Friday, April 30, 2010

Survivor 20 Week 11: Amanda Overboard

“Amanda is Boston Rob in a girl’s body!” Russell declares at one point in Thursdays’ quietly intriguing hour. This, in his mind, was why she had to go. She’s too popular (had never been eliminated in two previous games), is plucky in challenges plus—unlike Rob--smoking hot in a bikini. She was even good natured and likable in her exit interview. She will clean up nice now and head to the jury.
She stuck her pretty neck out too far in her final hour, however, and that, as she pointed out, cost her. (Apparently she blew it in some clumsy immunity idol catfight with Danielle I missed because, well, hockey was on.) You can’t make that many mistakes and win, Amber concluded. Washington Capitals, take note.
The last half of the hour, executive producer Mark Burnett seemed to turn his show over to Michael Moore. This episode seemed less produced (and scripted), more fly-on-the-palm tree. The whole intrigue in both camps, with Russell, Sandra and Rupert in the go-to sound bites, was compelling. We got to be in on the scrums in a less stagy way. It was cool to see Russell whine about Candice breaking into his private pow-wows, to hear the whispers and read the subtitles. As Rupert observed, we got to see “three days of scrambling going on in three minutes.”
Jerri is quietly winning MILF immunity, bringing her A Game to all the challenges. Sandra keeps whinging and scheming and vote-switching and somehow staying in the game. We learned why at tribal council. As Russell suggested, she can’t beat you in a challenge and she can’t beat you in a vote, making her the one you want to sit next to at the final judgement.
NEXT WEEK: Villains implode and Penguins are forced to a seventh and deciding game.

Amber Dowling (TV Guide Canada): "I thought most men were genetically disposed to enjoy laying in bed watching two women wrestle each other, but it didn’t seem to phase Colby. The personality-free Survivor continued to eat his popcorn while Amanda and Danielle grappled for the hidden immunity clue during last night’s reward, proving his have no bravado or interest in staying in this game.
Unfortunately that’s exactly why he’ll be around a while longer." Read the rest of Dowling's recap here.

Michael Bolen (The National Post): "It was a bad week for Russ. Despite flashes of brilliance, his behaviour toward the women in the game grew increasingly erratic. He may have pulled off a coup by flipping Candice, but the reckless manner in which he did so, and the way he carelessly threw away his idol suggests a certain amount of emotional instability. You can see him hitting someone. And that’s why I like him." Read the rest of Bolen's recap here.

Jen McDonnell (Dose.ca): "The promos for this week's episode made it seem like Russell was in danger of going home, which of course meant he was safe. Instead, he ended up miraculously finding yet another immunity idol and playing it, earning an eyeroll and a scolding from Parvati. ("You wasted one," she pouted, apparently forgetting that she did the same thing just last week)." Follow the rest of McDonnell's recap here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ask Not What Heather Thomas Can Do For You

The curse of being in this business this long is that you keep tripping over the same territory. Take Canwest’s announcement Wednesday that they are digging up the Kennedys for yet another made-in-Canada miniseries.
This new, eight-hour American Camelot rehash will get plenty of tabloid press with Tom Cruise's captive wife Katie Holmes cast as Jackie Kennedy. Greg Kinnear stars as JFK, with Barry Pepper playing brother Bobby Kennedy and Tom Wilkinson as diabolical Kennedy matriarch Joe. “The Kennedys” will shoot from June to September in Toronto and air on History channels in the U.S. and Canada early next year—just in time to mark the 50th anniversary of JFK banging Marilyn under Jackie’s nose at his inauguration.
My Kennedy flashback has to do with an afternoon I spent 23 or 24 years ago in Oshawa, Ont., at the old Col. Sam McLaughlin estate. The place was being turned into a studio for location work on a silly thing called “Hoover vs. The Kennedys: The Second Civil War.” This effort was not a hit with critics. “It’s not the bad taste, it’s the frivolity,” scolded the New York Times. “Makes Camelot look a lot worse than Knots Landing,” dismissed the Washington Post.
It didn’t help that this 1987 miniseries was just as badly miscast as this new one. The difference back in the old Cancon gold rush days was that there were plenty of Canadians in the cast, including a young Nicholas Campbell as Bobby Kennedy, Jennifer Dale as Jackie and Barry Morse as old Joe Kennedy. Cross-dressing FBI boss Hoover was half-heartedly impersonated by the great character actor Jack Warden. Busy journeyman Robert Pine was unremarkable as JFK. I remember him walking the McLaughlin estate, testing out the Kennedy cadence and trying not to heap on the Boston accent.
The person I was most taken with that day, however, was smoking hot Heather Thomas. The former Fall Guy pin-up had come north to play Marilyn Monroe in this epic. A few years earlier, Thomas’ ubiquitous bikini shot (right) was almost as popular as Farrah Fawcett’s best seller. A stint in rehab to try and kick a coke habit only made Thomas seem that much more, uh, interesting at the time.
I recall being led into her dimly-lit trailer. Thomas had the bluest peepers and I have to say I was pretty smitten. In a tossled, platinum blond wig, she was still in wardrobe as Monroe which made her extra hypnotic. It was like a double decker sex symbol encounter.
The publicist closed the door and left us to it. These days, you’re rarely left alone in a trailer with an ugly celebrity. Things were a little more casual back then. Sigh.
Thomas probably sized me up pretty quickly as Opie of the North. I’m sure I stammered and fumbled with what back then was probably a 14-pound tape recorder.
About a year before this, the Connecticut-born actress made headlines after she was smacked by a car and suffered fractures to both her legs. Going that extra mile to help me with the story, she stretched out her long, fabulous pins and suggested I give them a good look. Yes, I agreed, they seemed to be completely healed. Then, still working on her breathy Marilyn voice, she mentioned something about constantly needing to have her legs and thighs massaged. I really don’t remember anything after that; I think I might have passed out.
I never encountered Thomas on a TV set again. After a few roles here and there, she seemed to drop out of the biz. Now 52, she’s become a screenwriter and author. Her novel, Trophies—about trophy wives—was released in 2008.
Judging by recent shots posted on the Internet (including the one above right), she’s still pretty damn hot. If Global doesn’t hire her to play Marilyn in this new miniseries, maybe she could come north to punch up the script.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This Week's Podcast: Reality Sets In at Global

This week, Scott claims he's living in Happy Town. That's the spooky new "Twin Peaks"-like series premiering tonight on ABC and /A\. Actually, Happy Town was shot on the other side of Toronto, Port Hope, Ontario. Scott lives in Steel Town, which might also made for a good TV series.
We also talk about today's announcement that Canwest is launching the Global Reality Channel, another specialty service crammed full of reruns. The station, already cleared to a million Rogers' VIP subscribers, will likely launch mid-June. It's long overdue at Global, which has feasted off Survivor for a decade. The current "Heroes vs. Villains" edition is still a force in Canada, topping the most recent BBM Canada national weekly ratings, beating even hockey playoffs.
The only thing is, reality shows are like those new KFC Double Down Chicken Sandwiches--they don't repeat well. Once you know who won a particular edition of Fear Factor or The Apprentice, are you really going to sit through it again? isn't that what Wikipedia is for?
The Fox Reality Channel, which launched when this genre was hotter five years ago, bombed in the States. The service was shut down last month and has just been rebranded National Geographic Wild. The tribe has spoken.
Maybe Global will have better luck. Besides, as the recent CRTC specialty profit summary shows, if you can find any way to get in on the carriage fee gravy train in Canada, you can still drink from the money tap and--thanks to Canadian content loopholes bigger than that chicken sandwich--it will hardly cost you anything.
You can listen in here.

