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James Hibberd

January 2007 Archives

'Idol' Panel

January 20, 2007 9:01 PM

On the TCA stage, Paula Abdul is drooling and slurring her words.

She’s mumbling something about yetis and spatulas, hanging on an annoyed Simon Cowell, kissing the side of his face.

Ryan Seacrest looks on at her affection, disgusted, yet oddly fascinated.

All right … fine. So none of that actually happened.

The 'Idol' crew are professional and Simon vigorously defends Paula’s much-discussed behavior. He takes the blame for the team being late. She does kiss him, but it’s only a peck.

After the panel, a dozen reporters swarm Simon. A dozen swarm Paula. Randy Jackson, the nice Beatle, gets just one reporter. I feel sorry for Randy. Sort of.

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Waiting for Idol

January 20, 2007 8:40 PM

The “Idol' panel is nearly 45 minutes late.

The rumor, unconfirmed, is that everybody is waiting on an AWOL Paula Abdul.

A few critics begin to chant, 'Paul-a! Paul-a!'

Needless to say, the critics are primed to interview the Death Star team.

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Minear's Fourth Gear

January 20, 2007 8:39 PM

Fox’s upcoming action series “Drive,' where a group of people compete in a secret cross-country race, seems like a solid idea for a drama. Casting charismatic Nathan Fillion of “Firefly' to the lead the ensemble is a great choice. But the clips shown at TCA have worrisome, wacky “Cannonball Run' quality to them.

“Drive' is executive producer Tim Minear’s fourth Fox series. Previously he did “Wonderfalls' (beloved, cancelled), “Firefly' (beloved, cancelled) and “The Inside' (not so beloved, also cancelled).

A critic asks why, if the race in “Drive' is a secret, how all the characters in the show have heard of it.

“It’s sort of like my last three series on Fox,' he says. “People hear theses rumors about them … then download them or buy them on DVD … some days the 2 million dollars is hardly worth it.'

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Waiting For 'Idol'

January 20, 2007 7:45 PM

The “Idol” panel is nearly 45 minutes late.

The rumor, unconfirmed, is that everybody is waiting on an AWOL Paula Abdul.

A few critics begin to chant, “Paul-a! Paul-a!”

Needless to say, the critics are primed to interview the Death Star team.

Candy for Breakfast

January 20, 2007 3:40 PM

Fox has a literal car accident staged outside the Ritz Carlton in promotion of their upcoming series “Drive.'

Their “Hell’s Kitchen'-themed buffet spread is filling—omelet bar, buffet and a candy station (Fox is exactly the type of network that gives you candy for breakfast). Fox staffers wolf down omelets along with the press, no snobbish class separation here. The ballroom is covered in snow-white tones and their pages wear parkas

This is the last day of press tour. Critics are exhausted. Yet Fox has so much news potential. They ask about Paula Abdul’s latest breakdown, about accusations of “24' vilifying Muslims, about whether “Idol' judges have become too mean, about the OJ Simpson mess.

Then Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori throws cold water on the party with answers that seem cautious even by broadcast network executive standards.

Fox is “pleased what Paula does for ‘American Idol.’' He claims he cannot talk about OJ due to pending litigation. “24' has villains of many kinds of ethnicities. Mean “Idol' judges are part of the culture of the show.

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The Last CW Word: Chris Rock

January 19, 2007 9:53 PM

Chris Rock, here to support his ratings-challenged sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris,' is a blast.

“My TiVo won’t even watch my show,' he says. “First we’re on UPN, now The CW. What’s next, BET?'

A critic asks if would hire Michael Richards.

“I dunno …' Rock says, seeming to give the matter some real thought. “Probably. But I have to make sure all the non-‘nigger’-screaming people didn’t need the job first.'

Tomorrow is Fox, which has an “Idol' panel, plus a lot of critics eager to ask about O.J. Should make for a fine TCA finish.

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McG "Aspires" Women

January 19, 2007 7:57 PM

Upcoming CW competition reality series “The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search For the Next Doll' has turned into an unexpected TCA highlight when critics and “Charlie’s Angels' director / “Pussycat' executive producer McG get into a fight over whether the burlesque group are empowering women to bring about the “third wave' of feminism, or merely “skanks' corrupting the underage daughters of TCA critics.

Things got started by McG baiting the crowd by insisting the Dolls are about more than simply pop songs and thigh highs.

“It's something that's aspirational and fun for a woman to be involved in,' says McG (who later describes "America’s Next Top Model' as “awesome and aspirational').

The show’s judge and executive producer Robin Antin adds, “There's so many different types of ‘Pussycat Dolls’ in the world, and that's what is so inspiring to women. The message is just finding your ‘inner Doll.’'

So a critic asks: “Why should young girls aspire to dress up like skanks?'

“First of all,' Antin says, “there's nothing slutty about it. There's nothing skanky about it. Their clothing is cute.'

The critic counters: “You've been using words like ‘empowering’ and sounding like these girls are running for president.'

“There's a reason why people like Scarlett Johansson, Gwen Stefani, Cameron Diaz and Charlize Theron have all been so interested in what ‘Pussycat Dolls’ is about,' says Antin, entirely missing, if not proving, the critic’s point. “Those are women that I am really inspired by and are classy. These are women that have wanted to be a part of it because they feel that it is empowering to get up there and dress like a Doll.'

McG, getting irate, wades into the battle.

“Not everything is going to solve the crisis in the Middle East,' he says, almost certainly not for the first time in his career. “Sometimes you want to have some fun … and women celebrating one another being beautiful, and, frankly, being appreciated by me, has been around for a long time. Under no circumstances is it shameful. And there's even a position to take that this is, frankly, third-wave feminism. You know what I mean?'

The critics don’t know what he means.

One middle-aged critic asks how lyrics like, “Don’t you wish you were a freak like me?' celebrates women.

“You must understand the fundamental paradox of a gentleman of your age demo asking that very question,' McG says. “I don't know if you two-way your friends on your Sidekick … It's just saying, ‘Don't you wish your girlfriend could be free and comfortable in her own skin and do her own thing like me?’ That's what we're saying.'

According to the official CW transcript, what follows next is “[Booing].'

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'Top Model' Disconnect

January 19, 2007 7:13 PM

I’m failing to keep my CW coverage to two paragraphs.

Their “America’s Next Top Model' mobile phone avatar is, all snark aside, pretty cool. It’s a mobile game where the user is responsible for the care and feeding of a pouty “Top Model' contestant who “lives' on the phone.

Cyriac Roeding, VP of wireless for CBS Interactive, describes the game as a 21st century version of those “keep them happy or they die' Tamagotchi pets. The CW plans to have the game tied to the next season, so that if your “Top Model' contestant gets a new haircut or gets into a fight with a competitor, the avatar on your phone is updated appropriately. In an industry that flogs and abuses the term “interactive,' this game really is.

Now let’s bring the snark back.

Roeding is likeable, quick-witted and has a strong German accent. CW PR man McGuire says that he likes to give him twenty bucks to say “Kill Bond!' Roeding enthuses at length about the “Top Model' cell phone game, then declares he’s now going to do something that Bill Gates says a man on stage should never attempt—a live demonstration. The “Top Model' game comes up on the large projection screens beside the stage.

Now, every critic in the room knows exactly what’s going to happen next. Because the Pasadena Ritz Carlton, despite regularly housing this television conference and media event, has all the cell phone reception of a bomb shelter in Duluth covered by a dozen feet of snow. Given that his title is VP of Wireless, Roeding should probably know this.

