Saturday, February 28, 2009

Running Guns Airs Sunday Night


If the voice narrating Shelley Saywell’s disturbing documentary Running Guns: A Journey Into The Small Arms Trade sounds familiar, it should. It belongs to Kiefer Sutherland, television’s freedom fighting vigilante, Jack Bauer.
The 24 star was in Africa last summer shooting 24: Redemption, the two-hour TV-movie which aired last November, when he was contacted by Toronto-born filmmaker Saywell to narrate Running Guns. The 70-minute documentary airs Sunday at 7:30 p.m. E.T. on History Television.
Narrating this documentary seems like some sort of penance for Sutherland, who, was Bauer, has shot down more people in the past seven seasons than 50 Dirty Harry movies. (Fox just announced that he'll be back to shoot 'em up again for an eighth season starting next January.)
Like Bauer, Saywell has had to stare down a few AK-47s in her career. Her previous documentaries have included Crimes of Honour, Kim’s Story: The Road from Vietnam and A Child’s Century of War, which was short-listed for an Academy Award. The Toronto-native and her tight little film crew was swarmed twice in Bosnia, forced at gunpoint to give up their flak jackets and other protective gear. I spoke with her this week about some of her experiences. Read the full CP story here.
Saywell suggests many of the small arms that were supposed to be destroyed in Bosnia wound up in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among the grim statistics in the film: there is one gun for every ten people on earth, eight million small arms are manufactured yearly and every year, enough bullets are made to kill every human twice.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Can Sex Save Being Erica?

For the first time, Being Erica has slipped below the "More People Live in Brampton" threshold. Only 419,000 watched Wednesday night across Canada, another new low for the series. (The 2006 census pegged Brampton's population at 433,806.)
Worse, only 176,000 of those viewers were in the 25-54-year-old range.
The rookie CBC fantasy drama has shed more than 10% of its audience a week since moving to Wednesdays three weeks ago, falling from 531,000 to 478,000 to 419,000. If that trend continues, Bleeding Erica will dip below the 400,000 mark next week.
It has also dipped below what the other CBC show launched in January, Wild Roses, draws.
Publicists have hit the panic button, selling next week's episode with the promise of girl on girl action. One of those "the following program contains nudity and sexuality" disclaimers is being posted at the start and in the middle of next Wednesday's show.
The tease promises more than it delivers. Erica jumps back in time to the turn of Y2K, when she had a brief flirtation with a former roommate, Cassidy (Anna Silk). She explores it for a few seconds, but then there's Ryan, and Aaron, and, well, pretty soon they'll have to call this show Being Young and Restless.
The scene has none of the provocative nudity of another show Erin Karpluk was on, The L-Word.
Just about every other show on Canadian screens was down Wednesday, too. The Week The Women Went drew 661,000 viewers, with just 208,000 of those 25-54. The CBC National News scored 685,000 with The Hour drawing 131,000 at 11.
CTV's American Idol, delayed a day due to U.S. president Barack Obama's televised address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, pulled a strong but not as mighty 1,948,000 estimated viewers according to BBM Canada "commercial" overnight numbers. CSI: New York was almost as robust at 10, drawing 1,812,000.
Global had a CBC kind of night (although Canwest stations do better in the demos), pulling 616,000 for Bones, 429,000 for Life and 297,000 for Life on Mars.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ratings: Rick Mercer Gets High With Hazel

Hurricane Hazel McCallion helped storm the Rick Mercer Report to a seasonal high, scoring 1,289,000 viewers last night. The 88-year-old Mississauga mayor was the latest Canadian icon to goose Mercer's numbers, with both Nancy Green (1,262,000 in January) and Don Cherry (1,169,000 in November) also driving the weekly CBC comedy series to new heights.
Getting a big lift in Mercer's wake was This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which drew 904,000 viewers across Canada last night (BBM Canada overnight "commercial" estimates). Fans caught another ambush by "single female voter" Geri Hall (gooning Peter Mansbridge post-Obama) as well another bizarre visit from young Nathan Fielder.
Fielder, who I ran in to last week in Toronto at the taping of the upcoming YTV sketch comedy series That's So Weird, has carved out a niche as 22 Minutes most comically comatose correspondent. The kid cracks me up, with last night's bit finding him deadpanning his way through some kooky ad for "people." Fielder is either taking deconstructed comedy to a whole new level or just always arrives too late to each taping to fully think things through. Either way, he's hilarious.
The 8 p.m. comedy block also lifted CBC's new horsey drama Wild Roses to 516,000 viewers, out performing fellow CBC rookie Being Erica's take from last week. Look for CBC to switch Erica behind Mercer any day now.
Other Tuesday night numbers: Jeopardy! 1,001,000 (although just 303,000 25-54-year-olds), CBC National News 733,000, The Hour 108,000.
With Obama hogging the airwaves south of the border, American Idol-less CTV had to make do with repeats of Crinimal Minds (881,000), another Criminal Minds (1,414,000) and Law & Order SVU (1,157,000). CTV's "Total" numbers will be slightly higher.
Global had the highest 2+ number for the night, courtesy stealth hit NCIS (1,517,000) but also two of the lowest, 90210 (283,000) and Project Runway Canada (363,000, although a hearty 234,000 of those viewers were in the 25-54-year-old demo). Streamers and iPod viewers rejoice and the rest of us go "huh?": 90210 was just renewed Stateside for another CW season.
Tonight, unlucky Erica gets to go up against that delayed American Idol episode. Yikes!
As for this week's CHML Talk Radio podcast with Scott Thompson, the Academy Awards are dissected one last time, rumours about Canwest selling off chunks of specialty channels to Astral and others are discussed as if we knew something and there's more late night blah blah blah with Letterman hosting U2 all next week and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon premiering Monday. You can listen in here, then go check out Thompson's spiffy new website Scott Thompson Talk here.

ION Has Their Eye On Canada with Border Sale

What's an ION? It used to be called the PAX network, showing reruns of peace loving shows like Touched By An Angel and Highway to Heaven. Soon, the U.S. cable network will be home to two gun-toting Canadian made productions: CBC's The Border and Global's The Guard.
It's taken a while for The Border to land a U.S. sale, with some speculating that an anti-American bias in early episodes of the Toronto-based homeland security series set back that process. On the other hand, it probably helped spur other international sales (the action hour is licensed in the U.K., Italy, Germany, France, South Korea and several other countries), although an American deal is still the ultimate "Ca-CHING!" for most Canadian productions.
CTV certainly has enjoyed tremendous success with their co-production deals with CBS (Flashpoint and just announced The Bridge) and The Listener (coming soon to CTV and NBC). ION is no CBS or NBC (it was dismissed as an infomercial network a few years ago after NBC Universal severed ties with the network), but getting a foot in the U.S. door should boost the cast and crew of The Border as they head into production on a third CBC season. Whether any U.S. buy can save Global's The Guard at this point is another question.
ION is on a bit of a Canadian buying spree, having announced last month that it is adding the Canadian specialty series Durham Country to its schedule. In the past, PAX piggy backed on a couple of CTV produced shows: Sue Thomas: FBI and Doc.
ION says The Border and The Guard will start airing Stateside later this year. ION CEO Brandon Burgess sees them as a good fit with their current reruns of NCIS and Criminal Minds, and he's probably right.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

