Fox Entertainment President Doug Herzog walked through the valley of the shadow of death today and emerged unscathed.
Which is to say that he had his first solo Q&A session at a TV press tour, and even though his prime-time lineup is whiter and more out-there than those of his counterparts at UPN and WB who preceded him, Herzog's session was a cozy coffee klatch compared with their bloodbaths.
One reporter criticized a scene in the new series "Get Real," in which parents find their 17-year-old son has spent the night with a girl in his bed and the mom's only mildly miffed and the dad not at all.
"I think it's reality," he responded. "I think it's naive to think that it doesn't exist out there."
Another reporter challenged Herzog on a scene in the new comedy "Malcolm in the Middle," in which Mom walks around topless and answers the door in the same state of undress.
Herzog's response? Reality.
"Mom's walking around in her slip like I would imagine many men and women in America do as they're getting around the house," he responded. Pressed on the issue, Herzog responded: "Let the word go forth: I walk around in my house in my underwear. I'm sorry it had to come out that way."
More seriously he addressed the lack of diverse casting in Fox's prime-time programs.
"Is it going to be a priority--absolutely," he said, adding that he's going to add minority actors on the shows he's picked up for fall, even "Manchester Prep," which is set in an ultra-snotty, rich-kids-only school.
Herzog also noted--which those before him failed to do--that the crowd he was addressing was virtually all white. The reporters pretty much left him alone on the diversity topic after that.
He took a lot of questions about his new half-hour comedy series "Action," which is a behind-the-scenes look at the film industry.
The show originally was in the works over at HBO, which is to say it includes a lot of "adult" language. The Fox version bleeps out much of the language.
Herzog said he knew that the show would offend some people--"Much of the best comedy does that." His response? "Please don't watch. Watch somebody else's network for that half-hour."
Yes, Herzog's Q&A was a group hug. So it's too bad that the stars of "Action" had been frightened by Fox and went all defensive on the critics from the get-go.
Jay Mohr, who plays hot-shot producer Peter Dragon, came out and almost immediately told the reporters that they reminded him of his dog when he had run out of treats. Maybe not such a shrewd opening.
And, somebody at Fox needs to explain to Illeana Douglas that she plays a hooker in the show so hooker questions are appropriate and not "demeaning to women," as she said when one reporter asked her whether her hooker character would continue to be a hooker on subsequent episodes or would become a staffer in Dragon's production company. (In the pilot, Dragon accidentally picks her up and ends up thinking so highly of her judgment he lets her pick his next script.)
Turns out, her character does become a staffer at Dragonfire Productions but keeps seeing her regulars on the side, one Fox exec told us, but I'm not sure they've broken the news to Douglas.
Douglas also made a point of telling the reporters, who hail mostly from places other than Los Angeles, that Hollywood is a "clean" and "very moral town," which has far less deviant behavior than she sees "when I go on location." Way to chalk up those brownie points, Illeana.
Mohr veered from Douglas on the subject of Hollywood, which he described as a "horrible town" where "good men die like dogs . . . and people with famous brothers get 16 shows."
Mohr closed the session by telling the critics that "this is my first time doing this and I'm pretty fascinated that for about an hour I'd say almost to the person each question put us on the defensive and in a position to feel like we had to defend a show that we're very, very proud of; that's funny above and beyond anything else. . . . And I think we're all getting a little caught up in the bleeps, and let's not forget that we are bleeping and we are on late at night, and we're entertaining people and selling soap and gasoline."
Afterward, series creator Chris Thompson said he thought the reporters had been "affectionate" toward the show and presumed they were "still all sated on [UPN CEO] Dean Valentine's blood."
CAPTION: Jay Mohr, left, and Illeana Douglas were hot and bothered with the press pool yesterday.