James Hibberd's 'Rated' is TVWeek.com's daily programming news and ratings blog.

Email James Hibberd. Subscribe: Rated RSS feed / TVWeek E-Daily Newsletter


James Hibberd

July 2006 Archives

Sills Still Sings

July 27, 2006 3:25 PM

Opera legend Beverly Sills is not at all happy with the current state of television talk shows. Sills, who is the subject of an upcoming PBS “Great Performances” profile, bemoaned the state of young men on TV talk.

Speaking to TV critics via satellite Wednesday, she complained that none of the talkers are “clean shaven.”

But the female guests are a real sore point.

Talk shows book “women with absolutely nothing to say, and when they do say something, you regret it,” she said to laughter from critics.

Sills knows a few things about talk shows. A long time friend of Johnny Carson, she was a frequent guest and guest host on NBC’s “Tonight Show.”

“It was very unusual for an opera singer to have that opportunity,” she said, noting that her appearances helped bring her profession down to earth for the American public.
The documentary, which profiles Sills’ extensive career, features footage from her performances on stage and on television.

Although it is “not a pivotal moment” in her life, Sills said she was “tickled pink” about the retrospective of her career. A self-described “nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn” who is called Bubbles by friends and family, Sills had done everything from run Lincoln Center to perform with the Muppets.

“I’m really at the point where I’m quite content how my life turned out,” she said. “There were tremendous valleys, but there were tremendous starry moments.”

A Final 'Suspect'

July 26, 2006 6:58 PM

Helen Mirren was asked if like Cher and Barbra Streisand, who seem to have farewell concerts every few years, the seventh installment of Masterpiece Theatre’s “Prime Suspect” miniseries was really the last.

“It’s definitive,” Mirren said at the PBS series’ press tour session Wednesday.

“In the real world these people don’t go on forever,” she said. “I like the idea of bookends. It began and it ends.”

The clip showed the iconographic Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in the last few weeks on the London police force before her retirement. Her relationship with booze appears to be making her forgetful, but Tennison is determined to solve one last crime before ending her career.

This had critics wondering if Mirren’s character, would die in “Prime Suspect 7,” a detail Mirren had no intention of giving up.

Mirren hadn’t been suffering from any melancholy about the end of “Prime Suspect,” until she saw the clip PBS showed at the press tour session.

“I didn’t expect it, but just now, funnily enough,” she said.

“Prime Suspect” has a generous production schedule, considering for the current installment there were 11 weeks to shoot the four hour miniseries. Mirren didn’t know how much was spent on “Prime Suspect,” but “certainly I get paid more” than she did when the first installment was filmed over a decade ago, she said.

Despite being a producer on “Prime Suspect” this time around, Mirren said she didn’t involve herself in the writing and directing.

“I’m always a little hands off,” she said. I never want a writer and director coming on board feeling they have to stick to a format.”

The Stars Come Out on ‘Nip/Tuck’

July 26, 2006 11:51 AM

Larry Hagman, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Dinklage, Rosie O’Donnell and Catherine Deneuve are all doing guest-star stints on the upcoming fourth season of the FX series “Nip/Tuck.” But don’t expect the sexy and disturbing show to turn into a cable version of “Will & Grace” by relying too much on big guest names, creator Ryan Murphy said at his press tour session Tuesday afternoon.

Using guest stars in a show’s fourth season “energizes story telling,” Murphy said, noting that “this show is always about these three people, make no mistake.”

The three people—Julian McMahon, Dylan Walsh and Joely Richardson—were all present on the panel, and uniformly expressed disappointment in the show’s third season, which was dominated by a homicidal maniac called The Carver.

“It felt like a different show for awhile,” Walsh said, with McMahon admitting “last year was not my favorite year, to be honest,” adding “this year I’m totally revitalized.”

Murphy stood behind the Carver storyline, but said for season four, the show would be focused more on the relationship of the show’s two plastic surgeons and long-suffering friend and mate Julia.Responding to curious critics, Murphy said Denueve will be playing a woman who wants to put her late husband’s ashes in her breast implants, which brought on groans of horror from the crowd.

“That’s a true story,” he said, noting that all the cases in the show are based on actual procedures and events.
Critics did get more about what Denueve would be doing on the show, however.

“When you think Catherine Denueve, you think French murderess,” he said. “At least I do.”

Spike Feresten Breaks Bulbs, Makes Nice With Sudafed

July 26, 2006 11:46 AM

Three and a half years into his stint as a music student in Boston, Spike Feresten realized “he had made a really bad decision.” At the Tuesday afternoon press tour session for his new Fox late-night entry “Talk Show with Spike Feresten,” the failed music student explained he had been thrown out of his dormitory after chucking light bulbs out an eighth-story window. A few months later, he saw David Letterman pull the same stunt on his late night show. and Feresten realized “there is a place for me.”

“Instead of getting in trouble, I could make a career,” he added. One critic (and by one critic, I mean me) asked Feresten if Fox’s top ad sales guy, Jon Nesvig, had beat the crap out of him for his performance at the advertiser upfronts in May, when Feresten made cracks about Sudafed and its relationship to fueling the crystal meth epidemic. I thought it was funny back when Feresten made the joke, but apparently advertisers didn’t share my quirky sense of humor. “It’s a steep learning curve right now,” Feresten admitted, “and very public.” Executive producer Stewart Bailey said Feresten should be free lunch for journalists for a while.

“He’s remarkably free of polish,” Bailey said. “Enjoy it.” And the nick name Spike? It came when Feresten was the receptionist 15 years ago on “Saturday Night Live,” and his cow licked hair brought on the moniker.

“They said, ‘Do you have problem with that?’” Feresten remembered, when the name Spike started to stick. “I said, “Just don’t fire me.”

‘Happy Hour’ and the Cult of Kelly Ripa

July 26, 2006 11:41 AM

Women are obsessed with talk show host, product spokesman and super mom Kelly Ripa. That was the big message to come out of the press tour session Tuesday for Fox’s new comedy “Happy Hour.”

Executive producer Jackie Filgo admitted her obsession onstage while talking about her show, which started a “me too!” discussion among series regulars Jamie Denbo and Beth Lacke.

“She’s got like, four different jobs,” an amazed Lacke said.

“She has like, seven nannies,” Denbo said.

Their co-star, Lex Medlin, (who you might recognize from his speed talking-auctioneer shtick he does on T-Mobile TV commercials) was frightened by the conversation, adding that his wife is a Ripa-phile as well.

Lacke explained that she is obsessed with Ripa because she is a “woman who can do it all and keeps diminishing in size.”

One critic asked the cast if women like men who are easily ordered around, noting that actor Nat Faxon’s character fits into that mold with his relationship with Denbo’s character.

“Oh yeah, that whole we want you to take charge thing,” Denbo said, “No, no, no, no.”
“I prefer them not to speak,” Lacke added.

The male cast members seemed to take note. While Medlin got a few words in, Faxon and fellow cast member John Sloan were pretty quiet throughout the session, speaking only when spoken to.

Just like Lacke likes it.

These Kids Can Dance

July 26, 2006 11:38 AM

It’s not often that a press tour session begins with some interpretive West Coast swing, but this is Fox we’re talking about. At the press tour session for the summer reality hit “So You Think You Can Dance?” Tuesday, cousins Benji and Heidi cut up the stage, along with rival couple Travis and Allison. Critics actually applauded afterward, and for once it was deserved.

The four dancers reappeared onstage just moments later, along with the other four finalists, four judges, host Cat Deeley and executive producer and host Nigel Lythgoe.

One critic wanted to know if the dancers, most of who have been training for years, are enjoying a newfound popularity with the show, which has made dancing cool among the kids.

Benji noted that he had received an email from an “old school bully” who wanted to apologize for spitting on him and making his life miserable in high school.

“It’s really neat to see how so many people can be inspired.”

Another critic asked Lythgoe why the winning dancer will receive such a small prize—an SUV, Las Vegas dance contract and $100,000—compared to the cool million he gives on some other show of his, called “American Idol.”

“If you give somebody a million dollars as a dancer, you’re almost detracting from the dancer,” he said, noting that the cash on “Idol” is not a prize but a contract from a recording company. The top 10 kids are not going to be hurting for leg warmers and tap shoes, however. Lythgoe is trying to organize a multi-city dance tour that will feature the final ten dancers.

“Hopefully that will generate some money for them,” he said.

Choreographer Dan Karaty was asked what it’s like to work with big music stars. He admitted that Britney Spears picks his steps up quickly, but some other performers, “like Jessica Simpson takes a really long time to learn things.”

Something tells me that’s true of other things as well.

Decision 2006: The Dumbest TCA Question of the Summer

July 25, 2006 2:25 PM

It’s time for a reader’s poll. I thought it might be interesting to let you decide which has been the most ridiculous question asked at press tour. Yes, we still have a couple days to go, but there are already plenty of contenders out there. I’ve chosen three examples of what seemed to me the most egregious, perhaps even unprofessional, questions asked over the course of the last three weeks-anything that was purposely comedic or facetious was not considered. Critics were serious when they asked these questions. Really. Feel free to cast your vote by emailing me or posting your vote in the comments section below.

A. Asked at the syndicated talk show “Dr. Keith Ablow” session July 23. Faithful readers of this blog might want to know the “Flashdance” critic asked the above question:
“The first one is something I’ve always wanted to ask a psychiatrist, but I don’t know any… are our dreams like a secret window to what is happening to us emotionally?”

B. Asked at the Sundance “One Punked Under God” session July 11.“So what is — in your mind, is your vision of what you would think God would look like?”

C. Asked of Vanessa Williams at the ABC “Ugly Betty” session July 18. This is an exchange, but I think it needs to be read entirely to get the full cringe effect it had on the whole room.

Note he’s asking a question about a show that lasted two episodes on a dead network… Critic: When this room met with UPN in January, there was a scheduled “South Beach” session.
All of your ensembled cast members were out here. But the morning of the press conference, we were told that there would be no press conference because of the unfortunate news of a death in your family. I just wanted to ask you, were you aware that “South Beach” cancelled its press conference because of this news? Some of us were skeptical. We thought that possibly UPN had already lost faith in the show and that’s why they cancelled the press conference.What did you know about the cancellation of the press conference?

Williams: I knew nothing. But thank you for mentioning my father.

Critic: You are welcome.

Vote early and often for A, B or C. Polls close Wednesday at 5 p.m. (PT). I’ve edited for brevity and clarity, but not idiocy.

'Justice' Is Served

July 25, 2006 1:56 PM

Jonathan Shapiro, the executive producer of the Fox legal drama “Justice,” is happy his new show about a dream team of elite defense attorneys will balance out the proliferation of prosecutors currently on network TV.“Everybody hates lawyers, but they love their lawyer,” Shapiro said Tuesday morning at his Press Tour session. “I have such admiration and love for the defense lawyer.”Shapiro, an attorney himself, also pointed out that a recent American Film Institute survey showed moviegoers picked “To Kill a Mockingbird’s” Atticus Finch as their favorite lawyer of all time.

In the “Justice” pilot, the producers chose a conclusion that let viewers know that the defendant, who ultimately gets off, was indeed innocent. One critic wanted to know if they specifically chose an innocent defendant for the first episode, because if a guilty person got off it might be too big of a jolt for the initial audience.

A guilty defendant getting off was considered, Shapiro said, but “that would have worked well, too.”
But guilt and innocence isn’t the issue.

“Our lawyers don’t know and they don’t care, because in our system they can’t care,” he said.

'Vanished' Keeping It Real

July 25, 2006 1:53 PM

Josh Berman, the creator and executive producer of the Fox drama "Vanished," will keep the suspense clock ticking, but not as literally as they do on another Fox drama thriller.
At his press tour session Monday afternoon, Berman said the series will "not be told in real time," but that director Mimi Leder will keep the show "honest" in terms of the pace of suspense.

"Vanished" is "not '24,' it's more akin to 'Prison Break,'" Berman said.

One critic wanted to know if series regular Josh Hopkins felt the show accurately portrayed politicians as nefarious and self-serving. Hopkins' father was a member of Congress for 14 years.

"Pretty accurate," Hopkins said of the portrayals. "My dad's a jerk," he said to laughs.

The critic wouldn't leave well enough alone, and wanted to know if Hopkins, who was aged 8 to 20 while his father was in office, got the sense of importance his dad's job had at the time, and if he understood why so many people wanted to always speak to his father.

"I had no perspective," he said, giving an answer that must have disappointed the critic who was clearly fishing for a more inspiring answer. "I didn't know who these men were. I was really bored."


'Prison Break' goes Texan

July 25, 2006 1:51 PM

The Fox drama 'Prison Break' is moving in a new direction for the fall, now that the seven escaped convicts are on the run, said executive producer Paul T. Scheuring at the show's press tour session Monday afternoon.

"The visual scope is opening up," he said, noting that the production has moved from shooting at an old prison in Joliet, Ill. for a more expansive production in Dallas that incorporates the prisoners' run from the law.

"It was our home," actor Robert Knepper said of the prison. "It was a character."

One critic asked if it was true that the series was incorporating the word "Manhunt" into the title. Executive producer Matt Olmstead said that was not going to happen.
"We plan to keep it as 'Prison Break,'" he said.

Series regular Rockmond Dunbar said the only time he felt prison-like stir crazy last season was when snow storms would strand them in Joliet, where the accommodations consisted of "just a little casino."

"There was smoke everywhere," he said. "You'd try to make it back to Chicago as fast as you can."

Warden Stacey Keach "takes a considerably smaller role" this season now that architect Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller), who was almost a surrogate son, has broken out of the big house. But Keach will be back in some form so that the relationship between the two characters can have some emotional close.

Michael's elaborate tattoo is "not soley for the escape," Scheuring said, noting that there are elements to it that will help him stay missing.

Concerning the tattoo, Miller said the producers were "smart enough not to tell me, I was foolish enough not to ask," about how long it would take to recreate each day.

Describing it as an "arduous process," Miller said it's the "most ambitious faux tattoo" in film or TV history.

A 'Hell'-ish Lunch

July 25, 2006 1:44 PM

 For the afternoon press tour meal Monday, Fox decided to brand the event with its summer reality series "Hell's Kitchen."

Foot-high cut outs of a stern looking Gordon Ramsay dominated each of the tables, along with a single cook book, which like a flower centerpiece at a wedding reception, could be swiped by the quickest critic.

No burgers or cold cuts at this meal. A first of course marinated cucumber, jicama salad, micro arugula in a citrus stone vinaigrette started off the meal, which went on to rosemary crust breast of chicken and an apple duo dessert that included a baby gala apple crème brulée.

All delightfully delicious.

Unlike "Kitchen," there were no broken plates, sweaty chef wannabes, or even Ramsay himself. It also looked like Ramsay didn't have much control over the kitchen at all. At the bottom of a menu card noted the menu "was inspired by Gordon Ramsay."

Apparently in Pasadena, the Ritz chefs trump anything the networks would like to serve up.

Ailes the Conqueror

July 24, 2006 11:09 PM

Fox News Channel Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes began his press tour session Monday afternoon celebrating the cabler's tenth anniversary with some quotes. Not just any quotes, mind you, but quotes flashed on a video screen that were written by the trade and consumer press (some currently at press tour) back mostly in 1996. The quotes all dismissed the cable net as a bad idea or a likely failure in a marketplace that was then dominated by CNN.Ailes proved his critics wrong, noting in his opening remarks that the news channel has been No. 1 in the news marketplace for 55 months, and in the ratings outpaces competitors CNN and MSNBC combined.

"I can't wait to see what people think about us in 10 years," Ailes said soon after taking the stage.

Like several of their network news colleagues, Fox News talents Shepard Smith and Jennifer Griffin appeared via satellite from the Middle East to fill critics in on the Israel-Lebanon conflict. Besides world news of the day, Ailes gave a round up on several developments for the channel itself.

Concerning the Fox News business channel spinoff, Ailes said when "distribution is in place we will go ahead with it," and that he has developed a business plan for the network.

"We have not pushed it any further than that," he added.

Asked about younger viewers, Ailes said it is clear they are "not turning to news," but that the cabler had "some issues with Nielsen" about how they assessed younger viewers.

The issue goes far beyond Nielsen, however.

"It's going to be the big question for the next couple years for all of us," he said.

One critic asked why Fox News Channel will not call back certain journalists. The critic specifically referenced the Associated Press reporter David Bauder.

"We don't have any policy like that at all," he said, noting that he will talk to anyone his PR team forwards to him.

"I don't know anybody I wouldn't talk to," Ailes added.

Going with an evening news show at 6:30 p.m. (ET) to compete with the broadcast news programs is a "complex issue," he said. "Would I like to do it? Sure. I'm basically competitive."

But there is "not great demand" for a new product, and on the station side, counter-programming with non-news content seems to be working fine, he said.


