Thursday, July 31, 2008

Huron Your Own, Again

In case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm back on cottage time. The August long weekend approaches, and I'm sorry, but, the call of the lake is greater than the call of the blog.
If you are looking for something serious to watch this weekend, PBS is rerunning The Forgetting: A Portrait of Alzheimer's (Sunday at 9 p.m. on most PBS affiliates; check local listings, however, because PBS affiliates are notorious renegades). Frasier star David Hyde Pierce, whose father and grandfather succumbed to the disease and who narrated this 2004 special, returns afterwards for a new half-hour town hall-style meeting called The Future of Alzheimer's; various doctors and other experts are on the panel. You can read more about Pierce's personal connection to this fight here in the piece I filed for CP today.

Hey, Scrote--Idiocracy Kicks Ass

One of the delights of press tour is bumping into actors who you just saw in something terrific. Ran into Terry Crews at the CBS/CW party last week and, while he's exactly right as the hard ass dad on Everybody Hates Chris (heading into its fourth season), all I wanted to talk to him about was Idiocracy, a little seen 2006 gem from King of the Hill creator Mike Judge.
If you haven't seen this crazy little picture run out and rent it now. The film stars Luke Wilson as an average guy (in fact, the most average guy in the U.S. military), who is chosen (along with a hooker, played by SNL alumni Mya Rudolph) for an experiment, a secret, year-long military hibernation.
Something goes wrong, 'natch, and these kids are frozen for 500 years, only to emerge in the year 2505 and discover that, after centuries of dumbification, the world has become unbelievably stupid.
This film--from the select archives of neighbor Jimmy--was a big hit at the cottage this year. So when I ran into Crews, who plays outrageous future U.S. president Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, I was able to tell him we watched the damn thing three times in one weekend and laughed out asses off each time.
Crews says he gets this all the time, especially from his Hollywood pals. "Will Ferrell came up to me and said, 'IDIOCRACY!'" says Crews, laughing.
The film has some of the funniest dialogue and sight gags ever. "Don't worry scrote," says a doctor who examines Luke Wilson's character. "There are plenty of 'tards out there living really kick ass lives." Wish I could subscribe now to one of the magazines that appears in Judge's harsh future world: "Hot Naked Chicks and World Report."
After being delayed a year due to poor testing, the movie only opened in seven cities at 125 theatres and no screeners were ever sent to critics. Box office receipts totalled a little over $444,000. So far, according to Wikipedia (so it must be true), it has earned over $9 million in DVD rentals.
It probably didn't help that the film, which savages Fox News, was distributed by 20th Century Fox. Other corporations come in for a roasting, especially Starbucks, Wal-mart, Carl's Jr. and Gatorade. How stupid do things get in the future? Get aload of this clip:



Crews thinks it also may have been ahead of its time. "I just saw Wall-E--same story," he says. I dunno about that, but rent Idiocracy today. Best enjoyed with extra big ass fries.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Newspaper Feeds My Family

I've got two stories in my new favorite newspaper, the Toronto Star. The first is the front of the Saturday Entertainment section, a report off the press tour on all the Canadians on new U.S. network shows this fall. Rob Salem sez they usually call it the Frostback feature. At the Sun we just called it that story where you do a round up of all the Canadians on new shows this fall. Either way you can read it here.
The stand out for me was Dustin Milligan, a nice young man from Yellowknife, N.W.T. who turns 23 tomorrow. He's one of the new Canucks on that 90210 remake (the other being Degrassi: The Next Generation grad Shenae Grimes), launching Sept. 2 on Global and the CW. The kid has a great Les Moonves story already, check it out.
The other Star piece is the cover of this week's Starweek magazine. It is all about the Disney Channel Games running the next five Fridays on Family Channel in Canada. I was on the scene back in May when the games were played out at Walt Disney World in Florida. Yeah, I know, more Jonas Bros. blah blah. Hey, it can't all be CBC numbers, programming executive shoe shots and TCA drivel here.
I'd link to the Starweek story, but I can't figure out how, so do us all a favor, buy a newspaper.
By the way, I'm guessing that cool front page above, arresting even in this tiny repro, is the work of former Sun layout and Showcase wizard Derek Tse. The lad is now working his magic on the Star's front page. Helmet's off.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dollhouse a Relaxing Retreat for Weary Critics

Wish I was in Joss Whedon's Dollhouse meditation room right now.
Tuesdays tour of the enormous set--one of five studio production visits crammed into the final day of press tour--was both cool and cruel. After a grueling TCA, with three weeks of network sessions crammed into two, it would have been nice to kick back and relax in that teak and stone setting, if just for an extra hour or three.
The Toronto Star today picked up my CP piece on the Dollhouse set visit, you can read more about it here.
Whedon and Dollhouse star Eliza Dushku (above) walked critics through four sets ups spread over two giant sound stages on the Fox lot. Later they sat and answered questions. Whedon's introductory remarks addressed a lot of details about how the Dollhouse setting plays out. Here is what he had to say:
Obviously this is the main space of the Dollhouse. Up here gazing down upon us, as what we refer to as the Staples Center, this is Topher’s lab. That is Fran Franz’s character; the programmer. He watches over everything all the time from in there. Next to it is the imprint room, where we have the special chair, or we will have the special chair after it has been redesigned to work. Over there, obviously the gym. They spend a lot of time working on their bodies. They are basically like children in here. Very enthusiastic, very optimistic, very slow. They eat fine food in the excellent dining area and it is delicious spa fair. They have a crafts sort of meditation center, over here, where they do some finger painting and what not. This behind in here, is the lab of Dr Saunders. You’ll notice that it is the one sort of enclosed and darker area. This is next to the massage area.
Apparently a lot of this came to Whedon in a dream, including details about how the "puppets" in the Dollhouse are controlled. I'm pretty sure all of this will be the model for press tour in a year or two, as soon as the networks work out a few bugs.

Flashpoint Week Three: Settling In

Despite a CSI lead in (those summer reruns aren't the draw they used to be), CBS's move to Thursday night did little to boost Flashpoint's U.S. ratings in Week Three. The Toronto-produced thriller scored 6.7 million viewers last night, down slightly from Week Two (7.1 million), which was down 13% from Week One (8.13 million).
Still, Flashpoint drew 15% better than Swingtown did the week before in that timeslot, so flipping the two shows so far is a gain.
In Canada, Flashpoint scored 1.1 million CTV viewers, up from 908,000 the week before. (All numbers BBM Canada/Nielsen Media Research.) This should help nudge it back up into the national Top-10 for the week. It won its timeslot in both countries, romping to victory in Canada over Global's non-simulcast of Swingtown (311,000).
More good news: the producers have struck a distribution deal importing Flashpoint to more than 50 countries, including France , Germany, Italy , Spain , the UK , Scandinavia, and Latin America.
Next Thursdays number may determine whether or not CBS re-ups the show for a second 13-episode order (perhaps to run next summer). Most programs settle into their average viewership by week four. If it can hold close to 7 million U.S. viewers, it should have a shot.
Last night's episode repeats this Sunday at 10 p.m. on CTV.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Goodnight From The Beverly Hilton

