Friday, August 30, 2013

New Series Extreme Collectors Worth Watching

I have to admit there are some Reality TV series I find irresistible (my current favorite is Love It Or List It) while there are many I simply stay away from.
No doubt about it I'll surely be watching the latest entry the Canadian made Extreme Collectors which premieres Monday September 2 at 9 p.m. on Slice.
I really enjoyed chatting up host Andrew Zegers on the phone after I watched the first episode.
He's very much at ease in front of the TV camera because of his years as the on-air appraiser for Antiques Road Show Canada.
I also know he was a partner in the Flamboro Antique Show which is one of Canada's biggest and best outdoors shows.
"Finding just the right guests as the most important part," Zegers says. "We wanted to concentrate on devoted collectors and not simply the ultra rich. We will have celebrities too --Corbin Bernsen is in the first episode. But for the most part these are people who are animated by their passion."
Zegers scoured collectors sites and magazines and then his team had to determine if the subjects were just right for TV.
One thing this show is not: an upscale version of Hoarders.
"In the first half hour you'll see a guy with a passion for kids toys and the meticulous care he displays his collection. Everything is laid out in an order and those fortunate to view it will wonder at his care and concern."
There's also a lady who has a hat collection --Zegers comes visiting with a hat expert who is amazed at some of the rare pieces any reputable museum would want to own.
"She has hat boxes nobody else has from the Victorian era. there's a real reverence there for her collection and the display is everything --it's guaranteed to strike awe into the viewer."
Zegers also visits with Bernsen who in a separate wing of his home has well over 8,000 show globes.
"We talk about what started him, what keeps him going. Again everything is so neatly displayed because he's so proud of his acquisitions. And he also asks me if I can figure out which one is the most expensive."
At the end of each segment Zegers gives an appraisal of the collection under investigation. I'm honor bound as a TV critic not to reveal the astounding prices here.
Tune to see which Bernsen piece Zegers predicts is the most costly --and see if he's right on or not.
In today's TV world most of the subjects are very savvy about appearing on the tub --plus they are there to talk about their passion and it's a fantastic platform for them to explain their life's work.
"Every collection is calculated," Zegers says. "The collections reflect the spirit of the collector. You just have to love their stories, the dedication."
In upcoming episodes Penny Marshall shows off her sports memorabilia while a Houdini collector shows off a multimillion dollar collection.
Mentalist Mysterion in Toronto shows off an action figures collection while a Chatham collector shows off his Fifties diner complete with vintage cars and gas pumps.
How about the beer can collection in Philadelphia numbering 83,000 items and still growing stronger?
"We've just grazed the surface," Zegers laughs. And by the way if he is related to actor Kevin Zegers it's only very distantly.
A first run of 13 episodes has been ordered by Architect Films (Deck Wars).
"More please" is my initial reaction.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Meanderings And Mutterings


Meanderings and mutterings from the messy desk of your friendly neighborhood TV addict:
CBC News's horrible summer ratings have engendered near panic in the venerable Corp.
Sure, it's summer doldrums time. And yes veteran anchor Peter Mansbridge is on vacation.
But who can say the anemic ratings which translate to around 400,000 viewers at 10 p.m. some recent nights aren't just plain awful.
By contrast CTV an our later is notching more than respectable numbers of around 1.2 million viewers.
CBC is using these weeks to test market a whole list of possible candidates to replace Mansbridge who at 66 suddenly finds himself the oldest TV anchor standing.
Don't get me wrong I think Mansbridge does a very good job.
But I think he needs some help. And some CBC staffers are telling me the Corp is already deciding a sidekick is necessary to rev up the numbers.
Amanda Lang is currently the leading contender for that job.
But don't forget in eras past Mansbridge has survived such co-anchors as Pam Wallin and Hana Gartner.
He's a cagey survival of the CBC news wars, no doubt about it.
CBC insiders also acknowledge that the 10 p.m. time slot has been wrong from the get go.
When CBC went up against CTV at 11 it mostly won those long ago ratings wars.
At 10 the total TV audience is far larger than at 11 but there's great competition from all those slick and hugely popular American dramas.
Another CBC problem is the terrible current format that resembles a near empty wine bar or disco.
And cost cutting has resulted in recent years in the retirement of many of CBC News top reporters.
One result has been CBC has been consistently behind CTV's lead in reporting the on going Senate scandals.
CTV's Robert Fife just keeps getting those scoops which once were the hallmark of CBC reporting. But no more.
I usually look forward to Robert Osborne's introductions to the old classics on Turner Classic Movies.
But remember that seven per cent of the time TCM has to make a substitution on its Canadian feed because the cable weblet lacks Canadian rights.
So it made no sense for Osborne to go on and on about Claude Rains being cast in a scintillating Hitchcock mystery --obviously he was talking about Notorious(1946).
But our Canadian feed substituted Rains in Saturdaty's Children (1940).
And the other night Osborne raved about Charles Coburn starring opposite Lucy Ball and Boris Karloff in Lured (1947).
And the Canadian feed substituted Coburn in B.F.'s daughter (1948).
My obvious solution: why not drop Osborne's remarks altogether when a substitution is made so we poor Canadians can never know what we are missing?
Look, I rather enjoy BBC Canada even though I wish it could show more of those classy British serials we expect of the Beed.
But enough is enough. I've seen each and every episode of Top Gear a hundred times or so it seems to me. Ditto for Kitchen Nightmares and Graham Norton.
With the new fall season just around the corner here's hoping BBCC banishes those shows to the vaults forever.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Restoration Garage: More Canadian Reality

