Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This Week's Podcast is in 3-D

This week, Scott Thompson at Hamilton's CHML seems mighty darn skeptical about this whole 3-D TV deal. Canadian retailers started carrying them last Friday. You can pick up a 46-inch, hi-def, Samsung 3-D screen for $2,899.00 at Future Shop--and that comes with two pairs of 3-D glasses.
Panasonic and Sony have their own 3-D home systems in development and they should be in stores soon. Why the rush to 3-D? Because everybody has their hi-def plasma screens by now. TV sales are starting to slump, so manufacturers need a new gizmo to foist on consumers. Billion-dollar Avatar now stands as the No. 1 box office attraction of all time, and with Alice in Wonderland and now Clash of the Titans in 3-D in theatres, everybody is jumping on the three dimensional bandwagon.
So if you rush out and buy one of these sets, what can you see? Well, one of the manufacturers will bundle some BluRay 3-D movie titles with your purchase. ESPN has announced they will have a 3-D channel up and running in less than a year and Discovery also has plans to add more dimension to their programming. Beyond that, there will be 3-D camera covering The Masters in a week and this summer's FIFA World Cup tourney will show all sides of every ball.
Sports will drive 3-D if it does catch on. It was NFL football and the Super Bowl that sold a lot of Hi-Def TV sets. Hockey looks amazing in hi-def and will probably look cool in 3-D, too.
Still, it all seems a bit desperate. After all, 3-D was seen as the gimmick that was going to pry people away from their TV sets and back into the theatres in the mid-'50s. There was "Bwana Devil" and "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and even Three Stooges shorts in 3-D. "Pardon My Backfire"? Soitenly!
Now TV is threatened by the Internet and here we go with the gimmicks again. There are many things on TV you will never want to see in 3-D--Larry King Live comes immediately to mind. The gaming industry sees an opportunity--Nintendo has already announced a new 3-D system--and porn will stick it out there in a few years, unless the whole thing goes bust.
Or something like that. You can listen in here.

Peabody's for Ferguson, Glee, Modern Family

The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Modern Family and Glee were among the winners announced today for the 69th Annual George Foster Peabody Awards. The best in electronic media for 2009 were chosen—as always--by a board associated with the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. These aren’t “people’s choice” awards or prizes doled out by the easily lobbied Hollywood foreign press. They aren’t the “jury of your peers” awards like Oscars or Emmys, either. They also have nothing to do with Sherman’s pet pooch and his wayback machine. Peabody’s are recognized as a true mark of distinction, a prize beyond just being popular, a judgment that your show is special and has had a lasting impact on the TV landscape. American Idol is the most popular show on TV. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a Peabody Award-winning classic.
Modern Family was recognized, according to today’s release, as a “droll, perceptive comedy about a multicultural extended family.” The excellent HBO sports documentary “Thrilla in Manila” was singled out for probing “the hype, mythology and meaning of the politically charged Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fights in the early 1970s.” (Too bad Vancouver filmmaker Derik Murray didn’t merit a similar nod for his equally excellent Facing Ali.)
The Peabody’s perfectly described The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson as “a talk show without borders.” That’s been especially true this season. The show surprises day to day with wild swings in tone and content, from silly puppet dances to intimate one-on-ones. An episode featuring Archbishop Desmond Tutu visiting Craigy got Peabody’s attention. (Tutu is also the one guest Ferguson has said really changed his show for the better, allowing him to swing as mad and thoughtful as he wants to be.) The board commended him for making late night, "safe again for ideas." This recognition must be especially sweet for Ferguson in a year dominated by headlines for Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and David Letterman.
Here's Ferguson's reaction, fresh off twitter (@craigyferg): "Holy crackers. A Peabody. Congrats to Lisa Ammerman the segment producer who made the Father Tutu visit happen. I am genuinely shocked."
Glee was described as an “invigorating musical dramedy.” The board especially liked the episode "Wheels" where the rag-tag Ohio glee club performed "Proud Mary" in wheelchairs. HBO’s In Treatment and the short-lived The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency both were recognized.
Several PBS programs received merit, including the American Masters feature Jerome Robbins—Something to Dance About, The Madoff Affair from Frontline and Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times, a portrait of the civic-minded California newspaper dynasty. Peabody also singled out “an exhilarating, awe-inspiring study of the art of origami and paper folding” called “Between the Folds” and another Independent Lens doc “The Order of Myths,” a look at race relations in Mobile, Ala.
CBS's long-running 60 Minutes picked up two awards for a report Steve Kroft did last season on "The Cost of Dying" and for investigating cyber threats to America in "Sabotaging the System."
Foreign television shows and specials from China, Korea and the BBC in England were also honored as were several local TV efforts as well as outstanding radio programming. BBC World News America was also singled out as “a model world newscast crafted for U.S. cable subscribers.”
Inexplicably shut out were Jon & Kate Plus 8, The Osbournes Reloaded and The Jay Leno Show.
Anything else left out? Take issue with some of the picks? Feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

They're back: V Returns Tonight on ABC, A

Feeling alienated from your favourite TV aliens? V returns tonight, one of several shows back for a “spring premiere.” Fringe, FlashForward (both Thursday) and Glee (April 13) are also back this month after, in some cases, a four month hiatus.
The shot-in-Vancouver V opened big in Canada last November, launching to just under 2 million viewers nation-wide on CTV. (It switches to A in Canada for the Spring run.) Four episodes aired and fans have had to wait until now to see what those rat-gobbling alien visitors are up to.
The stars and producers met with international press in Beverly Hills earlier this month. I sat with scribes from Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Norway, Mexico and Singapore. Sci-fi shows like V are often bigger hits overseas than they are in America so there was plenty of interest in the room for this series.
The stars were all relaxed and friendly during the sessions, shaking hands and answering every question. V shoots in Vancouver, as does several other Warner Bros. series (including Fringe, Human Target and Supernatural) and the casts and producers from all these shows had stories about having to shoot around the recent Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
There was a lot of attention paid beautiful Morena Baccarin (above with Scott Wolf, photos courtesy Warner Bros. International), who plays V’s resident alien spokesperson and High Commander, Anna. Baccarin is actually from Brazil, not Mars. I asked her if people are staring even more at her these days trying to spot the snake eyes and scaly skin underneath her perfect features. “When people look at me weird I just smile at them,” says Baccarin. “They’re like, ‘Okay, you’re normal.’ I think they’re expecting me to be cold and severe.” She says she now gets asked for her autograph when flying on an airplane—by the pilot. Baccarin had a taste of sci-fi fan scrutiny before when she was cast in Firefly. Executive producer Steve Pearlman says they looked at 100 women before casting her for this series. There was some debate about her hair—should it be long or short? The network wanted a wig. “We fought to keep her hair short, and I think it was the right decision,” says Pearlman. That would be yes.
I asked if there was a chance we might see some of the actors from the original mid’80s version of V in cameos on this series. “It’s possible,” says executive producer Scott Rosenbaum. “Jane Badler (who played a sexy alien in the original) and I sat down and had a conversation and I have an idea to possibly bring her back.” Rosenbaum didn’t know if it would be this season or next. As Anna’s alien mommy? “Possibly,” said Rosenbaum.

The producers hinted at a few other upcoming developments. There may be an alien/human hook up in the near future, with Tyler (Logan Huffman) hoping to beam aboard one of the giant alien spaceships for a snog with Lisa (Toronto-born Laura Vandervoort, above with Huffman).
Here's how to tell these kids have the hots for each other. Look for “a little tongue thing” when ever Lisa is checking out Tyler, Laura advised. “She’s just smelling him, but I don’t think anyone’s noticed, which is actually what I prefer.” Vandervoort says she actually did a little research into lizards and that’s what they do, smell with their tongue. So that’s why you’ll see “a little bit of a tongue flicker, licking the lips very subtle, just to show that she is taking him in.”
The things you learn on international press junkets.
Vandervoort has been the object of fascination with sci-fi fans before thanks to her recent stint on Smallville as Supergirl. Yes, she has an action figure of herself from that show. Yes, she’s heard from a few creepy fans. “There’s one guy on-line that likes to take my photographs with other people and paste his head on their face so it looks like we’re in the photos together.” Does this creep her out? Naw. “There’s never been like letters in blood or anything like that.”
Vandervoort, who also appeared on Instant Star, is one of several young Canucks who got her start on the old YTV series Are You Afraid of the Dark? Elisha Cuthbert and Jay Barushel also got their starts on that series.
V returns tonight at 10 p.m. on ABC and A channel.

