Sunday, June 29, 2008

Curly, Larry, Moe and Dexter

While on the set of Dexter last Monday in Los Angeles, I had a chance to check out the famed Sunset Gower Studios. This 16 acre lot, right in the heart of Hollywood, has been around since the '2os and once was the home of Columbia Pictures. The Three Stooges used to wooo wooo wooo all over these 12 sound stages, as did Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant and anyone who ever made a Frank Capra picture.
Besides Dexter, today it is the home of Heroes. On the July, 2007 TCA press tour, Masi Oka (Hiro) led my group of reporters on a walking tour of the sets, something he did quite well as a former Universal Tours guide. We walked past a row of offices and Oka pointed out the gold balcony, which is now the Heroes staff writers room but back in the '40s was Rita Hayworth's dressing room.

Still standing today are some exteriors from a show called American Dreams which ran a few years ago. Set in the '60s, it was all about the American Bandstand era in Philadelphia. Producer Jonathan Prince invited the press for a set visit one TCA session and dressed it with extras, hired simply to walk around in costume as we roamed the production. Even cooler was the fact that he flew in caterers to provide authentic Philly Cheese steak sandwiches. Mmmm.

There are only a few Dexter interior sets, including his dark and gloomy apartment, which is where you might expect a serial killer to live. The dull grey and blue tones are depressing. So is the Goodwill Chic furnishing, all steel and foam from the '50s. You just want to tear down the heavy drapes in his bedroom and wrap a body up in them (and then dump it in the trunk at the foot of his bed). And that antiseptic bathroom--creepy. Among the books on his bookshelf: "We're Off To See The Killer" by William Murrow.

Stage 15, where Dexter is shot, was once the home of Soap and Who's The Boss? The brilliant and overlooked Carl Reiner comedy The Comic, starring Dick Van Dyke as a silent film star (somewhat modeled after Buster Keaton), was also shot in that studio. In other words, sacred ground. Next door, Studio 16, was the home of Barney Miller, along with Silver Spoons and The Facts Of Life.

There were many signs up around SGS commemorating the past. The most disturbing sign, however, was posted around the block, visible just as the shuttle turned a corner:

Friday, June 27, 2008

Shameless Self Promotion Plug No. 557

That's me on CHCH's Live @ 5:30 this afternoon (with Hamilton's broadcast Bickersons, Mark Hebscher and Donna Skelly), caught up in some hullabaloo about an outburst at a comedy club. Seems some women who identified themselves as lesbians were targeted by a stand up comedian and now the whole thing is before the B.C. human rights commission.

Getting picked on at a comedy club? Isn't this like suing Taco Bell for giving you gas, or The Leafs for losing a game? You pretty much know what you're gonna get walking into the joint, right?

Ever since Michael Richards was caught on YouTube having his racial meltdown at an LA comedy club, the "what happens in the club, stays in the club" contract has been broken. Everybody has to watch their step, which seems a little silly just days after all those "He paved the way to free speech" tributes to the late, great George Carlin.

Way back last century in my stand up days, comedians built entire sets around handling hecklers. The "What's your name? Where ya from" approach was just an excuse to unleash a torrent of verbal abuse. It was a lot like the school yard: you got picked on because you were different, whether you were fat, Jewish, gay, black, or, again, a Leaf fan.

Nasty comedians like Andrew Dice Clay took this approach to uncomfortable extremes, but a comedy club was never a comfort zone. It was a place to get shaken out of a comfort zone.

If human rights commissions are going to rule on comedy club behaviour, well, don't stop at Toronto's Laugh Resort (which closes after 18 years tomorrow night), padlock all the doors now.

Completely changing the subject, thanks to my buddy Marc Berman, Mediaweek's savvy "Programming Insider" for the shout out today about my book, Truth And Rumors: The Reality Behind TV's Most Famous Myths. "Once you pick it up, you won't put it down!" says Berman who, needless to say, is a literary genius. A thumbs up from the well connected programming and numbers expert is a great way to start a long weekend. (So, if I do say so myself, is the book).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sex Talk Gets Rise on Californication Set

CULVER CITY, Calif. -- David Duchovny says go ahead--laugh at his sex scenes in Californication.
The former X-Files star made the comment today on the set of his racy Showtime series, which returns for a second season in Canada this September on The Movie Network/Movie Central.
Duchovny was speaking to a few dozen foreign journalists invited today to the suburban Los Angeles set. It is interesting traveling with the European and Asian press cats, many of whom are based in Los Angeles. They ask different questions then the usual North American press corps, and often get different answers.
Duchovny was asked, for example, why he's not crazy about doing nude scenes. "I just think it's embarrassing to be naked in front of people," said Duchovny. "I wish I could let my freak flag fly" in front of various cast and crew members, he said, although, the process of filming sex wasn't his main objection, it was the sex act itself. As Duchovny put it, "Sex is a ridiculous looking behaviour."
The many sex scenes in Californication aren't there to "turn on" viewers anyway, Duchovny insists. It is a comedy, albeit a dark, adult comedy. So the sex scenes are supposed to be funny, or as he wryly put it,"When I do it, it's funny." (For more, follow this link to the Toronto Star pickup of the CP story I just filed on Duchovny.)
There will be plenty of sex scenes in season two of Californication, although Duchovny's struggling writer character, Hank Moody, won't necessarily be at the centre of the action. Co-star Pamela Adlon, who plays the wife of Moody's literary agent, says there will be plenty of "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll this season."
Part of that comes from her character's involvement with a hair removal clinic. Adlon, who also does the voice of Bobby Hill on King Of The Hill, had reporters in stitches with her tales of prepping for the role at a real waxing clinic. She described one male customer as having "hair everywhere--beyond Robin Williams." Adlon got very hands-on with her training, with men and women, saying she had "touched things she had never touched before."
Her character also struggles with a cocaine addiction during Year Two. Adlon says the white powder she has to snort to simulate cocaine is actually a mixture of powdered milk and sugar. At least that was what the prop guys told her. "David snorted it off somebody's ass last year," she says, demonstrating how the Californication star leads by example. "If he's gonna do it..."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Killer Rumour

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Hang around Murtz Jaffer and his posse of reality show stars (see posting below) and you hear some pretty strange things. Hot rumour floating around the Farmers Market Monday night: O.J. Simpson will be on the next Celebrity Apprentice. How would that work?
Donald Trump: "You're fired!"
O.J.: "You're dead!"
Still, don't be alarmed when last place NBC takes a stab at this next January, provided The Juice can stay out of the slammer. Brought to you by Ford Bronco.

Camp Rock Plays To Big Tent

As expected, Disney's Camp Rock rocked the ratings on both sides of the border. The Ontario-produced TV-movie, featuring red hot teen sensations The Jonas Brothers, drew nearly 850,000 viewers to the Family Channel premiere June 20, rating it as the second-highest non-sports broadcast among Canadian specialty broadcasters in the past five years, bested only by Disney's High School Musical 2.
The summer musical drew a further 8.9 viewers Stateside on The Disney Channel.
Does this mean the Jonas kids will be trekking back to Muskoka to shoot a sequel? The hard part will be jamming it in their schedule. The brothers kick off their summer tour July 4 at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto.

Reality: What A Concept

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--For Murtz Jaffer, the line between reality and fantasy hasn't just been blurred, it's been erased.
A University of Toronto grad, Jaffer used to heckle me at The Toronto Sun when I was the cranky guy whinging about having to cover Survivor every week. He loves reality television, eats, drinks and sleeps it, boasts that he watches nine hours of TV a day (way past the recommended dose) and is the go to guy for inside info on any reality show. Don't take my word for it, check out his high traffic web site, http://www.insidepulse.com/.
If Mike Myers is The Love Guru, Murtz is, among fans at least, the Reality Guru. CBS tried to ban him from Survivor parties after he spilled too many spoiler beans at insidepulse. Murtz just threw the parties himself or wound up covering them for legit media outlets.
Which is why Murtz immodestly bills himself as "the world's foremost reality show expert." After apprenticing at places like Entertainment Tonight Canada, he's taking his own brand toTV later this year as the dude at the centre of Reality Obsessed, a new series premiering on TVtropolis.
Murtz has been in LA shooting the first 13 episodes of his series and invited me to a taping yesterday at the historic Farmers Market area on Fairfax, just south of CBS's mammoth broadcast bunker, Television City. Murtz was tricked out in gear the kids used to wear down her on Venice Beach in the '80s, including a wacky checkered cap and tie and red vans. He looked like Cheap Trick's brown brother.
Jaffer's show throws him into many of the challenges found on reality shows. He gets to sing like an Idol contestant, go through obstacle courses like a Survivor man. Yesterday he was spinning like a So You Think You Can Dance grad, busting moves after an intense, four day workshop with Lauren Gottlieb, who performed on the last season of the popular dance series (seen in Canada on MuchMusic).
Director Daniel Oron describes Jaffer and the show this way: "This is the armchair warrior finally getting a shot at it." Reality show fans will also tune in to see a steady parade of their favorite characters, including reality's No. 1 villain, Jonny Fairplay.
Several reality survivors came out to cheer Jaffer on at yesterday's public dance demo, including Audrey Evans (from the third season of The Apprentice), Chelsia Hart (Big Brother 9) and Amber Rood (Ultimate Love Test). Jaffer's routine was judged by professional dancer Bryan Tanaka as well as Dancing With the Stars vets Elena Grinenko and Snow Urbin.
Won't give away how they rated our boy Murtz but, to me, he didn't look out of place next to Gottlieb. Me, I would have needed a dance double.
Reality Obsessed is going to score with anyone who ever wanted to be on a reality show or hang with the party kids who have survived these things over the past several years. (Get more info about it here.) Me, I'm just glad Jaffer didn't pull anything yesterday, except perhaps a few more legs.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Jimmy Smits New Blood On Dexter Set

LOS ANGELES, Calif. --"I'm totally stoked!"
That was Jimmy Smit's three word, concise, parking lot pronouncement about joining the cast of Dexter next season. Smits was on the Sunset Gower Studios lot for a table read today with Dexter star Michael C. Hall and fellow cast members Julie Benz (who plays Dexter's long suffering girlfriend, Rita), David Zayas (relentless cop Angel Batista) and C.S. Lee (self described "comic relief" forensic dude Masuka). The third season of the critically acclaimed Showtime drama will debut September 28.
How did the episode three table read go? "We got all the way to the end," deadpanned Hall in the parking lot afterwards.
Most of the cast, including Hall, took part earlier in the day in a studio Q&A session hosted by CBS Paramount on the Sunset Gower lot. (I was on the scene as a guest of the Canadian networks, The Movie Network and Movie Central.) That's the same mid-town Hollywood dream factory where Heroes is based (and which dates back to the glory days of Columbia and even The Three Stooges).
Nerdy little footnote: Stage 16, where Dexter is shot, was where Carl Reiner's overlooked classic "The Comic," starring Dick Van Dyke, was produced way back in the late '60s. Search high and low, find it, love it.
Smits, dressed in a large white shirt and white Yankee cap, was there for the read and not to do press. That will come later, reporters were assured. But he was his usual friendly self when I caught him on his way back to his car, remembering his stint shooting West Wing scenes north and west of Toronto a few years back.
It was left to executive producer Clyde Phillips to give the international reporters gathered at the studio some details about Smits' character on the show. He's going to play Miguel Prado, an up and coming, well-connected assistant DA who is going to connect on a personal level with secret serial killer Dexter. The two bond so close that Dexter drops his guard and "tells him things he's never told anyone," says Phillips.
The producer described Smits as "an amazing get for us." The former NYPD Blue and L.A. Law star was last seen headlining CBS' short-lived Florida power family opus, Cane.

CBC Dramas a No Fly Zone on Air Canada

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--So how come on Air Canada when you dial up all the options on the LCD screen in the headrest in front of you there are no CBC options?
Winged it down to LA last night (in town for various interviews, including set visits to Dexter, Californication and Craig Ferguson) and decided to check out the Air Canada In Flight menu. Under the comedy category, you could choose from such shows as The Class (canceled over a year ago), The Big Bang Theory (watched episode three, which was pretty funny), The New Adventures of Old Christine, Everybody Hates Chris and Fox's 'Till Death. There were no episodes of Sophie or even jPod to select, not even Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Odd, since CBC News is the default Air Canada news option.
Forget watching such CBC shows as The Border or Intelligence at 35,000 feet. Instead, there are shows like Boston Legal, Chuck (a drama?), CSI: NY, Pushing Daisies, The Closer, Psyche and Ugly Betty under the "Drama" heading.
A canceled CBC show, Antiques Roadshow, turns up under the "World" TV category. Hidden under something called "Entertainment," where you might expect to find eTalk or Entertainment Tonight Canada, were such outstanding U.S. cable gems as The Wire, Big Love, Entourage, Curb, Flight of the Conchords and new HBO stuff like In Treatment. Why not list these under comedy or drama, or even adult drama?
The Ar Canada menu also included plenty of XM radio channels. Smart marketing: people trapped on the five hour flight to LA get to sample satellite radio wares. I realize there are probably months when they do have a presence, but too bad CBC hasn't been more aggressive about getting shows like The Border and Sophie in front of Canadians in flight.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Kid Rock

Do you have Jonas Brothers fever? Are you all caught up in Disney's "Camp Rock" commotion? Do you not even know or care about any of this? Get with it, grandpa--the people behind those High School Musical films are getting ready to take over the universe once again. Read my take on Camp Rock, which was shot near Minden, Ont., here. Then get ready to empty your Visa accounts here.
Met the Jonas lads last May in Walt Disney World while on assignment for SHOW magazine and found them to be very accommodating and polite despite the fact that every eight-to-11-year-old girl in the state of Florida seemed to have followed them to Orlando. You didn’t need a publicist to let you know that the lads had arrived at the red carpet—the screams from the young fans could be heard throughout the Disney theme parks.
Noticed the Jonas dad off in the corner at the post-red carpet Disney Channel Games bash but requests to interview him were flatly rejected. Had to respect the dude for that. Nothing more off putting than parental until media whores like Lindsay Lohan’s mom. If I had a kid or three who had just won the instant fame lottery, I wouldn’t talk to press weasels like me, either. Jonas Sr. seems to have the right idea—stick close by but don’t talk to the press.

