Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson: Little Boy Lost

My friend Gene Trindl, who passed away four years ago this month at 80, shot more covers for TV Guide than any other photographer--over 200 covers. Gene worked with them all, and as he told me back when we were collaborating on a collection of his celebrity photographs, had a couple of memorable encounters with Michael Jackson.
Jackson was already a phenomenon when Gene snapped the above shot. At 10 or 11, he was the breakout star of The Jackson 5, the kid who danced an dazzled on The Ed Sullivan Show and all the other big variety hours that dominated television back in the late-'60s, early '70s. Gene got a call to come photograph all five brothers, and, spotting Michael alone and off to one side, caught him in a pensive mood.
Fifteen years later, Gene got another call to shoot stills for Jackson's ground-breaking Thriller video. Jackson was, without question at this point, the hottest star on the planet. Every track from that album got airplay and Thriller stopped you in your tracks whenever it came on TV. It was the video that drove MTV and MuchMusic straight to the bank.
Gene remembered that shot he took all those years earlier of the young entertainer. He went into his dark room, and carefully hand developed an 11 x 14 print for the singer. He custom mounted and framed it and took it with him to the set of Thriller.
Gene snapped away and waited for a chance to present the photograph. Jackson was, as you could imagine, pretty busy that day, dancing, singing, taking direction from John Landis. Finally there was a break, and Gene put down his camera and walked the framed shot over to the superstar.
Jackson gave the photo a fleeting glance and quickly walked away. He did not want to go there at all. He would not look at the photo.
Gene guessed it brought back bad memories, or maybe Jackson just no longer accepted that image as representing who he was at that moment or who he had become. Still, as Gene wondered, how could anybody turn their back on such a handsome, beautiful face.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Image, Immortality and Farrah Fawcett

This poster was everywhere in the late '70s when I was a student at the University of Toronto. At St. Mike's college, it probably was in more dorm rooms than crucifixes.
Farrah Fawcett was an icon, and her passing today at 62, following a day or two after the death of Ed McMahon, is another reminder that time and television are passing by.
Fawcett broke through with the '70s jiggle show Charlie's Angeles and kept right on jiggling through Battle of the Network Stars, the guilty TV pleasure for the ages. Howard Cosell doing a serious interview with Farrah-Fawcett-Majors told you everything you needed to know about the '70s.
She was the Marilyn of her day, on every magazine cover and sold millions of tabloids. She was all hair and teeth and tan and had to fight past all that to gain respect later in TV movies like the Burning Bed.
I interviewed her when she played a killer in the TV-movie Small Sacrifices back when I was at TV Guide and found her thoughtful and serious on the phone. She was terrific in that role, cold-blooded and charismatic; convincing.
Years later, she became kind of a tragic figure through what appeared to be flighty appearances on David Letterman and Tonight. It didn't help that she was promoting some sort of artsy nude appearance in an HBO special, some sort of fabulous at 50 -plus deal. Fawcett seemed distracted and unfocused on these talk show appearances and, well, stoned. We were laughing, not lusting, at her, which always made me wince. Still, she kept her brand alive. One Letterman visit led to some of his highest ratings ever.
Around this same time or shortly afterwards, Fawcett sat before critics at press tour. She was promoting the 2005 reality series Chasing Farrah which followed her around and pretty much exploited her on-again, off-again relationship with Ryan O'Neal. It was after The Osbournes broke big and everybody from Tammy Faye Bakker to Wayne Newton was in on the celebrity sell-out sweepstakes.
Fawcett seemed a big unfocused and distracted at that occasion, too, but it was evident from that hour that she was simply like that. More impressive was her candor and humor, which as I recall was especially self-deprecating. She seemed a bit dotty, but still plenty hot, still plenty girlish in all her cougar glory.
Sadly, it was around that same time or shortly afterwards that she was diagnosed with cancer. In her final months, she gave everything she had left to that NBC special Farrah's Story, detailing her fight against the cancer which eventually took her life. It was so hard to watch I didn't watch it, but I admire her for putting it out there. Fawcett made herself over at the end from pin-up poster girl to the poster girl for cancer awareness. She believed in her power and found her triumph and that's a pretty amazing epitaph.

How I Met Your Mother's Baby Bump

Blogging from the cozy "Two Chicks" cafe from beautiful downtown Sauble Beach, Ont. Feeding My Family from here for a week so set receptors for summer schedule.
Speaking of two chicks, if you are a fan of How I Met Your Mother and was amused, as I have been this past season, at the attempts to hide the rather obvious baby bumps of the two lead actresses (including Canadian Cobie Smulders, above), check out this link to Barefoot has become obsessed with the baby hiding shenanigans and has posted several shots showing that the old giant scarf, frumpy housecoat and loose fitting blouse tricks (which date back to I Love Lucy) have been in full use on the Met Your Mother set. Check it out.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More McMahon Memories on CHML Radio

More memories of Ed McMahon are shared on this week's TV talk on the radio with CHML's Scott Thompson. There's also a recap of the BRC event, a peek at that flame-throwing Lady Gaga brattack at the MMVAs and a final solution for those Jon & Katie kids. Listen in here.

Critics Find Plenty to Recommend at BRC Bash

As I mentioned off the top of last night's BRC gala, it had been a while since I had addressed this room. A dozen years, in fact.
The Broadcast Research Council, a group which acts as a liaison for Canadian broadcasters and advertisers, have been hosting these annual Fall Preview events for years. This year I got to co-present the preview of the 2009-10 season with my old pal from Mediaweek, Marc Berman. That's Berman (left) and Brioux flanking new BRC president Eva Tolkunow--from WWE Corp--at last night's event at the Four Seasons in Toronto.
The last time I was before this room was in the summer of 1997, when I was still at TV Guide. I was co-presenting with who ever happened to be the editor of TV Guide at the time. I think I co-hosted four times with three different editors.
Last night I got to share the stage with Berman, Mediaweek's expert "Programming Insider" and the guy with all the numbers. Berman used to run numbers for guys like Jeff Zucker at NBC so he's earned that insider status. We'd teamed back in January at a more low-key BRC breakfast preview of mid-season shows and had fun playing to the 250 guests at last night's industry gala.
As I mentioned to the crowd, a lot has changed in television since the mid-90s. Back then, Hulu was a hoop, a carriage fee was something you paid at Toys 'R Us and Moses didn't have to go out and buy Vision, he already had it.
About a dozen clips were shown from the 24 new shows premiering on network TV in Canada this fall. Among the shows both of us really like are the comedies Modern Family, Cougar Town and Community and the dramas The Good Wife and NCIS: Los Angeles (which stars L.L. Cool J, who, if he breaks through next year, may get moved to 10 p.m. and headline the L.L. Cool J Leno Show). I really like Glee, Marc thinks musical comedies are a hard sell (even Fame was a flop on network, he notes, but I think the times are right for this positive, blue sky showcase). Marc puts The Vampire Diaries in his winner's circle, I think it looks too much like One Tree Vampire. I thought The Good Wife, starring Julianna Margulies, was a very compelling pilot, Marc expects it will be a hard sell outside the older female demo. Both of us are intrigued by ABC's Lost-like Flash Forward, but this one's been locked away in vault Disney and nobody has seen more than the 2:45 teaser clip so far.
We also previewed clips for mid-season CanCon orders The Bridge (CTV/CBS) and Cra$h & Burn (Canwest's Showcase), which, as one network rival put it last night, is a pretty nervy title for a Global entry these days.
Folks seemed pleased we'd brought the show in just under the two hour limit. Special thanks to the network PR teams at Canwest, CTV and Citytv who hustled the clips together and helped make the evening a success.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