Unlike Upfronts, Brad Garrett kills at TCA

July 24, 2006 6:21 PM

Back in May, “’Til Death” series regular Brad Garrett raised a few eyebrows with his blue comedic rant in New York at the Fox advertiser upfront presentation, where he skewered “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest by suggesting they were lovers and that judge Paula Abdul was insane.

At the show’s press tour session Monday afternoon, one critic wanted to know if he had to send flowers to the network’s V.I.P. talent.

“Well, we’ve been together four years,” Garrett said of Seacrest to laughs. “That’s really just comedy.”

“I probably shouldn’t do comedy during the day, I learned,” he added. “They were great sports about it and they have much bigger careers than I do.”

Garrett was in rare form, graciously agreeing to do his Bill Cosby imitation for one critic, an imitation that cracked up his co-star Joely Fisher.

Another critic asked Garrett if he thought his co-star Eddie Kaye Thomas looks like Garrett’s old boss, “Everybody Loves Raymond” executive producer Phil Rosenthal.
Garrett eyed Thomas, and said he saw a resemblance.

“Is it good,” Thomas asked.

“No, it’s not good,” Garrett shot back.

“There’s a little Phil in all of us,” he said to the critic.

Garrett definitely was working the room, even with a critic who looked like she was sneaking outside to make a cell phone call.

“Ma’am, it will get better, please,” he said, entreating her to stay. “We only did a pilot, it will take time.”


Ron Livingston: Successful 'Sex' Alumnus

July 24, 2006 5:51 PM

At the press tour session for his new Fox hostage negotiator drama "Standoff" Monday morning, series regular Ron Livingston said his guest stint on HBO's "Sex and the City" was a good career move.
"Being one of Carrie Bradshaw's boyfriends is the romantic lead stamp of approval I didn't walk away with from 'Office Space,'" he said.

One critic asked creator and executive producer Craig Silverstein if he was inspired by the 1980s ABC drama "Moonlighting," which, like "Standoff," involves a working couple juggling their sexual tension with the job.

"I watched a couple 'Moonlighting's' in preparation for this," he said, but noted that series was solely about the characters Dave and Maddie's relationship. "We couldn't get away with 'Moonlighting' anymore. They didn't care about the case."

While many action-heavy series build to the big explosion scenes, "Standoff's" drama and tension will come when big events involving hostages are averted, Silverstein said.
"It's more cerebral action," he said. "It's how do we stop those big sequences from erupting so that when they do, it feels like an even bigger deal."

Take One Dr. Ablow and Call Me in the Morning

July 24, 2006 11:53 AM

Rounding our the four syndicated talk show presentations presented at press tour this July, Warner Bros. entry Dr. Keith Ablow was the focus of lunch Sunday afternoon, giving a picture of what his new show will be like.

A forensic psychiatrist and best selling crime novelist, Ablow is working the Dr. Phil daytime “Help me Help you” angle, but from a different perspective.

One critic asked Ablow why viewers should watch him instead of tuning into Dr. Phil. Calling Phil an “exceptional behavioral therapist,” Ablow noted solving people’s problems is “not just about here and now, but the past.”

“Since you’re being a bad father, tell me about your father,” Ablow used as an example.
Ablow said he wants to tell stories in each show, a skill he used with great success at the lunch, where he compellingly explained some of the circumstances that led the seemingly happy Scott Petersen down the path to kill his wife and unborn child.
He also has his crusades. Ablow said he would love to show people that pharmaceuticals are not the only solution to their psychological problems.

That prompted a few smiles at my lunch table, where one person held up the notepad swag that had been placed on our chairs. It was a Dr. Keith Ablow note pad, designed to look like a doctor’s scrip pad. To be fair, the drug being prescribed was Ablow himself, since the pad was emblazoned with “Prescriptions for life!” and a reminder to “Refill: daily.”

Greg Behrendt, and What Men Do Instead of Reading Self-help Books

July 23, 2006 10:56 PM

 Sony Pictures TV had a good turnout for its Greg Behrendt breakfast early Sunday morning, luring about 50 critics out of their beds for pancakes, bagels and lox.

One critic was tragically dressed in a cut up version of her “free to be critical” CW t-shirt, which made for an unfortunate “Flashdance” look that was tied together with her denim short shorts. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m kind of over many of my TCA colleagues.

Anyway, back to Greg—who was pretty funny and engaging considering the hour and rising heat. As the promo clip told us, if Oprah is the queen of syndicated talk, Dr. Phil is your dad and Ellen is your sister, then Greg is your cool brother, ready to tell you like it is.

Proving that life doesn’t work out the way you always expect, Behrendt said he “came to L.A. in 1993 to be a rock star, and now I’m a contributor to Cosmo.”

Author, stand-up and former “Sex and the City” consultant, said he plans to be a “friend,” “facilitator,” and a “listener” on his upcoming daytime talk show, which he said will go beyond his “He’s just not that into you” moniker.

There were a few female critics publicly working through some of their men issues when they asked questions, which excited Behrendt but unsettled some of the rest of us.

Noting that he has been dumped plenty of times, Behrendt—who has been in recovery for 10 years—said there was a clear reason why he doesn’t write something similar targeted at the guys.

“Men don’t buy books,” he said. “They get drunk, stand on their lawn, and then the cops come.”

Sweating with the Kids from ‘The Office’

July 23, 2006 10:54 PM

It seems hard to believe, but a chance encounter on the Ritz lawn in hundred-plus degree heat can be the highlight of the press tour.

That's what I realized Saturday night at NBC's all-star party, after I had spent a few mintues trying to cool off by rolling a beer bottle across my forehead.

"Look, it's Phyllis!" he squealed. Sitting at a table was indeed Phyllis Smith, who plays customer sales rep Phyllis, one of the brilliant supporting case members of NBC's "The Office." Plus, she was sitting with Leslie David Baker, who plays paper salesman Stanley.

We basically forced ourselves on the gracious pair, who gave us paper to wipe the sweat off our brows. Smith and Baker have been enjoying their "Office" rides and the attention that comes with it.

"I had a screamer in the Ralph's the other day," Baker said. "Oh, I had your screamer too," Smith said noting that the same fan had approached her and told Smith she had also met Baker.

Getting the feel of working a crappy office job wasn't hard for either actor. Native Chicagoan Baker worked a number of places in cluding a few gigs with psychiatric patients.

Smith, who is originally from St. Louis, had to deal with similar personalities in her last job -- she worked in a casting office. Viewers feel they really know the characters, both actors said.

Baker noted that fans come up to him and regularly tell him they know what his character is thinking in the frequent reaction shots the show uses to play up the comedy.

"They don't know what I'm thinking," Baker said. "Most of the time I'm just tired because of the 5 a.m. call."

Howie Is a Big ‘Deal’

July 23, 2006 7:48 PM

“Deal or No Deal” host Howie Mandel had no desire to talk about his well-reported obsessive compulsive disorder with critics or on the air at his show’s press tour session Saturday. Mandel, for example is so germ-phobic he doesn’t shake hands with contestants, but instead bumps closed fists with them. “I do that with a professional therapist,” Mandel said of discussing his OCD. “I don’t need a national TV show.”

Viewers shouldn’t be judgmental of players on the show, which seems simple but is much more stressful when you’re staring down the chance to go home a millionaire, “Deal” executive producer Scott St. John said.

“When they are out there, their heads explode,” he said.

Mandel is not one to be risky with his own cash, he admitted, noting that despite working Las Vegas regularly, he has “never put a quarter in a [slot] machine.”

“I drive a hybrid,” he said.

But it’s not an act when Mandel expresses concern for contestants who look like they are about to make an expensive mistake on the show.

“I’m legitimately a nervous wreck,” he said. “I watch these people and I live vicariously through them.”

Lorne Michaels and Budget Cuts at ‘SNL’

July 23, 2006 7:47 PM

Longtime “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels surprised critics at the “30 Rock” press tour session Saturday when he let slip that due to “massive budget cuts” impacting all of NBC, the longtime late-night comedy sketch show was going to have to make do with much less in terms of its own budget. “That makes some decisions simpler or clearer,” he said, noting that as part of the transition on the show, head writer and cast member Tina Fey was leaving “SNL” after nine years to work full time on “30 Rock.” A replacement for Fey as head writer has not been named.

He noted that transition has always been a part of the show’s history, but the comment about budget cuts had critics rushing for a post-session tour with Michaels.

“SNL” has been on so long that Michaels has been through the budget cutting process “three or four times” in the past.

When asked what percentage of a cut the show is suffering, Michaels would only say “a budget significantly less than last year.”

“It is never pleasant,” he added, noting that “SNL” would have a smaller cast next season, but keep the same episode order.

“I made the decision to stick with the 20 shows, and cut everything back,” he said.

No Emmy Love From Critics

July 23, 2006 7:45 PM

A large proportion of the critics who spoke up at the Prime Time Emmy Awards press tour session Saturday afternoon had their collective panties in a bunch.

The group had major issues with this year’s nominee list, which ignored some past Emmy favorites for newcomers that critics didn’t consider up to snuff.

Critics are not the only ones who share concerns about the new nomination process for the Prime Time Emmys, but I won’t go into that here since I wrote about it extensively in our June 10 dead tree edition, which you can access online:


TV Academy Chairman and CEO Dick Askin was on the panel, and addressed pretty much all the issues I collared him on in my previous story.

The non-repetitive bright spot in the panel was this year’s awards show host, Conan O’Brien, who responded to one critic who wanted to know why in certain Emmy nomination panels, judges only view one episode of a series, considering television shows play out over 22 episodes or so per season.

The critic forgot that nominees like O’Brien do a lot more that 22 hours of programming.

O’Brien wanted to know if judges in his categories should be required to watch “all 180 episodes I made throughout the year.” He suggested that they would have to be “sent to some sort of center or camp” to get the complete O’Brien season experience.

“Every day they watch 15 episodes of the show, and are fed injections of protein, like veal,” O’Brien imagined.

Another critic wondered if O’Brien could share some of the gags he has planned for the Aug. 27 ceremony. O’Brien kept that to himself, warning that telling a joke too early comes with consequences.

“Comedy, she’s a fickle lady,” O’Brien said wistfully.

Tackling ‘Friday Night Lights’

July 23, 2006 7:31 PM

The extensive on-field football shots in the NBC drama pilot "Friday Night Lights" were the real thing from the lead actors, up until the moment there were supposed to get tackled, series regular Zack Gilford said at the show's press tour session Saturday afternoon.

"We're running every play from the snap basically until the tackle occurs," Gilford said.

One of the jobs for the pilot's second assistant director was assessing the four lead actors level of athletic talent, and shooting scenes for them accordingly, explained co-star Scott Porter.

The show is not only going to be about boys and their balls, said Connie Britton, who was also in the feature film of the same name.

Britton felt the female story lines weren't given their due in the film, but executive producer Peter Berg graphically promised her the small screen version would also profile the ladies.

"Peter drew blood and swore we would do it on the TV show," Britton said. After the session, I did a sit-down interview with Berg about the series. Look for it in the print edition of TelevisionWeek the week of July 31.

Believing in ‘The One’

July 23, 2006 7:24 PM

David Goldberg, the president of production company Endemol USA, has faith in his ABC reality series "The One: Making of a Music Star." He's going to need a lot of it , considering the show's debut ratings Tuesday, which gave the network what several media outlets estimated was ABC's worst premiere in history.

After his Saturday morning press tour session on the Endemol gamer "Deal or No Deal" for NBC, Goldberg said the "One" ratings are similar to the drubbing the show took when the British version premiered.

"The first show was pretty much a disaster and they were able to build it, almost triple the ratigns," he said. "Now they are in their fourth season. I'm not saying that's going to happen [in the U.S], but we're trying to learn from the mistakes they made and try to fix that."

Since the show is currently in production and incorporates live elements, Endemol "didn't have the liberty of shooting for six monts and having all this great promotion," he said. For on-air promos, ABC sued footage o the Spanish version of "The One," which made it impossible for the show to introduce characters.

A "George Lopez" as a lead-in didn't help either. If "One" flames out, don't feel too badly for Goldberg.

There are three Endemol game shows about to go into production for the broadcast networks. And besides a Spanish-language version of "Deal" planned for NBC Universal-owned Telemundo this fall, Goldberg is looking for a 2007 launch for another version of "Deal" in first-run syndication.

Behind the Scenes of MSNBC with Dan

July 23, 2006 7:15 PM

Dan Abrams is fine with leaving behind hosting the MSNBC show "The Abrams Report" to instead run the struggling cable news channel. I chatted with Abrams at the Keith Olberman breakfast Saturday morning at press tour to see how he's been faring in his new gig as network chief.

"If I was really going to miss it I wouldn't have done this," he said of jumping into the executive ranks.

"I haven't reached a point where I'm saying, 'Oh my goodness, what did I do?' So far, so good, although it was a sacrifice I knew was coming."

The escalating crisis in the Middle East is putting pressure on Abrams's schedule change to documentaries at 10 p.m. (ET) and 11 p.m., but Abrams said MSNBC is sticking to its new programming and covering the day's news.

"We also said when there's big news, we were goign to have a crash team ready to go, that that team has been busy at work, crashign, and allowing us to cover this story with some tape at night," he said. "We're doing it a little bit differently, trying to do it in the documentary-type mold, but also recognizing this is an enormous story of enormous importance."

'30 Rock,' Uncle Rick and GE Trivection ovens

July 22, 2006 6:19 PM

Series regular Tracy Morgan is not as unbalanced as his character Tracy Jordan on "30 Rock," the new NBC series that takes a behind-the-scenes look at a sketch comedy show. At least that's what he said at the show's tour session on Saturday afternoon.

"It's like 'Alice in Wonderland,'" he said of playing an alter ego, referring to a scene in the pilot that shows just how whacked his character is.

"Being able to run down the street with your drawers on is fun," Morgan said.

This prompted one critic to ask if Morgan knows Martin Lawrence, who made headlines a decade ago for his unhinged antics in the middle of a public street.

"No, but I know my Uncle Rick," Morgan said. "He did it first. Martin didn't corner the market on meltdowns. And my Uncle Rick didn't even have drawers on."

The show's creator and star Tina Fey said Alec Baldwin will appear in every episode as an NBC programming executive. While her "SNL" colleague Rachel Dratch "is definitely part of the show," her role is being reworked from the pilot," Fey said.

The repeated mention of a GE Trivection Oven in the pilot was not "planned integration," Fey said. She picked the product off the GE Web site because "it sounded fancy."

"I believe you're all getting Trivection ovens," Fey said to the critics. "I hope I'm not wrong on that."

NBC's Super Hiro

July 22, 2006 6:08 PM

Masi Oka, one of the stars of NBC's new superhero drama "Heroes," left a memorable, if unintelligible, mark on most critics at the show's press tour session Saturday morning.

One critic asked Oka, who plays a Tokyo office worker who finds out he has the power of teleportation, if his Japanese language skills are good enough to fool a native (all of Oka's dialogue was subtitle in the pilot).

Oka answered the question in Japanese. I know I'm setting myself up to come across as a pretentious bastard, (ahem), but I speak some Japanese, and I can tell you Oka sounds like a native.

Creator Tim Kring explained that the character of Hiro was a late addition to the script.

"I approached it in a very realistic way," he said of the superhero series, which has most of the characters deal with newfound powers in "an intense, angsty way. I needed one character who embraced it in a positive way."

Series regular Greg Grunberg was an even later addition, since his role, a telepathic policeman, wasn't added until after the pilot was shot.

Not being in the pilot is a good sign, Grunberg said.

"I wasn't in the pilot of 'Felicity,'" he said, "and not in the pilot of 'Alias.' I was in the pilot of 'Lost' and got eaten."

NBC’s New Night of Football

July 22, 2006 5:59 PM

NBC Sports and Olypics Chairman Dick Ebersol was the most casual press tour panelist Saturday morning, sporting shorts and a polo shirt at the "Football Night in America" session. But he informal dress contrasted wtih his command of the conversation with critics. Ebersol explained that NBC only agreed to broadcast prime-time NFL games on the condition they'd be Sunday contests. The network didn't want to overrun into "The Tonight Show" and wanted to take advantage of the four hours of prime time on Sundays and the opportunity to get West Coast viewers to watch the whole game.

One critic asked analyst John Madden what his thoughts were on the his career now that he's turned 70 and is about to be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.

"I went from a player to a coach to a broadcaster," he said. "Never worked a day in my life. Seventy years of recess in a locker room."

Another critic asked the panel about the impact that NFL players who have had run-ins with the law have on the game.

Teams are getting more interested in "character players and are becoming less likely to pick up troublesome athletes, said former Pittsburgh Steeler and NBC analyst Jerome Bettis.

