Saturday, December 9, 2017
What's the hottest trend in TV Reality shows these days?
I say it's the slew of series focused on friendly but helpful vets.
It all started with National Geographic's The Incredible Dr. POl which stars a seventysomething vet way out in the Wisconsin countryside.
Then there's the one I like titled Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet.
And there's one on an Aussie group of vets I've recently been watching on CBC.
And then there's one on a female vet who specializes in exotic a:Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER.
But I'll still have time in my viewing schedule for Dr. Keri: Prairie Vet which premieres Sunday night at 9 on Animal Planet.
This vet is Canadian and she practices out on the lone prairie in Ashern Manitoba.
I talked to her on the phone the other night --she rang in after a typically hectic day and she's not at all sure she wants to be a TV star.
But she has the personality and the way she carefully explains each procedure makes the show highly watchable.
She also seems to care about each and every patient and that's highly important.
These kind of shows can't be set up in advance --we first see Dr. Keri answering the phone at 3:30 a.m. as a distraught farmer says a heiffer is experiencing poroblems in labor.
DR. Keri Hudson travels in a mobile fashion and she's soon at the farm helping induce labor to save the calf and her mother.
Excellent camerawork helps drive the dramatic tension --obviously one can't as the animal participants for a second take.
Dr. Keri mentions she inherited her talents from her dad, also a vet.
And she lives with husband Calvin on a 600-head cattle ranch so she's in the thick of it always.
Her high-tech mobile clinic is shown to advantage in another segment where a gruff little dog has eaten chocolate and seems out of it --she explains what is probably happening and gets to work saving another life.
We get to know the farmers in the area as well as the animals and they all seem taken with her skills.
And as far as Canadian content goes this is right up there with the best of family TV viewing.
Winnipeg's Merit Pictures made this one --another recent Merit production I admired was Beyond The Spectrum: A Family's Year Confronting Autism.
Dr. Keri shows there's room for another Canadian vet on the Canadian landscape.
"I thought of it as an adventure," she says of her newfound TV experience. "I think it rings true because vets are always on call. Ashern is a small community so I have to do a little bit of everything. And there is no down time believe me."
If the series gets a second season pickup Dr. Keri says "I'm looking forward to it. Nothing much was planned --that's the nature of the job you see."
Looks like the Incredible Dr. Pol will have even more TV competition in the future.
DR. KERI PRAIRIE VET PREMIERES ON ANIMAL PLANET SUNDAY AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ***1/2.
Saturday, November 25, 2017
As a summer student at The Globe And Mail my assignment was to seek out the newest teen sensation David Cassidy for a "tell all".
It must have been the summer of 1971 when "Cassidymania" was at its height.
I found the fretting teen sensation holed up in his Royal York hotel room preparing to go on that night at the CNE Stadium before 35,000 rapturous fans.
Cassidy was just as perplexed as the next teen sensation about hids rapid move from obscurity to teen mania.
He was the star of a bubble gum TV series The Partridge Family where his real stepmom Shirley Jones was playing his TV mom.
He was very handsome and unthreatening and aged 20 --the perfect age for teen girls to swoon over him from a safe distance.
But when he returned to the CNE the next summer attendance was down by half.
And he did not return for a third year --the fate of most bubblegum sensations.
I even interviewed him on the set of his TV series in 1972 when ratings were dipping.
His fans were growing into womanhood and a bit astonished they'd ever given their hearts to such a nice, assuming guy.
And a few years after that his brother Shaun took over the mantle for a few years before becoming a TV producer.
David Cassidy still worked --he was a Vegas staple and I interviewed him again on the se-t of David Cassidy ---Man Undercover--which ran on NBC for a mere 10 episodes in 1978.
Cassidy demanded his name be in the title and NBC obliged him thinking he was still a popular TV staple.
By contrast The Partridge Family ran for 96 episodes and four seasons.
The fate of the other kids on that show was also unkind.
Susan Dey who played David's TV sister Laurie Partridge had a second career as an adult in Law And Order and Love And War but has not acted by choice since 2004.
Danny Bonaduce has been hosting a morning talk radio show in Seattle since 2011.
At one point Cassidy claimed the merchandising from Partridge Family had netted $500 million but he only got $5,000.
I remember asking him decades later if reports of a TV reunion series were serious and he nodded yes.
But he insisted creator Bernie Slade be brought back to write it and it never appeared.
In 1994 he wrote a book about being Keith Partridge but it never sold.
But he returned to Vegas multiple times for successful gigs.
He was always soft spoken and sincere and I was sad to learn of convictions for drunken driving in later years.
He also battled the same form of dementia that took his mother.
