Saturday, January 29, 2011

On location with Endgame's Shawn Doyle

VANCOUVER, B.C.--Man they get their money's worth out of Shawn Doyle on Endgame. The Newfoundland native is in every scene as Russian chess brainiac Arkady Balagan, who goes all Howard Hughes when his fiance is murdered. Holed up in a Vancouver hotel, barefoot and unkempt, he gets drawn into a world of crime fighting, his 20-moves ahead superbrain the latest in forensic trickery. Doyle sees the character as someone "working so hard to run away from his own pain."
Caught up with Doyle at what was for me a long day on the set of Endgame, having camped out there from 9 to 6 p.m. He still had hours left to work.
Doyle kept things keen on the set by never giving the same line read twice. Take after take, he'd find new ways to say the same thing. Cast mate Melanie Papalia (who plays Pippa, the sister of Balaban's slain girlfriend) says this keeps everyone on their toes.
The dude still had energy left for a pleasant interview inside his camper dressing room. Doyle was weary but still passionate, into the character and the show. Endgame has a tentative mid-March start date on Showcase.
We were both shocked to figure it had been nine years since I first interviewed him on the set of CTV's The Eleventh Hour, a series that began with plenty of promise but never quite caught up with itself. Doyle has moved to the States since then, working such shows as Big Love, Desperate Housewives and 24. The pieces all seem to be in place for chess drama Endgame, and the cast and crew all seemed happy to be part of  a resurgent Vancouver TV production community.
Doyle, who lives in LA and Toronto, plays the guy blond, bare-foot and with a pronounced Russian accent. The blond hair was Doyle's idea. "Literally two days before I got here, I just had this image of the character as blond," he says. Executive producer Avrum Jacobson was on the same wave length.
The 42-year-old actor worked with a dialect coach on the accent. He says its not a traditional film version of a Russian voice, saying he didn't want to limit his range. "I do what I call my Alberto V05 accent," he jokes.
In a few days, an actual polar bear is coming on the set, part of a storyline involving a rock star staying at the hotel. Apparently the rocker has a polar bear as a pet.
A strict memo went out to cast and crew warning everyone to keep their distance. You'd think it was a bi-polar bear. No food or snax will be allowed on the set on polar bear day. No sudden moves will be tolerated. It was one of those "keep out of Mr. Pacino's eye line" type memos. Even the craft services truck was being moved 100 feet away from the set.
Doyle has heard the old adage never work with babies or animals but figures he'll be fine; after all, he already works on Endgame with Patrick Gallagher.
More on  Doyle, Gallagher (a true gentleman, actually) and intriguing Endgame as this series gets closer to air.

Friday, January 28, 2011

On location: beginning of the Endgame

Doyle (centre), Gallagher (second from right) and the Endgame cast
VANCOUVER, B.C.--Patrick Gallagher knows his burgers and Buckley's.
I met the Chilliwack, B.C.-native for the first time today on the set of Endgame, a new thriller shot at Vancouver's Bridge Studios. The Showcase series, set to debut in a March, stars Shawn Doyle as Arkady Balagan, a Russian chess master holed up in a B.C. hotel after the shocking murder of his fiance. Gallagher, last seen as the hilarious football coach on Glee, plays the head of security at the hotel who thinks it may be time for Balagan to check out.
The series is a new twist on procedural P.I. shows. Think of Balagan as the Chess Mentalist or as that other kind of Castle. It's the brain child of executive producer Avrum Jacobson, a veteran Canadian writer and showrunner who elevated Republic of Doyle last season.
Gallagher bumped elbows Howie Mandel-style when we met on Stage 3 at the studio. He said he was fighting off a bug, I admitted I was just getting over one. "You gotta try Buckley's," he said, ducking into his trailer and tossing me his bottle.
Gallagher, far as I know, gets no kick back from Buckley's for this service. He's also not a pitchman for In-N-Out Burger but was happy to sing the praises of the California burger chain that still operated like a mom 'n pop outfit.
The 42-year-old actor chides the burger joint for goosing its prices; he knows to the cent how much it has trickled up in the past year. Still, he wishes an In-N-Out Burger would open in Vancouver. If you find yourself in one, he says, order everything "animal style."
Gallagher says there has been some talk coach Ken Tanaka might resurface on some future Gee episode (he hasn't worked on the Fox series since the end of the first season). He takes pride in Tanaka's fanny pack, saying the retro change purse was his idea. Gallagher has also worked Entourage, Men of a Certain Age and was the bartender in Sideways. For now he's thrilled with Endgame, praising the script, cast and chance to work in Vancouver.
He hopes they'll be another "Night at the Museum" movie and revealed he completely made up the language he used as Attila the Hun. A personal thrill, he says, was the opportunity to work on the first two flicks with the great Dick Van Dyke. "I've been a pretty lucky fellow," says Gallagher.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rick Mercer Report hits record high

Tuesday's Rick Mercer Report on CBC soared to 1,548,000 viewers according to overnight estimates--a record high for the series. Maybe it had something to do with Mercer's spot-on rant about those creepy attack ads being run by the Conservatives:



Mercer's latest success lifted follow-up 8:30 comedy InSecurity to its highest level in three weeks at 523,000 viewers (according to overnight estimates). Opposite, on CTV, a repeat of No Ordinary Family at 8 languished at 720,000 viewers. Global's 8 p.m. movie ("Casino Royale") did just 714,000. CTV and Global combined at 8 did not equal CBC's take with Mercer.
Sure, U.S. president Barack Obama's State of the Union speech played havoc with the private network's simulcast numbers, but that wasn't a head-to-head factor until 9 p.m. No new Glee meant gloom for Global, and reruns cut into CTV's ratings. A Toronto/Tampa Bay game on TSN drew 828,000 starting at 7:30.
The news was less buoyant for CBC Monday night when both Little Mosque (415,000) and 18 to Life (245,000) continued a four week slide.

This Week's Podcast: Oprah, Friends & LaLanne

Been a while since I've posted a radio chat with my old pal Scott Thompson over at Hamilton, Ont.'s CHML. Apologies for my froggy voice--it has dogged me since the TCA hack-a-thon earlier this month in Pasadena.
Scott wants to talk about Regis Philbin's announced departure from Live! (he will be 80 this August) as well as Oprah and the long lost sister episode. Monday's Oprah, by the way, drew close to 1.4 million viewers at 4 p.m. on CTV according to overnight estimates, more than double her usual daytime audience in Canada. 

Cox, Lawrence on Cougar Town set (ABC/Mitch Haddad)

We also talk about the convergence of shows from the former Friends. Courteney Cox, or course, is into her second season on Cougar Town (tonight at 9:30 p.m. on Citytv), Matt LeBlanc is on the new cable comedy Episodes (airing Mondays at 8 p.m. on Movie Central and 9 p.m. on The Movie Network). Matthew Perry's new ABC comedy Mr Sunshine premieres Feb. 7 in the Cougar Town slot (giving that series a rest until April). Lisa Kudrow gets back in the act soon hosting new episodes of NBC's Who Do You Think You Are?
Jennifer Aniston has her film career. David Schwimmer is still in the witness protection plan.
I joined dozens of other critics on the set of Cougar Town two weeks ago in Los Angeles. It's a friendly, laid-back set and that's no accident, says Cox. Her showrunner, Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Spin City) went into the project with a strict "No Assholes" policy. Life's too short to work with jerks is how Lawrence sees it.
Saw LeBlanc a day latter on press tour and told him about Cox's happy set. He deadpanned that she was the only asshole on Friends. Funny.
We also salute the late great Jack LaLanne. You can listen in here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ratings across Canada Jan. 17 - 23

