‘Was TV colour back then, mis­ter?’

It’s been a quar­ter-century since our first tele­vi­sion press tour and the small-screen land­scape is vastly dif­fer­ent

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - BRAD OSWALD SUM­MER TV PRESS TOUR

OH, my, how things have changed. In pre­par­ing for the lat­est edi­tion of the U.S. net­works’ press tour in Los Angeles — the semi-an­nual gath­er­ing of TV crit­ics from around North Amer­ica and the pro­duc­ers, net­work ex­ec­u­tives, ac­tors and writ­ers who make the tele­vi­sion pro­grams that fill the prime­time sched­ule — it oc­curred to me the other day that this sum­mer’s jaunt to south­ern Cal­i­for­nia marks the 25th an­niver­sary of the first time I made the trip. Which, of course, prompts a few re­flec­tive thoughts: Where has the time gone?

Jeep­ers, I’m quickly ap­proach­ing crusty-old-guy ter­ri­tory (some might ar­gue I’m al­ready there).

And, mostly, tele­vi­sion is a very dif­fer­ent medium now com­pared with what it was in the sum­mer of 1989, when I at­tended my first TV press tour in L.A.

Back then, there were only four full-time U.S. broad­cast net­works — ABC, CBS and NBC, along with the pub­lic broad­caster, PBS. Fox, which was not yet avail­able to Win­nipeg view­ers, was a cheeky up­start that was air­ing only orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming (in­clud­ing Mar­ried... With Chil­dren, 21 Jump Street, It’s Garry Shan­dling’s Show and The Tracey Ull­man Show; The Simpsons’ ar­rival was still five months away) three nights a week.

The ca­ble-TV realm was also still in its early ado­les­cence, with only a few scat­tered spe­cialty net­works mak­ing pre­sen­ta­tions dur­ing a sin­gle day on the TV press tour.

The top-rated U.S.-net­work shows of the 198889 sea­son were The Cosby Show, Roseanne, A Dif­fer­ent World, Cheers and 60 Min­utes, and the most talked-about new se­ries in the fall of ’89 were ABC’s Chicken Soup (a sit­com star­ring

Jackie Ma­son and Lynn Red­grave), CBS’s Ma­jor Dad (a com­edy fea­tur­ing Ger­ald McRaney and Shanna Reed) and The Fa­mous Teddy Z (a sit­com star­ring Jon Cryer and Alex Rocco), and NBC’s Bay­watch (which was can­celled af­ter one sea­son, but was res­ur­rected as a syn­di­cated se­ries by star David Has­sel­hoff and lived on for an­other decade).

Back then, the TV press tour was a leisurely, laid-back af­fair; each net­work had three days to present its new shows, and be­cause the crit­ics and re­porters in at­ten­dance were mostly news­pa­per types, the sched­ule in­cluded reg­u­lar blocks of “writ­ing time” that would al­low them to tap out col­umns and re­views, of­ten us­ing old-fash­ioned de­vices called type­writ­ers and fax ma­chines, to send copy to their ed­i­tors back home.

Press-con­fer­ence rooms were a haze of acrid blue smoke, as the no­tion of non-smok­ing work­places was still years away. And ev­ery day of the press tour, just af­ter the morn­ing set of in­ter­views, a lunch ses­sion would oc­cur, com­plete with an open bar that con­tin­ued un­til the end of the busi­ness day.

It goes with­out say­ing that af­ter­noon in­ter­views oc­ca­sion­ally got a bit testy. In the sum­mer of ’89, a cou­ple of cranky (and per­haps over-served) crit­ics made the star of ABC’s new sit­com Free Spirit cry. At night, the net­works would throw elab­o­rate par­ties that al­lowed press types to min­gle, chat and do in­ter­views with ac­tors and pro­duc­ers from all the new and re­turn­ing prime-time shows. Af­ter­ward, back at the ho­tel, hos­pi­tal­ity suites would re­main open un­til the last rev­eller de­cided it was time to re­tire for the evening (or, more likely, early morn­ing).

