Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Monkee business

The late, great Hollywood photographer Gene Trindl shot a lot of TV Guide covers--over 200 in total. The shoot that kept on giving, he once told me, was the day he spent with The Monkees.
Trindl got a call in 1966 to photograph the four young stars of the NBC comedy. Think Beatles, he was told. Gene met Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork on the old Warner Bros. Western lot in Burbank, Ca. They horsed around the swimming  pool, did set ups in the street, and generally clowned around while Gene snapped his way though several rolls of Kodachrome.
This was well before the series hit the air. It was just another job, Trindl thought. Then the cheques started coming in. Not just from the Guide but from the teeny bopper magazines and other editorial use. Then there were the lunchboxes, posters, album covers, foreign album covers--and on and on and on. The Monkees were a merchandising phenomenon, the first U.S. network TV series to define and exploit the 12- to 34-year-old demo. Every reunion tour or Greatest Hits CD, Trindl pocketed another payday.
Gene was always called upon for group shots, one of his specialties, as was his use of available light. Interesting to see how he stacked these kids, then 21 to 24 years of age, and how this one shot captured their personalities.

Davy Jones 1945-2012

Jones at the summer 2011 Television Critics Association press tour
Like a lot of Boomers, I'm saddened to hear of the passing of Davy Jones Wednesday in Florida. The former Monkee apparently died of a heart attack at 66. He belted out "Daydream Believer" one last time at a concert in New York City less than two weeks ago.
Jones was at the July/Aug. TCA press tour to promote a music special on PBS and appeared vital and energetic, if a little wound up.
I followed him after the session to try and pry loose his memories of one of the most ironic little footnotes in television history: Jones appearance on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater on the very same Sunday in February, 1964--48 years ago this extended month--that The Beatles conquered America.
Jones, a future member of the Pre-Fab Four, was part of the original London cast of Oliver!, then wowing Broadway.
He wasn't much help when asked about the Sullivan show. He did not have an opportunity to meet or talk to any of The Beatles during that historic night, but got to know Ringo Starr and John Lennon later. "Ringo and I did a commercial together in Canada back in the '90s," he recalled. So they did:



Another time, he recalled, Ringo had a deal to sing on a commercial in Japan. "He didn't want to do it so I went and did it for him," said Jones. He met Lennon a few times when the ex-Beatle would drop in on Mickey Dolenz in Los Angeles.
I asked Jones if he regretted turning down the chance to record Sugar Sugar, a monster hit for another fake band--The Archies--in 1968. The Monkees were rebelling against their bubble gum image at the time.  "Yeah, I wish I had done Knock Three Times too," he said. That song, penned by L. Russell Brown and Irwin Levine, was a big hit for Tony Orlando and Dawn in 1970. "They were giving these hits out to whoever was the flavour of the month at the time, and we were the flavour of the month."
Jones bristled when asked if missing Monkee Mike Nesmith might be coaxed on stage to join the other three in some future concert reunion. "Never happen," he said. "There's no place on stage for Mike Nesmith anymore. He doesn't want to be in the group so why push the point?"
Aside from that, Jones was in great spirits that day last summer. "I feel better, I'm singing better, I'm feeling better about my life," he said. A former jockey, he told reporters that he owned six thoroughbreds and still rode the track at the home he bought in Pennsylvania in the '80s. "I'm an unknown phenomenon there and that is what I like to be." To think there might have been a role for him to play on HBO's Luck.
He was proud of his stage work as Fagin in a revival of Oliver! and singled out Cabaret and Stop The World as stage challenges he'd someday like to tackle.
He seemed at peace with whatever happened, however. "I'm a 65 year old man," he said last summer. "I can't be doing Barnum, balancing up on a high wire. I don't have to prove anything anymore."
Jones is survived by his third wife Jessica and four daughters.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Smash and The Geminis: two critics weigh in

A couple of smart guys are all over two things I'd been thinking about lately but am too busy/lazy to get to myself. So follow these links to enlightenment:
The Globe and Mail's John Doyle is bang on as usual with this take on recent changes over at the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. Specifically: efforts to rescue The Gemini Awards from ridicule and oblivion. 
Doyle and yours truly were invited to a couple of meetings over the past few months with Helga Stephenson, the Interum Chief Executive Officer of the Academy. Have to say I was impressed with the way the former TIFF boss seemed bent on making the Gemini Awards less of a laughing stock. A huge step forward is news that the number of categories has already been reduced from eleventy million-billion to 92 in time for the 27th Annual Gemini Awards. Don't stop there, cut another 20-40 categories if you want these awards to ever mean something to viewers, I say. Also addressed is the apples-and-oranges thing where international co-pros like The Tudors or The Borgias are competing with domestic efforts such as Republic of Doyle or Arctic Air for Best Canadian Drama prize.
Here I'm of two minds and probably well in the minority. This is a grey area, for where does Flashpoint, in its CBS heyday, fit in? Or The Firm, shot in Mississauga but headlined by Americans and sold throughout the Sony universe as a co-pro with NBC? While they employ more Canadians, don't these shows also have an unfair budget advantage? I feel the best in Canada should stand with shows we're involved in that are shot on foreign soil. All big budget TV seems to be heading in that direction, and breaking the stuff shot here into a cozy All Canuck category risks a "we're not good enough to take on the world" taint. 
But I see the other side too, so good on the Academy for trying this out. Let's see how it plays.
I also really like Doyle's suggestion to merge the Canadian TV and film awards into one big open-bar banquet. I'll drink to that.
Smash's two Marilyns: Some like it not so hot
Another model might be the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards, hosted by Canadian-born Seth Rogen last week. Check out Rogen's shtick on YouTube. Held in a tent, low key and irreverent, it looked like a fun time, which is well within the Gemini reach.
The other guy to read is Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker, who expresses here exactly what I've been thinking about Smash. I tried to watch Monday's episode, and as I sat there stumped at how a Jonas brother wandered onto this thing ("Bieber wanted too much money, but research says this guy was just as big in 2009"), I found myself asking what the hell went wrong so fast with this series as I drifted away from the soapy storyline. This was the pilot everybody loved last May and June. 
Smash is like that playoff team that gets a bye into the next round, sits too long and then by the time it gets there has nothing in the tank. The energy and style that wowed in the preview seems to have escaped, leaving just cornball plotting and really obvious and seen-it-before characters. In three weeks, ratings tumbled south of 750,000 viewers on CTV, where this series got the full Super Bowl push. Another weekly plunge and hello, CTV Two. 
Even if Smash can return to form, some TCA critics were already voicing doubts in January about a Broadway-based drama doing breakthrough numbers in Middle America. Bill Carter at the New York Times kept asking, "Have you seen ratings for The Tony Awards lately?"

Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscar post mortem: paging Jimmy Kimmel

Now that another four hours of my life has been taken from me, it's time to ask: why doesn't ABC lobby to have Jimmy Kimmel host the Academy Awards? The late night talk show host is far funnier on his post-Oscar showcase than whoever hosts the main event these last few years as he proved again last night. Kimmel and his staff put a lot of effort into these insanely elaborate videos that are star-packed. Last night's blockbuster "Movie: The Movie" world premiere trailer parody (above) had more big names taking part in skits than you saw on the Oscar red carpet.
Kimmel is supposed to reveal how that sketch was assembled on tonight's Jimmy Kimmel Live (12:05 a.m., ABC/CHCH). His theatre is located right across the street from what Oscar host Billy Crystal called the Chapter 11 theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, so maybe he grabs talent straight out of their limos for these elaborate taped bits.
An even funnier film bit he delivered last night was his pitches to Oprah Winfrey, especially Oprah's Fight Book Club. Check it out here.
As for Crystal, he delivered a safe, straight ahead Oscar hosting job Sunday night. Too safe and too straight ahead, I thought. And what's with award show hosts ditching or delivering just one or two monologue jokes these days? With all the writers in Hollywood, that's all you can come up with? All Crystal had to do was just read all the jokes posted instantly on Twitter. (I was most proud of this one: "I wonder if Scorsese's tux is Hugo Boss").
Instead, we get Crystal doing Sammy Davis Jr. in the back of the Midnight in Paris car. Oy vey.
When Jim Rash from Community (an Oscar winner for co-writting The Descendants) goofed on Angelina Jolie's leggy stance, that was the kind of quick reaction shtick you used to get from the host.
Few others stepped up to fill the comedy void. Chris Rock snuck in one or two good lines. Robert Downey Jr.'s  shtick with Gwyneth Paltrow got old fast. Ben Stiller did his best straight man bit next to Emma Stone (channeling James Franco as Nikke Finke quipped in her bitchy Oscar review over at Deadline).
I did laugh at Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakas and their stoopid cymbalism bit, but that had a lot to do with the white suites, always comedy gold. The ladies from Bridesmaids did work in that Scorsese drinking game gag.
Did anyone else miss Robin Williams? I know he's an old dude now too but seeing Crystal work this gig without at least a brief blast of Williams seemed like watching Bud Abbott labor on without Lou Costello.
Christopher Plummer's classy, funny, precise acceptance speech was proof you can be 82 and still hit a home run in this room. (And to think they once called him "Liquid" Plummer. Quite the late career turn-a-round.)
Anyway, next year, two words: Jimmy Kimmel. Go for it, ABC.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

TONIGHT: Cheer on The Artist at the Oscars, but head later to Cinefest for true silent gems

Is The Artist a shoo-in to win Best Picture at tonight's 84th Annual Academy Awards? The ceremonies begin live tonight at 8:30 p.m. on ABC and CTV.
There's a lot of buzz that the black and white French feature may become the first silent film since the inaugural winner, Wings, to capture the Best Picture prize. I've seen The Artist, and it is a fun time at the movies.
As someone who collects 16mm film and has a basement full of silent and sound gems from the 1920's, '30s and '40s, I applaud anything that draws people into a theatre at today's prices to watch a movie in the old, squarer ratio. The Artist lovingly captures many of the conventions of early cinema and the two leads, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo (both nominated tonight, although Bejo in the supporting category) evoke the spirit of the late '20s in their playful pantomime. The sweet shot of Bejo with her arm in Dujardin's jacket embracing herself by the coat rack is pure Harold Lloyd.
As much as I admired the film, in my opinion, there are 100 films made between 1920 and 1929 that are more Oscar-worthy. Early film pioneers made great art using primitive cameras and lighting, many hand cranking cameras. Buster Keaton all by himself was the equivalent of a one man digital effects system.
My window on a lot of early film comes once a year at Cinefest, the 16mm and 35mm film festival held annually in Syracuse, N.Y. Cinefest 32 runs from Mar. 15-18 this year. Special screenings include the East Coast premiere of the restored Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. film Mr. Fix-It (1918), Mamba (1930) starring Jean Hersholt and Eleanor Boardman (in colour and not seen in the U.S. in 81 years) and Matchmaking Mamma, a 1928 Carole Lombard feature.
Gary Cooper: they had faces (and cigarettes) then
The silent films are enhanced with live musical accompaniment from pianists Philip C. Carli, Andrew Simpson and Jeff Rapsis, who all work wonders in the dark. Saturday morning`s schedule all takes place at a suburban movie house, The Palace, and those are the 35mm offerings. Tickets to the five hour Saturday movie marathon are $25 each. More information is available at syracusecinefest.com.
I've lost count of the discoveries I`ve made at Cinefest over the years. To see Gary Cooper in his silent glory is  to understand why he just said "yup" so often later. The guy had so much presence he probably resented talking. I never understood the popularity of Will Rogers until seeing early silent and sound films by this great American humourist. The man had a natural warmth and such relaxed, candid charm. Early films by Gloria Swanson put her mannered, eccentric performance in Sunset Boulevard in focus. That film almost does her a disservice.
Seeing the very early work of Spencer Tracy, Conrad Veidt or Maurice Chevalier is also a revelation. These guys could always act.
That's why I'd probably pick Hugo over The Artist as this year's Best Picture. It snuck up on me as a homage to film pioneer Georges Melies. The last third of Hugo is like going to Cinefest--just pure early cinema, lovingly restored and presented in its original glory. Well worth sitting though the so-so 3D kids movie at the start.
I sometimes wish Cinefest would screen some more obvious choices--give me just one Laurel & Hardy short, or, dare I say it? Some Stooges--but this is a film festival where lost films are re-discovered whether they should have stayed lost or not. Sometimes there is even more fun in discovering they made bad films back then, too.
Still, many films are offered over the four days and you will see some gems. Some early silent and sound films are remarkable for their power as well as their sophisticated clarity. Performances can be remarkably nuanced and subtle.
The Artist has its moments, but rooting for it tonight is a bit like paying tribute to the guy who did a nice job forging the Mona Lisa. After Oscar, if you want to see some work by some true artists, head to Syracuse and check out a few of the originals.
TWITTER ALERT: I'll be live tweeting tonight's Oscar telecast, so feel free to follow along @BillBriouxTV or click on the straight-to-the-snark button below.

