Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Royal Wedding: Wills & Kate Plus 8 (hours)

Here's my blow-by-blow take on The Royal Wedding as it appears online at The Toronto Star. The Star has a lavish, photo-packed Royal Wedding section Saturday, a great souvenir for fans of the royal family.
I set my royal alarm clock for 3:30 a.m. to check in on the coverage Friday morning but some networks, like CBC, began their coverage at 2 a.m. Among the 300 networks covering the event internationally were CBC, CTV, Global, Citytv, CNN, CBCNN, CTVNC, Sun News, RDI, ABC, CBS, NBC, BBCC, MSNBC, CPAC, TLC and Vision.
The first thing I learned when I stumbled in front of the set at 3:38 a.m. was that Westminster Abbey was chosen as the site of the wedding for its “more intimate feel.” That must have made the 1900 guests feel cozy.
CTV’s fashionista Jeanne Beker, bold in blue, balanced a goofy plate full of feathers on her noggin, giving her a touch of Who down in Whoville elegance. Hers was the first of about a thousand bizarre head warmers I encountered, including one tall stack of loops worn by a member of the wedding party that looked like a Wipeout prop.
CTV’s corner countdown clock ticked off how much time was left till the wedding, at this point about the length of a full hockey broadcast.
Over on ABC, where Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters shared a parade desk, some NYC professor was already opining that “if this goes wrong I think the British monarchy is really finished.”
It all actually went off without a hitch, a tremendous, worldwide ad for Britain, Inc. Read more about the live coverage here, including the bits cut out of the Stars print section like:
4:15: The Becks hit the carpet and all networks trained cameras on Victoria’s spider-y hat, which looked like it could pick up a digital UHF signal. Somebody cracked that Beckham looked like one of the Thunderbirds.
5:35: Cracks were made about the drab grey vans dropping off members of the wedding party. The family had the real rides. Charles and Camilla were shown arriving in the Rotweillermobile.
And on it went until around 8:40 a.m. It all got packaged and re-sold Friday night and will likely replay all weekend on CNN. Cheerio.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Catching up with Kevin Newman

Had lunch two weeks ago in Toronto with Kevin Newman, the Global National News anchor who walked away from his job last summer. I've always respected Newman's integrity and judgement as a newsman. He takes his responsibility seriously and clings to a standard that is uncompromising.
He struck me that way when he was the guy reading the news on Midday 20 years ago at CBC. He has batted for the Canadian TV news cycle during a 30 year career, working in key roles at CBC, CTV and Global. Newman was mentored by some of the greats at ABC during a seven year stint in New York, where he became particularly close to Peter Jennings. The fellow Canadian gave Newman an American flag as a parting gift when the latter returned to Canada to host Global National. Newman still runs it up the flag pole every fourth of July.
All of that is well and good but catching up with Newman today has other rewards. Like many of us who have bounced around the media business for several years, he's reinventing himself. New-man, get it?Newman's great advantage, as he will freely admit, is he drew a handsome national news anchor salary the past decade at Global and--with his kids having graduated and on their own feet--was able to sock some of that away for this what-do-I-want-to-do-next raining day.
Still, he could have just kept taking the money and never acting on this itch he has to scratch. Good on him for seizing the day, it is a courageous thing to do.
The other good reason to have lunch with Kevin Newman is the feeling he's on to something. You quickly get that he's made a commitment to answer the question many of us are fumbling with: What's next? What is our skill set and how will we fit in? I wish I had Newman money to throw at that one, but if you're lucky enough to have lunch with him, pay close attention and try not to look like you're picking his brain.
For more on Newman and what's he's up to today--and why he's quite content to be watching this election from the sidelines--follow this link to this story I filed yesterday at The Canadian Press.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

This week's podcast: a royal pain

I've been saying all along that you'd have to pay me to get up in the middle of the night and watch the bloody royal wedding. Well, somebody is doing just that.
The Toronto Star has asked me to "overnight" this William and Kate thing. The story will run in the Saturday Star.
I have a royal hissy fit about it in this week's radio chat with CHML's Scott Thompson, but really, hey, a cheque's a cheque and they always seem to clear at The Star.
Although, here's the thing, CBC coverage begins at 2 a.m. Bloody Hell.
Scott thinks this is hilarious and wonders why there isn't a royals reality show. Don't even joke.
I see where NBC News anchor Brian Williams has ditched the royal shin dig to return home to the States to report on the devastating storms that ripped through the South Thursday. Exactly right. (Besides, the crew from The Today Show, right, will stick around for the royal thingamajig.)
We also talk about Steve Carell's departure from The Office (tonight at 9 p.m. ET on NBC/Global). Apparently he's being replaced by Charlie Sheen.
Scott also asks about this new reality talent series The Voice, Katie Couric's departure from The CBS Evening News, rumours of a new Latino talent search show starring J-Lo and her husband and a bunch of other stuff I don't care about. You can listen in here.

Late Night joke of the week

...goes to Jay Leno for this quip from Wednesday's Tonight Show:

"The man who invented the teleprompter has died at the age of 91. When President Obama heard the news, he was speechless."

Hubert "Hub" Schlafly, also a satellite transmission pioneer, did indeed pass away April 20. He co-invented the scrolling text device in the late '40s according to this obit from The Washington Post.

Say "Goodbye, Michael" tonight on The Office

Tonight at 9 p.m. on The Office (NBC and Global), Michael Scott makes his final, awkward goodbye.
A year ago, Steve Carell announced he was walking away from this gig as his seven year contract expires. There's a ton of speculation as to who will replace him as the new district manager at the Scranton, Ohio, office of Dunder Mifflin, with Will Ferrell (guesting again tonight), Jim Carrey and even original British boss Ricky Gervais rumoured to be stepping into Carell's squeaky shoes.
My hat is off to Carell for making a graceful exit. Seven years is a long time to be working this show-within-a-documentary premise. Carell has somehow kept it fresh and funny but with The Office in syndication he's already competing nightly against some classic early episodes. Best to go while the going's good.
Executive producer Greg Daniels insisted there was still plenty of grist for office yuks when I spoke with him last January at the NBC TCA press tour party. He says there are a lot of young writers working on the show and the rest of the cast was still pretty pumped.
Daniels also gave a shout out to a Canadian showrunner on his other show, Parks & Recreation--Norm Hiscock. The Montreal native and Emmy Award-winner impressed with his work on Daniels previous series, King of the Hill and went on to pen several episodes of Corner Gas. "He's a delightful Canadian," says Daniels. "If anybody deserves a feature story, it's Norm Hiscock. You have to look him up."
Looks like I'll have to look him up!
Meantime, say "Goodbye, Michael," with tonight's Office episode. I've written more about Carell's departure and his impact on this series in an article in Thursday's Toronto Star. You can read the full Star story here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sun goes up, Sun goes down

Hard to imagine a new network getting more pre-launch publicity than Sun News Network. The so-called "Fox News North" generated plenty of press in the months leading up to its April 18 start. Not just in the main stream press, or across Sun News owner Quebecor's Sun Media chain, but the launch got plenty of play on Facebook sites and Twitter feeds and, yes, especially on blogs like this one.
Or was it just a media story? Despite launching in the middle of a federal election when news appetites are generally peaked, SNN has barely created a ripple in the ratings. After scoring in the 30,000 to 40,000 range on opening day, the service has slipped down to 10,000 to 20,000 viewers per hour across Canada.
Or worse. This past Sunday in prime time, SNN's Charles Adler drew 7,000 viewers at 8ET, Brian Lilley 4,000 at 9 and Ezra Levant 2,000 overnight, estimated 2+ viewers at 10 p.m.
Compare that to CBC News Network's overnight, estimated 187,000 viewer tally Sunday at 9 and soon even Dr. Ho is going to start asking for make goods on those insole ads.
It is only one week, and most of us are watching hockey (3.82 million watched Vancouver's Game Seven overtime win Tuesday night on CBC), but the low, community programming-level SNN numbers likely have not sat well with the brass in Quebec. In a chain-wide editorial penned by no less than parent company CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau, Quebecor tried to own the story Wednesday by claiming a Conservative operative deliberately led Sun News astray with a phony news tip.
For a closer look at the first week Sun News Network numbers, check this story I filed today for The Canadian Press.

