Depress Tour

What follows are my unpublished--and raw--notes from the semi-annual Television Critics Association "TV Press Tour" held in Los Angeles over the summer.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.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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