Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Set visit: CBC's January drama Arctic Air

VANCOUVER--Who knew the high arctic was just five miles north of the U.S. border?
That's where CBC held their west coast version of their Winter launch, in the makeshift sound stage where interiors for their upcoming drama Arctic Air are shot. The series, which stars Adam Beach and was inspired by the real life Buffalo Airmen of Ice Pilots: NWT, premieres January 10th.
The studio, which looks like it was once a horse barn, is tucked away in Aldergrove, B.C., about an hour's drive south of Vancouver. A large shuttle bus loaded with press types made the trek over the Fraser River to get to the place. The view out the window was pure Beachcombers, with logs lashed together on the river and nothing but B.C. timber for miles.
A real Buffalo Air DC3 interior...
The fuselage of an actual DC3--carted up from the States as a set piece for the series--served as a backdrop for the press event. A bar was set up, and there were sandwiches, and, with plenty of CBC brass around (including Kirstine Stewart, sports and reality boss Julie Bristow, news head Jennifer McGuire and new drama boss Trevor Walton), even a speech or two.
Because I have been to Yellowknife twice to visit the actual Ice Pilots, I was able to compare and contrast the real deal and the set. The DC3 details they got right, no surprise considering the set piece is the fuselage of the actual planes Buffalo Joe and the others fly in the northern territories. (That's Joe in the photo above left, with his nose in the newspaper. Hey, who's flying the plane? Scotty Blue is to the left.) Only thing is the seats in the fake DC3 are much nicer than the seats in the planes used by Buffalo Air.
...and the one from the Arctic Air set
There were several interiors spread over the large,barn-like sound stage. One was a facsimile of Bullock's Cafe, the famous Yellowknife watering hole. I've eaten at Bullock's and the set designer did a nice job approximating the homey feel of the original while at the same time expanding it into something more workable for a TV production. Bullock's has hand-scrawled autographs and photos over practically every square inch of the dining room and so does the look-a-like set. I was invited to add my John Henry and wrote "John Doyle" on the bar, near the taps, which seemed about right.
The real interior of Yellowknife's Bullock's Bistro...
Arctic Air star Adam Beach, who visited Buffalo Joe and Mikey and and Scotty and all the Ice Pilots in Yellowknife, walked the press through the set. He's eaten at Bullock's, too, and noted it was kinda expensive. Hey, the local Subway sandwich shop is pricey in Yellowknife.
Next up was a walk through of a lavish hotel lobby area. There were elevators and front desks and fireplaces and antlers. This set looked like money, as the star of one of the other CBC shows (a bunch were flown west for the launch) noted. CBC must be banking on this thing taking off, running for years and selling in the States. Hey, Ice Pilots is in over 100 countries!

...and the interior of the set pub, with Hutton and Beach
The Frontenac Hotel used in the TV series must be modeled on the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife. The real deal is a nice place but the fake hotel is four stars judging from the lobby.
I wondered if some of this set wasn't re-constructed from the ashes of Endgame, a short-lived Vancouver-based Showcase production I visited last year. That set looked like it was built to stand for years and years, too.
Further on was the offices of Arctic Air. I'm sure Mikey and Buffalo Joe would happily trade up to the set version of their humble digs up in Yellowknife. Beach and cast members Pascale Hutton and Kevin McNulty held court on the set. None of them fly, but Beach says he'd like to get into the cockpit of a DC3 one day soon before the world's supply of leaded gas dries up.
Doyle dames Pellerin and Boyd
It was great to see two of my favourte ladies from Republic of Doyle at the CBC B.C. launch. Lynda Boyd and Krystin Pellerin couldn't spill any beans about January's third season premiere (Season Two ended with some crazy cliffhangers) because star, creator and executive producer Allan Hawco would have a fit. Both said shooting scenes with special guest Russell Crowe was pretty awesome, plus they got to go out and hear him sing at a local concert or two. Another special guest this season was Shannon Tweed, a.k.a. Mrs. Gene Simmons. Did you know that Tweed is a native of Dildo, Nfld? I'm not making that up.
Gerry Dee, from the new CBC sitcom Mr. D, was also in on the B.C. press deal, as were the hosts from Marketplace, Tom Harrington and Erica Johnson. Johnson declared the old wreck of a DC3 used on the set as "unfit" for air travel. Always good to have a consumer watchdog on these things.
The lobby of the faux Frontenac Hotel as seen on Arctic Air. Swanky.

Tonight: I Hate My Teenage Daughter

Tonight marks the debut of the final new network series of the fall: I Hate My Teenage Daughter (Fox, 9:30 p.m.). It is vile. Please don't ask about it again.

Set visit: Vancouver's CBC newsroom

VANCOUVER--Some times the news comes to you.
That's exactly what happened last spring when those hockey hooligans tore up downtown Vancouver in the wake of the Canuck's Stanley Cup loss. I had the point driven home to me Tuesday during a quick tour of the CBC British Columbia Broadcast Centre and newsroom. (Thanks to CBC BC regional director Johnny Michel for the invite.)
The news centre is bright and cheery, very open concept, with the English language TV service, Radio-Canada and CBC radio all thrown together into one big space. Not everybody was thrilled to lose their two or three solitudes I'm told, but, hey, this is what it is these days.
Overhead, in a giant circle, there is a ring of large, HD monitors. The flying "V" or something it's called. I noticed one set was tuned to the Three Stooges on AMC. Sointenly!
The local news set has the corner view of Hamilton and Georgia Streets and it was just outside the newsroom windows where those hockey-mad punks converged last June. "We just had to turn the cameras around," said senior meteorologist Claire Martin, who happened to be at her weather desk when I stopped by.
BC News co-host Tony Parsons has apparently given the public broadcaster a big ratings boost since he crossed over early last year. Parsons spent 35 years anchoring Global's dominant B.C. newscasts and is a member  of the Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
The Vancouver CBC news building is open to the public and hour-long tours of the newsroom are conducted Tuesdays through Fridays. You can book one here.
And remember CanWest? The guys who used to own this town when they were in charge of Global (now part of the Shaw empire)? Found out what they're up to these days when I spotted their truck parked right outside the CBC building. Concrete cutting and scoring. Some things never change!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

O'Leary goes from the Dragon's Den to the joint

Dragon's Den billionaire Kevin O'Leary in the slammer? The busy TV host tells the story in this clip shot at CBC's Winter Press Launch in Toronto last Friday. He spent 12-and-a-half hours in a holding cell in a Chatham, Ont., prison while researching his upcoming CBC reality series Redemption, Inc. The series finds O'Leary and ex-con Brian O'Dea trying to turn 10 former inmates into entrepreneurs. The series launches January 9.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Nickelback sends Grey Cup for a loss

