Easily the most-anticipated session of the day -- if not the tour -- was for A&E's "The Beast," a new drama about a pair of undercover FBI agents, since one of those two agents is played by Patrick Swayze, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only a few hours after the show was ordered to series. Though he had just discussed his condition with Barbara Walters, the room was packed with reporters eager to experience Swayze's candor in person.
Instead, A&E executives entered looking somber, and explained that Swayze wouldn't be in attendance because he had just checked himself into the hospital with pneumonia, leaving co-star Travis Fimmel and "The Beast" producers to talk on their star's behalf.
A&E president Bob DeBitetto said that the hospitalization was just a precaution, and that Swayze wanted it to be clear that "He plans to get back to promoting 'The Beast' as soon as he is back on his feet. He is unbelievably proud of the work that he and the entire 'Beast' team have done."
The session veered back and forth between logistical questions -- the first season wrapped filming in November, A&E and Sony had to make the show without traditional cast insurance -- and testimonials to Swayze's character and work ethic.
"It's been an absolute inspiration for me," said Fimmel, who plays Swayze's young protege. "He's an amazing guy. You can't help but respect him. I can't say enough good stuff about the guy. He makes the little things seem so not important."
"Although you forget sometimes that Patrick's going through treatment for cancer, it brings you closer together," said co-creator William Rotko. "For me personally, it would make you stop and think before you said you had a tummy ache in the morning."
Director Michael Dinner talked about Swayze's determination in the face of difficult weather conditions (the series was shot on location in Chicago, much of it during the extreme winter and summer) and Fimmel marveled that Swayze did most of his own stunts.
"You can hardly tell with the guy," he said. "He's such a man, you know."
Producer John Romano, a veteran of cop shows like "Hill Street Blues," said there's never been any thought about replacing Swayze, or of trying to continue the show without him.
"We've taken our cues from him, and he keeps saying, 'I'm showing up tomorrow.' You know what it's like to shoot an action show in seven days, and there's one day we didn't get, and that's in 12 episodes of television. We're tkaing our cues from his willingness to do the show, and it's inspiring."
My review of "The Beast," which debuts on Jan. 15, will be up on Tuesday morning.