For those more interested in the state of the industry than actors’ foibles or the gossip du jour, the executive sessions at TCA are the main event.
This summer’s edition of press tour served up business takes from corner office holders that were generally spirited, occasionally defensive, but often lively. During TCA’s two-week marathon of vertical promotion, participants overall tend to focus only on their own shows and own networks, creating a temporary bubble in which no competition exists, and the moments when execs briefly zoomed out to address the broader TV landscape were often the most revealing.
On Sunday, ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee spent most of his adjective-happy appearance lauding “extraordinary” showrunners and making the case for why the net feels “excited” about the schedule. When asked for his thoughts on the ongoing retrans dispute between CBS and Time Warner Cable, he flatly declined to comment.
Apart from a brief thought on Netflix (“Competition is good … I welcome it”), Lee’s only gesture to the bigger world outside came in response to a question about the international marketplace. He recalled being struck while in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by how many people mentioned American titles to him, among them Breaking Bad, Homeland, Scandal and Mad Men. “There’s a reason why people around the world are watching our shows,” he said. “I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for just how powerful American television is.”
On Aug. 2, FX Networks chairman John Landgraf took a different tack. He not only name-checked and praised rival shows, but cited HBO, AMC and the broadcast networks in describing FX’s upcoming expansion with the launch of FXX, FXM and streaming app FX Now.
“It will be an increasingly challenging environment to have a relevant brand, when you think about how potent the broadcast networks are and AMC and Showtime and HBO and now Netflix,” Landgraf said. “I think what we felt is, well, if we were going to have multiple channels—and there were a number of reasons why we felt we needed to have multiple channels—we wanted them all to support one brand.”
Not everyone played nice when it came to mentioning other companies. Earlier in the tour, HBO execs used their platform to call Netflix’s refusal to release viewership data “curious.” CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves addressed the “very difficult” retrans talks with TWC.
Fox chief Kevin Reilly’s lengthy session may have been the most “open-source” of any during the fortnight under the dome. He batted away the suggestion by NBC’s Bob Greenblatt that broadcast TV has become the “bastard child” of the TV world.
“I don’t think the broadcast system is broken,” Reilly said. “We are adapting to the marketplace. We have been bound by certain practices that were born of a different era.”