Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2009 Summer Press Tour Wrap-Up: Cougars, Muppets, Vampires, and Gordon Ramsay, Too!

God bless the TCA Press Tour, where the television industry gives critics from throughout North America the opportunity to play with the folks who live and work in Hollywood. The tour allows us a remarkable amount of access to the stars, producers, directors, and writers of the various shows currently taking up residence on the various cable and broadcast networks. Yes, while I may spend 48 weeks out of the year feeling like a nobody, for those four weeks – two in the summer, two in the winter – which are taken up by the tour, I’m at least made to feel like I’m a somebody. (Really, though, I’m not anybody.)

This was the first time the summer tour had been held after Comic-Con rather than before, so there was a certain amount of grumbling about the fact that the fans were getting a certain amount of information that would’ve ordinarily gone to the critics first, but it must be said that the networks did a pretty good job of pacifying us. And, besides, aren’t the fans supposed to come first, anyway?

Although the content that I managed to accrue during the course of the tour will continue to come your way for quite some time to come, what you see before you is a summary of the highs and lows of the event, mixing stories you may have already read on Premium Hollywood with many that I simply haven’t had a chance to discuss yet. As ever, it was a heck of a good time, full of the kind of moments that leave me grateful that I managed to get that journalism degree from Averett College back in 1992, pleased as punch that Bullz-Eye and Premium Hollywood have given me the opportunity to cover the tour, and, most of all, that there are lot of great readers out there who seem to enjoy the tales I bring back from these strange TCA adventures that I’ve embarked upon.

Let’s get started, shall we?

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TCA: ABC Executive Session

Compared to his broadcast network peers, ABC President Stephen McPherson had a pretty low-key executive session, admitting outright that he didn’t really have any grand announcements to drop on us, but he did discuss the following matters:

* “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” returns to ABC tomorrow. McPherson describes being on the set with Regis again as “nostalgic and energizing,” and assures us that the show’s return features the best million-dollar question moment in the entire history of the series. Big talk, but we’ll see.

* McPherson’s got class. He didn’t take the bait when asked for the obligatory comment about Ben Silverman’s departure, and he fully acknowledged that he’s interested in seeing what’s going to happen with Jay Leno, given that it’s the first time we’ve seen anything like this on TV in our lifetime.

* On the matter of viewers investing in series that could be yanked out from under them at any given moment, he made it clear that it’s not an arbitrary decision when a show is canceled. “How patient can you be?” he asked. “How much information do you have about the show? Is it being rejected? Is it slowly building? Is it stable at that label? How does it affect the rest of your schedule? The overall network?” Though they try to be as patient as they can be with a series, sometimes it just has to go. “Canceling shows is the worst part of my job,” he said.

* That’s as may be, but it sounds like dealing with Katherine Heigl’s outbursts can’t be a heck of a lot better. When asked about her actions, he replied, “I think it’s unfortunate. It’s not something I think you want to let consume you or your people, because it is what it is, and people are going to behave in the way they choose to behave, but I think there are so many people who work hard on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and all of our shows and go without any credit. Those are the people I’d be most concerned about.”

* When “Scrubs,” it’s still gonna be “Scrubs.” “It’s not changing its title,” confirmed McPherson. “It’s gonna be different in the sense of the construct of what’s going on, but it’ll be the same character dynamics as before, but it’s allowing Bill (Lawrence) to introduce new characters and spend time with them. But it’ll be the same tonal show, with the same kind of comedy and storytelling that you’re used to.” As noted, Zach Braff will be turning up for a few episodes, but McPherson says they’re going to “try to convince him to do more.”

* Despite appearances, “FlashForward” was not specifically created to be the heir apparent to “Lost.” “We would love for it to have even a part of the success of ‘Lost,'” McPherson admitted, ‘but the spec script was originally done, I think, for HBO, and we were thrilled to read it. But there was no development where we went, ‘Hey, let’s try to make the next ‘Lost’! It was just about good material.”

