TCA shift could give geeks the first peek

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Next summer, fans will grill Hollywood's top talent before TV critics get their chance.

The Television Critics Assn. plans to push the start date of its July press tour by about three weeks. That means TCA will now be after Comic-Con International — the mega San Diego fan event increasingly viewed as competing with the critics' tour for the attention of the entertainment industry.

Comic-Con is set for July 23-26; TCA will begin July 28 and run through Aug. 11.

TCA has several compelling reasons to move the tour. Critics used to bank many of their stories and publish them closer to the fall, but the boom of online reporting and blogging has resulted in TCA news being mass distributed instantly. Broadcasters want to shift that glut of press attention closer to September's premiere week.

Networks also want to ensure that critics have a chance to see their fall shows and that talent on new series has a chance to settle into their roles. During last month's event, there were panels for shows that critics had not yet seen, resulting in less-than-productive sessions. Although this year's lack of pilots was because of the WGA strike, ABC, NBC and Fox plan to have multiple pilot cycles next year, further diversifying their development schedules.

"It's been set in July for years and there's really no reason for it to be there necessarily," said TCA president Dave Walker, who also noted that hotel rates are more favorable later in the summer.

The change could result in Comic-Con — an event that's rapidly expanded in recent years to include TV programming — siphoning attention from the critics' tour.

Last year, critics protested when ABC withheld "Lost" casting news in order to announce it instead at Comic-Con. With Hollywood talent running Comic-Con's gauntlet before TCA, chances are that news that would've broken at TCA will break at the fan event, where showrunners and talent field questions at panels, news conferences and media-mixer parties.

Walker said Comic-Con was not a factor in the TCA date change.

"There's no question that Comic-Con has become an important marketing outlet, but I see the events as radically different," he said. "But the needs at the events are different, such as reporters seeking access to networks executives."

Walker added that the July tour again will be shortened to about two weeks, with cable or PBS almost certainly going first. No hotel has been booked.

The January press tour is also on track, and Walker expects a robust event, especially considering how many networks are coming in heavy with midseason programming after their fall development was crippled by the writers strike. (partialdiff)
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