Saturday, February 13, 2016

First Dates' Valentines Special: Very Cute Indeed

So there I was at a very swank dinner party and as usual I was lamenting the lack of Canadian series on Canadian TV channels.
"I watch First Dates all the time," said the woman opposite me, dressed in her chic Chanel pantsuit and a very famous author indeed.
I'd heard of that one but was playing catch up.
But now I've just watched the two specials First Dates has reconfigured from past episodes titled tantalizingly enough Worst Dates.
Check them out for yourself on Sat. Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. and on Sun. Feb. 14 at noon and again at 5 p.m. on Slice, Got that?
And I'm finding this series very cute but also a bit cringe worthy at times as very nice couples find they are not suited for each other and in Blythe Dannerese decide to consciously uncouple.
The setting is the very swank "in" Vancouver restaurant Earls Yaletown in the trendiest section of Vancouver.
I'm told producer Toby Dormer stations dozens of hidden cameras all over the place to capture every moment.
I'm told hundreds of Vancouverites were set up this way and none of them had any idea who they were meeting. Talk about blind dating gone wild.
Now a neighbor who is hooked on the show explained that nothing ever seems rehearsed at all. Some of the contestants are gorgeous, others less so.
In short this isn't your average cookie cutter reality outing where the desire is to embarrass the heck out everyone into multiple accusations.
I really liked the atmosphere and how eager to please everyone seems.
In fact several subjects say they have been here before and were found wanting by other blind dates.
It's the complete lack of rehearsal that makes each encounter both touching and rather sweet.
A whole heck of a lot of footage must have been shot just to get those brief moments of self realization.
the way almost all seem awkward at first is perfectly realized.
And they all seem genuinely inclined to ask good questions and try to make their partner feel at home.
Of course this turns viewers into mini-voyeurs but in a rather nice way.
Very quickly we can see there's a complete lack of chemistry in some couples while others are cautiously optimistic some genuine emotion can be discovered.
I would think most had a very interesting time. But a few seem genuinely crushed when rejected.
When it comes time to plan future dates some of the curt refusals just stunned me.
I couldn't help myself but I most identified with the exterminator who so desperately desired a relationship in his thirties.
But others who've seen more episodes identified with others.
And one constant fan told of the desperate gal who even tried to pick up the bartender.
Worst Dates is the best --or make it the best of the worst--of these encounters, a serio-comic salute to Valentines Day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bitten Is Back For Season 3

It's not everyday that Canadian TV ventures into the supernatural.
Way, way back I can remember being on the set of the CTV hit (Forever Knight.
It was in 1996 and Geraint Wynn Davies was a blonde vampire.
Also on the set that day was a young Kristin Lehman now starring on CTV's Motive.
And more recently I had the chance to chat up pert Tatiana Maslany on the set of  Orphan Black.
And then there's Bitten which returns to Space for Season 3.
You can catch the first new episode Friday February 12 at 10 p.m.
To say that Bitten has been an unalloyed hit from the beginning would be a bit of a stretch.
But I've kept watching right along.
It was created by Daegan Fryklind also responsible for Motive, The Listener and he knows how to keep people hooked and watching week after week.
This  series is based on the series of books called Women Of The Otherworld which I have yet to read --Kerlly Armstrong wrote them and has a huge following --on U.S. TV the series is carried on Syfy.
Laura Vandervoort is stunning as Elena Michaels --yes she's beautiful but also has the acting chops to make us believe.
Also making significant contributions are Greyston Holt, Greg Bryk, Steve Lund,  and Genelle Williams.
Poor Elena is a female werewolf and there's a lot of stuff about balancing that and trying to find peace.
There's the sense of constantly being on the run and some of the nastiest physical confrontations as prey are beaten, punched and even hanged into submission.
Shots of wolves running through forests are almost poetic but the story does not depend on fancy special effects.
Rather it's the sense of uneasiness that's always there.
These human wolves run as a pack, they have to stick together or they'll be taken down and no outsiders can be trusted.
The look of each episode is spectacular and I think this is the contribution of  production designer Rory Cheyne and director pf photography Craig Wright.
Also, veteran David Wellington directed the first two new hour episodes asnd he knows how to keep us hooked.
I keep hearing this will be the final block of 10 one episodes which surprises me as it has made Space vastly competitive --Space is number one among Canadian specialty channels--but Bitten must be one of the most expensive Canadian series in cable TV.
I've been told this decision was made at the beginning of production of the third season meaning a complete resolution will wind up this exciting series.
Revelations come pounding forth and I liked the way John Ralston steals scenes as the enigmatic Russian werewolf  Sasha who has been on the run for 30 years and is unknown to other wolves in the area --his scenes with Laura Vandervoort as Elena have the snap and cracle of great dramatic tension.
And if Bitten does as well as I suspect in Season 3 just maybe Space will reconsider its termination notice --after all werewolves are notoriously difficult to kill off.
Bitten was produced by No Equal Entertainment and Hoodwink Entertainment for eOne.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The State Of Canadian TV, Part II

