July 07, 2014 11:00am PT by Michael O'Connell, Lesley Goldberg
TCA: Burning Questions for TV's Top Execs
It's that time of year again. Hundreds of journalists descend on the Beverly Hilton over the next two weeks as the TV networks pitch their new fall offerings. Execs will regale members of the Television Critics Association with tales of their latest successes — and the critics are certain to remind them of their failures.
Up first for the broadcast nets is NBC on Sunday, with entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt having reason to celebrate the Peacock's first season at No. 1 in a decade. ABC, CBS and The CW follow before things wrap up with Fox on July 20-21. (Word is still out on who exactly will be fielding those queries with Kevin Reilly now out of the picture.) Here are the top questions on deck:
Welcome back, Paul Lee, we weren't certain we'd see you! Following another ratings-challenged season that saw the network return only one comedy (The Goldbergs) and two dramas (Agents of SHIELD, Resurrection) from its freshman class, the main question is: Can ABC find success outside of its Shondaland Thursday? And is your approach of "Let's throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" the best one? With Shonda Rhimes' veteran Grey's Anatomy holding down its Thursdays at 8 p.m. slot, why not spread the Shonda love around the schedule with Scandal and new Viola Davis starrer How to Get Away With Murder? This is a roomful of critics, so go ahead and get your defense ready for the canceled Trophy Wife, too. And yes, that'll lead in to the perennial "Why have you struggled so much with the post-Modern Family slot?" There will be questions about the significant push to embrace diversity this season, not only in your casting but also in your storylines. We applaud the move, but we'll have questions nonetheless. Rising Star will be a topic of discussion, no doubt, and we expect to hear more than simply superlatives. Oh, and you'll probably take some heat about fairy-tale musical comedy Galavant. That one didn't play particularly well at the upfronts, and it seems to have a lot of folks remembering that one time you greenlighted — and defended — critical punching bag Work It a few years back.
This might not be all "Kumbaya," Nina Tassler. No longer No. 1 (or even No. 2), CBS took the biggest hit of the Big Four last season. Lucky for you — and again, kudos — the coup of scoring Thursday Night Football will be an automatic lift to ratings and spirits. Ditto for landing Stephen Colbert, easily the swiftest, most impressive passing of the baton in late night. Now you have Craig Ferguson's chair to fill, and you best believe we'll have questions about that. (We'll likely want more on what CBS Colbert will look like, too.) We'll have scheduling questions as well. Mondays have been difficult — is doubling down on dramas (Scorpion and the migrating NCIS: Los Angeles) going to work against NBC's The Voice and ABC's ever-reliable Dancing With the Stars? And what about Thursdays? Comedies slide as soon as the Big Bang Theory credits roll and an aging Two and a Half Men is about to ride off into the sunset, just like most of its cast did a few years ago.
More than a month after entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly exited the network, just whom will we be speaking with during the executive session? Will big boss Peter Rice field our questions? Maybe marketing guru (and COO) Joe Earley, who's increasingly involved on the programming side, could join him? Or perhaps studio honchos Dana Walden and Gary Newman will have signed contracts by then? Reilly's left big shoes to fill; he may have struggled to lure viewers of late, but the man had little trouble winning over a roomful of reporters. To whoever lands in the hot seat: Expect to get grilled on Fox's next chapter. Are we still mourning pilot season? Is the comedy brand still beloved but niche? And are we supposed to expect the same old Idol? It won't stop there. We'll want the real story behind axing ancient Egyptian Game of Thrones look-alike Hieroglyph. We hear it was cost overruns and a lack of creative vision, but who makes the call when there's no network chief? What are we supposed to make of
Broadchurch Gracepoint, a nearly frame-for-frame remake of the recent British original? And about that Glee renewal, where does the aging musical fit in on the schedule, and just how many episodes of the low-rated dramedy will comprise its swan song?
Breath easy, Bob Greenblatt. This might be your most pleasant visit to the Beverly Hilton yet. You wrapped the year at No. 1, your summer is going swimmingly and — perhaps nicest of all — NBC's new shows don't look half bad. But you're not totally in the clear. Fall and spring remain anchored by The Voice, and with last season suffering a ratings dip — and singing competitions in general circling the bowl — your magic goose has a fixed number of golden eggs left to lay. How do you plan to prolong the glory? And more significantly, what's next? And what about comedy, where you've publicly struggled to broaden the genre with missteps like Sean Saves the World and The Michael J. Fox Show? You're finally dismantling the long-suffering Must-See Thursday block, and veteran darling Parks & Recreation is closing up shop. Is Marry Me your greatest hope (its predecessor Happy Ending had critics drooling but it was light in the viewers department), or is it How I Met Your Mother descendant A to Z? On the unscripted side, you — or your unscripted partner, Paul Telegdy — will likely get the "What's happening with The Apprentice?" question because, well, Trump is Trump. (We're hoping you'll use the TCA platform to make some news and renew some of the other reality stalwarts like American Ninja Warrior and America's Got Talent.) Oh, we're going to want to talk about Emmy audience expectations. That Monday move still has us scratching our heads.
Let's keep it brief: Mark Pedowitz, you've done good. Your play for men is starting to pay off, and you've managed to schedule a few shows, led by breakout Arrow, that even the crusty critics can get behind. Now, we're all (almost) just as excited about The Flash as you are — though as you move deeper and deeper down the genre rabbit hole, what are the expectations for sudsy dramedy Jane the Virgin? The telenovela update brought smiles during upfronts, but putting it on Monday nights with Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals seems a bit odd, no? Seems a better match for Hart of Dixie or since-canceled The Carrie Diaries. And why is so much staying on the bench for midseason, especially when you're leaving a gaping hole on Fridays? It seems like a waste to keep iZombie off the schedule for so long while creator Rob Thomas is still riding what's left of that Veronica Mars kickstarter goodwill.
Sorry, Vince Gilligan, but Charlie Collier isn't here to talk about AMC's anemic pool of originals, so you're going to have to field questions about how the network is doing without your beloved Breaking Bad. You'll get more topic queries, too. What's behind the delay for spinoff Better Call Saul? And just how much jumping around in time do you expect there will be? (Congrats on that early season-two renewal, by the way.)
AMC isn't the only cable titan with troubles. FX recently has been criticized (a rarity) for Middle East-set drama Tyrant. Now that it's off and running, how do you feel about the show's prospects and the critical venom being spewed, John Landgraf? And how are you feeling about your ratings over at Starz, Chris Albrecht? Additionally, can we talk about The Chair, from Project Greenlight EP Chris Moore. It looks a lot like the Emmy-nominated original, coincidentally revived just a few weeks ago by HBO. And HBO chiefs Richard Plepler and Michael Lombardo, you can expect to be peppered with True Detective questions, including "Where are they with casting season two?" It's also been five months since the sudden death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, with no news on how (or if) his Showtime comedy Happy-ish will carry on with a new lead. Expect David Nevins to get a few casting queries, as he's been vocal about still being very interested in the project.
Over on the streaming side, Amazon will bring The X Files guru Chris Carter back to TCA for The After. Where have you been, buddy?