Worst Interview Ever: Sam Neill

People ask me: which celebrity was your worst interview ever? I always reply without hesitation: Sam Neill.
The New Zealand-born actor (right) is part of the large ensemble cast starring in ABC's spooky new drama Happy Town, premiering tonight at 10 p.m. on ABC and /A\.
Way, way back in the '80s when I had just started working in Los Angeles for TV Guide Canada, I was asked to drive over to Beverly Hills and interview Neill at the offices of Barry Stagg, a Hollywood publicist (now toiling in Manhattan). The editors wanted me to get to Neill who had just shot a historical miniseries about to air in Canada.
At the time I was green-as-grass photo editor with very little writing experience. About the only celeb I had interviewed to that point was Richard Dean Anderson on the set of MacGyver. He was friendly enough, walking me through a tour of a location shoot (he showed me how cars were made to look like they were driving by rocking them up and down with two-by-fours under the chassis). I did get a dirty look when I asked him what it felt like to playing a $1.98 version of Indiana Jones on TV.
Armed with that same tact, I headed off to interview Neill. I was the last of a dozen or so journalists who had yakked with the actor that day. He was clearly out of gas and in no mood to play nursemaid to some idiot from Canada.
I asked him if period pieces were a special attraction. Not really, he replied. I informed him I was from Toronto, where the miniseries was shot, and asked if he enjoyed working in the city. It was okay, he said.
This went on for what seemed like an hour, but was probably only a few minutes. The dude didn't want to talk about anything. Finally I asked him what he wanted to talk about.
"Whales," he said. Long pause. Did he mean Ireland, Scotland, Wales, I asked. No, whales. Big, swim-in-the-ocean whales.
Neill was into whales. This did not help me at all. TV Guide tended not to run stories about whales.
After a few more torturous minutes, I left in defeat. I called the office in Toronto and confessed I had nothing. The message was not well received.
Today I would have asked Neill, politely, to stop being such an asshole. Back then I didn't know Jack.
I've told that story to a few other journalists and they all react the same way--not Sam Neill. He's always been great with me, they say. So I must have caught him on a bad day (and a few years before I should have been interviewing anybody).
He was nothing but friendly in the scrum following the ABC session for Happy Town last January in Pasadena, Ca. Neill cheerfully took all questions, said he loved shooting on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Much of Happy Town takes place in Port Hope, Ontario, as I wrote last week in Starweek magazine and earlier this year for The Canadian Press. Neill and most of the cast were driven each day to Port Hope from Toronto. The 62-year-old says he cooked and hosted several meals for the cast because apparently he had the largest apartment. "We had a big cast, most of us were away from home," he says. "It's good to have a home meal and have a few laughs."
Neill plays an eccentric outsider and movie buff who runs a local collectibles shop. He lives in a boarding house with seven widows who all adore him. "That was one of the things I really loved about it when I first read it," says Neill. "All these old widows like twittering birds just head over heels in love with this old geezer." The well traveled actor was just back from shooting The Last Dragon with Samuel L. Jackson in China and finds himself cast more and more in children's movies. "When you do kids films, you either play the dad or the villain or, increasingly in my case, the grandfather."
Happy Town features quite a few Canadians in the cast. Our deep talent pool was one of the reason the producers say they came to the Toronto area. Executive producer Scott Rosenberg says he had to fill 35 recurring roles with locals. “The call sheet was ridiculous,” he continued in the Starweek piece:
“Our casting director did a little grass roots poll and talked to all of her friends and found out there was this great, great wealth of talent in Toronto,” says Rosenberg, adding that, in his opinion, Vancouver is a little over fished.”
As a result, 80% of the cast is made up of Toronto actors,” he says, “and they’re amazing.”
One of the key roles went to 22-year-old Sarah Gadon (left), a Toronto actress who has appeared on The Border and Being Erica. She plays Happy Town high school love interest Georgia Bravin. “We never thought we’d be able to cast her,” says Appelbaum, who was looking for an actress who could walk a fine line between spooky and seductive. “You either get into that Gossip Girl thing or they’re too quirky,” he says.
Linda Kash—best known to Canadians as the Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese angel from a long-running series of commercials—also gets plenty of face time in Happy Town. Peter Outerbridge (ReGenesis) has a recurring role as “Handsome Dan.”
The producers admit that “there’s a lot of Twin Peaks DNA in Happy Town” and that comparisons with the early ‘90s ABC cult series are inevitable. “It’s a spooky, small-town show, and that was sort of the gold standard for spooky, small-town shows, so I think we have to embrace it,” says Appelbaum.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pay, Specialty Defy Recession in CRTC Stats

Last week, The CRTC published their annual channel-by-channel financial summaries for the various pay-TV, pay-per-view, video-on-demand and specialty services. Remember all that boo-hooing from the broadcast suits about how 2009 was the worst year ever and that the recession was crippling the Canadian TV industry? Well, if there is a broken business model in Canadian TV, it sure isn’t over on the specialty or pay-TV tier. Several channels posted record after tax profits and showed double-digit gains in ad sales. After years of steady viewer migration from broadcast to cable (until the new PPM data magically tilted things the other way last winter), isn’t it just possible that the money followed viewers to the higher-up channels?
You can scan through all 209 pages of the original CRTC pay and specialty finacial summary here, but a breakdown of how the various services fared in 2009 brings a few surprises.

Top 10 most profitable by percentage:



1. MuchMoreRetro 77.3% operating profit margin
2. MuchVibe 72.7
3. Sundance 70.1
4. PunchMuch 67.8
5. MuchLoud 60.3
6. W Movies 60.2
7. Series+ 59.1
Court TV 59.1
9. Showcase Action 56.5
10. Teletoon Retro 56.2

Might as well call the former CHUM music properties MuchProfit. Most of the CTV properties operate with low expenditures and rake it in through the cable and DTH carriage fees. While the percentages are high, the actual revenues are not. At MuchMoreRetro, for example, the stations actual Profit Before Interest and Tax was $615,609 in 2009.

Top 10 most profitable by revenues:



1. W $41,338.671 Profit Before Tax and Interest
2. Rogers Sportsnet $40,666,682
3. TSN $40,263,902
4. Teletoon $35,347,771
5. The Movie Network $28,158,007
6. History $27,264, 241
7. YTV $21,270,325
8. Space $21,269,405
9. HGTV $20,958,486
10. Movie Central $20,231,416

