Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seeing Laurel & Hardy in a new light

Laurel & Hardy fans have been waiting years for the comedy team's films to be released on home DVD. Film archivists at UCLA are working toward making that dream a reality.
The university, which has the boys' original Hal Roach film negatives and other source materials in their archives, is behind a drive to restore the prints with a nod toward eventual DVD transfers.
The push to preserve the films was announced earlier this month at Cinefest in Syracuse, N.Y. by the director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Jan-Christopher Horak. A major lead gift from Jeff Joseph of $100,000 has been committed toward the project, and UCLA hopes Laurel & Hardy fans will pitch in to the fundraising effort. A site set up just last week for donations had received $4000 in pledges in just a few days.
I was able to see two restored Laurel & Hardy shorts this past Sunday in Los Angeles. A screening, part of the UCLA Festival of Preservation, was held at the beautiful Billy Wilder theater located in the Hammer Museum in Westwood, not far from the university campus.
You have to walk past Billy to get into the Wilder auditorium
One of the founders of the Sons of the Dessert--the Laurel & Hardy fan club--spoke at the screening. Chuck McCann, now 76, used to host a local Laurel & Hardy TV show in LA but may be best remembered by viewers over 45 for those antiperspirant ads where he stuck his head through a two-way bathroom mirror and said, "Hi Guy."
He hopes some of his Hollywood pals who are big L&H fans--he singled out Dick Van Dyke and Tim Conway--will step forward and help with the fundraising.
"These films are so delicate you have no idea," he said of he urgent need for preservation. "Think of powder on the back of butterfly wings--they're that delicate."
The original L&H nitrate camera negatives have bounced around from distributor to distributor for years. Titles were chopped off and replaced. Random music was added. Things were indeed a fine mess.
I have several 16mm prints of their classic shorts and some of their features. Shown Sunday were two restored 35mm prints from 1930. One I have in my collection--Blotto--and another I don't think I have ever seen, Chickens Come Home.

It's even Wilder inside
Both were Spanish language prints. Not dubbed or subtitled--the comedians would re-shoot a Spanish version, learning lines phonetically. Spanish speaking actors were brought in to work opposite the comedians. Originally silent stars, L&H were highly exportable visual comedians and popular world wide.
The print for Blotto was just OK--apparently the original neg was in pretty rough shape. Chickens Come Home, or Politiquerias, was pretty much restored to its original glory and looked magnificent on the large theatre screen.
It is also one weird film, expanded to near feature length in the Spanish version to include Hadji Ali, this whacked vaudeville regurgitator. Working the Hardy dinner party, Ali--dressed as some sort of sheik--gulps down buckets of water and then vomits it all out in a torrential gush that lasts about a week. The dude then downs another bathtub full of H20 and washes it down with a bottle of kerosene. He spits the gas into a hearth which ignites. Then he puts it all out with another jaw-dropping yap hose display.
This guy would kill on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
The screening included the restored trailer of the lost L&H feature The Rogue Song. The Lawrence Tibbett operetta, a very early colour film, has vanished from the face of the earth. If you find a print in your attic or basement, contact  UCLA or, better yet, me.

This Week's Podcast: stalking Katie Holmes

This week, CHML's Scott Thompson wanted the scoop on my recent trip to Hollywood. I was there earlier this week to work the red carpet premiere of The Kennedys (bowing Sunday April 3 on Reelzchannel in the States and Sunday April 10 at 9 p.m. on History Television).
I'm not a red carpet guy, it's an elbows up free-for-all I've never mastered. Sometimes, however, it is your only shot at getting near the talent with a Flipcam or recorder.
Monday night in Beverly Hills, outside the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts ad Science headquarters on Wilshire Blvd., I took my place on the red carpet alongside Toronto Star TV critic Rob Salem--at the very end of the line. Was this a good placement? No. Did Katie Holmes, who sleepwalks through plays Jackie Kennedy, walk right past us Canadian scribes and on into the theatre? That would be yes. Were we bitter? You can listen in here.
Not sure what I would have said to her anyway. Salem suggested we should ask her escort Tom Cruise if he was planning on making any movies with Paul Haggis.
Holmes plays Jackie opposite Greg Kinnear as Jack, and he's very good as the doomed American president (and I'm not just saying that because he spoke with us). History Television is showing the miniseries in four two-hour chunks spread over four consecutive Sundays.
We did get to speak with the lovely Rookie Blue regular Charlotte Sullivan (right) which more than made up for the Tomcat snub. Sullivan plays oft-alleged Kennedy squeeze Marilyn Monroe and has the half open lids and lips act down pat.
Scott also asks about Roger Abbott and wonders if the press in Canada makes enough fuss when somebody like the Air Farce pioneer passes away. Abbott's stellar comedy career spanned 40 years on radio and TV.
I say you could never salute a guy like Abbott enough, but I also knew him as a modest and very private man who would go and die right before the Junos just to dodge a lot of wheezy obits. May he jest in peace.

Ratings across Canada March 21 to 27


Just back off the road this week so bit late on the numbers but here's what we've got: Dancing with the Stars has waltzed back into the picture with a strong opener, bested only by the usual high note from American Idol. Celebrating 40 years, The Juno Awards had its strongest outing ever Sunday backed by the full muscle of the CTV marketing machine, the return of Neil Young and plenty of press. Here's a look at the overnight estimates for March 21 to 27 among Canadian viewers 2+:

MONDAY
The return of Dancing with the Stars swung the night back to CTV this week, with an average of 2.5 million-plus catching the two hour mid-season premiere. That was enough to edge out Global’s House at 8 p.m., which drew 2,389,000 overnight, estimated viewers. Over at CBC, Little Mosque was down to 426,000 viewers, with 18 to Life at 360,000.
Global’s new crime import The Chicago Code arrested 1,333,000 at 9, leaving just 244,000 for CBC’s Halifax Comedy Fest. A rerun of 22 Minutes, sorely missed with an election called, came back for 268,000.
CTV’s Castle took the 10 o’clock crown with 1,917,000 viewers, with Global’s Hawaii FIVE-0 breaking at 1,413,000. All this election talk did little for The National, stalled at 662,000.
Despite good reviews, the second episode of Showcase’s new Shawn Doyle drama Endgame drew 154,000, shedding close to a third of its opening week audience.

TUESDAY
Global does better without Glee on their schedule. With the high school musical taking a week off, NCIS was simulcast to the tune 2.2 million overnight, estimated viewers. NCIS: Los Angeles followed at 9 with 1,820,000, with a juicy episode of The Good Wife completing the Global sweep with 1,289,000.
That still left 1,007,000 viewers for CBC’s Rick Mercer Report, but only 321,000 stuck around for the CBC InSecurity—yet another week where cancelled 18 to Life outperformed the renewed spy spoof.
No Ordinary Family drew an ordinary 960,000 at 8. CTV followed at 9 with Law & Order: SVU (1,139,000) and at 10 with another solid, stand-alone, near-million outing for The Listener (996,000). The shot-in-Toronto drama moves to Fridays starting this week.
What election fever? CBC’s The National did 667,000 at 10 p.m.

WEDNESDAY
Wednesday is the new Thursday in Canada, a must-see night with 6.8 million viewers divided between strong shows on three networks. A two hour American Idol took the 8 to 10 p.m. slot with 2,715,000 viewers but Global’s Survivor: Redemption Island was close behind in the 2+ tally with over 2.5 million (and ahead in the key demos). CBC’s Dragon’s Den counted 1,611,000.
CBC’s Republic of Doyle had a strong week with 1,021,000 9 p.m. viewers. Global's Off The Map stayed on the radar in Canada with 1,108,000 viewers at 10 p.m., opposite timeslot winner Criminal Minds:SB on CTV (1,607,000). Election hoopla helped drive The National up to 785,000 at 10 on CTV.

