ABC late last week put on a highly productive two-day event here at the Summer 2012 Television Critics Association tour that had veteran members recalling the grand network presentations of years gone by, when the broadcasters each had two or three days at TCA gatherings and used them to maximum advantage to promote all areas of their schedules.
Not to suggest that this is a competition, but ABC's was the best broadcast presentation of the tour. Fox may have thrown the most impressive party, at the swanky members-only Soho House, and NBC may have delivered the biggest celebrity in Gov. Sarah Palin, who attended the Peacock's rather modest poolside party here at the Beverly Hilton with husband Todd, one of the stars of the upcoming NBC reality competition series "Stars Earn Stripes." But ABC most successfully created a fully immersive two-day tour experience that fully supported all of its new primetime series for the fall season, along with significant new and returning shows from other day-parts.
Like CBS, NBC and Fox, ABC is allotted two days at each TCA tour with which to promote its programming. In recent years, all four have ceded large segments of one of their days, if not an entire day, to their parent companies' basic cable or pay networks. It's all done in the name of corporate synergy and cost cutting. But ABC at this tour decided to put all of its focus on itself, and the result was a total tour presentation that many critics felt was one of its best in years. The network included cast members and show-runners from many series on cable sibling ABC Family in its lavish closing night party. Otherwise, it was all ABC all the time.
The network even included a major news announcement on its second day: The roster of celebrities from past seasons of "Dancing with the Stars" that are returning this fall for the franchise's all-star edition, which was revealed during a session with ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee. Nothing generates excitement at TCA tours like major news announcements that are timed for executive sessions. (Earlier last week, Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly set the room afire when he confirmed that Mariah Carey would be joining "American Idol" as a judge.)
In this instance, ABC took the announcement several steps further, offering a full panel for the upcoming season of "Dancing" immediately following the session with Lee. Next to sessions that offer major news announcements, there is nothing critics appreciate more than panels with personalities from popular established shows. The lineup on stage included season one winner Kelly Monaco of "General Hospital," season two winner Drew Lachey, season five winner Helio Castroneves, season eight competitors Gilles Marini and Melissa Rycroft, season ten competitor Pamela Anderson, and season eleven competitor and media magnet Bristol Palin.
Following the appearances of Todd and Sarah at NBC's party, Bristol's inclusion in the "Dancing" panel ensured that this particular TCA gathering will be forever known as The Palin Tour. It also ensured that the "Dancing" session would generate more coverage than it might have without her, because even though she has made no secret of her distress with the media, young Bristol nevertheless knows how to feed the machine in such a way as to grab and hold the spotlight.
For example, when one critic asked why she would want to appear again on "Dancing," given that she has to run a media gauntlet after every episode, Bristol replied, "I just think that God provides opportunities like this, and you can either go out and do them or not do them. I figure that the press is going to be talking about me no matter what, so I might as well be having fun!"
"I assume you mean the press … would be following you no matter what," another critic asserted. "But is that really true? If you had decided after the 2008 election to simply go home and raise your child and find work or education in Alaska, would you have been able to sort of live peacefully there? Is there anything wrong with admitting that maybe this is a good gig? Is there any shame in just saying, 'I like being a reality star,' as opposed to saying, 'Well, I've got to do this because the media won't leave me alone?'"
"I couldn't tell you what would have happened if I would have just gone home," Bristol asserted. "I like my little life in Alaska with my son. I'm not whining. I'm not complaining about anything. [The media is] going to talk about me if I'm in my little life in Alaska or if I'm in L.A., so I might as well just have fun with it."
ABC's days also included a visit to the set of "Revenge," arguably the most buzzed about new broadcast series of the 2011-12 season; a special evening event (catered by several Los Angeles area food trucks) for "Don't Trust the B in Apt. 23" and "Happy Endings," the two ABC sitcoms that seem to have captivated the media, if not the audience; a panel with ABC's late-night star and upcoming Emmy host Jimmy Kimmel, executive producer Don Mischer and Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum for the network's presentation of the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards; and a session with eight cast members from "General Hospital" that was one of the biggest and most well-attended sessions for a soap opera that I can recall in more than twenty years of TCA tour-going.
ABC News was also represented with appearances by division president Ben Sherwood and, via satellite, the stars of the suddenly hot-again "Good Morning America."
Certainly, the primary reason for TCA tours is the promotion of new primetime programming coming to the network in the following months. There was much excitement in the room during panels for the network's three new fall dramas, "Nashville" (a particular favorite here at TCA), "Last Resort" and "666 Park Avenue." There was much less enthusiasm for the network's new fall comedies, "The Neighbors" and "Malibu Country," though the latter will undoubtedly benefit from the seemingly unstoppable appeal of its two leads, Reba McIntyre and Lily Tomlin.