LOS ANGELES — Want to see a roomful of TV critics blanch?
Tell a joke like the one James Brolin let loose here Wednesday, wrapping up a press conference on a heartwarming Hallmark Channel movie about Christmas, a young boy and his dog with a story that involved putting your wife and pet in a trunk to see who is happiest with you when it opens again.
And yes, this came from Mr. Barbra Streisand.
Welcome to the first day of the TV Critics Association's summer press tour, a two-week stint of press conferences, receptions and set visits where even the lightest question can bring the kind of comment from a star, producer or TV executive that puts everything into an odd kind of perspective.
"Is everybody's incarceration going well here at TCA?" quipped former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann, promoting his return to ESPN2 with an 11 p.m. show Aug. 26, which comes 20 years after he kicked off the channel's 1993 start by cracking "welcome to the end of my career."
On the surface, the press tour is simple. Top cable, broadcast and online program providers line up inside a space at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to show off their new fall wares for more than 200 critics from across the globe.
But program providers and their army of publicists seek a succession of carefully managed events. So Al Jazeera America, originally scheduled to open TCA Wednesday, dropped out amid a flurry of new hires announced this week; instead, National Geographic Channel showed off its animal shows and Doomsday Castle, a spin-off from its Doomsday Preppers series featuring Florida real estate agent Brent Bruns Sr.
"When Y2K (computer threat occurred), that's what started it for us, with the realization that the grid could possibly go down," said Bruns, a Daytona-area businessman who has developed a safe house of sorts within a castle inside the mountains of Carolina featured on Doomsday Castle.
Turns out, four of his children on the show live in the Tampa Bay area, including son Brent Bruns II, who owns the Rock and Roll House bed and breakfast in St. Petersburg. Clips showing the elder Bruns' adult children struggling with a fake attack from outsiders makes you wonder: Is this really a mindset National Geographic should be encouraging?
"I think we could go back to medieval times," Brent Bruns II told critics Wednesday. "If there is a disruption in the power grid…we're going to kind of go back to square one, and we're prepared for that."
Kenny Leon, left, well-known director of Lifetime's black-centered Steel Magnolias remake, reminisced on how his time growing up in St. Petersburg and attending Northeast High School gave him a strong grounding that helped in directing the Hallmark Channel's new film The Watsons Go to Birmingham, about a black family who travels south from 1963-era Michigan.
"Angela Bassett grew up in St. Petersburg, too … we had great schools there and I still consider it home," said Leon. "It's been a blessing to have a lot of good, strong family around me there."