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Holding back news is no joke

Reporters bristle when ABC chief tries to save an item about `Lost' for Comic-Con gathering.

July 26, 2007|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

AN otherwise perfunctory briefing at the annual summer television press tour Wednesday turned into an impromptu showdown between the clout of newspapers and that of comic books -- with ABC President of Entertainment Stephen McPherson in the middle.

A roomful of about 150 television writers and critics from across the country became miffed during the morning's executive session when the network head refused to divulge a major announcement about ABC's hit show "Lost." And worse, to journalists already cranky after nearly three weeks of relentless television reporting, was that ABC was saving the news for "Lost's" presentation at Comic-Con, a three-day conference for comic-book fans that opens in San Diego today.

The announcement itself -- that Harold Perrineau, who played Michael on "Lost," would be coming back to the show -- proved less interesting than whether journalists could pry the news out of the network president, known for his sharp sense of humor and occasional testiness.

Journalists themselves grew testy as McPherson rebuffed repeated attempts to disclose the scoop. They argued their newspapers are and have been investing considerable money and time into covering television and therefore they deserved more consideration than a one-time conference.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 28, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
ABC spinoff: An article in Thursday's Calendar Weekend about a news conference with ABC's entertainment president, Stephen McPherson, referred to a potential spinoff of the hit "Dancing With the Stars" as "Dance Acts." The correct title is "Dance X."

After refusing to comment about the matter, McPherson delivered this reply: "OK, I'll tell you," sighed the network executive. "We're going to cast Don Imus."

Undaunted, another reporter later asked McPherson if newspapers, an industry already shaken by loss of revenue and shrinking staffs, just weren't important enough anymore. Moments later, an ABC spokeswoman came onto the stage and whispered to McPherson that it was OK to reveal the "Lost" news.

The show's viewers last saw Perrineau's character, Michael, on the mysterious island in the finale of Season 2. Michael, who fatally shot two people in his quest to escape from the island with his son, was presumably safe -- but his reappearance now calls that into question.

Reached by e-mail, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the executive producers who run "Lost," had no comment. But they are likely to officially confirm Perrineau's return as a series regular at the "Lost" panel today at Comic-Con.

The "Lost" scrum might have deflected attention from another controversial topic: Isaiah Washington's ouster from ABC's biggest scripted hit, "Grey's Anatomy."

With far less fanfare, McPherson also delivered these items:

* The network's hit reality series "Dancing With the Stars" will soon have a spinoff. It has a working title of "Dance Acts," in which the judges have teams of dancers that compete against one another. A similar show is on in Britain, but there's no airdate yet for the American version.

* "Cavemen," the comedy based on the Geico commercials, which premieres Oct. 2, has undergone some major changes since its pilot was released to journalists earlier this summer. One of the cavemen, who live in the modern day South, has been recast, and the episode that was going to air first now probably won't be broadcast until the fifth or sixth show, said McPherson.

"We made a mistake there in trying to do too much. We're in essence shooting a new pilot."

martin.miller@latimes.com

Times television editor Kate Aurthur contributed to this report.

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