Sunday, January 31, 2010

Disaster In The Year 2025

Watching The Passionate Eye documentary Future Earth: 2025 is like going to a string of disaster movies.
But the catch is this: everything predicted in this dour hour of looking forward seems destined to actually happen.
The sighs are all around us these days: gigantic fires in California, Washington D.C. flooded by monster floods and dust storms in the American South west to revival the Thirties' Dust Bowls.
But Future Earth says these disasters only presage monster conditions which are percolating up and will soon be affecting life everywhere.
Global warming is one villain. Overpopulation is another. Water or the lack of it could endanger our collective futures.
First of all the hour was made for MSNBC so the apocalyptioc forecasts are mostly confined to the U.S. save for a sary scenario of Biblical propoprtions that forecasts clouds of locusts springing up from Africa to engulf much of Europe, devastating crops and producing mass starvation.
In the American South west with its current low rainfall and population of 45 million the conditions seem ripe for something awful: Lake Meade's capacity is off by a third meaning its ability to serve the cities of Las Vegas and Los Angeles is now questionable.
What happens if the lake continues to shrink? We watch as turf in Vegas is being torn out and returned to the desert --too many golf courses are guzzling up too much water.
In California rainfall is down significantly over the past quarter century producing the kind of monster fires that one day might threaten Beverly Hills and even Hollywood. We follow crews who are out burning off the dried timber from the forest floor to avert catastrophe.
Could a fire tornado roar down upon Los Angeles? Give the conditions another 15 years of steady deterioration and we'll see.
Special effects are amazing from the Hollywood sign going up like so much tinder to Las Vegas disappearing under a cloud of dust that threatens to suffocate all trapped in the path of the storm.
The shots of Washington partly under water are from the last flood that broke many levees --the next flood could submerge some of America's most historic sites.
This one was produced by Darlow Smithson Productions using extensive archival footage.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Downside Of High

So there I was three decades back in a stuffy CBC editing suite on the fifth floor of a dingy office building at Bay and Carlton streets in Toronto.
Why was I there you may well ask.
Because that's the way I used to preview upcoming TV shows that's why.
In 1979 there was no DVD let alone VHS. A few TV series were sent to me on three-quarter videotape. But mostly I had to spend countless hours at the various network headquarters or in film editing suites all over Toronto.
The show on that particular day in 1979 was the next installment of The Nature Of Things and threading the film through the projector was executive producer Jim Murray.
And it's strange that all these decades later I'm watching the DVD of the latest Nature Of Things' opus, The Downside Of High. And I'm thinking of Jim.
Because of Murray TNOT is still around. 'Way, way back then he told me CBC had the funds for only one nature/science show. But there were two then on the air --the other was the higher rated This Land.
But Murray proposed personalizing his series, bringing in a host people could look up to and believe in.
Enter David Suzuki. Exit This Land.
And that's why I'm so high about The Downside Of High. It contains all the virtues of a TNOT production (it was written and directed by Bruce Mohun).
First of all its scientfic credentials are impeccable and,,yes, there are a bunch of talking heads. but it doesn't bother me. What talk! What they're saying all makes sense to me.
The subject is recent and groundbreaking evidence certain types of teenagers are suffering from schizophrenia brought on by marijuana smoking.
The researchers are telling us in interviews filmed in Holland, London (England), Sweden that smoking marijuana can double the risk of developing paranoia, hallucinations, in sort schizophrenia.
But what makes this hour compelling are the testimonials of three young people who bought into the myth that marijuana use was harmless. Today all three carry the residual effects and are still battling their mental demons.
It's all due to the growing potency of modern marijuana which has a higher amount of THC than ever before --it's the psychoactive ingredient that poses such threats to the still developing teenaged brain.
Their stories make this hour virtually must see TV.
There's soft spoken, dreamy Tyler who started smoking up at 14 and experienced so many psychotic episodes he had to drop out of school. At 23 he lives with his mother and is very dependent on her.
There's Ben who lives with his parents and started smoking marijuana with severe adverse effects which led to a year of hospitalization.
And there's late starter Melanie whose intense usage of marijuana at 19 produced a three month stay in hospital.
All three meet in this film, exchange information about conditions which have a startling sameness.
The human touch. It's what has always made Nature so compulsively viewable. Other TV science shows tend to talk down to viewers.
And as I finish watching the finely tuned The Downside Of High --I couldn't stop watching for anything --I'm thinking again of Jim Murray.
MY RATING: ****.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Comic Books Go To War

