Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rogers opens doors to the TV on Film Project

Michelle Lomack (far right) and her Rogers' PR players
Tonight is Halloween, but it was Rogers shelling out last night at their cool and comfy in-house Toronto screening room, the Velma Rogers Theatre. That's where the inaugural TV on Film Project was launched, and many thanks to the folks who braved the elements to come down for an early night of classic TV gems on 16mm film. 
The original plan was to take over the Astral screening room for this occasion but the CRTC wouldn't let us. Just kidding.
Rogers made everybody feel at home. Michelle Lomack and her fab PR team provided plenty of theatre-style candy and snacks--even butter for the popcorn! Thanks also to Rogers' executive vice president Malcolm Dunlop for his kind introduction and all at the media company for hosting this event.
Have to give a shout out, too, to Reg Hartt. The fiercely independent Toronto-based exhibitor has long been an inspiration. Over the years, going way back to high school, I spent many an evening at one of Reg's "Cartoons Too Hot for TV" screenings, which continue--now in digital 3-D--at his Cineforum on Bathurst.
Needed a lens to throw a bigger picture on the giant Rogers' screen and Reg donated his entire Elmo projector for the occasion. Had been frantically phoning across North America in search of 16mm parts before Reg came to the rescue. The man knows the importance of presentation.
Bridget Loves Bernie, new on CBS in '72
The Giller Prize took the CBCers out of the room Tuesday night but a nice cross section of industry peers braved the weather for the two films, a Dick Van Dyke episode (with original commercials) from 1961 and the CBS Fall Preview reel from their 1972-73 season. That 40-year-old time capsule neatly coincided with Rogers' own broadcast property, City-TV, which launched that fall of '72.
Beyond the kick out of seeing a young Mary Tyler Moore on a 12-foot by 16-foot screen, the point was made Tuesday that Canada's TV heritage is disappearing. The TV on Film Project hopes to spur a search for Canada's "lost" programming. A Paley Center North is needed to help find, preserve and archive Canadian television for future generations.
In the audience last night were Leah Pinsent and Peter Keleghan. Pinsent's celebrated father, Gordon, starred in such early Canadian TV efforts as The Forest Rangers and Quentin Durgens, MP. CBC was much better at archiving their libraries but Leah says her father doesn't have prints of either one of these series.
My old pal Eric Kohanik raised his hand when I asked if anybody in the crowd had ever been on Tiny Talent Time. Almost all of that Hamilton-based series was erased and the tapes re-used, wiping out 25 years of history.
Thanks to daughter Katie Brioux for designing this logo
Rod Coneybeare's grandson was in the house. His grandfather, The Friendly Giant puppeteer, worked both Rusty and Jerome all those years opposite Bob Homme as Friendly. CBC has most of those episodes but the earliest black and white years from the '50s haven't been seen in ages.
The plea for film had an immediate dividend as Kitchener-based cameraman Danny Bailey (MotorWeek) arrived with a trunk load of 16mm gems from the '50s and '60s which he promptly donated. Included were rare Texaco Canada commercials and industrial films, some featuring stars such as Leave it to Beaver dad Hugh Beaumont, Love Boat skipper Gavin MacLeod and even a very young Martin Sheen. Thank you Peter!
The next screening of the TV on Film Project will take place in the coming months, with more rare TV gems on the playbill. The hope is we can soon start threading up some early made-in-Canada TV gems. Stay tuned for details.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The TV on Film Project: before the medium became the message, it was on film

I'm excited to be hosting an industry  screening of rare 16mm films today at the Velma Rogers Theatre at Rogers' headquarters in Toronto. Many thanks to Michelle Lomack and her PR team at Rogers for providing such a comfortable shelter from the storm! Looking forward to a fun gathering with industry folk, with the next screening in this series planned for the spring.
Two rare films are on display today: CBS's 1972 "Have We Got a Fall for You" Fall Preview reel, featuring clips from M*A*S*H, Maude, The Bob Newhart Show and The Waltons, among their many hits that season. The second half hour is a 1961 network print of The Dick Van Dyke Show, complete with the original commercials and sponsor tags. All in glorious 16mm. Full report here later plus news on a new Canadian TV heritage initiative.

No audience? No problem for David Letterman

If your TV was knocked out by Sandy, you missed David Letterman's storm show Monday. Too bad, because it was the kind of more intimate entertainment you'd want to share by candle light, if you had some sort of magic TV generator. Faced with the emergency shut down of Manhattan, Letterman was forced to either cancel or do the show without a studio audience. He chose the latter (as did New York-based Jimmy Fallon), stripping everything down to the essentials, getting by on sheer personality rather than video tricks or even writing.
This didn't work as well in the opening minutes, when Letterman usually takes his energy from the studio audience, riffing on some couple from some hometown for the first five minutes.
Instead, Letterman sat at his desk and read the monologue jokes. The bit had the effect of allowing viewers to witness a Letterman rehearsal, strange since Letterman hasn't rehearsed his show for years. He said the original plan was for him to walk out and open with, "I got up this morning and listened for the talk show closings," which was cute. Then the jokes:
 "This storm could mean the biggest power outage since the Yankees," he read off a card, practically demanding drummer Anton Fig punctuate the dead air with a snare beat. "I haven't seen people this soaked since that Facebook IPO," he continued.
Half way through the jokes, announcer Allan Kalter ran in soaking wet and mad as hell, like he didn't get the memo that the old fashioned energy was no longer part of the shtick.
Shaffer stepped up the patter to fill in the dead air, which just made it deader. As always, Shaffer's best contributions were musical, like when he played Bad Moon Rising or Frankenstein. A remark that many staffers hadn't made it in and that they were down to a skeleton staff--then a cut away to a mannequin behind a camera--provoked Shaffer to observe that the gag might have been funnier if it was a skeleton. "Too much effort" seemed to be Letterman's response.
Which was fine. We get it, we can fill in the blanks. On this night, Letterman seemed to be evoking a "What Would Ernie Kovaks Do" attitude. Kovaks would roll with it and invent. That was all the cue Dave needed.
It was revealing to see how little the studio audience actually matters to the host. You could see how he does play almost exclusively to the audience at home. You get the feeling he might even prefer it this way, without all that laughter and applause to occasionally acknowledge.
The Top 10 List was hit and miss as always. Among the rejected names for the Frankenstorm were "Al Frankenstorm," "Wetzilla" and "Oprah Windy."
There was a remote bit where Dave talked to Biff who was standing outside in the driving rain. Biff said he remembered Hurricane Hazel, which makes him old; Hazel ripped through Toronto way back in the mid-'50s. Dave tried to coax Biff up the street to where the crane was dangling and barriers were being errected. Biff was having none of that Rupert Gee nonsense. The show worked best when guest Denzel Washington came on, as much because the two seem to have a natural affection for each other. You believe Washington would not venture out in such a storm for anybody but Dave. It was just two guys talking, as you can start to see in the above clip.
Generally, Letterman's 500 guests in the studio do add another dimension to his show, but it is fun to see him screw around with things once in a while. Colbert without his frenzied studio audience would be an even odder show, I imagine.