House Keeps Global Alive On Monday

House is the one thing keeping the House that Izzy built in business. A new episode of the Fox import drew nearly 2.5 million Monday at 8, a nice robust score for the financially troubled Canwest network. Global's Monday take included a strong return on 24 (1,243,000) and another weak outing at 10 for Heroes (572,000).
While House is good for what ails Global it's killing the competition. Monday's post Oscar ratings continue to show a troubling softening among Canadian comedy shows. CBC's Little Mosque on the Prairie (560,000) and especially Sophie (205,000, with just 93,000 25-54-year-old viewers according to BBM NMR overnight estimates) are down week to week. Just For Laughs (315,000) is pulling half what Being Erica was averaging on Monday night before it was moved--unsuccessfully, so far--to Wednesdays.
Meanwhile, CBC's National News dipped dramatically Monday, to just 462,000 viewers. The Hour at 11 was also down sharply, to just 87,000 Strombo fans across Canada.
CBC's big 2+ winner Monday was, once again, early prime favorite Jeopardy! with 1,048,000 viewers, although just 297,000 of them are in the 25-54-year-old demo. That's about what CTV comedy import Gary Unmarried pulled demo-wise Monday (281,000) out of a total of 443,000 viewers.
In the post-Oscar entertainment show wars, CTV's eTalk (519,000) shaded Global's ET Canada (491,000), although Global, as usual, fared better in the demos as well as the bigger cities. CTV's big winners Monday night were Two and a Half Men (1,262,000), and a repeat of CSI: Miami (1,154,000). A new episode of Corner Gas slipped under the million mark for the second week in a row, managing just 818,000 "commercial' viewers (all CTV numbers will be slightly higher on the CTV "Total" audience score).
Look for Gas to leap back up over the million mark for its 100th episode, airing March 2. The plot: the people of Dog River try to give up TV for a week. Have they lost their minds? Just seven new episodes remain until the six-year-old Canadian success story signs off for good.

Tonight: McCallion Takes Mercer for a Ride

Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion steals the show as The Rick Mercer Report returns tonight with the first new episode in three weeks. Her honor is 88 and can still kick Rick's ass on- or off-the ice, in the gym or even in the (bowling) alley as she demonstrates in the fun episode.
No wonder she's ruled the west Toronto suburb for 30 years. Keeping a lid on property taxes for much of that time--take note, Brampton--didn't hurt, either. Read more about the Mercer/McCallion encounter here in the Mississauga News.
Mercer has a shot at a season high rating mark tonight with U.S. channels covering Barack Obama's State of the Union-style address before a joint session of Congress. The U.S. network schedule clearer doesn't actually begin until 9 p.m., but the all news networks will be spinning it for hours beforehand. Andy Ryan had the lowdown--including the kooky CNN countdown clock--in today's Globe and Mail.
In keeping with Obama's "Yes We Can" new media policy, the address will also be streamed live at Hulu.com, which is posting the Fox feed. Canadians, normally gro-blocked to Hulu content, will be able to access the presidential address, which can also be called up on demand later tonight.

Final numbers are in Stateside for Sunday's Oscarfest and the big shew did even better than initially reported. Marc Berman writes in today's Mediaweek "Programming Insider" column that the fast nationals show ABC averaged 36.3 million viewers, making it the most watched entertainment show Stateside since the 2007 Academy Awards. It was also up 22% among men 18-34, so look for Seth Rogan and James Franco to be invited back next year. Also up Stateside was E!'s red carpet coverage as well as ABC's red carpet coverage.
Finally, City-TV--home to the new Jay Leno show and getting more aggressive under Rogers ownership--just announced that they have snapped up several high profile mid-season replacements. Among them are Parks and Recreation, the new title for the Amy Poehler/Greg Daniels NBC project. The pseudo-documentary-style comedy begins April 9 at 8:30 p.m. Critics were each given a copy of the pilot script at press tour in January, and it is funny as hell.
City-TV also picked up the ABC series In The Motherhood, which boasts an impressive cast, including Meagan Mullally, Cheryl Hines and Horatio Sanz. That show starts March 26 at 8 p.m. (E.T.). Bob Saget and Cynthia Stevenson headline Surviving Suburbia, another ABC sitcom premiering April 6 at 9:30. The funny new Winnipeg comedy Less Than Kind returns to City March 9 at 9, and Melissa DiMarco's trippy late night dramedy Out There debuts on City March 6 at 10 p.m.
A year ago, you would have expected CTV to have snapped up half of these shows (especially the ABC/Disney ones) and stuck them on the shelf in that damn-the-expenses game of keep away they played so well. Global might have bought one or two but they're selling everything not nailed down these days.
With the Canadian networks crying poor and back begging the CRTC for carriage fee coin, throwing money on every shiny thing for sale south of the border may no longer be cool. Talk of a U.S. content cap is also heating up in CRTC circles. The winner in the short term in Rogers, who need to break City out of its OMNI3 funk. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 23, 2009

CTV, ABC Up With Oscar

Did hard times play a factor in Sunday's Oscar bounce? Despite the lack of blockbuster contenders and a rookie host, ratings for the Academy Awards was up on both sides of the border. Good news (finally), broadcast
ers. Seems people are doing what they do when times are tough--staying home and watching television.
In Canada, The 81st Annual Academy Awards once again ranks as the No. 1 broadcast of the year, ahead of CTV's Super Bowl and other sports coverage. CTV says they pulled 4.5 million viewers according to BBM/NMR overnight estimates (4.424 tuned in last year). Another 2.8 million caught CTV's simulcast of the ABC Oscar pre-show.
The U.S. score was up about 6%, with 33.57 million ABC viewers tuning in between 8:30 and 11 p.m. according to overnight estimates. Last year--the lowest rated Oscar ever--drew 32.01 million.
The Amazing Race got left in the Oscar dust in the U.S., scoring a less than amazing 7.83 million viewers on CBS. (Odd that CBS wasted a new episode of the reality show opposite the Oscars.) CTV--which needed an Oscar night fix because Global had Barbara Walters--was able to keep Race hot in Canada by jamming it between its red carpet coverage and the Oscar pre-show special. That doubled the Race score proportionally, toward the million-and-a-half mark.
In the battle of the red carpets, CTV's eTalk beat Canwest's E coverage nationally (604,100 to 429,500) but the Oscar network surprisingly ranked second to E in the 18-49-year-old demo and was a distant second in both households and demo in Toronto--almost as if the eTalk host was some kind of audience repellent!
Other Sunday numbers: Global managed to pull 800,000 with Barbara Walters and her Jonas brothers chat. CBC scored 656,000 with another Miss Marple movie opposite the awards.
CBC's big score came on Saturday night, as Leaf fans flocked back to see Mats Sundin return to the ACC on Hockey Night in Canada. An estimated 1,833,000 saw the Leafs/Canucks game. Numbers in the 500,000-800,000 tuned in for the afternoon and evening Hockey Day in Canada tilts.