It was bound to happen after Canadian Pickers took over from American Pickers and with a Canadian version of Storage Lockers looming on the reality TV horizon.
Monday night at 9 on History it's Restoration Garage which is a Canadian Counting Cars for all extent and purposes.
In the Canadian version we get to see the inner workings of "The Guild", an upscale classics automobile restoration company located near Toronto --although the actual location isn't spelled out.
Counting Cars like most U.S. reality shows comes in at half an hour with two episodes usually strung together each week.
The difference in Restoration Garage is that it's a full often leisurely hour.
Again purists are going to wonder why such a series is on History but there are enough history lessons in the first episode to answer that question.
First up the guys are asked to consider restoring a classic 1953 "talking" car" with a smiling face named Mr. BP that was a safety gimmick used by BP Petroleum, to tour Ontario schools touting road safety.
The guys carefully examine the body and say it has completely rusted out. A full scale reboot would cost upwards of $80,000 but by buying a chassis from England the cost can be lowered to something like $27,000.
The Guilders are also trying to recreate from newly fabricated metals a classic Bugatti aerolite --almost everything has to be designed and built from scratch and the meticulous craftsmanship is a real wonder.
And we also see the gang truy out the reconstructed 1929 La Salle "Rum Runner" which conks out on iys first trial run and has to be towed back to the garage.
We're also introduced to the tradesmen who are an individualistic lot --and there's a female daring to join their ranks to see if she can make her.
Her decision whether or not to stay forms the biggest surprise of the first episode.
I'm certainly not an old car buff but I watched and got some history lessons I found fascinating. Whether or not the hour format is a little too leisurely will be answered when the ratings numbers are announced.

Remembering Julie Harris

So there I was, my first time on the set of Knots Landing, expecting to interview a star or two.
"All are currently busy," cackled the Lorimar publicist.
"So Julie Harris will have to do."
Julie Harris will have to do?
The lady was a Broadway and Hollywood legend and over a hurried lunch turned out to be a delightful conversationalist.
What she wanted to talk about above all was her magical summer in 1960 as she appeared opposite Bruno Gerussi in Rome And Juliet at Canada's Stratford Festival.
"I live in Manhattan. It's very noisy there. But Stratford! At 9 every morning the lawn mowers would be powered up and that's all you'd hear every morning!"
"He was a perfect Romeo, robust, a street urchin type," she enthused. "The audiences were so enthusiastic. One of my greatest memories."
Harris who died Saturday at her Massachusetts home aged 87 was long retired from acting.
When I met her she was indignant at being asked the same question by packs of TV critics.
"They always ask 'What are you doing in a TV series?" she laughed.
"My answer? I tell them more people will see me in just one episode of Knots Landing than in all the plays I ever did on Broadway."
And Harris certainly had enough hits under her belt.
First up there was her star turn as 12-year old Frankie in The Member Of The Wedding  (1950) which was turned into a movie several years later.
"It was easier pretending to be 12 on the stage.  I was an old lady of 24 by then. Those movie close ups are murder. My partner was little Brandon De Wilde who really was seven when we started. He was word perfect in rehearsals. The first night in front of an audience he blinked when the curtain went up then became the character before thousands of people."
Harris won her first Emmy for playing hedonist Sally Bowles in I Am A Camera which later became a 1955 movie --the musical Cabaret came much later.
It was enough to jump start a Hollywood career that included playing opposite James Dean in 1955's East Of Eden.
"What Jimmy didn't know about the human condition. But it was director Elia Kazan who knew how to harness that phenomenal energy and drive. Jimmy and I planned on working together on stage and then he was dead the very next year aged only 25."
Harris later starred in such movie hits as Requiem For A Heavyweight (1962) opposite Anthony Quinn, The Haunting (1963) with Claire Bloom, Harper (1966) with Paul Newman and Reflections In A Golden Eye (1967) with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.
"Movies and I never quite clicked," she laughed.
"Next to Liz Taylor I was considered very plain indeed.
Instead she won four More Broadway Tonys for The Lark, Forty Carats, The Last Of Mrs. Lincoln and The Belle Of Amherst.
The lunch was over. The bells were ringing for the actors to rehearse the next scene.
"Time to be Lilimae Clements once more" quipped Harris.
And the most gifted Broadway actress of her time walked back into the TV sound stage and waved goodbye as she disappeared into the dark.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

