As any self-respecting TV journalist will tell you, the annual Television Critics Assoc. press tour in Los Angeles is only as good as the free food that's dished out. And from the taste of things, this is going to be a fan-freakin-tastic 10 days. NBC kicked things off Saturday with a menu that included power bars, smoothies, hot popcorn, fresh fruit, a movie theater-style candy counter and, best of all, veggie burgers! Suddenly, the Peacock's new fall lineup was looking a lot better. The only thing missing was Diet Raspberry Snapple, which, by the way, was not waiting for me when I arrived at my hotel. (Let's just say I was not pleased and leave it at that, okay? Great.) Anyway, the day's schedule included panels for Medical Investigation, The Apprentice 2 and the much-talked about Siegfried and Roy-themed CGI comedy Father of the Pride. Here's my minute-by-minute recap:EXECUTIVE SESSION9:00 am The exec panel, starring NBC president Jeff Zucker and NBC entertainment president Kevin Reilly, kicks off.
9:03 Zucker reveals that Access Hollywood's Billy Bush and Nancy O'Dell will make their debut as co-anchors at next month's Olympic games. Snickers can be heard throughout the ballroom.
9:07 Reilly confesses that he "had a magical feeling that only happens once in a great while" while watching the Joey pilot tape.
9:08 Last Comic Standing will return in the fall, Zucker announces. It'll debut on Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 8 pm in what was supposed to be Average Joe's timeslot. Sucks to be Average.
9:11 Zucker and Reilly open the floor to questions. Now the fun really starts!
9:13 I'm bored. I think back to Thursday afternoon, when I boarded American Airlines flight 159 from Newark to Los Angeles and realized that X-Men beauty Famke Janssen was sitting right in front of me in 2F. (How is it that I got to sit in first class, you ask? Did I... A) Put it in my TV Guide contract, B) Upgrade using miles, or C) Recently come into money? The answer will be revealed later in this session.
9:21 The claws come out! Zucker takes his first shot at a rival network, saying, "Fox used to be innovators, now they're imitators." He's referring, of course, to Fox's decision to preempt NBC's upcoming boxing show The Contender with its own pugilist saga, The Next Great Champ.
9:22 Zucker is asked whether he knew that Coupling was an all-out stinker when he proudly presented it to critics at last summer's press tour. "In all candor," he replies, "we knew we were in trouble when we saw the first taping." So, why put it on the air? "You never know for sure. Sometimes a miracle can happen." And sometimes network execs lie through their teeth.
9:25 Reilly drops a cryptic clue about the upcoming season of The West Wing. "The Bartlet administration is coming to the end of its term... ," he teases. It's the only hint he'll give. Here's another: Read my TV News column in the new issue of TV Guide magazine, on sale Thursday. The scoop's in there.
9:26 I'm bored again. Hey, Famke spent much of the flight rehearsing a scene for Nip/Tuck. How do I know this? I peaked over her shoulder and saw a script with dialogue between Ava (her life coach character) and Julia (Joely Richardson). Pretty stalkerish of me, huh? She also brought along her Boston Terrier, which was napping in a trendy black tote-o-pet on the floor. I saw some other suspicious stuff but I'm not one to gossip.
9:33 A reporter asks Zucker to explain why Access Hollywood's Nancy O'Dell and Pat O'Brien are allowed to do stories on Dateline NBC, but not Maria Shriver. (Shriver, who quit NBC News to focus on her duties as California's First Lady, returns to the network this fall to interview Roy Horn. Yet, because she's no longer an employee of NBC News, the hour-long special cannot fall under the Dateline banner. Well, neither O'Dell nor O'Brien is employed by NBC but they can go on Dateline, the reporter points out.) In an unprecedented turn of events, Zucker is rendered speechless.
9:33.8 Someone in the audience drops a pin. I hear it hit the ground.
9:34 Finally, Zucker all but concedes that the double standard makes no sense.
9:40 Reilly insists the network's new drama LAX — in which Heather Locklear runs in front of a 747 to prevent it from taking off — will "have credibility."
9:55 "It's one of the many mistakes I've made," says Zucker of his decision to relocate Boomtown from Sundays to Fridays last fall — a move that ultimately killed the show.
9:56 Zucker is asked what his biggest mistake at NBC has been so far. "Putting Emeril on the air," he responds. Three Sisters dodged a bullet there.
9:57 The answer is B, I upgraded using miles.MEDICAL INVESTIGATION12:06 pm: Boomtown's Neal McDonough, Jake 2.0 and the rest of Investigation's cast walk out on stage to answer questions.
12:09 I really enjoyed this show. It's like ER meets CSI. Not so crazy about the press conference promoting it. Lots of people talking about stuff that's not interesting.
12:11 Exec producer Marc Buckland insists that "everything in this show is based on scientific fact." Including the sick blue people in the first episode? "It's all based on true events," chimes in costar Kelli Williams (The Practice).
12:15 Buckland responds to critics who say Medical Investigation is a lame title. "At the end of the day," he says, "the title is not going to make or break the show. The show is going to make or break the show." Fair enough, but the title still sucks.
12:20 Fellow producer Laurence Andries says Anna Belknap's character — an unethical publicist who resorts to lying, stealing and flirting to get what she wants — will evolve in future episodes. So much for everything being based on true events.THE APPRENTICE 22:18 To kick off the session, NBC runs a trailer for Apprentice 2 featuring a first-look at the new contestants. All I have to say is look out for the dude with the bow tie.
