American Idol



9 a.m. PT:  Fox is trying to buy my affections with Mini Ritz crackers, cheddar Goldfish, gumdrops and M&Ms. Little do they know I would have given them my soul for just the M&Ms.

I'm here at the Fox Winter Press Tour gathering scoop on Tim Minear's Drive (the pilot script was amazing, and I can't wait to see footage!), American Idol and The Simpsons. If you have questions about any Fox shows, post them below in Comments, and I'll see if I can't get y'all answers from the stars and producers at tonight's All-Star Party. But now, on with the show...

The press release sitting on this table wants me to tell you that Fox is airing a two-hour 24 event Feb. 12, with Chad Lowe and Powers Boothe (Deadwood) guesting as a political operative and the veep, respectively. Sign me up for that! Also, Standoff  is moving to Friday at 8—on Fox. A time slot better known to you TV fans as the Death Slot. Awww, Ron Livingston, it's been great seeing you in action as a crisis negotiator, can't wait for your next project.

10 a.m.:  Time for the executive session with Fox prez Peter Liguor, who says the network announced the end of The O.C. early so fans would have time to cope. I, for one, am only in the first stage of grief.

When asked about Minear's trouble finding a winning show, Liguori notes, "To his credit, Tim Minear is the Rocky Balboa of Fox show producers." Now, I'm visualizing Tim in the editing room screaming, "Cut me, Mick! Cut me!"

The Simpsons will outlive us all. Liguori says, "It's definitely our animated show, and as much as possible, I want to see it be my kids' favorite show." Thank Jeebus.

Esoteric scheduling info: Baseball playoffs schedule rejiggering means only 14 preemptions next fall, instead of 26.

Liguori suspects serial programs with a clear goal (24: Save the world; Prison Break: Escape jail) may have slim survival advantages over shows with more complex or obscure objectives.

Prison Break: Not back for sure, but a "very exciting" season three has been planned.

Next up, Captain Tightpants! (That's Drive star Nathan Fillion, aka Capt. Mal "Tightpants" Reynolds, for those of you who didn't watch Firefly.)


10:45 a.m.:  We're told by a suit that if Lost is scripted Survivor, Drive is scripted Amazing Race.

Melanie Lynskey looks fabulous.

Tim's all skinny and hot—his famed pet beagles must be working him out. He says the characters share a common goal of winning, but while driving at furious speeds across the country, they will also have time to have sex with each other. I'm totally paraphrasing, but you get the gist.

Someone asks the actors, "Can you, in fact, drive?" Nathan, doing Rain Man: "I'm an excellent driver. Excellent driver." Melanie lived in L.A. without driving for four years and took cabs everywhere. Crazy girl. More from Nathan:  "I was in a terrible car accident when I was two years old...I shouldn't have been driving in the first place." Okay, to quote a Partridge, "I think I love you."

Tim, on his overall deal at Fox: "Some days, the $2 million is hardly worth it."

Story info: Nathan's character is Alex Tully. His wife is kidnapped, and he's told to win this race or die. Melanie's character is a young mother getting out of the hospital after having a baby; she's afraid to go home to a scary husband, so if she wins the prize of $32 million, she can be free. Also, per creator Ben Queen, "There's a reason they're being chosen—there's something they can do, something that's not necessarily obvious." 

Drive premieres Apr. 15 on Fox. (Go, speed racers, go!)


3:15 p.m.:  As of right now, the American Idol panel is officially 30 minutes past due. No one has told us anything, so we reporter types are thinking of starting some sort of small-scale riot or perhaps just chanting "Paul-a! Paul-a! Paul-a!" at the top of our lungs.

3:26 p.m.:  Four minutes before the panel is scheduled to end, I ask a girl at the front desk what's up. By way of explanation, she tells me, "Oh, Paula just got here 10 minutes ago." On the way out of the room to ask that Q,  I notice a distinguished fellow being asked for credentials at the door to the ballroom. Providing a great service for which I expect to be handsomely rewarded (cut of Simpsons residuals, perhaps?), I tip off the security guard: "That's James L. Brooks. He's kind of important." And sure enough, he's waved on through.

3:30 p.m. (Update):  The Idol panel (starring Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Ryan Seacrest and some British guy) finally begins...Paula says of the significance of Idol, "We change people's lives, for the rest of their lives."

Randy says, "It's sort of a Rocky story set to music," to which curmudgeon Simon interjects, "Clay Aiken would not have won Rocky." (Wow, there's a total Rocky theme today. )

Someone asks why the panel started 40 minutes late with no explanation. Simon takes the hit, explaining, "It was my fault—I had a flight in from London, and I came late."

Randy, when asked whether he has changed at all over the years, notes: "There are times when, if you listen through the evening, the dawg is kind of stern."

A reporter grills Paula about the recent viral vids mini-scandal, and she explains that she was doing satellite-feed interviews and inadvertently replying to two different interviewers at the same time, all while suffering technical difficulties that made it unclear to her that the interview was still be recorded.

Randy: "The only thing in the Coke cups is Coca-Cola!"

Paula, how does it be feel to be widely described as drunk or drugged? "It's really fun," she quips, and we all laugh. "I've never had to weather the storm of publicity, controversy. It's this show, it's huge." 

Simon says, "I hate to admit this, but I wouldn't do the show without Paula and Randy." Awww... I am totally feeling the love!


Matt Groening on the show's longevity: "Sadly, many of our fans have died, having gotten so old. But new ones are always being born."

Al Jean, on the same topic: "We once said Bart Simpson was born in 1980. We now have writers who are younger than Bart."

Having been asked if the animated nature of the show is a particular comedic advantage, James L. Brooks says, "The great thing is you can do high comedy, low comedy—take it anywhere you want."

The landmark 400th episode will be either a 24 parody guest-voiced by Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub or an episode in which anchorman Kent Brockman says something untoward and is fired after the FCC drops some mondo fines on Springfield local network affiliates. And next season's premiere may well include guest voice Stephen Colbert. (Whoo!)

Last but not least, the creators are aiming for a PG-13 rating on the movie. (Good news for you recently born fans!)

Okay, that's all from the folks at The Simpsons, and I'm off to the Fox party! Wish me scoop! 

—Additional reporting by Jennifer Godwin


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