Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Did Larry King Jump Or Was He Pushed?

Larry King shocked no one last night in announcing he was throwing in the towel as host of CNN's Larry King Live.
The ratings did him in.
In the last year CNN's prime time ratings have sagged with King off by 37 per cent from his numbers a year ago --he's now averaging a paltry 677,000 viewers a night.
This means decreased revenues for the cable news network which is heavily dependent on advertising for its profitability.
And let's face it age --he's 76 --and bad health also did the veteran in.
In the past year Larry has resembled a hoot owl, shrunk up, barely comprehening his guests at times and certainly no longer cutting edge.
My sources are saying King was told by CNN to set a retirement date and stick to it.
Look, on TV everybody gets cancelled, it's only a question of when. It took Gunsmoke 19 years to get cancelled by CBS.
Oprah Winfrey has cancelled herself at season's end --she decided to go with dignity rather than wait for the public to desert
I only met with King once on the TV critic's tours.
He was ridding high in the early 1980s and was mighty pleased with himself that day.
He boasted he never did any preparation for his nightly show and sometimes that was painfully apparent. But King had all those decades as a radio talk show guy behind him and he always made his guests look great.
As long as he got the big names nobody at CNN cared and he even was on in weekend editions. But fights with diabetes and heart ailments severely sapped his strength.
Recently some of the biggest stars have preferred Diane Sawyer or Oprah when it came to hawking their wares --a new movie or tell-all book. Even the politicians stopped coming by like they used to.
And let's not forget his busy personal life which certainly reduced his standing among many viewers.
Successors are rumored to be one of the following: CBS anchor Katie Couric, Ryan Seacrest, British TV personality Piers Morgan or even Joy Behar, the one CNN star whose ratings are actually increasing.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

So Can Rookie Blue Make It?

The first U.S. ratings are in for Rookie Blue, Global's new Canadian police series that's closely patterned after Grey's Anatomy.
And the verdict?
Well, Rookie Blue on ABC got a rating of 2.0 which translates as 7.25 million viewers. By contrast ABC's Wipeout at 8 had 7.79 million so Rookie Blue did not keep all of the audience.
But at 10 another new ABC series, the documentary show Boston Med, premiered with 5.1 million.
Rookie Blue won its timeslot but NBC's the Office and CBS's CSI were both repeats. However, Fox's So you Think You Can Dance was new but only hit 6.35 million.
On Global the rating was an astonishing 1.8 million making it number one for the night.
But Canadian ratings do not count when it comes to decide Rookie Blue's fate.
If it crashes in the U.S. then it most certainly will not be around for a second season on Canadian TV.
Remember that Global had the high flying Falcon Beach just a few seasons back and when it lost its U.S. pickup it was quickly cancelled up here.
Rookie Blue has to keep building its American ratings over the next few months or it's toast.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Psycho Turns 50

