Wednesday, August 08, 2018

How to win over TV critics

Yesterday, I talked in general about the TV Critics convention, held every summer (stretching into the fall and early winter) in Los Angeles.

These bedraggled TV critics have to sit through hundreds of panel presentations of all the new shows and any other programming these 200 networks want to serve up.

I’ve been on these panels, pitching our wares, and I usually look out at a sea of bored faces.

But one of our panels proved to be a big hit.

It was 1995 and we were doing a panel for our new CBS show, ALMOST PERFECT. I was on the stage along with co-creators David Isaacs & Robin Schiff, and stars Nancy Travis & Kevin Kilner.

We gave the usual bullshit, they asked the usual questions – your typical uninspired session.

And then a critic asked Kevin what he did before he became an actor? He said he worked for a bank and one of his jobs was to audit a company that sold a popular brand of chicken to markets and restaurants. Yawn.

Then Kevin said, “Do you ever wonder how they slaughter those chickens?”

My first thought was, “Holy shit! This may go down as the worst new show presentation EVER.”

Kevin went on to explain in graphic detail how indeed they killed their chickens. 

But suddenly I saw all the critics perk up. For the first time they were actually INTERESTED. They DID want to know how chickens met their demise. And then they had follow-up questions.

I’m sure for them it was just so refreshing to not be hearing “how our show is a reflection of the angst that young single people go through… bla bla bla.”

Within minutes we had won them over. And our session was one of the most talked about of the convention. Thank you, Kevin Kilner.

So if you’re a producer and your panel hasn’t gone up yet, you might want to Google “How to kill a chicken.” Especially if your show is about a cop who doesn’t go by the book or a married couple whose adult child moves back into the house.


E. Yarber said...

And now I think we need a guest post from Kevin Kilner. You know what about.

Unknown said...

Yeah, but I wonder how many of those critics are vegetarians today. ;)

Bud Wilkinson said...

Having been a TV columnist for a dozen or so years, I know what it's like to endure weeks of network/producer presentations. You nailed it, Ken. After a while, you just don't give a damn about hearing superlatives about a show you know will only last six weeks. The bitch is that after attending morning till dusk panels, you then have to go to your room and bang out some sort of a readable column. When your mind's fried? It was easier in the days of three networks and PBS. Then cable came along. As a journalist, you really do want to cover everything, be fair to everyone and provide your readers with as much info as possible but there is just too much content to digest. Heaven forbid, though, that a network tell a show runner that they cannot appear (for whatever reason). I imagine there would be lots of nasty words. I was lucky in that I worked for The Arizona Republic in Phoenix and could drive to L.A. I was then able to escape the hotel when the stress and boredom - a nasty combination - got too much. Thanks for recognizing that the press tour for critics isn't all fun. Most editors have no concept of how wearing it can be. Still, wouldn't have traded it for anything.

Unknown said...

Any thoughts on this quote from Kathleen Turner?

Were you surprised or hurt at the way Michael leaned on you to do that movie?
That was a bad blowup. I had signed a contract to do a sequel [to Romancing the Stone] but the script for it [The Jewel of the Nile] was terrible. What had happened was that Romancing was so successful that Diane [Thomas], who wrote the original script, evidently asked Michael for what he felt was a ridiculous sum to work on the sequel. So instead, he went with these two guys and what they came up with was terrible, formulaic, sentimental.

You can find the article here:

Ken from NJ said...

Did you see this article?
Wonder about your thoughts on this

John Hammes said...

Television project brought back from the (more than likely) dead.
Deceased chickens raise the spirits of jaded critics.

Sounds like a case of ... poultrygeists ?

(You're welcome.)

Covarr said...

I'm curious about the general tone of these panels. Is there some effort to inject a bit of the style of the show itself into the panel, or is it all "just the facts, ma'am"? Certainly I would assume the best way to win people over in a panel about a comedy show is to give the panel itself a similar sense of humor to some extent, but I can't imagine that's easy when you also have to give enough information to be pulled for quotes in news articles.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

Was Alan Alda there by any chance? Did he start crying about how they killed a chicken?

Mike said...

