Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Half Million Catch Hiccups, See Dan Exit

Hiccups and Dan For Mayor got a bit of a bump each for their season finales Monday night. Hiccups drew an overnight, estimated 498,000 viewers across Canada and Dan For Mayor (starring Fred Ewanuick, right) pulled 516,000. CTV plans to slide new TV Land pickup Hot in Cleveland into the Monday at 8 slot next week.
CBS comedy imports Two and a Half Men (1,316,000) and The Big Bang Theory (1,346,000) had a typically strong Monday night in summer reruns. A fresh episode of the Fox drama Lie to Me won the night in Canada on Global with an estimated 1,539,000 viewers. The new Fox buddy cop series The Good Guys followed with 866,000.
CBC scored early with a 2:15 p.m. FIFA World Cup match, which netted 1,217,000.
CBC SELLS OUT: Do Canadian made TV shows have to charge the new HST? CBC announced Wednesday that they have dumped their old distributor and signed a new deal with New York-based Impulse Media Sales to peddle their wares Stateside. One show already sold is The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town, which will be paneled at the upcoming TCA press tour. The U.S. Independent Film Channel, a Rainbow Network, will premiere the bizarre comedy Aug. 20 on U.S. cable.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Remembering Gene Trindl

I made a mental note to mark Gene Trindl's passing a few weeks ago and was shocked to discover six years had gone by already--I thought it was five. The man who shot more TV Guide covers than anybody else was 80 when he passed away June 29, 2004 from pancreatic cancer.
Trindl was a gentleman photographer with a knack for putting his subjects at ease and catching them being themselves. I first got to know him many years ago when I was based in Los Angeles as photo editor of TV Guide Canada. Gene worked fast, often taking advantage of natural, outdoor light. When you threw him an assignment, you knew it would be in focus and on time and always something special.
The native Californian never stopped shooting and was clicking well into the digital era, getting up at the crack of dawn and heading to nearby ranches to capture horses kicking up clouds of dust as they gallop in the early morning sunlight.
Trindl's specialty was celebrity portraits and he shot thousands of them. (Go here or here to see some or order prints.) On the wall of his office at his funky ranch-style home off Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, Ca., Gene kept a framed TV Guide cover hanging on a wall. It was a shot of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney and other superstars of the day. It wasn't an exceptional photograph and I asked Gene why he had it on his wall.
"Because that was the day I knew I could do this," said Gene. "Sinatra showed up and said, 'You've got six shots.' So I said, "Bing, put down the pipe and stand over here. Frank, I need you to the left. Dean, lose the drink and look this way."
Trindl used to say that celebrity photography was 10% perspiration and 90% psychology. He dismissed a lot of the fuzzy, soft-focus shots so popular on covers of the '80s of leading ladies like Joan Collins and Linda Evans. "Looks like it was shot through a nylon stocking with a leg still in it," he would huff.
I spent many hours with Gene recording his stories about shooting The Monkees, the Star Trek cast, the leads from All in the Family, Michael Jackson, John Travolta, Ronald Reagan, Fred Astaire, Michael Landon, Tom Selleck even, back when he was apprenticing as an assistant, Marilyn Monroe. He had a very sexy shot of her in long johns I've never seen anywhere else.
Last time I saw Gene was at the Smoke House, a '40s-era eatery across from Warner Bros. in Burbank. He had just been presented with the Lucie Award by his peers at a black tie dinner in Los Angeles, a well deserved and even better timed honor. The 16 or 17 shunts in his arteries didn't hold him back from polishing off a thick, juicy steak.
Occasionally I'll run into TV veterans like Ed Asner or Angela Lansbury or Selleck in L.A. at a press tour session and mention our pal Gene. They all stop and smile and give you that faraway look. He didn't just take their picture, he took them out of all this nonsense for a moment and showed them who they really were.
He was a good man, and I miss him every time I'm in Los Angeles.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Rookie Blue Wins Night in Canada

Global's long awaited cop show Rookie Blue (starring Missy Peregrym, left) blew out of the gate Thursday night, scoring an overnight estimated 1,811,000 viewers across Canada. That made it the No. 1 show in Canada on the night, beating lead-in Wipeout (1,271,000) and all comers on the other channels, including CTV's timeslot rival So You Think You Can Dance (1,116,000) and reruns of CTV cop show imports The Mentalist (1,565,000) and CSI (1,436,000).
CBC scored their biggest audience Thursday at 9:45 in the morning with a key World Cup match, as Slovakia defeated Italy. An estimated 1,137,000 watched that game.
Rookie Blue got off to a solid summer start Stateside, with an estimated 7.25 million checking the made-in-Toronto series out on ABC. That ranked it third on the night behind that repeat of The Mentalist and a fresh Wipeout in total viewers. Check the full Thursday night U.S. ratings story here.

DVD Review: Leave it to Beaver

If you think Leave it to Beaver is just a stale slice of white bread from the middle of the last century, as Eddie Haskell would say, you're dead wrong, Sam.
On Tuesday, Shout! Factory releases Leave it to Beaver: The Complete Series, a massive, seven volume, 37-disc DVD collection featuring all 234 episodes of the black and white sitcom. Leave it to Beaver originally ran--first on CBS and later ABC--from 1957 to 1963.
The price is high--a suggested retail of US$199.99 (get it for US$179.99 plus S&H at the Shout! site)--but this series is a real treasure for Boomers who grew up with the show or who want to share it with their kids or even grandchildren. Leave it to Beaver is The Little Rascals of its day, a warm slice of life through the eyes of kids growing up in North America. And while, yes, June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) does wear pearls and vacuums in high heels, and the neighbourhood is not exactly, shall we say, diverse, the series is far less cloying than it has often been characterized. Credit straight ahead, slice of life writing from creators Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher (a writing team who worked on the even more maligned Amos 'n' Andy and went on to The Munsters). These two clearly never forgot what it was like to cope with life a kid.
The casting also had everything to do with the charm of this series. That's driven home by viewing one of the extras on this collection, the original pilot, called "It's a Small World." Only Billingsley and Jerry Mathers ("as The Beaver") survived into the actual series run, with different actors playing dad Ward Cleaver and big brother Wally. The additions of Hugh Beaumont and Tony Dow in those roles made a tremendous difference to this series. Beaumont brought authority and character, Dow just seemed so true, managing to turn what could have been a bullying older brother role into a real--sometimes caring, sometimes oblivious--family member.
Ken Osmond nails it as Wally's jerky pal Eddie Haskell, always so kiss-ass with Mrs. Cleaver and nothing but two faced trouble behind any parent's back. The Cleaver kids other pals were mainly jerks and creeps too, especially that boob Lumpy Rutherford (Frank Bank).
The episodes often wind up in some little sermon with Ward called upon to offer a moral to the story. Surprisingly, in looking back, it is often the parent getting the lesson. When The Beav lies at school about not having a pet for Pet Day, Ward reprimands the boy but still goes out and buys a turtle for Beaver to take to school. When the Beav asks why his dad went against his own principles and covered for the kid, Ward explains there are just some things a father has to do for his son. You know the lesson is coming yet you feel it anyway, quite a feat at the time and especially 50 years later.
That kind of care in the quieter moments had an influence on Carl Rener, creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show, who often singles out Leave it to Beaver as one of his favourite TV shows. I think you can also see echos of the series in everything from The Andy Griffith Show to Corner Gas.
A big bonus with this set is the pristine quality of the transfers. I spoke with Shout! general manager Garson Foos (above right with Dow and Mathers) this week for a Canadian Press article (read that whole story here), and he expressed gratitude that rights holder NBC Universal kept the original film source material in such great condition in their vaults. All 234 episodes (39 a season back then!) were fully restored and digitally transferred for the boxed set release and the images are bright, crisp and complete and truly in glorious black and while.
Hunting down clean source materials for DVD collections is not always such an easy task. As a 16mm film collector, I once bought an episode of I Love Lucy at auction off eBay and immediately received an email from someone who missed out on the bidding and wanted to know if I would sell it to him. The message was from Gregg Oppenheimer, son of I Love Lucy creator Jess Oppenheimer, who was hunting down the “lost” original animated titles and cast cigarette ads that are such a welcome curiosity on I Love Lucy DVD releases.
I let Oppenheimer know I had picked up a run-of-the-mill syndicated print with the familiar heart-shaped opening titles. That didn't stop him from sending me an autographed copy of his book, "Laughs, Luck...and Lucy."
TV shows occasionally had a whole other set of network titles (sometimes featuring sponsor products like the Lucy Phillip Morris cigarette tie-ins) and the shows were longer when first broadcast back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Networks used to ship 16mm prints to their 200 or so affiliates, and these prints later had two to three minutes spliced out of them in order to accommodate more commercial time in the modern era. A half hour series like I Love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver or The Dick Van Dyke Show ran closer to 24 or 25 minutes in the ‘50s and ‘60s instead of the 22 minutes shows like The Simpsons or The Big Bang Theory get to tell a story today. The Shout! Boxed Beaver set restores each episode to its full, 25-minute glory.
The actors were showing their age more than the series earlier this week in Los Angeles. Shout! hosted a Leave it to Beaver tribute at The Paley Center. Jerry Mathers, now 62, is still the Beaver but looks his age in the above photo taken Monday at the event. Mathers, who has coped with diabetes since being diagnosed in 1996, is a tireless spokesman in the fight against the disease.
Tony Dow, on the other hand, at 65, looks as cleaned up and pristine as the prints from the new DVD release. You know that has to bug Eddie Haskell.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tonight: Rookie Blue Hits Streets of T.O.

