Friday, April 27, 2012

Get Ready For TV's May Sweeps

Those seemingly endless reruns are finally over. It's time to celebrate TV's Sweeps.
The May Sweeps are the final bang of the U.S. TV season with reruns dominating the landscape until fall.
Some pretty big shows are  already lining up to say farewell.
House will diagnose his last patient on Monday May 1 --the series isn't the ratings power source it once was and FOX has simply decided to cancel while still ahead.
There'll be closure on One Tree Hill on Tuesday May 17 on The CW.
Desperate Housewives leaves on Sunday May 13 after eight seasons of mischief on ABC (and CTV).
I remember interviewing the girls when they trooped into Toronto for the CTV fall launch eight years ago.
CTV liked the show enough to buy it but initially plopped the show Sundays at 4 p.m. It was intended as an additional buy until another new show faltered in the ratings which happened within months.
May also means TV weddings which are always great for a ratings blast.
CBS is always big on weddings and this year we'll see them on NCIS, the Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Mike And Molly and would you believe even on Criminal Minds.
And then there are the ever popular crossovers. Remember when Murder She Wrote and Magnum P.I. crossed over?
Then there was Marcus Welby and Owen Marshall--it was a great gimmick for awhile.
A crossover generally only happens to two series on the same network and made by the same studio.
This year it's Hawaii Five-0 crossing over with NCIS: Los Angeles and the crossover was necessary because Hawaii's Alexis O'Loughlin was in rehab and couldn't appear for the final episode.
Romance heats up on such series as Grey's Anatomy, 90210, Smash, New Girl, you name it. Getting all sweaty always gets viewers interested in coming back in September.
There'll be Prom Nights on both Glee and The Secret Circle if anybody cares.
This May Sweeps two shows actually start their seasons: ABC's Bachelorette and NBC's America's Got Talent and both on Monday May 14.
On American Idol, Dancing With The Stars and The Voice it's down to Winner Take All time.
Other shows filmed their last shows of the season and may still be cancelled such as ABC's Brothers And Sisters (on ABC Sunday May 8). CBS's CSI: NY departs Friday May 13 and is still "on the bubble" --if CBS discovers a better show among its new pilots then it will be toast.
NBC's Chuck lost ground this season and it's likely final ever episode is on Monday May 16.
May finales sometimes end with a bang. Remember the "Who Shot J.R?" finale of Dallas that was the beginning of the cliffhanger craze.
CBS ordered that cliffhanger when star Larry Hagman got obstreperous about salary demands. Had Hagman walked CBS was prepared to have the J.R. character's bandages removed and a new May 16. emerge --played by Robert Culp!
This year there just has to be a cliffhanger or two. Possibilities abound on such shows as Blue Bloods, Private Practice, you name it.
Got all that?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Moonshiners Is A Reality TV Funfest

I don't know when I've laughed so much --I've just caught the first episode of the latest Reality TV outing called Moonshiners. This show filmed in the back woods of Appalachia examines a goood ole American tradition that goes back to the pre-Revolutionary days: making illegal likker.
And how could you not like a show with such colorful characters as moonshiner Tim Smith, his teenaged son and a real character nicknamed Ticker, all of them adept at turning corn mash into a highly potent drink.
Arrainged against this gang who couldn't shoot straight there's intrepid agent Jesse Tate from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Let's just style this outing a variant on Feudin', Fightin' and A-Fussin' and be done with it.
Of course as with all "Unreality" shows there are times when one wonders why this gang is behaving illegal right right in front of the obliging camera crew.
If Jesse ever does get 'em will he also arrest the crew for aiding and abetting? Just wondering.
I always wondered how illegal whiskey was brewed. Now I know. It's a complicated process that begins with the boys trying to find some mountain stream that can produce the cold, fresh water so necessary for the great tasting whiskey.
And we watch them laboriously make the still which is complicated, brew the mash just so, and finally bottle the product.
All the while strange airplanes are spotted overhead --could it be the Virginia agents out to bust up the operation.
In the dead of night dogs barking in the distance are another indication the long arm of the law may be advancing.
Best darned character by far is fabled moonshiner Popcorn Sutton who avers he's been drinkin' and smokin' since he was six and it doesn't seem to have affected him save that he's plumb crazy as a fox.
Am I giving something away by telling you that Popcorn committed suicide a whole back rather than serve a 18-year sentence for making the illegal brew.
Popcorn is a true Reality original just like Pa Kettle --his overalls, scruffy appearance, his drawl. I'm missing him already.
In the next generation only Tickle could supply such magnificent characterizations mainly because he never appears to be sober if he can help it. Heck, Popcorn and Tickle could only happen in the land of the free and the home of the gun.
Like all Reality outings everything seems suspiciously set up --and it is. The state of Virginia has even claimed it was all film flammury and no actual moonshine was brewed.
Is Virginia saying Dog The Bounty Hunter or Keeping Up With The Kardashians or Real Housewives is sometimes staged? Oh the effrontery!
Best scene in the first hour had Smith stopped on a narrow road by a suspicious farmer and his large wife who was totting the rifle and wearing the pants in that family. The fact it was a public highway made no difference to this couple. Smith obligingly turned his truck around and vamoosed as fast as he could.
And that scene was scary, hardly staged I'm imagining.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Remembering Jonathan Frid

It was big news when I interviewed Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall the two big stars of the MGM movie House Of Dark Shadows as a fledgling entertainment writer at The Globe And Mail in 1970.
A few years later there I was the TV critic at the Hamilton Spectator working in the big new newspaper plant on --gulp --Frid Street.
When I told Frid all about it in a subsequent telephone interview he roared with laughter.
You see "Frid Street" was named after his father the notable construction company executive Herbert Percival "H.P." Frid.
"I avoided that fate as best I could," joked Jonathan. "I went right into acting."
So there you have it --TV's most famous vampire was actually a proud Hamiltonian joining a long line of entertainment luminaries that included Douglass Duumbrille, one of the movies' greatest ever villains, Boris Karloff who raised onions on a farm near Caledonia for years, Florence Lawrence, the first female to get her name in lights over a movie marquee, Robert Beatty, the Hamilton born British movie heartthrob right up to such contemporary contenders as Wendy Crewson and Paul Popowich.
In person Frid was what you might call theatrical, an odd cross between Vincent Price and Charles Nelson Reilly.
Born in Hamilton in 1924 he graduated from McMaster University in 1948 and the next year began studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.
He moved to the U.S. in 1954 to receive a MFA from Yale University in 1954. In 1962 he began using the stage name Jonathan Frid --up to then he'd been known as John Herbert Frid.
With his classical training Frid spent the next three decades working mainly in the theatre with a occasional foray into TV work to pay the bills.
In 1966 he had decided to move to the West Coast and teach directing when the call came to play the vampire in a new ABC daytime Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows to star old time movie star Joan Bennett.
"I was told it wouldn't last long and I could save up some money," he giggled on the phone.
Did he ever mind that he was typecast for life? "Mercy no! It's been my identification marker wherever I go."
Dark Shadows ran on ABC for five years from 1966 to 1971 and attracted a cult audience who marveled at the tacky sets and the atrocious dialogue.
"I never camped it up, you see. I tried to be as serious as I could. And it made me famous and wealthy beyond measure."
In 1973 Frid co-starred with Shelley Winters in the TV flick The Devil's Daughter and even directed a movie himself --the little seen Seizure.
In the 1980s he performed one man readings at Dark Shadows conventions that sprang up across North America and played the part in a revival of Arsenic And Old Lace that ran across the continent.
In 1994, aged 70, he retired to Canada but continued to tour in one man shows and in 2000 co-starred in a revival of Mass Appeal that ran in his native Hamilton.
Frid continued to attend Dark Shadows conventions in 2007 and 2008 and last June spent three days filming a cameo with fellow series mates Lara Parker, David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott in the new Tim Burton remake. So he died bjust before release of the completed new movie.
Frid died April 14 in Hamilton, aged 87.
But we all know Barnabas will never die, don't we?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

New Design Series Is A Winner

It's always a pleasant shock to discover a new Canadian TV series that's resolutely Canadian and not heavily disguised for resale to the American market.
It's called Great Minds Of Design and premieres on CBC's documentary channel Monday night at 8.
"Our pitch was to profile six major and minor Canadian designers," says director-producer Ian Toews.
"We learned about them from various sources and actually had a long list. These six made the cut and if we're successful we'd like to profile six more."
The idea was to be as eclectic as possible and to look at both industrial designers and urban street artists based on the theory that design is everything these days.
"We shot from eight to ten days per subject," Toews says. "And very deliberately there's no narration. We let the subjects speak for themselves. In some cases that meant getting them used to speaking on camera--we also edited rather heavily. We wanted their enthusiasms to shine through."
The first half hour is pretty terrific as three Toronto street artists show how they cleverly redesign their city landscape. Sean Martindale reuses planter boxes in deep disrepair while Eric Cheung uses ice sculptures of hands which are frozen to buildings. And "Posterchild"  hangs tomato "art" from buildings.
They're fully aware their art won't last long which adds to the charm of the conceit.
In Episode Two Canadian designer Sarah Hall works in Germany on modern stain glass designs.
What makes her work unusual is this is solar energy collecting glass so far unavailable in Canada. She says she couldn't have gone as far in Canada where we're behind the times in renewable energy sources.
Episode Three looks at Canadian designer Patty Johnson's work in Haiti encouraging indigenous art products which can be exported to produce wealth. She says people don't normally expert Haiti to be such a bastion of art.
Episode Four has young architect Trevor McIvor and his designer homes literally built into the landscape so they are virtually one with nature. He wants design to be a part of the landscape and his houses are insulated with natural materials, cool in the summer and toasty in the winter.
Episode Five is my favorite one --thirtysomething Nicholas Kennedy uses the hand presses of the past to use the techniques of the past to produce books of starling beauty showing that letterpress deserves to exist in a computer age.
Episode Six profiles New York based urban designer Helen Kerr and her efforts to design the perfect modular chair.
Toews set up his boutique production firm 291 Film Company in 1998 shortly after graduating from University of Regina's film course. He's best known for his long running national arts series Landscape As Muse. Here he functioned as cinematographer, director and writer along with Mark Bradley who also created the concept and Jason Nielsen who edited and wrote segments and Cam Koroluk who directed the fifth episode.
The series works on several levels as food for thought but also a dazzling pictorial display.
However, Toews says the company is moving from its longtime Regina base because funding from the provincial Tory government has dried up . They'll relocate to British Columbia by the end of the year, a real blow for Regina film making.
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

