A word on screeners before Review Week

by Paul William Tenny

I've got a small pile of screeners sitting on my desk patiently waiting for me to watch them and so that I can write up some spoiler-free reviews to be published this coming week. Rather than do something productive like getting a head start today, I think it would be so much more satisfying to whine about how much I loathe Fox right now. What they've done went beyond insulting into a somewhat disturbing lack of professionalism with a wee bit of incompetence thrown in just for shits and giggles.

NBC and ABC needn't worry about favoritism though, I've got enough of it to go around. This site isn't much more than a speed bump compared to blogs like TV Squad or Cinematical, but there are people that read it and presumably can be swayed one way or another by what I write here. I happen to believe that blogs such as this one can be more influential than magazines and papers because blogs offer some level of interaction. If I say Fringe was boring but Prison Break stumbled onto something cool that should keep me interested for the entire season -- and that J. J. Abrams is overrated -- you're free to scroll down to the comment box and tell me where to stick my screeners.

It doesn't matter if only 15 people read it, sounding off is the most satisfying thing a person can do online short of smoking some arrogant douche with a timely Wikipedia link and an appropriate amount of accompanying snark.

Expressing your opinion in a public forum invests you in the conversation which means you're more likely to be thinking about that show during the day and hence more likely to watch it at some point. You won't get that on a popular site that already gets a couple of hundred comments on every story because there's no discussion to be had, and you can't very well comment on the ink-smudged pages of TV Guide.

Wars over the fourth wall are fought below the fold on small sites such as this one; these are the kinds of places where campaigns to save shows are born.

I'm pointing this out because if there's any place where opinion can be won, it's not in Walmart or McDonalds, it's in the small restaurant occupying the back of the local pharmacy or that little gas station everyone goes to because it's closest to home. If you declare your love for Heroes at the top of your lungs in a mall, people are more likely to run away than give you the time of day. If you sit down over burnt pizza and crappy cheese sticks, somebody is going to listen, especially if you take the time to listen back.

I point this out because frankly, I didn't expect any of the big four networks to give me the time of day. Fox met my expectations and hands down has been the worst of the bunch. Although the person I've spoken with the most, no doubt a prominent person within the publicity department, was nice and tried to be helpful on a couple of occasions, she wasn't representative of the entire company. At least half the people I tried to contact never bothered to respond. I'd shoot someone an email, wait a week or maybe 10-11 days and send a follow-up, and time after time it was like humping a brick wall.

The only screener I managed to squeeze out of that network was Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and they ended up sending me that one twice. My request for Prison Break got me nothing. Requests for Bones, House, and Fringe all came up empty -- not even a courtesy "no". A last ditch plea with my original contact resulted in a less-than-helpful "well most shows are probably out of screeners by now" -- the irony of causation didn't escape me here, since I started asking for these screeners three weeks prior to that response -- and no guarantees that anything could be done.

With Bones, Prison Break, and Fringe already aired, House is next and Fox will have screwed itself out of four previews for the season. At this point I can muster little sympathy for Fringe, which debuted to a disappointing 9 million viewers last week. Though I may have only been able to add a dozen at best, and perhaps in light of how much the pilot stunk, actually taken a few away, Fox in retrospect certainly could have used the help. 9 million for J. J. Abrams over-hyped new baby is mightily disappointing folks, I can tell you right now regardless of what the network says about what they got, 9 million isn't going to cut it for a show that expensive.

My NBC contact who handles the publicity for Heroes got back to me quickly and agreed to add my name to their internal list for all screeners. Unfortunately for me and unfortunately for their credibility, that never actually happened. A solid week into the fall TV season, I found myself asking if my name had gotten lost somewhere along the line. Only Friday the 12th did I get anything from NBC to preview. The five screeners they did send are for shows that don't premier until pretty late in September, so they'll get their due press even though had I not been so concerned, they might have not gotten anything at all.

CBS has been the best of the bunch. Like NBC, my contact agreed to add me to their network-wide list and once the time came, I received an email sent to all press asking me to confirm which series I wanted screeners for. Shortly after sending in a polite "give me everything you've got", I received a DHL package with six screeners for their most popular shows. Not too long after that, I got a second page with three more screeners, all of which say "REVISED PILOT" on them and they are all final cuts.

I didn't have to beg, wait two weeks for a reply, or harass somebody into just acknowledging my existence. Although CBS doesn't have any shows I'm currently interested in, after seeing what a top notch publicity program they have, I fully intend to check out as many of their shows both new and old as I possibly can. Forgive my language, but CBS clearly has their shit together. NBC could do better on followup when they promise to do something, and Fox needs to get down off its horse and recognize that blogs matter.

As for the screeners themselves, each network does things just a little differently and they all leave a unique impression. CBS sent me everything in transparent slim jewel cases, but they get a free pass because it didn't take a crusade just to get them. Fox, being the cheap scrooges that they are, sent screeners in really lame paper slips like the ones that computer hardware drivers come in. NBC went all out and sent normal DVD plastic cases with printed cover art for each show -- they look just like movie cases and although I don't appreciate the bulk, they certainly are sexy.

If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned ABC yet, it's because they are the cheapest of all, even worse than Fox. ABC doesn't send screeners on DVD anymore, they stream them from their website which as of the last time that I checked, only had 3 screeners available and Lost wasn't amongst them. Piracy is a non sequitur because this stuff gets leaked from the studio itself long before the press gets to see it, and it's not like this stuff is classified. The Fringe pilot leaked onto the Internet months ago and NBC showed the Heroes premier at Comic Con back in July.

ABC may think they are ahead of the curve, but when literally half this country doesn't even have broadband Internet connections, it doesn't seem like the best idea in the world to be eliminating sources of press rather than finding new ways to expose your show to critics. Those that do have broadband know that it's far from utility-reliable.

So, what have I got? Here's what's coming up at a time TBA:

Nothing. They didn't want my reviews, so they won't get any.

My Name Is Earl, Chuck, Heroes, Lipstick Jungle, and Life. I've only seen Heroes so it'll be interesting figuring out what's going on in all these other shows.

Pilots: The Ex List, Gary Unmarried, Worst Week
Cold Case, The Unit, Criminal Minds, The Amazing Race, CSI: Miami, and The Ghost Whisperer.

Probably only Lost. Streaming video eats a lot of bandwidth and mine isn't free.

Like I said, I don't watch CBS for anything except sports so I'll be going in fresh for all these series, which I'm looking forward to. If anyone is a fan of these shows and would like to write a summary of what happened leading up to the end of last season, I'd be happy to review and possibly publish anything you've got.

And just to make things absolutely clear, I've got no grudges nor do I  hold any resentment against any of these networks or the people working for them. I think some of this behavior was unprofessional and certainly self-defeating though. A publicity department that can't take the time to speak with the press is ironic, don't you think? Kind of makes you wonder just what it is they are so busy doing over there.

I forgot to mention that this all began when I got a screener for The SCIFI Channel's Stargate Atlantis. They sent that DVD in a blue semi-transparent plastic folder with snap buttons on the side and a damned handle. They win, hands down.
in Television


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