TCA membership doesn't come easy

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The democracy of the blogosphere might have upped the overall volume of amateur TV critics, but it doesn't translate to automatic membership into the Television Critics Assn.

The 34-year-old governing body behind the annual press tour and the TCA awards thoroughly vets its members, requiring that they be North American-based, full-time professional journalists who are paid to write nearly exclusively about television.
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Members are accepted into the TCA based on an established output of TV-related clips, with reviews conducted annually to ensure that members are still on active TV-reporting duty. And while the majority of TCA members are from newspaper and magazine publications, a growing number are associated with online-only publications.

Two key benefits to membership in the TCA are access to the twice-yearly press tour and the opportunity to vote for the TCA awards. This year, the nomination process began in May with an open call for members to submit names in the predetermined 11 categories.

All shows on the air and those from the most recent season are eligible for consideration (though the career achievement and heritage awards can include shows no longer airing). The top five names put forward for each category are listed as the nominees. After this list is generated, members vote again for the winners.

It's a process that's been in place since 1985, when the awards were given out for the first time. Until last year, the results were submitted via snail mail and hand-tallied; as of 2009, members vote through an online survey system.

TCA president Susan Young says the voting shift to digital has been an effective update to an event that's a consistently reliable predictor of industry trends. "Very often, shows that win TCAs go on to future recognition (at the Emmys)," she notes.

But don't expect to catch the TCA's July 31 awards ceremony via the medium it celebrates. While big names are expected to attend the 2010 fete at the Beverly Hilton, a televised TCA awards has only happened one time, in 1993.

Members weren't happy with the results and it has remained a closed-door event since.

"We learned early on that we didn't want to be the Golden Globes," Young says. "We wanted this to be as pure an awards presentation as you can find; a very low-key chance for producers and actors to get some personal time with critics and a lot of people who love television."
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