Monday, October 31, 2011

TONIGHT: Horror Story joins TV's Top 5 scariest

It's a happy Halloween for the folks at American Horror Story (starring Connie Britton, above). The kinky FX drama was renewed for a second season today.
The series drew 3.1 million Live+3 U.S. viewers for last week's fourth episode, its best performance to date. FX says American Horror Story is on track to becoming their highest-rated first season of any series ever.
This is all good news for FX Canada, which launches tonight at 9 p.m. with back-to-back episodes of AHS.
With Halloween tonight, there are still a few sitcoms going the costume route, including How I Met Your Mother (featuring Canadian-born Colby Smuthers in her Vancouver Canucks costume) as well as Mike & Molly (with Frankenstein fans Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell, right). Modern Family re-ran their Halloween treat from last season last week.
Apparently they're going to be dressing up in costumes tonight on Dancing with the Stars, which scares the hell out of me. The folks at SUN News get a big scare tonight at midnight when they lose their channel 15 bandwidth. Banished to digital hell! Now that's scary!!
SUN News aside, what are the five scariest shows on TV today? Resisting the temptation to put Oprah's Lifeclass on the list, here are my Top 5, in descending order: 

 5. Grimm (NBC/CTV; Friday nights): Despite being on opposite the seventh game of the World Series, Grimm got off to a strong start Friday on NBC--maybe because this is the Halloween show to watch if the others are just too scary. It did so well on CTV--opening to 1.53 million viewers--that they're moving it back an hour to simulcast it at 9 p.m. ET next week. More fantasy than horror, with some of the creepiness held in check due to broadcast standards, Grimm nonetheless has its moments of suspense. The idea of mashing a cop show with a fantasy series drawn from Grimm Fairy Tales does seem like a stretch at times. As my old pal Ed Bark says over at TV Worth Watching, " plays like a crime procedural set in Transylvania."

4. Todd and the Book of Pure Evil (Space, Sundays; also on Comedy and MTV; Fearnet in the U.S.): By far the funniest show on this list. This Gemini-winner just returned Sunday for a second season. I chatted with co-creator Craig David Wallace last week for this feature I wrote for The Toronto Star. He explained how he and others were inspired by Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy back in the '80s, which accounts for the fact that there's plenty of comedy mixed in with the gore on this Winnipeg-based series. The Todd gang have fun, provide plenty of chuckles and chills and all on a Canadian budget! Now that's scary!!

3. True Blood (HBO/HBO Canada): Vampire, werewolves, witches--each season they pile on the supernatural gore. Who will hit this Louisiana town next season--the Creature from the Black Lagoon? Marg Delahunty? Somebody call 911 and warn Rob Ford! The sexiest horror romp on this list, and often the bloodiest. That's Canadian Patrick Gallagher (Endgame, Glee) getting in on a little fang time, above right.

2. American Horror Story (FX/FX Canada, Mondays): It's creepy and it's kooky, mysterious and spooky, and altogether ooky. Plus they live in the Addams Family house. Can these folks not see that? Why are they going up in the attic and down in the basement?? Get the hell out of that house!!! Way over the top, which is part of the fun. Jessica Lange (above with Francis Conroy) steals every scene as the sinister next door neighbour who makes Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard look like Glinda, the Good Witch of the East. Watch it with the sound up (the soundtrack is creep-a-licious) and the light's out.

1. The Walking Dead (AMC, Sundays). Season One was compelling, suspenseful and delivered all the fright you could take on TV. Season Two takes it all a step further. I tuned in for a few minutes last night and it looked like an entire town was being ripped to shreds by zombies. Cool!
Just good ol' fashioned, straight ahead storytelling, a simple premise taken to its scariest extreme by people who know how to thrill their audience.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bob McAdorey hits the Wall in Niagara Falls

I'm sure if Bob McAdorey was still around and had heard he was being honoured along with somebody called "Deadmou5, he would have probably said, "sounds about right."
Mac, who grew up and went to high school in Niagara and eventually retired a place in Niagara-on-the-Lake, was among 7 groups and individuals honoured Saturday as he was inducted into the Niagara Falls Arts & Culture Wall of Fame. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 69.
McAdorey's radio career began in the '50s at CHVC near the falls. He went on to be one of the top jocks at Toronto's 1050 CHUM, introducing The Beatles at Maple Leaf Gardens among many career highlights.
Frank Shuster was among the other inductees Saturday as was Honeymoon Suite; past honourees include James Cameron and Barbara Frum, all with a strong connection to this famous border town community.
I had the great privilege and joy of saluting Bob at the event along with my ol' pal Elaine Loring. Elaine worked with Mac for many years at Global television; both shared the daily "Entertainment Desk" series that was the stations long-running showbiz series before things there went all ET Canada.
Way back when I was working at TV Guide, the highlight of my week was joining Bob for five minutes on air every Friday as we ran down the coming week's TV highlights. Bob was so smooth and assured on air I often forgot we were on camera. He was that rare bird, a true broadcaster, somebody who had a tremendous connection to his audience by just being themselves. Philbin has it, Letterman, Craig Ferguson, too. It's an ability to make viewers feel they really have invited the person right into their living rooms.
Not that the performer is all the guy you see on TV. Ferguson, Letterman, Carson, Conan all had or have dark sides they don't show viewers, no matter how intimate that TV relationship always appears. Mac was apparently the same way, although I honestly never saw that other side of him. To me, he was always the coolest guy in television.
His on-camera ease was, like those other guys, hard earned as well as a natural gift. Mac fussed over scripts, kept producers on their toes and liked things buttoned down. That he made it all seem so nice guy natural on camera is all the more admirable.
I  think he would have been touched by Saturday's straight ahead grass roots salute. The Niagara Arts & Culture Wall of Fame in located  in Niagara Square, the town shopping mall. The Niagara Falls Concert Band, in their red jackets, warmed up the gathering crowd with show tunes. A town Crier in full regalia rang his bell and threw himself into his Hear Ye's. The mayor was there, the local member of parliament, the provincial MPP. All three made short speeches and then stood for 90 minutes while the event played out.  
When it was time to honour Bob, Elaine went up and nailed her speech. I swear it was like back-at-Global times, like the red light went on and her voice just went right back to that precise and professional pitch. (She comes by it naturally; her dad, Rex Loring, was a golden throat CBC announcer for years).
I said a few words, and was touched later when a couple of people in the crowd approached to say they knew Bob, shared similar hobbies and were happy he was being given his due.
Fellow honouree Joel Zimmerman, a.k.a. DJ/performance artist Deadmau5, was not at the ceremonies but sent a surrogate in a Deadmau5 head and ears. His father, wearing a "Dadmau5" T-shirt, was there and gave a very funny acceptance speech. Rosie Shuster, daughter of Frank, sent regards. 
Afterwards me and Elaine enjoyed a bit of a Ferris Bueler's Day Off goofing around the falls. It is off-season there and the chill and rain put a damper on the horseshoe view but it was a day to remember nevertheless. Elaine (who I've known since we both had summer jobs at an Ontario Place restaurant back in the '70s) even brought along a Three Stooges mask (one mask, three heads) so we could recreate the "slowly I turn, step by step, inch by inch..." Niagara Falls routine. Bob, I think, would have said "sointenly!" to that.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sunday: The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror XXII

