Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wade Belak: 1976 - 2011

News that Wade Belak was found dead in as Toronto hotel room came as a total shock to those close to him at CBC's Battle of the Blades.
The former NHL enforcer and one time Toronto Maple Leaf was an early recruit for the third season of the CBC reality series. Blades, which is set to return Sept.  18, is already in production in Toronto and Belak along with the others took part in skating exercises shot for the opening episode. A source close to the show says Belak seemed in high spirits and was joking as recently as yesterday on Twitter with ex-teammate and former Blades champ Craig Simpson. The Toronto Sun, among others, are reporting Belak's death was a suicide.
The following message is posted at the show's web site: "We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Wade Belak. We send our thoughts and condolences to his family and friends. He will be greatly missed."
Bryan Berard, Brad May, Boyd Devereaux and Tessa Bonhomme were announced last week as participants along with Belak in the third season of the series.
Producers of Battle of the Blades cancelled plans to attend Wednesday night's Gemini Awards presentations in Toronto. The series is up for Best Music or Variety program.
The 35-year-old leaves a wife and two small children. Condolences to his friends and family.

Mike Holmes makes it right in Brampton

I recently flew 4300 kms to Dawson City, Yukon, to work a story but it's also a kick when I can simply walk to a TV location. That happened earlier this year when Mike Holmes was just three blocks away ripping apart a house for his HGTV series Holmes Inspection (returning for a second season Thursday at 9pm ET/PT).
Holmes himself wasn't personally ripping anything. Despite those Popeye forearms, he's got a team of contractors led by Damon Bennett (above right with Holmes) to do his dirty work. It was easy to spot his presence, what with all those scrap waste bins out front already stickered with Mike's "Make It Right" motto.
The house was a nice place I'd noticed before while walking Brampton's "M" section. (Tip for moms-to-be--don't live in the "C" section.) The folks who bought it paid plenty only to discover that it needed $250,000 in upgrades and renovations and no, the TV show does not pay for that--it comes out of the home owner's pocket.
Holmes and his crew chased a squirrel and some raccoons out of the joint and I'm pretty sure they're now living in my garage. For more on the house, the show and Holmes, read this story I filed today for The Canadian Press.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Canada goes digital: time to analog out

August 31 is D-Day in Canada--as in Digital TV Transition day. It's the last day you're supposed to be able to watch over-the-air broadcasts through an old school antenna.
Really, if you haven't addressed this by now, well, hate to break it to you but the Dumont network is no longer carrying Gleason.
At any rate, not sure this affects anybody reading this. If you've got the Internet, you gotta be off the friggin' rabbit ears. Even my old pal Pat McConvey finally capitulated, although he had to get married to finally trade up to Rogers Plus.
I thought maybe my kids would be affected. After three years, the Montreal student has never had any cable or satellite hook up. Child No. 2 just moved into residence at Ryerson and has no cable feed for the old hotel set stashed in his room. They could both be looking at snow in September.
Except a) nobody under 25 watches television. b) kids that do watch television rip it off the Internet.
Katie has seen every episode of The Wire without ever once screwing a coaxial cable or jamming brass-tipped, colour-coded contact wires into the back of any set. She just watches The Wire wireless.
TV may feed my family, but my family is dining way off the menu these days.
So the digital conversion must affect those in Canada's vast hinterlands, right? Wrong, arctic char breath. Visits to Dawson City, Whitehorse and Yellowknife in the past year have all yielded a full compliment of channel choices. You can watch CHCH, NTV and KTLA in the Yukon or the Northwest Territories, at least off satellite feeds offered in the hotel rooms I've visited.
The U.S. switched to digital two years ago and nobody lost an eye, although the U.S. government pocketed a fortune. Canadian broadcasters have been offering tips on how to bridge the conversion for anyone still bringing in City through a coat hanger. Thank God nobody has to miss an episode of Bachelor Pad. We shall overcome.
Remember, you can get a new antenna that receives digital signals and carry on without cable or satellite. Several TVFMF readers have and report better than ever picture and sound.
There's a theory out there that CBC might be the broadcaster most affected by the switch as their viewers tend to be older and tucked into more remote places. If that's true, there night be a dip in ratings for CBC this fall. Trouble is, will anyone notice on the first true test of the digital conversion impact--next Wednesday's Gemini Awards? That's right, the annual Canadian TV industry salute will be the first to take it smack in the analog. Again, well planned, geniuses.

Shameless plug alert: CHCH's Morning Live

The sleepy-looking guy in the white beard will be me Tuesday morning around 8:10-ish as I get dragged before the camera on CHCH's Morning Live. I'll be there to yak about the upcoming fall TV season. 'CH has two new fall imports, both from The CW: Hart of Dixie stars Rachel Bilson as the top medical grad in her class (I know, hilarious) who gets booted out of Manhattan and has to open a medical practice in the sticks. Her old O.C. boss Josh Schwartz is behind this. Kevin Williamson is the creator behind The Secret Circle, a new supernatural drama about a teen witch who doesn't know she's a witch. Saaaamm! A buncha perfect-looking WB/CW types star along side Newfoundlander Natasha Henstridge as the high school Principal. None of my Principal's looked like that.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Corus Quay: a 21st century showcase

Which media company has the best work environment in North America? One to beat would have to be the stunning new headquarters of Corus Entertainment. Had a tour of their multi-million dollar Toronto edifice at the foot of Jarvis right on Lake Ontario and it is impressive inside and out.
I was at the 500,000 sq. foot office and broadcast centre known as "Corus Quay" to meet Jason Priestley for lunch at the ground floor, lakeside bistro, Against the Grain. Priestley is in town to promote the second season of Call Me Fitz on Corus' Movie Central as well as The Movie Network. He's also a presenter at next week's Gemini Awards, where Fitz is nominated for 16 of the Canadian TV industry statues. That's still impressive even though everybody starts out with at least five nominations.
When I remarked to Priestley that sitting lakeside on the Grain patio seemed like an LA experience on this perfect summer day in Toronto he quickly said, "there's nothing like this in Los Angeles."
True, especially as a work environment. A quick tour of the digs from publicist Netta Rondinelli was an eye opener. At first the place reminded me a little of the North Hollywood headquarters of The Hub, home of Hasbro as well as the production offices for The Simpsons. Critics were treated to a tour of that place in July at the start of the last press tour. But The Hub has nothing on Corus.
For one thing, there is a crazy-ass, three-storey slide at Corus. Anybody over six can twirl down it. The dudes from Foo Fighters, apparently, tried it out.
It starts up on the third floor off a work lounge where Foosball tables and loopy lounge chairs are provided for the 1100 employees to enjoy. You'll find Foosball tables tucked all over the joint, down in the offices of The Edge radio station or in the halls close to YTV. Nice to see Corus gets it is in the fun business.
Art from the employees is featured in the white-walled hallways and there are some gallery worthy pieces.
You won't find a private corner office up on the fifth floor for Corus CEO John Cassaday. The man has a nice work space, but it is as open as the work stations found in the publicity department down the hall. Art rests on easels instead of on the wall.
Cassaday does enjoy a spectacular view of Lake Ontario and the islands but so does everyone else. You can watch planes take off from the island airport and see sailboats navigate the harbourfront.
On the 8th floor there is Toronto's next great party space with a lavish outdoor patio just waiting to be rented out for a wedding; the first one takes place this weekend. Off that and past a trophy window filled with Geminis and other junk is a 100-seat projection room that would make Robert Evans envious. Floor-to-ceiling, two-story windows offering a spectacular view of the CN Tower and downtown office towers are hidden with the flick of a switch. Down comes a screen and pass the popcorn.
Overhead in the open atrium that faces the lake centre-front are chrome and glass bridges that look like something out of a science fiction movie. Peppered throughout the inner offices are little work stations where any manner of mobile device can connect. Some are like giant glass phone booths decorated by lively mosaics. A large, white boardroom featured microphones with colourful little stems. Bright primary colours drawn from Corus' logo are echoed in various nooks and crannies.
Directly to the west of the building is tidy little Sugar Beach, quickly becoming Toronto's latest outdoor hot spot. You can catch rays down there and gaze back at the Guvernment, think of what was and shake your head in the sun.

