The Television Critics Association summer press tour ended on Wednesday, with NBC the last network to present. The tour came as massive shifts are affecting the media business at the highest levels. Here, Variety looks at the key moments from TCA’s summer sessions.
1. CBS Defends Leslie Moonves, Corporate Culture
CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl became the first exec at the company to field press questions since allegations against company CEO Leslie Moonves of sexual harassment were published in the New Yorker. Kahl defended CBS’ corporate culture and workplace practices when answering multiple questions about Moonves and other allegations of misconduct at CBS. “I believe we take workplace safety very seriously,” Kahl said. “I think if you look up and down the halls in CBS you’ll find a very safe environment.” But reporters pressed Kahl on the company’s reliance on human resources as the outlet for complaints about managerial misconduct. “My dealings with our human resources department have always been very straightforward and very honest,” Kahl said. “I have great confidence in our HR department.”
FX CEO John Landgraf dubbed the current era “the gilded age of television,” and warned against what writer Paul Schrader has called “narrative exhaustion,” saying, “It’s very hard if you’re talking about trying to surprise the audience and delight the audience,” because everything “feels vaguely familiar.” Known for his cerebral exchanges with reporters at the press tour, Landgraf also predicted that the volume of original scripted programming on TV will continue to increase “as long as that battle is red hot and as long as those companies are scaling up.”
Flanked by her top television lieutenants Vernon Sanders and Albert Cheng, Jennifer Salke made her first appearance at a press tour since taking over as head of Amazon Studios. Salke’s predecessor Roy Price, ousted last year following sexual harassment allegations, never excelled at the press-facing aspect of the job. Salke presented a new, confident face for Amazon’s entertainment, talking at length about strategy and diversity, and promising that work is being done on fixing the e-commerce giant’s unwieldy video interface. “It’s lining up with the investment that we’re trying to do” on the programming side, she said. “They wanted the best UI possible.”
Dana Walden joked at the top of her executive session with fellow Fox Television Group CEO Gary Newman, “Not since my kids were little have I been asked so many times about going to Disney.” Walden and Newman didn’t offer details about their personal futures with Disney’s acquisition of the bulk of 21st Century Fox looming. But they did offer some specifics about the future of Fox Broadcasting, noting that for the 2019-2020 season, their goal is to take half their development from 20th Century Fox Television and half from outside studios. With several announcements of unscripted series pickups, the network also appears to be leaning into alternative programming in a big way.
Programming president Casey Bloys sought to assure reporters that the scaling up of HBO won’t be a bad thing. “There are no plans to dilute the HBO brand in favor of volume of programming,” Bloys said. “No one has come to us and asked us to not do what we do, which is curate excellence.” Bloys’ executive session came on the heels of a New York Times report on an internal HBO meeting in which new Warner Media head John Stankey declared that the premium service needed to grow, and that that growth might be painful. But Bloys put a positive spin on impending evolution. “So what I heard in the meeting with John is someone talking about investing in programming, which is music to our ears,” he said.
In addition to his pending move to the Lakers, LeBron James is dramatically ramping up his Hollywood producer profile. During TCA, Netflix announced the pickup of a series based on the life of Madam C. J. Walker starring Octavia Spencer, which James will executive produce, while Showtime has ordered the James-produced docuseries “Shut Up and Dribble.” Add to that the fact that CBS has ordered the reality competition show “Million Dollar Mile” from James and his SpringHill Entertainment banner on top of all his other current TV projects, and the NBA great is well on his way to becoming a media mogul.
In what was easily the most bizarre moment of this year’s press tour, Bobby Brown denied that he was ever violent with his late wife, Whitney Houston. During a panel for a BET miniseries based on his life, a reporter pressed Brown about a well-documented instance in which Brown was charged with striking Houston in 2003. Brown responded, “The public record is wrong.” Stemming from the 2003 incident, Brown was charged with battery. Houston later appeared beside him in court with a visible bruise on her cheek when he turned himself in to authorities.
After sitting out both the winter and summer TCA tours in 2017, Netflix came back with one of the most entertaining days of the 2018 summer tour. Nicole Byer, host of the Netflix series “Nailed It,” kept reporters laughing throughout the day, while Netflix originals head Cindy Holland handled her first executive session impressively well. One surprising revelation was that “GLOW” is still waiting on a Season 3 renewal, despite the show’s multiple Emmy nominations.
The executive producers of the “Magnum PI” reboot at CBS found themselves in hot water when they were asked if their writers’ room contained any Latinx writers, given that their series lead is the Mexican-American actor Jay Hernandez. Peter Lenkov said there were no Latinx writers, adding, “Not for any reason other than, when staffing a show, it’s incredibly hard to find writers.” Lenkov went on to tweet a day later that the show does in fact have a Latinx writer and “she is an alumnus of the CBS Writers Mentoring Program.”
10. The Future of Broadcast Is… TBD
Neither NBC nor ABC held the traditional executive sessions during this year’s summer tour, making them the only broadcast networks not to do so. That includes CBS, which is currently embroiled in accusations of sexual misconduct against Moonves. Variety TV critic Daniel D’Addario wrote of the decision to skip the executive sessions:
“[The] networks are also sacrificing a lot of upside,” he wrote. “They’re allowing others to define the conversation around ABC and NBC and the future of broadcast. The trouble with removing oneself from the narrative is that the narrative moves on without you.”