Monday, August 31, 2009

Teletoon Plays Robot Chicken with Dead Kennedy

Memo to Teletoon: Might want to review those Robot Chicken reruns before you throw them on the air. At 10:15 tonight, I watched a Ted Kennedy doll go on a killing spree with a Jenna Jameson porn star doll. The late Massachusetts senator, just laid to rest Saturday, was shown wading into a bar, helping to kill Paris Hilton (stealing porn jobs away from Jameson) and dropping Arnold Schwarzenegger off a building. The skit ended with Kennedy and Jameson heading off a bridge in their car. Talk about Detour! Robot Chicken is famous for random tastelessness, but maybe somebody should be screening this stuff.

Not Much Ado About MuchMusic at 25

Maybe Brad Schwartz is right. The Sr. V.P. and GM of MuchMusic raised hackles last week when he proudly declared that the station would be doing "absolutely nothing to celebrate our 25th anniversary. "
Now a division of the CTV "broken business plan" fun factory, MuchMusic hit the air exactly 25 years ago today, on August 31, 1984. I think with a Rush video, if I'm not mistaken.
I don't think Schwartz was trying tio poke a stick in a few eyeballs and thus unleash a flood of "why I oughtta..." MuchMusic press with his dismissive missive. If he did, he's a genius.
A CP story a week ago carrying Schwartz's vow not to mark the occasion on air was picked up all over, including at The Toronto Star. Greg Quill followed with a nice MuchMusic piece a few days later offering some perspective from some of the folks who made the station a fun place to visit.
Now, MuchMusic is worth celebrating and damn if the people who built it don't have great stories to tell. The stories are being told this week, all over, Schwartz and Co. be damned. So there.
But I have to agree with Schwartz's gut reaction on this. Do viewers ever give a flying, let's say fig, about any station or networks whatever anniversary?
I lost count of the pitches I received from publicists over the years wanting me to write a big fat piece for, like, The New York Times, on the 10th anniversary of APTN, or 20th of TSN, or 15th at W or YTV or HGTV or whatever. My question to these publicists was always "what's the next paragraph?" These are stories for some corporate upitty-ups scrapbook. Let them take out an ad.
So Schwartz saying no press release, no on air fuss, because it's not a story, well, I couldn't agree more.
A bigger story might be this one where Schwartz announced this week that the Much digital stations--MuchLoud, MuchVive, PunchMuch, MuchDalbello, etc.--are going commercial free. In this ad environment, that probably wasn't that tough a transition.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sherri Woodstock II This Saturday

If you're looking to party hearty on a budget this weekend check out Sherri Woodstock II, happening Saturday night at the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen St. West in Toronto. Thanks to her mom, Debbie, sister Kayla and the rest of her close-knit family, the spirit of Toronto Sun spark plug Sherri Wood lives on in this second annual memorial concert. The featured bands include Clarkson Go, The Little Millionaires, Brigid Dineen and Bowman The Broke Ass Rockstar. Tickets are just ten bucks at the door, with proceeds going to various charities. There will even be T-shirts and posters for sale. You can read more about it here. Doors open at 9 p.m. As sunny Sherri would say, don't be outta town Brown!

Shameless TV Plug: Today on Live @ 5:30

Heading down the 407 today to yak with Mark Hebscher and Donna Skelly on CHCH's Live @ 5:30. The topic is the travesty that is the Geminis and how those pinheads could salute the best in Canadian TV and completely shut out the final seasons of two of Canada's finest comedies ever, Corner Gas and Air Farce--despite a staggering 99 Gemini categories. How either of these shows does not pick up a Best Comedy Ensemble nomination is beyond me. Air Farce feasted on both the Canadian and U.S. elections last fall and winter, putting the cap on 16 CBC seasons where they averaged over a million viewers a year. Gas drew an even larger audience in 2008-09, especially for their finale.
Live with your jury selections if you must but have the sense of occasion and good grace to at least plan a special salute to both these shows so that Canadians have the opportunity to see some of the TV performers they actually watch at your award show. Instead, the stooges who put on the multiple Gemini galas seem more concerned about catering and selling event tickets to as many people as they can nominate in as many categories as they can make up than they are in how their operation reflects on Canada's television industry.
Today's Live @ 5:30 is the last under the Canwest regime as the debt-ridden media company divests itself of 'CH. The folks at Channel Zero take over next week and the switch to a total news and movies network is well under way. There will be feature films every night and well into the night, with the five Rocky movies kicking things off. Theming films around actors, directors and genres is also planned in the coming weeks and months.
Hamilton's 'CH, which began in 1954 (Amos & Andy and Bishop Sheen were among their early imports!) emerged as Canada's super station in the '70s, with world premiere movie blockbusters helping to put the station on the map. CHCH was the first TV station in North America to show Gone With The Wind, The Godfather, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and many others features, hand-picked by Hebscher's uncle Sam, who used to check when these blockbusters were nearing the end of their theatrical runs. Once they hit the Drive-in circuit, he'd make deals with the distributors to grab them for the station, scooping CBC, CTV and even ABC and all the rest in the process.
That kind of cunning will be needed today as 'CH ventures once again as an independent into the tough business of television. The good news is that ratings are up. Hamilton's supper hour newscast often cracks the 200,000 viewers mark, shooting it into second some nights in the crazy competitive GTA market (behind CTV, ahead of Citytv, Global and CBC). Clearly there is an appetite for a strong news voice in the greater Niagara/Hamilton region. The CHCH story will be one to watch moving into the fall.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Web Series CTRL a Click Away

A lot of Web TV content originating from the States is geoblocked. Here's one you can access north of the border and it's from a major network, NBC Universal: CTRL. It streams on, and and can be viewed in Canada here.
The 10-part series, broken into five-minute webisodes, stars former Arrested Development Bluth brother Tony Hale ("Buster") as an office shleb who discovers he has a magic computer keyboard. By keying certain controls, such as "Ctrl Z," he can jump back in time, clone himself, and generally screw with real time and reality as well as his jerk of a boss (Reba's Steve Howey).
The 10th and final webisode just went up today so you can see the entire series. It is a fun, simple, very web-friendly concept. The comedy starts slow but builds, with Hale (also a producer) getting funnier as the series goes on. Joining the regulars are a cast of extras that is staggering for a Web production; I'm guessing they're not getting scale.
Although they are getting paid. Writer/director Robert Kirbyson says in an interview posted at the CTRL site that the idea sprung from a short film he made with friends. Many of the original cast and crew are involved in the sponsored (by Coca-cola) NBC version. "Everybody here's being paid," says Kirbyson. "That's new."
The series kicks off with a rather obvious but still relevant bit of product placement, perfectly integrated into the storyline. If this is the future of television, and announcements today out of the States that traditional cable and dish providers are hedging their bets that it is, NBC is smart to seed this turf with talent like Hale and projects like CTRL.

