Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ken Burns Latest a Walk in the Park

The last CHML TV Talk Radio Chat of the month focuses in on a TV event completely overlooked here up until now: Ken Burns' documentary series The National Parks: America's Best Idea. The six-part, 12-hour series resumes tonight at 8/7c on your local PBS affiliate with "Going Home" (1920-33). The series runs until Oct. 2.
Burns is his own best salesman and was his usual articulate self at the most recent press tour in Los Angeles. His passion for the great parks of America, like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, have stayed with him since boyhood.
Still, a 12 hour documentary on parks?! The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz and Burns' great documentary series on WWII were all engrossing, exceptional, and really, really long. You'll find that if you check out The National Parks, you'll get hooked for more minutes than you expect. But not for 12 damn hours. If you have 12 hours, get the hell away from the damn TV and go outside to a real park!
Besides, his premise that governments seizing large tracts of the great outdoors for the enjoyment of future generations wasn't really just America's big idea. Even in North America, national parks were chartered in Canada before they were ever established in the States.
Beyond Parks, Burns told critics on press tour that he plans to add a 10th "inning" to his epic Baseball documentary. The original version ended with a Canadian team--the Toronto Blue Jays--winning back-to-back World Series in 1992-93. Burns says that was fitting at the time, showing the game hat hit beyond America's borders, but so much has happened since--including strikes, steroid abuse and the end of the curse of the Bambino (allowing his favourite team, the Boston Red Sox, to finally win)--that he wanted to bring the series up to date.
CHML's Scott Thompson also asks about Battle of the Blades (launching this Sunday at 8), the highly-rated return of the Rick Mercer Report, Kelsey Grammer's latest and leastest sitcom, Hank (he plays a downsized CEO), and word that Jason Priestley is coming back to Canada to shoot an edgy new series for The Movie Network-Movie Central. You can listen in here.
PREMIERING TONIGHT: A new season of Dragon`s Den (8 p.m., CBC), Hank (8 p.m., ABC and City), Patricia Heaton`s middling new sitcom The Middle (ABC and City) and the return of those wife-choppin` Tudors (9 p.m., CBC).

Mercer Bungee Jumps to Record High

Rick Mercer roared back with 1,295,000 CBC viewers last night, the best start-of-season numbers for the topical comedy series to date.
The seventh season opener, featuring a B.C. bungee jump with Man in Motion Rick Hansen, was well over last season's average of about a million viewers a week according to BBM Canada overnight estimates. The Rick Mercer Report is CBC's highest rated entertainment series.
The new Personal People Meter data may have helped boost Mercer's latest opener over the highs he hit last season, including a visit with Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion. That show drew 1,289,000 viewers.
Next Tuesday at 8/7c, Mercer travels to Nova Scotia to join the crew of the famous Canadian schooner, the Bluenose.
CBC enjoyed a strong night all around, with 774,000 tuning in for the 17th season premiere of This Hour Has 22 Minutes. And Being Erica scored one if its highest ratings ever with its second episode of the season, 793,000 viewers. Even Jeopardy! at 7 was back up over a million, scoring 1,131,000.
Still, CBC finished behind both Global and CTV for the night. At 8, Global's ever steady NCIS scored 2,338,000 across Canada. Another 1,941,000 Canadians were watching CTV's Dancing with the Stars simulcast.
CTV's So You Think You Can Dance Canada stayed solid at 7 with 1,425,000 (all numbers BBM Canada "commercial" tallies). CTV finished the night with Law & Order SVU (1,589,000) and another high-rated National newscast (1,271,000). Hot Global rookies NCIS: Los Angeles (1,837,000) and The Good Wife (1,328,000), along with tonight's contender Glee, are helping it challenge CTV's Canadian Top-20 dominance for the first time in a decade.
City stations across Canada were factors in their markets, with Hell's Kitchen (788,000), The Biggest Loser (735,000) and The Jay Leno Show (521,000) all having strong nights. Even the Blue Jays drew on Sportsnet, with 489,000 catching their fifth win in a row (now that it's too late).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Clean and Sober House Still Sky High in Canada

Look, up in the sky. It's a bird, it's a plane--it's more sky high Personal People Meter numbers.
Are Canadians really this hungry for House? The new season‘s second episode drew 3,440,000 Global viewers Monday night according to overnight estimates from BBM Canada. As tabulated under the new PPM methods--introduced one month ago--that makes it more than twice the draw in Canada as it is, proportionally, in the U.S., where Monday night it averaged around 14.5 million viewers.
At 9, the season premiere of Lie To Me pulled 1,862,000 on suddenly resurgent Global. Honest!
CTV is also partying like it is 1999. Check out these Monday numbers: The two hour performance episode of Dancing With The Stars 2,318,000. CSI: Miami 2,626,000 (again, about twice what the same show got, proportionally, in the U.S., where it averaged around 13.4 million in the overnights). The CTV National News 1,255,000.
Hmmm--seems nothing boosts a Broken Business Model like BBM Canada. Look at how the Save Local TV guys are doing with all those A stations they're probably happy they hung on to now. Monday night on A: Two and a Half Men 1,071,000. Big Bang Theory 991,000. Even Castle, coming on in the States, drew 523,000 at 10.
City's pick up of How I Met Your Mother is paying off with 761,000 tuning in Monday night. Jenna Elfman's new comedy Accidentally on Purpose drew 560,000 on City, with new paramedic drama Trauma adding 598,000. Dropping by the day, however, is The Jay Leno Show, down to 397,000 Monday night on City.
All of this on a night when another 849,000 Canadians were watching Monday Night Football on TSN. It all adds up to a lot of people watching television on a Monday night.
The only network not getting a lift from the PPM numbers, apparently, is CBC. Little Mosque on the Prairie returned Monday night to an audience of 504,000--right around where it averaged last season. The National pulled 520,000 at 10 and 456,000 at 10:25, way behind the private network national newscasts.
Did people tend to log in more when they watched CBC under the old People Meters and under report when they watched all that Yankee stuff on other networks? Surely Mercer, Dragon's Den and Battle of the Blades will get a PPM lift. Advertisers must be drawing their own conclusions in what has been one wild roller coaster of a September in the Canadian ratings game.

