We interrupt this portion of the TCA press tour to bring you the showdown of the TV season! In one corner, we have Gail Berman, Fox's embattled entertainment president. In the other, we have 300 rabid, keyed-up television critics, many of whom have been waiting days to confront Berman about accusations that her network is a bottom-feeding copycat that does nothing but steal its rivals' ideas (i.e. ABC's Wife Swap and NBC's The Contender). What's at stake? The very honor of the Fox Broadcasting Company and the future of such alleged rip-offs as Trading Spouses and The Next Great Champ. Here's your ringside seat to all the action:EXECUTIVE SESSION9 am Fox, knowing full well that a good boxing match is nothing without treats, has an impressive assortment of nuts and candies waiting for the press in the ballroom. I wonder if this is their subtle way of asking us to go soft on Berman. Like that's ever going to... Wait, are those chocolate-covered pretzels?
9:01 While we're waiting for the bell to ring, here's a quick recap of the TCA Controversy of 2004: The Century Plaza is currently remodeling its elevators so it takes forever to go from floor to floor. It's gotten so bad that we've been forced to use the escalators to get around. People are livid.
9:02 Fox PR chief Joe Early immediately calls attention to the pink elephant in the room by joking that "everyone seems to be looking forward to our day. I guess it's better to be talked about than ignored." I can't be sure but I think he just slammed UPN.
9:08 Early introduces Berman, who walks out wearing a cream-colored suit. She's gonna have a hell of a time getting the blood stains out of that.
9:11 In her opening remarks, she acknowledges that "there is clearly another issue dominating this TCA." Sounds like someone was forced to ride the escalator this morning.
9:12 "Fox has always been aggressive and noisy," she concedes. "We have the ability to react quickly and defy the competition.... No one can claim sole ownership of an entire arena."
9:13 "There's no need to defend ourselves," she continues. "The allegations of theft and extortion are outrageous and unacceptable." Them's fightin' words.
9:15 Berman digresses, announcing that "audiences are responding to Quintuplets." As a result, the comedy has been picked up for an entire season. So, let me get this straight: Audiences are responding to Quintuplets?
9:16 Scoop! Berman says a "deal is in place" for another Simple Life, and "we're discussing ideas right now." So, let me get this straight: Audiences are responding to Quintuplets?
9:17 Scoop! American Idol's qualifying age range has been extended from 16-25 to 16-28.
9:20 The Q&A portion begins, and Berman takes a seat in the center of the stage, also known as the bull's-eye zone. First question: "Why are you a thief?" or something like that. Berman, whose quivering voice belies her composed appearance, responds by repeatedly using some variation of the phrase "this is the way television works."
9:22 Berman says it was ABC's fault for postponing the debut of Wife Swap. "When we learned they were putting it on in the fall, [we saw] an opportunity." Translation: Fox's similarly themed Trading Spouses will debut next week. "Why they chose not to air it in the spring as they declared, I don't know."
9:23 Berman, in a condescending tone stolen right from Omarosa's bag of tricks, tells a reporter, "I have to be here today to help you through the time line... and let you know how these things are developed."
9:26 Berman insists NBC has stirred up this controversy because Fox is steadily gaining on them in the ratings.
9:33 Berman refuses to sink to NBC's level by revealing the names of top-secret shows in the Peacock's pipeline, but she assures us that "I do know loads." At NBC's exec session, Jeff Zucker retaliated against Fox by revealing to the press the titles of two shows Berman is allegedly developing: The Big Shot (a spoof of The Apprentice) and Who's Your Daddy? (a remake of Apocalypse Now).
9:34 "Ideas are not copyrightable," Berman insists, her voice growing steady. Look out, she's coming back!
9:35 Quick digression: Berman says the low-rated Casino and Jury "will run out their runs and won't be renewed." Tee-hee. She said "runs."
9:35 Berman teases that there will be other "tweaks" to the American Idol format next spring in addition to the new age rules. They will not, however, include any changes in the phone voting.
9:40 Berman gets into a heated exchange with a reporter from USA Today. He claims she all but admitted that Trading Spouses and The Next Great Champ were copies of Wife Swap and The Contender. "I didn't say that," she insists. "Those are your words." Should I break them up before someone gets... Wait, are those cashews?
9:44 Berman argues that American Idol employs "the most sophisticated phone system ever put together in this country," then baits fans by saying, "If you really want to get through, you can." If that's not brassy enough of her, she then questions those viewers who said they couldn't get through for upwards of two hours. "Did they really go at it for two hours?" Oh, no she did'n. Oh, yes she did.
