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Friday, July 25, 2003

Now it's time to say good-bye...

The Tour started breaking up today even as NBC was finishing its two-day presentation. Don't know why but writers are drooling to get home after three weeks of interviews, gossip, chat fests, parties and snappy repartee. Could it be that everyone is just plain dead tired? Yeah.

Some quick parting shots from the last moments of The Tour, which began 18 long days ago:

-- Rob Lowe, who rather famously left "The West Wing'' last season, was given every opportunity to dis his former series when he came here to promote his new one: "The Lyon's Den.'' He did get in couple of mild jabs … ""In this show, people don't wear halos'' … but, for the most part, he stayed on what was surely NBC message of not knocking ""West Wing.''

One additional note on "West Wing'': We will finally get to see President Bartlet's oft mentioned but never-seen oldest daughter this coming season. Annabeth Gish ("The X-Files'') will do the duty and be around for several episodes.

-- Even though Matt LeBlanc will have his own show as Joey, his character on "Friends,'' the producers are taking pains to separate the old sitcom from the new one. For example, "Joey'' will be set in L.A. so that viewers don't wonder why Joey never sees any of the old gang in New York. There are absolutely no plans to have any of the other "Friends'' cast members on "Joey'' for at least some time. And by the way, don't read anything into Joey going off solo in terms of his relationship with Rachel (Jennifer Anniston). The producers and NBC insist there are some twists in the last few episodes of the final "Friends'' season.

-- A quick apology to fans of "Keen Eddie'' who have been e-mailing about the fate of the Fox series. I've been telling them that the show had aired all its original episodes and was now officially dead. I was wrong, thanks to some bum info. There are four originals left and they'll begin airing Aug. 28. Then "Keen Eddie'' dies … which is too bad because it had its moments.

-- A couple of notes for fans of "Boomtown,'' the excellent NBC cop drama that was jobbed in the Emmys. One of the series' most interesting characters … reporter Andrea Little (Nina Garbiras) … has been written out to focus the series even more on cop work. Lana's Parrilla's character, paramedic Theresa Ortiz, will spend much of the early season training to become a cop and will join the precinct around mid-season. Vanessa Williams, who's been doing mostly stage work lately, joins the cast as Det. Kathleen Pierce. And "Boomtown'' will return in repeats on Aug. 8, in its new 10 p.m. Friday timeslot.

As for this blog, it will be briefly interrupted while I decompress from this most excellent adventure. But the response to it has been strong enough that it may very well return in the near future as we head toward the fall season.

As they say: Stay tuned.


Thursday, July 24, 2003

After a few days of precious little news on The Tour,
NBC came calling this morning with a fistful of
announcements in hand to brighten the writers' day.
To wit:

-- Entertainment boss Jeff Zucker confirmed one of the
worst-kept secrets in Hollywood by announcing that at
least one of the six "Friends'' will back in fall 2004. ("Friends''
ends its run next May.) Matt LeBlanc will star in a new sitcom
called, logically enough, "Joey.''

Some of the producers and writers on "Friends'' … Kevin
Bright, Scott Silveri and Shana Goldberg-Meehan … will be
working on "Joey.'' The creators of "Friends,'' Marta Kauffman
and David Crane, won't be but Zucker says they have given
their blessing to the spinoff.

"You never would have predicted it at the beginning ...
but Joey has emerged as the character America roots for
and loves,'' Zucker says. NBC will also be rooting for
""Joey,'' since it desperately needs a comedy to fill the
""Friends'' spot in 2004.

-- NBC is also going ahead with a made-for-TV film
called "Saving Jessica Lynch,'' even though the story
of the Army private has … if anything … gotten even
murkier in recent weeks. Zucker maintains it's still a
great story of heroism even though Lynch may not have
been in as much danger and her rescue may not have
been as difficult as originally reported. The film is now on
its second script rewrite, but Zucker insists it'll be
ready to air in November.

-- The Tour, as a collective being, is most unhappy with
NBC for not making the new team running "The West
Wing'' available for a full-blown press conference.
The White House series started filming this week
and Zucker says it didn't seem like a good idea to take
executive producer John Wells ("ER''), his new writing
staff and the cast away from production.