THURSDAY
CTV got to keep American Idol on the main network for a second week and were rewarded with 3,039,000 viewers. That’s still below what CTV regularly draws Thursday nights with The Big Bang Theory, which is back this week. CTV’s winning night continued at 9 with Grey’s Anatomy (2,629,000), which bursts into song this week. Relocated Blue Bloods drew 1,207,000 at 10.
Global saw close to a million bounce over to Wipeout at 8, followed by strong Bones at 9 (1,191,000). The Office and Outsourced flirted above and below the 450,000 mark.
CBC saw 690,000 show up for David Suzuki’s 75th birthday party on The Nature of Things. Doc Zone pulled in another 679,000.
What was at the 1.2 million mark pretty much all week? That would be CBC’s Jeopardy! at 7:30, Alex.

FRIDAY
There was nothing over a million between 8 and 11 p.m. on any network in Canada. CTV won with The Defenders (763,000), CSI (987,000) and Flashpoint (860,000). Marketplace did close to 700,000 at 8 on CBC. Global was cooking at 8 with Kitchen Nightmares (684,000) then simmered down to Haven at 10 (307,000).

SATURDAY
HNiC Game 1 2,070,000, Game 2 1,022,000. SNL: 373,000.

SUNDAY
The Heartland finale at 7 galloped off with 1,253,000, which may be its biggest audience ever. Yet it finished second in the timeslot since CTV bumped the Amazing Race (1,809,000) up an hour to accommodate the Juno Awards. The annual Canadian music industry salute drew 2,360,000, amazing by Canadian award show standards and besting the previous high set by hostess Shania Twain in 2003 (2.2 million). More may have been expected, however, given CTV’s full court PR press, the star power of Twain, Neil Young and Arcade Fire and the weak competition (a CBC movie drew 684,000, Global’s Bob’s Burgers surprised at well over a million).
Other Sunday winners: The Celebrity Apprentice (goodbye, Dionne Warwick, you nasty piece of work) drew 1,186,000. Family Guy did 867,000.

Roger out: Air Farce tribute done at jet speed

Hats off to the editors, producers and friends at Air Farce for turning that Tuesday night Roger Abbott tribute around on a dime. Founding Farcer Abbott, 64, died Saturday night after a private, 14-year battle with leukemia. CBC quickly responded with a tribute timeslot, but the original plan to re-air the most recent New Years' Eve special didn't have enough Abbott oomph for Air Farce insiders. A decision was reached at 4 p.m. Monday to hustle together a best-of clip special as a better way to pay homage to the beloved producer/comedian. While Abbott's closest collaborators Don Ferguson and Luba Goy made the media rounds to speak about their loss, Farce forces literally worked around the clock to pull together the best of Abbott, including the hilarious bobsled sketch with John Morgan, as well as outtakes from the Farce DVDs of Abbott cracking up. Best of all, there was no sadness, all comedy, giving Abbott a chance to leave 'em laughing. Well done.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Kennedys in LA: red carpet premiere

Reporter meets Marilyn (Charlotte Sullivan)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA--Camelot returned to Los Angeles Monday night.
The Kennedys, the eight-hour, shot-in-Toronto miniseries, had its red carpet premiere at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences theatre. Most of the cast made the event, including Greg Kinnear, who plays president John F. Kennedy, Katie Holmes, who plays Jackie Kennedy and Barry Pepper, who plays Jack's attorney general brother Bobby.
Holmes was at the event with her couch-jumping hubby, Tom Cruise. There are many Canadians in the cast, including Kristin Booth who plays a spunky Ethel Kennedy (wife of Bobby), Charlotte Sullivan, who plays the president's "admirer" Marilyn Monroe and Serge Houde, menacing as mob boss Sam Giancana.
Kinnear arriving at the Reelz bash
Houde had a hilarious red carpet story. The only thing he knew about Giancana was that he wore those oversized Aristotle Onasis-style dark glasses. He had just seen Avatar in 3D so he wore the 3D specs he swiped from the theatre to his Kennedys audition!
Enrico Colantoni plays FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover and plays him to the hilt, stopping just short of putting on a dress.
Sullivan makes a svelte Monroe and was thrilled she got to keep the peach dress she wears in the miniseries. She plans to wear it for her wedding this summer.
Director Jon Cassar, the 24 showrunner who has employed more Canadians than Canadian Tire, was also at the premiere, as was executive producer Joel Surnow. Surnow's conservative leanings had Kennedy watchers on edge that the miniseries was going to be a tabloid romp through Jack's indiscretions. There are hints of that on screen in the two episodes shown on the big screen Monday night, but Kennedy fans should relax. The performances of Kinnear as the president and especially Pepper as Bobby are towering. Kinnear's Jack grows quickly into the role and you see flashes of the wit and charisma that so captivated North Americans n the early '60s. Pepper steers this ship, and you can't take your eyes off him.
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' arm. No Canadian comment 
The miniseries also stars Tom Wilkinson as family patriarch Joe Kennedy. He seizes the first two episodes I screened prior to coming down to Los Angeles, where episode three (centring on the infamous Bay of Pigs fiasco) and episode five (the Cuban Missile Crisis) were showcased.
The series premieres April 10 in Canada on History Television and will air in four two-hour timeslots. The U.S. History channel dropped it like a hot potato, claiming it wasn't historical enough; odd that it seems to jive with History channels in Canada and the U.K.
Kinnear says he loved shooting in Toronto and raved about the parks. We were told that Holmes enjoyed walking our parks, too, but she walked rght past the Canadian press on the red carpet Monday night and did not share her enthusiasm with us directly.

I alway wanted to be Roger Abbott

Below is a tribute to the late, great Roger Abbott I wrote Monday for The Canadian Press:

I always wanted to be Roger Abbott.
The man had the best job in the world, the guiding hand (together with Don Ferguson) behind the Royal Canadian Air Farce. He was a major reason why that comedy troupe got Canadians where they lived: in the doughnut shops, at the hockey rinks, and in the polling booth.
Abbott, who died over the weekend at 64 after a 14-year battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, made people laugh for a living and was damned good at it.
What elevated his showmanship was that he loved comedy, the craft of it, the performance, the camaraderie, the people in it, even the business. Attending a live studio performance of "Air Farce" was like watching a hockey game. There were times when they misfired, but when they scored, you felt the rush — and you never felt more Canadian.
Abbott was the bald-headed guy at the door of the Canadian comedy club. He knew and respected all the old members — Wayne & Shuster, Don Harron, occasional fellow trouper Dave Broadfoot — and graciously held the door for the new kids coming up.
Together with Ferguson, he brought "Air Farce" to a higher level. He seemed to relish being part of a company — the late John Morgan, Luba Goy, newcomers Jessica Holmes, Craig Lauzon, Alan Park and Penelope Corrin; longtime writers Gord Holtam and Rick Olsen; director Perry Rosemond.
That they bridged radio, television and survived into the YouTube age is admirable. How well they connected with Canadians was too often overlooked when assessing the troupe.
Abbott and Ferguson especially made sure there were jokes in every show for fans in places like Saskatchewan and St. John's. This came from years of playing to theatres and festivals across the country.
Born in England and raised in Montreal, Abbott knew there was more to Canada than the 15 blocks surrounding the CBC broadcast centre in downtown Toronto. "Air Farce" played to every corner of Canada, a very big room.
Brioux, Abbott and Brioux
Abbott's sense of humour was also ageless. A great joy for me was when my son, Daniel, became a fan of the series. He "got" their stuff while in grade school and together over the years we attended several studio tapings.
A request to bring him along for a table read (where the cast goes through that week's script) was, in a typically quiet act of kindness, welcomed by Abbott. At that point, Abbott and Ferguson had generously surrendered much of the limelight to the younger members of the troupe. Still, they debated words and inflections in order to hammer home a joke. They never stopped going for the funny.
And Abbott knew from funny. He could work Bob & Ray, Monty Python, Morecambe & Wise, Laurel & Hardy, Wayne & Shuster and "Saturday Night Live" into any conversation. He ranged from screwball to the absurd. He had survived in a tough business to become a comedy elder, but he and Ferguson were once the new kids in this troupe and came of age at a great time of awakening for all of Canada.
Like Wayne & Shuster, Abbott and Ferguson were university guys. That blend of college humour and Music Hall slapstick helped define Canada's comedy tradition. An Australian once told me a Canadian was somebody who could sneak in a jab while buying you a beer. That was Roger, playful and mischievous and still the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet.
Abbott with stage director Pat McDonald
Roger was not a sentimental man. When that doughnut shop set was packed up after their series was retired it never came out of storage, despite the subsequent New Year's Eve specials. Even the chicken cannon was silenced. Roger had done the double-double sketch, thanks. He was always about moving forward.
He loved numbers. The guy knew exactly how many women over 35 east of Winnipeg were watching his show. He parsed the weekly ratings data like he was playing a lottery. It was a language we both spoke and I'll miss keeping score.
Roger was all about that blend of pride and modesty that defines Canadians. Friends, of whom he had many, often came back to one word to describe him: integrity. He was who we all wanted to be.
He'd want this tribute to end here, before things got too sappy. He'd want Wally Ballou to take over at this point; Roger was always slipping into the mannered voice of the clueless Bob & Ray radio character.
Wally Ballou would stand out on an air field, look to the clear blue skies, point heavenward and report that the Royal Canadian Air Farce was missing its captain. This is Wally Ballou reporting.

