By JOHN DOYLE
Globe and Mail Update
Friday, August 2, 2002
I arrived two weeks ago to discover that the big controversy among the 200 or so TV Critics gathered here had nothing to do with American network TV. The big issue at the annual meeting of the Television Critics Association was a change of venue for the twice-yearly press tour.
Pictures from California
The Renaissance is meant to part of a renaissance, literally, for Hollywood, and is attached to the new Kodak Theatre, where this yearís Academy Awards took place
The Ritz is a lovely old hotel, with many of its buildings dating from the early 1920ís. It sprawls over many acres and there are very pleasant gardens for a quiet stroll
A certain segment of the TCA (it represents newspaper and magazine writers from across the United Stars and Canada) was outraged that the TCA executive had decided to move the tour away from the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena and into the Renaissance Hollywood hotel on Hollywood Boulevard in downtown L.A.. Bitterness abounded and accusations flew.
When you're covering press tours that last two weeks in January and three weeks in July, comfort and familiarity matters. But I was still taken aback by the vehemence of the backlash against the change of hotel.
The TCA board members calmly pointed out, over and over, that it was a matter of cost and convenience for both the critics and the networks. The Ritz, where the tour has taken place for eight years, was raising its rates again and the new hotel offered a better deal. To impress TCA members, the new hotel was offering exceptional deals such as bargain over-night rates and free high-speed Internet access in rooms.
I should probably explain here that the press tours are not junkets. The critics, or their employers, pay for travel, accommodation, meals and so forth. The press tour schedule is worked out between the TCA executive board and the networks. We're not in the networks' pockets and our newspapers or magazines have to pay for the access to new shows, the stars and producers. Saving some money seemed like a good idea.
Still, there was rancour. Some complaints about the new hotel were legitimate. The new venue offers hundreds of channels on satellite TV in its rooms. But - and it's a big problem for TV critics - no VCR's are allowed in the rooms. That's because the satellite company that offers the service at the Hollywood Renaissance doesn't want guests taping movies on pay-TV channels and bootlegging them.
A critic needs a VCR to record shows. We need to rewind and play that choice bit of dialogue to get the quote straight for the scathing review. Me, I figured something could be worked out for the duration of the press tour and all would be well. Others disagreed.
The new venue is situated at Hollywood and Hyland, an area that was rundown until recently. The city of Los Angeles is encouraging a clean-up and promoting new development. The Renaissance is meant to part of a renaissance, literally, for the area, and is attached to the new Kodak Theatre, where this year's Academy Awards took place.
Still, the area is far from pristine. Some Critics who had gone to look at the new venue were taken aback by the number of beggars and homeless in the area. Others moaned about the number of fast-food restaurants around the hotel and said they'd be forced to order room service meals all the time in order to get a decent meal. A Canadian critic, who shall remain nameless to hide his silliness, told me he was shocked to find prostitutes in the area around the hotel. "And they weren't even nice hookers," he said with a straight face. I guessed that he's seen the movie Pretty Woman, with Julia Roberts as an L.A. prostitute, and he's believed it. Curiously naÔve for a critic, I thought.
I haven't been to the Renaissance Hollywood and I don't care if there are prostitutes on the streets or that Burger King franchises abound. This is Hollywood and we're supposed to be covering a part of the entertainment industry that is often sleazy and despicable. A dose of reality seems in order.
We certainly don't get the Hollywood reality at the Ritz in Pasadena. The city, a suburb of L.A. really, is a pleasant place with a population of rich, mostly elderly residents. The streets are clean and there are many expensive, designer boutiques. The Ritz is a lovely old hotel, with many of its buildings dating from the early 1920's. It sprawls over many acres and there are very pleasant gardens for a quiet stroll. The staff is obsequious and the service is good. It is, however, a cab ride from downtown Pasadena and if, say, you need supplies from a drug store, that's a $10 cab ride. It's remote from the Los Angeles International Airport (that's a $70 cab ride) and, in fact, remote from reality.
I kept my opinions to myself at the TCA meeting, but I was amused by all the fuss. I'm far from being a battle-hardened foreign correspondent but having just spent almost three weeks covering the world Cup in Korea and Japan, the complaints of other critics seemed ridiculous.
The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world. Covering it meant two countries, two languages, travel between countries and more than a dozen host cities. I'd stayed in numerous hotels and it had all gone without a hitch. I hated my hotel in Japan but I'd gotten my work done and, even when I'd been exasperated, I'd fashioned a column from the experience. Moving from the 'burbs to downtown L.A. was not a big deal.
Some critics complained that they hadn't been consulted. The TCA executives patiently explained that the TCA Web Site, our principal means of communication, had asked members to answer a survey about hotels last January. Only a fraction of members had done so. The TCA executives then introduced us to two managers from the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel who had come to answer questions and observe how the press tour is conducted at the Ritz. That seemed enterprising and sensible to me. Others whined at the Renaissance managers until they poor guys lost patience.
One critic asked incredibly detailed questions about car rental facilities, parking, access to his car and security. When he wasn't satisfied with some details, the guy from the Renaissance threw up his hands and said, "Hey, whaddaya want?"
Me, I'll miss some elements of the Ritz service and attitude, but not the retirement-home ambience and remoteness from the real L.A. and the real, sleazy side of Hollywood. A change will be invigorating and inspire same good writing, I hope. Some critics have spent too much time watching TV and lost all perspective.
There was only one thing about the spiel of the Renaissance manager that bothered me. He admitted that you couldn't open the windows in the rooms. I like a bit of fresh air, even if it's mostly L.A.'s smog that's floating into the room. The thought of a permanently closed window really bothered me and made me suspicious of the new venue for a few minutes. After all, I'm a critic and I've got to have some criticism to make. But bring on the downtown dirt, please.