The big scare earlier this year with The Simpsons was that it might be shutting down production at the end of this season. Voice actor contracts resolved, the annual Halloween special, this year titled Treehouse of Horror XXII (Sunday at 8 on Fox and Global) is far less frightening (although it is slightly unsettling that the episode actually appears before Halloween this year).
The best part is the opening gag where Homer falls into a crevice. Aaron Ralson, the real-life dude whose story of survival was told in the film 127 Hours, lends a hand (as it were).
The first Halloween story, "The Diving Bell and the Butterball," is a goof on the film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Did anybody see that film? Will anybody get the joke? D'oh!
There are plenty of fart jokes, however, so it should be universally understood.
Part II, "Dial D for Diddly," is a parody of Dexter starring Ned Flanders. There are several nice little touches, like blood splatters on a Jackson Pollack painting (improving it) and Mr. Burns head growing a third eye after it is tossed into a lake polluted by his own nuclear waste. There is even a brief, hilarious homage to the classic Chuck Jones Road Runner cartoons. The late Mrs. Flanders even makes a surprise cameo.
Part III, "In The Na'Vi," is a parody of Avatar. As the 18-year-old said, "Didn't that movie come out three years ago?"
As usual, it all hails from "Bat" Groening, James L. "What Isn't Scary?" Brooks, etc.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tonight: Beavis and Butt-Head are back

Beavis and Butt-Head toilet paper: blog gold
"I felt like TV was getting too smart."
That's Mike Judge's rational for bringing back Beavis and Butt-Head. The barely animated duo return with their first new episode in nearly 14 years tonight at 10 p.m. on MTV.
Publicists at MTV Canada sent critics a role of Beavis and Butt-Head toilet paper to mark the occasion, or "T.P. for your Bunghole" as it says on the label. Nice.
There are 12 new Beavis and Butt-Head episodes and, judging by the clips shown critics at the last press tour, they look pretty funny. Judge was at that tour in Los Angeles and joined a scrum of reporters at one of the outdoor parties held poolside at the Beverly Hilton. He seemed to take my suggestion that his little seem gem Idiocracy was one of the funniest movies I've ever seen with his usual modesty.
Judge, as usual, had some insight to share, although, as I struggled to listen to the recording of the conversation, I was reminded to not stand so close to a speaker blaring party music the next time I'm in one of these situations. Some of these questions below are from me, some by colleagues Roger Catlin and Neal Justin and other reporters but damned if I can make out who asked what. No matter--check out Judge's surprise inspiration for Beavis and Butt-Head--the Peanuts gang! (Also back tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC  in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.) Good grief!

The animation looks better on the clip we saw of the new episodes.
Yeah, definitely. I think the combination of…we were getting to a better place toward the end of the run—I tried to pick up where we left off.

We have better backgrounds. I really love the way the backgrounds look. I actually love the way film looks I kind of prefer it. We have HD now. They’ve finally got digital where it doesn't look digital. The process is a lot better.

Were you worried some of the humour might get lost if the animation got better?
Yeah! That's one reason we use the same model sheets
Beavis and Butt-Head—I don't draw that well to begin with but I kind of made it deliberatley a little bit looser an sloppier. I was kind of thinking of making the animation like the Charlie Brown animation. You never saw the front of Snoopy's dog house for one thing.
I also always liked the way Pig-Pen is animated. His hair was just kind of moving like that. I tried to do Butt-Head that way. I haven’t seen anything other than Pig-Pen animated like that.

Phil Roman the guy who started Film Roman [the animation studio where Beavis and Butt-Head and The Simpsons are animated today] was one of the animators on Charlie Brown. I met him and was nerding out on him, asking all kinds of question about those days.

Do you think [Peanuts creator] Charles Schultz would have been a fan of Beavis and Butt-Head?
That’s one o the people I always wanted to meet and I almost had an opportunity once. To me, like, I don’t need to meet people I’m a huge fan of I so wanted to meet him out of curiosity.

Apparently he was a bit of a lonely, tortured guy...
Yeah, I saw a documentary on him once. That little red haired girl stuff—that was really like tugging a the heart strings. He did it so simply.
I think we all owe a lot to him. The Simpsons too. The way the drawing on The Simpsons are so simple, you kind of pour everything into what you think about those characters.

Was it tough to get back up to speed on the voices of the characters?
I was a little too self conscious at first I had to listen back. I had a pretty bad flu when I was recording the first couple of episodes and I had to go back and re do them. Then I got into the groove.

FX Canada: do we watch brands or shows?

Are all U.S. cable networks imported equally? I have a feature in today's Toronto Star Entertainment section on the launch of FX Canada. The new digital service will bow Monday at 9 p.m. with American Horror Story--just in time for Halloween. The off-beat comedy Wilfred (starring Jason Gann, right), will be another FX Canada offering.
So far the station will just be available to Rogers Digital and East Link subscribers. (In Toronto: channel 318; hi-def channel 565). There will be a two month free window. Deals on other carriers across Canada are still being negotiated.
There's a sidebar to the feature looking at how some other U.S. cable migrations have fared in Canada. For years we got the shows not the stations. Programs like The Sopranos, Sex and the City or Rescue Me trickled across the border as they were cherry picked by various Canadian broadcasters. Some episodes would air here three or six months after they premiered in the U.S., some the next night.
Some never caught on. FX's The Shield was a bust in Canada, booted all over Global schedule. They finally gave up on it.
The cherry picking goes on and its causing some hiccups for FX Canada. The Pay TV service Super Channel currently has the latest episodes of current FX hits Justified and Sons of Anarchy and airs them day-and-date with the FX in the States. Those deals remain in place and that's why you'll only see the first two seasons of those shows on the new FX Canada.
The big winner in the U.S. cable brand airlift so far to me anyway seems to be Astral and Corus and their deal to offer HBO Canada on one of their East/West multiplexes. In speaking to HBO marketing V.P. Domenic Vivolo for the Star, he told me their research showed it wasn't enough to have the shows. "Really what Canadians wanted was the brand."
Vivolo's previous gig was in marketing at SkyDome in Toronto. Torontonians didn't just want a baseball team, they wanted the whole major league baseball experience, he reasons.
Still, maybe the whole brand is a bust. The jury's still out on OWN.
To that end, how well Rogers replicates the FX "There is no Box" experience may be a key to this deal. How to boot a brand was demonstrated a few years ago by Global when E! programming was dumped into CHCH and other stations along with local news and other syndicated fare. The dogs breakfast was rejected by confused viewers (who probably already had their fill of all the celebrity rehab crap E! had to offer at the time. Bell is trying again with E!, this time as a diginet).

Some U.S. cable services will likely never land in Canada. Officials at CTV/Bell, partnered with ESPN in content deals for TSN--are just not motivated to bring ESPN 2 to Canada. The rabid fan base for U.S. college football—a big draw Stateside on “The Deuce”—is just not robust enough in Canada to justify the expense and marketing required to launch another specialty station.

