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As usual, TV Critics Press Tour begins with criticism

How can you tell when a journalist has been covering the saTcalogo1me beat for too long?

When he starts thinking less like a journalist, and more like the people he's covering.

That's the thought which came to me Sunday night, while reading the latest column taking on the TV Critics Association's summer press tour -- this time, written by TV Week columnist Joe Adalian.

"The time has come to stick a knife in press tour," Adalian wrote, "cutting out all the bad elements that threaten to make it a relic." Which sounds fine, until you realize Adalian's main reason given for rejiggering the tour: TV networks think it costs too much.

And his solution is even more disappointing -- opening the door to fans, and turning one of the two annual press tours into a lovefest similar to the nerd paradise Comic-Con. The tour starts today in Los Angeles -- I'll be joining it on Sunday for eight glorious days, with lots of regular updates here.

The press tours are a phenomenon I've never seen elsewhere in journalism, in which the biggest names in television submit to a two-week long stretch of press conferences, parties, set visits and special events, allowing the country's 200 or so top critics and TV reporters extended access to ask questions and compare answers.

Laurenhollypresstour Because it's packed with glamorous events offering free food and hobknobbing with celebrities, the press tour is an easy target for cynical columnists -- especially those who don't get to attend, or who see their jobs made tougher for it. Imagine if all the top figures in the automotive industry, or banking or government gathered in the same place for two weeks where journalists could question them and compare answers?

The net result is a more level playing field for critics. A shmoe like me, writing in Florida, has a level of access to the biggest names in TV that would otherwise be impossible. I've traded baseball stories with NBC honcho Ben Silverman, listened while CBS president Les Moonves explained his network's success, helped Hugh Laurie figure out why he sucks at skee ball and listened as Eddie Griffin test drove a monologue on his recent heart attack while shmoozing with critics in the wee hours after a party.

All this helped me understand the industry on an intimate level. So when someone starts talking about sticking a knife in the thing, I get nervous.   

This is an odd time for the network TV industry -- which is wobbling like DeNiro's Jake LaMotta after 10 rounds with Sugar Ray Robinson. The writer's strike took a lot of momentum out of the past season and made it difficult for most networks to develop any pilot episodes for new shows. In years past, by this moment I'd already have a pretty good idea of the fall TV season because I'd have pilot episodes of every one on my desk.Coxpresstour2

This year, no one's asking much about buzz for any show. Because, with the exception of CBS, we haven't seen any material to buzz about.

So it's not surprising that someone would suggest ideas which would destroy the press tour's value to anyone but the TV networks. I'm just surprised the ideas came from a journalist -- even a Los Angeles-based writer who may take access to TV's top echelon for granted.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:48pm]


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