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Television Critics Association's summer tour offers peek at future of industry

There may never be a better time to head into the belly of the television industry beast.

As you read this, I'll be waking in Los Angeles for the first full day of the Television Critics Association's summer press tour, a landmark gathering not quite like any other assembly of pop culture, media and journalism.

The TCA pulls together the country's top writers and critics of television for about two weeks of press conferences, meals, parties and interview sessions featuring most all the major TV shows debuting over the next six months.

For a critic like me, working outside the showbiz meccas of New York and Los Angeles, it's an invaluable chance to meet the stars, producers, network executives and other players who control the world of television and media.

And there has never been a more crucial time to ask pointed questions about the industry's future.

The Emmy awards nominations revealed Thursday proved that point. For the first time ever, no broadcast series was nominated for an award as Best Drama or Best Miniseries/Movie, as the big TV networks have ceded the world of quality scripted drama to cable channels such as AMC, FX, HBO and Showtime.

Worse, two of the three new faces in Emmys comedy nominations also came from premium cable — Lena Dunham's Girls and Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Veep, both on HBO — while past network TV standouts such as Glee and House were sidelined. Even in the area of comedy, where network TV usually dominates, premium cable is poised to take over.

As cable TV systems are increasingly destabilized by fights over retransmission fees with broadcasters and cable channels, online services such as Netflix and Hulu are stepping up with more of their own, original content.

Critics at this summer's press tour will see ex-CNN personality Larry King and representatives from five other original shows on the video-sharing website Hulu describing their new ventures.

King, who talked up his new four-day-a-week interview show on NBC's Today show last week, turned to Hulu after being eased off the air at CNN, which is earning some of its lowest prime time ratings ever in his absence.

YouTube also has a session to talk about its original content, just a week after a study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found the site incubating a "new kind of visual journalism" with news videos recorded by average "citizen witnesses" drawing millions of viewers to videos of news events.

And all this comes as the distribution of digital video recorders in homes has jumped from less than 20 percent five years ago to more than 40 percent today. DVRs help viewers skip commercials to watch TV when they want, which makes it harder than ever for television makers to earn money on advertising.

What's obvious now is that traditional TV outlets are being challenged for viewers by new websites and media platforms while their business model — selling advertisers access to big audiences — is being taken apart by technology.

The real question as I jump into the Death March with Cocktails known as the summer press tour, is simple: What are the big TV companies going to do about all this?

Today, for example, we all meet the folks from Fox, reeling from the controversy over judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez leaving American Idol, which also was excluded from major Emmy nominations last week.

Britney Spears and Simon Cowell from the Idol-ish singing competition The X Factor should be on hand by satellite to describe how they will thrive in a fall season also featuring NBC's new hit singing competition The Voice.

Critics will have access to Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe (but since he's there to talk about So You Think You Can Dance, he may dodge the Idol questions), former Office star Mindy Kaling (whose new comedy The Mindy Project is teamed with Zooey Deschanel's The New Girl for a block of quirky, female-led sitcoms on Tuesdays) and abusive reality TV chef Gordon Ramsay, likely insisting Fox's anti-bullying PSAs shouldn't apply to him.

Feel free to follow along with my exploits on The Feed blog on tampabay.com or on Twitter @Deggans. (Last year, an executive producer for one of Fox's shows mistook me for Idol judge Randy Jackson at a reception; I'm hoping to start a new rumor about a love triangle with Cowell and Spears.)

We'll also have regular reports in this space throughout the week and larger stories in weeks to come.

If you're particularly inspired, slip me some ideas for TV and media stories you'd like to see pursued during my 12 days on the West Coast.

Because, when it comes to the future of TV, we all have a vested interest in figuring out where this tangle of channels, websites and social media messages eventually will wind up.

Tuesday

Thursday

SEASON PREMIERE The Secret Life of the American Teenager, 8 p.m., ABC Family: Amy wants some "alone time" with Ricky, but his birth mother shows up and needs a place to stay.

All Together Now: A Celebration of Service, 8 p.m., NBC: Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush get together for a special highlighting the importance of volunteering in your community. Because it's not like you're going to get paid for it in this economy.

Television Critics Association's summer tour offers peek at future of industry 07/22/12 [Last modified: Sunday, July 22, 2012 8:09pm]
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