Saturday, August 4, 2012

Behind-The-Scenes at #TCAs12...

The last two weeks (oh how it feels like so much more...) were spent freezing my @$$ off in a ballroom in a Beverly Hills hotel while the various networks paraded their new fall shows and stars in front of me (and about two hundred other journalists). The Television Critics Association Tour happens twice a year, and is something akin to journalist boot camp. It's a marathon, not a sprint, of breaking news, live-blogging, interviews, parties, and when we're lucky, swag. I cover the daily panels over on my column at LA Examiner, and I do interviews for a handful of other outlets. But here you can catch some of the most notable "behind the scenes" anecdotes and happenings from #TCAs12.

NBC BRINGS TWO MONKEYS TO A POOL PARTY. To celebrate Crystal the Monkey's ongoing deal with NBC (in new sitcom Animal Practice), the primate posed for photos with the network's other stars and journalists alike-- even giving us kisses. Todd Palin brought his wife Sarah (yes, that Sarah) to the party, too. He was there to promote his new show Stars Earn Stripes, and she...well, I'm not really sure why she was there. No one usually brings significant others to these things, unless they, too, have a show on the network. I hope this wasn't some kind of foreshadowing! I'm pretty sure she just wanted to steal some limelight for a few extra seconds.

DANA FOX IS THE BREAKOUT STAR OF TCA. On a normal tour, one might expect the biggest personality to come out of FOX TCA day to be Simon Cowell. Or Gordon Ramsay. This tour, however, held high hopes for Britney Spears, who was appearing via satellite as the new X-Factor judge, as well as Mindy Kaling who is so witty in 140 character bursts on Twitter, we expected she'd be the Zooey Deschanel of this year's tour, with critics hanging on her every word. That didn't happen, though. Spears was too sedated (in an Anna Nicole Smith sort of way), and Kaling just seemed reluctant to talk about anything, but especially what's to come in her show. Instead, it was newcomer Dana Fox, the creator of Ben and Kate, that engaged the room in a surprising and endearing way, regaling us with humorous tales of her real life brother, on whom her show is based. I'll admit I didn't love her pilot, but I now love and want to supper her, and for that I will keep watching and writing about the show.

GOOGLE NEEDS TO SPONSOR THESE THINGS. I'm just going to say it: the level of respect that the journalists in the main panel room show the people on stage is appalling. I get it: there are not enough hours in the day to watch every show, and sometimes your editor assigns you something to cover that you don't know much about. But it is your job as a professional and a human being to research on your own and not waste people's time with questions that are easily answered through Google. Additionally, why would you want to admit to someone that the question you are about to ask comes from the fact that you're currently on their IMDb page and are confused or curious about some random anecdote? Save the ridiculous and the personal for the one-on-ones at the party!

And on that note, LINGERING CHILDHOOD QUESTIONS ANSWERED. It's no secret that I grew up a fan of television and still hold a number of programs and people very dear to me because of the memories they are attached to. This particular tour saw me interviewing a couple of them, and what started out as a Twitter joke between other journos of my generation and I about referencing those projects in our interviews became a reality. First Jonathan Jackson, on his own, brought up Camp Nowhere during our video chat about Nashville. Similarly, Eric Close began talking about his time on Without a Trace without prompting, as well. Then, inspired and comfortable enough that people have a sense of humor about it, I asked Leah Remini (there to promote Family Tools) what she thought Stacy Carosi (Saved by the Bell) was up to these days. It slipped my mind to point out to Nancy Pimental just how often quoting The Sweetest Thing still happens, though, and sadly, by the time my friend Claire reminded me that Charles Esten was Secretary #67 in Murphy Brown, I had long-finished my interview with him. But hey, I have to save something for potential set visits, right?  ;)

