Mr. TV: The Grand Tour

My favorite moment at the Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour was the reunion of the cast of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, with Ruth Buzzi, Gary Owens, Lily Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley and series creator George Schlatter.

Laugh-In, which will be featured in a March 5 retrospective special on PBS, is a reminder of the creative programming we had in that early era of television. Given the short attention span of the typical TV viewer these days, I bet something this frantic and zany would work again.

I also got a kick out of the panel on the upcoming update of PBS series Upstairs, Downstairs, complete with the return of Jean Marsh as Rose Buck. The broadcast networks, which presented in the second week, would be well served by taking a cue or two from these two gems.

Moving on to the networks, I have to begin by calling out ABC. Considering it had one full day to offer its finest, it could have been more aggressive and rolled out another session, or two, instead of just one scripted series, Off the Map from Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes (who barely had anything to say).  While I understand the need to also highlight programming on ABC Family and The Disney Channel, it would have been more satisfying to see something on one of ABC’s hit series (Dancing With the Stars or Modern Family, perhaps) than upcoming Disney Channel made-for Lemonade Mouth. Lemonade Mouth? Is that the best ABC could do?

ABC’s cocktail party later that evening was also a major dud. Wasn’t any of its talent aware of it other than Allison Janney?

Fox, which presented second, did a far superior job care of sessions on upcoming series The Chicago Code, Terra Nova from Steven Spielberg (who unfortunately didn’t attend), sitcoms Traffic Light and Breaking In, and returning American Idol. Naturally, returning judge Randy Jackson promises this will be the best season creatively, and new hosts Jennifer Lopez (who looked great) and Steven Tyler (who looks half dead) vow to put their best feet forward.  “We bring a different perspective than the other judges, especially if you’re speaking about Simon Cowell specifically,” said J.Lo. “We just do. We’re artists. We’ve been up there. We’ve auditioned.”

While I do expect ample initial tune-in for the new judges on Idol, which opens season No. 10 this Wednesday, I bet there will be sizable audience erosion once the show starts rolling. No one can fill the shoes of Simon Cowell.

CBS concluded the network portion of the tour with corporate cousins Showtime and The CW on Friday after deadline, so they are not included in this column.

One day earlier, NBC’s session was tame compared to last year’s Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien drama. Notably missing was an NBC exec session due to the Comcast takeover, so there was no one there to falsely boast how well the network is doing. Still, NBCU opened with a breakfast with the stars from USA, including Royal Pains star Mark Feuerstein, who reminded me he was on The Programming Insider loser’s list courtesy of his short-lived stint on CBS medical drama 3 Lbs in’06. His present gig should keep him off that list and working for years. Unlike some of the broadcasters in search of an identity, USA knows its audience and exactly how to reach them—quite an advantage in this very segmented arena.

NBC loaded the afternoon with sessions on new series The Cape, Perfect Couples, America’s Next Top Restaurant and Harry’s Law, with Oscar winner Kathy Bates. But it was former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi, here for Bravo reality/competition Platinum Hit, who made the biggest impact–not positive–for refusing to answer a question about Idol.