On a day when he was deflecting persistent questions about his citizenship, U.S. president Barack Obama turned up in the strangest place--the start of the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour.
TCA's summer sessions began today in Pasadena, Calif., and Obama appeared via video in a session for his campaign chum, George Lopez. Lopez was live and in person at the last afternoon session for TBS (one of the most popular cable networks in the U.S.). The George Lopez Show is his foray into nightly talk, a crowded field but one that could use a dark horse, Lopez kidded. He hopes to stick out among the all-white male late night parade of hosts in the fall (although Wanda Sykes is also trying to crash the boy's club).
The 48-year-old comedian's session started off with a vid clip of Obama in a room actually saying to Lopez, "George, you need to change late night. That's the kind of change I can believe in."
Whoa. Doesn't this guy have bigger fish to fry? Lopez tried to capitalize on the timing. "Obama--one of us is a citizen," he told critics. "It's your job to find out which one is a citizen."
So far, only one test show was shot for the Lopez series; Samuel Jackson was among the test guests. Lopez hopes Obama will show when the real deal goes down.
Lopez says his new show will be more of a party than the usual talk show scene. He tried to prod critics still knumb from stumbling off planes and into the hotel into showing a pulse at the session.
Canadian critic/golfer Eric Kohanik piped up and asked Lopez about his no-show at a Mike Weir charity event tied in to last weekend's Canadian Open. Lopez, a pretty decent golfer who was just swinging clubs in Scotland at the British Open, was supposed to join Weir and celebs Michael Jordan and Kevin Costner for a round of golf in Canada. Border problems got in the way, says Lopez, who was detained trying to get back into the U.S. from the U.K. before heading to Toronto. Lopez says the problem is that there is a guy out there with the same name as his "who is apparently a bad guy." The customs coppers detained him and that scotched the Canadian Open appearance.
Lopez has been known to have had his differences lately with old pal Jay Leno but says the two have kissed and made up. Lopez wishes Leno well at 10 in the fall, noting his show will be on at 11 (and only in America, so far. TBS's "Peachtree" TV, which is available in Canada, will not carry Lopez. If some Canadian station/network has picked him up, give me the heads up and I'll post it here).
At the press conference, Lopez was lauded by Jim Paratore, the executive producer who helped Ellen Degeneres find her dancing feet, as a natural, one of the most sought-after guests on the talk show circuit. That doesn't always guarantee talk show hosting success, as some of us who remember Megan Mullally's blessedly brief talk show career can attest. Lopez insists he'll have no problem quizzing guests: "Anyone who's been interrogated as often as I have will have no problem asking questions."
Lopez said after the session that Johnny Carson was a big influence and getting a shot on Carson's Tonight Show in 1991 was a career-maker for him, as it was for comedians like Howie Mandel, Drew Carey, Roseanne, David Letterman, Richard Pryor and countless others. "Drew Carey caught lightning in a bottle that night, he was fantastic," says Lopez. As for his own Carson debut, Lopez got a thumbs up but not a wave over from The Man. "Now looking in hindsight I should have just walked over," he says. Still, it was cool to have been on Carson and to feel part of "a brotherhood of the best comedians who ever worked."
OTHER DAY ONE HIGHLIGHTS: Dylan McDermott and the stars and producers of the TNT drama Dark Blue (coming to Citytv) helped critics with how a cable drama differs from a network drama. McDermott, who starred for years on ABC's The Practice, says there is more freedom with sexuality and with language. "We're not Mormons," he explained. One of the producers put it more bluntly: "Specifically, we get to say asshole twice and shit once (per episode)."
SWAG OF THE DAY: The thinning (inj numbers, not girth) press tour ranks were treated to boxed lunches crammed into old-fashioned, tin lunch boxes. They came with a tasty ham sandwich, a bag of Doritos, a teeny green apple, a cookie and plenty of processed cheese, including a screener for House Husbands of Hollywood, a new reality show airing on Fox's Reality Channel.
REALITY CHECK OF THE DAY: The host hotel for the press tour, the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, was for decades the luxurious Ritz Carlton. It was home base for TV critics for about a decade in the '90s and into the new century. The place used to be crawling with paparazzi who were always herded into their own space near the entrance, positioned to snap away behind velvet ropes when the talent is whisked in and out of sessions. There used to be a small army of shouting, photo-waving collectors and shooters. Today there were three lonely people in the trap out front. You know things have changed when even the paparazzi has been downsized.