Guess we finally know what “W” stands for—“WOW.” The little station nobody wanted when it was kicked around the specialty tier way back in the day made Corus Entertainment a whopping pre-tax profit of $44.25 million in 2009, delivering a profit margin of 48.4%!
Sports channels generally kept printing money in 2009 despite all that recession talk. In Quebec, RDS showed a pre-tax profit of $25.3 million off total revenues of $105.7 million. Zut alors! That’s nothing compared to the staggering numbers racked up by TSN in 2009: $220.5 million in total revenues, with ad revenues up nearly 5% at $98.5 million for a pre-tax profit of $32.3 million bucks.
Rogers Sportsnet did even better, keeping $39.3 million in pre-tax profit off revenues of $186 million (up 9.69% in 2009).
LeafsTV, on the other hand, fared about as well as the Leafs. The station lost about $1.66 million in 2009, with total revenues falling over 20% to a little over $7.7 million. Still, that’s an improvement on an over $9 million loss in 2008. LeafsTV, in fact, has lost money every year since 2005—which is about when the Leafs last made the playoffs.
Canwest may have lurched into bankruptcy protection in 2009, but not through lack of effort from the specialty sale department in one of the most challenging ad markets ever. Food Network Canada ad revenue was up over 15% in 2009 to more than $30 million, with the station just missing the Top 10 list with $19,069,565 in PBIT profit off total revenue of nearly $41 million. That’s a lot of waffles.
HGTV, which had nearly $50 million in ad revenue, also kept more than $20 million in profits. History Television, which had lower expenses, did even better, keeping $27,264,241 in PBIT. Helping huge there was a nearly 19% jump in ad revenue.
The Weather Channel? Nothing but blue skies with a pre-tax profit of $13,073,634 off total revenues of $48,771,869. TVTropolis did even better in 2009 with a pre-tax profit of $13,409,992 off total revenues of $46.5 million. You’d expect a channel called the Business News Network (BNN) to do well and it did, earning nearly $12.2 million in 2009 and operating at a 44.9% margin.
Children’s networks, which should do even better next year thanks to a huge lift from the PPM ratings ‘roids, had a stellar 2009. Family Channel did $19,624,850 in PBIT profits, just missing joining Teletoon and YTV on the Top 10 profit list.
One hilarious sidelight of the CRTC’s annual pay and specialty financial summary list is the many channels that have switched names (as well as formats) in recent years. The charts are full of headings like “Dusk (formerly Scream), Fine Living (formerly Luxe Net) or MTV Canada (formerly Talktv). The funniest? PrideVision’s “HARDtv (formerly HARD). The last thing a male porn service wants is to be branded “formerly HARD.”
HARDtv—which, uh, doesn’t stick out on several carriers, was also one of the specialty or pay services in Canada to show a loss last year. Their total 2009 revenue was a paltry $126,244 (down nearly 13%) with expenses closer to the $200,000 mark.

Top 10 least profitable pay and specialty stations (by percentage of loss):



1. GameTV -587.7%
2. ATN Zee Gujarati -511.9
3. Super Channel -431.0
4. ATN Music (Hindu) -351.4
5. Telus Edmonton -290.4
6. Teletoon Retro (francais) -232.7
7. AASTHA (South Asian Music) -206.2
8. NuevoMundo -198.0
9. ATN Bangla -171.9
10 Bite -164.2

By far the biggest loser in 2009 was Super Channel, which lost a whopping $60.5 million in 2009. No surprise that it filed for creditor protection last June. The entrenched regional pay-TV monopolies from Astral in the East and Corus in the West--plus a poor cable profile--was kryptonite for Super Channel, where—despite some savvy programming acquisitions--an estimated 220,000 subscriptions last summer fell well short of the 800,000 needed nationally to turn a profit.
Those entrenched pay-TV channels? TMN’s PBIT was over $28 million with MPIX kicking in another $12.35 million (a 54% profit margin). Movie Central did over $20 million.
Meanwhile, cable On-Demand services added to the cable coffers, with Shaw seeing $9.7 million PBIT in 2009 (a 52.4% profit margin) and Rogers grabbing a further $10.5 million through On-Demand services.
Ethnic stations, as the above list indicates, took a beating in 2009, although Telelatino saw a $6.2 million PBIT profit. The main ATN South Asian network also was $3.58 million in the black.
Meanwhile, the news was damn good over at CBC News Network, where $17,859,000 was the profit before interest and tax. CTV News Channel gathered $6,676,568 in 2009.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Glee Keeps Wheeling Past Two Million Mark

As my eagle-eyed daughter pointed out the other day, the current issue of Rolling Stone--with various members of the Glee cast on the cover--bears a strong resemblance to a 70-year-old poster hanging in our family room. While there is no panties peek (as provided left, centre, by cheeky Lea Michele), the original poster, promoting the second year of the New York World's Fair (1939-40), also shows an American family rolling there "by all means." Admission to the fair for 1940 was lowered to 50 cents from the 1939 entry fee of three-quarters-of-a-buck. The fair (where, by the way, regularly scheduled commercial television was introduced by NBC 71 years ago this month) took a hit when the war in Europe torpedoed the international aspect of the showcase. Visitors from Europe and pretty much everywhere else were preoccupied, some countries literally. The second year posters reflect that change, showing American families heading to New York and downplaying the rest of the world.
Glee continues to do good business both in America and in Canada. The Fox series cracked the Canadian Top-10 the week of April 12-18, drawing 2,120,000 according to weekly reports from BBM Canada. That beat Dancing with the Stars, NHL playoff hockey and the Juno Awards in Canada that week. Last Tuesday's "Madonna" episode of Glee also topped the 2 million mark on Global according to overnight estimates. The third "spring semester" episode, featuring a return visit from Kristin Chenoweth, airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Fox and Global.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Community Cable: Filthy Stinking Rich

Like Betamax machines and UHF receivers, community programming seems like something out of the '80s. Maybe it just looks that way to me because I was involved in that game over 25 years ago as a volunteer producer for long defunct MacLean-Hunter Cable TV in Etobicoke.
You mean you never heard of Bullock & Brioux and Etobichannel? This goofy little half-hour comedy--which got some access across the GTA through various cable hook ups back in the early-to-mid-'80s--was clearly a $1.98 ripoff of SCTV. Some talented folks, including always funny Pat Bullock (back in the '80s, above with, uh, Bob Denver), director (editor, producer, mentor) Andy Tough and university pals Andrew Ryan (now at the Globe and Mail) and B.J. DelConte (formerly at CP24) were in on the hijinks.
Back before specialty channels like Comedy and way before the Internet and YouTube, community cable was the place to get camera ready after working the comedy club circuit. Ed the Sock (and the late Eric Tunney) emerged from mighty Newton Cable at the top of Toronto and The Frantics even found a little face time in community cable land. I remember seeing TSN's Geno Reda hiding behind a big fat 'stache back in his early community cable days.
Mike Myers, who grew up in Scarborough, certainly drew some inspiration for Wayne's World from some of the community cable kookiness that found a surprisingly wide audience back in the day when the TV pie was only cut into a dozen or so slices.
Suddenly, like the return of King Tut, community cable is on the radar again. Half page ads appeared last week in the Toronto Star saluting volunteers who work in community programming. There was a big photo of a very diverse crowd of seniors and minorities posing with studio cameras.
The pre-emptive P.R. strike came as community TV proceedings get under way in Ottawa before the CRTC Monday. (You can follow them here on CPAC).
Apparently it's the first CRTC community cable check in in eight years, which has the folks at CACTUS (Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations) steamed.
With a name like CACTUS they'd have to be prickly but here's their point: Some $680 million has been collected from satellite and cable subscribers since 2002 that was supposed to be spent on community cable TV. Maybe it has--certainly there's still a ton of community fare on my Rogers Cable 10 station in Brampton--but the fact that the CRTC has never asked to see the books has left some wondering if all of that money--about as much per year as was pooled into the local TV funding pool last year--really goes toward all that coin and stamp club programming. Others look at the new community channels and see a lot of promotional spin toward the cable brand.
All that money is like a big fat lottery win and if you stop checking in on how this stuff gets distributed, well, a lot of 7-Eleven dudes are driving BMW's now, that's all I'm saying.
Certainly, without accountability, suspicions will be raised. Hopefully, the right questions will get asked this week. And if not, I'm re-launching Etobichannel: The Next Generation and looking to get in on this loot.
The other thing, though is--why is all that money ($116 million in 2009 alone according to CACTUS) still being directed to community programming? Hasn't the Internet and broadcast yourself technologies rendered this whole issue moot? My teens and their pals might hustle a vid and post it to YouTube but put on a show down at Rogers Cable 10? It would be like asking them to thread a Super 8 camera.
So it the CRTC tied up with another church group while the Canadian TV industry turns to dust? I'll be rambling along those lines early Monday morning in a series of coast-to-coast syndicated CBC radio interviews.

