TCA plans to change start date of July tour

Press tour will now be after Comic-Con

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."

It's true that TCA and Comic-Con serve separate purposes. The networks pay for TCA, an all-inclusive programming event that drives traditional media coverage. Studios, by and large, pay for Comic-Con, which generates online buzz for upcoming shows that typically fall into the sci-fi, animated and horror genres.

Yet the differences between the events have shrunk in recent years. Online publications and bloggers continue to invade TCA in the hunt for news and talent access, while TV critics increasingly find Comic-Con worthy of coverage -- in part because shows presented at the San Diego event have heavy online appeal, which in turn helps generate reader traffic for their publications trying to become more competitive on the Web.

Also, broadcast networks are strongly embracing such genre-driven shows as Fox's upcoming "Fringe" and "Dollhouse," and the Comic-Con wheelhouse has expanded to house such seemingly off-topic shows as NBC's "The Office," CBS' "Big Bang Theory" and Fox's "24."

"Maybe it works to everybody's advantage, that there will be follow-up stories to questions that come out of Comic-Con," Walker said.

He 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
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