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TCA roundup: Stephen Colbert and CBS are coming for your glowing rectangles

Stephen Colbert answers reporters' questions following his session at the Television Critics Association press tour

The headline read “90% Of Waking Hours Spent Staring At Glowing Rectangles,” and if it seemed literally unbelievable, that’s because it was. Dropped into a CBS presentation on viewership trends, the article turned out to hail from The A.V. Club’s sister publication, The Onion. It’s fake news, rooted in truth: When we watch TV, it’s rarely the only screen we’re staring at, as CBS research chief David Poltrack and CBS Digital Media honcho Marc DeBevoise pointed out to the members of the Television Critics Association today. And as it turns out, the multi-screen experience is a technological advance that could defeat a different technological advance that’s plagued commercial TV for the past decade-plus. “People are fast forwarding through less and less advertising, and do you know why they are?” Poltrack asked in reference to DVR users. “Because they are too busy on their phones to use the remote control to fast forward through the ads.”

The data from Poltrack and DeBevoise was an interesting supplement to this summer’s TCA appearance by FX CEO John Landgraf, and both broadcasters have their reasons to present the information they did in the ways they chose. Landgraf needs to illustrate the ways FX Networks’ programming stands out in an increasingly crowded field; it’s in CBS’ best interest to dispel misconceptions about shrinking viewership. No matter how their research might skew, Landgraf, Poltrack, and DeBevoise gave more precise answers than CBS Entertainment chair Nina Tassler, a smarter-than-smart network chief and master of dancing around questions. (And her network is successful enough to justify all that dancing.) Still: Is Person Of Interest coming to an end? “It will be coming on later in the season, but we haven’t determined if it’s the end of the series yet.” What about Under The Dome? The dome is coming down at the end of the season, but Tassler said “you just don’t know what will happen when the dome comes down. So we are not making a decision just yet.”


Tassler was more exact when talking about James Corden, touting the nearly 200 million online views he’s received since taking over The Late Late Show. Corden’s future lead-in went digital during his TCA session, too: Stephen Colbert paused twice to tweet while talking about The Late Show, introducing the should’ve-been trending topic “dry Trumping” to describe his inability to mock presidential candidate Donald Trump on TV. The former Colbert Show host said his ongoing hiatus from performing—the longest of his career to date—has him “twitching” to get back onstage, which he’ll do on September 8, alongside guests Kendrick Lamar and George Clooney. In debuting the real Colbert to the TCA, the comedian was frank and punchy, dodging the setup for a late-night wars discussion by talking about his “six-month” stint as Jimmy Fallon’s BFF and previewing the changes he’s made to The Ed Sullivan Theater. (At David Letterman’s urging, he’s moved the desk to the opposite side of the stage.) As a preview of the show’s sensibility and sense of humor, the session kicked off with a video that will air as part of the new Late Show: A parody of ads for Viagra and Cialis (like this one), in which Colbert’s show is recommended as a remedy for those who can’t “stay up” late, followed by an absurdly long list of side effects. (Side effects may or may not include “Hogwarts.”)

One of the major predictions in Poltrack and DeBevoise’s presentation involved the lack of new technologies disrupting the methods in which we watch television in the coming years, the iPad seemingly being the last in the current generations of TV screens that isn’t a TV. But there was one disruptive technology that Tassler declined to discuss: Whatever CGI nonsense stitched Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi together in Panjabi’s farewell to The Good Wife. “I’m not going to reveal movie magic,” Tassler said, severely stretching the definition of “magic.” “Bottom line is the ending of the show was a very satisfying ending for the relationship between those two characters. And, I stand behind how Robert and Michelle King produce their show.”


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