Since when has Ashton Kutcher been too busy to do anything?
Members of the Television Critics Association yesterday were told that the self-made King of Twitter, along with his Two and a Half Men co-stars and their executive producer, were apparently too busy with work to appear during CBS' day at the Summer 2011 tour.
It was an otherwise very satisfying day, with sessions for all of the network's new shows, plus one with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley. There were many extra touches throughout, the highlight being the presentation of one of David Letterman's Top Ten Lists taped especially for the TCA in which Josh Groban sang ten little known songs about television. But the missing men of Men were very much on critics' minds.
During her session, which started the day, CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler was asked by one critic whyMen was not included on the network's TCA schedule.
"They're in production this week," was Tassler's reply.
Now, production of Kutcher's first episode began on Monday, making yesterday Day Three of Week One as opposed to Day Five (when it will actually tape), and its home base is Warner Bros. in Burbank, not that far from the Beverly Hilton, home to this summer's tour, so Tassler's response seemed a bit of a stretch. Many networks over the years have gone to great lengths to bring talent to TCA, even flying them in from other countries or interrupting their vacations. The suggestion that the people involved with CBS' biggest programming story and the most exciting casting coup of the year couldn't take an hour or two to dash over to the Hilton, answer a few questions and dash back to the studio before their morning coffee break felt somewhat hollow, to say the least.
Besides, almost every new and returning series that is appearing during the broadcast days at TCA is "in production," including CBS' own CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, like Men getting renewed attention this season with the casting of a new leading man. That would be Ted Danson, who was here later in the morning with several CSI cast members and producers to talk about the upcoming twelfth season of the series. In fact, they even showed a clip from the season premiere that gave reporters a good understanding of what Danson's character will bring to the show. That's how it's done.
Actually, having seen Kutcher in action over the years at many different TCA sessions, I think he can do just about anything, including field a few questions about replacing Charlie Sheen. If Men creator and executive producer Chuck Lorre and co-star Jon Cryer didn't want to show up Kutcher could have gone solo, turned on the charm and would have very likely owned the room.
I understand that everyone involved with the show is doing his or her best to keep the details of its season premiere out of the press, even if their cone of silence is cracking apart by the day. In fact, Tassler made clear that one reason for keeping mum about Kutcher's arrival on Men is that the mystery is part of the big All Will Be Revealed marketing campaign CBS has launched for the show. And I'm certain they are all tired of questions about Sheen. But, to put this in language that Hollywood's top television writers would appreciate, this was the time for Kutcher, Lorre and Cryer to put on their big boy pants and meet the press.
Tassler did provide some vital information about the new Men. She revealed that Kutcher's character is named Walden Schmidt, that Schmidt is "an Internet billionaire with a broken heart" and that he is a "unique character," which may mean that he has no previous ties to the existing characters on the show's canvas. She also confirmed reports that the season premiere will be a two-part episode. She did not confirm the frenzied press reports that Sheen's character, Charlie Harper, will be dead at the season's start. I presume the frenzy will continue right up until the two-part season premiere has been telecast. That's actually good news for the show and for CBS and even better news for broadcast overall.
Speaking of good news for CBS, Tassler – still the most dynamic network executive on any TCA stage -- opened her session by reminding the room about her network's accomplishments. "You've heard me say this [many] times, and I'm happy to get to say it again," she began. "We're the No. 1 network in viewers. We're the No. 1 network in Upfront market revenue, and this season -- surprise, surprise -- we are the No. 1 broadcast network in Emmy nominations, and I'm really happy about that."
"Ratings, revenue, and Emmy nominations, that's a pretty cool trifecta [that] speaks to the network's quality on the screen and our appeal to viewers as well as advertisers," she continued. "Now, if we can get the love from the TV critics, life would be perfect."