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Back on the Block

By RD Heldenfels Published: July 31, 2005

I have a couple of last-day stories from the TV critics' press tour. But first, it's great to be back in Ohio, back with my family, back in my home. And I'm here after being there at the end of the press tour, as they were turning out the lights. Literally. I'll come back to that.

Friday, that last day, included a session for ''Reunion,'' a new Fox drama that ambitiously follows the lives of six friends over 20 years, roughly one year per episode. One cast member is Michael St. Patrick of ''Six Feet Under'' fame, and he mentioned in answer to someone's question that he had never gone to his high school prom.

Well, you can't let a comment hang in the air like that, so I asked why he had not gone to the prom.

"I got kicked out of high school,'' he said. ''I graduated the same year, but I had gotten kicked out of high school halfway through, and I had a very bitter taste in my mouth. ... I did go to (another) school, but it just kind of wasn't the same. ... High school wasn't the greatest experience to me.''

You can probably see what was going through my mind: Why did he get kicked out of high school? So I had to ask that.

"A combination of things,'' he said. ''Pretty much because I didn't believe in being disrespected, and sometimes you've got to stand up for yourself, and if that means throwing some other things away to kind of keep the integrity of certain things alive, then that's what you've got to do. ... They threw me out. I walked into another door. I still got the same diploma.''

I suppose I should have pressed for specifics. After all, several days earlier, I had been at a press conference with the actress Jessica Capshaw. She had mentioned drawing on her own insecurity to play her character, and I asked her what insecurity she drew on.

''I think as, with any human being, it's probably time-specific. It's probably at what period you are in . ... '' she said, avoiding a direct answer.

Because of her vagueness, I said, ''I'm still not hearing any specifics.'' And I didn't get any.

So why did I push Jessica Capshaw but not Michael St. Patrick? Maybe because with St. Patrick, we were already in specific, uncomfortable territory -- he had, after all, brought up being kicked out of high school -- and Capshaw wasn't even close to there. Maybe because it was the last day of the tour, and I had just run out of push.

It's a judgment call, you see. There was another one on Friday, when Stacy Keach was part of a press conference for a new Fox show called ''Prison Break.''

The show is using a real, old prison for its setting, and someone asked the actors what it felt like to be working in a prison. Keach actually did jail time in England in 1984 on a drug-smuggling charge, so his answer could have been especially revealing.

I sat there, thinking, how do I ask that question? Then I thought, maybe that's a question better asked to him directly, in a small group after the press conference, where it's handled a little more discreetly -- and his answer might be better. So I was biding my time, when one of my colleagues made a direct charge: ''Stacy, you bring some expertise to this because you're the one person who has been a prisoner in the past ...''

''I knew you'd bring that up,'' Keach said.

The reporter then asked Keach what his jail was like compared to the one used in ''Prison Break.'' And he gave a long answer, noting that the cells in his English prison were much more closed off  -- ''steel doors rather than open bars, a slit in the window as opposed to the ability to see what's going on outside,'' Keach said. ''There were no toilets in the cell. There were just buckets.''

The reporter asked a follow-up, and Keach answered that, too, including the observation that the warden of his jail was similar to the warden Keach plays in ''Prison Break.'' After the press conference, I admiringly told the reporter that he had gone into an area that had made me hesitant. Too hesitant, in fact.

Anyway, to jump to the end of the day: Aside from a party in Santa Monica with Fox stars Friday night (which I skipped, since I had a red-eye later that night and did not want to get jammed up), the last session was with an organization called TV Watch.

According to its press materials, TV Watch ''opposes government control of TV programming and promotes the use of tools like content ratings and parental controls.'' Although the organization doesn't know how to hold a press conference -- once again, I found myself interrupting an overlong presentation to ask when we reporters would get to ask questions -- there was some information of interest.

After the session, I found myself in follow-up chats with ''The West Wing's'' Richard Schiff and then ''American Dreams'' writer-producer Jonathan Prince. Plenty of material for a future column or columns. As the conversations went on, the lights were being turned out in the meeting room and pieces of the set were being taken down around us. It was real don't-let-the-door-hit-you kind of moment.

Since Prince always seems reluctant to end any chat with reporters, he continued to talk as we wandered from the stage to the back of the hall, then talked some more. I eventually left, and saw some time later that Prince was on the same spot, still talking to a few other scribes. You can see why reporters like him.

That night, you could find a fleet of trucks outside the Beverly Hilton as the detritus of the tour sets and equipment were being loaded up. By early evening, the computers had been stripped from the press room. The hotel was still functioning just fine, but there was still a touch of a ghost town to it, because all of us settlers were saddling up and heading out.

Me among them, although the long day and night still included things like spending an hour in a line at Los Angeles airport, waiting to go through the security gates. (There were seven flights leaving the terminal between 12:30 and 1:30 a.m., an airport worker told me, and things were not set up to accommodate such a crowd.) But eventually I got to my plane -- and back to the real world.

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