IF YOU TAKE A PHOTO BUT DON'T TWEET/FACEBOOK/TUMBLE/INSTAGRAM IT, DOES THE MEMORY COUNT? I should preface this by explaining that I am not a member of the TCA organization. Instead, I get invited to attend the individual days of panels and parties by the networks. However, the TCA has a rule against taking photographs in the ballroom or at the parties. I presume the rule may have started to keep the talent from being caught in candid moments by the very people who often capitalize on such gaffes. I presume also it has something to do with not wanting to be seen as a "fan," which is a dirty word in that room. Regardless, it was a big deal this tour, prompting me to feel like I was about to get scolded when I posted a photo of my journo friends and I on the Friends couch at Warner Brothers' Paley Center "Television: Out of the Box" exhibit...only to realize the older gentleman who joined us in the snapshot was The Wild Wild West's Robert Conrad. See, I went over to the two who were sitting on the couch to ask if they would mind getting up for a moment while my friends and I took a photo. The couch was not simply there for tired party guests to lounge; it is an iconic prop and one of few photo opportunities in the exhibit. The woman (publicist? wife?) got up but I believe misunderstood and thought I was asking if we could take a photo with Mr. Conrad. He got very excited at the prospect of pretty girls posing with him and decided to stay. I probably should have asked my friend Clarissa to photoshop my friend Damian over him before putting it on Facebook-- or here-- though...

BAYLIE AND RYLIE CREGUT AND CANDY AT THE SOHO HOUSE. The SoHo House is a fancy schmancy L.A. restaurant that requires membership to get in on a normal night, but FOX rented it out for their party. I couldn't have cared less about being let into a private, prestigious L.A. hotspot (the view was nice and all, but it was no ocean imagery!), but I was thrilled to see the young ladies who play Hope Chance on Raising Hope were invited, as well. And I was even happier to see they were happy to play with the candy bar FOX set up, rather than run around like the rest of underage Hollywood let into a place with an open bar!

CONNIE BRITTON, STILL AMAZING. Sadly, I was running around the ABC party so crazy I missed my shot to get to chat with Britton, but as her publicist was dragging her away, she made the telephone signal and told me to call her. It's too bad you can't GIF real life moments, because this one was pretty adorable. 

THE RACE AND GENDER OF IT ALL. I can't wait for the day when questions about colorblind casting and why a character "had to be" a certain ethnicity, race, religion, or gender are a thing of the past, but this tour was certainly not that day. Though I have to say, I think we as the media, telling the average viewers what to think about a show through our cover and reviews, are an ever bigger part of the problem than Hollywood itself when our question to Elementary producers is why the show depicts Watson as an Asian American woman (Lucy Liu) without drawing attention to the fact that Watson is an Asian American woman. To me, Elementary is doing something right by casting someone like Liu in a lead role without making it a teachable moment. The character is Asian American, but it doesn't define or limit her; it just is. The character is like any other. It shouldn't need to be explained, on-screen or off, and when we as the media make statements otherwise, we're the ones pointing to it and saying it's weird.

CATHERINE REITMAN HAS MY DREAM JOB. About a year ago I reached out to Jonathan Taylor Thomas' agent to see if he would be interested in doing a "Where Are You Now?" type of feature interview. I never heard back. VH1 presented their new fall show, Miss You Much, hosted by Catherine Reitman, which basically dives deeply into such nostalgia by catching up on-screen with fan favorites from Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills, 90210 and boybands of yesteryear. Reitman basically admitted that she had huge, borderline inappropriate crushes on a number of the people she is now interviewing for the show, and her interview style doesn't shy away from that fact. As much as I hate being on-camera, I have to admit I couldn't help but wonder why I'm not at least writing and producing this show. Because it's every thing I ever wanted: flipping through pages of Tiger Beat from the 1990s and then sitting down with these once-stars to see what they've been up to, and what they look like, today. I may have to send in my resume for season two. Reitman didn't land Thomas either, but perhaps the two of us as a team could make it happen!

And since we started this list with a pool party, why not end there, too? Discovery Channel hosted the final party of the tour for critics at the hotel pool, providing us with sushi, sand sculptures, and HOLOGRAM SHARKS! To celebrate Shark Week's very special anniversary, Discovery turned the pool into the sea by projecting images of great whites on the walls and in the water. It wasn't your typical pool party, in that people weren't encouraged to dive in, but honestly, I was so exhausted just being at the tail-end of the event that I was happy to sit back with some shark fin fondant covered cupcakes and rest on a fake-blood splattered throw pillow. It was the perfect, low-key event for just that and a great way to round out until another tour.

See y'all in six months!

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