On screen, the “Top Model' game suddenly disappears and is replaced by a Sprint logo.

“And this is why you should never do a live demo, because our phone basically just decided to switch off,' Roeding says.

The critics laugh. This is what happens a dozen times a day when their editors call.

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The CW Session

January 19, 2007 4:28 PM

“This is a two-paragraph story,' grouses a reporter after CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff leaves the stage.

Ostroff has just finished giving The CW boilerplate answers to TCA critics who, admittedly, also asked The CW boilerplate questions. What mistakes did you make launching the network? (We didn’t. What mistakes?). Why didn’t the network offer their shows online earlier? (We were too busy launching a whole damn network, hello…). Will you dump the Monday night comedy block next fall? (Of course not, it’s a huge success, didn’t you know?). When will you retire “Gilmore Girls'? (Not yet, we love the show).

Ostroff says the network is gaining momentum. To ram it home, the word “momentum' appears on the screen behind her. It’s true, carryover shows from UPN and WB have during the past month or so hit series highs on the new network.

Still, the network needs to add new shows of its own. The other day over lunch, one production company representative complained The CW is completely disorganized. “One part doesn’t know what the other parts are doing,' the representative said. From a media perspective, The CW is aided by having The Two Pauls running their corporate PR, McGuire and Hewitt, who put the best spin on their network while still shooting straight.

Among the The CW’s list of announcements, Ostroff has renewed the low-rated (even by CW standards) sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris.' Ostroff urges critics to give the show another chance, noting that it dropped out of TVWeek’s Critics Poll this month. Later, I ask Ostroff if she’s not just keeping it going just long enough to acquire enough episodes for syndication and she claims she renewed it due to the quality of the show.

A confession: The Chris Rock comedy series is also the subject of the most unfortunate typo in my journalism career. A few months ago, in an online ratings story, I referred to the series as “Everybody Hates Christ.' Within a minute of publishing, the emails came pouring in. Most were amused, noting The CW must truly be getting desperate for attention, while others were highly offended. I ran to our web editor’s desk, frantic, yelling “Fix it! Fix it! Fix it!'

Contact James Hibberd

Paging the CW

January 19, 2007 1:20 PM

“Here you go...' purrs a CW page, looking vaguely like “Hit Me Baby'-era Britney Spears, passing out a press release.

Britney passes another CW page, who looks vaguely like a replacement guitarist for The Strokes.

The pages are dressed in alarming lime green CW jackets, white wing-tip shirts, white slacks and white shoes. They look like pimp golfers. All are very young, attractive and have “Free to Be Helpful' on the back of their jackets.

They’re also not actually pages. Unlike the other broadcast nets, The CW doesn’t have pages per se, so the network hired actors for the role. Hmm, there’s a joke here to be made about the CW posing as a broadcast network … the critic next to me takes a stab at it: “I’m not a page, but I play one on The CW.'

Bob Barker vs. Samoan Women, Howie Mandel and Lawsuits

January 18, 2007 8:58 PM

“On ‘Price is Right’ I get a helluva lot more applause than that,' says Bob Barker as he walks out on stage.

Barker is here to talk about his retirement this summer after 35 years on the air. He successfully coaxes more applause from the critics, who historically do not applaud for panelists. Since many panelists are offended by a silent room, network reps in the back typically try to compensate by applauding and laughing extra hard.

But 83-year-old Barker, a self-described “old fashioned guy doing an old fashioned show,' doesn’t need any help. Some of his anecdotes are a little corny, the way stories your grandfather tells at dinner are corny, but the critics love him. He beams energy and confidence, taking command of the crowd.

On a few key subjects:

-- On “Deal or No Deal:' “I watched ‘Deal or No Deal’ just long enough to see what it was. I’m surprised [it’s popular]. It’s the same thing time after time after time. But I didn’t think ‘Survivor’ could work either.'

-- On his scariest contestant: “I’ve had so many it would be hard to choose one. I once had a Samoan woman pick me up as if I was a child and throw me around. And I thought that would never happen again. Another year, another Samoan came down to contestant’s row and she picked me up and threw me around. And another year goes by. And a third Samoan woman came down, and I made her swear she wouldn’t pick me up. Then she won a car and she picked me up higher than any of them. I don’t know what it is with me and Samoans.'

-- On the wrongful termination and sexual harassment lawsuits that “Price Is Right' has settled out of court: “I didn’t choose to settle any of them out of court. But various companies owning the show have chosen to settle. I wanted to go to court, and people of positions of responsibility wanted to go to court. Because they were frivolous lawsuits. They were distortions, exaggerations or outright falsehoods. But it’s good business to settle, it’s less expensive.'

CSI: Pasadena

January 18, 2007 7:07 PM

Tassler tells the critics she’s looking to find new shows that viewers will talk about. More buzz-generating shows. The network executives get frustrated because shows like “Criminal Minds' and “NCIS' are breaking out in the ratings, but critics don’t write about them. I mean, c’mon, CBS is the most-watched television network and, as of yesterday, hit #1 among adults 18 to 49 as well. Where’s the love shown Kevin Reilly? Where’s the respect?

CBS has good cause to feel disrespected in the ballroom. In the TVWeek Winter Critics Poll survey, not one CBS show landed in the top 25. “Amazing Race' was their first entry, and that came in at No. 28. How is it possible that the most popular TV network, a network that critics (who are largely white and middle aged) are a perfect demographic fit to watch, doesn’t have one critical hit?

The reason is best explained by this classic YouTube clip of David Caruso one-liners from “CSI: Miami'. CBS is an expert at making terrible, formulaic, popular shows. Fox produces more blatantly offensive efforts that anger critics, to be sure, but CBS has a slew of shows that are offensive in their mediocrity. “Jericho' was one clear attempt to break this pattern, and it’s easy to see why it’s CBS’s most popular show online, if not on the network.

On the TCA stage, the CBS executives all seem like pleasant people, but there’s no energy in the room. Critics complain afterward how dull the session was.

(Now just watch. After posting this, tonight I’ll be found garroted in the Ritz Carlton jacuzzi, still clutching my Blackberry. The CSI: Pasadena team will read my TCA coverage and decide Tassler, Nancy Grace and the Starz 1st Amendment Stand-Up comics are prime suspects. At the crime scene, David Caruso will find a half-empty bottle of vodka, put on his sunglasses, and declare, “Looks like … this blogger … was already … down-loaded.' Though initially it will seem as if Tassler ordered my execution to make her CBS TCA day more buzzworthy, critics will be stunned when retiring “Price is Right' host Bob Barker confesses to the crime, saying he’s always wanted to appear on a hit primetime drama).

That's No Moon, That's a Glorified Karaoke Contest

January 18, 2007 7:05 PM

CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler calls “American Idol' “The Death Star,' which is appropriate given that last night it completely obliterated “Criminal Minds' and “CSI: NY.'

Tassler gives NBC’s Kevin Reilly credit for the term, though “Idol' has been called that more than a few times before (and for those wondering why the content of this post has changed since this morning, well, it’s a long story).

At any rate, the critics run with the term.

“So regarding the Death Star, what do you do?' a critic asks the CBS executive panel. “Do you send in a plucky band of rebels? Do you try to find shows that are ‘Idol’ proof?'

“Not ‘Idol’ proof but ‘Idol’ resistant,' says Kelly Kahl, VP of programming operations. “Our shows hang in there okay, while the other shows get, uh, vaporized.'