Friday, April 23, 2010

TCM: Television's Classiest Movie Network

As previously noted here at TVFMF, Canadian specialty channels continue to stray ever farther from their original mandates. Parking Wars Marathon on TVTropolis? Garage Gurus Week on Discovery? Lordy.
Meanwhile, down in Hollywood, Turner Classic Movies continues to show specialty channels on both sides of the border how to stick to your brand and delight your viewers.
The Atlanta-based channel, a division of Time-Warner, is hosting its first-ever TCM Classic Film Festival through till Sunday. If you're reading this blog and live in/or can get to Los Angeles this weekend, forget Cary Grant's last film title and run, don't walk.
Thursday night, they had Frank Capra III on stage at Mann's Chinese to introduce a 35mm print of his famous granddad's 1931 feature "Dirigible." Earlier today, Mel Brooks introduced a print of "The Producers" and Tony Curtis was on hand for a screening of "The Sweet Smell of Success." Saturday, there's a 70mm screening of Jacques Tati's 1967 masterpiece "Play Time" at the Egyptian Theatre (an even older Hollywood movie palace than the Chinese). Angelica and Danny Huston salute their famous director/father John and actor/grandfather Walter at a Graumann's screening of "The Treasure of the Seirra Madre" and Leonard Maltin introduces a series of selected shorts--including some Robert Benchley gems from the '30s and '40s--as well as something called "Star Night at the Coconut Grove" (1934). Yowza.
Get more information about the TCM festival screenings and special guests here. For the rest of us, TCM is providing glimpses into the premiere and party scene between their usual weekend schedule of uninterrupted movie delights at their "Club TCM."

Survivor 20 Week 10: Jury Gains One Idiot

If Bugs Bunny ever met J.T., he’d say, “What a ma-roon, What a gull-i-bull.”
The dumbass paid for his immunity idol giveaway last week, voted off Survivor at the first merged tribal council after Parvati saved Jerri’s MILF ass with the idol J.T. gave up the week before.
“I feel like a total idiot right now,” J.T. (above) said in the hilarious post-episode exit interview. Then, sounding even more like Goober’s nephew on Andy of Mayberry: “Don’t ever trust a woman. Ever, ever, ever.”
PREDICTION: Russell, Parvati and Jerri make the final four. At last January’s Survivor 10th anniversary CBS party, a network publicist stuck by Russell like NBC on Leno. Russell kept acting even weirder than usual, insisting the Heroes vs. Villains season hadn’t taped yet, which everybody in the room knew that it had. Jerri just kept saying that, after flaming out on the last Survivor she was involved with, she was really, really, really, really proud of herself on this one. And as we saw again Thursday night, Parvati is a diabolical witch who somehow has cast a spell on the rest of these dummies.
NEXT WEEK: We’re made to think that Sandra is going to bury Russell, a sure bet it will be the other way around.
UPDATE: Thanks to Survivor panelist Michael Bolen (below) for the heads up on this--villain Russell was just arrested for battery at a post party punch up according to the gossip hounds at TMZ.com.

Amber Dowling (TV Guide Canada): "I always love the merge episodes — no matter what kind of alliances the players have going into it, expectations always shift by the time Jeff reads the final votes. Parvati pulled a brilliant move from her ragged old pouch last night, solidifying the villains as the game’s majority shareholders, and gaining trust from Jeri and Sandra, two former enemies. That will show those heroes for treating Parv like a leper, y’all." Read the rest of Dowling's recap here.

Michael Bolen (The National Post): "Parvati’s big move Thursday night certainly made for good TV, but was it good strategy? Giving an idol each to Jerri and Sandra ensured JT’s departure and the numerical advantage for the Villains, but that advantage seems relatively worthless in comparison to the security of two idols. After expertly sniffing out Amanda’s lie, Parv knew there was no chance she was going home; so why not let the vote come out in a tie?" Read the rest of Bolen's latest recap here.

Kat Angus (Dose.ca): "I don’t think there is a man or woman, gay or straight, who is not a little attracted to Parvati right now. Say what you want about some of her past strategies – the giggling, the flirting – but her big move at tribal council was freaking Bad. Ass. Pulling not one but two immunity idols from her bag – and not even either of them on herself – was a massively risky move, but watching it pay off was one of the most satisfying moments of the season, if not the entire history of Survivor." Follow the rest of Angus' latest recap here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

This Week's Podcast: Just add Stewart, Colbert

Scott Thompson is back at CHML and by the sound of it had a whole lot of catching up to do on the TV front. We touch on the camera-happy Octomom, the other, weepy, Octomom who got booted off Dancing with the Stars this week, the glory days of Hamilton wrestling (yes, the Love Brothers), NBC's record loss on the Olympics and new deals announced this week at Comedy Central for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (right). The fake news boys are locked into the U.S. Comedy cable network now until 2012/2013. I ramble on the radio about David Letterman still having to sign his latest contract extension but have since checked and apparently he's inked until 2012--which will give him 30 years in late night, tying him with his hero, Johnny Carson. Letterman turned 63 last week. Look for Stewart, or Conan, or Ferguson, or add your rumour here, to take over after that. In the meantime, listen to the radio rant here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hockey Hammers Hiccups, Dan For Mayor

The first round of the NHL hockey playoffs is giving some of Canada’s regularly scheduled programs hiccups.
In particular, the new Monday night at 8 CTV sitcom pair Hiccups and Dan For Mayor were bodychecked down to series lows opposite playoff games on two other channels. Monday’s BBM Canada overnight estimates saw both Hiccups and Dan dip well below the half-million mark nationally, a first for new episodes of each. The Total BBM tally, which includes PVR viewing, will be higher, but still—these are shows that opened to close to 2 million viewers each in overnights.
It was the Canadian NHL team playoff games opposite that did the most damage. CBC’s 7 p.m. Sabres at Bruins tilt drew just 621,000, but TSN’s Montreal Canadiens-Washington Capitals game pulled 1,254,000 to the sports specialty channel. A late Monday CBC game, Vancouver at Los Angeles, bounced up to an overnight, estimated 1,696,000.
Hiccups and Dan already have their hands full Mondays at 8 opposite Global’s House (close to 2 million viewers). CTV’s red hot 9 p.m. comedy imports, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, were down but certainly not out vs. hockey with totals in the 1.5 to 1.7 million range. Global`s 24 held steady at 9 with its usual 1.2 million.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

CRTC Takes Bold Stand With CBC

Last Wednesday, as if to show it is still daddy, the CRTC denied CBC's application to reformat its rural-themed specialty channel Bold--something CBC went ahead and did two years ago.
A license for the service was granted in 2000 for what CBC then called Land and Sea. It was supposed to be a service for rural folks, aimed at older Canadians 25-54-years-old who lived in the sticks.
Like a lot of specialty channels aimed at city slickers, it was pitched with big plans to create all kinds of new programming along the lines of the licence agreement.