Heche a Hit on Last Night's Letterman

Okay, I take it all back. Anne Heche is funny and fabulous. (So are these hi-def Letterman clips off YouTube. Even the GatorAid ads are extras.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Geminis Make Flashpoint But Flunk Testees

I hate the Geminis. Every year without fail they nominate something so howlingly lame Canada is exposed as a nation that salutes every damn thing it produces.
This year it is Testees, nominated as Canada's Best TV Comedy. Wow. "Canada Nuts For Testees." Be proud, eh?
Maybe it is the duel nature of the Geminis to combine the Oscars with the Raspberries all in one category. Go figure.
Apparently Season One of Testees was better than the final season of Corner Gas, Canada's most successful sitcom ever, which was not even nominated in this category. Also passed over was Little Mosque, Rent-A-Goalie and Da Kink. Shut out for the final time was the last season of Air Farce. WTF??
Testees was dismissed at the recent TCA press tour, where it has been dropped by FX after one horrible season. It will never air there again, vowed the network president, who looked like he stepped in something at the mere mention of the thing. "FX Detestees Testees."
Yet there it is, among the best Canada has to offer, right next to The Rick Mercer Report, 22 Minutes, Less Than Kind and something I had to look up called Three Chords from the Truth; that one airs on CMT Canada.
Maybe Three Chords is fabulous. But bloody hell Geminis, cut the nominations down to three per category if there just aren't enough award-worthy shows. Don't nominate everything in sight just so every damn content provider in Canada can rush out releases like this and this and this.
I mean, 99 Gemini categories? Really? When everything these stations really care about is imported? Are we over compensating here just a little bit people??
Even the record 19 Gemini nominations for Flashpoint seems a bit needy. It is a well made action hour, produced by talented people who deserve recognition and applause, but its not The Sopranos or Mad Men and right now its future is very much up in the air, especially on CBS. Getting a whole bunch of Canadian TV nominations will not save it, especially when CBS finds out we're also honoring Testees.
Nice to see some of the folks on The Line get some recognition today, particularly leads Daniel Kash and Ron White. Kudos to Flashpoint snipers Rico Colantoni and Hugh Dillon, too. For a full list of Gemini noms, go here. The statues will be handed out November 14 in Calgary at a gala Global and Showcase are still threatening to televise. Now that takes testees.

Monday, August 24, 2009

DVD Review: thirtysomething Season One

Nobody is on the fence about thirtysomething. You either love it or hate it.
The ABC drama is released for the first time today in a DVD boxed set (thirtysomething The Complete First Season, Shout! Factory, $59.95, get more info here). The plan is to release all four seasons of the series in six month intervals.
Right from that lower case "t" there was something a little precious about thirtysomething. It hailed from and was based somewhat on
Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, writer/producers who went on to create My So-Called Life, Once and Again and, more recently, the short-lived web series Quarterlife.
Thirtysomething ran from 1987 to '91. The word "yuppie" was just starting to emerge as a term for young urban professionals who had their heads up their own butts when thirtysomething came along to provide the picture in the dictionary.
So, for a lot of viewers, these weren't especially sympathetic characters, especially Michael Steadman, the navel-gazing, part macho, part Alan Alda-ish young advertising partner played by Ken Olin (now a greying director/producer/actor on Brothers & Sisters).
Michael would lay on his back and whine about his life and just generally would talk way too much for a dude. The characters behaved as children to a far greater extent than adults had ever behaved before on TV. Some viewers hated this, others loved to mock that behaviour, others recognized themselves or their friends and were hooked.
But, love it or hate it, there is no denying that thirtysomething had an impact. Many shows that followed, even great shows like The Sopranos and so-so shows like Medium, owe Herskovitz and Zwick a debt for ramping up intimacy on television, especially in the depiction of married life.
Part of the credit goes to London, Ont.-native Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winner (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) who was a writer and director on this series. You can see Haggis’ hand in the quieter moments.
Watching the pilot again on this DVD set, I was struck by how much thirtysomething looked like a small budget indie film. That first hour is very claustrophobic, with much of it taking place in the home of Michael and his wife Hope (Mel Harris).
Herskovitz and Zwick reveal on the commentary track on the pilot that those scenes, unlike the rest of the series, were shot in an actual L.A. house. The limitations of space and lighting actually heighten the intimacy, bring you into their bedroom, kitchen and living room.
The creators studied film together and dissect their own work as if they were screening something by Ingmar Berman. One was pleased that some of the action and dialogue took place off screen, the other pointed out that Woody Allen was way ahead of them at this point in time.
More startling, to me anyway, was the breezy, swirling depth of focus and dialogue, especially in a kitchen scene that takes place mainly in one medium take. Hope and Michael are front right, Peter Horton and Melanie Mayron are back left. The interaction is busy and layered and tremendously natural (it all looks like it was lit from that one kitchen window), yet nobody blocks anybody and everybody gets heard.
Not a big deal today--ER had three layers of things happening at times--but even shows like The West Wing were a lot stagier than thirtysomething.
Harris, a former model, was a less experienced actress than her peers on thirtysomething but that actually seemed to help her early in this series. She seems real and natural, reacting rather than acting. Timothy Busfield, who plays Michael's ad agency partner (the two are basically playing Herskovitz and Zwick) is a more fully rounded actor, which helps in the challenging scenes but not so much in the quieter, smaller moments. Patricia Wettig, Olin’s real life wife and playing Busfield’s wife in the series, was the show’s most elegant and versatile actress, and got to show it later in the series when her character had to deal with cancer.
The other revelation in the pilot is the baby. Hope and Michael have this little baby daughter and she is such an adorable scene stealer. As one of the producer’s remarks, she shows so many values in the pilot--crying, laughing, sleeping--and all right on cue.
H & Z speculate that it helped that Olin and Harris were both already young parents when these scenes were shot. There is an ease and naturalness to those family scenes.
One of the trademarks of thirtysomething was the distinct, Crosby, Stills & Nash-ish guitar cues, strummed by Snuffy Walden. Sorting out music rights was one reason this series probably took so long to hit the DVD shelves but getting it all in was worth the wait. The sound was very distinct and evocative, punching home the notion that these were children of the '60s stumbling into a richer, more nuanced '80s vibe.
The boxed set, which comes with great extras including new interviews with the cast and producers, is a good investment for TV writers, producers, directors as well as media students. The series was a bridge from Hill Street Blues to Breaking Bad in terms of realism and immediacy. If you hated it back then you'll still hate it, so don't buy it. But if you loved it, you'll find it holds up beyond the skinny ties, big hair and other '80s excesses. It is an uneven series, as the producers concede in the lavish booklet that comes with the boxed set ("nothing is held back, some times to a fault," they say). But it aimed high, took chances and still provides lessons for people making television today.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Box Score Review No. 2: More To Love

Here it is, the second Box Score web TV review. The TCA press tour pushed this back a bit, but here's a review of Fox's More To Love, the beefy Bachelor show that's into its third week already (Tuesdays at 9/8c on Fox and Citytv).
A week after ace camera dude Juan Fanzio followed me around several fast food joints in Toronto's East end to capture this review, I ran into rotund Romeo Luke Conley on the press tour in L.A. I couldn't help noticing that he seemed to have an eye for ladies about half the size as the fair maidens on this series. There was one skinny 6-foot blond in particular that was hanging off him at the Fox TCA party like tinsel off a Christmas tree. Plus he kept working that charm dawg thing with TV looker Amber Dowling. Luke is taking this More to Love thing in a whole new direction, I'm thinking.
In any event, you can get the skinny on all the new fall shows in the coming weeks in future Box Score web TV posts, right here and at the exciting new full service web-dination, TorontoNews24. Comments, suggestions welcome.

