Thursday, April 30, 2009

Knee News Knocks Radio Report

My usual Wednesday Talk Radio chat with CHML's Scott Thompson was bumped to Thursday this week by my mom's knee. Howzat? Margaret had knee replacement surgery Wednesday at Toronto Western Hospital and is doing well, thanks. When the doctor asked her if anything made her heart beat irregular prior to the surgery she never missed a beat. "Only when I look at him," she said, pointing to my dad. These two kids have been married 61 years.
You'd think I was the one who was being operated on the way I go all ballistic over the prospects of broadcasters CTV and Global getting Carriage fee bailout booty. That plus last Sunday's highly entertaining Joan and Melissa Rivers meltdown on The Celebrity Apprentice get the old Thompson radio run down. You can listen in here.
If anyone was wondering if I sounded any more or less rational on American radio, check out the link to a recent chit chat with Morning Man Mike Miller at WIMA in Lima, Ohio. Mike and I tee it up every Monday morning; this report was from two weeks ago when I was previewing Harper's Island and Parks & Recreation. WIMA is a Fox Radio affiliate located in the heart of Buckeye Country. You can listen in here.

CBC, TSN, Tweak Their Hockey Pool Picks

With Round Two of the NHL playoffs facing off tonight, CBC seems desperate to get back into the game, ratings wise.
It was announced in a release today that CBC and TSN are flipping playoff games. CBC will now carry tomorrow night's Round Two opener between the Detroit Red Wings and the Anaheim Ducks and TSN will get Game Six, if it goes that far, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals.
CBC will also throw in Don Cherry and three of his suits. Kidding. CBC gets what it wants, a solid, 7 p.m. start (the Wings/Ducks kick off at the Joe Louis in Detroit). The public broadcaster was burned with several late starts from the west coast during round one, with ratings slipping down around the hald-million mark.
But it is stil bizarre that CBC will carry all but one of the Crosby/Ovechkin contests with TSN getting all but one of the Wings and Ducks games. MediaProfile publicist James Lamont explained that, had TSN been stuck with the Wings opener, they would have had a conflict with a Bruins/Hurricanes game, forcing them to bump the Wings to TSN2 (not carried by everybody, including cable giant Rogers). CBC, meanwhile, had a potential conflict with Game Six Pittsburgh/Caps, which could run into the sixth game of the Vancouver/Chicago series. "Both networks wanted the widest distribution possible," says Lamont.
So far, distribution has not been a problem for TSN, which cashed in big time with Tuesday's exciting Caps/Rangers Game Seven finale, scoring 1,351,000 viewers for the 9:30 start. Another thriller, Carolina's 4-3 ouster of the Devils, pulled 886,000 Tuesday at 7.
CBC meanwhile, was off ice Tuesday as the series they were covering wrapped up early. The tried to make do with a Montreal Canadians 100th anniversary special, but, like the Habs 0-4 playoff run, that tanked, drawing a Sophie-like 193,000 (all numbers BBM Canada overnight estimates.
Vancouver starts their Round Two series against the Chicago Black Hawks tonight at 7 p.m. on CBC.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TSN Beating CBC At Its Own Game

With Vancouver through in four, CBC's remaining round one NHL playoff games are going right through the five hole. The big hockey action is over at TSN, which scored 1,104,000 for a 9:30 Black Hawks/Flames game Monday night. CBC had to stall with reruns of Sophie (156,000) and Little Mosque (211,000) until their late, 10:30 San Jose/Anaheim start, which drew a Being Erica-like 511,000.
TSN has had the good luck to draw the tighter, more exciting series. Tonight's Ranger/Capitals Game Seven nail biter is another thriller (with Caps taking it 2-1).
Jeopardy! ratings are also way offside since playoffs began. The long-running gamer, good for a million-a-night most weeks at 7:30, drew 273,000 Monday at 4 p.m. With last night's late hockey start, why not shift it back to its usual dinnertime slot? Friday it drew 289,000 at 4, last Thursday, 184,000, Wednesday, 145,000. What is witness protection plan scheduling, Alex?
The lack of CBC hockey heat is allowing the private nets to skate straight up centre. Monday night, House (1,811,000) and 24 (1,068,000) were formidable as usual. CTV scored 1,603,000 (BBM Canada overnight estimate "commercial" tally) for CSI Miami, with Two and a Half Men picking up another 1,539,000.

Take My Temperature, Please

Jay Leno was his jokey self on his first day back to work Monday night. Leno missed two nights of The Tonight Show last week--the first two sick days ever for the late night iron man--after recording a temperature of 103 degrees provoking an overnight trip to the hospital. "I ate a raw pig brought back from Mexico," joked Topical Jay, who also said he had a dream at the hospital that he was suffocating. "I woke up and Conan was holding a pillow over my head."
It kept going. Leno said he heard "doctors in next room trying to revive NBC's schedule." The band started with the "Hooray for Hollywood" music as Leno went into full Rodney Dangerfield mode. He said he was given a couple of shots in the rear end. "I didn't feel any better but afterwards I hit two home runs."
There were more swine flu jokes. "It originated with pigs or an AIG executive," cracked Leno.
Even Canada was a target. Leno reported that two Canadians were discovered having sex in a dumpster. "That's what I call white trash!" ripped Jay, who takes his last Tonight Show bow May 29. Cue the rim shot. Tip your waitress.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sweet Baby James Scores on Spectacle

I very much enjoyed Friday's low key Spectacle visit with James Taylor. The man's voice is still smooth as silk and his stories were smart and genuine. He seemed to bring out the best in host Elvis Costello, too, both in the duets and in the questions which were thoughtful and original.
Costello brought Taylor back to his first big pop star moment, the 1971 Lincoln Folk Festival, where the North Carolina-native was top of the bill with The Byrds, Dion and many others. "It was an amazing afternoon of great music," said Costello, who was there in that audience.
Soft-spoken Taylor said he felt his intimate sound being blown up that day. Instant fame was a jarring transition for him as well as a lot of other young music acts who broke big at the end of the '60s. "You can say that it killed some people," said Taylor, who, prodded by Costello, singled out Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin and former Rolling Stone Brian Jones.
"The transition of becoming the product, of being at the centre of the popular culture, that's a big deal, a shock," he said.
Taylor, who has spoken publicly about his struggle with drug addiction, also allowed later that the rock and roll lifestyle nearly took his own life. "By all rights I really shouldn't be here at all--about five times," he said. "Just stupid mistakes." It was all very intimate and interesting.
Ratings for this CTV music series continue to stick around the 600,000 mark, with BBM Canada counting 576,000 on their "commercial" overnight estimates. This Friday: Costello sits while series exec producer Elton John quizzes Costello's misses, Diana Krall.
In other weekend numbers, some scheduling oddities ensured that the NHL playoffs seem to be playing to ever smaller rooms. CBC Saturday saw an early game draw 542,000 and a late game pull another 551,000; a 7 p.m. movie pulled a meager 176,000. TSN took advantage Saturday night scoring 882,000 for a game at Hockey Night in Canada's normal 7 p.m. hour.
Other weekend numbers: Friday's Flashpoint continues to perform very well in Canada, drawing an estimated 1,277,000 "commercial" viewers. CTV's big Sunday imports rolled to victory with big commercial tallys for The Amazing Race (2,178,000) Desperate Housewives (1,615,000) and The Mentalist (1,288,000). New TV 'toons Bob & Doug (265,000) and Sit Down, Shut Up (401,000) are so far not catching fire on Global's night of animated comedies.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Melissa Gets Bounced, Joan Goes Ballistic on Best Celebrity Apprentice Ever

"You're a poker player. That's beyond white trash."
Joan Rivers spat that at Annie Duke on Sunday night`s electric, best ever episode of Celebrity Apprentice.
Rivers ripped into the World Series of Poker champion after her daughter Melissa--beyond mommy's protection on the opposing team--was fired by Donald Trump in a tense, edgy catfight of a board room session. Melissa got the heave after getting ganged up by Duke and losing team leader Brande Roderick when all three were called into the boardroom. Roderick called Rivers "erratic" and "a crazy person" earlier in the episode. Bottom line, as far as Trump was concerned, Melissa was not raising as much money as Duke and Roderick. As things were heating up between the women, Trump slid a note to boardroom associate Jim Cramer, who nodded and slid the note back. As Duke and Roderick noted later, the paper exchange seemed to be a turning point, with Trump getting a read from Cramer on canning Melissa. Cramer seemed terrified of Ma Rivers`reaction. "Joan is not going to be happy," understated Trump.
Rivers was watching the board room events unfold from another room with fellow team mates Clint Black and Jesse James. She shot daggers at Roderick, mocking the Playboy Playmates' brain power. "Both breasts can count to 10," cracked Joan.
Rivers stopped joking and went ballistic when her daughter got the hook (you could tell because her face almost changed expression), telling the boys she was quitting and wishing them luck against "Hitler and a follower." As she stormed out of the room, she said "I don't work for scum"--a shot directed perhaps at Trump and NBC. UPDATE: Check out the clip below (for as long as it stays up at YouTube:

