Saturday, December 22, 2018

Is Canadian TV Finished?

So  there I was at a luxury Christmas lunch in Toronto where many eminent Canadians were eating, drinking and being merry.
I hadn't been in this section of northern Rosedale for decades --in fact in the Sixties I'd deliver parcels for Eatons --I remember one day at a bus stop munching my lunch and talking up a moist and garrulous old timer who I later learned was out most successful novelist --Morley Callaghan.
But, alas, times have changed.
When I started out at the Toronto Star in 1979 circulation was booming and had just hit 640,000 daily plus 950,000 on Saturdays/.
But at this particular party the talk was all about the fadingof Canadian TV.
Here are some of the notes I jotted down:
NOVELIST NUMBER 1: CBC is finished. All the high arts have vanished. In the Fifties I'd watch live ballets and operas commissioned by the Corp. Now I like so many others must tune to PBS for cultural fulfillment.
NOVELIST 2: CBC doesn't even own Hockey Night In Canada any more. Those revenues now go to Rogers. In the past plush ads from all those beer commercials could be used for arts programming.
ME: Thelast time I interviewed the great director of these specials --Norman Campbell --he was sharing a tiny office with Frank Shuster who was doing a best of special that reaped big numbers. But this was his last ever CBC special.
TV WRITER: THese days all production is assigned to outside producers. They are going to do the reboot of Street Legal but SL hasn't been om TV in a decade so who remembers it?
PRODUCER: I keep asking CTV why they re-run CSI episodes on their E channel and in such volume. Does anybody know?
ME: Since it was financed by Alliance Atlantis it is considered Canadian content--believe it or not.
LIBRARIAN: If I could pick one golden oldie from the CBC archives to re-watch I'd pick the drama special; Pale Horse, Pale Rider which starred Keir Dullea and 9090909090.
BAWDEN: There's a print in the CBC Mississauga archives. A friend recently saw it and it truly stands up. Me, I'd pick Dame Edith Evans in the live CBC TV production of The Importance Of Being Ernest
--it's the only time she did it for TV. Right here in Toronto!
NEIGHBOR: Will the private Canadian networks last longer than CBC I wonder?
BAWDEN: No, because they mainly pick up American fare and run these shows the same time as the U.S. stations. They have no identity to begin with.
DIRECTOR: But I like CTV News at 11 --it's speedy and well put together whereas The National now seems a disaster.
ACTRESS: Why is CBC so vicious to Donald Trump and why does CBC let Justin Trudeau get away with so much.
ME:: Because CBC is heavily dependent on the $1 million annual subsidy paid out by the federal government.
ACTOR: Can Canadian TV be saved?
BAWDEN: BBC now has a new service BRIT BOX which recycles the great past hits. I haven't seen CBC's counter GEM as yet but various head producers told me over the years the reason for refusing to rerun past hits was simple: they didn't want Canadians to be so nostalgic over the Corp
s past hits.
AUTHORESS: But Canadian books are also in crisis. There are fewer newspaopers. I see young people on the subway with their tablets whereas in the good old days they'd be reading the paper. Bookstores are an endangered species.
MELA teem down the street told me she'd gotten through high school without reading a single novel.
AUTHOR: Well, they've taken To Kill A Mockimnhbird out of the curriculum. Considered racist!
BAWDEN: Now that we've solved all of life's confusion join me in toasting the man Edmiund Wilson called The Chekov of the North: Morley Callaghan!


Saturday, October 27, 2018

Another Power Lunch

I always enjoy my long, lingering power lunches with a top Canadian TV actress, a veteran opublicist and one of TV's most prolific producers.
Here are highlights of our conversation last week at a top Danforth eatery.
ME: I need your input about the new Canadian TV season.
PRODUCER: What, there is a new season? Every year the pickings seem slimmer. There are no TV movies left. Many greast Canadian TV series have never even been on DVD --the biggest example is Beachcombers. Now CBC is trying to relaunch Street Legal but that one has been off TV for so long its audience has petered away.
ACTRESS: BBC has collected all of their old TV hits and is plopping them into a new streaming service called Brit Box. Why can't CBC do something like that?
ME: CBC tells me it doesn't want to invite comparisons with the golden years and today's lean times.
PR: I remember the last time I met CBC's greatest director Norman Campbell and he had a cubbyhole of an office and wasn't working at all. Those lavish ballets and operas he'd once produced are no longer part of CBC's service.
ME: In the 1970s CBC had a budget crunch much like today's. So they came up with a Sunday afternoon TV series Rear-View Mirror whgich consisted of choice repeats from the archives. Veronica Tenant hosted and it was a big hit and satisfied the artsy crowd.
PRODUCER: I can't start a new drama series without an American co-producer. Economically --I just can't do it. And Americans want a certain type of show that really is alien to Canadian values.
ACTRESS: I'm busy as all heck right now. Can't complain. But I'm getting most of my work on American based dramas filmed in Toronto. But sometimes I just wish I could tackle a Canadian project.
ME: The biggest threat to Canadian TV? It's all the U.S. streaming services which are eating away at the ratings of the traditional Canadian TV channels. The tipping point will be coming within a few more seasons.
PRODUCER: Canadian TV has always relied on cheap U.S. imports to finance its Canadian shows. I was at CBC when the network bought The Mary Tyler Moore Show --the cost was $2,500 an episode. Can you bel;ieve it? There was no way any Canadian producer could finance a Canadian series with that small a fee. So the Canadian networks would gorge on new American hits and plop in cheape Canadian shows into the schedule holes.
ME: That's correct. There never has been a long running Canadian soap opera. The only night tal;k shows I can think of are Gzowski and Mike Bullard.
ACTRESS: And yet The Handmaiden's Tale is Canadian and terrific I also liked the CTV drama Motive. If the funds are available Canadian TV can come through with fully competitive. series.
ME: I have a friend who went down to the video stores with a long list of Canadian TV series and movies. She wanted to get her students interested in these shows. She was shocked her favorite ever Canadian TV drama ENG never made it to DVD. The Beachcombers was also unavailable. She did buy a copy of the wonderful Wendy Crewson TV flick Getting Married In Buffalo Jump --it is out via an American source and sells for $74.99!
PRODUCER: I'd love to remount Front Page Challenge and get Canadian stars like Martin Short onboard as panelists. I notice there's almost no Canadian history on the History Channel.
ACTRESS: I say bring back Luncheon Date! You laugh but it was a great showcase for Canadian talent.
ME: And now that we've solved all the problems of Canadian TV who is picking up the cheque?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Equus Opens New Season of Nature Of Things Quite Brilliantly

