A horde of black-clad publicists. Dozens of jaded journos foraging for food. Where else could I be but the annual Television Critics Association (TCA) winter press tour? This year's two-week event was held at the Renaissance Hotel, part of the swanky Hollywood Highlands complex where the Kodak Theater, home of the Academy Awards, is located.Each network is given a specified date to present its hallmark programs and biggest stars to the national TV media. I covered NBC - my favorite network - because they air my favorite show, The West Wing. NBC's publicists, I might add, were friendly and receptive to my presence, unlike CBS, whose PR coterie would not let me peek over its shoulder. With all its blunders this year, I guess CBS didn't want to be scrutinized by a fellow publicist. The first act I caught was Donald Trump's witty musings on The Apprentice. The Donald was in good form. How can such a conceited, self-absorbed fop, with no sense of irony, be so likeable? Charisma, I guess. He has it. His engaging presence blew the show's equally egotistical but far less charming executive producer off the stage. Trump's deprecating teasing of CBS prez Les Moonves no doubt forced the Eye's aforementioned PR staff into full scramble alert. Later, Dennis Miller launched a rapid-fire funny Q&A publicity offensive for his new conservative CNBC talk show, claiming he's sidled over to the right because of 9/11. Doubt it, Dennis. After your Monday Night Football fumble, you opted for job security by signing on as a Demo demonizer, knowing conservatives will gladly devote their time watching people like you complain about the wicked things liberals do. Liberals, meanwhile, are busy doing wicked things: eating sushi, driving Volvos, reading The New York Times, and drinking lattes. The finale featured The West Wing's great cast, minus the Prez (Martin Sheen) and press secretary (Allison Janney). The man running the show post-Sorkin, John Wells, deftly fielded questions about the drama's change in tone and slight drop-off in witty banter. NBC's publicists did a crack job keeping the press tour running smoothly and guiding talent through the electronic room upstairs. Lunch and the cocktail party were as well. Peacock pubs, you got my vote. I, meanwhile, got your entire box of souvenir pens. Hope you didn't mind. I'm mailing them to CBS. Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer
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