The Last Picture Show

Here's a closing quartet of homemade shots from the midseason TV "press tour" in Pasadena.
Ed Bark

Merrily rolling along at a closing night Fox party, the cast of The Shield gives a shout-out to Bob and Dan of The Ticket's BAD Radio.

She still knows how to work it. Rapper Lil' Kim will be a judge on CW's upcoming Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll.

Supernatural heartthrobs Jared Padalecki and Dallas-bred Jensen Ackles feign paying rapt attention during a red carpet interview.

7th Heaven's Stephen Collins: All this fame can turn your head.

Paula faces the music (Press Tour/Final Day)

What, them worry? American Idol's Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell.

PASADENA, Calif. -- Paula Abdul didn't play chicken with TV critics this time. Unlike last January, she showed up Saturday to address her latest mess.

Abdul's discombobulated satellite interviews with Fox TV stations have been a YouTube smash, particularly the one in which she seemed smashed while talking to a Seattle outlet. Seated next to a supportive Simon Cowell Saturday, Abdul still contends she was on the receiving end of technical difficulties that had her hearing voices from both Seattle and San Francisco.

"It's so silly. It's hard to explain unless you're in there," Abdul said after opened the line of questioning in a packed hotel ballroom. "But it's very simple. I had two different cities in my ear. I was answering questions to -- apparently it didn't make sense to the person who was asking them."

Abdul also was swaying on camera and slurring her words. Here's her verbatim explanation: "I had no idea that there were two different cities. So when they started to have technical difficulty, I was holding on, waiting. And I'm in a swivel chair and I'm swiveling and I'm very animated with my hands. And had I known that, you know, it's cropped here and that I'm actually, oh, answering questions. It was very weird, because what you're hearing is not exactly who I was answering questions to. And I was waiting for the glitch to get better."

Let's not even try to make sense of that. At one point in the Seattle interview, Abdul blurted, "Any publicity is good publicity." And in fact that may be the case in her case. Idol was hotter than ever last week, opening its sixth season by averaging 37 million viewers for both its Tuesday and Wednesday audition editions.

"America loves her," Fox entertainment president Peter Liguori said earlier Saturday. "She's successful on the show. We're pleased with what Paula does for American Idol."

Liguori suggested that Abdul also might have been fatigued from three consecutive hours of satellite interviews with 30-some Fox stations.

"After that amount of time and questions coming from all angles, personally, I would probably be a little slap-happy at that point as well," he said.

So is she being worked too hard?

"One thing about Paula, she does a great job about managing her schedule," Liguori demurred.

Last January, Fox said that a last-minute eye infection prevented Abdul from participating as announced in an Idol panel. Critics had been prepared to ask her about allegations she'd had an affair with an Idol contestant who was still on the show at the time.

This time Abdul gamely hung in there, taking more questions from a gaggle of critics after the interview session ended. She even shooed away a Fox publicist, telling him, "I'm OK. I'm OK."

Abdul said it would be "a little paranoid and over the top" to think that people are out to get her. "But I do feel that somehow being nice has turned into a disease. My parents are nice. I'm a relatively decent human being."

The View's Rosie O'Donnell has been ragging on her, too, giving Donald Trump a rest for a while.

"It's one of those things," Abdul said. "She doesn't know the truth. And I don't have any apologies to make. I didn't do anything wrong. If she wants to take shots like that, I can't make her not do that. I don't care. I really don't care. I work my butt off. I'm proud of what I've done, who I am."

Cowell said he wouldn't do American Idol without Abdul, fellow judge Randy Jackson and host Ryan Seacrest.

"We're all a bit nuts occasionally," he said. "We all say things we're going to get criticized for. But don't condemn someone for being a bit wacky occasionally, or whatever, because it makes it interesting. Otherwise it's going to be just a boring show, and I don't want to work with boring people . . . To me the whole thing (with Abdul) was overblown. I've done it so many times, these public interviews. By the end I'm talking complete and utter rubbish. And if anyone had put the same clip as me on YouTube or anything else, it would have been even worse."

Cowell and Jackson figure that Idol will survive because it's not Survivor -- or The Bachelor.

"It is a real reality show," said Cowell. "I mean, we're not handing out weird roses or talking about 'journeys'. "

"Nobody's eating any weird bugs in any weird jungle that none of us will ever be in," Jackson added.

Now if they can just work out the technical bugs on those satellite interviews. Not that anyone entirely believes that story.

