Wednesday, November 30, 2016

TCA SMACKDOWN

I attended my first TCA (Television Critics Association or "Press Tour") sometime around 1987 or so. Since then, up to my retirement from the industry, I have gone to about 60 of these puppies. I mention this right up front to establish that I believe I have some cred in what is going to be an obsession among TV writers leading up to the January TCA in Pasadena. You see yesterday the heads of the broadcast networks. with I believe the exception of the CW, decided not to hold executive sessions at this event.

Here's my two cents on all this and remember.....experience. I will be brief.

Let me start here. TCA has changed over the years but the way networks approached it has not. The biggest change has been the speed by which the "news" from TCA is disseminated to the consumer. The original intent of TCA was to book stories for the next few months as new shows were rolling out. The networks would make their senior executives available to the press and those sessions would be reported within a day or two of their occurrence.

Preparation for the executive sessions would take up a lot of time as we would try to anticipate the issues that would be top of mind to the writers. The goal was not to make news. I remember one of my bosses almost got fired for commenting on something during his TCA session. Some serious shit could happen if you weren't careful and, as much as you prepared, there would always be a question or two that you did not anticipate.

I always told my bosses that there are only three responses to questions at TCA:
Yeah
And your point is
Go fuck yourself
Just be creative in how you frame the answer.

As painful as it was and as risky as it was my bosses always felt the obligation, as did our competitors, to meet the TV press at TCA. To be honest, I think there was always a little ego involved in all this but you don't get to those positions without it.

Personally, TCA was always a chance to catch up with several of the writers with whom I had established trusting relationships over the years. I still stay in touch with several of them and help them out in any way that I can. There are a lot of smart people still writing about the business.

This all started to change with the rise of social media especially Twitter. News from TCA became instantaneous. The gap between reflection and assessment on the one hand and communication on the other vanished. The need to react immediately was intensified by the reality that you were sitting in a room with others sending out their take on what was happening.

On top of that the Tweeters developed personalities which started to merge with their reporting of the sessions at TCA. In my opinion Tweeting became as much to impress one's fellow writers as it was to objectively report on the session. Again, in my opinion, tweeting at TCA often became a form of virtual public stoning.

Sadly I spent the past few years at TCA feeling bad for my press and publicity comrades who had to sit through these sessions staring at their smartphones anticipating the worst.
I think it was Bob Greenblatt who turned the tables on the TV writers by posting their tweets on a big screen.

The game and the soul of TCA had changed. It's all about the clicks, who can be funny or witty, and that's OK.

Also, to be honest, there was a new generation of writers several of whom, not all, just didn't seem to have a grasp of the business nor an historical perspective to help process issues. Trust me, this wasn't just my opinion.

In the final years of my tenure in television two things I ranted about at work were TCAs and Upfront presentations. My rants were not about eliminating them but rather bringing both into the present in ways that accounted for the changes in technology and the new realities of the business. I was generally met with eyerolls because it was easier to stay the course rather than be the innovator (something I dealt with through my entire career). Therefore I was not surprised when it was Netflix and Amazon who fired the first Salvo here.

Were the networks smart in how they handled this announcement? No, not at all, but if it leads to a discussion of how to reimagine TCA given all of the new realities then fine.

Throwing a hissy fit like the one I read this morning. Calling the networks cowards and in denial is only going to harden positions. TCA stands for Television Critics Association. As critics they have the right to evaluate shows and give their opinions. They even have the right to be biased against broadcast network product and come to whatever conclusions they want to about why it is what it is. I don't believe the networks have pulled their shows, just their executives.

Maybe an association of TV Business Writers who sit down with the various heads of networks for open, honest discussions about the state of the business, while not on their Twitter accounts, would be a step in the right direction. I don't know.

What I do know is that these network heads and the people they report to are not stupid and are more aware of things and what to do about it than many give them credit for. Change is good. Let's see where this all goes.










Friday, November 11, 2016

THE BOOK OF LIFE - THE STICK TO YOUR KNITTING EDITION

It looks like the Fall premieres are finally over and I'm adding what I believe are the final four freshmen series to the Book of Life. Mostly good news and three of the four are CBS shows which were delayed because of the Thursday NFL package on the network.

CBS is best at sticking to its knitting and once again it paid off. However, they still seem to have issues with finding a solid medical drama. Code Black which was predicted to make it to a second Kol Nidre service (it did) is floundering and Pure Genius does not look like it will get a second season. On the plus side the classic CBS schlubby guy/hot wife formula still has legs and, after one or two attempts at Big Banging it again, The Great Indoors looks promising. 

