We’re returning to Day 7 of the TCA Press Tour…and the second part of Fox’s first day of panels…with a moment or two of unabashed bitching.

The recipient of this bitchfest…? “24.”

See this picture of Kiefer Sutherland?

See all those microphones and tape recorders surrounding him? This was the only access any of us had to him or the other members of the “24” cast and production team who were in attendance at the press tour…and let me assure you that not pictured here are probably at least 47 other microphones and tape recorders that were just outside of the range of the camera. (As it is, I’m forced to wonder if the photographer was either standing on a chair or hanging from a chandelier to get this shot, since he couldn’t possibly have gotten close otherwise.) Instead of doing a proper panel for what’s ostensibly the most talked-about show returning to Fox’s line-up, the network opted to provide a casual affair, where we all mingled about the lobby of the ballroom during lunch together and struggled to get anywhere near Sutherland. They used the same methodology for “Prison Break” during the breakfast period (“Prison Break”-fast, get it?), and though it was a slightly less frantic affair, possibly due to the early hour, it was still less effective than a proper panel would have been, to be certain. I realize that Fox had a bit of a scheduling crunch due to the TCA swiping half of one of their two days for a luncheon with “The Bonnie Hunt Show” and a set visit to “Mad Men,” but I’d much rather have had a “So You Think You Can Lunch” function with Cat Deeley and company and gotten a proper “24” panel instead. Not getting proper time with the “24” folks after such a long time between seasons made for easily the biggest disappointment of the TCA tour to date.

Okay, moving on…

Secret Millionaire: I’m going to fall back on the press release again, lest I fall into snark mode while discussing this well-intentioned series, then I’ll speak more of it afterwards.

Here goes:

“‘Secret Millionaire’ is a dramatic unscripted series that takes America‚Äôs wealthiest individuals away from their lavish lifestyles, sprawling mansions and private planes and places them undercover into some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in America. The inspirational series reveals the dramatic personal return that the participating millionaires receive when they leave their fortunes to invest in those less fortunate. Challenged with living on minimum wage, the millionaires will immerse themselves in situations beyond their comprehension. They will work side-by-side with community members and befriend those in need to decide who should ultimately receive their extraordinary gifts of a lifetime. The millionaires will be touched by the people they meet. Some will inspire with their dedication to helping others, while others will relay stories of overcoming tremendous odds. On the final day, the Secret Millionaires meet with the chosen recipients and reveal their true identity and intention: to give them at least $100,000 of their own money and to change their lives forever.”

Okay, so the rich folks learn how the other side lives, right? Fair enough. The millionaires sounded like nice enough guys, aided in no small part by the fact that a couple of them were self-made millionaires, so they know at least a little bit about struggling through an ordinary life (as opposed to be handed everything on a silver platter). The cynic in me, though, can’t help but view this as Fox finally getting around to doing a well-intentioned reality show long after just about everyone else has gone this route. I’m probably wrong. But I also probably won’t watch even if I am.

The Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: I’d just like to say that one of my cheapest thrills during the course of the two days of Fox’s panels was riding up in the same elevator as Summer Glau. I realize it’s totally not a big deal, given that celebs are wandering all over the place at these things, but, still, c’mon, it’s Summer Glau! She’s uber-hot! And, for the record, she was wearing this exact outfit at the time…

…which is a major shame, as she was wearing a really short, tight dress during the actual panel for “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” But what can you do? I mean, I still shared an elevator with Summer Glau. I have no complaints.

Oh, I guess you probably want to know about the upcoming season of the show, huh? Well, first, let me ask you something: were you enamored of the first season? Because, personally, I went in wanting to like it, and I like it okay, but I never fully fell in love with it. This means that I’ll certainly be back for Season 2, of course, but I’m approaching it with a desire for the show to really kick ass right out of the gate.

If you kept meaning to check out the show last season but never got around to it, producer Josh Wirth is ready to allay your concerns. “I think we’ve worked hard to sort of allow everybody to kind of catch up in the first episode,” he assured us, “and I would say that these episodes this year are a little bit more self-contained than our episodes were last year. We were kind of a pretty heavily serialized drama last year, and we backed off that a little bit this year.”

Why?

“Because we wanted to.”

Fair enough, then.