Royal Canadian Air Farce Special: A Tribute to Roger Abbott will air Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on CBC. The special will highlight some of Abbott's most memorable characters and impersonations, including Peter Mansbridge, Jean Chretien and Leonard Cohen.
For more reflection on Abbott, check out the CBC Q radio interview posted at the Air Farce site, featuring great memories from Don Ferguson, Luba Goy and Rick Mercer. Ferguson quotes Roger saying, "What we do is not put down, it's send up," which pretty much sums up the guy's whole classy approach, not just to comedy, but to life.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Roger Abbott: 1946 - 2011



I was on an Air Canada flight bound for Los Angeles Sunday morning and unaware until I landed of "the saddest news" being sent via email from Don Ferguson. Roger Abbott was dead.
Roger's passing hit me a lot harder than any other obit I've ever reported. I had the great good fortune to get to know Roger, Don and Luba Goy over the years, dating back to a cover story I did for TV Guide in the '90s. When my son discovered the Farce, we'd attend a taping or two a year at the CBC Broadcast centre. Faced with a bring-your son-to-work-day as a freelancer, a quick call to Roger got us both ring side seats to an Air Farce table read.
I had lunch with the two Air Farce producers and performers--close friends since meeting in high school in Montreal--not two months ago. That meeting was supposed to be all business, but it felt like a family gathering. In other words, I can almost hear Abbott mischievously interject,  it was edgy and uncomfortable.
Abbott was a comedian's comedian, a real student and master of his craft. He was a joy to watch perform, especially in live tapings of The Royal Canadian Air Farce. Roger was the ringmaster at those New Year's Eve tapings, directing the studio audience in the bleachers to the next sketch set up. He'd suddenly disappear, get all rouged up and wigged out and show up a sketch or two later as Don Newman or The Pope or a guy in a doughnut shop.
In between, he had such respect and affection for the audience you felt like a whole bunch of people were going to a whole lot of trouble just for you. The respect was paid back a million fold in the ratings throughout the remarkably long run of the series, both on radio and television.
I used to love it when Abbott dropped a Wally Ballou reference; I'm not sure that too many others who would get the shout out to the character featured in Bob & Ray's radio shows of the '50s and early '60s. Roger knew I knew and that made it okay. Abbott always made you feel included, whether you were listening from Deer Lake, Nfld., watching from Red Deer, Alta., or sitting next to him at the Four Seasons in Toronto.
I'll have more on Abbott's passing in a column due Monday on The Canadian Press news wire. Suffice to say that he was one of the nicest people, in or out of show business, that I've ever met, a real mensch who was kind, generous and as good as his word. Condolences to his family at home, his family at work as well as his family of admirers right across Canada.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sunday premiere: Kate Winslet’s Mildred Pierce

Kate Winslet
Remakes of classic films are risky things. No one ever really wants to see a remake of The Wizard of Oz, although several have been attempted. The Wiz (1978) and Disney's Return to Oz (1985) were more re-imagined than remade. At least six more are in development, including John Boorman's CGI project The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Witches of Oz starring Sean Astin and Christopher Lloyd and Surrender Dorothy directed by Drew Barrymore. James Franco is supposed to star in Sam Raimi's Oz, The Great and Powerful after both Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp passed.
The great 1939 Wizard of Oz film, it must be remembered, was a remake itself. There were as many as five silent adaptations to the L. Frank Baum book, including one featuring a young Oliver Hardy.
The idea of remaking other classics also often just seems wrong. Nobody ever wants to see anybody but Bogart tell anybody but Ingrid Bergman that the troubles of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
Even Casablanca, however, has been remade (albeit in a cheesy, mercifully short-lived early `80s TV series starring David Soul as Rick!). Some days it seems like every film, good or bad, gets remade sooner or later. Such a film is Mildred Pierce, the 1945 melodrama which brought screen icon Joan Crawford her one and only Academy Award.
Film fans today may know Crawford won her Oscar for Mildred Pierce but how many have actually seen the film?
Joan Crawford
This wild-eyed image of Crawford as a control freak in shoulder pads has been burned into pop culture by Faye Dunaway’s over-the-top performance in the movie Mommy Dearest. That was based on a sensational tell-all book by Crawford’s daughter Christine, who claimed she was abused by her movie star mom.
HBO has remade Mildred Pierce as a five hour miniseries. It stars Oscar winner Kate Winslet in the Crawford role as a proud mother who would do anything to win the affection of her warped daughter. Evan Rachel Wood (Across the Universe) plays the spoiled offspring who looks down on her working class mom.
Winslet told critics on the January TCA press tour that she decided against even watching the 1945 black and white film. Director Todd Haynes left the decision up to her, and she started to watch it but shut it off after the first five minutes. “I knew I would never be able to unsee it,” she says. “When you know someone utterly extraordinary has played that role before, it’s a really fine line,” she says. The director had warned her that the book was very different from the original movie and that this HBO miniseries (premiering Sunday night on HBO Canada) would stick closely to the book. Winslet followed her instincts and kept Crawford out of her head.
I write more about Winslet and the new Mildred Pierce here in this article in the current issue of Movie Entertainment magazine.
In the meantime, here are my list of the five best and worst movie remakes:


King Kong
The miracle of the black and white, 1933 original was the power and empathy animator Willis O’Brien stuffed into his stop-motion Kong. The 1976 version was a sloppy mess, a setback for even Jeff Bridges acting opposite a guy in a monkey suit. The 2005 remake was a CGI thriller, but Jack Black as an adventurous showman? Really?
(*an aside on the poster: spotted a nice original of this earlier this month at Cinefest. Price: $90, which I was told was cheap. The film may not be so collectable but the poster is for one fact: look where Kong is standing--on the twin towers of The World Trade Center.)

Psycho
Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 original was a bloody bad idea. Could there be anything more pointless than remaking a classic shot for shot, with lesser actors (Vince Vaughan and Anne Heche instead of Anthony Perkins and Vivian Leigh) just to get it in colour? Psycho was 10 times creepier in oppressive black and white.


