The History of TCA: How Critics Helped Shape the New U.S. TV Season.

Author:Flood, Michael
Position:Television Critics Association

The Television Critics Association's Winter 2019 Press Tour, which ended February 13, in effect marked the opening of the 20192020 U.S. TV season. Over the years, the TCA has developed into a crystal ball of sorts that studios and networks alike can turn to find out what TV shows are in the works or what trends are emerging for the new TV season to come.

Since the very beginning of television broadcasting in the 1950s, the three main U.S. TV networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS) have sponsored press tours. At these lavish junkets (which brought together television critics from across the nation), reporters were wined and dined by network executives and talent eager to showcase their new programming line-ups (and who expected to receive favorable reviews).

Hosted at some of the poshest hotels in the Los Angeles area, the networks covered flights, rooms, and meals for the multi-week tours. Some of the reporters even received "cab money" --envelopes of cash on top of their room and board expenses.

In the summer of 1978, that comfortable but compromised world began to change. The new generation of television critics, schooled primarily in journalism rather than the arts, and coming of age in a post-Watergate America, insisted on having their role as reporters of news taken more seriously.

They resented the efforts of the networks to win their favor by paying all their expenses. On June 28,1978, the attending critics voted unanimously to create the Television Critics of America (TCA) to assert their independence. The first officers were Lee Winfrey (Philadelphia Inquirer) as president, Barbara Holsopple (Pittsburgh Press) as vice president, Steve Hoffman (Cincinnati Enquirer) as secretary, and William Henry II (Boston Globe) as treasurer.

The first change the critics made to the tour was the creation of a TCA Day, one day out of the normally packed schedule of press conferences and banquets where the critics could gather to discuss the state of the television medium.

This event served as a chance to hash out issues beyond the fall line-up. Among the topics addressed at the first TCA Day were how to curb advertising aimed at children and how to foster more independent television production.

To further the second topic, the critics invited Larry Grossman, president of public TV network PBS, to give a speech at the following years' TCA Day, a year before PBS and its programming would become regular parts of the tour.

In 1980, the TCA made its first major...

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