Take me to your ratings leaders

Doctor Who takes Space to a scary high
Looking for numbers? The latest weekly look at the complete primetime picture can be found over at Toronto.com's "Remote Control" section, jump to it here.
Among the leaders across Canada the week of April 18 to 24 are two Stanley Cup round one playoff games involving the victorious Canucks (whew!) and the Canadiens which came in around the 3.5 million viewers range. Hockey fans so far, however, are pretty much sitting out games involving teams from California.
American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Survivor: Redemption Island and The Amazing Race all drew near or past their 2.5 million averages in a week that saw no new Big Bang Theory on CTV. Canadian scripted winners included The Listener (873,000), The Kennedys (down 10% in Week Three on History to 489,000), History's Canadian Pickers (336,000), The Borgias on Bravo! (258,000 and just renewed for a second season in the U.S. on Showtime), Sanctuary (up slightly in Week Two to 235,000) and Wipeout Canada on TVTropolis (231,000).
The big winner on Space Saturday night was the premiere of the sixth season of Doctor Who, which drew 538,000 overnight, estimated viewers, the most-watched show so far this season on Space.
UPDATE: Oops! Showcase has been premiering so many shows lately I forgot to report one. King fought her way into the Sunday night winner's circle, scoring 207,000 viewers. The cop drama, starring Amy Price-Francis, was Showcase's most-watched show of the night.
Also XIII, starring Stuart Townsend as a spy who can't remember why, opened to 134,000 viewers on Wednesday April 20. The second episode airs tonight at 10 p.m. on Showcase.

Do not adjust your set

The Easter weekend plus a flurry of print assignments has derailed the TVFMF machine the past several days. As Regis Philbin says, "I'm only one man!" Another busy week ahead, but postings will resume today. Thanks for you patience and for checking back.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

DVD review: The Ernie Kovacs Collection

If you're here reading this you've probably at least heard his name. Ernie Kovacs died nearly 50 years ago, in January of 1962, victim of a car crash ten days shy of his 43rd birthday. You've probably seen pictures of his face with those dark eyebrows, moustache and constantly lit cigar, looking like some sort of Hungarian Groucho Marx.
Kovacs said some smart things, including television is called a medium "because it's neither rare nor well done."
What you've probably never seen is Kovacs in action, aside from a few clips. Thank God for The Ernie Kovacs Collection (Shout! Factory, SRP $69.97).
The 6 disc, 13-hour DVD boxed set is a TV archivists delight. Crammed with extras, including a 44-page booklet, it does Kovacs right.
The discs are filled with the mainly black and white, often highly experimental programs Kovacs did throughout the '50s and into the '60s. He headlined around 20 shows, sometimes more than two or three at once, sometime on competing networks--at the same time. Kovacs worked for ABC, CBS, NBC and Dumont. He'd have burned through Fox, Comedy Central and be on to the History Channel by now.
One reason he kept bouncing around is not everybody got him. Kovacs shows are as eccentric as he is, and eccentric tends to burn out fast on television. He seemed very modern in that his shows are kind of designed for short attention spans. A skit will commence and when it starts to get boring it will end and something completely different will happen next.
Some of his humour seems macabre and creepy today. A little kid is bugging Kovacs the carpenter in a quickie "black out" sketch. The carpenter is drilling through a piece of wood with a hand screw. The kid puts on a Halloween mask. The carpenter screws through the wood into the kids head--rotating it around with every turn of the screw.
Sometimes sketches would be intercut with stark black and white images of sound waves while Kovacs would wail tunes from the Three Penny Opera. His signature bit, the Nairobi Trio, was almost nightmarish. Kovacs, wife Edie Adams and a third person (sometimes revealed as a celebrity pal like Frank Sinatra or Jack Lemmon) would don grotesque rubber gorilla masks, bowler hats, band uniforms and perform "Solfeggio"--or at least beat each other over the heads to the jaunty tune. Mel Brooks says it provoked "dangerous laughter."
You can see Kovacs influence on a lot of TV that followed. Laugh-In producer George Schlatter talks in one of the DVD extras about how Kovacs style and energy influenced Laugh-In. Chevy Chase and David Letterman have both acknowledged they were fans of the comedian. Craig Ferguson, born after Kovacs died, pays homage to him every night when he breaks out the puppets or dismisses viewer email (not unlike Kovacs' oblivious Mr. Question Man).
A feature film based on Kovacs life, starring, say, Robert Downey Jr., needs to happen. The man has an intriguing off-screen life, ringing up huge gambling debts, engaging in practicle jokes, never sleeping. His headstone actually reads, "Nothing in moderation."
That he dared to put his personal vision out there, and that Adams spent a great deal of the remainder of her life (she died in 2008) collection and archiving these shows, is a television miracle. Kovacs is an acquired taste, but Shout! has made it possible to acquire it.
I wrote more about The Ernie Kovacs Collection for The Canadian Press. You can read that story here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This week's podcast: more Sun spots

Scott Thompson at Hamilton's CHML hadn't seen it yet, but he wanted to talk about the new Sun News Network. I think one of the mistakes they made opening night was not delivering a big name guest. Brian Mulroney is Chairman of Sun Media and would have been a prize "get." Brian Lilley spent a great deal of time goofing on "Mulroney the Opera" and it would have been fun to hear the ex-PM weigh in on that. Even more interesting would be to hear him dance around Harper. Word is Mulroney's not a fan. Twenty minutes of Mulroney opposite Akin or Adler would have helped viewers take this deal more seriously as a news op and not dismiss it--as Adler referenced on his radio show Wednesday--as "Skank TV."
In the absence of big name guests, Sun News personalities seemed to interview each other opening night (see photo, right), which was lazy at best. Maybe the big guns are a comin', it is only Day Three.
Scott also asks about the Stanley Cup playoff ratings. They're good but not spectacular so far, with Canucks and Canadiens pushing toward the 3 million mark. Games involving Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Nashville and other U.S. markets are pulling about what a regular season game would draw on TSN. If The Leafs could ever make the playoffs, Stanley Cup ratings would triple. Fans and broadcasters can dream.
You can listen in here.

Ratings across Canada now up at toronto.com

Looking for the numbers? Ratings for the week of April 11 to 17 are over at "The Brioux Report" at toronto.com; jump to them here. They show the Canucks and the Canadiens are, as you'd expect, the big draws so far in the Stanley Cup playoffs, scoring the top two audiences of the week to CBC with overnight, estimated crowds of 2,841,000 (Saturday) and 2,638,000 (Sunday).
Other top shows of the week include The Amazing Race (2,569,000), Dancing with the Stars (2,527,000) Survivor: Redemption Island (2,480,000, American Idol (2,455,000) and the return of Thirteen on House (2,402,000).
The Listener (940,000) continues to perform on Fridays. Sanctuary returned with 216,000 overnight, estimated viewers on Space. Canadian Pickers (591,000) and The Kennedys (530,000) are making history on History.
All the election debate numbers are there too. But why aren't viewers watching Friday Night Lights (218,000)?

