Friday, May 28, 2010

Another TV Child Star Is Dead

The news that Gary Coleman, the deeply troubled star of Diff'rent Strokes, has died at 42 is not surprising.
Coleman is the latest ex-kiddie star to have lived a pretty horrible adult life after being discarded by the industry he once served.
I only had one encounter with him on the set of his long running NBC TV series ((1978-86).
A group pf TV critics were visiting the set and NBC had provided as a gimmick guest pens with the series logo emblazoned on the sides.
This was 1980 or 1981, I'm figuring, and Coleman snatched one of the pens and started playing with it as any kid would.
But his mother took it away from him and cuffed him on the ears. That's right --infront of the TV critics.
I remember another occasion at a lavish network party where all the NBC stars were ordered to appear.
I got the seat next to Canadian born DF co-star Conrad Bain and he was talking about what an unnatural environment it was to growing children.
Bain didn't think they were getting enough schooling --there were tutors on the set as mandated by the California Education board.
But he wanted his youthful co-stars to have somethomng to fall back on when they were no longer in demand as performing kidlets. He said being famous so young had isolated them from their peers. And he was right. Left on their own in later life and they could not cope.
Bain's premonition came horribly true.
Another DF star, Dana Plato, died of a drug overdose in 1999 at age 34 and just weeks ago her son Tyler Lambert killed himself at age 25 11 years to the day after her tragic demise..
The third kid, Todd Haines, spent years in jail and has only recently been able to say he is free of the demons that once possessed him --drugs and violence.
At another network fete, this once for ABC and the network's fiftieth anniversary, I managed to get at the table occupied by the former kids of Eight Is Enough and heard another batch of horror stories.
These young people were simply cast aside when their series ended in 1981. Some had very bad luck.
The youngest, Adam Rich, was later jailed for breaking and entering before being taken under the wing of star Dick Van Patten.
The girl I sat next to, Lani O'Grady, wound up in a trailer camp in deep isolation and died there in 2001 at 46.
I could go on. Whatever happened to The Walton kids? The young stars of Father Knows Best?
Coleman never hit five feet because of recurring kidney disease. It might have been better had he never became famous because it was that fame that eventually turned around and destroyed him.
TV Fame has proved toxic for a whole host of former child stars whose only fault was they finally grew up and were no longer in demand.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Blu-Ray Version Of Life

So here it is midnight and I'm still watching the just released to Blu-Ray edition of the BBC-Discovery series Life.
The 10-part series from BBC-TV's legendary Natural History Unit was made for Blu-Ray.
The images are sharper, the focus deeper, the panorama more exciting. Sure, I watched much of the original series run when it premiered on Discovery Canada and was properly enthralled.
But can a series get better on Blu-Ray? Life can.
The footage was shot over three years (or 3,000 filming days) at a cost of over $22 million. But there's one area where Discovery Canada's version was better.
Sorry, you folks at BBC, but I much preferred the plummy tones of venerable David Attenborough to those of the ubiquitous Oprah Winfrey who was substituted on the U.S. version which is the one now out on Blu-Ray.
So when I was chatting up executive producer Michael Gunton the other day I rather innocently suggested there should be two narration tracks: Oprah for the Americans and Attenborough for us Canadians.
He said it wasn't possible because the American version is shorter (to allow for commercials) and besides the Winfrey narration contains more physical details.
Gunton did say that advances in video cameras made all sorts of shots possible --shots that he could never accomplish before. And he showed me one: flying fish sailing through the air and back into the water. Their bursts are so fast standard film cameras couldn't capture them but now we can see how their fins work and even their tails advance propulsion.
We also get to see three cheetahs working together to bring down a far larger ostrich. And what's being advertised as the largest gathering of polar bears catches the bears feasting on a beached whale.
Attenborough may be 84 but he's still out in the field and has recently been filming in Canada as well as Antartica. Criticized in recent years for not talking more about global warming and all that means, he's since taken up the cause although not in Life which is as pure a nature series as one could wish for.
And Gunton reports Britain's new Culture minister has singled out Life as one of threee BBC shows he recently enjoyed --as well he should.
Attenborough does appear in the behind the scenes footage. And there are some deleted scenes which presumable were too gory for North American sensibilities. One example: baby seals are gnawed to death by waiting leopard seals, a very bloody confrontation.
The release date is June 1 and it's a perfect high school graduation gift now that I think of it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Remembering Art Linkletter