Tonight at 9 p.m., Global launches its ABC co-pro, Rookie Blue. At one time called Copper, the shot-in-Toronto police drama stars young Canucks Missy Peregrym (Heroes, Reaper), Gregory Smith (Everwood), Enuka Okuma, Travis Miline and Charlotte Sullivan as new recruits thrown into the big city world of policing. If they were real cops they’d be standing downtown in Toronto this week, looking for nutbars with crossbows.
Reviews on both sides of the border have been mixed, with some dismissing it as Grey’s Anatomy for cops, and others praising it with the same comparison.
I watched the pilot screener several weeks ago. Several Canadians are behind it, including CFC grad Tassie Cameron, who helped get Flashpoint off the ground. Ilana Frank and David Wellington are also executive producers.
I like the two main leads (above left), but the pilot script seemed re-typed from everything from Hill Street Blues to, going way back, The Rookies. There was a bit about who’s going to frisk the transvestite that seemed like a “make it sound Bochco-ish” writing assignment.
Smith has a nice, original way of throwing you off the script and Peregrym is utterly real and winning.
Not helping the series, in my estimation, is how long it sat on the shelf. A quicker turnaround would have helped it not seem like what it now is, one of four made-in-Toronto cop shows shot last summer and scheduled this summer on Canadian and U.S. networks. I'm also a little blurry-eyed from catching up with pilots from about a dozen new cop shows launching this fall. None of the people behind Rookie Blue had any control over that.
The delay, however, may be why I had a hard time selling anybody a story on this series. I attended and enjoyed an interview session with the two charming young leads three weeks ago at Global’s main offices in Toronto. At the time I was asked not to run the story for a week or so. Not a problem as it turned out. Editors on both sides of the border passed. It seemed like they had either moved on or were just not moved period.
What I liked best about Rookie Blue was talking to Smith and Peregrym in Toronto. Both are high on the series and thrilled to have spent six months last year shooting in Toronto. Smith is from the city and, as he puts it, is “probably the biggest proponent of shooting in Toronto.” He describes it as “the greatest city, the most diverse, awesome, vibrant place.”
He also enjoyed the more laid back, arms length way the show was produced. “You’re much less encumbered here,” he says. If you want to change a line on a U.S. set, he says, “it takes three calls to three networks.” Here he would run an idea past Cameron or one of the producers and be told to go with his gut. “There’s not a scene or a line that I said in this show that didn’t feel real coming out,” he says.
I thought perhaps Smith might have enjoyed a similar luxury on Everwood, which was shot in Utah, but no, he said. “The writers were all in the same room in L.A.”
Both Smith and Peregrym said they were quickly able to get what it was like to be rookies tested by the more seasoned cops. Its not unlike the life of a young actor in Hollywood, they both said.
“I thought I was possibly going to take down Jeff Bridges career,” Peregrym said. The 28-year-old Montreal native worked opposite Bridges in the 2006 feature “Stick It.” Bridges went on to win an Oscar last spring so Peregrym didn’t seem to do too much damage.
Smith says he got schooled by Mel Gibson and other veteran actors on the set of “The Patriot.” “I had to die,” he says, “and didn’t have any experience to draw on.” Gibson showed him how to die. “It was the beginning of my career, when I started to realize there was more of an art to it,” says the 26-year-old.
Smith and Peregrym said they had to quickly get up to speed as cops. There was no mini-camp or physical training but they did get instructions on how to handle their fake guns. “Finger on the barrel, never the trigger,” says Smith.
Neither got to go on a ride-a-long with Metro’s finest. “They wouldn’t let us, too much insurance,” says Peregrym. “The closest I came was a walk-a-long,” says Smith.

CTV Hot for Hot in Cleveland

CTV has made a move to cash in on all that Hot in Cleveland buzz. The comedy, which stars sitcom veterans Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendy Malick and red hot octogenarian Betty White, launched earlier this month to the biggest audience ever on the U.S. cable service TVLand, drawing 4.75 million viewers. CTV intends to use it to anchor their summer Monday night comedy lineup starting July 5 at 8 p.m.
CTV will begin airing the series with the premiere episode, scheduling all 10 episodes over the summer.
This past Monday saw a bit of a bump in ratings for new episodes of CTV's two rookie Canadian comedy entries. Hiccups beat the Brampton barrier with an overnight, estimated 546,000 viewers, with Dan For Mayor drawing 365,000. Both shows air their season finales this coming Monday night.
CTV plans to re-broadcast Hot in Cleveland Fridays at 8:30 on The Comedy Network beginning July 9. There is no plan, however, to air it on the CTV-owned Canadian TVLand.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This Week's Podcast: The Rise of Downfall

The show was called Downfall and it premiered Tuesday night on ABC and CTV. Downfall of Western civilization is more like it.
The game show takes place on the roof of a Los Angeles office building. The studio audience, contestants and host Chris Jericho (right--appropriately enough from the WWE) are all up there. Down the middle of the rooftop runs a giant conveyor belt. Contestants are asked a series of trivia questions and if they don't answer in time, prizes they could have won go flying off the roof, smashing into the street below.
I watched in horror Tuesday night as a car, a jukebox, an entertainment centre, living room furniture and other perfectly good items were destroyed. This on the heels of the worst recession in 70 years. It was like watching oil gush from that pipeline in the Gulf. No wonder the rest of the world hates America.
On the other hand, it does have that Letterman throwing watermelons off the roof of the Sullivan theatre kind of vibe. And there are no vuvuzellas.
The contestants and Jericho are close to the edge (in more ways than one) and are thus harnessed so they don't accidentally jump up and slip off the roof. The contestant can hut a panic button, substitute a valued possession on the conveyor (one guy risked his golf clubs) or even a friend (a woman chose her husband's boss). The friends, thankfully, are also harnessed.
When contestants get eliminated, they are swung over the edge and given a quick ride down. They never did this kind of thing on Definition.
Anyway, it is all kind of fascinating and lame and it drew nearly a million viewers Tuesday night on CTV and I ramble on about it and other things to Scott Thompson of CHML. You can listen in here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Season Four of Mad Men Starts July 25

