Years from now, when my great-grandnieces visit me at the Tim Russert Home for Aged Journalists and I'm trying their patience with tales of the first TV press tour of the new millennium, I'll have trouble recollecting the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the brouhaha over its youth anti-drug media campaign or whatever the heck it's called--see, I'm already having trouble.
But I'll never forget that I got to touch the hair of a 23,000-year-old woolly mammoth. Twenty-three-thousand-year-old woolly mammoth hair is brown and feels coarse, very much like a horse's mane. Only much older. And very much spookier.
Discovery Channel brought a mess of mammoth hair to the TV press tour here as a show-and-tell to promote "Raising the Mammoth," its two-hour documentary slated for March.
The hair came off a male mammoth that had been frozen in Siberia for 20 millennia until he was found by a local family called the Jarkovs. They relieved him of his tusks--which are worth about $20,000 on the open market. Fortunately, French explorer Bernard Buigues heard about them, helicoptered in, bought the tusks and reunited them with their original owner. Buigues then arranged to have Jarkov the Mammoth--named after the family--airlifted in his permafrost grave to the town of Khatanga, 2,000 miles away, where he'll be studied.
And, as inevitably happens when scientists are put in charge of things, they will try to clone Jarkov the Mammoth, and genuinely didn't understand why The Reporters Who Cover Television might have a problem with that.
"I say, why not?" shot back Larry Agenbroad, a deliciously chilly paleontologist from Northern Arizona University. "In North America, at least, I can demonstrate that humans had a great deal to do with their extinction. . . . Maybe we owe them the chance to come back." Besides, Agenbroad argued, it's not much different from the federal government's program to reintroduce grizzly bears and wolves in the Western United States, to make amends for federal programs that had led to their eradication. "I don't see any real ethical or moral difference between bringing back grizzly bears and wolves and the possibility of bringing back a mammoth clone," he said.
It can't have been easy hearing your hard week's work likened to studying navel lint. And particularly for TRWCT to hear it from producer Dick Wolf, who is listed in all of their Rolodexes under "Great Quote on Perils of Federal Government Interference in TV Programming." Why, Wolf was practically the poster boy for Hollywood's fight against the feds over TV series content ratings.
But navel lint-picking is just what Wolf called the media dissection of the White House-media trade of anti-drug messages for ad-time credits.
"It must have been the slowest news day of the last two years," he sneered, of the day the story went wide in the news media.
"That is not a story, folks; apparently there has been an obsession in this room. This is like examining navel lint. . . . I've never seen something with so little consequence get so much input."
Which may explain why Wolf's Q&A session on "DC," his new show for the Wanna Be network, was such a dud. He'd hurt the TRWCT's feelings. Deeply.
Or it may have been because this was the "Law & Order" creator's first series for WB, so some of his biggest fans--that elite subset The Very Important Reporters Who Cover Television--weren't even there.
TVIRWCT come in for the big kill--ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox--and then fly out, laden with network exec heads and skins to put on their trophy walls at home.
And just this week, I learned that UPN is bilingual.
In Washington, the network speaks as the Voice of the African American Viewer. Execs use this language to talk to reporters there about "Moesha," "The Parkers," "Malcolm & Eddie" and "Grown Ups," all of which have African American casts, as well as the minority cast members of "Star Trek: Voyager."
They also talk about how much money UPN is losing and how hard it would be to find a company besides Viacom willing to pour bucks into the fledgling network. Maybe that's because Viacom is about to merge with CBS and is trying to convince the Washington bureaucracy that the rules should be bent so that it can hang on to UPN, too. Companies that own a major broadcast network are prohibited from owning one of the broadcast little fry.
In Southern California, however, UPN speaks mostly as the Voice of Young Men.
"Last May, we told the advertisers what we intend to do: We were going to focus on young men, we were going to bring down our average age, and we were going to grow," said UPN COO Adam Ware.
"For the first time, what advertisers have craved and what they had found on cable, which was a focused target of young men but no real mass, they have now found on broadcast television."
And UPN's programming chief Tom Nunan said: "We have delivered on our promise to deliver young men. . . . UPN is the purest play for an advertiser interested in males 12 to 34. These viewers constitute 24 percent of our prime-time audience, significantly more than any other network."
There was a little indirect talk about the minority audience--including announcements of some shows in development, such as a multiethnic half-hour sketch show "The Source Hop Hop Music Awards," a comedy to star Latino comic Freddie Soto, and possibly even that "Hip Hop Bounty Hunters" series we all can't wait to see.
When asked a question about the Viacom-CBS merger, UPN CEO Dean Valentine began speaking the network's other language, noting that 41 percent of UPN's audience is African American and "that the loss of UPN will be a terrible loss for the number of voices that are out there in the marketplace."
And all of you back home who are involved in the discussion of a possible waiver for Viacom, please note that he said that six months ago, when the merger was first announced, "everybody was sort of worrying, 'I don't want UPN, you take it' " but that "we're now in a very different position, where we're pleased to have people fighting over us, as opposed to [over] who has to keep us."
CAPTION: The tusks of the 23,000-year-old woolly mammoth discovered intact in Siberia.