Monday, March 4, 2019

Where Is Canadian TV?





I just spent Sunday night watching three hours of often brilliant documentary reportage.
And once again I wondered: Where the heck is CBC-TV these days.
First up was Fareed Zachara's one hour look at the very bizarre relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
It made for riveting TV because Fareed does not talk down to his TV audience.
But the best was still to come: the first two hours of a new look at the Bush family's political dynasty.
I immediately thought back to CBC-TV's brilliant series The Tenth Decade which looked at the pounding rivalry between prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson.
This  one ran in 1972 and the Sunday night ratings went through the roof for CBC.
There followed a similar look at Pierre Trudeau's decade in politics but Trudeau insisted on so much content control this one seemed fizzled into a series of warm and fuzzy anecdotes.
I do know from a CBC source CBC has another "mini" all ready on Brian Mulroney but a certain scandal postponed it and it has never been seen or heard of since.
But Jean Chretien and Paul Martin are alert and able bodied but CBC doesn't seem to be interested in political documentaries anymore?
Why? Well, CBC does receive %1 billion in public funding after all.
And contrast the way feisty, independent CNN is treating Donald TRump and his scandals with the way CBBC has tip topes all around the first big scandal to have it Justin Trudeau.
It's strange but I never see anything "Canadian" on the HIstory Channel.
Canadian political specials can't be sold abroad because other countries just aren't interested in us.
I still want to see the  Mulroney miniseries which has now been a decade in the making.
Meanwhile I'll be staying home next Sunday night for another chapter of  that remarkable political dynasty --the Bushes.
And this just in: CNN has told me another political mini series Tricky Dick based on guess what U.S. president is coming up starting on March 17.
So what about it CBC?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

I Remember Fay Wray








I'm supposed to be on bed rest after a major operation but a brand new book arrived in the post and I just couldn't stop reading it until the wee hours.
Titled Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir, the book os from Pantheon Press and written by daughter Victoria Riskin.
And I can report it's a must read for anyone interested in Hollywood history.
And I can also report I was proud to be a friend with Fay Wray the Canadian born "Scream Queen" who starred in such classics as King Kong and Mystery Of The Wax Museum.
I first met Miss Wray at the checout counter at Gelson's Supermarket in June 1972.
I was then on my first trip to L.A. as the kidlet TV critic for The Hamilton Spectatir -=-=it was the first week in June and I arrived at the Century Plaza hotel and immediately went across the street to pick up dsome groceries.
There I was standing in line --I was wearing my Carleton University blazer --and there was a tug on my arm and the smartly dressed brunette lady behind me whispered "I'm a Canadian, too."
It was Fay Wray!
She lived across the plaza in a towering high riser with her third husband, famed neurosurgeon Dr. Samndy Rothen berg who worked just across the street at the Century Plaza hotel.
And we retired to a tea shop and talked all afternoon.
That converasation appeared in Leonard Maltin'smovie mafgazine Film FanMonthly and was thestart of a beautiful friendship.
I remember phoning her up when the remake of King Kong came out and her sharp reply: "I am the one and only Ann Darrow."
Over tea that day and later on she'd regale me with stories of working with the likes of Spencer Tracy and Wallace Beery.
But above all she remained a proud Canadian. The gigantic boulder outside the family ranch Wrayland was later transported to L.A. and rested on the lawn of her son Bobby.
The last rune we met in person was back in L.a.  in 1988 when she (aged 81) was promoting her autobiography On The Other HJand and she roared up to the restaurtanmt in her fancy red convertible.
Wray's life and times has been perfectly recorded by daughter Victoria.
Wrtay's second huisband was writer Robert Riskin who scripted most of the great Framnl Capra movies--Victoria finally gives her dad his due place in history.
The stills are wonderful, the stories ring true.
I' was just lucky to go went shopping for supplies that June day in 1972 or I  never would have met the legendary scream queen Fay WEray.



Monday, February 11, 2019

I Answer Your Em-Mails



At the Toronto Star I used to get a flood of letters regarding my columns on TV.
These days there are no letters but emails instead.
So here's a sampling of what's bothering viewers these days:
Dear Jim: I love watching CBB for its extensive coverage of American politics. My question is simply this:" why is CBC News so timid about covering Canadian politics? Mrs. H.K., Thornhill.
This is an easy one. CBC gets a grant of $1 billion a year so why would the Corp try to antagonize Justin Trudeau. The only sparky Canadian TV news show is CTV's nightly news at 11 p.m. hosted by the determined Lisa LaFlamme who knows just when to pop the tough questions.
Dear Jim: When I was growing up I feasted on such CBC kids shows as Mr. Dressup, Friendly Giant and Chez Helene. Now that I'm a mom I cant find anything left? Am I wrong or right? D.J., Hamilton,Ontario.
Dear D.J.: Absolutely right. I remember interviewing Friendly alias Bob Homme and he was adamant he'd never allow any toys to be made in his image. He took his educational duties very seriously.
Dear Jim: I've been trying for years to see CBC's 1962 version  of Pale Horse, Pale Rider directed by Eric Till and starring Keir Dullea. Why is it never shown on TV these days. R.S., Niagara Falls.
Dear R.S.: CBC has a warehouse in Mississauga filled to the overbrimming with classic TV shows it claims can't be shown these days because the copyright has lapsed. In terms of Pale Horses, Pale Rider the dramas pecial can only be shown at TV festivals where it gets standing  ovations. CBC has dozens of such shows and one veteran producer told me CBC is afraid of showing how great it once was compared to its contemporary fare. Biggest CBC hit of all times Beachcombers has never even been out in boxed DVD sets
Dear Jim: I'm sick of watching such American series as CSI on CTV's "E" Channel which are used as filler. Why can't we see such top CTV series as ENG instead of this constant flow of American fare? G.T., Vancouver.
Dear G.T: But CSI counts as 100% Canadian content. Because the series and spinoffs were financed by Alliance Atlantis! I agree ENG was a top show but it never even went out as DVD boxed sets. CBC is currently reviving Street Legal but that one has been in the vaults for so long few people remember it., I fear.
Dear Jim: What happened to Canadian TV movies? R.H., Simcoe.
Dear R.H.: All gone. CTV used to have 10 of these great TV movies a year but found the shows didn't do well in reruns and few of these ever went out on DVD. CBC has also virtually withdrawn from the TV movie field claiming they are too expensive. But some old CBC TV movie  titles do show up on Vision from time to time.
Dear Jim: Can CBC be saved? S.S., Toronto.
Dear S.S.: I say yes but only drastically revised as a northern version of PBS. Young people are completely intolerant of commercials, you see. CBC needs additional funding to become competitive once again.