Friday, June 23, 2017

Celebrate Canada Day Early With Jonathan Torrens





You can celebrate Canada Day early with Jonathan Torrens in the exceptional new CBC-TV  special Your Special Canada.
It premieres on CBC Sunday June 25 at 9 p.m. with a repeat on July 1 at 7 p.m. on CBC-TV. Got all that?
"It's a comedic valentine to the joys of being Canadian," Torrens is saying on the phone from his Nova Scotia home.
"I thought it would be fun to re-visit Charlottetown where I was born and where Canada was born in 1864."
Along the way Torrens invites a certain jaded politician named Sir John A. Macdonald to comment on the proceedings as he visits a maple syrup bunker in Quebec, soldiers stationed in the northernmost Canadian base of Nunavut (closer to Stockholm than Ottawa) and even dives into a gigantic butter tart for a socko finish,
"I think we covered a lot of territory --the intention was to show Canadian diversity," Torrens is saying. "There's a lot to be proud of in this country."
The last time I remember hearing about Torrens he was announcing farewell to a remarkable 10-year stint on the TV series hit Trailer Park Boys.
Torrens was nicely cast as the white rapper J-Roc. He says leaving was hard particularly since the series shows no signs of dipping in popularity.
"It's one of those Canadian TV hits that keeps on going" he says and certainly to be placed in the same category as Red Green, Corner Gas and the current comedy hit Schitt's Creek.
Torrens' work on TPB includes 10 seasons of TV episodes, three movies and two specials.
He also toiled as a director and writer on the series --it won a deserved Gemini as best ensemble performance in a comedy.
"I couldn't do anything more with the character," Torrens tells me. "But it was always a pleasure to be part of that company."
I first interviewed Torrens when he was fronting a talk show called Jonovision --I'm reminding him of the time the arranged for the first reunion of the cast of Degrassi.
It was the great reception these grown ups received that spurred interest in the revival of the series which lasted far longer than the original series.
I tell Torrens he should get an agent's fee for setting the groundwork.
Torrens' salute to the uniqueness of Canada ranges from a Zamboni race to a salute to the world's oldest drag queen all done in a light comedy style that's fresh and funny.
One of the highlights is a sweet and touching salute to aging drag queen, Russell Alldread (as Michelle DuBarry),  a proud Canadian, that shows how talented Torrens is as an interviewer.
The visit to the maple syrup vaults is amazing --all that liquid gold held in a gigantic bunker just in case there's another world wide shortage.
"Then we have a race between ice resurfacers --as they prefer to be called and what could be more Canadian than that."
At Toronto's Harbourfront Torrens asks such daring questions as who is the sexier Canadian-- Pamela Wallin or Pamela Anderson? A wrong answer gets a beaver tail in the face.
"We got in and out of Nunavut in 36 hours. It's the most amazing place."
And there's a cute Anne of Green Gables parody with Torrens as Jonathanne.
Mention must also be made of producer Lynn Harvey who was integral to the special right along.
Next Torrens is off to shoot the fourth season of Mr. D --he plays vice principal Robert Cheeley.
But I'm suggesting CBC look at Your Special Canada as a possible pilot for a new comedy series showing the breadth of Torrens's talent.
It's been a long time since CBC had a decent late night talk and comedy show. How about it CBC?
YOUR SPECIAL CANADA PREMIERES ON CBC-TV SUNDAY JUNE 25 AT 9 P.M. On CBC (REPEATED JULY 1 AT 7 P.M._
MY RATING: ****.
B

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Time To Bid Adieu To Orphan Black







So there I was at the local street bash in my Toronto neighborhood and a neighbor from several blocks away is telling me she never watches Canadian TV drama series.
"But you've just said you're a loyal fan of Orphan Black," I told her. "And it's made right here in Toronto."
And boy did she look surprised and chagrined!
I'm always getting that kind of guff from people addicted to American serialized TV dramas.
So it pains me a bit to report this is the last season for Orphan Black which certainly blew back on a lot of stereotypes.
Here is a Canadian series that is beautifully made in all departments and lead Tatiana Maslany has soared to super stardom --and even won an Emmy as best series actress which I think must be a first for a Canadian TV show.
But this isn't all a rave --I felt the death of a beloved clone on last week's episode went far too far.
One could hear the crunching of the bones and the scene was far too violent for other fans, too, judging from reactions on the fan base.
"Clonicide" was the word used.
Star Tatiana says the staged death scene was "awful"and she had a sort of rig installed as the character got stomped to death.
Co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson say the death scene was planned for last year's Season Four but delayed until the final outing to make maximum dramatic impact.
I found the first few episodes of Season 5 to be a bit disappointing and that's because on all serialized drama cliffhangers have to be resolved or explained away.
But what has always distinguished this show is the sheer professionalism, call it "the look" of each episode.
Production designer John Dondertman deserves a lot of credit along with his whole staff and the same goes with costume designer Debra Hanson and director of photographer Aaron Morton.
And then there are the Canadian directors: Helen Shaver, David Wellington, Grant Harvey, David Frazee, and Morton again.
I visited with Maslany at the end of the first batch of shooting --I'd long admired her for her guest work on such other series as Heartland.
She didn't seem to believe me when I told her her career would be changed --for the better --and was off to New York for the first batch of publicity.
Garnering an Emmy was big news --I'm trying to remember other actors on Canadian series who were similarly noticed.
Indeed when the Toronto version of Queer As Folk was running the executive producers told me it would garner no acting Emmy nominations because the voters were U.S. based and not likely to nominate "runaway productions".
Anyhow I'm determined to watch the last batch of Orphan Black and wonder what's next for Canadian TV series drama --what will be the next great show or is it already in the works?
.



Thursday, June 15, 2017

Line Up To Watch The Taming Of The Queue






Familiar with all  those doomsayers out there predicting the decline and fall of Canadian TV?
I say tune into the brilliant new Canadian made TV documentary The Taming Of The Queue premiering Sunday night at 9 on the documentary channel.
It's worth lining up to watch.
Montreal Josh Freed has got it almost perfect in his funny and sad quest to show why most of us spend about two years of our lives lining up.
I naively assumed the subject matter would look at long lineups in the grocery stands as well lineups for concert tickets --and it does all that.
But there are also examinations of the traffic lineups that bedevil us if we live in a big downtown city.
And what about waiting on the phone for access to a bank manager? That's a lineup, too.
And the more I watched of this great documentary the more I realized I seem to spend a great deal of my day in lineups.
Getting a new passport was a hellish adventure in lineup waiting.
Then I waited in the subway to buy seniors tickets and there was another line to get on the crowded subway car.
Then I waited in Loblaws with my produce.
And I can't figure out why it has taken so long for a committed filmmaker like Josh Freed to tackle the subject.
Freed tells me on the phone he took about 18 filming days "because I basically knew what I wanted at the beginning."
But he had to travel to New York, London, Paris and even Mumbai  to show us how lining up is very different in different cultures.
"I blame it all on the French Revolution," Freed tells me and he's not entirely kidding.
Freed says queues first formed in revolutionary France because it was the egalitarian way to show all citizens of the republic were equal --no more special privileges for the aristocracy.
"But what truly surprised me was how the British seem to actually like queuing"
Again, it might be history --Britishers survived Dunkirk and the Blitz by queuing up --it became asmuch apart of the national culture as stiff upper lips.
Freed visits stolid Britons who queue up for leftover tickets at Wimbledon --one lady and her sister say they like camping out for days and would just hate it if the tickets were instead offered online.
Freed's interview with MIT professor Richard Larson is priceless --Larson's expertise has resulted in a nickname as "Dr. Queue".
Dr. Queue notes cases of "lineup rage" which have resulted in murder convictions.
Russians thought the line-ups outside Lenin's Tomb were awful --until the first Mcdonald's opened in Moscow causing day long queues for that Big Mac.
We visit with people who'll spend 48 hours trying to nab tickets for the next Saturday Live TV show.
Some nerds boast of waiting 18 days to get the first new iPhones --I wonder how they had eaten and slept?
Then Freed and his camera crew visited Mumbai an  "we nearly got crushed" trying to bard the railway.
"After a half dozen attempts I concluded it was impossible. And yet Indian friends do it every day, it's perseverance and experience."
About supermarket queues Freed discovers those who chose the "self service" line find it is slower than waiting in line for a trained teller who can really whiz through items.
And Freed thinks queues may be disappearing --you'll have to watch to see what he thinks is a big trend.
Freed's novel became the hit movie Ticket To Heaven (1981) "but I discovered Los Angeles was not for me. I wanted to do personal projects which are mostly is impossible on American TV.
"That's where the documentary channel comes in. It's one of the special parts of Canadian TV."
THE WORLD PREMIERE OF THE TAMING OF THE QUEUE IS ON DOCUMENTARY CHANNEL SUNDAY JUNE 18 AT 9 P.M. (REPEATED WED. JUNE 28 AT 8 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.












Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I Remember Chris Wiggins





I was shocked that Canadian character star Chris Wiggins's passing got such little attention in the local press.
Wggins died in Elora after struggling with Alzheimer's disease --he was 87 and always seemed to be working in his heyday.
I remember in 1972 being driven out to his spacious home in Unionville by CBC publicist Don Vautour --the occasion was to write a profile for The Hamilton Spectator.
It was a long afternoon and so long ago that there were many farm fields before we arrived at the Wiggins homestead --we sat around the farm table in the kitchen as the pet Irish wolfhound lay her head on the side and seemed to be listening in.
At the time Wiggins was acing it in the CBC daily soapera Dr. Paul Bernard.
Later, in 1976, I was off to another Wiggins set --he was playing the patriarch in a well written Canadian series version of Swiss Family Robinson.
"Why am I always working?" laughed Wiggins. "I think I can do many types of acting. I'm adaptable. I only wish there was more weork out there for all the Canadian talent that I know."
He was born in Blackpool. England, in 1931 and moved to Canada, aged 22  after a false start in  banking.
Wiggins where he worked himself up fro  small parts to leads --he was prominently featured in the 1957 Canadian made series Hawkeye.
"Lon Chaney Jr. was the nominal star and a darling man in the morning but by 5 p.m. he was totally drunk and we'd have to shoot around him."
In 1960 Wiggins joined the Stratford Festival "where I discovered Shakespeare was not for me. But I learned discipline and I'd go back in a moment if ever asked."
In 1969 Wiggins won a Canadian Film award as best actor for starring in The Best Damn Fiddler From Calabogie To Kaladar--"my co-star was a sweet young thing named Marghot Kidder with a great future ahead of her."
How tough was it to be a full time actor in the Sixties?
"It was damned tough. Americans were frequently imported even by the CBC. One had to do it all just to survive. But it also meant Canadian actors had more experience because we had to excel in all fields. "My hero was always Barry Morse who showed me that versatility does have its own rewards. I couldn't have lasted without CBC Radio, none of us could have existed without that support."
Wiggins loved making Paul Bernard, Psychiatrist which was a Canadian TV hit that travelled all over the place.
The plot had mostly female patients plopping onto the good doctor's couch and in a steam of consciousness would relate their stories.
"I'd just sit there and occasionally interject things and I got to listen every day to such great actresses as Dawn Greenhalgh, Anna Cameron, Nuala Fitzgerald, Gake Garnett,,Diane Polley, Tudi Wiggins, Micki Moore."
Eventually 139 episodes were filmed over a two-year period and sold everywhere.--CBS bought the U.S. rights for its affiliates.
Wiggins's description was priceless: "It was a one set soap opera!"
In 1975 Wiggins starred in the Canadian version of Swiss Family Robinson which ran for two seasons and 26 episodes on CTV stations/
"We're up against a very fancy American version," Wiggins told me on the set.
"And yet I think ours is better because it emphasizes the tightness of the family unit."
Other TV series that starred Wiggins included Hangin In (1981), Mariah (1987), Friday's Curse (1987-90), which ran for 65 episodes, By Way Of The Stars (1992).
He also voiced such series as The Care Bear Family (1986),  Babar (1989), Rupert (1991) and Redwall (1999).
In short here was a lovely man and a fine Canadian TV star.
 