Moving away from Star Wars references, another critic asks why the network is showing “Criminal Minds' after The Super Bowl instead of “How I Met Your Mother.' In the hallways, critics have been carping on this all week. They claim “Mother' is a better fit than “Minds' for the slot. The truth is they’re both about equally suitable. It’s just that “Mother' is a clever and funny show that critics like, while “Minds' is yet another lobotomized procedural, so critics rather have “Mother' gain the added viewership.

“I don’t know if ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ was a good [post-Super Bowl] fit, it’s a female-skewing soap, but it worked for ABC,' Kahl points out to the critic. “You got a huge audience sitting there and if you have a chance to introduce them to it, you got to take it.'

Party #3, #4 and #5 MTV, Globes and NBC

January 18, 2007 4:34 PM

-- MTV Networks, Thursday, Jan. 11: The last place critics want to go after spending all day in the Ritz ballroom is the Ritz ballroom, so MTV’s TCA party loses off-the-bat points for their location. Still, MTV knows how to pick out music and stock a guest list with talent, so the party becomes a modest success. Hmm … what else? David Spade is a tiny man.

-- Golden Globes Parties, Monday Jan. 15: Not a TCA party, but is the reason there were no blog posts Monday and was certainly interesting. The Beverly Hilton housed both the awards and four industry parties—HBO, NBC, Warner Bros. and Fox (I got on the list for NBC and HBO, while the two studio parties, in PR rep-speak, “could not accommodate your request for an invitation'). Usually, one major industry event is enough to overwhelm a hotel. But an awards show and four parties? Let’s put it this way: The NBC event was on the roof of the parking garage.

Now, friends get impressed when they hear things like “Golden Globes party.' They imagine walking the red carpet, drinking champagne, and hanging out with Steve Carell.

They don’t imagine the cramped shuttle bus to the party from Century City, stuck in Globes traffic.

They don’t think of catered buffets that, by the time you get to them, look like they were ravaged by bears (like bears that just woke up from hibernation and are all super hungry, not just regular bears).

And they don’t imagine a 20-minute wait for an elevator up to a party, during which a crowd of rich people dressed in their best formal wear grow angry and impatient, and party organizers start to yell at them to “Get back! Get back!' and the whole drama looks like a reenactment of the lifeboat-crowding scenes from “Titanic' (“Don’t you understand?! The hotel is sinking and there aren’t enough elevators, not enough by half!').

-- NBC Universal and NBC, Friday Jan. 12 and Wed Jan. 17: NBC has a cable party and a broadcast party in the Ritz lobby lounge and, as one might expect, the broadcast event is better. More celebrities (“Heroes' Masi Oka is mobbed like a rock star), superior food (the mushroom scallops risotto is the best TCA dish so far).

I have a TCA moment of clarity when I realize I’ve been greedily eating no less than five rich desserts off my buffet plate (they are tiny desserts, but still…) while drinking a vodka tonic. I briefly wonder what the hell I’m doing before deciding that chocolate mouse and Ketel One go well together.

Later I join a mob of trade reporters ganging up on NBC Universal Cable Entertainment President Jeff Gaspin, who keeps his shirt unbuttoned further (farther?) than you’d expect. Gaspin talks about naming Chiller, NBC Universal’s new horror channel that recently got picked up by DirecTV. He said he originally wanted to call it Thriller, but NBC lawyers said Michael Jackson might have a problem with that.

Trump vs. Rosie One (Hopefully Final) Round

January 17, 2007 6:44 PM

I feel downright unclean posting this. But when a critic asks Donald Trump, here for “The Apprentice,' about his fight with Rosie O’Donnell, the sound of reporters typing furiously sounds like a rainstorm in the ballroom. So, in service to all those who must know, here is the latest:

Q: “I feel compelled to bring up this pissing match you’ve been in publicly—“

“I’m shocked'

Q: “Do you regret how out of hand it’s gotten?'

Trump: “No.'

Q: “Are you afraid at all the public’s image of you is going to be harmed and this might all backfire?'

Trump: “It’s a good question. This started out as being about Miss USA. This young woman had a drinking problem [and I gave her a second chance]. And Rosie O’Donnell went absolutely nuts. Then she went and said a lot of things that have been proven untrue. Who would have ever thought it would be a very big story? I go on the “Today' show, first question is a Rosie question, second is a Rosie question, then they ask me why I talk about Rosie. Then I went on Larry King and I said I don’t want to talk about Rosie. He said, ‘Okay,’ and the first question was about Rosie … I think I exposed her for what she is. She’s just a terrible human being. She’s a terrible disgusting human being and not very smart. I think this whole [O’Donnell being on ‘The View’] will blow up and I want credit for it when it happens … This will only stop when the media stop asking. I don’t talk about Rosie but every question is about Rosie … If somebody attacks you, a lot of the folks in this room would defend themselves. I have always defended myself … I’ve watched her attack people over the years and I’ve watched people not fight back. She’s a bully. I learned this in high school. When you’re attacked by a bully you hit them back. You hit them right between the eyes and that’s what I did...The ratings from "The View" went up because of me. Barbara Walters hates Rosie O'Donnell. Two weeks from now, the ratings will go back down and tank and there will be turmoil. I watched it the other day for the first time in awhile. Watch it without the turmoil, its a very boring show."

Donald Trump Jr.: "He speaks his mind. He's not a politician. People respect him. He says what everybody else is thinking."

'Heroes' Turns Back Reilly's Doomsday Clock

January 17, 2007 4:56 PM

Sitting with Reilly after his TCA session for an upcoming TV Week “12 to Watch' executive profile, Reilly was circumspect about his former high-profile period of occupational uncertainty.

“It was character building,' he says. “I’m ready to put it behind me. It teaches you how to stay focused on your work. It was weird, the reports would come in these clusters. I’d come in and have 10 journalists on my call sheet that all have triple confirmation that my boxes were being packed. You start to feel bad for the organization, it bums people out. It undermines the organization when you’re trying to build confidence … [but] once you’ve been at DefCon 5, being at DefCon 3 feels pretty comfortable.'

Such talk has, of course, subsided in the wake of NBC’s rising ratings tide (specifically, “Heroes,' “The Office,' “My Name is Earl,' “Deal Or No Deal' and “Sunday Night Football'). Reilly’s NBC contract is up this summer and industry insiders say the ball is back his court. Reilly declined to comment on the contract status, saying only that he’s feeling confident about the company.

One last thing. According to Wikipedia, on the DefCon scale, level 5 is actually the most relaxed state of readiness, and 1 is the never-used “24'-season-premiere nuke-attack imminent level. But, c’mon. Reilly has to run an entire broadcast network, he can’t be expected to know everything.

Two Fun/Rude Katie Couric Questions From Critics For Matt Lauer

January 17, 2007 3:55 PM

Q: “How much more do you like Meredith Vieira than Katie and why?'

Lauer: “Um … I like them differently? It’s just a terrible question. It’s a different dynamic. I had 10 great years with Katie having Meredith brings a different perspective, she’s a different person. She didn’t come in and try to be Katie … Katie and I were at a different point, we were at the end of the 10-year relationship, we were at a point where we could completely each other’s sentences.'

Q: “Did Katie make a mistake leaving?'

A: “Katie went off to find a great challenge and she’s finding it rewarding.'

