Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Erica Durance Returns In Saving Hope

Erica Durance says there was a split second when she wondered if she could move to Toronto to star in the new CTV medical drama Saving Hope.
"My son's in Grade 8 and I couldn't move him. So the family stayed put and I move for the seven months it takes to film a season. It was a tough decision. But I'm back in Vancouver as often as possible."
The other day one web site voted Durance "the best ever" Lois Lane by virtue of her outstanding job on seven seasons of TV's  Smallville.
"I'll take that compliment and run with it," she jokes. "But it's nice to be recognized that way."
Tuesday night on CTV Durance returns in the second season opener of Saving Hope which finds her character  Dr. Alex Reid and her surgeon beau Dr.  Charlie  Harris (Michael Shanks) caught in a shootout at a transit-subway station platform.
Talk about unlucky!
Last season found Charlie in a prolonged coma after sustaining major injuries in a car wreck.
He also began experiencing an out of body experience where he would chat up fellow patients with life threatening injuries.
To this observer  the appearance of such "ghosts" was a really radical way to make Saving Hope a different type of drama and Durance says viewers are divided on the issue.
And in the first new episode Charlie continues to see these apparitions --he must confront the spirit of a father-to-be who is slipping away after being caught in the crossfire of the airport shooting.
Durance says she's hearing conflicting testimony from fans of the show.
Her advice? "Just go with it. It's there but not always a big part of every story."
Durance's character Alex also has her own issues. Early on in the new season she viciously slaps a young girl who keeps insisting she wants to die.
Alex has learned the hard way how precious life really is.
As a vote of confidence CTV is upping the number of episodes of Saving Hope this year from 13 to 18 new hours.
Although the first season thrived on CTV the numbers on NBC were not strong enough to warrant an order for another season.
"It's a cultural thing, I'm sure," Durance says. NBC is a network that favors male oriented shows while Saving Hope is definitely in the category of attracting younger female viewers.
"I think with 18 hours we can explore relationships much deeper. And we're not fixated on making that American sale. I'm sure it will happen --there are many more options out there these days."
I noticed at the top of the first hour which I've previewed that Wendy Crewson's name has disappeared from the credits --she played chief surgeon Dr. Dana Kinney.
In fact in the last episode of the first season Kinney was told by hunky doctor Joel Goran (Daniel Gillies) that he was taking over her job.
Reports Durance: "Wendy is back in Season 2 and we feel lucky to have her be part of the show. Her character will pop up several times --I'm just doing an episode with her this week.
And in other casting news Erin Karpluk of Being Erica will have a recurring role as a single mom who survives a tricky operation (a bullet is lodged near her heart).
At 35 Durance has already survived seven seasons on Smallville. She says "For whatever reason there just isn't that much production in B.C. right now."
She's also onboard as a producer for Season Two, a job that lets her sit in on editing and script meetings --it's a move that should make for a more rounded career in the future.
CTV also has a companion weblet series called Last Call finding the doctors chattering on about personal issues. Check it all out at CTV.ca/SavingHope.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Welcome Back Nerve Center!

One of my favorite prestige Canadian TV series Nerve Center is back for a highly anticipated third season.
Two new hour episodes are being scheduled by Discovery Canada back to back on wednesday June 26 starting at 8 p.m.
First up it's the launch of Toronto's brand new Four Seasons hotel which does indeed include a fair measure of thrills as the hotel braces for its first ever guests.
But I far more enjoyed the second hour which examines all the intricacies involved in last year's grey Cup finale telecast from the Rogers Center.
Four more episodes are coming up as we learn the inner workings of Legal Sea Foods, Cedar Park Amusement, Barrett Jackson Collector Car Auction and Monster Jam will all be on later in the summer.
I know there might be a certain amount of cynicism involved in watching the Four Seasons hotel open its doors.
I somehow doubt I'll ever have the coin needed for a luxury room going at $1,500 a night.
But the background is fascinating: I liked the new machine the laundry staff have to automatically fold towels.
Or there's a visit with the new master chef who must get the staff up to scratch as he plans for the hotel's first wedding and must solve the traffic jam of waiters who must serve all the guests.
And right then the new air conditioning system goes on the blitz and all concernedat the wedding party  begin sweating profusely --how it is all solved is part of the story,.
I liked the sights of hotel general manager Dimitrios Zarikos clocking the new 15-minute room service menu --the waiter gets the order delivered in 14 minutes with seconds to spare.
And what about the incoming guest who left her coat in a taxi?
Turns out the hotel has 300 surveillance cameras and one of them clearly shows the taxi pulling up including the taxi number at the side.
Showing how a live telecast goes off is always good for a feature. One of my first stories as TV critic was to cover the behind-the-scenes personnel responsible for Hockey Night In Canada.
Nerve Center focuses on the 100th annual Grey Cup and the coordination efforts are truly mammoth.
It takes 200 veteran technicians six days to unfurl the equipment and begin the countdown.
We get to understand how the sound technician can pull off a miracle, how that floating camera high up captures shots never seen on an NHL game and all the tension inside the broadcasting center during the actual game.
I found this one to be just about the best episode ever. But how will foreign viewers feel about such an intrinsically Canadian story?
So welcome back Nerve center with special thanks to executive producer Kathryn Oughtred and story producer Leslie Cote of  Exploration Productions Inc.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ryan Belleville Is Simply Seeking Satisfaction

I first met Ryan Belleville in a sleazy sex store located in a down and out strip mall in the wilds of Etobicoke.
No, it isn't what you're thinking at all!
That was two summers ago and Ryan andhis producer brother Jason Belleville were making a tiny perfect  TV comedy series for Showcase called Almost Heroes.
The comedy talent behind and in front of the cameras included Dan Redican, Colin Mochrie, Lauren Ash and the result was as funny as all get out.
In fact Redican warned me that day that the whole thing might be too funny --there were precious few moments of down time for the TV audience to collectively catch their breath.
"I learned from it," says Belleville who is on the phone promoting his next series, a far more sedate sitcom called Satisfaction which debuts on CTV Monday June 24 at 8 p.m. and runs for 13 weeks.
"This time I'm dealing with a recognizable situation --three people in their late twenties are living together and trying to make it in the world out there.
"They genuinely like each other, two of them are going steady. I play the odd guy out, the one who's not quite as mature as the others."

At the recent CTV Upfronts Montreal-born creator Tim McAuliffe said his new series Satisfaction mirrored a time in his life when he was part of an apartment threesome. McAuliffe says the couple he knew subsequently married and then divorced.
"Tim wanted to go back to a very simple situation," Belleville is explaining. "He was the show runner on This Hour Has 22 Minutes and he worked on Jimmy Fallon and The Office. He knows what works and the first rule is audiences have got to like the characters or they won't tune in every week."
When I say the pilot reminded me a bit of early Seinfeld Belleville says "That's a compliment. If you watch early episodes of Seinfeld you'll see them still trying to decide what kind of show they should be doing. We're experimenting the same way."
In other words the search for the next great Canadian TV sitcom is underway.
After the enormous success of Corner Gas there was a brief burst of rurality --subsequent shows like Little Mosque were situated in rustic settings that hardly mirrored the Canada of today.
Then came such semi-hits as Dan For Mayor,  Hiccups, Men With Brooms.
And now there's Satisfaction which plays as a room com stocked with crazies who inhabit the same downtown Toronto apartment block.
"I think the simple premise is our strength," Belleville says with a laugh. "These people are together because they're friends. They simply want to hang out."
Belleville reports he's currently filming episode 11 and Jason Priestley is set to direct two episodes.
"We had Jessica Pare  (Mad Men)fly in to do an episode so we're getting big names. And I have this feeling we're coming together better every week."
The TV landscape is littered with stand up comics who couldn't quite make the jump to sitcom fare. But Belleville says such gifted comics as Ray Romano have made it seem easy.
"I have to play the character. I'm not playing myself. The humor comes out of the situations.
"Everything on Satisfaction is deliberately specific. It takes place in Toronto but it could be any large North American humor. There's are Canadian references, pop culture moments. It's very grounded but Lionsgate has already picked up syndication rights so anyone can watch it and enjoy it."
The story follows Jason (Luke MacFarlane from Brothers & Sisters) and his girlfriend Maggie (Leah Renee from The Playboy Club) and Belleville's character Mark Movenpick.
There's certainly more than a passing resemblance to Friends. Jason and Mark have been buddies forever and Maggie thinks Jason doesn't consider her an intellectual equal (he's a PhD candidate in plant genetic engineering).
Asked to sum up Satisfaction Belleville says "It's a funny show about an extended family. We have 13 weeks to get viewers interested enough to want to see more of us."

Finally Mad Men Delivered!

