Pop Culture

CW is new network with new, old shows

CW: Not the country-western network
The CW, the new network that resulted from the combination of UPN and the WB, is presenting today at the TV Critics’ Association meeting. We’re all bathed in a wash of green, since green is the network’s color and their new logo is everywhere. Their pages got the worst of it, though, these helpful young folks who hand critics’ microphones out at the presentations are decked out in bright green blazers over white shirts, pants and ties (for the men) and green blouses with white jackets and skirts (for the women). Looks kind of like a Shamrock Shake convention. Or slightly Oompa Loompa-y.

CW president Dawn Ostroff’s name is well-known (and perhaps well-cursed) by various fan bases across the U.S., thanks to her role in deciding which shows survived (“America’s Next Top Model,” duh) and which  didn’t (“Everwood”) when UPN and WB took that long walk off the Santa Monica Pier.

Ostroff announced the new network’s official premiere date will be Sept. 20, with a two-hour “Top Model” premiere. Shows will continue to roll out through the next three weeks, with “Veronica Mars” getting the latest premiere, Oct. 3. Shows are grouped in theme nights, with “7th Heaven” leading into new drama “Runaway” on Mondays, “Smallville” preceding “Supernatural” on Thursdays, and, the biggie, “Gilmore Girls” starting the estrogen flowing before “Veronica Mars” on Tuesdays. UPN will officially go dark Sept. 15, with the WB turning out the lights on the 17th. Reruns and specials will run on those channels before the CW takes them over. The CW is trying to skew young, aiming for 18-34 year olds, the only network specifically targeting that group.

One aspect of the new CW that’s almost as controversial as anything involving its shows: The network is selling something called “content wraps” (note the initials) to its advertisers. Essentially they’re three-part mini-shows into which product placement is shoehorned in. A product, say a makeup line, would buy the entire night on one show. Then instead of cutting to commercials, the show will cut to part one, two, or three of the content wrap, in which a real couple might be given makeovers (using the sponsors’ products, duh) before going on a filmed blind date.

So if you’re not getting enough plugs for Lash Exact mascara on “Top Model” itself, you could get more in the content wraps. My sense is that they’re like the advertorials so many magazines now run—the content is bought and paid for, but they try to put legitimate looking content around it so the viewer doesn’t feel the product is beating him or her over the head. Yet in the example shown, an eye doctor is seen fitting the male half of the blind date for contacts while exclaiming “This contact lens is brand new!” Wow. Subtle.

“Everwood” TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello asked Ostroff about the “Everwood” cancellation, making the CW execs aware of the online campaign by fans to transport a Ferris wheel to the CW executive offices this week. Ostroff took the news that a carnival ride was coming to her workplace with aplomb, claiming it was an “agonizing decision” to cancel “Everwood” but allowing that it was “never really able to anchor a night.” And can I just say” A Ferris wheel? I remember when folks were sending cans of Raviolios to try and keep “Relativity” on the air. That didn’t work either, but at least was a bit smaller in scope. (A Ferris wheel was featured in the “Everwood” finale, Raviolios were a favorite of a “Relativity” cast member.)

“7th Heaven”
Speaking of seemingly doomed shows, “7th Heaven” was saved from the dustbin of history at the last second. Ostroff’s plot info for that show: Haylie Duff’s character, Sandy, will be entering seminary school in the new season. Duff will be appearing in Broadway’s “Hairspray,” and some of her scenes will be shot in New York as she is located there for the time being. Ostroff did agree that some other “Heaven” regulars might slip into recurring roles only, but promised that the Camden parents and Lucy will remain series regulars.

“One Tree Hill”She touched briefly on the decision to bring back “One Tree Hill,” saying while the show is “not a critic’s darling,” it “has a great audience for us,” and that the show could have turned into a bona fide hit had it stayed behind “Gilmore Girls.” (The Yule Log could also become a hit with a “Gilmore” lead-in, is my guess.) She added that the network “felt there was a lot of room for [“One Tree Hill”] to grow.”

