Thursday, June 30, 2011

Will & Kate Plus 8 days in Canada

Are you a royal watcher? Need to know what Wills & Kate are up to on their cross-Canada trek? Me neither but here at Toronto.com is a handy royal stalker's guide for your mom. Coverage begins today at 2 p.m. ET with the pair landing in Ottawa, then it's off to Burger King for a Whopper. CBC News Network and CTV News Channel are all over the rest of their freebie trip to the colonies, including Friday's Canada Day festivities. Ta.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This week's podcast: Sheen is dead to Lorre

This week, Scott Thompson starts off by pointing out that there are two things I hate talking about: award shows and Charlie Sheen. Then has asks me for the umpteenth time about Charlie Sheen!
Word is Two and a Half Men executive producer Chuck Lorre will explain Sheen's absense next season by killing off the character. Of course he is! The only way Lorre would continue cranking out more episodes of this series would be if he could get some satisfaction that Sheen could never ever set foot again on his set. Except he could still come back as a ghost, or in flashbacks, or in some sort of "all a dream" storyline. Sheen's supposed to get his own series, so maybe he can kill off a character on that one named Chuck Lorre.
Scott also asks about Game of Thrones, says he hears it's pretty good. HBO has renewed it for a second season. I ramble on about how these sword and sandal epics are made possible thanks to international co-production money and technological advances. An army of thousands is really 45 Hungarians standing in a field. Later, in post, CGI effects make them look like 45 thousand. If you only half listen it will sound like I actually  watch the series. He also asks about the new Steven Spielberg drama Fallen Skies starring Noah Wyle (ER). Much of it was shot in Hamilton, which is where Chuck Lorre would like to shoot Charlie Sheen.
You can listen in here.

Rookie Blue arrests 1.4 mil in sophomore debut

"Young lady--right down to the office..."
The second season debut of Rookie Blue scored 1,380,000 Global viewers last Thursday. Not as impressive a start as last year (or as Combat Hospital's nearly 2 mil opening tally last Tuesday) but not bad considering it faced a strong summer night opposite CTV. Check out all the ratings for last week across Canada now at The Brioux Report over at Toronto.com.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Late night joke of the week

From Monday's Conan:
Rod Blagojevich was found guilty of trying to sell President Obama’s Senate seat. As the verdict was read, Blagojevich’s face remained expressionless while his hair remained ridiculous.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Charlotte Sullivan: Rookie sings the blues

That amazing start for Combat Hospital has to be a great sign for the folks behind Rookie Blue. The Toronto-lensed cop drama is back for a second season starting tonight at 10 p.m. ET.
Both shows are cross border co-productions, airing on Global and ABC as summer series. Combat Hospital's launch to two million viewers across Canada shows there is a strong appetite for original scripted fare amidst all the summer R&R (reality and reruns).
I spoke with creator and executive producer Tassie Cameron and stars Missy Peregrym and Charlotte Sullivan a few weeks ago in order to advance the Rookie Blue return for The Canadian Press. You can read that story here. Cameron, a former Canadian Film Centre grad, has become one of the top showrunners in Canada after launching Blue and writing and production stints on Flashpoint, Degrassi and The Eleventh Hour.
Cameron and Peregrym are both great fun on the phone but the bright discovery was Sullivan, a free spirit who I also bumped into a few months ago down in Los Angeles at the red carpet premiere for The Kennedys. Sullivan played Marilyn Monroe in that History Television miniseries.
Her Rookie Blue cop character Gail Peck is more of a brat, a role Sullivan quickly embraced. "She's a strange little cat, for sure," she says, "a lot more eccentric and morbid, always the black sheep of the group."
And that's why Sullivan loves her. "I know that sounds strange because a lot of people hate her. She allows me to do things--I'm a weirdo in real life."
Sullivan doesn't look like your run-of-the-mill weirdo--all blone hair and blue eyes, she looks like an Ivy League  prom queen. But she's different, that's for sure. Instead of the usual actress-y spin about how she's ready to go Hollywood, Sullivan insists she's just as much a rookie in her profession as her character is on the police beat. "I'm always scared--I feel like a rookie in real life," she says. "Every time the camera’s rolling, I feel more and more green."
Just when I thought I might have to give her a pep talk she adds, "I'd rather be green, because once you're ripe, you start to rot."
Sullivan says she looks to her cast mates Enuka Okuma, Gregory Smith, Missy Peregrym and Travis Milne, above, to help her through scenes. "What should I do on this take?" she says. "More often than not they put some weird idea into my brain and something will pop out of me that’s either appropriate or not appropriate."
It all seems to be working, I offer. Sullivan doesn't sound convinced. "I’m constantly freaking out about work, whether or not I still want to do acting. I think you have to be really, really, really good at this, and I feel I’m no where near that point yet. I have a lot of work to do if this is what I want to do with my life."
Geez, I began thinking, I'm going to have to start charging by the hour for these interviews. "Relax, you're on a hit show," I offer. "If it’s a hit, its certainly not because of me--I'm lucky to be with these people."
Okay, this is modest, even for a Canadian! Sullivan's apparent lack of confidence and/or self esteme sure hasn't held her back. The 27-year-old is in post production on Edwin Boyd, the true life tale of the infamous Canadian bank robber. In recent years, she's appeared in everything from MVP to The Listener to Defendor and the cable fantasy mini Alice.
Just like on the show, her friend and cast mate Peregrym has Sullivan's back. "I need to say something," Peregrym says when she hears Sullivan has been trash talking herself again. "Charlotte is fantastic. She always talks about how she doesn't know what she's doing. I wish she could see herself the way we all see her in the show."
Career aside, Sullivan really is a lot weirder than she looks. She could hardly wait to spill the beans about a crazy-ass prank she was dying to pull on her fiancee. The prop guy at Rookie Blue had fixed her up with one of those creepy pool of blood things. "I'm going to lie on the floor of my bathroom, with the blood coming out of my head, just to see if he cares for me or not."
Holy crap. I hope the dude isn't a regular here at TV Feeds My Family, I'd hate to spoil the surprise. "Maybe I'll make a crash noise--I haven't quite planned it all out yet."
No surprise then to learn the film which inspired the Toronto native to become an actress: Edward Sissorhands. "I was little, and it was such an incredibly morbid, strange world, I just thought, I want to be in that movie.
"I remember my mom saying they’ve already made it, it's done, and I balled my eye balls out—-literally, my eyeballs came out of my face."
Now that's acting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

