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What We Will Take Away From TCA

As the title of a current movie has it, it’s the end of the tour. Yes, the Television Critics Association’s summer press shebang is finally winding down this week with some concluding fireworks from CBS, The CW, NBC and others. By now, nearly two months—sorry, weeks—of promotion have unfolded in the climate-controlled, construction-ringed Beverly Hilton. And that means a handful of themes have emerged. Grab a Sloppy Joe from the free buffet and have a look at our five biggest.

1Numbers Games Continue

Measuring programming continues to be a fixation, and that held especially true when subscription video-on-demand services Netflix and Amazon took the stage. Both found creative ways to continue dodging the question of how many people are watching their shows. But their TCA appearances, as well as that of ad-supported Crackle (now with pointed tagline “always on”), showed some interesting distinctions in their business models.

Roy Price, head of Amazon Studios, wouldn’t offer many insights into viewership beyond confirming that Bosch is the service’s most-viewed show. Buzz, which begets subscriptions to Amazon Prime, is his primary goal. “The more attention a show gets, the more celebrated it gets, the more people it brings in who aren’t already Amazon customers or Prime subscribers,” he said.

Related: Complete Coverage of TCA Summer Press Tour

Dana Walden, chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group, wasn’t buying the no-news-is-good-news sensibility put forward by SVOD folks. Taking a shot at those distributors during her executive session, she said, “Some of our peers on other platforms are reluctant to give you ratings information. With Empire”—the network’s meteoric midseason hit—“we will account to you for every last viewer.”

Other linear players kept up their argument that shows should not be judged on overnight ratings. And in a subtle rhetorical shift, ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee was willing to publicly tout the power of outside digital platforms in propelling a network show.

“We are in this world of on-demand. Not only that, but we are true children of that world,” he said. “Scandal became a big hit because we sold it to SVOD. It wasn’t a huge number that first season. And then everybody watched it, everybody binged it over the summer and it came roaring back for the second season.”
—Dade Hayes

2Everyone’s Got Night Fever

Trevor noah reintroduced himself to the media July 29, offering a new perspective for The Daily Show, which he will begin hosting Sept. 28. Don’t worry, Noah said the show won’t change much and he will still rail on Fox News and CNN. “I still want the show to be recognized as The Daily Show,” he said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the show first.” But Noah, a biracial 31-year-old South African, represents a new age (literally), demographic and outlook for the Comedy Central program.

The Daily Show emerged out of the burgeoning 24-hour news cycle in the mid-to-late-’90s. Now, with the ubiquity of the Internet and social media, there is much more news and media to critique than just cable news. “The biggest challenge…is how to bring all that together from a bigger lens than looking at just one source, which was historically Fox News,” Noah said.

Unlike Jon Stewart, Noah is on social media and active on Twitter—which came back to haunt him when some old tweets resurfaced after he was announced as host last spring. He addressed the tweets (which many considered offensive and not funny) at press tour. More telling than his assured answers was the confident, smart and consistently funny hour-long stand-up set he performed the night before for critics and other industry people. Noah isn’t worried about a backlash, only following in Stewart’s footsteps. “The biggest pressure is living up to expectations that Jon has of me,” he said.

Another late-night host with big shoes to fill is Stephen Colbert, who succeeds David Letterman on The Late Show Sept. 8. Colbert, due at press tour this week, will surely have to, like Noah, create content and find an audience on digital, social and other non-linear platforms—unlike Stewart and Letterman. The late-night landscape has changed, with online-geared segments from Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and James Corden consistently going viral. It will change again when Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talker arrives. Handler said she hasn’t decided on her approach, but whatever it is, it will change the game once more for what used to be known as “late night.”
—Jonathan Kuperberg

3Violence Is Still Golden

While tv, in its flourishing age, has become a place for strong female characters, it is also increasingly a place for depicting violence against women. Perhaps no show receives more criticism for its treatment of rape and portrayal of violence than Game of Thrones. During his executive session at the TCA summer press tour July 31, HBO programming president Michael Lombardo noted that the show is set in a violent, mythical world established since the first episode, which ended with a young boy being pushed off a tower. “There are no two showrunners who are more careful to not overstep what they think the line is,” Lombardo said of creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. Not that anything has stopped viewers from tuning in. Thrones is the most-watched series in HBO history.

