Friday, June 8, 2018
I just have this feeling that among Canadian TV's three private network it's CTV which will survive.
The first CTV fall launch I ever attended was in 1971 when then president Murray Chercover announced such big Canadian hits as The Littlest Hobo, Headline Hunters, Stars On Ice and Half The George Kirby Comedy hour.
But these days CTV takes its Canadian content requirements more seriously and besides as the most profitable network can pick and chose the big new U.S. shows.
The location was Toronto's Sony Center and the event was packed with thousands of advertising types all eager to buy spots on the new and returning shows all the while feating on booze on dainties.
On Mondays CTV has snapped up the sophomore season of The Resident a medical drama with Matt Czuchry and Canadian Emily Van Camp at 8 p.m.
At 9 p.m. there's the reboot of the classic Magnum P.I. but without Tom Selleck and featuring newly cast Jay Hernandez plus there's a female Higgins played by Perdita Weeks.
Tuesdays at 8:30 comes a 1970s comedy The Kids Are Allright all about an IrishCatholic family.
At 10 p.m. comes the hourlong The Rookie with Nathan Fillion as a fortyish guy who dreams of joining the LAPD.
On Sundays at 8 p.m. there's Brandon Michael Hall in the religious drama God Friended Me.
And then at 10 p.m. there's The Alec Baldwin Show with the three-time Emmy Award Winner caught in conversations with friends and fellow actors.
Midseason debuts will include Jann starring Jann Arden as a Canadian singer trying to make herself relevant again.
Then there's the legal drama The Fix about a high profile lawyer --Marcia Clark will executive produce it.
The Red Line stars veteran Noah Wyle and comes from executive producers Ava DuVernay and Greg Berlani.
The Enemy Within will star Jennifer Carpenter as a CIA operative hired by the FBI to hunt spies.
'The Village looks at thee denizens of an apartment complex in Brooklyn.
Grand Hotel is set in Miami Beach and is executive produced by Eva Longoria.
And then there's America's Got Talent: The Champions --the title says it all.
And for Canadian content freaks how about the 40th anniversary of SCTV: Reunion Special produced by Martin Scorsese and fronted by Jimmy Kimmel.
Big news has CTV buying a majority share in Toronto's busy Pinewood Studios as one indication the network remains very serious about mounting first class Canadian content series.
Star Trek: Discovery already shoots there and is one of the highest priced series ever shot in Canada.'
Is CTV aiming to become a veritable Canadian version of Disney?
That's one idea and so is the insistence CTV needs different plat forms to highlight its wares.
And Whiskey Cavalier stars Scott Foley from Scandal heading an agency of flawed spies.
CTV is planning different platforms for its content as conventional networks see younger viewers tricking away.
Space becomes CTV-Sci-Fi while Comedy becomes CTV-Comedy and Bravo becomes CTV-Drama
and Gusto becomes CTV-Life which it was some 15 years ago.
The ad executives I chatted up seemed impressed with the CTV brand and some of the new shows and thought the rebranding necessary as old line networks sail into the sunset.
So I'm bullish on CTV more than I am with Rogers or Shaw.
And by the way the food is always better--those miniature hamburgers were very tasty indeed.
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Let's see --the first CBC-TV fall preview I attended (as the summer student at The Globe And Mail) was in 1970 when the public network was riding high.
In those dear dead days there was a 10 channel TV universe and that was it.
Thirty-five print TV critics from across Canada flew in for several days of interviews with such CBC stars as Juliette, Friendly Giant and Knowlton Nash and CBC redesigned its cavernous studio up Yonge Street (the home of Front Page Challenge) for a gala party that drew thousands of advertisers and hangers on.
That was then. This is now.
This year's CBC TV launch was a muted affair held at 192 Spadina Avenue in very close quarters.
But the message was rather upbeat.
Like all Canadian TV networks CBC is watching the slow dripping away of its core audience to other platforms.
But be aware --CBC remains the last great repositiory of Canadian TV culture.
And the publicly funded network has decided to fight back.
The network still has some huge hits :Murdoch Mysteries and Heartland have been around forever and still draw strong ratings.
And there are other, newer hits: Schitt's Creek, the re-versioned Anne Of Green Gables, Kim's Convenience.
The last time I checked the fine new mystery series Frankie Drake was only drawing 560,000 viewers weekly on CBC TV.
Back in 1970 I was told CBC-TV's definition of a hit was a million for a series and 1.5 million for a miniseries or special.
Those numbers are rarely reached today as Canadians increasingly turn to different platforms.
Still, CBC has several new series which look promising.
I enjoyed chatting up veteran producer Bernie Zuckerman charged with the revival of Street Legal which will star Jennifer Dale. Zuckerman said the order is for eight episodes "which is the standard these days" but other Street veterans may make a guest appearance or two.
Cavendish, a new comedy series ,will benefit from its creators Mark Little and Andrew Bush and will be filmed on location and in Halifax studios.
Coroner with its order for eight hours has great potential considering Morwyn Brebner's last series was Saving Hope---Adrienne Mitchell will be lead director (she made Bomb Girls).
Northern Rescue will be shot in Parry Sound with David Cormican as creator and Bradley Walsh as executive producer and I also met Billy Baldwin who has enthusiastically signed up as lead.
And I should also mention the new series Diggstown with Floyd Kane and Amos Adetuyi as executive producer.
Now I get my say about how to "fix" some of CBC-TV's ailments.