LOS ANGELES--Today is getaway day here at the TCA press tour, and what have we learned? Some random thoughts.
1. Jay Leno is not an attractive bald man.
2. Howie Mandell is an attractive bald man, but he bobble head doll is a little creepy.
3. A network that sells toasters which burn imprints of Star Wars characters can not be relied upon to serve you breakfast.
4. The Smothers Brothers are eternally cool.
5. Keith Olbermann is secure enough as a newsman to walk into a press conference with a "Bill Clinton 60th Birthday" duffle bag.
6. The new Simpsons ride at Universal Studios rocks. The pre-boarding safety film features Itchy & Scratchy at their violent best, there's a Quick-E-Mart to explore on your way out and the simulated spin through Springfield and beyond is every fan's dream come true.
7. Tory Spelling has a selective memory.
8. Cat Deeley is as lovely in person as she is on So You Think You Can Dance but not much of a photographer.
9. The only place that has Guitar Hero III in North America is the full service store set of NBC's Chuck
10. If you built a TCA press tour, they will come.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wells: Fox Out Of Intelligence

LOS ANGELES--Executive producer John Wells confirms that Fox has passed on Intelligence, the CBC drama he was re-developing as an American series with creator Chris Haddock (Da Vinci's Inquest).
"We developed it at Fox, they have passed on it and we're taking it to other places because it's a great script," said Wells, interviewed on the set of his NBC drama ER, which is heading into a 15th and final season this fall.
Wells added that he really likes working with Haddock, loves the script and thinks the project will get made. "We're actively trying to set it up elsewhere," he told TV Feeds My Family after today's session.
The CBC version of Intelligence starred Ian Tracey as a conflicted crime boss. After two critically acclaimed but low-rated seasons, the public broadcaster canceled the drama last March.
With multiple Emmy nominations this year for dark dramas such as Damages, Dexter and Mad Men, Wells can see Intelligence landing at any number of emerging cable networks. "In the old days, if a network passed, it was like yesterday's salad bar," he says. Now cable networks like Showtime, FX and AMC are hungry for original adult dramas like Intelligence. Says Wells, "a lot of the reasons they get passed on at the network level is that they're too complicated or too dark."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Flashpoint flash

Flashpoint's second episode drew 7.1 million U.S. viewers, Friday night, down about a million from the CBS premiere one week before. Still healthy and respectable for a Friday night in July, says Mediaweek's Programming Insider Marc Berman.

Bizarro Jay Punks NBC at TCA

LOS ANGELES--Jay Leno--disguised as a TV critic in a bald-wig, fake beard and glasses--did a Jimmy Kimmel here Monday, crashing the NBC executives session with pointed questions about the whole late night transition deal.
Kimmel showed up last week at the ABC session, doing a funny bit as a reporter off the top, asking questions like, "If you were even to talk to Jay Leno, wouldn't that be like contract tampering? Wouldn't that be illegal? Couldn't you go to jail for that?"
Critics roared with laughter. We seemed more confused this morning as Leno's booming voice, disguised a register lower, started quizzing his bosses about when exactly his last Tonight Show will air (May 29, 2009) and when Conan O'Brien's first Tonight will commence (June 1, 2009).
Critics in the room slowly clued in that the bit was a bit, although, from a distance, it looked like former Hollywood super agent Swifty Lazar had come back from the dead to quiz NBC Universal entertainment co-chairmen Ben ("Benji," as Tina Fey called him on the weekend) Silverman and Marc Graboff.

Leno/Swifty asked if his recent Emmy nomination for an Internet series called "Jay Leno's Garage"--compared to zero Emmy noms for Tonight--meant "people like him better as a mechanic."
Around about the time Leno/Swifty started asking if NBC bringing back Knight Rider meant a relaunch of the early '80s bomb Manimal was in the works, the jig was up. That the execs had scripted answers ready ("we're negotiating for the rights to Airwolf") started to suck some of the laughs out of this bit.
After the ruse, Leno/Swifty swiftly bolted from the Beverly Hilton banquet room and was escorted directly into a waiting limousine outside. Leno's bald wig wrinkled up in the back as I watched him duck into the limo. The NBC execs confirmed later that, yes, that was Jay, with Graboff admitting the disguise fooled him when the two met briefly beforehand.
Hard to assess how this played out in the room. Leno scores points for answering Kimmel and going him one better with the wacky disguise. It was all very showbizzy, in the friendly rival tradition of Jack Benny and George Burns, Bob Hope and Big Crosby.
It's just that Leno is the big "get" as an interview these days. He was quoted (misquoted, according to Graboff at the session) in USA Today days ago as saying he was "done with NBC." The rumour that he is headed to ABC at 11:35 once his NBC deal runs out in January of 2010, is gathering steam. We'd all kill to talk to him, so getting a glimpse was a bit frustrating.
After the session, Graboff sounded resigned to Leno's eventual departure, but assured critics that if the talk show host did choose to leave the network, he would receive a "grand send off." Graboff cited the way NBC allowed Katie Couric to escape gracefully to CBS News, or Brian Williams to replace Tom Brokaw as NBC's News anchor.
"What ever we can, what ever he wants," said Granoff of Leno's Tonight Show departure, calling the host "a class act."

Spelling Test: D-E-N-Y

LOS ANGELES--What's the expression--life is all about showing up? I showed up late at the NBC press tour party last night and missed out on a big deal--the surprise appearance of Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott. Their celebrity reality show, Tori & Dean: Inn Love, airs here on the Oxygen Network, an over-looked cable service recently acquired by NBC Universal, which has quietly been snatching up services like the U.S. Weather Channel (leading to headlines like "NBC Now Controls Weather.")
While the NBC party featured various cast members from Saturday Night Live, The Office and Heroes, Spelling and McDermott drew the largest scrum, according to colleagues who arrived on time at the crowded event.
Inquiring minds wanted to know: does she have a deal to join the new CW series 90210? The producers sure thought so when they announced on the weekend that Spelling and former Beverly Hills, 90210 co-stars Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty were on board the new series.
Trouble is, I happened upon Spelling and her hubby signing autographs at a Burbank autograph show one week earlier, where I asked Spelling a direct question: are the reports true that you are part of the new series? To which Spelling replied, "No. There is no deal in place. Nothing has been finalized."
I've written about my Hollywood autograph show Spelling siting both here and in last Saturday's Toronto Star. The Globe & Mail's Andrew Ryan also spotted Tori and Dean at the same show and has his take on the whole celebrity circus in this Saturday's Globe.
Anyway, word back from last night's NBC fest is that Spelling denied saying she was not under contract and has no memory of ever saying so to me. My fault for not being in the room last night to challenge her on that (I had snuck off campus with another critic to check out the new Simpsons' ride at Universal Studios, a deal offered to critics at press tour through NBC). We were late getting back to the Hilton and Spelling had already come and gone from the party.
Whatever. If I was in any way responsible in the past week for helping these kids squeeze a few extra bucks from the CW's pockets, I will have done my bit for billionaire heiresses everywhere.

