Ask Matt: Gone ‘Away,’ Hunting for ‘Manhunt,’ Bakula at the Keyboard, ‘Lovecraft’ & More

Away - Hilary Swank, Josh Charles, Tabitha Bateman

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.

Away Gone Too Soon

Question: I’m disappointed with (and confused by) Netflix’s cancellation of Away. I know SO MANY people who watched and loved it, including me and my husband. I thought that a Season 2 order was a question of when, not if. Do you think this was a coronavirus-related decision on Netflix’s part? And do you think this is too expensive of a project for someone else to pick up? (I’m assuming Josh Charles, Hilary Swank and, well, Mars, don’t come cheap.) I know pick-ups by competitors are infrequent. But based on anecdotal evidence and Netflix’s own “No. 1 in America” ad, I thought Away was a well-received show with a high viewership led by extremely popular actors. Shouldn’t Season 2 be a gimme? — Kirsten

Matt Roush: Netflix rarely explains these decisions, which have started to feel more arbitrary as the number of one-and-done series grows. I was equally surprised when I discovered a month or so ago that they weren’t continuing with The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and in both cases the speculation has focused largely about the relative high costs of these ambitious series. It’s also possible that production complications in the age of COVID, which isn’t going away anytime soon, may have kept some of these shows from going forward. It’s hard to know for sure, but like Kirsten, I wasn’t expecting this from Away, which seemed to have popped with a #1 ranking upon its release. (Although I tend to feel Netflix is its own worst enemy, giving its shows precious little time to breath and catch on before drowning them in the next week’s deluge of product.) Another aspect that may have harmed Away‘s chances is that it was produced by an outside studio (Universal). The show wasn’t perfect — any time the story left the spacecraft to go back to Earth, I got restless — but I’m sorry we won’t get to see the crew on Mars and possibly the return mission. (At least they got farther in their journey than Hulu’s The First.)

Will Netflix Shows Ever Be Syndicated?

Question: For years now, Netflix has been successful by producing a huge amount of original programming at a relatively competitive price. Subscribers often binge the content in a relatively short amount of time and then move on to something else until a new season or a new series comes along. The problem to me is that now Netflix has an enormous back catalog of original content and no means of capitalizing on it. Because they don’t have commercials, they have no means of encouraging subscribers to go back and rewatch past episodes, and even new shows now get lost in the clutter of media smorgasbord Netflix has become. Isn’t it time that Netflix considers syndicating older seasons of shows to linear cable or broadcast networks? How many networks would jump at the chance to repeat the first couple of seasons of Stranger Things? And could The CW do worse over the summer than airing the first seasons of Queer Eye, Atypical or Fuller House (just a few examples)? I know Netflix values their shows as exclusive content, but given that subscribers rarely go back to rewatch past seasons on a regular basis, it seems like a wasted opportunity to just hold all these shows back behind their firewall indefinitely. — Mark

Matt Roush: It’s an interesting and fair point, and your argument makes sense, especially when you consider how many shows get lost in the “smorgasbord” you describe. (Some might use the term “glut.”) But just last week during an investors’ earnings call, co-CEO Ted Sarandos was quoted as explaining, “It’s helpful for us to keep our original content on Netflix so people understand the value proposition of Netflix. And we have seen our ability to grow a show that was on another network or a smaller outlet pretty meaningfully (see: Schitt’s Creek) [but] we’ve not necessarily seen it the other way around.” There are some exceptions: Comedy Central buying rights to rerun BoJack Horseman, and Narcos showing up on Pluto. But for now, it appears that most Netflix exclusives will remain just that.

The Hunt Is On (a Different Night)

Question: I fully understand why, if a show isn’t working for a broadcast network, they shunt it off into the dead zone that is Saturday night. But the very least they could do is inform viewers of this plan. I’ve been watching Manhunt: Deadly Games on CBS, the miniseries about the hunt for the Atlanta Olympics bomber. It’s been interrupted for other programming the past few weeks and I’m guessing the ratings weren’t stellar. To be fair, they’ve been using the Spectrum Cable show as a filler while they’re waiting for COVID-related delayed regular programming to get back into the pipeline. But I was very much enjoying this show and was looking forward to seeing the whole thing. So there’s no way to explain the sudden and — as far as I can tell — completely unannounced schedule change, moving two episodes of the show to Saturday night at 8 PM Eastern, with another two being burned off next weekend in the same slot.

What bugs me is the Eye Network didn’t appear to do very much to try and inform viewers about the change. They made the switch with no promotion and if I hadn’t been lucky enough to have a DVR that can be set to record “new” shows, I would have missed both of them. I’m sure others did. Over-the-air broadcast networks are already seeing viewer erosion. Doing something like this does nothing to make me want to tune them back in. Talk about putting the “BS” in CBS. — Aaron F

Matt Roush: You’re probably right that the stakes were pretty low for a show that was licensed primarily to air something original, which very few had seen, until regular Monday programming could resume. The marketing and promotion were understandably minimal, but even so, viewers shouldn’t have to develop their own form of GPS to keep track of a show.

Jamming in New Orleans

Question: I have been curious if Scott Bakula really plays the piano on NCIS: New Orleans??? — Cindy

Matt Roush: Yes, that’s him tinkling those 88 keys. It may not be as well known to fans of his action series that before TV stardom, Scott Bakula had a career in musical theater, including a Tony nomination for Romance/Romance and also appearing at Carnegie Hall in a concert version of Stephen Sondheim’s cult musical Anything Can Whistle. (I saw him in both, and even remember him during my Midwest college days at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park in a production of The Baker’s Wife.)

Is There More Juice in Mr. Mercedes?

Question: Will there be a fourth season of Mr. Mercedes? The story is not finished, even though there were only three books. I’m just now watching the third season on DVD and understand it won’t make it to End of Watch before the last episode. I can’t find any news concerning a fourth season since Audience Network died. I’d hate to see such a good adaptation of Mr. King’s story not finish. — Rebecca

Matt Roush: At first glance, it appeared that the future of Mr. Mercedes went the way of DirecTV’s defunct Audience Network: nowhere. But when Peacock picked up the series, exposing it to a potentially larger streaming audience, there has been renewed speculation that a fourth season may be possible after all. There’s nothing beyond that for now, as far as I know, so I wouldn’t get too excited. But we’re also still waiting for HBO to make the call on a second season of The Outsider, which also features the character of Holly Gibney. Wouldn’t it be a kick if both came back, operating on different timelines, with Holly played by Cynthia Erivo on The Outsider and by Justine Lupe (Succession) in Mr. Mercedes.

Speaking of HBO …

Question: Is Lovecraft Country coming back? I know the finale just aired, but that show is so good!!? — Stephanie

Matt Roush: No official announcement has been made, but all signs point to an imminent renewal. Lovecraft generated lots of buzz during its first season, and it’s hard to imagine that it won’t return.

Question: I was wondering if you could help me find out when or if HBO plans on airing a second season of their delightful A Black Lady Sketch Show. It was renewed way back in summer of 2019, and so far I’ve heard nothing about a premiere date for this hilarious and well-received series. — MJ

Matt Roush: Like with so many series, production of A Black Lady Sketch Show‘s second season was delayed by the pandemic. According to an interview this summer with series creator Robin Thede, the scripts have been written, so it’s really just a question of when, not if. As of now, no return date has been announced.

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.