New Seasons For Reality TV

I sometimes feel all of American TV these days is composed of reality series.
And already reality shows are racing back early for fall previews to beat the conventional networks.
First up is Counting Cars which is actually the third spinoff of a History staple Pawn Stars.
The format is similar whether it is spin off number one American Restoration or spinoff two Cajun Pawn stars.
The first new episode revs up Monday August 26 at 10 p.m on HIstory.
And the very next night there's the granddaddy of them all Pawn Stars which returns the very next night (Tuesday at 9) also on History.
Like Pawn Stars Counting Cars is filmed in Las Vegas and looks at the goings on at Count's Customs which is an automobile customization business operated by Danny Koker --who first appeared on TV as a guest expert on --you guessed it --Pawn Stars.
The first episode looks at the effort to restore the car once owned by Bob Marley which has been disintegrating in a locker for the past two decades.
We get to learn all that goes into a restoration --how parts are hard to come by and when alternates can be used and when not.
We also get to visit with Marley's doting son  Ziggy who is financing the reboot but insists hemp be used as much as possible in the interiors.
And all this is juxtaposed with the other restoration as an elderly couple want their Ford pick up redone but on a tight $20,000 budget.
We even see a guy come in with a prized antique buzz saw who wants it all gussied up so he can mount it over his fire place.
The format on these shows always includes an artificial deadline that must be met complete with mini biographies of the other contestants.
So we get to meet "Horny Mike" who is one of the great airbrush artists around, Roli, the shop's detailer, Big Ryan, a gargantuan parts expert and manager Scott.
I watched the first two new episodes which I thought chock full of history lessons. But this show hardly ranks as compulsively viewable.
Next night at 9 on History there's the return of Pawn Stars. Not my favorite reality opus but with Dog The Bounty Hunter cancelled I have to make do with other shows.
Also made by Leftfield Pictures and also filmed in Vegas, it takes place at the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop.
The undoubted star is amiable history buff Rick Harrison who always has his father in tow --I'm not sure who actually owns it. Then there's grandson Cory and Cory's best bud the hugely stupid Chumley.
Now I like watching this one because it offers bit sized nuggets of history.
Like in the first new episode titled "Lost And Found" we get to see the difference between a pirate's chest and a bride's dowry chest.
There's also a guy who walks in with lithographs of Chagall and Miro and experts are called in and we see what an astounding price these can fetch.
I like it when the experts weigh in and how they can spot a fake from an original.
The whole episode is shot in quick takes with lots of characters appearing and some of them get quite ticked off when the claims of authenticity are called into question.
These seedy characters are quite wonderful. I know the encounters are "fixed" somewhat but this one does not irritate me as Storage Wars often seems to do.
And I know Pawn Stars must be a hit because of all the imitations out there including Hardcore Pawn.
In fact Pawn Stars is so popular there are even guest stars --first up it's Steve Carell who manages to mix things up comically with Rick before making his hefty purchase.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Brain Games: Smart TV Is Back

So there I was chatting up a Grade 6 class last fall when a very precocious 11-year old girl asked me why most TV was so stupid.
Well, have I got a smart new series for her.
It's called Brain Games and debuts on National Geographic channel Tuesday evening at 10.
I saw two half hour episodes which I'm guessing will form the first hour.

