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More than two weeks and over 100 panels (yes, really) later, the summer cycle of the Television Critics Association’s press tour has (finally) come to an end. Networks big and small and a couple of streamers (just not that one) came through the Beverly Hilton Hotel prepared with narratives, talking points and spin — as well as the occasional buzzy show — during the biannual event.
The Hollywood Reporter slogged through (nearly) the whole damn thing and, below, brings you the good (Modern Love!), the bad (“premium female” is apparently a demo) and the lingering questions that remain (seriously, exec sessions are valuable).
Audience Network and DC Universe
Both WarnerMedia/AT&T-backed platforms presented interesting shows (Mr. Mercedes and animated Harley Quinn, respectively) but no execs were around to weigh in on the futures of either destination, given their corporate parent’s investment in HBO Max. DC Universe, home to thousands of digital comics, has an additive value and its originals are already starting to slowly move over to the HBO Max streaming platform with Doom Patrol (an announcement many industry insiders likely missed during frenzy of Comic-Con). Will other DC Universe originals stream concurrently on both platforms if Doom Patrol is more successful on one over the other? And will cable platform Audience Network stick with originals or will those resources, too, go to HBO Max? If only an exec had been there to weigh in.
Everything with that divisive Game of Thrones finale? Look at those Emmy nominations! Anything that happened behind the scenes on season two of Big Little Lies with director Andrea Arnold? It’s all “misinformation,” per HBO programming president Casey Bloys. And that “HBO Max” name of parent company WarnerMedia’s forthcoming streaming service? “Flattering!” As for HBO’s subscriber losses? That’s Cinemax’s fault, not subscribers fleeing to other subscription options now that Game of Thrones has ended. By the time the slog of press tour ended, not even the Game of Thrones creators were still with HBO.
In other news: Los Espookys lives and J.J. Abrams’ first created series since Felicity? Yeah, there are already issues — which surfaced after Bloys’ time before press.
Buzz meter: Damon Lindelof has something larger he wants to say with his highly anticipated take on Watchmen. Judging from the TCA room’s reaction, we give it an 9 out of 10 on the buzz meter.
You get a first-look deal! And you get a first-look deal! Aaaaand YOU get a first-look deal! Lord of the Rings is moving along for a production start date in 2020. As for how Amazon will compete with Netflix and Disney+ and Hulu and HBO Max and Apple? Never mind those guys and their big volume, Amazon is in the content curation business! That’s why Jennifer Salke quietly canceled five scripted shows during its sleepy Saturday morning presentation. But none of that matters anyway since subscribers will stick with Prime no matter what for free shipping, with the billions of dollars Amazon spends on content really just the cherry on top of having toilet paper delivered for free. (And Jen, we want more Fleabag, too.)
In other news: Amazon apparently really likes fairy sex and The Expanse.
Buzz meter: Episodic anthology Modern Love may have the best new-show buzz out of press tour. We give it a 10 out of 10 on the buzz meter.
“We want premium female!” Starz COO Jeffrey Hirsch used Outlander as a template to express what the premium cable network is looking for as part of its Lionsgate-owned, post-Chris Albrecht era. As for what “premium female” actually means, consider the news from its time at TCA: a renewal for The Girlfriend Experience, a Power spinoff starring Mary J. Blige and a modern take on Dangerous Liaisons. Also, when Outlander is the sweet spot of your ideal demo, don’t piss off the creator and star with a sexist comment.
Disney+ will be an add-on available on the service, which continues to see its 28 million subscribers (as of May) grow. Head of originals Craig Erwich — who days later would have a new boss — boasted that Hulu offers the “most choice, flexibility and control in the marketplace” — and now it’s making a food push. Bonus: Designing Women will be the next classic show binged by half your family, and Amy Schumer is plotting her TV return (and streaming debut) with a scripted comedy series set to join a lineup that will include a fourth season of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Buzz meter: Kat Dennings is ready for her moment with Dollface. 7.5 on the buzz meter.
The female-focused basic cable network (aka the original home of “premium women” but smart enough to never use that phrasing) is leaning into what worked and is planning a follow-up special to its Emmy-nominated Surviving R. Kelly while also plotting another docuseries in the franchise tackling Jeffrey Epstein. And their movie brand? The college cheating scandal is up next. A smarter brand is beginning to (finally) emerge beyond those attempts at scripted.