The Thomas Crown Affair
The rare exception—a remake as good as the original. Norman Jewison’s 1968 version sizzled thanks to Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (who knew chess could be that sexy?). The 1999 remake had style and class, a great soundtrack and dazzling photography—plus career best performances from Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo.

The Italian Job
The 2003 remake was even better than Michael Caine’s 1969 original, providing dazzling thrills, breathtaking scenery, star power (Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Donald Sutherland) and even laughs—as well as selling plenty of those cool little Mini Coopers.

The Longest Yard
While it was daring to cast Adam Sandler to step into Burt Reynolds football cleats, the 2005 remake remains a bit of a Hail Mary pass. The grit and intensity between Reynolds gang of misfits vs. Eddy Arnold’s prison goons puts the 1974 original yards ahead of the uneven remake.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This week's podcast: attack ad overkill

Far from costing taxpayers an estimated $300 million, CHML's Scott Thompson wants to know if a Canadian federal election will amount to a stimulous package by the time you factor in all the negative ad campaign spending on television. There may be truth to that just counting what seems to be a bottomless "Harper Government" war chest. The Harpies have been running that "He didn't come back for you" spots so many months already it seems as if Ignatieff came back and went several times already.
They’ve also been on long enough to parody:



All these elections every two years have to be great news for TV networks who rake in big bucks from all the campaign advertising. It's not exactly great news for viewers who have to stomach the hockey fight that passes for political discourse these days. As Rex Murphy said Thursday night on The National, the federal party leaders have become "as familiar to us as the Jersey Shore crowd"--and about as impressive.
TV, or course, can unmake a politician, a point John Doyle made in Wednesday’s Globe and Mail. Doyle feels the Tea Party is over for Sarah Palin, no longer the Republican 2012 presidential frontrunner according to recent polls. Doyle thinks Palin blew it because her conservative fan base got to see she wasn't so much the aw-shucks presidential candidate-next-door as a woman of privilege who take her kids camping in rock star sized tour buses and uses fancy choppers to go fishing.
Maybe Mark Burnett snuffed out her torch with Sarah Palin`s Alaska. I'm not sure that forgettable travelogue did as much damage as her daughter’s cheesy overstay on Dancing with the Stars or Palin’s own recent Charlie Sheen-level drive-by media mis-steps.
In any case, politicians who live by the sword of television die by the sword of television, as we’re likely to witness over the coming weeks.
None of this occurred to me when I was live on the radio talking to Scott. Don’t believe me? You can listen in here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

TCM plans 24 hour Liz Taylor tribute



Nobody does Hollywood memorials like TCM. The movie channel has already scheduled a 24 hour movie marathon tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, who passed away Wednesday in Lo Angeles at 79.
Starting at 6 a.m. April 10, TCM will show the best of Taylor's 50 feature films, including her Oscar®-winning performances in Butterfield 8 (1960) at 8 p.m. (ET) and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) at 10 p.m. (ET). The full TCM tribute schedule can be found here.
The New York Times also has an obituary on Taylor today but this one has a twist. Many newspapers bank obituaries so they'll be ready if someone famous suddenly passes away. Taylor's delicate health must have put her near the front of the "be ready" list, for the guy who wrote this obit passed away himself six years ago!
Taylor's passing cries out for one of those big showbiz-y wakes Larry King used to turn around on a dime. His CNN successor, Pier Morgan, will try to get the old gang together for his own Liz salute on Piers Morgan Tonight (9 p.m. ET). King will be on hand along with Dick Cavett, Joan Collins, Carrie Fisher and Morgan Fairchild. King would have had Joan Rivers on despite all the fat jokes, and one of the Jacksons. I`m thinking Mickey Rooney will be in on this before airtime.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ratings across Canada March 14 to 20

March break is generally an off week for TV networks with many viewers away on family vacations. The usual suspects--American Idol (down to 11 finalists, above), Amazing Race, Survivor and House all topped the two million mark but otherwise viewing levels were generally down . Sad and scary headlines from Japan also swung many viewers back to CBC's The National. Here's how the Canadian network ratings played out in prime time the week of March 14 to 20 according to overnight estimated of viewers 2+:

Shawn Doyle of Endgame
MONDAY
House continues to have a lock on the 8 o’clock timeslot, drawing over two million viewers on Global. Matthew Perry’s mid-season import Mr. Sunshine continues to fade, dragging CTV down to 795,000 viewers. That has helped CBC’s Little Mosque creep up to 580,000 as it closes in on its fifth season finale. 18 to Life held steady at 8:30 with an overnight, estimated 384,000 viewers.
The return of Dancing with the Stars to CTV this Monday will have a big impact on the night.
In the meantime, look who’s still “winning!” at 9: Two and a Half Men, with 1.5 million+ sticking with yet another rerun. That beat a new episode of Global’s mid-season cop show The Chicago Code (1,242,000) and the final episode of CBC’s Village on a Diet (550,000).
Uncharacteristically, none of the networks cracked the million mark at 10 with CTV coming closest with CSI Miami (935,000). Global drew 863,000 with a Hawaii FIVE-0 rerun. Headlines in Japan and Libya sent viewers scrambling back to CBC’s The National, which drew 836,000 viewers at 10 p.m. CTV's National News, which drew 1,238,000 Monday at 11, was at its usual robust levels all week.
Meanwhile on specialty, the premiere of the Vancouver-based Shawn Doyle drama Endgame drew 232,000 viewers.

TUESDAY
Global had a strong Tuesday with back-to-back timeslot winners Glee (1,757,000) and NCIS: Los Angeles (1,434,000). CTV’s The Listener continues to show it can stand alone in Canada, winning 10 o’clock with close to a million viewers.
Rick Mercer had the only other million plus audience on the night (1,137,000). No Ordinary Family was very ordinary at 696,000, helping InSecurity on CBC rise to 409,000. Law & Order: SVU (637,000) and The Good Wife (694,000) coasted with reruns. CBC’s Winnipeg Comedy Fest managed 472,000 at 9, with CBC News up to 762,000 at 10.

WEDNESDAY
A good night all around but especially for CTV thanks to a two hour American Idol (2,780,000) leading into new forensic spin off Criminal Minds SB (2,264,000). The loss of Russell didn’t prevent 2,359,000 from checking out Global’s Survivor: Redemption Island. CBC’s Republic of Doyle arrested 836,000 at 9 opposite a weak NCIS rerun on Global (481,000). At 10, new medical drama Off The Map found exactly one million, with CBC enjoying another strong news night (831,000).

THURSDAY
Happy birthday, David Suzuki. The broadcaster and environmental activist turns 75 Thursday and 939,000 Canadian viewers came to the party last week on The Nature of Things. Not bad opposite American Idol, relocated to CTV from /A\ for a week where it doubled its usual Canadian Thursday take to 2,704,000 overnight, estimated viewers. (The Big Bang Theory took the week off.) Global’s Wipeout at 8 did 1,060,000.
The 9 p.m. battle saw Bones (1,591,000) edge CSI (1,583,000) with CBC’s Doc Zone picking up close to 700,000 viewers.
An infusion of Blue Bloods brought 1,171,000 at CTV at 10, with news from Japan driving The National up to 934,000. Global saw The Office slump to 291,000 and Outsourced outperform at 460,000.

FRIDAY
CTV won the night but without its usual three crime dramas. A movie at 8 drew close to 1.1 million with 839,000 sticking around at 10:30 for a slot warmer episode of Shat My Dad Says. The movie was the only network offering to crack the million mark Friday night with Global’s Kitchen Nightmares (849,000) and CBC’s Marketplace (754,000) enjoying decent outings. Rick Mercer Repeat did 556,000, fifth estate 533,000. Global also has shows Friday night including their second window on Haven 273,000.

SATURDAY
HNiC Game #1 2,157,000, Game #2 825,000. SNL 293,000. The aptly named Dual Suspects dragged Global down to 79,000 viewers Saturday at 10. Across Canada!