Corus Quay was designed by Diamond and Schmitt architects (Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, the Pierre Berton Library in Vaughan) with interiors by Quadrangle Architects Limited (no strangers to TV factories, with 299 Queen West and Rogers' Dundas Square showcase among their clients).  Hats off to them both. The energy efficient project, which opened nearly a year ago, will soon have a new tenant--the staff running the pan-american games.
The office complex is seen as the first major domino in the Toronto harbour redevelopment plan. George Brown College's new waterfront campus is going up right next door.  Will all this largess lead to great TV? Too early to tell. One of the new tenants is Good Dog, Ken Finkleman's latest homage to Ken Finkleman. Why let Good Dog in this pristine new edifice just to stain the carpets? Seems Finkleman took one look at the Corus corporate digs and declared it the shiny new set for season two of his Movie Central/The Movie Network Curb Your Enthusiasm clone. Can't blame the man for having good taste in buildings.
The view west from Corus's 100-seat, 8th floor screening room

Friday, August 26, 2011

Francois Arnaud makes the most of being a Borgia

Arnaud with Holliday Grainger (Cesare's kinky sister Lucrezia)

The Borgias has certainly been a big break for Francois Arnaud. The 26-year-old Montreal native landed the role of Cesare Borgia and is second billed to Jeremy Irons on the Showtime/Bravo/CTV series, which has been renewed for a second season. Season One comes to DVD and Blu-ray Aug. 30.
I spoke with Arnaud last October in Budapest, Hungary, where the historical drama is shot. He seemed pretty matter-of-fact about his good fortune and about acting opposite Irons, almost as if he didn't want to make too big a deal about it for fear of breaking the spell.
Arnaud is perfect for the multicultural mix that is The Borgias. The set is a blend of Brits, Canucks and Hungarians. The Irish creator of the series, Neil Jordan, wanted all the actors to speak in a vaguely British accent. "In Rome, everybody spoke very posh. He didn't want that," says Arnaud, who also speaks Spanish and speaks English with little trace of his natural french accent. "I had English speaking friends since childhood. I'm really bad at a lot of things but language isn't one of them."
Asked what he meant by being bad at certain things, Arnaud said he's not one of those actors who can also sing and dance. "God didn't bring Glee on my path," he says. "It might be a really good thing."
For more on Arnaud, follow this link to the story I wrote yesterday for The Canadian Press.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hollywood Suite: more movies for less

Most TVFMF readers undoubtedly saw the news Tuesday that a new package of movie channels is coming to Canada. Hollywood Suite is from a few of the restless suits who ran CHUM back in the day. It will offer uncut movies in high definition across four different channels. Content deals have already been made with Warners and MGM to flow around 450 different titles across the various HS platforms every month.
My first reaction, being a Turner Classic Movies devotee, was does this mean blackouts on TCM? Never, says former MuchMusic GM David Kines, one of the brains behind the new HS operation. Hollywood Suite has non-exclusive deals, so go watch your Robert Osborne marathons in peace.
My second (actually very first) thought was does Canada need more movie channels? The answer is yes for several reasons but mainly they can be boiled down to choice, variety and price. When the carriage deals are done and these channels start being offered on cable and satellite (as early as November), the Hollywood Suite bundle (Warner Films, MGM Channel, Hollywood Storm, Hollywood Festival) will be available on the high-def tier and will cost less than pricier pay-TV services such as The Movie Network, Movie Central or Super Channel.
Right now, those services are the only places you can get uncut movie gems, other than good old TCM or TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies. TMN and the others will still be the only place to see uncut movies just a few months removed from their theatrical releases. The Hollywood Suite fare will be stuff you never got around to seeing last year, or classic fare from the MGM and Warner vaults.
The other thing is choice. Besides commercial interruption, channels such as Showcase Diva or Action seem to show the same 15 movies over and over again. So does AMC, and while we’re at it, why do they interrupt their films to keep telling us we’re watching AMC?? Commercials I get but screwing with movie flow just to plug the network?
CHCH shows films but the tired prints look like they’re being projected through a silk stocking with a leg still in it. Comedy Gold on the weekend literally seems to rerun the same five films: The Breakfast Club, Caddy Shack--say them with me. I have more comedy features in my basement on 16mm! Many of the Shaw-owned specialty channels are now so clogged with NCIS reruns I forget if they ever had movies on them to begin with. I swear I saw NCIS on the Food Network last week. Other channels that used to run quirkier movies, such as Drive-In, have disappeared.
The Hollywood Suite boys swear they’ll run their films uncut, in HD and mix things up—good news for film buffs. They’ll also offer the whole deal across platforms like iphones and ipads for those that like to squint their way through all those Harry Potter films (especially “Harry Potter and the Eye-strain Conniption”).
Pricing will be announced closer to launch, but look for HS to be more in range with what Netflix is asking than TMN.
Netflix and various on-demand services such as Rogers on Demand seem to me to be Toronto-based Hollywood Suite’s main competition (along with, well, stealing films off the Internet), but more choice is good, especially in Hi-Def and especially for consumers spooked by the extra step (and cost) associated with punching numbers into an on-demand account.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tonight: Sam Roberts Band at the Concert Hall

Quick--flip on the set, turn to Bravo! and check out Sam Roberts at the Concert Hall (8 p.m. ET, repeats Friday at 6 p.m.). The Juno award-winner performed this concert a few months ago at the funky old Masonic Temple in Toronto. My 18-year-old son Daniel, who stood in the snow to see Roberts perform New Year`s Eve in Brampton, went down and checked him out and gives the show a big thumbs up. Host Matt Wells asks the right questions and Roberts keeps things up close and intimate. There are plenty of cuts from Roberts new album Colider but there are older fan favourites, too, although, according to Dan, the rocker did not treat the audience to The Gate with its eight minute long, trippy, psychedelic guitar solo. Next time.