Friday, June 20, 2008

TV Numbers As Cool As The Summer

It's going to be a long summer for Canadian network programmers. The summer switch off seems to be in full force despite plenty of programming. Nobody seems too jazzed about the reality poop being hurled at the screens.
A look at the June 9-15 Nielsen/BBM Ratings tells the tale. As predicted in my Toronto Star story two weeks back, the summer thrill has gone out of Canadian Idol, down to 15th place in Toronto with just 209,000 viewers, with a still respectable 1.37 watching across Canada. New reality imports are off the radar, with only CTV's Million Dollar Password having any impact, pulling in 1.3 million nationally and 253,000 in Toronto. CBC's How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria auditions cracked the national Top 30 at No. 26 with 590,000 viewers. The 2008 MMVA's did well in Toronto, bringing 225,000 viewers to MuchMusic last Sunday, good enough for 14th place overall in the city. Three episodes of CBC's Coronation Street cracked the Toronto Top 30, with fans flocking back now that NHL playoffs have stopped screwing around with their favorite show. City-TV has the No. 3 show in Toronto with Hell's Kitchen, scoring 331,000 viewers.
Still, the highest rated show in Toronto that week (So You Think You Can Dance, at 386,000 viewers) scored about half the audience you would need to top the T.O. ratings in February or March. The exodus is on.
Global, by the way, had only three shows in the Toronto Top 30 the week of June 9-15--reruns of Bones, NCIS and House.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Radio Blah Blah

The passing of popular NBC commentator Tim Russert, the polarization of cable news and the endless death march that is the U.S. presidential election campaign are topics touched on during this week's radio chat with CHML's Scott Thompson. You can listen in here.

The Vagina Dialogues

I'm on with Mark Hebscher and Donna Skelly on CHCH's Live & 5:30 today to talk about sexism in the newsroom. Specifically: why there are so few female network news anchors? The rant is tied to the fact that Quebec's leading news anchors are both women. Vive la difference! Otherwise, what is this, 1973? Ratings for all the newscasts are down and it isn't a gender thing, it's just that people get their news from the Internet, not from Katie Couric. Now Magazine senior entertainment editor Susan Cole gets in on the TV girl talk. If you miss it, CH repeats Live @ 5:30 at 11:30, and if you think that's confusing, you're right.

O'Brien Making Every Last Late Night Count

Last week in New York for my birthday, I treated myself a taping of Late Night with Conan O'Brien. I've had that privilege several times in the past and always found it the fastest hour you can spend in Manhattan. Plus, well, tickets are free.
The show is taped in Studio 6A deep within that art deco temple of broadcasting, the GE Building of Rockefeller Center. 6H is a surprisingly narrow studio originally designed for radio broadcasts and later the home of the original Tonight Show with Steve Allen. Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, before moving his show to the west coast, also taping there, as did David Letterman during his NBC Late Night days. (Pictures of all four have hung for years on the wall to the right of O'Brien's desk.) They pack about 200 fans into the steep bleachers and every taping I've ever been to has always been a party.
That was true last week as long-time O'Brien writer Brian McCann came out to warm up the crowd. Canadian fans in the bleachers are always loud and proud and generally ignored by McCann, who instead picked on a visitor from Finland, home of O'Brien's doppelganger, female president, Tarja Halonen.
Before the show, O'Brien also came out and worked the crowd, something he used to throw himself into in the very early days. O'Brien used to whip himself into a frenzy singing Elvis tunes and dancing with college students in the front rows. Last week, he gave the Finnish guy a man hug, got him to hug another audience member and also band leader Max Weinberg.
In this ramp up to O'Brien's ascension to The Tonight Show (happening one year from now), the show is being altered slightly. The monologue, which used to be three jokes and out, now extends to 12 or 13 as O'Brien gets ready to fill Jay Leno's nightly joke quota. As one of the few late night hosts who was never a stand up comedian, telling jokes was never one of O'Brien's strengths, although he has developed a self effacing swagger and is backed by some of the sharpest writers in the business.
More than ever, you see some them on stage between segments. Head writer Mike Sweeney (right, with O'Brien at a 2005 Paley Center salute) slides into the guest chair to confer with O'Brien between the early show sections. Producer Jeff Ross also hovers around the desk. The show seems to have more of spontaneous, happening now feel to it, part of the vibe earned during the writers' strike, when O'Brien did some of his most daring, without a net work. Watching a taping today you get the impression that the show is being constantly tweaked, throughout the broadcast.
The guests last week were kind of lame. Animal expert Jeff Corwin brought on a bunch of furry beasts and a giant turtle. O'Brien seemed as bored as the studio audience with second guest Mario Lopez.
The highlight of the show may have been yet another appearance by not dead yet Barney Miller star Abe Vigoda, wheeled out in a bathtub full of ice with Actors Studio host James Lipton. This was so weird even O'Brien seemed stumped by what must have seemed way funnier in the writer's room.
After the show wrapped, O'Brien came out to thank the audience, joining the best band in late night in a rousing closing number. With his future as the next Tonight Show host unimpeachable and clear, you get a lot more O'Brien than you used to get at a studio taping. Enjoy it, New York, with O'Brien's Late Night exit planned for January, 2009, you've got six or seven months before the lanky red head moves out of 6H and heads for Los Angeles. If you are visiting Manhattan and looking for tickets, try this site and good luck.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Othello Gets Killed

Tell us not in mournful numbers: Othello drew a measly 175,000 viewers across Canada Sunday. Talk about a tragedy! The Shakespearean drama, headlined by Carlo Rota from Little Mosque on the Prairie (left), was one of the select summer projects to get a P.R. blitz from the CBC's outside promotional agency, Media Profile. Me thinks CBC corporate P.R. boss John Bozzo is leaving just in time (see post below).
Chris Haddock's The Quality of Life: A Dominic Da Vinci Movie, drew more than twice as many viewers -- 371,000 -- despite being buried on Saturday night and receiving no promotional support from CBC's outsourced P.R. firm. Kinda make you wonder how many viewers might have tuned in if these two projects had been flipped.
Beating them both was the talent hunt reality series How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? which drew 590,000 viewers Sunday night at 8 p.m. Give the people what they want: Gavin Crawford in a skirt!

Bedtime For Bozzo

Occasionally, we here at TV Feeds My Family get sent memos. We don't ask for them, we don't look for them, they just arrive, mysteriously, via email. Here is one sure to be of interest to the veteran team of CBC publicists gassed a few years ago by the Corpse:



"June 12, 2008

John Bozzo to step down as Executive Director, English Communications

John Bozzo, Executive Director, English Communications, has informed us of his intention to leave the Corporation on July 1, 2008. John joined the CBC in 2004. He built a strong team and has brought to the communications function a professionalism, a passion and a rigour that has made it more efficient, more effective and more creative."
The memo goes on to cite "many successes" under Bozzo's tenure. Apparently he was responsible for Little Mosque on the Prairie launching to over 2.1 million viewers. He also got props for enhancing the brand, "culminating in our exciting new positioning--Canada lives here--a reflection of the country's new reality: exciting, diverse and confident."
What a brain! Who knew Canada lives here? Killjoy, sure, and, yeah, hockey, but Canada? You can smell the diversity.
The memo also thanks Bozzo for all the rave reviews CBC has collected over the past four years "due to John's strategic approach to managing our brand and reputation--no small feat." Personally, I'm a little hurt some of my print review efforts, especially this one, were left out of the survey. Also, a quick Google search under "CBC -- idiots" just drew over 95,000 links. That, too, is no small feat.
There is, not surprisingly, no mention in the memo of the recent screw up over the Hockey Night in Canada theme, or countless other CBC P.R. disasters.
The memo ends with best wishes to Bozzo in his future endeavours. A search is underway, it states, to find his replacement. It is signed by executive vice-president Richard Stursberg as well as Bill Chambers, vice-president English services communications. CBC certainly has a lot of executives!
Bozzo's arrival happened to coincide with the firing of the entire CBC publicity staff. An outside publicity film, Toronto's Media Profile, was brought in to promote CBC programs. The move was supposed to save over $800,000 annually. There are reports that contracting out promotion actually cost way more than it was supposed to save and that some CBC shows lose out on promotion as the season winds down and budgets dry up.
Still, good to know Canada lives here. If only accountability lived here, too.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tim Russert: 1950-2008

Sad, shocking news about Tim Russert, the NBC News correspondent and Meet The Press host who died Friday of a heart attack at 58. Russert was a proud native of Buffalo. N.Y., and boasted that he attended the famous 1969 Woodstock concert "in a Buffalo Bills jersey with a case of beer." Before he went to law school, he was educated by the Jesuits at Canisius High School in Buffalo and remained a big Catholic booster; he had just returned from Italy and a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI days before his sudden death.
Russert had a Randy Quaid quality about him, he always looked like he knew where the fun was even in the middle of a tense election night or a town hall debate. I never interviewed him, unfortunately, but here is somebody who did and even scored one of Russert's old school "white boards" as a souvenir: former Dallas Morning News TV critic Ed Bark, who has two solid posts about Russert over at his site, UncleBarky.com. The first throws to all the tributes pouring in from colleagues and politicians who had worked with Russert over the years (including Barbara Walters, who said, "Somewhere he's saying, 'Oh darn, why couldn't it have happened after the election?'"); the second suggests retired NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, who paid a heartfelt tribute to his colleague on today's show, is the guy to step up to the plate and sub for Russert on Meet The Press throughout the rest of this presidential campaign.

Taylor Made TV Dad

Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith), who whistled his way to that fishin' hole along with young Opie (Ron Howard) at the beginning of every episode of The Andy Griffith Show, squeaked out a win in the TV Feeds My Family Father's Day poll. Seems about right to me. That episode with the dead bird and the father-son talk still chokes me up all these years later.
One vote behind, however, are three famous TV dads: Homer Simpson (who, you have to admit, at least does stuff with his kids), Cliff Huxtable (the ultimate '80s dad once you get past those sweaters) and Ward Cleaver, the stern, paternal, '50s father from Leave It To Beaver.
When I suggested several years ago to Tony Dow, who played the Beav's older brother, Wally, that Hugh Beaumont, who played Ward, seemed like the ideal TV dad, Dow just rolled his eyes and snorted. Dow told me Beaumont, who died in 1982, was a total pain in the ass on the Leave It To Beaver set and barely tolerated the younger stars.
Ah, geez Wally, why'd ja have to spoil it like that for me?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Today Is Brioux Reunion Day

Promised my cousin Carol Brioux Steed I'd get word up here about Briouxpalooza '08, the big clan reunion taking place today in Peterborough, Ont. About 350 Brioux friends and relatives are expected to make the trek to the cradle of Briouxdum. There is a street named after the Brioux family in this town, where our roots date back seven generations to well before confederation.
The whole deal happens today at Nicholls Oval Park Pavilion in Peterborough (click here for a map). Things kick off at 11am with a mass in the park, presided over by Fr. Paul Feeley. As is the custom at these festive Brioux gatherings, a witch will be burned.
The event is pot luck, so if you are coming, bring munchies. No booze is allowed in the park, so drink before you get there. A small administrative fee of $10 per Brioux or $20 per family is being charged.
Apparently the last Brioux reunion was held in 1935, back before WWII, television or even Facebook (where you can get more info on this event at the "Brioux" group). At that gathering, I'm guessing, was my grandfather and namesake, William Louis Brioux, one dapper dude. Here he is at the turn of the 20th century. He later went on to play Mr. Steed on The Avengers.
So if you are a Brioux or are just, say, bald, head on over to Nichols Oval Park and blend in!
With most of the Brioux's out of prison again, it's time to celebrate!

Friday, June 13, 2008

CBC Buries Da Vinci, Gives Haddock Headache

Is CBC really that ticked at Chris Haddock? Tomorrow night at 9 p.m., they're finally airing the writer/producer's spin-off feature "The Quality of Life: A Dominic Da Vinci Movie." A year after it was delivered, they're burying it on a Saturday in June, TV's equivalent of the witness protection program.
In addition, the Toronto-based publicity firm they've hired to promote their shows, Media Profile, is not doing any promotion for the movie. This for a follow up to a series that has run a decade on the network, giving Canadian viewers one of the most memorable characters ever, the Vancouver coroner/mayor so brilliantly played by Nicholas Campbell.
Haddock (above with Campbell), who I spoke with this week for The Canadian Press, thinks he's being punished for venting in public about CBC cancelling his more recent series, Intelligence. You can read the full CP piece here.
CBC head of media relations Jeff Keay brushed that off when I contacted him yesterday. "Not sure we'd agree with Chris's evaluation," he emailed. "We don't always agree, but we don't have a problem with him stating his opinion; hell, that's one of his best qualities!"
CBC is probably genuinely okay with Haddock sounding off. The free publicity brings some attention to the movie they've buried, guaranteeing at least a few dozen viewers Saturday night. But imagine Fox throwing a hypothetical David Shore House spin-off TV-movie away like this, or telling Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane (who they've just locked up with a multi-million-dollar development deal) that he's on his own for promotion on his next project.
Regimes change at networks and the last guy's show is not always given the same respect by the new team. CBC seems to be cutting its ties to the recent past, be it Air Farce or Da Vinci or a Hockey Night in Canada theme song. Like a new hockey coach assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the players before him, this is absolutely the prerogative of a new programmer in charge.
Just watch out for the other teams. CTV could pick up Da Vinci as easily as it picked up that hockey song. Haddock would have no problem with that, as long as he got to tell more Da Vinci stories. "Oh Yeah. Absolutely," he joked on the phone. "If you want to broker that I’ll give you a fee."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another Banff In The Books

