Friday, May 27, 2016

My Millennial Life: TV Worth Catching

For TV viewers May is often the cruelest month.
The big networks end their seasons and veer into a long, hot summer of reruns.
Which mean you have absolutely no excuses for missing the new documentary directed by Maureen Judge titled My Millennial Life.
The powerful yet compassionate production premieres on TVOntario Saturday May 28 at 9 p.m.
The notes say Judge was reading about the plight of millennials in Europe and wondered if the same situation exists here in Canada.
The thesis is deceptively simple: the most educated generation in history are leaving college and university saddled with huge debts but unable to find meaningful work.
Judge's film follows five millennials who are very talented and bright but who are stuck on the margins of society working as unpaid interns or making beds in a hotel.
Their parents hopes and aspirations --get a good job, have a nice house, retire with a sustainable pension--are seemingly beyond expectations.
The funny and sweet Meron Gaudet,20,  originally an adopted baby from Haiti, is 20 and toils as a maid in an upscale hotel.
From the Maritimes, ultra cool Tim Saulnier, 25, has a rock band but must pay the bills by editing court transcripts.
Emily Smillie, 24, has her kind father paying the bills while she hunts for work.
Hope Kumor, 25, the sole American profiled, is back home with her parents in Philadelphia and still sleeping in her little girls' bed with the chintzy canopy.
James Slifierz, 25, left school to develop his own tech start-up but acknowledges it will be a long slog until he becomes solvent.
Judge has chosen well. She bonds with these kids who are sweet and ironical --they don't understand what is going on but how could they?
All have talent and drive, no slackers here.
But  current trends  in society are working against them and gradually they are coming to know this.
What Judge has done so brilliantly is provide snapshots of their current lives.
I think it's amazing not a singe one seems depressed or angry --they simply keep on working at odd jobs in the hope that big break is around the corner.
Hope has interned at such magazines as Good Housekeeping and clearly has skiils.
But the magazine industry is in steep decline these days and .coms are not making much money at all.
Such lines as "I'll slowly acquire a mass of debt"" speak of their downward spiraling situations.
Tim tears up when talking about his girlfriend who is standing beside him even as she studies hard at school.
Hope eventually decides to follow her boyfriend to Tennessee because she can't find a decent job in New York city --her anguished parents counsel her not to make such a hasty move.
She's later seen with her love in a tense kitchen situation where he warns "I have a short temper."
Judge clearly bonds with her subjects. She's discovered as likable a bunch of young graduates as one could ever meet..
By treating their problems with such evenness she celebrates them but dies not provide a  phony happy ending.
What should be one of the best times in their lives has turned collectively into a nightmare.
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

CBC-TV Makes A Comeback

I've seen the future of Canadian TV and it includes a bigger role for CBC-TV.
I never thought that way last season as the public network's ratings sagged and government funding was slashed.
To see for myself I attended the fall TV launch at CBC-TV's Toronto headquarters.
It was my 46th consecutive CBC press launch let me tell you.
I started way back in 1970 as a summer student at The Globe And Mail when TV critic Blaik Kirby flatly refused to go because he said he was above such shindigs.
Back then 35 press TV critics attended from all across Canada --in those days Winnipeg and Ottawa had competing papers and Toronto had three TV critics one for each paper.
These days only a handful of print scribes remain --the rest are from .coms.
Even mighty TV Guide has expired.
And CBC has also downsized --in 1970 the studio up Yonge Street housing Front Page Challenge was changed into a New York night club as all the great CBC stars of that era mixed with visitors: Juliette, Tommy Hunter,  The Friendly Giant, Gordon Pinsent, Knowlton Nash.
This year a gigantic soundstage was converted into booths for interviews.
And the mood was decidedly upbeat.
And I finally got to meet the new CBC general manager Sally Catto who is deservedly proud of the new schedule she has forged.
New prime time CBC dramas will include the six-episode Pure telling the true story of Mennonites involved in the Mexican drug cartel.
I talked to creators David Macleod and Michael Arno who say the series will be filmed in Nova Scotia with Alberta standing in for Mexicio.
"Filming in Mexico might be deemed too dangerous," they told me.
Then there's the eight-part hour drama Shoot the Messenger from producers and creators Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness.
I've been a big booster of Sutherland since joining him on the set of the Hamilton made TV miniseries series Guns.
And I talked to Elyse Levesque well cast as a young reporter and her personable co-stars Lucas Bryant and Lyriq Bent. They say the story can be expanded if future seasons are ordered.
I had a nice chat with Peter Mitchell from Murdoch Mysteries now in its 10th season and marking 150 episodes. But 18 more episodes have been ordered.
Back for season 2 --and this surprises me --is The Romeo Section made in Vancouver. I think the drama is fine but the ratings were anemic.
Also back for 10 episodes is This Life with Tori Higginson battling cancer and such fine co-stars as Rick Roberts and Kristopher Turner --it is set in Montreal.
X Company is back for season 3 all about Allied spies trained at Camp X in Canada.
And I had a short interview with the two delightful young co-stars of Heartland: Alisha Newton, Madison Ciato --this one is back with 18 new episodes for its 10 season.
I also told Chatto of my solution to the current lack of high culture these days on CBC-TV.
Here it goes.
In the 1970s CBC had a similar funding problem and chose to look in the archives and bring out such famous TV shows as a Rudolf Nureyev ballet, a Joan Sutherland opera, original ballets commissioned by CBC.
I'd like to see Sean Connery in CBC's 1961 production of Macbeth, Zoe Caldwell in the great TV biography of Sarah Bernhardt, such Periscope interviews as  Somerset Maugham at his France estate or the son of Arrhur Conan Doyle and his take of Sherlock Holmes.
CBC has also acquired the Danish series Follow The Money, the British import The Special Needs Hotel, the BBC thriller Undercover.
New factual series include This Is High School, True North Calling.
Amid the new faces I saw a familiar one.
Yvan Fecan who once shone as CBC=TV programmer later defected to CTV as President where he modernized the ramshacl;e network and produced high quality Canadian shows.
When he left I said he wasn't going to retire but would soon be back.
And here he is as executive producer along with Albert Schultz (Street Legal) of Kim's Convenience (written by Ins Choi) --a very promising comedy that has already been a successful and much seen play.
So promises of increased federal funding mean CBC is back in business-- big time I would think.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