Craig Ferguson Feeds My Family

LOS ANGELES--At this morning's all important TCA general membership meeting, one issue blazed about all others--where was breakfast! No network had stepped forward at this meeting to buy us silver trays full of fluffy whipped egg yokes, sausages, bacon, toasted bagels or even pancakes. Critics who had been guzzling down vats of freshly squeezed orange juice every day for two weeks faced, well, the juice was still there but the eggs, not a damn egg in sight.
Sure there were other issues this morning: should we shut up already about the meltdown in the newspaper business, should video and still cameras be allowed at press tour, should next July's tour be held after Comi-Con, etc.
All of it drowned out by the rumble of empty critic belly's.
Just as several scribes seemed to lapse into unconsciousness, or at least nod off, hope arrived in at least two dozen boxes: pizzas, hot, topping filled pizzas, sent as a gift to the critics from our favorite late night talk show host, TV's Craig Ferguson. (Eagerly digging in are journalist Mary McNamara, press tour coordinator Valerie Milano and CanWest colleague Alex Strachan.)
Yes, THAT Craig Ferguson, Scottish-born Craig Ferguson, I KNOW! Can ne not know ha much that would cost? This wasn't yer run of the mill two-for-one coupon pizza. Some were heavy with healthy, meatless toppings. It was a pizza festival, the second time that the former TCA Award show host had so favored our members with such a meal.
Was he just sucking up to us? Will this lead to rave reviews for The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, airing weeknights at 12:35 a.m. on CBS? Will bloggers start posting clips of this genius in action, in transparent attempts to get him to feed us at future TCA annual membership meetings?



Other stars, network executives and producers, use press tour to try to appeal to our intellect. Ferguson, canny Scot that he is, knows that is folly. He aims lower, and he knows us well. He knows pizza--nature's most perfect food--can turn even a Robert Bianco review into a valentine of happiness.
Kidding aside, the man is a good egg. Thank you, TV's Craig Ferguson, for soothing our impotent rage, if just for one morning.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

TCA Awards a Smothers Brothers Love-In

LOS ANGELES-- "It's a great time to be in broadcast television, isn't it?" Tina Fey said last night at the 24th Annual TCA Awards. "It's like being in vaudeville in the '60s."
Fey was accepting one of two awards she picked up last night, one for Individual Achievement in Comedy, one for her show 30 Rock (Outstanding Achievement in Comedy).
She was goofing on the fact that all the heat was over on cable last season. Cable won all the TCA Awards, too, including three awards for AMC's Mad Men (including Program of the Year) and Best Miniseries (HBO's John Adams).
That left NBC as the only broadcaster to win anything. "The rest of our cast could not be here tonight," said Fey, "because NBC's broke."
John Adams star Paul Giamatti also won for Individual Achievement in Drama and gave a very funny speech, as did Tom Hanks (right), who accepted the Miniseries Award (he was one of the John Adams producers). Hanks took all the Bosom Buddies jokes in stride and urged the critics to never let this damn award show be televised.
John Slattery, who accepted one of the Man Men honors along with co-star Jon Hamm, said he was just glad that "the message of smoking, drinking and whoring resonated" with TCA members.
Lorne Michaels accepted the Career Achievement Award and the Heritage Award went to the just concluded HBO series The Wire.
The presenters all did the TCA proud. South Florida scribe Tom Jicha led his introduction of Lorne Michaels with memories of the very first TCA Awards, held in a small conference room at the Century Plaza Hotel. "The entire process took about eight minutes," recalled Jicha, who quoted then head of NBC publicity Gene Walsh as saying at the time, "Well, it wasn't over produced."
The crowning achievement of the night, however, was David Bianculli's wrangling of his heroes, The Smothers Brothers, as the opening act. The Brothers killed, and many of us who grew up watching their late '60s variety show were in awe. To be able to walk up and ask Tommy about recording Give Peace a Chance at that Bed-In with John Lennon in Montreal, or his skirmishes with the CBS censors, was gold. Dick Smothers was equally smooth, thoughtful and articulate. Both stayed late after the awards, telling tales poolside at the Beverly Hilton.
As Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner put it while accepting one of his awards, we all dreamed of being on the Smothers Brothers Show. Last night, we got our wish.
UPDATE: For great photos (unlike my blurry, back of room snaps) of the many stars who attended the TCA Awards, follow this link.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Shannen Doherty Booked On New 90210

LOS ANGELES--It was confirmed at press tour today that Shannen Doherty will be joining the new version of 90210.
Last seen in ther short-lived reality series Breaking Up With Shannen Doherty, the 37-year-old actress played teenager Brenda Walsh on the original series. She'll play the same character, now a drama teacher, on 90210 (premiering Sept. 2 on The CW and Global). At some point in the new series, she'll be seen helping to direct a musical at West Beverly Hills High.
A Canadian actress, 19-year-old Shenae Grimes, is essentially playing the new Brenda Walsh n 90210. Both characters come from Middle America and have to fit in with the Beverly Hills lifestyle.
The producers had previously announced that two other actresses from the original, Jennie Garth and Tori Spelling, would also be part of the new production. Spelling, however, told me last week when I ran into her at the Hollywood Collectors and Celebrity Show in Burbank (!) that there was still no deal in place for her to join 90210.
"I haven't heard that," executive producer Gabe Sachs said today at the CW session. "I don't think anything's happened. She was exhausted from having the baby."
Not too exhausted to hump it up to the Burbank Marriott Hotel last Friday and Saturday, where she sat for hours and signed autographed photos from the original series along side her Canadian-born hubby, Dean McDermott.
The plan was to have Spelling reprise her character Donna Martin, now the owner of an upscale boutique. "When she's up for it, she'll be in. That's my understanding," said Sachs.
Also returning is Joe E. Tata, who plays Nat, the owner of the Peach Pit. He was at today's session, at the back where breakfast was set up and the regular waiters at the hotel were made to wear baby blue "Peach Pit" T-shirts.

CBS Goes To The Dogs

LOS ANGELES--The stars were out last night at the CBS press tour party, held at the latest hot spot, Hollywood club Boulevard3. Wandering throughout the crowded cabana or indoors in the library or courtyard bars were stars from CBS, Showtime and The CW.
Chatted with Price is Right host Drew Carey for a while; he's somebody who is always very friendly and accessible at these events. Was also able to grab a little face time with his holiness Les Moonves, the CEO/Pope of CBS Paramount, plus his wing women, CBS Paramount Entertainment Group president Nancy Tellem and CBS programming president Nina Tassler.
What is remarkable in an industry well known for its executive turnover is that the three executives have been on this broadcast mountain top roughly 20 years, dating back to earlier associations at Warner Bros. television. There is a warmth and a shorthand there that was evident at the party, and, no, I don't sense that that's just everybody sucking up to Moonves. These people seem to genuinely like each other.
Others I either saw or spoke with in the room included Anne Archer, Simon Baker, Kaley Cuoco, David Duchovny, Rob Estes, Johnny Galecki, Michael C. Hall, Neil Patrick Harris, Dennis Haysbert, Phil Keoghan, Chuck Lorre, Lori Loughlin, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Joe Mantegna, Paula Marshall, Rob Morrow, Jim Parsons, Callum Keith Rennie, Grant Show, Bertram van Munster and CSI creator Anthony Zuiker.
Those were the two legged stars. Getting more attention were the dogs and dog owners from Greatest American Dog, which is apparently an actual TV show on CBS this summer. The main mutt working the party was Beacon, a year-and-a-half-old Miniature Schnauzer. The dog was carried everywhere by owner Brandy. Both were wearing, as Brandy pointed out, "matching bling," with a large "B" in rhinestones on Beacon's collar and on Brandy's pumps.
The dog seemed amazingly oblivious to the absolute chaos in the crowded supper club, rolling over, playing dead and sitting up on command--just like the CBS employees were doing for Moonves.

Friday, July 18, 2008

MVP Star: Series Could Go Into Overtime

LOS ANGELES-- You can't kill MVP with a hockey stick.
The "desperate hockey wives" soap may be out of the CBC playoffs but it is still in contention south of the border, where it airs on ABC Soapnet.
I was standing with my Globe and Mail colleague John Doyle at the tragically under-air conditioned ABC party last night when Doyle got a heads up on one of those newfangled blackberry thingies. It was from MVP producer Mary Young Lechie telling him one of the stars from her series, Lucas Bryant, was somewhere in the crowded banquet room.
The instructions were to look for the dude in the dark blue T-shirt near the coffee station.
Doyle and I snaked our way into the room, past Scrubs' Zach Braff, Sarah Chalke, Dirty Sexy Money's Peter Krause and William Baldwin, Desperate Housewives Teri Hatcher and press tour Hall of Famer Dana Delany and a bunch of other A-listers and lo and behold, Lechie's instructions were right on the money. Would that she could help me find (well, okay, Doyle find) 90210 Canuck Shenae Grimes at tonight's CBS/CW affair. (Wait--she's not on the list. Bloody publicists!)
Bryant says he is amused that MVP, which was slammed hard into the boards by many critics in Canada, seems to be getting two minutes for looking so good here. "I suppose its kind of par for the course in some ways.," says Bryant, who stickhandled through this perhaps over caffeinated analogy about people in Canada "standing in line by the bank or waiting for the bus" and pretending not to notice somebody stripping off their shirt, whereas an American would holler, "Hey! Put your shirt on!"
Explained Bryant, "in some ways, the reaction here is not what I expected, but it is typically American."
Bryant says he has heard rumblings that the producers are working to get this thing back on the ice for a second season. (Season One, by the way, is just out on DVD.) "People are trying to work out how they could pull it all together," he says.
So why did it get high sticked in Canada? I always thought the network and producers blew it by not casting a star, someone with name recognition, to draw viewers who might have been put off by the sorta sports premise into the mix. The pilot started with the broken down captain of the team going over a balcony to his death. If they had even had the cheek to cast Tie Domi in that part, add half a million Toronto viewers and thank me later.
Plus Canadians don't want to know from slutty hockey wives. As Doyle put it, "the NHL is so woven into the culture, people are suspicious." In America, he figures, all this steamy hockey boinking is simply exotic.
Anyway, that's the view from the coffee bar at the Beverly Hilton.

CBS Says Flashpoint On Target For Reload

Fresh off the tour: CBS is so pleased with those surprise summer Flashpoint numbers they may order more episodes. Here's my just-posted CP brief from this morning's CBS press conference:

LOS ANGELES — "Flashpoint" may be much more than a U.S. flash in the pan.
CBS is so pleased with last Friday's premiere ratings for their Canadian-produced drama that - if it continues to perform beyond expectations - they could extend the series beyond the existing 13-episode summer order.
That was confirmed Friday by Nina Tassler, president, CBS Entertainment, who was speaking to reporters attending the semi-annual Television Critics Association press
tour.
"Flashpoint," a rare, cross-border co-production between CBS and CTV, drew 8.13 million viewers on CBS last Friday night, scoring an additional 1.1 million Canadian viewers on CTV.
The police drama easily won its time slot in both countries, ranking as the fifth most-watched show across Canada last week.
"Flashpoint" follows the adventures of an elite police task force. Set in Toronto, it stars Enrico Colantoni and Hugh Dillon.
It is one of a handful of Canadian-produced shows to find places on U.S. network schedules in the wake of the 100-day writers' strike last winter.
Tassler says casting beyond the U.S. borders for content is not simply a strike "aberration" but part of the new economic reality of television. Her network plans to continue to look to "foreign" broadcasters for future CBS shows.).


Flashpoint ranked 15th for the week overall in U.S. households, tied for 25th among 18-49-year-old viewers (all figures Neilsen Media Research). Henry Czerny guests tonight as a distressed dad in the second episode (10 p.m. on CTV and CBS).

Move Over, Ebert & Roeper...

Besides my CP gig, I've been fortunate to have been helping out Toronto Star TV columnist Rob Salem on this summer's network press tour in Los Angeles. The two of us got up to some mischief yesterday poolside at the Beverly Hilton which somehow wound up in today's Star. Read our two-guys-just-talkin' take on the Emmy Award nominations here, it is to laff.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

TCA Awkward Moment Award Winners

LOS ANGELES--Some alleged reporter welcomed Lucy Lu to the cast of ABC's Dirty Sexy Money with the following press tour zinger:
"You're going to be 40 next year...talk about being sexy over 40 on TV these days."
"There goes my career," Lu said under her breath before answering the question. "I can speak about being sexy after 40 in January."
Castmate William Baldwin saved the day by being his own direct self. He was asked about the similarities between his "morally compromised" New York politician character and some real life politicians (including prostitute-lovin' N.Y. governor Eliot Spitzer). Baldwin said he was surprised these guys were dumb enough to get caught. "Every time I've ever been with a hooker, there's never been any kind of an electronic trail," he volunteered.
Somewhere, Charlie Sheen is laughing.

Emmy Goes Straight To Cable

LOS ANGELES--This morning’s Emmy nomination announcements woke up this July press tour. Some actors and showrunners were congratulated, others consoled (including Blair Underwood, who failed to grab a nomination despite being on three different shows: In Treatment, Private Practice and The New Adventures of Old Christine.)
The breakthroughs come this year in specialty. Damages, an FX original, drew seven nominations, with Glenn Close, Ted Danson and Ċ½eljko Ivanek all scoring acting nominations. FX president John Landgraf called the acting triple play a “basic cable first.” AMC’s Mad Men scored an astounding 16 nominations, four more than the most-nominated network drama (ABC’s Pushing Daisies). John Hann, who plays Mad Men’s top gun ad exec, stands as a front runner in a field of Best Actor nominees dominated by cable. AMC’s other new drama, Breaking Bad, garnered four nominations, including one for Bryan Cranston, finally recognized as a dramatic actor after failing to score a comedy Emmy over seven seasons as the daffy dad on Malcolm in the Middle.
Showtime saw Dexter slash through with nominations for Best Drama and Best Actor (Michael C. Hall). HBO once again captured the most nominations by any one network, with 85, but without hits like The Sopranos and Sex and the City, many of those came courtesy one miniseries: John Adams, the U.S. presidential historical drama with Paul Giamotti (as Adams), Laura Liney (Abigail Adams), David Morse (George Washington), Stephen Dillane (Thomas Jefferson) and Tom Wilkinson (Benjamin Franklin) all winning acting noms. John Adams received a total of 23 nominations, tops for any TV offering last season.
Like The Geminis, The Emmys have way too many categories. One added this year seems excessive: Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program. What happens if Howie Mandel wins for hosting Deal or No Deal? He can’t shake hands! Ryan Seacrest (American Idol), Tom Bergeron (Dancing with the Stars), Heidi Klum (Project Runaway) and Jeff Probst (Survivor) are all nominated. What, Les Moonves couldn’t pull in a few favours for his wife, Big Brother host Julie Chen?
Also like The Geminis, the Emmy Award process can seem a bit ridiculous. How does HBO’s brilliant The Wire or Real Time with Bill Maher or NBC’s critically embraced Friday Night Lights wind up with the same number of nominations as According to Jim, Kid Nation or Pirate Master (all with one)? Jimmy Kimmel can take some solace in his recent breakup with girlfriend Sarah Silverman that his show scored four nominations to her one.
Matt Groening told critics earlier this week in L.A. that if he could change one thing about the Emmy process, it was that he would divide the animation category into adult animation and children’s animation. “It seems like the adult animated TV show wins every year,” says Groening, “and it would be nice to see some of the great children’s animation that’s out there [win].”
Groening’s right—this year’s “Outstanding Animated Program” category finds The Simpsons and King Of The Hill duking it out with the even zanier Robot Chicken as well as kiddie fare like Creature Comforts America and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Tales From The Press Tour, Radio Editon

