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Through the years as a TV critic, I’ve had plenty of uncomfortable run-ins, all at the biannual Television Critics Association Press Tour, with people I wrote possibly mean — but definitely true — things about: Jeff Zucker at NBC (numerous times but most notably when I questioned his legacy or lack thereof); hostile schedulers; any number of polite but pointed PBS executives; and one Fox development exec whose mother I made cry twice — when I wrote her daughter’s department should be fired and when I wrote they should be shot.
My feeling always has been that if you dish it out, you have to take it. And though I’ve changed my opinion a number of times and made a point of publicly noting those reversals, I’ve never taken a back step when confronted. Ridiculously enough, some people seem to think that if they corner me, I’m going to fold.
Case in point at the recent summer press tour in Beverly Hills: I walked into the hornet’s nest that is being the person who doesn’t think The Good Wife is great. (It’s very good, not great. Don’t get me started.) At the CBS/Showtime/CW party, not one but two CBS execs — neither named Nina Tassler, by the way — grilled me. Your show was not snubbed by the Emmys, I corrected them. This didn’t go over well. They asked, “What nominated series for best drama were better?” All of them, I said. Then they told me making 22 episodes is somehow more valuable than being top-tier brilliant — and one of them doesn’t seem to understand what Mad Men is really about — but ultimately it ended well and we agreed to disagree.
There’s no end to the awkward at TCA. At a long-ago tour, I found that immediately after saying Jamie Tarses should be fired from ABC and that the two people brought in to help/hinder her were incompetent (Stu Bloomberg) and a mere bean counter (Lloyd Braun), there seemed to be no escaping the trio. (This summer, I braced myself to run into CW president Mark Pedowitz after writing a column that was highly dubious about the viability of his network, but I never did.)
As for CBS, all of that was tempered because I got along just splendidly, as usual, with Leslie Moonves — the first thing he mentioned was liking one of my tweets from earlier in the day. Not only does Moonves get it, but he’s deeply involved. Years ago, I told him I’d have to miss most of the CBS day — including his executive session — because I didn’t want to miss the British Open. Moonves is a huge golf fan, so he said, “Just show up and I’ll make sure you don’t miss anything.” So I did — and he ended up having someone watch and find me every 10 minutes with updates: “Tiger just birdied, he’s three up,” etc.
One reason executives are less prone to being pissed off or hold a grudge is that they see the long view (or play the long con, if you’re jaded) and realize they’ll be making a lot more series than just that one. And no matter how high the testing scores, they usually know a show is bad when it’s bad and don’t begrudge honesty.
For the most part, I seem to get along fine with Kevin Reilly at Fox, Bob Greenblatt at NBC, Paul Lee at ABC, David Nevins at Showtime, the gang at HBO, etc. It’s everybody else I worry about.
See, things changed dramatically when I left the San Francisco Chronicle after 10 years to come to The Hollywood Reporter. When I was at the Chronicle, it was one of the top 10 largest dailies in the country, but that didn’t mean anyone in the industry read it. Also, I already had a reputation as tough (no, Katie Couric, not cruel), and it’s not like the trades in this town had a history of that.
It used to be I could see the anger coming because it was only going to come directly from one of three people per network: the entertainment president, series creator or publicity head. I could see them walking toward me.
Things are different now. Executive producers, producers (and there can be half a dozen for each show), writers, actors, agents, development executives of all stripes, studio people and more — that’s the invisible wave. I noticed it last summer, when people saw my TCA badge, looked up and made a pinched face or, worse, started in on me. My defensive maneuver? I’d just nod and say, “I’m sorry, what show are you talking about?”
Last January, a former network president who’s now making shows pushed through the crowd toward me. I knew what was coming. “You’re wrong,” this person said, about a very unfavorable review of mine. “I doubt that,” I said. This person was a drink or two in, unhappy, and I was cornered. We talked a long time. I was not wrong. The show was canceled.
Of course, I do have my limit — qualitatively awful shows that are also massive hits like Two and a Half Men. I steer clear of Chuck Lorre at all costs. No good could come from that exchange.
I’ve also had people go to great lengths to avoid me. One scheduler did it so blatantly this summer that I almost laughed out loud. I had just joined a conversation at a party, and at the first opportunity, he turned his back to me and actually boxed me out of the circle. Point taken.
Sure, now that I’m at THR, there’s the potential for a lot more people to really not like me. That’s fine — I have thick skin. Although, looking back, if it was a little darker, a little more remote, I’m pretty sure Zucker would have tried to stab me. Repeatedly.
See you at the next TCA. Unless I see you first.
Tim Goodman can be reached at Tim.Goodman@thr.com.
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