Layton made the most of his 22 Minutes

Jack Layton, among all the other tributes pouring in, was a great sport, especially when it came to appearing on TV comedy shows. Once Layton stood next to Don Ferguson impersonating Layton on Air Farce and the only difference was when Ferguson peeled off his moustache. You had a sense watching the NDP leader on these shows that he was savvy enough to grab the face time, agile enough to spar with these clowns and secure enough to know that, what the hell, it was all in good fun.
The gang at 22 Minutes have put together the above collection of Layton`s appearances. Enjoy, and thanks to Mark Critch and his twitter link for the heads up.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Premiering tonight on Bravo!: Suits

It may sound odd that a network that doesn't broadcast in Canada shoots a lot of their stuff here--USA Network--but, hey, it's all good for the Canadian TV industry. The latest is Suits, a light-hearted law drama from Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity), the resourceful producer/director who shoots another USA series in Toronto, Covert Affairs.
Suits stars Gabriel Macht (Love and Other Drugs) as a hotshot Manhattan attorney who hires an old pal who happens to be an unmotivated college drop out (Toronto-native Patrick J. Adams, above right) as his corporate law partner. The kid may not have a degree but he has a photographic memory as well as street smarts to burn.
USA hosted a meet-and-greet breakfast with the cast a few weeks ago on press tour. Did I go to it? No. Have I watched the screener? No. Could I at least give some sort of half-assed heads up about it? Better than anyone I know. Suits premieres tonight in Canada at 10ET/7PT on Bravo!, right after their premiere of another U.S. cable series, TNT`s Franklin & Bash. Maybe I should watch Suits--audiences in the States liked it so much it has already been renewed for a second season on USA.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Few more Miner details from Dawson City shoot

Back from my northern exposure to remarkable Dawson City, Yukon, where I was on location with the cats from Murdoch Mysteries. So much to process out from walking those muddy streets which seldom go dark this time of year. Check out my "up close and dirty view of Murdoch Mysteries" in the front page of the entertainment section of Saturday's Toronto Star. It's an account of my two days spend being a background extra as "miner No. 7" on the series. That's me on the right with the brown pipe, wine suspenders and yellow teeth.
Many thanks to Mario Tassone, Katie Wolfgang and ultimately Christina Jennings for the experience. While reporting on the special episode, which will air as the fifth season premiere of Murdoch Mysteries sometime next spring, I was a guest of Jennings' Shaftesbury Films.
Below is a view from "The Dome," one of Dawson's "gold-in-them-thar-hills" mountains that offers one of the most breathtaking views in all of Canada. Yannick Bisson and Aaron Ashmore walked the crest as Murdoch and Jack London. That's Ashmore on the right pointing out Sarah Palin's house:

That's me, below left, toting a sack filled with crushed newspapers labeled "100 lbs of Plaster." It is supposed to make me look like a burly miner but it looks more like I'm burping a baby. Dawson-based photographer Jay Armitage, who clicked like crazy as the set stills shooter, shot most of these photos.

A look down one of the many Dawson streets blocked off for the production with Bisson and English guest star Jill Halfpenny in the foreground. Halfpenny plays Elizabeth, Murdoch's main Yukon distraction.

Elizabeth wasn't Murdoch's only distraction. I snapped this shot of Bisson--looking more like he did in his Nothing Too Good for  a Cowboy days--surrounded by four of the locals posing as town prostitutes. The actress on the far right is one of Diamond Tooth Gertie's extremely flexible can-can dancers.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What's Red and Green and all across Canada?

I always enjoy catching up with Steve Smith, the scratchy voice and scrambled brain behind Red Green. Smith brought me up to date on the phone last week, told me all about his Red Green "Wit & Wisdom" tour. The 90-minute, one man shows are scheduled at theatres right across Canada with a stop at Casino Rama booked for Oct. 27. No big cities mind you--Smith knows Red plays best to his Possum Lodge peeps in cities under 100,000. You can find the full tour schedule here.
Being Canadian, Smith took a MacGyver approach to making television, cranking out episodes with bits of string, chewing gum and duct tape. Over 15 seasons he delivered 300 episodes of The New Red Green Show. They aired across several stations and networks, so Smith got to deal with a lot of pinheaded programmers. He singles out former CBC boss Slawko Klymkiw as one Canadian network executive who got it. "He stands alone in my whole memory of television," says Smith.
True to his working class Hamilton, Ont., roots, Smith has always been a realist when it comes to the business of making television. “I really miss the apathy that used to give Canadian talent a chance,” he says, suggesting the problem with network executives today is “now they think they know something.”
Smith is quite content to retail himself on tour rather than “wholesaling myself to TV stations,” explaining, “my whole career, I wholesaled my talents to TV stations and then they marked me up to advertisers.”
Now that's "Wit & Wisdom." For more on Smith and Red, check out this article I wrote this week for The Canadian Press.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Miner transformation on Murdoch Mysteries

Left to right: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
DAWSON CITY, YUKON--You've heard of blog gold--but blog gold teeth? Even I couldn't stand to see my smile after Deb in makeup dabbed gold goo on my uppers and lowers, It was all part of my transformation into "Miner No. 7" on Murdoch Mysteries, a shot-in-Toronto series which has hit the road to Dawson City this week for an upcoming gold rush episode.
It's all part of a historically-based 1899 storyline penned by executive producer Peter Mitchell. Joining series lead Yanick Bisson on the muddy streets of Dawson City is Aaron Ashmore as Klondike author Jack London.
That's me (far left) and my miner peeps in the above photo, three locals who answered the call for extras on the two day shoot. Wrangling background talent proved to be quite a challenge for the casting director. Hard to find extras when there is zero unemployment in this picturesque mining town as gold climbs closer to two thousand dollars an ounce.
Besides the dirty tobacco mouth, I got messied up in wardrobe. This after giving my whiskers a week-and-a-half to grow into a minor miner beard. The extra weight I put on as I gorged myself through another press tour was all part of my De Niro-like dedication to my craft. Seriously.

