Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscar Losers 2013: Shameful

It happened while I was watching the Academy awards In Memoriam segment to all the great celluloid talent who've passed away in 2012.
My first reaction: Gee --so very few performers died this year.
And then I noticed the exclusion of Andy Griffith.
Now I fully understand Griffith was an even bigger star on the small screen as the iconic headliner of The Andy Griffith show in one generation and Matlock in another.
But he was not a peripheral movie star.
In 1957 as Lonesome Rhodes he gave a towering performance in Elia Kazans's A Face In The Crowd (1957).
Other Griffith movie hits included No Time For Sergeants (1958), Hearts Of The West (1975) and more recently Waitress (2007).
Why couldn't Griffith at least be briefly mentioned?
I started making a list of important movie actors who had left us and quickly added the names of Ben Gazarra, Chad Everett, Alex Karras, Jerome Courtland, Doris Singleton, Warren Stevens, Sylvia Kristel.
None were noticed Oscar night.
Everett, again, was probably discarded because of his TV fame. Karras probably suffered the same fate.
Kristel made naughty Emmanuelle movies the conservative members of the academy frown on.
But why was Gore Vidal completely ignored?
Important movies made from his works include The Best Man (1957) and Visit From A Small Planet and he was a major contributor to the scripts of Ben-Hur (1959) and I, Claudius.
But Ray Bradbury was included and Vidal was not. Was the reason political I began wondering.
It was just so very strange that Hollywood's collective memory lapse included Canadian born actress Ann Rutherford one of the last remaining co-stars of the greatest box office hit of all Gone With The Wind(1939).
Ann also was a star of 12 Andy Hardy Movies and among her dozens of pictures there are three "Whistling" movies with Red Skelton, Pride And Prejudice (1940) with Olivier and Garson and The Secret Life Of Water Mitty (1946) with Danny Kaye.
I wonder why she didn't make the cut? I'm suspecting today's Academy are disdainful of Hollywood history.
How else to explain the exclusion of John Kerr (South Pacific), Herbert Lom (all those Pink Panther capers), Susan Tyrrell (Fat City), to say nothing of William Windom, James Farentino, Conrad Bain, Phyllis Thaxter and even Robin Gibb.
Even as I write this people and sending in other names exckuded: Peter Breck, Harry Carey Jr. (all those John Ford westerns), Whitney Houston, Deborah Raffin.
This is quite a list of excluded talent.
Either the salute should have been all inclusive or it should not have been attempted at all.
I'm not denigrating Marvin Hamlish who got great, deserved  coverage when Barbra Streisand walked out to sing the theme from The Way We Were.
If it was a question of time then one of those awful opening musical numbers could have been cut.
Am I right? I think so.

Golden Boy Is Golden

From its first hectic minute the new cop series Golden Boy proves it is a quality CBS production.
First there are the impeccable credentials: the executive producers include Greg Berlanti (Arrow), Nicholas Wooton (Prison Break) and Richard Shepard (Criminal Minds) who directed the first episode.
You can catch the premiere Tuesday February 26 on CTV (and CBS) at 10 p.m.
After a vicious shooting that leaves two New York beat cops bleeding and severely wounded the hour drama suddenly jumps seven years into the future where the one cop Walter William Clark Jr. (Theo James) is being shown his new office.
At 34 he has just been named New York city's youngest ever police commissioner and he inherits the desk of his most illustrious predecessor Theodore Roosevelt.
But there's one important detail: only 34 he's even younger than Roosevelt was. He's also considerably aged, battle scarred, really, from those initial shots of him as a cop.
And naturally we'll want to know why.
Walter is being interviewed by a reporter about his fact ascent and he naturally goes back to the jump to detective status caused when he saved the life of his partner during the shoot out.
Being attached to homicide isn't as easy as he figured. Others in the 39th Precinct figure he is a shallow show boater and are plotting to bring him down.
First he's attached to a senior partner who is two years away from retirement. Played beautifully by Chi McBride, Detective Don Owen is overweight, slow moving and definitely fine tuned to the political nuances of the job all of which initially escape Walter.
Look, we know where Walter is seven years from this initial look. But in the pilot he screws up and big time and must come to see Owen as a definite asset or he won't last long.