This well made documentary had me guessing. I looked at the title and supposed it was all about how World War II comic books socked it to Hitler and Hirohito.
Boy was I wrong. Comic Books Go To Wart looks at current conflicts and how writers and artists are channeling their thoughts on warfare into an odd fitting medium: comic books.
When I was a kid comic books were trivial and fun. But a new stream of comic creations has dared dramatize all the ugly realities of killing fields from Bosnia to Afghanistan.
And it seems these wars can be better explained to readers in comic book form with emphasis on the sufferings of one particular family rather than a whole nation.
In short here is a truly new art form called comic journalism.
The narrative starts with the impressive comic book Palestine drawn and written by Joe Sacco (pictured above). He tells us he is every inch the war journalist but using a different form. This is the conflict as seen through his particular lens and perspective and drawn in sharp, blunt bursts of energy.
Ted Rall who authored another comic book sensation To Afghanistan And Back tells of experience postwar trauma after witnessing many of the horrors. He says he was not a normal journalist out on yet another foreign assignment but somebody who used comic journalism to bang home his conclusions of war.
A Japaenese cartoonist chose the comic book form to write about a childhood spent in Hiroshima in the years after the A Bomb was exploded. Art Spiegelman may have jump started the whole genre with his comic book Maus on The Holocaust showing Jewish victims as mice as their Nazi tormentors as rapacious cats.
Marjane Satrapi in Persepolis drew her feelings of growing up in a repressed Iranian society. Joe Kubert went from creating the action comic book hero Sgt. Rock to drawing Fax From Sarajevo looking at one family's flight from the destruction.
All say they consider themselves story tellers using a nontraditional forum and making more accessible to the public true accounts of what modern warfare means. Whereas people might shy away from reading a large volume about the atrocities why not concentrate on what one family had to endure?
Writer-director Mark Daniels has interviewed the top creators and presents his compelling narrative in a fast flowing but not cartoonish style.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Remembering Jean Simmons

