Friday, November 28, 2008
It will be hard for CTV news anchor Tim Weber, entertainment reporter Jacintha Wesselingh (right) and Kate Wheeler of CTV NewsNet to feel the Christmas spirit this week. They are among the casualties in yesterday's CTV cuts.
With the downturn in the economy, massive layoffs have been announced almost everywhere in Canadian television, including yesterdays news that 105 jobs will be eliminated at CTV. The cuts come mainly in the Toronto region and especially at CTV specialty channels MuchMusic and Star! Read the CP report on Canoe here.
Weber's been a CTV fixture for years. Tried to look up his bio on the CTV site today but too late. All a search there returned were the words "UNDEFINED VALUE." Man, I know how that feels.
In a town hall-style meeting, CTV sold the bad news to its employees last week, explaining it as fallout from the cratering economy. Both CTV and Global have wailed that the conventional, terrestrial, broadcast business is reeling and not getting that freebee carriage fee loot they requested from the CRTC late last month was the trigger to these massive job losses.
So how come it is CTV's specialty channels, and not the broadcast division, that are getting gutted this Christmas? In terms of numbers, the biggest single chunk of the CTV job losses seem to be coming in channels related to music and youth. Isn't CTV simply using the challenging economy as a way to rationalize ownership of MTV and several CHUM acquisitions?
Look at what got hit yesterday. MuchMoreMusic has basically shut down production. Star! has basically shut down production.
Some big salaries have also been dumped. Marcia Martin--one of the last "Day One" CHUM employees (she started in 1972 as a receptionist!) before going on to launch such franchises as Fashion Television and Star!, is gone. CTV had her down as running "special projects," which is pretty much like having your show moved to Friday nights.
The New Music--one of those "heritage" shows that helped define the early days at City-TV and Much--gone.
Spared, at least, is Traci Melchor (left), the Pickering-native who is one of MuchMoreMusic's few remaining well known personalities. She is being folded into the eTalk tent.
Among the Much honchos who survived the transition to CTV last year only to get the heave yesterday is Sarah Crawford, vice president, public affairs for CTVglobemedia. Crawford was a leader in diversity and human rights issues and won the 2005 "Woman of the Year" award from Canadian Women in Communications. You've come a long way baby--oops, the economy is in the toilet, get back in the kitchen.
As for the on-air talent, apparently CTV is firing in reverse alphabetical order (good news for people named "Bentley" or "Chan"), so it's goodbye Weber, Wesselingh (another former CHUM receptionist) and Wheeler. Wesselingh is just coming off a maternity leave. Ho-Ho-Ho!
Other departments facing cuts include the slumping entertainment show eTalk, and CTV's communications and special events divisions. CTV has been very mum on exactly who got axed today, with calls to publicists all being referred back to corporate V.P. Bonnie Brownlee. If her terse and redundant email back is any indication, she didn't get to be head of corporate communications for nothing.
It should all come out in the chatty press room at tonight's annual celebration of all things television in Canada, The Gemini Awards. The industry wank is back in Toronto and apparently still being broadcast, although clearly it's not on CTV. It's on MacLean/Hunter Cable 10, or the Dumont Network or something. Party on, kids.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
There have already been a few early bird holiday specials, including last Sunday's uneven offering, A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All (it repeats tonight at 10 p.m. on The Comedy Network). The intrusive laugh track is funny the first three times, and the guest list is suitably kitschy (Willie Nelson, Feist, Elvis Costello) but, for me anyway, a half hour of deconstructive silliness is 22 minutes too much.
I much prefer a sillier and better written Christmas special nobody seems to have booked this season: Dave Foley's 2002 effort, The True Meaning of Christmas Specials. The Kids in the Hall player assembled a Pee-wee's Playhouse full of guests, including two other Elvis's (Elvi?): Elvis Stoyko and a Mexican Elvis. A sleigh full of Canadian comedy greats were also on the scene, including Foley's Kids in the Hall buddy Kevin MacDonald, Dave Thomas and his American-born SCTV mate Joe Flaherty, Jason Priestley (as "Santa Dude"), Tom Green and Mike Myers. (Norm Macdonald must have been busy.) Green played Myers' butler responsible for warming the comedian up with a bathtub full of money drawn from large barrels marked "Austin Powers" and "Wayne's World."
Jann Arden, Andy Richter and surf guitar king Dick Dale were also showcased on the special.
The show was supposed to also air that season on ABC Family, but the Disney-owned network balked when Foley refused to make changes to some of the edgier content--like when Foley greets Stojko as a "world champion figure skater and heterosexual."
What really rankled Disney was Foley's on-air suggestion near the end that Christmas isn't about acquiring consumer goods or selling ad time. Echoes of the Grinch, who once observed that "Christmas doesn't come from a store."
"They said it would discourage shopping and be offensive to their corporate sponsors," Foley told me when I interviewed him in Toronto at the time. "What kind of a network gives their ad sales department veto power over what they buy or script approval? I've actually never been more angry in my professional life." Foley refused to make the cut, turned his back on the ABC Family deal--and perhaps future re-run revenues.
Still, this terrific hour should be on The Comedy Network or somewhere Canadians can see it this Christmas. If anybody out there in TV world has it, please contact me here. It's worth scheduling if just to see Foley, as David Bowie, doing that Little Drummer Boy duet with jumbo-eared Flaherty as der Bingle. H0-Ho-Hilarious, even in this crappy YouTube clip:
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Still, there could be a correlation between unhappy people and increased TV viewing. As Thompson suggests, the way the economy is going, a lot of unhappy people soon won't be able to afford to do anything but watch television.