Seems hard to believe that Man Men is already entering a fourth season. It begins July 25 with Don Draper (Jon Hamm) looking at a fresh start in the ad business as the AMC poster at left indicates. But will anybody pick Mad Men up again in Canada? CTV dropped it last year when their own ad world blew up, blaming their "broken business model" for curbing their summer stockpiling. Canadians who subscribe to AMC can enjoy it day and date with U.S. audiences.
Other summer start dates to remember:
The HBO series Entourage (seventh season!) and Hung both return this coming Sunday, June 27. The made in Nova Scotia supernatural series Haven, starring EmilyRose, Lucas Bryant and Eric Balfour, begins July 12 on Showcase and Syfy. Pillars of the Earth, a German/Canadian co-production shot in Hungary, begins July 23 on The Movie Network/Movie Central. Rufus Sewell, Donald Sutherland and Ian McShane are among the international cast.
AMC launches their new espionage thriller Rubicon, starring James Badge Dale (The Pacific), August 1.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sex Saves Scoundrel David James Elliott

Actors don't usually like to talk about parts that got away or name names when it comes to people they replaced. If you almost got to play Indiana Jones, like Tom Selleck, you'd shut up about it, too. Sometimes actors will talk about it if the guy they beat out went on to a similar level of success. Will Arnett, for example, recently confirmed he beat out Rainn Wilson for the role of G.O.B. on Arrested Development. Come to think of it, with all that syndication money from The Office, Wilson will do much better than Arnett.
Katie Holmes apparently turned down the lead in Buffy the Vampire Slayer to do Dawson's Creek. Brigitte Fonda turned down Ally McBeal. Jamie Gertz turned down Monica on Friends, and Nancy McKeon (The Facts of Life) was also short-listed for that series.
All in the Family would have looked a lot different if Mickey Rooney (as Archie) and Harrison Ford (as Meathead) had accepted parts that eventually went to Carroll O'Connor and Rob Reiner. Ray Liota as Tony Soprano? Fagetaboutit--except it almost happened. Lara Flynn Boyle almost slipped into Carrie's Manolo Blahnik's on Sex and the City.
So it was a surprise a few weeks ago when I was talking on the phone with David James Elliott (above) and he identified the actor he replaced on the new ABC summer series Scoundrels. Neal McDonough (Band of Brothers) beat Elliott out for the part of Wolf West, the head of a family of small time crooks. (The series premiered Sunday at 9 on ABC and CTV).
The series opens with Mr. Wolf in bed with Mrs. Wolf, played by Vignina Madsen (Sideways). Apparently McDonough (left) never read the script, because, as has been reported, the strict Catholic father-of-three refused to do the sex scene on religious grounds.
"For whatever reasons he didn't do love scenes," says Elliott, the former JAG star originally from Milton, Ontario. He had just returned from vacation with his family when he got the call to come join the cast in New Mexico and take McDonough's place.
Scoundrels is hardly Californication. There were more sex scenes in Band of Brothers. Whatever. McDonough's loss is Elliott's gain.
Or not. Scoundrels opened to an overnight, estimated 5.2 million Sunday night on ABC.
Read more on Elliott and Scoundrels in the cover story I wrote for Saturday's Starweek magazine, which someday I hope to be able to link to.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers and Suns

Another sunset over Lonely. Posting should resume shortly.
In the meantime, Happy Father's Dad to all the dad's out there, especially my dad, Ross Brioux, who swam in this bay, scrambled up onto the rocky shore, looked out over the waves and thought, "You know, this would be a great place to build a cottage."
Fifty-odd summers later, it is a view that never gets old. Thanks dad.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mercer Stays Out Of Sun, Sticks With CBC

It's no bedtime story--Rick Mercer turned down an offer to headline Sun TV News.
Spoke with the comedian Wednesday and he confirmed that, yes, newly appointed Quebecor vice president Kory Teneycke--until less than a year ago Stephen Harper's director of communications--called him up, met with him for drinks and made a pitch for Mercer to join the proposed right wing news channel. Have the full story here at The Canadian Press.
Mercer says he met Teneycke and heard him out on the new venture "some time ago." The hard part was clamming up about the offer the past few months.
He admitted he was intrigued at the prospect at being part of a start up. He eventually decided to "dance with the one who brung me," slyly quoting former Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney for his reasons for sticking with CBC.
Stealing the Rick Mercer Report would have been a big coup out of the gate for the proposed Quebecor specialty channel. The Tuesday night series is coming off its best season ever, averaging over a million viewers a week. It begins an eighth season on CBC in September. Beyond that, it is a bargain, relatively inexpensive to produce and yielding a big return in ratings.
Insiders also know Quebecor chairman Pierre Karl Peladeau--no fan of the public broadcaster--would dearly loved to have stung CBC by stealing its comedy star. You can bet lawyers are double checking those Dragon's Den contracts.
Not generally known is that fact that the Rick Mercer Report is independently produced. Mercer takes every renewal year-to-year--a fact that provided a window for Teneycke to make his pitch.
Mercer thinks there's room for a right wing news service in Canada and is encouraged to see the likes of former Canwest Ottawa correspondent David Akin among the early SUN News hires. "I can't imagine he will suddenly go on television making up facts like the people at Fox News do," says Mercer, "so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt."
He also is keeping a watchful eye on Sun TV New's bid for a specialty licence. Should Quebecor somehow win a category 1 licence--a "must carry" bonanza the CRTC has said they are not in the business of giving out anymore--he wonders about push back from consumers who may not want to be forced to pay for the new service. "In fact, I think SUN TV columnists would call it a tax on hard-working Canadians," he jokes. (Consumers, in fact, don't have to subscribe just because their carrier offers it.)
'Course, some have been using the word "tax" for years inj connection with the network Mercer decided to stick with.
In any event, he's glad about one thing: "I’m happy people are getting hired and that there are jobs on television."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

This Week's Podcast: Emmy Winner Kent Brockman Endorses Fox News North

Scott Thompson at CHML wanted to know if I was excited about the prospect of an all new, right wing 24-hour news channel in Canada. "I haven't been this excited," I tell Scott, "since Kent Brockman won an Emmy."
Still, as Brockman would say, this reporter smells a story. Quebecor expects to launch Sun TV News by January 1, 2011. The CRTC would have to grant a licence fairly quickly for that to happen. Quebecor has asked for a category 1 specialty licence, which the CRTC has said forget about even asking about for another year or so. The government, however, can overturn a CRTC decision. The guy running SUN TV News, it turns out, used to keep the press at bay for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Huh.
There was a report yesterday that Harper had lunch in New York in March with Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch and the sly dawg who put together and runs Fox News, Roger Ailes. Kory Teneycke, then Harper's chief spokesperson, was also at the table. And look at that--he's now running SUN TV News.
The story also mentions that Pierre Karl Peladeau's application last week to launch his vision of Fox News North came after "a year of personal lobbying."
So sound the vuvuzela horns. Unless Conrad grows a pair, this is a done deal.
There's also talk about, as Scott says, "those dang horns" on those World Cup games. You can listen in here (not to the horns, to the podcast).