Showcase hopes XIII its lucky number

Stuart Townsend is spy with no name XIII
Love interviewing the Irish. That gift of the gab makes my job that much easier.
Stuart Townsend is no exception. I spoke with the Howth, County Dublin, native on the phone late last week and flipped the conversation straight into a feature for The Toronto Star. You can read that story here.
Townsend is starring as a spy in search of his past in XII, which premieres Wednesday night at 10ET. The suspense thriller seems like the 13th Canadian-produced series in a row to emerge from specialty this month. Showcase in particular has been going nuts lately, pumping out new scripted shows faster than I can keep up with them. Maybe ACTRA can cut Shaw a break and picket some other network when Global hosts its annual upfront next June.
King premiered April 17 and stars Amy Price-Francis (The Cleaner) as a cop working Toronto's Major Crimes Task Force beat. Yes, another cop show. Gabe Hogan (The Kennedys, Rent-A-Goalie) plays officer King's third hubby, Tony Nardi her boss. The pilot seemed pretty seen-it-before and with Flashpoint and Rookie Blue on the beat, kill me now if somebody launches another Canadian cop show. Price-Francis, who paid her dues working virtually every scripted show shot in Canada in the past 10 years (including Train 48, Snakes and Ladders and Show Me Yours) has sass and sparkle which should enliven a drama with a bit of a dark comedy tone.
Hogan and Price-Francis star in Showcase's King
Shawn Doyle's Endgame (Mondays at 10ET) launched last month on Showcase. A new hospital drama, The Hot Zone (starring Elias Korteas and Michelle Borth), is in production in Toronto.
Other prominent Canadian-produced (or co-produced) specialty series launched in recent weeks include The Borgias (Bravo!), Wipeout Canada (TVTropolis), The Kennedys (History Television), Canadian Pickers (History) and Top Chef Canada (Food Network). After some pretty aggressive marketing and promotion, all seemed to jump out to fast starts but there was steep second and third week fall offs in a crowded and competitive field. Some, like The Borgias and The Kennedys, seem to cry out for a CTV and Global window.
Smart launching them all opposite the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, though. If you're not into the games, here's some brand new, Canadian, counter programming.
Townsend joked on the phone about shooting a series set largely in France in Toronto in the winter. He noticed even the crew was grumbling about the snow as it kept coming down in January, February and March.
He met Seth Green a few years ago while the two were shooting The Best Man. Green talked him into providing voice overs for his fearlessly adolescent animated comedy Robot Chicken. What does the Irish native get to play? The Lucky Charms leprechaun as a raging alcoholic. "To me, it's a dream come true," joked Townsend. "Career highlight for sure."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sun News opening night: hard numbers

The Sun News Network wasted no time getting into the thick of the Canadian TV all-news channel race. The fledgling service launched to 37,000 overnight, estimated 2+ viewers Monday at 4:30. The first edition of Ezra Levant`s The Source dipped to 31,000 at 5ET, finished last in the news channel race opposite CBC News Network (97,000 at 5, 109,000 at 5:30), CNN (53,000/67,000)and CTV News Channel (35,000/44,000). Still, not bad for an opening night on an uneven playing field, with Sun News--available free to Shaw and Videotron subscribers for six months--still not available on Rogers (although seen throughout the GTA on Sun TV).
David Akin was Sun News‘ biggest draw in primetime with 51,000 viewers opposite CBCNN at 7 (97,000) and 7:30 (109,000). Brian Lilley (17,000) draws the toughest Sun News timeslot opposite the 9 p.m. edition of The National on CBCNN (176,000).
That hockey game on hated CBC Monday night? Drew over 2.3 million viewers. Icing!

Sun News Network: CBC must die!

Ezra Levant hosts "The Source"
Blinded by the Sun! That's what happened to CBC Monday night. The Sun News Network got off to a scrappy start, mugging the CBC at every quarter hour. It was as if 50 years of CBC hate got its own TV special.
It was all part of the fearless free speech policy at the Quebecor start up. The launch party/relentless self promotion started with afternoon host Krista Erickson leading viewers on a tour of the Sun News set. Some viewers may have been distracted by Sunshine Girl Erickson's micro-mini. She charged through introductions of several news players, including a former Miss Canada and other babes. It brought back memories of Naked News, without the naked part or the news part.
We quickly met the station's star player, Ezra Levant. All red-faced and sweaty, he brought back memories of Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. He stood behind a podium, making him look like he was about to take on Watson in Jeopardy! as I wrote in the review posted overnight by The Canadian Press. He said he was there to "stand up to bullying from the nanny state."
He was also quick to say, "if you disagree with us, ignore us," and then made that impossible, piling on with the freedom of speech rhetoric. "I'm a Castro, I can fill four hours a day," said Levant, who later proved it by showing up as a guest on Sun News shows that came on after his.
Levant proved you can show cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on the air without the sky falling in Canada. Then he launched a virtual jihad against the CBC, the first in a series of endless attacks on the public broadcaster.
David Akin hosts Daily Brief
Levant had Toronto Sun founding editor Peter Worthington on as his special guest. The old print lion showed he never lost the ability to tell it like it is, denouncing the traditional press (including his own paper?) as cowardly. Sun editorial master Mark Bonokoski was also woken out of bed and hustled to the studio in what promises to be a steady parade of Sun Media staffers. He was still a little grumpy Tuesday morning when he tweaked me for "editorializing" and not declaring I have an axe to grind for weighing in on Sun News. (I was the Toronto Sun's TV critic from 1999 to 2007). Who knew that free speech sword had a double edge?
Levant gleefully denounced the CRTC as a heavy-handed battalion of bureaucrats. These were the guys, after all, who denied Sun News their coveted Category 1 specialty licence. He shredded the CBC voter compass, effectively demonstrating its Liberal bias. Aside from the attack ads broadcast throughout the evening, it was the only Liberal bias on view.
Levant eventually gave way to a much more conventional news hour anchored by David Akin. His show is called Daily Brief which, as my son pointed out, "sounds like its about underwear." The Ottawa news veteran handled interviews and directed traffic and did it all with CBC News Network precision. That actually seemed out of place on this night. Better to have Sun News delivered by Gary Busey.
Other shows followed but all night there was much more talk, little news. You'd never know an election was happening in Canada outside of those political ads. After all the rhetoric of this being Fox News North, there seemed a deliberate reluctance to wave the Harper flag.
Theo Caldwell followed and brought an evangelical intensity to his assignment. He seemed a bit uptight and over dressed, like the rich kid who gave Peter Parker such a hard time in those Spider-Man movies.
Charles Adler appears nightly at 7ET
Veteran radio host Charles Adler seemed less threatening on TV, yakking with a buddy at one point about Cuba. Adler wondered if things might be over for the Castro boys.  Quick check of the calender and yup--still 2011.
Brian Lilley came on at 9 and hammered CBC again, this time for investing money in "Mulroney the Opera," a Canadian movie written by my old pal Dan Redican. If it was Chretien they were goofing on we'd be seeing it nightly at 10. Lilley kept showing a graphic of money going down a CBC drain.
The good news for Sun News is nothing fell over, nobody got bleeped, the screen never faded to black. It was a pretty smooth premiere for a long night of promotion and opinion. The bad news is that they're going to have to do it all again today and again the day after that and all on a pretty minimal budget. They probably shook things up at CBC headquarters to the point that panic may be starting to set in should Harper win a majority. Levant has potential to be appointment viewing just to see if he might burst into flames or morph into Howard Beale on air. It`s good to see a whole bunch of people get jobs in the news business, and Dr. Ho find a whole new network to sell those nifty insoles. They`re flexible, baby!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Warning! do not look directly at the Sun