New Idol judge Jack Sparrow Jr.
At this point, with Simon gone and the series shifted onto a new night in its 10th season, American Idol doesn't seem to need any help shedding viewers. The talent search series got off to its lowest start ever in the United States with an overnight, estimated audience of 26.23 million, a double digit decline from the year before. Thursdays U.S. overnight tally was 22.63 million.
CTV went out of its way to lower ratings by a million-and-a-half viewers in Canada by airing the Wednesday show on one of their networks and the Thursday show on another. As a result, American Idol on CTV Wednesday fetched an overnight, estimated 2,878,000 viewers while the Thursday show on /A\ drew less than half that total, 1,326,000.
CTV was forced into this awkward scheduling move because they couldn't move its CBS simulcast of The Big Bang Theory--which drew its usual 3.2 million Thursday at 8 to retain its crown as Canada's No. 1 show.
Here's how the rest of Jan. 17 - 23 looked across Canada (overnight 2+ estimates):

MONDAY
House was top show of the night with 2,362,000 viewers on Global at 8.Global had a strong night overall with Lie to Me at 9 drawing over 1.5 million and Hawaii FIVE-0 surfing to 1,732,000 viewers. CTV also had a winning Monday with an hour-long Hot in Cleveland clip show warming up the return of that U.S. cable import at 1,167,000 viewers, followed by Two and a Half Men at 8:30 (2,266,000). Mike & Molly weighed in with 1,550,000 and at 10 Castle drew over a million.
CBC mid-season entries Little Mosque (452,000) and 18 to Life (282,000) struggled to season lows while Village on a Diet gained to 533,000.

TUESDAY
Even without Glee, Global rolled to another win Tuesday thanks to old reliables NCIS (2,347,000), NCIS: Los Angeles (1,876,000) and The Good Wife (1,226,000).
CBC started strong with the Rick Mercer Report at 8 (1,118,000) then took a tumble at 8:30 with InSecurity (356,000). Pillars of the Earth held 644,000, less than The National pulled at 10 (792,000).
CTV was held under a million all night except for local favourite Flashpoint at 10 (1,373,000). Less impactful were No Ordinary Family (995,000) and Law & Order SVU (957,000).
The Biggest Loser gained 687,000 on City. A Montreal/Buffalo tilt scored 837,000 on RDS and another 646,000 on TSN.

WEDNESDAY
The two hour season premiere of American Idol stormed back with 2,878,000 viewers on CTV, followed by close to 1.6 million for relocated family cop series Blue Bloods.
This put a slight dent in CBC's powerhouse Wednesday lineup of Dragon's Den (1,481,000) and Republic of Doyle (944,000).
Global took the night off with back-to-back Raising Hope and a repeat of Glee all flirting with 300,000; new jungle drama Off the Map at 10 did 882,000.
CTV gifted /A\ with 1,203,000 Criminal Minds viewers. Idol is forcing even Criminal Minds away from CTV. Modern Family did 683,000 on City. History scored again with IRT: Deadliest Roads (640,000) and Ice Pilots NWT (359,000). A Leafs/Rangers game on TSN scored 733,000.

THURSDAY
CTV held its strong Thursday night lineup with CSI (943,000), Big Bang Theory (3,189,000), $#*! My Dad Says (2.109,000), CSI again (1,890,000) and The Mentalist (2,435,000) all performing to potential.
/A\ had American Idol (1,326,000) but slid all the way back down to 277,000 at 9 with Nikita.
Global countered with Wipeout (825,000), Bones (1,353,000) and relocated NBC comedies The Office (212,000) and that Bollywood version of Outsourced (445,000).
CBC's Jeopardy! (1,236,000) may skew old at 7:30, but it still pulled twice as many 25-54-year-old viewers Thursday than The Nature of Things and Doc Zone (496,000 and 382,000 in 2+ tallies). On City, Parks & Recreation returned to 295,000 viewers.
Leafs vs. Ducks on Sportsnet Ontario drew 621,000, with another 474,000 catching Canucks/Sharks on Sportsnet Pacific.

FRIDAY
Marketplace did 942,000 Friday night on CBC, which is damn good. A Mercer repeat (613,000) and figure skating (613,000) finished off a decent night.
CTV won Friday with crime imports Medium (1,106,000) plus two helpings of CSI: NY (1,162,000 and 1,403,000).
Kitchen Nightmares (622,000) and the relocated Showcase drama Haven (345,000) kept the lights on at Global.

SATURDAY
Hockey Night in Canada Game One: 2,028,000. Saturday Night Live 362,000.
 
SUNDAY
Afternoon NFL playoff games were the big draw Sunday. CTV scored almost identical ratings with the early Packers/Bears game (2,112,000) as thet did with the later Steelers win over the Jets (2,121,000). The end of the football season will be cheered, however, if for no other reason than to be spared those creepy promo spots CTV crammed into every second or third down. The bits had these faceless, metal-clad "Rollerball" warriors running around Toronto streets, past streetcars ads for S#*! My Dad Says, past cardboard cut outs of Big Bang geek Jim Parsons, past outdoor window ads where Tom Selleck or the dudes from Castle or The Mentalist gave the anonymous runners the stink eye. It was like being in on some CTV marketing guys wet dream about convergence and American content. Eeew!
It didn't translate into much for CTV in prime time, with two episodes of overused Big Bang getting less than 1.2 million each and a CSI at 418,000. Desperate Housewives were thrown over to /A\, where they dipped to 317,000 viewers. This flip-floppy CTV to /A\ schedule thing seemed to piss off more viewers as the week went on.
CBC's Heartland rode off with 1,160,000 Sunday night, with 789,000 tuning in for the figure skating championships. Global did 962,000 for The Simpsons and 849,000 with CBS's post-football tryout of Hawaii FIVE-0. All their animated comedies in between did close to a half million viewers each.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jack LaLanne: 1914-2011

LeLanne (left) meets 98lb weakling
News of the passing yesterday of Jack LaLanne at 96 brought me back to my encounter with the famous fitness guru 13 years ago at the Hollywood Collectors Show. LaLanne was just 83 then but he was still  probably the oldest guy in the room. He was probably the fittest, too.
The Hollywood Collectors Show (now known as the Hollywood Show) still brings out stars from TV's past, with between 70 to 100 former celebrities attending the weekend-long events. Back at this show in 1998, stars from Gilligan's Island, F-Troop, Leave it to Beaver and even the old Mickey Mouse Club were in the house.
LaLanne was attending his first Hollywood Collectors Show and he didn't seem too happy about it. Despite his age, he was still working, shooting those overnight "juicer" infomercials. He seemed uneasy sitting next to guys like Lou "The Hulk" Ferringo and Eddie Haskell and Lumpy Rutherford (Ken Osmond and Frank Bank) who were all charging at least twenty bucks to sign 8 x 10 glossies from their glory days. LaLanne wasn't happy having been spotted at the event by a member of the working press and made it clear that any monies coming his way were going straight to charity.
LaLanne was a true TV pioneer, getting his health and fitness message out in the '50s. Early shows found him involved in stunts such as dragging tugboats by his teeth under San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge!
He said he had to put up with a lot of resistance those first few years. "Don't go to that Jack LaLanne," he said people were told. "'Old  people will die of a heart attack, you won't get an erection, you'll have hemmroids'...that's what I had to go through."
He was pretty worked up, too, about those "ThighMaster" ads that were then everywhere in late night. "They make me sick," he said. "It's a goddamn lie. They should throw them all in jail. Suzanne Somers--absolute atrocity. You have 640 muscles in your body and they all need work."
The California native, of course, outlived most of his critics. He insisted I feel his muscle at the show and the dude still had the guns.
LaLanne used to joke that he can't die; "It would be bad for business." He died Sunday of pneumonia. Raise a glass of carrot juice in his honour.