Madden wasn't buying all the league happy talk.

"If you can still play, someone is going to give them a job," he said.

Olbermann V. O’Reilly

July 22, 2006 5:47 PM

At MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann's press tour breakfast Saturday morning, the "Countdown" host brought up the dustup between the Associated Press and Fox over allowing AP photographers to shoot at the network's press tour session. The drama was really a broadcast network issue and not a Fox News concern, but Olbermann still took the chance to tweak his perennial punching bag, Bill O'Reilly.

"If you need a good photo...," Olbermann said as he held a cut-out of O'Reilly's mug in front of his face, adding that he wanted to offer photographers a "more familiar one." Olbermann then gave the crowd a Third Reich salute with the mask.

One critic asked Olbermann if he should take on an easier target than his more dominant competitor, O'Reilly.

"It's just so much more fun," Olbermann said, noting that only one time has O'Reilly won all three spots in his show's frequent "Worst Person in the World" segment.

Another critic asked how Olbermann, who has worked for nearly every media news outlet, it was working for MSNBC.

"Well, by rotation, I had to go either there or KTLA," he said.

In the Reporter's Scrum with Kevin Reilly

July 22, 2006 1:12 AM


NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly had a large but relatively relaxed post-executive reporter's scrum Friday morning at press tour, and offered up some additional information to the assembled crowd.  

Some of the fun facts included:

"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno may be stepping down in 2009, but he will still be working for NBC.
"We have a couple of ideas," Reilly said. "It's way premature."
But Reilly ruled out one genre for Leno.

"Jay's not interested in the specials business," he said, noting that the network is "full speed ahead" on Conan O'Brien taking over when Jay steps down.

NBC is producing more "Dateline: Internet Crimes" specials, which were a big ratings hit this past season, he said.
"We've ordered 13 of them," Reilly said. "They are not going to all air in the fall. We're going to pepper them in on Friday nights."
The child predator element of the show may be uncomfortable for some, but the program is effective, Reilly said.

"They have a few ideas to broaden it out," he said. "The mechanics of that particular segment, the Internet predator, has been so well executed. It is a show that you feel like it is salacious by nature, but if you watch the show, it is incredibly compelling television."

The recent "Nobody's Watching" pilot phenomenon on online video sharing site YouTube is likely to be a model going forward in terms of developing new on-air series, Reilly said.

"I want to increase our relationship with the online audience," he said, "and create more of an ongoing dialogue. I could absolutely see a place where we are sending for a group of loyal viewers who have established themselves in the NBC online club, so to speak…where we are sending them our pilots and letting them weigh in before setting the network schedule, and I think that would be healthy."

20 Loud Years

July 21, 2006 8:26 PM

John Lithgow, who is starring in the NBC comedy “Twenty Good Years” with Jeffrey Tambor, knows he’s a loud talker. 

At his show’s Press Tour session Friday afternoon, Lithgow copped to the full-throated delivery of his lines, which seems to be more suitable for reaching the back row of a 3,000-seat theater than for a TV pilot.

Lithgow said he’s just giving his directors more to work with when they assemble the show.

”You’re right, I have to be modulated constantly, but at least there’s a lot to work with,” he said.

Executive Producer Tom Werner said he “couldn’t be happier” to be in a pod deal with Warner Bros. Television, which is a big change from his past life as a principal in the now-shuttered independent studio the Carsey-Werner Company, which in its heyday produced “Roseanne,” “Grace Under Fire,” “That 70’s Show” and Mr. Lithgow’s own “Third Rock From the Sun.”

He called Warner Bros. Television President Peter Roth and his executives “great partners,” and gave every indication he was happy to be no longer running his own shop.

“It has been a blissful relationship,” he said.

They Might Collar Ernie in the Bert Passion Killing

July 21, 2006 6:17 PM

Dick Wolf, creator of the “Law & Order” franchise, took critics by surprise when he announced at his Press Tour session that there will be another “L&O” series debuting Aug. 14.

A video clip introduced “Law & Order: Special Letters Unit,” a parody attaching Wolf’s brand to the PBS children’s series “Sesame Street.”

Mirroring “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” there was a purple-pink Mariska Hargitay monster, an orange Chris Meloni monster—named “Maloney”—and a green monster that completely embodied Richard Belzer, all on the hunt for a missing “M.”

“This is the ultimate cultural accolade,” Wolf said, noting he’s already gotten a similar cultural nod from Mad magazine.

“I feel like a tobacco executive, hopefully hooking 4- and 5- and 6-year-olds,” he said.

Wolf also called rumors that Sam Waterston was leaving the “Law & Order” mother ship “totally salacious.”

And the never-shy Wolf took on ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson, who earlier in the week complained of this year’s Emmy nomination process, which shut out “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” in many key categories.

“I massively disagree with Steve McPherson’s assessment,” Wolf said, lauding “SVU’s” Meloni and his first lead actor nomination after seven years on the show. The new system “opens up a closed process,” Wolf said. “The proof is in the pudding.”

One critic asked why seemingly every actor who appears on Broadway has appeared on one of the “Law & Order” shows, at least according to their credits in the playbills.

“I’ve long said if you go to the theatre and they do not have a ‘Law & Order’ credit, they’ve just gotten off the bus or they are really bad.”

Finally, Brian Gets His Chance

July 21, 2006 5:48 PM

In a departure from the weighty, serious clip packages thrown up at the other network news sessions, NBC’s clip reel for news anchor Brian Williams at his Press Tour session Friday morning featured his appearances on a number of late-night talk shows, including the über-cool “The Daily Show.”

One critic wanted to know why NBC went for laughs when ABC and CBS went for gravitas.

Williams passed on an answer to that one, but he jumped right into the debate about his new competition on ABC and CBS.

“A rising tide raises all boats,” he said. “Some of you have written the obituaries of the time slot I occupy.”

But the broadcast evening news shows are the “largest single source of news everyday” for Americans, he added.

When asked if he had any advice for his former colleague and future rival Katie Couric, Williams wasn’t playing ball.

“That was an admirable try on your part,” he told the critic.

In describing what it was like writing his blog, Williams said, “It’s like having a daily deadline at a local paper,” he said, admitting, “it’s not a deadline I was looking for every day.”

Join the club, Williams.

Megan and Her New Boyfriend

July 21, 2006 5:33 PM

Soon-to-be syndicated talk show host Megan Mullally was the headliner at NBC’s Press Tour lunch Friday, which was originally scheduled to feature burgers. But after getting word that rival daytime talker Rachael Ray and late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel served burgers at their respective lunch sessions earlier in the tour, NBC wisely switched to a lovely spread of pasta, salad and seasoned chicken breasts, thereby dodging the bullet of being endlessly called an also-ran on overly critical blogs (ahem).

One critic had Mullally eating out of the palm of his hand after his microphone went dead: She accommodated him by sauntering down off the small stage and sitting right down at his table, making for the most intimate Q&A of tour.

Besides a recap of what to expect in the fall for the show—a curtain that pays homage to classic TV shows, sketches, a live band, both celebrity and non-celebrity guests—Mullally said she may get some extra help in promoting the show.

In markets where she runs back-to-back with Warner Bros.’ talker “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” which includes several top 10 NBC Universal O&Os, Mullally and her old friend Ellen are talking about starring in on-air promos together.   

Megan Mullally - NBC's Summer TCA Session 2006

¡ASI, Ay, Ay!

July 21, 2006 4:45 PM

Thursday was Press Tour field trip day, during which many of the flyover critics headed to the set of the ABC fire-crotch medical series “Grey’s Anatomy” with hopes of getting some quotes from Dr. McDreamy. 

Meanwhile, a few of us ventured over to a presentation at the focus-group testing facility in North Hollywood run by marketing company ASI. We were escorted into one of ASI’s two test theaters, where we were shown the dreaded dial-test devices the company uses to test the favorability of TV pilots. Our host explained to us to turn the dial depending how much we liked or disliked the pilot, and press the red button as if we were at home and had changed the channel due to lack of interest.It was clear we were going to screen something, but what could they get their hands on that most of us, if not all of us, had not already seen?

Turns out they went back in time at least five years, with help from one critic who scored a busted pilot that mercifully had never been widely viewed.
 The gem we tested was a UPN drama that goes back to former network chief Dean Valentine’s days at the soon-to-be-defunct network.

The pilot featured an undercover beach volleyball team with the pouty-lipped Lisa Rinna as its leader. After the tragic murder of one of Rinna’s team members that involved a revolver, a bikini top and roller blades, the “breaking all the rules” Rinna goes to a female prison to find her next protégé. Of course, there’s an all-girl cage fight.

This recap skips so many of the elements that made the pilot special (Daisy Fuentes!), but things got short-circuited fairly quickly once the pilot started to screen. Half way through the opening beach volleyball scene, several critics started yelling “red button!”

I, for one, stuck it out through the prison cage fight. 

'Studio 30,' or Maybe '60 Crack'

July 21, 2006 4:26 PM

When Aaron Sorkin, creator of NBC’s behind-the-scenes-of-a-late-night-sketch-show series “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” was asked about the network’s other behind-the-scenes-of-a-late-night-sketch-show series at his press tour session Friday morning, he innocently replied, “I haven’t heard that title before.”

There’s no conflict between him and “30 Rock” creator Tina Fey, or creatively between the two series.

“I’m going to take Tina’s ideas, use twice as many words and turn it into my show,” he said.

One critic asked Sorkin if he was going after specific shows in the pilot’s opening scene, when an executive producer on the sketch show has a “Network” moment and rants live on the air about how bad TV is, mentioning people eating worms and watching Donald Trump.

“You’re probably talking about ‘Fear Factor’ and ‘The Apprentice,’” Sorkin said, spelling out exactly what the critic was getting to. “To be perfectly honest I have never seen either. Vocationally I have a problem with unscripted.”

Calling TV “a terrifically influential part of this country,” Sorkin said mean-spirited and voyeuristic programming is like “bad crack in the school yard.”

Immediately Sorkin had regrets on his choice of words—probably related to his very public past struggles with illicit pharmaceuticals.

“Why did I use that word?” he asked.

That led to a whole string of amusing “drugs in the schoolyard” jokes from the assembled cast and Sorkin’s co-creator Thomas Schlamme, but series regular Matthew Perry got the award for most original and self-deprecating line of the session.

Answering a question about why he had returned to TV, Perry said he signed on to the pilot because of “how good the script is, and how bad 'The Whole Ten Yards’ was.”


Ben the Frank

July 20, 2006 7:39 PM

When the fall 2006-07 season begins, Ben Silverman will be able to say something no other executive producer can: he is the only guy in broadcast television who has a drama, comedy and reality series on the network schedules.

While he is returning with NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and “The Office,” he’s debuting a six-year passion project, ABC’s “Ugly Betty.”

Ever since Silverman was an agent at William Morris, he’d been trying to get the project—an English-language adaptation of one of the most successful Spanish-language telenovelas in history—on U.S. television.

The first attempt was as a half-hour comedy, but the tone was off. Another write couldn’t find the voice. But once Silverman added producer Salma Hayek and writer Silvio Horta, things took off.

While “Betty” is plenty campy and fun, there are some serious issues of race and class being discussed in the series, Silverman said after the show’s TCA session Tuesday. The modest Latin American family that title character Betty comes from is in stark contrast to the WASP-y media dynasty her boss stands for. For Silverman, it is a true picture of New York City.

“People cast in a hyper-P.C. way,” he said. Every arresting officer is Latin, every judge is black, and every criminal is white. They kind of reverted to a reverse PC. We’re showing a real issue here, in that her dad has issues with the HMO, they live in row houses in Queens. We’re not pretending to populate one world. The fact is there are issues that relate to being a first-generation immigrant that go deeper. It’s not like you wake up in America and you’re Warren Buffett. We want to show there are elements that make certain journeys harder, and to reflect that in an honest way. I just hate that you can’t have a dialogue. I’d rather live in the bull’s eye of ‘why are you calling it that’ or being provocative, if it enables people to have a conversation.”

Anti-U.S. Sentiment Closer Than You Think

July 20, 2006 5:54 PM

The press tour session for the ABC miniseries “The Path to 9/11” was a sober affair Wednesday afternoon, so sober, in fact, that network lackeys in the back of the Ritz Carlton ballroom didn’t clap after the video highlight reel.

A scripted version of the extensive report filed by the bipartisan 9/11 commission, the miniseries profiles the 10-year history that led to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the intelligence failures that played a part in allowing the attack to take place. Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, the commission co-chair, was there to fill critics in on what he thinks is the government’s lack of response to the commission’s recommendations, which unsettled many in the crowd.

One critic asked if the production, which was filmed in a number of locations around the world including Morocco, faced any anti-American sentiment.

“Overall it was a great experience,” director David L. Cunningham said. “In terms of the anti-American sentiment, maybe a little in Canada, but that’s about it.”

Not So Tactful Critics and 'Brothers & Sisters'

July 19, 2006 9:26 PM

Critics at the press tour aren't exactly the most tactful bunch.

Take this afternoon. One critic asked series regular Rachel Griffiths at the session for ABC's family drama "Brothers & Sisters," now that she has gotten "through this baby business" was she ready to get back to working in television?

Griffiths gave the critic quite a face over the term "baby business," which apparently referred to the birth of her child.

"After I sold my baby," Griffiths said to big laughs. "Oh, did I do well. A TV deal is nothing. My babies go for millions."

Griffiths was planning on staying away from a series before talking to the show's producers.

"I agreed to a meeting, and really hoped they would be assholes," she said, "and was utterly charmed."

Initially creator Jon Robin Baitz envisioned star Griffith's co-star Calista Flockhart playing a baker in a cupcake factory, "but it seemed under-dramatic to everyone but me."

Instead Flockhart's character was changed to be a politically conservative radio host.

"She's not Ann Coutler," director Ken Olin said to one concerned critic. "She's not insane."

"Brothers & Sisters" is something of a mystery to critics, since ABC has not released a copy of the pilot. The show has traded out from the original pilot Betty Buckley, who played the mother in the sprawling family drama, for Sally Field. That wasn't the only change; Matthew Rhys took over the role initially played by Jonathan LaPaglia.

The network "invited us to try again," Baitz said of the extensive re-shoots that are required thanks to the casting changes.

But back to the tactful critic department. Another of my colleagues asked Field about her last ABC series venture, "The Court," which died a very early death in 2002.

"Thank you for mentioning that," Field said sweetly. "Can you please spell out your name for me? "

Field admitted she knew before "Court" hit the air it was going to tank, but she was philosophical about it.

"You always face failure in life," she said. "It's better to fail with a big, huge, loud splat."

She noted ABC was a very different place, and had high hopes for the new series.

"If we splat, I hope it's really bold and colorful," she said.

One critic asked about the apparent "Alias" connection to "Brothers," considering "Alias" alums Patricia Wetting, Ron Rifkin and Balthazar Getty are co-starring and Olin is directing.

Executive producer Marti Noxon said the joke on the set was the new series was really just a place for the "Alias" characters to hide undercover.

"Jennifer Garner will appear in fifth or sixth episode and say 'psych,'" Noxon said.

Anne Heche No Longer Crazy

July 19, 2006 7:03 PM

The critic that broached the question at the "Men in Trees" press tour session Wednesday afternoon was a little bit more delicate than I was in my headline, but series lead Anne Heche had no problem stepping up and answering the tough questions.

He started gently, asking for a "status report" on how Ms. Heche was "doing."

"It seems like you're totally … ," he paused, searching for the most respectful word.

"Sane?" Heche suggested.

"Sane," he confirmed, with more than a little relief that Heche herself had said it.

"I'll let myself speak for myself," she said confidently. "Obviously I'm sitting up here with a group of incredible people.

"I've worked very hard to get here," she said. Clearly, Heche is a long way from the place she was in 2001, when her alien language skills and penchant for skulking around California's Central Valley waiting for galactic visitors was making international headlines.

Besides Heche's improved mental status, a klatch of male critics couldn't let go from asking about the appearance of a raccoon in the pilot, which profiles a New York self-help book writer (Heche) who finds herself in a male-dominated small town in Alaska after she breaks up with her fiancé.

"Trees" creator Jenny Bicks confirmed that it was a real raccoon and not a CGI creation. The raccoon, Elvis, got rave reviews from Bicks for his professionalism.

"If anyone wants to hire a raccoon call me," Bicks said.

"Best actor I have ever worked with," Heche added.

But Elvis also had a double for a scene where his character had to run quickly. A terrier, Boomer, was a double for Elvis, complete with raccoon suit.

"He was local hire," Bicks said of the Canadian Boomer.

Bicks quickly realized she had missed an opportunity with the session.

"It's a mistake they are not here," she said of Boomer and Elvis.

