A Critic's Take on TCA

 Will Hart/NBC

So what actually happens at the Television Critics Association press tour? Spinning, mostly. Followed by about 200 critics and reporters trying to unspin that spin. Example: "We're up 500 percent in the time slot, year to year." Response: "Yeah, but you were airing infomercials last year in that slot."

Network sessions generally run about 9 a.m.-6 p.m. After tussling or snickering with the entertainment chiefs, critics are subjected to panels touting new and some popular returning series. Hope and optimism flows from the stage as mass Twitter activity from the crowd notes how heinous the shows are.

Unless, of course, the shows are really good. Then said tweets and live blogs tend to rile up readers and have them anticipating new TiVo offerings.

Networks usually build a lunch session around a struggling returning series or buzz-free new show -- with food used to offset disdain and boredom for a while. Then an hour break and a network "stars" party from 7 to 10 or later. When the cable channels arrive, there's usually a preparty, party and postparty. They know who they're dealing with.

A simple rule of thumb: Alcohol aplenty. Much of the best information can be gleaned at the parties where executives relax and quaff. This isn't entirely true of the stars, who tend to be as enthusiastically bland as athletes (exceptions: Jon Hamm, Walton Goggins). Showrunners are good fun and free with the tongue -- unless their shows have been savaged in the past year.

The following day, the ritual is repeated. Here's what's coming up on the winter TCA tour in Pasadena:

Jan. 4-5: PBS
A Bill Clinton doc, performances by Michael Feinstein and the B-52s (not together), previews of Black History Month, an American Masters on Johnny Carson and a preview of Ken Burns' new doc. Lots of critics will be frantically trying to review Downton Abbey during the down parts.

Jan. 6: NBC
Might be some performance-related questions here, yes? But lots of new shows to tout, including Smash, alleged savior of the midseason.

Jan. 7: MSNBC, Bravo, Syfy
Also known as "Catch-a-Movie Day." Kidding.

Jan. 8: Fox
They should be in a good mood. There's an American Idol session, a string of new shows, some sports programming and a re-pimp of Bob's Burgers.

Jan. 9: ABC Family, ABC News, Disney Channel
Also, set visits to ABC's Suburgatory and Fox's New Girl.

Jan. 10: ABC
Tons of new shows, panel of comedy showrunners, a farewell wave from Desperate Housewives.

Jan. 11: CBS
More about stability and strength. Then a session for ¡Rob! (whether we want it or not). And Charlie Rose and Gayle King talk about the morning show no one will watch; session will be noteworthy for Rose asking King who she is again and King talking about her love of talking and Oprah and -- God, it's almost enough to make you long for Katie Couric.

Jan. 12: Showtime, the CW Shameless, The Borgias, House of Lies
Then a bunch of CW stuff, including an explanation of why One Tree Hill is still on and then, wait for it, "The Bad-Ass Boys of the CW."

Jan. 13-14: Cable
And lots of it.

Jan. 15: FX
Justified, Archer, Wilfred, Louie and new series Unsupervised.

♦ The End
Which means reuniting with family and/or a return trip to Betty Ford.

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