CBC Hosts Battle of the Blades Garden Party

Hey--who wouldn't want to go for a skate at Maple Leaf Gardens? Press were invited to bring their skates today as CBC held an open house at what was once known as the Carleton Street Cash Box. The arena, built during the Great Depression, has been shut down for a decade, used only occasionally as a film set for features like Robin Williams‘ 2002 comedy "Death to Smoochy" and Ron Howard's boxing opus "Cinderella Man." CBC and Insight Productions reached a deal with current owners Loblaw properties to turn the place into a massive TV studio, home for the next eight weeks to Battle of the Blades. The hockey-meets-figure skating reality competition begins Sunday at 8 on CBC.
Here's one that is sure to test the expansiveness of the new Personal People Meter BBM Canada TV ratings. Battle of the Blades is a live event, a reality show and a sports-themed program--all seemingly viewer magnets in the month-old PPM universe. I had never laced 'em up at the Gardens, or if I did, it was so long ago I don't remember. It was cool to look up at the old gold, red, blue and grey sections. Most of the seats are missing on one side. There's no giant scoreboard over centre ice anymore, either.
Ron MacLean, who hosts BOTB with former men`s champion Kurt Browning, pointed out that the producers have tried to stay true to MLGs art deco roots, something not even late owner/despot Harold Ballard could blight.
Ex-Leaf Tie Domi was one of only two men in hockey skates today. He says he'll wear them for Sunday's opening "Arena Rock" competition, then try to switch back to the figure skates, although damn those picks. Domi is paired with Christine "Tuffy" Hough-Sweeney, a former World and Olympic pairs skater. The two were interviewed at today`s skate by Toronto Sun`s Joe Warmington who must have left his fedora at home as some sort of homage to Punch Imlach.
Former New York Ranger Ron Duguay--paired in the competition with former World Champion Barb Underhill--was the other hockey skate guy. He says yeah, he's heard Leafs radio analyst/banquet toastmaster Jim Ralph joke about him many times. It goes like this: "Did you know Duguay was a pretty tough customer when he broke into the NHL? In fact, his first season, he sent six people to the hospital--five to maternity."
Bob Probert, who, as a Black Hawk, scored the very last goal scored at MLG--Chicago beat the Leafs 1-0--says he's fallen a million times trying to get used to the pick skates. His partner is ice dancer Kristina Lenko.
There are eight pairs in all. The competitors were told not to spill the beans about what tune they would be skating to Sunday night, but that didn't stop trouble maker Claude Lemieux (paired with Shae-Lynn Bourne). "It would be bad to the bone if you didn't guess it," he said, cracking up Probert.
The eight pairs are all skating for charity, with a total of $250,000 up for grabs according to MacLean (the winning pair nets $100,000 for the charity of their choice). Who will win? Ex-Oiler Craig Simpson, now a Hockey Night in Canada analyst, may have an inside edge. Simpson, forced to retire due to a bad back at 28, is the youngest competitor although he's been out of hockey the longest. His partner, plucky Gold medalist Jamie Sale, said earlier this month at CBC's fall launch that she was amazed at Simpson's flexibility on the ice and that the pair plans to take full advantage. The two both live in Edmonton and have been working out there under the tutelage of Sale's partner, David Pelletier. All of the ex-NHLers are said to be taking this very seriously.
The pairs will be narrowed down via fan phone votes with the bottom pair doing a skate-off each week on the Monday night broadcast, with a winner declared Nov. 16. Three judges, sitting at a rinkside podium not unlike the set up on Dancing with the Stars, will determine which of the two bottom pairs get sent home every week. Famed skating coach and former Olympian Sandra Bezic and two-time Olympic men's champion and long-time commentator Dick Button will occupy two of the judging chairs each week with the third filled by a rotating series of guest judges, which one week will include Don Cherry. Beauty, eh?
Executive producer John Brunton pointed out today where in the reds he sat when his dad took him to see Muhammad Ali battle Canadian champ George Chuvallo. That mid '60s tilt was back when the Gardens rocked not just to hockey but to every big name act from The Beatles to Sinatra.
The ice and all the piping have been long gone at MLG, so Brunton had to have a new ice bed laid down with giant refrigeration units housed outside around the back. Neighbouring condo residents went nuts with the noise, so the producer flew up sound reduction experts from LA to minimize the racket.
The ice felt pretty good today and Domi figures it can only get better the more they skate on it. Tickets to the live tapings are available to the public and can be obtained here or at any Ticketmaster outlet or by calling 416-870-8000. You'll get dinged a $5 or $8 fee, depending where you sit, damn cheap compared to what the Leafs charge nowadays at the ACC. Audiences will be ushered in Sundays and Mondays at 6:30 p.m. The series premieres Sunday, Oct. 4 at 8/7c.
UPDATE: Follow this link to CP video from Tuesday's Gardens' press event as posted at Globe and Mail's web site.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rick Mercer Report Jumps into Seventh Season

Will the new Personal People Meter data further boost CBC's No. 1 entertainment show? Tuesday night at 8 p.m. marks the seventh season premiere of the Rick Mercer Report, which averaged a shade under one million viewers a week last season. "I'm the one guy in Canada who wants an election," Mercer joked two weeks ago at the CBC fall launch in Toronto. Mercer's had a busy summer, surviving a trip to India with his usually more stay-at-home dad and teaming with Canadian film icon Norman Jewison on a rewrite of the director's mid-'60s gem "The Russuans Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming."
With ratings for live, event-style programming getting a boost so far with the introduction of the BBM Canada PPM data, Mercer's show seems poised to make further gains. On the premiere, Mercer will travel to Whistler, B.C. where he will plunge off a cliff bungee jumping with one of his heroes, Man in Motion Rick Hansen (dangling above with Mercer). "You haven't lived until you've seen a man in a wheelchair plunge 160 feet," says Mercer, who scored big with visits from Don Cherry and Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion last season.
Mercer also heads to Simon Fraser University to join in Frosh Week and learns to play a bagpipe with the university's world champion bagpipe band. There's also the usual political jabs including this ready-for-YouTube poke at the current Michael Ignatief Liberal ads, below:




Tonight also marks the 17th season return of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which also saw ratings rise last season. Much of the credit for that uptick goes to headline-grabber Geri Hall, who got lambasted late last season for gooning Ontario premiere Dalton McGuinty (as her needy "Single Female Voter" character). Word reached TVFMF that Hall and the producers might part ways before the start of this season. That crazy talk got shut down fast when CBC execs got wind of it. Hall, who has to hump it from Mississauga to Halifax to shoot this sucker, is back behind the 22 Minutes anchor desk, along with Mark Critch, Gavin Crawford, original desker Cathy Jones and special guest Kathleen Phillips. Look for tips on battling the H1N1 virus plus a look at the real Stephen Harper (CBC, 8:30 p.m.).
Being Erica's second episode of the season airs at 9 p.m. on CBC and it does not build on the promise of last week's season opener. In fact, it feels like a left over from last season. The focus is back on Erica and her past dumb life, this time some nasty prank she pulled on a canoe buddy back at camp. This one drags on and one and feels painfully stretched out over the hour. Not enough Dr, Tom, although we do get a bit more intel on that new bartender who has his own portal to the past.
TUESDAY PREMIERES: The Hills returns on MTV (10 p.m.).

Amazing PPMs Ramp Up Race

More evidence that the new PPMs are big event friendly: CTV`s The Amazing Race (hosted by Phil Keoghan, left) drew 2,861,000 viewers Sunday night according to BBM Canada overnight estimates.
Race has always been a winner in Canada but Sunday`s season premiere was proportionally twice as successful in Canada as it was in the U.S. Not bad for a reality show competition Canadians can`t even enter.
Sunday was also a big night for Global`s slate of Fox animated sitcoms. The Simpsons kicked off its 20th season with 1,152,000 Global viewers. The debut of the Cleveland Show (11,010,000) and a very funny episode of Family Guy (1,257,000) were also `toon triumphs.
CTV also scored with the season premiere of Desperate Housewives (1,441,000) and the return of Cold Case (1,543,000).
America`s Funniest Home Videos is still a factor Sundays, drawing 626,000 on A. Murdoch Mysteries drew 236,000 on City. City`s new Conviction Kitchen arrested 169,000.
TONIGHT: Series debut Trauma (9/8c, NBC, City). Season premieres of Little Mosque on the Prairie (8/7c, CBC) and Lie To Me (9/8c, Fox and Global), Californication (10/9c, Showtime, The Movie Network/Movie Central).

