Monday, November 28, 2011

Waking The Green Tiger Is Great TV

With all the chatter in Ottawa these days about the future of the CBC along comes a brilliant new documentary that fully justifies the Corporation's continuing existence.
Directed by Vancouver film maker Gary Marcuse and narrated by David Suzuki Waking The Green Tiger has its TV premiere on The Nature of things Thursday night on CBC-TV at 8 p.m.
It's quite unlike any other recent documentary on China in that it penetrates beneath the official government censorship to show how peasants in a southern part of China stopped the construction of a gigantic dam in "Tiger Leaping Gorge" in the Upper Yangtze River.
Marcuse's team enjoyed incredible access to the beleagured peasants of the valley and to the green activists who were egging them on to try to stop construction.
The hour blends in perfectly with Marcuse's two other films on environmental concerns. The first Nuclear Dynamite copped a Gemini with its look at the wacky idea of building a new Panama canal using nuclear explosives.
The second Arktika: The Russian Dream That Failed looked at the emerging Russian green movement sparked by fears of nuclear contamination from submerged Russian submarines in the Arctic.
"I was surprised at the level of government cooperation we got on this one," Marcuse tells me on the phone from B.C.
"I think it's because the green movement is seen not as a political problem but as a source of genuine concern for everyone. The premier had even expressed misgivings several times about the plan to build so many new dams on the Nu River and the Upper Yangtze.
"The passing of new green laws encourages people to express their concerns which certainly was not the case just a few years ago."
The production has already won an award as Best Canadian documentary at Toronto's Planet In Focus film festival and was listed as one of the Top Ten Canadian films at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Marcuse says the Canadian contingent was small --just him and cinematographer Rolf Cutts-but he needed the cooperation of key Chinese green activists in telling the story correctly.
Some of the images are breathtaking --of the lush river valley and the industrious farmers.
"The landscape is simply stunning,"Marcuse says with some awe. "It's a big tourist center."
Government plans called for the displacement of 100,000 people and the complete flooding of 265 kilometers of the upper Yangtze.
Marcuse has compared it to flooding the Fraser river from Vancouver to Hope.
There are some great moments when local farmers board a bus to visit displaced villagers up the river and see for themselves what "progress" means. All over China a staggering total of 16 million people have been displaced by government dams.
"At first they're just happy to be on this trip, many had never been outside their valley. Then doubts set in by what they see."
Farmers in the relocated region now must root through garbage dumps to recycle glass bottles. They say they can't survive on the meagre compensation packets and many are dressed in rags. The villagers return with a renewed determination to fight the government bureaucrats.
When surveying posts are spotted in their fields the posts are quickly torn down. And the villagers meet and discuss ways for peaceful resistance which eventually does succeed in the delay for many years of the dam.
When I say many villagers do no look Chinese he says "There are many ethnic minorities there, many Tibetans and others. The valley was always a meeting spot for traders from different regions."
Everything the environmentalists are doing today runs counter to the pronouncements of Chairman Mao in 1958 as he urged his Great Leap Forward. What Map was really urging his supporters to do was wage war against the environment.
Archival black and white footage shows enthusiasts killing off the sparrows because Mao said they ate too much grain --but the birds also ate insects and without them great swarms of locusts resulted in massive crop failures in 1958 and 1959.
Marcuse even gets a typical Chinese couple of today who remember the starvation to wonder ironically why Chairman Mao so hated the sparrows --it's a great touch.
Today the green movement booms in China. Marcuse says his official government contact --his "minder"-even arranged an exclusive last minute interview with the former head of China's environmental protection agency Qu Geping who in a remarkable candid talk admits major mistakes were made.
Qu explains how environmentalism was allowed to sweep through the nation and how the government actually cooperated with the acitvists as long as they remained apolitical.
Marcuse says one inspiration was green activist Shi Lihong who graduated from film studies at Berkeley and had made a 20-minute film about the problems in the Upper Yangtze.
She emerges as one of the movement's heroines for sure.
For the moment Marcuse wants to get his film accepted for the Sundance festival. Already copies have gone viral in China and who knows some day might even be shown on government TV.
NOT has a 44-minute version and Danish TV bought a 56-minute one. The movie version runs 78 minutes so Waking The Green Tiger is reaching audiences in all sorts of ways.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Surviving The Grey Cup: A Guide