CBC Fall 2012: Less Of The Same

Not much will change on CBC this fall despite the federal government cutbacks of over $110 million.
In fact the CBC schedule had already been hammered into place weeks before the announcements by Heritage Minister James Moore.
Almost all CBC series are coming back although the exact number of episodes to be cut will be announced later.
CBC will have a grand premiere on May 14 from its Toronto Broadcasting Centre.
As expected Heartland, Republic Of Doyle, The Ron James Show, Rick Mercer, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Dragons' Den, the fifth estate, the low rated George Stroumboulopoulos, Nature Of Things, Doc Zone, Dragons' Den are all back.
And talk about cut backs: the cost efficient Marketplace gets double its episodes this fall with 24 new shows.
As expected Being Erica, Michael Tuesdays And Thursdays, InSecurity, Little Mosque On The Prairie, Redemption Inc. have all vanished to rerunland. But the omission of Battle Of The Blades is a huge surprise.
New shows Arctic Air and Mr. D got coveted pickups.
The crime drama Cracked is a pick up and Over The Rainbow is a reality outing about the search for the new Dorothy. There's a period drama Titanic: Blood And Steel which seems a bit tardy considering the centennial celebrations are over.
CBC rarely if ever picks up shows from rival networks but CBC has picked up Murdoch Mysteries which Citytv dropped after five seasons.
Missing in action are any concessions to patrons of the high arts and there's no mention of any TV movies once a staple of the CBC drama department.

Remembering Dick Clark

The thing about Dick Clark was this: He was always on, always promoting his next gig.
I must have met him a dozen times in my 38 years on the TV Critics' L.A. tours.
He was always friendly, personable, well turned out but oddly distant and disengaged. He was TV's ultimate pitch man and he fronted a lot of TV shows in his time.
After all he sold his TV production company in 2007 for upwards of $175 million.
His success as a packager was unrivaled --I first caught him as the host of American Bandstand that ran weekdays around 4 to 5 p..m. on ABC's Buffalo affiliate, WKBW. I'd come home from high school and watch the live daily show which focused on the music teenagers craved.
Clark was then in his thirties and looking preppy to the core as he introduced rock acts, zeroed in on teens in the studio audience.
He was always polite never sarcastic and the fact he treated the youngsters so nicely was a great touch.
American Bandstand was so very innocent --Philadelphia high schoolers dancing to records and then rating the new record releases of the week.
At first the daily hour was heavily segregated --this was a vanilla program until organized protests forced a change. When Clark interviewed singer Sam Cooke that was big news. It broke down as many racial barriers as the protests at Selma.
I remember interviewing Clark decades later and he said he really made few friends with the groups who trooped through the studio. Annette was a favorite, he said, but others he introduced and that was that --he never saw many of them again.
And Clark later branched out as daily host of The $10,000 Pyramid on CBS. Then came TV's Bloopers And Practical Jokes on both NBC and ABC in the 1970s.
Once I asked him about his acting and he blushed mightily --but he'd taken a stab at it in such films as 1961's The Young Doctors in a subsidiary role.
He also revived the scandal plagued Golden Globes and produced the American Music Awards for ABC when that network lost its contract to telecast the Grammys.
And here's one for you trivia buffs --he once hosted a Canadian content talk show from Vancouver that was heavily syndicated in the U.S. before expiring.
It was George Burns who said he'd been watching the perennially youthful Clark since childhood. But Clark was a fitness buff who ran on the sand dunes at Malilbu every weekend --that did not explain his unnatural brunette coiffure.
Likability was Clark's key to longevity. He peddled light entertainment and never though he'd last as long as he did.
He survived the payola scandal--he was always on the go. Courtly in his relationship with the press he took care never to divulge much about himself. Perhaps after such a long time in the spotlight the real and the fictional Dick Clark had meshed into one.
Incapacitated since a 2004 stroke his death at 82 takes one of the last surviving creators of American TV from all of us.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Saving The CBC: Open Those Archives Now!

It happened this way according to my long time friend Harry Rasky.
The Emmy winning CBC producer was walking through Sam The Record Man's when he spied a familiar title: Tennessee Williams's South.
And it was in a boxed DVD set of BBC specials devoted to Williams.
Then he looked at the next rack and saw his greatish documentary on George Bernard Shaw all boxed up with BBC Shaw specials.
Now I should add that at that time five years ago Rasky had been trying his darndest to get CBC to come out with a boxed DVD set of some of his sparkling profiles on such titans as Chris Plummer, Raymond Massey, Marc Chagall, Arthur Miller, Leonard Cohen, Teresa Stratas --award winning specials that often defined our Canadianness.
CBC would not respond even when Rasky went all the way to the then president Robert Rabinovitch.
Rasky passed in 2007 --all the more reason for celebrating the man's talent.
Why this lethargy is all I'm asking. Why?
The "because" part makes me sad. Because there's nobody at the CBC these days who cares.
Put out in sets and this kind of stuff would make a small fortune for CBC.
But nobody there cares. They're interested in promoting themselves and not the CBC.
I was recently in Sunrise Video on Toronto's Yonge Street listening in as a woman asked for the third season of the positively brilliant CBC drama series This Is Wonderland.
She was told CBC had put out the first two seasons which sold briskly but never the third.
Why? Nobody at CBC knew. Or cared.
I'm remembering about eight years back when some CBC researcher discovered in mint condition a 1961 CBC drama special in beautiful black and white --Macbeth starring a very young and virile Sean Connery with a staggering performance by Zoe Caldwell as Lady Macbeth.
Back in 1961 CBC-TV had been so rich there actually was a Schools Department which commissioned the production directed by Paul Almond --it was made in five half hour segments and only telecast once in a weekday slot in late afternoon so Grade 13 students could watch as they studied Macbeth for their finals.
It was never shown whole until some enterprising soul thought it a perfect match for Opening Night where it was introduced by Paul Gross. Opening Night was cancelled by CBC the very next year because it was a big hit with egg heads, less so with the masses hooked on American TV fare.
Talking to the brilliant TV professor at Brock University, Mary Jane Miller, who has written the only good books on CBC-TV drama and I was told dozens of other gems exist deep in the vaults.
Like all of William Shatner's early TV work long before he crossed the border to stardom as Captain Kirk.
What about the only time the great British actress Edith Evans appeared on TV as doughty Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest.
She did so not at the CBC but at CBC's Studio 7 in Toronto in a live production --the kinescope still exists, I've been told.
Dozens of great actors passed through CBC-TV in the Fifties in productions seen one and then moth balled: Basil Rathbone, Constance Cummings, Dame Wendy Huller plus such young up and coming Canadian stars as Kate Reid, Bill Hutt and Chris Plummer.
But CBC apparently can find no dollar value in releasing any of these productions to DVD let alone rerunning them on TV.
It's strange but in the early Eighties CBC had such a TV series called Rearview Mirror --the best of ballets directed by Norman Campbell, music specials starring Anne Murray, you name it.
The show hosted by Veronica Tennant ran Sunday afternoons but was if anything too popular.'Viewers kept asking why CBC was so great back then and less so these days so CBC quietly let it lapse.
Other networks have made small fortunes in the TV nostalgia boom. But nobody at CBC gives a hoot about culture in any form.
CBC filmed series similarly get short shrift --I'd like to buy a set of Gordon Pinsent's terrific 1978 series A Gift To Last to hive to a ex-Mountie friend of mine. It's never been released on VHS or DVD.
I'm convinced that DVD compilations on Don Messer and Juliette would sell as much as the ones CBC has put put starring Wayne and Shuster.
If CBC doesn't want anything to do with its glorious past why not auction off all this stuff to others with greater entrepreneurial skills?
And use that money to help CBC mount some new shows which aren't reality things geared to the lowest common denominator.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sandra Rinomato's Instant TV Comeback

It was big news when Toronto realtor Sandra Rinomato announced she was leaving her series Property Virgins after making 130 episodes of the top rated HGTV show.
It was simply a case of been there, done that Rinomato said as she promptly relaunched herself into a brand new series Buy Herself.
"I was proud of what we'd accomplished in Property Virgins," Rinomato says, lounging in a fancy suite at Toronto's Hazelton hotel.
"I still wanted to do television and I had this idea --the number of women buying properties on their own is now a significant part of the market --it's over twenty per cent.
"I thought we could do a series just for them. They're buying their first property and facing challenges that only a few years ago were denied to women.
"And these females have unique stories to tell --they have to do it on their own when just a little while ago women had to get a male co-signer. For me it was a fascinating new angle to develop a show."
Just to complicate matters Property Virgins is continuing but as an American based series and a new host Egypt Sherrod. Rinomato's substantial backlog of shows will still be up and running as repeats.
But Rinomato insists "I'll still be there to hold the hands of these women as I walk them through a process that can be very scary indeed."
In fact it was Rinomato's sheer niceness and sense of decency that made her such a popular TV Reality series star.
Americans who watched PV on U.S.-based HGTV noticed this Canadian wasn't at all pushy. She wasn't interested in merely making the deal but acting out for her clients and making sure they were completely comfortable with each step of the process.
On some occasions she'd conclude they weren't quite ready to shed their property virginity and walk away knowing that when they regained their confidence they'd come to her for support.
"It's the way I am in my own real estate business," she says with a shrug. "I simply insist the people who work for me understand the customer comes first. I'd never push anybody into a deal just for the money. It's absolutely not right."
In Buy Herself Rinomato is stlll offering comfort and care.
She says she's using virtually the same crew she always did (Lynn Harvey is the executive producer).
"We have to tell a story and we have just 21 minutes to do it. It's not a formula because every situation is different. We'll show them three properties I've very carefully selected and we go from there."
But how does she get the right information out of every client?
"Well, yes, some are very hesitant when the cameras roll. I like to have a friend or relative with them to prod them and keep the conversation going. Certain points have to be covered. Occasionally we'll have to remind them that they have to add some talking points. There's also the TV audience to serve."
Each episode is constructed like a puzzle --viewers get caught up in the high drama of the moment thanks to Rinomato's interviewing skills as well as the tight editing. When I watched the first show I jumped when the subject, Kelly, chose a different condo than the one I would have picked --that's the personal drama kicking in.
Says Rinomato: "Kelly had been through several realtors and she had a habit of talking herself out of properties simply because of the fear factor. Her sister and best friend talked her down and I told her some reservations were purely cosmetic. In the end she selects the one that fits her needs the best and it's not necessarily the cheapest or the biggest."
"I think women are more tuned in to the cosmetics because they don't want to make major changes. Men might think they are handy enough to rip out stuff and hammer away even if they're not."
Says Rinomato with a laugh: "Even I didn't get everything I wanted but I compromised with what I wanted and what my husband wanted. I'm still ticked off our home doesn't have a side door. So there!"
On PV Rinomato did a fair amount of travelng to U.S. cities because "Scripps Howard wanted some American input. If we sell this one to them then I'll probably have to add an American element.
"It's just a different world down there --look at the plunges in home prices. It's something I don't really understand because I appreciate our stability."
And don't get her started on a show like Selling New York "which is just fun to watch because it's the extreme --the biggest city, the huge prices"
"On Buy Herself we show all the stages and pitfalls. It's a learning process. The stories deserve telling I believe."
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Can CBC Survive Latest Cuts?

Everywhere I ventured Wednesday people were asking what I thought of the latest round of CBC cuts.
CBC is slicing 455 jobs immediately with more to come next back.
Ads will be added to CBC Radio 2 to increase revenues and many programs will get cancelled over the next few months.
Here's where I get to answer your five most pertinent questions:
1. Can CBC survive the latest cuts?
BAWDEN: Of course! And please don't just blame the Tories! after all Jean Chretien's Liberals cut up to $400 million from previous CBC budgets. The question is how management should react. CBC president Hubert Lacroix who I interviewed the day he was appointed seems like a reasonable guy. Darn! He should do what a previous CBC president did when facing cuts and threaten to slash all the suppertime CBC news casts across Canada, the newscasts where Tory backbenchers get to reach back to their constituencies. If Lacroix tried that strategy he'd be able to reverse the cuts in days.
2. What should CBC cut?
BAWDEN: First of all I'd say the layers of bureaucrats I always encounter when I'm at CBC headquarters in downtown Toronto. I mean all these layers are people not involved in the making of programs. And I'd sell off the redundant plant on Front Street West which has never worked --currently it's more than half empty. Programs to be dumped should be all the shows which are ratings disasters like the nightly snooze fest Strombo, the dog awful afternoon talk show Steve And Chris. But keep the ratings kings: Rick Mercer, Heartland, Republic Of Doyle.
3. Other changes?
BAWDEN: CBC is getting dragged down by agreements with its affiliate stations most of which are privately owned. Under the present agreement CBC must guarantee them a certain rating for each and every network show and when that does not happen which is often then the affiliates get buckets of cash. I'd argue CBC should divest itself of all affiliates and move to being entirely a cable caster.
4. Any other shockers in this news?
BAWDEN: It's the complete lack of a public response. People just don't seem to care about the private broadcaster any more. And why should they when stuff like Dragon's Den means the almost complete gutting of high arts shows. The public has nothing to root for anymore. I mean can you see massed crowds shouting "Save the Land And O'Leary Exchange?" Me neither
5. What should be protected?
BAWDEN: Above all the National. Now it doesn't have the cachet it once did. That was before a gang of American experts came in and redesigned the set into a sort of wine bar, forced Peter Mansbridge to travel all over the studio with a silly grin on his face. And some of CBC's best reporters were forcibly retired. Ratings predictably sank like a stone. But CBC news IS the CBC. It deserves to be enriched and binds us together as a nation.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Remembering Mike Wallace

