Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Surprise! I really Like Builder Boss!

So here I an watching the preview DVDs of the first two episodes of the new HGTV series Builder Boss starring that old smoothie Jim Caruk.
And I really like it!
Is it the TV voyeur in me? Could be.
Because I've lived in the same house for more than half my life and have no intention of renovating it or selling and moving elsewhere.
But I enjoy watching others go through such pain.
I guess I've seen practically every episode of Property Virgins which I admit has to rank high among the greatest ever TV titles.
And running a close second there's Selling New York with the fantastically motivated  Kleier  family who always seem on the prowl for new clients and new listings among the very, very rich.
And now along comes Jim Caruk who hosted seven seasons of Real Renos where he was revealed as an amiably shaggy dog of a guy who never really seemed to lose control or temper while renovations all around him fell prey to various problems.
Now he's ambling back into view with a look at various projects his construction company is working on.
The first episode titled "The Georgian" looks at his monster project to build a new mansion along the simple lines of a Georgian estate.
Now it's right difficult to show all the facets of home building in the 22 minutes alloted to a Reality half hour but Building Boss has the format down part.
First there's the feeling of artificial tension as various delays threaten to destroy Jim's cool
Then there are the mini climaxes every time the program segues into yet another commercial.
The Georgian is almost 5,000 square feet and first up the old bungalow must be demolished --feet away sits another new home which must not be touched or lawsuits would ensue. The project will take 62 weeks as the family keep changing their minds about the kitchen design.
But we get a first hand view of all the problems involved in a new built. The end result will be one of those so-called monster new homes that costs over $2.5 million.
In fact the second episode, "The Victorian" which follows is better structured. There's Caruk driving to the rescue of an old bud who wants a 100-year old home in Collingwood completely rebuilt so he can start a hair dressing salon.
But the budget is far righter than the Georgian and time is of the essence or the guy can't start his business. Never mind it takes Caruk three hours just to drive to the site.
This episode works better because we get to see the owner and understand what he's going through. And because this project is less grand we can relate better to it --the lack of insulation, the rotting timbers,the crumbling support beams. With the Georgian the family never appears and since they have limitless money the tension is often missing.
Caruk seems a little less laid back than he did on Real Renos. Watch him closely and you'll see a guy using all sorts of motivations to get the crews to work faster and harder.
And I'm enjoying it all immensely precisely because I'll never go that renovation route. Never.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Salvage Hunters: A British Twist On Junk

There's a whole new genre of television shows I call Junk TV.
I'm thinking of American Pickers, Canadian Pickers, Storage Hunters, Repo Man, you get my drift.
The shows are very popular and very cheap to make.
They also deal in a maddening way with pop history.
Sure the "stars" are always aware they're on. They ceaselessly mug for the cameras, they have been trained to turn every characterization into an event.
And when there's nothing on I'll watch and be mildly entertained.
And now comes a British twist on the whole phenomenon titled Salvage Hunters although officially it's a Canada-U.K. production made for Discovery for Cineflix.
And I'm learning these shows are popular the world around --I'm just reading a positive review from of all places the Philippines.
The "star" of this entry is 41-year-old Drew Pritchard who describes himself as a restoration expert. He takes what most people consider junk and lovingly restores items to mint new condition.
The first episode which I previewed finds Pritchard barreling all over the U.S. on the relentless search for junk, er antiques.
In one interview Pritchard said the most unusual restored item was a set of 14 stained glass windows by William Morris  which he sold to one of the wives of the Beatles.
Then there was the British hotel he restored, took down piece by piece and then shipped the entire facade to Japan where it was rebuilt on a golf course.
First up he gets priority access into a fabulous Scottish castle which with its 90,000 acres is one of Britain's biggest estates.
Obviously most of the treasures in the castle are off bounds but in little used out sheds Drew finds all kinds of fascinating objects including a gigantic georgian side board made for plates that was in use for several centuries.
In other words Drewlives for the thrill of the hunt. At a monstrous warehouse of British vintage furniture he goes eyeball to eyeball with the wary owner. Each guy is determined to get a great deal and the wheeling and dealing is fascinating to watch.
And at the home of a great eccentric collector he sees a vintage car from 1896 that would be outside the
means of anybody but perhaps a great museum.
But he never goes away empty handed.
In one crazy drive to buy a vintage car and resell it he makes a profit of just 50 pence but is still satisfied he found the car a new owner.
So we learn a lot about the phlegmatic Drew, a fair bit about the British antiques business and much about how to close a deal that might at first seem impossible.
The series runs for 10 weeks. Might a Canadian spin off be in the works if Salvage Hunters proves a hit ratings wise?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Suits: Welcome Back For A Second Season

Suits, that amiably light Toronto made legal drama, is back for its second season on Bravo (and on USA in the States).
I liked the first season although I immediately noticed similarities in a string of USA series --including White Collar and Burn Notice and Royal Pains.
I'm not the only TV critic around to discover all  of them feature fallen heroes who desperately need some sort of redemption.
On Royal Pains it's a failed emergency physician (Mark Feuerstein) who becomes MD to the ultra wealthy on Long Island.
On White Collar a very intelligent con artist extraordinaire (Matt Bomer) gets his prison term reduced in return for working for federal officials on nailing Manhattan baddies.
And on Suits it's  Mike Ross, a guy who has absolutely no law training (Toronto native Patrick J. Adams) and illegally takes the bar exams for various losers who wind up with high scores.
Somehow he gets into the prestigious Manhattan high rise law firm of Pearson Hardman as the protege of hot shot lawyer Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) where he becomes an ace legal trouble shooter.
The "fun" arises when Specter's associates begin to doubt this young man and use various subterfuges trying to bring him down.
Suits mocks everything and everybody involved in the American legal profession.
It has evolved into something of a bromance between the two protagonists who need each other to survive although neither can really ever be trusted.
Despite similarities to other USA shows Suits emerged as the ratings winner the first season out and Adams even copped a Screen Actors Guild nomination as best series actor.
The first new episode titled "She Knows" is all about senior counsel Jessica Pearson (well played by Gina Torres) and her efforts to "out" Mike and fire him.
Certainly the acting regulars on Suits are playing at a perfect pitch.
The dialogue is nuanced --do lawyers really speak so wittily I wonder. And the sprawling law office is almost a character in itself. All partners have glass walls so everybody can always see what everybody else is doing.
The big news here involves the possible return of senior partner Daniel Hardman (David Constable) whose ascendancy could threaten both Jessica and Harvey unless they bond together to protect each other.
Suits like another Doug Liman TV series Covert Affairs is shot in Toronto here standing in for New York. One city's concrete canyons resemble the next, I guess, although by slow motioning my preview DVD I did spot a TTC bus pass by in one outdoor scene set downtown. And several of the supporting Canadian cast looked familiar enough.
But it's the relationship between Harvey and Mike that will keep us watching.
Harvey is the protective big brother but he must notice Mike is acting like less of a tutor as he tries to assert himself.
Mike has a crush of sorts on paralegal Rachel (Meghan Markle). And there's the wonderfully oily senior lawyer Louis played to the hilt by Rick Hoffman and Harvey's trusting secretary Donna (Sarah Rafferty). In short a great cast of clashing legal egotists.
One female friend says she watches Suits just to see Macht in his tailored suit. Go figure. Another fan tells me this is a procedural he can sit through because it's so unpredictable.
As relationship sagas go Suits covers all bases with effortless ease.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Canadians And The War Of 1812

Canadians are really into the War of 1812.
Americans are really not.
The war that began 200 years ago on Monday is big news in Canada. Americans would rather forget the whole episode except for the composition of the Star Spangled Banner and the Battle of New Orleans.
In the U.S.  Congress cost conscious Republicans declined to create a national bicentennial commission. By contrast in Ottawa Stephen Harper's government is ploughing $28 million into planned celebrations.
That ambivalence between two nations was accurately captured in last season's brilliant two-hour documentary The War Of 1812 which premiered on PBS stations including Buffalo's WNED-TV.
Now it's Canadian TV's turn to retort with the equally compelling two-hour effort titled Explosion 1812.
The PBS epic was a massive effort that carefully balanced the accounts --after all it was made to appeal to viewers on both sides of the border.
This Canadian documentary is more in-you-face. It seizes on one important battle --the battle for Fort York and builds its compelling narrative around that key event.
One of the key courses I took at the University of Toronto was on Upper Canada headed by master historian J.M.S. Careless. We  certainly discussed the war but it didn't seem as important to Careless as the Rebellion of 1837.
I'm thinking his interpretation might have changed had he been alive to view Explosion 1812.
Narrated by historian David Snow, and creatively using historical re-enactments, eyewitness accounts (including one by a small boy) and brilliant new archeological digs led by Dr. Ron Williamson, this war suddenly springs alive.
It's as if we were right there the night the huge armaments depot was deliberately blown up causing great loss of life on the American side --American general Zebulon Pike's chest was crushed by falling rocks and debris from the armory.
The U.S. invaders had wrongly assumed they were coasting their way to a great victory.
The surprise explosion killed or maimed 250 American troops who retaliated by looting and stealing from the local York villagers many of whom were "late Loyalists" who had only recently arrived from the United States.
That senseless act turned many townsfolk against the Americans and showed them that they, in fact, had a separate identity --as Canadians.
Archeologist Williamson gets the best line when he explains "There's that moment in life when the place you were born is no longer your home --the place you've chosen to live as an adult becomes your home."
Since I live in Toronto I was drawn to the visually stunning look at the excavation of the ruins of parts of Fort York which have disappeared including the lieutenant governor's quarters, the so-called Canadian "White House" colonnaded just like its Washington counterpart.
Archaeologists are trying to determine exactly where the gigantic ammunition depot was located.  It was very near the lake which has retreated over many decades. And the presence of the Gardiner Expressway cannot have helped in locating exactly where the gigantic rater lay.
What caused the explosion is another riddle? British soldiers detonated the ammo as they were retreating. Americans suspected it was a deliberate act of murder.
When the depot went up in flames it held 30,000 pounds of black powder, 10,000 cannon balls and 30,000 cartridges and the resulting fireball explosion could be heard right across Lake Ontario at Ft. Niagara.
It's exciting to see explosive experts attempt to recreate the effects of that explosion to determine how U.S. soldiers at 200-300 yards could have been more affected than British troops who were closer in range.
But many Americans were mowed down by the impact of the blast which blew out ear drums and caused many U.S. soldiers to topple over and die in great agony --the blast also loosed a shower of sharp debris that rained down and caused many more deaths.
Explosion 1812, executive produced by Elliott Halpern  (Vimy Underground) for yap films, tells its story  in powerful, bold strokes helped by clever CGI effects. In one great recreated scene Americans flee a burning Washington at night and we can see a vivid recreation of the White House being burned.
Mick Grogan wrote, directed and produced it and Derek Rogers is responsible for the splendid photography.
Over the years Tom Gould  produced a fine 1812 documentary for CTV and the McKenna brothers made one for CBC --both were ignored by U.S. TV.
But Explosion 1812 is so definitive it should be seen by Canadians and Americans alike.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Remembering Ann Rutherford

My old Canadian friend Ann Rutherford would have thought it hilarious most obituaries on her got her birthdate and place of birth completely wrong. She died in Beverly Hills June 11 2012.
"I was born in Toronto, silly" she giggled the first time we met at her Beverly Hills mansion in 1974 when she was a still dazzling beauty in her early 50s.
"Yes, I'm Canadian but the place was Toronto. I grew up in Vancouver. My dad was the Canadian tenor John Rutherford and I changed my birthdate which is 1920 later on when I started working in movies in 1935 --I was really 15 but had to add on three years to get around the child labor laws in California."
When I started covering TV for The Spectator in 1971 Rutherford was on my list of great Canadians film stars I just had to meet and interview.
I first got to Fay Wray in 1971, Yvonne De Carlo the next year, and Alexis Smith the year after.
"People still line up for interviews because of just one film,"Rutherford said. "I'm Scarlett O'Hara's youngest sister in Gone With The Wind. It's my ticket to immortality I guess."
According to Ann "I saw David Selznick the producer on the train coming into Pasadena and begged for the part. I was a big fan of the book but I was under contract to MGM and Louis B. Mayer said it was a nothing part. However, I wore him down but I had to promise I'd do it in between all my MGM assignments."
In 1939 besides GWTW Rutherford also made these features:  Four Girls In White, The Hardys Ride High, Angel Of Mercy, Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever, These Glamour Girls, Dancing Co-Ed and Judge Hardy And Son.
"I was a busy girl. We worked Sundays in those days. A few times I'd do a GWTW scene in the morning and a scene from the Hardy movies in the afternoon. My total time on GWTW over six months must have added up to something like six weeks."
In 1940 Rutherford "only" made five movies including Pride And Prejudice opposite Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. "I was the bad  Bennet sister Lydia who runs off with a bounder."
Rutherford's comments about working with Mickey Rooney? "He was too talented for his own good. Had to have it all. He had so many wibes and children, I think it was compensation for being such a runt."
All in all she played Polly Benedict in 13 of the 15 Andy Hardy movies ending with Andy Hardy's Double Life in 1942. She also made three "Whistling" comedies opposite Red Skelton in 1941-42.
"Then I quarreled over a tiny part I was assigned in Twelve Sweethearts. That weekend I was on a USO tour of California bases and I caught the mumps. Mr. Mayer was so angry that he sold my contract to Fox and that was that."
For Fox she starred in one of her biggest hits Orchestra Wives opposite Glenn Miller and later co-starred with Danny Kaye in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (1946) and Errol Flynn in The Adventures Of Don Juan (1949).
In the Fifties she tackled live TV on such series as Climax! and Playhouse 90. Plus she was a frequent guest suspect on Perry Mason.
When we first met she'd just completed what would be her last movie They Only Kill Their Masters (1972) opposite Jim Garner back on the MGM lot. Later on she was Suzanne Pleshette's mom on choice episodes of Newhart (1973-74).
A long time marriage to ace TV producer Bill Dozier (Batman) solidified her status as one of Beverly Hills' great party matrons. She liked to tell the tale of how Debbie Reynolds who lived next door had accidentally flushed her diamond wedding ring down the kitchen sink.
I was glad to take her to lunch on several occasions --she always dressed to the hilt.
As she said "One has to keep up appearances. After I want Scarlett O'Hara to be proud of her little  sister."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mad Men And Canadian TV?

See how easy it is to get your attention.
Of course there's no direct link between Canadian TV and Mad Men.
It's just that a friend asked how long it would take to make a Canadian series as greatish as Mad Men and I had to simply reply : "It'll never happen."
It's the way Canadian TV has been structured.
These days virtually every Canadian scripted drama series has to make that all important American sale or it will go into the account books as a loss.
Current successes include Global's Rookie Blue which is simulcast with ABC and CTV's Saving Hope which is simulcast with NBC.
Three cheers for CTV for sticking with Flashpoint after CBS dropped it.
But there's a precedence: after CBS dropped CTV's Due South the network continued production and the last two seasons ran syndicated to U.S. stations.
Which is probably the way Flashpoint and another CTV series The Listener (dropped by NBC) will wind up --in the U.S. syndication market.
Both Rookie Blue and Saving Grace have all the plusses of big budgets: lush cinematography, personable Canadian leads but the actual geographical situation is fudged for American consumption.
Both are pretty good genre shows but I'm not sure either would survive in competitive fall prime times on ABC or NBC.
Veteran producer Ilana Frank made both and before that she had The Eleventh Hour running for several seasons on CTV --it failed to get an American sale.
None of her shows have aspirations to be another Mad Men. Why should they?
Mad Men wouldn't last on a big U.S. network, it probably would never have gone for long on HBO or Showtime because of its anemic ratings.
Canadian TV just isn't set up to make such quality shows.
And in the case of Mad Men there has been no Canadian sale --CTV dropped out after the first few seasons because it was over its quota of U.S. imports.
Yes, there have been occasional Canadian TV miniseries and TV movies that pushed the button.
Three of my faves: Alison Pill in Fast Food High (2003), Kate Nelligan in Human Cargo (2004), Wendy Crewson in Hunt For Justice (2005).
But Canadian producers have virtually stopped making TV movies and minis because they can't sell them for American TV consumption.
I remember having this conversation with a CTV bigwig when she was relentlessly hyping the brilliant U.S. series The Sopranos.
I quoted what one of the U.S. creators asked me. I hold him my first journalistic pit stop was Hamilton and he said it would make the perfect setting for a Canadian crime drama.
But we all know that will never happen. It would be so specific the Americans wouldn't buy it.
So enjoy Mad Men for the exceptional drama it is --the conclusion Sunday night of the fifth season was about as dark and challenging as anything I've ever see.
On American TV I mean. Never on Canadian.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Dallas Reboot: Can It Work?

The Ewings and I, we go way, way back.
Right back to the first press conference for CBS's new series Dallas which was held on the L.A. TV Tour in January, 1976.
TV Critics were not initially impressed by the scraggly plot and soap opera histrionics.
I remember the intrepid TV critic for the Houston Chronicle, Anne Hodges, standing up and stating "Thank you for not calling this series Houston."
The creator of all this entertaining nonsense was David Jacobs who later created a sort of spinoff in Knots Landing and then created a Canadian counterpart in Loving Friends And Perfect Couples which ran briefly on cable(it was chock full of nudity).
In fact as Jacobs told me when he was in Toronto working on LFAPC he  had thought up Knots Landing first but CBS wanted something glitzier.
IJust a year before  Dallas CBS had jump started the prime time soap genre with Executive Suite which executives cancelled because they considered it too sexy.
Jacobs originally envisaged a Romeo and Juliet theme with Patrick Duffy as Bobby and Victoria Principal as Pam (chosen after Linda Evans dropped out) the bride bought to Southfork.
Larry Hagman would play the decidedly secondary part of older brother J.R. and Linda Gray would be his increasingly alcoholic wife Sue Ellen.
The parents were played by Barbara Bel Geddes and Jim Davis.
As Jacobs told me the part of J.R. just grew until he dominated every plot twist and turn.
On March 21, 1980, the finale of the third season, CBS inaugurated the "TV cliffhanger" --Who Shot J.R. not for plot considerations but out of sheer survivability.
Hagman was demanding $75,000 per episode for another season and threatened not to return until his demand was met.
At the TV critic's launch that June I saw Robert Culp in the hall of the Century Plaza hotel and asked him if the question was true --the bandages would be moved from J.R.'s face and Culp would be reborn as the new J.R.?
"Who told you that?" Culp said, obviously unnerved. In the end Hagman and CBS settled their differences and Dallas continued on its merry way.
There was another controversial cliffhanger in May, 1986, when Pamela woke up to find the supposedly dead Bobby romping in the shower. He'd been killed off in the last season or had he? Turns out the entire season was dismissed as a dream and with that Dallas's ratings started falling apart.
When Barbara Bel Geddes left the show in 1984 for health reasons I was at the CBS press conference held in Phoenix that announced Donna Reed would be the new Miss Ellie.
When Bel Geddes was re-hired a year later Reed found out she'd been dropped watching the TV news --an act co-star Howard Keel told me was "despicable".
It was Dallas that contributed to the rise and fall of one of TV's mammoth production companies: Lorimar. Its key executive, Lee Rich, started off making TV movies but hit the jack pot with the 1972 TV flick The Homecoming which CBS used as the pilot for its 1972 series The Waltons.
I was on the set of The Waltons in July 1972 before it went on the air chatting up series creator Earl Hamner Jr.The series had been plopped against the number one hit on American TV, Flip Wilson on NBC. ABC's The Mod Squad was right up there, too.
But at the end of the first season The Waltons had triumphed and Wilson was gone after one more season. And Rich had powered his tiny company into a giant making TV hit after hit: Eight Is Enough, Knots Landing. Falcon Crest, Perfect Strangers, Valerie, Full House.
Lorimar became so big it bought the entire MGM lot. But in 1993 Rich sold everything to Warner Bros and Lorimar faded into reruns.
It all started with Dallas whose mores perfectly mirrored the Reagan Revolution in Washington and the conservative dream of unbridled acquisition. There even was a close competitor in ABC's Dynasty.
But this Dallas reboot isn't happening on CBS but on TNT (Bravo in Canada) and David Jacobs isn't involved at all which I think a mistake. He always insisted that this was a family saga above all whereas Dynasty was a tale of glitter and wealth accumulation.
Bravo sent over the first 54 minutes and a very aged Larry Hagman is back along with Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray. Here are three iconic performers still strutting their stuff and that puts pressure on the next generation played by Josh Henderson as John Ross, Jesse Metcalfe as Chris Ewing, Jordana Brewster as Elena, daughter of the family cook and Julie Gonzalo as seemingly sweet Rebecca.
Can Dallas work in these very different economic times? Rebooting Charlie's Angels failed. Even Lucy Ball found that on TV there are no second acts.
But Dallas is Dallas and this 10-hour limited series is beautiful to look at, as melodramatic as expected and fun of its kind. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why I'm Hopeful About Saving Hope

First thing about Saving Hope, the new Canadian medical series premiering Thurs.  June 7 at 9 p.m. on CTV (and NBC ).
There's nobody in the cast named Hope you must understand. Hope is the name of the fictional hospital (actually Hope Zion) set somewhere in Toronto --I know because the slow motion opening montage includes shots of Rogers Center.
I'm almost prone to making a terribly pun about hope springs eternal because this is the latest Canadian "Peripheral" to debut --it's a defiantly Canadian content drama with enough details fudged so American audiences will also want to tune in.
Think Rookie Blue currently running simulcast on Global and ABC. Think The Firm which has been running Saturdays on Global and NBC as a less successful variant.
Describing Saving Hope is going to be a problem. According to the TV Critic's Code I must not divulge key plot points except to say the premise depends on a key point, a gimmick if you like.
Already readers of this column have been telling me they have been some what put off on another new Canadian  series Continuum because it contained a gimmick they could not swallow.
The gimmick here is well developed in the first episode but began getting irritating by Episode Two which I've also seen.
Let's start with Saving Hope's assets. First off the cast are all impossibly good looking to be doctors. The doctors I recently had to consult were bald, pot bellied and even rude. One of them said the fact he was ungainly was a key reason in becoming a doctor.
In the spirit of Grey's Anatomy these doctors spend as much time fooling around with each other as they do honing to perfection their medical skills.
But there's the magnificent set-- it totals 28,700 square feet with winding corridors and assorted operating rooms. It looks completely real unlike many TV hospital sets so cheers to production designer Benno Tutter.
Calgary born Eric Durance is much too orchidaceous to play determined surgeon Alex Reid but she's a good enough actress to get away with it much of the time --she played Lois Lane on Smallville.
She's paired with Vancouver born Michael Shanks who is chief of surgery Dr. Charlie Harris --Shanks is best known for another Canadian sci fi outing Stargate SG-1. Too danged handsome by half Shanks seems delighted to have burst forth from his TV Sci Fi cocoon and enjoys some great scenes with a young boy in the second episode.
Born in Winnipeg but raised in New Zealand Daniel Gillies plays the ladies' man orthopedic surgeon Dr. Joel Goran and looks equally at home in this kind of romantic melodrama --most recently he played Elijah in The Vampire Diaries.
Co-starring is an actress I first interviewed on the set of Night Heat --Wendy Crewson who plays acting head of surgery Dr. Dana Kinney.
Other young Canadians high up in the cast include Julia Taylor Ross, and  Kristopher Turner.
The executive producers veterans Ilana Frank and David Wellington who also directs the first hour. have a fine track record that also includes the series The Eleventh Hour.
Frank told TV critics last week there was one heart stopping moment when NBC wanted to program Saving Hope Thursdays at 10 --smack dab against her other simulcast hit Rookie Blue!
One big point in Saving Hope's future is the look of each episode --for once a Canadian "Periperal" matches the American competition in terms of lighting, editing and brilliant camera work (from Steve Danyluk).
I think Saving Hope should entice the same basically female audience who dote over Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice.
It all depends on whether or not they'll accept the basic gimmick.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Murdoch Mysteries: Life Without CSI

The fascination with the Victorian thriller Murdoch Mysteries lies in hero Yannick Bisson's attempts to solve murders without any of the CSI paraphernalia available a modern TV detective.
Season 5 of the well made series premieres on Citytv Wed. June 6 at 10 p.m.
For any Canadian TV drama to hit five seasons constitutes a huge accomplishment in itself. After all CBC's This Is Wonderland and The Border both lasted three seasons.
Being Erica hit four seasons while Intelligence and the recently shuttered King both notched two seasons.
And it's even more noteworthy because MM has not as yet notched that all important sale to the U.S. although I'm predicting it will surely land one day on PBS stations.
Just for the record I started covering Inspector Murdoch when he was still being played by actor Peter Outerbridge in an occasional series of TV series.
But Outerbridge made these TV flicks when he was otherwise involved in the winter  months starring in another Shaftesbury Films effort  the sci fi series Regenesis so Yannick Murdoch was hired.
Bisson and I go back, way back to the time as a precocious teenager I interviewed him on the set of the 1984 CBC TV flick Hockey Night. He was just 15 there and today he's 43 still looking mighty boyish.
I was always impressed by Bisson's stillness as an actor --and his survivability. He's co-starred in the series Brothers By Choice (1986),  Learning The Ropes (1988), Gold (1991), High Tide (1994), Nothing Too Good For A Cowboy (1999), Undergrads (2001), Soul Food (2000), Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye (2002).
I made sure I visited the Toronto set just before the series version hit Citytv. I was given a tour of the impressive police precinct with its cells, autopsy rooms and interview places. I met the harassed designers who had to ensure all the Victorian garb was period perfect even if it meant sweltering in heavy wool suits on a humid summer day.
Executive producer Christina Jennings has cagily imported British guest stars to ensure that all important sale to British TV. But as with Regenesis she did not feel pressured into making a quick sale to U.S. TV. That will come --already 65 episodes have been stockpiled.
One person of note I interviewed that day was the author of the original novels, Maureen Jennings who filled me in on the key differences between the books and the series.
Weeks later while vacationing with her husband in Florida she was swept out to sea by a high tide and only the quick intervention of her husband saved her.
Season 5 finds Murdoch banished to the Yukon territory --it's now 1899 and the fabled Gold Rush is already over. Murdoch deliberately shielded a woman suspected of murder and the love of his life Dr. Julia Ogden (Helene Joy) married another --twin reasons for getting out of town.
Determined to rebuild his life Murdoch is drawn into the case of Mrs. Elizabeth Bryant played by Jill Halpenny from Coronation Street. Lending his help is a budding writer played by Aaron Ashmore but I'll not reveal his identity here.
But remember true life personages have popped up on MM before from Buffalo Bill to H.G. Wells to Queen Victoria.
A subplot stars Constable Giles (Nigel Bennett) trying to make do to Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig) that Murdoch's replacement Detective Crabtree (Jonny Harris) just isn't up to scratch.
The Yukon adventure is exciting, the Toronto scenes seem tacked on.
Citytv says this season will see Murdoch involved in intrigue over the invention of the electric car and solving a murder involving a traveling opera company (with Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman starred).
Telefilm Canada usually ceases funding after a Canadian series hits five seasons but Inspector Murdoch has been saved by CBC which has optioned a sixth season to start up in the fall.
MY RATING: *** 1/2

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Elwy Yost: A Celebration

That was quite a celebration Saturday night for the late great Elwy Yost held at the repertory rich  Revue Cinema on Toronto's Roncesvalles Avenue.
Yost died in vancouver in july, 2011, but the family wanted to thank Toronto for 25 years when Yost flourished as the host of Saturday Night At The Movies.
When I got there I bumped into Yost's celebrated screen writer son Graham  (Speed) whom I'd interviewed on the phone but never met in person.
I also met the current host of SNATM, Thom Ernst, who ribbed me about my comments saying I'd never get over Yost's departure from the show.
Also present was Yost's first TV director Bruce Pittman who went on to his own career directing TV series and movies.
Inside a motley array of Yosites sat waiting for the program to begin. Most were like me well over 50 and prone to remembering Yost's glory days hosting TVOntario's SNATM. Ot was so easy in the Seventies writing a TV column because there were only 10 channels.
In fact I wrote my first profile Of Yost in 1971 for The Spectator when he was still working for the Ontario Educational Communications Authority then located on Bayview Avenue.
Yost only got on camera with TVOntario (which he  actually named) in 1973 because the education weblet had acquired  bunch of Ingmar Bergman movies and needed a host who could use them in an educational fashion.
Yost had been a high school teacher and he possessed this amazing ability to seem unassuming and pleasant while at the same time proffering up gobs of relevant information.
"In those days the other stations had given up on black and white movies," said Risa Shuman, Yost's long suffering producer. Yost was able to get packages of RKO and 20th films at basement bargain prices.
And don't forget in a TV universe of 10 channels with no VHS or DVD available SNATM was the only pit stop for old movie buffs.
When Yost's show suddenly became TVO's most popular program there was much muttering from  station programmers who were both astonished and a little ashamed old movies had become their reason for existence.
Yost was often prodded by his competitors including CBC to include hefty educational segments in between the two antique films he was peddling. Ernst told me this is still happening today.
In time Yost began notching higher numbers than his commercial competitors prompting the other stations to buy up film packages just to make sure he couldn't get them. Warners asked Yost to select their best 100 pre-1948 movies and when he did so (Warners was his favorite studio) the batch was promptly sold to CBC which offered more money than TVO had.
All this doesn't explain Yost's endurance --he finally retired in 1998 convinced he'd die young but instead he lived to be 86.
Simply stated it was Elwy's personality. He was a show off. On his companion show Magic Shadows he got to strut around and be goofy and all this came easily to a guy who's once been an amateur actor.
He loved good movies. I once quoted him exactly saying "I never saw a movie I didn't like" which caused him no end of grief in the critical community. I think he simply ignored a whole lot of bad movies. But he'd once tried to write movie reviews for the Toronto Star and failed because he couldn't be critical enough.
He loved old movies but he wasn't a true movie buff. Once in Hamilton for a charity event he'd gone up against the legendary and reclusive Harry Purvis who wrote all the movie synopses for TV Guide off the type of his head and could recite dialogue from movies he hadn't seen 1930.
Yost was depressed when he lost but I told him he was the one drawing big audiences with his movie show precisely because his was an accessible personality.
The event was pretty wonderful. And Graham told some choice family stories and wept a bit which must be a family trait.
Clips from Yost's interviews showed how he always wanted to highlight the guest while remaining in the background.
"I never filmed Elwy's reactions during thse interviews," Pittman told me "because the guests were the stars and not Elwy."
When Yost decided to retire Brian Linehan put on a big push to take over but he wasn't right at all --Brian always liked to be front and center and eventually TVO chose somebody else.
Not all the times at TVO were sweetness and light. One year TVO reduced Elwy to one movie a week and followed him with two squabbling hosts who showed more contemporary fare. Ratings predictably slumped and Yost was back to two films the next year.
And when I reported in the Toronto Star that Yost had fired Ron Base and Alex Barris as hosts of TVO's movie review show, Yost phoned me in a panic convinced the news might tarnish his reputation. It didn't --this low rated show simply had to go.
One query I have for TVO: Why aren't Yost's best interviews available in a DVD package. I notice some have been posted to You Tube which is great news.
I simply feel Elwy would have gotten a big bang out of  Saturday night's crowd coming together to celebrate his life and it's sad he wasn't here.
But when they played one of his favorite movies on the big screen, King Kong, for a brief moment I felt ,well, maybe he really is here after all.

Scam City A Must See

It's pretty wonderful that Toronto is not included in the new travel series ominously titled Scam City.
Because the 10-part hour series from Montreal's Handel Productions looks at all the ways tourists can get ripped off in some of the great travel destinations of the world.
The host is Irish guide Conor Woodman who gets himself into some pretty terrifying situations aided by a tiny camera peeping forth from one of the button holes on his shirt.
After you watch the first episode which is on Prague you'll perhaps be forgiven for leaving this beautiful city off your next European jaunt.
Scam City ventures to Rio, Marrakech, Rome, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Istanbul, New Delhi, Bangkok and Las Vegas.
In Prague the trick artists seem to be everywhere.
It all starts with Woodman getting ripped off at the currency exchange booth.
But highest on the list are the taxi companies who will size up and tourist and then charge three or four times the legal limit for a ride.
Since the fall of communism Prague has been a destination point for hookers and drug dealers and we meet some of these heavies in uncomfortable situations.
Woodman gets short changed at a street eatery which seems par for the course. A prostitute takes his friend for every cent he's carrying by brazenly brushing up to him.
In a very seedy bar Woodman finds chatting up a call girl costs 500 euros. Refusal to pay up could result in a bloodied nose. In this altercation the cops turn up and then leave just as quickly as they came.
Another taxi driver cautions not to get drivers upset as all carry guns and knives.
Woodman even interviews the head of one tax concern who realistically concedes that it's a jungle out there and he can do nothing to contain his often violent staff.
As Woodman summarizes: "Prague is full of history, romance...and trouble."
In between the dangerous situations are quick shots of an incredibly beautiful city --river views, gorgeous mediaeval architecture.
But remind me never to go there.
So what about Canadian cities?
Apparently we just too goody goody to even merit mention. Neither Montreal nor Toronto is going to be included in the second batch of exposes either.
So what if we're dull I say. At least we're relatively safe.