You gotta love Les Moonves. In an era when network execs never seem to meet a politically correct, over-rehearsed, innocuous soundbite they don't like, CBS's chairman and CEO is the rare bird that speaks his mind regardless of the consequences. Case in point: At CBS's portion of the Television Critics press tour on Sunday, Moonves hinted to reporters that he could see his flagship comedy Everybody Loves Raymond returning in fall 2004 with or without series creator Phil Rosenthal and star Ray Romano. (Neither has committed to a ninth season yet.) "Nothing's been ruled out," Moonves confided to a few select journalists following Sunday morning's executive session. "I hope they stay. If they ultimately decide not to, we'll do everything we can to do some other variation of it." That wasn't the only big news Moonves broke at press tour. For a minute-by-minute recap of the day's major events including scoop on a third CSI and the future of The Amazing Race read on...
9:10 am Things get off to a painful start when the network's PR chief, Gil Schwartz, announces during his welcoming remarks that we're going to play a game that involves cell phones, text-messaging and a silly multiple choice question. The activity ties into the exciting news that beginning July 30, Cupid will incorporate text message voting into the show. (Somewhere Simon Cowell is snorting, "Well, that's original.")
9:11 am Schwartz begins to walk us through the steps to sending a successful text message. "Press that little red button right here... "
9:12 am Schwartz continues to walk us through the steps to sending a successful text message. "Then select menu that's the little white scriggly thing there on the left... "
9:13 am It becomes clear that Schwartz has no clue how to send a text message himself, at which point the crowd starts to turn on him. Lots of giggling and eye-rolling ensues. Schwartz jokes, "We're going to have someone from the WB come back and and really teach you how to do this."
9:14: am This reminds me of the time my grandfather tried explaining to me over the phone how to program my new VCR. That actually never happened, but if it did, I imagine it would look something like this.
9:15 am Realizing he didn't even have the crowd at hello, Schwartz wraps things up and introduces his boss, Les Moonves. A fellow journalist leans over and whispers to me, "If they were trying to look even more old and out of touch, they succeeded."
9:16 am Not one to pat himself on the back, Moonves starts off by proclaiming, "The health and wealth of CBS is at its best that it's been in many, many years."
9:20 am D'oh! While pointing out the "phenomenal" track record of the producers behind CBS's new fall shows, Moonves forgets the title of his highly touted new drama from Judging Amy exec Barbara Hall, referring to Joan of Arcadia instead as "this year's new show." (Oddly enough, a transcript from the session obtained later by TV Guide Online conveniently skips right past his unfortunate gaffe. I spy a cover-up!)
9:25 am Moonves breaks some news, announcing that Survivor: Pearl Island will premiere on Sept. 18, before the start of the new season. Also of note: The network will celebrate its 75th Anniversary with a three-hour celebration in November.
9:26 am The Q&A portion of the session nears, and Moonves is joined on stage by his colleague, CBS president Nancy Tellem.
9:28 am Moonves takes a swipe at NBC's reality-heavy summer by pointing out that CBS doesn't subscribe to the, "Let's take eight reality shows, throw them up against the wall and maybe something will stick" theory.9:29 am Despite the controversy surrounding CBS's on-again/off-again reality take on The Beverly Hillbillies, Moonves insists the show could still see the light of day. "We haven't made any decision yet."
9:36 am Moonves clarifies that it wasn't a case of genital warts that led the network to toss Big Brother contestant Scott Weintraub out of the house earlier this month. "He was violent," Moonves says. "He was throwing chairs around the house and people were afraid for their safety." (Well, that makes much more sense.)
9:37 am I chuckle when Moonves says, "I'm very proud of Hitler." He was referring, of course, to the Emmy-nominated miniseries. But still, it's not every day you hear something like that come out of a network exec's mouth.
9:43 am Moonves blames the producers of the cancelled Agency for not tying up all the show's loose ends in last spring's series finale. "They [knew the show was] on the bubble," he says. "That was their decision."
9:44 am Moonves confirms that James Brolin will play Ronald Reagan in an upcoming CBS miniseries about the ex-president. "We haven't asked [Brolin's wife, liberal activist] Barbra Streisand what she thinks about [that]," he cracks, "but we'll have to live with that."
9:45 am A question about nostalgia programming yields this little tidbit: "We're going to be doing an Andy Griffith Show reunion special," Moonves reveals. "I don't know when that's going to air, but it's in the works." Also in the pipeline: A Dick Van Dyke Show reunion.
