Nuts and bolts of business not as high priority

The lineup of journalists attending the biannual Television Critics Assn. press tour has changed radically over the past few years, leaving networks and veteran reporters wondering if the coverage is becoming less about the industry and more about the brand of handbags celebrities are toting to the event.

“For my first TCA tour, it was an older crowd made up of almost all older white

males, and almost all of them from newspapers,” says Minneapolis Star Tribune TV critic Neal Justin, who has attended TCA for the past 15 years.

“Today, there’s not as many newspapers, and a lot of those gentlemen are gone,” Justin says. “Their ranks have been filled with women and younger people, and a lot of them have a different agenda. It’s not about asking questions but tweeting about who they saw and what party they attended. The tenor of the event has changed.”

Whether that’s for the good or bad remains in the eye of the beholder. The press tour itself, held in Los Angeles in January and midsummer, has been scaled back in recent years. This current incarnation clocks in at 14 days, down a few notches from the tour’s heyday. Networks have consolidated presentations with sister cable stations. Parties are less lavish. A-listers are not quite as omnipresent.

But that’s small potatoes compared to the way media members cover the tour’s countless press conferences and parties. Not long ago, reporters took material from the summer sessions and stored it for a flood of fall pieces timed to the start of the TV season. That’s still done, of course, but first it must take an immediate backseat to breaking-news blogging and tweeting.

“Before bloggers took control, I don’t think your average reader had any sense of what the TCA was,” says Joe Adalian, West Coast editor for New York magazine’s Vulture.com, and former Variety staffer. “In some ways, the TCA tour is now, as an actual event, more in line with Comic-Con, with people blogging about everything 24/7.”

But it’s what TCA reporters are blogging about that leaves some network execs with mixed feelings.

“It has become more of a micro-blogging event with real-time coverage on the controversial issues that will generate Web traffic and less about covering the broader programming palette at each network,” says Chris Ender, CBS’ senior VP of communications.

That drive for Internet hits has undeniably changed the line of questioning, TCA vets say. However, it’s not like inane questions weren’t ever proffered at the press conferences and the 10-minute scrums that follow.

“There are just as many stupid questions as there were before,” says TCA president Susan Young. “And you know what? Sometimes the most outrageous questions can elicit a fantastic answer.”

But while coverage has shifted from profiles and state-of-the-network pieces to celebrity spotting, critics such as Justin maintain that the core purpose of the TCA tour — providing access to beat reporters outside of media hubs New York and Los Angeles — remains unchanged.

“If anything, with all those laptops out during the press conferences, it probably means people are paying more attention,” Justin says. “Everything changes. You’ve got to adapt and embrace it.”

TCA Award nominations
‘Boardwalk,’ ‘Lights’ battle for program of the year

INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMA
Steve Buscemi (“Boardwalk Empire,” HBO)
Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones,” HBO)
Jon Hamm (“Mad Men,” AMC)
Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife,” CBS)
Margo Martindale (“Justified,” FX)
Timothy Olyphant (“Justified,” FX)

INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY
Ty Burrell (“Modern Family,” ABC)
Louis C.K. (“Louie,” FX)
Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation,” NBC)
Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation,” NBC)
Danny Pudi (“Community,” NBC)
Jon Stewart (“The Daily Show,” Comedy Central)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NEWS AND INFORMATION
“If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise” (HBO)
“Restrepo” (National Geographic Channel)
“60 Minutes” (CBS)
“The Rachel Maddow Show” (MSNBC)
“30 for 30″ (ESPN)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN REALITY PROGRAMMING
“The Amazing Race” (CBS)
“Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” (Travel Channel)
“Survivor” (CBS)
“The Voice” (NBC)
“Top Chef: All Stars” (Bravo)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN YOUTH PROGRAMMING
“A Children’s Garden of Poetry” (HBO)
“iCarly” (Nickelodeon)
“Nick News With Linda Ellerbee” (Nickelodeon)
“R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour” (The Hub)
“Sesame Street” (PBS)
“Yo Gabba Gabba” (Nick Jr.)

OUTSTANDING NEW PROGRAM
“Boardwalk Empire” (HBO)
“Game of Thrones” (HBO)
“Terriers” (FX)
“The Killing” (AMC)
“Walking Dead” (AMC)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN MOVIES, MINISERIES AND SPECIALS
“Cineme Verite” (HBO)
“Downton Abbey: Masterpiece” (PBS)
“Mildred Pierce” (HBO)
“Sherlock: Masterpiece” (PBS)
“Too Big to Fail” (HBO)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMA
“Friday Night Lights” (DirecTV/NBC)
“Game of Thrones” (HBO)
“Justified” (FX)
“Mad Men” (AMC)
“The Good Wife” (CBS)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY
“Community” (NBC)
“Louie” (FX)
“Modern Family” (ABC)
“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)
“Raising Hope” (Fox)

CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Steven Bochco
Dick Ebersol
Cloris Leachman
David Letterman
William Shatner
Oprah Winfrey

HERITAGE AWARD
“All in the Family”
“Freaks and Geeks”
“The Dick Van Dyke Show”
“Twin Peaks”

PROGRAM OF THE YEAR
“Boardwalk Empire” (HBO)
“Friday Night Lights” (DirecTV/NBC)
“Game of Thrones” (HBO)
“Justified” (FX)
“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)

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