PBS Packs the First Day of Press Tour, Plus Cupcakes

From cupcakes to the Civil War, soul food to Martha Stewart’s kitchen, British drama to well, more British drama – with participation from Dick Gregory, the president of Harvard, a dozen singing high school kids, Sir Kenneth and Lord Grantham and his mother in law Shirley MacLaine and Martha Stewart of course — the first day of the TV critics press tour Saturday in Beverly Hills was the typical whiplash of topics fitting for a network that covers all those fields.

Starting with a serious topic instead of children’s programming (that’s today), a panel on an upcoming film on “Independent Lens,” “Soul Food Junkies” talked about health and tradition in the diet of the black community, with Dick Gregory going on and on about a lot of things, including how many chemicals are in everything you’re ingesting including that coffee (ptu!) and how sunglasses prevent the proper absorption of  Vitamin D. Which is why you never see the Queen or the Rockefellers wearing shades. It was early in the morning. We bought it.

As strict as he seemed about his eating habits, it was nothing compared to series host Mary Louise Parker, who recalled giving her kids nanny a talking to when she treated them to a corn dog and pizza at the same meal (they went straight to Whole Foods to remedy this lapse). Then she went on about schools that would reward good works with Skittles (these kids’ Halloween must be a sad day indeed). All this from a woman who plays a mom dealing pot on TV.

The executive session went through its usual talking points about government funding and its wealth of offerings, but was predictably sidetracked by the sideshow of Fred Willard, who was instantly fired from his new gig as host of “Antiques Warrior” because of a widely reported incident (reported again below).

There was no room for morning cheer for a session for the upcoming Ric Burns adaptation of Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust’s book on death and the Civil War, though the film for “American Experience” airing Sept. 18 sounded interesting.

The actresses for “Call the Midwife,” the imported British hit about midwifery in the 1950s East End of London, spoke of working with stunt babies, lying morbidly around the set, some with “detachable willies” if a baby girl was needed in a scene instead of a boy.

Jaded reporters are not a good audience for the unleashed cheer of high school musical theater performers, but soon a dozen of them were upon the stage to promote the three part documentary of their New York competition, which producers stressed was not a reality talent competition. (Nor was it “Glee”).

Cupcakes were chosen to mark the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birthday, which will be also noted on air next year. This despite no record of Child having any interest in cupcakes.

Better to have Martha Stewart herself there to introduce her new “Cooking School” program due the first weekend of October. To do so, she got a couple of critics up to cook an omelet, who, happily, are no more talented in the kitchen than I am, and then gave some unintentionally hilarious answers to questions that reflected her privileged life that included bringing asparagus to the housekeeper of her Hamptons place because she had never seen it before and could never afford it.

Kenneth Branagh was as brilliant and expansive as expected from one recently told he would become dubbed Sir Kenneth. No one complained that he comes to press tour every time he puts out another series of “Wallender” mysteries. The third set comes Sept. 9.

But really, it was all about “Downton Abbey,” receiving the kind of victory lap cheers and hoots and hollers reserved for things like “Lost” or “Desperate Housewives” in their heyday. With 16 Emmy nominations this week, and a shot at best drama, the assembled cast members were all in good cheer.

The news was the presence of Shirley MacLaine who will play Lady Mary’s grandmother when the third season starts here in January, but there were fewer questions about her than set up lines for her to make hilarious outbursts.

The rest of the cast held up their end, with Brendan Coyle talking endlessly about his approach to Mr. Bate’s limp, and Hugh Bonneville ending the thing by stripping off his suit and vest to show a T shirt that PBS staffers had spent all day especially making for him, with Sharpies from a stencil – FREE BATES.

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.