Thursday, March 27, 2014

BBQ Crawl: Worth Looking At And Then Some

I usually avoid all food shows on TV these days.
I liked the Food Network when it had prestigious chefs who could tell us exactly how to make a masterpiece.
But lately it's degenerated into food competitions with budding chefs banging into each other as they prepare obscure delicacies --a sort of Cooking With The Stars rip off.
But a friend urged me to catch the Canadian made BBQ Crawl as a delightful reversion back to the day when food shows celebrated great food.
And so I watched the first two episodes of the new season. Maybe it's because I usually avoid those barbecued chickens in the supermarket as completely inedible. and here I was introduced to real barbecuing.
First surprise is the enthusiastic host Danielle Dimovski who takes time to give us the relevant facts.
More than once as she travels with her crew through the American South she's teased for being "that Canadian" and she takes the ribbing well enough.
As she told me over the pone "We shoot each episode in three to four days.  I want to get the owners as I see them off camera so the idea is to make it a stress free occasion. They have a love of barbecue and obviously talent because some of these places have been going for decades."
First stop in the first new half hour episode is Jack's Barbecue in downtown Nashville. The location alone makes for a must-see episode --Jack's borders legendary Ryman hall, original home of the Grand Ole Pry --for decades the stars would tip toe through the back entrance between sets.
The decor is indeed truly awesome as is the care the pit master puts into the process. But I think I would have to pass on the decadent desserts like the awesome cheese pie.
"Jack has a great story to tell," explains Dimovski. "So I just sit back and let him tell it. Like so many he's resisted the urge to turn it all into a chain. He thinks the quality might suffer in a franchise,."
As always Danielle gets help from her staff of two: Randy and Andy who supply humor and comment that perks up each story.
"Of course I've met most of my subjects many times," she laughs. But there's an art i  telling a story in a mere 22 minutes.
And just to show she knows what she's talking about Danielle and the boys get involved in a contest that finds her honored with several wins in competition with the best in the business.
My surprise was finding how savory and tender she makes her brisket --I've tried Canadian brisket and it seems from a different tradition.
"I know we get a lot of requests for addresses so in a way I'm promoting these chefs. A fair number of viewers says they want to go down in person and visit some of these famous spots."
Dimovski says "It's certainly not a Canadian tradition, great barbecue. I think it originated in the South during the slave era. But, yes, I'll barbecue in my back yard --remember some of what we show like whole hog barbecue in a pit --that takes a minimum of 15 hours.
"It's a great skill when done just right.  I've still got a lot more stories to tell believe me."
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Canadian Content Fading Fast

"There's CBC Canadian content and then there's --not much else."
An esteemed veteran CBC producer is talking and he's worried that fragile edifice we call "Cancom" is headed straight for the dumpster.
The slide began way back in 1985 when Canada's commercial broadcasters banded together and got the CRTC to change its content rules regarding scripted Canadian TV drama.
Specifically the networks asked CRTC to dump all its requirements and they promised in return to informally adhere to the same guidelines they'd always followed.
Only they pulled a fast one.
In 1985 I counted 11 splendid hour long Canadian TV drama series running to deep appreciation from viewers.
The next season the dust cleared and only two Canadian scripted dramas were left.
All the new cable channels that have arrived in recent years and the battle for quality Canadian shows remains as precarious as ever.
I remember getting to know the Canadian actor David Sutcliffe when he was making a TV movie in Oakville titled.
He'd left Toronto because acting opportunities were few and far between and he'd enjoyed success on American TV in Gilmore Girls and I'm With Her.
Last season CBC gave him the opportunity to come back in the police saga Cracked.
When I chatted him up after the first shaky season he acknowledged "We had a bumpy start."
But improvements were made and the show in season two was vastly improved although CBC's season order was down to just eight episodes --an ominous sign.
Then word came CBC had simply cancelled out. CBC also cancelled Arctic Air which had some measure of ratings success but was costly to make.
What does the network expect? How can a season order of eight episodes stand up against a full blown American import?
To CTV's credit the network has stuck with such Canadian series as Saving Hope and The Listener.
Rogers track record with scripted shows is far more iffy --Citytv cancelled Murdoch Mysteries only to see it soar over on CBC.
Global has had some fine Canadian dramas such as Kate and Combat Hospital but both were cancelled when the American network bailed out.
That leaves CBC and the network must struggle to fill a cash hole of $400 million caused by the loss of Hockey Night In Canada's commercial revenues to Rogers.
"I'm hearing all scripted series are on the cancellation table," says my veteran source.
Does that mean a CBC reduced to a sort of Canadian CNN service?
CBC President ()()()()() must retaliate by telling local MPs such a stem won't work.
The first thing he can do is cancel the local newscasts in each and every Tory riding.
That's been done in the past and it worked then in getting Canadians hopping mad at what lack of government support is doing to our public national network.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Love Under Cuban Skies Among Season's Best

I wasn't quite sure what to expect by the new TV documentary Love Under Cuban Skies.
You can check it out for yourself when it debuts on CBC's Doc Zone Thursday March 20 at 9 p.m.
The title is more than a little tempting. But veteran director Wendy Champagne really delivers here in a compassionate yet stark look at the many ways Canadian women of a certain age are finding romance under those Cuban skies.
The statistics are startling --more than 600,000 Canadian women each year are jetting off for Cuba and the numbers are fast increasing. It's still relatively cheap compared to other Caribbean tourist traps but the women are more interested in just getting the perfect tan.
"The more mature ones are after romance," Champagne is telling me on the phone. "Not sex. But romance although many of them know it simply can't last in the long run."
The trouble is that Cuba under the Castros experienced a backlash against the old Batista regime which was a sex haven for American tourists.
And Champagne shows young Cuban men being arrested by the police for appearing to consort with unwary female tourists. Another man caught smoking marijuana is jailed and faces a possibly long prison term.
"You contrast all this with the Latin culture which sees nothing wrong between a younger man and a mature woman," Champagne says.
"Yes, there are the male hookups and between older male tourists and younger Cuban girls, it is strictly a business proposition." The mature gents usually do not offer marriage and a home back in Canada.
"I was able to find some of these women who know exactly what they are doing," Champagne says. And as she filmed them over days --and in some cases many months back in Canada--she was struck by their optimism.
"Some know from the start it can't last forever. Others are not so sure, they are hoping this is it."
The men who are mostly in their early 20s are victims of the lingering economic recession in Cuba. We get to visit their homes and the conditions are shocking.
"For many people it's one solid meal a day, houses that lack most  basic necessities. So these young men want to get away any way they can. They are sincere in thinking they are in love but is it realistic?"
Those liasons which do result in marriage and life back in Canada are threatened by the reality of a completely different Canadian lifestyle that quickly becomes unsustainable for many newcomers.
Champagne quite brilliantly documents this by vignettes of the various women. Jill, a professor of Women's Studies at the University of Regina, hooks up with the earnest Yandy. I can't disclose what happens in this relationship but it completely startled me.
Then there is bright and optimistic Montrealer Claire who is a patrol officer who begins pursuing Ricardo who works at the hotel where she is staying.
Paula who is slightly older becomes attracted by 23-year old aspiring dancer-actor Andy and brings him to live with her in San Diego.
Champagne  (for Esperamos Films) captures the vulnerability of these women who are grasping at the slim chance they may yet find permanent happiness. But she also shows the young men are trapped in a hopeless system and trying any way to get out.
I was struck by the sadness of both sides at the end of this compelling and yet challenging look at love and illusion in a hot climate. All I can say is: Well done indeed!
MY RATING: ****.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ron James: "I'm Done"

I was supposed to phone up Ron James for our annual chat about his CBC-TV series.
I couldn't do it in person this year since I'm still recovering from triple bypass surgery but as soon as I got on the line James practically  shouted: "You know I'm done?"
Turns out CBC had declined to renew his five-year comedy series for another season.
"They told me in a telephone call. Typical."
The reason for this year's poor ratings?
I submit it was the roller coaster ride of time slots that began when James replaced RCAF on Friday nights.
In a supreme example of network indifference he got moved around ever season from Fridays to Mondays to Wednesdays and this season back to Mondays at 9:30.
A weak lead in from Mr. D didn't help and James was forced to defend himself against such heavy weight U.S. competition as The Following and The Voice.
The irony is the show itself has never been better.
This year with support from executive producer Lynn Harvey James practically moved his monologues into the audience producing a new found intimacy that really works.
And his comedy took a sharp, acerbic turn with frequent assaults on the Harper Tories because James sensed the government's unpopularity.
" I can tell you at the Canadian Screen awards I was offended the so called Heritage minister handed out awards. Never has a government so hated the arts."
In a way James knew this was going to be a difficult season when his episode order was scaled back to just eight episodes and his highly rated New Year's Eve show dumped.
The loss of CBC head programmer Kristine Stewart to Twitter Canada didn't help matters at all.
Some of James's sketches this year have been among his best.
There was the parody of the Somali kidnappers "which I've wanted to do since I was in Second City and at that time I thought why not make the chief pirate the cute kid I once helped as a foster parent? Oh, I had that idea well before the movie Captain Philips!"
This week it's a sketch on Zombie Vaccine which I can't explain --I'll just ask you to watch it.
And among James's best creations there's the CBC character Elroy Faber who he describes as "a bit" of a cross between Elwy Yost --and can I add Elwood Glover --in giving us tripe from the CBC vaults.
"CBC is always trying to make shows that are good for us," James laughs.
"This season we were able to get such seasoned performers as Rick Roberts and Patrick McKenna. And mostly it worked."
With the move back to Mondays and the lack of CBC publicity James cracks "It's a wonder anybody at all could find us."
As partial compensation CBC has offered a comedy special --James has done several which found ratings gold and says he's considering the offer.
"We're going out on a high note. I'm grateful for five seasons. Our budget was minuscule and yet we were able to attract the biggest Canadian actors around --Peter Keleghan, Linda Kash, Jayne Eastwood."
James own future is certain --he can play anywhere in Canada with his one man shows and draw SRO audiences. "TV has made me even more popular out there, there's the irony."
In the near future he wants to take a canoe trip in the Yukon with his daughter and ruminate about the future of Canadian TV comedy.
But does any solely Canadian series have any chance of survival against the onslaught of imported American fare appearing on all sorts of platforms?
CBC insiders say even more drastic cuts are to be anticipated. "Most scripted series are in danger!" warns one veteran producer who says this death by a hundred cuts now threatens CBC-TV's very existence.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wild Canada: Only On CBC

About the brilliant new mini-series Wild Canada film maker Jeff Turner says "It could only be made for a network like CBC which is committed over the long haul."
Simply stated Wild Canada which runs over the next four weeks on CBC-TV's The Nature Of Things is a masterful look at the greatest stretch of wilderness still standing --all of it is in Canada.
The first unforgettable hour revs up Thursday night at 8 on CBC-TV.
"It took us years," laughs Turner about the work he and wife Susan put into the mammoth project. "Of course it started in script stage as we endeavoured to show everything we wanted to achieve in each hour. Getting all that actually on screen was something else."
Turner estimates the ratio of filming to final footage went as high as 500 hours to one.
"I mean we just had to get a shot of an eagle taking a newborn lamb. But we though it would be improbable until we actually got that shot. There were no retakes!"
Turner says "Most of the imafes were taken by 4K resolution cameras. These enabled us to get slow motion shots never seen before. Knockouts."
In the first hour titled "The Eternal Frontier" the Turners wanted to go back to the dawn of Canada before mankind began remaking the landscape.
Almost immediately we are overwhelmed by the images of red garter snakes who have been hibernating by the tens of thousands in gigantic limestone pockets --they are sunning themselves while the smaller males begin seeking out the larger females for procreation.
The look at mountain goats high in the Rockies remains another memorable, iconic image --I resisted the urge to freeze my DVD preview copy and watch everything again.
Part 2 which runs on March 20 tells different stories.
First up there's a look at one of the planet's greatest migrations as millions of salmon race up the western rivers of CVanada.
Equally amazing are shots of black bears high in the Arctic circle feasting on salmon in rivers warmed by underground springs --the bears are perpetually covered in ice pellets.
"It is one of the most amazing shots I have ever seen" says Turner.
Episode 3 on March 27 is titled The Heartland followed by the grand finale Ice Edge on April 3.
Turner remembers as do I when CBC had a weekly series devoted to Canada's natural wonders titled This Land. It was an early victim of the "death by a hundred cuts" which still threatens CBC's long term existence to this day.
Turner was only able to make Wild Canada because of CBC's long term commitment coupled with commitments from other broadcasters around the world.
 There's also a coffee table book written by J.B. Mackinnon and DVD and Blue-Ray editions of the series available through the CBC Shop.
Will Wild Canada be one of the last of CBC's great endeavours that includes such miniseries over the years as The National Dream,  Riel and Jalna?
CBC must soon make huge cuts to continue justifying its existence.
I'm arguing Wild Canada does all that and more.
It's the must see TV event of the spring as far as I'm concerned.
MY RATING: ****.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Strombo's Departure: First Of Many

Why did it take CBC so long to bounce the invariably low rated George Stromboulopoulos from the schedule?
George debuted on CBC late nights with an hour that never went anywhere in the ratings.
Then he was bounced to early evenings and ratings were even lower.
And then Strombo became the first victim of what CBC sources are saying will be a mass exodus of talent.
It's somewhat ironical that Strombo now emerges as the new host of Saturday's Hockey Night In Canada which will stay running on CBC even though content is now controlled by Rogers.
Hey, I've always liked his style. Maybe he was too smart to be a TV talk show host.
And Rogers also gets to keep the gadzillions in profits --some $400 million last season --that fueled much of CBC-TV's prime time schedule.
"It's going to be a really shrunken schedule for next season," one CBC veteran producer told me.
Already I'm hearing one veteran star has told CBC that next season will be his last and then he wants out completely.
Many of CBC's scripted series may have to be cancelled unless CBC can find some way of getting back that $400 million.
Having a federal government that never took a shine to public broadcasting doesn't help matters.
CBC executives have already been promising to protect news and current affairs in the next level of budget cuts. But what else will be left?
Incidentally there'll also be NHL hockey Sunday nights on City stations.
What this does to Rogers already fragile commitment to scripted Canadian content shows is still unclear.
Remember when CTV would pack its schedule with World Championship ice skating and then decline to back any Canadian made dramatic shows?
Who'll be the next CBC star to be bounced because the till is bare?
I have a list given to me but I'm just not sure how accurate it is.
Stay tuned.
And if you don't like hockey what else can I tell you?
There's always Netflix which has no Canadian content regulations.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Adventures Of Dr. Crackhead: A Major Find

I plopped in the DVD review copy of the new two-hour documentary The Adventures Of Dr. Crackhead simply because I found the title intriguing.
I stayed to watch the entire two-hour production because it is a mesmerizing true life story of a brilliant PhD who admits he sometimes reverts to his former crack addiction.
The premiere is Sunday night at 9 on CBC's Documentary channel.
Most TV documentaries are well balanced on-the-one-hand and then on-the-other-hand accounts that normally run 42 tightly edited minutes --the rest of the hour is for commercials.
Dr. Crackhead is equally dense but it wears its heart on its sleeve --the story is all about Dr. Peter Ferentzy who cooperated fully.
He often holds court with a glittering array of acolytes.
One of them not taken in is cagey film maker Jennifer Di Cresce (The Autism Enigma). Her odyssey of discovery takes us all over the place right back to Peter's troubled adolescence which here comes to life with the requisite home movies.
Peter is even holding court then as part of an immigrant Hungarian family --papa was a very busy restaurateur and mama the waitress and the comfortable life they provided for their two boys had dark under pinnings. For young Peter there was the constant need to get good grades --like his parents he started drinking to hide  anxieties and by 14 was well into the sauce.
Peter is our often good natured guide through the labyrinth of his early life which would finally lead to an addiction problem. Unlike other addicts living on the street his was a privileged world of a graduate student at York University.
I figure Ferentzy cooperated with Di Cresce not only because he craves attention but also because he has a book to sell --Why The 20th Century was Wrong which attacks our conventional theories about how addicts can beat their problems and become sober citizens once again.
At first it seemed to me film maker Di Cresce was somewhat in awe of her subject. She gives him ample space for his erudite rants and shows him wowing crowds in both Toronto and Vancouver.
But gradually the focus shifts to a more skeptical stance. Dr. Peter is on and off his drug problems. He always has an explanation for each lapse. Life with a troubled girl friend Katy seems to exacerbate all his problems.
And as Di Cresce investigates deeper she finds other experts out there who think he is just plain wrong in the way he sees addiction.
Crack addiction lost him his health, he admits at one point. But he still can't stop.
The bits of his lectures we see are fascinating --he's a true spell binder. Yes, he is onto something when talking about the politics of prohibition. In his own family alcohol was the demon yet both parents drank copiously --drugs was outside their world view.
At another point he admits to being a "spoiled rich kid" who became fascinated with the simplistic worlds offered in comic books.
Di Cresce then talks to other addiction specialists advocating complete abstinence. It's clear she's moving away from Dr. Peter's position, particularly when she notices how quickly he can revert to crack if it is available.
What should keep you watching is the often brilliant cinematography of Michael Savoie who stays right in Dr. Peter's face giving us a view of the brilliant talker that is warts and all ( for Rat Pack Productions).
The Adventures Of Dr. Crackhead takes us inside the mind of a brilliant and manipulative guy who is battling addictions, battling life. I was exhausted watching it but recognize here is a true TV event, a must see inner life investigation.
MY RATING: ****.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Motive Returns To CTV For A Second season

I enjoyed chatting up the stars of CTV's police procedural series Motive when the first batch of episodes ran last season.
The show which is shot in and around Burnaby B.C. was an instant hit on both sides of the border (ABC runs it in the summers) and got a pick up for a well deserved second season.
I've previewed the first two new episodes which are even tighter edited than the first season and introduce the new character of Team Commander Sergeant Mark Cross played by Warren Christie.
It just so happens Cross is an ex-confidante of Homicide Agent Angie Flynn played with such dash by Kristin Lehman.
The first new episode premieres on CTV Thursday March 6 at 10 p.m.
It just so happens that I first interviewed the very talented Lehman on the Toronto set of  the series Forever Knight in 1995 --that was the one about the blond vampire.
Since then she's hopped and skipped through such series as King Fu (1996), Poltergeist (1998), Felicity (2001), Strange World (1999), Judging Amy (2002), Century City (2004), Tilt (2005), Killer Instinct (2005), The Killing (2011).
And always doing outstanding world with close attention to character.
In Motive she's finely cast as a breezy homicide officer who once had a relationship with new boss Cross and now knows what he is capable of in so many ways.
Last season the show also examined Angie's fractured home life as she tried to maker her teenaged son more motivational about his life --so far he has not even been mentioned this season.
Lehman told me she thinks Angie began focusing solely on her work as her personal life shut down.
Angie's partner seemed to look familiar to many readers of this column --it's veteran Louis Ferreira. Some readers wrote in to say they felt he was an older look alike to actor Justin Louis.
Actually folks it's the same talented guy --I first interviewed him on the set of CBC-TV's Urban Angel when he was using the name Justin Louis.
A few years he changed back to his original name to honor his mother. By either name he's just fine as the ballast in Angie's office relationship.
First of all Motive looks unlike any other TV procedural. It's the way cinematographers Matthies Herndl and  Ryan McAllister in the first two new episodes bathe everything in a glow that is unique to British Columbia.
And there's the twist because audiences at the first of each episode are told who the killer is --we then watch as the police squad sift through the evidence to try and find the culprit. Yeah, I know this was already done in the series Columbo.
The first hour looks at a suspected suicide and the clues that make Angie think it was all staged.
Far better is the second episode with big name guest stars Martin Donovan and Jennifer Beals as middle aged parents with one of them in a suspected romantic relationship that seems to go foul.
Also in every episode as the beauteous coroner is Lauren Holly.