Fans Flock Back to Flashpoint in Canada

Flashpoint came back with guns blazing Friday night, scoring a record 1,883,000 viewers for the third season launch. That is CTV only, out of simulcast. Carumba!
The Toronto-based cop show, starring Enrico Colantoni and Hugh Dillon (gamely flanking some press weasel at last June's ad upfront, above) was part of a big night for CTV. The Broken Business Model network saw Ghost Whisperer scare up 1,719,000 at 8 and Medium return large with 1,463,000 at 9. It all added up to another huge night for the 11 p.m. CTV National News, with 1,329,000 counted on the commercial scale.
In the U.S. on CBS, relocated Medium proved a good fit behind Ghost Whisperer, building on that show's lead. Slipping was Numb3rs at 10. Unless they reached a deal with the producers on an extension, CBS has until Oct. 1 to re-up Flashpoint. If Numb3rs continues to decline, and CTV's big night is any indication, CBS could do worse than make it a Ghost-Medium-Flash Friday. Just sayin.'
In other ratings news, those PPM's continue Punish Peter Mansbridge, with the CBC National News averaging around half a million viewers at 10. Despite the massive competition, it was still a solid launch for comedian Ron James, who scored 803,000 in his CBC series debut Friday.
Global drew 573,000 Friday for Dollhouse, another 678,000 nationally for Numb3rs according to BBM Canada PPM overnight estimates.
City managed solid numbers for the launch of its new Wednesday night comedies. Cougar Town with Counteney Cox Arquette drew 480,000 nationally, with The Jay Leno Show still a factor with 500,000 viewers at 10. The funniest show of the new season, Modern Family, is off to a slower start with 272,000 City viewers across Canada. It opened much stronger proportionally Stateside, drawing 12.74 million ABC viewers last Wednesday.
Over on A channel, Law & Order--starting a record tying 20th season (tying Gunsmoke for longest-running prime time drama)--arrested 825,000 viewers.
Saturday saw the 35th season premiere of Saturday Night Live welcomed by 437,000 viewers at 11:35 on Global. Hockey Night in Canada pulled 1,031,000 for a Toronto-Detroit pre-season tilt.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Ron James Show Premieres Tonight

I'm always astounded at Ron James verbal dexterity. He can turn a phrase the way Paul Coffey can turn up ice. It looks effortless yet the speed and precision leaves you breathless.
James wears his Maple Leaf proudly on his sleeve, earned after years of traveling across Canada performing at clubs and in concert. He's literate and likable, a stand up Thesaurus, like Dennis Miller meets Mark Twain by way of Cape Breton.
James gets to showcase his comedic talents tonight with the launch of his new series The Ron James Show (CBC, 8 p.m.). It's a hybrid, he says, combining an opening and closing monologue in front of a studio audience with sketches, animation and almost any excuse for a gag.
"A comedian's job is to tip the apple cart, not ride in it," he told me last week at the CBC fall launch in Toronto. He says a bunch of other stuff that sounds wise in this CP article I wrote which appears in Friday's Toronto Star.

Lucas Ranch Visit Tops Weekly Radio Report

I rave to Scott Thompson of News Talk Radio CHML about my visit earlier this week to George Lucas' tidy little "Big Rock" ranch out near San Francisco. The highlight for me were all the cool movie posters on the walls of the impressive film campus. Lucas has the world's largest private collection of classic movie posters, including this mint condition Swedish poster for the 1935 Shirley Temple film "The Littlest Rebel."
We also touch on the Emmys, Mad Men and the fallout from those kooky PPM numbers. They really seem to be giving kid networks like Teletoon, Family Channel and YTV a boost. You can listen in here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

PPM--Punish Peter Mansbridge?

The Personal People Meter data continues to astound. Huge numbers for returning shows--nearly three million counted for CTV's Criminal Minds Wednesday night, for example. Weren`t grim crime dramas supposed to be so last year? It seems that certain shows and networks seem to have gained more from the new BBM Canada PPM data than others.
The news for CBC, in fact, is not that great. Wednesday night at 10 p.m., according to overnight estimates, 562,000 tuned in to the CBC National News. That was down to 409,000 by 10:25.
Over at CTV, which enjoyed a huge night of first run fare with So You Think You Can Dance Canada at 7:30 (1,086,000), America`s Top Model at 8 (1,347,000), Criminal Minds at 9 (2,965,000) and CSI: New York at 10 2,46,000), the CTV National News scored 1,563,000 commercial. That`s no typo--Lloyd Robertson beats Peter Mansbridge by more than a million viewers.
Kevin Newman has got PPM fever, too. At 5:30, the Global National newscast scores 1,081,000 viewers.
CBC has announced plans to tweak their newscast, including a new set and other makeovers, with details to be announced at a Toronto press conference in early October. It`s not helping that CBC is getting creamed in prime time this week up against new episodes of those high-powered U.S. network simulcasts. The Tudors, which launches Season Three next week, was a rerun last night and mustered only 322,000 CBC viewers, although a rerun of Dragon`s Den pulled a healthy 880,000. Those Dragons roar back Sept. 30.
Global squeezed CBC on the left Wednesday night, drawing 1,825,000 for a new Bones followed by 1,206,000 for the fourth episode of Glee (where Jane Lynch took full advantage of her hilarious “As Sue C`s It“ segments). Meanwhile, they are probably counting the days until Heather Locklear guests on Melrose Place, down to 412,000 Global viewers Wednesday night.

Shrink Switch Shocks Sense into Being Erica

Wish I had Erica Strange's magic therapist so I could be sent back in time to meet deadlines to report on second season premieres of shows like Being Erica. But I don't so this quick catch up will have to do.
Being Erica's second season premiere Tuesday may not have been a ratings grabber (less than half a million CBC viewers), but it was the best episode, in my opinion, since the pilot. There are spoilers ahead, so if you`ve PVR`d this and haven`t watched it yet, skip to the next post.
The episode--"Being Dr. Tom"--opened exactly where the series left off last spring, in new therapist's Naadiah’s cold white office. We find out that mysterious Dr. Tom (Michael Riley) has given up on Erica after she defied him and meddled in her late brother's fate in an earlier episode. That was a cosmic no-no, and an angry Dr. Tom has said to hell with being Erica's magic mentalist.
A much more mature and together Erica rejects the concept that she's been ditched by her therapist. So the new shrink sends Erica into Dr. Tom's world, circa 1998, to discover just how screwed up he is. It always comes right back to Shakespeare: "Physician, heal thyself."
John Doyle at the Globe and Mail lost interest at this point but I beg to differ. I've always been more interested in Dr. Tom than Erica. Any excuse to give Riley more screen time is okay with me.
Doyle finds Erica has gone all whiny and shrill but, for me, Erin Karpluk has taken it down a notch and the character seems to be finally acting her age. There was even a welcome bit of self effacing humour in Tuesday`s premiere, when new doc Naadiah gives Dr. Tom a taste of his own medicine by throwing a quote (“Fear is the mind killer”) in his face. “Yeah—its annoying, isn’t it?” she says. Exactly.
Maybe it was too soon to turn this series inside out like this, to make the hunted the hunter, to move Beyond Erica. Is season two more about Dr. Tom’s past? Are we bored already with all the regrets Erica had left to stare down?
All I know is that this is the first episode of this series where I wasn't looking at the clock and thinking, damn, this would have made a great half hour show. There was stuff going on all the time, plenty of story. Erica just revisiting past regrets every week was getting old anyway, so why not let Karpluk grow the character in a mature new direction.
The challenge, of course, is now what? You just played the Ace. The writers will have a difficult task to keep the original fans keen and grow the show in a new direction.
It looks like there will be plenty of B story ahead about Erica’s new sex book assignment. Her home and work life are both too good right now and that's no fun. Whatever. Bring us back inside Dr. Tom’s messed up world, please, and let Erica lead the way.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No PPM Bounce for Return of Being Erica

