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1998 Television Critics Association Tour

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The recently concluded Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, a 15-day bonanza of star-packed cocktail parties and sluggish press conferences, is also a breeding ground for the bizarre. Here are some highlights.

You couldn’t get a minivan? For NYPD Blue‘s 100th-episode celebration, ABC ferried reporters to the Twentieth Century Fox lot on a real L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. prisoners’ bus. The bumpy and awful 50-minute ride was compounded by metal-grated windows, a locking cage door, and a charming mildewy odor. Later, ABC staffers apologized to nauseated journalists: “We thought it was a cute idea at the time.”

Smile, you’re on…CBS staged a Candid Camera stunt on four unsuspecting writers at the hotel: Host Peter Funt, dressed as a bellman, led the critics to rooms that had — hold on to your sides — no TVs! The video of the resulting hissy fits was the high point of the net’s opening session. “You guys are sick,” whined one victim.

That’s the party spirit For a man who just received a free Porsche from Warner Bros. (an incentive to continue his ABC sitcom), Drew Carey certainly wasn’t in a festive mood at the network’s cocktail party. “I have an earache,” groaned the subdued star. “I’m only here because they picked me up for two years. I felt obligated to show up.”

Isn’t it ironic? As usual, the networks gave critics some curious freebies. CBS delivered a toaster emblazoned with “Welcome Home,” along with slices of white bread. ABC distributed plain doughnuts wrapped in cellophane in an NYPD Blue gift pack. But the best came from NBC, which two days after losing the rights to broadcast AFC football games gave everyone…a football (hyping the post-Super Bowl episode of 3rd Rock From the Sun).

A dis is still a dis The Reverend Bud Kieser, participating in a panel about ABC’s drama Nothing Sacred, had this to say about CBS’ Touched by an Angel: “I find the show, honestly, a little preachy.” That snub was outdone by CBS president Les Moonves’ jab at a former NBC talent: “Brooklyn South won a People’s Choice award. Notwithstanding the fact that Tony Danza also won, we’re very proud.”

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