Univision at TCA: A Problematic Presentation for a Very Promising Series

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Ed Martin Live from the Winter 2012 Television Critics Association Tour

Granted, Univision is still new to the Television Critics Association tour process, having made its first-ever presentation just last summer. But there is no getting around the fact that it suffered a disastrous session Saturday morning.

Critics had been grumbling about the session for days, because it was set to begin at 7:30 a.m., a full hour and a half earlier than sessions are supposed to begin. Not to whine about an early start, but these tours run for two weeks without breaks, and with screenings, press conferences, interviews and evening events they tend to be 16-18 hour days even with a 9 a.m. start. (In recent years, with the cable portion of the tour shortened and the remaining days subsequently overloaded, the TCA has relaxed its stand on start times, allowing networks to begin at 8:30 or, in some cases, as early as 8 a.m.)

I'm not sure how many people had initially RSVP'd for the breakfast. But after Univision a few days ago sent word that Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, co-producers of Univision's wildly ambitious upcoming talent-documentary series Q'Viva! The Chosen, would be making their first public appearance together since their much-publicized separation last year, the breakfast instantly became the must-attend event of the Winter 2012 TCA tour.

But the minute I walked into the Georgian Room at the Langham Huntington Hotel Saturday morning I knew something was off. A full third of the room had been turned into a dance area, so the dozens of bleary-eyed TCA members in attendance, plus dozens of outside media and camera crews, had been uncomfortably crowded around tables in the front two-thirds of the room, where the small stage area was also located.

Nothing much happened for the first half hour, except for people eating. And then the first press conference began – for the weight loss series Dale con Ganas. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there is very little interest here in weight loss shows. Check out the coverage last week that came out of ABC's session for The Revolution.

By the time the Dale con Ganas panel was over the Univision session had less than 15 minutes to go. Lopez, Anthony and their co-host Jamie King were finally brought out, but Univision decided to have one of its stars, Lourdes Estefan, ask them prepared questions herself. That lasted for a few minutes before the critics began to erupt. One stood up and loudly declared that the critics would like to ask questions and only had a few minutes left in which to do so. Estefan gamely tried to ignore him, but he wouldn't give up. Meanwhile, other critics began to make noise – prompting Anthony to tell the crowd to calm down -- and finally a couple of questions were asked and answered. Then Estefan and Lopez said they had something to show us, which prompted more protests as a quick sizzle reel played.

At that point the session should have ended – but the show was just beginning! Musicians, dancers and acrobats that will be featured on Q'Viva! The Chosen began performing on the dance floor. In fairness, they were spectacular. I only wish we had learned more about them. To Univision's credit, watching them made me want to watch the show, which we were told will debut on Univision in the United States, on Televisa in Mexico and Caracol in Colombia, among other territories. Univision says it will also run on an English-language broadcast network. Lopez said it would run on Fox, but that hasn't been confirmed.

Unfortunately, the performance space was located between the doorway and the critics – who were supposed to move on at 8:30 to a session with the Ovation network. To even try and exit could have resulted in distracting the performers, which could have led to an injury, because their routines were exceedingly athletic. Nobody moved.

I assume Univision will never again make the mistakes it made Saturday at future TCA tours. It's a shame they had to learn the hard way. Personally, I wish the breakfast session had been a lunch or evening event in a larger locale; one that would have given critics more opportunities to talk with executives from the network, as well as the producers of Q'Viva! The Chosen and other Univision personalities. It also would have given all of those fantastically talented performers more time to dazzle us.

By the way, the Ovation session that followed may have started late, but it proved to be a perfect little TCA experience. Ovation Senior Vice President of Marketing Gaynor Strachan Chun set the right tone with her greeting: "Good morning. Sorry for the late start. We are glad that you managed to escape." When the laughter subsided she added, "We will not block the doors, and we will make sure there is plenty of time for you to ask questions." The room burst into applause.

More to the point, Ovation, a network that many TCA members know little about, generated significant interest in two modest programs: Motor City Rising, a documentary series about the burgeoning artistic community that is helping to revitalize Detroit, and We'll Take Manhattan, a made-for-TV movie about photographer David Bailey and model Jean Shrimpton and the impact they had on popular culture in the early Sixties. It didn't hurt that the latter stars Karen Gilliam, the awesome Amy Pond of BBC America's Doctor Who.

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