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Bingo! TV critics win with press tour game

Saturday, January 17, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HOLLYWOOD -- It's the best game ever: Press Tour Bingo! Last summer during the TV critics press tour, a snarky, occasionally clever TV critic -- you don't know anyone matching that description, do you? -- created a way to pass the time during some of the press conferences that come off like Senate filibusters. He and his peers wrote down a list of cliches used repeatedly by network executives and actors. Then he created a bingo board and the game began.

B! "We're like a family."

I! "It's all about the writing."

N! "Organic."

G! "Edgy."

O! "It was our best development season ever."

Press Tour Bingo was born and immediately became a minor sensation. The Washington Post wrote about it. At least one critic dismissed it, sniffing that it was unprofessional. But the game was played quite professionally with the winning critic containing her glee. She didn't shout "BINGO!" in the middle of a press conference. Instead, she smoothly worked the word "bingo" into a question, and no one -- even some of the critics playing the game -- was the wiser.

This time around, Press Tour Bingo has become part of the establishment. A CBS publicist had six different versions of Bingo cards printed up for critics, although those game boards conveniently leave off the Leslie Moonves-ism, "But by the way."

When ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne announced the pick-up of a fall pilot, she called the prospective show "the single most entertaining pitch we heard all season, and I bet that's on your bingo card. But this time I mean it."

Press Tour Bingo is once again in play. With the dismal TV season the networks are having -- and it doesn't look to improve much this winter or spring -- TV critics need all the diversions we can get.

Fox fights back

After success with "The Simple Life," Fox will continue to claw its way to the top with the return of "American Idol" next week and the premiere of "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance." But the network isn't giving up on scripted series. In fact, Fox presented more scripted shows at press tour than any other broadcast network. And, at first blush, its scripted shows look better than what the other networks presented.

Fox is relying on "American Idol" to be a hit again and offer a promotional platform from which to launch scripted series.

" 'American Idol' is as important to our network as 'Survivor' is to CBS. It's as important to our network as 'Friends' is to NBC," said Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman. "We need an engine, and it has provided us with an engine in the past two viewings."

"Boston Public," which has suffered low ratings since moving to Fridays this fall, will take a break in March and may or may not return in the fall.

Two previously announced midseason series, "Still Life" and "The Ortegas," have yet to be given time slots. Berman said she's hopeful both shows will eventually see the light of day. Six episodes were produced of each series.

Plans for a second edition of "The Simple Life" are in the works, but she had no details.

More midseason on Fox

"Forever Eden" (9 p.m. Mondays, March 1, moves to 9 p.m. Thursday, March 18): Described by Berman as an "open-ended, unscripted soap opera," this reality show follows contestants who take a break from the real world to live in a tropical resort.

"Cracking Up" (8:30 p.m. Mondays, March 8): A grad student (Jason Schwartzman) studying psychology moves into the guest house of a wacky Beverly Hills family headed by a bipolar matriarch played by Molly Shannon in this half-hour single-camera comedy.

"Wonderfalls" (9 p.m. Fridays, March 12): Inanimate objects shaped like animals speak to a Niagara Falls gift store clerk (Caroline Dhavernas) and tell her to do things that end up helping people. Created by Bryan Fuller ("Dead Like Me") and Kittanning native Todd Holland.

"The Casino" (Summer 2004): Executive producer Mark Burnett ("Survivor," "The Apprentice") takes his cameras behind the scenes of the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas.

"The Jury" (Summer 2004): Viewers follow the deliberations of a different New York City jury each week. Executive produced by Barry Levinson, Tom Fontana and James Yoshimura, the team responsible for NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street."

Missing 'Scrubs'

NBC's newfound love of last-minute schedule changes and pre-emptions has rendered the Thursday night comedy "Scrubs" virtually impossible to find. At a press conference, one critic told the cast, "Some of us came here today because we figured it was our only chance to see you this month."

"I think it stinks," said series creator Bill Lawrence about the show's near-constant interruption. "But, by the same token, the businessman in me is well-aware that television, for better or worse, is a win-now situation. ... None of the moves they've made when they've benched us and tried to launch 'The Apprentice,' none of them have backfired."

Lawrence said he's hopeful that once the landscape of NBC's schedule clears -- the end of "Friends" and "Frasier," most notably -- "Scrubs" will become less expendable.

'Flood' movie scrapped

ABC had been developing a three-hour movie based on David McCullough's "The Johnstown Flood" for a couple of years and Pittsburgh native John Harrison ("Dune") was set to direct. But the network's two-year option on the book expired, and McCullough declined to renew it.

"It was his decision not to extend it," said Quinn Taylor, ABC senior vice president of TV movies and miniseries. "For him it's not about money. He's impatient and wants it to happen or not."

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

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