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Winding Down

By RD Heldenfels Published: July 29, 2005

In about 24 hours I will be catching a shuttle to the airport and a red-eye back to Ohio. And not a moment too soon.

I am sitting in the press room of the Beverly Hilton in part to write this blog, in part because I have had enough of my hotel room, nice though it may be. After a couple of weeks here, the walls are closing in. The pattern in the hallway tiles is pressed into my brain. Naps and recreational viewing of IFC are not keeping me calm.

Don't get me wrong. I get a lot of value out of this trip. I accumulate plenty of material, as the stories in the Beacon Journal and the postings on this blog should indicate. I also get to see friends from around the country. The hotel has been great, and Beverly Hills still has an air of style and wealth. (The other day, I was approached by a panhandler. He asked for 20 bucks -- and had the look of an undertipped maitre d' when I just gave him a couple of dollars.)

But I've been here long enough. I miss my home, my family, my church. This happens on a press tour, especially as the end nears. In fact, it feels as if a lot of people checked out mentally last night, after the ABC party.

Today's sessions for Fox dragged; the gaps between questions could stretch long as reporters tried to think of another question. That was true even for shows that some people liked, such as ''Kitchen Confidential.'' It was even more the case for shows that have generated little or no enthusiasm. A session for ''Head Cases'' was supposed to last 45 minutes but ended 15 minutes earlier than that.

(Of course, even when critics are rested, they sometimes vote with their silence. Earlier in the tour, a session for NBC's ''Inconceivable'' threatened to end after just a handful of questions. A producer of the show then began talking -- unasked -- about the origins of the show, until finally people stirred themselves enough to ask questions.)

Today reporters rationed their energy out to the first session of the day, with Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori, and the last, with the cast and producers of ''House.'' (On the latter, one big story this season will be Dr. House's relationship with an old flame, played by SelaWard; after appearing in two episodes last season, Ward is signed for seven of the first 13 in the coming year.)

In between, the only thing of even passing interest was writer-producer Darren Star's trying to slice the definition of a sitcom very thin. The term comes from situation comedy, but Star argued that the term should only refer to the three-camera comedies in the tradition of ''I Love Lucy,'' not comedies like his new one, ''Kitchen Confidential.''

''It's a single-camera, filmed comedy,'' he said, alluding to a production style also used by the likes of ''Arrested Development'' and ''Malcolm in the Middle.'' ''There's a level of reality to this in terms of the way the show's filmed, the way it's written. ... It sort of has, you know, different laws.''

But still a sitcom.

Liguori, meanwhile, took the heat over what, if anything, Fox is doing about the allegations about ''American Idol's'' Paula Abdul. The network and the production companies behind the show have hired an unidentified independent counsel to look into the situation, Liguori said, and he tried to withhold comment until the investigation is done.

But reporters kept asking about it, trying to figure out where Fox would draw the line. Liguori conceded that the investigation is focused only on the allegations about Abdul. He noted that many viewers love her and ''she continues to get support.'' And he indicated that the key issue will be whether Abdul did something that affected ''the credibility of the competition.''

Abdul questions were woven throughout the press conference, never better than when one reporter asked about the new season of ''24.''

''It's going to take, I think, some bamboo shoots for me to talk about '24,' '' Liguori said. ''Complete lockdown (about stories) ... has been our policy.''

''Then I'm going to ask another Paula Abdul question,'' the reporter replied.

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