I Remember Morley Safer

So there I was --the kid TV critic of the Hamilton Spectator-- and I was in  60 Minutes office of Morley Safer in New York City.
I know exactly the day without looking it up --Safer had three TV sets in his small office all trained on the January 1976 Washington inauguration of incoming American President Jimmy Carter.
Safer passed last Thursday in New York at the age of 84 just a week after finally retiring from his 60 Minutes gig.
I remember that day we'd watch a bit on each network but when Safer concentrated on the ABC news feed he was mighty angry.
This was the first time ABC had paired its veteran anchor Harry Reasoner with incoming co-anchor Barbara Walters and the more he listened Safer became angrier.
Every single thing Walters said Reasoner would interrupt her and chide her about getting this and that wrong.
''Highly unprofessional,"Safer fumed. "ABC will have to do something about this."
And Safer was correct --Reasoner soon quit and went back --to 60 Minutes.
Safer was part of a veritable army of Canadian tv journalists who went south to fame and fortune.
Other expatriates included Robert MacNeil and Peter Jennings --MacNeil anchored the PBS newscast and Jennings was ABC's anchor.
"I'll always be Canadian deep down," Safer assured me.
"It's my Canadian sensibility that will never leave . It's not a cynicism but a pervasive view to question authority."
Safer told me he was born in Toronto in 1931 but roared with laughter when told there was a big portrait of him up on the wall of honor in University of Western Ontario's journalism department.
"I was told I had no talent. So I left without my degree."
He got jobs at various news organizations alongside an other unknown --Knowlton Nash.
"Finally I was hired by Reuters for the London bureau. Then I worked at the CBC where I was irritated the government of the day tried to influence stories all the time on the pretense they were supplying the funding for CBC services."
He became a foreign correspondent at CBC then was hired away by CBS News.
"For years I was a Canadian citizen because my passport got me into countries where Americans were hated. But today I have dual citizenship."
In 1965 his tough but fair reporting from Vietnam aroused the ire of President Johnson who accused him of being a communist and had Safer investigated by the FBI.
"There was every chance I might be deported.But CBS News stood by me and what I said about the war being lost was fair and objective."
Safer's reportage won awards and "it made me, it really did."
Safer's best years at 60 Minutes found him competing with stories with the late great correspondent Mike Wallace.
When I asked producer and creator of the series Don Hewitt  for a quote he momentarily faltered and then said :"I have the two best TV reporters in the world and I never forget that."
And I'll never forget my day at CBS with Morley Safer.

Friday, May 6, 2016

TV Critic Tells All!

