Ask Matt: Cancellations ('Project Blue Book'), Finales ('Idol,' 'Rookie,' 'Murder') & 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. (We know background music is too loud, but there’s always closed-captioning.)
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 many Tuesdays and Fridays.
Feeling Blue About This Cancellation
Question: I really enjoy History Channel's Project Blue Book, which left its fans with a huge cliffhanger, and then History didn't renew it. Why on earth would they do that? It's the best show they had. P.S.: Fans have started a #SaveBlueBook campaign.) — Elyse
Matt Roush: Don't exhaust yourself looking for conspiracy theories and cover-ups. Networks often don't feel compelled to explain these decisions, and it typically comes down to the bottom line. Either Blue Book didn't live up to ratings expectations — like most shows in the linear network/cable world these days, it wasn't what you'd call a hit, but it did OK — or there were other financial pressures at play, which may have been amplified by the impact of the outbreak on productions in every sector of the business. Either way, it would be nice if the petition could build up enough steam for the producers to at least be able to address the cliffhanger. Nothing aggravates fans more than an unresolved storyline.
Taking Issue with the 'Idol' Finale
Question: Why did the producers of American Idol choose to exclude the Western half of the country from selecting the winner? Last year they ran the show in real time, as well as repeating in prime time, but this year by the time the show aired in the Pacific and Mountain Time Zones, the live telecast was over. This was unfair to the finalists and to the viewers—hardly the way to run a final vote. — Nancy
Matt Roush: So much about this final season of Idol was unorthodox and, by necessity, anticlimactic. Even the winner, Just Sam, barely got to react before it was over. And it's hard to imagine what ABC had going on in the afternoon hours (West Coast and Mountain times) on Sunday that would preclude them from airing the finale live to all time zones. Turns out, though, that Idol did have a mechanism for fans to weigh in on performances through the show's YouTube channel, where the songs were apparently posted after they aired, and voters in all time zones could participate in the vote even if they weren't seeing it live on their TV. (Would have been nice if the show had publicized this more; I didn't know about it until I did a little research after the fact.) The last thing a show like this needs is a charge of voter suppression.
Question: Why did American Idol end so quickly? Why do they go from 20 to 11 to 7 to 1? — Unsigned
Matt Roush: I agree the eliminations were pretty unsatisfying, dropping so many so quickly without a proper goodbye. Again, this is all because of the extraordinary situation we're in with the coronavirus, and it hit American Idol especially hard, as the show was about to transition into live episodes when production shut down. And while they were figuring out how to proceed, ABC vamped for two weeks with special episodes about the backgrounds of the contestants, leaving the show less time to do individual eliminations. There may be contractual and financial reasons why ABC and Idol decided not to just produce a longer season — or, in the case of the finale, give it two nights (like The Voice is doing on NBC) so everyone could vote easily. The truth is: Just about everyone in the TV business is playing shows like these by ear, and they're going to make some mistakes. Hopefully by this time next year, Idol and its like can get back to whatever normal will look like.
In Favor of the Cliffhanger
Question: I saw a lot of people complaining about the season finale of The Rookie, and I don't get the hate. It's one of the best cliffhangers I've seen in a long while, raising the stakes for every character and I'm not sure how and how quickly it'll be resolved. It will definitely keep me engaged and motivated to wait however long until the show comes back. In today's "Peak TV" world, I think cliffhangers are more important than ever, since viewers can so easily just forget to start the next season when it premieres or decide to focus on their many other options. Of course it can backfire when the show gets canceled (what almost happened to Timeless twice), but that's the risk of getting invested in a show. — Justin G
Matt Roush: I appreciate how you balance the risks with the rewards of becoming attached to a show — my argument always tends to be that while it comes with the territory that some of our favorite shows aren't going to last as long as we'd like, isn't it better to have watched and enjoyed while you could? That said, the frustration the viewers seemed to be expressing with this particular cliffhanger was 1) some felt it was just too contrived, even for this genre; and 2) because The Rookie has been a show "on the bubble" from the start, why would the producers tempt fate like this? I agree that cliffhangers can be a potent tool, but it can also be just as satisfying (if not more so) when a series leaves its characters in a good place at the end of a season, perhaps teasing a situation to come without leaving everyone in such peril. (Retroactive kudos again to Tommy for giving the lead character her job back before the lights went out.)