There was consternation at the 1974 TV Critics convention at Los Angeles' Century City hotel.
Word got out that Mike Wallace was in town --he was going to do a story on us. Fear and panic ensued.
Wallace who died on April 8, aged 93, had that kind of effect on a lot of people.
He was TV's equivalent to a pit bull, a relentlessly abrasive journalist who had reduced Barbra Streisand to tears and had to duck when Burt Lancaster threatened to knock him out.
He did it longer than anyone else of his generation and he was still at it in 2006 when he locked horns with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"I thought you had retired," gulped the normally acerbic president when Wallace started tossing his verbal grenades.
In 1974 wallace was at the top of his game with the Top rated U.S. series 60 Minutes. He'd been the first one to be hired for the new series by producer Don Hewitt.
And more than any one else he defined the context of a great 60 Minutes interviewer.
Bette Davis grumped Wallace had gotten out of her all sorts of stuff she'd wanted to hide.
In 1974 Wallace was out to expose TCA whose members (but not me) willingly took huge payments from the networks, charging their hotel rooms, beverages and even evening theater tickets in return for squishy soft stories about the fall network fare.
I remember at one evening event around the pool I'd been chatting with some of my American counter parts when a long "mike boom" sudden;y appeared from behind a bushy knoll. TV critics scattered and upon investigation I found a CBS sound man and Wallace giggling behind the bushes.
Wallace always went after the "red meat" he later explained when a select few of us sat down to dinner with him --I hasten to add all paid their way that night.
In his first ever TV gig in 1949 titled Majority Rules he was still being called "Myron" Wallace.
By 1951 he'd graduated to "Mike" in a live morning show for CBS titled Two Sleepy People opposite then wife Buff Cobb which ran for two seasons and was the first morning interview series on CBS.
I remember watching him a little bit later on a night time ABC show called Night Beat in which he'd lock horns with the likes of Lancaster or Tennessee Williams. His style was visceral and he later admitted it made for great TV drama but elicited little actual information.
The point is Wallace was never part of the charmed circle that helped launch TV for CBS icon Edward Murrow. Wallace was hot in a cool medium and as long as Murrow reigned CBS would never have hired him for its presyigious news division.
In 1962 son Peter died tragically in an accident and Wallace later said he became introspective and tried for a less confrontational style.
From 1963 to 1966 he anchored the CBS Morning News and I remember he told us that night it had wrecked his sleep patterns for decades.
On 60 Minutes he reigned supreme. When he talked to Roger Clemens in 1979 about steroid dependancy 60 Minutes' ratings soared. In 1979 there was an awesome minute of silence when he asked Ayatollah about being labelled a lunatic by Egypt's president Anwar Sadat. Finally Khomeini answered by correctly predicting Sadat's assassination.
When Wallace challenged President Putin about whether or not the Russian system was democratic Russian aides tried to shut down the interview.
That night at dinner we discovered a different Wallace who liked to tell stories about himself. asked if Lancaster was really going to dek him he joked "I was getting ready to cuck!"
Two years later I was on the set of 60 Minutes in New York hanging out with co-anchor Morley Safer, a proud Canadian. On a monitor wee watched coverage of the Jimmy Carter inaugural and Safer was astonished at the nasty exchanges between Harry Reasoner and his new co-anchor Barbara Walters.
Just then we heard a heated discussion between Wallace and Hewitt erupt into a shouting match.
The thing to remember is Wallace really cared and was ready to fight for every story every step of the way.
When Diane Sawyer joined the show he pointedly said she did not adapt well to 60 Minutes distinctive style.
In 1982 General William Westmoreland launched a $120 million law suit against CBS alleging reporting by Wallace had been biased. The suit did go to trial where Wallace became rattled on the stand.
It was eventually settled out of court with CBS assuming $9 million in law fees but Wallace sank into a deep depression.
He battled out of it and began talking openly about the medical problems faced by seniors.
In fact he flew into Toronto to be interviewed by Helen Hutchinson in a magnificent interview piece I'm hoping still exists in the archives.
It was a case of two great veterans sharing stories about the pressures they often faced.
Wallace suffered from heart problems and underwent bypass surgery in 2008. He was married four times and son Chris works for Fox News.
I think he'll be remembered as a indefatigable fighter, a guy who showed all of us how to report a story in huiman terms.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Polar Bears: One Reason CBC Deserves To Survive

Make a point of catching Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey on The Nature Of Things Sunday night at 7 on CBC-TV.
It's one of the best reasons I can think of for contuing to support the beleagured national TV network.
A lot of care has gone into this hour long look at the plight of the polar bears on the south west side of Hudson's Bay.
Climate change threatens their very existence. Over the past two decades the polar ice cap has dwindled so drastically there ice is melting a full month earlier than before.
That means the bears who must eat at least 43 seal pups every winter to survive the summers are endangered.
"We wanted to tell this in terms of just one bear --he's about three years old, a teenager in bear terms," says film maker Adam Ravetch who directed it along with partner Sarah Robertson. :And this us his first summer away from his mother."
"I like to get as close as possible which can be dangerous. But after a bit the bear began to recognize me and I kept my distance and we just followed him along."
The result is mesmerizing in terms of beauty. The bear must first swim for days just to reach the shoreline. I wasn't sure watching it how Ravetch accomplished this but one dazzling shot is taken underwater as we watch the bear swimming above us near the surface.
"I swam with the bear. " he tells me on the phone from his Victoria home. But Ravetch has said swimming with walruses is far more dangerous."
Basically this is a survival story.
"Summers are the hazardous months for these polar bears not the winters. Polar bears lack sweat glands and they must take shelter from the blinding heat --sometimes it's in water but they are in a a state that's been termed "walking hibernation".
By luck this teenager latches on to a mother and her two cubs following them in the dim hope some food can be discovered. And a giant beached beluga corpse offers nourishment for all --the whale was trapped when the tide went out.
The mother has to protect her cubs from rampaging males --cannibalism is not uncommon. And in one fantastic scene she is followed by an enormous black wolf --wolves have also been known to prey on young cubs.
Says Ravsetch:"It took polar bears 100,000 years to evolve into this specie perfectly asddaptable to the Arctic. Now climate change is threatening them within a few decades. Fewer young are surviving to maturity because they just can't cope."
Ravetch usually works for the National Geographic channel but with Polar Bears he found the perfect match up with The Nature Of Things.
One amazing shot has the young bear climbing a rock cliff to get at nesting birds for a meal.
"I'm not sure it was worth the energy expended," says Ravetch. "Birds are just bones and feathers lacking the substantial fat the bear would need."
Victoria based Ravetch worked in the north while host David Suzuki read the narration in a Vancouver studio and the production company Arcadia Content did the editing and postproduction in Halifax, truly a transcontinental achievement.
Polar Bears reaffirms my belief CBC can remain the vital cog in Canada's TV industry providing the funding is adequate.
MY RATING: ****.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Colm Feore Is Scene Stealing Again In The Borgias

