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:
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.