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TCA Roundup: Critics Migrate Back to Pasadena, Romney Battles Big Bird

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The Television Critics Association press tour got under way in Pasadena yesterday, kicking off nearly two weeks of presentations from broadcast and cable networks about their upcoming midseason shows. I’m not going this year—what? and leave Brooklyn in January?—but I’ll be reblogging highlights from the coverage of my various TV-reporter brethren who are suffering the warm weather and hotel food.

At his HitFix blog, Alan Sepinwall has a succinct description of the proceedings for those who want more background, as well as a thumbnail calendar of the networks and shows that will present, including Smash, Alcatraz, The River, a pile of intriguing new cable series, and the rather ballsy gambit of AMC to do a panel for critical darling-turned-punching-bag The Killing.

Yesterday it was PBS’s turn to go first. Among the highlights:

* Mitt Romney has been saying on the campaign trail that the government should try to reduce the deficit by introducing commercials to PBS’s programming. Yesterday, PBS president Paula Kerger rejected the idea, saying that once you have to sell ads to support programming, you end up with very different shows: “Programming like ‘Pawn Stars’ and ‘American Pickers’ is not the same as ‘American Experience’ and Ken Burns.” (Among other things, the former’s ratings are higher.) Usually in battles like this, public-TV defenders gain the p.r. high ground by raising the specter of children’s programming being defiled by opponents of public-TV funding, but Romney inexplicably did it for them: “Big Bird’s going to have advertisements,” he said, a statement that may not sit well with parents—many of them conservatives—who turn on Sesame Street precisely because it doesn’t have ads. First rule of TV politics: Never get in a fight with a Muppet. The Muppet will enjoy it, and you’ll end up covered in stuffing.

* As for Democratic politics, PBS will air the American Experience special Clinton in February. As is policy for the series, the former President was not interviewed; neither, the producer says, was Monica Lewinsky. But the special does address one of Bill Clinton’s legacies regarding TV—changing the Tonight show policy against booking politicians as guests.

* And with the critical and ratings success of Downton Abbey (whose second season premieres this weekend), PBS had a popular success to talk about this press tour. Karger downplayed comparisons to HBO, though Ken Burns’ recent Prohibition did take advantage of publicity from HBO’s Prohibition drama Boardwalk Empire—which also shares a theme (the effects of the carnage of World War I) with the second season of Downton. On Downton, however, the butchers are much more polite.

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