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From Usatoday.com

USA TODAY chat with Robert Bianco (marsters mention)

Thursday 29 April 2004, by Webmaster

Critic’s Corner: Robert Bianco

Monday, April 26, 2 p.m. ET

Robert Bianco is the TV critic for USA TODAY. In his Critic’s Corner column each weekday, he picks the day’s best shows on prime-time TV.

Talk live with Robert Bianco about the best and worst of this season’s TV lineup.

washington, dc: I’m a latecomer to Angel, but each week am blown away by the stories and the acting, especially that of James Marsters who was so great in Buffy and now this. He seems to have the great ability to play both the vulnerable and comedic sides of Spike. Some of his scenes in Angel have been hysterical. While the Emmy’s just don’t seem to get him, what does the future hold for him after Angel? Any more TV work in his future?

Robert Bianco: I certainly hope so.

Cleveland, Ohio: Good afternoon Robert. I loved Charlotte Ross on NYPD Blue, but Jessalyn Gilsig has won me over in a short time. What do you think of her on Blue and will she be back for the final season? I enjoy your chats and appreciate your input.

Robert Bianco: I think she’s been fine so far, but I don’t know what her contract situation is yet. (ABC isn’t saying anything about who on "Blue" will be back.) I don’t really mind losing Charlotte Ross, unless it means we don’t get to go home with Andy and we don’t get to see Theo in the final season. Or, even worse, if it means writing her out with another Andy tragedy. The least she could do is make a few special appearances.

Hockeytown, MI: Greetings Robet, First off, I gotta say WOW to that alias-like cliffhanger ending on ’Gilmore Girls’ last Tuesday....but then my excitement dampered when I saw the upcoming previews with Jess!! It seems like AMy Sherman Palladino has some jess-fetish. Oh well, I’m eager to see a Loralei-Richard/Emily arguement now the Richard has dissed Jason.

Robert Bianco: Well, as you say, at least something is happening. As for Jess, sometimes I think the producer puts him in just because she knows we don’t want to see him. That may sound silly, and it would certainly be self-destructive. But in my experience, TV producers sometimes go oddly out of their way to prove they’re the ones in charge - not viewers, not critics, and not network executives. It should be no surprise to learn that producers who engage in that behavior too frequently often end up unemployed.

Anaheim, CA: I thought this weeks episode of ’Friends’ was somewhat of a waste---I mean nothing really major happened! I’m guessing that the show will end with Racheal coming back from Paris and hinting something to happen with ROss. We still have a LOT of ground to cover in two weeks.

Robert Bianco: We do, don’t we? And it’s a tad annoying, since most of the season seemed to be spent marking time.

Lansing, MI: Will Arested Development win the comedy Emmy this year? Or will they give it to Friends or Sex and the City?

Robert Bianco: I’d be surprised, honestly, if "Arrested Development" won. Still, it could be a surprising year. I don’t think there’s any strong consensus lined up behind any of the sitcoms this season.

Columbia, MO: Fox summer. Now, more than ever. What do you think of The Jury?

Robert Bianco: Haven’t seen it yet. I can’t say I’m excited about seeing it, but that’s only because I’m growing weary of all these criminal/legal procedurals. Still, who knows, this may be the one that makes us grateful for the trend.

Calgary, Canada: Hi Robert! I’m not a fan of "American Idol" but I have been very fascinated by the fall-out regarding this last round that led to Jennifer Hudson’s departure. I really surprised that people are shocked given the demographics of the voting public. However, I am really interested to know what you think of the producer’s attempts to "save a sinking ship", including Ryan Seacrest’s pleas to the camera and the use of George Huff and the two voting groups. They might just have caused a bigger problem!

Robert Bianco: I don’t mean to suggest that the vote tallies are anything less than pristine and honest - but since we’re not privy to the vote counts and breakdowns, it makes it hard to form any kind of rational judgement about what happened last week or why. I would not have dumped Jennifer Hudson, but her departure hasn’t changed my view of how the show will most likely end - because I never thought Jennifer was going to win. My bet right now is that the "Idol" will either be Fantasia or LaToya. That doesn’t mean they’ll go up against each other in the final - but right now, I’d be very surprised if one of them didn’t win. As for the voting scandal - sure did gain "Idol" a lot of attention, didn’t it?

Arlington, VA: I find it funny in reading your lookbacks at Friends episodes you tend to relegate the Joey and Rachel relationship to that of the black sheep period of the Friends history, while naturally praising the heck out of the Ross and Rachel storyline. While in hindsight Joey and Rachel together didn’t pan out to be much, I find it an incredible coincedence that the zenith of their relationship came in the ONLY season Friends won an Emmy for best show. (And nods for Aniston and LeBlanc as well) I think part of the reason that there is a lack of buzz for the show heading into the finale is that Ross and Rachel is no longer a buzzworthy couple to see together. Don’t you think you are giving one relationship short shrift while overdoing the other?

