Second to Upfront presentations in May, the Summer TCA (Television Critic Associations) press sessions and show panels held for 15 days in the end of July through the start of August are my favorite time in the TV press schedule. Networks have chosen the shows surviving to and starting in the next season. They’ve sold shows for international distribution and advertisers have bought much of the time available. So the Summer TCA give anyone who pays attention to this stuff learns a ton about the state of each of the networks present, their present, and future.
This year, however; two networks sat out the expected executive session where the network’s execs offers remarks and takes questions. ABC (not ready to handle questions about Roseanne?) and NBC (word is Greenblatt just dislikes the TCAs).
On the other hand, CBS. which is embroiled in legal problems after a recent article on CEO Les Moonves’ behavior with women still held its exec session with Entertainment Pres. (CBS also has a lawsuit against its majority shareholder) Kelly Kahl knowing the questions were coming. Of course none of his answers were really all that helpful, but he showed up and that’s sadly still a big deal.
Still, we got a lot of tidbits on returning and new shows! (I’ve listed the networks in the order of their days at the TCA.)
Surprisingly FOX was the most normal of exec sessions this year with discussion of bringing back Last Man Standing and the real news: what the heck happens now that Disney’s acquiring so many assets and the studio FOX makes (made) TV with most! CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman spoke about working more with the indie studios and bringing them back into the fold after the last few years of networks choosing to pick up series from their vertically aligned studios.
Which makes sense, 16 new series came from outside studios five years back, with only six this year. NewFox will go for partial ownership for new series. And is currently aiming to have the same mix of scripted, sports, and live offerings. Though starting fall 2019 for a large part of their regular season will only have four days for scripted offerings due to TNF and WWE Smackdown (the latter airs every week year-round).
As far as the show panels, I think Aisha Hinds (911) talking about how she was once shot in the back and then later also revealing that she lost a kidney is the wildest thing to happen this year.
Otherwise, I was really pleased to learn more about The Passage, the father/daughter relationship that exists both on screen and behind the scenes with Mark Paul Gosselar’s Brad and Saniyya Sidney’s Amy. Event TV that succeeds is rare and I’m hoping this show does it for broadcast.
CBS is finally moving towards more inclusive casting on their shows after years of not doing so. Which is great. Sadly the folks in charge though, and at least at TCA were still white dudes. Except for one white woman, Diane English from Murphy Brown. And a question about the Magnum PI reboot’s writer rooms doesn’t inspire hope about the writers rooms. Both EPs Eric Guggenheim and Peter Lenkov responded in an unsatisfactory manner when asked about Latinx writers. At the time, they stated the show had none among four men and three women! And that it was “hard to find writers.”
As Kori said to me, “you probably could’ve run up ODAAT” and they would have pointed Guggs and Lenkov in the right direction. Or you know the super popular and successful Vida which did it in about a week. The best (worst) part about all of this is that on Sunday, Lenkov tweeted that they do in fact have a Latinx writer, an alumnus of the CBS Writers Mentoring Program. So either they forgot she’s Latinx (for whatever reason) or they just forgot she exists entirely. Even so, Jay Hernandez should not have to advocate for his own character’s Latinidad and heritage!
On the flip side, The Neighorhood‘s writing room is inclusive as it should be for a show focusing on a white dude moving in next to Cedric the Entertainer! Both of CBS’ fall comedies (Happy Together, Neighborhood) this year center on Black families being disrupted by a white newcomer so if they can revive the currently dead Monday comedy block…well, success! (Actually, so does the comedy slated for spring, Fam.)
Returning to exec sessions (skipped Winter) Mark Pedowitz did not give us much more about the fall DCTV crossover introducing Kate Kane (Batwoman). He did reiterate that it won’t include Legends of Tomorrow in the sprawling and schedule intensive episodes. And Batman won’t be appearing. Of their 17 shows, twelve(!) are executive produced by some combination of women and men of color though with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and JTV ending that will drop to ten of 15 pending new pickups for fall 2019. And! By my count we’ve got at least 20 LGBT series regular and recurring characters on the network with 8 coming this fall which is pretty cool.
Other interesting tidbits included a comment that both Warner Bros. and CBS are happy with how The CW is growing (it functions to advertise the produced shows) and MP expects that to stay the case with new AT&T ownership (which acquired Time Warner). Added to their game plan is more scripted in the summer for more year-round programming. Of course, this bode well for the shows that are old and even by CW’s standards are not doing as hot!
For Charmed, one of the shows I’m looking forward to most, the panel sounded like a ton of fun even if it involved answering a ton of questions about the backlash against it. More importantly the showrunners emphasized that we will see the sisters’ Latina heritage, especially since various cultures approach witchcraft differently and because all three sisters have a different dad. (Though the latter understandably has some folks concerned.) Good thing they’ve got a Latinx witch on the writer’s team!
It might be cheesy but at least it’s accurately cheesy! (Hopefully the cheese melts down a bit after the first few episodes.) At this point, anything premiering above a .7 is probably something to call home about.
Warning for brief mention of suicide in an upcoming fall ABC show. Skip to FOX if necessary.
I reiterate again how it’s totally bull that they didn’t hold an exec session. You made your bed, now you gotta lie in it. No panel for The Connors either which is unfortunate. Especially considering it as the launchpad for their new Tuesday line-up which has for years plagued them at 10pm (now filled with The Rookie). Pres. Dungey was around to take questions and a few articles are now up, but they should have just held the dang session.
Though their panel for A Million Little Things which follows a group of friends after one commits suicide does indicate that the writers have put a lot of thought into the show. Especially since its inspired by creator DJ Nash’s own life. Hopefully the show will start conversations like This is Us has (a comparison they’re complimented by) and unlike The Big Chill see what happens to the friends after the funeral. AMLT is the only show I’m planning on watching from ABC this fall. Plus it’s got Grace Park in her first role lead role since leaving H50 and I’m super excited to see the cast working together. From a ratings perspective, clearly this is ABC’s hope for their next The Good Doctor (also a strong performer at 10pm).
Like I mentioned earlier, NBC had no exec session. They only brought one of their truly new fall shows, I Feel Bad to panel. Though Manifest‘s exec producer was part of the NBC showrunner panel. Highlights from I Feel Bad were that the show wasn’t written for an Indian lead. Rather after Sarayu Blue’s casting, they based other casting on her. Additionally with Aseem Batra running the place, the show will reflect experiences she’s had as sometimes the only woman in a writer’s room. Comedies on NBC are a mixed bag but this is airing after Will and Grace so anything could happen.
Overall, the press sessions during this TCA were another indication of how far broadcast TV has come in regards to “representation” and how far it has to go. Having folks on screen isn’t enough. Shows need to have representation behind the scenes to write the characters well and realistically! POC on screen is an easy metric to pass, but it shouldn’t be the only one. As for where broadcast stands in the overwhelming offerings of Peak TV, well it’s not going anywhere yet.