Hot in Cleveland Dark in Canada

Bad news, Canada. No, not about that silly Fox News North thing. No, this is about a U.S. TV export we're not getting--Betty White's new sitcom Hot In Cleveland.
The sitcom, which also stars Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendy Malick, premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on the original, U.S. version of TVLand. So far, the reviews have been generally favourable.
It sounds like a TV addict's dream. White--feeling more love than ever after that SNL triumph--stars as landlady to three happenin' friends from LA who decide to make the Cleveland scene (Bertinelli, Leeves and Malick). Dozens of other TV favourites will get in on the fun with guest appearances, including Wayne Knight, Shirley Knight, Hal Linden, Susan Lucci, Juliet Mills, Carl Reiner, John Schneider and Amy Yasbeck.
The TVLand original sounds like just the kind of next step programming a progressive nostalgia network should offer subscribers, a reward, if you will, for sitting through the oldies.
Except in Canada. The Canadian version of TVLand, owned by CTV, is not premiering it tonight and apparently has no plans to add it anytime this year.
If you look at the Canadian TVLand schedule, you'll find plenty of other TV goodies that are missing. The U.S. TVLand, an MTV network owned by Viacom, offers many TV classics: Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies and The Brady Bunch just in the "B"s, plus I Love Lucy, Green Acres, M*A*S*H and Star Trek. They even have The A-Team.
The Canadian TVLand? While they do have The Andy Griffith Show, Happy Days and Hart to Hart, there are also reruns of Ready or Not, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein and Bizarre. Cancon, sure, happy to see Steve Smith pick up a residual for Red Green. But where are the classic American sitcoms so associated with the TVLand brand?
TVLand was one of those "forbidden fruit" U.S. cable offerings that used to seem so tantalizing before it crossed into Canada. (The Craig's snuck it across the border first, in 2001, then CHUM owned it for a while and now CTV operate it).
With cable and DTH subscription revenues plateauing around the $3 million mark, CTV has figured out that it can keep it humming with B- and C-level sitcom reruns at a tidy profit. By spending less than $1.3 million on program acquisitions (and nothing on creating content), CTV made nearly $1.3 million in TVLand profit in 2009 according to the CRTC specialty network statistical and financial summaries. The more than 40% operating profit came after a 30% reduction in program spending over the year before.
Bottom line if you are a Canadian media company trying to get over an Olympic-sized hangover: why spend money on Betty White`s new sitcom? The suckers keep paying even if the lights are barely on.
It‘s sort of like how Mr. Drucker or Mr. Haney used to pull one over on Oliver Wendell Douglas on Green Acres all the time.
Meanwhile, you can‘t even watch clips of Hot in Cleveland on the U.S. TVLand web site--they`re geoblocked in Canada, even though the series is not available to us over the air.
TV Land Canada‘s slogan by the way is “satisfaction guaranteed.” I want my money back.

SUN TV News: A Conservative Opinion

Okay , say you’re Quebecor media czar Pierre Karl Peladeau. Whoops, I just vomited in my mouth. (Half full disclosure: I was once fired by Pierre Karl Peladeau.)
Your crummy little Toronto TV station has never made a dime and lost an estimated $8.8 million last year. You’ve long since lost interest in the venture as any glance at the moribund schedule will attest.
It seemed like a good idea cracking the Toronto market a few years ago but the money now is all over on the specialty side. So you cook up a plan: make lots of noise about launching a new Canadian right wing news network. Always with the firm grasp of the obvious, you call it Sun TV News.
You need the CRTC to take back your loser conventional licence and grant you access to the full carriage fee money tap which would be a category 1 specialty licence, so you wrap yourself in the Canadian flag.
Which is what PKP did Tuesday at a press conference held in a portion of a building which was once all owned by the Toronto Sun.
Mr. Peladeau threw down a challenge to the CRTC, asking for this new news licence to wake up the old guard news guys in English Canada. He pointed out that more people watch CNN in Canada than the CBC or CTV news networks (which, by the way, is true when oil is spilling into the gulf but not so true when actual news is happening in Canada). “They’re opting out or switching over,” Mr Peladeau said “That’s not good for Canadian television. It’s not good for Canadian democracy. And it’s not good for Canada itself.”
What--suddenly he’s a Canadian nationalist? Back when Quebecor was kicking the tires during their first sniff at The Sun, Peladeau’s dad Pierre was branded a “closet Separatist” by former Sun columnist Allan Fotheringham. Now Peladeau Junior is standing up for Canadian democracy. Zut alors.
And he wants to do it by aping the most (ugly) American TV invention of them all, right wing pundit television. Where was this zeal to save Canada all this time he has been importing U.S. garbage like Dave’s World and Caroline in the City daily on SUN TV? Hell, for another (American) buck, NBC-Universal would have thrown in Veronica’s Closet.
But, okay, it’s still a free country, knock yourself out. But category 1? No way. The CRTC has already said they’re not doling out any more of these free, everybody-must-carry-this-station passes. Go ahead, give up your coveted channel 15 spot on the dial but the best you’re looking at is category 2. Now work your own deal to latch on somewhere with Shaw, Rogers and Bell and don’t bet it won’t be on channels of three digits or higher.
Still, the pitch has caught a few headlines and a buzz has begun. With the right money and marketing behind it, everybody will bundle you with CNN, CBC NN, MSNBC, and, yes, Fox News, which, by the way, NOBODY watches in Canada. (It's not even carried on the cable system Peladeau owns, Videotron.)
The next problem: It’s usually a good idea to prove you can handle one successful hour long newscast before getting into the 24-hour TV news business. The folks out west at Craig built fancy sets and hired a few local news names when they charged ahead with Toronto1 not that many years ago. They hit the wall within days, some would say minutes. The resources simply were not there, and everything got tossed on The Grill Room.
CHCH in Hamilton is proving it can be done, however, with hard work and integrity. The heritage station is gamely making a go of it with an all-day all-news format, one that is local and community based. They built on the news strengths they already had and have had success pulling supper hour viewers in the highly competitive GTA market.
By hiring a former Stephen Harper spin doctor as his news network point man, Peladeau smells an opportunity to take a right wing shortcut to the top of the Canadian cable news heap. “Quebecor sees an untapped market opportunity in English Canadian TV news,” says PKP. “We see an opportunity in offering Canadians something new, something better, something distinct.”
Make no mistake—Quebecor sees an opportunity to make money. They want in on the carriage fee cash flow. But they’ll have to spend a lot—more than the $100 million over five years they’ve already pledged—to produce a Canadian version of Fox News. Maybe if he asks nicely, the folks at the Sun newspapers will contribute content to the new venture. Mr. Peladeau can be very persuasive.
Who ever gets behind this venture, they would do well to heed the example of recent attempts to export the dumbassification of U.S. culture directly into the Great White North. Canwest thought that E! brand would sell itself. It didn`t. CTV had high expectations for all that MTV programming. So last decade.
If SUN TV News thinks Fox News North will be a tea party, they might want to wake up and smell the Tim Hortons.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

CBC Having a Ball with World Cup Ratings

Turns out that the constant droning of those stoopid vuvuzelas haven't driven every soccer fan away from the FIFA World Cup. CBC--fresh off a great Stanley Cup spring--had a very good soccer weekend, with 2,275,000 tuning in Saturday afternoon to watch England and U.S.A. battle to a draw. That's the largest audience ever in Canadian TV for a World Cup preliminary match, not that surprising given the fact that the PPM "ratings 'roids" have been goosing live event sports numbers since they were introduced last September.
Germany vs. Australia drew an estimated, overnight 1,660,000 viewers to CBC Sunday afternoon. Another 1,156,000 were counted as Italy tied Paraguay Monday afternoon.
ABC's coverage of the U.S./England tilt scored Stateside as well with fast national numbers suggesting nearly 13 million tuned in to the game. That would be the best Stateside soccer score since 1994. Preliminary games on ESPN are also up 100% over the same coverage four years ago. That droning must be hypnotic.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fox North Would Never Take Off Here, Eh?

