Friday, December 31, 2010

Oprah OWNs the States now, Canada March 1

Oprah Winfrey is about to OWN Canada.
That's the buzz as her new network, OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) launches tonight at midnight on cable in the United States. Canadians are going to have to wait a while as Corus owns the rights and plans to preview it for a few months on W before re-branding VIVA as OWN Canada March 1.
OWN Canada seems a tad threatening. Sure the billionaire TV host could OWN Canada, but why not O Canada? There's a network you could get people to stand to attention to.
Apparently there is an educational content wrinkle or two to be ironed out before VIVA gets OWNed. VIVA has changed names and owners a few times but began on specialty as Canadian Learning Television. One of the conditions of that licence was that shows be tied to some sort of post-secondary education courses. OWN may have to link viewers with Couch Jumping 101 at Humber or Sheridan's "Steadman vs. Gayle: Discuss" in order to stay in the CRTC good books.
Conditions aside, the OWN launch is a potential game changer in television. Oprah Winfrey became rich and famous through 25 years in syndication but that gravy train appears to be pulling into the station for good. People are amazed when I tell them Jerry Springer and Maury Povich still have daytime programs on the air. They failed to jump to cable and are pretty much off the radar. Oprah is smart to make this move while she still has the juice to sell books and elect presidents.
Plus, hey, the U.S. Discovery network is backing the entire venture to the tune of $160 million. They start off in 85 million U.S. homes, with a direct feed to the cable and satellite money tap.
What they're getting is brand loyalty like no other. Oprah's core fans, older women, will buy her magazines, read her books and follow her anywhere. (Even when she and Gayle King loaded up the van and drove to Yellowstone Park, which may have been Oprah's jump-the-shark moment.)
It is impossible to imagine any other individual TV entertainer who could extend their brand to an entire network in a way that creates so much buzz before it even begins. When Martha Stewart took her shows to the U.S. cable Hallmark Channel, it wasn't such a good thing as she generally faded from view. Winfrey may find her voice does not extend as far as it once did on broadcast, but whose does? Broadcast isn't what it used to be, and Oprah is wise to follow the money over to the cable side.
Speaking of energy, no one person can carry a whole network, and Oprah is going to her deep bench of celebrity pals to pull this off. Shania Twain, Fergie, The Judds, Rosie O'Donnell, they'll all have their own OWN shows eventually, but not right away and not for months. You'll see lifestyle programming up there for now, cooking shows, health tips, reruns of previous Oprah content.
It will still be up to Oprah herself to turn her brand into a cable empire. Here's hoping she follows through on a stated goal  of providing more "mindful" programming. She is taping a series of one-on-one interviews with famous people like Lorne Michaels, Maya Angelou, Diane Sawyer, Simon Cowell and Jay-Z. We'll hear them state what it was that made them what they are today. More of that on TV is a good thing.
Her skills as an interviewer are often overlooked, but Winfrey showed she can still set the agenda last winter when she sat down opposite Jay Leno. Leno was looking for benediction after being branded the bully who stole Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show. His friend Winfrey, however, did not give him the free pass he was probably expecting. Winfrey was tough and honest and viewers were rewarded with insights into Leno they probably never saw before or since.
She also continues to be one of those people who, as rich and famous as she is, continues to be somebody you'd love to sit and talk to in your kitchen. She has that common touch and enough curiosity to stay on her game. People see her weight go up and down and relate.
Five years ago she was at press tour to promote an ABC TV movie she had made with Halle Berry. It was the day Johnny Carson died, and I chased her out to the parking lot and got her exclusive response as well as a great story about her own first visit to Carson's couch. I found her warm and professional.
Sometimes, for me however, the cult of Oprah gets a bit much. Her own sit down with Barbara Walters recently showed an early clip of a young Oprah whose ego and ambition seemed rocket fueled. There is a Bill Maher clip circulating on YouTube where he voices his disgust over the excesses of her "special things" episodes, where studio audience members go nuts at the prospect of free cars, ranges and toaster ovens. it is, as Maher suggests, "disturbing" and not particularly mindful.
That's the deal Oprah has made with her viewers, however. We all lust after stuff even if we want others to think we aim higher. Oprah is as relatable in her sins as in her higher purpose.
I'll be talking about Oprah and OWN today on various CBC syndicated radio stations across the country, and again tonight on CBC's The National. UPDATE: Watch the CBC OWN report on The National here.

Air Farce, Ron James set to rock in the New Year

Clear the runway--the Air Farce is back for another New Year's Eve special. All seven members of the comedy troupe--including originals Roger Abbott, Don Ferguson and Luba Goy--are back this year for the one hour special, which airs at 8 p.m. and again at midnight.
I attended night two of the taping earlier this month and found the gang in fine form, although most, including the crew, admitted it was a bit hard to shake off the rust after years as a once-a-week comedy machine in order to do these once-a-year wonders.
Corrin and Park go Gaga over Bieber
Not that the fans in the bleachers could tell. Attending a Farce taping has been a great privilege I've enjoyed many times over the years. Funniest sketch tonight may be Craig Lauzon's goofy appearance as an Elmer Fudd look-a-like (they couldn't use the name Elmer Fudd in case those wascally lawyers over at Warner Bros. sued). Fudd the fearless hunter is there to add his two cents about the long gun registry. It's a funny bit, made funnier when I learned later from Lauzon that the saucer-sized fake ears he is wearing were previously worn by cast mate Alan Park for his Obama impersonation. Be vewy vewy quiet...I'm hunting change and hope. Hahahahha.
Jessica Holmes, a no-show last year, returns to the Farce for a couple of sketches but wasn't at the taping I attended. She goofs on Celine Dion and the new twins, 'natch. More front and centre is Penelope Corrin, who pulls on a Justin Bieber comb-over wig for a sketch with Park, outrageous as Lady Gaga.
The Farce guck things up toward the end with their F-Bomb, a Chicken Cannon for the new millennium that splats targets all over the studio floor. Comedy isn't always pretty.
Special guest tonight is Lloyd Robertson, about to enter Year Two of his victory lap. The veteran CTV News anchor was saluted after the sketch by Abbott, who noted the many years Robertson also read the news on CBC (over 50 years between the two networks.) Ageless Robertson looked like he could go another 50 and seemed happy to kid himself. He got a big hand from the studio audience.
Ron James with Brampton Queen Scott Thompson
One of the sharper sketches tonight is Park's poke at Ron James, who follows the Farce with another one of his New Year's Eve specials tonight at 9 p.m. James inherited the Farce's Friday night timeslot although the CBC has limited his run to half a season again this year. The hardest working man in Canadian showbusiness is a true road warrior, working dates right across Canada in 2011. I spoke with him about a month ago at his office on King Street East, across from the Toronto Sun. James was pleased with the way his show was rounding into form this season, mashing guest comedians like Colin Mochrie and Debra McGrath in with his clever, animated "Little Ronnie" sketches and the stand up he performs each week on his show. Seinfeld used a similar stand up conceit when that show was starting but phased it out over time. James never intends to drop it, although he admits it is a tough job for he and his writers to come up with original stand up material each week.
James shtick is pretty demanding, especially the intricacies of his word play, all strung together with a Cape Cod lilt. It is that unique aspect of James act that Park targets on tonight's Air Farce sketch. Park was going for an impersonation that James himself will both love and hate and I'm pretty sure he hit a bulls eye.
In any event, the comedy New Year's tradition continues at CBC and it is one Canadians seem to cherish. One year ago, the total audience number for the Air Farce New Year's special, factoring in PVR viewing, topped two million. Let the Farce be with them all again this year.