I'd start by abolishing commercials during prime time.
I know the cost would be horrendous but well worth it as the competition these days is with commercial free services such as Netflix.
Many former CBC fans have defected to PBS which still provides arts programming which CBC has mostly ditched.
I have a solution: bring back a Seventies series called RearView Mirror which took gems from the CBC archives--ballets starring Rudolf Nureyev and Veronica Tennant, superb dramas like the 1960 Macbeth starring Sean Connery and Zoe Caldwell.
When RearView Mirror first ran during another CBC budget crunch the ratings were sky high.
And I also feel CBC's National needs an instant face lift.
Ratings have plunged with four anchors --the snappy patter over at CNN is attracting record numbers of Canadian viewers.
Another proposal: bring back a few historical TV movies every season.
Zuckerman who produced some of the best TV movies ever made by CBC says there's the argument the cost is too heavy for a two hour TV movie
But I think CBC needs a few of these --Zuckerman's version of the Road to Confederation remains a must see.
But with its close adherence to all things Canadian I feel CBC still has a better chance at long term survival than rivals CTV or Global TV.
Monday, May 14, 2018
The last time I sat down to interview Margot Kidder it was on the Toronto set of the TV series Amazon in 2000.
We'd met up before all over the place but after a tumultuous private life she said she was glad to get back to Canada and just settle down.
"Maybe I should never have left my true north strong and free," she joked.
"But then you'd never have become such a big star!" I interjected.
"Well, stardom for me was never cracked out to be that much anyway," she laughed nervously. "Because I was far, far away and now I'm back home and it means everything to me."
And now Margot Kidder is dead --she passed away in her sleep at her Montana home at the relatively young age of 69.
"I've done a lot," she told me that day. "And some of it I regret and some of it makes me pretty proud."
It seems rather ghoulish but she fearlessly forecast the headline in her New York Times obituary would read "Superman's Girl Friend Is Dead."
"Or something like that."
I told her I definitely remembered her first acting gig --it was on the CBC dramatic hit Wojeck and it was 1968 and young Margot had just turned 20.
"The very next year I co-starred on two more CBC_TV series Corwin and McQueen and then I was on Adventures In Rainbow Country in 1970 and only then did I hit Hollywood. There just wasn't enough work here to keep a young actress going. And I wasn't the only one who left. The wonderful blonde actress Sharon Acker also left around that time."
At first Margot did the standard guest starring on such TV series as Mod Squad, The Manipulators,, "And then I had my first lead on the Jim Garner western series Nichols and he was wonderful and I learned so much from him because he was a minimalist."
Although Nichols only lasted the 1971-72 series and then Kidder found herself suddenly hot.
"I lost all momentum because I couldn't get out of TV shows. I did them all: Baretta, Barnaby Jones, Switch."
And I interrupted: "But I interviewed you in Toronto again on Black Christmas in 1974 --Olivia Hussey and Keir Dullea and Art Hindle were all on set that day and it was a big hit."
"It actually got me in to audition for Superman and I adored Chris Reeve from the first moment I saw him. And there was Superman II which was an even bigger hit and in 1983 there was Superman III. In 1987 there was Superman IV which I don't think we should have done but audiences disagreed.
Then I had to ask the big question: did she take too many drugs?
"We all did," she answered softly. "We all did."
There was one day on the set of the western Little Teasure (1985) when I was so out of control that Burt Lancaster socked me in the jaw."
She was beginning to recognize she was bipolar.
"Had been like that since a kid. I had ups and downs and finally I really crashed."
In 1996 she started writing her autobiography and "it all spilled out."
She began fantasizing her first husband was going to kill her so she faked her death and was found wandering in the bushes by a neighbor.
"Recognizing what I was began the healing process. I had to accept full responsibility for everything."
On Amazon she had an insignificant part but she played it very well especially when the show's bug wrangler said she had to pretend to be asleep on the jungle floor as a line of tarantulas walked over her bared stomach.
"I'll continue acting," she vowed and she did but often in tiny parts. I liked her on the Vancouver made series Robson Arms (2005) and I met with her again on the set of Chicks With Sticks (2004) but by 2014 she was down to one appearance a year.
When she passed the TV networks were full of stories about Lois Lane but it's sad to think both Reeve and Kidder are now gone as is the World Trade Center.
Thursday, May 3, 2018
I used to get letters from readers when I wrote the TV column for The Hamilton Spectator and later The Toronto Star.
Now I get emails and nobody out there seems to read newspapers anymore let alone watch network TV.
Here's a sampling of recent emails enquiries.
+ "Whatever happened to game shows? I used to watch them every morning. Now there are all these similar women themed series?" Mrs. D.F., Ancaster.
ME: I still watch game shows on the Game Show Network. The vintage ones are a hoot. The other night I was watching The Match Game from the 1970s and one of the panelists was the great Ethel Merman and she was having a blast as was I.
+ "I'm deeply disappointed with the new and unimproved CBC National news. What's your estimate?" L.M. R. Ottawa.
ME: Having up to four anchors just doesn't work. the telecasts from Humboldt were very fine, however. Other nights there's a feeling of ennui and ratings are way, way down. Why not a CNN style newscast with bickering panelists you might ask. But CBC doesn't like that kind of partisan wrangling even if it drives ratings.
+ "Why has there never been a hit Canadian TV soap opera?" P.B, Oshawa.
ME: Why there have been enough tries. There was Riverdale on CBC which ran for two years but it should have been every weeknight hammocked right behind Coronation Street and it would have succeeded. There have been weekly attempts like CTV's Montreal based Mount Royal. And CBC tried with a clone of Dallas set in Calgary but trouble was it had to be filmed in Toronto because of costs. There was a daily soap that ran on Global and was syndicated in the U.S titled High Hopes. And it deserved a better fate than cancellation after two seasons.
+ "There must be TV shows out there in reruns that you have become addicted to, right?" H.B., Halifax.
ME: I never watched CSI but now that it runs nightly on E! I have become an addict. Don't forget that it counts as Canadian content since the Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis manufactured it. The stories are often over the top but production values make it seem so expensive. Another one I never watched is Bones which strangely reruns these days on GUSTO.
+"And your biggest beef about Canadian TV?" E.J., Pickering.
ME: How hard it is to watch some of the great Canadian TV shows of the past. Like CBC's The Beachcombers which remains locked up in the CBC vaults in Mississauga. I'd love for CBC to revive Front Page Challenge which I think could be a big hit all over again. And CTV should seriously consider reviving Headline Hunters. But I also have a friend who years for the boxed set of Police Surgeon (shot in T.O. so go figure. Another friend wanted to buy a DVD copy of the TV flick Getting Married in Buffalo Jump starring Wendy Crewson and finally bagged a DVD copy --from an American distributor.
There --that's all the emails I care to answer today.
Sunday, April 29, 2018
The brilliant new BBC-TV documentary series House Of Saud answers each and every question you may ever have had about that troubled Middle East kingdom.
You can catch the first hour Tuesday at 9 on TVOntario. Next Tuesday there's the second hour with the finale on Tuesday April 15. Got that?
It is an astonishing project and one that is compulsively viewable.
And it all starts not in Saudi Arabia but in a small, isolated village in Bosnia --we can see torn flags of jihadists-and we come to understand the impact of the Saudi wealth and political ambition.
For the rebels in Bosnia were funded by Saudi money.
And 17 of the 19 perpetrators of 8/11 were Saudis.
And the caliphate in Syria was nourished by Saudi support.
So we can see the importance of director Michael Rudin's three-hour masterpiece which has no dull spots at all.
And, remarkably, Rudin was refused permission to film inside the kingdom --all the people he interviews lived elsewhere.
And the scissors and pastiche recreation of events is so well done I can't think of any advantage of actually going to Mecca.
Rudin's film explains brilliantly the close contact between the Saudi family and supporters of the conservative Islamic traditions known as "Wahhabism".
The newsreel clips show U.S. Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump all doing due diligence in reinforcing ties to the kingdom --the ties seem to be fraying badly especially in Syria.
Rgere are great shots of arms being unloaded in the dark in Jordan to be transported across the border to rebel groups in Syria.
Episode Three is, I think, the best of all, an absorbing portrait of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
We've already seen how his crackdowns on corruption have even affected family members.
Or are these measures merely a way of extending his power and eliminating potential.
This hour looks at the excesses of the royal family particularly in London.
His social reforms include allowing women for the first time to drive cars.
But the number of state executions of political dissidents is way up.
And the Saudis are accused of using all the modern software techniques to trap potenrtial opponents --half the country's Twitter accounts are controlled in some by by the state sewcutity agency.
Some British critics have charged this series whiewashed the royal family.
I felt differently --there is the charge the Saudis saw weaknesses in the Syrian regime and tried to exploit that --Syria's regime is allied with the Saudi enemy Iran and both side have been pumping arms into the conflict.
Ithink the term is "nuanced". Bin Salman can only go so far and his passion for French chateaux and the better things in life might mean he covets the wealth of his relatives.
With oil prices slipping the kingdom may be in for tough days ahead and the younger generations seem thirsty for major changes the royal family may not be able to grant.
All in all here is one of the best documentaries of the TV year and certainly must-see TV.
THE HOUSE OF SAUD'S NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE IS ON TVONTARIO TUESDAY MAY 1 AT 9 P.M. FOLLOWED BY EPISODES ON MAY 8 AND MAY 15.
MY RATING: ****.
Saturday, April 28, 2018
I'm not sure how many times I interviewed Bill Cosbu.
Remember in the 1980s he was riding high as America's biggest and best TV dad.
I was certainly around when a nervous Cosby net the TV critics in Los Angeles for the first time as star of The Cosby Show.
The jokes that day were all about parenthood and how he was going to play a middle class doctor Cliff Huxtable who just happened to be black.
He certainly seemed sweet that day and in top form in repartee. I remember he kept kidding Ann Hodges from the Houston paper who was sitting next to me for her thick Texan brawl.
But nobody knew if he could actually bring it off.
His last series was a NBC variety series and it had flopped big time.
That day Cosby said he was going to shoot the series in New York which was one difference. He'd hand picked his cast including Phylicia Rashad and he wanted genuine family problems to be encountered.
The rest is history.
The Cosby Show saved NBC from a downward spiral in the ratings.
It made Cosby very big in TV circles and he soon spun off another series A Different World.
He'd created the show with the best of talent including Canadian writer Earl Pomerantz.
Attending the tapings were wonderful to behold --so smoothy created and filled with genuine talent.
Cos got honorary degrees all over the place and even finished a PhD on his own.
When I interviewed Robert Culp during the same press tour Culp was filled with praise his I Spy co-star telling me " Bill Cosby has it all."
Well, Cosby has been ruined --any idea of a comeback for the disgraced 80-year old comic seems totally impossible.
And here's the question people ask me: "What happened?"
One clue, I think. came with the roadside murder of his beloved son Ennis Crosby.
Ennis was shot in the head by an 18-year old in a failed robbery attempt --.
It was in the early hours of January 16,1997, that young Cosby pulled off California;s Interstate 405 and while attempting to fix a tire was shot in the head.
The outpuring of support from friends was massive but I believe Cosby was never the same again.
This was his tipping point.
It, of course, does not excuse his outrageous behavior in the least.
And several people have asked why Cosby would drug these women when he coul;d have picxked up paid escorts anytime.
In the same time frame Tom Brokaw of NBC has been accused of inappropriate behavior but many of the women he worked with at the network have come to his defence.
And TVO's Styeve Paikin has been cleared asfter accusations of inappropriate behavior.
We live in a New World Order but I'm still wondering why Cosby did all this and did he think with his huge pop status he was above the law?
Friday, April 13, 2018
So there I was at Toronto's Varsity cinema watching the briliant new American movie Chappaquiddick and marveling at how U.S. movie makers dramatize the best and worst moments in their political history.
I felt the same way watching the brilliant The Post with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.
And then the Brits got in the act with Darkest Hour and Gary Oldman's Oscared turn as Winston Churchill.
It was Prime Minister Mackenzie King who said Canada has too much geography and not enough history.
In terms on movies and TV King was right.
I tried to think of Canadian contributions.
And the only recent one I could come up with was CBC-TV's The Road To Confederation which ran a few seasons back.
The CBC brass hated it and without proper promotion it died in the ratings.
And that was the end of Canadian history--at least for now.
Way, way back, of course, there was Bill Hutt as Sir John A. Macdonald in the CBC TV version of Pierre Berton's The National Dream
And it was followed by miniseries on Laurier and Riel.
One veteran Canadian TV producer tells me that of he can't presell a TV property to the lush U.S. market then he's not going to bother at all.
Recently, I checked the local video store and asked what was the most requested CANADian properties not yet seen on DVD.
"This week I've had enquiries about Beachcombers, the CTV series ENG, and Front Page Challenge," she told me.
:I did a bit of investigating and was told it would cost too much to buy the DVD rights to these shows sop they lie in the vaults."
Well, I've got an idea: start up a Canadian TV blog for all these shows.
It would involve opening up the CBC TV vaults in Mississauga but the money made could be distributed among the talent and the actual owners of the rights.
Think of it! The only time Dame Edith Evans did The Importance Of Being Earnest for TV it was for CBC in Toronto.
Mary Pickford's only TV appearance was back in her hometown in 1966 as the myastery guest on Flashback.
What about Sean Connery as Macbeth --this one has been revived but once and co-stars Zoe Caldwell as Lady Macbeth.
That's it --a Canadian version of Netflix --I can see it now.
A reader asks what popular TV shows I secretly binge watch.
Well, one is Bones which I'd never watched and which runs on GUSTO all over the dial.
It's funny for a mystery, well cast and compulsively viewable.
Another is CSI which fills up the holes in the schedule of E!
Why? Because it strangely counts as Canadian content --since Toronto based Alliance Alliance funded it.
Another is Love It Or List It --the only Canadian show I can think of that spawned both U.S. and U.K. versions.
Escape To The Country is another one --why no Canadian version of this British perennial?
Sunday, March 18, 2018
So here I am at Sunday Brunch on the Danforth with three of my very best sources in the Canadian TV business: a veteran actress, a reliable publicist and one of the most prolific TV producers in the business.
ME: I believe we're witnessing the dismantling of the Canadian TV business.
PRODUCER: Oh, you're so right. Ratings are in decline as everyone stampedes to Netflix which has no Canadian content requirements. That means there are incentives for local broadcasters to drop their requirements as well. So both Rogers and Shaw have shuttered their local community channels. And I'm hearing they want the CRTC to drop all Canadian content requirements for next season.
ACTRESS: The irony is is we're in a bit of a boomlet for Canadian TV dramas. I thought Frances Drake was very watchable and I also like CTV's midseason series Cardinal. There's always Murdoch Mysteries. Despite all the impediments quality Canadian dramas still appear. But I say "More please!"
'PUBLICIST: One problem is the decline of print outlets to advertise our wares. TV critic Bill Harris of The Toronto Sun was eased into retirement --but for years he was forbidden to write up quality Canadian documentaries.
ACTRESS: There's a lot of work here --many American TV series shoot here as well as U.S. movies and they always treat us well.
ME: What's the biggest failure of Canadian TV right now?
ACTRESS: The failure of never having afternoon Canadian soaps. I see you're laughing but it is a great training ground for younger talent. We did have Riverdale for a few years but it should have run daily --that was needed to pick up viewers. But it's far cheaper for Canadian networks to buy U.S. soaps at dirt cheap prices.
ME: So far I'm not at all a fan of the new, revamped CBC National news.
PRODUCER: It's a disaster. A bunch of very nice people sitting around chatting. That went out with the advent of CNN which uses panels of critics barking at each other. But CBC doesn't want to provoke controversy so this soft sell approach is used. And ratings have plunged.
PUBLICIST: I'm so old I remember when CBC-TV's dictionary definition of a hit was 1.5 million viewers. Some nights The National is down to under 300,000. For the whole nation!
ME: Did you know at one time CBC wanted to cancel the venerable series The Nature Of Things--on its 50th anniversary--but at the last moment the Corp thought again and reversed that. And NOT is one of the diamonds of the CBC's current shaky weekly programming .
ACTRESS: I get roles in big U.S. movies shot here but I'm always in the background--and I'm always asked why I never went to Hollywood. Well, I did several times, had a few gigs and it gave me an instant cachet with Canadian producers once I came home. Yes, it's very colonial but I got work here because I'd worked there.
PRODUCER:I notice in Britain there are a million disconnects every year as people ditch the TV set tax they pay there and stampede to Netflix and I can see that tipping point starting here today as more viewers just click out Canadian TV and turn to Netflix which has no Canadian shows most of the time.
BAWDEN: I was surprised talking to a Grade 6 class across the street that although they appeared ultra bright they had little knowledge of Canadian history. This year the Brits have given us Darkest Hour and Dunkirk. No such movies exist for Canadian kids to digest.
ACTRESS: I recently suggested CBC revive Front Page Challenge with modern personalities and I was laughed at. But look at the History Channel! Where are the Canadian stories?
ME: People used to ask me if any Canadian TV series spawned foreign shows. And I'd say The Plouffes actually pawned the short lived Viva Valdez on U.S. TV. But now there's an American version of Love It Or Leave It and now there's a U.S. version as well. And the Canadian HGTV series Property Virgins also moved to the U.S.
PRODUCER: Being so close to the U.S. has its disadvantages. My dad bought one of the first TV sets in 1950 in Etobicoke and the antenna was tuned to the Buffalo stations as CBC didn't even some on until 1952. We in Canada lost the TV wars even before we had TV.
ME: When I did a story on Juliette she sent me a stuffed white rat she named :Jim:"--she hated the story. But CBC decided she was getting too big and they had a no-stars policy so they cancelled her for a folksinger.
ME: But Margaret Atwood is the new great nobelist getting TV exposure.
PRODUCER: And more power to her. There have been two TV versions of Jalna --both bombs. I'd like to see more Atwood but also Mazo de la Roche!
ACTRESS: Now that we've solved what ails with Canadian TV let's order desert!
Saturday, March 17, 2018
As soon as I spotted the credits for The Nature Of Things latest documentary The Science Of Magic I knew I had to order a screener.
Because Donna and Daniel Zuckerbrot have produced some pretty magical TV hours from Dai Vernon: The Spirit Of Magic to The Houdini Code.
And I was right --today's TV hour only lasts 42 minutes --the rest gets reserved for commercials--but in that very tinetime frame they've covered many bases regarding modern magicians and their craft.
"The challenge was getting everything in without seeming to be rushed," David Zuckerbrot is telling me on the phone.
The thesis is that magic has become the latest sounding board for investigative scientists in fields of cognition and neurobiology.
We get a tour with one of Canada's master magicians, Julie Eng, as she visit McGill University's Jay
Olsen who uses magic in experimental psychologyu.
In one bizarre segment patients are taken through hospital caverns and into a non functioning MIR machine where they experience all sorts of tingling --unusual because it all comes from suggestion as the machine no longer works.
UBC professor Ronald Rensink shows us experiments in"change blindness" --how a small distraction can "blind" a driver to an oncoming speeding train.
"Yes, we did a lot of traveling" is how Zuckerbrot describes it --next stop is London England for a meeting of the Science and Magic Association where the magician obligingly distracts the eye movements of his audience.
Julie Eng remains a star magician as far as I'm concerned --her father ran a magic shiop in Victoria and she directs the society Magicana which is dedicated to the study of magic as a performing art.
I was most impressed when people on the street were influenced to chose the card the magician wanted --we watch the show to see how.
We're shown that our eyes don't see everything --usually we can only focus on one object at the same time.
Resnick says "Our intelligent brain creates our own version of reality." To me that is the essence of magic.
And The Zuckerbrots are such master film makers (for Reel Time Images) that while they do show trickery there are also genuine moments of contemplation. This was a learning experience for me and I felt almost like a participant.
What I realized is that magic can help us in our lives.
Sure, some of the tricks I've been watching since I used to visit the Magic Room at Eaton's downtown Toronto department store in the 1950s.
And I wondered if the Zuckerbrots used magic in being able to cram so many ideas and venues into their hour --was there magic involved or was it simply seamless editing?
And, finally, The Science Of Magic truly stands as the pilot for a possible short form CBC mini-series on magic --that's what I'm proposing. So how about it CBC?
And in a year of declining ratings for so many favorite Canadian TV series the truly ageless Nature Of Things stands almost alone for staying completely true to its original mandate of challenging us and never pandering.
THE SCIENCE OF MAGIC PREMIERES ON CBC-TV'S THE NATURE OF THINGS SUNDAY MARCH 18 AT 8 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
Here I am locked in winter with the snowploughs outside and the howling wind shaking the windows.
I don't mind at all --the power has even been off for several frigid hours.
When everything clicked back on I clicked my DVD to play the three first episodes of the new documentary series Ageless Gardens and this one is a real winner.
You can catch the premiere on Vision TV Monday night at 9.m.
The press release tells us "It is commonly known that gardening is a good for us."
So is the act of watching gardening TV series.
I've virtually given up on seeing anything relating to gardening on the badly titled HGTV.
So I'm turning to Ancient Gardens directed by veteran Ian Toews for Vision TV (or is it Zoomer TV, I'm not certain).
I watched the first three episodes in one go and was ready for more.
In fact, I,think I'll re-watch all three during the next snow storm predicted any day from now.
The three I saw all have imaginative titles: Healing Plants, Therapeutic Gardens, The Wild Garden.
I'm on the cusp of Baby Boomdom and now contemplating the serenities of old agedom.
And my current Toronto garden is a mess although one bush imported with my grandparents from Yorkshire in 1912 still blooms steadily every year.
Visually, this is the most gorgeous series of the new TV season. But it's more than pretty pictures but a rapture about how gardening offers therapeutic factors in health and well being as we age.
In the first half hour gardening doyenne Marjorie Harris shows how important gardening is to one's mental fitness --she shows how she lives off her huge garden simply by looking out her house's gigantic picture window.
We visit with an indigenous medicine woman who knows how nature's herbs can be harvested to help with various ailments.
There's also a visit with a sculptor who has been at the gardening business for 70 years.
And I wish I'd taken down the ingredients for a nature baked cookie guaranteed to solve insomnia.
I found the second episode (premiering Feb. 19) to be even more important.
Therapeutic Gardens takes us to B.C. hospitals where aged patients are encouraged to keep small gardens in and around where they live.
The hospital garden helps them relax and think of the act of producing new plants rather than worrying about their declining energy levels.
The 93-year old retired nurse who uses her garden to combat stress -this is a wonderful portrait.
But I think I liked Episode 3 The Wild Garden best of all.
We follow a restaurant chef and friend who forage for wild mushrooms and find a staggering number of different varieties.
Sisters-in-law look for special plants for the herbal teas they can make.
There's even a champion gardener who rescues wild plants needed to sustain wildlife.
Of course I immediately wanted to toddle off to my back yard and start gardening but the snow drifts art my door just wouldn't go away.
I felt better just watching these three episodes. Think how I'd feel if actually gardening at bit.
Veteran Ian Toews produced and directed and shot it with his usual care- -he's made a model of a series that moves briskly and is packed with information.
AGELESS GARDENS PREMIERES ON VISION TV MONDAY FEBRUARY 12 AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ***1/2.
Saturday, February 10, 2018
In the brilliant new documentary No Stone Unturned ace director Alex Gibney tells us he stumbled into this true story while making another film about the World Cup soccer matches in 1994.
The details are precise: on June 18, 1994, in a very small pub in Northern Ireland a group of men were watching the match on the telly when two men came in the front door and shot to death six innocent people.
What Carney has done is not only recreate that event with all its brutality but ruminate on the massacre and why it remains unsolved to this day although the British government believes it knows the identities of the killers.
You can catch this four star production in its North American premiere on TVONTARIO Saturday night at 9.
I couldn't stop watching because Gibney is telling a true story and unraveling layers and layers of concealment.
The killings happened more than 24 years ago but as eye witnesses relate each and every incident the incident seems as vivid as yesterday.
The six victims of the Loughinisland massacre were ordinary folk and simply enjoying a night out when the masked killers sprayed the pub from a Czech-made automatic weapon.
We get what are victim statements from the relatives who calmly relate the state of the country --a civil war was ongoing between militant Catholics and Protestants.
And police had a clear idea who were the killers almost from the outset.
But evidence was either deliberately mislaid or destroyed and no one has ever been charged.
Gibney sets the scene brilliantly giving us a detailed dissection of the state of race relations between the two warring factions.
The Troubles had been bubbling forth for decades and over 3,000 people had been killed. The World Cup might have been a unifying moment after so much bloodshed.
In a strange way Gibney's film is beautiful: the stark images of the green countryside are intersperced with footage of the riots and the random killings.
We see even young children play acting with their toy machine guns and bloody faced spectators being led away by police after senseless bombings.
Gibney sets the scene that fateful night --June 128 1994 as Ireland played Italy at the World Cup and he takes us inside the Heights Bar, a very obscure pub in this County Down village as patrons watched the game live from New Jersey.
Gibney brilliantly mixes archival footage with remembrances of survivors and relatives of the slain pub members --the oldest was a darling old man of 87.
Many have been emotionally scarred for life. But just as shocking is the investigative work showing the British government pretty soon knew the identities of the killers but never acted because of polkitical considerations.
Gbney's reasons for this stonewalling can't be revealed here --you'll understand by watching this densely textured profile of a village that has never quite been the same decades after that fateful night.
NO STONE UNTURNED HAS ITS NORTH AMERICAN TV PREMIERE SATURDAY FEBUARY 10 ON TVO AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
It was always a joy interviewing the Canadian TV star Donnelly Rhodes.
The Canadian TV star died Monday after a brave battle with pancreatic cancer.
We first met up in 1973 when I was TV critic for The Spectator on the set of a fine but short lived CBC cop show titled Sidestreet --Rhodes starred opposite a friend of mine Jonathan Welsh.
But there he was back in Canada because "I like to eat and I'm still bullish on Canadian TV. One of these days we'll get it right."
But Rhodes and Welsh only lasted the first year--in typical CBC fashion the series got monthly makeovers before expiring two seasons later.
Rhodes was already a TV veteran--in the Sixties he'd been what he termed "a male starlet" on the Universal lot where he guested on such hit series as Marcus Welby, The New Perry Mason, Here Come The Brides.
"I even had a bit in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, blink and you miss me," he jokingly told me.
Rhodes, born in Winnipeg in 1937, had started his acting career at Canada's National Theatre School where he met and married the actress Martha Kathleen Buhs who took Rhodes' last name Henry.
"I then decided to use my middle name name Rhodes to further complicate matters. My brother Tim Henry is also an actor but he kept the original name..
Rhodes' biggest hit show was Danger Bay which ran for 122 episodes over five seasons (1985-1990).
"I enjoyed it tremendously. Loved those kids --Christopher Crabb and Ocean Helman. And we taught valuable ecological lessons. And it was always the number one rated series on the Disney channel."
There are rumors from time to time that the series may be rebooted as The New Danger Bay.
Other shows Rhodes starred in include The Heights (1992), Street Legal (as R.J. Williams), Da Vinci's Inquest (as Leo Shannon), Battlestar Galactica (Dr. Sherman Cottle).
The last credit I have for Rhodes is the TV series Legends Of Tomorrow in 2016.
I remember Rhodes once telling me: "I prefer working in my own country. But sometimes this is not possible. I deliberately left The Young And The Restless because I feared I'd get lazy playing the same character day after day.
In recent years Rhodes battled cancer and died at Baillie Hospice in Maple Ridge, British Columbia.
"To be a working actor you must accept a lot of inferior assignments.," he told me. "But I treated each assignment with the same enthusiasm and intensity. Then along will come a Danger Bay or a Soap and everything seems worthwhile again. I never courted stardom. To be part of an successful ensemble cast was always my goal."
Friday, January 12, 2018
"There have been several touching documentaries on Alzheimer's victims," filmmaker Cynthia Banks is telling me on the phone.
But she wanted to look at the people who have to look after them often for long periods of time.
"My mother, Phyllis, started the ball rolling in 2016 when she phoned me for help. When I got to the hospital my dad was tied down to the bed and extremely agitated. And for the first time I watched this strong woman crying. She'd always been the most resilient in my family."
Thus began the journey that filmmaker Banks turned into the remarkable personal account The Caregivers' Club which premieres on CBC-TV POV Sunday night at 9pm.
Says Banks "We live in an increasingly aged population. More and more of us will wind up needing care but there just isn't the support system available.And the funding? Where will to come from?"
I first met Banks when she was a producer at The Journal.
And later she series produced that fine CBC-TV series Life And Times which I wish were still running, it was a fine piece of Canadiana.
Her last TV documentary was one of the year's best: 2015's Reefer Riches which accurately forecast the current Canadian debate over the legal marijuana issue.
"We should have sold that everywhere but documentaries about marijuana were a glut on the market right then. but people still want to talk to me about it."
Now comes the long anticipated The Caregivers' Club.
"You know I got frustrated thinking I'll have to get another mortgage on my house to finance it," she laughs. "But that's the harsh reality of the system."
As Banks studied the situation she found there are 25,000 new cases of dementia reported each year--there'll be a 66 per cent increase over the next decade or so.
"I know I was completely unprepared for my new role as caregiver. How mom had coped for a decade I simply do not know --she was amazingly resilient."
And Banks like all caregivers had to learn there was no turning back --the course of the illness is slow and resilient.
I'm not giving away too much by saying one of the primary caregivers dies during a much needed vacation.
That scene affected me most because until then there was hope in that particular story line.
Banks said it took her a long time to film the varying story lines. "I certainly didn't want to be intrusive. But the more I explored the topic the more I felt the need to continue filming.
"I can't think of a moment when I was asked to turn the camera off. Because by then the people I was profiling trusted me to do the right thing."
In The Caregivers Club we become friends with three outstanding caregivers--Dominic. Karen and Barbara.
"All three are connected to Baycrest Health Services in Toronto and the outstanding occupational therapist Nira Rittenberg is always there to offer her professional support. It's a remarkable program but not available to the many dementia cases in rural areas.
"My idea was to profile these stories over a year so I never knew what was going to happen. I was the observer--I simply hoped these people would mostly forget I was there.
The story of Welland caregiver Karen Gillespie and her husband Jack is remarkable--he was diagnosed with dementia in 2009--but it was Karen's resiliency that I found outstanding.
"I'm not sure this is the best one I've done. That's for you critics to decide, but it was the most personal and emotional.
"It was important to respect all these families and show their collective courage. And I hope I've done that."
And I want to add this personal plea from Banks: "Why aren't the political decision makers listening to the constituents and professionals who know that money has to be put into home care relief? We are in a caregiving crisis in this country. We must demand public policy that makes politicians listen to what is needed."
THE CAREGIVERS CLUB DEBUTS ON CBC-TV' SUNDAY JANUARY 14 AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.
Thursday, January 11, 2018
"I suppose more people will be watching," laughs veteran director Robin Bicknell whose compelling new documentary Ice Bridge premieres on CBC-TV's The Nature Of Things Sunday night at 8.
Bicknell spent 25 days over a longer period filming on location veteran archeologists trying to determine whether Ice Age peoples came to North America from Europe via a land bridge.
I watched the hour just before controversy enveloped the project via an incendiary story in The National Post.
"Actually. it's not very controversial at all," says Bicknell whose recent credits include the 2015 series
Battle Factory and the 2012 documentary Curse Of The Axe.
With Ice Bridge Bicknell merely follows the archeological evidence that highly trained Ice Age hunters termed Solutreans may well have migrated across a gigantic ice bridge from Europe to North America.
Solutrean tribes inhabited much of France and Spain 20,000 years ago and were responsible for the daring cave paintings that documented their way of life.
Whether or not they were an advanced sea faring people who could traverse the northern Atlantic with its gigantic storm situations is another problem altogether.
"We show both sides of the argument," says Bicknell. Indeed, she gives the dissenters ample time to argue impassionately.
The thesis has been advanced for 20 years by American anthropologists Bruce Bradley and Dennis Stanford.
We visit them on a monumental dig at Chesapeake Bay --nothing they've so far discovered has been demonstrated to the entire satisfaction of the academic community.
On this particular day we see them finding implements that could only have been made by Solutreans --the cure of the blade and the thinness are remarkably similar.
The archeological community has long been incensed by these rogue researchers ---we all know that there was a migration from Asia across a land/ice bridge during the last Ice Age of about 14,000 years ago.
Does that mean that Solutreans couldn't have reached North America's eastern shores?
"We cover those who are proper skeptic," Bicknell tells me. "Their opposition remains the dominant position.
She very deliberately did not give any time to any white racist theories emanating from the Solutrean theory. She says the issue of racism is completely ignored which belongs to another documentary.
Bicknell's story is an developing detective saga --there's the discovery of charcoal fragments in the top soil which is carbon dated to about 20.000 years ago.
"We got there just in time as a big chunk of the cliff goes into the sea. Soon erosion will have entirely wiped out this important site."
Bicknell says the idea Solutreans were European is in itself flawed --their ancestors came from the Middle East.
One highlight has an elder in the Huron-Wendat people who brings 40 teeth to be analyzed and the marker haplogroup X was found in three of 40 samples.
Whether this proves they have Solutrean ancestors as against those who crossed the Bering Srrait remains open for more debate.
Bicknell's documentary is filled with beautiful and dynamic images and has already caused robust debate. ahead of its premiere.
It may have provoked more controversy than she could ever have imagined.
But within the space of a TV hour it's jam packed with enough human drama and academic passion to keep us all watching--and wondering.
ICE BRIDGE PREMIERES ON CBC-TV'S THE NATURE OF THINGS SUNDAY JANUARY 14 AT 8 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.
Sunday, January 7, 2018
We lost a lot of great talents I'd interviewed in 2017. Here's my personal salute to some of them:
MARY TYLER MOORE I first encountered at the MTM Studios in 1972 during a rehearsal break on her award winning CBS sitcom. She said I could interview her as long as I did the ballet stretching exercises she did every lunch break! She died after decades of battling diabetes at 80.
RICHARD HATCH I first met on his series Streets Of San Francisco. And later I re-interviewed him on the set of Battlestar Galactica. He was 71.
BARBARA HALE I met in Toronto when she and co-star were making the first Perry Mason TV movie. She was 89.
RONY ROSATO I first knew in his SCTV days and later on Saturday Night Live. He was 62.
ADAM WEST I knew from TV guest appearances. He was far more than Batman, a great comedic actor, He was 89.
DELLA REESE I knew from various TV appearances. She said her life threatening aneurysm had been successfully operated on in London, Ontario. She was 86.
HEATHER MENZIES I knew from her TV series work but also as the wife of Robert Urich. She was 67.
MONTY HALL I met every time he came to Toronto for his Variety Village telethons but also at his Beverly Hills home. He was 96.
PEGGY CUMMINS I interviewed over the phone to promote the DVD rerelease of her terrific film noir classic Gun Crazy. She was 92.
ROSE MARIE I first met up at CFTO studios when she was a contestant on Definition. She was 94.
BRUCE GRAY I interviewed often--he was terrific in Traders and also Queer As Folk. He was 81.
JOHN HILLERMAN I met on a CBS press tour where he was promoting his star turn on Magnum PI. He was 81.
JIM NABORS I met at a winery in St. Catharines- he was headlining a variety show at Hamilton Place. He was 87.
ROBERT GUILLAUME I met on the terrific sitcom Sports Night. He was 89.
JOHN DUNSWORTH I interviewed for his terrific comedic turn on Trailer Park Boys. He was 71.
HUGH HEFNER I met and interviewed at the Playboy mansion where he showed me his vault of old movie classics. He was 91.
ANNE JEFFREYS I saw at an L.A. party dancing with Cesar Romero when both were over 80. The star of Topper was 94.
I interviewed master character HARRY DEAN STANTON several times. He was 91.
DON OLMEYER I several times in his NBC production office where he showed TV critics the first preview of Seinfeld. He was 92.
JERRY LEWIS I interviewed at the CNE in 1971. He was 91.
DICK GEGORY I interviewed in 1970 as a summer student for The Globe And Mail while he was on a starvation campaign fighting racism. He was 84.
GLEN CAMPBELL I met on the set of The Tommy Hunter Show in 1972. He was 81.
EOBERT HARDY I interviewed several times most notably at CFTO STudios where he was starring in a drama about Winston Churchill. He claimed he loved being in Agincourt. He was 91.
STEPHEN FURST I interviewed on the set of St. Elsewhere. He died at 63 of complications from diabetes.
ROGER MOORE I met when he was starring in the TV series The Persuaders. He was 89.
SKIP HOMEIER I met on a CBS drama and told him of his brilliance aged 12 in starring in the 1944 firilm Tomorrow THe World. He was 86.
MARTIN LANDAU I first met on the set of Mission: Impossible. He was 89.
I first ROBERT OSBORNE. TCM host, at an L.A. and we talked old movies on the phone several times. He was 84.
And I remember interviewing Shelley Berman on the set of a CHCH game show way back in 1971. He was 92.