Which may help explain this ratings jump this week: CBC's Dragon's Den hit an all time high with 971,000 viewers Monday. That strong Jeopardy! lead-in (1,006,000) could also be a factor. So are those heartless Dragon judges who just ripped those poor saps to shreds on Monday's show. Look for Dragon's Den to pass the million mark when the finale airs Dec. 8.
Monday's episode of The Border--already renewed for for a third season--also was up week-to-week with 729,000 viewers, not that far behind Global's slumping totals for once mighty Heroes (777,000).
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
So it was with sadness to read in the TCA newsletter sent to critics today that Knutzen passed away last Thursday:
Walt Belcher of the Tampa Tribune reports that TCA member Eirik Knutzen, freelancer, formerly with Copley News Service, passed away (Nov. 20) at a hospital in Palm Springs from complications involving heart problems.Some great writers have passed away recently and have been gracefully saluted. Chicago legend Studs Terkel, of course. The amazing John Leonard, so smart about how to review television on television. Look up "erudite" in the dictionary, there's Leonard's picture.
Knutzen never had that kind of a profile. Nobody ever named a sandwich after him. While he probably met and interviewed anybody who was anybody during TV's boom years (as well as hundreds of B-players, sidekicks and soap stars), he was old school, a wordsmith, plain and simple. This pen for hire.
I knew Knutzen first as a reader. Besides the Starweek letters column, which he always made lively (how often do you read a letters column?) he wrote many, many television features, usually profiles of Hollywood celebrities. He had a crisp, straight ahead style, gave you a snapshot of a personality, told you one or two things you never read elsewhere, and stayed completely out of the way.
He was a master at those meat and potato paragraphs, the ones where you condense somebody's entire life into four or five tight sentences. Read how quickly he takes you through Morgan Fairchild's path from childhood to stardom in this 2006 article:
That was Knutzen; never a word wasted.
Dallas born and bred, Fairchild - born Patsy Ann McClenny - was introduced to an acting class by her schoolteacher mother at age 10 after she proved too timid to deliver a book report in class. By 12, she had joined a children's theater group; two years later, she was a finalist in the Miss Teenage Dallas pageant. At 16, she was a stand-in for Faye Dunaway in "Bonnie and Clyde."
Encouraged to change her given name by her actress sister, Cathryn Hartt, before splashing down in New York in 1971, Fairchild also gave modeling a shot before signing up as cold-blooded killer Jennifer Pace Phillips on the daytime soap "Search for Tomorrow." She went on to prime-time stints on "Flamingo Road," "Paper Dolls" and "Falcon Crest."
When I attended my very first press tour, way back in the mid-'80s, he was one of the first people I recognized (The Star used to run his logo shot back then). I introduced myself and while he already seemed a bit world weary back then, he took the time to help a rookie from Canada, pointing out the power players in the room and making me feel right at home. Soft spoken, always wearing a safari jacket, he looked like Bawana Clyde Batty's low key, Norwegian cousin. Other on tour knew him better, and I hope a few share their memories below.
It was no secret that Knutzen had a bad ticker. The last few years it was always a question of whether he would appear at press tour. He would inevitably be there, although he was so quiet and in the background it might be a week before you knew it.
Jim Bawden, who worked with Knudzen for decades at the Toronto Star, confirms a story I had heard--that Eirik once had a heart attack while driving on the Pasadena Freeway. The ambulance declined to pick Knutzen up because he had a Norwegian passport and no insurance. Knutzen, a tough bugger, drove himself to the hospital where he underwent triple bypass surgery.
The other astounding thing about Knutzen is that he worked 35 years at The Star as a freelancer! That he lived and supported himself by his own wits in Los Angeles all those years is remarkable and inspiring to the many of us who find ourselves following in his freelance footsteps.
Condolences to his family and his many friends on press tour--and to all those readers who wrote in on a whim and got an answer back. Knutzen connected us to television, and, if there is a disconnect these days, it's because there aren't enough Knutzens.
Monday, November 24, 2008
That was won by 16-year-old San Diego high school student Anurag Kashyap, who, beat out 14 other smartypants contestants. This was no fluke by Kashyap; in 2005, he won the Scripps National Spelling Bee--the second young brainiac to win both prizes. The Rancho Bernardo High School Senior took home U.S.$75,000 for his quiz show win.
While Jeopardy! does tend to skew old (although try telling my 15-year-old, who sat glued to it last week), giving up the rights last season still seems like a screw up by CTV. Factoring the Thursdays at 7:30 So You Think You Can Dance Canada results show out of the mix, CTV is down to 200-300,000 viewers some nights with their supper hour tandem eTalk and Access Hollywood.
By the way, a Canadian contestant, Nathaniel Barnes of Toronto, is featured tonight at 7:30 on Jeopardy!
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Jon Cassar, a native of Malta who grew up in Ottawa and is a graduate of that city’s Algonquin College, has directed “24” since it blasted its way onto the air in 2002. Now an executive producer on the Fox action hour, he directed Sunday's 24 Redemption, a two-hour TV-movie made to bridge the sixth and seventh seasons.
I've spoken with Cassar in the past, once on the north Los Angeles set of the series when he gave critics a tour and again in September when he was in Toronto at the tail end of the film festival. He was stoked then about catching up with some old friends and was also in town to discuss a future film project about a pair of real life female pirates. "Kate Beckinsale would be perfect for one of the parts," he said.
A long suffering Leaf fan, he says all it took was a phone call to get series star Kiefer Sutherland, another hockey nut, a Leaf jersey from the team. “They are as much fans of his as he is of them.” he says.