"Just say in your article I'm Canadian and danged proud of it," laughed Art Linkletter.
He was that kind of guy. "Swell" is the adjective I'd use for one of the giants who virtually invented live TV.
Linkletter and his nearest counterpart Arthur Godfrey came out of radio where they had years of on air experience in making their every word seem spontaneous and very intimate.
"People always think I'm talking directly to them," Linkletter explained. "That's the way I was taught to talk.
"In all my years on Kids Say The Darndest Things I only had one tyke ever cry on camera. I simply wanted them to have a good time."
Linkletter's death at 97 was a long time in coming, I'd talked to him on the telephone about a decade earlier and he wasn't feeling well even then. He sent me an autographed picture and the writing was oh so very wobbly.
When I was at The Spectator in the early seventies I'd caught up with him on a Toronto Street --he was doing commercials for some headache pill, I can't remember the brand. But people stopped to gawk --he was still well remembered.
Linkletter's original radio series House Party debuted on CBS Radio in 1944 and successfully transferred to CBS TV in 1952 (it ran until 1969).
I'd watch it as a kid and anybody could feel that warmth and the great contact with the audience.
Then there was his quiz show People are Funny which started on radio in 1942 and ran on NBC TV from 1954 to 1961.
Linkletter's book of quotes Kids Say The Darndest Things is listed as 25th among the all time best sellers.
Linkletter's naturalness and easy humor seemed to make him the perfect family man.
But in 1969 his daughter Diane, 20, jumped to her death from her sixth floor apartment. Linkletter began a campaign to outlaw LSD but toxicology reports subsequently found no trace elements of LSD in her body.
Son Robert died in a car crash in 1980 and another son Jack who briefly inherited his dad's TV series died of lymphoma in 2007.
Linkletter was born in 1912 (as Arthur Gordon Kelly) in Moose Jaw. His unwed mother allowed him to be adopted when he was a baby and he moved with his new parents to San Diego when he was seven.
His preacher father installed a love of God in him and after graduating from San Diego College in 1934 he went into radio broadcasting.
A wealthy businessman, he owned cattle ranches in Montana and New Mexico, real estate developments and oil and gas wells.
But he never lost his common touch. "Being average has made me a rich man," he chuckled. "Tragedies? I have some of those but I'm still an optimist regarding life."
He's survived by wife Lois whom he married in 1935, daughters Dawn and Sharon and seven grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
Along with Godfrey, Edward R. Murrow, Burns And Allen , Jack Benny and Lucy Ball, Linkletter helped make CBS the greatest and most prosperous of the American TV networks in the 1950s.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Desperately Seeking Carla

I seem to be forever missing Carla Collins.
I missed her the day I made my obligatory visit to The Weather Network back in the days when she was trying to break into the business.
Then I missed her when I visited the set of Paradise Falls, the screwball comedy series shooting on location at Whitevale.
Carla was off that particular day but this was her first big acting gig and she was very funny as Rusty Sinclair.
Signed initially for one episode she wound up doing 30 and shone in a talented cast that included Victoria Snow, Deb McGrath and Art Hindle, all accomplished scene stealers.
When I covered the taping of Carla's series for The Comedy Network I spent so much time back stage while she was out front interviewing guest Don McKellar that she had left the premises when I finally decided to interview her.
It was in a darkened pub on St. Clair Ave. west that we finally interconnected.
First impression: she's as tall as I am which is pretty tall. She's just as pretty in person but she's also super nice.
She likes making fun of herself but doesn't tear into other people which can happen to stand ups --they often turn on anybody available.
She was back in T.O. publicizing the second season of her reality series Carlawood (made by Lone Eagle Entertainment). It premieres on TVTropolis on Monday May 31 at 11 p.m.
The show plays like a reality sitcom.
She's the Gracie Allen type who is constantly in flux from her Los Angeles town home --she's out running a marathon, trying out new assistants who all seem to be aspiring stand ups themselves or she's out walking dogs from the Bark Avenue shelter.
The George Burns character here is her second husband Tyrone Power Jr. --guess who his famous father was?
He's ever patient and his droll asides sometimes leave her speechless.
He's always caught cooking up a new batch of eggs but Carla swears he's a master chef. "He really can cook. And I think he's funny in his own way!"
So I ask the standard question? Is she sorry she left Toronto?
"I never felt I was closing the door. I come back often. I wanted to test myself in a bigger market. And Los Angeles is the most competitive."
She'd like to land a supporting gig on a new sitcom, she says. "I did two pilots with Jerry Zucker for TBS that did not sell at the last moment. That was a big let down."
She had a guest spot booked on NBC's Chuck but at the time only had a green card for doing stand up comedy --not television.
She seems to work all the time --she also has a book she's peddling titled Angels, Vampires And Douche Bags.
Carlawood like most reality outings is craftily planned in advance. "I have to have a basic outline so we don't shoot for weeks. We travel light --a cameraman, director, sound guy and an executive producer (Michael Geddes) who's back pulling it all together. It's not scripted but I like to work that way. I just go with the punches."
Of course I entirely missed the first season of Carlawood --that's my story with Carla, I guess.
The episodes I've seen from Season Two are fast paced and very watchable and with 16 episodes to her credit Carla should now be able to make a deal with a U.S. network.
Future plans? "We have to move. All that driving to the beach is killing me. And I have to work at my improv skills. It's something I simply must to do every week to stay sharp and focused.
"You know it's a lot of work being funny but I'm not even half way to where I think I can to be."
So will it be Carlawood the third season or a network situation comedy?
I think I already know the answer: Both!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The L.A. Buying Spree

