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Ask Mo Time: Answering Queries on 'Friday Night Lights,' 'Terra Nova,' 'Damages' and 'Law & Order: Los Angeles'

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jan 31st 2011 6:15PM
In one of last week's Talking TV podcasts, Ryan McGee and I took on several reader questions that were posed here. Below are answers to more questions I recently received on that post and via Twitter.

Katie71483 asks: Do we know yet when NBC is going to air the fifth season of 'Friday Night Lights'? I can't wait and at the same time am completely dreading the end. Have you seen any of it? Is it worthy sendoff for one of TV's finest shows?
Mo says: The 60-minute series finale of 'Friday Night Lights' airs Feb. 9 on DirecTV, but fans will have to wait awhile to see the show's fifth and final season on NBC. A representative for NBC said Monday that season 5 of FNL will begin airing in "late spring" on the network; a more exact date should be announced soon.

Here's the odd thing: The show's season 5 DVD set will be released April 5, so it seems that the fifth season is likely to air on NBC after it's already out on DVD.

FNL superfans of the Texas-set show can gobble of the last season of this wonderful show in a few sittings, so it's fortunate that, as critic Alan Sepinwall pointed out, NBC doesn't appear to be too worried about the ratings for the final season.

I've been watching season 5 as it has aired on DirecTV, and so far it's a fitting final go-round for this beloved ensemble drama. DirecTV has made the final episode of the show available to critics on its press site, but I can't bring myself to take my last trip to Dillon that way.

First of all, I don't want the show to end, so I'm using every delay tactic I can think of. Secondly, I'm going to watch the finale the way I've watched every episode of the show -- on the couch, beside my husband, who is just as big a fan. I'm sure I'll be crying like a baby (and I'm betting my husband will get some dust in his eyes at some point). Honestly, just thinking about watching the series finale of FNL is making me a little verklempt.

But don't worry: I'll fight through the tears to share some thoughts on the show. I've already penned an FNL piece that will post shortly before the Feb. 9 series finale, and I'll write something on the series finale the day after it airs.

CandyLynnBryant asks: Has 'Damages' begun production? Any word on cast additions?
'Damages' begins production on its 10-episode fourth season Feb. 10 in New York. Season 4 will arrive in July, a representative for DirecTV confirmed.

Glenn Close will return as lawyer Patty Hewes and Rose Byrne will be back as Ellen Parsons, and in the new season of the show [spoilers ahoy in the rest of this sentence], John Goodman will play "a shadowy military contractor who becomes a defendant in a wrongful death suit over an incident in a war zone" and Dylan Baker will play a cagey man who has ties to the Middle East and is "intimately involved in the season-long conspiracy," according to DirecTV.

Fans who've missed previous seasons of the show, which used to air on FX, still have time to catch up with the devious Hewes: Repeats of previous seasons are airing each Wednesday on DirecTV's 101 Network. Season 1 began airing Jan. 5, season 2 begins April 6 and season 3 begins May 25.

I just want to repeat this, so there's no confusion: FX isn't airing 'Damages' any more. You can only catch the show on DirecTV or, presumably, on DVD at some point in the future.

Tausif: Do you have any thoughts on Steven Spielberg's 'Terra Nova'?
I saw a three-minute clip of 'Terra Nova' last month at a press event, and it looked like a lush and expensive adventure series. As is only appropriate for a Spielberg project (he's one of the show's many producers), it looked like it cost a whole bunch of money.

Still, I wouldn't say I'm excited about 'Terra Nova' yet. I'm glad that Fox is spending big on something intriguing, and I'm pleased that the network isn't alone in taking chances on bold projects. This pilot season, it appears that the networks are willing to break out of their ruts a little, thank goodness. After a few years of very bland, safe pilots (most of which tanked), the broadcast networks are, at least to some degree, betting on big concepts, out-of-the-box premises and period dramas, not just the usual cookie-cutter legal/medical/crime shows.

Yet there's every chance that 'Terra Nova,' which stars Jason O'Mara and 'Avatar's' Stephen Lang, could be a big, soulless boondoggle. So far, all the 'event' series that have come down the pike post-'Lost' have focused more on the the mechanics of some big disaster and less on the people living through these bizarre situations. To be fair, some of these high-concept shows have eventually focused on the characters -- who've often turned out to be annoying, boring or both.

Also, I wasn't impressed when 'Terra Nova' executive producer Brannon Braga batted aside, with some apparent annoyance, a legitimate question about the logical foundation of the show. 'Terra Nova' is about people who go back in time to the dinosaur era in order to found a colony for refugees from a polluted Earth. Not a bad premise for a show, but as one reporter asked, doesn't it change Earth's timeline significantly if advanced humans to go back and start monkeying around with events in the distant past? Apparently we shouldn't care about that, according to Braga, who essentially waved the question aside.

