Friday, October 31, 2008

Simpsons' Al Jean Talks Treehouse of Horror

Halloween is upon us, although it seems like Christmas after my new hero, CRTC chair Konrad von Finckensein didn't "shell out" yesterday. He took one look at those brazen broadcasters, standing there holding goodie bags open like punk teens on Halloween after 9 p.m., and slammed the door in their face. (I did a round of CBC syndicated radio interviews about the ruling this morning and am back on CBC's Here & Now at 3:10 p.m.; see my posting on all the sage CRTC decisions, below).
Leave it to The Simpsons, then, to offer their 19th annual "Treehouse of Horror" treat. Sunday's three-parter includes an homage to the Peanuts gang with "It's The Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse." Seems Milhouse, like Linus, is the only one who believes in the "Grand" pumpkin. Simpsons' showrunner Al Jean says they had to change it from "Great" pumpkin for legal reasons. (Who's gonna sue, Snoopy?)
I spoke with Jean last summer at the TCA press tour and listened in on his recent Fox conference call. You can read more about his take on the Halloween show here in my CP column this week, which appears in the entertainment section of today's Toronto Star.
I also spoke with Jean about his career prior to The Simpsons: being a young writer on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. Jean was fresh out of Harvard when he spent one-and-a-half years in the Tonight Show writers room. Instead of the army of writers they have now on shows like David Letterman and Conan O'Brien, Carson's staff usually only numbered about five. Jean says he never really worked on the monologue, just on those "Might Carson Arts Players" sketches like mind reader Carnac the Magnificent. "In some ways it was a one-of-a-kind thrill--like meeting JFK or something," he says.
Over the years, people have suggested to me that Carson was hard to read, a bit stand offish. (I'm currently working on a book about the history of late night television). Drew Carey, who, like many stand up comedians, is quick to say he owes his career to his winning Carson appearance, told me last July that the guests were asked after the show to wait behind a velvet rope. When Carson would leave for the day, he would pass by the roped off area, shake hands, grant a last minute "thanks" and be off.
Even Ed McMahon, Carson's sidekick for 30 years, admits he never really knew the guy and had few personal dealings with him away from NBC.
Jean gives a similar view, suggesting he only met Carson three or four times over his tenure on the show. "He was very polite but he was a very private guy," says Jean, 47. "I would meet other writers who worked for him in different eras and it was always the same story. He was private, he was…I still think the best who ever did it, but there was a barrier there where you never really knew what the real him was like. People never even knew how he voted, for example. He was pretty good at not letting on."
Jean knows he's lucky to have been involved in two iconic TV shows, The Simpsons and Tonight. He says when his three year old son was born, at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, he was distracted by a special hospital channel set up specifically to help people at the hospital laugh. On screen was a Johnny Carson Tonight Show sketch he had written. Says Jean, "That was really kinda cool."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Go Konrad!

As they sang in Bye Bye Birdie, we love you Konrad, we really do. CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein is my new hero. The dude stood up to CTV, Global and CBC and said get your filthy, stinkin' mitts out of the pockets of consumers.
Well, he didn't say that exactly. (Read more about today's decision here.) But today's ruling by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to turn down the public and private network's request to get in on the carriage fee boondoggle is a big fat win for consumers. The very thought of somebody jacking your cable bill an estimated $2 to $10 bucks a month, in this economy (when people who still have jobs are scrambling to cut bills $20 -$40 a month) was sickening. Yet past experiences led many of us to believe the CRTC would just roll over and hand the lobbyists their booty.
Not our friend Konrad. Dr. No said no.
He didn't fall for the CRTC hearings theatrics. Boo-hoo-hoo, ad revenues are in a slump, our 40-, 50-year-old licences to print money are starting to expire. Sure the economy and specialty competition is hurting CTV and Global. But so is throwing ever-increasing millions at Americans to import more shows than you need in order to win bragging rights in the Canadian ratings race. Sure, overspend your way to the top, that's free enterprise, but don't cry poor and come crawling to the government for another publicly-funded revenue source with which you can recklessly overspend again. The banks and car companies are beating you to the bail out line, next window, thanks.
The big fat bone Konrad threw the networks--allowing them to negotiate with cable companies for those second time zone windows to their programming, sounds like a pretty savvy compromise. If you sit in Toronto and you want to watch Heroes at 11 p.m. on the B.C. feed instead of 8 p.m. (bad example--Heroes has turned to crap), it might cost you a buck or two a month. Then again, will the highly competitive networks want to do anything to diminish those time shift ratings, which damn well do count? Will that keep the cost to do this down? Konrad von Solomon.
The other big shoe to drop today--the CRTC is prepared to tear down that protectionist wall and allow more channel competition as well as more a-la-carte ordering by consumers. Is that ESPN Canada I see skating up centre ice?
I've lost track of how many friends are saying they are sick of paying sixty, seventy bucks a month for the seven out of 60 channels they actually bother to watch. Imagine being able to order, say, AMC, TCM, TMN, CNN, TSN, Sportsnet, Comedy, and, say, CBS for Letterman. Okay, add CH, gotta watch Live @ 5:30. That's it, dump the rest in Lake Ontario and send me the bill.
Network TV is in a slump, the impact of that 100-day writers strike is still watering down content and nobody is in a mood to give more money to broadcasters. I haven't read the fine print on today's decision yet, but judging by the early read, Konrad, you are The Man.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Going Mano-a-Mano with Jim Manos

Had a blast yesterday chatting on stage with James Manos Jr (above, being awarded an eight-year-old Chrysler Neon. Photo courtesy Playback's special reports editor Suzan Ayscough). He was flown in from L.A. to be part of the day-long Playback Innovations Forum at the St. Lawrence Centre. Manos created Dexter and won an Emmy writing scripts for David Chase on The Sopranos. He also supervised The Shield, linking him to three of the most iconic anti-heroes in the history of television.
So when I asked him right off the bat to answer the burning question everyone in the room was dying to have answered--Obama or McCain?--he immediately blurted, "God, I dunno--I probably would have killed them both." Meaning, that's what he did on his shows--dreamed up victims and villains for his ant-heroes to whack.
Manos, however, who is very much a dude from the neighborhood in New York forced to work and live in hated Los Angeles, realized he'd just pretty much uttered a felony under U.S. law. He back peddled faster than McCain at another rally gone wrong. It was a punchy, edgy and outrageous start to our hour on stage, and I think the writers and other industry folk in the audience found plenty of fun and insight in the next 60 minutes.
The audience members I spoke with yesterday included omnipresent Border scribe Denis McGrath, who I bumped into again Monday at the CBC mid-season launch as well as last night's HBO Canada event (read his paying customer take on the whole Playback Forum deal here). McGrath was all over Manos comment that lead series characters really do not grow or change in the course of a series, but you always have to lie to networks and studios when pitching these shows and say that they do.
It sounds exactly wrong, but when you think about it, he's right. If Dexter Morgan ever really changes, the series is over. He has to remain a sociopath serial killer. Same with Vic MacKay and even, despite all those therapy sessions, Tony Soprano. Even sitcom characters don't really change that much over time; think Cheers' Sam Malone or Dr. Frasier Crane.
Manos suggested there is often some change usually in the first 20 minute of the pilot which sets up the series. He says movies are different, they're often all about a life-changing moment in a character's life, leading to some sort of resolution.
In a series, though, character resolution is death. I did not know that.
Manos was also incredibly candid about being squeezed out of his own series. After taking the original Dexter novel and crafting it into a series, including full outlines on the first season's 12 episodes, he clashed with his associate producers and in one of those too-typical Hollywood power struggles found himself sidelined from his own series. As creator, he took a big bag of money with him (including continuing residuals), but you could tell that if he was still penning Dexter scripts, the hero would have carved up a couple of back stabbing, know-nothing, non-creative type producers by now.
Fascinating, too, were his comments about his own writing process. We talked about the legend of Deadwood and NYPD Blue genius David Milch, about tales of him lying on his back in the dark, barking random thoughts that are written down by underlings and turned into scripts. Manos, who has worked with Milch and holds him in the highest regard, says those stories are true. He once visited the great man and had to step over page after page of Milch's scattered brilliance just to get to the couch.
Manos has his own wacky method--he writes on walls. Paper is pinned up and the dude starts scrawling it all out in long hand. His lady then pulls down the pages and assembles it into a coherent script. This is stuff they don't teach you at Humber or Ryerson.
After the session, Manos told a few more tales at a small gathering at a local watering hole near the St. Lawrence Centre he had already staked out. The story of his Emmy night victory was especially hilarious. Manos missed the big moment when his name was announced--he had stepped outside to have a smoke, leaving David Chase alone on stage to accept for them both.
Manos had lost track of time chatting up pals in the smoke station when his cell phone rang. It was his mom, watching the Emmy Award back home in New York, telling him to get the hell back into the auditorium. When he told this story later at the Emmy press scrum his mom chewed him out all over again when her name and this story appeared in her local paper.
Manos dad sounded like an interesting character, too. The late James Manos Sr. was a real, live, rocket scientist, part of the team that worked on the lunar module that landed in the moon. How cool is that.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What a Farce--CBC Shutting Down its No. 1 Show