This week's radio rant with CHML's Scott Thompson is all about--what else?--the on-going TCA press tour. There's some chit chat about the Fox stars on the Santa Monica pier, this year's big buzz show Fringe and luring Kiefer Sutherland to an interview through the use of Canadian cigarettes, although Scott seems more fixated on the fact that I'm in a fancy hotel enjoying free booze, etc. Listen in here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Kimmel Goons His Boss At TCA

LOS ANGELES--Sometimes when you are down here filing to six or seven different media outlets at once you get stuck in your room filing on deadline and you miss something unexpected. Like this exchange this morning from the ABC executive session with network programming president Stephen McPherson (thank God for transcripts):

JIMMY KIMMEL (from the audience): Hi. My name's Tom Weinerman from the Sarasota Star-Herald Tribune. There are rumors that ABC is actively courting Jay Leno for 11:30. Is there any truth to those rumors?
(Laughter.)
And if so, I have a follow-up then.
STEPHEN McPHERSON: I don't really feel comfortable answering that in this forum. What's the follow-up?
JIMMY KIMMEL (from the audience): Is it McPherson orMcPhorson?
STEPHEN McPHERSON: McPherson.
JIMMY KIMMEL (from the audience): If anything were, God forbid, to happen, would that mean -- would Ted Koppel get fired, or how would that work?
(Laughter.)
STEPHEN McPHERSON: Yeah. It would be doomsday for Ted.
JIMMY KIMMEL (from the audience): If you were even to talk to Jay Leno, wouldn't that be like contract tampering? Wouldn't that be illegal? Couldn't you go to jail for that?
(Laughter.)
STEPHEN McPHERSON: It's possible, but you know -- do you have any other questions?
JIMMY KIMMEL (from the audience): How do you keep your hair so nice?
(Laughter.)
STEPHEN McPHERSON: Can we get this guy out of here? Obviously the Leno situation we figured --
(Laughter.)
JIMMY KIMMEL (from the audience): Are you at all afraid that if you do replace Jimmy Kimmel, he might do something crazy to you or your car?
(Laughter.)
STEPHEN McPHERSON: Yes. Actually, very afraid.
JIMMY KIMMEL (from the audience): I'll be out in the parking lot.
(Laughter.)
STEPHEN McPHERSON: Thanks, Jimmy.
McPherson said later at the session that "the Leno situation, to me it's a question for NBC. I can't believe that they're going to let this guy go at the top of his game, and if that happens, I guess we'll look at it at the time, and Jimmy will be involved in those discussions, and that will be that."
Kimmel, it was announced yesterday, has split with his girlfriend of five years, Sarah Silverman. He split immediately following his well-timed press tour prank, avoiding any questions about his personal life. Laugh, clown, laugh.

The Shield`s Vic Mackey May Fall on his Sword

LOS ANGELES--When violent cop Vic Mackey signs off on the series finale of The Shield, he's going to get "what Vic Mackey deserves."
So says Shield co-star CCH Pounder, who was at Tuesdays FX TCA press tour session along with producers and co-stars from the series.
Emmy-winner Michael Chiklis, who plays kamikaze cop Mackey, was live via satellite. His bullet head nearly exploded up on the hotel ballroom's gigantic hi-def screen after Pounder's provocative remarks. The finale of The Shield is a top secret, and Chiklis and executive producer Shawn Ryan seemed anxious to keep it that way until it airs.
The seventh, and final, season begins airing in September on FX. When it airs in Canada is like trying to predict the weather. I lost track of how many calls and emails I got at the Toronto Sun asking when this series was returning. It bounced around CanWest stations for years. If anybody out there has the Canadian scoop, please weigh in with a comment here. [UPDATE: CanWest's Amy Waters says Season Seven of The Shield will premiere Tues., Sept. 9 at 10 p.m. E.T. exclusively on Showcase. That's one week after the FX debut.]
Chiklis, who has moved on to play The Thing in those Fantastic Four movies, will leave it to critics to decide if Mackey gets what he deserves. He did say that "the writers have continually been able to do something that I marvel at, which is to come up with twists and turns that happen and when you watch them, they're so surprising and stunning. But then when you look back at it, you go, well, yeah, that makes perfect sense. And what thrills me about the finale is you will not see this coming. You will not know what we do. That when you look back at it you'll go, holy cow, yeah, that's exactly right."
Pounder was sticking with her prediction. "I think it's the greatest finale ever that you'll ever see anywhere. Hands down. Blew my socks off."
Producer Ryan simply said he tried to write "an ending to the series that that network deserves." That process was interrupted last winter during the writers' strike. The last days work on the episode had to be completed without Ryan on the set.
The stars and producer were asked if there might be a follow up Shield movie. "You'll have to see if there's enough people left intact on this show," said Ryan. Added Chiklis, "Exactly. How do you talk about making a movie when we don't even know who lives?"
In other FX news:
  • Kenny vs. Spenny idiot Kenny Hotz has landed a deal for a new comedy series called Testees, which will premiere Oct. 9 on FX. It is about goofballs who earn their keep as medical guinea pigs. Showcase in Canada has the balls to pick it up; it will likely premiere north of the border Oct. 14.
  • Nip/Tuck will sign off after a sixth, 19-episode season. By the time it all ends in 2011, exactly 100 episodes will have aired.
  • A wheelchair-bound Michael J. Fox will guest star in a four episode arc as a new boyfriend for Tommy's estranged wife when Rescue Me returns next April to FX. Showcase, says Waters, will likely air the Rescue return close to FX's debut.
  • William Hurt, Timothy Oliphant and Marcia Gay Hayden will join Glenn Close`s Damages next season (also on both FX and Showcase), with Ted Danson`s evil tycoon character Arthur Frobisher somehow surviving into a few Season Two episodes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

'Toon Titans at TCA in Simpsons Love In

LOS ANGELES--It was 'toon titans day yesterday at TCA, with the creators and showrunners for Fox's Sunday night animated comedies--The Simpsons, Family Guy, King of the Hill, American Dad and newcomer The Cleveland Show--all seated together on the panel.
The event became something of a Simpsons love-in, with Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane leading the charge.
"When Simpsons and King of the Hill came on the air, they all had this very underground look, they didn't look very slick," said MacFarlane. "It told you, this isn't a kid show. I took a cue from that; that's a look no one's seen before. You learn from people who do it first."
Simpsons' creator Matt Groening made a joking reference to his show's voice cast members recent salary heist; the five principal voice members now haul down a reported half million per episode. At 20 episodes, that's a cool $10 mil per season. As Bart used to say, "Ay carumba!"
Groening recycled his old joke that he hopes the cast can be as rich and unhappy as anyone else in Hollywood. When someone asked if the show's writers shouldn't get the same crazy money, Groening said he is continuously knocked out by his cast and said they got the money they deserve. "I want everybody -- in this room! -- to get rich off The Simpsons. Everyone works really hard and yes, people need to be compensated."
McFarlane at one point referenced The Flintstones as the animated comedy that started it all. I thought it was a telling remark. The Flintstones, like Family Guy, was a ridiculously derivative show, stealing gags, characters and sometimes entire concepts from TV comedies such as The Honeymooners. More appropriate to trace the bloodlines of The Simpsons back to Rocky & Bullwinkle, Jay Ward's simple but outrageously original and brazenly adult-oriented animated comedy which pre-dates The Flintstones by a year or two.
Someone asked Groening and Simpsons showrunner Al Jean if they had anything to say to MacFarlane for ripping them off all the time. (They sometimes goof on this one their show, like the time Homer fell into a photocopier and one of the copies was Family Guy dad Peter Griffin.) "We love Seth!" said Groening. "If we weren't so rich, we'd be very depressed."
Jean also revealed that this year's upcoming Treehouse of Horror Halloween episode (Nov. 2) will feature a goof on Charlie Brown and the "Grand," not "Great," pumpkin.