So there I was at my favorite Greek restaurant on Danforth Avenue with three of my favorite people involved in Canadian TV: a veteran publicist, a veteran actress and a well known producer.
Here are highlights of our lunch time conversation.
ME: Who wants to start as we dissect the current state of Canadian TV?
ACTRESS: Well, the plunge in our dollar is great news for people like me. I'm hearing of a dozen projects from the U.S. coming across the border in the spring and summer. You remember that year in the Eighties when we had wall-to-wall American TV movies and miniseries shooting everywhere?
ME: I do! The Star had a photographer line up all the talent at the staircase of the Sutton Place hotel and I think we had over 40 name American actors hugging each other.
PRODUCER: In actual Canadian productions the future is very dire indeed. Look, I admire those CTV drama series Saving Hope and Motive both of which are disguised a bit so they can be sold to the U.S. But stories that are unabashedly Canadian? Forget it. Americans aren't interested which leaves European buyers and they usually only pay a pittance for Canadian shows.
PUBLICIST: For me the times are very difficult. Whoever would have forecast the complete melt down of TV Guide Canada, once the biggest magazine in the nation? Then Southam discontinued TV Times. And Toronto Star's Starweek is produced out of Florida.I have troubles selling any stories on Canadian series I can tell you.
PRODUCER: Every year the three major Canadian networks venture to Hollywood to buy up each and every U.S. fall series. They pay a pittance in terms of actual cost of production. What they also get is all the attendant publicity from such U.S. mags as Entertainment Weekly and all the on air publicity on all the U.S. morning shows. We have few TV talk shows in Canada to publicize local series.
PUBLICIST: Both Global and Bell have their own versions of daily entertainment shows but one rarely sees a rival network getting any publicity. That's why I was pleasantly surprised the other day to see CTV's Ben Mulroney interviewing cast members of the returning CBC series X Company. That almost never happens!
ACTRESS: I submit to you we do have bona fide Canadian stars the Canadian public like and admire: Sonja Smits, Art Hindle, Wendy Crewson, Gordon Pinsent, Nick Campbell, Paul Gross, Michael Riley. My husband asked for a boxed set of This Is Wonderland a few Christmases back and I was shocked to learn only the first season was out on DVD.
ME: Series never on DVD include ENG, Beachcombers, Paradise Falls. A farmer in Wisconsin once wrote to me he'd recorded Power Play when it played on UPN in the States and made up his own boxed set which he sold for awhile on the Internet --he said he's sold over 250 boxed sets.
ACTRESS: The winner of the Gemini awards for best series acting would invariably go to talent who looked a bit lost up there because their series had already been cancelled.
ME: How many local stations do you think wull follow CHCH into declaring bankruptcy?
PRODUCER: Maybne 30 stations are teetering. Local news commitments don't make money any more. Teenagers in my family just don't watch regular TV stations. They transfer everything to their devices and watch later. When CHCH went under it was the tip of ann iceberg.
PUBLICIST: For me the lack of publicity on currently running shows is just awful. CTV and CBC regularly dump their young publicists and hire even younger ones who are under six month contracts and have no contacts they can alert about new shows.
ME: And yet I'm still watching Murdoch Mysteries, X Company, Nature Of Things. I still mourn Elwy Yost who got a new generation interested in old movies. He was irreplaceable. When Lloyd Robertson retired as CTV news anchor I wondered if Lisa LaFlamme would make it and she has! And I'm wondering how long CBC's Peter Mansbridge can hang on. When I started writing my TV column for The Spectator in 1970 CBC's anchor shared a studio with The Friendly Giant.
ACTRESS: A pal of mine was doing scholarly research in the CBC archives --she viewed dozens of classics that can't be shown today because the copyright has run out. So Canadian TV has few Canadian reruns --there's no collective sense of history. Instead we watch American reruns. I'm told The Beachcombers can never be reissued because nobody is sure who owns the rights anymore.
PRODUCER: Maybe the new Trudeau government will take pity on us. After all newspapers are quickly disappearing. And so is Canadian TV. Setting up a funding system would help and perhaps turning newspapers and local stations into non-profits might go a long way. We can dream can't we?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Canadian TV Needs X Company

