The Television Critics Association Press Tour is going to be crawling with TVWeek staffers. Check this space for observations from the presentations, hallway chatter and the dope on who was misbehaving at the parties. TVWeek’s Jon Lafayette, Josef Adalian, Andrew Krukowski, Sergio Ibarra and Vlada Gelman all will post as they scour the scene for news.


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Blogging the TCA

BET Focuses on Obama, 'Harlem Heights'

January 10, 2009 2:22 PM

The election of Barack Obama is very much on the minds of the people at BET and its viewers.

“This is a historic time,” said BET CEO Debra Lee, speaking at a Saturday session of the Television Critics Association's Winter Press Tour at the Universal Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.

BET will be covering the inauguration of Mr. Obama and airing two specials, “King to Obama,” looking at the impact the slain civil rights leader had on the president-elect, and “The Obama Effect,” in which a cross-section of African-Americans of different ages and backgrounds “reflect on how Obama’s rise has moved them,” Ms. Lee said.

BET also will be hosting an inaugural ball.

“We want to share this moment with our audience and tell the story of a dream realized,” Ms. Lee said, adding, “a dream I never thought would come true.”

The main thrust of the session was to promote BET’s new series “Harlem Heights,” a reality show following a group of young college-educated professionals living in the New York neighborhood.

One scene in the series shows the characters reacting to Mr. Obama’s election, but that wasn’t designed to be part of the storyline. The series was acquired by BET before Mr. Obama became the nominee of the Democratic party.

“None of us expected the election to be so meaningful to us and the people in Harlem,” said Loretha Jones, president for entertainment at BET. “We happened to be with these people on Election Night. And you saw their reaction to the election.”

It also was acquired before Ms. Jones joined the network.

Ms. Jones said that since joining BET last year, she has enjoyed “a pretty smooth transition” and that “it’s been very easy for me to get inspired about what BET has in store.”

Unlike many reality shows that throw strangers together in a house, some members of the cast of “Harlem Heights” knew the show's producer and one another before production started.

One participant, in fact, was assistant to MTV News chief David Sirulnick.

“They all knew each other. We were looking for that special quality. They’re a crop of young African Americans who are that new Harlem renaissance,” said Randolph Sturrup, one of the show’s creators and producers.

“I haven’t seen people like this on TV since ‘The Cosby Show,’” said executive producer and creator Kurt Williamson.

Ms. Jones said the show is not designed to be a BET version of “The Hills.” And while it has high production values, it is not scripted.

“This show is not ‘The Hills,” she said. “The production values, which I find to be a positive, allow us to capture the beauty of Harlem in a way we haven't seen before.”

—Jon Lafayette

'NASCAR Wives' Gets Prime TLC Slot for Debut

January 10, 2009 10:03 AM

After it shows the crowning of a new Miss America, TLC plans to introduce the country to the women involved in a different type of competition.

“With the record ratings of ‘Miss America’ last year, we think of that timeslot as our post-Super Bowl slot, so that’s where we’ve chosen to debut ‘NASCAR Wives,'” said Eileen O’Neill, who’s starting to turn around struggling TLC.

The new series will focus on the women in the lives of the men who drive for NASCAR, a sport whose fan base is about 40% female.

“These are strong women, women who live extraordinary lives, run businesses, raise families and support their families when they hit the track and race at breakneck speeds of over 200 miles per hour,” Ms. O’Neill said.

One critic at Friday evening’s panel asked the NASCAR wives if they were familiar with Bravo’s “Real Housewives” and if they were concerned by the way those women are portrayed on TV.

“I’m not too familiar with that show, but I’m not concerned because the reason why I joined on is because I trust TLC and nothing is fabricated,” said Angie Skinner, wife of racer Mike Skinner. “It’s honest, and we’re approachable women. I’m not ashamed of what I do in my life, so I’m not ashamed to have it on TV.”

—Jon Lafayette

'Beast's' Swayze Enters Hospital, Misses TCA

January 9, 2009 12:13 PM

Patrick Swayze, star of A&E's new series "The Beast," checked himself into a hospital Friday morning and was unable to attend a session on the show at the Television Critics Association's Winter Press Tour in Los Angeles.

Mr. Swayze has been battling pancreatic cancer during the filming of the show.

"Patrick has checked himself into the hospital. He asked us to go forward with the panel. A&E networks wishes him the best with his recovery," said Abbe Raven, CEO of A&E Television Networks.

Mr. Swayze went into the hospital for observation because of pneumonia brought on by chemotherapy, added Bob DeBitetto, president of A&E Network. He said Mr. Swayze plans to resume promoting the show as soon as he's back on his feet.

Jon Stewart Touts 'Important Things' at TCA

January 9, 2009 11:14 AM

Jon Stewart is a producer of Comedy Central’s new show “Important Things With Demetri Martin,” but he didn’t come to the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour in person. Instead, he sent a tape.

“You’re thinking, ‘He thinks he’s too big,’” Mr. Stewart said in his prerecorded message. “That is why I pre-taped this message.”

Mr. Stewart seemed to have sympathy for the critics who staggered into the Universal Hilton ballroom Friday morning.