I Wanna Hold Your Line Of Questioning

LOS ANGELES--I'm an unabashed Beatles geek, so it was a kick to see George Martin take the stage down here at press tour a few days ago. He was at the Beverly Hilton to promote On Record: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, a PBS documentary series encompassing the 100 year history of recorded music. Don't look for it next week or even next year--it's not scheduled to air until 2010.
Here's my report in today's Toronto Star on Sir George's slightly testy visit. Martin has undoubtedly heard every Beatles query imaginable. He's hard of hearing anyway, so he doesn't want to waste time trying to hear one more silly question like, what's your favorite Beatles tune, or could the Jonas Brother be the next Beatles.
Still, it's not like you can ask John or George these questions anymore, either.
Anyway, here is a chunk of Martin's opening remarks, Beatles peoples, on why he wanted in on this documentary. The man sounds rather driven to win, even at 82:

This project is obviously very important to me personally. I don't like losing. I really don't. I like winning. Everything that I do, I strive to make sure that it does work, try to do things in a slightly unusual way. Recently, I mean, five years ago, I started a project which ended up two years ago with the opening of the "LOVE" show in Las Vegas. That was a massive task because when I was called in in 2003, the brief was, you can have anything you like from the archives of EMI to make up a soundtrack lasting an hour and a half, seamless soundtrack, but it must be new rather than old. Not a question of compilation of tracks, that's too easy. So with my son, we worked -- actually it took three years to do. We evolved a soundtrack which was different from
anything that anybody had ever heard and in surround sound, you get immersed in the music. A great project. Thankfully, it did actually come up extremely well.
The show is selling to knockout audiences even after two years, and the album won two Grammys. So that's the kind of thing I like doing. If that had failed, I would have kicked myself, and I would have kicked my son, as well.

Smokes, Skates And Kiefer Sutherland

LOS ANGELES--Kiefer Sutherland was the big get at the Fox 24 informal sessions Monday. TV's Jack Bauer was backed up against some doors and totally surrounded by reporters with arms outstretched holding digital recorders. He talked about how--thanks to the writer's strike and the long layoff between 24's--this will be the first season where they will have actually wrapped production on the series before the first episode hits the air (next January). He says the extra time helped the writers avoid the mid-season sags that have, he admits, plagued 24 in the past.
Other 24 stars were in the house, including Jon Voight (who plays the big bad guy this coming season), Scottish actor Robert Carlyle and former Ally McBeal star Gil Bellows. All will appear in 24: Exile, a two hour prequel to the next season set in Africa and airing in November. Another Canadian actor, Colum Feore, will be in 24 as "the First Gentleman," married to 24's new lady president.
Sutherland laughed when I asked him about that gag he pulled in the season finale of Corner Gas this season. "I think I scared them, I yelled so loud," said Sutherland who crabs at his mom (Shirley Douglas) in the bit. Look for Douglas to pop up on 24 next season, too.
After the Fox PR dudes pried the press hoards away from him, he stepped into a walkway on the other side of the doors. That's when Globe and Mail columnist Andy Ryan and I nabbed him with the ol' Canadian one-two: Ryan offered Sutherland one of his Canadian smokes. "Can't--I'll go crazy for them if I start," said Sutherland, who instead pulled his own Yankee cig from behind his ear and lit it up.
I got him with the hockey talk; Sutherland stays in shape playing in a few leagues, including a Sunday scrimmage with TV and film mogul Jerry Bruckheimer and other Hollywood puck chasers. He said he used to play in an annual tournament in Vegas, but not anymore. The deal runs four days, and by the fourth day, says Sutherland, well, "it's just not conducive to playing hockey anymore."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Beyond The Fringe With J.J. Abrams

LOS ANGELES--Somewhere in Ontario, a cow has been put out to pasture.
J.J. Abrams and the producers of the big buzz series Fringe told reporters today at press tour about a real live cow used as comedy relief on the big budget sci-fi series. The pilot for Fringe was shot in Toronto but the series has moved to New York and "Bessie" or whoever her name is was not able to follow the show across the border. Talk about Mad Cow!
The producers had to hire a new, American cow and actually discussed using makeup to match the Canadian heifer. Read all about it here at the story I filed off today's press tour session for CP. It will a-moo-se you. I'm milking this.
It wasn't all cattle tales at press tour. Abrams copped to the fact that he is the King of convoluted TV shows, with Lost and Alias among his past bafflers. This show is about an FBI babe (Aussie Anna Tory) who investigates when a bunch of passengers on a commercial flight turn to goo. A mad genius is pulled in, as is his cranky son (Joshua Jackson). Their pal is a cow.
So, yeah, another "what the hell?" show, although Abrams insists this one is a little easier to decipher.
"I was (at a friend's) house and Alias was on, and I was so confused — literally, it was impenetrable to me," said Abrams. "I saw the show from that place … so I understand how tough that can be."
Critics got three chances to screen the pilot last night on the closed circuit hook up in the hotel room. Some loved it (including sci-fi fan Rob Salem at The Toronto Star). Others not so much, nit picking about the female lead, the dull part in the middle, the goofy animated bumpers and doodles.
Abrams and the other executives touched on how bootleg copies of the pilot are already all over the Internet. It pisses them off, and no, they didn't plant it there, but they'll take the buzz and hope fans stick around for the real deal when the show premieres Sept. 9.

Flashpoint Scores Cross Border Bullseye

USA Today be damned--Flashpoint shot down the critics Friday, scoring surprisingly strong ratings on both sides of the border. The Toronto-based police drama--starring Enrico Colantoni and Hugh Dillon--drew 1.1 million viewers Friday night on CTV, No. 1 by far in its timeslot and No. 1 in the 18-49-year-old demo. The U.S. ratings were lower proportionally but still sensational for a summer debut on a Friday night: 8.13 million CBS viewers according to Nielsen Media Research.
Episode two, featuring Henry Czerny as a desperate dad seeking a heart transplant donor for his daughter, airs this Friday at 10 p.m.
Robert Bianco--who crucified the show in his USA Today review Friday--was shocked to hear the numbers when I ran into him this morning at the Fox press tour session. "I hope they won't burn me in effigy in Canada," he says.

Jon Voight at TCA: Twins? What Twins?

LOS ANGELES--Jon Voight was at press tour Saturday to talk about the American Masters special You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story. It premieres on PBS Sept. 23-25.
The Academy Award-winner was on a panel with Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel and documentary filmmaker Gregory Orr, step-grandson of film mogul Jack Warner. After the session, he was mobbed by reporters asking about the impending births of his daughter Angelina Jolie's twins.
Voight said he knew nothing, but shortly after he left the press conference at the Beverly Hilton hotel, reports confirmed that Jolie and hubby Brad Pitt had welcomed two more tykes to their international baby farm.
Voight did have a story to tell--a long, blog-worthy story--which he saved for the end of the session. It took place many years ago when he was shooting Deliverance with Burt Reynolds in a remote, outdoor location in Georgia. "We're going out into the middle of the woods, usually in the early morning, and we would be climbing the rocks, looking for the proper location," he said.