Friday, February 24, 2012

VIDEO: shooting on the set of the cop drama King


King returns for a second season Wednesday, Feb. 29 at 9 p.m. on Showcase. Amy Price-Francis returns as a ballsy police detective booted upstairs to head a Major Crimes division, where she butts heads--among other things--with Alan Van Sprang's moody cop character.
I was invited to the south Etobicoke set a few weeks ago, along with fellow critic Rob Salem, to fire some guns. Critics love taking aim at things and firing away with abandon so naturally we both jumped at the chance.
A makeshift firing range was set up in a loading dock. A couple of ammo experts, Charles Taylor, Russ Cook and Paul Wassill, schooled us on how to fire a gun properly.
These guys from Movie Armaments Group in Toronto are all ex-cops and know their way around a pistol. Taylor reminded us all about Jon-Eric Hexum, the young TV stud who tragically took his own life. Hexum was on the set of the CBS series Cover Up. Between takes, he held a gun which still contained one blank, up to his temple and pulling the trigger. Dumb move--the force of air from the gun alone can bore a hole right through you. Even if he had survived, his eardrums likely would have been blown out. Hexum was taken straight to a hospital but was declared brain dead and expired six days later.
That warning got everybody's attention on the set of King. Hexum's death literally changed how guns are handled on TV and movie sets. There are always experts around whenever firearms are used now.
The above video captures all of our safe little bangity-bang action. Cut from the tape were scenes of me flinching like a little girl as Price-Francis confidently blared away at her target.
Thirteen new episodes will air this winter and spring. The series has more of an ensemble feel in Season Two thanks to a couple of key casting additions, introduced on Wednesday's episode. Read more about it in this feature I filed this week for The Canadian Press.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

TONIGHT: Suzuki revisits Japan's Disaster Zone


Hard to believe it has been almost a year since the devastating tsunami overwhelmed the north shores of Japan. Dr. David Suzuki visited the region in December and his report back airs tonight on The Nature of Things' "Journey to the Disaster Zone: Japan 3/11" (CBC, 8 p.m.).
I screened an unmixed early cut of the special last week and, in a phone interview, told Suzuki how, despite the lack of narration and other elements, a great sense of shock and awe was still conveyed. In an age when Flipcams and iPhones can capture and transmit video in an instant, images of actual earthquakes and tsunami's are making people all around the world instant eye witnesses.
Suzuki says he was up early the morning of March 11, 2011, and happened to turn on CNN. "I couldn't believe it," he says. "Those images were pouring out live of the tsunami rolling over the land. Cars and trucks were being swept away, it was all happening at a rate of about a block a second."
An earthquake off the northern seaboard of Japan sent tsunami waves 20 meters high sweeping toward the nation. Townsfolk who had experienced 6-meter waves just one year earlier, felt secure in their homes, scrambling to upper floors. Many drowned when waved went crashing way over their roofs.
Teachers at one school, judging that nearby cliffs were too hard to navigate, led 70 children to a large bridge spanning a river in hopes of avoiding the flood. It wasn't high enough, and all those children and teachers perished.
There are other happier if harrowing tales of rescue and survival in tonight's hour. You could tell Suzuki was deeply moved by what had to have been a touching and personal experience.
While reports back at the time suggested Japan acted with great speed to repair roads and bridges, Suzuki says he still saw huge piles of debris in the cities he visited. "There was no building going on anywhere except temporary housing," he says, noting that half a million people needed housing after the disaster.
What Suzuki also didn't see or find evidence of in the wake of the tsunami was looting. "Contrast this with New Orleans after Katrina or even Vancouver after the Stanley Cup loss," says Suzuki, a B.C. resident.
For the Japanese, says Suzuki, it is "inconceivable to pick up a rock or break a window to get supplies--it's just not in their culture."
That stoicism and composure serves them well in a crisis but it can also be seen as weakness, he suggests. People should be "shouting and screaming what the heck is going on, you guys aren't telling us the truth about radiation from [damaged nuclear plants]."
Suzuki did come away with the hope that Japan, a rich, industrialized nation, may now look seriously at alternative sources of energy and back away from nuclear generators. He points out that hundreds of natural hot springs exist in the region--so why build nuclear generators which basically are used to boil water to create steam to drive turbines? The earth itself provides an alternative geo-thermal fuel answer, he suggests.
One problem is that many of these hot  springs are considered sacred. Even in the U.S., he imagines, people would flip out of folks started "buggering around" with Old Faithful. Still, Suzuki hopes compromises are made and a selective approach could see some hot spring spring into alternative energy sources. 
He points out that only four of the 56 nuclear plants in Japan have re-opened since the disaster. When he traveled to Tokyo, he expected to find the city half in darkness, but there was very little evidence that the plants were still shut down. Tokyo has managed to reduce energy consumption 25 percent. "All this bullshit about we need to build more and more plants for more and more energy," Suzuki says. Doesn't the Japanese experience suggest we can live without many of these nuclear facilities?
I mentioned to Suzuki how it sometimes unnerves me that the Brice Nuclear generating station is just 40 minutes down the shore from what I've always called cottage country. Thar sucker has been shut down a few times without an earthquake. I always find it a bit ironic that I drive past 150-odd windmills just north of Shelburne, Ont., on the way to the cottage and find it so puzzling why these turbines, powered by wind, are so often under attack.
Suzuki says some people are just afraid of anything new. He acknowledges they kill birds and bats. "We have to be careful where we build them," he says. "If you really care about birds, we ought to knock down every high rise building, eliminate all cars and every cat. Cats, buildings and cars kill 90 percent of the birds and bats."
Suzuki says he's looking forward to the new, electric Leaf, a hybrid vehicle that will sell for around $44,000. Toyota lent him one recently and he gives it a thumbs up for performance, noting it has a 150k range before recharging. If the Leafs ever make the playoffs, they could sell a few Leafs in Ontario, I suggest. "The price of gas should be enough incentive," says Suzuki. I hear that.

This week's podcast: Oscar buzz builds

Okay, for those of you who check in every day, sorry for the lack of posts. A deluge of print deadlines as well as fumes from a freshly painted kitchen have set me back farther than a Toronto Maple Leafs playoff ticket printer.
Oscar host Billy Crystal, before and after the hair plugs
I did speak with CHML's Scott Thompson Wednesday and a lot of the discussion, as you might expect, was about Sunday's 84th Annual Academy Awards (beginning at 7/8c on ABC/CTV). Scott asked for some ideas on how  to speed the damn thing up and I stole some ideas from an article I read in The Daily Beast that a friend sent me. That author basically suggested moving the show to Saturday, getting folks as liquored up as they get at the Golden Globes and cutting all clips save the In Memoriam segment, which, hey, I'll drink to that.
The Beast also advocated for Neil Patrick Harris to host but I'll take Crystal for now. He's Mister Showbiz, rises to these occasions and you know he will do some sort of silent movie montage a la The Artist. Look also for some joke about The Descendants related to testicles.
This is Crystal's ninth turn hosting the Oscars, second only to Bob Hope who put on the tux 19 times. Eddy Murphy was supposed to do it before everyone realized what an insane idea that was.
Scott lets me yammer on about other stuff. You can listen in here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

VIDEO: Mr. D's Gerry Dee on how not to teach

More video with Gerry Dee, the star and creator of the CBC Monday night comedy Mr. D. The De La Salle grad was a teacher for 10 years before turning to comedy full time and discusses here how some of his teaching methods might not have been fully endorsed by the faculty of teaching. His health classes, apparently, were especially traumatizing.
The seventh episode of Mr. D, "Job Opportunity," airs tonight at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

