Thursday, May 31, 2012

All The News About CTV's Fall Schedule

Here's what I picked up at the CTV fall press rumble:
*** Lloyd Robertson tells me he's just about finished writing his 300 page biography due out for Christmas release. We go way back to the early 1970s and I asked him if he included the anecdote of the day during the CBC press tour in 1977 when CBC news head Knowlton Nash announced "I've just lost my Mr. Clean"--it was the day Robertson defected to CTV.
*** Brian Williams says he'll rise above the criticism leveled at him in Richard Stursberg's recent memoir of life at the CBC. Always the classy guy, Williams is concentrating on getting the act together for his coverage of the Summer Olympics in London which he says could be one of the biggest ever ratings wise.
*** Executive producer and co-creator of the Degrassi franchise, Linda Schuyler reports that sometime in the new season Degrassi will hit over 400 episodes. After all the perennial winner has been around for decades. "What still irks me is my series Riverdale which could still be going on CBC but we needed more money. It should have run daily in the 7:30 p.m. slot --where Coronation St. is now and it could have been just as big a hit."
As far as CTV's fall goes it's business as usual. Now firmly grouped under the Bell Media banner, there are actually two networks CTV and the "B" franchise, CTV Two.
CTV program president Phil King can deservedly crow that "We just simply did not have a lot of holes in our schedule that we had to fill."
In fact CTV has but one new American series The Mob Doctor. Also snapped up are three new half hour comedies Anger Management with Charlie Sheen, The New Normal with Ellen Barkin and the Neighbors with Jamie Gertz.
CTV Two has three new U.S. dramas: Nahshville best described as a country variant on Smash, Emily Owens. M.D. starring Mamie Gumer (Meryl Streep's gifted daughter) and a new version of The Green Arrow retitled Arrow featuring Torontonian Stephen Amell.
Of the 18 hours of ptime time CTV has 16 1/2 hours simulcast with the American networks meaning CTV ciould be in some sort of identity crisis.
Canadian shows include the valuable franchise W5 with Robertson, the fifth and final season of Flashpoint.
CTV seems to have ditched an earlier promise to rebuild its Canadian sitcom traditions after the cancellation of both hiccups and Dan For Mayor.
However CTV will have a new Canadian made medical drama Saving Hope which debuts next week and looks promising.
CTV Two will show new episodes of the Toronto made The Listener Saturday nights this fall.
The decision to close down Flashpoint after five seasons and 75 episodes was made by executive producer Bill Mustos who said the show will end on a high note with a two hour finale. Flashpoint was one of the few Canadian series (Due South) is another) to have broken onto American TV network schedules --CBS ran it on Fridays for several years.
"Usually producers do not have the luxury of deciding when a series ends," Mustos said --CTV had requested a sixth season. Co-star Hugh Dillon said he hoped to work again with Enrico Colantoni who has become his best bud.
Jordana Spiro of the new series The Mob Doctor said she's actually seen mobster John Giotti walking around Manhattan on occasion--it's the sole new U.S. series to get on the CTV main schedule.
Hayden Panettiere who stars as the bitchy newcomer in Nashville said growing up in the business she had seen people like the one she's playing and understands where that meanness can come from. Co-starring is Connie Britton as a country legend battling the years and the competition from Panettiere's character.
Also present at the launch were blonde and buxom Megan Hilty from Smash which returns to CTV midseason and Shemar Moore from the ratings evergreen Criminal Minds.
And to counter suggestions from rival networks that CTV is geared for the over 55 crowd CTV's King showed a graph indicating it remains far ahead as the network of choice for viewers 18 to 34.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shaw Media: Business As Usual

Shaw Media which owns Global TV as well as a bevy of lucrative specialty channels unveiled a fall schedule filled to the over brimming  with American hits.
In the fall Global will add only seven new acquisitions, an indication the Canadian network is already stuffed with such big ticket shows as Glee, twin versions of NCIS, Bones, Hawaii Five-0 and The Good Wife.
The gala presentation was held at the brand new Trump hotel which is ironical since Global told the Donald Trump "You're fired" when it shunted his lack luster TV effort The Apprentice to Saturday nights.
But it took veteran TV scribe Bill Brioux to impudently ask the big question of the day: in terms of Canadian content "Where's the beef ?"
Global won't have a single scripted Canadian series old or new on its fall schedule and Global vice president Barb Williams says that's been deliberately planned.
Williams pointed out Global's huge new Canadian hit Bomb Girls might have bombed given the intense competition during the new fall season.
Instead Global carefully plopped it into the midseason schedule, watched it prosper and it will be returning for a second season.
Currently running is Global's Rookie Blue a hit also on ABC because it is scheduled after the prime time season officially ends.
When I asked Williams if it hurt to see such an outstanding series as Combat Hospital bomb on ABC yet be such a hit up here, she nodded. It won't be coming back for a second season because it's too costly to make on its own.
Global also dropped the fine Canadian procedural cop show King when it failed to get a U.S. pick up. Williams says on reflection she should have run it on Global instead of Showcase which specializes in quirkier homegrown series like Haven and Lost Girl.
All in all Shaw had better Canadian drama series the past year than did CBC.
Williams also told scribes the network collectively cheered a bit when Fox moved Glee to Thursdays at 9. She says it's the nature of the Canadian programming beast to go for as many simulcasts as possible and this fall Global will simulcast 16 prime time hours a week  out of a grand total of 21 hours.
New acquisitions include yet another modern day version of Sherlock Holmes featuring Jonny Lee Miller and in a strange twist Lucy Liu as Watson.
After viewing 41 pilots for new shows Williams picked it as the possible break out show. But I gently reminded her she said the thing about last season's dud Prime Suspect.
Williams replied NBC should not have plopped that one into the most competitive hour on TV: Thursdays at 10.
New  drama acquisitions include the submarine saga Last Resort with Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman, the 1960s drama Vegas with Dennis Quaid, the legal minded Made In Jersey with Janet Montgomery and Chicago Fire with Jesse Spencer from House.
And Global has two new sitcoms: Go On with Matthew Perry and Guys With Kids with Jesse Bradford. Waiting in the wings are new episodes of the faltering The Office.
It's big news that Shaw is bringing the U.S. cable channel Lifetime to Canada and rebranding its faltering cable outlet Showcase Diva to do so. And H2 will be a new cable channel spinoff of History, Canadian TV's most popular channel with such fare as American Pickers and Pawn Stars.One of Lifetime's upcoming reality shows will highlight the adventures of transgendered star Jenna Talackova and there'll also be the new TV flick Liz And Dick starring Lindsay Lohan.
Global is also picking up for daytime the latest talk show effort starring Ricki Lake who had a chatter show from 1993 to 2004.
With Oprah's departure Lake says there's an opening for a thoughtful talk effort --something like the old Phil Donahue show. "I did 11 seasons . I actually signed for this before Oprah left. " The way she was received on Dancing with The Stars convinced her the fan base was still there.
Global's other big visiting U.S. star LL Cool J said he enjoyed the crossover with Hawaii Five-0. Asked what other CBS shows his NCIS: LA gang could cross over to he said 60 Minutes but then offered Big Bang Theory because "I could put a gun to a nerd's head."
No wonder he tweeted that he was briefly detailed at the border by Canadian Immigration.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Citytv Is On A Roll

This is the week the three Canadian commercial networks --CTV, Global and Citytv get to strut their fall wares.
Back from the buying wars and chock full of American purchases the networks host dazzling parties for potential advertisers plus the very few TV critics left on the beat.
First up Tuesday was fledgling network Citytv which once again staged its gala at Massey Hall  followed with booze and dainties next door at the Hard Rock Cafe.
The theme of City is simple: we attract the young, hop viewers so if you're after viewers 55 and older then look elsewhere.
Rogers Media which snapped up City a few years back enjoyed a great past season --eight of their 12 U.S. pick ups will be back this fall and the network which is trying to emulate Fox TV has purchased Canadian rights to nine new U.S. comedies plus four new comedies.
But what's surprising is the lack of scripted Canadian series. Rogers dumped Murdoch Mysteries (which has a new home on CBC) and there's nothing quite ready to replace it. This fall Rogers will have just two hours of Canadian content on its prime time --the new series Bachelor Canada as well as Mantracker from OLN.
Citytv will have to make up its Canadian content quota later in the year and perhaps is thinking plopping vulnerable Canadian shows into the competitive fall schedule might just be a one way ticket to cancellation.
Some of Citytv's new imports seem very promising. Citytv has snatched Jimmy Kimmel Live from CHCH and also got Canadian rights to Katie Couric's new daily afternoon chatter hour.
When she met the press Couric shrugged off reports the talk shows wars are heating up again saying that after Oprah's retreat to her OWN network the field is open for a more thoughtful show.
"I have endless curiosity," she said to explain her qualifications and thought the "Darwinian process" of selection might result in weaker entries getting cancelled.
Couric said she'd certainly be interested in re-interviewing Sarah Palin on her show but doubted the ex-governor would appear.-Palin's interview sank Palin's chances as a potential vice president.
But not every show would be serious: "I'm not a snob either about modern culture."
Also guesting at the City launch were the new co-stars of Partners described as a bromance between a straight and a gay guy. The gay one will be played by Ugly Betty star Michael Urie --he's just finished a run of 150 performances on Broadway in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying created by Abe Burrows whose son James is going to direct all the season of Partners.
And Urie's partner in the show will be Brandon Routh, who's re-starting his career after the movie Superman did less than expected business.
Other guests included Max Greenfield, Schmidt on New Girl, who polled  critics about his chances for an Emmy nomination (he certainly deserves one). But I was surprised he only got about a 50 percent favorability rating from this group.
And there was tall Tyler Harcott, originally from Calgary, the amiable host of the new reality outing The Bachelor Canada.
And Dominic Monaghan popped in to talk about his new OLN series Wild Things and talk about his life long love affair with insects.
Other new U.S. sitcoms include Ben And Kate about an exuberant brother moving in with his sister and little daughter starring Dakota Johnson and Nat Faxon.  City also purchased the new Reba McEntire sitcom Malibu Country --all about a divorced mom finding herself with her mother (Lily Tomlin) in tow. The Mindy Project stars Mindy Kaling who also created it.
New drama acquisitions include Revolution created by Jon Favreau and J.J. Abrams about life in a futuristic society without electricity.
And there's the horror outing 666 Park Avenue about young couple Rachael Taylor and Dave Annable who take over a luxury apartment in a building that may be haunted.
And midseason  comedy acquisitions include  Bill Pullman in 1600 Penn and Sarah Chalke in How To Live With Your Parents For The Rest Of Your Life. Midseason comedy acquisitions include The Carrie Diaries (Carrie Bradshaw aged 16) and the TV debut of killer Hannibal Lecten based on the character from the Thomas Harris novel.
Returning U.S. hits include The B---- In Apartment 23, Suburgatory, Last Man Standing, Revenge (moving to Sunday nights), Person Of Interest and scandal.
Rumblings at the Rogers affair included persistent rumors Rogers may make a bid to take over Hockey Night In Canada away from CBC. Price tag would be over $100 million but it would solve Rogers' Canadian content problems.
And Rogers has green lighted two scripted Canadian comedies to run in the New Year: Package Deal created by Andrew Orenstein (Malcolm In The Middle) and Seed created by Joseph Raso.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Continuum: A New And Smart TV Peripheral