We'd be in this terrain, you know, this terrain. Nobody knew what we were doing. We were free to do it because no one could reach us. And the only thing that gave us any connection to civilization was that we would be down in this gorge, you know, like maybe 50 feet down in this gorge and there's a river and we'd be -- be on rocks and sitting. And in the early morning, we would watch our chairs being dropped by rope down the thing. We're looking. We're sitting on the rocks looking at chairs. Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ronnie Cox. It continues one more step.
And we didn't need -- of course, we didn't need the chairs. This was a little reminder that we were still civilized. And we would sit in -- and we would be sitting on log sand rocks and enjoying it. Really, we had a great time, a lot of fun, you know. You can imagine. Hard work and dangerous work, too, and sometimes silly and dangerous but fun.
And the chairs would come. The prop guys would put them up diligently every morning just to remind us we were in a movie, he said. You know what I mean? So he'd put the chairs up, and everybody sat in everybody's chair, but Burt would always sit in my chair. And he would make -- and I would be on the rocks. We'd be on the thing. And I'd look up and I'd see Burt sitting in my chair. Now, I didn't give a damn, of course. You know what I mean? But I did notice it. Every day-- for two weeks he's sitting in my chair. And I finally -- which is probably what he had prepared, you see, because Burt was a rascal, you know, of the highest rank. And I said, "Burt, let me ask you a question." "I'd be delighted to talk to you, Jon." I said every day -- and by the way, Burt knew that this role was going to make him. We all knew that, you know, and we were preparing something for the audiences with Burt there. And I'd say, "Every -- we get these chairs. We don't need the chairs. We're sitting, we're happy here without the chairs. We're sitting on the rocks and the, you know, logs." And I said, "But you sit in the chair, and every day for two weeks you sat in my chair. Oh, I don't care, but can I ask you why?" He said, "I'd be delighted to tell you, Jon."
He said, "You see, when I sit in your chair, I can see my name in my chair."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Clock Is Ticking on Digital Conversion

LOS ANGELES--There are just 219 days until Uncle Sam rips down all those TV antennas.
The U.S. federal government has mandated that Feb. 17, 2009, is the kill date for analog, over the air transmissions. As was explained today at press tour, what this means is that if you live in the States and still pull TV signals off an antenna on an older TV set, you'll be looking at a screen full of snow after that date.
We're a little slower in Canada, eh? The CRTC has set Aug. 31, 2011 as the digital conversion date. HOWEVER, if you enjoy, say, PBS's WNED Buffalo affiliate in Toronto, better get hooked up with digital BEFORE the U.S. date, Feb. 17, 2009. Because, no matter what the CRTC mandates, you'll be screwed out of NBC, PBS, Fox or any direct U.S. feeds you've enjoyed over-the-air until now.
Although, if you are Global, CTV or CBS, you get two and a half years where some cross-border competition just got unplugged. Nice.
No matter where you live, many viewers are still a bit baffled at this conversion. Help is on the way: PBS unveiled their Digital Television Transitional Campaign at press tour today. Promotional spots, featuring This Old House hosts Norm Abrams and Keven O'Connor, were shown today to critics. Premiering on PBS stations in October, they show the plain-shirted handymen urging folks to obtain coupons from the U.S. government that can be used toward the purchase of DTV converter box.
The boxes will cost around $60 bucks (they're in stores now). The coupons will cover up to $40 for two converters (you'll need one per set). According to PBS programing V.P. John Wilson, Wall-Mart is already offering boxes priced at $9.97 after the rebate coupon.
Other headaches, when the switch comes, channel numbers and screen ratios could change. Operators are standing by to take your complaints.
If you are already a cable or satellite subscriber, or own a set built after March 1, 2007, you are already plugged in. It is estimated, however, that there are still nearly 20 million over the air households in the U.S., and that many of those are rural, Hispanic, low income homes.
One justification for this change over is that moving TV viewing entirely over to digital will free up the old spectrum for emergency communications. Remember those old "Emergency Broadcasting Commission" tests? When the bomb is headed our way, good to know now that we'll get the heads up to duck and cover in Hi-Def and in a 16:9 ratio.
As one critic pointed out, the truth is that the government plans to sell off the old spectrum to the highest bidder. It could be worth "gazillions." This switch is all about money, not television. It is mandated through legislation passed by Congress in 2005 as part of "the Deficit Reduction Act." Or, as one critic noted after the session, "they found a way for TV to help pay for the war."
Who is going to pay the big bucks for the old signals? Wireless cell and Internet providers. Companies like Verizon.
One reporter wanted to know if this meant he was going to have to drive down to his parents' house every night to change the channel. As one member of the panel admitted, "for a generation of people who couldn't get their clock to stop blinking '12:00', this could be tricky."
Coupons are available now at 1-888-DTV-2009 or DTV2009.gov.