Another critic asked co-star John Amos, who has seen his character killed on several series, if he was nervous that might happen again now that he's playing the owner of a local puddle-jumper airline.
When Amos protested, the critic said "Well, you do fly a small plane."

Amos said he thought the plane might shake in the third season when it's time to renegotiate his contract, but Bicks assured Amos his plane would be flying safely for a long time.

Not With My Underbelly, You Don't

July 19, 2006 6:29 PM

Jennifer Westfeldt has no desire to get too close to her character's experience on the ABC comedy "Notes From the Underbelly."

Westfeldt plays a young married woman who finds out she's pregnant. At the "Underbelly" press tour session Wednesday morning, one critic reminded the producers and Westfeldt, who is not pregnant in real life, that in many cases actresses who become expectant during series have been asked to hide their underbellies for the sake of their characters. But in this case, being an actress and actually getting pregnant might work to the show's advantage.

Westfeldt stopped the critic right there.

"I'm not taking that question," she said. "I have a dog. It's a lot of responsibility."

In one scene in the "Underbelly" pilot, a very prominent picture is displayed of actors Sunkrish Bala and Melanie Paxson, who play another expectant couple. Shot Vanity Fair-style, a shirtless, meditative Bala rests his head on what appears to be a very pregnant Paxson's belly.

"That was my first day on the job," Bala said.

"And it wasn't my belly," Paxson said, noting they had a real woman heavy with child stand in for her. Some creative Photoshopping placed Paxson's head on top of the body.

"I have a huge picture of it at home," Paxson said.

"Did you get a picture?" Bala asked incredulously, adding to the argument that press tour is as revelatory for the participants as it is for reporters.

Paxson, who can teach the likes of Katie Couric and Rachael Ray a few things about being perky, was asked by a critic if she still gets recognized for her series of plastic bag commercials from a few years back, where she appeared with an eclectic array of B-listers, including former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka.

Turns out she does, especially when people hear her distinctive voice.

But brand marketing executives, take note:

"People say 'you did those Hefty commercials,'" she said. "And I say 'no, Glad.'"

Westeldt was asked if she ever considered making her hit indie film "Kissing Jessica Stein" into a TV show.

"I felt it was a film and one story," she said, before adding she didn't know any movies that had been "converted to successful series."

That created a few "huh?" faces among the assembled critics. While the Sapphic-themed "Kissing" was definitely a closed-ended story, Westfeldt might want to rent DVDs of the TV series "M*A*S*H," "Alice" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," to name just a few, and acquaint herself to some examples of film-to-TV successes.

How About the Title 'The Knights of Mick Jagger?'

July 19, 2006 4:23 PM

Rob Burnett, one of the producers of the recently re-titled ABC comedy “The Knights of Prosperity,” said he and his writing partner Jon Beckerman did not at first consider rocker Mick Jagger as the mark for the show’s hapless would-be thieves.

“We first pitched using Jeff Goldblum,” Burnett said at the show’s TCA session Wednesday morning. As the show became more developed it was ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson who suggested going with Jagger, a name that Burnett and Beckerman thought was out of their league. Don’t feel bad for Goldblum, though—he’s got his own series next season on NBC.

Jagger’s people were approached, and Mick himself read the script and approved. That lead to a lightning-fast five-hour shoot in New Zealand for Jagger’s surprisingly funny cameo shots in the pilot, which was initially sold as “Let’s Rob Mick Jagger.”

The Jagger storyline will resolve by the end of the season, and for a second season the Knights of Prosperity, as the group of thieves call themselves, will target someone else.
So the working title is now “Knights of Prosperity” because the show—which was being called “Let’s Rob … ” in the press and by ABC—was “too fragmented” for the original title, Burnett said. There were plenty of fun facts revealed about the “Knights” cast at the session as well.  For instance, star Donal Logue really had a crappy job when he was a struggling actor in New York (imagine that), where he worked the night shift at a hotel cleaning bathrobes.  

Co-star Lenny Venito’s Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, accent is the real thing. Venito, who plays one of Tony’s crew members on “The Sopranos,” is actually the son of a retired NYPD officer.  And the far-from-homely Sofia Vergara was a dental student in Colombia before coming to the U.S. to act, a tidbit of information that prompted one female critic to whisper to a colleague (by colleague, I mean me) how impossible it would be for the amply breasted Vergara to lean over a patient to do a root canal.  

My colleague got her answer. “All this voluptuousness wouldn’t let me finish,” Vergara admitted with a saucy smile.

Taking 'The Nine' to the Bank

July 19, 2006 1:15 PM

Actor John Billingsley had the pleasure of working with his wife in the pilot for ABC’s bank hostage drama “The Nine,” he said at the show’s press tour session Tuesday afternoon.

Most appropriately, the pair played husband and wife. In the series, Billingsley plays a somewhat beaten-down man who finds a moment of glory at the very end of the show’s 52-hour bank robbery hostage situation. That moment is juxtaposed in the pilot with a tense scene with the character’s wife, who is a bit of a browbeater.

The scene went off flawlessly, Billingsley said, after noting his wife was sitting in the Ritz ballroom for the session. “She’s been practicing ball-busting for eight years,” he said to laughs. “Good luck tonight,” warned his co-star Chi McBride.  

“We have two cars driving home tonight,” Billingsley shot back.“And one couch,” McBride riffed. One critic asked Tim Daly if his character on the HBO drama “The Sopranos” would return to the mob series.

Daly didn’t want to talk too much about another show at “The Nine” session, but said he thought the character, a struggling TV writer, was “Sopranos” creator David Chase’s alter ego. He also said he hoped the character would be “killed in a unique and interesting way.”

Co-creator and executive producer Hank Steinberg said he considered setting “The Nine” in New York “for a minute,” but Los Angeles seemed like the perfect locale for the story of nine strangers who are thrown together and suffer through a life-changing ordeal.

“People drive around in their cars” and are “very disconnected,” he said, noting that he was also glad he was no longer shooting L.A. for NYC, like he did on his last gig, “Without a Trace.”“It’s so fun to explore all the nooks and crannies,” he said of shooting L.A. for -- of all places -- L.A.     


The Big Day Is an Expensive Nightmare for Men

July 18, 2006 8:22 PM

Stephen Rannazzisi, a series regular on the ABC wedding comedy “Big Day,” knows just how expensive the big day is.


At the show’s press tour session Tuesday afternoon, Rannazzisi announced he was getting married in a few weeks, and said he's been stunned by how much of a production a modern wedding is -- particularly when it comes to the invitations.


“I thought it would be like $120,” he said of his wedding invites. The actual total came to four grand, a number that stupefied him.


“I want a bald eagle off eBay,” he said, “or a Guatemalan family.”


Co-creator Josh Goldsmith (who is married to the show’s other co-creator, Cathy Yuspa) was sympathetic, noting that for men the stationery store is comparable to “the gates of hell.”






Pretty on the Inside Betty

July 18, 2006 8:12 PM

Although the Tuesday afternoon “Ugly Betty” press tour session started on an off note, with the video team accidentally throwing up a clip from ABC News, the producers and cast of the Friday night drama “Ugly Betty” were not easily thrown off.


The title character, “Betty,” a plain secretary working at a glamorous magazine, “is not a victim,” said executive producer Salma Hayek.


One critic asked if the title, which starts with such a harsh word, might offend viewers.


Hayek isn’t worried, since she sees the title as “sarcastic” and also subjective.


Society seems to view ugly as “anybody who is not super skinny and super tall,” she said, but as for models, “maybe I think that they are ugly and need to eat a little and look healthy.”


America Ferrera, who plays Betty, said she wishes she was as strong as the character she plays.

“She forgives people for not understanding who she is,” Ms. Ferrera said. “She doesn’t resent them.”

Moving into entertainment made Ms. Ferrera feel like a Betty, she said.


“I didn’t know I was fat until I started acting,” Ms. Ferrera quipped.


Another critic asked about the character’s prominent braces, which Ferrera said is actually a “wonderful contraption” (Ferrera has a lovely smile in real life).


“It comes out whenever I want to take a trip to craft service,” she said.


“Which on this show we encourage,” Hayek interjected. “Go to the craft table, go to the craft table!”    


Kimmel Serves It Up

July 18, 2006 6:32 PM

For lunch on Tuesday, ABC rolled in some big guns to serve critics growing tired of the same Ritz-Carlton buffet fare.


Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel manned the grill at the barbecue lunch, no mean feat considering the 100-plus-degree heat.

Kimmel wasn’t alone at the “Kimmel-cue,” as ABC called it. “Jimmy Kimmel Live” regulars were manning the buffet line, including Kimmel’s childhood friend and current band leader Cleto, who helped me pick out a bun (whole wheat). Jimmy’s Uncle Sal, a staple on the show, tried to get me to go for some corn on the cob, but I passed for some fries.


“Rachael Ray doesn’t know anything,” Kimmel said as I waited for a burger (beef with Swiss cheese), referring to Ray’s own burger lunch stunt a few days earlier.


Kudos to Kimmel, who must be ABC’s most expensive lunch staffer.


After exuding what appeared to gallons of sweat standing over the grill (“Slap a couple waffles on my forehead,” he suggested), Kimmel came inside to introduce his helpers, who also included his Cousin Sal and former security guard-turned-show regular Guillermo. He got a big round of applause, which clearly amused Kimmel.


“Thank you for clapping for me for doing something menial,” he said.  

Ted Danson Is Out, but Is Anderson Cooper?

July 18, 2006 3:49 PM

Apparently, people think CNN anchor Anderson Cooper is gay. Go figure! That’s what one critic brought up at the “Help Me Help You” press tour session Tuesday morning.

The critic was referring to a gag in the ABC comedy’s pilot that had actor Jim Rash, whose character is a closeted gay guy, make mention of his heterosexuality and Cooper in the same sentence. I guess that’s funny if you know about the Coop rumors (why am I always the last to know these things?), but the critic wondered, would the line make it to air? “No one has asked us to cut it,” executive producer Jennifer Konner said. “We love that joke,” her writing partner Alexandra Rushfield said, noting that it may be trimmed out since they got so much good film from Rash and the scene runs a little long.“Help” star Ted Danson said he “was out of the closet,” but about his nearly all-white and thinning hair. Decades ago, when he was first appearing on “Cheers,” he would color a small spot of troublesome locks on the back of his head. When the tabloids started writing that he was wearing a toupee, Danson wanted to say “No, no I just color it in.” Another critic noted that “Help’s” Charlie Finn bears a striking resemblance to Jason Ritter (who is starring on the CBS comedy “The Class”). “I go out to nightclubs and lie that I’m Jason Ritter,” he said. “I still go home alone.”        




Poltrack on Commercial Ratings

July 18, 2006 12:57 PM

David Poltrack. CBS Corp.’s chief research officer and all-around broadcast industry guru, is kind of like Al Gore.


Like the former vice president, Poltrack is a master of the PowerPoint presentation. But instead of talking about melting ice caps, Poltrack walked a couple dozen journalists through an explanation of the “new advertising model” Monday afternoon during The CW’s press tour day.


The message was classic Poltrack -- for years he has been downplaying the early prognosticators, particularly The New York Times in 2000, who suggested a rapid proliferation of DVRs would kill the current TV ad model. Not only is DVR penetration much slower than first thought, the use of TiVo-like devices is helping to increase TV viewing, he argued.


The big beneficiary of the DVR’s is -- surprise! The big four networks, including Poltrack’s company CBS. While ratings service Nielsen Media Research is set to offer ratings for commercials on a daily basis, Poltrack pointed out that information has been available on special order for years. Either way, the news is good for broadcasters -- despite remote controls, despite DVRs and despite people’s need to go to the bathroom, there’s only a 5 percent drop-off from program viewing to commercial viewing in prime time in adults 18 to 49. For ad-supported cable, it’s 11 percent.


Poltrack’s presentation explored a number of other changes coming, including the extended away-from-home measurement of college students, an age group Nielsen has not done a great job of rating, but the basic message was clear: The marketing value of TV advertising is reinforced by all these new platforms, while the advantage of broadcast over cable is enhanced.


In the meantime, I’m skipping through a few commercials to watch the “Rescue Me” episode I TiVo’ed last week.










The CW: Free to be Whatever

July 18, 2006 12:50 PM

“We have the hottest pages,” A CW executive said to another within her flock Monday morning at the network’s inaugural TCA day Monday.

The exec was spot on. While the other networks’ pages blend in with the rest of us, The CW pages have the air of Calvin Klein print models. The hair! The skin! And then there’s the outfits!

Looking like Wimbledon Tennis staff as if Ralph Lauren dressed them, the pages were in complimentary blazers—boys in light “CW” green, girls in white. The white sockless tennis shoes and prepster slacks (girls in sensible skirts) added to the look. But the “free to be helpful” moniker on the back of the blazers tied the whole look together.

Critics could get into the “free to be” act themselves at The CW’s evening party on the Ritz Carlton lawn. The pretty pages were working a t-shirt press stand that allowed critics to create one of four TCA-specific “free to be” T-shirts. While I had my eye on “free to be cynical,” I ultimately went with “free to be critical.” The pretty page who assisted me went with another slogan.

“I’m so ‘free to be quotable,’” she said with a million dollar smile. 

What’s Up With CBS’s Season Premiere Schedule?

July 18, 2006 12:43 PM

That was the question one blog reader emailed me Monday. While The CW announced a detailed schedule of all its season premieres for fall 2006 at its TCA executive session, CBS gave no indication when the new season would start for its new and returning series over the weekend.

I tracked down a senior CBS Corp. executive who was working The CW press tour day to ask him what was up. He told me CBS wouldn’t be making a premiere schedule announcement for a couple weeks, since it was still unclear when everything would debut.

CBS isn’t being coy. With two summer elimination reality series – “Big Brother: All Stars” and “Rock Star: Supernova”—the network has some flexibility since it can extend or contract the two series depending on their continued popularity. Once both shows have played out for another week or so, CBS can gauge when to start its new shows. So if “Big Brother” turns out to be a ratings big bust, expect to see the new season of “CSI,” “Old Christine” and “Jericho” sooner rather than later.  

Bledel Admits ‘Gilmore’ Fans Freak Her Out as Much as They Freak Out Rest of the World

July 18, 2006 12:35 PM

“Gilmore Girls” fans are a dedicated bunch--maybe too dedicated for star Alexis Bledel.

At the “Gilmore” TCA session Monday afternoon, Bledel admitted to one critic—who seemed to fit into the very dedicated fan category—that she doesn’t read letters from viewers.

The critic wanted to know about how fans were reacting to some of Rory’s life decisions.

“I don’t real a lot of fan mail,” she said. “I find it a little—strange.”

Bledel’s co-star Lauren Graham reiterated her lack of enthusiasm for working with the regular character Paul Anka, who is not played by the singer, but by a somewhat mangy mutt.   
“I’m not a fan of dog comedy,” Graham said, noting she likes dogs in a non-professional setting.

Things got tense when one critic asked new show runner David Rosenthal about how his experience with Heidi Klum is impacting his work on “Gilmore.” Rosenthal became a topic of conversation on blogs earlier this year when reports ran about a play he wrote about Klum (who he worked briefly with on the sitcom “Spin City”) that some found disturbing.

“My personal life has nothing to do with anything,” Rosenthal said.

The critic tried to ask more, but Graham was having none of it.

“It has nothing to do with anything,” she snapped. “Next?”

Veronica Mars Isn’t as Slutty as Her Picture

July 18, 2006 12:31 PM

Note to The CW’s photo department: Kristen Bell, the star of your drama “Veronica Mars,” is so over the photo you consistently use when promoting the show.

At the “Veronica” TCA session Monday afternoon, Bell turned around and took a look at the first shot of her to appear on video screens that flank the ballroom stage. The shot, which has been used heavily by the promotions department, was more Maxim cover then “Veronica,” with Bell in a white wife beater T-shirt, skin glistening, hair blowing, and lips pursing. A very un-Veronica shot.

“Oh honestly,” Bell fumed. “Can we get a new picture?” “Veronica” creator Rob Thomas said unlike the past two seasons, the third season will not feature one big mystery that runs from September to May.

Instead, there are three mysteries for the season, each of which will be wrapped up in a limited number of episodes, which will give “a new audience more jumping room in.”

Thomas is scheduling out the second half the season on hope, however. “Veronica” only has a 13-episode order, as opposed to a full 22 season episode order. Thomas better get those first mysteries right if he wants to produce a third. 

‘Chris’ Creators: Choose Grins Over Gridirons … And Thank Jews for Hollywood

July 17, 2006 7:49 PM

Comedy is better for you than football, according to the creators of “Everybody Hates Chris.” The CW’s Sunday lineup featuring four comedies will be good counter-programming to Sunday night football, CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff said early Monday.