Grapes Keeps Head Up in Sunday Shootout

Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story scored 1,380,000 viewers Sunday according to BBM Canada overnight estimates. Part One of the two-part CBC bio-pic (starring Jared Keeso, right) was in tough at 8 p.m. against CBS/CTV powerhouse The Amazing Race (2,470,000) and at 9 strong newcomer Undercover Boss (1,658,000). On Global, Grapes faced off against The Simpsons (1,169,000), Family Guy at just under a million and The Celebrity Apprentice (1,333,000). Final numbers could change when totals are released in 10 days.
UPDATE: Monday's part two tally was 1.27 million viewers according to a CBC release. That beat overnight estimates on CTV 8 o'clock comedies Hiccups (713,000) and Dan For Mayor (736,000--although CTV suggested a few weeks ago that both there shows shoot up when you include three day+ PVR use) but not 9 o'clock imports Two and a Half Men (1,849,000) and The Big Bang Theory (2,080,000). Cherry topped a rerun of House on Global (1,047,000) and a new 24 at 9 (1,092,000). Another big factor in the mix at 8 was Dancing With the Stars on A (1,887,000). All in all, Grapes found a way to stand out in a crowd. "Don Cherry has been a beloved member of the CBC family for 30 years and it‘s wonderful to see that Canadians feel that same personal connection," said Kirstine Stewart, General Manager CBC Television.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: Dan For Mayor

Tonight’s fifth episode of Dan For Mayor has a little plot point that should shake up the rest of the season. Our hero Dan (Fred Ewanuick) and his campaign manager Jeff (Paul Bates) are trying to land an influential “subdivision guy” as a corporate backer. Meanwhile, Dan’s ex-girlfriend Clair (Mary Ashton) and her finance Mike (Benjamin Ayres) are hosting a bachelor party at the place where Dan works, Fern Bar and Grill. The characters and stories all clash in what turns out for Claire to be the engagement party from hell.
Executive producers Mark Farrell, Paul Mather and Kevin White, the Corner Gas alumni who also wrote this episode, do a nice job batting all the characters and ingredients around for 22 minutes of carefully choreographed mayhem. A slide show at the bachelor party mixing sweet couple shots with shots of dudes getting wasted proves to be a bad idea. There’s a whole subplot about the sexual orientation of the subdivision guy (“He says he likes Gordon Lightfoot and then he orders a drink with an umbrella,” states a confused Dan).
Dan For Mayor isn’t so much a laugh out loud show as a smile out loud show. A crack about Earth Day being a bad thing because it could lead to days “for all the other planets” is typical of the sharp writing. The long term success of the show, however, will rest with the characters and the relationships. Tonight, the relationship of two of those characters gets a little more complicated.
Dan For Mayor airs tonight at 8:30 p.m. on CTV.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story

That's me and Grapes giving two thumbs up to "Keep Your Head Up Kid; The Don Cherry Story." The four hour, two-part TV-movie premieres Sunday night at 8 p.m. and concludes Monday at 8.
CBC threw a little press bash for the film Wednesday in Toronto in a 10th floor studio at the broadcast centre. Ace photographer Marko Shark--a guy I used to buy photos from way back in the day when I was photo editor at TV Guide--snapped the shot of me and Grapes right on the set of Coach's Corner. Beauty, eh?
The movie was written by Tim Cherry, Don's son, and tell the true life story of Don's career in the minor leagues and later his NHL coaching career, most memorably with Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins. Jared Keeso (left) plays Cherry and does a good job capturing the 'tude and swagger, managing to find the essence of the man from his young 20s as a tough blueliner through to his 40s and 50s as an AHL and NHL coach and eventual TV star.
Trying to cram too many freelance tasks into another busy week, I brought a DVD screener of the movie with me on a recent trip to Beverly Hills. Warner Bros. had me booked at this posh boutique hotel; the rooms were very Austin Powers. I finally figured out the flat screen TV was hidden behind a floor-to-ceiling wall of tinted glass that faced the bed. There was a little slot at the side and I figured that's where DVDs go. Good guess, and that's how and where I screened "Keep You Head Up Kid."
I thought it started a bit slow--or maybe it just took me a while to get past the fact that it is a sports biopic (two words that usually send a chill up the spine of a critic). The story seemed a bit distant, too. You have to see Cherry as a bruising young defenseman bounced between Hershey, Springfield and several other AHL towns to get who he is and what he becomes. There is no doubt that it was a tough life, but, for me, that part of the story could have been trimmed.
There are also too many shots of Cherry's late wife Rose (played by Sarah Mannninen, right, with Keeso) sitting at a kitchen table pasting hockey stories into a scrap book. She breaks out of that two dimensional role as the story moves into later years, when the family faced a crisis at home when young Tim needed a kidney transplant. Rose's quiet heroics counters Cherry's bluster. These two were an odd pair, but you can see that they were a team.
The more I watched, the more I was drawn into the story. I really liked the hockey scenes, including the recreations of game action shot at a brisk speed, generally a failing in most hockey dramas. It helps that Keeso played Junior with a couple of Ontario teams. (Even Cherry jokes that if he could have skated like Keeso, maybe he would have lasted more than one game in the NHL.)
An added bonus was the mix of actual Hockey Night in Canada footage from those classic Bruin-Canadien playoff runs in the '70s. Habs fans will cheer again when Lafleur ties it up after that fatal too-many-men-on-the-ice call. Bruin fans will hate that part, but love seeing tough guys like Stan Jonathan beat the living daylights out of all comers.
Ian Tracy, always terrific, brings presence to his role as Cherry's mentor/tormentor, Bruins GM Harry Sinden. The film takes us up to Cherry landing his iconic gig as a CBC commentator.
I enjoyed the film, but couldn't figure out how to get it unstuck from the hi-tech DVD wall gizmo back at the shagadelic Beverly Hills hotel. As a consequence, for the last week and a half, guests at room 201 at the SLS have enjoyed the exclusive Los Angeles preview of "Keep Your Head Up, Kid."
Canadians don't have to book a flight down to LA to see the movie. Catch it tonight and tomorrow night at 8 on CBC.
That's when Cherry himself will be watching, alone, at home, with Blue. He chose to duck out of Wednesday's Toronto preview. Grapes confessed he gets a little emotional watching the scenes with Rose, commending Manninen for capturing his late wife's Pennsylvania accent (something the actress did by studying an old CBC Life & Times tape of Rose over and over again).
Grapes is afraid he could get a little choaked up tonight, and this way if he does, only Blue will know.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cinefest 30: The Colleen Moore The Merrier