Pussycat Dolls: "It is empowering to just chill out" (Press Tour/Day 11)

P-r-r-r-fect embodiments of today's "third wave feminism" or just six brazen Booby Dolls? Clockwise from top left: Pussycat Dolls sextet Jessica, Ashley, Melody, Kimberly, Carmit and Nicole

PASADENA, Calif. -- Cats got your tongues? Not at this "press tour" classic pitting promoters of the CW network's upcoming hunt for a seventh Pussycat Doll against TV critics with their claws out.

A colleague from Canada led the charge Friday after den mother Robin Antin essentially portrayed the Pussycats as veritable Carrie Nations exemplifying every woman's search for her "inner doll."

McG (real name Joseph McGinty Nichol), best known for directing the two Charlie's Angels movies, didn't help by earlier extolling the Dolls as "powerful, sexy and sort of like a snapshot of the contemporary woman being everything she can be."

Frankly, what a load of McCrap. So from the lion's den came this: "My daughter's almost 17, and just to be devil's advocate, she sees this all as like a giant step back for women. Why should young girls aspire to dress up like 'skanks' and sing 'Don't you wish your boyfriend was hot like me?' "

Antin, who launched the Dolls concept in 1995, preferred to call their outfits "cute." Then co-executive producer Ron Fair invoked the name of existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre in explaining that "there's a lid for every pot. Not everybody's going to respond to it in the same way. We're in the entertainment business and we've made great strides and been very, very careful to not make this into a burlesque show . . . So I applaud your daughter for her position, but it just might not be for her."

To which the unmoved critic retorted, "You've been using words like 'empowering,' and it sounds like these girls are running for president."

Pussycat Dolls founder Robin Antin and TV producer McG.

Fair, Antin and ex-con rapper Lil' Kim will be the three judges on CW's eight-episode Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll, which doesn't have an air date yet. The singing, dancing, writhing sextet's debut CD has sold nearly six million copies worldwide and spawned five hit singles ranging from Don't Cha to StickWitu. They'll be in Dallas at American Airlines Center on Feb. 21.

The Dolls didn't attend Friday's festivities, but Lil' Kim says they're "one of my favorite groups ever." Not only that, they are "everything that I've developed myself into being. Just the allure of being in front of that camera and able to show your sexiness and your sensual side is something that all women like to kind of bring forward at one point in time."

Another critic wondered about that. "I'm just always puzzled by this thing about how it's celebrating women," he said before repeating one of the Dolls' song lyrics -- 'Don't you wish your girlfriend was like a freak like me?' In what sense does that celebrate other women?"

McG gazed upon the questioner and saw a middle-aged man with a thick beard, a thicker physique and a what-the-hell-do-I-care-what-I-look-like wardrobe. So he McPounced.

"You must understand the fundamental paradox of a gentleman of your age demo asking that very question," he sniffed. "Naturally this isn't in the wheelhouse of what you may find compelling on television or in your CD changer right now. And that is the vernacular, contemporary colloquialisms of how kids interact. I don't know if you two-way your friends on your Sidekick."

Oh, this was getting good. Gabby Hayes fired back, saying, "I think hot girls are tremendous." But he still wondered about that "freak like me" riff.

"It's very simple," said Fair. "It's just a word. And what we mean by empowering is putting catchy songs into the universe that become hit records that people can cut loose to on Friday after a long week at work. It is empowering to just chill out and dance to the song. . . And that is a celebration when you can do that freely and get out of the constraints of your own brain for three minutes and 25 seconds."

All concerned got out of the constraints of their own brains for a full 40 minues before CW head of communications Paul McGuire drily called it quits.

"But you know how Jean-Paul Sartre was known as a 'freak' in his day," he said. "On that note, we gotta wrap this up."

Happy together: Producer Chris Rock and star Tyler James Williams.

Later Friday, Chris Rock and fellow cast members and producers of Everybody Hates Chris met with critics to talk about CW's early third-season pickup of the Monday night comedy series.

Rock, who co-produces the show with Ali LeRoi and also provides its narrative voice, mostly threw out a series of sharp one-liners. Fasten your seat belts because some of them get pretty dicey.

On whether he now can rest on his laurels -- "I don't relax. We're already on the CW. What's next? BET?"

About the initial scheduling on Sunday nights before CW quickly switched Chris back to Mondays -- "My TiVo wouldn't even watch the show on Sunday nights. Every week, 60 Minutes. Damn."

What he might do to "create more awareness" for the show -- "Well, in about a week I'm going to have Terry (cast member Terry Crews, who plays little Chris's dad) run through a club screaming (the n-word). Gonna generate some buzz."