TONIGHT: Hall heats up Celebrity Apprentice

There are more jokers in the deck than usual in Celebrity Apprentice Five
Donald Trump returns tonight with 18 new Aces in the fifth edition of Celebrity Apprentice (9/8c on NBC).
For some bizarre reason, Global is showing this next Saturday., Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. Thank goodness there's no such thing as an Internet to trip over who's in or who's out every week.
One of the competitors this time is Arsenio Hall, the former late night talk show host who has kept a relatively low profile since The Arsenio Hall Show went off the air in 1994.
I spoke with Hall at the NBC TCA press tour party in Pasadena last month. Filed a Canadian Press story on that encounter; read it here.
Also working the party were Hall's competitors Tia Carerra and Lou Ferrigno. The former TV Hulk, now 60, looked like he could step right back into the role. Pen Jillette was also there and dismissed Hall's suggestion that he was one of the smartest guys he'd ever met. "He needs to get out more," said Jillette.
Other competitors include comedians Adam Carolla and Lisa Lampanelli, American Idol grad Clay Aiken, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider, original Star Trek player George Takei, race car driver Michael Andretti and American Chopper dad Paul Teutul, Sr., super model Cheryl Tiegs, singers Aubrey O’Day and Debbie Gibson, Patricia Velasquez, former Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza and reality stars Victoria Gotti and Teresa Giudice.
Asked if there was anybody on TV now who reminds him of his younger self, Hall singled out America’s Got Talent host Nick Cannon.
Cannon was briefly hospitalized for mild kidney failure last month and Hall was asked if he might step in for the 31-year-old.
“At home,” said Hall, apparently a big fan of Cannon’s wife, Mariah Carey. “Have you seen her lately? I’m all over that Jenny Craig.”

TONIGHT: The Simpsons hits the big 5-D'oh

Matt Groening and James L. Brooks flank Homer. Photo Frank Micelota/FOX
Tonight at 8 p.m., The Simpsons airs episode No. 500 (Fox and Global). The title: "At Long Last Leave." Fox marked the occasion by unveiling a bronze bust of Homer Simpson on the studio lot Thursday.
A lot of credit must go to showrunner Al Jean and the writers for setting a high standard and sticking to it. Fans might argue that the fourth or sixth season as the best but given how many comedies especially seem to tank around season four, this series is pretty amazing into its 23rd year.
TV veteran James L. Brooks (above with Matt Groening) also deserves credit for making sure the core family was a clan you cared about despite the fact that the series explored and exploded just about every cynical urge in America over the past generation. That's quite a balancing act.
Cartwright, Groening, Smith and Hank Azaria
It was quite a week for the series. Groening, who started it all with a simple comic strip, was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Tuesday. (He's in pretty good company. Paul McCartney got his star the week before.) On Monday, at a gala "yellow carpet" event, the 500th episode was screened at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, across from the Chinese Theater. Canadian fan contest winners Miki Lelkes and Edina Nagy were flown down to Los Angeles to attend along with voice cast stars Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), executive producer and showrunner Al Jean and others.
Five hundred episodes is an incredible milestone, putting the animated series behind only one western as the prime time scripted series with the most episodes all time. While The Simpsons cranks out 20 episodes a year now, back in the '50s and '60s, when shows were less expensive to produce, a network could order almost twice that number. So while Gunsmoke lasted fewer seasons than The Simpsons at 20, the James Arness western totaled 633 episodes, some of those hour-long.
Here's how the scripted U.S. prime time shows rank in total episodes:

  1. Gunsmoke (1955-75) 633
  2. The Simpsons (1990-  ) 500
  3. Law & Order (1990-2010) 456
  4. Death Valley Days (1952-75) 451
  5. The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriett (1952-66) 435
  6. Bonanza (1959-72) 430
  7. My Three Sons (1960-72) 369
  8. Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-65) 361
  9. Dallas (1978-91) 357
  10. Knots Landing (1979-93) 344

The forgotten series may be Death Valley Days, a long-running radio hit that was never a network offering but was syndicated its entire run. It is best remembered as having been hosted by Ronald Reagan in the early '60s but he really only worked a couple of seasons before running for governor of California. Robert Taylor and Dale Robertson also narrated episodes of the series.
Mmmmm...doughnuts...
The shows that are closest to cracking this list today are Law & Order SVU, already renewed for a 14th season (in which it will pass 300 episodes) and CSI Crime Scene Investigation, which has reached 265 episodes after 12 seasons.
The longest-running English language Canadian network scripted prime time series is The Beachcombers, which ran 18 seasons (from 1972-90) and lasted 387 episodes. The Royal Canadian Air Farce (1992-2008) passed 300 episodes over its 16 seasons and continues in annual New Year's specials. The Red Green Show (1991-2006) lasted 300 episodes.
For more on The Simpsons 500th, read this article I wrote for The Canadian Press.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Good times with Humble & Fred 2.0


I was invited to be a guest Friday on Humble & Fred.Radio.com, the latest venture of Toronto radio dudes "Humble" Howard Glassman and Brampton's own Fred Patterson. You can listen to the entire hour-long podcast here.
Glassman and Patterson have a solid fan base among Torontonians who enjoyed them for years on CFNY-FM, 102.1 The Edge, Mix 99.9 (now Virgin Radio) and briefly on short-lived MOJO AM Radio. The two have worked separate radio and TV gigs over the years but it is Humble & Fred who fans want, and it is Humble & Fred who they get on these free and easy new podcasts, which can be listened to weekdays and have been up and running for several months.
Their studio is in south Etobicoke, a few blocks from a few stealth studios where TV shows such as Showcase's new drama King shoot. It must be the proximity to Apache Burger but something interesting is happening in the old Mimico/New Toronto 'hood.
Hidden deep within a nondescript office building, the studio looks like any other radio set up, except without the '70s carpeting and cranky receptionist. Humble and Fred have slipped back behind these mikes like they never left, stepping into their roles as if they were stepping into a pair of old hippie sandals.
I got there early, and watched while Kitchener radio man and former colleague Carlos Benevides pal-ed around with the duo. It was cool to see how jazzed these guys are to be back doing what they do best. They were energized and happy; listening to the show is like eavesdropping on people having a really good time.
It hasn't taken long for Humble & Fred Radio.com to work into the Toronto media scene. Former Ontario premiere Mike Harris is guesting in a month. The Arkells perform in studio next Thursday, Feb. 23. Alex Lifeson and Frank Sinatra, Jr., have already dropped by the makeshift studio.
Nice to see a couple of contemporaries make an end run around the establishment. The whole venture reminded me a little of the newspaper business, and how friends and colleagues have been dealing with downsizing and "efficiencies." Re-inventing themselves as a dot-com duo seems like the perfect segue for these two, who found themselves frozen out of the Toronto radio scene. As they proclaim on their site, "We ruined radio. Now we're going to wreck the Internet." They have the freedom to be all of who they are, albeit, at this point, at a reduced rate of return.
Hopefully that's changing. Humble & Fred.com is sponsored by Rogers (you can listen to their show on iTunes through a Rogers app) as well as their old bosses over at Slaight Music. Other sponsors are on board. They're building a following on Facebook.
Nobody's getting rich at this point, but, like blogging, you do what you do and keep one foot in old media while you watch the world change. Better to be in on the trip, I say, and good on Humble & Fred for showing that getting there can be this much fun.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

This week's podcast: Grammy post mortem

CHML's Scott Thompson had a bunch of questions about last Sunday's 54th Annual Grammy Awards. Did the show get a big ratings boost from the sudden death of Whitney Houston. Ya think?
We talk about Paul McCartney getting grief for his over sized white tux as well as that horrible new Valentine song. Then there was that Beach Boys reunion--it played like a scene from Cocoon.
One dude who did impress was the host, LL Cool J. He really remained cool under pressure, considering how much the line up for show must have been ripped apart in the 24-hours leading up to air time. LL Cool J leading off with a prayer--the usual comedian host would have had a hard time pulling that off.
Scott also asks what to watch for this week and I forget to mention the return of Survivor as well as Celebrity Apprentice. You can listen in here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

ABC's Valentine to viewers: Cougar Town


Bit late posting this but a heads up for west coast viewers at least. Cougar Town returns at 8:30 p.m. PT after a nine month hiatus. ABC cut back the order (from 22 to 15) and left this series on the shelf until something else failed, not the best sign for a series entering its third season. Executive producer Bill Lawrence, who spoke with critics last month at an off-schedule press tour party, isn't worried. He's mobilized his cast and launched his own mid-season press assault, hosting star parties in various cities, getting the word out on Facebook and Twitter ans generally making some noise. Follow this link to a story I have in today's Toronto Star on the chances of Cougar Town cast parties coming north of the border.
The kids at Cougar Town have gone to extreme lengths to remind fans that the series is still on the air, such as appearing in the backgrounds as extras on other shows. Check out the clip, above.

Monday, February 13, 2012

TONIGHT: Teachers give CBC's Mr. D high marks

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The guys I play hockey with every Tuesday say they're already hooked on CBC's new Monday night comedy Mr. D. The sixth episode of the series airs tonight at 8 p.m.
The comedy stars Gerry Dee as a private school teacher with less than stellar skills. Dee came by them honestly, working ten years as a Toronto school teacher before switching to stand-up comedy full time. The Scarborough native is also a De La Salle grad and at one time played hockey with one or two of the Louie League guys I skate with every Tuesday. Almost all of them are Dufferin-Peel Separate School teachers and they confess that much of Dee's observations about how school's operate are pretty much right on the money.
I spoke with Dee (formerly Donoghue) last December at two separate CBC winter press launches. The 43-year-old was 30 before he made the segue to stand-up so his well-chosen comedy heroes, as he reveals in the short clip above, are not the usual club picks.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

TONIGHT: Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

Pinsent and Pinsent last summer at the CFC TIFF BBQ
When I ran into Gordon Pinsent at the Toronto International Film Festival/Canadian Film Centre BBQ last September, he was still sporting the 'stache from playing Stephen Leacock in tonight's CBC movie Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. Pinsent is a marvel at 81 and prattled off a list of other things he was working on at the time, including a return appearance on Republic of Doyle. There's not an ounce of retirement in him.
The CFC TIFF shindig reunited Pinsent with Norman Jewison. I happened to catch Jewison's 1968 feature The Thomas Crown Affair the other night and there was Pinsent among the performers.
Tonight's Sunshine Sketches premiere finds Pinsent in good company among a who's who of Canadian actors, some based in Canada and a few Hollywood-based ex-pats. Besides his daughter Leah, the movie stars Jill Hennessy, Donal Logue, Collin Mochrie, Deb McGrath, Peter Keleghan, Caroline Rhea, Pat McKenna, Eric Petersen, Sean Cullen, Steffi Didomenicantio, Rick Roberts and Ron James, among others. It's as if somebody rounded up all the Canadian actors who protest outside the Global upfronts every spring and put them in a movie.
Former Alliance dudes Seaton McLean and Michael MacMillan are among the producers along with another Mac, Malcolm MacRury. The latter also adapted the screenplay from Leacock's wry collection of turn-of-the-century tales from the fictional Ontario town of Mariposa. I've always loved the book and admired the way Leacock balanced the idyllic and the ironic. This is the 100th anniversary of its initial publication.
The movie will have a tough time fighting for viewers tonight, however, what with the return of Celebrity Apprentice on NBC and especially The Grammy Awards on CBS/Global, which is shaping up to be Whitney Huston memorial.
Watch that stuff tomorrow on YouTube. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town airs Sun., Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shameless plug: The Being Frank Show

My mom called and left a message--something about there being a photo of me in today's Toronto Sun.
This seemed unlikely. The Mayan calendar doesn't end for another 10 months.
Still, I found a copy at my local convenience store (still just 50 cents!) and there I am in the middle of a full page ad on page 33 as one of the guests on The Being Frank Show (late tonight at 1 a.m. on CHCH. Set PVR's accordingly).
The Being Frank Show is a once-a-week, late night talk show hosted by Toronto entrepreneur Frank D'Angelo. You know Frank--he's the guy behind all those Ben Johnson "Cheetah" ads. He's been seen for years on other ads where he's a goalie getting drilled in shinny games, all in the name of hawking one of his beverages.
Among his other enterprises, D'Angelo has a restaurant down on King St. West right opposite the Bell Lightbox. I was invited to his Forget About It Supper Club a few weeks ago to tape tonight's show along with fellow guests Peter Howell, film critic at the Toronto Star and stand up comedian Jeff Elliott.
Have to say this for D'Angelo; he treats his guests well. Lunch with wine, a full gift basket on the way out.
The show is shot down in the basement of the restaurant, but, really, if you've ever been in Craig Ferguson's tiny little studio in CBS Television City, there's not a whole lot of difference. There's even a fish tank in Frank's Green Room.
One thing D'Angelo has that Ferguson doesn't have is a band, and a pretty good one at that.
The first guy I see at the restaurant is Jim Tatti, the former Global sports anchor. He is D'Angelo's announcer and stands behind the bar on the set. As the show begins, Tatti gives the show a nudge toward broadcast legitimacy. D'Angelo comes out and banters with the band.
D'Angelo is no Leno or Letterman. He is, however, a big personality. He has the ego of a late night talk show host, an essential ingredient based on the ones I've been around. The man also looks good in a suit. What he could use is a Peter Lassally, a veteran late night showrunner, somebody who could cut the excesses and just say no now and then.
What surprised me and also Howell, I think, was that D'Angelo is great at the desk, mainly because he actually listens. There's no one-upmanship or joke attacks. He respects his guests and drives the conversation forward.
Given the dearth of late night talk shows in Canada, it is interesting to see the D'Angelos and others step up, buy time and try to create something. You could say that fools go where networks fear to tread. Would I say that about D'Angelo? Fagetaboutit.
Hamilton's J.R. Diggs has been trying for years and is still at it over on Another Crappy Canadian Later Night Talk Show (airing Saturday nights at 2 a.m. on Global). Former self-confessed drug dealer Jay Stoyan co-hosts The Jay Stoyan Show with Ashlee Monroe. It airs on Rogers and as of the last few weeks over on the Fox Buffalo affiliate WUTV (also tonight at 1 a.m.). Stoyan and Monroe are the Sonny and Cher of the new millennium, with a little Borat thrown in.
Stephen Kerzner, of course, paved the way as Ed the Sock, taking a local little Toronto show and exporting it all the way over to Australia and beyond. Ed's Nite Party and various incarnations ran for 16 seasons!
All of these guys have lured big names onto their shows. D'Angelo managed to get Tony Bennett to appear and says he's working on Al Pacino. You tell him it can't be done.
Tonight the guests aren't big names, but D'Angelo treats them that way. Check him out, then judge.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