Translated: "We really didn't want all those pesky
questions about how in the hell we're going to make
'West Wing' without Aaron Sorkin.'' (The "West Wing''
creator left the drama in May after four seasons.)

On the upside, Wells seems to have assembled a pretty
good collection of writers to fill in for Sorkin, who wrote
nearly every piece of dialogue. Wells himself penned
the first two episodes and other contributors include
John Sacret Young ("China Beach''), Carol Flint
("ER''), Alexa Junge ("Sex and the City'') and returning
""Wing'' writer Lawrence O'Donnell ("Mr. Sterling'').

-- In a rather cryptic but intriguing announcement,
NBC says it will air one-minute original films on a regular
basis this fall between shows and commercials. Wells
is overseeing the project and directors such Paris Barclay
("NYPD Blue''), writers such as Shawn Ryan ("The Shield'')
and actors such as Michael Richards, Bill Bellamy, Danny
Masterson and Paula Marshall have all signed up. Zucker says
the mini-films will "push the parameters of television.''

We'll see about that but the project certainly seems to
have possibilities.

-- And finally, young pop stars continue to flock to
"American Dreams'' to play music stars of the 1960s.
On Friday, "American Idol's'' Kelly Clarkson will film
her scenes as Brenda Lee, singing "Sweet Sensations.''
Coming in early episodes: Monica as Motown's Mary Wells,
doing "My Guy''; Alicia Keys appearing as Fontella Bass
and covering "Rescue Me''; and The Sisters Duff … Hilary
and Haylie … checking in as the Shangri-Las, song to be
announced.

*************

On the non-NBC front, fans of most Fox shows are going
to have to wait some time before their favorites return
… and to see the network's new shows. While Fox's Friday
night lineup of "Wanda At Large,'' the new "Luis''
and "Boston Public'' will return Sept. 28, you'll have
to wait until Oct. 20 to see anything else. (Oct. 20 will
mark the return of "Joe Millionaire'' and the debut
of "Skin.'') In fact, the network's high-powered Sunday
schedule won't be back until Nov. 2.

Blame it all on the baseball playoffs and World Series.

*************

And some new cable shows are getting serious love
from viewers. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,'' hot
enough to warrant an upcoming cover of "Entertainment
Weekly,'' was up in viewers for its second episode on Bravo,
a very good sign for the fun make-over show.

FX's "Nip/Tuck'' … a comedy-drama about plastic
surgeons … scored a hefty 3.7 million viewers, one of
the biggest basic cable premieres in history.

And A&E's excellent spy series, "MI-5,'' did 1.8 million
viewers (without anywhere near the promotion "Queer
Eye'' and "Nip'' got) which is a 45 percent increase over
what A&E usually does in primetime.


Wednesday, July 23, 2003

What happens when you put together people from the press and people from Hollywood? They gossip, of course.

On The Tour, there has been all kinds of insider dish and diss. How long will Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne last as the heads of entertainment at ABC if the network doesn't do better in the ratings? (Disney is notorious for having a quick trigger finger when it comes to failure.) How long will it before Kevin Reilly, who currently came over from cable channel FX, to pump the network's series development takes over as entertainment boss? (Jeff Zucker, current guru, is ticketed for bigger things at NBC.)

Probably the most prevalent insider gossip swirled around … surprise, surprise … a journalist. You may or may not have heard of him but Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles is probably the most influential TV critic and columnist in the country. He has been doing the job for years and is read every morning (well, almost every morning) by the people who actually make and program TV.

Rosenberg is retiring before the start of the fall season and speculation about his successor has run rampant through The Tour since Day One. The word is that the Times offered the gig to Ken Tucker, an excellent critic for Entertainment Weekly that I don't always agree with, but always admire. But according to Variety and some folks at EW, Tucker first accepted the job and then turned it down when the magazine weighed in with some serious coin to keep him.

So now, it's an open race once again. Top insider candidate Brian Lowery, who usually covers the business of TV for the Times and covers it well, has taken on a batch of reviews in recent days, which may be something of a try-out. But there's also a lot of talk about Jim Poniewozik, currently the lead reviewer for Time Magazine.

I can officially announce that I am not and will not be a candidate.