So the other day as I was addressing a Grade 8 class on the future of TV (I don't think it has one) a pert and sassy 13-year old asked me how I survived adolescence in the old world of a 10 channel universe.
I thought it was a funny line and tossed back an equally funny retort.
But now I'm thinking about it because The grey Cup is on Sunday night at 7 on TSN.
It doesn't carry the buzz it used to have.
Not on CBC. Not on CTV.
In ye olden days there'd always be a tussle about which of the nation wide networks would show The Game.
CBS always got there first with big bags of dough --remember this was before Quebecor started asking all those pesky questions about The Corp's finances.
One year I even remember CTV and CBC shared the broadcast so no one would be left out --in those days CTV's coverage was significantly less than CBC's
But these days?
The Game is live on TSN and that's that. The CRTC assumes everybody gets TSN these days but little do they know a lot of people are switching back to antennas these days. They're simply fed up with the huge cable fees and the lousy service.
I think the sports casters covering it will do just fine.
But to misquote my old U of T Chaucer professor Marshall McLuhan, the medium really is the message.
And being relegated to TSN, well, it somehow diminishes The Game.
The same thing happened when Glenn Beck was kicked off Fox TV and wound up on some obscure service and nobody ever quotes Glenn Beck anymore.
Same thing happened to Conan O'Brien in the States as he jumped from NBC to a service (TN) few Americans bother to subscribe too.
Conan no longer is getting the A list stars.
Well, we don't have a 10-channel choice anymore, do we?
The cable universe is 959 cable weblets and counting.
There's VHS and DVD to tape the game for future reference. Yo can tape The Game for later.
A guy I was just talking to told me he has 2,000 hours of curling on TV in his video library. And oh how he loves to watch those classic plays in slow motion.
Instead of Grey Cup CBC has three hours devoted to a movie blockbuster: The Chronicles Of Narnia.
Many households have more than one TV set these days so the days of the entire family gathered around watching CFL football is long gone.
Sunday night CTV is wall-to-wall Americana:Once Upon A Time, the Amazing Race and the 2004 flick The Bourne Supremacy.
Global TV continues its unabashed love affair with American imports: the Simpsons, The Cleveland Show, Alleb Gregory, Family Guy and American Dad.
And so it goes. I could pick Sister Wives on TLC. Naw. Or episodes of Suits and Castle on Bravo! Nope!
Buffalo's PBS affiliate WNED has a two-hour salute to the Lennon Sisters. If it were running a new Mystery! or Masterpiece Theater this is where I'd stop.
Also, there's Animal Planet which carries the repeat of the 2011 Puppy Bowl followed by the special When Animals Adopt at 8. Very tempting, very tempting.
There's a House Hunters marathon running on HGTV. But I'm more tempted by The Walking Dead marathon on AMC.
Turner Classic Movies has its premiere of Marilyn Monroe in There's No Business Like Show Business--Ethel Merman and Marilyn Monroe together again for the first (and last) time.
A baker's dozen of familiar American movie titles also dot the landscape.
And now I'm thinking how did I ever survive in that constipated old 10-channel world.
How did I spend my time?
Than it dawned on me --I actually read a lot of books and magazines back then.
And there was a ton of homework in high school --the government since my day abolished Grade 13 which is the reason record numbers of kids flunk out of university these days.
I made it through the rain OK. I survived on less.
And now with so many chances I just can't make my mind up at all.
Out of sheer frustration I just may watch an old tape or a preview DVD of something I want to review later on.

Friday, November 25, 2011

As My Stomach Churns: The End Of TV Soaps?

Cue the organ music. Cut to a monstrous close-up of a circling globe.
And now dear friends I must report that two of my fave TV series One Life To Live and All My Children are definitely over.
Kaput. Finished. The End.
For months those of use who follow the soaps with any regularity had been reeling at the news All My Children and One Life To Live had been cancelled by ABC.
One Life To Live. of course, continues on ABC but only until its anticipated climax on Jan 13, 2012.
A new venture Online Entertainment had planned to move both soaps to the internet conditional on whopping pay reductions from the unions concerned.
The media and production company would be Prospect Park founded in 2009 by Jeffrey Kwatinetz and Frank Rich (former head of Disney Studios).
But after five months of negotiations the talks have broken off.
Closing with the AMC stars proved impossible. No way was Susan Lucci going to wind up on the internet after her ABC stardom days. So there already was some sort of delay in getting AMC back up and running.
But among the OLTL cast virtually all the stars including Erika Slezak, Ted King, Michael Easton and Kassie DePaiva were on board and raring to go.
The unions wanted too much, initial viewing figures might be negligible and there even was talk of selling second rights to some cable concern.
New series going straight to the internet?
It was a question of too much, too soon.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Is Dr. Jennifer Gardy CBC's Next Big science Star?

