UPN is mired in last place in the ratings, its viewership is off 18 percent from last season, and, with the exception of America's Next Top Model, none of its new or returning shows are generating any audible buzz. In spite of all this, the network's portion of the Television Critics Assoc. press tour in Hollywood, Calif., on Tuesday wasn't nearly as pathetic as it should have been. Much of the credit for that belongs to the exec producers behind the new sitcom All of Us Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. The movie-star couple showed up to plug their latest pet project, and turned what could have been a standard-issue TCA panel into a rollicking hour of live theater. It proved the old adage true: The only thing a network needs to turn its press tour around is one hit session. Here's a minute-by-minute recap of the day's highs and lows...
9:08 am During his opening remarks, PR head Gil Schwartz unveils UPN's TCA spin strategy when he skips right past last season's woes and focuses instead on summer success story America's Next Top Model.
9:12 am CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves who now runs sister network UPN too (poor guy) sticks to the game plan, mentioning America's Next Top Model a mere 15 seconds into his speech.
9:13 am In what has to be the understatement of the year, Moonves concedes that UPN's ratings last season were "not as high as we would have liked."
9:15 am Moonves introduces UPN Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff, and she immediately declares surprise! that she "couldn't be happier with the success of America's Next Top Model."
9:18 am A journalist describes UPN's new fall lineup as "a collection of body parts," a remark that unnerves the usually unflappable Moonves. "Rome wasn't built in a day," the exec shoots back. "Anybody who thinks that they can overturn a network in one year only has to look at ABC." Have I mentioned lately how much I love this guy?
9:24 am A reporter asks Moonves whether or not he ever considered pulling the plug on the struggling Enterprise. With no organic Top Model segue in sight, he's forced to answer the question directly. "I don't think we were close to it," he hedges, "[but] everything is talked about."
9:26 am Ostroff explains that a Buffy spinoff never materialized because, in the end, "Joss [Whedon] wanted to take some time off, [and] we didn't come up with something that was exciting enough for everybody to move forward." In other words, Eliza Dushku followed her Tru Calling and went to Fox.
10:20 am The All of Us session gets underway (albeit 20 minutes late) and an enthusiastic Will Smith leads his fellow panelists wife Jada and cast members Duane Martin (Robert), Elise Neal (Tia), Lisa Raye (Neesee), Khamani Griffin (Rob Jr.) and Tony Rock (Dirk) in a chorus of "Whoo-hoos!" and "Yeaahs!" as they make their way on stage. Where were these folks during CBS's Brotherhood of Poland, N.H. session Sunday?
10:23 am Will and Jada stress that the blended-family comedy is "loosely" based on their so-called "domestic adventures." To what extent does art imitate life? "There's a man (Martin); there's the woman he's going to marry (Neal); and there's his ex-wife (Raye) with a baby boy (Griffin)," explains Will, who, when grilled further about the parallels, turns to his wife and jokingly huffs: "He just wants to be in our business, baby. He just wants to be in our business." This makes me laugh hard. Luckily, nothing comes flying out of my nose.
10:25 am While responding to a question, Jada is interrupted by 5-year-old Khamani, who decides to do a mic check. "Testing, testing, testing," he whispers. (Laughter)
10:26 am Will confirms that he and Jada will guest star on the show at some point this season. "Jada will play Robert's sister who comes to town to check out Tia. And I want to do a three-show arc where I play Neesee's first boyfriend after the divorce."
10:28 am Co-exec producer Betsy Borns insists that despite their big film careers, Will and Jada are very hands-on producers. "They are emotionally involved in every way."
10:34 am Will is asked why, if he misses sitcoms so much, he doesn't star in one again. The erstwhile Fresh Prince responds, matter-of-factly: "They pay me too much money to make movies." (Laughter)
10:37 am While Jada thoughtfully recounts the process that led her and Will to cast Martin as the show's leading man "We wanted to hire an actor that was charming, extremely masculine, handsome... " she fails to mention that the actor is also a longtime pal of the couple. Well, until Will interrupts and says, "[Duane's] our best friend!" (Laughter) "He and his wife introduced Jada and I to one another," Will adds. "Look, we're in Hollywood. We've got to do like white people do: give each other jobs." (Laughter)
10:41 am Following up on that, a reporter asks Martin why he thought Will and Jada would make a good couple. Will answers: "He knew that we both liked sex." That statement prompts little Khamani to pull his hat down over his eyes in embarrassment. (Laughter)
10:43 am "We are partners, we are parents, we are lovers," Jada says of her marriage to Will, who responds, "Yeah, baby. Yeaaaah." (Laughter) When someone asks when they plan to add a third child to their clan, Will doesn't miss a beat. "One more in about nine months I hope," he says. "As soon as I can get her upstairs!" (Laughter)
10:48 am The session ends, and a throng of press storm the stage, shoving tape recorders in the Smiths' faces. This makes the couple's posse of managers, publicists and bodyguards very nervous. Moments later, they're whisked away.