In Favor of Repeating Cliffhangers
Question: I disagree with your answer about shows with cliffhangers, insofar as you re-watch the prior season finale. Most of us have VCRs or other mechanisms for taping shows, but they all (as far as I know) have space limitations, and to save a program for maybe a year is impractical. Maybe the networks or whomever can or should rerun the last episode just before it airs the premier for the new season? — Jay
Matt Roush: I am a big proponent of this strategy, and in a regular season when the networks return in late September — who knows when "fall" will begin this year? — they absolutely should find a way to repeat or otherwise make available the finale or the last few episodes of a series that has been on summer hiatus. That said, my answer reflected the fact that as many people use DVRs (perhaps even VCRs still) to record, just as many are now consuming TV digitally, and many of these finale episodes will be available by the following season for re-watching on demand or through a streaming service or some other method for download. (And that particular question was referring to shows already streaming, where it's even easier to replay a finale before a new season starts.)
This Finale Was Murder to Sit Through
Question: [Spoiler Alert] When the midseason finale of How to Get Away With Murder aired in November, I wrote in and was indignant that the show brought back Alfred Enoch as Wes (whose character had been burned to a crisp some years ago in a major plot twist) in this year's flash-forwards to Ananlise's funeral. All season long they have been implying someone killed her. Last week's finale revealed that, actually, the flash-forwards were set many years in the future, where Annalise died a natural death and Enoch was playing not Wes, but a grown-up version of Wes and Laurel's son, who is a baby in the series' main timeline. This just felt cheap to me because it was an out-of-nowhere twist for the sake of tricking and manipulating the audience. I didn't hate the finale overall, and as she often does, Viola Davis had a great courtroom monologue in it. But at the end of it, I thought, "Meh, it's over."
It would have been more shocking and fitting if there had been more consequences for our protagonists, but of course they didn't want to have a total bummer of a finale. I watched every episode of this crazy show since the day the pilot aired, and while I've enjoyed it more often than not, it recently occurred to me that I've never rewatched any of them or engaged with the show beyond the confines of the hour a week that it happens to be on. I found myself comparing it to being overwhelmed with emotion by the finale of NBC's The Good Place earlier this season, which not only was much better constructed, but I felt much more connected to those characters and have spent a lot more time invested in that show, rewatching it and discussing it and being really enriched by examining that story. Here, I didn't feel that much emotion, even though Murder has been on longer and I've technically been watching it longer. I just got to the end and sort of shrugged and thought, "Okay." It's surprising to me that I didn't feel more for it. Your thoughts? — Jake
Matt Roush: You expected something other than cheap tricks from Murder? What you're describing here is the feeling one gets when you come to the end of a guilty pleasure. You may have enjoyed the ride despite your own reservations, but when it's over, it's as if you had consumed a buffet of empty calories. (Reading of your reaction, I was reminded of how I felt when Scandal ended. Glad I'd watched, because it was often a hoot, but if you asked me now about anything that happened at the end, I'd draw a complete blank.) Whereas a modern classic like The Good Place is going to endure, and reward repeated viewings. These shows live in different universes, which doesn't mean we can't enjoy them on their own level.
Question: Now that AMC is airing Creepshow, previously streamed on Shudder, is there any chance that they will also air Cursed Films? I'd like to see that series, but I really don't want to sign up for yet another service. Thank you for your column! — Laura
Matt Roush: Thank you for reading! There hasn't been anything said yet about this particular series (which looks at the pop-culture impact and behind-the-scenes stories of classic horror and genre films), but in the current climate of cable and broadcast networks looking elsewhere, including to their streaming partners, for content that will be new to a majority of viewers while the pipeline is shrinking, anything is possible. And Cursed Films would be a good fit. (Remember when AMC was all about movies?)
That's all for now—and for this column, until the Friday after Memorial Day. 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. Everyone stay safe and healthy!