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IN 1968, RESPECTED newsman Walter Cronkite said it was time to get out of Vietnam. Then-President Lyndon Johnson said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the nation."

So what will George Bush say about 89-year-old Cronkite proclaiming it's past time to get out of Iraq?

Probably nothing.

Cronkite told critics gathered for the winter press tour that the country missed a great opportunity to get out of Iraq after the hurricane.

"We had an opportunity to say to the world and to the Iraqis after the hurricane disasters that Mother Nature had not treated us well and we find ourselves terribly missing in the amount of money it takes to help these poor people out of their homeless situations, to help rebuild some of our important cities of the United States and therefore we are going to have to bring our troops home," Cronkite told the room of reporters.

"We would have been able to retire with honor. In fact, I think we can retire with honor anyway. We're going to have to leave it with them some day, and it is my belief that we should get out now."

Muted mobsters

It was more like a panel for "I've Got a Secret" than a promotion for the next season of "The Sopranos," which returns March 12.

Most of the actors had trouble mustering a sentence, since they had all been warned by creator David Chase not to give away any plot points.

One critic pleaded with Chase and stars James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli to "please, please, please go on" while another wondered if an answer could include "an occasional noun.


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Imperioli did say there was a ritual for those actors about to be whacked on the show.

"We take them to dinner. Lots of rituals revolve around food (on the show) and we take them to dinner," Imperioli said. "When you're asked to dinner, it's not such a good thing."

How about a theme for this season?

"I think kind of disquieted, sort of rattled, not feeling like things are going well," Chase offered, although he could have been describing the critics attending the session.

Chase did say that the season is "mostly keyed off of the fact that Johnny Sack has been arrested and is facing a large RICO trial for murder and people have the chance to see a possible potential future for themselves in that and it causes a ripple effect."

Now it seems like the winter press tour should be like shooting trout in a bucket, but oftentimes it's more like coaxing junior to eat his broccoli.

Even Sir Ben Kingsley, who appeared in the session after "The Sopranos" to support his HBO movie "Mrs. Harris" with Annette Bening, looked like he was in the witness protection program when asked about his "Sopranos" role.

"It's just a cameo, really, and I play myself and I really can't say anymore than that," said Kingsley in hushed tones.

The Feds should have this kind of security.

"The Sopranos" returns for 12 episodes, then resumes next January with the show's final eight episodes, which are now being filmed.

Bening was asked after the session if she had a favorite in the Oscar race. Although reluctant, she finally said she and husband Warren Beatty thought that Philip Seymour Hoffman was extraordinary in "Capote."

My husband called Philip after we had seen the movie and told him, 'I knew Capote, and after seeing you I no longer remember Capote. I know you, and after seeing you in this role I no longer remember you.'

"I hope I got that right," she giggled afterward.

From aliens to Dickens

Gillian Anderson looked exquisite, and much calmer, than last time we saw her.

Anderson admits that her nine years starring on "The X-Files" took a toll on her private life. She spent up to 16 hours a day working on the Fox series in Vancouver and spent the rest of the time promoting it.

"I've lost track of how many times reporters would ask me if I believed in aliens, and each time they asked, it was as if they thought it was the first time I'd ever heard the question," Anderson said.

Anderson left the country after the series wrapped and has been living in England, where she met her husband who was working for the Financial Times in London. She's been doing a lot of stage work and independent films.

She now stars in the BBC-produced epic "Bleak House," which will be shown beginning Sunday on PBS. The 16-hour film, based on the Charles Dickens' novel, will air in six parts, with parts one and six airing for two hours and the rest as one-hour shows.

Anderson plays Lady Deadlock, a woman with a secret past that threatens to destroy her.

She says she was reluctant to return to television, even British television, after the grueling "X-Files" schedule.

"I told my agent I wouldn't do television," Anderson said. "But I couldn't resist this script."

Anderson says she won't return to American television, but she is hoping that a new "X-Files" movie will be in the works soon.

"I want to do it. David (Duchovny) wants to do it and Chris Carter already knows what he wants to write," she said. "But there's a hold-up with Fox."

Anderson says that moving to London has been great for her soul, but hasn't done much to help her feature film career.

"I went to a Golden Globes party the other night and it was great talking to about four friends, but my agent was trying to tell everyone I had done 'Bleak House' and no one cared because they hadn't seen it," Anderson said. "In Hollywood, you are only as good as the last thing you were in and it's been a while since I've been in anything. It's very difficult to be on the selling side of this profession."

Idle wit

Eric Idle popped in to promote yet another repackaged version of "Monty Python's Flying Circus." This personal best series allowed each of the comedy troupe to select his favorite episodes, then put them all together in a single offering. The series begins on Feb. 22 on PBS.

And of course, one snippy critic (not me) pounded Idle with the inevitable question: "What's going to happen when viewers get their knickers in a twist over their favorite episode not being included?"

"Then they have to get their own personal best. It's called my personal best," Idle quipped. "John Cleese got in first, and I got in second... thinking, if you're not in quick, somebody else (would get the best stuff)."

Read more TCA news and gossip in Sue Young's online blog, Unscripted, at http://www.insidebayarea.com/tv.

E-mail her with questions and comments at syoung@angnewspapers.com.