DAVID BIANCULLI

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Another Sign This Strike Is a Tough One: For the First Time, the TCA Has Canceled Its Press Tour
December 11, 2007  | By David Bianculli
 
Last night around 11 p.m. ET, members of the Television Critics Association were sent an email delivering some bad news. TCA President Dave Walker of the New Orleans Times Picayune, who has been working exhaustively to preserve the January 2008 TV press tour, pulled the plug. It will be the first TCA semiannual press tour scrubbed since the organization of TV critics and reporters was formed in the late 1970s.

Walker is the hero in this scenario, trying until the last minute to work on Plan B scenarios, and calm and appease broadcast and cable network representatives, understandably concerned critics, writers, producers, talent, and managers of the host hotel. Last night, though, turned out to be the last minute.

"Consider the tour officially canceled," Walker wrote, "whether the strike is settled before January 8 or not."

So what? Why does this matter?

wga-strike.jpg

It matters, for one thing, because the TCA, as a professional journalistic organization, does something at these semiannual events that's unique to reporters covering the arts. In addition to interviewing stars, writers, producers and directors, the TCA insists upon getting regular access to network executives and asking questions about not only programming, but policy, responsibility, ownership, technology and so much more.

In January 2008, the start of a presidential election year, news divisions would be accounted for as well. Reporters and critics at big-city dailies may still enjoy access to these news and entertainment executives, but TCA members in smaller markets, and the readers they represent, are likely to lose their only chance to question these people directly.

Another reason it matters, more pragmatically, is that the networks have just lost another major component of their program-publicity campaigns. Just as they can't promote new series on most TV talk shows - because most of those shows, to this point, remain on strike - bringing casts of new shows to TCA in January no longer is an option.

But the real reason the TCA tour cancellation matters is that it's one more measure of collateral damage. "I'm grateful to the Universal Hilton for the spirit of cooperation and partnership it has demonstrated," Walker said in his letter to fellow critics. "Now, the hotel and its employees have become collateral damage of the strike."

Walker did everything he could to avoid this. He even called upon former TCA presidents and other long-standing tour veterans to offer advice and options as the strike loomed, then happened, then continued. I was honored to be on that committee, and not just because of Walker, who was indefatigable and inspirational throughout.

The committee also impressed me because it displayed something lacking in most TV executive suites and, truth be told, many newspaper newsrooms: institutional memory. Such critics as Tom Jicha of South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Mark Dawidziak of the Cleveland Plain Dealer were, like myself, reporting on the last Writers Guild of America strike in 1988. Jicha remembered valuable press tour history and precedents better than anyone, and Dawidziak recalled the key "collateral damage" issue that Walker's letter brought home.

The previous strike, Dawidziak remembered, rippled through the entire Hollywood community, affecting dry cleaners, restaurants, and all other ancillary service industries, all of which lost 20 percent or more of their business during the lengthy strike. We remember that, but not a lot of people involved in this strike have that sort of longevity.

Which just goes to show you: When it comes to a strike affecting television, if we don't remember our history, we're doomed to repeats.

--

Fresh Air flash: Schedules always are subject are change, but this looks to be a busy week for me on National Public Radio's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. On today's show, I'm scheduled to file a report on my holiday DVD recommendations. Tomorrow, I'm scheduled to interview Marshall Herskovitz about his Quarterlife Internet TV series (which I reviewed here and on Fresh Air). And Friday, I'm the guest host, and also am reviewing the new Ricky Gervais HBO special, his movie-length finale to Extras. As they say, check your local listings.

 

1 Comments

 

ericg said:

The attached picture of signs proclaiming "Writer's Guild on Strike" is troubling; upon closer look, ALL of the signs say "Writer's Guild on Strike, Writer's Guild on Strike", evoking Gene Wilder in "The Producers" glumly chanting "No Way Out". Um, these are writers, no? Yes, we know they're on strike, but how about giving us a little to chew on while we watch the protest? Or does the strike extend to protest signs?

Comment posted on December 12, 2007 9:15 AM

 
 
 
 
 
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