Ask Matt: Looking Ahead to Next Season and Back at the Last One

this is us season 5 pearson family
Ron Batzdorff/NBC
This Is Us

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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Is NCIS’s Switch to Mondays the Networks’ Boldest Move?

Question: I’m interested in hearing your take on the networks’ fall schedules. I feel like for the most part the networks have been rather conservative in their schedule-making, with the exception being CBS shaking up their schedule by moving NCIS to Monday. I dare say that move is generating a little bit of mail in your inbox. The NCIS move doesn’t bother me. It is one of the few shows I will watch live, but can also DVR anything else on at the same time or watch On Demand. I also know that show, as much as I love it, is nearer to its end, and it all comes down to what makes money for the network.

The truth is I will probably at some point give up cable and just move to streaming; the business model has changed so much in just the last few years. Of course, I’ve seen TV move from the days of just having three (black and white, then color) networks to the tremendous amount of content today, and heard all the complaints about any and all changes that have come along (probably made a few myself). But I digress. Just interested in your thoughts on the fall season, what you think will work (or not), and what may surprise us. — Claudia

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Matt Roush: I appreciate this thoughtful assessment of the current TV situation, and I’m going to sound like a broken record when I repeat in weeks and months to come that the digital/streaming revolution—or should I say evolution—is the most disruptive force in the industry since the arrival of cable, and the VCR then DVR turning us into our own programmers. This time of year, I’m always fielding complaints about shows that have been prematurely canceled, and while that’s still the case, the outcry over shows being spared only to go to streaming—or alternately, begging streamers to pick up their canceled favorites—currently outweighs any other concern.

That said, it’s really tough to predict which new shows will stand out in the fall. I haven’t had a chance yet to sample any full fall pilots, so these are just first impressions. But my shortlist of shows that have captured my attention include NBC’s Ordinary Joe (a Sliding Doors-style concept starring the charismatic James Wolk, whose character is shown in multiple life-lines), CBS’s farcically haunting comedy Ghosts, Fox’s fictional reality-show-within-a-show dance drama The Big Leap and ABC’s African-American twist on The Wonder Years. Otherwise, as Claudia noted, the schedules are very conservative and risk-averse, and that’s been the case for a while. CBS moving NCIS to Monday to boost the latest Hawaii spinoff, allowing for a full night of FBI dramas on Tuesday, is beyond business as usual, even if it alters what for 18 years has been a Tuesday tradition.

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The Highs and Lows of Last Season

Question: As another and very unpredictable season comes to a close, I am curious what was your favorite show of the year? What departure made you the most sad to see go? And what show did you break up with through the year? For me, the final season of both Pose and Superstore were gone way-too-soon. I don’t buy the “we-planned-this” nonsense we got. They had a couple more years left in them. My break-up was This Is Us, a show I really should have cut off two years back when the three adult Pearson children became the most self-indulgent, entitled brats on television. That is one show I am VERY happy is being mercifully put out of its misery. A shame, too, since its first season was one of the best of that year. — Sean

Matt Roush: Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m with the Pearsons to the end. This Is Us still has the ability to surprise and move me, even when the characters are irksome. There are so few prime-time dramas that dig this deep into character and family that I won’t abandon it. And like Pose and Superstore, I’m glad the producers will get a chance to end the show on its own terms instead of having it just disappear. It’s possible that the shows you mentioned would have liked a longer life, but however those decisions were made, the finales were very satisfying.

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So to answer your lightning-round questions: If you’re asking what my favorite new network series was this year, I’d probably go with Clarice (with the short-lived Debris a close second), because no new network comedy blew me away, though HBO Max’s Hacks is a current favorite in the streaming world, thanks to Jean Smart. WandaVision on Disney+ is probably my favorite new 2021 show to date, with HBO’s Mare of Easttown not far behind. And Amazon Prime Video’s The Underground Railroad ranks as the most important TV of the year so far. The cancellations that bothered me the most were Fox’s Prodigal Son and CBS’s The Unicorn for very different reasons. (I don’t count shows that got to end the way they wanted to.) And I’m oh so close to breaking up with ABC’s A Million Little Things, though once I get time, I’ll catch up with the back half of the season to see if things became a little less miserable. You think the Pearsons are bad company?

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Did the Friends Reunion Even Need That Moderator?

