Friday, June 8, 2018

I just have this feeling that among Canadian TV's three private network it's CTV which will survive.
The first CTV fall launch I ever attended was in 1971 when then president Murray Chercover announced such big Canadian hits as The Littlest Hobo, Headline Hunters, Stars On Ice and Half The George Kirby Comedy hour.
But these days CTV takes its Canadian content requirements more seriously and besides as the most profitable network can pick and chose the big new U.S. shows.
The location was Toronto's Sony Center and the event was packed with thousands of advertising types all eager to buy spots on the new and returning shows all the while feating on booze on dainties.
On Mondays CTV has snapped up the sophomore season of The Resident a medical drama with Matt Czuchry and Canadian Emily Van Camp at 8 p.m.
At 9 p.m. there's the reboot of the classic Magnum P.I. but without Tom Selleck and featuring newly cast Jay Hernandez plus there's a female Higgins played by Perdita Weeks.
Tuesdays at 8:30 comes a 1970s comedy The Kids Are Allright all about an IrishCatholic family.
At 10 p.m. comes the hourlong The Rookie with Nathan Fillion as a fortyish guy who dreams of joining the LAPD.
On Sundays at 8 p.m.  there's Brandon Michael Hall in the religious drama God Friended Me.
And then at 10 p.m. there's The Alec Baldwin Show with the three-time Emmy Award Winner caught in conversations with friends and fellow actors.
Midseason debuts will include Jann starring Jann Arden as a Canadian singer trying to make herself relevant again.
Then there's the legal drama The Fix about a high profile lawyer --Marcia Clark will executive produce it.
The Red Line stars veteran Noah Wyle and comes from executive producers Ava DuVernay and Greg Berlani.
The Enemy Within will star Jennifer Carpenter as a CIA operative hired by the FBI to hunt spies.
'The Village looks at thee denizens of an apartment complex in Brooklyn.
Grand Hotel is set in Miami Beach and is executive produced by Eva Longoria.
And then there's America's Got Talent: The Champions --the title says it all.
And for Canadian content freaks how about the 40th anniversary of SCTV: Reunion Special produced by Martin Scorsese and fronted by Jimmy Kimmel.
Big news has CTV buying a majority share in Toronto's busy Pinewood Studios as one indication the network remains very serious about mounting first class Canadian content series.
Star Trek: Discovery already shoots there and is one of the highest priced series ever shot in Canada.'
Is CTV aiming to become a veritable Canadian version of Disney?
That's one idea and so is the insistence CTV needs different plat forms to highlight its wares.
And Whiskey Cavalier stars Scott Foley from Scandal heading an agency of flawed spies.
 CTV is planning different platforms for its content as conventional networks see younger viewers tricking away.
Space becomes CTV-Sci-Fi while Comedy becomes CTV-Comedy and Bravo becomes CTV-Drama
and Gusto becomes CTV-Life which it was some 15 years ago.
The ad executives I chatted up seemed impressed with the CTV brand and some of the new shows and thought the rebranding necessary as old line networks sail into the sunset.
So I'm bullish on CTV more than I am with Rogers or Shaw.
And by the way the food is always better--those miniature hamburgers were very tasty indeed.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