So critics attending The CW’s Sunday comedy creators panel later Monday wanted to know if the panelists are football fans. “It promotes gratuitous violence in our society,” Ali LeRoi (“Everybody Hates Chris”) said of the sport, noting that families watching his show “will lead to a better nation.” Comedians are better role models than football players, he said. “I’ve never heard of any comedians getting in violent altercations with the cops,” LeRoi said. “Oh yes we have,” Chris Rock (“Everybody hates Chris”) said.

When one critic pressed the creators to explain why there were not more African American-themed dramas on broadcast television, Rock asked the critic, who is African American, how old he is.

The critic answered 40.

“Do you ever think your life’s going to be as good as white people’s,” Rock asked. “Have fun on the way. You’re going to die in like, 28 years.” The critic asked the creators for a serious answer to the question. An exasperated LeRoi responded.“The only reason Hollywood exists is because Jewish people couldn’t get on Broadway,” he said, noting that Jewish showmen helped create a new entertainment model to get stories told at the beginning of the 20th Century.  “Nobody has the right to be on a TV show,” LeRoi said. “Black drama, schmack drama. It’s about making the product.”


Don’t mess With Us on ‘The Game,’ Because We Got Options

July 17, 2006 5:19 PM

By Christopher Lisotta

Actress Tia Mowry and her twin Tamera usually don’t audition for the same part, but in the case of CW’s new “Girlfriends” spin off “The Game,” the two sisters went in for the role.
“We’re always stressing that we’re different people, and casting people said that,” Lowry said at her show’s TCA session Monday. “I did a different approach to it.”
And in her family if one Mowry gets it “we all win.”
Co-star Brittany Daniel was somewhat struck by the Mowry’s support for one another.
“I don’t know how you all audition for the same role,” she said, noting her sister used to act but has since given up the business for motherhood and career in photography.
But one of their co-stars saw a good opportunity for the show.
If anything happens to either of you we have backup,” Pooch Hall said to laughs from the critics and “Game” creator Mara Brock Akil.
That’s one way to cut back on contract re-negotiations.

Leslie Hope on her ‘Runaway’ Co-workers: ‘They Don’t Totally Blow’

July 17, 2006 5:11 PM

It’s been four years since her character, Terry Bauer, was tragically killed in the first-season finale of Fox’s “24,” but actress Leslie Hope is still getting questions about the woman “24” fans refuse to let go.

In the Monday morning TCA session for her new CW series “Runaway,” Hope said her “24” producer told her to “follow the writing” when picking her next gig.

But besides the writing, the “next thing is, who are you going to be doing it with,” she said. “If you are stuck with people you don’t like, it blows, man.”

Talking about the character so many years out is fine for Hope, who called Terry Bauer “the gift that keeps on giving.”

This time out, Hope plays a mother who finds herself on the lam with her husband (Donnie Wahlberg) and three children, after Wahlberg’s character is falsely accused of murdering his mistress.

Creator Chris Hodge, who described himself as a big fan of the film “Running on Empty,” said one of the tensions the show will explore is “how are these parents going to be great parents in this situation” where getting their children to lie is a key to survival.

In terms of “Runaway’s” own survival, Hodge thought “I guess that’s that” when he heard UPN, who initially bought the idea for the series, was shutting down along with The WB to create The CW.

Executive Producer Darren Star said it’s tough enough getting a pilot through production and picked up to series, but that “the odds were double down against us, with two networks folded into one.”


One critic asked if Hodge took into account how easy it is to be found in this era, considering the proliferation of GPS devices, cellular phones and online banking.


“I asked the same question myself,” Hodge said, noting he had talked to U.S. Marshalls about how they track fugitives down. “It’s actually a little bit easier than you would think,” he said, adding that there are 1 million fugitives in the U.S. escaping something or someone. And with more than 50,000 wanted persons in the U.S., law enforcement doesn’t have the resources to aggressively go after everyone.


Hodge also noted that if he saw a picture of a wanted person, and an hour later saw them in the supermarket, he probably wouldn’t recognize them.


“It makes it pretty easy to be a fugitive,” he said.



Marder the Master

July 17, 2006 3:48 PM

It’s Keith Marder’s Television Critics Association summer press tour, and the rest of us just live in it.Marder, who now runs press for CBS Corp. sports cabler CSTV, was working CBS’s TCA days over the weekend like he was the mayor of the Ritz Carlton. He told me, for instance, I looked like former WB Entertainment President David Janollari’s “younger, buffer brother.”Marder once again had me at hello.For years Marder has been a must-see for critics with his comedic opening remarks for his former employer, The WB. A born standup, he made a surprise appearance at the start of The CW’s inaugural press tour session Monday morning, a move that delighted critics, including a couple who gave Marder a standing ovation as he strode out on the stage.

“Well, I told you UPN would never last,” he sighed. “It feels like only yesterday The WB was in business and ‘7th Heaven’ was cancelled.”

Marder’s biggest laugh came from his proposed CW slogan:

“The CW: Two Wrongs DO Make a Right.”

Sparing not even his former bosses, Marder said Janollari could do a special episode of “Six Feet Under,” a show he produced before he got his WB gig. A graphic flashed showing a dead Michigan J. Frog on the “Six Feet Under” title credit.

The episode would be titled “Garth Ancier killed the frog,” he said.

He noted that most everyone was caught off guard by CBS Corp.’s and Warner Bros. Entertainment’s surprise announcement in January that The WB and UPN were being retired for The CW.

In hindsight everyone could have known about it, since the two sides “broadcast their meetings in episodes of ‘Pepper Dennis.’”

Like any good standup, Marder included some political humor, some topical stuff, and even worked a little blue. Some examples:

“President Bush pitched a show to The New CW. It’s called ‘Stop or My V.P. will Shoot.’”

“Star Jones quit ‘The View’ four months after she was fired… I guess she’ll have to pay for her own divorce.”

“My first reaction when HBO cancelled ‘Deadwood’—those cock suckers!”

Mr. Marder noted that the HBO show that has as much profanity as “Deadwood” is the pay cabler’s new comedy “Lucky Louie.”

“You can’t tell them apart, except for the fact ‘Deadwood’ is funnier,” he said.

At the end of the ten-minute set, The CW’s top press executive Paul McGuire thanked Marder, noting that he was flying back to New York almost immediately.

Stay Keith, stay!   

CBS’s Digital Dance

July 17, 2006 2:35 PM

At CBS’s digital media presentation at the network’s TCA session Sunday afternoon, CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group President Nancy Tellem said there has been major headway between the network, unions, affiliates and studios when it comes to ironing out the details of offering content on digital platforms like the Internet or via devices like iPods. “We’re dealing with it on a daily basis,” Tellem said, noting that all the interested parties are “saying it is important to be on these platforms.”

While there are still many differences in opinion, “things are constantly evolving—attitudes can change,” Tellem said.    

“I feel very optimistic over the next few months we are going to come to some understanding,” she added.

As part of the new season, CBS is developing a concurrent storyline for the debuting drama “Jericho” that will exist online.

CBS is not stopping with “Jericho” however.

“We’re working on similar storylines with frankly every single one of our programs,” Tellem said, explaining that CBS’s strategy is to develop content for platforms like the Web that will encourage people to tune in to the traditional on-air series.

“The focus is really to invest the viewer even further.”

Another critic asked CBS Digital Media President Larry Kramer if during this past upfront advertiser buying season there was a shift in ad dollars from TV to digital platforms.

“We saw a huge amount of interest,” Kramer said, noting that ad agencies were asking CBS for more information about their digital offerings.

“We closed some deals,” he said, but it was “not exactly the same sale process” since the Internet world does not have an ad upfront.

 But CBS still “had a great year,” Kramer noted, with revenues up for all digital platforms.

While there was much debate as recently as a year ago about whether or not digital platforms would cannibalize television viewing, the evidence shows they actually increase people’s interest in TV.

“It’s more additive,” Kramer said.

Marg Helgenberger Got Slipped a Roofie, But It’s Not a Bad Thing

July 17, 2006 11:21 AM

Actress Marg Helgenberger is excited for the seventh season premiere of the procedural drama “CSI.” Helgenberger talked about her anticipation at the show’s TCA session Sunday afternoon. The two-part opener takes place behind the scenes at the Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil stage show “Ka.” At first she was coy, letting critics know her character will experience “something very significant that is stretched out over two parts,” that puts her and her family “in jeopardy.”     

But Helgenberger went further, telling critics she and actor George Eads’ character Nick Stokes go to a bar, only to have her character Catherine get slipped something into her drink.

The loyal audience of “CSI” appears to be split 50-50 between approving this past season’s developing Gil Grissom-Sara Sidle romantic relationship, while the other half wants the show to focus on the forensic cases, said Jorja Fox, who plays Sara.

Since “CSI” has focused so much on the procedural elements, “there are so many interesting stories we could still show” on the emotional side.

Fox has been with the “CSI” since its second episode, but notes the Grissom-Sidle romance has been in the work for the past six seasons. The breakdown, or sheets given to actors describing the characters they are auditioning for, described Sidle as a potential love interest six years ago when Fox first went out for the part.

Executive producer Carol Mendelsohn said there have been “raging debates” among the show’s writers over the relationship.

“Since I’m the show runner I won the debate,” she said.

The relationship also changes the usual dynamic between viewers and the characters, Mendelsohn said.

“In this one instance the viewers will be ahead of the CSI’s,” she said.

One critic wanted to know if the producers and cast, like CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler, thinks of “CSI” as an underdog against the show’s new time period competition this season, ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“In the beginning we were certainly the underdog,” Mendelsohn said, noting that the first night the show aired the network didn’t call to congratulate the writers the day after on its impressive ratings performance, since CBS executives thought “the computer at Nielsen was broken.”

 “We’ve always been underestimated by everyone but the fans,” Helgenberger said. “Our network underestimated us, the critics underestimated us, but the fans have not.”


Rachael Ray has a Driveway and Mini-burgers

July 16, 2006 10:38 PM

Viewers expecting tearful revelations from CBS Paramount and King World's upcoming syndicated talk show "Rachael Ray" are going to be disappointed, host Rachael Ray said at her TCA press tour session Sunday afternoon. "No one would take me seriously," the energetic Ray admitted, explaining that instead of standard talk show "couch talk," she wanted to instill a more relaxed "kitchen table talk."

A fixture on the Food Network and a best selling cookbook author, Ray said she is all about "hanging out" with her guests and audience for her new TV venture in the fall, not about passively watching a clip from whatever new movie project a guest may be plugging.

"I don't mind showing a clip if it's something I know and love," Ray said, but if celebrities do come on "they've got to play back to us too. I'd like to know who they are."

Celebrity guests, when they are on, will be encouraged to "play some foosball, shoot some hoops, break bread, have a cup of joe, whatever," Ray said.

The audience will be very much the focus of the show, something the stage setup will reflect, said Terry Wood, president of creative affairs for King World and CBS Paramount Network Television, and the lead studio executive behind the new talk show.

"It's not going to fit the typical daytime mold," Wood said, before Ray announced her talk show was the only one likely to have "a driveway and a garage."

Wood and Ray noted that 70 percent of the taped segments would feature Rachael interacting with everyday people, something the host has not gotten to do on her Food Network series.

  In syndication she will incorporate elements from her cable series, "and you add in the live audience and the participation of the home viewer."

Ray also sponsored a lunch for critics right after her session which featured all different kinds of mini burgers made from her own recipes. The turkey and tuna varieties were the most interesting, but the biggest hit was Ray's signature popsicles, welcome on any 100-degree Pasadena summer afternoon.

The fact that they were lightly spiked "sangrias on a stick" made the dessert worthy or several return trips.

One Critic’s Wardrobe Malfunction with Katie Couric

July 16, 2006 8:57 PM

The most contentious moment in “CBS Evening News” anchor and managing editor Katie Couric’s TCA press tour Sunday morning came at the end of her hour-long session with network news and sports chief Sean McManus. A critic asked Couric if she’s decided what her wardrobe will be once she debuts on Sept.5. “You’re kidding, right,” Couric asked.

“Sadly I’m not,” the critic said.

“I’ve actually gone to Charlie Gibson’s stylist,” Couric cracked, referring to ABC’s new evening news anchor.

McManus took issue with the question.

“You gonna ask Charlie Gibson what he’s going to wear,” McManus asked the critic, implying that a female anchor’s wardrobe is a subject to media discussion, while a male anchor would never get asked such a superficial question.

The critic seemed to be embarrassed into saying he would ask Gibson the same thing when he speaks at press tour later in the week.

Besides the wardrobe scuffle, McManus and Couric had a relatively smooth ride at press tour.

McManus thinks there is an “incredibly inordinate amount of attention being paid” to the subject of “media royalty,” or the personas of certain TV news anchors.

He was responding to a question where a critic asked if the celebrity of anchors like Couric and Anderson Cooper is the defining quality in their work.

“What’s going to make Katie successful is not her celebrity but her talents as a reporter and as an anchor,” he said. The celebrity element is a “positive,” because “it’s drawing an enormous amount of attention” to the newscast. But if the newscast itself isn’t any good “in the end that will all be wasted.”

In her ongoing series of town hall meetings across the country, Couric said she has heard attendees say they feel the news is too “depressing.” While she has no interest in sugar coating the news, Couric said she would like to see if there are cases when the news “can be more solution oriented.” She also noted that many people at the meetings didn’t feel the country was polarized as is often portrayed in the media.

“People are hungry and interested in the grey areas of stories, and more nuanced reporting,” Couric said, suggesting that news should do more than just present the extreme point of view on each side of an issue.

The broadcast evening news format is in much better shape than some critics think, McManus said.

“I don’t think our model is broken,” McManus said, pointing out the evening newscast has added 300,000 viewers over its performance over last year. “Are we different than cable?


They have a different product, and they have a miniscule audience compared to our products.  We’re in the broadcasting business. We do a good job now and we will do a better job starting Sept. 5.”

When asked by a critic what she has learned from interim “CBS Evening News” anchor Bob Schieffer, Couric said he “speaks plain English” and that there is a comfort level with him, because he is “not necessarily imparting news from the mountain top,” and that when he debriefs reporters he asks them relevant questions.”

The managing editor title is “somewhat nebulous in its actual job description,” Couric said, but it means she will “have significant input in editorial content.”

Another critic asked Couric what her reaction was to the way former evening news anchor Dan Rather departed CBS.

“I think that’s a great question for Sean.” Couric said, avoiding comment on a situation that became tense after Rather told the media he didn’t think he was treated respectfully by the network.

McManus did not shy away from the question, admitting that after “60 Minutes 2” was cancelled he “didn’t think there was enough meaningful work to keep Dan Rather at CBS News.”

He said he made this known to Rather’s representatives, but that “lawyers got involved.” In April McManus said he sent Rather a note, and that they tried to schedule a lunch that got cancelled twice. McManus and Rather sat down for a lunch June 21 where “I explained fully my rationale,” McManus said, with the pair ended lunch with a handshake.

“He wants to do hour-long documentaries,” McManus said. “That’s great, but we don’t do that anymore at CBS.”

“I have nothing but warm thoughts for Dan,” he added.

CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier, who was seriously injured covering the war in Iraq, “will be back,” McManus said, noting that he has spoken to her several times as she recovers.

“She’s going to make it and continue to be a good member of our team.”



Searching for CBS’s Next Reality Touchdown

July 16, 2006 8:44 PM

CBS is focused on finding its next reality hit, the network’s Entertainment President said Saturday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. As some her top executives and on-screen talent sailed footballs into the end zone as part of the network’s TCA stars party, Nina Tassler admitted finding another reality performer is an issue.“It’s hugely important,” she said. “It is a priority for us. Part of it has been when you achieve that level of success, we haven’t had to be as aggressive in trying to find the next big hit. Also, we have a very strong schedule where those reality shows are going to go is certainly a topic of conversation.”Tassler has a point. The network’s two reality veterans “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” are still performers, particularly with young adults. The “Big Brother” summer franchise is currently in its seventh season, while the modest success “Rockstar” is back for a second summer outing.

Still, no matter how successful a network is, it is always looking for more hits, reality or otherwise. In terms of recent momentum, other broadcasters have run with the ball (look, the party was set at the Rose Bowl, so I’m going with every football-related image I can think of). NBC had a surprise hit in December with “Deal or No Deal,” ABC has “Dancing With the Stars” and Fox is enjoying the success of both “Hell’s Kitchen” and “So You Think You Can Dance?” Even The CW will enjoy the still young “Beauty and the Geek” franchise inherited from The WB when the network debuts in the fall. 

Some of CBS’s recent forays into the genre have been lackluster, at best. “Tuesday Night Book Club,” which many critics derided as a ripoff of the cable series “The Real Housewives of Orange County” got yanked from the schedule after a few scant airings.