McMahon, Carson, Together Again

In October of 2006, I headed out to the Music Hall in Toronto to see Tonight Show legend Ed McMahon. I had interviewed the veteran sidekick on the phone a few days earlier for the Toronto Sun (read that story here). He sounded excited to be coming to a place called the "Music Hall," and asked if it was a grand old theatre in the English vaudeville tradition. I said I'd heard they were fixing the place up, but I knew, and kept to myself, that the Danforth venue had seen better days.
The night he performed it snowed in Toronto. The place was about a third full at best. McMahon was dressed in a tux, sat on a chair, and spoke for a little over an hour. The night was billed as "Ed McMahon's Memories of the Tonight Show" but he either didn't have any memories or just chose to keep them to himself. His act consisted mainly of telling five really long jokes he borrowed from frequent Tonight Show guest Rodney Dangerfield and then referencing slides and video clips thrown up on a screen through a wonky power point presentation.
Some of the clips were vintage Tonight Show moments, some outtakes as well as those old live commercials he used to do for Alpo or Budweiser (the kind of ads that are coming back on TV now). They were all stuff anybody there could have found on YouTube. It was all cued up backstage by a young man named Bob who mixed up the order of the clips a few times. McMahon grew testy, joking at one point that Bob was also the lookout at Pearl Harbor. Yes, Ed McMahon told a pearl harbor joke in 2006.
The folks who were there, many in their 50s and 60s, seemed to get a kick out of being this close to a TV personality they enjoyed each night for 30 years on Johnny Carson's Tonight. There was a question and answer session, but ever-loyal Ed would still not spill the beans about his boss, Johnny, who had died the previous year. Nothing you didn't already know was said.
Still, the fans got their money's worth. One man came all the way from Ottawa to thank McMahon for all the laughs. It really was too bad the theatre had not been full, it would have been a much happier night.
After the show, the theatre manager walked a few of us backstage to meet McMahon. It wasn't even backstage. McMahon stood up against the curtain, off to the side, blocking the way past. He signed a few posters and shook a few hands. He didn't look too happy.
I always thought it was odd that a showbiz veteran like McMahon would come up to Toronto on a snowy night to perform at a place that wasn't exactly Massey Hall. It all made a little more sense to me several months later when I was having lunch with my old pal, B.C.-based publicist Bill Vigars. Vigars told me he was working on the advance shows leading up to the Vancouver Olympics and his boss, David Foster, told him to hired Ed McMahon to emcee an event. Vigars thought that was a strange request--McMahon had already geared down to promoting those seniors bathtubs with the doors at the time--but Foster was being kind; he knew McMahon was broke and really needed the money.
That news took a lot of people by surprise when it broke later in 2007. How could a guy with a steady, 30-year gig in TV, who was a commercial pitchman for many big name brands, who did all those Blooper shows with Dick Clark, possibly be broke? Three wives and bad business deals seemed to be the answer.
While I had McMahon on the phone, I asked him about a couple of Tonight Show rumors for my last book. One of them was the infamous "I kissed his balls" tale that Arnold Palmer's wife supposedly told Carson on the air (supposedly she did to her husband before every tourney for good luck). "Oh ho ho--yes--I was there that night!" said McMahon. He also had vivid memories of the night Raquel Welch or Jane Fonda or whoever showed up with a cat on their lap and asked Johnny if he wanted to pet her pussy. "The place went crazy!" said McMahon.
Neither of those things ever happened. McMahon may not have had very sharp memories, but the ex-Marine was a trooper, an old school entertainer. He never let the truth get in the way of a good story. He was always only too eager to say, "You are correct, sir."
He was the big Irishman who held Carson up those 5000 nights on the Tonight Show, who never missed a opportunity to punch up one of the bosses' jokes with a laugh or a hearty "Heyoooooooo."
He died this morning, just a few weeks after Conan O'Brien succeeded Jay Leno as host of Tonight, bringing back the sidekick tradition by re-hiring his old pal, Andy Richter. McMahon was 86. Read the early wire report here.

Ratings Less Than Gaga For 2009 MMVAs

You'd think the Jonas Brothers, Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas and all those other A-list acts would have boosted the MuchMusic Video Awards to a record high. But just 368,000 tuned in Sunday night at 9 p.m. on MuchMusic. Maybe they should have worked thagt Perez Hilton clubbing into the show.
Three hundred thousand-plus is a big number in specialty but not as high as the MMVA's have hit in other years. Sunday's red carpet show drew 219,000 according to BBM overnight commercial estimates.
CBC stole some of those viewers with their Happy Gilmore movie (801,000). Merlin also opened strong on CTV, conjuring up 1,103,000 commercial. Global's Family Guy scored 621,000 viewers across Canada. Even a rerun of Cold Case on A channel (476,000) beat the MMVAs, as did the final round of golf's U.S. open on TSN (423,000)--and none of those golfers shot sparklers out of their bras.
Other Canadian TV numbers from the weekend: CTV's Spectacle drew 351,000 Friday. And look at how low CBC slumps on a Saturday night without hockey: a reruns of The Week The Women Went fell to 168,000, followed by just 68,000 across Canada for a rerun of Da Vinci's City Hall. That was followed at 10 with an airing of long gone Intelligence, which found just 120,000 takers. Not that the private networks fared any better on a Saturday night: CTV got just 201,000 for a Saturday movie while Global struck out with Healthy Ever After (115,000) and Doc (119,000). More people lived in Brampton in the '70s. Summer is here and the sets are being turned off.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wally, You're Being Too Hard On The Ward

Homer Simpson and Al Bundy topped our last-minute Father's Day poll of TV's Top Dads. But the guy who came next was once considered the daddest of them all.
Hugh Beaumont played '50s middle class protodad Ward Cleaver for six seasons on Leave It To Beaver (1957-63). He was the man of the house, a total authority figure, kept June in pearls and in the kitchen and pretty much kicked somebody’s ass in every episode. But a dad, right? Somebody who was there when the going got tough and always knew best.
Or not. Several years ago, when I asked Tony Dow--who played Beav’s big brother Wally on the sitcom--about Beaumont, he looked like he just smelled something bad. Dow said Beaumont was an unpleasant fellow who never had any time for any of the child actors on the set. Holy cow, Wally. I can see him not wanting to hang around Eddie Haskell or Lumpy, but the Beav? Way to wreck someone’s cherished childhood memories.
Beaumont was an ordained Methodist minister and a seasoned actor when he landed the role of Ward Cleaver in 1957 (taking over from another actor after the pilot). He went on to direct several episodes of the series. He died in 1982 at 72.

U.S. Turns Deaf Ear To The Listener

The same thing is happening with The Listener that happened with Flashpoint. Strong Canadian numbers, not-so-strong on the U.S. side.
CTV drew 1,079,000 viewers to last Thursdays show, which is well placed between top-rated So You Think You Can Dance (1,552,000) and the resurgent CTV National News (1,155,000. All numbers BBM Canada overnight "commercial" estimates).
The strong CTV Thursday night showing trounced the NHL Awards on CBC (459,000) and reruns of The Office (434,000, 276,000) on Global, although Canwest took the 8 p.m. crown with Bones (833,000).
Only 3.82 million caught The Listener Thursday on NBC, a low total but still good enough for second in its timeslot in TV's steep ratings slump this summer. A repeat of The Mentalist on CBS (8.82 million) took the hour.
It doesn't help that The Listener has to follow repeats of The Office (3.33 million) and 30 Rock (2.77 million) on NBC.
People have pretty much turned off their TV's Stateside. Look at these numbers for first-run network shows: I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here (4.89 million at 8, 5.07 at 8:30), with Fox's So You Think You Can Dance only pulling in 7.80 million at 9, falling second to a rerun of CSI (9.36 million).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Letterman/Palin This Week's Hot Radio Topic

Catching up with a couple of recent radio reports. This Thursday's TV Talk with CHML's Scott Thompson was all about Stanley Cup final hockey ratings on both sides of the border. The other hot topic is the late night wars including that whole David Letterman/Sarah Palin thing. Letterman crossed the line, in my opinion, not just out of his barely-disguised contempt for the Alaska governor, but in part due to the new, expanded monologue at the Late Show. Over the past several months and especially now that human joke machine Jay Leno is off the scene, Letterman has gone from tellling seven or eight to 14, 15 jokes a night. He seems energized after re-discovering his stand up comedy mojo and was bound to push through the envelope sooner or later. The unfortunate Palin daughter crack was one of those harsh jokes that would kill in the clubs but really was out of bounds for the CBS room. Letterman, typically, has made hay with the controversy, joking that his son is starting to tell the other kids at school that he is Conan O'Brien's kid. You can listen in here.
The Letterman gaffe also came up on last week's chat with Mike Miller over at News-Talk Radio WIMA out of Lima, Ohio. Mike also wants to know if the second season of the chilling HBO drama True Blood--just back on HBO Canada--is any scarier than that creepy '60s soap, Dark Shadows. As Count Floyd would say, "Awoooooo!" You can listen in here.
UPDATE: A TVFMF reader has forwarded links to two great articles deconstructing the whole Letterman/Palin dustup. Several fellow comics, including Bill Maher and Jon Stewart, have rushed to Dave's defence, pointing out how all the late night comedians have savaged Palin in their monologues for months (specifically goofing on her baby-making teenage daughter) and that Letterman, the perceived great Liberal voice, was being targeted by the Right. Read the two stories in the Washington Post and the Huffington Post and consider whether this joke by Conan O'Brien went further than Letterman's jab: "Saturday night, Sarah Palin is going to drop the first puck at the Philadelphia Flyers' hockey game. Then Palin will spend the rest of the game trying to keep the hockey players out of her daughter's penalty box."

