Sunday, September 30, 2012

Brad Smith: One Lucky Canadian Bachelor

Footballer Brad Smith wanders around the first episode of the new series The Bachelor Canada looking like he's got his hands full.
And he has!
Twenty-five long stemmed lovelies step out of their limoes to meet the lucky guy and mostly he's lost for words.
Of course the gals are young and sexy. The oldest is 33 and she's ravishing. And so are all the rest as they've been fitted into couturier gowns and fluffed and puffed to the adoration stage.
Smith perfectly fits the bill for a TV Bachelor. He's white, upscale, well educated, motivated and surprisingly at ease on camera for a TV newcomer.
He looks tall in the saddle until pitted up against host Tyler Harcott --Brad at 6'1" suddenly looks small against Tyler's 6'6".
Look, The Bachelor Canada defies TV criticism. It will be a hit because it is cagily manufactured to capture the attention of all those love lorn gals sitting at home watching TV.
I've yet to meet a guy who'll admit he watches the show. But the chance to sample such pulchritude all at once is mighty tempting.
Big news is that the Canadian version is even better than the U.S. edition. It's been photographed lushly so it doesn't look like another batch of Reality TV.
About Brad, I'm not sure he knows what he's in for. Being an American Bachelor has meant a one way ticket to obscurity for a whole pack of young guys. Brad told the press conference I attended he isn't thinking about a TV career but he should, he'd make a fine sports announcer.
Born in Quebec, he's 28, the son of a Canadian Senator, Brad graduated from Queen's University and played as a wide receiver for the CFL (Allouettes and Argonauts) --he's now a free agent.
"He has gorgeous teeth," whispered the girl beside me. Teeth? Who looks at teeth?
I'm not sure how much each contestant gets or even what Brad is getting but it must be a fair chunk of change. Even so the Bachelor Canada is far cheaper to make than a weekly hour long scripted series.
And probably more popular, too.
But the producers say the American version is truly top heavy with backstage talent --there's even one gal who spends all day lighting all the candles seen in so many scenes.
Also at the press conference I learned the concept has been franchised out to 26 countries.
It would make little sense for the show to be changed much or viewers might become disgruntled.
First up there's the parade of beauties from their limos as they strut up to Brad and nervously chatter away. So far it was mostly shot in B.C.
It seemed endless to  me but I noticed the females in the audience who were previewing the first hour seemed completely enthralled. And gradually I started evaluating the contestants as well.
The bits about the contestants hanging out with Brad seemed hokey to me. But these girls were hardly friendly to each other. They had a job to do --get one of the 10 roses handed out.
I became fixated by their occupations which include everything from a cocktail waitress to a CFL team rep to a --gulp --funeral parlor attendant.
We got to know some of them by their aimless chatter as they swilled champagne. Some were incredibly bitch which is exactly what the producers wanted I'm guessing.
Anyhow I was surprised at some of Brad's choices but it's his show not mine. But the surprises are what keep viewers tuned in.
Turns out Smith had not seen the premiere until it was shown and kept referring to it all as a "journey". Looks like the guy is learning TV lingo really fast.
On the original series the bachelor was supposed to chose and get engaged as quickly as possible. Smith said he understands long term relationships are not likely to be formed.
But I'm still wondering if Smith's very respectful parents will enjoy it --all that smooching and cuddling will last the entire season.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

666 Park Avenue Just Might Scare You

Here is one important thing to remember as you watch the premiere of the new series 666 Park Avenue.
It premieres Sund. Sept. 30 at 10 p.m. on Citytv and ABC.
Just keep telling yourself this: It's not cable TV -- it's a network series.
If you tune in anticipating a blood soaked mess like American Horror Story you'll be truly disappointed.
But if you crave creeping horror, unquiet revelations and a sickening sensation of entrapment, well, I have a new show for you.
The production values on 666 Park Avenue are lavish. It takes place in the fictional New York city apartment complex called The Drake, the last bastion for renters on an exclusive street where condominiums rule.
And, yes, there really was a Drake hotel in New York. I stayed there once, it was right up the street from the Waldorf Astoria and was shuttered for renovations only to re-emerge as Swissotel New York..
Into this luxuriant atmosphere comes a perky and totally sappy Midwestern Couple who can't believe their luck.
Unemployed Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor) has a hob interview and promptly gets hired as the building's  new property manager. She brings along her chirpy boyfriend Henry Martin (Dave Annable) but what's wrong with these two?
Have they never watched the horror classic Rosemary's Baby?
They get an apartment to die for --it would rent at about $7,000 a month, I figure. And it comes with the job which is vague, undefined. As a lawyer Henry should know all this but the poor guy exclaims he only has $17 in his pocket until pay day.
And what happened to the last property manager?
He was moved elsewhere whispers the smirking doorman.
Balded Terry Quinn (Lost) is the smirking proprietor Gavin and boy has he got a grab bag of secrets while Vanessa Williams (Desperate Housewives) is his gorgeous wife Olivia.  Quinn seems to be successfully channeling Bernie Madoff I'm thinking.
Old apartment buildings give me the creeps anyhow. And the other tenants seem, well, strange: Brian and Louise Leonard (Robert Buckley and Mercedes Masohn), Alexis Blume (Helena Mattsson), 14-year-old Nona Clark (Samantha Logan). The doorman Tony (Erik Palladino) is far too smiley cute.
The horror here is of the psychological variety. Why does Gavin insist on a one year lease so quickly?  It's the mere suggestion that things are happening that proves scary. Everything then begin to go wrong --Olivia insists she must buy Jane a $4,000 red dress for a benefit although Jane says it costs more than the car she drives.
See, bad things do happen to these tenants but that's because they've individually made pacts with the devil --or  Gavin as he's called here..
The series opens with a virtuoso pianist at his last concert --as he hits perfection his fingers begin bleeding profusely and his effort to run and hide is unsuccessful. Gavin will always knows where he is.
666 Park Avenue moves oh so slowly to its climaxes where, rest assured, blood flows and  people jump to their deaths from high floors.
But this is a network show and ABC has to sell upbeat ads during the commercial breaks.
As TV goes 666 Park Avenue is terror served tastefully on a silver breakfast tray service with just the right amount of shocks.
Call it old fashioned but it worked for me.
Big question is how it will fare  in the U.S. against CBS's The Mentalist, Showtime's Homeland, HBO's Treme and NBC NFL Football.
And 666's Canadian ratings won't be a factor in renewal or cancellation.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Friday, September 28, 2012

TV's Best Series Homeland Is Back

Now I understand.
I've just watched the first two new episodes of the addictive series Homeland which returns to Super Channel Sunday night at 10.
And I now know why it swept the Emmys last week winning Emmys as best series of the year and Emmys for best series actress (Claire Danes) and best series actor (Damian Lewis). A total of six Emmys is amazing considering the  formidable opposition included Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
The series is that great.
Few people I know seem to be aware of the series. I think it's because Homeland is on the Canadian cable channel Super Channel.
 I always thought of Super Channel as a Western Canada service that split the nation up with First Choice. And that was true way back then --today these services are Movie Central (West) and The Movie Network (East).
The new Super Channel was founded in 2007 and is a premium television service for the whole country with Homeland certainly its brightest jewel.
Homeland is just amazing with incredibly textured performances and writing at a level almost never present in series television. I have to tread carefully here because there are huge surprises in the first new episodes involving both Carrie (Danes) and Brody (Lewis).
This new batch starts six months after the first season (which I still haven't seen).
Clare Danes stars as the brilliant but bipolar agent Carrie Mathison who underwent shock therapy and was fired from the CIA. Traumatized by what she saw in the Middle East she is now back with her American family and struggling mightily to jump start a new career teaching English to a class of immigrants.
Marine Sergeant Nick Brody (Damian Lewis) has parlayed his notoriety as a long suffering POW into a new career as a U.S. Congressman but still harbors deep secrets that Carrie suspected.
And Carrie's old mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) who ignored her during her recuperation now has another job for her that her family hopes she'll turn down.
Brody has a 16-year old daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) who correctly suspects her father is more than just another recuperating POW while his long suffering wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) seems to enjoy his new found fame while lashing out at the daughter for her cynical attitudes.
Saul is terribly ambivalent about the way Carrie has been treated by the Agency and still considers her instincts to be first class and perhaps even better than his.
I've been watching Danes since she was 17 on My So-Called Life. As Carrie she projects that sense of bewilderment as if she's about to crack wide open at any moment.
Lewis also perfectly reflects the ambiguities of a character who is far less heroic than Americans have imagined.
Patinkin who has talked about leaving Criminal Minds because he found it too violent is here involved in story lines equally violent but far more unsettling.
Homeland courageously dramatizes the predicament of American spies set loose in a culture they can never hope to completely understand.
Some of the situations in the first two new episodes seem on the surface to be pat dramatic contrivances until exploding into acts of great terror and death.
In Homeland there are no real heroes, only victims on both sides.
I know I'll keep watching. I just have to.
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Real Sherlock Holmes Is Timely

