Thanks to the writers’ strike, the broadcast networks may get their long-awaited wish of scaling back or scrapping altogether the January Television Critics Association press tour.
Network executives won’t say it out loud, but many of them consider the January tour, which promotes midseason shows, not worth the costs that can total anywhere from $250,000-$500,000 per broadcast network for each one-day event.
With the WGA strike probably making a mess of the scripted world at midseason, the networks may use it as an excuse to drop the tour this January. And most of them wouldn’t care to see it come back.
“We’ve always questioned the value of the January press tour,” says one network executive. “We understand why it is important to the TCA, but most of us would rather have it go away.”
TCA president Dave Walker of the New Orleans Times Picayune met with network representatives in Los Angeles on Monday to push for a January Tour, and a follow-up conference call between the networks and TCA is set for this coming Monday, November 12.
Walker maintains there should be some sort of event with all the networks represented this January to talk about the strike if it is still going on.
“We think all of the networks should be represented to service the viewers who are essentially the helpless parties in all this,” he said in a Wednesday phone interview. “This January’s tour, as a news event, could be more valuable than ever. It should be more than just a bunch of stars and parties.”
While many of the cable networks and PBS still want a full tour, Walker understands the customary full day for each broadcast network is looking less and less likely.
“Clearly I don’t think there will be a full tour unless the strike is solved in the next couple days,” he said.
Walker is looking at a “stripped-down version” of the tour that would let the networks cut costs while still giving critics a chance to touch base with each of them.
“I am very sympathetic of the networks’ economic concerns,” he said. “That’s why I went out there to talk to them as soon as I could.”
But the question remains: Who would take the stage?
Executive producers of scripted shows most likely wouldn’t come to promote their shows. And its questionable whether actors from the Screen Actors Guild would do the same in advance of their own contract talks.
Several SAG members have come out in support of the WGA strike.
“Many of our members want to talk to TV stars,” Walker said. “Obviously we need to determine if actors will participate or not.”
The TCA also wants the tour to remain in place this year so that editors don’t get used to not sending critics to Los Angeles in January if and when the tour returns in 2009.
They also want to keep in good stead with the Universal Hilton, which is to house the 2008 January Tour and perhaps 2009 as well.
Anne Becker contributed to this report in New York.
Send comments toBen.Grossman@reedbusiness.com.