Friday, June 19, 2009

TVFMF Booked Today on CBC Radio One

Talking TV with CBC Radio host Rita Celli today after 1 p.m. on Ontario Today. The subject is how you watch television--do you PVR it, stream it off your computer, catch it on your iPod--anything but actually watching it off a network schedule on a TV screen, right? Well, maybe. I still say the PVR is the greatest invention since the leaf blower, especially when it comes to staying current on the late night scene. Find CBC Radio One on your FM dial, 99.1 FM in Toronto.

Four Days Till Berman, Brioux Rock BRC

Just a reminder--tickets are still available for next Tuesday's BRC Fall Preview gala at the Four Seasons in Toronto. "Programming Insider" Marc Berman from Mediaweek and yours truly will spin through the fall forecast, broken business models be damned. Thanks to the generosity and cooperation from the folks at CTV, Global and City, clips from several of the hottest news shows for the fall will be shown, including Glee, Modern Family, The Vampire Diaries, Melrose Place, Cougar Town and even a sneak peak at the new suspense series ABC has kept pretty much in the vault, Flash Forward. So flash forward to fall with the Can-Am critics at the BRC June gala. Fill out your ticket forms here.


Brutal week of technical snafus and too many print deadlines resulting in few postings. Hopefully the worst is over. Thanks for your patience and stay tuned.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Crosby and Co. Score in US Cup Ratings

Yes, we still do numbers. The CBC is going to miss the Stanley Cup finals and so, incredibly, will NBC. The Peacock network drew 7.51 million for Friday's seventh and deciding game, with over 9 million tuning into see Sidney Crosby and the Pens hoist the cup. Here are the dying seconds:

That is the biggest U.S. audience for a Stanley Cup final since Mark Messier and the Rangers defeated Vancouver in 1994. "Personally, I have no recollection of a hockey game ever rating this high," write Mediaweek Programming Insider Marc Berman.
CBC drew 2,596,000 for Game Six and spiked close to 5 million viewers in the dying seconds of Friday's Game Seven. That's huge, but before the seventh game, numbers were down from last season, despite an exciting, seven game series. All four rounds of the NHL playoffs were down, with a lack of Canadian teams in most of the mix no doubt accounting for the CBC drop off. Or maybe Canadians are starting to tire of our game just as America is getting into it?
Other recent Canadian ratings numbers (according to BBM Canada overnight estimates): So You Think You Can Dance Canada waltzed off with 1,745,000 viewers June 11 for CTV ("commercial" tally). The Listener was still worth a listen with 983,000 viewers in Week Three, although it is falling on deaf ears in the States. Last Thursday's airing drew just 4.39 million on NBC, last in its timeslot in households and demo.

Double Your CHML Radio Fun

Way behind in my radio links. Here are the two most recent posts with CHML Talk Radio host Scott Thompson.
The first, from June 10, covered the Rogers-City-TV upfront last week in Toronto. Their best buy in terms of imported American fare appears to be Modern Family. There are also some memories of David Carradine as well as a shout out to the return of True Blood. You can listen in here.
The earlier one, from the week before, deals with the CTV and the Canwest Global upfronts and is way more sarcastic. I repeat the rumour that porn runners are gonna buy Hamilton station CHCH. And there is my take on the first week of Conan OBrien behind the Tonight Show desk, as well as a review of Jay Leno and his 80-minute joke attack at Casino Rama. Listen in here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Give Fangs For a Second Season of True Blood

What kind of entertainment does Dracula like? Something in a jugular vein. Which brings us to the Second Season premiere of HBO's True Blood (tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO Canada). Check out the promo below:

This season, Sookie and Compton (Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer) "dust off" their relationship after that near burnup in broad daylight at the end of last season. There's also the pay off to that mysterious body outside the diner where Sookie works. We learn more about Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), the rebellious teen-vampire Compton had to sire to make up for killing a fellow bloodsucker. Bar owner Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) sticks doggedly to his shape-shifting ways. Sookie's troublemaker sibling Jason (Ryan Kwanten) gets mixed up with an anti-vampire sect. And Evan Rachel Wood guest stars as the Vampire Queen of Louisiana.
Read all about it in the feature I wrote in today's Toronto Star. Spoke with Charlaine Harris, the author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Based in southern Arkansas, her southern drawl is not unlike the Louisiana accent the characters have in the series.
Harris has done okay with these books. Seven of them were on the New York Times bestsellers list earlier this year. She said she hand picked Alan Ball to executive produce the series because she felt he would stay true to her vision of the vampire drama. Mission accomplished, she says, although she allows that the series is sexier than the books.
As for why the public's so thirsty for vampire tales, Harris has a theory: "I think our culture is youth obsessed," she says, "and the idea of creatures that stay forever at their peak, that don't have to worry about arthritis, cataracts, cellulite...isn't that the American ideal?"

We Interrupt This Podcast...

A faulty Internet connection has kept TVFMF off line this weekend (something to do with the digital conversion?). Sorry about that. Rogers is looking into it. Catch up postings to follow.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stern, Roberts Boost Dave Over O'Brien

When Letterman head writer Bill Scheft was in Toronto a few weeks ago he predicted that, when the dust settled in late night and the Tonight hand off was complete, his boss would be in the driver's seat. "Usually the show that changes the least benefits the most," he said.
That seems to be the case just two weeks into Conan O'Brien's run as host of The Tonight Show. While it is summer and ratings are all over the map, the enormous boost O'Brien got from those first few nights of Tonight seems to have slipped away.
Letterman beat O'Brien head-to-head for the first time Tuesday night, as Dave fave Julia Roberts guested on Late Show. That followed a close second showing the night before as Howard Stern--always good for a ratings boost--gave Letterman a hearty endorsement. "I'll do anything you want as long as we beat Conan!" Stern said on the show, mentioning that Dave's staff thought Stern's visit would vault Letterman ahead of O'Brien (not quite). "I never liked Jay, I can't stand Jay," Stern cracks two thirds of the way though the following clip:

The ratings were tracked on Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily site, although, keep in mind Finke seems to have a personal hate on for NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker.
In terms of total households, Letterman beat O'Brien Tuesday night 3.4 to 2.8 in the overnight, estimated ratings. Things may tighten up when the final tally is in but that looks like a win.
Monday night it was Conan 3.1, Letterman/Stern 3.0. The week before, when O'Brien launched opposite Letterman repeats (a savvy scheduling move by NBC), O'Brien opened with a lofty 7.0, sliding night by night to 5.0, 4.2, 3.8 and 3.5.
As Finke gleefully points out, O'Brien went from the highest Monday night rating for Tonight in four years to the lowest-rated Friday in six months--all in the same week.
NBC quickly countered that O'Brien is "the new King of Late Night" and, as host of Tonight, is kicking Letterman's CBS ass in the all-important 18-49 demo. Not in the NBC release--but a factor in this ratings battle--is that NBC's current 10 p.m. slate is in tatters which CBS is dominant in the hour, tilting things Dave's way.
None of this really matters all that much in the summer. The real late night war begins in September, when Jay Leno launches at 10 and then all hell breaks loose. At that point, audiences will really begin to shakeout and new alliances will be formed. But Scheft is probably right--the guy that didn't change is looking pretty good right now.
Letterman also got a ratings lift this week thanks to Sarah Palin. The Alaska governor and former Republican vice presidential candidate took issue with some stinging jokes Letterman recently told in his monologue, a part of the show that is getting sharper and longer in recent weeks. The Palin's were particularly upset over comments that seemed directed at their 14-year-old daughter. Letterman explained he was really goofing on the 18-year-old. Then he roasted Palin in the most damning apology ever. Read more about it here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Doctors Abbott and Ferguson, I Presume...

That's doctors Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson flanking Concordia University president and vice-Chancellor Judith Woodsworth at Sunday's bestowing of the honorary degrees. The two Air Farce favourites joined Montreal Canadiens' legend Jean Beliveau as honorees at the commencement ceremonies in Montreal.
As Abbott quipped (in an earlier post), "I walked away without my BA all those years ago...I guess all is forgiven!"

