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Three lessons from the TV Critics Association press tour

The Lamborghinis and Mercedes have rolled away. The paparazzi have moved on to the hip new restaurants and rehab facilities. And Teri Hatcher has been packed back into her cryogenic stasis chamber.

Yes, the TV Critics Association's summer press tour has completed another wild, informative run.

And while the blizzard of celebrity-fueled press conferences, network TV parties and soundstage set visits has come to an end, this critic rolled away from the Beverly Hilton Hotel after eight days on Tuesday with a few important lessons learned about the state of the TV business heading into the dog days of 2008.

Lesson No. 1: The writers strike fallout continues. Even though the walkout by the nation's film and TV writers ended in February, it continues to screw up the television industry by limiting the amount of new shows any network could cobble together for this fall.

The broadcast networks' problems emerged during the press tour, as every outlet struggled to articulate the plotlines and story arcs for new series put into production without filming a pilot episode, leaving executives with little evidence whether these lofty ideas might actually produce watchable shows.

Lesson No. 2: Without new shows, old shows face more pressure. Several series have promised big changes in trying to "reboot" returning shows that need to regain audience attention after months in reruns or worse. ABC's Desperate Housewives is moving five years into the future, while NBC's Heroes is focusing on a new cadre of villains, and even Fox's blockbuster American Idol is promising major changes.

"We're all in this elevator — CSI, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives — and the elevator's going down," said Housewives creator and executive producer Mark Cherry. "As a result, we're willing to do anything to keep our audience base . . . There's intense pressure to come up with something that gets everyone's attention.

Lesson No. 3: TV has pretty much accepted its lack of diversity. Time and again, the question emerged — Why are there no new shows starring a person of color this year? — and the answer was mostly a shrug with promises to do better. In a down economy, networks are more willing to hand new shows to British and Australian actors than anyone with a skin tone darker than a light tan.

the list

Five of the most oddball things I witnessed during the TV critics press tour.

Rapper Coolio swearing to me that one of the women from Bravo's The Real Housewives of Atlanta was "on his jock." Whatever that means.

Damian Lewis, the British actor who stars in NBC's Life, speaking almost exclusively in his character's American accent because "speaking to Americans, my British accent sounds fake."

Howie Mandel, the host of NBC's Deal or No Deal and a renowned germophobe, insisting on simply bumping fists when meeting journalists.

Jay Leno, disguised in a bald cap and fake mustache, taking the microphone to grill NBC executives during a press session.

Hearing Wipeout host John Henson joke about hitting on co-host Jill Wagner so much, you wondered if he was really joking.

say what?

"You can have a serial killer on network TV, you just can't have a guy who has sex with more than one woman in a year. That's America."

Californication star David Duchovny on why his Showtime series won't follow Dexter onto corporate cousin CBS


Shark Week, runs Sunday to Saturday, the Discovery Channel: Back for its 21st birthday, Discovery Channel's tribute to the world's most fearsome predator features six new shows in prime time along with a host of reruns worthy of rewatching. My fave is the two-hour Mythbusters special airing at 9 tonight featuring Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman dissecting all the popular myths — and truths! — about these animals. Can the vibrations of flapping around in water attract them? Does chili powder ward them off? Can these guys actually build a 16-foot-long robo shark that doesn't look like Saturday Night Live's land shark? You'll have to tune in to find out for sure.


Eureka, debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday on Sci Fi: The Sci Fi geek in me has always wanted to like this amiable series, about a U.S. marshal who winds up policing a secret, government-built town stocked with super geniuses. Of course, the geniuses continually invent gadgets that come close to destroying the world, which our hero Jack Carter (sturdy Coupling alum Colin Ferguson) often thwarts. If only the scripts lived up to the series' potential as an unpredictable, screwball sci-fi adventure. There's one nerd in Florida still pulling for you, guys.

Three lessons from the TV Critics Association press tour 07/26/08 [Last modified: Saturday, July 26, 2008 4:31am]
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