TCA Journal No. 3: We Don't Clap

Even if we like you, it's not happening. If we can help it
Phil McCarten/Invision for FOX/AP Images
A lot of critics loved this show. They didn't clap.

It happens every press tour, often multiple times. It's always revealing. Sometimes it's funny.

Stars of network and cable series and movies, famous documentary subjects, politicians, sports stars, directors, writers, etc. -- invariably one of them, upon being introduced on stage, can't believe their ears.

There's silence. Hundreds of people in a ballroom, sitting on the other side of very bright lights, with little apples visible on their laptops, sit and wait patiently. And say nothing.

We don't clap.

"I get applause usually," Queen Latifah said today, stepping on stage during the HBO session. Said Len Amato, president of HBO Films: "They don't do that here."

No, we don't.

But not everybody gets that message. When the cast for HBO's Togetherness was taking the stage, star and co-creator Mark Duplass joked about the one clap he heard, "It's too much - it's too much." And that's when Casey Bloys, executive vice president of programming, said: "You can clap."

No, Casey, we can't. We don't. It's not in our code of conduct, but it's rigorously discouraged that any member of the Television Critics Association clap at these sessions. Sometimes non-members clap. And they get the death stare. Sometimes members clap and they are usually given a talking to so it doesn't happen again. This has been the deal for years and years.

Even before Comic-Con.

But yes, part of the reason we don't clap is we're not Comic-Con, but the deeper point there is that we're all working journalists, not fanboys or fangirls. Now, let's be honest - do some accredited members display those tendencies? Sure, we're a big group. Not everybody in the family is the model child. We have all kinds of rules about not embarrassing the group by being slobbery. The agreed-upon professional conduct that the vast majority of the group upholds with aplomb through hundreds of sessions is not clapping.

Often this unnerves comedians the most, not surprisingly.

When Jack Black came onstage -- also at HBO (not to pick on the channel; its moment on the tour is the freshest) -- he laughed at the silence, made a comment and then heard some applause. "A smattering!" he said.

That smattering was coming from the assembled employees of HBO.

Now, here's a very positive thing about HBO: its people are almost always well-behaved, unlike so many of the broadcast networks who encourage their people to clap and hoot loudly in the back. You might be thinking to yourself, well, why not -- they're just trying to protect their stars from being embarrassed.

To which I (and many others) would say, "You can prep them for the silence. This is not about adulation. It's about information."

And really that's why we're at TCA -- to hear what the creators and writers and stars have to say about their work. They are not walking into the ballroom on a red carpet. It's also important to remember that even if we like their work, we can nominate it for our yearly TCA Awards and then clap at that event. So we have an outlet. We have a time and a place to show our appreciation for great work (outside of our reviews). In the ballroom is not that place.

The number of people through the years who are used to hearing applause when they walk in a room -- and who didn't get it at the TCA press tour -- are too numerous to list. The stars who remarked upon it today are merely the latest. I guarantee you this will happen again. And again.

I always smile when it happens. It's awkward, yes. But the consistency of it never fails to amuse me. I tweet those instances out on Twitter to keep track. And I always hope that at some point those stars will be better prepped for what they're about to experience the next time they visit. And, by writing this, I hope someone in the next couple of weeks will be prepped by a network or cable PR person about this fact of life. My advice is keep it simple and clear for them: "This ain't Comic-Con."


Twitter: @BastardMachine