OMG! Tori Spelling Down To Signing For Cash At Hollywood Autograph Show

LOS ANGELES--Tori Spelling and Canadian-born hubby Dean McDermott were among the former child stars, rehab regulars and assorted D-listers scrambling for cash this weekend at the Hollywood Collectors & Celebrities Show.
The autograph market, which was held at the Burbank Marriott airport hotel, is a surreal experience for even the most devout TV fan. The hotel's main convention room is packed with old movie posters as well as old movie and TV stars, with the general public paying $20 bucks to see the likes of Brandon Cruz (The Courtship of Eddy's Father), Keith "Little Ricky" Thibodeaux (left, from I Love Lucy) and Grease and Taxi actor and celebrity rehab patient Jeff Conaway (there with his enabler wife from that Dr. Drew series).
With a few exceptions, it is a room full of people who aren't working and need cash. Shocking, then, to see Spelling behind a table signing autographs from her 90210 days for $20 a pop. (Some celebs charge more and most charge just for having their pictures taken.)
When I approached her table and said hi to fellow Canuck McDermott, you could feel the dude trying to rescind into the wall paper. I asked Spelling if the rumors were true that she was joining the new 90210 series, and she said nothing has been signed yet. A new season of the couple's reality series Tori & Dean: Inn Love, has just begun airing in the States.
The Hollywood Collectors & Celebrities Show should be a mandatory stop on any TV fans list. If you were ever unsure about the fickleness of fame, this is your wake up call.
It is always strange dropping in on this fan fest in the middle of a TCA press tour. Some are not that far removed from The Show. One day, you are interviewing them as stars in fancy hotels in Pasadena or Beverly Hills. The next, you are handing them a twenty to take their picture. One minute you're a Sweathog (like the four Welcome Back Kotter cast members at this show, including Ron "Arnold Horshack" Palillo), the next, you're working in a sweat shop.
Catherine Hicks, who spent 11 seasons on 7th Heaven, not to mention earlier shows like Tucker's Witch, is suddenly signing anything put in front of her for a buck. Same with Charlene Tilton, who enjoyed a long run on a top show, Dallas. Spelling and McDermott were at the last press tour selling their cheesy reality show. Today, the reality was that they were down to selling themselves.
Not everyone at the show is a charity case. Hugh O'Brien, the western star who played TV's Wyatt Earp for seven seasons, greeted fans with warmth and humor, even putting up a sign which read, "He's STILL alive??? Hugh O'Brian TV's Wyatt Earp--See For Yourself." Fifty years ago, when he was a big TV star, O'Brian founded a leadership exchange for high school students after he was inspired by meeting Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa. I only knew about it because a neighbor at the cottage's daughter was a recent HOBY grad, and the experience changed her young life. O'Brien signed a photo for her and told me to tell her to write him a letter.
She's one of 390,000 15 year olds who have been inspired by this experience. The first HOBY grads are now turning 65.
A few yards from O'Brian's table, however, others are signing autographs who have no business posing as celebrities. Brad "Charlie Brown" Kesten was signing pictures of the famous Charles Schultz Peanuts characters because, as his business card states, he was the "voice of 'Charlie Brown'--1982-1985." Others in the room were there because they were related to D-Listers: a group of tables were set aside for Three Stooges fans. Saxon Sitka was sitting in for his late father, Emil, who was billed as the "fourth stooge." You could charitably argue he was seventh, since six actors played one of the three main knock-a-bout comedians over the team's long film career. Ami Dolenz (billed as from "Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings"), was there more as the daughter of former Monkee Micky Dolenz, or perhaps to show off her impressive new breasts, which she did with remarkably good cheer.
Others who once danced on the periphery of fame were in the house. Jerry "Buster Brown" Maren, one of eight remaining Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, was there at 89. Three of the original Mickey Mouse Club mouseketeers, Sharon Baird, Carl "Cubby" O'Brien and Karen Pendleton, still looked neat and pretty. Academy Award winner Celeste Holm (All About Eve) was there to greet anyone still alive who might remember her.
Me, I had a great conversation with Robert Easton, a one time Red Skelton Show regular who for years has been training Hollywood actors on how to adopt accents from all over. His latest triumph was coaching Forest Whitaker for his Academy Award-winning role in The Last King Of Scotland.
We talked about all those Brits coming to American TV screens in the last season. We talked about so much more, but if you want to read about it, you'll have to wait until I sell it to a newspaper or magazine. Hey, like the stars themselves, I'm learning. If you're going to give it away, charge twenty bucks.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Strike Talk at TCA

LOS ANGELES--Now that the contract for the Screen Actors Guild has expired, many in Hollywood are getting nervous that the horror of last winter's writers' strike could shut down Hollywood again.
The subject keeps coming up on press tour. Here to promote a Lifetime network bio of Coco Chanel, Shirley MacLaine came right out and said, "Let's settle this strike. Let's think about other people besides ourselves and our future. Let's think about the state. Let's think about the problems we bring many people who are going to be very, very badly suffering if this strike occurs."
Dennis Hopper, who is co-starring in a series version of the Academy Award-winning movie Crash for the Starz network, said he didn't want to take sides in the labor dispute, because he didn't want "to get between Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks." Hopper says "the unfortunate thing is that out of the 120,000 people that are in Screen Actors Guild, there's only 7,000 that make their living acting and the others have other jobs. So generally, if it comes to strike, they generally strike because they want more benefits, but it's not necessarily great for the industry.
"So I hope it doesn't come to strike. I hope it doesn't come to a vote for strike because I'm afraid that we'll go out on strike."
Don Cheadle, who is an executive producer on the Crash (which debuts Oct. 17 on Starz) and was sitting with Hopper on the panel, suggested actors "gave up the farm" on their last contract, especially in areas like residuals. "I'm fortunate that I work pretty consistently," he says. "But a lot of other people rely on [residuals] to get them from month to month. So they're serious issues for people who are trying to make this their living, as foolish as that is."
Cheadle, like the other two, hopes there is no strike. "I think a great number of people in this city hope that it comes out that way as well. I mean, it's not just the actors that are going to be hurt if this happens, caterers, cleaners, restaurants, valets, everybody, it really takes a big hit."

PBS Re-plugs The Electric Company


LOS ANGELES--Remember The Electric Company? PBS, as we learned this morning at press tour, is bringing back the educational kiddie franchise; the new series premieres in January. It will feature "literacy super heroes." Wycliff Jean contributes some new songs.
I also learned, because I was sitting next to Alan Sepinwall (from The New Jersey Star-Ledger, who knows everything about TV), that Morgan Freeman was involved in the original version of this series. (The proof is the photo, above).
A clip was shown; it featured--just like the original--a bunch of white kids trying to act like black kids and black kids trying to act like white kids.
I wondered if kids raised on Family Guy and The Simpsons and video games would buy this kind of show today. The producer suggested over 50% of kids in America don't have access to educational tools and would still rely on a show like this for literacy cues.
Unlike the original series, there will be no Spiderman cartoons in this version of The Electric Company. "Spiderman is a little bigger than he was in the '70s," explained the producer.
The session ended with a beat box performance by three of the young cast members; once I get a few technical wrinkled ironed out you can listen to it here.

Elvis's New Attraction

LOS ANGELES--Elvis Costello rocked the house this week here at press tour. I spoke with his Canadian entourage, three dudes from Winnipeg, who are behind Spectacle: Elvis Costello With..., a new series of intimate conversations with the rich and famous. Elton John (also a producer on the series), Tony Bennett, Lou Reed and Bill Clinton are his first four guests. Sundance has this starting in December, with CTV (and later Bravo) airing it in Canada.
During the press conference, the 53-year-old singer/songwriter was asked if his wife, Vancouver-born jazz pianist Diana Krall, might be one of his guests. (She does get pulled in front of the cameras by Tony Bennett in his episode.)
"That's a state secret and I can't divulge how that will be achieved," said Costello. Asked if that would be an easy interview for him, Costello said, "Well, I don't know. You've seen those reality shows where they do -- you know, we could just be sitting around at home in our underwear, which is a prospect that would be a lot more attractive in one direction than the other."
For more on Costello and the story behind this Canadian co-production, see this story I filed yesterday for Canadian Press.

Friday, July 11, 2008

TCA Today: Cranky We Are

LOS ANGELES--May the force fed be with us.
In a highly unusual move, critics were forced to watch television this morning at press tour. Naturally, there was hell to pay.
An entire' 22-minute episode of George Lucas's animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars was shown on giant, high definition screens in the main ballroom of the Beverly Hilton. The series pemieres on Cartoon Network this fall and will also air Sunday evenings on CTV's A-Channels next season.
Almost immediately, critics with lap tops open (like this one) started whinging on blogs about being held captive, being force fed content instead of quizzing talent and executives.
Supervising director David Filoni--wearing an Indiana Jones hat and a Lucasfilm T-shirt, just in case there was any confusuion about where his allegiance lies--chatted up the series. "George is there and he's really engaged in what we're doing," he says. He also went on and on about Count Duka ("he's the main evil bad guy") and other nerdy Star Wars details. At 34, he was a baby when the original Star Wars movie premiered in 1977.
Apparently we were all super lucky to get this sneak peek at the CGI space 'toon. Filoni went on about how Lucas never lets anything out of the vault. Still, as colleague Bill Harris from the Toronto Sun said to me, hard to take any of this seriously after watching Robot Chicken skewer the Yoda out of the entire Star Wars franchise.
Minnesota critic Neal Justin asked if perhaps enough is enough with the saga. "Can we still mine stuff out of this," he asked. "Every time I go to a toy store I still see kids playing with light sabres," said Filioni. As Yoda would say, answered it was.