How he feels about efforts by the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to stop use of the n-word by people of all color -- "Oh man, I don't know. I just told my broker to buy me 80 shares of 'Coon'. "

On whether they could get Michael Richards to guest-star in atonement for his racial tirade at a comedy club -- "He's busy working on Apocalypto II."

Would he actually offer a job to Michael Richards? -- "Wow, I don't know. I mean, I'd have to make sure all the other non-(n-word) screaming people didn't need jobs first."

Showcasing Bob Barker (Press Tour/Day 10)

Game show legend Bob Barker still knows how to use his right.

PASADENA, Calif. -- Life goes on, but can The Price Is Right? After 35 years of wheeling, dealing and Plinko, game show legend Bob Barker will be stepping on down this June. Don't underestimate his actual retail value.

"Oh, I'm going to miss it. Of course I am," Barker, 83, said at his "Farewell Press Conference" Thursday. "But this is an appropriate time for me to retire."

He looked dapper and fit as ever in a checked shirt, charcoal sportcoat and light gray slacks. But his timing indeed is impeccable. Barker is in his 50th year as a game show emcee after breaking in as host of Truth or Consequences. His stat sheet also says he holds the record for "continuous performances on the same network television show" after surpassing Johnny Carson's 29 years, seven months and 21 days with NBC's Tonight Show. The CBS studio where he works is named after him. He's in the Television Academy Hall of Fame. And no on-camera performer has more Emmys (17).

"And we're way up there in the ratings, right on top," Barker added. "And we have people lined up, sleeping out there on the sidewalk, to see our show. I want to go out on top."

His only smudge is a sexual harassment suit filed in 1993 by one of his "Barker's Beauties," with whom he acknowledged having an affair. Several others joined in before the company that owned Price chose to settle out of court.

Barker says he wanted to go to trial because "these were frivolous lawsuits based on distortions, exaggerations or outright falsehoods . . . But it's good business to settle when you can settle for far less than the lawsuit would cost."

He didn't blanch when the matter was raised anew Thursday. Barker outwardly remains one of earth's most unflappable inhabitants, a self-described "old-fashioned guy doing an old-fashioned show."

"Had I not enjoyed it so much I probably would have retired a long time ago," he said. "And then I'm blessed as far as genes are concerned . . . I eat properly and I exercise. I'm a vegetarian. I don't know how many of you are. But if you're not, you should give it a go."

Barker also is an avowed animal activist who once aspired to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals. He recalls the time that future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens stopped to help an injured dog on a freeway and "got it off to a veterinarian. And someone interviewed him about it. He said, 'I'm just a regular Bob Barker.' I thought that was the greatest compliment."

His last taping of Price is Right is scheduled for June 6. There also will be a prime-time special during the May "sweeps" ratings period, with ample time for "a lot of good nostalgic moments."

"I don't know how I will react" on the finale, Barker said. "I am emotional, yes. You might not get that impression, but I am. And I cry very easily. We'll just have to wait and see."

Barker also is known for punching out Adam Sandler in the 1996 film Happy Gilmore. It helped bring him a new, younger fan base, even if many college kids already were lazing in dorms watching Price is Right.

"When they come to the show they will start saying 'Do the line, Bob. Do the line.' "

It's a good line. After decking Happy, Barker stood over him and taunted, "The Price is Right, bitch."

Clearly he's irreplaceable, but CBS will try anyway. Barker said he hasn't been consulted on his successor, and it seems to rankle him just a bit. Still, he's got a ready one-liner.

"You haven't been told?" he asked. "When I leave, not only is The Price is Right ending, all television is ending."

The End.

CBS Corp. prez Leslie Moonves and news/sports head Sean McManus

Don't mess with Les -- We're later at the "CBS Super Bowl Happy Hour" party. But corporation president Leslie Moonves isn't amused when told that a rival network executive who asked not to be named claims CBS is losing money on Late Show with David Letterman.

"Whoever said that is a (expletive) liar!" Moonves boomed. "Would I have re-upped him (Letterman) for the same money if I was losing money? Would I have done that? It's obviously making money for me because I'm not a stupid businessman."

CBS will make big money on next month's Super Bowl, its first since the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" debacle. Moonves is pleased with the four finalists playing this weekend. "I think we're very happy with how last week's games turned out," he said, referring to eliminations of the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks.

CBS has Sunday's AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. He'll be behind whoever wins that one.

"We're rooting for the AFC. We're the AFC network," Moonves said. "That's all I can tell you."

Envision the headline: "Les Moonves rooting against New Orleans." He laughed before adding, "Don't give anybody here that idea."

Standing by Katie -- The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric remains in third place and doesn't seem likely to improve that standing any time soon. Sean McManus, president of the network's news and sports divisions, said he anticipated nothing more.

