Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cavanagh, Bellows do Christmas in July

BEVERLY HILLS, CA--If you spot Tom Cavanagh on the streets of Toronto today, wish him luck. The former Ed star is competing in an Iron Man marathon Sunday, a challenge he's tackling along with a bunch of his Queens University pals who are also turning 40 this year.
Cavanagh looked in shape at press tour a few days ago when he joined fellow Canuck Gil Bellows and Faith Ford at a TCA cable session panel. All three are starring in the upcoming Hallmark Channel TV-movie Debbie Macomber's Trading Christmas, one of a gazillion holiday movies the family-friendly channel has commissioned for its post-Thanksgiving schedule.
Like a lot of Hallmark fare, the movie was shot in Vancouver. Shooting a Christmas movie in the summer made snow scenes a challenge, but director Michael Scott says they worked around it. "Luckily there are lots of ice rinks in the area, so we collect the snow, we lay it out, and hopefully it lasts long enough for the scene." As Scott says, "they’re very experienced in Vancouver at creating snow scenes in the summer. So we’ve done it quite a bit, and it works quite well."
Cavanagh did his best to keep the rather straight-laced Hallmark sessions light. Asked to name his favourite Christmas film, he did his best Jimmy Stewart impression: “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls. Merry Christmas you old Building and Loan. Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter.”
Bellow's favourite holiday movie is a little less Wonderful: Bad Santa.
Cavanagh does a series of free comedy podcasts with Michael Ian Black called Mike & Tom Eat Snacks. Basically they sit around and eat and goof on stuff. You can find them here.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hugh Laurie a Galaxie man


BEVERLY HILLS, CA--Hugh Laurie knows how to make an exit. The star of House blasted away from the TCA press tour hotel in his fire engine red, '66 Ford Galaxie 500. The Hilton car jockeys left it parked right outside the front door as Laurie worked press tour, promoting PBS's Let Them Talk--A Celebration of New Orleans Blues, set to premiere Sept. 30. It allowed for a quick getaway as Laurie bolted the stage and made a B-line for the exit, avoiding questions about that weird House finale and the departure of Lisa Eidelman.
Laurie was happy to talk about his love of New Orleans jazz. The piano man called it s "city of endless marvels" and got to jam with Tom Jones and Dr. John on a few tracks. Orleans legend Allen Toussaint helped pull the sound together.
There's a CD to go with the TV special. Laurie says this was a now or never project, or as he put it, "a Diem I had to carpe."
He picked up the rag top in Texas en route to New Orleans for the recordings.

It's "Television," not "TV," says Jerry Lewis

BEVERLY HILLS, CA--The amazing this about Jerry Lewis is that he's still here.
Dean's long gone. Sammy's gone, Frank's gone, almost all of those ring-a-ding-ding rat packers checked out years ago. Lewis, the subject of Encore's biographical documentary Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis (airing this fall), has had ticker problems for decades but endures. He's still raging, too, which may explain his longevity. At 85, he's too pissed off to shuffle off.
So getting to see the dude at press tour is a kick.
The laffs started even before we saw him. Starz/Encore boss Chris Albrecht got in an answer zone at the podium and Lewis was growing impatient. "Hey Chris," shouted Jerr from the wings, "I'm going to have to shave again!"
Most of the reporters covering press tour in 2011 weren't even born when Lewis stopped making his string of slapstick comedy hits of the '50s and '60s. Back when Abbott & Costello, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Milton Berle and Groucho Marx all found new careers on television, young Lewis--together with Martin--was too big for the box.
That he's still making news 60 years later is news. Lewis didn't address it directly, but he is reportedly, after 45 years, being booted off the Labour Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. He told reporters he would hold "an international press conference" on Sept. 5--the day after the telethon--and will have plenty to say then about "what I think is important, and that's the future, not the past. Okay?"
Beyond that, Lewis joked, lectured, seized the room. Told the floor was open to questions from the audience he snarked, "Why don't we get one first?" A beat later: "I feel like I'm working to the Arabs for Christ's sake." At one point he gave his hotel room number to a female reporter. He did everything but ask for a C, a bouncy C.
Nobody took offense. The man is 85. He's Jerry Lewis, for Christ's sake.
Lewis praised Jim Carrey as the "most brilliant physical comic we've ever had." He says remakes of his glory day films--Cinderfella, The Bellboy, The Family Jewels--are in the works. (Rights to those films have reverted back to cagey Lewis in recent years.) He says there's not a day goes by he doesn't think of Dean.
He got pretty worked up over how "the industry has destroyed themselves." Doesn't sound like he's a fan of the iPad. "They put all their product on that goddam stupid  phone. You're going to put Lawrence of Arabia on that stupid son of a bitch?"
He went right over the Irving Cohen bar on the subject of television. "I don't allow people in my family to use the term 'TV.' That's stupid. It's 'television.' It's a miracle. It's entitled to that respect." Sorta like Lewis.
Read more on Lewis as well as Rosie O'Donnell's knock out TCA appearance Friday here at toronto.com.

VIDEO: TCA critics sample Ludo Bites America



TCA TV critics were treated to dinner Friday at Mel's Drive-In in West Hollywood. Sundance Channel EVP and GM Sarah Barnett hosted the event. Instead of the usual menu of burgers and fries, Chef Ludovic Lefebre (Sundance's Ludo Bites America) prepared a four course meal. It included a Red Beet Gazpacho, a Honey Grilled Summer Fig and a Marinated Hanger Steak smothered in shallots, kale and red chile kimchi butter. A Smoked Vanilla Bean Bacon Creme Brulee, topped with a lavender bloom, was offered for dessert.
Lefebvre has been called "a culinary rock star" and has the tatts to prove it. Preparing meals at random locations is his specialty. LudoBites, according to the New York Times, is "the most acclaimed rootless restaurant in Los Angeles."
On the six episode series (which comes to Canada this fall), Sundance sends Lefebvre to various cities to pull his instant restaurant trick.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Oprah vows to smarten up OWN. Will the CRTC buy it?

The Rosie Show launches Oct. 10 on OWN
BEVERLY HILLS, CA—Oprah Winfrey says she wants to turn OWN into “the world’s biggest classroom.” Will that be enough for the Canadian broadcast regulator who this week threatened to revoke OWN Canada’s license?
Winfrey made a brief appearance Friday at the Television Critics Association press tour. She was here mainly to shore up support for the new network, which has had three CEO's—including, now, Winfrey herself--since going on the air at the start of the year.
She also introduced Rosie O’Donnell, who will headline The Rosie Show on OWN starting in October.
Winfrey re-affirmed that the network was the culmination of a dream. She made the “classroom” comment at the start of her remarks. Corus officials will likely seize those words as they prepare to address concerns the CRTC raised earlier this week that OWN Canada is not educational enough to hold onto its current broadcast license.
When it launched OWN Canada in March, Corus re-purposed an existing specialty channel which historically had more of an educational focus. Under the terms of the license, OWN shows had to have a formal link with courses taught at Canadian educational institutions.
The CRTC is not buying Corus’ argument that The Gayle King Show or In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Bertram can be studied on any Canadian curriculum.
The Commission wrist-slapped Corus for skirting the terms of the original license, suggesting tying OWN content to courses in television and media shouldn’t count. The CRTC further found that “those programs are not inherently educational” and fell basically into the category of “lifestyle programming.” It noted that a lot of OWN content is similar to what viewers can already find on Corus’ sister station W.
The Commission has given Corus until March 1, 2012, to bring the service into compliance with its nature of service.” Otherwise, Corus risks surrendering OWN’s Category A license and could only re-apply for a less desirable Category C—a designation that could drop OWN far down the cable and satellite ladder.
It remains to be seen if the CRTC will accept the plan Winfrey shared with reporters Friday to make her channel more educational: re-purposing the close to 5000 episodes of her old daytime talk show in order to “use them as a teaching tool.” She’ll shoot new intros and re-edit the shows into specific topics. The idea, she says, came to her recently in her kitchen.

Belafonte and Steinem help HBO aim higher at TV critics press tour

BEVERLY HILLS, CA—Like television itself, the TCA press tour is often more about the sizzle than the steak. Especially during cable days, animal acts, multiple-partner families and Kardashians tend to drown out the smart stuff.
Day Three of this press tour aimed higher. It helped that HBO and BBC America were both part of the mix. HBO paneled sessions featuring American icons Harry Belafonte and Gloria Steinem and that certainly raised the bar.
Belafonte was here to promote Sing Your Song, a biographical documentary airing Oct. 17 on HBO. At 84, the singer/actor/activist walks with a cane but almost for show; he literally walks with it, he doesn’t lean on it.
That he still walks the walk and talks the talk quickly became evident at the session. Belafonte began with a long answer that at first brought back memories of Oprah’s windy filibuster at last January’s press tour. The difference was that Belafonte provided a sizzling sermon. It lasted three-and-a-half, single-spaced, transcript pages but most in the room felt cheated when he was cut off by HBO’s Sheila Nevins.
The lifelong activist--a central figure in the U.S. civil rights movement of the ‘60s and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa—was asked his take on the current debt ceiling crisis. That seemed a reach until Belafonte began. “My question would be to the Congress and the President and to a lot of institutions in the United States of power, ‘What happened to moral truth? What happened to moral courage? Why has it been eliminated from our DNA?’”
Belafonte says he understands the game of politics (“I’ve been at it for 70 years,” he says), “but politics without moral purpose, really, more often than not, winds up as tyranny.”
Then he went further: “Barack Obama and his mission has failed because it lacked a certain kind of moral courage, a certain kind of moral vision that we are in need of.” He called on artists and the public to stand up and “make him do it, but wondered if we had “capitulated” to the status quo. He wondered if ordinary citizens still had the passion and desire to force change. “When [Obama] said, ‘Yes we can,’ it may have been politically clever,” says Belafonte, “but he never defined for us what he was saying. So those of us who felt we needed change filled in that space with our own images of what we thought he meant only to find out we are all disappointed because none of those things have been satisfied.”
Steinem—remarkably unchanged, physically and philosophically, at 77--was asked if she was ever dismayed with young women today who, the questioner suggested, “can dress like hookers and be okay with being treated like a piece of meat.” Steinem rejected that premise. “This generation of young women is actually much more feminist than we ever were.”
Steinem flipped it back to the reporter by asking why a young woman might dress a certain way. “Is she doing it because she wants to? Is she body proud? Is she sexually proud? Than I say great.”
Another reporter suggested that several new shows this fall seem to turn the clock back to before the Women’s Lib movement—shows like Pan-Am and The Playboy Club, both set in the early ‘60s, as well as a remake of the ‘70s “jiggle” show Charlie’s Angels. Steinem agreed that shows that hearken back to the early ‘60s or even the World War II era might be male nostalgia for “the last time we were really right.” She summed it up by saying that the hierarchical response has two poles: “The very worst men are into sadomasochism, and the very best men are into nostalgia.”
Critics in the room still breast-deep in nostalgia from a trip to the Playboy Mansion the night before started experiencing brain craps.
Steinem laughed off the notion that viewers are still fascinated by Hugh Hefner’s sex life. She suggested she could not have concocted a character like Hef. “If I had made him up, they would hang me from the highest tree.”
UPDATE: This same article is also available here at The Huffington Post Canada.

VIDEO: bathing beauties at BBC America bash



WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA--BBC America hosted an evening event for the TV press at an appropriate venue--the swank London West Hollywood Hotel. Critics partied poolside on the rooftop while local mermaids performed their water ballet. Some guy by the name of Gordon Ramsay cooked up the tasty vittles. The stars and creators of such BBC America fare as Bedlam, Doctor Who, Friday Night Diner, 24 Hours in the ER and The Hour all mingled, as did Emmy-nominated Idris Elder from Luther. Matt Smith (Doctor Who) is the youngest time traveling space lord in the shows 48 year history. Doctor Who is scheduled to return to BBC America in late summer.

Late night joke of the week

From Conan:

The government is less than a week away from not being able to pay its bills. We may have to move in with Canada for a while.

VIDEO: Erik Estrada TCA Moment of Zen



TV's Erik Estrada added a little salsa to Univision Communications TCA cocktail party earlier this week at the Beverly Hilton.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

HBO's Game of Thrones sits well with critics

BEVERLY HILLS, CA--HBO knows that inside every TV critic beats the heart of a geek. They've set up a big, bony chair at the back of the Beverly Hilton main ballroom and are taking Game of Throne vanity shots throughout their sessions. They even have all these cool iPads there so we can instantly send the shots to Facebook, etc. Hey, at least I waited until Harry Belafonte (Sing Your Song, Oct. 17) and Gloria Steinem (Gloria: In Her Own Words, Aug. 15) finished their sessions before getting the chair.
Now, where's the True Blood torn-to-shreds-by-vampires photo op?

One more trip down the bunny path

Still want inside the Playboy mansion? There's more scoop on Wednesday's TCA trip to Hef's place over here at Toronto.com. Workers are still trying to shampoo critic cooties out of the place.
Or go here for dozens of photos of the Playboy mansion, the Game House and surrounding gardens.
Toronto.com is where you'll also find the weekly, exclusive look at the prime time ratings across Canada, including this take on July 18 to 24.

TCA Day Two: visit to the Playboy Mansion



I accidentally dropped my glasses into the swirling waters of the Playboy Mansion's infamous grotto Wednesday night and now every time I glance at my computer screen it looks like it has implants.
Fortunately, fearless social network superstar Cindy Ronzoni kicked off her heels and waded into the grotto to fetch my specs, picking the frames up with her toes. It was the hottest thing I saw all night at The Mansion, which is still a very cool joint but has a bit of a frozen-in-the-'70s feel (which, you know, same here).
Our host, Hugh Hefner, did not throw on a fresh pair jammies and mingle with critics who invaded the grounds. He was briefly spotted at one point playing cards inside. (The interior of the main building was off limits to reporters).
Press were guests of the Playboy Channel, although there was little attempt to sell us on anything, other than a few signs for something called "TV For 2." Bunnies worked the party, offering guided tours of the estate, which was built in 1926.
We were allowed to nose around the lavish gardens of the estate. Saw Hef's tennis court, his crazy big, CCCP1 satellite dishes (installed in the '70s so he could see a fight), the monkey and bird cages and--best of all--the Game House. This place reminded me a lot of the projection room producer Robert Evans had on his Hollywood estate. It was loaded with working Playboy pinball machines, although most felt like Jimmy Caan wore out the flippers back in 1977.
Hef never misses "Hey Yorgi"
There was a player piano (that worked), a pool table and a few signed photos including a large portrait of Hef signed by Dean Martin. Off to the sides were creepy love pads including a shag shack with a bouncy floor and the red and blue rooms which were wall to floor mirrors. It was all very Austin Powers. Boxes of tissues were everywhere adding a practical touch.
The video features TV Guide Canada editor Amber Dowling--who whacked her noggin later on the rocky ceiling of the grotto--giving a reporter's eye view of the red room. Watch at your own risk.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lifetime brings Roseanne out of her shell

BEVERLY HILLS, CA--Roseanne always cuts straight to the point. Wednesday at press  tour, the comedienne crashed Lifetime's cable network press session, cutting short an introduction by stepping through a curtain and seizing the podium. "What a privilege it is for you to have me here," said Roseanne, who is the centre piece of the well-named Lifetime series Roseanne's Nuts. The new reality series follows her around her actual macadamia nut ranch in Hawaii. Packets of the goobers were handed to press on the way out of the session. Roseanne's Nuts, according to the introduction, is a hit, quadrupling ratings in its timeslot.
"It's a blend of reality and reality television," said Roseanne, who left the stage and walked straight out of the hotel.
And who could blame her? Lifetime registered a historic first at press tour: a cash bar. Reporters who were told to pay six bucks for a bottle or Perrier staggered out of the session, grasping for defibrillators.

This week's podcast: Day One TCA report

I tell CHML's Scott Thompson all about Tuesday's TCA press tour visit to the Film Roman Studios deep in the San Fernando Valley, where they animate The Simpsons. Al Jean and a few of the show`s directors walked reporters through the office, pointing out storyboards and allowing us to peek over animator`s shoulders. A cool little trip to downtown Springfield.
Also caught Scott up on the Anderson Cooper press conference.  You can listen in here.

VIDEO: Angie Harmon welcomes TCA press to the set of Rizzoli & Isles



LOS ANGELES, CA--This press tour got off on the right foot Tuesday with a relaxed and Flip camera friendly visit to the set of Rizzoli & Isles. The TNT cop series--one of the most popular series on U.S. cable--stars Angie Harmon as police detective Jane Rizzoli. Sasha Alexander plays medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles. Bruce McGill, Lee Thompson Young and Lorraine Bracco (as Rizzoli's mom) are also on the series. Deep into production on its second season, Rizzoli & Isles airs in Canada on Super Channel.
The series shoots across a couple of sound stages on the storied Paramount Studios lot. TCA Journalists were given plenty of time to roam the set--maybe too much time judging by the above video. Those are press tour jokers Neal Justin and Roger Catlin, Bill Harris and Brad Oswald cutting up on the set. Damn--I didn't get any of them to sign a waiver.
The series is set in Boston. One of the well-dressed standing sets is the bar where the cops hang out--The Dirty Robber. Vancouver-based Post Media scribe Alex Strachan (left) did not appreciate the bar's prominent Boston Bruins Stanley Cup pennant.
Angie Harmon--striking in person--and co-star Thompson Young (who, as a teen, spent three years in Toronto shooting Disney Channel's The Famous Jet Jackson), share a story at the end of this clip that involves Harmon, a love goddess and a famous cartoon character.

TCA 2011 Day One: LL Cool J, Jeff Probst explore stardom in 140 characters or less

STUDIO CITY, CA--Murtz Jaffer, your Tiki torch has been snuffed.
Had to vote my old Survivor pal off the island at this photo op set up on Day One of the TCA Summer 2011 press tour Tuesday. The Reality Obsessed star would have enjoyed today's TCA Studio Day session at CBS Radford, the storied TV lot which is home now to Big Brother and many other shows and once housed such gems as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Newhart, Rhoda, Hill Street Blues, Get Smart and Gilligan's Island.
CBS invited press tour early birds to interview a few of their biggest Twitter stars: @LLCoolJ (NCIS: Los Angeles), who has an amazing 1.49 million followers, @PauleyP a.k.a. Pauley Perrette (NCIS), who has 127,000 followers, Survivor host @JeffProbst, who live tweets during episodes to 132,000 followers and two of the @GoodWifeWriters, Meredith Averill and Corinne Brinkerhoff, who tweet to 6,110 followers. Hey, that's 5,500 more than I have @BillBriouxTV (where I'm tweeting the current press tour at #TCAs11).
Probst says the tweeting meant nothing to CBS at first but they began to dig it when the show seemed to gain (likely younger) fans as a result. He's heard from viewers who used to DVR the show but now say they sometimes catch up just by reading his live tweets--which sounds actually counter productive if you're buying ads on CBS.
Adorable Pauley, who talks so fast she winded the transcriber, admits she's a tad obsessed with connecting with fans via twitter and does sometimes ask herself if this is how she's going to be spending the rest of her life. She was worried she might one day withdraw from society like Betty Page.
LL Cool J was the coolest member of the panel. When one twitterphobe from Philly asked if all this tweeting wasn't contributing to the general slide in spelling and grammar, LL (or "Todd" to his friends) replied, "If grammar is your pet peeve, stay away from social media."
He also dropped this Mcluhanesque beauty: "Privacy will be the new fame." The statement seemed to stun the room; Probst did a whole Town Hall number on it.
"I like how you held the moment,' he told Cool J, who looked like he might revoke the "Todd" thing. "You didn't look on either side if somebody tried to interrupt. You knew you landed something. 'Just
everybody shut up for a minute. I landed something big. Privacy will be the new thing.'"
He got Cool J to say it again. "That's what he Tweets all day," said Probst. "You do find yourself going, 'Shit, that's pretty cool.'"
And then he snuffed out the torch: "What does it mean, though?"
What it means is that LL Cool J has more than 10 times as many followers as Jeff Probst.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

TCA Summer 2011: Day One begins with O.J.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA.--And so it begins. The first bit of swag arrived at 8 a.m. this morning here at the Beverly Hilton--orange juice from Anderson Cooper. Another Television Critics Association press tour has commenced.
It was sent to the 100 or so TV critics, newspaper columnists and bloggers ensconced here for the next dozen days as a way to remind us that Mr. Cooper will be hosting a cocktail reception this afternoon to promote his new syndicated daytime talk show Anderson, coming to CTV in September.
Bravo Mr. Cooper--I'll take orange juice over some of the other bizarre tchochkes we've received over the years any day.
I'll be filing a daily TCA press tour column this week and next over at toronto.com. The first post, which basically sets up today's festivities (including a visit to the animation studio where they make The Simpsons) can be read here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Marshall Mcluhan didn't see everything coming

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of media guru Marshall Mcluhan. The man wrote the book on Understanding Media. If only he had lived long enough to explain the Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Trailer Park Boys are back in town


Attention, Canada: time to get Drunk and on Drugs.
The Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour finally arrives tonight at 9 p.m. on Showcase Action. This is the mad series created by those three Trailer Park Boys, Mike Smith, J.P. Tremblay and Rob Wells. I visited the set over a year ago as they were wrecking a motel.
The boys wrote a premise whereby distinguished Canadian actor Maury Chaykin causes a lot of trouble by spiking the craft services table with hallucinogens. On the day I was on set, another actor playing Mr. Chaykin was down on the ground and two dudes dressed as Nazi's were kicking the crap out of him.
This probably seemed funnier back before Mr. Chaykin actually died. Incredibly, THAT WHOLE PLOT LINE REMAINS IN THE SHOW!
Then again, the whole thing takes place in Cockertown!
The series is impossible to describe as you can tell from this story I filed yesterday in The Toronto Star. There are six episodes in all and Action is airing the first two half hours tonight back-to-back. I finally got a screener but I'm ascared to watch it, it sounds too insane. Watch it if you dare! Don't say you weren't warned!!

Hopping on the Huffington Post Canada express

Yesterday I was coming home from New York through the Toronto island airport when I hear my named called in the customs lineup. For once this was a good thing.
Turns out it was Brodie Fenlon, a former colleague at the Toronto Sun. In fact I think we were both shit canned downsized the same day.
Somebody at The Sun realized they'd just chopped the only guy under 30 in the place and they scrambled to keep him. Too late. The bright young lad went to the Globe & Mail.
Anyhoo, young Brodie is now a wheel at Huffington Post Canada. We get yakking and he's telling me how this thing is just exploding. He had a hard time finding anyone in the New York office who had worked there longer than three months. People are coming in so fast that those with three weeks under their belts are training the new kids.
We keep talking and, long story short, my first story for HuffPost Canada went up today. Read it here or read it a few inches below this post, it is a pick up from this blog. Either way, nice to be able to salute Elwy twice.

Elwy Yost 1925 - 2011

Elwy Yost was such an unlikely TV star. With that big round head, bushy moustache and over-sized glasses, he looked more like a butcher or detective or some other character actor from one of his favourite films from the '30s or '40s.
The former host of TVO's Saturday Night at the Movies passed away Thursday in Vancouver. He was 86.
Yost was so well known in Toronto in the '70s and '80s his name was a way of proving citizenship, like knowing the Pizza-Pizza phone number or the location of Honest Ed's. He provided a window to classic films at a time when you couldn't just call up a Preston Sturges or Frank Capra title at Netflix or Rogers on-demand or even on video or DVD. There was no Turner Classic Movies 30 years ago; Elwy was it.
His genuine enthusiasm was so infectious he made you want to check out whatever black and white oldie TVO happened to snag for that week. Even better was the interviews Yost and a small crew used to shoot on film down in Hollywood each season. Conducted in the late '70s and '80s, Yost caught up with Capra himself as well as Greer Garson, David Niven, Chuck Jones, John Huston, George Stevens, George Cukor, Vincent Minnelli and many others. Most of the stars, directors and writers were as taken with Yost's fan boy enthusiasm as were TVO viewers. When Yost completely retired from TVO in 1999, copies of the interviews were donated to the Motion Picture Academy. Many can be accessed here at TVO's "Public Access" web site.
Back in the early '80s when I was involved in writing and performing on a Toronto community cable TV comedy called Etobichannel, I called him up out of the blue and asked if he would take part in a sketch. The man was parody on a silver platter, ever-purring about how this week's film or performances were "marrr-velous."
To my amazement, Yost drove himself out to what was then Maclean-Hunter Cable TV out near the airport, sat in our studio and read a few lines we had thrown together for him. Etobichannel player Pat Bullock, in a bald wig and glasses, then played opposite him as our fake Ely "Toast." It was worth a few laughs, but I'll never forget the unassuming generosity of the man, taking the time to pop into a nickle and dime little community cable deal just so we could goof on him.
Yost's own TVO studio at Yonge and Eglington probably helped keep him humble and modest. The place was a shoebox, just a tiny room down in the basement.
Former Toronto Star TV columnist Jim Bawden interviewed Elwy a million times and deserves a lot of credit for making Saturday Night at the Movies such a weekly habit for Ontario classic film fans. Bawden shares a few insights and stories here at his blog. As he points out, Yost was pulling an audience of roughly half a million viewers a week at his peak--about 10 times what the Ontario educational channel gets now on a Saturday night.
Condolences to  Yost's family, including son Graham, who was making his dad proud these days directing episodes of The Pacific as well as writing and executive producing the Emmy-nominated FX series Justified.

Harper solves Murdoch Mysteries for 700,000

Love him or hate him, that guy Harper is ratings gold.
Murdoch Mysteries soared to an overnight, estimated 700,000 viewers Wednesday night on City stations across Canada. That has to be a record audience for the four-year-old series.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper shot his cameo last October as Sgt. Armstrong, a desk cop from the 1890s. In one scene, he seemed oblivious to then prime minister Wildred Laurier.
Then again, Laurier was a Liberal.
The shot-in-Toronto sleuth series, which stars Yanick Bisson, has been drawing in the 450,000 range this summer. Look for John Baird to guest next as the happy-go-lucky town hangman.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

In praise of the New York Public Library

NEW YORK, N.Y.--Nothing to do with television, but can I give a shout out to the New York Public Library? This block-long card catalogue cathedral with the giant marble lions out front is celebrating its 100th year just a few blocks from Times Square in Manhattan.
I had the good fortune to enjoy elegant Bryant Park, which extends West from the Library, last summer in New York and found it one of the most civilized corners of the city. HBO/Bank of America is still hosting free movies to audiences who get there early enough to find a chair or a patch of the enormous lawn every Monday night throughout the summer.
The Library's massive Beaux-Arts building has the added advantage on a crushingly hot July day of being supremely air conditioned. I’m talking meat locker cold, inside the Sullivan Theater chilly.
Plus, free WiFi (take that, Manhattan hotels, charging up to $24.95 a day to get on-line) as well as table top plug ins in the massive main library space up on the third floor. Look WAY up and enjoy the cloud mural on the impressive and ornate wooden ceiling. This place is heaven on a hot day.
Plus very open to the public. You don’t even need a library card to take advantage of the space. You just need curiosity, according to the web site, which includes this history.
A friend in New York suggested it was often a refuge for the homeless during times of extreme weather. I witnessed this first hand Wednesday as a fellow wandered in, found a book and sat down in front of me at one of the large wooden tables. He skilfully slipped into stealth library sleep.
One of the guards, who seemed to recognize the dude, gently nudged and asked if he was okay. And that was it. No eviction.
Me, I got a couple of stories done and was not thrown out either. There are exhibits down on the main floor featuring museum-like artifacts from the library’s collection. Guided tours of the book palace are also available throughout the day. It would appear that they even rent the place out for parties at night, with book elves setting up a party makeover as I was exiting Wednesday night. Hell of a place.

Flashpoint outguns competition

Flashpoint beat both Combat Hospital and Rookie Blue in the battle of the shot-in-Toronto Can-Am dramas the week of July 10-17 across Canada. For how Dan for Mayor, Hiccups, So You Think You Can Dance Canada and everything else did last week, jump to the weekly Brioux Report here at Toronto.com.

This week's podcast: what's up, Murdoch

This week, CHML's Scott Thompson wanted to hear my take on what’s going on with this whole Rupert Murdoch hulabaloo. Would this hurt the Fox TV News service, he asks.
While I cheer the tear down of all-powerful media companies and any exposure of their alleged shady dealings the disturbing thing about the Murdoch deal was the quick and viral reaction to his wife swatting away a pie thrower during the hearings. That she was so quickly seized upon as a hero suggests the real story of criminal activity has already receded back beyond the summer haze.
Still, Murdoch has made a lot of media enemies over the years. Had lunch with a pal at the New York Times Wednesday and he told me the suits there--who have no love of the grasping media barron--are practically doing hand stands in the hallways. There are many who are enjoying seeing the old Aussie squirm.
Scott also asks about the trip to New York. I'm in Manhattan to check out the giant outdoor set of Boardwalk Empire, which returns to HBO Canada for a second season in September.
You can listen in here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

VIDEO: Pinnock leads Combat Hospital set visit



This is Etobicoke?? Combat Hospital's Arnold Pinnock greeted press assembled for a visit to the set of the series last month in the west end of Toronto. The actor plays Canadian forces commander Will Royal, head of nursing at the war zone medical unit.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Weird or What: Shatner survives hockey riot

Just got off the phone with William Shatner. At 80, the Captain is as busy as ever despite the demise of his CBS sitcom S#*! My Dad Says. He has a book, a new CD (In Search of Major Tom--where he "sings," among other things, Bohemian Rhapsody!?) and another season of Weird or What? coming out. (The return of Weird or What? was the reason for the phone interview. Season Two comes to History Television Sept. 12). He was also just back in his hometown of Montreal to pick up an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, McGill. Plus he bagged a lifetime achievement award from the governor general. And picked up some bagels on St. Urbain.
AND here's something that won't wait until I write about the return of Weird or What? in September--last month, he found himself smack dab in the middle of the Vancouver hockey riots. Shatner--as glimpsed on Hockey Night in Canada--was at Rogers Arena for Game Seven. "I was right in there," he says. "Walked out of the auditorium and a loud explosion--my hotel was right there."
Sounds like something right out of Weird or What?, I suggest.
"The whole game," says Shatner, "was weird or what."

VIDEO: Haven exec. prod. Shawn Piller on adding Jason Priestley to season two



Haven executive producer Shawn Piller (The Dead Zone) talks about adding Jason Priestley to the second season of the supernatural series. Interviewed on set in a converted hockey rink in Chester, Nova Scotia. Haven returns Monday night at 10 p.m. on Showcase.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lucas Bryant "trashes" the press on Haven



Haven's Lucas Bryant, who plays local New England cop Nathan Wuornos, addresses one of the big mysteries on the Nova Scotia set of the supernatual series. Season Two begins Monday night at 10 p.m. on Showcase.

Jason Priestley finds haven in Haven

Looking for a little paranormal activity? Haven returns for a second season Monday night at 10 p.m. on Showcase. It premiered last Friday on Syfy.I had the opportunity to re-visit the set out in Chester, N.S., in May. The series is produced out of a local hockey rink and everything inside is friendly and low key.
The big get for season two of the supernatural cop drama is Jason Priestley (right). He was in Nova Scotia anyway working season two of his TMN/Movie Central comedy series Call Me Fitz when his old pal Shawn Pillers (The Dead Zone) called him up and asked him to moonlight on Haven. Read more about how that deal went down here in this feature I wrote for The Toronto Star.
Priestley was pretty laid back himself by the time I caught up with him upstairs in the hockey rink, which has been converted into a production office. He says he's mellowed quite a bit from his wild and crazy Hollywood days now that he's a family man with two young kids. He's even gotten rid of what used to be a pretty kick-ass car collection, including a rare Alpha Romero roadster as well as a classic Cord from the ‘30s. “At the end of the day,” he says, “I only had one ass—plus it cost me a lot of money to take care of them all the time.”
The other stars of Haven--Lucas Bryant, Eric Balfour and Emily Rose, left--all seem pretty chummy which is good considering they camp for five months together in Chester. It is, as Rose suggests, a long way from the back lot at Warner Bros. Read more about how living and working far from their Los Angeles homes works for the actors here at this story I filed this past week for The Canadian Press.
Plus check out the video posts I shot with the cast while out in Chester, they'll be up later tonight.

Zen master Rufus Sewell: the Italian job


After a summer full of get-me-off-this-game-show-style reality crap, it's nice to see good drama make a come back. Besides the fourth season return of Breaking Bad (tonight at 10 p.m. on AMC), a new short-order detective series from PBS begins tonight called Zen (part of Masterpiece Mystery!, 9 p.m., check PBS affiliates in your area).
Rufus Sewell, so good in Pillars of the Earth, steps away from the swords and sandals and into modern Italian suits to play a complex and intriguing Italian detective named Aurello Zen. Tonight's 90-minute opener is called "Vendetta"; two more episodes air the following Sundays in July.
The English actor was in Los Angeles at the TCA press tour last January and says he likes Zen because he's not your typical action hero. "What I like about him is that he's almost passive sometimes," says Sewell. "Sometimes his motivation might be to just get through the day and not get fired. If there's a banana skin he might slip up on it. If he lands on his feet, he hurts his feet doing it."
I had interviewed Sewell several months earlier when Pillars of the Earth premiered in Canada. He had been in Rome working on Zen at the time. I found him witty and engaging and very candid about the business, as he was again in Los Angeles. When I suggested all this exposure to North American audiences must be bringing offers left and right, Sewell told me he hadn't worked in five months, since Zen wrapped.
That's partly because Sewell doesn't just do anything. The 43-year-old, who headlined the short-lived CBS series Eleventh Hour, picks parts carefully and has always been vocal about not wanting to be typecast. He'll sit part of a year and grow his beard rather than do, say, another gladiator movie.
"One of the problems of my career," he says, "is that the level of anonymity and notoriety I enjoy prevents me from getting the jobs I really want. While I'm as famous as I want to be, if I were better known I might get closer to the parts I want. I have to duck and dive and scavenge."
He was happy to lose the beard he wore in Pillars to play the much more modern and dapper Zen. "I used to call it my unemployment beard and then I mucked it all up by actually doing a job with my beard."
Sewell is philosophical about the business, suggesting Zen and/or Pillars could lead to intriguing jobs five years down the road. As Canada gets more and more involved with international co-productions, he's one of those actors who could kick ass, say, on Republic of Doyle if Hawco ever runs out of Newfoundlanders.

Tonight: Breaking Bad returns for Season Four

Breaking Bad returns tonight for a fourth season at 10 p.m. on AMC. Bryan Cranston has won the Best Actor in a drama Emmy three years in a row as chemistry teacher-turned-drug-kingpin Walter White, but he is not in the running this year. That's because AMC bumped the show out of its usual late-winter start to July, thus missing the May 31 eligibility deadline. This gives these guys a chance at an Emmy win: Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Hugh Laurie (House), Timothy Oliphant (Justified) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men). They all deserve it, but I'd probably vote Hamm off an outstanding season, although it would also be pretty cool if Chandler won.
Cranston is an outstanding actor (think about it--this guy used to play Hal on Malcolm in the Middle!) and a good man to boot, just a warm, wonderful interview. You can't help but cheer his good fortune.
Walter White, however, just gets darker and nastier every season. White is part of a pack of morally reprehensible leading characters who seemed so in vogue a season or two ago but now seem out of step as I argue in this article in today's Toronto Star.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

This week on Rupert Murdoch Mysteries


The invention of the telephone is seen as a golden opportunity to steal information and ruin lives for yellow journalism kingpin Rupert Murdoch in this week's exciting episode of Rupert Murdoch Mysteries (Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on City). The detective (Yannick Bisson) catches Murdoch (Don Cherry) tapping a phone line (with a hammer), but when he drags his suspect to the police station, Sgt. Armstrong (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) refers the matter to the CRTC, where it is never resolved. CRTC chairman Conrad Von Trappenstein: Colin Mochrie.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Late night joke of the week

From Wednesday night's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:
There’s talk that Lindsay Lohan’s mother, Dina, will be on the next season of “Dancing With the Stars.” Which explains the show’s new title, “Dancing With the Non-star Parents of Former Stars.”

This week's podcast: Big Brother is watched

This week, CHML's Scott Thompson wants to know why Big Brother (below), in its 13th season, was the No. 1 show on TV in Canada last week. Scott attributes this to what he calls "the train wreck theory." I agree and bow here to Reality Obsessed expert Murtz Jaffer, who has explained the continuing success of these reality operas in the past as part of our endless fascination with people being humiliated on television.
It sounds like networks are only too happy to feed into that failing. A&E have been running loud promos on their network for such winners as Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry? There was a show on TLC recently about a woman who ate her own couch. Later she ate her car, which was a four cylinder and afterwards she realized, "I could have had a V8!"
We also talk about Stephen Harper's upcoming appearance on Murdoch Mysteries. He might turn up on Big Brother, too, except as the big brother.
The weekly radio yak went so long it had to be captured in two files. You can listen in here and here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Toronto trio tops this week's Brioux Report


The top three scripted TV shows in all of Canada last week were all shot in Toronto: Combat Hospital (above, with 1,507,000 viewers), Rookie Blue (1,380,000) and Flashpoint (1,369,000). Who says Canadians won't watch Canadian programs? 'Course, they were all beat by the return of the summer snoop opera Big Brother on Global (1,734,000).
The Sunday return of Big Brother also gave Hiccups hiccups. Check out all the Canadian prime time TV numbers for the week of July 4 to 10 here at Toronto.com.

Murdoch Mysteries: photo in need of a caption


So you're asking yourself--what is the late Rodney Dangerfield doing in a shot with Yannick Bisson from Murdoch Mysteries? Well, hold onto your funding grants--that's none other than our beloved Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, guest starring as Desk Sargent Armstrong in the July 20 episode "Confederate Treasure" (City, 8/9c).
It kinda looks to me like Harper and Bisson are going through the list of Canadian TV shows that deserve funding in the coming season but I'm throwing this one to the comment section. This things just screams "caption me." Click the comment button below and send in your suggestions.
Did the results of the recent federal election cost Iggy a juicy guest starring role on Murdoch as an 1890s undertaker? Harper's scenes were shot last October, months before the last election. Apparently he's a fan of the series--either that or he thought it was about long time Ontario provincial Tory MPP Bill Murdoch.
Kudos to the producers of Murdoch Mysteries for getting in first (the series is cruising along at half-a-million viewers-plus per week in Season Four), but now that Mr. Harper has the acting bug, can a guest appearance on Little Mosque be next? Is there a cameo on Combat Hospital in his future?  
This isn't Harper's first TV series appearance. Many thought that was a marionette, but, back in the '60s, he was one of the Tracey brothers in the original Thunderbirds.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Flashpoint still top gun in 4th season return

Flashpoint hit its target and then some in its fourth season opener Friday with 1.4 million viewers across Canada. In even better news, the Toronto-based cop drama (featuring Hugh Dillon, right) had a strong return in simulcast on CBS, where it drew 6.23 million viewers. That ranked it ahead of a repeat of CSI: New York (5.96 mil.) and right behind a Blue Bloods rerun (6.58 mil.) as the biggest draws of a soft summer night. ABC's quasi-Can-con entry Shark Tank (4.09 mil.) and NBC's second last episodes of Friday Night Lights (3.0 mil.), were opposite Flashpoint in the States.
By way of comparison, Flashpoint Friday outgunned Thursday's ABC airing of similar cross-border cop entry Rookie Blue (5.68 mil.).
A huge hit in Canada, CBS treats Flashpoint like a utility player, bringing it in off the bench to spell pricier America-made starters and work innings in the summer months. The Canadian executive producers of Flashpoint, Anne Marie La Traverse and Bill Mustos, know their role and are willing to accept it as long as CBS keeps asking for more. Six more new episodes of Flashpoint will simulcast on CTV and CBS this summer Fridays at 8 ET before the series switches to Tuesday nights this fall on CTV.  A fifth season has been ordered by the Canadian network; CBS, as usual, will make everybody sweat it out until the very end of September before renewing their commitment--a hardball tactic that keeps the price down.
The strong fourth season return should show CBS prez Nina Tassler and company that the fan base is not going anywhere and perhaps growing thanks to exposure on Netflix and other platforms. For more on this complicated cross border success story, check out this feature I wrote last week for The Canadian Press.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Curb appeal: Season Eight a home run

Once again, Larry David does the impossible. He makes a hero out of Bill Buckner.
Red Sox fans have never forgiven the long-retired first baseman for letting the ball scoot through his legs, costing Boston their first World Series in 70 years. It’s been 25 years and two Series titles later but still the man is hated and despised.
All is forgiven in “Mister Softee,” one of three hilarious Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes sent to critics in advance of Sunday’s 8th season premiere (10 p.m. ET/MT on HBO and HBO Canada).
Buckner is one of several guest stars this season, including Michael J. Fox, Ana Gasteyer (a scream as Larry’s car-ridin’ girlfriend), Ricky Gervais, Harry Hamlin, Larry Miller, Robert Smigel, Aida Turturro and Jo Anne Worley. David Steinberg directs Sunday’s season premiere.
An even funnier episode airs July 24: “Palestinian Chicken” finds Larry and his weasel-y agent/pal Jeff Garlin discovering the best chicken they’ve ever tasted at a new Palestinian restaurant. This doesn’t sit well with some of Larry’s more orthodox friends, especially Bob Einstein, laugh-out-loud funny after a new rabbi has turned him into a “Super Jew.” Then when a second Palestinian restaurant opens right next to Greenblat’s deli—oy vey.
David is a master at threading various situations along a firecracker chain that explodes at the end of each episode. He did it as a writer producer on Seinfeld and he takes it to ridiculous new heights on Enthusiasm.
Semi regulars Richard Lewis, Einstein, Wanda Sykes and Rosie O’Donnell add to the fun. Susie Essman is a standout as Garlin’s prickly wife who has a constant hate on for Larry. Garlin is a scream, endlessly tolerant of David’s selfishness because that’s what agents do.
David has become awfully good at playing David and this season he really shines. It was hard to imagine topping last season with all those delightful Seinfeld reunion story lines but David wisely takes his time, comes back only when inspiration hits and then just for 10 episodes.
If playing a narcissistic jerk sounds easy, witness the utter failure of Bad Dog, Ken Finkleman’s lazy attempt to rip off David the same way he retyped Larry Sanders scripts and called it The Newsroom. Not just derivative, Bad Dog is depressing and supremely unfunny. David’s show builds to joy and laughter.
The Buckner episode (not till Sept. 4) and others shift to New York City with Larry fleeing Los Angeles for three months to avoid a simple charity request. His character continues to set new lows as the most narcissistic being on the planet. Yet Buckner’s redemption is one of the most generous, unselfish acts in the history of show-business—unless you see it as a Yankee fan having the last laugh by once again finding the nerve and bunting it between the legs. That is, after all, what David does best.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Royals visit marks TV Turnoff week in Canada

Canada's No. 1 show: the performance finale of The Voice
It was a slow week in television in Canada. Nothing cracked the two million mark and only two shows did better than 1.5 million--Combat Hospital and the performance finale of The Voice. Newscasts got a boost thanks to the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, especially on CBC, which otherwise could have shut down without hockey. See those results plus ratings for So You Think You Can Dance Canada, Rookie Blue, Hiccups, Dan for Mayor, Almost Grown and Single White Spenny and other ratings for the week of June 27 to July 3 over at "The Brioux Report at Toronto.com.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

TSN looking for Argo bounce with The Extra Yard

TSN scored a touchdown picking up those excellent 30 for 30 sports documentaries from ESPN. Now they`re trying to take the ball themselves starting with The Extra Yard: Inside the 2011 Argos (premiering Sunday at 10 p.m.). The first of four hour-long episodes follows 80 hopefuls through the rigors of a Toronto Argonaut training camp.
I spoke with Coach Jim Barker about dealing with all those cameras and microphones. Being dragged into a sports reality show wasn`t his idea, he says, but he understands the value of these kinds of spin-off shows to the team and to the Canadian Football League.
“It’s all part of the real life thing that’s going on, not only in sports but in society,” he says. “All these kind of reality shows like The Housewives of Orange County and Big Brother and The Bachelor are what sells and what people want to see.”
He also gets that these kind of sport reality documentaries appeal to more than your usual sports fan. "It's human drama. It's watching a young man fight for his livelihood. Basically we bring 80 people to training camp and 53 of them are still here."
The episodes will run one-a-month with the next one airing Thursday Aug. 4. Read more about The Extra Yard and what Coach Barker has to say here at this story I wrote for The Canadian Press.

Late night joke of the week

From Friday's The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson:
The royal couple will be visiting eight major cities during their nine days in Canada. That’s amazing to me. Canada has eight major cities?