The pilot is brilliantly edited and shot on Manhattan streets. Technically it is outstanding and so far there's no hint it might turned into just another routine cops saga.
And I'm figuring this is why CBS picked it up --some veterans I still know at the old line U.S. networks are convinced the commercial webs must move to more adult fare. And Golden Boy certainly is more compelling than anything offered on CBS these days.
Certainly cliches abound in the depiction of the secondary characters including Kevin Alejandro as hot shot Detective Christian Arroyo and his sidekick Bonnie Somerville as Detective Deborah McKenzie.
Another cliche is the addition of Walter's troubled druggie sister Agnes (Stella Maeve) which shows us where Walter's drive comes from --a distinctly troubled family background.
I've seen the first two episodes and the action scenes are expertly built up to hook the audience. The premise of an older Clark reminiscing about key cases his younger self solved might prove tiring in the long run.
I'm still waiting for Clark and McBride to gel as the cop version of an Odd Couple but remember their first case together was the first time they were actually working as a team.
For CBS audiences who normally starch older it's going to take time to get used to the often careless philosophy of young Clark. He's clearly career driven and steps all over people around him.
But he's also not stupid. When (or if) he realizes he can learn from Owen then the plot twists could become more intriguing.'
Originally developed as a vehicle for Ryan Philippe, Golden Boy changed into an ensemble piece with his departure.
Wooton is quoted as calling it a "character-driven drama with mythology rather than a straight cop procedural."
But once TV critic has complained since we already know how Walter turns out to be commissioner might not this steal some of the thunder from the drama?
Since Clark has seven years of stories under his belt CBS obviously gives Golden Boy seven seasons of success?
First up there's the opposition to trounce including ABC's new show Body Of Proof and NBC's Smash. But CBS is providing strength with two powerful lead ins: NCIS at 8 and NCIS: Los Angeles at 9.
MY RATING: ***1/2

Monday, February 18, 2013

Is NBC Finished? Yes --And No

Everywhere I travel these days people involved in the TV industry are chattering over the brilliant New York article by Josef Adalian.
Titled "Has NBC Passed The Point Of No Return" it summarizes the currently dire situation of the peacock proud network which is sinking like a stone in the ratings.
But I can recall a time when NBC was in far worse shape.
Let's time travel all the way back to 1970-71 when I started covering TV for The Spectator and the Southam newspapers.
At that time the biggest newsmaker on American TV was Fred Silverman at CBS.
And I first story I wrote about him was his huge purge of such Top Ten hits as Green acres, Mayberry R.F.D., Hee Haw, The Beverly Hillbillies, Jack Benny and Red Skelton.
Silverman reckoned that the emerging urban texture of American life meant these still popular shows had seen better days. So he unloaded all of them at once.
In their place he promoted hipper new fare like  All In The Family, The Waltons, Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore.
Only the Waltons with its nostalgic glow had rural roots --and in such big cities as New York and Detroit the Waltons never made it to the top as it did in the rest of the country.
Then Silverman up and  in 1975 and the first faltering show he saved was Happy Days which CBS's Good Times had effectively destroyed in the ratings.
But most of Silverman's ABC picks were vastly different from his CBS shows: The Bionic Woman, Charlie's Angels, Theree's Company, Eight Is Enough, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Soap.
And very quickly ABC jumped from third lace to first in the ratings.
I covered all these shows and was on the set of most of them. I remember Barbara Stanwyck swearing under her breadth at the shenanigans the three long stemmed lovelies were pulling on the set of Charlie's Angels.
And I remember star of The Love Boat screaming at the TV critics when they asked him why he wasn't making quality fare like Mary Tyler Moore.
With Charlie's Angels and Battle Of The Network stars Silverman invented jiggle TV. The iconic shot of Farrah Fawcett in a bathing suit sold a million posters.
And then Silverman jumped again to NBC in 1978. He survived three years as NBC ratings continued to deep dive.
Silverman  brought in such rich, ripe stinkers as Hello, Larry and Supertrainbut he was also responsible for Hill Street Blues and Shogun.
In the sitcom field he started up Diff'rent Streokes, The Facts Of Life and Gimme A Break and started the development deals for Cheers and St. Elsewhere.
And he hired Brandon Tartikoff who after Silverman was dumped came forth with L.A. Law, Family Ties, Cosby, Cheers. Golden Girls, Remington Steele, Miami Vice, Seinfeld.
It was Tartikoff who made Thursday nights NBC's own particular ratings night with  Seinfeld, ER, and Frasier. Under Tartikoff NBC was Number One again.
I was there at the Cosby premiere and nobody thought it had a chance because its star was coming off the fiasco of a flop TV variety outing.
Tartikoff was decidedly lukewarm about Michael J. Fox taking over the role of Alex Keaton on Family ties but the talented Canadian actor turned it into a monster hit.
I remember at one Q and A he suddenly blurted out "I never should have cancelled Buffalo Bill. Never!"
So the fact is NBC has seen far worse times.
In today's multiple channel universe turning around an old fashioned broadcast network may be more difficult.
NBC has a habit of not sticking with potential hits like last season's remake of Prime Suspect. And the network entirely jettisoned Southland which is now faring right well on TNT.
This season the revamped Smash is back but with 40 per cent fewer viewers and 1600 Penn started strongly only to wither away.
In the old days Cosby's success Thursdays at 8 guaranteed the entire prime time night for NBC but that kind of viewer loyalty may no longer be possible.
These days NBC needs a whole big bag of newly minted hits for its fierce competition from cable.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Killing Lincoln: the Tragedy Still Haunts Us

Suddenly Abraham Lincoln is red hot thanks mainly to the beautifully crafted,  Oscar nominated movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis and directed by Steven Spielberg.
But it would be completely unfair to label National Geographic Channel's new docudrama Killing Lincoln as a rip off.
The well made TV production stands on its own as it meticulously chronicles the last days of President Lincoln and the successful assassination by John Wilkes Booth.
Narrated on camera by a very sombre Tom Hanks, it gives us a completely different portrait of Lincoln as played by Billy Campbell. Here Lincoln is a man beset by huge problems and not the icon figure played by Day-Lewis.
Adrian Mott (Gettysburg) directed  with an eye to period details and Emmy winner Erik Jendresen wrote it with passion and a regard for the rush of history.
The executive producers are Ridley Scott and his late brother Tony Scott to whom the film is dedicated.
This is NGL's first scripted TV movie and it can stand on its own. The premiere is on Sunday February 17 at 10 p.m. and I highly recommend it.
It's true that Campbell lacks the broad humanistic touches but maybe this Lincoln is more human because of his very prosaic qualities.
The structure is a lot like Jim Bishop's fine 1955 book The Day Lincoln Was Shot.
A rapid series of scenes gets us immediately involved in the assassination plotting although, of course, we know how tit will all turn out. But the number of "might haves" is surely astounding.
Just 10 days before he was killed we see Lincoln and young son Thad take a trip to the defeated Confederac y capital of Richmondand we see Lincoln sitting in the chair of the ousted Dixie president (Jefferson Davis).
It was Davis who later would call that defeat and the subsequent assassination of Lincoln as the two worst things to ever happen to the South.
Based on Fox anchor Bill O'Reilly's rambling book the TV movie at times threatens to degenerate into an anecdotal history of all the mistakes Lincoln made in those last days that made him such a hated target of Southerners.
In this narrative Lincoln shares screen time with Booth played in an effectively exaggerated style by Jesse Johnson (Don Johnson's son) as a gifted actor of melodrama but given to florid gestures and an inability to think straight.
Production details are excellent with the vision of Washington as still pretty much a small town with a huge and resentful Southern population that seethed at the notion of the downfall of the Confederacy.
As in many TV documentaries there is a lot of narration and not enough of Lincoln the man simply speaking and interacting with his family. And Hanks keeps repeating all the time that "Lincoln has four days to live" or what ever. That becomes repetitious.
The actual event at Ford's theater is dramatically thrilling as are the details of the failed attempts to save the mortally wounded president.
And the  twelve-day manhunt to find the fleeing Booth and kill him is actually the most exciting sequence in this production.
The most chilling scene is an actual photograph taken at Lincoln's second inaugural on the back portico of the White House --and there in the dense crowd is Booth who could have easily  killed Lincoln that day.
We also learn that as Lincoln lay dying the account was being transcribed by a court reporter who had already lost his legs in the war. And this reporter accurately transcribed the words of Secretary of State Stanton as "Now he belongs to the angels".