Jean Simmons who died Friday at 80 was one of Hollywood's most luminous actresses.
But in person she was shy and very reserved. I first met her on the set of The Thorn Birds in 1983 when I lunched at her table during a break in the shooting.
It was a desperately hot July afternoon out in the Simi Valley where the facade of the great house had been constructed. A lone kangaroo hopped around looking quite out of it.
I was told the poor creature was treated later that day for heat prostration.
But Simmons managed to look cool and composed as she dutifully answered a barrage of questions.
She was even more introverted when I shared another lunch with her on the set of the syndicated series Alfred Hitchcock Presents right here in Toronto in 1988.
Born in Cricklewood, north London, in 1929 she shot to stardom as the teenaged star of such fine British features as Great Expectations (1946), Black Narcissus (1947) and as Ophelia in Ham;et (1948).
About Great Expectations she remembered "I was very terrified of Martita Hunt who played Miss Havisham to the hilt. But maybe that was the way the director David Lean wanted me to feel."
But she got her revenge when she got to play Miss Havisham in the Disney TV version made in 1989.
Of Black Narcissus she said "The star was Sabu the very beautiful Indian boy. We shot every scene inside British soundstages, there isn't a shot of India in it. "
She won her first Oscar nomination for Hamlet opposite Laurence Olivier. "I feel if I had stayed in Britain I would have had a lovely career in theater but instead I went to Hollywood with my husband Stewart Granger."
Erratic Howard Hughes bought up her Rank contract and threatened to veto her career unless she cooperated with him.
"He used me in a very good picture called Angel Face that had me as a sweet killer. But he also forced me to do The Robe which was a huge hit but is a terrible picture. I got typecast in Biblical epics."
She also made The Egyptian (1954) in the same vein. "In early Cinemascope there were no close ups and the camera did not move. It was very wooden the actingn. When Michael Wilding came out with that thing on his head Peter Ustinov said he looked like a salt shaker."
Then she made the musical Guys And Dolls (1955)."When I think of Marlon Brando trying to sing I can still laugh. But I couldn't sing or dance really. Marlon and Frank Sinatra tried to outdo everyone else but the movie was a huge money maker."
Did she have a favorite film from those years? "Oh, yes, Home Before Dark (1958) which cast me as a frightened woman recovering from a complete mental breakdown."
"Another one I adored was The Grass Is Greener (1960) because I got to do comedy with Cary Grant."
And a least favorite? "The western The Big Country (1959) because director Willie Wyler picked on me during the whole shoot. He was pure evil."
In 1960 Simmons replaced another actress in Spartacus (1960) and saw it go on to become her biggest hit."Kirk Douglas liked me and we worked later on in the TV remake of Inherit The Wind."
And another 1960 hit Elmer Gantry won Oscars for both Burt Lancaster and Shirley Jones. "Burt and Kirk were both larger than life, huge male stars who liked to throw their masculinity around. So I just let them and got on with it."
When TV miniseries came along Simmons made The Thorn Birds (1983) for which she won an Emmy and North And South (1985-86).
Her best TV assignment? "The British TV movie December Flower. It was basically a two character study, shot in a seedy old home with a terrific director Stephen Fears who went on to some pretty big movies."
And what movie did she think the most neglected?
"Say Hello To Yesterday (1971) which (Canadian) director Alvin Rakoff constructed as a modern riff on Brief Encounter. I'm the repressed housewife but I have an affair with a gorgeous young man played by Leonard Whiting from Romeo And Juliet fame. And at the end there's no guilt, no remorse. We just go on our merry way. Critics were outraged when it came out (in 1971)."
After divorcing Granger she married Richard Brooks who directed her memorably in Elmer Gantry (1960) and the Happy Ending (1969) --they divorced in 1977..
She was candid about her long fight with alcoholism which she partly attributed to her innate shyness.
"I can act with a Larry Olivier or Cary Grant. But I cannot go alone into a supermarket and buy a jug of milk. I just do not know how, that role escapes me."
She spent her last years as a recluse in her Santa Monica home watching her old movies and coming to appreciate her subtlety as an actress in demanding roles.
Jean Simmons is survived by her two daughters Tracy Granger and Kate Brooks.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

First Casualty In The Local TV Wars

Turns out those ads saying Local TV was in deep trouble are coming true.
The first casualty in the Local TV Wars is Citytv's CityNews at 5, an early bird version of the suppertime news.
It was cancelled by the new owner of Citytv, Rogers Media Television.
And veteran anchor Anne Mroczkowski and at least 60 other news staffers across the Citytv weblet were hastily pink slipped.
Gone is the highly respected senior producer Michael Robins who put CP24 on the air.
Also gone: excellent veteran producer Bob Lawlor who headed Breakfast Television.
Citytv is shutting down completely its newcasts at Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton stations.
But didn't Rogers obtain these licenses from the CRTC with the promise to continue local coverage?
Sources tell me the cost cutting move was needed because of revenues falling during a long recession as well as a general slide in ratings for local TV newscasts.
The irony is the war of ads finds Rogers allied with other cable casters in trying to stop competitors CTV, Global and CBC from gaining additional revenues by charging some costs to cable carriers.
Of course all this would not have happened at Citytv save for the abrupt sale of CHUMcity in 2007--most of its radio stations and cable channels from MuchMusic to FashionTelevision went to CTV.
But the CRTC balked when CTV also moved to gobble up the Citytv stations arguing CTV already had CFTO and Barrie's A Channel in the Toronto market and a third standard outlet would be monopolistic.
At one time the local newscasts were huge money spinners for the stations. But the addition of so many more cable channels has whittled away at the ratings supremacy of local TV news.
And once mighty stations like Hamilton's CHCH which reaches all cable TV subscribers in Ontario are under the gun. Canwest recently sold CHCH to a local consortium which has moved the station back to its roots: as a movie channel.
When Rogers Media Television came in and bought Citytv there was the understanding layoffs might follow to pay the huge purchasing cost.
Without its cable empire to back it up Citytv is a mere shell of past grandeur when co-founder Moses Znaimer reigned supreme as an innovative programmer.
It was Moses who took out the desks and had anchors meandering all over the newsroom. And it was Moses who gave Citytv such a presence in covering community news.
Breakfast Television and CityLine continue and so will CityNews at Six and CityNews at Night.
And as they say before each commercial please stay tuned.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Surviving The Golden Globes

