Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bloody Hell! Osbournes Burn Bridge to Tonight

Trust Sharon Osbourne to tell it like it is.
The driving force behind the Osbourne TV machine, Sharon was in L.A. earlier this year at a TV critics press tour party along with her rocker hubby Ozzy and Jack and Kelly, the two children they dragged before the cameras on their old reality show. (A third daughter, Aimee, stays out of the TV loop.) They were there to promote Osbournes Reloaded, a rude, crude comedy/variety series of specials the first of which premiered tonight on Fox. I wrote about it last week for The Canadian Press; much of what appears here was in that story.
I've interviewed all the Osbournes over the years and always enjoy talking to them, even Ozzy, who is scary to transcribe (although he's less scrambled and easier to comprehend now than he was five or six years ago.) They're all straight shooters and they're friendly folk one-on-one.
Sharon comes with an added bonus: the gift of profanity. I asked what she thought of NBC’s announcement that Jay Leno will be moving to a 10 p.m. prime time slot starting in August. Will the Osbournes be appearing on that show?
“Fuck no!” she said without hesitation. “He’s always been a friend of ours, but then Ozzy went and performed on Jimmy Kimmel, who we loved, and Jay banned us ever since.”
Osbourne’s candid comments brought back stories of hard ball booking tactics between late night talk show rivals. That kind of Hollywood brinkmanship seems to have died down lately, especially after and during last year’s writers strike, when Leno and Kimmel took turns appearing on each other’s show on the same night and seemed to form a bond. With all the changes in late night—Jimmy Fallon taking over Conan O’Brien’s slot, O’Brien moving to The Tonight Show in June—a truce seemed to be in effect.
Not so according to Osbourne. “That’s the way talk TV goes,” she says and she should know. The 56-year-old spent a year hosting her own daily syndicated talk show during the 2003-04 season. “People are like, 'You’re mine,' and when you go someplace else, they get upset,” she says. “We’re all banned from [Leno’s] show.”
As it turns out, there were no Osbourne bookings on Leno's Tonight Show this week. (Perhaps Leno got a sneak peak at the special, which was a vulgar mess.) Instead, all four Osbournes guested on Jimmy Kimmel Live tonight with Jack and Kelly appearing on NBC's Last Call with Carson Daly. Tuesday morning, Sharon and Ozzy went to New York to guest on Live with Regis & Kelly. Sharon and Regis Philbin worked together on the first season of America's Got Talent.
Osbournes Reloaded is a rowdy mix of brash humour and outrageous studio audience antics. Unsuspecting audience members are blindfolded and wind up smooching grannies. The Little Osbournes—two eight year olds from England dressed up like Ozzy and Sharon—are shown going out to theatres and other public places where they start cursing and swearing. At one point, Ozzy turns a hose on the studio audience, soaking the front rows with white foam.
In other words, this isn't your mom and dad's Ed Sullivan Show.
Ozzy says he just goes along with what the rest of the family wants to do. "To be honest, I didn't know what I was getting myself into," he said at the same Fox press party. "I've been a rock and roller for 40 years."
Sharon admitted it was harder to get Jack and Kelly back in front of the cameras. "They did not want to do it at all," she says. "They were done with their apprenticeship with us."
Jack, however, says it is easier now that he's 23 and not a rebellious teen. "Before, I'd say I have math homework. Why do I have to be at a press convention?"
Since he shot to fame on the reality show, Jack has gone on to a few other TV projects, including Jack Osbourne: Adrenaline Junkie. The early fame took its toll as he battled drug and alcohol addictions, fighting them off during a stint in rehab. 'Ìt's very well known that I had my problems with drugs and alcohol," he says. "Time moves on and you grown up and figure out what's right for you as an individual."
He feels that, in the long run, growing up on TV sped up his maturity. "When you're getting dragged into bars at 16, who would turn that down?" he says, sounding not unlike his outspoken mother. "Maybe the Jonas brothers, but they're married to Jesus."

Mercer: Back With Full Order Next Season

Despite all the slash and burn scenarios coming out of CBC, Rick Mercer says he's back next season with a full order of 19 shows.
Met Mercer for drinks on the Danforth yesterday afternoon. The host of the Rick Mercer Report is coming off his best season ever in terms of ratings--averaging around a million viewers a week--and that's being rewarded with a full season order. Other CBC shows are having their number of episodes cut back next season, including This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Being Erica, The Border and Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Mercer says he's signed a one year deal the last few seasons and that is what he's committed to moving forward. He says he usually takes stock every December but is having a blast doing the Mercer Report heading into a seventh season. What other job, he says, would allow him to bounce around weightless on a Canadian jet, which he got to do this season? His current TV gig plays to all his strengths, mixing politics with satire, streeters with sketches. "It's not like I'm dying to stop this so I can start playing a teacher on a sitcom," he says.
Summer plans include a trip with his dad to India, which has surprised Mercer since he normally can't get the old man to ever leave The Rock.
He says he was astounded by all the Internet attention RMR got this past season after Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion was featured on the series. "They love her everywhere, all over the States," says Mercer. Hanging with Don Cherry, Feist, Nancy Green and Anne Murray were also highlights this past season.
Mercer says he felt for CBC colleague Geri Hall after she got beat up in the press for her ambush on Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty. He says he stopped doing ambushes on 22 Minutes after Mary Walsh perfected the sneak attack. "She's like your crazy aunt who can barge in and say whatever she wants," he says of Walsh.
A patron at the bar where we were chatting came over and offered to buy both of us a drink. The gentleman--who may have been battling throat cancer judging by the way he struggled to speak--thanked Mercer for a year of laughs when they were tough to find. Mercer told him the thanks were enough and the drinks weren't necessary, but once the classy dude left the waitress carried out his wishes and brought over another round.
It was a nice, low key, Canadian celebrity moment, the kind you like to hear about and love to pass along. In what has been a trying year and month and week for people in Canadian television, here was some genuine, unsolicited proof that Canadians are connected to their home grown stars and appreciate their efforts.
It's also good news for dumdum journalists who forget their wallets at home. Nothing like driving home that stereotype.
The Rick Mercer Report begins a run of repeats tonight at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Junos Down Year to Year

The same old bands winning the same old awards took some of the fizz out of last night's Juno Awards. CTV says they drew 1,227,000 on the overnight, estimated CTV "Total" scale; the BBM NMR commerical tally counted just 1,073,000 CTV viewers from 9-11. Either way that's down from the 1,337,000 who tuned in last year (on April 6) and less than what Global drew at 9 p.m. with an episode of Family Guy (1,448,000).
Even two back-to-back episodes of The Simpsons at 8 and 8:30 (1,158,000 and 1,108,000) did better than the Juno commercial score last night.
CTV's Amazing Race beat all shows Sunday with 1,867,000 estimated commercial viewers. The red carpet special eTalk at the Junos had a poor showing with just 375,000 viewers across Canada.
CBC even beat eTalk with 40-year-old, black and white clips of Wayne & Shuster, which drew 449,000. Two hours of figure skating coverage did 456,000.

Highlight from Last Night's Juno Awards

Friday, March 27, 2009

D'oh! CBC Sacrifices The Simpsons

Ay, carumba! Ditching The Simpsons, part of CBC's slash and burn plan (as reported here in Variety), is a bad idea, man. As one former Canadian network executive (there's been a lot of them lately) said to me recently, "The Simpsons have saved more Canadian networks than probably any other show."
Just this past Wednesday, The Simpsons drew 331,000 viewers at 5 p.m. on CBC, 123,000 in the 25-54 demo (BBM NMR overnight estimates). Sophie (which definitely has been canceled) should be that lucky in prime time.
For the better part of a decade on The Comedy Network, The Simpsons has been the anchor for all to follow, boosting CanCon like The Jon Dore Television Show. It has also been a steady ratings magnet on Global, where it pulled 1,141,000 viewers last Sunday night, 598,000 in the 25-54 demo. Not bad for a 19-year-old show.
Like Jeopardy! (the only other CBC show my 16-year-old son watches) it is an evergreen that never gets old and always pulls in ad revenue. Plus it employs a few Canadian writers, including Tim Long of Exeter, Ont., and Joel Cohen of Calgary, who sneak in their share of Canadian jabs.
CBC is also unloading Martha Stewart, who drew only 50,000 in daytime Wednesday. That's a good thing.
Scrapping an import like The Simpsons may sound like a good P.R. move and the right thing to do in this economic tailspin but in the long run it won't help the network attract the revenue it needs to dig itself out of this hole.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oh Suhana

Want some clear answers about this whole CBC mess? Check out the video of CBC News Today host Suhana Meharchand going straight after Minister of Heritage James Moore in this spot posted here at cbc.ca. Go to the site, check under "Related" and look on the right for the VIDEO link to Meharchand and Moore. It's a spirited, six minute exchange, with pit bull Meharchand clearly feeling all the hits to her network over the past two days and not buying the minister's response that the request for bridge financing was not in the long term "best interest of the CBC."
There's some tense debate about whether or not the Tories are going to allow the CBC to sell off assets (it's all subject to cabinet approval). Meharchand does get Moore to declare that CBC will get their full funding next year, including the $60 million special funding that goes toward creating Canadian content. It's a great bit of TV, and if nothing else, Meharchand will have a nice attack reel to send down to Fox News.