Saturday Night Live isn't the only sketch series getting a boost from all these elections. Air Farce (featuring Alan Park as Barack Obama, above) continues to surprise heading into its final flight on Friday nights. Last week 859,000 tuned in, well above last season's average.
In fact, aside from always dominant Hockey Night in Canada (which drew 1,306,000 for Saturday's Leafs/Senators tilt), Air Farce was the highest rated series on CBC last week, drawing more viewers than even Mercer and almost as many as Mosque and Sophie combined. Too bad the 15-year-old comedy is being grounded after New Year's eve.
Other CBC numbers last week: Dragon's Den (622,000), The Border (616,000), Rick Mercer Report (842,000, plus another 856,000 when it repeated after Air Farce on Friday!), This Hour Has 22 Minutes (673,000), The Tudors (531,000), Little Mosque (591,000), Sophie (319,000), Fifth Estate (544,000), The Nature of Things (346,000), Doc Zone (325,000), Doctor Who (479,000), Heartland (686,000) and Sunday's Doc Zone (741,000).
Most troubling for CBC: Mosque and especially Sophie have slipped on Wednesday nights, where they are hammered by CTV's So You Think You Can Dance Canada (1,296,000) and Global's Bones (911,000).
The pressure will be on two new CBC "chick flick" series Media Profile was promoting with interview sessions in downtown Toronto today: Wild Roses, an hour-long drama best described as Dallas moved to Calgary. Featuring Michelle Harrison (left) as well as Sarah Power and Gary Hudson and originally titled Cow Girls (that didn't test well), it will take over The Border's timeslot on Mondays in January. The other new hour-long drama starting in January is Being Erica, about a 32-year-old single woman who gets a chance to go back in time and fix her biggest regrets in life. Shot in Toronto, it stars Erin Karpluk (Godivas) and Michael Riley (This Is Wonderland). Both shows have 13 episode orders.
Of course, this January won't be like last January when, due to the writers strike, CBC pretty much had the field to themselves. Besides the usual assault from Fox's American Idol and the (delayed) seventh season of 24, the U.S. nets are rolling out several mid-season shows in the new year, including Joss Whedon's highly anticipated sci-fi drama Dollhouse.

Opie's America Gets a Wake Up Call

This is already everywhere, including Facebook, but what the hell--it deserves to be embedded throughout the Internet.

Ron Howard is The Bomb. (What was he directing? Could...could it be that long-rumoured Arrested Development movie??) When Opie says America is headed down a "divisive and wrong-headed path," you have to listen. I'd watch he and Andy Griffith get together and just talk once a month, even if it was just a three minute web cast.
Meanwhile: Michelle Obama guests tonight on Leno. For the other side, check out what's sure to be another combative visit by Bill O'Reilly to David Letterman.
America votes in eight days. What will TV do for content after that?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dishing With Dexter Boss at Playback Forum

My buddy John Doyle calls the other day. Sounded dreadful. Just back from Ireland and sick as a dog. Needs a favor: can I fill in for him as an interviewer at the Playback Innovations Forum?
Which brings us to this Tuesday at 1:20 at the Jane Mallett Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto, where I will be quizzing Dexter creator James Manos, Jr (below). The dude won an Emmy for writing one of the best scripts for The Sopranos ("College," where the hunter becomes the hunted as Tony dodges a hit man) before moving on to supervise The Shield and now Dexter. That is three of the best cable dramas ever in an era of great cable dramas.
Having been down to the set of Dexter in L.A. at the Sunset Gower studios, I'm looking forward to chatting with Manos. Dexter is in its third season and I'm already hearing from friends who think Jimmy Smits is wrecking the show. These cable dramas set the bar so high in their first seasons (think Mad Men, Californication) that everything that comes afterwards seems somewhat same old or anticlimactic. It is a tough business, this cranking out great drama.
I'll be asking Manos about that challenge as well as keeping a show fresh that seems to only have one possible ending--the dude gets caught.
If you had a chance to ask Manos a question, what would you throw at him? Would love to walk into that session armed with some TVFMF comments, so all you smarty-pants TV types out there, comment away. Then come down to the session Tuesday, where Emmy-nominated Mad Men writer Robin Veith and Flashpoint co-executive producer and Gemini Award-winning screenwriter Tassie Cameron are also sharing their insights. There's more information about this inaugural Playback Innovations Forum here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Polite Talk With Valerie Pringle

How rude can we get? Valerie Pringle asks the direct question in her CBC documentary Rude: Where Are Our Manners? It airs next Thursday, Oct. 30 on CBC's Doc Zone.
It is a question you could well ask of today's politicians but never of Pringle herself, although she's the first to insist she's not above the odd traffic-induced temper tantrum. Spoke with Pringle this week for a CP story, you can read the full piece here. Have known Val since back in the day when I was TV boy three times a week on CBC's Midday. She shared the desk back then with Ralph Benmergui. Seems like 100 years ago now.
Pringle's a pro and has worked everything from CTV's Canada AM to CBC's Antiques Road Show. She has several projects coming up, including another doc recounting a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro with several Canadian breast cancer survivors plus a long cherished dream to do a comprehensive, five-part series on The Great Lakes.
This nugget from the Rude special: where is the most civil part of Canada? Turns out it is Prince Edward Island. Damn, and I had Mimico in the pool.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

He Shoots, He Scores

More yakkity-yak about that crazy Rent-A-Goalie trip to Newfoundland can be heard on this week's radio chat with CHML's Scott Thompson. You can listen in here. Included are details from my interview with Phil Esposito at the RAG third season premiere party Monday. Espo was offered a role in The Godfather?! That should have been in my Truth and Rumors book.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chicago 10 Out Of 10

