Kudos to Fox for getting the TV Critics Assn. and tackling the Paula Abdul question head-on during their press tour session Thursday. Fox's handling of the matter was in pretty stark contrast to NBC, where the execs who were left to appear seemed ill-prepared to address the inevitable "So what happened to that Ben Silverman guy?"

Granted, NBC's scripted programming chief Angela Bromstad and reality topper Paul Telegdy are the wrong people to ask those questions, but since nobody above their pay grade was on the panels — and new exec Jeff Gaspin didn't show up until the network's Wednesday-night party — a little more prep might have spared Bromstad from eliciting guffaws when she responded to Silverman's departure.

Fox Entertainment Prez Kevin Reilly also registered an interesting point that's been discussed here regarding NBC. While taking the high road generally, he noted that any analysis of Jay Leno's new program has to be undertaken "holistically" — that is, in the context of how the network's faring from 8-10 p.m., as well as what sort of tremors Leno's 10 o'clock performance might send through late local news and into latenight, where much of the network's older audience has already left "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien."

Meanwhile, still-minty-fresh Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice received smatters of applause just for showing up, reflecting how the TCA executive sessions are shrinking in both duration (now about a half-hour each) and stature, with top network officials often skipping those events. What, are they allergic to bloggers or something?

After a session where Abdul/"American Idol"-related questions accounted for about half of those asked (fewer than I would have bet on going in), Rice actually sounded like he enjoyed himself. "These guys are funny," he said at one point, suggesting that his comedy standards are already being compromised.

Yep, TCA's a laugh riot. But given the general drift of things most of it qualifies as gallows humor.

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