Fewer Episodes Not the Solution

Details about how the 800 CBC job cuts will impact the English language TV and radio schedules are starting to spill. Check out the latest postings at InsideTheCBC.com.
I heard a few details driving home from an afternoon hockey game while listening to 680News. Fewer episodes of Little Mosque and Being Erica, plus less sports coverage, were a few of the details reaching the air from the town hall meeting held this afternoon.
A release from CBC that went out around 2 p.m. gave a few more details. There will be fewer episodes of The Border, too, as well as This Hour Has 22 Minutes, plus several radio shows are getting the axe. The impact will also be felt at the Fifth Estate and Marketplace, both facing a reduction of staff and resources. There will be less spending on children's television. The sports coverage targeted includes international figure skating, skiing, world aquatics, world athletics and some soccer programs. A couple of one person bureaus are also being shut down, and there will be staff reductions in other smaller centres across the country.
Yesterday I was speaking with my buddy Marc Berman, Mediaweek's "Programming Insider." He was just back from a Manhattan presentation of the ION network (originally PAX), where The Border was a prominent part of the sell. "Looks pretty good," was Berman's assessment.
It is so hard for shows to gain a foothold and a following and an international sale and all these other precarious little parts of the puzzle that is vital to the survival of Canadian television. Most people driving and listening to News Radio reports and hearing about less Little Mosque probably just shrug and think to themselves that that sounds about right. But, damn, when you are making these shows and pushing these rocks up that steep hill that is the Canadian TV industry, anything that cuts down your momentum can be a killer.
The Border has had two 13 episode seasons so far. Cutting it back to, say, nine or 10 cuts a month out of an already short run. Thirteen is already nine less than most hour long TV dramas on U.S. networks. Do you start late and give other shows a chance to steal away viewers? Shorter runs also impact DVD packages, foreign sales and on-line extensions.
CBC should be making more drama episodes a year, not less. Package out more of those 500+ middle managers, for heaven's sake. Cut losses on shows that just aren't clicking and invest more in the ones that are. Challenge the producers to provide some episodes at a lower production cost (although most will tell you they are at bare bones levels already). Some U.S. shows are being forced to do this next season, with cast reductions and rotations being forced on ABC/Disney shows like Brothers & Sisters, for example.
TV is all about keeping the lights on. You can't do anything without the content.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT NUMBERS: Fewer episodes of Being Erica? Sounds like this series will get another chance but 511,000 viewers--half of them outside the 25-54-year-old demo--is not helping the cause. Next week is the season finale.
CBC did even worse last night with a Stars on Ice special at 8. Once a ratings powerhouse, figure skating only drew 485,000 viewers last night, 96,000 in the demo according to overnight estimates from BBM NMR.
CTV was the big winner Wednesday night scoring 2,038,000 for a relocated, two hour, American Idol followed by 1,977,000 for CSI: New York. That total should top 2 million once the CTV "Total" score is added.
Global got outplayed when college basketball coverage in the U.S. forced CBS to bounce Survivor Tocantins ahead a night. Only 1,122,000 tuned in, way down from Survivor's usual Thursday night take. An umpteenth rerun of House managed 501,000 at 9 followed by Life on Mars, which slid to 326,000 viewers.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mercer Looks Like A Million

Last night's sixth season finale of the Rick Mercer Report drew 1,095,000 viewers according to BBM NMR overnight estimates, beating even Jeopardy! When all the final numbers are in on the 22 week season, Mercer's show will have averaged right around the million mark for 2008-2009, a 2% increase over last season's average of 971,000 viewers. Once again, it is the network's top-rated entertainment show, behind only Hockey Night in Canada overall.
This Hour Has 22 Minutes had a so-so week with 601,000 viewers. They should have let Geri Hall goon Dalton McGuinty again! Averaged over 22 weeks, it looks to be smack on last year's average of 694,000.
Tuesday night rookie Wild Roses drew 414,000, with its 12 episode season average at 476,000. That puts the Calgary-based horse opera ahead of only Sophie among CBC's entertainment shows this season, a precarious place given today's announcement of cutbacks in jobs and production spending.
OTHER TUESDAY NUMBERS: Normally dominant CTV was less so last night with Fox import American Idol sidelined by a Barack Obama press conference. In Toronto, for example, the Rick Mercer Report won the 8 p.m. hour with 305,000 viewers, beating CTV's Law & Order: SVU (229,000) and Global's anemic 90210 (52,000). That's just six thousand more than City-TV pulled in Toronto for According to Jim! Obama did all right, too, pulling several thousand viewers away on the Buffalo border stations: WIVB (65,000), WGRZ (21,000) and WUTV (16,000).
Nationally, CTV's The Mentalist led all shows in Canada Tuesday night with 1,647,000 estimated "commercial" viewers, followed by Global's NCIS at6 1,512,000. CTV's Law & Order: SVU drew 986,000 at 8, while Criminal Minds followed with 812,000 at 9. Global's 90210 continues to get Sophie-sized numbers, pulling just 329,000 at 8, with less than half of that in the 25-54-year-old demo. Homegrown Project Runway Canada did 402,000 at 10 p.m. Tuesday night on Global.

Oldies Out at 1050 CHUM With CP24 Makeover

This week's CHML Talk Radio talk is all about that wacky Letterman wedding, CBC budget cuts and my trip to New York to interview Denis Leary on the set of Rescue Me. Listen as chatty Scott Thompson drag it all out of me here.
Speaking of radio, CTV announced today that they are making over Toronto's 1050 CHUM, the "all oldies" AM radio station they acquired in that CHUM broadcasting deal, into an extension of their CP24 TV news brand. Boomers will mourn the loss of the CHUM brand, home of all those great rock 'n' roll DJs back in the '60s (I still miss Bob McAdorey, bless him), but, hey, that was so 45 years ago (and at least you can still hear Roger Ashby on CHUM FM).
Still, does CP24 mean anything as a brand? It used to stand for CityPulse, which is now associated with Rogers. I had to think to remember even that (wondered if Canadian Press had anything to do with it for a minute). But, hey, broadcasting these days is all about consolidating assets and reducing payrolls and getting people to do two jobs at once. The first CP24 Breakfast radio show premieres tomorrow morning at 5:30 a.m., with dependable Ann Rohmer in the news anchor seat. Check out the CTV media release here.

CBC Announces 800 Job Cuts

By all accounts it was a grim if orderly announcement over the noon hour today from Hubert Lacroix on the future of the CBC. Wearing a jacket but no tie (or barrel), the network president told staffers across the country via closed circuit TV that up to 800 layoffs are pending over the next few months. “This is bad news, can’t sugar coat,” Lacroix told staffers, “but we can’t afford to get lost in it.” He admitted what was pretty much a foregone conclusion, that CBC failed to convince the Harper government to pony up with an advance on appropriations.
CBC is mired in the same dramatic downturn as every other broadcaster in North America. I keep coming back to Tina Fey’s quip from last July’s TCA Awards: “Being in network television today is like being in vaudeville in the ‘60s.”
Like bad vaudeville, the poorly lit CBC presidential address looked and sounded like if was set up by Stephane Dion’s old camera crew. Attempts to take phone calls from across the country resulted in terrible feedback. When you run a network, look like you run a network. Deliver decent pictures and sound, especially to your own demoralized troops. NBC gets this, and Fox and CBS. Don’t lead with amateur hour optics, especially when you’re delivering bad news. You look like you wouldn’t know what to do with money if it arrived on a cushion.
Lacroix says he needs $171 million to balance the CBC operating budget, which translates into 800 positions. This is after an asset sale which still has to be approved by parliament.
The cuts break down to 383 jobs eliminated for English language TV and radio (with 83% of that TV), 336 in French radio and TV and 80 jobs from corporate. The door opens to package options April 6, with layoff notices appearing by mid-May. Department heads have been told to start cutting. Bonuses for 553 senior managers will be cut back by $4 million…wait a minute…THERE ARE 553 SENIOR CBC MANAGERS??? AND THEY GET BONUSES?????? WTF???!!!
English TV boss Richard Stursberg said no regional stations will be closed. Stursberg also said he doesn’t want to introduce any ads on CBC Radio One or Two, which is a pretty safe boast, since NOBODY IS BUYING ADS, WHICH IS PARTLY WHY CBC IS IN THIS MESS.
The only department not touched--in fact, it gets a budget increase, is CBC.ca. Hey, there is a reason it is called New Media.
The CP report on all of this can be found here.
For some grim perspective on the meltdown in network television, Fagstein calculates one journalist in six have now lost their job in Canada, with the tally nearing the 2300 job mark.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mosque, Sophie Down Year to Year

