Cable Kicks Off Critics Tour


The twice-yearly meeting of the Television Critic’s Association has begun -- two weeks of back-to-back press conferences cleaved only by writing breaks and high-fat meals three times a day. Cable benefits as being the first stop on the tour: Even with all of that food, and comfy beds at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., critics become cranky with the networks that are scheduled last on the tour. Multichannel News reporters will be covering all of the news during the four days devoted to cable networks, filing dispatches as the overloaded wireless network will allow.

Bad Timing for a Baby Bump USA Network scheduled the announcement of the production of In Plain Sight for its presentation Friday afternoon at the TCA meeting in Pasadena. But we heard in advance of the presentation that the production, which was to begin shooting this summer, will have to be delayed.
Network sources said the star, Mary McCormack (The West Wing), just found out she's pregnant. That circumstance will not mesh with her role as a U.S. federal marshal who has a dangerous job in the Witness Protection Branch.
The news made staffers a little paranoid: On the set of the production of another original, the movie The Starter Wife, star Debra Messing showed up one day wearing a big shirt. The gossip flowed, said a publicist. Is SHE pregnant? That would also not set with the role of newly divorced middle-aged woman in a film with several beach scenes calling for the actress to be swimwear clad. But sometimes, a big shirt is just a big shirt. Messing is not pregnant, and the production is moving ahead.
For the Messing film, network officials also announced a partnership with Pond's. The skin-care company will hold a national contest, The Starter Wife 40s and Fabulous Contest, to identify five women who best embody "grown-up beauty." Contestants will enter at a co-branded Web site.
The Dead Horse As cable's four days of programming announcements ended Friday, the most oft-discussed topic at the TCA was not cable-viewership gains, online initiatives nor programming trends. It wasn't even a cable topic. It was the damn Rosie O'Donnell/Donald Trump feud.
Those fending off questions about the feud and The View included Lisa Ling (host of Who Cares About Girls?on Oxygen), Danny DiVito (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia on FX) and even Mark Burnett (who will consult with MTV on a makeover of the now 15-year-old MTV Movie Awards).
Enough, already!!!!! Starve them of ink and the whole thing will die quickly.

You're Paranoid, Dude

The clunky, early Mario Bros.-like animation of upcoming G4 animation series Code Monkeys had more than one critic wondering whether creators of the cartoon sought, or needed, licensing agreements from game distributors such as Nintendo.

“Are you a cop?” retorted creator Adam de la Pena jokingly. “Legally, you have to tell me. I know the law.”

More seriously, he said the animators attempted to craft a look that’s an amalgam of games from Nintendo, Atari, etc. They are so conscious of possible rights infringement that the computers depicted in the show are from “Computers Inc.”

On a more politically incorrect note: The company boss in the show is a clueless Texan. Are Texans particularly lampoonable?

“Did you watch TV last night?” he retorted, before launching into an impression of President Bush’s awkward beginning to his Jan. 10 Iraq speech.

Match Made in Hospitality

Young-male-targeted G4 and The Block, a hotel targeting snowboarders in Lake Tahoe, Calif., seem to be a perfect demographic match. Highlights of the hotel: Visitors are greeted upon check in with a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, the official sponsor of the hotel. Room floors are beer-proofed. Rooms are themed, such as the Napster room, tied to the online download service. G4 will be branding a room, too, executives said. Instead of overstuffed upholstery in the lobby, the hotel at the Nevada-California state line has a pool table.

And if you’re a pro snowboarder, come on down. Owners let them stay free (normal weekend rates are about $190, compared with the $30-per-room hotels referred to by the local shuttle drivers as the riff-raff hotels). The “pros free” policy is so that the paying customers can hang out with their favorite shredders, the owners said.

Crabby Critics
If there’s one thing that’s universally irking writers, it’s the claim of each and every cable network that they have “achieved double-digit growth” in viewership, without actual ratings numbers to verify that claim. Writers note that 10 viewers growing to 20 is a 100% increase, too. The hero that puts actual ratings numbers with that claim will likely be praised for being forthcoming. The downside: The numbers will likely be derided as low compared to a broadcast network.

A Jarring Transition

Oxygen arrived at the tour to tout a journalistic examination of some of the harsh realities facing girls around the world, only to have the discussion hijacked by questioners asking correspondent Lisa Ling about her former home, ABC’s The View.

Writers asked Ling if she was dismayed by the attention given to things such as the skirmish between The View host Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump, as opposed to the topic of child slavery. The question was ironic, as the critics continued to discuss the dust-up rather than the program at hand.

“I’m astounded people really care,” she said about off-set feuds at her former show, before moving the discussion back to the Oxygen documentaries.

But talk about a topical shift: the questions went from child sex slaves to celebrity spawn for the next panel.