CBC-TV Is Fighting Back

Let's see --the first CBC-TV fall preview I attended (as the summer student at The Globe And Mail) was in 1970 when the public network was riding high.
In those dear dead days there was a 10 channel TV universe and that was it.
Thirty-five print TV critics from across Canada flew in for several days of interviews with such CBC stars as Juliette, Friendly Giant and Knowlton Nash  and CBC redesigned its cavernous studio up Yonge Street (the home of Front Page Challenge) for a gala party that drew thousands of advertisers and hangers on.
That was then. This is now.
This year's CBC TV launch was a muted affair held at 192 Spadina Avenue in very close quarters.
But the message was rather upbeat.
Like all Canadian TV networks CBC is watching the slow dripping away of its core audience to other platforms.
But be aware --CBC remains the last great repositiory of Canadian TV culture.
And the publicly funded network has decided to fight back.
The network still has some huge hits :Murdoch Mysteries and Heartland have been around forever and still draw strong ratings.
And there are other, newer hits: Schitt's Creek, the re-versioned Anne Of Green Gables, Kim's Convenience.
The last time I checked the fine new mystery series Frankie Drake was only drawing 560,000 viewers weekly on CBC TV.
Back in 1970 I was told CBC-TV's definition of a hit was a million for a series and 1.5 million for a miniseries or special.
Those numbers are rarely reached today as Canadians increasingly turn to different platforms.
Still, CBC has several new series which look promising.
I enjoyed chatting up veteran producer Bernie Zuckerman charged with the revival of Street Legal which will star Jennifer Dale. Zuckerman said the order is for eight episodes "which is the standard these days" but other Street veterans may make a guest appearance or two.
Cavendish, a new comedy series ,will benefit from its creators Mark Little and Andrew Bush and will be filmed on location and in Halifax studios.
Coroner with its order for eight hours has great potential considering Morwyn Brebner's last series was Saving Hope---Adrienne Mitchell will be  lead director (she made Bomb Girls).
Northern Rescue will be shot in Parry Sound with David Cormican as creator and Bradley Walsh as executive producer and I also met Billy Baldwin who has enthusiastically signed up as lead.
And I should also mention the new series Diggstown with Floyd Kane and Amos Adetuyi as executive producer.
Now I get my say about how to "fix"  some of CBC-TV's ailments.
I'd start by abolishing commercials during prime time.
I know the cost would be horrendous but well worth it as the competition these days is with commercial free services such as Netflix.
Many former CBC fans have defected to PBS which still provides arts programming which CBC has mostly ditched.
I have a solution: bring back a Seventies series called RearView Mirror which took gems from the CBC archives--ballets starring Rudolf Nureyev and Veronica Tennant, superb dramas like the 1960 Macbeth starring Sean Connery and Zoe Caldwell.
When RearView Mirror first ran during another CBC budget crunch the ratings were sky high.
And I also feel CBC's National needs an instant face lift.
Ratings have plunged with four anchors --the snappy patter over at CNN is attracting record numbers of Canadian viewers.
Another proposal: bring back a few historical TV movies every season.
Zuckerman who produced some of the best TV movies ever made by CBC says there's the argument the cost is too heavy for a two hour TV movie
But I think CBC needs a few of these --Zuckerman's version of the Road to Confederation remains a must see.
But with its close adherence to all things Canadian I feel CBC still has a better chance at long term survival than rivals CTV or Global TV.