Other CW notes:

  • Whoopi Goldberg will appear on multiple episodes of “Everybody Hates Chris.” She’ll play a neighbor of the family, Tyler James Williams, the actor who plays young Chris, told me. He hasn’t met her yet, but he said he’s really excited about working with her.
  • At midseason, look for a new Kevin Williamson show, “Hidden Palms,” which features one of my favorite “American Dreams” alumni, Gail O’Grady, fresh from the wreck of “Hot Properties.” “Reba” is also on the shelf awaiting a midseason call.
  • Ostroff was vague about the “Gilmore Girls” executive producers Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, but she did say “it’s hard to follow in Sherman-Palladino’s footsteps.” (More on Gilmore Girls in its own entry.)

Random notes from the day:

  • Amazing what you learn from the LA Times’ health session. Apparently what I have always called “trampolines” are now called “rebounders.” I love LA. (No, I really do…but…”rebounders”?)
  • When I grabbed some Internet time on a computer provided for general press use, I found its home page had been set to that of the American Headache Society. Insert your own joke here.
  • It’s my first press tour, but I catch on fast: I’ve learned that if you want to be sure to get a question asked, ask it at a panel for a new show. The old shows are familiar to so many people that critics are jumping over each other to get their questions in, but the new-show panels sometimes feature some uncomfortable silences.
  • Former TV critic and now network publicity guy Keith Marder apparently is known for starting things off with a comedy routine. His best two jokes: That the CW’s new slogan is “Two wrongs [UPN and the WB, one presumes] DO make a right,” and a comparison of the World Cup to “The Sopranos”: “The Italians won, everybody watched, and now they’ll go away for four years.”

“Runaway,” a.k.a. “The Fugitive: Family Edition”The CW has only two new shows (they’re busy enough cranking out all the bright green logo material); one drama, “Runaway,” and one comedy, “The Game.”

“Runaway,” slotted for Monday nights, has some promise: Think of it as “The Fugitive: Family Edition.” A family of five goes on the run when the dad is falsely (or so we believe) accused of murder. They’re changing names, changing cars, trying to live on cash-only, all while staying  a step ahead of the US Marshals. It’s hard to discount any show that involves Darren Star, since he was involved with “Sex and the City,” “Melrose Place” and “90210.” The cast includes Donnie Wahlberg, Leslie Hope (doomed wife Teri Bauer on “24”), and “American Dreams” fans will note the return of Sarah Ramos in another bratty little sister role. She played Patty Pryor on “Dreams” and plays a snarky sis again here.

Again, the show fits the serialized drama theme we’re seeing so much of this year.  But Star says “it’s definitely the kind of show you can come into and [just] watch an episode.” Chimed in exec producer Ed Zuckerman “You couldn’t make a worse mistake than to produce a show that people can’t jump into any time.”

Executive producer Chad Hodge promises a “family thriller,” telling stories of the character and their relationships as well as revealing a little piece of the murder mystery each week. And Star also promised that the mystery would be solved, mentioning that it wouldn’t be like “Lost,” which he said is “going into season 3 and nobody knows what’s going on yet.”

“Runaway” notes

  • Leslie Hope’s character cuts her hair once she goes on the run. This allows Hope to display the most elegant neck this side of “Swan Lake.” Giraffes should be jealous of this woman.
  • Sarah Hodges, on playing another bratty sis so soon after “American Dreams.”: “I guess I’m just good at being annoying.”
  • Eight-year-old actor Nathan Gamble, on his role as the family’s youngest son in such a complex plot: “I really don’t know what’s going on.”
  • Donnie Wahlberg’s biggest round of applause came when it was announced that he shot Bruce Willis’ character in “The Sixth Sense.” No fans for Bruno?

‘The Game’ hopes to score with “Girlfriends” fans
“The Game” is the CW’s only new comedy, and it’s a “Girlfriends” spinoff — many of the characters were introduced on a “Girlfriends” episode. It focuses on the women who are involved with the pro football players on a fictional team, the San Diego Sabers. Mara Brock Akil, who created “Girlfriends” and is executive producer of “The Game,” was on the panel, as well as numerous cast members.

The show made two major casting changes after the pilot shown to critics was sent out – not usually a good sign. But one of the casting changes allowed them to bring in Brittany Daniel, who played bad twin Jessica Wakefield on “Sweet Valley High,” which allowed me to get that show’s catchy and annoying theme song stuck in my head throughout this panel. (“Look right down in a crowded hall…you’ll see there’s a beauty standing. … could there be two different girls who look the same?”)

