The Television Critics Association is a funny animal. Its challenge, as well as its strength, is that it includes people with massively different jobs: longtime print critics (both nationally and locally oriented) who have been coming to the annual press tour for decades, reporters who cover the television industry, cultural critics whose beats extend past television, online writers who specialize in weekly criticism — this is a lot of people who quite reasonably look at television differently.
All it takes is listening to a few of our annual panel discussions with new and returning shows to understand that the people in the room have really different to-do lists. Some are largely gathering intelligence and trying to get their arms around which projects are likely to be interesting, some are directly challenging creators and executives during panels on issues like diversity, some are working on quick panel wrap-ups with snippets of news for fans about casting and other elements of what to expect, some are working on stories that will run later when the shows are premiering. (And many, of course, are doing more than one of those things.)
It can be a challenge to figure out the best way to contribute to and learn from all these discussions, but my favorite night of tour, always, is the TCA Awards, which are being handed out Saturday night. This year, the winners are being released just before, instead of just after, the ceremony, since winners know they're winning in advance, so it's not really a "BREAKING NEWS FROM THE STAGE!" kind of thing, and this way, we can enjoy the event together instead of dashing off to write up the winners.
This is the night when we give out some recognition — not a lot, just 12 awards total — to some of the shows that are doing outstanding work. There are always heartbreakers (I would've liked to see some love for Fargo and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, both of which I think had great seasons; many feel the same way about The Americans), but there's some great stuff on the list.
We don't give out separate awards for men and women or lead and supporting, just one award each for individual achievement in comedy and drama. This year, they went to Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Veep and Matthew McConaughey for True Detective. Similarly, we give out one show-level award in comedy and one in drama, and those went to Veep and Louie in a tie and The Good Wife. Our award in movies, miniseries and specials went to True Detective.
Our award in reality programming went to RuPaul's Drag Race, and in news and information, it was the new Cosmos. The TCA award in youth programming — which has admittedly morphed into something more like "family programming" in many cases — went to ABC Family's The Fosters.
Some of our most spirited discussions every year surround our Heritage Award, given to a show that has had a cultural and social impact, which this year was given to Saturday Night Live, and our Career Achievement Award, which (to the delight of many I spoke with) went to James Burrows, who has directed episodes of practically every comedy you've ever heard of. (That's a ridiculous exaggeration, but not as ridiculous as you think.)
My two favorites, because they are somewhat unpredictable from year to year, are first our award for Outstanding New Program, which this year was given to Netflix's Orange Is The New Black. (It was great this year to be so very torn about what to do with this award; I struggled mightily between this, the aforementioned Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Fargo when we did nominations, and I don't even remember what I eventually voted for.)
And for the second year in a row, our Program Of The Year, which can really be anything, was Breaking Bad. We did this with Friday Night Lights a couple of years ago, too — sent it off with a grateful ovation at the end of the night, with much of the cast and creative team there to accept.
Critics are in a complicated position with television just like they are with film: you spend a lot of time taking it apart to see what's working and not working, and to help curate the great and not-great stuff that grows on the sprawling landscape that television has become. But this is always a night that serves as a good reminder of what the upside is, at a time when we're spending a lot of time with things that aren't great or will be canceled quickly. The upside is that somebody announces a show about a teacher who cooks meth, or announces that they're going to make original television shows for Netflix and drop all the episodes at once, and you think, "Huh."
But then it works, and you have a great thing you didn't have before. And now all these folks have one more thing they didn't have before, and I hope they think it's a little bit great.