumors thereof) on the original Dynasty was front-page news—I was at USA Today at the time—and even the arrival of Nicollette Sheridan as a pale imitation of Joan Collins’ Alexis couldn’t move the needle on this one.
Speaking of Classic Prime-Time Soaps…
Question: Will there ever be a Knots Landing reboot? — Edward
Matt Roush: Now you’re playing with dynamite. It’s one thing to remake and further dumb down guilty pleasures like Dynasty or even Melrose Place (another CW debacle)—for the record, Dallas exists on its own plane, and couldn’t sustain its so-so reboot after the death of Larry Hagman. But for me, Knots Landing remains the gold standard of 1980s-era prime-time soaps, in terms of quality and writing and performance, elevating the form into a form of escapist nirvana. It never really achieved the iconic status of Dallas and Dynasty, and I was OK with that. But for that reason, I feel it would be imprudent, impossible and fruitless to try to recapture that particular vibe of domestic melodrama. I wouldn’t put it past executives who are looking to resurrect any sort of intellectual (using that term loosely) property that might break through today’s clutter, but I would hate for a new version to sully Knots’ reputation the way the new Dynasty would if it weren’t flying so below most people’s radar.
How Can The CW Keep All of Its Low-Rated Shows?
Question: I know this column is usually about the entertainment side, but I am super curious about the business side. How is The CW able to renew ALL of its shows, even Dynasty (gag). All we hear from ABC and other networks is that this is a business and they just cancel cancel cancel. What does The CW do differently? — Annie
Matt Roush: A very good and fair question. And it is, in fact, pretty much unprecedented for a network to not cancel any of its series from season to season—not counting the shows (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin, iZombie) that had already announced their final seasons, which isn’t the same as cancellation. This is just one of many ways in which, to put it mildly, The CW doesn’t operate on the same business model as the other broadcast networks. (If it did, it would be a disaster: Nine of the season’s bottom 11 slots—one is a tie—belong to CW shows; only ABC’s The Alec Baldwin Show and CBS’s cheapie international co-production Ransom fall into CW’s Neilsen dungeon territory.)
Ratings are arguably one of the lesser priorities for a channel that trumpets its multiplatform identity. (With Crazy and Jane leaving, I find myself wishing variety of product would become more of an issue.) The network basically exists as a content factory and pipeline for shows from parent companies CBS and Warner Bros., with international sales and a lucrative streaming deal with Netflix also helping some of these shows survive and presumably find a larger audience outside the regular seasonal run. It’s possible some of these shows will also help fill the content needs of WarnerMedia’s new streaming service, or CBS All Access, when the Netflix deal runs out (if it isn’t renewed). And The CW also apparently does well by its ad-supported digital streaming app. In some ways, the network is a bit of a pioneer, and one of the better examples of how what you see on TV is just the tip of a multiplatform iceberg (to torture a metaphor) that makes old-school ratings if not irrelevant than less critical to a show’s future than they used to be. For better and (Dynasty) worse.
A Disaster That Makes Great Drama
Question: What do you think of HBO’s Chernobyl series so far? The fourth episode (May 27) was overwhelmingly sad. — Linda
Matt Roush: Did you really expect anything less from a series about a devastating nuclear disaster? My review of the five-part series (which concludes Monday) was quite positive, emphasizing the terror of the event and its aftermath more than the sadness. But I agree that when this week’s episode followed a young man who joined an exterminator crew, eliminating all of the abandoned pets and infected animals within the evacuation zone, it truly did chill my soul. Same for the scenes involving the heroic and doomed workers removing debris from the plant’s smoking rooftop. Much of Chernobyl is very difficult to watch, but that’s the point.
Life After Cancellation?
Question: I really enjoyed The Kids Are Alright and am very sad that it was canceled. Any chance someone could talk Netflix into picking it up? — Lorraine
Matt Roush: I wish. I really, really wish. This question arises frequently, after almost any series is canceled anymore, especially since Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video have all stepped in to keep canceled shows alive in recent years. But it rarely happens with shows that only have a single season’s inventory, so Kids (a personal favorite) seems a long shot. Still, Kids has one of the more vocal fan bases currently with social media campaigns and petitions underway to rally support. So if miracles are possible, let one happen for Kids.
Question: My husband and I were extremely disappointed when we learned that CBS canceled Fam. The show was hilarious, the characters were likable, and the writing and acting were fabulous. Any chance that another network will pick up the show? — Gloria
Matt Roush: Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but a second chance for this midseason comedy seems even more unlikely. Unlike Kids, Fam received very little if any critical buzz (despite some fine performers in the ensemble), and with only 13 episodes produced, that’s almost certainly all that will be made. This very question, though, is a reminder that nearly every show, however short-lived, builds some sort of fan base.
And Finally …
Question: Jeers to ABC’s 1969, on the recent “Woodstock” episode, for spending way too much time on the gay movement of that year and not enough time on the music and artists. I was very disappointed. — John
Matt Roush: Well, as the saying goes, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” Seriously, you are probably right that forcing these two subjects together did a disservice to both, and each could easily have filled an hour of airtime. I was surprised to learn that ABC was presenting them together in some sort of counter-cultural collage. But it could also be argued that Woodstock and its music have already been amply chronicled (including in the landmark 1970 documentary movie), and in the bigger picture, the aftermath of the Stonewall uprising has had a larger cultural footprint in the ensuing gay-rights movement. (With the 50th anniversary of Stonewall looming this summer, prepare yourself for a deluge of documentaries on the subject in the weeks to come.)
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.