Ask Matt: Veronica Mars Reborn, Cancellation Anxiety, the Vegas Move
Kristen Bell | Photo Credits: Greg Gayne/The CW
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Question: I'm thrilled that Veronica Mars fans will be getting a long-awaited movie. I have a few questions related to the Kickstarter campaign that made it possible: 1) Were you surprised that the goal of $2 million was reached in only 24 hours given the ratings challenges the show always faced as a TV series? 2) There was some controversy about whether asking fans to fund the project instead of having the studio fund it was setting a bad precedent and whether such a "mainstream" project should have been conducted through Kickstarter. What are your thoughts? Lastly, what other cancelled TV shows do you think would be worthy of fan-funded movie resurrections? — Brian
Matt Roush: 1) I'm pretty sure everyone in the industry and beyond was astonished — gobsmacked is another favorite word that comes to mind — at how quickly this all happened, in part because as you noted Veronica Mars was the cult-iest of cult shows and has been off the air (though apparently not out of mind) for six years. But as we all know, fan passion runs deep, and in this case, they put their money where it mattered, in a unique (for now) circumstance that gives them pride of participation, if not ownership. Which brings up 2) the question of whether the Kickstarter method is appropriate for projects like this. I don't see a problem, in part because Veronica Mars feels less "mainstream" than underdog, as close to indie-film status as anything from a major studio can be. This wasn't going to happen any other way, and it's unlikely anyone's going to make a fortune from this once it heads to its ultimate destination: online, On Demand, video. It's a win for fans and for the creative team that has stayed remarkably committed to seeing this become a reality.
Which brings up 3) the fact that an awful lot needs to go right in terms of assembling cast, writers and production team for a project of the right scale to get this sort of go-ahead. (Even another watershed event like Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog only happened because of "favors and waivers," as he put it to me back in 2008. And we're still waiting for the sequel.) Among the titles I've seen discussed in the wake of this Veronica Mars news are even cult-ier shows like Party Down and Terriers — which probably could produce a movie version on this scale — as well as fan faves like Chuck (which got five seasons, but Zachary Levi still dreams of doing a movie, and why not). Many shows are "worthy" (as Brian puts it) of resurrection, but like Arrested Development's comeback on Netflix, they're still likely to be the exception to the rule that once a show's canceled, it's over. Which won't stop the clamoring for more, so it will be interesting to see what happens next.
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Question: Should we Once Upon a Time fans be worried with the low ratings the show has oddly been getting lately? I don't understand why the show is getting such low ratings as all of my family and friends still watch the series and the online fanbase is so large. I know the ratings really aren't the full picture anymore, and a Season 3 renewal is pretty much a given, but should we be worried that Season 3 could be the last? A lot of my friends now watch the show with their DVRs or online which I know the overnight ratings don't include. Once they add those factors in, plus how popular the show is on social networking sites like Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook, it has to change the story. I'm sure ABC knows how large the fandom actually is and I'm sure if we have to, there will be online campaigns to keep the show on the air like there have been with Chuck and Fringe. I'm starting to wonder if next season ABC will pair OUAT with S.H.I.E.L.D. by either keeping it on Sundays or moving it to another day, or if it will go the route of Lost and schedule an end date with a multiple-season renewal? I just hope this show is able to end the way the writers want it to. I think they, the cast and we as fans deserve to have a proper ending. — Amanda
Matt Roush: It's a little early to start worrying about renewal beyond this season, don't you think? Once was not helped by ABC scheduling first-run episodes against big events in January and February, but any show on Sundays faces that problem. Daylight savings is also no friend to shows that air at 8/7c. But in the bigger picture, as you suggested, the networks are taking into account many more factors than the immediate overnight ratings to calculate what makes a show a success in this increasingly fragmented marketplace. I like your idea of pairing Once with a similarly fantastic show, but I'd be surprised if ABC moves this show off of Sundays, where it still performs an important function as a family-friendly show in a critical hour. Either way, it seems too early for the Once producers to start thinking about an endgame or for fans to be worrying about an unhappily-ever-after scenario.