The countdown clock is ticking! Just 1:21:37 to go before SUN News hits the air according to the giant digital countdown clock they've had up over at the old SUN TV station all day. They've also got some generic, swelling, David Foster-y Muzak blaring while the clock ticks down to lift off. I've been taking chemical baths, colonics, doing bending exercises, gargling, all in an effort to best withstand and review the enterprise. You can feel the excitement.
I filed a perspective piece setting it all up yesterday for The Canadian Press. SUN News "personality" David Akin read it and went all Woodward and Bernstein on my ass, tweeting, "CP piece from Brioux was weakest on launch of Sun News - unsubstantiated opinion masquerading as news."
Hey, don't blame me David--I was trained in this racket at The Toronto Sun!! Still, Akin's entitled to his opinion, or his news take, or...geez, I wonder if the line will get any blurrier once SUN News hits the air?
In any event, SUN News is shaping up to be the great Canadian hockey fight of on-air journalism. Just folks pulling sweaters over heads and flailing away. And it all starts at 4:30 p.m. ET. Helmets on, Canada!

Monday podcast: Days of Our Afterlives

On the Monday chat with WIMA Ohio morning man Mike Miller, the topic was the demise of TV soaps. It was announced by ABC last week that long-running daytime dramas One Life to Live and All My Children would end in September and January. They enjoyed runs dating back to the late '60s and early '70s. They had to either cancel them or change their names to Two Lives to Live and All My Grandchildren.
Forty-odd years ago when these shows were new, there was a big audience for a little daytime lust. There were still plenty of housewives around to sell soap too, and companies like Proctor & Gamble crammed these daytime dramas with ads for Tide, Cheer and Camay.
Soaps also enjoyed a big college following. Fans who discovered Victor Newman while in university are retiring with him today.
All My Children diva Susan Lucci
And that's the problem. Eric Braeden is still arguably the biggest star in soaps and even he had to take a pay cut two years ago to keep The Young and the Restless in production. Susan Lucci is probably better known now as a punch line on Hot in Cleveland than from All My Children.
Soaps served a function beyond entertaining fans on a daily basis. They were also farm teams for actors and writers bound for prime time dramas, with people like Kelly Ripa, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Josh Duhamel and Christian Slater all began their careers on One Life to Live. Tom Selleck and David Hasselhoff also got their starts on soaps.
That was before DVRs/PVRs, TV on-demand and other home entertainment options shoved soaps aside. Celebrity reality shows also changed everything. There were more real life nuttiness happening with the Kardashians or the Osbournes or in the Big Brother house than writers could concoct on daytime dramas.
General Hospital, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful remain for now but the clock is ticking. Mike and I kick it around. You can listen in here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Premiering tonight: Game of Thrones

Peter Dinklage
According to message boards at fan sites, Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage were the consensus choices to play Ned Stark and Tyrion Lannister, two key roles in Game of Thrones (premiering Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Canada).
Both have fantasy cred, with Bean especially memorable in Lord of the Rings and Dinklage in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
Bean, as he told critics at the last TCA press tour in Los Angeles, has no problem being typecast as a medieval warrior. “I happen to enjoy playing those kinds of roles with riding horses and swinging swords and having fights and wearing wigs and growing beards,” he says, “even though I don’t first thing in the morning when it takes three hours to get ready.” The Englishman adds that, in his opinion, production values on Thrones are “unlike anything I’ve seen on any other production, including Lord of the Rings." Mark Addy (King Robert Baratheon), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Lena Headey (Queen Cersei Lannister) and Iain Glen (Ser Jorah Mormont) are also part of the large cast. Those cast as members of the Dothraki tribe—a race of nomadic warriors—had to learn an 1800 word language created especially for the project.
Emilia Clarke, Sarah Jessica Parker
The 10-episode season was shot in Northern Ireland as well as locations in Malta. Several directors were used, including Thomas McCarthy, who directed Dinklage in The Station Agent, and HBO favourite Timothy Van Patten (Boardwalk Empire, The Pacific).
Fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin, who cut his teeth in television in the early '90s on the romantic fantasy series Beauty and the Beast, wrote the eighth episode of the series but is begging off any further TV writing assignments. There is, after all, that unfinished fifth instalment of the novels to complete. “I have a mob outside of my house with pitchforks and torches that are already very irritated about book five being late, and after that, I have books six and seven,” he says. “So as much as part of me would like to be part of the process, I think I better stay where I am and finish the books because, of course, the real scary thing is if these guys catch up with me...”
Read more about Game of Thrones in the article I wrote in this month's copy of Movie Entertainment magazine.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

This week's podcast: debating the debates

The federal leaders election debate got debated with Scott Thompson on this week's CHML radio podcast. Tuesdays english language debate drew a robust viewing audience: CTV 1,371,000, CBC 1,142,000, Global 597,000. Just 72,000 watched on TVO, moderator Steve Paikin's home base.
Strong numbers, but you know, almost as many people watched the premiere of Canadian Pickers on History Television Tuesday night (591,000) as watched the leaders debate the same night on Global. Make your own joke about picking through trash in search of substance here.
I watched some of the french language debate Wednesday and found it amusing that the voices of the translators somewhat matched the sound of the candidate's voices. As was observed on Twitter, Harper maintained that steady HAL 9000 drone; Iggy sounded Harvard haughty. Thought it was interesting Ignatieff addressed the camera rather than the candidate Wednesday night, a note he should have heeded more 24 hours earlier.
The set still looked like something Phil Donahue had rejected in the mid-'70s.
I suggest to Scott that Elizabeth May was not missed at these debates and recall with horror the year they made them all sit around a table like it was a really lame version of TV poker.
You can listen in here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Happy to see Elisha Cuthbert`s Happy Endings

She's best known as Jack Bauer's danger girl daughter on 24, or as a Maxim pinup girl, or as Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf's main squeeze. But I still think of Elisha Cuthbert as the young teen from Popular Mechanics for Kids.
She was headlining that cool little 'tween magazine show along with some kid named Jay Baruchell when I first interviewed her in Toronto 14 years ago--or, in her terms, half a lifetime ago.
Tonight she stars in Happy Endings, the best of the rom-coms that have been comin' 'atcha all winter and spring. It premieres at 9:30 p.m. ET on Citytv and ABC.
A lot of critics are calling it a Friends ripoff. It reminds me more of How I Met Your Mother, but I find it edgier than either of those shows. The dialogue is pretty damn snappy tonight, you`ll want to PVR it to keep up with some of the twentysomething put downs.
I wrote more about Cuthbert and her Happy Endings in a story for The Canadian Press. You can read the full story here.