Okay, now you can laugh.

Land and Sea was pretty much at sea on the specialty tier. It was rebranded Country Canada and still Canadians looked past it like it was a hitchhiker with pets.
In 2007, CBC informed the Commission it was going to spice up its sleepy (and ignored) rural channel. Their big plan was to call it bold so people would think it was bold. (Surely a memo went out saying, "Make it bold!" and the rest is history.) The same deep thinking that went into having a guy stand and do the news went into calling something bold that wasn't anything close to bold.
Anyway, in the tried and true Canadian broadcasting tradition where forgiveness is easier to obtain than permission, in 2008, the CBC went ahead and called the thing Bold. They sent out shiny new press kits. They assured the CRTC that it wasn`t really bold, it was just as dull as when it was Land and Sea or Country Canada. The four viewers in the country who noticed were confused for hours.
All CBC wanted really was to rebrand their loser station into something that could bring in more of those fee-for-carriage nickels and dimes. They hoped to sell Bold like a detergent, even if it didn't exactly wash.
The goal, if anything, was make it less bold, to water it down and make the content requirements as wishy-washy as every other broadcaster who owns a bunch of these audience repellent, not-so-special specialty channels. They even call it bold with a lower case b in case anybody thought it was too bold. With PPM data on the horizon, they should have changed the name to TSN for as many months as that would have flown under the radar.
They admitted to the CRTC that the original rural format was a flop when they pressed for change in November of 2008. While the channel was originally intended to develop and commission original programming, it never achieved the penetration and revenue projections required. Their back up plan then, as outlined in their application, was to toss anything that smelled rural on the bold heap and rerun it all into the earth. Bold would be like a compost heap of old, recycled CBC shows. How rural is that?
Trouble was, CBC's rural shelves have been bare since Don Messer fiddled through his last Jubilee. They finally threw in the towel and asked the CRTC to completely let them off the hook and just allow them to program any old crap (except for a teeny, tiny 10% deemed minty-fresh "rural.").
The CRTC wondered if approving the amendment would allow bold to morph into a general interest specialty service. D-uh! Meanwhile, Quebecor's QMI--which hates the CBC--filed an intervention arguing that the channel was already in violation of its original licensing mandate. Bell said maybe Bold should be dropped from (gulp) mandatory carriage. The Commission looked at Bold's Dec., 2009 schedule full of old CBC sitcoms and dramas and concluded it was urban by a country mile. People already have Bravo, Showcase and The Comedy Network if they want to see hours and hours of recycled programs, concluded the Commission.
So they denied CBC's bid to take the country out of bold and gave them 30 days to retype and resubmit. What we wonder here at TVFMF is:
WHAT ABOUT ALL THESE OTHER BOGUS, FLIP-FLOP, WHATEVER SELLS THIS WEEK SPECIALTY CHANNELS?? Why punish CBC when CTV, Global and Rogers change formats faster than Facebook? When Lonestar rode into digi-Dodge, it found a lot of folks who missed Bonanza. Pretty soon, though, wall-to wall Eddie Murphy flicks and a name change to Movietime. CTV couldn't dump Talk fast enough once they did their deal for MTV. Prime was going to be for seniors; now it's where old sitcoms not carried by TVLand go to die on TVTropolis.
Drive-In was a cheesy little CHUM creation filled with fun Kung-Fu and Blacksploitation Grind house flicks; now it is the opposite of that, art house import brand Sundance.
Sextv used to feature more stiff members than the Parliamentary channel. Now, as W Movies, it is one of three dozen channels where, on any given night, you can gather the kitties for Sleepless in Seattle.
Will this bold decision mean a new tougher line for all format flippers? Or, given the whole fee-for-carriage, cable customer impact fight ahead, could we just maybe throw all these boring rerun channels into a pot and let the market decide? You know, a la carte? Now that would be bold.
UPDATE: John Doyle kicks this around like a soccer ball this week at the Globe and Mail, pointing out that Wayne Rostad is still available to sort out Country Canada.

Playing a Priest on TV No Stretch for Gretsch

Priests have been getting a lot of bad press lately. As Bill Maher said the other night on Real Time about the Pope, "You know your reign's been tainted when you long for the days when people just thought you were a Nazi."
Which sort of brings us to this story I wrote for The Canadian Press last week. It's about Joel Gretsch (right), who plays Father Jack on V (tonight at 10 p.m. on ABC and /A\).
I spoke with Gretsch last month in Los Angeles at a Warner Bros. Int'l TV press event. Playing a priest on TV clearly meant more than just putting on a collar to the 46-year-old actor, who grew up in St. Paul's, Minnesota, and had nothing but good things to say about the priests who ran a local leadership camp he attended.
His comments made me think about some of the good guys who provided genuine leadership back at my Catholic high school in Etobicoke, men like Fr. John Redmond and especially, for me, Fr. Mike Goetz (both long gone, with schools named after them). They didn't run around chasing aliens like Gretsch's Father Jack does on V, but, back at Michael Power, they did try to show us that goodness, discipline and knowledge were more than words on a school slogan.
Gretsch said he had a hard time talking about playing a priest on TV and I think I understood where he was coming from. Father Jack is just a character on a sci-fi show but hats off to Gretsch and the writer/producers for giving the guy some dimension and not playing to the lurid headlines that haunt a lot of good priests today.

WIMA on Lima and Other Glee Goodies

Tonight is the "Madonna" episode of Glee, a hot topic during my weekly chat with Lima, Ohio morning man Mike Miller at WIMA. The Clear Channel station is broadcast out of the very city where Glee is supposed to take place--Lima.
They never hear the term "Lima loser" in Lima, one of a number of sore points between the people of this city of about 40,000 and the producers of the series. There is no William McKinley High, either.
Glee executive producer Ryan Murphy used to visit a fairgrounds in the city on summer trips with his family and that's why Glee is set there. When critics were invited to the Fox lot in Beverly Hills to check out the set of Glee last January, we got to see the interiors of the glee club music room and some of the school offices, including the staff lunch room and Sue Sylvester's trophy-packed office. (That's me behind Sue's desk, failing at giving the "Sue C's It" sign and/or indicating penis size; either way not very impressive.) By thew way, Sue's vitamin pill cart would put even Roger Clemons to shame. I also got to take an extra close look at some of the kooky fake signs posted in the hallways of the school set (below).
Murphy is all about details but one gem he didn't know--a nugget passed on to me by Miller--is that the locals used to have their own saying for what LIMA stood for: Lost In Middle America. When I shared that with Murphy he said, "Perfect." Don't be surprised to hear it in a future episode.
As for tonight's Madonna-tracked romp, it seems too reverential to me. I can't imagine Sylvester (Jane Lynch) really being that stoked by the empowerment of Madonna's music, she seems dismissive of almost everything else. The closing "Like A Prayer" number features a Heavenly choir and is a suitable crowd pleaser. "Like a Virgin" is well integrated into the storyline. The already celebrated, shot-for-shot recreation of the Vogue video, featuring Lynch, is disappointing because it takes the one essential ingredient out of that black and white short--Madonna. It calls out for parody, not cloning. It would have been fun to see Figgins and Tanaka worked into the vibe.
But judge for yourselves tonight at 9 p.m. on Fox and Global. And for more of my WIMA radio chat with Mike Miller, listen in here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

