Friday, July 31, 2009
On the show, Rivers barges into mansions and asks people how they made their fortunes. One guy opened up his safe and let her count his money. "Oh God, I had an orgasm. First time ever since Melissa,” Rivers cracked.
Melissa is, of course, Rivers’ daughter, the one who stormed out of Trump’s boardroom after being fired last spring on “Apprentice”—prompting mommy to march out right behind her in support. The mother-daughter hissy fit may have been reality TV’s most riveting moment last season.
Rivers appeared to quit “Apprentice,” but came back and eventually won the title. “I knew I was going to come back,” Rivers says. She felt an obligation to help her team mates—Clint Black and Jesse James—defeat her hated rival, professional poker player Annie Duke. “First you take care of your family,” says Rivers, “and if your family is okay, then you take care of your team.”
Rivers doesn’t like Duke, but has nothing against poker players. “I wouldn’t have liked her if she played f---ing bingo,” Rivers said.
After trashing Jay Leno (read my report filed for The Canadian Press from here this week), Rivers said she was rooting for Wanda Sykes to crash the late night boys club when “The Wanda Sykes Show” premieres Saturday nights on Fox in the fall. “Good luck to her, she’s very tough she may just do it,” said Rivers. “It’s a Lesbian Club, too,” she pointed out, singling out Ellen Degeneres and Rosie O’Donnell—declared Lesbians like Sykes—as proof women can succeed as talk show hosts. “You gotta be very strong,” says Rivers.
A few nights previous to the press session, busy Rivers was roasted by her comedy peers, Comedy Central plans to air the event Aug. 9 in the U.S. “The roast went amazingly well,” says Rivers, who enjoyed getting ribbed by everyone from Carl Reiner to Brad Garrett to Kathy Griffin. “Everybody had a great time.”
Rivers roast will not be simulcast on CTV's Comedy Channel, which instead is rerunning a bunch of seen before roasts in August. More and more Canadian specialty channels seem to be waiting several months until the price drops on these U.S. cable gems before picking them up. We'd love to hear Rivers thoughts on that.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
This morning, TV Critics P.R. darling Cindy Ronzoni threw a press breakfast for the Lifetime Network. The female-skewing cable net does not cross the Canadian border, but some of its shows do, including the family comedy Rita Rocks (airing on Sun TV).
Had breakfast with two of that show's stars, Mad TV original Nicole Sullivan and Tischa Campbell-Martin, who has sitcoms like My Wife and Kids on her resume. Both are relaxed, laid back, friendly and very, very pregnant. "We're due three weeks from each other," said Campbell.
The baby bump is being written into Sullivan's guitar-playing mom character's storyline, but not Campbell-Martin's. She's just supposed to be packing on weight after a breakup. Campbell-Martin says she's hid her baby bump before, on My Wife and Kids.
Reminisced with Sullivan about the press launch of Mad TV 14 years ago at this very hotel. I have fond memories of chatting up Debra Wilson, so charismatic and funny, at the Fox pool party that night. The entire cast, which included David Herman and Artie Lang, later partied so hard they were--as Sullivan recalled--shut down as a show from the hotel bar.
At one point that night I wound up at a hotel-top lounge sitting on a piano bench next to Herman, who I'm sure will have no memory of banging out a tune with his forehead that night. The funny man has an ear, eye, nose and throat for music.
Still impossibly tanned and trim, if a little Tommy Lee leathery, Lamas sat on stage with daughters Shayne Lamas, son A.J. Lamas and ex-wife Michele Smith. Getting The Eagles or Zeppelin back together again for a press conference would have been less tense. There was more tension in the room "than in Chris Brown's car" to steal Jeff Dunham's one funny line from yesterday's TCA sessions.
"Reality shows tear families apart, are you worried this is going to happen to you," said Shane, helpfully interviewing herself. "Well, no, because we have already been torn apart," she stated.
The problem is between Lamas and his son, A.J. The two hadn't spoken for six years prior to the series. It all dates back to when A.J. was 11 or 12, Lamas said told a small scrum after the session. Dad had gone and married wife No. Three of Four and this rocked Jr's world. Lamas admitted the timing was bad, mistakes were made, but tried to explain to Jr. that daddy's have needs.
Still, daddy gets no respect. It wasn't that way between Lorenzo and his movie star dad, Fernando Lamas (the movie smoothie Billy Crystal used to send up on SNL). Lamas said he idolized his dad. Son A.J.? Not so much.
Lamas is separated from his fourth wife but is still hitting on half the planet. It is even happening on the show; Lamas said he met a lady in a recent episode and things could get interesting. The episode had Lamas accompanying daughter Shayne to a auto show and daughter asking daddy to work the room to help her land a gig. Lamas turned on the seducto-beam and quickly lined up his next date. What a guy, what a dad.
Lamas said he checked with buddy Bruce Jenner, who was dissected on that whole Kardasian show, before stepping into the big, fat E! celebrity vat of goo. Jenner warned his pal that cameras would be thrust in his face 24/7. Lamas took the advice, remembered he didn't have a steady TV gig, held his nose and walked the plank.
