Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Royal Pains Debuts On Showcase

A funny thing about Showcase. The Canadian cable network was originally structured by Atlantis Films and CBC as a repeat channel for superior Canadian drama series.
Only there are few if any Canadian drama series left on Canadian TV these days.
CBC sold off its percentage years ago and these days Showcase isn't dotted with Canadian repeats but with the cream of American cable TV dramas.
Like Royal Pains which debuts Wednesday on Canadian TV although Showcase is picking it up from its second season.
Starring is a familiar U.S. TV face --Mark Feuerstein who graced such TV sitcom bombs in his younger years as Fired Up (1997), Corad Bloom (1998) and 3 Lbs. (2007) causing him to be dubbed "Murderer Of A Thousand TV Sitcoms)" by one disgruntled TV critic. But it wasn't his fault, he was always better than his material.
In fact Feuerstein is very gifted --look how he effortless stole his scenes in movies' What Women Want (as Morgan Farwell) and TV's West Wing (Clifford Calleyt).
Here in Royal Pains he's effortlessly cast as youngish ER surgeon Hank Lawson who saves a street urchin's life while the hospital's billionaire philanthropist dies. Fired, he winds up watching TV all day and living in a catatonic state until his younger go-getter brother intervenes and takes him to the swank Hamptons to recuperate.
Lawson winds up at a Memorial Day party run by reclusive billionaire Boris Kuester Von Jurgens-Ratenicz ( (Campbell Scott) and he even saves the life of one guest, a lush supermodel, and so gains instant fame in this the wealthiest society in the U.S.
His brash brother Evan is well played by Brampton's Paulo Costanzo and the brothers have a close relationship that reminds me of the banter in the series Number$ --remember that one.
The bros live in some luxury when Lawson is set up as a concierge doctor catering to the ills of the rich and famous. Many of the cases could hardly happen back in New York City.
In the first new episode Lawson rushes to one mansion to save a young man trying to tear down his famous father's inner sanctum where daddy became progressively more paranoid.
In the second episode he's trying to save a young heiress whose increasingly severe fainting spells might indicate congestive heart failure. Lawson diagnosis says it's something else.
Helping Lawson along the way is his gorgeous personal assistant Divya Katdare ( played by Reshma Shetty and an on-off love intertest with the director of the local hospital , Jill Casey, played fetchingly by Jill Flint.
Still only 40, Feuerstein sports charismatic qualities as Lawson --people just assume he's a super talented doctor.
And the bfrothers play out their own personal saga as their long lost father (Henrey Winkler) shows up to disrupt their lives.
Shot in and around the Hamptons, the show has a different look to it than the bavklt productions of L.A.
And this merry mixture of family angst, ripe comedy scenes and love seeking really does work, so much so that the first season of Royal Pains ranked among the highest of U.S. TV cable shows.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

I'm Consumed By Consumed

When the DVD preview for the new HGTV series Consumed arrived I held off for awhile.
Couldn't watch for days. Visions of a similar series called Hoarders danced in my heads.
And I hate Hoarders which I feel unfairly preys on people who need real help.
But when I finally plopped in the DVD for Consumed I liked what I saw.
The series host is efficient but sympathetic Jill Pollack who told me she's a de-cluttering expert and has worked on such shows as Sally Jessy Raphael and Rosie O'Donnell.
"So I know what works on TV and what doesn't."
What doesn't work is brow beating people who are messy.
In the first hour long show Pollack visits with a pudgy young couple who have simply been overwhelmed. The wife keeps everything --she even has boxes of old children's clothing stuck in the crawl space. And her amiable husband is just as messy --his garage is filled to overflowing with junk.
The wife is busy home schooling her kids although they really have no space for books and desks.
Pollack uses "shock therapy" on them --each member may keep only 10 items and everything else is despatched to storage.
For the next month they live in a virtually barren home where they must resort their priorities and then decide what to junk and what to keep.
"Only then do we take them to storage where they must sort through everything in a day, keeping only essentials," Pollack told me. "We get tears. we get anger. But it's something that just has to be done.
"It's an agonizing process and viewers can see the process that ends with a home where people can actually live comfortably in their homes.
"It's not that their house is small, it's just the accumulation of debris. This young wife was so busy looking after her three small kids and without much support from her husband that she gradually lost control of the home."
Even better is the second episode where Pollack visits a middle aged couple with three grown sons all of whom are clutterers. This family is so tightly stuck that they must eat dinner at various locations throughout the home --there's no room at the dining table.
One son has all sorts of sports equipment, the husband keeps every bill --he is a tax accountant. A son has a hamster and his mother has never seen it for the debris. There's so much clutter the distraught mother cannot sleep at night. One son bursts into tears describing how messy the home has become.
Plop five clutterers into a s,all space and this disaster is the result.
Made by B.C.'s Paperny Films, Consumed is compulsively viewable. Pollack's shock therapy really works and the homes are given a redesign to show how the space should be used.
"I don't judge, I don't preach, I help," Pollack explains. "And we do return months later just to make sure the families haven't reverted to cluttering. So far they're all holding firm, they're happy, they see that our redesign helps them to live normal lives.
"And I think it makes for good TV. We have a positive approach, no recriminations. Viewers seem to relate to the process.
" Watch and you'll start tidying up your home. I guarantee that!"

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fall Season Is Starting On History

Tune in Tuesday night on History Television and you'll get the first rush of the fall TV season beginning with a new show for Canadians, Brad Meltzer's Decoded.
Here is the perfect series for Americans who have always harborted paranoidal tendencies when it comes to conspiracy theories.
But I can't see a similar show about Canada working. It's not just that we don't have the reach of the colossus to the South. It's also our approach to politics and history which is relatively free of assassinations.
Every week Meltzer and his history detectives Christine McKinley, Buddy Levy and Scott Rolle tackle one of the big unsolved mysteries out there, wrestle it to the ground and either debunk it or explain what really happens.
Whew! This isn't just another American Reality Show faced with sexy imbeciles who sit around and talk aimlessly.
The focus is strictly on history and depth of research. And trust me it can be very exciting.
First up is the controversy over the cornerstone of the White House. Legend has it that the huge hunk of granite was stolen by the Masons as the building was being refurbished after the War of 1812.
If that's true where is it today? And how did the workmen back then manage to bundle off a slab of granite weighing thousands of pounds?
McKinley is the mechanical engineer among the bunch and she crunches the numbers and seems to insist it just couldn't be done.
Levy, a former teacher, can be found deep inside research libraries as he searches through the arcane memorabilia of the past.
Rolle is a former attorney who asks the edgy questions and refuses to believe anything he hears without proper evidence.
This adventure takes us inside Mason headquarters where we find a large hunk of a cornerstone that was donated to the Mason library by President Harry S . Truman, himself a Mason. Hmmmm.
But things really get complicated when we learn one of the cornerstones of the American Congress also went missing.
Lots of smart talk, running around and furious debate keep us watching . I won't tell the ending but "Conspiratorialists" won't believe it anyway.
Later episodes will deal with Confederate Gold, D.B. Cooper, Statute of Liberty, The Lincoln Assassination --American history is deliciously filled with paranoid possibilities. It's enough to make this Canadian wonder why we're always being left out of this game.
And then at 9 p.m. there's the new season of Pawn stars which is set in Las Vegas. Only we never get to visit The Strip.
This here's a store-based series (specifically the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop) where people come in and try to get various members of the Harrison family to pay for their baubles and trinkets.
There are some history lessons to be learned as experts are trotted in and one guy says a fellow's collection of Harry Houdini shackles are the real thing and worth upwards of $600 --and he goes about telling us how Houdini really did manage his escape tricks.
I like this one although friends complain there's too much talking a promoting the pawn shop but students of character motivation must wonder at some of the dudes entering this store. Most routinely accept far less for their treasures just because they don't want to trudge around and get involved with more haggling at the next store.
And the best item the first week out? It's a mixing machine made during Prohibition when cheap bath tun gin tasted so bad it had to be mixed with other ingredients just to keep it down.
Then along comes a new season of American Pickers at 10 p.m..
Some friends asked me why this aw shucks reality outing is on History. I have no problems with that. It's pop history to be sure.
Our two protagonists Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz play at being good ole boys from Iowa but they're really American entrepreneurs on the hunt for what's called "Rusty Gold".
Sure, they're acting up for the camera --it's strange the long suffering cameraman is never mentioned but his job has to be the hardest of all. You better believe every scene is set and and rehearsed as both sides have to say certain things to keep the momentum going.
The idea of watching two grown men picking through dust and dirt makes for a kind of flip side to Antique Roadshow where everyone is so genteel and the antiques freshly buffed to a sheen..
And, yes, there are some history lessons to be learned although the boys do tend to gravitate to old bicycles and motorcycles.
This week, for example, we got a lesson in the history of pinball machines that was instructive. And when things quieten down the two of them play at being Laurel and Hardy.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.
MY RATING: **1/2.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The New Fall TV Season Starts Tonight On Bravo!

This is it --Monday night marks the start of the fall TV season and the first batch of new entries are on cable networks trying to get a jump ahead.
And first up Monday at 9 on Bravo! is the rather carefree legal series Franklin And Bash. Remember the days when U.S. legal series like Perry Mason and The Defenders were carefully crafted salutes to the American legal system?
No more,Franklin And Bash is irreverent to say the least as Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer are nicely teamed in TV's latest bromance.
They play halves of a legal firm that fights for injustice for the little people meaning they often have to result to outrageous courtroom antics.
Gosselaar plays Franklin, Meyer Peter Bash and they operate out of their home with a few other stranded legal eagles and they use their skills to try and get people acquitted. Also starring is Dana Davis as an ex-con Carmen who is now on the law's side and Kumail Nanjiani who is their agoraphobic legal researcher.
Somehow they attract the attention of one of the wealthiest lawyers in town, brilliant, mercuiral Stanton Infeld, played with great elan by Malcolm McDowell and on what seems like a whim he hires them as adornments to his sprawling law firm to kind of shake things up.
The buddies play video games while debating finer points of the law and Franklin even steps out of a jacuzzi nude in the middle of as party of well wishers just because he wants to.
The two cases they're working on in the pilot are strange to say the very least: a pot bellied airline pilot was determined to join the mile high club just before the plane he was supposed to be piloting crashed and a dominatrix who so beat her husband he died from severe bruising.
Lots of joking not allowed on network TV follows although I kept thinking of that old CNBS hit Simon And Simon because of the heavy doses of male bonding throughout.
And some of the courtroom stunts are so outlandish I'm wondering what judge out there would allow such foolishness.
Still Franklin And Bash is fast paced, reasonably funny, very light and insubstantial and very trendy with its irreverence to the law.
While Franklin And Bash is eminently watchable but Suits makes for riveting viewing.
The premise takes some getting used to. Patrick J. Adams is cool Mike Ross, so brilliant he can read anything and forever be able to re-quote it in detail. A college drop out and sometime drug user he's first spotted in a college law exam cheating --he's taking the course for somebody else and getting paid for it.
Through some convoluted plotting he actually gets in to meet super sharp legal star Harvey Specter played by Gabriel Macht and they become the most unlikely of partners in a top New York city law practice.
Suits refers to the tailored elegance Specter insists from even his most junior subordinates.
This one is superior because the bonding between Adams and Macht is right here from the beginning.
And the first two legal cases are expertly plotted with some big surprises along the way. This one is hardly lightweight the way the lawyers in this firm cynically manipulate the system for gigantic monetary rewards. And both Ross and Specter have some characteristics which are unheroic. In short we recognize them as complex human beings.
In fact Mike despite his brilliant mind is the brilliant one while Harvey is the super shark lawyer out to get top dividends for his firm no matter what.
Suits is slick and sleek and its view of the inner workings of the American legal system is just plain nasty fun.
Shot in the gleaming glass office towers of Manhattan it emerges as cynical as a series can be and something basic TV networks can't compete with. The chemistry between the two lawyers makes this one compulsively viewable.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Big TV Question Of The Week

Your most asked question on TV this week?
No it has nothing to do with Christine O'Donnell's walking off CNN's Piers Morgan show.
And nothing to do with any of the fall TV series all lined up to debut within weeks.
I'm not kidding by stating that at several places on Friday afternoon I was asked why two Jimmy Cagney flicks (The Crowds Roars and White Heat) wound up as part of TCM's Jean Gabin daylong salute.
You see I'm always addressing this question with Turner Classic Movies.
Ans several years back when I had the chance to interview host Robert Osborne he answered matter of factly.
I remember telling Osborne that after he introduced a Claude Rains movie that was obviously going to be Notorious instead TCM substituted another Rain flick Saturday's Children.
How did that happen I asked. A little old lady down the street said she watched Osborne introduce Rains in a bit of Hitchcockian intrigue and instead up came Rains in a glum Depression drama.
"We don't have the Canadian TV rights to Notorious, somebody else does," Osborne patiently explained.
In fact the differences between the U.S. schedule and the Canadian schedule amounts to about seven per cent of all titles.
So I'm thinking that in case of great French star Gabin profiled on Thursday TCM did not have the rights to Grand Illusion at 10 and Touchez Pas Au Grisby at 2 a.m. Other Gabin titles could not substituted because simply stated there were no other Gabin movies available.
Unfortunately the introductions aren't changed for the Canadian feed.
The only suggestion I have is to consult the separate Canadian schedule on TCM.com.
Odsborne told me it would take years to get complete rights for all films shown on TCM.
I'm not grousing mind you. I managed to see Gabin in the 1934 classic Maria Chapdelaine which I'll wager has never been seen in decades on North American TV.
Osborne himself isn't being seen on TCM these days --he's on a three month leave of absence after minor surgery. So Ben Mankiewicz is substituting for him on most occasions.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Best New TV Series Isn't On TV --Yet

I've seen the future and it's not on TV. It's on my computer.
More and more these days I'm watching my TV right on my Apple and that's only going to increase I can fearlessly predict.
To back up my prediction the best new TV show premiering this week isn't on TV at all. It's on your computer.
Just call up DiscoveryChannel.ca/things to catch the first installment of a very fast paced new show called Things You Need To Know.
Anybody can and should watch but the core audience seems to be senior public school kids and that's why each segment of the half hour is only about two to three minutes accompanied by heavy graphics and catchy animation.
First subject up is the weather which fascinates us all, myself included. I'll never forget the recent afternoon when The Weather Channel told me it was sunny outside but all I saw out the window was the pelting rain accompanied by bursts of thunder.
So the basics are effortlessly tossed our way by genial host James May.
He goes through all the typical conversation points: how and why the earth tilts, why El Nino is so powerful some years, why hurricanes are different from cyclones and tornadoes.
It's all fast paced and information packed -- I sometimes felt items were too short --and I gather that the typical place for this 30 minute series (which runs 36 episodes) would be in the late afternoon or early evening --if the broadcaster were a conventional network.
I watched the DVD preview tape yesterday and already fiorget some of the segments because they were too fast paced. However animation and presentation are excellent and what more can one expect in a 30-minute sepisode?
Instead Things You Need To Know goes up on Discovery's web site for a week and only then will it appear on Discovery Channel Thursday Aug. 25 at 8:30 p.m.
I've got a feeling the TV audience will be huge, the web audience decidedly less so but that will change over time until TV will be the minor player.
The episode is composed of 12 distinct "mini-sodes" tightly edited because the attention span of young viewers is seemingly fading all the time. I wouldn't liker to try a pop quiz on what was learned because simply stated it's an example of information overload.
This is a Discovery-BBC co-production made by 360Productions and Yap Films. Executive producers are John Farmer and Elliott Halpern. The BBC presence means presenter May comes with a pronounced British accent.
And then a week later it's all available for TV watchers on Thursday May 25 starting at at 8:30 p.m. Got all that?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Remembering Ralph Bellamy

