Freeloader's Night With Jack Bauer and Co.

At Fox's Winter TCA All-Star Party

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The Event: Fox's Winter All-Star Party at TCA
The Venue: My House, nightclub impresario David Judaken's new Hollywood boite
The Crowd: Celebs from Fox shows, and many more rumpled journalists toting digital recorders. Among those spotted: Kiefer Sutherland ("24"), Eliza Dushku ("Dollhouse"), American Idolatress Paula Abdul and Lisa Edelstein ("House" ), who declined Freeloader's request to become our primary-care physician.
The Food: Passed canapes, plus carving stations and chafing dishes. Bread pudding with toasted coconut for dessert left some in diabetic comas.
The Drinks: Open bar, but no trampling deaths despite the large Fourth Estate crowd and top-shelf well drinks.
The Swag: None. This is a recession, people. Accept it and move on. No "Simpsons" 20-year commemorative box set for you!

Kiefer Sutherland and Denis Leary
Kiefer Sutherland and Denis Leary Credit: Fox
Freeloader was in a dark corner of My House, drinking his free Maker's Mark and scribbling in his notebook, when a strange calm descended on him. Why? He spied ... a spy! Kiefer Sutherland was not more than 10 feet away. And if Jack Bauer was taking the night off to blithely speak into five outstretched digital recorders, what were the chances, really, that a nuclear suitcase bomb would go off in Encino, leaving us all in a glassy crater of glowing sand? Nil! Looking smart in a herringbone vest and jeans, Kiefer ("Is it OK if I call you Kiefer?") was chatting with bloggers who appeared not to have seen sunlight since the first Clinton administration.

Freeloader then spied one of the handlers of Fox reality chief Mike Darnell, a lithe, blond woman in a Rorschach print of a dress who gave Freeloader a dirty look all over again, having been earlier forced to watch as we secured Mr. Darnell's private e-mail address by buttonholing him at the Universal Hilton press event. Best to evade her.

After a quick loop round the carving station, Freeloader ran smack into Al Jean, the talented, bug-eyed executive producer of "The Simpsons." Wanting to impress someone with the fact that we had been reading the same six pages of Proust for the past month, Freeloader asked what Mr. Jean had been reading. We were dismayed to learn that not only is Mr. Jean wealthy enough to buy and sell the next 20 generations of the family Freeloader into slavery, he is also modest, intellectually curious and well-read. He admitted he had just finished Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph Ellis' "American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic." But before Freeloader could impress him with the only fact we know about George Washington (he didn't actually have wooden dentures, but ones made out of cow's teeth and elephant ivory, set in a lead base -- wait! Where are you going?!) the pulsing mass of revelers separated us.

Freeloader then was accosted by a pleasant executive at FX, whose candor and warmth left him feeling so confident that he decided to try talking to ... a TV actor.

Sidling up to "Prison Break" star Robert Knepper, who plays that rare commodity -- the eloquent, bisexual, white-supremacist murderer who's a child of incestuous rape -- Freeloader cheerfully asked, by way of introduction, "So, what's more fun: stabbing people in the shower with a shiv or selling Volkswagens?"

At that, Mr. Knepper -- who could frighten a class of kindergartners into incontinence just by singing "The Eensy, Weensy Spider" -- smiled broadly and said, "I think you've gotten me confused with Peter Stormare."

Horrified, and convinced that the staggeringly beautiful "House" star Jennifer Morrison was laughing at our faux pas, Freeloader staggered away. The only way to preserve a shred of our dignity was to leave, and now. Which is what we did.

Outside on Hollywood Boulevard, we paused outside of a Virgin Megastore to look more closely at a poster of a woman we'd noticed earlier at the party but couldn't quite place: It was Kristin Chenoweth, looking radiantly down from a poster for her album "A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas."

Years earlier, when Freeloader still lived in New York, we had one of the more pleasant experiences of our career at an Outer Critics Circle Award dinner at Sardi's, chatting with Ms. Chenoweth. The two of us had listened to an octogenarian Vaudevillian recount how things used to be when booze didn't flow so freely. It struck Freeloader how polite and respectful Ms. Chenoweth was then, and how much we would like to catch up now that fate had reunited us. We even considered going back into the party. But the long stretch of red carpet -- once illuminated by retina-scorching lights, braying cameramen and bleach-toothed E! hostesses tottering on 17-inch heels -- was dark and empty.

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