The other piece of gossip that's been tossed around a lot is the possibility that NBC will announce at its session on Thursday that it has signed Matt LeBlanc to do a spinoff of ""Friends,'' playing his character Joey, the slightly dim-witted but lovable soap opera actor.

According to folks at Warner Bros., where ""Friends'' is produced, the rumor has some considerable validity although … as of late Tuesday … no one was willing to say it was a done deal. One big question: who would produce and write the new series? That's crucial because the track record of spinoffs involving major characters has been very, very spotty.

**********

Been meaning to get this in for a couple of days: If you want some good laughs, check out ""Reno 911!Š'' which debuts tonight on Comedy Central at 10:30 p.m. It is dead-on, wonderfully wacky sendup of ""Cops'' with a splendid batch of funny people playing officers from a non-existent department. Particularly good: series co-creator Kerri Kenney as plays a socially inept deputy whose every word and gesture is totally inappropriate. The series is definitely a comedy keeper.

************

UPN, which had already gotten big points from writers for sessions that actually made their series seem better than they might actually be, scored a few more with its party at the intimate Club One Seven. Food was good, stars turned out and actually talked and what's not to like about spending some time Adrianne Curry, the winner of ""American's Next Top Model.'' (She's better-looking in person than on the show and male writers weren't shy about stopping by to say hi.)

It was almost enough to make a bit more tolerant towards the network and buy the claim by CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves, who also oversees UPN, that ""Rome wasn't built in a day.'' The operative word in that last sentence: Almost.

***************

Just for the record, The Tour winds down, starting today with a free day that writers use to do interviews at the studios and visits to series sets and two days of NBC. The latter should be interesting because there is a prevalent feeling that the long-dominant network is due for something of a fall, particularly as it faces losing both ""Friends'' and ""Frasier'' next season.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

To say the enthusiasm among writers for today's UPN presentation was muted would be putting it mildly. Part of it wasn't the Weblet's fault: Many on The Tour hit the wall after over two weeks during the second CBS day on Monday and were starting to lurch through the halls of the Renaissance Hotel like zombies.

But UPN is also a ratings-impaired network that is not even available in some cities and still seems incapable of putting together a cohesive schedule. Last season, it saw its top three shows take a hit. ""Buffy the Vampire Slayer'' called it a day. Viewership dropped for both ""Enterprise,'' the latest ""Star Trek'' spinoff, and for ""WWE Smackdown!,'' the rasslin' show.

That left UPN's Monday night block of ""urban'' (read: African-American) comedies (""The Parkers,'' ""Girlfriends'') as the only oasis of ratings stability.

That didn't leave writers much of anywhere to go when writing about UPN.

But the network gave it the ol' college try.

It pulled something of an upset by staging the single funniest session since The Tour started back on July 7. That achievement came courtesy of film star Will Smith who, with his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, is producing a new UPN comedy called ""All of Us'' which is loosely … very loosely, they insist … based on their lives.

With some not inconsiderable help from the show's cast … especially Duane Martin, a long-time Smith cohort; Tony Rock, Chris' brother; and impossibly precocious kid actor Khamani Griffin … Smith had the room howling. He riffed on love, sex, family life, TV, his film career … and the way things work in Hollywood.

Asked about the casting of good buddy Martin in the lead role, Smith said that ""the one thing we always said, "Look, we're in Hollywood. We've got to do like white people do.'‚''

Such as?

""Give each other jobs.''

Now if only Smith's comedy was as funny ...

************

A couple of quickie programming notes:

* As I speculated early in the week, Fox has indeed pulled ""The Simple Life '' … its reality riff on ""Green Acres'' … off its August schedule and will hold it until the fall. Executives think they've a big hit on their hands with a series that is funnier than most of the new scripted sitcoms the networks are launching. And I think they're right.

* ""Queer Eye For the Straight Guy,'' the fun Bravo make-over show, will get a shot on NBC Thursday night at 9:30 p.m., following ""Will & Grace.'' A 30-minute version of the series' opening episode has been put together to serve a very long promo for the cable show. If you missed it on Bravo … or don't get the cable channel … you might want to check it out, although I can't vouch for ""Queer Eye'' lite version.

