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Test Pattern: Digging up dirt on ‘CSI’

Plus: Katie Couric moves to news, Rachael Ray serves up burgers

Warning: Possible spoilers for the new 'CSI' season ahead

Sunday at the TV Critics' Association press conference in Pasadena, CBS wrapped up its presentations. Saturday focused on new shows; Sunday on old standbys and some familiar faces on new ventures. Use these links to skip right to the topics in which you're interested.

Sunday:

  • : Couric packs the house
  • Munching mini-burgers with
  • Digging up dirt on

Saturday:

  • Leaving fans hanging with .(Ahem -- "Reunion" -- ahem.)
  • James Woods, Jeri Ryan's shoes, and
  • Your questions answered (well, some of them)
  • Still
  • 'Class' is in session, and damaged jeans get an A from Jason Ritter
  • when the walls came a-tumblin' down. Also, 'Skeet' is fun to say.
  • and main characters don't all have to be Ned Flanders

    K-K-K-Katie

    Lots of celebrities join the journalists at the TV Critics' Association summer press tour. Just last night I was discussing changes in "Close to Home" with Jennifer Finnigan, talking about ways to beat the Pasadena heat with Thom Barry of "Cold Case," and semi-stalking Charlie Sheen. But the biggest star to grace the firmament here all week arrived this morning: The house was packed for .

    In case you've been trapped in the "Lost" hatch for the last six months, Couric is the former "Today" show co-host who will soon be the first woman to be the sole anchor on an American evening news broadcast when she takes over the CBS Evening News. She and CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus showed up to discuss what viewers should expect when Couric takes the anchor chair on Sept. 5.

    Couric and McManus both repeatedly stated that Couric’s NBC-CBS transition, which received a metric ton of press coverage recently, was something they felt was of more interest to the media than to average Americans. Couric discussed her , in which she traveled the nation meeting viewers and discussing what they wanted to see in a newscast. On the Minneapolis stop, one blogger so he couldn’t take notes on the meeting.

    Couric did address that issue when asked about it, saying “it was my decision to exclude reporters,” and that she didn’t want the people participating to be used “as some kind of promotional device.” The questioner pointed out that if the meetings should have been referred to as focus groups instead of town meetings, if the press were not to be allowed to report on them.

    She also said that news viewers want “more perspective … some more historical background.” Viewers told her they found it disconcerting that the country was so polarized and didn’t feel the nation was as split as media reports would make it seem. The news, it was said, was “too depressing.” Couric said that while “we can’t sugarcoat what’s going on in the world,” newscasters could perhaps be “more solution-oriented.”

    Couric said when she discussed being the first woman to be the sole anchor of a major nightly newscast, she discussed it with her two daughters. Ten-year-old Caroline, she said “was channeling Helen Reddy” as she encouraged her mother to take the job. She is Couric, hear her roar.

    More from the Couric press conference:

    • If her anchor role kicked in today, Couric said, she would want to be in the Middle East covering the crisis there.
    • When asked how long before an African-American was solo anchor of a major newscast, Couric praised the work of the late Max Robinson at ABC as well as her former “Today” co-worker Bryant Gumbel, and McManus mentioned CBS’ own Russ Mitchell as well as NBC’s Lester Holt. No one estimated a date, however, when an African-American might take that role.
    • While McManus discouraged interest in the new Evening News set being built for Couric, saying he hoped the emphasis would remain on the news, he also divulged that “it’s not going to be wildly modernistic or look like a spaceship.” Couric may stand at some times, he revealed.
    • Couric wouldn’t comment on Dan Rather’s from CBS, but McManus said he tried to handle the departure “in a respectful and an honest way” and was honest with the longtime anchor. The Associated Press has reported that Rather has said he was offered a new contract with no assignments. McManus said the two parted as friends and “I have nothing but warm thoughts about Dan.”

    Someone’s in the kitchen with Rachael Ray

    Throw Rachael Ray’s name into a room full of foodies and food-TV watchers and be prepared to watch pots start boiling over. Some love the gabby Ray, author of 14 cookbooks, others aren’t as fond of her inexpensive meals, which often rely heavily on canned and other processed ingredients. But say this for her: Her press tour panel was one of the liveliest so far, mostly because Ray’s own personality bubbles over like an unwatched pot, and unlike her ingredients, nothing coming out of her mouth feels canned.

    Ray has a new talk show, “The Rachael Ray Show,” which is about to start taping in New York, and she appeared to talk about her show with Terry Wood, president of creative affairs for King World and CBS Paramount. “She’s got the reins on me,” said the effusive Ray of Wood, all the while seeming as if no one had reins on her at all.

    Ray’s new show, which has been picked up in most markets at 9 or 10 a.m. or 3 p.m., will be a mix of cooking and other features, she said. She’ll have sofas on her set, but is more excited about hanging around its kitchen table. “I’m probably the only show in daytime that has a driveway and a garage,” she revealed. She won’t be into product-placement on the show, she says, using an antique stove.

    Celebrities will appear, but she’s hoping to cut down on the inevitable book- and movie-hawking that occurs. “That’s not the most important thing in the world to me … seeing their next clip,” she said. And she hopes to take a different tack when it comes to the single-life staples of talk shows, saying “I just taped a date [segment] the other day, but it was hot seniors.” When experts appear, she wants them to attack unusual topics. “I’d want a NASA scientist to tell me why socks disappear from the dryer,” she said.