Kevin Reilly, Feeling the Love

January 17, 2007 3:43 PM

“Maybe quality isn’t something you define,' intones an NBC clip narrator, sounding almost like a “Saturday Night Live' parody of a fourth-place network’s ad copy. “But you know it when you see it, and, maybe, that’s what matters.'

The defensive-sounding clip opens NBC’s TCA session. But the funny thing is, NBC is currently—in a freakish perfect storm of Nielsen ratings positional jockeying—tied for first place season to date. Though they’re expected to end up in fourth by May, even that story is relatively sunny, since NBC has improved significantly year to year.

On stage, a reinvigorated NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said NBC's fall shows have "brought the love back to the network."

“What I’m really feeling right now in the building is a new confidence,' he says. “It’s actually shockingly, weirdly, becoming fun again. People are saying, ‘What’s that feeling we’re having? Oh, that’s fun.’'

After the panel, however, Reilly could not muster much love for Fox’s Nielsen Death Star, “American Idol,' which open fired with a record-breaking premiere last night.

“We got to see how it weathers over the course of the year,' he says. “Not to be shitty about it, but maybe they’ll have a bad run. Nothing burns that bright forever. Some day it will be uncool to watch ‘American Idol.’'

'Emergency' Solution

January 15, 2007 12:11 AM

The biggest clue that ABC has some momentary programming challenges is that cellar-rated sitcom “In Case of Emergency' is one of its two TCA series panels. The most recent “Emergency' episode earned a mere 2.3 rating among adults 18 to 49, down 15 percent from its debut, and was the lowest-rated show last Wednesday among the major networks.

So critics are wondering: “Why is the top-rated broadcast network paneling a series on the verge of cancellation?'

The answer: ABC’s midseason shows have largely tanked and the network doesn’t have anything that’s worthwhile and ready to go on the air just yet to fill the slots. (Also, McPherson likes “Emergency' and wants to give it a chance).

At TCA, this means critics and the affable “Emergency' panelists have to work together to somehow keep conversationally afloat a 45-minute panel. This is like being at a dinner party where nobody has much in common and everybody tries desperately to avoid awkward lulls. “So,' a critic asks, “what is it about your characters that you like?'

Later, there’s a showrunners panel. The biggest laugh comes from this exchange between two of the “Lost' executive producers, Cuse and Lindelof.

Cuse: “We went to Steve McPherson last season and said, ‘Okay, one of our main characters, Michael, is going to kill two of our other main characters.’

Lindelof: “And they were all: ‘As long as one of them is Michele Rodriguez.’'

While “Desperate Housewives' showrunner Mark Cherry talked about his quality control angst, saying that he read a “Housewives' message board once during the first season of his show and never went back (“it was too much humanity for me'). Still, he couldn’t avoid the critics that pelted his series last season.

“You hear, ‘You’ve ruined Sunday night, thank god for ‘Grey’s Anatomy’!’' Cherry says. “So you tell Steve McPherson to move that goddamn show to Thursday night so you can feel better about yourself.'

Contact James Hibberd

The 'Lost' Smart Bomb

January 14, 2007 6:12 PM

It seems the producers of “Lost' can also reveal surprise plot twists in real life. Exec producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof just dropped the biggest ballroom bomb of TCA: They’re in discussions with ABC to announce an end date for the series.

This statement comes as a surprise to everybody in the room—including ABC executives.

“It’s time for us now to find an endpoint for the show,' Cuse says. “JK Rowling announced there were seven books in the Harry Potter series and it gives fans [a framework for understanding the arc of the show]. ‘The X-Files’ was a cautionary tale for us. It was a great show that ran two seasons too long. ‘Lost’ has a short-half life.'

In the hallway after the panel, Lindelof says he’s thinking of capping the series at 100 episodes, which would only result in two more seasons. This is highly unlikely, and sounds more like a negotiation salvo, but capping at six or seven seems possible.

Lindelof comes across as smart and self-effacing as one might expect. He’s justifiably haunted by “The X-Files,' another broadcast sci-fi series loved by many fans, only to spiral into incoherence. “When people talk about ‘The X-Files,’ they don’t say how great it was,' he says. “They say how great it was ‘but’ …'

The current wave of criticism about the show bothers him, but he notes “Buffy the Vampire Slayer' showrunner Joss Whedon once said fans tend to gush about the previous season, never the current season.

“Last year everybody hated the start of season two, they hated Michele Rodriguez, they hated the Tailies,' he says. “Now everybody loves season two and hates this season.'

Down the hallway, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson is having lunch, and seems less-than-thrilled by the producers’ comments. After all, producers don’t cancel shows, network presidents do. He admits he didn’t know Lindelof and Cuse were going to make the announcement, then objected to the term “announcement.'

“Nothing was announced,' he says. “We’ve had those discussions for the past two years.'

The critics, naturally, are in love with the plan, assuming producers follow through. It’s a bold attempt to try to preserve the show’s creative integrity and would give fans (and, just as importantly, the show’s writers) a clear idea where they are in the show’s overall storyline.

Earlier, during the panel, Lindelof gave critics a taste of how difficult it is to write for “Lost.' A critic asked why The Others ailing leader Henry Gale simply asks Jack to perform surgery on him. Why play out such a simple request as an elaborate and manipulative ruse for six episodes?

“No offense to your writing skills, but that version is considerably less intriguing,' Lindelof says. “What if when Kate was stitching up Jack [in the pilot] she asked, ‘So who are you?’ [He says] ‘I’m a spinal surgeon and I got some father issues.’ [She says] ‘You think you’ve got father issues, I blew up my fucking stepdad!’ After that, why do the show?'

Fun With Transcripts, Part 2 RvT

January 14, 2007 3:31 PM

Something that Danny DeVito, Lisa Ling, Steve McPherson and Mark Burnett have in common: All are asked by TCA critics about the Rosie vs. Trump fight, a subject that, as one trade reporter noted in the press room, can be summed up as “two very rich people pissed off at each other and why should we care?'

By the time McPherson is asked about RvT Sunday morning, there are audible groans in the press room from critics embarrassed for their occupational species.

A collection of replies:

Panelist: Lisa Ling, here to promote her new Oxygen documentary “Who Cares About Girls.'
RvT Connection: Former “The View' co-host.
Response: “I’m astounded that people really care. I really am. I have to be frank …I’m trying to talk about some of the work that I’ve been doing, you know, and people are always eager to ask about ‘The View.’'

Danny DeVito, here to promote FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.'
RvT Connection: He was recently drunk on ‘The View.’
Response: “I know both of them. They’re really, like, very nice people. I think if I had to choose between Donald and Rosie … it would make a difference what I was, you know, planning on doing with either of them … I guess it’s good publicity for them, but they should chill, work it out.'

Panelist: Mark Burnett, here to promote the MTV Movie Awards.
RvT Connection: Executive producer of Trump-hosted “The Apprentice.'
Response (when asked if he’s given Trump “any direction' on how he should compose himself): “That’s a great question. Have I given him any direction? You think he’d fucking listen to me? That’s the funny part about ‘The Apprentice.’ [Asking himself] Mark, are you behind the scenes telling [Trump] who to fire? You must be joking … I’m honestly friends with Rosie and with Donald, and I’m sitting back like everybody else, and its quiet today. I’m really happy that it’s quiet.'

