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Oprah OWNs the press tour
January 7, 2011  | By Bill Brioux


PASADENA, Calif. -- I didn't win a car, but I did get touched by Oprah Winfrey.

The daytime talk show queen and newly minted network mogul gave me the royal tap Thursday night at TV critics' press tour on her way out of her lavish launch party for OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

I also got the Winfrey wave. Buddy Andy Ryan from Toronto's Globe and Mail suggested I take my Flip cam around to the side of the giant party tent, erected out on the lawns of the horseshoe gardens at the back of the stately Langham Huntington hotel, and grab a shot of Winfrey through the tent's large clear plastic windows. Winfrey spotted me violating one of several Television Critics Association camera regulations, and instead of signaling one of her beefy bodyguards to beat me to a pulp gave me a big friendly Oprah wave.


The party came after an afternoon press tour session for OWN that frankly left many reporters numb, disoriented and speechless. After two hours of build-up and hype, with appearances by OWN hosts Gayle King and Lisa Ling, Winfrey took the stage wearing a purple blouse and magenta sweater, perfectly coordinated with the rainbow-colored OWN logo behind her. She said confronting critics was "like being thrown to the wolves" and then gave us a 50-minute clinic on control, using crazy long answers to limit the number of questions in the packed room to five.

Things started innocently enough. Toronto Star man Rob Salem broke the ice by asking if we were all going to get cars. Would have been a nice ice breaker, said Winfrey. Salem was immediately dragged out of the room and tasered to death.

The event turned when velvet-voiced TCA veteran Howard Benjamin of The Interview Factory rose to ask a question. His simple query about Oprah's dreams growing up resulted in a baffling filibuster that Benjamin clocked at 23 minutes and 15 seconds. Others, including HitFix's Alan Sepinwall, had it at 18:15.

Either way, an unofficial TCA record. According to Benjamin, who apparently keeps track of these things, this tops the old mark for press tour windiness set several years ago by the late Lost in Space legend Jonathan Harris. With Will Robinson looking on powerless, flinty ego maniac Dr. Smith rambled for 17 minutes.

That was kid stuff for Winfrey. I think it was Benjamin again who said if you wrote down every random empowerment cliche uttered by Winfrey Thursday afternoon, you would have enough sayings to fill a 365-day calendar.

Without someone like blunt Florida Sun-Sentinel critic Tom Jicha in the room to restore order, helpless critics could do nothing but Twitter. Sepinwall and new Hollywood Reporter addition Tim Goodman led the way. "The Oprah speech was longer than Terriers was on the air," groused Sepinwall. "Still going. This bill will not be passed," sniped Goodman. "Our long national nightmare is over": Sepinwall. "I wonder if the OWN staffers are going to hand out loaves and fishes": Goodman.

Andy Ryan got in on the action: "On today's Oprah: critics who desperately need a drink." I couldn't resist: "Four newspapers folded since Oprah started talking."


And on it went. Oprah's monologue read well later in the transcript (although four court reporters gave their lives to get everything down). Winfrey told us, all she really ever aspired to originally was to be a substitute morning anchor on Good Morning America. Her agent told her to forget it, there already was a colored person on network television (Bryant Gumbel). Oprah later fired the agent.

Winfrey was more quotable in the press conference's short after-scrum, suggesting the days of the softball questions are over in describing her recent first guest encounter with new CNN host Piers Morgan (his show debuts with her Jan. 17).

To her credit, she came later to the party, walking the red carpet and working the tent. Again, the answers came faster in the scrum. Her diamond earrings were so gigantic, one of them is being presented as the trophy in the BCS tournament.

I got to ask her a question, but not the one I wanted to ask her. That would have been about Bill Maher's recent YouTube posting where he showed clips of her rapturous studio audience members swooning and talking in tongues after one of her "favorite things" giveaways. Maher says it is the most disturbing thing he's ever seen on TV, suggesting Winfrey is fueling our lust for things while talking about her goals of providing more mindful programming. I wanted to ask her if comments like this ever gave her pause. She said several times in the session that she has spent a career learning and listening.

I mentioned this to a critic after Winfrey was whisked away on a cart with a fringe on top and the party was winding down. He suggested that Maher missed the point, that Oprah's fans are rapturous because they're physically in the same space as her, that their hysteria has nothing to do with getting stuff.

All I know is, after she tapped me on the shoulder on her way back to Olympus or wherever, all the stubborn flu symptoms I've been battling for the past three weeks finally disappeared.

mike-tyson-animal-planet-bill-brioux.jpgThat's Iron Mike Tyson eying my ears like they were big juicy pork chops. (Thanks to ace shooter and TCA colleague April MacIntyre for the photo op.)