Psycho turns 50 today.
It's strange how one of Alfred Hitchcock's least expensive movies has so infiltrated mainstream culture.
I remember as a teen of 14 going up to Toronto's Hollywood theater to catch an early screening.
The film wasn't "Restricted" but I did have to wait around a bit because stragglers were not allowed in until the next complete performance.
Did I understand how revolutionary the black and white suspenser really was?
No, but neither did most mainstream critics. In fact many of Hitch's biggest boosters like C.A. Lejeune positively loathed it.
I vividly remember the shower sequence. And the bizarre explanation at the end by the psychiatrist to explain Norman Bates' peculiar personality.
And in later years I became friends with its great star, Janet Leigh, who got bumped off about a third of the way into the movie.
We talked at length on four separate occasions, the first time was at her L.A. home and the last was crouching behind a gigantic tombstone in St. John's (Norway) cemetery in Toronto's East End.
And here's what she told me:
JB: Were you aware how important the film would become to your career?
JL: I've made three great movies : Touch Of Evil, The Manchurian Candidate and Psycho. But people only want to talk about Psycho, it's crazy.
JB: How did Hitchcock get you?
JL: He offered me the part after I came to his office and I talked to him about it. I said I got killed off early so why did he want me, it was a supporting thing which I didn't do. And Hitch said audiences would be so shocked they would be expecting Marion to return at some time, they just couldn't accept her death.
JB: Describe how the famous shower scene was filmed.
JL: To get just 45 seconds of pure cinema took seven shooting days. Every frame was story boarded by Hitch. We shot exactly as it ran. I had pasties and a G-string on but the pasties washed off in the warm water. We kept on shooting. You never see the knife touch her. You hear it --that was Hitch stabbing a watermelon. And the mother character silhouetted in the dark wasn't Tony Perkins but a stunt double. Tony was in New York working on a Broadway play that day.
JB: How quickly was Psycho shot?
JL: Very quickly on sets at Universal with Hitch's TV crew who were used to working very fast. Everything was backlot --the house facade and the motel are still standing, part of the Universal set tour.
JB: Any other memories?
JL: When I wrote my book I asked Vera Miles for memories and she never responded. We played sisters in it. She was Hitch's choice for the lead in Vertigo until she got pregnant. This was the last under her contract to him. Hitch told me he chose John Gavin as my boyfriend because he so resembled Tony. Hitch was making a comment that under normal circumstances Norman Bates could have enjoyed a normal life and even fallen for a girl like Marion.
JB: But you got an Oscar nomination.
JL As best supporting actress but I lost to Shirley Jones. Hitch got a nomination but Psycho was ignored as best picture and Tony was completely shut out. The Hollywood elite were simply put off by the whole thing. But successive revivals really ruined Tony's career as a leading man, he could only do horror films by the end of the decade while Psycho made me big again. I got The Manchurian Candidate because of it.
JB: But you never again worked with Hitchcock.
JL: He told me on the last day of shooting we could never work together again. I think he was sad about that. That movie follows me everywhere. As I checked into the Toronto hotel the desk clerk said "You see. I'm giving you a room without a shower." So I'm like part of modern culture in a very strange way.
JB: How did he feel about it?
JL: He never made another slasher film. He started that whole genre and it quickly became very sick. I can't stand any of those things and neither could Hitch. It just got out of control and he was upset about that.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rookie Blue Finally Debuts

