Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I Remember Rod Coneybeare

So there I was at The Hamilton Spectator in September 1971 and it was my first day on the job as TV critic.
My wonderful first features editor, Alex Beer, said he wanted me to start by surveying the state of children's TV and he even had the headline: "Sunshine Supermen".
And so the next morning I was on the bus to Buffalo to interview Commander Tom whose show for kids ran afternoons on WKBW-TV.
A day or so later I was on another bus --this time to Toronto to interview Bob Homme of CBC's Friendly Giant as well as Ernie Coombs who was Mr. Dressup.
That's my long winded way of saying I first met puppeteer Rod Coneybeare on the set of Mr. Dressup.
First shock: the series shared a studio up Jarvis Street with Knowlton Nash's The National news.
"We have to be out of here by 5 p.m.'' exclaimed Rod with that wry smile of his.
And so I spent a leisurely day on the set of this wonderful show. I saw the castle and the other sets.
I watched an unhurried taping as Homme said the introduction "Look up! Look way up!"
Friendly Giant was one of CBC-TV's greatest ever hits.
And yet Homme resolutely refused any commercialization of the show --there were no dolls or other accoutrements mass produced to sell to the kiddies.
"Guess I'm old fashioned," Homme smiled. "But the show is for kids and not the advertisers. I'll fight any effort at commercialization."
I loved watching the great rapport between Homme and Coneybeare who was the puppeteer and supplied the voices for Jerome the Giraffe andRusty the Rooster.
"I see Jerome as a kind of slow drawling Jimmy Stewart," Coneybeare said with a bit of a smile.
'"One thing we must never do is talk down to the kids. We treat them with kindness and courtesy and it has always worked out very well."
Homme came out of Wisconsin TV in the early 1950 as did his pal Mr. Rogers.
And I was surprised how much rehearsal went into every 15-minute show.
"We teach a little bit, we entertain a bit,"Coneybeare told me that day.
"And it works. By the time they go into Grade One we've lost them as daily viewers. Hopefully we've educated them and sent them on the way to be good and thoughtful to everyone they meet at school."
"I think I have a wonderful rapport with Rod," Homme said with a wide grin. "He's here because he wants to be --it's not for the money."
But the show absolutely had to be finished by 5 p.m.
"After that time they roll off our sets," Coneybeare told me. "And they roll in the set for The National."
Coneybeare also produced a CBC quiz show for a while --Yes, You're Wrong. And in later years he wrote for the Don Adams sitcom Check It Out which was produced in Toronto.
I had one later meeting with Coneybeare in the early1980s.
Toronto's Crest Theatre had been converted into a repertory house for old MGM flicks and I went one  Saturday afternoon to watch The Philadelphia Story.
I found a seat and looked up and there was Coneybeare smiling at me in the next seat.
"You have great taste in old movies," he cracked.
Coneybeare was 85 at his death and leaves his wife and several grown children and grandchildren.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Nature Of Things Continues To Fascinate

So here I am at Ryerson University for the retirement of eminent teacher and filmmaker David Tucker who in his day contributed several outstanding films for CBC's The Nature Of Things.
And gathered around Tucker are other NOT alumnae who are in complete agreement with me that this is one CBC series which has lost none of its lustre.
Just to prove my point I'm telling them I've just previewed another NOT gem which runs on CBC Friday Oct. 18 at 9 p.m. --First Animals, the title alone is intriguing.
This magnificent example of a pioneering NOT documentary was written and co-produced by veteran Andrew Gregg whose work I have been reviewing since his days on CBC's The Journal.
What really excites me about First Animals is that it introduces a possible new CBC star in evolutionary biologist Dr. Maydianne Andrade who teaches at Scarborough College.
The show is introduced as ever by the legendary geneticist Dr. David Suzuki who once posed nude for a cover of Starweek TV guide and at 83 seems as evergreen and vital as ever.
But this one depends on Dr. Andrade's agility as she sprints up a rock formation in B.C., the Burgess  Shale deposit that has been revealing clues to earth's past since the first Smithsonian expedition there in 1909.
We watch the way shale deposits are cracked open to reveal the very first animals who populated this sea 500 million years Ago.
Trapped in the sediment these creatures were perfectly preserved and they are indeed very odd --looking more like willowy plants than actual animals.
Through Dr. Maydiane Andrade's questions to the soft spoken Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron we become involved in this mystery hunt for the very first animals and with one crack a new species is discovered.
I liked Dr. Caron's line "They are staring at us after 500 million years."
It looks huge compared to the other finds --a sort of space ship with a gigantic shell and eyes at the bottom as it plowed the ocean floor for nutrients but also able to peer above for possible predators.
"Filming conditions were arduous," Gregg reports on the phone. "We weren't sure what if anything could be discovered during our shoot but instead we came away with a major finds."
Gregg's approach is to get to know these biologists and become fascinated by their laborious searching.
"We literally hit pay dirt," Gregg reports."It could be a major find as we track the evolution of  first animals."
This one is so well edited and presented it will have you wanting more.
"Well, there is a longer version, 10 more minutes of info," Gregg says.
But the CBC version is masterfully put together. we get to know just enough about Andrade and the senior researcher on the mountain cliff, softly spoken and humorous Jean-Bernard Caron.
Host Andrade is a natural for TV. She knows how to ask the right questions and Gregg admits "Getting those shots is a matter of luck, too, and we were really lucky this time."
There's a side visit to another site in Newfoundland and its even older --some 565 million years ago this was the sea bed. Some of these specimens lack eyes and a gut but they are not plants.
We're then transported to the back research rooms of ROM never penetrated by the public. We see  artists tracing out how this "Spaceship" creature must have navigated through the water.
Through the magic of animation the creatures live again, we see how they could speed through water, how they must have dominated their watery environment."
"It's quite a journey, I agree," laughed Gregg.
The hour also introduces us to a potential new star for future NOT episodes. Dr. Andrade knows how to ask questions and how to involve viewers in her search.
And the best thing about? First Animals?
There isn't a boring second-- it's so expertly and tight edited it will have you wishing for more.
MY RATING: ****.

Monday, September 2, 2019

I Remember Valerie Harper

News that my friend Valerie Harper had died from cancer aged 80 was disturbing but not unexpected.
Harper was battling the strange illness of cancer of the membrane of the brain lining and had several reprieves when she was declared cancer free.
But it reminded me of the wonderful times I had interviewed her at ,length and the warmth and friendship she had always shown me.
Here are highlights of our conversations:
BAWDEN: Here we are at a 1980 dinner at the Century Plaza hotel and you're with your husband fitness expert Tony Cacciotti.  People forget youre an accomplished dramatic actress and the TV movie Shadow Box (1980) must be one of your personal favorites.
HARPER:: It was directed by Paul Newman and looked at thee couples copping with terminal cancer at a hospital retreat. Joanne Woodward and Chris Plummer were one couple, IOIOIOI and Sylvia Sidney were the second and Jimmy Broderick and I played the third. He was a marvellous dramatic actor  (and star of Family) and he succumbed shortly afterwards to cancer and he never told me about it. It must have been so hard for him to be playing sick and actually have cancer but denying it for fear of being fired.
BAWDEN: These opportunities come to you because of your fame as TV's Rhoda.
HAPER: I completely realize that. It's the power of TV. It washes away everything else you've ever done. It's scary but also challenging. I was an unknown before I joined the MTM stock company.
BAWDEN: So how were you hired?
HAPER: By a sage casting director Ethel Winant who had spotted me at Second City improv outings. She called me in. I read for various people with the intent of becoming an eccentric sidekick to Mary Tyler Moore in her new 1970 sitcom and I got it. I wanted to shed few pounds but I was told "Stay large. you can play off that." So I didn't lose weight until the break before the second season.
We already had filmed a batch before we came on the air. The front seats were filled with CBS executives and their wives and everything seemed to point rot a hit from the first taping.
We'd shoot one show at 7 and a second show at 9:30 and from the first episode nothing much was changed. The writers and producers headed by Jim Brooks wrote so well that we didn't have to change a comma. The audiences were enthusiastic but they were invitees so one couldn't be quite sure.
BAWDEN: Remember your first lines?
HARPER: In the premiere episode I  flounce into Mary's apartment where she's unpacking and say "I have to lose 10 pounds by 8:30." And the audience screamed. I thought it was funny in rehearsal but not that funny.
HARPER: Tell me how the structure or hierarchy of the show worked.
'HARPER: Well, it was Mary's show but she never got tough with us on the set. I'm sure she had talks behind the scenes as to what she wanted to achieve. Mary Richards was a transitional figure. She was over 30 but she was unmarried and not divorced --the CBS censor said "No divorcee"! Mary just shrugged, she told me on her first (The Dick Van Dyke Show) the censor had initially balked her wearing  slacks so much.
BAWDEN: Did that make her TV's first feminist?
HAZRPER: Well, the character didn't want to marry at that stage in her life. She wanted a career. Whether or not any of the boyfriends slept over wasn't quite clear.
BAWDEN: How did the week progress?
HARPER: There was a table read on Mondays. Very few lines were cut. Something might be sharpened a bit. Then on Tuesday there was a dress rehearsal, that sort of thing. It became very leisurely with blocking starting on Wednesday and first rehearsals Thursday and we'd do the show on Friday. The success of MTM meant the company boughtt out the old  Republic studios and turned many of the stages into mini theatres for TV sitcoms.
BAWDEN: I remember one MTM party that took place for TV critics and the entire top floor of Chasen's was filled with a star at every take. I got Paul Sands from Friends And Lover, a rare MTM sitcom that didn't ,make it.
BAWDEN: I was listening in to the pre-dinner conversation at this gala and one of my fellow critics was pissed off you really weren't Jewish.
HARPER: I know! I told him it was great acting!I was born in a small town in upstate New York. I'm really not an urban creature at all. And by the way my mom isCanadian. born in Calgary. In fact we're thinking of getting her back there for the 50th anniversary of her graduation from the Calgary School of Nursing. I'm getting excited about that.
BAWDEN: What about your personal relationship with Mary Yyler Moore?
HARPER: What about it? She was my  boss, I'm the employee. Look, we're acting associates and friends. But there's a distancing around Mary. I'd never bother her with trivial matters.
BAWDEN: When they proposed a spin off what was your reaction?
HARPER: I was stunned. Why leave a surefire hit? But they kept pushing and finally in 1974 Rhoda came about and Mary even made an early appearance to help boost the show. You know Rhoda's wedding attracted a near record audiemce. But I was always leery, I thought she was funnier as a single. We ran four years and 110 episodes but spin offs are almost always less popular than the original.
CBS started us off Mondays at 9:30 hammock between Maude and Meduical Center and up against ABC football and NBC Monday night movies and it was a rough slot.
We barely survived--it was too late so CBS plopped us Mondays at 8 before Rhoda and All In The Family and we started to grow.
In 1977 we went Sundays at 8 after 60 Minutes and had high audiences. In 1978 we went on Saturday nights at 8 which was becoming the lowest rated night of the week and we died, just died there.
BAWDEN: But your wedding became a real TV event.
HARPER: I think it got something g like 50 million viewers.But people did not want to see Rhoda happily married. She lost her zing.So I gradually separated from Joe and finally got a divorce and all this was painful and not helpful. And I hated hurting David Groh who is such an accomplished actor. We brought back Nancy Walker as my ma but laughs were infrequent.  All those chefs at CBS had destroyed a sound comedic character and I was relieved it got cancelled. Mary had already closed down her show in 1977.
BAWDEN: But Mary and Rhoda were reunited?
HARPER: In 1980 we joined up for a reunion thingy which was an adult TV movie and not comedy. Not a great idea. People did not like these two as serious. It was a stark reminder they were getting old as we were. It was a bad idea I felt from the first day  of filming. Nobody cares to remember that dud but you.
BAWDEN: Tell me about Valerie.
HARPER:  Here's your scoop for tomorrow's edition. I'm not coming back. I'm not playing second fiddle to a bunch of teenaged boys. No, I won't do it. NBC put us up against the second half hour of Murder She Wrote. So we're a semi-success. But not with this girl. Not now. Not any time.
NOTE: As it turned out Harper came back for one episode and then walked again to be replaced by Sandy Duncan as a new character and with a new title Valerie Family.
Then in 1990 my phone at The Toronto Star was ringing an d Valerie Harper was cooing:"I'm back."
HARPER: It's called The Office and we're on CBS directly opposite guess what show --Valerie's Family. And on my show I have a grand gal LuAnne Ponce and she's the sister of Danny Ponce who I worked with before leaving. So the talks over breakfast in that house must be very interesting. I'm the secretary for packaging company and I've been there for 19 yearns Dakin Matthews is my inept boss and comedy ensues.
But both series crashed in the ratings fairly quickly.
I had one more phone call when Harper guested on Hot In Cleveland in 1990
HARPER: It's as close to a reunion show as we'll ever get, Mary is battling illness but she's still super disciplined. It was so wonderful just to see her and Cloris and Betty White and the whole thing was shot very quickly because we're veterans after all.
My disease is in remission. I'm a fighter first and foremost. In 2010 I played Talullah Bankhead on Broadway. I've done Dancing With The Stars --I started as a dancer. I'm grateful for the friends I've made and the TV shows I've been in. Rhoda I think of as my best friend, she's helped me get a slice of the acting pie and I ran with it and I'm still running as fast as I can.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Now Let Us Praise Sean McCann

Sean McCann was one of my favourite Canadian TV character actors.
His death at 83 although not unexpected creates a huge void in the Canadian TV acting community.
I guess I first met and interviewed him on the set of Night Heat, a series that was made for CTV and for CBS late nights.
He was always good, sometimes great.
Born in Detroit he gravitated to Toronto after deciding  a career in acting was what he wanted.
Like all Toronto based actors he supported American stars who were making TV movies in Toronto simply because it was cheaper.
When I asked McCann about it he simply shrugged and said "That's the reality of the situation. Every job helps pay the bills."
But he understood when younger Canadian actors set off for L.A. simply because they were tired of supporting American stars.
"That's the economics," he told me. And he'd say for the record the private networks including CTV and Global were simply not living up to their regulations dictating 50 per cent of prime time content had to be Canadian.
'"If I have to do Littlest Hobo, then so be it," he said with a laugh." And let me tell you the dogs used on that show are very professional."
But there was one time in 1983 when McCann proved his mettle.
He starred in Don Brittain's sizzling TV biography of our most successful prime minister, Mackenzie King.
Sure McCann got all the ticks right. He also dug deep to show the man's humanity--it was a masterful portrait.
And yet because of cruel politicking McCann never even got a Gemini nomination.
"Everything is politics," McCann told me with a laugh when he phoned me to thank me for the column. "I'm sure I ticked off the establishment with my warts and all portrayal."
"I was interested in what made him tick. weird he may have been but he won campaign after campaign, even diminishing his adversary Arthur Meighan who was considered the brainiest PM of all time."
I remember meeting up with McCann in on the set of  the 1985 TV movie remake of Anne Of Green Gables. And there he was at it again in the 2016 TV remake --but in a different role.
When I asked McCann he simply shrugged and said "That's Canadian TV for you."
And yet he survived and prospered for many decades giving finely textured miniature portraits that linger in the mind.
And already I'm missing the guy.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Place Of Tide And Time Is Remarkable