LIVERPOOL, N.Y.--My name is Bill Brioux and I am a 16mm filmaholic.
I'm here at Cinefest 30, the world's least glamorous film festival, just off the I-90 in Liverpool, N.Y. This annual gathering features 50 to 60 films each year that were produced 60, 70, even 80 to 85 years ago. Forget digital 3-D, Blue Ray or hi-def. Cinefest is stubbornly old school. It is 200 people in a dark room, half of them still bitter about the introduction of sound. These are people who break out in a smattering of applause when '30s auteur Ernst Lubitsch appears on screen.
There is something about the purr of a ribbon of perforated celluloid streaming through the gate of a 16mm projector. It is steady and soothing to my ear. When my kids were babies, that middle of the night feeding meant a private screening, with dad warming a bottle, threading a projector (getting that screwed up was trouble) and dad and tot bonding for 20 minutes as a two reeler from the '30s unfurled. The child quickly fell asleep to the whirl of the projector. Dad got to see "Helpmates" or "Blotto" or All Star Bond Rally."
The little girl at the end of that bottle turned 20 today. Watching 16mm film was quaint then; today it is positively eccentric.
Yet here in this nondescript suburb of Syracuse a large hotel ballroom is packed with people of all ages watching "Orchids and Ermine," a 1927 five-reel feature starring Colleen Moore. This delightful flapper--at the time ranked as the No. 1 box office attraction in the world--could pantomime with the best of them, her round face winning and expressive. The film also marked the screen debut of Mickey Rooney (above with Moore), playing, as the Cinefest program notes, "a cigar chomping midget."
Film historian Leonard Maltin--who has only missed one Cinefest in 30 years--left the screening happy in the knowledge that next time he runs into Mickey Rooney in Hollywood he can tell him, no, he doesn't steal the picture from Colleen Moore.
The film is silent with very smart subtitles. An added bonus were the many exterior scenes shot on location in New York. The Plaza Hotel--now partitioned up into condos--looks new. The musical accompaniment is live, played by Makia Matsumura, one of three excellent piano and organ accompanists at the festival.
Saturday the show moves down the I-90 to Rome, N.Y., to the late-'20s vintage Capitol Theater, where the big attraction is apparently the organ. Many of the films presented there will be one-of-a-kind prints, some from previously deemed "lost" films, all projected in their original 35mm theatrical format.
Earlier in the week at the hotel, TV buffs were treated to a reel of rarities from Gumby creator Art Clokey. Besides a few of the very first Gumby's, which were introduced on NBC in the late '50s on Howdy Doody (TV's first colour series), rare claymation title scenes by Clokey for the Dinah Shore Buick Show were also projected. The sharp. technicolor print was the very same reel of film used at the time the titles were broadcast over the air. They were pretty arty, almost Norman McLarenesque. That the show aired on NBC is evident by the clay peacock Clokey moulded and animated for each segment.
Cinefest also features several dealer rooms where nerds like myself have tables of stuff they've dragged across borders and state lines in hopes of selling and uncluttering our basements. The game is to try and drive back across the border with less than you came in with. This never happens.
It was a bit of a wake up call today to realize that the six dealers in my room--all surrounded by stacks of film cans--all had our noses buried in our laptops. The hotel might have Colleen Moore, but it also has WiFi. Work and deadlines wait for no one, not even in this crazy little time capsule called Cinefest.
Read more about the festival here at this detailed article in the Syracuse New Times. Cinefest concludes Sunday and will take place next year March 17-20.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Survivor 20 Week Five: Did I Miss Anything?

Last night, I had to drive to Syracuse , N.Y. (I'm attending Cinefest with a bunch of other 16mm film hoarders still bitter about the introduction of "talkies"), so I didn’t see Survivor. But as I drove along the I-90, here is what I imagined was happening.
There were plenty of shots of Russell and Rob preening and talking trash about each other. Rob’s stuff was sharper and funnier. Russell oozed plenty of that creepy Charles Mason charm. At some point Parvati adjusts her bikini top in front of Coach and gains immunity.
There were games in the sand where people had to either wrestle until one of the skinny chick’s was half naked or one tribe jumped out to a big lead only to screw up a giant puzzle or both.
Jeff Probst asked a bunch of really obvious questions at tribal council like, “Do you think you are vulnerable in tonight’s vote (insert person edited to look vulnerable here)?”
At the vote, “Konrad” sided with the conventional broadcast networks and gave them immunity, plus everything at the reward challenge. Consumers were blindsided. The tribe has spoken.
The folks below on this weekly Survivor panel have the real story, below. Thank God somebody takes this responsibility seriously.

Amber Dowling (TV Guide Canada): "Farewell, Tyson (above left); we hardly knew ye. Farewell, James; the other side of you we met wasn’t so heroesque, my friend. In the end “the gentle giant’s” bum knee did him in, and the tribe made a shocking move by voting him out. Shocking since the Heroes have failed to better the tribe thus far, preferring to keep their alliance intact until the merge." Read the rest of Dowling's recap here.

Michael Bolen (The National Post): "Rob perfectly measured all the possible permutations of Russell’s idol play, but he failed to admit the possibility that a member of his own alliance might deviate from his carefully crafted plan. Why Tyson trusted Russell’ pledge to vote for Parv is mysterious, but what truly puzzles me is his motivation for risking his survival simply to increase the chances that Parvati would go home. Why was he so anxious to eliminate someone in such a weak position? Does he just hate women?" Read the rest of Bolen's recap here.

Kat Angus (Dose.ca): "" Read theI was certain that when he and Boston Rob finally faced off, Russell would get his Hobbutt kicked all the way back to America. But give the little guy some credit: he knew that even if he couldn't outsmart Rob, he could definitely outsmart his idiot minions. Tyson was a perfect mark, because he loves to think he's in on some secret plan, no matter how little that plan makes sense." Follow the rest of Angus' latest recap here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This Week's Podcast: Still Carriage Fee Free

CHML's Scott Thompson asks me about Monday's hilarious CRTC carriage fee decision. I go nuts for seven straight minutes. You can listen in here but stand back from your speakers.

Congrats ROD Prize Pack Winners

We have our two winners in the Rogers On Demand March Break Channel prize pack contest. Kim and Jayda were selected from those of you who entered by clicking on the "comment" command below and sharing your all-time favourite children's TV show. Everything from Inspector Gadget to ZOOM to Hammy Hamster to The Friendly Giant was saluted by readers. Kim and Jayda both win a SpongeBob SquarePants tote bag stuffed with all kinds of kiddie loot, including YTV DVDs, pencils, notebooks and other goodies and valued at $100. The winners will be contacted directly by the folks at Rogers very soon in order to arrange shipping. Thanks again to ROD for the idea and the cool prizes and congrats to our winners.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Barbie Mad for Don Draper in Doll Devotion

Okay, don't pretend you don't want them. They are the new Mattel Barbie Collection Mad Men dolls, the ultimate convergence of marketing meets hip cool retro show about marketing.
From Mattel, Lionsgate and AMC, they'll be available in July (and you can eventually order them here).
That's classic Barbie-proportioned Joan Holloway above left in the purple skirt suit with signature pen necklace. On her right, silver fox Roger Sterling in his monogrammed shirt. Ad stud Don Draper comes with a fedora and overcoat, while estranged wife Betty Draper shows off her faux pearl necklace and pumps. (Dress an old Ken doll up as her divorce attorney.)
Cigarettes sold separately. There are no tiny cocktail glasses in the collection either--Barbie has her reputation! The first season of Mad Men, incidentally, was originally set in March of 1960; Barbie made her debut in March of 1959.
The set will retail for U.S.$74.95. Read Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner‘s reaction to the homage here in the New York Times.
The dolls were designed by Barbie designer Robert Best and between 7000 and 10,000 of each doll will be produced. You can find one of four Mad Men Barbie doll sketches in the Mad Men Season Three DVD set, which went on sale today. Order the dolls now in case CTV does not use the new CRTC carriage fee loot it can already smell to spring for Season Four of the series, which is due to arrive on AMC in July--same month the dolls go on sale. Sounds like a the kind of attention to detail that got the guys at Sterling Cooper to the top.

CBC Burned in CRTC Private Broadcast Bailout

Tonight marks the season finales of the Rick Mercer Report and 22 Minutes, two Canadian shows Canadians would actually miss if CBC was in a position to pull content in the upcoming 2010 Cable Wars. (Read more about the 22 Minutes finale here in a piece I wrote last week for The Canadian Press).
Canadians would scream and yell if shows like Dragon's Den, Heartland and Battle of the Blades went dark, too. But since CBC was sidelined by yesterday's CRTC decision, they won't have the opportunity to enter into the hardball content wars that CTV, Global and Rogers may be lawyering up for.
That this was by design and not accident is evident by this quote from CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein yesterday: "We cannot have decisions where access to the CBC is in doubt," he said.
Yet the CRTC put everything in doubt yesterday. Will CTV, Global and Rogers really back away from years of bitter name calling and hammer out a deal by themselves on fee for carriage? If not, will Canadian screens go dark as networks play hardball with the content providers, blacking out imported hits like American Idol, House and The Biggest Loser in U.S. style brass knuckle fights with cable and satellite companies?
As Von Finckenstein has stated, he wanted to avoid that with CBC content, yet he gives in to the private broadcasters outrageous demand that the U.S. simulcast border station signals be squelched in the event of a contest stand off, too. The CRTC has just gone to unprecedented lengths to protect Canadian business interests involving U.S. content, while at the same time lowering the private broadcasters requirements to produce Canadian content. Thank God somebody in Canada is standing up for the right to blackout Gossip Girl.
Von Finckenstein defended the CRTC decision to deal with the CBC later by stating he wants to see how the private guys sort it out first, then act when the CBC license renewal hearings roll around in August of 2011. "We haven't forgotten about the CBC at all," he said Monday. "There was just too much on the table to deal with in one sitting so we decided to deal with the private broadcast system before turning to the public one."
My God--he's prorogued the Broadcast Act. Von Finckenstein knows how it would play to shovel more money toward the public trough on top of the $100 million-plus local content fund announced the year before and the sacred billion-dollar-plus annual appropriation already pumped CBC's way.
But by dithering on a CBC decision, he will end up punishing the people who write, produce, act and everything else associated with Canadian television at the one network that actually makes Canadian television. CBC--hit as hard as the other guys in advertising revenue during the deep recession--admitted they were short some $60 million a year ago when they started cutting back on show orders. CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix said yesterday that "one thing is clear: this will force us to cut programs and services, and our ability to fulfil our mandate has been compromised."
CBC already has some tough calls ahead for next season. Shows like 18 to Life, Little Mosque, Just Four Laughs and Being Erica have all flirted with the More-People-Live-in-Brampton barometer this season. Other shows like 22 Minutes, The Ron James Show and Doc Zone have swung high and low (and mysteriously seemed excluded from the giddy PPM lift showered on many private network shows). Meanwhile, CBC News got an expensive face lift and big money media re-launch this fall and aside from Peter Mansbridge, nobody stood up for it. Then there are the daytime hosts, who just unpacked and now face another stint in Siberia.
The CRTC decision has probably doomed one or more of these shows and will likely mean shorter seasons for some of the others. While they were busy finding a way for Canadian cable and satellite subscribers to pay for CTV and Rogers' Olympic party, found money that bails out a decade of reckless, unchecked spending on U.S. imports, the CRTC burns the one guy with a schedule full of Canadian shows. Von Finckensten may have honestly thought he was protecting the CBC, but he really is punishing the network and anyone in the business of doing the one thing the CRTC was supposed to protect--making Canadian television.