But let's face it Americans have a love of history which Canadians simply do not share.
Last season CBC-TV mounted an elaborate historical reconstruction titled Sir John A.: Birth Of A Country with Grade A list actors  (Shawn Doyle, Peter Outerbridge) and nobody watched it . So subsequent installments were duly cancelled.
And let's face it we will never see a  Canadian TV movie on the 1868 assassination of D'Arcy McGee, right?
MY RTATING: ***1/2.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Susan Fleming And Coyotes

I enjoy my yearly telephone chats with Susan Fleming the talented Toronto filmmaker who specializes in animal documentaries for CBC-TV's The Nature Of Things.
Let's see there was A Murder Of Crows (2010) followed by Raccoon Nation (2012).
And now along comes her special take on Coyotes.  Titled Meet The Coywolf it premieres on the nature of Things Thursday February 14 at 8 p.m.
"This one was the hardest yet," says Fleming. "Because coyotes are just about the smartest animal out there. We spent over 200 nights hiding in blinders to photograph them and yet they almost always seemed to know we were there."
But first things first. Do not call them coyotes, OK?
"They are technically speaking coywolves, a distinct species. And it's wonderful to see them evolving right before our eyes.
"The coywolves and were first noticed in Algonquin Park in 1919 --it's when wolves and coyotes mated. Today's coywolf could be up to 85 per cent wolf --they have all the smart traits of coyotes. They can survive living near humans and wolves cannot. They are certainly smaller than wolves but much more muscular than coyotes."
I live in the Toronto area called Riverdale and a TTC streetcar driver told me she spots coywolves coming up from the Don Valley every Wednesday night --which is garbage night in my district.
But the only coyote I ever saw truly up close was one in movie star Janet Leigh's L.A. backyard in 1977 and it was a small fella.
Leigh told me L.A. coyotes feed on the cats and small dogs of celebrities and then slip back into the canyons.
"A true western coyote," Fleming says. "The coywolf is much larger."
And the coywolf seems to be everywhere. Fleming filmed in Toronto, Ottawa,  Algonquin Park and Chicago where scientists estimate 2,000 coywolves roam freely.
In one shot taken in Toronto's Beach district Fleming is talking away to a resident and in the backyard we can see a coywolf sauntering by.
A great shot. But so is the one of the coywolf snatching an egg off the nest of a Canada goose --and then carrying it down a long suburban street. It spies squirrel roadkill, carefully plops the egg down and carries the carcass off.
"We waited for a long time," Fleming says. "And it finally came back from the egg and carried it off probably to bury it near its den where it can be eaten even weeks later."
Fleming says spraying the blind with deer urine and carefully picking clothes packed in cedar chests that do not carry a human scent are two tricks of photographing coywolves at night.
In the Chicago it all seems easier since some of the coywolves have been fitted with tracking collars.
Fleming shows how they infiltrate cities: Toronto's ravines are perfect hiding places but in some places a coywolf den will be located very close to  train tracks. And they use the train corridors to get in and out of the city.
There have been a few reports of coywolves attacking humans. Fleming says this might result when humans leave food out for them.
"They have a natural fear of humans and do not want to interact. Just stay away from them  and do not feed them --the best advice."
Like raccoons these eastern coyotes are omnivorous and will feast on garbage as well as chomp on berries or kill and eat smaller animals.
Fleming writes out a scenario first for The Nature Of Things. Then she has to get out there to acquire the "Actuality".
"We never know what we'll get. there are many nights when nothing turns up we can use. It is very frustrating to know the coywolf may be nearby and probably looking back at us."
Fleming will deliver a slightly different version for PBS to be shown later on Nature.
"That's it, I'm through with dealing with smart animals!:" she jokes.
Her next subject has already been decided.
"Moose," is her one word reply.
MY RATING: ****.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Hollywood Suite: Canadian TV's Biggest Secret

I've written about Hollywood Suite a few times already and the response from readers of this column has always been the same.
Here's a sampling:
"I never heard of it."
"Where can I sign up?"
"I've already got Turner Classics and AMC. So I've covered, right?"
Hollywood Suite has to be the best kept secret in town because it's a new configuration of four movie classic channels battling to get on the all powerful cable TV monopolies that control our viewing habits.