Toronto.com now also Feeds My Family

If you've come here looking for the weekly Canadian TV ratings, follow me here to toronto.com. The folks at The Toronto Star have teamed up with toronto.com in an expanded content sharing deal, and I've been invited to join the team providing TV coverage every week. You'll still find out how The Big Bang Theory (over 3.2 million viewers again to top the weekly list), Dancing with The Stars (2.6 mil+ Mon.), American Idol (2.5+ Wed.) and all the other top shows fared, as well as how Canadian-produced efforts such as The Listener (nearly a million Friday!) and Republic of Doyle (1,033,000 for the season finale) did.
I'll provide a short summary and a link here each week and continue to blog and podcast and review and all the other nonsense that goes on here at TV Feeds My Family. Think of it as the same great weekly report but with fewer spelling mistakes.
I'm excited about the new arrangement for several reasons. One, it will get the weekly insider look at the Canadian ratings race out to a wider audience, and puts me in the company of a team of Toronto Star television experts. Most important for the "feeds my family" part, it monetizes the weekly effort of compiling and analysing the complex Canadian ratings picture. So take heart bloggers--there are revenue streams beyond Google ads. And to think it only took 1500 TV Feeds My Family posts to get to this point.

Leaders debate: the sound and the fury

I tried the old Kennedy/Nixon radio vs. TV test with Tuesday night's Canadian Federal Leader's Debate. According to pundits at the time--50 years ago--Richard Nixon sounded presidential and won that first televised presidential debate if you only listened in on the radio. On TV, however, his five o'clock shadow and flop sweat did him in and well-tanned John Kennedy scored with viewers, especially the babes.
Today, candidates all have handlers and stylists and nobody ever looks too goofy, but there was a difference in how the debate sounded and was seen. Stephen Harper's low level monotone came across relaxed and cool on the radio, very prime ministerial. Michael Ignatieff sounded shrill and pissy. Jack Layton was reasonable and friendly. Gilles Duceppe sounded funny.
On TV, Harper looked as washed out as he sounded, greyer than ever. Was he wearing pink lipstick? It seemed that way but that might have been because there was so little colour anywhere else on his face. The glasses looked too small, like they were borrowed from his aunt. The shiny lapel pin was very Jay Leno. He steadfastly refused to look at his opponents throughout the debate, addressing only the camera, which was creepy. He kept that phony debate smile in check as if the impulse had been cut out of his brain.
Layton looked good and debated, as Kennedy would have said, "with vigga" throughout the two hour deal, helping to dispel any health concerns. The cane by his podium (Jacko recently underwent hip surgery) was a nice badass touch. Stuck well back in the polls, he loosened up and went for it and pulled Iggy's pants down at times even further than Harpers.
As a result, Iggy didn't appear quite as tailored, his tie crooked and jacket less starched, like he was late for some Harvard lecture. His good suit didn't come back for you or from the cleaners. Tall and gangly behind the podium, he could pass for Lincoln if he'd worn a stove pipe hat and bad beard. His best moments--when he wasn't cramming in too many over coached sound bites--were his spirited one-on-one attacks on Harper, who was wise to back off that reckless two man debate suggestion. What sounded shrill on the radio seemed more agreeable and passionate on TV.
Gilles Duceppe wore a killer suit and tie and looked like he just stepped out of Korys on the Danforth. With that searing voice and those wild blue peepers, plus that low, Joe Fraser stance, he comes on like Cloris Leachman's character from Raising Hope--you know, nuts. Jean Chretien, choking a guy crazy. His rant about how Harper will register cars and dogs but not guns was, however, gold.
The set looked like it was picked up half off at IKEA. They should just use the set from Deal or No Deal Canada with the big Maple Leaf on the floor. The models with the suitcases could still stand behind them and open up the cases now and then to show how much money all the promises will cost Canadians.
Steve Paikin, who makes more money than any of these guys, did a good job refereeing and sticking to the schedule. Too bad no real network could ever afford him.
I tweeted during the debate and that may be the radio/TV test of the future. It was fun tracking others in on the #db8, from Rick Mercer ("I think Iggys battery just rebooted mid sentence") to Kevin Newman to Michael Moore to banished Green Party leader whatshername.
One of Moore's observations: "140 chrctr CanadianPM debate sumry: Should we b more like U.S.--more guns, less health care? Privatize services? Tax breaks 4 rich?" he also joked that "Justin Bieber sang a song at the mid-way point. Also, all candidates picked up after themselves."
Tweeting gives a real time read on how the whole debate deal goes down, and that may someday be a vote cincher. Everything moves faster now. The next two days of spin could be old news if you already sorted this out with your #FF's on line.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tonight: Canadian Pickers go for "rusty gold"

Some people think there’s too much junk on TV. Here are two guys who want to see more.
Scott Cozens and Sheldon Smithens (above) are the hosts of Canadian Pickers, a new scavenger series premiering tonight at 10 p.m. on History Television. The two Calgary-based antique enthusiasts root through stuff collected by individuals all across Canada in search of “rusty gold,” treasures hidden amidst what others might see as trash.
The two dress cowboy causal with a little Wild West flair, which basically just helps them blend in with the locals. “Most collectors have a streak of eccentric in them,” says Cozens, who has a day job as a lawyer. “Some have taken it to a different level.”
In tonight’s opener, a totem pole gets uprooted, a metal horse that was once a wind mill weight is lifted and several antique radios are picked up for a song.
The series follows the same search-and-find formula that has made American Pickers such a success on both sides of the border. That series has drawn as many as 700,000 viewers to History, a network-like number on the Canadian specialty channel.
With so many flea markets and antique shops spread coast-to-coast, as well as private collections in attics and barns, it’s easy to see the appeal of these shows. Everybody collects something, and almost as many people are selling these days—especially on places like eBay—as buying.
Smithens and Cozens, who were in Toronto last week to promote the series, admit it is a buyers market right now in the antique business, although they’ve both seen a bit of an up tick in the past year. Some times people just hold on to things too long, says Cozens. “I have a Madam Katzenjammer tea cozy that used to be worth $1200 bucks,” he says. “Now nobody even knows who the Katzenjammer kids were anymore.” (They were among the most popular newspaper comic strip characters in the early 20th century.)
People tend to hold on to their grandparents china or furniture thinking these family heirlooms are money in the bank when in fact the market isn’t generally interested in that stuff any more, says Smithens. And if you’re holding on to something because it says “limited edition,” forget it, says Cozens. “It’s only limited to how many they can sell.”
Star Wars souvenirs from the ‘70s, for example, have more dealer value than movie collectibles from the ‘20s or ‘30s.
The two men have their own special interests. Smithens tends to covet arts and crafts or art nouveau furniture and jewellery. Anything with a Hudson Bay logo on it also catches his eye. “Throw a beaver on anything, I’m interested,” he jokes. Cozens is always on the lookout for pre-WWII advertising, Teddy Bears and G.I. Joes.
While Canadian Pickers takes them right across Canada in search of “rusty gold,” both tend to see Quebec and Ontario as generally the best places to root for collectibles. “Winnipeg is also a hot spot,” says Cozens. “It was the Chicago of the north 100 years ago.”
Rooting through history has turned these two into field experts in every sense of the word. That’s why it makes sense that they’re on History Television, says Cozens. “We look at ourselves as running a parallel path to museums,” he says, “except we don’t hide our treasures in vaults or basements. We try to bring it out in the open so everyone can see it and enjoy it.”
Or buy it. Smithens and Cozens sell many of the items they acquire on the series at their own private eBay, canadianpickers.com. That’s also where fans can check out the “Picker’s Handbook” and scan the “Pickipedia” for antiquing tips.
Smithens and Cozens met while sorting through collectibles. According to Smithens, “Scott used to take advantage of me in my shop.” Cozens says it was Smithens who always took advantage of him. “He’s the hard bargainer on the show.”
Viewers who like to do their own picking can pick up a tips from watching these two in action. Smithens and Cozens rarely offer one price per item, preferring instead to ask the values as they move through a collection and then lump several items together (including some stuff they really don’t want) in order to get a best price for the entire lot.
“We don’t do as much of that on the show as we probably do in real life,” says Cozens. “It’s hard to tell a story on 40 different items—plus it drives our cameraman crazy.”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Top Chef Canada gets to the point

