Disconnect much? It's not every day you hear Showtime and the CW mentioned in the same breath — but that's why they call it the press tour, an eclectic smorgasbord of all kinds of TV presented to the Television Critics Association. Thursday's TCA schedule at the Beverly Hilton was split between CBS's most disparate corporate siblings: Showtime, the surging adults-only pay-cable service determined to give HBO a run for its money, and the CW, that hodgepodge of a mini-network reaching out to the eternally post-adolescent fan-girl in us all.
In past tours, the two channels divided the post-CBS day neatly in half. This time, we bounced jarringly back and forth between the two, risking whiplash as we segued from cornball fluff like the CW's Hart of Dixie (starring Rachel Bilson as an unlikely city doctor transplanted to the sort of quaint Southern backwater town you can find only on a Burbank backlot) followed by an enthralling satellite interview with living legend Paul McCartney (who was promoting the Showtime documentary The Love We Make, airing Sept. 10, depicting the pop star's efforts to organize a concert to honor New York in the days after 9/11).
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Both networks put their best foot forward to kick off the day. Showtime brought out three members of an outstanding ensemble cast — Claire Danes, Life's Damian Lewis and V's Morena Baccarin — to talk about the gripping new terrorism thriller Homeland. (It premieres Oct. 2 after the sixth-season opener of Dexter, making for one powerful combo.) Lewis plays a war hero rescued after years in Iraqi captivity, whose loyalty is questioned by Danes, an unstable CIA agent who believes he may have been brainwashed and turned during his years of torture. Baccarin is his wife, her life upended when the man she thought was dead returns to the family. All give wrenching, powerful performances as the plot, conceived by 24 veterans Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, makes us question what's what and who's the gravest danger to our still-healing nation.
Homeland's timing, airing shortly after the 10th anniversary of 9/11, is "significant, accidental and fortuitous," said Gordon. The show also fits nicely into entertainment president David Nevins' vision for Showtime: "I like shows that have some scope, that feel like they've got some bigness to them. I like shows that feel like they're very relevant to the world that we live in. ... I think all of our stuff should have sophistication and be adult and have rich psychology... and have some edge to them."
The edgiest of the CW's new slate, the sleek and pulpy suspense melodrama Ringer, is most notable for bringing Buffy icon Sarah Michelle Gellar back to TV. In a dual role, yet. Not to be confused with ABC Family's upcoming The Lying Game (or the campy Bette Davis '60s potboiler Dead Ringer, for that matter), this is the story of estranged twins — one a down-on-her-luck recovering addict, the other rich and brittle and clearly up to no good — whose reunion is cut short when the wealthy Siobhan mysteriously vanishes, leaving scrappy Bridget to assume her identity, with potentially deadly consequences.
"She's not saving the world, she's just trying to save herself," said Gellar, distancing her new roles from an action hero like Buffy, though she added, "I do get to hold a gun a lot, which is cool, because Buffy never got a gun."
Ringer works as a guilty pleasure, but does it work for the CW? Critics were eager to know, because of the show's tangled development history. Originally ordered by CBS, where it turned out not to be a good fit amid the network's self-contained, older-skewing procedurals, Ringer is also an odd duck at the CW, feeling a bit off-brand to some by featuring a sophisticated heroine with so many life lessons behind her (in other words, more "mature" than the CW norm). Gellar insisted she's happy how it turned out. "We knew that we could tell more of the stories that we wanted to tell on [the CW]." Plus, "it took a little weight off my shoulders" to not be required to live up to top-rated CBS's ratings expectations. "[On CBS] you don't have the same time to develop a fan base that you necessarily can get in a smaller network. ... Our fear was always, 'Do we fit in at CBS?' when the answer was we know we fit at CW."
The CW's newly installed entertainment president Mark Pedowitz, himself a 50-something who joked about getting inside the mindset of his 26-year-old niece to better feel the CW vibe, believes the show "services the core audience of 18-34 but allows us to invite others in. ... It will be terrific if other people get a chance to sample what the CW has to offer due to Ringer."
Let's hope they don't end up sampling something as vile as the new reality show H8R (as in "hater"), a celeb-reality variation on Punk'd where a notorious celebrity of the Snooki variety ambushes an everyday person who has gone on record — or, in this case, camera — hating said celeb. Because, really, the Snookis of the world could always use another platform for publicity, especially if it comes at the expense of someone with the sense to not buy what they're selling.
Host Mario Lopez gamely tried to defend H8R's obnoxious premise, suggesting it has an "anti-bullying" message and that "celebrities, believe it or not, have feelings, too." No doubt, but what about the feelings of H8R's victims, who already feel assaulted by the unavoidable excesses of the celebrity culture? Shouldn't they, and we, be spared the humiliation of a show like this, which is oh so easy to H8.