Friday, October 26, 2012

TODAY: Canada AM celebrates 40 years

Looking good: Twelve former Canada AM co-hosts join today's trio
Got up crazy early this morning to attend a salute to one of Canada's longest-running TV traditions--Canada AM.
The series marks 40 years on the air this month. There must have been something in the water that fall of 1972: not only did Canada AM launch, with Percy Saltzman and Dennis McIntosh as hosts, but City-tv launched in Toronto, The Beachcombers began its long run on CBC and so did Marketplace--still on the air and thriving (Tonight at 8: an investigation into tainted meat. Yum.). Other shows that launched that year south of the border: M*A*S*H, Maude, The Bob Newhart Show and The Waltons.
CTV was a much different place in '72. A collection of five regional stations, it was nowhere near the media giant it is today.
Yet being a fly on the wall at CTV's bash this morning seemed a throw back to that other era. TV is such a blur, constantly evolving, so it is heartening to pause every now and then and and take stock. The business always comes down to people, and there was a room full of interesting and familiar folks today at the Temple.
I spoke with retired CTV News boss Robert Hurst at the after party and he told me his first gig was at Canada AM. He was a kid hired straight out of J-school at Western to write copy for the fledgling morning show. Craig Oliver was the first producer and gave Hurst the job, launching a 38-year career that took Hurst right to the top.
Burton Cummings rocked the Temple Friday
Friday's celebratory broadcast took place at the Masonic Temple. Beverly Thomson, Jeff Hutcheson and Marci Ien hosted from the main stage in the Toronto landmark, with 12 former co-hosts and anchors called up to share memories.
I was starting my career as a typist at TV Guide when I first got the call to appear as a TV-know-it-all guest on Canada AM. It was back when Norm Perry was the man man at the desk, a post he held for 15 years. Perry really put the show on the map. He couldn't be at today's gathering (he's in Florida), but sent a clip. The man still look like he can kick ass in the morning.
Those that did make today's reunion were Thalia Assuras, Rod Black, Wei Chen, Rena Heer, Lisa LaFlamme, Wally Macht, Dan Matheson, Craig Oliver, Seamus O'Regan, Valerie Pringle, Sandie Rinaldo, Pamela Wallin and Nancy Wilson.
It was heartening to see so many of those familiar faces all together in one room. As Hutcheson said to me later, a few were meeting each other for the first time.
During one commercial break, Thomson joked, "Is it just me, or do all the former hosts look younger and healthier than we do?"
Pringle was in fine form, razzing her old pal Matheson and repeating co-host Carole Taylor's famous line, "Who do I have to sleep with to get off this show?"
Host with the moist: Before...
Canada AM did not have a powerhouse beginning. It struggled those first couple of years, until Perry grounded it and help it find its feet.
Almost everybody on the panel had a doozy of a story. LaFlamme recalled how her second day on the job was that Tuesday of 9/11. Rinaldo went into labour one morning right on the show. (Her daughter Amanda, fittingly, is a CTV publicist.) Black, who gutted the morning routine out for two years, said it was nevertheless the best job in the world because you got to interview "Teri Clark, Wendel Clark and Joe Clark."
The audience on the floor of the Temple was comprised of producers, editors and other friends of the show over its 40 year run. Afterwards there was a cake shaped like a TV set with the three current hosts all done up in icing. Hutcheson was a little shocked later to see his head was the first to go. "You want a piece of me?" he kept asking.
...and after.
The special guest Friday at the end of the show was Burton Cummings, interviewed dozens of times over the years by the CTV morning show. Cummings gamely put his throat through three tunes at the early hour, belting out his solo ballad I'm Scared as well as a personal favourite that brought me back to my days as a busboy working the Blockhouse at Ontario Place in 1974, Clap for the Wolfman. Cummings nimbly accompanied himself on the keyboard and even did an uncanny impersonation of Wolfman Jack, the iconic DJ showcased on the original track.
Cummings noted how he too was celebrating an anniversary--50 years in showbiz. Now when he sings No Sugar Tonight, he means it!
The many clips from the past on Friday's show demonstrates the value of archiving and preserving Canada's TV heritage--a goal near and dear to my own heart as will be noted here in a future post or two.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

TONIGHT: Big Bang Theory has extra Buzz

Buzz Aldrin hands out Mars bars, right? Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS
You may have noticed that CTV has somewhat morphed into The Big Bang Theory Network. The CBS comedy is stripped nightly on CTV at 7:30, is by far Canada's most watched show Thursday at 8 and often gets plugged into the schedule as an all purpose fix. Counting its regular marathon airings on the Comedy Network and new Saturday Night airings, it gets more exposure here now than hockey.
Tonight's episode is "The Holographic Excitation" and look for astronaut Buzz Aldrin (above) to guest star as himself. That's one small step for an astronaut, one giant leap for the Screen Actor's Guild.
Should be a giant leap  in the ratings, too, for CTV. Look for the episode to approach the four million mark.
Aldrin is part of The Big Bang Theory's annual Halloween episode. Tonight we also find Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) dressed as a big blue Smurf along with lady love Bernadette (Melissa Rauch). That sounds about right.
The Office (guest star Stephen Colbert) presents one last Halloween episode; see Ed Helms talk about it here. Parks & Recreation (with Lucy Lawless) also airs a Halloween themed episodes tonight, Modern Family had their annual spooktacular last night. Go On (with guest star former Toronto  Raptor Chris Bosh) and The New Normal (with George Takei!) shell out their trick or treat episode next Tuesday on NBC. Nice that the networks do not schedule these way in advance of the occasion the way they do for Christmas.
Friday brings the one and only airing of Mockingbird Lane (right), an update of the classic '60s sitcom The Munsters. The new NBC effort stars Portia De Rossi as Lily, Jerry O'Connell as Herman (?) and Eddie Izzard as Grandpa. It's from the folks behind Pushing Daisies, so it should look good at least. But try and replace Yvonne De Carlo, Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis? Monstrous.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

This week's podcast: CBC's big hockey hit

CHML's Scott Thompson was still on this "CRTC kicks Bell bid in the Astral" story. The shock still hasn't worn off and rumours continue to swirl, with news Rogers might be sniffing around for Astral parts.
I applaud the CRTC's decision to stand up for consumers and against media consolidation, as well as reports the Harper government is not going to re-open this can of worms.
Scott also asks about the impact of the hockey strike on Canadian television. A check of last Saturday's overnight, estimated ratings shows that CBC's brilliant contingency plan to offer reruns of "Your Pick" hockey games was quickly bodychecked into oblivion. The caper drew only 217,000 for a 1994 Vancouver/Calgary game, less than a 10th of what CBC would normally draw this time of year with the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada.
Blades' Season 3 skater Boyd Devereaux
Don't forget CBC--struggling to deal with a hefty cut in funding--decided to  sit Battle of the Blades this season--ditching one way they could have still serviced Canada's hockey fix. MacLean and Cherry could still be before viewers this fall, and, by the looks of things, all kinds of skaters would have been available.
Instead, CBC loses 2.5 million viewers Saturday and another 1.2 million Sunday, where their Wizard of Oz reality casting show has slipped under the half million mark. Ouch.
CTV's opportunistic counter-programming stunt showing four repeats of The Big Bang Theory on Saturday nights has been more successful--the back-to-back episodes drew around 1.1 - 1.3 million each--but that's still half of what CBC got with NHL games.
Meanwhile, TSN is stuck showing Slap Shot to 204,000 Tuesday night instead of the million or so who would watch a real NHL contest. So do Canadian TV networks hope this strike/lockout ends soon? That would be yes, especially Bell and Rogers, who paid the Teachers Pension Fund a fortune for ownership of the Toronto Maple Leafs and now there's no irresistible sports content to deliver to their sports stations.
As for the NHL, they seem more pressured by their U.S. broadcast deal with NBC, where games are scheduled in November. Hey, whatever gets this deal done, get the deal done.
There's more radio blather; you can listen in here.