Motive, created by Daniel Cerone, is just that different it shows how much to expect of an hour long procedural with all characters three dimensional.
More please.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why Rob Ford Did Kimmel

Whatever possessed Toronto mayor Rob Ford to make a guest appearance on Jimmy Kimmel?
The appearance was a near disaster for Ford who is gearing up for a tough re-election campaign in October.
Even Kimmel seemed initially surprised Ford had shown up.
"Why are you here," he asked Ford."What good could come of this?Have you ever seen the show."
Kimmel said Ford was dressed like a magician. And Ford seemed to think he'd only be lobbed softball questions. Instead Kimmel was often stinging in his rebukes and the very nervous mayor sweated up such a storm Kimmel had to take some tissues and mop Ford's brow.
Kimmel always had the upper hand particularly when he got Ford to stand and explain embarrassing video after video.
However "the" video of crack smoking was not seen.
Ford couldn't match Kimmel in wisecracks and sometimes that smile on his red face seemed very much forced.
I'm not sure what viewers outside Toronto would have made by all this --does anybody else care.
But I feel Ford made a really bad call by his clownish appearance. Kimmel was well researched and basically kept coming up with every single time the mayor has been caught on camera drunk or stoned.
What did Ford expect? He wasn't well prepared and kept mumbling about all the money he's saved Toromto which Kimmel said was highly disputed.
When Kimmel ended by pleading with Ford to get help you could have hard a pin drop.
Instead Ford said he didn't need help and kept grinning and smiling. He should have admitted he has a problem and said he welcomed the opportunity to make life changing decisions.
Ford had been asked to change for the better and declined. And the interview ended on a tense, sour note.
I don't think Anderson Cooper or Peter Mansbridge could have done a better job of carving up a guy who is all hot air.
Anybody who watched has got to feel Ford is certainly his own worst enemy. In terms of  politics Ford made a disastrous decision. He'd bound to suffer politically from his buffoonish appearance.
Jimmy Kimmel was laughing at Ford the politician  --he wasn't laughing with him.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Canadian TV Does Have A Future

This column took a full mon th off so I could contemplate the future of Canadian TV.
And I'm surprised by my own conclusions namely that Canadian TV does have a future.
I'm now convinced all networks up here should devote two orthree nights a weeek solely to Canadian shows and leave the other nights to the American imports.
It can be done and to prove it I previewed all the Canadian shows on CBC-TV Monday night. I liked what I saw --all shows are resolutely Canadian and all are basking in fairly strong ratings.
The episode of Murdoch Mysteries (Monday at 8) is titled Friday the 13 1901 and the title tells all.
This one is a sort of Victrian slasher as Julia and Emily go off with gal pals to a secluded island for a weekend with a mad  slasher out there in the woods.
The secondary story has Constable Crabtree drunkenly challenging a local team of curling enthusiasts to a game with Murdoch dryly contemplating theensuing chaos.
Fine directing by Michael DeCarlo helps and sharp editing which keeps jumping back between the two very different story lines.
Murdoch Mysteries keeps building in the ratings because old episodes are constantly rerun by Citytv and are also available in DVD collections.
A lot of fine Canadian series of the past --think ENG, A Gift To Last, The City--never even got to DVD.
CBC picked up Murdoch Mysteries when Citytv faltered and the series now in its seventh season is still growng in ratings, an indication some Canadian hits of the past were cancelled too quickly.
At 9 CBC-TV brings back Mr. D for another season. The show is very comical, that I grant, but I hated public school as much as high school and the teachers here are eerily similar to the ones I had at that time.
However the episode titled Old School involves a horrible fashion show featuring Gerry and the usual accumulation of sad sack students trying to impress the always bored teachers.
At 9:30 there's a new episode of Ron James. Whatever did Ron do to inherit such a bad time slot. Mr. D. is an 8 p.m. show and Ron would work far better at 8:30.
However, changes have been made in the show --Ron now performs directly in front of the enthusiastic audience --almost in the round.
And some of the skits are very smart including one called Scared Apostles as the twelve watch Jesus walk on water and wonder how that was done. Also back is L'il Ronnie, always my favorite part.
The thing is if CBC can successfully program an entire night of Canadian hits why not the others? Why not indeed.

