Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Battle Of Britain Springs Alive!

Make time to watch the new 90-minute documentary The Real Battle Of Britain which is on Discovery World HD Saturday July 2 at 8 p.m.
These events of more than 70 years suddenly spring to life as hosted by Ewan McGregor and older brother Colin. Together they take us on a brilliant journey that combines actual footage, interviews with surviving veteran pilots and recreations of what it must have been like to fly actual Spitfires and Hurricanes.
The special was actually made by Scottish Lion Television for BBC to run last year on the 70th anniversary of the historical air battles (in 1940).
The special really works for me because it fills in a lot of details I didn't quite understand.
Giving their impressions are veterans who were in their 20s back then --the eldest these days is a quick witted 97-year old.
Over 3,000 pilots were part of the heroic "First Of The Few" and 544 died in pitched battles --some 200 drowned in the English Channel before they could be rescued.
Colin is the perfect companion to Ewan because he always wanted to be a RAF pilot based on the exploits of the Spitfire pilots he'd heard about as a boy.
And Colin gets training in flying both Spitfires and Hurricanes which was rather difficult for a pilot skilled in modern jets.
Documentary footage helps reconstruct those days from June 1940 when a jubilant ADolph Hitler marched around Paris to his decision in August to bomb the RAF into submission. And the archival finds are wondrous --one pilot was Nigel Rose who described what it felt like to shoot down a German plane for the first time --and we see that actual footage from the archives (his plan had a fixed camera attached).
Experts take us through the variances in the Spitfire and the Hurricane and. In the Battle of Britain there were as many as 1,700 Hurricanes compared to the more famous Spitfire.
We visit the ruins of Biggin Hill, the biggest RAF base in the south, battered repeatedly by Goering's German air force. One pilot remembers scrambling up to five times a day. But Goering's decision to switch to the Blitz was a strategic mistake that eventually allowed the RAF to regroup and return to battle.
I like the interviews with the few veterans remaining (only 100 or so are still alive). They're quick witted, able to conjure up events of 70 years ago, and so casually heroic it's a shock at first --but they saved the British Empire and as the gigantic headstone at Biggin Hill reveals many were Canadians.
The Real Battle Of Britain just might entice younger viewers to watch and learn based on Ewan McGregor's considerable movie fame.
MY RATING: ****.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Almost Heroes: Give This Series A Chance!

It was back in November that I took the Queen streetcar literally to the end of the line in Etobicoke to get on the set of a new comedy series then only known as The Belleville Brothers Project.
The one camera show was supposed to rev up on Showcase "in early 2011" but it has taken longer to get it all together.
Shot at a redecorated strip mall and retitled Almost Heroes the end result is, well, unusual, challenging, fascinating, a real comedy work in progress.
The show actually takes Showcase back to its roots and the days it featured such experimental comedy shows as It's Me Gerald! (remember that one) and the great lawyer comedy Billable Hours.
The setting is a real strip mall but in this case fabulous mock shops were created including a comic book store and an odd store featuring an array of trashy fashions.
In fact the trashy fashions place looked so authentic a nearby resident stormed in to ask what was the owner thinking in pandering to the baser instincts of impressionable teens?
Told it was only a set, she stormed out in high indignation.
the plot has Terry (Paul Campbell) returning to his small town to help out at the "Silver Salmon" which he inherited with his nerdy brother Peter (Ryan Belleville).
The premise finds them trying to balance their different personalities and at the same time make enough money to save the troubled enterprise.
Ryan Belleville is a diminutive guy with a sad sack smile. He's a real comedy find and has been in training for years in comedy clubs.
He's in a creative partnership with his older brother Jason Belleville but there's an awful lot of comedy heavyweights involved in this one.
Behind the scenes I spotted and chatted up Dan Redican (The Frantics). Other writers include Fraser Young (The Latest Buzz),and Laurie Elliott (6Teen).
Others in the cast include Colin Mochrie, Megan Heffen, Athena Karkanis,David Hemstad.
"It's about guys truing to find themselves," Jason said. "And it's for more than just comic book freaks. It's more about family."
And, no, the Belleville boys did not grow up in Belleville.
" Actually we're from Calgary," Jason says. But the spent years on the road in comedy clubs honing their trade. Ryan has been in such series as She's The Mayor while Jason has written for such hits as Little Mosque On The Prairie.
Despite mutual careers in comedy Ryan points out "It's weird but we never worked together on TV before this. It just never happened."
Paul adds "It's crazy but we both just became fathers. For the first time. So it's like some days I'm haggard from all nighters, then it's Ryan's turn. Then there are days when we're haggard together."
Ryan says he's usually hired to spruce up a series. " Do my best but it's not my show. This one is. I'm feeling the responsibility. So is Jason. But there's only so much two of us can do. We also enlisted help from some heavy lifters."
These include Mochrie who is in fine form as the oddball security mall guard named Boyd. And from Second City there's Lauren Ash as childhood friend Bernie.
In fact I've just re-watched the June 11 episode with Ryan trying to retrieve a $3,000 comic book his brother carelessly gave away --it accomplishes what the guys said was their main aim --to make us care about the suburban mall misfits.
So I hope Showcase gives Almost Heroes a chance to grow and find its audience.
And last time I looked those faux stores in the little strip mall were still there just in case a second season is ordered.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Remembering Peter Falk

I always enjoyed going on the set of those Columbo TV movies and getting to chat up Peter Falk.
The greatish character star died yesterday at 83 after years of battling dementia.
Did you know the character was originally written for Bing Crosby who thought it might be too much work and took a pass (although Crosby's production company made it on the Universal MCA lot).
Falk loved being a big TV star and often made preposterous demands on NBC and Universal. HIs favorite co-star had been Patrick McGoohan, he told me because McGoohan was such a compelling actor.
Other faves: "Nina Foch in the first ever episode, Vera Miles, Janet Leigh, Ray Milland --all d-d good actors."
But Falk got especially excited when asked about those fantastic movies he made with John Cassavettes.
When I told him 1969's Husbands was among my favorite ever movies he slapped me on the back. Then he really grinned when I said 1973's Mickey and Nicky which he'd made with Cassavetes' wife Gena Rowlands was also right up there. I definitely did not tell him I considered another one, A Woman Under The Influence inferior to the other two.
Falk was resigned to the fact his bravura turn as the rumpled detective had made him a major TV player.
He starred in the original TV 1968 movie (although he wasn't seen for the first 30 minutes) and went on to make another 68 elongated episodes.
"Never thought I'd make it as an actor," he grinned and we both knew why. Falk had lost an eye at a age three and casting agents said the camera would pick up the fact one eye was glass.
But after stage work he copped two supporting Oscar nominations in the movies Murder Inc. and Pocketful Of Miracles.
"On the Frank Capra movie Bette Davis was the sole of kindness. I was very terrified working with such a great star but she reserved her bark and bite for our director."
Falk won five Emmys, four of them as best actor for his work as Columbo.
One time in Toronto I chatted up the creators, William Link and Richard Levinson and they told me they'd first created the character for a short story in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in 1961.
The very first Columbo was character actor Bert Freed who played the detective on TV's The Chevy Murder Show. Link told me he was too old for the part.
Then 70-year old character star Thomas Mitchell took Prescription Murder on tour as a theatrical play.
And the last was Dirk Benedict who took the same play on a British tour of the hinterlands in 1990.
The series began on NBC as part of a rotating Wednesday night mystery wheel that included McMillan And Wife, McCloud and later other whodunits like Banacek and The Snoop Sisters. But it soared in ratings when NBC moved the block to Sunday nights.
I may be the only person around who remembers Falk's first TV series, the short-lived 1961 series The Trials Of O'Brien but I thought he was excellent. But it lasted a grand total of 22 episodes.
I remember seeing him at one network party when he was sarcastic about the attempt to continue the series with a "new" character: Columbo's wife never actually seen on the original series.!
For years Falk had believed his wife was a figment of the detective's imagination used to trick suspected killers.
Then in 1979 a spinoff was ordered: Mrs. Columbo which eventually ran starring Kate McShane and had a very brief run.
Falk announced in 2007 he was attempting to shop around another episode called Last Case but his dementia meant he could no longer memorize lines.
In 1987 great film director Wim Wenders cast him as Peter Falk in the movie Wings Of Desire and then as an angel in the 1993 sequel Faraway, So Close.
And then reality began aping fiction. In a 2009 court case over custody of the actor his attorney stated Falk could no, longer remember who Columbo was --a strange, sad ending to such an important TV character star.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Expedition Impossible Is Fun Summer Viewing

I have to admit I held off for days on viewing the preview DVD of the new series Expedition Impossible.
It's my aversion to watching too much reality TV, I guess.
But I finally had to watch to meet my deadline,
And surprise! I liked what I was watching.
Of course Expedition Impossible carries huge overtones of Survivor. But I think it's more fun and it's certainly faster paced --Mark Burnett who makes both The Voice and Survivor is listed as executive producer.
Sarnia native Dave Salmoni is the host as 13 teams of three people trek across sun drenched Morocco in search of TV stardom.
Salmoni is best known for hodsting Animal Plamet's Into The Pride series but he's right at home egging on this diverse band of adventurers.
Whoever selected this bunch obviously has a great sense of humor.
Some of the bands are, well, bizarre.Three former NFL players are bunched together as The Football Players.
Then there are the spicey Latino gals named Latin Persuasian who dress like the Khardasian gals and are caught squabbling in the middle of the Moroccan desert. One Moroccan guide says he'd never marry such women.
There are the Southern cowboys named The California Girls. And the pot bellied NY Firemen.
No Limits is among the most intriguing --one is blind but he has already scaled Mt. Everest.
Other groups: Fab 3 have two gay members and sport knee high socks that have local tribesmen chattering. Mom's Army includes just that, a Mom and her daughters. The California Girls are described as brainy beauties. And a sister trio call themselves Team Kansas.
Others: The Country Boys, The Fishermen, Grandpa's Warriors.
The way the hour is photographed and edited keeps us watching --there are no boring spots.
First up the competitors must saddle up camels and ride off to a towering sand dune.
Then they are instructed to find water the local way --that means digging into the ground to find water as Fab 3 are the first to discover.
And then there's a sheer cliff that the gangs must climb down on alpine ropes. The blond guy says he's not frightened like the others because he can't see anything.
In short the human elements are up front. Each week they'll face new Moroccan adventures. On one level it's silly but it's also fun. And it is summer. It's either Expedition Impossible or those dreaded reruns offered by the competition.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rookie Blue Back For Sophomore Season