"None of us are losing patience because none of us expected to be in much of a different position than we are right now," McManus said in an interview Thursday with "And we said that from Day One. All of our research said there would be a surge in the ratings, and then they'd go back down."

McManus acknowledged that the content of Couric's newscast "may have been a little soft" in the early weeks. "If you look at our show now, the mix is exactly what it should be. It's every bit as hard as any other newscast . . . The show that you're seeing now is pretty much the show you're going to see in the future."

Couric may simply be the wrong sex for some network newscast viewers. The bulk of the dinner hour audience is either nearing retirement age or already on Social Security.

"There are probably people out there, both men and women, who perhaps are uncomfortable having a woman anchor the news," McManus said. "But on the flip side, there probably are some people who like a different approach and like the fact that Katie is not the 'traditional' anchor. So how much that balances out, I don't know."

But McManus said the telescoped "scrutiny" of Couric has a lot to do with gender.

"She has to worry about a lot of things the male anchor doesn't have to worry about. How she looks or what she's wearing or how her makeup is or how her hair is. She's under enormous, enormous scrutiny on the peripheral elements of what she does. And then there are the core elements -- her interviewing skills, her delivery. For someone who's been under that much scrutiny, I think her performance has been outstanding."

Moonves said he's "very pleased" with Couric, and "the ratings are going to follow behind her. I think we're going to be fine."

Then he got combative again.

"Why don't you take a week of her show and put it up against the others in terms of hard news and soft news? And you'll find they're very comparable. I think the perception comes from the fact that she's a woman. Charlie (Gibson) can do a softer piece and Brian (Williams) can do a softer piece. But when Katie does it, they say it's a softer newscast. We don't feel it is."

Press tour snack bar (Day 9)

Beamers: NBC entertainment prez Kevin Reilly, Today's Matt Lauer.

PASADENA, Calif. -- FLYING COLORS -- Re-embracing quality has made NBC feel wanted again, says entertainment president Kevin Reilly.

"I do think we brought the love back this year to the network," he says, citing critically acclaimed series such as The Office, My Name Is Earl, Heroes, Friday Night Lights, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock.

The first three already have been renewed for next season, along with Law & Order: SVU. But the others still represent uphill battles in the Nielsen ratings despite the Peacock's best promotional efforts. The onetime network of Fear Factor won't retrench, though, Reilly pledges.

"Going back to the NBC playbook" makes it paramount to "stick with quality," he says. "It's paid off for us historically. When you get under fire it's very hard to walk the walk. But God bless The Office," which now is close to being prime-time's No. 1 comedy among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds.

Reilly is particularly pumped about NBC's newly infused Thursday night comedy block, which also includes Scrubs.

"They speak to who we are . . . This was a year that could have easily collapsed for us on Thursday. You could be on a slippery slope to hell on this night. And the fact is we have not done that."

Heroes, the season's biggest freshman hit, returns Monday (Jan. 22) with a "pod" of six new episodes. It also will face tougher competition from Fox's newly installed 24 and, later this season, ABC's transplanted Dancing with the Stars performance show.

"We're not going to blink on that. We're not going to move that show or run," Reilly says.

SPECIAL NEEDS CASE -- Friday Night Lights still is being tackled for little gain in the ratings despite a heavy promotional campaign tied to the tagline "It's About Life."

"We have a marketing and an image issue with that show," Reilly says in a separate interview. "It's a soap but it's not as frothy as soaps usually are. It's a family show but it's as soft as family shows usually are. It's about football but it's not about football. The viewers who see it love that complexity. But it's clearly confusing a lot of people. And it's not getting enough women (viewers)."

The show's new time slot, Wednedays at 7 p.m. central, does a disservice to Lights, which likely will be moved again, Reilly says. But cost isn't an issue, despite the on-location shooting in Austin.

Heavily fortified with a cast of young newcomers, "it's actually one of our moderate dramas from a cost perspective," Reilly says. "And the advertisers love it."

JAY WALKING? -- NBC's announced plan to have Conan O'Brien replace Jay Leno in 2009 is still on track, says Reilly. But the Peacock worries that the jut-jawed workaholic may bolt to a rival network after leaving Tonight behind.

"I'd hate to see that," Reilly says. "Jay is still the reigning champion. We've already started talking to him about ways to keep him around. He's a creature of habit and likes to do a specific thing. He's not really that interested in doing some newfangled version of the show. But he has been a company guy and a team player for a long time. So I hope we can find the right arrangement."