Cassar certainly paid his dues in the Canadian TV industry, working cross border CanCon such as Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and Mutant X. The 50-year-old perfected his run-and-gun, one-or-two-takes-tops shooting style on the action series La Femme Nikita in Toronto. That series was also produced by 24 co-creator Joel Surnow. Many of the Canadian actors who passed through Nikita, including Alberta Watson and Carlo Rota, were later brought into the 24 mix. Cassar would dearly love to get ex-Nikita star Roy Dupuis (The Rocket) onto a 24 mission, but so far Dupuis' busy schedule hasn't allowed for it.
Maybe he can work him into the inevitable 24 feature film. The TV-movie was a bit of a trial run for that eventuality, Cassar, admits. The writers strike pushed the seventh season of 24 back a full year, allowing for the cast and crew to go to South Africa this past June to shoot 24: Redemption. Cassar says it was an invigorating and a bonding project, with stars like Robert Carlyle and Gil Bellows thrown into the mix. There's more about that in the feature I wrote this week for The Canadian Press here.
Cassar says he and the cast and crew snapped so many digital pictures between takes they've collected them for gallery showings. At the end of our interview, he handed me a disc containing several shots he and other had taken. They are currently on display at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles, not New York as earlier and erroneously reported here. The photos are on display at the Bell Family Gallery at the Beverly Hills Paley location until Jan. 11; check out this link to the showing here. The moody shot above of Cassar in a South African street was snapped by none other than Sutherland. Several others shots on the disc are below:
Cassar at the camera in South Africa. Shot in three weeks last June, the African winter was windy and provided several technical challenges.
With Bobby Carlyle and Sutherland, two actors who had worked together before. Cassar says he was surprised when he directed Carlyle to shoot a gun and the Scottish-born actor (who once played Hitler!) said he hadn’t done much of that before. “You don’t hear that often on our set,” he joked.
With some of the young African actors who appear in the two-hour TV-movie, which airs Sunday night at 8 p.m. on Global and Fox.
With Gill Bellows (Ally McBeal), who plays a prickly embassy official on 24: Redemption--not the part he originally auditioned for. Prior to the shoot, Bellows met Cassar at the set but just didn't feel right for the part the two men had discussed. By the time he arrived back home from the audition his agent had called to say Cassar felt the same way and had offered him a different character.
“Jon’s a homer,” Bellows told me during a Fox press scrum last July in Los Angeles. “If he worked with somebody in Toronto, and he thought they were really good, he would fight for them to get a job on the show.”
Bellows says he was a fan of 24 ever since it began--even though it torpedoed The Agency, his own U.S. network spy show that debuted the same fall of 2002. "Both were CIA shows," he says. "I saw their pilot and said, 'We’re screwed.'"
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Now if only Grapes could bring Sophie in for a makeover!
In case you missed Mercer's Cherry makeover Tuesday, here it is below:
Ain't that Mark VI a beauty? Thanks to the Bourque Newswatch for pointing out the YouTube link. Catch the entire Mercer show Friday at 8:30 as it repeats following Air Farce.
Next Tuesday at 8 p.m. on RMR: Mercer rocks on The Rock with singer/songwriter Feist in St. John's, Newfoundland, plus what it's like to work at the Toronto Zoo (zebra suit optional).
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Hockey Night in Canada, as usual, led all CBC programs with 1,366,000 viewers according to BBM NMR data. Following HNiC and The Border the week of Nov. 10-16 were an above average Dragons' Den at 754,000 viewers. It did even better this Monday night, soaring to an impressive 827,000, with half that number falling in the desirable 18-54-year-old range.
The rest of CBC's week went like this: Air Farce Final Flight: 710,000, Dr. Who: 701,000, Rick Mercer Report (repeat): 637,000, Heartland: 625,000, The Tudors: 567,000, Fifth Estate: 526,000, Nature of Things 486,000, Little Mosque on the Prairie: 464,000, This Hour Has 22 Minutes (repeat): 428,000 and, dwindling well below sustainability, Sophie: 280,000
Among the other Canadian-produced fare last week, CTV's So You Think You Can Dance Canada waltzed off with 1,160,000 viewers (another 888,000 watched the results show Thursday night). Next was ol' reliable Corner Gas at 1,066,000. Global's The Guard was down to 385,000. Well back, making Sophie look like CSI, was Degrassi: The Lost Generation at 222,000 viewers--across Canada. There are more people in Saskatoon!
Meanwhile, it sounds like it won't be a merry Christmas at CTV either as that network braces for job cuts in the face of a severe advertising slowdown. Read the advance story here; the actual cuts were expected to be announced at a network town hall meeting occuring this afternoon.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Why Lima? Dave Woodward, the program director at the station, sent out a general email to critics looking for an expert to talk about what's coming up in TV each week Mondays with Miller. After careful consideration and intense scrutiny (well, okay, I was the first to actually call him back about this on the phone), I was chosen.
WIMA is a Clear Channel station featuring national conservative personalities such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News' Sean Hannity; Woodward must be looking to tilt things to the Left by importing a Canuck TV critic. The city is in northwestern Ohio, north of Dayton, not far from Indianapolis, the heart of Buckeye and motorsport country. Ben Roehlisberger, Hugh Downs and comedy legend Phyllis Diller all came from Lima, a city of just over 40,000 people.
Mike's been to Toronto, took his daughter Meredith up the CN Tower this past summer and even visited the set of her favorite TV show--Degrassi: The Next Generation. He has one of those rich radio voices that sounds like maple syrup over butter. Listen to the first of our regular radio chats here and visit the station's web page here.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
What kind of class, I asked. "I do a little tantric sex class," she shot back--then cracked herself up.
"Actually it's a voice class," she said. Maybe a tantric voice class, I suggested, "so you can keep your voice up for four hours."