How did Little Mosque on the Prairie and Sophie do year-to-year? With last night's season finale numbers in (as overnight estimates, at least), here is a quick comparison.
All that cliffhanger wedding promotion paid off as Little Mosque enjoyed by far its biggest audience of the season, 830,000 2+ viewers (all numbers BBM Canada). Sophie has no such luck Monday, bowing out with 294,000 viewers.
The two CBC comedies aired over two nights this season, on Wednesdays and later on Mondays. The night made little difference, with LMOP averaging 586,000 viewers over 10 weeks in the fall, followed by Sophie with 327,000. In the 12 Winter weeks of 2009, LMOP went up slightly to 621,000 (thanks partly to that big finale number) and Sophie sank to an average audience of 266,000.
Last season, when both shows aired on Wednesdays, LMOP averaged 810,000 viewers, with Sophie averaging 508,000. As bad as Sophie's numbers were year-to-year, it has to concern CBC that LMOP has lost at least a quarter of its audience in each of its three seasons.
Other Monday night numbers: Jeopardy! led all CBC shows Monday with 1,129,000 viewers, although just 257,000 Tournament of Champion watchers were in the 25-54-year-old demo. Brit evergreen Coronation Street saw the usual traffic with 784,000 viewers. The two Comedy Fests drew 345,000 (Halifax) and 386,000 (Winnipeg). Next year do Brampton Comedy Fest and maybe 450,000 will tune in.
CTV's Corner Gas continues to sprint home with 1,184,000 "commercial" viewers (the CTV "Total" will likely put the overnight estimate over 1.2 million). Two and a Half Men (1,497,000), CSI: Miami (1,768,000)and the CTV National News (1,107,000) also joined the million-plus club.
Global drew a healthy 1,684,000 for a rerun of House, with 24 grabbing another 1,067,000. Heroes sank to 479,000.

Mercer Finale Tonight; CBC Clears House Tomorrow?

It's been a stellar season for Rick Mercer and the gang over at the Rick Mercer Report. Episodes featuring Don Cherry, Hazel McCallion and Nancy Green vaulted the comedy showcase over and around the 1.2 million viewer mark, ranking it as the network's top-rated entertainment series again this season.
Tonight, Rick gets his rocks off with BC premier Gordon Campbell and members of Canada's Paralympic Curling Team. He also braves the slopes of Whistler out west with Canada's Para-Alpine ski team.
The sixth season finale of the Rick Mercer Report airs tonight at 8 p.m. on CBC. It's followed by the season finale of This Hour Has 22 Minutes at 8:30, including this timely slap upside the head of that Fox News pinhead, Greg Gutfeld:

Other CBC shows are closing down for the season this week. Little Mosque on the Prairie and Sophie aired their last episodes last night, with low-rated Sophie likely being the series finale. Heartland bowed out Sunday to 594,000 viewers and has already been renewed for next season, one of the few CBC shows to get a firm go so far in a very nervous and political spring. (Staffers at The Border have also been told that they will be back for a third season next fall.)
Rookie shows Wild Roses and Being Erica air their season finales next week, with Erica exiting--wait for it--April Fool's Day. Neither has broken out as a hit, but Sophie was renewed with worse numbers last season.
All bets are off this spring, however, with ad revenues in steep decline, a reported $200 million operating shortfall and rumours of mass CBC layoffs--as many as 600 staffers--to be announced as early as tomorrow. (An internal, town hall meeting has been called for 11:45 a.m.)
As well as shutting down local stations and selling assets, CBC may have to axe a show or two it might no longer be able to afford, or "rest" something for a year, or might even choose to sacrifice something just to get their point across to parliament that funding cuts will have consequences for viewers (instead of doing the right thing and packaging dozens of the 80 or so middle managers out the door).
There are rumours that one or more of the heritage news magazine shows--The Nature of Things, which is closing in on 40 seasons, or the Fifth Estate--could get sacrificed.
Meanwhile, on a galaxy far, far away, another finale--the last ever episode of Battlestar Galactica--drew 430,000 viewers on Space Friday, making it the most-watched program on specialty that night.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Big Apple Captured By Loose Canon

UPDATED: Friday was the first day of spring, a great day to be in the "greatest city in the world," as they say each night on Letterman, New York City. Had some time to kill while waiting to head to the set of Rescue Me (see previous post), so did the usual midtown walkabout.
A favorite stop is the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway (between W 53rd and 54th), home since 1993 to Late Show with David Letterman. The official New York heritage theater has been used by CBS since 1936, dating back to radio broadcasts. In the '60s, tapings of panel shows What's My Line? and To Tell The Truth took place at the Sullivan, which was built in the '20s and originally called Hammerstein's Theater.
There was no Letterman taping last Friday afternoon, as the sign on the front door clearly indicated. Another sign, this time just a photocopied 8 x 10, stated that there would be no tapings last Wednesday or Thursday, either. I thought that was a bit odd--to tape only on Monday and Tuesday and ditch the rest of the week--until I remembered about CBS's coverage of the March Madness college basketball tournament, which always bumps a few Late Show's each year.

Today news broke that Letterman had used to forced timeout to do the unthinkable--he got married! Last Thursday, the talk show host and long time girl friend Regina Lasko, mother of his son Harry, tied the knot on his Montana ranch. It's the second marriage for Letterman, 61, who always jokes that the wedding pictures from his first marriage "were the biggest waste of film since "Ishtar."

Anyway, back to New York and the Sullivan. Hard to believe it has been 45 years since The Beatles stormed that theatre and conquered America. Thought about that week in February of 1964 when the Beatles landed at JFK. I landed at the same airport Friday morning. The Dash jet from Syracuse was so small, passengers de-plane and walk the tarmac just like the Beatles did back in '64. (Although I'm pretty sure they were flying not via Delta but long-defunct airline BOAC). There was no cheering throng there for me, however, just a weird flash snow blizzard. Fortunately, the snow was gone before it hit the ground.

It is a short walk from JFK to the "Sky Train," a raised rail connection to the New York subway system. Damn, why can't Toronto ever figure this out for getting to a fro Pearson? For seven bucks you are downtown, or, rather, midtown, with Rockefeller Plaza (still in its Winter ice skating mode), the Rainbow Room and the NBC Studio tour as well as Radio City Music Hall all just steps from each other.
Other old and new sights on a bright March day in Manhattan: The Plaza (another Beatle stop in '64), in all its condo glory, the bright colours of FAO Schwarz, the carriages along Central Park South and that wacky new Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle (where, ironically, pennants heralding the Empire State Building wave as if to show the new kid who's boss).

Stopped by Prime Burger on 51st across from 30 Rock for lunch. Place was jumping as always. Has those funky wooden school desk-like lunch booths. Plenty of waiters. All those displaced stock traders seem to have discovered the joint since their tabs were all cancelled at the Rainbow Room.

Was also nice to stroll the stores down Fifth and Park avenues and see the elaborate window displays, including this salute to the Jonas Brothers. Seems to capture their essence.Stayed at a joint called Hotel 57, well situated and worth checking out if you are New York bound. It is being renovated into a Renaissance hotel, and several inconveniences--including no access to the main floor stairway--aren't that big a deal given it will be cheaper today than in a few months. Look for Pernell at the concierge desk, he's seen five owners during his 23 years at the address and knows where the best eats and treats are in all directions.

Finally, a glimpse down Lexington at the ever-majestic Chrysler Building, a Manhattan icon more durable than any automobile. That sight never gets old.

