More than 200 U.S. television critics came together in Pasadena, California for The Television Critics Press Tour, the Television Critics Association’s (TCA) semi-annual January conference, which featured two weeks of non-stop panels, industry parties, and production set visits.

All the major U.S. TV networks were in attendance, as were Public TV (PBS), the streaming service Hulu, and over 30 cable TV networks. There, they faced the critics without fear.

The TCA press tours provide TV writers with an opportunity to talk one-on-one with celebrities, studio executives, and network bigwigs at the forefront of their latest, high-profile TV content.

Even though the TCA mainly showcases talent and producers from  upcoming TV series, VideoAge surveyed many reporters who were covering the event to get their view of the story.

“At its best, the press tours are places where TV critics and reporters can push executives, producers, and stars to be accountable for the images they present to the world and the stories they tell,” said Eric Deggans, NPR’s television critic. “We also have the ability to ask the talent to comment more on evolving news stories.”

To that end, during a discussion on AT&T Audience Network’s (formerly DirecTV) new conspiracy
thriller series, Three Days of the Condor, Deggans asked one of the show’s stars, actress Mira Sorvino (picture above with co-star Brendan Fraser), to elaborate on her recent open letter to Dylan Farrow, in which she acknowledged her regret over working with Woody Allen.

TCAs have become much more of a “multimedia adventure” for many journalists, said Canadian TV critic Eric Kohanik.

“There was a time when it was all about writing stories for newspapers and print magazines. Now, critics also have to blog, tweet, post videos, and do so much more in creating new and innovative content.”

Also, there are “valuable previews” of much-discussed TV series, said Kohanik, who also moderated press conferences at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Press tours give TV fans opportunities to hear from the big players on their favorite shows, as well as from future favorites, noted Deanna Barnert, a news editor at Soaps in Depth.

“While talent and creators share quite a bit on social media, there’s just something to be said for face-to-face interviews. You can have deeper conversations with the talent and creators and thus, walk away with a better understanding of their vision for their show — which benefits the fans and the networks trying to promote their slates.”

With so many series on broadcast, cable, and streaming, Barnett believes press tours help bring viewers to shows that could have been lost in the onslaught of content, she enthused.

Quipped TV critic John Griffiths: “Press Tours are like ComicCon meets an endless White House press conference, but no one’s dressed as Thor, unfortunately!

“Reporters overwhelm the talent with questions — fluffy to hard-hitting — about the characters, plots, regrets, why LGBTQ characters are often killed off, etc.”

Griffiths continued: “In a way, TCA members are like the House of Representatives. They can air out their readers’ or viewers’ concerns about TV’s more irksome trends, i.e., ‘Another show with an all-white cast and writing staff?! Really?’

“And while Hollywood has rightfully poked fun at the TCA’s showbiz geeks in episodes of shows like Showtime’s Episodes and HBO’s The Comeback, we geeks provide a check-and-balance, reminding people who are running TV that they can be a little self-entitled and out of touch with the real world –– and can often try harder and do better.”

By Susan L. Hornik