* Finally, when ""Enterprise'' comes back for its third season on Sept. 10, it will launch something totally different for the ""Star Trek'' franchise: a season-long, single mission. All the episodes will involve the star ship's attempts to keep a hostile alien race, the Xindi, from launching a devastating attack on Earth. (A Xindi weapon carved up a good chunk of Earth, from Florida to South America, at the end of last season.) So the Enterprise will go sailing through the Delphic Expanse, a very nasty place, in search of revenge. In case, you're wondering, this is an attempt to revive the show and stop its ratings freefall.
It is, frankly, a bit hard to get too excited about the CBS sessions here at The Tour.
That's no fault of the network, which is sitting fat and happy these days with a solid
schedule and big hits such as "Survivor,'' "CSI'' and "Everybody Loves Raymond.''

For one thing, CBS doesn't have a lot of tweaks to make so the number of
new shows on its schedule is limited. (Lower than any other network,
including Fox which programs just two hours a night.) Plus ... well, The Tour has hit the wall
and energy is flagging. That means sessions on shows writers are even mildly interested in
tend to go flat.

And CBS had some sessions go very flat indeed. The one for "Cold Case'' …
a new cop procedural from the "CSI''-"Without A Trace'' folks … was far
more testy than it might have been for a series that will probably be a hit.
(Presuming some tweaks are made.)

Worse yet: the press conference for David E. Kelley's new "The
Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.,'' a show that is long on title and short on
appeal. Given its 10 p.m. Wednesday time period opposite the venerable "Law
& Order'' and ABC's attractive new "Karen Sisco,'' the series may be DOA.
Certainly, the pilot shown here … which is actually a revised version of the
original pilot … looked like a big, fat loser.

Things were a whole lot better for a couple of new CBS dramas: "The
Handler'' with Emmy nominee Joe Pantoliano of "The Sopranos,'' which focuses
on an FBI undercover team, and "Joan of Arcadia,'' in which a teenager talks
to God.

The former is a slick, well-produced piece of business from Chris Haddock,
who is all but unknown in this country but whose "DaVinci's Inquest'' is the
best drama on Canadian TV. The latter is a potentially fascinating riff on
spirtuality by Barbara Hall of "Judging Amy'' that stars a really attractive
young actress named Amber Tamblyn (long-time film star Russ Tamblyn's
daughter) as Joan.

Then there was the session for "Without A Trace,'' which is starting to
look more and more like the show that will finally topple "ER'' in the 10
p.m. Thursday night slot. The session actually had to be moved from a smaller
conference room to the main ballroom where the main events are held to
accommodate every one who wanted to attend.

And the session ran long because of the number of questions … always a
good sign.

********

Andrew Heyward, the head of CBS News, didn't exactly score lots of love
points during a session with reporters when he persisted in calling only on
writers he knew. At least a dozen reporters … most from major newspapers …
walked out because of Heyward's stage-managing of the session.

The irony: During the same session, John Roberts, CBS's fine White House
correspondent, complained about the Bush administration controlling who gets
to ask questions during press conferences.

Andrew, are you listening?

*********

CBS threw its big bash at the Lucky Strikes Lanes, a hip-and-happening
bowling alley in the complex where The Tour is encamped.

Although the party was crowded and loud, it had its moments, including stars such as Marg
Helgenberger of "CSI'' and Tyne Daly of "Judging Amy'' doing some serious bowling. (Daly was
particularly good.) And there was a large turnout of CBS stars who were more than willing to
chat.

The subject of much curiousity: Jenna Morasca and Heidi Strobel, the glam
girls from the last "Survivor'' who recently bared much for "Playboy.''
Given that their 15 minutes of fame are almost over, Morasca and Strobel were
pretty aloof and … to tell the truth … they weren't very good bowlers.


Sunday, July 20, 2003

I'm not kidding here but these really are working parties. For writers on The Tour, a good party is not just lots of free booze, fine food and a great DJ. A good party is one where a lot of series stars, show creators and network executives show up … and actually take time to talk. That allows a reporter get drive-by quotes, face-time with people who actually make the shows and establish some kind of relationship with the people who put the shows on the air.