9:50 Berman refuses to confirm or deny whether they are in fact developing a show called Who's Your Daddy? "I would ask Jeff," she fires back. "He clearly knows all about it."
9:51 Scoop! The results of Playing It Straight will be revealed on Fox's website, but Berman could not say when.
9:53 Scoop! In a bid to make it more accessible to viewers, Emmy-nominated Arrested Development will become "a little less serialized" next season, Berman says.
9:54 Berman was "surprised" The Swan became such a big hit. That'll teach her to never underestimate the appeal of people who are shallow and ugly.
9:55 When Berman admits she never personally "evaluated" the credentials of the psychologist on The Swan, a reporter barks, "Shouldn't you have done that before the show went on the air?"
10:00 A reporter gives Berman the opportunity to close out the session by responding to Zucker's charge earlier this week that Fox "used to be innovators and now they're imitators." She pauses briefly, before asserting, "That's coming to you from the instigator." It's a knockout, folks!WRITING BREAK10:50 My colleague Daniel R. Coleridge calls to brag that he just interviewed my girl, Mariska Hargitay, about her Emmy nomination. Daniel doesn't know this, but he's so fired. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT2:04 pm The cast members take their seats and... Jason Bateman let his hair grow out. Not sure what I think about that.
2:15 It's the "What's the current state of the half-hour comedy" question. Still dead, people.
2:17 Jeffrey Tambor found out about his Emmy nod from his publicist, who called him in his hotel room first thing this morning. "I thought it was room service," he says. Speaking of the Emmys, what's the deal with the Scrubs/Shield snubs?
2:21 And now today's "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" award for the question with the most obvious answer goes to (drumroll, please) the reporter who asked exec producer Mitch Hurwitz, "Did critical acclaim have anything to do with saving the show?" That one's going to be tough to beat. Let's have a big round of applause for today's winner.
2:35 Scoop! Hurwitz says he's thinking about adding a new Bluth offspring. It would be the MIA "sibling who didn't give permission to be in the" documentary-within-the-show.
2:41 Hurwitz gets the laugh of the day when he's asked if Arrested would ever take a page from Fox's book and rip off a rival comedy. "We'll just exactly do an According to Jim and get it on the air before they do." That I'd watch.REALITY DISCUSSION3:07 Berman introduces the panel of unscripted experts, including Real World pioneer Jonathan Murray, Swan winner Rachel Love-Fraser and Fox's flamboyant reality exec, Mike Darnell, who races on stage in full boxing regalia to the sounds of "Eye of the Tiger." I don't know whether to laugh or gag. So, I do both.
3:10 Asked if he would discuss the premise of Who's Your Daddy?, Darnell quips, "I found out the other day that Jeff Zucker is my daddy."
3:11 Darnell says the only reason Zucker raised a stink about Fox's Next Great Champ was because NBC is "scared." Speaking of scary, you should see Darnell in boxing trunks.
3:25 Murray weighs in on the Clone Wars, saying he has pitched several ideas to network execs that were later copied in one form or another — and you don't hear him whining about it. This elicits thunderous applause from the peanut gallery in the back of the ballroom. And by "peanut gallery," I mean six interns from Bunim/Murray Productions.
3:31 A reporter calls the spontaneous outburst from the peanut gallery "inappropriate" because TCA events are supposed to be bias-free. Does that mean I can't high-five Kiefer Sutherland at the Fox party tomorrow night?
3:35 Love-Fraser gives her reality experience two thumbs up, saying her extreme makeover on The Swan has "empowered" her. (Insert your own Western International University joke here.)THE NEXT GREAT CHAMP4:10 Berman introduces a promotional clip from Champ set to Eminem's "Lose Yourself." I get a feeling of déjà vu. Oh, I remember now. That's the same exact song NBC used in its promotional clip for The Contender last weekend. You can't make this stuff up, folks.
4:11 Oscar De La Hoya, who is to Champ what Sylvester Stallone is to The Contender, is introduced via satellite from Puerto Rico.
4:12 De La Hoya confirms that he met with producer Mark Burnett about starring in The Contender prior to signing up for Champ. But he insists that Burnett knew all along that he had other offers on the table.
4:16 The producers explain that Champ's winner will nab the WBO title, although he won't technically be a world champion. So, let me get this straight: Audiences are responding to Quintuplets?
Coming up Monday: CBS