We're at the midway point of summer, and that can mean only two things: Soon there will be far fewer kids clogging the streets during the day, and it's time for that semi-annual ritual known as the Television Critics Assoc. (TCA) press tour. For three weeks every July (and two weeks in January), the broadcast and cable networks trot out for the media the stars of their new fall shows during a series of press conferences, parties and other thinly veiled excuses to schmooze. Occasionally, amid all the slick video packages and over-rehearsed sound bites, a genuine, unscripted moment takes place. We at TV Guide Online live for those moments. The broadcast portion of the tour kicked off Sunday (at the Renaissance Hotel in the heart of Hollywood) with the WB. Here are some highlights as they took place in real time — give or take a few minutes. Work with me, people; it was a long day.
8:30 am A startled WB publicist spots veteran actor John Amos (Good Times, Mary Tyler Moore Show) sitting in the press reception area nearly an hour before he's due on stage to promote his family sitcom All About the Andersons. When said rep informs Amos that there's a special holding room for celebs like himself, the down-to-earth thesp says he'd just as soon hang with us common folk. The flack has none of it and whisks him away to be with his own kind.
9:09 am Keith Marder, the WB's director of corporate publicity, takes the first shot at a rival network during his traditional stand-up routine/welcome speech when he likens the WB's upcoming Play for a Billion game show to that of a certain Fox reality romp. "A chimpanzee will help select the winning number of the richest game show in history. We got this idea from Fox, where Monica Lewinsky helped select Mr. Personality."
9:10 am Equal opportunity offender Marder takes the first cheap shot at his own network, suggesting that said chimp was responsible for writing Sabrina the Teenage Witch last season. (We might add that to the ape's credit, he was also busy penning most of Dawson's Creek.)
9:30 am Ten minutes into the Q&A portion of the All About the Andersons session, series star Anthony Anderson lets out the quip of the day. Peering into the audience to find the reporter who just asked him a question, the African-American comic-actor hears the journalist call out, "[I'm] way in the back," to which Anderson responds: "Sounds like a brother. I could tell by the way you said, '[I'm] way in the back.'"
9:45 am Amos goes off on a 10-minute tangent dissecting the emotional subtext at the heart of Andersons. My mind drifts to thoughts of getting a nice, cold diet Pepsi from the refreshment table in the lobby.
10:09 am The Andersons cast exits the ballroom at the end of the press conference, at which point Amos can be overheard telling a reporter that he's actually "looking forward" to an Aaron Sorkin-less West Wing. (Amos has a recurring role on NBC's White House drama.)
10:07 am The Tarzan session begins and, to the horror of all the ladies and gay men in the audience, Calvin Klein model-turned-tree swinger Travis Fimmel appears on stage fully clothed!
10:30 am Fimmel proves you can have abs of steel and be funny (bastard!) when he's asked what it's like to walk down the street and see giant billboards of himself half naked. "I live in L.A.," he responded wryly. "We don't walk."
10:40 am Former X-Files star Mitch Pileggi disses his alma mater when he describes his new Tarzan character — one-note baddie Richard Clayton — as being "much more complex than Skinner." Somewhere, Chris Carter is killing off the FBI director in the opening scene of the next X-Files movie.
10:45 am The Tarzan session ends, and Fimmel's manager is overheard reassuring Fimmel that he did a "fantastic" job on stage. Fimmel ignores him and heads straight to the snack table to grab some fruit. (Pretty boy must be a method actor because he didn't even use a fork. Travis bad! Shame on Travis!)
11:15 am At the onset of the session for Steve Harvey's Big Time, a reporter reminds Steve Harvey that the last time the comic appeared before critics, he slammed the WB for not paying him what he was worth on The Steve Harvey Show. (Cue the organ music.) "Now I'm back in bed with them," he responds. "I guess that makes me a ho." At least he's a funny ho.
12:24 am WB president Jordan Levin says it was Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman Palladino who ultimately decided to pull the plug on the much-hyped spinoff about the character of Jess. "I think Amy said, 'I can't do it for the budget parameters which were set,' and she chose instead not to proceed."
12:45 am Everyone heads outside for a poolside lunch. I grab some ahi tuna and sit myself down next to Mitch Pileggi.
12:46 am Mitch Pileggi gets up and leaves. Was it something I said?
4 pm I return to the ballroom after taking a writing break to catch the session for Run of the House, mostly because I want to see what Joey Lawrence is calling himself these days. (Professionally, it's Joseph Lawrence, he insists.) Lawrence later reveals that he's leaving NBC's American Dreams after the second episode this fall. "My character is going to take a job offer out in Los Angeles," he says. Dreams fans shouldn't get too upset though; he'll most likely be back by Christmas. Take it from someone who has seen the House pilot.
4:45 pm A fellow journalist tells me that he spotted an Angel poster hanging outside the ballroom featuring ex-cast member Charisma Carpenter. Does it mean she's returning? No, apparently, the network didn't get around to shooting new promos for the show.
4:47 pm The WB loans its stage to corporate sister Telepictures Productions, which uses it to promote new syndicated talk shows from Sharon Osbourne and Ellen DeGeneres. Suddenly, the room comes alive again.
4:50 pm Sharon confesses — brace yourselves, people — that she was a nightmare to deal with while working as Ozzy's manager. "Sometimes [the music business] made me behave in a way I didn't like."
5:15 pm A reporter asks Sharon what her passions are, to which she responds: "My number one passion is adolescent kids. My other passion is women's rights... and certain charities and causes." If I didn't know better, I'd think Ms. Hellraiser had a talk show to promote.
5:46 pm I return to my room to prepare for the WB's all-star celebration at White Lotus. According to the WB, it's gonna be the bash of the year. I'll be the judge of that. Or better yet, Party Boy will.
To be continued...For breaking news from the TCA press tour, click here.