It is fun to kid around with Griffiths, who added sizzle and intensity on Six Feet Under. The native Australian is smart and funny and a great interview. She seems to be having a good time on the set of Brothers & Sisters (Sundays at 10), the ABC ensemble family drama co-starring Calista Flockhart, Sally Fields and several others.
Starweek does not have a web link, so here is an excerpt from the feature, dealing with all those egos on the set:
‘Oh, I know, everybody wanted there to be a story about me and Calista, two strong actresses,” says Griffiths... “The truth is, we can’t give away our scenes fast enough. We both really understand that we’re mums and if we’re not at work we want to be at home, and if we’re at work, we want to be doing good work.”
Griffiths, 39, plays strong willed Sarah Walker on the ABC Sunday night drama. The Golden Globe award-winning and Emmy and Oscar-nominated actress and her husband, Australian artist Andrew Taylor, have two children, Banjo, five, and Adelaide, three.
Flockhart, who plays political activist Kitty Walker on the series, is partnered with fiancé Harrison Ford and has a seven-year-old son, Liam.
Not that the actresses and the others on the Brothers & Sisters set don’t have their moments. Griffiths just says everybody just equalizes the other and, in that way, egos are kept in check.
“The boys really are good at loosening up the girls if we get a bit uptight,” she says, “and the girls are really good at pin pricking the boy’s balloons if they’re all feeling a little bit important.” Plus, she adds, “Sally’s really good at just making everyone shut up and get the job done and stop whining.”
Griffiths says Field, the actress who plays the matriarch of the Walker clan, is decidedly old school. “Her work commitment is so unbelievably dedicated and she’s so thankful for what life has given her.” As Griffiths says, “Who am I to whine when Miss Double Oscar was here on set at 5 a.m. and never whines once?”
Exactly. Griffiths also had plenty of praise for Emily VanCamp, the 22-year-old Port Perry, Ont.-native on the Brothers & Sisters set. "Emily added a wonderful colour when she came into the show," says Griffiths. “I remember her first day on the set. She had to do this whole speech. There’s me and Matt and Ron and Sally and Calista and I’m sure she was so nervous. She gave a speech and walked out of the room and we all looked at each other and said, ‘She kind of nailed it.’”
Friday, November 14, 2008
In an effort to reinvent itself, the dominant daytime talk show of the past two decades seems to have lost its focus. Why is mighty Oprah trying to be The View?
That's the impression I get watching Winfrey sit behind a large, white desk--something that looks like it was left over from a Reach For The Top taping--batting around the topics of the day with three or four whobodies. It is all part of what they call Oprah Live Fridays in Chicago, and it blows.
Sitting in those big white chairs with Oprah are her constant companion and best friend, Gayle King, Kelly Ripa's hubby and token male Mark Consuelos and Ali Wentworth, who I had to Google. She's a stand up comedian and married to ABC News dude George Stephanopoulos. According to Wikipedia, she does a killer imitation of Audrey Meadows. She might be best known for being Jerry's blond girlfriend in the soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld.
Sorry, but Oprah has surrounded herself with stiffs. If only the Soup Nazi was at Oprah's table instead. "No Book of the Month for You!"
I guess the plan is to have four girlfriends (Consuelos barely registers) sit around gabbing on the news of the day. But hey--isn't that The View? And does Wentworth have to work so hard to sound like Joy Bahar?
I've watched this new Friday format things twice and was dumbfounded both times. It is supremely un-entertaining and just looks cheap--the opposite of any other Oprah show I've ever watched. Oprah should not look like it could be cobbled together by the folks at Rogers' Brampton community cable programming.
Both form and content seem to diminish Winfrey. Remember how Stephen Harper seemed less prime ministerial sitting around that debate table with the likes of Elizabeth May and Jack Layton? That kind of thing.
What sets it apart, of course, are the high level guests. Today, Oprah's got Melissa Etheridge on, all fired up about that California proposition banning same sex marriages. Look for her to be really challenged on that.
I guess it works depending on how hot and sexy the guest is. Check out this Oprah Live Friday teaser featuring Esquire's "sexiest woman alive" Halle Berry; it looks great (complete with stirring, Amazing Race-like music), but it shows you no hint of the dull panel format:
The weeks I watched Oprah Live Fridays Chris Rock and Ben Stiller sat in to promote their new Madagascar cartoon, a movie where Oprah has a voice over role. Stiller was all but invisible; Rock pretty much hijacked the hour but even that didn't help. I watched last week, too, but can't for the life of me remember who the guest even was. (Okay, now I remember--Stephanopoulos. He was up on a computer screen in an obvious Skype.com promotional tie-in, leaving viewers to stare at a dull guy on a dull screen. Again, very community 10 cable, not at all Queen of Daytime-worthy.)
So, what, people are tired of seeing Tom Cruise jump around on sofas? What happened to "You got a car! You got a car!" Why is Oprah copying anyone else's format, let along The View?
The reason is that the show is slipping in the ratings. A lot was written last spring when Winfrey seemed to pay a price for her endorsement of president-elect Barack Obama. Her overall ratings slid 7% last season, but so did everybody elses. Still, something else seemed to be going on. By August, a CBS poll had found that her favorable rating--once ahead of Mother Teresa's--had dropped from 74% to 51%. An AOL TV poll found that more viewers would rather have dinner with Ellen DeGeneres than Oprah--a flip from previous results. Her spin off magazine, "O at Home," just folded. For the first time, critics are writing about "Oprah fatique."
What are we so tired of? There are many theories. Some have suggested she has simply endorsed too many crappy, poorly-written books, that her female fan base felt betrayed when Oprah endorsed Obama over Hillary Clinton, that her embrace of new age religion and sappy solutions like "The Secret" turned off traditional supporters as well as people who think.
