Monday, August 30, 2010

First New Series Of The TV Season

The first new series of the 2010-11 TV season revs up Wednesday night at 10 on Global TV.
And --surprise --it's a Canadian police drama and it's a hit.
Me, too. But after watching the preview of the first episode of Shattered I should have been expecting quality all along.
The executive producer is Jeff F. King who I first met (as producer) on Night Heat and later on ENG and Due South, all home grown series of distinction.
Then there's the star Callum Keith Rennie.
I first noticed him as a 35-year-old newcomer in the odd little Canadian feature Curtis's Charm (1995) and later he won a supporting Gemini award in the 1995 series My Life As A Dog.
But peversley he refused to leave his hotel room to go downstairs and collect his award --because he was in competition with Lamb Chops and Sheri Lewis.
And I thought he was unforgettable in the 1996 TV movie For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down --he begged to differ in an hour long TV conversation I could not get him to bend.
Since then he's excelled in Canadian projects (Due South, Twitch City) as well as U.S. series (Californication, 24).
Now 50 he's grey haired and his face heavily lined. But the intensity is still there.
I consider his latest, Shattered, as aging detective Ben Sullivan whose life is spiraling out of control to be among his best work.
Yes, this is another Canadian cop series. But it's not a generic entity like Rookie Blue.
Here it's the back story that has the bite --Ben and partner Ellas (Molly Parker of Deadwood) had an eight-year old son who was abducted several years ago --his fate remains unknown.
Ben's compulsive disorder syndrome is now out of control. In the opening episode he yells at his new detective partner to shoot a pedophile suspect and she does although it turns out the man was not armed.
Looking on is the next police detective team headed by Det. Terry Rhodes (Martin Cummins of Dice) who has been married three times and has four children and Det. John Holland (Cle Bennett.
Stories focus on how the detectives bend the system to apprehend their suspects and what this ongoing tension does to their personalities.
You could call this an example of "cop noir" --King has worked in that genre before with the series EZ Streets.
In the opener Kari Skogland who directed Rennie in the 1997 feature Men with Guns shoots this one like a movie --bursts of terrifying violence, angry scenes of confrontation, cops going to the edge mentally --this is something not normally seen in TV police shows.
Partnered with Rennie on the force is younger Amy Lynch (Camille Sullivan, so powerful in the CBC series Intelligence). And Molly Parker as his long suffering partner at home is intense in a quiet, lingering way.
Shattered is so tough and different it seems like a cable show rather than a mainstream network offering.
But Global TV is giving it a big push prior to the official opening of the U.A. TV season.
Watching Shattered will leave viewers shattered.
MY RATING: ***1/2.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Who Watches The Emmy Awards?

So there I was on the set of The Colbys in 1984 interviewing the greatish Barbara Stanwyck who did not want to be interviewed.
I mentioned the Emmy award she'd won for her first series The Barbara Stanwyck Show and she snapped back: "Who the hell cares? The Emmys are worth squat diddley."
And she was right --she'd earned her first (of three) Emmys after her series got cancelled.
That's how I feel about the Emmy Awards which are up and running Sunday night at 8 on CTV and ABC.
So who should win the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy? Well, it should be CBS's ground breaking new series The Good Wife because it is seen by so many millions more viewers than such boutique shows as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, True Blood and Dexter.
The fact only one network series made the cut shows the Emmys are currently run by dilettantes.
Breaking Bad or Mad Men will probably win but don't get me wrong. I weatch and enjoy both of them.
Best comedy series should be the wildly hysterical Big Bang Theory from CBS. Again I base my verdict on the huge numbers watching compared to the competition.
But it isn't even nominated. Will somebody explain why?
Modern Family is right up there, too, so I guess it can win and it is funny.
For best actor Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) seems set to repeat his success but how about Matthew Fox in the vastly more popular Lost which has just ended its wildly successful run.
Hugh Laurie has been doing his schtick too long by now and Jon Hamm is just a little bit off his game these days if you ask me.
Julianna Margulies should get the best dramatic actress nod but don't count Glenn Close (Damages) out. Kyra Sedgwick and Mariska Hargitay were better in earlier years-- so there.
Best Comedy Series just has to go to the magnificently gifted Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory but Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) could win and I wouldn't holler much. And why dies Tony Shalhoub keep getting nominated --his show had been on a downward spiral for years.
Outstanding Comedy Series Actress may be Jane Lynch of Glee. But I still say Glee is only half as good a high school series as the fantastic Freeks And Geeks.
Anyhow "only" 27 categories get revealed --there have already been gigantic parties last week for the other winners.
And by Monday morning we'll all have forgotten all about this mish-mash of awards and platitudes. Right?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Remembering Patricia Neal

What a life force Patricia Neal was.
As I remember we met on a park bench in a Toronto park in 1973 --she was promoting a little seen Canadian movie (Happy Mother's Day, Love George) she'd made with Ron Howard playing her son and her own daughter Tessa Dahl in a small part.
In 1965 she'd suffered a series of brain aneuryisms that had left her paralyzed and unable to talk. Yet with prodding from her husband Roald Dahl she did walk and talk again.
And act, too.
I remembered interviewing her on the phone to promote her 1971 CBS TV movie The Happening. That's right, she was the original Ma Walton and she looked forward to making the series.
But CBS replaced her and co-star Andrew Duggan because the network was looking for younger actors to portray the parents. And quite frankly CBS executives whispered they were not sure Neal could act on a weekly basis.
"I could have," Neal mumbled with some bitterness. "I would have."
Born in 1926 in Packard, Kentucky, Neal stormed Broadway, aged 21, in the star part in Lillian Hellman's play Another Part Of The Forest (the prequel to the Little Foxes) and won a Tony.
Hired by Warners she debuted in the innocuous 1949 comedy John Loves Mary opposite Ronald Reagan. "Not a good actor, not a good president but a nice man," she giggled.
Her second movie The Fountainhead opposite Gary Cooper was "a bomb. Stinker." But she started a three year affair that only ended when Cooper returned to his wife.
She returned to Broadway and did lots of live TV and still managed a few great movie turns: A Face In The Crowd (1957), Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961) and Hud (1964) which won her a coveted Oscar.
And she rebuilt her career after the stroke with The Subject Was Roses (1968), Ghost Story (1980) and dozens of TV appearances. But even in 1973 she was hunting for parts and in her last decade only made a few appearances preferring to devote her energies to helping the handicapped.
With all the bad things that happened to her (the death of a child from measles, the accident of her little boy being hit by a truck in his pram) it was natural for people to compare her life to a Greek tragedy.
But I found her gentle and reserved that day and still beautiful.
And she would have made a fine Olivia Walton in the series.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Darling I Am Growing Older

So here I am watching DVD previews of the fall U.S. TV season and getting that uncomfortable feeling I've seen it all before.
And I have.
The "new" TV stars of 2010-11 include 62-years young Tom Selleck, Michael Chiklis,
One of CBS's hoped for new hits is --gulp --Hawaii 5-0.
And jo wonder.
That wonderful must-read site reports the average age of the American TV network viuewer is inching ever upwards.
The average age of an ABC fan is 51, 49 years for NBC, 44 years for Fox and --get this --for CBS it's not up to 55.
A decade ago the numbers were 43 years (ABC), 45 years (NBC), 52 years (CBS), and at Fox it was a mere 35 years.
Dancing with The stars' audience averaged out at 57 years while NCIS with Mark Harmon hit 57 and The Good Wife hit 58.
Even Glee clocks in at 38 years which is just plain weird
Ca the big old line network plot in younger shows.
They've tried and these pahtetic attempt to be with it quickly tanked.
Remember Fox had the greatest high school series of them all in Freaks and Geeks and it lasted one season.
Teens and twentysomethings have long preferred cable fare. But now I'm hearing many have abandoned TVvfare altogether for what's out there on the web.
And these statistics should be about the same in Canada since every U.S. prime time series gets a Canadian TV network berth these days.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Congrats To Jim Junkin

Sincere best wishes to Jim Junkin who has distinguished himself at CFTO (or CTV News as it now calls itself) for 25 years as a crime reporter --he's been at the station for 41 years.
Junkin is retiring after a long and distinguished period of service.
He's following other big local names I seem to have been covering since I started my career as TV critic at the Hamilton Spectator in 1970 (jumping to the Toronto Star in 1980).
CFTO long had the most watched local newscast because of its impressive bench strength. There was a fomula to all this: usually a double team of anchors and reporters out in the field who could explain Toronto events quickly but precisely.
Yes, there were rough patches. I remember quietly chatting up Junkin during one particularly nasty strike of reporters that left some talent so depressed they quit to go to other places.
And I can remember at least one of those anchor combinations that spectacularly blew up --that doll in question left very quickly.
Junkin survived all this with solid professionalism that only comes with years of professionalism.
CFTO once had a whole stack of these people: Dave Devall on weather, Wally Macht on sports,. Some graduated to national reporting, others simply liked covering life in Toronto TV's market --CFTO long dominated the TV news ratings.
If Junkin hasn't been the best local TV reporter around for some time I'm not sure who else there is.
His longevity attests to his skills at explaining a story and covering it with ease --that's service to the viewers who often get confused at the rapid rat-tat style of some reporters who don't seem to know who they are serving.
Junkin announced his final report will come on Friday, Aug. 13.
In June 1969 Junkin became the weekend news anchor for CFTO in Toronto --that was a great training ground for any young reporter.
With his talents he could have jumped to a U.S. outlet for more pay and fame any time he wanted.
Aren't Toronto TV viewers lucky he stuck with us?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Richard Stursberg Leaves CBC

The fact that Richard Stursberg kept his job as head of CBC's English services for six years is most surprising.
When he came to speak to The Toronto Star's editorial board early on in his tenure I found him arrogant beyond belief.
And the CBC he reinvented is chock full of American-style programming with all the high end cultural stuff shredded from the schedule.
Stursberg left the CBC on Friday after a six year reign of error. My CBC sources say his leave taking was acrimonious.
He was an appointee of the previous LIberal government and finally had to go. CBC president Hubert T. Lacroix announced his departure on Friday.
However, Stursberg's schedule is very much the one CBC will be using this fall --it's too late to change much. For six to nine months his protege Kirstine Stewart will be taking over and may even get the job full time.
That means a reliance on hour long dramas patterned after American series will continue on the new CBC schedule. It takes at least a year to program new TV series.
It means the revamped CBC News will have to continue that way for some time --the wacky setting finds anchor Peter Mansbridge standing in what looks like a wine bar and relies on masses of trivia to disguise the fact the news staff has been shrinking.
One of Stursberg's first moves at CBC was to axe Opening Night, the low rated series of cultural events. Without that commitment to the arts CBC lost some of its major supporters who turned their attention and their pocket books to PBS.
Some CBC insiders are saying CBC should have picked Slawyko Klymkiw as the new head of English services six years ago --Klimkiw was committed to a high end version of the CBC that would have retained the loyalty of more Canadian viewers.
Instead Stursberg reversed a long standing CBC commitment (made decades ago by then president Pierre Juneau) not to stack the schedule with American imports.
Stursberg bought the Canadian TV rights to Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy as well as rerun rights to Ghost Whisperer all at considerable cost. And he dropped CBC's late night commitment to showing Canadian independent movies.
He dumped such quality Canadian dramas as This Is Wonderland and Intelligence as well as the long running and still popular Royal Canadian Air Farce. He wanted a pop schedule geared to younger viewers.
On CBC Radio 2 he ditched classical music mostly for a more pop oriented approach.
TV series favored by Stursberg included Little Mosque On The Prairie (ratings hit) and Wild Roses (flop). Reality shows he developed included Dragon's Den and Battle Of The Blades as well as Garth Drabinsky's talent show Triple Sensation which tanked in the ratings..
CBC President Hubert Lacroix was said to be increasingly doubtful of the Stursberg approach which alienated wide swaths of viewers.Lacroix's statement about Stursberg's departure is doubtful; that "Six years later the institution is better off than it was. I want to acknowledge his success in turning CBC Television around."
In fact CBC has lost its identity as the repository of all that is excellent on Canadian TV.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Yet Another New Canadian Network Debuts!

Actually three new TV cable channels are revving up in Canada.
On Monday August 2 it's time to welcome Discovery World HD.
On August 30 comes Investigation Discovery (ID).
And On September 27 it's time for Discovery Science.
There's a free preview of Discovery World from August 2 to September 1.
Discovery World HD will be 100 % high definition programming and avasilable in a million Canadian TV homes.The preview copy I received of Through The Wormhole With Morgan Freeman is a new cosmos series.
First up is the mighty question of whether science and religion are in conflict at all.
Or maybe there has been a Good at work all through earth's existence.
We meet the world's leading physicists including one Malibu surfer dude looking for the complete mathematical formula that would certify God exists.
The theme is platful not weighty but fully explained in purely scientific terms.
The visuals presented here are strong and stunning. Scientists interviewed tend not to believe earth was a cosmic accident but are searching for complex clues a God exists.
As a scientific illiterate I appreciated the broad sweep as well as the precise answers by mathematicians one of whom thinks earth is a vast sort of playstation controlled by superior forces.
Discovery World is a rebrand of Discovery HD while Investigation Discovery is replacing Court TV which I never watched.
And Discovery Science will replace Discovery Civilization in September.