Strike causes networks to nix confab plans

NBC has become the first network to declare its intention to skip the Television Critics Assn. winter press tour — but it may not be the last.

While PBS and a consortium repping cable have indicated they’re still interested in the January confab, Peacock has told the critics’ org it’s bowing out of the semiannual event.

ABC and Fox are still on the fence, with a Fox rep saying the net will decide its plans “in the next day or two.” But it appears that both nets are leaning toward following suit and canceling their sessions as well.

CBS and CW, meanwhile, want more time to decide. “We’d like to find a way to have January press tour, but there are still considerable challenges that could stand in the way,” said a spokesman for the two nets, which share a common co-owner in CBS Corp.

TCA prexy Dave Walker sent an email to members Tuesday morning updating them on a Monday conference call between the nets and the org. He said the nets all “expressed concerns about staging adequate presentations if the strike continues, but didn’t rule out participation. They said they’d like to present but aren’t sure what shows or people they’ll have available.”

Indeed, nets are worried showrunners and stars of midseason projects with completed episodes might not want to cross picket lines in order to hype their skeins. (January TCA is slated to take place at the Universal City Hilton, which is located on the U lot).

An NBC spokeswoman added that the Peacock felt TCA wasn’t a sound financial move at a time in which every dollar counts. Putting on a daylong TCA presentation can cost a network close to $500,000, according to network insiders.

“These are challenging times,” the NBC rep said. “We felt it was not prudent to move forward with a TCA session. It was a difficult decision.”

Despite the likely stripped-down nature of a January press tour, Walker said a quick poll of the TCA membership indicated that a big chunk still plans to attend a shortened event (though attendance would be down from last year).

Without writers and stars, the network portion of a TCA might be dominated by reality shows — which critics are generally less fond of (and less interested in covering at the TCA). And executive sessions would be an exercise in futility, as network entertainment presidents would likely be prevented from commenting on the strike.

“We get fried either way,” one exec said. “No one wants to trudge all that way just to cover reality — but the alternative is no tour.”

The one division that could still go on without a problem — and could benefit from the tour — is the network news departments, which are gearing up for a major presidential campaign.

But if a TCA tour continues with just cable and PBS, the broadcast nets could conceivably still take part, in a stripped-down fashion. One idea floating: A “network day” or two, with each net fielding a handful of panels.

CBS has also indicated that, if it does present at the tour, it will do so on a day that combines its sessions with those for the CW and sister cabler Showtime.

Another idea being mulled by some nets: Webcast sessions, with call-in numbers for scribes to ask questions. It would be a sort of a “virtual TCA.”

Even if the winter TV critics meeting disappears, net execs say it doesn’t put the summer event in jeopardy. The July meeting is traditionally better-attended, and is considered a more important part of the networks’ marketing strategies than the January gathering.

For now, the cable portion of the TCA is still set for Jan. 9-11, with PBS slated to present on Jan. 12. The TCA is trying to hold a block of rooms through Jan. 16 in the event the strike is settled by then — allowing webs that have dropped out to hastily assemble presentations.

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