It's summer grilling season in TV land, and we're not talking about burgers on a barbecue.
Nope, we mean the annual hoedown known as the Television Critics Association Press Tour being held in Beverly Hills. A 16-day, occasionally combative event made up of news conferences, studio set visits, preview screenings and star-studded parties, the press tour is a chance for journalists to glean intel on the shows we'll be watching this fall.
By the time you read this, I should be embedded at the tour -- known by some as the "Death March With Cocktails." But the real fun begins this weekend, when the broadcasters start to swoop in on waves of hype. They'll try their best to make us forget what went wrong last season and pretend that all will be just dandy come fall.
But we know better. Many of their new shows will be dead on arrival. Still, we've got questions -- lots of them. So let's go over what should be some of the key press-tour talking points:
After years of lackluster efforts, the broadcasters have delivered their most ethnically diverse lineup ever, with about 10 shows that prominently feature minority characters. Leading the way is ABC, which has a promising comedy called "Black-ish," It's the first network sitcom pegged to a black family since "Everyone Hates Chris" left the air in 2009.
Also coming to ABC: "Cristela," a sitcom built around a Mexican-American clan, and "How to Get Away With Murder," a snazzy legal series from Shonda Rhimes with Viola Davis in the main role.
So why now? The rousing success of Rhimes' "Scandal," with Kerry Washington, undoubtedly has something to do with it, but the bottom line is the networks finally got a clue.
In a nice bit of timing, this year's Emmy nominations will be announced on Thursday, just as the tour is revving up. That should set the stage for some sour-grapes complaints from the broadcasters who figure to once again be dominated by cable and Netflix. Last year, no major network show was included among the field for best drama series.
So expect to hear lots of whining about how the academy allowed HBO's "True Detective" to compete for top drama, when it's really a miniseries. They do have a point. How fair is it, after all, that an ongoing network show like "The Good Wife" on CBS toils to put out 23 episodes, while "True Detective" turned out only eight?
And the geeks shall inherit prime time. Apparently trying to ape the summer blockbuster strategy of their big-screen counterparts, network programmers are turning to the pages of comic books for inspiration.
Several fall shows are being adapted from the comics, including "Gotham" (Fox), a Batman prequel; "The Flash" (The CW), with its super-speedy superhero; and "Constantine" (NBC), which follows a caustic demon hunter.
In addition, "Agent Carter" (ABC) and "iZombie" (The CW) are on tap for midseason. They join a lineup that already features "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Arrow." How much is too much?
Sadly, the sitcom genre is once again showing signs of rigor mortis. It's gotten so bad that NBC has decided to air a reality show -- "The Biggest Loser" -- at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, marking the first time since 1982 that the network has entered fall without a couple of comedies at that hour.
And the future isn't exactly bright. Of the fall shows I've previewed for the tour, some of the worst are sitcoms, with "Mulaney" (Fox), "Selfie" (ABC) and "Bad Judge" (NBC) heading the list of lame efforts.
Expect to hear the term "eventize" ad nauseam. It's network TV's new buzzword. Realizing that their audiences are eroding, and that DVR users often don't watch their shows in a timely fashion, programmers are hungry for big events designed to seize immediate attention.
That's why NBC is planning a live version of "Peter Pan," and Fox is doing the same with "Grease." It's also why CBS fought so hard to win a bidding war for Thursday night NFL football, and why the season will feature more miniseries and specials and more stunt programming in regular shows. It's not just must-see TV. It's must-see NOW.
The annual TV Critics press tour runs through July 23 at the Beverly Hilton hotel. For timely updates, log onto www.mercurynews.com/TV and follow us on Twitter at @chuckbarney.