Hats off to the marketing and publicity folks at Shaw Media for indulging in a little old fashioned ballyhoo. 
If you bought any groceries over the weekend in a major Canadian city, chances are your goodies were divided on the checkout conveyor by a cardboard knife courtesy Top Chef Canada. The series, a homegrown spinoff of Bravo's popular Top Chef, premieres tonight at 9 ET/10 PT on Food Network Canada. Sixteen Canadian chefs battle it out to win the $100,000 cash prize. Toronto restaurateur and celebrity chef Mark McEwan (owner of North 44) acts as Head Judge with Thea Andrews hosting. The chefs, from all across Canada, can also win a $30,000 kitchen.
Top Chef Canada comes hard on the heels of the launch of Wipeout Canada as a reality series Canadians can finally take part in. So when do we get to play Canadian Survivor?
The other nifty marketing idea was wrapping the Saturday edition of The Toronto Star in actual news reports culled from the Kennedy years in order to promote The Kennedys, which launched Sunday night on History Television. It was a nice nostalgic touch and also a good read.
Speaking of The Kennedys, follow this link to the video I shot for The Canadian Press of the red carpet premiere in Beverly Hills earlier this month.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review: The Kennedys

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: The Kennedys is not a documentary.
There's been a lot of, "I knew Jack Kennedy...and you're no Jack Kennedy," going on in response to this controversial miniseries, which premieres Sunday night at 9 p.m. on History Television. (A hot potato in the States, it bowed last week on Reelz). Not just TV critics but historians, academics, politicians and others have weighed in on the shot-in-Toronto epic.
Bobby never once referred to his brother as "Jack" in public, we are told. Joe Sr. was never a "shoe-in" as a Democratic nominee for president. And, sure, where the hell is Teddy? There's no sign of him in all eight hours of the mini.
So, yes, executive producer Joel Surnow--the 24 boss who is the much maligned as the "Rightie" behind this $30 million project--and writer Stephen Kronish took some liberties. And while there is plenty to nitpic, by in large, they stuck to the fascinating, real life story.
The fact is, it is a hugely compelling tale. There's sex, violence, mystery, intrigue, humour, good guys and bad guys, wild twists, cliffhangers and really original characters. The handsome leading man has an over-riding tragic flaw. The patriarch is ruthlessly ambitious. The heroine is charming, graceful and mysterious. The times were historic and explosive. Then there's that whole crime of the century sub plot.         
Who wouldn't want to tell this story? Well, anybody who is afraid to fail. Fifty years later, for Boomers at least, this history is still almost too fresh. For anyone under 40, Kennedy is that guy who sounds like Mayor Quimby on The Simpsons. The family has become a brand, a cartoon, a punch line--everything but flesh and blood.
I've seen six out of eight hours of The Kennedys, two of them on a big screen at the red carpet premiere in Hollywood two weeks ago. When I'd heard Greg Kinnear had been cast as JFK I just didn't think he had the height or the gravitas. The most pleasant surprise then for me is how he seizes this role "with vigga," as the ex-president used to say.
Kinnear does a nice job growing along with Kennedy as he moves from privileged young playboy to war hero to reluctant candidate to the highest office. You understand why the chiefs of staff would dismiss him at first as a rich kid who's family bought their way into the White House. By the Cuban Missile Crisis, you witness a transformation in Kennedy through Kinnear--as both earn kudos and respect.
Kinnear is at his best when the script call for him to show some of the throw-a-way Kennedy wit and charm. He lets you behind the Harvard veneer and shows the wheels turning. Kennedy was great on his feet, especially in those televised press conferences, so unrehearsed and open compared to today's limited political stagings.
The other insight exploited in The Kennedys is the unique dynamic of the brothers. Bobby, played with sensitivity and aggression by Barry Pepper, was Jack's bad cop at the big table, fiercely loyal and protective as well as a wise counsel in private. At first glance, Pepper bears little resemblance to RFK, but by the third hour you totally buy him as Bobby Kennedy.
The same cannot be said of Katie Holmes as Jackie Kennedy. She looks the part but has none of the grace or stature and her accent seems to change every time she opens her mouth. Jackie Kennedy comes off as a bit of a drag, which was not how it went down at all in the early '60s.
Some of the other casting is hit and miss. Flashpoint trigger man Enrico Colantoni has fun with J. Edgar Hoover, the deeply embedded FBI chief who hated the Kennedys. Colantoni plays him pretty much like that cartoon thug from those Bugs Bunny cartoons, which seems about right. The guy who plays Frank Sinatra will not be named here so as to not expose him in the witness protection program. Serge Houde brings badda-bing, badda-boom swagger to his role as crime boss Sam Giancana. There are many other Canadians in the cast, as detailed in this article I wrote for The Canadian Press.
Family plan: Kinnear, Wilkinson and Pepper
Tom Wilkinson shines in the early hours as patriarch Joe Kennedy, the S.O.B. behind the dynasty. Another stand out is the production design of Rocco Matteo, who stuck to a subtle palate. The Kennedy White House is very empty, subdued and traditional, a work in progress that Jackie never finished. Matteo resisted giving it all a Mad Men sheen, allowing the characters to seem very at home in this world.
Director Jon Cassar, a former 24 showrunner, keeps the story moving forward at a brick pace--although not so brisk that you expect Jack Bauer to crash the scene and prevent the assassination. (Memo to Surnow--tell me there's not a time-travel movie in that.)
Bottom line, if you're old enough to remember the real Kennedys, you'll quibble with some of the details but you will be drawn in to the story and these characters and you'll want to stick around for all eight hours (shown weekly in two hour chunks by History). If you're not, don't take this as history, take it as a slightly less enhanced version of reality television--and check out the real JFK on YouTube.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Premiering tonight: Taking on Tyson

A few years ago, people wondered what planet Mike Tyson was on. Tonight, for the premiere of his new reality series Taking on Tyson (9 p.m. Thursday), he's on Animal Planet.
The former heavyweight champion is the key figure in this astonishing six-part series which shows Tyson fully engaged in his very unusual hobby: training pigeons. No joke. The dude grew up in Brooklyn and has a lifelong fascination with the lowly pigeon. In fact, he threw his first punch when a neighbourhood bully killed one of his pigeons right in front of him. Now, with a few of his bird buddies, he breeds them and builds fancy coops for them. He races the pigeons as far as 965 km in distance where they're tracked from coop to coop with GPS technology.
I ran into Tyson last January on the network press tour in Pasadena. He was at the least likely of places--Oprah Winfrey's OWN launch party. But there he was, chatting up Oprah`s gal pal Gail King.
Not that long ago I would have been afraid to approach Tyson for fear he might chomp my ear off. But there he was, in a cool grey suit, checking out the snacks.
The way the guy has rehabilitated his image in the last few years could give hope to Charlie Sheen. He got raves for his comedy turn in The Hangover and told me he'd already shot his scenes for The Hangover II. I told him I genuinely admired his searing honesty in the 2008 documentary Tyson. He said he was moved to tears watching George Chuvallo articulate the painful loss of his family in Facing Ali, another excellent boxing biography.
Tyson can laugh at himself now as evidenced in the recent Comedy or Die "Oscar Talk" sketch he does with film critic Leonard Maltin. Critic Tyson thought The King`s Speech was more of that "only in America bullshit. I`ve heard enough of that for one lifetime." Maltin told me Tyson was a pussycat at the taping, which came about rather quickly; Maltin says he got one day`s notice.
Check out the rest of that video below, and if you want to see a whole other side of one of boxing`s most feared champs, watch Taking on Tyson.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This week's podcast: replace Couric with Sheen