These are dark days for Canadian TV as viewership shrinks and other platforms compete for viewers.
And then along comes a miniseries as brilliant as Equus and just maybe I'm thinking there is a future for Canadian TV providing the highest standards are observed.
Equus will run three consecutive weeks on The Nature Of Things starting Sunday September 23 at 8 p.m. on CBC-TV. Got that?
This is a mighty impressive undertaking three years in the making and with a cast of thousands ----horses that is plus the requisite humans.
It certainly is a labor of love for Edmonton filmmaker Niobe Thompson who says at more than $1 million an episode it is one of the most expensive documentary projects in CBC's history.
Cambridge educated but with a penchant for explaining complex subjects Thompson tells me on the phone from his Edmonton base that he wanted to tell the complete story of man's best friend.
"I knew the broad outlines --some 6,000 years ago horses were domesticated and changed the course of human history. It resulted in a huge change in human civilization and this was quite rapid. "
So we get to visit Kazakhstan where domestication first occurred on the steppes of Asia. It's here Thompson gets to milk a horse and he says the milk tastes delicious.
But how to document all this?
"Getting the right images to fit our story was the real challenge. We're in Siberia where horses still thrive in the coldest climate of earth.
"We also go to Saudi Arabia and one of the hottest climates and we show how the Arabian horses can exist and thrive in such a hot climate."
In Siberia Thompson worked as part of a crew of three --the images he gets with the indigenous peoples are marvelous--I just think these people delighted in showing how horses continue to enrich their existence. We worked  there with two cameramen and no sound man and I think we got some pretty remarkable stuff."
Thompson showcases the work of German anthropologist Martin Fisher who takes us on an animated tour of how horses evolved from tiny creatures able to climb trees to the noble animals of today.
Says Thompson "Fisher was able to show how these tiny forest dwellers evolved as the gigantic forests dwindled and gave way to savannah where the modern horses could truly thrive.
Besides director-producer Thompson the other ace cinematographers are Daron Donahue, Aaron Munson,and Darren Fung's soundtrack is another plus.
The images are sweeping, the editing is very tight but after watching all three hours in one go I was left wishing for more.
For me the recreation of ancient warfare was one highlight --the Egyptian sketches show mighty kings who could race chariots and mow down competitors with bow and arrow --Thompson shows how that was possible up to a certain point. Chariots are even built to the ancient specifications.
There's the obligatory visit to Kentucky and the world of thoroughbred racing.
One outstanding sequence shows how modern First Nations riders celebrate their culture that includes horse races.
I learned horses do have a wide range of facial expressions, sport 360 degree vision but for me there's a sadness at the end. Few young people in cities get to interact with horses and celebrate the uniqueness of this animal.
Thompson says financing this huge project was an undertaking in itself. There'll be a different version delivered to PBS, another cut for BBC.
I'd like to see the three hours presented in a box set for sale.
Another first: Nature Of Things host David Suzuki does not narrate this miniseries.
At a time when Canadian TV seems to be cutting back the three-hour Equus shows us how spectacular Canadian TV can still be with the right material.
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

No Avoiding Cliches: Must-See TV!

"The business wanted to kill me."
Alfie Zappacosta is trying to explain the strange up and downs of a career that included working on the Dirty Dancin' album, leads in such hits as Hair, and resurrection as a brilliant singer-songwriter.
This hour long documentary of Zappacosta's weird ride makes for riveting TV.
It answers for me what happened to the brilliant young guy who was on  target for a superstardom career before he burned out  and disappeared for what seemed like decades.
The hour long profile is accurately titled No Avoiding Cliches and during TV's summer rerun season this new production should garner a strong rating.
The premiere is on CBC-TV's Documentary Channel Sunday August 12 at 8 p.
Director Stephanie Volk and producer Braden Rorke have done  outstanding jobs of ferreting out obscure musical sets Alfie made almost four decades.
Stitching all this material together into a seamless whole is quite an achievement.
And Alfie is hardest on himself --he pulls no punches on his mistakes and accepts responsibility for everything.
He came from a very tight and loving Italian family and these roots are still apparent in the way he and his two kids interact with each other.
But with his dazzling good looks and clear bell of a voice he got pushed into an evolving super star status that he loathed from the start.
Staring straight into the camera he talks of the way coke fueled the entire music business in the seventies and eighties.
He also suffered from excruciating bouts of stage fright,. He was playing a character created by the music industry giants who saw him as a great cash generating source if he played the game "the right way".
But success as a music star wasn't what Alfie wanted. I remember a friend seeing him in Hair and saying how dominant he was but Alfie hated the routine even though it generated terrific profits.
Then he did something very unusual --he moved his young family from Toronto to Edmonton and pushed back, determined to reinvent himself.
It was a bold gamble that ultimately worked big time. He was able to write songs from the heart.
For long periods he was inactive, trying to jump start a new career  and defy the preconceptions of what the music industry wanted him to be.
The surprise in thje recently filmed concert scenes is how handsome he remains aged 65 with his blaze of stark white hair and how he still has the clear voice of a very young man.
One of his friends accurately says it's not really a reinvention but a maturation and it's about being timeless and not timely.
Of course he's recorded a new album and taped a convert video which go on sale on August 12. And it seems to me he's now singing jazz instead of rock and roll.
You can order a copy on or at
This well constructed hour includes candid interviews with his two children and the music industry producers who have seen him mature as both a performer and a very loving father.
No Avoiding Cliches is pretty terrific --it leaves one wanting more.
MY RATING: ****.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Now Let Us Praise Dorothy Malone

A great pal of mine, Dorothy Malone, finally gets her due with a 24-hour salute on Turner Classic Movies Friday.
Guess I'll have to stay home for that one.
Malone died in January of this year at the great age of 94 and she never quite got her due as an actress despite garnering a supporting Oscar for Written On The Wind in 1957.
"I didn't have an outlandish life style" she told me the first time we met. "Deep down I'm very shy and proper. I simply wanted to do the best job I could and get home early enough to tuck my two daughters into bed."
I first met Malone on a sweltering day in Century City in 1977 --I was then attending the Television Critics Association junket and had a rare afternoon off.
It was arranged that I'd slip out the back door of the Century Plaza hotel, cross the pedestrian bridge and enter the Twentieth Century-Fox backlot by the back door and proceed to the commissary for a very quick lunch with Malone then shooting a TV movie titled Murder In Peyton Place.
But Malone's assistant intercepted me and said to proceed to her dressing room where tea and cookies would be available.
Malone explained the change this way :"Our wonderful director Robert Hartford-Davis said goodbye Friday night to the cast and we never saw him again.
"He died of a heart attack at his home Saturday night and Bruce Kessler was immediately hired as substitute.
"Bruce is busy today viewing completed rushed and will pick up everything tomorrow so we can talk as long as you're prepared to listen."
I remember asking Malone why she was such a little known big star?
"I think it's because I don't take the business seriously. But I take my work most seriously."
She was born in Texas in 1924 "but I did high school in Seattle. Texas remains my roots --I'd do a western every year if I had that oppotunity."
She started out, aged 19, as an RKO starlet in such masterpieces as Gildersleeve On Broadway and The Falcon And The Co-Eds.
"If you blink you'll miss me. I guess I had a line or three."
It was her short, sexy appearance as a book clerk in The Big Sleep (1946) opposite Humphrey Bogart that really got her career going.
"It was shot right after To Have And Have Not, the end of 1944. And our director Howard Hawks was such a stickler he was still reshooting scenes two years later including my bit --he wanted me to literally take my hair down as I close the store and look knowingly at Bogey."
Malone then settled into a rut as a Warners starlet in such stuff  as Janie Gets Married (1946), Two Guys From Texas (1048) and Flaxy Martin (`949).
"I completed that one and Jack Warner dropped me saying contract players were too expensive."
"I went home to Texas determined to learn the insurance business. Then Randy Scott located me and offered the female lead in his latest oater The Nevadan. I thrived in westerns. I did Saddle Legion (1951) which was a real B with Tim Holt. I did Jack Slade (1951) with Mark Stevens. I did The Lone Gun (1954) with George Montgomery.
"I also went back to WB as Doris Day's older sister in Young At Heart (1954). Jack Warner came on set and didn't remember he'd once fired he. I was the oldest sister on the screen but youngest in real time which seemed to irritate Doris when I mentioned it."
In 1956 Malone won her Oscar for Wrrtten On The Wind "because I did things I normally would be uncomfortable doing but Douglas Sirk was a great woman's director. He quickly reunited Rock Hudson ,Bob Stack and yours truly in Tarnished Angel;s which I feel a better movie all around,."
But winning an Oscar?
"It was a bummer. My price went up and parts I wanted to play were now out of reach."
In 1965 Malone starred in Pthe TV soaper Peyton Place --she made 430 of the 514 episodes, eventually complaining her part was diminished as the parts of Ryan O'Neal and Mia Farrow grew.
"This hit could have gone on forever. But it started as two half hours a week. ABC got greedy and demanded a third hour. Meaning audiences would have to slot three separate days to watch us and the ratings just died.
"But I have no regrets. I'm here aren't I --back as Constance Mackenzue."
I later had grand reunions with Malone in Toronto when she guested on the daily TV soap  High Hopes (1978) and later on Littlest Hobo (1980).
I just think Malone would be proud to  be honored by TCM. It's a case of better late than never.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Now Let Us Praise Audrey Totter

I don't wrote much in the summer because TV is all reruns these days.
But one full day of reruns is something I'm looking forward to --Monday on Turner Classic Movies it's Audrey Totter day.
There will now be a moment's silence for you to ask "Who the heck is Audrey Totter?"
I first met the great Totter on the set of her MGM series Medical Center in 1974 and we set a day for lunch the next week --I was in Los Angeles at the TV Crirtics' Convention.
I'd been fascinated by Totter's acting skills ever since I'd watched the 1046 MGM classic Lady In The Lake on Elwy Yost'\s TVOntario show.
"I got the part because I was from radio and in this one I had to look straight at the camera for most of the movie. The camera stood in for our leading man Bob Montgomery and it was called the subjective manner. Bob was behind the camera and added the dialogue but we saw everything through his eyes."
Totter was so busy maki g LITL that when Universal offered to borrow her for The Killers opposite Burt Lancaster "MGM said I was too busy and sent over Ava Gardner instead and that part made her a super star."
Lady In The Lake is on at midnight but at 1:30 there's Any Number Can Play (1949) with Totter vo-starring with Alexis Smith and Clark Gable.
"We had a hot romance for a bit but I could see he still loved his dead wife--Carole Lombard. :
At 6:30 there's Totter's master piece The Set Up (1949) opposite Robert Ryan.
"It's considered the best ever boxing film and was made in real time. But it came out after another boxing sagas called Champion and bombed at the box office."
At 6:30 there's High Wall (1948) with Totter a psychiatrist trying to solve Robert Taylor as a psychotic war veteran.
"We filmed late one night --no supper --and all the restros were closed by the time we finished. So Bob drove me to his home and hollered for his wife (Barbara Stanwyck) to get out of bed and fix us some bacon and scrambled eggs. "
Totter's favorite film The Unsuspected (1947) comes on at 1 a.m. --and stars Claude Rains as a murderous radio star and Totter as his lascivious niece.
"Claude was 5 feet two inches and I towered over him so the next day he comes in wearing shoes with lifts and I still towered over him."
Totter was making Medical Center when MGM's That's Entertainment was released in 1974 amd she was invited to the premiere although she never made musicals.
"At the reception Ava Gardner ran up to me and said 'You have everything I ever wanted --a husband and a child.' And she's right --try sleeping with a career."
The last time I visited with her she was at the Motion Picture home battling old age and boasting "I had one husband and my family came first. But I still made half a dozen greatish pictures."
Audrey Totter died in 2013 aged 95 but I think she'd be tickled pink TCM has finally saluted her.

Friday, June 8, 2018

I just have this feeling that among Canadian TV's three private network it's CTV which will survive.
The first CTV fall launch I ever attended was in 1971 when then president Murray Chercover announced such big Canadian hits as The Littlest Hobo, Headline Hunters, Stars On Ice and Half The George Kirby Comedy hour.
But these days CTV takes its Canadian content requirements more seriously and besides as the most profitable network can pick and chose the big new U.S. shows.
The location was Toronto's Sony Center and the event was packed with thousands of advertising types all eager to buy spots on the new and returning shows all the while feating on booze on dainties.
On Mondays CTV has snapped up the sophomore season of The Resident a medical drama with Matt Czuchry and Canadian Emily Van Camp at 8 p.m.
At 9 p.m. there's the reboot of the classic Magnum P.I. but without Tom Selleck and featuring newly cast Jay Hernandez plus there's a female Higgins played by Perdita Weeks.
Tuesdays at 8:30 comes a 1970s comedy The Kids Are Allright all about an IrishCatholic family.
At 10 p.m. comes the hourlong The Rookie with Nathan Fillion as a fortyish guy who dreams of joining the LAPD.
On Sundays at 8 p.m.  there's Brandon Michael Hall in the religious drama God Friended Me.
And then at 10 p.m. there's The Alec Baldwin Show with the three-time Emmy Award Winner caught in conversations with friends and fellow actors.
Midseason debuts will include Jann starring Jann Arden as a Canadian singer trying to make herself relevant again.
Then there's the legal drama The Fix about a high profile lawyer --Marcia Clark will executive produce it.
The Red Line stars veteran Noah Wyle and comes from executive producers Ava DuVernay and Greg Berlani.
The Enemy Within will star Jennifer Carpenter as a CIA operative hired by the FBI to hunt spies.
'The Village looks at thee denizens of an apartment complex in Brooklyn.
Grand Hotel is set in Miami Beach and is executive produced by Eva Longoria.
And then there's America's Got Talent: The Champions --the title says it all.
And for Canadian content freaks how about the 40th anniversary of SCTV: Reunion Special produced by Martin Scorsese and fronted by Jimmy Kimmel.
Big news has CTV buying a majority share in Toronto's busy Pinewood Studios as one indication the network remains very serious about mounting first class Canadian content series.
Star Trek: Discovery already shoots there and is one of the highest priced series ever shot in Canada.'
Is CTV aiming to become a veritable Canadian version of Disney?
That's one idea and so is the insistence CTV needs different plat forms to highlight its wares.
And Whiskey Cavalier stars Scott Foley from Scandal heading an agency of flawed spies.
 CTV is planning different platforms for its content as conventional networks see younger viewers tricking away.
Space becomes CTV-Sci-Fi while Comedy becomes CTV-Comedy and Bravo becomes CTV-Drama
and Gusto becomes CTV-Life which it was some 15 years ago.
The ad executives I chatted up seemed impressed with the CTV brand and some of the new shows and thought the rebranding necessary as old line networks sail into the sunset.
So I'm bullish on CTV more than I am with Rogers or Shaw.
And by the way the food is always better--those miniature hamburgers were very tasty indeed.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