Monday, March 22, 2010

CRTC: Save Local TV, Start the TV Tax

The CRTC did what many expected today--threw the fee-for-carriage hand grenade back into the network/cable bunkers and challenged them to play nice and work things out.
Under the heading "Value of Local programming" the new ruling sets out to find "a market-based solution to allow private local television stations to negotiate with cable and satellite companies" for the much sought after fee, or other kind of compensation, for carriage.
The CRTC also handed the Canadian broadcasters the hammer they'll need to pound out their deals with the cable/satellite crowd--they get to blackout U.S. programming from any shows they own the right to if their station is dropped. So if you want to keep watching American Idol or House, better keep CTV and Global, because the nearest Fox U.S. border affiliate will be blacked out.
The big winner: the CBC. The CRTC say it will deal with CBC separately later, as well as French language broadcasting. What a break to be arms length from this schmozolla! Today's orders apply only to CTVGlobemedia, Canwest and Creditors, Inc. and Rogers Communications.
Still waiting for all the "We Won" releases from all interested parties but the way I read it, Toronto CTV station CFTO, for example, could opt to negotiate a fee for carriage with, say, Rogers. (Or not, but once they decide to go for the money, apparently there's no turning back.) It will now be between CFTO and Rogers to determine a fair value for the local TV programming. "Each television station," reads today's release, "would have the option of entering into negotiations to establish a fair value for the distribution of their programs."
Not clear if, as in some U.S. markets where networks and cable have locked horns, this also allows the carrier to say to its customers--hey, if you don't want to pay for CFTO, just opt out.
Apparently, too, once the cable company hands the station a cheque, they can bounce said channel way the hell up the dial. Good thing there's no animosity between those two businesses!
If you ignore the nightmare can't-find-the-channel-anymore scenario, Monday's ruling seems to give the private networks what they wanted--access to fee for carriage loot, although the CRTC has placed an asterisk on all of this. They've asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether they even have the authority to pull this little scam.
The CRTC has also given in on the other network demand--relax the Canadian content quotas under the current Broadcast Act. First, they've set the CanCon obligation to 30% gross revenues--basically where it has slid to during the last two horrible years--and then they've carved out the big flappy loop hole that this requirement now only has to be met across all the media giant's group-based stations.
So if Canwest owned Dusk (formerly Scream, formerly something something) goes with Hilarious House of Frightenstein reruns 24/7, well, look for more House marathons on Showcase.
The CRTC seems to think that this new framework "will give English-language private television broadcasters greater flexibility to offer high-quality programs that are of interest to Canadians."
The Act also calls for 50% CanCon in what it calls prime time--6 p.m. to midnight. So on the old broadcast channels, that means more news, followed by red carpet crapolla, followed by import, import, import.
CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein challenged the networks and the carriers to "put their differences aside and work together to ensure the continuation of conventional television, which Canadians clearly value.” We'll find out any minute which way the wind in blowing on that one when Rogers, Bell, Shaw, etc issue releases in response to today's decision.
As for consumers, look to TVFMF in the coming months for instructions on how to set up a TV antenna and to find TV shows on the Internet.
The CRTC also told everybody they have a year and a half to get their act together on digital. The deadline is Aug. 31, 2011. License renewals are also up for discussion then too.
They also snuck a nastly little ruling into today's missive allowing more ads on on-demand pay-per-view screenings. Ka-ching.

CRTC Decision on Carriage Fee Expected Today

Today, Monday, March 22, is D-day in the fee for carriage debate. The CRTC is expected to issue a statement this afternoon indicating its decision on whether it will allow historically free-to-air broadcasters CBC, CTV, Global and Citytv to charge cable and satellite companies a fee to distribute their signals. A media war played out in public through those self-serving "Save Local TV" and "Stop the TV Tax" industry ads is about to come to a head. At stake is how much consumers are willing to pay extra for something they've always enjoyed for free, or, if the CRTC decided to not grant the carriage fees, how far the networks are willing to go to carry out their threat to shut down and/or sell off stations if they don't get their way.
I'm wading into all of this through a series of CBC syndicated radio interviews taking place early this morning in markets such as Toronto (with Metro Morning host Matt Galloway), Winnipeg, Edmonton and Regina.
The general expectation is that the CRTC, which has turned down the network request two years in a row, will throw conventional broadcasters a bone this time. The recession had a huge impact on the networks, with both local and national ads sales down more than 10% in 2008-2009 according to figures released Friday. All together, the broadcasters lost $116.4 million before interest and taxes in the 2009 broadcast year--the first time ever the networks suffered a loss.
For CTV, which spent gazilions on the Olympics, and Global, which nearly leveraged itself out of existence, this was a bad time for the money tap to run dry. A lot of people lost their job and some local stations were either sold or shut down. The networks say more carnage is coming if their fee demands are not met.
The CRTC probably wants to avoid the nasty hostage demands that have been taking place in the U.S. There this isn't a political matter, just a business war, with networks like Fox, ABC and CBS telling the cable and satellite providers that if they don't pony up with direct carriage fees by midnight, nobody sees The Oscars or the Super Bowl or American Idol ever again, see? Some lucky Americans, for example, were spared Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin's sloppy Oscar monologue when a regional U.S. cable deal wasn't hammered out until 20 minutes or so after the show had already started.
Withholding shows is a little trickier in Canada. It's a bit tougher to say we're gonna take our Desperate Housewives or Survivors and go home when Canadians can just press 18 or 17 on their remotes and watch them on the originating ABC or CBS border station affiliates. The Canadian networks have thought of that and have lobbied for the ability to take down any U.S. signals to properties they own the rights to in Canada. The cable and satellite providers (and most consumers) think that idea is hilarious.
Canadian networks could threaten to withhold Canadian shows but that doesn't scare anybody if all you produce is news and reruns of The Guard. Years of Canadian content neglect and reckless U.S. content spending has come back to bite these guys in the wallet. The latest figures show that the Canadian networks spent $846.3 million on foreign programming in 2009, a record amount, up from the $775.2 million spent in 2008. This money was spent in the teeth of a tough recession, by networks already complaining about broken business models and the dire need for carriage fee bailouts. It's like some rich kid borrowed dads Caddy, drove it down to the States, had it all tricked out at American Chopper for $50 grand, and now wants daddy to foot the bill.
Eventually daddy has to say no. The CRTC's daddy, Konrad von Finckenstein, said no two years in a row now but the layoffs and lobbying has his attention this time.
Most observers expect the CRTC to throw much of this back at the networks and cable providers today, asking them to determine a value for network carriage, something that will limit the impact it could all have on the consumer. That's a good plan because the consumer is pretty damn fed up with rising cable bills as it is and may not stand for another increase for something they currently get for nothing.
There are alternatives to cable. Two guys on my hockey team just went out and bought antennas and enjoy 17-20 channels free over the air, just like in the old days. Signals from Buffalo, too, strong, high def, digital signals. Do they miss not getting OLN, W or MEN TV? That would be no.
Ask any college or even high school kid and they can hook you up with all the TV you can handle off the Internet. Even an old fashioned broadcast show like Good Morning America was telling their viewers over a year ago in a consumer reports segment that you don't have to pay both a cable bill and an Internet bill if you want to see your favourite TV shows. If ABC/Disney is getting the word out, they change it is a comin'.
The folks at the CRTC seem to get that we could be on the bubble of a consumer backlash on this one and that simply turning on a cable money tap isn't the be-all and end-all solution the networks say it is. If the CRTC does grant in principle the idea of a carriage fee to broadcasters, hopefully it will come with strings attached. You can't give money to people who can't help themselves from giving it all away in Hollywood. Place a restriction on how much can be spent on acquiring rights to foreign programming. If you say you want to save local TV, save local TV, and spend every new dime on creating local TV, and not just the same old cheap-ass red carpet clones.
The CRTC is expected to announce its decision around 4 p.m. ET. We'll have it here ASAP (and won't charge a carriage fee).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dragon`s Den Roars to a 2 Mil Season Finale