22 Minutes Down to 13 Amid CBC Cuts for Fall

Word is leaking out on CBC plans for the 2010-2011 season and budget woes continue to impact series runs. With ad revenues down sharply the year before, the public network nibbled last season, trimming an episode here, an episode there. This fall, without the "fee-for-carriage" bailout offered to Canada's private networks by the CRTC (albeit in a "sort it out for yourselves and we'll check if it's legal" kind of way), TVFMF is hearing that CBC is taking a sharper knife to series production runs next season.
The most dramatic cut could come at the expense of the network's longest-running entertainment series, 22 Minutes. The Halifax-based comedy may be down to a half-season, with just 13 episodes ordered, down from 18 last season and 20 the season before that. This leaves a three month window for the five member troupe to satirize Canadian politics and other targets. 22 Minutes will be embarking upon its 18th season.
Little Mosque on the Prairie, which saw its weekly average tumble south of the DBBM level ("Dreaded Below Brampton Measure") many weeks last season, looks to be down to one last half season swan song. The series, which blasted out of the gate to over 2 million viewers early in 2007, has shed 3/4 of its original weekly audience.
As previously announced, The Border--which couldn't hold Thursdays opposite many U.S. heavy hitters--is out of production and will not be back next season.
CBC had some breakthrough success in 2009-2010, especially in the fall. After scoring an incredible 1.7 mil+ weekly avg. on Sunday nights, Battle of the Blades will be back with more skaters and more episodes. Dragon`s Den is gold (and costs next-to-nothing) and CBC will take as many episodes as they can get. The Rick Mercer Report had its highest weekly average ever, topping a million a week, and is back for a full 19 episodes. Stealth hit Heartland (left) was also over a million a week, earning another full run on Sunday nights. The Republic of Doyle drew a weekly average close to 800,000 viewers in its first season and--"Oh yeah!"--is back for more. The Tudors did slightly better and will be back for one last head chopping. CTV, however, has snatched the next Showtime/BBC period drama, The Borgias, away from CBC.
TVFMF has learned that first year Friday night comedy The Ron James Show has been picked up for a second 10-episode plus a New Year's Eve episode season after averaging close to 700,000 on Friday nights. Also back is fellow rookie 18 to Life, which, like Little Mosque, struggled against stiff competition on Monday nights. Another 13 episodes have been ordered with production to resume in July.
Official word on CBC's 2010-2011 season is expected next month. In the meantime, with help from our field correspondent "Deep Numbers," here is a list of non-sports CBC shows and rough estimates of their season averages. The totals are based on season-long BBM Canada 2+ totals for original episodes:
1. Battle of the Blades (Performance) 1,737,000
2. Dragons Den 1,720,000
3. Battle of the Blades (Results) 1,270,000
4. Rick Mercer Report 1,081,000
5. Heartland 1,020,000
6. Tudors 823,000
7. Republic of Doyle 791,000
8. Ron James 686,000
9. 22 Minutes 625,000
10. Rick Mercer Friday Repeat 600,000
11. Being Erica 582,000
12. Kids In the Hall (Death Comes To Town) 563,000
13. 18 To Life 553,000
14. The Border 532,000
15. Little Mosque 517,000
16. Just Four Laughs Gala 368,000
17. Halifax Comedy Festival 327,000
18. Winnipeg Comedy Festival 300,000

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Memories of Mean Gene Kiniski

Gene Kiniski, who passed away Wednesday morning at 81, was one of my all-time favourite interviews back when I was typing for the Toronto Sun. The hulking ring legend was helping to promote the series Wrestling With the Past on the Comedy Network when I caught up with him in 2001.
I met Kiniski at a restaurant at Yonge and St. Clair in Toronto. He was a big angry bear of a man, pissed at being retired, pissed at having bad knees, pissed at me. We hit it off fine.
What I loved about the Sun was you could type up any nonsense just as long as it fit, met your deadline and readers were tickled. Read the full 2001 article here, but here is the fun part:

Kiniski makes no effort to impress anyone. "Even today, I wear old clothes," he says, drawing attention to his possibly grey leisure suit jacket. "Who the #%&!@# am I going to impress by wearing a thousand dollar suit?"
Maybe me, grandpa, I said.
Kiniski's forehead started sizzling like a hot hamburger. He reached across the table and flung me the length of the restaurant like a used Beanie Baby.
When I came to, he was towering over me like a lumpy TD Centre. I tried to smash a chair across his arthritic knees but I couldn't reach them. Scrambling onto a stack of tables, I leapt on his back and tried for an eye gouge or a camel clutch but I couldn't get my arms around his ears, let alone his neck.
Kiniski was about to toss me down, stomp on my head and put me in a lethal scissors lock when the check arrived. I saw my opening and made for the door, but Kiniski beat me to it. He was last seen picking cabbies up by their nostrils and flinging them up Yonge St.

Wrestling was just the ticket for those early days of network TV. It was cheap vaudeville and came with a built in cast of good guys and, like Kiniski, bad guys (and plenty of politically incorrect ethnic stereotypes). Commentators used to crackle plastic cups to add bone-crunching sound effects to the mayhem.
Later, in the '60s and '70s, guys like The Sheik (and his fez-wearing manager, Abdulla Farouk), Andre The Giant, high stepping Tex McKenzie, Haystacks Calhoun and my favorites, Hartford and Reginald, the paisley-pants-wearing Love Brothers (left--two guys from Newfoundland named Wes Hutchings & John Evans who weren't really brothers), would snarl and throw folding chairs and gouge each other with illegal objects in the early days of colour TV. I can still hear "The Sabre Dance" intro to the CHCH Channel 11 wrestling show out of Hamilton, where Lord Athol Layton (we used to call him Lord Athol Latent) would always threaten to take off his bad suit and drop kick or karate chop his way back into the ring.
They were cartoon characters, what we watched before we watched celebrities lapse into rehab before they went on Dancing with the Stars.
Kiniski never got into any of that sissy stuff. He just showed up, scared the crap out of somebody, took his cheque and headed for the next rodeo. May he rest in pieces.

This Week's Podcast: Time on Conan's Side

Scott Thompson is off this week at Hamilton's CHML so I spoke with Jim Carriere, who seems to have missed all the fuss about Glee. I try to bring him up to speed, and also deconstruct Conan O'Brien's surprise move to TBS and U.S. cable. Plenty of analysis pouring in on that shocker, including this savvy big business take from Peter Lauria over at The Daily Beast. Lauria speculates that the O'Brien pickup is part of an aggressive content build up as TBS parent company Time Warner escalates its war with Comcast and other major cable and satellite distributors. The plan: in a fragmenting marketplace, keep TBS a "Must Carry" network. It's all part of a carriage fee death match between networks and cable that threatens to make Canada's little "Save Local TV" spat look like a schoolyard tussle. Read Lauria's take on the Conan connection here and listen to the CHML radio chat here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Glee at Global as Rookie's Return Tops 2 Mil

All that pom-pom waving seems to have paid off. Glee returned Tuesday night after a four month hiatus and enjoyed its biggest Canadian audience ever, with 2,120,000 tuning in according to BBM Canada overnight estimates.
Wednesday's Global release claims Glee (featuring Naya Rivera, right) beat CTV's American Idol in the 18-49-year-old demo nationally 1,268,300 to 1,049,600, with Glee trouncing Idol in Toronto 341,700 to 226,900 in the same demo. Idol, which draws a surprisingly high number of older viewers, still won the night overall with 2,731,000.
Global sez Glee is Canada's No. 1 new show and once the final season-long numbers are all in, they'll probably be right (although CBC's Battle of the Blades averaged over 1.7 million on Sunday's last fall, and Global pickup NCIS: Los Angeles is also in contention).
Glee also returned strong in the U.S. (where it followed Idol on Fox), winning its timeslot in households and demo and averaging close to 14 million in the overnight estimates. The actual audience number will rise once DVR and +3s and +7s are all factored in. The four month hiatus has not been so kind to dramas V and FlashForward in the States, where audience levels have fallen sharply (V pulled around 6 million U.S. last night).

