Tuesday, January 31, 2012


If you haven't seen it already on YouTube, the full Matthew Broderick "Ferris Bueller" Super Bowl ad that was teased earlier is posted above. It is for a car company, and it is a nice nod to the John Hughes original. Be sure to stick around to the very end.
The two-and-a-half-minute spot had already been viewed by over 3.6 million people by the time I got around to posting it, so it looks like Honda may get their money's worth before the ad even airs this Sunday during Fox's Super Bowl broadcast.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

TONIGHT: HBO's Luck on the right track

Farina (left) and Hoffman both shine in HBO's Luck
Luck has arrived. The HBO drama about life at a racetrack premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on HBO and HBO Canada.
The series boasts a terrific cast: Dustin Hoffman as mob boss Chester "Ace" Bernstein (fresh out of the slammer and not too happy), Nick Nolte as a grizzled old trainer with a special horse. Dennis Farina, John Ortiz, Richard Kind, Jill Hennesey, Jason Gedrick and Kevin Dunn all have roles in the series.
Behind the scenes is one of the most respected writers in television: David Milch. Milch joined Hoffman and Nolte, along with pilot director Michael Mann, at the HBO TCA press tour session in Pasadena earlier this month.
Milch admits he knows the track world well, having studied it for 50 years. The pilot takes you into the grandstand as well as out on the field in the paddocks. Milch makes no attempt to ease non-track fans into the day-to-day parlance, and if you don't know a trifecta from a Tribeca, you may find yourself a little up track. The characters are so rich and the the drama so real you'll still want to go along for the ride.
Hoffman told reporters he's never really been a track guy. The series is shot at Santa Anita near Pasadena and Hoffman found the scene there quite fascinating. "It was extraordinary to see what [Milch] was talking about," he said, "to see 300 people in a place that used to have thousands and thousands. To see people that had just bet not going back to watch the race but seeing it on TV and they’re there at the track. That’s extraordinary."
I had the same impression recently after a visit to Woodbine race track in Toronto's upper west end. Admission to the track is free, yet the draw seems to be the hundreds of slot machines downstairs. On the upper level, there are more people standing around the food concessions than outside--in the sunshine--watching from the grandstand. People literally have their backs turned from the races so they can cheer on the action on the many TV screens inside.
Hoffman told some great stories in the scrum after the session. I've relayed a few in today's Toronto Star, you can read that story here. One of the stories was about the time he was dressed up as Dorothy from Tootsie and ran into Jose Ferrer in an elevator. Hoffman is an excellent story teller and loves to dish about old Hollywood. Here he is on Letterman telling the very same story about Ferrer:

Hoffman also told that Paul McCartney story, the one were he was over at McCartney's house, read him the story about Picasso's last words and watched while McCartney wrote a song about it right on the spot. (It's on the Band on the Run album.) "He started playing and he plays the story I just told him. I've never seen anything like that happen."
Here's more from Hoffman from the Luck press tour scrum after the HBO session:

How did you prepare for this role?

I talked to the director, Michael Mann, I had a conversation with David Milch a lot. Actors say they work from the inside out or from the outside in. We found a hair do Michael liked... 
I always say to actors, "Don’t consciously work it, let it happen by itself. You know when you put the right dress on in the closet, it gives you a feeling you want to have. It is the look…

Do you have a favourite film out of all the ones that you have made?
I don’t have one. {Hoffman pauses and thinks.] 
I did a film called Straight Time which was unsuccessful. It was about convicts. It's nice when convicts say you got it right, they don’t romanticize you. I thought that was good work.

How important are the drivers in the world of the mob?
People that know about the mob…these drivers --Luciano started out as a driver. A lot of these big gangsters were originally drivers. They're the only one you trust. They are the confidant to the person they’re driving. They are the bodyguard to the person they’re driving. I say at the end of the pilot, "I don’t trust anybody, not even myself." I dunno if my wife would take the bullet for me (laughs).

The session ended when the female reporter who asks the same question of everybody asked her "What are you doing to 'Go Green'" question. Hoffman won over the rest of us with his answer:
"Don't drink anything, don't eat anything."

Friday, January 27, 2012

TONIGHT: end of the road for NBC's Chuck

Tonight, NBC finally puts Chuck out of its misery. The action comedy, which has somehow lasted five seasons, goes out with a two hour finale (8 p.m., NBC/CHCH).
Never a hit, the series about a Geek Squad computer nerd-turned-international spy (played by Zachary Levi) was on the verge of cancellation after two seasons when fans mounted a unique save-this-show campaign. They targeted one of the sponsors, Subway. The sandwich maker got behind the series, contributing to the cost one five dollar foot long at a time and Chuck stayed on the air.
Chuck also stuck thanks to social networking. The series ranked among TV's Top-20 in SocialSceneTV ratings. All those tweets and posts are getting more and more attention from networks.
Not that the series was ever easy to find. NBC kept it around but you had to look for it. It never emerged as more than a cult show. It ranked 65th among U.S. prime time series after its first season and was down to 83 after season four.
It helped that some powerful critics loved the show. Mo Ryan, Alan Sepinwall and Jamie Poniewozik all hailed as as one of the most winning and entertaining shows on television. Go to Wikipedia and check out the number of press articles on the series at the bottom "References" section. This show got a crazy amount of ink.
The cast, including Canadian Vik Sahay (part of the show's "Nerd Herd") were always mobbed at Comic-Con. For those that loved it, it was their favourite show.
Still, at five million viewers a week, NBC just wasn't prepared to keep it on life support. Episodes never seemed to be ordered 22 at a time. Only 13 episodes were ordered this season (bringing the total to 91) and the series was basically buried in a Friday night death slot. NBC chairman Robert Greenblatt was unequivocal about Chuck's fate at the recent TCA press tour, basically saying it was dead dead dead.
Have to admit I was a lot like most viewers--I barely watched the show. The premise was fun, the show was well cast, but there was always something else on. CBC's recent attempt with InSecurity showed just how tricky it is to pull off the whole spy spoof thing.
Levi with spy-licious co-star Yvonne Strahovski
Chuck was produced on a Hollywood soundstage on the Warner Bros. lot, and those set visits were always a good time. The Big Box Future Shop-like store was loaded with real electronic goodies. You felt like anybody in the cast could re-boot your laptop if you needed help.
Lead Zach Levi has also earned a rep as TCA favourite. The 31-year-old always seems to close the place at NBC press tour parties and was among the last to leave this year at the Caltech bash. Levi, in fact, continued to party later at the Langham hotel bar and was set to launch into song with one of the promising young cast members from NBC's upcoming musical Smash when a few Pasadena locals whipped out their iPhone cameras and stopped them both dead in their tracks.
Levi told a few of us he was looking at a few things but still had no concrete plans post-Chuck. Those who have heard him sing say the dude would be a hell of an addition to Smash. That would be cool, but Levi should know he's already earned a backstage pass to future press tour parties.

This week's podcast: Bueller... Bueller?

This week, CHML's Scott Thompson wanted to know how much 30 second spots will be going for on this year's Super Bowl. I didn't know so I said forty-five dollars. Amazingly, this got a laugh.
The actual average amount Fox is charging advertisers is $3.5 million per 30-second spot. One reportedly sold for $4 million. Both figures are new highs for the broadcast, the most-watched TV show of the year in the U.S., fetching an audience of more than 100 million viewers.
One Super Bowl ad is already being teased on the Internet. It features Matthew Broderick reprising his role as Ferris Bueller, 25 years later. Check it out:

 Don`t know what he's advertising but guesses so far include a Ferrari or Chicago tourism. Please don't be for Ciallis.
Scott asks about a whole bunch of other stuff. You can listen in here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Canada left out of Steinberg's Inside Comedy

Larry David, Tim Conway and David Steinberg taking TCA Inside Comedy
Tonight, Inside Comedy premieres on Showtime. It`s hosted and executive produced by Winnipeg-native David Steinberg. It`s funny and insightful and offers great up close and personal moments with comedy icons like Martin Short (from Hamilton, Ont.). Too bad it isn't inside Canada. No Canadian broadcaster has picked it up yet, at least not as far as Steinberg knows. And that's not funny.
C'mon, The Movie Network/Movie Central. C'mon Comedy Network. Take us Inside.
Ironically, Steinberg told me two weeks ago after his TCA Showtime session that that outsider perspective is what distinguishes Canadian comedy. "You're up against the window with your hands up against it, looking inside," he says.
A former Second City improviser, he takes credit for launching the careers of Short as well as other SCTV cast members. Indeed, prior to SCTV, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin and Short all appeared on Steinberg's 1976 Canadian effort The David Steinberg Show, which can be seen currently on Comedy Gold.
The new series is essentially Steinberg sitting opposite other comedians talking comedy. Short appears on the Inside Comedy episode with Brad Garrett and Billy Crystal; they trade stories about Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra.
Tim Conway was paired with Ellen DeGeneres in another episode I screened, but the most illuminating may be Steinberg's sit down with Larry David. Steinberg has directed several Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes over the years and has a nice rapport with David, whose remarkable candor extends to his own idiosyncrasies. Fun to watch and listen to, especially for comedy fans.
David's former collaborator Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Mull, Carl Reiner, Robin Williams, Mel Brooks, Gary Shandling, Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock, Steven Wright and co-executive producer Steve Carell are also featured on the series, which premieres tonight at 11 p.m. on Showtime.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

TONIGHT: Kiefer Sutherland connects in Touch

Touch twosome David Mazouz and Kiefer Sutherland
Not many stars could get away with headlining a TV show called Touch. You wouldn't catch, say, Charlie Sheen doing a show called Touch.
Maybe that was what Kiefer Sutherland, who stars in tonight's sneak peak at Touch, was saying to Sheen two weeks ago when the two old scoundrels caught up with each other in the dark back behind the Castle Green in Pasadena. It was the night of the Fox TCA press tour party. Sutherland had just walked the red carpet out front. Sheen, who is returning from Warlockville to headline the upcoming FX comedy Anger Management, was snuck in the back door for a private, low key kind of press scrum.
The two--who have known each other since they starred together in Young Guns in 1988--stood and spoke ear to ear for a minute or two before Sutherland disappeared and Sheen got down to the business of rebuilding his brand. I tracked Sutherland down later, sitting way the other side of the landmark Pasadena apartment, sitting on the patio with a publicist. I approached and asked for a word, but he begged off, said he was tired. I did the Canadian thing and asked if he was still playing hockey. "Every Monday night," he assured me. And that was that.
Sutherland gets plenty of respect at press tour because he`s earned it. He never once missed a tour while 24 was on the air, always crediting critics for getting the series past a touchy first season.
Besides, he probably was tired. Few stars who work an hour long series, especially one as demanding as 24, are eager to jump right back into another one. And while he`s not right back at it, it doesn`t seem like its been a year-and-a-half already since Jack Bauer had his last bad day. (Another is scheduled soon; a 24 movie is set to start shooting in May.)
My guess, and that's all it is, is that Sutherland is somebody who has to be busy. He sure doesn't need the money, having made a fortune as the star and executive producer of 24. (He's also a producer on Touch.) Whatever his motivation, this series looks like it could be worthy of his talents.
Fox network boss Kevin Reilly admitted at press tour he was at first reluctant to cast Sutherland right back into the network drama pool. Bauer was such an overpowering, almost iconic character, some viewers may have a hard time buying Sutherland in anything else. Touch is so different, however, Reilly went ahead and ordered the series.
It does take a while to get past Bauer while watching tonight`s advance screening (at 9 p.m. on Fox and Global; the series will begin a regular run in March). There is a scene or two where his single dad character is roughed up and you just expect Jack Bauer to rip the other dude's intestines out.
Sutherland says he didn't choose this role because it was different than Bauer. He was just blown away by the script.
Tonight's pilot is exciting in ways 24 was not. All about humanity and connectivity, it stars Sutherland as Martin Bohm, a guy who has been crushed by fate. His wife was lost in one of the Twin Towers (a detail that seems a bit piled on). Once a reporter, he's down to working as an airport handler to try and make ends meet to help raise his 11-year-old son Jake (David Mazouz). The child is locked in a world of numbers due to severe autism.
His father can not touch him. He feels he can't reach him. The numbers his son keeps leaving, however, may be clues to their connectivity.
Wow. Always with the jokes.
Beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Undercovers) plays a child care worker who helps put some pieces of this puzzle together. Danny Glover guests as an expert who knows all about these kids with numbers. The showrunner is Tim Kring, and the pilot has many of the earmarks of his earlier series, Heroes--international language and interwoven storylines, dense storytelling.
There is a lot of emotion packed into tonight's pilot. A few too many side stories are packed in as well. Too much hinges on the world's most clear-headed international phone operator.
Still, watch if only to see all of this sorrow and anger and weakness and compassion and love and hurt and hope and triumph flash across Sutherland's face. He's back playing another hero, but this one is nothing like Jack Bauer. It's a gutsy and impressive performance, one that makes Touch touching and compelling. As Bauer would say, check it out, "Dammit!"

TONIGHT: Helgenberger checks out of CSI

Wednesday is Marg Helgenberger's last day on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. After 12 seasons and over 250 episodes, the 52-year-old actress is the latest to leave the long-running forensic crime drama. Her final episode is entitled, "Willows in the Wind" (10 p.m., CTV and CBS).
Helgenberger is leaving to open a string of fast food restaurants. They will feature the "Helgenburger," a double stacked patty with or without dressing.
Actually, no, I just made that up. For more on Helgenberger's departure, read this story I wrote which appears in today's Toronto Star.
Hour-long dramas are a marathon, with eight day per episode schedules and plenty of long days in and out of trailers. Still, is leaving a hit show a smart move? I remember years ago asking William Devane why, after eight or nine seasons, he was still doing Knots Landing. I'll never forget his answer: "Never get off the gravy train until the gravy train stops running."
Still, hats off to Helgenberger, always a friendly face at TCA press tours. Earlier this week, she received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

VIDEO: Are you there at NBC Lenny Clarke?

Lenny Clarke is one of the all time funniest TCA press conference dudes ever. His sessions with former Rescue Me boss and co-star Denis Leary are legendary. Never has the F-bomb been dropped so many times in one session. So his appearance at the Winter 2012 TCA press tour was the best part, for me at least, of NBC's session promoting Are You There Chelsea?
The new sitcom, based on Chelsea Handler's semi-autobiographical book Are You There Vodka? It's Me Chelsea, airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.
Clarke, also fondly remembered for his part on The John Larroquette Show, is half the man he used to be--liberally. He's lost 193 lbs--he probably lost another three in the time it took to read this far. Basically he's lost the combined weight of the entire cast of the upcoming NBC Broadway series Smash. He did it with the help of Weight Watchers and appeared as a spokesman for the product. He says Leary helped shame him into getting in shape.
The above clip features Clarke, as well as supermodel Elle Macpherson, at the NBC TCA party. It was held at a stately alumni house on the CalTech campus in Pasadena. Be warned: Clarke does drop the F-Bomb. Listen also for the string quartet who worked the party and only played the classics--including hits from The Beatles and Nirvana.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

James, Son of Chad, a hit at Hallmark TCA bash

Bill Harris, James Patrick Stuart, Howard Benjamin
The last few years, one of the highlights of the TCA Winter press tour has been the "Hallmark moment." That's when the U.S. cable Hallmark Channel hosts an elegant dinner for TV press at the stately Tournament of Roses House in Pasadena.
Hallmark doesn't cross the border but many of its TV-movie offerings find their way north on Super Channel and other Canadian premium services. If you are wondering where the TV-movie went to die, it went to Hallmark. They crank out a few dozen TV-movies a year, many tied to the same seasonal hook as their ubiquitous greeting cards.
The titles alone are enough to cause cavities: Cupid, Chasing Leprechauns, A Taste of Romance, Operation Cupcake, Always a Bride, Puppy Love. This is Chick Flick central, as far removed from WWE Raw as you can get.
The Crown Media company is available in 42 million U.S. homes. A sequel to their highest-rated TV-movie, Luke Perry's Old West epic Goodnight for Justice, airs this coming Saturday.
The Tournament of Roses House is the perfect setting for a Hallmark party. An elder in a blue blazer sticks a red rose decal on your lapel before you walk in past the solid oak front door. There's a chamber quartet in the main foyer. Upstairs is packed with Rose Bowl memorabilia. You feel you are at a Republican fundraising convention.
Many of the stars of the upcoming TV-movies are at the event, most a few years removed from their network prime. (Then again, so are many of us who are TCA members.) Ageless Jane Seymour is a Hallmark regular. Valerie Harper was also at last week's dinner, as was Dean Cain, Kristy Swanson, Candice Cameron Bure (married to  Battle of the Blades' champ Valeri Bure), Perry, Adrain Pasder, Joely Fisher, Genie Francis and Ted McGinley.
Former Fox bad boy Jamie Kennedy was also in the Hallmark house, a bit of a shocker. This isn't exactly his Jackass-y kind of thing, but, hey, work's work. Kennedy is clearly part of Hallmark's bid to move beyond their Boomer base.
Upstairs at the Rose House: Go State
Being on Hallmark may have been seen as last stop on the career coral a few years ago but, really, as median viewer ages continue to rise, the entire TCA network press event has turned into an oldies tour. Session after session, one star or another from the past is up on the panel, be it 80-year-old Larry Hagman from the TNT revival of Dallas to Sally Kellerman, 74, among the voice cast of FX's Unsupervised. Betty White, at 90, was one of the biggest draws of the entire press tour. Actors now go from a Hallmark TCA press event one year to a NBC TCA event the next, as Tom Cavanagh did this tour. (He's now in USA Network's Royal Pains.)
Last week at the dinner, I happened to sit next to James Patrick Stuart, one of the stars of A Taste of Romance. The TV-movie, co-starring Teri Polo, was playing that same night.
Stuart wasn't the biggest name in the room but he was a good fit at our table, especially after me and fellow British Invasion junkie Bill Harris of the Toronto Sun discovered that the guy's dad was Chad Stuart from Chad & Jeremy.
Here's how bad it is for 50-ish TV critics who grew up Beatles freaks. Right away I go, "Chad & Jeremy--The Redcoats from The Dick Van Dyke Show!" Harris's reaction--"Catwoman stole their voices on Batman!"
Dessert: Hallmark really does spoil us
Egged on by press tour legend Howard Benjamin (The Interview Factory), Stuart fed our nerd fix with stories of George Harrison and David Crosby visiting the family home in California in the '60s and '70s. That same house was later sold to David Cassidy! Stuart grew up on TV sets, attending tapings of shows like Mork & Mindy and Happy Days as a lad.
The amiable actor broke out on the soap opera All My Children and was in the cast of one of those great Fox sitcoms that should have lasted a lot longer, Andy Richter Controls the Universe.  He has made several memorable guest starring appearances on several sitcoms. One as Elaine's egocentric boyfriend on Seinfeld and another as a gay ski instructor hot for Nile's ass in Frasier. He can also be seen in the recurring role as a public defender on CSI.
Chad & Jeremy are still performing, he says. Maybe we'll see them next TCA tour at the NBC sessions.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shameless plug alert: today on Square Off

'CH: delivering the TV news through rain, snow and sleet
Is YouTube going to change the way we watch television? Is Hulu a network killer?
My pals over at Hamilton's CHCH have invited me to be a guest today on Square Off, their long-running 5:30 p.m. newsmag. One of the things I'll tell hosts Mark Hebscher and Liz West about will be the last session of this year's TCA press tour. Instead of HBO, ABC or some other traditional network, Hulu hosted the session, telling reporters about three new original shows they have commissioned for their service, mainly a giant, Internet video bank loaded with content old and new.
One of the new original shows, A Day in the Life, is already up and running. Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) follows famous people around for a day to see what makes them tick. Richard Branson was profiled in the past, chef Mario Batali is on deck for the second season.
Canadians, unfortunately, cannot access Hulu due to territorial content deals with Canadian networks. Can't have us watching House on-line on anything other than Global.com, right? Still, Hulu recently launched in Japan, and Hulu Senior VP Andy Forssell's wife is from Canada, and he keeps hearing about it from his north-of-the-border relatives, so, eventually...
Hulu does over a billion streams a month of content. BBC shows like Misfits are a huge hit on Hulu. It was interesting to see that one of the more recent content acquisitions available on Hulu is Endgame, the shot-in-Vancouver series which ran on Showcase last year. Made here but not seen here--some things never change.
Canadians are plugged into Netflix--more than a million of us, according to this report in Canadian Business. Apple TV will be here by the end of 2012. Stars like Tom Hanks and Amy Poehler have recently signed deals to produce direct-to-web content, an area Will Ferrell has exploited for years over at Funny or Die.
Sony and others make Streaming Player converter boxes that are easy to plug into any flat screens, allowing viewers to stream content from YouTube or anywhere else. It's coming, as a whole generation that thinks nothing of spending $50 or $60 bucks a month on a cell phone bill balks at playing a similar about for cable.
Let the Square Off debate begin, this afternoon at 5:30 p.m. on CHCH.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

TONIGHT: OWN launches Gastown Gamble

Gastown Gamble premieres tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET on OWN Canada. The eight part reality series, from Lark Productions, tells the remarkable story of Save-On-Meats, a 55-year-old butcher shop/deli in the heart of Vancouver's notorious Gastown district.
When I was in Vancouver last month to visit the set of Alcatraz, I hopped in a cab along with Toronto Star TV columnist Rob Salem and stopped by Save-On-Meats for lunch. Good tip, Netta Rondinelli--best corn beef sandwich I've ever tasted. Mark Brand is the spark plug behind this revival, a true entrepreneur with several business's in the area.
Save-On-Meats is a big risk, however. Brand has completely restored the place, spending $116,000 just to upgrade the facade and iconic neon "piggy" sign out front. He will have to generate a ton of revenue to continue to rebuild and maintain the business. He sure seems to be on the right track judging by the many customers who were there the day we visited. Brand is trying to do more than just run a deli shop, however. He is trying to turn around an entire community.
The two-minute video, above, features Brand telling a great story about breaking the news to his wife Nicole (everybody calls her "Nico") that he was getting into the meat business. The girl freaked for a second, then quit her job and threw in with him, studying everything she could about the butcher business. A bit of a switch from her former job in the fashion world.
That's Salem you hear chuckling off camera. Me thinks the two of us should team up for a reality show tour of deli's and TV sets across Canada. Corus, are you listening?
For more on Brand, Save-On-Meats and tonight's Gastown Gamble premiere, check out this story I wrote for The Canadian Press.

This week's podcast: recapping the press tour

Scott Thompson from Hamilton's CHML wanted to hear all about the just concluded Winter 2012 TCA press tour. I give him the scoop on Russell Brand's fun FX session (he's hosting their upcoming late night talk show) as well as Ricky Gervais' subdued appearance, both at press tour and at the Golden Globes.
Scott says the Globes reminds him of those old Dean Martin celebrity roasts, what with all the booze and bad jokes. Too bad Foster Brooks wasn't still around to host the Globes.
There's also talk about J-Lo and Marc Anthony's odd appearance together at last week's early morning fiasco also known as the Univision breakfast. Plus talk about birthday kids Betty White and Muhammad Ali. You can listen to it all here.

TONIGHT: Kids say the darnedest things

Lily speaks: out of the mouths of babes
There is plenty to shake out of the TCA Winter press tour bag, including a few programming notes. Tonight on Modern Family, a milestone is reached. To quote executive producer Steve Levitan from last Wednesday's ABC comedy showrunners panel, "Lily says fuck."
That's right, the cute little two-year-old toddler is a potty mouthed princess.
Or not. While she appears to drop the F-bomb, and her mouth is pixilated on tonight's episode, Levitan clarified later that what the child actress actually said during the taping is "fudge."
Justin Trudeau should have tried that excuse.
Levitan says the goal on Modern Family is to "show an extremely realistic interpretation of modern family living." That's why the comedy is shot in a mock documentary style.
He's right on about innocent kids sometimes blurting out things that sounds inappropriate. I'll never forget riding bikes with my daughter Katie when she was a cute little four-year-old, she on her tricycle, me on my 10-speed. We were in a park on a beautiful summer day, pedalling past a hydro box that had graffiti spray-painted on it. "I know what that says," Katie told me with the kind of sunny self-assurance usually reserved for a good report card. "That says Fuh-kk."
I'll never forget her sweet face and the sound of that one syllable word coming out of her mouth as two.
The hard part was smiling back, not falling off my bicycle, and otherwise showing no visible signs of over reacting. Mental images of all her little friends raced through my mind.
Also troubling: unless I was completely out of the street level loop, the graffiti did not appear to say anything of the sort.
So, yes, Art Linkletter was right. Kids say the darnedest things. See for yourself tonight at 9 p.m. on City and ABC.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Meeting Muhammad Ali was the greatest

Two times a year, the TCA press tour brings reporters face-to-face with many celebrities. Winter 2012 featured cocktails with Jon Hamm and the cast of Mad Men plus sessions and one-one-ones with Russell Brand, Charlie Sheen, Tony Bennett, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, the Idol judges, Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, Ricky Gervais, Betty White, Kiefer Sutherland, Tony Bennett, Christina Aguilera, Morgan Freeman, Larry Hagman, Zooey Deschanel and many, many others.
When people ask, as they occasionally do, who is the biggest star you've ever met, I only ever have one answer: Muhammad Ali.
The Champ turns 70 today, a fact driven home by the airing of many of his greatest fights on ESPN Classic over the weekend. I caught his epic battle with George Foreman Sunday for the umpteenth time and I'm always surprised by how Ali didn't just lay on the ropes for six rounds as often reported but kept hammering Foreman with straight rights and combinations, pretty much in every round.
I met Ali 20 years ago at a TV Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Florida. I honestly don't remember why I was there or how I came by the tux, but I'll never forget coming face-to-face with The Champ.
Ali was there to help salute Howard Cosell, then gravely ill and not in the room. Parkinson's had already limited Ali's vocal abilities, but he was all there otherwise. I found him in the crowded reception prior to the ceremony, respectfully approached and held out my hand. He shook it and listened as I told him something I always wanted to say to him if I ever got the chance.
I was a Toronto high school student when Ali fought Foreman in October of 1974 and the fight was not on free TV. The only access I had to it was on radio, and even then it was a blow-by-blow account after each round. I remember former Champ Floyd Patterson was in on the broadcast and that, a decade after Ali changed his name, Patterson still bitterly referred to Ali as Clay.
I had a project due for art class the next morning--turn a block of clay into a sculpture. I didn't want to miss the fight, so I listened to the radio as I chipped away at the clay.
The "Rumble in the Jungle," which was held outdoors in Zaire,Africa, sounded hopeless for Ali. He was a big underdog to then-champion Foreman, who was taller, eight years younger and a fearsome puncher. Foreman destroyed Joe Frazier, knocking him down six times over two rounds.
The radio reports sounded grim. Foreman was wailing away with hay makers, Ali was on the ropes. Patterson was positively gleeful.
As I told Ali, I was chipping away at this block of clay with a hammer and a chisel throughout the fight. Ali landed a right, chip. Foreman landed an uppercut, whack.
By the seventh, even Patterson could see Ali's rope-a-dope as well as the African heat had taken the punch out of Foreman. Ali knocked him out in the eighth.
The kicker, as I told Ali, was that I took that piece of clay to school the next day and got the highest art mark I ever got.
Telling that to Ali was all the reward I ever wanted. Then something truly magical happened.
Ali, who seemed touched by this story, bent down to place a black brief case he was carrying on the floor. He struggled a bit to do this, and it was hard to see first hand how much his once magnificent motor skills had deteriorated.
Then he stood up, and, just to me, held out his hands, palms up. He made the "nothing up my sleeve" gesture. He placed his outstretched firsts together, and slowly pulled a large, rainbow-coloured scarf out of the grip of one hand. He held the scarf up, then slowly poked it back into the hand. He then opened both hands to show that the scarf had disappeared.
I really thought I was dreaming. Then he got that playful look you used to see on TV when he was about to punk Cosell. He grabbed the thumb of his left hand AND PULLED IT OFF. He held it up to show me the scarf inside the fake thumb.
Some heroes when you meet them are made of clay. None were ever more magical, for me, than Muhammad Ali. Happy birthday, champ.

Monday, January 16, 2012

TONIGHT: Alcatraz busts out

The Langham isn't what it used to be
PASADENA, CA--If you were watching Sunday's football game on Fox, you may have noticed three or four hundred promos for a little something called Alcatraz. The two-hour series premiere begins tonight at 8 p.m. on City and Fox.
The supernatural drama has a pretty intriguing, easy to get premise: The famous San Francisco prison was shut down 50 years ago, yet inmates who were among those locked up at the time are back and committing crimes left and right. Are they Crime Ghosts?
Sam Neill stars as an FBI-type who seems to know more than he says about these baddies. Jorge Garcia (Lost) plays a science nerd who helps collect clues. The series hails from J.J. Abrams, the brainiac behind Lost, Aliens and a few other shows that pack fans into Comic-Con.
I was on the set last month in Vancouver and a Warner Bros. photographer snapped me in one of the cells. The prison toilet paper gag never gets old.
The series is produced at the same North Shore studio where The X Files once held court. There was a panel with the cast here at press tour, but my ribs were still aching from all those funny stories Sam Neill told out west so I skipped his scrum. Besides, I already wrote about the Alcatraz set visit for The Canadian Press. You can read that entire feature here.

NBC throws Betty White a 90th birthday bash

PASADENA, CA--Betty White turns 90 tomorrow, so NBC is throwing a party tonight.
The beloved comedienne made the TCA scene on the morning of the NBC sessions, three or four months ago it seems now. Actually it was just last week.
"Who doesn't want to have breakfast with Betty White?" NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt said, and ain't it the truth. Greenblatt announced a birthday tribute special, which airs tonight at 9 ET.
Many of White's golden years were spent at NBC, with The Golden Girls airing there from 1985 to '92. White hosted a daily talk show for NBC way back in 1954 and also used to host the Peacock network's coverage of the annual Tournament of Roses parade.
Greenblatt also announced Betty White's Off Their Rockers, a reality gag show much like Just For Laughs Gags. It premieres tonight at 9:30 ET after the birthday tribute. The show features senior citizens pulling pranks on the younger generation.
"Hey--we've got a sense of humour too, warped as it may be," White told critics. She looks amazing and can still zing with the best of them. Reporters who asked questions were told things like, "sorry--I was flirting with somebody over there."
White says she deserves no credit for turning 90. "It just happened. I didn't accomplish anything. It just came up on me. But I'm blessed with good health for which I'm deeply grateful."
She says she's having the time of her life working Hot in Cleveland (a fourth season was just ordered by TV Land).
"I'm the luckiest old broad on two feet," she says, "and I don't take it for granted for one single minute." People marvel at her energy, to which she credits good genes. "I'm not lying about my age," she insists. "If I were lying about my age, I would say I was 89."
Her only regret is that former husband Allan Ludden isn't around to share all this late life success with her.
She recently shot a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV-movie, The Lost Valentine. How does she sort through all these offers? "I have a wonderful agent," she says. "When he brings me stuff, I say yes. If I don't, he beats me."
White was asked how much television had changed over her career. "I think the audience is the one that's changed," she says. "They've heard every joke. They know every plot. They know where you're going before you even start. That's a tough audience to surprise and a tough audience to write for."
Not that there's much writing on Off Their Rockers. Just a lot of laughs, and Betty White--always a golden combination.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

J-Lo, Univision have some 'splainin' to do

Univision SVP Ronald Day, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony
PASADENA, CA--Hola, dammit! Grumpy TV critics, some over-served from the night before, stumbled down to breakfast Saturday, lured by the enchilada that Jennifer Lopez and her ex-hubby, Marc Anthony, would be in the house. Were we being punked? Univision was crashing press tour, opening a rogue session during a cable day at the ungodly hour of 7:30 a.m. Lopez and Anthony, who split up last July, are the hosts of Q'Viva! The Chosen, a Latin American talent showcase which premieres Jan. 28. Did they shoot it before they split up? Were they freaked sitting next to each other now? How do you make the upside down exclamation point on a laptop keyboard?
All good questions. Too bad we didn't get any answers.
The folks at Univision, which occasionally tops NBC in the ratings as America's 4th most-watched network, seem to have their own model for these press tour sessions. Critics are welcome to eat and even drink (Bloody Marys for breakfast?--si) but asking actual questions of the talent brought to these sessions seems to be strictly priobitio.
The session began when a well-groomed woman in six inch heels and a dress with a zipper down the middle introduced the president of the channel, who then threw to a sizzle reel. Clips from the Spanish language Biggest Loser were shown. We watched a group of tubby families being taken to a dump where the got to sift through their weight in trash. A few critics were so put off they momentarily dropped their forks. Carumba!
Slender Anthony then took the stage, graciously extended his hand to help his ex-wife to her director's chair. J-Lo looked perfect in a blue leather dress with a few strategically placed cutouts. Anthony checked out her bling, including the four silver star rings she wore on one hand.
The zipper lady then asked a bunch of bland questions about nothing. That was too much for Jonathan Storm, the grey-bearded critic emeritus from Philadelphia. Stormy's forehead was sizzling like a hot tortilla. He jumped up and pulled Univision's pants down for its freeze out of critics and demanded the floor. The zipper lady refused to yield. Calls of "shame!" filled the room. It was a scene out of Mr. Storm Goes to Washington.
One reporter finally broke the "you're divorced--why are you doing this?" barrier. J-Lo muttered something about how much fun they were having.
Translation: Code Red! The room immediately went dark. There were reports later critics were prevented from leaving. Without warning, another clip flashed on the screen. Drum beats were heard at the back of the room. Some very fit young dancers then ripped into a noisy Vegas show stopper. All that was missing were plate spinners and Senior Wences. It was, to paraphrase Sullivan, a "really big shew" up our butts.
The lights went on and J-Lo and Anthony did the Pan-Americonga right the hell off the stage. A very large man blocked for them, the Bills should contact his agent. We'd been Q'Viva-ed, and it felt a little Q'ueasy. The cause of Latin American television was set back to the days of Jose Jimenez.
Why J-Lo, Anthony and Univision didn't just address the elephant in the room right off the top and get past it is beyond me. Up  to that point, the shows Univision were promoting seemed entertaining and made me wonder why Quebec networks never pitch to English press in this way. The window on the culture is intriguing.
Angry critics hustled off to prepare for another long day full of sessions, including one for TVLand's Happily Divorced. Maybe Lopez and Anthony should have stuck around.

Hoffman and Nolte share their Luck with critics

PASADENA, CA--HBO really turned on the star power Friday at press tour. Not only was Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in the house, but the premium cable network also had panels featuring Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson and Ed Harris (from the upcoming HBO Sarah Palin movie Game Change), Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen (from Hemingway & Gellhorn, debuting in May) and Julia Louis Dreyfus (the political comedy VEEP, starting April 22).
The biggest draws, however, were Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte. The two headline Luck, a nine episode drama about gambling and horse racing set at a racetrack. Director Michael Mann and creator David Milch also sat before critics.
Any one of them would be a pretty good session but all four at once was press tour gold. Nolte hat an Indiana Jones fedora pulled down to his eyes and growls more than talks. He sounds like he gargles with razor blades. He had crusty and surly for breakfast.
Somebody asked Hoffman if he understood all the track lingo in the pilot. Snarled Nolte: "You guys understand everything that's going on in your life?"
Milch (left) and Mann. Luck made them smile
Milch in particular is a critics favourite. He never talks down to us or his audience. But this day belonged to Hoffman and Nolte.
Things got fun when veteran critic Ed Bark started to gently ask Hoffman how this production went given his rep for being, uh, "a guy who likes to make suggestions..."
Don't be so diplomatic, said Hoffman.
"You're known as being difficult to work with," Bark ventured.
"Now you can just say, 'a prick.'"
"I'm going to get this on the transcript," said Uncle Barky. "You're known for being a prick."
Playful Hoffman still wanted clarification. "In other words, Nick's not..."
"Well," says Bark, "Nick is known as a difficult person, too."
Pipes up Nolte: "Or certainly hard to communicate with when he looks like he does in mug shots."
Nolte's 2002 mug shot, in case you haven't seen it, is epic.
Bark's prodding, as it usually does, lead to a great story. Hoffman relayed a bit of advice he once got from Anthony Hopkins, who told him exactly what to do if you don't get along with a director. "Never raise your voice," Hopkins told him. "Never have a fight.  On a sound stage, make sure...you're shooting on the ground floor. When it gets to that point, you say, 'Excuse me. I have to go to the bathroom.' You've checked the bathroom out before. It has a window. You go in the bathroom. You lock the door. You climb out the window. You go home. You come back the next day. There's no argument anymore."
Nolte (left) with one of the real stars of Luck
The story seemed to lurch Nolte back to life. "That is true," he said, "because I did that a couple of times."
He then shared a story about the time Debra Winger gave him a hard time on the set of Canary Row. She ratted Nolte out to director David Ward, complaining Nolte wasn't giving his all. The director took Nolte to dinner and chewed him out for slacking off. "You just don't give ‑‑ you're just irresponsible," Nolte was told. The actor picked up a plate full of spaghetti and smushed it all over his own face. "David didn't know what to do with that," he said.
Winger complained again later, this time that Nolte wasn't throwing himself enough into a dance. Again there was a restaurant meeting, only this time Nolte excused himself, went to the bathroom and slipped out the window.
Hoffman was not to be topped. He then told a story about the great Sid Caesar. "People old enough to know who Sid Caesar is?" he asked. Many of us said yes.
Back in his live TV days, the great comic was also a famous pain in the ass. "He was getting really nuts," said Hoffman, "and the producer took him out to lunch. Caesar asked, 'What am I here for?' The producer said, 'Because you've been acting crazy.'"
Caesar stood up, grabbed a huge plate of spaghetti, and dumped it on his own head. "He then got up, went to the bar and cleared it of everything that was on it, turning over every fucking thing in the restaurant," said Hoffman.
Caesar came back, sat down, looked at the menu very quietly and said, "THAT's crazy."
These guys had a thousand other stories in them, but HBO suddenly shut the session down, not because they wanted to, but because the geniuses who run the cable portion of the tour had crammed eleventy-billion sessions into the day. Exit Hoffman, Milch, Mann and Nolte, enter two dudes from Discovery who build fish tanks for a living.
The tank dudes got more stage time. Where was that spaghetti waiter when we needed him?
Fortunately, Hoffman was very generous in the after scrum, spinning more stories for a solid 15 minutes. More on that in a later post.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ricky Gervais gets Short with TV critics

Short people Merchant, Davis and Gervais. Ray Burmiston/HBO
PASADENA, CA--Two days before his big Golden Globes gig, press tour headliner Ricky Gervais appeared before a room full of reporters and did not rip one single celebrity.
He did share one insight on celebrities in general. "There's no difference now," he said, "between fame and infamy."
Gervais, along with Stephen Merchant and Harry Potter and Star Wars player Warwick Davis, were at HBO's TCA press day to promote Life's Too Short. The faux documentary comedy, with Davis playing a fictionalized version of himself, premieres Feb. 19 on HBO and HBO Canada.
Appearing relaxed and relatively subdued, Gervais said Davis is much more successful and less idiotic than the grasping guy he plays in Life's Too Short. "We had to make him like a Hitler for you to get the gag," he told critics.
If making a fake documentary about a 3-foot-9-inch actor seems like another taboo-breaker, good, says Gervais. "No harm can come of taboo subjects," he says. "When people say it is sort of outrageous or sick or pushing the boundaries, I don't see that it is. I think some people confuse the target of a joke with the subject of a joke."
Some celebs get the joke. Gervais goofed on Johnny Depp in the past but the actor turns up as himself in Life's Too Short. Gervais approached him and asked if he wanted to "get your own back" and Depp told him "don't worry about it a jot."
Gervais insisted he and Merchant are cynics, sure, but also romantics at heart. A good example of a film they both love: Billy Wilder's 1961 classic The Apartment.
As for his reputation as a live and dangerous Golden Globes star killer, Gervais insists he's just there to have a good time and to make people laugh. "I don't care what people think," he reiterated, suggesting--contrary to what some stars might think--"my conscience never takes a day off."
He almost didn't return to the Globes a third time, he said, but so many people wrote that he would never be invited back it egged him on to accept the gig once again.
As for the nervous reaction he usually gets in the Golden Globes room, Gervais says he'd rather get laughs than gasps, "but I cherish the gasps along with the laughs."
The 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards airs Sun., Jan. 15 at 8 p.m. on NBC and CTV.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

This week's podcast: in the dark with Charlie

PASADENA, CA--Scott Thompson at Hamilton's CHML heard I was yakking with Charlie Sheen down here at press tour the other night and wanted the scoop. Sheen held a moon-lit stealth session out on the back lawn of Castle Green the other day. His new FX series Anger Management goes into production in March. Was he nuts? Hopped up on Tiger blood? He was not.
I also tell Scott all about CBS's press tour session with Sheen's Two and a Half Men replacement, Ashton Kutcher and give him the heads up on who is still to come on the winter 2012 TCA, including Russell Brand. You can listen in here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Oh yeah! Russell Crowe rocks Republic of Doyle

PASADENA, CA--When I tell TV critics down here on the press tour that Russell Crowe is guest starring on a show back in Canada they're like--Whaaa??
But it's true: Crowe makes his debut tonight at 9 p.m. on the third season premiere of Republic of Doyle (CBC). The Academy Award-winning actor charmed the cast and crew in St. John's last August when he shot scenes opposite Allan Hawco, Sean McGinley and the others. Hawco, who writes, produces, acts and does everything but make sandwiches, booked Crowe's singer buddy Alan Doyle (Great Big Sea) on the series. That helped bring Crowe all the way from Australia to Newfoundland to run around and wave a gun as a baddie of the week on the P.I. series.
The casting coup should help boost Doyle above a million viewers Wednesday. CBC has had a good week so far, with Arctic Air the latest new venture to take off, hitting 1.05 million viewers Tuesday night. 
For more on the return of the Republic, read this article I wrote for the Toronto Star.

2 Broke Girls a press tour session gone Wong

King (not laughing), and Broke Girls Dennings and Behr
PASADENA, CA--If it ain't 2 Broke Girls, don't fix it.
That seemed to be Michael Patrick King's take away from Wednesday's surprisingly combative CBS press tour session. The Sex and the City creator's hit show was hammered over what some critics see as the depiction of ethnic stereotypes.
Hitfix critic Alan Sepinwall, who challenged King during the session and got all but horsewhipped for it, has his detailed take on the brouhaha here.
2 Broke Girls is the top-rated new comedy in the U.S. (it has largely been hidden in Canada on Rogers' OMNI stations) and King was probably  expecting kudos, not cat calls. Yet the critical unease about Matthew Moy's character Han, the cafe owner, among other characters, has been building for months.
King suggested every sitcom starts out with a cast full of stereotypes and dismissed suggestions that characters on his show are one-dimensional. Danny De Vito's character on Taxi was short, he said. His show is fronted by the biggest TV stereotypes of all--a blond and a brunette--he said.
Yeah, but, said critics, awakened by King's defensiveness.
King got all wound up, lashing out at the way questions were being asked, "correcting" reporters by reminding them it is 2012.
He bragged that it had been three episodes since they had made an Asian joke on the show."We've only made short jokes," he said.
Asked if this meant an end to the Asian jokes, he cried out in exasperation: "I'm gay." So...he knows better than to pick on minorities because of his sexual  orientation? "I find it comic to take everybody down," he said by way of explanation.
He then said all the conversation about "edge" in the room "is based on extreme wit."
He also took exception to charges his show was too raunchy, declaring, "I consider our jokes really classy dirty."
There were a few questions about the horse on the show for stars Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs.

It's a happy new year so far at soaring CBC

PASADENA, CA--It's early, but CBC's January starts are soaring. Can Arctic Air keep the momentum going?
The Vancouver-based drama, which stars Adam Beach, premiered Tuesday night. For more on the series, read this article I wrote for the Toronto Star.
Meanwhile, the Monday numbers are in and Gerry Dee's new classroom comedy Mr. D launched at 8 p.m. to 1.23 million viewers. At 8:30, Little Mosque on the Prairie began its sixth and final season with an overnight, estimated 622,000 viewers.
Kevin O'Leary's new reality slammer series Redemption Inc. got off to a 789,000 start at 9.
O'Leary was in Pasadena at press tour Tuesday night along with fellow Dragon Robert Herjavec to promote the ABC reality show Shark Tank.
CBC's "Mammoth Monday" (as they called it on their ratings release) followed a fabulous Friday where Marketplace returned to 1,413,000 and the fifth estate drew 853,000. Both won their timeslots nationally, as did Mr. D.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tonight: critic tries to get over his L.A. Complex

Martin Gero, unidentified extra and Kate Todd on the set of The L.A. Complex
PASADENA, CA--On Monday's long and winding bus ride from Warners (Suburgatory) to Fox (New Girl), critics passed by the seedy inspiration for a new Canadian series.
The Highland Gardens Hotel certainly isn't much to look at. There are half a dozen other places just like it all within walking distance from the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Thanks to Stephen Markle's 2004 documentary, it gained notoriety as the place Canadian kids lay their heads when they come down seeking fame and fortune in Camp Hollywood.
Plenty of Degrassi kids who chance Tinseltown during pilot seasons have left their initials on the walls. The Degrassi producers decided there was gold in the place, and The L.A. Complex, which premieres Tues. night on MuchMusic and CTV, is the result.
In order to shoot the series, a replica of the Highland has been built in Toronto on the Degrassi lot, which is kind of crazy ironic when you think about it.
I was invited onto the set several months ago and met with many of the stars as well as producer/director Martin Gero. Since he'd already helmed Young People F***ing, he seems like a perfect choice for this caper.
"Whattaya mean cut it in half??"
Gero actually stuck me into the background of a scene as an extra. If you look closely in episode five, that's me as one of the doctors standing behind a patient on a table as aspiring actor Connor Lake (Aussie Jonathan Patrick Moore) barges drunkenly into a scene. The crew rigged me up with a surgical mask and a visor to try and tone down my otherwise electric star qualities.
Epitome publicist Iain Christiansen invited me to ham it up after he read about my cameo as "Minor No. 7" on Murdoch Mysteries. I looked like a show killer for a few weeks when City announced they were walking away from Murdoch, but CBC came to the rescue so my agent has been taking bookings again.
The series has been picked up in the U.S. on The CW, where  it will likely surface next summer. They'll probably have to take the toned-down cut; a storyline about Canadian wanabees taking porn jobs had the producers banking fleshier HBO takes.
Read more about The L.A. Complex in this feature I wrote earlier this week for The Toronto Star.

Charlie Sheen's stealth press tour session

PASADENA, CA--Maybe it had something to do with the connection with his father, but encountering Charlie Sheen Sunday night at press tour was almost like coming face to face with Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.
The Warlock dude had been snuck in to the Fox TCA press tour party, skipping the red carpet and sticking to a smoking zone out back of the Castle Green party venue.
FX PR boss John Solberg get a few of us the triple top secret password and led up back behind the building to a dark corner of the lawn. There was Sheen sitting at a patio table, with Bruce Helford, executive producer of Sheen's upcoming FX comedy Anger Management, to his right. Sheen's agent was on the right, a huge lug of a security guard standing directly behind Sheen. It was hard to make out who was who at first as one's eyes adjusted to the moon-lit scene.
Kiefer Sutherland, at the Fox deal to promote his upcoming series Touch, snuck back to give Charlie a hug. The two raised hell back in the day and, as Sheen said later, have known each other since shooting Young Guns in 1988. Both have survived some crazy times and it would have been interesting to have been in on that conversation.
As it was, listening to Sheen calmly and reasonably stick handle around the last 12 months was a surreal experience. In many ways, it was the most sober press conference at TCA.
He still seems to have a hate-on for Chuck Lorre, sneaking in shots left and right. He kept emphasizing how wonderful it is to be collaborating with a reasonable guy like Helford. The veteran showrunner is probably the right guy for this job.
Afterwards, Sheen did venture into the Castle Green long enough to pose for a picture with Cloris Leachman. The Raising Hope star worked with Sheen on Two and a Half Men.
I threw my full take on the Sheen session to the Canadian Press wire, you can find it here.

The Firm opens soft due to Tebow time delay

Josh Lucas of The Firm: still in witness protection plan?
PASADENA, CA--In Canada, The Firm got off to a so-so start. In the United States, it was sacked by football.
The two-hour pilot, which aired Sunday from 9 to 11 p.m., opened to an overnight, average audience of 1,075,000 viewers in Canada. Less promising for Global is that only 390,000 of those viewers were in the A25-54 demo.
Global's PR dept. tried to spin that into a win, pointing out in a release that it beat CTV imports Desperate Housewives and Pan Am in the timeslot, but a) CTV's Sunday night schedule was delayed due a football playoff game overrun with 1,655,000 watching another miracle comeback for Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow and b) it's not much of a boast when you beat two shows heading for cancellation.
Global, a partner with NBC on the Mississauga, Ont.-produced law drama, heavily promoted the series premiere. Yet The Simpsons at 8 p.m. drew an even bigger audience (1,088.000 in 2+ and way more viewers in the demo).
NBC did not get the lift they were looking for with The Firm, which opened Stateside to 6.4 million viewers--the Peacock network's lowest rated regular season drama debut ever. The series was blindsided by the 18-minute CBS Tebow Time delay, which scrambled the rest of the schedule and sacked The Firm's chances of finding an opening. The NFL playoff game drew an astonishing 41.89 million CBS viewers according to preliminary Nielsen reports.
NBC's dilemma is that it ordered 22 episodes of The Firm, an extrordinarily large order these days for a mid-season replacement series. They took that risk, NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt told me Friday at NBC's press tour session, because much of the cost of the series was absorbed by international partnership deals. Toronto-based eOne partnered with Sony Pictures Television and Paramount Pictures on the deal, with Sony muscling early launches for the series across Latin America, Asia and Central Europe. "They came to us with that show fully financed around the world, with Canada being the key to it," said Greenblatt, who was able to order 22 episodes for what NBC would normally pay for 13.
Still, as Greenblatt also said, "it's not just about financing--you have to find the right show." NBC has to be hoping the Live+3 and Live+7 numbers show a lot of people watched football but banked The Firm in order to live with what seemed like a good deal.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tonight: O'Leary behind bars in Redemption, Inc

It is a sight to put a smile on the face of anyone ever given the bum’s rush out of the Dragon’s Den: Kevin O’Leary, the belligerent, bald-headed bully dragon, behind bars.
The venture capitalist didn’t pull off a ponzi scheme or abscond with his O’Leary Fund assets. He trades in his designer duds for an orange jumpsuit and spends over 12 hours in a cell as part of the opening episode of Redemption Inc. The Apprentice-meets-Alcatraz reality series premieres Monday at 9 p.m. on CBC.
The show takes 10 actual ex-cons and puts them through a series of business challenges. In the end, one will gain redemption in the form of a business partnership with O’Leary, who will stake $100,000 of his own money on the start up.
Some of the participants have spent up to seven years in prison. “My perceptions have completely changed as a result of doing this show,” says O’Leary. “It’s amazing to see how resourceful these people are, how great they are as entrepreneurs.”
There were restrictions on as to who could apply. Conrad Black and Garth Drabinsky will have to wait until the celebrity edition. Other ex-cons just seemed inappropriate. “We didn’t want to bring in anybody that had done a crime against women or children,” says O’Leary, “but there’s many other crimes out there like drug trafficking or financial fraud or bank theft.”
It was trafficking that tripped up Brian O’Dea before he found redemption. At the height of his career as a drug smuggler, he ran a trucking company, operated two 100-foot fishing vessels. He had a workforce of 120.
A heart attack at 40 sobered him up and he walked away from the drug business. Three years later, U.S. authorities caught up with him working as a drug and alcohol counsellor. He pled guilty to trafficking charges and spent 10 years in jail.
Now he’s a key advisor with O’Leary on this venture, helping him assess the participant’s progress.
True to his money-means-everything rep, O’Leary takes a bottom line approach to why Canada should rehabilitate more ex-cons. “If you go to prison, if you get a record,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what you did, when you get out you can’t borrow money, you can’t get a job, you can’t get a credit card, you can’t buy a car. Anybody that looks at your resume and does a background check, you never hear from them again. You are invisible, you are tainted meat.”
The Montreal native says, with no legitimate means of support, many ex-cons are back in jail within two years. “It costs us as a society $250,000 a year to keep these people in prison,” he says. “It’s insane. I look at that as a taxpayer saying, ‘This is broken. How can I fix it?’”
One thing O’Leary knows for sure—he’s never going back to prison again. “I’ll remember every minute of it,” he says. “You can’t sleep, they don’t turn the lights off. There’s sensory deprivation. There are no newspapers, there’s no music, you can’t talk to anybody and there’s just a cold slab of concrete there. That’s it.”
Giving up 12 whole hours had to screw up O’Leary’s busy schedule. He claims he only spends 30% of his time on his TV ventures, but the man has four TV shows on the go. Besides the Den, there’s his regular CBC News Network gig on the The Lang and O’Leary Exchange plus the Mark Burnett-produced Dragon’s Den clone Shark Tank on ABC.
So—no matter how much glee it brings Dragon Den rejects--no more hard time for O’Leary. “When he came out the next morning,” says O’Dea, “he said, ‘I’m never doing that again!’ I said, ‘That’s what they all say.’”

Sunday, January 8, 2012

TCA testiness: Watching The Firm cast squirm

The cast of The Firm: wishing they were still in Mississauga
PASADENA, CA--The stars and showrunner of The Firm met with critics Friday at press tour and faced a pretty stiff cross examination.
The shot-in-Toronto legal thriller stars Josh Lucas, Molly Parker, Juliette Lewis and Callum Keith Rennie and premieres Sunday night at 8 p.m. on Global and NBC. They were all at the session, but it was executive producer Luke Reiter who took most of the heat from critics.
The two hour pilot was nitpicked for several reasons. Among them:
"Why is Mitch McDeere still using his real name?" This one seemed to pull everybody's pants down. In the John Grisham novel and the 1993 Tom Cruise film, McDeere blows the whistle on a sketchy law firm, exposing himself and his family to mob retaliation. He's a marked man, and spends 10 years in the witness protection program.
Jump ahead to the TV show. Fed up with a life on the run, he decides to re-enter the legal profession and set up shop. But, yeah--under his real name? The mob never forgets.
"This is who this guy is," Reiter, a writer and producer on Boston Legal and Law & Order, attempted to explain. "He's made this decision to protect his family, and when he finally feels like the coast is clear, he's going to reclaim his name.  He's going to reclaim his independence." 
Added Reiter, "for me, it makes him endearing.  It makes me love him.  It makes me want to be him, and I hope people feel the same." 
"But he has a wife and child," continued the critic, unswayed. "Isn't that just insane?"
Long, uncomfortable pause. As someone tweeted, you could see the actors start to think about calling their agents.
Stick with the series, these questions will be answered later, said Reiter.
Another critic wanted to know why McDeere was able to run across a reflecting pool near the Washington monument and the FBI-ish people chasing him "just stop like it's electric water or something."
Somebody else objected to a scene showing McDeere calling his wife  Abby from a pay phone near the Washington plaza. "I mean, do they exist anymore? ...especially right along the reflecting pool?"
The payphone represents his paranoia, said Reiter, "talking his way around an anachronism," another critic tweeted.The pile on continued. Another critic didn't buy scenes where Mitch shares details about legal cases with his wife. "My wife's a lawyer," he said, "and she doesn't tell me the names of anybody in her cases."
It went on and on. After the session, I asked Lewis if she was surprised by all the nitpicking from the press conference. A smart cookie, she said they were smart questions and she expected no less from this room. The girl has read the Handling the Media 101 handbook.
Have to admit the objections of many of my colleagues didn't even occur to me when I watched the pilot. Viewers can judge for themselves when The Firm premieres Sunday at 8 before switching to its regular day and time, Thursdays at 10 p.m.