Jackman, Oscars Put On A Show

Oscar put on the right show for the right times Sunday night. Gone was the cynicism and edge that has fallen flat in recent years. Instead, led by straight ahead host Hugh Jackman, these were the singing, dancing, Yes We Can Academy Awards, less of an Oscar show and more of a good old fashioned Hollywood variety show.
Perhaps it was because of lowered expectations but I thought Jackman did a great job as host. He didn't try to be a standup comedian, which was smart--even Jon Stewart and Chris Rock have struggled at recent Oscarcasts. The opening number--often all that matters when you are hosting this deal--was fun and lively, with Anne Hathaway in all her plucked-from-the-audience, Nixon victory sign glory. (All photographs courtesy ABC.) Jackman's hilarious song and dance goof on not seeing The Reader was cheeky and clever and had to have hit home with millions of viewers who hadn't seen it either.
Here's how good the show was: I stopped blogging and just watched about halfway through it. The producers had poured themselves into the details and I didn't want to miss anything.
Little things made all the difference. When Steve Martin and Tina Fey came on to present in the writing categories (including to Slumdog winner Simon Beaufoy), the writing was sharp! So were the on screen effects, the script lines that appeared on screen as the two presenters read them, the scene choices, all the visuals.
Later, transforming the mammoth set at the Kodak Theater into the inside of an old Hollywood sound stage while several set design and craft awards were being presented was pretty damn impressive. The whole theming of the evening, taking viewers through the various stages of making a film through the categories themselves was a smart choice, made all the more impressive by the generally spot on execution. This was a very ambitious live show, which is exactly what the Academy Awards should be.
I even liked the way that, throughout the evening, five Hall of Fame, former Oscar winners took the stage to affirm each of the five nominees in the acting categories. Yes, it slowed the show down and ran the risk of being cheesy and maudlin. And Sophia Loren should probably stop trying to look 40 when she's closer to 80. (It looked like her head was grafted onto somebody else's body last night with her necklace covering up the stitches.) But the emotions were genuine and the torch was passed when Robert De Niro was saluting Sean Penn and when Shirley MacLaine was championing Hathaway. With the cameras right up in the face of Robert Downey, Kate Winslet and others, you shared the impact of the moment. It sure beat somebody just standing there and reading names off a TelePrompTer when it comes to emotional wallop.
That camera work shone again during the acceptance of the Best Supporting Actor Award from Heath Ledger's family. Lot of teary-eyed closeups of actors and actresses who still can't quite believe that the dude is gone.
Thrusting the theatre audience closer to the stage also took away the separation for viewers at home. You really felt like you were at that show rather than just watching it.
It was nice, too. how nobody was rushed off stage when it came to the acceptance speeches. Sure, this added to the length of the show--nearly three-and-a-half hours--but it seemed worth it. You had to be happy for director Danny Boyle and all those Slumdog Millionaire people, who kept finding new ways to be gracious and humble in the midst of all their good fortune. "There are certain places you never imagine standing," said the writer for Slumdog. "The moon, the south pole, the Miss Universe pageant and here." Best actress winner Winslet did imagine herself there, telling viewers about accepting while holding a shampoo bottle in front of a bathroom mirror when she was eight. It was an image we all could smile at because, at some point, we have all done it.
The comedy that did intrude, for the most part, was as fresh as the evening's overall format. Ben Stiller (right, with Natalie Portman) killed as gum chewing, darkly unaware Joaquin Phoenix. The bit with Seth Rogan and James Franco sitting around goofing on the clips was pure Judd Apatow and thus very cool and au courant. Hilarious to see the two of them laughing their heads off at Doubt and Franco's pothead character from Pineapple Express get all verklempt at watching the clip from Milk.
Less funny was presenter Bill Maher, who came off as bitter about being snubbed in the doc category for his film Religulous. Two of the least funny guys on stage all night were--wait for it--Jerry Lewis and Eddie Murphy. Lewis's acceptance of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award seemed a bit sad. Hard to see Jerry Lewis get old, I guess.
The "In Memoriam" sequence was handled with class, with Queen Latifah doing a beautiful rendition of "I'll Be Seeing You" over clips featuring the likes of Paul Newman, Charleton Heston and Richard Widmark. Will Smith was perfectly cast as the guy to present the sound and editing awards and cue the action clips. Those clips were so well edited, with the sequence flowing like they all were part of the same amazing action movie.
The evening wasn't perfect. Penn couldn't resist getting on his Liberal high horse during his acceptance speech, although he did acknowledge that he'd made it tough to embrace him over the years. We were cheated out of the spectacle of seeing Mickey Rourke thank his dead dog, or Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie in some sort of Dynasty-like, hair-pulling, pool tossing fit on the red carpet.
Another pet peeve: CTV seemed a bit too fast on the trigger cutting away from the show at every opportunity to squeeze in 40 or 50 more L'Oreal "double extended beauty tube"ads. (I like how "lash dramatization" gets to substitute for "we've faked this beyond belief, mascara wearers.").
Still, this is nit picking. Sunday's ABC Oscarfest was a winner, as charming and delightful as that crazy French dude Philippe Petit, the Man On Wire who walked between the two World Trade Center towers and was on stage to help accept the prize for last night's documentary win. He need not have made that coin disappear--Hollywood already knows how to do that. But balancing Oscar on his chin--that was a cool trick, one the producers of last night's show pulled off with equally remarkable elan.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

ABC Bracing for Lowest-rated Oscarcast Ever

With few blockbusters in the mix, little drama about the outcome and an untested, non comic host (Hugh Jackman), Sunday's Academy Award telecast is shaping up to be the lowest rated ever.
Who thinks so? Advertisers, for one. As reported in Mediaweek, two ad giants, L'Oreal Paris and troubled automaker General Motors, have pulled out of the telecast, leaving ABC scrambling to sell 6-8 spots just a week before the event.
This for a showcase that traditionally attracts one of the biggest TV audiences of the year. Yet with the economy in the tank, ABC, according to Mediaweek, has slashed its ratecard 18% for this year's Oscar telecast.
To make matters worse, the show is not exactly on a roll. Viewership, especially in the younger demos, is down dramatically. Last year's Oscars hit a historic low in the U.S., with 31.76 million viewers tuning in, down from 39.9 million the year before (and down 24% in the 18-49-year-old demo). The year Titanic won, in 1998, 55.2 million viewers tuned in.
Last year's winner, by the way, was No Country For Old Men. Slumdog Millionaire is the heavy favourite to take the Best Picture prize this year.
The one picture that might have pulled Oscar out of its slump (especially among younger viewers), is hardly in the mix: The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger will win for Best Supporting Actor, but there are no other bat-nominations to take advantage of that $1 billion worldwide box office buzz.
One place the Academy Awards still seems to pack a punch is Canada. Last year, 4.424 million viewers tuned in, ranking it ahead of CTV's 2008 Super Bowl broadcast. In the U.S., Super Bowl beats Oscar by a 3-1 score.
The 81st Annual Academy Awards begins Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. and ends 16 hours later. CTV is attempting to sandwich an episode of still amazingly popular The Amazing Race (7.p.m.) between their eTalk red carpet coverage (6 p.m. E.T.) and ABC's Oscar pre-show simulcast (8 p.m.). There's also an afternoon full of butt-numbing, eTalk Follows Hugh Jackman to the Kodak Theater Bathroom specials all Sunday afternoon on Star, A, FashionTelevision, GiddyFix, Fecan! and 45 other CTV specialty channels.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Jay Walking Over to Rogers' Citytv

Rogers confirmed yesterday what had been speculated for weeks: that its City TV stations have picked up NBC's radical, five nights a week primetime broadcasts of the up coming Jay Leno Show.
Leno stripped at 10 p.m. is a cheap fix for a Canadian schedule that could use a boost at that hour. Aside from the still potent Hell's Kitchen (which I'm sure they'll find room for at an earlier hour), City's 10 p.m. schedule in Toronto is filled with shows no one will ever miss, including NBC's Dateline and a few hours that are just a notch about being infomercials.
Being the Leno at 10 station is an affordable, easy to grasp alternative for Rogers, which has City stations in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg. It's a gamble (especially for NBC), but one that comes with a cheaper price tag than paying to import five different dramas or even reality shows or, hell, something as radical as actually making a show yourself.
The upside is that Leno could do better than everybody thinks he will. Count on those first few weeks to be stacked with big name guests and hot bands. This show will make some noise when it premieres in August, traditionally a quiet month for other broadcasters.
There was never any chance CTV would bid on Leno, with its schedule already packed with 10 p.m. winners. Even their A channel has big American shows like Without a Trace and Private Practice. Global might have looked at it, but they have deals in place for shows like Heroes and Numb3rs on the main network and are probably committed to cheap distractions like Snoop Dog and Kimora on E (stations they're desperately trying to unload, anyway).
Rogers has nothing to lose betting on Leno, a guy you should never bet against. The "but" is that his Tonight Show, which currently airs on A channels in Canada, has never been the dominant late night player north of the border that it is in the U.S.
Looking at any weeknight numbers (Thurs., Feb. 12, for example). Here is how the talk/comedy shows stack up in the greater Toronto market (2+ overnight audience estimates, BBM/NMR data):
The Daily Show (CFTO, 12:05) 104,000
The Colbert Report (CFTO, 12:35) 63,000
The Tonight Show (CKVR, 11:35) 38,000
Late Show with David Letterman (OMNI1, 11:35) 31,000
The Hour (CBLT, 11 p.m.): 27,000
Conan O'Brien (CKVR, 12:37) 16,000
Jimmy Kimmel Live (CITY, 12:05) 2,000
For fans of Conan O'Brien, a reminder that tonight is his 2,725th and last Late Night show (12:37 a.m., NBC and A). The final week has been terrific, with great clips from past sketches, including Triumph gooning Star Wars nerds in New York, Conan in Finland and O'Brien's surreal visit with Hunter S. Thompson. He heads for L.A. now to prepare for his Tonight Show takeover, which premieres June 1. Read more about O'Brien's farewell in The Canadian Press report I filed here as well as in this report from The New York Times' Bill Carter.
CTV's A channel will stick with Late Night with Jimmy Fallon when it premieres March 2. Robert De Niro and Van Morrison are booked as opening night guests.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Beating Erica

