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Al Michaels on Bills, 'This Is Us' news and more

PASADENA, Calif. – Notes and quotes from the Television Critics Association semi-annual press tour ...

After an NBC news conference for the Feb. 4 Super Bowl, I ran into play-by-play announcer Al Michaels and he played interviewer. He asked me a question I usually am asked in Buffalo: "I can't believe you didn't ask if the Bills are going to make the schedule next year."

I told him I didn't ask because I knew it was too early to know if one of the AFC playoff teams would make the "Sunday Night Football" schedule.

He agreed, but added: "They have a better chance getting on next year than they've had in awhile."

Michaels will be working his 10th Super Bowl this year. As NBC prepared a highlight reel of some of his calls, I dreaded seeing "wide right" again.

I was spared because NBC showed only the Super Bowls that Michaels called for it and not the ones – including the Bills' 20-19 loss to the New York Giants – that he called for ABC.

NBC indirectly announced the season finale of its popular series "This Is Us" is March 13 so you better enjoy the remaining episodes while you can. One of the remaining episodes is being carried after the Super Bowl.

NBC announced it is premiering an intriguing-looking new series, "Rise," from the producers of "Friday Night Lights" and the Broadway show "Hamilton," after the "This Is Us" season finale on March 13.

Simon Cowell would have covered his ears if he heard what the approach of judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie is going to be when "American Idol" returns on ABC in March after being canceled by Fox.

After Perry said the judges' plan is to give constructive criticism, she added: "No one is here to say ... something that is negative. We’re here to really find a star and, if someone isn’t a star, delicately help repurpose them on the path that’s going to be good for them."

Somehow Simon never worried about delicately doing anything, which is why he was the star of the original program.

"Well, the difference is Simon was or he is an executive," Perry said. "And I love Simon. He’s my favorite judge because he’s just straight to the point. And, you know, I think we all have our expertise. Obviously, Luke can speak on a lot more country things. Lionel can speak on everything because he’s a legend. I’ve got a little bit of my pop lane. But I think that we all bring strengths."

Added "Idol" executive producer Trish Kinane: "There is only one Simon Cowell. And he was 15 years ago, and he’s doing a slightly different version of Simon Cowell on 'America's Got Talent' at the moment, but we weren’t looking, 'hey, let’s get a Simon Cowell. Let’s get a Randy (Jackson).' We weren’t looking to replicate that.

"And we took a long time to put this judging panel together, as you might have noticed, and that was because we wanted to get it right and we wanted judges with credibility, who knew what they were talking about, were huge successes in their own right, who were articulate and who generally cared about the contestants. And that’s the difference. I think these guys really care about the contestants, and it wasn’t so much about the judges. It’s more about the contestants.

"Katy is very blunt and she’s not mean, but she’s brutally honest. And ... if she doesn’t think they’ve got what it takes, she will try and steer them somewhere else."

At the end of a session for a new ABC comedy, "Splitting Up Together," about divorce – yes, you read that right – Jenna Fischer wanted to tell critics "a crazy personal story." If you thought she was adorable in "The Office," you'll realize from this story that it is who she really is.

Fischer said 20 years ago she was among us as a transcriber of interview sessions who would do one or two interview panels a day for about $14 an hour, which was good money at that time of her life.

"And at one of the events if we got our work done in time, we could go to the 'parties,' ” she said. "I’m putting those in quotes."

Critics roared because networks hold "parties" to try and get critics to interview celebrities in incredibly loud rooms that make it next to impossible to hear them.

"We could go to the parties," Fischer continued. "And there was the 'Saturday Night Live' party that I wanted to attend more than anything, but it was at, like, 5 o’clock. It was early. It was separate from the other party. And so I pretended to be sick and I went outside and I changed into a party dress in my car.

"I sneaked back in to the 'SNL' party, where I met Molly Shannon, and she gave me some advice that changed my life. It was wonderful. And on the way out, ran into my boss and then got fired."

Critics roared.

I asked what was Shannon's advice?

"I just said, 'I’ve been out here for, like, a year and I’m struggling and no one knows I’m here and I don’t have an agent and I don’t have my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card. Like, 'What am I doing and what do you have to say?'

"And she was so generous. She could have just been like, 'It will be fine,' and then walked away or, like, 'Hey, weirdo party crasher,' but she didn’t. She took me by the shoulders and she said, 'Never give up. That’s what you need to do. You need to never give up. Because it took me 10 years before I landed on ‘SNL,’ 10 years. And nobody knew who I was and I just kept going, and then everything changed after I got ‘SNL.’ So just don’t give up. You can do it.'

"And, I mean, as a young artist struggling, I walked away from that and I thought, 'If it took Molly Shannon 10 years, who am I to be frustrated that one year later I’m still working on it?' And I just held that in my brain, the 10 years, 10 years, 10 years. It really got me through my rough moments."

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