Have been invited on CHCH's Live @ 5:30 this afternoon to vent about this wacky new "Fox News North" venture. Seems the deep thinkers at Quebecor see an opportunity to launch a right wing specialty news service in Canada to help counter the supposed commie bias at CBC News and to help us all stop feeling so smug and superior about Bill O'Reilly. A press conference is booked for Tuesday.
I suggest to 'CH pals Mark Hebscher (fresh off his honeymoon) and Donna Skelly that not all the garbage imported across the border sells in this country. The good folks at the very same TV station, CHCH, still have tread marks up their backsides after being run over by the icky E! Brand.
A Canadian version of Fox News seems like an even bigger reach and risks running hard up against a fundamental difference between the two nations. Some Americans, maybe just due to the fact that there are so many more of them, actually take Fox News seriously. Canadians tend to see it as a joke.
Maybe it was because we were weaned on SCTV's Earl Camembert and Floyd Robertson. All that partisan hollering seems like a news talk radio idea, period, in Canada.
It is interesting that CNN is proportionally way more popular in Canada than it is in the States, where ratings have dropped off to historic lows. To be fair, part of that can be attributed to an uneven playing field. Canadians have had 20 years to get used to CNN at channel 33 (as it is on Rogers Toronto). Fox News is buried way up the dial and off most cable plus packages.
Which is presumably where the new Quebecor news channel will land. There are confirmed reports the proposed station has already begun to recruit on-air personalities. Krista Erickson, who enjoys special access to Calgary Conservative MP Lee Richardson, is one CBC defector who has jumped to the new deal. David Akin has also been lured from Canwest to Sun Media and former Astral Media radio Ottawa bureau chief Brian Lilley is also now in the Quebecor fold as a senior correspondent.
Former Tory party communications director Kory Teneycke is behind the venture, so you know it will be fair and balanced. Rogers Ailes he's not, which may be a good thing depending on how you feel about Fox News boss Roger Ailes.
Quebecor has a ways to go to prove it can compete in English Canadian TV. When they took over Toronto1, for example, competing ad sales guys started calling it Toronto zero-point-one to help illustrate its hold on the ratings.
While Canadian viewers have always had a sizable news appetite, not so much these days (check the latest CBC National News numbers) and especially not so much for for specialty news channels. CNN does draw more than the CBC or CTV news networks in Canada but it really is a race among turtles compared to overall viewing. Canadians tend to like their network newscasts to be dull and predictable, with CTV's Lloyd Robertson the big draw at 11 ever since he was pulled off pyramid duty.
Hard to see a new news circus act catching on in Canada. We tend to like our funny news intentionally funny. The Daily Show and The Cobert Report, for example, draw a much larger audience in Canada, proportionally, than they do in the States. The gang at 22 Minutes have been prime time news mockers for an even longer run.
With Quebecor behind it, the eventual launch of Fox North does have the potential to be a laff riot. Watch Live@5:30 for more fair and balanced coverage.

True Blood Season Three: Barking Mad

Wolves are clawing their way into HBO's bloody (and steamy) vampire drama True Blood. The third season began Sunday and the buzz has been building for months. Sold stories on it to Movie Entertainment magazine, Starweek and Sunday's Toronto Star, including this profile of Joe Manganiello. He plays werewolf newcomer Alcide, assigned to protect Sookie (Anna Paquin) this season as she wanders off in search of her abducted vampire lover Bill (Stephen Compton).
"This season is going to stand out," says Manganiello, 33. "It's one of those magic seasons from start to finish. I think the fans are going to lose their minds over it."
Sounds like the web played a role in this actor landing this part. "Fans were blogging on line about who should play Alcide from the books," he told me last week. "A friend of mine sent me a little web link in an email from a blog where fans of mine were posting pictures of me." That's how Manganiello found out about the character. When he read the books and found the description of Alcide matched up well with his look, he bugged is manager and agent until an audition was secured. "Once I got in I had the best audition of my life," he says.
True Blood airs Sundays at 9 on HBO Canada. If you missed the season three premiere, it repeats Tuesday at 9 p.m.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fall Cut Down Clip: Men With Brooms

Changed the layout format here at TVFMF to accommodate larger vid clips. Test it out by viewing the trailer to Men With Brooms, a series coming to CBC this fall based on the Paul Gross curling feature. Me thinks this shows more potential as a TV show than as a theatrical.

Friday, June 11, 2010

TV's Jonathan Torrens: One Busy Bastard

Funding cuts, broken business models, end-of-the-world network scenarios be damned. Jonathan Torrens keeps making TV shows.
The P.E.I. native is back with a second season of TV With TV's Jonathan Torrens, returning Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. on TVTropolis.
I've been writing about this guy since he was an apple-cheeked punk co-hosting CBC's old kids for cash show, Street Cents. Since then, he's been an afternoon talk show dude down with the 'tweens on Jonovision, been an impossibly white rapper dude on Trailer Park Boys, was the "Got to be Gay Guy" on the cheezy bait-and-switch U.S. reality show Joe Schmo and even tricked CBC into following him around with a camera as he drove across Canada. Basically he's done everything but repair TVs.
So goofing on the medium seems like a good fit. On the screener I saw, Torrens has fun scraping the bottom of the reality barrel, especially when he takes aim at all those stoopid TLC shows. I thought his sketch "Normal Sized Man, Tiny House" was pretty damn funny, all about a guy living in one of those big yellow plastic Playschool yard ape houses.
Torrens was telling me he was supposed to appear as "TV's Jonathan Torrens" in the upcoming Trailer Park Boys follow up Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour (shot in Halifax, where Torrens resides) but just couldn't clear 11 days in June. Besides editing the first 13 second season TVTropolis shows and prepping the next 13, he's also just been named one of the hosts of Wipeout Canada (where, if you just have to take one in the nuts and land face first in the Argentina mud, you can apply here).
As a freelancer, Torrens hates to say no to work (I know the feeling) but had to draw the line somewhere. "We have a six month old at home," he says, "and I just imagined having a constant low grade heart attack trying to do all of that at once."
I wrote more about Torrens and all his latest shenanigans for The Canadian Press this week, you can check out that article here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Blackhawks, Flyers Lift Cup on CBC, NBC

The winning goal was a dud, but Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers was a winner for CBC. The Stanley Cup finale drew an overnight, estimated 4,077,000 Wednesday night. Nearly a million more watched the game on French language RDS , bringing the two network total to 5,074,000 in early BBM Canada returns. Another 2,787,000 stuck around for CBC`s post game, Cup and Smythe Award presentations.
CTV`s So You Think You Can Dance competed with 1,281,000 at 8 p.m. Wednesday night, with CSI: New York fetching another 1,226,000 at 10.
The Chicago/Philly finale was a big winner for NBC, too. NBC finished first in the demo and in households at 10 p.m. (8.75 million viewers) and 10:30 (9.64 million) according to overnight estimates from Nielsen Media Research. Overall, the game averaged 8.3 million U.S. fans over the entire game.
NBC says the Stanley Cup finale won the best U.S. overnight numbers since the glory days of the Broad Street Bullies in 1974 and was up 21% over the sixth game of last year`s Pittsburgh/Red Wing tilt.

This Week`s Podcast: Can Hiccups Be Cured?

