Thursday, September 29, 2011

This week's podcast: catching up with Men

I know what you're saying. Where are all those CHML radio podcasts with Scott Thompson? Been behind in posting these suckers lately under a flurry of print deadlines but here is Wednesdays yakkity-yak. Scott wanted to know what I thought about Monday's second episode of Two and a Half Men, what is the difference between The X Factor and American Idol and is there any hope for CBC's relocated comedy Michael Tuesdays & Thursdays. You can listen in here.

SECOND WEDNESDAY: Camelot fails to arise; Survivor continues to slay The X Factor

Don't let it be forgot/That once their was a spot/For one brief shining moment/That was known as Camelot!
That spot was Wednesday, where the Canada/Ireland co-production--despite the efforts of talented Mayfield S.S. grad Lara Jean Chorostecki (left)--sank to a new low on a new night of 458,000 viewers. Last week: 672,000. Yikes.
There's simply not/a more congenial spot/on CBC's schedule for the rest of Camelot.
You can't blame the lead-in. Dragon's Den drew 1,323,000 Wednesday night, although even that guaranteed draw has been blunted this fall in a crowded field of import contenders. At 8, Global's perennial favourite Survivor (2,242,000) beat CTV's The X Factor (2,088,000) for the second week in a row, with City far behind with The Middle (325,000) and the premiere of a new comedy I quite like, Suburgatory (366,000). CTV Two is treading water with rookie imports Up All Night (354,000) and the show I still have in the first-to-be-canceled pool, Free Agents (262,000).
At 9, besides the second half of The X Factor, Camelot had to fight off CTV Two powerhouse Criminal Minds (1,313,000), a surprisingly strong (in Canada) Harry's Law (1,062,000) and City's excellent Modern Family (861,000) plus the season premiere of Elisha Cuthbert's Happy Endings (456,000).
At 10, CTV played one of the oldest wild cards in their deck and came up aces with CSI (2,223,000). Ted Danson has delivered. Kitchen Nightmares scared up 630,000 at Global. Law & Order SVU arrested 542,000. Revenge brought 523,000 to City at 10.

Uh oh. Michael bombs Tuesdays and Wednesdays

CBC's new shrink series continues to shrink in the ratings. Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays drew just 153,000 overnight, estimated Tuesday night viewers less than a week after being relocated from Wednesdays. That's the worst performance yet for the series, heralded here as the best new comedy of the season. It's a number that would not get it renewed--on Showcase. Three episodes in, where does CBC go from here?
The other relocated CBC series, The Debaters, managed just 155,000 at 9:30 p.m.
The problem for Michael is that there seems to  be no safe slot on any night opposite the full heat of the imported shows on the other networks. Instead of getting beat up by Survivor and Modern Family on Wednesdays, Michael got whacked Tuesday night by Global's NCIS: Los Angeles (2,063,000) and CTV's Dancing with the Stars results show (1,514,000). New Girl--already picked up for a full 24-episode season--also scored 617,000 at 9 on City.
Other Tuesday results: the Rick Mercer Report (874,000) fell below average for the second week in a row. 22 Minutes drew 762,000 overnight, estimated viewers.
For a change it is a Canadian series giving them a fight at 8: CTV's Flashpoint, back strong with a new episode (1,349,000). Glee at Global was down sharply from the week before but still a timeslot winner with 1,495,000 viewers.
New drama import Unforgettable looks solid on CTV at 10, drawing 1,815,000 for its second episode.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SECOND MONDAY: Men still rule at CTV Two, Terra Nova sets record on City

Some overnight observations about the second Monday of the new season:
Two and a Half Men is still kicking ass in two countries. Part Two of the super-hyped Ashton Kutcher opener drew 20.5 million viewers Monday night on CBS and another 2,140,000 over on CTV Two. CTV bounced it to its sister stations to make room for a two hour simulcast of Dancing with the Stars. The Sheen-less sitcom beat Dancing in both countries Monday night, with Dancing waltzing off with 16.2 million on ABC and 1,763,000 on CTV. Dancing was even topped at 10 on CTV by Castle, which drew 1,773,000 overnight, estimated viewers.
The 2.5 Men tally was the biggest audience ever measured on the network formerly known as /A\ (under the current ratings system).
The other big premiere Monday was Terra Nova, the multi-million dollar sci-fi dino drama from executive producer Steven Spielberg. In the U.S. on Fox, the two hour premiere managed 9.2 million viewers opposite 2.5 Men, etc.
In Canada, on City, it got off to a much stronger start. Terra Nova was seen by an overnight estimated 1,414,000 viewers. That makes it the most-watched drama in the Rogers-owned network's history. The City numbers spinners also said the premiere did better in Toronto in key demos than the launch of CTV's Pan Am Sunday, making it the No. 1 new show among A18-49 and A25-54 in Canada's largest TV market.
Less promising for City are the numbers for the new NBC drama The Playboy Club. Just 478,000 tuned in in Canada for Monday's second episode and fewer than 4 million in the U.S.
The big 2.5 Men tally helped the season premiere of Mike & Molly find 1,334,000 viewers on CTV Two--the biggest audience for the CBS sitcom ever in Canada.
Despite the CTV One-Two assault, Global saw strong second episode ratings for NCIS (1,635,000) and Hawaii FIVE-0 (1,726,000).
CBC, on the other hand, continues to get pummeled opposite all this imported heat. The Monday Battle of the Blades found 822,000 viewers, while the fourth season premiere of Being Erica managed just 351,000 viewers across Canada.

PREMIERE WEEK: Amazing Race roars back; Pan Am in strong take off at CTV

Sunday it was all CTV with The Amazing Race roaring back with 2,871,000 viewers. The eighth and final season premiere of Desperate Housewives drew 1,744,000 at 9 with the new retro drama Pan Am taking off with 1,908,000 passengers. Flashpoint opened the night at 7 with 658,000 overnight, estimated viewers.
Pan Am's lofty debut allowed CTV to crow that it had cherry picked the Top-4 highest-rated new shows of the season (The X Factor, Whitney, Pan Am and Unforgettable). Check back in a few weeks, however. Whitney made the list behind that 4.9 million Two and a Half Men opener and The X Factor did not meet the high expectations thrust upon that series.
CBC's Heartland (701,000) and Battle of the Blades (1,307,000) their opening week tallies but Cover Me Canada sank from 591,000 to 441,000.
The big draw Sunday night on Global was a show opening for a 23rd season. The Simpsons drew 1,089,000 and most voted for Ned to stay with Edna. Family Guy (940,000), American Dad (826,000) and The Cleveland Show (767,000) all did as expected. Newly relocated The Good Wife (568,000) got no flow from her animated lead-ins.
CSI: Miami found 966,000 for its 10th season premiere on CTV Two.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Leah Renee: from beaver tales to Playboy bunny

CHICAGO--How did a nice girl from Toronto wind up as a Playboy bunny?
The question was put to Leah Renee, one of the stars of the new NBC/City drama The Playboy Club, airing Monday nights at 10 p.m.
The red-haired actress, who did cartoon voice work throughout her teenage years (primarily as Beaver on Franklin), seems more like a “Disney Girl” than a Playboy Bunny--although there’s nothing Disney about the way she fills her bunny suit.
It was likely that mix of innocence and sensuality that got her the job. Renee, who appeared (as Leah Cudmore) in such Canadian shows as Degrassi: The Next Generation, My Babysitter’s a Vampire and M.V.P., says it all happened just weeks after she moved to Los Angeles last winter. “I was the luckiest girl on earth because this was my first [U.S.] audition,” says the 25-year-old.
It helped, she thinks, that Playboy Club executive producer Chad Hodge already had her on his radar. The two worked together years before on the short-lived Toronto-based CW series Runaway.
This production is housed in a gigantic converted steel factory in Chicago’s west end. Shooting an hour-long TV drama means long days, especially at the beginning. On this visit to the set, work starts in the evening and goes through the night. Toronto-born director Holly Dale (Durham County, Flashpoint) is motioning for more smoke to be blown onto the set, giving it a hazy look. Renee is out of her usual bunny ears, cuffs and tail and in more elegant cocktail attire for a scene in the upstairs “Bunny Lounge” of the massive, two storey interior.
The former Mississauga, Ont., art school student admits the bunny suit can make a girl feel sexy. “The outfit does transform you,” she says, “although it’s not so glamorous getting into it.” In fact she has to have help. “There’s a dresser who dresses us with lots of sucking everything in and lots of regretting the chips I ate the night before followed by lots of wiggling and then you’re in,” she says.
For more on Renee and The Playboy Club, follow this link to the story I wrote this week for The Canadian Press.