Rogers Celebrates an American City

The KGB was out in force at the Rogers/City-TV launch Tuesday in Toronto. As in "Keeps Getting Better."
The corny slogan was repeated ad (and I do mean ad) nauseum at the industry event, held at the Canon Theatre on Yonge Street. Rejected was this slogan: "Keeps Getting Bigger" (your Rogers bill).
Even Regis got into the act, shouting "Keeps Getting Better!" in a clip reel that also featured shout outs from Jay Leno (seen weeknights at 10 next fall on City-TV) and others. City will air Reege's revived Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in August.
The corporate elite at Rogers did have plenty to boast about. Ratings for Breakfast Television, always strong in Toronto, were up 25% last year. The local news numbers were also up. Prime time numbers were up. The team is set it move into its shiny new broadcast digs at Yonge and Dundas.
Plus the big boys, CTV and Global, aren't so big anymore. Rogers was able to go down to the LA screenings and scoop up all the shows that will quickly get canceled that CTV and Global used to buy and then never show.
Rogers also stole a few established shows away from the other guys, including How I Met Your Mother and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Most of the steals were from Canwest's E!, which is E for empty next fall.
The speeches from the stage at the Canon emphasized that Rogers was the positive place to put your money next year. That they had the "good news fall launch" and were way separate from the "doom and gloom" message blaring out of the other joints. Then they rolled out two guys dressed as hobos with signs marked "CTV" and "Global" and the Rogers execs all took turns kicking them in the nuts (actually they didn't do that but it would have been funny).
City is inching back into the prime time ratings race. Big gains were made last year, especially in women 18-49. Slides were shown with City topping Global for second place in the W demo (although the fine print and asterisk narrowed the sample down to four days in January or something like that).

The Rogers pep rally included the screening of an entire episode of one of the more promising new shows for fall: Modern Family. (This was done at ABC's upfront last month in New York, too.) That one camera comedy stars Ed O'Neill (Married...with Children) as an older guy married to a young, Latino spitfire. There's also a gay couple with an adopted baby from Vietnam and a sort of normal couple with a horny teenage daughter. Put them all together and hilarity ensues, or at least a few good laughs in the well written, well cast pilot. The series has a Best In Show meets Arrested Development quality about it, which is always good.
Rogers also has the new Courteney Cox vehicle Cougar Town, exactly the kind of show CTV or Global would have snapped up in years past. The network also bought the new Chevy Chase comedy Community to go with their airings of 30 Rock. They also have a bunch of stuff that runs all together, shows about nurses and trauma centres that looked like dozens of other failed pilots from the past dozen years.

Rogers big money makers, however, are those 6-8 shows, stripped reruns of Family Guy, Two and a Half Men and The Simpsons. City and OMNI kick ass in the supper hour, in the Toronto demos at least, and will again next season.
Dropped from the City lineup is Jimmy Kimmel Live. That's headed to Sun TV, the little station that also got to pick from more than just table scraps for the first time ever. Rogers has Leno and no longer needs Jimmy. One of the Rogers program execs said later they did better with some MTV fare after Kimmel that they're going to just slide it down an hour, thank you.
The stage presentation also included an opening reel showing various members of the City-TV/OMNI family stumbling around the Yonge/Dundas site in hard hats. Boy was it lame. A painful gag featuring Mark Daly (whose voice remains a strong City signature) was repeated to death. I guess it seemed funny in the boardroom.
Canadian-born Bachelorette Jillian Harris was brought on stage and seemed pretty excited to be there. Later everybody was herded next door to the Hard Rock Cafe, where the heavy h'ordeurvres eventually made their way upstairs.
Missing from the Rogers deal? Well, uh, Canadian shows. You know, the scripted kind. There was barely any mention of Less Than Kind, and beyond the local news presence, very little flag waving of any kind. They did unveil the new reality show Ford Models Supermodels of the World Canada, which will be a lot of words to cram up on the Rogers Centre JumboTron this season.
Rogers wants to bump into the big boys broadcast club and Lord knows buying a ton of American fare is the only example that's been set so far. But platforming a shiny new Canuck drama or comedy would have gone a long way toward making a serious statement yesterday. It didn't happen.

City-TV's fall schedule (new shows in bold):

7 NFL overruns
7:30 Two and a Half Men
8 Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
9 Rona Home
10 Conviction Kitchen

7 L&O: SVU
8 How I Mwet Your Mother
8:30 Accidentally On Purpose
9 Trauma
10 Jay Leno Show

7 L&O: SVU
8 The Biggest Loser
10 Jay Leno Show

7 L&O: SVU
8 Parenthood
9 Modern Family
9:30 Cougar Town
10 Jay Leno Show

8 Community
8:30 Parks & Recreation
9 30 Rock
9:30 30 Rock
10 Jay Leno Show

8 Super Nanny
9 Ugly Betty
10 Jay Leno Show

7 Murdoch Mysteries
8. Glenn Martin
8:30 Out There with Melissa DeMarco
9 Movie Night

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cross Canada TV Check Up

Heading down to the Rogers/City-TV Fall Launch upfront this afternoon at the Canon Theatre in Toronto. With CTV and Global keeping their hands in their pockets for once, Rogers were the big spenders down at the LA screenings this spring, buying 16 hours of imported fare. Guess their business model isn't broken! Look for the City scoop in the next TVFMF post.
In the meantime, the Banff International TV Fest is currently underway out west. Had a blast when I moderated a critics' panel there two years ago but have not been back since. Feeling better about that since it is snowing there today! But Banff is a glorious venue, offering just stunning scenery and plenty of schmooze time. Curious to hear how the TV market is moving in this tough economy, if the usual wheeling and dealing is going on in the Banff Springs Hotel.
Some usual suspects nabbed prizes at last night's Banff World Television Awards, including Victor Garber (seen now on Showtime/TMN's Nurse Jackie) and Paul Gross (playing the devil this fall in Eastwick, which seems about right after tricking so many school kids into going on field trips to see that cheesy soap opera Paschendale). Writer/comedian Mark McKinney also picked up a pointy statue at the big, fat, sponsorella of an award wank. Read more about the awards here.
The munchies might be a little stale and the booze a little thinner at this year's fest. Three of the main sponsors, Canwest, CTV and CBC, are laying off more people than GM and Chrysler. How tough is it out there? Breakfast with a Decision Maker this year is hosted by a Sheriff's officer and a liquidator.
Fewer big names are at panels, although there are execs from U.S. cable channels like Hallmark, BET and ABC Family on the floor. That the international TV festival is even happening this year is a tribute to the new teaming pulling this all together.
In Montreal meanwhile, two Canadian TV legends never honoured in Banff (an organization that gave a lifetime achievement award to Border temp Sophia Milos last year!) are finally getting their due. Royal Canadian Air Farcers Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson were both bestowed homourary doctorate degrees from Concordia University yesterday. Doctors Abbott and Ferguson were joined by new doctor Jean Beliveau, which is pretty cool company. Says Abbott: "I walked away without my BA all those years ago...I guess all is forgiven!"

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Burgers In, Celeb Airlifts Out at CTV's Broken Business Model Ad Bash