So there I was on the set of a new Canadian police series Copper and I was chatting up the two stars Gregory Smith (from Everwood) and Missy Peregrym (from Heroes).
That was late last fall and it's only taken seven months for the Toronto made production to finally get a prime time berth.
It debuts Thursday June 24 at 9 p.m. on Global TV and ABC with a new name: Rookie Blue.
Yeah, that's right, ABC has given it the Grey's Anatomy time slot for the next 13 weeks. And the series can best be described as Grey's Anatomy at a police precinct.
So what went wrong.
Back in the fall I was told ABC had promised it would get the first available slot in the New Year.
What went wrong was Can West which was veering out of control, eventually slipped into bankruptcy and was sold off with Shaw Communications grabbing up the television network.
The series credentials are impeccable.
Smith, 27, was born in Toronto but grew up in British Columbia where his father is a film director. He's been acting since he was 14 months old but really jumped into the fame berth with his terrific run as the emotionally damaged Ephram Brown on the series Everwood. the series ran for six seasons and 89 episodes.
"We've met before," he stuttered on the Copper set that day.
Well, the first time was CTV's launch where the Canadian network had picked up Everwood and Smith seemed tentative about the whole fame game.
And the second time was just a few years back when he compellingly played a drug dealer in Sudz Sutherland's terrific CBC miniseries Guns opposite Elisha Cuthbert. That one packed such a wallop CBC kept it locked up for two years before letting it escape on TV before the start of the official season.
"The Everwood experience was overwhelming," Smith, 27, now admits. "I became Ephram for a whole lot of fans and finally I just toured around the world to get away after the series was over. But I couldn't get away. I'd be in remote places and it was playing --everywhere. But I wasn't Ephram, I was me."
Rookie Blue dramatizes the first tentative experiences of a new band of police rookies. The dramatic concept is hardly new U.S. producer Aaron Spelling used it way back in 1972 in the ABC series The Rookies.
Besides Smith and Peregrym the young and enthusiastic cast includes Enuka Okuma (from Madison), Travis Milne (Leslie, My Name Is Evil), Charlotte Sullivan (Iron Road).
And there are veterans Ben Bass, Eric Johnson, Peter MacNeil backing the young cast all the way.
"They wanted me to play the sensitive guy again," laughs Smith. "That would have been too easy. "I actually read for the exuberant one, the guy who's also the klutzy ladies man. And so I'm Dov Epstein."
Peregrym,28, gets more screen time in the first few episodes. She's well cast as Andy McNally who comes from a cop family --her dad, now a sad alcoholic, was on the force and raised her after her mother walked away from the family.
"I'll tell you one of the reasons I snatched at this,' Peregrym laughs. "People somehow think from Heroes and Reaper that I'm a sci fi actress. It's because I'm from Vancouver and that's what we make. I got cast first of all in Dark Angel, then Andromeda came along. But now I'm a real person, it felt so right, so real."
Peregrym says shooting the series for months made the cast bond and today "it's like we really were rookies. I had to learn to shoot. I had to be in training like a cop just to protect myself. I think the show is getting better every week we work at it. I'm just beginning to understand everything my character should know about being in the line of duty."
Behind the camera there's co-executive producer Ilana Frank, highly respected in the industry, who I last interviewed on the set of the CTV series The Eleventh Hour. She's one again partnered with another Eleventh Hour veteran, producer David Wellington who also directs the first episode.
The co-creators include Tassie Cameron who executive produced the first season of CTV's Flashpoint.
So what's not to like?
I've previewed the first three episodes which highlight strong, flashy directing, a great use of downtown Toronto neighborhoods (although never actually identifying the city) and the integrated use of musical interludes a la CSI Miami.
But what I didn't get was a strong sense of excitement, a reason to switch back for a second or even third week which is essential for any new series in attracting viewers away from the competition.
And the mortality rate of new series on American network TV has never been more pronounced --look at the failure of CTV's Flashpoint to consistently attract a sufficiently high audience on CBS.
Every new series wobbles at the beginning. Asking this one to hit the air up and running is pretty unfair. But that's the reality of the situation.
Frank told me her crew had shopped the concept at all of the major U.S. networks and ABC was the one to sign up.
By running the first series off in the summer ABC may be hinting it's already giving up on a long term relationship.
But the fact the opposition is in reruns could give Rookie Blue a real chance to catch on.
All the ingredients from sexy stars to plots that could snap crackle and pop are there but what's needed is time for all the potentially winning elements to get sorted out.
Rookie Blue is still trying to find its own, unique voice, its true identity as a series.
We'll just have to see if it succeeds.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Right Wing TV, Eh?

