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Inside the tube

TV writer heads to L.A. for semi-annual preview of new shows

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It's the steamy part of July, which means most Manitobans' thoughts are focused on manicured lawns, backyard barbecues, outdoor-patio dining, summer-festival fun, lakeside lounging, boats, beaches and BDI-style frozen treats.

But in the minds of those of us in the watching-TV-for-a-living class, it's already mid-September -- despite what the calendar says, it's long past time to focus on the upcoming prime-time season and time to make the regularly scheduled pilgrimage to smog-shrouded Los Angeles for the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour.

The press tour -- known in TV-biz shorthand simply as "TCAs" -- is a twice-yearly get-together in which TV critics and media-focused reporters from around North America travel to L.A. to spend a couple of weeks previewing new shows and meeting, interviewing and cocktail-party shmoozing with the actors, producers, studio reps and network executives responsible for creating the programming that populates prime time on U.S. network and cable channels (and is purchased by broadcasters and specialty nets on this side of the border).

A TCA press-tour credential is a unique, inside-the-ropes pass that affords TV critics such as yours truly a rare level of access to Hollywood's television industry. The press tour, which takes place at the showbiz history-steeped Beverly Hilton Hotel, is a two-week marathon of interviews, screenings and casual up-close conversations that produces fodder for dozens upon dozens of columns, reviews, feature stories and celebrity tidbits related to the TV business.

Oh, and it's fun, too. It isn't a layabout summer-vacation trip, by any stretch, but as work-related travel goes, the TV press tour -- dubbed "death march with cocktails" by one inspired and perhaps over-served TV critic -- is a pretty darned entertaining way to spend a couple of on-the-job weeks.

Among the events and people we're particularly looking forward to this time around is an inevitable encounter with Winnipeg-born actress Tracy Spiridakos, who takes a huge career leap this fall when she stars in NBC's heavily hyped new J.J. Abrams series Revolution, which speculates on what life would be like in a near-future world without electricity.

Here are a few other items of note on the upcoming TV press-tour schedule:

-- For the first time in 30 years, Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward will be reunited onstage to reflect on the 1983 mini-series The Thorn Birds (joined by co-star Bryan Brown), as part of a panel discussion for PBS's ongoing Pioneers of Television series.

-- The U.S. public broadcaster will preview its upcoming presentation of Call the Midwife, a '50s-era serial that last year became the highest-rated drama debut in BBC history.

-- Documentarian Ken Burns, perennially the most eloquent and informative interview subject on a press-tour schedule, will wax poetic about his new and rather timely PBS project, The Dust Bowl.

-- Fox Broadcasting executives will undoubtedly be forced to discuss what the heck they plan to do with American Idol in the wake of last week's rapid-fire exits of Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez.

-- Matthew Perry will take part in NBC's press-tour day to discuss his latest shot at post-Friends sitcom success, as star of the therapy-group-themed Go On.

-- At what's sure to be one of the most-tweeted-about TCA sessions, Katie Couric will answer questions about her new daytime-TV venture, Katie.

-- ABC will unveil two shows with country-music themes -- one that's good (Nashville, a new drama starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panetierre), and one that's not so much (Reba McEntire's new sitcom, Malibu Country).

-- CBS will find out if there's room on the TV/movie landscape for yet another Sherlock Holmes adaptation when it introduces its Jonny Lee Miller/Lucy Liu drama, Elementary.

-- Mary Louise Parker will entertain questions about the eighth and final season of her long-running Showtime cable series, Weeds.

-- HBO's press-tour schedule, always an attention grabber, will include sessions for The Girl, a new movie that examines the offbeat relationship between fright-flick director Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) and actress Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller), Ethel, a documentary profile of Ethel Kennedy, wife/widow of Robert F. Kennedy, and The Newsroom, the just-launched Aaron Sorkin drama which has already been renewed for a second season.

And there's more. Much more. And starting next week, I'll be writing columns and tweeting tidbits (@BradOswald) from L.A. to keep you up to date on what's happening on the TV press tour. So when you're not wrapped up in the frenzied fun of the local fringe-festival fuss, stop in here for the latest Tinseltown-tinted missive. It promises to be an enlightening and entertaining couple of weeks.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2012 C1

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