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September 5, 2015

Ask Mo Time: Answers on 'Glee,' 'Fringe,' Pilots, 'Harry's Law,' 'Chuck' and Much More

by Maureen Ryan, posted May 3rd 2011 3:15PM
In this month's Ask Mo, I tried to answer as many of your excellent questions as I could. Let's get to it!

Matt: Is it true that Blaine will only appear in one of the final four episodes of 'Glee' this season? With Darren Criss being the biggest breakout star of this season, sidelining him seems crazy (and particularly insulting to Klaine fans). I'm hoping he'll appear in the finale and it's being kept under wraps. Any chance of that?

Mo says: It's possible. Blaine is not in this week's episode or the May 17 episode, but he's definitely in the May 10 episode. A Fox representative could not confirm definitively whether Criss will appear in the May 24 finale, in which New Directions heads to Nationals. But never fear, even if he isn't in the season 2 finale, I am betting the hunky Blaine will be appearing on the Fox show for some time to come.

Nevada Wayne: We're wondering if two shows that we really like will be renewed, 'Detroit 1-8-7' and 'Human Target.'

BDGOP: Is 'The Good Wife' in any danger of not being renewed? People who say that there's nothing good on TV haven't watched 'Wife.'

Katie: Mo, earlier this season I was fairly confident (for once) that 'Chuck' would be renewed for another season. Its numbers were stable and with the turnover, it seemed likely that they would want a steady performer with a loyal fan base. Since then, the numbers have dropped significantly. Do you have a sense of what's going on with 'Chuck' and NBC?

Mo says:
It's that time of year, when questions about various shows' renewal chances come up. But let's keep in mind that nothing official has been announced about dozens of shows. Some shows have gotten early renewals; notable pre-May renewals include 'Castle,' 'Bones,' 'Supernatural,' 'Bob's Burgers' and 'The Vampire Diaries' (a more complete list of programs that are definitely returning is here). But until the broadcast networks announce their fall lineups to advertisers in mid-May at the advertising upfronts, the status of some shows will remain in doubt.

Having said that, don't get too attached to 'Detroit 1-8-7,' which is all but certain to go away, (TV By the Numbers, a wise oracle on these subjects, also thinks 'No Ordinary Family,' 'Off the Map and 'The Event,' among others, are headed to the chopping block). Things also look iffy for 'Human Target.'

As for 'Chuck,' whether it gets a fifth season is in the hands of the gods at this point. TV By the Numbers has it as a "Likely Cancellation," though there is some hope that the new regime at NBC will see the virtue of sticking with a known quantity with a loyal fan base. 'Chuck's' chances may well rest on how NBC feels about the new shows that it has developed for next season. If the network has a large number of new shows it feels good about, 'Chuck's' days might be numbered. If the Monday schedule is still looking spotty, 'Chuck' might get a reprieve and return for one more go-round next season.

Enterprising 'Chuck' fans are, of course, at work on creative ways to spread the word about their love of the show and their desire for a fifth season. Check out We Give a Chuck for the latest on the fan campaign and for a cool deal that 'Chuck' supporters who are traveling this summer can get from one of the show's advertisers, Super Shuttle.

Dumont: Will there be a second season of A&E's The Glades?

Mo says: You're in luck. The second season arrives June 5.

Sharon: What happened to 'Harry's Law'? It was on Monday nights on NBC and I can't find it.

Mo says: Don't get too worried about the Kathy Bates-David E. Kelley drama. The show wasn't canceled; NBC simply finished airing the 12 'Harry's Law' episodes it had ordered a few weeks ago. The law drama was one of the few bright-ish spots in NBC's schedule, so it's likely to return next season.

Tausif: Do you have any news on Sarah Michelle Gellar's CBS pilot 'Ringer'? Do you have any news about the projects that Bad Robot writers are developing ('Alcatraz,' 'Locke and Key')? How about David Greenwalt's 'Grimm'? Kyle Killen's 'REM'?

Mo says: Hey Tausif, I may disappoint you on this front. This is just a philosophy of mine: I generally don't follow pilots all that closely, especially before a given networks orders a pilot to series. Though I do look at lists of pilots in development on occasion during "pilot season" (that's from about January to March/April for the broadcast networks), and though I do come across news about writers and actors who are attached to particular projects during that time, I don't read scripts and I try not to get too caught up in the hype of what supposedly has good buzz or bad buzz.