There was consternation on the set of Rookie Blue when I was asked what actors I wanted to interview for its sophomore season.
And I said none of them it was the creative executives I needed to grill this time out.
During the police show's first season I'd visited the set and interviewed the two main stars, Missy Peregrym and Gregory Smith, both young actors with a loads of potential.
But now it was time to hang out with co-creator Tassie Cameron and co-executive producer Ilana Frank, two very formidable veterans who managed to get their Toronto made series up on running on both Global TV and ABC.
"For a while it was touch and go," joked Frank, highly respected in the business for her CTV drama series The Eleventh Hour.
Rookie Blue (originally titled Copper) had been bought by ABC which fully intended to give it the first vacant prime time spot in January, 2010.
Then ABC executives watched warily as Global's fortunes seemed to spin out of control. "They didn't know what was happening," Frank says. "I certainly didn't know any more than they did. We were in a tense waiting game. They waited to be reassured that Global had the money to mount a second season."
The wait was oddly worth it as Global and sister Canwest affiliates were purchased by Shaw Media. ABC all along was convinced that the newly retitled Rookie Blue was going to be a hit.
And it was --starting in June, 2011. Simply stated viewers felt attached to the personal saga of five rookie cops on some unidentified North American police force.
"Casting made all the difference," Cameron says holding court in her office. Dhe knows all about guiding series to hit status --she was the showrunner on the first season of another Toronto made TV hit Flashpoint.
"Missy Peregrym was a find for us, people really started to care about her character Andy McNall. Of course she's beautiful but she's also athletic. Viewers could understand why Andy wanted to be a cop, that desire to help other people.,her conflicts with her dad who was a force veteran."
Biggest name in the cast is Gregory Smith who was outstanding as the teenaged Ephram on the WB series hit Everwood.
"When he came in to talk he said he wanted to play goofy, extroverted Dov Epstein," laughs Frank. "We were thinking of him for the more introverted Chris --that would have been cliched. But he willingly read, was terrific and it's a pleasant shock to see how outstanding he is. He brings a lot of Everwood fans with him."
I asked Frank about the first season review in the Boston Globe that said Rookie Blue should be more Toronto specific rather than trying to disguise its Canadian roots.
That was exactly what hindered her CTV effort, The Eleventh Hour. Set in a Canadian TV newsmagazine, the show was considered sensational in the acting and directing categories by the American networks who watched episodes and then reluctantly passed because of its unabashed Canadian origins.
The Toronto skyline gets prominently featured in the opening credits of Rookie Blue. In the first new episode I caught references to Queen's Quay and an Oakville hospital. The cops sport the Toronto uniforms but most forces have similar uniforms. For American viewers this could be Any City, USA, and if that keeps them watching, then, so be it."
Of course this isn't the first scripted TV drama about rookies --way back in 1972 I was on the set of a similar ABC show titled The Rookies as I interviewed Canadian actor Michael Ontkean.
"The emphasis is certainly on Missy's character and the other two young women," Cameron says. "It's about a police force trying to adapt to a new era and we show how carefully the five rookies need to be trained by veterans in every facet of police work."
Cameron says "The scripts are all important. We don't want to lose the focus which is on training, maturing as cops, bonding as a unit. Other stories may seem interesting but that's what the series is about. So I have to be very ruthless about keeping that focus. Because it's the reason viewers are tuning in every week --they become interested in our characters."
On location filming took place in both Toronto and Hamilton. Frank says Hamilton offers a wide variety of vistas not available in Toronto and filming there is cheaper what with the various production credits. "But on snowy days which we certainly experienced this season it can become quite tedious driving all that way on the QEW."
This season the "rookies" --actually now sophomores-- will continue to grow as police officers. In the first new hour episode, directed smoothly by David Wellington, Andy gets involved in the seemingly random shooting of a young girl who was standing in line waiting for tickets at a rock concert.
How that senseless killing affects her and her colleagues forms the fascinating core of the episode.
THe otjer rookies --Travis Milne as Chris, Charlotte Sullivan as Gail and Enuka Okuma as Traci--all have opportunities to shine.
"This year we have every kind of weather and that certainly makes the episodes look more diverse," Frank says.
In fact more series fail in their sophomore season than in their first year --perhaps the producers are not quite as fastidious as before.
"We're still in control," Cameron says. "It's not to take anything for granted, to keep that momentum and build on it."
Frank says the summer run in first year was a real gift in attracting an audience. "The thing is we have people at ABC who believed in this series all along. And Global is high on the series, too. But I know we can't take the first season success for granted."
Made by Entertainment One for Global TV, there are 13 new episodes this summer.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Combat Hospital: Canadian TV Worth Watching!