Next we saw her light into Roderick and Duke, going all-Osbourne on the bleep scale with remarks about "knowing all about you people in Vegas," about how they had no last names, about how none of this was really about the charity the various celebrities have all pledged their Apprentice winnings to support.
"Whore! Pit viper! You are a piece of [bleep] and you are a stupid blonde." she railed at Duke and Roderick. Not since the hair-pulling heyday of Dynasty has there been such a catfight on TV.
Melissa, who expressed fears she had been set up earlier in the episode (insisting she had worked harder than anybody else, given 110%, blah, blah, blah), sprang from the boardroom the second "You`re fired!" left Trumps lips. "Na-uh" she said as she glared at the cameraman on the way to the elevator. "Bu-bye." She refused to retrieve her suitcase and stuff as every other contestant has done and would not do the customary post-firing cab ride remarks. Mommy gathered up her mink and fled the Trump tower right behind her. It was the ultimate, diva-in-flames exit, times two, the kind of thing Mark Burnett probably dreams about.
Will Joan and Melissa show up on Jimmy Kimmel Monday night? Will Joan return next Sunday? Will mortal enemies Jesse James and Clint Black end up in a steel cage match? Celebrity Apprentice is by far the greatest, nastiest, most dramatic reality show on TV today.

Are Blue Skies Coming to Network TV?

When it comes to feeling the full impact of the recession, nobody is feeling it like the TV business, which has lost millions of dollars in ad revenue. CBC has announced it is cutting back on the number of episodes it will order this year on shows like Little Mosque on the Prairie and This Hour Has 22 Minutes. NBC has given up on the 10 p.m. drama business and is set to run a Jay Leno variety hour every week night at 10 p.m., a move estimated to save the network up to $10 million a week in programming costs.
Beyond the cost cutting moves, there seems to be a sea change in storytelling. I write about it in today's Entertainment section of The Toronto Star in the article "Cutbacks altering what's on the box"; you can read the full article here.
You can see tough times sneaking into storylines on shows like 30 Rock, The Office and Law & Order. I canvassed several Canadian TV screenwriters to get their take on this this trend, including a few who blog regularly on the TV biz scene. Denis McGrath and Jim Henshaw offered their usual keen eyed insider take, as did Andrew Wreggitt, writer and creator of a series Global has in development for next season called The Dealership.
Wreggitt's series deals with a family run luxury car dealership struggling through hard times. Talk about ripped from the headlines! The kicker is that the pilot (and hopefully the series) was shot in an abandoned car dealership at the foot of downtown Toronto.
He doesn’t think the tough times storyline will scare off viewers. “It’s really giving the audience permission to laugh at the situation,” says Wreggitt, who was in on discussions with U.S. networks about partnering up on the project. “What they’re looking for is something that’s got an uplifting feel to it that deals with what people are really going through in their lives.”
Of course, it's not just scripted shows getting a tough times makeover. Reality shows--cheaper to produce, killing two birds with one stone for broadcasters--are also moving from dark and nasty to light and positive. ABC is hoping to strike lightening twice with the return of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The Regis Philbin game show, which put ABC briefly on top a decade ago, is coming back on in August as a week-long miniseries. Jay Leno—NBC`s solution to its own economic woes with his cheaper to producer, five-nights a week primetime variety hour—is hitting the road this summer, health permitting, with his feel-good “Comedy Stimulus Tour.” The world wide web success of Britain’s Got Talent sensation Susan Boyle will surely spur similar uplifting fare in North America. Perhaps most telling of all, it’s suddenly hot to tighten belts on Paris Hilton’s My New BBF, where the setting has shifted from an opulent mansion to more reasonable digs.
From the Star story, here are five "hard times" scripted pilots hoping to land on network schedules this fall (the U.S. nets will announce their pickups May 5-21):

Canned (ABC): "They're young, they're moving up ... and they've all just been canned. Five friends are about to find out what happens when their upwardly mobile lives turn upside down."
The Dealership (Global): A retired used car dealer (William Devane) comes out of retirement to try and help his two children jump start the family business during hard times in the auto industry.
Untitled Kelsey Grammer Project (ABC): "Wall Street legend Hank Pryor (Grammer) and his wife Tilly have been living the high life in New York City. That is until Hank is forced out of his CEO job and has to move his family back to the small town of River Bend."
Untitled Debra Messing Project (NBC): The former Will & Grace star is back as "a laid off CEO who is ill-prepared to be a full-time wife and mother as her husband is to provide for the family."
This Little Piggy (ABC): "You can go home again, but what happens when three grown siblings all try to go home at once?"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Will CTV, Global Limit Their Cross Border Shopping This Spring?

Every spring, broadcasters hearts and minds turn to, not love, but pilots. One by one, they take off south of the border and TV execs fall in love with them all over again. U.S. programmers decide which ones make their schedules. Then Canadian programmers fly south, spend $700 million-plus, and bring as many as they can carry back home.
Will it happen again this spring? All eyes will be on CTV and Global. They've been telling the CRTC that they are broke, broke, broke. So they better not be getting ready to spend, spend, spend.
It is getting close to the spending season. ABC today announced renewals for much of its prime time schedule. Everyone knew Grey's Anatomy, Dancing With The Stars, Lost and Desperate Housewives were coming back. On the bubble show Private Practice also made the cut, as did Ugly Betty.
No word yet on the fate of Samantha Who and several midseason shows, including Castle and Better Off Ted.
The other networks should be making similar announcements soon. NBC will announce their full fall schedule May 5 in New York. Fox (May 18), ABC (May 19) CBS (May 20) and The CW (May 21) follow.
Immediately after that, Canadian network programmers will scoop up the imports for next season. It would be a tad unseemly to wave too much cash around this year, what with CTV CEO Ivan Fecan's plea before the CRTC Thursday suggesting the business model is broke and that they need carriage fee money just to survive. "Please give us new revenue sources or reduce the(Canadian news content) obligations or some mix of both. Otherwise, we don't believe there is a business there in the future," he told the Heritage committee Thursday in Ottawa. Things are so bad, said Fecan, CTV tried to sell off some of its local TV stations--some for as little as a dollar--but there were no takers.
There is no question that a sharp downturn in ad revenue has rocked the broadcast industry. Still, it will be very interesting to see whether CTV and Global can resist the temptation to spend big on American content next month as it has in past show buying sprees. As, Peter Bissonnette, president of cable giant Shaw, pointed out Thursday, "Broadcasters made business decisions to spend more than $700 million annually on American programming and, in one case [Canwest], amass a $4-billion debt from the purchase of non-Canadian TV stations and publishing properties...They should be held accountable for these decisions."
Otherwise, the CRTC should just ask Shaw and Rogers to give the carriage fee money directly to Warner Bros. Television, Disney, Fox Television and Paramount, since, if the pattern for the past decade-plus holds, that is where CTV and Global will take it. Why not cut out the middle man.
As for what other U.S. shows might be back next year, check out this link to the story I wrote today for The Canadian Press, which gives a network-by-network run down. An excerpt:
Shows on the bubble at NBC include Chuck, Medium and My Name is Earl. Heroes is down but probably not out thanks to favourable demographics.
A show like Chuck might also be saved due to the downturn in the economy. There is a definite swing toward lighter, more escapist fare next season. Grim shows like Without a Trace may be deemed too scary for scary times. The hero of Chuck (played by Zachary Levi) is easy to root for, a nerd working at a big box store who is a secret spy hero.
A visit to the set of Chuck on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif., also provides clues to how it stays on the air despite low ratings. The main set is a replica of a big box retail outlet filled with plasma screens, Guitar Hero games and other consumer electronics. The embedded marketing opportunities are endless, something all networks are seeking as viewers grow more resistant to traditional advertising.
A fan effort to save the show is gaining traction on Twitter, where viewers are urged to go to Subway - a sandwich shop featured on a recent episode - and buy a footlong before the Monday finale in an effort to save the show. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