This Beat Goes On With New CBC Docs

The Toronto Star picked up my Canadian Press story today on This Beat Goes On and Rise Up, two terrific back-to-back documentaries on the Canadian music scene. Part One begins next Thurs., Aug. 27 at 9 p.m. on CBC’s “Doc Zone” with the series playing over the next three consecutive Thursdays.
Read the Star feature here.
The specials were directed by Gary McGroarty and written by Nicholas Jennings, who used to cover music in the ‘80s for Macleans and previously wrote and produced Shakin’ All Over, an entertaining look at Canadian music in the ‘60s. This Beat Goes On goes on from there, using as a starting point the landmark Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission decision in the early ‘70s to mandate radio stations play at least 30% home grown music on our airwaves.
Many of the Canadian music stars who took part in the series gathered earlier this week at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel, including Donnie Walsh from The Downchild Blues Band (celebrating 40 years of making music with a reunion tour this fall), Kim Mitchell from Max Webster, The Good Brothers, Murray McLaughlan, The Kings, Lorraine Segato of Parachute Club (who’s 1983 anthem “Rise Up” gave the ‘80s half of the documentaries its title), Dan Hill, Kevin Staples from Rough Trade (above, with Carol Pope) and bizarre electronic musician Nash the Slash, still in mummy drag after all these years.
Several of the industry players who are interviewed in the documentaries, including Bernie Finkelstein from True North Records, former MuchMusic VJ Christopher Ward and CBC Radio head and former Much boss Denise Donlon were also in the house.
The documentaries also feature several contemporary artists who comment on the influence of the ‘70s and ‘80s acts.
Unfortunately, like mullets, headbands and parachute pants, not all video survived from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Jennings says he searched high and low for early performance footage of the B.C. band Chilliwack. The band members themselves dug through attics and sent word out on fan sites that footage was sought. While Jennings was surprised that nothing turned up (except for a clip used later in the series of the band performing their ‘80s hit “My Girl”), the ones who were truly surprised were the band members themselves.
Still, there are plenty of musical memories left, enough for a joyous end-of-summer celebration. As Jennings says of ‘70s and ‘80s pop music, “It seems to go with cottages and docks.”

Shameless TV Alert

Appearing on CHCH's Live @ 5:30 this afternoon (at, yes, 5:30) to talk about the best and worst shows for fall. Regular hosts Mark Hebscher and Donna Skelly are both taking the day off, so I'll be quizzed by my old pal Lawrence Diskin, who also produces the show. My picks for best new comedies this fall: Modern Family, starring Ed O'Neill in a hilarious pilot where he's paired with a much younger Latino lover (Sophia Vergara), Community, a very funny comedy with The Soup's Joel McHale leading a study group at a community college (where back-to-school businessman Chevy Chase is among the students) and Cougar Town, starring Friends' Courteney Cox-Arquette as an over-40 MILF surrounded by some wacky friends and neighbours. It's from Bill Lawrence, the creator of Scrubs, who told us at press tour that, yes, that is Cox-Arquette's real belly she's squishing and jiggling in front of a mirror in the pilot. Now that takes guts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mad Men on the Radio

CHML's Scott Thompson and me, Bill Brioux--two mad men talking about Mad Men. You can listen in here. Specifically how the acclaimed AMC series seems to have broken through to a large U.S. audience in Season Three. Think CTV might be singing a new iTune and wishes it had picked it up now? Think again. It was expensive, it didn't really fetch a large audience and not buying it and all the media fuss about that just helps their "boo-hoo we're broke and need a carriage fee bailout" charade before the CRTC.
There's also yak about Jerry Seinfeld being Jay Leno's first guest, changes at Citytv and Scott's favourite subject, Canwest's on-going money woes.

Ghost of Ed McMahon Haunts Music Hall

If you've been checking in on this blog for any time now (and thanks, both of you), you know that Mr. TV Feeds My Family is a bit of a film nut. Those annual winter trips to Syracuse, N.Y. for Cinefest are for hard core, gotta be on 16mm, devotees of early sound and silent film. If your film tastes do not extend back before the first Beverly Hills Cop, do not even think about driving to Syracuse in March.
So jumped at an invitation last night to attend a screening in Toronto of the 1920 feature "Dollars and Sense" starring Madge Kennedy.
Kennedy was a popular silent screen star who never really made the transition to sound pictures--although she found a whole new career decades later in television, appearing in everything from Leave It to Beaver to The Twilight Zone. She died in 1987.
The event marked the 90th anniversary of the Danforth Music Hall, originally billed as "Canada's First Super-Suburban Photo-Play Palace" when it opened as part of the Allen Theatre chain on Aug. 18, 1919. The Great War had ended, the Bloor viaduct had just opened, and the Allen clan was there with their theatre as the city spread east. They built ten of these movies houses around T.O. just as the war ended (and over 50 across Canada). Unfortunately, they ran smack into a brutal content war; Paramount yanked all their films away from the Allens and into their own Famous Players venues (some things never change). The Allen chain folded and the theatres were re-named. The Allens got back into the business and many of their buildings survive to this day, albeit often as bookstores or antique shops.
The Music Hall has somehow survived into a new century as a theatre despite years of mixed use abuse, especially as a rock and roll venue. The current owners have taken pains to restore the old barn to its former glory, with a new interior paint job, complete with gold leaf gilding, an expanded ticketing area and other upgrades. The new "Toxic Avenger" play is coming there in a month and producers Dancap ("Jersey Boys") have already started to slop green slime outside near the marquee.
Admission last night was one skinny dollar and the place was packed. It was quite heartening to see so many people in 2009 come out for a silent movie. A pianist and three violinists were on stage to provide musical accompaniment, just as audiences would have expected in 1919. Their Gershwin pre-show medley was the night's high point.
Unfortunately, the ghost of Ed McMahon must have been in the building. The late, great Tonight Show sidekick played the Music Hall on a wintry November night three years ago, and it was a less than auspicious occasion. The place was only about a third full and there were technical snafus galore. McMahon--clearly steamed that he'd hauled his mortgaged ass all the way out of cosy LA to come to something less than the charming English Music Hall he had envisioned--at one point snapped at the poor kid running the wonky power point presentation (which offered tired Alpo Ads and Carson clips). After one too many mix ups, former Marine McMahon broke from his "Memories of the Tonight Show" patter to snap that his AV guy must have been the same dope who was the look out at Pearl Harbor.
Well, the AV gremlins were at it again last night. A full house had to sit through an hour of speeches from local politicians and other folks who couldn't wait to meet themselves before the cue finally came to start the movie. The next disappointment was that it was not a film but a digital copy of the movie, projected from the balcony on some half-assed Best Buy projector. The DVD was apparently licensed from the Library of Congress in Washington but it might as well have been bought behind the counter at a local conveinience store. The damn machine glitched and froze and the DVD skipped and stalled. The audience hung in there, buoyed by the game piano tinkling, but the poor musicians were stuck following a stop and start image. It was like being at somebody's house and they're trying to show you their burned disc of last year's office party, except somebody spilled beer in the machine, it is kacking and there are 750 people in the room--and no popcorn.
Although the stage was crammed with representatives from Heritage Toronto, the Riverdale Historical Society and Dancap as well as surviving members of the Allen family (who still run the Five Drive-in in Mississauga) and the "CEO" of the Music Hall, nobody thought to hook up ahead of time with the one group who could have saved everybody's ass--the Toronto Film Society. They could have been counted on to come up with (likely through friends at Rochester, N.Y.'s Eastman House) an actual film print of a Madge Kennedy feature, as well as a newsreel, cartoon and other shorts from that era. All on non-freezing, old reliable 16mm or 35mm.
Reg Hartt, who has exhibited film in Toronto for nearly 40 years, could also have told these folks a thing or two about putting on a silent cinema treat for modern audiences. You don`t cut corners with the one part of the show your audience came out to see--the movie.
So Dollars and Sense was the big lesson at the old Allen Danforth Theatre last night. You need both to run a movie show. What the false start proved is that there still is an audience for silent cinema in Toronto, especially on a summer night when the price is right.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mad Men Hits U.S. Sales Record