The press bus takes a turn and suddenly the Etobicoke skyline disappears.
We're smack dab in the middle of an emergency hospital situated at Kandahar, Afghanistan, and it all seems so terribly real.
In the background there are gigantic hills of gravel and dirt.
But nothing is real. It only seems so.
Welcome to the Toronto set of Combat Hospital, a new hour long series debuting on Global TV and ABC Tuesday June 21 at 10 p.m.
Look : there's a sign pointing out the distances to the great world capitals: the arrow points to Ottawa and the distance is "only" 10,600 km.
Concrete blast walls surround the compound but the sprawling hospital was actually built from shipping containers and is plywood.
There's a helicopter landing pad where wounded soldiers can be swiftly transported into three emergency operating chambers.
And inside is a fully functional; hospital --the equipment is even better than in most Toronto hospitals.
"The time frame is 2006," says executive producer Dan Petrie Jr. who also wrote the script for the first hour.
"In 2006 nothing had been set up and then the Canadians came in, introduced state-of-art techniques and helped save the lives of soldiers as well as Afghan civilians. This is their story."
"Yeah, it's only a replica," insists busy actor Arnold Pinnock who plays Commander Will Royal." But I tell ya, hours in that operating room where everything seems real, that when I leave I'm tense, I have to unwind. It's all very real to me."
Petrie says he wasn't sure the experience could be replicated in a Toronto suburb.
"But we've done it. It will be compared with M*A*S*H, I know that. But it's very different, for one thing no humor like in M*A*S*H. And no condemnation of the conflict. But very dramatic and, yes, comedy and romance at times, too."
In fact Petrie's script resolutely tries to skirt most cliches of the medical series genre.
We are first introduced to the two new doctors who have just arrived. There's Canadian Major Rebecca Gordon (Michelle Booth), a hotshot operating veteran who is fleeing a dissolving romantic relationship and American import Captain Bobby Trang (Terry Chen).
They are quickly in the middle of the fray: mopping the floors to clear up the blood, puncturing a lung with a pick to clear blood from a soldier's cavity, losing bodies on the operating table, going day and night when the casualties come flowing in.
Canadian commander is Col. Xavier Marks (Elias Koteas) who must be tough and sensitive at the same time.
Also co-starring is Luke Mably as British doctor Simon Hill and Deborah Kara Unger as the on-site psychiatrist Maj. Grace Pederson.
In others words this is not the soapy romantic world of Grey's Anatomy. Actors are pressed in every scene and the series should quickly become compulsive viewing.
I asked Eleas Koteas, a regular in David Cronenberg films and such hits as Shutter Island why Combat Hospital is his first ever TV series.
"I wasn't sure I could work that quickly. But I've adapted. The material is unrelenting. I feel I'm under constant pressure. We all do. As a Canadian --my parents still live in Montreal --I just wanted to be a part of that."
Koteas with his shaved head and intense appearance jokes he always wanted to play the romantic lead. "But this may be even better. I'm leading these doctors through sheer guts. From time to time he'll break a bit, show his human side. If he falters the whole operation could crumble."
And Unger is equally committed. "You have to shine in as few takes as possible. It's an intense acting workshop. I can't think of any other network series I'd want to be on. I played Ava Gardner in the Rat Pack but that was a miniseries. My character must look out for the medics because they burn out so quickly.
And Unger adds: "It's not TV heroics. All the characters seem so real to me, the greys are shown. As you get to know the characters more you'll be drawn into. Such an acting feast should not be missed."
Unger's character must know when a medic is on the ropes. ready to break. "And I have to get them out as quickly as possible. Nobody last more than a few years at best including my character. Because the deaths keep coming, day after day,"
Under laughs when I say I didn't know she was a Canadian. "Yep. From Vancouver. Because I usually work in the U.S. doesn't mean I'll pass up this chance for quality work. It's like every few weeks we make another feature length movie. The pace is amazing."
Petrie says he wasn;t sure Toronto had enough Afghanis to play the extras in scenes. "Turns out there's thousands here from this war and they're separated into two linguistic groups so we have to hire both.
"Then there was the weather. The day we started in April there was this huge snow dump. Well, it does snow in Kandahar but not in such quantity so we had to get all that white stuff shoveled out of view. This current weather with bright sunshine suits us best."
The press tour of the ERs was indeed impressive --everything worked. There was the prop blood, the rubber body parts and the fully funftioning medical machines.
"But it's the stories that must bring viewers back every week," Petrie insists. "And we think we can deliver on that front."
The 13-hour series is a co-production between Canad's Sienna Films fr Global and Artists Studio and Lookout Point in the U.K.
"We concentrate on human emotions," Petrie says. "We don't take a moralistic viewpoint about the war, it is simply not part of our story. It's happening and we are pinpointing a medical team that saves lives. Don't forget ER wasn't set in the middle of a developing war. Our doctors have to deal with badly injured soldiers and civilians and at times they even become targets. There's drama in all that, enough to last for seasons I'm hoping."
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Surprise! I Really Like Brides Of Beverly Hills

So here I am watching the preview DVDs of a new series Brides Of Beverly Hills.
And --surprise --I'm really liking what I see.
I took the challenge to actually watch the premiere episode and I kept watching through the next two episodes.
Yes, it's a dreaded "Reality Show" but I like these things if done half well.
In Brides Of Beverly Hills we visit the sumptuous bouitque of one of the area's biggest purveyors of wedding gowns. And BH is the ultimate site for this kind of display of the trappings of ostentation.
First of all we get up close and personal with the bubbling proprietor, chubby and Renee Strauss, her grown son who has a degree in psychology and her best bud, the flamboyant florist to the stars, Kevin Lee --remember how Marty Short burlesqued him so outrageously in the flick Father Of The Bride.
The first half hour shows us what we'll expect as two very different brides-to-be are shown in the process of buying their ultimate wedding dress.
One girl, Jennifer, wants the works, she's marrying an older sugar daddy and wants the most expensive gown as a symbol she's made it in upper classdom. Her wedding ring looks the size of Gibraltar and she needs just the right gown to set off her wealth and status.
The other customer is a Jewish daddy's girl, very family committed and even able to persuade her Philippine groom to switch to Judaism.
So the contrasts between the two make this a fun 22 minutes.
Episode 2 is even better as porn star Diamond Foxx sashays in with husband in tow and we get lots of dirty jokes about her trade and her Mae Westian figure.
In the other room there's another Jewish couple who try to pick a new gown with Cypriot designer looking on with makes for some choice moments of drama.
In the third we watch as two refugees from TV's Big Brothers chose the gown as a testament to their ardor and this is contrasted with a brother helping his sister making her choice.
Brides Of Beverly Hills comes with all the accoutrements of the Reality scene: there's always a big build up to every commercial break. Quick cutting forces us to make our own decisions about what gown should really be bought.
And we get to snoop in on family tensions as rifts and chasms erupt --it's always a battle for control --rarely does the bride get to make her own decision.
A boutique Toronto-based production company, Planetworks was formed by partners Romano D'Andrea, Carolyn Meland and Jeff Preyra.
Founded in 2003 Planetworks has made 186 episodes of Style By Jury, 65 episodes of Arresting Design, 13 episodes of Totally Tracked Down , 7 episodes of Chef Off and the 13-part Brides Of Beverly Hills which just might enjoy a long life with years ahead of blushing brides.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

New Episodes Of Nerve Center? Hurray!