There's blog gold in them thar hills

Gertie meets man from Lenscrafters
DAWSON CITY, YUKON--There still is gold in Dawson City, say the locals. But there's a surprising amount of silver, too.
At least there was Tuesday night at "Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall," Canada's oldest casino. As in silver-haired tourists, mostly American, who apparently flock to the place in the summer months.
Gertie and her Klondike cuties put on three can-can shows a night at the casino; the crowd at the 8 p.m. show seemed to feel they got more than their ten bucks worth.
It seemed like the only younger faces in the crowd belonged to the crew from Murdoch Mysteries, in town to shoot scenes from the fifth season premiere of the Citytv whodunit, which spiked to 649,000 viewers last Wednesday night. The Yannick Bisson Sherlock Holmes-meets-CSI drama beat everything on CTV, Global and /A\ that night--hell of a feat on half the stations across the country.
Bisson wasn't at Gerties' Tuesday night--he was too busy riding trail bikes straight up the mining passes that dot the surrounding hillsides at Dawson. "Best day of my life," Bisson declared.
Wednesday, this reporter will be up at the crack of dawn which could be damn early as the sun barely sets up here this time of year. I'm going to be a background extra, "Miner No. 7," which sounds about right. Details to follow.
As a footnote, the TV at the hotel in Dawson features channels like Hamilton's CHCH, Los Angeles'  KTLA and NTV from St. John's. All this fear that the conversion to digital is going to strand remote northern towns at the end of the month is rubbish; they've been dishing for decades in this gold rush town, the 3rd in all of North America, by the way, to boast electricity!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Traveling to the top of the globe to bring the news

WHITEHORSE, YUKON--Usually when I do my weekly radio chat with Scott Thompson he's on Hamilton's CHML AM900. Monday, however, Scott was working the evening shift over at Corus sister station AM640 in Toronto. So you'd think I would go talk to him in person in the studio, right? Wrong Arctic Char breath.
Monday was a travel day for me as I'm en route to the farthest set visit I've ever been to in Canada--Dawson City, Yukon. As I tell Scott on the radio podcast, I'll be there Tuesday to check out production on Murdoch Mysteries. The Citytv series, which airs Wednesdays at 10/9c, normally shoots in Toronto. In four seasons, have I once bothered to ride down the 427 and visit the set? No  I have not. Instead, I am traveling 4,326 kms to interview Yanick Bisson and the Murdoch gang.
And why? Well, Murdoch Mysteries is suddenly a big deal. That cameo by the PM last month didn't hurt, goosing ratings to 700,000 viewers. Plus when the hell am I ever going to get another chance to visit the heart of the Yukon gold rush? Have you seen the price of gold lately? They still let you pan for gold in Dawson, and if that doesn't pan out, there's always Diamond Tooth Gerties gambling hall and casino. Hit me!
Also, producers at Shaftesbury Films have invited me to sneak into the background for a scene or two as "Miner No. 7." They asked if I could not shave for a while. I said that's my specialty. Be warned: I'll be posting pics and video in the coming days.
I tell Scott all about it and also give my two cents on the endless Bert & Ernie bromance on Sesame Street, Larry Hagman's return to Southfork and the latest upheaval in late night with George Lopez' TBS exit. You can listen in here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Alert Count Floyd! Horror Story is scary keeds!

I've been talking up American Horror Story since I came back from L.A. The screening at the Fox Studios a week ago had critics sleeping with at least one eye open.
FX has cannily snuck seven 16-second teasers up on YouTube. The first in the series is above. It doesn't show you anything from the pilot but gives some sense of the unease and macabre mix of sex and violence that is in store. From executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, American Horror Story premieres Oct. 5 on FX and likely Oct. 31 (Halloween night!) on FX Canada.
American Horror Story isn't the only U.S. cable series to be cranking up the creeps this fall. Dexter returns to Showtime for a sixth season Oct. 2 and, if the poster is any indication, the avenging Miami coroner (played by Michael C. Hall, who made the scene at CBS/Showtime's TCA press tour party) is back to take another stab at it.
Showtime boss David Nevins told critics at press tour that Dexter will be taking on several taboos this season. "I think it’s a really compelling year. I mean, Dexter’s in a very interesting place and there’s some things that are going to happen this year that I think can set up future life to the show." So what's he going to say--it's a dull year? Look for Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos to both be featured this season.

Can Landgraf's FX formula fix Canadian TV?

One of the smartest people in television, in my estimation, is John Landgraf (left). Had the pleasure of chatting on the phone with the president and general manager of FX Wednesday for this CP piece on the deal behind FX Canada.
I had flown home early from the TCA press tour in Los Angeles and missed Landgraf's executive session last Saturday. Seven years into his job and just signed for another three, Landgraf is always impressive at press tour. He's very candid and uncloaked, with none of the duck and spin you get from most other network executives. When I also spoke with Rogers broadcasting president Scott Moore the same day, he agreed that listening to Landgraf was like sitting in on a masters class on television.
Moore is equally smart for getting into business with the FX crowd. The shows emerging from the cable network and the way they are developed and marketed will provide solid, practical lessons for any Canadian broadcaster. FX, with a fraction of the budget of HBO, produces comparable programming, scheduling nine or 10 quality original series a year. They do it on an impressive economy of scale. Louis, for example, is cranked out at a little over $300,000US per episode. Double that and you get Ashton Kutcher's weekly salary this coming season on Two and a Half Men.
The other brilliant and gutsy thing Landgraf does is leave people alone. The guys behind It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia--just renewed for a seventh and eighth season--came in green as grass, yet the savvy exec resisted the temptation to impose a veteran showrunner into their midst.
"The ethos of the company is more like independent film," explains Landgraf. "Independent film is all about self reliance and ingenuity. Creative freedom trumps financial resources. So we try to figure out how much creative freedom we can provide to the people who work for us."
What Landgraf has proven and what every other TV executive on both sides of the border should pay attention to is that network interference costs money. "When you make people jump through a lot of hoops, when you put a lot of conditions on what they do and how they do it, when you change your mind a lot, all that translated directly into money," he says.
No wonder people are dying to work for this guy. Talk to Rescue Me duo Denis Leary and Peter Tolan, they go on and on about the incredible support they get from FX.
"Don’t change you mind, support what people do, empower them, give them the ability to use their own brains," says Landgraf. "You ultimately save a lot of money."
Usually shows that find this kind of freedom dodge a bullet thanks to geography, proximity or a budget so small nobody cares. Trailer Park Boys was way the hell out in Halifax and the folks at Showcase at the time were smart enough to leave well enough alone.
Landgraf acknowledges that "certain people don’t work well" in such a total hands-off environment. But for those who do, he says, "it's manna from heaven."
Canadians should get a chance to find out. Landgraf says he welcomes the opportunity to get in business with Canadian producers and hopefully he'll find the next Wilfred or Louis or Sons of Anarchy he can program on FX and Moore can schedule on FX Canada.
By terms of its licence, FX Canada is required to come up with at least 15% Canadian content on its schedule, a pathetically small amount that often gets skirted around by Canadian broadcasters with Littlest Hobo reruns. Moore indicated he was determined to take that requirement seriously.
I ran a Canadian producer name by both Landgraf and Moore: Chris Haddock. Watching CBC struggle with Intelligence, I always thought that was a show that could have been dropped perfectly between The Shield and Rescue Me on an FX schedule. Better to play to the smaller, smarter room. Moore agrees that Haddock's sensibility would be a great fit at FX.
I checked with Haddock and he says he hasn't pitched FX yet. "Tell him to get in touch," said Landgraf. That goes double for Moore, who has something to prove on the Rogers believes in Can-con front. Over to you, Chris. Another Chris, Bolton, should also pitch to these guys. There are a number of resourceful Canadians who have the scars to show they know how to make original, entertaining and often edgy programming on an FX-size dime.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lopez out at TBS: Wake up call for Conan?