Figures. Just when CTV drops Mad Men, it becomes a hit.
The Emmy-, Golden Globe- and TCA-Award-winning AMC drama drew 2.76 million viewers for Sunday night's Season Three debut according to overnight Nielsen estimates. That's the highest U.S. number ever for a single episode and 33% higher than last season's AMC opener.
Last season's 13 episodes averaged 1.52 million same-day viewers. Adding in AMC's next hour reruns at 11 p.m. and 1 p.m., Mad Men drew over 4 million U.S. viewers.
In Canada, you had to watch it on AMC, if you get it (not all Canadian cable and satellite providers carry the channel) or on iTunes--or by using one of those end-around sneaky web thingies.
So how was the episode? Nobody deconstructs these things better than Tim Goodman over at his must read Bastard Machine blog. Read his Season Three, Episode One, Mad Men impressions here, complete with some perspective off the press tour from creator Matthew Weiner (as well as spoilers).
Have to say I wasn't as blown away by last night's opener as Goodman was (the terrific SNL Mad Men spoof, repeated Saturday, may be starting to starch my impression of Don Draper), but it was an intriguing start to the season, with plenty ahead as the series moves further into 1963.
OTHER WEEKEND NUMBERS: Good news for Shark Tank, which is building in the States. The ABC series, which features two of the venture capitalists from CBC's Dragon's Den, drew around 5.7 million U.S. viewers Sunday night, up 1.5 million week-to-week and winning its timeslot in households at 9:30.
Not so good news for Defying Gravity, which isn't in the U.S. The Canadian-made sci-fi series drew just 2.6 million on ABC last night, shedding too many at the half hour mark. It did much better, proportionally, Sunday night on CTV where 573,000 tuned in.
Sunday's big show this summer in Canada remains Big Brother on Global with 1,016,000 viewers.
CBC's plan to bury Iron Road in the dog days of summer worked to perfection. The China/Canada co-production drew just 484,000 for Part Two Sunday, with just 11,000 of those in the 25-54-year-old demo in the Toronto area.
That summer run of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is holding steady, drawing around 7.2 million ABC viewers Sunday. That's a sharp drop from when the show exploded in the summer of 1999, but surprisingly could rank it as a U.S. Top-20 number today. ABC programming boss Stephen McPherson teased critics on press tour that somebody gets to the million-dollar question before the show ends its summer run Aug. 23. Which night? You'll have to watch, said McPherson.
In Toronto, on Citytv, it is doing very well, pulling between 120,000 and 200,000 viewers a night last week, beating shows like Criminal Minds, The Teen Choice Awards and CSI: NY in households. Plus it is platforming Citytv's promising crop of imports for fall--final answer.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mad Men Sings New iTune in Canada

"I'm shocked," said Matt Weiner, when I told him CTV had dropped Mad Men in Canada.
The creator and executive producer of the coolest show on TV had no idea CTV was no longer carrying his hit series when I spoke with him late last month on the first day of press tour.
Weiner and several stars from the series, including John Hamm and January Jones, made the scene at a TCA cocktail party the first evening of press tour. Most returned less than a week later when TCA saluted Mad Men as the best drama on television for the second year in a row.
That a Canadian network does not carry TV's best drama is a bit of a shocker. CTV programming boss Susanne Boyce told me in early June at her network upfront in Toronto that she had decided to not re-up for season three, which starts tonight at 10 p.m. on AMC. CTV is spinning this, of course, as part of their "broken business model" ploy as they continue to pressure Ottawa and the CRTC for carriage fee bailout loot.
The real reason they're not picking it up again is that Mad Men didn't really do that well on CTV, despite plenty of hype. It started on CTV, got bounced to A and wound up on Bravo. Then again, only 1.5 million Americans watch it each week on AMC. It's a smart, adult show and it's not for everybody.
Not everybody in Canada gets AMC. It is one of those cross-border specialty networks (one of the best, in my opinion). Bell Expressview doesn't offer it to their customers at all, which seems pretty churlish or strategic or both. Why wouldn't you dangle the hottest US cable channel, the home of not only Mad Men and Breaking Bad but also the soon to launch remake of The Prisoner at customers who are already up to here with their skyrocketing cable bills?
Canadians without AMC can download the season three premiere after midnight Sunday on iTunes. (Read more about that here). Surprising that Rogers, big spenders now as they bolster Citytv and their OMNI channels, didn't jump on Mad Men after CTV ditched, but clearly even they balked at what must have been a premium asking price. The Internet-only experiment should be interesting, as more and more consumers switch to steaming. ITunes has also recently made deals to distribute top HBO fare like Sex and the City and The Wire. If the Mad Men/iTunes deal is a big money maker, Canadian broadcasters could find themselves out of the import loop. Now there's your broken business model!
Wrote more about Mad Men's season three premiere in Saturday's Starweek magazine. There's still no web link to Starweek stories, so here's an excerpt, below:

Season Three begins in a pivotal year in American history, 1963. Ad agency Sterling Cooper has been taken over by a British firm and nobody’s job is safe. Don (Hamm) and Betty (Jones) are back together and seemingly happy but for how long? On the very first new episode, we find him cheating again. “Well, Don is out of town,” says Weiner, “so in his mind that might not really be cheating.”
Weiner likened Don’s storyline this season to the unwrapping of an onion. “He’s survived a lot of things; he’s more secure, although we see the work is less secure than ever in some strange way.”
The whole season is about change, says Weiner. “Some people embrace change, some people are terrified by it and dig on.”
Even viewers who’ve never seen an episode of Mad Men have heard or read about it. In the last year alone, it has been parodied on everything from Saturday Night Live to The Simpsons, homage’s that delighted both Weiner and series lead Hamm, with the actor hosting SNL and diving straight into parodying his own too-perfect character.
“Hosting Saturday Night Live was a dream come true,” says Hamm, very generous and accessible to critics this press tour despite his sudden A-List status. “I’ve been a massive fan of sketch comedy in general and this show in particular since I was seven years old.” He said what everybody says, that hosting SNL is a killer of a week but incredibly rewarding in the end. “I had a great time, Amy Poehler had a baby, everything happened that week.” See a short clip of the Don Draper SNL parody here.
He also was thrilled to get the call to join the cast of 30 Rock for a memorable episode. “I was sitting in my dressing room at Saturday Night Live when the call came,” he says. He can’t remember what came first—saying yes or a lot of jumping up and down. “It never fails to make me laugh,” he says of the NBC comedy.
The Simpsons homage, with Homer falling from New York skyscrapers just as a silhouette of Don does in the Mad Men opening, was the ultimate honour for both Weiner and Hann. Check it out here.

