Nets: Gather the Stars To Win Slot at Tour

Publish date:
Updated on

To get a rotator slot at the Television Critics Association
tour, a cable programmer has to have made at least one presentation at the TCA in the
past, and it must have at least 10 million subscribers.

The National Cable Television Association considers a
number of factors in determining if a network gets one (out of six for this July, but only
four typically) of the rotator slots.

Those factors include which new programming will be
discussed, which executives and celebrities will appear as panelists to field questions
from the press and what new announcements will be made.

In its guidelines on the TCA tour, the NCTA advises cable
networks, "The industry should strive to present the best cable has to offer -- thus,
top-notch talent and high-quality programming are the most important criteria considered
in the selection process."

Several programmers said the major factor in getting slots
is whether networks have big stars coming in to promote their upcoming projects. That's
because the gathered TV critics want big names to write about for their readers.

"It's always been celebrity-driven because it's
consumer-driven," one network spokeswoman said. "Writers get the opportunity to
bank stories on the stars of upcoming shows."

Romance Classics general manager Martin von Ruden said,
"It's a tough, tough audience, and they expect -- rightly so -- stories. An easy
answer is to bring celebrities in."

In January, for example, Romance did a TCA panel on
"Chemistry: Television's Most Romantic Couples," which included such talent as
former Dallas star Patrick Duffy, Anthony Geary of General Hospital,Ron
Perlman of Beauty and the Beast and Danica McKellar of The Wonder Years.

Last July, E! Entertainment Television packed the room for
its presentation by bringing out Gary Busey, the subject of an E! True Hollywood Story episode.
He openly discussed his dissolute past, including his stint snorting cocaine off the side
of a dog.

For information-driven networks such as Home & Garden
Television, and for those that are dependent on live programming such as The Golf Channel,
it's hard to offer the kinds of celebrities that other networks can.

Programmers that don't have "grandfathered" slots
at the tour often find creative ways to get in, apart from applying for a rotator slot.

MSNBC, for example, does its presentation as part of NBC's
panel during the broadcast portion of the tour. BCC America, which participated in a TCA
new-network block last July, did a panel with actress Diana Rigg in January during
Discovery Communications Inc.'s slot. DCI is BBC America's U.S. partner.

And in the early 1990s, Comedy Central craftily carved out
a permanent TCA slot for itself. Its two owners -- Home Box Office and MTV Networks --
each gave their stepchild network 22 minutes and 30 seconds from their presentation times,
creating a 45-minute slot for Comedy.

The honor of appearing at the TCA tour has a price tag: It
costs $8,000 to $10,000 to do a 45-minute press conference -- for space rental, labor and
some shared costs -- which doesn't include special equipment or travel and lodging
expenses for staff and talent.

According to NCTA director of public affairs Scott Broyles,
a group of five or six people at the association goes through the proposals to decide
which networks get the rotator slots.