Panelist: Steve McPherson
RvT Connection: None, really. “The View' is on ABC, but somebody should pull aside the critic to tell them McPherson is in charge of primetime. An ABC executive, convinced critics would know better and not ask a RvT question, loses a $20 bet to a trade reporter over this.
Response: “To me the entire thing is a publicity stunt for ‘The Apprentice.’ That’s all he’s trying to do is sue people and make waves.'


January 14, 2007 2:36 PM

Drivers are stopped and questioned 50 yards from the valet. A gaggle of network pages in cream slacks and dark blue blazers, looking like refugees from a Republican convention, cluster around a heat lamp. A large ABC sign is mounted in the hotel’s foliage. The ballroom has been expanded to include extra seats. Yup, the TCA press tour has transitioned from cable to broadcast. Everything seems a little more important, more formal, and I find myself wearing a full suit on a Sunday in deference to the broadcast temple.

ABC kicks off their show with a video of ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson dancing to AC/DC on a mock “Dancing With the Stars' episode, which the network announces will return in March. Like “Lost,' which is returning next month, “Dancing' has been positioned to avoid Fox’s “American Idol.' ABC needs the protection. Though it’s the number one network season to date, CBS and NBC have been catching up. The networks are currently in a three-way tie for first place, with fourth-place Fox set to surge forward with “Idol' and “24.' Analysts say ABC, which went neck-and-neck for first place last season with Fox, this year could end up third due to a lack of mid-season and spring programming heft.

McPherson sits alone on the stage, semi-casual in a burgundy polo shirt. He seems a tad nervous, yet hides it well, and fields questions effectively. Like many network executives in the Disney family, his answers tend to be succinct, logical and safe.

On whether “Lost' creatively derailed during the fall: “[The writers] made a clear choice that first installment would be about Jack, Kate, Sawyer and The Others. For me the show I really invest in is having everybody together. I thought it was a riveting six episodes, but I like it when they’re all together and they’re heading toward that again after the break.'

On whether he still thinks a four-month schedule break for “Lost' was a good idea: “Ideally the way you would do ‘Lost’ is 22 straight. For us, given where we were in our development, we needed that installment in the fall. Now Sunday and Thursday night are really strong, there’s a good chance next year we’ll run it 22 straight either in fall or spring.'

On Mick Jagger accusing ABC of ignoring his request to keep his name and likeness out of “Knights of Prosperity' title and marketing: “He knew what the show was going to be called ... he asked that it not be called that and we obliged.'

On whether the network is bringing back “Dancing' too soon: “We’ll have a longer wait in between in this season than last cycle. We feel like we’re going to give it a real good break. We think it will work.'

On ABC’s lack of comedy success: “We have to stick with it … three years ago ‘In Case of Emergency’ and ‘Knights’ wouldn’t have gotten on the air … we have to keep taking chances, taking chances is what defined us. ‘Desperate Housewives’ wouldn’t have gotten on the air if we were doing eight procedurals that were all doing well.'

HBO Panel, Part 2 D.M.

January 12, 2007 10:44 PM

The HBO session is salvaged by my hero, David Milch.

Listening to David Milch is the tonic for the aforementioned “Flowers for Algernon' TCA mental erosion and self-pitying “Clockwork Orange' metaphors. When he speaks, you feel yourself getting smarter, growing more enlightened, seeing the bigger picture, and swearing a lot more.

His voice is both soothing and dangerous. He’s almost as fun as Albrecht to watch manage the critics.

The best part about Milch, a former Yale professor, is that if you were to ask him a question about, say, “Deadwood' ratings, he would answer by discussing, for example, the unique properties of South Pole ice core samples. Then he’d lead you down a fascinating, yet seemingly irrelevant, path that he somehow eventually manages to swing all the way back around to the original “Deadwood' question and you realize in an “eureka!' moment that the ice core samples were actually a perfect metaphor for Nielsen sampling.

If his “Deadwood' plots didn’t meander in the exact same way, he might have gotten a full fourth season.

This session is for his new series, “John from Cincinnati.' From the trailer, it looks possibly even less accessible than “Deadwood.' A washed-out-looking paranormal surfing series where an aging surfer discovers he can levitate a few inches off the ground and another brings a bird back to life.

None of the six actors on the panel say very much during this session, nor can they. Milch is a one-man show, and a question about his drama quickly segues into a lecture about string theory. While a question about surfing results in a discussion about drug use (“I’ve engaged in a pharmaceutical project when I was eight, then a nitrous oxide project, then drifted into a narcotics project … and all that research was to try to ride a wave that one could generate on one’s own terms').

One seemingly clever critic asked if the aging surfer levitates to the height of his surfboard. Milch replies: “Height? You mean the width. In my country, people call it the width.'


January 12, 2007 9:05 PM

HBO Chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht might be the only cable executive that I would quite obviously stake out the Green Room like a stalker to corner, but it eventually results in a brief interview:

Q: “Rome' and “Extras' are coming back for their second and final seasons. If their performances exceed your expectations, could they receive second seasons?

A: Well, they’re completely different situations. “Rome' seemed as if it were a good idea to announce as a final season ahead of time. It’s an expensive show, there are financing partners involved. The sets have been torn down, so I’d say there’s no chance of it coming back. “Extras' a different story. [Creator and star] Ricky Gervais only did two seasons of [the BBC version of] “The Office,' we would love to have another season if he wanted to do it.

Q: The premiere of the syndicated version of “The Sopranos' did great numbers for A&E. Does that help pave the way for the more difficult syndicated sale of “Deadwood'?

A: We’re going out and talking to people about “Deadwood' right now, but they’re two very different shows. “Sopranos' is a culture icon … but this does show that they can stay vibrant [on basic cable]

Q: “The Sopranos' scripts are turned in [albeit with some key scenes redacted to prevent spoilers from leaking out of HBO]. Some critics said last season was slow, I know you say you disagree, but what is your assessment of the final nine?

A: I’ve seen the first two episodes. They are building up to a place that will leave people very satisfied. Some who have loved the series will love where it ends up, others will be shocked and wonder, “Why did they do it that way?' But [viewers will find it] satisfying and controversial.

Q: When will the final two, two-hour movies for “Deadwood' air?

A: Not scheduled yet. [“Deadwood' showrunner David] Milch is writing the scripts and we’re dedicated to getting it done.

Musical Interlude

January 12, 2007 7:35 PM

I heard Green Day’s “Holiday' during a clip montage and I’m getting worried. Previously, a network used Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams' during a clip reel, then another played it their after party.

You see, in 2004, network event planners discovered Coldplay’s 2002 album “A Rush of Blood to the Head.' For the next year and a half, you couldn’t go to a TCA, NATPE, CTAM or National Show without being treated to clip reels and executive introductions scored to Coldplay’s uplifting, inoffensive pop. To this day, I can’t hear “Clocks' without breaking out in a sweat, thinking I’m in a packed ballroom and on deadline.

Now Green Day is a band I actually like. So I’m concerned network planners have discovered—right on schedule a couple years after it was popular—Green Day’s brilliant “American Idiot.' I feel like captive Alex in “A Clockwork Orange,' begging his unseen tormentors not to play his beloved Ludwig van Beethoven lest they ruin it forever.

Oh, and a music-related P.S. note to the HBO Films entry, below: Scoring the trailer for your Native American drama to music from “Batman Begins,' “Pirates of the Caribbean' and “The Abyss' isn’t fooling anybody.

HBO Panel Best Intentions

January 12, 2007 7:07 PM

Normally HBO is the zenith of Cable TCA, but this year’s lineup is a disappointment.