When the first two hour episodes of Nerve Center debuted on Discovery in May I hoped more would be coming along because this reality series works without the forced hoopla.
Sunday night at 8 there are two new hours and the first one focusing on Washington D.C.'s emergency response teams is pretty terrific.
It's just one day in the operations in America's capital city and everything seems to be happening.
First up there's a brutal high rise apartment fire that has huge flames bursting out of a ninth floor apartment while trapped residents above and below on other floors scream for help --the black billowing smoke is so dense they can't escape along the hallways.
We see the response team in action from the lady calmly answering the pleas for help at central despatch to the order for fire engines and the call to the police chief who's cruising the Potomac river giving a a seminar on rapid response.
How every facet gets there through the traffic maze and how residents are advised to stand at open windows but not to jump makes for a hugely exciting hour.
But wait! That's not all. There's a demonstration in one of the parks that swells to twice the anticipated size as ambulances get trapped trying to take the injured to hospitals.
There's a man who jumps on the subway line during rush hour and gets trapped under the wheels. And despite having his legs shredded somehow he has survived and the emergency crew must get him out with only 46 centimeters between the rail lines and the subway car. How they do this slowly but surely is one of the most gripping scenes I've ever seen recently on TV.
Expert editing keeps us on the edge of our seats. And there's still a marathon race to oversee, a woman trapped in an elevator and a fireman who winds up in pitch black entangled with live wires.
And how was your day?
One problem: ever commercial break is accompanies by a Perils of Pauline episode and the cumulative effect of watching so many rescues becomes positively exhausting.
By contrast the second hour on one day at Los Angeles' Central Port Authority is positively lethargic. We can learn all about the docking of huge tourist ships as well as gigantic container ships from China but there's nothing life threatening here no matter how it's hyped before each commercial break. But as a lesson in economics it's worth sitting through.
And there are still two more hours left in the six-part Canadian series made by Exploration Production Inc. (EPI).
made series.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Paul Watson Is Back In Whale Wars

To some he's a conservation hero. Others deem him an eco-terrorist.
Toronto-born Paul Watson, undoubted star of the returning series Whale Wars, insists he's neither.
"I'm just a guy trying to get on with his job."
His job as he sees it is trying to stop the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic.
"And maybe, just maybe, we have succeeded. every year when we go out on these missions the fleet gets less and less of a catych. And this year it's been down to the point the whale hunt is no longer economical. I think."
Whale Wars returns for its fourth season of derring-do on the high seas. Like all Reality Shows every chapter builds to a thundering climax and after the commercial break it's on to the next cliffhanger.
"Honestly, we do not try and manufacture crises," he says on the line from Los Angeles. "But we show how very dangerous this kind of pursuit can be in the Antarctic seas with those huge ice flows everywhere and the rotten weather that is always threatening."
This season the Japanese fleet went home weith only a fifth of their usual catch of 850 whales --"and that's because we pursued them, harassed them. It's absolutely preposterous to suggest that whaling is part of their culture.
"It was only started in 1946 as a make work project by General Douglas MacArthur. Consuming whale meat isn't a tradition at all. It's being consumed in decreasing qualtities as the older generation dies out. Younger Japanese don't eat it at all."
Reports Watson "They left over a month earlier than planned. We simply made it too difficult for them. And it no longer pays. I doubt they'll be back."
Watson says the huge ratings for Whale Wars demonstrates viewers feel they have a steak in the planet's ecology. The way we get to know the cast --many of them volunteers --gives us a stake in their adventures. In Episode One bad weather and leaking oil could doom the voyage before any sightings are made.
Williams made enemies in the Maritimes where he grew up when he took on the seal hunt.
"And it's no more. Again we made in uneconomical. As plain as that. And I think we'll have the same outcome with the whales. The Japanese are exploiting some ambiguities in the charter protecting the whales --at one time they were killing 900 whales a year purely for what they claimed were scientific study whatever that means."
In 2007 Watson persuaded Discovery Channel a documentary series on the Sea Shepherd's ongoing war against whales would make for exciting TV. One of his vessels, Steve Irvin, is named after the late, great Australian ecologist, the other the Bob Barker is named after the American game show host who has donated millions of dollars to the cause.
He didn't dream at the time it would ever hit four seasons.
Does that mean a fifth season of Whale Wars is an impossibility?
"No! We are currently after blue fin poachers off the Libyan coast --they are poaching right through the current war. And we are onto pilot whale hunters in the Faroes. We'll always have new causes to keep us going."
So a fifth season of Whale Wars is a "great possibility".
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Yannick Bisson Returns As Inspector Murdoch

