PASADENA, Calif. --I've been working the press tour for 25 friggin' years, dating back to when PBS and CBS used to host critics way out in the desert in Phoenix, Az. I'll never forget my first TCA (Angela Lansbury, Redd Foxx, Flip Wilson and Larry, Daryl and Daryl from Newhart were among the stars). I remember thinking it was all very cool, but lately I've been wondering--what would a tour rookie think of this crazy death march with cocktails deal today?
Found out early on this tour as my old pal Pat Bullock came down for the Cable Days last week. Bullock, a high school teacher and father of four from Midland, Ont., quickly charmed the staff, blended in with critics and cozied up with celebs. I think he may have left with a few network development deals under his belt. Here is his wide-eyed take on this whole TCA event.
“Go west young man” was the rallying cry of adventure seekers looking to make their fortune. Me, I was simply taking my TV critic friend, Bill, up on his invitation to accompany him as a guest of the TCA Press tour in Pasadena, Calif.
Bill had been coming to these press tours for 25 years. For me, I was unsure of what to expect yet lured by the possibilities that this could be an interesting adventure.
We checked in to the five star Langham Hotel on a Tuesday afternoon. Behind a cordoned off area to my left were several paparazzi scouring each limo in hopes of uncovering a precious treasure that lay within. “It’s nobody” was muttered under their breath as our blue and white Super van pulled into the entrance way. “Well” I thought, “if that’s their attitude I’m not even going to grant them an interview.” I pressed on towards check in. Stepping into the vestibule I had a ‘Dorothy’ moment. Is this how that Kansas City pre-teen felt as she pushed opened that grey farmhouse door? Colorful characters everywhere. “This could be interesting,” I remember musing to myself.
Bill went out of his way to introduce me to his press tour buddies. Each of them made me feel very welcome and I was soon at ease in their company. What struck me at first was their genuine regard for one another. Since there are two press tours a year, each lasting a few weeks, these people often spend more time with one another than most best friends. They shared an exuberance and enthusiasm for their craft. They say if you enjoy your job you’ll never work a day in your life. Bill has not worked in over 25 years. He really enjoys his ‘job.’ I was constantly amazed by the knowledge, history and insights he and his colleagues have about the entertainment industry.
Days are spent in sessions sponsored by different networks. Critics attend these sessions to preview upcoming shows and query those involved in their production. The first day I was there I hung around the paparazzi pit. I figured they must have some idea what stars are coming and when. When they all stood up and starting adjusting their lenses I knew it was a matter of moments before I would hit pay dirt. It was during one of those times I met my first Hollywood celebrity, Matt Damon. Damon worked on a project with the History Channel. He was very gracious as I introduced myself and shook his hand.
“Matt, I just want to thank you” I said.
“Oh, why is that?” he replied smiling from ear to ear.
“Well Matt, it’s because of you my family and I now enjoy playing poker twice a week.”
“Hey, that’s cool.”
Matt Damon and Ed Norton starred in the ultimate poker movie, “Rounders.” It’s one of my son Matts’ all time favourite movies.
Next up, Joan Rivers. Joan had just finished her session and was heading towards the limo when she paused so the photographers could get their fill. As she moved away I approached her with hand extended and introduced myself.
“Hi Joan, my name it Pat Bullock and I’m a big fan. I was also a fan of Brian Lineham.” The late Brian Lineham was an exceptional entertainment interview and a dear friend of Miss Rivers.
“Oh”, she gasped, in unison with her entourage. “You said the magic name.”
“I’m coming to see your show at Casino Rama, in a couple of months.” I volunteered.
“I love playing at Rama,” she replied with perfect timing. “Come see me after the show and mentioned Brian Lineham."
“Score”, I thought to myself.
I recall attending my first session and committing a faux pas after one of the previews was shown and the panel was introduced. I applauded but was quickly scolded in mid hand clap.
“We don’t do that! We’re critics,” I was gently informed.
Hmmm….gonna be hard to break that habit.
During the course of the week I had the pleasure of sitting in on a session with Robin Williams. How can you not love this guy? Williams had recently undergone heart surgery and was just now getting back into the swing of things. He was here to promote his upcoming special on HBO entitled, “Weapons of mass destruction.” He was brilliant in his session. Witty, but pensive, funny, yet introspective. I guess a life threatening experience has a way of grounding a person. After the media scrum that follows I met him face to face in the hallway.
“Hi my name is Pat Bullock and I’m a high school teacher.”
“Wonderful” he said with this warm smile.
“I’m coming to see your show in November at Rama, in Ontario.”
“I’m looking forward to coming to Canada,” he said.
His manager pipes up at that point and says, “Come on back stage after.”
“Oh, man, this keeps getting better and better,” I’m thinking.
Merrill, his publicist reassures me by saying, “I’ll get you the information you need and you can email me.” Wow. Could this be real?
I realize that, like Dorothy, I’ll have to wake up at some point. It’s only in waking that you remember the dream. Thanks Bill for opportunity to share in this adventure. But please, just let me sleep a little longer.