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PRESS TOUR: Dubya, Dachshunds, Doctor Who and a Guy Named Weddingdress
July 29, 2011  | By Diane Werts

Here's the vibe of press tour in a nutshell. Had dinner at Trader Vic's lounge by the hotel pool Thursday night surrounded by the strangest conglomeration of people: NASA rocket scientists, U.S. border agents, an Australian bush copter pilot, a large animal vet from the Netherlands, a sleek babe who just happens to chronicle the Mexican drug wars, and a guy who spent two days at George W. Bush's house recollecting 9/11. And, oh yeah, 300-pound boxer Butterbean -- having just walked past Harry Belafonte, Gloria Steinem, the guys of Entourage, and Doctor Who.

It's a head-turning place.

But a frustrating one. Because any of these folks would be worth chatting up for hours. And we only get a few minutes before the next panel, and the next, and the next. Thursday was absolutely insane. Various cable channels made presentations non-stop -- straight through lunch, too, chewing while chatting. That's 10 (count 'em, ten) hours of us sitting in dark Beverly Hills hotel ballrooms trying to keep track of what's being said for which channel by who. Whoops -- "whom."

Already told you about AMC, which kicked things off at 8:30 a.m. Then came BBC America, with its five series Q&A panels. And NatGeo with its four panels through lunch. Then HBO with six more, wrapping at 6:30 p.m. Butterbean's dinner appearance came early: His panel would be Friday morning for Investigation Discovery's Aug. 9 reality ridealong in his Alabama hometown, Big Law: Deputy Butterbean [photo at top], among seven panels presented by the myriad channels of what Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslow touted as "the No. 1 nonfiction media company in the world."

Which is all by way of explaining why you might not be getting a blow-by-blow account from us here at TVWW. We're actually trying to pay attention to what's being said, and figure out what it means, rather than delivering instant tweets and soundbites.


(Although sometimes we can't resist, especially when the time-trotting Doctor Who folks tell us their Aug. 27 BBC America season return is titled "Let's Kill Hitler.")

Press tour helps us spot trends and also winnow through the piles of hype to find the good stuff in the weeks ahead that is, yes, actually worth watching.

That would be upcoming HBO documentary portraits of culture shakers like Gloria Steinem (Aug. 15) and Harry Belafonte (Oct. 17), who were both articulate here in looking back over the tumult, Steinem with journalistic concision and Belafonte at garrulous length. Also another in-their-own-words project: NatGeo's very personal Aug. 28 special George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview, a stark hour of intimate recollections by the man charged with steering the country through an unfathomable day, presented against a simple black backdrop and without narration, for riveting impact.


In a way, though, those shows are obvious for TVWW. Press tour is most rewarding at moments of discovery, when you're charmed by something to which you'd never otherwise have paid attention.

That would include two fall NatGeo "reality" series to which that much-abused term proves literally true. You listen to the guys from Rocket City Rednecks -- a bunch of NASA scientists enthusing in Alabama drawls about putting a helicopter engine in a minivan or building jet-powered lawn tools -- and their down-home real-dude glee is infectious. Same with the ordinary folks creating wild things in Mad Scientists, when you see a beer-fetching robot made from an IKEA trash can actually toddling toward a tumble off the edge of the press conference stage. (A panelist's last-second leap saved it.)


And I'm not a dog person, but here I am in the hotel ballroom Friday morning about to tear up, listening to a panel of people seen on Animal Planet's fall series Saved. They're holding their pups and describing how the animals saved, if not their lives, their souls -- a soldier's mom who now raises the dog rescued by her soldier son in Iraq the night before he was killed by an IED, and a guy poised to kill himself during a half-decade of dialysis until he was gifted with a loving dachshund he named Sammy Davis.


Most TV critics' attention goes to entertainment shows like Entourage or Doctor Who, and there's nothing wrong with that. But at press tour, it's pretty clear that, especially on cable, TV's heart and soul increasingly lies in real people -- not the "real" housewives who are anything but and provide mostly a diverting annoyance -- but the non-celebrity next-door folks whose real-life stories fascinate and move us, and touch something in our own souls.

And then, as I'm in the back of the ballroom typing this, there's the long-beared guy who just took the stage in a plum hat, jacket and floor-length sarong whose name is David Weddingdress. Are you surprised to hear he's on the fall Discovery series Weed Wars?

Yep, it's press tour. Gotta love it.

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