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Thursday, July 17, 2003

Sorry for the gap in the flow. On Wednesday, I was over at the Paramount Studios much of the day, doing some snooping on FX's new ""Nip/Tuck'' which as you might gather from the title is about a couple of plastic surgeons.

I'll have a full review of ""Nip'' next Tuesday but, as part of the visit, I got a look at the series' second episode. To say it was cringe-inducing in the best possible way would be putting it mildly, particularly a final scene involving a self-circumcision. Gentlemen, cross your legs before viewing.

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Since I get questions about this all the time, it's nice to be able to officially report that Fox's ""24'' will return Oct. 28 with a commercial-free (well, almost commercial-free) opening episode. I just wish I could provide more insight into next season's plotline. Even though both Kiefer Sutherland and the show's producers were roaming The Tour's hotel today, giving interviews about the series' Emmy nominations, they were just a bit circumspect about what will happen when ""24'' returns.

(Translated that means they weren't giving much away.)

But there were some nuggets to be had from what little was said. The series opens three years after the attempt on the president's life that ended last season. Jack Bauer will have a new, younger partner at least in the beginning. (The body count on Bauer's buddies can be pretty high.) Dennis Haysbert will return as President David Palmer (guess he's not dead) and, if you do the math, the season takes place during his reelection campaign.

Oh, yeah, and Kim Bauer is back. (Please, please, please, don't blame me.) Better yet, she's working at CTU. Great, Kim Bauer, crack CTU agent.

How much of this is disinformation and how much is real remains to be seen.

By the way, if you want to catch up on season two, the DVD set will be out in September well in advance of the Oct. 28 opener.

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You can read my base rant about the Emmys this year elsewhere online but room didn't permit some very specific snarls about just what in the hell the Emmy voters were thinking. So here goes, in stream-of-consciousness order:

Both ""The West Wing'' and ""CSI'' nominated for best drama? Puhleeze. I liked ""West Wing'' last season and wouldn't miss it on Wednesday nights. But the bottom line is that it had only, by its standards, a so-so season. At least four dramas FX's ""The Shield,'' HBO's ""The Wire,'' ABC's ""Alias'' and NBC's ""Boomtown'' deserved a slot more.

And while ""CSI'' is perfectly fine entertainment, add both CBS's ""Without A Trace'' and ABC's veteran but still hearty ""NYPD Blue'' to that list of better series. Heck, you could even throw the WB's ""Angel'' in there.

Of all the shows left out of the drama category, ""Alias'' has to feel the most slighted. It got 12 nominations including three acting nods which was more than ""CSI'' and ""24'' got. But no best drama nod.

It's as if the Emmy voters didn't watch TV last season when it came to dramas.

I can't vent too much about the best actor and actress in a drama choices. (Well, I would have tossed Gail O'Grady of ""American Dreams'' into Marg Helgnberger's spot but it would have been a close call.) But I'm feeling some pain for some very good supporting actors who didn't make it.

In particular:

CCH Pounder of ""The Shield'' who should have gotten a supporting actress nomination in a walk. Nominee Stockard Channing of ""West Wing'' is practically a poster child for what's wrong with the Emmys. She is a fine actress, a nice person and much beloved in Hollywood. But she didn't do much on the series last year and got in on past memories, not current achievement.

I also have a real problem of the exclusion of Neal McDonough of ""Boomtown'' from the supporting actor category. Not entirely certain who I would have knocked out to make room for the splendid McDonough but his performance in the NBC cop drama was among the year's best.

""GILMORE GIRLS''!!!!! OK, I had to shout that one. What's with the Emmy voters when it comes to the WB in general and Amy Sherman Palladino's fine comedy-drama in particular? (Answering my own questions: The voters think the WB is only for 12-to-34-year-old women, and so they don't watch it or even TiVo it.) The series should have gotten a nomination over ""Will & Grace'' and star Lauren Graham deserves a slot probably the one that went to Debra Messing.

Jennifer Aniston of ""Friends'' isn't a bad choice for best actress in a comedy but I still maintain Courteney Cox the underrated ""Friend'' had a better season.

I'll also toss in that FX's ""Lucky'' probably deserved a nomination more than some of the other nominees in the comedy category. And I would’ve found room, somehow, for John Corbett of ""Lucky'' in the best actor field.

I liked Lifetime's ""Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story'' just fine but not as an Emmy nominee that took a slot away from a more deserving made-for-TV film. HBO's ""Hysterical Blindness,'' Showtime's ""Soldier's Girl'' and ""Our Town'' and ABC's ""The Music Man'' all deserved a nod more.

