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One "Cheers" for the TCA Awards: How and When the Awards Really Began
August 4, 2009  | By David Bianculli
cheers-top.jpgLast weekend in Pasadena, critics, producers and stars convened to share the love in what was billed, accurately, as the 25th anniversary of the Television Critics Association Awards. The little-known, little-remembered fact, though, is that two years before the first TCA Awards, there was the one and only TCA Award...

The story begins in the late 1970s. I had been a TV critic for two years when I attended my first TV press tour in 1977, and quickly found kindred souls who were determined to push for journalistic integrity and independence at every opportunity. At the time, the networks reimbursed newspapers for press tour expenses, and controlled the planning and scheduling of set visits and press conferences.

As a whole, TV critics were of two minds about this. TV critics, as a whole, are of at least two minds about anything. Some of us in the post-Watergate era were pushing to take charge as much and as quickly as possible: demanding the appearance on press tour of network executives, paying our own way, and making the scheduling of tour events more of a joint effort.


Others in the press corps at that time were happy with the way things were. These included the critic who, infamously, would pack draperies from home and get them dry cleaned by the hotel, just so the network would foot the bill. Imagine a tour that made room, in the same row of press seats, for Woodward and Bernstein and Martin Short's Jiminy Glick.

But the feisty, independent-minded turks -- people like Ron Alredge of the Charlotte Observer, Lee Winfrey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Barbara Holsopple of the Pittsburgh Press and William Henry III of the Boston Globe -- carried they day. They, like me, were founding members of the Television Critics Association in 1978, and we all became officers or board members.

Those early years, in many ways, were "two steps forward, one step back" affairs, because democracy, in the hands of TCA members, meant so many opinions -- and negative ones as the usual default setting -- that many things done were undone just as quickly.

One thing I remember was getting approval from the officers and board to investigate interest in the creation of an annual TCA book, collecting criticism, essays, TV milestones and other stuff, including an official TCA vote on the year's best TV shows, into a readable yearbook about television. This was way before most books about TV, much less the Internet, and we quickly secured a bid from a publisher.

When we took it back to the membership for approval, though, some members saw too much value in the TCA Awards aspect of the proposal, and wanted to shelve the book and look into creating a TV awards show instead. That led to more disagreement, and another seeming deadlock. No book. No awards show. No awards, period.

So during the summer 1983 portion of the TCA press tour, I asked the officers and board if I could conduct a sort of test-balloon experiment: poll every TCA member in attendance, and compile their collective vote for an official TCA award in a single category: Outstanding New Series. The winner would be announced before the tour was over, and the recipient presented with an official notification.


It sounded like a harmless enough way to test the waters, so the TCA officials said okay, and took it to the membership, who agreed in enough numbers to pass the proposal. That year, it's worth noting, the TCA officials included Ed Bark of the Dallas Morning News (see the previous post for Ed's triumphant return to press tour), our own Diane Holloway (then of the Austin American-Statesman) and, from Maine's Portland Press Herald, the late David Williams, whose little brother Brian is now the anchor of The NBC Nightly News. TCA members on my side, and helping to tally votes, included our own Tom Brinkmoeller.


The winner, I was hoping, would be NBC's St. Elsewhere, but it finished in second place. The winner that year was another freshman NBC show, and another TV masterpiece, from the 1982-83 season, a then-struggling sitcom named Cheers. The TCA presented NBC press representatives (Gene Walsh and Bud Rukeyser, if memory serves) with news of the sitcom's win just prior to an NBC press conference, NBC put out an official press release congratulating Cheers for receiving the first TCA Award, and that was it.


Instantly, TCA members wanted to expand the categories -- but whether to do so on or off TV became an argument that consumed another year of meetings. But two seasons later, in 1984-85, the TCA Awards as we know them were born. Only once, in all the intervening years, were they televised.

Bad idea then. Bad idea now.

But the TCA Awards, I'm proud to say, were and remain a great idea. They started with Cheers... and started with me.



1 Comment


Mac said:

I had forgotten that St. Elsewhere and Cheers both started in 1983. As the American Life Network currently shows St. Elsewhere in chronological order,tonight(Wed.Aug.5)should be the "Cheers" episode,where a few of the doctors from the fictional St. Elsewhere find themselves in the semifictional Cheers bar(both located in that real town of Boston,Mass.) and meet Rita,Norm and Cliff. Interesting that the top billed actors of St. Elsewhere could meet only the second tier stars of Cheers. Sam & Diane are...well,absent. At the time,NBC was hoping that some of the Cheers rating success would rub off on St. Elsewhere. Ah,St. Elsewhere getting Cheers kind of ratings-science fiction.
[Even though I get DirecTV and Dish satellites and Comcast Cable, I still don't have access to American Life Network. It kills me. Consider yourself fortunate... -- David B .]

Comment posted on August 5, 2009 8:15 AM
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