Deggans at the TV Critics Press Tour: Exploring how TV's fundamental transformation just might change us all
There may be no corner of media in the throes of more change than the modern television industry.
Which is why it’s a particularly delicious time to be heading out to Los Angeles for 10 days of press conference cocktails parties and rumor-mongering with the biggest executives, producers and stars of the moment on the small screen.
That’s right. It’s time for the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour.
As you read these words, I’ll be flying from Florida to Los Angeles, headed to the Beverly Hilton hotel, where the top cable, broadcast and online program providers will be lining up to show off their new fall wares for more than 200 critics from across the globe.
The challenge is always a unique one: To cajole, charm, shock and argue industry types into revealing themselves during a seemingly endless conga line of press conferences, receptions, set visits and performances.
Program providers and their army of publicists seek a succession of carefully managed events. That’s seemingly why some subjects which would be instant news – CBS’ summer reality series Big Brother and the new Al Jazeera America, which announced an Aug. 20 start date Monday – have dropped out.
Al Jazeera, which was to kick off the TCA with the first press session for its new channel (scheduled to take over the space once held by Al Gore’s Current TV), bailed on the TCA Monday. As critics were getting an apologetic email from their top publicist, the channel was announcing a new president, four new top senior executives and a start date less than four weeks from Monday.
Perhaps they had bigger concerns than wooing a roomful of armchair TV producers (that’s okay; the press tour whipped up a press conference with ESPN’s newest hire, Keith Olbermann.)
As I prepare for the task of making small talk with the supporting cast from Hart of Dixie and The Mentalist, I’m also thinking over some big ideas about where the industry is headed that I hope to bounce off the big names in town.
What makes a network, anyway? Back in the day, a broadcast network’s prerogative was simple. It was the Big Tent, a place where viewers of all striped gathered for the only show which really mattered, providing free entertainment to he nation which also bound it together around a communal, electronic hearth.
But that’s a long-gone proposition, thanks to the Internet. These days, some broadcast networks draw less viewership than popular cable channels – we’re looking at you, CW – and since most people get their television via cable systems, everyone’s paying for something which used to be free, like tap water.
So how does NBC rebuild its brand in a world where Netflix and AMC are cornering the market on high-quality drama, while FX, Netflix, Amazon and HBO are nipping at its heels in comedy?
New cable channels from the ashes of the old. The world of cable will see an epidemic of channel flipping in weeks to come, as the G4 channel becomes NBC’s widely-anticipated Esquire Network, Current becomes Al Jazeera America and the Halogen channel becomes the Millennial-centered Pivot.
Can these new channels make an impact where the old ones didn’t? How many niche-ified corners of media can cable systems hold, anyway? And what exactly does a cable channel named for an 80-year-old men’s magazine look like, anyway?
Where does online fit in all of this? And will they tell us? Even as Netflix scored an impressive amount of Emmy nominations and announced plans to create standup specials and documentaries – will they execute the HBO playbook, line for line? – the question remains whether the streaming video/DVD rental company’s success is an aberration or just the beginning.
As Hulu, Yahoo and Amazon step up their original programming plans, it’s still an open question how their work will transform the TV universe. Especially for those who don’t have broadband access, the world of high-quality TV may increasingly become a distant, overpriced concept. And given some online sites' penchant for secrecy -- even now, Amazon hasn't divulged much about its original series plans -- how will we know what's happening until it's done?
As you can see, we’ll have a lot to talk about over the next few days. Feel free to suggest new topics here or via Twitter @Deggans, where I’ll be quipping and gossiping along with 199 of my best TV critic pals.
The adventure is about to begin. See a long-ago promo video for my LA trip below: