Wednesday, January 9, 2013

TCA press tour 2013: remote coverage edition

Kevin Bacon (left), with Fox programming chief Kevin
Reilly at Tuesday night's Fox TCA press tour party
Usually at this time of year I'm completely immersed in the winter Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Ca. The bi-annual TV industry confab gets slammed as the "Batan Death March with cocktails" but it really is the only time a guy like me is allowed anywhere near somebody like Nina Tassler or Kevin Reilly without a police escort.
Folks probably want to read more about Honey Boo Boo or the latest Kardashian sighting but the network executive sessions are for me the meat and potatoes of these gatherings. Two bright guys took the stage Tuesday and Wednesday: Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly and FX's president John Landgraf.
Reilly was on the hot seat after his network underperformed in the fall. He also had to tackle the "violence" question Tuesday with his bloody new drama The Following set to premiere Jan. 21 (on Fox and CTV).
The Following stars Kevin Bacon as a former FBI agent called back to active duty to tail a serial killer who has reemerged and is somehow connected to a group of other killers. The pilot has scenes of violence that will make viewers squirm, especially in the wake of the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook and elsewhere.
Again, I'm not at the tour, but anyone can follow reporters who are there. The twittersphere explodes when Reilly and others take their turn and even from as far away as Brampton you can usually get a good read on the room.
Reilly said Mob Doctor started like this, went like that
According to Mr. Crankypants, a.k.a. Hollywood Reporter critic Tim Goodman (follow him here on Twitter), Reilly tried to argue that broadcast programmers are between a rock and a hard place as they try to tell stories "in the age of complex issues." He defended putting The Following on at 9 p.m. by pointing out that, as head of Fox, he really only has two hours to program, and that 9 is his latest prime time slot. It is, as he also said, an adult show.
So it doesn't sound like Fox plans to cut any scenes or modify the storyline. Buzz is buzz, and Fox, if you'll excuse the expression, has boldly stuck to their guns before.
Reilly admitted later in the scrum that The Mob Doctor may have been the dumbest title for a series ever. "We all screw up, just look at my Fall," said Reilly, owning up to mistakes made with The X Factor, The Mindy Project and more. Reilly says he is quite pleased with the creative on his comedies but admits their soft ratings are his biggest frustration.
Fox followed Reilly's session with panels featuring many of the comedy stars from those shows as well as under sung Raising Hope.
The Fox morning began with an American Idol session, with new diva judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, as well as country star Keith Urban, being called upon to reignite the ol' Death Star. Apparently there were some sparks during the session. "It appears," tweeted Goodman, "that Nicki Minaj doesn't tolerate much bullshit from others."
New Idol team Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj
Variety's A.J. Marechal gave a twitter shout out to Carey's shoes, "that clearly have baby chinchillas on them." Otherwise critics seem uncharacteristically bored with these AI sessions, no matter who is sitting out front. Gone are the days of crazy Paula sneaking out the back door before facing the press.
Wednesday brought the arrival of sister station FX and clever network president John Landgraf. His transcript is the one I'll read all the way through first. The wisdom continues this press tour, with Goodman and others trying to keep up with the smart stuff via Twitter. Among the nuggets from Landgraf's master class:

  • Outside of The Walking Dead, Landgraf doubts there's ever been a scripted basic cable show that made money on its advertising. Let that sink in.
  • Only half the viewing of FX shows is Live (the other half is PVR's and watched later), diminishing the importance of lead-ins. Most FX shows run at 10 p.m.
  • Unlike AMC, notorious for fall-outs with showrunners, FX has never fired one of theirs. Only one chose to step down (on Wilfred) and he's still with the show. "We're batting a thousand in terms of retaining our showrunners," says Landgraf.
  • Landgraf embraces that he's in the TV-MA business, the mature audiences only classification other networks avoid. FX, in fact, has never made a scripted comedy or drama without an MA rating--including the animated comedy Archer.
  • There will definitely be one more year and probably two for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which Landgraf calls a corner stone of his network.

FX president John Landgraf
Landgraf again chided new rival Netflix--home to the much anticipated new episodes of Arrested Development--for not releasing any kind of ratings. "They like the fact that they don't have to have a report card," he said.
There was a thoughtful discussion of violence, with Landgraf prepared with statistics on gun deaths in the UK vs. America and other balanced information. He drew a thoughtful distinction between third person narrative and first person game violence, but held to the notion that "themes of life and death" will always be part of the TV narrative.
For more on the Landgraf session, check out Daniel Fineberg's live blog here at HitFix.






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