What follows are my unpublished--and raw--notes from the semi-annual Television Critics Association "TV Press Tour" held in Los Angeles over the summer. At this gathering, held each January and July, TV executives trot out and tout their biggest stars and newest shows in front of television critics, who then return home with notebooks full of words and suitcases full of network-provided goodies, among them night-vision goggles from the producers of Fox's The Simple Life, who were clearly thinking ahead.
July 7: Arrive at Hollywood hotel early to check in. Greeted at desk by Rena Sofer and Colin Harrington, stars of NBC's Americanized version of BBC hit Coupling, who offer to take luggage, provided last year by CBS, to room. The new Joe Millionaire, a rodeo clown from Abilene, appears with mimeographed convention itinerary, which includes private dinner with cast of forthcoming Survivor: Pearl Islands on third day and screening of entire season of Coupling, scheduled to last from 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., on fifth day. Rest of schedule appears to have been written in crayon. Hard to read. NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker later confirms he had 4-year-old son write schedule when he wasn't busy picking shows for NBC fall schedule.
July 8: "Special guest" and kick-off speaker Courteney Cox-Arquette is on podium explaining how difficult it was to decide to return to Friends for 10th and final season. Critic from Toledo asks what brought her back; she holds up bag of gold coins. Room laughs, applauds. She says after season ends, she will return to Family Ties, now the longest-running network series with this year's cancellation of Yes, Dear.
At lunch, UPN executives debut new fall lineup, which includes riveting new show called Platinum, a fictional look at the hip-hop industry. Three hundred people attend lunch; UPN execs admit later that was the most people who watched Platinum at one time. Cast of Star Trek: Enterprise has baked cookies in shape of Mr. Spock's pointed ears. Scott Bakula makes joke about wishing he could go back in time to when he was on hit TV show. UPN gives writers UPN T-shirts, which dissolve in wash.
July 13: Jordan Levin, the 28-year-old wunderkind who programs the WB Network, is driven to TCA press tour by parents, who say son's phenomenal success with such shows as Smallville and Gilmore Girls is because of fact they don't let him watch TV. Smallville star Tom Welling is asked by writer from Detroit why his show is so popular; Welling responds, "Have you ever looked at me?" Lauren Graham, apparently the star of Gilmore Girls, says her show would be the most-watched on television if people would actually watch it. Critic from Lawrence, Kansas, later reveals that though she constantly puts Gilmore Girls at top of her year-end best-of lists, she, like many of her colleagues, has never actually seen an episode. WB announces former Disney Channel diva Hilary Duff will appear in two network specials, which delights 12-year-old critic from San Diego.
PBS announces it will run 12-part Ken Burns documentary on Grenada Invasion, followed in late fall by 34-part Burns special about history of table tennis, narrated by Keith David with music by Yo-Yo Ma and White Stripes' Jack White. Also scheduled for 2004 are several specials on 41st anniversary of Kennedy assassination. PBS hands out Manlicher-Carcano rifles.
Lunch with several other critics; pink drinks with umbrellas provided by Bravo executives, who toast us with, "Cheers, queers." Critics from Cleveland and Baltimore get into heated argument over which network provided better war coverage; turns into vicious row over who's hotter, CNN's Soledad O'Brien or ABC's Claire Shipman.
Dinner provided by Food Network, prepared by Iron Chefs. No one touches their eel miso. After 10 sake bombs, get up enough drunken courage to ask Rachel Ray, adorable host of $40 A Day, what she would do for $40 an hour; pick-up is poorly received.
July 15: Day begins uneventfully with Lloyd Braun, chairman of the ABC Entertainment Television Group, and ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne explaining the last-place network will not air any new shows in fall 2003, save for one, Karen Sisco--"which no one will watch, anyway," says a defiant, confused Braun. To prove point, Lyne says ABC will schedule wry crime drama Karen Sisco, based on film Out of Sight, against NBC's Law&Order, thus guaranteeing inevitable cancellation as cost-saving measure. Critics nod and murmur in appreciation. Braun confirms Alias will return for third season, says star Jennifer Garner's character Sydney will suffer two-year memory lapse. "I wish I could say the same," Braun says, softly weeping.
Break early for lunch of maggots and monkey brains, provided by NBC.
Roseanne Barr takes podium to announce reality series The Real Roseanne Show, a TV show about the making of a TV show for ABC Family channel. She also announces engagement to Bachelorette Trista Rehn and says three-way marriage to Rehn and Ryan Sutter will take place in December. ABC gives each critic solid-gold engagement ring.
July 17: David E. Kelley takes podium to introduce new cast of The Practice, including James Spader, Sharon Stone and Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Kelley condemns ABC for moving The Practice from Sundays to Mondays, where it tanked; admits later the show's "no damned good" and doesn't blame audience, only himself. Says he will retool The Practice again mid-season and replace replacement cast with sock puppets or the cast of his new CBS series The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H. --"whichever is available first."
