A couple hundred TV critics walk into a bar…

Senior Television Writer
01.04.12 34 Comments
It’s that time of year again, TV fans, when the a couple of hundred TV critics and reporters from the U.S. and Canada descend on a single Los Angeles area hotel for the Television Critics Association winter press tour.
If you’ve been reading me for any decent length of time, you know most of what there is to know about the tour already, and if it’s new to you, my old press tour primer is still up at NJ.com to peruse. The very short version: dozens of networks and 100+ shows move their way in and out of the same ballroom for a series of press conferences in which the people on stage often have a very different agenda (“Please write flattering things about our shows!”) than the ones in the audience (“Please tell me why I shouldn’t be skeptical of your show”).
The tour started this morning on the West Coast, with Fienberg covering the first couple of days solo until I arrive in time for NBC’s presentations on Friday. As with all the tours I’ve covered since I came to HitFix, there’s going to be a lot of improvisation about who covers what and when and why, but you’ll definitely want to keep checking this blog, as well as The Fien Print and Starr Raving for updates.
(If you’re on Twitter, it would also be wise to follow me, Dan and Liane for more up-to-the-minute observations and links to the longer pieces. There’s always a danger during tour of having 70 people tweeting the same quotes and observations over and over again; at the very least, Fienberg and I will do our best to not overlap.) 
It’s always hard to say what panels will get written about immediately (though Dan tends to live-blog most of the sessions with the network presidents) and which will be saved for later. But to give you some sense of who and what we’ll be seeing from now through the 15th, here’s a brief run down of what each day will feature:
Wednesday, Jan. 4 & Thursday, Jan. 5: PBS opens the tour with two typically eclectic days of panels, including documentaries on President Clinton, Johnny Carson and koalas, the gang from “Sherlock,” plus several musical performances by Michael Feinstein, The B-52’s and Tony Bennett. (PBS has a harder time getting critics to attend their days, especially when they’re on the outer edge of a tour like this, so they try to compensate with fancy evening events.)
Friday, Jan. 6: The first of two days devoted to NBC and its affiliated cable channels. The focus on this day will be NBC itself and its wave of new mid-season shows, including “Smash,” “The Firm,” “Awake” and “Are You There, Chelsea?” With a lot of new mid-season inventory, the only returning show to get a panel is “The Voice.”
Saturday, Jan. 7: NBC Universal’s cable arm takes over, with panels for MSNBC, Bravo, Syfy and E! In the evening, there’s a reception for TCA members to mingle with and interview members of the Directors Guild, who are often overshadowed by their writing counterparts.
Sunday, Jan. 8: FOX also has a whole lot of new mid-season shows, including “Touch,” “Alcatraz,” “Napoleon Dynamite” and “The Finder,” but there will also be the annual “American Idol” panel plus a mid-afternoon break where we can chat with the cast of “Bob’s Burgers.”
Monday, Jan. 9: The first of two days for ABC and its siblings, this one is mainly about the latter, including several ABC Family and Disney Channel sessions, plus a panel with the head of ABC News. There will also be visits to the set of “Suburgatory” and “New Girl” for critics who want to go off-campus. Because there was no evening event scheduled, the “Cougar Town” folks decided it would be a fine night to host an unofficial gathering to promote their currently homeless show, featuring the cast, the creators and a lot of wine.
Tuesday, Jan. 10: This time the focus is on ABC in primetime, with panels for all their new mid-season shows – including “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” (which, like “Cougar Town,” has no premiere date or timeslot yet), Shonda Rhimes’ “Scandal,” the horror thriller “The River,” Ashley Judd kicking ass in “Missing,” the Texas soap “GCB” and more – plus a group panel with the showrunners of all the Wednesday comedies and a farewell panel for “Desperate Housewives.” ABC is not, by the way, paneling “Work It,” which isn’t unprecedented – sometimes networks don’t bother with shows that already debuted before that day in the tour – but is still relatively rare.
Wednesday, Jan. 11: CBS arrives, and because their mid-season inventory is much lighter than their counterparts (for now, only “¡Rob!” and “Undercover Boss”), we’re also getting an “NCIS” panel to talk about the show hitting 200 episodes, a panel of all the Monday comedy showrunners and a panel with the revamped “CBS This Morning” team.
Thursday, Jan. 12: The CBS-affiliated CW and Showtime split the day, with Showtime bringing in the casts of “Shameless,” “The Borgias” and “House of Lies,” followed by the CW paneling its new reality show “Remodeled” doing a panel titled “The Bad-Ass Boys of the CW,” and featuring a farewell cocktail reception with the cast of “One Tree Hill.”
Friday, Jan. 13: The first of several days for various cable networks that aren’t connected to the broadcasters. HBO is the big deal here, with panels for Gervais and Merchant’s “Life’s Too Short,” Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow for “Girls,” Armando Iannucci and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for “Veep,” a couple of movie panels (Ed Harris and Julianne Moore for “Game Change” and Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen for “Hemingway & Gellhorn”) and – in what’s my most-anticipated panel of the tour for a number of reasons – Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, David Milch and Michael Mann to discuss “Luck.” Other channels presenting include Starz (which is paneling “Spartacus: Vengeance” in addition to the new “Magic City”), National Geographic (“Dog Whisperer”), various Discovery networks, Current (including an appearance by Al Gore), Lifetime (Jennifer Love Hewitt and “The Client List”), A&E (“Longmire”) and GMC TV.
Saturday, Jan. 14: The last full day of the tour features more cable. AMC’s going to be there with Veena Sud and the cast of “The Killing,” plus Kevin Smith and his new comic book store reality series “Comic Men,” and TNT is paneling their “Dallas” update and their “The Closer” spin-off “Major Crimes.” We’re also getting panels from most of the MTV-related networks, The Weather Channel, We TV, Sundance Channel, Ovation and TV One.
Sunday, Jan. 15: FX closes things out with a half-day including “Justified,” “Louie,” “Unsupervised,” “Wilfred” and “Archer,” followed by a lunch with people from Hulu .
So that’s that with that, to quote the great David Paymer. I’ll see you on the other side of the looking glass.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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