Mad Men is the series I used to watch avidly for season after season.
This year I found any reason not to watch. The show had become just another TV soap opera as far as I was concerned.
And Sunday night I hesitated again because I was in the midst of watching a superior Inspector Lewis on PBS's Mystery.
But my obligations as a TV critic finally kicked in and I'm glad I turned because MM finally delivered.
MM's Sixth Season was so very familiar. Maybe because I remember 1968 so well but I found the take on that period to be so so.
And let's face it everyone ages even Don Draper, even Peggy, even Pete Campbell with his receding hairline.
And 1968? It's the year the American people chucked out ole Southern Liberal Lyndon Johnson for the cynical conservatism of retread Richard Nixon.
And frankly after so many episodes what was left for MM to shock us with?
Don has had many liasons besides being married twice. Pete has had even more as his life has disintegrated into farce.
In fact Pete had a terrible season Six which culminated in the news his mom had been tossed overboard on a pleasure cruise and may even have married her male care provider just before "the accident".
And wasn't it mom Campbell who used the line he was as sour as a little boy as  he is as a man?
The most talked about new character Bob Benson (played by James Wolk) was supposed to be some kind of government agent according to the fan sites.
But he turned out to be an accomplice for Pete. Whether Bob comes back for another season is problematic --Wolk has already signed for the new Robin Williams sitcom.
Other surprises: Ted (Kevin Rahm) wooed and won Peggy then his nice guy image surfaced and he gave it all up for love of his family --and coaxed Don into giving up a coveted job in California for him.
And Don? He had to confront his alcoholism and the idea he may have damaged his daughter who caught him with the next door neighbor.
But my favorite new character is Jim Cutler as sarcastically played by Harry Hamlin from L.A. Law --remember?
As the Sixties spin out of control the series gets darker and darker. Crime is everywhere and this gang have lived through three major assassinations and the start of the Nixon years.
That means next season, the seventh and last, must sum up a hell of a lot of lives in just 13 episodes.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Steven King's Under The Dome Worth Catching

CBS goes way off its usual summer fare of reruns with the premiere of the Steven King mini-series Under The Dome.
The first episode  (of 13) which is a must see premieres on Global (and CBS) Monday night at 10.
I'm used to the spectacular way King revs up a story line and this one is really spooky.
It starts deep in an American forest near dawn as a young man is glimpsed burying a man's corpse --presumably the man is the killer but in "Kingland" nothing is ever certain.
The mab's name we subsequently learn is "Barbie" and Mitch Vogel of Bates Motel compelling plays the lead.
But is it "Barbie" as in Klaus Barbie or Barbie the doll or what?
And then in the next scene a gigantic see through wall plops down from the sky sealing in the various denizens of the small New England hamlet of Chester's Mill.
They cannot get out and people on the other side cannot get in. They can't even hear each other talking.
The dome simply plops down cutting a cow in two and demolishing a forest and even bisecting farm houses. It's invisible but hot like a poker to the human touch.
Turns out the town councillor has been ordering tons of propane fuel to de deposited deep in the forest. But why?
The way the dome affects various members of the community forms the creepy and deeply disturbing line of the first hour.
King stories always start this way. As long as the author doesn't have to explain away the premise I'll be watching.
There are hints of some kind of vast government conspiracy which is par for the course in American horror stories.
One candy striper at the local hospital even figures the towns folk are like the goldfish she used to keep in a bowl. And then one day the big gold fish ate the smaller one.
Other familiar faces include Dean Norris as the used car salesman turned town councillor Jim Rennie.
Then there's Natalie Martinez (CSI: New York) as Deputy cop Linda, Britt Robertson (The Secret Circle) as candy stripper Angie McAlister, Alexander Koch (The Ghosts)  as her teen lover named "Junior", Canadian Rachelle Lefebre (A Gifted Man)as newspaper editor Julia Shumway.
So far everything worked for me. Special effects were nicely done but tended not to dominate the story. The cast seemed duly confused and chilled out, the same way I was feeling.
With the premise in place there has got to be some kind of let down with time.
It's also no coincidence executive producer Brian K. Vaughan and director Jack Bender both hail from Lost. Because the set up does remind me of Lost in its slow, deliberate unearthing of quirky details.
Be aware author King approved a different ending for the TV series over the 2009 book. So go ahead and read the novel but that mwon't help you solve the ending.
The serial also gets a boost from the ongoing real life flap over the U.S. federal government's telephone surveillance of average U.S. Citizens. Nobody trusts the government these days anyhow.
When the ordinary folk peer through the barricades all they can see are U.S. army soldiers who are there for what?
CBS hints if the story scores with viewers there could be a second season.
MY RATING: ****.

Friday, June 21, 2013

I Remember James Gandolfini

I'm trying to remember the first time I noticed the great character actor James Gandolfini who has died in Italy, aged just 51 years.
I certainly do remember him as Juror Number 6 in the 1997 TV movie remake of 12 Angry Men where he stood his ground against Hume Cronyn, Jack Lemmon, George C. scott and William Petersen.
In the same year he was in Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil unbilled as a waiter or so says IMDN. And I certainly don't remember him there.
But two years later there he was starring in The Sopranos and giving the performance of his life as Tony Soprano.
He was as good as an actor can get but in one mass interview session I attended he said he was afraid of getting typecast as an actor.
It was as if everything he had ever done was forgotten and now he was this great TV star and he rather resented the loss of that anonymity.
His greatest thrill on the set, he said, was acting opposite the great character star Nancy Marchand who played his mother. She was dying even as we spoke but not before she'd fufilled her contractual obligations for the season.
I spent years in Hamilton and thought The Sopranos could just as easily have been set there because both Hamilton and New Jersey had storied gangland pasts.
In the TV universe it's one character that makes a star and some actors never get away from it.
In person Gandolfini was feisty. I liked it when shock radio guy Glenn Beck complained Gandolfini had been rude to him in a New York city nitery.
I'm glad Gandolfini got such attention and awards for The Sopranos.
But I was expecting two more decades of film and TV achievements ahead.
Jim Arness was forever tagged as Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke.
Jim Garner despite the multiplicity of parts was always Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files. Larry Hagman was always Dallas' J.R. Ewing.
Some huge TV stars from Dick Chamberlain to Mary Tyler Moore to Dick Van Dyke never quite shed their TV pasts to make it big in movies.
But Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood did so go figure.
We'll never know how Gandolfini would have fared. He had been searching for that big movie cross over role.
I know when I heard of his death I was not that surprised. I'd heard stories about his drinking problems. He looked much older than his 51 years.
He was always corpulent, wheezing, that's what made him such a fine character star.
I'll always wish he had simply taken better care of himself.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Birthday CHCH-TV!

OK, so I'm a few weeks late.
But it's time to say a sincere Happy Birthday to Hamilton's feisty independent station CHCH-TV which officially came on the air on June 7, 1954.
Ah yes, I remember it well.
My parents had just acquired our first TV set and we had two American channels to chose from: WGR-TV (NBC) and WBEN-TV (CBS) both from Buffalo.
And there was Toronto's CBC affiliate CBLT-TV which was then located on Channel 9.
And that was it until CHCH came onboard doubling the number of Canadian stations we could watch.
At that time and until 1961 CHCH was a CBC affiliate because the law dictated only the CBC could run TV stations.
However. from the beginning it was a very loose affiliate and over the years CHCH ran more and more of its own selected programs. In 1961 it officially divested itself of any CBC affiliation.
Back in those early days the driving force was founding father Ken Soble who died suddenly and tragically aged 55 in 1966.
Soble got into the radio business when he was only 16 and four years later he created and produced Canada's first live amateur show called The Ken Soble Amateur Hour which was carried over an ad hoc network of Montreal and Southern Ontario radio stations.
In 1936 he assumed management of Hamilton's CHML radio station and eight years later outbid Roy Thomson for complete ownership of the station.
I well remember in the early Fifties tuning in to CHM: for the live show Main Street Jamboree which highlighted the talents of such up and coming western music stars as Tommy Hunter and Gordie Tapp.
In 1971 at the tender age of 25 I was named TV critic of The Hamilton Spectator replacing the great Jack Miller who went on to The Toronto Star.
And this is where the story gets personal.
As part of my job I had to cover every show running on CHCH.
I originally roomed at the Royal Connaught hotel right across the street from The Spec and on my first night in the dining room struck up a conversation with the first lady of CHCH, Jane Gray.
She was almost blind by then but still starring in the afternoon craft show and she'd been a mainstay at the studio since Day One.
At the station I chatted up the chief anchor Norm Marshall. CHCH was so tiny a station he did the live newscast with the aid of an automatic TV camera that he could manipulate from controls hidden under his desk.
That's right no camera operators were present.
I also met early on the station's chief announcer Bill Lawrence who was then taping a new children's show where he'd read favorite stories to the tots.
Lawrence, of course, was the host of the evergreen Tiny Talent Time which ran live on Sunday afternoons and showcased singing and dancing tots and garnered a huge audience --far larger than most prime time shows.
Lawrence later became a friend and said that yes there were kids who'd blubber on air and more than one moist accident resulted on air.
Very early on I remember covering a live taping of the pilot for a new game show that would star Shelley Berman and feature Rita Moreno as one of the guest panelists.
I thought it was awful and so did prospective advertisers --the series never emerged.
One show that was already up and running was the daily charades show Party Game featuring the talents of Jack Duffy, Billy Van, Dinah Christie and guests plus a host who originally was Al Boliska and later Bill Walker.
One day I sauntered over and interviewed William Shatner who was the guest. "Why Party Game?"
I asked him
"I have to keep up my alimony payments," he snapped.
In 1971 I ventured on the set of the Hilarious House Of Frightenstein starring Vincent Price with Billy Van playing most of the other characters.
Price joked the series was so low budget "I'm sleeping in the guest room at the producer's home."
The producer was the versatile "Randy Dandy" Markowicz who also made Party Game.
He saved the tapes of HHOF which are now selling like hot cakes in a boxed DVD set.
But every year Markowicz would order all episodes of PG wiped so they could be used again for the next season. Unknown to him Van's wife took five episodes and these are the only extant copies I'm aware of.
I was also on the set of Ein Prosit --taped at the German cultural club. "You vill have fun!" shouted the menacing MC.
And I also covered live CHCH coverage of the junior hockey games from the old Barton Street arena. Walking on the rickety catwalk scared me because of the presence of portly color commentator Joe Watkins who weighed in at over 350 pounds.
I can still hear those catwalk boards creaking away as Joe led the way to the announcing booth.
I remember being on the set of another CHCH local success: the hour long variety series The Palace taped at Hamilton Place.
The night I watched a taping the great Ethel Merman ran out onto the stage --and she kept running. In fact she fell into the orchestra pit and had to be taken to the Emerg. But not before receiving a standing ovation.
Another big CHCH Cancom success was Piere Berton's daily half hour interview show which he made for CHCH and stations across the country. Berton told me when he was on the road he'd record up to 10 interviews in one day.
Years later he phoned Screen Gems to arrange a retrospective and was enraged all the early tapes had been wiped. Exclusives with the likes of Vivien Leigh were gone forever.
But the reason for CBCH's big success in its first 25 years was simply due to one guy --Sam Jebscher.
In the Forties Sam had managed both the Palace and Capitol movie theaters in downtown Hamilton and later he also managed the Barton street Arena.
Soble hired him because of his knowledge of the movie business and Sam  delivered big time.
After CHCH became completely independent Sam was able to land great movie after great movie. CHCH became the home of world wide movie premieres on TV.
Such biggies as Gone with the Wind, Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Poseidon Adventure,  Dr. Zhivago and literally thousands more debuted on CHCH. How about that!
As long as CHCH remained a movie station it was on top ratings wise.
Then the station made a bad movie starting in 1982 to buy up all the Lorimar series (save Dallas) for big bucks. Many of these shows failed and so did CHCH's ascendancy as the movie station.
In 1980 I left the Spectator for The Toronto star.
Hamilton's CHCH was no longer "my" station --I still visited but it wasn't the same.
I 'd watch in anguish as the a station underwent a number of format changes and name changes.
These days everything old is new again --CHCH is back showing movies around the clock.
Long may it prosper!
As CHCH starts its 60th year of broadcasting what else can I say except Best Wishes for the next 60 years.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