So I go up to P.R. boss Scott Henderson at Thursdays CTV upfront. Told him he looks terrific, has really slimmed down. Says Henderson: "Everybody's downsizing."
It's a great line and does sum up this fire sale of a fall preview time. CTV usually rents the glitziest venue in Toronto for this ad industry wank, throwing tents and security around like Jack Bauer at a bomb site. In years past, they've flown up all five Desperate Housewives, several Sopranos, West Wing presidents and that years' CSI and Law & Order dudes just to mingle and shmooze with the twentysomething ad crowd. They've made little mini movies, starring CTV CEO Ivan Fecan and interplanetary programming boss Susanne Boyce, doing skits with the cast of Grey's Anatomy. They've boasted about having 27 of the Top-20 shows in Canada for the past decade or so, and thrown more money at advertisers than McGuinty just threw at GM.
This year they had an ice cream truck. In the middle of the old City-TV parking lot.
To be fair, the swirl cones were yummy. They event offered a lot of other goodies, too, although, have to question the wisdom of serving potato salad out in the hot sun off a hospital gurney. I'm not even sure which CTV show the ambulatory theme was supposed to represent, unless it was the state of CTV Olympic ad sales.
Overhead, giant balloons floated to the scaffolding. (Affordable because inflation is down.) There were hamburger stations with plenty of fixins. Most important, there was free booze at various bars, watered down by hand by the CFTO news team (in high definition!).
After all that broken business model boo-hoo-hoo before the CRTC, this was way more than I expected. I thought it would be Scott on the sidewalk in a barrel with an upside down fedora and a "Will Televise for Carriage Fee Change" sign.
But nothing like a good ad market humbling to bring good will to a network bash. Told Fecan that it was disorienting to be standing in the middle of the old CHUM/City parking lot at one of these deals at this time of the year and the place did not reek from the smell of pot. "Stick around a couple of hours," he cracked.
I did but no such luck. If you had the right wristband, you used to be able to follow the sweet smell and purple haze all the way up to Moses' lair on the third or fourth floor. Ah, zoomer memories.
Not even the few surviving press dudes were getting stoned at the CTV event (and, let me tell you, we've been stoned at this event in the past). Saw the Sun's Bill Harris there, but I guess all the new kids attend these things on Facebook or Twitter.
CTV did have a few photo op stations set up so I snuck in to say hi to the Flashpoint guys, Rico Colantoni and Hugh Dillon (left, and no, that's not a Loverboy reunion pic). They were there because CTV just re-upped for a shortened 13-episode third season. It could be a go-it-alone investment, with CBS still deciding whether or not they want to continue to be a partner on the Toronto-lensed cop show. It did very well this winter and spring for CTV on Friday nights (averaging 1.3 million a week) and not bad for CBS in the same slot.
Just not, apparently, good enough. CBS decided to go forward instead with a show they were producing for NBC, Medium, and has pulled Flashpoint off their fall schedule. They'll bank the nine or so episodes they still have from the Season Two order until Medium or something new crashes and burns in the fall. But nobody at the CTV bash, including programming president Susanne Boyce, knows or would say for sure whether CBS will still be a partner on any new episodes of Flashpoint.
Speaking of Boyce, she put her best foot forward with a bright new pair of black and orange pumps. Last year, TVFMF was working the Foot Fetish Beat at the various upfronts, capturing a lot of high heel highlights at the CBC and Global June affairs. (This year, there is no CBC affair!) So thanks for the shoe shout out, Susanne, who now has hot feet to go with her usual hot hand.
Boyce also said she was thrilled that she was able to talk Brent Butt into playing the role of the shrink in the new comedy he is producing, Hiccups. It will star his wife Nancy Robertson as a cranky children's author. Butt wanted to stay strictly behind the scenes as a writer/producer but that idea got turned around pretty fast by the network. Hiccups will be based in Vancouver, good news for a town where TV trucks are getting harder to spot.
They've also ordered 13 episodes of the new comedy Dan For Mayor starring former Corner Gas man Fred Ewanuik (right with Boyce). The good natured B.C.-native says he'll be golfing with his old Gas mate Lorne Cardinal next week and is glad to have a summer off to spend time back home with his folks. He'll be backed on the new show by three of the writer/producers from the Gas glory days, Mark Farrell, Paul Mather and Kevin White. Mather and White joined Ewanuik at the CTV BBQ and explained that the series will be about this bartender dude who runs for mayor of his mid-size Canadian city (the pilot was shot in Waterloo, Ont.) just to impress some chick. "Sounds like the kind of movie Simon Pegg would star in," my 16-year-old son Dan said to me later, which I think sounds like this series has some promise (or else he's just angling for a T-shirt).
Boyce hopes to get both comedies up and running later this summer so she can have them in hand when they time comes to decide what gets thrown in after the Olympics in February.
Boyce also said she took a pass on the third season of Mad Men, set to return to AMC in August. The cable series was scooped with great fanfare by CTV a year ago, but then the market crashed and CTV had to finally start keeping its hands in its pockets. Kind of ironic that an ad market meltdown will be keeping a series about ad men off Canadian screens.
TVFMF got a lot of hits when we reported a new Marilyn Denis Show was in development, something that was hyped at last year's CTV bash. Well, not happening. Not this season, at least, says Boyce.
The dudes from The Bridge were also at the event including world's greatest storyteller Michael Murphy. That U.S./Canada co-production, about a police union boss, is currently being shot in Toronto. All involved are awaiting air dates from both CTV and CBS.
Those crazy kids from Degrassi were also on hand and boy was I dead wrong about that series. Sure, ratings are way down in Canada but the rest of the world loves these kids and therefore so does CTV. The show is in over 150 countries and is the No. 1 series on the U.S. cable channel Noggin, or Teen Nick as it is soon to be called. That's why CTV has ordered a ninth season of 23 episodes. They've got a Degrassi movie set to air in September (all about the former high school students in Hollywood, which is pretty much where the real actors who have graduated from this series now live). CTV is ordering another TV-movie for after that, so the Degrassi factory is definitely not shutting down anytime soon.
Finally, what is a CTV shindig without Ben Mulroney? I'd answer that, but apparently you can get fired from your own blog. Yes, Canada's favourite Airbus Boy made the scene. I guess Canadian Idol is still resting because I couldn't spot his pals Jake or Zack or Sass. I tried to ask somebody about it, but I was referred to this guy:

Night Heat Memories of David Carradine

I'll never forget meeting David Carradine. It was way back in 1987, in the middle of the night.
He was guest starring on the CTV police drama Night Heat, which had broken through to a summer tryout on CBS at the time and was importing a few big name stars. Carradine was in his trailer, parked under the overpass for the Don Valley Parkway right on King Street. I was working then for TV Guide, and green as grasshopper. It was about 2 a.m. (the cop drama shot over night), and Carradine, dressed in a robe, welcomed me into his trailer by offering me a beer.
When I told him I didn't drink beer he nearly threw me out. "What--I thought all Canadians drank beer," he said. He didn't say much else for a few minutes after that.
We got past that and I got my interview. He was actually an okay dude, remarkably mellow (although at the same time intense) and very cooperative.
Reports of his death in a Bangkok hotel brought those memories back today. The former Kung Fu star apparently hung himself. He was 72.
That hot summer night in '87, he walked out of his air-conditioned trailer and onto King in his bare feet. Carradine told me at the time that he did the occasional guest star shot "just to cross all those prejudices against doing them." Being married five time was probably a bit of an incentive, too.
I'm pretty sure I was warned not to mention the name Barbara Hershey; Carradine and Hershey were lovers for years and reportedly had had a very tumultuous relationship. I had already made the beer boo-boo so I wasn't going anywhere near the Hershey thing.
I remember seeing him standing in the street, kibitzing with Night Heat producer and famed New York cop Sonny Grosso:
Out of the darkness from under the underpass, a downtrodden man with long, stringy hair approached. I wrote at the time that he looked like "the late Howard Hughes."
Suddenly, toastmaster Grosso beckons him over; even Carradine offers a friendly grin. They recognize guest star Don Francks, on his way to makeup.
Quickly, publicist Bill Vigars springs into action, hustling (Night Heat stars Jeff Wincott, Scott Hylands and others) around Grosso, Carradine and Francks. The noisy gathering is beginning to distract director Rene Bonniere, whose icy glare betrays his distaste.
Assistant director Phil Mead, policing the ersatz police, booms, 'Quiet please, we're rolling!' and the chummy star cluster freezes in an awkward arm-link pose for the still photographer. They all wait obediently for the two-minute take to finish.
Wish I had that photo today. Last time I saw Carradine, he was working the Hollywood Collector's Show in Burbank. He was standing in a doorway having a smoke, taking a break from signing glossy 8 x 10s from Kung Fu for $20 a pop. This was a few months before Kill Bill opened and he was back in the Hollywood mix.
The guy had seen his share of ups and downs. He was part of a Hollywood acting family and appeared in over 100 feature films. One of his last films was called "My Suicide." He liked Canadian beer and was wary of non-drinking Canadians. Should have had that beer.