Last year at this time, I had my first taste of the Banff World Television Festival. After years of smugly dismissing it as an industry wank, I had an opportunity to see first hand as a panel moderator that it was a viable, first class marketplace and idea centre, a place where TV enthusiasts could mix and mingle with players on both sides of the border and indeed from around the world.
One of the coolest aspects of Banff is simply having many of TV's sharpest minds in the same hotel. The impromptu screening of that still-talked-about final episode of The Sopranos last June found showrunners from CSI, Two and a Half Men as well as columnists John Doyle and Bill Carter scratching their heads in the dark over Big Tony's fade to black. That led to some sharp and memorable instant analysis in the foyer. (My CP take on that night's Sopranos screening is still available on-line here.)
This year's event generated its share of headlines, including word that Fox is moving forward with a U.S. version of Little Mosque on the Prairie. It was at last year's fest where newly-appointed NBC programming boss Ben Silverman told delegates (via satellite) that Little Mosque plus several other Canadian ventures were absolutely on his radar.
This year saw "master's classes" (really industry insider Q&A's) showcasing showrunners like Alan Poule from Swingtown, Hart Hanson from Bones and Stephanie Savage from Gossip Girl. A great moderator like The Times' Carter makes these memorable and informative by keeping things relaxed and informal, although it would be great to see more Canadian scribes (well, okay, me) get in on the Actor's Studio-like action.
There are still aspects of Banff which seem maddeningly kiss-ass and arbitrary. Sofia Milos, for example, who is sometimes on The Border, was given this year's BWTF Award of Excellence. That award is supposed to acknowledge "exceptional achievement through a body of work over an extended period of time." Brent Butt, on the other hand, won the "Best Implants" award, leaving many in the room to wonder if there might not have been some sort of mix up.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It's One, Two, Three Strikes You're Out...

This week on the CHML radio chat with Scott Thompson, we needle CBC for being too stupid to hold on to a theme song. Listen to the discussion here.
That CTV was going to steal the Hockey Night in Canada theme was about as obvious and predictable as the Leafs not making the playoffs. But only CBC could let this fester into one of the most embarrassing network PR disasters since, well, since that time they tried to can Ron MacLean.
Sure, it is just a song. But what CBC network executives do not appear to get is that tradition and ritual are things you just never want to give away in television.
Maybe some CBC execs should do what I just did on Monday--fly down to New York and take in a Yankees game. This is the last year the Bronx Bombers will be playing in Yankee Stadium, which is major league baseball's third-oldest ball park. A new field is nearing completion just across the street and while it will seat slightly fewer fans it will have plenty of those money making corporate boxes and other modern amenities.
Many of the design elements of the old stadium are being incorporated into the new field, including those famous friezes. There will also be a museum inside the new joint complete with bits and piece from the original, including locker room goodies.
What struck me as I watched a game there Monday (played in 96 degree heat as Yankees fell 3-2 to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs) was how traditional and low-tech everything was. Before the game, fans stood at attention to a recording of the late Metropolitan Opera star Robert Merrill singing the Star Spangled Banner. Later, during the seventh inning stretch, another decades old recording is played, this time of Kate Smith (right) singing "God Bless America."
As corny as these songs must sound to Blue Jays fans used to the frenzied light and sound shows at the Rogers Centre, it all works for Yankee fans. It was surprisingly touching to stand and listen as thousands throughout the upper and lower decks of the fabled stadium sang right along with the 50-plus-year-old Smith recording. Clearly these fans loved that ritual and anybody who dared try and update it would quickly get doused with a beer to the head.
That's what CBC doesn't get. Hockey in Canada is a religion and you don't mess with the opening hymn--unless you want to drive the faithful to another church.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Boys Of Summer, 2008

Annual pilgrimage to the lake was made this weekend by the boys of summer (six Michael Power grads; three St. Michael's College alumni. Missing from photo: Allison from Exeter). McConvey took this year's mini golf title with a 45 on the Evergreen Resort mosquito magnet. The lad was presented with the brand new "That's Got To Be A Disappointment" trophy (courtesy principal Devlin). The brand new batting title trophy went to no one due to fog and utter lack of hitting/interest/plumbing.
Minutes of television consumed this weekend: Zilch. We now resume regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, June 6, 2008

She Shoots, She Scores--She Sues

Heading down the 407 today to talk to my buddies Mark Hebscher and Donna Skelly at CHCH's Live @ 5:30 about this whole Hockey Night in Canada theme song hullabaloo. Seems odd that the CBC would stoop to nickel and diming the composer of this tune when HNiC is by far their biggest moneymaker. Sure, tunesmith Dolores Claman gets a tidy $500 every time the show opens and the orchestral anthem is played. At 50 games that's about $25 grand a year. Not a bad little dividend.
Big whup. The song, as Chris Zelkovich points out on the front page of today's Toronto Star, is recognized nation-wide as Canada's second national anthem. It has opened the show, albeit with different arrangements, every year since 1968. Why screw around with that? Hum along here:



Other shows, such as Saturday Night Live and Coronation Street, have gone decades with the same music. Monday Night Football's distinctive "Heavy Action" theme ("ba-ba-ba-Baaa...") has been summoning men in front of their sets since 1971.
There is more at stake, of course. Claman is suing the CBC for $2.5 million to get her share of revenues from the jingle being sold for cell phone ringtones and other ancillary rights. The writer's Guild should have had Claman's lawyer, although this thing has dragged on for four years.
Still, CBC should know the cost of doing business in TV today. Using The Simpsons as an example again, the five principle voice cast members just settled for a staggering amount of money to stay with that series for a 20th season--$500,000 per episode. At 20 shows, that's a cool $10 million a season. Ay carumba! These guys don't even have to shave or wash their hair.
CBC could settle this right now for what it costs to voice The Simpsons for one episode. As Homer would say, 'D-oh!"
The parties have apparently set 5 p.m. today as the deadline for coming to terms. There is speculation that Claman could shop the song to TSN if CBC passes. At this week's CTV upfront, CEO Ivan Fecan joked that TSN's hockey ratings were doing so well, Wednesday nights would be know as their very own "night for hockey in Canada." You can bet that he'd snap up Claman's tune--it is a bargain compared with what the rights to Hockey Night in Canada would have cost.