Good move, CBC, ordering a full 20 episodes of Dragon’s Den this season. As the network noted today in a release, the venture capitalist reality series (featuring Kevin O’Leary, left) drew 1,956,000 viewers for its combined fourth and fifth season finale Wednesday night, according to the usual BBM Canada overnight PPM estimates.
The “Road to Riches” season ender, which gave the humble back stories on the five wealthy “dragons,” won its 9 p.m. timeslot, easily beating both Bones on Global and Criminal Minds on CTV. DD finishes the season with a hefty 1.75 million per episode average. Not surprisingly, CBC GM Kirstine Stewart announced all five dragons will be back again next fall. A new cross Canada round of auditions is already underway for folks who want to pitch their big business ideas to the (mostly) cranky zillionaires; go here for more information.
St. Patrick’s Day also brought the luck o’ the Irish to Republic of Doyle, which followed DD with an estimated 908,000 viewers Wednesday night--opposite American Idol. Oh yeah!

This Week's Podcast: What's Big In Brazil

On this week's podcast, CHML's Scott Thompson wants to know about my recent trip to Los Angeles to cover the Warner Bros. International TV press tour. The big lesson for me was how excited some members of the foreign press were about shows that are off my radar here, such as Supernatural--which is apparently quite big in Brazil. Then shows that are of more interest in North America--especially sitcoms like the Big Bang Theory and The Middle--are not such a big deal in Germany and Sweden.
Scott brings up something I missed--Harry Smith's live colonoscopy performed on the Today Show earlier this week. And he repeats David Letterman's joke that during the whole procedure they were finally able to find Conan. HBO's tremendous new WWII miniseries The Pacific gets discussed, and I sneak in a story posted in greater detail below about Joel Gretsch and his Olympic moment with Captain Kirk. You can listen in here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kimmel Does More Jaywalking on Letterman


It's curious how the most interesting guests on late night talk shows these days are other late night talk show hosts. Jimmy Kimmel guested on Letterman Tuesday night and the two talked about, as Letterman called it, the whole "Jay Leno scandal." Always the truth teller, Kimmel teased Letterman for that CBS Super Bowl promotion spot, where Leno appeared on Letterman's couch with Oprah. "We had him," says Kimmel, "and you threw him a lifesaver during the Super Bowl!"
Kimmel was far more deferential with Letterman than he was when he sandbagged Leno during that notorious 10 at 10 segment, allowing Letterman to characterize the bitter feud that is the late night wars as just a bunch of club comics goofing on each other. (Although he did speak up when Letterman suggested nobody got hurt, saying he though Conan O'Brien might disagreed about that.)
Meanwhile, in other late night news, Jimmy Fallon just announced a special Rolling Stones week May 10-14. Each night will feature another artist performing cuts from the definitive Stone's album Exile on Main Street. It sounds like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both booked as guests (along with an interpreter). Read more on that here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Calling All Kids: Enter Our March Break Contest

At TV Feeds My Family, we have a saying—if it’s free it’s for me. TVFMF is teaming up with Rogers On Demand On-line for a March Break family pack contest. The folks at Rogers have launched a special March Break Channel and they want the kids at your house to check it out here. They've got on demand videos of stuff like "Lego Batman" there, it is to laff. To try and get you to look, they’ve ponied up with a stash of cool loot, two prize packs worth approximately $100 each, and they're sharing the wealth with two lucky TVFMF readers.
Here’s all you have to do to enter: simply go to the comment tab at the end of this blog post. Tell us your favourite TV show from when you were a kid. No wiseguy answers like “The McButt” show—real stuff like H.R. Puffin’stuff, Jonny Quest,, Ninja Turtles, Professor’s Hide-a-way, Schnitzel House, The Bridge, anything you think you saw on Commander Tom—it doesn’t matter. Yes, Hilarious House of Frightenstein counts. Just give us a show title (and use a real name so we can get back to you) and you have a shot at the two prizes.
The contest is open until Tues., March 23 at 3 p.m. ET.
Here’s what you can snag for a child in your family: A SpongeBob SquarePants tote bag filled with goodies such as a Hairspray DVD, a NICK DVD, YTV pens, a Mighty B button, W Tide 2 Go pens, W Jewel Box, Cosmo picture frame and a notebook. Don`t pretend you don`t want this stuff.
What follows is a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo. Skip down now to the comment thingy and hit us with your kiddie fave. The draw will be made March 24 and the winners announced here.
Contest closes March 23, 2010. Open to residents of Canada 18 yrs or older, excluding residents of Quebec. Seriously, skip down now. One entry per person. 2 March Break Prize Packs to win, valued at $100 each. To know how to enter, see full contest rules and details here. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries. Correct answer to mathematical skill-testing question required to be a winner. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.

Two Hockey Fans To Beam Up

BEVERLY HILLS, CA.--Do you believe in miracles? Joel Gretsch (right) probably does. Not just because he plays a priest on TV. He's Father Jack on V, which returns with the first of eight new episodes March 30 on ABC (moving from CTV to A on the same date).
Gretsch joined cast members Elizabeth Mitchell, Morris Chestnut, Scott Wolf, Logan Huffman and Morena Baccarin, along with Canadian cast member Laura Vandervoort (who plays Lisa) in round robin interview sessions with a posse of international reporters.
V shoots in Vancouver, so it is more than a cross town trip for this cast to promote this series. Like cast members from Fringe, Supernatural and Human Target, who were all also down in L.A. on this press tour, they all had stories about have to shoot around the recent Winter Olympic Games.
The intrusion was no hassle for Gretsch, who scored the ultimate Canadian fantasy--tickets to the Canada-USA Gold Medal hockey final. After the V session, he showed off his perfect view, captured on video on his iPhone. The centre ice level clip captured the crowd cheering prior to the opening face off. Gretsch panned around to show who he was sitting next to--Captain James T. Kirk himself, William Shatner!
The pairing was no accident. Shatner took part in the Games' closing ceremonies a few hours later. He asked Gretsch to join him at the big game. And why not? Gretsch, who is married to Melanie Shatner, is Shatner's son-in-law!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

J.J. Abrams, Joshua Jackson Share Tales from the Fringe of the Olympic Games

BEVERLY HILLS, CA-- J.J. Abrams was ready when I came right out and asked him the question of the season--how does his series Lost finally end? SPOILER ALERT! Run away! Okay ready, here it is, straight from the executive producer's mouth...



"Beautifully."