This week's podcast: Combat Hospital treats 2 Mil

This week, Scott wants to talk about the MMVAs, which were a big hit at the Thompson household on the weekend. Something to do with his kids being weaned on all them Disney-coms, shows like Wizards of Waverly Place, where MMVA host Selena Gomez just spent six years of her young life.
Combat's top doc Elias Koteas
We also talk about the Vancouver riots, which seemed to get more coverage than the last federal election. There's some talk about summer shows, including Combat Hospital, which opened Tuesday night to an astounding 1,959,000 viewers--great news for the folks down at Kandahar on Kipling in Etobicoke. That's an even stronger opening than Rookie Blue registered last summer. Rookie Blue, by the way, returns Thursday night to start a second season.
A new reality show, Expedition Impossible, also bows Thursday night. CTV has picked up this Mark Burnett/ABC series, which is hosted by Canadian zoologist and adventurer Dave Salmoni. The show features competitors pushed to their physical and mental limits--like trying to drive home in rush hour along the Gardiner, dodging falling chunks of concrete and construction lane closures. Wait, that's what Toronto viewers have to contend with just to get home in time to see Expedition Impossible.
Anyway, it's all on the radio chat. You can listen in here.

Bieber fever boosts MMVAs over a million


Justin Bieber (above on the red carpet), Lady Gaga and host Selena Gomez (who did a pretty good job,  I thought), helped boost Sunday's MMVA take on MuchMusic to 1,009,000 overnight, estimated viewers. That's a record take for the Video Awards, up 10% over last year.
For the rest of the ratings for the week of June 13-19 across Canada, including the numbers for Flashpoint, Murdoch Mysteries, Dan for Mayor and Hiccups, new Showcase comedies Almost Heroes and Single White Spenny and the final ever (?) episode of Endgame, check out the weekly Brioux Report over at Toronto.com.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

M*A*S*H meets Etobicoke in Combat Hospital

When you're watching tonight's debut of the new Global drama Combat Hospital (10 p.m. ET), try to get your head around the fact that is is shot in an old glass factory in Etobicoke.
The medical series is set in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and is based on the experiences of an actual Canadian team of military medical personnel who worked a portable medical field unit from 2006 to 2009.
Shaw Media hosted a press day on the set a few weeks ago. It was a bit like old home week for me. I grew up in that hood, on Dundas near the Six Points, and the series is based at the old Corning Glass factory just a few blocks south of what's left of the Westwood Theatre. Close enough to Apache Burger that you can almost taste the onion rings.
The set designers flew in and sprinkled around tons of Afghan dust to make the outdoor set look as authentic as possible. A helicopter was part of the background, as were a series of army barracks. The whole fake military compoud was set up in eight weeks.
They're already calling the place Kandahar on Kipling. Elias Korteas, who's been in three Atom Egoyan films, stars as a veteran army surgeon who cracks the whip at the new hotshots saving lives at the M*A*S*H unit. Michelle Borth (Hawaii Five-0) plays spunky Canadian surgeon Dr. Rebecca Gordon; Luke Mably (The Gates) is showboat Brit neurosurgeon Dr. Simon Hill; Deborah Kara Unger (The Hurricane) plays an intriguing Australian army psychiatrist; Terry Chen (Sanctuary) is trauma team leader Captain Bobby Trang and Arnold Pinnock (The Listener) plays Commander Will Royal, Chief of Nursing.
The pilot, written by veteran executive producer Daniel Petrie, Jr. (The Big Easy), grabs you early as Borth's character runs a pregnancy test in the middle of a rough military plane landing. Korteas adds a quiet air of seen-it-all authority and Unger gives everything thrown her way a saucy twist.
The cast began shooting this episode late last March. Pretty damn cold for Kandahar, so look tonight to see if you can spot any tell tale "see my breath" moments. Cast members, already shivering in the cold in summer army fatigues, had ice in their mouths to try and keep the steam out of the shots.
A screaming book deadline is keeping me from getting into more detail but look for more on Combat Hospital here in a week or so. Shot some fun Flip cam footage of the set and hoping to post up with that as soon as the book deal is done.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Justin Bieber's gal pal Gomez rocks the MMVAs

OMG!! The MuchMusic Video Awards air Sunday night beginning at 9 p.m. on--where else?--MuchMusic. This seems way past the bedtimes of the Bieber fans now targeted for this 'tweenie bopper music industry salute. The Jonas Brothers hosted last year and Disney teen (and Justin Bieber sitter) Selena Gomez hosts tonight; next year it could be that 10-year-old who sang on America's Got Talent.
I interviewed Gomez several weeks ago in advance of the awards, you can read that story here at Toronto.com. The Texas teen, who turns 19 next month, is already a showbiz veteran having literally grown up on Barney & Friends and later on her own Disney comedy Wizards of Waverly Place. There was a bit of a media freak out when she popped into an LA hospital last week following an appearance on The Tonight Show. (Can't blame the kid; I sometimes feel sick just watching The Tonight Show.)
Gomez has her own band (Selena Gomez and The Scene) and will come up sell as many iTune downloads as parents can afford and that's basically what this marketing hype machine is all about.
Other kid-appeal acts scheduled to make the scene at the old CHUM/City building on Queen Street West are stars from Degrassi and Vampire Diaries, although Colin Farrell (in town shooting Total Recall) and Snoop Dogg are also scheduled to present/perform so parents maybe should wait in the car and be ready to grab their kids back as soon as this thing blows over. Karl Wolf, The Midway State (who rocked the recent CBC upfront), Foster the People, Foster The Hewitt, Alyssa Reid, Danny Fernandes and David Guetta are also set to perform.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Vancouver 2011: dousing the Olympic flame

I'm on a screaming tight book deadline and an even more pressing CP deadline but I have one thing to say about last night in Vancouver.
Shame on these hooligans creeps who left such a black mark on such a beautiful city. Billions of marketing dollars rained on this impressive Olympic town the past few years, showcasing it as a vibrant and progressive travel destination, a playground, and these punks literally set it all on fire.
There's some petty regional snickering working into the Twitter-feed today. Some of it funny: "At least Toronto doesn't ever have to worry about a sports riot," quipped B.J. Del Conte.
Many today are also dismissing this as the work of a few criminals. More troubling, to me at least, is the possibility that this is symptomatic of something more widespread and sinister in the true north strong and free.
It's one thing for a few cement heads to bring shame to a city over a sporting event. But how do you go from bar baiting and name calling to blatant, mindless, mob-driven looting and violence?
Canada--a subset of certain Canadians?--seems so obsessed with being perceived as "world class" that it is today being re-evaluated as classless around the world. American friends on Facebook in the last 12 hours are leaving status messages such as "Vancouver? Really?"
Tim Goodman and others have written in the past about the "Dumbassification" of America, the social spiral down that enables Kardashians to be celebrated for being Kardashians and oddballs and egomaniacs to take serious runs at the White House. Canadians have always been rather smug about that, but aren't we also sliding towards some sort of "Assholeification" ourselves? Are we allowing our children to accept the notion that. by embracing the least noble and most aggressive tendencies of American culture--some sort of steroid-fueled form of flag waving jingoism--we are somehow stronger and more relevant as a nation?
The talented Canucks tried this approach on the ice and blew it. In the end, it just wasn't them. Even if it had worked, winning ugly wasn't really what any true hockey fan wanted.
Let it be a warning to us all. "Beat 'em in the alley, beat 'em on the ice" never meant beat 'em in the streets. We have to ask, where is this anger coming from? Stand on guard Canada.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

This week's podcast: Stanley and Charlie

"Everybody's striking what are we to do? Let's just turn on the TV," says CHML's Scott Thompson. We talk up tonight's seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals, which I predict will crack seven million viewers on CBC--a record.
It's a different story in the States. Numbers for the games are down a bit on NBC in the U.S. compared with last year, where big market U.S. cities Chicago and Philadelphia took part.
We also talk Charlie Sheen (there are rumours he's looking for a new sitcom), John Cryer musing Ashton Kutcher may not work next fall on Two and a Half Men (who cares, I say) and what to watch this summer (Combat Hospital and Rookie Blue are set to start next week on ABC/Global). We also talk a bit about the fall pilots I've screened so far. The dramas are retro and the comedies are shockingly vulgar. Blame Sheen! You can listen in here.

Expect record audience for Game Seven tonight

I'm gonna say 7.3 million. That's my guesstimate as to how many Canadians will watch tonight's seventh and deciding game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Only thing sure about the outcome: either Vancouver or Boston will hoist the cup. My son Daniel, 18, was only a few months old when the last Canadian team won, Montreal, back in 1993. He has no memory of that, so a Canucks win is about bloody time in his books.
The real winner, of course, is CBC, which is cashing in big time on the playoff ad revenue, pulling $200,000 per 30 second spot according to this report in today's Toronto Star.
Curious how some of your other favourite shows did last week in the ratings? The summer doldrums have hit, and it if ain't hockey, we're not really watching it. The overnight, estimated averages for Endgame, Hiccups, Dan for Mayor, Flashpoint, Almost Heroes and Single White Spenny, among others, can be found here at the weekly "Brioux Report" at Toronto.com.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Late night joke of the week

From Thursday's Late Show with David Letterman: Top Ten Signs It's Too Hot:


8. It's so hot, Arnold Schwarzenegger's having an affair with a maid in Winnipeg

Friday, June 10, 2011

CBC ends upfront season with a blast

CBC put on quite a rock show Thursday with their impressive 2011-12 season preview in Toronto.
Have to admit when I arrived at the Broadcast Centre, rode the elevator to the 10th floor and was directed, along with John Doyle, up a steel staircase onto the upper deck of a three storey scaffolding, the thought crossed my mind that the two of us were headed for a hanging. Doyle`s been ripping folks left and right in the Globe of late and, well, I've gotten the stink eye at a few of these PR fests in the past.
Instead, when I got up on this crowded landing in the darkened studio, I eventually made out some familiar faces: the stars of InSecurity were standing directly in front of me by the railing, as were several folks from the fifth estate as well as the cast of Heartland.
CBC had all of their talent up on these platforms, including Rick Mercer, Mark Critch and Cathy Jones, Erin Karpluk and Alan Hawco and four of the five Dragons. The gathering was in sharp contrast to last week's other Canadian television network upfronts, where, for example, Yannick Bisson (Murdoch Mysteries) was the token Canadian star at the Rogers/City Importapalooza.
CBC's big construction site full of Canadian TV stars drove home the point that they are in the homegrown entertainment business. The talent mingled with the press and we all looked over the railings at a large stage area, dazzlingly lit,  where The Midway State was putting on a pretty kick ass little rock show.
Doyle duo Hawco and Pellerin
The concert setting tied in with CBC`s big announcement that they are getting into the reality star search arena. Viewers who aren't already sick of American Idol, America's Got Talent, America's Got Ice Cream, The Voice, The Voice of Doom (everyone has to sing "Ringo"), the upcoming X Factor or any of a thousand other music talent search shows can now look forward to Cover Me Canada.
No, it has nothing to do with Roberto Luongo. This new Sunday night CBC series, beginning Sept. 18, will offer Canadian garage bands a chance to win $50 bucks singing old Bryan Adams songs. I think that was the deal, it was hard to hear everything from up on that scaffolding.
The good news for people who are sick to death of all these star search series is that CBC's involvement officially means the thing is officially over.
George Stroumboulopoulos took the stage and introduced Cover Me Canada host and former All Saints singer Nicole Appleton. Strombo looked at home in the concert setting and the whole deal made for a hell of an upfront. Peter Mansbridge took a turn and introduced all the news personalities in the building; the point was made that CBC New Network had a big year, out drawing every other news network in Canada combined, even CNN.
Cameras spotted the various CBC stars on the scaffolding and threw their faces up on the big screen. An opportunity was missed for an SCTV-style toss down of TV sets from the 22 Minutes gang and other rowdy CBC celebs from The Rock. Next year.
More InSecurity at CBC: Yearwood, Kung, Lisinska and deVry
CBC EVP Kirstine Stewart was demure in sparkly black and came with good news for Coronation Street fans. CBC is going to double pump the Brit soap opera every afternoon this season until we get caught up with the U.K. Aren't broadcasters getting out of the soap opera business? Stewart also said ratings were way up across the network but did not thank the Canucks specifically. Not mentioned was that budget and funding cuts again means fewer episodes of most scripted shows, although Republic of Doyle is still on target for 13.
Stewart and her team had a good year, with shows like Marketplace up an astounding 43% year-to-year. Republic of Doyle (up 22%) and 22 Minutes (19%) also lifted the network.
Matt Watts is Michael
Ratings hit Battle of the Blades will be back next September, provided the producers can find a rink. EP and judge Sandra Bezic confirmed they've been kicked out of that mammoth studio down by the lake. She says they have a place in their pocket but there are three or four other venues still in play. Eight ex-NHLers and 8 figure skaters will take part again with ex-Leaf Wade Belak among the pros. Jeremy Roenick will again be among the judges.
CBC had some new shows to promote: Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays will air Wednesdays come September. Let's hope the show is a funny as the scheduling. It hails from the award-winning duo Bob Martin and Don McKellar and stars Martin and Matt Watts as a doctor/patient 15 years into analysis. Word is they're making progress.
Camelot is another sword and sandals epic, one of those international co-pros. Shot in Ireland, the Arthurian adventure series features headliners Joseph Fiennes and Eva Green with several Canucks in key roles, including Peter Mooney as Kay and Mayfield Secondary alumni Lara Jean Chorostecki as Bridget.
Mid-season will bring Arctic Air, a Yellowknife-based drama from the same folks who produce Ice Pilots NWT. Mr. D is a sitcom starring comedian Jerry Dee as a substitute teacher.
Dragon's Den shark Kevin O'Leary is also getting a third series (he's also on that financial series with Amanda Lang). It's called Redemption, Inc., and the reality series gives the downtrodden a chance to start their own business. Did I say how handsome O'Leary is looking these days?
The presentation, counting clips, was over in a jiffy. The whole thing was a dazzler, highly original, unlike any other upfront I've attended.
A few one-on-ones were set up afterwards (I met the Camelot Canucks) and there was plenty of mingle time by the non-alcoholic bar (what happens when advertisers aren't invited). The cute little grilled cheese sandwiches more than made up for the booze, which doesn't go well with the long ride back to Brampton anyways.
Little Mosque's Shaikh, Mamma Yamma
Spoke with Zaib Shaikh, the iman from Little Mosque. The cast is in production on the fifth and final season, which will run 11 episodes. Also met with the Doyle gang, and Hawco says he has seven scripts in already on the third season. He hopes there won't be any SARS outbreaks or roofs ripped off studios or any of the other plagues he had to endure in Year One. Oh yeah!
CBC is also celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2011 and the network has 75 days of fun planned before the Nov. 2 milestone. The other good news is there was no mention of that get fit, "Live Right Now" campaign launched last winter so we can all go back to gorging on chips and binging in front of the set.
Lastly, there's a sequel to that Don Cherry "Keep Your Head Up" movie in the works. The way things are going in the NHL they should call it "Keep Your Head On." Stewart also shot down rumours that CBC was getting out of the TV sports biz, getting everyone's attention by saying she had a big announcement. An extension on that hockey contract, which expires next season? No, five more years of figure skating. The real battle of the blades continues.

Rush drum God Neil Peart rocks Letterman



Neil Peart put on a show Thursday, making the most of Letterman's "Drum Solo Week." The 58-year-old Hamilton, Ont.-native is considered one of the best solo men in the biz and brought with him every drum in the tri-state area. Letterman CBS Orchestra drummer Anton Fig, Sheila E and Roy Haynes were featured earlier in the week. Check out Peart's solo above.

Endgame fans move to fight series end game

TV shows come and go all the time. That's the nature of the biz. Sometimes, though, it just doesn't make sense. Why should The Kardashians be heading into a sixth season when Arrested Development barely lasted three? These are questions that will mystify social scientists well into the next century.
Case in point: Endgame, an entertaining Vancouver-based drama airing on Showcase. Barring a beyond last minute miracle, it airs its final episode Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The series stars Shawn Doyle as Arkady Balagan, a Russian chess grandmaster who is so traumatized when his fiancee is killed just steps outside their luxury hotel he cannot leave the place. In order to pay his bills, he begins to take on crime solving, using the same five-moves-ahead logic that makes him such a chess brainiac.
The series got the full PR push when it launched last March and opened to 232,000 viewers. Maybe it was Doyle's admitted "Alberto V05" accent, but something turned off viewers after that. The series had sunk below 100,000 within a month.
Shaw left the series off its renewal list at their upfront to advertisers earlier this month. Now a group of fans--with the help of Doyle and co-star Patrick Gallagher, who are both twittering up a storm--are trying to bring it back. The last-minute push may be working; the final episode in May was again back up over the 200,000 viewer mark.
If you're an Endgame fan, you can sign a petition that is being forwarded to Showcase; you'll find the petition here. There's also a "Save Endgame" Facebook page, jump to it here and "like" away.
It may be a lost cause (Shaw officials say the series is done and they've even taken down the link to it on their media site), but, as Mr. Smith said in Washington, sometimes lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. Read more about Endgame and how other shows, like Family Guy and Jericho, were rescued by fan efforts here at this story I wrote this week for The Canadian Press. And if you know a member of a "BBM Family," encourage them to tune in to the series/season finale Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showcase.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ratings across Canada May 30-June 5

How did Dan for Mayor, Hiccups, Almost Heroes, hockey and Endgame do last week? All the prime time network numbers for the week of May 30 to June 5--including those 5.6 million viewers hockey scores on CBC--are posted over at Toronto.com. Check out the weekly Brioux Report here.

This week's podcast: Lloyd, Coop and Combat

UPDATED WITH FIXED LINK: CHML's Scott Thompson sensed I was a little off my game on the radio today. I blame those tasty mini grilled cheese sandwiches offered at today's CBC press launch. It was the fourth and final network bash in a little over a week and all that finger food has left me punchier than usual. Good thing CBC kept the booze locked away in the cabinet.
Also talked to Scott about "Kandahar on Kipling," the astounding soundstage and backlot set up for the new Global/ABC series Combat Hospital (premiering June 21). Had a tour of the set Tuesday and it was an eye opener. Who knew there were all these stealth studios in darkest Etobicoke?
"Most rusted" meets "Most trusted"
Scott asked about Anderson Cooper, who I spoke with last week at the CTV upfront (his new afternoon series Anderson launches this fall on CTV). We also touched on Lloyd Robertson's upcoming departure; the legendary newsman signs off Sept. 1. Kudos to Robertson, who has covered some big stories during his long career--the assassination of four presidents and several Pharaohs, the Protestant Reformation, continental drift, etc. Asked to single out the greatest innovation in news gathering during his career, Robertson said it was a tie between the invention of "the wheel" and "fire."
Actually he said no such thing. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Returns in for Dan for Mayor, Hiccups, Heroes

Dan For Mayor's Fred Ewanuick
How's this summer launch strategy working for Canadian shows? Results are mixed so far. The return of two home grown CTV comedies for a second season brought few surprises, with Hiccups ( 574,000) and Dan For Mayor (547,000 Sunday at 7:30) coming back right around where they left off a year ago in terms of overnight, estimated viewing numbers. Measured against lower summer viewing levels, and considering they were both off the air for a year, the numbers aren't bad. Dan For Mayor actually beat City (America's Got Talent, 474,000), Global (Bob's Burgers, 352,000) and CBC (a rerun of Heartland, 240,000) in the timeslot.
On Showcase, two brand new comedies had modest debuts. Almost Heroes (42,000), starring and Single White Spenny (44,000) from 9 to 10 p.m. kept pace with repeats of Curb Your Enthusiasm (44,000) and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (45,000) from 10 to 11p.m.
Almost Heroes stars Ryan Belleville and Paul Campbell
The Belleville brothers' comic book store comedy Almost Heroes went up to 43,000 on a repeat showing at 11 while Spenny, featuring former Kenny vs. Spenny combatant Spencer Rice, jumped to 63,000 at 11:30.
Also premiering last Thursday June 2 was the new History Television offering Dust Up. The reality show about daredevil Saskatchewan crop dusters soared to 297,000 and 301,000 in back-to-back take offs. Canada seems to love wing nuts, especially Ice Pilots and crop dusters.

Friday, June 3, 2011

CTV powers on post Fecan at 2011 Upfront

It was weird attending the CTV upfront Thursday without mom and dad in the house. It felt like Egypt after Mubarak, Libya without Ghadaffi, Two and a Half Men sans Charlie Sheen. In other words, time to PAR-TAY!
Even minus power players Ivan Fecan and Susanne Boyce, CTV’s 2011 upfront felt like the biggest of this week's three ad markets in Toronto. A great venue (The Sony Centre, same place Shaw had their shindig two days earlier, just tarted up LA chic), plenty of high priced imports (16 new series spread over CTV and CTV Two) and a Pan Am plane load of big name talent flown in for the annual ad schmooze (including Anderson Cooper, Christina Ricci, Debra Messing, Whitney Cummings, the four Big Bang supporting players).
Not that there weren't any jitters in the joint. Every once in a while somebody with wavy white hair would be spotted in the crowded grand lobby and the blood would suddenly drain out of a publicist’s face. Then it would turn out to be just some dad there to pick up one of the teenage ad buyers, and it was straight back to the sliders and booze.
One veteran industry player used a phrase I hadn’t heard before to characterize the young ad industry crowd: “25/25/25.” In that they’re all 25 years old, handle $25 million in advertising accounts and make around $25,000 a year. So next time you’re wondering why there are so many rom-coms on the air about struggling twentysomethings and their hard-partying friends, think of the characters on those shows as ad buyers and it will all start to make sense.
The Sony Centre gets a CTV makeover
CTV kept their press conferences and their upfront presentation separate and that made life much easier for working scribes. The day began early, with a corporate breakfast up on the fifth floor boardroom of the old CHUM/City building on Queen St. West, CTV’s downtown bunker. In the old Moses days, the place smelled like an Alice Cooper concert. Nowadays it is a whole other trip. It was disorienting getting off the tiny elevator and stepping into this white-and-glass, antiseptic corporate environment. The hippie has been completely scrubbed out of the place.Critics who make the 8 a.m. breakfast got a hot plate of eggs and a chance to meet the top Bell brain trust. President Kevin Crull seems friendly and down to earth, like the dad with the BlackBerry you might sit next to at your kid’s soccer game. Last month was his first LA screenings and Thursday was his first upfront and the honeymoon is still on. Being a Bell guy, he sees things in platforms and amplification; shows on CTV Two next season, for example, will get the full marketing push over on CTV. That’s because, Crull explained, CTV has the bigger megaphone.
Like me, he really likes Smash, the mid-season Broadway-based drama starring Messing and American Idol sensation Katharine McPhee. He seems to like all his new imports, and that showed in the Thursday late afternoon upfront presentation. Crull worked that stage like it was Open Mike night and might still be there singing “Mammy” if programming president Phil King hadn’t bumped him off stage.
None of these people are on the new CTV import Pan Am
While Crull might be new to showbiz, he’s been quick to grasp showbiz math. PVR’s, he noted, count for less than 4% of total viewing in Canada (which has roughly a 32% PVR penetration, now just slightly behind the States). Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, are spiking first run broadcast numbers. TV is still about networks and new, timeslots and content.
Crull has some TV power players on his team. Rick Brace, a veteran of the TSN wars, runs CTV specialty. SVP programming Mike Cosentino is a holdover from the Fecan regime and ran the war room strategies leading into the LA screenings, targeting possible buys and mapping out half a dozen strategies depending on who broke what when on the U.S. scheduling side. If the Shaw team thought they were heading into LA with the more experienced buying bench, they were played. There’s every reason to believe persistent rumblings that they had their bell rung by Bell and were rogered by Rogers.
In any event, kudos to CTV for the bright idea of breakkie with the big wigs. I learned more about the business of television talking to sales head Rita Fabian for 10 minutes than I get out of most 90-minutes upfront presentations, including this interesting fact: upfronts in Canada, like our banking system, are far more conservative than they are in the States. The Can nets rake in about 30% of their annual ad tally this time of year, compared to the 75% or 80% Am nets declare. (Although, as Fabian explained, even that is a bit of a half truth due to quick cancellations and give-backs.)
Pan Am fly girls Ricci, Robbie, Garner and Vanasse
The breakfast was followed by a well organized series of press conferences with the talent CTV brought north. The four women who star in the new ‘60s stewardess series Pan Am all look ready for takeoff. Christina Ricci is just a wee thing, all big eyes and wide smile. The French Canadian in the cast, Karine Vanasse, is tres formidable.
Whitney Cummings (star of the new comedy Whitney) came out and gave us a taste of her frisky stand up shtick. Cummings blurted something about her “camel toe” and then wondered if that phrase was even used in Canada. I started to wander, thinking beaver might be more appropriate if a little '70s. Other thoughts followed, but by the time I had zoned back into the session Cummings had goings.
Four members of the cast of The Big Bang Theory followed: Simon Hedberg, Kunal Nayyar, Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik. Bialik was asked by welcome press presence Eric Kohanik if it was tough getting her tongue around those physicist phrases. No, she replied, because she actually is a neuroscientist, obtaining her degree at UCLA after her early success as a teen on Blossom. You almost have to be a neuroscientist to get your head around that!
Big Bang happy gang Helberg, Rauch, Nayyar and Bialik 
Spoke one-on-one with Nayyar later. Lovely man, very humble about his success. Asked him if he had gone out and splurged one something big like a Porsche with all his TV money. He laughed and said, “Yes…a Porsche!”
He also confirms co-star Kaley Cuoco (Penny) really did snap her leg at the start of last season, the result of a horse riding injury. No more horsing around for her.
Hangin' with Mr. Cooper

Went one-on-one with Anderson Cooper later in the day. AC was in town to promote the pickup of his upcoming afternoon show Anderson. CTV has bumped Dr. Oz into Oprah’s old slot and put Anderson on at 5 p.m. next fall.
Smart, self effacing, he gives you ten genuine minutes. He looks like money, all Ivy League, and those blue peepers—they sear right through you. We talked about what makes a broadcaster, about Twitter and Royal Wedding, got some insight into CNN. When the wrap-it-up signal came from a publicist I apologised for not asking more about Anderson. “Nah, screw it,” he said with a handshake. Cool dude.
Later, he was just as impressive on stage at the upfront, winging it without a teleprompter.
The press half of the day went so well the actual upfront presentation seemed anticlimactic. The thousand or so ad kids in the auditorium may have been previewed out after three upfronts in four nights but, for whatever reason, the show clips were mostly met with nothing more than polite applause. While the programmers on stage boasted their new buys brought diversity to their schedule, aside from stand outs Pan Am, Smash and maybe Whitney, all I saw was repetition. Three big talent circus’s, Idol, X Factor and Saturday’s The Sing-Off, seemed like at least one too many. Fantasy hours Grimm and Once Upon a Time looked different, but there was one pilot starring Ally Walker as a LAPD detective I swear I saw in 1997. CTV has thrown the remake of Charlie’s Angels into a 7 p.m. slot, suggesting they doubt it has legs (although, as former Toronto Star critic Jim Bawden keeps reminding me, they were just as unsure at the launch of Desperate Housewives, sneaking it onto Sunday afternoons).
Mid-season soap C.G.B. has a great cast (Leslie Bibb, Kristin Chenoweth, Annie Potts) and looks like it could appeal to Housewives viewers.
There were no video “sorry I couldn’t be there in person” shout outs from Hollywood stars, no fun little film reel of network execs. Fecan and Boyce used to ham it up in the past, popping onto TV soundstages like Canadian tourists who wandered off the Universal Studio tour tram.
Canada's Least Trusted meets Canada's Most Trusted

The warmest greeting from the crowd was saved for the most trusted man in the room—CTV anchor Lloyd Robertson. After an incredible 60 years in TV news, he’s retiring Sept. 1, with Lisa Laflamme taking over Sept. 5. Robertson told me after the presentation that a documentary is in the works that may air prior to his Sept. 1 newscast.
Finally, I almost forget—Canadian content. CTV almost forgot about it too. Like Rogers and Shaw, scripted, Canadian-made comedy or drama is brazenly absent from their schedule. A fifth season of Flashpoint is penciled in for Tuesdays at 8 p.m. next season and that's it for fall. Eighteen episodes have been ordered. Still to be determined, however, is whether CBS might still want in on that deal. If they walk, and a similar partner can’t be found, CTV’s dollars alone likely won’t stretch over that entire episode order, meaning less than 18 will be made, or Hugh Dillon will have to shoot Enrico Colantoni, or shoot two of the producers, three or four writers and a boom operator as well as the entire craft services team.

Dan for Mayor's Bates, Ewanuick, EP Paul Mather, Ayres and Ashton
Beyond that, not a peep from the Sony stage about future Can-con. Not even Canadian crickets chirping. The casts of both Hiccups and Dan for Mayor, two long-delayed Canadian shows starting summer runs (Dan starts Sunday at 7:30, Hiccups returned last Monday), gamely worked the after party. Dan’s Fred Ewanuick, a big Canucks fan, had his playoff beard on. I did hear that a third season of The Listener goes into production in the fall but nobody seemed to know for sure when the three episodes still unseen from this season will air. Degrassi is cranking out another 44 episodes as a daily MuchMusic teen soap. Marilyn Denis was in the room and back on CTV’s fall morning and afternoon schedule.
Hiccups Robertson, PR boss Henderson
Here’s what else is back on CTV Two’s schedule this fall: The Littlest Hobo. Seriously. In 2011, back-to-back Hobo at 9. Monday to Friday. Talk about Dog-grassi.
Here’s the most sobering thing I heard at the CTV upfront: for three Tuesdays in a row this winter the network was doing surprisingly well with The Listener, pulling over a million a week despite a long lag between first run episodes. Then CBS suddenly decided to plug Flashpoint in where their mid-season hour CHAOS had failed. CTV, not wanting to miss a simulcast opportunity, followed suit, yanking new Listener episodes for Flashpoint.
And thus a Canadian show being added to an American schedule led to a Canadian show being taken off a Canadian schedule.
This is untenable. Before another upfront rolls around, the CRTC and the networks have to get this sorted out.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Upfront week: the Shaw Show Redemption

Glee's Iqbal Theba hauls me down to the principal's office
It was hard to find Global's upfront this year in Toronto--there weren't any protesters out front.
In years past, mobs of cranky ACTRA members have targeted the big Global ad industry show, driving home the point that Canadian TV networks rarely involve themselves with Canadian scripted television and this whole Can-com deal is a charade.
That would have been out of step this year what with Shaw cranking out a whole lot of Can-con on its specialty channels, particularly on Showcase. Lost Girl, Haven and King were three scripted Canadian dramas that connected with audiences this past season. Altogether, Shaw has 15 Canadian scripted series in development for next season, more than any other broadcaster.
Unfortunately Endgame, the intriguing Vancouver-based drama starring Shawn Doyle as a Russian chess master solving crimes from his hotel room, failed to draw an audience and missed the cut. Another series, XIII, is still waiting to hear if it goes XIII 2.
Shaw senior VP Barb Williams had plenty of new to throw at the ad kids during a 90-minute stage presentation Tuesday in Toronto at the Sony Centre (the same venue CTV is using Thursday). A second helping of Top Chef Canada has been ordered, and the new reality series Real Housewives Vancouver has been greenlit. King is also a go for season two and may get a window on the main network. There was no word as to a second season of Wipeout Canada on TVTropolis but it is certainly drawing on the specialty channel.
Former breakdancer Matthew Morrison
Williams stuck to her script, pointing the ad crowd over to Shaw's robust, 18-channel specialty lineup and pointing out "women just love us." This distracted on-lookers from the early buzz that Global didn't get it when it came to the recent LA screenings, although Williams remains high on the remake of the Brit hit Prime Suspect starring Marie Bello. Williams point that her strength will be the stability of her schedule has some validity. Rogers made plenty of noise Monday about their 13 new acquisitions but their crowded new weekly grid looks like somebody had a box full of show titles, spilled them on the floor, and hastily threw them back in some sort of order. Global's grid lacks excitement, but it flows. NCIS, House and Hawaii FIVE-O roll Mondays, Glee, NCIS Los Angeles and newly acquired Parenthood (aka "is that still on?") follows Tuesdays. The Good Wife doesn't exactly flow out of "Animation Domination" Sundays at 10 but at least it makes a perfect replacement for canceled Brothers & Sisters.
There were the usual parade of dudes in designer suits and specs on stage making with the multiple platform talk. Shaw had made a deal to provide access to all the NBC Universal web sites. Fine, but what about Hulu?
Video shout outs from the stars of various Global shows cranked up the pseudo star power. The Office's Rainn Wilson needed a shave but did a bit, the NCIS dudes made funny. There were a lot of people saying sorry I can't be there with you, including Bello, Ivanka Trump, Josh Charles and Emily Rose from Haven. Hugh Laurie told the ad kids he was being "irrigated now as I speak," which was creepy.
Matthew Morrison from Glee starte apologizing for not being there and then suddenly he was there, hosting, singing, dancing--Global worked him harder than Sue Sylvester works Mr. Shue. Jane Lynch appeared on the giant video  screen to introduce Morrison, "or as I like to call him," she cracked, "Mr. Second Choice."
Mmmm--gingerbread...
The press room set up underneath the main Sony auditorium was a well organized space, with rows of chairs and even a lap top counter set up for working press (Rogers' dimly lit couch casual deal Monday was like trying to conduct interviews from a doctor's office waiting room), but the idea of banking stories at the same time as the upfront presentation was happening sucks. As press sit waiting on the next celeb, the show is up on monitors with the sound off. You've gotta put on these headsets to hear the presentations. It's like we're in an isolation booth being prevented from knowing the answers to a quiz show. When the next star is trotted in front of the press, reporters scramble to yank of head sets and fumble with recorders. It must have seemed like being interviewed by a room full of air traffic controllers.
Two actors from Glee, Dot Marie Jones (Coach Beiste) and Iqbal Theba (Principal Figgins) were nonetheless gracious and accommodating, especially later at the Shaw party in the Sony Centre's grand foyer. Theba was hanging with a buddy from back home who he went to high school with; the gentlemen now lives in St. Catherines.
Theba had a guest star turn on Community last season and hopes to be invited back. Even though they are on different networks, he says Glee and Community both shoot on the same lot so it was an easy move to slip back and forth between shows.
Before getting into acting, Theba had a whole other life as a civil engineer. As they say on those Global bumper throws, Huh.
By the time Morrison worked his way down to the press room he looked ready to grab his gift basket and fly the hell home. He didn't think there was much chance Montreal native Jesslyn Gilsig will be back on the series next season. Her character is newly divorced from Mr. Shue and the series appears to be movin' on. Too bad, Glee will be down one Canuck.
Murtz Jaffer is Reality Obsessed
Global had lots of promotional bling spread throughout the Sony barn. 1400 Mr. Shue-style fedoras were placed on every seat in the auditorium. There were plenty of those cool gingerbread cookies with station logos on them, in case you wanted to take a bite out of Showcase Diva or Deja View. Twitter postings on a giant screen in the main lobby threw everything #shawsome for all the ad kids to see. Hopefully they shut it down before I started tweeting.
Ran into Insight's John Brunton again at the Shaw Show. The dude is the Canadian Mark Burnett, working deals all over town. His CBC celeb shinny series Battle of the Blades is looking for a new venue, however. He's been kicked out of that cavernous sound stage by the lake to make room for the new Terminator movie, so if you have an arena that needs filling, give him a call.
Global also announced a new morning show featuring former City morning show host Liza Fromer along with Kris Reyes and Dave Gerry. Global used to have a morning show, and then they junked it and ran the E channel morning show, and then they junked E, and...well, the CRTC will be happy.
Thursday: CTV hosts its annual upfront for advertisers in Toronto.