TV Turnoff Week Declared Redundant

TV Turnoff Week has never been more of a turn off. Imagine this year if they held a Boycott Car Dealerships Week or Stop Buying Newspapers Week. Talk about kicking an industry when it is down.
Nevertheless, here we are in the middle of TV Turnoff Week (April 20-26). Holding it every year during this fourth week of April kinda makes sense in the States. There are reruns a plenty as the networks traditionally catch their breath before gearing up for that final May sweeps, end-of-season push. But in Canada, TV Turnoff Week always runs smack against the opening round of the NHL playoffs, which is when some of us like to ramp up our TV viewing (he typed, while keeping one eye glued to the Flames-Black Hawk fourth game thriller on TSN).
Some of the Adbuster dudes take things a little far, too, using these nasty TV-B-Gone zappers to shut public TV‘s off by remote control. Wars have been fought over less.
Still, I‘ve always been open to the idea of shutting the set off for a week, as an individual or as a family. It‘s a worthwhile experiment I‘ve tried a few times, chronicling the experience eight or nine years ago in the pages of the Toronto Sun (too long ago to be linked to, I‘m afraid). I found it made me a more discerning viewer, more selective about how much TV I consume. Shutting off the computer for a week has appeal, too, but then how could I blog about it?
The idea, aimed primarily at kids, has always been to unplug from the TV habit for one week. Launched by Adbusters and others in 1994, computer screens, video games and even iPods are now targeted as viewers migrate to new media. Adbusters don‘t even call it TV Turnoff Week anymore, they call it Mental Detox Week. They are asking folks to bail on Facebook and Twitter, too. So far there are 10 billion members of the TV Turnoff Facebook group, at least according to the last 46,000 Twitter tweets I‘ve received. You see the problem.
For more information, including how to take part in the Great American Tweet Off, check out this link to the Center for Screen-Time Awareness.

Canucks Beat Blues; Idol Beats Both

Plenty to cover this week with CHML Talk Radio`s Scott Thompson. We both agreed that last Friday's Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... worked better than the first two outings of this series thanks to the many musical guests, including chatty Roseanne Cash. Scott also wanted to know the story behind Rick Moranis bowing out of the new Global animated comedy Bob & Doug. The suggestion was made that Sean Avery might liven up that new CBC reality series Battle of the Blades, which will pair NHL stars with figure skaters. You can listen in here.
Scott also wanted to know if the NHL playoffs were doing well so far this year. Vancouver games continue to be the big draw in Round One of the NHL playoffs. Tuesday night's Canucks/Blues tilt drew 1,668,000 on CBC (BBM Canada overnight "commercial" estimates). That was more than double the Pittsburgh/Philly game (735,000) and the San Jose/Anaheim skate (738,000).
CTV's American Idol topped all hockey games Tuesday with 2,303,000 "commercial" viewers. Fringe also scored with 1,475,000, with Law & Order SVU drawing 1,096,000 at 10.
Global's NCIS was competitive with 992,000, but the night went downhill with 90210 drawing 401,000 Tori Spelling fans and Cold Blood ice cold at 187,000.
Monday's match between the already ousted Habs and the Bruins netting 1,248,000. That was less than CTV scored at 9 with Two and a Half Men (1,361,000) or Global drew at 8 with Bones (1,329,000). Global pulled close to a million for 24 at 9, with half again for Heroes (457,000).
TSN drew 937,000 Monday night for their Round One match up between Chicago and Calgary.

Canada: America's Cop Show Factory

Another day, another announcement about Canadian-produced TV shows for the fall. Maybe the sky isn't falling after all, at least not in Toronto.
The news comes from cash-strapped Canwest Global, which just launched the animated series Bob & Doug and has The Dealership and other projects in production for fall. Screw that $4.1 billion debt, let's start makin' some TV shows!
Global is joining forces with E1 Entertainment and ABC to produce Copper. The 13-episode police drama begins shooting in Toronto in June.
This one sounds a bit like Flashpoint meets Grey's Anatomy. Copper is described as "a youthful, heartfelt, one-hour, character-driven workplace drama about five rookie cops plunged into the high stakes world of big city policing – a world where even the smallest mistake can have life-or-death consequences."
Basically it is all about sexy young cops. "They're kids with guns," goes the release, "learning first hand the hardest kind of policing there is." Yikes!!
We're told that the series follows the young coppers right out of the police academy, "where they bonded together, fought together, drank together, worked together and slept together." Geez--is it too late to sign up? Cuff me, cuff me!!!
Canadian Film Centre grad Tassie Cameron, who was showrunner for the first season of Flashpoint, is doing the day-to-day on this series. E1 are also the folks behind the upcoming CBS/CTV police series The Bridge as well as the highly anticipated new HBO series Hung. They also have the balls to admit that they do Testees.
Etan Vlessing at The Hollywood Reporter reports that Global picked the series up in February on the strength of a script and that Cameron and screenwriter Ilana Frank then pitched Copper to ABC, NBC, Fox, The CW and Lifetime in March. ABC, like other U.S. broadcasters searching for International partners to cut costs, stepped up and made the deal. The lead female officer--presumably nicknamed "Copper," has yet to be cast.
This is the second spring in a row that an American broadcaster has teamed with a Canadian network on a Toronto-based cop show. If Copper can arrest anywhere near the number of viewers as Flashpoint, Global should be able to start paying back some of those banks.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CBC Skates Out New Shows For 2009-10

After months of uncertainty and posturing in Canadian media circles, CBC finally announced Tuesday morning their pickups for the 2009-10 season. Among the new orders is one that sounds like an old SCTV sketch: BATTLE OF THE BLADES, according to the release, "is an elimination-style challenge that teams up Canada ’s top figure skaters with this country’s most daring and versatile hockey stars to compete against one another each week in a glitzy pairs figure skating performance." Think Dancing With The Stars meets Slap Shot. Who are the judges, Don Cherry and Toller Cranston? They'll have to bring in Tonya Harding to skate with Todd Bertuzzi!
Also on order for fall: THE RON JAMES SHOW, a long rumoured sketch/sitcom showcase for the talented comedian who is currently in the middle of a cross Canada tour. Headed for Friday night, we're thinkin'. Then there's the reality/game cheapie CANADA’S SUPER SPELLER, hosted by Evan Solomon. Twelve young finalists vie for the crown of Canada ’s Super Speller; first to spell "Stroumboulopolous" right wins.
Two more new shows are ordered for January starts: 18 TO LIFE is apparently not about two stupid kids (as posted here earlier and corrected in the comments section) but about two smart kids (including Life with Derek's Michael Seater) who make a stupid decision to get married at 18. Peter Keleghan (Made in Canada) also stars as the Seater character's father. The Montreal-based comedy was supposed to air a year ago in partnership with ABC but the Disney network has since backed out of the project so CBC has gamely decided to go it alone.
The new January drama, THE REPUBLIC OF DOYLE, has nothing to do with Globe and Mail TV writer John Doyle, although I'd watch that. Set in St. John's, Newfoundland, it is described as a "comedic drama about a father-son team of private investigators." Former Border scribe Denis McGrath is in on the typing. The father-son team was played in the pilot by New Brunswick-native Peter MacNeill and Newfoundland's Allan Hawco.
Back for another season, according to the release, are the following CBC shows: RICK MERCER REPORT, BEING ERICA, THE BORDER, LITTLE MOSQUE ON THE PRAIRIE, THIS HOUR HAS 22 MINUTES, HEARTLAND, THE TUDORS, DRAGONS’ DEN and THE HOUR with George Stroumboulopoulos. There was no mention in the release about the fate of long-running CBC current affairs shows The Fifth Estate or Marketplace; details pertaining to CBC's News division are expected in the coming weeks. Also missing was any word on how drastically the announced cutbacks at CBC will shorten the run of many shows, although CBC's top-rated entertainment show Mercer will be back with the same 18 episodes he had last season. As for the rest, one source told TVFMF that "12 is the new 13" next season at CBC.
Gone for good are Sophie and Wild Roses, the Calgary-based oater epic launched just last January that slipped below the More-People-Live-in-Brampton sustainability threshold.
Also missing from today's list was any mention of more installments of The Week The Women Went, the reality series which kinda fizzled in its second outing this past winter. A few other rumoured CBC projects, including a Canadian version of The Apprentice, were also MIA.