For Me The Oscars Fizzled

I asked a group of friends who said they intended watching the Oscars on TV how many of the actual films they had watched.
Several admitted they never went to the movies anymore.
Only one had seen more than two of the nominated movies.
The fact is the academy awards is the longest advertisement on TV every year.
And last night's tepid affair hosted by the incredibly bland Ellen DeGeneres was about as dull and listless as they come.
Where were all the genuine stars past and present?
Only a feeble Sidney Poitier managed that certain grandeur we once associated with great stars.
That's because in this modern era there are few if any stars as big as Garbo, Gable, Crawford, Tierney and Monroe.
TV is the villain.
All those mediocre talk shows eat up celebrities at a huge rate.
The "stars" we saw sitting so placidly through three hours of Dale Carnegie speechifying have been turned into mere mortals by their multiple turns on Jimmy, Ellen, Jay etc.
I'm not blaming Ellen who I think was forced to perform under certain tight restrictions.
But when she started doling out pizzas that seem to indicate she had been told to avoid the controversial at all costs. Her job was to sell the product --the current batch of movies.
The event opened with the standard red carpet affair --this was only tolerable when Joan Rivers was the original host and really socked it to the stars who wear for free various designer duds.
As always it was who lost that interested me.
American Hustle failed to hustle and lost big.
I loved the reaction on the faces of such big stars as Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep when they lost the all important best actress category -now that surely is great acting.
The In Memoriam section missed Cory Monteith, Jonathan Winters and great director Alan Renais.
Did anybody out there understand Matthew McConaughey's wonderfully weird speech? I doubt if even Matthew did.
Winner Kate Blanchett is a great diplomatist --she artfully avoided the whole nasty Woody Allen controversy in lines I'm sure she must have memorized in advance.
A friend who has actually seen some of these films says the best movies went unrewarded --namely The Wolf Of Wall Street and Nebraska.
There seemed no enthusiasm for 12 Years A Slave as if voters had to acknowledge its importance.
And I'm betting Ellen will not be asked back to host next year's marathon.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Fraggle Rock's New Spinoff: The Doozers

I may be the only TV critic around who actually visited the set of the original made-in-Toronto series Fraggle Rock.
Let's see that would be way back in 1983 when I was riding high at the Toronto Star which then had four TV critics merrily covering the most popular part of the entertainment world.
In those long ago days CBC-TV was making programs deemed great enough to be shown worldwide.
Another CBC hit of those days Kids In The Hall ran late nights on NBC to great acclaim.
A lot of big CBC directors toiled on the original FR show including Norman Campbell , Eric Till and George Bloomfield --and I remember chatting up the series lead the fine character actor Gerard Parkes who played the inventor Doc along with his dog Sprocket.
Parkes always played guys older than his real age --he's still around these days, now aged 77.
British TV used a different wraparound starring a sea captain --these have since been wiped and no longer exist.
Lisa Henson who is now CEO of The Jim Henson Company says the tiny Doozers of the original also became so poppular on their own that she often discussed with her late dad the idea of giving the litttle green engineers their very own show,
But CBC isn't the network it used to be. And this time the  spin off has gone to TVOntario which is very serious these days  about its own line up of quality kids fare.
In these Doozers there are a Pod squad of four youngsters (voiced by actual kids): Daisy Wheel, Spike, Molly and Flex.
Animation techniques are well advanced and each of the 26 episodes looks at various science and technology challengers with help from the adults when the youngsters fail.
Co-producer is DHX Media of Canada which maintains a high standard.
The series goes weekdays at 9 a.m. on TVO and can be watched by adults as well as preschoolers.
I hear there's a Fraggles movie currently in the development pipeline to be co-produced by Ivan Reitman.