Robert Bianco: Well, no. And I don’t think of the Joey/Rachel relationship as the show’s "black sheep" - at least not in the season you’re asking about. On the contrary, I think it was a wonderful idea, excellently carried out. And I think you’re right - it did power the show to one of its best seasons. The trouble is that the relationship was never supposed to revive: The show was supposed to end last season, which would have built to some resolution of the Ross/Rachel dynamic. When the producers decided to bring the show back for an extra year, they had to think of a way to delay that resolution - and unfortunately, the method they chose was to put Rachel and Joey back together again. It was fun the first time. The second time, it was an obvious delaying tactic, and to my mind, a creative mistake.

DeMoines, Iowa: Not that I should put it past Fox that they would air something as despicable as The Swan, but do they have to trot out these sad, sad women and pimp them to a family audience on American Idol. Seriously, its bad enough we have to see commercials, but when Fox decides to have these women sit in the audience and spend five minutes talking to them, how can I keep such trash from my young daughters?

Robert Bianco: I couldn’t agree more. Fox bills "Idol" as family entertainment. That means the network shouldn’t use it to promote shows that the younger members of the family aren’t meant to watch. I’d say the network executives should be ashamed of themselves, but if they had any shame left, they wouldn’t be airing "The Swan."

Australia: Hello from Down Under! I enjoy reading your columns. I saw you gave a big rap to ’Blackadder’ last week, definitely one of my favourite ever comedies. For US comedies which are popular here, I share your view about ’Raymond’ - it just doesn’t do it for me, although lots of folks here "love" it. I can’t agree with your devotion to ’Friends’ but there you go. Anyway, my absolute favourite is ’Frasier’. What a great loss to the quality of acting on TV when the brothers Crane and their father bid farewell in a couple of weeks. How do you rate Kelsey Grammer’s portrayal of Frasier, David Hyde Pierce’s Niles and John Mahoney’s Martin in the greater scheme of things? Eileen from Oz

Robert Bianco: "Frasier," unfortunately, is sort of fading away this year - in large part because the show ran a few seasons too long. Still, after a terrible year last season, the show has bounced back in quality (if not in the ratings), so at least it won’t go out as an embarrassment. As for the show’s stars, I think they made up as fine a sitcom family trio as we could ever hope to see. Brilliant actors, all three.

Cincinnati, OH: Having seen the previews for 20/20’s upcoming show where it seems five couples will be competing to adopt a young girl’s baby, I have to wonder about the integrity of these supposed "news" shows and the lack of any shame at all from ABC and its parent, Disney. It’s bad enough that Dateline did a fluff show about Donald Trump in a shameless promotion of The Apprentice finale, but this is going too far. The idea of a "competition" to adopt a human being is reprehensible even for reality tv, for which it seems there are no bounds, but it’s disheartening that a news show would stoop to such a level, and has completely lost my trust in the integrity of ABC news. Any thoughts?

Robert Bianco: A lot of people who saw that promo have written to complain about it. I didn’t see it myself, but it seems to have given people the wrong impression. The "20/20" special is a documentary. The show followed a pregnant young woman as she decided who, if anyone, would be allowed to adopt her baby. It is not a "reality" show or a game show - no one from "20/20" or ABC was involved in the young woman’s decision. The news special may prove to be tasteless itself - I don’t know, because I haven’t seen it. But this is a suitable topic for a news documentary.

Manhasset, NY: This is meant to be comical but have you noticed how worked up Marg Helgenberger get’s whenever she’s being interviewed about the new CSI installments? Her saying is something like ’to me, there is only one CSI...’ I agree with her that we don’t need another spin-off, someone needs to tell her to just get over it! It’s not liek the new shows are going to steal her show’s market share or viewership!

Robert Bianco: Actually, Helgenberger and her co-star, William Petersen, have been remarkably ungracious when it comes to the "CSI" spinoffs. Not that it really matters: As long as actors do their jobs well on camera, I try to screen out how badly they behave off-camera. Still, they might want to reconsider the virtues of silence.

Cary, North Carolina: Robert, I’ve greatly enjoyed seeing the final episodes of "Frasier" and hope he discovers true love at last. But I also tuned in to "ER" last Thursday and actually liked it...after about a 3-year hiatus from its former glory days. Looks like the final episodes of this season will have a cliff-hanging dramatic touch. I know NBC is scared about its post-Friends era, but it seems they’ve also got to think seriously about the 10 o’clock hour as well, which they have ruled since "Hill Street Blues," then "LA Law," and finally ER.