10:53 am Heading off to my room to get some work done, I spot Will, Jada and Co. slowly approaching the elevator bank. I decide to stall for a moment, hoping to board the same car as them.
10:56 am After a few minutes of hovering, I decide my actions are the stuff restraining orders are made of, and decide to board the next available elevator. Just at that moment, I hear the bodyguard yell, "Please hold that elevator!" The next thing I know...
10:57 am I'm on an elevator with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith!!!! Enjoying some privacy (or so he thinks), Will clearly pleased with his wife's performance on stage leans in and whispers, "My wife is smart and beautiful and funny." He then plants a kiss on her lips. (I swear I looked away.) Jada then informs her hubby, "The kids are going to meet us at the plane." Translation: Will wasn't joking about going upstairs to make a baby!
10:57 am I exit at my floor (the 15th) while the Smiths proceed upward to the penthouse.10:59 am Back in my room, I call a friend and brag, "I was on an elevator with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith!!!!"
12:10 pm The session for The Mullets a lower-than-lowbrow, way over-the-top comedy about two siblings (Michael Weaver, David Hornsby) who share a love of wrestling, beer and scary hair gets underway. In addition to Weaver and Hornsby, the panel includes co-stars John O'Hurley (Seinfeld) and Loni Anderson.
12:16 pm O'Hurley is asked to contrast the humor on The Mullets with the humor on Seinfeld. "I equate it very closely to the last couple of years of Seinfeld, in terms of the broad style of comedy," he says, inexplicably. "I would say there's a lot of similarity." I begin to feel ill.
12:26 am Anderson confesses that she "loved" the script. Just to be sure, I ask the reporter next to me, "Is this the session for The Mullets?" He assures me that it is.
12:34 am Exec producer Bill Oakley compliments the "the subtle shadings [Weaver and Hornsby] give these characters." I glance around the ballroom, looking for Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd cameras. This session has to be a practical joke.
2:10 pm Next up: The press conference for Eve, a new Girlfriendsesque comedy starring the Grammy-winning hip-hopper. Eve is beamed in via satellite from Chicago, where she's shooting Barbershop 2. (The rest of the cast appear on stage.) Surprisingly, there are no technical glitches.
2:16 pm Eve says she "won't be doing music on the show" because she wants people to "see me as an actress."
2:23 pm Eve reveals that she has recruited Queen Latifah to make a guest appearance on an upcoming episode.
2:25 pm A nearby truck distracts Eve for a second time, leading her to wave to the passing vehicle and say, "Hey, truck." Anyone who says hello to a truck is OK in my book, I decide.
2:40 pm A reporter asks Eve how many tattoos she has, and "can you show them [to us] individually?" She reveals that she has seven. "I have two flowers, one Japanese symbol with my name over it, [two] paws... " Again, scanning the room for those Punk'd troublemakers...
2:41 pm Just when I think things can't get any worse, the same reporter turns to the rest of the panel and asks them if they also "have tattoos and what are they?" Luckily, sassy co-star Natalie Desselle-Reid stops the insanity once and for all. "I have a C-section mark," she says. "It's fresh, too!" The crack draws laughter and applause from the audience.
5:00 pm I return from another writing break to attend an Enterprise press conference. In addition to stars Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock and Connor Trinneer, the panel includes exec producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. They all look miserable to be there especially Braga.
5:01 pm Braga says the show's upcoming third season will be "more action oriented, faster-paced" and "we're going to be focusing a lot of our attention on a brand-new race of aliens called the Xindi."
5:13 pm Berman doesn't think "the franchise is in trouble" despite Enterprise's ratings woes and the recent box office failure of Nemesis. That said, he confirms that there are no current plans for another Trek flick. "But it's only been seven months since [Nemesis] opened, and it's not unusual that discussions for [another] film have not yet begun."
5:15 pm Blalock confirms that her T'Pol character is getting a new wig that's "longer, a little bit cuter, a little bit more girly." What's more, she's getting "a few new suits, so I can actually change clothes because I haven't washed that brown one in the last two years." Berman adds that "as the season unfolds, T'Pol is going to start experimenting with her emotions. It's going to provide us with some fun and possibly sexy stuff."
5:16 pm Now I know who Rick Berman reminds me of: Donald Rumsfeld.
5:23 pm Without ever cracking a smile, Braga insists that he's "absolutely" still having fun doing this. (This being Star Trek, not the press conference.)
5:27 pm Asked to sum up what went wrong on Enterprise last season that led millions of viewers to beam themselves up and out, Braga says, "I don't think creatively we were doing anything wrong." All right, Kutcher you got me!Coming up Friday: NBC. For previous press tour recaps, click here