Buffalo gal Malick works Cleveland via Toronto


Wendie Malick was in Toronto Friday to promote the second season premiere in Canada of Hot in Cleveland (tonight at 8 p.m., CTV). Malick's no stranger to Toronto. She was born across the lake in Amherst, N.Y., and grew up in picturesque Williamsville, both just outside of Buffalo. Her family used to summer on our shores. "We were border people," she says. "We had a house on Lake Erie."
Her parents, in fact, came up to Toronto Friday to join her on this promotional jaunt. (Hot in Cleveland shoots in Los Angeles.) Not that they were able to see much of their daughter. They were out and about while Malick was grinding out interviews every 15 minutes in a downtown Toronto hotel room. CTV had her up early with Roger and Marilyn on CHUM-FM and them on Marilyn Denis' weekday morning TV series at 10 a.m. Then a parade of guys like me with red noses and digital recorders.
Hot in Cleveland was an out of the box hit--especially on CTV in Canada--when it premieres last year. The sitcom casts Malick, Valerie Bertinelli (One Day at a Time) and Jane Leeves (Fraser) as three friends from LA on their way to Paris who wind up in Cleveland when their plane makes an emergency stop. A few wolf whistles at the local bar later, they start to feel at home in a town where the shallow Hollywood standard of being forever young and skinny does not apply. "This series is really all about feeling comfortable in your own skin," says Malick.
White plays their snarky senior superintendent. Malick's character, Victoria, is a soap diva and Malick, a former model, is loving every scenery-chewing, Susan Lucci-busting minute. "She's an amalgon of several  people I know," says Malick, who relates to Victoria's quest to start a new chapter in her life. "I love the idea that you can still write down your bucket list and see how many of those things you can tick off."
With all the fuss over Betty White, Malick and her two veteran comedy co-stars often get overlooked. White's red hot success at 89 is a story, but Malick isn't shy about hr age either. She turned 60 last month and embraces her status as a late bloomer. Malick says she never even thought about acting until she was 30. Her first big break came in the early HBO comedy Dream On. Malick was already 40 when that series put her on the radar.
White & Moore: they made it after all
Years later, the actress, who has dozens of sitcoms to her credit, worked with Leeves on Frasier. Back then she was playing Dr. Crane's dad's love interest; now she's about to re-team with John Mahoney when he guest stars this season on Hot in Cleveland. This time, however, Mahoney is wooing White.
The many guest stars from TV's golden age are part of the fun of Hot in Cleveland. Ed Asner, Wayne Knight, Carl Reiner, Hal Linden, Tim Conway and Juliette Mills (playing Malick's mother) also made appearances last season. ""People love them and you realize they still have it," says Malick.
Another Fraser grad, Peri Gilpin, is booked for this season. Tonight's episode features an appearance from White's '70s co-star Mary Tyler Moore, now in her 70s. Malick says she'd love to get her old Dream On pal Brian Benben into the mix but he's busy now on Private Practice. Her former Just Shoot Me pal Enrico Colantoni is tied up with Flashpoint.
Another long time friend, Christine Baranski, is featured each week on The Good Wife. Malick and Baranski are just weeks apart in age and both share a Buffalo Girls vibe. "She went to the high school in the next town over," says Malick. What is it about Buffalo and show business? "We have to develop a sense of humour," says Malick, "otherwise the weather will get us down."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Laugh along with Gervais at An Idiot Abroad

Pilkington (middle): Idiot 

People ask: you were just down at TCA, TV boy. What are the hot new shows?
After saying, "Mister TV Boy to you," I usually say I like what I've seen so far from The Borgias, that Matt LeBlanc is surprisingly effective in Episodes and I also like what I've seen of his former Friends mate's new series Mr. Sunshine. That new Fox animated comedy Bob's Burgers makes me laugh. Carla Gugio is in this season of Californication, so I'm back watching that.
If you're looking for something silly and different tonight, check out An Idiot Abroad (premiering at 9 p.m., Jan. 21 on Discovery Channel and airing Saturday nights at 10 p.m. in the States on Science). The series stars Karl Pilkington, the daft friend of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Basically, as Gervais admits, this globe trotting reality series is a string of Punk'd episodes with the joke on Pilkington. He's send around the world (including, on tonight's episode, to the Great Wall of China) as some sort of devilish experiment. Gervais and Merchant want to see if their Eliza Doolittle will become more worldly as a result of this prank. Gervais really just wants to laugh his ass off while Pilkington gets more and more miserable.
One could see Gervais sending Pilkington in his stead to host next years Golden Globes Awards.
All three were at press tour via satellite from England with Gervais unable to contain his glee as Pilkington squirmed. Still, the lucky bastard got to go to the Taj Mahal in India and also visits Egypt, Brazil, Peru, Mexico and Jordan before returning home to London eight episodes later.
Pilkington, the funny one from the animated radio series these three do over at HBO, was typically deadpan about the whole ordeal. "The fact the nurse gave me an injection that protects me from dirty chimps put a damper on the whole thing," he snarked.
Gervais was asked at press tour if there was every any thought to sending all three of them on the road. He reacted with the same kind of blunt honesty he displayed during the Globe Awards:
"There was absolutely no chance of all three of us going away. It was a practical joke," he said. "I wanted him to hate it. It was a social experiment. It was my gift to the world, really. I can’t get enough of Karl. I think he’s the most fascinating thing on the planet. Honestly, I treat it like I found the missing link, or like — it’s amazing. Okay?"

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fringe's "Walternate" universe shifts to Fridays

John Noble says working the twin storyline this season on Fringe has been a "delicious" challenge.
"As an actor, I just love taking risks," he says. "Anything they've thrown at me, I've just grabbed it."
I chatted with the 62-year-old Australian on the phone yesterday in advance of tonight's mid-season return of Fringe, which was has been shifted back to Friday nights after a rocky run against stiff competition on Thursdays.
Noble is glad to be back on Fridays, where the show started, and where, as he points out, a similar series dealing with paranormal activities--The X-Files--thrived for years. "I think our core fans will follow us back," says Noble.
His character, like several others, has been split in two this season, showing two distinct sides to scientist Walter Bishop (or, as he is known in the parallel universe, "Walternate.")
He compared the conceit to that found in the movie Sliding Doors, where one slight change, one different decision, could result in tremendous changes in people's lives.
"It was such a bold thing to do to take an established show and basically create an offshoot within the third season," he says. Besides Walter, Anna Torv's character Olivia has been split in two with a dark-haired doppelganger running around in the parallel universe, trying to diffuse Walternate's doomsday machine.
Everything is headed toward a resolution, Noble insists. "It's absolutely fascinating to see how this is all being resolved by our writers."
In tonight's episode, "The Firefly," Walter befriends Roscoe Joyce (guest star Christopher Lloyd), keyboardist for Walter's favourite '70s band, "Violet Sedan Chair." The group has been referenced over the seasons as the one band that could bring Walter down from an occasional high.
Noble says his own favourite bands from the '70s are The Cream and Queen. "I've been revisiting a lot of bands recently and realized how good they were," he says, singling out the great Eric Clapton--then still a teenager--from Cream. "At the time they were just a part of my life, but I'd forgotten how good they were," he says.
He says Vancouver has become a second home for the cast these past two seasons. (Season One was shot in New York.) As for being mobbed by sci-fi fans at conventions, he's rather used to that. "Don't forget," he says, "I was in Lord of ther Rings."
Fringe airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox and Citytv.
UPDATE: Friday's U.S. overnight ratings are out and it's good news for Fringe fans.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Outsourced moves to 10:30 Bollywood style

