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TCA: Maddow doing 9/11 doc with NBC's Richard Engel

By AARON BARNHART
The Kansas City Star

Reload this page throughout the day for updates from TCA, the Television Critics Association tour in Los Angeles.

On Monday NBC tried to excite TV critics in its fall offerings, which include “The Playboy Club” and a remake of the British detective show “Prime Suspect.” They were partly successful. A fourth place network could do worse.

The panel for 1960s retro drama "The Playboy Club" was lively, in part because actress Jenifer Lewis, who plays a self-described "chocolate bunny" on the show, and other cast members tried to position a show about women in skimpy clothes as an issue of "female empowerment." Some critics found this bizarre, but hey — po-mo feminists have been saying that about Playboy, and porn in general, for decades. A retro justification for a retro TV show: perfect!

Some critics were impressed by the press conference wherein the producers (including former “Will & Grace” story Sean Hayes) and stars of “Grimm” explained the concept of this paranormal detective show. Other critics, who had actually seen the “Grimm” pilot, were less upbeat.

Critics seemed more divided on other shows, including the Christina Applegate-Will Arnett comedy “Up All Night,” which has been extensively reworked this summer to feature co-star Maya Rudolph more prominently. I guess if you’re a Rudolph fan you feel upbeat.

Today, MSNBC is bringing three of its prime-time hosts on stage, though Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews were all present at NBC’s party last night. (Notable for their absence: anyone from “Morning Joe.”) As I write this, MSNBC chief Phil Griffin has just announced that Maddow was recently signed to a long-term deal.

The network also signed frequent contributor Chris Hayes to host a weekend morning chatfest — the first time MSNBC has invested in weekend news programming in a long time. And in a break from its past bad behavior, MSNBC preempted its usual menu of prison documentaries last weekend for all-day, all-night coverage of the budget deal proceedings.

Griffin told me Monday night that this should be taken as a sign that, after years of cutbacks and treading water, the news channel is finally starting to expand.

At the NBC Universal party last night at a trendy L.A. restaurant, showgirls kept strolling around in the room wearing enormous, peacock hairdos and signs promoting Oxygen's “Hair Battle Spectacular.” That of course was approved by NBC Universal’s rising executives, Lauren Zalaznick, who started out with little tiny Trio and is now overseeing a bevy of channels for the company, including Telemundo and mun2. I asked if she knew Spanish. Zalaznick said she’s taking intensive classes now.

On Monday night, Maddow said she and NBC’s Richard Engel would be making a documentary to air Sept. 9 on the world 10 years after 9/11. It will look at how the size and powers of the U.S. government’s “intelligence industrial complex” has changed since 9/11, as well as the President’s ability to wage war.

"We don't declare war anymore," said Bill Wolff, Maddow's producer. "We just bombed Libya without asking Congress. President Obama did. No one debated it ... Those are the tectonic changes since 9/11 that we'll be looking at."

Once again when chatting with Maddow, I had a moment where someone interrupted us to have his picture taken with her.

The day's highlight — unless you're TCA president Susan Young, who hands over the reins at a business meeting this afternoon — will come this evening when critics will get to see the pilot of the highly anticipated FX show “American Horror Story,” from “Glee” and “Nip/Tuck” producer Ryan Murphy and starring Dylan McDermott. FX just picked up the show two weeks ago, so this is everyone's first look.

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