ABC continues to score with family comedies but can't pop with the ersatz-Shonda approach to female centric drama.

FOX's biggest success is going broad and mainstream. Lethal Weapon is not only holding up well with 18-49's but is getting nosebleed level 2+ viewers which is something the network either consciously or unconsciously resists (trust me on this).

NBC is the most interesting in that they have the least to lose and can use The Voice and Chicago Whatevs to try something different and it's paying off for them.

The CW didn't come up with this year's Jane the Virgin or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but let's see what happens with Archie (Riverdale)

Last May I said that the nets were acting like broadcast networks more than they have in recent years and it paid off.So on to mid-season where there are some more offbeat shots. 

New entries are in red  

BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL (stick a fork in it, it's done)
NOTORIOUS


WILL CELEBRATE THEIR B'NAI MITZVAH (will get to 13 on the air)
SON OF ZORN
McGYVER
PITCH
CONVICTION
NO TOMOROW
PURE GENIUS

LET'S GO TO A BRIS (the order will be snipped)
THE EXORCIST

SET A PLACE AT THE SEDER TABLE (should finish full the season)
DESIGNATED SURVIVOR
TIMELESS


SEE YOU AT NEXT YEAR'S KOL NIDRE SERVICE (there's a second season)
KEVIN CAN WAIT
THE GOOD PLACE
LETHAL WEAPON
THIS IS US
SPEECHLESS
BULL
FREQUENCY
AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE
MAN WITH A PLAN
THE GREAT INDOORS

Thursday, November 3, 2016

WHAT IF I SCHEDULED TRUMP TV

Last week I got a call from Michael O'Connell over at The Hollywood Reporter. He told me how much he enjoyed my Twitter feed and said that they were putting together something on the possibility of a post-election Trump TV. He wondered if I would put together a prime time schedule for the platform.

Of course in the modern era a Trump TV channel would be some sort of digital streaming entity where schedules don't really matter but, be that as it may, I was asked to go old school and, to be honest, the fact that anyone is still interested in what I have to say, makes me feel needed.

I put together the schedule in the same way I did it for over 25 years: I drew a grid by hand and filled it in with a pencil or pen.

My goal was to create a schedule that would be entertaining and that had a logic and flow to it. Clearly it reflected my opinion of the man who would put his brand on such an endeavor (not high) and I tried to reflect what I believe is going on in that deranged mind of his

Surprisingly the folks over at The Hollywood Reporter printed it as is with no changes other than a few typos since I can't spell to save my ass.

Here is the link to the Hollywood Reporter article and I reprinted the schedule.

Let me know what you think.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/a-legendary-hollywood-scheduler-imagines-trump-tvs-lineup-943547



Tuesday, October 25, 2016

THE BOOK OF LIFE - THE 'WHY BOTHER" EDITION

I added five more shows (they're in red) to The Book of Life. Two of them will make it to next year's Kol Nidre service not that they are performing well, it's more that nothing will perform better in the time period so....why bother? 

I have to believe that, somewhere on this blog, I discussed the magic number 2 1/2. That's the number of new hours that a network can put on before they are better off sticking with what's currently on their schedule. Most networks (CBS being the exception) generally go beyond this limit because "we can do better"....they cannot. What then compounds the problem is making too many changes when the current shows are not working. Good rule: You want to see a time period circle the drain quicker....change the programming.

There are so many factors which account for the decline of network ratings but there are self-inflicted wounds. that's why it's good to see networks sticking with what brought them to the dance. NOTORIOUS was the one show I felt needed to be offed because of its important place on ABC's big Shonda night. Yesterday they snipped the order but beyond that most shows are being allowed to run their course and I added two shows for a total of seven shows that I expect to be back for a second season.

One of the two shows that will be at next year's Kol Nidre service is FREQUENCY because the CW renews almost everything. NO TOMORROW was an attempt to replicate the creative success of two of my faves JANE THE VIRGIN and CRAZY EX GIRLFRIEND......nope. I don't expect it to last beyond its B'nai Mitzvah...but.....why bother.

Happy Simchat Torah everyone.  

BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL (stick a fork in it, it's done)
NOTORIOUS


WILL CELEBRATE THEIR B'NAI MITZVAH (will get to 13 on the air)
SON OF ZORN
McGYVER
PITCH
CONVICTION
NO TOMOROW

LET'S GO TO A BRIS (the order will be snipped)
THE EXORCIST

SET A PLACE AT THE SEDER TABLE (should finish full the season)
DESIGNATED SURVIVOR
TIMELESS

SEE YOU AT NEXT YEAR'S KOL NIDRE SERVICE (there's a second season)
KEVIN CAN WAIT
THE GOOD PLACE
LETHAL WEAPON
THIS IS US
SPEECHLESS
BULL
FREQUENCY

Thursday, October 13, 2016

That Time Bob Dylan told me to "Fuck Off"

I woke up this morning to the news that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Big up to him. Several of my good friends have heard this story but, in honor of this award, I thought I would share it with all of you. It's about the time that Mr. Dylan told me to "fuck off".....he really did.

While playing the role of a powerful network executive I had the opportunity to meet several celebrities and powerful people. After a while you get sort of numb to it. Some of them impress you (Jack Welsh, Rupert Murdoch, George Clooney) and some of them are fucking idiots and you just wonder.

At FOX I was often asked by casting to sit in on meetings with professional wrestlers. I had a chance to meet Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H and Chyna and Jeff Jarrett. I also got to meet Vince McMahon along with his kids Shane and Stephanie when they were shopping Smackdown to the broadcast networks.

I met John McCain of the set of 24 and the entire Masked Family had their picture taken with the Clintons when Bill was President. We actually used it as our Holiday card one year. The card said "The B------s and the Clintons wish you Happy Holidays" We received calls from several friends asking us how we photoshopped the picture. Several thought I was joking when I said it was real.

Funny story about that. Before we headed to DC for "Christmas in Washington" my daughter broke her wrist so she was wearing a cast at the taping. My wife tried to make her feel better by promising that we would ask the President to sign his cast. My good friend in NBC Sales got us on the list to have our picture taken with the Clintons. After the picture was shot, as we were walking away, I heard my wife say "Mr. President would you sign my daughter's cast?" Bill said "Do You have a Sharpie?" of course she did and we have my daughter's autographed cast to this day.

But I digress.....

....So it's late 1988 or early 1989. I'm in Research at NBC and still living in New York. I was coming back from a business trip to LA. This was a time when you could still smoke on a plane and it was also a time when executives like me could travel First Class. It so happened that on the day I was returning to NYC The Traveling Wilburys was nominated for a Grammy. At some point early in the flight a man in a hoodie gets up to use the restroom. On the way back to his seat I noticed that it was Bob Dylan. He was sitting across the aisle and a few rows back from me.

My relatively new boss at NBC was a huge Bob Dylan fan and legend had it that, when Dylan was on SNL, my boss went down to the dress rehearsal with Dylan's picture in a frame and a knife to cut it out of the frame. He was jumped by security and never got the autograph that he was seeking. I thought to myself "Wouldn't it be cool if I could get my boss Dylan's autograph". As I said at the top you get numb to meeting celebrities BUT THIS WAS BOB FUCKING DYLAN!!!!!! This was different. This was like approaching a God.

I took out a pad and a pen and spent the whole flight working up the nerve to ask him for his signature. In my mind I went through every possible line I could use.I was terrified. Finally, about twenty minutes before landing, I got up crossed the aisle and stood at his seat. Dylan was smoking a cigarette and was talking intensely with his travelling companion. So there I am holding a pen and a pad. His companion looks up at me and shakes her head like---don't do this. Dylan sees her reaction and turns around to look at me. Here's what came out of my mouth: "You can tell me to fuck off". Dylan looked at me and said as only he can "Fuck off". I walked back to my seat with no autograph and with my heart beating quite rapidly.

When we landed I immediately called my boss. "You won't believe who told me to fuck off on the flight back to New York....BOB DYLAN!!!!". I told him the story and we both agreed that being told to fuck off by BobDylan trumped getting his autograph.

So congrats on the Nobel Prize Bob and thank you for giving me one of the peak experiences of my life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

THE BOOK OF LIFE: ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER

Tonight is Yom Kippur so it's time to turn the page and begin entering the new 2016-17 series in the Book of Life. I generally wait for three numbers before determining the fate of a show. I made one exception because the ratings are so strong that, even when the gimmick wears off, there's enough there to merit another season. I'm assuming five of the eleven shows below will return for a second season which is a pretty good success rate. Each network has something to feel good about. As I said last spring the broadcast networks decided to act like broadcasters and they are being rewarded.

I think that there is only one major casualty so far and that is Notorious. It is suffering from the triple whammy of low ratings, little critical/social support and inhabiting a "Must Succeed" time period hammocked between the two Shonda shows. ABC is going to have to do something to prevent this important night from slipping away while they wait for the return of Scandal, so expect something if Notorious dips below a 1 this week. I feel bad because a good friend of mine is the Executive Producer here.

There are other shows hovering at a 1 rating but they will probably not suffer the ignominious fate of Notorious. Pitch will hang in for 13 and not go beyond that this season. FOX is into these short orders. It is holding up relative to its leadin and has the critical/social respect to support it. Also the dude who does This Is Us did this and I don't think FOX wants to piss him off right now. If I were to bet it's 13 and out for Pitch       
                                                                                    McGyver is not showing a very good trend and is down near a 1. CBS (whom I have a lot of respect for) if the king of the "My Shit Doesn't Stink" philosophy of programming so they will ride it out for 13. Also CBS generally gets the largest audiences for their shows so that 1 for McGyver includes a lot more viewers than we see for Pitch. 

I don't know what FOX was thinking with The Exorcist. In addition to being a bad pilot I have to believe that there was resistance to this show from their Sales group. I don't see how they can hang in there for all 13.

The one head scratcher for me is Designated Survivor. The next number will be interesting. I couldn't get myself to buy it tickets for next year's Kol Nidre service. It was the winner of the MASKY for best new Fall hour but, having watched the three episodes, it does have the whiff of coming off the rails. The family stuff is terrible and every few minutes I hear myself saying "Now wait a second"....this show requires just too much suspension of disbelief. I'm also waiting for Kiefer to go all Jack Bauer and when it doesn't happen I feel let down. I think it will last the season and the delayed viewing is large but I'll withhold judgement for now.

I'll be back with a few more shows real soon. Meanwhile here is the list so far.


BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL (stick a fork in it, it's done)
NOTORIOUS


WILL CELEBRATE THEIR B'NAI MITZVAH (will get to 13 on the air)
SON OF ZORN
McGYVER
PITCH

LET'S GO TO A BRIS (the order will be snipped)
THE EXORCIST

SET A PLACE AT THE SEDER TABLE (should finish full the season)
DESIGNATED SURVIVOR

SEE YOU AT NEXT YEAR'S KOL NIDRE SERVICE (there's a second season)
KEVIN CAN WAIT
THE GOOD PLACE
LETHAL WEAPON
THIS IS US
SPEECHLESS



Monday, June 27, 2016

THE MASKED TEN - HALFWAY THROUGH

There's been a lot of really good television so far this year. As we approach the halfway mark I thought that i would share with you the MASKED TEN for 2016 so far. As always I never call these shows the best because that is a personal evaluation. Rather, these are the ten ( actually 14) shows that I especially enjoyed this year. 

The one criteria for being on the list is that the show has finished it's run or, in the case of streaming series, I have watched the entire cycle. There are some shows like PREACHER on AMC and UNREAL on Lifetime that are currently on and may well knock off current MASKED TEN shows.

There are 14 shows on the list because, in three situations, I gave a platform credit for something beyond simply one show. i guess that was my attempt t being cool and creative. I don't think that this is a radically offbeat list and I have a feeling many of you enjoy these shows as well. We may differ on the order but that's simply subjective. So here are the mid-year MASKED TEN listed in the order of my enjoyment. 


  • THE AMERICANS (FX)
  • THE PEOPLE vs. OJ SIMPSON (FX)
  • BETTER CALL SAUL (AMC)
  • SILICON VALLEY (HBO)
  • HAPPY VALLEY/RIVER - NETFLIX BRITISH PROCEDURALS
  • ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (NETFLIX)
  • GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
  • CW MONDAY - CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND/JANE THE VIRGIN
  • ABC FAMILY COMEDIES - FRESH OFF THE BOAT/THE GOLDBERGS/MODERN FAMILY
  • THE NIGHT MANAGER (AMC)

There are five honorable mentions that will miss the cut this year but still had excellent cycles:


  • BILLIONS (SHOWTIME)
  • THE OUTSIDERS (WGN AMERICA)
  • LONDON SPY (BBC AMERICA)
  • GIRLS (HBO)
  • CATASTROPHE (AMAZON)
Let me know your thoughts