At a Hotel, on a Tour, Not on Vacation, Day 2

Today's cuppa: Lots more Beverly Hilton coffee.

Yesterday, today, Thursday and Friday at the summer edition of the Television Critics Association Press Tour are devoted to cable television, but a few cablenets are missing.

After PBS presents its new programs over the weekend, the broadcast networks begin on Monday. But there will be a lot of cablenets there as well, offering their programming either blended with or next to the shows from their corporate siblings.

FX and Fox News are presenting with Fox Broadcasting Network; ABC Family, Disney Channel and SOAPnet are partnered with ABC; Showtime is with CBS; and the NBC Universal cablers (Sci Fi Channel, Bravo, Oxygen and USA) are with the Peacock.

This sort of synergy has happened before at Press Tour, but never to this extent. It's one obvious sign of the move in the TV business away from strict distinctions between cable and broadcast in favor of a more integrated concept and greater overall branding.

But not all cablenets have broadcast siblings, and going it alone can be a challenge. An interesting point came up in the Hallmark Channel session on Tuesday about how the cabler finances its original movies. David Kenin, the executive v.p. of programming for Hallmark's parent, Crown Media, talked about the importance of revenues from foreign sales of Hallmark productions.

Basically, in the past, if a concept didn't appeal to foreign buyers, Hallmark wasn't able to finance the production.

Now that Hallmark apparently isn't as dependent on foreign financing, the channel can produce projects with a wider variety of subject matter, such as an upcoming movie called "Relative Stranger," which features a largely African-American cast led by Cicely Tyson and Eriq LaSalle.

That left me wondering how many other cablenets are in the same situation with their original programming. The world may be more with us than we know.

Later in the day, I met with a friend who's doing a cable special, and he filled me in, off the record, on some of the inside details of how the project was developed. It was an eye-opener about how the cool, collected exterior projected by some channels hides an absolutely wacky way of doing business. in this case, the business of show was barely recognizable as business at all.

And yet, somehow, good things still get made, even by the channel in question. It's a plain miracle.

On the interview front, I grabbed a few minutes with country star John Rich of Big & Rich. We talked about his new CMT show "Gone Country," and also a bit about his work with the troops. Here's a clip:

After leaving Rich, I sat down to lunch with three of the men featured in the upcoming History Channel series "Sandhogs," about New Yorkers who toil in the city's tunnels, underground piping and subway system. They were a colorful, outspoken and delightful bunch -- two Irish-Americans and one Irish-born American -- fiercely loyal to each other and their union.

I'll try to post some clips from that when I get a chance.

Which brings me to the other burning question of the day: Strike in the SAG? Not yet, and looking less likely all the time. The other performers' union, AFTRA, ratified its contract with the studio heads. SAG. which has been working without a contract since July 1, continues to peruse the producers' offer and should come up with a reply soon.