For publications outside the L.A.-New York media axis, this is valuable, real valuable.
The weekend was considered something of a big success. Held at the impressive Pacific Design Center, designed by I.M. Pei, the bash featured a large turnout of folks from “24,’’ “Boston Public,'' “American Idol,'' the new Fox shows and even FX series such as “The Shield.''
The network's entertainment bosses, Sandy Grushow and Gail Berman, were around early and stayed late. Kiefer Sutherland of “24'' stuck around for some time, graciously answering questions about the new season of the series that he really couldn't answer. (He must have been asked whether Jack Bauer's daughter, Kim, was coming back about 100 times.) Shawn Ryan, creator of “The Shield,'' held court at one table with most of the cop drama's cast.
Flitting through the party all night were Fox's new “celebutantes'': Paris Hilton, heir to the Hilton Hotels fortune, and Nicole Ritchie, daughter of pop singer Lionel Ritchie. The two are the “stars'' of “The Simple Life,'' a new reality show that riffs on the old “Green Acres'' TV sitcom. Hilton and Ritchie … along with Hilton's teacup Chihuahua Tinkerbell … were shipped off to live and work with a farm family in the small Arkansas community of Altus.
The family comes off as decent and hard-working, the vapid socialites come off as totally clueless and “The Simple Life'' comes off as a funnier show than 90 percent of the scripted sitcoms the networks are offering for the fall. In fact, “The Simple Life'' … which was to debut next month … has gotten such a big reception that Fox executives are now thinking of moving it into the autumn.
See what you can pick up at parties?
***********
The Tour also threw a bash for itself over the weekend: The Annual Television Critics Association Awards. It wasn't quite as fancy as the Fox do … we are after all poor, ink-stained wretches … but what's not to like about an affair that includes Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show'' and Wanda Sykes of “Wanda At-Large'' cracking wise, Edie Falco of “The Sopranos'' looking glam on the arm of actor Stanley Tucci and the casts of NBC's “Boomtown'' and the Sci Fi mini-series “Taken'' chatting up everyone.
Sure, the impossibly irritating Paula Abdul and Ryan Seacrest from “Idol'' were there. (The series received the “program of the year'' award, which goes to a show from any TV genre that has the greatest impact on TV and American culture.) But, hey, you didn't have to talk to them.
There was even some news at the ceremony.
LeVar Burton, the host and executive producer of PBS's long-running kids' show “Reading Rainbow,'' had said earlier this summer that the program had lost its funding and would probably not be able to make new episodes. But in the process of accepting the award for best children's show, Burton said “Reading Rainbow'' has now gotten more funds from both PBS and the federal government and was on its way to generating enough cash to underwrite a few more years of the series.
The announcement got the biggest ovation of the night, from both writers and honorees.

************
Speaking of good gossip to be had on the party circuit, some chats at a reception held by the Writers Guild of America, which represents TV's scriptwriters, yielded a couple of nuggets about the failed Fox sci fi series “Firefly.''
The show, created by Joss Whedon of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,'' crashed and burned famously last fall. But it developed a cult following that is passionate about trying to revive the series.
According to people associated with “Firefly'' who were at the WGA party, a DVD set of the series … including episodes that never aired … should be out by December. And at least one major studio is very, very interested in producing a theatrical film version of “Firefly.''
Whedon wasn't around … he was at a comics convention in San Diego … but it sure sounds like something's up with “Firefly.''
*************
The Tour, which coming into the home stretch of its three-week run, is now moving on to CBS, a network that is sitting particularly fat and happy these days. In fact, The Eye (as they say in Variety) is doing so few changes to its lineup that it had a problem filling up two days. (Problem solved by sessions with some returning shows such as the “CSI'' series.)
Some small pieces of early news:
-- “Survivor: Pearl Islands'' … the latest installment of the long-running reality show … will debut on Sept. 18, allowing it to air its big final episodes during November sweeps.[
-- There will be a reunion of the much-beloved “The Dick Van Dyke Show'' called “The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited'' during November sweeps. Instead of a clip show, though, it will be an actual scripted hour with Carl Reiner writing and Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore returning to play their old characters. Says Reiner: “It's one of the best things I've ever written.'' Which is saying a lot.




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