No “Rome' or “Extras,' returning for their second and final seasons. No “Deadwood,' returning for two, two-hour movies later this year. No “Sopranos,' which is returning for its final nine episodes (it’s always fun to watch critics try to pry spoilers from impossibly dispassionate showrunner David Chase).

Worst of all, no Q&A executive session with master of the cable universe Chris Albrecht.

Instead, we have three entries from the ever-snoozy, yet always well-intentioned, HBO Films side of the company, where there’s never been a true story of societal outrage that wasn’t worth telling, usually aided by an A-list talent attached as executive producer.

There’s “Longford' (controversial British politician who was a steadfast advocate for prisoner rehabilitation that zzzzzzzzz). “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' (from “Law & Order' exec producer Dick Wolf, it’s the tale of the culture extermination of the Sioux Tribe during the zzzzzzzzzzzz). And “Life Support' (executive produced by Jamie Foxx, about the HIV crisis in the African American community where zzzzzzzzzz).

Surely a glut of Golden Globes nominations and HBO viewer contributions to the appropriate charities will follow.

It’s frustrating because the creative instincts at HBO are so strong. Yet HBO executives are intent on using the Films division to create a very deliberate halo effect—critical respect, awards, prestige. It gives potential subscribers a sense that HBO is (not TV!) something special, a service worth paying an extra $12 a month for. Then those subscribers end up watching “Entourage' and “Cathouse' like the rest of us.

Should HBO return to 1993 and produce titles like “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman'? No. But there’s plenty of middle ground for smart genre films. Recently, HBO made a deal with “Lost' executive producer J.J. Abrams, who’s arguably the hottest showrunner in television right now, and the perfect person to head up such a project. Unfortunately, the deal was for a series with “prestige passion project' written all over it. It’s a drama set in a hospital cancer ward where zzzzzzzzz.

And the Award For Most Awkward Lunch Goes To…

January 12, 2007 4:46 PM

Starz, for their cadre of malcontent, oversensitive, unfunny comedians.

The movie network sponsored a TCA “working lunch' (which means you have to eat a salad while giving intermittent attention to a panel on stage). First up is Alexandra Wentworth, who plays a shrink in Starz’ new scripted series “Head Case.' Somebody thought it would be funny if she took the TCA stage in character.

“I can see there are a lot of depressed people here,' she says, clearly knowing how to win new fans. “I’ll try to take some of your questions. Maybe some of you have issues or problems. You are press, so there’s a lot to mine there.'

Annoyed critics stare back. Wentworth is not Borat, she can’t pull this crap. Critics raise their hands, and ask serious, production-based questions. Wentworth awkwardly attempts to remain in character.

“Could you stop doing that, please and speak to us like you were—“ one critic begins.

“You need to stop now,' another finishes.

The second Starz panel is “Martin Lawrence Presents 1st Amendment Stand-Up.' Except Lawrence isn’t here due to scheduling conflicts, though critics are assured he “sends his love.'

What follows in the session transcript is 16 pages of awkward discussion, and only eight transcriber notations of “(Laughter).' By comparison, the producer of G4’s series “Code Monkeys' Adam de la Pena managed seven “(Laughter)'s in six pages, and he was on stage alone, and not a comedian.

The comics proudly discuss how profanity is important, why Martin Luther King jokes aren’t funny and their life stories. At one point, the discussion appropriately devolves into a debate about whether the comics have ever bombed in front of an audience.

“Yeah, like you fuckers now, you’re not laughing,' one of the comics says—which resulted in one of the eight “(Laughter)' marks in the transcript because, of course, it’s true.

Later, while discussing Michael Richards use of the “n-word' on stage, comic and moderator Doug Williams suddenly demands of the critics: “Anybody here who has never used the N-word, please stand up!'—which causes every white reporter in the room to freeze with racial terror, spoons of crème brulèe half-way to their mouths, wondering how the hell they get out of this lose-lose dilemma. I’m asking myself: “Does quoting count?' One critic in the back proudly stands up. The rest wish they ordered room service for lunch.

Exit the J. Lo

January 12, 2007 12:50 PM

Jennifer Lopez is famous for, among many things, maintaining a high degree of diva-level demands for her event appearances. Her charity concert rider contract is one of the highlights of The Smoking Gun, with its descriptions of an ethereal white dressing room complete with white flowers, white tables, white drapes and white candles.

For her appearance at TCA in support of her new MTV reality series “DanceLife,' the network was ready.

MTV rented the Ritz Carlton “Tournament of Roses Suite,' a two-story, $3,000-per-night accommodation, complete with spiral staircase and baby grand piano.

Lopez arrived at the Ritz at 4 p.m. for her 5:30 panel, and brought along actress/Scientologist Leah Remini. Lopez said she would not need her suite. MTV ushered Lopez to the Green Room—but not before clearing out their own executives and other TCA talent, so Lopez would have the Green Room to herself.

At the panel, MTV Networks President Brian Graden said it was forbidden to ask Lopez any questions not related to “DanceLife,' which is sort of like dating an Amish bikini model.

After the panel, Lopez skipped MTV’s TCA dinner party and left the hotel.

Never ones to let money go to waste—and recognizing an opportunity when they see it—some of the MTV Networks team decided to have a private party in J. Lo’s suite.

All that said, one source said Lopez was remarkably laid back: “Low maintaince,' “good mood' and “extremely professional.'

COPS 2.0; More 'Ninja Warrior'

January 11, 2007 3:09 PM

After the panel, Harbert says he plans to give the “Star Trek 2.0' treatment to G4’s airings of “COPS,' adding live chat and other interactive elements to the stalwart cable and syndication series. He’s still trying to get final approval from the show’s producers, but if all goes according to plan, the “2.0' model that reinvigorated “Trek' for G4 could become a franchise for the network.

While in the lobby, G4’s Tiles says that my “Ninja Warrior' addiction will pay off. The show has quickly become their highest-rated series among their target demo and Tiles plans to strip it five days a week. They’re also trying to acquire several more seasons, but are having some challenges negotiating with the Japanese mob (no, I’m not kidding).

Forget Paris and Nicole on “The Simple Life.' I want to see a reality show where Harbert and Tiles go to Japan and try to haggle the rights to “Ninja Warrior' from a pack of Yakuza.

The E! Panel

January 11, 2007 2:24 PM

Pleasantly self-effacing Comcast Entertainment Group President Ted Harbert is on stage, and there’s probably no other exec who’d introduce a network panel by declaring “now lets take some E!' and make jokes about handing out E!-branded condoms (well, maybe GSN’s Rich Cronin, but Harbert says it dryly, which makes his jokes work).

With their two series paneled at TCA, E! has quietly made an interesting programming shift. “High Maintenance 90210' is about Hollywood domestic help. “Paradise City' is a docu-soap about young talent struggling for career opportunities in Las Vegas.

In other words, E! is focusing on relatable underdogs instead of pampered poodles. It’s good to see E! getting away from the Sunset Blvd. clubkid crowd. Between Tara, Paris, Nicole, the Carters, Hugh Hefner’s blonde trio and the mother-daughter Gastineau act, for a while, it was as if Harbert was signing talent in a Geisha House bathroom stall (or, if you believe Page Six and Jossip.com, signing them in his … yeah, better to let that one go …).


January 11, 2007 1:43 PM

Comcast’s G4 has been fun to mock since it gobbled up the more interesting TechTV as part of a real estate power play in 2003. It’s always seemed like the awkward old guy at the party—a massive corporation trying desperately to relate to its young gamer demographic.