CFC Salute to Jewison a Showstopper

Wondering how things went at that Canadian Film Centre salute to Norman Jewison in Los Angeles Friday night? Host Leonard Maltin reports that it all went very well indeed. With A-List story tellers Jewison, Carl Reiner and Cher in the house, how could if fail? Go to Getty Images, type "Norman Jewison" in the search box and check out the 60 or so photos posted there from the event.
One question: why isn't this evening being packaged as a TV special?

Monday, April 20, 2009

CTV's Spectacle Looking Up in Week Three

CTV's Spectacle has a more re-spectacle showing last Friday, but still far from spectacular. The third episode of the Elvis Costello-hosted music and talk series, featuring Kris Kristofferson and Norah Jones, drew 593,000 viewers Friday (according to BBM Canada "commercial" overnight estimates. CTV says they counted 650,000 on their supersized "Total" tally, which is quite a jump). That's up from the 418,000 who watched when Sting dropped by the week before but down from the 858,000 who saw the Elton John opener.
Friday was a slow night overall for CTV with reruns of Ghost Whisperer (807,000) and Flashpoint (843,000) well off their new episode averages.
Round One of the NHL hockey playoffs dominated weekend TV watching in Canada, although even those totals were down with Toronto/Edmonton/Ottawa out of the loop. The Canadiens and Bruins drew 1,188,000 last Thursday night, but the late game, featuring Anaheim and San Jose, drew only 481,000 to CBC.
CBC pulled 1,323,000 for the late game Friday night and another 1,174,000 for Saturday night's first game. TSN also scored 713,000 for their coverage on Saturday.
UPDATE: Sunday's CBC tilt between Vancouver and St. Louis drew the biggest playoff audience yet--1,625,000. CTV drew almost as many (likely more when you add the CTV "Total" tally) for the first new Desperate Housewives episode in three weeks--1,604,000.
Global scored 632,000 for the series premiere of the new animated Fox comedy Sit Down, Shut Up. That was squeezed between the usual crowd for The Simpsons (853,000) and Family Guy (918,000). Bob & Doug did not take off at 7:30, drawing 209,000, and the Season Five premiere of Rescue Me, opposite all that hockey and Housewives, didn't catch fire, either, netting 107,000 on Showcase.

Bob & Doug Get 'Toon Up. Beauty, Eh?

Always love talking to Dave Thomas. Besides his certified, Canadian comedy icon status, the SCTV firebrand has an informed opinion on just about any subject.
Spoke with him recently about his latest venture, Bob & Doug, which premiered Sunday night at 7:30 on Global. The 22 half hours reintroduce lovable hoseheads Bob & Doug McKenzie to a whole new generation of fans.
Thomas hopes it takes off, eh? The flash animation idea came about kinda by accident (Thomas experimented first with promotional films), but he thinks it should add years to the life of the characters.
Thomas said he was jolted into reality a few years ago when he re-teamed with Rick Moranis for a CBC 24th anniversary ("2-4," get it?) salute. Shooting the special in high-def seemed like a smart move until he took a closer look. "Getting old doesn't look pretty in HD," he says.
Vanishing entirely from the new series was Moranis, who has to be dragged before even an analog camera these days. The New York resident simply did not want to travel to Thomas' L.A. base to shoot the series, and when a satellite recording hook up proved too cumbersome and costly, Moranis quietly bowed out of the project, giving Thomas his blessing to find another voice.
Thomas laughed when I suggested Moranis is in his "I vant to be alone" Garbo phase. "There’s a little of that," he conceded. "He's fully open to not dying to do showbiz stuff these days. It was not something that surprised me," says Thomas, who passed the toque torch to former Full House comedian Dave Coulier to provide the voice of Doug. "I’ve known Dave for a long time, and when Rick said he didn’t want to do it, I asked if he would step in." says Thomas, who says Coulier pretty much nailed it. Friends hear the show, he says, and ask him how he got Moranis to do the voice.
The voice switch reminded me of the animated Abbott & Costello series from the mid-'60s. Bud Abbott, broke for years after the IRS came down hard on the boys at the end of their film careers, made a few precious bucks by adding his voice to 156 episodes of the Hanna-Barbera series. Costello had already passed away (he died at 53 of a heart attack in 1959), so Stan Erwin was hired to speak for Lou. Check out the intro to the series, below:

As a kid, I just assumed it was Abbott & Costello talking. I'm sure kids today won't miss Moranis. Thomas says he was more of a Bugs Bunny man growing up near Hamilton, Ont. "Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, that world," he says. "Bugs was Bob Hope, there’s no question about it. He was a celebrity. He was a funny guy, he was a coward—bunch of similar traits to Bob Hope. I guess that’s why I ended up liking Bob Hope, too."
Thomas, of course, does one of the best Bob Hope impressions ever. I still crack up every time I think of him, dressed in a leather jacket and swinging a golf club, doing Bob "Andrew Dice Clay" Hope at Just For Laughs "Club Nasty" in Montreal 20 years ago. The outrageous routine was a shocker at the time.
Hope's name came up again when I asked Thomas for his take on the current revolution in the TV business. Networks say the business model is broken, but Thomas says it is even more fundamental than that. People just don't want to watch commercials anymore.
He sees things swinging back to radio and early TV times when shows like The Buick Berle Hour or Texaco Star Theatre were entirely sponsored. "The only way a sponsor could be sure people were watching his show is if the show is called his product," says Thomas, who used to study old radio shows and recalls Hope saying things like, "Hang on, I'm brushing my teeth with Pepsodent toothpaste." (Read here for one account of just how persuasive Hope's sponsored show connection was in radio.)
"They built the product into the show as a character," says Thomas. So who'll sponsor the animated Bob & Doug? Some beer company? Maple Leaf back bacon? "There's a call from Global's product placement people about that already," says Thomas.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Season Five Ignites Tonight on Rescue Me