I think I'm starting to see how CHML's Scott Thompson does this. He reads my postings here and then he gets me all stirred up about stuff I wrote. Like the Canadian private network upfronts, which took place last week in Toronto. Why aren't there more new Canadian scripted shows on Global, Roger and CTV next fall, asks Scott. Exactly.
We linger over the dismal ratings Monday for Hiccups and Dan For Mayor. Have to admit I was rooting for those two, especially Dan. Been to the set, lovely folks over there, everybody does great work. Still, for whatever reason, not everything smart people do on TV connects with the great unwashed. A U.S. network might have looked at the sharp fall off in the ratings and cut their losses. CTV, in my estimation, erred on the side of CanCon in renewing both shows.
The task ahead, however, seems very challenging. It wasn't like CTV didn't paper the town with billboards and bus shelters in January featuring the likable Canadian stars they kept front and centre for six years, Fred Ewanuick (right), Nancy Robertson and Brent Butt. You could argue that may have been part of the problem--people took one look and were expecting a new hour of Corner Gas--but the word got out and the shows were sampled (and can still be sampled with new episodes airing all month).
The network will have to ask viewers to give these comedies a second chance when they return sometime in 2011. Dan will either be mayor by then or be running for something else (we'll find out in the season finale, airing Monday, June 28). The producers have built in an opportunity to completely re-launch the series, which may be the winning ticket for Dan.
Guys like me will write new stories saying check them out again. It all starts sounding like eat your vegetables after a while, as anyone associated with Arrested Development can attest.
Scott gets me to vent about other stuff, too, including CTV marooning Conan at 1 a.m. That`s past Andy Richter`s bedtime! You can listen in here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Glee at Global as Finale Hits 2.5 Million Mark

Glee closed out a breakout rookie season Tuesday night with an overnight, estimated audience of 2,511,000 viewers across Canada. The series high number confirms the Fox series as the No. 1 first season show in Canada for 2010-11.
Fans got to enjoy some closure in the swift-paced finale. Quinn had her baby (a girl) right in the middle of rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline's rendition of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Only executive producer Ryan Murphy would cross cut a woman giving birth opposite, "Galileo! Galileo, Manifico!"
There were the usual borderline off-colour naughtiness (another glee club was called "Aural Intensity"). There was another Olivia Newton John sighting. We get it; it's funny because she's playing a bitch.
Fans, though, got to see Mr. Shue (Matthew Morrison, above, with Mark Salling) get his "To Sir, With Love" moment from the glee kids, a welcome blast of genuine warmth after all the campy kookiness of recent weeks. Rachel and Finn also renewed their love, with Cory Monteith given whole sentences for a change.
While the show never lacks for zip and entertainment, Murphy the storyteller moves too fast at times, at least for my taste and attention span. Shu and Emma's third act smooch in the hall was jammed in from out of nowhere. Sue Sylvester's complete about face at the end is also straight out of musical theatre, but so is this entire series. The quick scene at the very end where the Rachel look-a-like Vocal Adrenaline boss (Idina Menzel) adopts Quinn's baby just seemed creepy. And dammit, bring back the football coach.
Murphy has basically set up a complete do-over for next season. That's fine, but hopefully some lessons were learned about the show going on, just not going on over a cliff.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Break No Boost for Hiccups, Dan For Mayor

CTV is standing behind Hiccups and Dan For Mayor but are viewers? The two freshmen comedies, officially renewed for a second season last week along with several other Canadian-produced CTV shows, sank to series lows Monday night. Hiccups drew an overnight, estimated national audience of 297,000 at 8 p.m., with Dan For Mayor getting 309,000 at 8:30.
CTV’s plan to sit both comedies during the May sweeps and hold fresh episodes for the less competitive month of June doesn’t seem to have worked. A month away may have translated into out of sight, out of mind, or viewers may have just assumed both shows were also in reruns. Not helping was a last minute decision to delay the return of the shows one extra week.
CBC provided some stiff competition Monday at 8 with ever popular Dragon’s Den drawing an overnight, estimated 1,242,000. Global boasted a new (and excellent) episode of Fox’s returning drama Lie To Me at 8, winning the hour in Canada with 1,306,000 viewers nationally. The new Fox buddy cop show The Good Guys drew a further 715,000 in Canada on Global.
CTV saw viewing levels jump back up at 9 with reruns of popular CBS comedies Two and a Half Men (1,341,000) and The Big Bang Theory (1,644,000).
With a night off from hockey and the Stanley Cup final games all on CBC anyway, the sports network ratings were not a factor. TSN, for example, drew 87,000 at 8 for poker.
Hiccups star and executive producer Brent Butt, who attended last week's CTV upfront in Toronto, says he expects his series to resume production in September.

Showcase's Lost Girl Found in Etobicoke

Who knew Lost Girl lived in Etobicoke? Well, darkest Etobicoke, at any rate. The west end Toronto ‘burb is home to Lost Girl, a sexy new sci-fi drama coming to Showcase this September. The series stars Anna Silk (Erica’s same sex temptation last season on Being Erica) as yummy succubus Bo, who feeds off the sexual energy of mere mortals. Bo discovers she has this gift when she drains her first boyfriend to death in their first sexual encounter. Excuse me? This thing’s going to be freakin’ huge at ComicCon.
Striking Silk seemed more like a nice girl from New Brunswick when I met her Monday on the Lost Girl set. She was limping, but she insisted it was not from draining anybody, it was just some training mishap.
Earlier in the day, as unit publicist and birthday girl Adrienne Kakoullis and TV Boy listened in on earphones, Silk powered through a two page scene opposite co-star Kris Holden-Reid. He plays a shape shifting Fae (not Tina Fae) who also happens to be a homicide detective. Just the facts, ma’am.
The scene was shot on a giant bar set, one of several cool set ups inside a 30,000 sq. ft. converted Etobicoke warehouse. Silk’s character, Bo, lives in a grey, run down room that looks like it was dressed by Tim Burton. The bartender has the coolest lair of them all, a dark Gothic set up supposedly located right under the bar. There’s a twisted staircase down to where his pet troll supposedly lives. It all looked very Hilarious House of Frightenstein.
Interviews were conducted on a slightly cheerier or at least more antiseptic set, the science lab where Zoie Palmer (from The Guard) keeps Bo’s sex draining thing under control.
Also spoke yesterday with Ksenia Solo, whose Emily Extra Strange look is as cool as her name. She was all goth’d up in black everything which somehow still worked with her pink fussy slippers. Solo plays Bo’s best pal, a spunky human sidekick to the kick-ass lead.
Spoke with Solo solo next to a dark dungeon room complete with nasty looking chains, whips and even a metal tray full of (fake) hot coals. A carousel horse stood in one corner wearing a kinky S&M mask. If the matrons over at nearby Sherway Gardens only knew.
Lost Girl is a Canwest venture in association with Prodigy Pictures. Major domo and former Alliance/Atlantis and Fireworks dealmaker Jay Firestone has the corner office where he can keep an eye on his Aston Martin.
Spotted my old University of Toronto pal Peter Mohan (creator of Blood Ties) on a catwalk overhead on the way out of the building. He gave me a tour of the remarkably contained makeshift studio, which included a visit to the world’s cleanest writer’s room. It looks like the model suite of writer’s rooms.
Mohan—who crafts this deal with fellow writer/executive producer Michelle Lovretta--was easy to spot in a black "Evil Typewriter" T-shirt with a bunch of skulls and crossbones flying out (order one here), the perfect look for a Lost Girl scribe. Mohan’s penchant for the dark and theatrical all made sense to me once he revealed his uncle is none other than the legendary Fr. Tom Mohan, the impressive Basillian who was principal of Michael Power way back in the day when I was among the inmates. Mohan would stand at a podium on stage in the gym and boom, “If you don’t like it here at Michael Power, then LEAVE!!” every fall, scaring the crap out of the next crop of Niners. I want a seat in the tidy writer’s room when Peter gets around to creating THAT series.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

This Week's Podcast: Behind the Upfronts

Scott Thompson has to ask: "Why are the Canadian networks running down to the States and spending all this money again?" It is a question that just won't go away after a week of American show previews during another round of Canadian private network upfront presentations. I try to answer, but Scott only has me on his CHML radio show for about five minutes, not five hours, and even then it might not be enough time. I offered one perspective in this piece I wrote this week for the Canadian Press, but it really is impossible to cover the upfronts and wrestle the whole Cancon quagmire to the ground in 700 words.
Scott also seemed intrigued about my post on the new Trailer Park Boys series Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour, which I wrote about here last week during my trip to the set in Halifax. Hey, it's a Canadian show. Their old series is starting to get some traction off DirecTV in the States.
You can listen in here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Glass House Fitting Hot Spot for CTV Upfront