I sat down to watch the first new episode of X Company on CBC-TV Wednesday night.
And it reminded me once again how Canadian stories are disappearing on Canadian TV with alacrity.
A teacher friend of mine was telling me the other day her students were not quite sure what countries Canada was fighting during World War II.
And asked to name the first five prime ministers of Canada?
Nobody could do it.
And why be surprised?
Canadian channels have become vast wastelands of conventional American imported fare that the networks can buy for cheap prices.
It's far more difficult to manufacture a genuine home grown show.
Rogers had a dandy in Mjrdoch Mysteries but dumped the popular series because it was too pricey.
CTV has some "Canadian" shows I like watching including Motive and Saving Hope but they take place in a world where the word "Canada" is never mentioned --so they can be sold to U.S. outlets.
That's why I was so excited by the return of X Company.
Look, it's not cutting edge TV but it is well made on all fronts.
And it tells a truly Canadian story --Canadian exploits behind the Nazi lines in war torn France.
Yes, there are some cliches but they're our cliches.
The co-creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern deserve accolades for the fast pace and attention to character detail.
And why should I be surprised? they fabricated Flashpoint which ran for six successful seasons on CTV --and also was a prime time favorite on CBS.
The story they chose for their next series is very true indeed --there really was a Camp X on the north shore of Lake Ontario which trained Allied spies and opened just after Pearl Harbor had been attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941.
The lead instructor was the legendary Sir William Stephenson whose exploits inspired the book and TV miniseries A Man Called Intrepid.
The first season was shot in Budapest standing in for France --the Hungarian capital survived almost intact whereas other European capitals were savagely bombed.
The first new hour examined the savage results of Canadian agents being captured and interrogated by the Nazis.
I couldn't stop watching and I feel X Company comes along just at the right time --a reminder Canadian history is filled with such exciting stories.
MY RATING:***1/2.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hold Your Fire Is Finally on CBC-TV's Firsthand

It's a coincidence, of course, but CBC-TV's new and compelling documentary on alcoholism Thursday night at 8 gets  followed by an equally compelling new documentary on Toronto police procedures titled Hold Your Fire (at 9 p.m.)
Because both hours are from Bountiful Films.
In the case of Hold Your Fire the wait has been well worth it.
Hold Your Fire was originally scheduled for October 22 at 9 p.m. on CBC-TV's Firsthand.
The stark and uncompromising look at the police shooting of Sammy Yatim is must-see TV.
But the trial of a Toronto police office was still ongoing in October and ever cautious CBC chose to pull it.
I'm assured that with the jury now sequestered the air date Thursday at 9 p.m. is firm and won't be changed again.
I can understand and I applaud CBC's caution.
Because Hold Your Fire deals with the larger issue of whether or not urban Canadian police forces are trained and equipped to handle the large number of mentally ill people wandering urban mean streets these days.
One thing is certain: social services are currently in turmoil.
There have even been reports in recent days Toronto city council wants to slightly reduce the actual number of police officers.
I know when I was burgled several years ago by a mentally ill street person the cop in charge (a veteran female) said she wasn't able to quickly respond to all the night time calls for help because of underfunding.
One veteran cop I know familiar with the Yatim case that all current procedures were met --it obviously was not sufficient in this case. The actual footage is very frightening.
Other cases involve talented Vancouver animator Paul Boyd as conjured up by distraught father David  Extremely gifted Paul gradually drifted in and out of reality and we see the way police coped was totally wrong.And we have video of Michael MacIsaac of Ajax and how the police seemed determined to gun him down.
Slinger has a wide ranging report about how other police forces from Rialto, California to Leicester, England, are trying to find a safer way for both sides and she has examples of how that is working.
What this entails is a restructuring of police training which is time consuming and expensive given the strains on the current police budget.
And there's the example of one 911 responder who deals only with mental cases as she tries to talk down a disturbed person and avert a shooting incident by either side.
Slinger's first class documentary should really be repeated after the current jury decision because past recommendations about better police training have systematically been ignored.

