Sunday, May 1, 2016

I Remember Doris Roberts

ATX quickly cancelled a proposed reunion of the cast of Everyone Loves Raymond after the death of Doris Roberts.
The fifth annual ATX Television Festival had been planning a grand on stage reunion of the sitcom stars (minus the late great Peter Boyle).
I find it hard to believe obituaries stated Roberts was 90 --after all she was phoning me up about possible work in Toronto until just a few years ago.
The gifted comedienne won five Emmys for her magnificent turn as the caustic wife and mother Marie Barone.
And I remember she even journeyed to Toronto during a rare Canadian TV Critics Tour when she was over 75 to "promote the show but also do some shopping on the side. and have dinner with my friend Brian Linehan."
I asked if she re membered the first time we'd met.
"Surely! It was on the set of Remington Steele," she laughed. "And I was the one who told you that our two stars never talked to each other."
I remember the last time I chatted briefly with Roberts her son Godfrey was still alive --he passed away  more than a year ago
Roberts picked up her first Emmy for a 1983 guest appearance on St. Elsewhere.
In 1983 the producers of Remington Styeele were intent on making cast changes to pep up the ailing series.
They envisaged a new character Mildred Krebs who could give Stephanie Zimbalist a run for her money.
"Instead they settled on me after I read for the part," laughed Roberts. "I wound up co-starring in the next 72 episodes."
Then along came Everyone Loves Raymond/
"I styled that woman on various aspects of producer Phil Rosenthal's Jewish-German mother. Also, I added my own spin. She's always interfering only she doesn't see it like that at all.
"I was always in the biz," she once told me --her stepfather and mother ran New York city's Rosenthal Agency which catered to actors and playwrights.
"Originally I studied journalism at New York University but the acting bug got me and I was on Broadway in small parts starting in 1955.
In 1961 she made her movie debut in Something Wild and by 1969 was billed fourth in The Honeymoon Killers.
"Did you know that I was the original choice to play Vivian opposite Bea Arthur on Maude? Well, I was."
You can spot her in such flicks as Used People, The Night We Never Met and the Billy Crystal comedy My Giant.
In September 2002 she testified before a special U.S. Committee about aging complaining that many of her contemporary thespians over 40 were jobless.
She's survived by son Michael who was also her manager.
And I'm missing this original already.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Game Of Homes Back For Season Two

"You're supposed to be a TV critic from way back when," snapped my best friend and neighbor.
"Yet every time I drop in you are not watching PBS or TVO.
"Instead it's Flip Or Flop or Love It Or List It. Or Masters Of Flip."
So here's where I confess to an addiction for TV real estate shows.
I think it started because here I am stuck in a house that's been in my family since 1912. I can't legally move (it's too complicated to explain).
So I like watching other people searching for a new house I know I can never have.
Last season there was another fave to add to my list: Game Of Homes which is a clever riff on a certain long running TV serial.
The series stars those ubiquitous Brit comedic duo  Colin And Justin whose repartee often slays me.
I'm guessing they have permanently moved to Canada because they're always co-starring in yet another new housing series.
I know the first year  comes from the west coast because it features such popular Vancouver real estate agents as Todd Talbot and Jillian Harris.
And it's made by Great Pacific Media.
But the second season is Toronto centric with four new teams of home renovators who must turn dilapidated houses into luxurious dream homes.
I had the chance to chat up host Dave Salmoni on the phone and see some clips and I'm already hooked.
These renovation series slay me --upstart couples start bickering with each other and then with the experts who supposedly help them.
I'm never sure how much of the banter is made up for TV but actually I couldn't care less. I have to call my handyman just to get a light bulb replaced --I'm that helpless.
Salmoni assures me that a wide net was thrown to get these contestants and says nothing is rehearsed.
Some couples invariably begin fighting with each other.
I'm not sure what gets these people to demonstrate their skills or lack thereof  on TV. But in today's world aren't we all supposed to be famous for like 10 minutes.
I'm a big fan of Salmoni's wildlife TV shows. But he assures me no crocs or anacondas will be intruding into this shoot.
And he says he has an idea for his next nature TV epic --it will be all about cats and dogs just for an complete turn in direction.
Yet, how about getting some oxen in there to get those walls torn down in record time?
In this one no animals were hurt during production.
But how about bruised egos of the participants?
I like Salmoni's TV presence, he's bound to be a soothing effect.
And I just know I'll be watching the Second Season to chuckle at all the impending disasters I'll never face.
Because I can't sell my house.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Bruno & Boots Effortlessly Transfers To TV

I remember young cousins of mine were all over the books about Bruno & Boots adventures at Macdonald Hall not so many years ago.
And now Bruno & Boots: Go Jump In The Pool has been effortlessly translated to TV and I watched it all so it must be OK for adults my age to enjoy as well.
It premieres on YTV Friday April 1 at 7:30 p.m. Got that?
The adventures were filmed in Toronto with a strong Canadian cast. I'm still trying to figure out the high schools which were used.
My first reaction: more please.
I was lucky to talk on the phone with the author Gordon Korman who said he wrote the first novel vwhen he was just 15.
The result is so well put together I tried to nudge him into saying it might just spawn a TV series of adventures. Finally, he confessed that was just possible.
It wouldn't be the first time a Toronto production aimed at the youngher set had success.
Of course I'm thinking of the Anne Of Green Gable books which led to the vastly popular series The Road To Avonlea.
Anpother successful title I'm thinking of is The Prodigious Hickey  (1986) filmed in T.O. with Edward Herrmann and Zach Galligan.
Here it's the challenge of adapting a 100-page children's book so for TV purposes characters move at a must faster clip.
I asked a friend who grew up on these stories and she says the books are enjoying something of a comeback because of the fine writing.
Korman wrote five more books before graduating from high school which just astonishes me.
'The setting is the boarding school: MacDonald Hall and there is the inevitable stern headmaster
 named Mr. Sturfgeon as in "fish".
A cousin of mine who read them as a kid says she's not so sure about  recent attempts to insert techno advances that obviously would not have been in the original books.
Bruno Walton is played by Jonny Gray ( Max & Shred) and Mel "Boots" O'Neal is played by Callan Porter (Stratford Festival) and both are well cast and very personable.
I spied a great number of talented Canadians in the large cast.
 I first interviewed Jayne Eastwood when she was making her movie debut in Goin' Down The Road way back in 1971.
Scott Thompson I';ve been covering since his Kids In The Hall days.
Peter Keleghan I first met on the set of CHCH's Comedy Mill in 1987.
Caroline Rhea is especially funny as Headmistress Eugenia Scrimnage --a girls' school is conveniently across the street.
Adam Barken (Killjoys) wrote the fast moving script which successfully captures the atmosphere of the books.
Vivieno Caldinelli (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) gets a lot out of the predominantly youthful cast.
Anthony Leo and Andrew Rosen produced it for Aircraft Pictures.
It's been quite a drought on Canadian TV in terms of homegrown fictional stories so here's hoping Bruno & Boots is the beginning of a new trend.
MY RATING: ***1/2

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Go Back To Where You Came From: Must See TV

Few Canadian ever get a chance to watch much Australian TGV.
But there's a series from Down Under running Thursdays on TVOntario that positively ranks as must-see TV.
Titled Go Back To Where You Came From it poignantly depicts the plight of refugees from the Middle East and Asia through the experiences of native Australians.
You'll watch and wonder why there hasn't been a Canadian spin off although it might generate too much controversy.
The series debuted on Australian TV in 2011 and has since gone through three seasons.
I watched the first episode in a state of high tension.
The series is on the face of it a bit of a reality TV outing but there's nothing silly or shallow about the subject matter.
Canadians are so immersed in the American political race as well as our own efforts to place Syrian refugees that we might be surprised Australia is experiencing similar controversy.
Six "ordinary" Australians are picked to see if they can experience what refugees to Australia might be feeling.
One is a surviving boat refugee from the fall of Vietnam.
Then there are two sisters on the opposite side of the political controversy.
There's a male teacher who is skeptical of some of the claims of persecution by refugees.
Another lady worked at a refugee detention center and is intensely sympathetic to the plight of newcomers.
A tough talking woman believes the country is being flooded with these people.
First of all six are stripped of wallets, cellphones, passports --those modern day appurtenances by which we identify themselves.
Divided into two groups, one group goes to stay at the house of Palestinian refugees who some how made it to Indonesia and then charted a rickety boat to get to Australia.
There are estimates that over a few years hundreds may have perished in the surrounding waters.
They talk about persecution in the camps in Syria and feared for their lives.
And we get to gauge the reaction of the Australians moving from great sympathy to outright denial these people count as genuine refugees.
Cold hard facts clash with genuine human emotions.
Watching the participants verbally attack each other as they defend their positions makes for exciting TV.
'Massage therapist Jodi simply believes "They are jumping the queue."
Three Aussies visit with a refugee from Miramar --as a Muslim he was among the most persecuted of minorities, forbidden citizenship and even needed permission to marry.
It is all too much for the refugee from Vietnam who revisits his own escape by boat as Vietnam fell to the Communists --he was a boy of eight and lost his fgamily.
The Aussies then visit a camp for refugees  Wikham Point, that looks suspiciously like a prison with its barbed wire enclosures.
And finally the six board a leaky vessel like the one thousands took from Indonesia to Australia for a harrowing journey --they are given a bottle of water and some noodles just like the thousands of hopeful refugees.
No other TV series I've seen has confronted the refugee situation as powerfully as this one.
Surely some Canadian network has the guts to plan a sequel from the Canadian point of view?
GBTWYCF was directed --brilliantly --by Ivan O'Mahoney, prtesented by Dr. David Corlett and narrated by Colin Friels.
If you start watching you won't be able to stop!
MY RATING: ****.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The War At Home: Must See TV

"It was a true story I felt compelled to tell," says veteran director Shelley Saywell.
She's talking about her profoundly disturbing new documentary The War At Home which premieres on CBC-TV's Firsthand Thursday night at 9 p.m.
The way Saywell sees it for years she had been fascinated by stories about the plight of women around the world which resulted in such award winning documentaries as In The Name Of The Family and Kim's Story.
"And then I read about the situation in British Columbia where six women were shot and killed in acts of domestic violence in one month. And I realized it was time for me to act."
The more Saywell researched her project the more disturbed she felt.
"There was one study that said 24 per cent of those polled believed women on the receiving end actually deserved the violence unleashed on them. That was most unsettling of all."
The result titled The War At Home was her biggest ever challenge.
First of all it had to be encompassed in one hour TV documentary --42 minutes after commercials are inserted.
But because it was for CBC and thus reached a national audience Saywell accepted the challenge and she chose a completely personalized approach telling the story through the experiences of just five female subjects.
"We shot the interviews for hours --getting the accounts just right was always my goal."
There's the 33-year-old mother of two, Celeste, who worked as an  abuse counsellor at a Regina woman's shelter.
Her sad plight resulted in her death by her boyfriend and bookends the film as her best friend. visits her home --the murder site --and says "It could have been me."
Because she, too, has been in an abusive relationship.
Then there  is Lara, well, spoken but living in fear --we follow her and her layer to Criminal and Family Court hearings.
Representing her is Toronto lawyer Pamela Bhardwaj and licensed paralegal Galit Menahem--we see how the system continually favors the accused and not the victim.
"I had to get Lara in there," Saywell says "to show that violence is not just the lot of aboriginal women or immigrant women. She lives constantly in fear. Yet, she is soft spoken and very tuned in."
Also profiled is the former police officer who was taken into the country by her husband and repeatedly battered with an aluminum bat .
If she is "lucky"to be alive she had to leave her policing bob because she was not longer physically able to fill the requirements.
I asked Saywell if the women han't been attentive enough before marrying these men.
"Well, it starts after courtship. One husband insisted his wife's paychecks be deposited into his bank account giving him total control.
"Another kept the couple's passoports.
"Another told his new wifew she was now completely under his control --control was the common denominator."
Saywell gives full marks to the two cinematographers (Michael Grippo, John Tran) who unobtrusively photographed the subject- credit also goes to editor Michael Hannan. There isn't a wasted second in this hour. but it never seems to be rushed
I ask: Is there going to be a longer version?
"I'm working on that now," Saywell reports but she gives CBC full marks for tackling such a difficult subject. CBC's legal teams was all over the hour vetting it and requesting minor changes to avoid lawsuits.
"My objective was to tell these women's stories and show how the system is stacked against them. "Obviously the system has to change and quickly, the violence has to stop right now.
"I'm hoping the film starts a debate which is needed to help many thousands of desperate Canadian women."
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Colwater Cowboys: True Canadian TV

I had a delightful telephone chat with skipper Rick Crane one of six captains to star in the series Cold Water Cowboys.
The third season has just started on Discovery running Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
I've been watching since the debut and so have my English cousins  who love all these Canadian reality outings like Ice Truckers.
I should note they catch it on Portugal TV at their seasonal cottage.
The characters are all amazing and I like their matter of fact attitude even when trapped in a fierce storm.
And unlike most Canadian shows there's no need to disguise the location --this is as Canadian a show as one can get.
The hit series is a testimonial to the late reality film maker John Driftmier who was killed in ac accident in Kenya while filming another series Dangerous Flights.
His partner Tyson Hepburn has kept going and delivered a series that shows us how intricate and indeed dangerous deep sea fishing can become.
Discovery says the show has been sold to 51 other countries from Angola to Portugal to Estonia to Montenegro and Turkey.
Crane is a fascinating star of reality TV.
He's a born and bred Newfie who worked in the Alberta oil fields until giving it all up to return home to Cox's Cove and spending $200,000 for a new boat and all the trappings.
"I know all the other captains," he tells me. "And I respect them. We're all in the same boat so to speak. And when one does well we all cheer."
Crane fishes within the 200 mile limit reserved for Canadian boats. He rarely sees foreign vessels he says although he knows they are farther out.
And he went through the different seasons when he tries to fish for different species.
"It's my living --the danger part doesn't bother me."
Nothing in each episode is made up --there's only a rough plot outline/ Usually there are only two team members aboard each ship and both carry cameras.
It makes for very cramped quarters and during one storm scene I watched I wasn't sure the crew would get out alive.
The camera crews had to take water safety lessons and wore life jackets at all times.
Cameras have to be specially wrapped to withstand the waves --and salt water erosion.
I think the appeal of the show is that very strangeness and the threat at any time that nothing will be caught .
As Crane admits "We never know in advance. Some days it's richness of a catch, other times virtually nothing."
Hovering over every scene is the sheer awfulness of the collapse of the cod fishery in 1992.
Crane admits cod is still endangered but is hoping for an eventual comeback.
Meanwhile herring seem as plentiful as ever.
Crane laughs at the suggestion he's becoming one of the top reality Canadian stars around.
"It is a tough way to make a living. But I love it, I'm doing what I've always wanted to do."
The executive producer is cagey veteran David Paperny who has also given us Timber Kings and Yukon Gold.
Says Rick: "The title in Europe is Cold Water Hp;d/ I like Cold Water Cowboys better."

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Why Dr. Jennifer Gardy Deserves Her Own TV Series

It hasn't been the best of TV seasons for the CBC.
Big new series have flopped badly, I'm afraid to say.
What's needed is an influx of new shows that can guarantee sturdy ratings.
Which is why I'm proposing CBC-TV hire Dr. Jennifer Gardy to front a second science show --she's been excelling for years on occasional specials for the venerable The Nature Of Things.
And this week she does so again with While You Were Sleeping --the title is a take off on the (Sandra Bullock movie of 1995, remember?
Gardy is a perfect TV host --she's bright and personable but also has the academic credentials--this time out she's looking at what happens inside our brains as we snore away.
The locations as usual are dazzling from a Harvard University music student deciding whether or not he should stay up all night to cram on a Chopin recital to the mass insomnia induced by revelers in the city that never sleeps --Las Vegas.
To pack so much information in an hour --46 minutes actually --is a fearsome feat of tight editing and writing but I never once felt rushed watching it.
And after watching I saw it was 2 a.m. so I went to bed and slept like a stone.
Turns out the quality of our sleep determines what we can accomplish the next day.
I think what Grady does is show how sleep affects our every waking moment --or should I say restful and deep sleep.
First startling revelation is that on average we spend something like 52,000 hours dreaming --that's equivalent to six years of our lives.
In one fascinating study Baby Morris is  introduced to a fluffy puppet and shown how to interact with  it.
Then after a nap that can last as much as four hours when he is reintroduced to the figure  he can do all the tricks were shown. him
The babies who didn't take the nap are confused about what to do --it's clear babies use sleep to absorb their daily life lessons.
Men tend to have more action filled dreams--I found this fascinating as women's dreams tend to be far more subtle and often about relationships..
I liked the segment where Grady tries to walk up ro sleeping Canada geese in a park --half the birds' brains are sleeping while then other part remain active to look out for predators.
An hour like this needs a wide variety of great visuals or the audience would doze off.
And so we do get to Vegas to consider the possibility of lack of sleep.
And we do visit a clinic where people volunteer to be assessed for sleep deprivation --most begin eating far more than usual because the brain is no longer obeying the two hormones used to regulate food intake.
At Mackenzie Hall, University of Rochester we see studies on Alzheimers patients and the way the brain at sleep routinely cleanses itself of plaque and impurities. I think an entire hour could be devoted to this segment alone.
Through it all Gardy shines as our host. She asks the right questions, she jumps right in as our guide.
Infield Fly Productions made it and it's a perfect blend of great visuals and tight writing skills.
And it shows once again how well adapted scientist Gardy is to television's demands  -- consider it a sort of pilot for a series of her own.
How about it CBC?
MY RATING: ****.