Beverly Hills, Calif.: Every July, before the television season begins, the broadcast and cable networks trot out their shows and talent for North America's television critics to dissect. This little 18-day adventure, known as press tour, ends Friday. I've been out here since July 18, listening to actors, producers and network execs promoting an upcoming season that's heavy on sci-fi/horror, crime shows and series produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Here's some of what I've seen and heard. Day One
Tyra Banks and Al Gore. Off to a weird start. Banks promoted The Tyra Banks Show, her daytime talk show, which premieres Sept. 12 on WXIN (Channel 59). Banks said her show will be "real-people driven," which must be giving the stations that bought the rights agita, given how poorly Jane Pauley did highlighting "real people." One clip featured Banks and two "real people" taking off their makeup. Yikes. In every sense of the word.
Gore pushed his new network, Current, debuting Aug. 1 in 20 million homes, including those with Bright House digital cable channel 148. The man who voted for legislation authorizing the Internet - he never said he invented it - plans to create a bridge between TV and the Web. Programming will include short stories and features, called "pods," of about two to seven minutes tailored to the interests of 18- to 34-year-olds. I've seen some, and the jury's still out. Of course, I'm not in the demographic.
Wolf Blitzer, in town to do The Jimmy Kimmel Show, was jogging on the treadmill next to me. Stuff like that never happens at the Jordan Y.
Here in TV Land, July is like spring training - everyone has a chance for success. Or claims to, anyway. So every day features the stars and producers of one new show after another saying how wonderful their work is and how lucky they are to be teamed with such creative geniuses. A typical quote:
"We have kind of an exceptional group of people here who are very ensemble by nature, which doesn't always happen" (Carla Gugino, star of Threshold, 9 p.m. Fridays, WISH Channel 8). In the end, 80-plus percent of the shows will fail in the first year.
Occasionally, though, someone speaks the absolute truth. When someone asked Peter Dinklage, another star of Threshold, what attracted him to the role, co-star Brian Van Holt rubbed his thumb and fingers together in the universal sign for money. Dinklage, of course, gave the standard answer: great writing and great cast.
Talked to CBS poobah Les Moonves about David Letterman's future. "I think Dave is as happy as I've ever seen him," Moonves said. "I think he's doing great. His numbers are the best they've been in seven or eight years. I think the shows are phenomenal. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but I think Dave's going to be around for a while." But just so you know, Moonves added, this isn't based on inside info. "Don't get the impression that I'm talking to him every day, because I'm not. He's not chatty. But I think he's very happy. He's very content. The show is terrific."
Saw Keanu Reeves in the lobby and the lounge today. He acted like he didn't even recognize me. Good thing. I hate it when movie stars bother me for autographs.
Sometimes you hear words strung together to form the most bizarre sentences. Example: The president of UPN (WNDY Channel 23 to you and me), Dawn Ostroff, said, "Twiggy has such credibility in the modeling industry." Wow. I wonder who you have to sleep with to get that.
Look for Jay Baruchel this season on Just Legal (9 p.m. Mondays, WTTV Channel 4). Baruchel, who played the mentally challenged boxer in Million Dollar Baby, stars as an 18-year-old whiz kid lawyer. Not only is he good in the role, but he's fun to talk to - a bundle of twitches and smiles and honest answers. When I suggested that he looked far different in the Eastwood movie - perhaps because he'd bulked up - Baruchel said, "I did do a bit of weight work, but that wasn't to bulk up. It was only because he's a Texas farm boy and I'm a city boy. I sit around on my ass on my couch all day playing videogames. This is a guy who does manual labor. But I think it was maybe the combination of the haircut and the retarded face I was making the whole time."
Sean Whitesell, who writes for CBS' Cold Case now but was an actor on the first season of the HBO prison drama Oz, told me the funniest scary story. Seems he was shopping in a Southern California supermarket when a man recognized him from Oz. The man shared that he'd just been released from the county lockup, and he said he liked Whitesell's character as well as the character played by Jon Seda. "I'm good-looking like Seda, but I can relate to you," the man said. Seda's character was a cold-blooded murderer who got killed in prison. Whitesell played a prisoner who ate his family.
NBC's My Name is Earl (9 p.m. Tuesdays, WTHR Channel 13) may be the best new comedy. If not, it's a close second to UPN's Everybody Hates Chris (8 p.m. Thursdays, WNDY Channel 23). In Earl, Jason Lee stars as a petty criminal who decides to right all the wrongs he's committed. In episode one, part of his good deed requires him to get someone laid. Can you say "get laid" on network TV? Apparently, you can now. "There was a big party over at the Get Laid Foundation," Earl creator Greg Garcia said. "The people at Fuck are screwed, though."