Theory Proven Monday as Big Bang Soars

The Big Bang Theory (featuring Johnny Galecki, right) climbed to nearly 2.5 million viewers in Canada Monday, firmly establishing itself as Canada's most-watched comedy. An overnight, estimated 2,492,000 tuned in to the Chuck Lorre sitcom, its second-biggest audience ever according to a CTV release. That also made it the top show of the night in Canada, beating lead-in Two and a Half Men (2,229,000), CTV's CSI: Miami at 10 (2,145,000) and a new (and strong) episode of Global's House at 8 p.m. (2,130,000). Another 1,807,000 watched Dancing with the Stars Monday on A while Global's 24 (1,195,000) had a typically arresting night as Jack Bauer nears the end of his final TV assignment.
Against such stiff import competition, the news was less impressive for the Canadian made comedies Monday night. CTV rookies Hiccups (772,000) and Dan For Mayor (567,000) continue to show declines while the season finale of CBC's 18 to Life finished below its season average with an estimated 481,000 viewers. All these figures could change once PVR viewing and final totals are calculated.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Glee is Back Tonight--But Canada Will Not See the Madonna "Vogue" Video Sneak Peak

As was proclaimed today on the giant wrap-around ads on the front page of the Toronto Star, "the wait is over" for the return of Glee. The high energy Fox high school musical series returns tonight at precisely 9:28 p.m. ET/PT--carefully timed so that Fox can milk every last advantage out of that still-potent-but-slipping American Idol lead-in.
I've seen the next three episodes and, if you are a fan of the series and watched the 13 that aired last Sept.-Dec., you will be rocked right back into this high school fantasy. A lot has happened since Glee last aired four whole months ago. The series does OK in the U.S. ratings (and better in Canada on Global), but has become more of a success as a marketing phenomenon than as a TV series.
At one point, 25 of the Top-100 Billboard songs were from the first two Glee soundtracks; a third CD of all Madonna tunes drops next week. The series also spawned a first half-season DVD boxed set--the first time a TV series rushed to DVD after half a season.
The cast also promoted the hell out of this thing in personal appearances in New York and Australia and even made a recent stop at the White House (above) as well as on Oprah. Next month, they start singing and dancing on a four city live U.S. tour. If they could train them to make Nike running shoes they'd probably start sewing in May.
Tonight's episode, "Hell-o" (featuring such songs as The Beatles' "Hello Goodbye" and Lionel Richie's "Hello") has glee club white knight Mr. Shu (Matthew Morrison) back battling sneaky Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch, top with Cory Monteith, Lea Michele and Morrison). Broadway star Idina Menzel (left) guests tonight as the formidable coach of the rival high school glee club "Vocal Adrenaline." She adds some sizzle to the mix (and, c'mon, has to eventually be revealed as Rachel's biological mother. The resemblance is scary). It's great to see Iqbal Theba back as principal Figgins (below right) but the trick Sylvester plays on him to get reinstated at the school seems pretty seen-it-before. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that only three guys write this series, but Glee can seem pretty repetitive at times.
That is when it is not fitfully arbitrary. One storyline tonight finds glee club rival Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff) bolting from Vocal Adrenaline--with his coaches tacit approval--and joining Mr. Shu's gleeks. Huh? What the? Is it that easy to switch schools?
Waking Glee up from so-so storylines is that tremendous production and effort put into virtually every song showcase. The second episode, a valentine to Madonna, is, if anything, over-produced. The much heralded, frame-by-frame homage to Madonna's "Vogue" video--featuring Lynch in blond curls and bustier--is impressive but pointless. (Plus Lynch--brilliant in small doses--overpowers this episode.) There should be more humour and parody or Glee in it or why not just show the original? More dazzling is the multi-character song and dance to "Like A Virgin," which tracks six characters hopping into bed with one surprising consummation.
The third episode features Kristen Chenoweth and while her Broadway verve makes her an idea guest it seems too soon to be bringing her back.
Fans of Jessyln Gilsig (Terri), Mark Salling {"Puck") and Canadian Patrick Gallagher (left)--hilarious as coach Ken Tenaka--are going to be disappointed with these next three half hours as they've all been more or less benched. We do see more of Kurt's blue collar dad (Mike O'Malley) who has a busy storyline in two weeks. Also getting more face time as the series heads into its "spring" season are scheming Cheerios Brittney (Heather Morris, right) and Santana (Naya Rivera).
What you won't see tonight if you watch this show over the Global feed in Canada is a sneak preview of next week's "Vogue" video. Fox announced today they plan to air it during tonight's episode as a three-minute sneak peak sponsored by Chevy. No such deal exists in Canada so no sneak peak until "The Power of Madonna" airs next Tuesday, April 20, on Global.
In the meantime, ever wonder about that guy that never talks who plays the piano in the school's music room? His name is Brad Ellis (left) and he really does speak. I spoke with him last January, in fact, when TV critics were welcomed to the set of Glee on the Fox lot in Los Angeles. Ellis, part of the musical production team connected with the series, now has several Facebook groups and can be spotted again behind the piano in the new episodes. Get the full scoop on the silent one here in this story I wrote last week for The Canadian Press.

Lo-Co Love-In at TBS


"A Latino and a redhead--it's worked before. Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball." In the clip above from Monday night's George Lopez Show, check out Lopez's take on Conan O'Brien coming to TBS. The bit--a goof on O'Brien's lip-synch sketches as a way around NBC's no talking on TV gag order--features another shot at Jay Leno. The Tonight Show host, meanwhile, made no mention of O'Brien's TBS news on his show, instead allowing his bandleader Kevin Eubanks to confirm that he is bolting Tonight in the next six weeks. "After 18 years of playing America in to commercials, I'm gonna go somewhere where I can finish a song," Eubanks said.
Kimmel, of course, did go there on last night's Jimmy Kimmel Live, saying Leno was preparing to move his show now to TBS.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Shocker--Conan O'Brien Lands at TBS, Not Fox