In praise of TCM's recent animation showcase

UPA's Rooty Toot Toot (1952)
There does seem to be a disconnect between what I am writing about lately and what I am actually watching on TV. To that end:
Kudos to TCM for showcasing classic animation last Saturday night. Robert Osbourne welcomed animation historian Jerry Beck and the two presented six hours of vintage animated gems. Beyond the rarely-seen Fleischer features Gulliver's Travels and Hoppity Goes to Town there was an hour of UPA Jolly Frolics cartoons from the '50s and an hour of some early examples of animation, including the primitive sketches of J. Stuart Blackton and silent cartoons produced in New York, some of it over 100 years ago.
The UPA cartoons remain inspirational and modern 60 years after their release, especially Rooty Toot Toot. Stylistically, they share many attributes with the National Film Board of Canada animated shorts at the time (which would be worthy of their own TCM salute). The silent cartoons from J.R. Bray, Earl Hurd, Paul Terry and Max Fleischer were presented with new musical scores thanks to the restoration work of collector Tom Stathes.
Terry's Farmer Alfalfa in Springtime (1923)
I grew up watching the great Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies of the '30s, '40s and '50s which were all over TV at one time. My first TV memories are of getting up at the crack of dawn and watching the original, black and white Max Fleischer Popeye cartoons with the opening door ship titles. Besides being great fun and always entertaining, those films were an insight into 20th century history and culture I otherwise would never have gained. 
It is a shame you never see those cartoons on TV anymore, as well as the best of Walter Lantz or MGM's great Tex Avery cartoons or Tom & Jerry in their theatrical prime. Crazy, too, that the brilliant Disney shorts are no longer showcased on any Disney channels. In a digital age when content is King, these animated gems should be considered a King's ransom.
So kudos to TCM for bringing these animation rarities out of the vault. More please, and if you agree, go to the TCM message boards and join the many people hoping to see animation showcased as a monthly feature on the Turner network.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

HBO Hitchcock portrait is for the birds

It was odd at press tour last August when HBO paneled back-to-back sessions on Ethel Kennedy and Alfred Hitchcock.
Ethel premiered Thursday and is a loving scrapbook, a daughter's valentine to her famous parents. Both Ethel, now 84, and Rory, the director and youngest of the Kennedy's 11 children, were at press tour, treated like royalty by HBO executives.
There were no members of Hitchcock's family anywhere near the HBO session for The Girl, a damning portrait of the late master of suspense. Instead, the focus of the session was on Tippi Hedren, the actress who starred in two of Hitchcock's later features, The Birds and Marnie.
Toby Jones (The Hunger Games), who  played Hitchcock, and Sienna Miller (via satellite), who played Hedren, were also at the press conference.
Hedren--who looks well preserved at 82--did not mince words about her experience in the early '60s with Hitch: "He ruined my career, but he didn't ruin my life," she told critics.
Hedren alleges that the director had a creepy obsession with her and subjected her to all kinds of torment on the set. There has been speculation about this for years, that Hitchcock had some kind of blond fetish, but The Girl makes him out to be, well, a psycho.
There are scenes of the director trying to make a grab for the actress in the back of a car and sadistically subjecting her to real danger on the set. Some say it was all calculated to scare a performance out of Hedren. Anyone who could come up with this quote--"Blonds make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints"--had to be a bit twisted.
"People have said, 'Was he in love with you?'" said Hedren. "No, he wasn't.  When you love someone, you treat them well. I think we're dealing with a mind here that is incomprehensible, and I certainly am not capable of discerning what was going through his mind or why. I certainly gave no indication that I would ever be interested in any kind of a relationship with him."
Whatever Hitchcock's shortcomings there was certainly nobody there to defend him at the HBO session. No family members had seen the documentary at that time.
I remember another press tour session, maybe 15 years ago, when a network rounded together the "ladies of Hitchcock." Hedren was also at that gathering, as was Suzanne Pleshette (also in The Birds) and I believe Janet Leigh and possibly Vera Miles. Maybe Kim Novak too, I can't recall for sure.
None of them blew the whistle on him on that occasion.
Hedren  and Jones and friend at the HBO TCA press session
Hedren was asked if she knew of other Hitchcock actresses who were mistreated or harassed.
"I know Kim Novak, and she never said a word about anything wrong," Hedren said. "I really didn't talk about this issue for such a very, very long time. While we were doing The Birds--because this manifestation happened during the latter part of filming The Birds, and I remember Suzanne Pleshette saying to me--because I was a newcomer in the business--she said, 'It isn't always like this.' And as far as I know, Vera Miles had a terrible time with Hitchcock, and she wanted to get out of the contract.  He didn't let her. She did Psycho, and I believe, if you look at Psycho, there isn't one close‑up of Vera, not one.  And she, after that, would never even speak about him to anyone." 
Pleshette and Leigh have both passed away and Miles refuses to do interviews so only Novak could confirm or contradict the stories today.
As for The Girl, it might have worked if it had been directed by Hitchcock. Based on the book Spellbound by Beauty by Donald Spoto, it is directed without panache by Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots). A big distraction is the casting of Jones, who in makeup and prosthetics looks more like a padded up Paul Williams. There are attempts to give the film some of the master's edge, but I found the film to be plodding and dull, two words not generally associated with Hitchcock. 
Hedren says that she screened The Girl for her actress/daughter Melanie Griffith. Her reaction? "Now I have to go back into therapy."
The Girl premieres Saturday night at 9 p.m. on HBO and HBO Canada.

Friday, October 19, 2012

TONIGHT: Nikita keeps Dillon Casey on his toes

Attention, Nikitaverse: Nikita returns for a third season tonight at 9 p.m. on The CW and CTV TWO. The spy series, starring Maggie Q, is generally  off the radar in the Criticverse, but it has its fans and they are loyal.
That's the report back from Dillon Casey who plays ex-Navy SEAL Sean Pierce in the series. Casey, who grew up in Oakville, Ont., says he ran into fans on the streets of London this summer. Nikita is one of those action hours that exports well all over the world.
Funnily enough he gets less of that at home. Most Torontonians don't even realize Nikita shoots in our city.
"You get people thinking I'm just in town, taking a break from shooting--which is the case half the time anyway," says Casey. Then there are those who go, "Nikita? is that still on the air?"--thinking back to the earlier version of the same basic series which starred Peta Wilson. That series was produced in Mississauga and was a virtual training ground for talent behind and before the camera on 24.
Casey agrees this Nikita, Maggie Q, is a kick ass babe. "She’s a friendly professional who really knows her stuff," he says. "Part of reason she was cast in the role is, besides being a beautiful woman and a great actor, is she's a stunt woman who can coordinate a lot of her own fights as well as help you with your fights. She’s a leader in the show as well as outside the show."
Before landing Nikita at the start of last season, Casey did his share of pilot season auditions in Los Angeles (turning the experience into a Funny or Die web series--check out Livin in LA with Dillon Casey).
"When you go to pilot season, you can always tell when the audition room is full of Canadians," he says. One  time he found himself in a screen test for a series lead opposite two other Canadians, one of whom he worked with on MVP. When it's Americans in the room, it's very competitive, he says, but with Canadians, it's, "Oh no, you deserve it man, you're a great actor..."
The series was Haven and the part went to Casey's old MVP mate, Lucas Bryant. That's how it goes, says Casey. "You just say to yourself, I'm going to go in and do my best and that has nothing to do with how you do."
I profile Casey this week in an article for The Canadian Press; you can find that article here.

