Sometimes a lot of negative talk lowers expectations to the point where a little good news goes a long way. That was the feeling I had entering the Beverly Hilton today as I joined the TCA July 2008 press tour. The session rooms were well attended and, despite the sharp downturn in the newspaper business, especially south of the border, many familiar faces were in attendance.
Sure, there was some griping. Critics had to ask for more chicken and beef on sticks at tonight’s GSN event (a more subdued gathering than in the glory years under Cindy Ronzoni’s watch). Plus there was no diet Red Bull at the bar. What is this–the Geminis?
The press room, once well stocked with free phones and fax machines, now looks like Hillary Clinton’s victory room.
So big deal, the party’s over. It is back to work, and there was news off the floor.

Today being HBO’s Day at the Cable portion of the tour, executives at the premium specialty channel had plenty to answer for. After driving the cable pace car for decades, HBO is in a prolonged pit stop. Critics wonder if new offerings such as Generation Kill (which starts Sunday in Canada on The Movie Network/Movie Central) and True Blood–some here love them and some don’t–are really going to turn things around. Neither seems like a bust out success, a home run like The Sopranos and Sex and the City, two shows that made HBO’s golden reputation.
In fact, critics seemed more interested in those old shows. Asked about the possibility of a second big screen spinoff of Sex and the City, programming president Michael Lombardo said there is “enormous interest” at Warner Bros./New Line to do another one. As for whether that might also lead to a Sopranos movie, there was the usual, “If David [Chase] wants to do it, it’s totally up to David,” from co-president Richard L. Piepler.
Of course, passing up Mad Men didn’t help HBO’s rep, either. The execs didn’t flat out admit it was the show that got away, but they didn’t deny it, either. “Look, here’s the bottom line,” says Plepler. “It’s a wonderful show. I wish it were on HBO. It’s not. Sometimes that happens, and you move forward.” He hopes Mad Men executive producer Matthew Weiner will pitch his next show to HBO.

Both executives said the writer’s strike really hit their network hard. Start dates for most shows have been pushed back four months. But we do have one firm date: a fifth season of Entourage starts Sept. 7. Big Love is back in production but may not be back on the air until next year. There’s talk Larry David might finally be ready to get to work on 10 more episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
As for David Milch returning to Deadwood now that John From Cincinnati is long dead, forget it. He’s working on Last of the Ninth, a series about the New York City police department in the ’70s.
Both In Treatment and Tell Me You Love Me are coming back for second seasons despite low viewership and mixed reviews. Lombardo said both shows were “cost effective” and had more stories to tell, so they’re telling them. In Treatment, said Lombardo, will have the same two doctors (Gabriel Byrne and Dianne Weist), but different patients.”
With so many dark shows on their sked, HBO has a few “brighter” shows in development, including Number One Lady Detective, a half hour comedy called Hung and something called Washingtonian, a smart look at women in Washington. Sex And The Capitol City?
The session opened with a tweak back at the press from beleaguered HBO flack Quentin Shaeffer: “First off, I just want to say I feel every time we get together now, it’s like an Agatha Christie mystery. It’s wondering who is going to survive the year. And it’s so great to see so many of you back.”

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