Hello from East Haddam, Connecticut, where it's lovely and charming and I think I saw Kenneth Lay coming out of the liquor store.
It’s that time of year again – the Television Critics Association’s Press Tour. TV critics from all around the country converge at a swank hotel in Pasadena for close to a month to meet the producers and stars of all the new Fall shows and all the big executives of major and cable networks. And along the way, Hollywood courts their favor by staging lavish parties for them – the cost of the shrimp alone at any one of these affairs is more than the critics combined salary for five years. And watching these rumpled freeloaders loading up their plates on buffet lines, you think they’d died and gone to Sizzlers Salad Bar heaven.
In fairness, they have a grueling task. You know those scams where you’re given “free golf weekends” and all you have to do is attend one seminar pitching you time-share vacation condos? Imagine having to sit through 200 seminars, seven or eight a day for a month. There are not enough open bars, elaborate buffets, and promotional t-shirts in the world that would make that worth it. Hell, just having to sit through all the pilots is enough to qualify one for combat pay.
These critics are subjected to an endless stream of producers and “stars” hosting sessions, trying to convince these ink stained wretches why their God awful CSI rip-off (the twist is the forensic expert can hear voices coming from the evidence), dwarf bowling reality show, or new Paula Marshall sitcom is the next big thing.
And for the producers themselves, having been in that position several times, it’s a mind numbing experience. You sit on a stage looking out at all these world weary zombies who don’t have the slightest interest in you or what you have to say. In truth, they’ve heard it before, probably six times already that day. I always felt like I was playing tennis against a blanket.
The only lively session I ever had was for ALMOST PERFECT. A critic asked one of our stars, Kevin Kilner, what jobs he had before becoming an actor. Kevin mentioned he worked in a chicken slaughterhouse and told how they slaughtered chickens. Suddenly, all the critics perked up. So starved for ANYTHING to talk about besides “what gave you the inspiration for this series?” chicken slaughtering became the topic for the next twenty minutes. We had won them over!
To make their task somewhat easier, these critics seem to glom onto one issue that they make that year’s theme, one question they can beat to death. “Are sitcoms dead?” “Why are there not enough minorities in network casts?” “Is profanity necessary?” Usually these topics spring from a comment one of the network presidents say during their session. So as this year’s TCA free-food-fest begins be on the lookout for that hot button topic. Certainly a candidate would be Katie Couric.
If you ask me the whole thing is an exercise in futility and waste. No one wants to be there. No one benefits from it (except the critics getting lavishly fed and drunk). Shows don’t get good reviews as a result. Critics don’t get enough days off to see Disneyland. I think television would be much better served if the sponsoring networks discontinued the annual TCA convention and used that money to hire more and better writers to produce better television shows – shows that would be well received even if they didn’t come attached with cocktail parties and goody bags.