You're not going to spend three solid hours of TV watching Sunday night on the Golden Globes are you?
Of course not, admit it!
Well, there are two dandy new documentaries on against that star studded non-event and both of them I can enthusiastically recommend.
So tune them in at tyhje first sign of awards ennui.
First up there's filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal's positively brilliant look at lightning called Act Of God.
I've just finished watching it and here it is 3 a.m. I couldn't stop, this is compulsively viewable especially when a lightning survivor talks about the night he and friends were all struck by lightning that rendered them all unconscious.
Only one mate did not survive --he began coughing his guts up, the lightning had seared his insides.
And the guy ventures back to the spot where it happened so many years ago and how that random act turned his personality around and made him a writer of substance.
Baichwal also interviews a storm chaser, Mexican moms who lost their children during lightning strikes at a religious festival --it's all packed into an hour.
RATING: *** 1/2.
Then there's the new British made doc Erasing David which has TV reporter David Bond trying to search out all the electronic storage systems that keep files on him and what he can do about it. So he goes underground and hires a private firm to track him down using all those Internet sources many of us are only dimly aware exist.
It's a fascinating cat and mouse game, quite tense at times and shows how persona; data can be extracted from any number of sources provides one knows how to retrieve the data. Highly recommended, it proves Britain is one of the most security conscious countries in the world.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Who Cares About The Golden Globes Anyway?

The checkout clerk was all a-twitter about the 67th annual Golden Globes.
"Who'll win best TV actor," she breathlessly asked me.
I couldn't care less. Really! This is the season where all sorts of ersatz awards shows spring forth.
I lost all respect fpr the Golden Globes the night Pia Zadora won one.
Think of it both Guy Madison and Zsa Zsa Gabor won awards for "achievement".
You see what I'm getting at.
I've met two of the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association over the years. One was a waiter at the Century Plaza hotel. The other was a taxi driver.
The networks boycotted the Globes for decades. Tapes of the awards would be bicycled from station to station and run weeks later late at night. For years CHCH used to pick them up.
Then Dick Clark Productions began producing the ceremony and turned it into an early warning system for the Oscars.
In fact there are so many of these awards things that the ratings of the Oscars have started to tank.
Having ranted I'll now say who should win as opposed to who will win.
Best TV drama and actor should be Jon Hamm in Mad Men. Best comedy series should be Glee.
Best comedy series actor? Alec Baldwin. Best series comedy actress should be Courtney Cox (everybody loves a comeback).
Best movie comedy will be It's Complicated. Best movie drama should be Inglorious Basterds.
Best movie drama actor should be George Clooney (Up In The Air). Best comedy movie actor should be Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes).
Best movie drama actress should be Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side). Best movie comedy actress should be Meryl Streep (It's Complicated).
And best director should be James Cameron (Avatar).
Got all that.
I'm not advising you to boycott the festivities. Stars sit at tables and can be easily identified unlike the pompous Academy Awards. So the Globes are great for star gazers.