Monday, May 14, 2018

I Remember Margot Kidder

The last time I sat down to interview Margot Kidder it was on the Toronto set of  the TV series Amazon in 2000.
We'd met up before all over the place but after a tumultuous private life she said she was glad to get back to Canada and just settle down.
"Maybe I should never have left my true north strong and free," she joked.
"But then you'd never have become such a big star!" I interjected.
"Well, stardom for me was never cracked out to be that much anyway," she laughed nervously. "Because I was far, far away and now I'm back home and it means everything to me."
And now Margot Kidder is dead --she passed away in her sleep at her Montana home at the relatively young age of 69.
"I've done a lot," she told me that day. "And some of it I regret and some of it makes me pretty proud."
It seems rather ghoulish but she fearlessly forecast the headline in her New York Times obituary would read "Superman's Girl Friend Is Dead."
"Or something like that."
I told her I definitely remembered her first acting gig --it was on the CBC dramatic hit Wojeck and it was 1968 and young Margot had just turned 20.
"The very next year I co-starred on two more CBC_TV series Corwin and McQueen and then  I was on Adventures In Rainbow Country in 1970  and only then did I hit Hollywood. There just wasn't enough work here to keep a young actress going. And I wasn't the only one who left. The wonderful blonde actress Sharon Acker also left around that time."
At first Margot did the standard guest starring on such TV series as Mod Squad, The Manipulators,, "And then I had my first lead on the Jim Garner western series Nichols and he was wonderful and I learned so much from him because he was a minimalist."
Although Nichols only lasted the 1971-72 series and then Kidder found herself suddenly hot.
"I lost all momentum because I couldn't get out of TV shows. I did them all: Baretta, Barnaby Jones, Switch."
And I interrupted: "But I interviewed you in Toronto again on Black Christmas in 1974 --Olivia Hussey and Keir Dullea and Art Hindle were all on set that day and it was a big hit."
"It actually got me in to audition for Superman and I adored Chris Reeve from the first moment I saw him. And there was Superman II which was an even bigger hit and in 1983 there was Superman III. In 1987 there was Superman IV which I don't think we should have done but audiences disagreed.
Then I had to ask the big question: did she take too many drugs?
"We all did," she answered softly. "We all did."
There was one day on the set of the western Little Teasure (1985) when I was so out of control that Burt Lancaster socked me in the jaw."
She was beginning to recognize she was bipolar.
"Had been like that since a kid. I had ups and downs and finally I really crashed."
In 1996 she started writing her autobiography and "it all spilled out."
She began fantasizing  her first husband was going to kill her so she faked her death and was found wandering in the bushes by a neighbor.
"Recognizing what I was began the healing process. I had to accept full responsibility for everything."
On Amazon she had an insignificant part but she played it very well especially when the show's bug wrangler said she had to pretend to be asleep on the jungle floor as a line of tarantulas walked over her bared stomach.
"I'll continue acting," she vowed and she did but often in tiny parts. I liked her on the Vancouver made series Robson Arms (2005) and I met with her again on the set of Chicks With Sticks (2004) but by 2014 she was down to one appearance a year.
When she passed the TV networks were full of stories about Lois Lane but it's sad to think  both Reeve and Kidder are now gone as is the World Trade Center.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

I Answer My Emails

I used to get letters from readers when I wrote the TV column for The Hamilton Spectator and later The Toronto Star.
Now I get emails and nobody out there seems to read newspapers anymore let alone watch network TV.
Here's a sampling of recent emails enquiries.
+ "Whatever happened to game shows? I used to watch them every morning. Now there are all these similar women themed series?" Mrs. D.F., Ancaster.
ME: I still watch game shows on the Game Show Network. The vintage ones are a hoot. The other night I was watching The Match Game from the 1970s and one of the panelists was the great Ethel Merman and she was having a blast as was I.
+ "I'm deeply disappointed with the new and unimproved CBC National news. What's your estimate?" L.M. R. Ottawa.
ME: Having up to four anchors just doesn't work. the telecasts from Humboldt were very fine, however. Other nights there's a feeling of ennui and ratings are way, way down. Why not a CNN style newscast with bickering panelists you might ask. But CBC doesn't like that kind of partisan wrangling even if it drives ratings.
+ "Why has there never been a hit Canadian TV soap opera?" P.B, Oshawa.
ME: Why there have been enough tries. There was Riverdale on CBC which ran for two years but it should have been every weeknight hammocked right behind Coronation Street and it would have succeeded. There have been weekly attempts like CTV's Montreal based Mount Royal.  And CBC tried with a clone of Dallas set in Calgary but trouble was it had to be filmed in Toronto because of costs. There was a daily soap that ran on Global and was syndicated in the U.S titled High Hopes. And it deserved a better fate than cancellation after two seasons.
+ "There must be TV shows out there in reruns that you have become addicted to, right?" H.B., Halifax.
ME: I never watched CSI but now that it runs nightly on E! I have become an addict. Don't forget that it counts as Canadian content since the Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis manufactured it.  The stories are often over the top but production values make it seem so expensive. Another one I never watched is Bones which strangely reruns  these days on GUSTO.
+"And your biggest beef about  Canadian TV?" E.J., Pickering.
ME: How hard it is to watch some of the great Canadian TV shows of the past.  Like CBC's The Beachcombers which remains locked up in the CBC vaults in Mississauga. I'd love for CBC to revive Front Page Challenge which I think could be a big hit all over again. And CTV should seriously consider reviving Headline Hunters. But I also have a friend who years for the boxed set of Police Surgeon (shot in T.O. so go figure. Another friend wanted to buy a DVD copy of  the TV flick Getting Married in Buffalo Jump starring Wendy Crewson and finally bagged a DVD copy --from an American distributor.
There --that's all the emails I care to answer today.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