Are you like me? Waiting 19 bloody months for a new episode of Rescue Me? Denis Leary's NYFD saga returns tonight at 10 p.m. on Showcase with the first of 22 brand new episodes. Blame, once again, the writers strike for the delay, although the good news is we get a nice, broadcast-length season (followed by at least another 18 episodes in already ordered Season Six).
I've seen the first four and can report that the series is back on track after going a bit off the rails last season, as even Leary admits.
Rescue Me has an amazing cast but there were so many faces last season and it all got a bit confusing. Too much time was spent with Tommy Gavin's extended (and crazy) family. This season, the emphasis shifts back to his other family, the dysfunctional dudes inside the firehouse.
Had the great privilege of touring the set in New York last month. The gang is ensconced in an industrial stretch of Queens. You'd never know a TV show shoots there. Our cab circled the 'hood three times before figuring out the right gateway.
The day I was there the production was wrapping up their 22 episode marathon. One of the A.D.'s, Matt Sirianni, gave a tour of the sets spread out over the massive sound stage. There's the Lumberjack bar where plenty happens this season. "It's our new kitchen," suggests Sirianni. The old Ladder 62 firehouse kitchen is still there (and gets plenty of screen time). On the old wooden lunch table were a couple of copies of a real magazine: Fire Engineering." There was the chief's office, with the sign on the door: "Bad planning on your part does not necessarily constitute an automatic emergency on my part."
It's a very relaxed, friendly environment. Leary and several members of the cast and crew play hockey together at a rink in Queens every Thursday morning before getting down to work. How civilized is that?
I interviewed Leary with another journalist, Nina Rehfeld, a writer who lives in Arizona and writes for German publications. (Many journalists get prickly when paired with another scribe, but I never mind sharing with "foreign" press. Sure, I could still get scooped by "Der Speigel," or even "Der Speigel Catalogue," but a radically different point of view often produces thoughtful, original answers, as Leary provided on this occasion.)
Rescue Me is just coming to Germany for the first time, so Rehfeld had a lot of questions about the origins of the series, about Tommy Gavin being such a dog, about why anyone would even tackle a black comedy about New York firefighters immediately after 9/11. "I don't know how to say 'Why We Suck' in German," Leary kidded.
I was more interested in Season Five, in Michael J. Fox's five episode spin this season and a few things that have been bugging me ever since I started watching the show, particularly Gavin's struggle with fate and random behaviour, with his Irish Catholic upbringing and his sacrilegious lifestyle.
Maybe it was the combination of our approaches but Leary walked into this tiny upstairs room with the two of us (plus two publicists, one Canadian, one American) and didn't walk out again for almost an hour. The Sony publicist said she had never seen the guy give so much in an interview before and I believe it; I had been trying to get 10 minutes with Leary the last four seasons.
As a writer, producer and star on the series, he had to have been exhausted on the second last day of shooting. He seemed instead exhilarated and admitted to being a little of both.
If it has launched a year earlier, Rescue Me probably would have wound up at HBO. After two sorry years at ABC trying to get his previous series, The Job, off the ground, Leary and producing partner Peter Tolan swore off the broadcast networks and took Rescue Me to HBO. They were not prepared to surrender ownership of the series, however, and that was a deal breaker for HBO.
Leary says they weren't thinking about FX but The Shield had just broken through there. He was impressed with the U.S. cable network right from the very first meeting. "I'd never seen marketing people in a creative meeting before," he says. "The marketing campaigns are almost completely their idea." The Season Five campaign, on the sides of buses and on billboards all over Manhattan, is particularly impressive.
"In the movie business," Says Leary, "when you get down to the movie being done, even when it’s good, you have to worry about the marketing and how much money they’re going to put into it. They can ruin a movie with their marketing campaign." Not at FX, says Leary, a sentiment echoed by the stars of several other FX shows over the years.
Leary originally saw Rescue Me as a movie; Tolan pushed for a series seeing potential in the firehouse "family." Leary also never saw himself as Tommy Gavin but, again, it was Tolan who told him he to play the guy. "I didn’t want to act in it, I wanted to be behind the camera," says Leary. "The way I pictured the guy in my head was different from the movie version." He's glad now that he's Gavin. "It would really suck now if the show was this good and I was just sitting here as the producer and somebody like Kiefer [Sutherland] was playing him. I’d be very jealous and angry, especially if he was winning all these Emmys for playing Tommy Gavin."
Leary should not be confused with his character, however. I remarked how guys watch the show and sometimes root for--or at least identify with--Tommy's bad behaviour. (I’d heard this from, like, a friend of a friend.) A scene this season finds Gavin nuzzling with a foreign press babe before bailing and heading back home to his girlfriend (always alluring Gina Gershon, one of the amazing women who have drifted in and out of this series over the years). She can smell the other woman on him and confronts Gavin, who sorta tells the truth although he skirts around the sorta stepping out part. Some guys might see that scene and say give the guy a break, cut him some slack, he is at least trying to tell the truth. Leary sees it in more black and white terms. "She sees right through him," says Leary. A lie is a lie is a lie.
Leary says Gavin is struggling with a very core dilemma. does that which makes him a heroic firefighter, able to run into burning buildings right when mere mortals run out, also make him a complete mess as a father, husband, son and friend? Leary has seen this same reckless valour up close. He saw it in his cousin, Jerry Lucey, who lost his life a decade ago this December fighting a fire in Boston.
I wrote about Leary, the return of Rescue Me and Michael J. Fox's hilarious (and completely out of character) star turn this week for The Canadian Press. You can read that story here in Jam! Showbiz. Hope to write more about Rescue Me in the near future.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Barrymore Blossoms in Grey Gardens

Drew Barrymore says a dreary Winter shoot in Toronto helped her get into character for the HBO drama Grey Gardens (premiering tonight on HBO Canada, 9 p.m.). "I had to change everything about myself," says Barrymore, who plays real life socialite-turned pauper Little Edie Beale opposite Jessica Lange's "Big Edie."
The mother-daughter duo made headlines in the '70s when the Maysles brothers, Albert and David (Gimmie Shelter), exposed their riches to rags story in their groundbreaking documentary. Barrymore, who stood for 30 minutes and took question from a group of us last January on press tour, watched it every day to stay in character on the set.
Barrymore plays Little Edie from when she was an 18-year-old debutante in the '30s through the '70s when Grey Gardens, the East Hampton, N.Y. mansion she shared with her eccentric mother, was overrun with cats and raccoons.
The 34-year-old actress says shooting in Toronto in the winter helped her completely cut herself off from her friends and family. She ditched her cell phone, gave up newspapers and TV, anything Little Edie did not have access to when she was alive. "I didn't speak to one friend for three months which was hard to come out of," says Barrymore. "I went a little insane."
Barrymore says she didn't even speak with best friend and business partner Nancy Juvonen, who she says she's spoken to every day for 14 years. When Juvonen finally had to reach Barrymore to tell her she was getting married (to Jimmy Fallon), she sent her a letter addressed to "Little Edie."
She only allowed herself to step out of character on Saturday nights in Toronto, when she snuck out to "have a couple of cocktails to ease the pain," she says. "Just to be in somebody's head head all that time was like living in some crazy monastery."
Grey Gardens is directed by Michael Sucsy, who co-authored the script with Canadian director Patricia Rozema. Several Canadians, including Justin Louis, are in the cast.
I've written more about Barrymore and Grey Gardens in the cover story of today's Starweek magazine in the Saturday Star. I'd link to it here but I can't, so buy a newspaper!

Friday, April 17, 2009

CFC NBC Deal: Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Writers

When I was talking to my old pal Slawko Klymkiw the other week he was excited about a deal the Canadian Film Centre was working on with NBC Universal. The CFC sent out this release about it yesterday:
The stated objective of the new CFC/NBC Universal Content Creator Program is to offer opportunities in "cross border relationship building" as well as "mentoring in the development and packaging of original concepts." I guess this could eventually provide a window for Canadian film students to shop their wares on NBC digital or even broadcast platforms. Got a cool little reel and want to post it on Hulu? Right this way, Norm Jewison Jr.
You'll have to submit a script or two first for consideration to get into this program, with CFC and NBC execs narrowing down the field. Lucky applicants will start courses in September.
NBC programming boss Angela Bromstad already has one Canadian-produced project on her summer sked--CTV's The Listener. Guess she's like to have more. Her boss, Ben Silverman--who has fond memories of Stratford, Ont., from when his dad's days there as Festival music director--has stated often that NBC is looking beyond U.S. borders for content and talent.
Variety saw it earlier this week as "The Peacock is making a big push to scout for talent in Canada." Some veteran Canadian writers and producers I have heard from, who presumably have the tire marks on their backs from the last time they were taken for a ride from a U.S. network, are at best a little suspicious of this venture. Some see it as an end-run around the Writers Guild of Canada (whose annual awards are in Toronto this weekend, where this will no doubt be a hot topic), a move back to a "Branch plant culture."
That certainly wasn't what was motivating Klymkiw and company to partner up on this deal when we talked the other week. Sure, Canadians with camcorders can already get webisodes thrown up on FunnyorDie or where ever but this deal seems to offer Canadians with career aspirations a way to navigate through the emerging business of digital streaming with one of the world's biggest content providers.
"The program is designed to bring together talent from across Canada with original concepts to take part in forums and workshops that focus on innovative storytelling, pitching, and packaging," goes the release. "The program harnesses the international expertise of NBC Universal, a global leader in entertainment, to help shepherd talent to successfully develop their ideas for the ever-changing global media landscape." That sounds like a chance to get some expert advice about the very next big thing we're all trying to figure out. Where can I sign up?
Maybe good news related to the television business has become harder to accept or recognize these days. Or maybe people see Zucker and Silverman crossing the border and just go, "Hide the maple syrup."
Like any deal, we'll all have to read the fine print, but this World Wide Web thing is going to require more cross border cooperation, less geo-gated protectionism. Anybody set to do business with NBC better have their eyes wide open but an open mind will help, too.
Klymkiw, a former CBC programming boss who bought movies and specials from the Peacock network in the past, has sat at the big table and knows the stakes. Partnering with NBC gives the CFC a little profile, but it also should open a few doors as it provides expertise to Canadian talent.
I'd dig a little deeper into all this but the CFC kids are all in L.A. tonight, getting set to salute their mentor, Norman Jewison. Should be a good shindig, read more about it here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hollywood Reality Doesn't Scare Carla Collins