Ryan McGee and I did discuss a few pilots that caught our eye on our podcast a couple of months ago, but back then, we talked about the fact that, even when writers and actors we like are involved in a project, things can still go very, very wrong. And at this point, there's not much to go by in most cases. Usually at this stage, all we have are a couple of sentences on each project and a few names attached to it. There are so many steps between the first draft of a pilot and the program that ends up on the air that I'd rather not sit down to watch that pilot with a lot of preconceptions, aside from the baggage I inevitably bring when I see certain names in the credits (yeah, 'October Road'/'Happy Town' guys, I'm talking to you).

In any event, Jace Lacob, aka the Televisionary, follows pilot scripts more closely than I do; here are his thoughts on his favorite contenders. But my philosophy is, when I get a finished pilot for a show that will be on the air some day, I'll watch that. Until then, I try not to get too caught up in pilot season, aside from random chit-chat or the occasional panic about what David E. Kelley is doing to Wonder Woman.

Kayteadee: Why do networks and cable channels tend to schedule their big dramas on Sunday nights? I'm not complaining (well, maybe I am), but it seems like every Sunday night is jam-packed with great dramas to the point that I have to juggle DVR time, but the rest of the week is rather weak by comparison.

Mo says: This tends to happen in waves: Thursdays have been crowded forever, but I can recall various eras in which Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays were kind of nuts as well (and maybe they still are for some TV fans). My guess is that the cable networks saw an opportunity on Sunday nights to grab the affluent, educated viewers that may have fled HBO in its time of tumult a few years ago. Also, the broadcast network shows that air that night don't tend to be the most scintillating or buzzworthy -- they're generally aging warhorses that do more or less OK.

But you're right, with so many cable networks (especially AMC) piling on to the Sunday beachhead that HBO established, it's getting a little crazy on that night. In a good way, for the most part.

Craig: Sorry for poking this hornet's nest again, but it seems to me that you think (basically) 'Game of Thrones' and 'Mildred Pierce' weren't helped by being too respectful of their literary source material, Taking 'Justified' as [a good example of an adaptation], has anyone else gotten the transition from page to (small) screen right?

Mo says: That's a great question.

The best page-to-small-screen adaptation in recent memory is HBO's 'Temple Grandin,' in my opinion. The TV movie not only used Grandin's memoirs thoughtfully and judiciously, it illuminated the material in ways that helped tell the story in visually and emotionally striking ways. It was a great example of filmmakers taking source material and making it even more engaging on the screen.

Perhaps there's something about the miniseries or TV movie format that lends itself to adaptation? Maybe it's something to do with the fact that the creators can expand or contract the number of hours in their story based on the story's needs, not the more rigid demands of a 22- or 13-episode season (although, as you noted, the logy 'Mildred Pierce' still ran into trouble). In any event, other adaptations that came to mind are the Colin Firth-Jennifer Ehle 'Pride and Prejudice' from 1995, PBS' 'Bleak House' and HBO's 'The Pacific' (which used a couple of war memoirs as source material).

'Friday Night Lights' is another good book-to-screen adaptation, though we could certainly have a debate about whether, by the time H.G. Bissinger's book reached the small screen, it was merely a source of inspiration rather than the subject of a direct adaptation.

I've never read the novels on which 'True Blood' and 'Dexter' are based, but I enjoyed some of the early seasons of each show (though I'm pretty much over 'Dexter' and getting there with 'True Blood'). I'd love to throw the floor open to fans of those books to ask how they think the TV programs fared in adapting those fictional worlds. Too faithful? Not faithful enough?

But I'd like to hear from everyone, not just fans of those shows or books. Please share examples of book-to-TV adaptations you think worked well, if you care to.

Karen: You and Ryan convinced me to try 'Fringe' again (I'd watched the first season but was turned off by the second half of season 1 and the first half of season 2). I pushed through that section (which I still find not as solid as the rest) and am now in complete obsessive love with this show. When are you guys going to talk about it again (either in the podcast or on the blog)? Now that I'm up to date, I would be so interested to hear your opinions, especially now that the season is almost finished.

Tre: I used to love your reviews of 'Fringe' back in the old days. Have you lost interest?

Mo says: Glad we got you on board, Karen! And I haven't lost interest at all, I still write about the show occasionally. Check out this week's podcast, which will be posted Wednesday, for an extensive discussion of 'Fringe,' and I'll post thoughts on the show's Friday finale that night or by midday Saturday. I'll certainly be sad when the current season is over, that's for sure. Though I still think the fall run of episodes was consistently more suspenseful than the second half of the current season, I still love the show immensely. What will we do without the Bishops or Olivia or Asterix* all summer long?

[*I know it's really Astrid.]