Ratings across Canada Dec. 20-26

Really? You care about ratings this week? Tons of pre-emptions and Christmas programming rendered the usual Monday to Sunday recap pointless. Nevertheless, a few numbers pop out:
Sunday’s opening game in the WJHC: 2.94 million viewers on TSN. The Canada-Russia tilt was up 23% from last year’s already lofty hockey numbers.
George Stroumboulopoulos’ The Hour I’ll Never Get Back drew a whopping 381,000 last Friday at 11:05 on CBC for its annual Christmas party.
CTV has yet to announce second season start dates for Dan For Mayor and Hiccups but gave both shows a bit of a test re-run leading up to Christmas. Last Wednesday, Dan drew 340,000 and Hiccups 269,000; Tuesday it was Dan 312,000, Hiccups 276,000; Monday, same order, 290,000, 233,000.
Monday CBC drew 1,328,000 for a showing of Elf, Wednesday’s Polar Express did 1.1 million. CBC’s Xmas movies generally outperformed those on CTV and Global. CTV's Christmas Eve showing of It's a Wonderful Life lassoed 664,000.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sign of the apocalypse: CTV off the menu at 990

Anybody want to buy a vowel?
Could there be a more telling sign of the sea change in the Canadian TV biz than the painting over of the letters "C, T and Vey" outside Bistro 990? For years, the cozy Bay Street bistro was a favourite haunt of CTV power wielder Ivan Fecan. As 2010 comes to a close, the Fecan era also winds down, with the Canadian programming boss making his exit as the new bean counters at Bell start measuring the drapes and checking out the parking spaces.
Other dominoes are starting to fall at CTV. News president Robert Hurst has retired, with long time lieutenant Wendy Freeman in charge of tinting Lloyd's hair starting Monday. Olympic programming boss Keith Pelley's seat was barely warm at the CTV executive boardroom before he bolted to Rogers to replace Tony Viner as head of Rogers Media. Pelley hired Scott Moore away from CBC Sports to run his Rogers sports stations. CTV hustled Phil King into the top TSN spot.
CTV's Fecan: back to the fortress of Solitude
If all this seat changing when the music stops has everybody dizzy now, wait a few weeks. There are more changes to come at CTV. There's already plenty of speculation as to the exact hue of gold to be found in programming boss Susanne Boyce's parachute. Boyce and Fecan ran CTV like mom and dad Moonves for over a decade, rolling up dominant schedules after dominant schedules. Now that the Bell bean counters are in charge, and daddy is adios, mommy can't be far behind.
That will be a shame. Boyce comes from a place of joy where TV is concerned and has tolerated my nonsense for years with grace and good humour. If this great ride is about up for her, she'll leave with her rep intact, along with plenty of cab fare.
Fecan wasn't the only big change in the Canadian TV corporate ranks in 2010. Canwest CEO Leonard Asper and his brother David lost their bid to retain control of their broadcasting and publishing empires, with Shaw Communications taking over the Global brand. And CBC programming head Richard Stursberg exited his job a year earlier than expected. These moves mirrored similar departures south of the border, notably ABC head programmer Stephen McPherson and NBC CEO Jeff Zucker.
I counted up some other Canadian TV moments from 2010 in this piece I wrote for The Canadian Press. All in all a momentous year, from the poverty of those "broken business model" laments to the dizzy ratings heights of the Olympics.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Around the world in 80 shows: 2010 TV travel highlights Part One

Looking out toward the harbor from The Citadel in Halifax
Cover television, see the world. Who knew?
One of the great thrills of 2010 has been being offered the chance to go to so many exciting places and do so many interesting things. I’ve never traveled so often and so far in my life, 12 different road trips in 12 months. Five separate trips to California, twice to Halifax, once to New York and then Buenos Aires, Argentina (to the set of TVTropolis’ upcoming Wipeout Canada) and Budapest, Hungary (CTV’s The Borgias) with Yellowknife and another spin aboard a DC3 with the fly boys of Ice Pilots NWT earlier this month being the icing on the cake.
Coming off trips to St. John’s, San Francisco and Yellowknife in late 2009 and no wonder I was able to use points to book my flight to Pasadena and another press tour next week.
Here are some photo highlights from a busy year of travel at TV Feeds My Travel Bug:

March began with a flight out to Halifax as the gang from This Hour Has 22 Minutes were putting the finishing touches on another season. The four member troupe could not have been more accommodating as were all of the gang at Halifax Films or whatever they are calling themselves these days. Seeing a live taping of this show at the red-brick CBC studios is a perk I've enjoyed several times over the years, and it never gets old. With ratings up after a shortened 17th season, let's hope CBC re-ups this East Coast treasure for a full run next year.

That Mentalist guy is good--he doesn't even have to be there to conduct an interview. Actually he does and was--Simon Baker spoke to critics gathered on the set of The Mentalist during the Warner Bros. International press junket held last March in Beverly Hills. His executive producer compared the dude to Charlie Chaplin so pay attention next time you see him do the dance of the rolls or other bits of business.

The WBIPJ was held at the SLS Hotel, an uber trendy boutique close to everything Beverly Hills. Each floor had its own pool table play area complete with black and grey Mr. Ed chairs and chrome rifle lamps. The rooms were all very Austin Powers, with shag duvets and square sinks and taps.
The large Plasma screen in the swingin' bachelor pad hotel room was hidden behind a floor to wall frosted mirror deal that took longer than usual for this critic to figure out. A slit in the side, I figured, was where DVDs went in. I had to screen the CBC Don Cherry movie "Keep Your Head Up Kid" and popped it into the funky screen-o-rama set up. Trouble was, I couldn't get it out, so the beautiful people at room 212 at the SLS Hotel got a free two week preview of Grape's bio-pic.
The mod rooftop pool at the SLS. "Critics delouse before entering"

A highlight of the WBIPJ was a visit to the set of The Big Bang Theory on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank. I'd been tot he set before on press tours but being embedded with foreign press on these deals seems a lot more informal and friendly. The show had not quite become the enormous hit it has since then (especially in Canada) and the cast were all very friendly and accommodating, yakking in small circles right on the set. I recall Kaley Culio talking about her three horses and riding and show jumping and how that was how she liked to relax every weekend. Doesn't that give the studio fits, she was asked. "They don't know the extent of it," she replied. "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."
Oops. A riding accident at the start of the season knocking Culio out of a few episodes probably has put a dent in her weekend horseplay.
A return trip to Halifax in May brought me and several other eventually sunburnt critics out to the set of Haven, the new sci-fi drama already picked up for a second season on Showcase. Emily Rose, Lucas Bryant (right) and Eric Balfour were loose as gooses on set, with Balfour psyched about getting to challenge some Atlantic surf.
Kudos to new mom/Showcase PR doll Nikki Lamb Tudico for wheeling us all over Nova Scotia in her rented 4x4. The girl could drive for the Feds.
That trip eventually wound back to Halifax and a location shoot for those crazy bastards from Trailer Park Boys, Mike Smith Rob Wells and John Paul Tremblay. The trio was at work on their next whack job for Showcase, Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour. The scene they were shooting that day will never ever see the light of day, due to the untimely passing of the great Maury Chaykin, but hopefully the series will surface soon. I'm dying to see if it comes even close to being as funny as it was described to me by the boys, seen below winning a 2000 Neon.