A lot of questions were answered with Tuesday's second season premiere of CBC's Being Erica. The one still unanswered: will this show ever bust out beyond the half million mark nationally?
Being Erica drew 495,000 viewers on a very competitive Tuesday night. Seems poor Erica can't catch a break with the new Personal People Meters, which so far this fall seems to have boosted ratings for some shows on private networks CTV and especially Global.
Erica, for example, got pounded in the 9 p.m. timeslot Tuesday by the return of The Mentalist on CTV (1,422,000 out of simulcast) and the launch of NCIS Los Angeles on Global (1,701,000).
Global always did well with the original NCIS at 8, but look at Tuesday's sixth season premiere: 2,464,000! Another 1,385,000 tuned in for the premiere of Juliana Marguilies as The Good Wife at 10 on Global, which was shaded in the timeslot by still potent Law & Order SVU on CTV (1, 440,000).
CTV's So You Think You Can Dance Canada stayed competitive at 8, grabbing 1,272,000 viewers according to BBM Canada overnight estimates for the performance show.
And look at these daytime numbers: CTV's Dr. Oz at 5 p.m.: 954,000 (well ahead of both Oprah and Dr. Phil). Global's The Young and the Restless drew 914,000 at 4:30. CBC got 874,000 for Jeopardy! at 7, but they used to get a million there pre-PPMs.
Most troubling for CBC seems to be the PPM news counts. Tuesdays national newscasts: CTV at 11: 1,249,000, Global National at 5:30: 1,036,000 and CBC National News at 10: 648,000 (down to 490,000 at 10:25 p.m.). Does PPM stand for Pick on Peter Mansbridge?

The Ways Of The Force Are Strong at Spectacular Clone Wars Press Preview

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.--As Yoda would say, amazing it was.
Took full advantage of the opportunity today to tour Big Rock Ranch, a Lucasfilm development at 3838 LucasValley Road in Marin County, just across the Golden Gate bridge and into the rolling hills outside San Francisco.
The amazing creative arts campus is adjacent to Skywalker Ranch, filmmaker George Lucas' $100 million film and TV animation empire. The occasion was the second season launch of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (beginning Oct. 5 on Teletoon), with a brand new video game also set for release. Several dozen reporters were invited to the surprisingly wide open house at Big Rock, which houses Lucasfilm Animation. The first three episodes of the new season were screened in a 300-seat theatre, with interviews set up throughout the afternoon. Scribes shot photos at will with none of the usual restrictions on photography and access.
The place is a tranquil, stunning enclave tucked into one corner of 4700 acres of land owned by Lucasfilm. Deer, turtles, frogs and other wildlife were spotted on the winding road leading up to the ranch by Teletoon's eagle-eyed naturalist Kate Dickson, my host for the event. The large, Teak-clad building is very Frank Lloyd Wright meets Green and Green.

It is filled with many rare, one-of-a-kind movie posters from Hollywood's golden age, part of the largest private movie poster collection in the world--all owned by Lucas. There were several posters from The Red Shoes, a number of Bogart and Shirley Temple posters, even a wall with a couple of Fellini's framed. The Marx Bros., Buster Keaton and several westerns were also represented, many on foreign language versions. I've seen some of these listed in auctions in Toronto after the film festival and a caller from California was buying up all the best ones. Now I know who was on the other end of the phone.
There are several Star Wars posters and other artifacts, too, including that original, 1977 R2D2 I was hamming it up with at the entrance to the main building. Close by, a bronze Yoda greets visitors to the front courtyard.
Several voice cast members were at the event, including Ashley Eckstein, who voices spunky Skywalker protege Ahsoka Tano. Eckstein is married to former Toronto Blue Jay Dave Eckstein, now a San Diego Padre. She works in front of the camera and shot a Brady Bunch movie in T.O. (The Brady Bunch in the White House; I don't remember it either), and proved it by going "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha" (she played Jan).
Mobbed at the latest Comic-Con, Eckstein says she's coming out with her own line of form fitting Ts and other gear for female sci-fi fans. Today was her 28th birthday, and Star Wars Wookie cookies and other goodies were shared.
Supervising director Dave Filoni pretty much admitted he had the best job ever as the guiding hand on Clone Wars. He wanted to talk hockey; the Pittsburgh-native is a die-hard Penguins fan and still plays net with animation pals working the Disney lot, including a few Sheridan grads.
Filoni posed with one of four local Bay area dudes who made their own Star Wars costumes and were featured at the event. Members of the 301st garrison, one guy said he spent 80 hours assembling his storm trooper duds and that he figures it cost around $1000 to complete. If it wasn't already obvious that these guys were way into the ways of the force, it was comical to see them all pick up controllers and test drive the new Clone Wars video game, available on seven different game platforms including Playstation, Xbox 360 and Wii. More to come.

Kids TV Rules in PPM Canada Universe

I’m in San Francisco, just back from a full day tour of George Lucas`Skywalker Ranch. It's all in aid of promoting Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the animated series, which begins Season Two Oct. 5 on Teletoon in Canada.
I’m a guest of Teletoon, one of the networks that caters to children that has seen a leap in ratings ever since the new BBM Canada PPM’s were introduced at the end of last month. All those kiddies and parents who were previously too busy to log in every time they had the set on are now counted automatically. Teletoon's Saturday Morning shows in particular are through the roof.
One week ago, on Sept. 16, they had seven shows tilt over 100,000 viewers, with Johnny Test pulling 243,000 and Ben 10: Alien Force at 246,000. A Season One episode of Clone Wars drew 186,000 the same day--close to what it was getting Sundays on CTV last season.
Family Channel has been getting even bigger audiences with its stable of Disney sitcoms. Sept. 16 on Family: Wizards of Waverly Place 473,000, Hannah Montana 361,000, Phineas and Ferb 451,000, Suite Life 370,000. That`s a decent night on CBC.
Look at YTV`s Sept. 16 numbers, too: SpongeBob SquarePants 352,000, iCarly 281,000, Fairly Odd Parents 274,000.
MuchMusuc, which scored huge with the recent MTV Video Awards, has seen a ratings surge, too. All those passive viewers who threw MM on in the background just for the soundtrack are now being counted. A few pub numbers, now part of the overall tally, have probably added to the MM total, too.
Sports, news and live event television have generally all seen a bump thanks to the PPMs. The return of Survivor on Global last Thursday opened to 3.1 million viewers, the biggest audience for the reality series in six seasons.
The PPMs haven’t been kind to everybody. Here’s a shocker—folks aren’t watching decade old reruns on TVTropolis or TVLand quite as often as was previously reported.
TV numbers have been trending downward on broadcast networks in recent years but not this week in Canada. Old favourites have come roaring back with huge numbers. Global scored over 4.2 million Monday with House (including a colossal 2,186,000 in the demo), it`s biggest audience ever and CTV nabbed over 3 million the same night for the return of CSI: Miami. CTV's National News scored 1,428,000 later that night. CTV`s Sunday Emmy Award coverage pulled 2 million+ over the three hour broadcast.
Not everything has been super sized thanks to PPM`s. Heroes returned Monday to Global with 597,000 viewers, a fraction of its huge House lead-in. CBC's National News pulled under a half million viewers to start the 10 p.m. hour and lost 160,000 viewers by the 10:30 mark.
Over on City, The Jay Leno Show started its second week with 462,000 viewers at 10--4th in the timeslot (although in Toronto/Hamilton, he`s No. 2).