Have You Heard The One About The Listener

If you haven't seen the new CTV/NBC series The Listener, there's another opportunity tonight at 9 p.m. NBC is running back-to-back episodes.
The supernatural drama (executive producer Christina Jennings calls it a "telepathic procedural") stars Craig Olejnik as a paramedic who can hear people's thoughts. Ennis Esmer plays his ambulance partner, Lisa Marcos a local detective in this shot-in-Toronto series.
CTV has promoted the hell out of it, slapping Olejnik's face on billboards and bus shelters all over town, including up on the giant IFFU billboard opposite the CBC HQ on John St. They showed the first episode last night on Space (7 p.m.) and CTV (10 p.m.), using So You Think You Can Dance to give it the biggest possible platform.
In the States it has to follow I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, which has already slid into third place in its timeslot.
it has taken a long time to get this sucker to air. The hero with special powers stunt has been done elsewhere and often lately, on shows like The Mentalist, True Blood, Lie To Me and even Medium and Ghost Whisperer. Then again, as Fred Allen once said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of television."
UPDATE: Looks like all those billboards paid off. The Listener did 1.1 million Wednesday night on CTV, boosted by the 1.5 million who caught the lead-in, So You Think You Can Dance.
UPDATE PART TWO: The Listener had a rougher night Stateside, with only 5.25 million tuning in to the first hour and 5.34 to the second (according to NMR overnight estimates). Both managed only third place finishes in the demo.
Meanwhile, I profiled Nova Scotia native Olejnik in last weekend's Starweek magazine, excerpt below:

Toby Logan, the hero of The Listener, can read minds. The 25-year-old paramedic is gifted with telepathic abilities.
The actor who plays him, Craig Olejnik, probably wished he could have read a few minds during the long audition process for The Listener—not to mention the long delay in getting the show on the air.
It was two years ago when his agent first delivered word of the Toronto-based project. The Nova Scotia native was in L.A. looking for U.S. pilot work at the time. He fired off a tape and was summoned north to read for the part. The Listener was a step up from other pilot scripts he had been reading. “Not too many shows actually had a lead in their mid-20s,” says the actor over the phone. “You’re usually playing a kid, a son or a daughter.”
On his side was the fact that he was a known quantity to the producers. Olejnik had worked for executive producer Christina Jennings and Shaftsbury Films before on the CTV TV-movie In God’s Country, which starred Kelly Rowan (The O.C.). He had a small part, but there was something about him, says Jennings. “Once you’ve seen his face, you can’t forget him. He has those eyes.”
Beyond that, Jennings found Olejnik projected a vulnerability that was key to the character. Toby Logan is a reluctant hero; he’s not sure if his ability to read minds and hear thoughts is a blessing or a curse. For years he has kept his telepathic powers to himself; only as the series starts does he decide to use his powers to help others through his work as a paramedic.
“There’s a little bit of a lonely, Peter Parker, Spiderman quality about the character,” says Jennings. “Craig has that same quality about him.”
Olejnik uses another blockbuster movie analogy to describe his character. “He’s a young Jedi and he doesn’t know exactly how to wield the power,” he says.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Glee at Global Despite No E, Plenty of Owe

Just one year ago, the star of Canwest's Fall Upfront was KITT, the talking Shelby Mustang at the centre of their flashy NBC import, Knight Rider. Canwest had it freighted to T.O. and parked it right on the stage of the Elgin Theatre. It was comin' to E!, and it was driving Canwest's future growth.
Course, NBC's overheated 'Stang spun out in a matter of weeks.
Things were a little different at this year's Global ad fest. The kids did a nice job dressing up the outdoor market that is Toronto's historic Distillery District. Flanking the quaint, cobble stone lane, various art galleries were re-purposed for the day, themed to reflect Mondays, or Tuesdays or whatever days wares were being flashed on giant screens. Other galleries featured goodies coming to various Canwest-owned specialty networks like Showcase or TVtropolis.
The E! networks? That flashy, trashy imported brand brought north to great fanfare just two springtimes ago? You had to look way up the street for Canwest's Fall 2009 E! display:

Yes, Chief Wiggums, come September, they'll be nothing more to see from the folks at Canwest on those five regional E! stations, including Hamilton's CHCH. Cash strapped Canwest bought nothing for those stations to show at the recent LA screenings and provided no contingency schedule for them past the summer. If a buyer doesn't come along in the next few months, they'll go dark.

Canwest programming executive vice-president Barb Williams repeated the party line at the brief breakfast press conference that there was genuine interest in some or all of the channels. The folks at 'CH tell me prospective buyers have been through the joint on Jackson Street, measuring the drapes and kicking tires.

Thing is, two years ago, Canwest made a deal with Concast--the U.S. company that owns E!--to bring Talk Soup and new mom Kimora and Snoop Dogg and all that stuff north. Will Canwest now have to re-brand one of their specialty channels E! and cram it full of Ryan Seacrest's other shows? That might actually be a better platform for it anyway.

Williams did have one of the best new shows of the fall on her 2009 Global schedule: Glee, the breath of fresh air high school musical from Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy. The Fox hour will follow Bones on Wednesday night, leading into the haven't-we-tried-this-before CW pickup Melrose Place.

Global's also got back-to-back NCIS hours Tuesday with the addition of NCIS: Los Angeles, starring Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J. NCIS is that stealth hit no one writes about but everybody watches. A series of Saturday Night Live Weekend Update specials airs Thursday, with the Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show added to Global's animated Sunday comedy sked.

Williams' gutsiest move might be the decision to flip Sunday/Monday imports out of simulcast. Brothers & Sisters will air a day later than Fox on Mondays in the fall out of more compatible lead-in Lie to Me, with Heroes pre-released a day early on Sundays after all the cartoons. This makes sense if you believe in flow and that Heroes has any gas left. At the very least, savvy kids in the States will get to be cool for a day when they steal and post the Canadian feed. If it was a hotter show, NBC would never have let that happen. On the other hand, Brothers and Sisters probably will pick up viewers with this move, so why the hell not try it.

Global also has The Good Wife, starring Juliana Marguilies, slotted for Monday at 10 in the fall. It is part of what Williams sees as a big opportunity to woo women at 10, with Rogers' City-TV stations committed to five hours of Jay Leno a week. Global does have nothing but chick shows at 10, although barely renewed 90210 was down to Sophie numbers some weeks last season.

The lone Canadian on the Global schedule was The Guard, which did not guard the timeslot particularly well in Season Two. The third season seems to be a half dozen leftover shows from the last production cycle. The cast seems to have all dispersed to other projects (including Steve Bacic, off to the new Showcase drama Crash & Burn). It has gone where shows go to die, Fridays at 8 p.m.

You'd have thought Canwest, which, like CTV, has been lobbying Ottawa hard lately for carriage fee cash, would have waved the flag a lot harder at Wednesday's Toronto upfront. They've sent a bunch of releases lately about all the new Canadian shows they have in the hopper, like Copper, an ABC co-production. It is supposed to start shooting in Toronto in mid-July, and may find a winter timeslot, if Global can get enough coppers together. The animated Bob & Doug will continue Sundays in the 7-8 hour, although it never took off, eh, this spring. There are a few other shows, but they weren't that evident at Wednesday's ad bash.

Williams did have some good news to share. The newly revised is "the country's fastest growing broadcast site," she said, with more content than ever. The specialty and digital channels are smokin', with Showcase Diva doubling its audience last year. Showcase Action, Canada's top digi-net (sort of like being Chrysler's top-selling sedan), becomes just plain old Action next season.

Despite that $4.1 billion debt thing, the network worked the street in style. There were no stars airlifted in as in past years, but plenty of fun Simpsons art and other cool signage, as well as plenty of tasty snacks. The struggling private net did a good job convincing the ad crowd and other guests that the lights are still on at the house Asper built. Whether there are any Asper's home is a whole other story.

Here is Global's Fall 2009 schedule (new shows in bold):

7pm Entertainment Tonight Canada
7:30pm Entertainment Tonight
8pm House
9pm Lie To Me
10pm Brothers & Sisters

7pm Entertainment Tonight Canada
7:30pm Entertainment Tonight
8pm NCIS


7pm Entertainment Tonight Canada
7:30pm Entertainment Tonight
8pm Bones
9pm GLEE

7pm Entertainment Tonight Canada
7:30pm Entertainment Tonight
8pm Survivor: Samoa
9pm The Office
9:30pm SNL Updates
10pm 90210

7pm Entertainment Tonight Canada
7:30pm Entertainment Tonight
8pm The Guard
9pm Dollhouse
10pm Numb3rs

7pm Renegade Press
7:30pm The Jane Show
8pm Movie
10pm Project Runway Canada

7pm Producing Parker
7:30pm King of the Hill
8pm The Simpsons
9pm Family Guy
9:30pm American Dad
10pm Heroes