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

CTV Is Bigger And Better





I always enjoy going to the CTV "Upfront" where the largest private network gets to strut its stuff.
But oh my how times have changed.
My first CTV launch it was stale sandwiches and cold coffee in President Murray Chercover's board room at CTV headquarters on 42 Charles St. East in Toronto circa 1972.
"My Canadian shows are Littlest Hobo and Stars On Ice," Murray groused to me.
"You expect me to promote that?"
But that was then and this is now.
Now it's the Sony Center filled to the brimming with thousands of advertising executives all eager to spend millions on new CTV fare.
I always judge these festivities by the food.
And after diligent research I can assure you CTV still has the best booze 'n dainties in town.
Ad executives chowed down teeny weeny hamburgers and delicious slices of grilled cheese sanwichlets and drank champagne and white wine and all seemed delighted by the chow.
As well as all the new U.S. shows CTV grabbed up.
That's because CTV's reach is so much bigger than rivals Rogers or Shaw.
That means CTV executives swing it to Los Angeles and after a week of sitting in darkened screening rooms they get to pick whatever they want.
They've got the reach, they've got the money --it's still as simple as that.
A steady stream of CTV executives came forth to the Sony stage to extol the beauties of  CTV production all different platforms.
CTV now stands as the numero uno Canadian network for the 16th season.
CTV is "refreshing" (its term) with new series on 6 of 7 nights.
Five new hour dramas are on deck plus three new comedies --all American imports, of course.
New acquisitions include Me, Myself And I starring Bobby Moynihan and John Larroquette (Night Court).
It is followed by a new Marvel franchise The Gifted with Stephen Moyer and Amy Acker.And David Shore has a new hospital drama The Good Doctor starring Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel).
On Tuesdays the new U.S. import is The Gospel Of Kevin starring Jason Ritter who was present. Should I have mentioned to him I first interviewed farther John on the set of Three's Company in 1976?
On Thursdays its the new sitcom Young Sheldon a prequel to Big Bang Theory.
On Fridays Marvel's InHumans will star Anson Mount and Canadian Serinda Swan.
Saturdays it's the new sitcom The Mayor starring Lea Michele and newcomer Brandon Michael Hall.
On Sundays there'll be a four-part miniseries The Indian Detective starring Russell Peters --it is considered a Canadian entry.
Also on Sundays there's Ten Days In The Valley starring Kyra Sedgwick.
Midseason pickups will include a Grey's Anatomy spinoff, a revival of Roseanne,the new series The Crossing (described as Lost 2.0), a Canadian music series The Launch, Aden Young in the six parter The Disappearance and three female detectives (headed by Wendy Crewsaon) in the new dewtective series The Detail.
CTV announced major expansion of local news with newscasts at 5 p.m.
CTV's greatest brand W5 returns for its 52nd season but I still say the network made a major mistake in ditching its great brand Canada AM for the innocuous Your Morning.
And don;t forget CTV2 is a completely separate network --it will have NFL football. twice weekly and on Saturday nights choice episodes of two fine Canadian dramatic hits Motive and Saving Hope.
I'd like to see CTV getting back into the TV movie game with two or three Canadian themed stories a year.
And some day if CTV is very flush might we even get a late night Canadian talk show?
Oh, and I forgot the best news of all: CTV's animated series based on Corner Gas is coming soon.








Rogers Media Is Fighting Back!






With all the gloom and doom talk about the future of TV it was quite a surprise to discover Rogers Media is fighting back --and how!
I ventured forth to the Metropolitan Toronto Convention Centre to partake of some goodies and a whole lot of talk about where Roger Media is going.
First the good news: traditional Rogers TV networks posted a sturdy six per cent increase in prime time viewership during the past season.
And why not! Rogers' Sportsnet currently has a hammer lock on NHL hockey and the Blue Jays.
Think what ratings might be next season if Edmonton goes up against Ottawa in the Stanley Cup finals!
An all-Canadian triumph--ratings would go through the roof.
Anyway Rogers Media president Rick Brace and senior vice president Colette Watson were as up beat as possible in noting the progression of Rogers on all fronts.
And despite all the current chatter about Netflix standard television still attracts ten times the viewing hours among Canadian customers.
The fall season sees Rogers gobbling up the Canadian rights to 12 new titles.
Last year City stations had eight of the top 10 imported U.S. comedies.
Clips showed Seth MacFarlane in the new sci fi comedy The Orville which seemed funny enough.
Then there's Ghosted starring Craig Robinson from The Office who investigates paranormal activity in Los Angeles.
A canadian cult fave Fubar joins the schedule and there'll be a Minnie Driver sitcom Speechless at midseason.
City has snagged Dancing With The Stars which is big news. And there;ll be a live musical event A Christmas Story plus a live presentation of the Tony winning broadway musical Rent.
City has also grabbed one of the best recurring dramas The Blacklist.
And a new Canadian series sounds promising: Blad Blood looks at a Montreal crime family with a host of familiar TV names.
Coming later there's Versailles, another Canadian entry, about Sun King Louis XIV.
And The Resident stars Canadians Emily Van Camp and Bruce Greenwood --it's all about a young doctor's ethics.
Returning U.S. imports include Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, the 60th Annual Grammy Awards and the 51st Annual Country Awards.
Rogers also plans to replicate its CityNews suppertime newscast at stations in Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg.
U still miss the presence of Gord Martineau in Toronto --he was an important TV news star for decades.
I know Canadian content supporters will be hollering but I'd prefer a few quality shows well financed and publicized and putting Canadian series on the air in the fall is often a recipe for ratings failure.
I have an idea for a Canadian series that would be inexpensive and a huge ratings hit: why not remount Headline Hunters as a contemporary show stacked with present day Canadian TV stars and featuring mystery guests who featured heavily in Canada;s glorious past? O  think it would be an instant hit.
Meanwhile the vast audience of advertising executives seemed to be having a good time as they munched on canapes and gobbled down the bubbly.
So, yes, it was a good news day for Rogers.





Wednesday, May 24, 2017

CBC: All Guns Firing For the New 2017-18 Season







Fighting Back!
That's the response of the beleaguered CBC as it struggles to hold its audience while still trying to fiull all roles as the country's public broadcaster.
At a star studded affair at CBC's downtown Toronto studios the mood seemed positively upbeat after years of budget cuts and constraints.There's even going to be a new summer drama series 21 Thunder set in Montreal and starring Christy Cook (Sephanie Bennett from The Romeo Section).
I thoroughly enjoyed chatting her up and Michael Levine (Republic Of Doyle).
It's been a bit since CBC had a hit Montreal series and this could be the one.
And coming on the heels of The Handmaiden's Tale there's going to be a new miniseries titled Alias Grace written and produced by Sarah Polley starring Sarah Gadon as a young, poor Irish immigrant and co-starring Paul Gross, Anna Paquin and Kerr Logan.
I also got to cat up Allan Hawco whose new drama series Caught is set in 1978.
Hawco told me it was a mighty difficult decision to close down the phenomenally popular The Republic Of Doyle but "I'm an actor. I had to move on as hard as that was for me."
Co-starring are Paul Gross, Tori Anderson, Eric Johnson, Charlotte Sullivan.
The Frankie Drake Mysteries comes from executive producer Christina Jennings --she is currently responsible for the long running Murdoch Mysteries.
This time out we'll follow the adventures of two female detectives in the Toronto of the 1920s. Starring are Lauren Lee Smith and Chantal Riley.
I suggested importing the cast of Murdoch in a mystery that starts in Toronto in 1900 and gets solved 20 years later.Hey, I really like that idea.
A new CBC drama series premiering in winter 2018 stars Canadian TV star Kristin Kreuk(Smallville) as an attorney returning to her small town roots.
I had a long conversation with Ilana Frank whose fine series records includes The 11th Hour, Rookie Blue and Saving Hope.
Returning CBC hour series hits include the venerable Heartland, Murdoch Mysteries and When Calls The Heart,
I finally met the great comedy talents responsible for Baroness Von Sketch Show which returns Tuesday June 27 at 9 p.m. for seven new half hours.
I think it deserves a fall prime time slot next.
And I re-met the creative team behind Kim's Convenience which returns for 13 new half hours in the fall. I think it's almost as funny as Schitt's Creek.
One new inexpensive series and all most  certain success will be The Great Canadian Baking Show which gets paired Wednesday nights with the original The Great British Baking Show.
Also returning Mr. D, Rick Mercer Report, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Workin' Moms.
CBC is also investing in 15 original digital series.
 There was a lot of talk at the opening meeting of using different platforms and how to fight back.
And there was one nostalgic note as Peter Mansbridge made his last appearance to TV critics --he's been anchoring The National for decades and retires from front line duty this summer.
And I'm still hearing one replacement could well be Ian Hanomansing.
There seemed to be more CBC employees in attendance this year--I'm told the Liberal government is promising more money for programming which is the best news of all.
What is immediately needed are av few miniseries on Canadian history like such pas successes as Pierre Berton's The Last Spike amnd the one with Riel.
CBC needs to win back the artsy crowd who have drifted over to PBS.
I remember in 1979 when CBC was in a similar financial bind the archives were opened and a "new" series Rearview Mirror created to run several Sundays with host Veronica Tennant.
Reruns of great opera and ballet specials were run plus choice episodes of such hits as Front Page Challenge and even an old Telescope interview with Charles Templeton quizzing Somerset Maugham.
In fact I think CBC should revive Front Page Challene and stock it with current Canadian stars and add Peter Mansbridge as host and for relatively little money have yet another hit.
How about it?