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Tuned In: Television critics tour attendees say hello to Hollywood

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- A fellow TV critic once remarked that the television industry is the only business where, every six months, executives meet the press and willingly take the heat for their programming sins. They also gleefully gloat over success, but it's the access reporters from print publications of all sizes get to these entertainment industry bigwigs that makes the press tours in July (for new fall shows) and January (for midseason replacements) essential.

The twice-yearly Television Critics Association tour has moved from staid Pasedena to lively Hollywood. (Tim Long, Associated Press)

The winter edition of the Television Critics Association press tour began yesterday, and several themes are likely to emerge. The revival of the reality series will be a popular topic, as will the fortunes of some networks (CBS, The WB) and the folly of others (ABC, Fox, UPN).

Before the mainline networks present their latest series, cable and PBS dominate the first of two weeks of presentations. Yesterday morning was devoted to three newer, low-profile networks. So low-profile, in fact, that more than a few critics went into a session for an upcoming Hallmark Channel movie ("The King and Queen of Moonlight Bay") praying that star Sean Young would live up to her offbeat reputation and provide some good copy. Thankfully, she did.

"They have the Hallmark cable network now?" she said in utter seriousness while sitting on a stage where the Hallmark Channel logo was prominently displayed. "I didn't know that."

A reporter asked whom she thought she was making the movie for -- Hallmark Hall of Fame on CBS, perhaps?

"I should know this better," Young said. "I'm really incredibly unaware of a lot of things. ... I don't have a TV or cable, so I'll have to go to somebody else's house to see it."

The most important thing Young has learned over the course of her career?

"Social skills are a good thing to have," she said. "I don't have to say anything that hurts anyone, and I can still get my point across."

Home, sweet Hollywood

This press tour marks a move to a new locale. After close to a decade of holding press conferences at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena, a posh Los Angeles suburb, the tour has moved to the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in the heart of Tinseltown.

If there's a West Coast equivalent of New York's Times Square, this is surely it. Anchored by the hotel, a new shopping complex and the Kodak Theatre (home of the Oscars), Hollywood is as alive as Pasadena was staid.

Saturday afternoon, a bagpiper dressed in a kilt played for change on the star-lined sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard. Nearby, a woman painted gold and dressed as a mermaid lounged, seeking donations.

Sunday, in front of the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre, a bizarre cast of costumed characters greeted tourists. Spider-Man was incongruously paired with Robin (Batman was nowhere to be seen), while Marilyn Monroe chatted with Superman and Elvis. A "Star Wars" Stormtrooper stood alongside a person in a rubber Yoda mask who wore gloves with dollar bills sticking out near the wrists.

Outside the Kodak Theatre entrance, a woman wearing a "Jews for Jesus" T-shirt handed out pamphlets. The cover read: "BEWARE of religious fanatics handing out pamphlets." Only in L.A.

'24' book

Plenty of TV series inspire tie-in books, usually nothing more than glorified episode guides. But the groundbreaking Fox show "24" results in a more interesting than usual published tie-in.

"24: The House Special Sub-Committee's Findings at CTU" ($16.95, HarperEntertainment) has the requisite episode recaps but produces them in the form of testimony before a congressional sub-committee investigating "the longest day" (the first season of "24") in the life of Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland).

The book also seeks to explain away some of the show's seeming inconsistencies, includes autopsy reports on several characters who died and faux newspaper articles about Sen. Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), his campaign, the dissolution of his marriage and how he was elected president anyway ("Textbook Unelectable").

Shill TV

Late last month WPXI began airing commercials for Seven Springs resort that feature Channel 11 meteorologist Steve Teeling giving ski conditions.

"If you're heading out there, enjoy," Teeling says, shilling for the advertiser.

Conventional journalism ethics says those who work for news operations shouldn't appear in advertisements. But times are changing, and TV stations are increasingly willing to allow sports and weather reporters to appear in commercials or be associated with commercial elements within newscasts. WPXI news director Pat Maday said he approved the spots.

"He's giving weather information primarily," Maday said. "Is it on the line, close to the line? I'll admit to you that it is. Times have changed to a certain degree, and the costs of what we do continue to increase. It's important that the station be able to operate at a profit because we employ a great number of people who count on getting a paycheck."

Though some American TV stations routinely include weather reports for ski areas in newscasts without being paid to do so, Maday said he didn't want to get locked into adding to Channel 11's newscasts.

"I've never been a big fan of doing ski reports in the weathercast," he said. "You start to collect these things you have to have in your newscast each day."

Maday said the advent of a commercial featuring a member of the station's news staff is not necessarily a sign of things to come.

"There are plenty of things I turn down," he said.

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com .

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