ABC Executives Sound Coy About New TV Series's Political Edge

By Lisa de Moraes
Monday, August 10, 2009

PASADENA, Calif., Aug. 9

Almost as if Lou Dobbs had taken over the network, ABC plans to debut a series in the fall about aliens who come to Earth promising "hope," "change" and universal health care, but who actually want to infiltrate our government and our businesses and, to that end, have rallied the country's youth behind their nefarious campaign.

Morena Baccarin plays the good-looking, seductively charismatic leader of the so-called Visitors, one remarkably knowledgeable about human culture and media manipulation.

The series is called "V" and it's a re-envisioning of an old miniseries of same name.

Baccarin acknowledged she had modeled her alien character after politicians, saying: "I am trying my best [in the role] to be as trustworthy as I can be and to embody what everybody of every nationality and need wants to see. At the same time, you have your own agenda."

Oh, and "V" is debuting on Nov. 3 -- the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, a.k.a. the one-year anniversary of Barack Obama being elected the 44th president of the United States, which will be front and center on all the cable news networks, the broadcast TV networks' newscasts, the front pages of newspapers, magazine covers and pretty much otherwise on everybody's mind.

This was not lost on some of the TV critics attending Summer TV Press Tour 2009, especially those who knew the original "V" was seen as a political allegory. In that case, it was widely perceived as a thinly veiled portrait of fascism.

"Some of the words in the pilot associated with the Visitors' agenda are 'hope' and 'change' and 'universal health care,' " one critic noted. "So, was that intentional, or are you just freakishly prescient?"

"Freakishly prescient," replied executive producer Scott Peters, though not blithely -- not with any real zippiness. Many in the room did not seem to buy it, except maybe "V" heroine Elizabeth Mitchell, who responded, "Wow!" as if it was the first she was hearing about this.

The critic wanted more.

"We are not looking to put any sort of agenda onto the table but," Peters said, spinning madly, "you know, I wake up in the morning and you look at the news and you see there's wars; there's new diseases being discovered; there's old diseases that we are still dealing with. The economy is in the toilet; there are people losing their homes. Wouldn't it be awesome if 29 ships showed up and they all said, 'We've got this. We'll take care of you. Don't worry about it'?

"Shows are open to interpretation. People bring subjective thoughts to it . . . but there is no particular agenda," Peters said -- again, lacking verve.

One critic finally asked directly, "Do you have any concerns that this might be seen as a slap at the Obama administration, or do you hope that it will be seen that way?"

Peters began to go into people- and-their-pesky-subjectiveness mode: "People will bring to it what they bring to it. . . . If one group wants to claim it as their show and another group wants to claim it as their show, that's their prerogative," he said, looking like a close-up of Bette Davis haggling over terms with studio suits.

"Would you really be that comfortable if the birthers started claming it as their own?" the critic persisted. Birthers, of course, believe Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore not eligible to be president.

"Obama is an alien?" exec producer Jeffrey Bell asked, looking like a close-up of Mariska Hargitay after getting a particularly unconvincing response to "Where were you on the night of September 24?" from some molester on "SVU."

"Look, there are always going to be people who will look for agendas in everything," Bell continued. "This show was conceived during the Bush administration; it got executed during an Obama administration," he said (counting we suspect, on the critics not understanding the distinction).

"There are people on either side of the aisle who can find things. You can say, 'Yeah, look how stupid these people are for following blindly and believing everything the government is saying,' and you can have people who are upset about that," Bell continued.

"And you can have other people saying, 'Look at these people who are promising everything at no cost and they are leading them to their doom.' For us, both sides have strengths and weaknesses. Let's get people to show up and watch it and talk about it. But to try to tie it to the birthers, or anything, is kind of, you know, ridiculous."

Dancing Around Paula

ABC Entertainment Group chief Steve McPherson wants a piece of Paula Abdul. He finds his "Grey's Anatomy" star Katherine Heigl, on the other hand, "unfortunate."

McPherson joins the parade of television executives to appear before TV critics at Summer TV Press Tour 2009 after "American Idol" judge Abdul sent her "I'm Outta Here" tweet, and be asked if they'd put Paula on a show.

"Absolutely, absolutely," McPherson said when asked specifically if he'd like to see Paula on his network's ballroom dance competition series, "Dancing With the Stars."

"There's a sensitivity, and there's kind of an emotion to her that balances out 'Idol,' and we'd love to get a piece of that," McPherson said.

He didn't specify whether he saw her as a contestant or "participant of some sort -- judge, et cetera" on "Dancing."

Despite his vagueness, hyperventilating critics began to blog and tweet that Paula was surely bound for "Dancing With the Stars." This is not to be confused with their hyperventilated blogging and tweeting of a few days earlier that Paula was surely bound for Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance." Those were issued the day Nigel Lythgoe came to the press tour and told them he too would like to get a piece of Paula.

No word yet as to whether either dance show would be willing to cough up the $4 millionish-per-year offer from which Paula sashayed away.

While gushing over Abdul, McPherson was much less enthusiastic about his "Grey's Anatomy" star Heigl, who's been doing The Diva again.

In this chapter of Why People Hate Heigl, the actress went on David Letterman's CBS late night show to promote her latest mediocre romantic comedy, "The Ugly Truth," and mentioned she'd returned to work on the new season of "Grey's."

"Our first day back was Wednesday and it was -- I'm going to keep saying this because I hope it embarrasses them -- a 17-hour day, which I think is cruel and mean," Heigl emoted, looking like a close-up of Joan Crawford.

But the show's producers and crew were not, in fact, embarrassed. Because, turns out, shooting had run long in order to accommodate Heigl's movie-plugging activities on that day. At least that's the skinny that somehow got leaked to various celebrity suck-up rags, blogs and shows after Heigl's late-night appearance.

"It's unfortunate," McPherson said of Heigl's latest outburst of you-may-kiss-the-hem-of-my-skirt attitude toward the television series that made her a star.

"People are going to behave in the way they choose to behave. There are so many people who work unbelievably hard on 'Grey's' and . . . go without any notoriety or credit for it. It's really hard for them to hear [Heigl's comments] . . . the people who are really busting their tail every day and feeling like they're either being looked down upon or criticized."

It was a rare treat for TV critics because Hollywood suits never ever smack down their stars in public -- much less in front of 200 members of the press.

And McPherson is Heigl's boss times two. He not only runs the network's entertainment division, he also runs the Disney TV production division that makes "Grey's" for the ABC network.

It's not the first time Heigl's gone all diva about the ABC hospital drama. One year after her surprise Emmy win for best supporting actress in a drama series, she did not submit herself for Emmy consideration, telling the press she had not been given good enough material on the show that season to warrant throwing her hat into the ring.

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