How low can she go? Being Erica was down to 478,000 viewers last night, a new low for the second week in a row. That switch to Wednesday was supposed to give Erica a boost behind the more compatible female skewing reality series The Week The Women Went (720,000 last night). Instead, Erica continues to stumble dangerously close to the "more people live in Brampton" benchmark,.drawing just 196,000 25-54-year-olds across Canada last night.
This despite a constant barrage of on air promos for the series. Promo spots for Wednesdays episode began airing immediately after the previous Wednesday night episode ended and continued all week.
Erica is getting clobbered by a monster night of U.S. imports on CTV. More than 2,159,000 (once the CTV "Total" audience is added to the BBM/NMR overnight "commercial" estimates) saw the first three finalists named on American Idol last night. Criminal Minds (2.089,000) and CSI: New York (1.968,000) were almost as strong.
Global was competitive early in the evening with Bones (1,021.000), rookie drama Lie To Me (724,000) and the critically acclaimed but low-rated Life on Mars (334,000) in the mix.
Is all Lost for Erica on Wednesday nights? Being up against Lost on CTV's A channels is part of Being Erica's dilemma. In Toronto last night, the ABC drama drew 158,000 viewers opposite Erica's 109,000. Another 70,000 caught it on WKBW for a combined Lost tally of 228,000, second only to CTV's Idol in the timeslot. In Vancouver, the A affiliate scores 189,000 Lost viewers to CBC's 49,000 Erica take.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Analog Jam

Miss those analog signals much? This week’s big signal scamarama is the hot topic on my weekly radio chat with CHML’s Scott Thompson. Yup, the U.S. gov’t has auctioned off the old analog TV signals they forced stations to give up for $19 billion dollars. Nineteen BILLION!!! That’s almost enough to float a Chrysler bail out! You can listen in here as long as you have a digital thingamajig.
Which brings us to Wednesday's Mother Goose and Grimm cartoon from Mike Peters (found at Grimmy.com):

Mansbridge Scores One On One With Obama

How much is ten minutes with U.S. president Barack Obama worth? Last night it was worth 1,082,000 viewers to The CBC National News.
CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge's experience and story sense showed as he tackled that toughest of assignments--ten minutes with a red hot media superstar on their turf. Add all those White House security clearances and it was a wonder he could remember his own name. Yet Mansbridge went right after Obama, asking the questions Canadians most wanted to hear answered.
Watching you couldn't help wonder--couldn't this guy handle Thursday's prime minister/presidential meeting instead of Harper? If you missed it, the whole interview can be viewed in the YouTube clip posted below:

With a minimum of fuss and words Mansbridge set up tomorrow's Ottawa summit and zeroed in on the main issues. It is hard to get candid, off-message responses in that 10 minute trap and Obama didn't blurt anything surprising or new (although he did seem to know where Burlington, Ont., is located). He simply answered the questions as directly as they were put to him. Mansbridge has the gravitas for the assignment but has lost none of that all important curiosity and sense of opportunity. When it is Go-Time, Mansbridge proved once again that he is our go-to news guy.
Other notable Tuesday numbers for Canadian productions: CBC's Wild Roses lasooed 420,000 and Global's Project Runway Canada drew 378,000 (BBM/NMR overnight commercial estimates). Mercer and 22 Minutes were in repeats.
The night's big winner, as usual, was CTV's American Idol (2,238,000 plus when you top it off with CTV's BBM "Total" score). Global's NCIS (1,491,000) and CTV's Law & Order: SVU (1,477,000+) grabbed most of what is left Tuesday night.

Gas Shortage Now Official

Gas has finally gone down in recent weeks. No, not at the pump (although why not? The barrel price keeps dropping). I'm talking ratings for CTV's soon-to-depart sitcom Corner Gas.
A new episode scored 782,000 Total CTV viewers this Monday night according to BBM/NMR overnight estimates.
That would make Monday's episode the first original to miss that million mark in the series' six year history.
Bouncing Gas back and forth between 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. hasn't helped this season. Announcing it is over may have affected the total too. Not that long ago, Corner Gas was the highest rated sitcom--American or Canadian--on Canadian TV. Monday it lost a fat chunk off it`s Two and a Half Men lead (1,162,000 in the BBM "commercial" tally; slightly higher in the CTV "total").
The big winner Monday night was a red hot House at 8, with Global scoring 2,421,000 viewers thanks to the cranky MD. They saw another fine episode, especially the final minutes, with Hugh Laurie providing a sweet piano accompaniment to scenes of love and tenderness on the Cuddy and Thirteen front.
Across Canada, House hammered CTV's CBS comedies Big Bang Theory (612,000) and Gary Unmarried (329,000+).
Global has a big night overall, with 24 pulling 1,223,000 at 9 following House. Heroes at 10 sank to 577,000 viewers against a repeat of CSI: Miami on CTV (1,224,000+).
CBC had a typical Monday with Little Mosque (616,000), Sophie (286,000) and Just for Laughs (482,000) all dropping off after Jeopardy! (940,000).
Siphoning off Gas viewers Monday night is City-TV's suddenly hot again The Bachelor. It finished second to 24 in the Toronto market at 9:30 with 289,000 viewers, well ahead of Corner Gas's "commercial" Toronto total of 127,000.

This Week: Curtains For Conan O'Brien

History was made last night on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Yes, they froze The Masterbating Bear.
In carbonite, the same thing they did to Hans Solo in that Star Wars movie.
Putting the bear on ice is just one of the things O'Brien is doing as he brings his series to a close. There are just three shows to go on O'Brien's Late Night, which began Sept. 13, 1993 and wraps Friday after more than 2000 episodes.
There's a nice zany feel to these last few shows reminiscent of O'Brien's outstanding solo efforts about a year ago during the writers strike. Last night, for example, Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert stopped by to steal O'Brien's invisible puppet strings (invoked during his nightly "puppet dance" art the top of his monologue). The two then engaged in a puppet string dance off. Last week, frequent guest Alec Baldwin stopped by and, since this was his final Late Night booking, he asked to be killed off. O'Brien obliged as seen in this CelebTV YouTube clip:



O'Brien has also started breaking off chunks of his set and handing them out to the studio audience. He even put pony tailed announcer Joel Goddard out with the trash last night.
These last shows feature plenty of sketches from the past, including a few peeks at O'Brien's phenomenal visit to Toronto in 2005 when he took the city by storm. Last night O'Brien ran his 2003 summit with the late great author Hunter S. Thompson, conducted in upstate New York over hard drinks and machine guns at Thompson's insistence.
I had the great pleasure to sit in O'Brien's studio audience several times over the years and it was the best hour you could spend in New York. Get a glimpse of O'Brien singing "The End Of The Show Song," his nightly salute to his studio audience, on view over at Late Night Underground.
O'Brien has to be relieved that this final week is here, however. He won't be taking much of a break, if any, he told me last month at the TCA press tour. He'll be off to L.A. for rehearsals in his brand new Tonight Show studio, built for him on the Universal lot. At press tour, O'Brien said there were still plenty of details to work out before he takes over Tonight in June. Still unclear is whether Bruce Springsteen drummer Max Weinberg and the Max Weinberg 7 will be relocating with O'Brien to Los Angeles. Stuff like The Masturbating Bear may be history as O'Brien moves to the earlier hour, although look for Triumph The Insult Comedy Dog to keep right on barking.
For now, watch O'Brien exit laughing (12:35 a.m., NBC and A). "If I knew it was going to be this exciting," he cracked last night, "I would have left years ago."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Flashpoint Picks Off Dollhouse