I'm also thinking of other teen idols and whatever happened to them.Like Bobby Sherman who was a wow on Here Come The Brides --he retired from singing to become a paramedic and police officer.
And just the other night I caught a rerun of a 2013 CSI episode starring Cassidy as a drug lord and his acting was impeccable. although he was much aged.
Perhaps a future as a character actor might have been next.
Friday, November 24, 2017
It's entirely appropriate that at one screening of the new documentary A Better Man there were therapists stationed in the lobby available for counseling.
The vivid film directed by Attiya Khan and Lawrence Jackman depicts a violent relationship between two teenagers --Attiya and Steve (last name withheld) that led to years of brutality.
The TV premiere is on TVOntario Saturday November 25 at 9 p.m.
Arriya sent me a message about the making of her film. An advocate and counselor for women she writes "I had been continuing running into my abusive ex-partner Steve for years. Over these years I had begun to feel more safe during our encounters, and during one of our run-ins he began to apologize profusely--although he never said what he was sorry for. But I knew instinctively that there might be more to his conversation."'
It was Attiya's idea to talk with her on camera and after some months of hesitation Steve agreed and the first of their conversations was recorded.
It was surprising to me that "Steve" agreed to participate in this double profile but he certainly has courage.
It cannot have been easy for either of them.
When they revisit the apartment building where they once lived Attiya suddenly has the urge to throw up, the emotions of the moment are simply too much for her. She is certainly surprised Steve has come to reminisce about a romantic relationship that began and faltered when both were high school teens.
At another point she tells the accompanying therapist who is sometimes included that the strangling from Steve almost caused her to lose consciousness.
Steve who is mostly silent and contemplative cannot sometimes remember whole incidents as if he has desperately tried to expung them from his memory bank.
Only slowly do ugly incidents seem to bring back his memory --at other times details remain very fuzzy.
The scenes of the former couple revisiting the scxhool halls and spotting their old lawyers show that teachers knew something was wrong --one told Attiya she always spotted bruises on her arms .
Steve is silent much of the time, overwhelmed by the mass of details, but he is never quite sure why his violence erupted against the girlfriend he clearly loved.
In her e-mail Attiya tells me people who have seen it reflect on instances of violence in their communities.
We see Attiya in her new relationship that includes a loving husband and delightful toddler.
But some of Steve's short bursts of sentences clearly surprise her with the revelations.
I think the film was made in Montreal but that's never made clear.
We see other friends from that time drift in and out --some were aware of the situation while others clearly are caught off guard.
Viewers expecting cathartic moments and a clear resolution mayl be disappointed. This is life not melodrama.
As Attiya writes :"It had been 20 years and while I felt much stronger and I had a wonderful family and a job I enjoyed and incredibly supportive friendships, I was not healing.
"Sharing my memories with Steve and watching him acknowledge the truth about his violence, I felt myself healing in real time."
I admired the film for that very aspect --this is how real life functions.
It seems to me Attiya and Steve are still scarred but for different reasons.
The fact Styeve was willing to re-connecr makes the film worthwhile viewing.
In a TV movie there might be a resolution but that would be melodramatic.
A better Man shows us Attiya and Steve are still trying to explain and understand that great void 20 years later.
A BETTER MAN PREMIERES ON TVONTARIO SATURDAY NOVEMBER 25 AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ***1/2
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
I well remember a conversation not so long ago when a head CBC programmer mused about canceling The Nature Of Things after its 50th season on air.
Well, that programmer has long departed while NOT is enjoying one of its best ever seasons ever.
And if you don't believe me tune in Sunday night at 8 for Secrets From The Ice.
The key player here is an indigenous hunter almost 500 years old who was trapped in the Yukon ice for five centuries.
Only with climate change was his hunter discovered and tests of his DNA indicate he was related to at least 15 ancestors living today.
Producer Andrew Gregg says in an interview he's been fascinated by the North since he first visited in 1983 --in March 1986 he moved to Whitehorse as a photographer for the Whitehouse Star and then became a producer with Northern Native Broadcasting Yukon.
I remember his more recent documentary on finding ships of the lost Franklin expedition.
In his latest production Gregg also went to Lillehammer, Norway where climate change has resulted in finds of the Viking civilization.
"Both societies hunter reindeer or caribou--Viking sold meat to other European peoples as well."
Gregg is such an accomplished filmmaker he can make the discovery of an arrowhead exciting.
And as he points out it was special for the indigenous inhabitants of the area --they are discovering they are part of a complex society that was relevant then as today.
So is this the plus side of climate change?
Gregg suspects there are other secrets out there waiting to be discovered.