Serendipitous is how I describe the astute scheduling of the new Canadian made documentary The Real sherlock Holmes.
It debuts a day after the premiere of the latest take on Sherlock Holmes, the modern adaptation titled Elementary.
You can catch it Frid. Sept. 28 on History at 9 p.m.
Already there's been a bit of a stink from the British makers of yet another modern day TV version called Sherlock. Star Benedict Cumberpatch was quoted as saying Elementary's Jonny Lee Miller must need the work because he has a wife and kid to support.
Director Garry Lang's effort (for Storyline Entertainment) focuses on how Sherlock serves as the starting point for most of the current TV series featuring CSI and deductive reasoning.
And Lang has even got his hands on a rare sound interview with the old master Conan Doyle. I also  remember an old CBC Telescope presentation that had Fletcher Markle interviewing Conan Doyle's son who said much the same thing about the universality of Holmes.
What emerges in Lang's film is a pleasant but fact filled trip down memory lane peopled by a dozen experts --Holmes was the center piece of four novels and 56 short stories and grew so popular and all encompassing that Doyle even tried to kill him off at one point. When he did so with 1891's The Death Of Sherlock Holmes London fans wore black arm bands in protest.
Holmes rose again, Christlike, and he's still around today --there are those two competing TV series plus the successful movie franchise with Robert Downey Jr.
I like the part which looks at the London Metropolitan Police circa 1880 and their sloppy methods of examining a chaotic crime scene. Corpses were tampered with and there was no systematic study of all the available evidence.
Doyle's character was just about the first to methodically compile all evidence --Doyle who was a physician had been trained by Dr. Joseph Bill who was one of the first "death investigators" and almost certainly an inspiration for the character.
And Holmes used a knowledge of chemistry, anatomy, poisons as well as behavioral science to examine possible suspects.
The experts tell us the Holmes methods can be used further afield such as at NASA where the Martian landings are being interpreted as a sort of Holmesian mystery.
Lang also looks at the "intimate male relationship" Between Holmes and Watson --Holmes called the doctor "my Boswell" --Holmes was also a cocaine addict, another modern touch anticipating the future.
The assembly of clips is crisp and the only one missing was a bit from Elementary --we do get a glimpse of the crew of Sherlock shooting on London streets.
I must confess my favorite Sherlock must remain Basil Rathbone but I also admire Raymond Massey, John Neville, Stewart Granger and , of course, TV's Jeremy Brett who I once interviewed at length in L.A.
He said he'd played the part so long he was acting like Holmes in real life. Which cannot be all bad.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Elementary Is The New TV Season's Best Pilot

It's elementary My dear Dr.  Joan Watson that the best new TV pilot floating around is CBS's Elementary.
The premiere of this latest CBS procedural is on Thurs. Sept. 27 at 10 on CBS and Global.
First of all a hand to CBS which seems to have the trick of crafting immaculate pilots  both great looking and seamless in plotting.
But Elementary which is all about a modern detective named Sherlock Holmes is hardly cutting edge.
For one thing the British got there first --only the other night Benedict Cumberpatch almost won an Emmy for his incisive turn as a contemporary Sherlock.
And before that the greatest of the Sherlocks, Basil Rathbone, turned up in a string of movies which had the Baker St. sleuth fighting the Nazis in World War II.
Also there's the resurgence of Sherlock as a movie star in popular films starring Robert Downey Jr.
Elementary is just different enough from the British Sherlock with Cumberpatch to make it on its own. It possesses style, wit and is most importantly a procedural with seemingly dozens of other CBS shows.
The biggest difference lies in making Dr. Watson a gal pal of Sherlock's or precisely his keeper as the poor boy is a bit touched. And Lucy Liu is far more fetching than any other Watson I've seen.
CBS already used Jonny Lee Miller in the 2008 series misfire Eli Stone and knew what he could accomplish. Here he keeps his Brit accent  (he even utters "Ballocks!") but looks appropriately damaged --this Sherlock is always teetering on the brink of a major breakdown.
Dr. Watson has been hired by Holmes Sr. to act as a "sober companion" to the distraught criminologist.  She has her own back story and has to deal with charges of malpractice that left one of her patients dead.
When Holmes shouts or goes missing she goes into high gear --she can't have another patient expiring. And gradually it seems the mismatched twosome need each other more than they'll ever know. They become a superbly focused detective team.
Also there's Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn from Prime Suspect) for Sherlock to bounce theories off . Ironically Quinn is back in the same timeslot as last season's Prime Suspect misfire.
The way Miller plays Holmes might remind you more of House than any of the Sherlock rivals-- right down to the tousseled hair cut and stubble. This detective is a recovering alcoholic who inherited a plush New Yawk apartment thanks toan understanding and rich father.
To keep himself sober he volunteers as a consultant to the NYPD on particularly difficult cases and finds himsel re-attached to Gregson who knew all about him from a stint in London.
In the original Holmes films there was more than a hint of bromance between Holmes and Watson. And here there are indeed touches of sexual chemistry suggesting Miller's little boy lost demeanor is having an  astonishing effect on his new keeper.
The thing about Liu as Watson is she's very well adapted to keeping right up there with Holmes. Her modern medical training comes in handy. In fact so far Liu has created a far more rounded character than Miller's Holmes.
The pilot was directed with great dexterity by Michael Cuesta (Homeland). But CBS's greatest gift was a golden time slot where The Mentalist was allowed to thrive. The weak opposition includes ABC's Scandal and NBC's Rock Center.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chubby Chaser: Fat With Insight

I normally would not want to watch a new TV documentary titled Chubby Chaser. I submit the title is a bit off putting to any of us who have ever struggled with weight issues.
But I was told Toronto director Jeff Sterne's hour long film was rather sweet and ironical so I watched it right through. And came to rather enjoy it. Even if I'd rather the title be changed to Fat Chance.
I've seen too many TV studies of people of both sexes struggling with obesity. There are even TV reality shows starring fatties sweating to get rid of unwanted pounds and I've always found them scary.
But not Chubby Chaser which plays as an autobiographical statement from a guy who has always fantasized about being with larger women right back to his teen years.
Disappointingly, he never explores this facet --were his mother or other female relatives ever overweight? And what about his own weight? He seems normal or almost scrawny to me, was that part of his perspective or whjat?
Chubby Chaser is more of a meandering personal statement that veers wildly at times rather than a harsh clinical study. Thank goodness! It has scenes of wild hilarity as when Sterne is shown shouting in Toronto's Dundas Square for people who prefer chubbies. Sadly, there are no takers.
More to the point Sterne ventures to cottage country and his two delightful teenaged nieces one of whom seems obsessive about her weight (she's actually quite pretty).
A quickie trip through history shows fatness was often prized in female beauty --look at the voluptuous Renaissance beauties. It was only within the last century that slimness became prized.
I wish Sterne had the time to look at the other side of the coin --why so many teenagers are bulimic and what is driving them to consider this state so sexy?
Indeed Sterne has trouble finding male admirers who will come out and admit they desire oversized gals --there's one intimate conversation with a Texas couple that turns quite strange. The husband starts reflecting about his equally overweight first wife and how when she shed 100 pounds his interest in her waned. The camera catches the second wife's look which is priceless --you interpret it, I wasn't sure.
And there's also a trip to Zik Ukaeje who published Bodacious and has turned his magazine into a huge profit maker. There's even a trip to a BWW convention in Las Vegas where large women can get anything they want in terms of clothes and accessories designed for them.
Just as important is Sterne's discovery of Bill Fahey, once a TV star as the founder of the North American association For Fat Acceptance --that's FAAFA to most of us.
Fahey talks about the discrimination his wife faced 30 years ago. But they're still together and still very much in love. And she remains over weight.
We only get to see Sterne's wife at the conclusion. She was shy about being on camera. I'm sure she's seen the entire hour by now and liked it as much as I have.
Or Watch it online starting Sept. 27 at gratis.

Monday, September 24, 2012

CBS's Vegas: One Of The New Season's Best

Watching the pilot for CBS's new series Vegas and I immediately understood what the network was trying to do. The new hour series premieres Tuesday night at 10 on CBS and Global.
CBS wants to bring back Gunsmoke, its hugely popular western that starred Jim Arness and ran for 19 proud seasons.
The western format wouldn't work in present day Las Vegas.
But it can and does work when the western gets reinvented in the Vegas of the early 1960s, the last era of rugged individualism in the American West.
Alas, Jim Arness is no longer with us. So Dennis Quaid in his first TVseries since the 1970s will have to do. He's not as tall, not as commanding. But he still carries those same traits as Arness --he even wears a white hat.
The well produced pilot co-created by Nick Pileggi (Casino)  casts Quaid as tough rancher Ralph Lamb and in the first shots Ralph and his hands are herding his cattle to market when interrupted by a passenger jet flying extremely low on its way to the Vegas airport.
The cattle scatter. Ralph gets mad. He gallops to the airport determined to whip whoever is responsible for his loss of time and money.
And there he meets the chief passenger, Chicago mobster Vincent Savino marvelously played or rather overplayed by Michael Chiklis.
Next the body of a young woman is discovered out in the desert and Lamb temporarily --or so he thinks --is deputized as the next sheriff of a town gone lawless. Turns out she's the governor's niece. She has been working at Savino's  casino. And she obviously knew too much.
So onto the Gunsmoke premise CBS has grafted a murder mystery. It's not always a neat fit but Ralph is determined to find the killer with help from brother Jack (Jason O'Mara) and Jack's obstreperous son Dixon (Taylor Handley).
I guess you could call it another CBS procedural --with a western twang. And all the elements are so expertly fused you may not notice the plot holes. The recreation of the period is right on --star Quaid has taken to calling the show "cowboys versus gangsters".
Because Vegas has changed so much a Sixties Vegas had to be reconstructed about 40 miles out of Los Angeles --with huge faux recreations of The Golden Nugget and Tumbleweed Club. Hundreds of vintage cars are glimpsed and the women's clothes and hair styles are all perfectly in period.
Quaid wears his white cowboy hat with pride while Chilkls scene steals under his dark fedora. And, yes, there really was a Ralph Lamb and he really was sheriff from 1960 through 1978.
Will viewers quickly tire of the cat and mouse game if played out weekly with Chiklis and Quaid?  Lamb can't bust up casinos every week or this one will quickly falter.
Earlier in the evening FOX unveils a vastly unfunny new sitcom titled The Mindy Project. The phrase "What were they thinking?" kept ringing in my ears because this one just doesn't make it on any level. Obviously inspired by such recent hits as New Girl, and 2 Broke Girls this one stars Mindy Kaling  (The Office) as a 31-year old gynecologist whose life is one big mess.
She bickers with her male co-workers, gets arrested, argues over insurance with a Muslim woman, dresses up in horrible outfits. Some critics are calling this a work in progress but the first episode at any rate is a total shambles.
MY RATING:***1/2.
MY RATING: ** 1/2.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Partners: The First New TV Comedy Is A Semi-Hit

On American network TV the most important ingredient is never content.
It's time slot.
And CBS's new sitcom Partners gets an ideal time period: hammocked between the venerable (eight seasons) How I Met Your Mother at 8 p.m.  and 2 Broke Girls at 9 p.m.
The major opposition comes from ABC's Dancing with The Stars and NBC's The Voice.
The new show's pedigree is also important. Creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan really cashed in with Will & Grace.
And one more note: Partners will invariably be compared with NBC's new sitcom The New Normal.
Both follow a gay theme that may or may not be a new TV trend. Or did Will & Grace say it all a decade ago.
I've only seen the pilot which I thought disappointing because I expected so much more.
CBS must agree with me because Molly Shannon has already been added to the mix.
Here's the premise: Louis (Michael Urie) and Charlie (David Krumholtz) have been best buds since childhood and they work together as architects.
Mutchnik and Kohan have been saying in interviews the concept is loosely patterned after their own enduring friendship.
So far the comedy writing is more than a little out there. Louis is very flamboyantly gay and as played by Broadway's Urie seems far too young to be an architect.
He also gets all the good lines --Charlie as played by TV veteran David Krumholtz (from CBS's Numb3rs) seems rather a flat character, he merely reacts to what Louis has been doing. He's the straight man in more ways than one.
In places  Partners seems like just another workplace comedy only the architect office seems cramped --it should be opened up so others can come and go.
The pilot had a typical misunderstanding plot where the ever interfering Louis got involved in trying to be a matchmaker between Charlie and his gal pal Ali (Sophia Bush). Comedy confusion ensued.
The lines seemed forced to me or maybe it was just the cast sounding each other out. The most relaxed and winning so far was Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) as Louis's live-in boyfriend.
However, the director is legendary James Burrows whose hits include the current Mike And Molly as well as Friends, Laverne & Shirley, Tony Randall and two of TV's greatest ever comedies Bob Newhart and Mary Tyler Moore.
If anybody can fix this one then Burrows is the guy.
See, I never get the feeling these two guys had been buddies forever. As played by these two actors they seemed wary of each other.
And so far the laughs just aren't there either although some critics who have seen Episode 2 say the chemistry then  breaks in.
The gay theme won't help or hurt this one, the sitcom misunderstandings are as traditional as a TV hal hour gets. How well it holds up against Dancing With the Stars and The Voice is entirely another problem.
But it's fascinating that Citytv has emerged with three CBS comedies in a row and last time I checked CBS was still the dominant U.S. network.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Who'll Win Emmy Awards?

I don't know if I'll actually watch much of the Emmy awards on Sunday night at 8 on CTV and ABC. That's because like the Oscars these things tend to go on and on.
And winning an Emmy is no guarantee of success --look at nominated Kathy Bates whose series Harry's Law has already been dumped by NBC for poor ratings.
Here are my predictions who'll win what in the big categories:
1. Best series actor nominees are: Steve Buscemi (Empire Boardwalk), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Damian Lewis (Homeland), Jon Hamm (Mad Men).
First thoughts: I can't believe Hamm has never won for his amazing turn as Don Draper but there's always been Bryan Cranston just slightly ahead of him. And Cranston has never been better as BB nears its series end. I'd like Hamm to finally take it but voters have always been fixated on prestigious British drama so the winner might actually be Hugh Bonneville (DA).
2. Best series actress nominees are: Glenn Close (Damages),  Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Julianna Margulies (Good Wife), Kathy Bates (Harry's Law), Claire Danes (Homeland), Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men).
First thoughts: I 'd love Bates to nab it just to show NBC off. And Moss on Mad Men is a great pre-liberationist heroine. But really she should be in the supporting category. So I'm fearlessly predicting Claire Danes will take it.
3. Best drama series nominations are: Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game Of Thrones, Mad Men.
First Thoughts: I'm thinking it has to be Breaking Bad as it sails into the rerun sunset. But Emmy voters do like their Brit dramas.
4. Best comedy series actor nominations are: Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory), Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm),  Don cheadle (House Of Lies), Louis C.K. (Louie), Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), Jon Cryer (Two And A Half Men).
First thoughts: I think Parsons will take it but a part of me wants Larry David to get one just because his series has been operating on such a high level for so long.
5. Best comedy series actress nominations are: Zooey Deschannel (New Girl), Lena Dunham (Girls), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Tina Fey (30 Rock), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly), Amy Poehler (Parks And Recreation).
First thoughts: One of the most competitive categories, I just think Julia Louis-Dreyfus should and will take it.
6. Best comedy series nominations are: The Big Bang Theory, Curb Your enthusiasm, Girls, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Veep.
First thoughts: I just think Modern Family will take it.
7. Variety Series nominees are: The Colbert Report, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jimmy Fallon, Real Time With Bill Maher, Saturday Night Live.
First thoughts: Wait a minute! Colbert and Stewart are variety shows? Who knew. I think Jimmy Kimmel should take it, he's getting set to be moved to 11:35 where he'll go head to head with oldies Leno and Letterman both of whom are not nominated.
8. Movie/Miniseries nominees are: American Horror Story, Game Change, Hatfields & McCoys, Hemingway & Gelhorn, Luther, Sherlock, A Scandal In Belgravia.
First Thoughts: It just has to be American Horror Story, right? Hatfields & McCoys has an outside chance.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Flashpoint: The End Is Near

"Sure, it was tough that last day on set," says Sergio Di Zio who stars as explosives expert Mike "Spike" Scarlatti on CTV's Flashpoint which starts its fifth and positively final season Thursday night at 10 on CTV.
"The decision to end after five seasons was mostly the producers but the actors had a say, too. We wanted to end on a high note without repeating what we'd already accomplished. We could have made a lot of money by agreeing to a sixth which is what CTV wanted.
"But why not go out winners?"
The well made police procedural will have wracked up 75 episodes before it closes --a feat accomplished by only a few scripted Canadian dramas over the decades.
Part of the success was the early buy to CBS which initially carried the show when it debuted on July 11, 2008. And having CTV back it all the way was also completely important.
Past CTV regimes tended to disregard its Canadian content shows --I remember how ill treated the fine Vancouver made series Neon Rider was --CTV kept giving it bad time slots, eventually killing it off so that creator/star Winston Reykert was forced to syndicate new episodes on a station to station basis.
And I remember when decades ago I asked CTV President Murray Chercover why he never had a fall TV launch he said "Our big Canadian series is Littlest Hobo. How can I promote that?"
But Flashpoint got the big CTV push from the star.
Not that Flashpoint was the first CTV series to hit CBS.
That honor goes to Night Heat  (1985-91) which ran on CTV plus late nights on CBS. Later on CTV's Due South had a prime time CBS run.
The problem with CTV shows also running on CBS? The American network dictated the time period so CTV could simulcast the series.
When CBS eventually dropped the series that might have meant Flashpoint's demise but CTV decided to continue production and these days the series runs in the U.S. on ion television cable network.
And Flashpoint certainly is going out with a big bang bang.
Thursday's first new episode Broken Peace (well directed by Kelly Makin) is an excellent vehicle for all major cast members including Hugh Dillon, Enrico Colantoni, Amy Jo Johnson and David Paetkau --it concerns an estranged husband going after his wife by stalking her through the corridors of the Royal York hotel.
"We pinpointed Toronto from the first,"Di Zio is telling me on the line from his temporary base in Los Angeles. "You could see the city every week, the Canadian flag, the streetcars. We never disguised the origins."
Having an L.A. writers strike in full swing in 2008 when Flashpoint was green lighted certainly helped. "But we wanted to show good cops, cops at their best rather than bad cops which had become fashionable on TV."
Di Zio jokes he was very cooperative the first year of shooting. "I even let them set me on fire for one scene. I remember the smell of the lighter fuel being poured on my back and wondering why I had agreed. It was all well executed by the stunts team but I'm not sure I'd do that ever again."
In Flashpoint the cast are in perpetual motion and Di Zio says he's certainly in his best ever shape after five seasons."You have to be or you'll be left behind." But where will he now go to get his daily exercise?
Strangest moment for Di Zio has to be the appearance he made on CTV's The Listener --as  Flashpoint character Mike. It was back to those days when Angela Lansbury wound up on Magnum  or Marcus Welby and Owen Marshall traded guest bits.
"Mike needed stitches so he went in. " Di Zio said he felt like the Fonz on Mork and Mindy.
Of course I'd noticed Di Zio both on TV and on the stage for years. But I agree with him that his Flashpoint exposure "moves a career forward." That's why he was phoning from L.A. where he's currently taking time to meet the top casting directors.
"They're fully aware of the series  and how well it is made."
But Di Zio (who just turned 39)  won't be lingering in L.A. He has to return to Toronto at year's end for a new play, Hannah Moscovitch's This Is War slated to begin previews at the Tarragon Theater in December.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Titanic: Blood And Steel Not To Be Missed

Are you up for yet another retelling of the Titanic story?
Is so then the TV docudrama Titanic: Blood And Steel is for you.
It's the latest in a curious phenomenon: the Canadian co-production. Think The Tudors, Camelot, The Borgias all of which are considered Canadian content because of the cast and creators.
In this case two Canadians are at the top of the starring credits: Kevin Zegers who almost always does not do TV  and Neve Campbell whose big TV credit was Party Of Five.
The 12-part miniseries Titanic: Blood And Steel comes from Irish TV's Epos Films with a significant stake in production by the Irish government and with crack Irish director Ciaran Donnelly.
Stop! I know what you're going to say, well sort of) seen one Titanic saga, seen them all.
But you haven't, trust me.
This one looks at the politics that went into the making of the great luxury liner at Belfast ship yards (although the series was  mostly filmed in Dublin and Serbia ).
It's also an examination of the seething religious schism of the city pitting Catholic and Protestant workers against each other.
In sort it's not another Titanic movie. In fact it ends before the great liner sinks --that tragedy has already been dramatized in both movies and TV movies.
Of course on TV success depends on timing and the hoopla over the 100th anniversary of the sinking rose and fell last April.
This Titanic looks at other things and I think succeeds right well although the first hour may be criticized for dawdling as it introduces its main characters.
Zegers is front and center as the mysterious Mark Muir who holds a doctorate in metallurgy --we'll learn as time goes by that he has largely created his persona and is deeply critical of the methods for building the world's largest luxury passenger ship.
Twelve hours of watching a ship being built won't be enough for most viewers so other characters are introduced. At the top is Chris Noth impressive as J.P. Morgan who was the chief financier.
Head of the building consortium is Lord Piirrir played with gusto by Derek Jacobi.
Nev Campbell playa the journalist Joanna who is also a suffragette in true Edwardian tradition.
And the fine Irish actor Liam Cunningham is labor organizer Jim Larkin.
By the way Muir is a completely fictional creation although Morgan and Pirrie actually did exist.
To me the whole background is historically exciting when fleshed out. And the sets are often spectacular. You'll gasp as the hull of the Titanic is hammered into being.
It takes a while to get interested in Zeger's character --I'm still thinking how terrific the young actor was in Transamerica. But his accent is just right and the addition of a moustache makes him seem entirely right in historical terms. And at 27 he's almost Muir's age.
Titanic: Blood And Steel has already aired on Italian, German and Danish TV and the U.S. cable service Encore will start a run in October. As CBC's big European import of the season it's serious stuff but chock full of human emotion, too.
But the key question remains: how much Titanic is enough for you?
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rick Mercer Returns For His Next CBC Decade

You really should have been there.
At Toronto's Princess Of Wales theater Monday night as Rick Mercer threw a birthday party to himself.
Or rather to his show The Rick Mercer Report which starts its 10th CBC TV season Tuesday night at 8. Got that?
I must have been covering Mercer for twice that long. Am I allowed to say I wish someday he'll attempt another sitcom with the wit and delightful nastiness of Made In Canada?
The theater was filled to the overbrimming with fans, advertisers and CBC people --it was a charity concert for Rick's Spread The Net charity. Over 1200 bought tickets and the rest of us got in with complimentary passes.
What we saw was a 70-minute spiel that resembles closely the one man show Mercer takes on the road every spring to selected  audiences.
All of a sudden Mercer is back in favor at CBC with the new management. The old guard who were ousted didn't think he fitted into their philosophy of  let it be light, let it be trendy but above all let it be exportable to the U.S.
Mercer fits CBC's current mandate to a "T" because he traverses the country and the still ponderous CBC bureaucracy knows the current CBC-TV schedule is terribly Toronto centric.
There even was a neat introduction from talk host George Stroumboulopoulos who is getting moved in the CBC schedule to week nights at 7 where he surely will not thrive.
To show how the show works Mercer --who is surprisingly short in person-- gave a long story about wanting to snag  hero Rick Hansen for a stunt and being told the two should go sturgeon fishing.
That didn't go over well with the show's producer who thought bungee jumping might be more appropriate.
There even was footage of the set up which established that Hansen is terrified of heights --as the stunt unwinds Hansen is heard shouting "I can't feel my legs". That I submit is the funniest line in the show's history.
To show how Canadians stay sane in winter Mercer once journeyed to Rossland  B.C. for some very funny shots of an entire town celebrating winter. And in another clip he visited the Weather network to see how forecasting is done.
Mercer told his adoring audience that he's moving away from doing stunts with politicians --he notes the show gets bigger ratings without them.
And he described the famous sleep over scene he filmed at Sussex Drive with Stephen Harper whose handlers were OK with everything Mercer proposed. Except for a scene with Harper playing the piano which they said tested badly as "effeminate". Go figure.
Instead of politicians he has switched to highlighting seniors. A boxing match with 73-year old George Chuvalo is very funny indeed.  And what about the music video with Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion? Then there was the pilot who got his license in 1946.
About clips of all the tough jobs he's tried out --from garbage collecting to sheep rounding up to hosting a dog show--Mercer said "Thank God I don't have to do this for a living."
So far his biggest thrill was starting a new campaign against bullying and seeing thousands of high school students show up wearing pink shirts fir the day.
Last season ratings did decline somewhat. But that's common for a 10-year old show. The strangulation of CBC's venerable RCAF means Mercer is now the favorite among university kids who adore the way he hates federal politicians.
In the past week Mercer has been thumping  for his book on Mansbridge, TVO's Paikin and on Strombo.
That new book of his best rats A Nation Worth Ranting About turns up Tuesday in bookstores the same day his TV series returns to CBC.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Heartland Is Back For --Gulp-- Season Six

Just what is it about CBC's family drama Heartland which returns Sunday night at 7 for its sixth season?
I mean there are no murders, no rapes, precious little melodrama. What gives?
Well, Heartland long ago found its audiences and not all the viewers are teenaged girls who love horses.
Whole families watch this well made series together and Heartland serves the same basic audience who once caught CBC's Beachcombers a long time ago and more recently such teacup time dramas as Road To Avonlea and Wind Up My Back.
Look, I've been covering these simply felt series during my four decades as a TV critic.
And part of the job always involves chatting up the youthful stars.
On Matt And Jenny  (1979) and  TV's Anne Of Green Gables  (1985) it was Megan Follows.
Then on Road To Avonlea (1990-96) I'd dial up Sarah Poley and chat to her on the phone while her dad listened in on the extension.
When Katts & Dog (1988-93)  was running for five seasons I'd go on the set to interview young Andrew Berdnaski who chose an academic career like his teaching parents and graduated with a PhD. in archeology from Cambridge University.
On the set of the TV flick Fast Food High it meant interviewing young Alison Pill who now stars on the cable hit The Newsroom.
This time out my phone rang and it was 11-years-old Alisha Newton who chatted away with her mother adding her own comments.
Alisha is no newcomer to the acting game, she's been at it since she was four.
The duo talked from their Vancouver home where Alisha goes to school --Heartland was on hiatus for weeks.
On the set Alisha must have hours of tutoring a day and says it's not so hard since it's one-to-one teaching with a tutor.
Alisha first had to test for the part and was called back and told it was hers. But one condition was an ability to ride.
I'd been on a horse at my grandma's" she reports. "But now I'm getting real lessons, like how to canter."
Then came the challenge of fitting in with a well established cast. "Everybody has been so nice," she says. In the electronic media kit her co-stars sing out her professionalism.
She plays a character named Georgie who has been in foster care. "She has run away to get close to her brother and when it seems he doesn't want her she arrives at the ranch."
"Oh, she's a real bundle," Alisha laughs. "She has a whole lot of attitude and she can be very funny, too."
The first new episode is titled "Running Against the Wind" and starts with Georgie running away and into the Alberta bush which could be dangerous for such a little thing.
I hope I'm not giving away too much by reporting in the first new episode Tim (Chris Potter) seems set on reorienting his life via a fast food franchise. And Ty seems bent on studying to become as vet after he fudged a proposal of marriage to Amy.
Peter (Gabe Hogan) and Lou (Michelle Morgan) are still struggling to complete their partly built new house.
And then there's the girl at the farm, Georgie. "She usually gets what she wants," Alisha warns. "It's fun playing her and I already feel part of the family."
Judging by her sturdy interpretation I'm ready to fearlessly predict a strong career for Newton as I once saw major things happening for Follows, Poley and Pill. And on the question of young talent I'm always right.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When Citytv Was Really Citytv

Are happy fortieth birthday greetings in order for Citytv?
I'm just not sure.
Citytv was an example of a cagey group of promoters fashioning a new TV license application that was music to the collective ears of the CRTC.
City got its license by promising a Toronto centric channel with low power and concentration on Toronto issues.
The original owners including the savvy veteran Phyllis Switzer and the kid from CBC Moses Znaimer. Together they collaborated on one of the wildest TV channels we'll ever see.
TV critics of 1972 cheered. Blaik Kirby who I'd worked beside at  The Globe And Mail was a fervent supporter of Canadian broadcasting. Jack Miller of The Star thought the tiny station deserved a chance. Only Bob Blackburn at The Sun was properly skeptical.
Remember in those days TV critics welded enormous power.
I was the new kid on the block --I'd been at The Hamilton Spectator as TV critic less than 18 months when Citytv came on.
My Spec boss asked why I wasn't covering it. I said I couldn't. Citytv's power was so weak it died out in Oakville.
When its Baby Blue Movies came along Hamiltonians complained they had to travel to motels in Mimico to see the action.
Highlight of the station was the live City Show hosted by a stammering Ron Haggart that went right through prime time. It was on this show one day that a nervous Brine Linehan first popped up on view. Brian was interviewing Toronto based director Eric Till and he was so nervous that he invited Till back days later for a second chance.
Switzer looked at that interview and gave Brian his own daily half hour show titled City Lights. And soon Linehan's much researched interviews were the talk of Toronto.
It was Phyllis who dreamed up the idea of the Baby Blue Movie --in reality sex scenes were deliberately darkened so nobody could make out what was happening.
And when First Choice came along Phyllis tried that ploy again with a Canadian edition of Playboy TV. This time there was a huge outcry and First Choice eventually abandoned the concept.
Moses discarded the desk for his anchors on Citytv Pulse  news shows leaving them to roam freely all over the studio.
He recruited Toronto coroner and MPP Morton Shulman to host a live investigative show on the weekends. The Shuman File.
The station was so poor it could only afford antique Warners flicks from the Thirties. No matter --Znaimer hired DJ Gene Taylor to host an afternoon block --I remember one week Taylor had a Ruth Chatterton Film Festival --and people talked about it.
Instead of a lavish fall launch party Switzer invited critics and advertisers to her house and one year rented a circus elephant. The trick was the elephant had such a sensitive touch Gene Taylor was told to lie on the grass and have the elephant touch it with its foot.
However, the grass was moist and the elephant slipped grazing Taylor's forehead and leaving bruises.
Micki Moore had the daily show for women which was much parodied by SCTV. Martin Short did a wickedly funny parody of Brian Linehan renamed Bruce Linehard who relied extensively on information researched by his assistants. I remember Linehan crying on the phone to me until I told him it was a parody and a salute to his interviewing abilities.
By 1981 the station was slipping due to poor ratings and CHUM snapped it up. The original ratty studios at 99 Queen St. East were discarded for fancy quarters at 299 Queen St. West and the station  began changing into just another independent station.
Moses was busy taking shows like Fashion TV and the New Music and transferring them to bright new cable networks.
Switzer jumped to First Choice in 1982 and in 1984 headed CTV's Host Broadcasting Unit at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games (she died in 1989).
With CHUM as owner City went into movies snatching that crown away from CHCH. Then In 2007 it was sold to Rogers.
A lot of great talent passed through Citytv: Dan Aykroyd (staff announcer in 1972), the late great Bill Cameron and Mark Dailey, , Ann Mroczkowski (now at Global), Thalia Assuras, Ann Rohmer (now on CP245),  John Roberts (J.D. Roberts from New Music), Dini Petty. Only  Gord Martineau who never changes physically has remained for 35 years.
These days CTV owns the old CHUM Citytv building on Queen St. West and City is now situated at 33 Dundas Street East at Yonge-Dundas Square.
I really miss the old Citytv and think about those days ever time my streetcar whizzes by 99 Queen St. East.

Simply Stated The Fall 2012 TV Season Sucks

There are reasons why each TV fall season seems weaker than the one before.
First of all there's the inevitable decline in viewers as more and more people switch over to cable TV. Some simply tune out altogether.
Let's do the stats first.
In 1963 CBS's Beverly Hillbillies was the Number One rated series in the U.S. with a 36 share and a weekly average of up to 60 million viewers.
Last season CBS' Medium managed 12 million on a good week.
In 1971 CBS cancelled a sitcom The Governor And J.J. with a 27 share --which no series on TV has managed in the past decade. CBS set the bar that year on a 29 share.
As the network popularity declined so did the quality of their new series as networks had less money to toss into series development.
And at the same time American cable TV shows got a whole lot better.
On this weekend's Emmy awards consider the candidates for best dramatic series actor: Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Damian Lewis (Homeland).
That makes five nominations for cable, one for PBS and zilch for the traditional Big Five (CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and CW).
When it comes to the fall TV fare I'm not hearing much excitement from friends and neighbors.
And after sitting through most of the new series I can truthfully report it's a bad case of been there, done that.
In fact when most people talk to me about the new TV season it's to wonder out loud about what will happen on their returning favorites from The Mentalist to The Good wife to Blue Bloods.
As usual the networks aren't sure what will be the next breakout hit.
Last season Global's Barb Williams cheerfully and disastrously predicted that honor would go to the NBC reboot of Prime Suspect which spectacularly burned and crashed in the ratings and got cancelled before season's end.
CTV's money was on Pan Am which it thought had the reto classiness to become another Mad Men. It didn't happened and Pan Am has been permanently grounded.
Only a few new shows have what it takes to go all the way, I'm afraid to say.
I really like CBS's new take on Sherlock Holmes titled Elementary. (Thursdays at 10 p.m.).  Sure, I know there's a British version already out there with Benedict Cumberpatch.
But CBS's uses Jonny Lee Miller as a modern and thoroughly neurotic Holmes with Lucy Liu as his shrink named Watson. The pilot was funny and impudent. Yes, it is a CBS procedural but hardly a standard one.
Also on CBS is Vegas. (Tuesdays at 10).  No, it's not that pretty standard Vegasy think we've already seen in shows starring Bob Urch or Josh Duhamel.
This one is set in the late 1950s as the desert community welcomed crime and gambling. Starring as a modern day Matt Dillon is Dennis Quaid and he's arraigned against gangland boss Michael Chilkis. The screenplay is by Nicholas Pileggi (GoodFellas) and the recreation of Vegas at another era is immaculate. Keep your eye on it.
The Mob Doctor (Mondays at 10 on FOX) might yet make it. The pilot was all over the place but Jordana Spiro as a new doctor who is in debt to the Chicago mob is a winner and, yes, it's based on a real case study. I just wish they'd ditch the confusing dream sequences, car chases and get down to the tensions inherent in the plot.
I think Arrow (Wednesdays at 8 on CW) might be a hit because it's a sleek redesign of Green Arrow, has a certain sense of style and stars Toronto's Stephen Amell --it'll be made in Vancouver  and might benefit from the terrific scenery out there.
And then there's 666 Park Avenue (Sundays at 10 on ABC). It obviously wouldn't be around without last year's big cable hit Horror Story. It also owes a lot to Rosemary's Baby and looks at the inner workings of a creepy Manhattan apartment. Starring are Terry O'Quinn and Vanessa Williams. I found it suitably creepy.
Of course quality is not the biggest reason for a series hit.
It's time slot. In 1978 one of the finest ever TV series Paper Chase went down to defeat when CBS ran it against Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley.
It's always been that way on TV. Remember Wyatt Earp once crushed Playhouse 90. Or more recently
1991's I'll Fly Away went down against Rescue 911.
The difference is back in the old 10-channel universe we had few options. Today dozens of cable channels beckon.
Hence my feeling the fall TV season isn't at all what it used to be.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bruce Pittman's The Last Movie Is Terrific

Fed up with the crazy system of making movies in this country Toronto director Bruce Pittman decided a different strategy was needed.
"I went out and made it myself," he laughs. "I mean really --myself and a few others."
The  fascinating result, The Last Movie, is a mesmerizing film noir that starts with snippets from a Russian language film.
Pittman also co-stars as the harassed Toronto director hired to do an Emglish language remake as quickly as possible.
And in true film noir tradition his skittish leading lady begins hallucinating and thinking she is really the threatened heroine.
"I wrote it, directed it, I provided the music, edited it, heck some days I'd even do the catering.
"Now it's ready to be shown. I'm onto a new way for Canadian film makers to thrive."
I'm trying to remember the first time I bumped into Toronto filmmaker Bruce Pittman.
It had to be way back in 1974 when he created Saturday Night At The Movies with Elwy Yost.
I was preparing a Yost profile and sat in on a taping session --Pittman was a good natured director who had to handle Elwy's constant fluffs.
I also remember the studio was in the basement of TVO at Eglinton and Yonge and every passing subway train produced a distinctive rattling sound.
Fast forward a bit and I'm on the Scarborough set of the CBC miniseries Chasing Rainbows (1983)  with Pittman directing a trio of talented newcomers --Paul Gross, Michael Riley and Julie Stewart.
"Wait a minute!" boomed the producer."I'm the story here" and he took me in arm into his offices and slammed the door shut.
"It was Canadian TV's first HD prodiuction," remembers Pittman "And I was called in after the first director  (Bill Fruet) quit. I remember a lot of shouting. Technically it was tough --the HD equipment was in a parked truck out front. There had to be a complete image with no fuzziness at all or the system wouldn't work. In film you can fudge it a bit. Here we'd wait and wait for a picture perfect image."
Pittman also remembers even outdoor scenes had to be shot indoors. "We had a beautifully constructed Montreal street in the winter. We shot on one of the hottest days with pedestrians in fur coats. The temperature hit 110, I swear, and people were near fainting.But the image was a perfect one."
Soon Pittman was on his way to becoming one of Toronto's hottest TV directors with choice assignments helming the likes of Twilight Zone, E.N.G., Street Legal, Road To Avonlea, Ray Bradbury Theater. If it was shot in T.O. Pittman likely was one of the directors.
"Neon Rider was a favorite --I directed 17 episodes. Winston Reckert was the star ands creator and after CTV cancelled him he forged a station by station network and continued. Tekwar (1996) was right up there --Bill Shatner created and had a continuing part and he'd come in and do scene after scene just effortlessly. Then there was Paradise Falls (2001) --I did all the scenes set in White Church --when they moved up to Muskoka somebody else stepped in. Then there was the question of credit --I'd have done one scene and the next was somebody else's. They gave me directing credit on 12 I think. But my stuff is in virtually every episode."
Along the way Pittman became the uncrowned King Of  Canadian TV movies. First up was Harrison Bergeron (1995) from the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. story. Then came Undue Influence (1996), To Dance With Olivia (1997),  No Alibi (2000), Shattered City (2003) and a whole flock of others.
And the logical question is what  ever happened to the Canadian TV movie?
"Reality TV took over," explains Pittman. "It's so much cheaper, gets the same audience. Why go with a TV drama that might cost a few million when an hour of reality could come in at $100,000. TV movies have virtually disappeared even though they were always popular."
By 2004 Pittman decided he'd had enough of the merry-go-round of series TV and wanted to strike out on his own. "I had scripted projects I pitched to the networks but the answer was always the same: too costly."
So Pittman went ahead and made a movie on his own.
"Like really on my own," he chuckles.
Most of it he filmed at his home in South Riverdale. "To say I had a skeleton crew is an understatement. We had six crew members but usually worked with only three present.
"I shot it over 16 months. I'd stop, then re-start when I was  ready for more scenes. I wrote it, directed it, I'm one of the actors. To my wonderment all is possible in this new age of digital moviemaking. I fell in love with the technology and tried to learn as much as I could."
So The Last Movie has emerged as a fully engrossing film and not a work in progress. Camera movement, editing, sound --all are all professionally seamless.
And Pittman's story which he said had been brewing in his mind for some time is a completely fascinating mystery tale,  a film noir that is so tightly told there are no dull patches at all.
Richard Wincenty's cinematography is pretty wonderful aided by assistant cameraman David Perkins. Robert Gulassarian handled the sound mixingand Ted Hanlan hanled the stunts.
Acting is top notch. Beth Gonek has the female lead as the troubled Elizabeth Seitz. Pittman says "I directed her in a small part in Prom Night II in 1982 when she was 19 and then she went into modeling. I met her again and she has that something the screen captures. We even shot a scene in the vintage dress shop she owns."
Only a few of the cast are known to me. : August Schellenberg, Dwight McFee. "I paid them nothing. They risked ACTRA's wrath by doing it. But so many actors aren't working in Toronto right now anyway. I'll pay them when receipts start rolling in."
The film already had a spot at the Moscow Film Festival. Next up Pittman plans to rent the Royal Cinema for a week in November and try to get into other movie festivals.
"It's a new way of working for me. I don't want to open in a thousand scereens. One at a time would do just fine. I'll let word of mouth sell it. And, yes, I'm already thinking about doing another."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Strange Death Of Canadian TV

Get ready for a massive dose of hoopla concerning the new fall American TV season.
Canadian TV also has a fall season although you might not know it because of the way Canadian networks are misbehaving.
Canadian TV it seems to me has been placed on life support.
Here are the cruel statistics: Global TV will be programming 16 1/2 hours out of a total of 18 hours of prime time this fall of simulcasted American fare.
Over at CTV there's just one scripted Canadian drama in there: the last season of Flashpoint Friday nights. On Saturdays the fine Canadian public affairs series W5 is back, too.
Citytv will have The Bachelor Canada this new season but it cancelled its big dramatic Canadian series Murdoch Mysteries (snapped up by CBC).
CTV 2 is also a sea of simulcasts  but Saturday nights up against NHL hockey it does have The Listener and reruns of Saving Hope on Saturday nights along with another Canadian content hit The Borgias.
OK, so what's going on here?
It's an industry trend only the CRTC can change. And the increasingly toothless Canadian Radio-television And Telecommunications Commission prefers sitting on the sidelines these days.
Looking up my old CRTC guidebook from decades ago I find Canadian networks must program 50 per cent Canadian content in prime time.
But! And this is a very big but -- that's the ratio to be determined over an entire year. And don't forget an hour of something like Flashpoint counts as 90 minutes of Canadian content.
That explains why in days of yore CTV's Johnny Esaw in off seasons would devote whole nights to championship skating --those gobs of Canadian content would be stockpiled for more competitive months.
It also explains why when Canadian content laws were first written up in the early Sixties CTV lobbied to have prime time start at 7 and not 8. That way CTV could stuff such relatively inexpensive home grown series as Headline Hunters, Half The George Kirby Comedy Hour, Stars On Ice, The Pat Paulsen Show, Excuse My French into that hour and come away with 90 minutes of Canadian content.
But when CTV debuted in 1962 Toronto viewers could get only CBC and Hamilton's CHCH as Canadian channels plus four from Buffalo.
There was no simulcasting in an era when TV antennas and rabbit ears predominated. In those days CTV and CHCH would prerelease their American buys by several days to get a jump on the Buffalo competition.
Even CBC was deemed guilty of giving pride of place to its American shows. I remember a CRTC hearing in Ottawa mid-Seventies where nationalist Pierre Berton loudly complained CBC was giving pride of place in its schedule to shows like Laugh-In letting his series Front Page Challenge suffer with a lesser slot.
When CTV had scored with the new American show Laugh-In CBC bought it away from the emerging weblet the next season because CBC had more money to spend.
Prices in those days were picayune: CBC paid $2,500 an episode for Mary Tyler Moore. I know because her husband Grant Tinker told me as he raged at how tightwad the Canadian buyers were.
No longer: this season Canadian buyers forked out over $600 million for American shows --the very shows you once could see from Buffalo before simulcasting came in.
Simulcasting was the brilliant brainchild of ace Global TV programmer David Mintz who first used it effectively. Soon the entire industry was panting for simulcasts which are allowed by CRTC fiat if the Canadian show exactly matches the one on the incoming American signal.
The CRTC originally loved simulcasts because the hammerlock the Buffalo stations had on Southern Ontario could be broken. Buffalo stations were raking in up to $40 million a year in Canadian commercials until simulcasting came along.
It works this way: you might think you're watching The Mentalist on CBS's WIVB, Channel 4 in Buffalo, but you're really watching CTV which has applied to the local cable company and gets the Buffalo signal blacked out and the CTV one plopped on.
Simulcasting will hit an all time high this fall on Canadian TV endangering domestic production.
We have the only TV system in the world where local TV must play second fiddle to imported shows he used to be able to watch for free on Buffalo TV.
Canadian programmers are telling me they'll add their Canadian shows later  in the season when competition is less fierce. And indeed it's beginning to seem that summer is the best time for watching Canadian dramas. This summer Rookie Blue on Global and Saving Hope on CTV were big hits with Canadian viewers.
But I'm rather old fashioned. Wouldn't it be great if we could actually watch quality Canadian dramatic programs on Canadian TV all year long?