Video Review No. 3: House

Does Global love those new Personal People Meter numbers or what? House returned Monday night with a two hour, sixth season premiere and 4,212,000 Canadians caught it on Global according to BBM Canada's PPM-powered overnight estimates.
Had hoped to post this video review ahead of time, but a rain delay at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport enroute to San Francisco this week grounded those plans. If you’ve TiVoed or PVR’d the House opener, you’re in for a treat. It is the latest sign that this series simply refuses to rest on its laurels. Check out the review:


Missing was Cuddy, House’s prognosis posse and the rest of the regulars in the two hour mini-movie. It was pretty much a tour de force for Laurie, who gets to shine in new surroundings.
Specifically, in a mental institution. Dr. House is told he has to get off the Vicadin, sober up and stop living off pain killers or he’ll have his licence to practice medicine yanked. He’s booked into a psych ward, shot on an elaborate set constructed just for these two episodes. The place has a bleak, institutional feel, with a cast of misfits that may put viewers in mind of the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
House treats the forced confinement the way he would a patient. He is rude, confrontational and completely uncooperative. He is out to circumvent the system and get back to his pill pail.
Not this time. The great Andre Braugher plays opposite Laurie as the head of the psych ward. Watching he and Laurie play mind chess is so good they could sell tickets to it. A promising start to Season Six.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tonight: Official Start to Fall Season

Now that the Emmys are over (and the same people won again), the fall season lurches into full on mode. Starting tonight, with the season premieres of CSI: Miami and Heroes, no more free ride for Jay Leno.
Checked in on a couple of returning cable shows this weekend at the cottage (where that lake side wall soaked up three gallons of primer. Gulp!). Larry David`s Curb Your Enthusiasm returned Sunday on HBO Canada and, judging by the first three episodes, it is better than ever. Episode Two next week is particularly funny, a perfect example of how this series will go to any length to tidy things up with a funny, full-circle ending. The third episode is when the whole. much-talked-about Seinfeld reunion storyline kicks in. The premise--about David bringing the four main cast members back together for a reunion for his own selfish and petty reasons--is neatly set up.
The guys at the cottage, on the other hand, were horrified at the Season Three screener for Californication, the Showtime series which returns Sept. 27 in Canada to The Movie Network and Movie Central. I loved the first season of this show, especially the tightly-written, profane pilot and even the too-tidy first season finale. The relationship between father-daughter Hank Moody (David Duchovny) and young Becca (Madeliene Martin) was tender, insightful and unlike anything else on TV.
Season Two had its moments but started to wallow in the sex, drugs and rock and roll storylines. The Season Three opener was even less appealing. Hank Moody is no longer sympathetic on any level. The smutty behaviour and one liners, eye-opening and clever at first, seem tiresome now. The series is so stuck on outrageous it all fails to register. It almost seemed like the show runners were daring Showtime to end the series.
The good news over on the broadcast channels is that there are several very funny new comedies this season, if the pilots are any indication. Check out the all-new ABC lineup this Wednesday night (simulcast on City). Modern Family is very funny, with a great cast (including an older, wearier Ed O‘Neill) and sharp writing. I laughed at the Cougar Town pilot, too, although some seem all bent out of shape at the title. Get past that and give it a look. Avoid, however, new shows from old friends Kelsey Grammer (Hank) and Patricia Heaton (The Middle). Both were funnier on the quickly canceled Back to You.
For my take on a few other fall rookies, I wrote a Top-10 new shows feature for Tribute.ca, check it out here. I‘m also part of David Bianculli‘s critic posse over at TV Worth Watching. You can read our short takes on the fall network newbies right here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Critics Feel at Home in The Office

Here I am, hard at work at The Office. As in the set of The Office, the NBC comedy that returned for a sixth season tonight and heads into a five-nights-a-week syndication launch starting Monday.
Critics were invited to visit the set last month during the summer network press tour. We were shuttled from our hotel in Pasadena to the lamest corner of the San Fernando Valley, where The Office is shot in a warehouse so anonymous it could be Anytown, USA.
Touring this place is such a waste of time. You might as well walk around any newsroom in North America and say you were there. Computers, staplers, work stations--you've seen one, you've seen them all.
What made the trip special (besides the chance to be photographed with my feet up on Dunder Mifflin doofus' Michael Scott's desk) was the warm and friendly reception we got from the large ensemble cast, crew and producers, including creator Greg Daniels.
They were all in a pretty good mood, knowing they'd made it to 100 episodes (no sure bet based on those low early ratings) and to the promised land of syndication riches. Wrote much more about The Office field trip for The Canadian Press today, you can follow the rest of the article here.
The return of The Office and the premiere of another smart Thursday night comedy, Community, comes toward the end of a pretty good week for NBC. Those Jay Leno Show numbers continue to impress, albeit against largely rerun competition. Wednesday's 10 p.m. Leno show, featuring Robin Williams, actually was up over the night before, with 13.12 million tuning in according to overnight Nielsen estimates. (Tuesday's final tally was 11.09 million). Leno got a boost Stateside by the finale of America's Got Talent, which drew 15.52 million.
Leno was more relaxed with fellow comic Williams in the house. It was his best show yet.
In Canada, Leno drew 921,000 on Rogers' Citytv stations, not bad at 10 against bigger network CTV (where a rerun of CSI: New York won the hour with an overnight estimated 1,443,000). Leno more than doubled Global's second episode of the new Melrose Place (405,000 nationally in Canada, and bombing out in the U.S. with 1.8 million viewers Tuesday). Coming in third at 10 in Canada was The National with 592,000 viewers. Those PPM numbers don't seem to be tilting Peter Mansbridge's way in the early going.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CBC Sets Stage for Fall with Classy Launch