SUNDAY
CTV won wire to wire in prime with The Mentalist (1,134,000). Amazing Race (2,441,000), Undercover Boss (1,516,000) and CSI Miami (1,880,000). Only Global’s Celebrity Apprentice (1,135,000) came close. A Sunday night hockey game drew 736,000 at 7 on CBC. Minus The Simpsons, the Fox ‘toons on Global were in the 500-600,000 range. Desperate Housewives returns next week.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tonight: Yonge Street Toronto Rock & Roll Stories

The Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins Quartet
If you grew up in Toronto and are old enough to remember the heyday of the Yonge Street Strip--or wish you were--you won't want to miss Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories. The three-part documentary series premieres tonight at 10e/7p on Bravo! and continues Tuesday and Wednesday.
From director Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo) and producer David Brady (The Pagan Christ) comes this flashback to the '50s, '60s and early '70s. Toronto the good was a rock and roll town, a hotbed for R&B and blues in long gone clubs such as The Edison, Le Coq d'Or and the Brown Derby. Cats from the States like Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins and Levon Helm were packing those clubs by the late '50s and turning on a whole generation of Canadian rockers.
I missed that whole "Canadian Graffiti" scene by several years but have vague memories of the outside of the old Brown Derby on Yonge Street with its black and orange images of classic comedy stars in bowler hats--Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin and others. That place was torn down in the early '70s to make way for The Eaton Centre.
The documentary, which unfolds as a series of conversations from Hawkins (always entertaining), Duff Roman, Jan Haust, Robbie Robertson, hit record producer Daniel Lanois (particularly moving) and others who were in on that scene shares stories that deserve just this kind of attention.
One performer who deserves his or her own movie is Jackie Shane, a transvestite who worked the strip as a she and built quite a following as a Motown-sounding R&B singer. Too bad the producers could not track her down today.
I go into more detail about the highlights from the series--including the incredible story behind John Lennon's 1969 visit to Varsity Stadium for the Live Peace in Toronto concert--here is this feature for The Canadian Press.
Yonge Street in the '60s: hey, where's the Eaton Centre?
Besides those few clubs on Yonge between Dundas and King the other big music scene in Toronto in those days was uptown on Yorkville, where Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell drew big folk crowds to the coffeehouses. There's an archived clip in Yonge Street of cars crawling along Yorkville Avenue in the '60s and I swear one of those cars could have been driven by my dad. My parents would toss me into the car on a warm summer night to go downtown to "look at the hippies." We'd head in from Etobicoke and keep the doors locked and the windows up as we gawked at long-haired Yorkville crowd. This is, I tell my children, is what people did before xBox and Nintendo.
If you miss it Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on Bravo!, Yonge Street will also air Sunday March 27 starting at 1 p.m. on /A\.

Cinefest find: The Dick Van Dyke Show on 16mm

For me every year, one of the joys of Cinefest is the chance to add to my collection of 16mm films. Lately I've been focusing on trying to acquire film prints of TV shows. Back before digital, DVD or even video tape, networks used to ship 16mm prints to affiliate stations across America. For CBS, NBC or ABC in the '60s and '70s, that meant shipping a large reel of film to over 200 affiliate stations across the United States for broadcast. This went on once-a-week, every single episode. Prints were also shipped to stations and networks in Canada.
Of those 200+ prints a week, most have disappeared over the years, shipped back to the originating networks, sent off to landfill sites or simply thrown out. Some were later chopped up into nighttime and daytime syndication prints (generally two minutes shorter to allow for more commercials) with network tags, commercials and IDs spliced out.
A handful of episodes from hundreds of TV series from the '50s, '60s and '70s survive and are prized by collectors. I'm always on the lookout for pints of old episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. One of the main dealers at Cinefest over the years has been the Whayne brothers of St. Louis, and I was able to buy a few Van Dykes this trip to Syracuse off of Lacy Whayne, Jr.
One was a pristine CBS network print of a first season episode titled, "Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?" The episode was directed by James Komack, the future producer who went on to create The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Welcome Back Kotter and Chico and the Man. The print was complete with the original network sponsor tag--a short bit after the main titled showing Van Dyke tipping a box of Cheer laundry detergent--plus three network commercials for Camay soap and Crest toothpaste printed right into the episode. A tube of Crest appears in the bottom corner of the end titles instead of the usual portrait of Van Dyke shown on all the syndication prints. Van Dyke also does a voice over the end credits, telling viewers the show will be moved to Wednesday night the next week. (The Van Dyke Show struggled that first season and was tested in a couple of timeslots.) The episode ends, there is a public service ad for March of Dimes and then the old Eye-opening CBS logo.
This October marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Van Dyke, still spry at 85, has an autobiography (My Lucky Life In and Out of Show business) coming out in May. I'm hoping to host an exhibition of some of my Dick Van Dyke Show episodes on film (I've got over 50 now) later this year; check back here at TVFMF for updates.

Cinefest: UCLA to rescue Laurel & Hardy

Another Cinefest is in the books and this year, besides a lot of classic black and white, silent and sound screenings, there was some news.
The 31st annual gathering of film enthusiasts occurs every March in Liverpool, N.Y., a suburb of Syracuse. I've driven through snowmageddons in past years trying to get in and out of this town but this March temperatures reached into the 60s.
The films themselves seldom go that high. Most are based in the '20s and '30s. Burglar By Proxy, the main draw at the Palace Theater during Saturday's 35mm screenings, was made in 1919 and starred Jack Pickford and Gloria Hope. The print came from the Library of Congress and there was live piano and organ accompaniment from one of three excellent keyboard players at the event, Ben Model, Sylvia Moscovitz and Andrew Simpson.
Most of the films are screened in a ballroom at the Liverpool Holiday Inn. Special 16mm projectors are set up on a large riser at the back of the room with extended take up reel contraptions and boosted lighting and audio components. The dudes running the Aiki's keep everything on time and in focus.
For me the highlight was seeing an audience react to a film that would normally be deemed too popular to be screened at Cinefest: Hellzapoppin'. The 1941 comedy featured Olsen & Johnson, a comedy team that was a sensation in the late '30s on Broadway. The black and white film, which also featured Martha Raye, Mischa Auer, Hugh Herbert, Jane Frazee and occasional Stooge Shemp Howard, is extra-screwball, moving at a brisk and modern pace. Huge laffs.
A 1940 film about a boy and his dog, The Biscuit Eater, was of interest to me because I used to own the later Disney version of this on 16mm. I found this original natural and moving, very straight ahead storytelling and very colourblind by the standards of the day.
I love shorts, the old one- or two-reelers that used to be part of every movie bill, and one tha jumped out this Cinefest was an edition of Information Please. Spun off a very popular radio show--the Jeopardy! of its day--Information Please featured a panel of well known newspaper columnists, wits and other know-it-alls and the fun was in seeing them buzz in with the correct answers to quiz master Clifton Fadiman's questions. This 1940 RKO short was part of a series which brought the radio experience into theatres. The guest panelist was Boris Karloff. When regular panelist and noted eccentric Oscar Levant started goofing on Karfloff, Fadiman cooled him off quick with, "careful, Oscar, Boris scares people professionally."
Another eye-opener was Wolf Song, a 1929 western starring Gary Cooper. One of the joys of Cinefest is discovering, with an audience, what made these early stars so impactful in their day. The young Coop was not just strong and silent but magnetic. The version of the Wolf Song screened at Cinefest was silent but two versions were originally released, one with a partial soundtrack. It was "pre-code," meaning the strict code of standards imposed by the Hays Office had not yet chilled some of the racier elements out of filmmaking. Coop appears buck naked by the banks of a river in one scene, which probably goosed the box office in the day. Too bad the film is one big fat cowboy cliche.
The big news out of Cinefest came via UCLA, which now owns the original Laurel & Hardy collection. The university is restoring the many shorts and feature films made by the great comedy team. Over the years, the L&H films have been so neglected, transferred from owner to owner, that the original source material has become another fine mess. UCLA has pledged to painstakingly restore the original negative and transfer everything to digital. Ultimately, the Holy Grail of film collecting--L&H on DVD--will become a reality. Benefactors have so far stepped up, with one person donating $100,000 to the cause. Other fans are being urged to contribute. Leonard Maltin, attending his 30th Cinefest, has more on the UCLA drive to rescue L&H here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Exit interview: Survivor's Russell Hantz