Colm Feore seems to brighten right up when I tell him my feeling he is having a Chris Plummer kind of career.
I mean Feore can do as much TV as he wants --he currently stars in The Borgias which returns for its second season Sunday night at 9 on Bravo!
Some people remember him from the series 24, others from the miniseries on Pierre Trudeau.
He's proved equally powerful in movies from a dazzling turn as Glenn Gould to the entertaining Good Cop Bad Cop.
And certainly he can come back to Stratford anytime he wants.
So when I tell him he's well into a Plummer kind of career I'm surprised that he's surprised.
"I never thought of it that way. But the trick is to keep doing different things."
In The Borgias Feore is at the top of his game as the duplicitous Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere who eventually wound up on the Papal throne as the warrior Pope Julius II.
"Right now I'm battling the Borgias left and right," Feore chuckles--he's on the line from his Stratford home.
"They rightly see me as the enemy and will try anything to get rid of me."
In the first new episode that means a spot of poisoning in a beautifully choreographed chapel scene that sees Della Rovere conducting mass but luckily spilling some of the precious liquid just before he drinks --the wine has been deliberately poisoned by a malicious choir boy who later gets his.
"No, I don't think it was anything as crude as arsenic," Feore chuckles."It was probably 78787878 which is very fast acting. I become very sick but am ready to battle back."
By the way Feore has a Catholic adviser helping him at all times and adding that he just conducted a near perfect Latin mass.
To play the charismatic cardinal meant spending six months in Budapest TV studios.
I remember when I interviewed Feore after he'd played Caesar in the ABC TV miniseries Empire (2005) and he had to spend an equal amount of time in Rome.
So which location os better --the Eternal City or Budapest?
"I think you know the answer to that one," chuckles Feore. "Many of the locations are right near the city, the chapel is in a protected forest. Other courtyards are suitably Renaissance in style. The sets on the sound stages are immense. Everything is done on an epic scale --the costumes are all completely historically correct."
And Budapest has become a hub for TV miniseries --The British miniseries on Titanic was filmed right down the street.
The Borgias is officially an Irish-Canadian-Hungarian co-production. Meaning?
All the postproduction work is done in Toronto supervised by executive producer Sheila Hockin for Take 5 Productions. Montreal's Francois Seguin is the scenic designer. Toronto's SPIN VFX handles special effects. Feore and Francois Arnaud are the Canadian actors.
Feore took the assignment to work with executive producer Neil Jordan and Jeremy Irons who stars as Pope Alexander VI , head of the scheming Borgias.
"Jeremy could not be nicer, our scenes are staged as intellectual battle scenes between two equals each with a different idea of the papacy.
"I thought of Della Rovere as the good guy but at the wrap party Jordan comes up to me and says "Oh, no, you're the bad one, the guy with the black hat. He explained the Borgias may kill and lust about but the audience will prefer them to my rather asthetic creation."
"I should add that Della Rovere has sired his own illegitimate daughter. He saw nothing wrong with that --it was the times."
Feore argues the second season is better plotted, more exciting. "The first year we had to sort out so many characters, explain everything. Now in Season 2 we get right down to it. It's far better written. I really know my character by now. I know he lives for revenge."
In Episode 2 Della Rovere begins to fight back with the kind of tenacity the pleasure loving Borgias could never match. He has one goal and that is to usurp this corrupting pope and will go to any extreme to get his deeds accomplished.
In the long view of history he certainly succeeded --as Pope Julius II he fought pitched battles for his religion and commissioned the painting of the Sistine chapel.
Viewers should think of The Borgias as Dynasty but set in Renaissance times. At $50 million a season the season may well be the most expensive series yet per episode.
"I always thought there would be a second year,"Feore is saying before signing off. "And I think it will continue next season with a whole lot of stabbings and poisonings still to come. We haven't half covered the story as yet."
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Martin Short Goes Home --To Hamilton

Martin Short, Hamilton and me --we three go way, way back.
I'e just figured I was on the bus from Toronto to Hamilton the same time Marty Short was on another bus from Hamilton to Toronto.
We were both trying to find our fortunes.
These days Short is working as much as he wants and for the big bucks.
Me, I'm still churning out TV columns after surviving three papers --The Globe and Mail, The Spectator and the Toronto Star-- all as TV critic.
I was traveling to Hamilton that fateful day in 1970 to see a city I'd never even visited and become the 24-year old TV critic of The Spectator.
Short was on the bus to Toronto and one of his first professional gigs as a member of the famed Second City troupe.
Because he departed Hamilton so quickly after graduating in social work from McMaster University, Short missed all those great local CHCH TV series that I was forced to cover.
I was in the audience for every season of Ein Prosit. Had to be. THese were local stories.
I interviewed Vincent Price on the set of Hilarious House Of Frankenstein. Price was rooming with the producer because his salary was so low.
I first met Bill Shatner in between tapings of Party Game. Guess Captain Kirk needed the dough.
And I watched aghast from the wings as Ethel Merman took a pratfall and fell off the stage during a taping of (he Palace at Hamilton Place.
Let's see Short top those credits.
Another Hamilton connection: I'll never forget the day Brian Linehan chased me down at Citytv and sobbed Martin's impersonation of a certain Brock Linehan was humiliating.
"Brian!" I said. "He's saluting you. People have to know you and your work before they can understand the parody."
"Oh, I see," said a suddenly perky Linehan as he happily trotted off.
I think Short owes me one for that, don't you?
Now Short is making amends to the Steel City that made him what he is today in a CBC-TV reunion special titled I, Martin Short, Goes Home.
Funny title. But vaguely familiar to me. Am I the only one out there who remembers a 1994 U.S. special titled I, Martin Short, Goes Hollywood?
In the hour outing Short takes us back to the Hamilton street where he lived and the helpless piano teacher played with aplomb by Eugene Levy as a direct descendant of a Martin Short character I think you'll remember.
He visits another neighbor in tow with a chap who resembles Joe Flaherty in heavy makeup
At Westdale Collegiate where Short attended high school there's a hilarious sketch about an attempt to play football with far bigger guys.
Short does venture downtown for a tense confrontation with gang members from Toronto.
Then there's the big show performance at Hamilton Place attended by Princess Anne (Robin Duke) and it's all for a hero from his childhood played by Fred Willard.
In short it's Short everywhere --his best comes as he effortlessly impersonates Leonard Cohen as a shuffling old man who attacks guest star Justin Bieber (played by a look alike).
Of course the Hamilton Short and I knew has already long disappeared. Stelco is shut down. The five huge downtown cinemas with their combined total of 10,000 seats have been razed except for the Century which is now a condo.
The three huge department stores --Robinsons, The Right House and Earons, ceased to function decades ago.
Hamilton just isn't Hamilton anymore. Even The Spectator, Canada's most profitable paper, is a pale shadow of its former self.
I'm glad Short does not dwell on these unsettling statistics.
He does demonstrate that his gift for sketch comedy remains undiminished.
I always thought if he'd done his great series The Martin Short Show (1994) in Canada as originally proposed and not in L.A. for NBC he would have lasted more than three episodes.
And he's already appearing as a judge on CTV's Canada's Got Talent. So who knows?
Is Short part of a reverse brain drain or what?
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Little Mosque: A Fond Farewell

It's time to bid a fond farewell to Little Mosque On The Prairie, CBC-TV's first wholly successful situation comedy since --gulp--King Of Kensington 30 years back.
And Little Mosque should have bitten the dust last season because ratings dipped so low.
But CBC's sitcom reinforcements including InSecurity and Men With Brooms tanked miserably in the ratings.
Was it really seven years ago that I journeyed deep into the heart of Etobicoke to spend a day with the cast and crew?
The sprightly sitcom had yet to debut but there was great hope among cast members it would be a hit.
After all consider the original roster of fun makers: Debra McGrath, Sheila McCarthy, Neil Crone, Derek McGrath plus Arlene Duncan, Carlo Rotta, and the starry sweethearts of the show Sitara Hewitt and Zaib Shaikh.
At the dinner break I sat with the show's creator, former CBC journalist Zarqa Nawaz. Born in Liverpool to parents from Parkistan she took degrees in science and journalism before becoming a regular on such series as CBC's National.
I found her unusually cool and composed considering that the night before she had submitted to a live interrogation (via satellite) from Glenn Beck then tossing his incendiary messages on MSNBC.
Rather than clashiung, Nawaz's shy demeanor and soft spoken manner so frazzled Beck he signed off before the alloted time was up.
"In fact we did have a different working title and then some one on the show said this one purely as a joke. But the more I thought about it the funnier it seemed to me. It summed up everything. And it has gotten people talking."
Now based in Regina with as family of four children Nawaz imagined a situation where Western Canadian Muslims had to contend with the realities of a new situation plus distrust from their Christian neighbors.
What if both were forced to share quarters and gradually became interested in each other's affairs?
"I saw all the humor in the situation," she told me that fateful day. "And I really think it is going to work."
The series which hit 90 episodes this sixth season has been sold to 83 countries --but not to the United States where being Muslim is a tough sell these days.
Gwtting just the right cast was another problem. There's no pool of trained Canadian sitcom performers to draw from.
McCarthy gave up her yearly gig at the Stratford Festival because she believed in her part. The day I watched she and McGrath were experimenting with bits of business and dissolving into laughter every few minutes.
A large part of the first year success came about because CBC still had its own staff of publicists and veteran ace Helicia Glucksman pushed the show every which way garnering the TV covers necessary for a successful launch.
For second season she had a lunch at a posh downtown Toronto Moorish restaurant that again got the show tons of publicity.
In later seasons when CBC ditched its cadre of publicists the series seemed to falter. There was nobody left to tout its many virtues.
Indeed in the last few years the ratings really drooped. --last week's episode was down to the infinitesimal 204,000 viewers compared to over 2 million the first season.
But CBC had nothing else ready to put forward. Fashioning a hit sitcom is a hit or miss affair. Look at CTV which after the huge success of Corner Gas came up with two less than steady sequels Dan For Mayor (already cancelled) and hiccups.
One of the mistakes CBC made after King Of Kensington was let the talent slowly slip away.
Star Al Waxman became so angry at his mistreatment he moved to L.A. only to score mightily on Cagney & Lacey.
It's important --no make that vital -- that CBC tie up the key actors with development deals. Heart throb Zaib Shaikh is now a big draw and he'd be great next in a crime drama --he has a huge following although some die hard fans do get a shock when tuning in his old series Metropia and finding him in all those nude scenes.
McGrath goes back to Paradise Falls and a short but funny show with husband Colin Mochrie titled Getting Along Famously. Doesn't she deserve her own comedy show right about now.? The answer is yes.
CBC should be building on its success. With Little Mosque On The Prairie the endangered Corp finally had something important to shout about. Think of it: a homegrown Canadian sitcom that lasted six seasons!