Question: When I first heard that Vegas was moving to Fridays, I thought CBS was writing this show off, but I actually think this might be a good night for it. I've heard that the average viewer age for this show is about 60, which I know isn't great for advertisers. Most young people are out on Friday night anyway, so advertising a CBS Friday night with Dennis Quaid and Tom Selleck might just work. I don't know how many shows CBS has lined up for next year, but there might not be much choice for them but to dump it. I really enjoy the show. What are your thoughts? Does it have any chance at all to stick on Fridays? — Brian S
Matt Roush: You may be right, and that's not a bad marketing idea focusing on the marquee stars. My initial reaction to hearing that CBS was flipping Vegas with Golden Boy was that the Friday move was equivalent to burning off the remaining episodes, but Blue Bloods survives with a sizable but older following, and maybe Vegas can, too. (Another factor: CBS hasn't made a final call on CSI: NY yet, but that's been on the bubble for several years.) If Vegas holds its own on a night with lower expectations, that could be good news for its life expectancy. It has all of April to prove itself.
Question: Many shows seems to have their tone down from the beginning (e.g. Louie or Girls), while others struggle to find their footing. Sometimes the retool works and sometimes it doesn't (e.g. Smash). What current TV show do you think is most improved from its original season? My candidate is Parks and Recreation. I absolutely love the show now, but every time I recommend it to someone, I have to tell them to power through the first season, which bears almost no resemblance to the show that it became. — Daniel
Matt Roush: Parks is the best current example of a show that figured itself out as we watched its growing pains, especially in the fine-tuning of its lead character from an idealistic dolt to a canny optimist who makes the world (of Pawnee, anyway) better by turning her ideals into action. Adding the characters of Ben and Chris also helped a great deal in fleshing out this show's charms. Another show I consider much improved from its early seasons (not a universally held view, I should add) is Sons of Anarchy, which I didn't enjoy when the club seemed to rule Charming, not very credibly from my perspective, and they had to bring in gang-raping neo-Nazi villains to make these guys seem heroic. In recent seasons, the conflicts have become meatier and more significant as the club began to shred from within, achieving a tragic grandeur amid all the mayhem.
Question: I've watched Deception from episode 1 and while I agree that the show got off to a rocky start, I feel as though it's really starting to hit its stride. Especially with the revelation of Robert's best friend fathering a child with Vivian, finding out that Julian's girlfriend is working for the competition and potentially has something to do with Vivian's death, and Joanna's mother coming to visit and potentially blowing her cover. I know it's not the breakout show that NBC needs, but it seems to be performing just as good if not better in the ratings as some of NBC's comedies that have already been renewed. I think this is the best show NBC has launched since the hilarious BFFs and I don't want it to share the same fate. What are your thoughts on Deception and its chances of being renewed? — Brandon
Matt Roush: I'll admit I bailed after the first month of snooze-inducing episodes and the midseason has kept me too busy to keep up with a show that never grabbed my attention. It doesn't surprise me that any mystery series would pick up steam as it nears its conclusion — and NBC is promising a solution to the Vivian whodunit Monday night — but it would surprise me if NBC gave this one a second chance. This network is going to need to take some risks and big swings to pull itself out of this slump, and NBC would be deceiving itself to think Deception has that kind of momentum.
Question: Is it too early to get a read on whether Red Widow will stick around for a second season? There are enough subplots — her brother-in-law's coke addiction, the mental well-being of her children — to make for some interesting drama. I'm hoping you reply in the affirmative! — Brenda
Matt Roush: Wish I could, but Red Widow left me even colder than Deception (though it's pretty much a tie), and while it is a bit early to be handicapping such a new show, I'd think its chances are slim at best to survive what has been a dismal midseason for most new network programming.
Question: I'm assuming that Monday Mornings is DOA and I'm trying to figure out why there's no traction. I've always enjoyed David E. Kelley shows, from the days of Picket Fences to Boston Public, The Practice and Boston Legal, but this show just doesn't have the usual Kelley flow. The cast is good, the focus of the M&M meetings is different. Is it the competition, the lead-in (a sagging Dallas), or are we sick of medical shows? — Elaine
Matt Roush: Over the last week, I got a flurry of cancellation-anxiety mail about Monday Mornings, and I wonder if that had something to do with it not getting a bump even on the night that J.R. was laid to rest on Dallas, which predictably caused a spike for that show's ratings. Medical-drama fatigue could be a factor, because there hasn't been a breakout show in that genre since Grey's Anatomy (not counting its terrible spinoff), but it may be that the premise is just too downbeat and that the overt absurdism that has flavored many of Kelley's recent hits is lacking here (I don't mind that, personally). Whatever the cause, the prognosis for renewal looks pretty bleak. And should TNT decide to rally behind any of its low-rated dramas, I hope it would be Southland.