Palopaleo: Can you think of any shows that have actually been improved by a full-term pregnancy storyline, or is pregnancy really the showkiller that this childless single guy finds it to be?

Mo says: Another great question. So many shows do pregnancy storylines in the expected and/or clichéd ways that I can't think of many that used it moderately well, let alone really well. I'd like to throw this one out to readers as well, because I can't recall many truly excellent pregnancy-related storylines. Basically, I have one word for you: 'Farscape.' Pregnancies were integrated into the storyline of that amazing sci-fi show in ways that were true to the characters and true to the show. There were some really kick-ass, interesting female characters on that show who remained kick-ass and interesting throughout their pregnancies. I'll always be grateful to the show for that.

But readers, speak up. Name some creative pregnancy storylines that didn't make you roll your eyes.

Kimmer: What show were you completely wrong about? Either for the good or the bad.

Mo says: Another question that required some hard thinking. I think I have to separate my response into a few different sections.

Some shows simply weren't much good when they started, so I don't think I was "wrong" about them when I wrote negative reviews -- I merely changed my opinion when the show improved. 'Parks and Recreation,' 'Supernatural' and 'Fringe' are just a few of the shows that I was iffy about when they began but which I later loved.

Then there are shows that I formed judgments about without having watched them. Before I was a TV critic and began to watch many, many shows from their premieres onward, I would see a few minutes of a show or hear its title and decide it wasn't for me. Here are a few of my dumb, pre-critic snap judgments (and again, these assessments were based on seeing very little, if any, of the shows in question. Just know that I know that all of these snap judgments were immensely stupid):

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer': I didn't watch it in its first couple of seasons because I though it had a stupid name, so it had to be dumb, right?

'The Shield': I thought it was a typical cop show about cops busting down doors and interrogating prostitutes.

'Deadwood': I didn't think Westerns were for me, so I didn't watch the first season when it aired.

'Farscape': A show with puppets? Come on.

Again, I don't defend any of my snap judgments. I'm just presenting them as examples of the very erroneous impressions I'd formed about certain shows before I sat down to watch them in earnest. Of course I ended up loving all of them.

There are times I think I was too hard or too easy on a show. But it's really hard to form a judgment when you've only seen an episode or two of a new program (the more episodes critics get, the better, but sometimes we only get one). And pilots can be quite different from what a show evolves into, so every time I sit down to write a review or a new show, I know that I may revise my opinion in a few weeks or months. I don't really get worked up about that fact of life, it's just part of the deal for TV critics -- and part of the reason so many of us write about shows repeatedly as they mature and develop.

But yeah, sometimes I look back and go, "What were you thinking, Mo?" I hereby apologize for not being harder on 'The Event,' 'V,' 'FlashForward' or any number of other sci-fi flavored shows in recent years. I truly did see a sparks of potential in them, and I was never dishonest in my responses to them. But I think I was too easy on them at times, because I wanted shows in the sci-fi realm to succeed on the bigger networks. You can be sure I'm going to be harder on these kinds of projects in future; I've just been burned way too many times. There's no way 'Falling Skies' (a summer TNT show I haven't seen yet) will be graded on a curve.

Scott: What's your best estimate for how long we have to wait for a new iteration of 'Stargate' to arrive on TV? And what kind of direction would you like it to take?

Mo says:
I think the show needs to take a couple of years off, and when it returns, it needs to have new writer/producers in charge of the franchise. One of the main problems with the TV franchise is that it tended to recycle the same set of ideas over and over again, and it also tended to underwrite, patronize and marginalize female characters and characters of color. I don't know what the premise of the show should be, except that it should involve wormholes, which are a very handy storytelling device. And it should feel fresh and exciting; it shouldn't feel like something we've seen a jillion times before.

Matt: What would happen if Bob of 'Bob's Burgers' met Sterling Archer of FX's 'Archer'?

Mo says:
Viewers might be injured and/or confused by the infusion of so much awesomeness. As many of you probably know, H. Jon Benjamin voices both characters with the wonderfully deadpan wit that animation fans have come to know and love. Though I'm more fond of the FX comedy than 'Bob's Burgers,' the latter show has really grown on me (Kristen Schaal has been especially great as Louise, one of Bob's daughters). It's worth checking out, especially now that 'Archer's' off the air until its third season arrives.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions! By the way, Ryan McGee and I took on several reader questions in last week's Talking TV podcast, and we'll also answer a few more in this week's chat.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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I think the pregnancy storyline on Friends, not Rachel's but Carol's (Ross' first wife) was handled very well and had some very funny and touching moments.