Buzz meter: Listen, TV critics love Megan Hilty — especially when she sings. And her Patsy and Loretta co-star Jessie Mueller? Yeah, she ain’t bad either. 7 on the buzz meter.
TBS and TNT
If ever there were cable networks most in dire need of an executive session, it’s these WarnerMedia brands. Drama Snowpiercer is moving to TBS, the home of comedies and Big Bang Theory repeats? TBS viewers are watching originals on any other platform than the linear network. And those rumors about all scripted series moving to HBO Max? Yeah, they’re not getting any quieter.
In other news: Animal Kingdom scores another season, and we may have found our new Designated Survivor heir apparent when it comes to showrunner changes as The Last O.G. is now on its third in three seasons (and we’re optimistic about this latest blast from the past).
The most-watched broadcast network is making diversity and inclusion strides, but still has a long way to go — especially on the unscripted side — as the press corps lit up entertainment president Kelly Kahl and his top lieutenant Thom Sherman with questions about issues on hits Big Brother and Survivor. Meanwhile, Bull was renewed because viewers — 10 million of them! — like Michael Weatherly, even though the network paid actress Eliza Dushku a multimillion-dollar settlement following allegations of sexual harassment by the star and exec producer. Respectfully, buzzwords like “leadership training” aren’t a good enough answer. As for big-swing summer launch Love Island, those lackluster linear ratings are not a problem, as CBS renewed the series for a second season.
Buzz meter: The TCA ballroom loves Robert and Michelle King. And Evil may be just promising enough. 7.5 on the buzz meter.
CBS All Access
Executive Marc DeBevoise isn’t worried about the onslaught of streaming services set to enter the marketplace because his CBS-backed platform, which launched in October 2014, has already learned and adapted to lessons all the upstarts will have to face in the coming years. He noted CBS All Access, combined with Showtime’s direct-to-consumer offering, has 8 million subscribers and hopes that tally will grow to 25 million by 2022. On the programming side, CBS TV Studios-produced CW drama Nancy Drew will stream exclusively on CBS All Access in what could be the first of a long-term arrangement for originals from the younger-skewing broadcaster (which did not renew its Netflix output deal). Elsewhere,The Man Who Fell to Earth, from Star Trek franchise captain Alex Kurtzman, has been picked up straight to series. And those castings for The Stand that leaked a few months ago? They’re official now! Those are impressive — and genre-heavy — announcements for an outlet who politely declined to reveal just how many of its subscribers are drawn in by Star Trek. Insert “streamers don’t release ratings!” joke here.
Entertainment presidents Gary Levine and Jana Winograde say the CBS-owned premium cable network is a “boutique” option to billion-dollar spenders HBO, Netflix, Amazon, Apple and — oh, you get the point. Still, the cabler plans to increase scripted and unscripted originals by a combined 30 percent as it prepares to say farewell to Homeland (pushed — again — to February 2020) and The Affair. Still, there’s gas left in the tank for multiple seasons of Shameless and Billions, as well as The L Word and Penny Dreadful. Speaking to Levine’s “we’d rather get it right than fast” mandate, Halo is chugging along just fine (it was picked up in 2014!) after changing directors and adding a second showrunner. As for those allegations of misconduct by The Chi star Jason Mitchell and SMILF showrunner Frankie Shaw, that apparently comes with the territory of cultivating new voices? Okaaaaaay.
In other news: City on a Hill — you know, the show with Kevin Bacon? — has been renewed for season two.
Buzz meter: We’re going to file this under pleasant surprise: Kirsten Dunst and On Becoming a God in Central Florida? What was YouTube thinking letting this one go?! 10 on the buzz meter.
Network president Mark Pedowitz is fresh off saying farewell to Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and iZombie and is poised to part ways with network-defining hits Supernatural and Arrow (as well as The 100) during the 2019-2020 season. The exec, broadcast’s longest-tenured chief, will stick with what works as he looks for more shows from DC Comics and Archie’s Riverdale world. As for renewing low-rated rookies All American and In the Dark, digital returns cemented those pickups as The CW’s new digital strategy will likely help boost linear viewership. Also, for the love of at least our sanity, please stop asking about Supernatural spinoffs. It. is. never. going. to. happen.