Show a teen a documentary on the '60s and you get the usual, "Peace out, man." Show them Chicago 10 and get them hooked.
Brett Morgen's clever and compelling documentary kicks off another season of Independent Lens tonight at 9 p.m. on most PBS stations. (Note to Toronto area readers: Buffalo affiliate WNED--always the renegade--doesn't have it, although Rochester's WXXI does; check local listings in your area.)
It has already been a festival favorite for more than a year, but if you haven't seen it yet, now is the time. Here is the trailer for the theatrical release of the film. It is a good sample of the dazzling mix of media on display:

I screened Chicago 10 for my two teens--ages 15 and 18--this summer. It is two hours long. They watched it three times. That's right up there with Pirates of the Caribbean.
First off, it is a hell of a story. It is America's nightmare year, 1968. The youth movement is taking it to the streets to protest the Vietnam War and the policies of U.S. president Lyndon Johnson. That horrible, violent summer, it all spills out at the Democratic convention in Chicago, where police in riot gear, acting under orders from no-nonsense mayor Richard Daley, go to war against an organized collection of hippies, "Yippies" (members of the then newly-formed Youth International Party) and others.
Then there is the cast: the "revolutionaries" are led by disaffected academics, spearheaded by Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and renown pacifist David Dellinger. Future senator Tom Hayden and Black Panther leader Bobby Seale get drawn into the fray. In all, eight are charged and stand trial for conspiracy in Chicago. Their two lawyers, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, were both charged with contempt during the trial--hence the title "Chicago 10."
They were a loud, brash, kooky, subversive, edgy, colourful bunch. Hoffman, in particular, seemed bent on the group being fools for social justice. "It's all conceived as a total theater, with everyone becoming an actor," he said of the Chicago protest.
Poet Allen Ginsberg, called as a witness at the trial, was one with the cause. He credited Hoffman with seeing that "politics had become theater and magic, basically, that it was the manipulation of imagery through the mass media that was confusing and hypnotizing the people in the United States, making them accept a war which they really didn't believe in."
If you see any parallels with the wars in Afghanistan and Iran, well, exactly. This movie shows that there was a time when America was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. It makes you wonder why old dudes like David Letterman are the ones raging on Bush and McCain today. Are kids this century too into Wii to fight for us? Is a goof on Colbert or The Daily Show or a subtle SNL swipe at Sarah Palin enough for college audiences today?
Morgen, who directed the brilliant Robert Evans doc The Kid Stays in the Picture, tries mighty hard to bring modern audiences into this theatre of social revolution. He weaves even more multi-media tricks into this mix. Most effective is the use of animation and voice actors to re-create the courtroom scenes; there are 35 minutes of actual trial dialogue in the picture, and none of it is boring.
Hoffman, who took his own life in 1989, was a born cartoon character. Fitting, then, that he is represented by Simpsons' voice ace Hank Azaria (who also speaks for Ginsberg). Nick Nolte (as radical leader Thomas Foran), Mark Ruffalo (as Rubin), Roy Scheider (as cantankerous judge Julius Hoffman), Liev Schreiber (as Kunstler), Jeffrey Wright (as Seale) and Dylan Baker (as Dellinger) are all excellent. The gritty style of the motion capture animation (by Curious Pictures), which looks more like those dark, modern, illustrated novels, could not be more appropriate. Check out another clip:

Cutting between actual footage from the times--the riots in the streets, the bayonet-swinging cops, shots of defiant Daley--drives the story to a fever pitch. It rocks, too. The soundtrack explodes with angry rock and rap, music from today and not the '60s. "I wanted the music to feel contemporary—the soundtrack of my audience's lives, not their parents," said Morgen in the PBS notes on the movie. It sure worked for my kids, who were locked on this story like it was happening now.
I can't recommend Chicago 10 enough. This is one history lesson that should be in every classroom, a rare AV aid that won't put anybody to sleep. Sad, triumphant, funny, scathing, it is a powerful story, powerfully told.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Family Guy: The DVD Miracle

Family Guy is often cited as the series that was rescued by DVD sales. The show was canceled--twice--by Fox after failing to grab a big audience during its first two seasons. Subsequent DVD sales went through the roof, and Fox ordered the series back into production a year and a half after it was halted.
One hundred episodes later, it is solid on Sundays for Fox and especially for Global in Canada, where it drew a million viewers two weeks ago.
Today, Oct. 21, is the street date for the Family Guy Volume Six DVD collection. It contains 12 episodes (including that 100th show), over 50 deleted scenes and several other extras, including this peek at how the show often pushes the Fox censors to the wall.

Last July in Los Angeles, critics howled when the Family Guy cast sat on stage in a performance/table read of the original 100th episode script. It was filthy and litigious and really out there--and most of it somehow made it to air.
I sometimes think the show is too referential, too rat-a-tat jokey and too derivative for its own good. All those dream or fantasy sequences make me dizzy. That South Park swipe--which featured manatees in underwater cages pushing word balls around to form a Family Guy script--was funny because it was true. The Simpsons nailed it, too, when they once had Homer fall into a photo copier. One of the copies was Family Guy dad Peter Griffin.
For me, Family Guy is Leno to The Simpsons' Letterman. People tend to like one more than the other.
At the same press tour, Family Guy creator (and versatile voice cast lead) Seth MacFarlane traced his inspiration back to The Flintstones, which seemed about right. For MacFarlane, TV animation all started with Fred and Barney and that copycat Hanna-Barbera humor mill. The Flintstones were The Honeymooners in loin cloths. Top Cat was Bilko with kitties. Joe Barbera knew from derivative, and only stole from the best. Same with MacFarlane--although he keeps stealing from himself with clone shows like American Dad and The Clevelands.
While MacFarlane paid homage to The Flintstones, Simpsons' creator Matt Groening sat silent on that same Fox showrunner TCA panel. I could almost hear his inner voice saying, "Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!" As he has suggested in the past, his 'toon roots run more toward Rocky & Bullwinkle, a show that, like The Simpsons, was smart and original, both of its time and ahead of its time (and--chronologically and in every other way--ahead of The Flintstones). Still, jokes are good and Family Guy is often laugh out loud funny. If Volume Six sells through the roof and helps the series last as long as The Simpsons, that's a freakin' good thing.