CBC threw a fall launch today at their Toronto bunker and damn if it wasn't a first class operation. The public network and their PR agency, Media Profile, invited press types up to studio 41 on the 10th floor. That's the home this season of The Ron James Show, which premieres a week from Friday at 8 p.m. James opens and closes each show by doing stand up, and part of his set--a large, gold-leaf theatre proscenium and red velvet curtain--provided the perfect focal point for CBC's very theatrical fall launch presentation.
I got there as the Little Mosque gang was taking a bow. They return Monday, Sept. 28. Brandon Firla is the new guy, playing a big city minister who wants to evict the Muslims. Ah, conflict.
Next up was Rick Mercer. "I'm the one guy in Canada who wants an election," he joked.
The Rick Mercer Report was CBC's highest-rated entertainment show last season, averaging just under a million viewers a week. For the seventh season, which begins Tues., Sept. 29, Mercer will plunge off a cliff bungee jumping with Man in Motion Rick Hansen. "You haven't lived until you've seen a man in a wheelchair plunge 160 feet," says Mercer.
He then introduced Ron James, who he called "more Canadian than warm mitts on a radiator." James is pumped about inheriting the old Air Farce timeslot and has already shot four of his 13 episodes for the season. His show seems to cram a lot of comedy into half an hour, with stand up, sketches and animation part of the mix.
CBC smoothie Ron MacLean ran through the new and returning shows night by night. He brought Being Erica's Erin Karpluk to the stage. She says they are 3/4 through season two already and gave hints of what to expect. Erica's going to edit a sex book, which should help spike ratings. She's also going to "party with the biggest rock band of all time," which sounds a little like Maggie and The Stones.
What about mysterious Dr. Tom? Michael Riley joined Karpluk on stage so he's back. The bad news? The show is still a half hour too long. It returns next Tuesday.
The Dragons' Den millionaires stood up next to prove that even rich people look like dorks when they have to read off TelePrompTers. Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec--the two dragons who swim in Mark Burnett's ABC Shark Tank--resumed their fake feud. Herjavec wore a suit not seen since the heyday of Spike Jones in the '40s. Boston Pizza boss Jim Treliving said the dragons put $15 million in play of their own money this season, which has been extended to 20 episodes. And why not? A Dragon repeat drew close to a million viewers last week.
Treliving also said the American tycoons on Shark Tank are lame and that the show needs him on it to kick ass. Or something like that. Anyway, he's in Texas, call him, Burnett.
MacLean kept things moving with his usual pun-ishing ad libs. "As Tudors say to their wives, don't worry, we won't keep you long," he said as he set up a clip reel from the steamy historical drama. Colm Wilkinson took the stage to complain he doesn't get to do any bodice ripping this season.
The Border moves to Thursdays for season No. 3 (starting Oct. 8). Proud Concordia grad James McGowan was in the house and said his character gets kidnapped for an episode this season and is held hostage in Afghanistan. Doubling for Afghanistan--where else?--Caledon. If you drive up Hwy 10, you'll pass the entrance to the old Con Smythe gravel pits. I flew over there recently (thanks to my neighbour Doug, who invited me up in his Cessna) and was amazed at how odd the geography was--all lakes and arid dunes, covering a fairly large region. Voila: Afghanistan. Maybe Bin Laden is hiding there!
Ron James came out next to take a bow on his own set. He said he's living the Canadian showbiz dream, "it just took me 30 years to get here and now I need a nap."
Saturday is Hockey Night in Canada, which MacLean mentioned began on CBC radio in 1931! Ron and Don Cherry are heading into their 24th season together. Jiminy.
George Stroumboloupolous came out next and shocked everybody by wearing black. He's back for a sixth season with Michael J. Fox his first guest. TIFF favourites Drew Barrymore, Michael Moore and Clive Qwen also get face time on The Hour (You'll Never Get Back).
MacLean and his puns returned to set up this new Battle of the Blades reality deal, which hits the ice Sun., Oct. 4. MacLean introduced the hockey player/figure skater pairs, including Christine Hough-Sweeney and Tie Domi, Kristina Lenko and Bob Probert, Jamie Sale and Craig Simpson and Isabelle Brasseur and Claude Lemieux.
Spoke with Probie, Domi and Lemieux after the presentation, three of the most feared men to ever play in the NHL. Now they're like Curly, Larry and Moe. Lemieux had me in stitches with his tale of his very first game as a Devil against Probert, who nearly killed him with a cross check. Domi needled Lemieux, reminding him for the 500th time of the night he chased him all over the ice.
Domi then stood up and started trash talking Sale, which seemed a bit wrong. Sale gave it right back, saying Domi's pumpkin head is way too big to figure skate properly, which is true.
This whole hockey-meets-figure skating idea is so offside it's icing. Canada is going to be so obsessed with this show.
The room felt a little empty to me without Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson (not to mention Luba Goy and the Farce kids). Surely they'll do another New Year's Eve special? CBC programming boss Kirstine Stewart left her red shoes at home (her pumps were much more subdued this year). The munchies were off; too leafy for scribes who need to wolf down sandwiches before making with the questions. Picky, picky.
Otherwise, there was plenty of access to the talent and nothing felt rushed or panicky. Plenty of space to work and chat, good vibes all around. CBC put its best foot forward yesterday, subdued pumps and all.

Sharp Drop for Leno on Busy Night Two

More Leno chat today with Scott Thompson on Hamilton Talk Radio CHML. You can listen in here.
I make the point again that Leno's new show has a weird daytime vibe about it. That sit down in the Principal's office with Kanye West Monday didn't help--it seemed more like an episode of The View.
Still, that touchy-feely stuff clicks with the chicks. That opening day total climbed to 18.48 million when Live Plus Same Day data was added. The Jay Leno Show took a hit as expected Tuesday night (Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz guested, but only via satellite) but still delivered 11.6 million viewers to the first half hour of the show on NBC according to Nielsen overnight estimates. The Big Brother finale opposite on CBS (7.9 million) offered stiffer competition, as did ABC's Barbara Walters' speedy salute to the late Patrick Swayze (5.8 million). Leno dipped below 10 million in the back half of the show.
Leno's impact on local news affiliates at 11 Monday was slight in Toronto. The new Leno lead-in helped Citytv's 11 p.m. newscast to 134,000 viewers, up slightly from the week before and topping the 6 p.m. score (126,000). City took the hand-off from Leno a lot smoother on night two than they did Monday.
There is also some CHML chat about the circus that was the MTV Video Awards. Please invite Kanye West to the Emmy Awards this Sunday (starting at 8 p.m. on CTV and CBS) and get him good and drunk beforehand--that show could use some live and dangerous shenanigans. Just keep the fake blood away from Lady Gaga.
UPDATE: Leno`s second episode got run over in Canada by the Big Brother finale. Global`s two-hour simulcast scored the highest Canadian BB number ever, averaging just under 2 million viewers (1,953,000). It especially smoked the competition last night in the 18-49-year-old demo according to BBM Canada overnight estimates. Here`s how they stacked up: Big Brother (Global, 9-11, 1,149,200), SYTYCD Canada (CTV, 8-9:30, 631,500), The Biggest Loser (Citytv, 8-10, 481,000), Big Bang Theory (CTV, (9:30-10, 440,300), Law & Order SVU (CTV, 19-11, 347,000) and The Jay Leno Show (Citytv, 10-11, 329,400).

Leno Opens Huge in Toronto, Vancouver

Jay Leno killed in Canada, too. Monday's opener scored 1,469,000 viewers nationally, easily winning its timeslot for the night--and, as a Citytv show, on far fewer stations across the country than the competition. CTV's CSI: Miami repeat drew 1,018,000 at 10, CBC's National News snagged 474,000 and a repeat of the premiere of Global's new Melrose Place managed just 280,000 viewers.
Leno really kicked ass in Toronto where 544,000 tuned in on City, beating the combined total on the other networks (CTV 192,000, CBC 124,000 and Global 92,000). The Vancouver PPM overnight estimates also had Leno outdrawing the other three combined: City 201,000, CTV 82,000, CBC 56,000 and Global 24,000.
The biggest draw Monday in Canada overall was the second last episode of America's Got Talent, which cracked 2 million viewers on CTV (2,054,000). And look at CTV's Evening News at 6: 1,706,000 nationally!
CTV's Dr. Oz Show got off to a strong start Monday at 5 p.m. with 786,000 across Canada. Canada's Super Spellers on CBC didn't do great--323,000--but it still outdrew Melrose Place.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More Than 17 Million Watch Leno Launch