Exclusive: Kitt Opens Up To TVFMF

This Wednesday in Toronto, TV Feeds My Family had an exclusive one-on-one with KITT, the cool talking Shelby Mustang from the upcoming new Knight Rider series. The interview took place at the Global Upfront, on the stage of the Elgin Theatre. Here’s what TV’s most powerful pony car had to say:
TVFMF: Is this your first time in Toronto?
KITT: Yes. What’s with your mayor, has he ever been in a car? He wants to tear down the one road into town? You dolts voted for this gearbox?
TVFMF: Tell us about your new series.
KITT: It is about this fabulous super car—played by me—that can change shapes, navigate through city streets by itself and hugs the road like David Hasselhoff after an all night bender.
TVFMF: Speaking of Hasselhoff, were you a fan of the original series?
KITT: The Trans-AM? It was a decent ride in its day, I guess. Very Old School, rear wheel drive, that sort of thing. Those hide-a-way headlights were so ‘80s.
TVFMF: Could you take it in a race?
KITT: Does a Chrysler Neon leak oil? Give me a break.
TVFMF: What do you think of your co-star, Justin Bruening?
KITT: The kid? I carry him in this picture. Put it this way, he’s no Danica Patrick. What, Michael Knight couldn’t have had a hot niece?
TVFMF: You sound a little bitter.
KITT: Look, not only do I not get my own trailer, I’ve got to pull his! Besides, I’ve seen potholes with more charisma.
TVFMF: You are scheduled to begin shooting the series in two weeks. Any concerns about an actor’s strike?
KITT: Not if I hit them first, you know what I mean? Nah, seriously, I’m in the Guild. You’ve heard of the UAW? Every part of me is Union made, brother. I get a piece of the new revenue streams or Jeff Zucker is looking at some serious tire marks up his butt.
TVFMF: How do you like working with Val Kilmer?
KITT: Who?
TVFMF: Val Kilmer, your voice in the series?
KITT: Are you on carbon emissions? I don’t need some chick to dub my voice.
TVFMF: What’s currently in your CD player?
KITT: Lint. Seriously, it is an iPod dock, wake up to a new millennium, granddad. I listen to ZZ Top, Broken Social Scene, Manilow. Diggin’ the new Ashanti album.
TVFMF: Did you have any role models growing up? Who did you look up to in this business?
KITT: Well, I’d have to say the Starsky & Hutch Ford Gran Torino, that was one sweet ride. The original TV Batmobile, naturally, although, big deal, George Barris painted a ’55 Lincoln Futura concept car black, way to go Mr. Genius. And, of course, the young, hungry, Al Pacino. “Say hello to my little friend!”
TVFMF: You are a 2008 Shelby GT500KR Mustang. You come equipped with 560 horses under the hood. Have you had any enhancements?
KITT: Hey, this is Hollywood, baby. Everybody gets a little work done. Let’s just say there’s no junk in my trunk, ya dig?
TVFMF: Is it true you turned down the remake of “The Italian Job”?
KITT: You got that right, Guido. Not for me, all those steps and stone streets in Rome. Momma mia!
TVFMF: How do you like being on Canadian TV?
KITT: Oh, sure, thrilled to be on E!, right up there with The Biggest Loser and Snoop Dogg's Father Hood. What, not good enough for Global? Feel very special.
TVFMF: Any advice for new cars just starting out in this business?
KITT: Here’s what I always tell the kids--don't be shy about getting your oil changed, keep your rubber on the road and, sooner or later, you’re gonna get the brakes. See you on the 401, Canada!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Muscle Car Drives Global's 2008 Upfront

Plenty of laughs and good times Wednesday at the CanWest Global 2008 upfront, as advertisers and reporters were wined and dined in style at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. There seemed to be a cheery atmosphere in the well-appointed press room, with cheeky HGTV bastards Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan from Colin & Justin's Home Heist killing with their zany 'here's looking up yer kilt' antics.
"Canadians are so not polite!" said Scotsman Justin, who was asked about our famous reticence. He told a story at the press room Q&A session about one Home Heist makeover where he just went for it and painted a woman's house all yellow and black. She showed her displeasure by dressing up as a bumble bee, complete with black and yellow garbage bags for a costume topped off with deelyboppers. He called us all a bunch of wee timorous beasties or something, I'm still waiting for the translation.
Another Justin, Bruening (top photo, with your truly in front of the Knight Rider KITT car) was one of a smattering of Yankee stars airlifted across the border for the event. In past years, Global has tried to keep pace with CTV's upfront star power by walking the likes of Ryan Seacrest and Howie Mandell across their stage. CTV claims they didn't even try to get any big names to come this year, insisting the plan all along was to wave the flag and salute their Canadian productions. The folks at Global were a little more candid, admitting that House star Hugh Laurie and several new 90210 stars were wooed to no avail. The fact is everybody in Hollywood is working this June as U.S. networks and studios gird against a possible strike by the Screen Actor's Guild come June 30.
Hence all the Canada First happy talk at the CTV and Global upfronts. And, hey, lookit this--both networks--who are also currently begging the CRTC for cable carriage quarters and dimes--are also up for license renewal this summer! What an incredible coincidence! It's a wonder we didn't all have to wear toques and eat back bacon at the upfronts, eh?
Fortunately, Knight Rider doesn't rev up for another two weeks, allowing Bruening and the series' real star, one of three shiny new Shelby Mustangs (fresh from a car show in Philly) to do a little cross border promotional blitz. Indiana-native Bruening was just one happy fella to be making his first trip to Toronto and couldn't have been more gracious on a chance encounter with autograph seekers on the street behind the Elgin. He says Knight Rider, which was tested as a TV-movie this season, will be darker, less campy as it revs into series mode. He's off to a real Ford test track to sharpen his road handling skills before launching back into production.
Global also trotted three of the stars from the latest "Fans vs. Favorites" edition of Survivor: Parvati Shallow (who won the million bucks), Oscar ‘Ozzy’ Lusth and James Clement. Lusth seemed pretty blase about being caught boinking on infer-red cameras this season. I couldn't help thinking this would have been front page news three or four years ago, not so much today.
Popeye-armed contractor Mike Holmes from Holmes on Holmes also took questions about his new, two-part HGTV documentary, Make It Right: New Orleans. Holmes says he got to hang with volunteer homebuilder Brad Pitt in the still ravaged Louisiana city and declared him an okay dude. "I have new respect for Brad Pitt," said Holmes, who will probably wind up with the contract to build the giant new nursery.
Holmes was sickened at the devastation and squander he encountered in New Orleans, spotting a dead dog lying in the street in neglected regions just blocks from the revived tourist centres.
Dr. Travis Stork, one of the real MDs featured in the new daytime series The Doctors, also paid a house call. His medical advice series is spun off from and produced by that bossy gas-bag Dr. Phil, who also got one of his kids as job on there as a co-host.
One of the stars of The Guard, Steve Bacic, participated in the one-on-ones, as did stylish Ngozi Paul from 'da Kink In My Hair. Shot in B.C., The Guard is back with 15 new episodes, and Bacic let me in on a little secret: some big name Canadian star who was once featured on 24 is coming on board as a new Mr. Bossypants. Since there have been about 900 Canadian actors on 24 the past six seasons, that really wasn't much of a scoop.
Always friendly Global News anchor Kevin Newman stopped by to shake hands and say how happy he was to be based in the nation's capitol (and that much closer to his parent's home in Mississauga).
There were a few missed opportunities at the Global launch. Would have liked to have seen Mandell brought back to explain his new NBC simulcast Howie Do It (a Punk'd-like series) or Dave Thomas to talk about The Animated Adventures Of Bob And Doug McKenzie, an upcoming, 15-part animated series. Would have also been good to hear from Toronto-born Will Arnett, one of the voice stars of the animated mid-season comedy Sit Down, Shut Up. At least there wasn't an angry mob of Canadian actors picketing outside the CanWest event as there was last June.
Like CTV, CanWest put a lot of emphasis on its multi-platform strategy. Besides their one-two punch in Global and E!, they've got dozens of specialty channels thanks to that Alliance-Atlantis deal. There was also plenty of noise about deals to place much of the new and returning programming acquisitions on broadband applications. Hopefully this helped distract advertisers from Global's craterous ratings during the dark days of the U.S. writer's strike this past winter.
There were no E!-shaped cookies at the event, but the glamorous Global P.R. crew did spring for plenty of yummy bar munchies afterwards.