These artifacts lie in the ice patches of the Yukon mountains --and not the moving glaciers. What are emerging are ancient tools used by hunters --they emerge from the melting ice in pristine shape.
The ancient hand-tooled weapons would have eroded away decades ago but the ice has perfectly preserved them for modern generations.
Gregg might agree with me that the Yukon was hardly a "hot" spot for archeology but now that situation seems completely reversed.
I ask him if the conditions are the same in Norway? What about the mountains of Siberia --another potential site in the future.
With the hunter lost for 500 years and now found one wonders why was he traveling there --was he injured or did the elements get him? It's an historical puzzle that completely fascinates.
For First Nation observers of today he became a cherished ancestor and even got a name: Kwaday Dan Ts'inchi or Long Ago Man Found.
A link to the past has finally come home. Gregg directed, wrote and produced this great historical puzzle for 90th Parallel Productions.
SECRETS FROM THE ICE PREMIERES ON CBC-TV'S THE NATURE OF THINGS SUNDAY NOVEMBER 19 AT 8 P.M.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
So there I was in the Beverly Hills living room of one of Canada's Biggest Ever TV stars.
I said TV star of stars!
It was Monty Hall
Let's Make A Deal ran continuously on ABC from 1963 through 1977. and then was syndicated for the next 15 years.
Contestants were picked at random from the audience and dressed in wild costumes and had to chose between Doors 1, 2 and 3.
"It was a big hot the first week," Monty told me. "And audiences grew and grew. We did a nigh time version. We even made it into a home game like Monopoly."
Monty was born in Winnipeg in 1921 of Orthodox Jewish parents --dad Maurice ran a slaughterhouse.
"I attended Lord Selkirk School and then St. John;'s High School and took a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Manitoba.
"I had great marks but didn't get into Medicine because there was a quota against Jewish students.:"
After a brief stint with the Canadian Wheat Board he moved to Toronto (in 1948) and got a job as an announcer at CHUM.
"They had me change my name because Toronto was a WASP paradise ."
"I did a radio series Who Am I and then in 1955 moved to New York city because there were few opportunities for guys like me.]"I could have done Let's Make A Deal for CBC --I was turned down by horrified executives --CBC run a quiz show that was actually popular?"
I did local TV where I introduced cartoons for kids and then I guested on Strike It Rich and Twenty-One on NBC.
In 1959 I was hired to co-host live broadcasts of the New York Rangers in Manhattan --I got the job because I was Canadian.
In 1963 he started Let's Make A Deal; in Los Angeles. "The rest is history. We ran until 1968 on NBC then ABC picked us up. It aired in syndication for a decade starting in 1971.
"I also hosted Split Second, Chain Letter, Masquerade Party, Three For The Money, Anybody's Guess --all with my production partner Stefan Hatos."
There's a philosophical problem named after him --The Monty Hall Problem, a thought experiment involving three doors, two goats and, yes, the inevitable prize.
I'd meet up with Hall every year in Toronto for decades as he journeyed to help out during the annual telethons for Variety Village.
"I'll always be a proud Canadian" he told me.
Sure, he lived on a street of multimillionaire movie stars but my heart has always been in Winnipeg. In my mind's eye I'll always be Monte Halparin."
He married childhood sweetheart Barbara in 1947 and they had three "adorables" -his words: actress Joanna Gleason, TV executive Sharon Hall and TV producer Richard Hall.
It was Sharon who tried unsuccessfully to remake the brand as a new quiz show but Monty told me "That was then and this is now."
I once asked Hall how much he'd raised for charity. I'd heard the figure was a cool billion dollars.
So I asked Hall and he nodded.
"It's in that vicinity but keep it quiet. I want to raise another billion before I die."
Monty Hall died of heart disease, aged 96.
And I already miss the guy.
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
I had just moved to The Toronto Star in 1981 when the new, improved National news debuted --attached to The Journal.
I saw it as two separate shows warring within the bosom of one hour and I predicted that with two hosts --News; Knowlton Nash and Journal's Barbara Frum --it would never last like that.
It took some years but I was right --The Journal eventually disappeared into The National and there was one host.
Well, everything old is new again at The Journal.
Peter Mansbridge has retired and there's no sole anchor up there to actually read the news.
That's because by 9 p.m. when the revamped National debuts on CBC News (and an hour later on CBC) everybody already knows what has happened thanks to 24 news channels.
Way back in 1981 The National was attracting 1.5 million viewers a night.
These days it is way, way down.
Years ago I sat down with the venerable Knowlton Nash to chat about the way TV news had evolved.
Nash told me CBC's news was at 11 p.m. for decades "because that was the earliest film could be flown from Washington and Ottawa and processed to go on the air".