One of the joys of working the TCA press tour in Pasadena earlier this month was chatting with the cheery cast members of Outsourced. The NBC comedy has defied early predictions to emerge as a success story this season, especially creatively. Back before it launched, when I asked my teenage son Daniel if he found the pilot hilarious or offensive--and he told me, "Dad, it's hilarious because it's offensive"--neither of us had any idea it would also turn out to also be charming and original.
Tonight it faces a new challenge, having been moved back an hour to 10:30 p.m. as part of NBC's latest experiment. You might recall the network tried something with Jay Leno every night of the week last season at 10. They're still trying to sort out 10 p.m., and this entire night of comedy deal is their latest shakeup.
The good news for Outsourced is that it now follows 30 Rock. Still, comedy after 10 is like the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup--it hasn't happened since the '60s. A few networks are trying it this winter which means a) they're desperate and b) there is suddenly a glut of sitcoms on network TV, almost unthinkable just two years ago. (Although, given the number of indistinguishable rom-coms that are coming up, that glut may not last long.)
Gupta (Chenna) goes Bollywood
The gang from Outsourced seemed completely oblivious to the whole 10 p.m. comedy trap when I spoke with them last week at the NBC press tour party. Calgarian Rizwan Manji (shifty Mid-American Novelty associate manager Rajiv) was first to sing the praises of this week's episode, "A Sitar is Born." The episode finds Todd (Ben Rappaport) stumbling upon a surprise singing talent among the staff and hosting a talent contest in order to help bring it out. Not-so-shy Gupta (Parvesh Chenna), however, thinks this is his shot at becoming a Bollywood star and leaps into the spotlight.
Manji grabbed Chenna and co-star Anisha Nagarajan and spread the love around as critics quizzed all three about the Bollywood number. Chenna demonstrated a few moves. What came across was the genuine joy these three felt at just being part of this show.
Their more seasoned co-star, Deidrich Bader, echoed that sentiment later, saying he'd never seen a cast like it. He was very happy for them and said the positive energy was very contagious on the set.
Outsourced airs Thursday at 10:30 p.m. on NBC and Global.
UPDATE: My voice was almost gone by the time I caught up with the Outsourced cast on NBC's leg of the TCA press tour. Prolific colleague Will Harris graciously allowed my to piggyback on his questions as we teamed up on the Outsourced gang. Read his detailed Q&A of our cast encounter here at tv.com, he does a nice job of capturing the closeness and enthusiasm shared by the players.

CBC will be in double jeopardy without Jeopardy

CBC's Stewart: not big on numbers at the moment
Yesterday in the Globe and Mail, CBC entertainment president Kirstine Stewart suggested she was going to get rid of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune and get the public network back to all-Canadian happy land. Stewart knows this plays well with Globe readers, including the political movers and shakers who fall asleep each night after Mansbridge to the gentle sounds of CBC One wafting from their Bose sound systems. Part of her tricky mandate, unique among Canadian broadcasters, is to wave the flag and keep the appropriation coming.
Elsewhere, however, this is nonsense. In the TV biz, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and Jeopardy! at 7:30 on CBC sure ain't broke. It did exactly what her predecessor, Richard Stursberg, hoped it would, delivering 1.2- to 1.3 million viewers every night leading into CBC's prime time schedule.
Back when CBC was the big noise in Canada, American content was routinely used to draw folks into Canadian content. Dallas, The Golden Girls and many other hits aired on CBC first. This nationalistic fuss over Jeopardy!--hosted by Sudbury son Alex Trebek--staining the CBC landscape while private networks like CTV and Global get brownie points for loud American tabloid clones featuring wall-to-wall Kardashians is my argument for tossing Canadian broadcast regulations.
Stewart says her Canadian shows have reached the point where they can stand on their own and don't need Yankee lead ins. The day after it was reported that she said that, Dragon's Den shed 700,000 viewers week-to-week in Canada thanks to Wednesday night's two hour season premiere of American Idol on CTV at 2,878,000 overnight, estimated viewers. The good news for CBC was that Republic of Doyle stood relatively firm in week two at 944,000 viewers.
This January has not been kind to CBC's winter offerings. InSecurity has gone 724,000 - 526,000 - 356,000. Pillars of the Earth: 951,000 - 762,000 - 644,000. First three weeks of 18 to Life: 436,000 - 386,000 - 282,000. More entrenched Little Mosque: 593,000 - 477,000 - 452,000. The only new show that went up this week was Village on a Diet, back over the half million mark.
There are no soft spots on this winter's schedule and while Stewart may not want to spend whatever it is costing her to extend Jeopardy! for another fall, well, even Dragon's Den doesn't have that much smoke. What would she replace it with? Stripping Being Erica, where ratings have shrunk every season, would only serve to illustrate how a show can go bad in 14 days.
Stewart suggested in the Globe piece that not everything in television is expressed in numbers. This is not true. Everything in television is expressed in numbers.
Even Stewart herself singled out one figure: "2318." This is the 2,318,000 who tuned in for the triumphant series debut of Little Mosque in 2007.
This week that series was down to 452,000 viewers, exactly the posted population of Brampton, Ont. As they might say on Jeopardy!, "What has less than one-fifth the audience it used to have?"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ratings across Canada Jan. 10 - 16

Back from the TCA press tour and back on schedule with this weekly Canadian ratings report. Look what made it to No. 1--CTV's Sunday broadcast of the Golden Globes (featuring human hand grenade Ricky Gervais). Nothing succeeds on TV like celebrities having their pants pulled down in public. Here's a look at how all the top shows performed across Canada, audiences 2+, according to overnight estimates:

MONDAY
CBC is in for a tough winter on Monday nights as ratings tilt toward the strong lineups of returning imports. Its gets worse with House returning to Global and Hot in Cleveland on CTV last night. A week ago Monday, here's how it looked: CBC's Little Mosque (477,000) and 18 to Life (386,000) faced Medium (612,000) on CTV and a two hour Lie to Me (1,133,000) on Global. Also at 8, 713,000 welcomed back The Bachelor on City. At 9, Village on a Diet shrunk to 376,000 opposite fatties Mike & Molly (1.4 million) and Two and a Half Men (1.9 million). CTV finished strong with Castle (1,779,000) swamping a rerun of Global's Hawaii FIVE-0 (one million viewers).
The BCU college football championships, which drew over 20 million Stateside, managed only 609,000 across Canada on TSN.
In daytime, Marilyn Denis was welcomed back at 10 a.m. by 376,000 viewers.

TUESDAY
Global had a big night, starting with a rare simulcast of a new episode of NCIS (2,425,000) followed by NCIS: Los Angeles (1,827,000) and then The Good Wife at 10 1,227,000). CTV scores as always with play it anywhere Flashpoint (1,489,000); No Ordinary Family and Law & Order SVU did 1.2 and 1.1 million.
Rick Mercer blasted back on to CBC at 8 with 1,320,000 overnight, estimated viewers. New spy comedy InSecurity did 526,000 and the sword and sandals epic Pillars of the Earth held 762,000. On City at 8, The Biggest Loser gained 648,000 viewers.

WEDNESDAY
Huge night for CBC: Jeopardy! scored 1,343,000, followed by a series high score for Dragon's Den at close to 2.2 million overnight, estimated viewers. That led to a solid season premiere for Republic of Doyle at 1,038,000. Even the National was up, getting 945,000 at 10.
CTV and Global may have both lost simulcast viewers due to U.S. network delays in covering president Barack Obama's speech Wednesday night. CTV did 927,000 with Criminal Minds at 8, followed by a Big Bang Theory repeat (913,000), that horrible Live to Dance (871,000) and The Defenders (1,049,000). Reruns on Global underperformed, including Glee (324,000). The series premiere of the new medical drama Off The Map, with a pair of Canucks in the cast (Rachelle Lefevre and Caroline Dhavernas) opened with a solid 1,419,000.
Modern Family drew 1,006,000 fans back to City at 9 with 610,000 sticking around for Cougar Town.
/A\ scored a bulls eye with 818,000 watching a moving Human Target at 8.
Meanwhile on specialty, History made history with 968,000 catching the series premiere of IRT: Deadliest Roads; Ice Pilots NWT returned for a second season with 275,000 at 8 and another 147,000 viewers at 11 p.m.

