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Tuned In: Emmy bust 'Boomtown' scores big-time at TV critics awards

Monday, July 21, 2003

HOLLYWOOD -- Last week's Emmy Award nominations took few chances, shining the spotlight on creatively stale series. In contrast, the winners of the Television Critics Association Awards, announced during a ceremony here Saturday night, were more reflective of TV shows that are doing cutting-edge, quality work.

"I would like to thank the Television Academy for this Emmy," joked Jon Avnet, executive producer of NBC's "Boomtown," which was shut out of the Emmy nominations but won TCA Awards for outstanding achievement in drama and best new program.

"I think we were all disappointed [by the Emmys]," said "Boomtown" executive producer Graham Yost, "and frankly this means more. I'm saying that now! It's really going to be sad come September when I'm sitting at home in my tuxedo."

Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" was named best comedy, and Stewart won for individual achievement in comedy.

"You have honestly given us an award for brattiness," Stewart said. "Every day we come in and try to turn our morning meeting's anger and outrage and craziness into something powerful and absurd and playful, because the stridency about how we feel about what we see, we should never force on the viewer. That's really what our show is about, putting things through the digestive process."

Thanks, no doubt, to a ferocious fight scene in the season finale of "The Sopranos," actress Edie Falco won the award for individual achievement in drama.

"Every time I get a script, I can't wait to see what they've come up with," Falco said. "It's been tremendous good fortune that's happened to the show. I'm just thrilled that people like it, that people have noticed it and that people continue to watch it."

Fox's "American Idol" was named program of the year. The Heritage Award, given to series that make a cultural or social impact, was given to The WB's and UPN's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

For the second year in a row, PBS's "Frontline" was named the best news and information program and Sci Fi Channel's 20-hour "Taken" won for best movie, miniseries or special.

PBS's "Reading Rainbow," lately in danger of cancellation due to financial concerns, was named outstanding children's program. Host LeVar Burton said because of the attention the show has received, PBS was shamed into giving the series an additional $2 million to fund more episodes.

Founded in 1978, the TCA is comprised of 200 print reporters and columnists from the United States and Canada. (Full disclosure: I was elected TCA vice president on Saturday.)

Revisiting Rob and Laura

Carl Reiner, who won the TCA career achievement award, has written a script for "The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited," and he expects the one-hour special to tape in October for broadcast on CBS during November sweeps.

Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore will reprise their roles of Rob and Laura Petrie, and Reiner is on board to once again play egotistical talk show host Alan Brady.

"It starts with the phone ringing in the old Van Dyke house, in the old living room, but there is something different about it because it's in color and the furniture is different," Reiner said. A burly man with a beard answers the phone. It's Ritchie, Rob and Laura's son. He answers the phone and says, "No, no, no, he doesn't live here anymore. He hasn't lived here in 35 years."

"It's Alan Brady looking for Rob Petrie, and he called the old number," Reiner explained. "Alan Brady needs Robert Petrie for something, and that I won't tell you! You can cut my nails and I won't tell you!"

CBS developments

Leslie Moonves, CBS chairman and CEO, said an "Andy Griffith Show" special featuring the cast reminiscing about the series will air in the 2003-2004 season... A reality show version of "The Beverly Hillbillies" is still in development, but no decision had been made as to whether the show will go forward. "Clearly, people think the show is purely going to make fun of people from the rural South," Moonves said about the uproar that's greeted the prospect of the series, "that it's going to be ridiculing them and it's inappropriate to do that. I don't know what the show is yet. It's a reality show." ... CBS's upcoming miniseries "The Reagans" will star James Brolin as Ronald Reagan and Judy Davis as Nancy Reagan... "Survivor: Pearl Islands" will premiere Sept. 18, with most other CBS shows debuting the week of Sept. 21.

Fox's '24' spoilers

Despite promises in January that Fox promos would no longer give away too many secrets from upcoming episodes, the previews continued to do just that. One showed a character falling into a stairwell, giving away a key plot twist. Another played scenes from the closing moments of an episode when Jack Bauer's vital signs stop momentarily, depriving viewers of any chance to be surprised.