My theory: her show is boring! Worse, she looks bored as hell, and this lame, derivative Friday gimmick is so not helping.
So why copy The View? Because The View is soaring. It has stolen Oprah's buzz.
The View, according to Marc Berman over at Mediaweek's Programming Insider, is dominant in daytime, ranking first there among women 18-49. The recent U.S. election, which brought guests like Michelle Obama, helped nudge its numbers ever higher. Last Wednesday, the day after the election, it hit an all time high with 6.17 million daytime viewers.
That is higher than anything on The CW in prime time and a lot on in the evenings on Fox and NBC. Oprah, of course, is not going away anytime soon. Eyebrows were raised a week ago when it was suggested she might be ready to leave broadcast TV. Her syndication deal runs through till 2011, and after that, she might move over to the new premium channel OWN, a.k.a. the Oprah Winfrey Network.
This would be a little like what happened to Howard Stern when he left terrestrial radio broadcasting and switched to satellite radio. Big money, way fewer listeners, a lot less influence.
There have been subsequent suggestions that Winfrey might continue to do both her syndicated show and an OWN show after 2011. She has flirted with scaling back before. All I know is, if she keeps doing this cheap-ass Oprah Live Friday thing, for the first time ever, her audience might be ready to let her go.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Maybe while they are there they can stop by the Canwest Global headquarters and solve a few more problems. (See previous post.)
Fact is nobody is really going to Winnipeg--the episode was shot, as usual, in a studio in Burbank, Calif.--but the writers decided The 'Peg was the perfect place to peg this episode.
I spoke last week with the NBC comedy's resident Canadian writer, Anthony Farrell, who told me, "we thought about Toronto, we thought about Montreal—too flashy." The consensus was that Winnipeg was "just right for us to have fun with."
Regina, apparently was also briefly discussed. "One of our senior NBC web people, she's from Regina," says Farrell, who seems unfazed to be working with senior web people.
Farrell is from Toronto and his only experience with Winnipeg is a stop over at the airport. I asked him if Sarah Palin has helped to make people from the north funnier to TV audiences. "She helped make Saturday Night Live funnier," he said. "Her folksiness is kind of funny. You feel like, 'Oh man, this is not a good representation of people from up north.'"
Canadians always go a little nuts when we get so much as a mention on a U.S. series. It's always a big deal when The Simpsons come to Toronto (where they visited the CN Tower and the "Paul Shaffer" bus shelter") or Canadians are lampooned on Family Guy or South Park. When Aaron Sorkin screwed up a few years ago and wrote on The West Wing that terrorists were crossing into Vermont from Ontario (two territories that do not meet), you'd think he had stolen the Stanley Cup.
Tonight's Office episode, "Business Trip," is credited to former Simpsons' scribe Brent Forrester, but Farrell and the other writes all have input into every script. Farrell said it was interesting to work on the episode right around the time of the Canadian federal election. "No one else in the writer's room even knew Canada had an election," he says.
Read more about tonight's boffo border crossing in my article for The Canadian Press, picked up in last Friday's Toronto Star.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
CEO Leonard Asper made the announcement Wednesday, stating $61 million will be saved through these cuts. Predictably, a finger was pointed in the direction of the CRTC, which late last month turned down the request made by the Winnipeg-based company and other broadcasters for a slice of the carriage fee booty, an estimated $300 million windfall for Canada's Big Three.
That's like blaming the referee for too many men on the ice. Canwest spent their way into this mess. Nobody forced them to pay Conrad Black $3 billion to get into the newspaper business and another $2.3 billion to buy up a whack of specialty channels, with money leveraged from a (shudder) U.S. investment bank. It is a wonder they didn't go on a U.S. real estate buying spree. This is a company caught up in a Global financial collapse, in every sense of the word.
Call it bad luck or bad timing, but if somebody named Asper offers to blow on your dice, walk away from the craps table.
What will this mean in terms of on-air programming? According to today's announcement, 210 broadcasting jobs and 350 publishing positions will be affected. Look for sharp cuts to the news division, including the elimination of Global's Morning News show in Toronto. Starting at the end of January, CH Morning Live with Bob Cowan and Annette Hamm, will be substituted in Toronto.
Eighteen people, including on-air personalities, were reportedly let go in Victoria, B.C.--a region where Global has long been dominant. A further 23 jobs have reportedly been eliminated at CHBC News in Kelowna, B.C. Even mighty Global Vancouver is shedding four news staffers.
There are cuts at CHCH in Hamilton, too, including a reported 12 union jobs and two non-union positions. Entertainment reporter Kate Stutsman and anchor/reporter James McDonald are out of work. The noon news goes from 60 to 30 minutes. Several shows, including CH Straight Talk, CH Niagara Express, Sportscope and At Home, are being eliminated. The changes will all take place by Dec. 1.
Not on the list are my pals over a CH's Live @ 5:30, which is a relief. That community needs a voice, needs some local connection, and Mark Hebscher and Donna Skelly provide all that and more.
But where will this all end? What of the ambitious slate of shows in development at Canwest Global announced just last week? Is Lawyers, Guns & Money really a new Global drama--or an exit strategy?
As for the newspaper division, ay carumba. There are rumours--circulating for years, granted, but louder than ever--that the National Post is for sale, that other publications might buy it and cannibalize the Financial Post section. The problem there is that The Globe & Mail doesn't need it and The Toronto Star--battered by the same meltdown in ad revenue and sharp rise in paper costs--just isn't in a buying mood. This is death by a thousand paper cuts, with no bounce in TV revenues to stop the bleeding.