Watching the current trends in Canadian TV can be hazardous to the health of a veteran TV critic
I started my career in 1970 when CBC was fairly bursting with arts specials, dance profiles directed by the great Norman Campbell, Canadian TV movies and those ward winning "Raskeymentaries".
All are gone these days as the "Canadianness" of Canadian TV palpably recedes.
And then along comes a brilliant special A Place Of Tide And Time which is all about what it really means to be a Canadian.Titled A Place Of Tide And Time takes us to the Quebec village of St. Paul's River which has been around since the days of Jacques Cartier.
But the  whole English speaking community has been in retreat ever since limitations on cod fishing were imposed on the community more than two decades ago.
This brilliant profile of a people who simply refuse to retreat is amazing --the images are so stark and imposing, the citizens refusing to give over to self py.
There is real concern the village may eventually have to be abandoned.
We visit with the few teenagers --the high school only has seven graduates this year and these young people can sense there's no future for them.
They also know how special their environment is.
We get to know their parents and the other "oldsters" who have never known any other way of life.
There's fishing for crab but that is highly seasonal.
Tourists come through in the summer but the town's museum is no longer being funded by the provincial government.
By the film's end, we come to care for these special people;e and understand the reluctance to leave a community where everyone helps each other and there is no crime.
There are two directors listed: Aude Heroux-Levesque and Sebastien  Rist and they have managed to gain the confidence of their subjects who emerge as charming, brave and determined to stay just as long as possible in their own homes.
One Bonus: There's a first class salmon river that could be exploited for fishing parties.
We see them gathering at the convenience store, trying to think of new ways to exploit this unique way of life. I have a feeling there's absolutely no crime here which seems amazing these days.
We see how the high school has diminished to just a handful of kids who all say they'll have to move just to survive. And, yet, there still is a graduation ceremony.
We get inside these wonderful people, become involved at this collective show of courage, hope that against all odds they'll not only survive but  somehow prevail.
And all of a sudden I'm feeling less bleak about Canadian TV's future .
MY RATING: *****.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

CTV Looking To The Future

That was quite a performance CTV put Thursday afternoon to an over flood crowd of potential buyers as Canada's largest private network strutted itself.
It was the Annual Fall TV Preview and was as star studded as any I have covered.
The venue was Sony Centre an d there were dozens of stars running around and great gimmicks throughout.
We learned that friendly Mike Holmes and his son and daughter are defecting to CTV.
On a sadder note CTV's fine homegrown drama series Cardinal comes to an end after 14 more episodes.
The biggest challenge for Bell Media which runs CTV and a gaggle of other cable networks is how to balance the requirements of Canadian content requirements with the pricey but very popular U.S. imports.
I remember asking CTV former president Murray Chercover at my first CTV launch in 1970 why it was held at the CTV board room and with only 10 TV critics present.
"My big Canadian shows are Littlest Hobo and Stars on Ice," he said. "You want me to promote those?"
These days CTV can tub thump its ratings achievements and then some.
But 19 cities? Forget that. Most newspapers have dumped their TV coverage altogether and gone for wire copy.
I still say CTV's nightly news at 11 with Lisa LaFlamme is vastly superior to CBC's meandering newscast which often has no focus.
I'm not a fan, however, of the silly morning show. which replaced Canada AM.
Cancelling Canada AM was a huge mistake --here was one of the best known CTV shows around and it was dumped unceremoniously.
It was Canadian TV's first national morning show and one of the identifying markers for CTV. And I know a lot of viewers were unhappy --at 7 a..m. they wanted news and information --not Ben Mulroney chirping around.
But back in 1970 CTV had one channel on the air and that was that.
As TV Critic for The Hamilton Spectator I had 10 channels to cover.
These days the count is well over 100.
CTV is in the middle of rebranding many of its cable companies.
SPACE is becoming CTV SciFi.
The Comedy network becomes CTVComedy Channel.
Gusto becomes CTV Life Channel--guess CTV has forgotten Global once had a Life channel before it was rebranded.
What I really miss from CTV are the superb TV movies it used to make --but TV movies are missing from most networks these days. I'm told they can't be rerun because viewers tape everything these days.
However, CTV has signed a deal with Harlequin to manufacture20 TV movies and that sounds promising.
Up on the Sony Center stage dazzling array of imported stars and Canadian names strutted their stuff. The presentation was magnificent and and showed how positive Bell Media is about its future.
CTV after all gets first crack at the U.S. shows it needs to import and simulcast with the U.S. networks for huge ratings. The shows it turns down turn up on Global or Citytv.
I listened in to the chatter of the ad buyers as they muted on booze and dainties in the lobby and they were impressed. As was I.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Me And Doris Day

I'm  Remembering  Doris Day
I was lucky to share an interview with the legendary Doris Day .
The location was her swank dressing room at Warners' Burbank Studios in 1969
Also present was the ageless TV critic for The New York Daily News, Kay Gardella.
Why would the legendary lady give me the time of the day?
Well, she was having quite a time selling the rights to a Canadian network and figured a little publicity might help.
Here are highlights of our conversation:
BAWDEN: Doris, why have you jumped to a TV series after decades of movie stardom?
DD: Why not? They just aren't making the kind of movies I'd want to star in these days.
JB: I've heard that you turned down the choice role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1968)?
DD: I've heard that story also but nobody ever approached me. I'm not sure I'd do it because Annie Bancroft was so tremendous. They might have asked my late husband Marty Melcher but he never told me.
JB: How does it feel to be on theWarners lot again?
Dd:Painful. All my old co-stars have departed. Ronnie Reagan is in politics these days. Others are in heaven.
Describe your first day on the lot in 1948.
DD: I'd been signed for one movie originally written for Mary Martin --Romance On The High Seas. I only got through it because my co-star Jack Carson helped me overstep of the way. I was so scared I'd never even go to the commissary without Jack. I remember I was in wardrobe one day and Joan Crawford looked me up and down as if to say Who Do You Think You Are.
JB: But you made it.
DD: Barely a few years later and Jack Warner was no longer signing long term deals. I barely made it and I think Virginia Mayo was the last unsigned --she lasted here until 1960.
JB: Is it true you have ordered all the freckles on your TV photographs be erased?
DD: Why not. I hate these freckles.
JB: Doris I see over there a wet bar in your five-room dressing room. What gives?
DD: I have a little nip from time to time. It was my late husband (Marty Melcher) who was the milk drinker.
JB: Criticise today's movies.
DD: It's girls showing their boobs and people screaming dirty words at each other. Is that entertainment. I think suggestion is sexier. When Rock Hudson and I made Pillow Talk (1960) that's all there was --suggestion. And moviegoers ate it up.
JB: You have yet to win an Oscar.
DD I'm in good company.  After Love Me Or Leave Me (1955) premiered Louella Parson wrote a whole column about how I deserved an Oscar as Ruth Eating. But I was too Anna Magmnani beat me to the fifth nomination by a few votes. I did get nominated by Pillow Talk but comedies never win anyway.The actresses I most revere went Oscarless: Irene Dunne, Myrna Loy,. Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard. I'm  in good company. .
JB: But I did see you at the AFI Salute to Jimmy Cagney.
DD: I'd go anything for that man. But I don't usually go to those things. They'll never give it to a singer anyhow. I didn't;t go for Jimmy Stewart or Alfred Hitchcock. I'd rather stay home and read a good book.
JB: Will you ever sing live again --such as at a high class nitery?
DD: Nope. I did that for years as a big band singer. I don't want to repeat myself although there have been some very big offers.
JB: What's next after TV?
DD: Nothing! I want to retire and look after my animals. I bought a small hotel in Pebble Peach where people can take their dogs and cats along with them. Cruelty tp amid,asls is rampant/ It's a disease.
JB: How often do you sing these days?
DD: In the shower every morning. The voice is still there I'm proud to report.
JB: What's your latest movie offer?
DD: It was for one of those horror things. But my aim is bad. If I ran around with a hatchet I might actually hurt somebody. I'm a singer so I can scream with the best of them. But why bother? I stopped doing murder mysteries after Midnight Lace --it made a bundle but I'd lie awake shuddering all night.
 JB: Will you ever sing again  public?
DD: I hope not. I sang for years with those big bands. We'd go by bus all night between stops. I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore.
JB: Clint Eastwood says he sees you in the supermarket at Pebble Beach.
DD: Now if he offered me a western I might think about it. I've never dopamine a western.
JB: What co-stars do you keep in touch with?
DD: I was talking to Lauren Bacall and Kirk Douglas last year. We're the three stars of Young Man With A Horn (1950) and we're all alive and still kicking. That is an accomplishment.
JB" Favourite movie of yours?
DD: On Moonlight Bay (1951) because I was a tomboy in it and I got to sing with the  glorious Gordon McRae. And it was about a large family who struck by each other and I never had that in real life.
JB: Why was the format of your TV series changed after the first year?
DD: Because it wasn't working. I was a mom with two kids in the first year and my fans hated me in jeans. That's all gone, I'm m back in high society with lots of boyfriends my age.

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.