From the Department of WTF

Man, I've been sick as a dog over Christmas. I was so delirious from fever I actually thought for a moment that, starting Jan. 19, CTV had scheduled the performance show of American Idol to air Wednesdays on CTV and then--in order to avoid a conflict with their simulcast of The Big Bang Theory--they had bounced the American Idol results show the following day over to their regional /A\ channels. You know, the channels they tried to sell for a dollar just last year? Crazy! I know! Imagine if any programmer ever did that. Not only would they piss off their audience (especially the older viewers who tend to watch Idol), they'd also lose all the Hi-Def viewers since /A\ isn't available on hi-def. Canadians, though, could finally get American commercials on the Fox hi-def feed Thursdays so that might be cool.
CTV has treated /A\ like the free space in Bingo all season, flipping Two and a Half Men back and forth about as often as Charlie Sheen stumbles in and out of rehab. Neither seems to impact the show, with Two and a Half Men drawing close to two and a half million in a recent CTV outing.
This is a bit different--starting a show on one channel and ending it the same week on another. I guess if you're going to play Where's Waldo with a TV show, pick one as conspicuous as American Idol.
Still, Idol goes into this season with plenty of question marks, with Simon gone and Steve Tyler and J-Lo as judges. This is no time to make it a bit tricky to find.
CTV is betting viewers are savvy enough in 2011 to find it, whether its on CTV, /A\ or at Or they think the show is damaged goods and is not worth airing twice a week on the same channel. The answer in a few weeks.

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Tis the season

Always loved this Larry Fritz illustration, which graced the cover of TV Guide for the week of December 24, 1955--exactly 55 years ago today. Back when signals were pulled in from all over on rooftop antennas--for free. Apparently they still work.
Off to Cloverdale to start my shopping. For those of you not wrapping gifts tonight by the Yule log on the "Fireplace Channel" (available 24 hours on Rogers cable 204 in the GTA), here are some holiday TV highlights elsewhere tonight and tomorrow. Merry viewing:

White Christmas (1954) 12:15 p.m., 5:15 p.m., 10:15 p.m., AMC)
Scrooge (1970) 6 p.m. TCM
Shrek the Halls 7:30 p.m. CTV
Miracle of 34th Street (1994) 8 p.m. CBC
It's a Wonderful Life 8 p.m. CTV, NBC
The Bishop's Wife (1947) 8 p.m., TCM
Phineas and Ferb 8:30 p.m. ABC
The Santa Clause 2 9 p.m. ABC
George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight: A Holiday Special 11:05 p.m., CBC
A Christmas Carol 12:05 a.m. CTV

White Christmas (1954) 3:15 a.m., AMC
Yule Log 6 a.m. CTV
A Christmas Carol (1938) 11:45 a.m. TCM
Disney Parks Christmas Parade 12 p.m. CBC
Olive The Other Reindeer 2 p.m. CBC
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) 2 p.m. NBC
Bookie the Secret Santa 3 p.m. CBC
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 8 p.m. YTV
TV`s Funniest Holiday Moments 8 p.m. Fox
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) 11 P.M. CBC

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

CBS tree tweets a blast from Christmas TV past

When it comes to Christmas and television, Diane Werts literally wrote the book. ("Christmas on Television"; order your copy here.) Not only does the TV Worth Watching editor know all about the various holiday specials and TV movies made over the years, but today on Facebook (shouldn't it have been on Twitter?) she posted the above clip from this CBS interstitial, which ran in 1966. The spot is animated by R.O. Blechman, whose starkly simple cartoons and illustrations have been featured in everything from the New Yorker to Alka-Selzer campaigns.
It's such a beautifully nuanced spot, and the fact that it aired the same year Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Who Stole Christmas was brand new drives home the contrast between holiday specials then and holiday specials now. Networks don't commission illustrators or even saw players to speak to Christmas anymore, they just turn to marketing divisions of the parent companies that own the networks for some sort of Madagascar or Kung Fu Panda knock off. Bring back the birds, I say, and Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ratings across Canada Dec. 13 - 19

Evan Soloman, Michael Ignatieff and Mark Critch in festive 22 Minutes finale
Two CBC shows enjoyed strong finales this week: 22 Minutes and Being Erica. 22 Minutes has earned a shot at a 18th season with a higher season average than it achieved last year. More in doubt is Erica's fate. Will a late rally be enough to rescue a low-rated season? There's talk of a U.S. network versioning the three-year-old CBC series and, if they do, look for them to make one crucial fix--cutting it to half an hour.
I don't know how many viewers are indulging in the constant parade of Christmas movies from U.S. movie stations TCM and AMC, but it may be having an impact on the Canadian network holiday movie numbers. They are steady but perhaps not as robust as in past years.
Here are the overnight, estimated viewing numbers across Canada 2+ for the week of Dec. 13 to 19:

CBC scored over a million viewers with the 1966 animated evergreen Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas. That led into a Men with Brooms episode at (355,000) followed by a Season of Song with the Canadian Tenors and Friends (957,000, thanks to one friend in particular, Justin Bieber). The National at 10 (875,000) enjoyed an uptick in viewing.
Shrewed CTV jumped the gun a year stripping four-year-old sitcom Big Bang Theory five nights a week at . The show has been rocket fuelled all season, starting this week at nearly 1.6 million. That led to Two and a Half Men, which draws a crowd no matter where it lands, getting 2,237,000 this week at 8 on CTV. (In Canada they should call this show Two and a Half Million.) Mike & Molly followed at 1,870,000, with a Castle repeat doing 1,088,000.
Global led with the movie Hancock (883,000) followed by Hawaii FIVE-0 (1,237,000).
City comedies How I Met Your Mother (782,000) and Rules of Engagement (747,000) kept pace.
TSN scored 510,000 for the Monday Night Football Baltimore/Houston tilt.

Hats off to the gang at 22 Minutes. With very little fanfare or promotion, they delivered a strong (if shortened) season. Both creatively and in the ratings. Tuesdays hour-long season finale delivered 1,088,000 at 8 and another 1,039,000 at for almost total retention over the hour. Let’s see CBC step up with a full season order for 2011. At 9, CBC skated off with 681,000 viewers with a Holiday on Ice special.
Global did well with a night full of reruns, including Glee (1,325,000), NCIS: LA (1,684,000) and The Good Wife (1,058,000).
City gained with the finale of The Biggest Loser (961,000) with 544,000 also checking out Minute to Win It. Next year, combine the two shows: Minute to Eat It. Don't think Fox isn't already on this.
The original Shrek did 803,000 on CTV Tuesday night, followed by another airing of Flashpoint (749,000).
Sportsnet Ontario scored 651,000 for a Toronto/Edmonton NHL game.

CTV bounced back from a soft Tuesday with a strong Wednesday, scoring with imports Human Target at 8 (1.4 million), Criminal Minds (2.4+) and The Defenders (close to 1.5 million).
The second last episode of Global’s Survivor: Nicaragua drew 2.1 million viewers Wednesday, surprisingly more than watched Sunday’s finale. A NCIS rerun got 712,000 and NCIS:LA repeated at 472,000.
Amid buzz that it is toast, Being Erica went out with a bang with 627,000 viewers, its strongest outing all season. CBC began the night with holiday treats Frosty the Snowman (837,000) and Mickey’s Christmas Carol (777,000).
A Modern Family repeat still managed 511,000 on City, where Hell’s Kitchen cooked up 559.000.
Philly/Montreal drew 792,000 NHL fans to TSN. Over at Teletoon, a Kung Fu Panda Christmas special did 426,000.

