Ask Matt: Soaps ('Y&R') & Game Shows ('Hollywood Game Night,' 'Pyramid') During the Pandemic, Going for 'Broke'
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.
Will the Pandemic Sink the Soaps?
Question: I enjoy your columns. My question is about soap operas. Recently I watched the documentary The Story of Soaps, and it pointed out that the O.J. Simpson trial (which pre-empted the soaps for months) resulted in a huge loss of audience that the shows never recovered from. Do you think something similar may happen now? My soap, The Young and the Restless, is airing vintage episodes because it ran out of new shows due to the coronavirus shutdown. It was fun to see younger versions of longtime actors for a while, but now the gimmick is getting boring, and I'm on the verge of taking the show off my DVR. I'm sure I'm not alone. Thoughts? — Julie W
Matt Roush: But don't you think you'll go back once they resume with original episodes? It's understandable that you'd eventually lose interest in these themed weeks, although for many it's a clever way to fill the time. On the upside, at least the shows are still visible. The situation with the O.J. trial was a more philosophical paradigm shift at a time when there were many more daytime dramas airing, when it dawned on network executives that an appetite for something real (if not always that sensational) could be at least as appealing for the audience than the scripted melodramas they were churning out. Eventually, this led to the influx of talk and other infotainment shows taking over many time periods that had once been dominated by soaps.
The current situation is more of an act of God that stopped the few remaining soaps from producing original episodes — only Days of Our Lives had enough in the can not to not be affected. Except for breaking news cut-ins (and in my area, the daily addresses by New York's governor and mayor), these shows aren't being replaced, they're just on hiatus like most everything else. I imagine the audience for these shows will return just as they will when our prime-time favorites eventually come back in the late fall or beyond. I wouldn't be surprised if the numbers are a bit diminished, because that's the trend throughout the medium, but I doubt it's a sign of end times for the genre.
Putting on a Game Face
Question: If nothing else, this new world we are living in has impressed upon me how much work is put into television, and how much I appreciate a good production. I think everyone is doing a fantastic job with what they have to work with. In particular, the Community table read, which was even funnier than the episode. One thing really jumped out at me, though, when I was watching the latest episode of Hollywood Game Night. They used a laugh track, and it made a real difference in my viewing experience. I loved it! The fact that something that we would generally criticize made something feel even a little bit normal was amazing. I did not see any reviews of the show. Do you know if this was universally noticed? — Anita R.
Matt Roush: I didn't watch the Game Night episode and you're the first to write me about it — first chance I get, I'll try to play it back — but this response doesn't surprise me. While I'm typically OK with laughter coming from a studio audience but usually resist 100% canned laughter in a show, I can see how this could provide a comfort level during a time when so many are feeling isolated. Even the artificiality of knowingly canned laughter could add to the heightened humor of this particular game show. (As much as we admire what the late-night hosts are doing these days, it can still be unsettling to have complete silence following a joke. We miss audiences.)
Question: By far, the Celebrity Escape Room special that NBC aired on Red Nose Day was the funniest, most entertaining show in recent history!! And Jack Black was phenomenal as the host. What is the chance it could become a regular show? — Diane C, North Branch, Michigan
Matt Roush: That would be fun. But gathering that caliber of talent on a regular basis might be difficult, plus creating new rooms and elaborate challenges each week would put it on the high-end of game-show budgets, I'd think. Maybe a series of specials, or a return appearance on Red Nose Day, would be more likely. None of this has been discussed yet, as far as I know, but I'd be surprised if this is the last we see of it. (Once it's safe to go back into rooms together, of course.)
Question: Why did The $100,000 Pyramid not make it back with ABC's other game shows this summer? — Ed K, Millville, N.J.
Matt Roush: My understanding is that Pyramid (my personal favorite of ABC's rebooted vintage game shows) was expected to return for a fifth season. But unlike the others that are currently airing, it hadn't started filming episodes when the shutdown took place. I'd like to think that when it is safe to return, ABC could whip up a short season of Pyramid and use it to fill what will surely be some hole on the schedule in the new season to come while other more complicated series are gearing up. I miss it.
Committed to The Split
Question: Regarding your response to the question about AMC's scheduling of Line of Duty: SundanceTV is similarly burning off the second season of the terrific British soap The Split, with two episodes per week late nights. And there has been precious little hype or promotion about it. I don't get the strategy, but I do time-shift it. I guess I just wanted to take this chance to recommend it. It's the grounded story of a family of female divorce lawyers, their private lives and their cases, and the cast is wonderful. There are only six episodes in each of the two seasons. Season 2 wraps this week on Sundance, and hopefully these last two will be available on demand with the first four episodes. You wouldn't necessarily need to watch Season 1, but it's well worth tracking down. — ML
Matt Roush: Couldn't agree more. The Split is high-end, very satisfying domestic and legal drama, and I'm stymied by how it's so marginalized by the scheduling. It's the kind of show that's all too easy to get lost amid the myriad choices, even now, and is very much worth recording or finding On Demand.
A Second Chance for Canceled Shows?
Question: Regarding your recent comment about CBS's cancellations, that "shows which might look like a hit on another network aren't, by their standards, living up to expectations." OK, what doesn't make sense is that CBS most likely owns a stake in these shows with other studio partners. I know it's tough, but why don't they shop with partners to another network? I know it rarely happens, but that part is not making sense to me. — Sean
Matt Roush: Some interesting, but complicated, points to be made here. While cancellations happen every season, and at every network (as well as on cable and streaming, though it rarely gets as much attention), I believe these decisions are never made easily. But once they are, they're usually final. When you consider what goes into producing and promoting any series these days, the networks (which with the current exception of Fox Entertainment are basically pipelines for a parent studio) tend to drop shows if they feel there's no long-term or back-end potential for growth. While my comment would suggest a show that fails on a very mainstream network like CBS could look rosier on another network, there usually have to be other circumstances — a big star like Tim Allen, or an established and vocal fan base — to justify a show changing network homes after one or two seasons. JAG moving from NBC after its first season to CBS, where it flourished and spawned the NCIS craze, is the best example of such a move changing TV history. But it's the exception.
That said, the recent reader suggestion that Fox should pick up Man with a Plan and pair it with Last Man Standing made sense to me. And of all of this season's cancellations, the continued groundswell of disappointment over CBS dropping God Friended Me after two seasons left me thinking that would be a good candidate for a move as well, even though the producers crafted an ending of sorts when they saw the writing on the wall. Not trying to put false hope out there, and I'm not aware of any such conversations, but stranger things have happened.
Question: I am sorry that Broke is canceled. It's really funny and has a good cast. Maybe if more people knew that Pauley Perrette was the star of the show, they would pay more attention to keeping it going. — Unsigned
Matt Roush: If anyone knew anything about Broke, it's that it was Pauley Perrette's comeback after leaving NCIS. That's how the network promoted it, and we even devoted a cover story to her in TV Guide Magazine in advance of the premiere because she remains so popular among many of our readers. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to boost a show that was largely met with critical and audience indifference.
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. Everyone stay safe and healthy!