Hann also called it “pitch perfect” and has the ultimate Simpsons souvenir, a pencil sketch from the animated Mad Man sequence framed and hanging on his wall. “A friend of mine is an animator on the series,” says Hann, who is also acquainted with voice over star Hank Azaria (Moe, Wiggums, Apu and others).
Weiner called it a perfect satire. “I was so flattered. You check off the things that in your fantasy you would want to happen. That’s at the top for me, I’m an avid Simpsons viewer, have been since the beginning.”

Not Loving It: McDonalds Olympic Ad

That McDonalds ad where the little girl approaches Canadian Olympic figure skater Patrick Chan for an autograph? Really?
You've seen the spot. This little curly-topped cutie asks Chan to make the beyond ironic McDonalds Olympic sport water bottle ("do you want fries with that?") out to "Mommy." Bad enough that the spot is so forced and cloying, and that no kid would recognize this dude, but WHAT THE HELL IS PATRICK CHAN DOING EATING AT MCDONALDS?!! No wonder we're the only host nation never to win a gold medal at our own Summer Olympic Games! Go eat at Subway for Chrissakes!!

Baez the Time I Get to Woodstock...

Woodstock, man. 40 years ago this weekend. Three days of peace, love and inadequate toilet facilities. I'll never forget hitching a ride down to Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, N.Y. way back in '69... wait a minute, I wasn't there. I was a kid.
Any way, Joan Baez was there, as she reminded critics at PBS's portion of the TCA press tour two weeks ago (she's being saluted in a PBS American Masters episode Oct. 14). As usual, Baez, who was at press tour via satellite, put the whole Woodstock trip in perspective:
I think flying over Woodstock in the last helicopter in, before the big storm made it impossible for anybody else to enter by air, with my mother and my manager and Janis Joplin peering out over the crowds, all gravitating in one direction, we knew something big was about to happen. And when we were there, I think we knew that something very big was happening, and certainly afterwards it had happened. And it’s a marking point in people’s lives forever, that they were there or they were on their way there or they were on the wrong coast or their parents wouldn’t let them go or, God forbid, they hadn’t been born yet.
Or they were 12 and they lived in Etobicoke, Anyway, way to rub it in, Joan.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hockey Talk with Bruckheimer and Shaq

Despite the fact that it is the middle of summer, there was plenty of hockey talk on the TCA press tour. A lot of it came out of the session for ABC's The Forgotten. Executive producer and hockey nut Jerry Bruckheimer let slip that he cast Christian Slatter in the drama after a post game dressing room encounter with Slatter's agent. Read the whole story here in the piece I filed for The Canadian Press.
Bruckheimer plays hockey once or twice a week and it seems to be working for the 63-year-old, who is in much better shape than most TV critics. I chased him out into the hall after the session and asked if he'd consider a scrimmage against Canadian TV critics one of these press tours. "You guys would be too good for us," said the Hollywood smoothie.
One guy who doesn't play hockey is Shaquille O'Neal. The enormous NBA superstar was easy to spot at the ABC press tour party. I extended my arm as far as I could to hold my digital recorder up to his face.
O'Neal's ABC summer series Shaq Vs. starts next week. The show pits O'Neal against superstars in a variety of sports: Ben Roethlisberger in football, Oscar De La Hoya in boxing and Michael Phelps in the pool.
"I don't know how to play hockey, bro," Shaq told me when I asked if he'd be facing off opposite Sidney Crosby. "Maybe next year."
Besides, says Shaq, try finding size 23 skates.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Canadian Invasion Continues in Hollywood

Rob Salem calls them "frostbacks." They're all the Canadians who land on U.S. network TV shows every year. There's quite a bunch of them this fall, and I've rounded them up for a feature in today's Toronto Star. You can find it here.
Nina Dobrev is a good ambassador. The well-spoken Torontonian has the lead female role this fall on The Vampire Diaries (The CW, CTV), a cliche-ridden, pretty to look at series that works well with the sound off. She's the latest Degrassi: The Next Generation gal to go Hollywood, following in the wobbily footsteps of Shenae Grimes (90210).
Grimes has hanging off her co-star Tristan Wilds at the CBS stars party at press tour last week. She says the series has a new showrunner and that her character won't have that silly smile frozen on her face this season. Let's hope it was slapped off by the new showrunner. Fellow Canuck Dustin Milligan, from the North West Territories, was tossed off the soap this season. What, he didn`t get his name in the tabloids enough?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Leno, Abdul Dominate TCA Tales on the Radio

Scott Thompson called today to catch up on all the good stuff that went down on the recent TCA press tour. I spilled the beans on CHML, You can listen in here. The main stuff was all about Jay Leno, how he took the NBC portion of the tour by storm, looking trim and fit (he's dropped 25 lbs) and battle ready for the nightly 10 p.m. test in about a month. There's also some blah blah about Paula Abdul and how everybody wants her on their network now. My money is still on Paula sitting next to Simon Cowell on Idol in January. And my encounter with Shaquille O'Neal, the enormous NBC star who crashed ABC's closing bash at TCA.

Remembering Dan Kenning

Sad to report the passing of former Canwest publicity manager Dan Kenning. Kenning, who had moved on to an editing position at MediaEdge publishing, was a real spark plug over at TVTropolis, a perfect fit at the classic TV net. He was friendly and efficient, knew his stuff and had great enthusiasm for vintage shows from the '70s and '80s, holding the lyrics to everything from Maude to The Golden Girls in his head (and thus endearing him for life with his former boss, Sandra Puglielli).
Kenning was largely responsible for rounding up Rob Salen, Eric Kohanik and myself, along with several other media types, for a memorable scribe showdown on the TVTropolis series Inside The Box. Salem won the TV trivia test, but Kenning reminded all of us of why we got in this game, that it was because we love the shared experience of television.
As they used to say of Maude, he was compromisin', enterprisin', anything but tranquilizing.
Kenning succumbed to cancer Monday in Winnipeg. He was just 33 years old. Condolences to his family and many friends in the industry.
UPDATE: Kenning's funeral will take place this coming Monday in Winnipeg; details will be in Saturday's Winnipeg Free Press. In lieu of flowers, the Kenning family has requested donations in Dan's memory be sent to St. Boniface Hospital and Research for Cancer Care D1003-409 Tache Avenue, Winnipeg, MB, R2H 2A6.