HS is an independent company owning and operating four HD channels that specialize in uncut and commercial free movie classics available for the price of around $6.00 a month.
The channels: Warner Films, MGM Channel, Sonny Movie Channels and AXN Movies.
This month and March as well Hollywood Suite has a free previews running on both Rogers and Cogeco.
"We're already on Bell," reports HS's vice president of programming Ellen Baine who I first knew in her days as VP at CHUM-City--when it was at 229 Queen West and programmed the best movies in town.
"We solved our problems with Rogers," Bain reports. "But we still have band width problems with Shaw. Rogers which dominates in Toronto is having previews on Channels 486,487,488 and 490."
Codgeco's previews of the four channels are on Channels 872,873,874 and 875.
When I checked with Rogers I found I had to sign up for HD service before I could access the HS previews.
 And there are many Luddites like me out there wondering what HD will add to the already expensive Rogers service.
Baine is perfectly cast as one of HS's key programmers. In a past life, she knew the ins and outs of the City movie collection but say "It has all changed in the past few years. Right now Warners owns MGM titles. Getting Rocky movies is easy. Other titles like The Terminator are harder because of bankruptcy deals."
Baine says the Monty Pythons are hard to track down because the original owner lost the rights.
"Our schedule is 25 per cent Canadian. Yet trying to find an HD copy of Goin' Down The Road has been impossible. Other  Canadian titles are floating all over the place."
And what about competition with Turner Classic Movies?
"There is none. Yes, we do show Casablanca, classics like that. We're generally into far more recent movie fare. Turner tends to run everything from way, way  back."
Highlights this month include exclusive coverage of 2013 Film Independent Spirit Awards on Sat. Feb 23 on The Sony Movie Channel. Andy Samberg is the host.
The week of Feb. 18 highlights Oscar nominated best pictures: including Gone with the Wind, Marty, Ben-Hur, The Apartment, Rocky, Annie Hall, Silence Of The Lambs, The English Patient.
Says Baine "We're having a Sandra Bullock week, a Johnny Depp triple bill, a Jeff Goldblum week --there are many fans of his work. Of course we have the Bonds."
One of Baine's finds was the Beatles' movie Magical Mystery Tour which had never been shown on North American TV.
I asked her if about using the original Brian Linehan City interviews when one of the movies he was covering is on HS.
"We looked into that and unfortunately the copies which were transferred are not of broadcast quality."
But what about TVO's Elwy Yost who generally used film instead of videotape?
How about it you HS folks?
Another big concern: Isn't being placed so high up on the cable dial a real hindrance to attracting new subscribers?
"No, I know some people who start clicking at around 500 because that's where their type of channels exist."
Baine says in February HS" will have the Die Hard movies. And because the bones of Richard III have been discovered why not the 1983 movie with Ian McKellen as the hunchbacked king.
"We'll have a salute to true stories, a Clint Eastwood festival, I think we cover the last 30 years of cinema the most.
"What we are, really, is all about the modern movie classics."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Twin CBC Documentaries Challenge TV Viewers

I think it's pretty amazing CBC-TV still has the programming moxie to schedule not one but two challenging documentaries on Thursday night.
Remember this is TV's most watched night of the week and it's normally the time when Canadian commercial networks stockpile gobs of imported, expensive American series.
Instead CBC has at  8 p.m. on The Nature Of Things the fine new docu Shattered Ground produced by Leif Kaldor and Leslea Mair.
And at 9 on Doc Zone comes Andrew Gregg's equally excellent docu called Wind Rush all about those giant wind turbines which are provoking such controversy in small towns across southern Ontario.
In short, a Canadian prime time filled with actual new Canadian productions and both are in the category of must see TV.
Fracking is a subject I thought I knew a little bit about from TV news reports. Not so. After all even President Obama has been pounding away at the benefits of fracking to rescue North America's gas and oil industry.
The team of Kaldor and Mair have made such high powered docus as Remote Control War (military drones) and MS Wars (about Multiple sclerosis).
They also know how to grab and hold on to an audience.
We first see a newly built suburban community in Colorado: all huge homes and schools.
the new builds exist right beside a fracking facility --the station involves extracting shale gas by directional drilling.
the toxic feedback has been enormous with many young children suffering massive nose bleeds and many so ill they've missed months of schooling.
