Wednesday, May 24, 2017

CBC: All Guns Firing For the New 2017-18 Season

Fighting Back!
That's the response of the beleaguered CBC as it struggles to hold its audience while still trying to fiull all roles as the country's public broadcaster.
At a star studded affair at CBC's downtown Toronto studios the mood seemed positively upbeat after years of budget cuts and constraints.There's even going to be a new summer drama series 21 Thunder set in Montreal and starring Christy Cook (Sephanie Bennett from The Romeo Section).
I thoroughly enjoyed chatting her up and Michael Levine (Republic Of Doyle).
It's been a bit since CBC had a hit Montreal series and this could be the one.
And coming on the heels of The Handmaiden's Tale there's going to be a new miniseries titled Alias Grace written and produced by Sarah Polley starring Sarah Gadon as a young, poor Irish immigrant and co-starring Paul Gross, Anna Paquin and Kerr Logan.
I also got to cat up Allan Hawco whose new drama series Caught is set in 1978.
Hawco told me it was a mighty difficult decision to close down the phenomenally popular The Republic Of Doyle but "I'm an actor. I had to move on as hard as that was for me."
Co-starring are Paul Gross, Tori Anderson, Eric Johnson, Charlotte Sullivan.
The Frankie Drake Mysteries comes from executive producer Christina Jennings --she is currently responsible for the long running Murdoch Mysteries.
This time out we'll follow the adventures of two female detectives in the Toronto of the 1920s. Starring are Lauren Lee Smith and Chantal Riley.
I suggested importing the cast of Murdoch in a mystery that starts in Toronto in 1900 and gets solved 20 years later.Hey, I really like that idea.
A new CBC drama series premiering in winter 2018 stars Canadian TV star Kristin Kreuk(Smallville) as an attorney returning to her small town roots.
I had a long conversation with Ilana Frank whose fine series records includes The 11th Hour, Rookie Blue and Saving Hope.
Returning CBC hour series hits include the venerable Heartland, Murdoch Mysteries and When Calls The Heart,
I finally met the great comedy talents responsible for Baroness Von Sketch Show which returns Tuesday June 27 at 9 p.m. for seven new half hours.
I think it deserves a fall prime time slot next.
And I re-met the creative team behind Kim's Convenience which returns for 13 new half hours in the fall. I think it's almost as funny as Schitt's Creek.
One new inexpensive series and all most  certain success will be The Great Canadian Baking Show which gets paired Wednesday nights with the original The Great British Baking Show.
Also returning Mr. D, Rick Mercer Report, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Workin' Moms.
CBC is also investing in 15 original digital series.
 There was a lot of talk at the opening meeting of using different platforms and how to fight back.
And there was one nostalgic note as Peter Mansbridge made his last appearance to TV critics --he's been anchoring The National for decades and retires from front line duty this summer.
And I'm still hearing one replacement could well be Ian Hanomansing.
There seemed to be more CBC employees in attendance this year--I'm told the Liberal government is promising more money for programming which is the best news of all.
What is immediately needed are av few miniseries on Canadian history like such pas successes as Pierre Berton's The Last Spike amnd the one with Riel.
CBC needs to win back the artsy crowd who have drifted over to PBS.
I remember in 1979 when CBC was in a similar financial bind the archives were opened and a "new" series Rearview Mirror created to run several Sundays with host Veronica Tennant.
Reruns of great opera and ballet specials were run plus choice episodes of such hits as Front Page Challenge and even an old Telescope interview with Charles Templeton quizzing Somerset Maugham.
In fact I think CBC should revive Front Page Challene and stock it with current Canadian stars and add Peter Mansbridge as host and for relatively little money have yet another hit.
How about it?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sonita Is Must-See TV

I almost gave up on the brilliant new documentary Sonita --the first 15 minutes are hard going as we are introduced to an introverted Afghan refugee struggling to survive in Iran.
But I stuck with it and so should you --this profile touches most of the emotional bases and emerges as a must see profile of a young girl determined to survive in a male dominated culture.
You can catch it on TVOntario Wednesday May 18 at 9 p.m. --it's a North American premiere.
What an incredible character Sonita turns out to be.
If she had her way Michael Jackson  would be her father and she'd be a rapper commenting on the violence in her society and the way women are disrespected.
We first see Sonita performing for her mates in a Tehran shelter --they are refugees from the civil war in Afghanistan.
The pert teen was originally into rock music but has turned to rap because it allows her to comment on the ways society has turned against her generation.
And we get to know her and love her for her courage.
Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami bonds with her 18-year old subject and builds up a portrait of  survival and identity in a region of the world perpetually at war.
This film took three years of shooting as we see the plight of Afghan  refugee in Iranian society.
In fact the 40-year old Maghami became completely involved in the life and goals of this courageous teen to the point she put up $2,000 to ensure Sonita's future.
You see under Afghan law Sonita is expected to return home and marry someone she does not even know so her dowry of $9,000 can go to her brother so he can purchase a wife of his own.
At the beginning it is taken for granted that Sonita's story will not have a happy ending --everything is so stacked against her.
A refugee, she lacks a passport and it seems a music scholarship in the U.S. will be out of her reach.
The director has said that she only interviewed Sonita as a favor to a cousin who worked at a hostel for child laborers.
At first Sonita was sullen and uncommunicative but there was something about her inner strength that was oddly appealing.
Sonita wanted to be a rapper although Iranian society bans female singers.
Sonita is but one of three million Afghan refugees struggling to survive in an often hostile environment.
Only 18 per cent of Afghan women are literate compared to 45 per cent of men, The girls marry as soon as possible as protection.
Sonita's journey becomes our journey. We see her blossom under tutelage and her songs are courageous laments about the problems of her people.
From timidity she evolves to bold rapper and the "happy ending" is wondrous to behold.
So Sonita becomes must see TV.
MY RATING: ****.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Cancellation Row

It's that time of the year for the ailing U.S. networks to cancel all the series which they figure aren't working.
FOX surprised us all by dumping Sleepy Hollow after four seasons--the wonderful period drama with Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane lost a quarter of its audience this season.
Just as surprising was the axing of the police procedural Rosewood after a mere two seasons--it lost fully half its first year viewers.
It was three strikes and you're out for Pitch about the first female MLB player --trouble was sports fans simply were not interested.
The Live Action CGI Son Of Zorn starring Jason Sudekis lost fully half its fans over its first season and is out.
Also cancelled: Making History and APB.
I was surprised ABC dumped Last Man Standing but the web says the Tim Allen starrer had lost its punch after six seasons.
After only five episodes ABC pulled Time After Time with Freddie Stroman as H.G. Wells.
ABC also canned Conviction with Hayley Atwell as a wrongly convicted former First Daughter.
ABC also canned American Crime with Felicity Huffman and Regina King after three years.
Also gone: Secrets And Lies, Imaginary Mary, Dr. Ken, The Catch and The Real O'Neals.
NBC's time travel drama Timeless was dumped after a mere season.
Emerald City set in Oz expired after one year. Powerless all about superheroes isn't coming back. And the spinoff The Blacklist: Redemption lasted but a season.
CW pulled Frequency as well as No Tomorrow.
CBS axed Doubt with Katherine Heigl after only two episodes.
CBS's medical drama Pure Genius with Dermot Mulroney is also out.
Disney cancelled Girl Meets World-the spinoff of Boy Meets World--after three years.
That's all I know but it's a pretty damning indictment of the way old form network TV is slowly but surely unraveling.

Friday, May 5, 2017

From Elwy Yost to Frederick Wiseman --that's the saga of TVOntartio on Saturday night.
What once was TVO's old movies nights with Elwy Yost now becomes the place to watch Wiseman's very long but completely affecting take on a choice New York city neighborhood in In Jackson Heights.
You can check it out Saturday night at 9 on TVO.
My advice is to make a big pot of tea and have a tray of sandwiches on a side table because Wiseman's films are very long --and very compelling.
Made in 2015 On Jackson Heights makes its world TV premiere which is certainly a coup,
The Wiseman style is present here --there are no voiceovers and scenes stay lovingly focused on the people being presented without any resort to editing or even close-ups.
I always find it difficult to get into a Wiseman film --the movement is so very slow but the longer I watch the more mesmerized I become.
I get the feeling here that I am right there in the room with these various citizens who are always treated so very reverently.
Here Wiseman focuses on a peoples' profile of a distinct neighborhood of New York city that is undergoing tremendous changes.
The film starts and ends with a discussion of how a gay man Julio Rivera was brutally murdered in 1990.
From this flow a series of vignettes showing how diverse cultures mix so freely --the area seems ripe for gentrification which is opposed by many residents who fear their relaxed way of live us being threatened.
Some highlights: the Muslim prayer meeting, LGBT members forming a boycott against ugly discriminatory projects, elderly women in a knitting bee talking about such favorite movie stars as Tyrone power, going out of business in a small shopping mall slated for demolition, a tattoo parlor's clientele, a delightful seniors resident telling us "I was happy until I was 98.", how chickens are decapitated before being broiled, a beauty parlor filled with older women, a belly dancing school, Tibetan monks chanting.
The underlying fear is that Jackson Heights is under threat as big box stores move in and destroy its very bohemian cultural roots.
I think my favorite scene is a driving school for potential taxi drivers as various cultural forces meet and clash..
Wiseman treats all his subjects reverentially --the way he treats older people made this film for me such as the dinner scene for an icon of the neighborhood who had spent his time helping others.
The movie has a poetical quality --it celebrates all kinds of residents without making any judgmental calls.
Wiseman gives as much time to all his people profiled . You see Wiseman cares about everyone, salutes their individuality,  and shows us what living in Jackson Heights is all about.
And the result is a minor masterpiece of  humanism.
MY RATING: ****.