Thursday, December 31, 2020

E-Mails, I Get E-Mails!

DEAR JIM: Please explain why BBC Canada is going off the air?( Mrs. H. K. (Thunder Bay).

BAWDEN: I say hurrah! The system was operated by Corus Entertainment but BBC kept  its best product to be sold to the highest bidder.

Instead we got chunks of bad thrillers like Shakespeare And Hathaway, The Antiques Roadshow, a very bad variety show with instalments often years old and whatever weak comedies BBC couldn't sell to the highest bidders.

BBC is now going to set up its own streaming service but you'll have to pay of course. That's the way TV is evolving into a chain of pay TV services.

DEAR JIM: Why is CTV clogging the airwaves this past week with entire reruns of such U.S. imports as CSI ?  What happened to Canadian content (R.H, Simcoe).

BAWDEN: I've been watching some of the many episodes of CSI. Would you believe some of its offshoots were financed by Alliance Atlantis and count as Canadian content? The episodes are beautifully shot with many exteriors and the cost would be prohibitive in any Canadian series that chose to be competitive.

DEAR JIM: Why have Canadian TV movies disappeared from the air (D.Y., Oakville).

BAWDEN: As we get more and more channels the quality of TV begins to deteriorate as networks struggle with an ever shrinking audience. The old 10 channel system meant live operas, ballets, adaptations such as Sean Connery in a great CBC-TV production of Macbeth. All gone now because CBCX can't afford such quality stuff anymore.

DEAR JIM: I wanted to buy a city for my class of Getting Married In Buffalo Jump, a great CBC-TV flick starring Paul Gross and I had to pay $80 to a U.S. copy to get one. What's happening?

BAWDEN: I have a friend who spent several years in the CBC-TV archives in Mississauga. She  tells me she watched a superb version of Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider starring Keir Dullea and directed by Eric Till. Masterful! But CBC has no intention of putting such riches out on video and making some money."Do you think we want to remind viewers how wonderful CBC used to be," said one senior bureaucrat. HE acknowledged CBC had a kinescope of Edith Evans doing her only TV version of The Importance Of Being Ernest --but it has been locked up for years. When the late, great Harry Rasky was browsing in Sam The Record Man's one time he came across his documentary on G.B. Shaw which CBC had sold to BBC Video and never even informed him!

DEAR JIM: Why don't they bring back Peter Mansbridge as anchor of CBC'TV's National? The current newsreaders lack gravitas?

BAWDEN: An excellent idea!

DEAR: Why did CTV cancel Canada AM? I thought it was one of the top quality shows on CTV. (P.B., Ottawa).

BAWDEN: I heartily agree. It was the first early morning  news show on Canadian TV and Helen Hutchinson and Norm Perry were supreme. To knock it off for a silly lifestyle show was indeed craziness.

DEAR JIM: If you could revive one quality series from the dustbin of history what would it be? (C.C.,Hamilton)

BAWDEN: How about two: Friendly Giant and Chez Helene?


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Here's Where I get Interviewed!

 A quite brilliant graduate student dropped by the other day to interview me about my strange career as a Canadian TV Critic. Some of her questions were so brilliant I volunteered to pass comments on to readers:

SHE: How did you get started as a TV critic?

ME: It was a Toal accident. I was a summer student at The Globe And Mail and the TV critic, the wonderfully acerbic Black Kirby fell ill and I took over for a bit. I worked next to him in the tiny M&D Department --that means "Music and Drama:"/

The theatre critic, the imposing Herbert Whittaker had been at it since 1935. He had to file his copy by midnight and wrote his reviews on slips of paper which were sent down the chute and by 11:45 the full page would come up and he'd have 15 minutes to correct names.

John Kraglund was the classical music writer and he was there, too, most nights although his reviews were usually brief.

I remember coming into the department at noon one day and Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy were waiting for Herbie to take him to lunch.

On another day Katharine Hepburn's chauffeur was there waiting to drive Great Kate to Lunch.

Also in the department: Martin Knelman (movies), Barbara Gail Rowe (dance) and Urjo Kareda (features) and the art critic who wrote a full page every Saturday ----

And I was there for two summers and then The Spectator phoned and offered me the TV critic job --the venerable Jack Miller had just left for The Toronto Star and I followed him there in 1980 when he jumped to the science beat.

SHE: HOW difficult was it covering TC from Hamilton?

ME: Miller told me to ditch my cart and take the bus in every few days to Toronto for screenings and interviews. There were no cassettes at first so I'd go into tiny screening rooms and watch a rough cut of whatever program I had requested.

SHE: Was nothing being done in Hamilton?.

ME: CHCH was an independent station. Sam Hebscher bought the movies for the station and CHCH had the world TV premieres of such hits as Gone With The Wind, The Ten Commandments, Ben-our. They also made such series as Party Game, --I remember interviewing Bill Shatner on that tiny set--he did eight episodes in one day --he was paid per episode. I was also on the set of Ein Prosit, Hilarious House Of Frankenstein,  hey, CHCH had some great Canadian content and syndicated these shows including Pierre Berton to the rest of the nation's TV stations.

SHE: What did you doin Toronto?

ME: More screenings. At TVOntario I interviewed old movie buff Elwy Yost multiple times---

SHE: Do you think this Saturday Night At The Movies and those old films --could he be a hit in today's market?

ME: I doubt it. Because Elwy was the only game in town showing old black and white movies. Some Saturday nights he was beating CBC's Hockey Night In Canada. So CBC and other networks bought up whole collections to keep him from running them.

SHE: What about CBC?

ME:I was on the set of such CBC spectaculars as ballets directed for TV by Norman Campbell. Harry Rasky produced one Raskymentary a season --dazzling TV portraits of the likes of Raymond Massey, Christopher Plummer, Bernard Shaw. And Rasky and Campbell won Emmys for CBC. Today all that has disappeared.


ME: As we get more channels the quality of the old line networks has dipped because of lower ratings.  CBC needs more money than the government is willing to give. So quality programming has dropped precariously.

SHE: What about the old commercial nets?

ME: I think CTV made a bad mistake cancelling Canada AM because it was too expensive to produce.  Some of CTV and Global's hour dramas were just fine: ENG, Traders but they are too expensive what with falling ratings.

SHE: Who is hurting, do you think?

ME: Canadian actors and writers who have stories to dramatize but the money is no longer there. There are the quality documentaries? The more channels we get the lower the quality of the product unless you are willing to pay a fortune for speciality channels. The federal government has got to get involved. Canadian TV movies have virtually disappeared.  Arts programming from opera to ballet has gone.

SHE: Sounds like you want a return to the good old days?

ME: No, that's impossible. I just want Canadiasns to become concerned about the shrinkage of quality Canadian TV programs --that's all. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Alex Trebek And I

I first interviewed Alex Trebek in the fall of 1971/ at the old CBC Radio building on Toronto's Jarvis Street.

It was a former private girls school but had been the home of CBC Radio for decades.

I was then the kid radio/TV critic for The Hamilton Spectator, newly installed as I replaced the venerable Jack Miller/

One of my first assignments was to do a story on CBC announcers and how they read the Queen's English. I'd already chatted up Lloyd Robertson who was the gold standard and then I got to meet and greet Alex Trebek who sounded almost the same as Lloyd.

I learned CBC anchors underwent rigorous testing so they all sounded  the same. No females were then allowed.

For example when I chatted up the venerable CBC News announcer Earl Cameron he told me he couldn't change a word without calling on a writer --it was for this very reason that Lloyd Robertson finally had enough and defected to CTV News where he could write his own news script.

Any how I found Trebek to be young and vigorous. He was still doing a lot of CBC radio as well as hosting such CBC TV quiz hsows as Reach For The Top.

I like quiz shows best," he told me. Which probably explains why he lasted for decades on TB's Jeopardy.

At the time Trebek was married to announcer Elaine Callei of CHCH-TV whose online cast show titled Call Callei was one of the best for information and gossip.

Even way back then Alex was crazy about quiz shows. He hosted CBC's Reach For The Top for years which featured high school students duelling for prizes to donate back to their collegiate/

and he also refereed Music Hop which ran weekdays on CBC-TV and was a sort of Canadian rejoinder to Dick Clark's afternoon teen TV shows.

When Alex jumped to American TV he wondered if he'd make it in the more tempestuous world of L.A.

Back then quiz shows were the staple of morning TV. I was on the set of Concentration with Ed McMahon. Dick Clark's $10,000 Pyramid ran for decades. There was Tic Tac Dough which I likes,

On Canadian TV I'd watch Definition taped at CFTO and also Party Game at CHCH-TV where I first interviewed Bill Shatner.

Jeopardy seemed to run forever in syndication. Trebek told me it offered solid information and that was the reason for survival when the competition faltered.

When I asked him why Wheel Of Fortune also survived? He laughed and said "Damned if I know."

These dayss age only daily quiz show still on U.S,. TV is The Price Is Right which blares for an hour every weekday.

You see quiz shows are taped one day a week --that's the only way they ca be financially successful.

Trebek told me "we do have breaks between shows but it's a bit hard keeping the concentration going on the fifth episode. But we some how IN  always get through it."

In March 2019 he revealed on YouTube his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer which is almost always considered deadly.

He fought on and said he'd lie down between shows to conserve his strength. He even came out with a fine memoir titled The Answer Is...

Treatments caused him to lose his hair --he bought several toupees that looked exactly fine.

He battled bouts of depression and fatigue. In 2014 he guess estimated he'd hosted 6,800 episodes.-I imagine he must have hit 8,000 episodes by the end.

'"My first U.S. quiz show was The Wizard Of Odds. :

The last time we chatted on the phone he was looking forward to hosting the all time three biggest winners.

Asked to define his success he told me "I'm, just a kid from Sudbury who never forgot his roots and where he came from. I would have flunked out as a contestant. I could only answer about 60 per cent of questions and I've gotten worse as pop culture questions currently abound."

"Ive had a great life. Why should I be afraid of what's to come?"

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

I Remember Joyce Davidson

I first interviewed Canadian TV star Joyce Davidson when I was a cub reporter for The Globe And Mail in 1970.
When I walked into her suite at Toronto's Park Plaza hotel her husband David Susskind interjected "What is this? The B Squad?"
I found Davidson a warm and still splendid TVstar to interview.
I remember her laughing "I give good quotes so ask away !"
At one point I asked about her famous quote on Canadian TV that Canadians were just a little bored when Queen Elizabeth passed through on one of her tours.
"Well, it is true," she laughed. "But the papers blew that one into a big front page story. It became a learning experience for me. Best to keep my mouth shut on such matters."
"You never keep your mouth shut," interjected Susskind to intense laughter from his wife.
A few years later --it was 1972-- and Davidson had jumped to a weekly hourlong interview show up at CFTO.
 She'd fly in from her New York home to interview the likes of Truman Capote and Pierre Berton.
Capote thought she'd captured him as never befopre and said it was the best interview he'd ever granted.
You let me be me," he said sadly and for once his famous mannerisms were toned down.
"Actually, I'm doing this show just to prove I'm still around," she laughed in the limousine taking her back to the Prince hotel.
Davidson had started her TV career in 1954 as the maid on a cooking show for CHCH.
"I'd clean up but had to be so pert and sassy the cook demanded  I tone down my mannerisms."
She jumped in 1956 to Tabloid CBC's early evening show loaded with interviews and talk and all live.
"I was still living in Hamilton so I'd commute back and forth every day. on the train."
"Why not ask me about the night in 1854 we said it was going to be a lovely evening and then Hurricane Hazel hit. Our weather caster Percy Saltzman came home to find his basement flooded and his wife shouting "Percy!"
Eventually Davidson had the urge to go to New York where she excelled as co-host with Dave Garoway on NBC's Today Show.
"Dave was very territorial. After all he'd started it. I did all the women's inserts from cooking to fashions. Dave banned me from ever chatting up a politician. But it was three hours live every weekday starting at 6 a.m. and that meant I had to get up at 4 a.m. I've had insomnia ever since."
Then came The Jack Benny Show "where I did all the commercials for Lux and other sponsors and I'd do a bit of banter with Jack who was such a lovely guy. Years later I met him at a party and thanked him for being so nice to this newcomer and he burst into tears."
Then I jumped to The George Gobel Show and he was less kind."
Then came stint as a rotating host of the live daily U.S. information show PM East, PM West.
"The only segment extant is my interview with Boris Karloff. The rest was shredded by the producers years later."
"When I'm at CFTO doing an hour long profile my job is to make the subject look at great as possible. I'm not there to tear anybody down. So maybe the show is a bit old fashioned.
Later on Davidson interviewed authors on CBC for Toronto's yearly Book Festival.
She lived for years in a swank apartment on Bay Street and I'd occasionally ask her out for lunch but she always declined.
"Baby, I want you to remember me as I was and not an old lady."
And what about writing a memoir.
"I'd have to tell the truth and that has always gotten me in hot water. So the answer is no."
Jpyce Davidson was 89 when she died last month, still a Canadian treasure.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Pat Ferns Exits Canadian TV With A Last Flash Of Brilliance

"This is it --my last TV production," sighs legendary TV producer Pat Ferns from his B.C. headquarters.
"But I couldn't go out with anything more challenging.  I've spent the better part of a year finishing the French. German and Canadian versions  of Listening To Orcas --all of which are different."
When I first jumped into TV criticism in 1971 at The Hamilton Spectator Ferns was one of the biggest producing names in the business.
The very next year I flew to Montreal and boarded a rented car driven by publicist Pat Bowles to travel deep into the Quebec countryside and the site of the new mini-series The Newcomers.
Imperial Oil pumped millions into this project produced by Ferns and partner Dick Nielsen and each hour dramatized a different era of immigration to Canada.
A New France settlement had been meticulously reconstructed to show how our first settlers depended initially on the aboriginals to sustain themselves through the difficult winters.
Ferns and partner Dick Nielsen seemed to be everywhere in those days with bold, innovative projects that were outside the humdrum boundaries of weekly TV series.
And Ferns agrees with me this tandem worked because each was so very different they complemented each other.
Ferns was quite brilliant but taciturn with a very clear vision of what he hoped to achieve in every production.
And Nielsen was a wild man of ideas forever churning out synopses and challenging the boundaries of ordinary TV landscape.
And they both excelled at a time there were only 10 competing TV channels.
"I just felt CBC had a tremendous responsibility in bringing culture to television that can't be matched today," he says.
Part of the problem lies in the breakup of the huge audiences --in a 100 channel universe there are few outlets with the kind of audience to support cultural productions.
"We had left CBC to form a company (Nielsen Ferns Productions) and were able to do things that a single network couldn't afford to do and we could sell to other markets and that was encouraging."
I remember one NF film I was on was Quebec Canada 2005 which was put together by Nielsen and mostly shot at the King Edward hotel.  All the principals were in the Toronto Star newsroom for a shot or two and they included Martha Henry who I chatted up at my desk.
Nielsen Ferns was finally purchased by the Toronto Star (in 1976) as a production company but the federal government was not favourable to having companies owned by media giants.
So these days if a high school teacher wishes to screen a copy of The Wars to show to the class Torstar reluctantly sends out a tattered VHS copy demanding it be returned within days.
So Nielsen andd Ferns founded a second company Primedia and a whole host of sparkling new productions came forth : Glenn Gould's Toronto, the four hour mini-series Glory Enough For All, Heaven On Earth (written by Margaret Atwood) and bought for Masterpiece Theatre.
In 1995 Ferns decamped again to recharge the Banff Television Festival and turned it into an internationally renowned centre which was much admired by talent on all sides.
About the current state of Canadian TV production he says "In British Columbia the TV studios are full but most of the series being made here are American shows."
For the past year Ferns has toiled on his latest production Listening To Orcas premiering on CBC-YV's The Nature Of Things Friday February 21 at 9 p.m.
"It's about the toughest assignment I've had. There is a separate French version and another German one. I somehow feel Michael's English language version the best --they all wanted different angles to the same story."
Michael Allder directed it beautifully and the co-writer is Gail Gallant and Geoff Matheson edited it very tightly.
There are so many memorable scenes.
We see the narrow habitat of the orcas off Vancouver island which is threatened with noise pollution as well as the scarcity of salmon stocks.
We get to know neurologist Lori Marino and zoologist John Ford who are rushing to save the habitat of the orcas who are decreasing .
Sarika Cullis-Suzuki is once again our host and she covers all the basis. The use of drones to track the migration of the orcas provides a novel visual.
I think we come to care about these enigmatic animals particularly the lot of one born here in 1969 but shut up in a mainland  aquarium for 50 years.
In retirement should she be taken back to her home?
We see the shots of her reacting to her baby and not knowing how to feed it --that is the saddest moment.
Ferns says he may be finished with productions but wants to mentor students on how to survive in a cut throat business and all the while produce splendid Canadian TV shows and specials.
"After all I've been doing this for a very long time."
MY RATING: ****.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A New Suzuki Shines On The Nature Of Things

Here's where I admit my age as I remember the time not too long ago when two fine CBC-TV series were battling for ascendancy. In one corner there was the great This Land and in the other long running Nature Of Things.
And as NOT's executive producer Jim Murray explained to me with upcoming budget cuts only one could survive.
"So I've decided to personalize the series with David Suzuki as host and he'll bring in his followers every week."
This Land elected to stay host-less and was the one CBC-TV eventually dropped because of slightly weaker ratings.
And then only a few years ago the new CBC programming chief told me he intended to drop TNOT on its 50th year on CBC-TV.
I broke the story in The Toronto Star,  all hell broke loose and The Nature Of Things still survives and the programmer in question is long gone.
All of which serves as a reminder that the more things change the more they remain the same.
Now I'm promoting the latest Nature Of Things hour and welcoming a new face to the perennial favourite.
She's Sarika Cullis-Suzuki and, yes, she's the daughter of guess what world famous environmentalist turned CBC-TV host.
Her first hour long program Kingdom Of The Tides is pretty terrific in its own right.
"It started out with my fascination as a little girl in the summers I spent in B.C. by the ocean. Looking at the many creatures who lived at the edge of the sea or in the tides. So this was a sort of reunion for me to help better understand how these original creatures could actually adapt and thrive there."
The hour is actually two stories in one.
"We also go to the Bay of Fundy which has an entirely different set of creatures and mud flats that stretch forever. This I wasn't used to --we have to slide along the mud flats or we'll wind up getting stuck out there."
There are some great shots --like the hermit crabs who exist living in the discarded shells of other creatures.
"And the sea stars making meals of the mussels."
One theme is the fragility of these two very different but similar ecosystems, how climate change or pollution could spoil these sites irrevocably.
"We try to show how they all exist on each other. but these creatures are all masters of adaptation. They depend on each other. I felt a sense of wonder when there."
Cullis-Suzuki says she asked her father for advice in her first hosting role --she's a marine biologist by profession-- and he simply told her to be herself.
She has a fine, instinctive way of appearing before the camera and her enthusiasm for the subject really comes across.
She does give us some facts but is not at all pedantic.
And Cullis-Suzuki has already made a second TOT documentary on orca whales to run pn Feb, 2!1.
Kingdom Of The Tiide was expertly written directed by veteran  Christine Nielsen----- and photographed beautifully by Stefan Randstrom for Infield Fly Productions.
And yes, its virtually a must see.
MY RATING: ****.


Sunday, February 2, 2020

I Remember Daniel Taradash

In August 1983 I was again on the Television Critics tour at the Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles and I had a day off. A friend had given me the telephone number of famed screen writer Daniel Taradash and I phoned him early that morning. Not only did he pick up the call he said he'd be over at about 3 p,m. for an hour long interview.
Here are highlights of our conversation:
JB: I was surprised you agreed so quickly to my request for an interview.
DT: Had to. Two days from now I'll be at a film festival in Barcelona where a newly minted print of From Here To Eternity is being shown.
JB: Let's start at the beginning with your upbringing in New York city.
DT: Well, I grew up in New York city, went to Harvard and law school was something my father insisted on. I was always writing short stories for myself but I didn't think during the Depression I could make a living at it. I won a contest for a new play and parlayed that into a trip to Hollywood.
JB: And then you wrote the screenplay for Golden Boy(1939)?
DFT: Something like that. Rouben Mamloulian was going to direct Golden Boy from the Clifford Odets play but Odets was in Europe with his wife Luise Rainer and unavailable. Several seasoned writers had taken cracks at it but Rouben said they were missing the point.So he hired me and Louis Meltzer from the contest and told us to try rewriting the first scene and he liked both our works and hired us at $200 a week which was a lot of money to this mostly unemployed writer.
Finally we all went to a desert retreat for two weeks along with Rouben and every day we'd tackle a different scene.We had to stick to the play as much as possible and not loose its foundations. Then Columbia had me write a biography of the warden of Sing Sing but never used it and I was dropped. So I got a job writing for Joe Pasternak at Universal in a movie titled A Little Bit Of Heaven designed to make Gloria Jean into another Deanna Durbin.
Then I was drafted and went into the army unit making the Why We Fight shorts, After the war I joined Allan Scott who was then a producer at David Selznick's lot but nothing came of the projects we worked on. Then producer Robert Lord hired me to juice up the dialogue on Knock On Any Door (1949) at Columbia where I got to know the star Humphrey Bogart who was quite a della.
JB: You also wrote the play Red Gloves for producer Jed Harris in 1949.
DT: A really nasty character. He started off very sweet but turned into this raging egomaniac. I think he just liked to be noticed. A true sadist.Charles Boyer was our star and at a certain point he told Jed not to speak to him any more.
JB: Then you wrote a western Rancho Notorious (1952) for Fritz Lang?
DT: When we met I discovered he was a real scholar of the American West.As I wrote a page he'd add the camera angles, the pauses, the direction right into the script. When we went on the floor he was suddenly challenged by our leading lead the great Marlene Dietrich. Both loved a good fight and they fought every day. The cut he delivered to Howard Hughes was so tightly edited it could not be changed much at all. This was for me a  great lesson in film making --don't give producers anything extra because they'll just cut it anyway.
JB: How did you get the assignment for From Here To Eternity (1953)?
DT: Well, James Jones had tried to adapt his own novel and failed. I had a chat with Buddy Adler who was running Columbia and he thought I was onto something and took me in to see Harry Cohn and Harry ordered me to be hired. Harry said he was stuck with a lemon because with all the bad language gone what was left? I  started off deepening the  Maggio character--he just peters out in the novel but I argued he has to die at the end. I finally went home to Florida because I couldn't deal with Harry's constant interference and I worked from there.  I doubt Harry ever read much of the book anyway.
And I was the one who suggested Fred Zinneman as director --he was close to finishing Member Of The wedding and Harry thought he was a prestige name.
JB: Were you in on the casting?
DT: I made myself available., Fred insisted on Monty Clift as Prew but Harry said "I got Aldo Ray" and insisted on a test. It was OK but Fred said he'd walk without Monty. You know Donna Reed ran lines with Aldo for his test and Fred then signed her as the prostitute although Harry wanted Audrey Totter.
Harry had just signed Joan Crawford to a multi-picture contract but she came in and selected a very expensive wardrobe that wasn't right and insisted on her own choreographer so Fred just let her go. He hired Deborah Kerr as the wayward wife which which certainly was offbeat casting. Frankie Sinatra campaigned for Maggio and took a tiny salary to get it. Lancaster was always going to be the biggest star. But you know Monty Clift was a Method man and he took lessons in boxing but was so un-muscular we used a double in some long shots. Another thing --I didn't want the couples to ever meet. The two women do but only at the end.
JB: Did winning the Oscar for best screenplay help you at all?
DT: Well, I told Harry Cohn he owned me one. And I deliberately selected the powerful story Storm Center about the censoring of books and I told Harry I was going to entice Mary Pickford out of a 20-year retirement to play the leading librarian. We were still at the height of McCarthyism,remember.
JB: Then what happened? Well, you know gossip hen Hedda Hopper was a terrible right winger and she kept pounding Mary in her column day after day for being un-American and it finally got to Mary and she just left. So I got Bette Davis and made it and it has yet to make a penny of profit which I prophesied from the beginning.
JN: Then came Desiree (1955)?
DT: Oh, please. A  terrible mess. We wrote it for Marlon Brando because he owed Fox a picture after walking off  The Egptian but he was boredas Napoleon  and didn't try and we had Jean Simmons and Merle Oberon who at least worked on their parts.
JB: Then came Picnic (1956).
DT: At the first preview an older woman comes up to me and says "There's no picnic, is there?"I talked to Bill Inge about it and he said he hated the play because a happy ending was superimposed. I tried to capture the feeling of that small Then Harry Cohn started cutting it up and Roz Russell's partas  cut sharply.  Harry wanted her nominated as best supporting actress but she refused. I thought Bill Holden too old for it and Kim Novak a blank stare. But it did make a lot of money.
JB: What about Bell Book And Candle (1958).
DT: Miscast. Jimmy Stewart was too old for it. Kim Novak wasn't comedically aware if you get my drift.I still say we should have used Cary Grant and Grace Kelly but Grace retired to become a princess and Cary lost interest.
JB: You say Harry Cohn's death in 1958 affected your career.
DT: I was going to do Andersonville for Harry but the new front office vetoed it as not box office. And I wrote some very bad pictures like Hawaii (1966) and Morituri (1965), Alvarez Kelly (1966) was another stinker and my Golden Boy Bill Holden was drunk through much of the shooting. There was turmoil on the set of The Other Side Of The Mountain(1969) and when I finished the first draft they tried to fire me.
So you see I really do miss the Hollywood of Harry Cohn. He was lucky he died before the independents took overbite business. You look shocked --I'm just being realistic. -- it was much easier  when I knew who I was working for. But whenever FHTE is on TV I'll watch a bit --I'm always interested what the local stations chose to cut for commercials.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Jayne Eastwood Gets A TV Series Lead

It's certainly no surprise to me that the incredibly talented Jayne Eastwood is busy these days making a very funny comedy series titled Hey Lady! for CBC Gem available on February 14.
You see, I was the very first TV writer to interview her for her first splash in 1970 in the groundbreaking Canadian film Goin' Down The Road.
And here we are fifty years later still talking up a storm.
Here are highlights of my new telephone conversation with the divine Miss E:
JB: Jayne do you remember that day in July 1970 when I motored out to your home with a Globe and Mail  photographer to conduct your very first print interview?
JE: Actually, I think it was Cabbagetown. But I was a bit nervous, yes. I'm not sure how you got to me first.
JB: Your agent was the brother of Globe entertainment editor Donn Downey --that's how I scored that coup. I remember you were bit nervous at first. But neither of us thought this would be the beginning of a long and busy career.
JE: I've never stopped working --that's for sure.
JB: People thought Goin' Down The Road marked the beginning of a huge boom in Canadian film making. But it never really happened. Can you explain why?
JE: Financing. The big chains weren't that interested in Canadian movies, I guess.So a lot of talent drifted to TV. I know I did.
JB: You also did the long anticipated reunion TV movie Down The Road Again.
JE: Of course it did not have the impact of the first. But I thought it was important because it wrapped everything up. Director Don Shebib had exactly18 shooting days so the fact it turned out as well as possible is something to cheer about. The original was 16 mm so the second in 35 mm seems smoother.
JB: And today the two movies ares being sold in a boxed set.  I remember another early interview with you when you were at CBC rehearsing for a live TV drama.
JE: With Allyn Ann McLerie, the legendary Canadian actress who had stardom in the U.S. CBC took an old TV play first done in the Fifties and we redid it live. But ratings were poor and CBC never tried another live one.
JB: You were just telling me when Show Boat ran for several years on the Toronto stage you were in it but also as understudy for Cloris Leachman as Party Ann.
J: I was introduced to her as her understudy and she hands me her dog's leash and says to take it for walk. And I got to sub for her for a total of 12 performances. Now that was fun.
JB: I remember interviewing you again on the CBC comedy series Material World which I thought had a lot of potential.
JE: It started slowly but we were up against American shows that ran all season and I think that meant we could never catch up. They began changing the cast --the wonderful character star Lou Jacobi was out after the first season, then Chris POtter  went --he now stars in Heartland but it just never caught on.
JB: Another one I remember you in --Joely Fisher's drama show filmed here --again with Potter.
JE: And I lasted just at the beginning because the show changed  and changed. And I don't think it laster much longer.
JB: I have better memories with you on the set of Riverdale, a CBC attempt to make a long running soap series. Some of the sets were refashioned from Paradise Falls, I think.
JE: Loved that one. So did the fans. But it needed to run a half hour every night right after coronation Street to build up popularity. We had a great cast too:
JB: Ever consider moving to the U.S. like many other Canadian actors. were doing that time.
JE: Well once Lorne Michaels said he wanted me to audition for SNL but the pay wasn't so high and I would have to take my kids to live in New York city andI couldn't do that to them.
JB: I mean your credits run pages. You've done everything in TV and movies.
JE: Even commercials which keep on passing. How to establish a character in one minute! It's a real challenge I can tell you.
JB: Ever missed an important Canadian series as a character star?
JB: I'll  have to think about that.
JB: You moved from Dundas to Hamilton.
JE: After my husband Dave Flaherty passed . And in Hamilton I can tell you houses are still for sale at respectable p[rices. There's a strong artistic  community growing up here.
JB: Let's not forget you have a separate stage career.
JE: With Women Fully Clothed --we're still going.
JB: I watched your new project for CBC Gem right through and there area lot of laughs there.
JE: Great. It was made as a series of bits. You can watch a few or right through. I just thought the scripts by Morris Panych were wonderful, there are eight separate pieces and Jackie Richardson as my comic sidekick Rosie is very funny.
We got some choice talent--Don McKellar as the psychiatrist, Scott Thompson as the judge, Peter Keleghan, Zach Bennett and we all had a ball.But it is funny --my character is battling old age. She says what she's feeling, the words just pop out. And we break through the glass --I sometimes talk directly to the audience at home. I hope it catches on. I'm beginning to think of stories for the next batch.
JB: Jayne is now off to the Sundance Festival where her new show is being previewed.p
So Jayne Eastwood is doing what she always does --dancing as fast as she  can.


Friday, January 3, 2020

CBC's Future Is Murky

CBC-TV got a lot of deserved flack for mounting a ''new'' game show titled Family Feud Canada.
Remember please --here is a pubically funded network that you the tax payers fork out almost $1 billion annually and yet the choices on CBC are becoming ever narrower.
Gone from CBC are TV movies , miniseries, any sort of arts programs, Straford plays, culture; offerings..
This means no more thrilling dramatical  historical lessons like The Last Spike, no TV movies Alice Munro's  Of Girls And Women.
The last time I spoke to Emmy winning director Norman Campbell he was in cubby-hole of an office at CBC doing absolutely nothing.
True, he could look across the hall at the huge Norman Campbell Concert hall where he had never staged single production because of budgetary concerns.
When Emmy winning documentarian Harry Rasky looked for one of his "Raskymentaries" in the video store he actually found one in a boxed set of BBC titles
CBC had sold the rights to the BBC  for Rasky's masterful study of George Bernard Shaw and somehow forgot to tell Rasky about it.
Rasly's incredibly rich studies of the lives of Chris Plummer, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams lie moldering in the CBC TV archives in Mississauga.
CBC says it hasn't the money to produce boxed sets --which would sell like hot cakes --but a prominent CBC-TV veteran says "nuts" to that idea.
"CBC is afraid of opening the vaults because it would show what wonderful network it used to be," Mr. X recent;y told me.
Indeed, there was a time in the 1970s when CBC-TV hit a similar budgeting impasse and devised a series of pure reruns titled "Rearview Mirror" which ran on Sunday afternoons garnering a very respectable audience.
One of the lost and found treasures was a 1962 taped version of Macbeth done in the old Front Page Challenge setup Yonge st. and starring Sean Connery and Zoe Caldwell.
Dennys Arcand directed it and when I contacted him at his Malibu home he said "I'm so very glad it still exists. After that Sean said he was going to the Caribbean to start filming his first James Bond opus."
Let's face it the future of the CBC is not altogether clear.
I'm suggesting g the main network should abandon all commercials and become a PBS of the North.
CBC still has hits like Heartland and Murdoch Mysteries but these shows are aging fasten and newer series just haven't made it,
The revamped The National is a ratings disaster and none of the several hosts boasts the gravitas of a Peter Mansbridge or a Knowlton Nash.
CBC needs a drastic shake up or there are fears it may no longer be able to justify its swollen budget.
One last point--CBC is running its game show against perennially popular Jeopardy.
If you are a game show addict Jeopardy remains must viewing.
Go watch Family Feud Canada if you like but this weird import is not going to save Canada's struggling public network.