TVO's First Ever Original Drama Series Is A Hit

I've been covering TVOntario  even before it came on the air.
First it was the Ontario Education Authority way up on Bayview Ave.
Then it morphed into regional network TVOntario on Tortonto's Eglinton Street.
I think I must have covered almost every TVO premiere over the last 40 years as TV critic first of The Spectator and later The Toronto Star.
So I'm happy to report TVO's new series Hard Rock Medical is the first commissioned drama series the network has ever done.
And I'm equally happy to add it's entirely professional and watchable. And completely Canadian.
You can check for yourself when Hard Rock Medical premieres Sunday night at 8 (repeating Friday nights at 8:30 and 10 p.m.).
First of all it's resolutely Canadian not a disguised version as so often happens in Canadian series shot here but designed for quick sales to U.S. TV.
The medical drama follows the lives and experiences of eight prospective medical students who have opted to study medicine in Sudbury with the understanding they will continue practicing medicine in Canada's North.
The show works for me and it's all due to the diligence of veteran producer-director Derek Diorio.
I phoned him up at his Ottawa based company (Distinct Features)  to ask how he'd accomplished something TVO always said was too expensive.
First of all I remembered that distinctive name from way back when. I'd actually met him in  Ottawa in 1985 when he was playing the character Haggis Lamborgini in the hit TV series The Raccoons.
During the Eighties Diorio was a member of the comedy group Ski Row. He later scripted such series as You Can't Do That On Television (1982-84).
To hear Diorio tell it he was making a series for TFO (the French language equivalent of TVO) called Meteo+ "and that was in 2010 and I heard about a project called the Northern Ontario School Of Medicine (NOSM) which deliberately trained home grown doctors because of a continuing shortage.
"Look, I'm a producer. I'm always thinking story. And this one was real and I could see all the dramatic possibilities right away."
After the success of Meteo+ Diorio went on to make another scripted series for TFO: Les Bleus De Ramville (2012013) perfecting a technique to make dramas at acceptable costs.
"TFO's budget is a lot less than TVO. So the idea that I could produce a quality drama series for relatively little was something I had demonstrated."
Both TFO series were also filmed in Sudbury which Diorio jokes is becoming the new Hamilton.
"Costs are relatively less than in Southern Ontario. " And Sudbury presents a relatively "new face" in terms of locations.
Diorio began researching and writing scripts. He discovered that within six weeks of enrollment " first year students are out in the field working with a doctor professor and with that they meet all sorts of patients in all sorts of situations."
TVO began collecting funds --sources included the Northern Heritage Fund Corporation, Canada Media Fund, Canadian Film Tax Credit, Ontario Film Credit as well as funding from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) which has the second window.
Diorio says he had a huge talent pool to chose from at auditions. The only big name is Patrick McKenna (Traders) as one of the senior doctors.
"I had the freedom to chose the best actors and not go for names. I couldn't afford names anyway," he jokes.
Each episode is half an hour. "I estimate I'd shoot an episode every 2 1/2 days. Had to with the small budget. The actors had to get used to shooting out of sequence. We might do a scene from the first episode and then a scene from the sixth episode. The only standing set constructed for the show is the medical room at the university."
Most TV medical shows are glossy and focus on the romantic complications of the ultra handsome doctors.
"Our show can be funny at times," says Diorio. "Then it's gritty. A real slice of life. The new doctors are a bit older than usual --they've seen life and made a commitment to do this kind of work.
"We even have an aboriginal actor from Australia. His character wants to work with native people. It's a neat twist on the usual plot."
The fine cast includes Sudbury actor Stephane Paquette, Mark Coles Smith, Rachelle Casseus,  Danielle Bourgon.
But the only actor beside McKenna you may recognize is Jamie Spilchuk as intern Cameron Cahill and that's because he currently stars in well received Rogers Phone TV commercials.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

CTV's Fall schedule: Bigger And Better?

Here's what I learned after a day of interviews over at CTV's Toronto headquarters about the network's fall schedule:
1. Bethenny Frankel whose new talk show Bethenny debuts on CTV this fall says "There'll be no topics off limits on my show. I think the topic vibrator virgins which we did on the pilot might have been too much in your face. But I guess I'll always be a reality star."
2. Tate Donovan says his new drama series Hostages will be different "because we'll only do 15 hours a year. I don't want to do 22 episodes for six years of a conventional series. The quality suffers. It's based on an Israeli concept --the Israeli version will actually be shooting at the same time."
3. Kevin Newman explains his new position as anchor at CTV's Question Period this way: "Tom Clark and I simply switched networks. I went from Global top CTV and he left CTV for Global. It's a rebranding problem I'm guessing. But we're both happier."
4. Meghan Ory is trying to explain her new U.S. series Intelligence as "a guy (Josh Holloway from Lost) is a U.S. cyber Commander with a microchip implanted in his brain. You understand that?  And this I promise you --his shirt will come off."
5. Canadian Shawn Ashmore is chatting about his breakout hit The Following: "They won't tell me what's happening next. I really don't want to knopw. Working with Kevin Bacon is the tops. But we were told at the top our characters won't last forever. I'm not sure what will happen in the new season. No one can grow attached to their character here."
5.  Troy Gentile, Sean Giambrone and Hayley Orrantia, kids on the new U.S. series The Goldbergs talk comedy: "I like that old show with Andy Griffith!" "No man,  Malcolm In The Middle is great!"  "All In The Family, is that the title, it's great!" "Our outfits (the show is set in the Eighties) are hilarious!" "My grandma says there actually was another show called The Goldbergs, am I right?"
CTV's fall schedule unveiled to a capacity crowd at the Sony Center offers few surprises.
Biggest news was CTV's purchase of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to anchor its weak Tuesday night line up.
CTV has also nabbed Person Of Interest away from City at 10 p.m. and will hammock two new half hour comedies The Goldbergs at 9 and Trophy Wife at 9:30.
According to CTV President Phil King the network will shift The Voice to CTV Two as it fights the hefty ratings successes of NCIS and NCIS: L.A. over at rival Global TV.
CTV Two also gets the rapidly sinking The X Factor plus Dancing With The Stars and Shark Tank, and Undercover Boss turning it into a reality weblet.
The main network holds firm on Thursday nights with top rated The Big Bang Theory, Two And A Half Men plus venerable Grey's Anatomy.
Other old U.S. series still holding firm in the ratings include Criminal Minds, CSI, Blue Bloods, Law & Order: SVU, The Amazing Race and The Mentalist.
With the cancellation of daytime talk show Anderson Cooper CTV will launch a daily domestic talk fest featuring Melissa Grelo, Lainey Lui, Cynthia Loyst and Traci Melchor which will go out live a la The View.
The View will be done before an audience like CTV's other local success The Marilyn Dennis Show.
If there's precious little Canadian content on CTV and CTV Two in the fall  Canadian productions will shine on the specialty networks. Such local series as Saving Hope (back June 25), The Listener, Orphan Black, Motive, Degrassi  have all attracted larege audiences.
CTV's 30 specialty channels give it  enviable dominance of the market.
And CTV trotted out so many stars on the Sony stage one could only sit back and wonder.
Included in the walk around were Eric Dane, Snooki and even Shemar Moore who obliged by rolling up his T shirt as females in the audience collectively swooned.
I also met up with veteran producer John Brunton responsible for CTV's upcoming summer entry Amazing Race Canada starring personable Canadian Olympics star Jon Montgomery whose on air presence makes him a TV star of the future.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Shaw Media: The Momentum Is Upward

