Television Critics Assn.’s winter press tour kicked off this morning and so is our coverage. Freelance journalist Diane Haithman, who has been contributing to Deadline Hollywood’s TCA coverage, filed this report on the first networks presenting at TCA, TV Land and CMT:
The first speaker at the 2011 TCA press tour in Pasadena was TV Land president Larry W. Jones, who announced a little news:
— First, the 9th Annual TV Land Awards are moving to New York City (celebrity guests will include Bill Cosby and the entire cast of The Cosby Show and Michael J. Fox and the cast of Family Ties).
— Second, characters from ABC Daytime and TV Land are crossing over: All My Children actors Susan Lucci, Michael E. Knight and Darnell Williams will appear as themselves on Hot in Cleveland, and Hot in Cleveland’s Wendie Malick will appear on All My Children as her Cleveland character, aging actress Victoria Chase. The Chase character is cast in the soap as Gertie, a housekeeper who ends up moonlighting as a bartender after Lucci’s character, Erica, fires her. Cleveland episodes air on TV Land Feb. 16 and 23. Malick appears on All My Children Feb. 24.
After that, TV Land’s presentation might as well have been called The Betty White Show. While Jones was touting TV Land’s key demographic as 40-54, an 88-year-old star was the main draw. Although TV Land trotted out the entire cast of Cleveland – as well as the cast of its new comedy Retired At 35 – clearly the person-of-interest was White, who will celebrate her 89th birthday Jan. 18. (TV Land is planning to piggyback on the Facebook campaign that persuaded White to host Saturday Night Live by inviting fans to post happy-birthday messages to white on the TV Land Facebook page).
White – who seemed embarrassed by all the attention — was asked about her SNL hosting appearance: “Looking back on it, I was all set to say no, I had said no three times…” She called the experience “panic time, but it’s a good panic. “ But she confessed that her infamous SNL line describing Facebook as “a huge waste of time” was written for her: “ I would have said it myself, but I didn’t know what Facebook was, she said. “I don’t have a computer… I’m technological Spam.”
Because Hot In Cleveland is about the sex appeal of older women, the cast was asked what actresses they thought were “hot.” Cast members Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves tossed out the names of some of the grand dames of film: Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Sally Field.
Betty White had no suggestions. “I like guys better,” she said, wide-eyed. But she had some serious advice for young stars: “Don’t believe your own publicity, and don’t abuse your own privileges.” And she says she has no plans to retire. “I love it.”
The discussion about Retired at 35, which will debut on Jan. 19 after the season premiere of Hot In Cleveland, was, not surprisingly, also about age. On a network whose highest-rated rerun shows are The Andy Griffith Show and Everybody Loves Raymond, a show about retirees seems appropriate. Besides the hoped-for 40-54 demographic appeal, showrunner Chris Case noted a revival of the traditional, bawdy sitcom. “Some of the networks are sticking to single-camera comedy…people missed this form, it’s missing from the big networks.,” he said. “But look at CBS — if you look at their success, people should be doing these shows.”
Betty White was also a popular subject at the TCA panel on CMT’s first scripted sitcom, Working Class, which followed TV Land’s session. The comedy starring Melissa Petersen (Reba) and veteran Ed Asner launches on Jan. 28 with 2 back-to-back episodes. Asner was joking about his former Mary Tyler Moore Show co-star White (who had just finished her appearance on the panel for Hot in Cleveland). “Betty White’s in the building…I hope I get to touch her,” he said.
Asner, 81, was asked whether White was “still hot, in his eyes.” Replied Asner: “I just had cataracts, so I’m still adjusting – but what I’m seeing is looking pretty good.”
Asner (whom co-star Petersen referred to as a “sex symbol”) was also asked the secret to his – and White’s — longevity in the business. “I think talent has something to do with it,” the actor shot back, adding: “I think I am in that middle stage of aging….prior to becoming Mickey Rooney, or Betty White.”