On CTV Action Is King

Prerelease is back as a force on Canadian TV.
It's the device whereby CTV is showing the new series Human Target two days earlier than the U.S. web Fox TV.
It seems like a new programming trick but at one time (say 25 seasons back) most Canadian networks preferred to prerelease their American shows based on the assumption Canadian viewers would want to catch them first on local stations.
When cable TV came in prereleasing was out and simulcasting in. Until now.
It actually makes sense for CTV to start off showing its new six part series Human Target before Fox.
The premiere is on Friday night at 10 before Fox runs the same episode Sunday night at 9.
Then a second episode will run in the usual CTV timeslot of Mondays at 10 with Fox running the same episode Wednesday nights at 9. Got that?
Human Target goes back to the days of cliffhangers. It stars an action hero named Christopher Chance (played by square jawed Mark Valley of Fringe).
There's more tension in the first hour than in any recent action flick I've seen but the question remains whether a weekly series can afford such expensive special effects.
A whole lot of money was spent on the opener. Will viewers be expecting this same quality every week?
The action begins with our buff hero strategically placing himself in front of a nut strapped with explosives who plans to blow himself up and everybody else around him.
The story then diverts to a speeding bullet train that flies by at 200 miles per hour but the breaks have been tampered with so a sprint through a tunnel will spark a mass derailment and a fireball to destroy all passengers..
If you think you've seen it all before, well you have. Human Target started out as a 1972 DC Action Comic and 20 years later was a short lived ABC TV series starring rocker Rick Springfield.
Fox is obviously test marketing this one to see if it can stand up to weekly scrutiny.
Co-starring with Valley as associates are Chi McBride (Pushing Daisies) and Jackie Earle Haley (Watchman) and in the first episode Vancouver native Emmanuelle Vaugier guest stars as the gal in distress on the train.
The action is never ending and one has to wonder how so much tension can be maintained on a weekly basis. You won't find much character development here. There's no time!
Valley rarely works up a sweat with all his heroics which are cagily pitched on a comic book level. And if you notice all the Canadians in the cast why that's only normal because the whole shebang was filmed in Vancouver.
Fox is obviously hoping after a slew of cerebral dramas it's time for a series that endlessly moves.
I kept thinking all this might really look impressive on a big theatrical screen.
However, I did keep watching right up to the end with the introduction of a big movie star name to frame the conclusion. I'm honor bound not to reveal his identity.
RATING: ***.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

You can't go home again. Especially on TV.
That's what I always thought and I'm the TV critic who had to sit through numerous failed TV reunions over the years from the Father Knows Best get-together to a aborted attempt at pairing up Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper one more time.
So it was a shock to learn Kids In The Hall were reuniting on CBC-TV after a break of 15 years.
First thought: they're not kids anymore, are they?
But wisely the guys are not back as sketch artists but in an eight-part sitcom called Death Comes To Town which revs up Tuesday Jan. 12 at 8 p.m.
It's unlike anything they've ever attempted which means comparisons are out. And it seems to owe more to Paradise Falls and Corner Gas than anything else on Canadian TV.
Gone are all the old familiar characters. The toupe instead play a wide variety of local bumpkins in a small town called Shockton (really North Bay).
The premise is very much Bruce McCullough's --his comedic sensibility is all through the story and he co-wrote the scripts with Kevin McDonald.
The story opens with a pot bellied Death alighting from the local bus with a list of people he has to kill off. Mark McKinney plays Grim Reaper complete with leather jockstrap, a large false tooth and a leather cape. And that huge stomach.
Running the town is an odious small town politician played zestfully by McCullogh; hizzonner walks into a local greasy spoon and eats fries off one patron's plate and steals a burger from another guy and for all this he's applauded.
When the missus says she put on weight after their son arrived he reminds her the kid was adopted.
"It was sympathy weight," she snaps back.
His goal in politics is to claim the 2028 Winter Games for Shockton. But at home he's hooked up with an alcoholic wife (Dave Foley) and an autistic kid he labels "retarded".
McCullough also plays Rusty the town blimp, a huge guy in a bed who orders pizzas and dreams of the time he was the town hockey fave before he let everybody down. He's also a diminutive cop who shouts murder and then runs.
Scott Thompson is hilarious as the town drug addict who tries to get by on his claim he is discriminated against because he's 1/16th aboriginal.
But he's just as funny as "Heather Weather" the ditzy local TV weather gal who tries to inject a little rain and sunshine into ever story she reports on.
And he's also the balded coroner Dusty who investigates a murder and orders everything to immediately be bagged. And he's also the local abortionist who says business is booming because of the young people in town.
Scott Foley also plays a frizzy haired cleaning attendant at the local motel where the devil is staying.
McKinney is also a female promiscuous local news reporter and a scardey cat cop.
And McDonald is great as a weasley blonde-haired TV technician. He's also a pizza delivery gal with short term memory loss.
The sight gags are often so bad they're good and the dialogue rife with triple entendres.
I think the "Kids" made a fine decision in tackling something new instead of going back in time and competing with their younger selves.
This time I hope they're back for good.
RATING: ***.