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Interesting move by ABC News to merge the operations of ""Nightline'' its terrific late night news show and ""This Week,'' George Stephanopoulos' ratings-impaired Sunday morning news program. Tom Bettag of ""Nightline'' is one of the most creative executive producers around and has built up a strong staff of producers and reporters. They could revive the fortunes of ""This Week'' if given half a chance.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

So here we are on the 8th … or is it the 108th? … day of The Tour. We're past cable, we're past PBS, we're into the networks with ABC currently on stage. We're playing Press Tour bingo (see rules below) and getting occasionally grumpy when network executives, producers and stars duck relatively straight-forward questions.

But, hey, in just the past three days, we've gotten a hot performance at the House of Blues; a night with the WB youth movement at the White Lotus, Hollywood's latest ""hot spot'' at least until next week; and a chance, courtesy of ABC which is owned by Disney, to see the hot ""Pirates of the Caribbean which was made by Disney at the ornate El Capitan Theatre which is owned by Disney. (That's synergy, folks.)

That's why people refer to The Tour … and have been ever since I've doing it … to the Bataan Death March with cocktail parties.

The latest from the line of march:

The one thing everyone talks about constantly on The Tour is what everyone else thinks about the networks' new fall shows. Executives want to know not only what writers like on networks but also their assessments of the other guys' offerings.

The writers themselves like to compare notes because we all crash through the pilots … a snappy 37 this year … just before coming to L.A. That tends to overload the senses so we tend to listen if another writer we respect suggests something is worth a second look.

For the record, I tend to avoid anything more than qualified pronouncements before seeing at least a couple of episodes because pilots can be very deceptive.

Some are way better than the series will turn out to be. For example, you have to be very careful when looking at a new comedy whose pilot was directed by Jim Burrows (""Will & Grace,'' among a ton of others). Burrows is so good that he can make mediocre writing and so-so cast sound and look terrific for just one episode. But unless he sticks around as a producer-director on the show … as he did with ""Will & Grace'' … the series could go south in a hurry.

And, of course, there have been more than a few shows that have gotten much better after the pilot. Last year, for example, ""Without A Trace'' looked only okay in its pilot but turned out to be one of the better dramas on TV by season's end.

Then, too, many pilots get reshot, tweaked or otherwise changed. All seven of the news shows being offered by ABC this fall are being changed in one way or the other. The alternations range from the minor (new music) to major (significant cast changes, new titles). The producers of the new ""Karen Sisco'' … a promising drama featuring a character from the film hit ""Out of Sight'' … are shooting an entirely new opening episode with the pilot airing later in the season.

So take what I say next with a grain of salt but the consensus seems to be that ""Sisco'' and Fox's mid-season entry, ""Wonderfalls,'' a darkly comic drama about a young woman who talks to inanimate objects, are the most promising of the new shows. Also liked: ABC's mid-season FBI drama, ""Line of Fire''; a Fox comedy called ""Arrested Development''; NBC's charming ""Miss Match,'' although some think the matchmaker premise may be a one trick pony; and a late entry: the WB's ""One Tree Hill,'' a family drama added to the schedule just before The Tour.

In addition, many writers think both CBS's ""Cold Case'' and Fox's ""Skin'' even though they have reservations about the pilots.

Don't hold any of us to this longer than a couple of weeks. It will change.

Some series with so-so or weak pilots can actually help themselves with strong presentations on The Tour. The latest examples: the WB's ""All About the Andersons'' with Anthony Anderson of ""Barbershop'' and John Amos in the leads and ABC's ""Hope & Faith'' with Faith Ford (who plays Hope) and talk show host Kelly Rippa (who plays Faith).

Both sitcoms had funny, reasonably intelligent sessions that generated far more laughs than the pilots, suggesting that some tweaking could lead to better things.

You gotta love some people who just can't avoid giving good quote. Such as:

Danny DeVito, whose production company has yet to produce a television, on success in the medium: ""Sometimes, you're the bug and sometimes you're the windshield.''

Actress Clea DuVallon her new show, HBO's ""Carnivale'': ""If "The Grapes of Wrath' and "Twin Peaks' had a baby, this would be it.''

Veteran producer (""Beverly Hills 90210'') Aaron Spelling on reality TV: ""The reality trend makes me puke. ... We've been approached to do it and we're not going to do it as long as I've alive.''