No joke: Jay Leno stormed back last night with a vengeance.
An overnight, estimated audience of 17.66 million tuned in to see him chat with Jerry Seinfeld and basically make Kanye West squirm. The comedian's 10 p.m. premiere smoked the competition, not surprising given he was up against repeats on CBS (although there was a Monday Night Football game) and a summer full of hype on NBC. It was NBC's biggest overall audience since the Summer Olympic Games in August of 2008.
The first episode did not vary that much from his Tonight Show routine. Leno opened with a monologue, telling just 15 jokes, about half his usual Tonight total. "I've been off the air for three months," he cracked, "or as most people in Hollywood call that, rehab."
Their was no knock out joke, but a lot of jabs at typical targets. Obama (joke No. 3), Biden (No. 5--also a Cialis joke), Cheney (No. 9), Bush (10). “While we were off, the government started this program to give people money for their old cars," he said. "I made five billion dollars.”
Best line: “I had a strange thing happen to me the other day. I set my Tivo to record The Biggest Loser—I got the Lions’ game.”
None of the jokes were as funny as Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show set at 11:35. "Welcome to NBC's night of a thousand monologues," he cracked. O'Brien is getting more confident and at home in LA by the week.
Overall, The Tonight Show delivered a much more electric show then Leno last night. (Letterman was in repeats). O'Brien has had three months to find his feet and while his Hollywood stunt man bit went on a bit long last night, generally his show has settled into a slick and entertaining hour.
The Jay Leno Show isn't there yet. Right from the start, past the opening montage of Leno baby pictures to where he steps through glass doors and strides out to the magenta and blue set, it seems a bit disorienting, as if he had wandered onto a daytime talk or game show stage (although I love the vintage test pattern target the host stands on for his monologue).
They should have lost the lame "Cheaters" sketch near the top of the hour (Jay catches band leader Kevin Eubanks with a Leno look-a-like). After the break, Leno introduced Dan Trinity from The Hangover who did a funny (if overlong) bit at a car wash called “Everything Goes Better With Music.” Look for a different comedy correspondent each night in that slot.
Jerry Seinfeld came out after the next break in a tux. "Well, I'm the first guest on your, 'I guess I didn't get fired again by NBC' program." he deadpanned. Seinfeld was a good choice as first guest, a comedy pal who helped the host look comfortable in his new surroundings. The big, boxy chairs they sat in served to make the show look different from Tonight, for seven minutes, at least.
Leno still has one of those floating Plasma screens. Oprah popped up on it last night. The gag: Seinfeld had the clout to get her on the show where Leno did not. The truth is Winfrey, who's show has slipped in the ratings the past two seasons, needs the prime time exposure more at this point than Leno.
After another break, Leno did one of those fake interviews where they edit him opposite somebody important who is obviously being interviewed by somebody else. Last night it was president Obama. This led to more Viagra jokes.
Another break, another set up as the show lurched rather than flowed. Leno said he hadn't planned to do this but, what the heck, Kanye West, come and sit down for a minute. The rapper appeared very contrite and embarrassed as he stammered out an apology for his bizarre behaviour over the weekend at the MTV Awards (a gigantic winner for MuchMusic, which saw ratings spike to nearly 600,000 viewers for the initial broadcast). Leno thanked him for honouring his commitment to appear on the show, then went beyond awkward when he pressed the mommy button, asking West what his mom might have thought about his stunt. West got choked up, left Leno's principal's office and then had to go over and sing gangsta rap with Jay-Z and Rihanna. It was like asking Mike Tyson to serve time before getting back into the ring.
Another break and the show veered back into Tonight Show territory, with Leno reading those ol' reliable Headlines. Best one: "Pollution Threatens to Kill The Dead Sea." I'm still waiting for "'Coons Come to Town" or "Yanks Wave Cox," maybe next time.
Then, as Leno promised at press tour, it was hard into the affiliate newscasts at 11. "Your local news starts right now!" Leno shouted. The hand off to Toronto's Citytv did not go that smooth, with a beat or two of black air before the City slate came up, interrupted immediately on my screen by the channel substitution flip straight back to Buffalo's NBC affiliate. That's when I learned of the Bill's horrifying last minute loss to the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. Leno owes the Detroit Lions an apology.
Will the numbers go down? Absolutely, starting tonight. Will The Jay Leno Show get better? Yes, and that begins tonight, too. I'm looking forward to that test track where celebrities zip around an outdoor oval against Leno in competing electric cars. The Jay Leno Show can stand some zip and electricity.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tonight: Jay Leno Makes History

It all begins tonight: The Jay Leno Show (NBC and Citytv, 10 p.m.).
NBC's 10 p.m. comedy conversion was all the radio guys want to talk about today. Was on with MacArthur in the Morning on London, Ont.'s The Hawk (103.9 FM), my buddy Mike Miller at Lima, Ohio's News Talk 1150 WIMA and several CBC syndicated radio stations this afternoon, including Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver.
What seemed like a desperate move last December seems to make more and more sense today. With all this awareness, Leno will open big. Jerry Seinfeld guests tonight, with Kanye West also booked and looking to grab every mike in sight. (Leno must have given West a car for pulling that headline-grabbing stunt.) Couch hopper Tom Cruise (tomorrow, who is a draw but a terrible guest) Robin Williams (Wednesday), Halle Berry (Thursday) and others will keep the numbers from collapsing this week. Helping is that Leno will open against drama reruns before CSI: Miami, The Mentalist and other scripted 10 p.m. hits return next week.
The surest sign that other networks are getting nervous is the growing chatter that CBS and ABC will refuse to book any talent from their competing shows on Leno`s showcase. Leno dismissed this in a conference call with critics last week, suggesting that if network TV`s in as much trouble as people say it is, “why don’t we all just promote one another and see if we can stay in business?”
That`s Leno. Shrewd, a playa, always two moves ahead of the other guy. He put on a clinic at press tour last month, casual, low key, downplaying expectations.
The 59-year-old comedian is upfront about his show and his appeal. He wants to build a "big tent show," something people of all ages can laugh at. He wants it to feel live, like an event, citing American Idol and football as the only kinds of shows that can still be counted on to draw a mass network audience. NBC has built him a test track outside his Burbank, Calif., studio, where he`ll race around in electric cars with celebrities like good sport Drew Barrymore (fresh from her Toronto film fest appearance). If something goes wrong, as Leno says, “Who doesn’t want to see celebrities hit the wall and burst into flames?”
That`s not going to happen with this show. It will open big and challenge the scripted drama stranglehold at 10. Leno will be on with fresh shows 44 weeks a year, twice what the new drama output will be. He`ll beat the scripted shows in reruns at a fraction of the cost.
The vital thing for NBC, however, will be Leno`s ability to hold viewers until 11 p.m. to deliver the largest possible audience to those NBC affiliate newscasts. That`s why Headlines, a popular Tonight feature, will be on right at the end of tonight`s debut. There will be sketch comedy in that same slot the rest of the week, with several old and new comedy correspondents giving the series a bit of a Daily Show vibe (minus Jon Stewart and Company`s edge).
Rogers`owned Citytv has taken the Leno gamble in Canada and why not. If it clicks, they will have solved a 10 o`clock problem over five nights. It could give the new look City and instant identity, breaking it away from the CHUM days.
Other broadcasters, of course, see this as an opportunity. Global is banking that it will pick up female viewers with its 10 o`clock dramas like Brothers & Sisters and The Good Wife. But if Leno even approaches CBS and ABC head-to-head at 10, look for Jimmy Kimmel and perhaps even David Letterman to make the move to prime time.
And if it all bombs, don`t worry about Leno. He has a two year deal at his old Tonight Show salary (reportedly between $20-$25 million per year). He`s just coming off a 17 year run as the host of The Tonight Show. He`s booked in comedy clubs and 5000-seat venues like Ontario`s Casino Rama for years. As he says, "Ì`m rich." If this flops, he`ll go down swinging and have fun trying.