Ridin' with Rent-A Goalie: Epilogue

That was the phrase repeated over and over again as I tagged along with the Rent-A-Goalie gang on the Eastern portion of their cross-Canada hockey marathon. Deer Lake, Newfoundland, was memorable for it's magestic scenery but even more for its people. As RAG boss Christopher Bolton (standing, right) said at the Deer Lake arena Thursday night, "they treat strangers like friends." It took some getting used to having every passer by say a warm hello on the street; even teens there say, "hello, SIR."
Unfortunately, the disc to my camera, like many of us who went on the trip, got corrupted. I lost some of my shots, but others survived. A few of these came from other shooters, including ever ready RAG cameraman Matthew Lochner.
The most breathtaking scenery was found up the coast. Eight of us squeezed into a van and drove through Gros Morne Provincial Park. This is where the nickname "The Rock" truly resonates. Massive cliffs thrust out into the ocean. Small towns like "Cow's Head" are scattered between the rock and fields, with small white houses and hundreds of lobster nets dotting the landscape. Dudes sit on rooftops, next to their dogs, drinking beer. This is Canada.
Executive producer Chris Szarka came prepared; dressed in shorts, he waded into the ocean down by the spot where, in 1919, "the worst storm ever" capsized the S.S. Ethie, a beauty of a ship according to the official park marker.
The game Thursday was a hoot. Thankfully, the local Red Wings took it down a few gears. Both teams put on a show for the fans, with a touchdown helping the visitors make it to a shootout.
As the embedded journalist, I was about as much help on defense as the frozen salmon the night before in the bar. Standing out for the right reasons was my RAG defense partner D'Arcy. The scouts from nearby Corner Brook were so impressed they're flying him out from Toronto for a two game tryout!
Ex-NHLers Bob Probert and local hero Darren Langdon took part in the skate. Former Ranger scrapper Landon owns a local bar named "Langers" where the Deer Lake elite meet to "Screetch in" outsiders. His mom kept everyone in stitches, especially with her Janet Gretzky stories. Langdon wound up following the boys to Fort McMurray, Alta., for the Saturday game and even showed up back in Toronto last night at the RAG launch party.
Probert was a hell of a sport in Deer Lake, allowing local kids to shave strips of hair off his head for every goal we scored. He explained later in the dressing room that he needed to get beaned for an upcoming Halloween party.
"Coach" Ivan, Deer Lake's biggest Montreal Canadiens fan, guided us through the game. The dude also scrawled something on the Rent-A-Goalie banner that was left behind but, just like almost everything he said, damned if any of us could make it out.
I'm not sure how I got to be part of all of this but it was a damn fine three days. There's talk of another game up in North Bay, so I better go get my skates sharpened, dropped 20 pounds and turn back the clock a decade or two. Also learn to play hockey.
Last night was the Showcase launch party at The Scene on Queen Street West. Phil Esposito, who guested on last night's third season premiere and in an upcoming episode, was in the house. Espo worked the joint like Sinatra at the Sands, all cocktails and cuff links. Grabbed an interview with him about acting as opposed to hockey. Besides Rent-A-Goalie, he pops up every season in Denis Leary's excellent New York firefighter series Rescue Me (due back in the spring).
Espo says acting is a lot like hockey. He has a theory that in both instances, there are situations where you have to play a character. That famous rant in Vancouver in '72, for example. Espo let us have it in one of the most powerful moments in Canadian television:

Espo says he was offered a role in the original Godfather movie, but it was an offer he did refuse. "They wanted me to take January, February and March off to shoot the damn thing!" howls Espo. That was back in the Bruins' heyday, when Espo and Bobby Orr were winning Stanley Cups. Orr, he says, was also offered a role on Leary's show, but turned it down. There's got to be a part on that show for Derek Sanderson, I'm thinking.
Espo says he would have ditched hockey for The Godfather if the money was right. He named his price, prompting the casting director to exclaim, "What?? Not even Brando's getting that!"
Sure, but did Brando ever score 76 goals?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Letterman and the Road to the White House

I know this goes way back to Thursday night, and I should be more on top of things here, but, hell, I was in a bar in Deer Lake Newfoundland with the Rent-A Goalie cast. Whore-a Nora was there, rubbing up against everything but the pop machine, for Pete's sake. Langers mom was on her game, breaking up everybody in the house.
But last Thursday night, David Letterman's transformation from Captain Irony into Captain America took another broad leap.
If you missed it, here is a YouTube clip of some of the heat from Thursday's long-awaited visit from Sen. John McCain:

Certainly McCain knew he was in for a roasting, hence the "flack jacket" remark. Letterman has been huffing and puffing ever since McCain ditched him two weeks ago. But checkout his expression after Letterman sandbagged the senator with the G. Gordon Liddy zinger. That was a gotcha moment unlike any seen in any of the three presidential debates.
For Letterman, clearly, the gloves are off. While he's careful to declare himself a registered independent voter up front, not wanting to appear to be in anybody's camp, he is on a mission to convince America to embrace Barack Obama, or at least to choose change and vote for the smart guy and not for another four years of a backyard BBQ buddy for president.
Look at Letterman's guest list the last two months: Keith Olbermann, NBC anchor Brian Williams, Bill Clinton--a parade of smart guys. The Late Show now spanks Bush right after the monologue every night with "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches" bumped ahead into the first five minutes. Then there are those devastating "reports" from Sarah Palin and McCain dropped into the comedy slot each night:

Harsher, still, was the eye-popping way he ripped Bush a few weeks ago:

Following in the footsteps of his hero, Johnny Carson, Letterman has always walked the line between parody and partisanship. Carson was credited with helping to undermine the Nixon administration during the Watergate era with a steady series of monologue shots but he never went after a ticket prior to an election the way Letterman is all over McCain/Palin.
Carson, in fact, steered well clear of any political partisanship. A typical joke: Carson, as mind reader Carnac, reading one of those cards from that hermetically sealed jar: "A tongue, teeth and a foot." The question: "What's inside Ronald Reagan's mouth?
That's a long way from "didn't you once attend a fundraiser for G. Gordon Liddy?" Where Carson helped set the mood of America as it turned against Nixon, Letterman seems to be testing just how far he can drive public opinion. At 61, he seems unable or unwilling to suffer fools any longer, be they candidates or the American electorate. He must feel that there is no more time for subtleties in late night. What Carson once achieved with an eye role, Letterman now attempts with a sledge hammer. Is it working? Regardless, Letterman must feel the stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines. Watching him test the limits of his power is one of the more fascinating stories of this election.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Riding With Rent-A-Goalie

DEER LAKE, NEWFOUNDLAND--I've been too busy chasing pucks and puck heads to post up on TV Feeds My Family the last few days. Christopher Bolton, the star, writer and creator of the Showcase series Rent-A-Goalie, called me up and invited me to join the cast and crew in a charity hockey game this week in this small but cozy Maritime community. Glad I said yes, the last few days have been a blur but they've also been a blast.
Rent-A-Goalie returns for a third season Monday at 9:30 p.m. on Showcase. Wrote about it this week for Canadian Press, you can read that article here. There's also a report on last night's hilarious hockey game in today's Western Star (the Deer Lake newspaper), you can read that here.
I've give a full report (well, not completely full; as the locals say, what happens in Deer Lake stays in Deer lake) in the coming days when I'm not filing from the well-stocked Deer Lake library. The friendly librarians have been good about that 30 minute time limit rule but I don't want to push my luck. Suffice to say money was raised and so were a few glasses. You haven't lived until you've been Screetched-in at Langers bar, as Bolton and ex-NHLer Bob Probert were last night, to the delight of the Deer Lake regulars.
Have been undressed more than usual on defence (these senior league Deer Lake players were bloody amazing), I'm bailing on the next leg and heading back to Toronto tonight. Next stop for these knuckleheads: Fort McMurray, Alta, where the puck drops Saturday.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Election Night in Canada