Question: When show creators pitch a high-concept show, such as Last Resort or Golden Boy, do the studios, networks and creators themselves try to think about how the show will continue past, say, the first season (or the first episode, in some cases)? Last Resort, as entertaining as it was, really never seemed like more than a miniseries (which was what it eventually became, thanks to the ratings). With Golden Boy, I like how the creators have essentially given the show a seven-season time limit to tell their story (although I suppose they could show episodes just about Walter as the Commissioner — but there was already a show called The Commish, right?). I'm not sure they really thought through how interesting the story would be throughout the seven years. In order to become the commissioner, Walter will presumably have to rise through the ranks (and quickly at that), and I'm just not sure that seeing him serve as the head of a precinct would be a very entertaining show. Having him just be one of several homicide detectives in a precinct and then become the Commissioner would be like Star Trek's Captain Kirk going straight from Starfleet Academy to becoming the captain of the flagship of Starfleet, and that would just be silly. Of course, this may all be a moot point if the show doesn't get renewed. I know it's still early, and that the Friday experiment tanked ratings-wise, but what do you think the chances are for a second season? — Scott
Matt Roush: This one really is a too-early-to-tell toss-up. It's not doing appreciably better or worse than anything else CBS has tried lately at 10/9c on Tuesdays, but the network keeping it there through the midseason is a sign of some faith. To your bigger question, it seems unlikely any show with a serialized nature would get a green-light if its producer/creator didn't pitch some over-arcing vision of how it would proceed over the long haul. Golden Boy's book-ending flash-forwards are among its most distinctive qualities, but it's not clear yet if each season would constitute a year in Detective Clark's life and if so, how it would deal with his partner Don Owen's impending retirement in two years. (The show is unthinkable without Chi McBride.) These would be happy problems for any show to face, but it would be surprising if the producers didn't have at least a broad outline of Clark's rise to the top — they foreshadow it enough — and how that would be dramatized if they're lucky enough to get more seasons to tell his story.
I like the dramas with a light touch like Castle and The Mentalist. They've gone dark. Are they going to lighten up or am I going to have to leave? I've seen it happen before when they've given the characters more "depth" or have the performers flex their acting muscles and it ruins the show. If they don't want to do what made the shows successful, they should quit. — Georgia
Matt Roush: If you're looking for me to agree that shows should never add layers of "depth" or conflict, even in the lighter procedurals, you've come to the wrong place. I don't want or need every show to be as grim or twisted as The Following and Dexter or as literally dark as The Killing, but even escapist shows like Castle and The Mentalist deserve the chance to put some dramatic meat on their Bones (to name another light procedural) from time to time. They tend to do this when addressing the bigger mythology stories: the conspiracy around the death of Beckett's mother on Castle, anything involving Red John on The Mentalist (which even the fans are tiring of at this point). These occasional "darker" episodes don't alter the overall tone of these series, especially Castle, but for many they enhance the experience (and that no doubt includes the performers and writers).
Question: I've recently become a fan of Bryan Fuller (always loved Pushing Daisies, but just got into Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me). Was bummed that Mockingbird Lane didn't go further, but Hannibal has my hopes up. Why don't Fuller's shows seem to last more than two seasons (see all the above-mentioned shows), and do you think Hannibal will have a better chance of lasting? — Mottel
Matt Roush: Bryan Fuller doesn't make ordinary TV, and taking extraordinary risks often presents challenges in such a mainstream medium. I've seen five episodes of Hannibal (which premieres April 4), and it's as freaky, visually stimulating and fascinating as any of Fuller's best work, but this one also has a brand name (Hannibal Lecter from Thomas Harris' best-sellers) attached, so I'm hoping this will be the long-awaited new hit NBC so desperately needs and Fuller deserves. The Thursday time period (10/9c) will be challenging, since it's been such a dead zone for NBC in recent years.
UPDATE: Regarding last week's NCIS question about Ziva and the aftermath of her father's assassination, the show's executive producer Gary Glasberg sent in this quote to reconfirm my answer: "Revenge is often better served slowly and deliberately. And the ramifications of what's to come at the end of the season will be significant and, to say the least, surprising." To that end, the April 9 episode includes a storyline in which "Tony suspects that Ziva is planning a risky move to avenge her father's death." In other NCIS news, because I get so many questions about McGee and when we'll ever meet his father, that will be addressed in the March 26 episode, introducing Jamey Sheridan (the ill-fated vice president on Homeland) as Navy Admiral John McGee, who in classic NCIS tradition is implicated in a murder at sea.
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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