The TCA Awards 2012

“Cougar Town” ran for three seasons on ABC and is set to get a second life at TBS in 2013.

Despite having an established topline star in “Friends” vet Courteney Cox, the sitcom struggled from its earliest days and might have gone off the air much sooner without the support of the critics.

“(Creator) Bill Lawrence and I were talking recently, and he said, ‘I just want to say thanks, because you guys (the critics) talk about the show. You’ve really kept it in the minds of the network and the viewing audience,'” says Candace Havens, president of the Television Critics Assn., a 227-member strong org whose twice-yearly confab with the networks is under way at the BevHilton.

In the fragmented television universe — and even more fragmented universe of online and print publications that most TV critics work for these days — the opinions of a few key professionals can have an effect on fate of a television show. Just how much of a difference depends on factors that include the network (broadcast, basic cable, premium cable) and ratings, but there’s little doubt that critical opinion plays a part in a show’s evolution.

“They listen to us when they need to, and don’t when they don’t,” says Scott Pierce, a TCA VP and critic for the Salt Lake Tribune. “It wouldn’t matter what every critic in America said about ‘American Idol,’ it still wouldn’t have failed. But the ‘Friday Night Lights’ people loved us.”

Showrunners are sensitive to critical response. “New Girl’s” Brett Baer compares critic comments to a “focus group.” “Nothing changes my opinion of what we should or shouldn’t be doing,” he says, “but it’s a piece of information, a piece of a giant puzzle.”

“Law & Order: SVU” showrunner Warren Leight has overseen shows on HBO (“In Treatment”), FX (“Lights Out”) and now on NBC, and says each network absorbs critical response based on its own need.

“Lights Out” died an early death after just one season, but thanks to positive critical reviews, he believes it got to run the entire season rather than just disappearing.

“Critics have the most effect on premium cable, which is very much driven by status and awards,” he says. “It’s about the reputation.”

That prestige factor can matter at the networks, too, says author and former Lifetime, USA Network and NBC exec Tim Brooks, particularly when the sales department gets involved. Terrible reviews for USA’s mid-1990s movie slate led to “advertiser resistance after our movies were being tarred as exploitative,” he recalls. The network shifted to films such as “Moby Dick,” starring Patrick Stewart, and fortunes changed.

“They want their product to be associated with something that’s considered the best TV has to offer,” says Brooks. “Sales and affiliate relations on occasion look to reviews to salvage a sale they might not otherwise be able to make.”

But in most cases, critical assistance seems most valuable to all when the experts are able to help audiences (and in some instances Emmy voters) sort through the endless procession of new programming.

“There’s so much more television now, and the clutter is so extreme most of the time that for a show to break out, they use parts of reviews to help market it,” says Matt Roush, senior TV critic for TV Guide.

Still, audiences are the ultimate arbiter of whether a show gets to stay on the air. The “critic-proof” series has been around pretty much since television started, and the nearly critic-proof genre of reality television has given networks even more reason to ignore what the experts have to say.

“It’s a very durable genre and it’s taken a lot of lumps over the years,” says Chris Coelen, CEO of reality shingle Kinetic Content. “At the end of the day the barometer is the viewing audience. If the audience responds positively, you quickly forget what the critics have to say.” n

AND THE NOMINEES ARE. . .

INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMA
Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad,” AMC)
Claire Danes (“Homeland,” Showtime)
Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones,” HBO)
Jon Hamm (“Mad Men,” AMC)
Jessica Lange (“American Horror Story,” FX)

INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY
Louis C.K. (“Louie,” FX)
Lena Dunham (“Girls,” HBO)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep,” HBO)
Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory,” CBS)
Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation,” NBC)

ACHIEVEMENT IN NEWS AND INFORMATION
“Anderson Cooper 360″ (CNN)
“The Daily Show” (Comedy Central)
“Frontline” (PBS)
“60 Minutes” (CBS)
“The Rachel Maddow Show” (MSNBC)

PROGRAM OF THE YEAR
“Breaking Bad” (AMC)
“Game of Thrones” (HBO)
“Homeland” (Showtime)
“Mad Men” (AMC)
“Downton Abbey: Masterpiece” (PBS)

ACHIEVEMENT IN MOVIES, MINISERIES AND SPECIALS
“Downton Abbey: Masterpiece” (PBS)
“Game Change” (HBO)
“Hatfields & McCoys” (History)
“Hemingway & Gellhorn” (HBO)
“Sherlock: Masterpiece” (PBS)

CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Dick Clark
Andy Griffith
David Letterman
Regis Philbin
William Shatner

HERITAGE AWARD
“Cheers” (NBC)
“Lost” (ABC)
“Saturday Night Live” (NBC)
“Star Trek” (NBC)
“Twin Peaks” (ABC)

NEW PROGRAM
“Girls” (HBO)
“Homeland” (Showtime)
“New Girl” (Fox)
“Revenge” (ABC)
“Smash” (NBC)

ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY
“The Big Bang Theory” (CBS)
“Community” (NBC)
“Louie” (FX)
“Modern Family” (ABC)
“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)

ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMA
“Breaking Bad” (AMC)
“Game of Thrones” (HBO)
“Homeland” (Showtime)
“Justified” (FX)
“Mad Men” (AMC)

ACHIEVEMENT IN YOUTH PROGRAMMING
“iCarly” (Nickelodeon)
“Phineas and Ferb” (Disney)
“Sesame Street” (PBS)
“Switched at Birth” (ABC Family)
“Yo Gabba Gabba” (Nick Jr.)

ACHIEVEMENT IN REALITY PROGRAMMING
“The Amazing Race” (CBS)
“Dancing With the Stars” (ABC)
“The Glee Project” (Oxygen)
“So You Think You Can Dance” (Fox)
“The Voice” (NBC)

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