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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.      

 

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