Lunching with a bunch of liberal friends was painful the day after the news broke that a possibly right wing TV news channel was coming Canada's way.
Boy were they all steamed up.
But as I was telling my lunch buddies it probably ain't gonna happen. I hope. St least not with the same partisan vengeance shown on Fox News.
Quebeccor Media Inc. says it will launch Sun TV News to become a sort of Fox News North.
It will replace the local Toronto outlet Channel 52 which currently reruns tired old movies and has consistently lost money. CRTC missed the boat by awarding this franchise to a Calgary company (Craig Communications) based on proposals nobody could have kept.
Then the station was sold to the Sun which barely survives as a tabloid these days.
President Karl Peladeau said the new news channel will "challenge the English Canadian TV news establishment".
Yeah, right. There's not going to be enough dough to jump start it and where will the advertising come from? Glenn Beck this year has lost some of his biggest accounts because of his scary racist views.
First of all the CRTC has stringent rules in place governing news channels and continuing outward bias is not permitted.
In the U.S. right wing TV news on Fox TV only flourished after the FCC rescinded its old rule giving equal access to both sides in all debates.
Once that hurdle was cleared it was a free for all.
Peladeau must also anticipate huge resistance from CBC and CTV which already hold news licenses and are bound to point out Channel 52's scraggly past and lack of quality Canadian TV fare.
Having another all news channel would seriously affect their bottom lines and could force several other channels into the loss column. Does CRTC want that?
Here is where I must admit I occasionally glance at Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck. It's now forgotten but Beck was a mere shadow of himself when hosting a similar show on MSNBC.
His rabid racism offends me and many Americans --he's lost many of his biggest advertisers as well as half his audience in the past year.
Could a Glenn Beck flourish on Canadian TV where the government supported CBC reigns supreme in news?
Wait a minute --I've never seen Peter Mansbridge cry at all whereas Beck can summon great floods of crocodile tears without any effort. In fact there's recently been the suggestion the whole tearful moments may be staged.
Do you really want to understand the Beck phenomenon? Then rent the DVD of the movie classic A Face In The Crowd (1957) with Andy Griffith as a Beck-like TV character.
He wouldn't be able to get away with many of his crazy comments on Canadian TV without having to summon up a spokesperson for the other side.
And Bill O'Reilly, a great blowhard in the Ted Baxter mold is more a poseur than a commentator.
Even Jon Stewart gets away with a lot and couldn't really make it on Canadian TV. He's around as an import but we like to watch Americans skewering Americans, don't we?
And remember Rush Limbaugh really bombed on his own syndicated TV series. He's a radio favorite and his show is given free to many radio stations --in return for which they rake in advertising dollars.
I'm not saying we don't need more diversity on Canadian TV but I rather like our comprehensive coverage of Ottawa politics whether it's CTV's Tom Clark or CBC news's Evan Solomon.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Comedy Saturday Night

Saturday night used to be the most watched TV night of the week.
What happened?
I blame it on VCRs and DVDs which splintered the audience until mostly reruns dot the landscape.
For the summer at least CTV should keep us laughing.
CTV is running a block of Comedy Now! shows Saturdays at 10 p.m. starting June 12 followed by another block showcasing the funsters of Comedy Inc.
First up on Comedy Now! there's a baggy comic from the logging town of Terrance, B.C.
Ian Bagg is really quite winning despite some rather questionable (for prime time) material and a preference for words usually only heard on cable.
He has a friendly way with audiences, yarns that are something else and would be perfect for his own CTV sitcom only Brent Butt got there first.
Up next week is another Canuck comic, Simon King, a butterball type who moved with his family to B.C. from England when he was young. He excels at accents --particularly Scottish --and if some material isn't exactly politically correct so what, it's very funny. As his act unfolds he becomes ever more manic but never loses control of the audience. He'd be perfect for a late night comedic turn a la Fallon or O'Brien --Canadian TV has lacked its own late night stand ever since Mike Bullard was forcibly retired.
However his act was obviously taped before Barack Obama became U.S, President --the date at the end is 2009 so some of the jokes need updating.
Comedy Now! is basically a taped standup thing but it works because of smooth camera work and use of audience reaction shots. The show was created by Sandra Faire who used to make dazzling musical specials for CBC when CBC was still into making specials.
At 10:30 there's the return of Comedy Inc which stars a gaggle of bright, young Canadian sketch comics. If anything the cast is too large --I can't remember who's who most of the time and not all seem to be around for every episode. It would be nice if they could all get together at the end for one big bow or something.
In this rapid fire sequence of skits some work very well but others bomb. And one word of advice: stop laughing under your breath when a sidekick gets really carried away. It annoys me.
I watched the first two episodes which are ripe with double entendres. The bit about the psychologist and the animal patients started off strongly but came back once too often. Best was a Technical Hotline where the experts deliberately try to confuse clients who phone in.
The second half hour on a week later had a great item about a seaman named Quint that broke up the cast and a very dark item about a hospital spokesman who is completely out of line.
My verdict: there's nothing else on this time of the year so why not sample some Canadian content? You can't watch U.S, repeats all the time, can you?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sam Hebscher Made CHCH-TV

