It just wouldn't be a Television Critics Association press tour without a Fox reality-show controversy.
So while the rest of America hasn't thought much lately about American Idol contestant Corey Clark's charges that he had a sexual relationship with Paula Abdul and that she gave him a few pointers to help him advance in the competition — the story was alive and well among the reporters who showed up Thursday to hear Fox entertainment president Peter Liguori's press-tour debut.
Liguori said the Clark-Abdul matter was being investigated by an "independent counsel." Not a great choice of words. Independent counsel conjures up visions of Kenneth Starr, Archibald Cox, stained blue dresses and Oval Office tapes. (He meant "outside counsel," we were told later. A Fox insider said the place has been crawling with lawyers looking into the matter.)
So the questions kept coming from reporters here at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Would Paula Abdul be canned from American Idol if the independent counsel determined that she did sleep with Clark? Liguori refused to speculate on such an outcome, but offered this: "In terms of our rules for fraternization, they're geared toward [whether] a judge or any of the producers [affected] the outcome of the show... I mean, ultimately it's America that decides who moves forward."
In other words, the investigation isn't necessarily about sex, but whether Abdul did anything to influence the results. Clark said in ABC's Primetime report that she helped him with song selection and wardrobe choices. Did that help him get into the final 12 before he was booted for his uncovered arrest record? That's going to be hard to prove.
Meanwhile, Fox is moving ahead as if everything with Abdul is fine. She even has a role on the network's new summer show, So You Think You Can Dance. Liguori noted that Abdul will be on hand for the next American Idol auditions when they start on Aug. 14 in San Francisco, even if the investigation isn't completed by that time (although he said it's "winding down").
"We'll come to you when a conclusion is reached," Liguori said. And we'll be there.
Is Drama Selling Out?
During ABC's press tour, writer-producer David E. Kelley complained about how commercials have been cutting into hourlong dramas' program content. Back when he was writing for NBC's L.A. Law in the '80s, an hour drama was delivered at 48 minutes. His current ABC show, Boston Legal, runs 41 minutes.
"It's a terrible trend," Kelley told reporters. If it continues, he said he'd have to consider making shows for cable instead. We're presuming he meant a premium channel such as HBO, because basic cable typically has more commercials than the broadcast networks.
Perhaps Kelley should check with the other networks to see how long their dramas run. The Biz talked to two ABC competitors, and found their dramas run as long as 44 minutes. "That's short," said one who was told about Boston Legal. "That's two minutes less than our shortest show."
Boston Legal might have been getting snipped to make room for a few extra minutes of ABC's Desperate Housewives, which as dissatisfied VCR and TiVo users know, often ends a few minutes after 10 pm/ET.
Boston Legal moves to Tuesdays at 10 in the fall, following Commander-In-Chief, a new drama from ABC that stars Geena Davis as the first woman president. The network is banking on Chief's becoming one of its bigger hits this fall. Will Boston Legal have to make room for a few extra minutes of that show as well? Just asking.