In 2001, a frail Sid Caesar walked with assistance to the stage to accept his Television Critics Assn. Career Achievement Award, looking out at a ballroom filled with critics and Hollywood bizzers from Aaron Sorkin to Bryan Cranston.
The crowd grew a little nervous as Caesar paused silently for almost too long at the podium. Then the magic happened. Everyone there knew they had just witnessed something spectacular, intimate and exclusive — with no camera crews to catch it and no YouTube replays.
“He turned into Sid Caesar, a comic marvel of fake accents, jokes and genius,” says Robert Bianco, TV critic for USA Today. “These awards are not about bringing attention to us. They are an affair to honor the best done in television and that’s the sole purpose.”
The TCA Awards show, which is not televised and only open to the approximately 200 TCA members and invited guests, celebrates 30 years of such amazing and spontaneous moments on July 19 in the Beverly Hills Hilton Ballroom. Terry Crews, of the Golden Globe-winning Fox comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” is slated to host this year’s event.
Past presidents will bestow the awards — traditionally TCA members rather than celebrities — and there will be a sizzle reel and a small photo retrospective. It will be a low-key affair, clocking in at well under 90 minutes.
There are few categories by design. The individual drama and comedy awards are not gender specific and the only recent addition was reality programming in 2011. The sports award was dropped after 1997 when members believed too few critics were reviewing sports shows to make an informed decision.
Members are notoriously independent, casting their votes with little or no input from their peers. However, there is a sparsely attended online forum open for discussions prior to the nominations.
According to founding member Ed Bark, former TV critic for the Dallas Morning News, the idea of the TCA Awards had been in the contentious talking stages for the seven-year life of the organization before the group finally voted to proceed with them in the summer of 1985. It was not a unanimous vote.
“Rather than diving into the deep, we decided to slowly wade in by inviting only career achievement winner Grant Tinker,” says Bark, who served as TCA president from 1981-82. “We feared making a spectacle of ourselves, or compromising our integrity by getting too involved with the industry we covered.”
Even now, only the category winners (but not the nominees) are invited to the awards event.
The awards take place during the annual summer press tour, yet it is a time when work is set aside. “No one is played off the stage, they can take as long as they want and say what they want,” says TCA president Scott Pierce, Salt Lake Tribune TV Critic. “This is a social function, a comfortable event that brings old and new together.”