People often ask: what's press tour really like? Pretty cool, even in this age of cutbacks and contraction. Pretty busy, too, especially the just concluded cable section of the tour. In one day down here, critics were marched through 23 sessions representing 13 different cable channels, including the MTV networks and HBO. The scope of the day is breathtaking--everything from cartoon penguins to disgraced evangelist Ted Haggard to RuPaul and drag queens--and that's just in the first two hours. Here is a breakdown of one day at press tour (split into two parts):
8:30 a.m.: Breakfast. The Universal Hilton gets us started with plenty of carbs, as much eggs, sausage and bacon as we can handle. Early risers shovel it in and thank the cable gods for still feeding us.
9:00-11:45 am MTV Networks
Penguins of Madagascar
Animated Comedy Series – Premieres March 2009
Panel: Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO, DreamWorks Animation
Katzenberg is a big corporate dude and tries to hide it by dressing down in a T-shirt for the occasion. It doesn't work--he's a hard guy to warm up to. We're shown a clip of the new cartoon, a spin off from the blockbuster movies. It promises "Adventure! Romance! Lemurs!" It looks like they're resorting to some real time animation to spit out the 25 half hours in two-and-a-half years of production, a breakneck speed compared with the features. We're told Borat's Sasha Barron Cohen is not voicing his character in the TV 'toon. None of the big voice stars from the movies, including Ben Stiller and Chris Rock, are involved in the series. Katzenberg tells us Madagascar 2 was the No. 1 movie of the last quarter of 2008 and that Madagascar 3 will be released in 2012. Somebody brings up Father of the Pride, Katzenberg's disastrous and shockingly unfunny TV 'toon about lion chew toys Siegfried and Roy. The session quickly ends and the reporter is not seen on press tour again.
In other news, Nickelodeon president Cyma Zarghami tells us that this is the 10th anniversary of SpongeBob SquarePants, which makes everybody in the room feel old. One of the things they're doing to make the occasion is a "first-ever live cast performance." Good luck with that.
Important Things with Demetri Martin
Comedy Series – Premieres February 25, 2009
This kid comes out and kills. He has a dry, deadpan delivery, not unlike his hero, Steven Wright, although he sports more of a Beatles 'do than an Art Garfunkel 'fro. He treats us to his pie chart, project pad routine, which is very funny. His pie chart for procrastination, for example, is just a big empty circle. A law school drop out ("My parents were very pleased"), he's written for both Conan O'Brien and Jon Stewart.
Stewart started the session off with a taped bit projected on the hotel ball room's two giant screens. He does his usual "Stop! Please! No more applause," intro, knowing critics are notoriously jaded and never clap for anybody. He kills, too.
The next show paneled is Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire, a comedy series set to begin April 15. It seems like a big Monty Python and the Holy Grail sketch to me, but some critics in the room are glad to see Little Britain's Matt Lucas among the cast.
Jesse James is a Dead Man
Reality Series – Premieres May 31, 2009
James is such a pissy dickhead, which is all part of his appeal. He actually fits in nicely with a room full of TV critics. "Holy lap tops," he says when he walks out and sits down, which may be the most honest and telling assessment of press tour in years. Find more on him and this session in my post for TV Guide.ca.
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Reality Series – Premieres February 2, 2009
A drag racer followed by drag queens. Nice, MTV.
Towering cross dresser/supermodel RuPaul takes the stage and reluctantly shares it with three drag queens who competed in his reality series. "Is there booze in your cups?" he yells at the room full of unresponsive critics. "Ladies, give them booze!" Sadly, no one acts on the suggestion.
RuPaul tries comedy. "Black guy walks into a bar," he begins. He shouts out stuff like, "It's an Obama-nation!"
The legendary TCA member from New Jersey, Rodi Alexander, is dragged on stage to stand next to the drag queens. This does not go as well as RuPaul might have hoped, as Rodi broke her leg a few tours ago and needs to be helped on stage. Plus she is funnier than he is.
I pose with the drag queens later and do the old "You've just won a car" key bit. They seem excited to have won a 2000 Neon, especially when I tell them the head gasket leaks.
Premieres February 10, 2009
Panel T.I., recording artist
One of those sessions where I wish my kids were in the room. T.I., apparently, is "America's top-selling rapper." He's also on probation on weapons charges and facing 30 years of jail time. His sentence could be handed down at the end of March.
In the meantime, he's been doing 1000 hours of community service, in addition to this reality show for MTV. He seemed pretty contrite and together at the session. His show counts down to the day he find out his fate--which is either exploitative, crafty or insane depending on how your view of this whole deal. He never told us what "T.I." stands for.
How’s Your News?
Reality Series – Premieres February 2009
Speaking of exploitative, crafty or insane, this series takes people with disabilities--some physical, some intellectual--and turns them into reporters. It is produced by South Park creators Trey Parker ans Matt Stone. Stone is at the session and says he was more afraid of what his brand would do to this project that what this project would do to his brand. Two of the participants were paneled. Both were refreshingly guileless and just so damn excited to be there that you forget for an instant that they were taking part in a freak show.
Drama Series – Premieres January 2009
There was plenty of drama in this session as one of the stars critics most wanted to hear from this tour--ailing Patrick Swayze--was a no show. The news broke just as the session was scheduled to begin. Swayze was sick with pneumonia and had checked himself into a hospital.
Critics were freaking out at the news coincided with a power bar power out in the session room. Lap tops dimmed as they switched to battery power. Reports typed furiously as they tried to throw the breaking news straight back to their editors before their laptops kacked. Some of us without editors spelled Swayze's name wrong.
Swayne's cast mates and producer gamely carried on and it turned out to still be one of the high points of the tour in terms of information and just pure emotional charge. Travis Fimmel, now completely and unrecognizably shorn of his Tarzan locks (smart move), stole the show with lines like "the only thing sick about Sawyze is his jokes."