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The Ruminator: Spinning at the winter TV press tour … and loving it!

Jan 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The new year in the TV business starts now-the second week in January. That’s because this is when the winter TV press tour starts its two-week orgy of network spin under the sun-where the stars meet the scribes-in the home of roses and thorns: Pasadena, Calif.
It’s a great time for the TV press from all across America to become locked in verbal combat with the TV stars and execs who fly in from New York or drive the 15 minutes up the 134 freeway from Burbank, Calif., or over from the Westside, to the host hotel, the storied old Ritz Carlton.
I’ve been to my share of TCAs, as they’re known, and it’s possible that I’ll be there this go-round as well. The Ruminator has always loved this: The press, locked in Pasadena for days, sparing with talent and suits alike-and all the while the network PR folks are scurrying, trying hard to cover up any verbal slip-ups by their executives or stars. So kick back, pour a glass of your favorite scotch, and let’s predict what will come out of this year’s follies:
CBS, under the direction of the czar of polished glib, Mr. Leslie Moonves, will try and convince everyone that “Survivor” was still on the tip of every viewer’s clicker and that while Sept. 11 may have hurt it and its reality stablemate “The Amazing Race,” reality TV is alive and kicking. And that the next edition of “Survivor,” at the end of February, will take off. The CBSers will also trumpet themselves as the only network to post higher numbers and demos this year and finally tell you the jury is still out on the struggling “Max Bickford.”
As for midseason, CBS will explain (well, not really explain-they’ll just say it) how the Supreme Court drama, “First Monday,” will make all of us forget “Wolf Lake.” (“OK, maybe not the sex parts,” Leslie will quip, later dropping the bon mot that “`First Monday’ will be our `West Wing’ without the drugs.”) No mention will be made either by CBS or the press of the already long-forgotten Daniel Stern show, whatever that was called. And since no one knows who I am, I could be Nancy Tellem, standing next to Leslie, smiling and agreeing with everything he says. Except for those few journalists sucking up to Moonves for future employment, the press reaction to the CBS presentation will be, for the most part, negative.
NBC will tell the assembled masses that they too are No. 1. In 18 to 49 viewers that is, because, as Jeff “The Lip” Zucker will say, for the umteenth time, “That’s all Madison Avenue cares about.” Jeff will have a great one-liner about how “Fear Factor” is good TV. Midseason will show how new and fresh “Friends” really is-and, oh, did we mention that the Olympics next month will propel us into the rating strastophere? “Emeril” won’t be around to cook, but there will be much talk about Katie Couric’s $65 million dollar deal and how happy Jeff is that Katie stayed home. Someone will ask if Matt Lauer’s contract will be renegotiated, and Jeff will quickly say, “If I were him I sure would,” and that’ll get lots of laffs. One of the ink-stained wretches will ask the king of comedy what he’d do without “Law & Order”-past (Jill Hennessy’s “Crossing Jordan”), present (Jerry Orbach is the best) or future spinoffs, as in “Law & Order: Crossing Guard Squad.” Jeff will shoot back that, “Thank God, I don’t have to.” And since no one knows who I am, I could be Scott Sassa, sitting next to Jeff, smiling and agreeing with everything he says. Except for those few journalists sucking up to Zucker for future employment, the press reaction to the NBC presentation will be, for the most part, negative.
ABC will say, “Yes, we know, but things will turn around. And this time we mean it.” Lloyd Braunwill joke about Jim Belushi. Or at least he’ll try to. Lloyd isn’t as sharp with his tongue as Moonves or Zucker. He’ll also say Dennis Miller is really good on “Monday Night Football.” A reporter will ask why ABC management screwed up the best thing they had going, “Millionaire.” And another scribe will ask why ABC management wasn’t out there defending their boy Bill Maher as he made a fool of himself when talking about Sept. 11. And since no one knows who I am, I could be Stu Bloomberg, standing next to Lloyd, smilin’ and agreein’-oh hell, you know damn well I’m far too sharp to be him. And since there will be no journalists sucking up to Braun or Bloomberg for future employment, the press reaction to ABC will be overwhelmingly negative.
Fox will trumpet `The Bernie Mac Show’ and its demos. But here is a network that even though it had a seven-game World Series and will have the Super Bowl next month, will actually have worse ratings this year than it did last year. “24” is either the number of people watching the Kiefer Sutherland show or the number of cast members on the fading “Ally McBealathon.” Last May, when the TV schedules were announced, the TV press said, as it always does-remember “Action”?-this is the year Fox explodes. The programs are the most innovative. And then in January, when most of the shows have gone bust, the explosion is replaced by bombs. The reaction by the press to Fox’s presentation will be negative.
The cablers will be out in force trying to convince everyone that when they gain a 10th of a ratings point, that translates into a 15 percent rise-squared and cubed-and that in 20 years it will get them a rating equal to NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Except for HBO, which isn’t TV anyway, the press reaction will be negative.
The WB will explain how its audience is so young and hip that it is the only place you should advertise that birth control pill that also clears up acne. (Hey, how the hell does that work anyway?) No one argues with it. Nonetheless, press reaction again will be negative.
The most fun on the press tour was going to be the featured appearance of Dean Valentine, the embattled UPN chief who is suing his employer for about a gazillion dollars. At the last minute, UPN said Dean’s gonna be a no-show on the dais-uh, duh-but we do hear he will be in the audience. No matter. The press reaction to UPN is always negative.
So dear reporters and fellow TV manager colleagues, look for me this fortnight in Pasadena. If I’m there, imagine the notoriety you’ll have uncovering the identity of The Ruminator. And it won’t be that hard. I’ll be the only TV executive you’ll talk to who will be fudging the truth just oh so little, giving the facts a tiny-just tiny, mind you-little spin to paint them to my advantage.