BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - ABC put on a panel with executive producers from their hit series, and despite some uncomfortable questions to Grey's Anatomy executive producer Shonda Rhimes about Katherine Heigl's perceived diss of the show's writers, it was a pretty good-natured exchange among a group of smart, funny panelists.
(For those who don't remember, Heigl refused to allow her name to be put in contention for an Emmy nomination, saying, "I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention. In addition, I did not want to potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials.")
When Rhimes was asked about "the situation," Lost executive producer Damon Lindelof joked, "I didn't see that one coming."
(The Lost producers famously never release details about their show's next season.)
ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson said Heigl will get a large storyline this season, which the tabloids are saying will be for her Izzie to develop a brain tumor. Rhimes wouldn't say what the plot will be, but Ugly Betty executive producer Silvio Horta had his own suggestion: "I would put her in a coma."
When pressed later, Rhimes said she has a "really wonderful working relationship with Katherine and I love and respect her as an actress and Izzie is one of my favorite characters."
She acknowledged that Heigl is famously outspoken and noted that the first half of last season Heigl had a more comedic story and that in the second half of the season Heigl asked Rhimes to write her light so she could make a movie, "so I didn't feel insulted."
Rhimes was tight-lipped about most other plots, but she said the potential romance between Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Erica (Brooke Smith) will be explored.
"We sat down with GLADD and talked to them about women who figure out they're lesbians later in life and what that means," Rhimes said.
Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry said when controversies arise, including the first-season Vanity Fair photo shoot debacle, his first reaction is to hide from the press "because I don't know how I feel about this yet.
(In that 2006 incident, the stars got into a catfight over wardrobes, preferential treatment, and who was standing next to whom.)
"The best way to deal with actors is to pretend they're real people and talk to them," Cherry said, getting laughs. "With the disastrous photo shoot, one of you guys saw it from one perspective and what really happened was so much more real and understandable. And I ultimately [dealt with it] by hugging a sobbing actress in her trailer for about 20 minutes and saying, 'This too shall pass.' It's not really life, it's showbiz. 'Pretty soon they'll forget you and really attack Lost."
On to this, the fifth season. Here's what we know:
wIt will be set five years into the future from last season just as the end of the season finale suggested.
•Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) will remain frumpy for at least half the season, which suits Longoria just fine. "I love it because I come into hair and makeup and it's 10 minutes instead of two hours," Longoria said. She's sporting a shorter hairstyle she got for the role.
•Susan (Teri Hatcher) is with a new man (Gale Harold) but she's less desperate for love. "Susan was a person who was always like, 'Please love me.' Now for many reasons that will be revealed, she is probably a person who's more closed off to love and not so searching and needy," Hatcher said. Series creator Cherry said Hatcher had the idea for Susan's first scene after the opening credits in the season premiere, which will air Sept. 28. The new season will also reveal what became of Mike Delfino (James Denton).
•Carlos (Ricardo Antonio Chavira) is still blind "for a while," Cherry said, suggesting perhaps that his sight will be restored.
•Gay neighbors Bob (Tuc Watkins) and Lee (Kevin Rahm) still live on Wisteria Lane and they now have a 4-year-old daughter. Cherry said adding them to the show was "just my commentary on how a gay couple moves in and nothing much happens."
•Bree (Marcia Cross) will get out of the house more but she'll still be surrounded by muffins as a Martha Stewart-like entrepreneur. Her son, Andrew (Shawn Pyfrom), works as her assistant and he may get a relationship in the second half of the season. Cherry said making Andrew a gay character was an opportunity to steal a scene from his own life in the first season. "The only ugly moment with my mother is when I came out and she was concerned that she wouldn't see me in heaven," Cherry said. He said he made Andrew act out against Bree when she said that as a way to exorcise his own anger and hurt feelings.
•Cherry wants to end the show after seven seasons, but ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson shouted, "It's not gonna happen" from the back of the ballroom. "Of course, this could be some sort of clever ruse on my part to get a tremendous amount of money in season eight," Cherry countered.
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.
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