9:50 am A question about viewer feedback yields another interesting tidbit: "I get more Dr. Quinn mail per week right now than any other show," Moonves says.
9:53 am Moonves casts the future of The Amazing Race franchise in doubt when he says a fifth edition is not a certainty. "I would be lying to you if I didn't say that [it] deserved better ratings," he says.
10:00 am The session wraps and dozens of reporters storm the stage to ask follow-up questions. Moonves gives the first indication that Raymond could go on sans Romano and Rosenthal. And suddenly, a scandal is born.
10:05 am I corner Nancy Tellem and inform her of Moonves's comments re: Raymond. She seems taken aback by her partner's remarks. "It won't come back as Raymond," she counters, "I'll tell you that."
10:16 am I spot Moonves hanging in the foyer and race over to grill him further about a Romano-less Raymond. "We've talked about doing a spinoff with Brad Garrett [Robert]," he clarifies. "Robert's now married. He buys the house next door to Raymond. The parents still live across the street. Ray's now covering soccer in Europe... I don't know. It's hard to think of that, [but] nothing's been ruled out. We've got time."
10:17 am Moonves admits he'd be dumbfounded if Romano passed on a ninth season. "I don't know what's going through his head when you know how much money he's making this year... [and it's] only 88 days of work [a year]!"
10:19 am Moonves concedes that without "Phil and Ray, [the show] does sort of fall apart." Then why the heck would he consider going on without them? "The show's an A-plus," he shoots back. "If you want to give me a B-plus, I'll take it."
10:21 am I change the subject to a possible third CSI incarnation, and Moonves confirms that he's already talking to the show's producers about it. "Law & Order did three. We could do five. Before I leave here, there's going to be CSI Monday through Friday at 10 pm. What do you think?" I think you're a reporter's dream, dude, that's what I think.
11:20 am As luck would have it, I get a chance to ask CSI-CSI Miami creator Anthony Zuiker about future CSI's at an informal panel with the show's producers. "That's way down-the-line talk," he says, "at least two, three years from now." Translation: Look for it in fall 2004.
11:22 am CSI exec producer Carol Mendelsohn teases, "One of the biggest surprises of the new season will be in the first episode. There's a reason that that episode is entitled 'Assume Nothing.' All I can say is no one should leave their La-Z-Boy [recliner] during the last five minutes."
11:35 am Zuiker says that the rivalry between CSI and CSI: Miami has been "overblown," but adds that chief instigator William Petersen (Grissom) has "come to accept the fact that the franchise is growing... [and] has become bigger than him, bigger than us."
2:09 pm: After lunch, a fellow reporter informs me that the Joan of Arcadia controversy I uncovered earlier is now being referred to in TCA circles as "Transcriptgate." This is almost as exciting as 24gate!
2:10 pm The session for David E. Kelley's new drama The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H. begins. I don't have high hopes for this panel, mostly because it looks like the three leads Randy Quaid, John Carroll Lynch and Chris Penn have been hit with tranquilizer darts.
2:13 pm A reporter asks Quaid what's so special about brother-type relationships. I begin to feel like I'm under the influence of a sleep-aid myself... zzzzzzzzzzz
2:20 pm zzzzzzzzzzzzzz....
2:31 pm Just when this session was about to go down as the most boring press conference in TCA history, someone asks Kelley why he cast three beefy guys as the show's sibs. "I think in the original script, it said, 'Three brothers, 40 and fat,'" he responds. Everyone laughs.
2:41 pm The weight issue comes up again, and Lynch cracks, "This [show] is kind of like Bonanza, except instead of Adam and Little Joe, we just have Hoss, Hoss and Hoss." Again, everyone laughs.
4:23 pm The session for Joan of Arcadia an hourlong drama starring ex-General Hospital ingenue Amber Tamblyn as a teen who has conversations with God gets underway. I'm not optimistic, mostly because I fear someone will ask Tamblyn what she would do if God walked up to her one day and said, "Hello."
4:55 pm A half-hour later, Tamblyn is asked, "If you were walking down the street and someone came up to you and said, 'Hi, I'm God,' what would you think?" She responds: "I wouldn't be surprised."
4:56 pm God help me, I have another week of this to go...Next up: UPN on Wednesday. For a recap of Day One of ABC's press tour, click here. For Day Two, click here. And for highlights of the WB's big day, click here, and for Fox's click here.