CTV held their 2010 upfront Thursday night at the Thompson Hotel in Toronto. Remember Dieter, that character Mike Myers used to play on Saturday Night Live? His kind of urban shag spot, kind of German expressionism meets Ikea. It was all glass and reflective black and so cool it wasn't even finished yet. The adrogenous servers dressed in black, white and naked all had that freshly castrated look.
On the plus side, it was an open bar and the sliders were ever within reach.
If you knew somebody or were patient you got to go up to a deck level on the roof. There was a long line at the elevator and I had four or five stories I'd already pushed half a day waiting back in Brampton so pass on that. If you chose to line up for the elevator, it gave you time to reminisce about all those great upfront parties CHUM used to throw in that crazy Queen West parking lot and how you were always only ever a wrist band away from a true moment of zen.
Back on ground level, CTV's army of publicists did a good job funneling talent in among the ad kids and press weasels. First guy I ran into was the great Brian Williams, who still had that Vancouver Olympic glow. The man is a walking-talking story machine and had many nice things to say about NBC's Brian Williams and their fun Olympic encounter.
Marilyn Dennis (above with So You Think You Can Dance Canada host Leah Miller) was putting her latest best face forward, working the room now that CTV has announced the daytime diva will be back weekdays at 10 a.m. starting this September. Dennis isn't sure yet where she'll be taping but don't rule out a return to her old Cityline haunt at 299 Queen.
The whole gang from Flashpoint (left) made the scene, pumped at fresh news the shot-in-Toronto cop show has been renewed for a fourth season. Etobicoke lad Rico Colantoni (left with Hugh Dillon and the rest of the cast) was all over a suggestion I made earlier to producers Mark Ellis, Stephanie Morganstern and Bill Mustos that some sort of shoot 'em up be shot on top of the old Westwood theatre at Six Points. Those giant orange letters would made a doozy of a snipers nest. Ellis and Colantoni spent many a Saturday afternoon, it turns out, in the neighbourhood popcorn palace.
Saw Brent Butt (right with Paula Rivera and David Ingram) near the bar where he can afford to buy drinks for the house. CTV is stripping Corner Gas, five nights a week at 7 on /A\. Butt's new sitcom Hiccups has been picked up for another 13 episodes, along with Mark Farrell's comedy Dan For Mayor. Credit CTV with sticking with both shows despite a steep drop in ratings Monday nights off that Olympic diving board.
All those Canucks in the house were good optics for the Local TV Matters braintrust. Still, back in the not-so-broken business model days, a CTV upfront meant Sopranos and West Wing stars bumping into Desperate Housewives. Millions of Olympic dollars later, not even Shatner.
CTV also ordered more of The Bridge and--surprisingly--The Listener, and there were folks from those shows in the house. Again, full props to Susanne Boyce and company for giving some Canadian shows a second chance to find audiences.
Degrassi on the other hand--ten seasons of Next Generation?! Hey, I never did get it, but you would have a hard time meeting nicer folks than Stephan Brogren (a director and producer now as well as playing Snake) and producer Sara Snow, both out glad handing at the event. And get this--Snake becomes principal at the damn school next season (which starts this summer, where the show will get stripped nightly on MuchMusic). With extra episodes ordered, the total will be up around 235 episodes by the time season 10 is done--an 11th is apparently on the drawing board. Maybe Beachcombers racked up more episodes, but can`t think of any other scripted Canadian series that would even come close.
CTV will need a couple of their new imports to break out if they want to keep bragging about leading in Top 20 hits next season. Right now there are plenty of question marks. All that show jockeying south of the border has dented CTV's schedule more than the other guys. CBS moving Big Bang Theory to Thursday at 8 takes once mighty CSI out of simulcast (and bumps Vampire Diaries over to /A\). Sunday at 10 seems like a sleepy time for a sizzler like CSI Miami. Simulcasting blue chip import Blue Bloods (starring Tom Selleck) Fridays at 10 steals a winning Cancon slot.
Spring brings a Simon-less Idol back and who knows if that sucker will still sing. Cowell's new show, The X-Factor, doesn't hit the sked till Fall 2011.
The /A\ sked seems like a specialty lineup with Criminal Minds running five nights a week in prime and "The Big Picture" taking up six hours a week of the schedule. CTV is trying to stack 10 p.m. with blood and violence leading into their top-rated newscasts. Hey, it's worked up till now.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

CTV Buys, Buries Conan O'Brien in Overnight

As Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog might say, one a.m. is a great time to schedule a late night talk show--for me to poop on! If you don't have a PVR, you'll have to stay up until that unGodly hour to catch Conan O'Brien this fall on CTV. That's the word as the Canadian private network unveiled its fall schedule Thursday morning. O'Brien--who left NBC after that network asked him to shove his short-lived Tonight Show back after midnight--will air two hours later in Canada than it will appear in America. TBS launches O'Brien's new talk show at 11 p.m. next November.
CTV has slotted O'Brien after its popular midnight news parodies The Daily Show and Colbert Report, a perfect fit if you are an insomniac.
CTV also announced that they are bringing back both Monday Canadian made comedies Hiccups and Dan for Mayor along with The Bridge, Flashpoint and a second season of The Listener--none of which will be on their U.S. content-loaded fall CTV or /A\ schedules. So You Think You Can Dance Canada, however, will boogie back in September. Season 45 of Degrassi is also comin' 'atcha in some easy to swallow serialized package.
More details to come following CTV's upfront happening this evening in Toronto.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rogers TV Upfront Delivers The Whole Truth

Rogers served notice that they were back in the 10 o'clock business at their 2010 Fall upfront Wednesday in Toronto. The conspicuously solvent cable and broadcast giant, which muscled into the Toronto market last year by adding Citytv to their multicultural OMNI channels, fell for that Leno at 10 prank in 2009. On the plus side, they also caught the comedy revival wave early, loading up on critical faves Modern Family, Community and Cougar Town.
At the recent Hollywood show market, they threw plenty of cable subscriber cash as U.S. drama providers and should dent CTV and Global's dominance at 9 and 10 next season.
A lot is riding on The Whole Truth, a Jerry Bruckheimer legal drama in the Wednesday at 10 slot on Citytv. Numb3rs lead Rob Morrow makes the weekly case for the defence. His DA babe adversary is apparently being recast.
The clip screened Wednesday at the well attended Canon Theatre presentation just seemed like another legal show to me but those who have seen the whole pilot say they're taken with the whole you're in the jury box format.
City will throw Chase up against Global's Hawaii FIVE-0 Mondays at 10. Another Bruckheimer drama, this features surprisingly spunky Jennifer Johnson (Cold Case) as part of an elite team of U.S. marshalls on the tail of America's most wanted.
The clip that popped for me was Undercovers, a Mr. & Mrs Smith spy drama from J.J. Abrams. Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (right) will have copy editors cursing everywhere but in a season of same-olds, viewers will only see two hot and fresh faces in sexy spy capers. Tuesday at 8, however, makes Undercovers an odd opener for City's smart 9 o'clock comedies.
City's big steal this year was prying Fringe (starring Joshua Jackson, below) away from CTV and /A\; it airs Thursdays at 9. They also picked up Rules of Engagement and will pair it behind a comedy they successfully stole last year, How I Met Your Mother.
The Event is a Monday at 9 entry that could be the next 24 or the next FlashForward. Jason Ritter stars as an everyman in the middle of a conspiracy nightmare. An exec said Event was the most buzzed about show of the season, which is what Global said Tuesday about Hawaii FIVE-0. CTV will say it again Thursday about something else.
City loses CanCon brownie points in prime time by stripping Law & Order SVU Mon.-Fri. at 7, but waves the flag hard on the weekends with unscripted entries Survivorman and Mantracker on Fridays and the animated Glenn Martin, Out There with TVFMF fave Melissa DiMarco and a "Canadian Movie" on Saturdays (what--Porkys again?). Conviction Kitchen returns Sundays as does hardy drawing room drama Murdoch Mysteries (starring Yannick Bisson, below), back for a fourth season.
On balance, the Citytv schedule still seems like somebody dropped a box full of show titles and spilled them all over the floor. A heavy reliance on NBC offerings is a bit of a hail mary. Still, there are some enduring ratings magnets in the mix, including The Biggest Loser, Hell`s Kitchen as well as those NFL Sunday overruns and various editions of The Bachelor.
Rogers showy sales presentation took place at the Canon Theatre, where the cast of Rock of Ages got things off to a lively start. Toronto Rapper More or Les (Moonves?) tried to whip the twentysomething ad buyers into a frenzy by chanting "When I say City, you say TV." This gave many in the room their first extended twitter break.
Several Rogers execs, including CEO Leslie Sole and top show fetcher Malcolm Dunlop, followed. One joked that they have plenty of Jay Leno mugs left. Citytv's Breakfast Television stars Kevin Frankish and Dina Pugliese did some mugging of their own. The four other members of Community were flown up to wave at ad buyers and charmed critics at the afternoon press op.
The City stat attack was limited and effective. We were told, amid all the U.S. series clips, that 27.5 hours a week of the schedule is filled with original programming (58 hours if you count the OMNI multi-cultural entries). This after a high powered stage presentation that featured not one new scripted Canadian TV program. Hey ACTRA--is your gripe just with Global?
Another zinger was the claim that City ratings soared 71% last season among viewers 25-54 in prime time. Take a bow, PPM thingys.
After the speedy clip-o-rama, the festivities moved a few doors north to the Hard Rock Cafe, which seriously needs to invest in an air conditioner.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Surfs Up at Canwest Fall 2010 Upfront