Flashpoint continues to be the success story in Canadian drama. According to overnight estimates, the Toronto-lensed sniper series pulled 1,292,000 Total CTV viewers this past Friday at 9, the highest score of the night. CTV's Ghost Whisperer was second overall with 1,184,000 viewers at 8. CBC's Rick Mercer repeat drew 599,000, with Marketplace kicking in another 665,000 at 8:30. Global`s fading Howie Do It snared 459,000.
Caught in the Flashpoint crosshairs was Dollhouse, which premiered to 526,000 at 9 on Global. The one bit of good news for Global was that the new series did relatively well in the 18-49-year-old demo, especially in Calgary (where it beat Flashpoint), Toronto and Vancouver.
The new Joss Whedon sci-fi drama drew 4.73 million Friday on Fox, which was up over a million viewers from its Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles lead but still nothing to get re-programmed about. Flashpoint`s CBS number Friday, for example, was more than twice that at 9.02 million.
At 10, Global's Numb3rs (746,000) beat CTV's U.S. cable import Raising The Bar (529,000).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Signals! 17-02-09, Hike! Hike!

Hey, who turned out the lights? Today's the day Uncle Sam starts pulling the plug on analog, over the air transmissions. What that means is that if you live in the States and still pull TV signals off an antenna or rabbit ears on an older TV set, you'll be looking at a screen full of snow.
Except now just some of your TV signals are getting snuffed. The U.S. Congress has bowed to pressure to push back the absolute cut off date until June 12 (at which time they'll probably push it back again).
Still, around 500 U.S. stations--about one quarter of the total--are sticking with today's cut off date. Some of those are border stations that affect Canadian analog households. The ones closes to Toronto, for example, are: Buffalo WUTV (Fox) Rochester; WUHF (Fox); and Syracuse WNYS-TV (MyN). There are several more U.S. stations shutting down their analog signals today around Montreal and Vancouver. See AP's complete list of stations here.
The CRTC has set Aug. 31, 2011 as the Canadian digital conversion date, but even Canadians will lose the signals from the border stations who are going through with the shut down today.
If you are already a cable or satellite subscriber, or own a set built after March 1, 2007, you are already digital and you won't be affected by any of the analog shut downs.
This switch is being sold as a technology upgrade, the path to better sound and pictures. While that is true, the reason it is being mandated and not just market driven is money. Read Time magazine's take on it here.
The change was mandated through legislation passed by Congress in 2005 as part of "the Deficit Reduction Act." Some of the old signals will be used to provide an improved emergency broadcast system. The rest were auctioned off to the highest bidder, with Verizon and AT&T, among others, paying $19 billion for those supposedly fuzzy, broken down old UHF analog signals. Uncle Sam pocketed the coin. Now do you see what this is really all about?
According to a Nielsen survey released last week, 5.8 million households, or 5.1% of all U.S. homes, are still not digital ready. About a billion-and-a-half was set aside for coupons for folks in the States to run out and buy new digital set top boxes (no such program was set up or exists here). And forget about it, cross border shoppers. Those coupons are long gone.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Tribe Has Spoken

Don't snuff out that Global tiki torch just yet. Survivor roared back for the 18th time, bringing 2,008,000 viewers last night to Global according to BBM/NMR overnight commercial estimates.
The new edition, Survivor Tocantins, is the second to be broadcast in high definition and damn if those breathtaking Brazilian vistas don't look amazing. Why Mark Burnett waited eight years to spring for a few high def cameras is beyond me.
Make no mistake: this is Global's immunity idol. Although CTV's top rated Grey's Anatomy beat Survivor last night in total households (2,217,000 in the "commercial" tally, probably 40,000 more when you add CTV's "total" score) and in the demo nationally (1,218,000 vs. 1,116,000), hardy Survivor still reigns as the 25-54-year-old demo king in Toronto (330,000 vs. Grey's 269,000-plus).
Otherwise CTV had its usual strong Thursday sweep. CSI (1,880,000) and ER (1,508,000) crushed The Office (543,000), Da Kink in My Hair (160,000) and The Unit (276,000) on Global and Nature of Things (570,000) and Doc Zone (434,000) on CBC.
In the U.S., both Grey's and Survivor turned up on a Top-10 list we'll likely see a whole lot more of in the coming weeks: the top shows streamed at U.S. network web sites. Here's Neilsen's initial web Top-10, courtesy's today's Programming Insider:
Lost (ABC.com): 1.42 million
Saturday Night Live (NBC.com): 1.11
Grey's Anatomy (ABC.com): 879,000
Desperate Housewives (ABC.com): 723,000
Heroes (NBC.com): 685,000
Ugly Betty (ABC.com): 631,000
Samantha Who? (ABC.com): 560,000
Scrubs (ABC.com): 519,000
Survivor (CBS.com): 496,000
True Beauty (ABC.com): 462,000

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Being Moved Didn't Help Being Erica

Call it The Week The Women Went when Erica came on. Despite a massive promotional campaign, a new night didn't add any bounce to Being Erica. The CBC fantasy/drama drew 531,000 last night, it's smallest audience yet (according to BBM/NMR overnight estimates). Worse, only 194,000 of those viewers were in the 25-54-year-old demo.
CBC made the move to take advantage of a stronger lead-in: The Week The Women Went. The reality series, which topped a million two weeks ago, was not quite as robust as usual last night, drawing 716,000, but that is still two to three times the audience for Erica's done like dinner Monday night lead-in, Sophie.
Shifting Erica out of Monday's highly competitive slot was also supposed to get it away from big draws like Two and a Half Men, The Bachelor and 24. Instead, it had to fight for attention last night against CTV's mighty American Idol (2,249,000). CTV went on to own Wednesday with CSI: New York at 10 (1,902,000 total CTV viewers)
Erica's total is also well off the 736,000 who watched the Fifth Estate in that same CBC time slot one week earlier. Estate actually did better than Women Went last week.
It wasn't like CBC didn't promote the switch to a new night. Erica`s move to Wednesday was better promoted than Obama`s economic recovery plan. The episode seemed especially geared to Erica's core audience of young women, with scenes of dudes stripped to the waist and even an ass shot ramping up the sex appeal. There was plenty of drama last night, too, with Erica (Erin Karpluk) sweating over whether or not to spill the beans to her sister that the guy she was about to wed was a no-good cad.
Unfortunately, the episode was more than half over before Erica jumped back in time to wreck her sister's wedding. Getting to the "trick" is taking too long on this show, which, I'll say it again, is a half hour too long.
It's not like there was a ton of competition last night on Global. Life (that's still on?) drew just 467,000, although it beat Erica in the demo (239,000). Lie to Me at 8 scored 501,000, honest.
The other fallout from the Erica move was reflected in last night's lower numbers for The National, which drew 716,000 viewers. Last week, following the more compatible Fifth Estate, it was up over a million.
It is the middle of February, and CBC must have their Erica renewal release typed and ready to drop. But a lower score with Erica's replacement Just for Laughs Monday at 9, a lower score with Erica Wednesday at 9 and lower news numbers has to have CBC execs scratching their heads. One week does not a season make and any time you move a show, you risk shedding viewers, but where is that young female audience that Erica seemed so poised to deliver? Wasn't this the show promoted (before it even aired once) as the show everyone was talking about?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wanted: A Saviour For CHCH