In recent months, however, the channel has made some serious improvements. Its repackaging of “Star Trek,' dubbed “2.0,' was a great move (though too bad the newly polished high-def version of “Star Trek' is in syndication instead). Buying “Arrested Development' didn’t make any sense for G4’s brand, but at least it added a program that viewers respect. In the most recent fourth quarter, a quarter that killed many cable nets, G4 was up 100 percent in prime (granted, we’re talking 124,000 average primetime viewers here, but still…).

The best show on G4 right now is their addictive new Japanese game show import “Ninja Warrior,' which is like one of those 1980s obstacle-course series that Spike’s “MXC' mocks, except done modern and straight-faced. The massive, four-section “Warrior' course of brutal physical challenges is so difficult that out of 1,700 contestants in eight years of twice-annual tournaments, only two have ever gotten all the way through it. Participants become obsessed with finishing, building replicas of the obstacles at home for practice, and competing in satellite qualifiers a la “American Idol.' Somebody should look into the format for a domestic version, it certainly has to be more exciting than the dreary check cashing of “Rich List,' “Identity' or “1 vs. 100.'

On the TCA stage, G4’s president Neal Tiles seemingly plays a lot of videogames himself. Targeting young men isn’t merely difficult, but a “suicide mission.' They are not only focused on the demographic, but are a “laser focused on young guys.' Which is good, but I want him to take it further, to talk about fragging the Nielsens with a plasma rifle.

Party #2 Merriment

January 11, 2007 12:19 PM

“Evenin’ sir, would you care for some honey mead?' asks a serving wench bearing a tray full of goblets.

Now this is a proper TCA party.

Mid-ranked BBC America might not have the ratings or corporate parentage of the Fox Cable Group, but they know how to entertain the critics and drive home their programming message. Their party is Robin Hood-themed to coincide with their series remaking the classic tale.

The shindig is impressive. There’s a whole Sherwood Forest of imported trees and rocks. There’s minstrels playing music. There’s roaming um … you know, Renaissance Fair-type people. There’s themed foods like bread pudding and obnoxiously large rolls. There’s a complimentary gift, an earth-toned hooded sweatshirt (yup, a Robin Hood hoodie). It’s exactly the sort of Disneyesque display that makes for a memorable TCA event.

I help myself to their buffet and take a seat on a wooden bench below a tree.

A robust squire approaches.

“My lord! Do not hunch over ye plate! I will not take your food!'

Okay, maybe a tad less Disneyesque next time.

“Pray tell, why do you sit here alone? Are ye anti-social, or do ye have gas?'

All right, quit it.

Fun With Transcripts: Part 1

January 10, 2007 8:08 PM

When somebody is under the glare of the interview spotlight, they’ll sometimes latch onto a word or term, and keep repeating it helplessly. That person is normally not the host of a CNN program, but that’s what happened to pundit Glenn “I’m not a journalist' Beck during the CNN panel when he somehow got hooked into the term “three dimensional.'

To wit: “I think people are three dimensional … I can be a little outraged at times because I’m a three dimensional person … I think that’s what attracts viewers because it’s honest and it is in many ways not necessarily their opinion, but it’s real. It’s like real people. You are three dimensional.'

And you don’t even need special glasses to see him.

Too Good to Be True

January 10, 2007 6:43 PM

Fox Cable Networks spokesman Tom Tyer says the upcoming National Geographic Channel session has the “wolf man,' but I misunderstood and thought he said “wolf van.' So for a moment, I was very excited about this. Two hundred TV critics and a wolf van. Surely, this will result in a quality blog entry and possibly bring about an abrupt conclusion to Winter TCA altogether.

But the wolf man turns out to be the star of “A Man Among Wolves,' a new Nat Geo series where a wolf expert “teaches wolves how to survive in the wild.' Network staffers are hoping somebody will ask him to howl.

To add some obligatory trade reporting context, Nat Geo has been a success story. In both subscribers and ratings, it’s grown extremely fast, going from a start-up to a mid-ranked network in six years. It just finished its most watched year ever with another record quarter and is in 62 million homes. Its challenge moving forward is to find a breakout series beyond “The Dog Whisperer' without resorting to brand-eroding tactics like cheesy docu-soap or celebrity reality series.

During the panel, wolf man does, indeed, perform a howl, and it pretty much sounds like a man trying to howl like a wolf.

“Are you in a relationship with a human?' a critic asks.

Party Report #1: More Cow Ball

January 10, 2007 2:36 PM

FX employees have a saying: “Fox without the ‘o’ is Fox without the dough.' Seems the same holds true for the rest of their parent company’s cable suite, which put on a modest party for the first night of TCA on the cramped terrace.

Of the Fox Cable Networks Group, National Geographic Channel’s portion of the buffet spread had the most theme fun, offering food items inspired by their “Taboo' series—including bull testicles, deep-fried chicken feet and chocolate-covered worms (though, admittedly, there’s something sort of aggressive about that too, I’m picturing a network president shouting, “TV critics!? Screw ‘em, let them eat balls and worms').

Nat Geo also brought out The Dog Whisperer, who, in turn, brought a dog to demonstrate his canine communication skills on. This seems like a cheat, as it’s his dog, and he presumably already knows what the dog is thinking.

FX was sparsely represented, with Courteney Cox a no-show (“she wasn’t feeling well').

Fox Reality was the most awkward member of the party, with general manager and COO David Lyle giving a speech while critics attacked the buffet dinner and open bar (something a network president attempts at every Press Tour, and never quite works). Fox Reality also brought some guests such as the immortal Rob and Amber and Kennedy (surprisingly striking in a red dress and looking somehow younger than she did back in her MTV days, also helpful with giving hallway party directions).

But Fox Reality also has a new series, “The Academy,' following a group of law enforcement recruits, and therefore, invited a half-dozen Academy trainers from the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department.

Now really, a network shouldn’t need a blogger to point this out, but a cluster of imposing, stern-faced uniformed cops doesn’t liven up a party, ever.

Fox Reality also planned to have the officers stage marching drills at the event, which would have been awesome to behold: Weary, hungry critics trying to get to the chicken tenders while police officers scream at them. At the last minute, wiser Fox Cable heads vetoed the idea.

Grace, Or Lack Of It

January 9, 2007 11:35 PM

Nancy Grace is probably the only person that truly makes me understand 17th century witch burning.

The cable legal pundit comes across so judgmental, narrow minded and hate-filled, that I feel this almost genetic-level stirring whenever I see a clip of her CNN show, a longing to take refuge in a large group of unruly citizens, grab a torch or pitchfork, and begin shouting for kindling.

Therefore, I’m gratified when somebody at the Turner panel asks CNN President Jim Walton to justify Nancy Grace. Of course, the critic put it a nicer way … oh, wait, no he didn’t. It’s right here in the transcript: “How [do] you justify Nancy Grace?'

Walton, of course, talks about CNN’s brand standing for integrity, accuracy and class. He talks about entertainment choices, compares the network to a newspaper full of various points of view, and concludes by saying “and so we have expanded our offering across these multiple platforms.'

The critic’s follow-up: “So … to use your words, then, do you think that Nancy Grace exemplifies integrity, accuracy and class?'

And Walton, with utter sincerity, says, "Absolutely."

The 'Dirt' Panel

January 9, 2007 10:38 PM

FX’s “Dirt' panel is one of the most anticipated sessions of the cable tour.

