Ed Martin Live at TCA: Fox at TCA: Dancing, Donuts, Paula Abdul and More
Fox programs one-third fewer hours than CBS, NBC and ABC – and yet, it always manages to cram twice as many activities into its time at TCA than any of the Big Three.
I have raved about Fox' approach to the twice yearly Television Critics Association tours in the past and I can't help but do so again. At a time when many of the other networks are turning over several hours of their TCA time to corporate cable siblings or simply leaving big gaps in their schedule of press conferences and other events, Fox continues to maximize every single minute of its all-too-brief time with hundreds of television critics, reporters, bloggers and tweeters. Whereas some networks have begun to question the value of TCA, Fox continues to treat it as a hugely important opportunity to promote its programming in as robust a manner possible.
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One of the many great things about Fox' TCA day is that the network takes time to promote a handful of veteran series in addition to its new product. Yesterday began with a breakfast that celebrated the 20-year anniversary of The Simpsons. The menu included donuts (or as Homer Simpson calls them, "nature's most perfect food"), egg sandwiches in Simpsons-yellow wrappers and orange juice in Simpsons cups. People dressed as characters from the show posed for pictures with the press.
That session was followed by one for Fox' summer hit and new fall entry So You Think You Can Dance. Five dancers who stood out during the last two months (but did not make the final four on last night's season finale) performed before a press conference with the show's judges.
All this took place before 9:45 a.m., the start time for a press conference with Fox Broadcasting Company Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice and Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly (more on that below). The day continued with highly effective sessions for new series Brothers, Glee and Human Target and returning dramas Fringe and Lie to Me. (No other broadcast network has included a press conference with any of its returning shows at this TCA, even those the press has embraced.) Lunch was built around a table read with the producers and cast of the Family Guy spin-off The Cleveland Show, including guest vocal performers Glenn Howerton of FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington (giving voice to a sexually aroused bear). A mid-afternoon snack break also served as a press event for the summer reality series More to Love.
All of the networks put a lot of time and money into preparing for TCA tours, and all of their efforts are appreciated. But it seems to me that Fox knows how to get more out of its TCA investment than the other guys. This was perhaps most evident in its executive session. Every broadcast network has a session with its programming executives, and it is no secret that many of the executives who take the stage at TCA tours for 30 minutes twice a year would rather have root canal than endure the hardship of fielding questions about their shows. Some win over the crowd without having very much to say. Others have almost nothing to say and bring out the worst in reporters who are charged with getting a story. The really big gunners (CBS' Leslie Moonves, NBC's Jeff Zucker) don't even appear on stage at TCA anymore (though Moonves always turns up at CBS' evening parties and seems very happy to be there).
During Fox' executive panel, one veteran TCA member who remembers the time when network chairmen regularly attended TCA actually thanked Peter Rice for taking part in this tour. Dozens of critics and reporters happily applauded to show their appreciation.
It was a good morning for Rice and Reilly, even though they were stepping into the spotlight the day after American Idol judge Paula Abdul took to Twitter to announce that she would not return to the show next season. Rather than hem and haw and bob and weave around the Abdul issue, they tackled it head on.
Rice confirmed that Abdul's contract was up and that she was a goner. "We've concluded the negotiation and Paula has announced she will not be coming back," he said in response to expected questions about the story, which broke on Wednesday. He revealed that there would be a guest judge (joining Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Kara Dioguardi) at each audition and said that if all went as planned a permanent fourth judge would be in place by the time of the show's Season 9 premiere in January.
Many critics felt that Idol should revert to a three-judge format since the addition of a fourth last season caused so many production and timing problems, but Rice was firm in his conviction that the four-judge format would remain in place. (He might want to give that some more thought.)
Reilly proved that executive sessions can be upbeat and engaging, and that a questionable comment need not be the end of the world if handled the right way. In recalling other news and entertainment shows that lost or replaced stars and went on to continued success, he mentioned NBC's Tonight Show, Law & Order and Cheers and The CBS Evening News.
"Interesting, you just compared Walter Cronkite to Paula Abdul," one critic mused, to much laughter.
"Oh, great!" Reilly replied without missing a beat. "There's the lead!"