Michael Grebb

Cable nets got a big chunk of Mon’s annual “NBC Press Day,” which operates like a mini-TCA of sorts for TV critics and reporters based in L.A. It even takes place at the Langham in Pasadena, the home of Winter TCA each year. While the NBC broadcast net showcased a few shows, most noticeably its hits “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice,” it mostly stepped back to give Bravo, Oxygen, Style, SyFy, CNBC and Sprout some more time in front of critics, who during TCA tend to focus far more on NBC than the cable nets. In terms of surprises, there weren’t many: Bravo and Style are still the place for reality shows about rich, spoiled or otherwise argumentative divas; Sprout’s still riding high on “The Chica Show”; and SyFy’s still mining every literary and historical reference known to humankind with its solid “Warehouse 13.”

On the reality side, a few standouts include Bravo’s “Newlyweds: The First Year” (premieres May 6), which follows real couples as the euphoria from their weddings fade, and they must deal with the real world. It’s an interesting idea, and yes… there’s a gay couple. It is Bravo, after all. At press day, two of the couples told critics that the challenges were many as they got used to their new situations. Of course, we’re guessing the constant presence of cameras and producers asking them to bear their souls didn’t help. Then again, Blair Late noted that the producer interviews were almost like marriage counseling for he and partner Jeff Pedersen, which could prove important considering Kimberly Gedeon’s declaration that it’s death ‘till they part for her and hubby Alaska Gedeon—and she’s not dying first. Also intriguing was Style’s “XOX Betsey Johnson” (premieres May 12), which explores the often volatile relationship between fashion icon Betsey Johnson and her daughter Lulu, who is trying to start her own fashion company. Interestingly, Johnson just turned 70 and acts more like the kid than Lulu, and both of them admit that they’ve got that whole “Ab Fab” thing going on. So for those of you who miss that hilarious BBC classic, hope springs eternal that this can capture some of that dynamic.
Another one to watch: CNBC’s “Crowd Rules” (premieres May 14), which brings the crowd-funding concept to TV by letting entrepreneurs pitch their ideas before an audience of 100 people. The crowd—rather than, say, a panel of rich investors as is the case on ABC’s “Shark Tank”—decide who gets funded. One thing in the show’s favor is veteran executive producer Michael Davies, who told critics he wants to put the spotlight on small businesses. It’s a Darwinistic process, with 3 votes (first impression, elimination round, final vote) as prospects vie for $50K. It’s not much, but unlike Shark Tank, the winning entrepreneur doesn’t have to give up a piece of the company to get the money (the show has no control on how they spend it). And even losing contestants get national exposure, so “everyone truly wins on this show,” argued show co-host/panelist Kendra Scott. It’s an interesting twist for CNBC, which tends to stick with more standard breaking news shows and investigative documentaries. Always good to stretch.
Sprout included a puppet show of sorts to highlight its biggest hit “The Chica Show” (yes, one critic even asked the puppet Chica a question), but it also focused on newer fare including “Sing It Laurie” (premiered Mar 25), which creator and singer/songwriter Laurie Berkner explained as her attempt to bring back that whole “Schoolhouse Rock” animated sensibility. Even better, artist Lisa Loeb will sing two songs on the show (she writes kids’ songs as well, despite her adult contemporary pedigree). Do parents want their 2- to 5-year-olds running around the house singing songs all day? Guess it’s better than screaming for a cookie.
SyFy, which spent the morning trotting out “Warehouse 13” for critics, went the game show route in the afternoon with “Exit” (premieres June 4). Exit literally tries to scare the hell out of people as they attempt to answer trivia questions. Favorites include walls closing in, the threat of drowning, or perhaps just the thrill of being buried alive. Fun for the whole family, obviously. “That element of consequence is very true to the SyFy banner,” noted producer Scott St. John. Indeed, the show seems like an amped up version of SyFy’s creepy “Blackout,” which comically explores people’s fears of the dark. While that didn’t tie much back to sci-fi, Exit does try to give homage to situations you’ve seen in sci-fi movies such as the shrinking platform or “trash-compactor” walls we all remember from Star Wars. Is fear really a common denominator of sci-fi, or is it just that you can’t build a game show around aliens or spaceships? Discuss.
Meanwhile, Oxygen showed all sides to critics. It was everything from a Miami-themed lunch to promote its new urban-matchmaker show “Find Me My Man,” which premiered Apr 9 and stars matchmaker Natalie Clarice, who actually has to tell one woman that it’s not a great idea to collect pictures of men’s penises on her phone. Yep. Her overall dating advice? Let the guy chase you, don’t freak him out by bringing up marriage on the third date and you know… make sure he’s honorable. Presumably before you ask for that photo of his privates. On the other hand, Oxygen also highlighted “Best Ink,” a competition between tattoo artists who ply their trade on volunteer “skins” willing to risk a bad tattoo for the sake of good TV. Or something like that. “The skins all have a story to tell,” said judge Joe Capobianco. All this talk of skins sounds so “Silence of the Lambs,” but hey… tattoos are hot. For now. Of course, they’ve been hot for more than a decade, and judges told critics it’s now a “rite of passage” for young women. Whatever turns those kids on.
The whole day ended as these things often do: With a party. Critics love nothing more than face time with talent, coupled with free food and drink. It’s the Golden Trifecta that caps off the day like a well-rolled cigar. Until the next press day rolls around. We’ll see you at Summer TCA in July…
(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX. You can follow him on Twitter at @michaelgrebb).

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