Who the heck is going to buy Canwest's E stations, including my fave, Hamilton's historic CHCH? News broke last week that the E's were on the block. A few years ago, CTV and Canwest were throwing billions at TV properties. Now, well let's just say it's not a seller's market.
Hamilton Talk Radio's Scott Thompson got into this with me today on CHML. You can listen in here.
The first independent TV station in Canada, CHCH began as a CBC affiliate in 1954. Back in the '70s and '80s, it was an important player in Canada's largest market, simulcasting American hits like Love Boat and Knots Landing while offering a blockbuster line up of feature films and made-for-TV-movies. Then there were all those fun, eccentric home grown local productions, Party Game, Tiny Talent Time, Hilarious House of Frightenstein, Smith & Smith, The Comedy Mill and the original Red Green Show. The little station on Jackson Street really cranked out the Cancon.
In the early '80s, it was Canada's superstation, the lone independent on the Cancom satellite menu. For a great overview of 'CH's rise and fall, check out this comprehensive story by a guy who was there, former TVTimes editor Eric Kohanik.
The channel got wrecked as various owners moved it farther and farther away from its Hamilton roots. Branding it ONtv and E! was like McDonald's suddenly calling themselves "Large Hamburger Chain." All the local flavor went out of the place, save for a few pockets of personality like Live @ 5:30 with my buddies Mark Hebscher and Donna Skelly.
My suggestion on the radio today that it could still be a good business if a local interest could return it to its roots. I know RIM co-founded Jim Balsillie is seen as the answer to every financial dead end in Canada, but if he ever did land that long rumoured NHL franchise, and if it was based in southwest Ontario, CHCH would be a nice place to watch the games. Just sayin'.
TUESDAY NIGHT RATINGS: repeats of Rick Mercer and 22 Minutes drew 791,000 and 526,000 (BBM/NMR overnight "commercial" estimates). New horse opera Wild Roses rustled up 404,000.
American Idol, as usual, grabbed most viewers Tuesday night with 2,206,000 tuning in on CTV. Less than half hung around for Fringe at 9 p.m. (1,055,000). Law & Order arrested 747,000 at 10.
Global was very much in the hunt with Idol-proof NCIS at 8 (1,531,000). 90210 at 9 (517,000) and Project Runway Canada at 10 (292,000) kept the lights on, at least.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gas Refill Fuels Little Mosque

How did CBC do without Being Erica Monday night? The good news was that Little Mosque on the Prairie did a bit better than usual, up to 686,000 viewers according to BBM Canada Nielsen Media Research overnight “commercial” estimates. Sophie also “soared” to 268,000.
The bad news was Being Erica’s replacement at 9, Just For Laughs, which drew just 437,000 viewers, down more than 200,000 from Erica’s score the week before.
Jeopardy! is still packing them in at 7:30, with 1,093,000 viewers Monday night on CBC.
Little Mosque may have benefited from a last minute switcheroo at CTV. Instead of a new Corner Gas at 9:30, as originally scheduled, a repeat aired at 8. The Gas repeat drew a low 664,000 viewers. CBS import Gary Unmarried, which drew 532,000 on CTV at 8:30, should hook up with Sophie; together they have an audience.
CTV scored big at 9 with Two and a Half Men (1,447,000) followed by a strong Big Bang Theory (972,000). As usual, CSI: Miami had the night’s biggest score (1,666,000).
With a House rerun at 8 (1,372,000), Global wasn’t as strong Monday. At 9, 24 drew 999,000, and at 10, Heroes did 717,000.
Global’s sleeper show? The Young & The Restless, which pulled 911,000 at 4:30 (clobbering CTV’s Oprah at 598,000). After 35 years, Victor Newman and Company can still draw a crowd.

Set Visit: CBS`s The Mentalist

The success story of the season, in the U.S. at least, has been The Mentalist. The CBS cop drama has drawn close to 20 million viewers some weeks this season and is the strongest rookie series performer in the U.S. since Lost and Desperate Housewives were instant hits in 2004.
Warner Bros., the studio that produces The Mentalist for CBS, hosted critics on the set last month in Burbank, Calif. My full story on that set visit can be read here at TV Guide.ca.
It would seem pretty obvious as to who the draw is here: Simon Baker (above, with Robin Tunney). Yet the Australian actor has starred in two other CBS shows that failed to catch on: The Guardian, which limped along for three seasons, and Smith, which lasted three episodes.
He was pretty good in both those shows, too, but The Mentalist, as executive producer Bruno Heller notes, takes full advantage of Baker's Cary Grant-ish charms. You get to see this guy smile and be a little playful, and that warmth works for CBS.
The Mentalist is shot on Stage 14 on the fabled Warner Bros. Burbank lot. The Gilmore Girls was the most recent hit to use that sound stage, but plenty of classic Warners films, including Casablanca, also worked their magic within those walls. Enlarge the picture of the plaque above for a full list.


Had a chance to sneak off tour and hoof it around the lot with a fellow TCA member, David Walstad. Walstad is a walking studio encyclopeadia. (Read a 2003 piece he wrote about the tearing down of Warners old western locale Larame Street here.) He not only knows what shoots where but for what film or TV show a certain area of each back lot was built.
Just beyond Stage 14 are several back lot streets still used for film and TV production. I've seen some of these streetscapes on The Mentalist, especially a courthouse facade with plenty of steps. One street away is the exterior set of ER's Chicago County Hospital (above and below), complete with several parked ambulances. A giant walled exterior sits across the way and is on wheels so it can be swung in and out of shots.
One street over, according to Walstad, who knows, is a street or two that was used on the old Dukes of Hazzard series and which was originally built in the '40s for the Ronald Reagan movie King's Row. Ghost Whisperer shoots there now, says Walstad, ever since the fire at Universal Studios destroyed that show's exteriors, as well as a film vault and the King Kong Universal Tours attraction (I can still smell the banana breath).
Besides visiting The Mentalist, the TCA trip also took critics on a tour of the Big Bang Theory set, also on the Warners lot. More on that in another post.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Global's Grammy No Whammy

Lil' Wayne did okay at The Grammys last night. But what about those Lil' ratings?
Global averaged 1,501,000 viewers over the three-and-a-half hour telecast, according to overnight "commercial" estimate from BBM Canada Nielsen Media Research.
That's a boost from their usual Sunday night numbers, and enough to win the night, especially in the younger demos. But hardly an Oscar level blockbuster.
Global's Grammy score looks better when measured just in Toronto and Vancouver. But CTV didn't do too badly, either, with Desperate Housewives (1,520,000) and The Mentalist (1,175,000) more than holding their own across Canada. CBC didn't do badly, either, with steady horse opera Heartland (710,000) drawing more than double Global's Grammy's pre-show (314,000). Getting thumped in that mix: once mighty Degrassi, down to a total of 139,000 viewers on CTV. Across Canada! Sophie does better!!
In the U.S., CBS's coverage of The 51st Annual Grammy Awards averaged 19.67 million viewers from 8 to 11, winning every half hour. It was also up significantly among 18-49-year olds from last year's broadcast.