Nice guy Jay surprised by asking some pretty direct questions, such as if McCain now wishes he had chosen a more economically-versed candidate such as Mitt Romney as a running mate instead of Sarah Palin. McCain, of course, stood by Caribou Barbie, sneering at the so-called campaign "insiders" who stabbed her in the front last week.
McCain even got off that old joke about sleeping like a baby after the election loss. "Sleep for two hours, wake up crying..."
Meanwhile, over at CBS's Late Show, Rickles was his usual politically incorrect self. Letterman loved every second of it and just could not get enough of "Mr. Warmth," even when the Obama jokes went hideously wrong. Check out the clip below:
There's also some chit chat about another veteran comic I interviewed earlier this week: Tom Dreesen. Dreesen and his old buddy Tim Reid (WKRP in Cincinnati) have a book out about their challenging days back in the late '60s, early '70s as the first (and only) interracial comedy duo: Tim & Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White. One of those rare happy, well adjusted comedians, Dreesen has several books worth of stories about his days on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, touring as Frank Sinatra's opening act and his 30 year friendship with one of the hardest people to know in show business--David Letterman. More on that in a future post, but listen in as I tell Thompson about my conversation with Dreesen here.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Letterman gets snubbed again.
No surprise McCain chose Leno over David Letterman to re-appear in public. After ditching Dave when the economy went south, the Arizona senator flamed out in that last, desperate, pre-election Letterman appearance. His well rehearsed "I screwed up" fell flatter than those watermelons they used to toss off the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theatre. A stirred up Letterman went right after McCain on his late campaign distractions to try to discredit president elect Barack Obama, raising questions about the senator's own associations with Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy.
Leno--and NBC, where McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, practically became part of the Not Ready For Prime Time troupe on Saturday Night Live this season--should provide much friendlier face time. Besides, it is Veteran's Day, and saluting Vietnam P.O.W. McCain seems exactly right.
Letterman's guest tonight? Don Rickles! Talk about adding insult to injury!!
Question: What CBC show crashed through the one million viewer mark twice last week? The supper time quiz show drew 1,025,000 viewers Monday and 1,044,000 Wednesday the week of Nov. 3-9 according to BBM NMR overnight data.
Here's how some other CBC series did last week: Hockey Night in Canada, featuring a battle between traditional rivals Toronto and Montreal, scored 1,542,000 viewers last Saturday night. The Rick Mercer Report, opposite U.S. presidential election returns, drew 843,000 last Tuesday night. Air Farce Final Flight, still stubbornly resilient, drew 728,000, The Tudors, 652,000, The Border, 643,000, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, 631,000, Dragon's Den, 617,000, Doctor Who, 547,000, Doc Zone, 515,000, Little Mosque, 514,000, Nature of Things, 455,000, Heartland, 430,000, fifth estate, 289,000 and dead last--below MVP and jPod numbers--poor Sophie at 251,000 viewers.
On the private networks, So You Think You Can Dance Canada on CTV waltzed off with 1,375,000 viewers (another 823,000 checked the results show Thursday). Corner Gas drew a below average 954,000, but, as a few readers have already corrected, that was for a repeat. A Saturday Night Live pre-election comedy special airing opposite on Global and drawing 1,092,000, probably siphoned off Gas viewers. Global's The Guard was up slightly to 440,000. Even though it was up week-to-week, Degrassi still clocked in with CTV's worst numbers of the week, pulling 401,000.
CTV had four of Canada's top five imported (and, as usual, overall) shows of the week. The Top-5 were: Grey's Anatomy (No. 1 at 2,219,000, down slightly from the week before), Desperate Housewives (2,050,000), CSI: NY (1,949,000), Global's Survivor Gabon (1,946,000) and CSI: Miami (1,822,000).
Meanwhile, in the States, look for My Own Worst Enemy to be quickly canceled: it pulled just 4.25 million viewers on NBC last night. More alarming for that network (and Global in Canada) is the collapse of Heroes, which sunk to a series low last night, drawing just 7.82 million U.S. viewers. Forget save the cheerleader--save this series!
Friday, November 7, 2008
Still, CTV delivered a nasty one-two yesterday to the chin of an already staggering Global.
The CTV release suggests the network has outperformed Global by 92% in the ratings so far this season. What's more, those gains came in Canada's two largest urban centres, Toronto and Vancouver, thanks mainly to an uptake in younger viewers.
It is, however, an odd time to take stock, just six weeks after the official start of the fall season. CTV is taking advantage of two things: Global's reliance on Fox programming, which gets derailed every Sept/Oct. during the baseball playoffs (knocking new episodes of powerhouse shows like House and Bones off the Global schedule) and big, opening numbers for a couple of highly anticipated returning CTV shows such as CSI and CSI Miami.
CTV's not the first network to strategically pull a few weeks out of a season and go, "Lookit us!" CBC pulled the same trick last winter when their four new series launches caught the private Canadian networks with their shows down due to the U.S. writers strike. They sent out a release pinpointing big gains, declared victory and then ran home and turned off the lights. Things, of course, went back to normal when the strike ended and the U.S. shows returned. Think George Bush and that woefully premature "Mission Accomplished" victory banner on that aircraft carrier a month or so in to the Iraq war.
The TV business is war, too, and CTV knows the enemy is wounded. This P.R. assault comes as Canwest tries to shrug off a breathtaking drop in the value of its corporate stock, which has lost most of its value in the last year. The meltdown in the U.S. economy and the slowdown in Canadian media advertising has everybody in the TV business freaked. While it was a set back for CTV, too, that CRTC turn down last month of the broadcasters request for carriage fee loot was a dagger to the heart at cash strapped Canwest.
So--never one to miss an opportunity--the CTV PR department just wanted the ad community to know that their network is as big and dominant as ever. Given the arbitrary and advantageous six week time frame they have set, CTV can claim to have eight out of 10 of the country’s most-watched programs in total viewers and A25-54, and seven out of 10 in A18-49. Again, in that short sprint, they have Canada's No. 1 show, Grey's Anatomy, the nation's No. 1 new series and top Canadian program, So You Think You Can Dance Canada and Canada's top comedy series, Corner Gas.
Even CTV's numbers, however, concede that the gap is narrowed in the 18-49-year-old demo. CTV's total national audience beats Global's by nearly a two-to-one score, while the demo advantage is just 656,000 to 414,000 (average minute audience, entire prime time schedule).
The opening week leap in CSI and CSI: Miami numbers have also tailed off in recent weeks, but they still allow CTV to boast big gains in those shows and others (including Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy) that might not hold up in even a mid-season tally.
On the other hand, Global enjoyed no such early return spike from the returns of House, Heroes and Prison Break (although House is still No. 2 in Canada among both 18-49 and 18-34-year-olds). Worse, all three of those shows are slipping badly in the U.S.
The other shoe dropped when CTV's second ratings release yesterday detailed how A is kicking E's ass in Toronto and Vancouver. In the battle of the B networks, a.k.a. the sister station scrap, shows like Two and a Half Men and Fringe have pushed A ahead of E nationally and in Vancouver and ahead of City-TV in Toronto. Again, the jump comes nationally among 18-49-year-old viewers, where A is up and E is down (and City-TV in Toronto is down sharply).
While this is worthy of note it would have been a shock had A not taken a leap this fall, especially after big spender CTV off-loaded several of their younger skewing, high profile U.S. imports like Private Practice, Pushing Daisies and Gossip Girl over to the A schedule.
Still, E and Canwest will need more than Knight Rider to get back in this race. Rumbles about cost cutting, particularly in their local news division, have been floated all week. They need cash and they need hits and the long-delayed return of 24 in November (as a two-hour TV-movie) and January (as season seven) will help. The bad news is that CTV gets American Idol back in January, too. Jack Bauer, Global forces need you!
Thursday, November 6, 2008
McCain probably would have lost even if he had not ditched Letterman at the last minute a month before the vote. Still, the no-show tag didn't help his cause, and the jilted late night talk show host hammered the Arizona senator repeatedly over the final weeks of the election.
While he took pains to recognize McCain as a brave war hero, Letterman made no effort down the stretch to hide his disdain for the senator's vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin. He clearly had no time for all the last minute Republican election stunts, either. "Joe the Plumber is meeting with his transition team," Letterman joked last night. "They're going to help ease him from obscurity back to oblivion."
Letterman did his usual post-election banter with guest Tom Brokaw after the monologue. Another highlight from the show was the Late Show "Election Recap," a clever mash up of the Tuesday coverage (providing another jab at that CNN election night hologram deal). Check it out below:
Joking aside, Letterman and all the other late night talk show hosts have a huge problem ahead--who are they going to kick around now that president George Bush is leaving the White House? Can't imagine it will be Barack Obama as the punch line in all those "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches" bits.
The prospect didn't seem to worry Dave, who seems anxious for Obama to step in. As he asked his audience last night, "anybody have a problem with him starting early?"
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Other Oct. 27-Nov. 2 winners (according to BBM NMR overnight estimates): Dragon's Den was up week-to-week (805,000), as was The Border (677,000), This Hour Has 22 Minutes (807,000), The Tudors (622,000), Nature of Things (431,000), fifth estate (641,000), Thursday's Doc Zone (429,000) and Sunday's Heartland (576,000). Air Farce: Final Flight was also up with 826,000 viewers, the network's third highest-rated prime time series for the week behind Mercer and HNiC despite a Friday night take off. Why is it being canceled again?
CBC's other big success story continues to be Jeopardy!, which drew 1,077,000 viewers in early prime for last Monday's episode. The National News continues to get a lift off the U.S. election, coming close to a million viewers last Tuesday night.
Trending down: those slumping Wednesday night comedies, Little Mosque on the Prairie (638,000) and Sophie (296,000). Maybe Sophie should have had Rick Mercer's baby. Or Don Cherry's. Or Alex Trebek's.
Other Canadian show numbers last week: Global's B.C.-based drama The Guard drew just 384,000 Wednesday night against CTV's CSI: NY (1,655,000). No wonder Guard guy Steve Bacic has already signed on for the new Global drama Lawyers, Guns & Money, to be shot in Hamilton, Ont. Luke Kirby (Tell Me You Love Me) and veteran Homicide and Shield director Clark Johnson also star.
So You Think You Can Dance Canada waltzed off with totals of 1,344,000 (Wednesday) and 765,000 (Thursday).
Corner Gas was a solid 1234, as in 1,234,000 viewers. Degrassi: The Next Generation continues to place last among all CTV shows, drawing just 328,000. Put in perspective, that's a Sophie number! School's out, kids!
Finally, The Simpsons' annual Treehouse of Horror episode was a Halloween treat Sunday night for Global, jumping to 1,317,000 viewers.
Maybe the hologram trick worked: an estimated 71 million Americans watched last night's election coverage, with CNN (7,687,000) besting Fox News (5,995,000) and MSNBC (3,651,000). Among non-news networks, ABC (9,108,000) edged NBC (8,234,000) with CBS a distant third (5,507,000).
About ten million less watched Bush/Gore battle it out in 2000; 59.4 million caught Bush/Kerry in 2004.
There's also more chit chat about that TVTropolis hits from the '90s sitcom survey, with Friends, Frasier and Seinfeld among the big winners. You can listen in here.
Both men seized the day, rose to the occasion. Obama, standing on an enormous blue platform, behind giant walls of bullet-proof glass, surrounded by hundred of thousands of rapturous, cheering, flag waving supporters in a Chicago park where--as CNN commentator David Gergen noted earlier in the evening, the Democratic Party had imploded back in '68.
That was mere months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Flash forward 40 years to the scene in Chicago. In the crowd, Rev. Jesse Jackson, his teary face frozen almost in disbelief. An eye witness to King's terrible murder in Memphis, here he was, 40 years later, in the promised land. It had all come true.
Kudos to the CNN camera crew, switchers and editors, who let it all play out without commentary. Obama's triumph in Chicago was juxtaposed with spontaneous crowd shots in Harlem, Times Square and even outside the White House in Washington, D.C.
"Change has come to America," Obama said, although he said it behind those giant, Plexiglas barriers.
The election coverage was at its best at the end, live at the speeches, away from the million-dollar studios and their wall-to-wall technical gadgets. CNN was more tricked out than James Bond in the Roger Moore era. An old coot stood on the giant electronic stage and pulled bar graph data out of an enormous iPhone. The blue and red bars were loaded with election information but the whole scene looked like grand dad gone tech happy. At one point he just couldn't reach the bar. I waited for Howie Mandel to appear and ask him to open a suitcase instead.
John King had more success with his nifty blue and red state screen, pulling all kinds of info out of cities and suburbs. It was cool when he would jump back to 2004 and compare McCain's vote appeal to that of his Republican predecessor, president George Bush. Still, after a few hours, you longed for the late, great Tim Russert and his five dollar, Grand & Toy white board.
Also missed, believe it or not, was Dan Rather on CBS (although some could still catch his act over on HDNet). Those folksy Texas sayings were always part of the deal. Rather would have been all over this election like a raven on a road kill.
NBC used the skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza to great effect, spray painting states red or blue right on the ice as results came in. Running the voter tally up the side of the 30 Rock tower in blue and red streamers was another nice low tech touch. Good to see Tom Brokaw again on NBC's election night, too, although he still sounds like he just chugged five or six martinis.
Peeked in once or twice to ABC's coverage. Peter Jennings was always all world on election night and he has never been properly replaced. Sam Donaldson, time to tease out those eyebrows and send the lid to the comb over Hall of Fame. George Stephanopoulos is a plus, but ABC still seems to need their own new Obama to step forward and take this thing forward.
CNN had the best pundits and panels, with raging Cajun James Carville as peppery and partisan as ever, piping up about the Clintons this and the Clintons that. It was pointed out by somebody that a shrinking number of Americans relate to redneck cartoon characters like Joe the Plumber. Wolf Blitzer kept things moving with Ed Sullivan-like efficiency, as did Anderson Cooper, who couldn't get any skinnier. A 3-D special hologram effect dropping Will I. Am into the studio was showy and lame, pretty much beam me up Scotty time at CNN.
Still, all this petty sniping seems so Bush administration. The night ended in triumph for the networks and the nation. There were many reasons to give thanks on this night: Sarah Palin never spoke, nor did Oprah Winfrey (glimpsed in the Chicago crowd with Steadman).
It may be time, as Obama said quoting Abraham Lincoln, to heal the divide. That's going to take time and hard work, and, as Obama said, there will be set backs and false starts. But he looked like a guy who could hardly wait to get at it. That was what the whole world needed to see.
UPDATE: A guy can only watch so many channels on election night and I missed a ton on other channels. For more on the coverage, check out CanWest TV scribe Alex Strachan's always on top of it blog TV Guy's Guide to Good TV. Among other things, Strachan points out that nimble Anderson Cooper shines over Blitzer, that Diane Sawyer is more anchor-worthy than Katie Couric and that someone should stick a fork in David Frost over at the BBC.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Was Seinfeld's "No soup for you!" the catchiest sitcom line ever? Was Frasier's Eddie the dog the best scene stealer? Was Monica and Rachel's Manhattan walk up from Friends TV's best ever apartment? (It certainly HAD to be the best Manhattan apartment deal ever on those two salaries.)
These and others are the results from a recent survey conducted by the TV hits station TVTropolis. Since, well, TV really does feed my family, the folks at the Canwest digi-net have asked me to respond to the survey this week in a series of radio and TV interviews. The first airs tonight at CH's Live @ 5:30. As usual, Mark Hebscher, Donna Skelly and I get all carried away with our classic TV chatter.
I'll also be on the Global Morning News tomorrow at 8:15 with more results favouring TVTroplois shows such as Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, Family Guy, Everybody Loves Raymond and That '70s Show. As they say on Seinfeld, "Yadda yadda yadda."
Monday, November 3, 2008
Older viewers seem burnt out on these traditional three- or four-camera sitcoms (with Two and a Half Men and perhaps CBS's funny The Big Bang Theory being the current popular exceptions). Edgier, one-camera comedies like 30 Rock and The Office are getting all the love from critics. Young viewers, "'tweens" or even kids as young as six, seemed to be embracing the old sitcom format as fed to them by Disney and others. Too young to be jaded or to have heard all those jokes before, and jazzed that anybody on TV was making shows for them starring kids their age (or slightly older), youngsters are all over Hannah Montana's Miley Cyrus, the Sprouse twins, iCarly, etc.
It's all in "Funny how 'tween TV is now sitcom central," a feature I wrote for yesterday's Toronto Sun (read it here). Several Canadians are players in this booming 'tween trend, including Life with Derek star Michael Seater and The Latest Buzz's creator Brent Piaskoski.
If you already have a nine, 10 or 11-year-old at home, yes, thanks, I do have a firm grasp of the obvious.