While the cast is mostly African-American, Daniel’s character is a white woman married to a light-skinned black man. “He’s light, bright, and damn near white,” says one character in the pilot. Mara Brock Akil said she wanted to deal with that issue right away, saying “the show is not about race, but there’s an aspect that we will talk about.” (Cast member Coby Bell had fun with that, mock-asking: “So, what, um, Brittany’s white?”)

This panel was a fun one, with the cast obviously at ease with each other and each of them willing to crack jokes and jump on each other’s lines. I don’t know if the show will make it, but the CW is placing it after “Girlfriends” on Sunday, so the audience for one might appreciate the other.

Playbook for “The Game”

  • Mara Brock Akil mentioned that “The Game” might reach out to singers and actresses to play fictionalized versions of themselves, since star football players often date them. “Can we get Beyonce? That’s all I want to know,” cracked star Hosea Chanchez.
  • Wendy Raquel Robinson plays a player’s mother who had him at just 15, and is only 39 herself. She’s also his “momma-ger” – football code for a mother-manager. One plotline may include the ubiquitous Campbell’s Soup commercials featuring football players’ mothers, and Robinson’s character’s attempt to land such an ad.
  • Brittany Daniel has a twin, but so does star Tia Mowry. Star Coby Bell snarked “If anything should happen to either of you, we have backup.”
  • Detroit News reporter Mekesia Madden Toby asked if the show would deal with the “downlow,” the name used when African-American men have secret gay relationships. Brock Akil said there may be gay football players introduced, but none of the main characters. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” blurted out Bell, citing the famous “Seinfeld” line about being gay.

Chris Rock rocks the house
Was that a press conference or a comedy routine? It was hard to tell from all the laughs coming from the room where Chris Rock and fellow “Everybody Hates Chris” exec producer Ali LeRoi, Jada Pinkett Smith from “All of Us,” and Mara Brock Akil (again) were holding court. The clips, especially from “Everybody Hates Chris,” drew real belly laughs from the critics, as did Rock’s unscripted responses.

Many questions were asked about the lack of many black-led shows on TV, and why there are no dramas where the main characters are mostly African-American, with the exception of Taye Diggs’ new show “Day Break.” (Look for a report on that later this week.) “You gotta ask the white people that,” said Rock. “Cause when you’re black, everything’s dramatic!” LeRoi mentioned “The Wire,” and “Lost” as examples of shows that do integrate a diverse cast, especially praising J.J. Abrams, producer of “Lost” and “Alias.”

Although “Girlfriends” and “All of Us” were discussed briefly, “Everybody Hates Chris” dominated the discussion. Rock was asked if the show’s move from Thursday to Sunday would help or hurt it, but he says viewers will find it. “Most things suck,” he said “If something’s funny, people will know.” LeRoi addressed the fact that “Chris” will be on the same night as Sunday night football, saying, tongue in cheek, that “I suggest people stop watching football. Sit down and watch family-oriented programming, it’ll lead to a better nation.”

Reporters tried to dig for tidbits about what will happen to Chris and family this season. “There’s gonna be a massacre at school, but it’s gonna be funny,” joked Rock. Later he relented and gave a little more information, saying young Chris would be exploring his sexuality a little bit and getting to know his neighborhood more. The show will remain about the family, not about issues du jour. “There’s no big Reaganomics episode that’s gonna happen,” he said. But there will be another Christmas-themed episode (last year, some parents watching with their kids had to do some explaining when the show said Santa Claus didn’t exist).

Rock was also asked what his mother thinks of Rochelle, the character based on her and portrayed by Tichina Arnold (Rock thinks Arnold was robbed of an Emmy nomination, and I agree.). His mother likes the portrayal, he said, adding “As my mother ages, she tries to act like she did nothing wrong [in my childhood]. She’s doing her heaven campaign. She’s like, ‘hey, I didn’t yell at you like that’.”