Wasted: A Must-See Nature Of Things Documentary

Wasted is a top Nature Of Things documentary that puts a face on the compelling subject of alcohol addiction.
You can catch it Thursday night at 8 on CBC-TV. Got that?
The hour begins with film maker Maureen Palmer's profile of her partner Mike Pond who was a psychotherapist helping people with addiction in Penticton, British Columbia.
And then he succumbed to alcoholism himself --living smack dab in wine country didn't help needless to say.
I'm not giving anything away by saying Palmer's approach is reasonable and compulsively viewable because Mike seems like such a well mannered kind of guy.
But this profile really acquires depth  when after being on the wagon for five years Pond starts drinking again --it just happened and despite all that he knew he could not stop it on that fateful day.
The impact on him is something awful but it also breaks Maureen's sunny resolve --she, too, appears from time to time but her steadfastness truly gets tested here.
The first time Mike had crashed it was with such a mighty thud it seemed he might die. Both of them knew another descent like the first might truly finish him off.
He'd wound up homeless on Vancouver's Mean Streets even pawning his computer to get another drink.
There followed two years of hell while he dried out in recovery hostels only to crash again.
The preferred treatment was with Alcohol Anonymous but like so many in that program Mike just couldn't make it stick.
He felt like a failure and couldn't rationalize why he kept slipping back into bad old patterns.
Maureen's film is invaluable for showing us there are effective alternatives.
Mike's road to discovery is what makes Wasted so compulsively viewable.
At Stanford University Mike meets with Dr. Rob Malenka a top scientist who studies how alcohol and drugs change the very nature of the brain's circuitry.
For example when mountain biking Mike would go up the hill with his bottle of Gatorade --and then when coming down he'd drink the second bottle of Gatorade laced with vodka.
Then it's on to Cambridge University  and Dr. Bianca Jupp and her impulsive rats and why they react as they do.
At the Medical University of South Carolina Mike gets strapped in a MRI --shown images of alcoholic drinks and non-alcoholic drinks --Mike doesn't think he is reacting much but the MRI shows differently.
Dr. Bill Miller of the University of New Mexico is very wise in arguing for different treatments for different people.
The stories of "shaming" at AA simply do not work for many of us. I was personally shocked at the high failure rate at AA which hasn't been publicized.
Right on camera Mike begins a different treatment plan. And nobody knows how long that may last --hopefully this time it will be forever.
The introduction of the personal story makes Wasted one to see.
Maureen even films herself trying to come to grips with Mike drinking again.
She has said in one interview returning to Penticton may have triggered impulses in Mike to drink again --but nobody really knows.
Wasted touches all the bases and Pond is remarkably brave allowing himself to be front and center showing both triumphs and momentary failures.
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Global TV Sold : Here We Go Again

So there I was in the fall of 1973 wandering through the maze in Don Mills that was the headquarters of Canada's latest TV network: Global TV.
Leading the way was innovative founder and president Al Bruner who showed me the vast newsroom and the dual anchors, the two Peters he called them, Peter Truman and Peter Desbarats who were going through a dry run.
I visited the downtown studio where American comic Norm Crosby was taping episodes of his daily talk show --guest Noel Harrison was warbling away when I came in.
In Ottawa Shhh It's The News devised by Don Harron was shooting comedic scenes with Barbara Hamilton in attendance.
And also in Ottawa I'd visited with Bernie Braden who'd come home from England to front a weekly current affairs series.
The network launched with appropriate flourish in January 1974 but nobody watched.
Bruner made the mistake of premiering his new TV entity in the middle of a regular TV season with viewing patterns already established.
Advertisers had made their buys for the TV year and just were not interested.
And soon Global TV began sinking like a stone.
Bruner mortgaged his home to keep going but it was to no avail.
Soon the whole edifice crashed and there was an emergency night time CRTC hearing and a fire sale of the network and its contents and many producers lost everything.
A rebuilding program took the next decade as the network seemed to get by on reruns of Love Boat.
And now all these years later?
I feel I may be seeing the same pattern all over again.
A few days ago Corus Entertainment bought the Media division of Shaw Communications for $2.65 billion --ironically Corus was spun off from Shaw in 1999.
So, in effect, Shaw is selling part of its empire to another Shaw company.
The property includes Global TV, such specialty channels as Showcase and DejaView and the home grown versions of such international channels as Food Network, BBC Canada and HGVT.
Don't forget Shaw also announced purchase in December for $1.6 billion of Wind Mobile.
Of course in march you the TV customer can ;pick what individual cable channels you want to keep and which ones you don't want anymore.
It's a new concept called "skinny basic" in the industry.
Corus is taking 19 specialty channels from Shaw and some of these may imndeed fail.
And then there's the future of such "traditional" TV networks as Global which has a competitive national newscast but very few quality Canadian shows.
Global has had such fine Canadian drama series as Combat Hospital and Rookie Blue but when ABC cancelled both in the U.S. Global couldn't afford to continue them up here
Do traditional networks such as Global have much of a future.? I'm just not sure.
The Big Three (Global, CTV and CITY-TV) go down every season to L.A. to buy up more than $700 million in American programming for the next season including many shows that quickly fail.
By contrast the invest very little in new Canadian drama series.
Younger viewers I've been talking to say they prefer Netflix and Hulu (U.S. services) to the more traditional way of watching TV.
So the TV landscape is changing once again and many current Canadian players could simply disappear in the next few years.
Those Canadian networks heavily dependent on American shows we can watch elsewhere will be the first victims.