Off to see the shows

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She was a sight in a tight-fitting black top — low cut, of course — stylish pants and calf-high black boots. Perched on the end of her hotel room bed, she electrified the half-dozen journalists seated around her, telling funny stories about dating Richard Pryor and playing the baddest of bad women in sex-drenched action movies everyone in the room had seen more than once.

She was sex bomb, B-movie action queen Pam Grier. And she was sitting inches away, answering questions about show business and her life like we were longtime pals having a long lunch at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena.

When people ask, this is the story I tell about why I so enjoy participation in the TV Critics Association's press tours. There is nothing cooler, more informative and more inspiring than spending time with the boldfaced names you usually only deal with at a distance.

I've got lots of similar tales: trading stories with Ellen DeGeneres about her mother — she so enjoyed an interview we had by phone, she put me in her book; hearing comic Eddie Griffin close down the hotel bar with a story about his heart attack, which sounded like an early draft of a standup routine; talking with an excited Jane Lynch in an elevator about this new show she was working on called Glee; debating the future of NBC with chairman-in-training (he was just entertainment president then) Jeff Zucker.

Starting on Tuesday, I'll be doing it all again, traveling to the Beverly Hills Hilton for nine days of immersion in the world of network TV, attending press conferences, dinner parties, cocktail parties and awards ceremonies gathering all the stars from most of the new shows coming this fall. It's a singular event the TCA does twice each year, organized with the TV networks to give us an up-close look at the industry.

For once, TV types have a good argument against those who insist they are becoming more irrelevant. The success of new shows such as Glee, Modern Family, The Good Wife and Showtime's Nurse Jackie highlight how television is still finding new ways to engage and entertain us.

Each network also has challenges ahead. For Fox, it's replacing the biggest star on their biggest show, American Idol judge Simon Cowell. For NBC, it's rebuilding a schedule so tattered it's debuting seven new shows this fall and 13 over the season. ABC needs strong drama hits to back up aging fare such as Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy, and CBS must revitalize a stable of aging, cop-focused crime shows that feel awfully formulaic.

So far, I've seen most of the pilots for the new shows coming on network TV this fall. And though we're not supposed to review them yet — the networks say they could change cast and key scenes before fall — they give a good indication of what's to come.

Right now, I'm digging ABC's No Ordinary Family, with Michael Chiklis as father of a family suddenly endowed with superpowers (think a live action Incredibles), the CW's remake Nikita (Hong Kong action star Maggie Q is amazing as a superspy on the run), NBC's Undercovers (Lost creator J.J. Abrams conjures a fun story about a retired superspy couple getting back into the game), and Fox's midseason show Ride-Along (complex Chicago crime and cops story starring Flashdance's Jennifer Beals as a take-charge police commissioner).

The biggest disappointment so far: $#*! My Dad Says, a limp comedy that maroons William Shatner in a tired sitcom about a caustic father character that, frankly, the late, great Peter Boyle played way better on Everybody Loves Raymond.

What I don't know, is what you want to know.

So, if you're so inclined, drop me a line at edeggans@sptimes.com or take a look at my blog, the Feed, where I'll be posting regularly about all the stuff I get to see over the next two weeks. And I'll try to chase any interesting story you shoot my way.

Because when it comes to understanding the explosion of media coming out of all the screens that surround us, I have a feeling we're all going to have to work together.

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The new face of reality TV: heartwarming

We're used to turning on our favorite reality TV shows for guilty pleasure-level servings of humiliation and dysfunction. But there's a new kind of unscripted series more networks are trying that's actually, well, inspirational. Here are two new examples coming to a small screen near you next week.

Breakthrough with Tony Robbins, debuts at 8 p.m. Tuesday on WFLA-Ch. 8: Halfway through this gauzy look at world-renown motivational guru Tony Robbins' effort to help an average couple cope with a crushing tragedy, you may wonder: Do some of his clients really pay $1 million to have his cellphone number? It's true, vague advice like "rewrite your story" and "exceed your expectations" mostly sounds like verse from a greeting card. But the subjects here, Frank and Kristen Alioto, hit by tragedy when Frank became a paraplegic after breaking his neck on their wedding day, captivate. While Robbins babbles on, looking like the Addams Family's Lurch with a tan and white capped teeth, Frank grabs your heart skydiving and driving a prized, rebuilt truck for the first time. TiVo, if you can get past the host.

Plain Jane, debuts at 9 p.m. Wednesday on WTOG-Ch. 44: It's such a ripoff of a movie concept, they show clips from Drew Barrymore and Molly Ringwald films in the opening sequence. But the CW's show about urban British fashion expert Louise Roe remaking an awkward girl into a hottie is heartwarming. That is, until you realize this series cheats just like the movies it's ripping off, making over a young, thin, pretty girl whose biggest problem is a frumpy wardrobe and bad haircuts. Still, I suspect this will be a hit with the network's target audience of young girls, who mostly all see themselves as potential Plain Janes. TiVo, only if you could someday land on the show yourself.

Off to see the shows 07/24/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 24, 2010 7:02pm]

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