Karey Burke’s second time before the press at TCA did not go as smoothly as her first. The ABC Entertainment president’s message about the strength of broadcast — and the Disney-owned broadcaster since January — was totally overshadowed by a show that wasn’t even at TCA. Taking the stage and facing a barrage of questions about former The Rookie star Afton Williamson’s allegations of sexual harassment and racial discrimination, Burke — like ABC and producers Entertainment One — was still looking for answers from an investigation that launched in June. As for disgruntled Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu and embattled Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss, all is allegedly fine. It was a decidedly different press tour for Burke, who has a reputation for speaking her mind, as she did when she unveiled her focus on bringing women back to the network during her February debut.
In other news: Two more Jimmy Kimmel-Norman Lear live comedies — though it’s unclear which titles will be adapted — were ordered. And that long-gestating Little Mermaid live will actually air in November, with a pretty decent cast. ABC is also back in the event series space and looking for even more franchises. Oh, and those Idol judges? Yeah, they’re back.
Buzz meter: Black-ish prequel Mixed-ish hits the kid casting jackpot again for ABC. (We’re not going to complain that there are now two distinctive family comedies on the network that are both set in the ’80s, just please send us a soundtrack.) 8 on the buzz meter.
FX chief John Landgraf, the so-called Mayor of Television, did not deliver one of his more recent state of the industry missives, but instead used his first TCA as a Disney employee to stress how much exciting content is coming to his network, which continues to grow its original roster with a robust nonfiction slate. News of that, as well as that Atlanta is back on track to begin production on season three — and four! — in spring 2020 was totally overshadowed by the biggest headline to come out of TCA. In a carefully orchestrated announcement that somehow never leaked, Landgraf revealed Impeachment, the Monica Lewinsky-produced third season of Emmy-winning anthology American Crime Story. The star-studded season will debut mere weeks before the presidential election in 2020, which was met with near immediate backlash that elicited obvious frustration from the typically cool Landgraf. “I don’t believe it’s going to determine who is the next president of the United States,” he said. “I think that’s a little hysterical.”
In other news: Snowfall will return for a fourth season.
Buzz meter: FX opened the day with a screening of Martin Freeman comedy Breeders, which despite opening the 13th (!) day of press tour, easily won the room. 9.5 on the buzz meter.
In his second visit to TCA, Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier was in full sales mode (again), this time coming prepared with a few (if not totally specific) pitches for working with the slimmed down, studio-free independent broadcast network. And since Fox doesn’t have a natural in-house host for the Emmys this year (and don’t you dare suggest Tim Allen), the ceremony will pay homage to all the big TV hits that have signed off this year and go host-less. And, no, we aren’t buying that rationale, either.
In other news: Jeff Davis (Teen Wolf) is Fox’s first overall deal — though it is broadcast only.
Buzz meter: Who doesn’t love another hot mess of Beverly Hills, 90210 gossip? If only we’d asked about the showrunner change and all those writers who quit. Whoops!
Bonus pro tip: For a network betting so heavily on sports, consider trotting out actual executives who can speak to the (many) questions the press had vs. letting your on-air talent nearly filibuster the panel and collectively shrug their shoulders at fastballs.
Listen, you guys were the only one of the five broadcast networks to not host an exec session. And the press loves a lot of your programming — The Good Place, Superstore, Will & Grace, Law & Order: SVU, This Is Us — and Sunnyside, Perfect Harmony and even by the numbers legal drama Bluff City Law look promising. But the TCA room isn’t filled with monsters whose lone purpose is to throw verbal grenades at executives. That said, this is our missive for you to consider having Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks — you know, the dudes who replaced Bob Greenblatt as entertainment president in September 2018 and whom many TCA members likely couldn’t pick out of a lineup — actually take the stage to lay out their vision for the network and — gasp! — even take a victory lap.
Buzz meter: Sunnyside is giving off some serious Parks and Rec vibes. 7.5 on the buzz meter.
Bonus apology: We’re sorry we made The Good Place stars Ted Danson and Kristen Bell cry. Maybe some of our members are monsters.
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