May 05 2011 at 9:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Battlestar Galactica had a great pregnancy storyline that led to some fantastic plot developments and character moments.

May 05 2011 at 4:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Isaiah Bradford III

YAY! A Farscape reference. I

May 04 2011 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

But yeah, sometimes I look back and go, "What were you thinking, Mo?" I hereby apologize for not being harder on 'The Event,' 'V,' 'FlashForward' or any number of other sci-fi flavored shows in recent years. I truly did see a sparks of potential in them, and I was never dishonest in my responses to them.

Your ability to go back and doubt your decisions is what makes your a great critic. Your penchant for critical reflections and reevaluation is a testatment to your greatness as critic. It makes me trust you more because you are able to admit your mistakes which makes you more human and shows you are willing to engage other people in an open critical conversation. Thank you for this.

May 04 2011 at 1:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"You can be sure I'm going to be harder on these kinds of projects in future; I've just been burned way too many times. There's no way 'Falling Skies' (a summer TNT show I haven't seen yet) will be graded on a curve."

Please don't do this. Sci Fi definitely needs an extended leash. You reputation as an influential critic, your discussion of them and giving people the space to talk about the shows I think is important to the development of these shows. Your ability to wait out shows until they become good I am pretty sure saves a lot of shows. Buffy did not get good until well into its second season. Your celebration of Supernatural in its later seasons has brought the show to my attention. You are generally the last person to give up on a show and if even you give up on a show I will know it is trash. The fact that you liked Spartacus got me to take it seriously. So please continue to point out potential and hope with the rest of us for the success of sci fi. I am pretty sure if it wasn't for you Alan Sepinwall wouldn't be watching and reviewing as much sci fi as he does. Please keep on looking out for those shows that critics ignore.

May 04 2011 at 1:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to TAUSIF's comment
Mo Ryan

Thanks, Tausif! You are too kind.

I'm sure I'll always have a soft spot for sci-fi fare. It's bred into my DNA. So I'll certainly take a look at these kinds of shows and always be truthful when I see potential. But there have been so many times in recent year when potential was wasted, you know? That's such a letdown. But I promise to go into every new show with hope -- and an open mind, as always.

Thanks again.

May 04 2011 at 9:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Mo, thanks for the response. When I read my questions in relation to the others I saw that mine were out of place (not in a good way) so I was afraid that they were not going to get answered. Thanks for the answers though. Your response will help me for future Ask Mo segments.

May 04 2011 at 12:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As to the Stargate problem, why not take the franchise to where it has only touched upon briefly. I say set a series that explores the Ancients when they had first built the gates. Not while building them--like as in a Caprica-esque way--but say a couple of years after they were first built.

May 03 2011 at 10:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hanso model

How about Nina's pregnancy on BBC's Being Human? I think it's very well done, I believe Nina and George are in love and pregnancy is a normal human step for them. Usually I dread baby storylines but I was devastated when it looked like they would lose the baby and I am looking forward to seeing how two werewolves are going to raise a werebaby.

Contrast it with the idiotic Nora pregnancy on the Syfy version. We barely know these characters, they barely know each other, and I did not welcome that storyline. I am not sure why they felt they had to accelerate that development to S1.

May 03 2011 at 5:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

Scott and Mo: Great question (and answer) about whither the Stargate franchise.

Here's my two cents worth -- study and learn from the revival of 'Doctor Who' after seventeen years off-air. Showrunner Russell T. Davies was a huge fan of 'classic' Who, but was also very sensitive to the fact that fan-service wasn't going to be enough, and that people don't watch or respond to television in 2005 the way they did twenty (or thirty) years earlier.

1) Respect where you came from, but be brutally honest about what has dated badly and/or never really worked in the first place.

2) A close corollary: You're never going to keep all the fans happy, so why not take some risks on shaking up the cliches that inevitably attach to any long-running franchise? As I've said more than once, the most frustrating thing about SGU is that we were promised Stargate's answer to DS9, instead we got 'Stargate: Voyager' -- a show that rapidly backed off the implications of an intriguing premise.

3) invest the time and effort in development until you get it right, because (fairly or not) audiences and networks aren't necessarily to let you learn on the job. I can't help but wonder if SGU was hurt by a rush to feed "product" into a "franchise" with an outcome that wasn't so much half-baked as gooey and raw batter.

May 03 2011 at 5:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought the pregnancy story in the 2nd/3rd seasons of My Name Is Earl was definitely done well and in character, considering the character of those involved.

May 03 2011 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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