News that TBS has canceled Lopez Tonight isn't a total surprise. Comedian George Lopez was working it hard in recent weeks with appearances on Late Show with David Letterman (his first sit down with Dave ever!) and a memorable turn on Piers Morgan Tonight. For my money, that was one of Morgan's best CNN hours, with the host asking blunt questions and Lopez so nakedly honest it seemed like the kind intimate talk often only ever shared between the commercials.
As much of an eye opener as Lopez's TBS dismissal is after just two seasons in late night is the news that Conan O'Brien at 11 p.m. is drawing just a little ahead of what Lopez at 11 drew the season before. (A million viewers a night compared to Lopez's average of 911,000.) After all that sturm und drang and ballyhoo? Those numbers seem to back some of the chatter at press tour parties that basically could be summed up in four words: What's happened to Conan? Those dynamite, defiant, final two or three weeks of his Tonight Show have never been seen on TBS's Conan, which night after night seems more of a repeat of his far less compelling early Tonight Show hours. All that late night drama drained and wounded even Teflon Jay, but Lopez' exit should be seen as a wake up call for Team Coco that, like it or not, numbers still matter, even on cable.

America beats Canada in the weekly ratings

All that hot weather across Canada last week has cooled TV ratings. The only show that didn't cool down was City's sizzlin' Hell's Kitchen (featuring chef Gordon Ramsay, right).
Numbers were down almost everywhere else. Big Brother hung in as Canada's No. 1 summertime distraction but it was a tough week for the launch of Global's Canada Sings opposite City's more entrenched America's Got Talent and CTV's So You Think You Can Dance. Plus a decade-old movie gave CBC a boost Sunday night. You can check out the numbers for the week of Aug. 1 - 7 here at

Monday, August 8, 2011

TCAs11: reflections in a blood-shot eye

Now that the damn thing is over, a few observations looking back at the summer 2011 TCA tour:

  • Pauley Perrette is not the star with the highest Q score in television, I don't care what David Poltrack says.
  • CBS should have had Ashton Kutcher at press tour, that would have been the session of the summer.
  • More critics are going to write about how the Lifetime Network had a cash bar this summer than write about any of the Lifetime shows paneled at press tour. Hell, even PBS served drinks after their session on Prohibition!
  • Davy Jones is incredibly short.
  • Harry Belafonte is incredibly eloquent.
  • The cast of Rizzoli & Isles are way more fun than their show.
  • CBS always treated Flashpoint like a red-headed step child.
  • American Horror Story is going to give many people nightmares this fall.
  • MSNBC's Chris Matthews still has a lot of Hardball left in him.
  • Critics are going to miss Peter Tolan and Denis Leary's press tour antics even more than they miss their FX series, Rescue Me.
  • The grotto at the Playboy Mansion needs to be drained and fumigated.
  • The hashtag TCAs11 looks like a random security password.
  • Cake on a stick is apparently all the rage in Hollywood.
  • Paul McCartney is one thoughtful, charming Beatles person.
  • Conan O'Brien? Completely forgotten.

Here are 10 more things I learned at this summer's TCA press tour, as posted over at

TCA Awards salute The Dick Van Dyke Show

The hardest part about having to leave the summer 2011 TCA press tour early was missing Saturday's 27th Annual TCA Awards, especially the shout out to The Dick Van  Dyke Show. The '60s TV classic was honoured with the critics' Heritage Award this year and ever-spry creator/executive producer Carl Reiner was on hand to accept it. Joining Reiner at the ceremony in Beverly Hills were Rose Marie (Sally) and even a bald-headed Larry Matthews; Mathews played Rob and Laura Petrie's adorable tyke Ritchie on the series.
The TCA Awards also saluted Friday Night Lights, Game of Thrones and Mad Men's Jon Hamm; a complete list of winners can be found here. By all reports, Parks & Recreation's Nick Offerman did a fine job as host.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

FX Canada and American Horror Story should scare Rogers' rivals in Canada

American Horror Story was by far the biggest scare thrown into critics at press tour--even more unsettling than the cash bar at the Lifetime session.
Last week during the summer TCA press tour, FX hosted a screening of the gothic horror series at two old school Hollywood-style screening rooms right on the Fox lot, about a mile from the press tour hotel. Most critics emerged from the screening like they had been hit across the back of the head by a two-by-four. The great sound and crisp, big screen visuals at the screening (wait  till you see and hear the jarring main title sequence) ramped up the creepiness, but my guess is this series will have the same viceral oomph when it premieres on home screens this October 5.
Dylan McDermott (The Practice) and Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) star as a couple whose marriage is hanging by a thread after she caught he in an affair. They pull their teenage daughter out of school and move accross the U.S. to California, where they buy a haunted house so obviously unsettling the Munsters would have run screaming from the place.
American Horror Story's Falchuk, Britton and McDermott
Much of what follows--including several chilling intrusions by a next-door-neighbour played to Gloria Swanson excess by Jessica Lange--will have viewers screaming at their TV sets for the couple ot get the hell out of the house.
The screenings were introduced by Britton and executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. Judging by the unevenness of Glee last season, Murphy must have shifted much of his focus and energy to this series. He set up the screening by telling critics American Horror Story references a lot of classic horror movies--Friday the 13th, Halloween, Rosemary's Baby--but is basically about the true horror lurking in American society today--infidelity.
Jessica Lange: creepy good
After the screening, critics stumbled in the darkness over to a BBQ set up on a stretch of  grass outside on the studio lot. I was still in a post-screening stupor when FX PR boss John Solberg pulled me aside and gave a heads up that Canadian journalists will want to attend the FX breakfast early Saturday morning. Had to tell Solberg I'd miss the 8 a.m,. presser (took the red eye back to T.O. Friday to attend a pal's wedding), a drag because I sensed what was what--FX was finally coming to Canada.
Rogers has done the deal and FX Canada will launch November 1. This is a smart move and will be a real American Horror Story for Shaw's Showcase networks as well as Super Channel and even Astral. FX makes such gems as Rescue Me, Damages, Sons of Anarchy, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Louie CK's delightfully dark comedy Louie.
Landgraf: There is no box lunch, eh?
Under the leadership of John Landgraf--one of the brightest minds in television--FX has had a batting average that is the envy of every other network in North America. Something like eight our of nine FX shows developed over the past four or five years are still on the air. That's crazy impressive considering four out of five broadcast network shows fail each year.
Under Landgraf's watch, shows like Justified--with Canadian-born Graham Yost as showrunner--have broken through as solid Emmy contenders. Landgraf has also found a way to make quality shows for less and market them very effectively. His system is the model for every Canadian broadcaster trying to compete in this tough business of television today.
Partnering with FX is a great move for Rogers, the new kid with deep pockets on the Canadian TV scene. American Horror Story will be one of the most-buzzed about shows this fall, getting FX Canada off to a scary good start.

