Best of the Blog: Critical Eye: Winter Press Tour 2007

Jan 15, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Grace-or Lack of It

Tuesday, January 9

Nancy Grace is probably the only person who 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.”

Well, I Should Hope Not

Tuesday, January 9

“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

The `Dirt’ Panel

Tuesday, January 9

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 “Dirt” star Courteney 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 it’s tough to believe the viewership will hold. Landgraf said he expects the second episode to drop in the ratings, 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.”

Fun With Transcripts: Part 1

Wednesday, January 10

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.

Mob Men Missing

Tuesday, January 9

The biggest new show on A&E’s slate, the biggest show in its 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 is wondering whether 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 f***ing say anything.” So A&E nixed the idea for a “Sopranos” visit and instead focused on its other new series, “Sons of Hollywood,” which is just like another HBO property (“Entourage”), only unscripted and a heckuva lot less expensive to acquire.

Few networks at TCA have as much bragging rights as A&E. The network has managed to go from 21st to 10th in the prime-time ratings in two years, all the while reducing its median age considerably.

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