THURSDAY
Another dominant night for CTV with packed Thursday night lineup CSI (1,130,000), Big Bang Theory (2,555,000), S#*! My Dad Says (2,187,000), Grey's Anatomy (2,470,000) and The Mentalist (1,586,000) all winning their timeslots.
Global scored with Wipeout at 8 (1,180,000), sunk under half a million with back-to-back episodes of The Office at 9 and managed 510,000 with a second look at newcomer Off The Map at 10.
CBC zagged with The Nature of Things (579,000) and Doc Zone (284,000).

FRIDAY
CTV won the night with Medium (839,000), CSI: NY (1,633,000) and a relocated episode of The Mentalist (1,228,000). CBC's Marketplace, however, actually took the 8 p.m. timeslot with a shade under 900,000 tuning in for Marketplace. A repeat of the Rick Mercer Report (653,000) and the fifth estate (505,000) easily beat anything on Global.

SATURDAY
Hockey Night in Canada skated close to the two million mark at 7. The second game fell to 681,000. SNL did 450,000 on Global.

SUNDAY
Ricky Gervais' bratty Globes ambush was top draw of the week, pulling 3,164,000 overnight, estimated CTV viewers. CTV's trashy red carpet show managed 446,000 at 6 p.m. Desperate Housewives slid to 1,289,000.
CBC's horse opera Heartland galloped off with 962,000 viewers at 7. Another repeat of that Don Cherry bio-pic "Keep Your Head Up Kid" scored 670,000 at 8. Global coasted through their animated comedy\Brothers & Sisters lineup with 500,000s and 600,000s.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Piers Morgan CNN era begins tonight with Oprah

Leave it to Piers Morgan to explain why he and all he other blunt Brits do so well on American TV. Morgan was at the cable portion of press tour over a week ago to promote the launch tonight of his new series Piers Morgan Tonight (CNN, 9 p.m.). Morgan, of course, is replacing two thousand year old Larry King. This takes place to the outrage of some including, most recently, Jon Stewart, who wonders why some no-name Brit just stole another job away from an American.
Morgan is far from no-name. Even if one were not aware of his Fleet Street cred, he's been a judge for several seasons on America's Got Talent and won on an early edition of Celebrity Apprentice. Most people have an impression of him as a cocky son-of-a-gun. When I asked him why there were no American-born judges on America's Got Talent, he just looked at me and said, "You've just answered your own question."
He seems to rub a lot of people the wrong way with his smug demeanor and constant hearkening back to that lunch he had with princess Di or his close ties to Tony Blair. He started the press tour session off by dissing Madonna, calling her a washed up has been. "She’s kind of been an irritant in my life for 20 years, so I had to ban her from the show," he told critics. "It’s probably quite childish, but it made me feel better." Why talk to Madonna when you can talk to Lady Gaga, he said. "Lady Gaga is half her age, twice as good looking, twice as talented, and twice as hot. I mean, why would I bother with Madonna, seriously."
Not very gallant, but that's Morgan's shtick. Start a fire and stay close to the heat. You know down the line, likely during sweeps, that lifetime ban will be lifted so Madonna can sit for a very special two hour Piers Morgan Tonight.
Morgan has no problem setting himself up as the villain; in fact, that's his evil plan. Here's the explanation of bossy Brit appeal:
"We have a thing in Britain called pantomime, see," he explained in his post session scrum, "where you have these Christmas theatrical performances where there's aways a baddie. And when the baddie comes out everyone boos and whistles. It's kind of what Simon and me and Gordon Ramsay do in America on TV, where you play the Panto villain."
There it is. Exactly. Piers Morgan is Snidley Whiplash in a designer suit. "Being polarizing is quite fun," says Morgan.
Guess that also explains what Ricky Gervais was up to last night at the Golden Globe Awards.
Morgan's first guest tonight is Oprah Winfrey. Morgan thought he nailed it: "Are my interviews as good as anyone she's done before? She thought so," he said.
The promo clip they've been running to death on CNN shows Morgan asking Oprah how many times she's really been in love. Morgan says he got two hours with her, well past the 40 minutes promised.
I asked Winfrey a few days later in the press tour when she was in Pasadena promoting her OWN network if Morgan really was all that. "May I tell you he is a tough cookie," said Winfrey. "I had to go take a hot bath afterwards." Winfrey admired his tenaciousness. "You have to really be on your toes because he asks the same question three different ways," she says. "The era of the softball question is over at CNN."
Couple of other things about Morgan. He says he took Cowell's advice when it comes to his production staff: "Always imagine everyone who works for you has a badge on their head saying, 'Make me feel special at some stage today.'" He claims he keeps his ego in check thanks to his family motto: "One day you're the cock of the walk, and the next you're a feather duster."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

TCA party beat. Somebody`s got to do it

Glee's Cory Monteith
PASADENA, CA--People have this impression of press tour as this non-stop party deal, just free booze and party snax and endless mingling with Paris, the cast of Glee and all the beautiful people of television. They probably get this impression from blog postings like this one.
For there are evening events throughout press tour, and the network publicists work hard to get as many of their stars as possible in front of all these critics.
This press tour various things conspired against the effectiveness of this marketing strategy. A wicked flu bug or something whipped through the Langham hotel and by the last days of the tour this "Battan death march with cocktails" was starting to resemble an episode of that AMC series The Walking Dead.
That's one reason I skipped "The CW's Kick-ass cocktail reception," a chance to mingle with such so-called kick-ass stars as Maggie Q from Nikita, Aly Michalka from Hellcats and Nina Dobrev from The Vampire Diaries. I was pretty much walking dead by that stage of the tour and didn't want to breathe all over these poor meatless slim-bots with their greatly reduced immunity systems. The other reason I skipped it was that it was "The CW's Kick-ass cocktail reception."
Anisha Nagarajan from Outsourced
More my speed was the party the night before featuring stars from the NBC Universal networks. NBC generally does a good job of delivering stars to their event and Thursday's bash was no exception. Paris Hilton was everywhere (see earlier post) as were the Real Housewives of New York City and Beverly Hills, who were easy to spot because they didn't quite look like TV stars plus they were dressed like whores.
The cast of one of my favourite fall shows, Outsourced, was in the house and they were adorable. Calgary-native Rizwan Manji, Parvesh Cheena and Anisha Nagarajan were still pumped about getting to cut lose in an upcoming Bollywood number on the series, which is one of the network comedies moving past 10 p.m. in the coming weeks.
The veteran in the group, Diedrich Bader, who has worked several series, says it is so refreshing to work with the Outsourced cast. They're into it, they're having fun and they all still can't quite believe their good luck.
Tori & Dean. Yes again.
Kathy Bates, star of the new NBC courtroom drama Harry's Law, was at the party, as was series creator David E, Kelley. Zachary Levi and the gang from Chuck worked the room, as did several cast members from critics' fave Community. Saw Jason Ritter there, still promoting The Event, which limps back with a two-hour event in February. Lisa Kudrow kept the press tour Friends streak going, here to promote Who Do You Think You Are?
Even NBC executives Jeff Gaspin, Angela Bromstad, Marc Graboff and Paul Telegdy made the scene. Talk about the walking dead.
Chatted with Greg Daniels, who writes and produces The Office and Parks & Recreation. He had nothing but praise for Canadian-born writer/producer, Norm Hiscock, a Corner Gas grad who helps pen Parks.
Gleeks Morrison & Salling
Fox took critics off campus Tuesday to their All-Star party at Villa Sorriso in Pasadena's "Old Town" district. The place was crammed with Glee kids, including always easy to spot tall dude Cory Monteith (still reveling in his Gemini hosting stint). Monteith and others had just come from shooting the special post Super Bowl episode of Glee, which features a performance of Michael Jackson's Thriller; apparently it all takes place out on a football field.
Saw Matthew Morrison, Jenna Ushkowitz, Mark Salling, Jayma Mays, Heather Morris, Harry Shum Jr. and Mike O'Malley among the Glee tribe; was sorry to have missed Montrealer Jessalyn Gilsig after getting a load of her dress from the Fox media site photo bank. Stars from Bones, House, Raising Hope and new shows Breaking in and The Chicago Code worked the party, as did talent from FX shows Justified, Sons of Anarchy and new series Wildred. It was wild spotting the Anarchy biker dudes all spiffed up in their party duds.
Heather Morris
A familiar face at the Fox bash was House creator and executive producer David Shore. London, Ontario`s second most successful writer (Shore always defers to Oscar-winner Paul Haggis) agreed when I suggested that there was something pretty damn compelling about seeing Lisa Edelstein pretty much bare ass naked in those first few House episodes this season. `You`re welcome,`said Shore.
Like NBC, ABC crowded their party into the Langham hotel party room. The Monday night affair was limited to stars from their new shows.Jeri Ryan (the mid season medical drama Body of Proof) turned heads as always, as did V alien/Global network news anchor Morena Baccarin. Allison Janney was repping the upcoming comedy Mr. Sunshine, although star Matthew Perry was a no-show. Rachelle Lefevre took off her six-inch heels to chat about her Indiana Jones meets Grey's Anatomy medical drama Off The Map. The Montrealer is always happy to take a bow for the short-lived Fox comedy Life on a Stick.