One of the most popular U.S. cable services—Comcast-owned The USA Network—seems doomed just by virtue of its name. Canadians will likely continue to see USA shows such as shot-in-Toronto Covert Affairs on Canadian specialty stations like Showcase.  
Corus announced yesterday they have partnered with ABC/Disney on a new channel to launch in 2012: Disney Spark. This channel will be aimed at "Canada's young adult millennial viewer." I don't know what that means either but these cats seem to know what they are doing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Penis Vagina Monologues

Remember when we told you the broadcast network comedies this fall have set a new record for raunch? New York Magazine's pop culture "Vulture" blog has put together the above video of all the penis and vagina references so far this season. Who was the lucky stiff who counted them all?  Frankly, Two and a Half Men seems under represented. Count along with the whole family.

This week's podcast: counting past TV sets

Ran into former CTV CEO Ivan Fecan last week at the Air Farce book launch. The most powerful man in Canadian television is keeping a low profile these days. He snuck almost undetected into the back of the CBC atrium to catch Don Ferguson's speech and grab a few free Tim Bits. It was the wavy white hair that gave him away.
Fecan looks fit and happy so I have to take him at his word that he is giving this whole crazy TV world a big fat pass for now.
I asked him what he has learned about TV in recent months approaching it for the first time in a long time strictly as a consumer. Here's what he said: he can't believe how much content he consumes now on mobile devises. Those cool liitle iPads are the bomb.
Fecan's remark resonated this week as a couple of reports came out charting TV ratings beyond the usual real time head counts. John Solberg at FX put out a release showing that, when you tally everything up, American Horror Story was the No. 1 series premiere ever at his network and that episode three topped episode one's take.
Comparing Live+Same Day data to Live+Seven Day, the premiere of the series went up 54% in adults 18-49 and 49% in adults 18-34. "As the DVR universe grows, it is becoming increasingly clear that the reporting of Live+Same Day ratings fails to tell the full story," goes the release. The seven day total shows 3.14 million 18-49-year-olds watched the premiere on FX in America.
Then there's this report that Netflix and other video streaming dominates Internet traffic during TV's prime time hours. The report suggests 60% of all downloading traffic in North America occurs between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. More evidence that people are surfing on demand rather than being tied down to network schedules.

CTV also put out a release Tuesday pointing out, among other things, that Jersey Shore was the No. 1 Bell Media property with over 14 million video views. They also stated that, in the month of September, had 3.9 million unique visitors and the Top-5 streamed shows at the site are not all just the ones that are top-rated on television. They are, in order, Grey's Anatomy, The Big Bang Theory, Criminal Minds, Vampire Diaries and Flashpoint.
Yeah, and what about this story, says Scott, asking if Apple TV will change how many of us consume television in the future. Kinda makes you want to take my weekly Brioux Report Canadian ratings postings (find Oct. 17-23 here) with a grain of salt.
You can listen to our whole Wednesday conversation, split into two five minute files, here and here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guest review: Terra Nova

I used to rely on my 18-year-old son to keep me in the loop but the lad went off to Ryerson. Thankfully, other young viewers are willing to step up and share their opinions of some of this season's new shows.
Guest blogger Kira Charron, 21, is a fourth year student in Media, Information and Technoculture at the University of Western Ontario. (Check out her photo rich "Long Distance Letters" travel blog here.) She's all over the sci-fi scene and files this take on the new City/Fox dino-drama Terra Nova:

Terra Nova: Bringing Out the Best in Small Screen Sci-Fi

I’ll be honest with you: I had already made up my mind about Steven Spielberg’s small-screen epic before even sitting through the two-hour pilot. With headlines such as “Terra-ble Nova” and “No. 1 Crock of the New TV Season,” I was bracing myself for the worst—and trying to come up with a snarky headline of my own.
But then, something strange happened. Somewhere in between the time warp, the overdrawn family drama, the teenage angst, and, of course, the too-good-for-TV, CGI dinosaurs, I found myself, well, enjoying it.
Let me put it this way: there is a time and a place for witty, thought-provoking dialogue, historically accurate set-constructions, and subtle yet moving performances. But that time is not Monday nights at eight, and the place is most certainly not Fox.
The story begins in the year 2149. Earth is nearing its last breath: the sky is perpetually dark, the air is unfit to breathe, and overpopulation has forced the government to implement a two-children-per-family policy. In short, it makes Blade Runner’s L.A. look like a walk in the park. 
A convenient fracture in time, however, has allowed the government to start sending “pilgrimages” back in time, 85 million years, to be precise, to save the human race.
The Shannon family, comprised of Jim, a policeman, Elizabeth, a highly distinguished trauma surgeon, and their three (gasp!) children, are recruited to join the 10th pilgrimage and discover the wonderful New World that awaits them—a world filled with mysterious cave markings, man-eating dinosaurs, and apparently, some very sexed-up teenagers.
However, there’s a lot more going on here than a techno-heavy rehash of the age-old American Settler’s Tale (James Cameron’s Avatar has already done a pretty good job of that.) In fact, it’s a mash-up of genres ranging from the teen slasher flick to the medical drama. Action, romance, renegade forces and a troubled yet loving nuclear family—not a single trope is left behind in this epic showdown.
But at its heart, Terra Nova is a work of science fiction, and this is where I believe it has the potential to truly come into its own. As a genre that relies on well-known conventions such as time travel, fierce monsters, and apocalyptic futures, sci-fi hasn’t always had it easy on the small screen, especially when it comes to attracting younger audiences of the Non-Trekkie variety.
With its diverse cast, multiple storylines, and state-of-the-art graphics, Terra Nova has the ability to bring science fiction back to the mainstream. So while the individual elements may not be particularly innovative, seeing them come together in a pretty, primetime package—with Spielberg’s signature bow on top—is promising, if not downright exciting
There are still pitfalls the show will have to avoid. The pilot alone set up some pretty ambitious storylines for future episodes, including Commander Taylor’s missing son, the mysterious cave drawings, and most intriguing of all, the Sixers, a group of renegade pilgrims who’ve been sent from the future with a different goal in mind than saving mankind.
How the writers will handle these connected stories without venturing into Lost-esque territory will be interesting to see. They’ve already cleverly avoided the complication of time-travel and the butterfly effect, which, in my opinion, is where Lost sadly jumped the shark. Indeed in Terra Nova, the characters have not so much travelled back in time as into a “different time-stream,” meaning that none of their actions will affect their future-selves. A sneaky way of getting around it, but it works.
My major concern with Terra Nova relates back to the genre of science fiction. The show has raised some visually interesting and possibly controversial ideas concerning the not-so-distant future, but whether or not it can take these ideas to the next level remains to be seen.
Science fiction has always been about self-reflection and social commentary. Even though plotlines usually take place in the future and in a galaxy far, far away, there is often a striking resemblance to the social and political context of the present-day. 
Terra Nova seems to be on the verge of making those comments, and could very well have the potential to do so in a thought-provoking way, but not if the writers feel the need to play it safe for primetime audiences.
As much as I loved the corny one-liners (“He’ll find a way, he always does.”) and dinosaur fights, I can’t help but feel that Spielberg and his team have tapped into something worthwhile. They’ll just need to dig deeper to find out what exactly it is.
But even if all you’re looking for is high-impact drama and action, served with an extra large side of cheese, Terra Nova will definitely provide. And with a reported budget of $20 million for the pilot episode alone, I certainly hope that it continues to do so, for Fox’s sake, that is.
Terra Nova, starring Jason O’Mara and Stephen Lang, airs on Fox and CITY-TV, Monday nights at 8:00 EST.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Annette hits a Mouseka-milestone

Hey there, hi there, ho there--guess who turned 69 on the weekend?
Annette Funicello, who, as the most famous of all the Mouseketeers in the mid-'50s, was one of the biggest stars ever in television.
How famous was Annette? Paul Anka, seen Sunday as guest judge on Cover Me Canada, wrote his hit Put Your Head on My Shoulder about the shy Italian-American teen.
Annette went on to become a Beach Blanket sensation in the '60s and did a string of memorable Skippy peanut butter commercials in the '70s and '80s but has faded from view over the past 25 years as she copes with multiple sclerosis.
I had the good fortune to interview her at her home in the Hollywood Hills shortly after she went public with her debilitating disease. Even then she was not very mobile but was in great spirits and happy to share stories of her early days on the Disney lot (including her big crush on Zorro star Guy Williams).
My ol' mouseka-pal Lorriane Santoli, author of The Official Mickey Mouse Club Book, passes along news that Funicello has launched a new website, The Annette Connection. There are photos of Funicello's old costumes from The Mickey Mouse Club as well as an upcoming 50th anniversary screening in Los Angeles of Funicello's 1961 Disney feature, Babes in Toyland. There's also a link to donate to the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases.
Everybody neat and pretty? On to the site.

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's "ulcer time" again this fall at CBC

CBC has a tough time every fall up against the bright shiny new objects being dangled on the private networks. When I called head of scheduling Christine Wilson to get her side of the numbers story I filed today for The Canadian Press, she characterized the fall as "ulcer time" at CBC.
No kidding. You're up against all that U.S. network promotion for The X Factor, 2 Broke Girls, Pan Am and Terra Nova. You have The Right on your back to open the books and show accountability for that $1.1 billion annual TV and radio appropriation. You have the culture vultures on The Left whining that you don't show enough opera and dance.
In short, you just can't win.
Still, CBC, which less than a year ago was bragging it was nipping at Global's heels (those hockey playoff numbers cover a lot of ills), is now running fifth, sixth or seventh most nights in most prime time slots in Canada.
Look at the numbers just from this week: Michael Tuesdays & Thursdays 178,000. InSecurity 192,000. The Debaters 162,000.
More shocking may be how far some of the CBC hits have fallen. The Rick Mercer Report has a "Best of 2010" (?) repeat on this week which dragged it down to 569,000 Tuesday. Battle of the Blades Monday skidded to 686,000 Monday. Being Erica dropped down to 272,000.
Dragon's Den is still relatively robust at 1,157,000 but that's still a half million viewers less than at this time last year. Move people live in Brampton, Ont., than watched Camelot last week across Canada (431,000 viewers).
Now, everybody but CTV Two and City are down so far this season in Canada. As Wilson suggested, they're probably not exactly popping champagne corks these days over at Global and CTV, although each of those networks have had some reasons to cheer.
The CBC has had none, except perhaps for cheering on The Leafs' fast start on Hockey Night in Canada. The CP piece covers many of the more obvious reasons for CBC's fall stumble. Two are the surging ratings so far this season for up 'n' comers City and CTV Two. CBC hits like Battle of the Blades and Dragon's Den are now getting gang tackled.
One other factor may be the switch from analog to digital signals across Canada last August 31. While CBC won a one year reprieve from the CRTC in most of rural Canada (areas where the population is 300,000 or less), those darkened sets in the cities likely represented CBC viewers.
Conventional wisdom suggests older folks in remote and far reaching areas of Canada were the ones clinging hardest to Coronation Street and The National and that AMC, CNN and other specialty channels were just not on their radar.
Recent visits by this reporter to Dawson City, Yellowknife and Whitehorse brought evidence that these remote areas were well served by satellite. Who knew you could get Hamilton, Ont., super station CHCH, Los Angeles-based KTLA and St. John’s Nfld.’s NTV in the Klondike?
Evidence is strictly anecdotal, but the loss of those rabbit ear and antenna viewers on college campuses in Toronto and Vancouver—where many students, rather than adding cable or satellite charges to their monthly expenses, quickly found their favourite shows on the Internet—and in fringe rural areas surrounding Ottawa, Montreal and other major Canadian cities, could also account for some of the overall drop in CBC viewership.
More challenged lie ahead for CBC. They've pledged to walk away from Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune by the end of this season, two table setters that are pulling more eyeballs--albeit older ones--than most of their prime time fare so far this season.
Then there is the future of CBC's Olympics--Hockey Night in Canada. Is there even that much ulcer medication in all of Canada?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fairy tales cast spell on network schedules

Lana Parrilla as the Evil Queen/Regina
I've been waiting years to file a story with, "Once upon a time..." as the lede. Finally got to do it today in The Star with this feature on the launch of two dramas with a fairy tale hook: Once Upon a Time (premiering Sunday at 7p.m. on CTV and 8 p.m. on ABC) and Grimm (next Friday at 8p.m. on CTV and 9 p.m. on NBC).
Not sure the world is waiting for TV dramas based on fairly tales--Pushing Daisies blossomed then went to seed just a few years ago as a "forensic fairy tale"--but at least they are different from the vast majority of the hour-long dramas introduced this season.
Once Upon a Time works best I think. The series stars Jennifer Morrison from House as one of the residents of Storybrooke, Maine, a parallel world where fairy tale characters like Snow White, Prince Charming and the Evil Queen live modern lives under different names. Seems they've got amnesia, and they don't know they have separate identities as classic fairy tale villains in that other world. Probably some spell Disney cast to avoid paying royalties.
Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstiltskin. Go Scotland 
Morrison plays Emma Swan who has a foot in both the modern world and the fairy tale world. Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love) plays the dual role of Snow White and Sister Mary Margaret Blanchard. A very diverse cast, including Raphael Sbarge (Jiminy Cricket/Archie Hopper), Lana Parrilla (Evil Queen/Regina), Robert Carlyle (over-the-top fun as Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold) and Giancarlo Esposito (Magic Mirror/Sydney) all dive into duel roles.
See what the critics over at TV Worth Watching think about both these new shows here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This week's podcast: Happy TV Meal deal?

This week, CHML's Scott Thompson starts things off by asking about this new McDonald's TV deal. Apparently the hamburger chain is launching its own TV network, which will initially broadcast inside its many California restaurants. McDonald's calculates as many as 18 million people a month will sample the service.
Programming won't just be burger ads. Content deals have been reached with ABC/Disney, The BBC, Mark Burnett and others.
My first reaction is to repeat one of my favourite Garry Shandling jokes. My second: while the concept does seem to bring new meaning to the term "super size me," I also see merit in the idea. People are scanning through conventional commercial advertising. Why not bring viewers right into the commercial and dispense programming like nuggets? Do you want Fringe with that?
No fries with that, thanks
The problem is where this could lead. Will we be forced to watch Dragon's Den at every Boston Pizza joint? Jackass at Jack Astors? Mike & Molly at...well, every fast food place basically.
And will TV favourites start catering to the fast food giant in their storylines? Will we see the Hamburgler, say, being defended by The Good Wife?
A lot of today's television just would not work in places where food is digested, including The Walking Dead, Dexter, True Blood or anything on Sun News.
Scott also asks about the book launch earlier this week for Air Farce: 40 Years of Flying by the Seat of Our Pants. And I go off on how CBC should absolutely be held to account as to exactly how their annual government appropriation is spent each year. Two words: full disclosure.

60 Years ago this week: the CBS Eye

One of the most famous corporate logos made its debut 60 years ago this week: The CBS Eye.
CBS is proud of their ol' Eye, releasing the above photo montage today. It is such an enduring symbol, virtually unchanged in 60 years and recognized around the world.
A decade or so ago, as part of a corporate restructuring, CBS rebranded their outdoor advertising, taking down the old Viacom logos and replacing them with The Eye logo. It is up there on billboards across Canada today even though the network itself does not cross the border. (The programming, obviously does. Actually it floods across the border; CBS shows The Big Bang Theory, The Amazing Race, Survivor, Two and a Half Men and CSI are the most-watches shows in Canada this fall.)
The Eye logo had its debut on Oct. 20, 1951, less than a week after I Love Lucy premiered on CBS. The symbol predated by just over a year the opening of CBS Television City in Los Angeles, itself a remarkably enduring design. The Eye logo has peered out from the top of the still busy broadcast centre since November of 1952. The logo even shows up all over the curtains on the Television City soundstage where The Price is Right tapes. Call me crazy, but if I could order those curtains for my house, I would.
The curtains on The Price is Right set
The old on-air, black and white, animated original used to iris down in the middle like a camera lens. Seeing it flash on some of my old 16mm Dick Van Dyke Show prints is in of itself a nostalgic experience.
Apparently the design came about when CBS creative director Bill Golden was driving through Pennsylvania Dutch country. According to today's CBS release, "He became intrigued by the hex symbols resembling the human eye that are drawn on Shaker barns to ward off evil spirits. He also came across a drawing he admired, that had the look of an eye, in a publication featuring Shaker art. With the help of graphic artist Kurt Weihs, the Eye logo was created."
One-eyed critic
In case you were wondering, NBC's iconic Peacock logo first appeared in May of 1956, part of the then RCA-owned networks push to sell colour TV sets. The eleven feathers were trimmed to six by the mid-'80s, and the peacock flipped to face the future, not the past. ABC's simple black dot logo, designed by logo whiz Paul Rand (IBM, UPS), branded their network from 1962 to 2007. CBC's "exploding pizza" logo, simplified in the early '90s, dates back to 1974.
CBS will use the original logo on air Thursday to mark the anniversary.
The network, by the way, is having a pretty good fall. They had 10 of the top-10 dramas in total audience last week as well as four of the top five in demos.
UPDATE: David Bianculli over at TV Worth Watching has his own arty theory on what really inspired the CBS Eye logo.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Broadfoot Part Two: Thank God for Jewison

In this second clip from my conversation with Dave Broadfoot, the Canadian comedy legend talks about his early influences. Among those who made him sit a little closer to the radio were Allan Young, a fellow Canadian who would go on to fame opposite a talking horse on Mr. Ed. A young Broadfoot used to watch Young tape his radio show at the Hotel Vancouver.
Broadfoot, who was at today's Air Farce book signing in Toronto, also has a cool story about the guy who directed him in his very first TV venture in the '50s--Norman Jewison. Fascinating, too, is his memory of the nameless CBC boss who wanted to clarify that the public broadcaster was "not in show business. We're in the entertainment business." Being in show business was all right by Broadfoot, who also always understood the value of a "hot, responsive studio audience."

The Donut Shop returns? You got that right

It was good to see the old "Canadian Moment" donut shop set again at today's book launch for Air Farce: 40 Years of Flying by the Seat of Our Pants. A steady crowd lined up at the atrium of the CBC building in Toronto to get their copy of the book autographed by author Don Ferguson as well as fellow cast members Luba Goy, Dave Broadfoot, Alan Park (now among CBC's The Debaters) and Penelope Corrin. Jessica Holmes made an early appearance at the signing, as did original Farce TV producer Brian Robertson. Former CBC and CTV network boss Ivan Fecan, who gave the comedy troupe the green light at the former and tried to woo them over to the latter--also made the scene, as did George Anthony (working on a book on Gordon Pinsent), who was Head of CBC Variety just as Air Farce took off on CBC television.
Long time Farce studio director Pat McDonald was there and, as is his dead-pan way, pronounced the event "hilarious." Producers Lucy Stewart and Kevin Wallis noted that if the late, great, Roger Abbott had been present, he'd have counted each and every book sold today and known what demo all the sellers fell into.
The old set donut shop set was dusted off and brought up from the vault for the occasion. A nice touch was the real Tim Horton's doughnuts served to Farce fans who attended the book signing. Ferguson is embarking on a tour to promote the book, which will bring him to Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and beyond. The Farce will return to CBC New Year's Day (not Night) with another of their annual year-end comedy salutes.

Dave Broadfoot on the origins of the Member for Kicking Horse Pass

One of the great privileges in being asked to work on Air Farce: 40 Years of Flying by the Seat of Our Pants was getting to spend a few hours with Dave Broadfoot. As Rich Mercer wrote on the back jacket of Broadfoot's 2002 autobiography, Old Enough to Say What I Want,"If the comedy business was a railroad, Dave drove the first spike and the last. The rest of us just rode the rails."
This is the first of two short excerpts from our conversation last May conducted at his home in mid-town Toronto. The 86-year-old Canadian comedy legend explains the origins of one of his most memorable characters: the Member for Kicking Horse Pass. Turns out he's a combination of three people, one a famous Canadian politician, one a TV evangelist and one Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the Catholic bishop who for a time in the '50s was more popular than "Mr. Television" Milton Berle on TV.

Air Farce book takes off today in Toronto

Greetings, Farce fans! Today, Air Farce: 40 Years of Flying by the Seat of Our Pants hits bookstores everywhere. The 288-page hardcover from Wiley is a wonderful scrapbook of stories and photos from Don Ferguson and Roger Abbott about Canada's longest-running comedy troupe. I was honoured to be asked to help with the book and have contributed interviews with cast members Luba Goy, Dave Broadfoot, Jessica Holmes, writer Gord Holtam and former network executive Ivan Fecan, who gave the green light to a 16-year Farce run on CBC and tried to steal them away to CTV when he began building a network dynasty on the private network.
I also spoke with Alan Park, Penelope Corrin, director Perry Rosemond, Brian Robertson and others in preparing for my contributions to the book. It was a great privilege to get to meet and speak with everyone involved, and I thank Don and the late, great Roger Abbott for the opportunity.
I also approached Rick Mercer, Brent Butt, Allan Hawco, Steve Smith and Lloyd Robertson for comments for the back of the book jacket. Their instant, eager and heartfelt responses show you just how loved Ferguson, Abbott and Air Farce are in this business.
There is a celebration of the launch today at noon at the CBC atrium at 250 Front St. in Toronto, where Ferguson, Goy and others will be on hand and books will be available for just $22, including tax! May the Farce be with you!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

TONIGHT: The Walking Dead returns a winner

Among the many things I liked about The Walking Dead when it premiered last year: it was a six episode season.
I'm down with that U.K. series length, I knew it was something I could possibly catch beginning to end.
Which I did, with my 18-year-old son, who was nuts for this series.
The Walking Dead returns tonight at 9 p.m. on AMC with a 90-minute Season Two kickoff. There will be seven episodes this fall, with another six airing starting in February. If I can commit to six, I can do 13.
Haven't had a chance to screen it yet, but contacted a few U.S. critics who have and word back is that the series is better than ever.
April MacIntyre, editor of Monsters & Critics, says Season Two exceeds Season One and calls the series a "great popcorn thriller for smart people." The new season finds Georgia deputy sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) leading his family--wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) as well as about a dozen other survivors, out of Atlanta in a post-apocalyptic world crawling with zombies. Among the other survivors is Grimes' former best friend and wife snatcher Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) and group hunter and former redneck Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus). MacIntyre aptly identifies Reedus, Lincoln and Bernthal as "the alpha male trinity that lead the survivors, each with their own agenda."
Sure, The Walking Dead features plenty of cool zombies, says MacIntyre, but it is more than great makeup and effects (thanks to Greg Nicotero and crew). "The beauty of this series is the intelligence in the writing, the psychological sparring and the adrenalized action that each castmember faces. It is smart gore, high brow horror, and reveals the best and the worst in humanity when life is on the line."
For more on tonight's season premiere, including the back story on departing executive producer Frank Darabont, check out this feature I wrote for Sunday's Toronto Star.

Fall TV so far: ground girls rule, others up in the air

Is it too early to report winners and losers from the fall TV season? Not really. Five U.S. network shows have already been canceled: in order, they are NBC's The Playboy Club, Hank Azaria's NBC comedy Free Agents (the one I had first in the pool), the dumb CW reality show H8R, CBS's How to be a Gentleman (there goes Dave Foley's alimony payments) and, getting the chop Friday, ABC's cardboard remake of Charlie's Angels. Sorry, Charlie.
On the other hand, several shows have already received either full season orders, including  sitcoms Whitney, New Girl, 2 Broke Girls and Up All Night. The CW is sticking all season with Ringer, The Secret Circle and Hart of Dixie, and ABC just gave full season orders to Revenge, starring Emily VanCamp, and  rookie comedy Suburgatory.
There's good news on the Canadian front with Halifax-produced Haven renewed for a third season on Showcase. In U.S. cable, Boardwalk Empire has been green lit for a third season.
What about the rest of the rookies? There is an old adage that shows tend to find their true level at week four. Sunday, therefore, is a critical one for Pan Am, which opened big but has nosedived in the U.S. and Canada since takeoff.  
I take a closer look at retro drama Pan Am's performance, as well as New Girl (facing a two week layoff due to Fox baseball playoff coverage), Prime Suspect, Unforgettable and CBC's struggling Michael Tuesdays & Thursdays, in this feature which appeared in Saturday's Toronto Star.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Today's sitcoms: the vagina monologues

Isn't it curious how you can say all kinds of S#*! on television that you still can't say in print?
I've been wanting for several weeks now to comment on how raunchy the new sitcoms were this season. The pilot for 2 Broke Girls, for example, showed a customer in a restaurant snapping his fingers at a waitress (Kat Dennings) to get her attention. She walks up to him, snaps her fingers in his face and says, that sound "dries up my vagina." There are references to "spank bank" in later episodes, as well as various colourful nicknames for penis and vagina.
On the mid-season ABC show Apartment 23, a young woman has sex with her roommates boyfriend on a birthday cake and complains later about getting "a lot of frosting in my crack." Even relatively tame New Girl refers at least once an episode to its "douche bag jar."
I wrote about this trend this week for The Canadian Press, suggesting, "Getting those lines in this column is still enough to give an editor pause." True and, in fact, they were all taken out. CP stories appear all over the wire, are quickly picked up by on-line and print affiliates, and the agency must act responsibly when servicing readers of more family friendly publications.
Still, it's curious that we can watch and hear all kinds of sex jokes each week on Two and a Half Men, Whitney or Mike & Molly and not even blink, yet the same jokes in your local newspaper are verboten. Does sexual content or language just have more of an impact in print? Has even broadcast TV become an anything goes zone?

Maybe its a generational thing. My 18-year-old son, who grew up with The Simpsons and, later, South Park, Family Guy and the animated, adolescent raunch of Seth Green’s Robot Chicken, simply laughs at these jokes. When I asked him if he was shocked or offended by anything he saw in the pilots of 2 Broke Girls or Apartment 23, he looked at me like I'd just ordered The Clapper, or left my turn indicator on for an hour.
Still, it doesn't seem that long ago when I was at a TCA press tour in Los Angeles and critics went nuts because a child star in some forgotten sitcom uttered the phrase, "you suck!" That comedy probably launched before the advent of Sex and the City, which, I argue here, changed everything.
One interesting side note: ABC announced last week that the Bitch is back in Apartment 23--sort of. They reverted back to the original title Don't Trust the B--- in Apartment 23. As with last year's S#*! My Dad Says, seems you can say all sort of s#*! on TV as long as you fudge it in the title. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

REVIEW: Global's The Morning Show

Craig Ferguson's suggestion to critics a few years ago that they not even attempt to review late night rival Jimmy Fallon's NBC show until it was up and running for three months should probably apply to morning shows. Launching a daily anything is a monster job in television, requiring production, planning, rehearsals and, above all, chemistry. Sometimes it takes several weeks for all those components to come together.
Still, what the hell.
Global has made a big deal out of their launch this week of The Morning Show. They had a full colour wrap-a-round ad cover my copy of the Toronto Star Monday and their PR department sent me a nice box of cereal and an orange. The cereal ("an excellent source of 4 great hosts") turned out to be Fruit Loops, which seems about right.
The sleepyhead hosts looked like they could have used a few bowls full of sugar Thursday morning, which was the broadcast I sampled. The series airs from 6 9 a.m. every weekday morning, forcing Lisa Fromer, Daru Dhillon, Dave Gerry and Kris Reyes out of bed at some un-Godly hour.
Three hours is a long time for four people to be sitting around gabbing about broken BlackBerrys and other newspaper headlines. The primary coloured set looks like it was salvaged from a Goldhawk Fights Back! garage sale. There's an odd sense that it is the middle of the night. A wall of windows facing out onto Bloor Street seems dark even at 8:57 a.m.
Nothing says freshness or morning; the women all seem to still be in their cocktail attire from the bar they were in the night before.
I like Dave Gerry because he speaks to coots like me. Gerry yakked about Ed Sullivan, The Beatles, and other boomer touchstones (Thursday was the anniversary of Sullivan's passing in 1974). He seems into it, at home, comfortable, doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. Basically a guy you could handle at breakfast.
You can forgive a lot of the technical stuff because it is early days. Everybody sits way too far away from each other. There's too much talking to each other and not enough to viewers. Newspapers and other things held up to the camera are not getting picked up. The set is too damn dark. There's a stiff, Sun News staginess to the news desk bits. The guy with the hand held camera--stop lurking from the wings, shifting back and forth, you're giving everything a creepy, slasher film vibe.
Less forgivable is the intent. Morning shows should service viewers as well as entertain. There's a reason City's Breakfast Television--dominant in this greater Toronto daypart for decades--spends so much time giving you weather, traffic and other commuter updates. They give you a reason to watch.
Less helpful is four people sitting around talking over each other about stuff in the paper.
Also, it just seems so done better before. Go nuts, jazz it up, add some irony. Goof on morning shows. Always ask:  WWLD (What Would Letterman Do)?
Fromer was a popular part of BT's on-air team for several years but seems a tad rusty on The Morning Show. The apparent lack of concept or direction leaves her to try and Matt Lauer her way through a whole lot of air time. She's going to need many more snaps if she's going to be left to call all these audibles.
Not helping is the camera direction. Too many two shots, with one person sitting idle while the other yaks or looks down at a table full of clippings.
The show works a bit better when there's a guest. ET Canada's Cheryl Hickey came on towards the end Thursday and brought focus to her segment just by being there.
Guests or no guests, there are too many people on set. Reyes could have slept in another hour. It is awkward when she tries to sit back down at the table after a news desk update, almost as if it is her turn at Monopoly.
I guess the folks in charge want all hands on deck and hold The View as some sort of model, but you need big personalities and guests--and budgets--to pull that off.
The Morning Show isn't there yet, but at least Global is trying to live up to the conditions of their licence. As Ferguson suggests, best to check back in three months.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

This week's podcast: Coach's cornered

Seems every fall is Cherry picking time. Will CBC fire Grapes? That is CHML Talk Radio host Scott Thompson's question as we begin this week's radio podcast. You can listen in here.
Seems a few former NHL enforcers are mad at Don for calling them "pukes." Everybody take a deep breath. Cherry isn't going anywhere. Who are they going to replace him with--Ashton Kutcher?
CBC was quick to distance themselves from Don Cherry's recent Coach's Corner outburst (issuing a statement that they do not share his opinion on headshots and fighting) but even quicker to put out a release boasting "Record Audiences Launch CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Weekend Broadcasts." Saturday night's game between Toronto and Ottawa drew 2.359 million viewers.
CBC does not have much to crow about this fall so asking the biggest star of their biggest hit to leave at this point might lead to speculation that head injuries in hockey extend up to the CBC executive offices.

Dragon down the news, O'Leary style

Saw this posted a few places on Facebook yesterday and its worth a look here if you haven't witnessed it yet. It's a clip from The Lang & O'Leary Exchange on CBC News Network, but it is the exchange between co-host Kevin O'Leary and guest Chris Hedges that is so fascinating. O'Leary's attempts to Don Cherry his way to the top of CBC's pecking order are exposed here for what they are--Fox News faker-y. You can't hide behind a news facade and then ambush guests Fox style--you're either news or commentary. Hedges completely pulls O'Leary's pants down here and exposes the venture capitalist as all talk and no trousers. It's fine to play the villain on Dragon's Den, but getting into a street fight with guests on a news show is just rude and obnoxious. Hats off to Hedges for taking O'Leary to school and for showing that this "we're fed up and not going to take it anymore" movement extends to blowhards at news networks.

Monday, October 10, 2011

TONIGHT: The War of 1812

Nothing says Canadian Thanksgiving like a documentary on a 200 year old war.
I learned a lot about the War of 1812 interviewing Lawrence Hotz. He's the producer/director behind tonight's unique Can-Am co-production The War of 1812 (Buffalo PBS affiliate WNED 9 p.m.; check other PBS affiliates in your area).
For one thing, the expression "the fog of war" comes from that conflict. The British and American artillery's would line up and fire their muskets in unison (the better to actually hit somebody). The thick white smoke that billowed up as a result was referred to as the fog of war.
The other was that it was a war of relatively few casualties. Muskets had worse aim than Tiger Woods the last two years on a putting green.
Hotz calculates that during the two-and-a-half-year conflict there were between 12,000 and 20,000 casualties, "eighty percent of them from disease and infection," he says. Dysentery and starvation were killers. Military medicine left something to be desired.
Getting hit in the arm or the leg could cost you and arm and a leg. "They didn’t know anything about germs, they just knew you had to sew it up quickly," says Hotz. They would operate very quickly, take an arm off in a minute, putting flap of skin over and sewing it. It you survived the operation had a good chance of surviving. Any stomach wounds you were dead. They had no idea what to do."
So, like, enjoy your turkey dinners.
The documentary was shot on actual battlefield locations on both sides of the border. Hotz says a lot of "re-creators" were used in the battle scenes, dudes who regularly show up on annual occasions in their own home made military uniforms and play Battle of Crysler Farm or whatever. One of these guys' girlfriends was conscripted into playing American heroine Dolly Madison. Which shocked the hell out of me--these guys have girlfriends??
For more on The War of 1812, including who really lost (it's not who you think), follow this link  to a story I wrote about the documentary for The Canadian Press.

Friday, October 7, 2011

WTF: Murdoch Mysteries cancelled? Really??