Corner Gas Ratings--Fill 'er Up

Many years ago, the late, great NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff was quoted as saying that the weekly TV ratings numbers had become “the box score of the ‘90s.” That’s even more true this century as BBM Canada and Nielsen Media Research numbers are as parsed and dissected online and in print as Matt Sundin`s plus- minus statistics.
Which brings me to an email I received last week from Scott Henderson, head of publicity at CTV. Scott pointed out that the numbers quoted here at TV Feeds My Family do not reflect the "Total" TV audience numbers that his network receives from BBM Canada Nielsen Media Research.
Scott`s assertion is true. The numbers quoted here, generally, are "Commercial" overnight estimates, the same numbers that ad agencies and media buying agencies get. If they're good enough for the people buying advertising on television, I've always felt, they're good enough for TV Feeds My Family.
CTV's "Total" BBM score, however, which takes into account five CTV affiliates not in the "Commercial" mix, does boost their overall score. The other networks, CBC and Global, also get their own "Total" overnight estimates, which differs slightly from the "Commercial" tally, although generally not as much as CTV's "Total" result.
Which brings us to what this is all about: Corner Gas.
By any score, Corner Gas numbers are down this season, some weeks by 10% or more. That pretty much makes this popular Canadian comedy like every other show on TV this season. Why this matters is that as the numbers edge lower, Corner Gas has dropped below the million viewer mark across Canada in some overnight estimates, at least on the commercial scale.
For the week of Jan. 12-18, for example, Gas pulled 966,000 on the commercial overnights, but jumped to 1,010,000 on the weekly BBM/NMR report. For Jan. 19-25, which, I believe, was a repeat, Gas drew 965,000 commercial, 975,000 total. Last week, a new episode, the commercial overnights showed 993,000, CTV's total drew 1,036,000.
By sticking to their total score, CTV's P.R. department can continue to boast that no new episode of Corner Gas, in the entire six season run of the series, has ever dipped below the million-viewers-a-week mark. That's a very impressive boast and why wouldn't you want it out there, especially since it is true. All those eyeballs count, estimates or no estimates.
Corner Gas just has a few more episodes left to keep the streak alive. At this point, with CTV already having announced that this will be the final year, Tartikoff's observation seems apt. It is a bit like watching a baseball Hall of Famer trying to hold onto that lifetime .300 average. The show just doesn't hit as hard as it used to, and that has nothing to do with the quality of this season's episodes. It is just getting toward the end, and Brent Butt should be commended for pulling the plug at exactly the right time.
Whether it dips a few thousand below the million mark one week or two really isn't as important as the fact that the damn show will average close to 1.5 million a week over the six year run—an incredible, unprecedented feat in this age of fractured platforms, multiple distractions and endless options. Bottom line, Butt's place in the Canadian TV Hall is secure.
The other thing is—Corner Gas's weekly total is even higher than even the CTV "Total." U.S. network programmers at the recent TCA Winter press tour in Los Angeles told critics that they now look at four sets of numbers every single day. PVR use, iPod and streaming hits—all of these viewings, when factored into the mix, distribute a TV show beyond the traditional weekly TV schedule reach.
Think of it this way: Gas may go up and down each week, just as it does at the pump, but it is always higher in Canada. Now you get it.
Another thing stealing eyeballs away from Corner Gas could be last minute schedule changes; tonight's episode, a repeat, is on at 8 p.m. on CTV, even though some listing mags still have it at as a new episode at 9:30.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Today's Star: Blocking the Geo-Block

Want to know how to work around geo-blocks in order to access TV shows when surfing the 'net? I have a piece in today's Toronto Star which addresses just that. You can read the full story here or, better yet, buy a newspaper!
The main end-around answer for Canadian surfers looking to access U.S. sites such as Hulu.com or TV.com is AnchorFree. By going to their site here you can download the Hotspot Shield. The Shield cloaks your ISP code, so site like Hulu and others that are geo-blocked can't tell what region or territory you are in--allowing you to gain access to restricted content.
AnchorFree CEO and founder David Gorodyansky estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of Canadian Hotspot Shield users already surfing the Internet. "it seems to me that the whole idea of the Internet is to not have borders," says Gorodyansky, reached on the phone in his Norther California offices. "For companies, or entities or organizations who try to control users on line, it’s getting tougher and tougher for them. People are getting really smart, really tech savvy."
Still, there as many reasons for not using geo-block end-arounds as there are for using them, including some warnings from consumers who have tried Hotspot Shield and complain about having to sit through ads and other pop-ups. See the Star article comments.
Many who feel that there should be no barriers around the world wide web will take full advantage of AnchorFree's services. Others who feel honouring site restrictions allows Canadian producers and others to earn more money by selling their content to foreign regions will play by the rules and seek content through domestic windows.
Globaltv's v.p. pf content, Pary Bell, understands why products like AnchorFree's Hotspot Shield are so enticing to Canadian web surfers. "However, it does have impacts to what we can do, how we;’re able to execute deals and how we can afford to continue licensing programming," he says.
Read the full story to see how Canadian digital media managers feel about all this. Teletoon's Michael Goldsmith, director of original content, notes that geo-block barriers are just as frustrating for Americans seeking Canadian content. His network has received over 200 emails from young fans who want to see the latest webisodes of the Toronto-produced Teletoon favorite Total Drama Action, for example.
Fact is, with 38,000 on demand video clips available at U.S.-based sites like TV.com--which points surfers to Hulu, The WB.com and beyond--there are far more goodies Canadians are blocked from seeing than Americans are.
Geist notes in the Star article that all of these issues will be before the CRTC in a matter of weeks. "The reality that content that was previously available only through conventional broadcast now being available in an on-demand stream fashion is obviously changing the rules of the game as to how broadcasters function and how content is distributed," he says. "People want to hear more about these channels of distribution and of course the reality that streaming doesn’t necessarily need to have any borders."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

R.I.P.: Dave Waldon

Dave Waldon was a regular at press tour, sat up front during the sessions. Often wore a Cubs cap.
News started to trickle in this week that he had died. Marc Berman at Mediweek made note of it online at his Programming Insider column. Other tour friends Anne Bannon and Glenn Garvin also paid tribute to Waldon at their blogs (as do several others in Bannon and Garvin's comment sections). Here, also, are two blog tributes from Dave's Canadian critic pals, Alison Cunningham at TV or Not TV and Vancouver-based TV Week editor Brent Furdyk.
Waldon, an L.A.-based entertainment freelancer, was sitting up front in his usual row at the Television Critics Association Winter 2009 press tour as it began one month ago today. That tour was a blur; leaner, meaner, a lot of work, with very little time to socialize. Bumped into Dave at one point and asked about the band aid on his head. "Did Bannon crack your skull open again?" I asked.
Waldon cheerfully corrected me. He was beaned by a fastball. Cut him for several stitches. It occurred several years ago when CBS brought critics out to Dodger Stadium for a fun and lavish evening event. (Those were the days.) While CBS stars mingled with reporters out in the outfiield, batting cages were operating allowing some of us deluded enough into thinking we could hit one out to take our cuts.
Somehow, Dave got dinged. If memory serves, he was taken to hospital in an ambulance, stitched up and gamely returned to the scene of the crime, his head wrapped in white gauze. Fortunately, he was hit in the brain area, the TV critic's least vital organ. I caught it all on film, above.
According to the profile at his blog, Dave was just 38. Back in his college days, he had a liver transplant which saved his life; I have no idea if that was a factor in his death. He seldom asked questions in the general Q & A press tour sessions but afterwards in the scrums he often seemed to know more about whoever was being scrummed that anybody else in the room.
News of his passing comes hard on the heels of the deaths of several other long time North American TV critics, including a few guys I knew and miss like Glenn Esterly and Eirik Knudsen. If some of you think this blog has turned into an obituary column, trust me, I'm sick about it. Their deaths put all this job loss, downsizing and turmoil in the newspaper business in perspective, but it also sets you back a little and makes your wonder when some good news might finally come down the pipe.
Condolences to Waldon's family and friends.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Comics Salute Carlin Tonight on PBS

One thing you will not hear on tonight's PBS salute to George Carlin is the seven dirty words you can't say on television. Which is just fine, according to comic's comic and Law & Order: SVU star Richard Belzer, who spoke with critics about George Carlin: The Mark Twain Prize last month at the TCA press tour:

I think that I learned a long time ago that if you're in a church, you know, you don't do certain things. If you're in someones home, you don't do certain things. If the philosophy of the network is not offend people who they think might be offended, I don't think this hurts this show. George Carlin is so brilliant, his use of language is vast and compelling that a few bleeps might even be enticing. I don't think it diminishes how great George is, how important the show is and the function that PBS serves over time. I mean, there's -- civility in manners are defined in different ways. If it were up to me, we'd have all the words you'd want, but I am not a network. Was that a good answer?
Yeah, a very good answer, one worthy of Carlin, who all the comics in tonight's salute clearly love and revere. Check out the PBS teaser, below:

Carlin, who died last June of heart failure at 71, is the first posthumous Mark Twain award winner. He found out just days before he died that he would be the 11th recipient of the prestigious show business salute. Past recipients have included Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, Billy Crystal and Steve Martin.
The ceremony was held last November, with Belzer, Tomlin, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Joan Rivers, Garry Shandling, Margaret Cho and others saluting Carlin at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
"There was something about this prize that meant something to him," said Kelly Carlin, George's daughter and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. "He did call me when he found out about it," she told critics last month in L.A. "I think in the last five years he really started to take in that he was the elder statesman of this genre, of these people. He took that seriously. I think he was really getting that, wow, these people really want to honor him in that way."
Kelly told critics it was pretty cool to grow up in the '60s and '70s as George Carlin's daughter. Although her dad was part of the culture, "he was a rock-and-roll stand-up," she said. "He was part of a counter culture. Our life was pretty insane and crazy, but at the same time, it was a lot of fun."
Belzer told critics there were maybe five comedians (he mentioned Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor) who were in Carlin's league in terms of influence and longevity. "We only aspire to reach certain peaks of the heights that they scaled," he said. Asking who the next Carlin might be was like asking "Who is the next Rembrandt? Who is the next Miles Davis? It's very hard to get that stature," said Belzer.
Chris Rock might be considered in that league some day, he suggested. "George's body of work, the permutations he went through, coming on first with the suit and tie and being this kind of straight -- not straight, he was never straight laced, but you have this kind of a conventional look and then he progressed and evolved into his other characters and over time he was reflective of the culture. He was a little bit ahead of everyone else in terms of language and what you could talk about."
The other cool revelation in tonight's salute is how generous and encouraging Carlin was of other comics. If you have spent five minute inside a comedy club, you'll know this is not always the case. Comics eat other comics for breakfast.
Yet listen to Garry Shandlings' story about seeking out Carlin and how the great comic took the time to give him notes. Carlin also reached out to Lewis Black, calling him at home to offer encouragement. Belzer said Carlin was responsible for booking him on The Tonight Show at a time when the edgy New York comic was banned from the NBC showcase. "George was someone who wasn't threatened by talent or by other people," said Belzer, who described him as "a rare thing in show business, just an incredibly unselfish guy who, you know, we miss greatly. But also, not just for his work, but on a very heavy personal level too."
That affection comes out on the 90-minute special, which starts at 9 p.m. tonight on WNED and other PBS affiliates.

Madden and Michaels Rate Radio Salute

More post-Super Bowl chat this week, including a salute to ol' smoothies Al Michaels and John Madden. It's all part of this week's radio report with CHML's Scott Thompson. You can listen in here.
Have to say it was nice to hear Michaels and Madden so energized about a big game. At 72, coach Madden still brings plenty of energy, insight and colour to his analysis. Plus he's smart enough to use that will-not-fly excuse to bail out of going to the Pro Bowl.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Move to Wednesdays Should Boost Erica

CBC is yanking Being Erica out of Monday nights, and not a moment too soon. The five-week-old fantasy/drama drew a respectable 644,000 Monday at 9, with 285,000 of those viewers being in the 25-54-year-old demo. That's up against some stiff competition, including Two and a Half Men on CTV (1,800,000/1,078,000) and 24 on Global (1,259,000/634,000). City-TV's The Bachelor, which is rebounding this season in the States, is also in that mix.
Last night's episode--let's call it Boring Erica--isn't likely to win the series any new fans. Erica fled her best friend's baby shower to hit a karaoke bar to then flash back to her Bat mitzvah--oy vey! Please, somebody, trim this sucker down to 30 minutes. And couldn't they find a kid actor who at least had a passing resemblance to star Erin Karpluk (above with Tyron Leitso)?
At least Erica will have a stronger lead in when it slides over to Wednesdays behind The Week The Women Went, which drew over a million viewers last week. Being Erica's Monday night lead in--Sophie--is getting hammered at 8:30. Down to 193,000 viewers last night--just 53,000 in the demo--it got stomped by the 100th episode of House, which drew 2,678,000 across Canada, an estimated 1,417,000 in the 25-54 demo. Even Little Mosque felt the House heat, down to 435,000/169,000. That drops the show under the "more people live in Brampton" threshold, although, granted, Brampton is exploding.
CTV's Big Bang Theory (846,000/518,000) and newly simulcast sitcom Gary Unmarried (505,000/261,000) did okay but not great against Dr. House. CTV's big gain came at 10, with CSI: Miami pulling in 1,764,000/868,000. Heroes continues to slide in Canada as it has in the States, with 572,000/372,000 catching the show at its later 10 p.m. slot on Global.
Also last night, for the first time ever, departing comedy Corner Gas drew just under a million viewers (993,000) for a new episode (although, keep in mind these are BBM/NMR overnight estimates. I'm won't be shocked if another seven thousand viewers turn up in the final audit to keep the streak alive). Surprising, given the high HUT levels this time of year and all the Super Bowl promotion for this and other CTV shows just one day earlier.
You have to wonder--has the fact that CTV announced that this would be the final season so long ago hurt the show's numbers this year?

Super Bowl MVPs: MacGruber and McMahon

I screwed up on the latest TV Feeds My Family Poll. I asked if Canadian viewers would miss those U.S. Super Bowl ads. With 93 responses, 70% of you said yes. Besides "yes" and "no," however, what I should have also provided was a third response: "I didn't miss them because I saw them--on the Internet."
Several of the spots were available on line before the Super Bowl broadcast (including right here at this site). You can see all the U.S. ads, broken down by quarters even, now at Yahoo! Canada's Video site, including this Coke Zero spot featuring Pittsburgh star Troy Polamalu, a take off on the classic Mean Joe Greene spot from decades ago:

The Yahoo Video window to all those Super Bowl ads is sponsored by TNT's new series Trust Me, starring Canadians Eric McCormack and Tom Cavanagh. It's about the ad business, so nice tie-in, TNT. The series is available in Canada on that new premium service Superchannel.
This Bud Light spot, where a man gets tossed out a window for an unthinkable suggestion, was another Super Bowl winner:




Bud Light - Man Thrown Out Window @ Yahoo! Video
CTV did carry some of the U.S. ads on their broadcast, including the Danica Patrick GoDaddy shower commercial as well as this elaborate Budweiser "Clydesdale Romance" spot:

Some NBC stars were featured on some of the more memorable Super Bowl ads, including this one with future Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien:




Bud Light - Conan O'Brien @ Yahoo! Video

Then there was this Pepsi--or Peps-uber--spot spun off from those hit-and-miss SNL "MacGruber" sketches.




Pepsi - MacGruber @ Yahoo! Video

MacGruber. "There's only one cola he will pour into his mouth hole." My favorite spot features a couple of dudes who could use the work--Ed McMahon and M.C. Hammer--both willing to goof on their financial misfortunes while shilling for Cash4Gold.com. For a buck, of course:




Cash4Gold - MC Hammer & Ed MacMahon @ Yahoo! Video

Final ratings for the Super Bowl are now in. NBC drew over 95 million viewers, enough to rank it second overall behind only last years 97 million-plus who watched the Giants beat New England. NBC's post-Super Bowl broadcast of The Office added over 22 million viewers, easily that series' biggest audience ever.