Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.

The name Steven Spielberg seems to be attached to an ever-increasing number of series — in broadcast network primetime in particular. Those include Fox’s on-the-bubble Terra Nova as well as the forthcoming NBC musical drama Smash and ABC’s horror hour The River, the Bruce Greenwood-starrer that’s been tagged “Paranormal Activity outdoors” and premieres February 7 in the Tuesday 9 PM slot. But it remains something of a mystery exactly what Spielberg’s input might be as executive producer on any of these projects — or if it’s largely ceremonial and meant simply to attach his powerful brand. The subject was raised this morning at the TCA session for The River, where it was noted that Spielberg always is too busy to grace one of these panels with his presence. One of the three exec producers who was there, Zack Estrin, begged to differ: “Oh, I think he actually is here in this room,” he said. “(Spielberg’s) influence with stories, his influence when he watches the cuts is amazing. I mean, he’s off doing a movie — or two — and the fact he finds time to watch these cuts and give us notes and be just incredibly supportive is great for us. To have someone like him at our hip and giving us guidance that’s not superficial but indeed foundational is pretty great.”

After the panel, fellow River exec producer Michael Green reiterated what Estrin had said, while hinting that not all of Spielberg’s pearls of wisdom are pristine. “Mostly, what we hear from Steven filters through his executives,” he said. “He’ll weigh in with key points while we’re in development of the series and in the seasonal arc, where he weighed in quite a bit in our case. Once we’re in production, his executives will forward us his emails.” Green said those emails will typically highlight adjustments Spielberg would like to see made to make certain moments fly higher. “Sometimes it’s a wonderful idea,” he said, “and sometimes it’s not exactly what we want to do but it’s always cool to hear it. (His ideas) are never not worth our time.”

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