The first Inspector Murdoch I knew was reliable Canadian actor Peter Outerbridge.
He starred in three highly regarded Inspector Murdoch TV movie mysteries shot in 2004 and 2005 with Winnipeg of all places standing in for Victorian Toronto.
At the time the idea was to continue the adventures as TV movies but citytv was desperate for a Canadian series and made a 13 episode show order.
Trouble was Outerbidge already had a series job with Shaftesbury Films on the intellifgent sci fi series ReGeneris and couldn't fit in a second series within that year. In fact I heard Outerbridge tell TV critics at one Global press scrum that of the two series he'd rather be doing Murdoch.
A casting call resulted in the fortuitous substitution of Yannick Bisson who has been front and center throughout the three seasons. Filming moved to Toronto's East end studios but for this fourth season the fantastic police precinct set had to be dismantled and moved elsewhere -the East end studios are shuttered.
In early years there was location work done in Cambridge but the fourth season used Toronto and Hamilton locations --Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his daughter visited the set--he has a cameo as a constable.
It's hard for me to believe it but the ultra handsome Bisson is now 42. I may have been the first reporter to interview him way backin 1984 when he was a good looking kid getting his big break on the TV movie Hockey Night starring Megan Follows and Rick Moranis.
It was Bisson's quiet demeanor that was startling and his ability to project both intensity and sincerity.
I certainly do remember him in the 1986 TV drama Brothers By Choice although the 1988 series Learning The Ropes was a setback.
He replaced another actor in the 199 series Nothing To Good For A Cowboy and made the 2000 series Soul Food which I missed and Sue Thomas F.B. Eye which showcased his talent for dominating every scene he's in.
In short he has worked hard to become a dependable TV series actor and it shows in Murdoch Mysteries.
The first new episode introduces a new pathologist (Paul Rhys) as Dr. Llewellyn Francis with a disdain for everything colonial, and has Murdoch trying to solve a very violent murder in which the victim's limbs were severed and placed in concrete.
Murdoch's trusted pathologist and confidant Dr Julia Ogden has left for a better opportunity in --gulp --Buffalo.
Don't laugh but Buffalo in those days was several times larger and more important than Toronto.
Guesting is none other than Canadian character star Victor Garber who plays Mirdoch's predecessor on the force and is called in to help solve the gruesome murder. Don't forget in those palmy days any sort of murder was unusual. The city was then known as Toronto The Good.
I remember chatting up creator Maureen Jennings on the set in 2008 --weeks later she was swept out to sea off the coast of Florida and was lucky to survive. On that day she talked about getting the details just right and how that makes for a very expensive show. But she didn't want the Victoriana to completely take over --it was still the plot that would cause viewers to stay tuned.
And executive producer Christine Jennings made a good call by importing British guest stars whose presence meant she could peddle the series to a British network now titled Alibi.
Still, most viewers watch for Bisson's take on Murdoch. Unlike other teen stars he didn't drift on but hunkered down to learn his craft and has been growing and improving as an actor for 25 years.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Recessionize: A Funny Look At Our Monetary Woes

Is it just me or do other TV critics also wonder if every other documentary they watch has the name "Kastner" attached to it?
At University of Toronto I took a French course audited by actor Peter Kastner who later made it big in L.A.
My first week on the job at the Hamilton Spectator and I had to share an interview with Pete Seeger with writer Susan Kastner.
I don't think Seeger even glanced at me once during his two hours of rambling conversation with Susan.
Then came many first class CBC documentaries produced and directed by John Kastner.
And now I'm watching the new TVO film Recessionize by Jamie Kastner who I first met at the Toronto Star when he was a promising summer student.
Recessionize comes with a very cute premise: what did people do during the Great Depression that might be of use today.
And to find out Kastner got to take trips to Southern California, Amsterdam, London, Berlin and even Dubai.
In all these places he discovered and interviewed a truly eclectic mixture of subjects.
Then he packaged it fetchingly with old black and white shots of way back when mixed with scenes from his recent shoots.
The result is strangely upbeat. Hey, all of a sudden this lingering recessions seems like a blast.
Kastner's list of 15 top ways to fight back starts with an atfer school program for L.A. rich kids who are financially illiterate about the ways of the world. "Pay yourself first!" is the golden rule they're learning the day we pop in.
Then he discovers in Laguna Beach a married woman with kids who is a "home manager". She plunks her two kids and her furniture in a home up for sale and guarantees a certain homey touch that just might want prospective owners to buy into this dream. The downside: she has to be ready to depart within days if a sale goes through.
Some of these segments really work. In the Depression people sold apples. Today one unemployed male model bought and fixed up a "Green Truck" to peddle organic produce to office workers during their lunch breaks.
Another guy profiled repossesses private plans and has a hangar full of them ready to ship out. I guess when a company is slipping the plane is the first thing to go.
Another great profile, this time set in Amsterdam, examines an enterprising couple who make upscale bed linen inspired by street people. Hey, the sheets that look like container boxes are ever so chic.
And the House Of Envy in Berlin, a house of ill repute, facing competition and a lack of parking spots, offers cut rates to clients who bicycle over for services rendered.
I guess my favorite is the French hamster hotel where guests get a very tight room and a bed fashioned on a gigantic hamster wheel one can use for exercising as well as sleeping purposes.
Anybody suffering through the pangs of this recession should watch to instantly feel better.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fred Ewanuick Returns In Dan For Mayor