Come Dine With Me Is Back And Very Funny

Before the deluge of new American shows begins next week why not spend some time with a few home grown entries?
Like Come Dine With Me which returns for its third season on W Monday night at 7:30.
I've been watching and enjoying the first five episodes which constitute a sort of arc as five people who don't know each other are introduced and then must prepare a dinner plus visit with the four others in a sort of cook off.
Look, I don't regard this really as a food show although eating is part of the festivities.
Rather it's a chance to get to know five very diverse personalities, see what makes them tick.
In this case some of the participants are wonderfully comical --nobody thankfully is a bore.
And the more episodes that I watched the more I thought it resembles another show (one that just debuted) titled Four Houses Canada.
It turns out both were made by Proper Television proving that when a successful concept is working a little fine tuning into another format is quite all right by me.
On the first night we meet up with the dazzling brilliant (and single) Tim at his high rise as he carefully --oh so carefully--prepares the first feast.
How methodical is he? He notes every moment on his fridge door chart and is meticulous to a fault.
The start off is shrimp tapas which he dazzlingly serves with dry ice to make a superb statement.
But it turns out he hasn't given his guests enough wine --they dwink and dwink as they even go through his closet to find out how methodical he really is.
The others also start measuring each other up. There's playful Colleen --one of the others says her broad laugh could become annoying but I think she's frantically funny.
Also present: 26-year-old retired tap dancer Danielle drinks so much she lets her cooking mat catch on fire --but hey she's good hearted and her seafood lasagna seems to tickle the palates of all concerned.
But --horrors --she doesn't have cloth napkins --what an etiquette breach.
Evening two ends with Danielle tapping up a storm --wonder how her high rise neighbors feel about that noise.
Then comes my favorite episode hosted by the raucous Colleen. The 51-year-old sun goddess has joie de vivre in buckets. She insists guests don togas as she hosts a Greek-themed night.
And the way she mucks up her lemon cake is quite hilarious.
Meticulous housewife Sandra then gets her innings and she seems a very strong contender from the get go.  And in the fifth and final episode of the first arc it's Bay Streeter Fraser.
The food seems mostly OK but the talk is quite something. The digs at each other are ripe --each one wants to win, of course.
I won't give too much away except to state Come Dine With Me really is a comedy outing first with the food rather incidental.
I know I'll keep watching, you should, too. Made by Proper Television (headed by Guy Sullivan) it's one reality outing worth catching.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Please, Sir, Where Are The New Canadian Shows?

The other day when I was in the grocery store a Grade Sixer tugged on my arm to say "Please, sir, where are the new Canadian Shows?"
A devout reader of this blog, she wanted to know why the ceaseless news stories about all the new American series?
And why there's virtually nothing being written about the new Canadian season.
And I must plead guilty on that point. Until now.
I want to alert you to one of the first Canadian shows coming back for another season.
It's called By The Rapids and it's unusual on many counts.
First, it's on APTN which most critics prefer to ignore most of the time.
It's an animated Canadian series. And it's about young aboriginals living in a northern town and trying to get along.
It's made by Toronto-based Big Soul Productions which is an Aboriginal production company which also made Mocassin Flats the first Aboriginal made series to garner Gemini nominations.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I popped the preview DVD in but rapidly became enthusiastic by the high production values and the quiet chuckles generated in this fast paced half hour.
The creator is Joseph Lazare, the producer Laura J. Miliken. The intended audience is the same young crowd who might be off watching Disney or MTV channels.
First of all there's the quality of the animation: it's very expertly done. The backgrounds are especially well finished and the lead characters are drawn with zest.
In this first new episode the Littlehorn family gets involved in two different adventures.
First, their  minimalist coffee haunt is subject to competition for the first time as a gigantic new chain outlet called Tammy Ho gets airlifted into a spot right across the station.
And at the same time teenager Cory decides to run for school president against a perpetual over achiever who has the principal on her side.
So there we have two great targets to interest kids: hanging out at the local coffee haunt and obeying the often stupid rules of high school.
The silly principal continues to refer to his charges as "students...and bottom feeders".
The Littlehorns begin thinking thee new coffee hangout might be somehow adding nicotine to the brew.
The contrast between the Littlehorns who have moved back home from their Toronto neighborhood and their actual conditions make for some droll interchanges.
And some of the characters are very well realized: Grandma Hazel with her pony tail, Uncle Regis, Cousin Karen and her boyfriend Derek .
By The Rapids is, well, cool and ironic. It hits most boxes, is very watchable and beginning its four seasons deserves far more attention than it usually gets.

Please, sir, Where Are The New Canadian Shows?

The other day when I was in the grocery store a Grade Sixer tugged on my arm to say "Please, sir, where are the new Canadian Shows?"
A devout reader of this blog, she wanted to know why the ceaseless news stories about all the new American series?
And why there's virtually nothing being written about the new Canadian season.
And I must plead guilty on that point. Until now.
I want to alert you to one of the first Canadian shows coming back for another season.
It's called By The Rapids and it's unusual on many counts.
First, it's on APTN which most critics prefer to ignore most of the time.
It's an animated Canadian series. And it's about young aboriginals living in a northern town and trying to get along.
It's made by Toronto-based Big Soul Productions which is an Aboriginal production company which also made Mocassin Flats the first Aboriginal made series to garner Gemini nominations.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I popped the preview DVD in but rapidly became enthusiastic by the high production values and the quiet chuckles generated in this fast paced half hour.
The creator is Joseph Lazare, the producer Laura J. Miliken. The intended audience is the same young crowd who might be off watching Disney or MTV channels.
First of all there's the quality of the animation: it's very expertly done. The backgrounds are especially well finished and the lead characters are drawn with zest.
In this first new episode the Littlehorn family gets involved in two different adventures.
First, their  minimalist coffee haunt is subject to competition for the first time as a gigantic new chain outlet called Tammy Ho gets airlifted into a spot right across the station.
And at the same time teenager Cory decides to run for school president against a perpetual over achiever who has the principal on her side.
So there we have two great targets to interest kids: hanging out at the local coffee haunt and obeying the often stupid rules of high school.
The silly principal continues to refer to his charges as "students...and bottom feeders".
The Littlehorns begin thinking thee new coffee hangout might be somehow adding nicotine to the brew.
The contrast between the Littlehorns who have moved back home from their Toronto neighborhood and their actual conditions make for some droll interchanges.
And some of the characters are very well realized: Grandma Hazel with her pony tail, Uncle Regis, Cousin Karen and her boyfriend Derek .
By The Rapids is, well, cool and ironic. It hits most boxes, is very watchable and beginning its four seasons deserves far more attention than it usually gets.

Remembering Michael Clarke Duncan

I literally jumped  this week when I heard about the death of gentle giant Michael Clarke Duncan.
I met him for lunch with a bunch of movie critics when he was in L.A. promoting his break through film the Green Mile in 1999.
What was I doing on a movie junket? I was a few blocks away at the TV critics convention and the economy minded Toronto Star Entertainment editor  had ordered me over as a back stop.
So I had to watch the movie and wasn't too pleased with it.
Then there was a mass interview with star Tom Hanks who I told I had first met on the set of the TV flop Bosom Buddies.
But what about Duncan who at six feet five towered over everybody else?
What wasn't there to like?
He was charming, sweet in a childlike way, so very eager to please.
But he ate and ate and joked he was a growing boy. His weight the last time he checked was over 300 pounds.
But he wound up with a supporting actor Oscar nomination that gave him a brand new career.
His big break came  opposite Bruce Willis in Armageddon (1998) after he was spotted exercising in an L.A. gym. Willis subsequently used him in three more movies: Breakfast Of Champions (1999), The Whole Nine yards (2000) and Sin City (2005).
Born In Chicago in 1957 he saw his father desert the family when he was just six.
His hugeness got him through college football but after his mother's illnesses he came home and first worked digging ditches for the gas company and later became a night club bouncer.
He moved to L.A. as a private security guard for the likes of Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and LL Cool J before getting small roles in Bulworth (1998).
But he stayed as a bodyguard until one client --the Notorious BIG --was murdered on Duncan's first day with him.
I wondered the day we had lunch about his gargantuan appetite.
His bulk was huge and I wondered if he'd bulked on something to become so commandingly huge.
But in 2009 he said he had switched to a vegetarian diet and he'd tossed out $5,000 worth of meat from his freezer.
Duncan reminded me of another gentle giant I'd interviewed around that same time: Mr. T. Both stars had health issues related to their bulk.
News reports say Duncan had slowly declined since his heart attack in July --being without oxygen for five minutes had resulted in steady organ destruction since then.
There'll be a public viewing Sunday with a private service the next day.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Eric McCormack Returns To TV With Perception