CBC-TV Is Fighting Back

Let's see --the first CBC-TV fall preview I attended (as the summer student at The Globe And Mail) was in 1970 when the public network was riding high.
In those dear dead days there was a 10 channel TV universe and that was it.
Thirty-five print TV critics from across Canada flew in for several days of interviews with such CBC stars as Juliette, Friendly Giant and Knowlton Nash  and CBC redesigned its cavernous studio up Yonge Street (the home of Front Page Challenge) for a gala party that drew thousands of advertisers and hangers on.
That was then. This is now.
This year's CBC TV launch was a muted affair held at 192 Spadina Avenue in very close quarters.
But the message was rather upbeat.
Like all Canadian TV networks CBC is watching the slow dripping away of its core audience to other platforms.
But be aware --CBC remains the last great repositiory of Canadian TV culture.
And the publicly funded network has decided to fight back.
The network still has some huge hits :Murdoch Mysteries and Heartland have been around forever and still draw strong ratings.
And there are other, newer hits: Schitt's Creek, the re-versioned Anne Of Green Gables, Kim's Convenience.
The last time I checked the fine new mystery series Frankie Drake was only drawing 560,000 viewers weekly on CBC TV.
Back in 1970 I was told CBC-TV's definition of a hit was a million for a series and 1.5 million for a miniseries or special.
Those numbers are rarely reached today as Canadians increasingly turn to different platforms.
Still, CBC has several new series which look promising.
I enjoyed chatting up veteran producer Bernie Zuckerman charged with the revival of Street Legal which will star Jennifer Dale. Zuckerman said the order is for eight episodes "which is the standard these days" but other Street veterans may make a guest appearance or two.
Cavendish, a new comedy series ,will benefit from its creators Mark Little and Andrew Bush and will be filmed on location and in Halifax studios.
Coroner with its order for eight hours has great potential considering Morwyn Brebner's last series was Saving Hope---Adrienne Mitchell will be  lead director (she made Bomb Girls).
Northern Rescue will be shot in Parry Sound with David Cormican as creator and Bradley Walsh as executive producer and I also met Billy Baldwin who has enthusiastically signed up as lead.
And I should also mention the new series Diggstown with Floyd Kane and Amos Adetuyi as executive producer.
Now I get my say about how to "fix"  some of CBC-TV's ailments.
I'd start by abolishing commercials during prime time.
I know the cost would be horrendous but well worth it as the competition these days is with commercial free services such as Netflix.
Many former CBC fans have defected to PBS which still provides arts programming which CBC has mostly ditched.
I have a solution: bring back a Seventies series called RearView Mirror which took gems from the CBC archives--ballets starring Rudolf Nureyev and Veronica Tennant, superb dramas like the 1960 Macbeth starring Sean Connery and Zoe Caldwell.
When RearView Mirror first ran during another CBC budget crunch the ratings were sky high.
And I also feel CBC's National needs an instant face lift.
Ratings have plunged with four anchors --the snappy patter over at CNN is attracting record numbers of Canadian viewers.
Another proposal: bring back a few historical TV movies every season.
Zuckerman who produced some of the best TV movies ever made by CBC says there's the argument the cost is too heavy for a two hour TV movie
But I think CBC needs a few of these --Zuckerman's version of the Road to Confederation remains a must see.
But with its close adherence to all things Canadian I feel CBC still has a better chance at long term survival than rivals CTV or Global TV.

Monday, May 14, 2018

I Remember Margot Kidder

The last time I sat down to interview Margot Kidder it was on the Toronto set of  the TV series Amazon in 2000.
We'd met up before all over the place but after a tumultuous private life she said she was glad to get back to Canada and just settle down.
"Maybe I should never have left my true north strong and free," she joked.
"But then you'd never have become such a big star!" I interjected.
"Well, stardom for me was never cracked out to be that much anyway," she laughed nervously. "Because I was far, far away and now I'm back home and it means everything to me."
And now Margot Kidder is dead --she passed away in her sleep at her Montana home at the relatively young age of 69.
"I've done a lot," she told me that day. "And some of it I regret and some of it makes me pretty proud."
It seems rather ghoulish but she fearlessly forecast the headline in her New York Times obituary would read "Superman's Girl Friend Is Dead."
"Or something like that."
I told her I definitely remembered her first acting gig --it was on the CBC dramatic hit Wojeck and it was 1968 and young Margot had just turned 20.
"The very next year I co-starred on two more CBC_TV series Corwin and McQueen and then  I was on Adventures In Rainbow Country in 1970  and only then did I hit Hollywood. There just wasn't enough work here to keep a young actress going. And I wasn't the only one who left. The wonderful blonde actress Sharon Acker also left around that time."
At first Margot did the standard guest starring on such TV series as Mod Squad, The Manipulators,, "And then I had my first lead on the Jim Garner western series Nichols and he was wonderful and I learned so much from him because he was a minimalist."
Although Nichols only lasted the 1971-72 series and then Kidder found herself suddenly hot.
"I lost all momentum because I couldn't get out of TV shows. I did them all: Baretta, Barnaby Jones, Switch."
And I interrupted: "But I interviewed you in Toronto again on Black Christmas in 1974 --Olivia Hussey and Keir Dullea and Art Hindle were all on set that day and it was a big hit."
"It actually got me in to audition for Superman and I adored Chris Reeve from the first moment I saw him. And there was Superman II which was an even bigger hit and in 1983 there was Superman III. In 1987 there was Superman IV which I don't think we should have done but audiences disagreed.
Then I had to ask the big question: did she take too many drugs?
"We all did," she answered softly. "We all did."
There was one day on the set of the western Little Teasure (1985) when I was so out of control that Burt Lancaster socked me in the jaw."
She was beginning to recognize she was bipolar.
"Had been like that since a kid. I had ups and downs and finally I really crashed."
In 1996 she started writing her autobiography and "it all spilled out."
She began fantasizing  her first husband was going to kill her so she faked her death and was found wandering in the bushes by a neighbor.
"Recognizing what I was began the healing process. I had to accept full responsibility for everything."
On Amazon she had an insignificant part but she played it very well especially when the show's bug wrangler said she had to pretend to be asleep on the jungle floor as a line of tarantulas walked over her bared stomach.
"I'll continue acting," she vowed and she did but often in tiny parts. I liked her on the Vancouver made series Robson Arms (2005) and I met with her again on the set of Chicks With Sticks (2004) but by 2014 she was down to one appearance a year.
When she passed the TV networks were full of stories about Lois Lane but it's sad to think  both Reeve and Kidder are now gone as is the World Trade Center.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

I Answer My Emails

I used to get letters from readers when I wrote the TV column for The Hamilton Spectator and later The Toronto Star.
Now I get emails and nobody out there seems to read newspapers anymore let alone watch network TV.
Here's a sampling of recent emails enquiries.
+ "Whatever happened to game shows? I used to watch them every morning. Now there are all these similar women themed series?" Mrs. D.F., Ancaster.
ME: I still watch game shows on the Game Show Network. The vintage ones are a hoot. The other night I was watching The Match Game from the 1970s and one of the panelists was the great Ethel Merman and she was having a blast as was I.
+ "I'm deeply disappointed with the new and unimproved CBC National news. What's your estimate?" L.M. R. Ottawa.
ME: Having up to four anchors just doesn't work. the telecasts from Humboldt were very fine, however. Other nights there's a feeling of ennui and ratings are way, way down. Why not a CNN style newscast with bickering panelists you might ask. But CBC doesn't like that kind of partisan wrangling even if it drives ratings.
+ "Why has there never been a hit Canadian TV soap opera?" P.B, Oshawa.
ME: Why there have been enough tries. There was Riverdale on CBC which ran for two years but it should have been every weeknight hammocked right behind Coronation Street and it would have succeeded. There have been weekly attempts like CTV's Montreal based Mount Royal.  And CBC tried with a clone of Dallas set in Calgary but trouble was it had to be filmed in Toronto because of costs. There was a daily soap that ran on Global and was syndicated in the U.S titled High Hopes. And it deserved a better fate than cancellation after two seasons.
+ "There must be TV shows out there in reruns that you have become addicted to, right?" H.B., Halifax.
ME: I never watched CSI but now that it runs nightly on E! I have become an addict. Don't forget that it counts as Canadian content since the Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis manufactured it.  The stories are often over the top but production values make it seem so expensive. Another one I never watched is Bones which strangely reruns  these days on GUSTO.
+"And your biggest beef about  Canadian TV?" E.J., Pickering.
ME: How hard it is to watch some of the great Canadian TV shows of the past.  Like CBC's The Beachcombers which remains locked up in the CBC vaults in Mississauga. I'd love for CBC to revive Front Page Challenge which I think could be a big hit all over again. And CTV should seriously consider reviving Headline Hunters. But I also have a friend who years for the boxed set of Police Surgeon (shot in T.O. so go figure. Another friend wanted to buy a DVD copy of  the TV flick Getting Married in Buffalo Jump starring Wendy Crewson and finally bagged a DVD copy --from an American distributor.
There --that's all the emails I care to answer today.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

House Of Saud This Week's Must-See TV

The brilliant new BBC-TV documentary series House Of Saud answers each and every question you may ever have had about that troubled Middle East kingdom.
You can catch the first hour Tuesday at 9 on TVOntario. Next Tuesday there's the second hour with the finale on Tuesday April 15. Got that?
It is an astonishing project and one that is compulsively viewable.
And it all starts not in Saudi Arabia but in a small, isolated village in Bosnia --we can see torn flags of jihadists-and we come to understand the impact of the Saudi wealth and political ambition.
For the rebels in Bosnia were funded by Saudi money.
And 17 of the 19 perpetrators of 8/11 were Saudis.
And the caliphate in Syria was nourished by Saudi support.
So we can see the importance of director Michael Rudin's three-hour masterpiece which has no dull spots at all.
And, remarkably,  Rudin was refused permission to film inside the kingdom --all the people he interviews lived elsewhere.
And the scissors and pastiche recreation of events is so well done I can't think of any advantage of actually going to Mecca.
Rudin's film explains brilliantly the close contact between the Saudi family and supporters of the conservative Islamic traditions known as "Wahhabism".
The newsreel clips show U.S. Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump all doing due diligence in reinforcing ties to the kingdom --the ties seem to be fraying badly especially in Syria.
Rgere are great shots of arms being unloaded in the dark in Jordan to be transported across the border to rebel groups in Syria.
Episode Three is, I think, the best of all, an absorbing portrait of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
We've already seen how his crackdowns on corruption have even affected family members.
Or are these measures merely a way of extending his power and eliminating potential.
This hour looks at the excesses of the royal family particularly in London.
His social reforms include allowing women for the first time to drive cars.
But the number of state executions of political dissidents is way up.
And the Saudis are accused of using all the modern software techniques to trap potenrtial opponents --half the country's Twitter accounts are controlled in some by by the state sewcutity agency.
Some British critics have charged this series whiewashed the royal family.
I felt differently --there is the charge the Saudis saw weaknesses in the Syrian regime and tried to exploit that --Syria's regime  is allied with the Saudi enemy Iran and both side have been pumping arms into the conflict.
Ithink the term is "nuanced". Bin Salman can only go so far and his passion for French chateaux and the better things in life might mean he covets the wealth of his relatives.
With oil prices slipping the kingdom may be in for tough days ahead and the younger generations seem thirsty for major changes the royal family may not be able to grant.
All in all here is one of the best documentaries of the TV year and certainly must-see TV.
MY RATING: ****.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Bill Cosby On Trial

I'm not sure how many times I interviewed Bill Cosbu.
Remember in the 1980s he was riding high as America's biggest and best TV dad.
I was certainly around when a nervous Cosby net the TV critics in Los Angeles for the first time as star of The Cosby Show.
The jokes that day were all about parenthood and how he was going to play a middle class doctor  Cliff Huxtable who just happened to be black.
He certainly seemed sweet that day and in top form in repartee. I remember he kept kidding Ann Hodges from the Houston paper who was sitting next to me  for her thick Texan brawl.
But nobody knew if he could actually bring it off.
His last series was a NBC variety series and it had flopped big time.
That day Cosby said he was going to shoot the series in New York which was one difference. He'd hand picked his cast including Phylicia Rashad and he wanted genuine family problems to be encountered.
The rest is history.
The Cosby Show saved NBC from a downward spiral in the ratings.
It made Cosby very big in TV circles and he soon spun off another series A Different World.
He'd created the show with the best of talent including Canadian writer Earl Pomerantz.
Attending the tapings were wonderful to behold --so smoothy created and filled with genuine talent.
Cos got honorary degrees all over the place and even finished a PhD on his own.
When I interviewed Robert Culp during the same press tour Culp was filled with praise his I Spy co-star telling me " Bill Cosby has it all."
And now?
Well, Cosby has been ruined --any idea of a comeback for the disgraced 80-year old comic seems totally impossible.
And here's the question people ask me: "What happened?"
One clue, I think. came with the roadside murder of his beloved son Ennis Crosby.
Ennis was shot in the head by an 18-year old in a failed robbery attempt --.
It was in the early hours of January 16,1997, that young Cosby pulled off California;s Interstate 405 and while attempting to fix a tire was shot in the head.
The outpuring of support from friends was massive but I believe Cosby was never the same again.
This was his tipping point.
It, of course, does not excuse his outrageous behavior in the least.
And several people have asked why Cosby would drug these women when he coul;d have picxked up paid escorts anytime.
In the same time frame Tom Brokaw of NBC has been accused of inappropriate behavior but many of the women he worked with at the network have come to his defence.
And TVO's Styeve Paikin has been cleared asfter accusations of inappropriate behavior.
We live in a New World Order but I'm still wondering why Cosby did all this and did he think with his huge pop status he was above the law?

Friday, April 13, 2018

How To Canadiamize Canadian TV

So there I was at Toronto's Varsity cinema watching the briliant new American movie Chappaquiddick and marveling at how U.S. movie makers dramatize the best and worst moments in their political history.
I felt the same way watching the brilliant The Post with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.
And then the Brits got in the act with Darkest Hour and Gary Oldman's Oscared turn as Winston Churchill.
It was Prime Minister Mackenzie King who said Canada has too much geography and not enough history.
In terms on movies and TV King was right.
I tried to think of Canadian contributions.
And the only recent  one I could come up with was CBC-TV's The Road To Confederation which ran a few seasons back.
The CBC brass hated it and without proper promotion it died in the ratings.
And that was the end of Canadian history--at least for now.
Way, way back, of course, there was Bill Hutt as Sir John A. Macdonald in the CBC TV version of Pierre Berton's The National Dream
And it was followed by miniseries on Laurier and Riel.
One veteran Canadian TV producer tells me that of he can't presell a TV property to the lush U.S. market then he's not going to bother at all.
Recently, I checked the local video store and asked what was the most requested CANADian properties not yet seen on DVD.
"This week I've had enquiries about Beachcombers, the CTV series ENG, and Front Page Challenge," she told me.
:I did a bit of investigating and was told it would cost too much to buy the DVD rights to these shows sop they lie in the vaults."
Well, I've got an idea: start up a Canadian TV blog for all these shows.
It would involve opening up the CBC TV vaults in Mississauga but the money made could be distributed among the talent and the actual owners of the rights.
Think of it! The only time Dame Edith Evans did The Importance Of Being Earnest for TV it was for CBC in Toronto.
Mary Pickford's only TV appearance was back in her hometown in 1966 as the myastery guest on Flashback.
What about Sean Connery as Macbeth --this one has been revived but once and co-stars Zoe Caldwell as Lady Macbeth.
That's it --a Canadian version of Netflix --I can see it now.
A reader asks what popular TV shows I secretly binge watch.
Well, one is Bones which I'd never watched and which runs on GUSTO all over the dial.
It's funny for a mystery, well cast and compulsively viewable.
Another is CSI which fills up the holes in the schedule of E!
Why? Because it strangely counts as Canadian content --since Toronto based Alliance Alliance funded it.
Another is Love It Or List It --the only Canadian show I can think of that spawned both U.S. and U.K. versions.
Escape To The Country is another one --why no Canadian version of this British perennial?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Great Debate Continues