Denis Leary Pumped About Rescue Me Return

Spent Friday in New York on the set of one of my favorite shows on TV, Rescue Me. The scorching, New York firehouse black comedy is produced on a sound stage in Queens, N.Y. Rescue Me has been off air for a year-and-a-half due to the writers strike and is roaring back for a sixth season with 22 new episodes. They begin airing April 7 on FX and April 19 on Showcase in Canada.
Highlight was getting 50 minutes with star/writer/producer Denis Leary, a big NHL fan who walked in sporting a Winnipeg Jets jersey. Leary, from the Boston area, grew up a Bruins fan and is pals with former power forward Cam Neelly. Leary and several others crew members play hockey every Thursday morning at a nearby rink before reporting to work at the studio.
Leary parked his pack of Marlboro Lights on a coffee table (he has the entire cast smoking, including some who had quit) and spoke about how his show is employing all the Canucks in the States not already working for his pal Kiefer Sutherland (photographed with Leary at last January's Fox press tour party in Los Angeles). Among them are series regular Callie Thorne and, for five episodes this season, Michael J. Fox, who plays a real jerk who is moving in with Leary's Character Tommy Gavin's ex-wife. Leary says he and writing and producing partner Peter Tolan have been trying to find the right part for Fox for years and both are thrilled to get him for the series.
Leary spoke about how the series was originally pitched to HBO but did not end up there because Leary and Tolin would not surrender ownership. They've thrilled to have found a home at FX, where Leary says marketing and PR is second to none. (Check out the eye catching NYC bus ad, above, one of several featuring Leary and other cast members dotting New York and other big market American cities.) He marveled at how the marketing people got into the creative meetings right from the get go. "No one sells a show like these guys," he says.
You have to remember FX was still a bit of a leap of faith when this series took root. The Shield had just put it on the creative community map.
Leary spoke of very many things during the course of the wide ranging chat. He liked that they doubled up this season with 22 episodes instead of the usual 13, shooting two at once over a 15 day span. He and Tolin try not to work more than two episodes ahead because the cast contributes so much to the storylines, he says. There was only a few days left to shoot when I spoke with Leary, who now faces two months of editing and promotion, but he seemed exhilarated. Having seen the first four episodes this season, he should be. The season is a real return to form, with core characters back to the fore. No show can go from laughter to tears on a dime like Rescue Me and look for plenty of both this season. A female french reporter, who quizzes the firehouse staff for her upcoming 10th anniversary book on 9/11, brings the attacks on ther World Trader Center towers and the after effects back to the front burner.
Leary also spoke about another theme that fascinates me as a viewer, the whole random acts vs. acts of God thing. Stuff happens on Rescue Me that is breathtaking in terms of shattering expectations on both sides of the random/God scale. Leary and Tolan's Irish Catholic upbringing get a thorough work out on this series.
Leary also has his own theory that all great people in history have some Irish in them, listing Barack Obama, Robert De Niro Muhammad Ali and others as proof. And if they smoke that's even better, apparently.
Leary says he did manage to quit smoking for nine months or so, but then he did a movie with Clint Eastwood where Eastwood's character had to smoke constantly and kept blowing blue smoke right in Leary's face. It was cool walking around with Eastwood, says Leary, because he would smoke everywhere and nobody dared to tell Clint to butt out. That's a movie star.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Your Hometown News--From Someplace Else

SYRACUSE, N.Y.--Cinefest wraps up today with a few more surprises--although the biggest bomb was dropped last night outside the screening room.
One of the regulars here, an ad sales veteran who has worked in broadcast television for years, happened to mention how hard the economy has hammered local New York TV stations. Case in point: the news team at two Syracuse network affiliates--the CBS and NBC local stations--have begun to share staffs, including on-air personnel, with rival stations in other parts of the country.
It's not exactly breaking news--Mediaweek reported this nearly three weeks ago--it was just news to me.
They call it a "shared service agreement." Basically, the news broadcast at the Granite-owned CBS affiliate in Syracuse, WTVH-TV, is operated from the studios of the Barrington-owned NBC affiliate in Peoria, Ill., WSTM. Sales and promotional resources also went to Peoria. The flip worked the other way with two other stations.
The result was that 40 positions were eliminated at WTVH, one of the oldest affiliates in the United States, dating back to 1948. After 60 years, goodbye local weatherguy, sports guy, etc.
It's a bit like the Yankees and the Red Sox sharing players to save money on the road. CBS and NBC have never been that cozy.
My immediate thought: if CBS and NBC can team up to save cash, how quickly will CTV and Global, who both claim carrying local newscasts is killing them? If the CRTC won't sign off on their dump local newscasts plan, how soon will they jump on this kind of a "shared service agreement"?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The First Colour TV Show? Gumby, Dammit

Catching up from beautiful downtown Liverpool, N.Y., home of Cinefest 29. People here are buzzed about the Syracuse Orangemen in the March Madness B-ball tourney, president Obama on Leno tonight and a bunch of old films from the `20s and `30s--pretty much in that order.
The big gem from the floor of the Liverpool Holiday Inn screening room was a TV treasure--a rare clip of claymation titles made by Art Clokey of Gumby fame for The Dinah Shore Chevy Show in the mid-50s. The Kodachrome clip showed, among other things, a claymation NBC peacock unfurling full colour claymation feathers. Gumby, by the way, was introduced around this time on Howdy Doody, which was the first U.S. network TV show to be broadcast in colour. It occurred on Labor Day, 1955, which must have impressed the four or five people out there who had RCA colour TVs.
Moving on to radio, this week`s TV Talk with CHML`s Scott Thompson got into The Celebrity Apprentice and Tom Green`s tossing this week, as well as other stuff I can`t even remember anymore; you can listen in here.
Here, too, are Wednesday night`s numbers: That Next Great Prime Minister thingy returned with 606,000 viewers according to overnight BBM Canada estimates. Even the Green Party did better than that last election. Being Erica drew 537,000, Jeopardy! 916,000, CBC National News 953,000.
CTV had their usual big Wednesday with 2,044,000 catching American Idol. CSI: New York got 1,884,000 and Criminal Minds 1,723,000. The CTV National News was up to 1,118,000.
Global`s Lie To Me held steady at 758,000, Life got 488,000 and Life on Mars came down to earth with 389,000.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cinefest is Best

Hitting the road for the rest of the week to attend Cinefest 29 in beautiful downtown Liverpool N.Y. This is geek paradise for 16mm film collectors, with wall-to-wall film screenings over the next four days. On the bill: The Lady Who Dared (1931), with Billie Dove, The Darkening Trail (1915) with William S. Hart and, of course, The Boys From Syracuse (1940), with Allan Jones and Martha Raye (above). All of which beats the hell out of sitting around waiting for The Osbournes Reloaded on Fox. (For more information on all the screenings, including rare 35mm gems shown Saturday morning at the vintage neighborhood movie house The Palace Theater, go here.)
Hopping a plane in the middle of it all to zip into Long Island Friday to interview Denis Leary on the set of one of my favorite series, Rescue Me. The singed and sassy NYFD series returns for a sixth season April 19 on Showcase after a year-and-a-half hiatus due partially to the writers strike.
Will be filing from the road, just not as much. A few numbers to leave you by:
MONDAYS RATINGS: Global takes the night on the strength of its megahit House (2,472,000 viewers according to BBM Canada overnight "commercial" estimates). Jack Bauer and 24 pulled a strong 1,248,000 behind the good doctor.
CTV stayed close with 9 p.m. comedies Two and a Half Men (1,681,000) followed by Corner Gas (1,137,000). The Big Bang Theory (718,000) and especially Gary Unmarried (333,000) fell under House arrest at 8. CSI: Miami did its usual robust 1,808,000 at 10 p.m.
CBC Monday comedies Little Mosque (581,000) and stick-a-fork-in-it Sophie (193,000), continue to limp toward the season-ending finish line. The Halifax Comedy Fest (291,000) and Winnipeg Comedy Fest (349,000) appear to be only drawing from those two cities.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Single Female Voter Wins in a Landslide

