Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good news, bad news in year end numbers

A couple of weeks ago, CTV released a year-end ratings tally that showed the private network once again stands as the dominant player on the Canadian TV landscape. The release declared that, from the September launch of the new season through mid-December, CTV had 12 of the Top-20 shows in Canada in total viewers and 12 of the Top-20 in A25-54.
What's startling about the list--other than the huge lead enjoyed by the No. 1 show, The Big Bang Theory--is how long many of the most-watched shows in Canada have been on the air. Here are the Top-10 in totals, below, along with their average audiences this fall:


1. The Big Bang Theory (CTV)  3,777,000 5 seasons
2. Grey's Anatomy (CTV)  2,621,000  7 seasons
3. The Amazing Race (CTV)  2,570,000  11 seasons
4. Survivor  2,506,000 (Global) 12 seasons
5. CSI  2,394,000 (CTV) 12 seasons
6. NCIS: Los Angeles (Global)  2,183,000  3 seasons
7. Hawaii FIVE-0 (Global)  2,181,000  2 seasons
8. The Mentalist  (CTV)  2,166,000  4 seasons
9. Castle  2,074,000 (CTV)  4 seasons
10. Hockey Night in Canada  (CBC)  2,055,000  59 seasons

Canada's Top-5 for Fall 2011 could easily have been the top shows of 2007.
CTV's boast that it picked seven of the Top-10 new shows (six plus one CTV Two pickup) ignores that fact that the fall was a bust. It would be like the Leafs saying they got the best of a bad draft. The X Factor is the No. 1 new show in Canada but not the show-killer everyone anticipated with zero buzz about the recently-declared winner. Whitney is fourth on the list but only because it airs after Big Bang. Below, the Top-10 rookie shows in Canada (all data BBM Canada):


1. The X Factor Performance (CTV) 1,876,000
2. Unforgettable (CTV) 1,819,000
3. Once Upon a Time (CTV)  1,736,000
4. Whitney (CTV)  1,698,000
5. Pan Am (CTV)  1,604,000  cancelled
6. Grimm (CTV)  1,545,000
7. Terra Nova (City)  1,347,000
8. The X Factor Results (CTV Two)  1,190,000
9. Prime Suspect (Global)  1,033,000  cancelled
10. A Gifted Man (Global)  943,000

They may be hits in Canada, but several of these shows are in trouble in the U.S. Late comers Once Upon a Time and Grimm are hanging in but off their fast starts. Whitney is landing on several critics worst new show lists. Terra Nova is doing okay but borderline for renewal due to high production costs. The on-line site TV By The Numbers recently downgraded Unforgettable--the No. 2 new show in Canada--to "likely cancelled." A Gifted Man they list as "sure to be cancelled."
None, not even The X Factor, are doing as well as S#*! My Dad Says did in Canada in 2011 (averaging 2,316,000 viewers behind Big Bang)--and it was cancelled.
What`s weird in Canada is that Rogers has buried the No. 1 new comedy in the U.S.--2 Broke Girls--on one of its OMNI stations, instead of airing it on City. This would be like the Leafs sending Phil Kessel down to the minors.
The good news for CTV and the others is that many of the January/February starts look very promising. NBC desperately needs a scripted hit and The Firm (starting Jan. 6 on Global) might do it. Smash (NBC/CTV, Feb. 6) is still the best pilot I've seen all year. Alcatraz (Fox/City, Jan. 16), Arctic Air (Jan. 10, CBC), and Luck (Jan. 29, HBO/HBO Canada) are all very entertaining. So goodbye, 2011, hurry up, 2012.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Arnold Pinnock is one with the Farce

Pinnock (second from right) helps his new Farce family drop the F-Bomb
Joining a comedy troupe that has been in business for 40 years has to be daunting. Arnold Pinnock proves he is up to the task in the annual Air Farce New Years special, airing Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBC.
The look back at the year in comedy has aired New Year's Eve for almost 20 years but was moved back a day this year because CBC is airing a hockey game Saturday night.
The special was taped over two nights earlier this month and I caught the first night's effort. It did seem different without ringmaster Roger Abbott there to greet the fans in the bleachers. Still, Don Ferguson and the rest of the gang got right down to the business of comedy. The troupe taped way more than they needed to fill the hour-long slot, paring it all down later to the best sketches.
Pinnock's road to the Farce stage is pretty interesting. He started out as a young production assistant when Air Farce began as a weekly series back in the early '90s. He got to know most of the technical crew at CBC, and says he runs into many friends on his way from the ground floor to the 10th floor studios.
Pinnock (right, with Park) channeling Oprah
Being the first person of colour in the troupe, he was thrust into sketches where he gets to goof on Oprah Winfrey and Mike Tyson, among others. Alan Park still does president Barack Obama and that's cool, says Pinnock. "We didn't even think twice about it," he says. "It's clearly ironic. He's playing Obama and I'm playing Oprah. There was no mention of colour or whatever and that's the beauty of what we do in comedy. Because we never brought it to anyones attention I think the audience immediately jumped on board."
Besides, as Pinnock points out, if a 6-foot-1, 190-pound man can play Oprah, why can't Park play Obama?
Pinnock was also a main player in the Combat Hospital cast and talks about that shows sudden demise after a hit run last summer on Global. "The feedback from the men and women who are serving overseas—not just as doctors and nurses but also the soldiers—we really took to heart," he says. "We got letters and pictures of people sitting in front of the real Kandahar air force base. It really, really meant a lot. You felt it in your gut every single day. Your priority was to get this right."
For more on Pinnock and Air Farce, read the feature I wrote this week for The Canadian Press.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mary Tyler Moore at 75

Hard to believe, but today is the 75th birthday of Mary Tyler Moore. As the leggy assistant on Richard Diamond, Private Detective, a Happy Hotpoint elf and especially as Capri slacks-stunner Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, the Brooklyn-born actress turned the world on with her smile long before The Mary Tyler Moore Show (seen nightly at 11 p.m. on Comedy Gold). That's the show that defines her as '70s chic. It is interesting to watch now if just to catch a glimpse or two of Moore's flinty edge behind the toothy wholesomeness of Mary Richards.
I've encountered Moore on a few occasions over the years on TCA press tours. She and Van Dyke felt the love from critics when they reunited to promote The Gin Game in 2003. The two even sang and danced a bit in the hallway leading into the press tour session.
Memorable, too, was her appearance at the 2000 TCA press tour party to promote the ABC TV-movie Mary & Rhoda. The movie (penned by Canadian Katie Ford) was disappointing but Moore and hubby Robert Levine still dutifully worked the press deal. I remember shaking her hand, finding that a bit awkward and reading later that she prefers not to do that. Oops.
Moore before Van Dyke. Photographer Gene Trindl
told me the assignment was to shoot the girl with
the gams who had been fired from Richard Diamond
ABC had a sword and sandals epic on its schedule that season and had the Pasadena party venue decked out in an Arabian Nights motif. A live camel was out in front on a lawn and Moore, a big animal rights activist, fearlessly marched up, threw her arms around its neck and posed for pictures with the beast.
I remember standing next to Levine at the impromptu shoot and he was basically holding his breath.
One day I'll get around to transcribing an interview I did with Moore's old Van Dyke Show co-star Rose Marie--who hates Mary Tyler Moore. This apparently goes back to the '60s sitcom, a project Hollywood veteran Marie thought she's play a larger role on before being upstaged by this kid from Brooklyn and her Capri slacks.
At the time that I spoke with her, Marie was still steamed about a TV Land award event where she and Van Dyke and Moore and Carl Reiner took a bow for the series. Moore apparently sobbed from the stage, "If only Rhoda could be here to see this!"
"Rhoda?" seethed Marie to me on the phone. "What the hell did she have to do with The Dick Van Dyke Show!?"
Rehearsing The Dick Van Dyke Show
Much has been written about how The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a game changer in its depiction of a young single woman trying to make it on her own. There is something intriguing still about Mary Richards' sex life on that show. It is cool how she was never really paired with a man on the series, but just kept working the room. Not in a slutty way as depicted today on name-any-sitcom. Richards was more of a secret storm, and that's what kept the dudes keen.
That Minneapolis setting was a bonus, too. It made Richards almost Canadian. If you can make it in snow, you can make it on your own.
Moore has battled type 1 diabetes for four decades and is open about her struggles with alcoholism, working things out on at least one occasion at the Betty Ford clinic. (She goes into detail in her most recent autobiography.) She's endured three husbands, the early, tragic death of her only son and has outlived two siblings. Earlier this year, she underwent elective brain surgery to remove a benign meningioma.
The girl has spunk. Happy birthday, Mare.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011: bye bye Oprah, Reege and Lloyd

This time of year, everybody who does what I do for a living types up their end of the year highlights. The best & worst of 2011, all tied up with a bow. Mine popped up in several newspapers and web sites after hitting the wire last week for The Canadian Press.
I topped my take with all the significant TV departures in 2011, including several after 25+ years at one gig, including Oprah, Reegis, Lloyd and Mary Hart.
Ivan Fecan's absence from CTV's upfront in Toronto last June was felt. Susanne Boyce was missed, too. With all the 22-year-old ad buyers at the Hummingbird, it was like partying while the parents were out.
I'll post my own personal Best & Worst of the year later, but, in the meantime, read the full CP story here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Joe Bodolai: 1948-2011

Christmas can be a stressful, difficult time of year, but this is unbearably sad. The Associated Press is reporting that Canadian writer/producer Joe Bodolai has died suddenly in Los Angeles.
Bodolai was a supervising producer on The Kids in the Hall, the showrunner on Comics! and a writer on Saturday Night Live. He made things like Gemini Awards fun to watch. American born, he became a torch bearer for Canadian comedy talent. Russell Peters, Mark Farrell, Ron James, Mike Myers and so many others have Bodolai to thank for helping to harness their talent into entertainment careers.
Back when I used to write at The Toronto Sun, I'd get the occasional email from Joe. The messages were always filled with good humour and insight. Sad, then, to read his final Facebook status, left on Dec. 22:
I'm alone this year and am volunteering serving Christmas dinner to the homeless. Perhaps I will be one, but I love all of you and if I make it to next year let's make it a morally, spiritually, better and funnier year.
Bodolai did not make it to next year and the world is less bright as a result. His wit carried him to the end, although you wish it could have carried him through whatever pain he was in the middle of now.
On Dec. 23, he left a wise, sad, chilling final post on his blog Say It Ain't So, Joe titled, "If this were your last day alive what would you do?" 
Some of what he writes is funny because it is true. One of the things he wanted to see happen was "young people mobilizing for change instead of watching E!" This coming from a guy who worked for Robert Kennedy, who "resisted" (not "dodged," as he makes the distinction) the war in Vietnam.
Some of what he writes is sad because it is true, including copping to demons and addiction.
The more chilling passages have to do with the Canadian television business, how it fails passionate, creative leaders like Joe Bodolai. He was there at the birth of The Comedy Network, as he relates, but never got to run the place. What a different story this might be today if he had been given that mission.
The twist to this sad story is that TMZ has posted Bodolai's final words and his exit note has taken off like a tabloid rocket. He will be "trending" now, and while Bodolai may have been quick enough to find a "secret of comedy" timing joke in that equation, I don't have the heart to reach for it.
His passing reminds all of us to reach out to friends and family who may be going through their own private hell. Bodolai's Facebook goal to make the world morally, spiritually better and funnier is a cause we all should embrace in his name in the New Year.
Bodolai was 63. Heartfelt condolences to his friends and family.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

And so this is Christmas

The Beatles celebrate Merry Gimble, circa 1965. Photo from the vast Beatles archives of Bill Harris, who points out that the crappy tree in the background was probably slapped together in two minutes by roadie Mal Evans "with some stuff he found in a closet at Abbey Road"

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy day before boxing day

It sure doesn't feel like Christmas. People in Toronto aren't out shopping for T-shirts--they're wearing them. It's such a green Christmas, I don't know whether to trim the tree or cut the grass.
Thank goodness It's a Wonderful Life is on tonight at 8 p.m. (NBC and CTV). I used to borrow a 16mm print of this film every year at this time from Richview Library in Etobicoke and show it to a gang in my parent's basement. The Frank Capra classic was over 30 years old then and another 30 years have gone by. It remains frozen in post-war America, yet it still says Christmas to me.
If they remade the film today, Uncle Billy would not have screwed up with that bank deposit--he would have deposited that eight grand on-line. Mary would not have looked all over Bedford Falls for George--she would have tracked him down on his cell phone. The Building and Loan would not be on the verge of collapse--it would have collapsed three years ago. George would not be worth more dead than alive--have you looked at a life insurance contract lately?
At the end, George would have been "liked" by a house full of Facebook friends, and Clarence would have tweeted that, every time a bell rings, an angel gets an iPad.
It's a wonderful eLife. May Zuzu's petals be found in all your pockets this holiday season. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

This week's podcast: America's Got Stern

Scott Thompson at CHML wanted to know what I was up to in Vancouver earlier this week. I spilled the beans that I was there with a few other reporters to interview the cast of Alcatraz, a new drama coming to Fox and City Jan. 16. Got to spend hours on the prison set at the North Shore studios (once home to The X Files); more details on all that later.
Scott also wonders if Piers Morgan will get fired from his CNN show now that more allegations have surfaced over the wiretapping scandal. I think low ratings are a bigger problem for Morgan. We also talk about Howard Stern being names as a judge on the next edition of America's Got Talent. I'm thinking the King of All Media will be a fantastic judge, telling it like it is and delivering younger viewers to the series.
You can listen in here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Survivor finale winds up as week's top show

Winner Sophie Clark with Jeff Probst
It looked like Hockey Night in Canada was the most-watched show in Canada last week--until BBM recalculated Sunday's Survivor take.
The original overnight, estimated tally for the 8 to 10 p.m. two-hour finale was 2,063,000 Global viewers, the 10 to 11 p.m. reunion show 2,272,000.
Don't snuff out that tiki torch yet. An NFL football overrun on CBS pushed Survivor back 40 minutes. BBM Canada had to go back and re-calculate the Sunday night ratings based on an 8:40 to 10:40 window.
The new finale total was closer to 2.5 million viewers, which makes it the most-watched show in Canada the week of Dec. 12-18. Global says the finale of the 23rd season of the reality opera came in 12% over the 2010 edition. It also topped Saturday's Toronto/Vancouver HNiC tally, which was counted at 2,382,000 viewers.
For a complete look at the week in Canadian TV numbers, check out the most recent Brioux Report over at Toronto.com.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Duguay is still workin' it, 24/7

Dugay (left) with Exeter legend Jim Allison
Tonight, the puck drops on the second of four episodes of the new documentary series 24/7 (10 p.m., HBO and HBO Canada). These episodes feature the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers, the two teams that will meet for the NHL Winter Classic Game Jan. 2 in Philly.
To launch the series, HBO Canada threw a bash last week at the crazy cool Real Sports bar next to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. On hand were two former members of the two teams involved: Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, who busted heads for the Broad Street Bullies in their Stanley Cup-winning '70s glory, and Ron Duguay, who was a fan favourite at Madison Square Gardens.
Learned that "The Duguay" is still what NHLers call it when a player scans for hot babes in the stands in the pre-game warm up. The shaggy-haired skater was in his full Disco Stu regalia at the HBO event, and laughed when I repeated one of Leafs radio broadcaster/banquet funnyman Jim Ralph best jokes: Did you know Ron Duguay was one of the toughest players in the NHL? First year he was in the league, he put six people in the hospital--five maternity!
The series, which covered the Penguins and the Capitals the first season (with former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau emerging as the potty-mouthed star), follows the two teams in real time; in other words, each week you can track how they did over the past seven days. Definitely worth a look.

Slammer time

VANCOUVER--I was on the set of a new big budget U.S. network drama yesterday--but I can't say the title.
Seems the small group of Canadian journalists who toured the North Shore Studios sound stages Tuesday were the first ones on the scene. Can't scoop our American brethren you know.
I'd love to break out the details but I swore to the wardens publicists not to spill the beans before Jan. 2. I could wind up in prison doing hard time. I'm barred from telling.
Check back Jan. 2 for the details. Don't stir until then.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Harper appoints new Minister of Television

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper today appointed Canada’s first Minister of Television.
In a surprise move, Brampton, Ont., resident Bill Brioux was named to the newly-created post. Mr. Brioux has watched television for many years and is also set to appear on an upcoming episode of Mr. Harper’s favourite Canadian series, Murdoch Mysteries. He’s also alleged to have written feature articles about the medium for several publications, including The Canadian Press, The Toronto Star and Toronto.com.
Harper told reporters Mr. Brioux was chosen for his impeccable attire (see above photo). He added that the new ministry would replace the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission, which was apparently phased out several years ago.
Brioux thanked the Prime Minister for "helping TV feed my family."
Among Brioux’s immediate responsibilities will be arrange “must carry” status for Sun News Network, oversee the peaceful dismantling of the CBC and upgrade the cable package at 24 Sussex Drive.
Harper also personally requested more screen time on Murdoch Mysteries.
The Harper Government also plans to get directly involved in the next generation of Canadian programming. Among the series currently in development at the PMO’s office:
  • Lifestyles of Peter McKay. It’s all champagne wishes and caviar dreams for the jet setting Minister in this aspirational series set aboard a Skyking ‘chopper.
  • Combat Hospital Canada. Real Canadian hospitals are transformed into temporary M*A*S*H units as the federal government opts out of transferring tax funds to the provinces.
  • Tony Clement’s Wheel of Fortune. Contestants simple have to live in Clement’s central Ontario riding to enjoy $500 million worth of exciting prizes and upgrades.
  • Breaking Bad Canada. The Conservatives prorogue Parliament, invoke closure and enforce all manner of means to “break” for the winter recess.
  • Corner Gas Emissions. Environment minister Peter Kent pulls Canada out of the Kyoto accord, leading to this comedy about a new chain of leaded gas stations run by wacky and colourful locals.
  • Sons of Anarchy Canada: This two-part documentary looks at the opposition party’s feeble attempts to find new leaders.

The ministry has been imbued with special powers, including full use of the War Measures Act. Brioux has also been charged with finding more former CTV news anchors and correspondents to take their rightful place in the senate.

Upcoming Gastown Gamble a meaty delight

Brand in front of Save-On-Meats neon sign
VANCOUVER--Happen to be back in B.C. this week so thought I'd check in on a place I didn't have time to visit when I was here a few weeks ago--Save-On-Meats.
Smart move. Had the best corn beef sandwich ever at this Gastown marvel, a 55-year-old butcher shop and deli that is being restored to its former glory and then some by entrepreneur Mark Brand.
Brand and his dynamic eatery will be the subject of Gastown Gamble, a six-part documentary reality series that premieres Jan. 18 on OWN Canada. The series is being executive produced by Andrew Williamson at Lark Productions. Williamson is also behind the upcoming Real Housewives of Vancouver and, yes, he acknowledges, the two TV projects could not be more night-and-day.
Brand and his wife Nico have sunk a fortune into bringing Save-On-Meats back in what remains one of Canada's most challenging neighbourhoods. Gastown has plenty of charm and character but a few too many characters. Addiction remains a big problem in this area. Visitors get the "don't go wandering in there at night" warning when heading for the east side 'hood.
The Hastings Street landmark was headed for Condo-ville when 36-year-old Brand stepped up and took what amounts to a huge leap of faith to restore the business as well as the four-storey building. Have you ever re-visited a favourite haunt from the past, watched it slip into neglect and thought, dammit, this just can't be allowed to happen? Brand had that same impulse about Save-On-Meats. The difference is he acted on it. Nico made the same crazy commitment, quiting her job in the fashion biz to become a butcher!
Brand, who already operates several restaurants in the area (including on called Sea Monstr Sushi), has reached well beyond his own immediate family for help. He's recruited many people from the community in the restoration as well as the day-to-day operation of the business. Meat not being prepared for customers in the deli or in the butcher shop was being ground up for meat loaf in a second floor kitchen during Monday's tour. It was then distributed to the needy in what Brand has set up as a very hands-on community outreach program. He's literally training people at risk to feed themselves, a tremendous social commitment in the midst of trying to launch and resurrect a risky business.
Other corners of his warehouse are used for very different functions. He has art studios set up inside what were once giant meat lockers. The place is like a community college of art, meat and activism.
Downstairs, on the main, floor, the deli has the look (and smell) of a true '50s diner. Booths run along one wall and hand-painted signs (lettered upstairs) above the deli counter hearken back to a Rock Around the Clock era. There's even a take-out window out front. The meals are very economically priced and the sandwiches, burgers and fries are amazing.
Brand attacks a burger
On the other side of the wall, the butcher shop offers all kinds of cuts of meat, with plenty of sausages up front. Everything is prepared on the premises. Judging by the Bentley's cruising by, some of Vancouver's wealthier folk have discovered the place but, again, everything is priced within reach of the surrounding community.
Others are discovering the place, too. Food Network star Guy Fieri came up to Vancouver to shoot a segment of his series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives at Save-On-Meats and Brand says he fell in love with the place. Fieri's B.C. episode airs later this month.
Brand, who has migrated from one coast of Canada to the other (and also worked a few years bartending in Australia), hopes the TV show will keep the place packed. It was already pretty busy at lunchtime Monday.
The neon marquee out front with the famous piggies was restored partially through funding from the city. Vancouver seems to value its Gastown charms with a few other businesses making similar upgrades.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hollywood Suite sweet news for movie lovers

Way back when I used to work for TV Guide, there was a great deal of evidence that--hard as we all worked on feature stories--folks mainly bought the little magazine for the listings. Specifically, many readers would take the mag, sit down, and highlight all the movies in the week ahead that they wanted to see.
There probably aren't enough trees left to print a weekly TV Guide which would list the 450 movies a month now being offered on Hollywood Suite. The brand new, multi-platform movie service just became available to Bell satellite customers over the weekend and is already up and running on Eastlink, Telus Optik, SaskTel MAX and MTS TV.
Why another movie channel? With basic cable and satellite bills already pretty pricey, not everyone can afford HBO Canada, Movie Central, The Movie Network or Super Channel. Hollywood Suite is free for the next two months, and will cost less than half the premium channel premium after that.
Beyond those expensive channels, movies on regular TV are getting scarce and when films do get a window on Peachtree or AMC, for example, the same five John Hughes films they show in marathon rotations every weekend get chopped up with dozens of lame and noisy ads.
Former MuchMusic boss and now Hollywood Suite co-founder David Kines and a few of his CHUM/City pals have made deals with major studios Warner Bros. and MGM to flow content onto the new Hollywood Suite platforms. All 450 films a month are commercial free, uncut and unedited, run 24/7 and all are available in HD.
The catch? The films aren't brand new releases. The studios get a premium from hotel, pay and on-demand customers for anything launched in the last nine months. Hollywood Suite offers the best beyond those titles. Think of them as the video store between HBO and TCM.
There are several holiday titles playing this month, including Elf (Dec. 24), Blizzard (Dec. 23) and You've Got Mail (Dec. 24). Is Edward Scissorhands a Christmas movie? It's also on Dec. 24.
More distribution deals are in the works, says Kines. For more information, and to check channel choices in your area, check out the Hollywood Suite site here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hey Magoo: Last minute TV gift suggestions

Looking for some last minute Christmas gifts for the TV fan in your family? I offered several suggestions, mainly DVD box sets and books, in a story for The Canadian Press this week. You can read that entire story here.
Among the DVD sets I single out is Shout Factory's Mr Magoo--The Television Collection (1960-1977). The nearsighted cartoon character--voiced by the late, great Jim Backus of Gilligan's Island fame--was a big deal way back when I was a kid, even appearing in a memorable series of GE bulb ads.
I mentioned in the article that the one goodie missing from the Magoo box set was Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, which first aired in 1962 and which was the first animated-for-television Christmas special. Rudolph came flying along two Christmas's later.
Basically a re-telling of the Dicken's classic, Magoo's Christmas is available separately on DVD and Blu-ray; you can order it here. Morey Amsterdam, Paul Frees and Jack Cassidy also lend voice to the special.
Magoo was one of the main stars of the UPA Studio. UPA emerged as the anti-Disney in the '50s, featuring sinple line drawings and stark backgrounds. The limited animation style was well suited to the demands of television. Another UPA headliner, Gerald McBoing-Boing, "played" Tiny Tim in the Magoo special. If you know McBoing-Boing, you are likely a hard core 'toon head, studying animation, or Magoo's age.
Magoo's Christmas was shown throughout the '60s and '70s, mainly on NBC, but is harder to find today. The original running length, back when fewer commercials were shown, was 53 minutes; today it must be chopped down to 44 to fit in modern hour-long timeslots.
You can read more about the history of the special here in this book by author Darrell Van Citters.
There are, of course, a ton of other TV-related Christmas gifts out there. You can find Scene It versions of everything from Seinfeld and The Simpsons. Even spotted a 50th Anniversary Password board game at a mall yesterday with pictures of host Allan Ludden and his wife Betty White on the box. The password is: "merchandising."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Confirmed: Combat Hospital kaput

How did the biggest success story in Canadian television in years wind up getting cancelled after just one season?
Combat Hospital  was a monster hit in Canada. The big budget, Toronto-lensed co-production consistently drew 1.5 million viewers a week last summer on Global, but its failure to break through south of the border on ABC has apparently doomed the series.
One of the stars of the show, Arnold Pinnock, confirmed the bad news Thursday night on the set of the Air Farce New Year's Day special. Pinnock has joined the comedy troupe for the annual hour-long CBC salute to the year in comedy.
He says the cast got the bad news a few weeks ago. Confirmation came in that ABC had passed on renewing the drama, which was set on a M*A*S*H unit on a military base in Afghanistan.Elias Koteas, Michelle Borth and Deborah Kara Unger also starred in the series, which opened to more than two million viewers last June.
The series is likely the highest rated Canadian series ever to be canceled after one season. Combat Hospital often outdrew both Global's Rookie Blue and CTV's Flashpoint in the ratings last summer, averaging over 1.5 million viewers, more than ten times the audience that tuned in last week for the finale of Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays.
Pinnock says he's proud of the series and adds that the cast was very moved by all the letters of support from families of Canadian soldiers who fought in Afghanistan.
The series was shot in Toronto's west end where the Cinespace production facility was nicknamed "Kandahar on Kipling." Impressive interior and exterior sets were built and dust was even imported in to give the place an authentic Middle East look.
There were rumblings in recent weeks that Cinespace was looking to ditch the sets to make room for other production and needed to know if the series was moving forward. Combat Hospital had been exported to several foreign markets, but evidently no major U.S.  partner stepped in after ABC walked to help defray the costs of a second season.
Global is already committed to a third season of Rookie Blue, a series that remains on ABC's summer schedule. Global is also a major partner in the upcoming NBC drama The Firm.
Still, any network in Canada would kill to have had Combat Hospital's numbers. In terms of average audience, it out-rated every scripted series on CBC last season. It is outrageous that a Canadian-made show about Canadian heroes that was so embraced by Canadian viewers is not returning for a second season.

Set visit: Air Farce New Year's Day special

That's a wrap: Lauzon, Ferguson, Park and Corrin
Happy to report there are plenty of laughs in this year's annual Air Farce New Year's special.
Attended the Thursday night taping of the sketch comedy hour at the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto. (A second night of taping takes place Friday.) Was a little apprehensive heading in. This is the first Air Farce performance since the death of Farce co-founder Roger Abbott, for years the true ringleader of the troupe. Roger was the guy who worked the floor, greeting out-of-towners and generally turned taping night into a family gathering.
In true show-must-go-on tradition, Don Ferguson acknowledged Abbott's absence right off the start. Then he singled out the cameramen, introduced the cast and everybody took their marks. A whiskered Ferguson performed an opening sketch as that "Most Interesting man in the World" opposite Craig Luzon's robotic Stephen Harper. Alan Park threw himself into spirited characterizations of Barack Obama, Ron James and Bob McCown.
Luba Goy and Penelope Corrin are back, Jessica Holmes is not. Arnold Pinnock, one of the stars of Combat Hospital, is the new recruit and stepped seamlessly into sketches as Mike Tyson and Oprah. The acoustic duo Ground Crew were back singing "Jesus' Brother Bob" and other ditties between sketch setups. Stage director Pat McDonald had his headphones back in place and urged the folks in the bleachers to "stand by to laugh."
There are several fun Farce films in the New Year's mix--one pitting Toronto mayor Rob Ford (Lauzon) vs. Margaret Atwood (Goy) is especially hilarious--as well as guest appearances from Kevin O'Leary and Amanda Lang, Ron MacLean, Adam Beach, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Battle of the Blades champ Tessa Bonhomme. Ferguson and company even found a way to sneak a clip of Abbott into the hour.
The deal ends with another messy reloading of the "F-Bomb." Take heart, Canada, the Farce is still with us. Catch the Not New Year's Eve special a night later than usual, Sunday Jan. 1 at 8 p.m.

Michael's final days: 145,000

Alert a CBC therapist: Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays went out with a whimper. An overnight, estimated 145,000 caught the season finale Tuesday Dec. 6, below even the low season average for the critically acclaimed comedy.
To put that in perspective, 196,000 watched the 'tween sketch comedy That's So Weird the same week on YTV--and that's at 6:30 p.m.
Other numbers for Dec. 5 to 11: CTV's Michael Buble Christmas special 1,533,000, Dragon's Den 1,414,000, InSecurity and Being Erica 226,000, The Debaters 173,000,
For the entire week in Canadian prime time ratings check out the delayed Brioux Report at Toronto.com.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This week's podcast: Shinny talk and Sheen

This week, CHML's Scott Thompson wanted my take on the recent Bell/Rogers/Leafs mega-deal. I point out that the TV business is way rougher than anything that takes place on the ice. Look for Bell and Rogers to go into the corners with the elbows up and expect a few concussions along the way.
As for whether or not CBC can ultimately hang onto the 24 Saturday Hockey Night in Canada games, my completely unscientific take is that, while other networks have long coveted that property, the NHL has enjoyed almost 60 years in partnership with the public broadcaster and as long as they can come close to the market value for rights, NHL hockey will remain on CBC past the two years left on that TV deal. As the old saying goes, it ain't broke--although CBC may well be once their appropriation is hacked back by 10%, which could happen very soon according to persistent rumours.
Scott also asks what I know about Charlie  Sheen's upcoming series Anger Management. Besides the fact CTV has it, Bruce Helford (The Drew Carey Show) is the showrunner and it will open big, not much. Scott suggests Pamela Anderson should be cast opposite Sheen. I suggest a scenario the two of them could play ripped from a frisky Toronto commuter news headline. It all goes downhill from there. You can listen in here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Set visit: up close with the cast of The Firm

I've heard about being right in the scene but this was ridiculous.
Tuesday just outside Toronto on the set of the new NBC/Global drama The Firm, a small group of international journalists were given a tour of the production studio. The Firm shoots in a converted warehouse in Mississauga, Ont., the same facility where another eOne production, Rookie Blue, is produced.
This happened to be a rare day when all four leads on the series--Josh Lucas, Molly Parker, Callum Keith Rennie and Juliette Lewis--were all in the same scene. The interior set up was the kitchen of the McDeeres (played by Lucas and Parker).
Six reporters were led onto the set to observe. Usually this means stand at the back, in the shadows, well out of anybodies eye-line. The idea is to be a fly on the wall, as inconspicuous as possible.
Instead, we were led right into the middle of the scene. We stood jammed between the space where the director stood (behind two large monitors), some lighting equipment, and the actors and the rest of the crew.
I thought we were being punked. Nobody puts press in between the actors and the director, but that`s where we stood, shoulder to shoulder. I could reach out and tap Lewis--sitting at a kitchen table--on the shoulder.
The actors walked through one rehearsed take. Rennie, wearing a long black leather jacket (he's a P.I. and the brother of Lucas' lawyer character), kissed Lewis on the cheek and strode over to Parker and Lucas sitting at the nearby kitchen counter. Some dialogue was exchanged, mainly between Rennie and Lucas.
The director spoke with the cameraman, an assistant yelled places, the clapper was clapped and the cameras rolled.
The journos were so close to the action we may as well have been manning the boom mike. Nobody lost an eye and everybody got some insight into how a TV factory works.
The Firm premieres with a two-hour opener Jan. 8 on NBC and Global.

TCM Remembers: the annual salute

TCM always remembers best. The 2011 tribute, which includes salutes to Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Falk, Jane Russell and James Arness, is already playing on the cable network. It is up to date so far, with shout outs to recently departed M*A*S*H star Harry Morgan and director Ken Russell. The well-chosen song Before You Go is by OK Sweetheart.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tonight: 22 Minutes Christmas special


Quick--turn on your TV and watch the hour-long 22 Minutes Christmas special (8 p.m., CBC). The Halifax-based sketch com, in its 19th season, is having a banner year in quality and ratings. Tonight the gang goof on Dragon's Den billionaire Kevin O'Leary (typecast as Scrooge). The hour is packed with guest stars, including Jim Cuddy (reading letters to Santa), Gordon Pinsent (as a Santa-look-a-like), Peter Mansbridge, George Stroumboulopoulos, Republic of Doyle player Allan Hawco (above) and Survivorman Les Stroud. Politicians get into the act, including finance minister Jim Flaherty, Bob Rae and Justin Trudeau.
Looked for 22 Minutes utility man Shaun Majumder on the set of his upcoming NBC/Global drama The Firm today in Toronto (he plays a weasel lawyer--I know, redundant), but there was no sign of the dude. He must have been busy writing a Christmas carol for tonight's 22 Minutes. Check it out or go here to see a sneak peak.

Monday, December 12, 2011

CTV #winning after stealing Sheen from FX

CTV engaged in some good old fashioned brinkmanship today with their surprising announcement that they have secured rights to the upcoming Charlie Sheen comedy Anger Management.
The network teased last Thursday in an email to critics that a "Blockbuster Hollywood Star" was going to make a surprise on-air announcement Monday in a commercial break between 9 and 9:30 p.m.--in other words, during the CTV feed of Sheen's old CBS sitcom, Two and a Half Men.
The pre-taped video clip showed Sheen spilling the beans that his new show, where he will play an edgy anger management therapist, was being picked up by CTV.
"You seem like the nicest people in the world," said Sheen, addressing the camera, "but I know the truth. You're holding in a lot of anger. Why else would you drink so much beer, put on shoes with sharp blades and smack each other around with wooden sticks?"
It was really CTV smacking around rival Rogers with this announcement. Rogers recently launched FX Canada, finally bringing FX shows such as Louie (showcased on City tonight), Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story onto one Canadian specialty channel (although some of that content is still part of the Super Channel lineup).
Sheen's new series, which begins production in the new year, will appear in the U.S. on FX. This deal, which CTV made directly with Lionsgate's international distribution company, takes the sheen off of FX Canada. Rogers likely would have previewed Anger Management onto their City platforms as they did with the Canadian launch of American Horror Story in late October. Now a prize promotional opportunity will be all over the other guy's platforms.
Sheen's new series is being executive produced by Bruce Helford, a proved showrunner who wrote and produced comedies for Drew Carey, George Lopez and Norm Ferguson. He may have lost some heat since his well-publicized meltdown last winter, but count on Sheen's new series to at least open big when it finally does arrive.
The deal was apparently brokered from the Bell end by CTV senior vice president Mike Cosentino, a hold over from the Ivan Fecan regime. Mike must have saved his notes. This is the kind of competitive "gotcha" Fecan used to pull to keep Global at bay.
Rogers and Bell may be making nice when it comes to splitting Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, but CTV's Sheen stealing stunt signals it is still war as usual in the Canadian network ratings races.

Doyle gang gearing up for January 11 launch

Caught up with Allan Hawco, Sean McGinley and the chummy Republic of Doyle gang Friday in Toronto. Six of the main actors from the series assembled for press sessions at the Duke of Wellington pub buried deep within First Canadian Place. The pub setting was fitting for the CBC series from St. John's, which returns for a third season Wed. January 11.
Hawco & Co., who wrap shooting this week, were snowed out on an earlier planned trip to T.O. to crash the CBC's Winter launch. They were all still buzzing over the guest star turn by two-time Best Actor Oscar-winner Russell Crowe. All involved said it was a hoot hanging with the man, who appears in the season premiere. Crowe is buddies with Great Big Sea singer Alan Doyle and his actor pals Kevin Durand and Alan Doyle. Hawco, who met Crowe ten years ago, thought if he could book the other three as guest stars on his P.I. drama he might land Crowe, who had expressed an interest in appearing. The ploy worked and Hawco flew Crowe all the way from Down Under to St. John's to rumble with the Doyle boys.
There are plenty of other guest stars packed into Season Three. Both Gordon Pinsent and Nicholas Campbell reprise roles from previous seasons and Newfoundland native Shannen Tweed also makes things uneasy for Malachy's main squeeze, Rose (Lynda Boyd).
Boyd was at the press event, as was Krystin Pellerin (wronged cop Leslie Bennett). Marthe Bernard (Tinny) and Mark O'Brien (Des) were also present and talking about the wrestling flick they shot together earlier this year. Look for Beat Down, which also features Trailer Park Boy Robb Wells as Bernard's ex-wrestler dad, sometime in April.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tonight: Boardwalk Empire season two finale


Boardwalk Empire
brings its second season to a close tonight (9 p.m., HBO/HBO Canada). Visited the set this past summer and marveled at how this gigantic outdoor boardwalk exterior was tucked away behind an enormous wall of boxcars in an industrial corner of Brooklyn, N.Y. Walking that boardwalk set, it's all there--ice cream parlors, hardware stores and the like, and walking into most of them is like walking into the past. There are fully realized interiors filled with period effects like old nickle-plated cash registers and tins full of taffy.

Beyond the lip of the actual boardwalk is a large sandy beach; beyond that a tall, blue curtain is drawn facing the set. An ocean view is digitally added over this curtain later.
Creator Terry Winter and producer/director Tim Van Pattern walked a few reporters around the set that day. Van Patten said he cursed Martin Scorsese for hogging so many angles on the boardwalk set that very first episode he directed.
Van Patten and Winter on the Boardwalk set
Winter itself visited Winter's set this season. The shoot began way back in February and Van Patten said there were days when he and the crew and the cast and extras were out there shooting through snow and ice. It gave the set a bit of a weather beaten look this season which only, to me anyway, added to the authenticity.

Sunday: Call Me Fitz's 2nd season finale



Call Me Fitz winds down its second season tonight at 8:30 p.m. on HBO Canada. Had a great chat with star/director/producer Jason Priestley last September over lunch in Toronto and he was still pumped from all those Gemini nominations and wins for the series.
We started out talking about how it must be a drag how international press keep hearkening back to his 90210 days 21 years after the series that made him a star began.
"Have you talked to Shannen Doherty?" he mock-asked with an Alberto-V05 accent. "Have you been to Tori's house? Are you going to be on Tori & Dan in Love?"
We laughed, but then he told me a few great stories about working with his old mentor, Hollywood uber-producer Aaron Spelling. Those stories ate up a lot of the story I wrote which appeared yesterday in the Toronto Star.

Priestley got to know Spelling well. “He was very tough when he needed to be,” he says. “At the root of it he seemed to be a pretty simple guy. And that’s the way he liked everything to be. That’s the way he believed television to be. He believed in simple storytelling. He believed if he could understand it, the audience could understand it.”
Another thing Priestley remembers about his mentor: “I never met a Jew who loved Christmas more than Aaron Spelling.”
Priestley recalls the Spelling mansion was turned into a winter wonderland each December. There would be a 50-foot Christmas tree in the main foyer and carollers constantly singing. That rumour that he used to truck snow in to his California estate just to keep things Christmas-y? True. “He did that a few times when Tori was little,” Priestley was told. “She would wake up on Christmas morning with snow in the yard. Crazy.”
Spelling’s gift to Priestley was giving him a chance to direct. It first happened on the third season of 90210, when the young actor was just 23 or 24. “Thinking back, what the bleep was he thinking?” Priestley wonders, although, “I just kept bugging him to give me an episode to direct.”
Spelling gave him just one piece of advice: “He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Kid, don’t bleep this up.’”
Priestley didn’t. He went on to direct up to five 90210 episodes a year. He’s gone on to direct 7th Heaven, a web series and even an episode of the new 90210 series as well as a Christmas movie he shot earlier this year in Winnipeg, Dear Santa (available on DVD).
“I’m lucky,” says Priestley, “I get to wear a lot of hats on Fitz, and that excites me when I get out of bed in the morning.”

Friday, December 9, 2011

Saturday: a Bitchin' Kitchen Christmas

Have to admit I was new to the charms of the amazing Nadia G when I sat down to screen a Bitchin' Kitchen Christmas. The hour-long special airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on Food Network Canada.
The punky Montreal food princess has been the star and creative force behind her Bitchin' Kitchen series for two years and even longer when it originated as a series of mobisodes in 2007.
She was just back from Los Angeles where she was promoting her series on Access Hollywood when I spoke with her earlier this week. Bitchin' Kitchen is one of the top-rated series on the U.S. cable Cooking Channel.
Nadia's TV kitchen is all cherry red with plenty of chrome, animal prints and leather. There are Christmas decorations in the fridge.
When I told her the series made me think of Pee-wee's Playhouse she said she grew up watching that Saturday Morning series and it was definitely an influence, subconsciously at least. 
Just starting out on-line was even more of a factor, she says. "Anything goes on-line. If you have a concept for a crazy comedy cooking show with rock n' roll style, you can do it, you’re free to blaze your own path."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

This week's podcast: why Rudolph resonates

CHML's Scott Thompson wants to know why the holy trinity of animated Christmas specials--Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (1964), A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)--continue to draw big ratings 45 years after they premiered.
Last week's re-broadcast of Rudolph on CBS (it originally aired on NBC) drew an overnight audience of 12.67 million U.S. viewers, up 8% over the year before and the biggest audience for the Rankin-Bass special since 2007. The show won the night among adults 25-54, children 2-11 and 6-11. Pretty amazing considering the special has long been available on home video, DVD and now Blu-ray.
If you missed it, the hour-long special will be repeated Saturday at 8 p.m. on CBS. Why is it still such a big draw? I give my usual reasons and you can listen to them here.
Burl Lives, who narrated and played Sam the Snowman, was the most famous member of Rudolph's talented voice cast, but there were several performers well known to Canadians in on the act. Toronto's Paul Soles (This is the Law; Canada After Dark) voiced Hermey the Elf; Larry Mann, also from Toronto and for years a judge on Hill Street Blues, was Yukon Cornelius; Carl Banas, long a fixture on Toronto radio, was the voice of the head elf as well as some of the misfit toys. Toronto actress Billie Mae Richards, who voiced Rudolph, died last year at 88.
Except for Ives, all signed contracts paying them only for the first three years the special aired. Who knew they'd all go down in history?

Hey wiseguy: check out The Three Stooges

Maybe its just me, but this looks awesome. That's B.C.-native Will Sasso (Mad-TV) as Curly Howard. Does he nail it? Sointenly! Fellow Canucklehead Chris Diamantopoulos, from Toronto, plays Moe. Diamantopoulos seems to be specializing in playing famous people; he previously played Robin Williams in the TV-movie about Mork & Mindy and played Frank Sinatra in The Kennedys. Will & Grace's Sean Hayes--who previously played Jerry Lewis in the TV-movie about Martin & Lewis--plays Larry Fine. The Farrelly brothers The Three Stooges movie is scheduled to open April 4, 2012.

Is that a Global network promotional item in the mail or are you just glad to see me?

The award for the most phallic network TV promotional item of all time goes to the publicity team over at Global. They win for the giant metal dildo they sent critics this week to promote Bomb Girls (premiering Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. ET).
Bomb Girls is not about Global senior VP Barb Williams' picks for new shows this fall. (That would be Bombs Girl. Hey, c'mon, the joke was right there. Besides, Williams actually looks wise now for not over-bidding on so many rookie imports that have fizzled.)
The six-part drama stars Meg Tilly and Jodi Balfour and tells the story about the women who worked in the munition factories during World War II. These were the Rosie the Riveters of Canada, and there were 250,000 of them in Canadian factories building bombs and ammunition.
Not sure where these big shiny dildo thermoses Global sent were made or who made them but they did not come with batteries. Bombs away!

Tonight: It's a Weirdiful Christmas on YTV

Later today at 6:30 p.m., That's So Weird airs its first ever Christmas episode. The premise has Kayla Lorette (right, with James Hartnett) charged with finding a Santa for the Christmas special and settling on Jake, a grisly old timer she pulls straight out of the old folks home. Ho-ho-no!
The whole Santa deal is just an excuse to run a series of holiday-themed sketches, including one featuring Raptor-fixated Jerrod being home for the holidays.
Based in Halifax, That's So Weird is aimed at 'tweens but the third year sketch comedy will tickle all ages. Check out a clip from tonight's episode here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Signs TV is going to the dogs (and cats)

Hillbilly Handfishin', Storage Wars--what next? A whole lotta stupid is comin' atcha as networks stoop as low as they can go in their endless search for cheap and unchallenging content. 
Notice went out the other day about a new show from schlock-meisters Animal Planet called American Stuffers (premiering Jan. 5). It's about a family of Arkansas taxidermists who stuff pets for a living! As they might have joked on Monty Python, took four hours to stuff one cat. Wasn't dead yet!
Press releases for the following actual TV show premieres arrived today via email. I swear I'm not making any of this up:

  • Hammer & Chew: Lords of Junk (Jan. 7, 10 p.m., CMT Canada). The notion of "country music lifestyle programming" slide back to the dawn of Hee Haw with this reality series about two dudes--John "The Hammer" Netherway, and his buddy Chris Chew--who pick through trash for a living. Don't laugh--they could be network programmers!
  • My Cat from Hell (Sat., Jan. 7, U.S. Animal Planet). "Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy tackles the most catastrophic cat cases he's ever encountered." One case involved a feline attacking clients at a Pilates business. Meow-ouch!
  • Pit Boss (Sat. Jan. 7, also Animal Planet). Shorty Rossi and his team of little people from the talent management company "Shortywood" tame abandoned pit bulls. Talk about underdogs! Not outlaw enough for ya? Animal Planet is also airing a third season of Pit Bulls & Parolees (Saturdays at 10 p.m.). 
  • Canada's Smartest Person (March, 2012, CBC). The production company behind Outlaw In-Laws brings us this search for Canada's smartest person. Not just book smart, or IQ smart, oh no. CBC wants versatile smart. Contestants will have to "uncover lies in a sea of half-truths, navigate an obstacle course of lasers at break-neck speed or compose a film score in less than five minutes." The winner will represent CBC at the next CRTC hearings. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Brampton boy Russell Peters makes good

A Russell Peters Christmas drew 2,071,000 viewers to CTV Thursday night, an early Christmas present for the private broadcaster.
The special was largely panned by critics as well as the 18- and 21-year-olds in my home, who both said they'd rather see one of his stand-up specials.
The critical response was so tepid even CTV had trouble finding supporting references in the media, pulling this quote for their ratings release from Bill Harris at The Toronto Sun: "Peters makes an effort to combine his comedy with Christmas warmth." They left out Harris' other observation that the special was "corny at times."
Still, viewers seem eager to embrace even half-hearted stabs at a new Christmas special. The network claims that A Russell Peters Christmas is the most-watched Canadian holiday special ever on CTV, and did especially well in the A18-34 demo..

Friday, December 2, 2011

Is CBC's Michael stuck in Frank's Place?

Are some shows just too smart or challenging for the mass audiences that sustain broadcast TV? Take Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays, as I do in a feature up on the wire for The Canadian Press this week. You can read the full story here.
Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays airs its final episode of the season Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBC. It hasn't been canceled, yet, but the ratings have been so low any other network in North America would have shed the series weeks ago. Keeping it on the air have been some rave reviews, including from this corner. This is a smart, touching, unblinking, well-crafted comedy. If it was on HBO there would be no talk of cancellation, only praise. Expectations are different there and numbers not so naked. As it is, the series is averaging in the low 200,000s, about half the population of Brampton, Ont. The Debaters, a show that comes right after it--and costs a fraction of what Michael or any other show on TV costs--does about as well each week.
You have to go back nearly 25 years to find a parallel predicament. Frank's Place, a fondly remembered CBS series which aired in 1987-88, was also brilliant, ahead of its time. Set in a New Orleans cafe, it starred Tim Reid from WKRP in Cincinnati along side his real life wife, Daphne Maxwell Reid.
The series stood out in the '80s as a one-camera comedy without a laugh track. Like a handful of other shows at the time, including The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, it helped coin the term "dramedy" in that it was a half hour comedy with plenty of drama. (The term is almost a kiss of death for people pitching shows to networks today.) It also dealt with race and class is ways that have seldom been explored on TV with such honesty before or since.
Both of those shows could probably have run for years on HBO, but that service was new at the time and known more for boxing and stand-up comedy specials than for great TV series. It would be another decade before The Sopranos. If CBS was pitched it today, they likely would have slid it over to their premium brand, Showtime.
Like Michael, they were shows some people would have been happy to pay for to keep on the air. Enough people? As outlined in the article, CBC is exploring their options with their shrink series, but there is a model for transitioning an impressive Canadian comedy from network to pay-TV. Winnipeg-based Less Than Kind, which was launched on City, begins its third season on HBO Canada on January 15.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Conan clip shows why Pan Am's in a tailspin

Karine Vanasse, the French Canadian actress who plays one of the stewardesses from the '60s on ABC's Pan Am, caused a stir this week when she tweeted that the rookie fly girl series was cancelled. On Thursday night's Conan (TBS, CTV/Comedy), host Conan O'Brien let his viewers in on this clip of the series' final scenes...

This week's podcast: Peters steals Christmas

This week, CHML's Scott Thompson wanted to know what I was doing in Vancouver. Told him about my trip west to the set of the January CBC drama Arctic Air. We also talk Grey Cup ratings and Christmas specials including tonight's CTV offering A Russell Peters Christmas (9 p.m.). The pride of Brampton, Ont., hosts a throwback to Christmas specials past with plenty of celebrity guests, including Michael Buble, Pamela Anderson, Love Boat bartender Ted Lange, Jon Lovitz and that other Scott Thompson, the one from Kids in the Hall.
There's a sketch where Anderson plays the Virgin Mary, which should give you some indication of the level of humour. Have to agree with John Doyle in the Globe and Mail who today suggests Peters seems to be slumming.
Still wish somebody would re-air a much better comedy take on Christmas specials past: Dave Foley's 2002 CBC effort The True Meaning of Christmas Specials. It was packed with an even more eclectic list of guest stars: surf guitar king Dick Dale, Jason Priestley as "Santa Dude," Jann Arden, Elvis Stoyko and cameos from Mike Myers, Andy Richter and Tom Green. Two SCTV legends, Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty, stopped by and did their killer impressions of Bob Hope and Big Crosby. Find a clip of Foley and Flaherty as David Bowie and Crosby here and prepare to laugh yourself silly. (Stay for the cue card gag at the end.)
Foley told me the reason this thing doesn't air every year is that the dum-dum who was supposed to clear the future broadcast music rights didn't. D'oh!
There's also some talk about Dragon's Den meanie Kevin O'Leary's January CBC start Redemption, Inc. Listen in to the full CHML TV chit chat here.