So here I am at Sunday Brunch on the Danforth with three of my very best sources in the Canadian TV business: a veteran actress, a reliable publicist and one of the most prolific TV producers in the business.
ME: I believe we're witnessing the dismantling of the Canadian TV business.
PRODUCER: Oh, you're so right. Ratings are in decline as everyone stampedes to Netflix which has no Canadian content requirements. That means there are incentives for local broadcasters to drop their requirements as well. So both Rogers and Shaw have shuttered their local community channels. And I'm hearing they want the CRTC to drop all Canadian content requirements for next season.
ACTRESS: The irony is is we're in a bit of a boomlet for Canadian TV dramas. I thought Frances Drake was very watchable and I also like CTV's midseason series Cardinal.  There's always Murdoch Mysteries. Despite all the impediments quality Canadian dramas still appear. But I say "More please!"
'PUBLICIST: One problem is the decline of print outlets to advertise our wares. TV critic Bill Harris of The Toronto Sun was eased into retirement --but for years he was forbidden to write up quality Canadian documentaries.
ACTRESS: There's a lot of work here --many American TV series shoot here as well as U.S. movies and they always treat us well.
ME: What's the biggest failure of Canadian TV right now?
ACTRESS: The failure of never having afternoon Canadian soaps. I see you're laughing but it is a great training ground for younger talent.  We did have Riverdale for a few years but it should have run daily --that was needed to pick up viewers. But it's far cheaper for Canadian networks to buy U.S. soaps at dirt cheap prices.
ME: So far I'm not at all a fan of the new, revamped CBC National news.
PRODUCER: It's a disaster. A bunch of very nice people sitting around chatting. That went out with the advent of CNN which uses panels of critics barking at each other. But CBC doesn't want to provoke controversy so this soft sell approach is used. And ratings have plunged.
PUBLICIST: I'm so old I remember when CBC-TV's dictionary definition of a hit was 1.5 million viewers. Some nights The National is down to under 300,000. For the whole nation!
ME: Did you know at one time CBC wanted to cancel the venerable series The Nature Of Things--on its 50th anniversary--but at the last moment the Corp thought again and reversed that. And NOT is one of the diamonds of the CBC's current shaky weekly programming .
ACTRESS: I get roles in big U.S. movies shot here but I'm always in the background--and I'm always asked why I never went to Hollywood. Well, I did several times, had a few gigs and it gave me an instant cachet with Canadian producers once I came home. Yes, it's very colonial but I got work here because I'd worked there.
PRODUCER:I notice in Britain there are a million disconnects every year as people ditch the TV set tax they pay there and stampede to Netflix and I can see that tipping point starting here today as more viewers just click out Canadian TV and turn to Netflix which has no Canadian shows most of the time.
BAWDEN: I was surprised talking to a Grade 6 class across the street that although they appeared ultra bright they had little knowledge of Canadian history. This year the Brits have given us Darkest Hour and Dunkirk. No such movies exist for Canadian kids to digest.
ACTRESS: I recently suggested CBC revive Front Page Challenge with modern personalities and I was laughed at. But look at the History Channel! Where are the Canadian stories?
ME: People used to ask me if any Canadian TV series spawned foreign shows. And I'd say The Plouffes actually pawned the short lived Viva Valdez on U.S. TV. But now there's an American version of Love It Or Leave It and now there's a U.S. version as well. And the Canadian HGTV series Property Virgins also moved to the U.S.
PRODUCER: Being so close to the U.S. has its disadvantages. My dad bought one of the first TV sets in 1950 in Etobicoke and the antenna was tuned to the Buffalo stations as CBC didn't even some on until 1952. We in Canada lost the TV wars even before we had TV.
ME: When I did a story on Juliette she sent me a stuffed white rat she named :Jim:"--she hated the story. But CBC decided she was getting too big and they had a no-stars policy so they cancelled her for a folksinger.
ME: But Margaret Atwood is the new great nobelist getting TV exposure.
PRODUCER: And more power to her. There have been two TV versions of Jalna --both bombs. I'd like to see more Atwood but also Mazo de la Roche!
ACTRESS: Now that we've solved what ails with Canadian TV let's order desert!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Science Of Magic: Must See TV

As soon as I spotted the credits for The Nature Of Things latest documentary The Science Of Magic I knew I had to order a screener.
Because Donna and Daniel Zuckerbrot have produced some pretty magical TV hours from Dai Vernon: The Spirit Of Magic to The Houdini Code.
And I was right --today's TV hour only lasts 42 minutes --the rest gets reserved for commercials--but in that very tinetime frame they've covered many bases regarding modern magicians and their craft.
"The challenge was getting everything in without seeming to be rushed," David Zuckerbrot is telling me on the phone.
The thesis is that magic has become the latest sounding board for investigative scientists in fields of cognition and neurobiology.
We get a tour with one of Canada's master magicians, Julie Eng, as she visit McGill University's Jay
 Olsen who uses magic in experimental psychologyu.
In one bizarre segment patients are taken through hospital caverns and into a non functioning MIR machine where they experience all sorts of tingling --unusual because it all comes from suggestion as the machine no longer works.
UBC professor Ronald Rensink shows us experiments in"change blindness" --how a small distraction can "blind" a driver to an oncoming speeding train.
"Yes, we did a lot of traveling" is how Zuckerbrot describes it --next stop is London England for a meeting of the Science and Magic Association where the magician obligingly  distracts the eye movements of his audience.
Julie Eng remains a star magician as far as I'm concerned --her father ran a magic shiop in Victoria and she directs the society Magicana which is dedicated to the study of magic as a performing art.
I was most impressed when people on the street  were influenced to chose the card the magician wanted --we watch the show to see how.
We're shown that our eyes don't see everything --usually we can only focus on one object at the same time.
Resnick says "Our intelligent brain creates our own version of reality." To me that is the essence of magic.
And The Zuckerbrots are such master film makers (for Reel Time Images) that while they do show trickery there are also genuine moments of contemplation. This was a learning experience for me and I felt almost like a participant.
What I realized is that magic can help us in our lives.
Sure, some of the tricks I've been watching since I used to visit the Magic Room at Eaton's downtown Toronto department store in the 1950s.
And I wondered if the Zuckerbrots used magic in being able to cram so many ideas and venues into their hour --was there magic involved or was it simply seamless editing?
And, finally, The Science Of Magic truly stands as the pilot for a possible short form CBC mini-series on magic --that's what I'm proposing. So how about it CBC?
And in a year of declining ratings for so many favorite Canadian TV series the truly ageless Nature Of Things stands almost alone for staying completely  true to its original mandate of challenging us and never pandering.
MY RATING: ****.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

This Is The Perfect Season For Ageless Gardens

Here I am locked in winter with the snowploughs outside and the howling wind  shaking the windows.
I don't mind at all --the power has even been off for several frigid hours.
When everything clicked back on I clicked my DVD to play the three first episodes of the new documentary series Ageless Gardens and this one is a real winner.
You can catch the premiere on Vision TV Monday night at 9.m.
The press release tells us "It is commonly known that gardening is a good for us."
So is the act of watching gardening TV series.
I've virtually given up on seeing anything relating to gardening on the badly titled HGTV.
So I'm turning to Ancient Gardens directed by veteran Ian Toews for Vision TV (or is it Zoomer TV, I'm not certain).
I watched the first three episodes in one go and was ready for more.
In fact, I,think I'll re-watch all three during the next snow storm predicted any day from now.
The three I saw all have imaginative titles: Healing Plants, Therapeutic Gardens, The Wild Garden.
I'm on the cusp of Baby Boomdom and now contemplating the serenities of old agedom.
And my current Toronto garden is a mess although one bush imported with my grandparents from Yorkshire in 1912 still blooms steadily every year.
Visually, this is the most gorgeous series of the new TV season. But it's more than pretty pictures but a rapture about how gardening offers therapeutic factors in health and well being as we age.
In the first half hour gardening doyenne Marjorie Harris shows how important gardening is to one's mental fitness --she shows how she lives off her huge garden simply by looking out her house's gigantic picture window.
We visit with an indigenous medicine woman who knows how nature's herbs can be harvested to help with various ailments.
There's also a visit with a sculptor who has been at the gardening business for 70 years.
And I wish I'd taken down the ingredients for a nature baked cookie guaranteed to solve insomnia.
I found the second episode (premiering Feb. 19) to be even more important.
Therapeutic Gardens takes us to B.C. hospitals where aged patients are encouraged to keep small gardens in and around where they live.
The hospital garden helps them relax and think of the act of producing new plants rather than worrying about their declining energy levels.
The 93-year old retired nurse who uses her garden to combat stress -this is a wonderful portrait.
But I think I liked Episode 3 The Wild Garden best of all.
We follow a restaurant chef and friend who forage for wild mushrooms and find a staggering number of different varieties.
Sisters-in-law look for special plants for the herbal teas they can make.
There's even a champion gardener who rescues wild plants needed to sustain wildlife.
Of course I immediately wanted to toddle off to my back yard and start gardening but the snow drifts art my door just wouldn't go away.
I felt better just watching these three episodes. Think how I'd feel if actually gardening at bit.
Veteran Ian Toews produced  and directed and shot it with his usual care- -he's made a model of a series that moves briskly and is packed with information.
MY RATING: ***1/2.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

No Stone Unturned: A Brilliant Documentary

In the brilliant new documentary No Stone Unturned ace director Alex Gibney tells us he stumbled into this true story while making another film about the World Cup soccer matches in 1994.
The details are precise: on June 18, 1994, in a very small pub in Northern Ireland a group of men were watching the match on the telly when two men came in the front door and shot to death six innocent people.
What Carney has done is not only recreate that event with all its brutality but ruminate on the massacre and why it remains unsolved to this day although the British government believes it knows the identities of the killers.
You can catch this four star production in its North American premiere on TVONTARIO Saturday night at 9.
I couldn't stop watching because Gibney is telling a true story and unraveling layers and layers of concealment.
The killings happened more than 24 years ago but as eye witnesses relate each and every incident the incident seems as vivid as yesterday.
The six victims of the Loughinisland massacre were ordinary folk and simply enjoying a night out when the masked killers sprayed the pub from a Czech-made automatic weapon.
We get what are victim statements from the relatives who calmly relate the state of the country --a civil war was ongoing between militant Catholics and Protestants.
And police had a clear idea who were the killers almost from the outset.
But evidence was either deliberately mislaid or destroyed and no one has ever been charged.
Gibney sets the scene brilliantly giving us a detailed dissection of the state of race relations between the two warring factions.
The Troubles had been bubbling forth for decades and over 3,000 people had been killed. The World Cup might have been a unifying moment after so much bloodshed.
In a strange way Gibney's film is beautiful: the stark images of the green countryside are intersperced with footage of the riots and the random killings.
We see even young children play acting with their toy machine guns and bloody faced spectators being led away by police after senseless bombings.
Gibney sets the scene that fateful night --June 128 1994 as Ireland played Italy at the World Cup and he takes us inside the Heights Bar, a very obscure pub in this County Down village as patrons watched the game live from New Jersey.
Gibney brilliantly mixes archival footage with remembrances of survivors and relatives of the slain pub members --the oldest was a darling old man of 87.
Many have been emotionally scarred for life. But just as shocking is the investigative work showing the British government pretty soon knew the identities of the killers but never acted because of polkitical considerations.
Gbney's reasons for this stonewalling can't be revealed here --you'll understand by watching this densely textured profile of a village that has never quite been the same decades after that fateful night.
MY RATING: ****.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I Remember Donnelly Rhodes

It was always a joy interviewing the Canadian TV star Donnelly Rhodes.
The Canadian TV star died Monday after a brave battle with pancreatic cancer.
We first met up  in 1973 when I was TV critic for The Spectator on the set of a fine but short lived CBC cop show  titled Sidestreet --Rhodes starred opposite a friend of mine Jonathan Welsh.
But there he was back in Canada because "I like to eat and I'm still bullish on Canadian TV. One of these days we'll get it right."
But  Rhodes and Welsh only lasted the first year--in typical CBC fashion the series got monthly makeovers before expiring two seasons later.
Rhodes was already a TV veteran--in the Sixties he'd been what he termed "a male starlet" on the Universal lot where he guested on such hit series as Marcus Welby, The New Perry Mason, Here Come The Brides.
"I even had a bit in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, blink and you miss me," he jokingly told me.
Rhodes, born in Winnipeg in 1937, had started his acting career at Canada's National Theatre School where he met and married the actress Martha Kathleen Buhs who took Rhodes' last name Henry.
"I then decided to use my middle name name Rhodes to further complicate matters. My brother Tim Henry is also an actor but he kept the original name..
Rhodes' biggest hit show was Danger Bay which ran for 122 episodes over five seasons (1985-1990).
"I enjoyed it tremendously. Loved those kids --Christopher Crabb and Ocean Helman. And we taught valuable ecological lessons. And it was always the number one rated series on the Disney channel."
There are rumors from time to time that the series may be rebooted as The New Danger Bay.
Other shows Rhodes starred in include The Heights (1992), Street Legal (as R.J. Williams), Da Vinci's Inquest (as Leo Shannon), Battlestar Galactica (Dr. Sherman Cottle).
The last credit I have for Rhodes is the TV series Legends Of Tomorrow in 2016.
 I remember Rhodes once telling me: "I prefer working in my own country.  But sometimes this is not possible. I deliberately left The Young And The Restless because I feared I'd get lazy playing the same character day after day.
In recent years Rhodes battled cancer and died at Baillie Hospice in Maple Ridge, British Columbia.
"To be a working actor you must accept a lot of inferior assignments.," he told me. "But I treated each assignment with the same enthusiasm and intensity.  Then along will come a Danger Bay or a Soap and everything seems worthwhile again. I never courted stardom. To be part of an successful ensemble cast was always my goal."

Friday, January 12, 2018

Canadian TV Is Alive And Thriving: The Caregivers' Club

"There have been several touching documentaries on Alzheimer's victims," filmmaker Cynthia Banks is telling me on the phone.
But she wanted to look at the people who have to look after them often for long periods of time.
"My mother, Phyllis, started the ball rolling in 2016 when she phoned me for help. When I got to the hospital my dad was tied down to the bed and extremely agitated. And for the first time I watched this strong woman crying. She'd always been the most resilient in my family."
Thus began the journey that filmmaker Banks turned into the remarkable personal account The Caregivers' Club which premieres on CBC-TV POV Sunday night at 9pm.
Says Banks "We live in an increasingly aged population. More and more of us will wind up needing care but there just isn't the support system available.And the funding? Where will to come from?"
I first met Banks when she was a producer at The Journal.
And later she series produced that fine CBC-TV series Life And Times which I wish were still running, it was a fine piece of Canadiana.
Her last TV documentary was one of the year's best: 2015's Reefer Riches which accurately forecast the current Canadian debate over the legal marijuana issue.
"We should have sold that everywhere but documentaries about marijuana were a glut on the market right then. but people still want to talk to me about it."
Now comes the long anticipated The Caregivers' Club.
"You know I got frustrated thinking I'll have to get another mortgage on my house to finance it," she laughs. "But that's the harsh reality of the system."
As Banks studied the situation she found there are 25,000 new cases of dementia reported each year--there'll be a 66 per cent increase over the next decade or so.
"I know I was completely unprepared for my new role as caregiver. How mom had coped for a decade I simply do not know --she was amazingly resilient."
And Banks like all caregivers had to learn there was no turning back --the course of the illness is slow and resilient.
I'm not giving away too much by saying one of the primary caregivers dies during a much needed vacation.
That scene affected me most because until then there was hope in that particular story line.
Banks said it took her a long time to film the varying story lines. "I certainly didn't want to be intrusive. But the more I explored the topic the more I felt the need to continue filming.
"I can't think of a moment when I was asked to turn the camera off. Because by then the people I was profiling trusted me to do the right thing."
In The Caregivers Club we become friends with three outstanding caregivers--Dominic. Karen and Barbara.
"All three are connected to Baycrest Health Services in Toronto and the outstanding occupational therapist Nira Rittenberg is always there to offer her professional support. It's a remarkable program but not available to the many dementia cases in rural areas.
"My idea was to profile these stories over a year so I never knew what was going to happen. I was the observer--I simply hoped these people would mostly forget I was there.
The story of Welland caregiver Karen Gillespie and her husband Jack is remarkable--he was diagnosed with dementia in 2009--but it was Karen's resiliency that I found outstanding.
"I'm not sure this is the best one I've done. That's for you critics to decide, but it was the most personal and emotional.
"It was important to respect all these families and show their collective courage. And I hope I've done that."
And I want to add this personal plea from Banks: "Why aren't the political decision makers listening to the constituents and professionals who know that money has to be put into home care relief? We are in a caregiving crisis in this country. We must demand public policy that makes politicians listen to what is needed."
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ice Bridge Is Worth Watching

"I suppose more people will be watching," laughs veteran director Robin Bicknell whose compelling new documentary Ice Bridge premieres on CBC-TV's The Nature Of Things Sunday night at 8.
Bicknell spent 25 days over a longer period filming on location veteran archeologists trying to determine whether Ice Age peoples came to North America from Europe via a land bridge.
I watched the hour just before controversy enveloped the project via an incendiary story in The National Post.
"Actually. it's not very controversial at all," says Bicknell whose recent credits include the 2015 series
 Battle Factory and the 2012 documentary Curse Of The Axe.
With Ice Bridge Bicknell merely follows the archeological evidence that highly trained Ice Age hunters termed Solutreans may well have migrated across a gigantic ice bridge from Europe to North America.
Solutrean tribes inhabited much of France and Spain 20,000 years ago and were responsible for the daring cave paintings that documented their way of life.
Whether or not they were an advanced sea faring people who could traverse the northern Atlantic  with its gigantic storm situations is another problem altogether.
"We show both sides of the argument," says Bicknell. Indeed, she gives the dissenters ample time to argue impassionately.
The thesis has been advanced for 20 years by American anthropologists Bruce Bradley and Dennis  Stanford.
We visit them on a monumental dig at Chesapeake Bay --nothing they've so far discovered has been demonstrated to the entire satisfaction of the academic community.
On this particular day we see them finding implements that could only have been made by Solutreans --the cure of the blade and the thinness are remarkably similar.
The archeological community has long been incensed by these rogue researchers ---we all know that there was a migration from Asia across a land/ice bridge during the last Ice Age of about 14,000 years ago.
Does that mean that Solutreans couldn't have reached North America's eastern shores?
"We cover those who are proper skeptic," Bicknell tells me. "Their opposition remains the dominant position.
She very deliberately did not give any time to any white racist theories emanating from the Solutrean theory.  She says the issue of racism is completely ignored which belongs to another documentary.
Bicknell's story is an developing detective saga --there's the discovery of charcoal fragments in the top soil which is carbon dated to about 20.000 years ago.
"We got there just in time as a big chunk of the cliff goes into the sea. Soon erosion will have entirely wiped out this important site."
Bicknell says the idea Solutreans were European is in itself flawed --their ancestors came from the Middle East.
One highlight has an elder in the Huron-Wendat people who brings 40 teeth to be analyzed and the marker haplogroup X was found in three of 40 samples.
Whether this proves they have Solutrean ancestors as against those who crossed the Bering Srrait  remains open for more debate.
Bicknell's documentary is filled with beautiful and dynamic images and has already caused robust debate. ahead of its premiere.
It may have provoked more controversy than she could ever have imagined.
But within the space of a TV hour it's jam packed with  enough human drama and academic passion to keep us all watching--and wondering.
MY RATING: ****.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

2017: I Remember, I Remember

We lost a lot of great talents I'd interviewed in 2017. Here's my personal salute to some of them:
MARY TYLER MOORE I first encountered at the MTM Studios in 1972 during a rehearsal break on her award winning CBS sitcom. She said I could interview her as long as I did the ballet stretching exercises she did every lunch break! She died after decades of battling diabetes at 80.
RICHARD HATCH I first met on his series Streets Of San Francisco. And later I re-interviewed him on the set of Battlestar Galactica. He was 71.
BARBARA HALE I met in Toronto when she and co-star were making the first Perry Mason TV movie. She was 89.
RONY ROSATO I first knew in his SCTV days and later on Saturday Night Live. He was 62.
ADAM WEST I knew from TV guest appearances. He was far more than Batman, a great comedic actor, He was 89.
DELLA REESE I knew from various TV appearances. She said her life threatening aneurysm had been successfully operated on in London, Ontario. She was 86.
HEATHER MENZIES I knew from her TV series work but also as the wife of Robert Urich. She was 67.
MONTY HALL I met every time he came to Toronto for his Variety Village telethons but also at his Beverly Hills home. He was 96.
PEGGY CUMMINS I interviewed over the phone to promote the DVD rerelease of her terrific film noir classic Gun Crazy. She was 92.
ROSE MARIE I first met up at CFTO studios when she was a contestant on Definition. She was 94.
BRUCE GRAY I interviewed often--he was terrific in Traders and also Queer As Folk. He was 81.
JOHN HILLERMAN I met on a CBS press tour where he was promoting his star turn on Magnum PI. He was 81.
JIM NABORS I met at a winery in St. Catharines- he was headlining a variety show at Hamilton Place. He was 87.
ROBERT GUILLAUME I met on the terrific sitcom Sports Night. He was 89.
JOHN DUNSWORTH I interviewed for his terrific comedic turn on Trailer Park Boys. He was 71.
HUGH HEFNER I met and interviewed at the Playboy mansion where he showed me his vault of old movie classics. He was 91.
ANNE JEFFREYS I saw at an L.A.  party dancing with Cesar Romero when both were over 80. The star of Topper was 94.
I interviewed master character HARRY DEAN STANTON several times. He was 91.
DON OLMEYER I several times in his NBC production office where he showed TV critics the first preview of Seinfeld. He was 92.
JERRY LEWIS I interviewed at the CNE in 1971. He was 91.
DICK GEGORY I interviewed in 1970 as a summer student for The Globe And Mail while he was on a starvation campaign fighting racism. He was 84.
GLEN CAMPBELL I met on the set of The Tommy Hunter Show in 1972. He was 81.
EOBERT HARDY I interviewed several times most notably at CFTO STudios where he was starring in a drama about Winston Churchill.  He claimed he loved being in Agincourt. He was 91.
STEPHEN FURST I interviewed on the set of St. Elsewhere. He died at 63 of complications from diabetes.
ROGER MOORE I met when he was starring in the TV series The Persuaders. He was 89.
SKIP HOMEIER I met on a CBS drama and told him of his brilliance aged 12 in starring in the 1944 firilm Tomorrow THe World. He was 86.
MARTIN LANDAU I first met on the set of Mission: Impossible. He was 89.
I first  ROBERT OSBORNE. TCM host,  at an L.A. and we talked old movies on the phone several times. He was 84.
And I remember interviewing Shelley Berman on the set of a CHCH game show way back in 1971. He was 92.