Fox executives continue to have their heads in the sand on how much these spoilers are cheating viewers.

"The ratings increased all year, and I think that says something about what we were doing," said Fox Entertainement president Gail Berman. "Honest to goodness, we really try to be mindful of that."

Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Entertainment Television Group, acknowledged the network walks a tightrope "between not wanting to frustrate and alienate the core audience, but, at the same time, always wanting to cast as large a net as possible to try to bring new people into the show."

"24" executive producer Howard Gordon said he was "a little bit dismayed" by the promo that gave away presidential adviser Lynne Kresge (Michelle Forbes) falling down a stairwell.

"We've spoken very openly, and I think [the promos are] cut beautifully, but sometimes they do throw the baby out with the bath water," Gordon said. "I guess they have to strike a balance between what's intriguing and what's spoiling. Sometimes I do think they step over that line, but most of the time I think they're right on track."

Gordon offered viewers some additional details about the third season of "24," so if you want to remain completely in the dark, stop reading now.

Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) will be his own master, running a CTU field operations unit. Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) has assumed control of CTU's Los Angeles headquarters, and he and Jack have their individual spheres of influence that could put them at cross-purposes.

The relationship between Tony and Michelle (Reiko Aylesworth) has progressed and feeds into a theme of the season: How do you reconcile the work you do with your ability to have a relationship?

Set 2 1/2 years after the previous season, Kate Warner (Sarah Wynter) is back in the first episode. "She and Jack had a relationship and it didn't work out, in large part because of his work," Gordon said.

Being in a sorority in college didn't work out for Kim Bauer (Elisha Cuthbert), who "might have a job," Gordon said. It won't be in CTU, but it will tie her more into this year's plot.

"It's a much more complex story than anything we've ever done before," Gordon said. "It really has layers and layers. We thought long and hard about what happened between last season and this season." A strong antagonist that viewers have not seen before has been on Jack's radar the past two years and will be introduced almost immediately. And yes, President Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), last seen on the receiving end of a poisonous handshake, is alive, although whether he remains President of the United States, Gordon would not say.

"He's back, but we're not sure in what capacity," Gordon hinted. "He's diminished and may not be entirely himself. He's older and more jaded and his trust level has diminished considerably."

After two attempts on his life, that only makes sense.

Dushku's 'Calling'

Eliza Dushku, who appeared off and on for five years on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," opted not to star in a "Buffy" spinoff. Instead, she took the lead in Fox's fall drama "Tru Calling," about a morgue worker who assists the dead by going back in time to when they were alive and preventing their death.

"I started the character of Faith five years ago, and the character kind of traveled with me as I grew up and was me in a lot of ways," Dushku said. "I love that show, and that character's been good to me, and there wasn't a doubt in my mind that we could have made an interesting show, but I think that you kind of go down the road less traveled sometimes and you take a risk. I had confidence in ['Tru Calling'] -- in the people, in the writing, in the premise -- and I was really excited about this particular project, and so I kind of dove in."

At the moment, no "Buffy" spinoff is in development. Maybe Joss Whedon and company are waiting for "Tru Calling" to inevitably fail and then they'll approach Dushku again.

Monkey business

Picking the winning number in The WB's September special "Play for a Billion" may be so easy a monkey can do it, but picking a monkey to pick the number turns out to be a challenge. Berkshire Hathaway, insurers of the potential $1 billion grand prize, have approval over the primate picked for the job.

"There really is this process where the Berkshire people are actually interviewing the monkeys to make sure that it can't be rigged, that the monkeys can't read," explained executive producer Matti Leshem.

"Play for a Billion," airing at 8 p.m. Sept. 14, will offer 1,000 contestants -- chosen randomly through specially marked Pepsi bottle caps -- the chance to be one of 10 competitors in a live game until just one person remains. That person is guaranteed to win $1 million and the opportunity to win $1 billion.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or< ahref=mailto:rowen@post-gazette.com> rowen@post-gazette.com.

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