Fire up the Tiki torch and pass the Doritos. Russell Hantz is dying to come to Canada. "I'm trying to go to Canada but nobody wants me to go there," the Survivor warrior told me Wednesday on a call set up by Global and CBS. "I hear that I have more fans in Canada than anywhere...I want to go to some casino, bar or radio station and have some fun."
In the interview below, the 38-year-old Texas businessman also says he had a plan to win if he had made it again to the final three, that he almost did The Apprentice this time instead of Survivor and--perhaps jokingly--that he's going to appear on Jersey Shore!
Love him or hate him, Hantz has almost single-handedly re-energized the long-running Survivor franchise. (The series resumes Wednesday night at 8 p.m. on CBS and Global.) He's played three times in less than two years and ratings in Canada--where the series beats American Idol Wednesdays head-to-head among 18-49-year-old viewers--are as robust as ever.
The bad news is that Hantz was tossed off Survivor: Redemption Island last Wednesday, spoiling an epic tribal merge confrontation between Hantz and arch rival "Boston" Rob Mariano, both brought in this season to inject a double whammy of star power as the series headed toward a weekly Idol showdown.
I told Hantz he was the reason I was watching Survivor again with my 18-year-old son. This seemed to please the dude no end. "People might think I'm this big villain and all, but I have four kids who I love more than life. Give me the opportunity to die for one of my kids, that’s how I want to die, for something that matters. As for when I hear that I bring families together to watch this show--that's amazing to me."

When you lost last week's Redemption Island challenge and were tossed out of the game, you said you'd never play Survivor again. Any change of heart on that?
Right now I'd have to say no. You will be seeing me on TV again, I have something in the works, depends on how that works out.
I am going to be on Jersey Shore…That would be funny, wouldn't it? Wouldn’t that be something? Russell Hantz as the new member on Jersey Shore.

Now there's a Situation!
I would be fighting these meat heads every single day. Whether they beat me or I beat them.

The Redemption Island challenge seemed so anti-climactic. Do you think that final exit challenge should be more than a puzzle?
Mine should have been different, man. Mine was geared for a quicker, smaller guy. When you're bigger and hit the ropes the dominoes fall. [Matt Elrod, 22] is a lot quicker and younger than me. I'm not saying they did it just for him, I just wish it had been a different challenge. I wish it had been the first challenge Francesca got.

Do you think Redemption Island adds or detracts from the game?
Usually you get voted out right away, your tribe has spoken they put your torch out and you leave. I was able to speak my mind,. It was good for me. Maybe not some people, but for me, It kind of redeemed me. You notice how I played, it didn’t degrade the girls like I used to do, promise them anything. I tried to do the right thing this time. It almost happened for me.

Did you have a different plan to win it if you had made it again to the final three?
My Speech would have definitely been different. 'Hey guys, you all played a wonderful game...' Guess what, that still wouldn’t have worked for me. No matter what I did. When Russell takes you out, you just cry like a little 12 year old boy.

Who's the best player still left in the game?
It`s Rob by far. Rob is controlling his tribe. Rob is really, really good in the game. The only person that could have took Rob out is me, the only person that could have taken me out was Rob at the merge. Say its 5-5 at the merge, it would have been Hell! That episode would have been the biggest episodes ever.

Do you think ratings will fall now that you're out?
Somebody sent me an email saying, "CBS, can you hear this? This is the sound of millions of people changing their channel…" Don't believe that, I'm hearing it's one of the best Survivor's ever.

How has all the fame and attention of being on Survivor impacted your business?
My company has doubled in size. I get to go all over the world, I get to have fun.
I`m trying to go to Canada but nobody wants me to go there. I'm trying to get a meet-and-greet in Canada, radio stations, go to some bar…I hear that I have more fans in Canada than anywhere. I want to go to some casino, bar, radio station and have some fun.

Would you like to see Canadian contestants on Survivor?
You know what would be really cool? If they have the five best survivors from Canada, five best survivors from America, five best survivors from Israel, you know, get it all together. That would be craziness.

You say you don't do other reality shows but what about The Apprentice?
I think I could win Apprentice. I wouldn’t be the one sitting there, 'I'm sorry Mr. Trump.' I wouldn’t be the one doing that. I would be saying, 'If you want me to apologise to you, how many people do you apologise to, and you`re a billionaire? You speak your mind and if that’s what it takes to vote me out of here than vote me out. But guess what I'm still going to be successful, I don’t need you and you don’t need me.'
I heard I was going to go on this next Apprentice instead of Richard if I hadn't gone on Survivor. Yeah and that sucks but…I'm glad I went, I met some great people.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ratings across Canada March 7 to 13

Idol judge Steven Tyler with the bleep sign
Canadian drama did well the week of March 7 to 13, with The Listener and Republic of Doyle both drawing over a million viewers. The Genies conjured up close to half-a-million, and Marketplace had another strong showing. Otherwise a predictable week, with the Wednesday edition of American Idol emerging as the most-watched show in Canada. Here's how it played out according to overnight, 2+ estimates:

MONDAY
That episode where Cuddy dumps House pushed the long-running Fox/Global medical drama to the top of the ratings Monday. House did an overnight, estimated 2,448,000. The 9 o'clock WINNER! Monday was a rerun of Two and a Half Men (1,645,000) followed on CTV by Mike & Molly (1,164,000). Global's Hawaii FIVE-0 took 10 p.m. with 1,115,000.
Among mid-season shows, Global's pick up of The Chicago Code (1,344,000) is doing better than CTV's 8 o'clock entries Mr. Sunshine (900,000) and Mad Love (1,073,000). A rerun of Castle drew 981,000 at 10 on Global.
Monday's prime time Brier coverage on TSN drew 779,000 overnight, estimated viewers. City scored close to 700,000 with The Bachelor and did even better with the midseason pick up Harry's Law (731,000).
CBC went Little Mosque 524,000, 18 to Life--showing more life since cancellation--at 408,000 and the results finale of Village on a Diet, gaining to 603,000.
 
Craig Olejnik is The Listener
TUESDAY
Global took Monday and Tuesday with solid outings from Glee (1,605,000) and NCIS: Los Angeles (1,501,000). A rerun of The Good Wife slumped to 772,000 at 10.
If you add up the various Hometeam Hockey games across Canada, however, Sportsnet took show of the night honours with 1,650,000 viewers.
CTV's highest-rated show of the night was the Canadian entry, The Listener, which drew close to 1.1 million. Reruns knocked No Ordinary Family and Law & Order: SVU down to 694,000 and 902,000. City gained 637,000 with The Biggest Loser. A Rick Mercer Rerun did 553,000, with InSecurity down to 294,000. There was nobody home at Hockeyville (205,000).

WEDNESDAY
CTV won the night thanks to a two hour American Idol Top 13 show (2,772,000) but there were plenty of 2+ viewers left over at 8 o'clock to see Russell get tossed on Survivor (2,436,000) as well as CBC's Dragons' Den (1,545,000). Republic of Doyle (1,026,000) had a strong outing at 9, helped by reruns of NCIS on Global (483,000) and Modern Family on City (500,000).
At 10, CTV's Criminal Minds (1,811,000) bested Global midseason import Off The Map (1,001,000).

