Gloves Come Off at TCA Panels

Jul 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Occasional sparring matches between critics and panelists, networks and conference schedulers and among rival programming executives punctuated an otherwise smoothly executed and largely uneventful cable portion of this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour.

The conference drew 164 critics (up from 144 in January and 156 last summer), who covered about 40 cable networks promoting their brands over four days at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. As always, the panels generated wince-inducing questions from critics, who occasionally used the same blunt sarcasm when asking questions before a live audience as when writing a review.

This time, however, some panelists-including television personality Adam Carolla, director John Landis and actor Luke Perry-fired back.

At TLC’s panel for “The Adam Carolla Project,” a home renovation show hosted by the acerbic former “Man Show” host, a critic asked Mr. Carolla about his former sitcom project that “didn’t last long.” When Mr. Carolla informed the critic he never worked on a sitcom, the critic said, “After 15 years [of TCA] you all run together,” which appeared to cause Mr. Carolla to become angry.

“Why don’t you just go to the bar, write whatever shit you’re going to write?” he asked. “Just write that the show sucks and leave me alone. … Write something shitty about the show and give the mike to somebody else.”

Mr. Landis likewise took offense when a critic asked the Showtime “Masters of Horror” panel whether gore was necessary for modern horror films.

“How do you know we didn’t [use gore]?” Mr. Landis asked. “I just realized this is a stupid debate because you haven’t even seen what we’ve done, so you have no basis to argue on.”

Mr. Perry, appearing for his Hallmark Channel’s “Supernova,” offered sincerely delivered sarcasm after a critic asked if it was difficult for the actor to “use a lot of big words.”

“Oftentimes in a script it happens where I will read a word and I don’t know what it means,” Mr. Perry said. “I’m not above going and getting a dictionary, flipping through that sucker and finding out what that word means. So, one word at a time, I’ve come to have a pretty good grasp of the English language.”

At the other end of the reaction spectrum was Hugh Hefner, who was entirely unfazed by a couple of juvenile questions while appearing in support of his E! reality show “The Girls Next Door.” One critic repeatedly tried to pin down Mr. Hefner’s exact process for deciding which of his three girlfriends-who sat beside him on stage-he has sex with on any given night.

“I’m interested in how the bedroom dynamics work in your life,” the unidentified critic asked. “I guess you could have, certainly, and probably would like to have, all three in the room every night, but maybe you don’t feel that way some nights. Can you just give me an idea how it works?”

“It works very well,” Mr. Hefner replied.

One of Mr. Hefner’s girlfriends, 25-year-old Holly Madison, inadvertently drew the biggest laugh of the conference when she was asked whether dating the 79-year-old publishing legend was an odd experience due to their age gap.

“Actually, I think it’s really cool because I’ve always been interested in history,” she said.

Responded the critic: “Most people go to museums when they’re interested in history.”

Not all the panelist sparring involved audience members, however.

Shooting Blank

With HBO in a ratings slump, Chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht rang the same “ratings don’t matter to our business model” bell that Showtime clanged so hard last January. Mr. Albrecht also declared: “You know who sells more Showtime and Starz than anybody else? HBO. Because the cable operators and satellite operators package those services in with HBO in order to get them wider distribution.”

During the Showtime panel, CEO Matt Blank fired back. “I’m incredibly grateful for all that Chris has done for us,” Mr. Blank said, then acknowledged Mr. Albrecht’s point was “not completely untrue.”

“The other side of it is that … it’s very hard to buy Showtime without buying HBO,” Mr. Blank said.

Another clash occurred between MTV Networks and the conference’s-organizers, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which scheduled the channel to present its shows the morning of July 14, when the Emmy nominations were announced. Some reporters abandoned the MTV session to write Emmy stories or at the very least had their attention divided.

“We got shortchanged,” one MTV Networks source said. “These things take too much time and cost too much money for this to happen. You can’t expect people to be two places at once.”

NCTA spokesperson Rob Stoddard acknowledged the challenges of the slot, but said the organization discussed the issue with MTV Networks at length before the conference.

“We worked with MTV on how best to address the issue,” he said. “With so many networks there are always conflicts. … We’re disappointed if there was any lingering concern.”

Otherwise, TCA was remarkable for the relative lack of complaints from conference-goers. After several recent press tours held at tiresome or logistically problematic venues, the Beverly Hilton seemed to satisfy even the most critical of critics, who ware treated to plasma TVs in the hotel bedrooms and the bathrooms.

For after-parties, HBO once again conquered. Its Friday night bash for “Rome” had critics on shuttle buses chanting “Toga! Toga!” On the University of California Los Angeles campus, HBO constructed an enviable party landscape. Pieces of the “Rome” set were flown in from Italy. Critics got toga wraps, posed with Roman soldiers, shot arrows at archery targets and received personalized scrolls while visiting several buffet stations.

BBC America’s rooftop bash at the Museum of Television & Radio, by contrast, fell a bit flat, with a blindingly white aesthetic, all-too-British cuisine and few places to lounge.

Much better was FX’s party at the Beverly Hilton-adjacent Trader Vic’s. The Tiki-themed Hollywood mainstay provided a cozy setting for dinner and a screening of FX’s new comedies. Though screening the eating disorder comedy “Starved”-which features scenes of bingeing and purging-struck some critics as an indigestible choice.