We asked and you answered. A record 136 readers voted in the latest TVFMF poll, which asked, "Should Geri Hall's 'Single Female Voter' stop crashing political press conferences on This Hour Has 22 Minutes?"
An overwhelming 83% of you said, go Geri, go, keep gooning politicians. Just 16% said cut it out.
This Hour Has 22 Minutes executive producer Mark Farrell says Hall's Avery Adams character won't be back this season (including tonight's second last show at 8:30 on CBC), but "not because we're gun shy; there just doesn't seem to be an opportunity."
All in all, he's pleased with the way Hall's character connected with viewers. His two favorite bits: "when Geri said the thing to Ignatieff about three-ways never working out the way you plan; or when Geri said to Duceppe while dancing with him: 'I have to apologize; my stomach is doing cartwheels, I have a weak constitution, but you like that don't you?'"
Tonight on 22 Minutes: Gunther Wilson (Gavin Crawford) discusses ‘Geo Fencing’ and introduces his younger brother, Aalto (Nathan Fielder) on "Computer Corner."
SUNDAY NIGHT NUMBERS: CTV led all networks in 2+ "commercial" overnight estimates with The Amazing Race (1,834,000), Desperate Housewives (1,579,000) and out of simulcast The Mentalist (1,106,000), although Degrassi got the night off to another weak start with just 222,000 viewers across Canada.
Global's lineup of Fox animated comedies continue to draw well in the big cities and among the younger demos, with The Simpsons (1,013,000), King Of The Hill (758,000), Family Guy (996,000) and American Dad (712,000) at robust levels. The ABC soap Brothers & Sisters lags at 10 p.m. with 586,000 viewers. If only it was more animated!
CBC saw 509,000 tune in for its horsey drama Heartland, followed by 441,000 for the Sunday night special, "India Reborn."

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Line is Worth The Weight

How long has it taken for The Line to get to air? So long that the magazine that assigned me to write about it folded.
Which is a bloody shame since The Line is great television and deserves all the coverage it can get. It starts tonight on The Movie Network (10 p.m.) and Movie Central (9 p.m.).
It was in October of 2007 when I drove out to darkest Scarberia to spend a day on the set of what was then known as "The Weight." Bit ironic given the long wait for the damn show to appear. The shoot was taking place that day at a seedy motel which the series had taken over for the duration of the production. As memory serves it was a pretty dreary, October day but there was plenty of warmth on the set. I must have gabbed with Daniel Kash for 40 minutes over lunch. We talked about hockey, our parents, life and, of course, how damn fine the craft services meal was.
I'd first met Kash years earlier when he played tragic Toronto Maple Leaf Brian "Spinner" Spencer in an under-rated TV-movie Aton Egoyan directed. He's a damn fine actor and this role is right down his power alley.
Kash was pumped about playing this crazy, reckless, irresponsible, down-and-out cop who was blown every last chance thrown his way. Like the rest of the cast, he couldn't believe he had lucked into a George F. Walker script.
Walker is the Canadian playwright who penned the CBC drama This Is Wonderland. His shows are populated with misfits and characters who are neck deep in crisis and dysfunction. Real people, in other words.
In one of the seedier rooms on the upper deck of the dilapidated motel I met Linda Hamilton, the Terminator babe who was dressed down for the role of a grifter on this series. Her character had been beaten up and she was covered in black and blue makeup. She could not have been friendlier or more carefree and was a delight to meet.
As we stood in the motel room which was covered floor to ceiling in filth (the set dressers had to fix up this place to look seedy), I said something like "if these walls could talk they'd be slurring their words." This provoked a laugh and we got along very well.
Hamilton was on the series thanks to the director, Gail Harvey, who I've know from my days as a photo editor at TV Guide and her days as one of the city's busiest unit photographers. Harvey had directed Hamilton in a previous TV-movie and when the director called to offer the part in the Walker production, Hamilton left Hollywood and flew up to Scarborough. She, too, was blown away by Walker's words.
Hamilton seemed quite content to be as far removed from Hollywood glamor as possible. She broke through in the late '80s prime time soap Beauty and the Beast playing someone who always needed to be rescued. She became famous as someone who could look after herself opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first two Terminator movies.
Hamilton was candid about her career and her battle with a bipolar disorder. She'd found the right medication was was finally a happy camper and that was certainly the case that day on the set (and the word from her costars).
I wrote a piece at the time for CP about her not being involved in what was then the upcoming Sarah Connor Terminator series on Fox. Rushing to get the piece up on the wire and looking for a few background details, I had checked her out on a few Internet bio sites, all of which suggested she had been married three times (once to Terminator director and Canadian James Cameron).
Shortly after that piece came out I got a call from the unit publicist who had arranged the interviews. Hamilton was pissed. She had not been married three times, but twice.
I really regretted causing her any grief, because she was so up and impressive on that rainy day in Scarborough. It was a sharp reminder not to rely on even the usual sources for private life details. IMDb isn't the Bible, folks.
All of which is, well, ancient history by now. The good news is that The Line is on the air, starting tonight, with a total of 15 episodes set to roll. The series explores the line between right and wrong, good and bad and sometimes even erases it. It reminds me a bit of a series that was years ahead of its time--Paul Haggis' EZ Streets.
That short-lived cop show was the blueprint for every great show about moral ambiguity that followed. Since then, moral ambiguity has been done so well by so many great TV playwrights--David Chase on The Sopranos, David Simon on The Wire, Matthew Weiner on Mad Men, Vince Gilligan on Breaking Bad, David Milch on Deadwood--that Walker's show might seem late to the party and a tad derivative to some viewers. Just keep in mind that two of those shows, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, came out after Walker wrote these scripts and even after The Line was in production. The wheels turn slowly in Canadian television, and sometimes it is all about annual budgets and bottom line and funding and all of that stuff. It is a wonder Astral and Corus didn't wind up calling this series The Bottom Line.
Still, this show is easy to root for. These are our morally ambiguous stories, told by our actors in our city. Ron White has the tricky role of playing the (sorta) good cop to Kash's (pretty much) bad cop and he walks this Line with great effect. All the actors are terrific, including Cle Bennet (Doomstown) as a jumpy drug dealer with ties to the two cops and Yanna McIntosh (This Is Wonderland) as White's character's long suffering wife Karen.
Several other American stars crossed the border to get in on Walker's words, including an actor who was won more Emmy Awards than anyone else: Ed Asner. Sharon Lawrence (NYPD Blue) steals a few scenes as well.
So even though SHOW magazine folded and I didn't get this series on the cover of a magazine, please, both of you reading this, watch The Line. Hopefully I'll get that Kash profile in print before another magazine or newspaper folds!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Save CHCH: Is This Where TV is Heading?

Will going local save television? It has worked on radio, where local clothing store ads from "the heart of Greektown" seem to run on Toronto's The Fan and AM640 every eight minutes. Moses Znaimer's philosophy, when City-TV was his playpen, was it was all about what was happening on your street. Maybe Moses was on to something all along.
Which brings me to Donna Skelly and her fight to keep CHCH on the air, in Hamilton and all about local news. Skelly co-hosts 'Ch's Live @ 5:30, where she spars daily with Mark Hebscher over the issues of the day. It is a show I've had the pleasure to be a guest on many time over the past few years.
Producer Lawrence Diskin picks a topic, guests with opposing views are wrangled and everybody lets it rip for five minutes. The discussion is about something people are talking about that day. The show is a lean little operation, draws a pretty consistent audience and is a pretty good indication that Skelly's plan to scale back a TV station to a community level can work.
I've written about Skelly's plan for CHCH in Sunday's Toronto Star. You can read the full story here. Have to say I admire here spunk. She's putting it all on the line to keep the station in Steeltown. There apparently is some genuine interest in the station from an outside source, and the word I'm hearing is that it's not one of the usual media suspects. Hopefully, whoever shows up with have deep enough pockets and will also have to courage and vision to go with the community first plan.
Over the past two or three decades, the further the various owners moved away from the Hamilton plan, the more they ruined the station. The ONtv thing was just lame, nobody ever considered it Ontario's station. Canwest thought importing E!'s C-List celebrity content and slapping into the sister stations would be the big fix for audiences and advertisers but, hell, we were already sick and tired of all that red carpet crap from 5 to 8 every damn night on 15 other stations. And none of it was about Hamilton anymore. Hell, it wasn't even about Ontario or even Canada.
There's a "Save CHCH" Facebook group to join, check ot out here. That's where you'll also find information about a rally down at the station on Jackson Street Tuesday at 5. Celebrate St. Patty's Day with Skelly and Company.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Impact: Stewart, Stunts and Specialty

Do casting stunts score in specialty the way they do on broadcast TV?
Thursday night's dust up between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer on The Daily Show shows a mixed reaction. In Canada, The Daily Show scored 138,000 viewers at 11 p.m. on The Comedy Channel, then another 282,000 on CTV at midnight for a combined total of 420,000 viewers. Sophie should be so lucky.
One week earlier, Stewart's showcase pulled just 152,000 on a Thursday night on CTV, so big gain there, nearly double the audience.
Yet on Comedy, Thursday night's audience wasn't nearly as robust as it was on Monday, when Stewart pulled 189,000.
Either way, not bloody bad for a specialty channel take.
Brought to mind an eye popping pie chart spotted over on Steve Faguy's punchy Montreal media blog Fagstein a few week back. It shows how the audience is split between all the channel options--network, specialty, digital and Pay-TV. It all looks like spokes on a bicycle wheel, with the conventional broadcast networks enjoying just slightly fatter spaces between the spokes.