House frau Edelstein with Fox boss Reilly
Gilsig. Yowsa

Friday, January 14, 2011

CBS concerned about Charlie Sheen: Tassler

PASADENA, CA--First question at CBS president Nina Tassler's executive session: what up with Charlie Sheen.
Tassler knew that was coming and had a joke about knowing it was coming ready. Then she got serious. "He knows the level of concern we have," she said. She mentioned that Sheen is a father and she has concerns on a personal level. She hinted that the ball was in Warner Bros. court and that the Studio will  have to straighten out their star. The bottom line, she maintaiined, is that "right now the show continues to be as successful as ever and everything continues as planned."
Sheen has become the subject of ridicule again on the late night talk shows. Leno goofed on reports that Sheen took three hookers to Vegas last weekend. "Do you know  how dangerous that is?" he said. "For the hookers?" "CBS announced that Charlie Sheen wasn’t on the set of Two and a Half Men because he had an ear infection," chimed in Craig Ferguson. "I get the feeling that CBS publicists just stopped trying."
It was suggested later in the scrum that Sheen would have been fired from just about any other job by now. "For showing up to work?" she shot back.
The veteran TV executive was also asked about the Canadian-produced cop show Flashpoint. This winter, the four-year-old series is pulling 1.5 million viewers a week in Canada out of simulcast. When will be reappear on CBS? Tassler was vague as usual, praising the show as a good "utility player" that performs well where ever CBS puts it. She said she has six episodes on the shelf and will likely air them this summer. CBS has an option for more, she added. It was hardly a ringing endorsement, but that's how Tassler has always been about Flashpoint, playing poker with critics and keeping the price where she likes it on this series.
I asked Tassler in the scrum if she was disappointed that Letterman is back losing to Leno despite all the self inflicted turmoil at NBC. We love Dave, said Tassler, and look at all the competition in late night; it's no longer just about Dave and Jay.
Tassler was non committal, too, on S#*! My Dad Says, another show that does better on CTV than it does on CBS. Tassler used phrases like "we still have a ways to go," and "there are more things we cal do." She was happy to see Jean Smart in a short story arc.Will it be back? "Everything is up for grabs in May," she says.
CBS brags about having the top five new shows this year but has been slow with the pick ups. Even Hawaii FIVE-0 still does not have an order for next year.
CBS tends to nurture shows and build them slowly into hits over several seasons. NCIS, a bigger hit than ever in Season Eight, is a good example. Tassler was asked how things were going with Mark Harmon's contract extension. Tassler dodged but suggested CBS would make every effort to bring him back for Year Nine.

I'll always have Paris

PASADENA, CA--Despite being touched by Oprah Winfrey, I've been sick as a dog this press tour. Like NBC executives at this TCA deal, I've almost completely lost my voice.
This makes working the parties down here very difficult. The networks cram in as much talent as they can limo to their evening events and we all have to run around and talk to them. Usually there is music blaring. It's noisy and you can barely be heard if you are in fine voice, but with a cold or laryngitis, murder.
My buddy Bill Carter said watching me work the NBC party was like watching a guy with mitts work a meeting of the hearing impaired.
Despite all of this, I managed to get my five minutes with Paris Hilton. The celebutant was working the NBC Universal party to promote her new reality series The World According to Paris. The series, which airs on the Oxygen network, will follow Hilton with cameras day and night, which is pretty much her life anyway.
Hilton was actually a revelation, coming early and staying late, working the entire room and never once sliding out of her six inch heels. There were no bodyguards, just one equally good natured publicist, who was was happy to introduce press to her client. Usually there's a bad cop, good cop thing with stars and publicists at these things but not with Paris and her handler.
Hilton could tell I was sick as I could barely speak but she didn't beg off for fear of catching kooties. She answered my questions about Letterman ("He's a big flirt," she says) and gushed about how much she loves Toronto, where she has shot a movie or two. She attended TIFF and wants to come back. She turns 30 in a week or two and confessed to being "terrified" at the prospect.
At the end of our chat she said "get better" and urged me to drink some hot tea. She was surprisingly maternal.
Later, on my way out of the crowded party scene, I spotted her still working the press toward the exit. Somebody asked me to take their camera and snap a pic with Paris and I figured I'd sneak in and get my own vanity shot for this blog.
Trouble was, my data card in my camera was missing (too much uploading on the fly down here). Fortunately, a few colleagues came to the rescue with their iPhones.
Hilton could not have been more accommodating, getting right away my idea of posing back-to-back with me covering my mouth so she wouldn't catch my cold.
The encounter reminded me of the first time I saw Paris, back several years ago when The Simple Life burst on the scene from Fox. She was barely in her twenties then and already a media sensation.
Fox had a party on the roof of the "Blue Whale," a design centre not far from the trendy Melrose shopping district. Hilton and her gal pal Nicole Richie were the young objects of fascination, roaming carefree and underwear free as determined by the keen eyed press corps. After two weeks in a hotel, it does not take much to turn us all into Niners.
A Canadian colleague who worked for the now defunct National Post (what? It's still around?) grabbed me at one point and held up a cell phone. It was Hilton's and she had carelessly left it at the bar.
Said colleague pointed out that the screen saver was a photo of some dude who was them in some Canadian band. Paris' current boy toy?
"What should we do with this?" buddy asked. Give it back, I said.
You can never have too much good Karma.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Doyle & Dragons roar back on CBC

PASADENA, CA--Smart move, CBC, moving the second season premiere of Republic of Doyle away from last week's finale of the World Junior Hockey Championships.
Alan Hawco's free wheelin' P.I. hour came roaring back Wednesday night at 9 with 1,038,000 viewers. Following Dragon's Den probably didn't hurt--it hit what I believe is a series high of 2,182,000 overnight estimated viewers.
CBC had a robust night overall, scoring close to 1.35 million with Jeopardy! at 7:30 and 945,000 with The National at 10. Strombo did 208,000 at 11:05 p.m.
The premiere of ABC's Off The Map, a new medical drama featuring Montrealers Caroline Dhavernas and Rachelle Lefevre among the ensemble, opened to 1,419,000 Wednesday night at 10 on Global.
CTV had a quiet night with reruns of Criminal Minds and Big Bang failing to crack a million and that brutal Live to Dance show at 871,000. The Defenders at 10 did 1,049,000. Did CTV lose out on some simulcast numbers due to President Barack Obama's stirring speech on American network channels last night? I'm thinking maybe.
The other story Wednesday night in Canada was the spectacular debut of the Ice Road Truckers spin-off IRT: Deadliest Roads. The new series drew 968,000 Wednesday night at 9, skidding to a new series high for History Television.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Kennedys no hatchet job says Cassar

PASADENA, CA--Ran into Jon Cassar at the star studded Fox press tour party Tuesday night. The former 24 showrunner directed Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes--who he says are both excellent--in The Kennedys, the controversial miniseries that the History Channel bailed on last Friday. He says there's nothing sensational in the script, that any issues raised by History and by lawyers were addressed during production and that the finished, eight-part series sticks close to the facts. He said a whole lot more--including the surprising reason why the miniseries was shot in Toronto--and you can read it here in the story I filed this morning for The Canadian Press.