Friday, September 23, 2011

PREMIERE WEEK: Thursday brings no breakouts; CBC moves Michael, Camelot


Bazinga! As expected The Big Bang Theory came back big with overnight estimated Thursday night audiences of 3,718.000 and 4,053,000 on CTV. Grey's Anatomy (2,313,000) was another big winner for the Canadian private broadcaster.
An out-of-simulcast pre-release of the new remake of Charlie's Angels managed 955,000 at 7 p.m. on CTV.
Over at sister station CTV Two, the second outing of The X Factor managed 1,320,000 about what a relocated American Idol did on /A\ last season. The new CBS simulcast that followed, The Mentalist, drew a strong 1,194,000 for its season premiere.
Global threw two reruns against the Big Bang debut and saw a new episode of The Office, now starring James Spader, draw a respectable 619,000. An discounted slot filler from U.S. cable, Fran Drescher's Happily Divorced, returned a get-what-you-pay-for 279,000.
The much ballyhooed Maria Bello drama Prime Suspect opening at 897,000.
City found 961,000 viewers were interested at 9 in Person of Interest. Community (272,000) and Parks & Recreation (255,000) did what they could at 8 against the Big Bang explosion. Body of Proof was DOA at 10 (163,000).
CBC was pounded again with Part Two of the "Life is a Highway" Doc Zone getting run over (191,000) and a more titillating doc on the G-Spot being found by 336,000.
CBC blinked first in the annual show moving sweepstakes and wisely decided to rescue the season's best new comedy, Michael Tuesdays & Thursdays, as well as The Debaters, by taking them both out the punishing 9 p.m. Wednesday slot opposite The X Factor and Modern Family. Michael, which sank below 200,000 viewers this week, now really is on Tuesdays following Mercer and 22 Minutes, a far more compatible lead in. Camelot will now have to battle X Factor on Wednesdays.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

PREMIERE WEEK: X Factor no new Death Star unless you're Michael Tuesday & Thursdays

A couple of shockers as the Fall Season unfolds. The X Factor, the new talent search series featuring Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, is no Death Star. The Fox reality show was expected to duplicate its success in The U.K. and dominate ratings in America but, based on opening night, it fell short of X-pectations.
CTV drew 2,190,000 overnight, estimated viewers with the series Wednesday night, putting it second to Global's resilient Survivor Pacific (2,281,000) in the timeslot. Worse, it wasn't even close among 25-54-year olds, with Survivor holding a 1,186,000 to 879,000 edge. Tonight it bounces over to CTV Two.
In the U.S., The X Factor opened to 12.5 million total viewers and 5.6 million young adults in the overnights, less than half what American Idol opened to last January.
Have these endless star search shows finally started to wear out their welcome? As Jimmy Kimmel sarcastically remarked Wednesday night, "I watched The X Factor and I think it’s high time that America had its own televised singing competition. We needed it."
The X Factor wasn't even the highest-rated show on CTV Wednesday night. CSI--with Ted Danson taking over from Laurence Fishburne--roared back with 2,593,000 viewers (although even it fell short of Survivors younger demo tally).
The other shocker was the painfully low numbers for CBC's terrific new comedy Michael Tuesday & Thursdays: 199,000. How fast can they move Tuesdays and Thursdays to Fridays?! The Debaters also got crushed by the competition, pulling 187,000. Dragon's Den did a respectable 1,121,000 against the full fury of Survivor/X.
City Emmy-winner Modern Family came back strong at 865,000 at 9 and an even million at 9:30. The new drama Revenge, starring Ont.-native Emily VanCamp, opened at 523,000. Even Harry's Law had a decent start at 9 on Global, drawing 865,000.

Tonight: Hats off to Maria Bello on Prime Suspect


Earlier this week, Global sent out about a hundred women wearing dark hats and glasses onto the streets of Toronto. Some sort of Blues Brothers marathon on TV? A salute to Fedora the Explorer? No, it was to remind all of us to watch their new crime import Prime Suspect, premiering Thursday night at 10 p.m. on Global.
The NBC series stars Maria Bello (A History of Violence) as a tough-as-nails inner-city cop and she's arresting in every scene. Tonight's pilot is a little much with the men vs. women stuff back at the squad room, and you'll swear you saw the same story once on Hill Street Blues or NYPD Blue, but Bello demands attention right from the opening scene when she busts out her gun in the back of a taxi. Aidan Quinn plays Bello's boss, who sorta has her back against the "Beef Trust" bully boys at the precinct.
And, yes, she wears a dapper black Kojak hat now and then in case you were wondering about the promotion. Global tried the same sort of ballyhoo approach a few seasons ago when they brought the K.I.T.T. car from Knight Rider to town and pretended to steal it in front of witnesses on the streets of Toronto. The only people who cared were the ones who got stuck in traffic because of the stunt. Global hopes this hat trick goes better and gives Prime Suspect a head start.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Don't stop believin' in Sesame Street



Gee. When Sesame Street returns for a 42nd season Monday (check local PBS listings), it's brought to you by the letter G, as in Glee. The Muppets nail the high school musical as seen in the above YouTube clip (flagged at The Hollywood Reporter). Its a clever, spot-on parody, goofing on Journey's Don't Stop Believin' and nailing the characters, with even the silent guy who plays the piano in the music room getting a Muppet makeover. Next they should do how Sue C's it.

Fall Ratings: Glee back at Global but fades at Fox

Glee seems to be dancing in two different directions depending on where you watch it.
In Canada Tuesday night, the high school musical returned strong with a third season debut of  2,022,000 overnight, estimated Global viewers. That should translate into 20 million American, but instead the total on Fox was less than half of that--8.9 million viewers, down 35% from the year before.
Global's big night continued at 9 with NCIS: Los Angeles, which drew 2,056,000 viewers.
CTV also enjoyed high ratings for the new season's first results episode of Dancing with the Stars (1,765,000) followed by the debut of the new CBS Poppy Montgomery drama Unforgettable (1,720,000). CTV claims that gives them the top-two series premieres so far this fall but check back in a week or two when Whitney (over 2 million Monday) loses all that Two and a Half Men traction.
The New Girl at City fought through heavy competition to score 736,000 in her sunny debut. The Zooey Deschanel sitcom performed better than Glee Stateside drawing 10.1 million on Fox and beating everything else on that night in the U.S. among 18-to-49-year-olds. Raising Hope followed at City with 516,000 and they all stuck around for Body of Proof.
The strong import returns cut into the numbers at CBC for Week Two of the Rick Mercer Report (870,000), 22 Minutes (792,000) and Camelot (672,000).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Two and a Half times the ratings

Charlie Sheen (middle) makes an ash of himself on Two and a Half Men
Continuing the dick jokes from last night's Two and a Half Men, knew it would be huge, but that big? CTV scored an overnight, estimated audience of 4,906,000 viewers across Canada for the ninth season premiere of Two and a Half Men. It is the largest audience ever for the series in Canada and among the biggest draws of all of 2011.
Charlie Sheen's meltdown last spring, the well-hyped debut of Ashton Kutcher and the secrecy surrounding the storyline helped goose numbers on both sides of the border. CBS pulled 27.7 million for the episode, its highest score there as well and a tally sure to increase once PVR viewers are counted.
CTV-owned Comedy Network benefited from a well orchestrated Sheen-a-thon of marketing to score an additional 1,321,000 viewers at 10 p.m. for the Charlie Sheen Comedy Roast.
The new comedy airing directly after the 2Men megashow enjoyed a big leg up. Whitney drew 2,004,000 overnight, estimated, out-of-simulcast CTV viewers. Castle at 10 opened its season to 1,965,000.
The tidal wave of Sheen-sanity clobbered some competitors but not everybody. CBC took the biggest hit with their high road TV-movie John A. Birth of a Country managing 448,000 from 8 to 10 p.m.
Global wisely slummed at 9 with a rerun of House (348,000) and found plenty of viewers at 8 for NCIS (1,291,000) and especially at 10 for the season premiere of Hawaii FIVE-0 (1,908,000).
City also benefited from CBS's monster night, starting at 8 with back-to-back How I Met Your Mother (950,000, 1,015,000), a throw-a-way rerun of Happy Endings opposite Men (147,000) then a strong start (964,000) for the new CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls (which followed Men in simulcast Stateside and pulled 19.15. mil there).
At 10 p.m., the rabbit died opposite all that Men heat with The Playboy Club getting off to a 485,000 start on City.