Global Boss Puts Best Foot Forward

Here at TV Feeds My Family it is all about the shoes. Not to be outdone by red pumps programmer Kirstine Layfield at CBC or CTV's sensible shoe wearer Susanne Boyce, Global executive V.P. for content Barbara Williams (above) stepped up today and showed off her power pumps. The sole session occurred following Global's 2008 upfront at Toronto's Elgin Theatre, which was jammed with ad execs scoping out the latest wares from the media conglomerate.
Williams thinks this whole Canadian network women in power deal is all about timing rather than gender. Both she and Layfield did their field work programming specialty channels at Alliance Atlantis. Williams credits those opportunities with preparing them for the network gigs they enjoy today.
In any event, she fearlessly went toe-to-toe with me for the TV Feeds My Family photo op, surprising the hell out of CanWest chief marketing officer Walter Levitt, who expected her to give my request the boot.
Williams will have to step around a trickier programming call next season when Joss Whedon's Dollhouse premieres. The sci-fi drama is one of two new shows this coming season which will air with fewer commercials in the U.S., where one or two big corporate sponsors will underwrite the unusual programming ploy for Fox.
This means headaches for Global and CTV (which has the other "heavy" show, J.J. Abrams' Fringe), especially now that Canadian networks, thanks to some bargaining last year before the CRTC, now cram in more commercial time per hour than their American counterparts.
Williams says the studio behind Dollhouse plans to provide an international version that would fit into conventional network timeslots (usually about 44 minutes). She'd like to see that version as well as the longer one before deciding if Global will run long or short, simulcast or substitute. Dollhouse does not premiere until mid-season.
In other shoe news, Williams wasn't the only one doing the leg work at the Global upfront. Fellow shoe wearers and Global publicists Nikki Lamb (above) and Jacqueline Kendall (left) also flashed some fancy footware. Remember, no other TV site gives you so many feet of Canadian network upfront coverage. Look for the new spinoff site "Foot Fetish Feeds My Family," coming to a world wide web near you.
Next post: talking car gets top billing at Global upfront.

Jully Black Boosts Canadian Idol

PVR'd last night's season premiere of Canadian Idol, which may be the best way to enjoy this talent search showcase. You can fast forward through the hundreds of shampoo ads and CTV promotional spots and zero in on a well packaged 40 minutes, with plenty of hints as to how the series should play out this summer.
First the good parts: Jully Black is amazing, jolting the show with personality and pizazz as a mentor with a microphone, working the audition waiting rooms with an ease and spirit that calls out for a greater presence. Plus, Lord, the girl can sing. One complaint: took half the show last night to get to her; give us more Jully next time, please.
The sixth season opener certainly got off to a roaring start. Canadian Idol moves at a tremendous speed, with rapid edits jolting viewers away from their remotes. It seemed like you were half way through the Toronto auditions before you even knew the episode had started.
The judges were relaxed and playful and seemed more secure in their TV persona's than I remembered. Zack Werner, in particular, doesn't seem to be forcing the Simon Cowell cattiness anymore. He had the best line of the night, telling one chirpy auditioner that they sounded "kinda like Alvin without the Chipmunks."
Two breakout stars--Oliver and Sebastian Pigott, photogenic brothers who grew up in Portugal--clearly emerged last night as potential winners. Jake Gold, in fact, told older sibling Oliver it was the best audition he'd ever seen on the show. Their talent and charisma shone right through the screen.
Canadian Idol also does a good job of profiling contestants with little hometown vignettes and last night was no exception. A lanky dude from Saskatchewan--Earl the back hoe digger--was easy to root for after his back story was cued up.
On the down side, the fast start could not be maintained. Last night's season debut, while compelling for the first 20 minutes, sagged in the middle, running out of gas around the time the scenes shifted to the Edmonton auditions. (More Jully Black might help here. She has a naturalness and a charm that does not require those rat-tat-tat six second edits. You really want to linger with her and she brings out the best in the contestants.)
There didn't seem to be any real train wrecks last night, no William Hung's which is a drag because the freaky freaks seem to drive the early episodes. One bonnie girl from Saskatchewan was given a golden ticket on to the next round after a so-so audition but a teary plea to gain from the experience of sticking around. It was a moment of parental compassion but I don't know if that is any way to run a talent competition.
Episode Two airs next Monday at 9 p.m. on CTV.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Canadian Idol Returns: Facing The Music

