Like the Olympics, the TV Critics Assn. tour is one of those recurring events that, despite its familiarity, tends to yield complaints and grumbles.
Last time around, the big news involved a not-really-anonymous executive writing a piece dissecting the event, pointing out what I've been saying for awhile: That unlike the days when TCA was populated primarily by critics and reporters from major newspapers with similar priorities, the divergent constituencies now don't really have a lot in common, which results in what's less a dialogue than a random assortment of disjointed questions.
By the way, that's not even my favorite anonymous article about TCA, which was published in Spy magazine about 20 years ago. (And I know who wrote that one, too.)
So before I undertake modest suggestions, let me throw out a few disclaimers: I am not a TCA member (never been much of a joiner, and I don't need the local hotel-room discount); I spend less and less time at the event, since it yields relatively little I can use, other than seeing old friends; I almost never ask questions (since I live in L.A. and have access to people here, it would be kind of piggish); and I've been criticized for questioning the ritual's usefulness in the past.
Still, I think there are changes that would potentially make the press tour less of a slog and time-waster for many of the interested parties. (Heck, Kelsey Grammer was so blase he answered his cellphone in the middle of his session.)
For starters, big public sessions ought to be a thing of the past. They should do away with them. Like movie press junkets, reporters should be situated at round-robin tables, preferably divided by interest, for shorter, more intimate interviews. Ideally, critics or consumer reporters could be kept together, as would fanboys or celebrity suck-ups who just want to know what everyone thinks about Kristen cheating on Rob. If some bozo wants to ask about whether David Geffen has heard of his astrology album (which actually happened), at least he won't inflict the whole room with it.
As it stands, most hold back on significant questions during the main sessions because they're saving their powder for the "gaggles" or scrums that follow. Yet with a dozen or so reporters crowding around interviewees, how is that any more "exclusive" than a table for 10 or 12?
Breaking into smaller groups would offer a number of advantages. Networks wouldn't have to transcribe sessions, which have become dated almost as soon as they're over, what with everyone tweeting anything interesting that's said. And reporters in small groups would be compelled to pay attention and stop firing off snarky 140-character asides during the answers.
Because these small-group interviews could be held in overlapping fashion — all the CW and Showtime shows, say, at the same time — the number of days devoted to TCA could also be crunched. This presumably would be welcome, saving money both for networks and out-of-town reporters who currently have to spend a couple of weeks in what amounts to a hostage situation.
Smaller networks, meanwhile, and less-compelling shows would have to see if anyone really wanted to sign up for them, as opposed forcing reporters to sit through something like Velocity (a network even I was barely aware of) between Discovery and OWN.
The solution isn't perfect, perhaps, but it would address a number of gripes I keep hearing about TCA: Too much tweeting; empty, zero-value sessions; and everyone crowding into the gaggles, fighting over crumbs. Yes, some shows and networks would be shit out of luck, but the whole thing would be quicker, and likely more productive.
If nothing else, tinkering with the tour is a conversation that needs to be had, by both sides of the equation, as opposed to adhering to the existing template out of politeness or habit. Too much has changed already, and God only knows what's coming next.
So with this being the tour's last day, safe travels to those hitting the road. And whether anyone attempts to fix an institution another not-really-anonymous network executive has called "broken," I'll be seeing even less of you when the next tour rolls around.