Light a candle for Lucy at 100

UPDATE: I'm on The National tonight at 9 p.m. on CBC News Network and at 10 p.m. on CBC talkin' Lucy.

Miss Lucy's 100th? You've got some 'splainin' to  do.TCM has done it again by scheduling a Lucille Ball marathon in honour of the 100th anniversary of her birth. Smart programming--but why doesn't Comedy Gold, Deja View or any of the other specialty channels devoted to classic TV work a little Lucy into their mix? I Love Lucy is TV's most enduring sitcom, the blueprint for every studio audience comedy that followed. Would it kill these nostalgia channels to spend a few dollars once in a while, bump reruns of Full House or Three's Company out of their constant rotations and actually salute a classic?
I was born the summer I Love Lucy went off the air but those black & white reruns were a constant part of my childhood. I laughed at the slapstick but was captivated by these oddly relatable characters. Lucy and Ethel (Vivian Vance) reminded folks in my family of my Aunt Mary and my mother, always scheming, looking for a bargain, trying to get on television. Desi Arnaz as Ricky Ricardo was an original and an underrated comedy foil. William Frawley looked like Ethel's dad, not her husband, but he was such a great character actor he just sold the part and made crabby funny.
It`s a lot harder to find Lucy on TV today. The Simpsons or Seinfeld top most Best All-Time Sitcom polls nowadays. Episodes where Fred wonders if Ricky has taken a sock at his wife seem more shocking than funny 60 years after the series premiered. Many other episodes hold up, however, provoking laughter with audiences of all ages.
The one and only time I met Lucy was at one of my first TCA press tours. She was there promoting her disastrous final series, Life with Lucy. It was 1986, a dozen years after his previous series had ended, and Ball was 74. Aaron Spelling, the J.J. Abrams of his day with several shows spread over three or four networks, had talked her out of retirement. The series was sold to ABC without a pilot; they saw it as their chance to grab a little Golden Girls glory. When the series did air that fall it was clear that too much tempus had fugit. Stefan Kanfer, in his 2003 biography Ball of Fire, wrote that she had trouble memorizing lines and depended heavily on cue cards.
Even thought we had not seen a pilot, reporters could smell it was going to be a stinker at the TCA press session. The critic from San Francisco leaned over to me and whispered something about rounding up a posse and lynching Spelling for what he was about to do to a comedy legend.
Maybe today they could have found a way to make it work. Betty White may be adorable in Hot in Cleveland, but, back then, nobody wanted to see Lucy as a slapstick granny.
Ball stood before critics and surveyed the room, straining to find a familiar face. Almost all of the press cats who covered her back in the day had retired. Finally she spotted Kay Gardella, a New York reporter and a TCA  legend. "Whaaaaaaaa!!!" went Lucy, swear to God.
It was a poignant moment. Ball's ex-husband and I Love Lucy partner, Arnaz, was gravely ill. Vance passed away in 1977. Frawley was long gone.
I asked her if she had seen a test of a reported attempt to colourize I Love Lucy. Advancing (but far from perfected) computer technology  had led to a colourization craze in the mid- '80s. Ball said she had seen a test and--can you believe it?--they didn't even give her red hair.
Ball died in 1989 at age 77. As a footnote, several years ago, I won an eBay bid on a 16mm print of an I Love Lucy episode. Shortly after the auction closed, I got an email from somebody who had failed to bid but was offering more than I paid for the print. The fellow turned out to be Gregg Oppenheimer, son of Jess Oppenheimer, the true showrunner of I Love Lucy.
The eBay win turned out to be a syndicated print, not the network original Oppenheimer was hoping for (he was involved with CBS Video in tracking down the original animated titles and cigarette commercials as bonus DVD material). That didn't stop Oppenheimer from sending me an autographed copy of the 1996 book he wrote with his dad--Laughs, Luck...and Lucy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

He came in through the satellite window

BEVERLY HILLS, CA.—It’s been a pretty good press tour when you can say you were in on sessions with Harry Belafonte, Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Lewis, Gloria Steinem, Davy Jones, Rosie O’Donnell, Hugh Laurie, Ken Burns, Anna Paquin, Smokey Robinson, Kelsey Grammar, Ted Danson, Mike Judge, Luke Wilson, Cameron Crowe, Laura Dern, Al Jean, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mark Wahlberg, Lily Tomlin and, yes, the Playboy Mansion.
Add Paul McCartney to that list and all you can say is: “Fab.”
Sir Paul was at press tour via satellite from the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, to promote The Love We Make, a documentary commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The film is a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the 9/11 concert McCartney and the likes of Pete Townsend, Elton John, Neil Young, Mick Jagger and others performed six weeks after the World Trade Center attacks. McCartney called up Albert Maysles and asked him to shoot the concert; the black and white, 16mm footage sat unreleased up until now.
Maysles and his late brother Dave caught lightening in a bottle when they followed and filmed The Beatles arriving in New York in February, 1964. The little-seen documentary of that first visit is mesmerizing; you can’t believe somebody caught The Beatles when they weren’t looking during that magical first trip to America.
McCartney describes Maysles as a guy with a twinkle in his eye; “anyone who’s a great artist with that twinkle is special,” McCartney told us, “because you can get on very easily with him.”
The clarity and good grace of McCartney charmed the room throughout his satellite session. He covered a lot of ground: Beatles questions, the recent Murdoch invasion of privacy scandal (McCartney was apparently a victim and plans to speak with police when he get back to The U.K.), music in general.
The way it played out—McCartney’s image was projected onto two giant screens in the massive hotel ballroom (this same space is home to the Golden Globes every year)—added to the magic. Like he needed to be any larger than life. The fact critics had to patiently wait their turn at the mike instead of jockeying for attention added to the general sense of decorum and civility.
Although I must say it was tough to wait your turn. Somebody—the Showtime exec on stage actually—asked my question (about Maysles) before I got my turn. Normally you surrender the mike but after a split second I stifled the thought. It’s bloody Paul McCartney. Tomorrow never knows. ASK HIM ANYTHING!
Several colleagues were already, as Hugh Laurie put it earlier this press tour, carpe-ing this diem. Toronto Sun TV columnist Bill Harris, he with the eternal and ever-changing Beatles screen saver on his laptop, got his question in early. TV Worth Watching’s David Bianculli, another Beatles nut who regularly picks Best Beatles covers for his NPR radio broadcasts, had his moment with Sir Paul.
Everybody who got a turn got a thoughtful, deliberate answer.
What a contrast to Davy Jones’ blithering, prefab Four Monkee business just days earlier at press tour. Jones was wound up like a tin toy, making noise but little sense. McCartney said mass and gave out communion.
Colleague Alex Strachan from Post Media reached him with a particularly thoughtful nudge. He asked McCartney if he had any thoughts on the healing power of music. “I’ve thought of that a lot because that’s my game,” said Sir Paul. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s magical.”
McCartney then quoted Shakespeare to enhance his point. It sounds pretty damn precious, but, honestly, the guy just came off as thoughtful and enlightened. “There’s more in heaven and earth that are dreamed of in your philosophy,” he said. Basically there’s more going on all the time than we know. (He made the same point about the alleged eavesdropping.)
We'd had a few near-Beatles at TCA in recent years. Sir George Martin was tricked into coming in 2008 when PBS announced a music series that never happened. Yoko was at TCA last year and was feisty and entertaining. McCartney delivered beyond raised expectations. It was the ultimate Beatles fan fantasy where you got to hang with McCartney for 30 minutes and ask him anything.
Things were winding down. I was scared I'd missed my chance. The press tour was this close to being for me a bitter Beatles refrain: "And in the end, the audio files you take, are equal  to the tweets you make."
Finally it was my turn. I felt a bit foolish going for the trivial but here we were. Throughout the session, you couldn’t help notice that McCartney was wearing a collarless suit jacket—a black version of the mod frocks the lads wore back in their Piccadilly prime. “Where do you get a collarless suit these days?” I blurted. “Are they making a comeback?”
This—magically—brought out the twinkle in McCartney. “Yeah man. Didn’t you know? Oh, how out of touch can you be?”
“We’re TV critics,” I tried to explain.
“Look, everybody in Cincinnati is wearing these. Come on. Where are you? Los Angeles probably. No, no, no. This is yet to arrive.”
I went on to ask him the obvious back-up question I’ve asked everybody I’ve ever run out of clever questions with—what do you watch on TV? After a quick but precise take on American Idol (he feels  sorry for the singers who aren't prepared for fame), McCartney singled out sports, ESPN mainly. Too often it’s the Shopping Channel.
“You know. Excuse me," he said. "Where do you think I got this collarless jacket?”
I’ve had the great fortune to play straight man to some pretty special dudes in my day. But Paul Freaking McCartney? It doesn’t get more fab than that.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Guess who has the highest “Q” score on TV?

BEVERLY HILLS, CA--Who has the highest Q score in television? The Q score measures the popularity of entertainers. In the past, big names like Tom Hanks and Oprah have been at the top of the list, but the new champion, according to longtime CBS chief reseach whiz David Poltrack, is none other than--drum roll please--Pauley Perrette from NCIS. The pig-tailed pixie--a natural blond who dyes her locks jet black for the role as NCIS's punky forensic specialist--was not aware that she was the most popular character on television when she made the scene Wednesday night at the CBS press tour party.
"I was in my pyjamas sitting on my couch when the car arrived to take me here," says Perrett, who is among network TV's busiest Tweeters. "People here starting asking me all about my Q score--I didn't know what they were talking about."
Poltrack suggests the Top-5 Q score celebs all hail not just from CBS but from one show, NCIS. Even David McCallum, the original Ilya Kuryakin from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS's top forensic man, made the list.
Didn't spot him at the party but there were plenty of other CBS stars there. CBS made it easy for reporters to get there, holding it on the roof of the parking lot across from the TCA hotel. Stars from CBS shows new and old walked the red carpet. LL Cool J was in the house and very approachable at the party, suggesting the NCIS: Los Angeles season gets off with a bang putting several main characters in jeopardy.
Dave Foley, Kevin Dillon, Mary Lynn Rajskub and several other actors from the new series How to Be a Gentleman were there, as were 2 Broke Girls Kate Dennings and Beth Behrs, easy to spot in a backless head-turner. CBS "It" girl Whitney Cummings (Whitney) made the scene, as did SNL original Garett Morris, co-starring this season on 2 Broke Girls. Morris, who recently ran into his old pal Dan Aykroyd, began to tell the story of who gave him his big break in show business by asking if I had ever heard of Harry Belafonte. Belafonte, who was at press tour last week, hired Morris as a singer in 1958!
The executive producers of Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Michael Naidus and late night legend Peter Lassally, also attended the CBS shindig. Naidus said Craigy had a blast re-visiting his old stomping grounds in Paris, shooting his talk show on the fly on benches and chairs set up in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and other European landmarks. You can catch the last two road shows from France tonight and tomorrow night at 12:35.
CBS CEO Leslie Moonves and wife Julie Chen were stick-around hosts.
Not at the party was Flashpoint sniper Hugh Dillon, although somebody thought they spotted him on a nearby rooftop.

CBC receives eleventy billion-million Gemini noms

August 3, 2011 – CBC Television received ringing industry endorsement this morning for its continued contribution to quality Canadian programming, garnering more than eleventy billion-million nominations from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television’s 26th Annual Gemini Awards.
Among the ringing accolades for the public broadcaster were six nominations for every vowel in Stroumboulopoulos and the only nomination for Best Theme Song Poached by Another Network (Hockey Night in Canada). CBC also swept the Best Performance or Host or Whatever in a Variety Program or Series (Individual or Ensemble) or Whatever Where Skates are Worn on Both Feet (or one Foot) or Wherever: Shae-Lynn Bourne, Patrice Brisebois, Battle of the Blades; Ron MacLean, Kurt Browning, Battle of the Blades; Rex Murphy, The National.
Also singled out was whoever it is who hosts CBC's afternoon cooking show in the Best Host or Attempted Host in a Afternoon Cooking Show or Something to do with Cooking You Know The Show We Can't Remember the Name Of it's not Steven and Chris it's the Other One.
“CBC Television would like to extend our deepest regrets to the two employees not nominated this year," said Kirstine Stewart, Executive Vice-President, English Services. “These exclusions are being addressed and next year the Academy has promised to reinstate the Best Whatever we Left Out in All the Other Categories category."
The 26th Annual Gemini Awards will be broadcast on CBC over 56 consecutive nights beginning September 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm, live from the CBC Broadcast Center in Toronto.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tonight: Canada Sings

I know what you're thinking. Another bloody singing talent show. Canada Sings (premiering tonight on Global) is that but it is also more Undercover Boss than The Sing Off. The premise pits two teams of 12 office workers against each other to see if they can learn a Glee-level song and dance routine. In tonight's pilot, a gang from the Toronto Zoo go against a group of people who work in Vancouver for 1-800-GOT-JUNK. We see them sweat through rehearsals and a few individuals start to emerge. Eventually they have to perform for a panel of three judges (Vanilla Ice, aka Rob Van Winkle, Jann Arden and Simple Plan's Pierre Bouvier, who all bend over backwards not to sound like Simon Cowell). That's where it veers into more typical TV talent show territory.
The show is produced by Toronto's Insight Productions and all that experience cranking out Canadian Idol and Battle of the Blades brings great polish and storytelling to this series.
When I ran the concept by some American reporters here at the TCA press tour they seemed intrigued until I told them the grand prize one team gets to donate to the charity of their choice: TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. Cash. This had Yankee scribes in stitches. So Canadian.
Global needs to pony up and deliver a better pot if this show is to thrive past this initial six episode order. Given the myriad marketing opportunities built into this series (beyond the subtle plugs for the companies involved, they all arrive at the final sing-off in a lingering sequence that could pass for a car ad), there should be five to 10 times the money at stake.
Ignore all that tonight and enjoy what I found to be a positive, uplifting and friendly competition involving everyday Canadians who are easy to cheer for. For more on Canada Sings, follow this link to a feature I wrote for The Canadian Press.

