After the TV industry unveils its new-season schedules and series to advertisers in New York each May, it takes the show on the road to a swank Southern California hotel ballroom to coax attention from television-centric news reporters and critics.
The annual summer meeting of the Television Critics Association, with series screenings and more than 100 Q&A sessions held over the past two weeks with platoons of stars, producers and executives, is akin to a crash course in upcoming small screen fare.
Here are highlights from the event held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, famous as home to the Golden Globes ceremony but doing less glamorous duty as a makeshift conference room.
Some actors get by very well on their own wits, even when faced with a roomful of some 200 occasionally grumpy reporters and a barrage of unpredictable questions. Make that actresses, in particular.
“As you’re working with the kids, did it inspire you to write any new material?” was a query directed to Tiffany Haddish, host of ABC’s reality show reboot, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”
“Yes. And take my birth control,” replied Haddish.
Sitcom veteran Patricia Heaton (“The Middle, “Everybody Loves Raymond”) was charmingly self-deprecating about her role as a late-in-life medical intern on CBS’ new “Carol’s Second Act.”
“I kept saying to (the producers), ‘I don’t think people will really believe I’m in my 50s, right? Do I need to do gray in my hair?” They’re like, ‘No. You don’t need to do anything,” said Heaton, after cheerfully pegging her age as 61.
Tracee Ellis Ross, producer of a “black-ish” prequel about her character, Bow, and her unconventional parents, was asked what elements of ABC’s new “mixed-ish” reflect her own life.
“None,” she replied.
“Not a single thing?” probed the questioner.
“I did not grow up on a commune,” replied Ross. “I have way more siblings than Bow Johnson has. I am not a doctor. My mom is not a lawyer.”
At that point, “mixed-ish” cast member Tika Sumpter jumped in to play foil, asking, “Who’s your mom?”
“Mariah Carey,” shot back Ross, daughter of Diana Ross. ( Carey, however, does the “mixed-ish” theme song .)
A PRICELESS COMPLIMENT FOR 50 CENT
“There is no end to this,” rapper, actor and “Power” executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson said when asked what he wants to accomplish next. That inspired one reporter to label him this generation’s Quincy Jones, the legendary musician and producer.
Jackson promptly stepped away from his fellow panelists and made a beeline toward the journalist.
“That is a really big compliment. Take a picture of me and her,” a delighted Jackson commanded a photographer. “I’ve heard a lot of things about myself. I’ve never heard ‘the new Quincy Jones.’ That was a good one.”
Courtney Kemp, “Power” creator and executive producer, couldn’t resist teasing Jackson.
“That’s great. We’ll see how Quincy Jones feels about it,” she said, smiling.
Most outlets were willing to put their programming chiefs in front of reporters — NBC was an exception — and they did their best to stick to touting past successes and next season’s hoped-for hits. But they were pressed on substantive off-screen issues as well, including misconduct claims that loom especially large in the #MeToo era.
Executives’ responses fell within carefully scripted boundaries but proved revealing nonetheless.
Asked about sexual misconduct and racism allegations leveled by “The Rookie” co-star Afton Williams at crew members , ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke said the network was withholding judgment until a third-party investigator, retained by series producer Entertainment One, had completed its work.
Could waiting for the findings allow potential problems on other shows to go unchecked? Burke’s answer was to reiterate that ABC doesn’t produce “The Rookie,” and to highlight a safeguard apparently already in place when the misconduct alleged by Williamson occurred.
“We have an HR partner that is available to every one of our shows, and I would hope that if there were any ongoing situations that someone on that set would feel comfortable going to the HR partner on that show,” she said.
CBS executives were asked about their renewal of “Bull” despite actress Eliza Dusku’s claim that she was openly harassed by star Michael Weatherly on the set and then fired by executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron after complaining. She received a $9.5 million settlement.
Weatherly and Caron are receiving “leadership coaching,” CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl replied, without expanding on what that meant. He later cited Weatherly’s continued audience appeal despite the allegations, and the show’s success.
“It’s a popular show that we want to keep on our air … and it’s a very good show, as well,” Kahl said.
RATINGS, SO OLD SCHOOL
Broadcasters and cable channels dependent on commercial sales routinely make their audience numbers public. Streaming services don’t operate that way.
Some selectively release viewership tallies, such as Netflix’s impressive (if not independently verified) claim in July that 40 million people watched the season-three opener of “Stranger Things” over four days.
Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke isn’t following suit for her platform’s series, including the Emmy-winning “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” It wouldn’t be germane to the business model, she said, with its focus on the roughly 100 million Amazon Prime “customers” — viewers are not part of the company lexicon — who get shows along with the joy of free shipping (please note: on eligible items).
“We have a very unique business in the sense that our entire north star is to entertain and delight Prime customers all over the world … We’re not in the volume business. We’re in the curated business,” Salke said.
Lynn Elber can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber .