Like a handsome prince, Chris Rock rescued TV critics from the state of profound deathlike sleep at Summer TV Press Tour 2005 in the Land of Television.
Somnambulant critics, fallen under the curse of evasive cable executives and evil Viacom spin fairies, wondered sleepily Thursday how involved Rock would be going forward on UPN's new comedy series "Everybody Hates Chris."
Rock does the voiceover on and is executive producer of the show, which is loosely based on his childhood in the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Before falling into their swoon, critics had heard that the show was developed for Fox but that Fox suits had let expire the network's option on the project because they worried Rock would have little to do with the series, week in and week out.
(You perhaps thought networks greenlit a series based on whether it was really good. That's so sweet -- don't ever change.)
"I've been working for a while -- I don't think I've ever done anything and walked out," Rock proclaimed.
"There is no evidence of that. My name's Rock, not Chappelle."
Critics, though sleepwalking, got the reference to Dave Chappelle. He's the other skinny black comic, who, after being handed a purse of $50 million to do a third season of his sketch comedy show for Comedy Central (which, like UPN, is a hamlet in the Kingdom of Viacom), was mysteriously turned into a Weirdsmobile and fled the show, leaving the handsome prince of Comedy Central, Doug Herzog, scratching his head and minus his brightest star.
Enchanted by Rock's zinger, critics laughed and yawned and stretched for the first time in the 10 days thus far of this year's summer get-together, otherwise known as the While We Were Sleeping Tour.
(Our sources say Fox passed on "Everybody Hates Chris" because it worried not about Rock's long-term commitment to the series but about the "backend" -- syndication and overseas sales -- viability of a single-camera, laugh-track-free, black-cast comedy.)
Perking up, the critics wondered what the heck the best new comedy of the upcoming TV season was doing on a little network like UPN instead of, say, CBS -- which also is ruled by the king of Viacom's Slower Growth Networks, His Royal Highness Leslie Moonves.
Viacom's evil spin fairies have not allowed Moonves to appear on stage at this press tour because of his tendency to say something worth reporting, which would break the curse.
On Thursday, Moonves sat at the back of the ballroom looking relaxed, while the charming UPN Princess Dawn Ostroff did her best to not make news, so as to please the Viacom spin fairies.
Ostroff did insist that UPN "is not a farm system for CBS" and that although she is "thrilled" the critics like Rock's new show and think it's good enough to put on CBS -- which, she noted, was the top-rated network last season -- "we got it, we produced it and we are broadcasting it." But even at their groggiest, critics were skeptical because they know that HRH Moonves, sitting in the back of the room, is the guy who ultimately calls the shots. And the fact that he wasn't taking the stage to answer any questions about CBS or UPN was, for critics who tend to love a good conspiracy theory, like throwing the raw flesh of unicorns to the royal piranha.
Critics were more impressed, however, when Rock told them that although, yes, Ostroff had traipsed after him like he was the Holy Grail, what got him really excited was that she had been keen on the pilot script and not just the idea of working with a star like Chris Rock. "I responded to that," he said.
UPN has scheduled Rock's series at 8 p.m. Thursdays, where, some have speculated, it could do serious damage to NBC's ratings-starved "Joey," a spin-off of "Friends," which owned the time slot for years. This would be a blow to the network, whose Thursday lineup for decades defined "Must See TV."
Asked what he thought of "Joey," Rock said, "I've never seen it. Sorry, is that offensive?" Which didn't play well with the crowd, but you can't bat 1,000.
While Rock is on board to do all the voiceover work on the series (a la "Wonder Years"), he probably will not make an appearance on the show, said show co-creator and executive producer Ali LeRoi. Although LeRoi was on stage for the Q&A session along with executive producer Howard Gewirtz and the show's ensemble cast, almost all the questions were directed to Rock.
"Chris is actually a distraction on the camera," LeRoi said. ". . . In order for people to get to know this cast, he can't be standing there because it's really no different than this press conference -- the majority of attention will go to the famous guy."
Which made the critics ashamed. And they all lived happily ever after.
As CBS's new late-night project "Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" continues to try to get its footing, former "Tonight Show" executive Gary Considine has been named co-executive producer.
Peter Lassally, who as senior vice president for producer Worldwide Pants Inc. oversees "Late Late Show," also assumes the title of executive producer, thus assuring his complete control of the show.
Considine replaces executive producer Todd Yasui, who has worked for Jay Leno and joined "Late Late Show" in 2002. Yasui, a former Washington Post staffer, leaves the show six months after Ferguson took over from Craig Kilborn as host. A spokesman for Worldwide Pants told The Post's John Maynard that the company chose not to renew Yasui's contract.
The announcement was first reported on the Web site TVBarn.com.
Lassally, a legend in late night who worked with Johnny Carson for 23 years, is a big backer of Ferguson and was instrumental in getting the comedian his new gig. Many critics viewed Ferguson, best known in this country for his role as Nigel Wick on "The Drew Carey Show," as an unlikely replacement for Kilborn.
In another move, Mike Armstrong recently replaced Hugh Fink as head writer of the show. Armstrong's most recent writing credit was the short-lived NBC sitcom "Watching Ellie," starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
"Late Late Show" is averaging 1.8 million viewers this year, up about 9 percent from 2004. NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," which airs in the same 12:35 a.m. time slot, has averaged 2.5 million viewers this year.
on why Chris Rock won't appear on the show.