Robert Bianco: Oh, I’m sure NBC figures they can just plug in another hour of "Law & Order." But yes, I agree: "ER" has been somewhat better this year - on those weeks, anyway, when helicopters aren’t dropping from the shy and tanks aren’t thundering toward the hospital. Which makes me worry a little about those cliff-hanger promos. Whenever NBC promises "the most exciting ’ER’ ever!," I tend to duck.

Souderton, PA: Good afternoon Robert, Has Survivor All Stars been a let down for you? The strongest players were voted off early, two people quit, and all that we’re left with is a group of lemmings being controlled by Boston Rob. After playing the game once, how can these people allow themselves to be so obviously manipulated?

Robert Bianco: Still, don’t you find his ability to manipulate them interesting? I must confess I do. And I’m still not certain it’s going to end up working in his favor at the end.

Columbus, Ohio: Hi Robert - Do you have renewed hopes for ABC with the recent shake up over there, or is it to early to tell? Also, how does this affect other decisions that were already made by former brass i.e. "Karen Sisco" cancellation and "The Practice" spin-off.

Robert Bianco: Considering the drop-off in the ratings for "The Practice," I know I’d be reconsidering that spinoff decision. But luckily, I’m not running ABC. As for the people who are, we’ll have to wait and see how things turn out. And in part, that will depend on how much interference the new ABC people get from the old Disney executives who - for reasons that escape me - have been left in place.

Neptune,NJ: In general I hate reality shows. The only one I ever saw that entertained me was Joe Schmo. I think that was hilarious. Is there any talk of another version of that ? I know it was on Spike TV and probably didn’t do that well in the ratings, but it was the first show to put a good twist on the reality genre, and the ’victim’ was rewarded pretty handsomely at the end of the show.

Robert Bianco: Yes, it will be back. I didn’t care for it myself, but if you’re happy, I’m willing to be happy for you. There are other things for me to watch.

Dallas, TX: Robert, I’d love to get your thoughts on last night’s "Alias." Was this the first time we had heard about Vaughn’s father’s link to Syd? I loved that development and how it deepened there bond. Where would you like to see the show go in it’s final two episodes of the season?

Robert Bianco: Where would I like the show to go? I adore "Alias," but I wouldn’t mind seeing it go in just a tiny bit more realistic direction. Not all the way to reality, mind you - just a little farther away from Rambaldi.

Lake Charles, LA: Robert, I have a question regarding "Alias". I saw that in the promos for next week’s ep that Vivica A. Fox would be returning. I know that she was in an earlier episode this season, but I can’t remember her character or her function in the plot. Can you please help?

Robert Bianco: She was a free-lance, secret security systems designer.

Nashville, TN: Okay, we all knew that it was bound to happen sometime but I’m curios to know what your reaction is to Kim being put in the field and then kidnapped? Oh and on Alias the whole, "The Passenger and The Chosen One will battle and neither one will survive." is a perfect storyline for the next two years! Who better to battle Sydney than someone exactly the same but on the opposite team?

Robert Bianco: When Kim went into the field, my feeling was simple: If she gets in trouble this time, she’d better get herself out of it quick. She did, and she did - so I was happy.

Pacifica, Calif.: Hi Robert. I saw a brief over the weekdn about Fox picking up four shows, none of them Arrested Development. Does that mean AD is dead? Because if it is, that’s just nuts. Nuts. Thanks.

Robert Bianco: It doesn’t mean "AD" is dead, but it’s not exactly a positive sign of life, either. Remember though, these are the people who gave us "The Swan," "Fat Fiance" and "Littlest Groom." Whichever way they go on "AD," "nuts" still applies.

St. Louis: 24 continues to deliver in an almost too-intense manner. But what’s up with The Sopranos? Maybe I judget this show too harshly, but I’m just sick of the deadly-slow pace. Time is running out and the major storyline of NYC vs. NJ mobs has barely gotten off of its feet. Last night’s episode was OK, but the one the week before with Polly Bergen was just excrutiating. I can appreciate Chase’s deliberate pace, but some of these episodes just seem to be filler.

Robert Bianco: I agree, in part, but this is how David Chase tells stories. I don’t think the show is any slower than it was. Familiarity may just be making us more impatient.

Stamford,CT: Hi Robert, Although both Friends and Frasier are ending soon, I have seen a lot of media attention and "Top 10 episode" lists for Friends, but not much is being written about Frasier. What would you say your favorite Frasier episodes are? Thanks.

Robert Bianco: That’s a tough one. Off hand, I’d say the "Matchmaker" episode, where the gay station manager assumed he was being set up with Fraiser, and the one where Niles and Frasier open a restaurant.