But watching in 30-minute spurts is peffectly OK with me because there's so much information to take in.
But the 11-year old was right as the number of TV channels increases smart TV has all but disappeared from the dial.
In a desperate search for ratings of any kind dumb and dumber reality TV has taken over control.
That's why I'm high on Brain Games.
I'm thinking any Grade Six student would enjoy this --along with all parents. The first eoiside starts with footballs being tossed across the screen.
You the viewer gets asked how many footballs flew by. I missed the correct number and so will you.
The youthful host is Jason Silva who is a self confessed "wonder junkie" who just likes playing visual perception tricks on poor viewers.
But he does get our attention. And he makes his points about the way the human brain is wired and I'm not surprised he is a fellow of the Hybrid Reality Institute.
His partner in missing perception is trickster Apollo Robbins who takes simple card tricks to teach us that the human brain's peripheral vision just ain't what it seems to be.
Because Brain Games teaches us about human focus and does so in bite sized lessons that are fun to watch.
The activities are all staged on location and not in the TV studio. And people off the street get recruited to test their perception --most of them flunk out merrily I'm happy to report.
The concept was originally a three hour TV special that aired way back in 2011.
The basic theory is that the human brain is good at some things like differentiating face but pretty lousy in perception contests.
The brain tends to focus on what it considers important filtering out everything else.
Robbins shows with a simple card trick how passers by are so fixated on his deck of cards they don't see the winning card is stuck on his forehead.
This is a participation series --you cannot help but play along and get fooled. In one experiment passers by must decide which of two women is taller --the girls have been placed in a room where depth and perception have been diddled with.
In another experiment college students asked to focus on two cheerleaders fail to notice the other cheerleaders who come and go are really guys in drag.
My brain is telling me to keep watching and for once I'll have to go along with this perception.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Remembering Karen Black

Of all the obituaries about the passing of Karen Black the best one summed up her talents this way: "strange and lovely".
Well, I actually met the lady, sat beside her at a Hollywood party for more than an hour and she was all that and more.
It was in June 1982 as part of the TV Critics junket in Los Angeles, very late at night and the Presidential Suite at the Century Plaza hotel was packed with the usual hordes of hungry critics and hangers on.
I remember I'd just been speaking to Donna Mills so the party must have been a CBS affair.
I needed some air so I took a seat on a settee near an open window and looked at the glowing lady sitting ever so serenely next to me.
Yes, she was Karen Black, who didn't look like she wanted to talk.
But I did. I told her I'd been in New york months before and was on the set of the daytime soaper Another World where I'd interviewed her younger sister. Named Gail Brown and Black immediately perked up.
As it turned out Another World was the only acting credit for Gail Brown who left the show at year's end and never again acted.
But playing the vulnerable Clarice on the show for several years had been enough for her. I often wondered in subsequent years what had happened to her.
"TV eats an actor up," Black said ."I should know. I've had to do a lot of it. Especially in the beginning."
I subsequently checked her TV credits which included stints on the F.B.I. (1967), Run For Your Life (1967), Even The Big Valley (1967). Imagine Black and Barbara Stanwyck sharing the TV screen!
She was also in one of prime time TV's strangest series 1967's The Second Hundred Years all about a prospector frozen in suspended animation in 1900 and returned to his family that includes his 67-year old son. The stars were Monte Markham and Arthur O'Connell.
"Yes, I do remember it," she said, her smiler fading fast.
Two years later she had her first smash movie role in Easy Rider brilliantly cast as "Karen".
In 1970 came the Oscar nomination for Five Easy Pieces cast memorably as Rayette. Then there was Drive, He Said (1971), A Gunfight (1971), Cisco Pike (1972), Portnoy's Complaint (1972), The Great Gatsby (1974) as Myrtle and The Day Of The Locust  and Nashville (both 1975).
"I can't complain," she said her smile returning.
We talked about Nicholson, we talked about Gatsby a film she found difficult to make. But she won her second Golden Globe for it.
She even made a mainstream hit with Airport 1975. "Chuck Heston is a nice man," she said.
When we spoke she'd just received raves for Altman's Come Back To the Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean cast as a troubled transsexual..
The surprise is how many dozens of films she made  in the next 30 years all of which I've never seen. She was working on a film with River Phoenix called Dark Blood when he died in 1993.
She was born Karen Ziegler in 1939 in Park Ridge, Illinois. "People think it's funny, two sisters one named Black the other Brown. We think it's funny, too."
Then she got up and vanished into the crowd. "Thanks for listening to me," she said as she went off with her husband LM Kit Carson.
She worked continuously until 2009 when she began battling cancer.
She is survived by her fourth husband Stephen Eckelberry.
I'm glad I met her even if it was for such a short time. I never saw her again. But when I recently revisted 1974's The Great Gatsby I thought how well she did as Myrtle.