Canwest kicked off three days of Canadian upfronts with their "Coming Attractions" press event Tuesday in Toronto. You could tell it was the Global launch in Yorkville because there were dozens of ACTRA protesters outside the Hazelton Hotel.
A couple of times in recent years, ACTRA and others have singled out Global for being naughty CanCon providers. I spoke with Leah Pinsent on my way into the Global launch, and have to say, my God, the woman had the most luminous skin! She really should be headlining some Global TV series.
Anyway, what burns Pinsent and her partner Peter Keleghan as well as Wendy Crewson and Paul Gross and the other usual suspects who generally take part in these pre-network bash bashings is that, well, dammit, the Canadian private networks bitch and moan to the CRTC about broken business models, about how they need carriage fee loot or they'll shut everything down, about how they need the hand outs to save local TV--and then they go right back down to LA and load up on American crap. Once again, the privates will spend almost $800 million on US fare, less than 10% of that on creating prime time scripted Canadian content.
At first glance at the Fall 2010 Schedule Global unveiled Tuesday (and will show off Wednesday morning to advertisers), there is little evidence this trend will be changing anytime soon. Instead of a reboot, Global and others (Rogers previews their buys Wednesday in Toronto, CTV Thursday) seem to be locked in the same slick buy American business plan.
Global, for example, showed clips from the five-and-a-half new hours of programming they'll introduce to their schedule this fall. The entire Global 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. schedule is 100% American, except for one new Canadian drama airing this fall on Friday nights: Shattered starring Callum Keith Rennie (left with co-star Molly Parker).
While Rennie was great last season on Californication, to be honest, the Shattered clip shown in the comfy Hazelton screening room didn't seem that compelling. Basically, Rennie's character seems messed up and he's gonna see a shrink about it. Lonestar, a new Monday drama, is about a weasel who plays everybody for suckers, including the wife and girlfriend he keeps juggling. Brian Keith and Jon Voight both have daddy roles.
When I suggested to top Global show fetcher Barb Williams that this seemed more like a movie than a series she shot back oh yeah? Seems like the life story of too many men I know. Advantage Williams.
Hawaii FIVE-O (right), which has been getting some buzz, had that catchy theme song and the "Book 'em Danno" phrase in the clip. Williams says the two leads have chemistry to burn. A half hour comedy, Outsourced, is going to raise a brown flag in Brampton. Set in an Indian call centre, the high concept clip I saw made Mike Myers "The Love Guru" seem like a documentary. A new Thursday hour, Love Bites, had some star power in the pilot thanks to Jennifer Love Hewitt and played like Love American Style forty years later.
Williams says she avoided the "Take the U.S. shows with the Canadians" move this go-round (and there are many) and just went for what worked best in the slots she had to fill.
Some aggressive fall scheduling moves by the US networks forced Williams to shake up established shows on other nights but generally Global got lucky. Glee will go Tuesday at 8 until January, a risky non-simulcast but Glee seems more and more like an 8 o'clock show. The loss of 24 and Heroes Mondays opened up perfect simulcast slots for Lonestar (below, with Adrianne Palicki, James Wolk and Eloise Mumford) and Hawaii.
Williams says she didn't get to play with Jim Shaw's money on this trip to Hollywood (the new ownership deal won't likely kick in until September) but did scare up enough Canwest loot to get the shows she wanted. A fair number of U.S. shows were left on the table this time, she said. Every second show being shopped Stateside featured either cops or lawyers, she added. Global did spend for one of the law dramas, Outlaw, starring Jimmy Smits as a supreme court judge who leaves the bench to kick some law ass. Damn.
As for the optics of having that one skinny hour of CanCon on Global's fall 2010, Williams says she makes no apologies. "Everybody's under the same requirement to have 50% Canadian content in prime time and we all get there by August," she says. (The giant loophole, of course, is that the CRTC defines "prime time" as from 6 p.m. to midnight--with Canadian supper and late night newscasts and self promoting red carpet fodder as the free spaces in Canadian TV Bingo.) Her job is to find and build hit shows that will bring eyeballs to her schedule and eventually help build audiences for Canadian shows. She has to play her strongest hand in September, and if that's all American Aces, that's the game she is playing. The other guys will be playing with the same red, white and blue deck come September.
More Canadian shows are in development for Global, Williams promises. Like the ABC co-production formerly known as Copper, Rookie Blue (premiering later this month), they may be looking at summer runs.
Yet take heart, Leah Pinsent. Williams does have plenty of new Canadian scripted series in the works over on Global's money making specialty channels. I'm just back from set visits to two upcoming Showcase series shot in Halifax--Haven and the bizarre Trailer Park Boys follow up Drunk and On Drugs. The sexy sci-fi series Lost Girl is currently in production in Hamilton, as are several future TV-movies and miniseries. Canwest also has that Canadian version of Wipeout in pre-production; Canadians will get to run the red balls down on the famous Argentina obstacle course. The series will be the big whup this fall on TVTropolis.
Global also plans to bring their History Television hit Ice Pilots, NWT (above) in for a landing on the main network schedule in a Sunday at 7 berth. A second season of the Yellowknife fly boys reality series will premiere in January on History. Mikey is probably already ordering new Air Buffalo T-shirts and underwear.
Global had a hot hand last June, picking up four big winners--Glee, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Good Wife and The Cleveland Show. They enjoy a schedule on the upswing and have a fair chunk of the weekly Canadian Top 30 CTV used to own, especially among the 18-49-year-old demo, especially in Canada's biggest cities. In the most incredible comeback story of them all, they grabbed the No. 1 spot with Canada's most popular show in 2009-2010--the 10-year-old reality series Survivor. That's a series you can't kill with a lit stick, and bodes well for the launch of their new Reality Channel in July.