This is the time of the year when Canadian TV executives wing their way to Los Angeles, the annual buying spree of American shows.
When I started my TV critic assignments way back in 1970 there was only one game in town.
And that was CBC.
If CBC wanted a U.S. show the public network got it although prices in those days were itsy bitsy.
Would you believe CBC was paying just $2,500 a week for top rated Mary Tyler Moore?
CBC executive Thom Benson would lunge around the pool at the Beverly Wilshire hotel and force the U.S. studio chiefs to come to him. That's how powerful CBC was in those days.
In those times with cable penetration still minimal CBC and CTV didn't have to worry about simulcasting their American buys. There was another ploy being used: prerelease. If Laugh-In ran on a Monday then CBC would try to get it on CBC stations a few days earlier. This meant the cans of films and tapes had to be airlifted express to worried producers at Toronto International Airport.
In those days there were more commercials allowed on Canadian TV. Mary Tyler Moore hit the roof when I told her the last minute tag in her show which summed up the plot was routinely cut by CBC to add one more commercial but there was little she could do about it.
CBC would then fly down stills photographers and a production crew to shoot its own publicity material.
Mary read her script which said her show was on "at 8 p.m.; 8:30 in Newfoundland." She was such a stickler for accuracy she phoned a St. John's newspaper and asked the editor how he pronounced "Newfoundland".
Anecdote: CTV got caught with the leftovers and the leftovers of the leftovers went to Hamilton's feisty CHCH.
In 1968 Laugh-In debuted. Benson watched the pilot but passed. CTV grabbed the new show which shot to the Top Ten its first year out.
So the second year Benson offered a competitive bid higher than CTV could afford and Laugh-In passed to CBC.
What really wrecked CHCH was the year the station bought the entire year's catalogue of Lorimar product (excepting Dallas which CBC already had).
Sure, there were such hits as Knots Landing but there were a near record number of ratings stinkers. By abandoning its TV movies format CHCH surrendered its identity and the station sank like a stone.
When Global came along in 1972 things heated up. When I duly reported then CBC executive Yvan Fecan had paid a record amount of $75,000 per episode for thirtysomething (1987) Fecan phoned me in a real stew --he felt other studios would be demanding the same amount of cash.
And the series did so poorly CBC dropped it the next season anyhow.
This is a strange time for Canadian buyers. CTV can't be happy with the losses it took on the Winter Olympics. Global and CanWest have just been sold to Shaw Communications. Citytv stations are now owned by Rogers. It's a real mess.
And didn't the CRTC mandate that these same networks could not spend more on U.S. product which we can all watch from Buffalo stations anyhow than on their Canadian programming?
Wasn't that the whole purpose of the huge campaign to get the cable companies to support Canadian shows and Canadian talent?
One more plea: if these Canadian buyers are so interested in quality how come nobody picked up the best U.S. drama series of the past few years?
Yes, I do refer to Mad Men.
Just Asking.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Hope For Old Shows?

In Ye Olden Days of TV it was the norm for a series cancelled by one network to have a second life on another.
Consider the fate of Father Knows Best (1954-1960).
Its first year was on CBS before a cancellation slip drove it over to NBC for three seasons before it was pink slipped again and headed back to CBS.
Or what about My Three Sons (1960-1972).
For its first five years it was an ABC staple and then got cancelled due to flagging ratings.
CBS picked it up for seven more seasons where it grew back in the ratings and became a big hit once again.
Taxi ran for four seasons on ABC (1978-82) , got cancelled, and then roared back on NBC for several more seasons
Last season CBS picked up Medium from NBC which cancelled it to make way for --gulp --Jay Leno's disastrous foray into prime time.
Over at CBS Medium regained some of its lost viewers and will run this Fall Fridays at 8 displacing Host Whisperer.
And last year ABC picked up Scrubs from NBC and the hospital comedy managed to eke out another season before being dispatched to rerun land.
So the question remains will ABC consider picking up either The New Adventures Of Old Christine or Ghost Whisperer now that CBS has dropped them from the fall schedule.
In defense of Ghost Whisperer it was on Fridays which is the lowest rated night of the week --except for Saturdays where reruns clutter the dial.
And CBS finally gave up on Christine as it slowly lost viewers over its past two seasons.
ABC sources are hinting the network may use one or both as midseason back ups like Scrubs last season. So stay tuned.