I get Carla Collins. She is very much in the Hollywood showbiz tradition. Larger than life and just as loud, she's a girl who works hard, hits her mark and can always sell a joke--and looks great doing it.
Collins burned through the Toronto scene for about a decade, making a name for herself on radio and television as well as the local club haunts. Her face was on everything from The Weather Channel to CTV's Canada AM to billboards for Mix 99.9FM. One day she was opening for The Bessies, the next she was vamping at the Geminis. If anything, she was over exposed here, and like anybody in Canada with a little showbiz success, she was driven out by the villagers.
For the last few years she's been working her shtick in L.A., performing at comedy clubs, working auditions, doing one woman shows and just generally being queen of the scene. She met and married the son of a Hollywood screen legend--Tyrone Power, Jr.--thus obtaining part of her dream: a green card. She joked on the phone the other day that she's going to divorce Powers and marry the Lone Ranger, so she can be "Carla Power Ranger." See, that stuff makes me laugh.
Collins' latest venture is Carlawood, a reality series premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. on TVTropolis. The weekly half hour finds Collins chasing her dream of making it big in Hollywood.
The getting there part isn't always pretty. Collins says the worst nightmare so far was when she was booked into one of her favorite gay clubs on the strip--Hamburger Mary's--only to discover that it was lesbian night. "It went horribly wrong," says Collins. "it went over like Mother's Day at the Orphanage. I stumbled on my Anne Heche joke which probably killed me right there."
It's all part of the show, however. Says Collins, "you've got to show the good with the bad."
Some have compared the show to Kathy Griffins' My Life on the D-List but Collins prefers comparisons to another writer/performer, Tina Fey (and who wouldn't).
She's developing a feature where she'll star as a bad nightclub comic who "starts killing people and doing their material." That's not a joke--Collins just found out this week that the feature has landing some financing.
The Sault Ste. Marie-native recently shot two pilots with Naked Gun comedy genius Jerry Zucker and is hoping one of them gets picked up. She's working harder than ever to weather this bad economy but figures people need a laugh now more than ever so she's in the right business.
She says she's also looking into New Media opportunities after getting "an insane amount of hits on YouTube. By the way, don't read the message boards!"
If you can't wait for Sunday's Carlawood premiere, check her out tonight at Yuk Yuk's comedy club in Toronto. Don't forget to try the veal and tip your waitress.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Let The Games Begin (to Make Money)

Sitting here watching the Penguins match up against Philly in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and thinkin'--are CBC's troubles about to get way worse?
The annual Hockey Night in Canada Spring playoff run (featuring Brampton's Cassie Campbell, right) is usually money in the bank for CBC. But with three Canadian teams out of the playoffs, Ottawa, Edmonton and especially Toronto--ratings will be down and so will ad revenues.
Given the meltdown in the auto sector, CBC must already be reeling from a lack of playoff ad bucks. CBC needs Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal to go deep into the playoffs to balance the books after a tough winter.
All this unscientific musing comes after a wacky week in the Canadian ratings game. The one big, shining success was Monday's Corner Gas finale. CTV counted 2,914,000 "Total" viewers spread out over CTV and A channels across Canada Monday at 9:30. (All numbers BBM Canada overnight estimates; all viewers 2+.) Curiously, that number was not broken out in overnight reports in terms of how well the series finale did on either outlet--CTV or A. BBM Canada counted the total audience the same way they would a CTV/CBS simulcast--which makes me wonder how soon we'll see eTalk or other shows shared the same way.
Certainly way more people in Toronto watched Corner Gas on CTV (569,000 "commercial" viewers) than on Barrie's A (78,000). In Vancouver, the split was CTV 157,000, Victoria's A affiliate 80,000.
They loved Corner Gas on the Comedy Network, too. The finale scored 235,000 there Monday at 8:30, a huge number for specialty. Add Gas's Comedy score to their CTV and A total and 3,114,000 Canadians said goodbye to Brent Butt and the gang Monday night.
Lost in the Gas reports was the huge score for the imported comedy which preceded it on CTV--Two and a Half Men. The Charlie Sheen comedy drew 2,047,000 Monday on CTV. That's close to what CTV got last night for American Idol (2,203,000).
That's the good news. Some other recent numbers suggest viewers are turning off their sets a whole week before TVTurnoff Week. CBC had nothing Monday and it showed. A Sophie rerun (102,000) and the Halifax Comedy Fest (176,000) drew specialty-sized crowds. Sunday's Test the Nation (136,000) and Sunday Night Movie (265,000) were also ignored.
It's not just CBC feeling the fatigue. CTV again failed to find an audience Sunday for the buzzless Degrassi: The Next Generation (176,000), although The Amazing Race followed with a robust 1,557,000 commercial. A rebroadcast of the Southland premiere barely kept the Desperate Housewives slot warm with 570,000, but The Mentalist jumped back up to 1,161,000.
The hits seem to still be hits but the filler is failing. Global got their usual big crowd for Monday's House (2,271,000) and 24 (1,068,000) and picked up 1,308,000 Tuesday night with NCIS. The Project Runway finale drew a respectable 489,000. But Global's Saturday scores were as low as their recent stock values. Throwaways Masterminds (91,000), Triage (93,000) and back to back Doc (69,000 and 87,000) tested the theory that you could draw 100,000 Canadians with a test pattern. If you offer a rerun channel lineup, you get rerun channel numbers. When Global offered something new and exciting Saturday, like The Masters (645,000) and Saturday Night Live (399,000) they found a crowd outside the prime time hours.
That Corner Gas finale was part of the talk today on Hamilton's CHML Talk Radio with Scott Thompson. Scott also wanted to know about that Scottish singer who is burning up YouTube with her inspiring Britain's Got Talent turn, as well as why Elvis Costello is such a bust on CTV's Spectacle. You can listen in here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Elvis Has Left CTV's Building

CTV's big name music variety show Spectacle: Elvis Costello With...took a fast fade in Week Two. Friday night's overnight estimated audience came in at just 418,000 viewers across Canada on the BBM Canada "commercial" scale, losing more than half its audience in a week (it scored 858,000 April 3).
That's shockingly low given Costello's big name guests last Friday were Sting and the reunited members of The Police and following another impressive lead-in audience for Flashpoint (1,306,000). Spectacle tumbled from first to third in the tineslot in one week behind both Numb3rs on Global (792,000) and the CBC National News (573,000).
The numbers went CTV's way last Thursday at 10 p.m. when two new imported series premiered opposite one another. Southland, the new NBC cop drama from ER producer John Wells, arrested 1.34 million CTV viewers in its premiere, easily topping Global's pickup of CBS's mystery drama Harper's Island (893,000). It doesn't hurt that CTV's Thursday night lineup includes CSI, which scored another 2.27 million CTV Total viewers last week.
Viewers tuning in to Harper's Island saw one of the biggest names in the cast--former L.A. Law star Harry Hamlin--get bumped off on a bridge. Given the serial nature of this drama, plus a pretty good creep factor, don't be surprised if Harper's doesn't stalk and catch Southand over the next two months.
UPDATE ON SPECTACLE: Bill Harris at Sun Media has word that U.S. cable's Sundance Channel has ordered a second season of Costello's Spectacle, but that CTV has yet to committ to the series. Sundance launched Spectacle back in December. Read the full story here.

CFC Salutes Founder Jewison Friday in LA

If you happen to be in or near Los Angeles this Friday, grab a ticket to the Canadian Film Centre salute to Norman Jewison happening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The CFC--which is ramping up their outreach to young Canadians interested in careers in television--was founded by Jewison in 1988. They are honouring one of Canada's great storytellers, both on-screen and in person (or in print, for that matter--check out Jewison's lively 2004 biography This Terrible Business Has Been Good To Me.)
Six Oscar winners, including Cher, Faye Dunaway, Eva Marie Saint, Carl Reiner, Marilyn & Alan Bergman, and famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler will join film historian Leonard Maltin in paying tribute to the 82-year-old filmmaker. It will be worth it just to hear always funny Reiner, who got pulled away from producing the final season of The Dick Van Dyke Show to star in Jewison's 1966 feature The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. Mia Kirshner, Valerie Curtain, David James Elliot and Alan Thicke will also be at the event.
I had the great privilege way back in 1982 to attend a private dinner with Jewsion in Toronto. He had just been a guest lecturer for the University of Toronto film department, and the chairman at the time, Prof. Gino Matteo, asked me to draw the above caricature of the filmmaker (I used to do editorial cartoons for The Varsity). Jewison has a farm north of Toronto so I drew him raising a crop of film reels, one for each of his features to that point. As a reward for penning the sketch, I got to tag along for dinner at the top of the Park Plaza.
Jewison was spellbinding, spinning yarn after yarn about his days directing a Who's Who of Hollywood. His advice to me, an aspiring filmmaker at the time, was to stay the hell away from film schools. "Drive a cab until you're at least 30," he demanded. The point being that you needed a variety of life experience before you tried to tell stories on film.
I never forgot the tip. but it was terrible advice! Or, at least, I forgot to stop doing other things when I reached 31.
I ran into Jewison a few years ago at a Toronto International Film Fest event and was able to tell him I bought a 16mm print of his very first film--40 Pounds of Trouble, starring Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleschette, at an eBay auction. I think I paid 30 bucks.
It is a cool little film, from 1962, with the cast scrambling all over what was then the relatively new Disneyland theme park in southern California, a sequence Jewison basically improvised on the spot after Walt Disney gave permission to shoot at the location.
Jewison's response when I told him I had the film? "Burn it!" he said. Again, bad advice, it is a charming little film, one of Curtis' most natural and sympathetic performances. Jewison has always been a great actor's director.
Maltin, who is perfect at hosting these things, will moderate an informal chat with Jewison, Cher, Dunaway and the others. Should be an unforgettable night, wish I could be there. It all begins at 7:30, followed by a screening of one of Jewison's most appealing films, Moonstruck, at 9:10. Tickets--just ten dollars!--are available here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