And that was two seasons ago, before the networks really hit the wall.

Speaking of specialty, a steady TVFMF reader asked for more non network numbers at this site. Happy to oblige. Look at the audience South Park scores on Comedy: Monday, 224,000, Thursday, 195,000. That is more than CTV has scored some weeks with Degrassi or Global scored last week with Da Kink in My Hair--and it is rich in 18-34-year-olds.
Showcase drew 189,000 last night for "Walking Tall," then scored 129,000 for an episode of Numb3rs--at midnight! A repeat of Trailer Park Boys pulled 125,000 at 5:30 p.m.
Not everything kills in specialty. The new comedy Testees drew just 18,000 Monday at 10:30 on Showcase. It takes balls to sink that low.
THURSDAY NIGHT NUMBERS: CTV was the big winner, scoring 1,536,000 overnight, estimated "commercial" viewers for CSI, 2,134,000 for Grey's Anatomy and 1,981,000 for George Clooney's return to soon to end ER (2.02 million on the CTV "Total" scale). In the U.S., Clooney's visit scored NBC its best ER number in two years, 10.7 million viewers. The series finale airs April 2.
Global took the 8 p.m. slot with Survivor Tocantins (1,792,000) but took a hit at 9 with The Office (717,000) and a big hit at 9:30 with Da Kink In My Hair (171,000, just 49,000 25-54). Life had barely a pulse at 10 with 221,000.
Jeopardy!, now in its "Tournament of Champions," pulled 932,000 2+ 7:30 on CBC. Nothing else came close on the night, including Doc Zone (423,000) and the CBC National News (728,000).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tamer Cramer Turtles on Stewart

Not much of a fight, this Jon Stewart vs. Jim Cramer showdown on Thursday night's edition of The Daily Show. The two have been sniping at each other all week on their TV shows. But CNBC Mad Money host Cramer simply turtled on Stewart's turf, letting the comedian rip Cramer a new hedge fund. While Stewart won an easy decision, better to have mocked, goofed on or simply reduced Cramer to a joke, as he usually does to worthy targets on The Daily Show, then to have had him on as a guest and swear at him.
"I hope that was as uncomfortable to watch as it was to do," Stewart said at the end and it was. But I bet the ratings are through the roof tomorrow.
Anyway, Wednesday night's overnight estimated BBM/NMR numbers: Being Erica (582,000) did okay considering she was up against a relocated episode of American Idol (2,217,000). The Week The Women Went, which got duller by the week, went for good Wednesday night, signing off with 796,000. Jeopardy! (1,146,000) and the CBC National News (832,000) both had good nights.
Idol wasn't the only big hit on CTV Wednesday night. Even on the "commercial" BBM score, it cleaned up, drawing 1,832,000 for Criminal Minds at 8 and 2,082,000 for C.S.I. New York at 10. The 2 million per hour night had some carry over into the CTV National News, which scored a robust 1,273,000 viewers.
Global sells exclusively 18-49, big cities, so make what you will of their 2+ national boxcar numbers: Lie To Me, 791,000, Bones, 1,037,000 and Life On Mars 447,000.

Chaotic Encounters at Con U

Spent parts of the past two days checking out Convenience U, or "Con U" as the natives call it. It's billed as "Canada's National Convenience, Gas and Car Wash Event."
The Toronto confab, located near the airport, is a surreal mix of convention displays, everything from giant car wash railings and hoses to state-of-the-art gas pumps to every conceivable candy/drink goodie you can get within a hundred feet of a gas station AMB swiper.
There are even guys pushing stainless steel doggie wash tanks (set one up next to your car wash), with settings like "ticks and lice" next to wash and rinse. Come to think of it, one of those things would be a good place for me to rinse out my hockey equipment.
I gained entry to this secret little business deal thanks to Carlin C. West, executive vice president of New York based 4Kids Entertainment. They're the folks behind Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! and the next generation of collectible card games, Chaotic.
If you have a 6-12 year old at home they probably know all about it. The animated Chaotic M'arrillian Invasion series is already the No. 1 show for kids in that age range on Teletoon.
What's it about? Brace yourselves, parents. Maxxor, Rothar and Van Bloot are coming ‘atcha.
No, they’re not the German Jonas brothers. They’re creatures from Chaotic, a collectible card game/animated kids show/marketing kidapalooza set to sweep Canada.
You’ve heard of Pikachu, right? That cute little Pokémon critter was just part of the advance team.
Read more about Chaotic in the feature I just filed on the CP news wire. Check it out here.
West and her Team Chaotic gamers were all over Con U, supporting the dudes behind a cool, new “nutrient infused” Chaotic brand drink. The tall 12 oz can has Maxxor and other Chaotic creatures splashed all over the label, so good luck getting the kids to part with those cans. Plus the container comes with secret codes (giving kids another virtual playing card) on the bottom of each zip top tab.
It was fun scoping out the rest of the Con U sharpies trying to foist their impulse buy wares upon an unsuspecting public. There were power drinks sponsored by WWE dudes, plenty of candy and snack goodies and even babes in hot Hooters tops teasing passers by with "Before and After Mints." They come in little lip-shaped containers, the mints do. The girls would not be specific about what exactly was meant by before and after, but pretty sure they weren't talking about pumping gas.
Bizarre to see so many grown men hawking giant display pumps, too. There dudes were way too into gas pumps, going on and on about how they now look like sexy ATM machines.
I'm not sure what you do with a Con U degree, but take me to graduate school.
As the show was shutting down Thursday, the various vendors were all over each other like ravens on a road kill, trying to stuff every last Kinder Egg surprise or Cola into goodie bags. It was like Halloween for bald guys.
Bit shocking, too, how many Jolt cola-like wake up drinks there are out there. Booth after booth had their own spin of the over-caffinated colas. Some even come in teeny tiny containers, with names like "Knock Knock Energy Shot" ("Sugar Free!"), "Kickbutt" energy balls and "Red Rain 12 Energy Drink" (Gives you "mental clarity and focus.") Canada must have the sleepiest drivers in the world! The powdered "ZizZazz" explosive energy mix is supposed to give you 1000% the required daily intake of vitamin B-12. Yikes!
The show stopper had to be the Jones Cane Sugar Soda label featuring Barack Obama. My favorite flavor: "Orange You Glad For Change Cola." Now, there's Hope.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obit Channel Faces Stiff Competition

This week on Talk Radio CHML with Scott Thompson, we get into all the new digital channels getting approved by the CRTC, including that new obituary channel coming out of Quebec. People are just dying to get on there! TV for dead people? Doesn't Jeopardy! already own that demo?
Also this B.S. about networks canceling your favorite shows due to the downturn in the economy, and some chit chat about all the Whozits on the latest edition of Dancing With the Stars. The dude from Jackass? Better to watch the bizarre cast on The Celebrity Apprentice, where both Scott and I agree Jesse James is the dude to watch. I've got him punching out Clint Black's lights by Week Six. You can listen in here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hall, McGuinty Get Their 22 Minutes

Those cheeky monkeys at This Hour Has 22 Minutes went ahead and aired Geri Hall's ambush of Dalton McGuinty tonight. Apparently the studio audience in Halifax who screened the edited clip last night weren't mortally offended. Curious to see the bit from the actual 22 Minutes P.O.V. instead of that raw feed that circulated through the City-TV and Global news lenses:



Hey, weren't those actual press dudes at that dead serious press conference laughing at the bit? Wasn't that McGuinty playing along and beckoning her forward with "one more question"? Who needs a hug now, Peter Kormos?