The biggest step Tassler has taken to remake CBS’s reality playbook (football again!) was to hire Ghen Maynard, who most recently worked at NBC as a senior development executive. Maynard is credited with shepherding “Survivor” through development back when no one knew if competitive reality would work on broadcast TV.  Bringing Maynard back into the fold is a sign how seriously the network is about creating new non-scripted assets.

Maynard is a “huge plus for us, so we’re very excited,” Tassler said.


McManus: CBS Misplayed Basketball Video on YouTube

July 16, 2006 3:23 PM

In the “hindsight is always 20/20” department, Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, admitted Saturday that the network may have reacted too strongly in forcing the video sharing site YouTube from taking down a CBS News clip earlier this year.The clip featured an upstate New York high schooler with autism having the basketball game of his life. The video became an online sensation and featured multiple shots of the student’s unbelievable performance. The story became so big President Bush visited with the high schooler. “You’ve got to find the fine line between the great promotion YouTube gives a network, and protecting our rights,” McManus said. “Our inclination now is, the more exposure we get from clips like that, the better it is for CBS News and the CBS television network, so in retrospect we probably should have embraced the exposure, and embraced the attention it was bringing CBS, instead of being parochial and saying ‘let’s pull it down.’” 

CBS Sports has learned several things about online video in recent months, including a lesson or two from its move this past March to offer video streams of NCAA final mens basketball games on its Web site for free, he said. One thing he now knows: College ball is unique from other sports. “So much of takes place on Thursday and Friday afternoon,” he said. “So much of it is regionalized, unless you have a satellite, you can’t see the other games. The most important lesson is, and was, if you offer it for free a lot of people will use it. We did the year before on subscription, for, I think, $14 or $15, and we got 12,000 people to subscribe. We did it for free and we had millions of people, the biggest Internet event in history." But for non-tournament events like football, McManus is concerned about cutting into on-air ratings.“On the tournament, we felt it was additive, and not cannibalized,” he said. “NFL is probably too risky. That’s why there’s DirectTV.”With football on either broadcast or cable in prime time four nights a week this season, McManus said Sunday afternoon is still the place to be.

“We’ll find out more after this season,” McManus said at a CBS Sports/CSTV open bar at press tour Saturday.

“The package on the NFL network, I don’t think will cannibalize the network ratings. I still believe the single most important football window is on Sunday afternoon, either on Fox on CBS. That’s the game that always gets the best ratings of the week…the fact there’s an extra game in prime time, I think it will potentially affect our schedule marginally, but I feel good about our schedule.”



Extra Helping of 'Smith'

July 16, 2006 2:53 PM

The 60-minute pilot episode of CBS crime drama “Smith” will air without edits to accommodate typical commercial time in an hour time period, executive producer and creator John Wells said at the show’s TCA session Saturday.

“What we know is we are not chopping,” he said.

Right now it looks like the 60-minute pilot, which is about 20 minutes longer than the length of a network drama (due to time set aside for commercials), will run ad-free for an hour, or be expanded to a 90-minute premiere.

The network has not given Wells any parameters for making the characters--many of whom are violent thieves--more likeable.

The series is “much more based on what we think is appropriate or not appropriate of the character,” he said. “We have not tried to sugar coat that they are criminals. I’ve always been personally more interested in the people who do criminal acts than the people who catch them.”

One critic wanted to know if the character of Oscar-nominated actress Virginia Madsen (one of three in the cast) is in denial about her husband’s criminal career.

She knows what he did in the past, Wells said, but it is not exactly clear what exactly she knows now.
Madsen saw things slightly differently.

“I didn’t think I was in denial at all,” Madsen said of the pilot and her on-screen husband, Ray Liotta. “I know exactly what he’s up to, as most wives do.”

When asked how he came up with the title, Wells said he got the term from a law enforcement official, who referred to unidentified suspects as “Smiths.”

In fact, Wells had the title and the amorphous idea for a series—a man trying to live anonymously—before he came up with the exact concept of this series. He did admit that finding a good title is worth its weight in gold and that coming up with a good one is the bane of a TV creators’ existence.

“The worst thing in the world is titles,” Wells said. “You spend months trying to find the right title and they get worse and worse.”

Like 'Friends,' but More People and No Central Perk

July 15, 2006 9:27 PM

By Christopher Lisotta

David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, the creators and executive producers of the CBS comedy "The Class," were going for a different feel with their ensemble comedy. A co-creator of NBC's "Friends," Crane said one of the goals of the show was to make it feel more like a reality series, which have more characters than traditional sitcoms.

"The thing that was really exciting for us is to approach the show differently," Crane said, "to really make it feel more like life."

Klarik, his partner in the show and in life, showed Crane how many characters they were following and invested in as fans of reality series.

"Look at Janelle on 'Big Brother,'" Klarik said. "At first I thought she was a big floozy. But she's so interesting and smart. I love the idea of character that you can't pigeonhole."

Unlike most sitcoms, there will be no primary gathering place where the characters will congregate, and the characters will have various levels of involvement depending on the specific episode story line.

"This isn't one of those shows wherever everyone hangs out and talks," Klarik said. "There are eight separate storylines that do intersect."

Going in this direction was not an attempt to go in a different direction from the behemoth "Friends," Crane said.

"Once we decided there were going to be eight characters, and at least four major supporting characters, it was inevitable," he said.

That structure has been a nightmare for Crane and Klarik's line producer, who is responsible for setting up the logisitics of having numerous sets and no standing, central set to build around.

"That's part of the challenge," Crane said, nothing that there is a financial pressure on "The Class" for the studio producing the show. "How do we tell the story without totally freaking Warner Bros. out?"

One critic asked why "The Class," which profiles a group of people from the same third-grade class who are reunited as adults, has no people of color in the cast.

"It is something that is unfortunate," Crane said somewhat sheepishly. "It happened because when we wrote the script we wrote color blind. We auditioned for six months. We saw a huge range of diversity. At the end of the day these were the eight actors who were right for the parts."

Crane and Klarik are going to add more diversity in successive episodes. The sisters in the series, Kat and Lina, who are Caucasian, will have adoptive Korean parents. The gay character Sean's partner is Latino, and the character Nicole will have a biracial step-daughter.

Still, another critic pressed the issue of "color-blind" casting, which in many cases seems to produce all-white casts, who later on have to be forced to diversify. In hindsight, Crane said, not writing characters with a specific ethnicity might have helped in terms of diversity.

"If we had to do it over again we wouldn't," he said of color-blind casting. "But I wouldn't change out these eight actors."

One of the gags in the pilot surrounds the gay character Sean and his high school girlfriend Holly, who still holds anger over catching him with another guy. Holly introduces Sean to her husband, who can best be described as "nelly as the day is long."

A critic asked if the husband, Perry, is also gay.

"Don't you know some guys like that?" Crane asked, pointing out there are many happily married effeminate men.

"Some are probably like that in here," he added to a few guffaws and a substantial amount of nervous laughter from the married effeminate men who are in good supply at TCA.

"The fun of the character remains that he is one of those guys where you go, 'seriously?'"

On the witty TCA banter front, actors Lucy Punch and Sean Maguire have already set the bar high. When asked about why she would do a series in the U.S., the British Punch said that kind of work would only increase her professional profile. Maguire and Crane quickly jumped in:

Punch: I don't have a profile here.

Maguire: You have a lovely profile.

Punch: Darling!

Crane: Like a Noel Coward play!

With that kind of reference, Crane himself is raising the bar high.

The Wild, Untamed Woods

July 15, 2006 8:56 PM

"I don't like the green room, it's too quiet in there," said James Woods as he flew through the breakfast buffet at CBS's Saturday TCA session. Dressed in a suit with a red power tie, Woods worked the room like a whirling dervish, chatting up network executives and press alike.

About an hour later, he was front and center at the session for his new series, the legal drama "Shark." Woods plays Sebastian Stark, a ruthless L.A. defense attorney who switches over to the prosecutorial side, bringing his bombastic, impressionistic view of law to the by-the-book District Attorney's office.

Like his character, Woods is a mile-a-minute talker who's funny, engaging and sometimes exasperating considering his penchant from jumping from one subject to another.

The Oscar-nominated Woods said he learned about the concept of justice from his Aunt who worked within the Rhode Island legal system for years.

"Rhode Island is the parking lot of the mafia," Woods said, noting that "justice is a lot about negotiating, which is not dissimilar to our business."

Woods took issue with a question from a critic who asked "Shark" creator Ian Biederman if Woods' character will lose cases.

Woods jumped to his feet and gave the impression he was going to jump into the crowd to confront the critic directly.

"Lose? You're dripping acid first thing in the morning," he cried, getting laughs from his co-stars and critics. "I want names and numbers taken."

Biederman admitted the character, would, in fact, lose someday, which prompted Woods to turn to executive producer Brian Grazer to ask if the writing staff was up for negotiation.

At one point Woods let his microphone drop off his lapel jacket. A sound tech ran onstage to reaffix the mic as Woods struggled with it.

"It's hard to believe I've done 120 movies," he said.

That led Woods into a discussion about why he was doing a TV series. The feature film business has embraced "more corporate thinking, more parochial thinking," he said, pointing to some of this year's Oscar nominees.

"Look at 'Brokeback Mountain,' 'Transamerica,' 'Capote,'" he said. "They are all very specific. They have the same tenor. There is not much breadth. Movies seem to be scared."

Woods also let critics know that thanks to a business deal he is independently wealthy and doesn't have to make choices based on finances.

That led a critic to ask just how Woods got so loaded.

Without elaborating, Woods said it was money made "Outside the business," which prompted more questions about whether it was real estate or pork bellies that made him flush.

"The secret was "selling enriched uranium to the Nigerians," Woods said, admitting there had been some "ancillary problems."

"Luckily, we got rid of the paperwork," he added.

One critic asked the rest of the cast what it was like to work with Woods, who speaks in the shouting style favored by big talkers like on-air sports analyst John Madden.

"He's got a very soft hand and he puts on the talcum powder very nicely," said Alexis Cruz in what may go down as the most poetic description of an actor ever at press tour.

Co-star Jeri Ryan couldn't contain her laughter when one critic asked if anyone was nervous that "'Shark' might jump the shark," referring to the TV adage of shows that play out their freshness by going someplace creatively they shouldn't.

Ryan rolled her eyes and said "how many hours did that keep you up last night?"

The critic tried to save himself by saying he was referring to the romantic tension between Ryan and Woods.

Ryan played along, noting that if two characters who are set in a sexually tense relationship, you can't throw them in bed together because then that dynamic "is gone."

'The Amazing Race' and Phil's Bionic Eyebrows

July 15, 2006 8:47 PM

In a terrifically overcrowded conference room, "The Amazing Race" executive producers Bertram Van Munster and Jonathan Littman along with host Phil Keoghan announced the 12 teams who will be racing in the Emmy-winning series' 10th edition.
"Race," which premieres on Sundays at 8p.m. (ET) in the fall, will feature the usual lineup of married, gay or straight dating and father-daughter pairs, but in this installment one team is made up of best friends Bilal Abdul-Mani and Sa'eed Rudolph, who are best friends, Cleveland Brown fans and Muslims. One critic wanted to know if the pair's beards and traditional dress made it more difficult for them to move through the world's airports.

"They were treated very respectfully," Van Munster said, noting that the pair said they felt they would have been stopped more if they had no beards and dressed in jeans.

A question to Koeghan about his signature expressive eyebrows prompted him to tell a story about the wife of "Six Million Dollar Man" Lee Majors, who came up to the "Race" host to tell him he stole his eyebrows from her husband.

While the teams did not venture through war zones, Van Munster said the show schedules the race with little thought to world events.

"We went to Kuwait," he said. "That's 60 miles from the Iraqi border."

Destinations are laid out without consideration of the teams, but Van Munster said he specifically designs the challenges around the travelers' personalities and weaknesses.

"The challenges have a lot to do with the makeup of the teams," he said.

Executive Session Scrum

July 15, 2006 8:42 PM

It's a time honored press tour tradition for critics to rush the stage after the network executive sessions to try and get quotes that won't be shared with the whole room. Usually a dozen or so of the more aggressive types (usually the boy critics) plus trade reporters looking for more exclusive copy that will be fresh for the weekly issue (ahem) bound up to the executive with such force it is wonder everyone doesn't end up in a 30-yard tackle.
The same happened to CBS's Nina Tassler after her session.

While most of the questions were follow ups form what was asked in the room, some new information did pour from the scrum.

On why modest ratings success and creatively challenged suburban legal drama "Close to Home" was one of the last series to get picked up for next season:

"It was a little bit of a bubble show. There were some creative elements that we wanted to take a look at and see if we could improve on this year. Because of our relationship with [prolific executive producer Jerry] Bruckheimer, we valued our relationship, and we wanted to make sure it got a great deal of thought and consideration. At the end of the year last year, they came in and gave a fantastic pitch on this is where the show is going to go next year."

Besides adding "JAG" alum David James Elliott to the cast, "Close" will have more "ripped from the headlines" storylines next season.

On whether actress Aisha Tyler asked out of the Friday night drama "Ghost Whisperer" or was her character killed for creative reasons:

"It was a creative decision, and it was a part of what they had been talking about during the year. Aisha was a really significant part of [the show], but they were really looking to do something with the story that would have a big impact."

On what CBS needs to figure out before the network has a viable business model to run telenovela-like programming:

"The number of episodes that you do. How many times a week you're going to air the episodes. Also, where we were going to shoot the show. I mean, all these things were in flux. And doing that with arcing out 18 to 24 episodes, we just weren't ready. A telenovela is a very unique form of storytelling. In adapting it for our network we had to make certain adjustments."

On whether there will be two cycles of "The Amazing Race" this season:

"We have only ordered one so far."

On whether CBS's new video Web site innertube would be a place to let cancelled shows play out any unaired episodes:

"It does give us an opportunity to extend brands, to continue to promote the product. It's there, and right now we're very supportive, and they have been very supportive of us."

Spokesman Chris Ender noted that CBS is trying to get the canceled series "Love Monkey" on innertube, as long as the show's music rights can be cleared for the Internet.

On whether the apocalyptic drama "Jericho" is a science fiction series:

"If that audience responds to the show, that's great, but I think the beauty of it is that it has a much more classic and broader appeal. The circumstances that play out are incredibly relevant."

On whether crime drama "Smith" will feature a different heist each week:

"Over the course of the year, you'll see only three or four big crimes. It's not every week they steal another painting."

On whether CBS is talking to its creatives about toning things down dues to the recent FCC scrutiny of broadcast content:

"We have Standards and Practices. We have a legal department. We have a process we go through. It is a system that has been in place."

For the last time, 'Joan of Arcadia' is Dead, Dead, Dead

July 15, 2006 3:08 PM

Years after the “talk to God” show was cancelled, CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler still has to put on a brave face and discuss the drama “Joan of Arcadia.”

For what seems like dozens of press tours, poor Tassler has been asked about the status of the show. Which was cancelled. Like, almost two years ago.

The critic who asked what’s up with “Joan” was apologetic about the question, which didn’t prevent most of the other critics from groaning audibily.

“It’s questions like that that give us a bad name,” one critic whispered to another.
“You’re kidding, right,” begged Tassler.
Taking a moment to convince herself the question was serious, Tassler went into network president mode, laying out the appropriate response.
“It was a wonderful show and it’s nice that it’s held in such high regard,” she said, with a look to the assembled critics that suggested this is all she had left for the dead and buried “Joan.”The “Joan” question prompted another critic to jokingly ask Tassler about the fate of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Tassler waited just a moment to make sure it was a joke. At press tour, you’re never quite sure.

I’m Mad as Hell and I Can’t Take it Any More

Some critics actually asked CBS’s Tassler questions about projects that have a chance to make it on the air, including the TV version of the classic 1970s feature film “Network,” which former TV dreamboat George Clooney turned Oscar darling George Clooney wants to develop for CBS.

“It’s long term,” Tassler said of the project’s chances of actually making it on a network. “George’s schedule got very busy.”

Passing the Baton

July 15, 2006 2:46 PM

Thanks, James.

When I found out TVWeek wanted me to blog from the TCA press tour this summer, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. We had a bit of a dry run with blog postings in May for our advertiser upfront presentation coverage, which went surprisingly well considering we didn't really plan a lot for it.But for TCA, we had time. And thanks to my colleague James Hibberd's terrific coverage of the cable portion of the tour, we now have expectations. Last week I'd pull up James' coverage of everything from a tearful Shannen Doherty to Hallmark's penguins to the "South Park" guys to a picture of James with Playboy bunnies and feel a cold sweat as I stared at my monitor. Bunnies and penguins? How do I top that? Well, here goes.

 It's Saturday morning and the broadcast portion of the tour has kicked in at the Ritz Carlton. First some clarification:  While several cable networks make presentations over the course of one day, most broadcast networks have two days to present, which mean individual network shows get as much time as entire cable nets do.