Statue of Terry Fox waves goodbye to fans at B.C. Place
VANCOUVER--Where did all the people go?
That's what I was asking as I walked around B.C. Place today, one day after the sold out stadium with the thorny new lid played host to the 99th Annual Grey Cup. (I'm on the Left coast to visit the set of the new CBC drama Arctic Air. More on that later.)
The home team took the CFL championship trophy Sunday night and everybody played nice afterwards. There were no signs of public mischief like after the Stanley Cup finals. In fact, there was probably more rioting at the Bramalea City Centre on Black Friday than in Vancouver post-Grey Cup. Today the stadium area was completely deserted.
TSN may also be asking where'd everybody go now that the overnight, estimated numbers are in. Sunday's Lions/Blue Bomber tilt drew 4,384,000, down more than half a mil from last year's TSN tally, which was 4,941,000.
It probably didn't help that the game was a bit of a dud. The Bombers didn't wake up until it was deep into the fourth quarter. Two Western teams in the final might have also brought the numbers down in the east.
You'd almost never know the Grey Cup game had been played here a day after the event. Everything had already been packed up and trucked out of the stadium. It was getaway day, with CFL commish Mark Cohan spotted walking the other way this morning with his family at the airport. A cab even pulled up to take home both fans of Nickelback.
TSN drew 2,485,000 with their pre-game Grey Cup Countdown. The post game show drew 2,070,000.
The game hardly put a dent in CTV's usual strong Sunday tally. The Amazing Race still drew 2,242,000.
The Fox statue, by the way, is pretty cool, a series of four statues which get progressively larger and more heroic. Can't halp but think Terry is following me across Canada, however, Snapped the shot to the left last Wednesday when I was in in Ottawa, where a statue of Fox stands directly across the street from the Canadian Parliament buildings. Ottawa's snowy conditions stand in contrast to Vancouver's sunshine. Hey, it's a big country, as Fox knew better than anyone.

Grinch return signals Santa month is here

When are all those good ol' Christmas specials on? Get that question a lot this time of year.
Tonight at 8 p.m. ET, ABC airs a timeless classic from 45 years ago: Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The 1966 offering is still the gold standard for animated Christmas specials, with two 20th century masters making it all happen, Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel and Chuck Jones.
Tomorrow night (Tuesday), another old chestnut from the '60s, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, returns at 8 p.m. on CBS. I can't watch this anymore without thinking about the great Mad TV parody "Raging Rudolph."
I've created a "Christmas TV List 2011" page listing several more favourites as well as dates and times for some new holiday offerings airing over the next month or so. The link to it is above this post, on the top right, just below the masthead. Check back often as the list will grow as more information becomes available.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown

Good grief! Has it really been 46 years since A Charlie Brown Christmas premiered? A trio of evergreen Christmas specials are celebrated today in an article I wrote in The Saturday Star. I was asked to try and sum up their enduring appeal. Several theories are shared.
Certainly, for a boomer who saw them all the first time, a great part of their appeal is nostalgia. They just bring back happy memories of childhood. They are comfort food for boomers.
Another reason not stated in the article is the simplicity of their design makes each of them very accessible. Each new generation of children responds to them.
At the most recent network press tour in Los Angeles, Beavis and Butt-Head creator Mike Judge spoke about how he was influenced by Charles Schultz's Peanuts comic strip.

"I think we all owe a lot to him," said Judge, 49. The Simpsons too. The way the drawing of The Simpsons are so simple."
Judge is also a fan of the animated Peanuts specials and studied them when crafting his own animated series. He admits he's no master cartoonist but he deliberately made Beavis and Butt-Head look like they were drawn by a typical 14-year-old. Al Jean, the executive producer of The Simpsons, said on a tour of the Simpsons animation studio last summer that the simplicity of Matt Groening's original Simpsons character designs is a big part of that shows enduring appeal. "Face it--they can be drawn by a five year old," says Jean.
Judge points out how the animated Peanuts specials have a very two-dimensional quality. "You never saw the front of Snoopy's doghouse," he points out. He even tried to duplicated the way Pig Pen's hair "moved" in how Butt-Head's hair was animated. 
Judge did get to speak with Phil Roman, one of the animators on the original Charlie Brown specials. He owns the North Hollywood studio where Beavis and Butt-Head and The Simpsons are now both produced.
He never did get to speak with Schultz, who was on his bucket list. Schultz passed away at 80 in 2000 after 50 years at the Peanuts drawing board.
"I don’t normally need to meet people I’m a huge fan of," says Judge, "but I wanted to meet him out of curiosity."
Some biographies suggest Schultz was a lonely, somewhat tortured guy. He sure poured his heart out in his art, says Judge. "That Little Red Haired Girl stuff—that was really like tugging a the heart strings. He did it so simply."
A Charlie Brown Christmas returns Dec. 5, 8 p.m., ABC; Dec. 22, 7 p.m., YTV.

