Sunday, July 13, 2003

Press always meets with surprises

By John Kiesewetter
Cincinnati Enquirer

You never know what will happen when more than 100 TV critics converge on Hollywood for the TV press tour, the semi-annual gathering for TV networks to promote their new shows.

Jane Fonda could sit next to you at a press conference.

Ted Danson could tell you about his father growing up in Glendale, when his grandfather owned a Cincinnati novelty company.

You could ride in a hotel elevator with David Letterman.

I know, because these things have happened to me when the Television Critics Association has met in Los Angeles. Who knows what will happen this time?

Every July and January, out-of-town writers take over an L.A. hotel for a couple of weeks, and each network brings its new stars to meet the press.

As much as the networks try to orchestrate the sessions, they can't control the questions posed by the critics - or the statements made by their stars and executives.

Like when CNN founder Ted Turner called anti-abortion forces "bozos" and "idiots" at a standing-room-only press conference.

Or when Bryant Gumbel, then NBC's Today host, ripped then NBC co-worker David Letterman and humorist Garrison Keillor at an NBC session.

While the networks are totally focused on launching the new fall lineups, the critics haven't completely forgotten the past season. It's easy to predict what will be on the critics' radar in Los Angeles, even without consulting Ultimate Precision Triple Doppler:

• When Rob Lowe comes to the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel next week to promote his new Sunday drama, The Lyon's Den, reporters will be more curious as to why he quit The West Wing.

• David E. Kelley will want to talk about his new Picket Fences-style CBS drama, The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H., but the press conference could be dominated by critics asking about the casting purge on Kelley's The Practice.

Brotherhood star Randy Quaid should anticipate lots of questions about The Grubbs, the sitcom he was promoting last summer. It was so bad that Fox canceled it and never aired an episode.

For TV critics, the tour is our time to ask the questions that we've been asked so often recently:

• Has the reality TV boom gone bust? How can Fox pull off another Joe Millionaire for fall?

• Why did creator Aaron Sorkin quit The West Wing? How will that change the Emmy-winning drama?

• How can 24 top itself this fall, after two spectacular seasons? Is this the last season for Friends? Really? For sure?

• This Enquirering mind also wants to know: Why will we see so many sitcoms about adult children living with their parents (All About the Andersons, Happy Family, The Stones), after In-Laws bombed?

• Why did ABC hire Carla Gugino (Spy Kids, Chicago Hope) to play Jennifer Lopez's Out of Sight character for the new Karen Sisco drama? They didn't think we'd notice the difference?

• Will new Hispanic sitcoms Luis with Luis Guzman and The Ortegas with Cheech Marin be on the air longer than last year's Hispanic comedy, Greetings from Tucson?

You can never tell. Well, sometimes you can: Emeril. (Never say never.) We won't see chef Lagasse this time in L.A.

We won't see Phil Donahue, either. He was the toast of MSNBC for his premiere last July; his show was toast by March.

It's amazing how fleeting fame can be. One day you're Titus; the next day you're unemployed actor Christopher Titus.

So the networks pull out all the stops to promote their new (and reclaimed) stars before each season. That brings Sharon Osbourne from MTV's The Osbournes and Ellen DeGeneres to the hotel to chat up their new syndicated talk shows.

Roseanne also will meet the press to push her new reality series, The Real Roseanne Show (premiering Aug. 6).

A year ago, the press tour opened with Anna Nicole Smith. She's not on the schedule this year, but you can never tell who might drop by the critics' hotel. Last year comedy legend Stan Freberg came over to see John Ritter.

HBO brought in Britney Spears and Tom Hanks two years ago. In the late 1980s, HBO entertained critics at a dinner party with a young comedian named Jerry Seinfeld. I can't remember much of his routine, because we were distracted by the late arrival of comedy legends Rodney Dangerfield, Alan King and Sam Kinison.

Once Martha Stewart came to the press tour and showed a room packed with reporters how to decorate cookies. Bet she won't be anywhere near our hotel this year.



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