Nash looked askance at the way anchoring had changed. He said in his day he couldn't voice his own opinions no matter what.
In fact his predecessor LLoyd Robertson left the CBC anchor spot for CTV because he was not allowed to change a comma in his script --he was paid as an announcer/
Under Peter Mansbridge the newscast has been evolving --there are now panels which Nash would never have allowed.
But the idea of running The National at 10 p.m. still seems suspect to me --after all it competes against the top rated TV dramas on the U.S. competition.
Look, evening newspapers have already disappeared and the remaining ones may soon only be available online.
But CBC deserves credit for at least trying to save The National.
But I'm a little suspect about having four anchors: Adrienne Arsenault and Ian Hanomansing in Toronto, Rosemary Barton in Ottawa and Andrew Chang in Vancouver.
I don't think this can work but may inspire chaos --we'll just have to see.
I'd rather see Hanomansing as chief anchor.
Ironically, for years CBC had been trying to lure Hanomansing from Vancouver to Toronto but he always resisted it. So what changed I wonder.
I want the new National to succeed. On the first night Arsenault delivered a terrific piece about wandering through the city of Raqqua where she showed us torture chambers and bottles of drugs and even infant strollers left by mothers deserting the ruins.
We''ll just have to see. CTV news at 11 is a quick fox of a half hour which may appeal to younger viewers.
Stay tuned.UPDATE: I've been watching for a week and The National just isn't making it.
First, get rid of the four anchors and have one host in Ian Hanomansing.
Second, stop the meandering tone and start each newscast with short, crisp updates.
Some of the long pieces have been so fine but may well belong in a newsmagazine show. The National at 10 is up against a whole host of top-rated American dramas--these are just a click away.
Ratings are a problem --the new show started at 700,000 a night and has been deteriorating ever since.
It's time for an instant update I would think.
Monday, October 30, 2017
When I spotted the name Leora Eisen I just knew I'd be watching her brilliant new documentary Into The Fire which premieres on CBC-TV's The Nature Of Things Sunday November 5 at 8 p.m.
Over the years I've admired such TV productions from this talented director including Beauty Quest (2005) and Think Like An Animal (2016).
I guess the last one I caught was a beautifully modulated docu-biography of her deep relationship with her identical twin sister Linda: Two Of A Kind.
Her latest documentary (for 90th Parallel Productions) is , well, literally on fire.
It follows in the wake of the devastation of a whole Canadian city: Fort McMurray.
And I was just on the phone with friends who've moved to Bellingham, Washington who notice the smog in the air caused by gigantic wild fires in British Columbia.
"I'd started the research and then the B.C. wildfires raged. There had been Fort McMurray --an entire city of 90,000 evacuated.
"I also wanted to hook into the people who spend their lives studying fires," Eisen says ". And there are a lot of them out there.
"The fires are getting bigger. It's important to understand the science. I was told each rise in temperature of just 1 degree means a 12 per cent increase in lightning."
Eisen got her big break making mini-documentaries for CTV's Canada AM and here she's able to squeeze into 44 minutes a whole heck a lot of information without making the story seem hurried.
Now that's a real advantage--you can't turn away from it for a minute.
And she also has the knack of interviewing the fire watchers who emerge not so much as strange but really dedicated to their rare craft.
And Eisen can relate to a shared fear of fire --she was 21 and living in a high rise when a fire broke out and she had to struggle to get down the staircase with smoke burning her eyes.
You'll be fascinated by wildfire expert Mike Flannigan who explains how one spark can ignite a gigantic forest fire.
Says Eisen: "In some cases a huge amount of rain in the spring will cause grasses to grow and grow and later during hot summer these can explode into huge fires."
Consultant Alan Westhaver takes us on a tour of burned out blocks of Fort McMurray.
Some houses have burned into nothingness yet right next door a perfectly preserved home sits intact.
Houses that resist fire might have features like a non-flammable roof or vegetation in the backyard less prone to ignition.
Eisen was on location with scientists and firefighters as they carry out a "test burn" on a living room.
"I know it sounds strange,"Eisen tells me "but modern homes are far more inflammable than a house built a century ago."
I like the philosophy of veteran fire fighter Josh Johnston that we have to respect the ferocity of fire and work much better as this planet continues to warm up.
And I think IntoThe Fire would be of interest to American TV viewers suffering through dozens of uncontrollable California fires and Australian viewers concerned about the ferocity of fires on their parched continent.
INTO THE FIRE PREMIERES ON CBC-TV's THE NATURE OF THINGS SUNDAY OCTOBER 5 AT 8 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.