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Mr. TV: Notes on a TCA

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As I write this, I’m smack in the middle of the grand ballroom at the prestigious Langham Hotel in Pasadena, Calif. I’m sitting through one of the many Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour panels, this one for upcoming NBC sitcom Community.

There are 11 people on stage, including a very old looking Chevy Chase, fielding questions from the more than 100 members of the press. The day began with an NBC executive session with Angela Bromstad, president of prime-time entertainment, and Paul Telegdy, executive vp for alternative programming—who filled in, no doubt, for the recently departed Ben Silverman—not answering questions, including “What are your expectations on Jay Leno?” Thankfully, a very relaxed Leno stepped up to the plate later in the day and gave us specifics.

I love the TCA. It’s a whirlwind of panels for the new (and sometimes returning) series in a cruise ship-like setting. Although the grub isn’t all that good (how much rubber chicken can you choke down, after all?), the opportunity to gather en masse for a sneak peak at what’s ahead on the small screen is truly outstanding.

After 11 days of constant activity, I have two favorite moments: meeting Betty White, who was honored at the TCA Awards, and attending the jam-packed CBS/The CW/Showtime party at the picturesque Huntington Library in downtown Pasadena, where I met the casts of the two NCIS series, syndicated talker The Doctors and legendary Monty Hall and Paula Marshall of sitcom Gary Unmarried. Last fall, I referred to Paula as a “series killer” and received an e-mail back from her telling me to shove that comment up my, ah, you know what. Well, guess what? Gary Unmarried got a second season pick-up, and I ate a big plate of crow.

On the flip side was seeing “Best Bud” Howie Mandel at the NBC Universal party at the hotel. When I grabbed my wife to say hello, Mandel seemed to have no idea who I was. And that was after interviewing him twice and hanging out with him at NATPE just last year. Hell, I was the one viewer who actually liked Howie Do It. Welcome to Hollywood! When they want something, you look wonderful. After the show flops, they don’t know you. It was interesting seeing Gail Berman (no relation) and Lloyd Braun, the former heads of Fox and ABC, at the NBC panel hawking new medical drama Mercy, which they are executive producing. Braun, like Mandel, also has a short memory, as will viewers who stumble onto this unnecessary scripted hour. If you want to watch a good show about nurses, check out Nurse Jackie on Showtime.

At Fox, the big news, of course, was the departure of Paula Abdul from American Idol. Can the show survive without her? Will she join the upcoming fall edition of So You Think You Can Dance or ABC’s Dancing With the Stars? While I can only give an educated guess, Idol will live on, and Abdul will never come close to matching this megasuccess. At this point, I’m still not convinced she is leaving.

ABC had the difficult task of closing the tour on Saturday, which is never easy. But the Modern Family session proved that the network could have its first hit sitcom in years. And screening FlashForward in its entirety reminded me of when the network announced Lost at the Press Tour way back when. It felt exciting.

Unlike the typical tour when I head home a tired but happy camper, I continued west to do my fall TV preview for the Hawaii Advertising Federation in Honolulu.  Needless to say, I’ll have plenty of tidbits to share.