House Of Saud This Week's Must-See TV

The brilliant new BBC-TV documentary series House Of Saud answers each and every question you may ever have had about that troubled Middle East kingdom.
You can catch the first hour Tuesday at 9 on TVOntario. Next Tuesday there's the second hour with the finale on Tuesday April 15. Got that?
It is an astonishing project and one that is compulsively viewable.
And it all starts not in Saudi Arabia but in a small, isolated village in Bosnia --we can see torn flags of jihadists-and we come to understand the impact of the Saudi wealth and political ambition.
For the rebels in Bosnia were funded by Saudi money.
And 17 of the 19 perpetrators of 8/11 were Saudis.
And the caliphate in Syria was nourished by Saudi support.
So we can see the importance of director Michael Rudin's three-hour masterpiece which has no dull spots at all.
And, remarkably,  Rudin was refused permission to film inside the kingdom --all the people he interviews lived elsewhere.
And the scissors and pastiche recreation of events is so well done I can't think of any advantage of actually going to Mecca.
Rudin's film explains brilliantly the close contact between the Saudi family and supporters of the conservative Islamic traditions known as "Wahhabism".
The newsreel clips show U.S. Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump all doing due diligence in reinforcing ties to the kingdom --the ties seem to be fraying badly especially in Syria.
Rgere are great shots of arms being unloaded in the dark in Jordan to be transported across the border to rebel groups in Syria.
Episode Three is, I think, the best of all, an absorbing portrait of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
We've already seen how his crackdowns on corruption have even affected family members.
Or are these measures merely a way of extending his power and eliminating potential.
This hour looks at the excesses of the royal family particularly in London.
His social reforms include allowing women for the first time to drive cars.
But the number of state executions of political dissidents is way up.
And the Saudis are accused of using all the modern software techniques to trap potenrtial opponents --half the country's Twitter accounts are controlled in some by by the state sewcutity agency.
Some British critics have charged this series whiewashed the royal family.
I felt differently --there is the charge the Saudis saw weaknesses in the Syrian regime and tried to exploit that --Syria's regime  is allied with the Saudi enemy Iran and both side have been pumping arms into the conflict.
Ithink the term is "nuanced". Bin Salman can only go so far and his passion for French chateaux and the better things in life might mean he covets the wealth of his relatives.
With oil prices slipping the kingdom may be in for tough days ahead and the younger generations seem thirsty for major changes the royal family may not be able to grant.
All in all here is one of the best documentaries of the TV year and certainly must-see TV.
MY RATING: ****.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Bill Cosby On Trial