The latest new "American" TV series to debut on bravo is pretty much 99 % Canadian as far as I can tell.
It stars Eric McCormack from Will And Grace, a Scarborough born actor who attended the same high school as Mike Meyers.
And the pilot at least was shot in Toronto specifically at University College, University of Toronto which I attended back in the Sixties.
Many of the co-stars are Canadian, too. In the first hour I counted Kelly Rowan (from The OC), Jonathan Scarfe, Rick Roberts  plus the Toronto Dominion Center.
I only met McCormack once --he was up at Global doing some talk show thing and I got to interview him afterwards. He was there with his parents and they were all nice.
McCormack was then halfway through his TV wonder years in the sizzling hit Will And Grace --it ran 1998 to 2006 almost always in or near the Top Ten.
And when it was over McCormack faced the same struggles as such TV megastars as Jerry Seinfeld, Tom Selleck and Mary Tyler Moore.
In the public "perception" he's still wise cracking Will Truman.
Having those 187 episodes in constant syndication only adds to his burden. W&G made him famous and wealthy but now he just needs to move on.
The TV series Trust Me (2009) was not that launching pad to other things: it lasted 13 episodes in 2009.
But the new crime solving saga Perception just might work. It's part of a drive by the U.S. cable weblet TNT to be considered seriously in TV drama. One of the biggest TV hits of the season, the reboot of Dallas, comes from TNT.
Certainly I've enjoyed McCormack as an actor since spotting him at Stratford.
In Perception he's cast as a singularly weird neurosurgeon who uses his schizophrenia to solve crimes with the aid of a comely FBI agent nicely played by Rachael Leigh Cook.
The series borrows a bit from such TV hits as Monk and The Mentalist with a touch of House thrown in for good measure.
His hair tousled, with a day's growth of beard and shaggy clothes Dr. Jack Pearce is an emotional shambles.
How brilliant is this dude? He sees a sentence and immediately thinks "anagram". He conducts an unseen orchestra while listening to his classical cassettes.
To discover if a suspect is a liar Pearce imports an aphasiac who is expert at reading body language. The aphasiac watches the tape and laughs loudly meaning the person is a liar. Is this scientific? Well, it works doesn't it?
And then there are the characters who suddenly pop up but they only appear to him and give him clues. Is this stunting? Is Peace just plain crazy or brilliant? Be warned: Joan of Arc makes a guest appearance in an upcoming episode --don't say I didn't warn you.
The way McCormack gets into a role is fascinating. He's skilled enough to keep us watching even if some of the plot devices seem outrageous. He has away of fast talking that holds our attention and the series may yet make sense of his actions.
More attention to crime solving and less to whimsy and this one might definitely make it now that House has decamped to Rerunland.
MY RATING: ** 1/2.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Franklin & Bash Back For Second Season

Anyone else out there who thinks as I do --that it's the supreme irony to find the American series Franklin & Bash on the Canadian TV weblet bravo?
Back when it was being spelled Bravo! this was a network licensed by the CRTC to run upscale Canadian made productions highlighting ballet, classical music and opera.
And now?
The classics stink in terms of ratings and bravo has bought up many of the down scale series populating the USA and TNT networks.
When we first met them last season Peter Bash and Jared Franklin were two young up-and-coming attorneys whose knockabout style frequently had judges finding them in contempt.
The TV critic for the Boston Globe rightly compared the show to Animal House with its frat humor and male bonding. another critic called it "Ally McBeal with balls".
As The Globe guy wrote "The goal is to drop a Judd Apatow bromance between Brecklin Mayer's Jared Franklin  and Mark-Paul Gosselar's Peter Bash into a wacky Peter E. Kelly courtroom dramedy."
And resemblance to a real, functioning courtroom is strictly coincidental.
When I watched the first new episode of season two I thought more of Simon And Simon where cute situations make for a lack of dramatic tension.
But, hey, the formula worked the first year and the childlike men are back for another go.
Here the situations are so cutsey as to become fey. In Situation A they're charged with keeping Cybill Shepherd's pet dog away from another woman who claims she's the rightful owner.
The episode is titled "Jango And Rossi" and in court they're up against a seedier team who use the same stunts played to the hilt by Eric Mabius and Seth Green who is even shorter than Brecklin Mayer who finally gets to utter some short jokes at another's expense.
But it was nice to see Mayer and Green from Robot Chicken together again.
The B plot was almost as good all about a cheese maker who is coached into robbing a pizza delivery shop if you can believe that.
Getting the big name guests is one key to this show's popularity.
As Malcolm McDowell's second and fourth wife Shepherd was a scream. Asked why she married the guy multiple times she jokes "It was so good we did it twice."
And I liked Mayer's retort to Green: "Why don't you just grow two inches and call yourself Franklin?"
And who should trot in to also claim dog ownership but football star Rick Fox.
What F&B lacks is any sort of dramatic tension.  And, yes, this is cable but how to excuse such lines as "What are we doing with this turd of a case?"
Feyness is surely creeping in, the stars sometimes seem to feel they're so funny that a spot of overacting is called for.
You'd never see cases like this on Law And Order, a solid reason it lasted for a decade. F&B has to fight its innate drift to superficiality. Or audiences will grow tired very quickly.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

HGTV Has A Strong Fall Line-Up

So how does an aged TV critic cope during a particularly long bout of insomnia?
That's simple:  At 4 a.m. I just got up, looked at my big box of fall TV series screeners and guess what?
I chose the four series being touted as the best of HGTV's fall schedule.
And don't laugh. Everywhere I go people shyly come up to me and state this is their favorite network.
After watching all four previews I believe them.
First up there's a new Canadian series titled Live Here, Buy This.
It's a pretty neat show that takes Canadian couples and figures out what they could get in various parts of the world that would match the price of their Canadian home.
First up was a personable, young couple but the problem here is they only get to peer into their computer rather than travel to the lush spots selected by HGTV.
In the first episode that includes swell spots on the coast of Croatia plus great Spanish locations and San Diego sites.
I think I've seen a variant on this show on BBC Canada but British couples actually get top reactl to the sites which makes more sense than me.
However, I'll probably keep watching just to compare the homes.
At an hour Urban, Suburban was last year's great surprise hit.
It pits brother and sister realtors against each other as the guy touts urban life with all its amenities while sis shows off more spacious suburban dwellings.
Phil DuMoulin is the urban expert and he's richly funny in showing off his urban haunts.
Sarah Daniels is the ironical sister who seems to get the best lines as she deflates his trial balloons. DuMoulin has been in real estate for years while Sarah is better known in Vancouver as one of the original hosts of Global Morning --she left after 17 years to also jump into real estate in White Rock, B.C.
They really compliment each other. Take the first new episode where they competed for the affections of a young Vancouver couple. The wife opted for urban so her husband wouldn't be stuck in commuting hell and thus have more time for their little baby.
The husband wanted suburban because they'd get more bang for their bucks and actually have a big yard for their tot --plus his parents lived nearby and could help mom to cope.
Urban Suburban took us on a merry spree through six competing homes. Tightly edited down to the bone it's compulsively edited and forces us to play along with the prospective buyers. Last year they also travelled to Ottawa and Vancouver.
That's one of HGTV secrets: we become voyeurs as couples get shown home after home. And we wonder which one we'd prefer.
Another new series and one that immediately hooked me is Four Houses Canada.
Every week four houses are profiled as the homeowners open their homes for inspection. Then they get to go and criticize the next house. A winner is announced every week.
The first hour was sheer fun particularly when we visited a home that might have been designed for  The Munsters: all sorts of stuffed animals, gloomy atmosphere, some real scary stuff.  Then the owner, in turn, becomes a judge and says of a competitor "I hate teak!"
And another contestant retorts:"You have stuffed animals and you hate teak?"
Which solicited a rich, ripe laugh from yours truly.
Four House Canada takes us away from the snobby of design mavens and shows what talented people out there have to offer.
I think it's HGTV's best new series of the fall.
Also new to HGTV this season is Leave It To Bryan.
The show is not in any way related to Leave It To Beaver, do you hear me?
Am I crazy or is there always a new series starring Bryan Baeumier just coming up on this network?
I mean I just finished watching Bryan build his dream cottage. And now there's this which shows the affable bald one trying to make dreams come true for a whole host of  fans.
He gets a budget and then he must make the final decisions about the route the reno will take.
Look, I sort of liked this one but I'm still thinking about that beautiful cottage he just built only to desert it for yet another TV venture.
MY RATING:*** 1/2.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.