After Corner Gas expired two new comedies emerged.
Part of the CG cast (Brent Butt, Nancy Robertson) co-starred in the new sitcom hiccups which premiered its second season last week.
And Sunday night at 7:30 there's the second season debut of Dan For Mayor starring CG alumnus Fred Ewanuick and executive produced by CG's Mark Farrell.
Of the two I rather like Dan For Mayor better. It's had fewer problems in getting a storyline down and establishing key funny characters around lead Ewanuick.
The premise was weird and wonderful. Dan Phillips became mayor of the small Ontario city of Wessex by accident.
And now Dan is mayor only to find himself spectacularly under equipped for just about every function he must perform as mayor.
In devising the format Farrell and fellow exec producers Paul Mather and Kevin White have whether they like it or not constructed a sort of classic comedy.
Not to be rude but Ewaniuck is really Mary Tyler Moore here --he's the everyman who may be slightly dense but is surrounded by crazies who are far funnier. We see the plot unfolding through his eyes and gauge his reactions with ours.
The show in its second year seems to move better, lines are better written and the talented cast are through feeling their way into their characters.
In the first new episode Claire (Mary Ashton from Heartland) returns to the city as a wiser girl determined to make it in PR in the very small city.
She thought she might take time off to ponder her future but a series of accidental meetings means she finds herself with a new company Kendall And Associates smack dab in the same office complex as ex-fiance Mike.
Benjamin Ayres is spot on as this boyfriend, a clunky guy who always gets everything messed up. Now Mike is very funny in small doses.
Then there's Fern (David Ferry), the friendly barttender who sold his bar Fern's to Jeff ( (Paul Bates) who is Dan's best friend from childhood days. And Laurie Murdoch is the senior bureaucrat trying to keep Dan in tow.
I enjoyed chatting with Ewanuick on the phone from a B.C. rink where he was playing hockey with his mates.
"I agree I had great luck with Corner Gas," he said. "We all did. After the first episode got over a million viewers we were all phoned by (CTV president) Ivan Fecan.
And that kind of response never dimmed over the series' five top-rated seasons.
A combination of good writing and impeccable casting made this one Canadian TV's best ever situation comedy.
It was only natural there'd be pressure from CTV to keep a good thing going. And indeed as Butt told me only a few days ago there may yet be a movie edition coming up sooner than later.
Or how about Corner Gas: The Musical? After Glee's success it's like anything goes.
In CG Fred was far funnier than he is on Dan For Mayor and that's deliberate. Here he's front and center in many more scenes and often must play straight man to the characters around him.
"It's been an adjustment," he acknowledges about the first season. "I think we came back and are far more into our characters and that shows in everything being more polished."
In the first new episode Dan promises to name the new rink after a local hockey legend. Directed by Ron Murphy, the pacing is assured and there are some big laughs.
But even better is the second new episode, The Trash Compact, as Dan wants Wessex to go green and arranges with the city next door, Glenbridge, to take all of Wessex's garbage,. Murphy directs again but whole scenes are stolen by Kathleen Phillips as the wacky fellow mayor who keeps a pet goat and repeatedly states "I'm not kidd-ing" Get it?
Ewanuick says two episodes are shot at once for a shooting total of eight days. Interior sets are at a Toronto studio but exteriors are shot in Waterloo, Kitchener and Hamilton --parts of the Wessex city hall are in both Kitchener and Waterloo.
Let's hope the fine tuning continues. So fart an alternate universe such as existed in Corner Gas seems achievable. Each episode is getting easier to watch.
And some of these characters are already growing on me.