It Just Didn't Work

NBC has finally conceded it made one of the most massive programming errors in TV history.
The peacock proud network has pulled the plug on Jay Leno's 10 p.m. prime time talk show after just five months.
The ploy to run Leno against top rated CBS and NBC dramas didn't make it on so many levels.
The Leno show ends Feb. 12 when NBC switches to Winter Olympic coverage. And after that?
Its still not clear what Leno and Conan O'Brien will do. If you watched the normally affable Conan on Friday night he's fighting mad while Leno has been making snide remarks about the climate over at FOX being oh so much better.
But Leno at 10 did exactly what NBC had predicted. The show was making money even though ratings were abysmally low.
What NBC did not count on was a full scale rebellion by its affiliates who are complaining Leno at 10 provided no audience flow into their 11 p.m. local newscasts which began suffering in the ratings. And the affiliates make much of their profits out of local news.
And moving Conan an hour earlier to 11:30 also proved to be a flop. The red headed guy has been steadily losing viewers to CBS's Letterman.
NBC's solution: move Leno back to 11:30 but only in a half hour format.
But Conan has a "play me or pay me" clause worth up to $45 million that says he can't be moved from his Tonight berth and he's resisting the move to midnight.
And what will NBC do at 10 p.m. Sources say Law & Order can be moved there but what about the other nights. It takes years to grow dramatic franchises. Remember this whole mess started when NBC's 10 p.m. dramas began failing miserably.

How Old Is Old?

At first glance the new British made documentary World's Oldest Mom seems to be on the frivolous side.
Actually the "Mom" in the title was originally "Mum" which somehow seems to suit an older woman, right. Relax, I'm just kidding.
Producer-Director Amanda Blue seems to have done most of this on her own (she even photographed it). She starts off with the news of a 70-year-old Indian mother giving birth and thus succeeding to the oldest mom title.
Her decision to try in vitro fertilization was greeted with applause in India where having children is part of the culture. The new mom had spent 50 years as a childless wife.
Around the same time a 66-year-old British woman gave birth and the nation seemed positively appalled.
Callers to an open line radio program ranted that she was going against the laws of nature. And many wondered what would happen to her kid --when it came time to graduate from university mom would be around 87.
So Blue did some traveling with her camera. First off she interviewed a retired British biologist determined to have a baby at 72. Now the mood of the hour turns inward as she's continually turned down and reduced to phoning fertility clinics in the Ukraine.
Next up it's a visit to India and the Indian mom of 70 who still suffers bleeding and fatigue from her pregnancy and still must tend to her cattle and hope her husband's other wife looks after the daughter should she die along the way.
And then it's to the American West where a 53-year-old gave birth to twins 17 years ago and at 70 water skies with her girls. When she finally tells them she's not their biological mother (her husband supplied the sperm but another woman's eggs were used) the daughters are very conflicted.
And then it's on to Spain for a visit with a 66-year-old mom who gave birth to twins but six months later discovered she had cervical cancer. She died before the program aired in Britain. Her brother thinks she may have been selfish because the twins must now grow up without parents.
There's lot to think about in this one. Because some new procedure is available should it really be used? And by whom? Technology may be surging ahead of morality and when should it be stopped?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A New Medical Drama And It's Canadian!