CBS's Fall Schedule

Desperately Seeking Sitcoms --that's the fall philosophy of CBS which massively jigged its schedule.
CBS, the ratings leader, has a number of high flying series which are starting to age
But rather than go on a youth kick the Tiffany of the webs is bringing back 73-years young Bill Shatner for yet another series.
Guess that means our Bill won't have time to be Canada's next Governor General, eh?
Also ressurected: CBS's seventies hit Hawaii 5-0 with a hunky new leading man, Australian heartthrob Alex O'Loughlin.
But the big news is the restructuring of the schedule.
CBS moved its hit Survivor from Thursdays to Wednesdays at 8 --Survivor had been wowing them Thursdays since 2001.
And its aging CSI franchises are getting less choice slots for the fall.
CSI:Miami moves to Sundays at 9 after years in the Monday at 10 slot which goes to Hawaii 5-0.
And CSI:NY goes to Fridays at 9 which along with Saturday nights is among the least watched nights of the week.
CSI:NY's Wednesday time slot goes to the new legal series The Defenders starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell.
CBS has definitely cancelled The New Adventures Of Old Christine, Ghost Whisperer, Numb3rs.
And Thursdays at 8 CBS will have back-to-back sitcoms for the first time in decades: The Big Bang Theory followed at 8:30 with the Shatner sitcom $#*! My Dad Says.
On Fridays it's Medium at 8, CSI:NY at 9 and a new Tom Selleck outing Blue Bloods.
CBS says the last time the network tried sitcoms Thursdays at 8 was way back in 1965 with Gilligan's Island and My three Sons.
Network sources acknowledge there was ratings erosion in terms of the three CSI series which need to be replaced in the next few years. CSI has particularly declined since the departure of star Bill Petersen.
Putting Big Bang Theory up against NBC's weak Community should prove a real hit but Shatner will be facing 30 Rock.
CBS's other new sitcom Mike & Molly will follow the returning Two And A Half Men (star Charlie Sheen has signed for two more years).
And there's nothing on CBS to attract younger audiences --Fox now leads in the all important category of viewers 18 to 35 although CBS continues with the highest over all ratings.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

ABC's Fall Schedule

Good bye Lost, hello *(*(*(*(?
that seems to be the theme for ABC's fall schedule --seven new series are debuting including two mockumentary series.
But first the losers: Definitely gone are FlashForward as predicted in this column, Scrubs, Better Off Ted, The Forgotten (already forgotten), Eastwick, Shark Tank, Romantically Challenged and Happy Town.
Already gone after final episodes are Ugly Betty and Lost.
On Mondays ABC will have the returning Dancing With The Stars now more popular some weeks than American Idol. And back is Castle which few critics expected to return for a second year.
On Tuesdays at 8 ABC premieres No Ordinary Family starring Michael Chilkis as the head of a family whose plane crashes in the Amazon. Sound familiar?
At 9 it's the results of Dancing and at 10 it's a new Detroit police thing Detroit 1-8-7 starring Michael Imperoli from The Sopranos.
On Wednesdays the Pat Heaton comedy The Middle starts off the night with a new comedy Better Together at 8:30 and Modern Family back at 9. At 9:30 Cougar Town is back. At 10 Rob Morrow and Joely Richardson star in the new drtama The Whole Truth from Jerry Bruckheimer.
On Thurdays there's the reality series My Generation at 8 followed by returnees Grey's Anatomy at 9 and Private Practice at 10.
Friday's it's Secret Millionaire at 8 which ABC took over from Fox as wealthy Americans try to survive in the nation's poorest ghettoes. At 9 it's Body of Proof with Dana Delany.
ABC keeps football on Saturdays and Sunday returns as is: America's Funniest Home Videos, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,
plus two aging dramas Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters.
Ordered up and ready for midseason are Off The Map with Shonda Rhimes, Mr. Sunshine with Matthew Perry, Happy endings with Elisha Cuthbert, plus more episodes of V,.

CBS To Drop Six Series

Black Tuesday is the description of life Tuesday at CBS's Black Rock Manhattan headquarters.
CBS has axed six series to make way for new product.
Finally CBS has let go The New Adventures Of Old Christine which never became a popular hit despite the presence of Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Remember ABC has promised in the past to grab the under performing sitcom should it ever become available.
Also getting pink slipped: The fine Jay Mohr comedyu Gary Unmarried never got the ratings it deserbed.
But CBS surprised idustry watchers by axing Jennifer Love Hewitt's Ghost Whisperer which days ago seemed about to be picked up once more.
Cold Case was canned because it is an old series after seven seasons and too expensive to justify considering dwindling ratings.
Two freshman series also bit the dust Accidentally On Purpose and Miami Medical.
CBS sources acknowledge the web's series are getting older and soon those CSI franchises will have to be axed.
And this near record cancellation number means the network can order some fresh half season replacements on the theory one or two might actually work out.
At the same time CBS has renewed Rules Of Engagement and --very surprisingly --Medium.