Not because critics are excited about the show, but because some of them disliked it so intensely and might want revenge for the three hours they spent watching the screener episodes on DVD. Thus, the chance of Q&A drama is running high.

For those who haven’t seen it, the show’s celebrity tabloid premise might have worked better as a dark comedy, but one suspects the last thing Cox wanted to do was another half-hour series post-“Friends.' While watching the first few episodes, I kept wishing the procession of strap-on sex, rampant drug use and Courteney Cox grimly pleasuring herself with a vibrator would evolve/devolve into “Showgirls'-style high camp, but it never quite did.

It’s unfortunate because FX President John Landgraf is the sort of smart/bold executive that critics pull for. His half-hour “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia' manages to be the only funny original sitcom on cable. There was clearly a unique vision there for “Dirt' and, for better or worse, FX went for it full throttle.

Between panel sessions, Landgraf said he disagrees with most of the criticism of the show, and that strong reviews are not crucial anyway. Last year his Iraq war drama “Over There' received generous reviews, but not enough of an audience. Having a new series draw critical praise and high ratings is ideal, he said, but if he had to choose, at the end of the day the man wants a hit.

The “Dirt' premiere was the second highest-rated debut in FX’s history, mainly due to Cox’s star wattage, but its tough to believe the viewership will hold. Landgraf said he expects the second episode to drop in the ratings as well, and possibly the third episode as well.

One point of criticism Landgraf conceded is that “Dirt' lacks a sense of humor about itself. That was one of his notes too, he said, and starting at about the fifth episode, the show significantly improves.

“I really love the show from about midway through the season on,' he said. “Whether the audience sticks around that long, we’ll see.'

As for the rest of the year, Landgraf hasn’t yet picked up “Nip/Tuck' for a fifth season, but said he probably will, and said he’s also close to picking up the pilot of his untitled Glenn Close legal thriller for a full season.

Once the “Dirt' panel begins, Cox takes the stage in a black dress and cool demeanor. The critics are perfectly, surprisingly well behaved. Nobody mentions the reviews, though one works up the courage to ask her about San Francisco critic Tim Goodman’s blog retraction about whether Cox is masturbation worthy.

“That actually made me feel really good,' she said. “There’s nothing better than an ‘I’m sorry.’'

After the panel, critics swarm Cox to ask all the sorts of chatty, fan-like questions they were too embarrassed to ask in front of the room. One of them is, “Courteney, what’s the secret to a successful relationship?'

It’s a question that’s easy to snark at, but her answer was damn good: “As you grow, keep talking to each other, because it’s easy to grow apart.'

But Will 'Dirt' Still Be Around For It?

January 9, 2007 8:55 PM

Earlier today TVWeek broke that a host of NBC-Universal and Turner networks will launch HD channels by the end of year.

We can now add Fox Cable Network Group’s FX and Speed Channel to the list, though sources cautioned that the company might still elect to do a compilation Fox Cable network rather than individual simulcasts for non-DirecTV systems.

The news was spurred by DirecTV’s announcement yesterday at CES that they had secured distribution agreements with 60 cable networks for new HD channels. Only problem: A bunch of the channels named had yet to announce they were going HD. Some network sources said they were caught off guard by the announcement, which essentially pushed a whole host of channels into the public HD pool before they were ready, without so much as a press release to wear.

Greetings From the Card Company

January 9, 2007 7:49 PM

I was determined to be nice to Hallmark Channel after my blog entry last July about their TCA party and clip reel (“old people, old people, penguins'), but they’ve just kicked off their session with a singer earnestly belting out “Music of the Night' from Phantom of the Opera. There’s something about the sappy love ballad being performed by a gesticulating singer before a group of straight-faced journalists glancing at their Blackberrys and laptop screens that ranks it among the most surreal TCA moments ever.

Then Hallmark President and CEO Henry Schleiff takes the stage with his usual confidence and good humor and justifiably boasts about the network’s often overlooked ratings and recent audience growth. Their new clip reel of theatrical acquisitions is packed with talent of a considerably younger median age than the last go round.

Schleiff does manage to misjudge the room in one regard, by attempting to repeatedly boast about Hallmark earning an award from conservative watchdog group the Parents Television Council, a group that lobbies against pretty much every show TV critics actually like. “We are honored to receive this designation,' he says, to a roomful of hisses.

Well, I Should Hope Not

January 9, 2007 7:42 PM

“It wasn’t a planned thing'

-- Randy Spelling on landing a reality series, A&E’s “Sons of Hollywood,' just in time to document his reaction to his father Aaron Spelling’s death

Mob Men Missing

January 9, 2007 7:42 PM

The biggest new show on A&E’s slate, the biggest show in their history, doesn’t have a TCA panel.

“The Sopranos' begins its basic cable run on the network tomorrow night amid a marketing campaign that dwarfs anything the network has done before. The network outbid the likes of TNT to land the series and are wondering if viewers are going to embrace the cleaned-up version the way TBS viewers flocked to “Sex and the City.'

So a panel might seem ideal … but only to somebody who’s never actually sat through a “Sopranos' TCA panel. Typically, they feature the cast, slumped and bored and too cool for the room, mumbling responses and exchanging “Can-you-believe-I’m-having-to-answer-this?' looks. Granted, most critics ask unanswerable questions like “Who’s going to get whacked next?' … but still…

An A&E staffer watched the last “Sopranos' visit to Pasadena and summed up the “A&E' decision-making process nicely: “What’s the point? They never fucking say anything.' So A&E nixed the idea for “Sopranos' visit and instead focused on their other new series, “Sons of Hollywood,' which is just like another HBO property (“Entourage'), only unscripted and a heckuva lot less expensive to acquire.

It’s worth noting that few networks at TCA have as much bragging rights as A&E. The network has managed to go from 21st to 10th in the primetime ratings in two years, all the while reducing its median age considerably.

The Long Blog

January 9, 2007 7:41 PM

There's an underrated Stephen King book called "The Long Walk" that he wrote under a pseudonym early in his career. It's about a contest in the Near Future where 100 people compete on a reality show of sorts, walking across the country at the steady pace of 3 m.p.h.

The hook: They can't stop. Once a contestant goes too slow, they are killed. The winner is the one man left walking when all others have fallen behind.

Trying to cover the entire Television Critics Association semi-annual press tour, cable and broadcast, 11 straight days at the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena, is really not the journalistic equivalent of "The Long Walk,' but it makes for a nicely melodramatic comparison.

For the next couple weeks, reporters will march through panels, parties, speeches, publicists, lunches, cocktails, interviews, carefully scripted hyperbole, wince-inducing Q&As, video clips, network executives and even Jennifer Lopez to get through the event, all the while gathering quotes and story ideas like squirrels stowing away story nuts for later in the year.
First up is cable.

Thirtysome networks will have panels or hosted presentations at TCA. A few are presenting for the first time. Attendance is up this year, with 173 registered critics, a slight increase from last January and on par with the most recent, more popular, summer session.

Scheduled highlights include Courteney Cox meeting critics of her largely trounced new FX show “Dirt,' David Milch pontificating about his surf noir drama for HBO, UFC president Dana White, and the aforementioned J. Lo discussing her MTV reality series.
By the end of the road, I fully expect this blog to suffer a “Flowers for Algernon' style deterioration into mentally impaired fragments (“Kevin Reilly is prettay … want more srimp cocktale … '). Until then, let’s start laying them down, putting one foot in front of the other…