The Beatles' magical tour bus a Suite pickup

Paul, George, John and Ringo go through the window
They'd probably  bill it as "Beatles Night in Canada" if they weren't afraid of being sued by CBC.
Friday night at 9 p.m. ET, Hollywood Suite's Sony Movie Channel has the Canadian television premiere of The Beatles' 1967 TV special The Magical Mystery Tour.
Now, how can anything Beatles have taken 45 years to reach the small screen? Hollywood Suite president and co-founder David Kines explains that the film's rocky launch in The U.K. probably derailed plans for immediate North American distribution.
Billed there as a Boxing Day present from The Beatles (it debuted on the BBC on Dec. 26, 1967), there was nothing remotely Christmas-y about the film. It basically showed the Fab Four taking a zany bus tour of rural England. The film was the brainchild of Paul McCartney and all four members of the group are billed as writers and directors.
Missing, unfortunately, was director Richard Lester, who had a lot to do with making A Hard Day`s Night and Help such memorable fun.
That first BBC premiere was broadcast in black and white, leaving viewers in the dark. This was The Beatles in all their psychedelic glory, and the bright colour changes in one cloud sequence in particular left viewers seeing, in Kines' words, "fifty shades of grey."
Colour TV was still a novelty in Canada in 1967, so broadcasters on this side of the pond probably felt this tour was best left a mystery.
The version Hollywood Suite will be showing Friday night, uncut and in true HD, is the same restored and remastered print just released on DVD. The Sony Movie Channel will also air a documentary about the making of Magical Mystery Tour, complete with interviews with John Lennon (conducted in 1970), George Harrison (1993) and a recent interview with Paul McCartney. Martin Scorsese also weighs in on the film's influence, as does former Python Terry Jones and fellow psychedelic survivor, Peter Fonda.
A Hard Day's Night and the John Lennon doc Imagine are also on Hollywood Suite's playbill.
Among the songs on Mystery Tour are I Am The Walrus and The Fool on the Hill. The film is mainly worth watching for the musical moments, not so much for the story. Late '67 was a fractious time for The Beatles, who seemed to drift apart after the death of manager Brian Epstein. If you're wondering what these dudes were smoking when they shot this film, well, you can practically smell it, man.
One other note: Victor Spinetti, who passed away earlier this year, is the only actor to appear with The Beatles in A Hard Day's Night, Help and Magical Mystery Tour. Look for him as a strutting military man.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

TONIGHT: HBO salutes Kennedy icon Ethel

It’s a little known fact, but two Canadian mountain tops play pivotal roles in the story of a famous American family: the Kennedys.
It’s all revealed in Ethel, a highly personal look at political matriarch Ethel Kennedy, wife of crusading senator, presidential candidate and ‘60s icon Robert F. Kennedy. The documentary premieres Thursday night at 9 p.m. on HBO and HBO Canada.
I had the opportunity to interview director Rory Kennedy last August in Los Angeles. She and her mother Ethel, 84, were featured earlier that day at HBO's TCA sessions. 
Rory was the youngest of Robert and Ethel's 11 children and was born six months after her father was assassinated. She told me her parents met at the Quebec ski resort Mt. Tremblant in 1945. The couple were on a ski holiday with their two extended families, the Kennedys and the Skakels. After a few false starts, a romance blossomed and the two were wed in 1950.
 Years later, in 1965, a sombre yet determined RFK made a pilgrimage to the top of Mt. Kennedy, a 4300m peak in The Yukon named after his murdered brother, President John F. Kennedy. It was at that time the highest peak in North America not yet scaled.
“My mother really feels like that was a turning point for him,” says Rory Kennedy of the pilgrimage. Kennedy came down off the mountain with new vigour and slowly emerged from the deep funk which gripped him in the months following his brother’s death.
The documentary features the Kennedy matriarch in her first extended interview in over 25 years, along with eight of her 11 children: Kathleen, Joe, Bobby, Courtney, Kerry, Chris, Max and filmmaker Rory. (Two children, David and Michael, have passed away.)
Rory has tackled tough subjects before, including HBO’s Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, but shied away from turning her cameras on her own family until nudged by HBO executive producer Sheila Nevins.
“This is not a film I would have done 20 years ago or 15 years ago when I was first getting started,” says Kennedy, 44. “I think I needed to feel that I had a certain amount of work behind me and confidence in my work that I could handle the subject matter.”
Viewers looking for any dirt on the Kennedys should seek out last year's History miniseries. Rory, as expected, sticks to the Camelot script.
For more on Ethel check out the feature I wrote for the October issue of Movie Entertainment magazine.

CRTC Chair Blais kicks Bell bid in the Astral

The CRTC logo. Lookin' more like a shield
Hey, remember the CRTC? Apparently it's ba-aack.
On Thursday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ka-powed BCE Inc's $3.4 billion takeover bid of Astral Media, seen almost as a foregone conclusion just weeks ago. Sure, Bell would have to hand over some radio stations, observers figured, maybe cough up some more money for funding. Tabs would soar at some of Ottawa's finer dining establishments. 
But just say no? That word had almost fallen out of use in these "bigger-is-better" business model times.
The thrill of this decision, handed down with stunning speed (the hearings ended just a month ago), is that the CRTC is finally standing up for the consumer. It's like a big business episode of Intervention Canada. Read the conclusion to the CRTC's decision, below:
The Commission finds that BCE has not discharged its burden and demonstrated that, on balance, this transaction is in the public interest. The benefits proposed would advantage BCE and its services, but the Commission is not persuaded that the transaction would provide significant and unequivocal benefits to the Canadian broadcasting system and to Canadians sufficient to outweigh the concerns described above.
Just about everybody else lined up against this mighty media merger, including unlikely bed fellows CBC and Quebecor. The lobbying likely helped, but there are strong signs the new guy in charge, chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, is just a consumers first guy.
The commission found the takeover would give Bell a 43% share of the English Canada media market, twice the share of Shaw, its next closest competitor. Consumers had every right to fear higher prices for TV services, including satellite TV options.
If you create content in this country, you may also be breathing a sigh of relief. There are already so few doors to knock on in Canada to try and get your project on the air. Astral, which somehow enjoyed a staggering 60 consecutive quarters of growth in Canadian television, does green light and produce original content (Call Me Fitz, Living in Your Car) and over the years has provided millions in funding.  
So consumers and suppliers both had reason to fear more media concentration in Canada. To give one personal example: when I started freelancing full time nearly six years ago, one of my first jobs was as a regular contributor was to a monthly magazine Bell offered to satellite subscribers. Published out of Montreal, Show was a classy, handsome product.
Then it was gone, suddenly, part of a cost cutting sweep. Some terrific editors were looking for work.
Fortunately, around that same time, I started contributing on a regular basis to Movie Entertainment magazine. Have a story in their current issue on Rory Kennedy documentary Ethel, premiering tonight on HBO Canada.
ME magazine is also a classy, handsome product, a service to folks who subscribe to HBO Canada, The Movie Channel or Movie Central.
Now, products come and go all the time, but I can't say I was encouraged by Bell's track record in regard to providing customers with added value in print form. So, as a supplier and a consumer, thank you CRTC.
It will be fascinating to follow what comes next. All those other media executives, the ones who have testicles, probably felt them leap as it sunk in that this new sheriff in town is also going to rule on a lot of other stuff. Things like Corus re-branding The Learning Channel as VIVA and then OWN. Apparent non-compliance stuff. 
But for now, the full stop to the Bell-Astral merger sends a signal to all players involved: the rubber stamp has been retired.