CBC Throws in Designer Towel on Steven and Chris

CBC announced today they were pulling the plug on their daytime lifestyles program Steven and Chris. The designer duo were coming in a poor third behind soaps and reruns on CTV and Global. A check of recent numbers showed the series pulling 59,000, 72,000, 83,000 across Canada at 2 p.m. E.T. in recent outings. Yesterday’s episode was up to 122,000 viewers (not 89,000 as erroneously reported here earlier), with 52,000 in the 25-54 demo.
CBC gave this deal a two year shot. Also getting the axe is Fashion File, which was down to 41,000 viewers Monday. That series lasted 19 seasons, 17 of them with Tim Blanks as host.
In her statement today, CBC programming boss Kirstine Layfield, who brought Steven Sabados and Chris Hyndman with her from her Alliance Atlantis programming days, blamed the economy for the demise of the show. That's a red herring we’re going to see more of in the coming weeks:
"Regretfully, as a result of our current financial situation, we have had to make the difficult decision that Steven and Chris will be on hiatus next season," said Layfield. "This is no reflection on either the hosts or the program; the show has seen increased viewership over the past year and Steven and Chris have a terrific relationship with their live studio audiences; we very much hope to continue to work with Steven and Chris in the future."
At least she didn't say Steven and Chris were "resting" as CTV did about Canadian Idol. Can't anybody just admit anymore that a show has simply run its course?
The fact is, low ratings sunk this show, just as it sinks every show eventually. CBC tried to keep it on the radar, hosting press launches on the set, but journos were as disinterested as viewers. Steven and Chris’ act always seemed more at home on the home and garden networks, less of a CBC fit. The lesson may be don’t try to fight specialty with specialty fare.
Meanwhile, CBC, like other broadcasters, seem intent on using these announcements to make their case that only a government bailout can rescue made in Canada fare. How many days away is the CTV release suggesting the economy and lack of carriage fee funding has just torpedoed that most sacred of all exports, Degrassi: The Next Generation? Fact is Degrassi has fallen through the floor this season, down to an estimated 206,000 viewers for a new episode Sunday. The show that follows it on CTV, The Amazing Race, has ten times the audience. You do the math.
Did U.S. networks blame the economy when they canceled Life on Mars, Lipstick Jungle, My Own Worst Enemy or Journeyman? When Sophie gets the hook, please don't blame the economy, or infer that the feds killed her. Just let her go and put lovely Natalie Brown into something better.
OTHER MONDAY NUMBERS: Little Mosque on the Prairie 575,000, Sophie 234,000 (64,000 in the demo!), Just For Laughs 324,000. CTV’s Corner Gas was back up to 1,055,000, with Two and a Half Men pulling 1,388,000 and Big Bang Theory 816,000. CSI: Miami nabbed 1,551,000. Global’s power House beat all shows with 2,220,000, followed by another strong 24 outing at 1,298,000. Heroes was up a notch this week at 718,000 (all data BBM NMR overnight "commercial" estimates).

Monday, March 9, 2009

McGuinty Still May Get His 22 Minutes

Read all this trash talk about Geri Hall and This Hour Has 22 Minutes and had to weigh in. People seemed to be hyperventilating because the comedienne gooned Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty last week in Queen's Park. Even the guys I play hockey with on Thursdays, a bunch of retired school teachers, were pissed. Probably not your typical focus group, but they'd heard of the incident and they'd heard of her. "Can you believe what that chick did to McGuinty?" the right winger from Brampton asked. (Hockey right winger. A real right winger would not be sticking up for McGuinty).
Seemed to me she was just doing what she does for a living. Got in touch with This Hour Has 22 Minutes executive producer Mark Farrell, just in case he wanted to give his side of it, which seemed to be missing from what I'd read so far. He did.
CP grabbed some of what he had to say to me today; you can read it here.
Bottom line was that Hall, who has broken out this year as "Single Female Voter" Avery Adams, was just doing what she has done all season--political satire. Farrell sent her to Queen's Park at the invitation of the Queen's Park Press Gallery, who suggested McGuinty needed tweaking about his self imposed five foot personal space limit. The local press wags even offered to keep her hidden until it was time to pounce. She waited for a signal that the session was about to wrap, which she always does. She did her ambush thing, and McGuinty was appropriately awkward. Mission accomplished.
Except NDP MLA and former Sunshine Boy Peter Kormos went ballistic, spinning the comedy ambush into some sort of assault on working people in Ontario. `Get the hell out of here!`he brayed, bringing the encounter to an end.
It all got posted at thestar.com and other places, packaged as a CP video hit. Hall's crime was that her intrusion took place as McGuinty was speaking to job losses at Stelco in Hamilton and Nanticoke, which definitely is no laughing matter. But this was at the end of the session and this wasn't the joke Hall or 22 Minutes were ever going to tell.
Still, Hall was quickly tried and convicted, guilty of bad timing. Too bad Kormos never dared to pick on Mary Walsh in all her Marg Delehunty thunder. She would have cut him in half.
Any raw footage of one of these ambushes looks bad, say Farrell. "It's an ambush; we only get one take." Always part of 22 Minutes comedy arsenal, the ol`ambush ploy has been used to good effect on The Daily Show for years. It probably dates back to Candid Camera.
Farrell has had it edited and packaged and it will go before the 22 Minutes studio audience tonight in Halifax. If they laugh, it will be in tomorrow night's show. If they don't, it won't.
There are three new episodes left this season, with semi-regular Shaun Majumder back behind the anchor desk with the rest of the comedy correspondents.
The CBC series has enjoyed a ratings rebound in 2009 behind the Rick Mercer Report, approaching the million viewer mark a few weeks back. While there's usually no such thing as bad press in a ratings race, Farrell insists that won't be why the McGuinty skit airs, if it airs. "We won't milk it," he says. "It certainly wasn't designed as a stunt to boost our ratings."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Life and Death Lessons with Bryan Cranston

It can be strange listening to life pass by from the tiny speaker of a digital recorder. Two months ago I was in Los Angeles with dozens of other TV critics attending the winter TCA press tour. AMC had just concluded their session with Bryan Cranston, the star of the series Breaking Bad, and I scooted out into the lobby to join a press scrum with the actor. Cranston, by the way, turns 53 today.
The one time Malcolm in the Middle star has been a favorite of mine ever since he shot a Christmas-themed TV-movie in Toronto six or seven years ago. I remember meeting him on the set in an old warehouse in downtown Toronto, near Casa Loma. He was like a kid in a candy store and couldn't wait to show off the set, which had a giant Santa sleigh suspended from wires hung from the rafters. I thought it was pretty cool that Cranston got such a kick out of making movies and that he wasn't blase about essentially playing for a living, like a lot of other actors--as well as a lot of the reporters who cover them.
Anyway, it was time to start writing about Cranston, who won the best actor Emmy last September for the first season of Breaking Bad. (Season two premieres tomorrow night at 10 p.m.) I had an assignment for TV Guide Canada (read that feature here), so a week or so ago I found the Cranston audio file on my digi recorder and started to transcribe the press scrum session.
There were six or seven of us surrounding Cranston that day in January. Some scrums last two or three minutes before publicists rip the stars away and hustle them into electronic media sessions, into meet and greets with network executives or outside into limos. Cranston had no other agenda than to promote the series and he gave us a full 15 minutes.
As I listened to the conversation, I recognized one of the other press voices as belonging to Dave Waldon, an L.A.-based freelancer who passed away shortly after the January tour. Dave was 39. I wrote about his passing here in a previous TVFMF post.
Breaking Bad is about a high school chemistry teacher who finds out he has inoperable lung cancer. Desperate to provide for his family in the time he has left, he turns to a life of crime, specifically, making and selling crystal meth.

Cranston was talking about how having a death sentence hanging over your head has to profoundly change a man. Waldon kept returning to that theme; he had lived it. Back in college, he faced death until a liver transplant bought him another 18 years.

“Playing the character, have you gotten healthier in your own life?” Waldon asked Cranston. The actor said he had, doing things like hot house yoga to purge and sweat out his system. “In my own personal philosophy, there’s nothing more important than good health,” said Cranston. “You cannot be in love if you’re not healthy. You can’t appreciate it.”

Prompted by Waldon, he also talked about how the character, Walt White, had been emboldened by his death sentence, becoming a first class risk taker instead of the quiet little milquetoast he was before. Despite a prognosis of only a year to live, the character doesn’t lie down and wait for death. “We don’t go through life thinking I’m going to die some day,” said Cranston. “He loses track of that just like everybody else does.”

