Through the Wire


Contributors: R. Thomas Umstead, Ted Hearn.

Coveted Critic’s Tour Awards Go to …

Cable-network presentations took up four days of the three and a half weeks some dedicated TV writers are lucky enough to spend at the Television Critics Association tour in Pasadena, Calif.

The cable portion did reveal some potential hits: AMC’s Western drama Broken Trail and Home Box Office’s Mrs. Harris, a very dark comedic take on the murder of Scarsdale Diet doctor Herman Tarnower, stood out on that list. There were some possible misses, as well: A&E’s God or the Girl might, for example, only find an audience among other conflicted seminary candidates.

For those who didn’t spend Jan. 17-20 taking notes at the Ritz Carlton Hotel & Spa, here are some impressions from the annual promotional orgy, in the form of awards, because Hollywood understands that approach so well:

Most entertaining session: Hallmark Channel, which provided a slate of stars of its TV movies who are veterans of a certain age (translation: talented but cruelly, too old for the broadcaster’s demographics). Who knew people like Stacy Keach and Patrick Duffy were so quick witted? Asked about the apparent TV ageism, Cheers vet Shelley Long said it would just take one really good success to regenerate a genre, or bring attention to a demographic. Once that happens, everyone will jump on the bandwagon, she predicted.

“It just has to happen before we’re dead,” former Dallas star Duffy quipped.

Star earning the most deference: Sundance Channel Robert Redford. It was “Mr. Redford,” no first-naming as in other panels.

Biggest potential train-wreck: Driving Force, A&E’s reality series about the race-car driving daughters of National Hot Rod Association champion John Force. Not your warm-and-fuzzy family: wife and daughters made Force seem like the human version of a Tasmanian devil, adding they can’t stand for him to be home more than three months at a time.

For his part, rambling Force made the late Professor Irwin Corey seem sensible. We pity the editor on this series.

Most frustrating panel: The Sopranos stars with creator David Chase. Critics were hot for news on the long-awaited new season, but none of the participants would cough up a sou of information. They were so terse, one critic begged for at least one response long enough to have a noun in it.

Most bizarre demimonde: The professional autograph seekers. Each morning, before the writers even arrived, they had taken up their stations in a roped-off area outside the Pasadena Ritz Carlton ballroom salon. Armed with their file folders of publicity stills and appropriate movie posters, they waited all day every day for a performer to throw them a bone in the form of a marketable autograph. They had good eyes, too, recognizing behind-the-camera talent such as director Walter Hill and snagging him for photos before he had a chance to escape.

Loudest presentation: Black Entertainment Television, which made sure no writers were sleeping during their session by employing the drum line from Grambling State University to open its 11:45 a.m. presentation.

Quietest exit: A&E Network ended its presentation with heart-wrenching clips from the upcoming Flight 93, an original movie dramatizing the phone interaction between victims of that doomed Sept. 11, 2001, flight and their friends and family on the ground. When the lights went up, the normally vociferous critics collected their things and left with barely a word.

Biggest surprise for a cable exec: Court TV chief operating officer Art Bell entered his assigned room at the hotel and walked in on a guest who had already made himself at home. The surprised occupant: Discovery Networks executive Bob Sitrick, whom Bell, coincidentally, had previously hired while working for Comedy Central.

It’s a small world in Pasadena.

TV Watchdog Bozell’s Selective Indignation

Parents Television Council president L. Brent Bozell — a vocal proponent of cable networks being sold a la carte — has made so many statements slamming raunchy cable content that he’s apparently having difficulty applying his outrage in a consistent manner.

A good example involves ESPN. When Time Warner Cable last month rolled out its family tier without including the famous sports channel, Bozell called that a “very bad joke,” because the American family just can’t survive modernity without ESPN.

Pardon the interruption, but let’s go the videotape, circa November 2004 and the PTC report titled “Basic Cable Awash In Raunch.” Taking a different perspective on ESPN then, PTC pointed to Season on the Brink, ESPN’s f-word laced film on college hoops coach Bobby Knight, to demonstrate that “some of the most offensive content imaginable is now readily available on advertiser-supported basic cable during all hours of the day.”

Not sure where PTC stands on ESPN today, we sought a clarification from Bozell.

“That show was on years ago,” he replied. “There’s not a show like that on ESPN any more.”

Defending his view that ESPN is family fare, he added, “Does one show nullify an entire network as being appropriate for a family?”

Lastly, Bozell said his support for a la carte would leave it up to parents to decide which networks enter the home.

“Families,” he said, “should make that decision themselves.”

Fox News’s Suzanne Scott Is Seen Here — For Real

Multichannel News loves its “Wonder Women” and hates making mistakes, including in promotional ads. But mistakes do happen, and last week’s two-page spread showing off the 2006 class of Wonder Women used the wrong picture above the name of Fox News Channel’s Network Executive Producer Suzanne Scott, who oversees network programming and production. This week we’re running the ad again, with the correct photo, and running the photo here, as well, with apologies.