Ask Matt: ‘Idol’ Past Its Prime? Also: ‘Witches,’ Reboots, ‘Modern Family’ Streaming & 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 (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.
Remember When Idol Created Superstars?
Question: Hasn’t American Idol gone past its time? When can you remember a “winner” going anywhere? Yes, Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson and some other guy who went on to Broadway, but that was YEARS ago. Time to call it a day. Same with Dancing with the Stars… what stars?? Has-Beens! No interest in either show. — Karen W, Garden City, MI
Matt Roush: Curiously, you forgot to mention Carrie Underwood, arguably the most successful star to emerge from American Idol‘s heyday — and what a heyday it was. And why limit this abuse to American Idol? Can you name a single winner of The Voice off the top of your head from its entire run? At least Idol created some superstars with staying power once upon a time. To answer your question, there’s no doubt American Idol‘s best days are behind it. Just try finding a show anywhere on network TV about which that can’t be said. Dancing with the Stars has its own issues — casting, for sure, but also this year’s gallingly tone-deaf and clumsy change of host — but in both cases, ABC is staying with franchises, however faded, that have at least a base level of audience engagement and are recognizable to viewers. Much easier than trying to launch a bunch of new programs in an unforgiving and fragmented TV landscape. That’s why ABC plucked American Idol from Fox’s discard pile in the first place. They never expected it to reach the heights of when Idol was a mighty programming force that crushed anything in its path.
When Can Everyone Fall Under Witches’ Spell?
Question: I got seriously hooked on the first season of A Discovery of Witches. AMC recently aired the first episode of Season 2 and got me all excited. Now it looks like all future episodes will be on AMC+ and I would have to pay extra for that channel. Can you tell me why the first season was on regular TV and the second we have to pay for? Not all of us can afford the $$ for all these extra channels — I know I cannot. – Harriett S
Matt Roush: Be patient. Just like in the first season, which you may have forgotten also originally streamed exclusively on Sundance Now and Shudder (pre-AMC+), the second season of A Discovery of Witches will find its way to the linear AMC network later this year (June was mentioned in the show’s original release). This is becoming a trend. Even now, the limited series The Salisbury Poisonings is airing on AMC after an exclusive premiere run on AMC+, and there are more to come. For almost every programming entity, streaming and streaming bundles are their priority and that’s unlikely to change. At least in this and some other cases, the original network eventually gets to share in the fun.
Two Streaming Homes for This Family
Question: With Modern Family recently announced to be streaming on two different platforms (Hulu and Peacock), do you think this is a one-off situation or could we see other shows share their streaming rights between multiple platforms? Also, with Monday’s announcement of WWE Network moving their content to Peacock, how much of an impact do you think that could have on adding subscribers to that platform? — Adam
Matt Roush: The Modern Family deal is very much an unusual situation — even the industry trade publications saw it as such — and could have something to do with the licensing fee for one of the few big (and expensive) hits from the past decade. It makes sense for the complete series of Family to stay on Hulu, where it streamed through its original run, and it adds cachet to the emerging Peacock, which promises to aggressively curate and add special content to its presentation of the show. But more often, the emphasis in gaining streaming rights is exclusivity, enhancing a brand by making a valued show impossible to see anywhere else. So I’d be surprised if we see many more deals like this anytime soon.
And while few things interest me less than WWE, I’m sure migrating WWE Network to Peacock for half the current price will add many eyeballs to the streamer’s bottom line. A win-win for both companies, I’d think.
No Laughing Matter
Question: I tried to watch the new sitcom Call Me Kat but gave it up in the first episode because of the obnoxious laugh track. Wouldn’t you say, as a general rule, that sitcoms without a laugh track are generally superior to those that have them? — Tom C, Portland, OR
Matt Roush: At the risk of repeating myself, which I really do try not to do in this space as much as possible, I would never say that single-camera sitcoms are “generally superior” to those filmed in front of a live audience (back when there were live audiences) with enhanced laugh tracks. As I note whenever this question comes up — which is A LOT — many of TV’s most beloved, honored and successful sitcoms come with laughter attached, from I Love Lucy through The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond up to The Big Bang Theory and currently Mom. Certainly single-camera filmed comedies are often seen as more sophisticated, and the best are less reliant on hard jokes and skew more toward character-based humor — see CBS’s The Unicorn as a prime example — and these shows tend to get all of the awards these days (especially on cable and streaming). But there should always be room on TV for both comedy formats, and when done right, they should be appreciated without condescension. The problem is that when a multi-cam sitcom is done badly, as may be the case with Kat (although we’ve printed letters from fans of the show as well), the laughter, canned or otherwise, is especially irritating.
Question: So do you see the end of reboots in sight or is television just officially dying? — Ken
Matt Roush: The answer on both counts is no. Reboots are not going away — stay tuned after the Super Bowl for the new Equalizer with Queen Latifah if you doubt it — and the reason for that, as explained in the American Idol discussion earlier, is that networks are increasingly going to return to proven titles and formats in hopes of drawing back a fickle audience that may be even less likely to sample something new and original. (Another case in point: It looks like The CW may have a hit with its new version of Walker.) And while TV is obviously struggling, especially the linear networks and those drowning in the sea of cable, it’s not dead yet. Reboots are a symptom of an ailing industry for sure, but it’s always possible that a new version of an old series might bring something new to the table. (See HBO’s Perry Mason.)
And Finally …
Commment: Re the criticisms of The Chase being too “mean” to contestants: You should see the original version! There’s only one person sitting up top and his nickname is “The Beast,” if I remember correctly. Our three former Jeopardy! champs are pussycats compared to that guy. — Mimi
Matt Roush: Yes, “The Beast” (Mark Labbett from the Game Show Network version) was much scarier than the Jeopardy! triumvirate. But the reason this issue comes up, I think, is because the Chase producers may not have reckoned with how fondly viewers regard the Jeopardy! winners and how put off they are by seeing them mock the contestants, even if less bitingly than “The Beast” did during his reign of trivia terror.
That’s all for now. Remember that we 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.)