Am I the only one who watches Peter Mansbridge and Wendy Mesley on election night and thinks there’s something else going on? Every time he throws to her and she peers at him over those sexy granny glasses, you gotta know those two are back 20 years ago, necking behind the Front Page Challenge flats. You can almost hear the dialogue really going on in their heads. “Yes, the Tories are getting spanked in Quebec—just like I used to spank you in Ontario.”
I keeeed. CBC did a very good job covering the election, I thought, sticking to a clean and simple set, dispensing with the old-fashioned big board maps. Gone, too, was the dramatic, you are there approach, with Mansbridge ensconced in the House of Parliament. All that gimmicky satellite stuff gets old fast as the night drags on.
It did look a bit CNN, a bit Reach For The Top up there at times. Poor Rick Mercer stuck all night on the panel, perhaps making Keith Boag or Rex Murphy his new Facebook friends. At least they didn't cram a few Dragon Denners up there, or Steven and Chris.
There was the usual rush to judgement on early returns. Brampton babe Ruby Dhalla was declared dead, for example, after 38 people voted. She ended up winning easily. Meanwhile, it took an hour just to see how leaders other than Elizabeth May were doing in their own ridings.
Kudos to CBC, however, for not jumping the gun by declaring another Harper minority too soon. Global National couldn’t wait, announcing a conservative minority government at 9:42 P.M. ET, 12 minutes after the polls closed in Ontario and well before voters were finished casting ballots in B.C. CTV made their call at 9:47.
As Peter Mansbridge said well after 10, hold on. So many ridings were still showing paper thin leads. As it turned out, Harper didn’t miss his majority by much.
The national totals and riding by riding info was all neat and tidy, easy to read. Missing perhaps was some passion and unpredictability. Sure things were tense early, but why not throw to Mercer for a quick quip? He could have offered to skinny dip with the new Liberal leader.
Boag was perhaps the most fun to watch early. He got a little freaked when the Liberals failed to break big in the east. Of all the CBCers on the Reach For The Top desk, he seemed to get it that Harper was going to come dangerously close to turning the CBC headquarters into Toronto's newest Wal-Mart.
My 15-year-old came down after 10, saw the totals, declared it all a big fat waste of time and money and promptly switched over to Robot Chicken. Guess he was backing the Seth Green party.

Wheels Fall Off Degrassi

The numbers are in! No, not THOSE numbers. I'm talking TV ratings, dammit.
Like I haven't already beat this to death, but, Degrassi continues to sink into the abyss at CTV. A record low 220,000 bothered to check out Sunday's second episode of the new season, down a ton from the week before which was already pretty bad. That is a national number. TWICE as many people live in Brampton, Ont.
The force is not with Star Wars: Clone Wars, either. Just 331,000 viewers watched episode two of the animated spin-off Sunday. Bring back Jar-Jar Binks!
Heartland on CBC was no hell, either, drawing 371,000. Where have all the Sunday viewers gone in Canada? To CTV, of course. Amazing Race drew 1,477,000. CTV also scored with Desperate Housewives, with 1,803,000 tuning in according to the BBM/NMR overnight estimates. At 10, CTV's Law & Order: Criminal Intent (1,036,000) beat Global's Brothers & Sisters (722,000).
CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, new theme and all, roared back with 1,323,000 viewers Saturday night to likely rank as the network's top-rated show of the week. Even Game Two pulled close to a million at 951,000 viewers.

TVTimes They Are A Changin'

A colleague in the U.S. told me last press tour he no longer reads the Poynter Online "Romenesko" media site because it is too depressing. "It's like reading the obituaries," he said.
Case in point: the email over the weekend from my friend Eric Kohanik, editor of TVTimes.
Until Friday, that is. Kohanik (left, at last July's press tour with Global publicity head Deborah Lewis) was told this week his services were no longer needed by his bosses at Canwest Editorial services. TVTimes, one of the more handsome weekend TV supplements, has been deemed dispensable in this age of high newsprint costs, declining ad revenues and on-screen TV listings. At one time it appeared in 33 newspapers across the country as part of the Southam and later Canwest chains. Like the print edition of TV Guide in Canada, it is being phased out of circulation, reduced to mere listings without editorial content.
The handwriting was on the wall. TVTimes had already disappeared in big market cities such as Ottawa and Montreal. I wrote dozens of cover stories for it over the years, especially ten years ago between gigs for TV Guide and the Toronto Sun.
That's when my buddy Kohanik stepped up when I was between jobs and said he would take as many stories as I could sell him. I've known Kohanik since the mid-'80s when both of us started attending the semi-annual TV press tours in Los Angeles. We've had a lot of laughs over the years at press events in both Canada and the U.S. and hooked up the odd time on television on shows like Hamilton, Ont.'s CH Live @ 5:30 and even the TVTropolis gamer Inside the Box. Like David Kines, who ankled last week at MuchMusic, he is one of the good guys in this wacky business.
Eric weathered some stormy years as president of the Television Critics Association, the only Canadian to have ever held that post. He dragged what can often be a cantankerous organization (hey, we're critics) into the 21st century, spearheading on-line initiatives and building bridges between the U.S. networks and the Los Angeles hotel community. Every TCA president since has relied on him to help finesse the extremely favorable hotel deals our dwindling group continues to enjoy. It is not hard to see why he is so effective in these situations. Smart and sociable, he is as effective in person as he is in print.
The demise of TVTimes also leaves another veteran TV columnist, Alison Cunningham, looking for a new place to pitch. Cunningham has supplied lively and insightful cover stories and other features for TVTimes for almost a decade. She brings a compelling woman's perspective to a beat that has taken a beating across Canada in recent years. Dana Gee no longer covers TV for the Vancouver Province. Lee-Anne Goodman just took over as the Washington correspondent for The Canadian Press.
For those of us who still manage to find a way down to press tours, it sucks to see this posse disappear at their peak. As ravaged as press folk are generally these days, TV beat writers have taken a particularly hard hit. This all started well before the economy went south. Smaller market voices were lost first as media convergence led to consolidation and rationalization. Cities such as Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Halifax once sent reps to press tour. Those days are long gone. Now even Toronto and Vancouver are barely represented.
Attending a press tour without Kohanik seems almost unimaginable. Who will get me drinks? The dude plays that scene like Sinatra at the Sands.
Then again, as distressing as it is to lose a job, the challenge facing our colleague Brad Oswald in Winnipeg puts it all in perspective. The Free Press TV columnist (bottom right, next to Kohanik at the 2007 press tour) is battling cancer and is currently undergoing treatment. His return to full health will be toasted by all of us, even if we have to hold our own press tour to raise a few glasses.
Kohanik has worked the TV racket since 1981 and his weekly "Watcher" column (which will continue for three more weeks) is an industry favorite. Most of us just figured he'd be the last man standing in this vanishing biz. His adios email to friends and colleagues suggests he'll take some time to recharge the batteries before rushing into his next career. That is a good plan and I hope he sticks with it. Hopefully, before too long, he'll get back to being the savvy watcher and commentator that he is.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Turkey Feathers

Not white turkey feathers, but some sort of ghostly fern framed by autumn's blazing side show. Spotted at Hwy 26 and 6 at the north end of the Owen Sound by-pass around 5 p.m. this evening. Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sophie: Viewers Wanted

Sophie was up slightly in Week Two, to 395,000 CBC viewers. Maybe we can nudge that over the 400,000 mark next week thanks to my Canadian Press profile of beautiful brunette Natalie Brown. I spoke with her two weeks ago at the CBC fall launch and back in June at the CBC upfront and was charmed both times. She seems fairly ego-less to be in this crazy business. You can check one link to the article here.
Other Wednesday overnight numbers: Little Mosque on the Prairie 684,000, CTV's So You Think You Can Dance Canada 1,430,000 (a new high for the series), Global's surprisingly strong Bones 1,733,000.
The big winner on the night: CSI: NY, which grabbed 2,283,000 viewers at 10 p.m. I have no idea why.
Last week's BBM NMR numbers show Global one-two nationally with House (2,324,000) and Survivor: Gambon (2,166,000) topping the list across Canada Sept. 29-Oct. 5. Led by the return of Desperate Housewives (2,067,000), CTV took the next six spots; CSI: Miami (2, 013,000 was Canada's fourth most watched show. Bones put Global back in the Top-10 at No. 9 with 1,514,000 viewers. CBC's highest-rated show was the Sunday Night News (No. 20), with 971,000 viewers.