So I guess 'Unknown' is going to keep asking everyday about Kathleen Turner's interview, even after you and other readers replied along with your old blog reference, yesterday itself.

VP81955 said...

A bit off-topic, but since you've worked in film, the Academy has announced some radical changes to net year's Oscars...

...and many in the Twitterverse don't like it:

benson said...

Hate to be a cynic, but the chicken story didn't do much for Kilner's career. But he was great in Roz and the Schoz.

Re: The Oscars. You have to do something. People consumer this stuff so differently now. Look at how many folks watch late night tv in YouTube segments. I understand that behind the scenes artists deserve to be recognized, but this is akin to TV critics sitting through endless presentations. (yawn)

Dhruv said...

Just read the article about the Oscars. So some categories will be given award during the commercial break and then the winning moments will be edited and telecast during the show.

So basically they are saying "The boring (which has no celebrities nominated) categories and their winners' speech will not be shown. Just a pic of the moment they are handed the award will be shown."

Did I understand that right?

Why not totally cut off the songs performances, their introductions and thereby the standing ovation at the end (which has become a rule of sorts, rather than being spontaneous). All the 5 songs cut down will save 1 hour at least.

I loved when one or two people were handed the lifetime achievement award. That used be a great moment - a deserved recognition - also used to be one of the few genuine moments when everyone stood as one and applauded.
But now that has been moved over to the scientific achievement Awards show or Governors Awards show I think. Just those winners are shown in middle of the show and they wave at us.

So finally Oscars is becoming all about the stars and celebrities only, like Golden Globes.

Janet Ybarra said...

I know I'm playing Devil's advocate here, but the non-celeb winners are still getting their recognition (ie they still get the statue and recognition of peers in the auditorium).

But frankly last I checked there was nothing in the Bill of Rights that compelled certain TV coverage of the Oscars.

I know, know, time was when all the "little people" people behind the scenes got their moment of TV spotlight during the Oscars just like the big celebs.

But then the shows started eating more and more into the late local news back East and the networks felt compelled to respond.

It's just a different world.

Huh, maybe Netflix or Hulu or someone like that could compile all the non celeb Oscars into it's own show and somehow make it interesting.

Just a thought...

Ted said...

Janet Ybarra,

"But frankly last I checked there was nothing in the Bill of Rights that compelled certain TV coverage of the Oscars." - Last time I checked there was nothing in the Bill of Rights that compelled ANY TV coverage of the Oscars to be watched by all.

I find the whole thing shitty and the ones hung up on celeb watching, like yourself, as pathetic.

Ted (from last Friday's discussion)

Janet Ybarra said...

Actually, I haven't watched the Oscars for years now. It has nothing to do with my personal viewing habits, just that the Oscars don't exactly fall within public interest or public affairs viewing and the broadcast networks are going to do with the Oscars what makes money making sense.

tavm said...

Concerning the Oscars change: So I guess that means Best Animated Feature-which usually goes to Disney/Pixar offerings-will still be televised but the Best Animated Short-which always goes to independent offerings not usually shown in mainstream theatres-will only be presented during commercial time with the winner's speech edited to just a few sound bites on the show...

MikeN said...

If Oscar really wanted to get their ratings up, they could say, 'No politics.'

tavm said...

The possible addition of something called "The Popcorn Awards" in order to award the biggest box office blockbuster of the year seems ironic since during the first year of the Oscars, there were two kinds of awards for the top motion picture: Outstanding PIcture which eventually became Best Picture was the one given to the top box office hit of the year as it was given to Wings the first time and subsequently to Gone with the Wind, The Sound of Music, and The Godfather. But that ended when Jaws lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars (A New Hope) to Annie Hall. So now BP goes to Moonlight one year and The Shape of Water the next though I love the latter. The other award for top film that was dropped after that first year was Best Unique and Artistic Picture which went to Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans. So can we assume that Black Panther will win Best Popcorn Movie at next year's awards?

Diane D. said...

I agree with MikeN. The last thing most people want to know is what actors think of politicians. The abysmal ratings the last Oscars got proves that, but I don’t think it will stop them.

Because I love movies, I have always enjoyed seeing which ones are honored by the Academy, but I’m afraid I’ve watched for the last time.