A new episode of The Big Bang Theory soared over the three million mark Thursday, leading CTV to its usual Thursday night win. S#*! My Dad Says did over two million, with CSI scoring 887,000 at and 1.6 mil+ at 10.
A rare Thursday night hockey game found 744,000 Habs/Bruins fans. Doc Zone got body checked down to 139,000 wedged between the game and the post-game (442,000).
A mini Office marathon fizzled on Global doing 430,000, 289,000 and 284,000. Outsourced in-between did close to 400,000. A Bones repeat rattled 786,000.
/A\ channel’s well placed Meet the Fockers nabbed 527,000 viewers. A W network holiday movie (On Strike for Christmas) found the radar with 442,000 viewers.

Everybody is down to holiday movies now on Fridays. CBC scored with Home Alone (1,140,000), CTV had Borrowed Hearts (620,000), Global Surviving Christmas (526,000). Sonny with a Chance did better than half a million on Family.

Hockey Night in Canada continues to cash in on all Canadian matchups, with 2.1 million catching Saturdays tilt between the Leafs and the Canucks. The late game drew 795,000. Paul McCartney’s four song set boosted Saturday Night Live to 542,000 viewers—more than anything else on Global's entire Saturday schedule.

With the Amazing Race concluded for another year the Survivor finale took top spot on the night, but with less than 2.1 million viewers. Another 1,783,000 stuck around for the spirited after show.
Otherwise CBC’s movie (1.1 mil+) edged CTV’s movies (991,000 and 1,072,000). TSN tackled 630,000 with Sunday Night Football.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

TCM shines again with their annual salute

TCM always does such a beautiful job with their end of the year "In Memoriam" videos. As you can see above, this year is no exception. An eye opener, thanks to some clever scene selections, is that three people in "Airplane" passed away in 2010--Peter Graves, Barbara Billingsley and Leslie Nielsen. Don't fret that Blake Edwards is missing, or that the year isn't over and another big name, Heaven forbid, might be left out. TCM usually updates these tributes and a clip from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" or "The Party" will likely appear before New Year's Eve. The haunting, well chosen music, "Headlights," is written and performed by Sophie Hunger.

F-Bombs flying at annual Air Farce year-ender

Roger Abbott, unidentified fan and Don Ferguson at Friday's Air Farce taping
"At least we know this is one way to get into your blog." That was Roger Abbott's very perceptive crack as the above photo was snapped at Friday night's taping of the Air Farce New Year's Eve special. The taping took place at a packed 10th floor studio at the CBC broadcast centre in Toronto. Abbott and Ferguson were among those in costume as F-Bomb scientists; the F-Bomb is the messy new splatter machine that has taken the place of the old Chicken Cannon at these annual Air Farce year enders. Large rolls of cellophane were stretched across the front row of the bleachers in an effort to control the amount of guck sprayed from the messy F-bombs.
All seven of the Farce troopers are back for the hour long salute to the year about to end. Pot shots are taken at the usual suspects, including politicians Harper, Ignatieff and Layton, Celine Dion and her new twins, Sarah Palin, the upcoming Royal nuptials, Don Cherry, George Stroumboulopoulos, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Fellow CBC funnyman Ron James and a veteran Canadian TV news anchor who is retiring sometime in the new year.
It all airs Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. and midnight on CBC. Watch the early one before you get too into the spirit, sez Rog.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This week's Podcast: yakkin' about Yellowknife

It was odd, as I tell Hamilton's CHML radio dude Scott Thompson, to be sitting in Yellowknife earlier this week and watching Southern Ontario get hammered with snow. The TV at the Explorer Hotel was hooked up to satellite, and a CHCH channel was among the options. Things looked a hell of a lot more wintry in the GTA than they did in the NWT.
Not that there wasn't snow in Yellowknife. The city of about 20,000 is covered in the white stuff, and Great Slave Lake was frozen to a thickness of at least 16 inches. Which was good since we drove all over it.
Even had a chance to drive down Ragged Ass Road, although forget looking for a street sign--it keeps getting stolen.
The temperature hovered around -22C while I was there, which seems warmer somehow when you're dressed for it. I was in Yellowknife to hitch a ride with "Buffalo" Joe McBryan aboard one of his five super cool DC3s featured on Ice Pilots NWT. Thanks to the folks at Omni Films and especially Vancouver-based publicist Andrew Poon for a great time in Y-town. 
It was good to see my old pals Mikey McBryan and Scotty Blue (left) at the Buffalo Air terminal. You can watch their new adventures starting Jan. 12 at 8 p.m. on History. For Season One, check them out Friday nights on Global or grab an Ice Pilots NWT Season One DVD, just released this week in Canada.
Scott Thompson also asks me to explain the fascination with E! eye candy the Kardasians, who were guesting on Conan the other night. Had to admit I was stumped. We talk briefly about the Golden Globe nominations, which seemed about right. Plus I stand up for Don Cherry. You can listen in here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ice Pilots make smart detour around WJHC final

Crazed buzz boy at Yellowknife site of Ice Pilots NWT
Hats off to History Television. After a nudge or two from this corner, they announced today they are moving the Season Two premiere of their top domestic series, Ice Pilots NWT--along with the premiere of their new Ice Road Truckers spinoff--back a week from Jan. 5 to Jan. 12. The week delay avoids sending Ice Pilots on a kamikaze mission straight into the buzz saw that is the World Junior Hockey Championships.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that the WJHC has become the Death Star in Canadian television, drawing more viewers than even the Stanley Cup finals.The tourney begins right after Christmas with the final--likely a highly anticipated rematch between Canada and the U.S.A.--scheduled to air the evening of Jan. 5 on TSN.
Last year, an astounding 5.3 million Canadians watched the U.S. defeat Canada. The semi-final game, between Canada and Switzerland, drew over 3.2 million. The year before that, the final was clocked at nearly 3.7 million--back before PPMs--bodychecking the launch of Being Erica into the ice.
With their strong appeal to male viewers, Ice Pilots and new series IRT: Deadliest Roads would have taken a significant hit opposite hockey, especially if Canada is in the finals. Those shows would have been history, instead of airing on History.
CBC also blinked earlier this month when it wisely yanked the return of their Newfoundland cop caper Republic of Doyle out of the black hole that will be Jan. 5. Some other new CBC shows have not been so lucky so far. The second year comedy 18 to Life returns Jan. 3, the night of the semi-final. The same night, the new CBC reality series Village on a Diet premieres. Could be a crash diet.
Maybe the network sees those shows as suitable counter programs and maybe they are. I`m not sure how comforted I`d be with that argument, however, if I was producing them.
Besides, there are other counter programming options that night, including the 15th season premiere of The Bachelor on City. January, in general, is shaping up as one of the most hotly competitive months of television in memory.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ratings across Canada Dec. 6 - 12

A Heartland Christmas draws 1.4 million
Oddities always emerge as the year winds down and schedules enter full holiday shut down mode. CBC's special celebrating 400 years of Coronation Street drew fewer viewers than the series regularly draws. Blimey! A special, two-hour Heartland Christmas episode was a winner, lassoing over 1.4 million viewers. A look at the overnight, estimated numbers across Canada, 2+ for the week of December 6 to 13, 2010 (UPDATED DEC. 15 @ 11AM):

May be time to bring out the brooms for Men with Brooms. The CBC comedy that is shot in the Prairies but based in the Maritimes seems to have eluded everyone in between. Back-to-back episodes Monday drew 319,000 and 257,000 , a big fall off from the 1.1 mil. Jeopardy! lead in.
That Little Mosque holiday episode also got a lump of coal with 315,000 viewers. Vinyl Cafe Christmas skipped to 364,000.
It's not like it was a killer night on the privates. House-less Global made do with a movie (809,000) and Hawaii FIVE-0 (1.3 mil.+). Dance-less CTV slid in The Listener (under 600,000) and then got a boost at 9 from ever-potent /A\ call-up Two and a Half Men (1,837,000). Mike & Molly and Castle did under and over 1.7 mil.