This week's podcast: hooked on Amish

People are endlessly fascinated by someone else being humiliated on television. That might explain why Scott Thompson's wife spent the weekend watching Breaking Amish. "She was mesmerized by it Bill, she couldn't stop watching it for two hours," the CHML host  reports.I tell Scott about my visit to the creepy set of Panic Button in Etobicoke, a Saw-like reality show experience coming to Space in the new year. Speaking of creepy, we also talk about the return this week of FX's American Horror Story. He also wants to know what I think about Beyonce working the Super Bowl, the Rolling Stones still doing it, that guy who jumped out of the sky and that Comedy Network relaunch of Match Game. You can listen in and fill in the blanks here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Set visit: Space's Panic Button looks Saw scary

Inside Panic Button's  horrifying "Venus Flytrap
I've been to some creepy sets in my day--including The Chevy Chase Show--but the set of Panic Button has to be the creepiest.
The beyond reality series, from two of the twisted minds behind Travel's Destination Fear, invites people to step into what is basically the Saw movie franchise brought to life. It will premiere on Space sometime early in 2013.
A posse of journalists were led through this Big Brother House of Horrors Tuesday by creators and producers Jonathan Dueck and Kevin Healey. The setting could not be more apt. The makeshift studio is a converted slaughterhouse/meat locker somewhere in darkest Etobicoke.
The first 10 episodes, now wrapping production, find participants braving their worst possible fears--darkness, spiders, rats, snakes, electric shocks, grammar mistakes, you name it--as they attempt to get from one end of a long horror maze to another. Along the way they encounter floor drops, swarms of bugs, dark water hazards and even Dobermans.
Confronting the Murtzification of fear
The strength of the series is all in the power of suggestion, says Dueck. A disembodied voice (Healey) gives participants seconds to follow commands. People are blindfolded and stripped of cellphones. Fifty percent of the participants don't get past the first maze.
Women, the duo report, are more likely to be brave, men are 'fraidy cats. "Guys are falling like fall leaves," says Healey.
A clip was shown where a participant was reduced to a screaming swear machine as he wandered about in the darkness. This show makes Fear Factor look like The View.
Panic Button may be even scarier than trying to get a network to green light an original series in Canada--that's how scary it is! Active studio eOne is behind the international sales. When it launches in 2013 on Space, you'll get plenty of warning right here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My arresting day on the set of Rookie Blue

I was thrown in the slammer today on the set of Rookie Blue. The Global/ABC cop show is in production on a fourth season, with 13 new episodes scheduled to begin airing next spring. The cast and crew were working on episode five today as I toured the massive stealth studio in Mississauga, just a John Daly tee shot away from Toronto's Pearson airport.
At one point, Rookie Blue, The Firm and Saving Hope were all shot in this same, nondescript warehouse-turned-studio. It has to be the only soundstage anywhere to house a cop show, a lawyer show and a doctor show which have all played simultaneously on both a Canadian and a U.S. network.
Had a nice visit with Gregory Smith, the savvy Toronto lad who co-starred previously on Everwood. He directed an episode of Rookie Blue last season and is slated to helm the 12th and second-last episode this season. Smith sees this as a way to broaden and expand his career.  It's worked for Jason Priestley, and now series leads such as Bryan Cranston and Jon Hamm are getting into the Director's Guild act.
Met with Rookie Blue creator Tassie Cameron in her office. She can't believe four seasons have whizzed by and is blown away by the impact the series has had on fans, especially those who take the character's lives very seriously. Some fans have even sent her "couples therapy" books for when certain characters hit a rocky patch in their relationships.
Cameron, a Canadian Film Centre grad who previously wrote and produced episodes of The Eleventh Hour and Flashpoint, says she almost couldn't go out in public last season when Noam Jenkin's character, detective Jerry Barber, was killed off. Fans were irate that a favourite character was eliminated but Cameron felt a cop show must deliver real life and death consequences.
Later on I ran into pretty Charlotte Sullivan on the set. The restless blond says she's toying with changing her hair colour to black, so don't be surprised if her character Gail Peck goes undercover. I asked about her role as Marilyn Monroe on the History miniseries The Kennedys and then she threw me into a holding cell. Gotta love a gal who knows how to work a gag photo op.
The cops have been after me for years. Hill and Renko bust Brioux circa 1986
This isn't the first time I've been roughed up by coppers on a TV set. That's none other than Hill and Renko (Michael Warren and Charles Haid) giving me the third degree just outside the soundstage of NBC's '80s TV classic Hill Street Blues. The shot was taken way back in the day by my old pal Gene Trindl at CBS Radcliffe in Studio City. Over the years, I've been booked by the best.

Comedy Network blanks with Match Game

Three on a Match: Deb DiGiovanni, Darrin Rose and Sean Cullen
It's always dicey when you try to reboot a favourite from TV's past. GSN tried reviving the classic panel show I've Got a Secret in 2006 and it stayed a secret.
Starting today at 8 p.m. ET, the Comedy Network launches an all new, Canadian version of Match Game. The Mark Goodson-Bill Todman production originally aired in the '60s and '70s and was so popular from '73 to '76 it was the No. 1 show in all of daytime.
I used to rush home from school as a kid just to see host Gene Rayburn try to keep order with panelists Charles Nelson Reilly, Brett Somers and Richard Dawson goofing off with the likes of McLean Stevenson, Nipsey Russell, Fannie Flagg and Elaine Joyce. There were shows where they all seemed a little loopy and in fact they were. The original production schedule called for five shows to be shot in a day, and the ones taped after a hearty liquid lunch were always the most fun.
The new show was shot in Montreal on a similar schedule--five shows a day shot over 12 days. And, yes, as Deb DiGiovanni told me, a few panelists enjoyed their refreshments between tapings.
"I'm actually not a drinker, so I did a lot of watching people pretending it was water, wink wink," she says. DiGiovanni joins Sean Cullen on the panel with guests including Tom Green, Colin Mochrie, Robin Dunne, Samantha Bee (“The Daily Show”), Jeremy Hotz, Mark Little and Scott Thompson, as well as U.S. stars such as Janeanne Garofalo and Andy Kindler.
Hosting is Darrin Rose and DiGiovanni doesn't envy him the task. "He had to keep things in order," she says. "We felt bad for him, he keeps it going so well."
Original host Rayburn with Joan Collins and Richard Dawson
The new show features the old waa-waa guitar theme, a similar, loudly-painted set and the same basic game play. Missing is original host Gene Rayburn's collapsible, wand-like mike. Apparently the search for a new one went blank. “I think Gene Rayburn was probably buried with it,” DiGiovanni speculates. “God bless, but if we crack that open, I’m sure he’s clutching the microphone.”
Also missing is the feeling that something naughty could happen. It's 2012, and somebody using the word "hump" to fill in a blank doesn't have the same impact as it did in '73 or '74. That's the new Match Game's dilemma--trying to sound risque in an era when anything goes.
You can almost imagine a Howard Stern radio version of this show today full of obscenities and nudity. Comedy is going for a more family audience weeknights at at 8 p.m.
The new cast gives it their dirty best, says Rose. "You’ll be shocked at the number of euphemisms for genitalia they came up with," he says. Two to listen for are "lady stuffer" and "snake garage."