Monday, May 17, 2010

More News From CBS And ABC

With NBC's new fall season being dissected by the press and public it's time to move on to ABC and CBS
My sources are saying Alyssa Milano's comedy Romantically Challenged has definitely been cancelled.
ABC has also cancelled Scrubs (as predicted), Better Off Ted and even FlashForward from what I have been told..'
Series renewed by ABC so far or about to be renewed include Castle, Cougar Town, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, The Middle, Modern Family, Private Practice and V.
Already cancelled series include The Deep End, Hank, Lost (last episode ran May 23), .
Over at CBS series already renewed include Amazing Race, Big Bang Theoery, The Good Wife, How I Met Your Mother , NCIS: Los Angeles, Survivor, Two And A Half Men.
Other series still waiting for pickups include the three CSI clones, The Mentalist, Ghost Whisperer, Gary Unmarried, Criminal Minds.
CBS has so far gotten four new series up and running: the Hawaii 5-0 remake with Alex O'Loughlin, a Jim Belushi legal show called Defenders, Tom Sellek's police drama Blue Bloods and one comedy Mike And Molly.
A spinoff of Criminal Minds has also received a pick up.
"Bubble" shows which may or may not be killed include Cold Case, Accidentally On Purpose, Medium, New Adventures Of Old Christine, Numb3rs, Rules Of Engagement.
Over at FOX cancelled shows include 24, Brothers, Dollhouse, Past Life, 'Til Death.
Renewed series include American Dad, American Idol, Bones, The Cleveland Show, Family Guy, Fringe, Glee, House, Human Target, Lie To Me, The Simpsons.
The big cancellation at CW will surely be Melrose Place.
CW has already renewed Supernatural, Gossip Girl, 90210, Vampire and Top Model.
Got all that?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

NBC's Fall Schedule

Unscripted is out. As in reality shows and prime time talk shows (like Jay Leno's).
Scripted TV dramas are back and NBC has got them.
That's the message I'm getting from the leaked fall NBC TV schedule which won't be officially unveiled until Monday at the "Upfronts" in Manhattan.
last season NBC gambled on five nights a week at 10 p.m., figuring a low budget show featuring Leno could out rate those hugely popular procedural dramas on CBS and ABC.
the ratings stank. The revenues dried up. And finally the affiliates belly ached that the 10 p.m. disaster was wrecking the ratings of their local news at 11 and severely impacting Conan O'Brien's revamped Tonight Show at 11:35.
So fall will be scripted shows at 10 with Leno already back at 11:35 and Conan nursing a grudge (and a $45 million payout).
Instead NBC is returning to the basics with orders going out to such proven producers as Dick Wolf (Law & Order), Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI) and J.J. Abrams (Alias).
And the stars seem a proven lot , too, including Dana Delaney and Jimmy Smits.
On Mondays the low rated but critically lauded Chuck leads off the night into The Event (described as a chase thriller) with Jason Ritter and into Bruckheimer's Chase all about U.S. marshalls in action. It will be up against the Bruckheimer hit CSI:Miami which NBC thinks may be aging.
On Wednesday it's going to be two hours of Law & Order --first the returning hit SVU and then the new Law & Order: Los Angeles with a new hour drama Undercovers at 8 (from Abrams).
On Thursdays, long a comedy night going back to Friends and Seinfeld, NBC adds the sitcom Outsourced at 9:30 and the hour comedy Love Bites with Parks & Recreation being held back for later in the year.
On Fridays Jimmy Smits is back in series TV with Outlaws --remember Fridays is very low rated these days and the audience is older and more traditional. Maybe they'll remember Smits from L.A. Law or how about NYPD Blue?
And for midseason NBC has such shows standing by as The Cape, Friends With Benefits, Perfect Couples, Harry's Law and The Paul Reiser Show.
Got all that?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

ABC For Fall

Question: So what happened to Heroes? In its first season it averaged 14.5 million viewers a week. Then on Feb. 6 when the last episode aired the figure was a pathetic 4.4 million.
Answer: it was on NBC.
NBC has had this habit in recent years of ruining perfectly
great hits. Look how ABC nurtured Lost and compare it to the messy way NBC tampered with a winning formula.
When NBC announces its lineup Monday to advertisers it may include a movie wrapping everything up.
Too bad. This one started out so strongly. Meeting some of the actors up in Toronto for the fall CTV launch was one highlight for me.
'Now it's gone.
Here's what I've learned about ABC's fall TV pick ups.
First of all Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice will be returning. And Desperate Housewives Dana Delaney may defect to a new procedural drama Body Of Proof. I think. Reports are conflicting.
Another new one is called Map to star Enrique Murciano from Without A Trace about a medical team on a tropical island.
The comedy Happy Endings has been snapped up. David Chase is the writer. Stars include Elisha Cuthbert, Zachary Knighton, Adam Pally and Eliza Coupe and it's about a couple who break up at the altar.
Mr. Shunshine stars Matthew Perry (who also co-wrote it) as a sports stadium manager about to celebrate his 40th birthday. The pilot also had Allison Janney and Thomas Schlamme was the director. Others in the cast: Andrea Anders, James Lesure, Portia Doubleday.
Better Together looks at two couples in relationships very different from each other and stars JoAnna Garcia, Jennifer Finnigan, Josh Cooke and Jake Lacy.
Three dramas are also rumored to have passed through pilot stage with flying colors: Detroit 187, The While Truth and Generation Y.
But there are conflicting stories about the fate of the Debra Messing pilot Wright vs. wrong. Some sources say it still has a chance although it's not on the official ABC list.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Farewell to Law & Order

NBC sources are saying it's all over for Law & Order after a near record of 20 seasons.
The very last telecast of a new episode will take place on May 24 at 10 p.m.
The cancellation means L&A is tied with Gunsmoke as the longest running hour TV network drama.
But NBC has picked up Law & Order: Los Angeles and also renewed Law & Order: SVU for next season.
Launched in 1990, L&O took a few years to really get going with TV viewers.
Original cast members included Christopher Noth as Det. Mike Logan, George Dzundza as Det. serg. Max Greevey, Steven Hill as Dr. Adam Schiff, Michael Moriarty as D.A. Ben Stone, and Richard Brooks as Ass. D.A. Paul Robinette.
When Benjamin Bratt first joined the series in 1995 I got on the set to interview him.
The location that day was a private school in Harlem --the series shot mostly on location with only the police offices and some court rooms as standing sets.
I saw what an incredibly smooth running operation this was. Whoever was directing sat right beside one of the senior producers who had to agree on every shot. One year the producer on the set was none other than Arthur Penn (Bonnie And Clyde).
When I asked Jerry Orbach how it was to work with Bratt he snapped "At least he knows his lines" --a rather cruel jibe at former partner Noth.
When filming concluded at 5 p.m. the crew dismantled everything and were on the road by 5:30 with few if any snafus.
Biggest brouhaha came when Moriarty quit the show in 1994 after a public spat with executive producer Dick Wolf on the issue of TV censorship. He was replaced by Sam Waterston who stayed with the show until the end.
I really enjoyed the cross over episodes with Homicide --remember them?
And let's not forget the brilliant array of New York actors who got to strut their stuff. All were paid scale for their efforts. In fact it is estimated L&O contributed 1.5 billion to the economy of New York city over its two decades of running time.
But L&O isn't going anywhere. It's going to be in reruns and as boxed DVD sets for years to come.
In fact Moriarty once told me he wasn't hounded by fans until the reruns started up on A&E and he had already left the series by then!
NBC has also announced it is picking up four new scripted shows: The Cape stars ER's David Lyons as honest cop Vince Faraday on a corrupt police force
Outlaw has series perennial Jimmy Smits (NYPD Blue) as a U.S. Supreme Court judge who quits the bench and returns yo private opractice.
Harry's Law from David E. Kelly (Boston Legal) stars Kathy Bates and Ben Chapin and is all about how fate brings people together.
Plus there's Friends With Benefits, a half hour comedy, about twentysomethings starring Ryan Hansen and Danneel Harris.
And NBC has made it official: Chuck has been renewed for another season.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

No New Rockford!

It's the best news I've heard recently. An NBC source confirms there'll be no remake of The Rockford Files coming our way this fall.
And why should there be. James Garner was it. The man. The one and only.
But NBC has this fixation about remaking classics from the past.
The peacock proud web tried to reboot Bionic Woman and that once crashed in flames.
NBC also tried to remake the talking car saga, Knight Rider. Again another spectacular failure.
This version of The Rockford Files even went to pilot stage. The new pilot was produced by Steve Carell and David Shore (executive producer of House).
But Garner wasn't around --these days he's a magnificently preserved 82 years young, far older than Noah Beery Jr. was when he played the dad in the original.
And sorry to say but replacement Dermot Mulroney is no Jim Garner,
One of my favorite times in L.A. was a lunch with Garner himself in his trailer on the Rockford set.
Garner was as I expected witty, sardonic, and quite humble. He was getting medical attention for bruises on his arm and legs --he preferred doing stunts and I wonder if 30 years later he still isn't feeling the pain in form of arthritis.
Also present was Meta Rosenberg who later quarreled with Garner over the fact the series was listed in the loss column --it was the reason he left the show although he later returned for TV movies.
On the record nobody is saying why this one flopped. Off the record? It was apparently quite awful on all fronts. And that's strange.
The director was respected veteran Michael Watkins whose credits include NYPD Blue and Quantum Leap.
The storyline meandered and was considered not up to scratch. It didn't seem up to date in any way. There were long re-editing sessions headed by Dawn Parouse.
Rockford was a pet project of NBC entertainment president Angela Bromstad so there may be another pilot shot simply to appease Carell but chances of meeting a fall deadline seem unlikely.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Amazing Betty White