Friday, June 3, 2011

CTV Battles To Retain Its Top Slot

That was quite an all day party CTV threw for itself Thursday as befits the number one ranked commercial network.
The location, ironically, was the former Citytv headquarters on Toronto's Queen Street West. When CTV gobbled up the Citytv empire the part denied it were the former Citytv stations now owned by Rogers Media.
Last year the empire was CTVglobemedia --but The Globe was bought back by the Thomson family and Bell bought back CTV and renamed itself BellMedia.
To celebrate the new company a gaggle of American stars arrived for the festivities.
Look, there's Anderson Cooper, and his hair really is that white.
And Debra Messing was around actually promoting a new series Smash that won't even debut until midseason.
Girl watchers oohed and aahed as the four distaff stars of the new show Pan Am arrived: Christina Ricci, Margot Robbie Kelli Garner and Karine Vanasse.
Their show might best be scribed as a variant on a certain popular cable show --it could well be titled Mad Women.
And there was standup sensation Whitney Cummings who stars in the quite risque (for network TV) sitcom Whitney.
And four of thestars of The Big Bang Theory also showed up: Mayim Bialik, Melissa Rauch, Kunal Nayyar and Simon Helberg.
I once interviewed Mayim when she was the perky star of the teen comedy Blossom.
She took 12 years off from acting to garner her PhD in neurosciences.
CTV sources insist their web has the brightest new series including the second revamping of Charlie's Angels, Hank Azaria in the new sitcom Free Agents, the crime drama Grimm, the heartfelt drama Man Up with Mather Zickel, Poppy Montgomery in the crime drama Unforgettable, Simon Cowell's The X Factor, Christina Applegate and Will Arnett in the sitcom Up All Night.
Anderson Cooper proved polite and enthusiastic as he promoted his new hourlong daily talk show. Instead of seeing himself as Oprah's successor he invoked the memory of Phil Donahue several times and seemed to favor a cross off between star interviews and touchy feely people features.
He'll tape his shows by day and continue evenings to anchor his CNN gig.
Whitney's sitcom was a riot --as least the pieces shown to the press and marks a return to the sitcom format of a three camera show taped before a live audience.
And far from looking like a girlie show Pan Am profiles the behind the scenes exploits of stewardesses in the era when people still dressed to travel and the women were relentlessly exploited. For verisimilitude the actresses had to wear contemporary girdles and behave in an unliberated way.
Biggest internal news at CTV is the absorption of the A Channels into a new weblet titled CTV Two.
On CTV there are few if any Canadian series outside of ETalk weeknights at 7. In daytime it's an almost ceaseless flow of U.S. simulcast product with the exception of Marilyn Dennis at 10 a.m.
CTV Two, however, does have some Canadian series including W5, Degrassi (weeknights at 7), Flashpoint, the Listener.
CTV did announce that Toronto-made Flashpoint has been renewed for another season of new episodes.
The booze and dainties flowed at the party at Sony Center for the crowd of potential advertisers who seemed mighty enthusiastic about the new product.
I duly mingled and caught up with Lloyd Robertson. I reminded him of the CBC fall launch in 1976 I'd attended when CBC News head Knowlton Nash jumped up and said "I've lost my Mr. Clean!" --a reference to Lloyd's defecting to CTV. whereupon the entire cadres of TV critics jumped in taxis and sped off to CTV's Charles St. headquarters.
Catching up with producer Linda Schuyler, creator of Degrassi was not hard at all. I'd written the very first story on the iconic show way back in 1979 (titled the Kids Of Degrassi street). Schuyler informed me the new season order was for 45 new episodes, an indication of Degrassi's continuing popularity.
Riverdale was another Schuyler creation, a CBC soap opera that needed a full year to get started up --if CBC had stuck with it I'm prepared to say it would be as popular as Coronation street today.
But I was onto Brent Butt and his wife/leading lady Nancy Robertson on hiccups. Butt says he could have continued with Corner Gas for years and has even had an offer to remount it as a stage musical.
Behind a pillar I shared horror stories over the state of journalism with renowned sportscaster Brian Williams. He says he's already studying up for his role as CTV's host newscaster for the 2012 London Olympics.
"At one time TV sportscasters were second to the print guys. Now newspapers have fallen on tougher times than we could ever imagine."
And with that I sneaked out a side door and sprinted for freedom. Judging from the noises inside the revelers were determined to go on and on.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Global Is Coming On Fast

A fear years back Global TV was a network being battered and bent by competitor CTV.
And now?
The network along with CanWest specialty channels got purchased by Shaw Media and the cash is surely flowing.
This fall Global will have a highly competitive prime time schedule. With Citytv also coming on strong the bidding for American hits was never more intense.
Vice president Barnara Williams surprised thecrowd at the Sony Center that the big new hit would be the U.S. version of Prime Suspect with Mario Bello (A History Of Violence) replacing iconic Helen Mirren as the tough-as-nails detective (it runs Thursdays at 10).
Also highly regarded is A Gifted Man (Fridays at 8) with Michael Holt as the surgeon taught life's lessons by the spirit of his deceased wife.
Sarah Michelle Geller's next series The Ringer casts her as good and evil twins (Fridays at 10). The 2-2 from Robert De Niro follows six NYPD rookies as they patrol upper Manhattan --it sounds suspiciously like Global's successful local series Rookie Blue.
From the creator of Bones it's The Finder, described as a procedural about a brain damaged Iraqi War veteran who is skilled at recovering people from all sorts of dangerous situations. Geoff Stults stars.
New sitcoms include How To Be A Fentleman with David Hornsby and Kevin Dillon. I Hate My Teenage Daughter has Jaime Pressly and Kate Finneran as fortmet high school pals who are now parents. Happily Divorced stars Fran Drescher who plays a florist who discovers her husband of 18 years is gay.
There are two new animated series both from Fox, Allen Gregory and Napoleon Dynamite and Chelsea Handler from late nights has her own sitcom Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea which NBC is making.
Key returning American hits include NCIS, House, Hawaii Five-0, Glee, NCIS: Los Angeles, Parenthood, Harry's Law, Season 8 of The Office, Bones, Saturday Night Live,
In fact it's hard to find a single Canadian series in prime time on Global this fall. CRTC content regulations dictate the split should be 50-50.
The infusion of money from Shaw is enabling Global to finance 15 new scripted Canadian series which take time to be developed and cast and shot. Later this month last summer's hot Rookie Blue, shot in Toronto, comes back for its second season.
And later on there'll be second seasons for such Canadian fare as Lost Girl, King, Haven and Producing Parker,
Debuting June 21 on Global is the latest homegrown drama series Combat Hospital looking at the NATO Multinational Medical Unit at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.
Williams told reporters Haven which debuted on Showcase also had a Global window that enabled it to grow viewers and get a second season and she hopes to feature other series on both networks.
Global also expands its news operation with its own Morning Show described as being more conversational in tone with Liza Fromer, Dave Gerry and Kris Reyes.
Global was so flush with money this season it was able to bring in a gaggle of visiting U.S. stars including Glee's Matthew Morrison, Dot Jones and Iqbal Theba plus the usual Canadian suspects who in seasons past were usually shunted off the stage very quickly. But this year Missy Peregrym, Gregory Smith and castmates from Rookie Blue were front and center.
Shaw Media also has new seasons for its 18 specialty channels and some 35 new series lined up, an indication specialty TV is booming, growing far faster than its conventional cousins.
I'm told there was a huge bidding war between the three principals for the best new U.S. imports.
But Global sources are optimistic the network and sister channels are back on track and ready to challenge CTV for ratings primacy.
May the best set of American imports win!