A Fond Farewell To Joy Behar

Was it really 16 years ago that I first ventured on to the Manhattan set of the new ABC morning series The View?
I think I was among the first TV critics to visit and it was all arranged by CHCH-TV which had picked up the Canadian TV rights.
The entertainment editor of the day at The Star was vehemently opposed and said the show had no chance of catching on.
"Who wants to see a bunch of women yelling at each other?" he said and refused to pay for my expenses.
So I went on my annual New York trip.  It was very early in 1975 I remember. I wrote the story for The Star which got a high readership.
And that entertainment editor shortly faded from sight.
The gals were all friendly including the normally aloof Barbara Walters who executive produced it and was part owner.
Besides Walters and Behar the original Group of Four included Meredith Vieira and Debbie Matenopoulos.
I was lucky to see Behar the day I was on because at the beginning she normally was only on when Walters was busy elsewhere.
But gradually she became a regular because of her quick wit saving many impossibly dull segments.
I sat in the audience for the live broadcast and noticed at each and every commercial break Walters would summon the producer and read the riot act about the way the past segment had been going.
Afterwards I had a long talk with Behar in her dressing room. She asked me for a list of Toronto comedy clubs because she had yet to headline in Toronto.
Vieira was equally sweet but and Debbie was merely frazzled. She was there to give the youth point of view and wound up being the most conservative of the four girls.
And gradually The View took off. Big names like President Obama made it a must stop during campaigning.
Yjat morning Behar told me Regis Philbin had introduced her to Walters who was looking for a co-host with the ability to quip without a script. Walters saw some of Behar's monologues and promptly hired her.
Big news is simply this: did Behar retire gracefully or was she yanked?
At 70 she just doesn't fit the profile of a show that has seen ratings erosions in recent seasons.
Already Walters, 83, has announced she'll retire next year.
And right winger elizabeth Hasselback high tailed it over to FOX news after ABC sources said they found her attitudes too extreme.
Behar's separate show on HLN got cancelled after two seasons even though it was the weblet's highest rated series.
For ABC imitation isn't the highest form of flattery --CBS's offshoot The Talk is now inching up in the ratings.
For me I always enjoyed Behar's spirited exchanges and I think I'll send her an updated list of Toronto comedy clubs now that she's got time on her hands.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Broadchurch: British TV At Its Best

After watching the first two hours of the latest British mystery drama Broadchurch I must confess it : I'm hooked.
This stylish and completely compelling new miniseries stars TV's Dr. Who David Tennant in his return to television --not counting an NBC pilot which he filmed in Chicago but which was rejected as being too good for American TV viewers.
And watching Broadchurch and Tennant in such fine form got me to thinking about why British TV can polish off these murder mysteries with such aplomb.
First of all this one is delightfully slow and deliberately measured.
On CSI or Criminal Minds a grisly murder gets solved in 42 minutes flat complete with pulsating rock music.
Here it will take Tennant a very deliberative eight hours to come up with something.
And during those hours we get to understand and analyze the actions of the main suspects as we'd never get in an American show or on one of those Canadian efforts tailored to be as non specific as possible about location.
In one interview Tennant says the actors involved worked away without knowing the identity of the suspect until they were filming the last hour.
In this story every lead character has an arc of some sort where we really get to know them and what makes them tick.
In Britain a huge audience of nine million viewers became compulsive watchers for the eight week run which is considered highly unusual in this era of channel fragmentation.
I found the acting superb particularly that of Olivia Colman as the policewoman Ellie Miller, a Broadchurch native, who has been passed over in the search for a new Detective Inspector played by Tennant.
He is perfectly cast as the brash but insecure DI Alec Hardy, a character with a string of past failures who does not treat his team as equals.
When Miller brings in a supper of fish and chips he begs off causing Miller to erupt "You don't eat fish and chips? What kind of Scot are you?"
Best scene in the series might just be the opening tracking shot as a family man leaves his picture perfect family to go to work and we follow him along the village's high street as he meets and greets with neighbors.
In that single shot the idlylic community's group personality is established.
I'm not giving away much by stating that the body of an 11-year-old boy is quickly discovered on the beach --the tension revs up thanks to the skill of director James Strong.
Chris Chibnall (Dr. Who) wrote it and it kept my attention --I'm wondering how North American audiences used to quick resolves will take to it.
One problem: Episode One premieres Sunday night at 10 on Showcase smack dab against Mystery Masterpiece's quality British series Endeavour.
The second hour is on Showcase Monday night at 10.
MY RATING: ****.