Slowly but surely, the big guns of American television are recovering from hard times. Some are crawling from the wreckage a little faster than others.
U.S. networks put on the brave face and full-court push at this week's TV critics' tour. The first four days of the annual midseason press marathon have produced a steady blur of promotional blather and cocktail mixers. As always, critics pay their way, and networks wheel out the talent. Monday-night mojitos on a warm California night with the cast of House ? Hello, Cuddy.
The twist on this tour is that everyone here has been consumed by the Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien drama. I overheard two hotel maids talking about it the other day.
In between instalments of As The Talk Show Host Turns, the big four networks went to considerable lengths to demonstrate they've weathered the damnable recession or whatever it was, and that the traditional broadcast model is not broken. Or at least not as broken as most of the press here keep saying it is. Each network has its own unique style and method of keeping the faith.
Everything is hunky-dory at the network of hokey two-camera sitcoms and CSI shows, according to CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler. Sure, she gets paid to say that, though she looked pretty darn sincere.
But is CBS supportive of new TV drama? Well, yes and no.
In her lead-off address, Tassler informed us that the new drama Miami Medical was the winner of the lottery for the post- Medium timeslot on Friday nights.
The announcement was not so great for the Canadian-made dramas Flashpoint and The Bridge , two CTV-CBS co-productions spawned in the dark days of the U.S. writers' strike. Both shows were angling for the 10 p.m. timeslot, following CBS's decision to order fewer episodes for next season of the crime drama Numb3rs .
The good news, which came later, was that Charlie Sheen is feeling no ill effects from his Christmas Day arrest for assault, and is back in the swing of things on Two and a Half Men , CBS's highest-rated comedy. "Charlie is just terrific," said show creator Chuck Lorre.
CBS tellingly ran out of steam midday and turned its promotional might over to its pay-cable network Showtime, which announced it will follow the upcoming final season of The Tudors with a new period-piece drama titled The Borgias , starring Jeremy Irons. The CBS-owned network The CW came in to flog Vampire Diaries and to hand out wax fangs and dental floss.
CBS closed with a swanky Survivor anniversary party in Hollywood, with upward of 200 former castaways in attendance. Each wore a nametag, so critics could tell Rupert from Rudy.
Though firmly in fourth place among U.S. networks, NBC went upbeat with an opening session on its broadcast plans for next month's Vancouver Winter Games. A clip showed NBC reporter Mary Carillo in red serge at the RCMP training academy in Regina. Bob Costas spoke glowingly of the Olympic spirit and human stories and the like.
NBC sports boss Dick Ebersol dropped a bombshell when he said NBC will lose money on the Vancouver Games, "but it won't be because the sales didn't come around," said Ebersol. NBC paid a staggering $820-million (U.S.) for the TV rights.
Then the big news: NBC chairman Jeff Gaspin cut to the chase with his announcement that Leno's 10 p.m. show was cancelled, but that Jay would move to a half-hour show to kick off The Tonight Show's time slot. We've heard what Conan thinks of the idea.
Not surprisingly, the rest of the day was a writeoff for NBC, as most critics ran to their rooms to file wildly speculative pieces on the Leno-O'Brien scenario. Many reappeared later for an appearance by Jerry Seinfeld, who is executive-producing a new NBC reality show called The Marriage Ref . When asked about O'Brien, Seinfeld shrugged and said, "I hope he stays," thereby confirming Conan was already on his way out of NBC. Funny how that works.
Never hard to identify a winner in the TV world. Going into the winter tour for the first time as the No. 1 network, Fox was brash and all flash.
Following a Bones -themed breakfast with Bones cast members, the Fox brass brought out American Idol 's Simon Cowell, who announced he'll be leaving the show at the end of this season. Then Cowell supposedly signed his contract to bring The X Factor to Fox with grand flourish.
Unlike other networks on the tour, Fox has new programming in the months ahead. Out came the casts and producers for the new cop series Code 58 and the family comedy Sons of Tucson , starring Brampton, Ont.'s Tyler Labine. To hype its new action drama, Human Target , which debuts Sunday, Fox set up a shooting range in the hotel driveway, with real Walther PPK handguns fitted to fire lasers. Ain't that America?
Things began swimmingly for ABC. In a rare move, the network trucked out nearly the entire cast of Lost to talk about the show's final season, which begins Feb. 2.
ABC president Steven McPherson conducted a civil if lifeless executive session. And ABC revealed plans for two new ambitious dramas, The Deep End and Happy Town.
And then, right before lunch, the bottom fell out of ABC's publicity plans with the release of O'Brien's tersely worded refusal to host an after-midnight version of The Tonight Show. Once again, everyone scuttled off to their hotel rooms, this time to file Conan stories.
By the time Canadians Erin Karpluk and Michael Riley showed up in late afternoon to push the second season of Being Erica on the ABC-owned SoapNet channel, the place was deserted and publicists looked forlorn. Not that they could blame us: We opted for the bigger soap opera.
John Doyle returns Jan. 19.
Parks and Recreation (NBC, CITY-TV, 8:30 p.m.) made the funniest presentation at the TV critics' tour. Everyone single person in the ensemble cast was a hoot, particularly Amy Poehler, who plays the delightfully dim Leslie Knope in the mockumentary-style sitcom set in a government workplace. Tonight, Leslie's nurse friend, Ann (Rashida Jones), sets her up on a blind date with a doctor, played by Poehler's real-life husband, Toronto-born Will Arnett. You must admit they make an adorable couple.
Fringe (Fox, A, 9 p.m.) soldiers on with a new story in The X-Files vein. The Fringe team travels to an upstate New York town where disfigured people hide in the shadows and intend to keep it that way. The reasons behind their furtive behaviour are as unfathomable as any of the plot lines on Fringe . Check local listings.