Another day, another Canadian "peripheral" makes its debut.
But Continuum which debuts on Showcase Sunday night at 9 is something different.
It's very smart and great to look at.
Canadian TV's "peripherals" are usually made to blend into the American TV landscape.
Think Flashforward or Rookie Blue which has just returned for its third series.
These shows are set in a strange nether world --one never knows if they are Canadian or American. Because they're both.
Continuum is firmly set in Vancouver in 2012.
So how could it be classed as a sci fi show?
Because it stars a time traveling cop from 2077, one Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) , a loving wife and mother who somehow travels through time and space and winds up in present day Vancouver.
She's a stranger in the past. In her world which is 65 years in the future there are no horses. So it's an experience for her to come in contact with police horses and see how they react.
And 65 years from now there's no running water, no taps as in her hotel room, so she's amazed by the simple act of washing her hands. And eating beef fell out of favor decades ago.
Trying to adapt is a matter of surmounting challenges --she has had SMR or cellular memory recall imbedded in her brain and she uses it to contact 17-year-old genius Alec Sadler  (Erik Knudsen) who operates out of his late father's technical workshop.
Until she can find the formula of getting back to her real time, Kiera uneasily joins forces with Vancouver detective Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster) as they investigate the fanatical terrorists who jumped back in time with her.
True, the opening hour has clumsy moments. If you don't believe the premise then this sci fi outing is definitely not for you.
What it has going for it are some pretty audacious conceptions: in the future gigantic corporations rule the world and are far wealthier than any earthly government.
On to this state is matched a TV procedural, the seemingly standard stuff of a mismatched team who somehow compliment each other.
Rachel kicked serious butt on both Alias and Criminal Minds --she does a whole lot of heavy lifting here and seems in great shape.
But having an American actress as the star of this Canadian peripheral is certainly a first.
Partnering her is Calgary born Victor Webster well remembered from such series as Charmed and Melrose Place.
And tn support there's a cast of dedicated Canadians: Stephen Lobo (Godiva's), Brian Markinson (Star Trek), William B. Davis (X Files).
Normally Canadian sci fi runs on Space but Continuum fits right in with some of Showcase's more recent and classy imports. And the series continues Vancouver's dominance as the Sci Fi TV Capital of Canada.
I have this feeling Showcase will attract the sci fi crowd --for one thing it was created by Simon Barry who started out as a camera operator --one reason this series looks so fine.
Continuum's Show Runner is the respected Canadian veteran Jeff King who I remember interviewing on both E.N.G. in 1989 and Due South in 1994. Since then he's produced series as diverse as EZ Streets and White Collar.
So I'm convinced the quality will hold up making this one of those peripherals that's really easy to like.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rookie Blue Returns: A Summer Peripheral

It's the close of the regular TV season with most series cliffhangers already out of the way.
Get set for TV's newest species: The TV Peripheral.
It's an industry term that well defines Global TV's Rookie Blue returning for its third summer of new episodes Thursday May 24 at 10 p.m.
But just what is a "Peripheral"?
Well, Rookie Blue exists because it's a very successful co-production between Shaw TV in Canada and American ABC.
Without ABC money the show simply would not exist. The lack of an American network sponsor meant another Global Peripheral --Combat Hospital won't be coming back for a second season.
Rookie Blue is that new breed of TV show made for the burgeoning summertime market. If it were carried during the regular season it would have been killed off in the ratings a long time ago.
A while back Canadian peripherals like Night Heat and Adderly ran on CTV during prime time and on CBS Late Nights.
Canadian producers are telling me they desperately need U.S. financing or they can't turn a profit.
Shaw TV stuck with the stylish police series King for two seasons but never could make that all important U.S. network sale. Series executive producer Bernie Zuckerman told me he should have shopped the pilot to the U.S. networks before proceeding with production --the Americans like to be in on the creative details from casting to plot development.
That's why Rookie Blue so fascinates me. It's a success in both U.S. and Canadian terms.
For Global it's much needed Canadian dramatic content. And it's a grand vehicle to showcase the talents of up and comers --all of them Canadian.
The series shoots in Toronto and abounds with references to Queen Street, the Rochester ferry, Riverdale district. You even see streetcar tracks (as in Night Heat) but so fat I've never spotted a red rocket zooming by.
Missy Peregrym is front and center as the drop dead gorgeous rookie cop Andy --but one question how long can Andy and the gang remain rookies? I'm remembering the fast exit of another similar TV series, ABC's The Rookies, after star Michael Ontkean complained he couldn't remain a rookie forever.
The first new episode was cagily made to attract a big U.S. audience --William (Star Trek) Shatner is the guest giving a sturdy turn as a distraught grand dad who lost his seven-year old granddaughter seven years ago --and he's still fighting to get her back.
The hour worked thanks to taut direction from veteran David Wellington and expert camera work by David Perrault that really got us into the Toronto neighborhoods.
The second new episode a week later (which I've also seen) was more prosaic and lacked drive --all about a Toronto high schoolers prank in stealing a police car.
The fact Rookie Blue stands up is due to its executive producers --Ilana Frank and Tassie Cameron, canny veterans of the TV series wars.
And it boasts a sexy, photogenic cast including Gregory Smith (Everwood), Travis Milne, Charlotte Sullivan, Enuka Okuma, Peter Mooney is onboard as the newest rookie but I notice series regular Eric Johnson is missing.
One nagging question: why does Rookie Blue so remind me of Private Practice?  Both sport well groomed actors who spend considerable time mooning over lost loves --a reason young emales are primarily the biggest fans.
But Rookie Blue is only the first of the Canadian Procedurals to return for the summer.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Homicide Hunter : A True Life Procedural

Sick and tired of a TV season filled with slick but empty fictional procedural shows?
Then the new factual series Homicide Hunter is for you --it's the real thing.
Retired homicide detective Joe Kenda sits back and invites us into the action of solving true life murders.
And he's seen a whole heap of them. According to his own statistics he's solved more than 387 homicides in his long career with the Colorado Springs police department.
The first episode on Wednesday May 23 at 8 p.m. on Investigation Discovery catches him in a fond reminiscent mood as he demonstrates all his powers in solving the disappearance and subsequent murder of a flighty waitress dropped off at a bar and never seen again.
Kenda is an odd old bird --he sits impassively with darkness all around him his face a mass of lines as he wearily recounts the salient facts.
And you quickly believe him that he's seen it all and then some.
The first episode happened some time ago because in the dramatic reenactments he's played by a young hunk some 25 years younger than the wizened retiree who sits telling the story.
What gets me is the completely plain talking way the murder is recounted and thrashed about in an ever so slow style of delivery.
At one point talking about the hysterical reaction of the family who figured the police were not doing enough he looks at the camera and drawls "Everybody yells at me."
Yeah, but Kenda never yells back. He simply continues meticulously recounting detail after detail and showing how he was ever so slowly moving toward an arrest.
The dramatic restagings are, well, the dopey part. We want more of Kenda on what it's like to search for a killer when he can't even find a corpse.
He shows us how he interrogates a suspect, drawing out the details and often a confession without any hint of bullying.
In fact Homicide Hunter emerges as Joe Kenda's "Greatest Hits", every case neatly wrapped up without too much sweat on his part. And there are comments from real family members, the D.A. in the case as well as fellow detectives working with him all the way.
The title of an early episode says it all: "Everybody Lies".
But not Joe Kenda. His sad, old eyes have seen it all and then some. It's been his life's work and he's deservedly proud of his record.

Homicide Hunter : A True Life Priocedural

Sick and tired of a TV season filled with slick but empty fictional procedural shows?
Then the new factual series Homicide Hunter is for you --it's the real thing.
Retired homicide detective Joe Kenda sits back and invites us into the action of solving true life murders.
And he's seen a whole heap of them. According to his own statistics he's solved more than 387 homicides in his long career with the Colorado Springs police department.
The first episode on Wednesday May 23 at 8 p.m. on Investigation Discovery catches him in a fond reminiscent mood as he demonstrates all his powers in solving the disappearance and subsequent murder of a flighty waitress dropped off at a bar and never seen again.
Kenda is an odd old bird --he sits impassively with darkness all around him his face a mass of lines as he wearily recounts the salient facts.
And you quickly believe him that he's seen it all and then some.
The first episode happened some time ago because in the dramatic reenactments he's played by a young hunk some 25 years younger than the wizened retiree who sits telling the story.
What gets me is the completely plain talking way the murder is recounted and thrashed about in an ever so slow style of delivery.
At one point talking about the hysterical reaction of the family who figured the police were not doing enough he looks at the camera and drawls "Everybody yells at me."
Yeah, but Kenda never yells back. He simply continues meticulously recounting detail after detail and showing how he was ever so slowly moving toward an arrest.
The dramatic restagings are, well, the dopey part. We want more of Kenda on what it's like to search for a killer when he can't even find a corpse.
He shows us how he interrogates a suspect, drawing out the details and often a confession without any hint of bullying.
In fact Homicide Hunter emerges as Joe Kenda's "Greatest Hits", every case neatly wrapped up without too much sweat on his part. And there are comments from real family members, the D.A. in the case as well as fellow detectives working with him all the way.
The title of an early episode says it all: "Everybody Lies".
But not Joe Kenda. His sad, old eyes have seen it all and then some. It's been his life's work and he's deservedly proud of his record.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

CBS Must Be Doing Something Right

CBS long lauded as the Tiffany of the U.S. networks must be doing something right.
Or is the current ratings ascendancy the result of its competitors doing everything wrong?
Consider the stats: the network increased viewers by one per cent this season to an average of 11.7 million prime time viewers an hour .
OK, I won't mention that in decades past Beverly Hillbillies was attracting 60 million viewers a week.
And I know one CBS star of one CBS sitcom back then whose show got cancelled with a 27 share of the market --it lost three share points from its lead in.
So everything is relative. Wednesday's Upfront meeting in Manhattan showcased many series back for yet another season.
And not to worry --all of them will be bought for hefty prices by Canadian networks and then simulcast on blacked out American channels.
In today's vastly competitive market CBS is only adding three new hour dramas and one new situation comedy.
CSI: Miami has gone to reruns but the original CSI plus one spinoff CSI: New York are still there.
Big news at CBS series will be its modern day version of Sherlock Holmes titled Elementary starring Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu to run Thursdays at 10.
Dennis Quaid makes his TV series debut in Vegas all about legendary sheriff  Ralph Lamb --Vegas is a title that's been around the block a few times. Michael Chilkis from the Shield co-stars.
The third new drama, Made In Jersey, looks at a working class lawyer trying to fit into a stuffy Manhattan law office.
CBS says it will move its new hit Two Broke Girls from 8.30 to 9 on Mondays and the rapidly aging Two And A Half Men moves to Thursdays at 8:30.
CBS says it definitely plans on keeping The Good wife on Sundays at 9 where it slipped a bit in the ratings.
And there'll be two midseason replacements: Golden Boy about New York city's youngest police commissioner and a sitcom Friend Me about two buds who relocate from Indiana to Los Angeles.
Industry naysayers feel CBS may be coasting with two many old series on the schedule which could start bleeding viewers before suitable replacements can be found.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Can ABC Rebound With Its New Shows?

ABC has really been in a sort of free fall ever since it honorably retired Lost.
I'm astonished neither NBC nor ABC picked up CSI Miami just dumped from CBS--look it happened over the years from Father Knows Best to Taxi and might succeed today.
I haven't seen any of the new pilots as yet  but neither have Canadian programmers already in L.A. tossing up to $700 million in Canadian dollars on series the majority of which will stiff in the fall ratings.
The big ABC news was the move of Revenge to Sunday nights which has the toughest most competitive time slots of the week --look at the ratings droop when CSI Miami was dumped there. Revenge takes over the old Desperate Housewives slot.
Once Upon A Time made in Vancouver stays put on Sundays in the old Disney time slot opposite 60 Minutes.
ABC has unveiled only five new fall shows with five more held back for January 2013.
ABC has renewed a lot of aging shows already starting to droop ratings wise: Dancing with the Stars, Grey's Anatomy, Castle.
Private Practice will be back but on Mondays --it has thrived so far by following Grey's Anatomy.
Cancelled shows include Cougar Town, CGB, Missing and The River --the last two were very expensive but lost numbers by the week. Body Of Proof will be coming back later. Or so ABC promises.
The five new series include 666 Park Avenue which is described as a gothic thriller and stars Lost's Terry Quinn.
Last Resort comes from The Shield's Shawn Ryan and stars Toronto's Scott Speedman --it concerns a nuclear sub marooned on a small island.
Friday Night's Connie Britton stars in a country drama titled appropriately enough Nashville.
ABC is bringing back its Friday night comedy lineup where it once reigned supreme with the likes of  Full House.
Tim Allen 's returning series will be followed by a new Reba McEntire sitcom. titled Malibu Country.
On Wednesdays a new comedy about aliens living in a Jersey gated community will follow the ratings smash Modern Family.
It's hard to say if there are any break out hits in this mixed bag.
But don't worry all the shows old and new will be bought by Canadian networks in expensive bidding wars and simulcast this fall and some will crash with a mighty boom just like this season's ultra expensive Prime Suspect.

Canada Sings Is Back

No doubt about it Global's Canada Sings is the perfect example of a sturdy spring time Canadian hit.
Plopped into the competitive schedule in fall or winter and the show would surely go unnoticed.
But now that heavy hitting U.S. series are going into reruns until September Canada Sings gets the break it deserves.
Last spring was the first year it was on and I surely enjoyed talking up unpretentious Jann Arden who is back as one of the judges along with Vanilla Ice and Laurieann Gibson who replaces Pierre Bouvier.
Arden made the point she came onboard particularly because this is not a Northern version of American Idol.
The judges are sympathetic, they proffer wise advice and there's no career on the line because the performers every week are rank amateurs toiling for various charities.
This year there are 12 new teams from among the Children's Aid Society, the Canadian Automobile Club, GO Transit, Ontario Science Center, Purdy's Chocolates, Stampede Casino.
I mean how mainstream is that?
All groups strut their stuff to perform the best song and dance acts to win $25,000 for the charity of their choice.
No doubt about it the message is very upbeat. It's all so Canadian, eh?
I previewed the first new episode although Global deliberately blacked out the ending which gives the first round winners.
Opposing groups are West Jet and the OPP police force.
We get introduced to some of the West Jet group including Jennie, Dan, Jesse, Dean --make no doubt about it they've never performed as a group before such a large crowd and they're might nervous.
we see them assembling and getting singing and dancing lessons from professionals and some want to quit because it's very hard work and they don't want to be starred at.
But if they win the money goes to the Alberta Children's Hospital and some have had children who received excellent treatment there.
They're a big group, highly motivated and they come together marvelously well as a group called "Cabin Pressure".
The "OPPers" are equally determined --they got together as a tribute to a fallen officer, a real hero to all, and they include a 911 dispatcher as well as a veteran police detective. If they win it's be able  to purchase a defibrillator for rural usage.
You watch their routine and then look at the judges all of whom have tears in their eyes and that's the difference between Canada Sings and American Idol.
Insight Productions made it and every show seems to pack a similar punch.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Farewell To Wisteria Lane

Was it really eight long years ago that I sat down to High Tea at Toronto's Windsor Arms hotel  with the three gals from the fledgling series Desperate Housewives --Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross and Eva Longoria?
All were in town to tub thump for their new ABC show which CTV had picked up as its extra for the season meaning it was not originally simulcast but shown Sunday afternoons at 4.
Also present in the hotel was Teri Hatcher but she refused to be part of any mass interview.
And later that afternoon I also interviewed Ricardo Antonio Chavira who played Eva's long suffering husband Carlos.
If that wasn't enough weeks later I was in Los Angeles on the TV Critics' tour and bussed along with dozens of other TV scribes to the actual set on the Universal backlot.
I immediately noticed the street in question had also served as the main street in the short lived NBC soap Providence.
Dressed up and repainted it became an entirely different venue for a series that was a roaring hit at least for its first few seasons.
Promoting the farewell the other night on David Letterman and Longoria was all sweetness and light assuring TV viewers that rumors of feuds were just that.
Yeah, right.
One of the gals who decidedly did not return to bid adieu was Nicollete Sheridan who even launched a lawsuit against creator Marc Cherry alleging he'd whacked her on set. The lawsuit was dismissed for want of evidence.
In fact it was Sheridan's presence that made me realize the whole thing was a comedic take off on Sheridan's old series Knots Landing.
Nobody I ever spoke to on the show ever disputed my contention this was the gayest series ever permitted on prime time U.S. television.
And at first I enjoyed watching the series but after a few seasons my ardor cooled somewhat. As happens with all ground breaking shows it started stealing from itself, becoming common place and very tired looking.
Sunday night's two-parter had no oomph as it tied up neatly all sorts of plot convolutions. For the first time the girls seemed fairly bored by the proceedings. I'm not giving away much plot but all the girls had moved awaty by the end of the show.
At first it was just plain crazy wonderful to have a buried body --that of suicide Mary Alice (Brenda Strong) --guide us through the weekly episodes as narrator.
ABC hyped the show relentlessly --there even were laundry bags with the name of the show plus the motto "Everyone has a little dirty laundry."
And don't forget the 2005 Vanity Fair cover with the girls fighting over who would be front and center!
At first 25 million Americans were turning in but this season the figure hovers at 8.5 million, an indication the show had run its course.
ABC announced the series' cancellation a full nine months ago to give creator Cherry enough time to plot an intricate last season.
Real Housewives is another unfortunate example of Reality TV aping a scripted series but hey let's not think of that right now.
And who knows painted over and refurbished the studio street of Wisteria Lane may rise again in yet another new series.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Living In The Shadow Is Must-See TV

I'm just not sure how much attention the fine new documentary Living In The Shadow will get before its premiere on OMNI 1 Sunday night at 9.
For me it's must-see TV, a stark, uncompromising look at the horrors of Chornobyl that contains images both frightening and awesome.
Directed and produced by James Motluk it offers horrifying scenes of the nuclear devastation that ravaged the Ukrainian landscape after the explosion on April 26 1986.
The videos were taken by Toronto-based photographer Lu Taskey about four years after the disaster and are startling. We see whole apartment blocks which are completely abandoned ---it's like a scene from the fictional movie On The Beach only these scenes are completely true.
Evergreens are stunted.  Entire villages are eerily silent. Troops wear white masks in a wholly inadquate clean up campaign.
Whole areas --villages, farms, schools were ordered shuttered by the Soviet government in a cover up campaign of monstrous proportions.
That the videos were shot at all is a testament to Taskey's courage --the authorities would surely have detained him and confiscated the film if they had known about it.
Director Motluk  was shown the boxes of videos some 20 years later and instantly realize what a treasure trove of history he had in his possession.
Some 150,000 Ukrainians had been forced to relocate from the surrounding area leaving much of what they owned. What ensured was a cover up of monstrous proportions.
But the human cost was never properly understood.At one hospital that's visited we see the beautiful children who are the true victims --leukemia cases were rampant and young patients were treated with old bandages because of supply problems. Orphanages were overcrowded and the consequences decades later are enormous.
Survivors such as Nadoa Zastavna tell their stories of survival. And there are lessons to be learned about the consequences of dealing with nuclear power.
The Soviet system covered over the inadequacies of government inspectors in so many fields.
New footage shot near the site shows hard hatted  inspectors still on duty there.  But what can they do other than keep people away?  The land will be polluted for generations to come. --the water table is still toxic, children are still dying from the after effects.
But the story is also one of hope--Taskey and his close friend Jerry Shudrak are shown reminiscing about the powerful organization they set up Children Of Chornobyl Canada Fund and the way aid was marshaled among the Canadian Ukrainian community.
And the theme at the film's end is simply stated: we are all connected and unless we learn from the mistakes of Chornobyl then they could be repeated  in other nuclear facilities closer to home.
Motluk made the compelling documentary for his boutique company Guerrilla Films.
It will also air in Ukrainian on May 29 at 8 p.m. and on OMNI Alberta May 20 at 9 p.m. and on OMNI BC May 20 at 10 p.m.
MY RATING: *** 1/2

Thursday, May 10, 2012

CBC Fall TV: No Retreating!

That was quite a fancy dancy shindig CBC vice president Kirstine Stewart threw for thousands of potential advertisers at CBC 's Toronto Broadcast Center.
In recent years the shenanigans became downright shabby with platefuls of day old sandwiches and CBC executives hastening to explain away the Corp's downward spiral.
Stewart in her first full year as head of English language programming is riding a new wave of boastfulness and told the overflow crowd "We're not retreating."
To bolster her boast of CBC's unique status she had such important producers as Christina Jennings and Robert Lantos talk about CBC's mission of providing top notch local talent.
And despite federal funding cuts the occasion was quite lavish with seats in bleacher style arraigned around a mock ice rink through which CBC stars walked and greeted the crowd.
CBC does have much to crow about.
First up there's the acquisition of The Murdoch Mysteries from CITY-TV for its fifth season.
Star Yannick Bisson (who I first interview in 1984 for the TV flick Hockey Night) told me "Maybe we should have been at CBC all along, it's that kind of show. We're re-energized and hopefully we can last even beyond this season."
The season will end with the turn of the 20th century. And there'll be a new cast addition in Dr. Emily
And how about the second season of Arctic Air. Star Adam Beach told me "Yes, we do shoot mostly in summer and fall. Why shoot in Yellowknife in the dark of winter --nobody could see what was happening.
"This series hit it with Canadians everywhere. It deals with issues of environmental concerns, pollution, the rights of our aboriginal peoples. Nothing could be more Canadian."
For the new series Cracked executive producer Peter Raymont (The Border) says he tracked down two fine Canadian actors living in L.A. and convinced them to come home: David Sutcliffe (Private Practice) and Stefanie von Pfetten (Battlestar Gallactica).
Sutcliffe plays a veteran Toronto cop suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and Pfetten is a psychiatrist working with the T.O. force on mental issues.
"We already have sets up," jokes Raymont --he inherited the police offices used in the TV series King which won't be coming back for a third season --the offices and cells will be redressed for Cracked.
Then it was on to Over The Rainbow CBC's entrance in the live performance shows (think The Voice). This one is all about the search for the perfect Dorothy to star in Andrew Lloyd Webber's revamping of the classic movie Over The Rainbow.
 It kicks off with a documentary on the choice of 10 potential Dorothys by the judges and Lloyd-Webber --the stage production opens at the Mirvish theatre in Toronto beginning in December 2012.
CBC has snatched talented MTV personality Daryn Jones away from MTV.
Says Jones "I told them (MTV) last Wednesday and we made the farewell a week long event." CBC sources are saying Jones' defection could lead to other CBC gigs including his own comedy series.
CBC's other buys include the British made Titanic: Blood And Steel, technically a Canadian co-production starring such Canadians as Neve Campbell and Kevin Zegers along with Chris Noth and Derek Jacobi. The question is: will TV audiences take to another Titanic tale?
Other news: George Stroumboulopoulos moves to 7 p.m. replacing Jeopardy --can he provide a strong enough lead-in for CBC's prime time., industry insiders are asking.
But Stewart is co confident CBC is on a roll she's also having fall previews in Vancouver and Calgary early next week.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Eat St. Returns For A Third Season

I'm full and I haven't eaten anything in hours.
It's previewing the first new episode of the fun series Eat. St. which has done it for me.
The Canadian made eatery show always leaves me feeling satiated --and then some.
I've been avoiding shows recently on Food Network Canada because they make me feel hungry.
With Eat St. it's exactly the opposite.
Not that I'd consume any of the food proffered up in the first new show of the season. I'm already on a diet you see.
Eat St. looks at the curb-side revolution in cookery across the world but it's wholly appropriate that Toronto is the jump off point for this season --Paperny Entertainment is a Vancouver-based company, you see.
There are 16 new half hours and looks at 60 eateries including an hour long salute to British street eats.
First stop is the food truck for Caplansky's which revs up Jewish classics into confections that are definitely fattening just to look at.
Zane Caplansky is the maker of this Jewish soul food and all of it from his food truck which exists independently of the restaurant. And there are even comments from Toronto Star foodist Jennifer Bain about the wonderful eats.
Like the WZE Sandwich with grilled kosher-style salami, schmaltz-laced chopped liver and Russian honey mustard.
You'll ascend to smoke meat heaven if you ever try that combo.
At Los Angeles' Lake Street Creamery, also in a truck,  we see how the Don Draper special is made --it has a distinct bourbon taste.
There are flavors based on donuts would you believe it, another with Earl Grey tea flavoring side walk customers rave over.
In Nashville it's time to sample Yayo's OMG.
"People in Nashville are really excited by food trucks" the mayor assures us.
Gourdoughs in Austin, Texas has a monster donut injected with jalapeno jelly and topped with cream cheese and Canadian bacon.
At around this time as the preview DVD unspooled I suddenly felt completely full. In fact I reached for some handy dinner mints.
Every half hour is the same wild food ride. Host James Cunningham also does the comedy clubs and it shows. It surely helps that he also has a cast iron stomach.
I just feel simply watching this foodathon has caused me to put on weight.

MY RATING: ***1/2.


Monday, May 7, 2012

The Fall TV Season Starts Right Now

I know May is traditionally the time for TV cliffhangers galore.
But as far as TV programmers go this season is finished and the next one, fall '02, has already started.
On Thursday CBC unveils its schedule which will be somewhat diminished by federal budget cuts.
And this upcoming Monday last place U.S. network NBC struts its stuff before thousands of advertiser buyers in New York.
And, yes, it all affects Canadian viewers, too.
Right after the "Upfronts" the Canadian network executives wing their way to Los Angeles to begin the complicated business of forking out over $600 million on the new product.
It didn't exactly play out the way our Canadian execs thought it would.
But hey I remember when CTV bough the first season of Desperate Housewives as its extra show to plop in when something else failed. It originally ran Sunday afternoons at 4.
Within weeks it was being simulcast with ABC Sunday nights at 9 as a contender for first place in the ratings.
And last year Global outbid everybody for rights to the remake of Prime Suspect calling it the season's best. And predictably it tanked.
CTV had high hopes for Pan Am which was supposed to take off like Mad Men and it sank ever lower in the ratings by the week.
This year NBC gets to go first and the predictions are pretty dire.
True, The Voice was a big new hit. But it's lonely at the top.
NBC's Smash has morphed into a respectable soap opera but ratings have gone down.
Other NBC series I'm trying to forget include Are You There Chelsea?, The Playboy Club, Bent, Rock Center, Best Friends Forever.
The Thursday comedies are all in decline because of advancing age.
But on Monday NBC chief Bob Greenblatt gets to unveil his first full schedule. I already know he's picked up a Ryan Murphy sitcom titled The New Normal with Ellen Barkin and the J.J. Abtrams prtoject Revolution.
NBC is in a ratings trough that finds it trending below many basic cable networks.
I'm interested in the strategy of how to get out of that hole. But it may prove impossible.
Earlier, CBC trots out its fall schedule.
I remember when I started covering the TV business in 1970 CBC staged gala parties up at Studio 7 with all its big stars holding court.
Juliette threatened to throw her shoe at me --I'd reported she was aloof and forbade press to her TV set.
One western TV critic was all gaga at finally meeting the Friendly Giant, another just had to sit down with the star of Chez Helene.
All those stars and those series are long gone now.
The era of big parties has gone and so have the hordes of regional TV critics.
Most papers ditched TV critics long ago in a crazy cost cutting move.
These days CBC --and NBC --are both fighting for their corporate lives.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

You Should Read Richard Stursberg's New Book

I'm not recommending Richard Stursberg's new book The Tower Of Babble about his time as CBC's top programmer merely because he mentions me.
But I admit I looked up my name in the Index, saw it, and only then bought the book.
I think anybody who wants to understand the very peculiar state of Canadian broadcasting can find a lot of information here.
Simply stated Stursberg was parachuted in by CBC President Robert Rabinovich in  October 2004 in a somewhat desperate attempt to turn around the battered public broadcaster.
I first met him at the CBC's fall launch of that year where I interviewed him and found him a very well informed chap indeed with a high reputation from his years heading Telefilm Canada.
And at first Stursberg seemed to take a measured approach --Slawko Klymkiw briefly stayed on as chief TV programmer even though he'd been expecting the job Stursberg got.
But things go tricky when Stursberg peremptorily shut out CBC's unions in August 2005 because he rightly expected they were about to strike and disrupt the new fall CBC TV season.
In a later confrontation with The Star's Directorial Board which I attended Stursberg was unapologetic in his thesis he had saved the season even though ratings initially plummeted.
And the more he probed and pried he came across a culture at the CBC that was defiantly anti-ratings.
The reason Stursberg was so adamant at getting better numbers for CBC shows on both radio and TV was apparent --dwindling federal government subsidies meant CBC was more dependent than ever on advertising revenues.
But without stronger TV audiences those revenues were slowly crumbling.
On TV Stursberg steered a number of fine drama series like Intelligence, The Border and Being Erica. I liked them all but only Being Erica lasted more than two seasons. However the blandest one, Heartland, became a real winner with the younger set.
I still think dumping RCAF was a big mistake. It was a CBC franchise like NBC's SNL and look how NBC has nurtured SNL over the decades with infusions of fresh talent.
Little Mosque On The Prairie was a monster hit but two co-productions with Moses Znaimer (Rumours and Sophie) were unalloyed duds.
And Stursberg caused much gnashing of teeth by shutting down entirely Opening Night, the weekly two-hour high arts series that usually got low ratings.
I thought this was unnecessary --all he had to do was move the show to Sunday afternoons six or seven times a season, use mainly reruns from the CBC archives, toss in Veronica Tennant as host and keep the artistic community on CBC's side.
CBC did exactly that in 1979 during similar cost cutting sprees and the show named Rear View Mirror kept the Corp going for several years.
Importing such U.S. shows as Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy was actually a ratings windfall but went against former president Pierre Juneau's promise to cut out imported American schlock.
In the CBC news room Stursberg was similarly maladroit. There were bruising confrontations with news head Tony Burman who eventually left (as did Klimkiw). Stursberg says he merely wanted a desk and chair in the newsroom to observe proceedings. Really, that's all?
Bringing in Magid Associates from the U.S. to brighten up CBC news was silly--these days an uncomfortable Peter Mansbridge seems to be winding his way through a dated wine bar and the emphasis on hard news has been softened.
But Stursberg's wish to move the National on CBC to 11 remains an excellent idea --it would blast CTV out of its ratings complacency and allow CBC to broadcast adult dramas at 10. Plus The National would still run on CBC's News channel at 10.
His ruminations about getting rid of CBC's antiquated transmitter systems makes a whole lot of sense as does his wonderment that big cities like London and Hamilton have absolutely no CBC TV or radio coverage while New Brunswick with far less population sports three CBC affiliates.
Look, the book is very readable especially when he's dealing with his legion of enemies including Peter Herrndorf or CTV's Ivan Fecan who grabbed away the Vancouver Winter Olympics --but paid such a price CTV finances were in ruin.
I disagreed with a lot of the Stursbergian philosophy but he began a debate about the future of public broadcasting that just will not go away.
And besides he quotes me which I like.