HBO chairman Chris Albrecht presents new shows, including K Street and Carnivale, described during presentation as "so horribly pretentious you'll mistake them for innovative, provocative and brilliant." Critics nod knowingly. Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David introduces cast of Angels in America as "brilliant bunch of cocksuckers"; spends 30 minutes trying to explain himself, fails. HBO gives critics James Gandolfini's weight in gold.
July 19: Asian-Americans outside hotel protest new Fox series Bonzai, a parody of Japanese game shows; Anglo-Americans inside hotel protest Fox shows Paradise Hotel and Temptation Island, a parody of white people. Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman takes podium to announce lineup of scripted shows, some of which, she says, "are so good we will cancel them by November." The cast of Arrested Development, which includes a remarkably lifelike Jason Bateman and a nude David Cross, takes podium for question-answer session. After 30 minutes of ironic silence, cast leaves. Berman says mid-season show Wonderfalls, about a girl who talks to inanimate objects, should not be confused with Paris Hilton-Nicole Richie reality series The Simple Life, about girls who talk like inanimate objects. Hilton shows up at press conference on scooter made of gold, says she promised Fox execs she would "fill in the hole left by Shannen Doherty."
Berman says Fox will take novel approach of using old scripts from defunct Fox series to make "new" shows; experiment begins in fall with The O.C. , which consists of dialogue lifted from first season of Beverly Hills, 90210 and the third season of Married with Children. Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow says this will save time and money better spent on reality shows, "which are harder to make now that every idiot in America has been on a reality show." American Idol Ruben Studdard takes stage; critic from Newark asks, "Who are you, and where is Clay?" Berman expects big things from Skin, Romeo and Juliet set in the porn biz. Grushow says "the show gives me a boner, it's that good." The critics give him a standing O. Fox gives each critic a portable DVD player and complete collection of Paris Hilton's home movies.
Break for lunch of hamburgers, roast quail and giraffe stew, provided by Animal Planet.
BBC America executives tell writers that next season, the network will start airing "Britishized" versions of American series. Debuted are short clips from Everybody Loves Reginald, According to James and King of Queens, which use exact same scripts but are much funnier than originals when spoken in English accent. The Office's Ricky Gervais comes out and does 43-minute-long version of infamous dance; organ grinder leaves after 20 minutes.
July 21: CBS CEO Les Moonves says Big Brother 4 will be "all nude," a concept used to garner high ratings during the final episode of the net's late hit Murder, She Wrote. He also touts forthcoming movie about Ronald and Nancy Reagan, which he describes as "mean-spirited, but with a big heart." Ray Romano shows up to explain he will not be returning to Everybody Loves Raymond for another season if the show begins to "lose its creative edge." Critic from Seattle reminds him show never had one; Romano, nodding, signs on for five more seasons during press conference. Moonves also announces net will begin production on six more C.S.I. spin-offs during 2004 and that David Letterman will suffer at least one serious illness in a ratings-boosting cliffhanger. Critic from St. Louis, who appears to be in his 20s, asks Moonves if CBS is still on the air.
At bar, Charlie Sheen, star of Two and a Half Men, empties bottle of Jack Daniel's, then admits he had no idea he had even signed up to do a television series until eight episodes had been taped. Ted Danson admits over lunch that he, like the rest of America, thought Becker had been canceled two years ago. CBS gives each critic box of Depends and copy of Who Are You on eight-track.
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July 25: At NBC press conference, Jeff Zucker announces Matt LeBlanc will star next season in Friends spin-off called Joey. Also says David Schwimmer will move next season to NBC-owned Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, replacing "equally useless" Jai. Zucker introduces cast of Coupling, spends much of the rest of press conference apologizing for introducing cast of Coupling. Rob Lowe takes podium, gloats for 14 minutes about leaving "that sinking ship" called The West Wing for own show, The Lyon's Den. (Note to self: Call NBC in November and see if Lowe's show ever aired.)
Zucker introduces network's slate of reality series, all of which appear to feature some combination of beautiful women with perfect skin, ugly men with hairy bodies and toupees, lie detectors and the consumption of live insects--or, in the case of The Apprentice, during which 16 people will vie for a job with Donald Trump, "all of the above," says Zucker, who is clearly not joking. Critic from Lincoln asks Zucker what happened to Scrubs and Boomtown, "the only good shows on NBC." Zucker tells him they're still on the air. Writer tells him to "prove it." NBC gives each critic Matthew Perry to take home; all refuse.
July 26: Last day of press tour. Fatigue long ago set in amongst TV critics, who have realized what a horrible profession they've chosen after sitting through hours of new fall programming. Time for syndicated shows, most of which feature "Judge" somewhere in title, to make their pitches; Sharon Osbourne and Ellen DeGeneres outnumber critics in attendance.
At night, awards handed out by TCA over dinner, provided by celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito; kitchen catches fire, food inedible. Consider making reality TV series out of fiasco; decide it's not worth the effort. Awards handed out early because organizers fear critics will lose interest after ABC debuts its schedules. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart receives most of evening's accolades for, among other things, Program of the Year and Outstanding Achievement in News and Information. Stewart accepts award for latter; asks audience of voters, "What the fuck is wrong with you people?" Nod in silent, sanctimonious agreement.