The virtual Television Critics Association press tour earlier this month went rather well for BYUtv. There were no confrontational questions about the channel’s owners, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Unlike past years, nobody raised the church’s stance on members of the LGBTQ community. Nobody questioned whether BYUtv lacks diversity.
For the most part, BYUtv’s presentation of “The Wizard of Paws” went rather well. I mean, how can you go wrong with a show about a guy who builds prosthetics and braces for animals?
Except … we did learn that BYUtv continues to suffer from a perception problem. And it has absolutely nothing to do with religion.
“I was on my college TV station,” began one critic, “and when I think of BYUtv, fairly or unfairly, my first thought is college TV operation.”
That’s not surprising. BYUtv is associated with Brigham Young University — its studios are on the Provo campus. And most college TV operations are not exactly on par with top-notch Hollywood studios.
The perception remains that the programming on BYUtv is produced by a bunch of college kids. That’s not true. BYUtv is not a student-run operation. Student participation is primarily limited to internships. A lot of companies have student interns. It doesn’t make them any less professional.
And BYUtv buys shows from professional production companies that are not directly linked to the channel. If there were students working on “Wizard of Paws” — which is shot mostly in Virginia — they weren’t commuting from Provo.
The critic who asked that question has been a friend of mine for decades — he’s one of the few remaining TCA members who’s been in the organization longer than I have — and he’s one of the least confrontational guys I know. And he quickly acknowledged “obviously, the production values are better” on BYUtv shows than you’d expect from a student-run operation.
I know there are skeptics out there, but I could show you any number of series that air on BYUtv and — if you didn’t know what channel they call home — you would never guess. The production quality is as good or better than the vast majority of what you’ll see across network and cable TV and streaming services.
I’ve heard from a lot of Utahns who think that BYUtv is, in fact, a student-run operation, so I’m not surprised that perception extends to a New York-based TV critic. And I’m not sure how BYUtv can shake that image unless, maybe, the channel undergoes a name change, and that would come with its own set of problems.
Two years ago, a couple of TV critics came up with a conspiracy theory that BYUtv was trying to hide its ownership. As if “BYU” doesn’t absolutely scream Latter-day Saints ownership.
That boggles my mind, even now.
For future consideration
Nobody from BYUtv asked my opinion, but I think they missed an opportunity with the TCA virtual press tour. Over the past couple of years, there have been numerous questions about how diverse programming is on the channel, and the perception among critics is ... not very.
In April, BYUtv will premiere “The Parker Andersons” and “Amelia Parker” — two “interwoven scripted series” about “a blended, multicultural, interracial family from two different perspectives.”
I can tell you from long experience that TV critics like to write about something that’s different, and two shows telling the same story from different perspectives is not something we see every day. And when your commitment to diversity has been questioned, why not highlight shows about a “blended, multicultural, interracial family?”