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?