Thankfully, broadcasters and their assembled talent are just as brilliant, ridiculous, contentious and nervous as their cable counterparts, so here's hoping I'm in the right place at the right time to capture some of the fun stuff. But if you get bored, feel free to scroll back to the cable blog shots of the penguins and bunnies. I probably will.        








Matt and Bob's Fireside Chat

July 14, 2006 7:33 PM

HBO and Showtime dislike being compared to each other, and for the same reason: HBO feels they are above Showtime. While Showtime also feels HBO is above Showtime. Either way, the networks don’t feel they come off well being lumped together.

But at TCA, it’s difficult to avoid comparing the two, who seem like the yin and yang of premium cable. Chris Albrecht’s master of the universe Q&A performance at the podium is the polar opposite of the low-key chat by a seated Chairman and CEO Matt Blank and Entertainment President Robert Greenblatt.

In recent Press Tours, critics have gone downright rapid while questioning the executives. I have a theory as to why this is: Most consumer critics probably don’t know whether Discovery Channel, BBC America or Comedy Central is up or down for the most recent quarter. But everybody knows that, among premium cable networks, HBO bests Showtime. Suffering by comparison leads to more aggressive questions about performance than is typically endured by any other network. Or maybe they just don’t like “Huff.”

So when Blank and Greenblatt took the stage, they kept their tone mild mannered, made no sudden moves and were profusely polite. “We know this is a difficult week for you,” Blank assured, as if speaking to a cornered grizzly. “But we appreciate you taking the time and showing up.”

Blank announced a rather nifty plan to have different bands perform the title sequence each week for the next season of “Weeds,” with acts as diverse as Death Cab For Cutie and Engelbert Humperdinck. He then ran a trailer for their upcoming series “The Tudors,” where Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays a young Henry VIII. It’s impressive, but also looks exactly like the sort of lavish historical drama that HBO recently decided to stop doing after burning through mountains of money on “Rome,” “Carnival” and “Deadwood.”

During the Q&A, most of the critics questions were refreshingly free of bloodlust, save one asking about CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves’ recent quote comparing Showtime to an “off-off Broadway play” that’s “interested in critics more than audiences.” In other words: even your new boss thinks you suck.

“Leslie was taken out of context … he was talking about the Showtime of the past … I think that was an unfortunate reprehension of something he really wasn’t saying,” Blank said. “We will always try to please you.”

Home Stretch

July 14, 2006 7:20 PM

It’s getting late. This is the last day of the Cable Press Tour marathon. I cannot eat any more shrimp cocktail. I want the badge off my belt loop. I find myself guiltily rooting for bland panels and news-free executive sessions. Few thoughts: – Vinyl records were replaced by cassette tapes, which were replaced by CDs, which are being made obsolete by digital players. So why is the sound of a record scratch still used for the “what did he just say?!” moment of every comedy TV show trailer? – Sometimes critics react to panels as if they’re still watching TV, asking obnoxious rim-shot questions, as if commenting to a spouse beside them on the couch, rather than speaking to a fellow human being. This is also, however, what makes Press Tour so entertaining.

– If there’s a theme to this Press Tour, it’s international news. There’s been Dan Rather, Ted Koppel and a few 9/11-themed program presentations. Several clips of the smoking Twin Towers set to booming Hollywood music. To allow a TV network trailer to drag you into an emotional 9/11 flashback seems like a violation. To complain about the clips seems cowardly. To enjoy them as entertainment seems callous.

– Refusing to applaud panelists is a TCA tradition. Moreso than past Press Tours, networks have stocked the back of the ballroom with channel representatives and series supporters. During Comedy Central’s session, chicken-fried humorists the Naked Trucker & T-Bones performed and waves of hysterical guffaws blew forward the hair of seated critics. (The Naked Trucker, by and by, seemingly performed nude, holding only a guitar. But a sharp-eyed critic called him out for wearing a jockstrap.)

Stargate Liberation

July 14, 2006 3:09 PM

There was nothing particularly snark-worthy about NBC-Uni’s perfectly pleasant shindig on the Ritz Carlton lawn last night. There was a white disco platform, a scratch-happy DJ and a towering 50-foot prop Stargate from the hit Sci Fi Channel series “Stargate SG-1.”The night before the party, NBC Uni actually posted a security team to guard the massive metallic-looking ring. You know, just in case any harried critics try to escape their TCA duties by teleporting to another planet.

Announcements, and Lots of Them

July 13, 2006 8:07 PM

NBC-Universal Cable has a habit of backing a PR dump truck up to their TCA session and unloading a large number of breaking news press releases into the ballroom, thus ensuring at least half of the announcements get buried by overloaded reporters. Some of the following has been reported in one form or another, but here’s the rundown:

– USA Network has acquired the rights from Buena Vista Television to the current box office topper “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” The movie will premiere on USA in the fall of 2008.

– USA has given a cast-contingent greenlight to the 90-minute pilot “To Love and Die in L.A.,” about a young woman who discovers her long-lost father is a hitman. Producers on the project include Lorne Michaels, Andrew Singer, David Kanter, JoAnn Alfano and Sara Goodman. – Sci Fi has greenlit an adaptation of the comic book “Painkiller Jane,” about a female superhero. The 22-episode series will premiere in January from Insight Film Studios and Kickstart Comics.

– Sci Fi also announced plans for a late-night programming slate and a new development slate of series and miniseries. Projects include the miniseries “Outpost” (an adventure series from executive producer Linda Obst about a group of explorers at a space station), “Devil’s Advocate” (one-hour thriller about a theology professor who investigates secret societies, from executive producer Mark Burnett), “Stoner” (about a group of celebrity superheroes living in Los Angeles, from executive producer Jeff Kline), “George Noory” (a late-night program hosted by Mr. Noory, a radio talk show host who explores paranormal issues and “Alien Invasion (a computer animated comedy from executive producer Dave Goetsch about two hapless aliens living in Venice, Calif.).

– Sci Fi has signed “Six Feet Under” star Peter Krause to star in its December limited series “The Lost Room,” described as “’The Fugitive’ meets ‘The Twilight Zone.’”– Former Survivor “Boston Rob” Mariano will join a team of skeptics in “Sci Fi Investigates,” a six-part one-hour series which will tackle myths such as Bigfoot, voodoo and aliens.

– Bravo has ordered “Funny Girls,” three comedy specials for comedians Joan Rivers, Paula Poundstone and Caroline Rhea. – Bravo has renewed “The Real Housewives of Orange County for eight episodes to air later this year.

Doing God's Work

July 13, 2006 6:13 PM

“South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone broke their silence about their recent battles with Comedy Central over a pair of controversial episodes. The duo said they believe Tom Cruise was responsible for pressuring Comedy Central parent Viacom to pull the Scientology-bashing episode “Trapped in the Closet” from reruns and said the show would likely have never aired at all if not for their rapid one-week production cycle.

“If it sat on the shelf for a couple months, it never would have made it on the air,” Parker said.

The episode was nominated for an outstanding animation program Emmy last week. Parker and Stone said they submitted that episode for Emmy consideration specifically because the network had vowed not to rerun it.

“I don’t think it was our best show of the last year,” Parker said.

Stone agreed. “We did it to be dicks.”

But the duo said the controversy almost certainly gained the episode fans among Emmy voters, who they said are tired of “the Tom Cruise stink.”

“You can’t pick [topics] where people in this town are more on your side [than Tom Cruise and Scientology],” Parker said.

After the episode ran, they said they received no response the Church of Scientology. “They have a reputation for intimidating people, but I think that’s all bullshit,” Parker said. “I think the press made that … and they enjoy that reputation.”

Parker and Stone seemed perplexed that the Scientology episode caused so much controversy, but another controversy last season – Comedy Central blacking out a deliberately inoffensive-looking image of the Prophet Muhammad – barely made a media ripple.

Comedy Central President Doug Herzog said that, in retrospect, they might have “overreacted.”

“It was a judgment call made by a big media company,” Herzog said. “We would have liked to have [run the complete episode].”

In another noteworthy episode last season, the character Cartman relentlessly mocked Fox’s “The Family Guy,” saying the animated hit has no sense of character, storytelling and is a stream of lame pop culture jokes without context.

“After that episode aired, we got flowers from ‘The Simpson’s,” Stone said. “We got calls from ‘King of the Hill’ saying ‘you are doing God’s work.’ So it’s not just our opinion.”

Herzog on Chappelle

July 13, 2006 4:11 PM

Ever since he walked away from a hit show and a $50 million deal, comedian Dave Chappelle has taken plenty of shots in the media at his former boss, Comedy Central President Doug Herzog.

Chappelle has said the network put him under too much pressure, fostered an uncomfortable working environment and — last week — that the network made a “bully move” by airing episodes from the incomplete third season. Talking to Herzog after the network’s “South Park” panel (more on that later), Herzog seemed fed up with Chappelle when asked about the comedian’s complaints. “It’s all about Dave,” he said. “If he’s saying that we gave him a lot of money and complete creative control and that made him go off the deep end, then guilty.”

'This Stuff Affects All Americans'

July 13, 2006 4:07 PM

Director Spike Lee stood on the stage during HBO’s session to answer critics’ questions about his Hurricane Katrina documentary “When the Levees Broke.”

That he was standing was unusual; TCA panelists normally sit in chairs. That Lee ignored his chair and stood seemed like a statement about the importance of the subject matter—or a reflection of Lee’s determination to not be in a passive position while fielding questions.

Lee said the government’s lackluster response to the Katrina devastation of New Orleans could eventually be disastrous for other parts of the country as well. “Volcanoes, hurricanes, tornados, floods—it’s not just New Orleans,” Lee said. “Pray to God you don’t have to depend on FEMA. This stuff affects all Americans … It’s very important that we realize it was not a natural disaster; it was a man made disaster … I think somebody has to go to jail somehow for what was committed down there.”

The documentary will include accusations by New Orleans residents that the government blew up the New Orleans levees, Lee confirmed.

“We felt we had to give credence to the many individuals, the majority of them African American, who think the government had something to do with that,” Lee said. “I know it may be hard for you to understand, but if you’re African American, you don’t put anything past the United States government.”

Lee had praise, however, for the media coverage of the disaster. “For the most part the media should be commended,” he said. “It seemed like a lot of the media felt they had been betrayed with the weapons of mass destruction, so now they could take their gloves off and take their swings.”

Mr. T Takes the Stage

July 13, 2006 12:48 PM

The bombastic Mr. T was on stage promoting his TV Land advice-makeover show “I Pity the Fool.” He’s the biggest hit of the Press Tour.

Q: “Mr. T, why do you pity the fool?”

A: “You pity the fool because you don’t want to beat up the fool! Pity is between sorry and mercy. That’s why I pity the fools — you give them another chance, you don’t have to beat them up … People are all: ‘Help me Dr. Phil! Help me Dr. Phil!’ No! you’re a fool!”

March of the Critics

July 13, 2006 12:36 PM

“The penguins are coming! The penguins are coming!” shouted an excited TV critic.

But, alas, the penguins were not coming … Yet. False alarm. More than a hundred critics were gathered at Hallmark Channel’s TCA pool party waiting for two penguins from Sea World to make their appearance.The penguins were supposed to be on hand to promote Hallmark’s rather improbable acquisition of the hit documentary “March of the Penguins.”Hallmark, the channel best known for warmly lit septuagenarian movies that was recently up for sale, spent unspecified millions to acquire “March” and now is making damn sure everybody knows they have it.

At the party, the movie was projected on a large screen, faux icebergs floated in the pool, DVDs of the movie were handed out and, yes, there were live penguins.

But wait! First, a clip reel. Critics groan – where are the penguins? Instead, Hallmark Channel screened a promotional video of scenes from their upcoming programming.The reel went like this: Old people, old people, penguins, old people, old people, penguins. The reel concluded. And then, a speech.

Programming head David Kenin took the microphone, talked about the channel’s original movie efforts and thanked every Hallmark Channel celebrity on hand. Critics listened politely and munched on their buffet items.One wondered: Is it appropriate or inappropriate to eat seafood at a party celebrating penguins? Really, you can argue this either way.

Kenin finished. And then, finally, the march of the flightless waterfowl.The penguins entered to the tune of “Ice, Ice Baby” — which tells you everything you need to know about how Hallmark Channel throws a party. Sea World handlers put the penguins on a raised platform and critics rushed past the likes of Dick Van Dyke and Steve Guttenberg to get their photo taken with the birds.

And Now, Chris Albrecht

July 12, 2006 8:37 PM

HBO Chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht, in his gray suit, placed his hands on either side of the podium for his executive session Wednesday afternoon.

The Q&A that followed was, as always, an invaluable opportunity for critics to put the ultra confident (some say arrogant) and prickly (some say abrasive) leader of their favorite network on the spot about the fates of their favorite shows.

And, as always, Albrecht’s candor resulted in several newsworthy revelations. Since there’s so much ground to cover, and since nobody can portray Chris Albrecht better than Chris Albrecht, let’s turn it over to him:

– On the fate of the long absent “Curb Your Enthusiasm”: “We thought we would have [a renewal announcement] today, but hopefully there will be a new season of ‘Curb’ in 07.”

– On the lack of “Sopranos” Emmys nominations: “I don’t know what to say.”

– On fan reaction to the “Deadwood” cancellation: “My favorite [email] was ‘May you never take an easy dump again.” He then elaborated: “The amount of email was a fraction of what I got for ‘Carnival’ … there’s a disconnect between what’s written about a show … and what the viewers feel for it.”

– On being interrupted while speaking by a ringing cell phone: “What is that ringing? Do we know? Or is that just in my head?”

– On the much publicized fight with David Milch regarding the fate of Mr. Milch’s “Deadwood,” a fight which began with Mr. Albrecht’s offer for six final episodes, then went public with a battle in the press, then the parties settled on a pair of two-hour movies: “I think we’d all like to revisit a phone call I had with David Milch … I said let’s do six and start the new show [Milch’s “surf-noir” drama “John From Cincinnati”] earlier, because there’s a finite amount of time for him to do all the work he does on the show. David said, ‘[Six] is enough, let’s move on.’ Then he called some actors. Then [the actors] called the press. Then the story got out of hand … I know some people think 12 hours is the exact number to end the show exactly correctly but …”

– On whether he believes he handled the conflict with Mr. Milch correctly. “I thought I handled it great. I think David Milch wishes he had that afternoon back [when I offered the six episodes].”

– On the next year’s final eight episodes of “The Sopranos:” “I have seen the storylines for the final eight. I am absolutely positively certain when the curtain comes down on ‘The Sopranos’ that the vast, vast, vast majority of people will say it’s one of the great things of all time.”

– On an unfortunate critic who asked if Tony Soprano will be killed in the finale: “Are you high? I might as well shoot myself in the head if I told you … I happen to know, and I’m not going to tell you.”

– On “Rome,” which Mr. Albrecht now says will conclude after the upcoming second season: “It’s an enormous undertaking to do a regular series 6,000 miles away. People enjoy talking about the price … but it’s one of the most cost-effective shows we do. The show sells incredibly well overseas.”

– On the Tom Hanks’ John Adams mini-series in development: ”We just had a big, big meeting .. I’m hoping we will announce production soon.”

– On the two vampire projects his network has in development (“True Blood,” a series by “Six Feet Under” creator Alan Ball, and another project that even HBO executives in the back of the TCA auditorium are unsure of the title and details). “’True Blood’ we will definitely do … I don’t know if we can do two vampire projects. Then all you guys will write ‘All HBO does is vampire shows now.’”

– On HBO’s new media plans, or lack of them: “You don’t see studios throwing movies up on iPod and you won’t see HBO throwing shows up on iPod. For our business model, it’s more like a theatrical studio. We need to preserve that subscription and DVD window.”

'You Screwed Me!'

July 12, 2006 7:32 PM


Reality show participants often accuse program producers of manipulating footage and inaccurately portraying events. But usually not on the producers’ own TCA panel.   In a moment of terrific TCA drama, a participant in an episode of FX’s “30 Days” panel accused producers Morgan Spurlock, R.J. Cutler and Ben Silverman of manufacturing a transformational conclusion to the upcoming second-season premiere. The episode, about illegal immigration, features a member of the anti-immigration Minutemen militia that “guards” the U.S.-Mexico border. Minuteman Frank George lived with a family of illegal immigrants for a month and was adamant that any misty-eyed heart-softening captured on camera was wildly unfair to include in the episode.

“You guys screwed me,” George said. “It was out of context. They were able to shape the story in the manner they wanted to. I thought [the portrayal] was grossly unfair to the American people.”

George admitted that the vast majority of the hour-long episode was accurate, but took issue with the last five minutes, when he seemed to shift from his hardliner views. Producers calmly defended the episode.