Heroes Don't Work Sundays, NBC Tells Global

Last June at Canwest's muted upfront for advertisers, programming boss Barb Williams proudly announced a bold move: pulling two of her 10 o'clock imports out of simulcast to try and manage a little more flow to her schedule.
Although Canadian programmers are normally loath to give up a simulcast (and all the stray U.S. affiliate eyeballs they add to their ratings total), the flip was intriguing. Putting nerd magnet Heroes on Sunday at 10 gets you all the young dudes glued to The Simpsons and Family Guy. Switching Brothers & Sisters to Monday sounded like a good fit behind Global hits House and Lie to Me.
As things stood, with ABC's Brothers and Sisters simulcast on Sunday and NBC's Heroes on Monday, both shows seemed to be under performing in Canada. Flipping the hours was a nice strategic check against the move that comes tonight that has everybody in television leaning forward: The Jay Leno Show. Williams moved to shore up her female demo vs. Citytv's Jay. Let the games begin.
Good plan except for one thing: would NBC really allow a Canadian network to scoop their action hour by a whole day? Wouldn't every lap top lovin' Heroes fan in Canada have this sucker up on YouTube faster than you can say "Save the cheerleader"?
That the Global move didn't fit with NBC's plans was evident last month at press tour. "Yeah, that's not going to happen," said one Peacock programmer. Williams' confirmed at the CFC BBQ Sunday that she had to back down from her experiment. Seems NBC had signed off on it earlier but changed their mind. Damn Yankees!
At least NBC must think Heroes still has enough legs that it is worth protecting.

Comedy Giant Larry Gelbart Dead at 81

There's something funny about the fact that Larry Gelbart died on Sept. 11. His best work spoke to all that was right and wrong about America, no punches pulled.
Gelbart, who died Friday at 81 after a brief battle with cancer, was part of that golden circle of writers who worked on Sid Caesar's TV shows in the '50s (Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Mel Tolkin, Carl Reiner and Woody Allen all contributed to Caesar's Hour).
It was Gelbart's colleague Tolkin who once observed that a shetetl past, which many of those writers shared, uniquely qualified them for their jobs. "I'm not happy to say this," observed Tolkin, who had survived pogroms in the Ukraine. "It created the condition where humour becomes anger made acceptable with a joke." Gelbart must have tapped into the same well.
Gelbart's credits extending all the way back to Bob Hope, Red Buttons and Danny Thomas and radio in the '40s and into HBO dramas over the past decade. A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum, packing them in at Stratford this year, was Gelbart, as were the first four seasons of M*A*S*H, the chunk of that series that holds up today.
I did a phoner with Gelbart when he was helping to promote And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, an HBO drama starring Antonio Banderas that came and went quietly in 2003. It seemed an odd assignment for the veteran writer, except that it was really a satire on Hollywood, so it was a perfect assignment for Gelbart.
I found him delightfully caustic and cynical on the phone, still full of whatever sass and vinegar fueled his writing. I remember that he had plenty to say about the Bush administration and U.S. politics at the time.
The interview sticks in my mind, besides the fact that I got to talk to Larry Gelbart, because the story never ran. I was working at The Toronto Sun at the time, and for some reason, space or time the usual culprits, it was neither scheduled or written. I always felt bad about wasting Gelbart's time. I'll keep looking for the tape, and if it still exists, post the interview here.
Several TV writers have told me over the years (including, just last week, Ron James Show scribe Gary Pearson) that they got into the business because of The Dick Van Dyke Show, a series created by Gelbart's Caesar colleague, Reiner. They grew up wanting to work with Buddy and Sally and sit in a room with a typewriter, dart board and a piano. That gig always appealed to me, too.
The Allan Brady Show writing staff of The Dick Van Dyke Show was a reflection of Reiner's experience working with guys like Gelbart (far right, above Brooks and next to Tolkin in the above photo). They elevated each other, smart folks in a smart room. It is still every TV comedy writer's Dream Team.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jack Bauer Saves CFC BBQ, Mankind

Generally I'm not much of a TIFF guy. I'm still waiting for BIFF (Brampton International Film Festival).
It's not that I have anything against the festival, its just a busy time of year for Mr. TV Feeds My Family, what with all those new fall premieres and all. Nevertheless, I managed to crash a few of this year's Toronto International Film Fest deals, including Sunday's annual BBQ and schmooze-fest at the Canadian Film Centre's historic Winfields Estate.
"E.P. Taylor would probably have a fit if he saw all the people here today," host and ageless CFC mentor Norman Jewison said from the back yard podium looking out over the grounds, where 2000 people were stomping all over the lawn.
Not to mention the zillion cars parked on the grassy hills. I'm sure Mr. Taylor would not have been pleased to see the mighty Neon 2000 leaking oil all over his field.
The star attraction was Jack Bauer, a.k.a. Kiefer Sutherland (seen making his Town Car getaway), cool in a suit despite the hot sunshine. Sutherland was there to accept his appointment as Chair of CFC Actors Conservatory. The busy 24 star/executive producer has committed to lending his famous name to the CFC's on-screen training program and will even pop in for a few lectures during the five month session (which begins in just over a week). I can see him lecturing to these students now: "WHAT IS YOUR MISSION, DAMMIT!!" "WHY IS YOUR ESSAY NOT DOUBLE SPACED!!!!!"
The other good news for Slawko Klymkiw, the former CBC programming boss fitting in nicely as exec director of the CFC, was that the feds and the province have together invested almost $7 million in spiffing up the Centre's fixer-upper of a mansion. The place could stand a paint job, not to mention a few editing bays. Three new building are to be constructed on the grounds. The money came out of that recession-bustin' $1.84 billion Infrastructure Stimulus Fund. Look for CTV and Global to start building stuff, fast! Hey, if I build a blog-o-sphere, can I get in on this?
Many of the usual suspects were at the BBQ. Director Gail Harvey (The Line) was there with her adorable actress/daughter Katie Boland. Canwest suits Walter Levitt and Barb Williams made the scene (the cash-strapped network somehow kicked in on the Kiefer deal). Colin Mochrie was on the grounds, as was the actress busy Being Erica, Erin Karpluk. My hockey buddy, Rent-A-Goalie producer Chris Szarka, was there with his family, including eight-week-old son. Former MuchMusic boss David Kines worked the grounds and gave props to the band (Hamilton rockers The Arkells). Heard literary agent Michael Levine was on the lawn but missed him, dammit. Tonya Lee Williams still looks young and restless. Boy, Rob Salem's right, this is exhausting!
Tons of CFC grads were herded in their own private pen, set up conveniently close to the Lick's burger tents. Hey, if your name was built on beef burgers, no fair with the veggie or chicken-only choices. Fortunately, CFC publicity queen Tamara MacKeigan knew where the fries doused in duck sauce were stashed.
Last Thursday night, I scored an invitation to the TIFF opening gala at Roy Thompson Hall, sponsored for the 22nd year by the folks at Astral TV (Teletoon, The Movie Network, etc.). The opening film this year was not a Canadian title for once (guess that new Trailer Park Boys flick wasn't ready) but Creation, a UK feature about the 19th century scientist, author and monkey boy Charles Darwin. Husband and wife actors Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly turned in moving performances as Mr. and Mrs. D.
There was some overheated whoop-dee-doo later when the stars skipped the Astral mix and mingle reception and went straight from the red carpet to the screening. Astral prez John Riley--a big ham bone who does shtick at this thing every year--stood behind a podium and joked that he was going to introduce the pair anyway. He then pulled out a couple of 8 x 10s, read their names (along with the names of the director and producer of the film). When he got to Connelly's he ripped it in half, joking she had made a liar out of him by ditching his pre-show after he told his kids he was going to meet her. The guests laughed politely and made a bee-line for the free popcorn.
Well, the next day, big crocodile tears from Ms. Connelly. She fed the press some line about skipping the Astral bits and bites because it was the first anniversary of her father's death. WTF?? Anyway, she and Bettany did manage to wave to the crowd from the stage and stick around for the film. She looked pretty hot in her see-through crimson dress, another shout out to her dad no doubt.