Summertime, and the livin’ is easy—unless you happen to be a TV critic or network TV publicist, that is! Every late July/early August, more than 200 TV critics from around the U.S. and Canada meet in Los Angeles for the TCA Press Tour, which features days of intense presentations by broadcast and cable TV network executives.
Hosted by the Television Critics Association (who host a second one in January), the purpose of the tour is to provide critics with the unique opportunity to gain access to the professionals who make television. The information gathering, reporting and interviewing that critics do at TCA provide them with invaluable story material for the whole year. The TCA also offers them the rare chance to interact with network executives, producers and actors in an intimate setting.
“It's hard to explain to anyone who hasn't experienced this the sheer volume of information that comes out of the press tour, says Scott Pierce, TCA President and TV critic for the Salt Lake Tribune. “Each journalist can easily come away with hundreds of stories, tweets and blogs. Altogether, we're talking tens of thousands from the group.”
While journalists have their work cut out for them on the reporting side, network publicists spend their days planning, prepping and organizing endless details to ensure that their presentations go smoothly and the TCA members get what they are looking for. In general, Pierce gives the network publicists high marks.
“We work with a very professional group of people. They know we're looking for news and interviews. Our members appreciate a mix of returning series and introductions to new shows in order to best serve their audiences. Having interview access to an array of series stars, producers, showrunners and network executives usually produces the highest number of stories and buzz."
Speaking of buzz, the smart network publicists time news announcements to take advantage of the media’s focus on the TCA floor.
“The TCA tour long ago established itself as a coveted industry event, and networks utilize the opportunity to break news during some panels and reach an audience of millions right away,” explains Pierce.” They know most of the people in the room are on social media, and we're posting stories much more quickly—sometimes before a session is even over.”
A quick glance at the news that came out of the recent TCA confirms that this happens a lot. Among the headlines that quickly broke were Keith Urban’s return to “American Idol,” Billy Bob Thornton’s star turn in FX’s “Fargo” series and Diane Lane’s casting as Hillary Clinton in an NBC miniseries.
Pierce is quick to add that the opposite is also true:
“But as TV critics, we aren't only reporting on the news from a tour. We are banking more in-depth stories on shows, talent and TV trends for days, weeks, and months after the tour itself.”
ABC, for example, showcased a host of new series and produced panels with the shows’ entire casts; these included “The Goldbergs,” “Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Back in the Game,” and “Super Fun Night.” The colorful, in-depth information that came out of these presentations will likely show up in stories that appear at the time of a series debut.
On the returning show front, PBS brought the cast of the red-hot “Downton Abbey,” and FX provided a lively chat with “Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter, executive producer Paris Barclay and stars Katey Sagal and Charlie Hunnam. Both of these sessions provided great fodder for future columns.
Although this year’s TCA went well, there’s always room for improvement, and Pierce says the number-one complaint that he hears from TCA members is that “talent is rushed away” and there’s no time for follow-up questions at working events. And here’s a good inside tip:
“We have members who work for national publications, but we also have a lot who work for local/regional outlets. The best way to sell a story is to give us a local angle—so provide the hometowns of the talent/producers before your panels and other press tour events.”
Now TCA members and networks can enjoy the easy livin’ for the rest of the summer—and build up their strength until January.