The first season of “Everybody Hates Chris” will hit DVD this fall, Rock said, and it will feature commentary by him. He also confided that of the 22 first episodes, he hated three of them, but he wouldn’t reveal which three. “I got three uncles I hate too, but I won’t tell them,” he said.

“All of Us”Pinkett Smith revealed that Neesee and Robert’s living together “has got to stop,” noting that Neesee wants more children, and can’t pursue her life with her ex-husband living with her. She said a suggestion might be that the two go in together on one apartment where son Bobby Jr. lives all the time, with the parents, instead of the child, being the ones split between two homes.

“Girlfriends”Mara Brock Akil shared that Jill Marie Jones, who played Toni, is not returning to “Girlfriends.” Brock Akil hopes to use the loss of that friendship as a plot point for the character of Joan, Toni’s grade-school friend, to explore.  Maya and Darnell will be dealing with a long-distance marriage. The show will deal with some of the issues surrounding career success, with Maya’s book deal, Joan’s restaurant, and other characters’ careers.

Random fun from Rock’s panel

  • Ali LeRoi’s provided biography answered one long-wondered Hollywood question: If you produced “Pootie Tang,” you will have to live with it on your resume. (Critic Roger Ebert gave “Pootie Tang” a half-star, and, among his kinder words, wrote “This movie is not in a releasable condition.”)
  • When asked if the merger of UPN and the WB gave any of the panel pause, millionaire Rock cracked “I thought I might have to drive a cab.”
  • Jada Pinkett Smith was asked about her musical career (her heavy-metal band, Wicked Wisdom, has appeared on the David Letterman show), and she said she was “going out [on tour] with Alice Cooper in August.”
  • I later chatted with child actors Tyler James Williams, who plays young Chris, and Vincent Martella, who plays his pal Greg. Charming kids, and very well-spoken. Tyler told me his favorite episode is “Everybody Hates Drew,” in which he takes karate lessons to compete with his younger brother, and that he’s looking forward to meeting Whoopi Goldberg.  Martella is up for a Teen Choice award (he wondered who was hosting, and was surprised when I told him it was . Martella is also providing the voice for Phineas in the new Disney pilot “Phineas and Ferb,” about two stepbrothers with a pet platypus.

Hanging with the ‘Gilmore Girls’
Is there a show out there with more devoted fans than “Gilmore Girls”? Is there a show with fans more upset about developments in their show’s season finale, when Lorelai and Rory’s father, Christopher, slept together?  Both “Girls,” Lauren Graham (Lorelai) and Alexis Bledel (Rory), as well as new show-runner (read: boss) David Rosenthal, showed up to be quizzed on the “Gilmore” past and present.

Of course, the departure of show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and husband Daniel was a hot topic. Rosenthal said Sherman-Palladino “made it very easy” for him to take over, and left him with a lot of juicy dramatic issues to take on. Graham said she was a “huge fan of Amy and Dan,” but also seemed to indicate the new staff was more receptive to input. Still, she made one thing clear “if you write anything that makes me sound like I said something negative about Amy and Dan, I will be upset. … They gave me the best job I’ve ever had.”

And of course, the Lorelai-Christopher pairing was discussed. Fans are not happy, and the panel confirmed that Christopher will be a semi-regular character this season. (Michael Ausiello has more on the fan anger here.) Rosenthal pretty much said that it would make for “pretty boring television” if the couple the fans want to see together, Luke and Lorelai, ended up happily together with no obstacles. Lauren Graham also addressed the issue, saying that “if everything had gone the way the fans wanted it to go … I would just be calling Rory, like ‘What are you doing tonight?’ ” Graham also said she wasn’t too thrilled with Lorelai’s character last season (Ausiello called the character a “wuss,” and Graham didn’t disagree.)

Is this the last season of “Gilmore”? Rumors are flying that both Graham and Bledel want out. Rosenthal said he’s not approaching this as the final season, and Graham and Bledel were evasive. Graham said she wouldn’t go into a season that way, and wants to wait and see, but that “our legal contracts are up.”

It’s been reported that Sherman-Palladino had planned out the eventual ending of “Gilmore Girls,” whenever that may be. Rosenthal and the cast say they don’t know what it will be, but Rosenthal says he would ask, should the show seem about to end, whether next year or five years from now. Lauren Graham said she’d heard the show ends with two words, and called for guesses. The only one ventured? “You’re pregnant.” (How about “I do,” and ending with either Rory or Lorelai’s wedding? That’s also two words.)

