Fox kicked off its portion of the Television Critics Assoc. press tour in Hollywood, Calif., on a high note Thursday. As the network's Entertainment President Gail Berman said in her opening remarks, "Today we have a lot to celebrate." She was referring, of course, to the 37 Emmy nominations Fox scored earlier that morning (led by 24 and American Idol), as well as the fact that the network was "coming off the most successful year in our history." Unfortunately, I found it difficult to share in her happiness, for I had a score to settle with Ms. Berman. At issue: Her obsession with running 24 commercials that give away key plot twists. The last straw came in April, when Fox ran a promo that revealed Lynn's impending fall down a stairwell. And the worst part? It aired just weeks after I personally pleaded with Berman to put an end to the tell-all teasers. "We have definitely heard that before," she told me. "We're going to try and be mindful of that. I'll take that to heart." Well 24 fans everywhere deserve an explanation — if not an apology — and I was determined to get one for them. Here's my minute-by-minute recap of Berman's day of reckoning.
9:45 am Berman and Fox Chairman Sandy Grushow begin fielding questions from reporters at the executive session.
9:56 am A reporter grills Berman about the surprise cancellation of Cedric the Entertainer Presents. "Ultimately, we didn't feel the sketch format was working as well as we would have liked it to," she says. "We talked to Cedric's folks and offered him a deal to come back in another format... and [he] declined to do that."
9:57 am I raise my hand to alert the microphone-runner that I have a question, but another reporter beats me to the punch. "Gail, can you tell us about Joe Millionaire ," the journalist asks. When she offers no details — other than that Paul Hogan will be back as the butler (quick, stop the presses!) — the reporter barks back, "Why do we come here?"
9:58 am The microphone-runner spots me, races over and hands me the mic. As I begin to ask my question, I'm interrupted by Grushow (D'oh!), who attempts to justify Berman's caginess about the Joe sequel. "Nobody is trying to be deceptive," he says. "We just cannot afford to have [the secret twist] out there." (Oh, the irony... )
9:59 am Now's my chance! "Gail, question for you over here on the right," I announce, my heart beating. "What is it going to take for you to stop giving away major plot twists in the 24 promos. You tell us you're going to be more mindful of it, yet, this past season [the spoilage] was out of control." Her response: "Can you give me a specific example where you felt it was out of control?" (Oh boy, can I ever.) "Lynn's fall down the stairs," I shoot back. (I can hear the crowd getting behind me on this one. I'm a hero!) Squirming in her seat, Berman says, "It's hard. It's hard to sell a show, build enough excitement in it so that people come back... I heard the one about the lady falling down the stairs. I was wondering whether you were going to tell me an additional one." (That's it, keep digging your hole...) "The one where Jack flatlined. In the promo the week before, [we heard someone say], 'He's dead,'" I respond. Berman squirms some more, before finally waving the white flag. "Oh well," she sighs. "I guess we're going to have to be more mindful of it." The audience can't help but laugh. My work here is done.
10:07 am Berman concedes that she "certainly would have loved [American Juniors] to have performed better" this summer. That said, she adds that the Idol-spinoff will return in the fall.
10:16 am Grushow defends bringing back Temptation Island later this summer, calling the first installment a "cultural phenomenon." This generates more than a few chuckles among reporters.
10:36 am Grushow calls guilty pleasure romp Paradise Hotel a success, and says "I believe you're going to see [a second edition] next summer on Fox."
10:39 am The exec session ends and an hourlong writing break begins. A reporter comes up to me and thanks me for standing up to Berman re: 24.
12:05 pm The session for the upcoming teen soap The O.C. is about to begin. I pick up one of the little popcorn-filled baggies Fox laid out for us at the snack table and proceed to scarf the contents down. Crumbs fall everywhere, I look like a pig, but hey — I'm a hero!
12:10 pm The O.C.'s huge ensemble cast — or as I like to call them, eight of the most beautiful people on the planet — take their seats on stage. Joining them is exec producers Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and McG (Charlie's Angels).
12:15 pm McG appears in high spirits despite the fact that Charlie's Angels 2 just tanked at the box office.
12:30 pm Another reporter suggests that The O.C. is merely Beverly Hills, 90210 set in Orange County, Calif. McG is careful not to diss the Walshes in his response. "Look, we're flattered [by the comparison]," he says. "But I think that this show is wildly different. [This show] is a more accurate portrayal of what really goes on in these communities."
12:40 pm O.C. co-star Benjamin McKenzie — think James Dean, only not — makes Jeff Zucker and Les Moonves's day when he says of The O.C.: "Listen, we're not doing Chekov or Ibsen. This is a drama on FOX."
12:50 pm Everyone heads off to a special lunch hosted by Joe Millionaire butler Paul Hogan. Evan Marriott's trusty sidekick greets journalists as they head into the restaurant. Under the watchful eye of a Fox publicist, I approach Hogan and grill him for scoop on the top-secret Joe sequel. "You'll have to watch and find out for yourself," he winks. Curses, foiled again!
2:10 pm Up next: A session on Skin, a fall drama about feuding families, one of which runs a porn empire. In the intro, Berman labels the show "intensely addictive." She's nothing if not modest.
2:15 pm Co-star Ron Silver, who plays the patriarch of the XXX dynasty, is asked what his pornography of choice is. "I'm hesitant about being too funny with the answer," he hedges, "because any time I've been amusing with the press... it's haunted me the rest of my life." Translation: The dude's into girl-on-girl action.
3:05 pm Finally, the session on my favorite show — the single-camera family farce Arrested Development — commences. Among the panelists: stars Jason Bateman and Portia De Rossi (Ally McBeal), and exec producers Ron Howard (it's Opie!) and Brian Grazer.
3:20 pm A reporter issues Bateman a backhanded compliment when she says she was surprised the Silver Spoons alum was so good in the pilot. "[It was] a nice surprise," she clarifies. It's too late, honey. The damage is done.
3:40 pm A reporter incurs the wrath of his fellow journalists when he veers wildly off topic to ask Howard for his thoughts on the recent crisis at The New York Times. The reporter justifies the line of questioning by pointing out that Howard directed 1994's The Paper.
3:43 pm Everyone laughs when another reporter asks De Rossi, "You were on Ally McBeal. What do you think of the Robert Blake case?" De Rossi appears flummoxed, clearly unaware that she's being used as a pawn in an escalating media war. Reporters can be mean.
4 pm The Arrested Development session breaks up, and I happen to run into Howard and Grazer in the men's room. The two are engaged in a private conversation while, um, doing their business. I'm able to make out Grazer whispering, "Everyone loved the pilot, and it got a lot of promo during the Super Bowl — but no one watched." They both exit the bathroom and I'm left wondering, "What show were they talking about?" A colleague of mine suggests maybe they were referring to ABC's short-lived drama Miracles. (If anyone else has a thought, e-mail me via the link at the bottom of my entertainment news column.)
4:05 pm All in the Family comes up again in connection with another God-awful sitcom. This time, during the session for Luis, someone compares Luis Guzman's alter ego to Archie Bunker. Just as I'm about to lose my lunch, I'm comforted by the following thought: I'm a hero!Coming up next week: NBC, CBS and UPN. 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.