Writers muttered snarky comments sotto voce but were publicly respectful of the innkeeper aspirations of Tori Spelling and second husband Dean McDermott. The preternaturally perky Spelling was asked, in a roundabout way, if she felt pressure to be as ditzy as Jessica Simpson in order for the show to be entertaining.

“No, I know what tuna is,” she said, referring to the infamous scene in Newlyweds where Simpson expressed confusion over whether a can of Chicken of the Sea contained tuna or chicken.

The couple couldn’t say whether the series will include the birth, on screen, of their son, due late in March.

“We’re in final negotiations with (the baby’s) agent,” McDermott deadpanned.

King of the Boards?
Larry King, Broadway star? The talk-show king actually has aspirations beyond his cable fiefdom, although he conceeds it’s unlikely to happen. He’d love to do a one-man show on Broadway, but only for a week. It’s that time constraint that would doom any attempt to make his dream come true, he noted, for a show could never make back its investment in that short a time, and he wouldn’t want to take more time off his CNN gig.

Why the show?

“I love to make people laugh,” he explained.

He’d also like to take a shot at acting. Although he’s been in 21 feature films, he’s always played himself (unless you count Shrek II, which featured King as the voice of a very masculine barmaid). He’ll be an animated version of himself in an upcoming feature starring Jerry Seinfeld titled Bee Season, King said, as Larry B. King, host of a bee talk show.

His favorite movie gig was the Billy Crystal-scripted America's Sweetheart, where he was uncharacteristically mean to Catherine Zeta Jones. King couldn't remember a time when he’d actually “lost it” on CNN with a guest; the last time he fought on the air with a guest dates back to his radio days, he said, and the target was the late Gov. George Wallace. King related that the politician swaggered into the stations and noted there were no blacks working at the station. King retorted, “They own the station, and they’re at lunch."

The interview devolved into bickering from there, he said.

A questioner noted that King went to high school (Lafayette High School, Brooklyn) with Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, yet hasn’t gotten him on his show for an interview. King noted that Koufax is a very private person, but added that he’d love to get Koufax on his show. However, Larry King Live rarely books sports personalities of any stripe. On the vast majority of nights, the show is telecast in competition with a live sporting event, and viewers are more likely to watch the event than an interview, he explained.

Weather Watchers Watched
Alhough they don’t get the buzz of, say, sitcom stars, on-air meteorologists told MCN they do get their share of star moments, when viewers recognize them on the street.

Dr. Steve Lyons said his fan base is strongest in Florida, the Carolinas, Mississippi, Alabama and coastal Texas -- you know, hurricane country.

Viewers recognize him on the street and thank him for his work, he said, adding, ”I’ve never gotten anything but positive comments.”

His oddest moment of recognition may have come Jan. 8 in Pasadena. He was up the street from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where the critics are meeting. He was dressed casually, rather than in his suit and tie he wears on the air, and was ordering lunch in a taco joint.

Another patron told him he looked like the younger brother of a guy on The Weather Channel. Chalk it up to the aging effects of a suit and tie, we guess.

“That’s the funniest comment I’ve ever gotten,” he said.

But the public reaction changes according to the stories the meteorologists cover, said Lyons and Paul Goodloe. Jim Cantore (who wasn’t at the TCA meeting) is noted for some of the hairy weather events he’s covered, including Hurricane Katrina from Louisiana.

Due to his past assignments, “No one likes to see him coming,” the other meteorologists joke, since some think his presence means that bad weather is ahead.

Shut up or We'll Sing
 Hallmark Channel found a way to get antsy critics to drop the snacks, shut up and listen. They launched the session with a tenor singing "Music of the Night"from Phantom of the Opera, the film of which will debut on the channel this summer.

Sincere applause followed (and not just by the Hallmark staff in the room), followed by some sincere chuckles at the remarks of the “veteran” stars amassed to promote Hallmark originals. CEO Henry Schleiff earned the first laughs, having had himself inserted in a clip of the deli/fake orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally,one of the romance films the channel will show throughout the month of February.

The bigger laughs were from the stars, ruminating on their answers to one scribe's question about their perceived legacy. Dallasveteran Ken Howard said he wanted to be known as the only actor to work nine decades in show business. But he was topped by Barry Bostwick, who grumbled that thinking up an answer was like being quizzed in school, before opining, “I gave you diversion from your pitiful, mundane lives.”

Plain Speaking
Country-music singer Trace Adkins is the early leader in the “rank answers” category at the TCA. He was in Pasadena to help promote a music special to be telecast later this month on Great American Country.

He’s had a long career arc, and reporters asked him why it took so long to gain prominence. He explained that the Capitol Records executive who originally signed him five years ago was fired shortly thereafter, leaving him to languish over the next three years while “some idiot was running the label.”

Asked how he coped with the lack of label attention, he drawled, “We-e-e-ll, I stayed drunk a lot.” That was followed with a stint in rehab, “the way you do to round out your career” he said, without a touch of irony.