Murdoch's Yannick Bisson: last call?
You can tell when a show has the stink of doom on it. Everybody smiles too much. There is a lot of talk about how great the lighting is, or the crew, or the sets--even the craft services grub. I never had a better crew lunch than on my recent visit to the set of The Playboy Club--cancelled 10 days after my visit.
There was no such taint on the set of Murdoch Mysteries when I accompanied several members of that production to Dawson City, Yukon, in August. Mind you, this was a special location shoot, and people were more excited than usual. Still, there was a buoyancy and an ease, a feeling that, after four seasons, after a cameo from the Prime Minister and higher numbers than ever, the future looked good. The view from the top of Canada looked sunny and bright. Maybe that Canadian dream of exhaling for two whole seasons might lie ahead.
Wrong, tobacco teeth breath. Rogers announced last week that they are shutting down the series at the end of the fifth season, currently in production in Toronto. That season won't even begin to air until June, 2012. Welcome to fucking Canada.
I can't recall, ever, a network cancelling a show that is building. There was not even a whiff of decline on this series. Still, I offer seven reasons why Rogers may have decided to yank this show here in an article posted at It will be in print at The Toronto Star this weekend.
Now, I did go up there, I did have a great time and you can't help but pull for a show a little bit under those circumstances. Even though I'm a TV critic, I'm still a little bit human.
And, yeah, I feel for people like Yannick Bisson, who does good work, is a total team player and leader and has quietly pulled off the Canadian acting miracle--steady employment. You could not help but feel happy that this guy got to take a few hours off to ride his bike down The Dome (a 6000-ft peak in Dawson). He should have had this gig for years.
Executive producer Peter Mitchell, who has seen it all in a writing career that started way the hell back on The Campbells and extends through Street Legal, The Listener--name almost any Canadian TV show--was pumped about things to come on Murdoch Mysteries. Ideas were spilling out of his head. He had assembled a new writing team and extending opportunities to young writers he mentored at a Canadian Film Centre television course he taught last year. He was showing how this crazy business can actually work in Canada.
Then, whammo. Bloody hell.
Minor No. 7: show killer
I'd hate to think it is me, that I'm the show killer, that inviting me to the set of your show is the kiss of death. I killed Puppets Who Kill and now this. The folks behind Highland Gardens are going to have to cut me out of that upcoming hospital scene.
I wish it was that simple. I'd just stay off sets. Instead, this preemptive cancellation of of the one Canadian-produced scripted drama on Rogers' City schedule is symptomatic of a much more dire reality: Canadian networks feel free to throw all their Canadian content into summer ghettos and pay only lip service to their Canadian content regulations. The TV business is a tough business and Can-con be damned--only the strong import schedules survive.
It's not just Rogers, although they're coming under increasing scrutiny as they power their way to the top of the private network heap. Programmers there say they want to find the next Canadian hit, and Claire Freeland--formerly at Corus--should be given more than 12 weeks to find it.
But adding more talent search shows isn't going to cut it. Same thing Global, which this week has zero Canadian scripted shows in what anybody in television considers prime time. What, it would kill them to plug Lost Girls into Friday nights?
"Look--I think I see a spot opening up on a Canadian network schedule!"
I've never been one to wave the Maple Leaf just because. If you don't want to watch Michael Tuesdays & Thursdays, well, the audience is always right. But does it not make business sense to own and control your own content? Is it not bad business to keep throwing hundreds of millions into a U.S. lottery game? Isn't it possible, as prospectors (and the Murdoch team) found in the Yukon, that there might be gold in our own damn hills?
Plus: does canning your one scripted Canadian show not leave you open to suspicion that all you care about is having enough ready cash to bid on the next Playboy Club or Free Agents or H8R? Forget moral responsibility or patriotic duty--where is your business responsibility?
The scrutiny has to extend to Canadian advertisers, too. Are they Canadian content adverse? Are they only willing to pony up for something created by J.J. Abrams or Ryan Murphy?
I don't think Corner Gas was all about the deal. It was all about the content. It couldn't have been more Canadian. The only thing un-Canadian about it was that it was scheduled in prime time, in season--and flourished.
Now the only gas we get is imported crude. Something is wrong with this picture.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

This week's podcast: end near for The Simpsons?

Could it be true? The Simpsons coming to an end?
Scott Thompson starts this week's CHML radio rant off with this question. Told him I had a tour this summer--along with several other reporte4rs on the TCA press tour--of the animation studio north of Los Angeles where the Simpsons are produced. Executive producer Al Jean led the tour, which included peeks over the shoulders of lead animators working on digital screens.
It was great to get that insight, but I wondered at the time, why now, 23 seasons in, are we getting to look behind the curtain.
Simpsons studio tour: an animator works on Season 23
I asked Jean if the cast was heading for another contract renewal juncture. He admitted that they were, after this season. The six main voice actors, including Nancy Cartwright (Bart) earn a reported $400,000 per episode, or US$8 million a year. “They’ve done very well off the show,” says Jean. “I hope they do more.”
The current season will bring the series to 515 episodes. The 500th episode has a tongue-in-cheek premise: “The townsfolk of Springfield hold a town meeting and decided to vote the family out of town,” says Jean. Why? “They’re sick of the Simpsons.”
Hopefully that's not the case at Fox. The series is still the No. 1 show on Global Sunday nights and still among the Top-10 shows in all of television on both sides of the border among viewers 18-to-34.
Meanwhile, the voice cast isn't getting any younger. Harry Shearer, who does Mr. Burns, Waylan Smithers, Ned Flanders, Rev. Lovejoy and many others, is 67. He'll soon be as old as Mr. Burns, so you can't blame a guy for wanting to cash in while he can.
It is a good gig, though. Shearer lives in New Orleans and files his voice overs from a studio built right into his house. Like me, he doesn't even have to wear pants to work.
I'm supporting Quimby in the Ontario provincial election
The salary question was a touchy one when I raised it with Shearer a few years ago when he was in Toronto. He pointed out he still makes less from the series than Jennifer Tilly, the ex-wife of Simpsons co-developer Sam Simon. Simon is still listed on every opening credits of the series as one of three men who developed the series (the others being Matt Groening and James Brooks) even though he's had nothing to do with the series since 1993 (apparently he had some falling out with Groening) Shearer thinks if the show is still making that much money, he deserves at least as much as Tilly and Simon. Hard to argue with that.
My guess is these kids will all find a way to play nice long enough to nudge this thing to Year 25. Hank Azaria (the voice of Moe the Bartender, Chief Wiggums and others) just saw his NBC series, Free Agents, get canceled so he needs the work. Scott and I yammer on about it and you can listen in here.
MEANWHILE, things that make you go hmmm: Fox announced today that they are renewing summer hit So You Think You Can Dance for a ninth season. CTV pulled the plug on So You Think You Can Dance Canada last month after four seasons. Hmmm.
TONIGHT: Part Two of George Harrison: Living in the Material World (HBO/HBO Canada 9 p.m.) looks at the post-Beatles days. Part One was Fab.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mr. Grant picks Michael up off floor

Well, it went up. But not by much.
It seems not even Ed Asner can save CBC's Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays. The comedy drew an overnight, estimated 234,000 viewers across Canada Tuesday as Asner made his first appearance on the series as daddy shrink to star/creator Bob Martin's shrink.
The total was up from the shockingly low 153,000 who tuned in the week before.
The Debaters, which follows Michael Tuesdays at 9:30, drew 161,000 viewers. Even the Rick Mercer Report, which averaged over a million viewers last season, is off a bit in early weeks, drawing 849,000 Tuesday. 22 Minutes seems to be CBC's steadiest Tuesday show at 730,000.
What is killing Michael? Global has NCIS: Los Angeles at 9 (1,888,000) CTV Dancing with the Stars results (1,742,000), City's New Girl draws a further 565,000. There is no pile on, however, at CTV Two, where The Protector pulled 194,000.
There seems to be a growing consensus that Michael  is an HBO show stuck in a CBC world, too smart for the big room. Punished for being smart--no wonder Michael is in therapy.
There was some good news on the Can-con front Tuesday night--CTV's always reliable Flashpoint drew an impressive 1,309,000 at 8 p.m.
Monday was another insecure day at CBC: returning comedy InSecurity opened to 237,000 while Being Erica managed 330,000. Battle of the Blades skated to a relatively huge (but still down from last season) 786,000.
Erica got run over Monday by the return of House (2,807,000), Dancing on CTV (1,726,000 over two hours) and resilient Two and a Half Men on CTV Two (1,813,000). Global had a big night over all, with 1,840,000 watching Lily Tomlin on NCIS and a further 1,913,000 hanging 10 with Hawaii FIVE-0. City's Terra Nova stayed strong in its second week with an overnight, estimated 1,232,000 viewers.