If the show isn't going to pay much attention to plausibility, then it'll have to work even harder to make me care about the plights of these time-traveling characters. 'Terra Nova' will have to be very good indeed to convince me that this dino drama, which will get a special premiere May 23-24, is about more than special effects and big-budget disasters. Will Fox be able to deliver something better than 'The Event,' 'Flash Forward,' 'Invasion,' etc? Only time will tell.

LittleCrisiM asks: I love 'Downton Abbey' so much! Do you have any insight as to when more episodes will be shown? I hope it's soon.

Karolinatx asks: Do you know why the U.K. iTunes has 7 episodes in season 1 of 'Downton Abbey'? Did PBS re-cut or are we missing [something]?

Anyone who read my review of 'Downton Abbey,' which concluded its PBS Masterpiece run Sunday, knows I was besotted with this English country house drama, so waiting up to a year for new episodes will be hard, but we may have to brace ourselves for a lengthy gap between seasons. (If you haven't seen 'Downton' yet, get yourself over to the Masterpiece site, where you can watch all four season 1 episodes through Feb. 21.)

The good news is, there will be a second season. 'Downton' was a huge hit in England and a second season was commissioned before the show even aired on this side of the Atlantic. Season 2 goes into production this spring and airs in the U.K. in the fall.

As Karolina noticed, the episodes aired somewhat differently in the U.K. -- 'Downton' was shown in seven installments there and we got four installments here. For American audiences, the show's content was slightly re-arranged so that it comfortably fit into four Masterpiece airings. Jace Lacob, aka the Televisionary, has the full scoop on what wasn't lost in translation -- apparently there were a few very minor cuts here and there, but we essentially saw the same 'Downton' that aired in the U.K.

It looks like we'll get slightly more 'Downton' whenever season 2 arrives here: Eight episodes plus a Christmas special air in the U.K. in the fall. But if you're desperate for more costume drama before 'Downton' returns, brand-new episodes of 'Upstairs/Downstairs' air on PBS in April.

Update: Mastepiece announced Feb. 1 that 'Downton Abbey' will return to PBS Masterpiece in the 'winter' of 2012. Creator Julian Fellowes will pen the second season and cast members Maggie Smith. Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern (among others) are all confirmed to return.

Kbmy515 asks: Any news about 'The Chicago Code'? Is it good? Will it fill the 'Terriers'-sized hole in my heart?
What could? But yes, 'The Chicago Code,' which comes from 'Terriers' executive producer Shawn Ryan and debuts Feb. 7, is good. The show has a very different feel from 'Terriers,' which was looser, scruffier and funnier than 'Code.' The Fox drama intertwines several stories about politics and corruption in the Windy City, and it doesn't have 'Terriers' buddy-detective angle. But 'Code' is certainly one of the most promising new dramas of the year, and I think it's well worth checking out.

I'll post a full review and a feature on the show in the next week or so, but before then, my colleague Maggie Furlong has video interviews with the cast.

FlyoverFi asks: Why do US networks continue to cast British, Australian and New Zealand actors rather than finding Americans (or even Canadians)?
"Even" Canadians?? I want to make it clear that those who don't think Canadian actors are every bit as good as American actors don't know what they're talking aboot. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) OK, in all seriousness, Canadian thespians are very frequently awesome. Let's just leave it at that.

My first guess is that foreign actors are cheaper than American actors. Every year, most TV vehicles built around high-profile, expensive actors crash and burn, and while the TV industry hasn't fully learned its lesson and stopped making those costly mistakes, there have been some concessions to economic reality. One way to reduce costs is to cast actors who won't demand as much money as "name" American actors (even B-list actors with stalled movie careers have been known to ask a whole lot of dough).

Also, expanding the casting pool is one way to ensure that the same few dozen actors don't keep appearing on TV year after year. Most foreign actors don't bring any baggage about who they've played in the past, so the blank-slate quality probably appeals to producers as well. In any event, given how easy it is to download an audition from an actor in Sydney or London, and given how good many foreign actors are, it's actually surprising that more TV actors aren't from somewhere other than the U.S.

It's also possible that the foreign actors are simply the best ones for the job. Even something as all-American as the 'Superman' film franchise was recently entrusted to a British actor (who broke into the industry via a TV show).

Brett MacAlpine asks: Seeing Julie Bowen's and Sofia Vergara's success on 'Modern Family' has got me thinking about 'Ed' and 'Knights of Prosperity' and wishing I could watch them again on DVD. But they're nowhere to be found. What shows do you most wish would finally get released on DVD? And do you hear any whispers and rumors in TV-land about some of these long-lost shows finally getting released?
It is odd that there are more and more ways to access content these days -- from Netflix Instant to Hulu to SlashControl to iTunes and DVD -- yet some content remains difficult if not impossible to find.