Jackson, Michigan: What happens when a show like "Playing it Straight" shows the first two or three episodes, then the network axes it? Who gets the prize money that was to be awarded? Is this a show that FOX will re-aire in the summer? I know the numbers weren’t big for this project, however, it seems that the network would have to finish it out and award the million dollars! Just wondering. Thanks

Robert Bianco: The network is planning to air the show in the summer. As for whether a network is obligated to finish the game once it starts - I don’t know.

Verona, NY: What’s your take on "The Shield?" Like or dislike & why?

Robert Bianco: It’s one of those shows where I’d have to say "neither." I don’t dislike it, but I’ve never bought Chiklis in that role, I’ve never bought the stories, and I’ve never had any great interest in watching the series.

Houston TX: With the success of the Nick and Jessica Variety Hour, are the networks looking at developing more variety shows??

Robert Bianco: Not just on that one showing alone, no. The twosome will be back with another special. If it does well, then ABC or some other network may take a closer look at reviving the genre.

Houston, Tx: With only two more Friends episodes, I am afraid it is the end of classic sitcoms. Do you think this is the end for us sitcom lovers?

Robert Bianco: Oh, no. We’re in a slump, there’s no denying. But there’s simply too much money to be made from a hit sitcom for the networks and studios to walk away from the genre. They’ll keep trying, and sooner or later (sooner, I pray), someone will get it right.

Charlotte, NC: Several months ago, Jennifer Garner was giving an interview and in discussing ALIAS made it sound as if a fourth season was a done deal. Yet, in the list of ABC shows recently renewed by the network, ALIAS was conspicuously absent. Was her talk about ALIAS’ fourth season merely wishful thinking or did she have inside information? One would think the star of a series would know what was going on behind the scenes, but I’ve read more than once that stars sometimes find out their shows have been canceled not from their agents or the network but by reading it in a trade paper. What’s the scoop on ALIAS?

Robert Bianco: According to our reports, it will be back.

Nederland, Texas: I think the Ellen DeGeneres show is the BEST talk show on the air. She is funny and entertaining. How is she doing in the ratings. I think she has finally got the show that is right for her.

Robert Bianco: Doesn’t she, though? I love "Ellen," and I’m happy to see the show is doing well in the ratings. It’s such a bright spot in a fairly dreary daytime lineup.

Syracuse, NY: I loved Miss Match, and am waiting for its return. Any news on that?

Robert Bianco: Well, it won’t be back before the season is over, which means it almost certainly won’t be back next season, either. But you may see the remaining episodes get burned off over the summer. TV is a curious business: "Miss Match" was never cancelled, but it does appear to be dead.

Chandler, Arizona: Why is it that you never mention Smallville? It’s one of the best shows on T.V. yet it never gets any attention. One would think Christopher Reeves would draw attention.

Robert Bianco: I do try to keep up with the show, and I have mentioned Reeves’ guest shots. But I’m not a "Smallville" fan, so I can’t say I go out of my way to mention it.

Lincoln, Nebraska: I was wondering about the state of syndicated reruns five to ten years from now. Currently we have reruns of Friends, Frasier, Seinfeld, and Raymond ruling the sydication airwaves. All of these shows have finished their network run or are very close. With so much reality TV on the networks nowadays, it seems there are very few shows (Will & Grace, King of Queens, both of which are also long in the tooth) coming in to take their place. What is your opinion? Will we be subjected to reruns of Fear Factor and the Bachelor?

Robert Bianco: I don’t think you can get a profitable syndicated run out of reality - which is why I think we’ll see a renewed push to launch the next, great sitcom. The business cries out for one.

Houston, TX: As a reviewer/critic of new and current shows do you consider that the opinions that you and other critics have about programs can hamper a program. The Elitist Syndrome - causing viewers to avoid programs because critics praised it too much or watch programs based on how much reviewer/critics hated them?

Robert Bianco: Over time, I assume my readers will figure out my tastes - and they’ll have a pretty good idea of how my tastes mesh with theirs. If that means they figure they’ll like what I hate and hate what I like, that’s fine. It means I’m still providing a guidance service.

Cleveland, OH: Boy the conspiracy theorists are out in force over the American Idol results last week. Although they claim to have ways of discounting "block/automated" voting, I wonder if they will feel obligated to more explicitly explain the vote collection procedure and safeguards. Do you think AI’s future is at risk, or does it just improve the drama and buzz?

Robert Bianco: The latter. Which is why they have no intention of letting reporters take a close look at those procedures and "safeguards"- assuming any exist.

Austin, TX: Hi Robert, how great was 24 last week?? I was worried that they would pull another Kimnapping, but the Kim plot was intelligent and suspenseful. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s episode!!

Robert Bianco: Me neither.