Ask Matt: S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. NCIS, Glee Tragedy, Orphaned at the Emmys

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Cote de Pablo | Photo Credits: Sonja Flemming/CBS
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Cote de Pablo | Photo Credits: Sonja Flemming/CBS

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Question: NCIS has been a ratings juggernaut for CBS for many years. It has consistently been the top-rated show. But I wonder if that is going to last. ABC has scheduled Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. opposite NCIS this fall. I know S.H.I.E.L.D. has a lot of positive heat going for it at the moment. It's also directly tied to a series of blockbuster movies. And now the very popular Cote de Pablo is leaving. Her character Ziva's chemistry with Tony has been a major draw. I know the show is going to have to very careful in who they hire to take her place. Could this be the season that knocks NCIS for a loop? Right now, it's looking a bit vulnerable. What are your thoughts? — Todd

Matt Roush: I'm thinking there will be room for both to thrive. I'll be getting my first look at S.H.I.E.L.D. next weekend when ABC presents its lineup at the TCA press tour, but there's little question it's one of the most anticipated new fall series. It may well take a bite out of NCIS's incredibly broad audience, especially in the younger demographics, but even with the controversial departure of Ziva — a subject that continues to percolate in my mailbag — it's probably not wise to underestimate a show that has lost precious little of its mainstream appeal in a decade on the air. If S.H.I.E.L.D. lives up to creative expectations, it will likely bring new viewers to the time period, including genre fans underserved when it comes to big-budget, network-caliber fantasy TV. I certainly wouldn't expect it to beat NCIS in the ratings (at least not in total audience), but if S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes a contender, that's good for everyone, especially ABC.

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Question:
Networks have been losing Emmy nominations to cable shows for years, but now not only do they have to compete with cable but also online programs. How do network executives feel about losing prime-time Emmy nominations to shows that not only aren't prime time but aren't even on TV? Also as more online outlets start producing original programs, do you think there will come a point at which nominations for online-only programs are separate from other programming? What effects if any do you think the growing number of online only shows will have on network TV? — David

Matt Roush: For the record, this discussion pertains mostly to drama, because networks are still doing OK in the comedy arena for now. But it's obvious to all that the networks aren't the prevailing flavor in the nominating process these days, and with few exceptions — The Good Wife on CBS (unfairly snubbed), or something as out there as NBC's Hannibal, which if it had aired on cable might have been taken more seriously — it's not like the networks are programming most of their schedules with delusions of awards gold. The shows that dominate the drama nominations for the most part wouldn't survive on network TV, and most have come to grips with that. A new entity like Netflix has to be taken seriously, because it's producing serious new product — and from the Emmys' perspective, it doesn't matter where the shows are coming from as long as they're worthy, and House of Cards certainly was. (And thankfully, possibly amazingly, the disappointing Arrested Development reboot didn't make the best-comedy cut despite the hype, so it's not like these trendier venues are getting a free ride.) Segregating online programming isn't likely to happen any more than separating cable from network shows — it's all part of the mix now — so the real issue here is whether network TV will eventually try harder to step up its game to compete, and if that happens, whether the industry will be awake or open-minded enough to notice. I wouldn't count on it.

Question: I too was saddened about the omission of Tatiana Maslany from the Emmy nominations. Her performance(s) on Orphan Black was/were spectacular. I hope she gets recognized when the British version of the Emmys comes along. Orphan Black is one of those brilliant shows that no one is watching. People should tune in to BBC America to see some amazing shows, ranging from the hilarious Graham Norton Show and Top Gear to the intense Copper and Ripper Street. — Bob

Matt Roush: Let me take this opportunity to add to the BBC America love by once again touting the upcoming eight-part mystery series Broadchurch (starts Aug. 7), which is easily one of the best shows of late summer, along with the final run of Breaking Bad episodes on AMC (Aug. 11). As for Tatiana Maslany's awards future: Can't speak for the British (I'm not even sure if the show has premiered across the pond yet), but I'm excited that she is nominated for a Television Critics Association Award for individual achievement in drama, with winners to be announced on Saturday. Maybe that kind of attention will wake the industry up, even if it's too late for this year's Emmys.

