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Pregnant pauses on Emmy’s red carpet

If journalists hope to stay employed, we’re obviously going to have to master the red-carpet interview. So I asked the anchors of “Access Hollywood” to train me and let me try out my new skills by covering last Sunday’s Emmy Awards, because it’ll be a few years before Columbia’s journalism school starts offering a class called “The History and Principles of Who They’re Wearing.”

Nancy O’Dell had lots of important suggestions, almost all of them about looking good. “You always want to be further than the celebrity from the camera, because then you’ll look slimmer than them,” she said. Also, she told me to focus my energies on getting the most famous, least talkative person there. This too seemed to involve looking good. “For Jack Nicholson, I wore a low-cut top,” she told me.

As for what to ask the celebrities who I managed to wrangle with my good looks, she told me that she does lots of research to learn obscure facts about their lives. When I shot down that idea, she said I should try to introduce celebrities to one another, draw their dates into the interview, avoid questions about actual acting and to “talk about the current events of the day.” Is it cool to quiz people on Gen. David Petraeus’ congressional testimony, I asked? She explained that I didn’t have a firm grasp on what “current events” means on the red carpet. “I think Britney would be best,” she said. “Or what they think of Rosie’s new book.”

Billy Bush’s suggestions were to stay loose, have fun and wear naked-lady cuff links, which he promised to loan me. “They won’t see it,” he said, “but you’ll feel a little dangerous.”

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At the Emmy-prep meeting, I was shocked at how much the “Access Hollywood” producers knew about each potential red-carpet walker, details they printed up on a ringed stack of index cards. Based on the producer’s priorities for questions, I also learned that viewers are only interested in two things: What women are wearing, and whether they’re pregnant.

On Sunday, Billy gave me the cuff links and my final piece of advice. “It’s all about the women. It’s a fashion parade,” he said. “You can get a good laugh out of the guys because they’re all dialed down because they know it’s not about them.” And standing there, looking at my eager, naive face, Billy made a vow: “This year, if it’s not a great outfit, I want to not say it’s great. A little more honesty. I’m not going to tell them they look bad. I’m just going to leave it out.” I told him I too would take that vow. He strongly advised against it.

The next 2 1/2 hours were a blur. In one corner of the C-shaped entry was a pen packed with attractive, Jewish, twentysomething women with expensive sunglasses -- the publicists. While the print reporters and photographers yelled to get their attention from behind a sun-beaten barricade, the publicists approached our swanky, shaded “Access Hollywood” cabana. I vowed to never hold a notebook again.

The power of the TV camera was even better than I first thought: It makes people pretend that they like you no matter what you say. When I bluntly asked to see the dress of very attractive “House” actress Jennifer Morrison, she said: “I will do whatever you want. I am very obedient.” Then she spun around for me. When I nodded approvingly, she gave me her “dirty spin,” which involved a lot more wiggling, and then she said, “I’m totally in love with you.” If I’d been broadcasting live, I’m pretty sure I could have gotten a lap dance.

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Nancy and Billy, meanwhile, were casually chatting up stars, while I was sweating profusely, pretending to know who I was interviewing. I spent an entire interview questioning a beautiful actress as she stood next to her unattractive date, with no clue that she wasn’t famous and that he was Nigel Lythgoe, executive producer of “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance?”

I have lived in L.A. for two whole years; there is no excuse for misinterpreting that dynamic.

Panicked, I simply started asking everyone what they were wearing and if they were pregnant. The majority of the “Heroes” cast told me that they were indeed pregnant and added that I was a superior interviewer. “That’s because you didn’t ask, ‘If you had a power, what would it be?’ ” explained Adrian Pasdar. At which point, I interrupted him. “I would fly!” I yelled. “I don’t care about you guys! I would fly! Invisibility is for punks!” Uncomfortable, Pasdar said, “Barbara Walters said she wanted to be invisible with me.” To which, drunk with the power of TV, I yelled, “If I were Barbara Walters, I’d want to be invisible too!” That was when the “Heroes” cast walked away.

I can report that Minnie Driver, Judith Light, Tina Fey and Ed Asner are not pregnant. But Constance Zimmer from “Boston Legal” immediately told me she was with child, which threw me off, because I had no pregnancy follow-up question. Confused, I asked how much bigger her boobs had gotten. Turns out they had gotten much, much bigger. I was a ratings magnet.

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But after I watched my “Access Hollywood” segment this week -- in which I appeared alternately hostile, sycophantic and just grossly sweaty -- I had to confess that working the red carpet demands a certain skill; that even this kind of journalism has its own mark of quality and honesty. And, for that moment, I was sincerely impressed that Billy stuck to his plan and told no one that she looked great in an awful dress. Because I know I did.

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jstein@latimescolumnists.com


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