At the fall 2008 TV Critics Association press tour: facing new shows, old problems
Aside from the 14-hour workdays and long moments feigning interest in the biographies of Deal or No Deal models, the TV Critics Association's July press tour can look like summer vacation for professional small-screen junkies.
This year's event offers two weeks of news conferences, parties and set visits to showcase new programming. There are few events like it in any field; Where else can you watch Jeff Goldblum play jazz piano one moment and have a drink with the president of CNN/U.S. the next?
Though the whole mess started last Tuesday, I join it all today, offering constant updates on my blog, The Feed (blogs.tampabay.com/media). Here are the trends I'll be scouting:
The Future: As TV fans spend more time in digital worlds, the writers strike cuts the number of new shows and the average network TV viewer gets older and poorer, the future for big broadcasters is murky at best. No one knows which way success lies, particularly when video games and Web sites may offer more competition than rival channels.
Diversity: Among network TV's diminished slate of new shows, just one stars a person of color: The Cleveland Show (above), an animated spinoff of Fox's Family Guy series starring a black character voiced by a white guy. Clearly, broadcasters have backslid from the days when multi-ethnic casts powered hits like Lost and Grey's Anatomy. Instead, minority characters are usually BBFs — black (or Latino) best friends with little life beyond the concerns of the white lead personality. Could this be one reason young people find network TV increasingly old-fashioned?
The British Invasion: Once upon a time, network TV just imported actors and reality shows. These days, broadcasters are so desperate for new concepts that no fewer than five scripted shows have been pilfered from overseas, including a remake of the Aussie comedy Kath and Kim and the British time travel drama Life on Mars. That's modern-day America; we're even outsourcing our TV bombs.
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The Gong Show With Dave Atell, 10 p.m. Thursday, Comedy Central: It is a talent show so skeevy, the acts include a woman who farts classical music and a guy who kicks himself in the head. But the competition that gritty stand-up king Atell, below, calls "the wet spot on the casting couch of Hollywood" also manages a depraved, downmarket allure — amping up the sex jokes and bathroom humor in a way eccentric original Gong Show creator Chuck Barris likely never imagined. Watch only to see how off-the-rails a classic TV remake can truly land.
The Cleaner, 10 p.m. Tuesday, A&E: A&E says this story of a noble "extreme interventionist" is based on a real guy. But no amount of jittery camera work or beard stubble can save this fairy tale about an ex-junkie forcing addicts into rehab. It remains a preposterous, scripted ripoff of the channel's reality series hit, Intervention. Think a twisted version of the A-Team where everybody's a whiny recovering basket case, and pity the fools who actually watch it.
In honor of TV's thirst for new faces from other lands, The Feed offers an installment of a new game called: British? Or not? Try to guess which of these folks is American, or just playing one on TV. Answers at bottom.
1. Jack Davenport
(Bruce Miller, Swingtown)
2. Traylor Howard
(Natalie Teeger, Monk)
3. Jamie Bamber
(Lee Adama, Battlestar Galactica)
4. Gabrielle Anwar
(Fiona Glenanne, Burn Notice)
5. Daniel Sunjata
(Franco Rivera, Rescue Me)
6. Idris Elba
(Stringer Bell, The Wire)
ANSWERS: 1, 3, 4, 6 (British); 2, 5 (not)
Tidal TV (beta.tidaltv.com) offers an eclectic array of TV shows online you might not find elsewhere. It's still in beta testing, so the lineup is limited to CBS and an odd collection of providers such as HGTV, the Associated Press and Ford Models. I dig the channel guide shaped like a newspaper's TV listings, but the images got a bit blurry when I expanded the video size, and they need serious upsizing of content to compete with better-known sites such as Joost and Hulu.