This isn't an area I follow closely (TV Shows on DVD is a great resource if you're wondering what's coming out when), but if I had to pick shows that I want to come out on DVD, 'The Wonder Years,' 'China Beach' and 'Ed' would top the list. None of them are on DVD, amazingly enough. Music rights, which often weren't cleared in perpetuity back in the day, often hold up these releases. After switching out much of the show's music, the first season of 'WKRP in Cincinnati' was finally released a few years ago, but there don't appear to be any plans to release subsequent seasons.

That's actually a bigger problem for me -- the fact that we've only gotten one season of solid shows like 'Newhart.' And though 'Everwood's' first, second and third seasons are finally out, the completist in me wants the fourth one too.

Presumably the cost of manufacturing physical DVDs has been a factor when executives considered whether to release cult shows or later seasons of older programs. But now that there are so many streaming and online-purchase options, I'm hoping that becomes less of an issue and more of these worthy shows see the light of day.

ElvisGlasses asks: Do you know what happened to 'Law &Order: Los Angeles'? I haven't seen a new episode since before Christmas. Hope Skeet didn't have another series cancelled!
Errr.... Sorry to be the one to tell you, but Skeet Ulrich has left LOLA as part of a massive shakeup of the NBC show. LOLA is off the air indefinitely while the producers incorporate the following changes:

1. Cast members Skeet Ulrich, Regina Hall and Megan Boone have left the show.

2. Terrence Howard's deputy district attorney Jonah "Joe" Dekker will be in every episode going forward (previously, he'd been in every other episode, trading district-attorney duties with Alfred Molina's character).

3. Alfred Molina's character, former deputy district attorney Ricardo Morales, will be leaving the courtroom and will be a police officer going forward (according to the character's backstory, he was a police officer prior to becoming an lawyer).

4. Alana de la Garza will reprise her 'Law & Order' character, Connie Rubirosa, on LOLA when the show returns.

Again, there's no time frame for when LOLA will return. Presumably it'll be back this season, but NBC hasn't released any information about the reboot's re-emergence. If I hear anything different, I'll update this post.

Update: An NBC representative said Tuesday that when the newly reconfigured 'LOLA' returns, it's possible that Regina Hall's character "could appear on occasion" and also said that "the plan is for the show to return this season, though there is no date yet."

Thunk-thunk.


Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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FlyoverFi

Just to clarify - I was born and raised in Atlantic Canada, so I wasn't trying to besmirch Canadian actors. I was more getting to the fact that Canadians are more likely to be able to speak with an American rather than Brits / Aussies who seem to really struggle with the accent. I've been watching Off the Map, and I literally can't tell if Martin Henderson is trying to do an American accent and failing or has given up altogether.

February 01 2011 at 1:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to FlyoverFi's comment
Craig Ranapia

Well, that's Hugh Laurie and Jamie Bamber (for two) put in their place. We can't all be Meryl Streep, darling, and like most ridiculous generalisations I can easily come up with plenty of counter-examples. American actors whose diction is so bad I suspect they've given up trying to speak any form of the English language.

But thanks for mentioning Martin Henderson. To put it politely, Off The Map isn't on my must see list but while he's an expat-Kiwi he's been living (and working) in LA for over a decade. I assume he got cast the same way everyone else did -- doing the rounds of pilot season, building up a profile and body of work, and (in the end) owning his audition for a show that finally went to series.

February 01 2011 at 3:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KathyB

For once I don't mind that I watch FNL on NBC and will have to wait for it to air. The longer I have before the final season starts, the longer I have until it ends. There will be a permanent little hole in my heart when it is over. I understand that TV series are not meant to last forever. A show focusing on high school presents special challenges. FNL handled these as well as can be expected. But I will miss them and their lives in Dillon forever.

BTW did you see Tyra on Criminal Minds last week? Almost unrecognizable and very believable.

February 01 2011 at 10:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kmjdu

Can't wait for Law and Order to return,although I will miss Skeet Ulrich.

February 01 2011 at 12:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
afg1

Oh, moryan, thanks for at least trying to get a straight answer out of Mr. Braga, but after the ST:Enterprise experience, we all know he has no consideration for those silly detail thingymabobs.

January 31 2011 at 9:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to afg1's comment
TAUSIF

Apparently Braga also responded to the reporter who asked the question about the timeline by saying that he felt like he was at a Star Trek convention. What an arrogant dismissive response to a telling question. I don't know whether I have seen anything successful by Braga. The fact that David Fury has been fired from the writing staff tells me something as well.

February 01 2011 at 1:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mellusions

Waiting for more Downton is going to be soooooooo hard. This was seriously the best thing I've watched on tv in a long while.

January 31 2011 at 9:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
katie71483

So glad FNL goes out on a high note in its fifth season! I've already got my stock of tissue ready just in case the room gets, you know, dusty or something. While I'm so sad that it's almost over, I'm so grateful that we have these last three seasons with DirecTV. They have given us a great gift, indeed.

January 31 2011 at 7:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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