    When Ray and Wood finished talking, they directed the critics into a lunch prepared from Ray’s recipes. It featured mini-burgers (beef, turkey, tuna and spanakopita), French fries, Greek salad, and chocolate-nut tarts. I can speak only for the beef and spanakopita burgers, fries, and salad, but the fries and spanakopita burgers were quite good, the beef burgers … pretty much your standard mini-burger. I lost my appetite for dessert when, as I passed the tart table, I discovered Ray animatedly describing how she once chopped off part of her finger during her first “30 Minute Meals” show. “They glued it back on, and they kept taping,” she said.

    Tidbits from Rachael Ray:

    • Her “30 minute meal” concept has garnered a lot of interest, but Ray downplayed the importance of the time limit. “If I open the wine before I start cooking, it takes me a good 47 [minutes],” she said.
    • When asked how she found time for all her food ventures, Ray gave a Seattle standby a nod. “Starbucks,” she said. “It helps me find a lot of time in every day.”
    • Ray says she hasn’t known her weight since she was 12 years old, and fluctuates between sizes 4, 6, and 8 in jeans. She also shared that the plastic in her stretch jeans has melted because she stands too close to the stove.
    • On her cookbooks: “Yes, I do write them, every word!”
    • On pets: Her pit bull’s name is Isaboo, utilizing her late dog's name, Boo, and Isabel, the name she thought she'd give to a daughter. “I don’t have time to have human children,” she said.
    • Asked about her varied employment background, Ray pronounced herself “grossly underqualified for every job I ever had.”

    Digging up dirt on ‘CSI’I attended the ‘CSI’ panel with interest, though I admit I’m not the MSNBC.com employee most qualified to attend. That title goes to my co-worker, Paige Newman, who keeps our , and who might possibly have a tiny crush on a certain CSI. But Paige couldn’t be at the panel, so I, with my much-inferior ‘CSI’ knowledge, had to fill in.

    All the major ‘CSI’ stars were there except for the Big Guy, Gil Grissom: Actor William Petersen was absent, attending a memorial service. 

    Paul Guilfoyle was immediately asked whether he was nervous that his character, Brass, would be written off the show after being shot in the season’s second-to-last episode. “I knew I would return one way or another,” said Guilfoyle, joking that he might have ended up on one of the other “CSI” shows. “Captain Brasso, in Miami,” he said with a laugh.”

    Of course, the season finale revelation that Grissom and Sara have a relationship was addressed. “I was thrilled,” said Sara’s portrayer, Jorja Fox, confessing that she’d known the two had a relationship since reading her very first script, back in the show’s first season. Producer Carol Mendelsohn confessed that when to reveal the love interest had been “a raging debate in the writers’ room since season one.”  She also shared the fact that, when the new season begins, the “viewers will be ahead of our CSIs,” meaning the other CSIs will not learn immediately of the Grissom-Sara relationship. As for fans, Mendelsohn claims the viewers are split fairly evenly, with 60 percent liking the relationship and 40 percent against it.

    When asked about ABC medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” moving to Thursdays where it will compete directly with “CSI,” Mendelsohn said her show welcomed the challenge. “It’s like two great football teams,” she said. “The Washington Redskins want to play the Dallas Cowboys.” Perhaps, as long as no one turns out to be the Houston Texans (2-14 last season.) Various cast members also discussed the shock they claim to still feel at the show’s success, given how little faith was put into it early on. When the show premiered on a Friday night, no one called on Saturday to deliver the ratings news. Mendelsohn said when she was finally given the good news (the show was a surprise hit), she was told she wasn’t called because “we thought the computer at Nielsen [Media Research] was broken.”

    Looking for more new-season tidbits? (Spoiler-haters best look away now.)

    • Expect the first episode to involve a Cirque de Soleil show and Catherine being slipped a mickey while hanging out in a bar with Nick. (Hollered George Eads: “I didn’t do it!”)
    • Big things are in store for Greg, as Eric Szmanda revealed his young character will have to make a vital decision that may have tragic consequences that will reverberate all season long.
    • One episode may involve a ripped-from-the-headlines case about a woman who was killed in a car wash.
    • In the wake of , other famous folks have expressed interest, including musician Carlos Santana.
    • And on the vital topic of Nick’s hair, George Eads broke out laughing when discussing the fans’ intense interest in his head and facial hair, and promised “I’m not gonna mess with it that much [in the new season].”

    More 'CSI' scoopI’m here to report that hunky Eads has a gorgeous in-person smile and the kind of eyes that seem to single you out in a crowd (or maybe that was just my wishful delusions). But his drawly Texas accent is much more prominent when he’s speaking casually than when he’s acting. How does the song go? The eyes of Texas are upon you, all the livelong day.

    When asked about the FCC’s new tougher stance on indecency, Mendelsohn revealed that “CSI” has inspired viewer indecency complaints and has been investigated for those, but that the show has never been fined. Cracked Eads, in reference to his infamous creepy plot:“There should be a regulation about pouring 8,000 crickets on your face.”