Eyebrows raised over ads in program

Besides the usual free dinner and mutual back-patting, attendees at the annual Television Critics Assn. Awards will receive something extra this Saturday: a free booklet commemorating the kudofest’s 20th anniversary.

But that very souvenir program has some TCA members and network publicity execs shaking their heads.

As word has filtered down in recent days to the rank and file, some critics have been distressed to discover that the org had hit up the networks and studios for cash. And publicity execs wondered whether buying an ad — or passing on the pitch — would affect their series’ chance for a future TCA award.

“I just think it smells bad,” said Ed Bark, TV columnist for the Dallas Morning News and a past prexy of the org. “I understand the 20th anniversary is something of a landmark and maybe should be celebrated … (but) the perception is key here. We can’t afford to be tainted in any way in giving these awards.”

Bark said that, until a few days ago, many members had no idea the TCA was selling ads in the program. He wishes the idea had been brought up at the org’s last regular meeting.

“It would have been shot down immediately,” Bark theorized.

Philadelphia Daily News critic Ellen Grey, meanwhile, said the ad sales made her “uncomfortable.”

“I don’t think we should be asking for money from the people we cover,” she said.

One network publicity exec said he was taken aback, but then bought the ad anyway because “if it buys me some peace, so be it.” A studio was first hesitant, but then discovered the ad was tax deductible (TCA is non-profit) and went ahead and bought a page.

Another network exec added: “I have major issues with it, and I feel dirty. But I did it.”

Studio City-based Randemonium handled sales for the booklet; full page ads cost anywhere between $1,750 and $4,000. Booklet also includes sections devoted to the TCA award’s history and past winners.

TCA board member Bill Brioux, who writes for the Toronto Sun, said the issue would be addressed at the org’s general meeting on Saturday.

“It was always seen as strictly a way to pay for the book without taking it directly out of the membership,” Brioux said. “But the board was mindful that some members would absolutely take issue with it. It wasn’t intended to provoke.”

Brioux and TCA prexy Kay McFadden, who writes for the Seattle Times, said the souvenir program was a one-time only venture.

“I think everyone gets a little too concerned about perception in this town,” said McFadden, when told that a handful of net execs worried whether buying an ad or not would impact their standing with the TCA.

The TCA awards were founded in 1984 by the org to recognize outstanding programs, acting and career achievement in television.

(Adalian is a member of the TCA.)

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