Fox has been minting money with Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story anthologies. His sardonic younger twist on the genre, Scream Queens, got a big sendoff at TCA. And though few chin-strokers may criticize the show along those lines, it offers a pretty steady dose of violence, which fans seem ready to eat up.

Drawing millions of viewers week in and week out is not a given for Wicked City, the serial killer drama premiering Oct. 27 on ABC. Facing questions from the press Aug. 4 about depicting violence against women, the producers said they spent a lot of time in the writers’ room talking about it. “It was very important for us not to do violence porn,” said executive producer Steven Baigelman, adding that 1980s Los Angeles, the show’s setting, was both the murder capital and serial killer capital of the country at the time. “For me, when the story is about violence and it tells you something about time and place, I understand it,” said fellow executive producer Amy B. Harris. “When it’s used just to titillate, I’m not particularly interested.” She said they tried to keep the graphic violence to a minimum and their intent was not to “glorify” it, but after all it is a series about a serial killer couple. “We are trying to walk that line,” she said. “I don’t think we can totally avoid the criticism.”
—Jonathan Kuperberg

4Themes Like Old Times

While TCA is usually about the next and the new, lately the TVscape is all about second chances, especially with streaming services willing to foot the bill for rescuing a cult show.

Netflix has revived older shows and continues to prioritize mining the vaults. Chief content officer Ted Sarandos fielded questions about Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen participating in Fuller House. (He said they are “teetering” on the edge of commitment.) He was also asked about negotiations for a fifth season of Arrested Development, which was resurrected in 2013, years after a ratings-challenged run on Fox. “Our intent is to have another season of Arrested,” he said, blaming the delay on scheduling and, in part, show-owner 20th Century Fox Television.

Netflix presented another exnetwork show in the afternoon, its continuation of A&E’s Longmire. “We are now at a wonderful company that values the viewers over demos,” said Greer Shephard, series executive producer.

Amazon, on the other streaming hand, was not quite as keen on bringing back network shows.

Amazon Studios chief Roy Price addressed why negotiations for NBC’s recently canceled Hannibal had fizzled. “The thing about extending a show,” he said, “is you’d usually be doing that instead of doing the first season of a new show. And the first season of a new show could become a fantastic new signature show for the network. An extended show almost never does.”

Community, another former NBC show, also came up. Series star Ken Jeong talked about its reported cancelation from Yahoo, which had picked the laugher up for a sixth season. While Jeong, who was there for his ABC series Dr. Ken, hadn’t heard about Yahoo’s move, he did say he would love to do a movie. “[Showrunner] Dan [Harmon] and everyone know where to find me.”
—Jessika Walsten

5TCA Finds Its Moment of Zen

Previous press tours have been spiced with skirmishes between press and talent, or executives lobbing grenades at each other. This year, as of presstime, civility seemed to prevail and a more tranquil atmosphere predominated. Even the instatweeting of every syllable on stage appears to have been accepted by the TV powers that be.

During ABC’s “TGIT” panel, Shonda Rhimes and Kerry Washington put on a clinic of evasiveness, and instead of getting frustrated, the press seemed more resigned. “I’m just doing my job,” shrugged NPR’s Eric Deggans after pressing the duo about their Emmy predictions and being told by Washington that his question wasn’t a question. Alan Sepinwall of HitFix marveled on Twitter, “Shonda Rhimes remains as good as anyone I’ve ever seen at press tour at avoiding answering any questions she doesn’t want to.”

Possibly the ultimate symbol of this year’s vibe was the panel for ABC’s The Muppets, in which Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy were asked questions by media, not just about the show, but about their breakup and assorted other “personal” matters.

Writers not trapped at the Hilton had an easier time questioning the exercise.

Tweeted pop culture gadfly Devin Faraci: “We’re like four or five junkets in on the press interviewing the Muppets like they’re real and it’s not cute anymore.” Time’s James Poniewozik retweeted from New York, adding, “I thought I was the only crank who still believed this.”

Meanwhile, inside the ballroom—a furry lovefest.
—Dade Hayes