“Things are not out of context,” Cutler said.

“Yes they are out of context!” shouted George.

“There’s a [title card inserted] at the end about his continued involvement in …” Cutler said.

“Because I made them do it!”

Producers said they were aware of George’s opinion before the panel. And as George continued his complaints, it seemed his expectations might have been a little out of whack.

After the session, Cutler took the conflict in stride.

“One problem with [the reality] genre is that there are producers out there who do anything they want,” Cutler said. “But the reason George can talk about the show is we showed him the tape beforehand, because we wanted his feedback. What happens is people go back to their other lives, to their wives, to their community, and they start to feel differently about things. But everything on the show happened.”




Morning News

July 12, 2006 7:26 PM

Ted Koppel was a whole lot of serious newsman for 8 a.m., especially after two network parties the night before. But critics were prodded awake at the Discovery Networks session by the former “Nightline” host’s appearance via satellite on large screens in support of his new investigative series, “Koppel on Discovery.” Live from Guantanmo Bay, he peered down at us like a journalistic idol. Even his hair looked credible; his usual suspiciously firm helmet blown about by high winds.

With the Dan Rather/Mark Cuban panel the day before, critics were also charged by an emerging theme — frustrated veteran newsman finding journalistic liberation on cable. Not surprisingly, the first couple questions begins with variations on “Yesterday, Dan Rather said…”

The first of which queries if such cable outlets such as Discovery and Cuban’s HDNet had a large enough viewership to make their efforts worthwhile.

“In terms of the kinds of audience we can expect for any one program any one time, the number will be different,” Kopple said. “But it’s all but impossible to get prime time on broadcast for a serious foreign policy program. At Discovery, you have a network that does precisely the kind of programming we want to do … you have the possibility a program shown two, three, four times, and shown on most Discovery outlets around the world.”

Koppel added that CBS of “did not act with heroism” in ousting Rather over a discredited story about President Bush’s military service.  “Should that have cost him his career? I don’t think so.”

When asked if representing Discovery feels different than ABC, Kopple said it was different — “and not in any way that I had anticipated.”

“When driving through the Middle East, I was accustomed to saying ‘ABC News,’ and they would say, ‘Who?’ When I say ‘Discovery,’ people light up … the good news is there’s a world of good will out there for the Discovery Networks.”

Discovery Networks President Billy Campbell added that the new show will be accompanied by an online interview series, tentatively titled “Conversations with Ted.”

Drinks by the Pool

July 12, 2006 3:51 PM

 By TCA party standards, where critics often hit the buffet then return to their rooms, Style Network’s poolside shindig is a success that lasts several hours. There are floating balls in the pool and Playboy Playmates lounging on cushions. Cabanas feature complimentary makeover stations—manicures, make-up tips, back massages and photo-posing lessons.


That last is staffed by “American’s Next Top Model” judge Jay Manuel, who has a new makeover show on Style. I learn three things from Jay: One, the next season of “Top Model” is “the best season yet”; two: no, it’s not a coincidence that Tyra Banks is never in the scene when acerbic former judge Janice Dickinson makes a “Top Model” guest appearance; and three: I shouldn’t directly face the camera and hold my head high when being photographed.


One popular Style Network party crasher was billionaire Dallas Mavericks/HDNet owner Mark Cuban. Cuban is impressive because he seems perfectly comfortable flying solo at a major media event. Whether sitting for dinner, dropping in on a panel session or grabbing a drink in the lounge, he’s strikingly entourage free at a conference where most network executives have a publicist (or two or three) in tow.





Harbert's Not-So-Simple Life

July 12, 2006 1:49 PM

E! Networks President and CEO Ted Harbert is trying to get Paris and Nicole back together. For the recently announced fifth season of “Simple Life,” Harbert is adamant the feuding duo share camera time together. The fourth season kept the socialites separate in all but the first and final scenes of the season to accommodate the girls’ public falling out. 

“I want them on screen together, definitely,” he said.


Harbert was sitting in an empty ballroom after his TCA panel. He recently broke two ribs falling in the bathroom and was a bit stiff. Still, the panel went well and he was in high spirits. And Harbert in high spirits is an inherently likeable guy – witty and self-effacing. You genuinely want him to turn the network around. E! ratings are on the rise – up 12 percent among 18 to 49 last quarter -- but the channel is still searching for a breakout hit original show.


As an example of recent success, Harbert pointed to “E! News,” how the show’s ratings are up and the median age has dropped since Ryan Seacrest joined as co-anchor.


“’E News’ average age is 31 years old,” he said. “’Entertainment Tonight’ is 52. ‘Access’ and ‘Extra’ are 48. We’re 17 years younger than our closest competitor.”


Recently, Harbert has been meeting with talent agencies to request pitches for scripted programming.


“I want ‘Entourage,’ I want ‘Nip/Tuck,’” he said. “What I want is good, what I want is quality. If the ratings are great, great. More important is that I want a show that is the favorite for some.”


Harbert sighs.


“I was having breakfast with my 80-year-old mother and she asked me what’s my long-term vision for E!”


She did not.


“Swear to God.”


What did you tell her?


“That I’m gonna put on some hit shows and keep my job.”







Rather Defends Tenure

July 11, 2006 11:26 PM

Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather and HDNet owner Mark Cuban formally announced Rather’s  weekly, hour-long news program, "Dan Rather Reports.”

At first Rather seemed as if he was going to shy away from the question of whether the new program would represent “Rather unleashed” from the restrictions of bottom-line focused broadcast news, saying he wouldn’t touch the question “with a 17-foot pole.” He quickly warmed to the topic.

“CBS is a large organization, with a chain of command that looks like the wiring of a nuclear plant,” Rather said. “The difference is the chain of command [at HDNet] begins and ends with me. Don’t make that sound like a self-serving thing … it’s having the ultimate responsibility.” After a 2005 story on President Bush’s military service, conservative critics accused Rather as having a liberal bias. 

When a critic asked if Rather comes with any “baggage,” Rather launched into a passionate defense of his career. “Yes, I have baggage,” he said. “I have the baggage of the being a journalism graduate of the university of South Vietnam. I have the baggage of the civil rights era. I have baggage of the Watergate era … you bet your life I got a lot of baggage, and I’m proud of it. I have a lot of very strong bias toward independent journalism.”

“Some of what you describe as baggage come from people who have the following view: ‘Listen mister, you report the news the way I want it reported or you will pay a price … or I will amount a sizeable smear campaign against you’ … I’m not going to be bullied. News, news at its best is a wake-up call, not a lullaby. I’m not in the lullaby business.”    





'It Happens Every Time'

July 11, 2006 7:36 PM

“You have an image built up over the years,” a critic began.“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Shannen Doherty said.  As often happens with Ms. Doherty, this comes off as part-joke, part warning. Ms. Doherty was on stage to talk about “Breaking Up With Shannen Doherty,” a new Oxygen series where the former “90210” star helps couples end their relationship.

 The show looks a bit cruel and critics can’t help but wonder if Doherty is still, well, you know, a bitch. And whether she is now trying to repair her image.

“I’m not trying to alter anything,” she said. “I’ve answered this question so many times. Did I participate in that in the beginning? Yes. Did I play into that? Yes. I was 18 years old. I didn’t realize what it was going to cause, what it was going to do.” Ms. Doherty teared up.

“Do I regret what I did when I was younger? Fifty percent of it I regret, 50 percent of it I don’t -- because it made me who I am today,” she said “I’ve tried to change [the opinions] of all of you in this room. I’ve tried desperately to be given a second chance by the media … I put up an image that was created by people I worked for and I went with it. It really hurts to read a lot of stuff that I read about myself.”

After, walking out of the ballroom, surrounded by her entourage, she told her friends: “I just knew where it was going to go right away. It happens every time.”  






Hitting Below the Belt

July 11, 2006 6:35 PM

Three toned young American woman schooled in Muy Thai fighting sat in boxing trunks and tank tops on the Oxygen panel to promote their upcoming reality movie “Fight Girls.” The two just completed an on-stage demonstration of the fighting, punching, elbowing, kneeing and kicking pads.

Though the movie is about training and competition, the critics clearly had something else on their minds. They want to know: How do guys react? Do their dates want to fight them? When they get e-mails from guy fans, are the e-mails “creepy”? I was about to make some assumptions about the predominately middle-aged male audience, when a female critic topped them all: “You are three relatively good-looking women,” she began, to startled laughter. The boxers exchanged bemused, and insulted, looks – relatively? 

“Are you afraid you will get your nose broken or get punched in the face?”         



Law, Brothels and Politics

July 11, 2006 5:14 PM

Sundance Channel just announced two Nevada-based reality shows: “Sin City Law,” an eight-part series about a rivalry between a Las Vegas District Attorney and a public defender, and “Pleasure for Sale,” a six-part series chronicling the inner workings of a brothel.


Of course, since it's coming from the indie sophisticate Sundance Channel, the brothel series is made to sound as fun as a sociological term paper. According to the press release, the show "takes an unflinching look at the political, religious and economic realities of prostitution."


Meanwhile, a panel for Sundance's congressional reality series "The Hill" just left the stage. An aide for Congressman Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) was asked what it was like to be the subject of a reality series. His reply: "After the show I thought I came off as fat and angry. Before the show, I just thought I was angry."




Heated Debate

July 11, 2006 3:21 PM

Weather Channel President Debora Wilson announced an initiative for the network: Climate Watch, including programming and online content about global warming. The efforts will include a new broadband channel called One—representing the one degree of global warming that has already occurred.   

“[The initiative is] to bring a greater understanding of climate change and of the effects of climate change on our earth,” she said. “Global warming and climate change are two phrases that were not all that relevant until a few months ago and, like climate itself, that is changing very quickly.” 

A couple of critics voiced a concern about the program: While cable journalists labored to present both sides, global warming is an issue where the facts overwhelmingly support that idea that global warming is very real threat. So is it doing viewers a disservice to present global warming as a two-sided issue? 

The panelists acknowledged that most cable coverage of global warming has devolved into screaming matches, often with one science expert versus a political contrarian, and vowed to avoid such theatrics. “As far as the basic phenomena, there really isn’t any disagreement,” said Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s foremost climate expert.  While acknowledging there are debates about various minor aspects of global warming, Executive VP and General Manager Wonya Lucas assured, “We have one viewpoint and we stand with the scientific community … but also listen to the debate among the fringes of the issue.”      

BET Banks on Reality

July 11, 2006 2:18 PM

BET wins for most defensive presentation of a reality slate.

President of Entertainment Reginald Hudlin just noted during the network’s presentation that some people equate reality programming with “evil.” Chairman and CEO Debra Lee promised “BET is not the same old BET”—which would be more convincing if BET executives hadn’t made similar proclamations at every TCA. Still, fueled by a recent embrace of reality programming, BET’s ratings are up – 7 percent in prime among total viewers for second quarter.

At last January’s Press Tour, BET angered critics by giving their employees cards with pre-written questions to ask the panelists – ringers! This session’s had its own drama: The fire alarm went off, but executives gamely soldiered on.  

'Killing' Renewal

July 11, 2006 1:10 PM

Some programming executives seem to skate along the surface of their overwhelming jobs, reacting to pitches, meetings and interviews as best they can, often baffled by the shifting attitudes and preferences of their fickle viewers. Other executives come across as deep thinkers who burrow below the surface and spend sleepless nights pondering what their network really means and drafting detailed game plans.

TLC’s VP and General Manager David Abraham seems like one of the latter. Having breakfast on the Ritz Carlton patio, he talks about putting more purposeful programming on Mondays when viewers feel more goal-oriented, then scheduling more frivolous entertainment later in the week when viewers are more tired. He notes his network’s recent double-digit ratings growth, but seems more interested in what the shows really mean to the people who watch them. He is, in short, a bright guy – and the English accent doesn’t hurt.   

He also drops some news. Next week TLC will announce a renewal of “Honey We’re Killing the Kids,” a reality series that shows parents how their child’s bad habits will harm their future. Also, with “American Chopper” shifting from Discovery to TLC next January, Mr. Abraham intends to order at least one new motor-themed show to accompany “Chopper,” which will run on Thursdays in a motor-programming block. The network also plans a marketing campaign to herald the switch.              

It's Always Sunny on TV Guide

July 11, 2006 11:45 AM

Mixing a sun-drenched patio and a video presentation is always bit tricky, and TV Guide Channel's late afternoon outdoor party left critics a bit squinty and mopping their brows. But TVGC President Ryan O'Hara provided the uninitiated with a solid overview of his channel's unusual transition from programming guide to entertainment destination. 

Later, Melissa Rivers (sans mom) mentioned she's producing a new backdoor pilot called "Stars First Jobs," which will debut on TVGC as a special later this year. The pilot features "Grey's Anatomy" star Ellen Pompeo and rapper Coolio revisiting their first jobs (a Baskin Robbins and a youth camp, respectively).  

Guantanamo's Influence

July 10, 2006 8:01 PM

It’s apparently not too early in the day for naked breasts. The clip reel for Starz’s documentary, “Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film,” includes several shots of topless women being brutally disemboweled and axe-hacked, but critics seem nonplussed.

“Clearly the Disney Channel presentation has concluded,” jokes Michael Ruggiero, executive producer and VP, programming and scheduling at Starz.

During the panel, “Scream” director Wes Craven speaks thoughtfully about why moviegoers enjoy horror films and notes a recent disturbing trend in popular films: torture. Many current horror movies such as “Hostel,” “Hard Candy” and “Saw” contain sequences of trapped victims being sadistically tormented.

“Torture has entered [horror movies] in a big way,” Craven said. “And it’s no coincidence with [U.S. detainment facilities accused of torture at] Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Whatever is in the news that’s deeply disturbing will turn up in a horror film.”

Angels in the Auditorium

July 10, 2006 7:34 PM

Disney ABC Television Group drew the presentation short straw, presenting ABC Family Channel and The Disney Channel as the first panels during TCA’s opening half day. Most critics are still en route to the Ritz Carlton or encamped in their rooms, only about 70 grace the ballroom.  

Among the ones who are here, a few wonder how a network lands the dreaded opening slot.The way it works is part money, part popularity, part luck. CTAM, which recently took over management of TCA from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, rotates the network schedule each Tour. But the opening slots in the smaller ballrooms are also less expensive, sources said. Also, critics complain if heavy hitting networks such as HBO are presented during fringe periods. Thus, ABC Family and Disney Channel are joined by Starz and TV Guide Channel as the first networks to storm the TCA beachhead. For the panels, ABC Family presented “Fallen” and “Kyle XY.” One common form of celebrity Q&A was on display: Questions that ask — and ask hopefully — if an actor is just like their character. So panelists for “Fallen” (about fallen angels living among us) are asked if they have “ever had an experience where you truly felt you had an angel looking out for you.” Actors Paul Wesley and Rick Worthy gave straight-faced accounts of surviving car accidents and armed robbery, respectively, and said they survived only through divine intervention. Sort of. “I would have died — 110  percent — if I had not buckled up,” Wesley said. 



July 10, 2006 6:45 PM

"Oh my God, youve only been here for 10 minutes and youre bitching already!" exclaimed one critic to another at the Television Critics Association Press Tour check-in table. The complaining critic, who merely asked the TCA staff for power strips to plug in their laptop, laughed. TCA, after all, is famous for critical bitchingas well as for critics sparring with celebrity panelists, lavish parties and the occasional nugget of breaking news. To paraphrase Jon Stewart's line about the White House correspondents dinner, TCA is where critics and TV networks consummate their unholy marriage. For the next couple weeks, 180 reporters are sealed in a five-star hotel and, at every opportunity, networks will try to sell them on their brands and programmingfrom the sponsored breakfasts in the morning through the daily celebrity-packed panels to the net-branded chocolates waiting on hotel room pillows at night.

It's a carefully scripted and mind-melting sales marathon, like a time-share presentation that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, whose mental/emotional impact is only marginally offset by the TCA's swank accommodations. So when a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel standing next to Courteney Cox at FX's party at Spago is angrily cursing the meager portions of his parmesan-encrusted shrimp cocktail, it's a tough call whether to feel derision or pity.

But right now, a few minutes before the start of the debut panel, critics are in high spirits. Unlike many prior Press Tours, cable networks will present their program first. So the critics are still fresh, all smiles, chatting about the roster for the next five days. The cable portion panelists include Shannen Doherty, Ted Koppel, Spike Lee, the cast of "Entourage," Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Mr. T, David Cross, Gene Simmons, Damon Wayans, Andre Benjamin and more. The parties, too, have potential. To promote the acquisition of the hit documentary "March of the Penguins," Hallmark Channel is having a pool party complete with real penguins. Consider that for a moment: A couple hundred TV critics poolside with an open bar and live penguins.

Cant wait.