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Eager to build buzz, online sites hope to impress TV critics

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Web comedy series "Old Jews Telling Jokes" has been viewed more than 18 million times since its 2009 launch on online video network Blip, but the show hasn't generated the level of media attention bestowed on big broadcast or cable TV programs.

This week, Blip's CEO and three producers will descend on Pasadena, Calif., where reporters and critics will gather for the Television Critics Association Press Tour, a must-stop for any show to get the kind of publicity that helps grab eyeballs among the growing array of TV and digital content.

Blip, which will promote "Old Jews Telling Jokes" and two other shows, joins a growing parade of online video outlets making the pilgrimage to TCA along with traditional networks. This year, Netflix Inc is also joining. Last year it was Hulu and Google Inc's YouTube.

During the 14-day TCA meeting, networks trot out their biggest stars and producers to chat about their shows and provide behind-the-scenes insight during question-and-answer sessions, set visits and lavish cocktail parties.

Fox featured Kevin Bacon, star of its new serial killer drama "The Following." HBO brought Matt Damon and Michael Douglas to talk about an upcoming movie about the entertainer Liberace.

Blip will present Eric Spiegelman, producer of "Old Jews Telling Jokes," an unscripted series that features Jewish men and women telling humorous stories.

Julian Smith, a comedian who creates short comedy sketches, and Chris Gethard, star of a weekly variety show, also will appear during Blip's presentation on Wednesday.

Blip, which is backed by venture capital firms Bain Capital and Canaan Capital, aims to showcase the quality of its programs on the Web, said CEO Kelly Day, the former head of digital media and commerce at Discovery Communications.

Online shows these days are running longer than the short amateur clips the Web is famous for, she said, and feature more extensive character development and better production quality.

"Everything is improving," Day said. "But it still hasn't gotten on the radar screen of mainstream media yet. You don't see People magazine writing about this stuff yet."

TCA President Candy Havens said the organization began allowing digital programmers into its gathering about seven years ago to keep members informed about the evolving entertainment landscape beyond traditional television.

"It's important, if we're going to inform our readers, that we stay current on what's available," Havens said.

Netflix hopes to wow the critics with its growing slate of original programming it will premiere this year as the video subscription service competes with premium cable networks like Time Warner Inc's HBO and CBS Corp's Showtime.

Netflix's TCA headliner is Ricky Gervais, the irreverent comedian and creator of "The Office." He'll promote "Derek," a comedy that stars Gervais as a staffer who cares for residents in a retirement home.

The video streaming service will also showcase "Hemlock Grove," a murder mystery directed by horror movie producer Eli Roth and one-time Fox TV show "Arrested Development." Netflix is reviving the quirky comedy with the original cast including Will Arnett, Jason Bateman and Portia de Rossi.

Online video site Hulu skipped the TCA event this year, but pitched a handful of original shows to the group in 2012. This time it sent an announcement to reporters trumpeting its new shows such as "Mother Up!," a half-hour adult animated comedy starring "Desperate Housewives" alum Eva Longoria, and the animated show, "The Awesomes," co-created by Seth Meyers of "Saturday Night Live."

(Reporting By Lisa Richwine)

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