Summer TV Press Tour 2009: CNN Loves Old Rumors

PASADENA, Calif. -- Summer TV Press Tour 2009 kicked off this week with CNN showing up to plug a new Christiane Amanpour documentary, a Soledad O'Brien series and John King's "State of the Union."

Sadly, TV critics mostly wanted to talk about Lou Dobbs, host of the news network's "I'm Lou Dobbs and You're Not," and his ongoing gasbagging about President Obama not coughing up his birth certificate.

Dobbs thinks that Obama should produce it to put to rest rantings and rumors that he's not actually a natural-born U.S. citizen and therefore not eligible to be president. Not producing the birth certificate looks pretty fishy, Dobbs has insinuated.

"There are two strands to this story," CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein began to explain patiently to the critics. "There are the facts and then there is the flap. What Lou, and everybody else at CNN, has done is very clearly report and run down the facts."

There is no doubt, Klein acknowledged, that Obama was born in Hawaii. "And Lou Dobbs has reported that over and over again."

Separate from that, Klein said, is the issue of people who believe it anyway. Dobbs, Klein explained, is merely "exploring those flaps."

"But it's a dead issue," he added.

Why give so much airtime to a dead issue? Glad you asked. TV critics did, too. More accurately, one asked: Why is so much airtime being devoted to "giving voice to this sort of idiocy on your network?"

Klein argued that CNN had spent a lot more time on health care, Afghanistan and Iraq, "but the spirit of your question is, why we devote any time," Klein said. (These news-network chiefs can be pretty patronizing.)

CNN viewers expect it to "do the reporting, present the facts and present a range of points of views" and then "viewers want to make up their own minds," Klein explained.

Which explains their upcoming documentary: "The World: Flat. We Report -- You Decide." Okay, we made that one up.

Anyway, seeing that this was not playing well with the critics, King jumped in and likened the birth-certificate kerfuffle to the people who still thought Obama was Muslim, even after CNN itself did a report debunking that story.

Obama's campaign, King said, had to spend time, energy and "hard-earned money" educating people to the fact that Obama was not Muslim right up until the election.

"If we ignore conversations happening out there, just because we've already said it's not true -- we often don't get to decide what's relevant," King said.

"People sometimes make that decision."

* * *

Another new late-night talk show -- another Obama plug.

This time the president of the United States is helping George Lopez launch his new TBS late-night series, "Lopez Tonight." It starts in November.

In a taped bit that debuted here at the press tour, Lopez asks Obama if he can give Lopez a Cabinet position, 'cause otherwise he has been offered a late-night gig at TBS.

"No, George," Obama says. "You need to change late night. That's the kind of change I can believe in."

(Crickets.)

"Barack Obama -- one of us is a citizen," Lopez said after the tape played. "Your job is to figure out which."

(Crickets.)

One critic, speaking for us all, wondered how Lopez got the president to shill for him. Not that Obama minds shilling for late-night shows. He shilled for Stephen Colbert when Colbert did a week's worth of shows in Iraq in June. And there was that taped bit he did for Conan O'Brien when he debuted as host of NBC's "The Tonight Show."

In fact, getting a big fat Obama plug is fast becoming a late-night tradition -- like a Broadway play getting a Hirschfeld drawing.

"I supported him during his campaign," Lopez explained. "He asked me in 2008 -- he said he needed the Latino vote, never thinking those 38 votes would make the difference between a Democratic president and Republican," Lopez said.

(Crickets.)

"The great thing about Barack -- he called me three weeks ago, we talked a little bit about the kids and a lot about Iran," Lopez said, moving on.

"I consider the 44th president of the United States a close personal friend of mine, and I grew up poor," the comic said, adding that if the president came to Los Angeles and did not appear on Lopez's new talk show, "I would be offended."

"Barack," Lopez explained to the mostly white crowd, is part Latino because he lives in a house that's not his, and his mother-in-law lives in the house and helps to raise the kids.

(Crickets.)

Lopez, mistaking this for a presidential news conference, insisted each critic stand up in his presence to ask a question.

"There has never been a Latino comic at this level," Lopez said of himself and his new show. If Lopez's head doesn't swell and burst before then.

His now-defunct ABC sitcom, Lopez said, still "has a tremendous following in syndication. Those people, I assume, will want to see me every night."

(Crickets. Oh wait, he wasn't joking.)

* * *

Some of the critics had just arrived from Comic-Con -- the annual orgy of fanboy-dom, which had wrapped just 48 hours before the press tour started.

For four days, the critics had stared into the abyss: a confab at which Hollywood studios cut out the middlemen -- i.e., them -- and took their TV show stars and creators straight to crazed fans (145,000 this year) and their blogs.

Plus, Comic-Con had their annual Zombie Parade.

The press tour does not have a Zombie Parade. At least, not officially, though Tuesday's morning cable-network presentations had shaped up that way. Take the Q&A session for Fox Reality Channel's "Househusbands of Hollywood":

The sex life is great -- I'm pregnant again!

That's Jillian Reynolds, "Fox NFL Sunday" weather forecaster (yes, really), whose ex-Marine-turned-wannabe-actor-husband Grant Reynolds is among the househubby stars.

Do we fight? Hell yes, but we have really great make-up sex, too!

We rest our case.

TV critics are wondering if this press tour will be able to cough up the kind of compelling loogies spit out at Comic-Con, or is their beloved tour a relic of the dead past? This week and next, they'll have to top the likes of:

HBO announces a "Tru Blood" blood-orange drink that looks just like those bottles of synthetic blood drunk by hot vampires on "True Blood"!

Some of the characters on ABC's "Lost" who have been killed off -- are coming back!

"Dollhouse" thespian Eliza Dushku has perfected her acting skills in her 30s and is way better than she was in her 20s!

"Eureka" has been picked up for another season, to the surprise of no one!

"The Simpsons" is having more celebrities do guest voices next season!

Seth MacFarlane has produced an episode of his animated series "Family Guy" that deals with abortion, which the Fox network will not air, though the network fully supports your right to purchase the DVD from its sister Fox studio!

By Lisa de Moraes  |  July 28, 2009; 11:06 AM ET
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You just have to write about it. We have to bear horrified witness.

Posted by: kmblue | July 31, 2009 6:39 AM

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