WGA strike forces its cancellation

The WGA strike has forced the cancellation of the TV Critics Assn. winter press tour — another indication that the networks are digging in for the long haul.

Fate of the semiannual tour has been in limbo since last month, when NBC announced it was pulling out of the event (Daily Variety, Nov. 14). But with negotiations having broken off — and logistical concerns mounting — the networks and TCA exec board decided to finally pull the plug Monday.

“We just ran out of time,” TCA prexy Dave Walker told Daily Variety. “Even if there were a stunning surprise settlement, the networks have said it would be difficult” to throw together a January tour.

Cancellation will have a small, but notable, impact on the Los Angeles economy. Two-week event brings a few hundred reporters and publicists to the Los Angeles area for a series of press conferences and parties.

The Universal City Hilton, where the tour was to be held, will take the hardest hit. But the broadcast nets and cablers also cumulatively spend a couple million dollars throwing offsite parties at various clubs and eateries.

Walker emphasized that the cancellation of the confab was “not the TCA’s idea.”

“Our preference has been to present a tour whether there’s a strike or not,” he said, noting that 130 TCA members had registered for the event, even with the possibility of a dramatically scaled down tour. “There was clear member interest in it as a news event.”

But network insiders clearly believe that the chances of a strike settlement by early January, when the tour had been slated to begin, are slim.

Nets had been reluctant to stage a tour that emphasized reality shows and execs. The reporters who cover television tend to be unfriendly toward unscripted skeins, and network flacks didn’t want to subject their suits to journos grilling them about the strike.

Webs were also worried that writers and talent for the handful of scripted skeins available still moving forward wouldn’t agree to show up to the press tour.

Economics also played a major role. Mounting the tour costs each network several hundred thousand dollars — not an inconsiderable amount at a time when webs are bracing themselves for severe budget cuts related to the impact of the strike.

“I and everyone else involved did everything we could to keep this on track,” Walker said. “It’s disappointing, but it now seems it was inevitable.”

Walker had planned to wait until Friday to make a decision on the fate of the tour. But with no hope of a settlement in sight — and the Universal City Hilton continuing to reserve a block of rooms for the event — it made sense to act.

“It was out of fairness to the hotel,” he said, praising Hilton management for being so flexible for so long. “We wanted to give them as much time to recoup their (potential) losses.”

Until now, the TCA tour has proven to be a remarkably durable staple of the TV calendar. The tour was held during the 1988 WGA strike, and went on even when the Northridge earthquake interrupted the 1994 tour. Tour also went on barely four months after the terror attacks of 9/11.

Walker said he’s already preparing for the summer 2008 and winter 2009 tours.

“It’s still a unique coverage event in showbiz, one that we intend to perpetuate,” he said.

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