  • Things got really weird in this panel for a minute when a reporter asked about Rosenthal’s past, saying “it was widely reported about six years ago that you left because you were obsessed with Heidi Klum. You left town and you left your family.” Rosenthal and Graham were quick to shut that reporter down and say they wouldn’t even address such personal questions, but the jolting topic sent reporters frantically Googling “David Rosenthal” and “Heidi Klum.” This Defamer link was the most commonly found article on the piece, and I know nothing more than that. Except to say maybe it’s a good thing the CW doesn’t air the Klum-hosted “Project Runway.”
  • Lauren Graham didn’t attend the CW party after the day’s panels. And maybe that was smart: Every time I saw Alexis Bledel there, she was mobbed, and I couldn’t get near her. I’d gotten closer, actually, to her lovely blue and beige dress, which I saw a handler carefully carrying through the hotel on a hanger earlier.
  • Graham loves dogs, but not Paul Anka, the dog on the show. “I’m like, ‘Oh, he rolled over and spoke,’ or something. I’m just like ‘Uck’.”

‘Veronica Mars’ stays in orbit
“Veronica Mars” star Kristen Bell and executive producer and show creator Rob Thomas presented the final panel of the day. The show has been renewed, but only for 13 episodes rather than the customary 22.

Thomas explained that he is planning three separate mysteries for the season – the first to run nine episodes, the second seven, and the third mystery six episodes – all assuming the show runs the full 22 shows. He’d apparently heard complaints that the second season was too confusing, what with two concurrent mysteries lasting 22 episodes with a jumble of suspects, and so decided to keep things simpler in season three. Assuming there is a full season three. Thomas notes that he believes the show is “in a make-or-break time now,” and needs to do well in its new 9 p.m. Tuesday time slot in order to survive.

The action in season three will revolve around life at Hearst College, though Veronica will continue living at home. Veronica, new series regular Tina, Logan, Wallace, and bully Dick Casablancas will all be Hearst students. New regulars will include Stosh Piznarski, Wallace’s roommate, and a roommate for Tina named Parker. Charisma Carpenter will also return as Kendal Casablancas for at least one appearance. Teddy Dunn’s character, Duncan Kane, will not be returning.

  • Giant photos from the show were projected next to the panelists as they spoke, and as one shot of Bell in a white tank top hit the screens, she moaned “Honestly, I’m so over it! Can we get a new picture?”
  • Special Agent Veronica Mars? Joked Thomas: “I want [Veronica] to bang out college in three years so we can get her into Quantico for FBI training. I have big plans. We need to start building sets now for that stuff.”
  • Bell and Thomas were also asked about the fans who hired a plane to fly between UPN’s old headquarters and the CW’s new ones carrying a banner that read “Renew Veronica Mars CW 2006.” (Thomas noted, however, that network brass were in NY, not LA, when the plane flew.) Bell called the actions “crazy and really awesome,” and noted that “there’s no one that’s dumb who watches ‘Veronica Mars’. ”
  • Thomas mentioned that the show had asked fan Stephen King to play a role, though he couldn’t do so. “You said you like ‘Veronica Mars,’ there’s a good chance you’re going to be asked to be on it,” he said. Which of course led to the very next question coming from a reporter who noted he was a “huge fan of ‘Veronica Mars,’ and who was then asked by Thomas “can you play a cop?”(Rob, if you’re reading this: I’ll start practicing my Miranda warning now.)
  • Thomas says he checks online message boards, particularly Television Without Pity (whose creators, Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting, both also write for MSNBC.com), to see if the “Mars” mysteries are being solved too quickly or not. “I consider it successful it somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the audience had the killer picked,” he said. (Bell said she only reads email and laughs at YouTube videos and doesn’t visit message boards.)
  • There may be some truth to the fact that I stalked Kristen Bell into the ladies’ room. It may be simply that I felt a sudden need to wash my hands. Over and over, until she came out and stood next to me washing her hands.  It may also be true that I’ll deny this if you quote me.

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