* It seems a bit weird that ABC should’ve rescued both Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton after their joint Fox failure, “Back to You,” but McPherson says they came about through very different circumstacnes. “We’d previously developed ‘The Middle’ and even shot it, but we just didn’t feel like we’d gotten the pilot to where it needed to be,” he said. “But then Patti got available, she struck us as the perfect person for the show, and she sparked to the script.” As for Grammer, his new series, “Hank,” was pitched “as a full show with him attached, and we felt it was really in the zeitgeist and a great character for him to be playing.”

* “Romantically Challenged,” the new Alyssa Milano / Kyle Bornheimer sitcom, is in talks for a midseason run, but McPherson isn’t sure where to put it at the moment.

* Despite rumors to the contrary, “Ugly Betty” was never canceled. It was just taken off the air to offer up episodes of “Samantha Who?” and “In the Motherhood,” and McPherson is very excited about the new season.

* In regards to Violet’s storyline on “Private Practice” last season, he acknowledged that he was “frightened by it” when heard about it, but “while it’s polarizing, it’s gained excitement about the show and the characters and the potential where we can go with it. We can go edgier at 10 PM, and it can be a different show than ‘Grey’s.'” McPherson declared the storyline to be a perfect example of why you should trust great show runners.

* And, lastly, for all of you “American Idol” fans, McPherson admitted that he has indeed reached out to Paula Abdul, and although he first said that he was sorry about what she was going through, he did managed to slip in that he’d love to see her on ABC.

  

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TCA Tour: “Medium”

During NBC’s portion of the January TCA press tour, I spotted “Medium” creator Glenn Gordon Caron at the network’s cocktail party. I cornered him long enough to tell him how excited I was for the series to return, then I asked him why the show hadn’t scored its own panel that day, even though the miniseries “The Last Templar” had. Caron shrugged and acknowledged that “The Last Templar” was an NBC-Universal production and “Medium” wasn’t, but if he had anything else to say about his show’s home, he was polite enough to hold his tongue.

Now that “Medium” has found a new home on CBS…well, Caron’s still polite, but he doesn’t mind acknowledging that he had some problems with the way the show was underpromoted in its time on NBC. (He also didn’t mind getting off a one-liner about how “the last time we came here, NBC made us walk here.”)

“You know, it’s so hard in this environment to launch a show and sustain a show,” Caron acknowledged. “I think we’re all incredibly grateful to NBC, we were on their air for five years, and nobody wants to take shots. I think there were times along the way when everyone, even people inside NBC, thought, ‘Gee, maybe if we gave that show a little more attention, if we publicized it a little more vigorously, it might actually do better for us and might bring more viewers to the network.’ I don’t think there’s been any great secret there. It’s been written about; it’s been talked about. Having said that, we had five fairly fruitful years at NBC. Looking back, could things have been done differently? Absolutely. Ben (Silverman), who is actually a friend, said some harsh things I’m sure he regrets about our show…and, by the way, you guys play no role in this whatsoever.”

Ahem.

Medium: Season 1 – 4.5 stars
Medium: Season 2 – 4 stars
Medium: Season 3 – 4 stars
Medium: Season 4 – 4 stars

I’m just saying: there are critics who’ve been supportive of the show, and I’m definitely one of ’em.

Okay, back to business.

“Truthfully, we’re grateful to NBC,” said Caron. “We had a nice run there. But the good news is we’re on CBS now, and for the first time in three years, we’re going to do 22 episodes. We’re beginning a season, knowing when we’re premiering: in the Fall and doing 22 episodes. And as a storyteller, that’s a huge thing. It means I can say to you, sir, ‘And on Halloween, we will be doing thus and so.’ That’s a luxury we’ve not had for three years, and those are the sorts of things that are frustrating when you’re doing a show. But it beats not working.”

Indeed, it does. But as happy as he was about bringing the show to CBS (it’s perfect, really, since it’s a CBS production, anyway), Caron did at least try to keep the show where it was by writing a cliffhanger ending to the Season 5 finale…not that the plan actually worked.