Blood in the Shark Tank

As Jimmy Kimmel pointed out at the ABC upfront, it's never a good sign when a network puts on a show with the word "tank" in the title.
ABC’s new reality show Shark Tank, a makeover of the CBC venture capital hit Dragon’s Den featuring two of the Canadian series’ judges (including Kevin O'Leary, right), tanked Sunday night, drawing just 4.15 million U.S. viewers according to overnight estimates.
ABC has had a brutal summer and can’t find traction anywhere. Even the return of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire only generated 7 million the same night. Shark Tank lost 40% of that lead in, which is not good news for the latest Mark Burnett effort. No Canadian network picked up Shark Tank, which supposedly anchors ABC’s Monday night fall schedule until the sci-fi remake V begins Nov. 3.
CBS did not have much better luck Monday with their reality show launch There Goes the Neighborhood cracking the 5 million mark.
Monday wasn't much better for ABC. Millionaire inched up to 7.2 million, with Dating in the Dark drawing 4.5 million and a repeat of Castle fetching 3.3 million and change.
In Canadian ratings news: Don’t know about Global shifting Brothers & Sisters out of simulcast to Monday nights. A summer rerun of the Sally Field family drama drew just 122,000 nationally there Monday, according to overnight BBM estimates. That’s worse than CBC did the same night with a rerun of Little Mosque (180,000) but better than it did with Sophie (72,000. Across Canada!). As one would expect, Global did better earlier that night with the Teen Choice Awards (407,000) with most (215,000) in the 25-54-year-old demo.
CTV won the night with reruns of their older-skewing crime dramas, Criminal Minds (922,000), Law & Order: CI (1,282,000) and CSI Miami (811,000).
Sunday night, Global got a surprisingly strong bounce from the 11th edition of Big Brother (1,132,000).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Scrubs Boss Says Don't Mess With Gandhi

Bill Lawrence is one of the true good guys at press tour. The still-boyish-at-40 Scrubs executive producer is always friendly and accessible after each session, as he was again on Saturday when he was promoting his new series, Cougar Town.
A number of publicists spent press tour yanking talent away after 60-second scrums. Lawrence resisted three attempts to pry him away from print media and stood his ground to give us all we wanted. Then he cheerfully made himself available later at ABC's press tour party.
So watch his new show Cougar Town, okay? It stars Courteney Cox-Arquette and is pretty damn funny. Look for it in September on ABC and Citytv.
Lawrence is a hero at my house and not because of Scrubs. It is for his one season wonder, the uproariously funny animated gem Clone High. The 2002-03 MTV series cracks up both my kids and cracks me up, too. The premise of the show is simple: a group of famous people throughout history--JFK, Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc and Mahatma Gandhi--are cloned and brought up together at a wacky high school. Plenty of Mad-TV and Scrubs stars provided the voices, including Will Forte, Phil Lord, Nicole Sullivan, Michael Mcdonald and Lawrence's wife Christa Miller (formerly on Drew Carey, now on Cougar Town). Andy Dick, Jack Black, Michael J. Fox and Marilyn Manson also did voices.
Lawrence has been able to resurrect Scrubs for yet another season, it's ninth (and second on ABC). It's to be re-christianed Scrubs Meds and be more about the teaching hospital, with Zach Braff and Sarah Chalke appearing in six episodes.
If he can resurrect Scrubs, how about Clone High, I asked. Lawrence laughed, shook his head and told me the real story behind the 'toons demise. Get your head around this:
When word reached India that their iconic leader Gandhi was being portrayed as a randy party teen, or, as Lawrence described him, "a guy who drinks and fucks," it almost led to an international incident. Many Indian members of parliament took part in a hunger strike until the series was withdrawn worldwide. "MTV has a huge international presence and they started making us pull all his scenes and that's when it all fell apart," says Lawrence.
The other thing that killed the show--low ratings. It just never caught on in the States. Protests aside, "if it was a hit, it would still be on," says Lawrence.
To this day, the complete DVD set of the Nelvana series is only available in a Canadian release (through the network that carried it here, Teletoon). Two of the 13 episodes never aired in the U.S. It is one of the smartest, funniest animated comedies ever made.

Jack Bauer Demands More TCA Tales

PASADENA, Calif.--Okay, I'm not really still in Pasadena, I'm back in the Brampton bunker (hey, did it ever stop raining while I was away?). And Kiefer Sutherland did not hold a gun to my head (the folks at Fox are all about the virtual photo op).
Anyway, over the next week or so, I'll have a few more stories to shake out of my notebook from the summer press tour. There are set visits to The Office, a hike around the Warner Bros. lot (including a tour of the cool Warners museum, where an entire floor is dedicated to Harry Potter gear), a trip to NBC-Universal for a taping of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (twice, actually), more on my encounter with Shaq at the ABC press tour party plus plenty of photos and videos. All this and Pat Bullock pictures. C'mon back for more of the latest from TV land.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

ABC's McPherson: Would Love to Have Paula

PASADENA, Calif.--How much does ABC want to hire Paula Abdul? Pretty much, judging from Stephen McPherson's comments today at ABC's executive session at press tour. The programming boss told critics that he was "stunned by the decision" that Abdul was no longer going to be a judge on American Idol and that he would love to have her on ABC's big hit Dancing With The Stars.
"I think she's a huge talent," said McPherson, adding that even her "emotional sensitivity" is a plus. "We'd love to get a piece of that," he said, scoring the unintentional joke of the day.
McPherson said he phoned Abdul recently to say he was sorry to hear she was leaving Idol and to put his pitch in with her for his network. (At the Fox sessions, there was plenty of buzz about her being wooed by the producers of So You Think You Can Dance.) The two had worked together years ago, he added.
McPherson had to field several questions about his own unhappy camper, Grey's Anatomy's Katherine Heigl. The actress has groused several times lately, on Letterman as well as on movie junkets, that the 17-hours days on the set are a bitch, that her role was kinda underwritten this year and blah blah blah.
"I think it's unfortunate," McPherson said, stepping lightly and carefully (as he did throughout the session, not normally his style. This is the dude who went after network rival Ben Silverman with both fists two press tours ago).
McPherson says he feels for the other people who "work unbelievably hard" every day on this series and who never whinge or bitch. When asked if this was the kind of behaviour one might expect from someone "trying to get released from a show so she can go on to a series of mediocre romantic comedies," McPherson firmly, flatly but diplomatically stated, "I’m not going to try and explain somebody else’s behaviour."

Bad Blood Real Between Shark Tank Canucks

PASADENA, Calif.--Those testy Canadians! Dragon's Den duo Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec were bickering like Jon & Kate at this morning's ABC press tour session for Shark Tank. The Mark Burnett reality show premieres tomorrow night (Sunday) at 9 p.m. on ABC.
Asked who was the meanest shark in the tank, the other four judges all immediately pointed to O'Leary. "I'm the merchant of truth," O'Leary insisted, just telling dummies with dreams to wake the hell up and stop wasting his time and money.
O'Leary stuck to his Wall Street shtick, proclaiming greed as "powerful and important."
"That is such crap," said Herjavec, who mocked O'Leary's "blind pursuit of of pure greed and profit," standing up instead for self-made businessmen like himself.
"You are absolutely wrong," sneered O'Leary. "The great entrepreneur in the sky is going to get a spatula and just whack you."
And back and forth it went.
The joke is, when it comes time to sink their own dough into these ventures, O'Leary and Herjavec are often paired together on the deal.
Asked after the session if the rage was real or just hyped for TV, Herjavec said, no, he really does think Kevin is a dick. "We were told after one take by a director that, 'That was good, but can you get even angrier?' and I said, 'What acting? This guy really does piss me off!'"
Read more on Shark Tank's cranky Canadian judges in the story I filed that is running today in The Toronto Star.