THURSDAY
CTV owned Thursday night as usual with The Big Bang Theory (3,132,000), Hot in Cleveland (1,870,000), a simulcast of CSI (2,269,000) and The Mentalist (2,518,000). Surprise of the night was the strong showing by CBC's Genie Awards (480,000), which did better on the night than everything on Global save Bones (1,154,000). Consider too that t also had to go up against American Idol on /A\ (1.4 mil.+). TSN drew 815,000 for The Brier. CBC counted 434,000 for Doc Zone.

FRIDAY
Canadians love seeing others get screwed with crazy high cellphone bills. At least they do on Marketplace, which drew close to a million Friday night. The fifth estate followed at 595,000.
CTV did even better with their crime imports The Defenders (1,235,000), CSI: New York (1,617,000) and Blue Bloods (1,479,000). Kitchen Nightmares (762,000) is lifting Global out of its "also has shows on Friday night" funk; Haven did 232,000.

Lisa Rinna got trumped on The Apprentice
SATURDAY
HNiC Game One 2,095,000, Game Two 1,369,000. SNL: 372,000.

SUNDAY
CTV won the night with The Amazing Race (2,533,000), Undercover Boss (1,481,000) and CSI: Miami (1,877,000), with CBC galloping off with the 7 p.m. hour with Heartland (970,000). A two hour Celebrity Apprentice is a hit on Global with 1,333,000 tuning in to see Lisa Rinna get gang tackled by Star Jones and Dionne Warwick. The Simpsons did their usual 1,042,000, with Family Guy down to 682,000.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Review: brilliant start for Doyle on Endgame

The kidnapping storyline in the pilot does not wash. No kid would let a strange adult dye his hair, stick him in the trunk of a car and drive him hundreds of miles out of town without getting a tad freaked.
The rest of the first episode of Endgame, however, is pretty engaging and holds plenty of promise. The series premieres Monday night at 10 p.m. on Showcase.
Endgame isn't just on Showcase, it is a showcase for lead actor Shawn Doyle. The Newfoundland-born, Gemini Award-winning actor plays Alkady Balagan, a Russian chess grandmaster stuck in a high-end Vancouver hotel after witnessing the murder of his fiancee right outside the front doors.
The series was created and the pilot episode written by Avrum Jacobson, a showrunner on ReGenesis who also wrote Republic of Doyle out of a few corners last season. He hands Doyle a flamboyant, showy character; part House, part Garry Kasperov. Balagan wanders the hotel barefoot and in a bathrobe all day. Doyle came up with the blond hair and, as he calls it, the "Alberto V05 accent."
I interviewed Doyle (for The Toronto Star), Jacobson and co-star Patrick Gallagher (for The Canadian Press) on the Vancouver set of Endgame in January. They were 12 episodes into the 13-episode order at the time and both appeared to be very into their roles.
The rest of the all-Canadian cast, including Melanie Papalia, Torrance Coombs, Katharine Isabelle and Carmen Aquirre, are all excellent in the pilot. Each finds their way around the handsome set, which is designed after the lobby and bar area of Vancouver's Bayshore Inn. Giving the man character agoraphobia was a stroke of genius on Jacobson's part. In a Canadian drama, you really can only afford to build one terrific set, so find a way to keep as much as possible happening in that one space. Brilliant.
Balagan, too traumatized to leave the hotel but in need of money, gets asked to do a little detective work which triggers the whole premise for the series. He solves the crime by thinking like a chess player--six or seven moves ahead, using those around him as pawns to do his legwork.
It's a premise that might get corny in the wrong hands but Doyle plays it to the hilt, keeping it fun yet making us care. His by-play with Gallagher--so good last season on Glee--is gold. Gallagher, as Hugo the hotel dick, keeps trying to throw Balagan out after the Russian starts bouncing Czechs. Most of their scenes take place near a soon-to-close elevator door, with Hugo hopelessly (and hilariously) over his head when it comes to outwitting Balagan. Jacobson's dialogue is sharp, but retyping it here doesn't do justice to the way the two actors playfully bat it around. Suffice to say that this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Endgame is so good it should be on Global, not just Showcase. This could, in fact, be the best Global drama not yet on Global.

Japan, Egypt and Libya test News Networks

Where did you first learn about the devastation in Japan? For me it was through social media, Facebook postings, Twitter feeds. And while TV is still where most viewers turn to see coverage in times of disaster, it seems more and more redundant to do so. What was on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CBC News Network or CTV News Channel were scenes of flooding and earthquake terror that had already been posted on YouTube. Viewers no longer need Wolf Blitzer to take them through a Situation Room--they can create their own situation room right on their own laptop.
Even local news is being made over as home video technologies advance. Lawrence Diskin, producer of CHCH's Square Off, was telling me last week how Skype has enabled him to bring guests in New York or Ottawa into his studio mix in images that are surprisingly close to broadcast standard.
Seeing news is one thing but creating it is quite another. That social media speeds up and enhances coverage and even drives news has been evident for weeks during the rebellions that have swept North Africa and the Middle East. The place to watch it all unfold is Al Jazeera, a network still generally unavailable in the United States.
The Al Jazeera English feed, available in the Toronto market on Rogers Cable channel 176, lives up to its "All the news, all the time" slogan. The service seems more BBC News than any North American news service and not just because of the many on-air British accents. (The broadcasts originate in Qatar as well as in London and Washington; there are bureaus all across Africa and the Middle East). There seemed to be a greater emphasis on reporting and letting the pictures tell the story rather than on network personalities. When hosts introduced a topic, it was far headier than the predictable, polarizing, left, right single focus found on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. Experts were brought in for a segment to discuss the role of literature and art in revolution, for example. Another segment was devoted to the use of new media. There was no bias attached at the starting point, each topic seemed more of a true jump ball.
Another positive difference is the many correspondents scattered throughout the Middle East. Al Jazeera maintains real news bureaus and it shows. Like other news organizations, some of their journalists get too close to the action. Several were arrested and thrown out of Egypt, for example, during the uprisings there. When their people are on the ground, however, it really does bring viewers that much closer to the action.
The screen presentation is generally as straightforward and uncluttered as the content. Across the bottom of the screen is a slim, orange crawl, far less distracting than the hard blue band put up by Fox News, for example.
One of the reasons Al Jazeera may not be welcome in the U.S. is the unfiltered message which often comes through--that even as they struggle toward democracy, the region wants to be free of U.S. influence. There is a definite Yankee Go Home tone that would be challenged or unplugged in America.
Al Jazeera does fall into some of the familiar traps you find on North American news. The same experts seem to be called on again and again (especially on "Inside Story"). The Libyan commentators I saw seemed more focused on pushing their agendas than answering questions.
There is a level of passion from these commentators, however, seldom witnessed on North American TV. You almost expect one of these guys to roll up his sleeves and take a swing at somebody. It's like CBC's "At Issue" panel if it suddenly broke out into a hockey fight.
Some familiar faces turn up on Al Jazeera. David Frost chugs out of the past for "Frost Over the World." Even the singer once known as Cat Stevens was featured in a podcast.
If you don't yet subscribe to Al Jazeera, a live feed of the English news service can be streamed here. Cable and satellite packages in the United States should start offering the channel just to provide insight into world affairs too seldom explored in any depth on American TV news services today. The world is changing, and it would be a shame to miss it because the only thing being reported in your market was Charlie Sheen's latest tweet.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Shatner beams Genies up to 480,000

Never underestimate the appeal of The Shat: host William Shatner helped boost the Genie Award broadcast to 480,000 viewers Thursday on CBC according to overnight estimates. Not bad opposite The Big Bang Theory (3,132,000) on CTV. CBC's Genie broadcast, live from Ottawa, beat everything on Global Thursday night except Bones and more than doubled the estimated audience of timeslot rival Raising Hope (226,000).
Shatner's Genies also bested Global's Gemini Award broadcast, which drew 363,000 viewers buried on a Saturday night last November. That Canadian television industry salute was hosted by Glee Canuck Cory Monteith. Kudos to CBC for risking a weeknight in prime for the Canadian film salute.

