Ask Matt: Can Canceled Shows Get a Second Life?

the unicorn walton goggins
Robert Voets/CBS
The Unicorn

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.

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Before we start with the questions, an observation about this time of year. Hope springs eternal that a different network — or nowadays, a streamer — might pick up a series after it’s prematurely canceled. It happens — case in point: Lucifer’s move from Fox to Netflix, a run that continues this Friday. But it’s still fairly rare. Adding to the confusions — with quite a bit of rage, as you’ll see — are the recent announcements that several shows that began on broadcast TV, and previously on cable (like Younger) are moving to streaming, with more likely to come. So here are some of the more recent questions dealing with these issues.

Son Rise, Son Set

Question: Once again Fox has canceled another great show, Prodigal Son. I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed this one. I read that maybe HBO Max would save this gem. So what do you think the chances of that happening are? — Justin

Matt Roush: Apparently nil, given recent reports that HBO Max has already passed on it. (This would have made sense for purposes of corporate synergy, as the show is produced by Warner Bros. and HBO Max, which streams the first season, is WarnerMedia’s in-house streamer.) Hulu, which currently streams the just-concluded second season, may be another option. But we’ll have to wait and see if a deal can be made. I’m hoping for the best.

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A Lateral Move by ABC?

Question: I was disappointed to learn two of my favorite ABC shows were canceled: mixed-ish and Rebel. Is there any chance ABC could give them a second chance by sending them to Hulu or Disney+, since those services are owned by ABC’s parent company? — David K

Matt Roush: And don’t forget that Freeform is in the ABC-Disney tent, which would be the more likely move for mixed-ish — if it weren’t for the fact that a black-ish spinoff already resides there (grown-ish). Seems to me that given the short runs of both series, especially Rebel, which barely got a chance to make an impression before it was canceled — a shock given that it comes from Grey’s Anatomy’s prominent show-runner, Krista Vernoff — I’d be surprised if either found a new home.

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Now a petition has been launched to save the show by disappointed fans.

The Courtroom Is Now Closed

Comment: I wish ABC would have given For Life another season. Intelligent courtroom dramas are rare! — Alan S

Matt Roush: Not to give you false hope, but reports following the cancellation suggest the studio is shopping this to other networks and platforms. It’s certainly a timely series, so maybe a forward-thinking outlet will bite.

Question: Is there any chance that the recently canceled All Rise could be picked up by another network or subscription service? It’s a shame to see it go. — Cathy

Matt Roush: This seems an even longer shot. Behind-the-scenes turmoil may have doomed this one, even if it had been a stronger performer for CBS.

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Lamenting That Mythical Unicorn

Question: I am really disappointed by the cancellation of The Unicorn. I liked the characters and thought it was well-written, unlike any of the new shows that have premiered in the last few years including its replacement, United States of Al. CBS gave little chance to build an audience in its sophomore year, because for several weeks it had rerun lead-ins, whereas the Chuck Lorre comedy United States of Al had a better shot at building an audience with Young Sheldon as its lead-in for most of its run. Do you think CBS set up The Unicorn to fail because it was looking to replace it with the Chuck Lorre comedy? Is there a chance that a streaming service might pick it up? Also, does it look like Young Sheldon repeats are not faring as well on networks like Nick since originally they were airing in prime time and now they have been shifted to early morning? — Terry

Matt Roush: This kind of broke my heart as well. While it may be true that CBS didn’t protect The Unicorn as well as it could have, schedules throughout this season of the pandemic were so erratic that I’ll stop short of accusing the network of setting it up to fail, which is a ridiculous charge. It may be closer to the truth to suggest that the network saw only limited potential for growth, given the comedy’s warm and poignant tone on a network known for bigger, broader laughs. You’d also have to be blind not to see that the network is going out of its way to prop up the various new (and quite uneven) comedies coming from the prolific Chuck Lorre. I wish I thought a streamer could come to the rescue, but it’s just too quiet and modest a show, despite that remarkable cast. And I don’t pay enough attention to cable syndication to have an opinion on Young Sheldon’s off-network fortunes, though Nick at Nite’s current Friends frenzy may have something to do with it.

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An Evil Switcheroo

Question: I was really looking forward to Season 2 of Evil on CBS. It looked like it was going to start this summer, but now it’s moving to Paramount+. So why should I ever watch another new show on CBS with the prospect that it will move to the streaming service once I start enjoying it? — M Wood

Matt Roush: You probably won’t have to worry about that with most CBS shows, especially the traditional procedurals that dominate CBS’s lineup. Evil was always something of an outlier, way weirder and darker than anything else CBS airs. (Clarice, the moody spinoff of The Silence of the Lambs, may also be heading that way.) After this long wait, when many expected CBS to air Evil’s second season during the lower-profile summer months, this move was disappointing to many, but if it came down to keeping the show going on streaming or pulling the plug forever, I’ll take it. And this is likely going to happen with more frequency to marginal shows that look and feel different than formula network TV and do well by streaming standards. (Another example: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, awaiting news of a third-season pickup amid rumors that it could be heading to NBC’s Peacock streamer.)

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Comment: CBS is doing its best to drive away viewers. Yesterday it was SEAL Team, today Evil. I do not stream. Only one company in my area has the speed fast enough and I will not pay $140 per month for Internet. CBS has now alienated their viewers so much I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of streaming, I will be content with my satellite package and DVDs I can watch free of charge from the public library. Since I’m over age 49, these networks don’t care about my business. They don’t realize there is a significant population in their ignored age group. Do they think people who feel like I do will be investing any more time in watching their shows? Who cares about their fall lineup now. CBS News is in third place, their prime time can soon be there too. Thanks for letting me vent. — Unsigned

Matt Roush: This kind of reaction is only to be expected, but there’s no denying the industry’s overall shift from traditional distribution (cable, satellite) to streaming as a way for these media companies to stay relevant and profitable when network viewership and ad revenue is in steady decline. I’ll admit I was surprised by CBS shifting SEAL Team to Paramount+ next season after just four episodes on CBS in the fall, but as Deadline reported, “the biggest challenge for the show’s renewal was its very high price tag,” and to ensure a fifth season (which would bring the show to the magic 100 episodes that might ensure a robust afterlife), streaming was the company’s very imperfect solution.

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A Mountain of Confusion

Question: I would like to know if Season 4 of Yellowstone will be on the Paramount Network or strictly just on Paramount+. I can’t seem to find any information on this. I definitely hope it will be on the Paramount Network as I am sure others do too. — Mary P

Matt Roush: All things considered, an understandable confusion. When it returns (no air date yet), Yellowstone will remain on Paramount Network, though several spinoffs in development appear to be heading to the streamer exclusively.

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Editor’s Note: Last week I fielded a question about whether HBO Max’s exclusive programming might end up airing on linear HBO. I said no, but a few days later, at WarnerMedia’s upfront announcement, a new initiative was announced, titled “Front Row,” in which selected HBO Max series will be presented with limited commercials on TBS and TNT starting this summer. Titles include Love Life, Close Enough, 12 Dates of Christmas, Titans, Class Action Park — and in 2022, the buzzy first season of The Flight Attendant will air on TBS in advance of the second season on HBO Max. Corporate synergy in action!

That’s all for now. 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.)