New CBC shows take tumble in Week Two

Mercer and James: jumping up
PASADENA, CA--If you're looking here for the usual weekly Canadian ratings numbers, the TCA press tour has kinda knocked that off my plate this week. Starting at 8 a.m. today, bleary-eyed critics were led on and off a large shuttle bus weaving through traffic from Pasadena to Burbank and the Warner Bros. sound stages of George Lopez and Conan O'Brien. Next came a trip to the Fox lot for panels featuring the "men and women of comedy" (stars from Fox Studio shows like Glee, How I Met Your Mother, Raising Hope and Modern Family) and then down to Culver City to the set of Cougar Town. And that's just up to lunch.
A quick look at the Monday and Tuesday numbers in Canada, however, does not offer encouraging news for CBC. All their new shows were down in Week Two, some sharply down--despite no longer having to contend with the World Junior Hockey Tournament. What's up with that?
Monday to Monday, Little Mosque went from 593,000 viewers to 477,000 according to overnight estimates. 18 to Life slipped from 436,000 to 386,000. Village on a Diet shrunk from 514,000 to 376,000.
The Tuesday to Tuesday CBC tally followed the same trend. The new spy comedy InSecurity lost close to 200,000 viewers in Week Two, dropping from 724,000 to 526,000. The epic miniseries Pillars of the Earth had a similar slide, from 951,000 viewers on opening week to 762,000.
Curiously, the old reliable Rick Mercer Report soared to its highest audience of the season, with over 1.3 million viewers as opposed to last week's 1,167,000.
It could be that CBC's on-air initiative to LIVE RIGHT NOW has already had an impact. CBC is encouraging Canadians to get fit and active by exercising instead of vegging in front of the TV set. By this rate, Canada will have the fittest nation on earth--with the lowest public broadcaster viewing levels
Meanwhile, CTV's Canadian cop drama Flashpoint continues to arrest viewers Tuesday night, drawing 1,489,000 in it's second week of mid-season.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Few sparks as Tyler, Lopez test post-Simon Idol

PASADENA, CA--If the 10th season of American Idol turns out to be as dull as the American Idol TCA panel, this deal is in trouble.
This morning's TCA session had its moments--mainly a few quips from Stephen Tyler and Jennifer Lopez's outrageous leopard-print pumps--but missing from the session was the blunt Brit, the straw that stirred this drink, Simon Cowell. Cowell always told the truth here at press tour, and his candid banter was sorely missed. One memorable press tour session, the other Idol judges made no effort to cover up for last minute no-show Paula Abdul. Those were the days.
This morning, there was no tension in the room, just the usual promo blather we get in other sessions. Phrases like, "we're going to kick it up a notch" landed with a thud. Ryan Seacrest sat silent throughout save for a few murmurs. There were nine people up on the stage, as if sheer numbers would make up for the fact that Cowell was adios.
Even Tyler and Lopez looked bored about 10 minutes into the packed press tour session. Tyler woke up in time to get in a few colourful zings. He got rock star macho at one point, gushing about Lopez to the point other panel members started reminding Tyler that J-Lo's hubby Marc Anthony was in the room. Tyler's excuse was that he was Italian, and, well, these things happen.
Returning executive producer Nigel Lithgoe revealed that the contestants will be in Vegas at one point to attend the Beatles Love show and that they'll be challenged to learn a Beatles song in a day. That doesn't sound that tough.

Lopez: the shoe fits

Returning judge Randy Jackson, we learned, has slid down to Simon's old chair on the judging panel. Dawg.
Stood next to Tyler in the crowded post session scrum. The dude wears snake skin sneakers. When I asked him why, he said it was because his feet are so messed up, somebody in his posse tricked these shoes out for him. Dangling from his neck were enough chains to make Mr. T jealous, including one with a silver, bejeweled skull on it. If you were going out for Halloween as a glammed up rock star, this is exactly the getup you would search for at The Party Factory.
Tyler told me he has had no conversations at all with Cowell, just never happened. A reporter who has covered him for years from the music side told him he was lookin' good, what was his secret. As he was dragged offstage by a beefy security guard, he said he has been sober for a year. I'm not saying I hope he falls off the wagon, but it would really juice up the show.
Lopez looked great up close and from a distance. North American viewers will also want to get close enough to smell her Jan. 19 and 20 when Idol returns. With Simon gone, however, there's a different kind of stink on this show that Lopez's many fragrant scents simply can't mask. Seacrest out.

Breakfast with Cloris and the Raising Hope gang

PASADENA, CA--Fox has a busy day planned for their TCA press tour session (including a panel with the judges from some show called American Idol), so it's important to start the day off right with a hearty breakfast.
The generous folks at Fox provided one to promote their comedy Raising Hope, which has just earned a second season pickup. The cast worked the hotel lobby where the food was at. Cloris Leachman, who plays the loopy granny on the sitcom, says she hasn't chickened out on anything executive producer Greg Garcia has asked her to do--yet.

Garcia: off the cuff

Leachman has worked more TV shows than anybody but maybe Ed Asner. She says she shot pilots with Mort Sahl and even Shirley Temple. "I played her mother, which was a laugh since I was only three years older than she was," says Leachman, still best known for The Mary Tyler Moore Show as well as the spinoff featuring her character, Phyllis.
Spotting my Canadian affiliation, she also had memories of shooting a TV-movie with Dick van Dyke in Toronto back in the mid-'80s. Breakfast with Les and Bess, which also starred Shaun Cassidy, was about a pair of morning show radio hosts. She also performed on stage in Showboat in Toronto--twice.
Speaking of Van Dyke, he turned down a gig Leachman accepted--dancing on Dancing with the Stars. At 84, the old song and dance man knows his limits.
The Raising Hope cast gathered outside the Langham hotel for a photo op with the Scooby-Do-like Ford van used on the series. Peeking inside, you can see the shag rug in the back where the baby from the show was conceived. Sweet.
Garcia showed off a pair of cuff links his wife gave him that are in the shape of the van. "My wife will be happy these are getting come coverage in Canada," he cracked.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bloody hell

PASADENA, CA--Since ABC took the day off, time for the stupidest TCA Tchochke of the Winter Tour Award. This year a winner can be declared early: the PR folks at something called FEARnet. They're the geniuses who had the hotel staff put bloody bath mats in all the rooms here at the Langham.
Like there wasn't enough actual violence on TV in the past week. "2001 is gonna be gruesome..." it says on the back of the bath matt, which is covered in bloody red footprints.
"FEARnet is expanding its footprint into living rooms across the country," the tag says on the other side. I guess this channel shows slasher movies in gory high-definition.
Fortunately, neither the bath matt or the channel will be crossing the border.
Several years ago, the word "REDRUM" was written in blood on the mirrors on all the hotel guest rooms. That was to try and scare stories out of scribes about a Stephen King miniseries. HBO once handed out vials of blood for their True Blood launch.
Please, folks, booze and chocolates. No more gore.