Turns out the carcinogens released by fracking get into the atmosphere and can cause major illnesses particularly to the very young.
People nearby talk about the foul odours, scratchy throats, uncontrollable nose bleeds. Food allergies, intestinal complaints --these are consequences of living beside fracking towers.
Methane is creeping into the water supplies. There is flowback from the huge amounts of water pumped into the wells and it has tested radioactive.
The same results are being felt in Ft. Nelson, B.C. And the film makers even interview the inventor of fracking who is not completely sure if the system has been fully developed. The use of so much fresh water which cannot be used again threatens many parts of the western U.S. already experiencing severe drought conditions.
We see a resistance movement forming in Quebec and Ontario. And fracking's reputation as the savior of the energy crisis seems threatened.
All in all it's an immense amount of information artfully compressed into an hour with the great visuals expected of this team.
Can TV offer programs for the mind as well as escapist fare? Stick with these two hours and find out.
Veteran film maker Gregg also knows how to tell a story using outstanding visuals combined with pungent commentaries from experts.
With Wind Rush (for 90th Parallel Productions) he expertly edits his investigations into a seamless expose of how wind turbines are not  turning out to be the salvation from our excessive use on coal for energy.
He starts impressively with the experiences of nurse Norma Schmidt who is living near a long line of huge wind turbines-- 110 of them so far. Indeed from the air it seems her small farm is encircled by the great monsters.
It's the noise that is getting to her and to others who live in close proximity to the turbines.
It's a sort of craking sound that doesn't seem all that powerful but it permeates her whole home and it disturbs her night and day.
Like so many others hers is a haunted expression due to lack of sleep and she can't function properly.
Capturing our attention with one person's story Gregg then launches into a saga of the history of wind turbines that takes us to the first ones built in Alberta starting in 1990.
We see how they're assembled, how they've grown in capacity although they still only contribute to five per cent of available electricity.
And Gregg even visits Denmark which supports even greater turbines at sea and is now planning a huge increase of these megamonsters on land . But neighbors are also being driven crazy and there's a grassroots movement aimed at stopping the turbines.
Gregg also offers a reason for the ire of so many rural communities in Ontario. He says the province's 2009 Green Energy act sidestepped local municipalities to cut red tape allowing developers to place the turbines in too close proximity to homes.
And the impressive array of health experts who tell us what is going on clinches the argument as far as I'm concerned.
CBC offers two solid hours of TV for the mind, not bad for a medium usually preoccupied with escapist fare.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Can Smash Still Become A Smash?

Before Smash debuted in September 2011 NBC executives were calling it their best chance at solid gold plated hit.
And then the soap opera about the making of a Broadway musical based on Marilyn Monroe's life slowly disintegrated from within.
Season Two which debuts on CTV Two Tuesday night at 9 with two new episodes is an attempt at a complete remake.
Smash then settles into its regular time slot on Tuesday February 19 at 10 p.m.
Gone is the creator, respected Broadway veteran Theresa Rebeck replaced by the show runner on Gossip Girl Josh Sarafan.
And many key characters have also departed. Gone is Karen's boyfriend Dev (Raza Jaffrey) --after all he slept with the star's resident slut Ivy (Megan Hilty).
And Julia's son Leo (Emory Cohen) and her husband (Brian d'Arcy James) are also departing early on in the season.
And the cast's most annoying member, the quick witted Ellis (Jamie Cepero) is only making an appearance or two.
Big stars from Jennifer Hudson to Liza Minnelli have been imported as well as young Broadway standouts Jeremy Jordan and Andy Mientus.
But the key question is: can a new show get the re-tinkering needed to stay on the air and actually become a hit?
Well, it worked for Knots Landing, didn't it?
I well remember the Dallas spinoff opened on CBS in December 1979 as a weekly self contained set of stories. Ratings were bad but CBS persevered.
The second season star Don Murray was dumped as too nice and Donna Mills imported as the new villain and with added cliffhangers  ratings soared.
Then there was Dynasty. The Aaron Spelling soap opened in January 1981 and promptly faltered.
The second season  Joan Collins and James Farentino were imported and the serial became a big hit.
So, yes, Smash could be saved if its structural weaknesses are addressed.
Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy (Megan Hilty) are still brawling over who will play Marilyn when or if the musical ever opens on Broadway.
And producer Eileen (Anjelica Huston) is having cash flow problems exacerbated by her ex-husband's desire to ruin her.
Two new songwriters have been imported in a surly bartender Jimmy Collins  (Jeremy Jordan) and his writing partner  Kyle (Andy Mientus).
And Jennifer Hudson gets a lot of singing time as a Broadway star although her presence contributes absolutely nothing to the dramatic flow. Cast as diva Veronica Moore she has predictable clashes with her stage mother (Sheryl Lee Ralph)
It was New Yorker TV Critic Emily Nussbaum who coined the term "hate watching" to explain why people hated this show yet still watched.
So how many hate waters are there out there? Enough to save this very expensively mounted series?
This season Ivy is a much nicer person, easier to understand. Julia's marriage collapses and she moves in with her writing partner Tom Christian Borle) who gives her great  fashion advice: "It's time to retire the scarves."
It seems to me the reboot is partly successful already:  the story lines are less confusing, the pacing of scenes has perked up.
Debra Messing has more to do and gets adequate screen time. Director Derek (Jack Davenport) doesn't get the chance to grow as a character. Jordan and Mientus need scenes to develop but how -- we already have one songwriting pair on this show.
Strangest line has Julia crashing with Tom who says "It's like a sitcom!" Meaning Messing is back on Will & Grace. Could this be the reason she wasn't keen to act with her W&G co-star Sean Hayes when he guest stars?
Don't forget  that more series flop in their second season rather than the first.
Smash still has a ways to go but it certainly is a better constructed, more viewable show the second time around.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Seed Is Canadian TV's Next Big Sitcom

Just ask Adam Korson, personable star of the new City sitcom Seed,  how he landed this big assignment.
"I went to Los Angeles," he says with a grin.
It's the only way to really get established up here --go away and show Canadian producers you can do it and they'll be calling you back in no time.
Heck, it worked for Art Hindle, Sonja Smits and Wendy Crewson in the past and this year David Sutcliffe made the same career U-turn to get the lead in Cracked.
I first noticed Korson a few years back on Degrassi High and the next thing I knew he was in the first episode of 2 Broke Girls.
And this season he was on Emily Owens which happened to be shot in Vancouver. I felt that show wasn't quite up to scratch in the dramatics department and Korson seems to reluctantly agree with me.
When the casting call came up for Seed Korson duly despatched an audition tape from Vancouver which is the way it is done these days.
"I'm thinking the producers liked my look, my readings and so a call back order came to appear in L.A.
First up let's say Korson is a really dedicated young actor. He's excelled on the stage in Toronto and says "People are always asking what I'll do if I don't make it. But this is my career. I'm not into back up plans. I'm an actor. End of discussion."
Korson says as soon as he read a full script "I could see me in the lead. I'm lucky to have stage experience because many of the laughs here involve the timing. The guy is a winner and also a loser. Women like him. But at 30 what has he done, really?"
Korson then journeyed to Toronto for tests with other cast members. There were the network suits who had to approve the casting. In fact network sources whisper Korson was also up for a big part in City's other scripted comedy called Package Deal.
"They call it chemistry," shrugs Korson. But when the little guy who plays his nine-year-old son walked in "I knew right away he had that part. He even looked like me! And he'd come all the way from Vancouver for the audition."
Let's back up a moment and notice Seed has a very naughty concept. Korson plays Harry, a perpetual sperm donor.
"Nobody knows how many offspring Harry has out there," Korson says with a laugh. "It may be --gulp --hundreds although I don't think so."
Some of these kids are now at the stage where they want to find their biological dad.
And that's what happens in the first episode when Harry meets very precocious Billy (William Ainscough) who has two moms (Amanda Brugel and Stephanie Anne Mills).
Hilarity ensues. Except that in the very next breath he meets 15-year old Anastasia (Abby Ross) who also believes she's his daughter. Her perplexed parents are played by Matt Baram and Laura De Carteret.
"We can be a bit naughty," Korson explains. Which explains why Seed may not be everyone's favorite choice for an 8:30 sitcom. However, City is hoping the audience flows from How I Met Your Mother. In fact cable with its more adult audience may be a better fit for the show. But Seed will succeed or fail on City Mondays at 8:30.
