Things I learned from the press tour - TCA Report
Anyway, now that I have a day or two to reflect, I took a cue from our friends at AOL and came up with a list of things I learned on this press tour. But this list will involve both the network-related things I learned with what I learned about celebrities, my fellow critics, and myself.
1. I'm not as jaded as I thought. Yes, I bitched a lot about sitting in the same seat for hours on end, about the endless parade of people who said their show was the "best," and their cast and writers are "fantastic." But there were still many, many times during the tour when I was amazed at some aspect of the television business: the creativity of the people who put shows together, the unflailing -- if at times misguided -- optimism of network executives, and the down-to-earthness and frendliness of some of the actors (some... not all).
2. I can still get a little starstruck: What also made me think I wasn't jaded was what occurred at the TCA Awards ceremony, which I attended for the first time. This was the only time for the duration of my stay that my voice recorder stayed in my pocket, and for a couple of hours I was just a fan. As I was speaking to Mad Men producer Matt Weiner, for instance, he introduced me to comedy legend Tom Smothers, who was there to host the ceremony with his brother Dick; I met the other Smothers Brother at the after-party. I shook hands with Tom Hanks (who surprised the crowd by hopping on stage to accept the best mini-series award for John Adams, which he produced), told Paul Giamatti I loved him as Harvey Pekar and Pig Vomit, and babbled like an idiot in front of both Lorne Michaels and Tina Fey. It was a fun night, so fun that I might write a little more about it next week.
3. The networks are really trying to get viewers back this year: I can't tell you how many producers of returning shows have vowed that they're going to make an effort to make their programs accessible to fans who have never tuned in before. They're either going to do some sort of massive recap at the beginning of the new season, structure the season premiere to make it seem like a second pilot, or just start almost from scratch. And this isn't even coming from second year shows like Chuck, Pushing Daisies and Private Practice, which were held back by their networks after the strike. How I Met Your Mother is going to be doing more closed-ended episodes, as will The Sarah Connor Chronicles (which is a second-year show, but it wasn't held back like some of the others). Even the producers of The Shield, which is on cable and going into its seventh and final year, have said that viewers who've never seen the show before can start watching this year without being completely lost.
4. The strike was a hidden, but painful, blessing: Another recurring theme I heard throughout the tour was that the long hiatus many shows went on either during or after the strike turned out to be a blessing in disguise creatively, allowing the writers to rethink some storylines, reconfigure others, take fan feedback into account, and in general put their shows on more solid creative footing. Rookie shows (Dirty Sexy Money, for instance) as well as veterans (Lost) both seemed to benefit from the break. It's just too bad they had to sit around for 100 days without pay for that to happen.
5. The color of Shonda Rhimes' sky is different than ours: Something that always drove me nuts about Ms. Rhimes is that she seems to ignore the pleas of her shows' fans and just tells her writers to write about whatever notion about her characters that pops into her head. She has the right to do that, of course; Grey's and PP are her shows. But it leads to disastrous storylines (Gizzie?) that last way, way too long and make loyal fans abandon each show. In addition, she seems to be far too loyal to her temperamental actors, at least in public. Her defense of Katherine Heigl during the tour seemed to be insincere at the very least, especially considering the rumors that just won't die that Heigl, who offended writers everywhere with her Emmy remarks, will be written into a coma this coming season.
6. Newspaper critics need to embrace us online folk: Most did, actually. But there was definitely a genuine uneasiness amongst the old-line critics gathered that their worlds may be changing, and very soon. With blogs and Twitter and all sorts of instantaneous communication that allows news from the tour to go out almost instantly, reading tour dispaches in the newspaper two days after they happen seems almost quaint to me. Newspaper critics that have embraced the blogging world, like Alan Sepinwall, Tim Goodman, Aaron Barnhardt, Maureen Ryan, and others, will survive, even if their newspaper columns don't, mainly because at some point soon, 99% of entertainment journalism will be online. You can guarantee it.
And, despite what others have feared, online critics are just as tough on producers, executives and stars as the hard-bitten newspaperpeople. Why? Because we're fans, just like they are, and when we get the rare chance to be in front of the people that create our favorite shows, we're going to ask them detailed and probing questions. Were there online people who were at the tour who just cared about who was dating who and what they like to eat for breakfast? Sure. But I'm pretty sure that there were plenty of print publications in that contingent, too.
7. Networks really don't want reporters to get interviews at the parties: the music is loud, and many stars either hide out or surround themselves with their "team" of people to ward off the voice-recorder-toting hordes. Heck, during the NBC party, Coolio even got up to DJ and perform a couple of songs (a picture I took of him with my phone is at to the left). While listening to him -- and watching John Madden and Chris Matthews walk out of the party soon after he went behind the turntable -- was fun, it was keeping the press from doing what they went to the party to do, which was talk to the NBC stars, producers and execs. Someone did tell him to stop, prompting Coolio to say something like "I've got to stop because I'm disruptin' the interviews" before he left.
8. The guys from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia aren't acting: They like to drink and be goofballs. The pic at the top of the post is Rob McElhenny and Glenn Howerton riding the tilt-a-whirl at the Fox party, very soon after pounding beers. The goal? What do you think? Let's just say I stayed to the side and out of the spray zone. I kept thinking of the phrase "People in the first five rows will get wet".
9. I hope the tour continues: And, if it does, I hope I have the privilege of going again.