Can ‘Sunset’ sizzle and ‘Lost’ find a way?

THE TV CRITICS ASSN.’S January tour is over, leaving behind the mystery of why the major networks still participated when they had practically no new series to showcase. Yet as the haze of cocktails and stench of mendacity fades, unfinished storylines linger filed under the following headings:

  • “Sex and the City” Aaron Sorkin stated that he will emphasize romantic comedy on his struggling backstage dramedy “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” attempting to lure viewers into a program whose “Mounting a TV show is serious business” theme hasn’t resonated as hoped.

    This is especially interesting given that under Sorkin’s stewardship, “The West Wing” fiercely adhered to the framework of a White House staff too preoccupied by their higher calling to public service to enter into romantic entanglements and squander time worrying about getting laid, resisting network prodding to play up that angle.

    In that respect, “Studio 60” has highlighted a fundamental difference distinguishing D.C. from Hollywood: Here, getting laid is the higher calling.

  • “The Great Escape” Kudos to “Lost” producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse for using their press tour forum to float an idea also proposed in this space — namely, setting a fixed, well-in-advance end date for the ABC serial, allowing its creative brain trust to arc toward a finale and remove the “When will we know something?” cloud hanging over the series.

    Television history finds that programs lurch toward oblivion based on commercial considerations and rarely motivated by creative concerns. “Lost,” however, is a groundbreaking concept, one that calls for equally forward thinking that could help light the way for other “maxi-series” — CBS’ “Jericho” comes to mind — to satisfy the audience’s curiosity by building toward a clear resolution, avoiding the trap of overstaying their welcome.

    It’s possible, in fact, that designing a graceful, preordained exit from the island — assuming it really is an island (cue scary music) — will help keep ratings aloft and ultimately benefit ABC, slowing the drip of viewers who might grow impatient with an open-ended commitment and drift away.

    Because nobody knows for sure, it’s admittedly a bold gamble. What does it say about that aforementioned L.A.-D.C. gap, though, if the former’s power brokers can set a “date certain” to extricate themselves from the enigma that is “Lost” before the latter can divine a strategy to redeploy out of Iraq?

  • “Dave” As CBS reminded critics during the tour, Feb. 1 will mark David Letterman’s 25th anniversary as host of a latenight talkshow, dating back to the 1982 premiere of his NBC series.

    That nostalgic milestone certainly triggered memories, as well as the bittersweet thought that Letterman — for all his cranky charm — is in many respects his own worst enemy.

    The quarter-century milestone would have been a perfect time to trot Letterman out for a victory lap in front of adoring TV critics, but the wizard of odd was a press tour no-show and, a rep said, would continue to eschew interviews. It’s a missed opportunity, especially with the usually voluble Jay Leno having gone conspicuously silent in the run-up to his planned NBC departure in 2009.

    Letterman remains perhaps showbiz’s most influential comedic talent precisely because the generation in ascent — the Kimmels, Rocks, O’Briens and Stewarts — were hugely impacted by “Late Night” during their formative years, as were most critics in their 40-something age group. By turning inward, Letterman has failed to maximize that advantage, a decision seemingly colored in part by disappointment over trailing Leno — a ratings deficit his handlers can no longer credibly attribute to CBS’ primetime woes.

    Letterman’s stubbornness is irritating, but his longevity nevertheless stirs fond college flashbacks of sitting in a dimly lit room with the TV on — drunk, maybe stoned — admiring his irreverence and wit.

    On that score, actually, not much has changed.

  • “The Painted Veil” Fox Entertainment Prexy Peter Liguori unconvincingly hid behind the threat of litigation to conveniently sidestep questions regarding the net’s scuttled special based on the aborted O.J. Simpson book “If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.”

    Kind of makes you yearn for Fox’s first press conference after that flimsy excuse officially evaporates, subtitled, “If I Could Comment, Here’s How I’d Spin.”

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