WTF?! GSN, Bring Back WML

This probably matters to no one but me--and makes me sound older than God, but, damn, I miss those middle of the night What's My Line reruns. At the start of the month GSN pulled the classic panel show from its 3 a.m. timeslot where I've been PVR'ing it for the past year or so. What's My Line ran 17 seasons in the '50s and '60s and is a fascinating time capsule of mid century America. I used to love scanning to the mystery guest slot, then catching a glimpse of young, up and coming stars like Paul Newman, Sophia Loren, Andy Griffith, Dick Clark, Julie Andrews, Sean Connery, Jane Fonda and Harry Belafonte. Old Hollywood stars like Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Olivia DeHavilland and Groucho Marx (hilarious as a panelist) mix with historical figures like Frank Lloyd Wright and Salvador Dali. Some guests are names now forgotten, Like doctor, humanitarian and Vietnam footnote Tom Dooley, baseball Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Peter Lind Hayes and Robert Q Lewis. Milton Berle was already on the comeback trail the night somebody from the studio audience leapt onto the stage to shake his hand and kept right on running. `My agent!`Berle ad libbed.
What`s My Line boasted an impressive panel, including Arlene Francis, a TV pioneer and Broadway star who got away with some pretty racy double entendres for the times. Dorothy Kilgallen was a New York columnist who might have been on to a big scoop on the Kennedy assassination when she died under mysterious circumstances in 1964. Bennett Cerf was a Random House publisher who had a penchant for puns. Moderator John Charles Daly was an ABC news anchor who was the last word on taste and decorum.
What sucks is that GSN was replaying the series in order right from the beginning. They had burned through a decade--from 1950 to 1960--when GSN pulled the plug. Too bad--it was a cool time capsule, a peek at a kinder, gentler time and I was looking forward to seeing the damn thing through right until its 1967 demise. GSN--it is the middle of the night, what the hell, finish the string!

More Gas on the Radio

Always enjoy chatting with Gary Doyle. He's been the afternoon guy on Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario's 570News for about as long as I've been writing about television and he calls me up from time to time to comment on the TV scene. He's informed, endlessly curious about television and knows how to connect his listeners to the topic of the day.
We spoke this afternoon about tonight's finale of one of Gary's favorite shows, Corner Gas. After six seasons and 107 episodes, the gang from Dog River, Sask., call it quits tonight at 9:30 on CTV and A.
Gary used to live and work in small town Saskatchewan; his wife is from there and he knows these characters. As he says, he can't believe they pay Eric Petersen (Oscar) to go on Corner Gas every week and act just like his late father-in-law. Listen as we salute what is probably the best sitcom Canada has ever produced here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Corner Gas: If You Build It, We Will Come

Show No. 107, "You've Been Great, Good Night," closes out Canada's most successful sitcom, Corner Gas. It all ends Monday night at 9:30 on CTV and A.
Gas is all over the CTV channel factory Monday, starting with a Canada AM salute at 8 a.m., a live eTalk salute at 7 p.m. and "It's Been a Gas," a behind the scenes retrospective of the taping of the final episode at 7:30.
The Comedy Network has that final episode an hour earlier at 8:30 Monday. Then it is rerun heaven for Brent Butt and the gang until CTV finally announces whether it is picking up his new series starring wife/co-star Nancy Robertson.
Thanks in no small part to me, Gas has been part of one of the most enduring myths about Canadian television--that it was pitched to, and passed at, CBC. Back when I worked at the Toronto Sun I got a bum tip and reported this one, as well as the whopper that Trailer Park Boys was another CBC passover (hey, might as well get this all out of the way at Easter).
Neither show was ever pitched to anyone at CBC. CTV's Comedy Network was ramping up and spending real money (remember Bullard's talk show started there) and was the place to pitch at the time. Comedy passed on Trailer Park Boys and, in a very last ditch attempt before heading back East, creator Mike Clattenburg and associate Barrie Dunn took their little pseudo documentary to Alliance Atlantis where it was championed by Laura Michalchyshyn (now running the Sundance Channel) and wound up kicking ass on Showcase.
Gas went straight to CTV, where it was an instant smash, pulling a million-and-a-half viewers right from the get go. As a successful Canadian sitcom, it stands out like a grain elevator on a Prairie landscape. Check out my Canadian Press column about the series, "10 Reasons Why Canadian Viewers Filled Up with 'Corner Gas'"; you can link to it here at
Reason No. 1? Great characters. Creator, writer and star Butt took a simple idea - what would his life have been like if he'd never made it as a standup comedian? - and spun a series out of his own humble Prairie gas jockey beginnings. Populating it with a quirky, sardonic retail assistant, an attractive-but-insecure outsider from the big city, a slacker best friend, two wacky, bickering parents and a couple of clueless but lovable cops gave every viewer somebody to relate to and laugh at.
Gas is a great Canadian success story and it is wrapping up right when the Canadian television production community--devastated by cutbacks at every network--could use a little hope, a reason to believe that it can happen here. Corner Gas is the great Canadian TV success story. It was 100% home grown and never tried to be anything but funny.
CTV sent out a release last week where several "notables" paid tribute to the series. The one quote worth seconding is from ever reliable John Doyle over at The Globe and Mail:
“Anyone who fails to appreciate the exquisite comical whimsy and admire the stunning popular success of CORNER GAS is a jackass.” Amen to that.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Are You Bugged By All Those CBC Bugs?

A TVFMF reader who wishes to remain anonymous (you know who you are) passed along the following comment. He was watching the season finale of Being Erica a week or so ago when he was yanked out of the drama by this giant, on-screen distraction. "We were near the end, when the family decides to rebuild the barn Erica's brother died in," he writes. "So right as the stake is going in the ground to mark the new barn, up pops Peter Mansbridge's head for a promo for the upcoming news. If that wasn't enough, the red swatch filled a ton of the screen. And then...when you think it is over...up pops Strombo, looking smug, and spinning in his cool chair."
As Craig Ferguson would say, "I KNOW!" Call the exterminator. CBC's on-screen logos, programming pitches and other promotional bugs are crazy out of control. Fox and NBC and CTV and Global and everybody uses them (it's messy and distracting when City-TV burns their larger logo over ABC's for Jimmy Kimmel Live, for example), but, every eight minutes or so, CBC tarts up their screens the way Leons treats a store window during a Don't Pay a Cent Event.
"CBC's are really the worst and take you right out of the show," says our reader. "It certainly doesn't make me want to watch the news makes me scream and want to get away from their network."
Have to agree with his other point, too: "It might be one of the reasons that so many people are finding other ways of watching TV," he writes. "You don't get that crap on a DVD compilation for instance. I swear, it just made me hate George Strombo and want to wipe that smug look off his face and I don't think that is what CBC was going for."
TVFMF welcomes further comments on this subject (mocking Strombo optional).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Broadcast Bailout Buzz Bizarre