That Glee Christmas episode took top show of the night honors with 2,372,000 overnight, estimated viewers. Elsewhere, imports and holiday reruns underperformed. A Muppet Christmas on CTV did 600,000. No Ordinary Family did an ordinary one million. Flashpoint filled with 865,000. Global slumped behind Glee with reruns of NCIS: Los Angeles (1.1 mil) and The Good Wife (669,000).
CBC had a stronger Tuesday with Mercer pulling 1,069,000 (for a rerun?) followed by another solid 22 Minutes (819,000). Stars on Ice skated off with 778,000 at 9.
A couple of NHL games on TSN drew 760,000 and 612,000.

CTV hit their targets with Human Target (1,384,000), Criminal Minds (2,286,000) and The Defenders (1,317,000). Global kept pace with Survivor: Nicaragua (2,015,000) and reruns of overused NCIS (429,000) and NCIS:LA (578,000). CBC had their usual Wednesday highs 1,617,000 for Dragon's Den) and lows (Being Erica 362,000).
Many viewers skated over to TSN for a Leaf tilt (1,128,000). City's big draw Wednesday, as usual, was Modern Family at 866,000 viewers.

The Big Bang Theory is still big at 2,659,000 overnight, estimated CTV viewers, but has dropped half a million from its giddy peak earlier this fall. In fact, it was beat in Canada by a rare simulcast of old reliable CSI (2,673,000). S#*! My Dad Says (1,951,000) and The Mentalist (just under 2.5 million) contributed to a typically strong Thursday for CTV.
Global got a boost from Bones (1,815,000) and less from The Office (633,000). Over a million tuned in to see Barbara Walters make celebrities cry.
Corrie Crazy? I dunno. Only 688,000 joined the party for this 900th anniversary of Coronation Street special. CBC followed with Doc Zone (331,000). Fringe scored 516,000 on City.  Under-the-radar iCarly did 513,000 on YTV. Vampire Diaries bit into 437,000 on /A\.
For the second night in a row, TSN drew over a million for a Leaf game (1,024,000).

A rare Friday night hockey game drew just under 700,000 on CBC, about what Ron James usually gets. CTV did slightly better with Rita MacNeil, with reruns of Blue Bloods and CSI:NY managing 1.2 mil+. Global's holiday movie "Deck the Halls" did 651,000. Over on YTV, a 9 p.m. episode of 10 Things I Hate About You drew 578,000!

Another biggie for Hockey Night in Canada, with all that 3D ballyhoo boosting the total close to 2.2 mil. Didn't hurt that it was Leafs vs. Canadiens.

Saddle up the horses! A Heartland Christmas galloped off with over 1.4 million CBC viewers. Giddyyup!
Not bad opposite Canada's No. 1 show for the second week in a row, The Amazing Race (2,738,000). Family Guy (1.2 million) was the big draw of the night on Global. CBC also scored with a holiday movie ("I'll Be Home for Christmas," attracting 900,000) and the old chestnut Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (961,000).
Lost Girl's season finale was a hit on Showcase, with 342,000 finding it. The shot-in-Toronto/Hamilton series has already been picked up for a second season. The Philly/Dallas Sunday Night football game on TSN drew 700,000.

Ice Pilots ready for Season Two takeoff

YELLOWKNIFE, N.W.T.: Where to go to escape the snow and ice of Brampton, Ont.? Yellowknife, of course.
I'm back visiting the mad men and women of Ice Pilots, NWT, the most successful Canadian debut ever on History Television. The series opened last year to 459,000 viewers. It is currently scheduled to take off for a second season January 5, although--MAYDAY!--that is the date of the World Junior Hockey Championships final. If this is another Canada/USA rematch, Ice Pilots will be flying straight into a buzz saw.
This likely would not deter "Buffalo" Joe McBryan, the cantankerous bush pilot behind Buffalo Air. His fleet of vintage DC3s, DC4 and other propeller aircraft--some dating back to WWII--are a big part of the fascination with this series.
Along with a few journalists and a full load of regular passengers, I had an opportunity to fly the friendly skies over Great Slave Lake Sunday night in a DC3. McBryan, who began Buffalo Air with one plane in 1970, lifts that baby into the air and drops it down again like the runway was a giant pillow.
He and son Mikey and daughter Kathy, along with other family members and pilots (including fan fave Scotty Blue) made the trek to Osh Kosh, Wisc., last summer in one of their three air worthy DC3s. The gang were treated like rock stars at the annual air show, which was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the aircraft, which dates back to 1935.
Most of the other DC3s at the airshow are museum pieces or hobby birds. The Buffalo Air machine is an everyday passenger plane. Visiting propheads were astounded.
The bird the McBryans flew the other night saw service in WWII, and was apparently in on the 11th wave into Normandy. McBryan's hanger full of vintage aircraft (as well as a few cool Mercs from the '40s) draws admiring visitors to Yellowknife year long. Some come with stats and serial numbers, identifying the plans and telling the hosts more about the history of these aircraft than they already knew. According to McBryan, one of his DC4s flew monkeys out of Africa that were used in the testing of insulin in the '40s.
The visit to Osh Kosh will be one of the later episodes this season. Executive producer David Gullison says the episode is a hoot, with McBryan loading his family into the DC3 to head to the air show like most families would load into a station wagon or van for a family vacation.
The good news for fans of this series is that a third season has already been ordered and is in production, WJHC's be damned.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas gets killed tonight on American Dad

Cast member Scott Grimes, co-creators Mike Barker, Matt Weitzman and Seth MacFarlane
Today I'm at Toronto's Pearson airport, en route to Yellowknife, Ice Pilots NWT country. The History Television series returns for a second season in January. Hey, any excuse to jump back into a DC3.
All this flying to eventually go flying means I'll miss tonight's episode of American Dad, something I make a point of doing every week anyway. But just because I'm missing it doesn't mean you have to watch it. Critics were "treated" to a table read of tonight's holiday-themed outing and it was relentlessly withering. I'm hoping somebody at Fox stepped up and called these guys on this crap but, if you choose to watch it, brace yourselves just in case. Below is my report from press tour.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA--Ho-ho-no! Hide the kids! Elves are slaughtered like baby seals in a not-so-festive scene coming up this season on American Dad. Critics got a sneak peak at "For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls" at the end of a lunch time table read Monday at press tour. The entire cast, including executive producer Seth MacFarlane, ripped through most of the script, which marks the 100th episode of the series.
At one point in the episode, Stan (the jut-jawed, trigger-happy American Dad) gives his son Steve a quick lesson on gunman ship:
Steve, shooting a gun is like being intimate with a woman. First, you inspect it to make sure it's clean. Then you grab it on the butt and jam the magazine in. If it doesn't fit, make it.
And so it went. As much sex and violence as censors will allow, crammed into a cartoon. Then, on monitors, we watched in horror as dozens of elves were machine gunned to death in the snow.
The credits rolled, and critics sat in stunned silence. Even MacFarlane made a few cracks about the unease in the room.
As Linus might say, "And that's what Christmas is all about in 2010, Charlie Brown."
While American Dad fits with Fox's Sunday "animation domination" schedule, the edgy animated series seems suddenly out of step with the new wave of family comedies that found audiences last season.
MacFarlane has become a big player in the TV game, inking a reported five year, $100 million deal with Fox to keep cranking out Family Guy and other projects. As another Canadian critic in the room pointed out, he's also a terrific contributor on Real Time with Bill Maher, weighing in with his own opinions and getting out from behind his many characters.
He also has a movie in the works, but is tight-lipped on details on the live-action project. "It's about a man and his teddy bear," is all he'd share at press tour.
After the reading, I asked MacFarlane what "Canadian Dad" might look like if he were ever to spin off that series. Said MacFarlane: "He's probably be a polite, easy-going guy with great health care and a low crime rate."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Force is with Carrie Fisher in "Wishful Drinking"