Still, late night isn't the profit center it used to be, Reilly says. The network's Today, which will expand to four hours next September, is the Rajah of Revenues. Tonight is in the black, but not entirely in the pink anymore.

"I can guarantee you that our competitors, if not losing money, are feeling a huge pinch" in late night, he says. "So that's going to weigh in. I don't think it's as simple as, 'Jay has an audience, so let's grab him'."

O'Brien later says he'll go where NBC tells him, which means relocating from New York to Burbank when Leno's day is done. The heir to Tonight's throne also is co-producing Andy Barker, P.I., starring his former sidekick, Andy Richter, as an accountant turned inept detective. The comedy will get a test slot on Thursday nights later this season.

JOY TO THEIR WORLD -- Today co-host Matt Lauer, recently feted for his 10th anniversary with the show, suggests a headline for Wednesday's session with TV critics.

"Today show team boringly happy," is his version of recent events, which included the departure of Katie Couric and the arrival of Meredith Vieira.

"You've seen other transitions," he says. "They don't always go well, and we're not faking this one."

Vieira, who left ABC's The View, initially is more concerned about going ape earlier in the day.

"I need to apologize at this point because I can't get over the fact that I kissed a monkey this morning on the show, and I initiated it. And quite frankly, I can't stop thinking about it."

Lauer and Vieira are joined by weatherman Al Roker and Today news anchor Ann Curry, who likely will be working overtime when Today's expansion plan hits home. Lauer usually signs off after 9 a.m. and Vieira is contractually prohibited from working past that hour because she might find herself competing in some markets against Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which is produced by Buena Vista.

"For most of my childhood my dad drove a New York City bus for eight to 10 hours a day . . . I mean, there are people who really work hard, and this is not that," Roker says.

Stations owned by NBC, including KXAS-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth, will have no choice but to carry the extra Today hour from 10 to 11 a.m. NBC News president Steve Capus says he antcipates initial clearances in about 50 percent of the country. The Peacock's owned-and-operated stations currently cover 23 percent of that territory.

RETURN SERVE -- Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly lately is slamming NBC News. Capus says it's smallish of him.

"I think it's really kind of sad and pathetic, some of the things he's been lobbing at us these days," Capus says. "I don't quite understand it."

O'Reilly has an ongoing feud with MSNBC personality Keith Olbermann, who regularly includes him in Countdown's
"Worst Person in the World" segments. But he "keeps trying to draw NBC News into it," Capus says. "The more he does it, the more success we have, so he can do it anytime he wants as far as I'm concerned. I think the audience knows exactly what's at play here."

Meet the Trumps: Big Daddy, daughter Ivanka and son Donald Jr.

ROSIE OUTLOOK -- Donald Trump again laid into Rosie O'Donnell at Wednesday's session on The Apprentice. Not that he had much choice. Ask him a question and he'll answer it. Not that he doesn't enjoy calling her a "slob" anew.

"She's a bully," Trump says of O'Donnell's making fun of him on The View. "When you're attacked by a bully, you hit the bully hard right between the eyes. Hard and fast. And that's what I did."

"The Donald" says his image has been enhanced by the feud, which began when he announced he would give hard-drinking Miss USA Tara Conner a second chance to redeem herself. Trump owns both the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, which are televised on NBC.

"The reason that this feud became so big is that I was so unpolitically correct," Trump says. "I said it like it is and I think people liked that, and that's why it kept going . . . It will die when people stop asking that question."

For a change of pace, tries to include the Trump children, both of whom are participating in the new edition of The Apprentice. What do they think of O'Donnell? Here's how it went:

Ivanka Trump: "I think everyone has said all that there is to possibly say about Rosie O'Donnell, so . . . "

Donald: "That's the best answer."

Donald Trump Jr.: "I think ultimately we're always going to defend our father no matter what he does. That's what family is about. That's the way we were brought up. And you know, in our eyes he can do no wrong, and I think he handled himself perfectly. But let's leave it at that."

Ivanka Trump: "And with that said, we're not going to give a good 'sound bite'."

Dad predicts a meltdown on The View after a recent surge in popularity.

"I feel badly for me," he says. "The ratings went up because of me . . . But let me tell you what's going to happen. In two weeks you people won't be asking this question anymore, and the ratings on The View will tank. Barbara Walters hates Rosie O'Donnell. There will be turmoil, and it will go back to where it was.

"I watched it the other day for the first time in a long time. And I've been on The View many times, unfortunately. In fact, Barbara Walters chose me last year as one of her 10 most whatever-the-hell people . . . Watch that show without all the turmoil. It's a very boring show. Is that a nice answer?"

He then winks at Donald Trump may be a big boor at times. But boring he's not.