When I first started going to Hollywood in 1970 I made sure Ralph Bellamy was on the top of my "must interview" list of great stars past and present.
He lived magnificently on the top of Mulholland Drive in baronial splendor. I just phoned him up, pleaded my case, and he invited me over a few days later for an afternoon of reminiscing.
As far as I was concerned Bellamy had done it all and done better than any other actor of his day.
It's just great that Sunday the 14th is Ralph Bellamy day on Turner Classic Movies and what a feast for movie lovers like me.
The Secret Six (1931) at 7:30 a.m. is certainly an essential: Ralph's first picture paired with such then unknowns as Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.
RB: "I remember sitting in a speak easy with Clark at the end of shooting and he was saying he saved every penny because he didn't think his movie career would last long."
The Wolf Man (1941) at 6:45 p.m.is another classic.
RB: "On that one Warren William got second billing after Lon Chaney Jr. I got third. But look closely as the film continues and Warren disappears quite quickly from view. A delightful alcoholic, he was shipped out to a sanatarium by the studio to dry out, that's why."
His Girl Friday at 8 p.m. remained Bellamy's personal favorite. My favorite Bellamy comedy The Awful Truth (1937) is at 9:45 p.m. I consider it the funniest ever screwball comedy.
RB: "Director Leo McCarey asked me if I could sing. I said no. Then he asked Irene Dunne if she could play the piano and she said only a bit. So he had me sing Home On The Range while Irene clunked away. It always gets the biggest laugh in the picture."
In 1978 i joined him on the set of an NBC pilot titled Clone Master starring Art Hindle shooting at the Paramount lot.
Ralph later told me the network turned it down as a possible series because it was considered too good --"They wanted a show completely unchallenging."
In 1988 I caught up with Ralph In Toronto where he was shooting the movie The Good Mother. And I marveled at his stamina at age 84.
He surprised me by making the miniseries War And Remembrance in 1988 and the TV series Christine Cromwell in 1989. His last picture was 1990's Pretty Baby.
Ralph Bellamy died in L.A. on November 29, 1991, aged 87.
TCM does itself proud by saluting one of moviedom's most proficient actors.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Memories Of TV Press Junkets Past

