TCA Awards low key but influential

Small-scale gala suits members, honorees

There’s little chance the TCA Awards will be mistaken for the Emmys or Golden Globes, and that’s just fine with many of the critics at the confab.

“It really isn’t a Hollywood event, even though it will be in Beverly Hills,” says the org’s president, Dave Walker, who writes for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “It’s a gathering of people from around the country to recognize the people who have made the year’s (best) TV. I don’t think there are many awards programs quite like it.”

Unlike some back-patting events, the TCA Awards have only a handful of categories, there’s no red carpet, no “for your consideration” ads in the trades and the generally hourlong ceremony is far from a slick, televised production. (One year when it was on cable, it was widely deemed a disaster.)

But as critics present the 24th edition of the awards on Saturday, the kudos show certainly has its place in the television universe. Just ask Jason Katims, exec producer of NBC’s “Friday Night Lights.” The skein was named outstanding new program a year ago.

“The support we’ve gotten from television writers is largely responsible for the show still being on the air,” Katims says. “Getting that award definitely made people notice, especially people who are within the industry. I wouldn’t discount the effect that it had.”

It may be difficult, however, to draw a direct line between receiving a TCA honor and a bump in the ratings. Besides, the timing of the awards couldn’t be worse when it comes to affecting the ratings. When film critics announce their year-end “best of” selections, audiences can still find them in theaters or on DVD. In contrast, several skeins nominated by the TCA won’t return with new episodes until this fall.

On the subject of nominations, it’s also tough to make a link between the TCAs and Emmys, but Florida Sun-Sentinel critic Tom Jicha has spotted names or shows on Emmy lists over the years that he believes made it because critics rallied behind them in their columns and through the awards.

“I think we’ve influenced, at least to a certain extent, the broadening of the Academy’s list of people,” says Jicha, who was TCA president when the awards were launched. “Maybe we’ve discovered some shows that they didn’t.”

Sacramento Bee critic and TCA VP Rick Kushman has his view.

“We could make an argument that Michael Chiklis’ Emmy may have gotten a tiny bit of a boost from getting a TCA Award, but he so deserved that Emmy that I don’t think we should be taking any credit for it,” he says. “‘The West Wing’ and ‘The Sopranos’ also would have probably done OK without us. Frankly, I want to believe that we don’t have any influence. I want to believe that these groups give awards for the right reasons.”

For Ken Burns, who directed and produced PBS’ “The War” with Lynn Novick, the TCA Awards are unique because of the group that presents them.

“When the people who are paid to watch television every day, who watch every kind of television, stop and say, ‘This is the best we’ve seen this year,’ it’s really a tremendous thing and incredibly heartening,” says Burns, who was previously recognized by the TCA for “The Civil War,” “Baseball” and “Jazz.”

“The War” is nominated in three categories, including program of the year, along with “John Adams” and “The Wire” from HBO, ABC’s “Lost” and AMC’s “Mad Men.”

In the end, what the awards do for members of the Television Critics Assn. is put a wrap on the previous season.

“It’s a way that we as a group get to say, to each other as well as the industry that we cover, that this is what we value. This is excellence in television,” Kushman says.

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