The first 15 minutes of the first half hour are patchy but then some big laughs bubble forth. And Korson's theatrical training is evident --he seems entirely at ease as Harry. In fact I ket thinking of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.
Helping out immeasurably is show runner Mark Farrell who co-starred in The Newsroom and was then a force to be reckoned as writer and producer on Corner Gas.
Halifax is the setting for economic reasons and it's a case of block shooting --two episodes are filmed at the same time meaning Korson and cast must be on their toes.
Other similar comedy efforts including CBC's Intelligence and Men With Brooms were sunk by block shooting which badly damaged the flow of each episode.
Right now the show reminds me most of that amiable 2004 Montreal TV sitcom Naked Josh.
Creator Joseph Raso first pitched Seed six years ago when he was at Disney. On Monday Korson finally steps forward as Harry a lovable serial sperm donor.
How Canadians take to Harry will probably be decided in the first few weeks.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Motive Gets A Super Bowl Of A Launch

Sunday night after the Super Bowl comes an event of monumental importance on Canadian TV.
It's the greatest time slot on TV --the huge audience usually gets to watch a new series on American TV.
But Sunday night CTV is getting into the game with the premiere of a terrific new Canadian cop series Motive shot in Vancouver and starring the likes of Kristin Lehman, Lauren Holly and Louis Ferreira who used to be called Justin Louis.
CBS at the same time is showing a new episode of its struggling procedural Elementary but Global has the Canadian rights to that one.
So it's cause for celebration when CTV actually has a new Canadian show the network can truly be proud of.
Motive sets the standard police procedural up side down.
First of all viewers will get to know who is the victim and killer at the top of each hour. Then we can sit back and see if the law (including cops and the coroner) can actually crack the case.
The inverted storytelling worked on Columbo among others so why not here?
The premise was originally developed by executive producer Daniel Cerone (Dexter) for CBS about seven seasons back. CBS passed after much hesitation and only then did Canadian producers Rob LaBelle, James Thorpe and Louise Clark jump in to restructure the project for CTV.
And ABC has just announced it is picking up the first 13 hours as a summer replacement series.
But how Canadian is Motive?
"It is situated in and around Vancouver," says the big star Lehman. "I was a bit annoyed the first day to see 'Metro' over our police station set. But I was told that various police forces are in charge of various cities and we're shooting in Burnaby, Kitsilano, all over.
"But I never try to disguise my Canadian accent. And I use Canadian money in my scenes. So in my mind it's all Canadian."
I'm reminding Lehman we first met on a 1992 Canadian TV show set in 1992 --Forever Knight shot in Toronto.
And since that time Lehman, now 40, slowly but surely travelled up the ladder of  Canadian TV success: Bliss, PSI Factor, Due South, Kung Fu, Once AThief, Poltergeist.
And then one day she moved like most prominent young Canadian actors to L.A. and additional success in Felicity, Judging Amy, Century City until she hit it really big in Fox's 2007 hit Drive followed by AMC's murder mystery The Killing (shot in Vancouver).
"I took time off to have a baby and look after him. When CTV asked me to do this I thought it had everything to be a hit. And I'm the lead which is new to me. My character has decades of experience, she knows how to direct a police investigation. She sets the standard with her hard work."
For one thing Lehman's character, Angie Flynn, has a sense of humor to help her defuse difficult situations.
"She has great experience and great intuitive skills. The first mystery she's investigating in the house where a murder has occurred she just has that sense the killer must still be there somewhere.
Co-star Lauren Holly confesses she was seduced by the quality of the scripts.
"I had the best on Picket Fences. NCIS was equally challenging. I have three boys at home in Toronto and I couldn't possibly disrupt their lives so I get to fly in and out for a couple of days every episode to Vancouver and we do all my scenes one after another.
"I play a very upscale coroner, Betty Rogers. She's always dressed to the hilt, has a quip or two but she really knows her profession. She brings sex appeal and she's wonderful to play
"I've watched the first hour and it's so polished I'm just very proud. Because to become competitive Canadian TV has to be as good as it gets.""
The opening hour delivers on most counts. Excitingly directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, it examines the strange murder of a beloved high school teacher and packs surprises despite viewers thinking they know whodunit.
CTV has virtually sold out advertising for the Super Bowl.
Motive which moves to its regular time slot Sundays at 9 on February 10.
MY RATING: ****.