Question: I watched the Friends reunion on HBO Max and l loved it. Even at almost two hours long (with the extra videos), I’d have liked another hour! What do you think was going on with James Corden, by the way? Did they just grab him off the street and stick him in a chair to be a moderator at the last minute? He was so wide-eyed, anxious and, judging from the way he was speaking, it seemed like he had no cue cards and was winging it or being fed his lines in an earpiece. I don’t watch his show so maybe that slow, grasping-for-the-next word thing is his schtick. Whatever, that didn’t detract whatsoever from my delight at seeing the cast together and hearing how they truly appreciated that time one last time. — Michael

Matt Roush: James Corden’s overeager and hyped-up puppy-dog act may be an acquired taste, and I’ll concede this wasn’t his finest moment, but the real problem with those segments (notwithstanding the buzzy moment when Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer fessed up about their mutual crush back in the day) was that they took away from the heart of the special. Which to me were those wonderful and intimate moments of connection the cast enjoyed when they were back on the soundstage where the magic happened. (The show could also have done without most of those pointless celebrity testimonials.) The reason Corden got the gig has everything to do with the reunion special being directed and executive produced by Ben Winston, who’s his executive producer on The Late Late Show.

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Why People Cut the Cord

Comment: The times they are a-changing … This is more a goodbye to network TV than a question, but stay with me. While I subscribe to several streaming services, I have hung on to cable because each year I find a few network/non-streaming shows worth following. This year Debris was one of those shows. With the announcement that there will be no second season (on NBC or elsewhere), I think it’s now time to cut the cord. Yes, the business model is changing. Yes, networks can’t carry shows as a public service. That said, if the shows I want to continue don’t, regardless of the reason, why stick around? The announced schedules for next fall only reinforce my thought that the time has come. Even if a show were to catch my eye (none have so far) I no longer have any confidence it’s worth investing my time. I wonder if historians will look back and say Covid was the final straw that put an end to networks as we knew them. As always, thanks for listening! — Mitchell S

Matt Roush: And thanks for writing. Another aspect to this discussion is that even when a network show does break out of the pack, it’s usually able to be seen off-network either online or on a streamer like Hulu or another network partner—I played back some Debris episodes on Peacock and we often catch up with CBS shows on Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) to give the DVR a rest. This is, needless to say, TV’s future. And when historians look back at 2020-2021, it won’t be the disruptions caused by the pandemic that changed how we watch TV as much as the technology of streaming and the needs of the networks to play ball in that arena to stay relevant.

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Another Angle on SEAL Team’s Move

Question: I have watched SEAL Team from its inception, and I am confused as to why moving it to Paramount+ is such a big deal. I canceled my TV service and began streaming two years ago. Subscribed to CBS All Access (for about $6.50 a month) and continued watching SEAL Team. When CBS changed to Paramount+, I have continued to watch SEAL Team same time, same place, same price as well as other series on CBS. So what’s the big deal? — Nell

Matt Roush: For those who have made and can afford to make the switch, this is a common sentiment. But on the same day Nell’s comments arrived in my mailbox, I also got responses like this. From Ann: “I’m furious at CBS playing Scrooge with SEAL Team. I’m on Social Security. Can’t afford extra expenses.” From NL: “Streaming is fine for the younger crowd. I’m 74 with no Internet. Sooo NO SEAL Team! I can’t believe the network did this. Maybe I won’t watch any of that network’s programming.” From Pat: “Not all areas have good Internet service, i.e. most rural areas. My Internet doesn’t let me stream because it is old phone lines, so it’s not because we won’t, it’s because we can’t, period.”

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And then this arrived from Tim L: “I believe the future will see almost everything go to online streaming. Young people in the desired demographic do not watch broadcast TV sitting in their living rooms. They grab it on their smartphones or tablets whenever they feel like it, not by a set schedule. TVs are nothing more than just another Internet device now anyway.”

Matt again: For some, yes. But for many, not quite yet. The digital divide when it comes to high-speed Internet access is a great argument for investment in infrastructure (not to get political here). The bottom line here, one of many, is that CBS might very well have canceled SEAL Team if not for the streaming lifeline. And I’m still hopeful that fans will have a way to see these episodes once they finish their exclusive streaming run.

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Rebelling Against Rebel’s Cancellation

Question: I have subscribed to TV Guide Magazine since 1971 (yes, I’m old) and I have never been moved to send a question/comment. Please tell me what to do to “discuss“ with ABC executives that they keep Rebel on TV. First, Katey Sagal is amazing. And the interaction with Andy Garcia and the rest of this cast makes for one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while, especially with their cases. Real topics. — Sissy

Matt Roush: Next to the SEAL Team and Evil moves to streaming, and Fox dropping Prodigal Son, ABC’s quick decision to jettison Rebel has generated the most mail lately. One way to get your voice heard by the network is to submit programming feedback via the network website. (All or most networks have a similar pipeline.) In this case, it’s probably a long shot, but what can it hurt?

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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.)