Don't ask me why but Canadian TV has always avoided that series staple --the medical melodrama.
The last homegrown one I can think of was Side Effects which had a short run on CBC in 1994. It had the bad luck to debut the same season as ER and Chicago hope roared onto North american TV screens and quickly disappeared..
Canadian viewers were not impressed by this badly plotted mess which even had Street Legal expatriates Albert Schultz and Cynthia Dale in the sprawling cast.
Now comes another medical epic but it's decidedly better in almost every way.
And it's on Canadian cable as another indication the way quality drama has virtually withered away on the old line networks.
Based on the Giller Prize winner Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam this one has an authenticity missing in such popular fare as Gray's Anatomy.
The set looks completely real and I'm thinking it might be an abandoned hospital. The medical staff arent't freshly cosmeticized but frequently sweaty and harassed. And the love triangle is presented in a way that makes it achingly real.
But at the center this is a love triangle between the principal medicos. The book went through the seven years it takes from medical school through internship but that's not always clearly expounded in the hour opener (there are eight episodes).
Shot beautifully and seamlessly over the summer of 2009, the look is comparable or even better than anything seen in competition on the U.S. networks.
Shawn Ashmore compellingly stars as the young ER doctor Fitz torn between his profession and love for another young student Ming (played by Mako Nguyen) who very quickly has married another intern Chen (Byron Mann) on the rebound.
Perhaps the initial hour tries to pack in too much narrative which isn't presented in a straightforward progression but hops and skips back and forth. But as we get to know these three driven young people we feel something has gone awry for them.
Ming is trying to get pregnant using Fitz as the sperm donor and not her husband. And Fitz has been off in Peru and other countries rather than accepting the ER position he was offered.
Ming obviously loves both men but is driven by the demands of her traditionalist father to concentrate on her studies and marry within her race. But Chen seems the most enigmatic character of all, so tightly coiled he lashes out at patients who persist in silly questions.
And he feels Ming and Fitz are obviously still in love when he sights them hugging in a parking lot reunion -look on his face is devastating.
One caveat: there are two "dream sequences" in the opener that are confusing to say the least --they dramatize the inner feelings of participants but for viewers could prove irksome as well as confusing.
Racel Talalay directs the first episode like a movie making it exciting to watch (veterans Kari Skogland , Erik Canuel and Gail Harey are the other helmers).
Nguyen is sensationally fine, completely believable as the object of desire of two friends. Mann (Drahon Boys) smolders internally as the tortured one who could burst emotionally at any time.
Watching Ashmore so successfully play the alcoholic Fritz reminded me of the swift passage of time.
I first interviewed him way back in 2000 when he was still young enough to pass as a high schooler in the Disney series In A Heartbeat all about EMT students helping their community.
That was the same year he scored in X-Men and in 2005 he excelled as Terry Fox in the TV movie remake.
And unlike others I have never mistaken him for his identical twin, actor Aaron Ashmore (Jimmy Olsen on TV's Smallville).
The eight hours was made by Shaftesbury Films (ReGenesis, Dr. Murdoch Mysteries) which concentrates on upscale Canadian drama and has prospered accordingly.
Is there going to be enough story for a possible second season or will it be all over in eight hours? Stay tuned as they say in the biz.
RATING: *** 1/2.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Are Jay Leno's Prime Time Nights Numbered?

