By Mike Reynolds
After three years of COVID-forced Zoom interviews instead of actual Winter and Summer Press Tours on location, the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour finally went “live” for 10 days starting on January 9, 2023 at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, California — and what a change there has been to the in-person event!
The initial shock was a much shorter length for the tour, followed by the realization that there were unexpected omissions — for instance, where was CBS on the Paramount+ day? And why no HBO? The CBS “mystery” was revealed to be a “back to Zoom” event for the eye net that will be held at the end of January.
The usual “back of the room” crush of agency photographers was also missing, likely an indication and recognition that the usual number of big name talents would not be appearing, and the fact that the shows being presented did not seem likely to be huge breakout hits. Case in point was NBC’s sad revival of Night Court. According to insider reports, it is a disaster. And thankfully, we weren’t subjected to the redo of Frasier.
With COVID variants still hovering over the Los Angeles area many worried journalists stayed away, and others were unable to get flights from their snowbound locations, meaning the regular turnout of critics was lower than usual. Even attendance by a majority of the new members, who had joined over the past three years, couldn’t make up the numbers to fill the room for several panels
NBC threw an interesting twist into the content with the formerly cancelled CBS series Magnum P.I. (pictured above) first on their presentation list. American Auto and Grand Crew filled out the net’s offerings, with a nod to streaming partner Peacock and its Natasha Lyonne starrer Poker Face, plus, the new Dean Devlin/Electric Entertainment series The Ark for Syfy.
ABC shared its time with the cast of General Hospital, there promoting the soap’s 60th anniversary.
Amongst its offering over two days, PBS introduced the upcoming Masterpiece version of Tom Jones, a Richard III Great Performances, the Canal+/BBC production of Marie Antoinette, and teased the upcoming Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song special, saluting Joni Mitchell.
John Landgraf, the chairman of FX Content and FX Productions, revealed that The Old Man became FX’s most‑watched single season of any program ever in its history. He also noted that The Bear became FX’s most‑watched single season of a comedy ever. And that Welcome to Wrexham was the most‑watched unscripted show in FX’s history.
Throughout his presentation Landgraf touched on diverse topics including the number of shows presented last year across the TV universe (599). “I’m going to go out on a limb and say I think that 599 is the peak. I don’t think you’re going to see that number again for script. We are counting adult scripted, English‑language, original television series that premiered in America last year. I don’t think you’re going to see that number again. I think it’s going to start to come down.” He continued: “I think we have a strong indication that we’re going to start to see a decline beginning in 2023” for series greenlights.
Landgraf announced that FX would debut a Shogun series later this year, which will be, “very faithful to the novel. It tells the story from the Japanese perspective, not just the European perspective. We had two full production crews: one in English and one in Japanese.”
With streaming services, along with the increase in FAST and AVoD outlets, there’s so much contact to even try to locate, let alone watch, for even for the average viewer, let alone Emmy voters, and many simply couldn’t watch all of it.
“I think that’s one of the reasons that award shows are struggling. There isn’t a monoculture anymore,” suggested Landgraf.
“I don’t think the American home is going to buy and hold seven or eight products 12 months a year,” he added, “I don’t think they can afford to, or desire to. So, I think ultimately the industry is going to have to figure out a way to get back to some smaller number of fully distributed streaming services, Internet services. Exactly how that unfolds, I don’t know, or how long it will take, but I think that’s the direction we’re heading. Then you don’t have eight services trying to each compete against each other making anything everybody might want to watch. Naturally, you sort of have different segments specializing in doing certain good things.”
As usual Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, was hit with a funding question right out of the gate. Though funding is in place for this year, the next funding round involves several new members of Congress, so it will prove a challenge to determine how voting will go in regard to funds for public broadcasters. Kerger has to be congratulated as the one broadcasting head who even did Zoom TCA sessions for the last three years and was one of only two heads to attend the live January event. With all the changes going on in the executive suites of so many outlets, one might have expected they would turn up just to explain what would be going on in their respective worlds. Though, on the other hand, one can also imagine why they wouldn’t want to face the press!
Of course, PBS at TCA would not be PBS at TCA without an announcement of the next series from Ken Burns and this tour was no different. According to Kerger, this new Burns doc series will be American Buffalo, “a two-part, four-hour film,” taking, “viewers on a journey across more than 10,000 years of North American history, tracing the animal’s significance to the Great Plains and its relationship to the indigenous people of North America, featuring interviews with leading Native American scholars, land experts, and Tribal Nation members.”
Rita Cooper Lee, head of Publicity, opened proceedings for Apple TV+ on the final day of the press tour, which featured the most panels of any press tour in TCA history.
Overall, this press tour was not only devoid of execs, but also the number of big name talents usually associated with both annual tours, though there was a sad but genuine reason for one absence. Jeremy Renner was originally scheduled for a Disney+ panel but not able to appear because of an accident that landed him in the hospital.