ABC's TCA day Ballsy but brief

Brioux (left) & Ballsy: impactful
PASADENA, CA--After all the heat and headliners on the Cable and PBS portions of this press tour, ABC decided to bring it down a notch with the dullest TCA network day ever. The Disney network did at least have an executive session (unlike NBC, which is being Comcasted and doesn't plan to stand any of their suits in front of us just yet). Beyond that, however, they're only paneling one new show--Off The Map--a new medical drama from Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy) and featuring Canadians Caroline Dhaverneas and Rachelle Lefevre among the ensemble.The big ABC star in the house this morning was "Ballsy," a big red ball that worked the lobby wearing a long scarf in order to promote Winter Wipeout. "Ballsy" was not there to represent ABC's edgy new programming style, although that was what entertainment president Paul Lee tried to suggest during his session and after scrum.
Like the ABC talent not here today (there isn't even an evening event planned), Ballsy does not talk. One guy who was happy to gab was  Winter Wipeout host John Henson, who had heard all about TVTropolis' upcoming spinoff Wipeout Canada.
"Ballsy wouldn't stand a chance in Canada," said Henson, who has seen our hockey fights. He wondered about the exchange rate. "Go for the Looney Wipeout," he suggests.
The Canadian stunt course is located near Buenos Aires, Argentina, which amused Henson. "Everything will look very tropical for you guys," he said. The large, outdoor B.A. stunt track is home to several international editions of the game, including versions shown in the U.K. and Russia. 
The U.S. edition of Wipeout is shot about an hour north of Los Angeles, says Henson. "When you drive up to it, its like entering Thunderdome," he adds. "You expect to see Tina Turner descending on a wire."
Wipeout Canada still doesn't have a premiere date, but here's a suggestion for a Canadian mascot: Snow Ballsy. Hey, you're welcome.
ABC did have a few announcements today, including early pick ups for Castle, Grey's Anatomy, The Middle, Modern Family and Private Practice, as well as a show president Paul Lee was happy to stand behind, Cougar Town.
Not settled yet is the fate of Desperate Housewives. Lee says there is still plenty to hammer out--including contract extensions for the cast-- if the long running serial is to come back for an eighth season.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Robot wins Jeopardy? Elementary for Watson


Watson (undated photo)
PASADENA, CA--Nova today presented a panel on the "Smartest Machine on Earth"--Watson, a computer designed to compete on Jeopardy!
Watson wasn't on stage, however. We were told that the machine, at the size of 10 refrigerators, is too big even for the Jeopardy! stage.
Most human Jeopardy! contestants are the size of around eight refrigerators.
IBM's David Ferucci is one of the brains behind Watson, named after the IBM founder Thomas J. Watson. The project has been in the works for four years. "We've done a tremendous amount of testing," he says. If Watson crashes during the taping, joked Jeopardy! executive producer Harry Friedman, "we'll call the Geek squad."
Watson will play a three game tournament against Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings (who won 74 straight games) and Brad Rutter, the long-running game show's all time champ. That tourney will run on Jeopardy! over three nights (Feb. 14-16). The Nova special will air Feb. 9 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).
IBM's Ferruci: confident
Can Watson possibly beat brainiacs like Jennings and Rutter to the buzzer? The IBM team fitted him with an artificial "hand" and say he's pretty quick. Where he breaks down is sorting out the puns and subtleties of some of the answers.
There is real money on the table, a million bucks, with half going to charity except if Watson wins. Then all of it goes to charity.
This computer doesn't sound that smart.
One advantage Watson has, says Ferucci, is that he doesn't sweat. In tests he'll blow a big daily double and be right back at the buzzer the very next question.
A similar IBM computer, "Big Blue," beat chess champion Garry Kasperov a few years ago. "Well, at least it didn't enjoy beating me," cracked Kasperov.

We pause for a few programming notes

Gugino and Duchovny in Californication
 PASADENA, CA--Press tour is so jammed-packed and intense it's easy to forget there's a whole world of television going on. This January seems particularly crowded with series premieres.
Showtime here in the States is running ads in high rotation for three shows starting tonight. They`re calling it their "Biggest Sunday ever." All three can be seen tonight as well in Canada on The Movie Network and Movie Central.
First up is the fourth season premiere of Californication (9/8c). I loved this series when it first launched, not so much the second season, less so in the third. It seemed to be slowly devolving into porn, although the cast has been terrific throughout, especially Pamela Adlon and Evan Handler as an outrageous on- and off-couple of Hollywood misfits. Our hero, Hank Moody (David Duchovny), who can`t seem to ever turn down a drink or a chick, hit rock bottom at the end of last season.This season he`ll be trying to make his new lawyer drop her briefs. Since she`s played by the Next Mrs. Brioux, Carla Gugino, I immediately popped the screeners into the disc player prior to this press tour. Suffice to say the show seems to be turning the corner. Gugino is The Bomb. I was getting a tad queasy last season watching Kathleen Turner worker her man eater thing so far past her best before date.
Well that was uncalled for. Next up is Episodes, a new comedy starring former Friends lad Matt LeBlanc. Here he plays a guy named Matt LeBlanc, hired to star in a remake of a British hit. He also has grey hair, which he now claims he had all the time he was shooting Friends. He wears it well, but what's up with that?
The British producers aren't too keen on having this Yank dumb down their show. LeBlanc bravely takes the mickey out of himself. It`s better than Joey, but then what isn`t. Friends producer David Crane is behind this series. You can read more about Episodes and other actual Brit TV makeovers here at this feature I wrote for the january edition of Movie Entertainment magazine.
Showtime Sunday (or TMN Sunday or MC Sunday...damn this half country specialty split in Canada) ends with the premiere of Shameless, which stars William H. Macy as the drunken head of the Gallagher clan. Great, just what Showtime needs, another dysfunctional family. This one takes it to a ridiculous extreme sort of The United States of Jack Daniels. Macy is a great actor and almost pulls it off, whether he`s passed out on the kitchen floor or hanging with his hobo peeps. The six kids are the real stars, running around, changing diapers, paying bills, picking up the slack from drunk old dad. It`s like Party of Five only dad is dead drunk most of the time, not just dead.
This one really is based on a British show, but I`m guessing the original producers were pretty happy to land Macy. Shameless premieres tonight at 11/10c.
Monday is just as busy, especially in Canada. Talk show host Marilyn Denis (right) returns to her old City studio and 10 a.m. time slot with The Marilyn Denis Show (CTV). Denis was raring to go when I spoke with her two weeks ago, excited to be back after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus from television (she continues to co-host CHUM-FM's morning show with Roger Ashby). She has a loyal army of followers; every time I type her name here traffic jumps four-fold (Marilyn Denis, Marilyn Denis, Marilyn Denis). Her first guest is that dude from Desperate Housewives, James Denton, with Josh Groban later in the week. Read more in this feature I wrote in today's Toronto Star.
I have another Star story today on the Canadian launch of Covert Affairs (Sunday night at 10 p.m. on Showcase). This series shoots in Toronto (sharing studio space with Dan for Mayor) and has been running for several months on the USA Network. A second season has already been ordered.
It stars Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) as a young woman suddenly promoted to a full CIA agent. There's something fishy about that, because she's really not ready, and that's where the fun starts. Peter Gallagher and Keri Matchett are also in on this spirited spy caper, with Toronto doubling for Washington, D.C. Some episodes are directed by executive producer Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity), who brings a rock and roll energy to the deal. I spoke with Perabo last summer in LA at that TCA press tour and she is easy to root for, very cheery and good natured. Check her out.
Finally, Bob's Burgers premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox and Global and it is one tasty little comedy. The animated sitcom is deliciously droll and outrageous. It's not from either Matt Groening or Seth MacFarlane and has a distinctly different sensibility, which is refreshing to find on Fox Sunday night. Loren Bouchard (Home Movies, Dr. Katz) is the guy behind this series about a family run burger joint located next door to a funeral home and crematorium. Yum!  If you like your comedy well done and a little dark and saucy, you'll like Bob's Burgers. Tonight's pilot episode had me laughing out loud several times.
A "May contain human flesh" sign is a bummer for Bob's Burgers