Whither The Nature Of Things? Hither? Or thither?
Let me explain --the venerable CBC science series with Dr. David Suzuki almost went under a few seasons back when the CBC management team of the day wanted to cancel it after its 50th season on TV.
Nothing strange about that.
Over the years CBC-TV planners cancelled such CBC icons as Juliette, Tommy Hunter, even the gang on Front Page Challenge.
In each case the replacements proved less than stirling and in time got cancelled as well.
I was thinking about NOT's future when previewing Thursday's new episode Myth Or Science starring Dr. Jennifer Gardy.
Is it not a disguised pilot for a bright new hip science series. Just asking.
The formula is the kind of thing Discovery does so well all the time.
And the knock against NOT these days has been its cadre of aging viewers.
And may I also say i has an aging host --Dr. David Suzuki --the one who put NOT on the map eons ago.
I was around back then as NOT and its mighty rival This Land fought ratings duels week after week.
NOT's executive producer at the time, Jim Murray, told me of his game plan to fight back. Murray reckoned with CBC budget cuts there would soon be space for only one of these series and he wanted it to be NOT.
So he personalized the show, installed Suzuki as host and narrator, and when CBC honcos sat down to decide the fate of the two shows it was the hostless This Land that got dumped.
These days the hour long documentaries that are the hallmark of NOT have fallen out of favor with the head programmers.
Myth Or Science is a very watchable, fast paced look at all those scientific old wives tales we hold near and dear.
And instead of Suzuki fronting the show it's bright and perky Vancouver molecular biologist Jennifer Gardy who gets involved.
She's photogenic, has just the right credentials and is a natural on TV.
I've a feeling she'll be back in a series spinoff of this hour. And she's game for just about anything. Down the road a bit she may even get to step in as host of NOT.
Example: She journeys down to a Gainesville swamp in Florida and a mosquito breeding facility to check out whether anthropods really have an attraction for female over male flesh. the conclusion? Watch the hour to find out.
Or can eating fast cause weight gain? In New York city she goes hot dog to hot dog with Dave "Coondog" O'Karma to check out this myth.
At the University of Manitoba she meets "Dr. Popsicle" who submerges her in a tank of ice water to check the myth that the head loses body heat faster than other parts of the body.
Gardy makes a
She tried in 2008 to land a similar series attempt called the Project. But this time out she may make it.
Dugald Maudsley wrote and produced the hour (Jeff Semple directed) for Infield Fly Productions and as I say it's definitely a series possibility.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Farewell To Regis

It was an event of cataclysmic proportions.
Regis Philbin is the latest TV giant to depart from daytime.
Losing Oprah was a heavy enough blow. But Regis? He's been doing TV forever.
When did I first interview Regis Francis Xavier Philbin I'm wondering.
I had to look it up --it was on a 1975 TV junket in Los Angeles that I interviewed him for an NBC game show called The Neighbors which was a clone of the Newleywed Game.
Even then Regis had quite a history dating back to his years as announcer on Joey Bishop's late night show (1967-69).
Another gig of that time was as co-host with Cindy Garvey of the daily local show A.M. Los Angeles (1978-81).
I'd watch him in my L.A. hotel room and it was there that Philbin perfected his excited delivery style --he had to because he had to writers giving him material.
In July 1985 Philbin joined with Kathy Lee Gifford in New York on the daily national talk show Live With Regis And Kathie Lee --it ran nationwide on ABC stations and in Canada on CTV.
I spent a day on the set in the early 1990s. I sat up in the bleachers with all those darling women who'd been bussed in from small hamlets on the East Coast. Kathie Lee came out during the warmup and went right up to me and said "You don't look like you're having fun."
Later after the telecast I went to her dressing room and she was beside herself with laughter. "I must have known you were a critic!" she hollered.
Regis was nice, too, but preoccupied with catching a limo that would take him to a book signing on Long Islands.
They worked very well together and the whole effort was unscripted --that's what really made it work.
Kathie Lee decamped in 2000 and siap star Kelly Ripa was chosen as replacement in 2001.'In 2004 Regis overtook Hugh Downs as TV's most watched ever host with 15,662 hours to his credit --and counting.
The Guinness Book Of records said in 2009 he was up to 16,334 hours.
Philbin's contract with ABC was worth $21 million a year. When it expired the network declined to renew on such lush terms because of his age --he's 80.
So he now joins Larry King as a TV star emeritus. Kelly will go it alone with some guest hosts until a replacement is announced.
And Regis's departure has given way to a lot of musing about the future of daytime TV.
I'd say he's irreplaceable.
Look, nobody has stepped forward to replace Oprah. Anderson Cooper seems diminished as a daily talk show gabber. I don't dig Dr. Phil at all. Nate Berkin is pleasant but preoccupied with decor.
The point is made that at her peak Oprah attracted 6,5 million U.S. viewers daily. Drs Phil and Oz get just half that as does Ellen.
Waiting to jump in is perky Katie Couric while CBS is planning one with Jeff Probst.
Soaps are being dumped left and right for cost but talk shows are oh so very cheap.
Because of his background Regis was one of a kind.
And I for one am going to miss his professional pep and sassiness delivered at such an early hour.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Nature Of Things Deserves Preserving