Abrams was taking part this Sunday morning in a Warner Bros. International Press Junket. He was here to promote another series, Fringe, recently renewed for a third season and heading for the mother of all cliffhangers according to stars Joshua Jackson and John Noble.
Abrams admitted the the budget for the two-hour finale gave his accounting department a few heart attacks. The series returns April 1 after a bit of a hiatus. The cast members and producers were very excited about the final eight episodes of the season, which apparently push Noble's unhinged Fringe scientist character Walter Bishop straight over the edge.
This came as no surprise to the Australian journalist who was part of our cozy little round table group. Noble is regarded as an actor's actor in the land down under.
This three-day press tour is as international as an Olympic event, with writers from Australia, Italy, Japan, Finland, Norway, France, Spain, Brazil and Germany in Group A. many live year round in Los Angeles and string for publications in Europe and beyond. Others flew in just for the event.
Talent from Warner Bros. TV shows The Mentalist, The Middle, V, Supernatural, Dark Blue, Fringe, The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Closer, Human Target, Southland and Gossip Girl have so far taken questions from our posse. Set visits to Chuck, The Big Bang Theory and The Mentalist are scheduled for Monday on the Warners' lot. This morning we struggled through a satellite conference with the three young leads from Vampire Diaries (they were on location in Atlanta).
The Fringe cast and producers stood out (as did Canadian-born Gossip Girl creator Stephanie Savage), because they actually walked around and shook hands before the session began.
It is an eye opener to see the foreign press jump all over a show barely on the radar in North America--Supernatural. Already renewed for a sixth season, the Vancouver-based series is apparently a monster hit in places like Brazil. "People like to be scared all over the world," explained star Jensen Ackles.
Fringe, V and Human Target also shoot in Vancouver and cast members from all those shows had stories about having to shoot around the recent Winter Olympic Games. It was no hassle for Vancouver boy Joshua Jackson, however, who loved his Olympic experience. And why not? The one event he got to see live in person, the one, as he put it, that mattered the most, was the Gold Medal hockey final between Canada and the USA. Jackson had tickets seven rows from ice level, behind the visitors goal--giving him a bird's eye view of the tying goal and Sydney Crosby's overtime heroics.
He texted his brother in New York a few days before the game asking him, "What is the one thing in the world you'd want to do more than any other thing this weekend?" His brother texted back, "You better not be holding out hockey tickets on me." Jackson did indeed have a pair; the brother was on the next plane to Vancouver.

Graham Yost Makes War in The Pacific

This is a big week for Graham Yost. The Toronto-born writer/director/executive producer (Speed, Boomtown) has two TV projects that are premiering. One is the new FX series Justified, a modern day western starring Timothy Oliphant and based on a character in a couple of novels by Elmore Leonard. It debuts on Tuesday, March 16 on FX and on April 5th in Canada on Super Channel.
Yost is also a writer and a director on The Pacific, the 10-part, $150 million World War Two epic premiering Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Canada. A couple of guys named Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks had a hand in producing this absorbing follow up to Band of Brothers.
It took six directors to helm The Pacific, shot in Australia over a 10-month period. Two were Canadian, Yost and Jeremy Podeswa (Six Feet Under). Yost chose to direct the fourth episode because he wound up writing much of it.
The miniseries tells the story of three U.S. Marines--Robert Leckie, Eugene Sledge and John Basilone--who fought against the Japanese in the Pacific theatre during WWII. I interviewed the three actors who play the principle characters and you’ll find their story here in the current issue of Movie Entertainment magazine.
James Badge Dale (above) plays Leckie, who figures prominently in the episode Yost directed. All the actors had to undergo a vigorous, 10-day “boot camp” conducted by real U.S. marines before filming commenced.
“It was intense,” says Yost, who I spoke with last January at the TCA press tour. “We’re in Australia, a long way from home, it was raining all day on the set, all over the gear and stuff, and you think this is hard, this is hard, and we get to go home to a nice hotel every night, and the guys didn’t.”
Yost’s dad, Elwy Yost, was a familiar face to generations of Ontarians though his many years as host of TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies. (He now lives in British Columbia.) The affable movie host almost had his own WWII stories. “He went through basic training in Canada and was ready to go overseas when the war ended,” says Yost, who is doubly glad his dad never saw action after speaking with several actual war vets who acted as consultants on the miniseries. “You quickly find out from these guys that it was not something you’d want to live through,” he says.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Survivor 20 Week Five: Tom Gets Kneecapped

The Heroes continued to be Zeros, losing the chocolate challenge, going down with another injury (James knee gave out under the weight of his ego plus all that steroid-induced muscle mass) and losing another immunity puzzle challenge. Then they dug themselves an even deeper hole by voting off this game’s savviest strategist, Tom. They guy who should have gone is James, who can’t walk anymore and, as Tom says, is “all mass, no class.”
The swing vote was cast by J.T., who cemented his rep as a wishy-washy weasel.
On the Villain tribe, Russell scratched around for days until he found the immunity idol. He plans to whack Boston Rob out of the game with it. Next week they say mean things to each other (and they do it a day early as Survivor moves to Wednesdays for two weeks due to the annual March Madness college basketball tournament).

Amber Dowling (TV Guide Canada): "It’s no surprise the Heroes continue to lose challenge after challenge, considering the latter games of Survivor have all boasted lopsided teams going into the merge. Plus, every single booted contestant admits the Villains have fewer egos, and have bonded better." Read the rest of Dowling's recap here.

Michael Bolen (The National Post): "Last week, it seemed as if Tom played his idol perfectly by eliminating a key rival and ingratiating himself with his tribe’s power player, JT. But instead of putting him in the driver’s seat, it simply highlighted the danger he posed and helped to send him home." Read the rest of Bolen's recap here.

Kat Angus (Dose.ca): "I mean, really: Tom? Sure, he is James’ biggest detractor, but with James sidelined, Tom is the Heroes’ strongest player – which they clearly need, since even Colby admitted they only shine during wrestling-based challenges." Read the rest of Angus' latest recap here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Team Coco Coming to Canada April and May

Get set, Vancouver and Toronto. Conan O'Brien is bringing his 32-city comedy tour north of the border this spring and summer.
O'Brien's "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television" tour hits Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre April 13 and comes to Toronto's Massey Hall May 22. The event is being billed as "a night of music, comedy, hugging and the occasional awkward silence."
O'Brien killed when he brought his NBC Late Night show to Toronto for a memorable week of February in 2004, selling out a four night stint at the 1500-seat Elgin Theatre. Massey Hall seats 2800. Coincidentally, O'Brien's old late night rival Craig Ferguson is playing the same Toronto venue April 23.
"We are now adding a second show in both NYC & Chicago," O'Brien announced today on Twitter. "For that second show, I'll be doing all Liza Minnelli songs."
You can order tickets here.
In what was reported as a $40 million-plus settlement after yanking away The Tonight Show and handing it back to Jay Leno, NBC stipulated that O'Brien stay off network TV until September. There continues to be speculation about a deal to bring him to Fox as a late night talk show host.`
UPDATE: A TVFMF reader emailed to say Conan`s Toronto Massey Hall gig sold out in minutes. Maybe a second show will be added. O'Brien tweeted around 2 p.m. ET that Vancouver is one of several cities getting second shows. "Good news: Just added second shows in San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, and LA. Bad news: Still no show in Guam." O'Brien tweeted earlier that a second show has been added in Boston "so my parents can come. And one of my brothers."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This Week's Podcast: 22 Minutes and More

This week, CHML's Scott Thompson asks about my trip earlier this week to Halifax to attend a taping of 22 Minutes. The series is nearing the end of its 17th season on CBC, with the last two episodes airing the next two Tuesday night's at 8:30. The numbers were up around 750,000 viewers this week according to overnight estimates, with its lead-in, the Rick Mercer Report, drawing a robust 1,220,000 viewers.
We also talk about another show 22 Minutes showrunner Mark Farrell executive produces, CTV's hot new comedy Dan for Mayor (airing Mondays at 8:30 on CTV), and rehash one more time just how lame the Oscar telecast was last Sunday. Scott also asks how Leno is doing now that he's back behind the Tonight Show desk. The comedian started strong with 6.6 million NBC viewers March 1 at 11:35. A string of Olympic heroes and a visit by Sarah Palin powered Leno to a dominant first week. But by this Monday, David Letterman had caught and passed his old rival, at least in the 18-49 and 35-54 demos. Listen to all the radio blather here.

