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`Mission: Impossible' star Tom Cruise's response to Diane Sawyer's `South Park' question: Just what was he saying?

April 18, 2006|Scott Collins | Times Staff Writer

Diane Sawyer's Friday interview with Tom Cruise on ABC's "Primetime" may have seemed like a standard-issue celebrity chat, but it could possibly deepen our understanding of the star of the upcoming "Mission: Impossible III." And no, I'm not joking. Not entirely, anyway.

As you may remember, Cruise was accused last month of threatening to withhold publicity support for Paramount's "M:I:III" if Viacom, the studio's parent, did not pull a Comedy Central repeat of a "South Park" episode that ridiculed Cruise. At the time, Cruise's rep Paul Bloch told me that the actor "had nothing to do with any programming" decision on Comedy Central and "at no time did Tom Cruise say he would not do publicity" for the movie. Let's look closely at the relevant exchange from "Primetime":

Cruise: Diane, here's the thing. I'm really not even going to dignify this.

Sawyer: Did you try to stop that show?

Cruise: No, listen, no, I -- no, I -- I honestly didn't even really know about it. I didn't even know about it. I'm working making my movie. I've got my family. I've got things. I don't know about it. I work. I'm busy. I don't spend my days going through what people are saying about me, OK?

He didn't know about it? If by "it," he's referring to the "Trapped in the Closet" episode, Cruise would be quite possibly the last sentient American under 50 to be unaware that "South Park" had questioned his sexuality and ridiculed Scientology. Note also the quick shift from the past tense to the present -- "I didn't know" to "I don't know about it" -- which sounds suspiciously similar to the Sgt. Schultz defense ("I know nothing -- nothing!"). The statement also raises the question: If he doesn't know about "it," does he know what he's denying? Has he seen the episode?

And what of this "I don't spend my days going through what people are saying about me?" That seems an odd statement coming from a movie star who has settled or won at least three separate lawsuits (against the British tabloid Express, the actor Chad Slater and magazine publisher Michael Davis) for suggesting that he is gay.

Because Viacom is a publicly traded company and "South Park" and "M:I" are two of its most lucrative franchises, it would be enlightening to discover exactly what happened to "Trapped in the Closet." One hopes that Cruise and his employer haven't decided that we can't handle the truth.

Brian soon to get a Dear John letter?

ABC tried a "sneak preview" of its new drama "What About Brian" on Easter night, in the cushy 10 p.m. time slot after "Desperate Housewives." But here's guessing the network won't have to worry about Brian for too long.

The show, with Barry Watson as a decent, good-looking 30-ish guy who can't seem to find a lady love, moves to its regular Monday slot tonight, but so far "Brian" is having as much trouble attracting viewers as its title character is having pursuing a wife. The preview rounded up just 12.8 million total viewers (an average 5.6 rating/14 share in adults ages 18 to 49), according to early data from Nielsen Media Research. It hung on to a not-so-hot 73% of the lead-in with that key demographic from "Housewives," and worst of all it lost nearly a full demographic rating point (6.0 to a 5.1) in the second half-hour, a telling sign of viewer fatigue. Thanks to the lead-in, however, "Brian" still won the slot amid weak competition (including CBS' movie "Robert Ludlum's Covert One: The Hades Factor," which averaged an anemic 6.8 million viewers).

Critics have already largely written off the series (San Francisco Chronicle critic Tim Goodman compared "Brian" to "a bad 'Thirtysomething' episode -- maybe the worst 'Thirtysomething' episode"). But what's the deal with ABC green-lighting all these shows about great-looking singles who just can't find love? Maybe "Brian" should figure out a way to hook up with Heather Graham from the departed "Emily's Reasons Why Not." I hear she's available.

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