Big news of the fall Canadian TV season is the mighty crash in the ratings of most CBC-TV series.
To me it means that more than ever CBC needs to preserve and enrich its crown jewels among which I number The National, Hockey Night In Canada and the Nature Of Things, Canadian TV's longest running scripted series.
A few years back there were rumblings at CBC that NOT's day was numbered and it would fold after its record breaking 50th season.
That didn't happen. Instead a period of benign neglect set in.
And don't forget the competition from such cable channels as Discovery and TLC.
But so far this season the crop of NOT's documentaries has been unusually high.
And that quality continues with the Emperor's Lost Harbour which looks at the unearthing of the lost harbour of Byzantine emperor Theodosius the last emperor to rule over both eastern and western sections of a United Roman Emperor.
The thing is modern historians knew a lost great harbour existed but its exact placement was in doubt --it has completely silted up at least 500 years ago.
Only when the modern city of Istanbul commissioned a new underground railway into the center of the city of 15 million people did archeologists hit upon this vast treasure trove of abandoned ships from another era.
We get introduced to the vast army of excavation engineers and what they're looking for but there's also a deadline because the train service has to be completed on deadline.
And we get a peek at some of the amazing artifacts unearthed --there are nearly complete ships that sank with complete cargoes onboard.
The Canadian geologist Nick Eyles introduces us to the various experts and what they're doing to unearth the past.
Made as a Canadian-French production and
Although host David Suzuki narrates it's clear he never actually visited the site. It's as if Suzuki's great rival David Attenborough were stuck in a London BBC studio instead of getting out on the road.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Murdoch Mysteries Saved --For Now