This week's podcast: more Super Bowl blather

CHML's Scott Thompson asks about the Super Bowl. Scott did the whole crazy NBC enchilada, tuning in around noon as the Peacock network showcased Jimmy Fallon, Top Chef and everything else on their schedule. "The only thing missing was a monologue by Jay Leno," says Thompson.
Why not, I say, what else are you gonna watch, and good on NBC for squeezing every dime out of this deal. We also talk about how Bob Costas never seems to age, which is starting to get a little creepy.
Trump endorsing Romney earlier this week was a head scratcher for Scott. We both agree this was a plug for the fifth edition of the Celebrity Apprentice, which begins Sunday night on NBC (but won't air for another 13 days on Global. Whaa??). Romney's not on Celebrity Apprentice, at least not yet.
I also sneak in some chat on both Smash and The River. You can listen in here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

More moves ahead for Hulu hit Endgame?

Hold onto your chess pieces, fans. Sources close to the short-lived Canadian drama Endgame say the series may be coming back.
Endgame, starring Shawn Doyle (right) as a Russian chess grand master-turned Vancouver detective, has been out of production for about a year. Low ratings were cited for the cancellation by Showcase. The sets have long been struck and options on the actor's contracts have run out.
TV Feeds My Family has learned, however, that renewed interest in the show after a recent launch on the U.S.-based Internet streaming service Hulu has the producers seriously contemplating resurrecting the series.
Endgame was one of the shows flashed on giant screens at Hulu's Television Critics Association press tour panel last month in Pasadena, Ca. Word is that the series ranked in the Top-10 of all shows streamed at Hulu after it premiered.
Hulu, a service that is geo-blocked from Canadian screens, offers thousands of TV shows from Fox, NBC, CBS and many other broadcasters. It would be ironic if a service Canadians can't access winds up saving a Canadian series.
According to the source, if the series continues to trend on Hulu, a second season will be ordered. Credit was also extended to a persistent Save Endgame fan campaign which has collected thousands of signatures on Facebook and other social media sites.
The main star, Doyle, TV Feeds My Family has also learned, sat out the recent pilot season in the U.S. after a deal was reached to keep him under contract should Endgame resurface. The Newfoundland native has not been prevented from guesting on other shows; tonight he makes a return appearance as a baddie on CBC's Republic of Doyle.
No such deal, however, holds other Endgame players such as Patrick Gallagher, who played the head of hotel security always trying to heave Doyle's mad Russian character Arkady Balagan the hell out of the premises. The series may have to be extensively re-cast should it return.
The series was produced in Vancouver and featured an elaborate hotel set. Those sets are long gone, but blueprints remain and everything could be rebuilt, we are told.
The main priority for the producers is securing the participation of showrunner and executive producer Avrum Jacobson. Source says that is in the works. The plan would be to make new episodes for Hulu as well as for Showcase.
Conventional wisdom was that Endgame lagged behind another Showcase series that was renewed last spring, King. But when ratings are examined beyond overnights to Live+3 and Live+7 data, it seems many viewers were PVRing Endgame and watching it later. One week the series jumped from 232,000 overnight, estimated viewers to 310,000 after the PVR audience was factored in.
Endgame also beat King head-to-head in A25-54 more often then not when the two shows aired in the same week.
The series is produced by Vancouver-based Thunderbird Films and sold internationally by Lions Gate. Both seem keen to ramp things back up again, according to sources. Your move, Hulu.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Super Bowl ratings higher than ever in Canada

The Super Bowl audience keeps getting bigger each year in Canada. CTV scored 7,280,000 overnight, estimated viewers for Sunday's big game, well up from the 6,537,000 counted in the overnights the year before. The combined CTV/RDS audience in Canada was tallied at 8.15 million, up from 7.3 million in 2011 and 6.9 million in 2010.
CTV drew an overnight, estimated 4,630,000 to Sunday's half-hour kick off show and another 4,289,000 to the post game festivities. The season premiere of The Voice, which began at 10:20 p.m., clocked in at 2,395,000 viewers.
NBC scored an even bigger touchdown with their Super Bowl audience, with an estimated 111.3 million tuning in--a record U.S. TV audience. An added 37.61 million stuck around for The Voice on NBC.

TONIGHT: The River runs on ABC and CTV

Paul Devlin's cousin.
Looking to add a little paranormal activity to your evening? Tonight ABC launches The River, a spooky drama starring Bruce Greenwood (left) as a Crocodile Hunter-type dude named Dr. Emmet Cole who goes missing deep in the Amazon jungle. When his wife (Leslie Hope) and son (Joe Anderson) start getting a signal from his emergency back up beeper, they partner up with his old series producer (Paul Blackthorne) and allow him to shoot a documentary as they head into the jungle in search of Cole.
Besides Canadians Greenwood and Hope the series boasts a very international cast, including three Brits, a German and a Honduran. There is just one American among the leads, Eloise Mumford (Lena Landry, whose cameraman dad disappeared with Cole).
Because this is produced by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), in partnership with Steven Spielberg (who seems to be attached to every second TV show these days), there are plenty of frights along the way. The River is more Blair Witch Project than Crocodile Hunter. There are plenty of intense, "Don't go behind that door!" moments. Something creepy and supernatural is out there in the jungle and it seems pissed that this boat is poking along its river banks in the dark.
ABC apparently beat out NBC in a bidding war over the series. So why are they airing it in mid-season?
The pilot has its thrills, with the unique feature being the actor's point of view on the series. Many in the cast were shooting while they were acting, with cameras strapped onto their arms, legs or noggins. Greenwood, who was at last month's TCA press tour in Pasadena, said it took some getting used to. Read more about that in this story I filed last week for The Canadian Press.
Eight episodes have been shot so far, the pilot in Puerto Rico and the rest in Hawaii. Greenwood says it was easy to say aloha to that.
The River premieres Tues., Feb. 7 at 9/8c on ABC and CTV

Monday, February 6, 2012

TONIGHT: NBC's Smash network TV at its finest

By now, you've seen eleventy-billion million previews for Smash. If you were watching an award shows lately, or the Super Bowl, chances are you saw and heard Katharine McPhee howling her lungs out followed by Debra Messing looking like she's about to be named as CTV News anchor.
I like Smash--it remains the best pilot I saw last spring. Tonight's two-hour premiere is a show stopper, with McPhee a knockout as a Broadway wannabe with tons of talent. It's just taken so long to get here, and I've seen those promos for so long, I wonder if some viewers--like those Super Bowl ads streamed millions of times on the Internet--aren't sick of it before they've ever seen it.
McPhee and Hilty: Monroe the merrier
You can't blame CTV and NBC for promoting the hell out of it. NBC, especially, needs Smash to be a smash. They've already given up on The Firm, punting it to Saturday nights to ride out that 22 episode order. (The new  drama Awake, an intriguing show which is also worth a look, will take NBC's Thurs. slot.)  They've got Smash tucked behind their one bonafide smash--The Voice--which returned strong after the Super Bowl and should definitely help Smash get sampled tonight.
It deserves a big opening. McPhee is a winner as a young ingenue aching for her Broadway break. Angelica Huston is reliable as always as a producer who needs a hit to remain queen of the Broadway scene after a nasty divorce. The successful songwriting duo Tom and Julia (Christian Borle and Messing) think they have it in a new musical about, who else, Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe's ghost seems hyper active this year what with the Oscar-nominated feature film out now and this being the 50th anniversary year of the actresses death. Everybody on Smash seems very excited to do a Monroe musical because they can work in a baseball number, which, sure, I guess.
Huston and Davenport are Broadway gold
While everyone holds their own in the pilot, Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean) is really the straw that stirs this drink. He plays egomaniac director Derek, a part that is as cliche as they come yet somehow he manages to bring a very human face to the man.
Megan Hilty is also good as the other actress auditioning to play Marilyn, a more assured and experienced Broadway singer who isn't going to let McPhee's Karen step into Monroe's stilettos without a cat fight.
I've read a few nit-picky reviews lately whinging about how over-the-top the audition scenes are but I just found they delivered as pure entertainment. Unlike Glee, which often seems alarmingly under written between musical moments, Smash offers plenty of story between the songs and everybody plays it straight.
Then there's McPhee. The former American Idol hopeful has a vulnerability and a way with a song that makes you forget the scene where she's being hit on by the director that seems stolen from a thousand other places.
There are some grand show numbers in future episodes. Steven Spielberg is among the executive producers and the series has serious Broadway-level showrunners in Craig Zadan and Neil Maron (Hairspray). This sucker will not be closing out of town.
One note of caution, however: have you seen ratings for The Tonys' lately? Smash may be too smart for the room, and NBC's room is not all that robust to begin with. Still, if you want great entertainment and HBO's not part of your cable package, you won't find a better network TV show than Smash (10/9c, NBC, CTV).

VIDEO: Busting into the Vancouver set of Alcatraz

Alcatraz has been on the air for a few weeks now, so it is about bloody time I posted this video. It was shot before Christmas while I was on the west coast visiting the set of the J.J. Abrams drama. The series is produced in Vancouver at the same North Shore studios where The X Files once squatted.
The large jail house interior is three stories high with cells on either side. The main stars of the series-- Parminder Nagra, Sarah Jones and Jorge Garcia as well as the always "charming" Sam Neill--took questions from a few reporters against a cave wall-like background in the command centre on the set. Alcatraz, which has drawn around the million viewer mark over three weeks so far in Canada, airs Mondays at 9/8c on Fox and City.

TONIGHT: NCIS hits the 200 episode milestone

The cast of NCIS takes the cake. Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS

With American Idol not the Death Star it once was, NCIS has a real shot at finishing the season as the most-watched show on U.S. network television. That's pretty astounding considering NCIS is in its ninth season. A scripted series hasn't finished a season as TV's No. 1 show since CSI pulled the trick in 2003.
Tonight in Canada on Global and Tuesday night in the U.S. on CBS, NCIS airs its 200th episode. The cast and producers were at last month's CBS TCA press tour session in Pasadena and I had a chance to speak briefly with series lead Mark Harmon, although he'd probably object to being singled out as the main star of the drama. Harmon, like his father before him a college football star, is always quick to emphasize that a TV show is a team effort.
I told Harmon I have a 16mm print of one of his father Tom Harmon's films. Harmon of Michigan was released in 1940 and the first five minutes features clips of Harmon Sr. running, throwing and tackling his way into history with the Michigan Wolverines. I offered him the print but Harmon said thanks, he has a screener of all his dad's films (they're pretty bad, to be honest, aside from the football footage) and that the university also has a print in its library.
Mark Harmon, it was pointed out at the press tour session, has had an astounding acting career, appearing on a network TV show in all but three seasons over the past 40 years. I write more about Harmon and NCIS here in today's Toronto Star.
There is one actor on NCIS who pre-dates even Harmon’s career: David McCallum. The 78-year-old native of Scotland was a major TV star in the mid-‘60s as Russian spy Illya Kuryakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
McCallum says he got a gracious note from CBS CEO Les Moonves congratulating him on the 200th episode. “I put it down and a few hours later, I said, now wait a minute, that is a tremendous achievement,” he said. “I mean, the one I did before, that one way back then, we did a little over 100 shows.”
NCIS's 200th episode, "Life Before His Eyes," airs Mon., Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. ET on Global and Tues., Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

This week's podcast: Stern & the Super Bowl

After some meaningless banter about a Kardashian, CHML's Scott Thompson starts in about those Super Bowl ads. We talk about Matthew Broderick's Ferris Bueller 26-years-later spot, and I suggest this is the way to do all sequels from now on. Just boil the whole idea down to two-and-a-half minutes. Eliminates 90 minutes of really bad exposition to try and justify a sequel. The next Mission Impossible or Fast & Furious film could just be a trailer I say save a lot of time and money. Fits with the kids attention spans.
We get around to talking about Howard Stern's appearance Wednesday as Letterman's guest on the 30th anniversary of his debut in late night. I thought the show was a bust, with neither Letterman or Stern distinguishing themselves by once again goofing on Leno. There were no vintage clips on the show, which apparently is how Letterman wanted it. Too bad, I wish for once he would just turn it all over to somebody else to put together highlights from the past 30 years.
Stern, too, seems to be losing his pulling power. Leno beat Letterman last Wednesday night in the U.S. overnights.
Listen to the entire radio chit chat here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Don't dog it--see Sunday's Super Bowl ads now