One glaring omission in all of yesterday's CTV 2008 upfront hoopla--there was almost no mention of Canadian Idol.
Odd, since it returns tonight for a sixth season (9 p.m., CTV) Usually Ben Mulroney takes the stage and lights firecrackers out his ass. Anything to draw attention to this show.
So is this the last season? Yesterday at the upfront, CTV programming president Susanne Boyce made a passing reference to the article I wrote for The Toronto Star Sunday, which suggested the end was near. Despite what you might have read or heard, she said, Canadian Idol was "not going anywhere anytime soon." Then she never mentioned it again (although, to be fair, CTV's upfront concluded with a rousing showstopper from new Idol mentor Jully Black).
Neither Mulroney nor any of the four judges were in the house yesterday, at least as far as I could tell. (UPDATE: Scott Henderson at CTV has informed me that Mulroney and Zack Werner were indeed at the Four Seasons. The three other judges were either on the road or had family commitments.) Producer John Brunton (above), who I interviewed for the Star piece last week, was on the scene along with CTV programming V.P. Ed Robinson. Neither looked too pleased to see me and I can't blame them. It sucks to spend 10 or 15 minutes out of a busy day to be interviewed for a newspaper article, only to see your name attached to one or two quotes in a story arguing that your show is not the hit it once was. (One CTV publicist referred to the Star story as a "chop job" yesterday, although I've received feedback from other sources suggesting the piece was too fair.) The principle of adversarial journalism is not so embraced in this day and age of converged media--not every network gets that you are not working for them.
Both Brunton and Robinson are justifiably proud of the series and are excited about this season, which begins tonight. Canadian Idol, by any measure, is a huge Canadian success story, a true fan favorite and a slick, well produced show.
Brunton, who is producing shows all over town (including last fall's Deal Or No Deal Canada for Global), has become the go-to guy for live TV in this country. He was clearly pissed to see me yesterday, but he was also big enough to thank me for writing about Canadian Idol, getting that even bad news is good news if names are spelled right and the day and date info is correct.
The argument he made to me yesterday that TV is down everywhere, not just on his show, is also valid, although I'd argue I've been reporting about that for over a year, filing at least half a dozen columns for CP on the crater in broadcast TV ratings.
In any event, I promised him I'd tune in tonight and watch out for this kid who came all the way from London to audition for the series. Brunton said he was blown away by his talent and predicted the show might finally have found a contestant Toronto could fully embrace and get behind. Tune in and judge for yourself, tonight at 9 p.m. on CTV.

CTV Dances To A Canadian Tune

If yesterday's CTV upfront had been a hockey game, it would have opened with "O Canada."
There was more solid Canadian content front and centre at a CTV upfront than usual, thanks to a dearth of U.S. shows to import and some timely investment in Canadian programming.
CTV CEO Ivan Fecan got to brag for the seventh straight year that his network was No. 1, that it owned 18 out of Canada's Top-20 shows last season, that it still stands as "the house of hits."
Still, there were suspiciously few charts and graphs for the advertising community to mull over at this year's CTV upfront. Better to just say you are No. 1 than to break out the year-to-year declines in demos and viewership overall (although CTV weathered the impact of the U.S. writers strike a hell of a lot better than Global did this winter).
Even Fecan's famous salesmanship could not entirely mask the malaise that has descended on network television. Hollow slogans such as "Television Rules The Nation" hung in the air yesterday like last year's cheese.
Even the party, although it was well run, wasn't quite the grand event it was been in recent years. While the venue rocked (Toronto's bright, modern Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts), there were no high-priced American drama stars paraded on stage. No Dr. McDreamy as in year's past, no Desperate Housewives, no anybody airlifted and limo'ed to the event. (UPDATE: None were asked, emails CTV's Scott Henderson, restating that the focus always was on CTV's Canadian efforts.) The only imported star cameos were Mary Murphy and Dan Karaty (above), two of the judges from the reality hit So You Think You Can Dance, who are both involved in the new Canadian production coming this September.
Gone, too, was the showy little vanity films of years past featuring Fecan and programming president Susanne Boyce tooling around L.A. on the set of Grey's Anatomy or whatever.
CTV, which spent $1.7 billion to acquire the CHUM stations in 2006, took its cue from the U.S. nets, which all have scaled down upfronts in May. They also probably had trouble booking American stars, what with several shows working through their usual hiatus in order to stockpile episodes in advance of another Hollywood nightmare scenario--a possible strike by the Screen Actors Guild, whose contract runs out June 30.
Front and centre at CTV's upfront, therefore, were its two strike-proof U.S. co-productions--Flashpoint, starring Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars) and Hugh Dillon (Durham County) as key members of Toronto's Emergency Task Force, and The Listener, featuring Craig Olejnik (above) as a 25-year-old who can hear what other people all around him are thinking.
Clips were shown for both dramas and both look as good as anything coming out of the States this fall. Both are also proudly set in Toronto, with plenty of reference points, such as the Commerce Court, the CN Tower, even the Ontario Legislature, getting screen time.
Monday's emotional high point, however, was the bow taken by the eight members of the Corner Gas cast, who have just started production in Saskatchewan on their sixth and final season. Creator and star Brent Butt got quite verklempt on stage, choking up as he saluted the cast as 'the most talented people I've ever met." CTV confirmed at the event that they have entered into an agreement with Butt to team on a new half-hour venture.
CTV also confirmed it will produce a new, daytime series to be headlined by Marilyn Denis, called, naturally, The Marilyn Denis Show. Denis, who completed her 19-year run on CityLine late last month, took the stage and cracked that she is "so thrilled that I can't stop smiling--maybe it's the Botox." At the CTV upfront after party, she said the upcoming move downtown of Toronto landmark radio station CHUM-FM--where she has worked the morning shift for two decades as part of Roger. Rick & Marilyn--will make her daily radio-TV double play just that much more doable in the near future. When does it all start? "We'll have a date and time shortly," says Denis.
Programming boss Boyce's turn at the podium was charming and effective as usual. The soft-spoken Boyce--who I've known since she gave me a shot as an on-air TV critic way back when she was producing CBC's Midday--cued the clips and took the hugs and air kisses from the talent crossing the stage, including all the judges from So You Think You Can Dance Canada. "I love my job," Boyce kept saying.
In the great Canadian female programming executives saga, Boyce wore sensible tan shoes on stage, slipping into more comfortable black puppies for the after party. Neither pair had the flash and splash of CBC programming chief Kirstine Layfield's bright red pumps, but, then again, if you've got the shows, you don't need the shoes.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Upfront shocker: CTV Stands Pat

Ivan Fecan actually said it: "A comes before E!, except after CTV."
The CTV CEO (above), standing on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre For The Performing Arts in Toronto, was giving advertisers the scoop on the new season at today's 2008 Upfront. He was referring to the rebranded, CTV-owned A-Channel, now called "The A." Hundreds of ad account managers and a few dozen TV reporters groaned at the joke, but here's the punch line: A comes before CTV when it comes to new shows this fall.
Remember how I suggested that CBC had blown a golden opportunity to launch something new this fall given the dearth of new U.S. content due to the writer's strike? Well, here is the size of that missed opportunity: CTV HAS NO NEW U.S. IMPORTS ON THEIR SCHEDULE NEXT FALL. ZERO. They loaded them all over the "The A." The broadcaster has split itself into a mom and dad network--CTV--and a teen network--The A. CTV keeps all the old stuff: ER, still Thursdays at 10, Without a Trace, Law & Order, Criminal Minds...with anything remotely new--Private Practice, Pushing Daisies, Gossip Girl, Samantha Who? and fall U.S. rookies The Mentalist, Fringe and Eleventh Hour--premiering on The A.
Programming president Susanne Boyce actually said "I think viewers will go mental for The Mentalist," which, well, was a pretty mental thing to say. The whole "The A" thing was branded right into the cookies passed out later at the upfront after party, helping ad buyers to digest the new concept.