Tuesday, November 24, 2009

CBC Puts Cherry on Full Winter Launch

The CBC has been getting a lot of practice at hosting press launches. There was one in September, another last month for the new News, and Tuesday the new programs for January and beyond were unveiled.
Everybody was basking in the glow of Battle of the Blades and Dragon's Den, two reality show hits that cracked the 2 million viewer threshold this fall. Blades won't return until next fall, but CBC programming boss Kirstine Stewart (above with returning daytime hosts Steven and Chris) was smart enough to double up on her Dragon's order, ensuring fresh episodes straight through until the NHL playoffs. (And, no, that's not a critic but a CBC Kids puppet in the above photo on the right.)
Stewart also took a bow for the gigantic leap in viewership for the CBC's No. 1 series--Hockey Night in Canada. Those new PPMs must stand for Power Play Minutes.
The event was held on the 10th floor of the CBC`s Toronto broadcast centre. Reporters were led through a corridor of white, antiseptic curtains before entering the large interview space (The Toronto Sun`s Bill Harris cracked that it looked like Dexter's "Death Room"). In the main space, white leather couches were arranged in stalls for scheduled chit chats with the stars of such new CBC offerings as 18 To Life, Republic of Doyle, the new murder mystery comedy Kids In The Hall: Death Comes To Town and a two-part TV-movie based on the life of one of CBC's biggest stars--Donald S. Cherry.
Grapes, looking sharp but dressed more like a Dragon's Den venture capitalist in conservative pin stripes, says he`s ready for winter now that he has four snow tires on his beauty 1982 Lincoln Mark IV. His son Tim wrote the TV-movie Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story and his dad says it is a no-holds barred, unblinking and at time unflattering portrait. It chronicles his not-so-great life as a career minor league hockey player before he finally broke through to the NHL as a coach. The real star of the deal and the most sympathetic character by far, he feels, is his late wife Rose.
Met the young actor who plays Grapes, Jared Keeso (above right, with Cherry), who clocked some time in Junior hockey. Grapes says the kid is way too good lookin' to play him, but Keeso stuck up for Cherry, saying from what he's observed, the man still seems to have it with the ladies. Tim spoke up and said forget looks, Keeso might be too good a hockey player to play his dad; that may have been the unkindest cut of all to the old man.
Cherry said he had a blast working Battle of the Blades last month as a judge, but said one guy associated with that show just isn't getting enough credit. "I know I'm going back on everything I've ever said about the guy, but Ron MacLean held that whole show together," sez Grapes. MacLean truly was the cool head who kept Blades on ice, so consider that oversight corrected here.
Ran into my new pal from St. John's, Allan Hawco, who says ten episodes are now in the can on Republic of Doyle. He also says its been bloody freezing out there on The Rock. C0-star Krystin Pellerin (The Tudors) also made the trip west from the Doyle set.

Had a lovely time chatting up two of the five Kids in the Hall, Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald; Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson were also in the house. (Thompson, above left with Foley and McDonald, doesn`t want people to think he was pinching heads like they used to do on their old sketch comedy series in the above photo). Foley explained who the greatest Christmas special ever--his 2002 True Meaning of Christmas Specials--isn't shown anymore: the dum-dum producers only secured music rights for the first three airings. The hour was outstanding, with one highlight being Foley as David Bowie singing a messed up version of that famous duet with Bing Crosby (SCTVer Joe Flaherty). Dave Thomas, as Bob Hope, was also a scream on that show, as was Jason Priestley as Santa Dude, surf guitar god Dick Dale, Jann Arden and others.
Oh yeah, the murder mystery: the Kids shot the six episode miniseries up in North Bay because the locals kicked in some coin. They all play a bunch of characters on the show. Foley is back in drag, and admits he's less of a hottie now, more of a cougar. Both he and McDonald said the whole process was far more fun and way less bickersome that things were in the old days.
Speaking of Christmas specials, chatted with former Michael Power-St. Joseph's alumni Cynthia Dale about her new holiday hour Christmas Dreams (airing Dec. 18). Dale sings and dances with Tom Cavanaugh, Ed Asner and Henry Czerny in the special. There's a small voice-over part for Santa toward the end; Dale says she asked this newsreader baritone she knows to make with the ho-ho-hos.
Not everything is coming up Christmas in CBC Land. All this new stuff will face stiff competition within weeks from CTV's wall-to-wall Olympic coverage. A couple of its scripted shows are underperforming. There was a clip of The Border in the CBC reel shown at the event, but I blinked and missed it. As endorsements go, it was right up there with Stephane Dion backing Michael Ignatieff.
The fate of 22 Minutes is clearly up in the air, too. Ratings are down and the steep drop off after the Rick Mercer Report is a worry. Tuesday's show was hyped as the return of Marg Delahunty (Mary Walsh); look for her gooning Sarah Palin at a U.S. book signing, we were told. Instead we saw security guards block Walsh from getting anywhere close to the former vice presidential candidate. Later Walsh was reduced to shouting at Palin from a loading dock. The whole shoot should have been scrapped. Instead, we saw the warrior princess not to the rescue, but rebuffed. Not good.
22 Minutes still has all winter to turn things around and the recent return of Shaun Majumder should help. But after 17 seasons, the clock appears to be ticking. What this show needs is a good winter-spring election.
Also on hand at the winter launch: new daytime cooking show host Kary Osmond, who passed along a TV dinner recipe to be featured here at TV Feeds My Family in a future post. Her Best Recipes Ever, pulled together with the aid of the Canadian Living test kitchen, premieres weekday afternoons starting January 4. Wendy Mesley looked smart in black net stockings which can only help promote Marketplace, back on Fridays for another 10 episodes. Gordon Pinsent and daughter Leah were both there to promote their all-star adaption of the stage play Love Letters (Jan. 31). Michael Seater and Peter Keleghan were gabbing about their new Monday night comedy 18 to Life (premiering Jan. 4).
Kudos to all the clipboard holding, headphone wearing gang at Media Profile for running a smooth winter launch event. There was plenty of access to the talent and everything was both friendly and efficient. Didn't get a chance to try the shepherd's pie but it looked pretty damn tasty.

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