2:19 Donald Trump and his trusty sidekicks, George and Carolyn, are joined on stage by first season champ Bill Rancic and exec producer Mark Burnett. I wonder how long it'll be before Trump erroneously refers to The Apprentice as the No. 1 show on TV?2:20 Trump reveals that Bill will serve as a special board-room judge for several episodes. "George had to make an important business trip," he says, "so Bill filled in."
2:25 Less than 10 minutes into the session, Trump boasts that The Apprentice "was the No. 1 show on television."
2:31 I think Carolyn got one of those spray-on tans.
2:32 Trump modestly sums up what The Apprentice has done to his profile. "I thought I was a big star before," he says, "but now I'm bigger."
2:35 Trump once again refers to The Apprentice as the No. 1 show on television. Okay, enough is enough. Gimme that microphone.
2:37 "Mr. Trump," I ask, "you keep saying The Apprentice was the No. 1 show on television. Just curious: What demographic is that?" Semi-flustered, he responds: "[Adults] 18-49." (Lies!) "Actually," I counter, "American Idol finished No. 1 in adults 18-49." (I've got him now!) "Um... ," he stammers, "I think you're wrong." I decide to take the high road and let him have the last word. But trust me people, I'm right.
2:40 A reporter refers to George and Carolyn as the "Fred and Ethel Mertz of reality." That gets a good laugh.
2:42 Burnett hints that Omatrocious may make a cameo on Apprentice 2.
2:44 Trump coins a new word, "Apprenti." Sample usage: "A certain Apprenti called me a racial slur," or "That's like an Apprenti calling the kettle black... ," or, "Fellow Apprenti! Did I just get hit in the head with cement?"
2:46 A clearly resentful Trump says fashion icon Oscar de la Renta refused to participate in the first Apprentice because he wasn't confident the show would be a hit. (Isaac Mizrahi, meanwhile, had nothing to lose.)
2:50 Scoop! The first task of the new season involves contestants designing a new play toy. Somewhere, Katrina Campins' ears are ringing.THE CONTENDER3:16 Mark Burnett is back, but now he's talking about his boxing reality show with Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard.
3:25 I'm bored again. Lots of talk about boxing... Oh my God — it's Rocky Balboa!!!!
3:30 Burnett says the boxing industry has been "hijacked and corrupted" and he believes The Contender can "reclaim the sport."
3:47 Regarding a new Rocky film, Stallone says, "I think it'll happen." He adds that it would be loosely based on George Foreman's life. Right up to the infomercials, I assume.
3:50 Burnett gives the quote of the day when referring to Fox's The Next Great Champ. "If imitation is the highest form of flattery then theft is the lowest form of creativity."
3:51 Sly gets the laugh of the day when he says The Contender's catchphrase will be, "You're unconscious."
3:52 Fox takes another hit when Burnett concedes that "The Casino is not my best work." This has not been Gail Berman's day. Maybe it's bad karma from those 24 promos.FATHER OF THE PRIDE5:14 NBC and DreamWorks host a screening of Pride, which focuses on a family of white lions that performs at Siegfried and Roy's Las Vegas show. This is the first time the press will see the pilot episode in its entirety, so there's a great deal of anticipation...
5:25 ... which gives way to frustration 10 minutes into DreamWorks exec Jeffrey Katzenberg's tedious intro, in which he covers everything from the origin of the show to the impact of Roy Horn's tiger accident. Everyone begins to chant "The show, the show... " at which point Jeffrey skulks off stage. Yippee! My first press-tour riot!
5:26 Finally, the screening begins.
5:27 Hey, that's Lisa Kudrow guest-staring as a desperately single panda bear. She's stealing the episode!
5:35 Carl Reiner gets a lot of laughs as the grandpa lion. Hey, this show is kinda funny.
5:40 Siegfried finds himself in a compromising position with a monkey. Bestiality jokes on network television? Hey, this show is kinda racy!
5:50 The screening ends and the post-show buzz (read: my reaction) is good.
5:51 The press briefing gets underway with cast members John Goodman, Cheryl Hines and Orlando Jones. Reiner announces that he has to cut out to attend a wedding. Before departing, the 82-year-old makes a joke about phlegm that leaves the crowd in stitches. Where was this guy during the Medical Investigation panel?
5:52 A reporter asks Katzenberg if he's worried that kids will watch Pride thinking it's a harmless cartoon. "It is not a show for children," he stresses. "It's a show for 18-49 year-olds."
6:08 My first day of press tour comes to an end. Or so I think...
6:12 I'm in the elevator about to head up to my room when the adorable Cheryl Hines walks in with her mini-entourage. She seems to be in a big rush.
6:14 Cheryl and her mini-entourage get off on the mezzanine level and feverishly race down the hall. I follow close behind, wondering what all the fuss is about. Is there a Snapple truck outside? Is Santa Barbara coming to SoapNet? What is it?!?!?
6:15 Just as she's about to disappear into one of the many meeting rooms on the floor, I hear her scream, "I have to do an interview with Entertainment Tonight. Jann Carl is waiting!" That's it? I'm tempted to make a curb your enthusiasm joke to one of the NBC pages standing nearby, but I take the high road and just walk away. Besides, I'm not one to be catty.