Meanderings and mutterings from the messy desk of your friendly, neighborhood TV critic:
ROTTEN TV: People are always asking me about the rotten state of TV these days.
I used to blame imbecilic programmers but now I know the real reason.
It's the TV clicker, that's what.
You see I remember the Fifties when my family had one of the first TV sets on the street and we had exactly four stations to chose from: WBEN-TV and WGR-TV in Buffalo and CBLT in Toronto (then Channel 9) and Hamilton's feisty independent CHCH-TV.
Now let me digress for a moment and say the other day I had to look after a slew of neighborhood kidlets while the harassed mom ran off to hospital emergency department.
The kids were very rambunctious and when they finally left I'd lost my clicker (it turned up days later under the couch).
For days I was transported back to the Fifties when clickers did not exist.
That was a time when I'd watch an entire program because to change channels meant walking over to the TV set and manually clicking away.
Our whole family would watch Ed Sullivan together, Playhouse 90, Dinah Shore --there was no idea of getting up and manually switching to a different channel every five minutes.
Which is what kids do today. They'd never watch a complete program.
So everything on TV has been reduced to lowest common denominator with dozens of false climaxes to keep us watching.
Shows as horrible as reality TV would never have lasted in the pas because they are so repetitive..
But today I must admit I click away every few minutes, fine turning TV into a sort of never ending sequence of garbage shows.
BEST TV: The best TV as far as I'm concerned are the commercials.
I watch the Blue Jays and I'm seeing an inventive sequence of Hyundai commercials in which foreign infiltrators try to slip into the plant and find out how Hyundai does it.
Very funny and very inventive.
I also like those Snickers parodies --in one old sequences from the Brady Bunch are manipulated so Marsha turns from a howling fury and into the Marsha we all love after snacking on a Snickers.
In another there's an inventive parody of The Seven Year Itch with Willem Dafoe in a Marilyn Monroe dress standing over an air vent and then feasting on a Snickers and magically turning into the delectable MM.
TRUMP TV: The inevitable progression of Donald Trump to become official candidate of the Republican party is, well, inevitable.
Remember this is the GOP of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
And now it's the turn of reality TV star Donald Trump.
No wonder Kanye West of Keeping Up With The Khardashians is threatening to run next time.
Trump makes his points by referring to the latest issue of National Enquirer.
The news networks give him a free rein because he's responsible for their ggiantic ratings spike.
Most of what he says is twaddle but nobody calls him on any of it.
And on Election niight will Anderson Cooper finally tell TRump? "You're fired?"
Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

I Remember Doris Roberts

ATX quickly cancelled a proposed reunion of the cast of Everyone Loves Raymond after the death of Doris Roberts.
The fifth annual ATX Television Festival had been planning a grand on stage reunion of the sitcom stars (minus the late great Peter Boyle).
I find it hard to believe obituaries stated Roberts was 90 --after all she was phoning me up about possible work in Toronto until just a few years ago.
The gifted comedienne won five Emmys for her magnificent turn as the caustic wife and mother Marie Barone.
And I remember she even journeyed to Toronto during a rare Canadian TV Critics Tour when she was over 75 to "promote the show but also do some shopping on the side. and have dinner with my friend Brian Linehan."
I asked if she re membered the first time we'd met.
"Surely! It was on the set of Remington Steele," she laughed. "And I was the one who told you that our two stars never talked to each other."
I remember the last time I chatted briefly with Roberts her son Godfrey was still alive --he passed away  more than a year ago
Roberts picked up her first Emmy for a 1983 guest appearance on St. Elsewhere.
In 1983 the producers of Remington Styeele were intent on making cast changes to pep up the ailing series.
They envisaged a new character Mildred Krebs who could give Stephanie Zimbalist a run for her money.
"Instead they settled on me after I read for the part," laughed Roberts. "I wound up co-starring in the next 72 episodes."
Then along came Everyone Loves Raymond/
"I styled that woman on various aspects of producer Phil Rosenthal's Jewish-German mother. Also, I added my own spin. She's always interfering only she doesn't see it like that at all.
"I was always in the biz," she once told me --her stepfather and mother ran New York city's Rosenthal Agency which catered to actors and playwrights.
"Originally I studied journalism at New York University but the acting bug got me and I was on Broadway in small parts starting in 1955.
In 1961 she made her movie debut in Something Wild and by 1969 was billed fourth in The Honeymoon Killers.
"Did you know that I was the original choice to play Vivian opposite Bea Arthur on Maude? Well, I was."
You can spot her in such flicks as Used People, The Night We Never Met and the Billy Crystal comedy My Giant.
In September 2002 she testified before a special U.S. Committee about aging complaining that many of her contemporary thespians over 40 were jobless.
She's survived by son Michael who was also her manager.
And I'm missing this original already.