Guest Blogger: TCA Gate Crasher Pat Bullock

PASADENA, Calif. --I've been working the press tour for 25 friggin' years, dating back to when PBS and CBS used to host critics way out in the desert in Phoenix, Az. I'll never forget my first TCA (Angela Lansbury, Redd Foxx, Flip Wilson and Larry, Daryl and Daryl from Newhart were among the stars). I remember thinking it was all very cool, but lately I've been wondering--what would a tour rookie think of this crazy death march with cocktails deal today?
Found out early on this tour as my old pal Pat Bullock came down for the Cable Days last week. Bullock, a high school teacher and father of four from Midland, Ont., quickly charmed the staff, blended in with critics and cozied up with celebs. I think he may have left with a few network development deals under his belt. Here is his wide-eyed take on this whole TCA event.

“Go west young man” was the rallying cry of adventure seekers looking to make their fortune. Me, I was simply taking my TV critic friend, Bill, up on his invitation to accompany him as a guest of the TCA Press tour in Pasadena, Calif.
Bill had been coming to these press tours for 25 years. For me, I was unsure of what to expect yet lured by the possibilities that this could be an interesting adventure.
We checked in to the five star Langham Hotel on a Tuesday afternoon. Behind a cordoned off area to my left were several paparazzi scouring each limo in hopes of uncovering a precious treasure that lay within. “It’s nobody” was muttered under their breath as our blue and white Super van pulled into the entrance way. “Well” I thought, “if that’s their attitude I’m not even going to grant them an interview.” I pressed on towards check in. Stepping into the vestibule I had a ‘Dorothy’ moment. Is this how that Kansas City pre-teen felt as she pushed opened that grey farmhouse door? Colorful characters everywhere. “This could be interesting,” I remember musing to myself.
Bill went out of his way to introduce me to his press tour buddies. Each of them made me feel very welcome and I was soon at ease in their company. What struck me at first was their genuine regard for one another. Since there are two press tours a year, each lasting a few weeks, these people often spend more time with one another than most best friends. They shared an exuberance and enthusiasm for their craft. They say if you enjoy your job you’ll never work a day in your life. Bill has not worked in over 25 years. He really enjoys his ‘job.’ I was constantly amazed by the knowledge, history and insights he and his colleagues have about the entertainment industry.
Days are spent in sessions sponsored by different networks. Critics attend these sessions to preview upcoming shows and query those involved in their production. The first day I was there I hung around the paparazzi pit. I figured they must have some idea what stars are coming and when. When they all stood up and starting adjusting their lenses I knew it was a matter of moments before I would hit pay dirt. It was during one of those times I met my first Hollywood celebrity, Matt Damon. Damon worked on a project with the History Channel. He was very gracious as I introduced myself and shook his hand.
“Matt, I just want to thank you” I said.
“Oh, why is that?” he replied smiling from ear to ear.
“Well Matt, it’s because of you my family and I now enjoy playing poker twice a week.”
“Hey, that’s cool.”
Matt Damon and Ed Norton starred in the ultimate poker movie, “Rounders.” It’s one of my son Matts’ all time favourite movies.
Next up, Joan Rivers. Joan had just finished her session and was heading towards the limo when she paused so the photographers could get their fill. As she moved away I approached her with hand extended and introduced myself.
“Hi Joan, my name it Pat Bullock and I’m a big fan. I was also a fan of Brian Lineham.” The late Brian Lineham was an exceptional entertainment interview and a dear friend of Miss Rivers.
“Oh”, she gasped, in unison with her entourage. “You said the magic name.”
“I’m coming to see your show at Casino Rama, in a couple of months.” I volunteered.
“I love playing at Rama,” she replied with perfect timing. “Come see me after the show and mentioned Brian Lineham."
“Score”, I thought to myself.
I recall attending my first session and committing a faux pas after one of the previews was shown and the panel was introduced. I applauded but was quickly scolded in mid hand clap.
“We don’t do that! We’re critics,” I was gently informed.
Hmmm….gonna be hard to break that habit.
During the course of the week I had the pleasure of sitting in on a session with Robin Williams. How can you not love this guy? Williams had recently undergone heart surgery and was just now getting back into the swing of things. He was here to promote his upcoming special on HBO entitled, “Weapons of mass destruction.” He was brilliant in his session. Witty, but pensive, funny, yet introspective. I guess a life threatening experience has a way of grounding a person. After the media scrum that follows I met him face to face in the hallway.
“Hi my name is Pat Bullock and I’m a high school teacher.”
“Wonderful” he said with this warm smile.
“I’m coming to see your show in November at Rama, in Ontario.”
“I’m looking forward to coming to Canada,” he said.
His manager pipes up at that point and says, “Come on back stage after.”
“Oh, man, this keeps getting better and better,” I’m thinking.
Merrill, his publicist reassures me by saying, “I’ll get you the information you need and you can email me.” Wow. Could this be real?
I realize that, like Dorothy, I’ll have to wake up at some point. It’s only in waking that you remember the dream. Thanks Bill for opportunity to share in this adventure. But please, just let me sleep a little longer.

Hugh Laurie Makes House Call at Fox TCA Bash

PASADENA, Calif.--Saw Hugh Laurie of House gamely making the scene at the Fox All Star Party Thursday night. His co-stars Lisa Edelstein, Olivia Wilde and Robert Sean Leonard were also there, along with executive producer and pride of London, Ont., David Shore.
Fox had many of their other stars there, too, including suddenly unfunny Wanda Sykes, David Boreanaz and always elegant Emily Deschanel from Bones and all those peppy Glee kids: B.C.'s Cory Monteith, Montrealer Jessalyn Gilsig, Mathew Morrison, Dianna Agron and always hilarious Jane Lynch. Chef Gordon Ramsay was there in a pink T-shirt two sizes too small. Al Jean from The Simpsons was on the back lawn of the Langham Huntington, along with Mogan Spurlock, the documentary filmmaker who is doing a 20th anniversary special on TV's top 'toon (scheduled for next January).
Anyway, caught up with Laurie before he made his exit from the bash. He shares this insight into the coming season on the medical drama: House goes bonkers and spends the first two episodes in a mental institution. When he emerges, he loses his medical license. Does he get better? "I think so," says Laurie, although "he's a fragile flower so I have my doubts."
Also at the party was that beefy bachelor from More to Love, Luke Conley (with host Emme). Actually, Conley was all over the place at press tour, showing up at a Fox daytime session, at the All Star party, and on Friday at a Warner Bros studio day set visit. The man would go to the opening of an envelope. Bad enough that he kept hitting on a Canadian reporter down on the tour, but he also had a skinny, 6-foot blond hanging off him like tinsel off a Christmas tree at the Fox bash. More to love indeed.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Critics Whipped into a Frenzy By Chef Ramsay

