Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen answers reader questions online every Friday in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Here's a selection of recent queries.
Q: I've enjoyed "Pawn Stars" because of the interesting items. Lately, however, they've been spending more time on what I feel are silly, boring ego trips (Rick's bachelor party, Chum selling hot dogs, etc.). Is this what the future holds for the show? The Old Man's nastiness is a bit out of hand, too.
-- Don, 77, Morningside
Rob: An A&E publicist's only response was that " 'Pawn Stars' will continue to showcase an array of quirky characters attempting to sell, buy or pawn items. Viewers will also see the Pawn Stars haggle over a slew of interesting historic items while getting small glimpses into their personal lives."
Q: I am continually amazed at the big-name stars who appeared on "Will & Grace" (Michael Douglas, Madonna, Demi Moore, Jeff Goldblum, etc.). What was it about this show that appealed to these stars?
-- Barb, 53, Omaha, Neb.
Rob: At the time it premiered in 1998, "Will & Grace" was a pretty revolutionary show with two out, unapologetic, gay lead characters in Will and Jack.
Big-name stars jumped on board because "Will & Grace" was well received critically -- it was seen as a prestige program, not a run-of-the-mill sitcom -- and these actors wanted to support a program that espoused a pro-equality agenda for its gay characters.
Q: When you think of the best dramas on TV, why is it they are mostly on cable and not on the big networks? "Mad Men," "Boardwalk Empire," "Sons of Anarchy," "The Walking Dead," "Game of Thrones," "Breaking Bad," "American Horror Story," etc. When will the networks wake up? Are they really tied down by the "standards" or are they just lazy and unwilling to take chances? Besides maybe "Under the Dome" there hasn't been one network must-see drama in a very long time. On the flip side, most TV comedies seem to thrive on the networks and not on cable. Why the difference?
-- Mike, 40, Pittsburgh
Rob: Here's the problem: With the exception of "The Walking Dead," which has become a ratings juggernaut, most of the shows Mike names do not get high enough ratings -- or did not in their early seasons -- to survive on a broadcast channel. Networks are trying to take more chances, but often when they do they are not rewarded with viewers (see: Fox's "Lone Star" in 2010).
I think plenty of folks would dispute the quality of "Under the Dome," which struck me as an interesting concept that turned out to be poorly executed.
There are some excellent shows on broadcast channels, more comedies as Mike notes, but good dramas, too, most notably CBS's "The Good Wife" and NBC's "Parenthood."
Q: Just curious if "The Bridge" on FX will be returning; has there been good interest?
-- Shaaron, Ramsey, Minn.
Rob: Yes, FX renewed "The Bridge" for a second season that will air in 2014.
Q: A few months ago BBC America announced that the second series of "Ripper Street" would begin airing on Dec. 1, and as a fan of this excellent series, I was very happy to hear that they were going to show it so closely to the time when it aired on BBC1. But it never aired. What happened?
-- Linda, 47, Monroeville
Rob: BBC America changed the premiere date. "Ripper Street" returned Saturday and will continue to air Saturdays at 9.
Q: I've noticed that the Saturday "Today" show is two hours, but WPXI shows only one hour sometimes. Why is that? Does 'PXI really think we need more of the same news we've been hearing since approximately 6 a.m.?
Also, why does every station start its broadcast with "breaking news" only to tell the viewer that oh, maybe, a bird walked across the street? I always thought "breaking news" was for items of a very big nature -- not the local stuff.
-- Sheila, 60, New Castle
Rob: "Weekend Today" is two hours Saturday (7-9 a.m.) and one hour Sunday (8-9 a.m.). So you're only missing some of the program if it gets trimmed on Saturday.
"Sometimes the network shortens due to early sports," WPXI program director Mark Barash said. "Other times we have to cut some due to the obligation to get children's programming on the air that otherwise might be pre-empted by NBC Sports programming."
As for "breaking news," we've written before about how the use of that term has gotten out of hand since 9/11/01. Stations use it to grab viewers' attention, but overuse has turned them into the TV Stations That Cried Wolf.
Ask TV questions at post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A (scroll down to find link on right side of the page).