Reading the copy from the latest TV Critics Junket in L.A. has me reminiscing about all those great actors I interviewed over the years on junkets past and whatever happened to them.
+JAMES STEPHENS I met on the 1978 TV Critics tour --he was the star of one of the best series of the time, the Paper Chase which first ran on CBS and after cancellation moved over to the new cable weblet Showtime where it appeared on and off until 1986.
Stephens seemed to have everything going for him. Doughty co-star John Houseman pronounced him "every bit as good" as Timothy Bridges who starred in the opriginal movie.
And for a time Stephens flourished --he had recurring role on Cagney And Lacey and co-starred in The Father Dowling Murder Mysteries. But IMDB says his TV acting career ended in 1999. Anybody out there know what happened to the talented James Stephens?
+BESS ARMSTRONG I first met on the 1977 tour as the star of a bright new CBS sitcom On Our Own which alas only lasted the season. She subsisted on TV flicks after that before graduating to the big screen opposite Tom Selleck in 1983's High Road To China.
She was back on TV in the 1986 series All Is Forgiven which I've completely forgotten but scored highly as the energetic mother on My So-Called Life in 1994. And she's made occasional appearances on One Tree Hill.
I still think she had the makings of another Mary Tyler Moore.
+JULIA DUFFY I met first in 1982 when on a visit to the new CBS sitcom Newhart. Simply stated she stole the show as the splendidly vain Stephanie Vanderkellen--she was nominated seven times as best supporting actress at Emmy time but never won. Later on there was a reincarnation on Designing Women but a stint on the very dire sitcom The Mommies did not help at all. Ditto a turn on Reba. I missed her last one Drake & Josh (2004) altogether but I'm still hoping for a stroing TV sitcom return, she's that good.
+HUNT BLOCK was the replacement for Alec Baldwin on Knots Landing when I had lunch with him in L.A. in 1987. A good looker he was also a very serious actor and I touted him highly in my positive profile. But a Star secretary goofed and sent him the page proof instead of the finished article where I'd deleted stuff he read and considered unfavorable. I still liked him the last time I saw him on The Guiding Light.
+TERI ASTIN was another Knots Landing regular when I first met her in 1989 in a San Fernando Valley restaurant. She's one of us --a Canadian who went to York University before landing the plum assignment of Jill Bennett. She worked steadily over the next decade on both CBC shows (Street Legal) and Hollywood stuff (Seinfeld) But Gangland made in 2001 is her last credit --I'm told by friends she works sheltering animals in L.A, these days.
+PAUL RUDD I first met on the set of 1972's Beacon Hill,the CBS spin off from Upstairs, Downstairs. And in 1984 I bumped into him again on the set of Knots Landing. Then he seemed to disappear. Turns out he became a drama professor at Bryn Mawr and died in 2010 aged 70.
What I'm tyring to say I guess is that TV fame is fleeting even p[recarious. So what if you happen to be young, good looking and extremely talented. Without luck it's simply not enough.

Happy 100th Birthday Lucy Ball!

It was June 1972 and there I was the sole Canadian on the Television Critics Tour in Los Angeles.
Canadian scribes were banned in those days when the U.S. networks ran the show but I sneaked under the line year after year much to the chagrin of the big Toronto newspapers.
Being from the lowly Hamilton Spectator in those days carried perks --Hamilton was then considered part of the Buffalo stations' adverizing territory and the three Buffalo affiliates got me on.
And every night in those days the networks would send critics out to special events. One night I saw that dinner with Lucy Ball and her husband Gary Morton was on the agenda and so I signed up.
Only one other scribe did so --mammoth Kay Gardella from the New York Daily News and we had a grand catered affair in Lucy's gazebo. You see by then Lucy's series was faltering and critics were more interested in younger, prettier stars.
It was all so surreal --we weren't allowed in the house and at one point Lucy's next door neighbor looked over the fence --that would be a guy named Jimmy Stewart.
I startled Lucy by telling her I wanted her to be Lucille --the first female head of a major studio (Desilu) and she obliged by analyzing the industry in a brilliant critique that must have lasted a half hour.
Here was the woman who had green lighted Star Trek because she just had a hunch about the show and she did the same with Mission:Impossible.
But she was certainly a control freak. My old pal Ann Sothern told me she had turned down the opportunity to join The Lucy Show as Vivian Vance's replacement because Ball had become too much of a control freak.
And that night Lucy's daughter Lucie Arnaz was starring in Anne Get Your Gun in summer stock in Atlantic City and was supposed to [phone at a pre-arranged time. When she didn't Lucy went ballistic and then started worrying something had happened.
It had --Arnaz's shows had started late because the curtain wouldn't come down, that's all. When she finally phoned Lucy blasted her.
The master class lasted a few hours. Lucy answered every question quite brilliantly. She analyzed the other comedies coming up on the schedule --I remember on another occasion she particularly loathed Maude which she considered too adult.
Lucy wisely retired from the weekly grind in 1974--she was 63 and her latest movie, a bad musical version of Mame had bombed at the box office.
And she was very wrong to attempt a comeback in 1986 with Here's Lucy. I attended a taping one night --John Ritter was the co-star --and when Lucy attempted a pratfall the audience stood up in horror she'd hurt herself.
This week on TCM I watched some of her great movie highlights --Lucy had always pretended she wasn't much of a movie star but she was.
I caught her in Best Foot Forward and The Big Street with Henry Fonda where her great beauty was on full display.
Hard to believe she's now 100. I think she'd be delighted she's remembered so fondly by fans.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lloyd Robertson Isn't Really Retiring On Sept. 1

