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TV executives have a message for the winter TCA: No thanks.
Top programmers from ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox won’t come to Pasadena, California, in January to answer reporters’ questions at the Television Critics Association Winter press tour, the association revealed Tuesday. That marks the first time in at least 20 years the brass will skip the event (except for 2008, when the entire January tour was sacked due to the writers’ strike).
The broadcasters will still offer panels to promote individual shows, but reporters will have to chase the executives through the swanky corridors of the Langham Huntington Hotel if they want an interview. That’s still more access than Amazon is providing, though — TCA also announced that the streaming provider, home to the acclaimed “Transparent” and other fare, is bailing on the event entirely. Netflix, home of “House of Cards” and other critical favorites, previously revealed it’s not planning to attend, either.
What gives? Why, during this supposed Golden Age of TV, are the biggest purveyors of original programming squelching an opportunity to get in front of the media?
Chalk it up to the immense changes seizing the worlds of entertainment and journalism, shifts that are making many industry veterans question the utility of the TCA events themselves.
The old media world is dying
When newspapers were the main news providers, network executives saw the TCAs as the most cost-effective way of getting the word out about new shows. Critics from around the country would pile into ballrooms in Beverly Hills or Pasadena, pepper stars and execs with questions and then save up stories that they would publish back home as the new shows premiered.
Now, newspapers have been decimated by online competitors and plummeting ad sales. The press tour is now filled with far fewer critics from hometown papers and many more bloggers and “genre press” from sites that only fanboys and fangirls have heard of. There are multiple representatives of Hollywood trades such as, yes, TheWrap. These outlets cover the networks and their shows like a blanket all year long. Why do the networks need to spend six-figure sums to reach them? What’s the point of putting executives in front of reporters?
It’s about the shows
TCA is the source of a disconnect for journalists and TV executives. Reporters see it as opportunity to probe, ask questions, hold executives’ feet to the fire. But for networks, it’s a marketing and PR opportunity, pure and simple. From the executives’ perspective, it makes far more sense to spend their limited time at TCA promoting an actual show that may benefit from some media exposure, rather than taking a bunch of questions about the inside baseball of scheduling or ratings for on-demand viewing. The decision comes down to dollars and cents: One broadcast exec told TheWrap that each day of TCA can cost a network up to $1 million for hotel fees, flights for incoming cast members, food for critics and more.
“We want TCA to be more about the shows,” one network exec told TheWrap (like everyone else interviewed for this story, the source spoke on condition of anonymity). “There’s more midseason shows now and not more time to present them.”
Tired of the grilling
It’s no secret that many executives hate TCA — or at least, hate their sessions in front of reporters. “How lovely to see you all again,” former UPN boss Dean Valentine (a former journalist himself) would purr sarcastically as his exec session began at every TCA back in the day.
Relations haven’t gotten any warmer lately. Glenn Geller of CBS last summer was raked by harsh questions about the diversity of programming on his network. HBO’s Casey Bloys caught flak over the sex and violence in the premium cable network’s shows. These types of exchanges may provide great copy for journalists.
“But what,” one network executive asked, “am I getting out of it?”
For now, networks insist that they aren’t ready to bag their TCA involvement entirely. But the future is uncertain.
“In age when you can Facebook Live, and I can stream the talent to you, and you can sit in bed and watch … Is this the most logical way to do this?,” one executive said of the press tour.
For now, the networks are taking a wait-and-see attitude. But if the lack of executive sessions translates into empty ballrooms for the show panels come January, one executive has a stark warning:
“We will just not do press tour anymore,” this person said.