Two and a Half Laffs

Can't imagine Monday's season premiere of Two and a Half Men picked up more than two and a half new fans.
It's no surprise that the half hour comedy is vulgar and crude. The series has always been a winking nod to Sheen's own bad boy persona. Right from the opening funeral scene, however, there was an ugliness about this episode. It wasn't a vendetta against Sheen--writer/creator Chuck Lorre pretty much kept any cheap shots to a minimum. It was just the utter callousness at tackling the death of the show's main character.
The half man, played by Angus Jones, seemed like he had lost a quarter, not an uncle. His main contribution to the half hour was farting. Holland Taylor--Charlie's mother--got to be her usual callow self and delivered her usual zing. There were herpes and vaginal warts jokes in the first 30 seconds. Charlie's empty bowling shirt by the casket was good for a laugh. It must have seemed nervy and fun at the table read, but viewers at home had to have had mixed feeling attending this dis-spirited funeral.
Later, having John Stamos and Dharma and Greg come in to check out the place was a bit of a yawn. Had Lorre managed to persuade the bigger names he battled with in past shows to return--Roseanne or Cybill Sheppard--that would have been funny.
Much of the heavy lifting was left to Jon Cryer and he gave it a game shot. The bit where Charlie's ashes went everywhere was funny and so was Cryer's suggestion that he would pick his brother up later with a dustbuster.
As for Ashton Kutcher, I kept wanting for Red to come in and kick Kelso's ass. There were indications that the new guy was going to continue with all the humpity-hump-hump. I'm thinkin' for one more season.
Afterwards the Roast of Charlie Sheen followed on Comedy. Again, the urge to shower afterwards should have come as no surprise. The impression that Sheen has friends in low places--Brooke Mueller sitting top table next to Dog the friggin' Bounty Hunter--was pounded home like a Mike Tyson head butt.
Best line of the night was probably Tyson saying he wished he'd bitten both his own ears off so as not to have heard any of this mess. I know how he feels.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Emmy doubles Blades, buries Cover Me

Yes, The 63rd annual Emmy Awards was a big winner for CTV Sunday night, drawing 2,336,000 overnight, estimated viewers. That blunted CBC's Battle of the Blades (1,195,000) but didn't knock the third season premiere (or competitors Tessa Bonhomme and David Pelletier, right) off the ice.
More rocked was CBC's new talent reality series Cover Me Canada, which managed 591,000 viewers opposite the Emmys and also fell behind a screening of Iron Man on Global (854,000) and a Sunday Night football game on TSN (594,000). CBC's pony drama Heartland returned to 727,000 viewers at 7 p.m. opposite Countdown to the Emmys, which drew 1,004,000 on CTV.

Tonight: Two and a Half Men, SIr John A. and Sheen crowd The Playboy Club

Okay, the Emmys are out of the way. Time to get serious about the new season.
At 9 p.m., everyone will be tuning in to the season premiere of Two and a Half Men (CTV and CBS). Even if you haven't seen this show in years (like me). There have been a lot of rumours and a few leaks but the big question remains: how will executive producer and creator Chuck Lorre deal with Charlie Sheen's departure? Will he murder the dude, both as a character and as a professional pain-in-the-ass? Will there be tiger blood all over the screen?
And what of Ashton Kutcher. He'll need more than a Jesus look to save this show come February or March. He and Jon Cryer had less chemistry as Emmy Presenters last night than Rob Ford and Margaret Atwood at a library dedication.
It won't matter tonight because the whole world will be watching. I'm surprised CBC hasn't scheduled an important premiere opposite it.
Oh wait, they have: John A: Birth of a Country (CBC, 8 p.m.) stars Shawn Doyle (Endgame) as Canada's first prime minister John A. Macdonald with Peter Outerbridge (ReGenesis) as fellow father of confederation George Brown.
Sing along with me: "Me men, men, men, menty men, men, men, men of confederation, MEEEEENNNN!"
Shouldn't CBC had held John A until October and thrown it opposite PBS's Prohibition? Counter programming? I'd drink to that.
Maybe putting Sir. John A. opposite Sheen-less Two and a Half Men is sorta the same thing. The TV-movie is produced by Bernie Zuckerman, written by Bruce M. Smith and directed by Jerry Ciccoritti and even they'll be watching the CBS sitcom. Talk about driving the last spike through Canadian historical epics on television.
At 10 p.m., The Comedy Network has the Roast of Charlie Sheen. It should be filthy and hilarious. Talk about shooting fish in a pickled barrel. On his way into the taping last week, Sheen's co-star on Spin City, Richard Kind, said roasting Sheen was like "throwing ice cubes at the Titanic."
There are some other premieres tonight, including Two Broke Girls (CBS/City, 9:30 p.m.). The comedy is written and created by Whitney Cummings, who has her own new show premiering opposite this one on CTV. What the hell kind of cruel twist of fate is that?? Whitney also drops at 9:30 p.m. on CTV. Do you know how hard it is to get one show on the air?
2 Broke Girls stars Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs. Behrs plays the daughter of a disgraced billionaire who resorts to waitressing when her trust fund is frozen. Her table-mate (Dennings) is a cynical, street-smart wise-ass. They’re such an Odd Couple they decide to share an apartment and before you can say Laverne & Shirley hilarity ensues.
By the way, that is Garrett Morris as the crazy old man in the restaurant. I interviewed the original "Not Ready for Prim Time Player" from Saturday Night Live at press tour in August and as soon as I get the transcription back from planet "Reefer" I'll share it here.
Whitney (NBC/CTV, 9:30 p.m.) stars Cummings as a modern girl who never wants to marry her boyfriend (Chris D'Elia). Both are standup comedians, and D'Elia, to my mind anyway, makes the smoother transition to sitcom actor in the uneven pilot. Hey, Roseanne never needed to act to star in one of the most successful TV comedies ever.
A warning about content: both these sitcoms, like a few other new comedies this season, are loaded with sexual innuendo and situations. Now you're interested in them, right? Seriously, there are so many sex jokes Californication is suing them both for intellectual property theft. Sitcoms this year have been whipped into a frothy cable frenzy. I thought it was over the top, but when I mentioned this to my 18-year-old son, he suggested I go take a nap and stop letting the turn indicator blink for hours when I'm allowed out driving.
Benanti: maintain eye contact mister
Speaking of sex, the other new show tonight at 10 (opposite the Sheen clubbing) is The Playboy Club (NBC/City). I was on the set of this in Chicago over the weekend and the cast has one ring-a-ding-ding of a rat pack playpen. Set in the early '60s, the series stars Eddie Cibrian (Third Watch) as the smoothie who manages the notorious Chicago key club. He also happens to be a lawyer. Handy!
Leah Renee, from Toronto's west end, is among the Bunnys. The actresses all say they're playing empowered career women. Laura Benanti, who plays the clubs 30-ish den mother (too old for ears and tails), can overpower me anytime, please. I hope she understood I was just looking down to make sure the light was on on my digital recorder.
Cibrian says he'd much rather be playing a cowboy in a western than stuck with these fabulous women and wearing these fabulous suits. Uh huh. Music plays a major role in the series, with top acts of the day being recreated by new artists. You'll see pseudo Ike and Tina Turner in tonight's pilot. Frank, Sammy, Dean, all coming up later in the season, pal.
If the voice of the narrator sounds familiar, it belongs to 85-year-old Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. He held a screening of the pilot at the Playboy mansion earlier this summer and the cast got to meet the man; he wore the satin jammies, 'natch. He was probably still sore at TV critics for bringing the coolness level at the mansion way down when we visited in August.
The pilot has a whole sub plot about the mob and a murder and really it is a prime time soap procedural with tails. If you look closely, you can see Charlie Sheen lurking in the background. See--the whole night ties together!

Your 63rd annual Emmy Awards recap



A few observations about Sunday night's 63rd annual Emmy Awards:
Jane Lynch was an OK host. She kept the Glee shout outs to a minimum. She did not really do a monologue, probably a smart move. Here best line was, "A lot of people are curious why I'm a lesbian. Ladies and gentlemen, the cast of Entourage." But the writers should have given her more zingers after Sheen's appearance, and there seemed to be an hour in the middle where she disappeared altogether. Grade her a C as in Sue C's it.
The pre-taped opening was hit-and-miss. Apparently a bit where Alec Baldwin goofed on the Fox phone tapping scandal was a little too close to the bone and was snipped. Nimoy was wasted. Lynch's run past the Big Bang Theory and Mad Men sets went well, making good use of the characters. The part where Lynch makes fun of the over-heated studio audience response was smart. But the money spent putting on this production could have banked another three seasons of Flashpoint. The big lesson last night was that more genuine laughs were elicited by Steve Levitan's wife making eye rolls at the camera than this entire, over-produced opener.
The show should have opened with Charlie Sheen getting high with Chuck Lorre.
Ty Burrell raised the bar with his impressive acceptance speech. The Modern Family star managed to be both moving and cynical, sentimental and hilarious all at the same time. He should win the best male comedy performance again next year just based on this year's acceptance speech.
Charlie Sheen was funnier when he was drowning in booze, drugs and strippers. Ashton Kutcher and Jon Cryer better be funnier tonight on Two and a Half Men.
The prom queen set up to the best female comedy performance award was, unlike Sheen's moment, truly winning. The women got into it and Melissa McCarthy was a deserving winner. Edie Falco, a surprise winner last year for the darkly-funny Nurse Jackie, looked like the most relieved person in the house.
The Canadian Tenors were beat up so badly on Twitter for their live In Memoriam vocal performance they may be on the list next Emmy Awards.
Funniest Twitter snark of the night may have been Rob Salem's quip, "as far as I'm concerned they should give Peter Dinklage to Alan Cumming."
Funniest on-stage throwaway line may have been Jon Stewart's quip that presenters Rob Lowe and Sofia Vergara should re-colonize the earth.
The two Jimmys, Fallon and Kimmel, should host next year and keep fighting between every award so that at the end of the night they look like Leno and Letterman.
Best shout out to Canada not heard in Canada: CTV was so fixated on over-cramming commercials and plugs for their upcoming fall lineup that we missed hearing David Boreanaz say "I was born in Buffalo. That's close to being Canadian."
Deserving best dramatic actor winner Kyle Chandler, as former Buffalo News critic Alan Pergament pointed out on Twitter last night, was also born in Buffalo.
Even on paper, somebody had to have said, "Emmytones? Really?"
Jon Stewart's writing staff seems less diverse than the Republican presidential field.
Note to Geminis: NOT ONE WINNER was played off the entire night, not even ramble-y best director Martin Scorsese.
Most ironic TV moment: CBC launched a show last night opposite the Emmys called Cover Me Canada.
It all ended on time.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blades in for tough battle opposite Emmy Awards

Boy, CBC continues to schedule in a vacuum.
The public network seems clueless when it comes to launching TV shows in the competitive buzz saw that is today's broadcast environment. How else to explain the kamikaze scheduling of smart new comedy Michael Tuesdays & Thursdays last Wednesday opposite the season premiere of one of Global's heavyweights, Survivor? The result: Survivor 2,142,000 overnight, estimated viewers (1,065,000 in the 25-54 demo), Michael Tuesday Thursdays 321,000 (120,000).
That's like a nine or 10-to-one Survivor demo slap.
Tonight is shaping up to be another throw-it-away night for CBC. While popular Heartland should return unscathed at 7 p.m. ET, the third season launch of Battle of the Blades at 8 (featuring the first female hockey player ever in the competition, Team Canada Olympic gold medalist Tessa Bonhomme, above right) is booked directly opposite The Emmy Awards, hosted by Jane Lynch. That's so offside it's icing. CBC's Cover Me Canada is also likely to be drowned out in the Emmy noise.
Sometimes CBC gets lucky. Certainly the Rick Mercer Report and 22 Minutes benefited from getting a one week jump on the major U.S. competition last week. (Mercer opened Tuesday with his usual 1.2 million viewers with 22 Minutes--featuring Mark Critch and retiring Loyd Robertson, left) scoring an impressive 981,000).
Tonight's Battle of the Blades will be an emotional episode, with the competitors still reeling from the sudden death of former NHLer Wade Belak. The 35-year-old was found dead in a Toronto hotel room Aug. 31, just two weeks into preparations for the rigorous TV competition.
I spoke with executive producers Sandra Bezic and Kevin Albrecht for The Canadian Press about how Belak's death affected everyone associated with the series. Both told me this will be a different season of Blades, with the tight-knit group of skaters pulling for each other like never before. There will also be an announcement on tonight's show regarding whether or not a new eighth skater has stepped up at the last minute to fill in for Belak. You can read the entire story here.
The show had already faced some adversity leading up to this season, although it now seems trivial by comparison. “Battle of the Blades” has had to move its production base three times in three years. First it was kicked out of original venue—Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, after Ryerson University and other new tenants proceeded with planned and major renovations to the historic hockey shrine. The series moved into a mammoth sound stage on the edge of the Toronto waterfront for Season Two, only to be bumped out of that facility this year by the remake of the feature film “Total Recall.”
“Battle of the Blades is now iced at the Mastercard Centre, the Toronto Maple Leafs practice facility in Toronto’s west end. That’s turned out to be a positive change, say the producers. Finally, dressing rooms right there on the site. Tickets are available to attend future tapings; you can find a link to them here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

On set in Chicago: The Playboy Club

CHICAGO--Man, them Playboy cats work late.
Was up into the wee hours Friday night/Saturday morning on the impressive set of The Playboy Club. The series, which takes place in the early '60s, stars Eddie Cibrian (Third Watch) as  the cool manager of the original Chicago Playboy key club. It premieres Monday at 10/9c on NBC and City.
The cast still had three hours to go at 1 a.m. when I packed it in and headed back to the hotel. The Bunnies still looked glamorous, although a few looked a bit odd wearing booties and slippers with their '60s skirts and girdles. In one concession to comfort, off came the pumps and high heels between takes.
One actress playing one of the Playboy Club Bunnys is Leah Renee, a pretty red head from Etobicoke. This is her first U.S. network prime time gig, landed just weeks after she made the move to Los Angeles.
Another Canadian on the set was the director, Holly Dale, a Toronto native and former documentary filmmaker who has been helming episodes of Flashpoint, Castle and King of late.
Dale and Renee (right) get to work in a pretty cool play pen. The two-storey interior set is housed in what was once a massive steel factory in Chicago's west end. Converted to studios just a few years ago, it was also home to Transformers 3.
The set is a flashback to post modern mid-century America. Carpeting wraps around every step on the large, circular staircase in the centre. Veneer panelling is everywhere, as are large, back lit pin up portraits. Cartoons from Playboy magazine grace the walls upstairs in the hallways leading to the rest rooms off the "Playmate Bar."
The large theatre room on the back half of the set boasts a large stage plus a floor full of Naugahyde chairs. A grey bunny logo greets visitors on the pale gold carpet in the front lobby area of the set. It is all, as the Aussie journalist on the set quipped, very Brady Bunch meets porn.
A crew member pumps misty-smoke onto the upper deck of the set where a scene is being shot. A few extras smoke those ghastly herbal cigarettes, although, because this is airing on NBC, which is watched like a hawk by anti-smoking lobby groups, you'll see fewer puff here than you would on the set of Man Men.
There are plenty of historic Playboy artifacts around the set. In the lobby display case are authentic Playboy cuff links, bracelets and pins from the '60s, as well as books, magazines, records and watches. Bar shaker sets with the bunny logo are on the shelves, as well as giant butane lighters.
When the Bunny's are in costume (today's scene, alas, is more dress up formal), they wear real gold Playboy cuff links on their white cuffs. A props wrangler gathers the goodies before day players depart.
Helping everybody cope with the long hours is the impressive craft services meal served mid-way through the long day. They slice the rail steak thick in Chicago and are generous with the portions. I shoulda stayed for breakfast.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: Michael Tuesdays & Thursdays



Michael Tuesdays & Thursdays is insanely good. Smart, funny, touching at times, the CBC sitcom, which airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m., is the best new comedy of the season.
Let's get the so-well-crafted part out of the way. Just hats off to Bob Martin for a sharp, witty pilot script ("...what the hell? I am not the mailman's friend"), Don McKellar for directing with panache, Douglas Koch for precise and playful photography, Matthew Hannam for editing on a dime and Jonathan Goldsmith for a score you'll want to turn up. Nothing is rushed yet it never stops moving. The pilot bloody sings.
The premise isn't all that original. A shrink (Martin) has a set of foibles that seem just as wacky as his regular Tuesday and Thursday patient, Michael (Matt Watts). They've seen each other for 15 years. They're making progress, we're told. It's The Bob Newhart Show meets Frasier meets The Office.
So it's not ground breaking. Who wouldn't want to watch The Bob Newhart Show meets Frasier meets The Office?
Just the cold opening alone is worthy of a term paper in television studies. Count the edits, the range of shots, the angles--all this to cover two guys talking. It is a storyboardapalooza, but the film school dynamics add to every tick, every nuance Martin and Watts milk from the page.
The dynamic between these two just makes everything funnier. They're both nuts, but you get a sense that the patient is shining on the doctor at least half the time, that they both secretly know they need each other to survive. It is beautifully played, with Watts bringing a daft, Karl Pilkington intensity to Michael.
The rest of the cast--Tommie-Amber Pirie, Pablo Silveira and Jennifer Irwin--all add to the fun, although Irwin maybe could cut back on the cheaplaffs.
Even the title sequence is awesome. Call me crazy, but I loved it.
UPDATE: Michael Tuesday & Thursdays may need the love; Wednesdays premiere drew 321,000. (Although, that was opposite Global's killer Survivor/Big Brother one-two).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Canadian '90s music scene had plenty of moxie

'90s band Moxy Fruvous. The hippie dude is Jian Ghomeshi
I loved that Tom Cochrane song Life is a Highway the minute I heard it. It is the perfect car radio, turn it up real loud song.
You can hear it tonight along with dozens of other homegrown pop tunes on Life is a Highway: Canadian Pop Music in the ‘90s (Sept. 15 and 22 at 8 p.m. ET on CBC).
The two-part Doc Zone special, directed by Gary McGroarty and written by Neil Jennings, covers an explosive decade in Canadian music. Female artists, especially, dominated the world music stage led by Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang.
It was also a great time to be in a Canadian indie band. Spoke with Murray Foster for a piece in today's Toronto Star about the special. The former Moxy Fruvous band member (now with Great Big Sea) was part of that exploding music scene 20 years ago in Toronto. He recalls telling friends, "There’s this band Barenaked Ladies, playing at the Horseshoe, and they just blew the roof off with acoustic guitars..."
Read the full Star story here.

Producer fires back on Dance Canada departure


Numbers may not lie but they never tell the whole story. That was the message this morning from Sandra Faire, executive producer of So You Think You Can Dance Canada. Her four-year-old series was abruptly cancelled earlier this week by CTV.
I blogged in the previous post that I wasn't as shocked as some at SYTYCDC's sudden demise. Numbers had slipped in Season Four. News of the cancellation seemed unusually hasty on the heels of the finale but my read of the numbers was that the show was past its peak.
Faire, however--who called out of the blue this morning (I keep forgetting people actually READ this thing)--raised some valid points. So, in an effort to be fair to Faire (something I haven't always been accused of in the past), here's her side of the story:
No. 1, comparing a summer run to an in-season run is apples to oranges. Fewer people watch television when it is nice out. Why watch dancing on TV when you can dance on a beach? True, but you can go either way with that one. Viewing levels are lower, but so are the levels on other channels. Shouldn't it be less killer competitive?
Not this summer, Faire suggests. Big Brother has its biggest season ever and was murdering everything in sight. Those three Canadian dramas were puling 1.5 million all summer. America's Got Talent  was dominant over on City. Yet SYTYCDC still won its timeslot every week Mondays at 8.
She also points out that, once the total numbers are in, that 903,000 finale number will likely jump over a million. PVRs and other factors take a few extra days to count. The year-to-year comparison will be down, but won't be the 27% drop it seems now when comparing an overnight estimate to a 2010 Total.
Also, remember, says Faire, the last Dance slammed right into all those 9/11 tributes, a factor which tilted the night.
The finale of the American version of the show was also down this summer, pulling 1.2 mil for the finale. The Canadian finale will end up close to that mark.
It also probably didn't help that the show aired outside of the school year. It was probably considered required viewing at schools with arts programs. A natural support base across Canada was sidelined.
CTV tossed SYTYCDC into a summer slot to make room this fall for their big talent search import, The X Factor. Faire, who is married to former CTV CEO Ivan Fecan, gets that. She's produced a few blockbusters in her day, including those record-setting Anne Murray CBC specials in the late '80s/early '90s.
It did seem, however, with the departure of Fecan and former programming boss Susanne Boyce, that SYTYCDC was left off the CTV promotional dance card this summer. I can not recall seeing a single promotion for last Sunday's finale, a sharp contrast to other years. Plus, when you go to the Bell Media press site, and click on photography for the show, all you get are 2010 links. Huh.
As for the numbers, Faire points out that SYTYCDC was still a big draw in the demos, especially among young female viewers--second only to The Big Bang Theory among girls 18-34 on CTV most weeks. That translates into a lot of shampoo and cell phone ad revenue.
Still, don't look for another network to swoop in and rescue this series. CTV owns the format, just as they did with Canadian Idol. It can't be shopped to Rogers, Global or CBC, who, in any event, all have money tied up in their own new talent show launches this fall.
Faire, however, is free to create another dance series, and she's working on doing just that. She's a passionate advocate for the dance scene in Canada and proud of the influence her series had in reaching new fans beyond the core dance community. Plus she has to keep that spark plug Jean Marc Genereux busy.  Hopefully she'll call back when that next deal gets done.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So you think you can out-dance ratings

Jordan Clark is the fourth and final SYTYCDC champ
Why did So You Think You Should Dance Canada get cancelled? Numbers never lie. While still pulling in the high 800,000s, the Toronto-based reality show was slipping year-to-year, even week-to-week this summer.
Sunday's fourth season finale drew an overnight, estimated 903,000 viewers. Murdoch Mysteries or Being Erica should do so bad, right? Yet that's close to a 30% drop from the third season finale last Oct. which drew a total audience of 1,236,000 on CTV.
The week before the series had slipped to 817,000. SYTYCDC routinely pulled 1.2, 1.3 million two seasons ago. That's a half million drop.
Worse, there was virtually no buzz about Sunday's finale. That's a red flag with these star search shows.
CTV saw the show was dancing downhill, calculated it would drop into the 700,000s next season and cut its losses. These shows don't repeat, so they have to perform at a high level in first run or it is adios. Plus--and this is what kills every Canadian show--CTV can spend less importing an American show and cash in with higher simulcast ratings. Rogers is spending big and ramping the ratings race into a three or four way split most nights, and front runner CTV--which also recently ditched Hiccups and Dan for Mayor--seems determined to plug leaks, Canadian content regulations be damned.
How did the rest of the prime time ratings race play out in Canada last week? See all the numbers here at The Brioux Report over at Toronto.com

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The 2011 TV season Fall Preview is here

Tuesday night's debut of Ringer (starring Buffy's Sarah Michelle Gellar) rings the bell on the start of the new TV season. While everybody wants to know when Two and a Half Men returns (Sept. 19), TV Feeds My Family has a complete run down of all the new network shows this season.
All the start times and dates for the 2011-12 season have been listed in order of their premieres. Is Terra Nova any good? Yes. Will American Horror Story give me nightmares? Yes. Did Tim Allen get paid upfront for Last Man Standing? One can only hope.
What will be the first casualty? I have Free Agents in the dead pool, but nothing would please me more than to see H8R get axed fast.
You can jump to the link here or find it anytime at the button to the left under the masthead. Over 30 shows are highlighted with photos as well as a quick, capsule impression based on the latest available pilots. Four shows start tonight, including Camelot on CBC. Reviews from myself and several well-seasoned colleagues can also be found over at David Bianculli's TV Worth Watching.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jewison inspires at annual CFC TIFF BBQ

Ran into some old pals at the TIFF Canadian Film centre BBQ Sunday in Toronto. Founder Norman Jewison made a stirring speech from the stony deck of the old E.P. Taylor Windfields Farms Estate. Jewison recalled how he flipped burgers all those years ago at the first TIFF BBQ, which used to take place at his farm. At one point, the famed director recalled, Robert De Niro wandered off to the barn, perhaps to quiz farm animals with a little of the old, "You  talkin' to ME?".
CFC executive director Slawko Klymkiw was a gracious host as ever and love what he's done with the place, especially the newly-restored greenhouse (where future Canadian filmmakers are incubated from saplings).
There were plenty of writers, talent and showrunners from the Canadian TV scene roaming the lawns in the warm late summer sun. Ol' U of T classmate Peter Mohan is in command over on The Listener and already has six scripts in the hopper. His star Craig Olejnik is jazzed to start production on a third season this week and can't recall heading into a year with so many lines to memorize already.
My Yukon buddy Yannick Bisson from Murdoch Mysteries says he and the gang are half way through shooting season five out at their new Scarborough digs (the old Kevin Sullivan Wind at my Back playpen). Denis McGrath, fresh from gigs in L.A. and Quebec, says he's back mentoring future TV scribes this semester as executive producer in residence at the CFC television program.
The man himself, Gordon Pinsent, was there with radiant daughter Leah. He's sporting a 'stach for his upcoming Stephen Leacock CBC bio-pic. Pinsent says he will be back again this season on Republic of Doyle (oh yeah!) and also is off to a high peak in Mexico for some future film shenanigans.
Somehow missed running into my old pal Ray Bennett, in from London working the TIFF beat, but we had a meeting of the white beard society last week so I guess we're cool.
CBC faves The Midway State rocked the back lawn, where my old leaky Neon wasn't missed.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years after: 9/11 and the impact on television

While it was a time of bewilderment and sorrow, it was also a privilege to be in a newsroom on Sept. 11, 2001. At the Toronto Sun, where I was working in those days, it was battle stations, all hands on deck. The newspaper put out a "bugle" edition that day (a special, afternoon edition), the first time in 25 years, if memory serves, the paper had hit the streets with anything other than a morning run.
Being the TV critic, I'd usually be getting out of the way in the midst of what was and still is the hard news story of the century. The entertainment section wasn't called "the toy department" for nothing. But right from the beginning, television was the rest of the world's window on the tragic events unfolding in New York, Washington and elsewhere. The horrifying images of the World Trade Center in flames was on every channel. (Even though there was no Twitter or Facebook, everybody got the message to watch.) So I was asked to chime in, and to cover what was happening on-screen I had to fight my way in front of the one or two TV sets in the newsroom along with everybody else.
The demands were instantaneous as well for the electronic press. Speaking with Lloyd Robertson recently, he recalled being woken up on the morning of 9/11 and told to get straight to the CTV newsroom. When he arrived he stayed on the air for 14 hours straight. Peter Mansbridge and Kevin Newman, then just days into his job as anchor of Global  National, served similar iron man stints.
The guy I remember being so impressed with was another Canadian, ABC's Peter Jennings. Besides his usual authoritative calmness, he just seemed so on his game, stopping to ask firefighters and emergency workers what he was not getting from the unfolding story. Jennings raised the level of coverage, never stooping to showboating, always focused on being a reporter.
Back then, besides my daily TV column, I was doing a series of weekly entertainment-based editorial cartoons at the Sun and the two drawings used here appeared around that time. I was trying to scratch an old artist itch, although I found after half a year that writing and drawing, often at the same desk day of deadline, did not mix. But it was cathartic to me at least to try and work out the madness of 9/11 in a visual way.


The first drawing, above, appeared the following Sunday and was my attempt to show how TV was everybody's way into and of coping with the tragedy. The second drawing, at the top of this post, comes closer to what I had to cover in those days. The world was a fragile place in the days following the terrorist attacks.
The Fall 2001 TV season was just about to start and the networks were struggling and scrambling in response to the attacks. Fox had this brand new show 24 and the pilot featured a terrorist blowing up a commercial jet. Jack  Bauer looked like he was going to get yanked off the air before his first bad day had even begun. Another CIA-themes adventure series, The Agency, was benched and quietly slipped off the radar. The WB had to postpone its lighter-than-air Friday premieres twice.
In Canada, 50 new digital specialty channels had launched just days before. If anybody needed Lonestar or Drive-In or the women's sports channel before 9/11, they didn't afterwards. Those digital channels never became the next great profit centre many in the industry had envisioned.
Award shows were canceled, postponed or, in some cases, muted. Gone was any red carpet frivolity. Ellen DeGeneres earned respect for soldiering on as host of a very toned down Emmy Awards. Several silly reality shows were derailed or canceled. Everything got very sombre and serious.
The guy who showed it was all right to go back on the air was David Letterman. In what may have been his greatest moment, Letterman opened his nightly talk show without the usual theme or visuals and went straight to the desk, delivering a heartfelt soliloquy about the "terrible sadness" in New York one week after the attacks. For 20 years an icon of irony and sarcasm, Letterman set a new tone of grace, dignity and courage.
This was, of course, six or seven years before the "Late Night Wars" when everything slipped into a nasty mud fight.
Shortly after Letterman's return, tens of millions of dollars were raised for victims of 9/11 and their families in a live, candle-lit, star-studded musical special America: A Tribute to Heroes. It was a brief, shinning moment of calmness and sanity, a movement away from the vulgarity of celebrity and toward the celebration of real individuals.
Then it all stopped. By the new year, it was The Osbournes, The Bachelor, Celebrity Boxing and Anna Nicole Smith. The distractions were back, and they were dumber than ever.
TV has been dumbed down in reaction to a crisis before. In the months following the assassination of president  John F. Kennedy, North American audiences embraced The Beverly Hillbillies. Some of those episodes from January, 1964, still rank among the highest-rated TV episodes of all time. By the time February rolled around and The Beatles hit Ed Sullivan, TV audiences were ready to hold anybody's hand.
The war in Vietnam had been picked at like a scab by the Smothers Brothers on their controversial CBS variety show. Tired of censorship battles and wary of the new Nixon administration, CBS silenced them in April of 1969, replacing The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour with Hee Haw.
Bill Maher often jokes that he's the only TV star who got fired over 9/11. After he raised eyebrows by pointing fingers at the terrorism response on his ABC series Politically Incorrect, he was pretty much phased out of the timeslot. His replacement the next January? Man Show joker Jimmy Kimmel (who evolved into a brutally honest late night voice; look for him in Toronto this week working TIFF). Political  jokster Dennis Miller was also out at HBO in the months following 9/11.
Then again, in the decade since the terrorist attacks, Jon Stewart's Daily Show has emerged as the place where every politicians feet are held over fire. Bill Maher's New Rules--a far more biting and outspoken showcase than Politically Correct--had been extended into a ninth and 10th season. Letterman spent eight years relentlessly hammering away at the Bush administration.
All in the Family did premiere less than a year after the Smothers were silenced. Television is a house of many windows and not all the open ones were shut after 9/11.

Friday, September 9, 2011

No third season on CTV for Dan For Mayor

Paul Bates gets the bad news
Dan for Mayor has been voted out at CTV. Executive producer Mark Farrell confirms that the second year comedy has not been renewed for a third season at the broadcaster. There is no confirmation yet that the same fate befell CTV's other domestic comedy, Hiccups.
The two shows were launched to high expectations and even higher ratings right after the Vancouver Olympic Games early in 2010. There was nowhere to go but down after those staggering debuts, which came in a two million viewers each.
The constant Olympic promos may have done more harm than good. With Dan star Fred Ewanuick paired in ads with Nancy Robertson and Brent Butt, viewers were led to believe that Dan for Mayor and Hiccups was one big hour-long spin-off of Corner Gas.
Ewanuick tweeted his disappointment today, especially since he felt his series was really hitting its stride in Season Two.
Farrell says he kind of knew Dan was in tough when CTV waited until this summer to return both shows to their schedule--and then put his comedy in a Sunday at 7:30 slot. Still, surprisingly, Dan for Mayor outperformed Hiccups at 8:30 on average this summer, pulling around 450,000 viewers. The finale topped the half million mark a week ago with very little promotion.
Farrell is shopping his series to other networks in an effort to extend the series beyond its two-year run. Certainly Rogers, which has been rerunning their one domestic drama Murdoch Mysteries five times a week throughout the summer in an effort to catch up with their Can-con quotas, would seem like a potential partner. Dan for Mayor would seem at home behind one of the American sitcoms Rogers'owned City currently has on its schedule, such as How I Met Your Mother or New Girl.
The departure of former CTV executives Ivan Fecan and Susanne Boyce may also have left Dan without a champion at the network. Farrell says he was grateful for a second season at least, he just wishes it had aired sooner and not in a 7:30 slot. Both his show and Hiccups went into production in plenty of time for CTV to return them in January. When that didn't happen--and failed U.S. sitcoms such as Matthew Perry's Mr. Sunshine got those berths instead--Farrell figured the odds looked long for a third term for Dan for Mayor.
Still--can the show stay alive on another network? Options on the talent will run out soon, but if Rogers is looking for a short cut to Can-con credibility, well, stranger things have happened in Canadian television.

U2, Leafs nothing at Toronto film fest

"Two Irishmen walk out of a bar..."
If, like me, you still haven't found what you're looking for, check out the new U2 film From the Sky Down. The documentary was the kick start to this year's 36th Annual Toronto International  Film Festival.
Thanks to the folks at Astral, I was among the crowd packed into Roy Thompson Hall Thursday evening for the opening gala.
TIFF is usually not on TV Boy's agenda but I've been fortunate over the last decade or so to get invited to the opener. Astral has been the opening gala sponsor for almost every one of the film festival's 36 years and is a classy and generous host.
And why not? The media company is celebrating their 50th year in comfort and style. Astral CEO and president Ian Greenberg pointed out at the pre-show party that the company has enjoyed 60 consecutive quarters of growth. Think about that: the recession that brought mighty CTV and Global to their knees did not touch these pay-TV boys. Their business model (which includes HBO Canada, The Movie Network and Family Channel) is booming not broken.
The pre-show party brought out the usual suspects. Norman Jewison and his partner Lynn (he seemed open to my suggestion we screen my 16mm print of his first film, 40 Pounds of Trouble, at some upcoming TIFF event), CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein, Ivan Reitman, CBC programming boss Kirstine Stewart and Zaib Shaikh and ex-PM Brian Mulroney (who arrived by airbus). Caught up with my old pal Orest Olijnyk, Sr. VP Disney Canada. Jason Priestley, happy with his seven Gemini award haul for Call Me Fitz, was in the house, as was Chantal Kreviazuk.
Bono and The Edge joined From The Sky Down director Davis Guggenheim on stage in what had to be the shortest opening gala speechapalooza ever. Everybody kept their comments short and sweet. (It helped that legendary TIFF blabbermouth Robert Lantos was kept locked off stage.) In past years the endless sponsor back patting and dying to meet themselves shtick went on longer than the bloody movie.
Usually the opening feature is a bust, the worst movie I see in a theatre all year. I'm still trying to scrub Paschendale out of my eyes. This is the first time TIFF has led off with a documentary and with U2 as the hook it was close to a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
Fellow white beard and Disney Canada dude Orest Olijnyk
From the Sky Down started slowly but grew on me. Not a traditional, history-of-the-band doc, it focuses in on the Irish rockers efforts to keep their heads after the spectacular success of The Joshua Tree and create their album Achtung Baby in a newly reunited Germany in 1991. Real U2 fans probably knew all the back story but I could have used a few Ken Burns moments.
Guggenhein, who has helmed such popular docs as An Inconvenient Truth and Might Get Loud (as well as episodes of Deadwood and 24), attempts to get deep under the band's skin at a time when the Irish quartet could quite easily have broken up. He achieves this by jumping back and forth from tons of archival footage to today. The magical part of the film, one that sneaks up on you, is how he places the viewer in the moment of creation. The awakening that was One--drawn out of messing about with Mysterious Ways--is shared in an intimate way that truly puts the viewer right there at the birth of a song.
The film could have used a little more humour (some animated moments helped) but these were sombre times for the band. All those dour black and white photos taken in the late '80s only made they seem even less humourless. They couldn't have been that cranky. As The Edge said in his opening remarks, "We would have had a lot more jokes" in the film.
The Edge actually was quite funny on stage, saying he was glad to be back in Toronto, where "they named a radio station after me."
Speaking of comedy, somebody at TIFF screwed up and forgot to run the Astral plug (a.k.a. Greenberg's annual moment of glory) before the feature. They tried to jam it in onto the end of the feature but the sound was off. Oops.
There was an after-party at the Liberty Grand. It felt good to drive right past the hundreds of cars lined up to turn right onto the CNE grounds on the westbound Lakeshore. They may still be there.

Geminis fail to break Brampton barrier

Wednesday's final Gemini gala on CBC was watched by an overnight, estimated late summer audience of 402,000 viewers, That put it fifth across Canada in the 8 p.m. timeslot behind Global (Big Brother drew close to 1.7 million), a rerun of The Listener on CTV, Minute to Winnit on City and American Restoration on History.
The Gemini take was even less of a draw in the 25 to 54-year-old demo, where 113,000 heads were counted. That put it 8th in the timeslot tally, behind everything above plus Dirty Jobs on Discovery, a movie on CTV Two and Food Network's Iron Chef America.
Last November, the annual salute to the Canadian television industry managed 363,000 on Global in a Saturday night suicide slot opposite a Leafs/Canucks game on Hockey Night in Canada (2.65 mil.).
Last March, host William Shatner boosted the Genies to 480,000.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

William Shatner: as enterprising as ever

Captain's Log: Stardate: Sept. 8, 1966. The voyages of the Starship Enterprise began--as I was reminded over at TV Worth Watching--exactly 45 years ago today. William Shatner's mission: to boldly go on forever as a TV icon.
Seems to be working out. I reached Shatner on the phone earlier this summer at his ranch in Kentucky and really enjoyed our 15 minute conversation. He had survived Vancouver's hockey riots, been honoured by McGill and the Governor General and was bummed about CBS's cancellation of S#*! My Dad Says.
At 80, he didn't dwell on that setback, being more focused on the second season return of Weird or What? (Sept. 12 at 10 p.m. on History Television), his new book Shatner Rules (coming next month), his documentary on The Captains (where he interviews Patrick Stewart and all the other starship skippers) and his upcoming album Searching for Major Tom where he actually sings/talks Bohemian Rhapsody, among other spacey ditties.
Then there's news today that he'll guest star as a drunk driver on the third season premiere of Rookie Blue (shooting later this month in Toronto) and be among those goofing on Charlie Sheen on that upcoming Comedy Network Roast (Sept. 19). 'Course, you'd know all this if you followed him on Twitter.
Set phasers for whew! Read more on all things Shat at this article I wrote for The Canadian Press.

This week`s podcast: Gemini Peters out

On this week`s podcast with CHML`s Scott Thompson, we talk about the ridiculousness of the Geminis. Wednesday night`s closing gala was dis-spiriting in a whole new way. The host, Russell Peters, seemed to realize he`d made a big career mistake about 15 seconds into his opening monologue. His jokes about the Canadian TV industry quickly pissed off everybody in the room and Peters--clearly there just to promote his hockey movie--made no effort to win them back.
The show seemed to be covered by robot cameras locked into long and medium shots. Winners were rarely shown in close up for fear Canadians might start to recognize the stars of their own TV shows. People accepting awards got played off seven seconds into their thank yous. What was the rush with only seven awards presented over the hour
It played like a sloppy version of that SCTV awards show parody where those nodding birds were presented as trophies. Where was any kind of salute to Roger Abbott? Can you imagine if Walter Cronkite had retired a week before the Emmys he wouldn`t have taken a bow? Lloyd`s big moment went unacknowledged at the televised gala. DO THE PEOPLE BEHIND THIS SHOW HAVE ANY CONNECTION TO THE CANADIAN TV INDUSTRY? 
Anyway, Scott and I yammer on about a bunch of other things TV related, including the Quixotic character J.R. Diggs. We yak so long it had to be broken up into separate sound files you`ll find here and here.

