For the most part I’ve gotten along with TV critics. Okay, Tom Shales once blamed me personally for the downfall of television but he may have been right. Plus, in my capacity as blog wise-ass, I’ve done my own share of TV critiquing. So I have empathy for them. When some stink burger crosses my screen I can turn it off. They have to watch it…along with four additional episodes that are even worse. Hell, just the TEN COMMANDMENTS mini-series would kill me.
Currently the nation’s TV critics have gathered in Beverly Hills (adjacent) for the bi-annual spin fest called the TCA Convention. Here networks, show runners, and stars ply them with shrimp and Bloody Marys hoping to get good reviews and favorable press. On the surface it sounds like a good deal. Free trip to LA, comped room at Merv Griffin's Beverly-Hilton (right next door to an abandoned department store). But then you realize what’s expected of them. Sitting in a conference room eight hours a day for two weeks hearing one dog and pony show after another. Imagine being trapped in a room while the producer of WIPE OUT talked for an hour about how groundbreaking and important to society his show was. If networks gave out an ice pick as swag you’d jam it in your skull.
On the other hand, this TCA dance is no fun for producers either. Three times I have had the pleasure of sitting on stage touting my shows. I looked out at a room of 100 bored restless people who dared me to say anything they hadn’t heard fifteen times already… that day.
For one of our sessions we followed a producer who insulted all of the critics, made fun of one member’s accent, and listed every euphemism for vagina he could think of. He had some that weren't even on CBS' list. By the time we got up to speak there was almost a mutiny.
Another time we confronted them after our studio’s crack PR department gave them swag so cheap and insulting that we became the laughing stock of the convention. We got questions like, “Will your show be in color?”
Only once did we have a good session, and that’s thanks to actor, Kevin Kilner. It was the first year of ALMOST PERFECT. Along with fellow co-creators David Isaacs and Robin Schiff, the show’s stars, Nancy Travis and Kevin Kilner joined us on the panel. For the first half hour it was the usual -- they asked rote questions and typed our rote answers even before we gave them. Finally, one reporter asked Kevin Kilner what his background was. He said that before he became an actor he was an accountant for a chicken farm. And then he said, “Do any of you guys know how they slaughter chickens?” I thought, “Oh Christ, we’re so dead.” But the critics all woke up. Suddenly a topic they hadn’t heard. So Kevin described in graphic neck-snapping detail how chickens are killed and for the next fifteen minutes we held them in rapt attention. And ALMOST PERFECT got the best reviews in our career.
So the lesson here is if you’re a producer scheduled to meet the press later this week, talk about anything other than your show. I think the topic of what goes into hotdogs is still open.
And if you’re one of the critics, the conference room now has Wifi. Go to pogo.com. There are hundreds of free online games.
And we’ll see you again in January and do it all over again. With fifty great NEW shows, much better than the 50 great new shows that are premiering now.
Saturday night was their TCA Awards. I don't know what the statue is -- maybe a golden replica of a free buffet ticket -- but congratulations to these winners: GLEE, MODERN FAMILY, BREAKING BAD, Julianna Margulies, Jane Lynch, LOST, THE PACIFIC, James Garner, YO GABBA GABBA, and LIFE. And special congratulations to Gene Reynolds and Burt Metcalfe, winners of the Heritage Award for MASH. I would have been there myself but Tom Shales won't allow me in the room.