No Time For Tonight in Leno's Hit Rama Gig

Jay Leno took the stage at Casino Rama Tuesday night like he was shot out of a cannon. The man who concluded 17 years as host of The Tonight Show Friday blitzed through an 80-minute act that rocked the sold out, 5000-seat theatre.
He joked about cats, Michael Jackson, VCRs, condoms, fat kids, exploding diarrhea, his parents and even Catholic priests who leave the priesthood to marry. What pickup lines do they use, Leno asked. “I put the ‘Lick’ in Catholic”?
It was like watching a 59-year-old win the Tour de France. Leno paced the stage, constantly ran his fingers through his thick white hair, charged through his sure-fire material and stopped just once to take a sip of water. If he had been Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, he would have been forced to pee in a bottle after the show.
And remarkably, astoundingly, he never, ever mentioned that in a few short months he will be launching the boldest experiment in the history of NBC’s prime time schedule—the five-nights a week Jay Leno Show (premiering Sept. 14). It took 50 minutes before he even mentioned The Tonight Show, and then it was just in passing. There was no, “Hey, did anybody see Conan last night?” He stuck to his script, to the comedian’s code, to some personal standard of comedy that prevented him from taking a bow for a hell of a ride in late night. People were dying to salute him for that achievement, but that seemed to be so last week for Leno.
When he took the stage, he was greeted with applause and cracked that it was weird visiting another country now that America has a president that is liked. There had to have been five great comedy minutes in that idea, but Leno threw it away and swung straight into his set. After that, it was like watching an entire Tonight Show consisting of nothing but monologue.
That’s impressive for sheer volume, stamina and effect, but I wish his routine could have been more topical. As performance, though, it was a Master Class. Leno puts on a clinic on how to use your voice and his is a booming instrument. Everything is stamped and delivered and can be heard in the farthest corner of the high and wide auditorium.
Leno, however, made little effort to tailor his material to his Canadian audience. There was a bit about The Littlest Hobo, a Canadian TV show fewer and fewer locals remember. There were many references to “our country,” to sponsors and fast food outlets that only appear in America, to California mud slides and other issues a tad off the radar up here.
Leno aimed fastball after fastball straight down the middle, as in Middle America. The Middle Canadians who flock to Rama ate it all up. One wonders how it all would have played, say, in downtown Toronto, where a few jokes about foreigners may have been called high and outside. Example: Leno said guys named Mohammad should expect to wait an extra 20 minutes at customs, unless their last name happens to be Ali. Good golly, as we say in Brampton.
Then again, Leno the ultimate club comic would insist that everyone is fair game and the politically correct should get over our selves.
The best part of the set, for me, came towards the end when he slowed down and addressed patrons in the front rows, doing the old what’s your name, where ya from routine. While he bagged all the usual suspects (lawyers, accountants, women with cleavage), it was fun watching him play comedy chess at that speed. When a babe out front told him she was in human relations, he quickly asked if she was the one who gave the sexual harassment seminar. “Not in that sweater you’re not” he zinged.
When it was done, Leno wished everybody a good weekend, even though it was a Tuesday night. You couldn’t blame him for not knowing what day it was or what city he was in. Since his last Tonight Show Friday he’s played Atlantic City and now Rama. He left for the Toronto airport right after the show and planned on being in his NBC office in Burbank tomorrow morning. His stamina on-stage and off- is astounding. But dammit, Jay, savor it all now. Take the standing O, take the victory lap for all those Tonights, you’ve earned it.
My buddy Bill Harris was also at the show Tuesday night, read his review in the Toronto Sun here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Few Changes in CTV`s Fall 2009 Sked

CTV released their fall 2009 schedules today and it doesn't take a "Mentalist" to figure out what the prime directive was:
Make it look like we didn't buy any new U.S. shows for next season.
CTV, like Canwest, has bet everything that their "Save Local TV" campaign and "business model is broken" mantra will be enough to trick the CRTC into allowing them to tap into the cable companies carriage fee loot. So their usual loud and proud song and dance about how they cleaned out Hollywood and have brought all the hits home has been toned way down this season.
Hence today's release, showing only one new imported addition to CTV's fall schedule: The Vampire Diaries, a Warner Bros. effort starring Toronto's Canuck and Degrassi grad Nina Dobrev. Even that barely made the sked, snuck in at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
CTV can justifiably boast that their schedule is all about "strategic stability." They dominated the national ratings again last year, boasting 16 of Canada's Top-20 shows.
But it's also kinda dull, with tired titles like Cold Case and Law & Order: SVU on the downside of their runs.
What's likely to happen is what CTV did last year: start off with all their risky new shows over on their A schedule and then slide over any new kids that break through. That's how The Mentalist was nurtured last season.
CTV did buy a bunch of new American shows, they're just all starting off over on A: Hank (with Kelsey Grammer as a downsized CEO), The Middle (a family comedy with Patricia Heaton), The Beautiful Life, with vacuous O.C. drone Mischa Barton and Eastwick, a witching hour, are all on Wednesday nights; the new sci-fi cop show Flash Forward is on A's Thursday schedule.
The "Save Local TV" network also waved the flag, announcing it has picked up two Canadian comedies from their Corner Gas crew: Hiccups, from Brent Butt, stars his wife Nancy Robertson as a cranky children's author, and Dan For Mayor stars Gas alumni Fred Ewanuick as a bartender with poilitical ambitions. Both are slated for 2010-11 and have 13-episode orders.
CTV had a few U.S. headaches to solve. Primarily, how to find room for all of Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance Canada and America's Next Top Model. CTV managed to find a way to simulcast the two imports by shoving the Dance Canada results into its Wednesday at 7:30 slot.
Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, CTV has scheduled back-to-back airings of a Canadian show that cratered last season--Degrassi: The Next Generation--Sunday nights from 7-8 next season (they`re also doing a Degrassi movie). Tossed away to make room was that much heralded Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon, which has found a more appropriate home on Teletoon next season.
CTV also plans to strip Degrassi reruns five nights a week on A next season. They've dug Whistler out of the vault and thrown it away on Saturdays where it will face off against any old crap on Global.
The future for Spectacle seems a little fuzzy; encore episodes are penciled in for Sundays at 10 on A next fall. Flashpoint remains firmly on CTV's schedule (Fridays at 10) even as it gets benched to midseason on CBS.
The Bridge, a CTV/CBS co-production, is coming, we just don't know when. The union cop drama is currently in production in Toronto.
Missing from today's release was any word on a few other new U.S. shows CTV has on the shelf for mid-season, including Jerry Bruckheimer hours Miami Trauma and The Forgotten.
They've also picked up that creepy Oprah MD Dr. Oz, who will have his own show from 5-6 weekday afternoons.
CTV's full schedule is below (new shows in bold, S is for simulcast):

10 p.m. COLD CASE (S)

7 p.m. ETALK
10 p.m. CSI: MIAMI (S)

7 p.m. ETALK

7 p.m. ETALK
10 p.m. CSI: NY (S)

8 p.m. CSI

7 p.m. ETALK
9 p.m. SOUTHLAND (S)

7 p.m. W-FIVE
8 p.m. CRIME TIME (S)
9 p.m. CRIME TIME (S)
10 p.m. LAW AND ORDER: SVU (S)

Here is the A sked for fall 2009:


7:30 p.m. TMZ
8 p.m. GOSSIP GIRL (S)
9:30 p.m. BIG BANG THEORY (S)
10 p.m. CASTLE (S)

7:30 p.m. TMZ
8 p.m. MONK

7:30 p.m. TMZ
8 p.m. HANK (S)
8:30 p.m. THE MIDDLE (S)
10 p.m. EASTWICK (S)

7:30 p.m. TMZ
9 p.m. FRINGE (S)

7:30 p.m. TMZ
8 p.m. LAW AND ORDER (S)
9 p.m. MEDIUM (S)
10 p.m. COMEDY NOW!
10:30 p.m. COMEDY INC.

10 p.m. WHISTLER

Sex and Cigarettes Big Story in Hamilton

Been a while since I've been on CHCH's Live @ 5:30 with Mark Hebscher and Donna Skelly. Back today talking about cigarette smoking on TV and in films and how a lobby group in the U.S. wants all films with cigarette smoke to be branded with the dreaded "R" rating.
Seems some moms and dads are freaking out that, with cool new president Barack Obama enjoying the occasional filtered ciggie, blowing smoke might start to catch fire again. I argue that anyone turned on to the weed from watching Patty and Selma light up on The Simpsons probably has bigger issues than nicotine addiction. Check it out at 5:30 today on Hamilton's CHCH.
Speaking of which, the buzz around Jackson Street is that prospective new owners have already been in several times to kick the tires and measure for drapes. Looks like it is the Toronto-based dudes behind specialty channels Moviola and Silver Screen. They're also the enterprising folks behind AOV Adult Movie Channel and XXX Action Clips Channel, so 'CH could soon stand for Canadian Hotties or maybe Chicks 'n Hebscher. Stay tuned.