"You'll be surprised to see how normal and dysfunctional our family is," Lamas told reporters. "We are in a sense rebuilding out lives professionally and personally."
Son A.J. was a little more direct. "A fucking TV show, to bring us back together? If it takes a TV show for me and this guy to get back together, so be it."
Shayne is just glad to be part of one big happy family again. "My dad has come through," she said, gaining volume the way Lola Heatherington used to shout "I'm going to bear all your children!" on SCTV. That's the series that ended before all of this celebrity reality junk took TV beyond parody. Those were the days.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Among Dunham's headline suggestions:
Jeff Dunham Show Cast is Kinda Wooden
Dunham's Show is for Dummies
Dunham Makes Dolls Talk but Can’t Make Audience Laugh
Dunham is as Funny as a Block of F***ing Wood
Not Funny: Read My Lips
There were others. He went on to make hilarious jokes about how all the critics are being downsized and stuff. "Are you guys going to wait to get laid off or take the early severance package?"
To be fair, grumpy grandpa Walter said that, not Jeff. Still,
Jeff Dunham is a Tool.
Even the inspiration behind this deal joked that this could be a turn off for non-history buffs. "As I'm describing it now, I'm getting bored," joked author Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States).
It helps tha the actors are all A-list--Damon, Tomei, Josh Brolin, David Strathairn, Don Cheadle and musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Eddie Vedder. Somebody asked Damon what other musicians were on the series. "What--Dylan and Springsteen aren`t enough for you?"`he quipped.
Damon says he's spent 10 years trying to get this "locomotive up the mountain" and said Zinn's book had a "huge impact on my life." He pitched through meeting after meeting at Fox and HBO trying to get this documentary series off the ground. HBO wanted stand alone, scripted films depicting different moments in U.S. history. "It was such a big project and so unwieldy, HBO eventually just ran out of gas for us." he said. Now he`s happy to be at History and sticking to "actual words" (the actors reads through everything from private letters from Confederate soldiers to John Steinbeck`s words from The Grapes of Wrath). How did he get over all those network turn downs? Said Damon: "I'm an actor, I'm used to being rejected."
The video pushed the entire family of NBC networks, including cable channels such as Bravo, Syfy, the Weather Network, Telemundo, MSNBC and others. They all got plenty of promo time in the air, all the way from Dallas to LA.
Between episodes of NBC comedies such as 30 Rock and The Office were relentless promotions for fall shows like Community, new summer offerings like Merlin or The Philanthropist (but nothing on, well, The Listener) and especially promo after promo for NBC's big new 10 p.m. gamble, The Jay Leno Show. We saw clips of Leno setting up a bit about photo booths and then saw several young couples going in to have their pictures taken in funny ways. Not having sprung the two dollars for headphones, I'm sure I missed some hilarious stuff, but the whole deal looked very much like Just Four Laughs Gags.
Other NBC deals getting some promo time was Saturday Night Live (A Barry Gibb Show spoof starring Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake) and Fallon's own new late night series. A long CNBC doc on Oprah Winfrey seemed a year or two out of date. There was a Monk teaser, another glimpse of Leno, a scene from Parks and Recreation.
I guess it all made me want to catch up on episodes of 30 Rock I have missed, but it was interesting to see how many passengers turned away from the overhead screens and start streaming whatever they had with them on their laptops or iphones. Even on planes with one channel there are alternatives. Nothing is "must see" anymore--even in the friendly skies.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
TCA's summer sessions began today in Pasadena, Calif., and Obama appeared via video in a session for his campaign chum, George Lopez. Lopez was live and in person at the last afternoon session for TBS (one of the most popular cable networks in the U.S.). The George Lopez Show is his foray into nightly talk, a crowded field but one that could use a dark horse, Lopez kidded. He hopes to stick out among the all-white male late night parade of hosts in the fall (although Wanda Sykes is also trying to crash the boy's club).
The 48-year-old comedian's session started off with a vid clip of Obama in a room actually saying to Lopez, "George, you need to change late night. That's the kind of change I can believe in."
Whoa. Doesn't this guy have bigger fish to fry? Lopez tried to capitalize on the timing. "Obama--one of us is a citizen," he told critics. "It's your job to find out which one is a citizen."
So far, only one test show was shot for the Lopez series; Samuel Jackson was among the test guests. Lopez hopes Obama will show when the real deal goes down.
Lopez says his new show will be more of a party than the usual talk show scene. He tried to prod critics still knumb from stumbling off planes and into the hotel into showing a pulse at the session.
Canadian critic/golfer Eric Kohanik piped up and asked Lopez about his no-show at a Mike Weir charity event tied in to last weekend's Canadian Open. Lopez, a pretty decent golfer who was just swinging clubs in Scotland at the British Open, was supposed to join Weir and celebs Michael Jordan and Kevin Costner for a round of golf in Canada. Border problems got in the way, says Lopez, who was detained trying to get back into the U.S. from the U.K. before heading to Toronto. Lopez says the problem is that there is a guy out there with the same name as his "who is apparently a bad guy." The customs coppers detained him and that scotched the Canadian Open appearance.
Lopez has been known to have had his differences lately with old pal Jay Leno but says the two have kissed and made up. Lopez wishes Leno well at 10 in the fall, noting his show will be on at 11 (and only in America, so far. TBS's "Peachtree" TV, which is available in Canada, will not carry Lopez. If some Canadian station/network has picked him up, give me the heads up and I'll post it here).
At the press conference, Lopez was lauded by Jim Paratore, the executive producer who helped Ellen Degeneres find her dancing feet, as a natural, one of the most sought-after guests on the talk show circuit. That doesn't always guarantee talk show hosting success, as some of us who remember Megan Mullally's blessedly brief talk show career can attest. Lopez insists he'll have no problem quizzing guests: "Anyone who's been interrogated as often as I have will have no problem asking questions."
Lopez said after the session that Johnny Carson was a big influence and getting a shot on Carson's Tonight Show in 1991 was a career-maker for him, as it was for comedians like Howie Mandel, Drew Carey, Roseanne, David Letterman, Richard Pryor and countless others. "Drew Carey caught lightning in a bottle that night, he was fantastic," says Lopez. As for his own Carson debut, Lopez got a thumbs up but not a wave over from The Man. "Now looking in hindsight I should have just walked over," he says. Still, it was cool to have been on Carson and to feel part of "a brotherhood of the best comedians who ever worked."
OTHER DAY ONE HIGHLIGHTS: Dylan McDermott and the stars and producers of the TNT drama Dark Blue (coming to Citytv) helped critics with how a cable drama differs from a network drama. McDermott, who starred for years on ABC's The Practice, says there is more freedom with sexuality and with language. "We're not Mormons," he explained. One of the producers put it more bluntly: "Specifically, we get to say asshole twice and shit once (per episode)."
SWAG OF THE DAY: The thinning (inj numbers, not girth) press tour ranks were treated to boxed lunches crammed into old-fashioned, tin lunch boxes. They came with a tasty ham sandwich, a bag of Doritos, a teeny green apple, a cookie and plenty of processed cheese, including a screener for House Husbands of Hollywood, a new reality show airing on Fox's Reality Channel.
REALITY CHECK OF THE DAY: The host hotel for the press tour, the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, was for decades the luxurious Ritz Carlton. It was home base for TV critics for about a decade in the '90s and into the new century. The place used to be crawling with paparazzi who were always herded into their own space near the entrance, positioned to snap away behind velvet ropes when the talent is whisked in and out of sessions. There used to be a small army of shouting, photo-waving collectors and shooters. Today there were three lonely people in the trap out front. You know things have changed when even the paparazzi has been downsized.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Other recent ratings numbers across Canada: a rerun of Dragon's Den scored an impressive 625,000 viewers Wednesday night on CBC. So You Think You Can Dance is still playing to a wide room on CTV, waltzing off with 1,614,000 viewers Wednesday on the "commercial" national scale. CTV's National News pulled a healthy 1,106,000 the same night. Global is doing well with Wipeout, which drew 911,000 Wednesday; not so good with The Philanthropist an hour later (393,000). Big Brother still has a following after 11 editions in Canada, finding 938,000 Global viewers Tuesday night. Triple Sensation continues to be anything but, scoring 210,000 CBC viewers Monday night--just 37,000 in the 25-54-year-old demo.
UPDATE: The Listener is still a hit in Canada, drawing close to a million Thursday night and 871,000 "commercial" last Thursday. We'll see how it fares going forward now that NBC has dropped the drama Stateside.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Thompson was talking earlier this week to Alexander, who reprises his Bob Patterson self-help guru role in a one man show headed to Casino Rama Saturday night.
Scott and I also weigh in on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing as well as the late, great Walter Cronkite. You can listen in here.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Tonight, Hell's Kitchen--the No. 1 show in the greater Toronto market last summer--returns to Fox and Citytv. The sixth edition opens with a two hour premiere at 8 p.m.
Hell's Kitchen also launches a new feature here at TVFMF--video reviews. These weekly "Box Score" reviews will tell you in one minute whether or not a program is worth a look and, more importantly, your time. Featuring clips from the show being reviewed and commentary from yours truly, they are shot, edited and produced by Juan Fanzio and his partner Derek Robinson at Fox Media (check out their reel over at BizClipz) and will appear first each week over at Fanzio's new all-news website, TorontoNews24. This first one was shot near Juan's studios out in Toronto's East end Beaches district. That is Tim McConvey swearing back at me at his cool little Beaches bistro, The Pie Shack. Try the Strawberry/Rubarb pie and thank me later.
Feel free to review the review in the comments section--just no swearing like chef Ramsay, okay?
Monday, July 20, 2009
The former CBS Evening News anchor was the star attraction at a January, 2006 session for PBS. Cronkite was being saluted by the PBS series American Masters, which seemed exactly right. He was The Man in an era where network news anchors spoke to a much, much wider audience. He also had a front row seat on history during the most tumultuous, newsworthy decades of the 20th century and brought us all along for the ride. He was the trusted voice of God, a bigger deal than CNN, Fox News and all of today's network news anchors put together.
Even in his ninetieth year, as he was on that January day (he died this past Friday at 92), he had presence and sparkle. The veteran newsman sat on a riser in a ballroom at what was then the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena, Calif., and we all sat at his feet, spellbound.
The way these sessions work, critics raise their hands and compete for microphones in order to get their questions through to the subject. Things got a little edgy as the minutes ticked by; everyone wanted their moment with Uncle Walter. A few of the critics got into a bit of a tug of war over who had the next question. A bit of a shouting match ensued. Cronkite sat back and grinned. "Now that's the kind of journalism we know," he said.
It reminded him of his days as a war corresponded for CBS radio during WWII. Cronkite told us about Homer Bigart of the Herald Tribune, who he called "an incredible reporter and a great writer.
"But he had a terrible stutter, a terrible stutter," said Cronkite. "And it was an awful problem for him in a group situation where four or five reporters have a subject that they're questioning. And he would try to get a question in, and he'd say, 'Well, well, well, well, well...'"Somebody else would step in a take Bigart's spot, Cronkite explained. "We all waited for the moment when Homer suddenly would throw his hands into the group and say, 'Wait a g-g-g-god-d-d-dam m-m-minute!'"
And that, Cronkite told us, was what we would have to do on this day: "W-w-wait a g-g-god-d-damn m-m-minute."
Cronkite went on to answer all our questions. Yes, he was still on the CBS payroll and still had an office at the network. For how much longer? At least until he was 90, he hoped, holding up crossed fingers. He made it, of course. No way was CBS ever going to downsize Cronkite.
For those of us old enough to remember him checking the clock and giving the official word on the death of president John F. Kennedy, there were plenty of questions to ask. His career spanned both radio and television, and, as he remarked, big events such as the Kennedy assassination or the moon landing demonstrated the power of the mediums to "bring people together simultaneously to either exalt or to cry or whatever the reaction was required by the story." He said he and his CBS News colleagues never spoke about putting on a "show," they put on a "broadcast."
He was proud of his coverage of the space program, which led to that amazing moment 40 years ago today when Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar module and onto the surface of the moon. "I took that as my own assignment," said Cronkite of the space mission. He had hoped to get there one day himself; like a lot of us, he probably though there would be a regular shuttle there by now.
I had just turned 12 that summer and had already glued together my first Aurora Apollo rocket model or two. I watched the moon landing with my parents at a place that was about as far removed from Houston Control or Cape Kennedy as you could get--on the shores of Lake Huron, huddled around a black and white set at a neighbour's cottage. (It is the same place where news of Cronkite's passiing reached me this weekend.) To this day, I look up at the moon and the stars--so astounding in the clear, dark sky over the rocky Bruce Peninsula--and think of July 20, 1969. For TV viewers on that unforgettable day, Cronkite brought that sucker in and his relief earlier when the LEM and its spindley legs landed safely was felt and shared all around the world.
Cronkite is often credited with bringing the career of Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, to a premature end. Especially after he visited Vietnam in early 1968 and stepped out from behind his usual neutral anchor chair to tell America that "it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could." (Read the full text of his Tet offensive editorial here.)
Johnson was later quoted saying that losing Cronkite meant he had lost Middle America. Two days later, as protests over America's involvement in Vietnam grew louder, he ended a presidential television address with the shocking announcement that he would not seek or accept another term as U.S. president.
When the mike was finally passed to me, I asked Cronkite about his hand in Johnson's political demise. While he was proud of his (unusual) editorializing on the Tet Offensive and any part that might have played in speeding up the end of that war, he shook off any credit as Johnson's giant killer: "I do not believe for one minute that--what some journalists, active historians considered my influence at that moment with the White House." Other factors were at play and Johnson had already made up his mind, said the newsman. "My piece just kind of was another bullet in his rear end."
Cronkite was being modest. I'd traveled to Austin, Texas, shortly before that press tour and had made a point to visit the LBJ presidential library. There is a recreation of Johnson's Oval office on display there. Johnson had the room tricked out with a wide, built-in, three-TV console, which allowed him to monitor the CBS, NBC and ABC newscasts each night. He'd sit in a large chair with buttons all down the side of one of the armrests, allowing him to flip channels, videotape shows (an electronic novelty back then) and, apparently, run the country.
Next to that was a phone and LBJ worked that like no other president. Even during the nightly newscasts, as Cronkite revealed:
He used to telephone me when I was on the desk and broadcasting. He watched the 'Evening News' on CBS and then he would watch NBC, ABC and so forth.But he would jump up apparently and grab the phone after I'd done something he didn't like on the air, and he'd call and insist on talking to me. I was on the air. he could see me right there.
And the poor secretary there who picked up the phone when we were on the air from my office right off the newsroom would say, 'Well, he's on the air Mr. President...' 'Goddamn it, I know he's on the air. Get him on there.'
And she'd have to put up with this shouting until actually I was off the air. And then he'd get through to me and demand some kind of retraction of a story we'd just done. He felt he could control those things. He quite obviously didn't with any news organization that I know of.
Sitting in that room, listening to this great reporter speak, you couldn't help but think: who in the news business has the kahones as well as the respect and authority to stand up to presidents and prime ministers today?
Cronkite was old school, just doing his job, being objective but also, when the times called for it, being adversarial. Be fair, honest and as impartial as it is possible to be, he advised future news anchors, but also "stick with those principles of good journalism, regardless whatever pressure you may be under for one reason or another." The job is far too important," he told us on that day, "to permit others to dictate how good journalism should be employed."
Now he's gone, and all we have is his example. And that's the way it is.
For a terrific collection of tributes to Cronkite, written by some veteran TV observers, jump on over to David Bianculli's excellent blog, TV Worth Watching.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Fox signed up for a five-episode arc on the series, currently in its fifth season on FX and Showcase. At the start of the season, Fox plays a crabby paraplegic who is the new boyfriend of Tommy Gavin's (Leary) ex-wife Janet (Andrea Roth). It is a darkly funny, juicy role, with Fox playing against type as a scumbag who isn't above grabbing Gavin by the nuts to get back at him for sneaking it a little old times sake with the former Missus.
Leary said it was his producing partner Peter Tolan's idea to pitch the role to Fox. Leary sent his friend five pages of the script and was thrilled when he called up and said he was in. "He doesn’t have to do anything," said Leary, who knows Fox's top priority is his family. "He’s very involved in his (Parkinson's) foundation, he’s an incredibly wealthy man because of Spin City and his giant movie career and his best selling book." Still, Leary knew Fox might return to TV if it was an interesting role and especially something he'd never done before.
The role won Fox his 11th Emmy nomination (he's already won four times, three for Family Ties and one for Spin City). For a full list of the 2009 Emmy nominees, check here.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
McCartney and his excellent band later rocked out way up on the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater--the same place they made history back in 1964. Ever play a marquee before? Letterman asked. "I've played a roof," quipped Sir Paul.
The TV audience got to hear "Get Back" and a song from McCartney's recent "Fireman" album. But, off camera, he also treated New Yorkers who packed Broadway to a couple of other songs, including "Back in the U.S.S.R." and "Helter Skelter." Wish the dude with the camcorder had zoomed in, but the clip below gives you a taste of the New York treat:
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The one-minute segment was shot and produced by my pal Juan Fanzio, a former Toronto Sun shooter and Sun TV videographer and now full time entrepreneur who has a cool little studio down in Toronto's Beaches district. Fanzio used to follow me with a camera and shoot the "104 Steps with Bill Brioux" review segments we used to do for Sun TV. For this down and dirty Hell's Kitchen segment, he's caught me walking along Queen, swearing at restaurant customers just like cranky Hell's Kitchen chef Gordon Ramsay likes to do on his show.
That's another buddy, Tim McConvey, in the Box Score video behind the counter of his spiffy new Pie Shack at 2305 Queen St. East. Tim's another guy living his mid-life makeover dream. The amiable dude with the friendly mutt (his "dog shack" is right out front of the Pie Shack) used to work marketing magic for the Globe and Mail. When that gig went "poof!", he launched a second career as a pie man. So far, the tasty concoctions are flying out of the shop.
Through another one of his ventures, BizClipz.com, Fanzio is helping businessmen like McConvey throughout Toronto and beyond post professionally shot, minute-long commercials on their web sites and in their places of business.
Fanzio's latest baby is TorontoNews24, a 24-hour headline news service with postings from some of the cities most-seasoned writers and voices. Look for this sucker to take off in the coming weeks as more and more name journalists jump aboard. Sign up now for free membership and stay in the news loop. Get into the mix through the forums and other feedback links.
TorontoNews24 is Fanzio's passion and the dude has the drive and ideas to take this thing into Huffington Post territory and beyond. Box Score is a modest little feature getting some action there today. Check it out there right now and look for it here at TVFMF starting next week.
Monday, July 13, 2009
It's all about original web content, with My Pal Satan--a crazy little series from Dennis Heaton and the Canadian Film Centre--as the jumping off point. Jump to the Satan site here and check it out.
Heaton, a Vancouver-based TV writer with credits on The Listener, Show Me Yours and others, jumped on the CFC's Pilot Program initiative to pull this six-episode treat together. The concept is simple--what if Satan was your roommate. Heaton says anybody who ever shared an apartment with him over the years would have no problem identifying the inspiration!
Heaton shared some of his favourite web TV sites, singling out funny stuff like Yacht Rock, a funny, low-tech look at what might have been the deal with lame-O '70s "yacht rockers" like Hall & Oates and Loggins & Messina. Go here and laff.
Heaton mentioned another, completely politically incorrect fave. It makes me laugh, too, but it will offend some so go here if you laff at some of the really wrong moments on South Park.
My Pal Satan is backed by My Pal Slawko Klymkiw, the former CBC programming boss who now runs the CFC. He's all over this web stuff, seeing it as an opportunity for future TV producers to jump-start the pilot process--always a rocky road in Canada.
Another good guy is in on this action--Chris Szarka, exec producer of Rent-a-Goalie. I survived a road trip with the hard-partying RAG gang last year (an amazing charity event in Newfoundland--jump to a link about that here) and anything these cats do deserves a look. Their web venture, Skittlebrau--about a fledgling hip hop band from Burlington, Ont. (seen above)--is due in September but you can check out a trailer for the series right now here.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Clearly, the show was never aimed at me. Others who grew up with Snake or Wheels or Spike love these characters like they were school mates. And while the new show stumbled badly in the Canadian ratings last season, it remains a worldwide hit, airing in over 150 countries.
That it remains popular in the United States was brought home to me Thursday on a visit to the set. Publicist extraordinaire Iain Christiansen arranged to escort my WIMA Talk Radio morning man buddy Mike Miller, who was up visiting from Ohio, his 14-year-old daughter Meredith and her school chum Amity on a complete tour of the Degrassi operation, which is neatly hidden in an industrial corner of Toronto.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cast, crew and especially production executives make young guests feel so welcome. These two wide-eyed kids got to have lunch with the stars, chat with creator and executive producer Linda Schuyler and even put on head sets and help direct an actual scene, yelling “action!” and “cut” like the pros.
The tour of the set was an eye opener even for a seasoned TV scribe who’s been up and down such Hollywood sets as Universal’s Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives.
The Degrassi exteriors include a full, brick, high school, which houses the gym, several classrooms (including real ones where some of the cast members have to do their learnin’ ‘n stuff), the pool hall interior and other sets. Dressing rooms, hair and makeup and costumes are also housed here; there’s even a working washer and dryer.
Outside near the school exterior is a street set up which includes several houses and store fronts, including the Degrassi version of the 90210 Peach Pit, the Dot Com Café. There is a whole new, two-story street storefront being built at the end of the roadway so the cameras can catch cars turning corners and stuff. It is one of the more elaborate back lots in all of Canada, comparable to the kinds of major studio back lot exteriors that are all but paved over in Burbank and Hollywood.
There are a couple of cats who have the run of the Epitome Pictures compound. One of them is named Noggin, after the US cable channel that airs Degrassi, although it is being re-branded Teen Nick (the channel, not the cat).
Christiansen allowed the girls to have a sneak peak at the upcoming TV-movie Paradise City: Degrassi Goes Hollywood, which airs Aug. 14 on Noggin or N or whatever and Aug. 30 on CTV. Degrassi super fans Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes are featured prominently in this deal. The girls had already streamed the trailer back home on their laptops and knew the music being used in some scenes. They generally knew more about the series than the people there who were running the show.
A hallway encounter with Stefan Brogren, the former Snake who remains with the series (and directed the TV-movie), drew gasps from the teen twosome. He could not have been nicer, as was exec prod. Stephen Stohn, who shared many stories and quizzed the kids on their career plans. TVFMF favourite Melissa DiMarco—who plays principal Hatzilakos and whose own celeb reality show just got a 23 episode pick up on Citytv--was equally gracious (and maybe enough on her own to actually tempt me to watch an episode of this damn show).
So no more goofing on Degrassi from me. These are warm, classy people who have--off and on--found a way to keep their franchise factory humming for nearly 30 years in Canadian television. Pretty damn impressive.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
The purchase still needs to be approved by the CRTC and union concessions for the 100-plus employees are being sought. But the new guys have a plan and the plan is to go local and go home.
Will that work and perhaps even provide a blueprint for other broadcasters to fix their broken business model? Focusing on local news would seem to make CHCH eligible to dip into that $100 million-plus CRTC Local Programming Initiative fund. Branding it as an all-news station also plays to the station's ratings strength. News numbers were up spring to spring says news director Mike Katrycz, with the supper hour newscast up 30%. The Morning Show is the second most popular morning broadcast in the GTA (behind only Citytv's long time front-runner Breakfast Television). Katrycz says the station is averaging 1.5 million viewers for its local programming, up from last year and way up over all the E! crap it paid too much to export from L.A. Seems CHCH viewers would rather tune in to a show about Kitchener than Kimora.
Read more about it here in the story I filed today for The Canadian Press.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
In Canada, CTV drew 401,000 Tuesday at 1 for their "Remember The Times" MJ coverage. All three Canadian national newscasts were at fairly nomal levels yesterday: Global at 6 p.m. (737,000), CBC at 10 (810,000) and CTV at 11 (931,000). The supperhour entertainment shows got a bigger boost, with Global pulling 726,000 for Entertainment Tonight and CTV 621,000 for Access Hollywood. The Can mags flipped leads, with eTalk (559,000) besting Global's ET Canada nationally (467,000). CTV's local Evening News beat them all with 1,,212,000 viewers.
The pervasiveness of the whole Jackson deal is just one of the topics on today's radio chat with CHML's Scott Thompson. You can listen in here.
It is staggering how Michael Jackson seems to be worth so much more dead than alive. As Scott points out, Elvis Presley made $4 million the last year of his life and made $52 million last year. Jackson's death has brought his recording career to life; sales of his solo albums have jumped 90% to over 800,000 units sold according to this report today from Reuters. You know that in coming months there will be new CDs of lost or unreleased music, DVDs of yesterday's memorial, and endless other authorized and unauthorized MJ extensions; let's hope some of it gets into the hands of his three kids.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
When Jackson's 2001 album Invincible came out, it did not have much impact, but Deggans felt the album had its moments and that all Jackson had to do was to take his voice down an octave or two to prolong and revive his stalled singing career. I remember the comment because Deggans was still thinking about Jackson's music instead of the whole other crazy stuff, which not too many other people were bothering to do in 2001.
So if you want to get an informed opinion on the Top-11 moments from today's Michael Jackson memorial, including daughter Paris' sweet, teary shout out to her departed dad, get it from Deggans. His blog is The Feed and you'll find his Jackson memorial list here.
We're already seven days into this month so wanted to point to some TCM July highlights. All month on Thursdays, TCM is saluting films from what many critics consider to be Hollywood's greatest year--1939. Such 70-year-old gems as Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Gunga Din and Wuthering Heights are being presented.
TCN also has a tribute to Karl Malden planned for July 10, with three of his greatest films, including On The Waterfront, scheduled. The Oscar-winner passed away last week at 97, his death obscured by all the hoopla over the passing of MJ, Farrah Fawcett and Fred Travalena (okay, maybe not so much Travalena). TCM immediately went to air with one of their signature obits, always moving and impressive (watch Malden's TCM obit here).
Robert Osborne--now available for US$16.95 in bobble head form!--is the face of the channel and is always a welcome presence. He's got the greatest job in the world--introducing classic films--but you never begrudge him his good fortune. The veteran Hollywood Reporter scribe has earned his star turn (the 77-year-old started out as a contract player for Desilu productions) and his enthusiasm for films is genuine and sincere, never gushy or forced. You want to hang with him in that wood-panelled studio, especially this month when he's joined by guest programmer Cloris Leachman (her evening of favourite films airs July 22).
Daytime and weekend host Ben Mankiewicz is a more hip and urbane presence. I wish he'd jump back in that '65 'Stang and do more of those Hollywood landmark visits, they were a fun side dish for film buffs.
TCM is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, with Destination Moon (1950), The Right Stuff (1983) and others on the sked. Tonight and every Tuesday in July you'll find films from overlooked Hollywood actor Stewart Granger (real name James Stewart!), including tonight's double bill of Scaramouche (1952) and King Solomon's Mines (1950).
TCM also packs in plenty of what I love most about this channel--those cool little one-reelers from the '30s, '40s and '50s. Pete Smith Specialties, Joe McDoakes comedies--it's all good, and what beautiful prints. Same goes for their Silent Sundays entries, which are never silent (the orchestration and accompanying music is terrific) and never deadly.
The channel's original shorts--usually salutes to Hollywood icons narrated by a star from today--are equally entertaining and very effective, especially when it is Jane Fonda talking about dad Henry, or a director providing insight into a famous star like Burt Lancaster.
The other deal with this service, of course, is that it is commercial-free. All this and no clutter--pinch me, I'm dreaming. No wonder commercial TV is in such a tail spin--we've seen the alternative, and it is heaven.
Usually there is a price to pay to see what you want on TV without the clutter. You do have to pay to subscribe to TCM, but it is worth every penny, especially if you love classic films.
Next month, in August, TCM has their seventh annual "Summer Under The Stars" marathon, with a different Hollywood icon saluted each night. Henry Fonda is Aug. 1, James Mason is Aug. 2, Marion Davies Aug. 3 and on and on.
All of this especially shines in the summer, when the networks are reduced to stunts and reruns. Happy 15th, TCM.
Monday, July 6, 2009
There are many “Moments of Zen“ associated with the tsunami of Michael Jackson coverage on all forms of media over the past week. The above CNN report on prisoners in the Philippines giving props to the King of Pop is cool and inspiring, if a little bizarre. Other viral MJ junk is just that, including one shamelessly dragged out purely for self-promotion on Larry King Live tonight.
Seems somebody walked in front of a camera light when Larry King Live visited Neverland last week. Now the shadow of some lighting dude is haunting computer screens everywhere as Michael Jacksons Ghost in a lame-ass viral video making the rounds on the Internet.
It all makes me kind of glad I was stuck up north at the very unplugged cottage last week.
Been getting network emails all day updating on the coverage of tomorrow‘s Jackson memorial planned for L.A.'s Staples Center. On a day when the CRTC declared that Canadian television networks, so broke from providing local news coverage to Canadians, now only have to air seven to 14 hours a week of local content, CTV sent out a release promising 60 hours of coverage of Jacksonpalooza spread out over 10 channels. Canwest‘s about to be E!xtinct E! channels will carry the U.S. E! feed live at 1 p.m. NBC‘s Mededith Viera will report live from the site of the Jackson deal for Today; Brian Williams heads the network coverage live at 1 p.m. ET. MSNBC (which will live stream the memorial service at MSNBC.com) will start pointing cameras at fans herding into the Staples Center around 11 a.m. ABC and Charles Gibson will also be there, with Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer co-hosting a prime time Jackson hour Tuesday at 9 p.m.
Fox is carrying the memorial live starting at 12:30 p.m. ET Tuesday morning. Hulu will pick up that Fox feed and offer it as streaming video at the giant video jukebox site (which is geo-blocked to Canadians). CNN, which will carry the memorial live at 1 p.m. and then repeat it at 4 and 7 p.m., is teaming with Facebook so that Jackson fans and the curious can watch the memorial live while simultaneously updating their Facebook status to people around the world--while never once leaving the CNN.com Live video player. Remember the Jackson 5's hit Rockin' Robin? Now you can Tweet, Tweet, Tweet all through tomorrow's Jackson media circus. May he rest in Puh-hee-heace.
The money is meant for broadcasters in markets of less than a million people to "to maintain their spending on local news and other types of local programming." The money is coming from you and I and everybody who pays a satellite or cable bill (it amounts to 1.5% of the gross revenues of Shaw, Rogers, Bell and others. Think of it--over $100 million is 1.5% of the cable-satellite gross broadcasting revenues. Holy Lord!).
While Rogers and Shaw scream bloody murder, watch CTV, Canwest and Rogers start shrinking their markets and spinning their hilarious "Save Local TV" campaigns to try and pry the lid off this new cookie jar.
The CRTC has also called for further hearings on the state of conventional broadcasting in late September. On the agenda: Canadian programming commitments by English-language television broadcasters. Go Konrad!
I'll be the voice of reason on the following CBC radio stations today across Canada: Cape Breton (3:10 p.m.), Charlottetown (3:20), Ottawa (3:40, Halifax (3:50), Montreal (4:20), Vancouver (4:30), Sudbury (4:40), Toronto (4:50), Calgary (5:15), Whitehorse (5:25) and Edmonton (5:50).
UPDATE: One shocking little detail buried in the fine print in today's CRTC funding announcement: after all that whining from broadcasters--yes, those same "Save Local TV" guys--about how all those local news costs are breaking their business models, the CRTC has lowered the minimum local programming levels to 14 hours a week in big cities and just seven hours a week in "non-metropolitan markets." That is an hour a day. So here is more money--go out and do less.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Whether or not Jackson actually voiced the part of Homer's mental institution mate Leon Kompowsky went unconfirmed for years. It even made it into my book Truth and Rumors: The Reality Behind TV's Most Famous Myths.
"Yes, that was Michael Jackson,” Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening confirmed when I asked him directly at the January, 2007, TV critics press tour in Los Angeles.
For years Groening and other denied it. In fact, executive producer James L. Brooks still refused to confirm it when I approached him at the same event as Groening. “I think we made a promise,” said Brooks.
Groening later explained that keeping Jackson’s contribution a secret, “was a contractual thing, and I never signed the contract.” In the third-season Simpsons episode, Stark Raving Dad, which first aired in September of 1991, a tubby, bald, lumpy looking character named Leon Kompowsky meets Homer in a mental institution and claims to be pop star Michael Jackson. The character sure sounds like Jackson, except at the end of the episode, when he reverts to a gruff voice more in tune with his character, which supposed to be a New Jersey bricklayer.
Kompowsky befriends Bart and helps him write a sweet little song to his sister called Happy Birthday Lisa. The voice credit at the end of the episode read John Jay Smith. Go ahead, look for him on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) -- it takes you straight to the Michael Jackson page.
Despite denials from Fox and Simpsons publicists, there was immediate speculation that Jackson, always a big cartoon fan, had recorded the voice for the character. The so-called King Of Pop had already earned a reputation as eccentric, with tales of anti-gravity chambers and Elephant Man bone collections already making the rounds. There was, however, no whiff of child molestation accusations at the time this episode first aired.
The Simpsons had already, at this early stage, let one big name guest voice get away with hiding behind a pseudonym. In Season Two, Dustin Hoffman played Lisa’s substitute teacher Mr. Bergstrom. He was simply credited at the end as “Sam Etic” (Semitic, get it?). Word that it really was Hoffman quickly leaked out — if it wasn’t already obvious in the scene where Bergstrom says, “Mrs. Krabappel, you’re trying to seduce me” (a reference to Hoffman’s breakout film, The Graduate).
In Planet Simpson: How A Cartoon Masterpiece Documented An Era And Defined A Generation, author Chris Turner asserts that it was indeed Jackson’s voice on the episode — although only in the speaking parts, not the singing voice used on Happy Birthday Lisa (credited to voice over actor and Jackson sound-a-like Kip Lennon).
That is how Yeardley Smith remembers it. Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson,
recorded her lines at the same time as Jackson. “That was an extraordinary day,” she recalls. She Remembers Jackson as “very quiet and he was really into being there.”
“It’s kind of dazzling for us when you have a huge star in our environment,” says Smith, who was equally star-struck when Elizabeth Taylor came in to utter baby sister Maggie’s only words: “Dad-dee.” Recalls Smith, “she brought her little dog with her.”
The irony in all of this is that Jackson never appeared more flesh and blood, more human, than as cartoon character Kompowsky. The episode remains one of the most affecting Simpsons’ episodes ever.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
CBC's talent search series Triple Sensation drew just 174,000 Monday night, with only 51,000 in the 25-54-year-old demo. It premiered a week earlier to just 220,000. Just 64,000 tuned in to an old episode of Intelligence on CBC Saturday night--across Canada!
CTV found nearly a million viewers for Merlin Sunday night, with So You Think You Can Dance flirting with 1.5 million last Thursday. A lot of people are still watching reruns of popular shows like CSI Miami and House, but not much else is even worth reporting.