BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – The theme song for the annual rollout of fall and winter television shows could have been that cowboy classic “Home on the Range,” where “seldom is heard a discouraging word” (seldom, anyway, from the throngs of producers and stars pitching their shows), “and the skies are not cloudy all day” (and even if they were, who would know, since the 17 days of sessions hosted by a vast array of networks were sequestered in the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, otherwise the home of such glitzy affairs as the Golden Globes).
The marathon TCA meetings, which concluded Thursday, proved to be fun for the gathering of scores of TV critics and reporters. Until their fun became an endurance contest – both for the journalists and the networks and streaming services presenting.
“Lucky me, winning this coveted spot on Day 16 of your tour,” cracked David Nevins as he met the reporters’ weary eyes. “That’s what I was hoping for!”
Nevins, who is president of Showtime Networks, came with a number of fine shows to promote. But wretched excess haunts the television landscape.
“There may be too much good TV,” Nevins conceded, though quickly adding, “There’s never enough great TV. And we’re trying hard to make great TV.”
His assessment came days after FX Networks boss John Landgraf forecast that, during 2015, the growing number of scripted series on the air is likely to surpass 400.
“I long ago lost the ability to keep track of every scripted TV series, as I know you do, even though we all do this for a living,” he told the crowd. “But this year, I finally lost track of the ability to keep track of every programmer who is in the scripted programming business.”
Landgraf was building on remarks delivered six months ago at the Winter TCA meeting: “The amount of competition is just literally insane,” he said at the time.
Now he’s predicting a course correction in the next year or two – a reversal of the escalating numbers of shows as well as the networks that provide them.
That was a rare discouraging word. Or, maybe, just a reality check.
Other highlights from the 100-plus TCA sessions:
– Stephen Colbert, who premieres as host of CBS' “The Late Show” next month, amused his audience during his question-and-answer session, and himself – even pausing to share a wisecrack about Donald Trump to the outside world through his Twitter feed.
– Trump, GOP front-runner in the presidential race, was invoked by CNBC’s Jay Leno and USA’s Donny Deutsch as well as NBC chief Bob Greenblatt, who declared Trump officially fired from the network after having been unofficially fired weeks before. And at ABC’s Shonda Land panel, Shonda Rhimes was asked to imagine how Trump would be handled by Washington power broker Olivia Pope on “Scandal,” prompting Rhimes to muse, “Do you think she would tell him to do something about the hair?” That spurred Ellen Pompeo, star of Rhimes’ long-running hospital drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” to propose referring Trump to her character, Dr. Meredith Grey, “and I could cut his vocal cords out.”
– Trevor Noah, soon to take over from Jon Stewart the anchor chair on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” told the room that the biggest pressure he’s feeling is to live up to Stewart’s expectations. “I never dreamed that I would be sitting here talking to you now about hosting the show,” he said. “But I always loved it, and I guess Jon knew something about me that I didn’t know at the time.”
– With streaming outlets like Crackle and Amazon Prime joining the Old Guard broadcast networks, CBS president Nina Tassler declared, “Distinctions between television companies and streaming companies miss the point: Pretty much everybody you’ve seen here in the last couple of weeks are both.” And inasmuch as the Tiffany Network wants to retain its gleam in the new world of media, “We want to be wherever people want to watch,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s on TV, a tablet, or even their phone, as long as they’re watching.” (Last fall CBS launched a stand-alone digital subscription package of its shows.)
– The operative meme of the conference, espoused by more than a few network chiefs and showrunners, spoke of telling stories that are “universal in their specificity.” Which sounded good until you stopped to ponder what it meant.
– Reporters raised questions about the name for Fox’s new comedy “The Grinder,” with Fred Savage as a fuddy-duddy small-town lawyer whose brother, played by legendary handsome guy Rob Lowe, is a TV star famous for his role as a larger-than-life lawyer. Inspired by the Grindr hook-up app, Savage joked that a series with “The Grinder” for its title should launch its own app, “where you could find Rob Lowe anywhere and have sex with him: Like, ‘I’m 400 feet from Rob. And there’s an alley.’ ”
– The session for Showtime’s drama “The Affair” went down an existential rabbit hole as reporters grilled cast members on which version of their characters’ often-contradictory recollections is the true story. “There isn’t an objective truth there,” said Joshua Jackson, while co-star Dominic West joked. “I’m totally confused. I thought I’d got it down, but now I’m completely confused.”
– Straight from the frog’s mouth, reporters heard the sad news of Kermit’s recent breakup with Miss Piggy. At the session for ABC’s “The Muppets,” Kermit disclosed that “Piggy and I have gone our separate ways romantically.” But no one within earshot believed this breakup could be permanent. At TCA, hope springs eternal.