“What I was trying to do was write an ending that was so provocative that it would be impossible to cancel the show,” he explained. “You saw how that worked out. It was sort of me being a wiseguy, frankly, and really trying to stack the deck in such a way. And for what it’s worth, NBC was complicit. We don’t make the shows in secret. I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do: she’s going to have a brain tumor, she’s going to go into a coma, and we’re going to put up a sign that says, ‘To be continued.’ And they said, ‘Great.'”

Caron gave us a big scoop, by the way.

“There’s so many of you here, I guess I can let the cat out of the bag: she comes out of the coma,” he revealed, with a grin. “And she’s on a different network. It’s the damnedest thing!”

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TCA Tour: CBS Executive Session

Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, has honored us with her presence this morning at CBS’s TCA day, and during her executive session, she provided us with the following tidbits:

* When word leaked out – that’s hardly the right phrase, since it was actually included in a network-provided schedule, but we’ll go with it, anyway – that there would be a “Mystery Panel” today, hopeful (perhaps overly optimistic) critics began theorizing that it would be for “The Late Show with David Letterman.” As it turns out, it’s actually for CBS’s upcoming revival of “Let’s Make A Deal,” which Nina briefly detailed for us. It’ll be hosted by Wayne Brady and will premiere on October 5th. And, yes, Monty Hall is involved, but only as an executive producer. Come on, though: an old pro like that surely won’t be able to resist rearing his head onscreen once in awhile. I think we can count on him to show up during Sweeps Week, at the very least.

* Of NBC’s great Jay Leno experiment, she says, “Whatever ratings they get, they’re going to declare victory, so it really doesn’t matter.” As far as CBS goes, however, they’re going to stick with the successes of their 10 PM dramas. (Good plan.) She also got a laugh when she admitted that she thought that NBC’s announcement that Conan O’Brien was the new king of late night “seemed premature.”

* Rocky Carroll will be a recurring character on the new “NCIS: Los Angeles,” but Pauley Perrette will be guesting in the show’s second episode.

* There are nine more “Flashpoint” episodes yet to be aired, and they’re still happy with the way the arrangement of airing a Canadian-produced series on American TV. As such, “The Bridge” will be turning up on CBS in the near future as well. But there are no plans yet to produce any further “Flashpoint” episode, although she says they reserve the right to do so.

* As far as “Harper’s Island” goes, it had some online traction and appealed to a niche audience. “The challenge is to find something that can appeal to niche but that has a broader appeal as well,” she said. She was happy with the series, but “it just didn’t grab on to a bigger audience.”

* Apparently, “CSI” fans’ biggest issue with Laurence Fishburne was that he needed to look “more comfortable in his clothes.” You will be pleased to learn that this is being taken care of.

* No plans for any more “Million Dollar Password” at the moment.

* Her one-liner about Ben Silverman’s departure from NBC: “”I’m really just a D girl, so I wouldn’t comment.”

  

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A lull, of sorts

You can feel it. After more than a week of Hollywood flacks being in overdrive announcing every comic book-derived, science fiction, fantasy, and horror project they’ve got, things have suddenly gone a little languid as we enter something like the late summer doldrums. That’s highly relative in a business where ADHD sufferers are seriously over-represented, but even Nikki Finke is mostly ignoring movies and has turned her megablog into a detailed celebration of every aspect of the parting of her bete noir TV executive, Ben Silverman.

But that leaves room for a couple of items relating to two filmmakers who are always worthy of attention.

* AICN’s Capone has a chock-full-of-good-stuff interview with Peter Jackson, whose been busier than you might even think considering the number of projects he’s got going, including some really cool sounding short pieces alongside his upcoming return to his “Heavenly Creatures” “small-movie” mode with “The Lovely Bones.” (Capone also raves about the upcoming Jackson-produced feature debut for South African-born director Neill Blomkamp, “District 9” — already notable because of its semi-unavoidable viral marketing campaign.)

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