"I was there the day you joined CTV News in September, 1976," I told Lloyd Robertson a few months ago at the fall CTV Launch.
Robertson's eyebrows went way way up and he asked simply "Goodness! Just how old are you?"
It was 1976, days after Labor Day and CBC was having its annual TV launch for visiting Canadian TV critics --plus one intrepid female critic from the Buffalo News.
In those days CTV didn't even bother having one. My big Canadian program is Littlest Hobo," CTV President Murray Chercover once barked at me. "You want me to promote THAT?"
All of a sudden the CBC affair at Studio Seven was suddenly quiet as the head of CBC news and current affairs Knowlton Nash stepped forward to say something like "I've lost my Mr. Clean!"
We all knew what that meant --Lloyd Robertson --CBC anchor for the past six years had defected to CTV.
"Come back! Come back!" shouted CBC PR head Cec Smith as reporters piled into taxis which sped us up to the Charles St. East headquarters of CTV.
Robertson told me that day he'd decided to move "Because I truly want to be a complete anchor".
CBC regulations at the time categorized him as an announcer meaning he couldn't change his TV script which was written by others and he couldn't do the kind of on location reporting which was one of his strong points.
About 20 minutes into the CTV spiel the doors of the auditorium crashed open and in sped Harvey Kirck looking a trifle distraught. He'd only been told about the change hours before and had taken a plane to get back to Toronto.
Robertson's daring move changed the face of Canadian TV news reporting forever.
After Robertson left his CBC successors (including first Peter Kent and then Knowlton Nash) were able to fully function as reporters and commentators as well as news readers for the first time.
And CTV News got a necessary jolt which helped it leap and sprint into the forefront as the most watched national TV broadcast in Canada.
"I'm not going anywhere," Robertson said a few months ago. He'll be relinquishing anchoring duties to Lisa LaFlamme (chosen over Tom Clark in a controversial bit of casting).
"But I'll be host of W5 which is a great brand for CTV. And I'll do some reporting, too. I'll be around."
Robertson, 77, is smaller in person than one imagines from seeing him on TV. And younger looking too. In terms of :"trust and tradition" --two staples viewers are polled on he's still at the top of the anchor heap.
After all he's been doing it since 1952 when aged 18 he was hired as an announcer at CJCS in his hometown of Stratford. In 1954 he jumped to the new fangled CBC TV and then spent four years in Winnipeg and two more years in Ottawa before joining the Toronto announcing team.As Robertson recently told me "I think it was a mistake for (CBS's) Walter Cronkite to retire at 65. He had a lot more to contribute. " So has Robertson.
Robertson will be available as a commentator for the really big events and also has an idea for a book.
I don't know a single nasty story about him. When he joined with Kirck CTV insiders predicted a real cat fight but the two became friends.
"I still respect his integrity," Kirck told me when he retired as co-anchor in 1984.
Indeed I once printed a letter in Starweek from a frustrated oldster who asked why "Harvey towers over Lloyd when they're standing but they're the same size when sitting beside each other?"
A delighted Robertson commissioned the resident CTV artist to commission a cartoon panel showing Harvey Kirck sitting on the floor with Lloyd sitting on a large number of telephone directories. Both autographed it and it's right up on my wall as a prized possession.
So I can't wish Lloyd Robertson a "happy retirement" because "Jim, I'm not retiring".
Before his last broadcast as CTV anchor on Thurs. Sept. 1 there'll be an hour long CTV special with clips from Robertson's finest moments. .