Considerably more press attended Shaw Media's fall preview than City's the day before.
That's because Shaw has made a real impact on the media landscape.
The media giant rolled out a stay-pat schedule for its Global network.
Such top  American TV hits as Bones, NCIS, NCIS; LA, Chicago Fire, Glee, Hawaii 5-0, Parenthood and The Good wife are back.
Indeed in the case of its Sunday night adult animation series --The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers, Family Guy and American Dad the format has  mostly remained the same for many years.
Global senior easily into the Global schedule.
This fall Global will be simulcasting 14 hours of U.S. series out of a grand total of 21 hours of prime time programming a week.
Williams says she's very high on the new sitcom The Michael J. Fox Show in which the veteran star plays a dad struggling with Parkinsons. She also likes the new sitcom The Millers showcasing Josh Arnett as a divorced guy living with his divorced mom.
Other new acquisitions include the reboot of Ironside starring Blair Underwood.
He told press guests he got into the mood by watching episodes of the original Raymond Burr series.
"But ours is different --we're shooting in New York and my character isn't desk bound but on the streets with an elite squad --while in a wheel chair.
"It's  not a remake at all."
Global also bought the spin off of Chicago Fire called Chicago PD. Rake is a new series with Greg Kinnear as a criminal defense attorney whereas Reckless is a legal drama starring Cam Gigandet (The O.C.) and Georgina Haif (Fringe).
Later on there'll be a 12-episode return of Keifer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in 24: Live Another Day. And John Malkovich will star in the short term series Crossbones as legendary pilot Blackbeard.
Another short termer Dracula will star Jonathan Rhys Meyer.
Williams says the return of the family sitcom is one trend for the fall.
Another is the return of "event TV" --short run series like the great miniseries of the past. that create a vast audience.
At the Q and A Williams was asked the inevitable question about the fate of Global's highly popular Canadian series Bomb Girls which the network cancelled after only two seasons.
Williams promised a two-hour TV movie will tie up all the plot strands --but that's not what the fans want. They've been busy signing petitions to keep the well made show going.
Says Williams: "It was originally conceived as a six part miniseries. Then we did 12 more the second season."
But there are  are no scripted Canadian drama series on the fall Global schedule at all.
In fact Global does have some fine scripted Canadian dramas --Rookie Blue is currently running and on Shaw cable networks there are Vikings, Lost Girl and Continuum. All have been picked up for another season.
Williams says she's ordered two more: from veteran producer Bernie Zuckerman comes Remedy which is set in a hospital but concerns all the staff just not the doctors.
And Global has also commissioned Working The Engles from Jane and Katie Ford (Material World)
a comedic look at a family trying to keep their legal business going.
Williams also pointed to the 600 hours of original Canadian content programming commissioned for such specialty channels as Showcase and HGTV.
One of the strangest new series In The Thicke Of It will star Canadian Alan Thicke and his Bolivean wife Tanya Callau.
"I'm Alan and this is not," quipped Thicke as he pointed to his wife.
He described his show as a weird cross of Larry David and The Kardashians.
Global also trotted out a slimmed down Queen Latifah who was promoting new new daily talk show.
And Soap opera queen Susan Lucci chattered about her new series Devious Maids which will rev up in the second season.
Dean McDermott said he was glad to be back in T.O. as host of Chopped Canada (on Food).
And Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii 5-0) and Jessalyn Gilsig (Vikings) and Canadian Diego Klattenhoff (The Blacklist) also made appearances.
Global has also reached out to Twitter Canada's Kirsten Stewart to join up on Twitter Amplify --the platform will take advertising as well as programming clips.
And Shaw also has another new lifestyle specialty channel called DTOUR. New shows include Rock My RV With Bret Michaels and Hotel Impossible.
All in all Shaw is on quite a roll.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Citytv: Making 'em Laugh

