When it comes to pandering to critics, the networks are market leaders. At the Television Critics Association tour, television writers are shuffled from one panel to another. And just to make the presentations go down easy, the ballrooms are laden with food and drinks. That’s in addition to the gift baskets of gourmet food and the alcohol-heavy hospitality suites. Thus sated, the critics get a glimpse of upcoming shows. Getting a reaction out of seasoned pros—positive or negative—takes work.
A few days into the TCA winter tour, here are some of the high points and some low ones:
DISCOVERY NETWORK: The critics who pulled themselves away from lunch to make it to Discovery Networks’ presentations were pleased with the wholesome fare. Animal Planet’s weekly series Bugging With Rudd, for example, takes a clean, informed look at insects (no Fear Factor scenes of eating blended worms on this show). And Discovery Channel’s May series Greatest American profiles a selection of the top 100 candidates for that title, based on how viewers vote, which they can now do on AOL. “The nice thing about working for Discovery is that I don’t feel compelled to ask our viewers: 'Who’s your daddy?’ says Discovery Networks USA President Billy Campbell. “And I can usually keep wardrobe malfunctions to a minimum.”
MARIO CANTONE: After a Showtime executive session in which the critics slammed Huff’s ratings, Sex and the City’s Cantone eased everyone’s nerves with standup and actress imitations, prompting a rare round of applause and peels of laughter.
FABIO: Some of the biggest laughs came from Mr. Romance, an Oxygen show in which Fabio grooms a team of manly men, one of whom hopes to become the next cover boy for a Harlequin romance novel.
FX ORIGINALS: The network announced a third and fourth season for Nip/Tuck, along with several other new originals. Critics were so enamored of award-winning actress Glenn Close, who is joining The Shield, they barraged other actors with questions what she’s like to work with.
NANCY GRACE: Court TV’s legal analyst has two new shows on two different networks: Court TV and CNN Headline News. Apparently, that’s one too many for the critics. Several pounded her about her excessive coverage of the Scott Peterson trial.
SHOWTIME EXECUTIVES: Did they oversell Huff? The critics were relentless in trying to nail down Showtime Chairman and CEO Matt Blank and Entertainment President Bob Greenblatt on the show’s ratings. They accused the network of not doing enough research.
TED HARBERT’S TAKE ON MICHAEL JACKSON: E!’s big announcement, which it saved for the last minutes of its presentation, the final one of the first day, was the network’s intention to pair with BSkyB to air reenactments of the Michael Jackson trial. Critics were not amused and bombarded the network’s new president with accusations of poor taste.
LAUREN ZALAZNICK: After the NBC Universal Cable presentation, hordes of critics descended on the Bravo/Trio president to demand an apology. They charged her with impeding freedom of the press by trying to artfully rescue Ben Affleck, who served on a Bravo panel to promote his show Project Greenlight, which debuts in March. Her crime? Stopping him from answering Daily News TV columnist David Bianculli’s off-topic questions about why he thought Brad and Jen broke up.
LISA KUDROW: The actress had the misfortune of being the last HBO presentation. She followed the heaviest session of TCA’s cable half, when HBO unveiled its March film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Sometimes in April. Questions for the actress and executive producer Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City) on their scripted comedy The Comeback, were stilted and awkward, to say the least. The show, due this summer, concerns a washed-up sitcom actress struggling to make it back on TV.