I'm not sure how many times I interviewed Bill Cosbu.
Remember in the 1980s he was riding high as America's biggest and best TV dad.
I was certainly around when a nervous Cosby net the TV critics in Los Angeles for the first time as star of The Cosby Show.
The jokes that day were all about parenthood and how he was going to play a middle class doctor  Cliff Huxtable who just happened to be black.
He certainly seemed sweet that day and in top form in repartee. I remember he kept kidding Ann Hodges from the Houston paper who was sitting next to me  for her thick Texan brawl.
But nobody knew if he could actually bring it off.
His last series was a NBC variety series and it had flopped big time.
That day Cosby said he was going to shoot the series in New York which was one difference. He'd hand picked his cast including Phylicia Rashad and he wanted genuine family problems to be encountered.
The rest is history.
The Cosby Show saved NBC from a downward spiral in the ratings.
It made Cosby very big in TV circles and he soon spun off another series A Different World.
He'd created the show with the best of talent including Canadian writer Earl Pomerantz.
Attending the tapings were wonderful to behold --so smoothy created and filled with genuine talent.
Cos got honorary degrees all over the place and even finished a PhD on his own.
When I interviewed Robert Culp during the same press tour Culp was filled with praise his I Spy co-star telling me " Bill Cosby has it all."
And now?
Well, Cosby has been ruined --any idea of a comeback for the disgraced 80-year old comic seems totally impossible.
And here's the question people ask me: "What happened?"
One clue, I think. came with the roadside murder of his beloved son Ennis Crosby.
Ennis was shot in the head by an 18-year old in a failed robbery attempt --.
It was in the early hours of January 16,1997, that young Cosby pulled off California;s Interstate 405 and while attempting to fix a tire was shot in the head.
The outpuring of support from friends was massive but I believe Cosby was never the same again.
This was his tipping point.
It, of course, does not excuse his outrageous behavior in the least.
And several people have asked why Cosby would drug these women when he coul;d have picxked up paid escorts anytime.
In the same time frame Tom Brokaw of NBC has been accused of inappropriate behavior but many of the women he worked with at the network have come to his defence.
And TVO's Styeve Paikin has been cleared asfter accusations of inappropriate behavior.
We live in a New World Order but I'm still wondering why Cosby did all this and did he think with his huge pop status he was above the law?

Friday, April 13, 2018

How To Canadiamize Canadian TV

So there I was at Toronto's Varsity cinema watching the briliant new American movie Chappaquiddick and marveling at how U.S. movie makers dramatize the best and worst moments in their political history.
I felt the same way watching the brilliant The Post with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.
And then the Brits got in the act with Darkest Hour and Gary Oldman's Oscared turn as Winston Churchill.
It was Prime Minister Mackenzie King who said Canada has too much geography and not enough history.
In terms on movies and TV King was right.
I tried to think of Canadian contributions.
And the only recent  one I could come up with was CBC-TV's The Road To Confederation which ran a few seasons back.
The CBC brass hated it and without proper promotion it died in the ratings.
And that was the end of Canadian history--at least for now.
Way, way back, of course, there was Bill Hutt as Sir John A. Macdonald in the CBC TV version of Pierre Berton's The National Dream
And it was followed by miniseries on Laurier and Riel.
One veteran Canadian TV producer tells me that of he can't presell a TV property to the lush U.S. market then he's not going to bother at all.
Recently, I checked the local video store and asked what was the most requested CANADian properties not yet seen on DVD.
"This week I've had enquiries about Beachcombers, the CTV series ENG, and Front Page Challenge," she told me.
:I did a bit of investigating and was told it would cost too much to buy the DVD rights to these shows sop they lie in the vaults."
Well, I've got an idea: start up a Canadian TV blog for all these shows.
It would involve opening up the CBC TV vaults in Mississauga but the money made could be distributed among the talent and the actual owners of the rights.
Think of it! The only time Dame Edith Evans did The Importance Of Being Earnest for TV it was for CBC in Toronto.
Mary Pickford's only TV appearance was back in her hometown in 1966 as the myastery guest on Flashback.
What about Sean Connery as Macbeth --this one has been revived but once and co-stars Zoe Caldwell as Lady Macbeth.
That's it --a Canadian version of Netflix --I can see it now.
A reader asks what popular TV shows I secretly binge watch.
Well, one is Bones which I'd never watched and which runs on GUSTO all over the dial.
It's funny for a mystery, well cast and compulsively viewable.
Another is CSI which fills up the holes in the schedule of E!
Why? Because it strangely counts as Canadian content --since Toronto based Alliance Alliance funded it.
Another is Love It Or List It --the only Canadian show I can think of that spawned both U.S. and U.K. versions.
Escape To The Country is another one --why no Canadian version of this British perennial?