Saturday, August 6, 2016
Remembrance Of TV Critics Junkets Past
I was pleasantly surprised to read on the wires then other day that the Television Critics Association convention is once again in full swing in Los Angeles.
I thought it might have been ditched by now because TV critics are a threatened species rapidly facing extinction.
When I joined TCA in 1971 over a hundred TV critics from American newspapers would meet in Los Angeles twice a year.
And there I was the cocky kid critic from the Hamilton Spectator --the only Canadian representative allowed on by the networks.
How did I do it?
I simply phoned the Buffalo affiliates of NBC (WGR-TV0, CBS (WBEN-TV) and ABC (WKBW-TVC) and got them to sign the appropriate documents stating Hamilton was part of their TV market.
In those days the networks paid the way for most of these American scribes including representatives from the ultra fancy New York Times and Boston Globe.
On the last day of the nine-day hoopla the network PR types went around giving out wads of greenbacks to departing critics to help them get home in one piece.
Some critics brought their wives who went out on sopping sprees to Bulloch's and Saks in the afternoons with all expenses paid by the webs.
One critic had lavish wine and cheese parties in his hotel suite every night and signed the chits to the networks.
When I asked one press rep she said "Oh, it's OK. That way we keep the receipts and if he ever dares write something unfortunate over the next year we simply phone him up and remind him of our largesse."
When I landed in LAX the first time an NBC press guy was waiting to whisk me to Julie London's home in Thousand Oaks for a catered lunch.
My bags were sent by taxi to the Century Plaza hotel and every night there were lavish star studded parties in the Grand Ballroom.
Evita was playing across the street at the Shubert theater and networks bought up rows of expensive seats for nights out entertainment.
Each network had three days to strut their wares --screenings of all new series were held in the Grand Ballroom. Doors were locked shut and lunches served but nobody was allowed to leave least they leak news to the competition.
Days would start with news conferences and then we'd all get personalized schedules that plopped us on TV sets all over town.
I remember in 1972 I started out one day on the set of Mission: Impossible, lunched on the set of The Brady Bunch and that afternoon was driven out to the L.A. Aquarium to interview Mike Connors of Mannix.
One day I had lunch with Loretta Swit of M*A*S*H, then visited The Waltons set and had dinner with Bill Macy on the Maude set.
And none of these three series was even on the air --as yet.
Where were all the other networks?
Cable networks did not exist in 1971 and PBS would hold furtive press conferences during the lunch breaks--that's how I met and interviewed Anthony Hopkins who was playing Kean on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre.
There were no computers back then so critics filed their typed copy in the press suite --these went out via FAX.
I once saw an NBC PR type reading one critic's the copy in advance and blacking out text she considered offensive to NBC.
When I asked her about it she huffed "I'm paying for all this. Of course I have that right."
All this was mercilessly reported by Gary Deeb of The Chicago Tribune in his piece for Variety titled "TV's Hack Pack" which was responsible for TV critics seizing the convention and insisting everyone pay his own way.
These days with only a few TV critics still around the ranks are swelled with scribes from the .com universe.
At one recent TCA press conference Sting asked a youngster who he represented and he said "Unclebarky.com".
And I just bet these days "Unclebarkey.com" has a high circulation than The New Yorkb Times.