Read more about the new Match Game here at this story I filed for The Canadian Press.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Recapping my week in reality show hell

Eventual X Factor champ Carly Rose hits high note, puberty
The reason why few new network reality shows break through, I'm convinced, is that even the most ardent fan of the genre not named Murtz can only faithfully follow two or at the most three a week.
I've held this view for a while, but it was pounded home this past week after asked me to recap four of the top reality shows currently on the air: Dancing with the Stars, The Voice, Survivor and The X Factor. Even CTV couldn't fit all these shows on their schedule. How did The Star know I don't have a social life?
Seriously, after all this talent show time wasting, I now want to throw away any CDs still in my house and rip out all the speakers.
These singing star search shows are too similar, not just in how they work, but in how they present their storytelling. So much time is spent setting up some wannabe as a hard luck case/dashed dreams survivor/arrogant fame seeker, and then it all leads to 90 seconds of warbling.
At least on DWTS, the celebrities are the props, not the judges. The judges on that series have their shtick down and so does host Tom Bergeron. The people getting humiliated chose to do this for a living already. Some of these young kids on the other shows just seem used and confused.
Here are the links to the cheap shots and sarcastic comments I made about these shows this week:

Drew Lachey (right) asks Tom Bergeron (left) to stop being so tall
Dancing with the Stars had its dreaded "Double Elimination" week, with two former champs going down among the remaining 11 "All Stars. Check out the Monday recap here and the Tuesday results recap here.

Melanie and Caitlin are told to stop phoning it in by Adam Levine
The Voice has shifted from the Blind Audition round to the Battle Zone or the Cage match or something. The new twist this season is the "Steal" and it is used, but not to save 2Steel Girls. Read all about it here.

The Matsing tribe tell Probst what he can do with his daytime talk show
Survivor has been hard on the Maytag Tribe or whatever it is called. They are a wash out so far, making four consecutive trips to Tribal Council. See who gets their Tiki torch snuffed this week here.

Scooter, Biebs and LA think the economy has rebounded just fine, thanks
The X Factor had moved on the the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous round, where the remaining hopefuls get to schlep to the homes of the ridiculously wealthy judges. Some of the singers can see their homes in East L.A. from LA Reid's palace. Read about it here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

TONIGHT: Beauty and the Beast premieres

It was way back in the '80s when the original Beauty and the Beast crawled out of the sewers and into viewer's living rooms.Tonight at 9 p.m. on The CW and Showcase, a new version of the series emerges. 
The sewers seem too good for this howlingly bad update, which is shot in Toronto, not for from where another Showcase series is produced, Lost Girl. Coincidentally, the original Catherine from the old series, Linda Hamilton, was on the Lost Girl set a few months ago as a guest star. When I spoke with her at the time, she joked that she should cross the street and visit the new Beast lair.
The original TV beast was played by Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) as a big, cranky, furry-faced puddy-tat who freaked every time his precious lady love Catherine got in danger.The series didn't last very long, but was a phenomenon for a while, with women gathering in church halls and community centres to swoon over the hairy he-man. The series clearly filled a romantic void on network TV at the time.
The new beast, played by New Zealander Jay Ryan, is a handsome dude with a scar who can somehow genetically change into a strong, speedy beast. He falls for a police detective played by Vancouver-native Kristen Kreuk (Smallville).
Kreuk has arresting good looks, but as a convincing cop she's Rookie blew. This remake is so bad it may only last six years on The CW.
When I spoke with Kreuk at last summer's TCA press tour in Los Angeles, she admitted playing a cop was a bit of a stretch. "I don’t walk into a room with an authoritative stance," she said, "but I love it, it's such a challenge for me to go out there and take that position."
There's a scene in tonight's pilot that was shot in the "secret" subway station in downtown Toronto. The underground station was built for a subway extension that was abandoned. Film crews take advantage of it all the time.
Kreuk was feeling ill when those subway scenes were shot but, given the short schedule, had to suck it up and get the job done. "We had a huge fight scene mapped out, you have to learn those things quick," she says.
Kreuk says she hadn't seen the original series when she was offered the part. "I didn't have TV growing up and my parents didn't watch much TV either," she says. Where did she live, in a sewer?
She's adapting to life in Toronto after settling the last few years in Los Angeles. "But it was hard," she says. "I've got my boyfriend [in L.A.], my dog, my family, my best friends I've had for years and years."
She is digging Toronto, though. 
"Toronto’s a city. Vancouver’s not a real city like that. I love it, but Toronto's vibrant and the culture’s vibrant and the food and there are people out at night until the morning and Vancouver's not like that at all." 
Especially down in the sewers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

This week's podcast: Peladeau has a point

This week, CHML's Scott Thompson asks if I'm enjoying the fall TV season so far. To be honest, not so much. I can't remember a fall season where I did not care if I never saw a second episode of any new network series.
We've already had the first casualty of the fall: Made in Jersey, which quietly tanked on Friday nights on CBS. Other shows are teetering, including Partners, Mob Doctor, Animal Practice and Guys With Kids.
Even the stuff given full season orders so far--The Mindy Project and Ben & Kate on Fox and NBC's The New Normal, Matthew Perry's Go On and Revolution--are hardly runaway hits and seem more like defensive moves.
Congrats if you had Jersey in the pool
Scott also brings up the latest ravings from Quebecor chief Pierre Karl Peladeau. My old Sun Media boss warns that the Canadian TV industry must make content that can sell beyond its borders or risk being swamped by foreign fare coming from powerful new Internet providers, including Google and YouTube. No merde, Sherlock!
Still, taken at face value, PKP is right--Canadian networks, especially English Canadian networks, have to get in the content game big time or risk become roadkill on the Internet superhighway. This Hollywood simulcast shell game is looking sillier every fall.
There's also radio talk about ESPN's 9:79* Ben Johnson documentary airing Thursday night on TSN and some talk of worthy new efforts Arrow and Nashville. You can listen in here.