Question: In lieu of the recent passing of Cory Monteith, I have seen numerous stories about how past shows have handled the real life passing of an actor/actress — but has there ever been a circumstance like the one on Glee before, where the actor or actress has been a major leading character who was also part of an unresolved beloved core couple? I know 8 Simple Rules had John Ritter who was a lead, but being a comedy, nothing was unresolved with the character. Also, do you think there is any way to ever move the character of Rachel forward in a romantic relationship that the audience could accept or is Rachel done with romantic relationships, being that the audience knows Cory has passed and not left the show for contract or other reasons? — Lindsey

Matt Roush: As in real life, every death on an ongoing series has its own unique complications and sadness. If there's a situation comparable to what's happened to Glee, in terms of on-screen and off-screen relationships, I can't recall it. Regardless, it's too soon in the mourning process to speculate what happens as life goes on for those involved, let alone the characters they play. Wherever they take the Rachel character from this point forward, it will need to be handled with great sensitivity and it will take time.

Question: "Event" series are a crock. If they succeed, they become real series. If they're not, nets can pretend they were minis. — Dennis [from Twitter]

Matt Roush: This tweet arrived in the wake of NBC announcing a full slate of new miniseries and/or "limited" series. My response: I don't care what they call them. It's a form of storytelling the networks have shunned for way too long, and while I'm not sure how projects like Under the Dome and CBS's upcoming Hostages (to name a few) will sustain their story beyond a first season, I'm beyond happy and excited to see the networks get back into the game. (Even if some of the projects, like NBC remaking Stephen King's The Tommyknockers, are head-scratchers.)

Question: I finally got to see the new episodes of Arrested Development on Netflix, and despite my lowered expectations after reading reviews of it, I thought they were fairly awful (and I consider the original run of AD to be among my favorite series). I didn't laugh all that much, because something was missing that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it was the extended length of the episodes. Maybe it was just that they were trying to be too clever and not actually funny or coherent. Maybe it's because I thought they were building to a big season finale, but it just kind of ended with no sense of closure. Anyway, assuming Netflix makes these episodes available to the channels that currently broadcast reruns of AD, they'll undoubtedly have to be trimmed by 1/3 to fit into a half-hour slot with commercials (unless they go the worse route and pad them with more commercials to be an hour long), is it possible the necessary trimming might actually make them better? Or will they simply be shorter and still not funny? (In any event, I'm still holding out hope that the Veronica Mars movie retains that show's magic.) — Scott

Matt Roush: I would imagine that come the day that the new Arrested Development episodes aren't exclusive to Netflix anymore and are offered into syndication — if they ever are — they'll wind up somewhere flexible enough to air them in their original form (Sundance, IFC, even Comedy Central). I'm not sure making them shorter would make them any more satisfying. And at least the Veronica Mars project appears to be going about it the right way: telling a story at a proper length with as much of the whole gang reunited as possible. High hopes for that one.

Question: I don't get the criticisms of Mad Men and The Newsroom, or the undiluted praise of Parenthood. I've watched all three since each series began, and the first two are sophisticated, complex, entertaining and darkly funny, while Parenthood is, more often than not, tripe (even though I love several of the actors). I plan to (finally) take Parenthood off my DVR list this fall, as it is saccharine-y, unrealistic, and sometimes verges on nauseating. There's no comparison whatever between it and Friday Night Lights, which was terrific TV. Do the critics fawn because of unrealistic, emotional plot lines? I'm quite familiar with the ups and downs of raising children, as I have three late-teen boys and have been through it all with them, their friends and my friends. But no one I've ever known remotely resembles the Bravermans. No one. Give me anything by Aaron Sorkin or Matthew Weiner any day. Thanks for allowing me to vent. — Nancy

