Where were the programs and personalities from Scripps Networks Interactive? That question was top of mind during the cable portion of the Winter 2016 Television Critics Association tour.
Different cable groups at different times in recent years have for whatever reasons chosen to not appear at winter or summer tours – Turner Networks, for example, stayed away in 2015 while new TNT/TBS chief Kevin Reilly and his team implemented their plans to rebrand. (As previously reported, Turner was back in a big way this time around.) But something special has been happening at this tour: Every major cable network group (except for one) has been (or will be) here, each of them in a big way.
Can it be that the programming on the many networks of Scripps is already so successful and well-established that it doesn’t require the mammoth publicity that can be generated via the tens of thousands of present and future stories, blog posts, tweets and other social media missives that can be generated from a single session or event of some kind at a TCA tour?
That may certainly be the case. Anecdotally, it is my belief that Scripps networks such as HGTV, Food Network and Cooking Channel are “always on” all year long in millions of homes around the country. I also believe that various personalities from a number of Scripps shows have larger and more loyal followings than most of the actors who perform in scripted series and the often talentless but very pretty people who populate so many reality television programs.
During a recent conversation with Scripps’ Chief Programming, Content and Brand Officer Kathleen Finch, I learned that HGTV can successfully launch new series simply by scheduling them at 11 p.m. after the nightly pairing of the formidable “House Hunters” and “House Hunters International” at 10 and 10:30 p.m., respectively. No other promotion is necessarily required.
Still, these are spectacularly overwhelming times for television programmers of every kind, with the volume of choices that compete for viewers’ hearts and minds multiplying exponentially seemingly by the day – and that doesn’t even take into consideration mounting distractions from other media.
(Speaking of new media competition, streaming services are becoming dominant participants at TCA. A two-hour session with Hulu at 8 a.m. Saturday morning drew as large a crowd as anything else during the first week of this tour. Stars and producers promoting their Hulu programs included J.J. Abrams, James Franco, Josh Duhamel, T.R. Knight, Chris Cooper, Aaron Paul, Hugh Dancy, Rob Thomas, Darren Star, Jason Katims and Anthony Zuiker.)
It would seem, then, that when all of television comes together for major promotional events – especially TCA tours – all of television should participate, especially large network groups, if only to be included in a show of solidarity.
The Viacom Networks group was here Wednesday with sessions for new and returning series on BET, TV Land, Comedy Central and MTV. They were followed by A+E Networks, armed with presentations of what may have been its most impressive array of specials and new and returning series in years, spanning A+E Network, Lifetime, History, FYI and upcoming new news and information network Viceland. National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD offered their usual array of engrossing sessions about a broad range of stimulating real-life topics, plus an evening event celebrating National Geographic Channel’s 15th anniversary.
Turner Networks filled Thursday morning with a Cartoon Network breakfast marking the upcoming return of its signature series “The PowerPuff Girls” (see donuts above) followed by panels for new programs on truTV, TBS and TNT. Discovery Communications stepped up with sessions for new series and specials on TLC, Investigation Discovery, American Heroes Channel, Discovery Channel, Science Channel and Animal Planet. (The latter included a reception populated by puppies from a nearby shelter that provides the pups for the network’s annual Puppy Bowl.)
AMC Networks was well represented, first on Thursday night with a screening at the local Arclight Theater of AMC’s upcoming thriller “Preacher” and a reception following with AMC and Sundance TV chief Charlie Collier at a nearby bistro and then on Friday afternoon with presentations for new series on BBC America, Sundance TV and AMC. Two upcoming programs on Sundance TV, the dark comedy “Hap and Leonard” and the limited series thriller “The Last Panthers” were particularly well received, as were BBC America’s upcoming drama “London Spy” and, again, “Preacher.” It’s a wild exploration of redemption and faith -- among other things -- based on the cult Vertigo comic book series from the ‘90s and a series quite unlike anything else on television. (That's "Preacher" star Dominic Cooper pictured at top.)
Friday night Crown Media Networks hosted its usual all-star party on behalf of Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, giving reporters and critics the opportunities to talk with dozens of stars from the series and movies on those networks. Staying with the theme of incorporating adorable animals into TCA events, Hallmark had a replica of its Kitten Bowl set up at the cocktail party that preceded its dinner, which attracted more critics and reporters than did any of the human talent. (What can I say? Digital technology keeps us in constant touch with our loved ones while we attend these TCA marathons, but we all miss our pets.) Even without kittens, the Crown Media event is a highlight of every TCA tour and one filled with more actual television stars than any other.
This is not to imply that there was a shortage of presentations by stand-alone cable networks during this tour. Ovation, Outdoor Channel, ESPN, Up, AXS TV, Starz, HBO and WGN America participated, the latter two in a particularly big way. (In addition to panels, HBO had an evening event with its executives and an Oculus Rift "Game of Thrones" experience that took participants up and over the Wall through a snowstorm and a fiery attack by savages. WGN hosted a mid-day event with talent and executives from its very impressive new dramas "Outsiders" and "Underground.")
On Saturday, the network formerly known as ABC Family seized the TCA opportunity to formally kick off its new identity, Freeform, and to have Freeform President Tom Ascheim introduce new programming. (Ascheim hinted that this change was coming when we spoke last year.)
As of this writing, cable groups scheduled to appear later in the tour include FX Networks and NBCU Cable Networks. Showtime will also be here.