Thanks for the Douchebag jar, New Girl

It's that time of year again--time for all the zany promotional packages to pile up on the front door.
A new TV season means more promotional ballyhoo, especially from the folks at Fox. Arriving this week: packages promoting new Fox series Terra Nova and New Girl.
Terra Nova is the sci-fi dino-drama executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Peter Chernin, Brannon Bragna and others. A condensed clip was inadvertently sent to Canadian critics at upfront time which almost caused a border incident. The official, two-hour premiere screener makes for a pretty impressive movie, neatly setting up much more of a human interest story then was evident in earlier glimpses.
The screener did not come with a box full of dino poop, as one critic speculated, but a knapsack. Hey, always handy at back-to-school time.
Today's courier delivery included a box full of stuff promoting New Girl, the sitcom starring Zooey Deschanel. Critics are already gaga over Zooey, based on an earlier screener distributed in June. The extras on the new screener does address one area of this sitcom I was a little concerned with: the character named "Coach" in the pilot. As played by Damon Wayans, Jr., he's one of the three party dudes the "new girl" (Deschanel) moves in with as the series begins.
Trouble is, Wayans was already committed to that spring rom-com Happy Endings starring Elisha Cuthbert. When it was picked up, he had to step off this bus.
The producers, including Liz Meriwether, smartly decided to leave Wayans in the pilot (where he's very effective) and bring a new character in to replace him in the series (Winston, played by Lamore Morris. He'll take back his share of the apartment he was subletting to Coach.)
The New Girl package, which was clearly marked fragile and this end up, also contained a large glass "Douchebag" jar filled with tootsie-pops wrapped in American dollar bill-like wrappers. Nice touch, since the douchebag jar is a recurring gag in the series. At least one critic I'm linked in to on Facebook found his reduced to shards of glass when his box arrived. Mine somehow traveled all the way to Canada intact.
Canadian networks also get into the ballyhoo act, albeit on a smaller scale. CTV sent a little toy Mini Cooper to remind critics that the daytime series Anderson--featuring Anderson Cooper--begins next week. Vr-room, vroom.
Now, if only Fox aired The Playboy Club. In the old days, they would have sent a bunny to the door, and I don‘t mean Bugs.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

J.R. Diggs: Man (of La Mancha) with a Van

J.R. Diggs just won't give up. The mop-haired dude from Hamilton, Ont., has been aching to be Canada's next great late night talk show host since he started making TV shows for nickles and dimes around 10 years ago. Of late, on Man with a Van (late Saturday nights around 2 a.m. on Global), he's been using his 1991 Ford Econoline van as his studio/production centre.
Gotta hand it to the guy for perseverance. He parlayed a Gemini nomination into a whole lotta ink through direct appeals to guys like me who write about television. John Doyle, Bill Harris and others jumped on the chance to find a human interest angle they could live with at the Geminis. (Diggs lost to Strombo last week, which made sense even to Diggs).
Me, I kinda see Diggs as a modern day Don Quixote, tilting at the windmills dotting the Canadian television landscape. Part of me wants him to stand down from this quest, part of me wants to be his Pancho Vila.
Here's my profile of Diggs which appeared in shorter form in Sunday's Toronto Star. Toronto.com has the book length version.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Lloyd farewell draws 2.1 million viewers

Over 2.1 million Canadians tuned in for Lloyd Robertson's final newscast an anchor of CTV National News. According to the network, the overnight, estimated, BBM tally of 2,110,000 viewers Thursday was a CTV National News record excluding broadcasts during the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
The one hour documentary special which preceded the newscast--Lloyd Robertson: And That's the Kind of Life It's Been--drew 1,683,000 viewers at 10 p.m., topping Global's timeslot rival Rookie Blue (1,365,000). The entertaining look back at Robertson's life, produced by his daughter Lisa, repeats Saturday night at 7 p.m. and again Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
Robertson, 77, spent 35 years behind the CTV anchor desk. Lisa Laflamme takes over as CTV National News anchor on Tuesday.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

CTV iron man Lloyd Robertson calls it a day

Just as my kids have never known life without The Simpsons, few Canadians have known life without Lloyd Robertson.
Canada's Most Trusted News anchor signs off for the last time tonight on the CTV National News. He's been a TV newsman since before CTV was on the air, on televison since the mid-'50s.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Robertson earlier this summer. We chatted briefly at the CTV upfront in June and I followed up with him on the phone a month later to get a quote for Don Ferguson and the late Roger Abbott's upcoming book about the Air Farce (40 Years of Flying By The Seat of Our Pants, coming in October.) As one of the most well-known faces in Canadian television, Robertson was a Farce fave and was serenaded by Lloyd clones on their most recent New Year's Eve special.
He was goofed on by me, too, plenty of times over the years. I've suggested he's being called back for pyramid duty. I've teased him in print about his hair, which often seemed tinted a different hue every night. Hundreds were being hypnotised, tricked into watching his No. 1 national newscast, I kidded.
It's a bit like how David Letterman will make fun of Regis or Larry King. The joke is getting thin because Dave's old now too. Damn this tempus fugit thing.
Once, when I was still at the Toronto Sun, I suggested he and former Ottawa bureau chief Craig Oliver were turning into the Stadler and Waldorf of election coverage, a reference to those cranky old men up in the balcony from The Muppet Show. Robertson dashed off a quick email: "Watch it or I'll sick Peter Worthington and Bob MacDonald on you!"
Worthington, of course, is older than God and still at the Sun. MacDonald has since passed away but at the time of Robertson's remarks he was well into his seventies and as feisty and cantankerous as ever.
Bottom line, Lloyd pulled my pants down. I felt like I had won the Order of Canada.
Which, by the way, Lloyd has. Talking to him on the phone, it takes a while to get past that famous voice. At first you feel your conversation is being broadcast. "What is the view tonight in Brampton, Bill?" Everything he says sounds that much more important.
So it was nice to hang on the phone a bit and just dish with Lloyd. Yes, he laughed when Joe Flaherty used to do Floyd Robertson on SCTV. "I loved it," says Robertson. "They were great guys, I got to know them a bit. Eugene [Levy] later asked me to come on and do a bit with him--Earl Camembert and Floyd!"
Robertson started out in 1952 as a local CJCS radio reporter in his hometown of Stratford, Ont. He was on TV a few years later, reporting from Winnipeg and Ottawa.
By 1967 he was part of CBC's national news team. By October of 1970--right around the time of the October Crisis--he was on the CBC anchor desk.
Seven years later, CTV came calling. Robertson was involved in a CBC union dispute over writing and editing his own news copy and jumped to the private network, a gutsy (and financially rewarding) move at the time. An erroneous Globe headline that he would jump back led to what Robertson calls "a messy weekend." He shared the CTV news desk for another seven years with Harvey Kirck and has been there ever since on his own--35 years.
Add the CBC gig and that's 41 years as a national network news anchor (and nearly 60 as a reporter!). Nobody else comes close.
"There was a guy in St. Louis or somewhere who went longer than 35," Robertson says, "but that was local."
Lloyd makes guys like Dan Rather look like quitters. Rather hung in nearly 20 years and did just beat Walter Cronkite's CBS anchor record. Rather's final year, however, was bleak as he dodged charges of bias. "That was not the way to go out," says Lloyd.
Chatting with Robertson at the CTV upfront in June
Harper Collins has asked Robertson to do a memoir, which seems about right. The veteran newsman has had a ring side seat to history, covering everything from Expo '67 to the Vancouver Winter Games. Lloyd brought us the moon landings, the Quebec referendums, reports on dozens of presidents and prime ministers.
Coverage of the royal wedding of Charles and Diana stands out, he says, as does, of course, the terrible attacks during 9/11. Robertson was in bed when the call came from producer Dennis Macintosh. "Turn your TV on and get the hell in here!" Robertson recalls hearing at the other end of the phone. He scrambled to the anchor desk and stayed there 14 hours.
He worries his book might not have enough sizzle. "My life isn't as exciting as some of my colleagues who've had six wife and been in and out of drunk tanks," he says. Robertson and his wife Nancy have been married for 55 years. "I've led a straighter life because it was the only way to do the job."
At 77, he's not completely ready to quit. He'll continue to host the CTV news magazine W-FIVE. "I can't stop," says Robertson. "After going 140K on a treadmill all these years, I can't just jump off. I'd break both my legs."
Tonight's final newscast will be preceded at 10 p.m. by an hour-long salute: Lloyd Robertson--And That's the Kind of Life It's Been. Lisa Laflamme takes over as CTV National News anchor Tuesday at 11 (and not, as it says on Robertson's Wikipedia site, Kent Brockman!).
Life will go on for viewers, but we'll miss the man with the deep voice, gravitas and, yes, ever-changing hair. He always seems like who he is, a decent guy from small town Canada who cares about his country, reads the headlines, shakes his head and says, "That's the kind of day it's been." Good night Lloyd, and thanks.