As you read this, I'll be landing in Los Angeles, settling in for a 12-day marathon of all things TV. Jealous? Don't be. You can go along by way of STLtoday.com, Facebook, Twitter and of course the printed Post-Dispatch.
For 34 years, members of the Television Critics Association — made up of about 200 writers for print publications and websites, all paying their own way — have met every summer and most winters with the broadcast networks, PBS and cable to preview new shows, quiz executives, mingle with talent, conduct dozens of interviews and amass stories to inform, entertain and enlighten our readers.
I've attended every summer since 1994, when I became TV critic for the Post-Dispatch. Lots has changed since then, when we filed stories by dial-up modem and carried notebooks and reference books everywhere.
Now, we blog, tweet and update our Facebook pages from our laptops and phones while sessions are still in progress. There's hardly time in the day (typically, a 12- or 14-hour day, seven days a week) to gather all the news, let alone report it in a timely and entertaining fashion.
But I'll give it my best shot, and I hope you'll follow along. Beginning Monday, I'll have a daily running blog on Tube Talk that will update throughout the day. I'll also post quick hits on Twitter (@gailpennington) and Facebook. Tweet or Facebook your questions and I'll try to pose them to the right people. I'll also chat live on Thursday, July 26, from the Beverly Hilton, where we're headquartered again this summer.
Here are some things to which I'm looking forward:
DESSERT WITH 'MR. BATES'
To make sure people arrive promptly on the first day, PBS is flying in the cast of fan and critic favorite "Downton Abbey" for a Season 3 press conference, followed by a dessert mix-and-mingle on the hotel roof. New arrival Shirley MacLaine will be there, along with Elizabeth McGovern, who plays her daughter. Also on the guest roster are Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Joanne Froggatt (Anna), Brendan Coyle (Bates), creator Julian Fellowes and executive producer Gareth Neame. Season 3 of "Downton Abbey" premieres on PBS in January.
A 'THORN BIRDS' REUNION
PBS reunites the stars of "The Thorn Birds" for the first time in 30 years for a "Pioneers of Television" panel. Rachel Ward (Meggie Cleary) and Bryan Brown (Luke O'Neill) are flying in from Australia to join Richard Chamberlain (Father Ralph). Ward and Brown fell in love while making the 1983 miniseries and remain married, but Ward and Chamberlain (who had that steamy on-screen relationship) haven't seen each other since, PBS says. (You don't think they've aged, do you?) The "Thorn Birds" episode of "Pioneers" will air next March, marking the miniseries' 30th anniversary.
'IDOL' CHATTER FROM FOX
On its single day, Fox stands to be quizzed a lot about who'll judge the next seasons of "American Idol." The network plans a final-season panel with the cast and producers of "Fringe," plus Q&A sessions that will feature new "X Factor" judges Britney Spears and Demi Lovato; chef Gordon Ramsay for his new series "Hotel Hell"; and the cast and producers of "The Mindy Project" (created by and starring Mindy Kaling), "Ben and Kate" and "The Mob Doctor." Fox invites us to mingle with its talent at a party at Soho House, a private club in West Hollywood.
MONKEY BUSINESS AT NBC
Much disappointment will ensue if NBC doesn't bring Crystal the monkey, star (with Justin Kirk) of the sitcom "Animal Practice," to that panel. In its two days, shared with NBC Universal cable networks, NBC also has sessions on its new series "Go On" (starring Matthew Perry), "Guys With Kids," "The New Normal," "Revolution" (from J.J. Abrams) and "Chicago Fire." Stars from NBC and its sibling networks, including Bravo, Oxygen, Style and E!, will mingle poolside.
SEEKING 'REVENGE' AT ABC
ABC will bus critics to the set of "Revenge" for a tour and Q&A. On the same day, the comedies "Happy Endings" and "Don't Trust the B-- in Apt. 23" host a cocktail mix-and-mingle. On the second of ABC's two days, the cast of "Dancing With the Stars: All Stars" will be announced. ABC plans a panel on "General Hospital," which narrowly escaped cancellation this year, and new series "Nashville" (with Connie Britton), "666 Park Avenue" (Terry O'Quinn and Vanessa Williams), "Last Resort" (Andre Braugher), "Malibu Country" (Reba McEntire), "The Neighbors," "Family Tools" and "How To Live With Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life." A mixer with ABC talent is also planned.
FINALLY, A NIGHT OFF
Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") will host the Television Critics Awards, for which everyone gets dressed up and goes off the clock for an evening. A good time is had by all.
TALK ABOUT TALK
New syndicated talk shows getting presentations are "Katie," with Katie Couric, and "The Jeff Probst Show," starring the "Survivor" host.
IT'S ELEMENTARY, CBS
CBS will have Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu (Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in "Elementary"), plus Michael Chiklis and Dennis Quaid for "Vegas." "Partners" and "Made in Jersey" also get panels, as does "CBS This Morning." CBS' second day is turned over to the CW, which will introduce its "Beauty and the Beast," "Arrow" and "Emily Owens, M.D.," and Showtime, which plans a final "Weeds" panel and sessions on "Dexter" and "Homeland."
READY, SET, SET VISITS
On a full day devoted to set visits, critics will bus to "Major Crimes," TNT's spinoff of "The Closer"; NBC's "Up All Night"; and then to CBS Television City, where we'll take over the set of "The Price Is Right" to get the scoop on CBS daytime shows, including "The Young and the Restless" and "The Talk." I just want to play Plinko.
That night, Warner Bros. invites us to the Paley Center to see an interactive exhibit celebrating the studio's nearly 60-year history in television. Also on the invite list: as much talent from those 60 years as Warner Bros. could round up.
BBC BUILDS A BORDELLO; HBO SERVES UP SORKIN
I'll be around for a day and a half of cable, including presentations by BBC America, which will have the cast of the sequel to "The Hour" plus Tom Fontana, Barry Levinson and the cast of "Copper," set in 1860s New York. For "Copper," its first original scripted drama, BBC America is throwing a party at a re-creation of the "notorious bordello" where the series is set.
Starz/Encore brings in Kelsey Grammer for "Boss" and Romola Garai for "The Crimson Petal and the White," an adaptation of a popular novel set in Victorian London.
HBO will have Rory and Ethel Kennedy for "Ethel," Rory Kennedy's documentary about her mother, and Sienna Miller for "The Girl," a biopic in which she plays Tippi Hedren to Toby Jones' Alfred Hitchcock.
HBO courts awkwardness by inviting Aaron Sorkin to discuss "The Newsroom," which has drawn more criticism than Sorkin's work usually does. Chances are he'll defend the show impressively.
And then I'll be more than ready to come home.