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My Own Private Press Tour

By RD Heldenfels Published: January 11, 2006

Many of my colleagues are in Pasadena at the moment, taking part in the January TV critics' press tour. I'm not there. C'est la vie. I'll put a mint by my pillow tonight and dream of tour.

Well, actually, I'll put a Thin Mint. Gotta love those Girl Scout cookies.

Just reading the accounts of the first day of the tour on Tuesday,  I wished I had been there for some of the craziness (a colleague of mine has already suggested that we read the press-conference transcripts and try to guess who asked which question) and was glad that I wasn't there for, well, the craziness. I love the event, and get a tremendous amount of useful material from it, but you earn that material through long days and nights of watching, talking, listening and writing.

That said, I am getting a taste of it here. As you've seen in my recent posts, my own days have been pretty long, and I've been conversing with a fair number of people. Today, I had a long chat with screenwriter Jonathan Estrin, who is coming to this area next week for a screening of ''The Water Is Wide,'' a new adaptation of Pat Conroy's book, which also inspired the movie ''Conrack.'' I've seen ''Water Is Wide,'' which premieres on CBS on Jan. 29, and liked quite a bit of it; Estrin also proved an enjoyable interview.

My e-mailbox is also getting a steady flow of the network announcements from press tour, and -- thanks to my paid-up membership in the Television Critics Association -- I can take a peek at online transcripts of the press conferences from here. Although there are times when I wonder if I've been reviewing in the correct language. Here's an excerpt from a test of the transcript system:

''Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Ut mauris. Nunc id mi. Suspendisse ligula augue, porttitor ac, ornare a, aliquam sit amet, justo. Etiam at tellus sit amet diam consequat elementum. Proin ut massa. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Aliquam consequat, neque sed malesuada semper, orci nulla vulputate leo, eget consequat enim erat molestie lectus. Donec at augue. Pellentesque dapibus, nisi sed nonummy consectetuer, purus lectus ullamcorper libero, et tempus arcu leo ac lectus. Suspendisse potenti. In sed diam non orci ullamcorper egestas. Nam nibh urna, eleifend nec, pharetra sit amet, sagittis in, eros. Phasellus porttitor ultricies libero. Phasellus urna dolor, mollis vel, eleifend ullamcorper, rhoncus nec, mauris. Nunc odio massa, ullamcorper vitae, dictum eu, gravida et, metus.''

I remember enough of the ninth grade to think that's Latin. If anyone has a translation, or a source of the passage, let me know. Especially let me know if there's something dirty in there, since I try to keep this blog relatively clean -- no matter what language is being used.

UPDATE: One of co-workers came up with an explanation, available at the link

But now that I've posted enough Latin to feel cultured, I should also cite John Simon. The recent publication of collections of his criticism prompted me to pull his earlier collection, ''Singularities,'' off the shelf. Although it consists of essays about theater, much of it could also apply to TV criticism. There's this, for example:

''We critics are always reminded that, first and foremost, we must love the theater. Those who do the reminding, to be sure, are not drama critics, so it's easy for them to talk. And, indeed, we do love it. No one but the most passionate, inveterate lover (or the most raving masochist -- but, come to think of it, the two are not mutually exclusive) would return night after night to the theater, the scene of someone else's crimes, unless some fatal passion ... were gnawing at his bosom. The plays and productions, more often than not, are brutally horrible.''

But I thought of my friends on the press tour when I read another passage, from 1971, where Simon was quoting a writer from a half-century before that:

''All first-rate critics are, in some measure, banded in one army, fighting the same everlasting war, and substantially agreed in distinguishing the uniforms of trash, the immemorial enemy, and of sound work, the friend.''

Simon, who did not shrink from criticizing other critics, complained that such unity was no longer the case. And TV critics are a sufficiently varied bunch, especially on matters of taste, that I've often believed that every show gets at least one good review and one bad review. Still, I am sure -- in fact, hopeful -- that there are moments during the press tour when the room will rise as one in recognition of sound work and dismay over trash.

And now I really need a Thin Mint.

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