This Week's Podcast: Sheen and Cinefest

Charlie Sheen. You're sick of reading about him, I'm sick of typing his name.
But he sure is easy to talk about on the radio, as I did today at Hamilton's CHML with Scott Thompson.
It was a historic week for the podcast as I traveled to Scott's Main Street West studio for the first time. It was cool to be in the inner sanctum, bouncing sound off the same cushy ceiling tiles where the late, great Bill Sturrup used to report on news and sports.
I've been yakking with Thompson once-a-week for five or six years but before today always phoning it in from home. It was great to finally yammer face-to-face. Scott makes it easy, he's always a step ahead of the TV scene.
The visit went so well I stuck around for two segments. Part one is all about Sheen including speculation on who might replace him on Two and a Half Men. Rob Lowe and John Stamos are named being bandied around but I throw somebody into the mix who make perfect sense. You can listen in on that half of the radio chat here.
Part Two gets in to where I'm headed next week: Syracuse, N.Y. for the 31st annual Cinefest film festival. This is it folks--a Sheen-free zone. Even Martin Sheen is too young for this festival of oldies.
This is where I got to know CHML's Sturrup, a fellow 16mm film collector and Toronto Film Society mainstay. Bill had a great passion and enthusiasm for classic films and his presence at Cinefest is missed. But the show goes on and for fans of silent and early sound cinema, there is no show like this one.
The films shown at Cinefest are from the vaults of private collectors as well as places where film is restored like the Eastman library in Rochester, N.Y. Most are too obscure even for TCM, titles that are not available anywhere on DVD or BlueRay. Stars featured this year are Gloria Swanson, George M. Cohan, Blanche Sweet, Rod LaRocque--even Betty White barely remembers these people! Everything is projected in glorious 16mm except for Saturday's 35mm screenings at the well-preserved Syracuse neighbourhood movie house The Palace Theatre.
Cinefest runs March 17-20 in a hotel off the I-90 in Liverpool N.Y.--about as far from Hollywood glamour as you can get. Look for Shorty in the dealer room, so named not for his height but for his passion--"shorts" or one- and two-reelers from the '30s and '40s, the kinds of movie theatre programmers that made stars out of Laurel & Hardy and The Three Stooges. I'll be in the dealer room too, trying to unload some of the stuff I've collected over the years.
Drop in for the daily rate of $25 or feast on four days and nights of films for $75. Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin hosts the auction Sunday and if you're into collecting rare posters, books, films and other goodies stuff goes cheap. Check out this year's Cinefest schedule here and listen in as I try to explain it all to Scott here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shameless plug/programming alert

Is there anything left to be said about Charlie Sheen? Find out today at 5:30 p.m. ET when I Square Off with old pals Mark Hebscher and Donna Skelly. The trip to Hamilton's CHCH superstation studio is to yak about the Two and a Half Men series killer and, yes, I will tell the Danny Bonaduce story one more time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ratings across Canada Feb. 28 to March 6

CBS says Charlie Sheen is out and he's never coming back. Does this mean Two and a Half Men is toast? Probably and CTV will miss it. No matter where they played it, on CTV or /A\, first run or rerun, it was an automatic audience magnet for eight strong seasons.
Maybe Sheen's next move should be to Canada. Hey, the CFL straightened out Ricky Williams. A few weeks on Little Mosque and he'll be running back across the border to kiss Chuck Lorre's ass.
Here's a look at the top shows in prime time in Canada, among viewers 2+. according to overnight estimates:

King of Castle Nathan Fillion
MONDAY
What was the No. 1 show in Canada last Monday? House? Sheen-shuttered Two and a Half Men? Nope, it’s Castle, which drew close to 2.3 million CTV viewers at 10 last week. Must be all those Canucks in the cast.
House was close behind with 2,266,000 overnight, estimated Global viewers. All those Sheenanigans drove a rerun of Two and a Half Men past the 1.8 million mark. The rest of CTV’s night went Mr. Sunshine (1,140,000), Mad Love (1,370,000) and Mike & Molly (1,576,000). Global’s new cop drama The Chicago Code did 1,354,000. Hawaii FIVE-0 repeated over a million.
City beat CBC with The Bachelor (755,000) and NBC mid-season pickup Harry’s Law (658,000). CBC went Little Mosque (561,000), 18 to Life (336,000), Village on a Diet (465.000).

TUESDAY
A 90-minute, early blast of American Idol was No. 1 on the night with 2,427,000 overnight, estimated CTV viewers. CTV threw S#*! behind it (950,000). Law & Order SVU capped their night (1,020,000).
There was no  Glee at Global, but the network finally got to run NCIS in simulcast and were rewarded with close to 2.2 million viewers. NCIS: Los Angeles followed with 1,856,000. The Good Wife at 10 drew 1,240,000.
The Habs scored 723,000 hockey fans over at RDS. City’s The Biggest Loser gained 681,000 viewers. On CBC, Mercer repeated at 650,000. InSecurity did 336,000—exactly what cancelled comedy 18 to Life did this week. Pillars of the Earth had a 596,000 finale. TSN won 547,000 with an Ottawa Senators game.

WEDNESDAY
Another 90-minute American Idol topped the night (2.5 million), with Global’s Survivor right behind (2,435,000) and actually ahead in the demos. CBC also had a strong Wednesday. Dragon’s Den did 1,843,000; a fun episode of Republic of Doyle 834,000.
Canada still loves Criminal Minds, with close to 1.4 watching the original on /A\ and 1.7 million checking out Criminal Minds SB on CTV. Mike & Molly gained 943,000 tucked behind Idol on CTV.
When the Leafs are winning, TSN wins; 1,173,000 tuned in for a Wednesday night tilt. City scored 703,000 with Modern Family. Back-to-back Raising Hopes raised just 275,000 and 250,000 at 9 on Global. The new drama Off The Map found 1,022,000 at 10.

THURSDAY
The Big Bang Theory wasn`t as big as usual in repeats (2,257,000). Hot in Cleveland drew 1,789,000 at 8:30. CTV got to simulcast CSI and that clicked with 1,649,000 viewers. The Mentalist did close to 1.8 million but then he already knew that.
This week`s third episode of American Idol did 1,529,000 on /A\. Habs on RDS scored 855,000.
Global slummed with Wipeout (730,000) and then four episodes of The Office, none of which cracked 400,000.

FRIDAY
CTV`s Friday: The Defenders (1,190,000), CSI New York (1,450,000), Blue Bloods (1,363,000). CBC went Marketplace (768,000), RMRepeat (475,000) fifth estate (603,000). Global, still scheduling Fridays, buried an old Bones (519,000), hid Haven (295,000), got zip from 90210 (245,000).

SATURDAY
HNIC Game One 1,666,000, Game Two 740,000. Miley Cyrus helped SNL to 450,000 (Hader's opening Sheen sketch helped).

SUNDAY
After slumping due an Oscar shift the week before, The Amazing Race beat everything else in Canada this week with close to 2.8 million overnight, estimated viewers. CTV also did well Sunday with Undercover Boss (1,425,000), Desperate Housewives (1,765,000) and CSI Miami (1,916,000).
Global had a stronger than usual Sunday with the two hour season premiere of Celebrity Apprentice drawing close to 1.2 million viewers.(Hatch surviving was crazier than Gary Busey.) The Simpsons did 1,055,000 at 8, with Family Guy offending 836,000 at 8:30.
Heartland galloped off with just under a million. CBC`s Sunday movie did 397,000. Another week shot to hell.