Bill Carter has it today in the New York Times--Conan O'Brien has agreed to a deal which will see him host a late night talk show at U.S. cable network TBS. The show could be on the air as early as November.
O'Brien, who left NBC's The Tonight Show in February, had been in talks to launch a late night talk show at Fox. There was always problems with that move, chief among them a reluctance among Fox affiliates to ditch their already profitable reruns from 11 p.m. to midnight to accommodate O'Brien. The Fox network also was apparently not prepared to spend the roughly million-and-a-half a week or $90 million annually NBC had been spending to produce O'Brien's previous late night efforts, offering, according to some reports, $60 million annually.
O'Brien released a typically self-deprecating statement today on the news: “In three months I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I’m headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly.”
Jumping to cable doesn't really keep O'Brien off too many screens. TBS is available in 100.4 million of the 114.9 million cable homes in the United States.
O'Brien's 30-city live concert tour, which has stops in Vancouver (this Tuesday and Wednesday) and Toronto, begins tonight in Eugene, Ore. TBS got into late night this season with the successful launch of The George Lopez show, which will now slide to midnight, allowing O'Brien's new effort to air at 11 p.m. O'Brien's old NBC series Late Night consistently scored with 18-49-year-old viewers, a demo the U.S. cable network covets.
The cable network has traditionally been the home of several off-network sitcoms and comedies, as O'Brien acknowledges in today's twitter post: "The good news: I will be doing a show on TBS starting in November! The bad news: I'll be playing Rudy on the all new Cosby Show."
TBS, which is owned by Time Warner, does not currently air on Canadian cable or satellite stations (we get the Atlanta sister station "Peachtree" instead), but a Canadian network is likely to pick up the series.
UPDATE: Nikke Finke has some of the details in her latest update over at Deadline Hollywood Daily here, including word that the deal essentially went down in two days and that O'Brien will be staying put in L.A.
2ND UPDATE: Long time late night watcher Aaron Barnhart says Conan on cable will be bigger than the Daily Show.

Canada's No. 1 Comedy: The Big Bang Theory

Had a blast on a recent trip to Los Angeles and to the set of The Big Bang Theory, which has quietly become the No. 1-rated comedy in Canada. It's poised to overtake Two and a Half Men in the U.S. (especially if Charlie Sheen's departure reduces that show to One and a Half Men). Throughout March, Big Bang averaged 2,093,000 viewers a week in Canada on CTV, where it has flourished ever since being moved out of the 'A' witness protection plan.
The three-year-old series is shot on stage 25 of the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank, Ca., the same soundstage where the original, late '80s version of V was produced as well as the old James Garner western Maverick (1957-62). Over the years, it has a much more storied history as a movie soundstage, housing scenes from such Warner Bros. classics as Casablanca, Giant, Bonnie & Clyde, Blade Runner, Batman Returns and Dave.
The five main cast members--Johnny Galecki (above, left, being interviewed on the set), Jim Parsons, Kaley Couco (her names translates as "cook" in Italian, according to the WB press pack), Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar--gave the four international press groupings about 20 minutes each. We all sat on directors chairs in front of various Big Bang set pieces. Our group, which consisted of reporters from Australia, the U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Spain, Mexico and Singapore, was in the apartment hallway in front of the out-of-order elevator door.
The groups were fairly close to one another and occasionally one cast member had to holler over to another to keep it down over there. All appeared relaxed and friendly, basking in the success of the series as it takes off in Season Three. Couco appeared the most blase about the press day, suggesting her family always insisted she maintain a strong interest in something else throughout her acting career:

KALEY CUOCO: Yeah. The show's changed my life.
Let's face it. It's a very strange show. Strange
people watching. It's strange reactions. When we
first started the show, people hated it. They
didn't get it at all, and it's kind of become this
weird little phenomenon. I can't believe I'm even
saying that. It gets bigger and bigger every week.
Just over the past year, it's changed my life.
Yeah. Just been a little -- really out there now.
Interesting. I'm a very private person, so we -- it
happened so fast.

QUESTION: So how do you deal with that kind of new
fame?

KALEY CUOCO: I don't know. You just do it. Again,
like I said, I'm such an aloof person. I was
telling them someone might be looking at me, and I'm
thinking there might be something on my face. I
don't even think that they're thinking anything
else. I don't think about the show. The minute I
leave this set, I don't know. It's completely a
different lifestyle. So you know, I have a lot of
animals. Very grounded. I live on a ranch, horses.
That's the favorite part of my life.

QUESTION: Big animals.

KALEY CUOCO: Yeah.

QUESTION: Horses?

KALEY CUOCO: Uh-huh. Horses, dogs.

QUESTION: How many?

KALEY CUOCO: Three horses, four dogs. Oh, yeah.
I'm very involved in the animal world. That's what
keeps me grounded.

QUESTION: What else do you like to do in your spare
time?

KALEY CUOCO: I show horses. That's my other life.
Minute I leave here, I'm at the ranch.

QUESTION: Show jumping?

KALEY CUOCO: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: So you ride and jump?

KALEY CUOCO: Uh-huh. Every weekend.

QUESTION: That must be the producer's nightmare.

KALEY CUOCO: They don't know the extent of it. I
think they think I go pet my horse and give him a
carrot. I don't think they know exactly what's
going on. But, yeah. We'll keep that between us.

QUESTION: Of course.

QUESTION: We won't tell anyone.

KALEY CUOCO: I'm sure. I have to -- I've always
said, and as a kid, my parents too, if you're going
to do something, whatever your job is going to be,
you have to have something else that you like,
either more important, but something else. So this
has never been the only thing in my life. I think
that's why I feel so normal. It's just another
thing to do. Another job. I don't look at it as
anything else.

A bit later, I asked the 23-year-old actress, who previously starred opposite the late John Ritter on 8 Simple Rules..., how she coped with this level of success and attention. Her answer, I thought, was usually candid for a young star on a hot series:

KALEY CUOCO: Yeah. It's not crazy, and again, I am
so aloof. I really am. I don't even know what's
happening half the time. I'm always shocked when
anyone has seen the show. I'm genuinely -- I can't
believe it. Like I said, when I leave here, there's
no "Big Bang Theory" at home. I don't bring that in
my house. There's nothing in my family's house. I
get home, they're like, "Will you help me with the
dishes?" It's nothing. It's never been that way.
I just live a totally different life than what's
going on here, which makes me appreciate this so
much. I don't live it all over the place.

QUESTION: Was that something that came from your
parents?

KALEY CUOCO: Yes.

QUESTION: Child actor --

KALEY CUOCO: Yeah. I started when I was five years
old. So like I said before, it was always I had to
be doing more than one thing. If I wanted to play a
sport, I wasn't just going to be playing a sport. I
had to go do something else. So with rejection, I
could go to something else, and that's how I feel
today. If I didn't have animals, horses, a
different world than what I am here, you get so
sucked in and become obsessed with what you're
doing. You don't appreciate it anymore because you
feel it's your life. This is not real life. This
is a little weird world. This is not real. It's
just not real.

QUESTION: You're so immersed in it. You've had a
career in it. You would think it would become your
reality.

KALEY CUOCO: It will never become my reality, ever.
There's no way, because I'm not going to have this
forever. I'm just going to enjoy it now, and the
minute it's gone, I'll have other things to do.
This will never become my reality.

It's not my reality, either, but that didn't stop the three Canadians who took part in the Warner Bros. International press event--The Toronto Sun's Bill Harris, CTV.ca new media dude Tyrone Warner and myself--from having our photo snapped on the Big Bang set. (All photos courtesy Warner Bros. International.) Clearly the nerdy spinoff has been cast. Tonight's episode (9:31 p.m., CBS and CTV), "The Wheaton Recurrence," finds the guys facing off against Sheldon's nemisis, former ST: TNG kid Will Wheaton. Read the rest of The Star story here.