Matt Roush: You're welcome, I guess, but a few things to keep in mind, beyond the old saying "to each their own" and if you don't like something, no one's forcing you to watch. Even great talents like Sorkin and Weiner are not immune to honest criticism, and it's because of their reputation that some may hold their work to a higher standard. Up until this season, Mad Men was an almost universally worshiped critical darling, and while I (and others) found some of Season 6 to be heavy-handed, self-important and unsatisfying, there was still much to praise, especially in the latter half. Newsroom is by its very nature controversial, but no one would deny the passion of its creator to make the show exactly what he wants it to be, for better and sometimes for worse. But I'm also a great believer that a show doesn't have to be Great Drama to be praiseworthy TV. And that's where a show like Parenthood fits in, which is embraced in many corners for what it represents but rarely gets the media attention of these cable dramas.

There are few genres more endangered than the family drama, and while Parenthood is far from perfect — I've cringed the last two seasons at Julia and Joel's storylines in particular, first the surrogate pregnancy and then the adoption, which telegraphed just about every bump in the predictable road — I often find myself genuinely engaged and moved by many of the characters and their struggles. Monica Potter blew me away last season as Kristina fought cancer while still dealing with family matters, and I was touched by Amber's relationship with the damaged Ryan, and Drew's growing pains among other subplots. I'm not sure I know anyone quite like the Bravermans, either, which is maybe a good thing, but I enjoy the fiction and the opportunity for a good cry every now and then. I agree it's not operating on the level of Friday Night Lights, but what is?

Question: USA Network has copied TNT in restricting on-line viewing to people who have cable service. Why? I thought the idea of putting your shows on the Internet was to increase your audience, not reduce it to those who can already watch. I don't have cable; I don't want (and can't afford) cable. Is there any way around this? Or am I simply forced to give up my guilty pleasures? — Alice

Matt Roush: If there's a way to illegally access this material, I don't know it and wouldn't be in a place to advise. But here's a sad awakening for those who consider the Internet a place to get anything and everything for free: TV is still a business, and it doesn't necessarily benefit channels like USA and TNT to expose their successful shows to an audience that isn't paying for the privilege, because an important part of their revenue stream comes from cable fees. Making the shows available online is primarily a convenience. Having access to them isn't a universal right.

Question: I am itching for September to roll around for all of my shows to return. One of them is Law & Order: SVU. I just watched the episode from 2008 in which Robin Williams guest starred as Merritt Rook. With the rumors that this may be the final season of SVU, coupled with the fact that Rook appeared to escape at the end of that episode, is there any chance Williams and SVU might hook up for an encore this season? Williams has played complex characters brilliantly over the past decade, never better than his one time on SVU, for which I believe he won the Emmy. — Jonathan

Matt Roush: To be precise, Williams was nominated for that memorable guest role, but he didn't win. And given that he's going to be busy this season with a new CBS sitcom (The Crazy Ones) that films on the opposite coast, I'd presume the odds are against him returning anytime soon. But stranger things have happened.

Question: I've watched NBC's Siberia from the beginning and I'm honestly surprised it hasn't at least gotten a little buzz. Granted, it's NBC during the summer, but from what I've seen, the show is much better than one would think. The premise itself is fascinating to me and while the acting can sometimes lean toward cheesy at times, the story lines keep me interested. Perhaps it suffers from the post-Lost sci-fi curse, but it still flips that idea on its head. Any ideas why it hasn't received the attention it (in my humble opinion) deserves? — Jeffrey

Matt Roush: Even if Siberia were a critical hit, which it isn't — the hybrid of phony reality show and unconvincing scripted thriller didn't work for me, and the execution was terrible — it has the bad luck of airing opposite a bona fide summer sensation, CBS's Under the Dome (which is not without its own significant flaws, although last Monday's episode was a huge improvement). That pretty much dooms it to being ignored for what I imagine will be a brief and quickly forgotten run.

That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!

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