Roseanne Barr on why she had gone back to using her last name after years of just being ""Roseanne'': ""I got tired of when I travel and people go, "How come you don't have a last name?' I thought they would remember me but they don't. And I was in Paris and they detained me for several hours and asked me why I only had one name and who I was and I was screaming, "I'm a huge star.' So then I saw this American and I go, "Could you tell these people who I am?' And he goes, "It's Rosie O'Donnell.'”
Some notes, gossip and sly innuendo from The Tour:

* Don't be surprised if a laundered version of HBO's ""Sex and the City''
actually ends up on one of the broadcast networks in the not-too-distant
future. The premium cable channel was originally asking something like $3
million an episode for the buzz-worthy series about four women looking for
love in New York City that has been talked about much but seen by relatively
few. Now that the price has dropped to $1 million (and might go lower), the
networks are interested again.

* The ways of Hollywood can be extremely strange. The producers of
"Smallville'' … the smart rethinking of the Superman mythology … wanted the
show's third season to include both a young Bruce Wayne (Batman) and some
scenes from Krypton that would include Superman's father, Jor-El. Even though the WB series is
produced by Warner Bros. TV, those bits have so far been vetoed by ... Warner Bros. film.
Seems one of the scripts kicking around for a new "Batman'' movie involves a young Bruce
Wayne and the new "Superman'' film script (written by J.J. Abrams of "Alias'') takes place
largely on Krypton. Negotiations, as they say, continue, but don't count on a young Batguy
meeting the young Big Blue Boy Scout anytime soon.

* John Sacret Young … best-known for his work on "China Beach'' … is the
first big-name TV writer to sign up for the post-Aaron Sorkin world of "The West Wing,''
according to the buzz around The Tour and at least one trade publication report. Young, who
has done mostly film and mini-series work since "China Beach,'' is an interesting choice
since he specializes in character-based drama and is more than willing to tackle political
themes. He's also a good bud of John Wells ("ER''), who took over as executive producer of
"West Wing'' after Sorkin's departure.

* No one is confirming it but rumors persist that Sharon Stone is not only
in line to play a recurring role on the overhauled "The Practice'' but could
actually play a larger part in the revised ABC series than originally
reported. At the very least, ABC executives intimated that the actress … now
in the process of divorcing a certain Bay Area newspaper editor … will be
onboard. We'll see on Tuesday when the network does a little press conference
on "The Practice'' with reporters.

* Speaking of adding actors, "NYPD Blue'' … which will be in need of a
boost when it goes up against "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit'' come the
fall … has signed Kim Delaney to reprise the role of Det. Diane Russell, the
part she played from 1995 to 2001. Initially, it's only for four episodes in
the fall but ...



Monday, July 14, 2003

Over the course of three weeks on The Tour, you can in all honesty find yourself somewhat bored with the proceedings. That's largely because the people (stars, show creators, network executives) have gotten this game down to the point that certain cliches surface over and over and over again.

Which is where Press Tour Bingo comes in. It's a form of Corporate Bingo where, at staff meetings, participants get a bingo square every time a management cliche is uttered. The board hasn't actually been completed yet a TV writer who shall go nameless is still working on it but it should be ready in time for the big guns, ABC, CBS and NBC.

Some examples:

""We decided to go in a different direction with the character'' = We dumped the actor or actress because they couldn't tell left from right when it came to the role.

""It was all about the writing'' = Usually uttered by actor on why he or she took a part. They usually mean, ""Hey, I needed the gig.''

""I just want to do the best show possible and I leave the scheduling to the people who know that area'' = We got stuck in a time slot where we'll be gone within three weeks.

Anyway, you get the point.

If I win, I'll let you know but there are a lot of strong contenders.

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I'll be saying this in print on Tuesday but as a fan of ""Angel,'' I'm just a little concerned about some of the comments made about the show's future during the WB session.

There is no question the WB folk admire the series and certainly admire its creator, Joss Whedon. But it's almost as if they renewed the show and then had second thoughts about it.

At least a couple of executives suggested that ""Fearless'' a new drama about an FBI agent born without the ability to feel fear would slide into ""Angel's'' slot on Wednesday night at mid-season. Then there was talk about how important it was to give the show a splendid finale. (Uh, oh.)

We'll just have to see what the season holds.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

I have to say that I'm somewhat surprised … actually, a bit overwhelmed … by the response to this blog. There have been a ton of questions, mostly about specific shows including a lot about ""Battlestar Galactica'' and ""Angels In America,'' but there have been more than a few about what actually takes place each day on The Tour.

So, OK, here's the breakdown:

The day is made up of a series of ""sessions,'' most … but not all … devoted to individual shows. Sessions are really press conferences that take place in a fairly large ballroom here in the Renaissance Hotel. Up on a stage are the stars and the creators of the various series and films. They take questions from a group of writers that can vary in size from dozens (cable and PBS) to more than 100 (the networks.)

