BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Production on the third season of FX's Nip/Tuck has begun for a return to prime time with original episodes Sept. 20. The second season ended with the masked Carver slashing at plastic surgeon playboy Christian Troy (Julian McMahon).
Series creator Ryan Murphy said season three picks up a month after the events in the season two finale. But viewers won't learn the identity of the Carver right away.
"It could be anybody. You won't find out quickly," Murphy told writers attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour.
Given McMahon's appearance at the press conference, his character can't be dead, right?
"I kept saying Julian is a ghost, but no one's buying it," Murphy said. "[The last scene of the season finale] was a very brutal scene, so the repercussions of that are equally brutal. It's an event that sends the character of Christian off in a different direction. The repercussions of it are quite huge, but I don't want to say what it is until people see it."
Murphy said he's plotted out the upcoming season more than last year when he didn't know the Famke Janssen character would turn out to be a man until rather late in production.
Janssen will return this season along with recurring guest stars Bruno Campos, Jessalyn Gilsig, Kelly Carlson, Alec Baldwin, Vanessa Redgrave, Jill Clayburgh, and Joan Rivers.
So what else can viewers except? "I didn't believe Ryan when he told me I was going to make out with a monkey," McMahon said. "But that's true."
Viewers will learn whether or not he's kidding this fall.
Imagine Big Brother in an even more confined space. That shakes. With space suits.
Fox's XQUEST will be a reality show next summer that sends two teams on a simulated space flight.
Created by television veterans from Imagine Entertainment (Apollo 13, 24) and video games (Halo), the series will immerse the players' senses - sight, sound, and motion - in "biocrafts," complete living environments with bathrooms, living, and kitchen facilities. Contestants won't come in contact with camera crews - cameras will be rigged throughout the biocraft interiors - and will have only limited contact with Mission Control.
"We hope it's the next level of where unscripted programming can go," Liguori said. "Fox, more than any other network, is held to a standard of trying to push the medium forward, trying to find the next level of a specific genre."
Periodically, teams will be forced to jettison a crew member. A single winner will return to Earth.
"At the end of this show, it should be as uplifting for the audience and competitors as Luke Skywalker at the end of Star Wars," Liguori said.
If last year was the press tour of Melrose Place stars on new series (Marcia Cross on Desperate Housewives, Heather Locklear on LAX, Daphne Zuniga recurring on American Dreams), this year it's the return of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast (Alyson Hannigan on CBS's How I Met Your Mother, Nicholas Brendon on Fox's Kitchen Confidential, and David Boreanaz on Fox's Bones).
Boreanaz, who's once again playing second fiddle to a strong female lead, joked about the availability of his potential romantic partner this go-around: "I can actually go to bed with this one," he said. If you don't get it, it's a Buffy thing that would take too long to explain.
Ex-spouses Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith both have new series on The WB this fall, and both appeared at back-to-back press conferences to promote their respective shows.
"Melanie's working?" Johnson said, feigning incredulity. "That was just a joke. Of course I know she's on the network and I'm delighted for her."
Griffith said she's pleased Johnson has work, too.
"I'm really happy for him," she said. "I'm even happier for our daughter because her trust fund is going to be really healthy
Contrary to the opinion of some tastemakers, really smart people work in television. And really smart people can make not-so-good TV shows. But even when the show stinks, when smart people articulate their goals, it almost makes a TV critic want to give their bad show a second chance.
Case in point: ABC's Night Stalker, a remake of the early 1970s precursor to The X-Files, is not a good pilot, but executive producer Frank Spotnitz was so well spoken and passionate for his vision, I couldn't help but wish the pilot was better. Or, as one of my TV critic friends leaned over and said to me, "The show he's describing is better than the one I saw."
Kristin Chenoweth, the multitalented singing star of stage (Wicked) and screen (Bewitched), will return to her role as communications specialist Annabeth on The West Wing for at least nine episodes this season.
Chenoweth said she and the rest of the cast still have no idea whether the next president will be played by Alan Alda or Jimmy Smits. Despite rumors of contract expirations, Chenoweth said, the entire cast is back, at least for the first episode.
"Everybody at West Wing is anxious to find out" who will win the election, she said. "I'd enjoy the shake-up of a Republican, and he's also a nice Republican, but I'd also like to see someone of ethnicity."