The above teaser for this year's Super Bowl XLVI Volkswagen ad had reached over 11 million YouTube views at the time of this posting. It's easy to see why. It's one of those brilliantly simple, "you gotta see this," ideas that can help but go viral.
Last Super Bowl, Volkswagen scored a touchdown with their Darth Vader kid ad. That cute and clever Passat spot has been streamed over 50 million times. Add the estimated 100 million Super Bowl viewers and you can see why NBC was able to sell out this year's game at $3.5 million+ per 30 second spot.
Once again, Canadians are stuck watching the same lame-O ads CTV will mix in with their eleventy-billion promo spots for mid-season pickups Smash, The Voice and The River. Fortunately, you can do an end run around those five dollar foot long spots here by following this link to The Daily Beast, where you'll find 10 more links to Sunday's most anticipated ads.
A few were the result of "Best Super Bowl ad idea" contests, including this funny spot for Chevy and another one for Doritos. Others feature David Beckham, John Stamos and the already posted Matthew Broderick "Ferris Bueller" spoof for Honda (8,950,000 views and counting three days before kickoff).
YouTube also has a 10-second teaser for the Marvel's The Avengers movie ad running during the game. Yes, 10 second teasers now hype 30- and 60-second commercials.
The force is with Volkswagen in their real ad for this year's Super Bowl, titled "The Dog Strikes Back." Watch a slightly extended version of the Game Day goodie here.
UPDATE: Of course, William Shatner's Priceline.com negotiator will get into the act, with a spot airing during the Super Bowl pre-show. The script calls for the character--played these past 14 years by the 80-year-old actor--to  be killed off. This doesn't sit well with Shatner, as you can see here in this "Making Of" trailer to the eventual ad.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Transporter still idling as new showrunner sought

Two of the German stars of shot-in-Toronto Transporter
Way back last September, I visited the set of Transporter, a new international TV series shot in Toronto. It's based on the hit feature films starring Jason Statham as a driver for hire. The Canadian-French co-production was supposed to be a bonanza for the local TV industry, with the first 12 episodes budgeted in the $40 million range.
I watched a scene being shot in an abandoned warehouse in Toronto's west end. I was introduced to executive producer Steve Shill, and was entertained by stories of his experiences working with David Milch on Deadwood. Shill's other credits include pricey HBO mis-fire Rome and Dexter.
Parked next to the factory/stealth studio was a giant trailer/garage unit where two of the four Audi 8s gleaming in the parking lot could be serviced at any one time. Drivers had been flown in from France for the tricky stunt work required to drive these beauties along closed off stretches of the Gardiner Expressway, among other venues.
Well, Transporter has been going nowhere for months.
Shortly after I visited the set, the brakes were put on the production after lead actor Chris Vance (Prison Break) suffered an on-set injury. Given that Toronto has seen little snowfall this winter, the mishap was especially ill-timed. Production was supposed to drive on through November.
There were other reports of on set turmoil. Now, a story in the Hollywood Reporter says the "cursed" series is looking for a new showrunner. Shill had already been brought in with another producer to replace the original Canadian executive producers, Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie (Stargate Universe).
Transporter is supposed to eventually air on HBO Canada and on Cinemax in the States. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

TONIGHT: Stern salutes Letterman on 30 years

Team Dave: Philbin, Letterman, Murray. John P Filo/CBS
Tonight marks 30 years since David Letterman woke up late night. Late Night with David Letterman premiered on NBC on Feb. 1, 1982; The Late Show with David Letterman began on CBS in August of 1993. Time flies.
Is he still The Man? He will be tonight, ratings-wise, with Howard Stern guesting. Jay Leno and The Tonight Show--remarkably after everything that happened--still draws more viewers most nights, most weeks, on NBC. Jon Stewart is now more relevant, even though his Comedy Central series has only a fraction of Letterman's network audience.
Stewart, who turns 50 this year, is hardly the "new kid," having helmed The Daily Show for 13 seasons. His act just seems fresher without the 60-year-old trappings of The Tonight Show--the same desk, couch, band, sidekick formula Steve Allen introduced in the '50s.
Letterman, as his long-time producer Rob Burnett points out, is remarkable for evolving with the times. His hero, Johnny Carson, pretty much always did the same show. Letterman started out as a punk outsider, goofing on everybody and everything, taking an ironic stance at established talk show conventions. His show felt more live and dangerous, even though much of his early shtick was heavily influenced by Allen's original Tonight.
Later, Letterman made a remarkable transition as the voice of America, the New York host a nation turned to to get them through 9/11. He changed again after his open heart surgery, a health scare that brought new urgency to the show and, naturally, to its iron man host. He changed when he became a father, finally allowing viewers a slight peek at his private world.
When he got caught with his pants down he put on a clinic on how to react to a public relations nightmare. The night of the admission, Oct. 1, 2009, was one of the most riveting moments in the history of late night. Letterman took his case directly to his viewers, admitting to affairs with a young woman or two on his staff. The admission damaged Letterman to the extent that those jokes about Clinton and other politicians and their infidelities no longer held. It got a bit creepy there for a while when young starlets he used to flirt with came on the show. Still, remarkably, Letterman held much of the high road. Viewers quickly forgave him and sympathized as he steered around an extortion attempt.
Dave and Billy from Tuesday night's Late Show
Have to admit I miss a lot of what Letterman used to do on Late Show. Know Your Current Events got old for Letterman, who probably felt the segment had become too identified with Stephanie Birkitt, the former assistant named as one of the women Letterman had had sex with. But I loved it, and really miss it. It became a late night ritual, a touchstone.
There are nights when Letterman, who turns 65 this April, seems less into his show. He skips rehearsals now, and for a while taped two shows Monday, airing one Friday, in order to enjoy the longest possible weekend. (He's now back taping two on Thursdays). He makes no effort to hide how bored he is with young guests he could care less about. His bit where he complains to bandleader Paul Shaffer about being forced to tweet just makes him seem older than Wilfred Brimley.
He still shines when he has smart guys on, Bill Clinton, Bill Maher, Bill O'Reilly (funny how I identify guys named Bill as smart.) He's more relaxed now, having nothing left to prove, even sentimental as he hangs with old pals such as Regis Philbin and Bill Murray (also smart).
His current contract is up at the end of August. Burnett hinted talks with CBS are on-going and a new two year deal is imminent. Letterman deserves a fabulous victory lap, and should take it, declaring this his last two years. He's still great at what he does, and it has to be hard to stop being The Man.
Still, better to leave late night before late night leaves Letterman. Carson showed them all how to exit with class and look for Letterman to emulate the master. Do I still hope to interview him before one of us goes? That would be yes.