TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 4

The 4th day of the TCA tour started out not with a panel but with a poolside breakfast with the cast of USA’s new series, “Covert Affairs.” Like several of my fellow critics, I’m not a huge fan of events where the network publicists divide with the cast members and conquer the room by bringing the actors by the various tables and saying, “Oh, have you met (INSERT ACTOR’S NAME HERE) yet?” I’m not saying it isn’t kind of cool to be finishing up your danish and have Peter Gallagher and Keri Matchett stroll up…which, as you might’ve guessed, is exactly what happened to me…but at the same time, my concentration is on my breakfast, not on whatever questions I might have for them, so it’s kind of a stilted conversation. I mean, c’mon, man, I haven’t even finished my coffee yet! I did manage to ask Keri if this new gig meant that we wouldn’t be seeing her pop up on “Leverage” again anytime soon, and, alas, she sighed and admitted that it probably did. Damn.

Before I headed back upstairs to the ballroom to get ready for the first proper panel of the day, I waited around for a few minutes in hopes of chatting with Sendhil Ramamurthy and Anne Dudek, but after loitering for 10+ minutes as they talked with someone from TV Guide, I could see no signs of their conversation abating. I finally gave up and decided that I’d just try to grab them at the NBC party that evening…which, FYI, I successfully ended up doing.

The Event

When I watched the pilot for “The Event,” a new sci-fi / action series that will immediately remind viewers of “Lost,” “Fringe,” and possibly even “24,” I was instantly captivated and loved every minute of it. Even as I watched it, though, I knew that my wife would be far less thrilled, owing to the fact that there is a tendency for the proceedings to bounce back and forth in time…and she hates that. Clearly, she’s not the only one, since the topic was addressed almost immediately during the show’s panel, but the show’s executive producers – Nick Wauters, Steve Stark, Evan Katz, and Jeffrey Reiner – reassured us as much as possible.

“It’s definitely something that we’re going to keep using, at least in the near future, as long as it serves character and story,” said Wauters. “But you may not see as much of it as we go along.”

“Also, I think if you look at the pilot, the pilot was about 50 percent flashbacks, believe it or not,” said Stark. “A little over that, actually. That’s not going to be the idea moving forward. In episode 4, there’s a whole series of just getting to know Sean and Leila from a character standpoint, but it’s just that.”

“Time will move forward from episode 2 on,” said Katz. “It will be a more linear approach, and there will be flashbacks, but the story will continue to thrust forward.”

I don’t know if that’ll make my wife feel a heck of a lot better, but it’s something, anyway. It also serves as a reminder that, although “The Event” has a tremendous cast, one which includes Zeljko Ivanek, Laura Innes, Jason Ritter, Sarah Roemer, Scott Patterson, and Blair Underwood (as the President of the United States), as a serialized drama, it’s the producers who hold the answers to all of the truly important questions. Heck, the actors don’t really know anything…and they’re not afraid to admit it!

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TCA Tour: NBC Executive Session

I think it’s fair to say that there wasn’t a single member of the Television Critics Associate who wasn’t chomping at the bit to see how this session was going to go down. With all of the controversy breaking about the reported cancellation of “The Jay Leno Show” and rumors of its host moving to a half-hour slot at 11:35 PM, thereby moving the other members of the late-night line-up – “The Tonight Show starring Conan O’Brien” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” back by an hour, everybody wanted to know how NBC was going to handle damage control.

“I see we have a full house,” said NBC Universal TV chairman Jeff Gaspin, as he walked onto the stage and stood before a ballroom filled with TV critics, many of whom were poised to pounce. “I heard there were some scalpers outside.”

The levity quickly went by the wayside, however, as Gaspin went into the recitation of what one can only presume was a well-tweaked statement, confirming that, starting February 12th, “The Jay Leno Show” will no longer air at 10 PM. He admitted that, although the series performed at acceptable levels for the network, it did not meet the needs of the network’s affiliates, hence the change in programming strategy. He also stated that NBC’s goal was to keep all three of its hosts as part of the late-night landscape – “The Jay Leno Show” at 11:35 PM, “The Tonight Show starring Conan O’Brien” at 12:05 AM, and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” at 1:05 AM – while acknowledging that this plan was in no way a done deal and that talks are still ongoing.

“It’s a fluid situation,” said Gaspin. “Everybody has the weekend to think about it, and we’ll see what happens when we start the new week tomorrow.”

While he would not confirm the hosts’ specific reactions to the new plan, Gaspin said that all three gentlemen were “incredibly gracious and professional” and that they acknowledged that they knew it was a difficult situation. As for anything else that went down during the discussions, he merely described it as a “private conversation,” adding, “When it’s all settled, you can go and ask them what their feelings were.”

Gaspin expects that the new late-night line-up will be in place by the time NBC’s coverage of the Olympics begins in February.

Unsurprisingly, the critics’ claws were soon out, with one wanting to know exactly what happened with the network’s assurances during the summer TCA tour that the success or failure of “The Jay Leno Show” would not be determined fully until the series had run for a full 52-week cycle. Gaspin maintained that the 52-week plan still would’ve been his preference but again cited the affiliates’ concerns as being the driving force behind the comparatively-quick removal of the series from its prime-time berth.

“Starting in November, the affiliates started calling, saying that local news was being affected more than expected,” said Gaspin. By the end of the month, the stations which utilized people meters for their ratings continued their complaints, now citing statistics where, in some cases, #1 local news broadcasts had dropped to #3. Gaspin continued his constant dialogue with the affiliates, requesting that they wait and see how the show would do against repeats…and, indeed, “The Jay Leno Show” did do better, but only by about a tenth of a rating point, still coming in second to either CBS or ABC on a regular basis. When the smaller affiliates without people meters got their November book numbers, “the drum beat started getting louder,” Gaspin said, and as it became progressively more clear that they were only going to be getting more vocal about their displeasure, throwing around comments about possible preemption, “we realized things were not going to go well if it was kept in place.”

Gaspin continued to clarify, however, that despite the feelings of the affiliates, NBC did not feel that “The Jay Leno Show” was a disappointment on a network level. “It was working at acceptable levels financially, making money at 10 PM,” he said. “For the network, it was not a wrong decision.”

He also underlined that, insofar as he was concerned, the reason behind the limited viewership had nothing to do with the show or its level of quality. “There’s a lot of choice at 10 PM,” he said. “We thought it could be everybody’s second choice, but there were just so many other choices that people thought were better.” In the end, Gaspin conceded that “The Jay Leno Show,” while being easy entertainment, simply wasn’t the first or even second choice of enough viewers.

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