House Call Bad Medicine for Hiccups, Mayor

Looks like House just gave Hiccups the hiccups. According to a Global release, and based on BBM data, the good doctor checked back in with a new episode and drew an overnight, estimated 2,866,000 viewers at 8 o'clock on Global Monday night. That took some of the wind out of the second episodes of CTV comedies Hiccups (1,156,000) and Dan For Mayor (1,109,000). It was the strongest showing for House this winter according to Global.
The CTV rookies blasted out of the gate at 1.9 million each one week earlier after a ton of super-sized Olympic promotion. This week's take for Hiccups and Dan For Mayor still dwarfed audiences for the Canadian comedies opposite Monday at 8 on CBC, 18 to Life (385,000) and Little Mosque (380,000).
Also in the mix nationally at 8 last night was The Bachelor on Citytv (860,000).
CTV rebounded at 9 p.m. with incredibly strong numbers for comedy imports Two and a Half Men and the Big Bang Theory, both around the 2.2 million mark.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My 22 Hours With 22 Minutes

HALIFAX, N.S.—There’s a full colour ad on page A4 of today’s Globe and Mail for tonight’s episode of the Rick Mercer Report. We see Mercer in emergency gear splashing though a frozen pond. The ad copy says he’s on thin ice.
In big, black, block letters on the bottom right hand side it says that the all new episode will air tonight at 8 p.m. Below that, in teeny tiny letters, it says “followed by 22 Minutes.”
And that’s about all the love this iconic Canadian comedy series, now in its 17th season, seems to get from the CBC these days. While Doyle and Erica and the Dragons get all the full promotional push, try to recall the last time you saw an on-air promo, billboard or ad for 22 Minutes.
Yet travel to the CBC Halifax TV building on a Monday night and you’ll find plenty of evidence that the series is as funny and vital as ever. Over 200 fans file in to the studio and take their place in the bleachers. Mainly from Halifax, they love it when fake news anchor Gavin Crawford reads a report that between the ages of 25 and 29 is the perfect time for a woman to have a child, “or for New Brunswick women, a grandchild.”
Getting to spend a Monday with Crawford, Mark Critch and Geri Hall, as well as executive producer Mark Farrell and the entire cast and crew, is like trying to join the last leg of a fairly brisk marathon. You can try to jog along, but everybody is focused on that night’s finish line.
It helped to be in town on a gloriously sunny day after a month of bleak winter weather. The 22 Minutes team are great hosts, with Halifax Films communications director Renee Pye always there to steer a critic toward an interview or a craft services opportunity.
It was 14 years ago when I first visited Halifax to interview the original This Hour Has 22 Minutes players for a TV Guide article. Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer and Greg Thomey were just hitting their stride then. I envied the joy and fun they all seemed to be sharing. These are great jobs, although don't kid yourself, cranking out a weekly sketch comedy series is a grind, as tough a job as you'll find in television.
On this day, Farrell leads the cast and other writers through a morning read through, where 76 potential desk jokes are presented. With the Academy Awards the night before, the writers have come up with a couple dozen new jokes. 22 Minutes had been taping on the Friday before for the Tuesday broadcast, but one of the first things Farrell did when he came back to run the series after he wrapped 13 episodes of Dan For Mayor was slam the schedule back to the day before broadcast to keep things current.
A grizzly bear joke kills at the table read and gets the biggest laugh later than night from the studio audience. These guys know what plays in their room. A few lines goofing on the O Canada kerfuffle fall flat at the table read and seems destined for the dustbin. When big mouth critic boy pipes up and suggests Canadians will expect to see 22 Minutes take aim at that juicy target, Crawford comes up with a gag on the spot. I love it, but it gets a muted response that night at the taping.
Only about a dozen of the desk jokes make it to air. Some of the taped bits feature Shaun Majumder, who had to skip Monday night's taping when he had to rush to L.A. after getting picked up for an ABC pilot. All of the pre-taped sketches are presented on giant monitors for the studio audience. One bit with Majumder and Critch as government backbenchers (above left) is friggin' hilarious. Critch also takes a second swing at Jay Leno (below), with Majumder as bandleader Kevin Eubanks--wearing a "Team Coco" T-shirt.
The crowd loves two live sketches goofing on the government. Critch goes ballistic as cranky transportation minister John Baird and Hall has an airport-style hissy fit as minister for the status of women Helena Guergis. Preview the sketch from tonight's show here.
Perhaps the funniest bit is when Crawford does a wicked take on that oddball PBS painter guy with the giant 'fro and beard. Crawford has him painting some snow on the mountaintops of Whistler. Later, Crawford points out a touchy little problem with the sketch--that dude died several years ago. Occasionally, a few viewers will write in to say WTF.
The three cast members are in and out of designer Penny Lee's makeup chairs as they get fussed over with wigs and costumes. (Original trooper Cathy Jones, whose appearances are less frequent this year, booked off this week.) All three make time to chat about the series and their road to it, mainly for an upcoming piece I'm working on for The Canadian Press. Hall was an Oakville waitress not that long ago; now she's in so many commercials they even goofed on that in a sketch that did not make tonight's cut.
Critch was just back from a weekend jaunt to New York visiting former 22 Minutes scribe Tim McAuliffe, now writing for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The two found time to hit the famed New York's Friar's Club (showbiz savvy Fallon has gifted his entire staff with memberships). Critch and I got talking Berle, Jessel and The Marx Bros. and its a wonder he made last night's taping.
At the end of the night, Farrell has 47 minutes of material to choose from for the broadcast, which really does come in at around 22 minutes. Halifax Films boss Michael Donovan, who has been championing this series since the beginning, huddles with Farrell, director Stephen Reynolds and other producers. Together they start tossing out sketches, including a funny filmed bit from offbeat contributor Nathan Fielder, back in the mix after landing a gig in the Dimitri Martin writer's room. At three minutes, Fielder's sketch was long but will make it into one of the two remaining shows still to come this season.
The whole thing gets sliced and diced and was delivered to CBC by 9 a.m. this morning. Check it out tonight at 8:30, following, yes, the Mercer Report. 22 Minutes doesn't get enough promotion--especially for a series thrown against American Idol--but watch tonight and see why here it gets plenty of respect.

Buffalo Gal Baranski's Stratford Shout Out

Had a nice chat several weeks ago with Christine Baranski, who plays the no-nonsense law boss on CBS' rookie drama The Good Wife (which airs tonight at 10 p.m. on CBS and Global). Baranski (above right opposite Julianna Margulies) is originally from Buffalo, N.Y. and has many fond memories of crossing the border with her family into Canada, particularly in summertime romps to Muskoka. The Tony and Emmy winner also cites the Stratford festival as a major influence on her acting career. Read more here in the story I wrote last week for The Canadian Press.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Handsome Men Get Ugly With Jimmy Kimmel


Jimmy Kimmel has done it again with another hilarious (if over long) all-star video. This one premiered Sunday night at the late night talk show host's annual post-Oscar showcase. The "Handsome Men's Club" sketch features a crazy lineup of stars, including Matthew Mcconaughey, Rob Lowe, Ethan Hawke, Keith Urban, Lenny Kravitz, Tony Romo, Ted Danson, Gilles Marini, John Krasinski, Sting, Patrick Dempsey, Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck, and Taye Diggs. Stick around for the surprise finish.

Ratings 'Roids Spike Oscar Snoozefest

According to a CTV release Monday, an average 5,889,000 Canadians watched the 82nd Annual Academy Awards (based on BBM Canada overnight estimates). The enormous leap over last year's Oscar number--almost a one-third jump--is the latest evidence that the new Portable People Meters are like rocket fuel for live, big event programming in Canada.
All those viewers had to sit through three-plus hours of boring crap to see The Hurt Locker named Best Picture of the year. With big box office hits like Avatar and Star Trek also in the running, the Oscars were up in the U.S., too, but only by about 8% among 18-49-year-old viewers. ABC averaged 41.3 million viewers for the three-and-a-half hour broadcast, the biggest Oscar audience Stateside in five years.
You have to go back a dozen years--to Titanic's win at the 1998 Oscars--to find a higher-rated Oscar telecast in Canada. CTV promoted the hell out of the Oscars during their record-smashing Olympic ratings run, which had to be a factor.
CTV also scored with their Oscar red carpet pre-show (3,678,000 viewers) as well as with an episode Sunday of The Amazing Race (1,464,000), which edged a strong final Oscar outing by Barbara Walters on Global (1,265,000). Walters went out on top in the U.S., too, drawing 20.97 million on ABC, almost doubling her 2009 Oscar special audience.
All that Olympic hype gave CTV's new police drama The Bridge (starring Aaron Douglas, left) a decent if not spectacular start Friday night, with an estimated 998,000 tuning in. While that's a respectable number for a Friday night and one any other Canadian broadcaster would celebrate, it is a far cry from the 1.9 million CTV's two new Monday comedies, Hiccups and Dan For Mayor, drew last week in their premieres. It is also a steep drop from the 1.7- to 1.8 million CTV was scoring with its other CBS cop-co-production, Flashpoint, out of simulcast in the same timeslot last fall.
While The Bridge is a well made show (look for a review here next week when I'm back from the road), those constant CTV Olympic promos may have actually hurt its launch. Shots of Douglas hollering like a possessed demon may have frightened off some. The police union drama also a harder conceptual sell to viewers who may think the title refers to some actual bridge or is about dental work.
The Bridge did win its timeslot Friday, beating Shark Tank (536,000) and Numb3rs (788,000) on Global and The Fifth Estate on CBC (614,000).