TONIGHT: Nashville and Arrow worth the wait

Two of the better new shows in a mediocre season launch tonight: Arrow and Nashville, along with one of the worst new shows, Chicago Fire. The CW, which is behind shot-in-Vancouver Arrow, tends to launch all their new shows a little later since it apparently doesn't matter if anybody watchers. Arrow delivers as a well made action hour, with nimble Torontonian Stephen Amell in the lead.
Nashville is the series that has to live up to the hype as the best new show of the season. While it is well made and well cast, it is hardly innovative or ground breaking and people expecting to be blown away may have to adjust expectations.

Wednesday, October 10, 8 p.m., The CW, CTV TWO
Based on the Green Arrow comic book series: a millionaire playboy (played by Toronto native Stephen Amell), given up for dead, turns up and goes all Batman on his crime-ridden city.
Amell is the real deal--even those step ladder chin ups aren't faked. The action scenes are cool and the dialogue doesn't make you wince. Are we sure this is a CW show? Katie Cassidy, Paul Blackstone, Colin Salmon and Willa Holland also star.

Wednesday, Oct. 10, 10 p.m., ABC, CTV TWO
A Reba McEntire-like country singer whose career is on the wane (Connie Britton from Friday Night Lights) is forced to step  aside for the new kid in town, a pop princess with plenty of 'tude (Hayden Panettiere from Heroes). Eric Close, Powers Boothe, Robert Wisdom and Claire Bowen also star.
Britton and Panettiere seize their roles and run with them in the pilot, which snaps with plenty of soap sizzle. You don't have to be a country music fan to enjoy this backstabbing showbiz story.

Chicago Fire
Wednesday Oct. 10, 10 p.m., NBC, Global
Law & Order boss Dick Wolf is behind this salute to the men and women of Chicago Firehouse 51. Jesse Spencer (House), Taylor Kinney, Monica Raymund, Lauren German and Eamonn Walker are in the cast.
It just seems so seen-it-before, so Third Watch, and worse than that, dull. No sparks.

President Obama takes a late night lambasting

President Obama in happier times with Dave on Sept. 18. John Paul Filo/CBS
Years ago it was said that if you lost Walter Cronkite, you lost the White House.
The "most trusted" CBS news anchor certainly played a part in ending Lyndon Johnson's political career. 
Even more lethal, it could be argued, was being the steady butt of Johnny Carson's jokes. While he gently poked fun at Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan, Carson was famously a-political. You never really knew if he was a Republican or a Democrat. So if he was throwing dirt on you, it was over. 
When it was clear Nixon was a crook, Carson hit him with this: "Did you know Richard Nixon is the only president whose formal portrait was painted by a police sketch artist?"
Today's late night hosts are less restrained in their zingers, far faster to respond and there are a lot more of them, leading to gang tackling politicians didn't have to contend with in Carson's day.
This has to be a troubling problem, especially this late in the campaign, for Team Obama. They've seen their man slide from being a big "Get" on Letterman to a nightly stooge across all networks in three short weeks. You don't want to turn into America's Joke in October before the Big Vote in November. Take a look at the Obama-bashing going on now on a nightly basis and repeated throughout the day on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter:

"You know your campaign's in trouble," Letterman joked Wednesday, "when you're looking for Joe Biden to turn it around."

"Unemployment is 7.8 percent, the lowest it’s been since Obama took office," Jay Leno joked Tuesday. "The Obama campaign said they can't wait to take these statistics and not use them in the next debate."

Jay Leno welcomed Ann Romney Sept. 25. Paul Drinkwater/NBC
"Apparently after last week’s debate, polls show Obama trailing Romney by one point," said Jimmy Fallon Tuesday. "One point — or as it’s also known, 'the thing Obama failed to make during last week’s debate.'” 

"At one point last night," said Conan O'Brien Friday, "President Obama said the one thing about being president is learning to say no. Especially when someone asks, 'Do you feel ready for this debate?"'

"It's Nobel Prize season," remarked Letterman Tuesday. "Earlier today a medical team received the Nobel Prize for reviving the Mitt Romney campaign."

"Last night was the first presidential debate at the University of Denver," Fallon joked last Friday. "Of course, a lot of big names didn't show up for the event — Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, President Obama."

"Pundits have had a few days to take a look at the debate,"Letterman said Monday. "They're saying that President Obama walked on stage without a plan and was listless and disengaged. And when I heard that I thought, 'Well, that’s worked OK for me.'"

Letterman, who is mounting a one man campaign to get Romney on his show, still seems in Obama's corner: "Your choice now is pretty clear," he said Monday. "You can either vote for the guy who got rid of bin Laden or vote for the guy who wants to get rid of Big Bird."

"In a new interview, first lady Michelle Obama said that she would choose Will Smith or Denzel Washington to play her husband in a movie," joked Jimmy Fallon Monday. "Or as Democrats put that, "Any way they can play him in a debate?"

Fallon works "Mitt Romney's Neighborhood." Lloyd Bishop/NBC
Said Fallon on Friday: "It was not a good night for the president. In fact, the president seemed to give long-winded, disjointed answers during last night's debate. Even Gary Busey was like, 'Dude, you've got to focus.'"

"The only thing that could have salvaged the president's performance," said Jimmy Kimmel Friday, "would have been if the body of bin Laden fell from the ceiling onto the stage."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ben Johnson a cheetah? Check out ESPN's 9:79*

I was in Sauble Beach that summer of '88, looking up at a TV set with several friends watching Ben Johnson smash the 100-meter mark at the Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
Everybody in the room was standing and cheering after the race. The idea that Canada would win any gold medal at a summer Olympics was a bigger stretch in those days, but to take THE medal? Who was going to let that happen?
Well, not the IOC, apparently. Thursday, TSN presents the ESPN "30 for 30" film 9:79*, which recently played at the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary features candid interviews with Johnson, Lewis and all eight sprinters in the race.
Johnson--who ran a sizzling 9:79 in the 100 meter finals--was the world champion and the record holder at the time at that distance. His cocky turn of the head as he breezed past Lewis at the finish line might have cost him a few more 100ths of a second.
Canadians coast-to-coast felt sick 48 hours later when he was stripped of his medal after testing positive for anabolic steroids.
Johnson's disgrace seemed compounded years later as he agreed to appearing in comical "Cheetah" power drink ads as his endorsement money vanished. He paid the ultimate price and remains the face of the steroid era even though few believe others weren't or aren't on the juice.
Nobody gets their pants pulled down like Ben did at today's Games, but every time anybody does freakishly well in any sport since, few believe it is from eating Wheaties. Five other competitors in that same race either tested positive for performance enhancing drugs or were implicated in a drug scandal--including Lewis, Sports Illustrated's "Olympian of the Century." The stronger Olympic nations, it has long been felt (and not just by Canadians), are able to protect their athletes.
These 30 for 30 films are always entertaining. 9:79* also features interviews from Canadian broadcasters Brian Williams, Gino Reda and Rod Smith. Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET on TSN.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

TONIGHT: CTV's W5 offers "Annette's Story"

