How big? Folks, we're talking HDNet, GSN and Starz.
Wait, not what you had in mind? Well, me neither. Not to cast aspersions on any of these fine programmers (hey, I actually watch HDNet), but second-tier cable networks don't embody the hoo-ha one usually associates with the Television Critics Assn. Press Tour, where programmers would flog their wares every July and January, until the strike began.
Reporters cover TCA to nab some great quotes from Teri Hatcher or Mark Burnett, not to grab some clips from "Greatest Game Show Moments."
Even if you've never heard of TCA, it has an impact on what you know about TV. Much of what Americans read and hear about the television business is generated during this event.
The press tour, due to begin Jan. 8, is where regional reporters and critics load up on interviews and feature stories for the next six months, telling viewers about new programs they otherwise might never hear about. Trade publications and major newspapers, including this one, attend as well.
The tour is a pillar of the TV world, in other words, and one that might collapse due to the strike. If the winter press tour is canceled -- as looks increasingly likely -- editors of cash-strapped newspapers might be more reluctant to dispatch reporters to future tours, reasoning that they've proved they can do without.
As for Los Angeles, this is another example of how the local economy is being crunched by the strike.
Get breaking news alerts delivered to your mobile phone. Text BREAKING to 52669. You will receive up to 30 msgs/mo. Msg&data rates may apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.
Many PR officials expect that Writers Guild of America strikers will picket every day outside the Hilton if the strike is still on. And although negotiators are due back at the table Tuesday, the guild's leaders issued a statement describing last week's round with the networks and studios as "dispiriting."
That's left the critics association's board and its new president, Dave Walker of New Orleans' Times-Picayune, scrambling to keep alive January's TCA event. Many networks are backing out; a few others, bless their marketing budgets, say they'll soldier on. But the association and the networks are running out of time.
On Saturday, Walker sent TCA members an e-mail saying that if the strike isn't settled soon -- he suggested Dec. 14 as the deadline -- the winter tour should be canceled entirely. "I'm tired of quixotic wrangling, and I'm sure you're all tired of the uncertainty," he wrote.
Walker has observed that the winter press tour has overcome far bigger problems than the writers strike, including the first war in Iraq and the Northridge earthquake.
Even if the strike is settled this week, however, it's clear that the winter press tour will be a victim. Here's the grim tally: NBC has said its broadcast network won't attend, although its cable outlets still hope to give TCA a whirl. The other broadcast networks are on the fence pending the strike's outcome.
But because it takes weeks to plan these tour events, the typical full day offered by each network seems highly unlikely, according to PR chiefs.
On Friday, Walker told me that PBS, which had planned a "robust" day-and-a-half worth of presentations regardless of the strike's status, now says it won't do anything if the strike is still on, because of concerns about talent availability.
On the cable side, Lifetime, A&E and the Turner Networks (including CNN and TNT) definitely won't do TCA this year, according to the Cable & Telecommunications Assn. for Marketing. The ABC cable networks, including Disney Channel, decided to skip the winter press tour before the strike even started. Showtime will offer some panels only if its sister network, CBS, decides to participate.
For now, that leaves TCA with a handful of major players, including HBO, Discovery and FX, plus a few smaller fry such as Hallmark Channel and TV One. Better than nothing, for sure, but hardly a can't-miss event. Around 40 of TCA's 220 members "are planning to attend no matter what," Walker said.
In a prepared statement, a Fox spokesman summed up the mood of uncertainty: "The TCA Press Tour is an important opportunity for us and we're studying all possible options -- including talent availability -- before making a final decision."
For the broadcasters, TCA is a fairly pricey reckoning; a full complement of press conferences, catered lunches, parties and all the trimmings can run up to $500,000 per network. PR folk typically justify the cost by noting that the journalists covering the event hammer out reams of copy about new shows.