Oscar at 82: Four Hours I'll Never Get Back

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards went on so long, as Steve Martin quipped at the end, that Avatar now takes place in the past.
Besides the fact that a bunch of statues were handed out to everybody who was expected to win, there were at least three or four minutes of genuinely memorable moments crammed into the four hour broadcast.
Hosts Martin and Alec Baldwin had their own pre-host, Neil Patrick Harris, who sang and danced and introduced the two hosts as “the biggest Hollywood pair since Dolly Parton.” There was a Toyota joke, and a joke about all the Jews in Hollywood and a drug joke about Woody Harrelson. Whereas last year Hugh Jackman came out and sang and danced and told jokes and generally exceeded expectations, Martin and Baldwin each put in about as much prep as if they were making a Letterman appearance.
M&B did goof on several of their peers and each other. “There’s that damned Helen Mirren,” said Martin. “That’s Dame Helen Mirren,” corrected Baldwin.
The two put on 3-D glasses to look at James Cameron. It was okay, but Billy Crystal would have worked up a pretty good song and dance opener built around Avatar and Star Trek.
And think if Conan O’Brien had hosted. He could have had George Clooney stay in character from Up in the Air and come up and fire him again.
Ben Stiller walked on stage at the Kodak Theater with a tail and dreds and a blue Avatar face which was funny for 20 seconds. A couple of recent innovations were brought out again, like when the words from the script appear over clips from films nominated for best screenplay, or when fellow actors come on stage to give testimonials to the lucky nominees.
There were no new innovations this year, however, except perhaps for having James Taylor sing The Beatles’ In My Life under the “In Memorial” clips. It was disorienting watching CTV for four hours and not hearing that damn Olympic "I Believe" song 27 times.
The salute to John Hughes was pretty cool, with McCauley Culkin, the aging Breakfast Club survivors and the rest of next year’s cast of Dancing with the Stars on stage paying tribute to the ‘80s auteur. There was also a well packaged salute to horror films, everything from Saw to The Shining.
Presenters included Robert Downey, Jr., Robin Williams and a bunch of Whoisits. No Johnny Depp, or Brangelina, no Jim Carrey or even Jack Black. Missing too was the awkward political speech--there was no Michael Moore moment. Nobody fell out of a dress or made a drunken fool of themselves. It was safe, bland and too long. It was the Oscars.
The red carpet pre-show was notable for Kathy Ireland’s giddy hollering and the unkind high definition camerawork, which revealed crow’s feet on everybody but Miley Cyrus.
How to wake this show up next year? Two words: Jimmy Kimmel. He'd do to the Oscars what he did to Leno. That I would watch.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Up in the Air Oscar Set Up

The Oscars are Sunday night and I can't remember a time when I've ever cared less. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will get laughs as they bring this all down to a Saturday Night Live level. I'm jumping on a plane to Halifax to attend a taping Monday night of 22 Minutes--something I last did about 14 years ago, back when I was with TV Guide. So Oscars aren't top of mind but here's a half-assed who will win list.
BEST PICTURE
Should be: (500) Days of Summer. What a wonderful little film, rent it and thank me later. Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel and is all about this dude sifting through the ashes of a failed relationship. Light, penetrating, sweet, heartbreaking, just plain old original. Shows a fresh side of L.A., too, more downtown. The two leads are as irresistible as those Canadian skate dancing kids.
Should win: Up in the Air. Another take on failed relationships and even more disturbingly modern. Told with zest and brio by director Jason Reitman, who will finally win the Oscar his dad should have won for Meatballs. Great mid-life turn by George Clooney, the kind of honest look in the mirror you never got from even Cary Grant.
Will Win: The Hurt Locker. Haven't seem it. Have been in a Foot Locker. Saw Avatar and it was awesome, although, as my son Daniel pointed out, James Cameron pretty much took Dances with Wolves, painted everybody blue and sent them into outer space.
BEST DIRECTOR
Will win: Kathryn Bigelow. Haven't seen The Hurt Locker but apparently she's really tall and used to be married to Cameron so who doesn't want to see her upstage Mr. King of the World.
BEST ACTOR
Will win: Jeff Bridges for playing a messed up drunk in Crazy Heart. Haven't seen it, but Bridges has never turned in a bad performance and Oscar loves stars who play messed up drunks. I liked Clooney but who needs to hear another windy speech. Gordon-Levitt should get the Jeff Bridges Underappreciated Actor award.
BEST ACTRESS
Will win: Sandra Bullock for that football film. Anybody else missing the Olympics?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Nazi Jew hunter dude from Inglorious Basterds. He is a lock apparently for being creepy good.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
No idea who's nominated. If Vera Farmiga was nominated she was kinda hot in Up in the Air. Better yet, vote for Farmiga's body double for that scene in the bedroom where you get to see her ass. (If that really was Farmiga give her the Oscar now.) Otherwise if Meryl Streep's name is on the ballot pick her, she's Oscar gold.
BEST SCREENPLAY
Hats off to the guys who penned (500) Days of Summer and Up in the Air. No Oscar for Cameron for re-typing Dances with Wolves. Hurt Locker will win because who ever thought to put those two words together before? Ingenious.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Survivor 20 Week Four: Cirie Later Alligator

Confusious say: man who call himself Coach not really team player.
Coach is nuts. A fame-sucking narcissist, he’s all weepy one minute and crowing about being the last of the Mohicans the next. He is either pre-menstrual or post-partum.
The two teams fought over stuff from Sears. You ever try to return stuff at Sears? Like being on a deserted island. Everybody got all oiled up to play slide and dunk. Muscleman James glistened like Mr. America. Amanda again took the bikini title.
Both tribes got a little note that told them to go look for immunity dolls. Russell started sniffing around right away, leading to the quote of the night from Boston Rob: “He’s like a hobbit on crack.”
Tom found his team’s immunity thingy, which came in handy when the Zeros lost at Big Balls and Little Balls.
This led to the best tribal council ever. The sand and puzzle games are all eye candy, but the brain game is all about the vote. These savvy players know their math. The Yoda of them all is Tom, who put on a clinic in tribe control. An alliance savant, he could keep a minority government in power for decades. He used his get out of jail card, kept Colby in his pocket and managed to turn J.T. around long enough to eliminate his most dangerous opponent—Cirie. It was, as Probst observed, this game’s first blindside. Tom knew that Cirie was “way too good at wrapping some of these weak minds around your little finger.” Tom now has the rest of them under his thumb.
Next week: Candice suddenly thinks Tom is dreamy and another slip and fall is edited to look like a fatality.

Amber Dowling (TV Guide Canada): "It wasn’t as obvious who was going home (oh Cirie, you do play such a great social game), and viewers got the stuff teenaged wet dreams are made of: oiled bodies, to top last week’s mud wrestling. Any takers that Jello will be involved in one of next Thursday’s challenges?" Read the rest of Dowling's recap next week.

Michael Bolen (The National Post): "The unsettling combination of paranoid insecurity and Last of the Mohicans “machismo” that lies at the heart of Coach’s heroic persona is so entertaining that you’re forced to confront the question of whether it’s real. He’s the perfect reality TV specimen: A trainwreck so inscrutable he leads you to wonder if the producers just made him up." Read the rest of Bolen's recap here.

Kat Angus (Dose.ca): "As much as I love the Villains tribe, watching the Heroes get their asses handed to them week after week is starting to bum me out. They don’t get along, they can’t play slip-and-slide basketball, they can’t maneuver a maze blindfolded – after a certain point, it just gets sad. How did these people even make it through Survivor the first time?" Read the rest of Angus' latest recap here.