The former heavyweight champion made the scene Thursday night at the lavish OWN Network launch party hosted by Oprah Winfrey. Tyson was at a session earlier in the day to promote the Animal Planet series Taking on Tyson. The man has this thing about pigeons, raising them in a special pen he built in his old Brooklyn neighborhood and racing them across rooftops.

I swear I'm not making any of this up. The guy loves pigeons, okay? You tell him he's nuts. The six-part series premieres in March.

Critics were given red leather Everlast boxing gloves as a memento of the series, although, boy, is it hard to type with them on.

Once the most feared man in or out of the ring, Tyson is more of a pussycat today. He told me he already shot his scenes for the upcoming sequel to The Hangover, the comedy film that went a long way toward revamping his image. I complimented him on his own recent documentary and we talked about another boxing doc, Facing Ali. Tyson says he was moved to tears watching former Canadian champ George Chuvalo spill his guts about the tragic life and death of two of his sons along with his wife.

Tyson stayed late at the Oprah bash, sneaking in photo ops with the host as well as her gal pal, Gayle King, who is fortunately no relation to Don King.


Thursday shaped up to be one of the newsiest days ever on a TCA press tour.

New CNN host Piers Morgan kept Twitter feeders busy with his quotable late morning session. "Cocky little devil, aren't I?" he declared. The blunt Brit bashed and banned Madonna as a guest on his show (saying Lady Gaga was half Madonna's age and twice as good-looking), and dissed his old Apprentice foe Omarosa ("the world's most ridiculous creature").


He announced Oprah Winfrey as the first guest on Piers Morgan Tonight, which premieres Jan. 17 at 9 p.m. ET on CNN. Morgan says he felt an instant connection to Winfrey and says she told him it was one of her best interviews.

Morgan plans to do his show from L.A. and New York with "a dash of London every now and then." The former Fleet Street editor says royal lovebirds Will and Kate will be the biggest stars in the world come April.

He also says he's sticking with America's Got Talent. Asked later in the scrum what it means that all three judges on AGT are non-Americans (including Toronto-born Howie Mandel), Morgan said, "You've just answered your own question, haven't you?" He thinks guys like him and Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay are like the over-the-top villains on the annual pantomimes that are still popular in Britain, the bad guys that audiences love to hiss.

Morgan also had plenty of nice things to say about his CNN predecessor in the after-scrum, although the two men have opposite approaches to interviewing. Morgan does tons of preparation; King was famous for doing none.

He also thinks Twitter is a key tool in promoting any TV career; you can follow him there at @PiersMorgan.


Men of a Certain Age is one of those TV shows critics seem to love but give a lot less coverage than, say, The Big Bang Theory. It is almost designed to be ignored, being about three men (played by Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher) who are aging outside the 18-49 demo. TV usually ignores people 50-plus, so going for middle age, in terms of characters and viewers, seems counterintuitive in today's TV market.


Those boomers, however, are still driving the bus, so what the hell.

Romano, who created the series, says Men was shopped to CBS, which was more interested if it was a typical half-hour comedy. It was also developed at HBO, but leadership there changed and the show got back burnered; Romano was invited to take it elsewhere. He found a happy home at Turner network TNT, where Men airs Monday at 10 p.m. ET.

Romano plays a scratch golfer and says he's a 14 handicap in real life, so that's how you can tell he's a great actor. He says Men of a Certain Age is not just a guy's show; he gets feedback from women who watch to see how men behave, in much the same way men used to watch Sex and the City.

One woman who watches is Romano's wife, who's not always a fan, he says. "Every time she sees me do a kissing scene, she says, 'This is bullshit. We have enough money.' "

Romano ended the session by thanking critics, who he says also rallied behind Everybody Loves Raymond in its first year. "Thanks for helping by the nice things you are writing," he says.


Day 2 started with a laugh. Working hard at that was the cast of the new comedy series Children's Hospital, which began as a series of short webisodes but now airs in late night's Adult Swim block on Cartoon Network.


Among the cast of the medical spoof were Rob Corddry, Megan Mullally, Malin Akerman and Henry Winkler. Corddry, who appears throughout the short episodes as a surgeon wearing bloody clown makeup, created the series after a trip to a real children's hospital with his young daughter. He says "Adult Swim is the internet of television," a place to make comedy away from the usual barrage of notes writers and producers get from networks. "Although weirdly we got a lot of notes from NBC," said executive producer Jonathan Stern. Notes like, "More Alec Baldwin."

The cast tried too hard to be funny, typical of press tour comedy show sessions. After one lull, somebody said, "We have time for 17 more questions." Future episodes were described as "like Tron but with tons of nudity."

Corddry asked if he could take one question prepared for fellow Turner networks star Dr. Drew and then asked the reporter if she was molested as a child. Somebody else asked what the blood budget was on the splatter comedy; the cast all donated, we were told.

Hey, it's a tough room.

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