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How Was Your Day?

By RD Heldenfels Published: July 17, 2005

My last couple of postings have been about news from the press tour, so I thought I'd give you an idea of where that news is coming from. Here's a recap of today:

At 9 a.m., the Discovery networks began a sequence of press conferences, with separate sessions for Discovery Times, TLC, Travel Channel and the Discovery Channel.

Discovery Times presented ''Off to War,'' a series of reports about National Guardsmen from Arkansas who went to Iraq. The panel included the filmmakers, two of the Guardsmen and the mother of one Guardsman. I had a couple of questions I didn't get a chance to ask during the press conference. Fortunately, the people in the press conference usually go somewhere near the meeting room after the formal session is over, to take follow-up questions. It's also good to do that because you may learn something new, or get a comment that will make your reporting unique -- since there aren't dozens of other reporters in the room when you talk. The downside is that you may be missing something else good while you're doing that. In any case, I went and talked to some of the people involved with the show.

I got back to the meeting room in time to catch the tail end of a session on TLC's ''Going Hollywood,'' a planned series about three young people working as interns at show-biz companies. A session with Adam Carolla, who's doing a home-renovation series for TLC, was supposed to be next. But Carolla was running late, so they jumped ahead to a session with ''Kitchen Confidential'' author Anthony Bourdain, who is doing a new series about interesting places for the Travel Channel.

I liked ''Kitchen Confidential,'' and Fox has a sitcom in the works based on the book, so I paid close attention, asked some questions during the press conference and afterward talked to Bourdain some more. He's a funny guy, and very cooperative; after mentioning that he had gotten a tattoo, he was asked by a photographer to show it -- and did. He's also a music fan, wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd 1987 Tour T-shirt (although he said he didn't actually see them then) and later talking about all the bands he liked that came from Akron.

I got back to the meeting room in time to hear Carolla bellowing that Ty Pennington ''ain't a real carpenter. I'm a real carpenter.''  (I found out later that I had missed the really big yelling, when a basically harmless question sent Carolla into a fit of swearing and complaining about bad reviews his shows have gotten in the past.) I sat through the rest of the session, though not very interested. I'm not a Carolla fan.

Then Discovery Channel took over. Their first panel: ''I Shouldn't Be Alive,'' a series where people tell real-life survival stories. A couple of the actual survivors were there, and I might watch the show, although -- as if often the case with this kind of thing -- the use of re-enactments worries me (and I did get some information about them from the show's producer).

The next session was the toughest one of the day. ''The Flight That Fought Back'' is a documentary, airing in September, about United Flight 93, the one that went down in Pennsylvania when the passengers battled their hijackers on 9/11.

I've been to the crash site, which reminds me of the solemn fields of Gettysburg, and even the promotional clip was choking me up. Plus the panel included the mother and sister of one of a woman on the flight. Four years didn't seem very long ago as they talked.

This is one of the things that gets lost when you hear about press tours. Yes, there are parties and stars wandering around, and the location of all this is very nice. But discussion often involves programs about serious, heart-rending topics.

There have been a couple of sessions about AIDS as a global issue, for instance. The Guardsmen in ''Off to War'' have seen death up close. ''The Flight That Fought Back'' is just one of the programs tied to 9/11 on this tour. And sometimes you can't be detached from the emotions of the moment.

Looking back at all that had happened at that point, it feels like a full day. But that ''Flight That Fought Back'' session ended at about 11:30 a.m. There was more to do.

What came later? Lifetime, with presentations about ''Ambulance Girl,'' a movie starring (and directed by) Kathy Bates, ''Human Trafficking,'' a miniseries on sex trafficking, with Mira Sorvino. Lunch was followed by a Sundance Channel press conference re ''TransGeneration,'' a documentary series about college students going through ''gender transition'' -- taking steps toward gender reassignment, what's more commonly called a sex change.

I skipped a Hallmark Channel session, then was back for Showtime -- a three-hour tour of various projects.

The first was ''Barbershop,'' the series based on the hit movies. John Ridley, the producer of the series, is an articulate, talkative man and he dominated the press conference even with the cast onstage. (This happens more often than you might think; stars can be enlightening, but producers can talk more about tone and the direction a show is going.)

I was more interested in Barry Shabaka Henley, a character actor you know from a bunch of Michael Mann's movies; in the series, he's playing Eddie, the outspoken older man played in the movies by Cedric the Entertainer. After the press conference, I went to talk to him some more. But we had to walk as we talked.

The press conferences I attend are for print reporters and critics; after they're done with us, people from the shows go to another area for electronic interviews with CNN, ''Access Hollywood'' and the like. I've already done walk-and-talks this tour with Catherine Bell and director-actress Lee Grant, and had no problem doing one with Henley.

Because I was walking and talking with Henley (who is a good interview), I missed part of a session on a documentary, ''Rikers High.'' I stayed through sessions on ''Masters of Horror,'' an anthology of short films, and ''Sleeper Cell,'' an upcoming series about an African-American Muslim gone undercover for the FBI to infiltrate a terrorist cell.

That was the end of the formal sessions. The day went on, including, among other things, the writing of this blog.  And, of course, tomorrow brings more of the same. But that gives you a taste of the events, and what swirls around them.

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