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Everybody on the business side of the business is again really looking forward to the press tour over the coming days. That’s because we get to see all our friends from the Television Critics Association, a proud organization that once had something to do with television criticism but now seems to be up to something completely different. As those over 35 may recall, the original intent of the event used to be pretty clear: drink, schmooze, eat free food and work like dogs to churn out stories about programming for the benefit of happy viewers everywhere. Now the function is far more subtle, if not mysterious. The marketplace has fragmented. Everything has changed. And the TCA has changed, too, to the point where the designation “reporters who cover television” is spoken only in irony by one of the last remaining serious practitioners of the art. Who are these people? An industry type might be forgiven for being a little confused. Here’s a handy guide:
The Angry Young Blogger
Mostly male. Pissed off at having to attend and write about something other than himself. Generally doesn’t watch television but has a few cool shows he likes. Never asks questions. Doesn’t watch the DVDs provided to him so he might know what the news conferences are about. Spends most sessions checking e-mail and diddling with his Facebook page. Perks up when there’s gossip to speculate about. Likes to write rolling personal impressions of what people are wearing, who looks fat or bald, who’s a hot babe. Doesn’t understand why there are networks when everybody could be downloading stuff for free.
Spends the entire time tweeting back and forth with a few other like-minded tweeters, each working mightily to be the most clever and impress other tweeters. Talks about his or her number of followers incessantly. Only marginally engaged in what is happening onstage, unless it’s a session about the marketing implications of Twitter. Can be spotted in the darkened house by the Tweet Deck that fills his screen to the exclusion of everything else. Value of output to those paying to display their wares? Zero.
Hates the business. Sorry to be here. Thinks everybody onstage is an asshole. Looking for ways to ridicule, puncture or otherwise deflate. Views himself or herself as an investigative reporter dedicated to the destruction of the evil empires that run the world and provide an inadequate breakfast.
Always looking for the show with the smallest possible audience. Thinks TV is, for the most part, stupid. Will watch certain niche networks but only the shows that have extremely rare psychographics. Favorites include BBC America, Adult Swim and anything with Tony Bourdain. Views his or her role as that of a shepherd steering a benighted public away from the lowbrow fare they seem to like.
The Walking Dead
The event goes on for weeks. They’ve had one too many soggy enchiladas. Seen one too many bullshit artists trying to pass off chicken poo as chicken salad. They have no chance of getting laid at one of the parties and even less opportunity to drive off the premises in that new BMW they just saw pulling away from the hotel curb, driven by a writer they know is far less talented than they. They want to go home. The guys onstage are what’s standing between them and their warm bed in Ypsilanti, where they will magically transform back from zombies into solid citizens. They have nothing left to do in the meantime but feast on your flesh.
They once ruled the planet. Some feasted on the soft plant life provided by the networks. Others were meat eaters. But during their reign, they were unchallenged kings of the beat. Now the landscape they knew is gone. Their place at the top of the food chain is increasingly being occupied by smaller, quicker, warm-blooded animals with much smaller brainpans but opposable thumbs more suited to digital work. There are still some great beasts around, though, and they are truly majestic in their appetite for fodder and their capacity to do both good and harm.
The Few, the Proud
Then there are those who slog through the mire, keeping their heads just above the water line, doing the hard job covering the miles of promotional material, pseudo-events and actual entertainment news they think are important for people who like television. They watch the shows. They ask questions that demonstrate they think about the business. They burrow their way into every post-news conference gaggle. They remain excited about the stars, the stories, the execs, and they take boxed lunches to their rooms to write. There aren’t many of them anymore. But it’s them we do this thing for. See you at the bar after the party, OK? I’m buying.
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