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Carrie Fisher shot to fame as Princess Leia in the original "Star Wars." I remember being completely caught up in the fun of that movie in the summer of '77. The floating car and all those Cabana critters were cool, as were those nimble cross-wing fighters. Fisher made a willful, pissy princess, very modern and relatable and not unlike the wee kiltie lassies who worked the halls of St. Joesph's/Michael Power back in the day.
But I digress. Suffice to say it was a bit bracing to see Fisher on stage at the Beverly Hilton's main ballroom last summer. She was there to promote her one woman show "Wishful Drinking," which comes to HBO Canada Sunday at 9 p.m.
Fisher emerged from the wings wearing that crazy Star Wars Princess Leia wig, the one with the hot cross buns on the sides. She's earned the right to goof on herself, having survived a Hollywood childhood that would have unhinged Obie Wan Kin obi.
Her mom, Debbie Reynolds, comes in for a lot of Fisher's ribbing. Dada Eddie Fisher was still alive when Carrie met the TV press last summer. She called him "Puff Daddy" after his affection for the weed.
After such a kooky childhood, Fisher had to survive the insanity of the sudden movie fame, being caught up in this iconic franchise. A brief marriage to Paul Simon, the drug overdose death of a friend in her bed, her own battles with booze and drugs, bipolar disorder and eventual shock therapy.
It's all in her book "Wishful Drinking," a breezy, funny read despite all the madness in her life. She writes about how George Lucas so owns her image that she owes him a dollar every time she looks in the mirror--which is often due to her vanity.
The stage show is pretty much a recreation of the book with visual aides. For more on Fisher and "Wishful Drinking," check out this feature I wrote for this month's issue of Movie Entertainment magazine.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Heads up, left wing kooks! Now Cherry's in 3D!

Don Cherry's been catching plenty of heat for his "pinko" prank at Toronto City Hall earlier this week. Grapes walked in like he was that WikiLeaks guy at a United Nations security council meeting and let everybody have it, right in the nuts. That musta hurt when they all rode their bikes home up Jarvis after the meeting.
Hey, all I know is, nobody watched the Brampton mayor and her co-conspirators being sworn in on TV this week. Nobody ever watched the Toronto deal before. Cherry is a lightening rod for Canadians and can fill a room faster than anybody else on TV in this country--period.
Does he have an ego the size of one of his Lincoln Mark VIs? Probably, although Grapes is always humble and shy whenever I encounter him. We spoke more about WWII and my recent trip to Hungary than hockey when I interviewed he and Ron MacLean at the CBC Winter launch last month.
The CBC elite may find Grapes a little too Tim Hortons for their Starbucks schedule but when they need to sell something, who do they call? It's no accident that they're not shooting the "At Issue" panel, or Being Erica, in 3D this weekend. No, it's Cherry and Hockey Night in Canada, still the most effective weekly sales tool in Canadian television.
A clip of "Coach's Corner" in 3D was shown at the CBC launch. Neither Grapes or MacLean thought much of it, saying the effect worked way better on the ice then in the studio. The desk bit featured a much wider set; "I liked that there was a lot of extra head room--for Don," cracked MacLean.
I'm told even if you have one of the new sets and the special glasses you won't see the 3D effect this Saturday during the "Coach's Corner" segment. Just as well, Cherry's crazy checkered suit jackets could cause dizziness, nausea and even vomiting in 3D--just like they do every week.
Not many of us have 3D sets but Panasonic--which loaned HNiC the six special cameras for Saturday's Leafs/Habs tilt--probably hope they'll sell a few this Christmas. A second 3D CBC hockey game, the annual outdoor Heritage Classic, will air Feb. 20.
For more on Cherry in 3D, check out the feature I wrote this week for The Canadian Press.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tonight: spend Christmas with this Community

Troy (Donald Glover), Abed (Pudi), Duncan (John Oliver)
If you're looking for something a little different--yet also strangely familiar--this Christmas, check out tonight's cool Yule episode of Community (NBC, City, 8 p.m.). The cast members--cartoon characters at the best of times--have all been rendered as stop-motion puppets in an homage to those classic Rankin-Bass holiday specials like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that date back to the '60s.
NBC has several EPK clips at their media site showing moments from tonight's episode as well as behind the scenes peeks at the miniature sets used in the stop-motion animation renderings. Executive producer Dan Harmon talks about the "huge emotional value" those hand-crafted specials delivered back in the day, as well as how quirky they were, pointing out that "weird light sabre sound" Rudolph's nose would make whenever it lit up.
The episode, titled, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," is all from the perspective of community college student Abed (Danny Pudi). He explains to the other members of the study group that they've been animated, warning them to step between the gum drops.
Some cast members are pretty radically transformed. Jeff (Joel McHale) becomes a Jack-in-the-box; Pierce (Chevy Chase) a teddy bear (complete with cleft chin). Britta (Gillian Jacobs) gets turned into a Britta-Bot, perfect since she is a little stiff and tightly wound.
The most radical makeover is Senor Chang (Ken Jeong), now a roly-poly Snow Chang. The whole gang add up to a new island of misfit toys, which Harmon says is pretty much the idea behind Community anyway.
This is one of those shows I keep hearing people rave about (that Halloween episode, where they all turned into zombies, generated plenty of buzz), yet, on a tough night opposite stiff competition, it continues to struggle in the ratings. Maybe tonight's episode will goose it in the ratings and lead to a Christmas miracle. Shows that take creative chances deserve all the good will they can get.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

This Week's Podcast: more on Lennon, Dailey

This week's chat with CHML's Scott Thompson starts with a clip from Sunday's Christmas episode of The Simpsons. Scott wanted to know if the Simpsons were as relevant now as when the series started 21 years ago. I dodge the question but suggest the series is running out of stories. New writers needed, Scott asks? Perhaps, but even new writers have to pen episodes 508, 543, 562...just what the hell is left to tell? Still, the show is as solid as ever on Sundays in the ratings, especially in Canada. The show has been renewed for a 23rd season, which will push it over the 500 episode mark.
We talk about the 30th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon and how hard that hit this Beatles fan. Scott brought up Lennon's TV appearances and we reminisce about vintage Lennon on Mike Douglas, Dick Cavett and Tom Snyder's old Tomorrow show. His death, of course, was announced to millions by Howard Cosell on another TV show, Monday Night Football.
Speaking of broadcasters, we touch on the death of Citytv newsman Mark Dailey and what a void his passing leaves at that network. His voice literally was "everywhere" on City.
We also cram in a comment or two on WikiLeaks and those anti-American CBC shows singled out in a couple of reports. Wiki-wacky.
You can listen in here.