PASADENA, Calif.--Press tour was turned into one big, fat, sloppy episode of Hell's Kitchen today. Chef Gordon Ramsay was in the house, and he had critics up on their feet beating egg whites instead of deadlines.
Somebody had the bright idea to distribute cooking pans, whisks and tubs full of egg whites, sugar and syrup on trays all over the Langham hotel banquet room this afternoon so that reporters to try their hand at preparing Baked Alaska. Ramsay demonstrated and had his bowl white and frosty in seconds; many of us never got it past the soup stage.
It all might have been some savvy plot to get critics to close their laptops and ibooks. The slop was flying everywhere, and there's nothing worse than a sticky keyboard when you're on a deadline. TV editor Amber Dowling managed to whip her egg whites into a frothy peak, as did the Toronto Sun's Bill Harris (although I'm pretty sure he cheated). Both got their treats torched by the master chef.
Ramsay led a lively and fun session. "Where the hell did you get that shirt?" he hassled one reporter in a Hawaiian number (shades of David Bianculli). "If you're cooking is as bad as your dress sense, we're fucked."
He was at press tour to promote his third Fox series, Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live, which sounds sorta like the old Galloping Gourmet show with Graham Kerr (ask your parents). Ramsay aims to help regular folks whip together meals in minutes; let's hope viewers are better at whisking than TV critics were today.
As energetic, funny and delightful as Ramsay was, no amount of whisking could have gotten Wanda Sykes to rise to this occasion. Her press tour session, promoting her Saturday night talk show coming this fall to Fox, was one big yawn. Many of her answers were spat out in three or four word sound bites. That's going to lead to a lot of dead air once her talk show rolls around.
It can't be any worse than one of Fox's first attempt to crack the late night scene: The Chevy Chase Show. That turkey lasted five weeks back in the early '90s as Chase himself reminded critics the other night at the NBC press tour party. The former Saturday Night Live player stars in the new NBC sitcom Community. He was relaxed and charming at the NBC affair, telling stories about the talk show bomb as well as his weekly card games back in the day with the likes of Johnny Carson, Steve Martin and Neil Simon. Now that would have been one hell of a late night talk show.
Here's one little Canadian tid bit he shared with colleagues Eric Kohanik and Winnipeg Free Press critic Brad Oswald: Chase was into camping as a teenager and worked at least one summer as a camp counsellor up in Muskoka. Who knew?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

CBS Has Till Oct. To Re-Up Flashpoint

PASADENA, Calif.--Getting a show on the air is murder. Keeping it there can take a miracle.
The folks behind Flashpoint seem ready to commit the one to get the other.
As was chronicled here earlier, executive producer Bill Mustos and four of his actors flew to L.A. to try to lobby their American network partners at CBS to get behind a third season of the series. The clock is ticking on that decision--CBS's option on future seasons expires Oct. 1, as outlined in the story I wrote today for The Canadian Press.
Like it or not, Flashpoint is a big domino in the Canadian TV production scene. If it goes down, some believe it could take other Canadian-American network co-productions with it.
This is, in a way, ridiculous. A show is a show, and shows get canceled all the time. No one show needs the weight of a country on its shoulders.
Still, with the quick cancellation of The Listener on NBC, there is a growing fear that the window to big time U.S. network exposure that opened a crack during and following the U.S. writer's strike might be about to slam shut.
That's not what U.S. network executives are saying down here. Are they still open to doing co-productions with networks and producers from other countries willing to shoulder most of the production costs? Hell yes.
The fear, though, is that, as one U.S. critic suggested to me down here, Canada might become a place where networks can import a steady stream of "cheap failures." Not that anybody sets out to make a flop--not even The CW--but since 80% of new TV shows fail anyway, why not gamble with other people's money?
That's not the kind of brand any Canadian producer or critic wants to get behind. All the more reason why Flashpoint stood so tall as the exceptional exception, the Canadian series that scored on U.S. TV. If it was owned and produced entirely by CBS, it would still be part of the network's fall lineup. It may still claw its way back, if Mustos and company have their way--even if it winds up on ABC or U.S. cable instead of CBS.
The hard lesson so far is that Canadian-owned dramas and comedies are going to have to do better than good enough to stick to U.S. schedules. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

Michael Strahan Tackles Comedy in Brothers

PASADENA--Calif.--Can football players become TV stars? They have in the past. Alex Karras (Webster), Fred Dryer (Hunter) to name two. There was a fella named O.J. Simpson who took a stab at movie fame, too.
Now former N.Y. Giant star Michael Strahan (far right, with co-star Daryl Chill Mitchell) is tackling comedy with Fox's Brothers. He plays a former football star--not a stretch--who comes back home to his parents (played by Carl Weathers and CCH Pounder) and his green with envy brother (Mitchell, who shone in those amazing first two seasons of The John Larroquette Show).
Strahan said at press tour today that he's learning from his acting peers. Working Fox's slap-happy NFL Sunday show has also helped him find his TV feet (look for Howie Long and Terry Bradshaw to stumble into his sitcom by November sweeps). Just being surrounded by New York media for 15 years also helped ease him into the biz, he figures.
Strahan was asked after the session about a few NFLers who have screwed up lately. He believes Michael Vick has paid his debt to society and should get a second chance at an NFL career. "There are people walking around who have killed people," he pointed out. He hopes some of his Giant colleagues get their act together, including trigger happy Plaxico Burress.
Another famous athlete, Mike Tyson, guests on an early Brothers episode. The former boxing champ plays himself, just as he did recently in The Hangover.
Still, some critics didn't think much of Tyson's performance. "You tell him he can't act, says Strahan.

Fox Day Filled With Idol Paula Abdul Chatter

PASADENA, Calif.--Holy Paulapalooza.
Fox network honchos took the stage at press tour this morning and were immediately peppered with Paula Abdul questions. New Fox chairman Peter Rice (below)--who made a friendly first impression--went straight at it, addressing the news that broke in the last 36 hours, that Abdul was not going to return to American Idol.
"We're very saddened that she's not coming back," says Rice, who said the network offered her a "substantial raise" and that "Paula has decided not to return."
When TV's No. 1 hit returns in January it will be with guest judges filling the fourth chair, at least through the seven weeks of auditions which tape very soon. A fourth permanent judge will likely be in place before the series returns to the air, said Rice.
Guest judges for the opening round will include Victoria Beckham and Katy Perry. Neither are looking to make this a permanent gig, said Rice.
Rice said Abdul's contract was the only one among the judges that was up this year. He didn't hold out much hope that Abdul could still be back. "We've concluded the negotiations," he said. He refused to take the bait when one critic suggested Abdul's absence might help lure back viewers fed up with her sometimes erratic behaviour, repeating that they really did want her back.
Half an hour earlier at a separate Fox press tour session for So You Think You Can Dance, executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe (top right, with Michaels and Murphy)--also a producer on Idol--doesn't think we've seen the last of Abdul. "I still don't know she's going to leave," he said. "Until Idol goes on the air there's always hope for negotiations."
In the meantime, he confirmed that he'd love to have her on Dance and talked to her about that possibility yesterday. "I've been trying to get her since Season One," he said. The summer season finale of So You Think You Can Dance airs tonight and Lythgoe and judge Mary Murphy, along with choreographers/guest judges Mia Michaels and Adam Shankman were all at this morning's session, as was host Cat Deeley. All were taking the hot tamale train straight to Vegas for tonight's live finale (CTV and Fox).
Who's meeting them there? That would be Paula Abdul. Tune in tonight.
Besides dancing around the Abdul question, Fox offered some real dance. Finalists Ade Obayomi and Melissa Sandvig repeated their moving pas de deux on the press tour stage, and four other dancers performed live for critics.