Ask Matt: Reactions to the New ‘Dancing,’ RIP ‘Stumptown,’ ‘Lovecraft,’ ‘Jeopardy!’ & More

Dancing With the Stars
ABC/Eric McCandless
Dancing with the Stars

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 (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.

Haters and Lovers of the New Dancing Format

Comment: Watched the first episode of Dancing With The Stars. Tyra Banks sucks as the new host, it’s like she thinks she is the star. The music was not very good. I’ve watched all 28 seasons and really enjoyed them. Back to American Ninja Warrior. – Tim W

Matt Roush: I’m not surprised at this early reaction. I actually expected more, although considering how much mail I got from longtime fans saying they refused to tune in after the firing of Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews, maybe that explains it. (Though not perhaps explaining the ratings, which were the best for a Dancing premiere in three years — again not saying much, considering recent slippage.) I’ll give them a pass on the music, because that process is so different this year, and it seemed about the same to me. As for the new host: I couldn’t help thinking how Tom Bergeron would have found a way to be gracious and witty about these bizarre circumstances, whereas Tyra Banks strained to be hip and glam. And apparently she’ll be doing what passes for interviews with the dancers while they’re standing there? I get that they can’t have the skybox of old, but this was absolutely the wrong year to make this kind of change in the show. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep looking at this train wreck.

Question: I watched the new Dancing with the Stars. I did enjoy the show with all of the changes, but my only concern is that I believe the stars and the pros should be wearing masks while they are dancing because of the pandemic. How come they aren’t? — Mary P

Matt Roush: Check out this story as reported by Good Morning America, which should help explain all of the safety and testing protocols that Dancing is using this year to try to keep everyone safe. Still seems a bit risky, especially as the celebrities (unlike the pros) apparently aren’t living in isolation, but I expect they’ll all behave during this period — and no one is traveling — keeping the possibility of spread at a minimum.

And while I am all about the masks in my own daily life, I can understand why the dancers and other participants are going without on stage, given the physical exertion and performance aspects of the routines. (I don’t expect contestants on Jeopardy! to be wearing masks either, for example, given social distancing and appropriate testing protocols.) It’s a weird time, but a masked Dancing with the Stars would be even weirder.

Stumped by Stumptown Cancellation

Question: Stumptowncanceled? This was one of the shows I was most looking forward to. I think we’ve all accepted that all returning shows are not going to be on the traditional timeline, so what’s the difference if it didn’t return until April? This makes no sense. Is it any wonder that the networks have trouble keeping viewers? Here’s hoping another network, of any kind, picks it up. — Debbie

Matt Roush: I was surprised, shocked, disappointed as well to learn that ABC, after having renewed it for a second season, was bailing on Stumptown, one of last season’s few broadcast network standouts. Plus: It was fun. No reasoning will satisfy fans, and as I sifted through the analysis by Hollywood Reporter‘s expert Lesley Goldberg, I didn’t buy some of the explanations myself. But beyond all of the creative, economic and scheduling factors that may have contributed to this unhappy decision, the reality is that Stumptown was a “bubble” show to begin with, not the hit ABC probably had expected, and even Netflix has cut some shows from its bottomless lineup because of the difficulties associated with the pandemic, so I’d be surprised if there aren’t more casualties before this is all over.

As for the likelihood of someone coming to Stumptown‘s rescue: Let’s stay hopeful, but I wouldn’t count on it. The show is an in-house production from ABC Signature, and while it has been reported that the studio will try to shop it elsewhere — which is often said when these things happen — with only one season under its belt, the show may not be appealing for even the streamers, which would be the most likely home for an action series, and star, of this ilk. I’m really bummed by this.

A Country of Many Different Tones

Question: I’ve been enjoying HBO’s Lovecraft Country each week. I generally find the stories compelling, but find myself distracted by the extreme tonal shifts between each episode. As your review also pointed out, one week it seems to be a dramatic tone about racism, then it is a horror ghost story, then an Indiana Jones adventure, and the last episode was a more humorous Twilight Zone. I was curious whether this was purely a creative decision by the different writers and directors or just happenstance? I don’t think I have ever seen another TV show that felt so different each week. — Rob