This week, CHML's Scott Thompson seemed concerned that Katie Couric is leaving CBS News. Reports this week confirm that, after five years as anchor of The CBS Evening News, Couric is ready to try something else, perhaps a talk show. She will stick around long enough to cover the royal wedding.
Who can replace Katie, Scott asks. My suggestion: Charlie Sheen.
Hey, more people get their news today from Charlie Sheen than any other news source. Well, not quite, but maybe soon. Plus, does Katie have Tiger blood? Is she a Vatican assassin? I don't think so.
Fact is, NOBODY in Canada watches the CBS Evening News. I'm betting most Canadians reading this now could not name the current ABC World News anchor. In Toronto, on an average night, two thousand people might check Couric out on the local Buffalo CBS affiliate. There are more people at any given moment in Canada at your local mall.
CBC could simply rerun old newscasts of Walter Cronkite. The mainly older crowd that still watches nightly network newscasts would feel better about themselves and their country. The network would rake in the same revenues from pharmaceutical companies that use the newscasts to push boner pills and adult diapers. Adding Sheen would probably bring more med ads for bipolar diseases and rehab sites as well as lower the demo.
As for the news, you get it here, on this mobile devise, iPad or laptop, every time you connect with your browser. That's where you first heard Couric was bolting CBS News--not on CBS News.
Scott also asks about the launch of Wipeout Canada on TVTropolis, those relentless election attack ads and stations pulling episodes of The Simpsons. You can listen in here.

Season finale: Republic of Doyle

Time flies when you're having fun watching a TV show. Tonight marks the second season finale of Republic of Doyle (9 p.m., CBC). It seems like the series had just returned and boom, it is over again. Damn these shortened CBC seasons.
Many shows suffer a bit of a sophomore slump and writer/producer/star Allan Hawco's breezy St. John's detective drama was no exception, at least at the start of the season. Some of the fun of seeing an old fashioned car chase shoot 'em up had worn off. Great characters had been established, especially Doyle dad Malachy and his Rose (brilliantly played by Sean McGinley and Lynda Boyd). Expectations had been set for the series to take a leap forward. Instead, in January, we got more spinning tires. The ride was always fun (especially in that '68 Pontiac GTO), but it seemed like we were going to the same old places.
The series got more interesting as the season went on and Wednesdays finale, written by Hawco, is crammed with everything that makes Doyle fun. There's a big name Canadian guest star (Hawco's mentor, Paul Gross, playing Doyle's evil ex-cop partner).  There's plenty of action, including kidnapping, robbery and extortion. As usual, guys get punched and shot. Beer is consumed. There's a great deal of heart, especially in the final minutes, where a cliffhanger plays out to the tender wail of The Pogues' "Dirty Old Town."
There are plenty of holes in this plot, too. Some of the urgency seems beyond heightened. With the bad guy in custody, wasn't there plenty of time to search through those warehouses? Shortcuts are taken in logic, but this is a TV series for viewers who love a Rockford Files-style P.I. romp. Doc Zone it ain't.
At the end of tonight's episode there are many questions: will the series be essentially re-booted next season? Will several key regulars be back? Almost everybody but Hawco and the blue Pontiac seems at risk. Even young Tinny (Marthe Bernard) may be moving on. There are so many suggested goodbyes it seem more like a series finale, although there is no danger of that. Republic of Doyle has been a solid CBC performer this season, hitting the million mark on a few occasions despite airing opposite mighty American Idol. It was long ago renewed for a third season.
One regular I hope is back: Krystin Pellerin (right). As the cop with a crush on Doyle, she breaks your heart in tonight's finale.
Then again, you can't have too much of a happy ending on a season finale of Republic of Doyle--not if you want this series to go on for a long, long time. As wise Malachy says to Jake, quoting Orson Welles, if "you want a happy ending, you need to know when to end your story."
Thing is, Welles never had to write himself out of this many corners in a third season opener. Citizen Doyle returns in January.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ratings across Canada March 28 to April 3

CBC said goodbye to most of its regular series this week with several season (and one series) finales. NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 13 on CBC--without the Leafs.
It was the return of a comedy that made the biggest noise this week: The Big Bang Theory. Chuck Lorre`s CBS laffer exploded Thursday, drawing over 3.2 million overnight, estimated viewers. The second highest-rated show of the week in Canada was that kooky musical episode of Grey`s Anatomy, dismissed as Hospital Rock by several critics.
Here`s how it all played out across Canada among viewers 2+ according to overnight estimates:

MONDAY
Dancing with the Stars continues to waltz off with the highest ratings of the night, scoring and overnight, estimated 2,666,000 viewers. The two hour reality import was followed by Castle, which also won its CTV timeslot with 1,774,000.
This left just 1,076,000 for a rerun of House on Global at 8, followed by the new police drama The Chicago Code (638,000) and a rerun of Hawaii FIVE-0 (818,000).
The season finale of Little Mosque managed 582,000 CBC viewers, followed by the series finale of 18 to Life (344,000). A Halifax Comedy Fest outing drew 297,000 at 9. Fancy at 9:30 had not-so-fancy numbers (137,000).
To make room for Dancing, CTV slid its entire Monday night comedy lineup over to /A\ and the results were nothing to laugh at. Mr Sunshine all but went dark at 163,000. Mad Love did 437,000, a rerun of Two and a Half Men 632,000 and Mike & Molly weighed in at 638,000. City had a decent night with How I Met Your Mother (546,000), The Event (426,000) and Harry’s Law (507,000).
Over at Showtime, Endgame saw its audience dip to 106,000 in week No. 3. Save the King!

TUESDAY
With Glee in reruns on Global, CTV won the night in total audience. It helped that Dancing with the Stars was again stretched over two hours, drawing 1,269,000 for a recap at 8 and then 2,047,000 for the results show at 9. Law & Order: SVU arrested 1,249,000 at 10 p.m.
Global started soft with that Glee rerun (848,000) then had solid hours out of NCIS: Los Angeles (1,730,000) and The Good Wife (close to 1.2 million).
The season finale of the Rick Mercer Report, featuring Mercer’s final election rant, did 1,236,000. There was the usual steep drop at 8:30 for InSecurity (362,000) followed by last week’s Air Farce tribute to the late, great Roger Abbott (638,000). The National at 10 nudged up near the 800,000 mark.
The new Dana Delany mid-season hospital drama Body of Proof showed signs of life on City with 651,000 viewers. The Biggest Loser at 8 gained 594,000.
The Leafs late season playoff surge netted 872,000 for a game against the Sabres on Sportsnet Ontario. American Pickers at 10 p.m. on History found 546,000 viewers. (Look for Canadian Pickers to bow April 12.)