The American TV industry magazines are filling up with rumors of Jay Leno's prime time demise.
According to some NBC sources the peacock proud network is dissatisfied with Len's picayune ratings and has ordered up a record 18 new pilots for the fall, an indication Leno's tenure is threatened.
According to The New York Post when Leno goes on hiatus for the Winter Olympics he won't be returning to his 10 p.m. slot but rather back to his old 11:30 p.m. Tonight time.
What this means for Conan O'Brien (currently at 11:30) or Jimmy Kimmel (at 1 .m.) remains unclear.
Leno currently averages 6 million nightly viewers which is unacceptable to the affiliates because 10 p.m. is traditionally the most watched hour of the prime time schedule.
What's apparent is a revolt of NBC affiliates concerned about the disastrously low ratings which are severely impacting their 11 p.m. local news casts.
NBC honcho Angela Bromstad is quoted as saying the network has ordered its most pilots since 2003 to fill the schedule's many holes and helping to rebuild the schedule.
One theory is attributed to Newsday: that NBC will be bumping Leno on Thursdays and Fridays at 10 to make way for its new version of The Rockford Files.
The new owners of NBC have to be dissatisfied with the network's slow prime time ratings decline especially as this is the season ABC and CBS have roared back with a bunch of new hour dramas.
And NBC has a few rapidly aging hits which may not last much longer including The Office and Law And Order.
One theory I've heard calls for Leno to front a single hour variety and talk show next season much as Jack Paar and Steve Allen did after leaving the Tonight Show.
NBC can't allow the situation to slide. Both ABC and CBS are up in the ratings this season because of the NBC slump.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Another British Spin Off For Canadian TV?

Quick! Can anybody think of a British series that got a Canadian TV spin off?
Well, I can, so there. Let's time travel way back to the time CTV had a Canadian version of The Avengers starring our own Linda Thorson.
And currently running on HGTV there are homegrown versions of two U.L. hits: The Unsellables and Colin And Justin.
So it was just a matter of time before we got How To Look Good Naked Canada, right?
Here's where I admit I never watched a full edition of the original British edition.
But I did catch the premier episode of HTLGC with Canadian host Zain Meghji.
The poster arts hows Meghji peering over a clothes line of women's panties but the show is anything but exploitative.
"First we advertised in the papers, that sort of thing," Meghji tells me. "The response was huge."
Then prospective candidates were interviewed and a spectrum selected --no two women could be the same type.
The fourth episode to be made is actually the first out of the box and that makes sense becauseMenghji and crew needed time to come up with the formulas.
Made by Insight Productions for W Network, this one is pleasant enough and has a few surprises.
"First of all we're not saying new clothes, new hairdo are going to solve anybody's problems," Menghji explains. "But it might jump start a person, I think that's entirely possible."
I'd guestimate Meghji is in his early thirties and he's always impeccably under dressed in this show although he adds the clothes are his own.
But I remember once watching him walk up Yonge Street in grungy attire. However, he still looked spiffy and seemed oblivious to the stares from E! fans.
He was then a featured interviewer on E! and his unenviable job was to chatter up very tired movie stars who were doing a full day's worth of promotions for their latest celluloid epic.
Instead of the usual industry p.r. Menghji got them laughing at something weird that happened or asked them if they'd behaved as outrageously as their characters in private.
I had typecast him as an entertainment reporter which may be one reason he took a walk in June and settled into this very different show.
"Each week there's a different woman and we'll show how they can face their flaws and come out looking great. With the first one, Jillian, I was surprised how fast she got into the groove. When a guy says she has great breasts it makes her day. Others were decidedly harder to turn around. It usually wasn't that simple."
Single mom Jillian has given up on dating and schleps around in unbecoming, baggy clothes and a hairdo that doesn't suit her. She splashes on some water on her face in the morning and walks around sans makeup and that's it.
Meghji goes through the whole routine of redressing her to de-emphasize her flaws and instead highlights her strong points. Being chubby and tiny she needs clothes that show off her other assets,
And yes there is a segment with a nude appearance on a ramp --way out in Markham for some reason (I forget).
Meghji grew up in Vancouver, has been involved in the entertainment side since he directed plays at UBC. Later he taught drama to high school students in Swindon.
He has a real flair for interviewing people and should go far. He says he wondered what might happen if a man got the same treatment for one episode. But it wouldn't be the same kind of series at all, would it.
And women viewers would tune out in jealousy, I suspect.
There are 13 hour episodes in the first year.
Later on somebody should really attempt a follow up episode looking at how far the women have come. Or have any regressed?