Indy Made to Squeal Like A Pig

This won't be up at YouTube for long: Check out the U.S. season premiere episode of South Park, where Steven Spielberg and George Lucas rape Indiana Jones:

Clearly Trey Parker and Matt Stone don't want to see an Indy 5. South Park and the Indiana Jones movie franchise are all part of the big happy CBS/Paramount/Viacom family. The L.A. Times asks if the boys went too far this time; read the full article here.

Kines Pulls Focus On Much

Couldn't miss the chill in the air at the Dave Kines MuchMusic farewell party Thursday night. Kines, one of the real good guys in the biz, was also one of the first to email a "WTF!?" when I was tossed at The Toronto Sun nearly two years ago.
A prudent man, he soldiered on when CTV acquired the CHUM stations and started morphing MuchMusic--arguably the strongest brand in Canadian specialty programming--in with their imported MTV mix. It must have felt a little bit like being asked to coach the Canadiens after being with The Leafs your whole career.
He gamefully stuck his toe into the CTV pool before announcing late last week that he was getting out while the getting is good. They'll miss him and he was given a proper send off after nearly 25 years (dating back to The New Music at City). The lavish bash was held at the Circa Club on John St., just a video tape's throw from the CHUM/City, er MuchMusic, uh, CTV know, 299 Queen St. West.
The joint was packed with old friends, many who also have moved on to new gigs. Denise Donlan, just announced as the new head of CBC Radio, gave Kines props. There were video shout outs from everyone from former VJs Erica Ehm, Christopher Ward, George Stroumboulopoulos, Rick Campenelli and even Ed The Sock. Insight Productions head John Brunton, CHUM FM morning man Roger Ashby and several record execs were in the house.
Kines was hailed as a savvy boss who trusted his associates and stayed out of people's way. He was also lampooned as an AV geek, a Dexter-look-a-like and as someone who wore flesh-coloured lederhosen, stuffed phallic junk down his junk and had a habit of disrobing at inappropriate moments.
Not mentioned enough was the fact he nurtured and prodded the MuchMusic Video Awards into the best damn award show/live party in Canadian television and one of the most admired live music events around the world. He was given his own MMVA Award last night, and he earned it.
There were the usual, "We're sure he won't be away long!" speeches. Kines is not tipping his hand; hopefully he'll take some time off and do nothing for a while. My bet is the dude will be part of the new, whatever that is. Kines was always ahead of the curve when it came to technology and content. He's likely looking for a new stream; the old TV pond seems pretty fished out these days.
And that was what seemed to be hanging over this party. As great as the mini burgers and chip cones were, this was a room full of frightened people. Not just because this was another reminder that the old Moses Znaimer CHUM/City era has been snuffed out like yesterday's reefer. That has sunk in. The elephant in the room last night was the economy. The markets have lost 40% of their value in one year. As industries disappear in Ontario, the ad biz is a bust. Those network licences to print money have been revoked and the repo man will be back next week for the cameras.
Not one to dally in a finite world, Kines took a look around and split. Hopefully, he'll show us all a sign to what lies ahead soon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Stocks Down, Minutes, Mercer Up

These are good times to have a topical TV show. Election fever helped boost this season's second episode of The Rick Mercer Report to 1,155,000 CBC viewers--a mighty leap from the week before.
Ratings for the half-hour right after it--This Hour Has 22 Minutes--also shot up in Week Two, with 787,000 viewers tuning in. They caught more of the cute 'n' cringe-worthy antics of Geri Hall who this week gooned federal leaders Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton. At least this week her lonely single girl didn't get cuffed.
CBC did well on another very competitive night. Mercer came surprisingly close to CTV's Dancing with the Stars (1,372,000) and was not that far behind House on Global (1,441,000), although that was a rerun episode (already??).
The Tudors (542,000), however, was beheaded at 9 by CTV's Criminal Minds (2,178,000). Global's 90210 drew 905,000, almost triple what it did, percentage-wise, in the U.S. on The CW (3.05 million).
The big story last night in the U.S., of course, was the presidential debate, which drew a combined total of 63.2 on various broadcasters and news networks.
The success of fake news shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show is part of the discussion today on TV Talk with CHML's Scott Thompson. There's also some yak about the Tories welcome about face on Bill C-10. You can listen in here.
As for the real news shows, CBC's The National continues to gain, pulling 897,000 viewers at 10, right behind CTV News' 909,000 tally at 11. The night before, CBC News beat CTV News. That's news!

Border Jump

Week Two of CBC's The Border saw a jump up to 704,000 viewers, a great sign on a crowded Monday night. The drama (featuring Graham Abbey and Nazneen Contractor, above) stayed competitive with A channel's Two and a Half Men (853,000) and Global's Heroes (1,194,000) and didn't get run over by CTV's two hour Dancing With The Stars performance show (1,755,000).
The Border actually improved on the second episode this season of CBC's Dragon's Den (624,000), which, besides Dancing (No. 1 last week in the U.S.) had to content with Global's Prison Break (943,000). The big winner on the night was CTV's CSI: Miami, which drew a hefty 2,144,000 viewers at 10 p.m.
The tightening election and imploding economy is also giving CBC's The National News a strong boost. The National was the public network's biggest draw of the night with close to a million viewers (an estimated 971,000, to be exact in an estimated, overnight sort of way). That topped even Jeopardy!, which pulled 906,000 at 7:30.
Meanwhile, Stateside, NBC has to be concerned about Heroes. The series was down to 8.2 million viewers Monday, third in its timeslot in the 18-49 demo. Heroes seems as surprising and action-packed as ever, with good guys becoming bad guys and vice versa, so why the big tune out? This show was flirting with 20 million viewers one year ago.
FILL 'ER UP: Corner Gas may be leaving after this season, but you'll still see many of its stars on the CTV schedule. Besides Hiccups, a sitcom announced last week about a children's author with anger management issues (starring Nancy Robertson and produced by Brent Butt), CTV announced today it is developing the comedy Dan For Mayor. The Toronto-based comedy stars Gas regular Fred Ewanuick as a small town bartender who is thrust into local politics. Mark Farrell (Corner Gas, This Hour Has 22 Minutes) is among the producers.
Now--what about a new comedy starring Gas geezers Erik Petersen and Janet Wright? Get on it, Jackass!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Panicked PM Throws in His Censoring Hand

Look who yanked that controversial Bill C-10 "morality clause" one week before Election Day (read the full story here). This is leadership, Mr. Harper? Anyway, congrats to the 41,822 members of the Facebook group "Keep Your censoring hands off of Canadian Film and TV! No to Bill C-10!" Democracy still works--who knew? And Canada Family Action Grand Wizard Charles McVety--censor this.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Degrassi: The Lost Generation

Nobody ever reports it. CTV buries it in what is otherwise another hyperventilating press release. Yet there it is: Degrassi The Next Generation continues to be one of the lowest ratings shows on Canadian television, drawing just 398,000 viewers for its eighth season premiere Sunday. In case you missed it, here's a clip below:

Eight seasons! What other show in the history of Canadian or American television has so consistently drawn so few viewers yet gets renewed year after year?
Consider the ratings for the shows right before it and after it on CTV on Sunday. The premiere of Star Wars: Clone Wars, while, as Yoda might say, "unspectacular they were," captured 652,000 viewers Sunday at 7, good enough to best can't-kill-it-with-a-stick America's Funniest Home Videos on A (610,000) and the return of Heartland on CBC (513,000). Following Degrassi at 8 on CTV was The Amazing Race, still an amazing draw with 1.796 million viewers. Even that 'orrible Celine movie on CBC drew twice the Degrassi crowd at 761,000.
The rest of Sunday is huge for CTV: Desperate Housewives drew 2 million (beating Global's animated Seth MacFarlane comedies Family Guy, at a million, and American Dad, 674,000), while Law & Order: Criminal Intent captured 985,000 viewers, edging Global's Brothers & Sisters (850,000) in total households across Canada. (Source: Preliminary overnight data, CTV Total, Global Total and CBC Total, from BBM Nielsen Media Research.)
Meanwhile, back on Friday nights, against stiff competition from CTV import Ghost Whisperer (1.3 million), look who is keeping the lights on at CBC: Air Farce--now called Air Farce: Final Flight because a) it's no longer "live" and b) it is being grounded after New Year's Eve--drew 611,000. That's better than the season premieres last week of all these heavily-promoted shows from the new CBC regime: The Border, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Heartland and especially Sophie.
So why is Air Farce (featuring Alan Park, above, as Stephane Dion) going off the air again?

Sherri Woodstock: A Night at the Opera House

If your ears are ringing today, relax--you were at Sherri Woodstock last night. The lid was blown off Toronto's Opera House on several occasions as six great bands pounded out song after song in a spirited salute to former Toronto Sun spark plug Sherri Wood, who lost her brave battle with brain cancer last March.
Wood's smiling face could be seen throughout the night, projected at the back of the auditorium in scenes from her "Wood on the Weekend" Sun TV days. Seeing her big smile and dimpled chin again was an inspiration for those of us lucky enough to stand on that stage.
By the time Classic Albums Live blasted out a nearly hour-long Led Zeppelin set, we were nearly half a thousand strong. Not quite Woodstock, but everywhere there was song and celebration.
All the music was great yesterday. Five Blank Pages drew the unenviable post-Zeppelin slot, but managed to both mellow out the crowd with an intimate acoustic vibes before cranking it up again for a raving finale. The Little Millionaires and Franky Moonlight ripped through two high energy screamer sets, testing the Opera House sound system beyond its limits. Opening act The Overtones set the tone with an afternoon set of straight ahead indie rock. Dani Strong said she felt a little overwhelmed by all the testosterone rock, but she and her bandmates put on winning, melodious set proving, as Sherri would have loved, that Chick Rock rules.
If you were there you felt the love. Sherri's family, mom Debbie, sis Kayla and step-bro Austin (seen in this Stan Behal Sun shot), took turns getting hugged. Little Millionaires' string-bustin' guitar man Aaron Sawyer deserves full credit for assembling a fantastic day of music. None of the bands were paid, and every one of them gave everything they had.
A bit overwhelmed by all the guitar blastin' was comedian Frenchie MacFarlane, who got in a few quick zingers before heading off to host another season of America's Most Wanted. (He's a dead ringer for AMW host John Walsh.)
Jason MacNeil has a story on Sherri Woodstock in today's Toronto Sun. You can read the Sun story here.
The incredible gift of Sherri Wood just keeps on giving. Hopefully we'll do this again and build on a great day and night of music.
Toward the start of the night, when there were mainly family and close friends mingling about, a couple of brief clips were shown up on the big screen of the Opera House. One featured Sherri, one year ago, at Halloween, dressed up as a bumble bee. She had just visited the Sun and was giving a video shout out, joking about her short term memory loss. Her brain was literally scrambled, but he spirit was indomitable.
Watching that clip made me terribly sad for a split second, but it also gave me hope. No matter what lay in front of her, Sherri was always about seeing how life held promise and possibilities. She always held an expectation for joy. Her face, as a smart music therapist remarked at her funeral, was like a flower, always turned toward the sun.
So that was the great gift we are all left with today. Memory loss has its upside. Sherri herself kept forgetting she was dying. If she couldn't remember, why should we?
Long live Sherri, and long live Sherri Woodstock.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Team Canada Beats Hockey Mom Palin

More than 2.5 million Canadians watched last night's federal leaders debate in Canada. The Fab Five Canuck leaders skunked Sarah Palin and Joe Biden in the Canadian ratings, especially in big cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, where Canada beat the States by at least a 3-1 margin.
The score among the Canadian nets: CTV 1.03 million, CBC 853,000 and Global 647,000.
Not surprising that the Canadian debate won since no Canadian network or station simulcasted the U.S. vice presidential election debate. Still, it was a powerful pull on the U.S. border stations, likely the most-watched U.S. election debate since Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot squared off in 1992.
The first 90 minutes of the two hour live event averaged 11.58 million on ABC, 11.32 million on NBC, 11.09 million on CBS, 4.37 million on Fox and 3.5 million on PBS. (Overnight estimates, Nielsen Media Research). Fox News says it scored their highest numbers ever--11.1 million viewers. CNN was right behind with 10.7 million. It was also covered on CSPAN, MSNBC (4.4 million), CNBC, Telemundo, and Telefutura.
What does this all mean? It means Tina Fey will be back on Saturday Night Live tomorrow night at 11:30.
For those who missed out during the debate and still want to keep score, download your Sarah Palin Bingo cards here. (With thanks to TVFMF reader Kate).

Farce Takes Off For Final Flight

This week's federal leaders debate was a sweet gift to Air Farce Live. The Canadian comedy showcase returns for a 16th and final season tonight at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Just ten more regular season episodes and then a New Year's Eve special are planned as the Farce goes from us. CBC ordered the half season as it phases out one of its legacy shows, despite the fact that the ratings compare well with just about everything else on the network, old and new. Air Farce averaged more viewers last season than The Border, for example, and does better than The Tudors or Dragons' Den or Sophie. It does this on a Friday night, a tough TV arena where two CBC rookie shows, MVP and jPod, went down in flames last season. CBC will be hard pressed to match Farce's steady 700,000 viewers on a Friday night once the new year begins.
They'll also miss a golden opportunity to platform the younger members of the cast who seemed poised to take the Farce franchise into the next few seasons. While Jessica Holmes, who just had her second child, is on the bench, newest cast member Penelope Corrin is pumped about donning the wig and glasses tonight as comedy target No. 1 Sarah Palin. Craig Lauzon (above as Stephen Harper), Luba Goy (Elizabeth May), Don Ferguson (Jack Layton) and Alan Park (who does a mean Stephane Dion), will goof on the leaders debate tonight. Last week at the CBC fall launch, Lauzon told me he already has plans once Farce is finished. He is working up a CBC comedy radio series with This Hour Has 22 Minutes' Gavin Crawford.
In the meantime, use the Farce while you can, especially tonight and next week as they take aim at the election.
Had enough election talk? Looking to rock the vote?
Sherri Woodstock happens this Sunday. The indie rock fest celebrating the brief, beautiful life of Toronto Sun club and concert reporter Sherri Wood, takes place at the Opera House in Toronto, with doors opening at 4:30. Six bands are playing, including a Led Zeppelin set from Classic Albums Live (look for Sun exec ent editor John Kryk on mandolin). Stand up funnyman Frenchie MacFarlane has also been added to the bill. He remembers Sherri always sneaking him into her club and concert listings and he promises plenty of laughs Sunday.
Tickets are $25 cash and can be purchased at the door if you do not have them already. Monies raised at the event will go toward an education fund set up in Sherri's name. Come on by and share the Sherri love.
Snuck a plug in for Sherri Woodstock this week with Scott Thompson over at Hamilton's CHML. There's also some blather about the election debates on both sides of the border. You can listen in here to our talk before the debate and here to get my post-debate response with Scott.