Murdoch Mysteries has been saved from the Citytv gulllotine at the last minute.
It's so unCanadian.
If you want all the details click on Bill Brioux's always excellent TV blog TV Feeds My Family for his insider details.
Murdoch and I we go way back, all the way to the time the concept was a handful of TV movies starring -=-are you ready for it --Peter Outerbridge.
But Outerbridge was a busy guy in those days.
In the summers he'd toil on the Murdochs which were then being shot in Winnipeg for three outings in 2004.
His main job was as star of ReGenesis, yet another classy show produced by Christina Jennings.
I remember at one Global TV launch when asked which one he'd chose over the other Outerbridge chose Murdoch Mysteries which really gave Global's executives gas pains.
But of course when Murdoch segued into a weekly series shooting at the same time as ReGenesis Outerbridge had no choice whatsoever. He had to stick with the sci fi hit.
Enter Yannick Bisson who was available.
I've been covering him since he was the new guy opposite Megan Follows in the TV movie Hockey Night (1984) when he was just 15 and already a comer.
Unlike most teen beau hunks Bisson did not falter --I covered him when he was c-starring in the 1986 flick Toby McTeague, the 1988 TV series Learning The Ropes, High Tide (1994), Nothing Too Good For A Cowboy (1999), Soul Food (2000), Sue Thomas F.B. Eyye (2002).
The word in the Canadian TV industry is Bisson always delivers.
So far the 52 episodes shot of Murdoch have been his steadies work.
I remember being on the set when the series was being shot in Toronto's east end and interviewing the author ()()()() who weeks later almost drowned off the coast of Florida in a freak accident.
The CBC press release says the network will be picking up Murdoch for a sixth season and I'm wondering if that includes rights to the reruns --with these CBC could kill off Ghost Whisperer, right?
CBC picking up another network's series? In CBC's Golden Age it never happened.
I remember dining with Brian Linehan after he defected from Citytv in 1989 --he supposed either CBC or CTV would pick him up but it never happened.
Linehan was part of the competition and not CBC's style, I was told.
I'm also remembering the stink when the new Ontario network Global TV filed for bankruptcy in 1972.
A lot of good Global product had to be dumped because neither CBC nor CTV wanted to acknowledge a need for product from a competitor.
Bernie Braden told me he'd tried to shop his Global consumer affairs show to CBC and got laughed at.
Anybody out there remember the great stink when CBC dumped Don Messer's Jubilee in 1969?
A determined Messer jumped to CHCH to tape another season which was syndicated station to station.
I can't remember a single CTV Canadian show ever going to CBC, can you?
I mean why would CBC ever have a need for Thrill Of A Lifetime, Stars On Ice, or Police Surgeon?
Wait, I'm on a roll! Wouldn't it have been hysterical if CBC had snatched away from CHC either Ein Prosit or The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein? No way!
But when CBC cancelled Fighting Words with Nathan Cohen, the Toronto Star critic sauntered down to CHCH to keep taping episodes until his death in 1971.
No, CBC and CTV would fight over American imports but never over Canadian content. CTV raised hell when CBC snatched away Laugh In for its second season by doubling what CTV was paying for the show.
And years later CBC smatched up thirtysomething after Global thought it had made the purchase for Canadian rights.So CBC riding to the rescue rto save Murdoch Mysteries is good news.
It's too bad CBC didn't also save Godiva's a few season ago, now there was a youth oriented series with great potential.
Perhaps as retaliation Citytv might pounce on Being Erica?
It's just a thought but worth exploring.

NBC Makes Big Changes

Look, things could not be any more dire for the fourth rated U.S. network, peacock proud NBC.
So the network is rearranging the deck chairs.
And the biggest concern is the sudden disappearance of Prime Suspect.
When Global TV rolled out its all American prime time the proud boast was the acquisition of the U.S. version of the Helen Mirren hit Prime Suspect.
Well, that just didn't happen.
Those of us who remembered the PBS original were aghast at the re-tinkering. And new viewers couldn't get around the basic unsympathetic heroine now played by Maria Bello.
In NBC's revamped lineup Prime Suspect is conspicuous by its absence. NVC oiurces say no decision has been made on its future. I don't think it has a future, it's as simple as that.
NBC ran the show in all kinds of days and times to try to build up an audience. It didn't work. Viewers simply were not interested
Another show "disappearing" is low rated Community --but here NBC assures us it is merely being benched.
30 Rock is coming back plus a new comedy based on the exploits of Chelsea Handler.
Starting Jan. 12 a TV version of John Grisham's The Firm replaces Prime Suspect Thursdays at 10.
Harry's Law is getting relocated to Sundays but not until March.
And I know everybody is really excited Celebrity Apprentice is returning Sun. Feb. 12 at 9 p.m.
And NBC says two reality series --Who Do You Think you are? and Project Runaway are also debuting in the New Year.
NBC had been highly touting a new drama series Awake but I don't see it anywhere on the schedule so far.
CBS which has a vast array of hits is replacing Rules Of Engagement (which goes on hiatus) with a new Rob Schneider comedy called imaginatively Rob.
Got all that?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Meet Jon Lajoie