I spent yesterday afternoon listening to a gaggle of City stars gurgling on about their new fall TV wares.
And City's lineup for the new season is pretty impressive.
For one thing I got to gaze at the beauty which is Eva Longoria.
I hadn't met her since she visited T.O. to tub thump her series Desperate Housewives way back when Logoria was just another promising pretty face. The year was 2004.
Now she's a mega TV star and how strange that her next series is going to be a Canadian made adult animation series called Mother Up! in which she voices the worst mom around.
Longoria told a gaggle of TV scribes it's nothing personal --she doesn't have kids of her own.
"She just has no parenting skills at all," she laughed.
Another promising Canadian offering is the new sitcom Package Deal in which three brothers must decide what to do when one gets a girlfriend.
It was good seeing Harlan Williams again --I once interviewed the talented Canadian comic on the set of Geena Davis's quite awful U.S. sitcom.
This time out he got some laughs at the presentation with his inventive shtick.
The bits that City showed us seemed chock full of possibilities.
City also renewed its freshman semi-hit Sperm starring Adam Korson as multiple sperm bank donor Harry and some of the children he has had with various willing femmes.
City will also begin production in the fall of a second season of Bachelor Canada.
Other new home grown product includes the reality series The Project: Guatemala hosted by marathon runner Ray Zahab in which nine well off young Canadians are tricked into participating in a new reality show --instead they find they've signed up to construct a new orphanage in Guatemala.
And there's the new hourlong reality opus Meet The Family based on the British TV hit Meet The Parents. The premise has a new love interest going to the home of a girlfriend or boyfriend and finding a family that is truly obnoxious. But relax --these are played by actors and they can become very nasty and annoying in a short time.
Then there's the inevitable spin off  titled Storage Wars Canada set in the Toronto region. And we got to meet cast members who already were bickering on stage! I wonder if this version will avoid the rumors in the U.S. versions that items get planted in storage lockers to produce a more dramatically interesting story line?
Other big news: City has nabbed The Grammy Awards for the next three years.
Other new comedy series nabs include the sitcom Mom starring Anna Faris, Dads starring Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi, Brooklyn Nine-Nine a cops comedy with Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher, Rebel Wilson in Super Fun Night, a gal buddy thing, The Crazy Ones with Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar about a father and daughter in advertising, Enlisted, a military thing with Geoff Stults.
New drama series acquisitions include Matt Long in Lucky 7 (about lottery winners), Nashville  (moving over from CTV), Once Upon A Time In Wonderland with Sophie Lowe as Alice,  Hanna Ware and Stuart Townsend in Betrayal,.
Also there'll be a live broadcast of The Sound Of Music on December 5 as a holiday treat.
But the biggest star strutting around was James Wolk who has stolen whole scenes this past season on Mad Men as conniving Bob Benson.
The mood was certainly upbeat at the presentation before key advertisers. Last week City announced it was dumping CityNews Channel after only 20 months on the air. Also slashed was the English language South asian newscast on OMNI.
Canadian content appears to be growing and the sitcoms with Williams and Samberg could become big breakout hits.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

I Remember Jean Stapleton

So there I was in the audience of a new CBS sitcom called All In The Family watching a taping at CBS      Television City.  It was in June 1972 and boy was the atmosphere volatile.
Carroll O'Connor and producer Norman Lear went right at each other.
But in the center of the storm co-star Jean Stapleton simply watched and waited.
After the first taping there was a two-hour wait followed by a second taping of the same episode with completely different dialogue.
And both times Stapleton was the one who shone out.
No doubt about it she was one of TV's best ever actresses.
Her death aged 90 on June 1 was a big loss for the industry.
I'd first glimpsed her as Judy Holliday's chum in the 1960 musical film Bells Are Ringing.
And Stapleton had long been a staple on Broadway and at husband William Putch's Totem Pole Playhouse in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania.
When Norman Lear came to cast Edith Bunker in All In The Family Stapleton was his first and last choice.
"We made the pilot called Those Were The Days for ABC," she told me. "ABC passed but CBS picked us up with a new title. It was based on a British series Till Death Do Us Part."
No doubt about it Edith was the heart and soul of that series. O'Connor supplied the bombast but Stapleton contributed the underlying love and sympathy.
I got to interview Stapleton at length several times.
She told me she never thought the sitcom would last and had settled for a hefty upfront salary in lieu of residuals.
All In The Family was shot as a mini play in front of a live audience with O'Connor and Stapleton demonstrating their solid theatrical credentials.
She openly flinched when one TV critic called Edith a "dingbat".
"No," Stapleton interjected. "She was terribly naive and trusting."
Her favorite episode came when Edith was raped, an experience she described as "terrible but it was a real acting experience."
Stapleton said she knew she was in a hit when people started coming up to her on the street and singing the theme song. "Almost all got that one line wrong about gee our  old LaSalle ran great," she laughed.
Stapleton won Emmys as best comedy actress in 1971, 1972 and 1978.
I saw Stapleton on the stage at the Royal Alex in Putch's revival of the 1938 play Morning's At Seven.
It was such a hit a national tour was set up but Stapleton could not make it because of her AITF taping schedule. She cheered when I told her the replacement was going to be Kate Reid.
All In The Family ran from 1971 through 1979.
Following the departure of Sally Struthers (as Gloria) and Rob Reiner (Meathead), Stapleton reluctantly continued in the spin off titled Archie Bunker's Place.
However after the 1980 season she decided to retire from the show. The next season began with Archie mourning the death of Edith from a stroke a few months earlier.
CBS then ordered a new series be built up just for Stapleton.
"It was written by Peter Fischer and all about a detective. Titled Murder, She Wrote. But I said I didn't want to do an hour drama series. Too much work. So I passed.." she told me.
Instead Stapleton made such well received TV movies as Aunt Mary (1969),  Angel Dusted (1981) and Eleanor: Woman Of The World (1982).
In 1990 she returned to TV sitcoms opposite Whoopi Goldberg in Bagdad Cafe.
Producer Lear summed it up best when he wrote on his blog after hearing news of her passing : "Goodbye, Edith darling."