So it’s that time of the year again. East Coast snow storms, New Year’s Resolutions we won’t keep and of course our annual escape to sunny Los Angeles for the Television Critics Tour. It’s a magical place where network execs force TV celebs to answer questions and even occasionally “mix” with reporters covering the TV biz, all in an attempt to garner more coverage of said shows and celebrities.
 
It’s a beautiful system that often includes free food and drink, lest the critics get even more cranky than usual. In any event, the frivolity begins on Wed with the cable block. Keep in mind that some cable nets with broadcast affiliations will present later next week as part of the broadcast block, which runs right up until the Golden Globes on Jan. But here’s an extended preview of the shenanigans that will ensue this week as we all gather in the luxurious Langham of Pasadena to dance with the stars (rhetorically speaking).
 
Today we’ll preview Wed, with previews of Thurs and Fri on the site later this week.
 
Wednesday, Jan. 5
 
MTVN
First up is MTVN, with a packed morning of panels. What better to lead off than TV Land, whose super-hot octogenarian Betty White (who has more energy than most 40-year-olds even though she turns 89 on Jan. 17) will be on hand to explain to critics why TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland” (premieres Jan. 19) is so friggin’ hot. Meanwhile, the comparatively young George Segal (he’s only 76) will try to catch some of that Betty White fire when he sits on a panel with Josh McDermitt and other cast members of TV Land’s “Retired at 35,” which also premieres Jan. 19 and follows a guy who leaves the NYC rat race to live with his parents. Then middle-child Ed Asner (at 81, his age puts him between Segal and White) will talk about “Working Class” (premieres Jan. 28), a new CMT comedy about a woman who moves into a swanky neighborhood with a cranky neighbor (Asner). Can we ever get enough of Asner as a grumpy old man? Nah.
 
Spike TV will also be on hand with a new reality series about coal mining (“Coal,” premieres Spring 2011). Then it’s on to Comedy Central, which on Jan. 11 will premiere “Onion SportsDome” from the creators of “The Onion” satirical newspaper and Web video series. Cast will be on hand to make us laugh (we hope). And Daniel Tosh from the net’s big hit “Tosh.O” will gab about the show’s Jan. 11 Season 3 premiere and probably dig up some embarrassing YouTube videos featuring TV critics (again, we can only hope).
 
TV Guide Net
By this time, the critics are getting hungry, which is why TV Guide Network’s working lunch to tout reality series “The Nail Files” (premieres June 2011) will be just what the doctor ordered and probably help avert any temper tantrums that would otherwise ensue among critics. That’s perhaps more than we can say for Katie Cazorla’s nail salon in Hollywood where we’re sure cameras will be present for a few meltdowns among the salon’s celebrity clientele.
 
Nat Geo
The lucky execs at Nat Geo get the post-food coma slot at 1:30pm. But the adventurous and exotic nature of its featured shows should help keep the critics from slipping into a slumber as wildlife expert Pat Spain talks about his quest for mysterious creatures on “Beast Hunter,” a mix of experts discuss how the Earth might best defend itself against alien invasion (seriously) with “Alien Invasion/Area 51 Declassified” and Henry Rollins, who was in punk band Black Flag in the 1980s and recently played a white supremacist in Season 2 of FX’s “Sons of Anarchy,” explains to critics that he’s “Wild About Snakes” for his new Nat Geo Wild show of the same name. Nat Geo will also present a panel featuring journalist and one-time Beirut hostage Terry Anderson and others to ring in new season of Nat Geo’s long-running docu series “Explorer.”
 
TV One
Then TV One will call up the lovely Tatyana Ali and cast to talk about her new series “Love That Girl” (premieres Jan. 10) about a young divorcee who returns to Southern CA to join her dad’s real estate biz. Expectations are high for the Martin Lawrence-produced series. Then on Jan. 31, TV One will premiere “Way Black When” in which Black pop culture icons from various decades will recount “their trip back through blackness” in a one-hour talk show that will run for three weeks during Black History Month in Feb.
 
ESPN
Then after The Weather Channel slips in a quick late-afternoon panel about a still unnamed reality series with landscape photographer Peter Lik, ESPN will take over with two very quick panels featuring some big sports names: First up are football legends Jerry Rice and Steve Young to field questions on “Year of the Quarterback” to “unlock the mysteries, myths and legends of the quarterback” and followed by another quick one about the first BCS title game ever televised on cable scheduled for Jan. 10, featuring commentator Brent Musburger and other hosts and analysts.
 
Cocktails!

No TCA day would be complete without a cocktail reception, which on Wed will be hosted by Comcast Entertainment Group and include schmoozing time with high-level execs as well as plenty of on-air talent including Chelsea Handler, Bruce Jenner, Laura Ling, Joan Rivers, Kendra Baskett and more.

(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX Daily).

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