Friday, November 25, 2011

CBC pins hopes on January in Winter launch

Mr. D star Gerry Dee
CBC invited a bunch of us down to the bunker Friday to interview the stars of their new and returning shows at their Winter press junket in Toronto. They'll do it all again Tuesday in Vancouver.
January is a big deal to the public broadcaster. A check of the ratings shows they got pasted this fall.
To be fair, everybody is down in Canada, except maybe CTV Two. A few of the new fall imports on rival private broadcasters opened big, like Pan Am, Terra Nova and The X Factor, but none are growing and none are game changers. Several, like The Playboy Club, Charlie's Angels and Prime Suspect, are already out of production. This wasn't a great year to spend $200 million on American imports.
Still, CBC got beat up pretty bad in September opposite the much-hyped Two and a Half Men return and the usual Big Bang Theory, Dancing with the Stars and Survivor juggernauts. Despite plenty of critical acclaim, Michael Tuesdays & Thursdays got off to a weak start and went down hill. Cover Me Canada seemed so last year.
January, however, is a brand new year. A lot is riding on three new CBC shows starting that month: Arctic Air, a Vancouver-based fly boy drama loosely based on the History Television hit Ice Pilots: NWT; Mr. D, a promising new sitcom about a chipper private school teacher played by stand up comedian Gerry Dee and Redemption, Inc, a new reality series hosted by ubiquitous TV billionaire Kevin O'Leary.
O'Leary and Brian O'Dea: partners in crime
The Dragon's Den money man is everywhere these days. I told him I saw him Wednesday morning up on a screen at the airport. He was on CBC News Network with one of the Muppets.
His new series (the fourth show he has on the go) finds him trying to turn 10 ex-cons into entrepreneurs. He is assisted by Brian O'Dea, a former criminal-turned-TV producer. (Insert redundancy joke here.) 
O'Leary spent 12 hours in a slammer in preparation for the series. He said it was pure hell. I told him he looks at home in an orange jump suit.
Arctic Air stars Adam Beach and, after catching a red eye from B.C., he was a bit of a sleepyhead at the CBC launch. He's basically playing a way better looking version of Mikey McBryant from Ice Pilots
Wish I'd had more time to chat with Gerry Dee, who really did teach for 10 years before embarking full time on the stand up circuit. He'll be drawing from his days at Del la Salle in Toronto for story ideas and situations on Mr. D.
Don Cherry, Jared Keeso, guy who plays Maclean and Ron Maclean
Said hello to my old pals Don Cherry and Ron Maclean, there to promote not just Hockey Night in Canada, or McLean's new best seller Cornered, but Part II of the TV-movie about Grape's life. Remember Keep Your Head Up? The sequel is called The Wrath of Grapes: Keep Your Head Up Kid Part Two. The title takes up the first hour of the sequel.
This one looks at Cherry after his breakout on Coach's Corner, with Jared Keeso back as Grapes. The guy playing Maclean had to pass a rigid pun test.
Cherry was almost unrecognizable in a normal, brown suit. "I look just like him!" he boomed, pointing at Maclean.
The folks from Republic of Doyle were  supposed to be in the house but they got snowed in in St. John's, where they are still busy shooting Season Three. Either that or Hawco got into a bar fight, or Russell Crowe is back in town.
Did chat with Tom Harrington and Erica Johnson of Marketplace. The CBC consumer affairs series returns to Friday nights in January after soaring in the ratings last season. The plan for the first episode back is to out the store chain in Canada with the worst service in the nation. Harrington says there are no plans to do a consumer report on the CBC books. 
Speaking of books, seven were handed out--including three new ones by Dragon's Arlene Dickinson, Robert Herjavec and Kevin O'Leary--as reporters made their way out of the 10th floor Broadcast Centre studio. See--CBC can open the books!

This week's podcast: more on me and the PM

Scott Thompson at CHML got a big kick out of me "hobnobbing" with the Prime Minister during that Murdoch Mysteries location shoot in Ottawa Wednesday. I report that Stephen Harper was very friendly, accommodating and gracious--he could play a winning social game on Survivor, I'm thinkin'.
Scott wanted to know the details of the security check to get into the PM's Parliament Hill office. I was happy to report that there was no cavity search.
Photos were taken and as soon as I get my shot with the PM (something about "as soon as you pay your taxes") I'll post it here.
Scott got a kick out of Harper taking a sly shot or two at CBC, the eventual home of Murdoch Mysteries after the upcoming fifth season airs on current home, City-TV. The PM either has a very dry sense of humour or the CBC is in for some major belt-tightening. You can listen in here.

Video: Murdoch Mysteries goes to Ottawa

What was Yannick Bisson and the cast and crew of Murdoch Mysteries doing in Ottawa this week--besides meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper? Bisson tells all to TV Feeds My Family in the above clip.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My capital day with Murdoch and Stephen Harper

There are times when I shake my head and say to myself, "I love my job."
Wednesday was one of those times. It all started after I was invited to Ottawa to watch the folks behind Murdoch Mysteries shoot a few scenes in front of the Parliament Buildings. Next thing I know, I'm being ushered into the Centre Block to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Harper, some readers may recall, guested on the historical drama during the fourth season. His cameo brought tons of press and publicity and the series drew a record 700,000 viewers that August night on City.
Between scenes on that production, Harper turned to Shaftesbury CEO Christina Jennings and pitched her an idea for an episode. I know! Harper's idea: have the resourceful detective investigate the murder of a member of the Toronto Wellingtons, a turn-of-the-19th-century hockey team. Harper is in the last weeks of finishing a book on hockey's early days in Canada. (I know again! Shouldn't he be busy slashing budgets and invading Iran? On second thought, keep writing about hockey!)
Savvy Jennings turned the idea over to wordsmith Peter Mitchell, and the showrunner spun it into a storyline. The episode, "Murdoch Night in Canada," will be the second last episode of the fifth season (airing next summer on City).
The two Ottawa scenes were efficiently shot with director Gail Harvey at the helm. Getting the second shot in front of the landmark Centre Block was challenging. In a week, Christmas lights and decorations will be strung everywhere. New temporary mesh fences (security was bracing for a possible "Occupy Ottawa" protest) were also wrecking the shot. Harvey found a seam and the cast and crew, including several extras in period garb, jumped through it.
The folks behind the series let the PMO know ahead of time that they were going to be out in front of Parliament in the snow shooting these scenes. An invitation to come inside and meet the PM was made. Somehow, TV boy and his trusty laptop got pulled into this private audience.
Mitchell, Bisson, Jennings and Harvey
We were led down into the security entrance under the Peace Tower. There everybody shed their coats, belts and laptops just like at the airport. Reassembled, we were then led upstairs to the PM`s corner office.
Yannick Bisson, still in costume from the afternoon shoot, was first in line, along with his charming wife Chantal. These kids have been together 23 years and have three grown daughters. Jennings was also in the room as was Mitchell and Shaftesbury PR boss Katie Wolfgang.
The PM, who looks taller and thinner in person, was gracious and friendly. He's obviously a true fan of the series and very into the era in which it is set. He pointed out that shooting in front of the Parliament buildings was problematic as the original structure was largely destroyed in a 1916 fire and the new Peace Tower and other features were designed by a different architect. Go around and use the original, circular-shaped library as a background, he suggested, it dates back to the Murdoch era. Too late.
Jennings broke the news that the series, recently rescued from an eventual cancellation on City, will migrate to CBC in 2012 for a Sixth Season. Harper took  the news in and wryly mused, "I'll watch it anyway."
Another tease I left out of my Canadian Press report followed. The PMO was told there would be a working press dude in on the scrum but this was a friendly visit, not a press conference, and I really don't want my taxes audited.
I didn't get to compare notes with Harper on being an extra on this series. He at least got a speaking part. I played background extra "Miner No. 7" in an episode shot in The Yukon last August. Apparently it was a part Harper really wanted.
I did ask the Prime Minister what else he watched on  television. He singled out Coronation Street, and then made one of those faces that says, "Yeah, I know." He also gave that standard answer that he only watches American News shows. There were no shout outs to the Sun News Network.
His kids, he says, enjoy the occasional reality show, but that's not his thing.
Bisson and Jennings presented him with a few gifts: a too-small T-shirt (for his daughter, he said) and a signed copy of the script.
Anyone else they would have asked to sign a release for the story idea. Harper could claim his intellectual property has been snatched. There better be an on-screen credit I'm thinking.
Soon he'll want his union card. Where will this end? Will Harper be sending story ideas to Little Mosque? Republic of Doyle? Coach's Corner?
Extras in period attire helped add colour to the location  shoot
He was also given a Murdoch pocket watch and seemed to genuinely appreciate it. "Something not a lot of people know about me is that I'm allergic to certain metals," he said, hiking up his shirt cuff  by way of explaining he seldom wears a wrist watch. "This is something I can use."
He then cheerfully offered to stand for photo ops with everyone in the room. You bet I darted in there, although damned it I didn't have my car keys with me for one of those "look who's just won a car?" photo ops. Soon as I get it, straight to Facebook.
Not that posting it there will be that unique. Harper says he poses for 15,000 to 20,000 of these shots a year. He's like Prime Minister Santa Claus!
His corner office was richly paneled with honey-coloured oak but pretty sparse otherwise, probably more of a meet-and-greet room. He has another working office in a building opposite the Centre Block. A large portrait of Canada's first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, hangs on the wall opposite his desk. There are some nice colour shots of his family on the wall. A Beatles mug was there on the desk.
On the way out, as you descend the stairs, there are two large portraits of Canada's lesser-known prime ministers, bum-patter John Turner and Bill Maher pundit Kim Campbell. They look out of place, like the White House hanging paintings of those two party-crashers who snuck in a few years ago.
Afterwards we all piled into a van and made a bee-line for the airport. We all made with the "can you believe what just happened?" remarks. The Murdoch gang is the best.
So is Canada. I know it is U.S. Thanksgiving, but you have to be thankful for living in a country where you can go see your leader at work.

Craigy and Brimley late night comedy gold

 "I like produce, but I don't like Hollywood." Wilford Brimley made his debut last night on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Playing an ornery cuss seems to come naturally to the 77-year-old actor, who, as he tells Ferguson, rarely ventures outside of his Wyoming home these days.
Brimley revealed he has Scottish roots, which, as Ferguson dryly notes, makes sense. Ferguson is terrific at allowing his guests to shine while still working sharp, spontaneous comedy into his interviews. Brimley shows he still has that killer timing; these two could tour. Stick around for the mouth organ recital at the end.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Weekly Ratings across Canada Nov. 12-20

Canada’s most-watched show remains The Big Bang Theory, with House (right) jumping back up to take the No. 2 spot. Survivor, The Mentalist and Hockey Night in Canada all also cracked the two million mark. Other highlights the week of Nov. 14 to 20: CTV drew 1.9 million with the American Music Awards and saw big returns for the last of Regis Philbin on daytime’s Live! plus the annual Santa Claus Parade. TSN continued to hit the end zone with its CFL playoff coverage heading into Grey Cup week. Check out how they all played out across Canada in prime time among adults 2+ the week of Nov. 14 to 20 according to overnight estimates over at the Brioux Report at

Monday, November 21, 2011

Recap: The American Music Awards

Sunday night's 39th Annual American Music Awards drew an overnight, estimated 1.91 million viewers on CTV--its biggest audience in Canada in 10 years. Among those watching was TVFMF correspondent Kira Charron. She files this report.

Female artists took the stage by storm at this year’s American Music Awards. The 39th annual celebration of musical talent proved to be a showcase of girl power and diva-licious performances.
It began with Nicki Minaj, who opened the show with world famous DJ David Guetta before winning the awards for Favourite Rap/Hip Hop Artist and Favourite Rap/Hip Hop Album. In both cases she was up against music moguls Kanye West and Lil Wayne. While accepting the trophy for her album Pink Friday, Minaj tearfully thanked her fans as well as her mentor, Lil Wayne: “without him, I wouldn’t be here,” she said. “Shout out to female rappers, past, present and future!” she added, blowing a kiss to fellow musician Queen Latifah, who was one of the presenters of the night.
Jennifer Lopez (above, right) and Katy Perry also got the crowd moving and took home one award each.
Lopez performed twice, first with Pitbull and then with Will.I.Am, rocking the stage in true diva fashion with curve-hugging outfits, electrifying light shows, wind machines, and a slew of hunky, topless backup dancers.
She received the prize for Favourite Latin Music Artist, upstaging male competitors Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull. JLo thanked her family and fans, but not ex-hubby Marc Anthony, who was probably kicking himself after watching her shake her assets onstage.
Kelly Clarkson and the Queen of R&B, Mary J. Blige, performed individually, belting out their respective singles “Mr. Know It All” and “Mr. Wrong,” proving that they don’t need a Mr. Anything to put on a good show.
Supermodel Heidi Klum surprised pop cutie Katy Perry with a Special Achievement Award for being the first woman in the history of pop music to have five number-one singles from the same album. Just before receiving the honour, Perry’s acoustic performance of “The One That Got Away” earned her a standing ovation.
Other big wins went to female artists Rihanna, for Favourite Soul/R&B album (she trumped ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, who was nominated in the same category), and Beyonce for Favourite Soul/R&B Female Artist. Neither was able to attend the show, but they both thanked their fans via video from Europe and New York, respectively.
It was also great night for soulful siren Adele, who picked up Favourite Pop/Rock Album, Favourite Pop/Rock Artist and Favourite Adult Contemporary Artist. She was unable to accept the award in person as she is recovering from throat surgery—hopefully the good news will help spur the healing process and get the English songbird back on stage where she belongs.
But the big winner of the night was America’s sweetheart, Taylor Swift. The bubbly blond graced the stage three times to pick up the trophies for Favourite Female Country Artist, Favourite Country Album, and Artist of the Year—the biggest award of the night.
Swift was glowing in a gold gown as she accepted the honours from presenter Lionel Richie, who has taken home a total of seventeen American Music Awards in the past. “Thank you to the fans. Also, to the fans, and…to the fans!” she laughed. This is her second win for Favourite Artist of the Year, and her tenth American Music Award.
Representing the gentlemen, Maroon 5 won the award for Favourite Pop/Rock Band and got the audience moving with their hit single “Moves Like Jagger,” featuring Christina Aguilera. Meanwhile, the young rockers of Hot Chelle Rae were voted Sprint’s New Artist of The Year. Chris Brown, One Republic, Gym Class Heroes, Drake and Daughtry put on unremarkable performances, but Enrique Iglesias, accompanied by Ludacris and the Krenshaw High School Choir, picked things up with their energy fuelled club hits.
Later, Pitbull and Marc Anthony performed “Rain Over Me”, giving JLo a run for her money with their heavy beats and scantily clad back-up dancers.
Surprisingly, teen megastar Justin Bieber went home empty handed. The Canadian heartthrob blew audiences away last year, winning four awards including Artist of the Year. This time round, he was 0 for 1, losing his only nomination for Favourite Pop/Rock Male Artist to the smooth and suave Bruno Mars.
Bieber’s rendition of “Under the Mistletoe” was equally disappointing. Maybe the baby fat and squeaky voice were the keys to his success after all; now that he’s all grown-up and facing paternity allegations, one has to wonder whether his Beleibers are finally ready to move on.
Despite all of the leading ladies in the house, it was party rockers LMFAO who stole the show with their grand finale performance. The unlikely superstars stripped down to their underwear alongside David Hasselhoff and YouTube sensation Beener Keekee, gyrating to “Sexy and I Know It” like it was nobody’s business. I’m all about girl power, but my hat goes off to them.

Toronto 1/SUN TV: 2003-2011

The sun has now officially set on Toronto1/SUN TV. The CRTC Friday revoked the license as requested from TVA Group. Quebecor pretty much had to give up its broadcast window (Channel 15 in the GTA on Rogers) when they launched SUN News as a digital specialty service.
The station launched Sept. 19, 2003 as Craig-owned Toronto 1. This was before all that "broken business model" nonsense, when TV stations were still seen as a licence to print money. There were five media companies bidding on this window on Canada's largest TV market, including the Toronto Star. Jaws dropped when Craig Media from Calgary won the rights.
Jaws dropped again months later when the Craig's bailed. Toronto 1 was sold to CHUM/City, which had to divest and quickly sold it to Quebecor.
Owners came and went but nothing ever changed, ratings-wise. Rival ads sales teams always referred to it as "Toronto 0.1," indicating its perennial share of the market. The recession didn't help, and pretty soon the station was rerunning King of Kensington to try and keep the lights on.
When the CRTC finally said what's the deal with using this OTA licence to over-the-air simulcast your Category C digital specialty news network, Quebecor decided to walk rather than fight and gave notice it would not seek to renew the licence. The shut down of CKXT is only the fifth TV station to go dark in Canada since 1977 (others being in Hull, Calgary and Edmonton).
The loss of this station means SUN News is no longer "must carry" in Toronto, Hamilton, London and Ottawa, although it is available further up the dial on some cable and satellite providers. And, 21 days into November, SUN News is still being simulcast on Channel 15 on Rogers Cable in Brampton, which seems darn sporting of the folks at Rogers.
UPDATE: Okay, this makes sense. Rogers has just announced that their new 24-hour news channel CityNews will take over that channel 15 position starting Tuesday, Nov. 22.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Friday morning at 9 a.m., Regis Philbin takes his final bow on Live! with Regis and Kelly. It has been a week-long love-in for Reege with salutes from his favourite guest, Don Rickles, former co-host Katie Lee Gifford, vice president Joe Biden and his No. 1 fan David Letterman.
Letterman stopped by the Live! set Wednesday and Regis guested on Dave's show Thursday night. Those two should get a room.
I think the first time I met Philbin was around 20 years ago, in Florida at Walt Disney World. I interviewed him for one of those silly "Celebrity Chef" pages that used to run in TV Guide. You would talk to a celebrity until they said something like "Irish stew" and then later concoct a whole story around that dish with somebody at the Canadian Living test kitchen later coming up with a recipe.
This was probably about 20 years ago. Philbin was more peppery then although very professional, serving up whatever you needed and sneaking in some sort of shout out to Canada. He was quick and curious and always seemed to be pretty much the same guy you saw on TV.
I had the pleasure of interviewing him several times over the years. He kept making trips up to perform at Casino Rama, or had some book or CD to promote. A couple of times the show traveled across the border, to Niagara or P.E.I., and that also sparked a story. The whole Who Wants to be a Millionaire deal was also a trip.
A year or so ago I caught a Live! taping in Manhattan and it was very cool to see him work. Had to marvel at how he really did quarterback that show, even as he approached 80. The guy knew where the cameras were and always hit his mark. They are going to miss him like crazy.
Then again, he has had some practice. Philbin is TV's Iron Man. He began his long TV career in the '50s, as he told Letterman Thursday, as an NBC page, working on Steve Allen's original Tonight Show. Later, he watched Jack Paar sit behind a desk and just riff off the top of his head and hold audiences spellbound. Philbin watched and said, "I can do that."
He has logged over 17,000 hours on network television. Nobody else comes close. Hugh Downs (20/20, Concentration, Jack Paar's Tonight Show) held the old record of around 12,000. Johnny Carson was up there. Lloyd Robertson must have the record in Canada.
So I was startled a couple of years ago, at a TCA press tour in Los Angeles, to see Philbin out of gas. He was there to promote America's Got Talent, a hosting gig that forced him to fly coast-to-coast each week to service the two shows. It was too much even for Philbin, who bowed out after one season.
I was standing with veteran TV columnist Tom Jicha when Philbin leaned up against a wall and confessed he needed to cut back on his schedule. The guy has survived heart surgery and also had at least one hip replaced. To see him jump out of his chair on Thursday night's Letterman show is both heartening and amazing.
He has a book to promote, which will include another promotional stop in Toronto, and that's a good thing. Philbin won't know how to stop.
Letterman keeps saying take one last long good look Friday because, after Philbin goes, there will be no true broadcasters left on television. He's being modest, but with Larry King, Andy Rooney, Robertson and Oprah gone and Barbara Walters retired from those Oscar and other specials it is an end of an era. Soon some punk will be kicking Dave out of the Ed Sullivan Theater. Tempus fugit, as my 96-year-old dad still says.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tonight: save the Community!

Alison Brie and Donald Glover go into their Community dance
Fourth place U.S. network NBC announced this week that, among other changes, they are shelving Community come the new year. Although there are promises that all 22 episodes commissioned this season will eventually be shown, things look grim beyond that for the low-rated sitcom.
Which sucks. Community is awesome.
Especially this season, as creator Dan Harmon seems to be railing against the dying of the light by going out with some of the most out-of-the-box episodes yet.
Viewers who have passed on this show because they don't buy Joel McHale and Chevy Chase going back to school are missing the point. Community is about comedy, pure and simple. The study group is just an excuse to take all these characters and turn them inside out.
Harmon tweets today that tonight's episode (8 p.m. on NBC and City) is not likely to win any new fans:
AND, tonight, celebrate Community's unschedulization with the least accessible, least marketable episode in its alienating history!
It's got something to do with Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) being asked to make a commercial for the school. The study group is pulled into the mix, as is Greendale celebrity grad Luis Guzman (How to Make it in America).
An episode a few weeks ago where the same moment was replayed from seven different perspectives ("Remedial Chaos Theory") was beyond brilliant, like Rashomon meets SCTV. The series even did a Claymation episode, for crying out loud. Harmon has diced traditional sitcom conventions, thrown them into a blender, and thrown the results at his talented cast. Sure, critics embrace it because it is daring and different, but isn't that what all viewers want too? If you haven't watched it in a while, check it out tonight.

Mike White enlightens Toronto TIFF crowd

Headed down to the TIFF Bell Lightbox last night to see Mike White. He's the casually-dressed dude behind Enlightened, an original and hard-to-categorize comedy/drama airing Monday nights at 9 p.m. on HBO and HBO Canada.
The series stars Laura Dern as a woman who cracks up at work, gets new age counseling and tries to rebuild her life in a positive way, jerks at work and world full of cynics be damned.
White knows of what he writes. He took his own mental health break, as he told the fairly packed Lightbox theatre audience, after the horrifying experience of trying to deliver the sitcom Cracking Up for Fox in 2004. The Fox suits wanted another Malcolm in the Middle. White, the independent mind behind Chuck & Buck, Nacho Libre and The Good Girl, did not share that agenda.
White isn't the first creative to voice frustration with Fox during the early to mid-2000's. Others have confided that the network, which would develop terrific, original shows like Keen Eddie, Wonderfalls, The Tick and others--only to kill them after three, four or five episodes--was run as if developing and scheduling were conducted on two different planets.
The 41-year-old Californian says writing for HBO is a far better fit and was stumped to come up with a single note from the premium cable network other than give us more of you. They did wonder about the direction of the series when he was delivering less comedy and more drama than they anticipated. They told him his half hour series was more dramatic than many of their dramas.
Enlightened is dramatic but is seldom dark. Dern's character slowly makes headway toward enlightenment, although you have to get past the first few episodes to feel the transition. Dern, a neighbour of White's (living near him, apparently, leads to his best collaborations), is at her manic best, seizing every scene. Luke Wilson has a nice role as her ex, who is there for her to the extent he can be. White seems to find salvation in exploring the limitations of others and then allowing his characters to confront and sometimes erase those limitations.
He also appears on Enlightened as one of Dern's characters worker drone buddies in the basement. It's a fun role and White kills it. He says acting in his work allows him to be part of the party that he has created. Partying is big on White's list.
There's no official word yet of a renewal, but White says he's been given the go-ahead to start thinking up another ten episodes.
White shared a story about his last trip to Toronto when he was promoting The Good Girl with Jennifer Aniston. The flight in got pretty bumpy, with the passengers in the small private plane at one point fearing for their lives. White, who speaks in, like, a staccato, sorta like slacker cadence (like), said he looked over at Aniston, whose life was flashing before her eyes. He saw that she was realizing what a fabulous life it was, which made her flip out even more.
Also of interest were White's asides about his frequent collaborator, Jack Black (yes, Black and White) and stories about his father. Rev. Dr. Mel White was a ghostwriter and speechwriter for Religious Right figures Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. White says it was an inspiration to see that you could make a living by sitting around the house writing. I guess making crazy shit up and getting paid for it was also part of the father/son life lesson.
White is close to his dad and even competed with him--twice--on The Amazing Race. Most TV writers scowl and turn up their nose at the very mention of reality television. For White, it's all good.  
Telefilm Canada, the Canadian Film Centre and Just For Laughs presented White as part of their masterclasses with comedy creators. The many aspiring writers and performers in the crowd seemed to appreciate the effort. The TIFF venue is perfect, surprisingly cozy for its size with tremendous acoustics. Clips from White's film work was shown, but unfortunately nothing from his early TV gem Freaks & Geeks, where he served as a writer. Canadian comedy icon and CFC mentor Eugene Levy introduced White, an added bonus for everybody. Film buff Richard Crouse ably acted as White's on-stage shrink.

Late night joke of the week

From The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson:
President Obama is in Australia. When he’s in Australia, his approval ratings go down the toilet in a counter-clockwise motion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This week's podcast: Brioux on Blades

Scott Thompson at CHML thinks it is hilarious that I tried figure skating on Battle of the Blades. As Scott says, I look like Linus being pulled around by my blanket. Hey, I'll try anything once, especially if Marie-France Dubreuil is coaching. You can listen in on the radio conversation here, and you can watch the video here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

CBC snaps up Murdoch Mysteries for 6th season

It's so rare when things work out in such a common sense way in Canadian television that I'm not even sure this is real. Yet everyone I just interviewed for the hurry up CP story says its true--Murdoch Mysteries has been saved.
The Canadian historical drama, readers here will recall, was set to be phased out by Rogers-owned City-TV after a fifth and final season. The last full day of production was set to take place today out in Toronto's East end. (Murdoch shoots on the old converted factory sound stages where Kevin Sullivan's Wind at My Back was produced.) Originally, that's where I was supposed to be today.
Unit publicist Mario Tassone re-arranged those plans last night. Instead, I spent the afternoon working the phones after word was leaked 10 minutes prior to the official release that CBC had come to the rescue.
News that Murdoch Mysteries will be extended into a sixth season is a personal relief to me. I traveled with star Yannick Bisson, executive producer Peter Mitchell, Tassone and several others way up to Dawson City in The Yukon this summer, dragged before the cameras as an extra. I was beginning to fear that, as "Miner No. 7," I had killed the series. Now I can write those stories about being an extra on the set of CTV's upcoming Highland Gardens. The curse has been lifted.
Beyond that, I'm just happy that some talented, hard-working and dedicated Canadians get to keep telling stories on Canadian television. That trip to Dawson was great fun, but also a perfect example of what a tight Canadian cast and crew can do in two speedy days when they are left to do what they do best. Seeing the impact of that show and that process on that community was also a revelation. The whole experience should have been bottled and sent to the CRTC and to the heads of all the Canadian networks, and they should be forced to drink it all in. This is why we are all in this crazy business. When it all comes together, it is awesome.
I even suggested in print that picking up Murdoch was exactly what CBC should do--although I think what I wrote was that CBC should trade City even up, Murdoch for Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays. If a release about that drops tomorrow, screw blogging, I am opening up a consulting business.
In any event, I'm hoping CBC can find a way to keep that show in production, too. (Show it at 11:05 p.m. Give Strombo a rest, at least one night a week. Do it and thank me later.)
For now, hats off to CBC, Kirstine Stewart, Christina Jennings, Yannick Bisson and everybody else at Shaftesbury. You have to love it when good things happen to good people.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tonight: the season finale of Battle of the Blades

Host MacLean and skaters Dubreuil and Berard face judge Bezic
Battle of the Blades is one of those shows you really should see live. The skating performances look great on camera, but there is a big event energy to an actual taping as I discovered again Sunday night at the Mastercard Centre.
This was my first time in the new venue--Blades taped season one in Maple Leaf Gardens and season two in a huge studio down by the Toronto waterfront--and the Mastercard Centre is the perfect setting. The Leafs' practice facility dresses up nicely for television, with a gigantic, wrap around scrim used to great effect for projecting backgrounds, high-definition video and other effects around the top half of the building. The ice surface is 200 ft. long so that curtain must have taken every available scrap of canvas in the country.
All three final pairings--Tessa Bonhomme and David Pelletier, Tanith Belbin and Boyd Devereaux and Marie-France Dubreuil and Bryan Berard--skated well in Sunday's performance finale. As judge Sandra Bezic pointed out, Bonhomme in particular dazzled with her arms perfectly extended during a long, high lift. Not bad for a defenceman. A winner will be declared tonight starting at 8 p.m. on CBC, with $100,000 going to the top pair's charity.
Judges Cherry, Bezic and J.R. Roenick
The other pairs will win big money for their causes, too. The 2nd and 3rd place pairs get $35,000 and $30,000 this season, up from the $25,000 offered in previous years. Host Ron MacLean estimated the series has given away about a million dollars to various charities over the past three seasons.
MacLean seems to have a great time hosting a  a show on his cool Nike skates. Maybe it is also because he can skate away anytime from his ol' Coach's Corner pal/nemesis Don Cherry, who will be back at the judges' table tonight. 
Grapes, sporting a hand-painted tie Sunday night with a portrait of the original Blue on it, says he's genuinely blown away with how these former NHLers can learn to figure skate so effectively in such a relatively short period of time. He's an effective judge, too, responding to the skates and also providing insight into the careers of the hockey players involved.
Both MacLean and Cherry hung around after yesterday's show to autograph copies of MacLean's new autobiography Cornered: Hijinks, Highlights, Late Nights and Insights (HarperCollins). The book, co-authored by Kirstie McLellan Day and with an introduction by Grapes, is already a Canadian bestseller.
The skaters had plenty of supporters in the stands at the rink Sunday night. Pelletier's former partner Jamie Sale sat front row with their son, who got a spin around the ice on his dad's shoulders. Dubeuil also took her 10-month old daughter for a glide around the rink.
Berard says he's shed close to 20 pounds since training began for this edition of Battle of the Blades 11 weeks ago. 
Like almost every other CBC show this fall, ratings are down a bit on Battle of the Blades but still robust enough at well over a million viewers each Sunday that it will be back for a fourth season--provided enough hockey players step up to the challenge.

Video: Brioux gets iced on Battle of the Blades

Here is the video of my fun skate Friday with Battle of the Blades finalist Marie-France Dubreuil. The stunt took place at Toronto's Mastercard Centre. Thanks to the elegant, Dubreuil, her game Blades partner Bryan Berard and choreographer Michael Seibert for their on-ice coaching during the session. That kooky sideways shot is courtesy of Berard, a better defenceman than a camera guy. The former No. 1 pick and Calder trophy winner says he's lost 17 lbs over 11 weeks on the series and would do it all again in a heartbeat. Will he and Dubreuil prevail in their quest for the $100,000 top prize (to be donated to charity)? The results will be announced Monday at 8 p.m. on the third season finale of CBC's Battle of the Blades.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Amateur makes Battle of the Blades debut

I now know the biggest challenge Bryan Berard has to face every time he takes to the ice with Marie-France Dubreuil on Battle of the Blades: it's impossible to look away from her face.
You'd normally want to look down, make sure you're not tripping over your toe picks or something. But having skated with her today at the Mastercard Centre in Etobicoke--where Battle of the Blades is taped--I can attest that her face truly is that captivating.
I had the good fortune to skate with Dubreuil at the invitation of the producers as Battle of the Blades heads into its final to shows. The last competitive skate is Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on CBC with the results Monday at the same time.
She and Berard helped this broken down shinny player around the rink. Choreographer and artistic director Michael Seibert also helped, asking several times if I wanted a helmet or knee pads or a chair or anything..
We didn't try anything too fancy--Dubreuil's already been dropped on her head once in this series (during the first season. She sat out the second to have a baby). We stuck to baby steps, no triple Lutz's, although I was my own double Klutz.
Besides, there was some problem with the snow machine and the ice was giving the rink guys fits. Something to do with the soap in the effects machine mixing with the water on the ice turning everything a tad oily. Hope they get it all sorted out by the finales.
Three couples remain in competition: Dubreuil and Berard, the favourites after scoring three perfect "6's" from the judges in last week's "Duets" skate, Tanith Belbin and Boyd Devereaux and Tessa Bonhomme and David Pelletier.
Follow this link to the CP story I filed today on my brush with Blades glory. Video clips to follow once I get then damn thing edited.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

This week's podcast: my new chum Chumlee

This week, CHML's Scott Thompson wanted to know what the hell I was doing down in Las Vegas. Told him I was here to interview the main dudes behind Pawn Stars, including the one and only Chumlee (right, eagerly taking the keys to my '97 Lumina for 90 days plus interest).
Chumlee, pawn shop owner Rick Harrison, his son Corey ("Big Hoss") and the "Old Man" have basically won the lottery, with History Television reaping big ratings from the red hot series.
They were all here at the Cosmopolitan Hotel for international press interviews today. I was with a posse of press cats from Central and South America. Hola! Rick and Corey were pretty straight ahead when talking about this crazy fame ride they are on (including face time on Leno and Letterman), but Chumlee seems to already be in Snooki land. Hidden behind a massive pair of Cito Gaston shades, working the too small hat and bling, the dude says he's never been to a Vegas show ever. All of them have personal assistants now to run out to the beer store and stuff. It's a bitch, says Chumlee, but otherwise it is four hours in line talking to every Tom, Dick or Harry.
Chumlee, by the way, got his nick name from a family friend who was a fan of the old, poorly-animated Tennessee Tuxedo Saturday morning cartoons from the mid-'60s (from the same folks who did Underdog). Don Adams voiced Tennessee, a zoo penguin. Chumlee, who at 29 is way too young to know anything about this boomer TV 'toon, finally caught up with the cartoon on YouTube and was dismayed to find that Tennessee's pal was a dopey, Walrus sidekick.
Still, Vegas' Chumlee is laughing all the way to the bank. The T-shirts are selling like crazy.
Scott had other general questions about Vegas and pawn shops. You can listen  in here.

The Pawn Stars strike gold in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS--What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas--unless you're blogging about Las Vegas.
I'm out here in Sin City for the first time in ages. They tell me Bugsy is gone. So is Sammy, Frank and Dean. Now the big names up on the giant neon billboards on all these fancy new theme park hotels around town are for Carrot Top, Donny & Marie and Barry Manilow. Somewhere, Elvis is spinning in his grave.
The reason for this visit, however, is to interview the Pawn Stars. The No. 1 show on History Television is a huge draw on both sides of the border, with over 600,000 tuning in Tuesday in Canada and over eight million in the U.S. Put in perspective, more people in Canada watch Pawn Stars every week than Being Erica and Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays combined.
A group of international reporters, including a small group from Canada, were shuttled to the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop on the seedier outskirts of Vegas where the series takes place. You can find it by following the gun and sex show signs. Main stars Rick and Corey Harrison, "Old Man" Richard Harrison and goofy pal Chumlee were not on the premises--those interviews take place Wednesday--but several insiders gave the press a tour of the shop.
The Vegas pawn shop is like pawn shops everywhere. Filled with stuff people bring in either to "pawn"--unload at a fraction of its value for a secure loan in hopes of buying it back later with interest--or sell. The joint charges 13% interest with a 90-day term.
The difference is the value of the loot inside. There are Super Bowl rings (including one 2001 Patriots ring valued at $150,000), plenty of Rolex's and other diamond and 18 kt gold watches (one priced at 32 grand), a 15th century samurai sword and a 1861 Enfield rifle (above).
There's a fair bit of sports memorabilia, including a Babe Ruth baseball, Olympic medals and even an Argo pendant.
A lot of the watches and jewelry come from suckers who lost all their cash at the casinos and can't come home empty handed. This series probably would not work in any other town.
There are also tons of Pawn Shop merch, including bobble heads of "Big Hoss" (Corey) and the others, a wall full of different kinds of Chumlee T-shirts and pails full of fridge magnets. Not all the gold in this pawn shop is vintage.
The series has already taped 155 episodes and four more seasons have been ordered. Before the series, the place drew about 50 customers a day. Now they estimated between 3000 and 5000 file through daily, making it, they claim, Las Vegas' No. 1 tourist attraction.
History vice president Mary Donahue traveled from New York to meet the press at the event and figures the show's broad appeal is due to the treasures brought in and the comedy provided by the four main characters. Plus, "everybody likes to see a good negotiation," says Donahue. People trying to pawn off fakes are also a reason to watch, she figures, "part of the jeopardy of the show."
As for spoil sports who say, "This is History?" Donahue makes no apologies. So it isn't the Hitler Channel anymore, get over it. The broad history of the artifacts--plus owner Rick Harrison's expert knowledge of a wide range of goodies--lives up to the network's "History made every day" motto. Plus, well, you know, ratings are through the roof.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Terror on the tube

I'm too scared to watch The Walking Dead. Same with American Horror Story.  So University of Western Ontario student and horror film fan Kira Charron--who previously filed her impressions of  Terra Nova for TVFMF--adds this review on all things spooky this TV season.


Horror film directors have a reason to be scared. So far this year, horror movies have been disappointing at the box office, with many capping at single digits in their opening weekends and failing to deliver the screams audiences seek.

Yet over on the small screen, more gore, ghouls and ghosts are popping up than ever.

Take The Walking Dead for example, currently AMC’s highest rated show. Or FX’s American Horror Story, whose pilot was possibly the scariest hour on TV since “Hush,” the Buffy episode that still gives me chills. Even broadcast networks are hopping on the bandwagon: this season, NBC’s Grimm and ABC’s Once Upon a Time offer decidedly dark twists on familiar fairy tales.

For a genre that hasn’t had a mainstream hit on TV in years, there seems to be a sudden surge in interest. But why is horror migrating from movie theatres into our living rooms?

One belief is that audiences are fed up with uninspired remakes and rehashed sequels. James Bialkowski runs Vagrancy Films, a company in
London, Ontario that screens classic cult and grind house cinema. He rarely goes to see new horror films, and isn’t surprised they aren’t doing so well.

“It’s an unfortunate lack of originality that
Hollywood has,” says Bialkowski. “I never would have thought five or six years ago when the remake trend started that it would have grown, but now their remaking the remakes…so when I see The Thing make $8 million, I don’t really feel too sorry for them.”

Many of the horror films that have come out this year are remakes (Fright Night, The Thing), sequels (Final Destination 5, Scream 4), or adaptations (Priest, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark). One exception is Paranormal Activity 3, which grossed a record breaking $54 million in its opening weekend. Bialkowski attributes this to the relatively new franchise and creative marketing. “Will it last three weeks at those numbers?” he asks. “Probably not.”

On the other hand, today’s TV series are combining original ideas with top-notch writing and special effects. Even though The Walking Dead is based on a graphic novel of the same name, plot twists, interesting characters and disturbingly realistic gore bring audiences back week after week.

Similarly, American Horror Story is based on the well-known ‘family moves into a haunted house’ plotline. But after only a few episodes, it becomes clear that the series is less about the house and more about the troubled family members themselves. In between the gruesome murders and ghostly apparitions is a modern and relevant family drama.

And let’s not forget the brand of campy comedy that often goes hand-in-hand with over-the-top terror. How else could you explain Jessica Langes’ ‘Southern Belle’ character on AHS?

Selma Purac, a professor at The University of Western Ontario, teaches a course on vampires in contemporary media. She believes that this genre blurring makes shows classified as ‘horror’ appealing to wider audiences. “More interesting stories are unfolding on our television screens…[the shows] mix some of the qualities of traditional horror narratives with drama, romance, and fantasy.”

Even series like True Blood and Dexter, which premiered in 2008 and 2006, respectively, explore darker subject matter without being defined as horror per-say. They may have even set the stage for the more extreme scares we’re seeing today.

Purac also points out that we like horror films in the first place because “even though we might be afraid, there is a sense that we have some measure of control over our fears – that we can master our fears by exposing ourselves to them in a safe, cinematic environment.” Horror forces us to ask what it is we are truly afraid of, and the films or TV shows being produced often reflect common anxieties of the time.

Hollywood finds the next big thing in horror, viewers can get their fix of guts and gore on the small screen, where original stories and the comfort of watching from your own couch trump tired remakes and high ticket prices—not to mention the embarrassment of a stranger hearing you scream.

Whether this is the genre’s way of reinventing itself or just another trend remains to be seen. “Horror in general goes in peaks and valleys,” says Bialkowski. But right now on TV, “horror is hot.”

Late night joke of the week

From Jimmy Kimmel Live:
The latest castoff from "Dancing With the Stars," Herman Cain is here with us tonight. No, wait, I’m sorry. That's a joke from next year.