Lucky for Chenoweth, she may have a job whoever wins: Though her character is working for a Democratic White House, it's never been revealed whether she has partisan leanings or is just a hired gun.
In addition to The West Wing, Chenoweth is filming the comedy RV in Canada with Robin Williams, and she recently completed Running With Scissors, in which she plays Annette Bening's lesbian lover. She filmed the last one while recording an album of Christian music.
"I'm a Christian, and I believe [being gay] doesn't matter," she said. 'I don't believe you're going to hell. I want to be a Christian who makes people go, 'Oh, they're not all crazy.'●"
She's also developing a biopic for herself to star in as the late Dusty Springfield, but she hopes to stick with West Wing.
"Someone like me, with my height, my look, the sound of my voice, it's been great to play someone who's smart," Chenoweth said. "She's one of the smartest people in the room, and the writers are writing for that."
TV Watch, an advocacy group that started within the past few months with assistance from NBC Universal, News Corp. (corporate parent of Fox), and Viacom (corporate parent of CBS), is trying to move the public debate over indecency on TV away from what its leaders say is a vocal few and toward parental control and a minimum of government interference.
The formation of TV Watch follows numerous complaints about indecent TV - an unbleeped profanity in a live telecast here, worries over a rebroadcast of Saving Private Ryan there - that snowballed in the wake of Janet Jackson's breast-baring during the Super Bowl telecast in 2004.
TV Watch's Web site, www.televisionwatch.org, explains its primary goals: Americans should determine what is seen and heard in their own homes based on their own personal tastes. The TV industry should rate programs and promote awareness of ratings tools. The group warns, "Either we take responsibility for what our children watch or the government will decide what all of us can watch."
That's a logical and reasonable approach, and American Dreams executive producer Jonathan Prince appeared on a TV Watch panel and encouraged other show runners to take greater responsibility for what's on TV.
"Sometimes we are cavalier about the responsibility we have," he said. "If we police ourselves better and they still come down on us, then I think we have a problem. But part of the problem lies in our own lack of moderating our behavior in order to, what? Shock an audience? Get people to write about us? So people get buzz and the network gets ratings? That cavalier attitude has put networks in a dangerous place."
Again, Prince takes a smart, measured approach.
Then it all went, uh, downhill.
Richard Schiff, who plays liberal White House staff member Toby Ziegler on The West Wing, said his character will be phased out this season by what he described as mutual consent. But then he tried to blame his departure on the corporate culture at Warner Bros., which produces the series.
"There is pressure to relieve him of his voice," Schiff said. Later he backtracked, saying it was not direct corporate control but that the studio had an influence on the show's budget. Yes, the studio does, and that's why it's called show business. "We're in a bottom line culture right now," Schiff said. "More money can be made if it's quicker, faster. In the days of Aaron Sorkin, it was quite expensive because his artistic process demanded more time. That has been eliminated."
After the press conference, Schiff continued to back away from his initial tone.
"I'm not accusing Warner Bros. of suppressing Toby in any way, shape, or form," Schiff said. "It's not some suit at Warner Bros. that goes, 'That Toby, we've got to suppress him.' I know it sounded like that, but it's not what I mean, and that's stupid."
Basically, Schiff's frustration boils down to an artist who said his suggestions for his character were more often heeded under original show runner Sorkin than current show runner John Wells. But that has little to do with TV Watch or the FCC's rash of fines over content.
Schiff said he's contracted for 11 episodes this year, and other actors will also appear in fewer episodes to accommodate a smaller budget that resulted from lower ratings. At the same time, he and other cast members will get the same pay for the episodes they are in as they have in the past.
"It's not a bad deal," Schiff acknowledged.
No, it's really not.
●Former BBC producer James Goldston has been named executive producer of ABC's "Nightline" in preparation for an overhaul when host Ted Koppel and executive producer Tom Bettag depart the broadcast later this year.
●Next week MSNBC will bump low-rated The Situation With Tucker Carlson out of prime time to 11 p.m. Rita Cosby will take Carlson's spot at 9 p.m. beginning Aug. 8.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen, the TV editor for the Post-Gazette, is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles.