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.