Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Press Tour, Day Four: Life Isn't Fair

My hobnobbing Monday night was limited to PR guys/friends, one Warner Bros. executive and an old friend from the Washington Post. Oh and sushi. The best part was the whole conversation devolved into what it always devolves into: What is the deal with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ baby? Someone here suggested they’ve failed to find one that looks enough like either of them. So I wasn’t such the social butterfly last night. Tonight I’m going to a friend’s for dinner so again no famous people on the docket.

Anyhoo, today’s been a little news free, but I did watch what I consider the best pilot I’ve seen so far: Ugly Betty. The show is an adaptation of Betty La Fea, which Salma Hayek and Ben Silverman purchased and turned into a series. It stars America Herrerra, who also starred in Real Women Have Curves, and America turns in what I’ve heard people call a courageous performance. I’m not sure what that means, but she does a great job – you relate to her and root for her and feel like the Ugly Betty title is a little unfair. (Salma, who is very ugly by the way – not, assured us that the title is meant to be sarcastic.)

The show, at least the pilot, is a great deal like The Devil Wears Prada, including some very similar plot lines. But while Anne Hathaway starts out a little bit preppy but still pretty, Betty’s got a lot further to go, including braces, horrendous eyebrows, terrible glasses and fashion choices that will shock even the most fashion-challenged. And Ugly Betty lets its characters go way over the top, unlike Meryl Streep’s understated performance in Prada. Vanessa Williams’ assistant is this stereotypical over-the-top gay man, but he’s pretty hilarious.

(Question from the audience to Vanessa Williams, who plays the show’s villainess: “Who would win in a total bitch fight – you or Meryl? Vanessa’s response, flexing her biceps: “Me, have you seen these guns?” Later, executive producer Ben Silverman confirmed that they were looking for the “fiercest bitch they could find,” and Vanessa fit the bill. She looks good but a little worked over, I have to say.)

Per usual, some of these critics are asking some shockingly ridiculous questions. One asked Vanessa: “Since you are pretty much the complete opposite of Betty, being so beautiful and all, do you find anything in her at all to relate to?” Vanessa’s response, after being visibly offended: “I’m 43, and you know as well as anyone that I’ve had some things happen to me.” Such as the discovery of nudie pics that robbed her of her Miss USA or America or whatever crown and the break-up of her marriage to LA Laker Rick Fox.

Here’s another awesome question: “Last year, you missed the South Beach panel due to a supposed death in the family. Was that just UPN’s excuse since they had already pulled the plug on the show?”

Vanessa: “Thank you for mentioning my father.”

So if you thought you had to be particularly smart or sensitive to be a TV critic, think no further. Many of them certainly aren’t doing too much thinking.

A surprise to me was the Help Me Help You panel, which stars Ted Danson as a group therapist whose own life isn’t running all that smoothly. The cast was generally cracking themselves – and us – up. I watched half the pilot during a break and I was laughing out loud. In one scene, the Asian girl with no social skills tells the man she met on J-Date that she dates Jewish men because she’s not threatened by them because she’s not attracted to them. Unfortunately, the pilot slows down in the second half, so we’ll see how the show goes.

My ABC day wrapped up with a panel on Daybreak, featuring Taye Diggs as a detective who must relive the worst day of his life – in Groundhog Day fashion – until he figures out who is trying to frame him. The show will take Lost’s place as it goes on hiatus from late November to early February. As a colleague of mine said, “I would pretty much watch him eat a bowl of cereal.” I agree, but this show looks like an endless drag. I myself don’t want to live the same day over and over again, why would I want to watch 13 episodes of it? Still, Taye assures us the show's not tediously boring: “I’m Taye Diggs,” he said, “why would I sign on for that?”

I could say, well, Kevin Hill, but that show started out good and went downhill. And in Taye’s case, the arrogance is warranted.

On a final note, I was saying to the same aforementioned colleague how unfair it is that people like Taye, Salma Hayek, Vanessa Williams and Sofia Vergara (she’s on Knights of Prosperity and she’s like the hottest person in the world. I’m not kidding. Check her out at so you can agree with me) are not only ridiculously, unworldly gorgeous, but they are also funny and smart and ambitious and talented. Taye (and Vanessa) can sing, for God’s sake. Salma executive produced an Oscar-nominated film (and she’s funny). Sofia is hilarious and has her own clothing line. I just think that God-given gifts should be more evenly distributed.

But as my colleague pointed out: “Life’s not fair.” And he’s right. Sigh.

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