December 8, 1980

Five years ago, when I was still at the Toronto Sun, we did this terrific tribute to John Lennon on the 25th anniversary of his murder. Those kick-ass special entertainment sections were always very collaborative with all hands contributing copy. Bob Bishop as always did a masterful job designing the section.
I got to write the opener, a memory of that horrible night of Dec. 8, 1980, when news of Lennon's death went viral a generation before the Internet made that a Facebook phenomenon.
I was out at Mississauga's old Dixie arena playing a pickup game of hockey when I walked to my car, turned on the radio and heard all these Lennon songs. One after another. No yakkity yak from the usual suspects at Q107. Just eerie stillness between songs.
I remember getting sick with fear as I drove east along Dundas. Something was wrong. It just couldn't be what I knew this probably meant.
I remember still feeling stunned a few days later when I made my way down to Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square for a vigil for Lennon. The place was packed. A large portrait of Lennon, looking remarkably serene, hung on one side of the square. Complete strangers held hands and sang Lennon songs; candles were held aloft. It was a mass, really, a communion, without any priests, politicians or corporate sponsors. It just sprang from the people. Imagine no religion, just all the people, living life in peace.
It's hard to convey, 30 years later, how much Lennon's death shook the generation that grew up with the Beatles. The recent PBS American Masters documentary LENNONYC showed how the singer/songwriter had survived a very dark period of booze, drugs and excess to emerge purged and ready to rock. That was part of what stung at the time--he didn't wind up like Elvis, dammit. We fans felt cheated out of the best this guy had to come.
Still, what he left was an example, a blueprint for living. "Tell them there's no problem," he sang in Watching the Wheels, "only solutions." What could be more positive than that?
My son Daniel, 12 at the time I wrote that piece for the Sun, suggested to me then that Lennon was the Gandhi of music. The ex-Beatle wasn't perfect, and would have laughed off that comparison, but if that's how the next generation sees him, well, maybe all you really do need is love.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ratings across Canada Nov. 29 - Dec. 5

Dating Racers Thomas Wolfard and Jill Haney
 Take Battle of the Blades and especially Dancing with the Stars out of the equation and the weekly Top-30 in Canada becomes a very different Race. Here's how it all played out Nov. 29- Dec. 5 among Canadians 2+ according to overnight estimates:

The departure of Dancing with the Stars and Blades led to some show shuffling to start the week. CTV led off with a rerun of Flashpoint, which still commanded an overnight, estimated 973,000 viewers. (CTV quickly gave up on Skating with the Stars, dumping it off in Week Two to /A\ where it drew 304,000.) At 9, still strong Two and a Half Men slid over from /A\ and brought 1,542,000 viewers with them. New comedy Mike & Molly weighed in with 1,360,000, with Castle storming to 1,153,000 at 10.
A rerun of House only drew 769,000 at 8 on Global. Lie to Me drew 1.3 million at 9, with a rerun of NCIS: Los Angeles booking 606,000.
City peaked at 8 with How I Met Your Mother (616,000). The rest of their night hovered around the half-million mark, with the last episode of The Event for a while fetching 569,000.
Discovery continues to drive ahead of the broadcasters Mondays at 10 with Canada's Worst Driver, which clocked in at 636,000. The reality show also rocked in the 18-49-year-old demo. Monday Night Football counted 417,000 on TSN.
A double sweep of Men With Brooms failed to fill the house Monday on CBC, with 305,000 and 212,000 watching at 8 and 8:30. That's an enormous fall off in 2+ from Jeopardy at 7:30 with 1,151,000 viewers.  Just For Laughs did 457,000 at 9.

A strong episode of Glee took the night with over 2.3 million viewers. NCIS followed on Global with close to 1.5 million, with the Victoria's Secret undies hour covering 1.2 million.
CTV, which has to miss Dancing with the Stars, started the night with two holiday specials--Lanny & Wayne (720,000) and Shrek the Halls (over a million). No Ordinary Family drew over 1.1 mil at 9, with resilient Law & Order: SVU up over 1.6 mil at 10.
The Rick Mercer Report topped 1.1 million at 8 p.m. on CBC, followed by another strong outing for 22 Minutes with 817,000 overnight, estimated viewers. Winnipeg Comedy Fest drew 453,000 at 10 on CBC.
The Biggest Loser was the biggest winner Tuesday on City, gaining 615,000.

Global won the night with Survivor: Nicaragua at close to 2.2 million overnight, estimated viewers across Canada. A Glee rerun dropped to 542,000 and the Grammy nominations thingy did 563,000.
Dragon's Den roared to a season high 1.924,000 viewers. That helped lift Being Erica over the Brampton barrier to 518,000 viewers.
Human Target targeted 1.2 million viewers at 8 on CTV, with Criminal Minds getting away with 1,544,000 at 9 and Law & Order: LA arresting more than 1.4 million.
TSN scored with an NHL doubleheader Wednesday, with the Canucks game pulling 1,011,000 and the Oilers getting 776,000.
Reruns of Modern Family and Cougar Town managed above and below half a million Wednesday on City.

Even CTV's dominant night was a little less dominant this week. The Big Bang Theory was less explosive than usual at 2.2 million. S#*! My Dad Says did over 1.4 million at 8:30. Grey's Anatomy was top show of the night at 2.3 million and at 10, The Mentalist climbed close to 1.8 million.
A new episode of Bones scored 1,677,000 viewers on Global. The Office (810,000) and Outsourced (590,000) were at typical levels. The Apprentice scored a steady 681,000.
A two hour Nature of Things drew 710,000 at 8 on CBC.
Vampire Diaries drew 510,000 on /A\. Private Practice at 10 did 589,000. Fringe at just under 600,000 was the big winner on City. An Ottawa Senators game on TSN failed to crack the half million mark.

CTV won the night with their CBS crime imports Medium (908,000), CSI: NY (1,729,000) and Blue Bloods (1,752,000).
Ron James entertained 610,000 at 8, with a rerun of Mercer getting a hefty 711,000 at 8:30. The fifth estate then climbed to a season high 959,000 viewers at 9 with their "Presumed Dead" investigation.
Global hit the Friday radar with the festive green Incredible Hulk movie (607,000).
TSN scored 859,000 at 8:30 with their Vancouver-Chicago NHL tilt. The Score scored 402,000 at 8 with a WWE Smackdown.

Another big win for Hockey Night in Canada, with over two million taking in the early Leaf game. Saturday Night Live drew 438,000 at 11:30 on Global.

Canada's No. 1 show for the week was The Amazing Race, which raced off with close to 2.7 million overnight, estimated viewers. Desperate Housewives returned to CTV at 9 with 1,952,000, while CSI: Miami broke past the two million viewer mark. Undercover Boss at 7 did 1,421,000 for CTV.
The Simpsons continues to have a strong 22nd season on Global, averaging 1,167,000 at 8. The rest of Global's night ranged from 583,000 for American Dad to 686,000 for Brothers & Sisters.
CBC started the night with a Disney movie (587,000), soared at 7 with Heartland (1,085,000) and dipped at 8 with that Battle of the Blades extra show (853,000). Things collapsed at 9 as that do-gooder All for One Viewer series continued to live down to its title (277,000).
407,000 viewers found Lost Girl (already renewed for a second season) Sunday at 9 on Showcase. The season finale of the shot-in-Toronto series airs this Sunday night at 9.
The late Sunday NFL game, Pittsburgh/Baltimore, scored 553,000 on TSN.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mark Dailey: 1953 - 2010