Annette Funicello was one of the biggest stars on television back in the mid-'50s. As the main attraction on The Mickey Mouse Club, the original Mouseketeer was much more than just the Justin Beiber of her day, a child star kids wanted to know, be like, grow up and marry. Parents adored her too.
Funicello went on to a surprising recording career as well as a string of popular "Beach Blanket" movies. Around 20 years ago, she revealed she had been stricken with Multiple Sclerosis and has been living in seclusion in California with husband Glen Holt ever since.
CTV's W5 offers a rare glimpse (they're billing it as a "world exclusive") into Funicello's world Saturday night with "Annette's Story" (7 p.m. ET). Medical reporter Avis Favaro goes to Funicello's home and learns about an experimental  new procedure that may give Funicello and other Multiple Sclerosis sufferers hope.
I had the privilege of visiting Funicello in the mid-'90s at her home, shortly after her book "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" came out. My Disney friend Lorraine Santoli--author of "The Official Mickey Mouse Club Book" and instrumental in setting the W5 interview up--provided that opportunity.
Funicello turns 70 later this month. She was still fairly mobile and spirited--a delight, really--when I visited all those years ago, full  of stories about Walk Disney and very self effacing when it came to her own career. Holt has cared for her all these years and does most of the talking tonight. Kudos to W5 for seeking out this early TV icon and helping to spread the word about new initiatives in the fight against MS.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Super Channel to bare all with Naked News doc

Award-winning journalist interviewing former Naked News newscaster
On Thursday, the Canadian pay-TV network Super Channel announced they are producing an eight-part documentary series on the notorious little enterprise Naked News. Production on Naked News Uncovered, from Toronto's AllScreen Entertainment, is set to begin later this month and the series will air next summer.
For those who may not keep abreast of these things, Naked News was a saucy little venture which stumbled onto the Internet and, briefly, onto City-TV over a dozen years ago. It featured women and a few men removing articles of clothing as they went through the daily headlines.
This thing started up shortly after I was hired to cover television for the Toronto Sun and writing about it was one of my first assignments. I remember thinking at the time that I had the best job in the world.
They shot Naked News within walking distance of the Sun. I always thought the Sun should have been in on this venture, it seemed a natural extension of the Sunshine girl deal and would have been a big step up from the Intellectually Naked News they're producing for a dozen or so viewers today.
At the time of the assignment, I headed over to the Naked News centre with Sun shooter Mark O'Neill, who seemed pretty blase about the whole thing, like he shot naked women every day.
The striking young woman I'm interviewing in the above photo was named Athena. Once you got past the challenge of trying to maintain eye contact (same problem I always had with Lloyd Robertson, by the way), the women were pretty interesting and surprisingly varied in age. One woman, a new recruit, told me she hadn't told her boyfriend that she was doing this yet because they had just started going out. "You mean, I've seen you naked and he hasn't?" I asked. That didn't seem right.
When I filed my report, I added a graph of the various hairstyles I noticed the women were sporting south of the equator. This reporter, as Kent Brockman on The Simpsons likes to say, smelled an Emmy. There was the reverse Count Floyd, the Landing Strip, the Lightening Bolt and on and on. This was back when George Bush was still president, so it seemed like I'd get it in the paper.
The Toronto Sun ran with it but that was a bit too much information for some of the more conservative papers in the Sun chain and the hair lines were trimmed. Too bad, it really fleshed out the story.
I spoke with one or two of the men who were part of the on-air talent. I asked one how long he'd be doing this and he said he'd probably stick it out for a year.
Since then, I've run into one or two Canadian writers and producers who got their start typing up news copy for Naked News. Hopefully that will be part of Super Channel's documentary.
As I recall, City bailed on Naked News within weeks. They ran it late at night on the weekends along with a naked cooking show that always seemed like a really bad idea. You never want to be naked around frying pans full of grease. Ouch!
If Super Channel needs a "consultant," someone who was there as an observer at the time, I'm willing to drive in from Brampton if duty calls. I'd hate to see some boob screw this up.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Round One a Tweet victory for Mitt Romney

Both still smiling but only one will be after checking his Twitter account
After last night's first Presidential Debates, Barack Obama may be the first U.S. president tweeted out of office.
Forget all those instant polls flashed on CNN and CBS showing Obama took a whuppin' from Mitt Romney Wednesday night. The instant abandon ship on the twittersphere was the most damning poll of all.
"Damn it. Somebody make me feel better fast..please," tweeted James L. Brooks. Michael Moore was having fits throughout thew debate. "Obama seemed incredibly distracted and somewhere else," he tweeted. "His mind wasn't on the debate. What was he told before he went on stage?" And also: "This is what happens when you pick John Kerry as your debate coach."
"I can't believe I'm saying this," weighed in Bill Maher, who before the debate dubbed it the Thrilla in Vanilla, "but Obama looked like he DOES need a Teleprompter." Maher again: "Healthcare. If Obama can't win this round, Eddie Futch has to stop the fight."
Piers Morgan made the obvious prediction: "Romney's poll numbers will move up significantly over the next few days."
Obama, as even Democratic back room wizard James Carvelle noted on CNN, didn't bring his A-game. He looked like that guy at the Oscars who gets played off after going on and on, thanking his wife and telling his kids its time now to go to bed and meanwhile forgetting to thank the studio, producer and director.
Much of the twitter trauma, however, was directed at moderator and veteran PBS newsman Jim Lehrer, who, to put it kindly, went one presidential debate too many. The CNN headline should have read, "ELDERLY GENTLEMAN RUN OVER BY TWO MILLIONAIRES."
As comedian Patton Oswald tweeted, Lehrer was like the guy in the diner who goes, "Miss, I-I'd like to order," only to have the waitress shout back, "SHUT UP NERD I'M NOT FINISHED WITH THE SPECIALS."
Chris Rock joked, "they need to take a break so Jim Lehrer can have a bathroom break and a hard candy." Even Al  Roker, celebrator of centennial birthdays, tweeted, "I hope Jim Lehrer gets licence plate of truck that drove over him in this debate."
Moore tweeted, "Eastwood's chair would do a better job moderating this debate. Romney is both candidate and moderator."
Maher, as you'd expect, was more blunt: "Hey, Lehrer, you're the f---ing ref, stop letting the MittBot bully you--he can't fire YOU."
Or can he? Romney's aside that he'd axe the annual PBS appropriation--even though he likes Lehrer and Sesame Street--sparked plenty of reaction. "Mitt will stop the subsidy to PBS!" cracked Maher. "Well, that should solve the deficit problem." Added Rock: "Oscar the Grouch is like, 'Seriously? I already live in a garbage can.'"
Roger Ebert's take: "Romney's promise to cut help for PBS won't go over well with millions watching the debate on PBS."
Sesame Street should rush together and episode brought to you by the letters MITT and the number 47, as in percent.
Overall, Rock had the funniest take on the debate. "Both candidates debated poorly. Obama is thinking about his anniversary. Romney is nervous near a black man. Jim Lehrer is made out of clay." And finally, "CNN reports that Obama will end the debate by holding up Bin Laden's head w/his birth certificate in Bin Laden's mouth."
Yes, I tweeted too (@BillBriouxTV): "These debates are so dull #NBC just gave them a full season order."
The next televised debate, between vice-presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, is scheduled for Oct. 11, live from Danville, Kentucky. ABC News' Martha Raddatz will moderate.