The implied lesson was to live every day as if it might be your last. Waldon, who, as it turned out, had days to live, already had that one down cold. For the rest of us, it couldn’t hurt to hear it again, even months later, out of the tiny speaker of a digital recorder.

I wrote more about Sunday’s return of Breaking Bad for CP but because of a conflict with an AP story it didn’t run this week. Damn, I hate when that happens. Here is part of that story below:

When series creator Vince Gilligan (The X Files) sent him the pilot script for Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston jumped at the chance to switch from broad comedy to dark drama. “Our first 20 minute scheduled meeting ended up being an hour and a half,” Cranston said in Los Angeles in January following an AMC Breaking Bad press conference. “I was fascinated by the script of the pilot. I couldn’t stop reading it. I called right away and said put me into this.”
What grabbed Cranston was a daring twist he’d never encountered before. Taking a character—in this case, mild mannered high school chemistry teacher Walt White—and turning him into a completely different person. Cranston sees White as being transformed “from being this milk toast, self repressed science teacher into becoming a sometimes ruthless drug dealer. Has anyone ever seen this?”
Gilligan describes it this way: he’s taking Mr. Chips and turning him into Scarface.
Season Two begins Sunday at 10 p.m. E.T. on AMC, with White calculating how many more drug drops he’ll need to perform before he has enough stashed away to provide for his wife and disabled teen son. The urgency is the death sentence over White’s head: he has been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. That’s what forced him to partner up with street smart former student Jesse Pinkman (played by Aaron Paul). Together, they put White’s chemistry knowledge into practice by cooking and selling crystal meth.
“When you’re given a death sentence of a year to live, it changes you,” says Cranston, who shaves his head and drops close to 9 kilograms at the start of each season to approximate the ravages of chemotherapy and other cancer inhibitors. “This man is so depressed for a lack of taking chances and the opportunities he has missed. He has nothing to lose now.” Sure, dealing with ruthless drug lords is deadly and dangerous, but, as Cranston says, `”even to feel fear and anxiety is better than feeling numb.”`
And that is the through line between White from Breaking Bad and the foolish father from “Malcolm.” “Hal was breaking bad constantly,” says Cranston. “That’s what made him so fearful. He lived in fear. That was Hal’s emotional centre and that’s where a lot of the comedy stemmed from--his fear of failing at marriage, at parenthood, at his job, at everything. It was great for comedy.”
The actor believes that if you drew a Zen diagram of the two characters, “there are more similarities than just their tighty-whitey underwear,” he says. “Walt also lives in a world where he was numbed by his inability to cope with life.”
White gets a few more years this season to consider his extreme course of action. Early on, a procedure is done which allows doctors to extend White’s life expectancy. This gives him time to think about his new life of crime and whether he would rather return to his old, docile self. “I think Walt would be hard pressed to want to put the Genie back in the bottle,” says Cranston.”He can call his own shots, people are afraid of him now—wow. He’s never felt that way before.”
As an actor, Cranston embraced taking risks a long time ago. The approach has landed him memorable roles on both comedies (such as “Seinfeld”) and dramas (“Little Miss Sunshine”) and has even led to directing (including Sunday’s season premiere episode).
There was that one time, however, he went a little too far. A movie role called for a cocky, egotistical cowboy punk. “I’m just going to walk in and be just that guy,” Cranston said to himself on his way to the audition.
He walked in, ignored the casting director’s outstretched hand, sat down and put his boots on his desk.
“Get your boots off my desk,” said the director, who was not amused. Cranston knew he had already blown it. “It wouldn’t matter if I read for you now, would it?” he asked. The director agreed. Cranston walked away.
“He hated me,” says Cranston. “That’s the one thing about casting directors—they don’t have the power to say yes, but they certainly have the power to say no.”

Friday, March 6, 2009

Kimmel and Bits, U2 Rock Late Night

TV Feeds My Family has gone a bit overboard on Jimmy Fallon this week, what with his debut and all (Drew Barrymore guests tonight). This is not to overlook all the other cool stuff happening elsewhere on late night these days. Check out this finger lickin' good spoof on Jimmy Kimmel Live from a week or so ago: Mel Gibson stars in "The Colonel":



Kimmel, who rocked the Internet when he and gal pal Sarah Silverman did their dueling Matt Damon/Ben Affleck videos, has done it again, combining big names with great production values in an edgy, over-the-top sketch. How crazy is it that Miracle on the Hudson hero "Sully" Sullivan has a cameo? I get a little sick of Cousin Sal and some of Kimmel's family of characters, but nobody does filmed bits better in late night.
Craig Ferguson, too, has had a strong week, kicked off with that CBS stunt pairing him with Paris Hilton on a series of interstitials Monday. Ferguson can rip off a rant like nobody else, especially when he weighs in on weightier issues like he did this week on Apartheid or his take on swearing, including the seven words you can never say on CBS: "Let's give Craig Ferguson a decent salary."

Any comedian who can make you laugh and think and move discussions the next day from a platform at quarter to one in the morning is on top of his game.
Finally, how cool was it having U2 kick Letterman up a notch all week? Besides their blistering musical set pieces, the Irish rockers played along with several comedy bits, lamely shoveling snow Monday and having fun with the Top-10 list Wednesday, where The Edge even snuck in a juicy ad lib slam against Sting. Check it out below and catch their last set tonight.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Girl on Girl Gooses Erica

Being Erica got a lift from her special gal pal last night, rebounding to 518,000 viewers (BBM NMR overnight estimates). Promoted like crazy as a sexier than usual episode (content warnings appeared on screen twice), Being Erotica was up nearly 100,000 CBC viewers from the week before and registered its second highest score in its new Wednesday night timeslot.
It didn't hurt that two ratings powerhouses were not in the 9 p.m. mix last night. Lost was shoved up to 7 p.m. in the Toronto market to make room for a two hour America's Next Top Model on Barrie's A channel. A shorter, one hour American Idol (which scored 1,809,000 CTV "commercial" viewers at 8) moved that juggernaut out of Erica's way, too, leaving her to duke it out at 9 with CTV's Criminal Minds (1,285,000) and Global rookie Lie to Me (795,000).
At 8, The Week The Women Went continued to trend down to 592,000. Global staying in the mix with a rerun of over used House at 8 (776,000) and the already canceled Life on Mars at 10 (356,000).
Jeopardy? What's pulled 1,055,000 viewers Wednesday, Alex.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fallon's Night Two Numbers

Was there a big Jimmy Fallon fall off for night two of Late Night? In Toronto, Fallon actually held much of his 2+ premiere audience from the night before. An estimated total of 37,000 tuned in to Fallon at 12:37 a.m. early Wednesday morning on Barrie’s A channel CKVR, down 7,000 from the 44,000 opener (all numbers BBM Canada NMR overnights).
That dropped Fallon (above, with Tina Fey) behind Tonight (CKVR, 11:35, 46,000) and the U2 enhanced Letterman (OMNI1, 11:35, 44,000), as well as the usual late night Toronto leaders The Daily Show (CFTO, 12:05, 66,000) and The Colbert Report (CFTO, 12:35, 55,000). Well back were City’s Jimmy Kimmel (11,000), down sharply after being goosed to 51,000 the night before as the babe switchin’ Bachelor took his lumps with Jimmy.
Those 7000 missing Fallon viewers went directly to OMNI1’s Craig Ferguson, up to 18,000 in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
Fallon’s biggest fall of was among viewers in the 25-54-year-old demo. He sank from 24,000 viewers to 9,000 in Night Two. Letterman and U2 seemed to gain from that switch, with Dave drawing 22,000 in the demo Tuesday night.
Fallon's Night Two fall off was sharper in Vancouver, where he dropped from 16,000 to 7,000 night to night.
TUESDAYS PRIME TIME NUMBERS: The Rick Mercer Report continues its strong season with 1,102,000 2+ viewers. Jeopardy! At 7:30 was right behind at 1,031,000, although just 231,000 25-54. This Hour Has 22 Minutes, featuring Gavin Crawford’s killer Iggy impression, pulled 738,000, with rookie pony show Wild Roses lassoing at 432,000.
Cash strapped, signal shedding CTV drew 2,027,000 "commercial" viewers with their two hour American Idol simulcast (CTV’s final “Total” viewers will be slightly higher). Law & Order SVU drew 1,092,000 at 10.
Insolvent “E”jector Global scored a hefty 1,154,000 with Idol proof NCIS. Nearly a million bailed at 10 p.m., as zipless remake 90210 lurched to just 190,000 viewers.