How do you follow breakfast with Joan Rivers? Start with a back-to-back lineup of fearless women at NBCU’s cable channels, from the Project Runway-pumped Bravo to the femme-botic SCI FI. Read on for part 2 of Mike Grebb’s TCA diary

PASADENA — Friday, Jan. 12

8:30 am – Who could resist breakfast with Joan Rivers? I head on down to the TV Guide Channel-sponsored breakfast, which includes some admittedly yummy egg-and-cheese croissants and gallons of glorious coffee. Joan and daughter Melissa are there schmoozing the critics. I’m introduced to Joan, who is as pleasant as can be, explaining to me that she feels as if she’s having too much fun at the breakfast (coping with we in the press is, of course, supposed to be hard work). I tell her to just fuggedaboutit and have more fun. Nice lady.

9 am – NBC Universal starts things off with Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick, who talks up the 4th season of hit Project Runway and the 2nd season of The Real Housewives of Orange County. Just to set the tone, Zalaznick lets us all know that the housewives will be drinking with us later at the NBCU cocktail party. “You can ask them if they’re real,” she says. “And I mean the show.” The housewives aren’t on the Q&A schedule, however, leaving us with the cast of Top Design (premiering Jan. 31), which is supposed to be the interior-design version of Top Chef. Designer and lead judge Jonathan Adler compares designers to MacGyver because they’re forced to improvise with what they’ve got. That seems to be his fashion philosophy as well, considering the lime-green sport coat, sky-blue pants and dress-shoes-with-no-socks ensemble he’s wearing. If this guy walked into my house promising to spruce up my décor, I’d take that as a threat. But then again, I don’t live in New York. Before long, SCI FI (one of my favorite nets) hit the stage with cast members of its new thriller series Painkiller Jane starring the beautiful and freakishly tall Kristanna Loken. As the trailer finishes running and the lights come up, she starts clapping and screaming at the top of her lungs from the stage. The critics are scared. After all, this Amazon Woman is most well known for playing a homicidal cyborg in Terminator 3. She was well cast here as well. When one critic mispronounces her name, she interrupts him. “It’s Kris-TAWN-a,” she blurts in that gravelly voice of hers. One thing’s for sure: Loken’s perfectly cast as the ass-kicking Jane. My colleague Seth Arenstein interviews her later on camera for He appears a bit traumatized afterwards but otherwise survives — save for a slight limp and a black eye. Note to self: Don’t mess with KrisTAWNa!!

10:45 amSundance Channel shows off “The Green,” a programming block that highlights environmental issues. With all the flowers blooming across North America, I fail to see what could possibly be wrong with the environment. Oh, yeah. IT’S FRIGGIN’ JANUARY!! Anyway, the block is probably way overdue, especially with non-believers insisting this whole global-warming “theory” is just a liberal conspiracy to destroy our economy and assist Al Qaeda. That’s what I heard on the radio, anyway.

11:30 am – After yesterday’s 1:30 pm lunch in which Alexandra Wentworth was nearly lynched by a starved press mob, GSN’s 11:30 am lunch session proves a bit friendlier. It helps that Rich Cronin always puts everyone in a good mood, showing us a screenshot of GSN’s online video game pitting Donald Trump vs. Rosie O’Donnell (Rosie’s secret weapon is her tongue while the Donald can swat opponents with his lethal comb-over). SVP-programming Jamie Roberts also reveals that GSN will develop an Americanized version of the British game-show hit Without Prejudice in which judges skewer people’s personal lives in order to find the one contestant worthy of a cash prize. Could be fun. And very British. Meanwhile, the real entertainment begins when Cat-Minster hosts Bob Goen and Marianne Curan bring up judge Walter Hutzler and various cat contestants. Watching Hutzler lift cats’ hind legs into the air as he explains their skeletal girth is fun for me, mainly because the cats look pissed. I’m allergic, so seeing cats in uncomfortable situations fills me with vengeful bliss for all of those sneeze-ridden dinners and parties at my cat-lover friends’ houses.

12:45 pm – Rainbow brings us fare from WE TV, Fuse and AMC. First up is WE’s Wife, Mom and Bounty Hunter with ex-female wrestler Sandra Scott, who is now a bail-bonds(wo)man and bounty hunter… Isn’t that just always the way? WE chief Kim Martin promises the show will detail family life as Scott “balances her glock and groceries.” Her teenaged daughter Sabree seems to talk back a lot during the show’s trailer. I wouldn’t. After all, mom’s packing. One of the freshest things I’ve seen in a while is Fuse’s The Whitest Kids U’Know featuring a Brooklyn sketch comedy troupe of guys who look just out of high school or college. Their videos became a viral sensation on YouTube, and now they’re hitting the cable airwaves. I have to admit that the sketches they performed onstage (as well as a trailer from the show itself) are hilarious and certainly aimed at Fuse’s very young demo. These guys remind me of “Kids in the Hall.” And that’s a big compliment. AMC, meanwhile, brought in the legendary star power of Robert Vaughn and Robert Wagner to tout the 4th season of Hustle, the British-based series about grifters that will be set in L.A. for the first time. AMC acquired the series from BBC America, so it’s perhaps expected that it would jump the pond to the states. Co-star Jaime Murray shamelessly charmed the critics while the Vaughn-Wagner combo regaled in telling war stories about the Hollywood of decades’ past (like how the ensemble cast of the 1970s disaster flick The Towering Inferno all had identical trailers to quell any rivalries).