Will somebody out there explain to me why it took so long for the great Betty White to headline Satursay Night Live?
And why at 88 this lady remains asfresh and funny as ever.
So when and where did I first meet Betty White?
It had to be at one of those mass star parties MTM Studios would hold every year for visiting TV critics.
And I had a long talk with Betty who had just joined the cast as sex maniac Sue Anne Nivens --and boy was she hilarious (she replaced Cloris Leachman whose character Phyllis was spun off into her own series).
That would be 1973 or even 1974, I'm guessing.
Betty let put a whoop of joy when I told her that as a kid I'd always liked her ABC sitcom Date With the Angels (1957-58) but admitted "My co-star was the cowboy actor Bill Williams and he didn't have a stitch of comedy timing."
Decades seemed to fly by and then I was on the set of Golden Girls in 1986 interviewing Bea Arthur.
Betty remembered me --or so she said --and told me she'd had her pick of either the character of Blanche or Rose. "Blanche is the nympho and I'd already played her type with Mary so I chose Rose."
I have to admit I declined invitations to go on the set of the ill-advised sequel Golden Palace which only lasted the 1992-93 season.
Arthur had wisely retired but co-stars White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty persevered for a one season wonder.
Some time in there I had dinner with White in T.O. out at the Prince hotel --she was in T.O. promoting her autobiography and I was astonished given her love of pets that she ate steak for dinner.
"Some of my best friends are carnivores," she joked as she gnawed on a T-bone.
I also liked Betty in all her game show appearances (especially on Password) and in those sketches she did with Johnny Carson on the old Tonight Show. Remember?
And Betty has just kept going. Two of her GG co-stars (Arrthur and Getty) have passed and McClanahan is ill but White continues to go out there and wow 'em.
On this week's SNL she was in every skit surrounded with such alumnas as Molly Shannon, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and the result was the highest rating for SNL in 18 months.
So my question is simply this: isn't it about time Betty White gets her own show?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why Are TV Anchors Leaving? Why?

Canadian TV anchors are disappearing like so many dominoes.
First it was Kevin Newman saying he'll sign off as Global TV anchor after a decade of success in finally making the network newscast a big time ratings player.
And now it's Ann Rohmer's turn at CP24. She says she'll leave in mid-June.
In Rohmer's case she is one of the faces of the all day, all night late breaking news channel and she's been there since it was one of the prize jewels in the Citytv crown of cable weblets.
But then CTV moved in and absorbed those lucrative weblets like CP 24 and MuchMusic while the CRTC sternly ruled the actual Citytv stations had to go elsewhere (Rogers Communications gobbled them up). And a lot of talent on both sides of the camera suddenly were given their walking papers.
Rohmer says in a prepared statement "I'm not retiring. I'm looking forward. I'm leaving at the top of my game."
She first attracted my attention in 1981 as co-host (with Peter Feniak) of the daily Global current affairs show That's Life.
CBC Sports honcho Denis Harvey was a big booster and moved in yto develop her as an interviewer during live coverage of sports.
I remember she wavered a bit there, didn't think she was ready. I got a midnight call from her telling me all (most of which I chose not to use) and she wound up at Citytv where she honed her skills by hosting BT-Breakfast Television for 12 years starting in 1986. Today she does live reporting without batting an eyelash. And does it very well.
The number of people on my street who watch Animal House Calls is phenomenal. I swear this is the show my neighbors want to talk to me about.
Rhomer will break the news to her fans live on CP24 Breakfast Thursday morning. Warm and winning, she has slowly emerged as one of Canadian TV's 32 best interviewers. She'd be perfect for a CBC interview show of her own perhaps with a sports theme.
Anyhow I know she'll be missed at CP24 by both management and viewers.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Enraged Is Engaging, Really!

With a title like Enraged, I approached the new Toronto-made hour documentary very carefully.
I mean mindless entertainment this is not going to be.
So I can report after previewing the DVD that Enraged delivers.
Made by Lively Media it focuses on two seemingly normal North American families. Why these two groupings were chosen to profile is never made clear.
The standard smokestacks of Hamilton usher us into the spacious suburban home of Andree, her partner Tim and her teenaged daughter Peyton.
Andree is a working mom with a low boiling point. Everything Peyton does seems to provoke outbursts of true fury. Tim gets his fair share of it, too, and the entire household is on tender hooks, waiting for the next time mom erupts like a volcano.
Then there's the Austin, Texas, abode of Sam, wife Jane, and their three sons.
Sam sells real estate but around the house has fits of anger truly scary. There's never been any physical abuse but Jane feels that his anger might be imitated by the boys who'll have the same disrespect for their spouses when they grow up.
Andree and Sam never meet but share something in common. Both must understand what triggers their flashes of temper and they must do so quickly or risk losing their families.
What good Reality TV does is to turn viewers into interested observers rather than mere voyeurs.
Some of the scenes at both homes are so raw and seething you'll wonder how the cameraman managed to get out of the way.
In both cases we also sit in on the counseling --Sam and wife go to a three-day retreat where a professional psychologist painstakingly takes him through the stages of anger to discover where it is coming from and how his imperious tone is alienating him from his entire family.
Andree has psychological sessions in Hamilton to realize she is aping the way her mother treated her as a girl. As a conscientious mom she maybe tries too hard to make teenager Peyton into a picture perfect model of behavior.
Is Enraged a pilot for a series of such encounters? Could be. It certainly is far more realistic and balanced than other shows which venture into the lives of "average" families.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Memories Of Lynn Redgrave

So there I was on the set of the new CBS sitcom House Calls chattering away to Lynn Redgrave and we were having a high old time of it.
The year was 1981 and Redgrave looked forward to hunkering down in the new comedy which should have run for years to come.
The next I heard she had angrily exited the show after Universal mandated she could not breast feed her new baby even in the privacy of her trailer.
Remember this was a sitcom that shot only one day a week with a live audience. The rest of the time Redgrave spent in rehearsals, fittings for clothes, just plain hanging out.
She lost her lawsuit after it dragged on for 13 years and the experience left her broke and heart sick.
I'm remembering all this because the feisty actress died over the weekend at her Connecticut home at the age of 67.
Her brother Corin died at 70 a month ago in England and in March 2009 her niece Natasha Richardson died after a skiing accident in Quebec.
Redgrave's theatrical roots went back generations. Her father Sir Michael was an acting legend, mother Rachel Kempson co-starred in The TV smash The Jewel In The Crown.
Redgrave's older sister Vanessa remains a powerhouse in cinema and stage work.
The two sisters acted on TV in the deliriously silly remake of Whatever Happerned To Baby Jane? and in London's End in a version of Three Sisters (1991) where Lynn publicly rebuked Vanessa for her leftist political views.
But when Lynn was giving a chat at Toronto's Convocation Hall about her life Vanessa who was starring at the Royal Alexandra theater managed to show up and sat in the audience.
I remember Lynn laughing to me she never wanted to hear the music from George Girl again. The 1966 movie garnered her an Oscar nomination and a career as a bright comedienne but she was significantly chubbier then. A strict diet got her a decades long gig as the TV spokesperson for WeightWatchers.
Sometimes Lynn's acting choices simply seemed bizarre: she played The Happy Hooker in one movie that was just plain weird.
But she later had prime roles in such film hits as Shine (1996) and Gods And Monsters (1998) which won her a second Oscar nomination.
The last time we chatted was in the late 1990s in L.A. at a reception for a strange cable TV series that focused on spouses of the stars: I got to chat up Mrs. Charlton Heston, W.C. Fields's mistress Carlotta Monti, Henry Mancini's wife, Rudy Vallee's galpal and Redgrave's director husband John Clark who had once directed plays at Toronto's Crest theater.
Redgrave later divorced Clark in a very bitter battle in 200.
Once again she rebounded this time with the one woman play Shakespeare For My Father. She also co-starred in the 1991 CBC TV drama White Lies opposite Sarah Polley, counseling the young actress to hold firm to her political beliefs and use her celebrity to advance her causes.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Where Is Kevin Newman Going?

Did Kevin Newman jump or was he pushed?
The classy Global TV anchor is celebrating his tenth anniversary as the anchor of Canada's third network by jumping ship.
In a way I don't blame him, Canwest is in terrible shape these days. The newspaper are solid profit earners these days.
And Newman has shown that there is a large audience for a national Canadian newscast early in the evening --CBC's is on at 10 while CTV's is on at 11.
Biggest irony: Newman with a mere decade under his belt is at 50 the youngest of the three national anchors.
CBC's Peter Mansbridge, 61, has been anchoring The National since 1988.
And over at CTV the venerable Lloyd Robertson, 76, has been fronting CTV news simce 1976 --he was on CBC 's National 1970-76.
Canwest is having major money problems and maybe Newman felt the hassle to produce a daily newscast just wasn't worth it.
And there's always the retirement issue: Mansbridge and Robertson are in superb form these days but everybody has to retire some day.Would Newman replace either of them?
Newman wasn't talking --an internal Global memo was leaked out and there are the inevitable questions about his successor.
On Canadian TV we have three white guys as anchors.
On American TV CBS's Katie Couric and ABC's Diane Sawyer are the new TV feminists with NBC's Brian Williams the sole male.
Newman could always go back to U.S. TV. He defected from CBC's Midday to headline ABC's all night newscast with fellow Canadian Thalia Assuras.
Then he was briefly the host of Good Morning America before Sawyer took over --in those days another Canadian Peter Jennings was his mentor at ABC.
At Global there's always been a tradition of a solid anchor. The Weblet went on the ar in 1972 with Peter Trueman and Peter Desbaratts as co-hosts but after financial problems Trueman emerged as the sole talking head.
So I'm still asking: what's next for the personable Newman?