Tabling the Debates

Would you watch the Canadian debate or the U.S. debate? That was the big question facing Canadians last night. The assumption was that Sarah Palin's car wreck south of the border would prove irresistible to Canadians and that our group of five leaders would bore the crap out of anybody under 50. How surprising, then to watch and discover that just the opposite held true.

The Canadian format, with all five leaders seated around an oblong table, brought a welcome degree of intimacy and informality. It was practical, too; five podiums spread out in a line on a stage would have looked like a supermarket check out. More important, the kitchen table approach forced the Canadian leaders into eye contact, with each other and with viewers.
I kind of liked Green Party leader Elizabeth May's finger pointing approach. Leaders for years have been cautioned by handlers to cup their hands, jab with their palms up, all kinds of inoffensive nonsense. We all know they really want to point fingers. Thumbs up to that.

Props to TVO's Steve Paikin, too, for being such an effective moderator. He set the table, served the main courses in equal portions and cleaned up later. Nobody bullied their way through the debate. His crack that "I'm trying to make sure Biden and Palin don't take out audience here" was smart and memorable and kept everybody keen.

The U.S. vice-presidential debate, on the other hand, is locked into such a stilted format. It hasn't changed since the Kennedy/Nixon debates. The two candidates, standing at those same two podiums, deliver well rehearsed speeches that often don't seem to have any connection to the questions being asked by the moderator. It is such a safe format that Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin seems insulated from any direct hits, any knockout blows.

The U.S. format is tired and screams out for Dancing with the Stars judges Bruno or Carrie Anne to raise paddles and shout out "Nine!" or "Seven!" or whatever. It needs to be moderated by David Letterman, or Jon Stewart. As it is currently constituted, it is one long, boring bridge to nowhere.

In Canada, the line of the night might have come from Jack Layton, who at one point blurted to Stephen Harper, "Where's your platform--in your sweater?"
"Burn!" my 15-year-old son shouted, suddenly engaged. Others may see Layton's strike as too glib, rehearsed or shrill ("an endless sound bite attack," as one Globe and Mail reader commented), but, dammit, this is television. Simon Cowell didn't become a household name for keeping his tongue in check.

Remember, this is the knock out televised debating blow all other leaders fear and admire:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Very Little Mosque Battered By Bones

Night Three of CBC's new season roll out and Allah was not pleased. Little Mosque on the Prairie's third season debut opened to 603,000, one of its lowest ratings ever. This despite all those faux Beatle posters and other ad incentives. Sophie returned for a second season of 20 new episodes with just 352,000 viewers.
The big winner in Canada Wednesday night was CTV's CSI: NY at 10 p.m. with 1,721,000 viewers. The more interesting contest was at 8, where the winner in total viewers was Global's Bones with 1,514,000 viewers. You'd never know it from CTV's ratings release, headlined, "CTV Buries Bones as So You Think You Can Dance Canada Captures Urban Audiences." Nationally, Bones rattled Dance, which drew 1,141,000. Dance, however, did beat Bones in key demos in T.O. and Vancouver.
CBC's big show of the night? Again, Jeopardy!, with 892,000 viewers.
Source: Preliminary overnight data, CTV Total, Global Total and CBC Total (BBM Nielsen Media Research).

Sophomore Jinx

Will Pushing Daisies soon be pushing daisies?
This whole Do-Over things isn't going that well for last September's rookies. While audiences on both sides of the border are flocking back for old favorites like CSI Miami, Grey's Anatomy, House and Desperate Housewives, it is a different story for shows launched last fall. Many promising Fall 2007 series, such as Pushing Daisies, Life and Chuck, and others that started strong, like Private Practice and Dirty Sexy Money, have stumbled into second seasons. These were the shows hardest hit by the writers strike, with what little momentum they could muster crushed by up to nine months of inactivity. Absence doesn't seem to have made viewers fonder for these shows.
Cases in point. the second season premiere of Pushing Daisies--a show generally embraced by critics--was down 53% year-to-year in the demo. That's according to the man who should know, Mediaweek's Programming Insider Marc Berman, who calls Daisies--gulp--"the Arrested Development of dramas." In the TV business, there is no great curse or compliment.
The fantasy/drama could only muster a fourth place 6.32 million viewers in the U.S. on ABC Wednesday, down a ton from the 13.03 who checked it out last Oct. 3.
It gets worse; as Berman points out, the show lost a fat chunk of viewers in its last half hour last night.
Private Practice, the Grey's Anatomy spin off, was also way down, drawing 8.05 million viewers at 9 p.m. on ABC. Last year it opened with 14.41 million viewers.
Other second year shows in trouble: Life (7.40 million), Dirty Sexy Money (7.14 million), Chuck (6.48 million), Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (5.40 million), Lipstick Jungle (5.31 million).
CTV must have seen this coming. They quietly slipped Daisies, Private Practice and Dirty Sexy Money over to A this season.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Global's Big House Owns Tuesday

House remains strong medicine in Canada, scoring 2,307,000 viewers last night, 860,000 more viewers than CTV's Criminal Minds (1,447,000).
That's almost twice what it pulls, proportionally, in the U.S., where it drew 12.66 million last night on Fox, losing in the timeslot to CBS's older-skewing NCIS (17.24 million viewers).
House's Canadian haul makes Tuesdays a tough night to open against but in charged CBC's Rick Mercer Report, still solid with 808,000 viewers. This Hour Has 22 Minutes (which opened last night with the Hockey Night in Canada theme--nice save) followed at 8:30 with 619,000 viewers. (All numbers total households, average minute audience overnight estimates from BBM/Nielsen.)
The interesting contest is at 9 p.m.: CTV's Dancing with the Stars results show (1,412,000) followed by Global's 90210 (847,000 viewers), which shades A channel's Fringe (808,000). In fourth place was the season premiere of CBC's The Tudors (651,000).
CBC's No. 1 show on the night was not Jeopardy! (839,000), as it was Monday night, but the CBC National News (852,000). Must be an election on or something.

Beyond the Palin

The next two nights could bring the comedy highlights of the new TV season. No, not the return of Little Mosque on the Prairie and Sophie on CBC (starting tonight at 8 p.m.). I'm talking the federal leaders debate in French (8 p.m., Radio Canada) and, tomorrow night, in English (CBC, CTV--AND on Global, despite what you might have read here earlier) as well as the vice presidential debates in the U.S. (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CNN, Fox News, PBS, 9 p.m.).
So which debate will Canadians watch tomorrow night--our leaders or the U.S. Veeps? There's no debate here. Even CBC News anchor Peter Mansbridge acknowledged last week at CBC's fall launch event that there's no way you can not not watch Palin. (He suggested a split screen might be in order.)
Think Republican running mate Sarah Palin isn't taking this debate seriously? Here's proof that she is getting battle ready for the big event.