The lack of coverage in Canadian newspapers on the passing of Sam Hebscher was truly appalling.
Make no mistake about it Hebscher in his time was a mighty force in Canadian TV.
He singularly made it possible for Hamilton's CHCH to rise to world class status. He died last week in Toronto in his 93rd year after a valiant fight against cancer.
Most people don't even know his name. In his day he was all powerful in Hamilton entertainment circles.
At one time in the 1940s he was managing both the Capital and Palace theatres as well as the Barton Street arena.
Sam remembered the time at the Palace when "the morality squad was out in force during a live performance by (stripper) Gypsy Rose Lee. She was very tasteful, they wanted to arrest her because the mayor was in a tight re-election campaign. Right at the end she dropped her G-string while hiding behind a fan and her little four-year-old boy ran onstage to pick it up.
"She was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and the boy send fto a foster home before she was let go days later. And hizzoner got re-elected, too."
Another time during a screening of Mrs. Miniver (1942) Sam caught a couple making out in the back row of the Palace. "It was Evelyn Dick. I just scolded her and sent her and her boy friend on their way."
So it was only natural when CHCH got its license in 1954 that Sam would be enlisted by station founder Ken Soble who gave him the mandate to make CHCH THE movie station of the continent.
Sam remembered in the early days the films still arrived in cans and he'd store them at the hockey arena. CHCH was a privately run CBC affiliate but as the decade wore on the station moved more into programming of its own. With his superior movie connections Sam was able to know when certain packages would be coming on the market and bid for them first.
Consequently CHCH had the world premieres of such huge features as The Ten Commandments, Gone With The Wind, Ben Hur, Cleopatra and Dr. Zhivago.
I was once at a NBC press conference in Los Angeles when the president announced the world premiere of Gone With The Wind. He was none too happy when I politely but firmly corrected him.
Sam operated out of a cubbyhole on the third floor of CHCH headquarters in Jackson St. W. He was unpretentious about his amazing talents. One clue: he scoured the newspapers for what was showing at local Drive-Ins. He'd spot a title and immediately phone to purchase it because he knew the drive-ins were the last theatrical destinations for films before being sold to TV.
Sam retired in 1987 and CHCH went into a tail spin. The station made a catastrophic mistake in purchasing all the series made by Lorimar (except Dallas) and wound up with hits like Knots Landing but also many dud titles.
Talking to Sam several months ago, he was interested in the new/old policy being pursued by current CHCH management: back to movies. But he said such a commitment would cost plenty and so far he was seeing movies that had already played elsewhere on TV.
Chuckled Sam: "That never happened in my day."

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Summer TV Hit!

Do you still think TV sinks into a haze of reruns for the summer only to emerge in the fall with new fare?
Please reconsider.
I urge you to tune into the exciting third season premiere of Whale Wars which has one of the most exciting chases yet recorded on film.
On one side there are the bad guys like in any John Wayne flick. Here they're unrepentant Japanese whalers illegally snagging those huge beautiful creatures in the seas off Antarctica.
We watch in amazement as the gigantic harpoons blast into the creatures. The harpooned whales emit a scream much like a woman's screams and then the seas run red with blood.
It may be illegal but the Japanese are still doing it and capturing endangered hunchback whales and killing them.
The good guys are here represented by Captain Paul Watson and his intrepid crew.
We see them setting out on other brave adventure --the Japanese are pretending the whales are being used for "research purposes".
But the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is out to intercept the Japanese, to confront the whalers and try to cut the harpoon lines between the whales and the ships.
It's quite like a chase movie only this whole thing is very real and very dangerous. And this year Watson has a new ship christened the Bob Barker after the game show host who donated $5 million for the purchase of the vessel.We get to know the crew and why they risk their lives so that whales can go free.
And with the ecological disaster going on along the coast of Louisiana maybe this is the chance for armchair pundits to get involved in the race to save our planet before it's too late.
The first hour is nature TV at its very best. And it sure beats reruns, right?
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

CTV's Fall

As TV launches go CTV's fall schedule and gala party at the new Thompson hotel on Wellington St. W. was a muted affair.
In the past CTV would import buckets of American stars to the fall launches and over the years I got to interview Patrick Dempsey of Grey's Anatomy, the dames from Desperate Housewives and Kate Walsh from Private Practice in rare one-on -one encounters.
This year the U.S. stars were conspicuously missing. It was a launch that emphasized frugality but also played up the Canadian series CTV now wants to promote.
CTV's fall schedules includes 11 new series (many of these are costly imports).
And irony of ironies CTV will run Conan O'Brien at 1 a.m. weeknights after Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Conan defected from NBC when the peacock proud network tried to bump his Tonight show to 12.05 a.m. remember?
But CTV does have some significant Canadian additions.
Citytv's Marilyn Dennis will host a new version of her chatter show week mornings at 10-- CTV has needed a Canadian daily talk show ever since Vicki Gabereau and Dini Petty Ieft the network.
The Borgias is going to be the next important Canadian co-production --it's from the same team headed by ace producer Sheila Hockin that made The Tudors and before that Queer As Folk and will star Jeremy Irons and Stratford star Colm Feore.
And CTV has ordered up such U.S. imports as No Ordinary Family, The Defenders (with Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell), Law & Order: Los Angeles, Mr. Sunshine (Matthew Perry), and the new Criminal Minds spin-off with Forest Whittaker.
By my count CTV's prime time schedule will feature 18 hours of U.S. simulcasts a week while A Channel will have 14 hours of simulcasted U.S. shows a week.
LINDA SCHUYLER: (creator of Degrassi) ;" We're coming up to our 30th anniversary. And Jim you've been there for us all along. This season (moved to MuchMusic) we're going to tackle 48 episodes! That's twice the order for this year. How can we do it? I'll shoot four episodes simultaneously over 11 days. I'll use all the techniques I acquired on our soap Riverdale and I think I can make everything fresher than ever."
BRENT BUTT: (Hiccups): "Nancy (Robertson) had a prior engagement, she's busy elsewhere. We didn't know what to expect our first season. The reaction sort of overwhelmed us. Now they've put us before Dan For Mayor and it seems to viewers to be a sort of Corner Gas reunion type of thing. Yes, it's true another actor was used in the pilot. But the network said they wanted to see me in it and then I sort of wondered about all the situations I could write for both of us. So I'm back, I mean we're back. I mean together."
CRAIG OLEJNIK (The Listener): "People think we're cancelled. But we start work on our second season in August. We should be on the air next winter. It was NBC that didn't use us correctly, I feel. When they bailed out, that ver night, we got the largest audience up to then and we always did much better on CTV. I like the idea of a swap of episodes with Flashpoint, they could call in my character or something. It might be harder with Medium, we're on different networks. But we are coming back that's the big news."
PAUL POPOWICH (The Bridge): "You interviewed me on The Hardy Boys. Then again on Twice In A Lifetime."Note: Popowich seemed surprised when I told him that after co-star Al Waxman's death Sharon Gless had been preparing to step in for the third season (her husband Barney Rosenzweig was executive producer) but the U.S. network PAX lacked funds for another 13 episodes.
ENRICO COLANTONI (Flashpoint): "When we met in Hamilton where I was making the TV movie about Celine Dion, I told you I was ready to move back to my native Toronto and work. And then Flashpoint came right along. It starts up again on CBS this Friday. Not a vote of confidence to run in the summer but it may build an audience that way. We are getting better, getting into a rhythm. It just feels so natural to be back in my home town making this sdhow. And your other question about a movie of Veronica Mars? It should have happened, look at the success of Sex And The City. But I don't think it ever will, that's the sad part."
BRIAN WILLIAMS: "Now don't you go asking me how much CTV lost on the Olympics. I don't know but it could well even out after all the DVD sales. I only know it was the best one ever because we had almost all the events live. I've been doing these events since 1972, this one exceeded all others. When I left CBC pals warned me I'd be eaten alive at TSN. I've never encountered such professionalism, it all came together for us at these games and to be a part of the most watched moments on Canadian TV in the last 25 years was, well, pretty terrific."
After such close encounters I tip toed out as the crowd gorged on booze and dainties and spilled out onto the sidewalk.