Poor Jon Lajoie, there he was in Los Angeles in co-starring in a bright new TV sitcom The League.
Only trouble was his friends back in Quebec couldn't get the channel FX until last month it suddenly appeared on Canadian cable TV systems.
"But when I'm out on the road with my act Canadians everywhere come up and say how much they're enjoying me in The League."
Either a lot of cagey folk out in the sticks have illegal satellite dishes or they're on the Internet and can watch Lajoie's saucy song parodies.
When told kids on my street were singing one of them Lajoie is momentarily silent. I guess he's hoping it's not one of the salacious ones like Mel Gibson's Love Story.
"We try to be naughty, not dirty," he then explains. "And of course very funny. But these are not for children."
Lajoie talked to me from Toronto (by phone) as he's about to embark on another road trip to parts of Canada rarely traversed."It keeps me sharp and I use the experience to hone my routines and stories. There's nothing like a live audience."
Which mkes being funny on the League especially challenging as it's photographed in real homes outside L.A.'s core.
"We have to figure out in advance what will work. The only audience really? Ourselves I guess."
Lajoie was born in St. Hubert, Quebec but raised in Montreal. His father is French Canadian, mother English hence his total bilingual ability to be funny in both official languages.
When I tell him how much I liked him in the Radio Canada drama L'auberge du chien noir as a character fantasically named Thomas Edison he thanks me but says it was tough to leave the hit series which is still running strong in the ratings.
"I played a bad father who deserts my child. So maybe if the series ever winds up I guess I'll come back to Montreal and finish it. But I had to follow my comedy expectations."
Every actor comes to L.A. armed with a DVD of best scenes. The fact Lajoie's was in French made some L.A. agents hesitant.
"I took meetings, I think that's the term. I met over 100 people." Quebec actors don't exactly flock to L.A. although a few headed by Genevieve Bujold have done well.
"And Cirque du Soleil." Yes, but they don't really perform in English.
On The League Lajoie plays perpetual stoner Taco MacArthur who blames his condition on the fact he was introduced to marijuana at age 8.
"I've written songs specifically for him to do on the show. I can only report all the guys on the show get along and we try to support each other. My character makes a lot of ringtones, that's the best way to describe him. But I'm the only Canadian in the group."
Filming finished for the year on Nov. 3 and now it's time to travel.
"I like to meet the people. Different areas of Canada have different senses of humor. It's always challenging."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I'm Dreaming Of A Canadian TV Christmas

It's been a rough fall for Canadians who actually like to watch Canadian TV.
Wall to wall American series prevail even on nominally Canadian networks.
But a friend at a party this week told me she's going to retaliate by buying books on Canadian TV and Canadian DVDs as Christmas presents this year.
Good luck!
I've been trying for years to get our local networks to put more stuff up on DVDs.
Hear me out. I've always advocated a DVD package of the "Best Hits" from CBC's iconic Front Page Challenge.
In a three disc set one could get all the news makers from Martha Mitchell to Lord Mountbatten to prime ministers St. Laurent, Diefenbaker and Trudeau. Every high school would want a box set.
For years I pestered CBC to do up a DVD collection of Juliette's best programs. Too expensive I was told --the grainy kinescopes would have to be remastered.
But I still think it could be done --I'd add Brian Linehan's hour interview with her done about 15 years ago and I'm betting nostalgic viewers would snap it up.
CBC bureaucrats would always sniff and state they were not in the entertainment business.
Why aren't Norman Campbell's superbly staged TV ballets available? And what about those "Raskymentaries" --the 90-minute profiles of greats from Chagall to Raymond Massey --offered up every year or so by Emmy winner Harry Rasky.
I've also tried to get Elwood Glover's best ever interviews from Luncheon Date out there. No luck so far but remember Glover interviewed every great who was touring in a play --Helen Hayes, Virginia Mayo, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. At the time his live series came from the basement of the Four Seasons hotel on Jarvis St. across from CBC's Kremlin.
One CBC dramatic gem was the series A Gift To Last with Gordon Pinsent --it's not on DVD but I once saw it being rerun in Ialian on Telelatino.
I've long been convinced CBC's current team are not even aware of the TV jewels hidden away in their musty vaults.
In recent years Intelligence got a DVD release and remains a must-see. And the first two (of three) seasons of This Is Wonderland came out on DVD.
Current CBC product including Heartland and Little Mosque On The Prairie are available,too.
The same can be said of CTV. When Lloyd Robertson retired as anchor CTV should have produced a best moments compilation which could have sold in all the supermarkets where I see mediocre American shows relentlessly hawked.
Here's a list of the CTV series I covered with on-set interviews: Half The George Kirby Comedy Hour, Stars On Ice, Headline Hunters, Definition, The Pat Paulsen Show, Pig "N Whistle, Rolling Down The River, Simon Locke M.D.
Do you really want to see any of these oldies? I 'm just asking.
But later on CTV had some respectable hits including ENG which has never gotten a DVD release.
When TVO first came on in 1971 I sat down and reviewed its first big new series --a homage to Shaw featuring choice interviews with the likes of Dames Wendy Hiller and Sybil Thorndike. I've never been able to find it since.
One CHCCH oldie is out there and selling like hot cakes and I'm proud to report I was the only TV critic crazy enough to go on the set of The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein.
But what about the CHC series I'm most asked about? Sorry, folks, but only a few choice episodes of the immortal Party Game remain --most of the tapes were recycled at season's end and the originals lost. But I do know player Billy Van did ferret out some of his favorites and these bootleg copies abound.
A later CHCH effort The Palace was tapped at Hamilton Place with Jack Jones as host and it might warrant a DVD release --guests included Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers. At the end of each taping day the Canadian talent trotted out to do their acts which were spliced into the Canadian content version of the show.
One DVD owner told me he's even had requests for such cable fare as Paradise Falls and Kink.
And he does stock and regularly sells DVDs of Trailer Park Boys believe it or not.
Canadian books on Canadian TV are even harder to find.
There's been no biography of Juliette who at her heyday was drawing three million loyal viewers every week.
Ever big U.S. series seems to inspire an anthology with all the episodes duly rated and rated. But Canadian TV doesn't get that kind of exposure. Our entire system is stacked against home grown talent I'm sad to report.
But there is on Canadian book on Canadian TV that miakes a great Christmas present.
It's Air Farce: 40 Years Of Flying By The Seat Of Our Pants by Don Ferguson and the late great Roger Abbott who died before it could be completed. Veteran TV critic Bill Brioux has contributed some of the most interesting chapters and the whole thing has just been published in time for the Christmas rush.
Why can't other Canadian TV success stories be equally celebrated? I just don't get it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