Matt Roush: This is very much the vision of the show’s ambitious creator/producer, Misha Green, and the shifting of tone and genre within the framework of a supernatural horror series is absolutely intentional. How successful this is will be, as usual, in the eye of the beholder. Many have championed Lovecraft Country for its bold mash-ups, and there’s no question the show is sumptuously produced and well acted — especially by Jurnee Smollett (Letitia) and, in the most recent episode, Wunmi Mosaku as her sister in that gruesomely fascinating shape-and-race-shifting storyline. I’m not as enthralled with the overarching A-story of Tic’s (Jonathan Majors) mysterious birthright or whatever, in part because it has been obscured by the show seemingly reinventing itself every week. Still, it couldn’t be more timely and is, as Rob said, enjoyable to watch. I’m very curious how many more genres we’ll experience before the end of the season.

A Different Sort of Emmy Prediction

Question: Awards ceremony ratings have been low in general over the years. But do you think it’s safe to predict we’ll see the lowest ratings ever for Sunday night’s Emmy Awards because of COVID precautions, or do you think we’re all starved for anything on network TV that isn’t a rerun? — Paul L

Matt Roush: It won’t set records, that’s for sure, except maybe for a low. Ratings for awards shows in general have slipped in recent years, and for the Emmys in particular — perhaps because, as many of my readers point out repeatedly, of the disconnect of a TV awards show on network TV that barely mentions any shows on actual network TV. Which doesn’t mean the Emmys will migrate to cable or streaming anytime soon. But anticipating the ratings may be the hardest of all Emmy predictions to make. (For my own predictions of the various categories, start here.)

In making my rounds of the various radio stations I talk to across the country, I sense an overall apathy about this year’s awards. (Most are surprised to hear it was still happening.) Curiosity over the bizarre circumstances of this year’s ceremony may attract, but also repel, viewers, and the appetite for anything new could be a boon. But there’s also the return of sports draws like Sunday Night Football to factor into the equation. I know I’ll be watching and rooting for my favorites at the Emmys, but it certainly won’t feel like business as usual.

One Way to Keep Survivor on the Air

Question: With Survivor still unable to continue filming in Fiji, why doesn’t CBS purchase the rights to show Australian Survivor in the U.S.? At the very least the international versions of CBS reality shows could add content to All Access, but it seems like international reality TV could be a very easy sell in these content-sparse times. — Darren

Matt Roush: Not a bad idea, and if the situation continues into the new year as many expect and CBS is facing an even longer hiatus for its signature reality show — I don’t count Big Brother or Love Island, or even really consider them TV — maybe they’ll go there. The networks have looked abroad to import some series with an international flavor to fill holes in the schedule, and they could do worse than show the American audience how the game is played elsewhere.

And Finally …

Question: I just watched the Sept. 15 (Tuesday) episode of Jeopardy! and wondered about the result of the “Final Jeopardy” round. “Who is Berry Gordy?” was the correct response to the clue, and one of the contestants knew the answer, but spelled it “Barry Gordy” with an A. Based on this, Alex Trebek deemed the answer to be incorrect. Obviously, I don’t remember the result of every episode, but I am pretty sure there were “Final Jeopardy” answers spelled incorrectly before that were accepted. So why wouldn’t they have given it to her this time? She obviously knew the answer and was even the only contestant who was able to come up with anything. If that same clue had occurred in any other round except final, she would have responded verbally and been credited with the correct response instead of having to spell it. Therefore, it seems like they should have just given it to her. (I knew it when the clue came up but wouldn’t have been sure about one vowel either.) Of course, it didn’t really matter because she was in third place anyway entering the final and would never have won, because he returning champion had too much money and was unbeatable.  But, still.  Denying her the correct response felt like a nitpick. So…why? — Jake

Matt Roush: How I love obsessing on my favorite quiz show of all time. I had the same reaction: Why dock her for spelling? They typically don’t, and she couldn’t have won anyhow, so it wouldn’t have affected the outcome. There’s an argument, I suppose, that “Berry” and “Barry” are actually different names, but it’s really splitting hairs — and if she had just done the appropriate thing if she didn’t know the spelling and just put “Gordy” as the answer, she’d have gotten it right. (And if this had been a spoken question, as Jake said, it wouldn’t even be an issue.) The real point, though, is that it’s a matter of pride to be the only person to get “Final Jeopardy” right, even if you lose the game. This felt petty, and I hope they apologized to her somehow afterward.

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.