In a rare moment of foresight, I actually planned ahead enough to be able to front the mike for a pair of questions during the course of this panel, so let me go ahead and share those with you…

Me: Two questions. First, how did Shirley Manson pop up on your radar as an actor?
Josh Friedman (producer): Well, it’s kind of cheating, actually. Shirley is a friend of my wife’s. All the cool people I know in my life are from my wife. I’m probably the least cool person that she knows. And Shirley and I had conversations last year, and I always joke with her, “So, why don’t you come on the show?” And she would tell me I was crazy. And this year when I was writing this character, I called her up and said, “Do you want to come in and read for it? And she came in. She was great. She went through the audition process like everybody else. And she was the best actor in the room, and she got the part.
Me: And second, what are the challenges of doing the series while you’ve got a “Terminator” film being made at the same time?
James Middleton (producer): I can address that since I work both on the television show and on the movie that’s going to be coming up in May, and, you know, what I can tell you is that both the show and the movie take certain inspiration from the “Terminator” mythology and certain themes, you know, that are important, like the value of self-sacrifice and perseverance and faith. But when we,in the premiere of our show, deposited Sarah Connor in the present day, we instantly created a new timeline in the mythology for Sarah Connor. So in that way, you know, the experience that our audience has watching Sarah Connor in the show can only be seen on the television show.

I should also offer up Middleton’s next comment, since it came about as a result of someone following up my question, asking, “Are the stories going to intersect in any way, and are there going to be inconsistencies at all between the TV show and the movie?”

“I wouldn’t call them inconsistencies in the sense the franchise has always had this idea that a new fate can be created by time travel,” clarified Middleton, “When we deposited Lena and the rest of our cast from 1999 to the present day, we created an entirely new timeline for them, so it’s consistent within the mythology that way.”

I’m pretty sure this was when I started to develop that little twinge of a headache that always accompanies someone trying to rationalize the results of time travel, so rather than let it start to kick in again, I’ll start wrapping this up by offering a few other random moments from the panel:

* I didn’t realize that Lena Headey, who plays Sarah Connor, had spent the entire first season dealing with disapproving “Terminator” fans bemoaning her lack of Linda-Hamilton-ness, but she said that “the whole last year, people seemed to make terrible comments.” She’s hoping her “gigantic biceps this season” will help change their opinion, so keep your fingers crossed.

* Speaking of terrible comments, it may have sailed right over Summer Glau’s head, but one of the writers received a mixture of laughs and moans when she asked Glau if her performance as Cameron was in any way influenced by the ’80s TV classic, “Small Wonder.” “Was that nice,” Glau wondered, “or are you trying to tell me something?” Thomas Dekker sympathetically patted her on the shoulder as he assured her, “No, it’s not nice.”

* Brian Austin Green (Derek Reese) and Garret Dillahunt (Cromartie) will both be returning to the series, this time as regulars. They’ll be joined by Levin Rambin, who plays a character she swears is “just a normal high school regular girl. She’s not really in on their whole sort of connection and what’s going on there; she’s on the outside, so it’s interesting to interact with these characters who all have some secrets and all that.”

* When asked for a theme to the second season, Friedman replied, “Evolution.” Middleton added that “Sarah’s war has gotten a lot more complicated and grander than she ever expected.”

* When it was suggested that the series started really strong and then slowed down a bit and lost a little momentum as it went on (a suggestion I silently seconded), Friedman bristled a bit before vehemently disagreeing. “I was very proud of all the episodes we did,” he said. “I thought we did a really good job. It’s the first show that I’ve ever done, so it was all new to me. If there’s anything that we learned from last year — and I think we did learn a lot from last year — is sometimes the show got overly complicated, and, if anything, I think somewhere in the middle of the season when the ratings dipped a little before they went back up, I think that maybe we lost some people. There were some episodes that were very heavy methodology episodes and very heavily serialized. We’ve trying this year to sort of tell…I don’t want to say simpler stories, because they’re not simpler stories. I don’t think they can be. (They’re) slightly less ambitious, maybe.”

Middleton added, “I think there was another thing that was going on, and that is that people didn’t really know what to expect of our show, if we were going to try to repeat what the movies did. And I think what happened, even in our abbreviated season, is that people started to learn what our show was, and that it was really an inspection of this character, Sarah Connor, and all the people around her, including Cameron and John.”

Well, as I said, I’ll be tuning in to Season 2. I’ll also be checking out the Season 1 DVD, which comes out on August 19th, and giving those nine episodes another viewing. Maybe watching them back to back will prove more consistently gripping. (It’s been known to happen.)