Conan O'Brien's Tonight Comedy-Packed

"It's like a Backstreet Boys reunion here--only not as good."
Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show debut was crammed with filmed bits last night, including a funny opener which found him checking off all the things he had to do--"Write Jokes, check, Brush Teeth, check--until he got to "Move to LA." Still in Manhattan, he failed to hail a cab and then had to run to the West Coast, past the Guggenheim, past Chicago's Wrigley Field, past the St. Louis arch, past Vegas, through streams, over bridges, across deserts, all the way to his new studio at Universal City. Of course, when he gets there, he realizes he left the keys at home and has to smash through the doors on a tow-motor.
Love the new opening titles, especially the iconic, spinning NBC microphone. The new set is dazzling with its curved lines, wide stage and stained glass curtain. O'Brien has set it all up with the band (Max Weinberg and The Tonight Show Band--they added an eighth to the Max Weinberg 7) on our right and the announcer (Andy Richter) on our left, the opposite of his old show and the same way Leno and Johnny Carson had it.
Last night's monologue was short and self congratulatory; it will get longer in coming shows.
"I think I've timed this moment perfectly," he said. "I'm on the last place network, I moved to a state that's bankrupt and tonight's show is sponsored by General Motors."
There were too many filmed bits to cram in last night, including a over-long ride on the Universal Tours tram. This got tiresome, almost as if O'Brien's writers had not yet arrived from the East Coast and he really had to make it all up as he went. Taking the tram off the studio lot and int0 the streets was funny, as was stopping at a 99-cent store where he bought them all crazy-ass junk.
A typical Conan Late Night gag followed when they wheeled out the giant Letter D from the Hollywood sign--then wrecked it shoving it out the door.
"Hollywoo is kinda catchy," said Richter, who was barely involved last night.
Next up was a filmed tribute to O'Brien's actual 1991 Ford Taurus. Even Fabio was impressed with his wheels.
Will Ferrell came out carried aloft on a throne by four beefy Vegas dudes. Ferrell offered some tips on living in LA which seemed to amuse O'Brien. After the break there were jokes about Liza Minnelli being a commie (Ferrell is up against her for a Tony Award). O'Brien then threw to Ferrell's new film Land of the Lost, which looks supremely unfunny in the clips that are endlessly run during commercial breaks. Ferrell wrapped up his segment by singing, "Never Can Say Goodbye," which was inappropriate as O'Brien pointed out. "Don't get me wrong, I'm pulling for you man," said Ferrell, "but this whole thing's a crap shoot at best."
It all felt a bit off, that the two were trying too hard, surprisingly nervous, not sure yet of the timing in the larger studio.
The show closed with a blast of Pearl Jam. O'Brien stayed true to his comedy persona last night. He didn't try to be Leno or Carson or anybody else and that was good. He's built a career on his How did I get this job shtick and that's always goof for a laff. But after a few weeks of that he should just be the guy now and grow into this job, this set, this legacy that is The Tonight Show. He'll have to step up the topical humour, people expect plenty of jokes up front on the president and the economy, not just on the Clippers. He's got all of California as a new playground and his take on all that will be welcome on Tonight--maybe just not so much of it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Leno`s Final Tonight Show Numbers Way Up

Jay Leno left The Tonight Show a high note. The headed-for-10 p.m. host scored his highest Friday overnights ever according to the NBC release. At the very end of the show, viewers saw the legacy of 17 years and 3775 shows on the air--all the children born to Tonight Show staffers during Leno`s tenure.
The finale also boosted Late Night host Jimmy Fallon to his second-highest overnights ever.
Tonight scored an 8.8 rating, 20 share in metered-market households. It was the second-highest rating this year, behind only the big turnout to see president Barack Obama guest in March. Beyond that, it was Leno`s highest score in more than four years, dating back to a special episode paying tribute to Johnny Carson, who died in January of 2005.
Closer to home, in the greater Toronto market, Leno`s Friday farewell scored 150,000 viewers on Barrie`s CKVR and picked up another 24,000 on Buffalo`s WGRZ. That`s well up from the 40,000 to 60,000 who usually watch Leno and Letterman each night in the GTA. A Letterman rerun on OMNI1 drew 36,000 the same night. In Vancouver, Leno drew an overnight estimated 57,000 on West Coast A channel CIVI, more than doubling Letterman`s 21,000 take on OMNI West.
Other scores from the weekend: CTV`s Spectacle slumped to a new low Friday of 346,000 (BBM overnight estimates, `commercial.`). Hockey roared back on CBC as the Detroit-Pittsburgh Stanley Cup opener drew 1,726,000 Saturday. Another 1,875,000 tuned in Sunday night for Game Two.

Tonight Begins Tonight for Conan O`Brien

Tonight's the night for Conan O'Brien. Been loving the NBC promos which goof on his move to California and his "pale Irish skin burning like a vampire in the sun":

A lot has been made about Jay Leno stealing O'Brien's thunder by sticking with NBC and returning in September with his prime time, five-nights-a-week series. This was jabbed home by none other than Conan's guest Norm Macdonald in February, when he blurted the following (as chronicled at Aaron Barnhart's TV Barn):
“He outfoxed you again!” Macdonald told the host as O'Brien winced. “Your agent's like, 'There's good news and bad news. You are doing the “Tonight Show.” It's true. But -- remember that discussion we had where you said, “I'll never have to f---ing follow Leno again?”'
Others have suggested that O'Brien is screwed. John Doyle in today's Globe and Mail goes so far as to call tonight's Tonight Show transition "the slow death of an institution." he points out that NBC will go with three-and-a-half hours of comedy/talk every night this fall, with Leno in leadoff and Jimmy Fallon batting third.
Thus, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien will soon be sandwiched between two other talk/variety shows. And, frankly, O'Brien is likely to be the baloney in the sandwich.
Why can't the Irish just get along? Anyway, O'Brien has been dismissed as hopelessly over his head before--16 years ago, when he took over Late Night. He survived a bumpy first year-and-a-half beginning to ride an amazing, dozen-plus year winning streak at 12:35 (broken only down the final stretch as Craig Ferguson started gaining).
O'Brien is also the only guy who will ever replace both Jay Leno and David Letterman. Talk about big shoes to fill, as he joked with Leno last Friday night. No wonder he's like to fill some little shoes next time.
Personally, I can't wait for Conan to make Tonight his own. He's operating out of a brand new playpen, a retro-fitted studio right on the Universal lot. It will be a noisy place, with twice as many audience members as his narrow old studio back at Rockefeller Plaza.
What goes on outside the studio may be more fun than what goes on inside. O'Brien is going to "screw with the trams" and other Universal Tour attractions, the kind of out in public stuff that Letterman used to do so brilliantly--but just does not do anymore.
That alone will separate these two shows and give Conan's Tonight a new lease on life. It doesn't matter that there will be greater competition for the same 18 stars who matter in Hollywood. Nobody watches Ferguson for the guests, you watch to spend time with Ferguson. Same with Kimmel. More and more, guests are becoming almost irrelevant on late night talk shows, not unlike contestants on American Idol or Survivor.
O'Brien's show will be all about the funny, all about the sketches and the house players. He's going to get bigger names just by virtue of being in Los Angeles as opposed to New York. But people will watch O'Brien to see Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog poop all over the Octomom or Susan Boyle, not whoever from The Hills.
Will Ferrell, who guests tonight, is perfect for O'Brien's Tonight opener. He's in-the-moment funny, comes ready to play. Improv guys know they can all "go there" with O'Brien.
The 46-year-old host's big challenge tonight will be the monologue. Those 35-jokes-a-night from Leno became a fix for middle America and Leno knew it. O'Brien's strength has never been the monologue but he's been working on it and will likely have some zingers for tonight's show. Just not 35 of them.
Which is fine. As O'Brien has said, the best advice he ever got was from Johnny Carson, who told him to just be himself. The sooner he is himself tonight the better.
I've written about O'Brien's Tonight transformation at a couple of other places. Last Friday's CP piece tells the bizarre story of O'Brien and buddy Greg Daniels trip to Vancouver in the early '90s in search of an actor from The Beachcombers. As Jack Paar used to say, "I kid you not."
For more details on what to expect from tonight's debut, check out this piece in today`s TV section at MSNBC.
O'Brien`s other advantage is NBC's affiliate strenth and its promotion department. Check out their teaser for Leno`s 10 p.m. sow this fall. These folks do it right: