Monday, March 27, 2017

What Canadian TV Series Should Be Revived?






The big news on American TV these days concerns the revival of past series hits.
Gilmore Girls is back for a limited run. and I;m, watchging and enjoying it as I find out what happened to the original characters.
So I'm thinking back on all the Canadian TV sets I was on and wondering which ones could be successfully revived.
The new Anne Of Green Gables is all the ratings rage on CBC-TV these days. So why not revive some other big hits over the years?
One of the first sets I ever attended was up at CFTO studios in Agincourt: Headline Hunters with Charles Templeton.
It was a piece of inexpensive Canadian content and it ran from 1972 through 1983.
And if CTV doesn't want it what about CTV News or even History Channel?
In fact I've already told current CBC programmers Front Page Challenge would be a dandy choice for revival.
I'd use Peter Mansbridge as host and a new gallery of panelists that might include Wendy Crewson, Martin Short, Art Hindle and perhaps one of the stars of Schitt's Creek.
Riverdale was a short lived soap opera on CBC running three years (1997 through 2000).
The reason it failed was simple: lack of money.
Had CBC been able to finance a year of the story instead of just 12 episodes per season the soap would have thrived.
But this one never even came out on .DVD. I'm told some of the sets are still standing and used on the various Degrassi series.
 I simply feel an hour revival would make it if heavily promoted and allowed to flourish for a full year of episodes.
A series far older was Quentin Durgens M.P. starring a very young and lean Gordon Pinsent.
The show debuted in 1966 when I was still a student at the University of Toronto and lasted until 1969 in increments of about six episodes a year.
What I'd do is recast the lead with Leah Pinsent, Gordon's talented actress daughter.
Then I'd plop her into the turmoil of the Canadian House of Commons and be immersed in a great political scandal not of her making.
Then I'd plop in Gordon as the aged but politically cagey Quentin who comes to the rescue of his daughter who represents the Ontario riding he once represented 40 years before.
E,N.G. was a popular hourlong drama running on CTV from 1990 through 1994.
I have no idea why this popular series has never come out in a boxed set.
The clerk at HMV Video told me it was one of the most requested Canadian series not on video.
Sara Botsford and Art Hindle were the stars of this newsroom story and I'd bring them back as the station is threatened with foreclosure by failing ratings.
They want to reinvent TV news by giving it a harsher coverage, confident that telling the truth for once on TV will reap big audiences.
Canadian sitcoms that could be reinvented include Maniac Mansion, Frontier Rabbi and Maniac Mansion.
Some Canadian sitcoms did not make it because they needed more work --that's my rationale for reviving In Opposition and Not My Department.
King Of Kensinton starred the gifted Al Waxman --he has passed but I'd recreate the show with his TV partner played so tellingly by Fiona Reid.
One of the first CBC TV events I ever attended was the lavish premiere for  Whiteoaks Of Jalna which ran for 12 hours starting in January 1972.
Did you know French TV later tried a version with the great French star Danielle Darrieux?
I say try again --but this time use only the original story by Mazo de la Roache. TV's version added a secondary modern story with the same bunch of actors also playing their ancestors.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

I Remember Robert Osborne





The first time I met Robert Osborne it was 1993 and the genial old movie host was giving interviews at the annual launch for AMC (American Movie Classics).
That's what I said AMC!
Turns out Osborne never did officially join that old movie channel but instead accepted a better bid to become the night time host of TCM ( Turner Classsic Movies).
And for a decade after Osborne joined me in a bid to force the Canadian Radio-television Commission to allow this great haven of film classics to be admitted to the Canadian cablde TV dial.
I remember one CRTC bureaucrat actually telling me TCM was ineligible because there was no Canadian content.
So I got to talk to Osborne on the phone all that time and later when TCM finally hit Canadian TV.
The most important fact: Osborne never did directly program the films shown daily.
"That's a job in itself," he told me. "But there is a lot of give and take. And when I get the lists I get to work researching all films I'll introduce."
When I first met him he'd recently caused some controversy but stating it was TCM's mission to show Congo Maisie as much as it was to show Gone With The Wind."
"Every movie tells us a lot about the times and the people involved in the filming. I guess GWTW is the most shown movie on TCM. But Congo Maisie deserves our attention, too."
AMC was there first and showed the collections of Paramount, Universal, RKO and 20th Century-Fox."
That left Turner with Warners, MGM and RKO (shared with AMC). TCM recently Columbia pictures were added. And now MCA (Paramount and Universal) has also joined.
These days TCM is the last major movie channel around using hosts.
In Canada we had the energetic Elwy Yost in TVOntario for over 20 years. But these days TVO is out of the movie business entirely.
Most people did not know that while Osborne lived in Manhattan he had to fly to TCM headquarters in Atlanta to tape his introductions.
"I started in Hollywood under contract to Lucille Ball as part of a company of aspiring young actors. Lucy trained us in workshops, gave us bit parts in our shows, then told me I should be behind the lights. It was the best career advice ever given to me."
He lived in an apartment in New York called The Osborne. "But it was not named after me! Honest!"
For the past few days TCM has been rerunning all his hour interviews with the likes of Betty Hutton, Debbie Reynolds and Norman Jewison.
In 2011 Osborne was off camera for months recovering from a serious illness and when he returned young Ben Mankiewicz was spelling him off more and more.
Osborne chuckled when I told him Canadian viewers were often perplexed by his introductions. Recently he'd introduced "Claude Rains in a Hitchcockian romance."
Instead Rains appeared in Saturday's Children and not Notorious as Osborne had obviously been publicizing.
"In Canada we have to change seven per cent of titles which we do not own," he admitted. "I dearly wish they'd change the intro, too."
And I'm missing him already.






Thursday, March 2, 2017

All About The Joan Crawford--Bette Davis Feud



On Sunday March 5  at 10 p.m. FX begins showing the new miniseries The Feud : Bette And Joan starring Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and  Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis.
Well, I know a lot about that feud, I met both ladies on several occasioned and interviewed many of their co-workers over the decades.
From my archives I've culled the juiciest quotes to illustrate the great hatred that always exiusted between Joan and Bette.:
VINCENT SHERMAN: I directed Bette in Mr. Skeffington (1944)  and Joan in The Damned Don't Cry (1950). Bette was the more versatile actress but Joan was a star over a longer period and this irritated Bette.
I also had love affairs with both. On Mr Skeffington (1944) Bette's second husband had just died under mysterious circumstances and she was very needy. She wanted me to leave my wife and children and after I refused we never worked again.
Joan used sex to counter her feelings of loneliness. She always became the character she was playing. In the second film we did together Harriet Craig (1950) I used her compulsive need to dust and clean --she was cleaning away one day during a take when she looked up and said "I'm playing myself, right?" And she was right.
EDWARD DYNTRYK: When I directed Where Love Has Gone (1964) I had to cope with the hatred between Bette and Susan Hayward who was a toughie in her own right.
Bette not only had to take second billing but she was playing Susie's mother and was only a decade older than Susie.
Bette would storm onto the set shouting "Don't worry boys I've rewritten a few lines!"
Whereupon Susie would storm off the set, slam her dressing room shut and refuse to leave until all her lines were properly restored.
After I shot the last scene Bette turned to me and said "Am I finished, Mr. Director?"
I assured her that was so and she took off her white wig and tossed it at Susie and it bounced off her forehead.
"You disgusting old bitch!" shouted Susie as Bette exited Stage Left.
IRVING RAPPER: I had just finished directing The Gay Sisters (1942) with Miss Barbara Stanwyck who everybody loved when Warners announced I'd be directing Bette for the first time in Now, Voyager (1942) and Barbara gifted me with a wreath of black roses. She knew the travails I was going to face!
ANNA LEE: On the set of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane (1962) I had the dressing room between Crawford and Davis.
I could feel the great waves of hatred emanating from both dressing rooms. I felt quite noxious at times.
In one Bette had to drag Joan across the living room and Joan claimed Bette had deliberately kicked her in the face.
To retaliate Joan had jockey weights sewn into the hem of her skirt so when Bette had to drag her some more in the next scene the weight was so much Bette's back popped out a d she had to be taken to the hospital.
BETSY PALMER: On every picture Joan had to have a scapegoat and usually it was a young girl just starting out.
On Goodbye, My Fancy it was Janice Rule as the ingenue and Joan barked at her mercilessly.
On the picture I did with her Queen Bee (1955) she latched onto pretty little Lucy Marlowe and in one scene when Lucy forgot her lines because she was frightened Joan sucker punched her just like that!
GERALDINE FITZGERALD: Bette took me under her wing in Dark Victory (1939) which was my first big picture at Warners. I'd been warned by the director she'd try to get me out of focus during my big speech which is why I'm holding onto the piano with all my might. But you see I posed no thereat to her.
But Bette was never collegial. She'd just finished The Old Maid (1939) opposite Miriam Hopkins the greatest scene stealer of them all. Miriam appeared on set the first day wearing one of Bette's dresses from her past hit Jezebel and Bette went crazy.
VINCENT SHERMAN: On Old Acquaintance (1943) Bette and Miriam went on a dizzy field trip of trying to upstage each other. The day I had to photograph Bette slapping Miriam the rafters were filled with employees, Miriam was hated so. And Bette drilled one so hard Miriam's head bobbled up and down.
The next day Miriam phoned in sick saying she was suffering from a huge headache and her absence cost the studio thousands of collars.
GEORGE CUKOR:  On The Women (1939) Joan was forced to take second billing to Norma Shearer and she hated this. During line reading rehearsals she'd click her knitting needles every time Norma had to make a speech. Finally I told her to stop at once and Joan fled from the stage in tears and wouldn't return that day.
CURTIS BERNHARDT: I directed Bette Davis as twins in A Stolen Life (1946) and then Joan Crawford in Possessed (1947) which she took over when Bette went on maternity leave. Joan took an Oscar nomination and Bette was not at all happy I can tell you.
They loathed each other because they saw themselves in each other. Both came from poverty. Both had been deserted by their fathers. Joan's childhood was more oppressive but neither had happy memories of their younger days. Joan would be in full makeup at 9 a.m. and nobody worked harder. Bette needed a lot of direction because she had a tendency to go over the top. Their dressing rooms were side by side but they never talked to each other. Joan was a diet freak, she'd nibble carrots at lunch. Bette would pork it on and then go on killer diets. I think they fascinated each other, they never stopped competing.
JOSEPH COTTEN: Joan started HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964) but claimed Bette was harassing her. Crawford had collected IOUs for the female stars up against Davis for the Oscar for Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and when Ann Bancroft won but couldn't make it (she was on Broadway) Joan whisked past Bette backstage and walked out and took the Oscar and made a great speech for Ann. Needless to say Bette was seething.
VINCENT SHERMAN: Joan pretended she had a virus and was in hospital when I visited her. She claimed she was in perfect health but had faked it to "get away from that bitch!" Then she jumped stark naked out of  bed and we made furious love on the floor of the hospital room.
GERALDINE FITZGERALD: In 1977 Bette was the first woman to win the AFI award,Koan had just passed and I wonder what she would have made of this! Bette was astonished so many of her co-workers refused to attend including Robert Montgomery, George Brent, Irving Rapper and Vincent Sherman. Bette forgot how viciously she'd fought for her place in the sun.
NOTE: In i977 I interviewed Davis at her Hollywood apartment and told her that I had to leave at 5 p.m. to attend the Joan Crawford Salute at the Academy Awards theater.
BETTE DAVIS: Who'd salute that bitch?
ME: Well, the welcoming committee at the door includes John Wayne, Myrna Loy, Robert Young, Virginia Grey, Steven Spielberg (who'd directed Joan on TV's Night Gallery).
BETTE DAVIS: Well, I never said she wasn't important. She was old Hollywood, she worked at it harder than anyone I knew, that stardom which she truly believed in. But she was one tough broad is all I'll say.
VINCENT PRICEL: On Bete's last completed picture The Wales Of August (1984) Bette was her usual obstreperous self. She started picking on Lillian Gish and Miss Lillian was 91 for heaven's sake.
Director Lindsay Anderson was lining up a close-up of Miss Lillian when Bette burst in "Oh, fer gawd's sake, that old bitch invented the close-up!" That's Bette! Feuding and fighting and fussing!
-30-














Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Good News: CTV's Cardinal Is Coming Back






Best news of the week" CTV's Cardinal is coming back for two more seasons.
And Cardinal may be the wave of the future for Canadian TV drama.
The first season ends tonight at 10 on CTV and ran a short term of just seven  hourlong episodes.
But audience reaction was fierce: so CTV has ordered two more "cycles" of six hours each.
In the past a Canadian TV series like the currently running Saving Hope would glide along with 13 hours and try competing against the U.S. imports of 22 hours per season.
I think Cardinal works because it is unrelentingly Canadian --it was photographed in Sudbury and North Bay. Although Billy Campbell (The Killing)  is American Karine Vanasse is from Quebec and other  key parts are played by Canadians.
Based on Gilles Blunt's 2000 novel Forty Words For Sorrow the story has cops Campbell and Vanasse figuring out that there was a serial killer in their community.I thing what made the story was the beautifully austere landscape which always seemed so threatening, menacing.I thought Campbell finely cast --I first interviewed him on the set of Dynasty way, way back and we reconnected on the set of Once And Again where he blurted out --"I really hate this character!".
Maybe so but he aced that guy and does so again here.
In past years Canadian TV has been too quick to ditch concepts that were not entirely working.
I'm thinking of CBC's attempts to float a series set in the Eastern Townships starring Nathaniel Parker. Iy was abandoned after one TV movie.
The success of Cardinal comes from the immaculate adaptation by Aubrey Nealon and Daniel Grou's sturdy direction.
The series has already been sold to BBC meaning it must be very good indeed.
You can check out the seasonal finale wednesday night at 10 on CTV.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Having Our Baby: Surrogacy On Trial




Having Our Baby is the challenging new look at surrogacy that premieres on the Documentary Channel Tuesday night at 10.
It  answers many of the basic questions about this boom and there are facets I'd never even thought about.
As soon as I spotted Nick Orchard's name as director/producer I knew I had to preview this one.
Orchard's Vancouver-based credits include The New Beachcombers, Cosmic Highway and Cybersex Addiction.
Thankfully his production isn't a maze of questions as he chooses the personal approach.
We meet couples striving to connect with a surrogate mother and the location even moves abroad.
A look at surrogacy in India is particularly disturbing with women undergoing this procedure simply to make enough money to feed their own families --the racism here is something I'd never considered before.
We meet Edmonton couple Sarah and Jason Geisler as well as male couple Philippe Robert and Philippe Malo. And there is Ontario surrogate Eilise Marten whose story is particularly affecting --she has her own children but finds she is happiest when pregnant.
The state of surrogacy is changing as India and Mexico have banned surrogacy for commercial gain because of widespread abuses.
That portion of the film reminded me of another one from last year looking at poor people in the Philippines selling their kidneys for rich Westerners.
I would have liked to ask the Canadian couples why they just didn't go the adoption route.
And the experiences of these surrogate babies might be another interesting twist --how do they react when told later on about their unusual births.
Orchard is an expert interviewer and he manages to draw from these couples the often complicated reasons why they went the surrogacy route.
The point is made that surrogacy for profit is banned in Canada for what seems to be very sound reasons --in the U.S. the average fee is something like $36,000.
The strangest scenes are a reunion of surrogates and they turn out to be rather ordinary looking and completely sweet women --not at all predatory----I wonder as the years go on if they will ever  regret their decisions, that is certainly something to consider.
There is, of course, a huge stigma and much negativity because motherhood cannot be turned on and off like a faucet.
I'm wondering if there is a register so children who grow up can then contact their "real" mothers for whatever reasons.
How all this is playing out in Third World countries became for me the highlight of the film --the exploitation seems so callous and so very commercial.
I think the term used here is "reproductive tourism".
And the famous case of a western couple paying for a surrogate who had twins --the couple would only accept the "normal" one --the other baby with Down's syndrome was turned down.
The point is made very vigorously that in some cases the baby becomes a "thing" or a product,.
Multi-textured and completely challenging Having Our Baby (from Soapbox Productions) is compulsively viewable, a hit on many levels. Well done!
HAVING OUR BABY PREMIERES ON DOCUMENTARY CHANNEL TUESDAY FEBRUARY 28 AT 10 P.M. AND 1 A.M.
MY RATING: ^^^^.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cracking Cancer: Must-See TV





The future of Canadian TV is bright --I make this statement after watching the brilliant new homegrown documentary Cracking Cancer which premieres on CBC-TV's Nature Of Things Thursday night at 8 on CBC TV.
The subject is daunting enough --the advent of POG or Personalized OncoGenomics but this new technique in battling cancer is personalized by the true tales of patients.
We first get to know and admire Zuri who is 33 and a new mother.
She battled breast cancer shortly after giving birth and endured a mastectomy, radiation, chemo and hormone therapy.
But 18 months later her cancer came back with a vengeance spreading to the liver and lymph nodes.
Her long term prospects seemed bleak until she was given a standard drug for diabetes --it was hardly a new drug--but because of POG Zuri is currently cancer free and thriving.
The director of Cracking Cancer , Judith Pyke, says the personalized approach was used to define what a breakthrough POG is for cancer survivors.
"We started in December 2015," Pyke tells me on the phone from Vancouver.
"Originally a letter was sent out to patients we wanted to film. It was a lot to ask but we found people who did want to tell about their condition. We filmed ten but only use seven here --we were looking for different aspects you see."
Pyke and her camera crew filmed the patients not only during hospital visits but also at home with families..
"And we also filmed the oncologists specifically Dr. Janessa Laskin who is co-founder of the trial at Vancouver's BC Cancer Agency."
The documentary opens with Zuri who Pyke salutes as "quite a fighter, so optimistic. And she has fared the best."
Nori's cancer came from a mutation that caused rapid growth.
 The POG team used decades worth of scientific discovery --the goal was to isolate drugs which might block the growth of Zuri's cancer.
Zuri was given a diabetes medicine combined with hormonal treatment and five months later her cancer seemed to have become virtually undetectable.
We also meet Trish who is battling colorectal cancer and has multiple nymph nodes--she needs an eight-hour operation to eliminate a tumor on her spine.
Katya is in Styage Four for breast cancer and needs help quickly.
Then there's Marcy who is battling lung cancer and thinks she has found the right drug for her condition.
Karl has liver cancer. which was diagnosed very late.
And there is a wonderful little boy Sagar who has a unique condition which mimics cancer.
"Of course we didn't know in adevance what would happen to any of them," Pyke explains. "Of course you get emotionally involved. It was an incredible journey."
But how to explain all this to the average viewer?
Luckily NOT's long time host. Dr. David Suzuki joins the team to do exactly that. Now based in Vancouver Suzuki more often these days fronts the weekly hours. But here he uses his experience as a geneticist to ask the tough questions.
Suzuki interviews Dr. Marco Marrra, one of the leading genome scientists, who explains the procedure in terms anyone can understand.
Pyke thinks the hour is basically a study in courage. The outcomes can't be revealed here but there's sorrow as well as triumph.
Today's TV hour is actually 42 minutes--meaning heroic editing was needed to preserve the content but keep the pacing.
Pyke credits ace editing (Alan Flett) and her director of photography (Todd Craddock). Pyke wrote it with Helen Singer and Sue Ridout produced for Dreamfilm Productions.
The result is a model of how to engage viewers without sacrificing quality.
CRACKING CANCER PREMIERES ON CBC-TV'S THE NATURE OF THINGS THURSDAY FEBRUARY 23 AT 8 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Showcasing The Bugs In Your Home!






Usually on The Nature Of Things TV fans get to visit tropical rain forests or the frozen Canadian North or laboratories in Oxford University.
But director Roberto Verdecchia had this great idea -- he wanted nothing better than to visit an average Toronto home and report from there.
You can see for yourself on the absolutely original hour The Great Wild Outdoors which premieres on CBC-TV Thursday February 9 at 8 p.m.
Verdecchia's method is simplicity itself --he selected the home of friends and bade them leave while he brought in a team of eager entomologists to track down every insect living uninvited in this home.
"I think we got almost everything we wanted," says Verdecchia. "We simply wanted to show how every house is a fully functioning habitat for a wide variety of insects."
At first we see the TV team bidding the Vettese family goodbye as the home becomes the personal insect fiefdom of talented researcher Michalle Trautwein and her easger beaver crew of insect detectives.
It's "Lights!Action!Camera!" and the stars of this production seem to be everywhere --under rugs, lurking in the darkest recesses of the cellar, even in the clothes closets.
I asked Roberto on the phone what would have happened if none of his guest stars had shown up and he laughed.
Because this hour was shot in the summer and many of the critters simply enter via open doors and windows.
"In deepest winter it might be a bit different but they are still there," he says.
Of course the young children in the family seem not at all enjoyed to be sharing such a nice house with bugs.
But generally speaking the bugs don't bother us much and we're expected to do the same thing I guess.
The press release quotes Roberto as saying :"I'm not much of a bug guy." But he effortlessly captures the enthusiasm of the researchers upon each discovery.
So here we have it --a wild life adventure documentary that resolutely never goes outdoors. How strange is that?
Every home it turns out teems with life and the question here is relevant: who is living with whom? What we have here is a great, unchartered frontier.
Every discovery becomes a joyful moment and specimens are bagged to be sent to the laboratory.We get to know a little about the researchers who seem impossibly young.
There are carpet beetles, clothes moths, the delightful wood louse, all those spiders in the basement.
I know there are spiders because of the mummified remains of their prey. Others such as mites are so tiny they look like dust spots--that's a deliberate cover up.
I could go on: pantry beetles, the ever unpopular stink bug, the house seems chock full of all these critters. The silverfish have been around since the Stone Age. There's one specie who can drop a leg just to fool a predator. And the moth in the luggage -- I was waiting for him.
This reminds me of a past NOT documentary which looked at all the bugs in a normal back yard.
Two names deserve mention: director of photography Derek Rogers and bug wrangler Jim Lovisek.
The Great Wild Indoors was produced by 52 Media Inc.
THE GREAT WILD INDOORS PREMIERES ON CBC-TV'S THE NATURE OF THINGS THURSDAY FEBRUARY 9 AT 8 P.M., REPEATED ON NEWS NETWORK FEB. 11 AT 7 P.M. AND FEB. 12 AT 4 A.M. and 8 P.M.
STARTING FEB.9 THERE ARE REPEATS ON http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/the-great-wild-indoors.
MY RATING: ***1/2.