New Series Tanked Doesn't Tank on Discovery

I've really got to stop ranting about moronic reality shows. My solution: just don't watch them.
But then I got a DVD preview screener of another new reality show and it seemed so odd I just had to check it out.
It's called Tanked and is all about a family owned aquarium business set smack dab in Las Vegas where water is at a premium.
I mean I do know a guy up the street and he actually says he likes watching the Aquarium Channel. So there are all sorts of TV viewers out there.
And we've head reality shows about a family who own a funeral parlor, American and Canadian pickers, you name it.
And finding out some of the stuff about the aquarium trade is pretty interesting.
Wade King and Brett Raymer are profiled --King is married to Raymer's sister Heather who also works in the emporium.
They build all sorts of tanks to specifications and the weird orders don't seem to faze them: in one episode a phone booth gets transformed into a tank, one Vegas casino wants a gigantic tank with a mob theme. Go figure.
In all these reality things there are deadlines to meet to keep us watching. And the participants get endlessly interviewed about the tensions they must surmount before the finish. There's the clash of egos. And the owners can get testy sand demand revisions. It's the same when buying a coffin or buying a tank.
When I talked to Wade on the phone he agreed getting used to the cameras and mikes in his face took some adjusting. That's because he's the dedicated, determined worker while Brett plays the lovable goofball role.
"But we've been doing it a long time (14 years) and we have really surmounted a lot of obstacles. I just have to learn to talk more."
An aquarium business set in the sand dunes of Vegas? It seems, well, strange. But maybe it's the perfect place because these people have a visceral need for some water in their lives even if its only in a tank.
"We cater to all people,"Wade is saying. "Yes, the huge projects are interesting. But we have a lot of average customers, too."
And the boys hope someday to come up to Toronto. But when I mention the near freezing temperatures I'm sure I can hear Wade's teeth c;attering. He says maybe later.
After all there's been this bizarre proposal to turn the CBC's gigantic white elephant of a building into the world's biggest aquarium. Now that would be a project of all projects.
Of course the wonderful world of aquariums has all changed with the substitution of acrylic for glass which can scratch a bit.
One website says Wade's most expensive project was a tank that held 3,000 gallons and cost $150,000 because it needed a strong foundation. I should have asked him about that one.
But in the episode I saw there was some weird construction going one. One rich dame wanted a huge tank stuck inside a car. The car was tripped to the frame and painted and a custom built tank set up complete with a painted backdrop.
In another sequence a very rich couple had a series of tanks built on top of each other to fit into the recesses of a living room wall. These custom builds had to be made twice before they were satisfied.
And both of these good ole boys had to don wet suits to dress up a huge casino tank so that the dancing girls could prance underwater with the fish looking on.
We also get some pointers on how the fish have to be quarantined for 30 days before being introduced together in a new tank. Wade is very insistent on providing the necessities so the fish thrive.
Alrady a hit on U.S. TV, Tanked is the latest Vegas business to get its very own series.