WEDNESDAY
Another sweep for CTV, starting with a two hour American Idol at 8 (2,670,000). The 8 o’clock hour was a pretty competitive three way race, however, with Survivor: Redemption Island drawing close to 2.4 million on Global and the season finale of Dragon’s Den on CBC topping 1.7 million.
Republic of Doyle, which airs its season finale cliffhanger this Wednesday night (featuring Paul Gross), counted 730,000 viewers at 9 opposite a rerun of NCIS on Global (630,000) and a new Criminal Minds on /A\ (1,064,000). A Modern Family rerun picked up 343,000 viewers on City.
At 10, CTV’s Criminal Minds: SB (1.8M+) topped Global import Off the Map (1,069,000).
Two late season NHL games, featuring Montreal at 7 (493,000) and Calgary at 9:45 (522,000), were draws for TSN.

THURSDAY
Hey! Keep that singing down! We`re trying to operate!
Did it seem like weeks had gone by before a new episode of The Big Bang Theory? It was, and the series exploded with 3,216,000 viewers upon its return. Once again CTV won the entire night, with Hot in Cleveland following with 1,788,000 viewers. At 9, that musical episode of Grey’s Anatony hit a high note for CTV (3,178,000) followed by The Mentalist at 10 (2,215,000).
CTV’s only loss on the night was in early prime, where ill-fitting CSI: Miami (948,000) could not match CBC back-to-back import gamers Wheel of Fortune (1,018,000) and Jeopardy! (1,032,000), at least in total viewers.
The American Idol results show was back over on /A\ where 1,336,000 managed to find it. /A\ also scored at 9 with old reliable CSI (926,000).
Otherwise, CTV’s big night pretty much wiped out the competition, although Wipeout on Global at 8 drew 737,000. None of the comedies that followed, including three episodes of overplayed The Office, cracked more than 270,000 viewers.
Rules of Engagement (502,000) was the big draw over on City, where shows like Community (93,000) and Parks & Recreation (114,000) do no repeat well.
CBC held steady with two Royal Doc Zones (448,000 and 549,000).
Sports fans were all over at TSN for a late season Leafs/Bruins tilt (1,306,000).

FRIDAY
Play ball! The Toronto Blue Jays home opener was a home run for Sportsnet, scoring 1,085,000 overnight, estimated viewers.
Marketplace continues its strong season, taking the 8 p.m. timeslot with 869,000 viewers. That edged CTV’s relocated The Listener (851,000) and easily beat Global spy spoof pickup, Chaos (522,000). Global does have other shows on Fridays; Haven picked up 223,000 at 10.
CTV took the rest of the night with the usual strong outings from crime imports CSI: New York (1.9 million) and Blue Bloods (1,771,000). CBC’s fifth estate came within three thousand of the 700,000 mark.

SATURDAY
HNiC Game One 2,162,000; Game Two 1,192,000. Elton John helped Saturday Night Live to a hefty 522,000.

SUNDAY
Wipeout Canucks Esmer, Phillips, Torrens
Kind of a lazy Sunday, with CTV winning most of the night despite the lack of big guns. Undercover Boss (1,137,000) cruised at 7 now that CBC's Heartland is done for the season. Nature of Things did 520,000 in its new Sunday slot.
No new Amazing Race, so CTV vamped with reruns of Big Bang (1,586,000) and Two and a Half Men (1,138,000). Desperate Housewives netted a shade under 1.5 million at 9. CBC threw a movie into the mix, with mixed results (339,000). Global's Fox 'toons went Simpsons (835,000), Family Guy (651,000).
Global took the 10 o'clock slot with Richard Hatch going from the boardroom back to the slammer on Celebrity Apprentice (1,388,000).
Toronto Maple Leafs beat Minnesota to the delight of 749,000 Sportsnet fans. The Bravo! premiere of The Borgias scored a heavenly 575,000, the biggest series audience in seven years for the CTV specialty channel. Wipeout Canada on TVTropolis splashed down with 510,000 viewers.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Borgias, Wipeout both make splash

The Borgias won the Canadian specialty ratings Holy War Sunday night. The Canadian/American/Hungarian drama drew 575,000 overnight, estimated viewers to Bravo! for its 10 p.m. premiere. That was the largest audience for a TV series on Bravo! since 2004. U.S. broadcaster Showtime also had their prayers answered by the Jeremy Irons-led papal saga. The Borgias scored a total of 1.5 million viewers on Showtime Sunday night, their largest series opener in seven years.
Wipeout Canada also made a splash on TVTropolis Sunday night, scoring 510,000 viewers. The two half million-plus specialty audiences is further proof that--whatdayaknow?--Canadians will watch Canadian-produced television, especially if there's a chance somebody might get baptised.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunday premiere: The Borgias

Have you noticed that all the big noise Canadian TV premieres are suddenly all over on specialty? Wipeout Canada gets off to a flying start Sunday on TVTropolis, Top Chef Canada comes to a boil April 11 on Food Network, The Kennedys start their campaign next Sunday, April 10 on History Television and the $40M+ historical drama The Borgias launches Sunday at 10 p.m. on Bravo!
Not that long ago, big ticket productions like The Kennedys and The Borgias would have exclusively launched on mother networks Global and CTV. But with shows like American Pickers (watch for Canadian Pickers to launch April 12 on History) and IRT: Deadliest Roads drawing twice as many viewers on History than original Canadian dramatic fare like Shattered did on Global, programmers are happy to let their big guns fire over on the free money tap specialty brands.
The Borgias is the latest sword and sandals epic, arriving just in time for viewers missing their fix of The Tudors. It stars Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, a scheming Cardinal who basically buys his way into the papacy as 15th century pontiff Alexander VI.
Shot in Hungary, taking full advantage of the rural countrysides just outside of Budapest--as well as the mammoth Korda Studios, where The Borgias was spread over five soundstages--the series is Neil Jordan's baby. The Academy Award-winning Irish director (The Crying Game) has been trying to make a movie out of the saga of this notorious family for a decade. When it was finally suggested to him that it would make a fine series over at Showtime, he sat down and wrote the first nine episodes--by himself.
Jordan also directs the first two hours. That's how much I've seen of The Borgias. Irons is suitably malevolent--he looks more and more like Karloff every day--and brings much needed stature to the roll. Young Canadian Francois Arnaud plays eldest son Cesare and gets the lions share of the action. Holliday Grainger (Merlin) plays infamous Lucrezia Borgia; she's a little too school girly in th early going. Dependable Colm Feore is outstanding as Cardinal Della Rovere, Borgia's nemesis. Feore is a worthy adversary and brings holy conviction to the role.
There is a lot of plot in the first two hours, which bogs down at times. It is all beautifully shot, with the most impressive star being Francois Seguin. He's the French Canadian production designer responsible for the magnificent sets. There is some CGI work used to fill in some of the backgrounds but most of The Borgias is shot on standing sets designed by Seguin and built over a matter of months in Hungary.
I had a chance to walk the exteriors built just beyond the soundstage walls. Watch Sunday's opener and be impressed. They say Rome wasn't built in a day but Seguin managed to build a 15th century facsimile in a matter of weeks. 
I interviewed Irons in Pasadena last January on the TV network press tour. He's a lot less menacing in person; in fact, he's downright friendly. You can read that story here in The Toronto Star.
Feore and Arnaud I spoke with last October in Hungary while on a visit to the set. Feore is such a Renaissance man he belongs on this set. Read more about both of them here in this story I wrote for The Canadian Press.
RATINGS UPDATE: The Borgias opened big on Showtime, boasting the U.S. premium cable network's best ratings for a new drama series in seven years. Roughly 1.5 million Americans caught the series Sunday night according to Neilsen overnights.