Those on the stage do not go into the sessions unprepared. They get both written and verbal briefings from publicists on what questions to expect. At one of my favorite press conferences, Kevin Bright, executive producer of ""Friends,'' kept track of what questions were asked. Anyone who asked a question not on the list prepared by the publicists was given tickets to the taping of the series finale of ""Friends'' to auction for charity.

(That, of course, was before ""Friends'' decided to do another season.)

Those on stage also get briefed on things like: When it comes to new series, most questions will go to the creators and writers. TV is a writer-driven medium and, if you want to know where the show is going and its genesis, you ask the writers, not the cast.

I sometimes always feel badly that some actors sit up there for 30-45 minutes and get to say not a word. But, hey, any good publicist will tell them that's what can happen.

In all honesty, some sessions are great, some are good, some get openly contentious and some are downright painful. In contrast to film junkets where reporters get to interview the stars and creators of the next-big-blockbuster but are tightly controlled by the studios involved, The Tour is a free-for-all. TV writers, in general, don't take kindly to being spun or managed and anyone trying to sidestep or avoid an obvious question is likely to take something of a beating.

That doesn't mean those in attendance are always wise and perceptive in their questioning. Dumb questions are a way of life on The Tour and some really bad ones are legendary. (My personal favorite was a reporter asking Les Moonves, the president and CEO of CBS, why his network didn't validate for parking at the hotel where the sessions were held. Even Moonves, one of the slickest network executives, seemed taken aback by that one.)

At times, there can actually be some significant tension in the room. When Monica Lewinsky came to promote an HBO documentary on her time at the Clinton White House a couple of years ago … and refused to answer a number of legitimate questions … things got nasty enough that Lewinsky was on the verge of tears.

In one of the strangest sessions, CBS brought in ""Will Mega'' … one of the members of the original ""Big Brother'' cast … who turned out to be a member of the New Black Panther Party. His exchanges with writers, particularly Jewish writers, were mean, weird and not to be forgotten.

Most of the time, though, the sessions are a pretty honest exchange of questions and answers. The actors and creators may try to stay ""on the message,'' but sometimes they can't resist deviating.

Last week, for example, actor Edward James Olmos … the star of the remake of ""Battlestar Galactica'' … startled executives of the Sci Fi cable channel by telling writers that fans of the original series shouldn't watch the remake because it is so different. He was saying something others on the panel had suggested but did so in a more direct manner. In other words, he told the truth.

And after the panel session ends … usually after 30 minutes or so … there is The Scrum where reporters try to get to individual actors and writers for more quotes. It can seem a bit unseemly to outsiders but it's no worse than political writers trying to get to a politician after a press conference.

In the end, it works … not perfectly but as well as can be expected.
PBS is perceived as a pretty stodgy part of the TV world but, occasionally, it can bust loose from that image.

On day six of The Tour, it threw a pretty darn good bash at the original and most funky House of Blues in West Hollywood. The party was to hype ""The Blues,'' a seven-part September series on the musical genre by such filmmakers as Martin Scorcese, Clint Eastwood and Wim Wenders.

The series looks good but it's hard to top an evening that includes performances by blues greats Ruth Brown and Bobby Rush with Los Lobos not only acting as the backup band but also doing a set of its own. Any time you can get a bunch of TV writers who are outside the WB's youthful demographic dancing the night away, you got some serious musical magic.
OK, you're a network trying to do a party to promote a new series about a carnival. What do you do?

Well, predictably, you would hire a real modern carnival, bring in good food and booze and everyone would probably be happy. But HBO operates on a different plane.

To hype ""Carnivale,'' its new show about a sideshow traveling the Dust Bowl during the 1930s, the premium cable channel trucked TV writers from The Tour over to the Warner Bros. Studio backlot. We were dropped off on a 1930s street, one of the studio's standing sets, and then walked into ... the actual set of ""Carnivale.''

Turns out the show's set … including 1930s trucks, game booths, a ferris wheel and tents … is actually meant to travel. So, HBO just brought it on over and tossed in food and drinks served in 1930s-style dishes and glasses. (Chardonnay in a glass canning jar is a little different.)

All hype aside, the first three episodes of ""Carnivale'' (which debuts in September) are mesmerizing, once you get past some set-up in the first installment. It is complex, it is challenging, it is visually arresting and the acting is sensational.

One sure sign that this is something special is that the cast is totally committed to the series, avoids cliches when talking about it and is clearly passionate about the show's future.

It's something I haven't seen in a long time.

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