Monday, August 1, 2011

Canada Sings Is Actually Very Entertaining

I had this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach just before I put on the DVD preview of Canada Sings.
And boy was I wrong!
I usually stay away from reality things but Canada Sings really grabbed me.
Simply stated, it's quite a lot of fun.
"I agree", says one of the judges, Jann Arden ,who met with me at the Pantages hotel.
Arden watched the first audition tapes to come in.
"I first thought --reality TV? Blah! But this isn't about chasing the fame game. It's really about coming together, bonding, working as one.""
The first tape she put on made her gasp. "I cringed. It was the Toronto zoo team and they were so out of it I didn't think any amount of work could get them into shape. But here they are months later and they're quite compelling."
Canada Sings which revs up Wed. Aug. 3 at 9 p.m. on Global TV is a six-part series that takes seemingly ordinary Canadians and has them forming glee clubs to compete for top prizes.
A little bit of American Idol, a whole lot of Glee, and much luck and presto these instant entertainers must strut their stuff before TV audiences.
The judges beside Arden include Vanilla Ice and Simple Plan vocalist Pierre Bouvier.
It started with casting calls from Insight Production as would-be participants sent in five minute audition tapes.
The whole process took six months from the first call and after interviews conducted by casting producer Heather Muir the final 12 teams were announced.
"It was then that the real work began" Arden told me. "Each team got a top choreographer and vocal coach to help iron out the wrinkles".
Six teams studied under choreographer Kelly Konno and vocal coach Scott Henderson --the other six teams were taught by choreographer Christian Vincent and vocal coach Sharron Matthews.
For me, a viewer, the fascination really started with cameras covering the arduous rehearsals of the competing teams. Since I only got to watch Video One that would be the "Junk Notes" --the team from Vancouver's 1-800-GOT-JUNK? as well as "The Zooper stars" from Scarborough's Toronto Zoo.
I don't know when I've felt so sorry for anyone as when the well meaning but seemingly clunky Zoopers first assembled.
Oh, they're a grand group and we get to know them personally, animal keepers, vets, clerks all trying to put one foot in front of the other. And all they want out of it is the $10,000 prize to help update the Animal Health Center.
But they're just terrible jumping around, trying to keep any song in key. And there are breakdowns and many stumbles.
And yet the team does seem to be getting it together as the weeks go on.
The Zoopers are up against the Junk Notes who already have two terrific young male members who can really sing.
And this gang are fun to watch from the beginning. They're a younger bunch, more hep and really motivated for that prize money.
Then tragedy strikes as it must on all reality outings --the baby of the lead singer is seriously ill, rushed to hospital. Will the main singer have to forgo the competition to stay with his son? Stay tuned, as they say.
Other groups we'll later meet include The Hammer Cruisers (Hamilton coppers), Edutones (teachers from a Vancouver high school), The Power Chords (fitness instructors in Toronto), , Keg Spirits (Keg Steakhouse employees) and Wolf Pack (software experts in Ca,bridge).
Once she had signed up Arden told me "I made sure I had enough time to really get involved. I know you want me to tell you the winners but they're all winners to me. I really got into this competition and as far as I could see all these groups seemed thoroughly professional the day they were performing."
So who's the Simon Cowell? "None of us. We're commentators. I don't tear into anybody. I'd never do that even if they stink and all these acts were polished and winning. I think of myself as a fellow performer offering tips."
Arden has a tight schedule these days --she is also hosting a CBC Radio One show this summer she hopes will be picked up for another run.
Is there time in her schedule for a second season of Canada Sings?
Says Arden :"I surely hope so. It got me hooked. I'm thinking this is a pilot for a whole season that will link all parts of Canada. I'm getting enthusiastic about it just talking to you."
MY RATING: *** 1/2.