CHML's Scott Thompson wanted to talk about Kumar Goes to Washington and other House shockers on today's News Talk radio chat. We do that plus yammer about rumours that the Harper government might throw some of your money at Canadian broadcasters to bail them out of that whole "broken business model" thing. See how fast the broadcasting brainiacs take your cash and give it to Disney, Warners and Fox as they bid up the price on the next Dirty Sexy Money, Cane, Lipstick Jungle or other imported misfire. Talk about dirty, sexy money! You can listen in here.
TUESDAY NIGHT NUMBERS: Ron James pulled 475,000 for his CBC stand up special behind reruns of Mercer (443,000) and 22 Minutes (254,000). The National News held steady at 847,000 (all numbers BBM NMR overnight "commercial" estimates).
CTV took the night with American Idol (2,186,000), a strong return for Fringe (1,419,000) and Law & Order: SVU (1,282,000). Lloyd drew 985,000 at 11.
Global stayed competitive with NCIS at 8 (1,697,000) followed by a strong debut for Part One of their homegrown handyman special Holmes in New Orleans (825,000). Less robust was Project Runway Canada (433,000).
Take a look at how well Global's evergreen soap The Young and the Restless performs at 4:30--936,000 viewers. Carumba!
MONDAY NIGHT NUMBERS: CBC must be saying "Come on playoffs" as they coast through April reruns. Nothing cracked 360,000 from 8-10 p.m. Still, viewers flocked back for Mansbridge at 10 (858,000). Only Jeopardy! cracked the million mark (1,075,000).
That House shocker was the big draw of the night over at Global, with 2,016,000 tuning in. Jack Bauer arrested another 1,184,000 on 24. Heroes limped in at 10 with 470,000.
The second last episode of Corner Gas jumped up to 1,697,000 commercial (1.73 million in those supersized CTV "Total" numbers). Two and a Half Men (1,142,000) and CSI: Miami (1,250,000) were also big Monday draws for CTV, with Dancing with the Stars waltzing off with another 1.21 Million over on CTV's conventional sister station A.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Kal Penn: From White Castle to White House

The greatest shock in last night's episode of House wasn't the sudden death of Dr. Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn) but that the network and producers managed to keep it all a secret until it aired.
For those who didn't see the episode, Kutner's body is discovered in his apartment by colleagues Foreman (Omar Epps) and Thirteen (Olivia Wilde). He is the victim of an apparent suicide, a discovery that shocks Dr. House and his staff as much as it does fans of the series. Nobody saw this one coming.
Today we learn the real reason Penn is leaving the series--he is moving to Washington to become an associate director in the White House office of public liaison. That's right--Kumar is going to work for Obama.
From White Castle to the White House. As Don King would say, only in America.
Penn, as well as House creator David Shore and fellow executive producer Katie Jacobs, took questions today on what turned out to be not your average Fox conference call. Hard to believe this is the same network that foisted Osbournes Reloaded into living rooms last week.
Turns out Penn was turned on by Barack Obama 18 months ago when he started working on the campaign. He met the candidate in the fall of 2007 and caught some of that "Yes We Can" spirit. The 31-year-old actor says he's always been split between arts and public service and is prepared to dedicate the next two years (or more) to the latter.
He made his intentions to pursue public service known to the producers around the time of the election. It was Shore's call to kill the character off, a move Penn says shocked him "as much as the audience." The move didn't totally surprise him, however. "I think everyone is always taken aback with every episode of that show," he says. "When we get each script every week, we really don't know what's going to happen."
Shore says he was thrilled for Penn and totally down with the opportunity. As one reporter said on the conference call, "this is the best reason for leaving a show I've ever heard of--you should get some sort of prize for that."
It was not like Penn had "come to us and said to us and said, 'I've been offered a great part on CSI,'" said London, Ontario-native Shore, who can be just as caustic as his alter ego, Der. House. "Then yeah, we would have killed him off with auto-erotic asphyxiation or something like that."
Penn was only in last night's show in one scene and you never saw his face. That was his body on the floor when Foreman and Thirteen rush in. The director wanted to get the most impact from the scene.
There will be no flashbacks, no "evil twin," no future appearances of Kutler on the show. No real answers as to why he took his own life, either. "This story is about us knowing nothing," says Shore. "The answers are in his head and we can't get there. We should know what we know and not what Kutner knows."
Penn admits he's taking a bit of a leap of faith in joining Team Change. "Anytime you are going from a private career where you're working for a big company to a private service career there's a huge pay cut," says Penn, who doesn't know yet whether he'll sell, rent or sublet his house in LA--if can even move it at all in this market.
He says he spoke briefly with Obama about his career choice. The president seemed to be aware of House, but not those trippy Harold & Kumar movies. Penn says nobody in the administration freaked about the films, which are two hours of sex and drug jokes. He doesn't expect to be doing any more of them, however, and won't do any acting at all while working for the administration.
The actor has roots in this public service thing. His grandparents marched with Gandhi, he said. "They were never preachy stories, they would tell you at the dinner table," he says, remembering them boycotting things like salt and cotton.
Penn feels part of his job will be to reach out to the community that has felt so disenfranchised in recent years in American politics. Young people, Asians, the arts community--they are all on his radar. "I'm not a Democrat or a Republican, I'm a registered Independent," he says, stressing he seeks no special treatment and just wants to be "one member of an incredible team." A few reporters on the line said cynics are already seeing this as opportunism, another actor trading his fame on a political career like Shirley Temple, Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Penn just laughed when asked if he's ever run for office--which is how Obama used to react when people asked if he'd ever run for president.
Have to admit I had mixed feelings at the end of the episode when Fox flashed a link to a Dr. Lawrence Kutler memorial site, complete with an obituary, funeral flowers and photos. It seemed a bit odd and sentimental and also seemed to blur the line between reality and fantasy. Nobody really died, after all.
Penn was asked on the line if he thought the memorial link was a little "creepy." Penn said he was cool with it as long as no real family photos were used, just shots of the character from the show. Jacobs said they wanted the fans to know they didn't take this loss lightly and that this was "a big deal to us."
As for the suicide overshadowing any future TV roles that might come Penn's way, he's not to concerned about it. "There's a big difference between fact and fiction," he said. "The characters an actor plays are very different from his or her real life. Superman flys and Anthony Hopkins eats people in Silence of the Lambs, but I think we're all rational enough to know that those are fictitious."
Just like people think Penn is a stoner just because he played one in those Harold & Kumar movies. Penn says he doesn't "smoke weed" and, furthermore, he's a vegitarian, a fact which bugged some fans of the series. "When we shot the first movie," he says, "there was this mini uproar amongst stoner White Castle fans. 'How can you hire a vegetarian who doens't even smoke weed to play this character in the movie?'"
So don't look for Penn to appear in any Don't Do Drugs public service spots. "It's not my area of expertise at all," he says.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Decent Debut For Elvis Elton Duet

CTV scored respectacle if not spectacular ratings with Friday's premiere of Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... The hour-long music/interview series drew 861,000 Total CTV viewers Friday, a mere three thousand more than it registered on the BBM NMR overnight estimate "commercial" score.
That was good enough to win the 10 p.m. time period and 40% better than what CTV was pulling there with its U.S. cable drama pickup, Raising The Bar. Another 59,000 caught Elvis Saturday at 8 on Bravo!, which a few thousand more counted in Sunday's Bravo! repeat.
The series, which was sparked by Winnipeg-native Stephen Warden, did not lack for star power or promotion. Costello's first guest was Elton John, a co-producer of the series. While John`s passion for the music business and his early influences came across, the conversation lacked urgency and excitement, with John droning on about how he got his name (again) and other familiar stories. Might have been better to shoot this like a reality show with the viewer along as a dinner guest in some restaurant. The stage presentation seemed to take away the intimacy of what should have been a chance to eavesdrop on two music icons.
For all his knowledge and curiosity about the music scene, Costello seemed to hold back with John. That low key approach is better than a lot of forced chatter but it still seemed to me at least like some of the good stories were left at the bar or in the green room.
Perhaps Costello will grow into the role and get more relaxed as the series continues. Next Friday, he'll try to arrest The Police. Lou Reed, jazzy wife Diana Krall and former president Bill Clinton are among his future guests.
Spectacle benefited from a solid lead in--Flashpoint, which delivered 1.35 million Total CTV viewers. Ghost Whisperer at 8 drew 993,000 "commercial" viewers, with the CTV National News at 11 pulling 987,000 "commercial" and likely over a million Total.
Jeopardy! ended a big week with 1,152,000 CBC viewers at 7:30 Friday. The Rick Mercer Report drew 551,000, astounding considering it is a repeat airing in a second window. Few comedies or dramas could pull that trick. (CTV`s repeat of the ER finale Saturday night, for example, did 357,000.) Marketplace (674,000) and the Fifth Estate (542,000) helped CBC to a strong second place showing on the night.
Global finished third nationally on Friday with Howie Do It (355,000) followed by Dollhouse (384,000) and Numb3rs (633,000).
Some Saturday numbers: playoff fever is building on CBC`s Hockey Night in Canada (1,209,000 and 1,039,000 for Games One and Two). Just 133,000 stumbled on Global`s Genie Awards Saturday night, about half the audience who stayed up till 11:30 to watch Saturday Night Live (267,000).