2:30 pm – How to describe David Milch’s bizarre rant during the HBO session… Mystifying? Metaphysical? Umm, how about just plain weird? It’s hard to say “no” to the creator of massive hits like NYPD Blue and Deadwood, which might explain how he got the HBO brass to greenlight John From Cincinnati. Don’t get me wrong. This show, which follows a family of surfers in California, could be the best thing ever to grace the airwaves. But Milch’s attempts at TCA to explain the show — as well as the trailer designed to pique our interest — make absolutely no sense. Milch, who says research for the show included his past drug use, talks about string theory, dimensional reality and other stuff I usually hear about on The Science Channel. Heavy, dude. Heavy. The rest of HBO’s star-studded panels make a bit more sense. Jim Broadbent stars as Long Longford in Longford about the controversial British politician who campaigned for the release of convicted child murderer Myra Hindley. Critics who had seen the film seem to fawn all over him. A good sign. Meanwhile, the Dick Wolf-produced Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee looks like another winner for HBO. Aidan Quinn and Ann Paquin (as well as Adam Beach as a Native American conflicted about his assimilation into western society) seem to shine as actors. Friends of God is Alexandra Pelosi’s latest documentary — this time about the red-state evangelical movement. Interestingly, she says evangelicals she approached didn’t mind her being the daughter of liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as much as they minded her being from HBO. “They call it Hell’s Box Office,” she says. Part of the reason is probably Bill Maher, whose anti-religion rants on HBO’s hilarious Real Time with Bill Maher have never been a hit in the heartland. Maher sits down onstage for a half hour fielding critics’ questions with answers like this: “Truth is like sex. It’s best when it’s a little painful.” Classic Bill. HBO also brings out Oscar-nominated megastar Queen Latifah and Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx to talk about Life Support, a searing look at HIV in the black community through the eyes of a single mother (Latifah). Foxx is executive producer. Despite the serious subject matter, there are light moments on stage—like when a critic, moved by Latifah’s heartfelt soliloquy about AIDS prevention, asks her if she would ever run for political office. “I cannot run for office because I did inhale,” she says.

5:45 pm – NBCU gets us all together one more time (even offering us champagne… sweet!) to hear about USA‘s Starter Wife, the Debra-Messing vehicle based on the book by Gigi Levangie Grazer. Messing, who comes in via satellite because she’s on location in Australia finishing up the shoot, tells us she thought the script was “smart, funny and a little subversive” in its exposure of dysfunctional Hollywood relationships. One of the funniest moments is when a critic asks Grazer if any of her friends are mad at her for basing some of the book on them. She smiles. “If you make a woman thin enough or give a guy a big package, everybody’s happy.” Yeah, that’s pretty much Hollywood.

6:30 pm – It’s on to NBCU’s big cocktail reception (that also includes freshly grilled steaks and pasta… yum!). As they say, everyone is there. KrisTAWNa Loken sits in the corner with a reporter’s tape recorder in her face (Be careful… don’t taunt the Teminatrix!). Corbin Bernson is milling around (perhaps looking for work after “General Hospital” killed off his character). Even ex-Charlies Angels TV star Jaclyn Smith is holding court. As usual, I skip the pleasantries and head straight for the bar—along the way, I run into “real housewife” Tammy Knickerbocker from the Bravo reality show. She tells me that she’s glad they didn’t present onstage at TCA because it’s tough to answer reporters’ questions. So naturally, I continue to ask her questions like the bastard I am. Gotta say, she was really sweet despite my journalistic pedigree. Meanwhile, KrisTAWNa keeps eyeing me — and not in a good way. I’m worried she’s going to “terminate” me at any moment, so I leave the party.

9 pm — Back in my room. Yet more half-comatose TV watching. I momentarily slip into a metaphysical trance brought on by David Milch’s earlier speech. I snap myself out of it and take the elevator to the 8th floor where the IFC party is already underway.

9:30 pm – I arrive at IFC’s party only to find even more celebs milling around. I’m chatting with a PR pal o’ mine not three feet from Kathleen Robertson, one of those actresses whose names you don’t know but whose faces you can’t miss. She’s been in a bunch of stuff, including Beverly Hills 90210 back in the day and more recently Scary Movie 2. Also partying away is Laura Knightlinger, a hilarious actress/comedienne who has been all over the place (her appearance as “Backstage Betty” in one of Jack Black’s Tenacious D shorts on HBO a few years back is classic). Of course, I don’t work up the nerve to talk to any of them — although I’m sure they all read CableFAX regularly. I’m more concerned about making sure the drinks keep coming from the bar. Thankfully, they do.

Midnight – I hit the sack, knowing full well I must get up early the next morning to catch a plane back to Washington Dulles. I have nightmares about David Milch slipping me something that transforms me into the “primal man” made famous by William Hurt in Altered States. After popping a B-complex, I go back to bed and dream about the next TCA. Can’t wait.

Check out part 1 of Mike’s TCA debut and don’t miss Seth Arenstein’s TCA Musings for more punditry from Pasadena at the TV Critics Association winter press tour.

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