It will be hard to imagine Citytv without the boomimg baritone of Mark Dailey. More than any other broadcaster in Canada, he was the voice of his city and his network.
The veteran news anchor died today after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 57.
Dailey began his career at City in Toronto in 1979. An ex-cop from Youngstown, Ohio, he worked his way up from being a crime reporter to the anchor desk or really anchor space; Dailey seemed to be always on his feet.
Unfortunately, I never got to know him beyond the occasional encounter at a fall launch or other press event. My late uncle Ed McCarroll parked his sail boat next to Dailey's at a marina at the foot of Etobicoke and had only good things to say about him. Eddy was a former deputy sheriff out of the University Avenue courthouse and he and Dailey no doubt enjoyed a few pops over tales of certain judges and certain crown attorneys and their various shenanigans.
For that matter, I don't know anybody who ever had anything negative to say about Dailey. Even if you never watched CityNews, you knew that voice, heard it on radio  promos as well as station I.D.'s. He was part of the vanishing fabric of the city, like Honest Eds, Sam the Record Man or The Eaton Centre.
I did interview him a couple of times over the years. Once when he was the voice of one of Canadian animator John Kricfalusi's superhero spoof The Ripping Friends. Dailey really did have the deep hero voice for that gig.
Another time was five or six years ago, when it looked like he had caught prostate cancer in time. On his newscasts, at charity events and in person, Dailey urged men over 40 to get the simple test that could save their life.
On air, his banter with sportscaster Kathryn Humphreys was always sweet to watch. You could feel the mutual affection coming right through the screen.
Colleagues such as ex-Leaf Jim McKenny marvelled at the ease with which Dailey read off a TelePrompTer. For all his technical skill, however, it was Dailey's relatability that probably most endeared him to viewers. You trusted him as a newsman, but you also wanted to hang with him as a neighbour. That's crazy rare in the TV news biz. Mark Dailey was one of a kind.

Don Meredith: Turn out the lights, the party's over

MNF`s big three: Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford
Frank Gifford was asked recently about the current state of the TV broadcast booth. Gifford, one-third of the most famous trio of Monday Night Football announcers (the others being Howard Cosell and Don Meredith), said he wasn't too impressed. All that boosterism bugged him, he said. Announcers shouldn't be trying to convince you that the game was amazing if it wasn't. "One thing we didn't do, we never hyped a game," he told USA Today columnist Michael Hiestand. "Howard would rip it, Don might go to sleep. Now, they have to try to turn it into an exciting event. One problem now is producers trying to make things better than they really are." The news of the passing of Meredith Sunday at 72 drives home how much time has passed and how things have changed. "Dandy Don," as he was called by Cosell, retired from the MNF booth in 1984--26 years ago. There was no high definition, no 3-D to these games. The special effects were in the chemistry between the three men in the booth.
Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Meredith brought an easy going, cheeky charm to his role as a former player-analyst. He was also the perfect foil for Cosell, often taking the Micky out of the erudite broadcaster.
His "Playboy After Dark" swagger showed up in one memorable quip during a Denver Broncos game, when Meredith said he was already "a mile high." His crack about a Cleveland Browns player with the unusual name Fair Hooker ('Fair Hooker...well, I haven't met one yet!')`was one for the ages.
NFL broadcasters have tried to duplicate Meredith`s regular guy appeal for decades by adding good-ol`-boys to the booth, but there was something special and unique about the way he played off Cosell.

Drew Carey to scales: come on down!

Drew Carey isn't half the man he ised to be. The once rolly-poly comedian has shed close to 90lbs as regular viewers of The Price is Right can attest. Carey dropped so much weight by the press tour last August that many reporters walked right by him at the CBS evening event. In his tan suit and bow tie, he looked more like Bill Nye the Science Guy.
I spoke with Carey and got the scoop on his weight loss, which he achieved (with the help of a trainer) over the past year through a combination of diet and exercise. Read more of that interview here in this story I wrote last week for The Canadian Press.
Carey is one of the good guys when it comes to press tour, always showing up over the years (even to promote that WB "Green Screen" series he had for about two weeks several years ago. The guy even dyed his hair green for that). He always has very positive things to say about Canadian funnyman Colin Mochrie, who was one of the standouts on Carey's ABC improv series Whose Line is it Anyway.
He'll also talk your ear off about soccer. Carey was just back from the World Cup when I ran into him last press tour. He is an accredited photographer for soccer events. John Doyle, send him a book.
Good to see him take a turn, at 52, toward a healthier lifestyle--an inspiration to TV critics everywhere.

Friday, December 3, 2010

WikiLeaks exposes dirty Canadian TV secret--we sometimes make our own shows

The stars of the Canadian series "The Border"
Are Canadian TV shows really anti-American? That seemed to be a concern in the wake of the recent WikiLeaks revelations. According to a January, 2008 dispatch from the American Embassy in Ottawa, made public this week, U.S. officials perceived an anti-American bias in some CBC melodramas.
This had to rankle Canadian comedians, many of whom have spent their entire careers bashing Americans. Despite concerted efforts, not even Rick Mercer, the Canadian behind those “Taking to Americans” specials—which mocked how many Americans, including senior White House officials, are completely oblivious about Canada—got so much as an Orange Alert memo from an American official.
The Border was, however, one of the shows singled out in the WikiLeaks report. Characters on that CBC drama about a Canadian border security unit did give voice to some anti-American sentiment. A character who represented an American Homeland Security officer was the cause of tension in early episodes.
While Canadian cop shows like Flashpoint, and Rookie Blue went on to enjoy big U.S. network co-production deals, The Border struggled to land any sort of U.S. distribution, finally settling for a spot on the under-the-radar U.S. cable channel ION. This may have influenced CBC’s decision last spring not to renew the series after three seasons. (Scheduling it opposite Grey’s Anatomy on killer Thursday nights didn’t help, either.)
Still, this doesn’t explain how a Canadian (Kiefer Sutherland) was allowed to run wild as a human killing machine as U.S. anti-terrorism agent Jack Bauer on 24 for eight seasons, or how Canadian producers and directors and actors had their trigger fingers all over that show.
It seems it is Canadian shows that are feared, not Canadian talent. TV Feeds My Family has learned that there are more WikiLeaks revelations to come about Canadian TV shows red flagged by U.S. interests. Among the shows causing the most suspicion:
  • The Beachcombers. American officials feared Bruno Gerussi (right) was sneaking softwood lumber into the United States.
  • Canadian Idol. The utter failure of any Canadian Idol winner to have a career through the fantasy of pop idolatry was seen as a threat to the whole American way of life.
  • Hockey Night in Canada. A bias toward U.S. franchises by NHL president Gary Bettman means the Toronto Maple Leafs will never again win a Stanley Cup…wait, this was on WikiLEAFS.
  • The Friendly Giant. U.S. State Department said to be on high alert since there was no telling if the giant would remain friendly.
  • Holmes on Holmes. Canadian contractor Mike Holmes was distrusted as someone likely to undermine American society through his constant use of superior Robertson screwdrivers.
  • 22 Minutes. Odd title seen as some sort of subversive plot to sneak metric system into America.
  • Curling. Fear that exposure to this non-violent winter sport could wipe out the NFL, NBA, Extreme Wrestling and half of Las Vegas.
  • Suzuki: no Tea Party
  • The Nature of Things. Leaked memo--“This guy Suzuki makes Al Gore look like Dick Cheney.”
  • George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. Too many vowels seen as threat to Wheel of Fortune—a show on the U.S. Homeland Security department’s most protected list.
  • Degrassi: The Next Generation. use of actual age appropriate actors playing high school students feared too bizarre for Americans raised on 90210, Glee.
  • Trailer Park Boys. Constant consumption of Canadian beer seen as a threat to watered down American beer; plus Bubbles misuse of shopping carts could cause panic at American Walmarts.
  • The Royal Canadian Air Farce. Suspected by U.S. war department of harbouring the last remaining Avro Arrow.
  • Corner Gas. There was concern in the U.S. State Department that some of this gas was being exported at a discount from that dirty Alberta Tars Sands project
  • Being Erica. Americans quickly turned off by inconsistent plotlines, a general dragginess and gimmicky, extraneous characters—wait, those were Canadians.