Tassler on Flashpoint: "I don't think so"

BEVERLY HILLS, CA--Apparently Charlie Sheen has left Two and a Half Men. Critics seemed pretty worked up at Wednesday's CBS executive session, demanding entertainment president Nina Tassler do some sort of pennance for Sheen's excesses. In past press tours she always stuck up for the dude. This time she just kept saying things like, "who could have predicted we would have been here six months ago?" Tassler is good at this kind of bulls#*! My Dad Says.
Critics wanted to know why Sheen's replacement, Ashton Kutcher, wasn't at press tour. Her excuse that he was too busy on the set of the sitcom did not go over well in the room. Tassler kept saying "moving forward" and "outstanding" and basically bobbed and weaved like Sugar Ray in his prime.
So what about Flashpoint, I asked Tassler in the scrum. In past press tours, Tassler always hedged on the Toronto-lensed cop series, letting her Canadian partners hang in the wind until the day in October when CBS had to pick up their option on the series. This time she was less ambiguous. "I don't think so," she said when asked if CBS plans to extend their involvement with the CTV series beyond this current summer order. Basically, it sounds like Flashpoint is finis at CBS.
This news comes on the same day it is announced that Flashpoint earned more Gemini nominations than any other Canadian-produced TV show. Still, it was clearly a bigger hit in Canada than in the U.S. All that Canadian money made the series a cheap summer bench player for CBS, but it was not trending up Stateside. CBS is probably ready to gamble that they can get more viewers with even cheaper reality fare next summer.
When I spoke with executive producers Anne Marie La Traverse and Bill Mustos in June they seemed resigned to finding a new partner to replace CBS. U.S. cable network ION is already involved in the series.
For more on Tassler, Sheen and Flashpoint, follow this link to my full CBS executive session report at

VIDEO: NBC TCA summer 2011 press tour party

BEVERLY HILLS, CA--Got a minute? Here's a quick slice of press tour pie, a peek inside the NBCUniversal All-Star party at The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel on La Cienega Blvd.

NBC parties on at shagadellic SLS bash

BEVERLY HILLS, CA--It was loud, crowded and hot at Monday night's NBCUniversal press tour party. Thank you, NBCUniversal!
Stars from new and returning NBC shows were bussed to the boisterous press tour party at The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel on S. La Cienega Blvd, a couple of miles east of the press tour hotel. The SLS is a hip, happenin' boutique hotel; very Austin Powers. The Bazaar is known for its eclectic eats, with these crazy little puff pastry mini Philly cheese steak sandwiches calling at you from silver trays. The chunks of lobster mixed with raspberries in a little tin tray is pretty darn tasty, too. If my son back home is reading this, the K-D is in the cupboard; ignore the expiration date.

NBC put the emphasis on fun over record-ability. The Bazaar is a meandering place, dark and noisy, not especially conducive to recording actors talking about their new TV shows and being able to hear an interview when you play it back later. Still, what the hell, good times.
There was a booth set up where you could make your own flip book (a camera recorded you for seven seconds and then spat out a thick pad of photo animation), embed yourself in a Playboy Club poster or get a temporary Playboy bunny tattoo. Some shameless reporters actually took part in such shenanigans.
Spotted new Office recruit James Spader and managed to get into a tight little scrum with the dude. Very friendly and accommodating. Wrote the chat up for the Toronto Star, it will appear in Wednesday's paper. The dude seemed jollier and more relaxed than his last press tour appearance.
Three of his co-stars were making with the Charlie's Angels pose, even though that show is on another network. Tsk tsk.
Chevy Chase was in the house, as was his old boss Lorne Michaels. Will Arnett was there with his wife Amy Poehler, as well as Joel McHale and other cast members from Community. Mark Valley, late of Human Target, was spotted in the crowd. He's been re-assigned to kill off Harry's Law. Lauren Graham and Peter Krause made the scene just to let critics know Parenthood was still on the air. There was also plenty of talent from new NBC shows The  Playboy Club, Prime Suspect, Whitney, Up All Night, Free Agents and Grimm.
A guy out on the outdoor wrap-a-round smoking section was making and handing out cigars. Not too shabby.
That's where the guys from Chuck were hanging. Zachary Levi seemed to be having a hell of a good time. The Community cast, including happy kids Danny Pudi and Gillian Jacobs, pretty much closed the joint. Even John Goodman (new to Community next season as the assistant Dean), made the scene. Two tall women dressed in black wearng large feathers and palm leaves on their heads added a Twin Peaks touch.
Afterwards a carload or two were invited to an impromptu post-party-party at a famed Beverly Hills watering hole. Surprise surprise, Lorne Michaels beat us to the place.
Bottom line, NBC pushed their party vibe to a Fox level and beyond. Post-Zucker, the Peacock is alive and well.

Parenthood pair Lauren Graham and Peter Krause with NBC CEO Greenblatt

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

MSNBC's Chris Matthews still throwing Hardballs

BEVERLY HILLS, CA--Chris Matthews knows how to set off a TCA Twitterstorm.
The Hardball host joined a panel of MSNBC personalities--including Rachel Maddow, The Last Word host Lawrence O'Donnell and news network president Phil Griffin--and riffed on a range of hot button political topics.
Take president Barack Obama. Matthews said he was "a lucky, lucky, lucky pol" and could hit the jackpot again in 2012 against a field of weak Republican candidates.
"This President is one of the luckiest human beings I've ever come across," Matthews, 65, told TCA reporters. "He ran against two guys with marital difficulties. Then he ran against Alan Keyes for the Senate seat. He ran against Bobby Rush, probably the toughest opponent he ever had, and he lost. He ran against McCain when he was...not his best years. He was sort of over the hill. So he's always been lucky. He may end up running against Romney, who I do think is a mood ring, or run against this guy Rick Perry, who I don't know what he is exactly, but I don't think he's authentic, or against Bachmann and just have a hoot."
Who does he like among the Republicans? Surprisingly, Jeb Bush. "I think Jeb Bush is a real political talent down the road."
Despite what he sees as a weak field, a second presidential term for Obama is no cinch, says Matthews. "If the unemployment rate is down below eight, he'll probably get reelected. It it's high above eight, it will be very tough. I think if he looks like he can accept this reset in the American economy, I don't think he'll win. If he looks like he's fighting hard for the people, then most of the voters, they'll give him another shot. I don't agree completely that it's about the Republicans. I think it's about him."