“You have a lot of shows to watch. ‘The Hills,’ ‘The City,’ ‘Bromance.’ Because of that your brains probably hurt and it’s hard to hold onto any kind of adult relationship,” he said. “I don’t know why they still make you do these things.”

Mr. Martin had to follow that; he remarked on how difficult it is to make critics laugh in the morning.

“This is the best time to do comedy. Just after 10. If it could be any brighter in here, that would be great,” he said.

Mr. Martin said his show would have guest stars, including fellow “Daily Show” alum John Oliver and Amanda Peet.

When asked about Mr. Stewart, Mr. Martin said: “The glow of his star permeates the show. He’s not in it. He’s just not right for the show.”

—Jon Lafayette

Nick: It’s a SpongeBob Party With Pandas and Penguins

January 9, 2009 10:07 AM

Good things kids probably haven’t heard the old expression "Don’t trust anybody over 30."

The Penguins of Madagascar

Nickelodeon will be marking its 30th year on the air this year and the 10th anniversary of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Nick President Cyma Zarghami said Mr. SquarePants will be celebrated with 20 new episodes, a TV movie, a documentary, a vertical Web site and a live touring performance by the show’s cast.

Johnny Depp will join the celebration, providing the voice of a surfing god during one special episode of the show coming up.

Working in partnership with DreamWorks Animation, Nickelodeon in March will be launching “Penguins of Madagascar,” a cartoon spinoff of the hit animated “Madagascar” films.

Ms. Zarghami said Nick has ordered 26 more episodes of the show, bringing the total to 52. She said Nick also is working with DreamWorks on a TV version of “Kung Fu Panda.”

Ms. Zarghami also announced that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be the host of this year’s Kids Choice Awards.

AMC's Collier Expects Weiner to Return to 'Mad Men'

January 9, 2009 8:27 AM

AMC General Manager Charlie Collier said he was “very optimistic” that “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner will be back with the show. Mr. Weiner is in a salary dispute with Lionsgate, which produces the award-winning series.

Mr. Collier said a third season of “Mad Men” is scheduled to air in the third quarter. That’s doable if the show’s writers room gets opened in February, he said.

Last year, because of the Writers Guild of America strike, the writers didn’t get to work on the show until February, and the show still got on the air during the summer.

AMC announced the show’s renewal last year.

—Jon Lafayette

Gilligan Has Something Nice to Say About WGA Strike

January 8, 2009 5:44 PM

Season two of AMC’s Golden Globe-nominated series “Breaking Bad” will have a “slam-bang” ending, creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan promised Thursday afternoon during a session at the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour in Los Angeles.

One of the new season’s first images will give viewers a clue as to where the season is going, Mr. Gilligan said.

Along the way, the show will take a number of interesting side roads, he said, including one that was imposed on the writers when the New Mexico home where one of the characters lives was sold out from under the production.

Season one of “Breaking Bad” was cut short by the Writers Guild of America strike. While the strike was an “awful, terrible thing,” Mr. Gilligan said it might have had a silver lining for the series.

He’d originally planned a big ending for the season, but was fortunate not to have the opportunity to film it.

“I realized I wanted to slow things down,” he said. “The strike saved us from doing too much too soon.”

—Jon Lafayette

Nat Geo Aims for Bush, Gets Obama Too

January 8, 2009 5:23 PM

National Geographic Channel had a camera crew on board for President-elect Barack Obama’s first flight on Air Force One, network general manager Steve Schiffman said Thursday afternoon at the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour.

National Geographic had planned to show outgoing President George W. Bush’s last flight on the presidential plane for its documentary “On Board Air Force One,” but as a bonus, it got Mr. Obama meeting his new pilot and flight crew.

“On Board Air Force One” premieres Jan. 25, followed by “On Board Marine One,” which looks at the president’s helicopter fleet.

—Jon Lafayette

Hold the Anchovies

January 8, 2009 4:17 PM

Isabella Rossellini is returning for a second season of her short-film series “Green Porno” on Sundance Channel, in which she acts out the reproductive behavior of marine animals.

What animal was the most difficult for her to become? The anchovy, Ms. Rossellini said.

That’s because “they swim in schools,” she said, all trying to get to the center of the group so they can avoid being eaten by predators.

“All of the costumes are made of people, and they all had to move together,” she said. "It was hard for me to be in the middle of all these anchovies and do their movements.”

The new season of “Green Porno” begins May 5.

—Jon Lafayette

Rockers Ready to Rumble

January 8, 2009 4:15 PM

Talk about your battles of the band.

The members of the struggling band in the IFC series “Z Rock” were asked who would win a throwdown between them, the Conchords from HBO and the Jonas Brothers from Disney Channel.

Paulie Z of Z Rock liked his chances. “Remember, we’re from Brooklyn,” he said.

But, he added, “Motorhead would probably kick our butt.”

John Popper of Blues Traveler, who appears on the series, suggested that in such situations, it’s a good strategy to go after the bass player first. “He’s got the biggest thing to swing,” Mr. Popper said.

—Jon Lafayette