There was no In­ter­net, no blog­ging, no Twit­ter, no Face­book. The no­tion of a lap­top com­puter in a press-con­fer­ence room seemed silly and fu­tur­is­tic. The TV press tour of 1989 was strictly a note­book-and-pen af­fair.

These days, it’s a much dif­fer­ent story. Dur­ing in­ter­view ses­sions, the con­fer­ence room at the Beverly Hil­ton Ho­tel will be a sea of lap­top com­puter screens, tablets and smart­phones, with ev­ery ques­tion and ev­ery an­swer — along with ev­ery hair­style, cloth­ing choice and shoe se­lec­tion — be­ing blogged and tweeted by dozens of writ­ers em­ployed by web­sites and other on­line pub­li­ca­tions.

It’s a Twit­ter frenzy; if you’re into that sort of thing, keep an eye on the hash­tag #TCA14 for the next cou­ple of weeks.

The ca­ble por­tion of the press tour is a mas­sive and im­por­tant part of the mix — over a four-day span, dozens of spe­cialty nets, rang­ing from HBO, Dis­cov­ery and CNN to Al Jazeera Amer­ica, El Rey Net­work and Amer­i­can He­roes Chan­nel will stage ses­sions for nearly 50 new and re­turn­ing shows.

The ma­jor net­works fol­low, with ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW (along with ca­ble nets that fall un­der their cor­po­rate um­brel­las), as well as PBS, each tak­ing a cou­ple of days to present their new shows to the as­sem­bled press.

There are still net­work-spon­sored events — cock­tail shmoozes and Hol­ly­wood-ish par­ties of a slightly less elab­o­rate na­ture — on most evenings, of­fer­ing crit­ics, re­porters and blog­gers min­gle-and-chat ac­cess to a pared-down ros­ter of TV stars. Mar­ti­nis will be served on the set of Show­time’s Masters of Sex, the Hall­mark Chan­nel is stag­ing a North Pole Christ­mas Cel­e­bra­tion in July and U.S. ca­ble’s Syfy chan­nel will make some waves with a Shark­nado 2- themed pool party.

Among the most buz­zwor­thy new ti­tles to be show­cased at the sum­mer 2014 ver­sion of the TV press tour are ABC’s How to Get Away With Mur­der, a Shonda Rhimes-pro­duced thriller that will be sched­uled along­side Scan­dal; CBS’s Madam Sec­re­tary, which stars Téa Leoni as the U.S. sec­re­tary of state; NBC’s Con­stan­tine, a graphic-novel spinoff star­ring Matt Ryan; and Fox’s Gotham, a comic-book pre­quel to the Bat­man saga.

In all, more than two dozen new shows will pre­mière on the big U.S. net­works this fall. One of them might be­come the next Cheers, but the bet­ting here is most will meet the fate that awaited Chicken Soup and Teddy Z back in 1989.

HBO will be pro­mot­ing a new minis­eries, Olive Kit­teridge, which stars Frances McDor­mand, while AMC will be pre­view­ing its much-dis­cussed Break­ing Bad pre­quel, Bet­ter Call Saul.

And the Free Press, a quar­ter-century af­ter its first visit to the TV press tour, will be there. Watch for my reg­u­lar dis­patches from L.A. in our daily-paper pages and at www.win­nipegfreep­ress.com; you can also fol­low the press-tour fun on Twit­ter (@BradOswald).

Yes, a whole lot has changed. But 25 years later, this is still go­ing to be a whole lot of fun.

In all, more than two dozen new shows will pre­mière on the big U.S. net­works this fall.


Téa Leoni is the U.S. sec­re­tary of state in Madam Sec­re­tary, one of the new fall of­fer­ings on CBS.

The Cosby Show was one of the top-rated U.S.-net­work shows of the 1988-89 sea­son.


Kather­ine Heigl stars in State of Af­fairs on NBC.

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