Saturday, March 31, 2012

CBC: Death By A Thousand Cuts

CBC suffered another government cut back with the announcement in the federal budget that $115 million will be slashed over the next few years.
But so far there's been no public backlash as in other days when CBC was riding high. and faced revenue shortfalls.
And that's because CBC programmers have been performing a form of suicide over the past decade.
What's there to cut anyhow?
CBC ditched the high arts business years ago closing its doors to ballet, opera, dance, even most TV movies that reflected Canadian values.
The slashing went so far that many of the Toronto elite I know started supporting PBS's Buffalo station WNED as the last option for quality TV in this area.
When Richard Stursberg, then CBC's guru of programming, told me such stuff wasn't in CBC's mandate I begged to differ.
I pointed out CBC had faced a similar downturn in 1978-79 and solved it creatively by jump starting a "new" series called Rear View Mirror that ran Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m. for 10 times.
Veronica Tennant hosted and CBC merely pulled archival ballets and opera from its vast library adding nuggets from Front Page Challenge and Periscope.
Ratings were higher than anticipated. Culture vultures were in seventh heaven.
But this time there's been no public reaction. Do you expect throngs to march downtown in fear that the Dragon's Den would be pulled?
When CBC actually pulled Don Messer's Jubilee questions were asked in parliament and the affable Messer wound up on CHCH as did Nathan Cohen and his intellectual quiz sow fIghting Words.
Decades ago when CBC was forced to cut This Land in an earlier round of budget cuts I argued this was going to be CBC's fate --little cut backs that would eventually over turn the Corporation's place in the Canadian broadcasting spectrum.
Since then there have been dozens of new TV services added. But they are privately run and depend on profit to succeed.
Is Bravo! doing its job when it resorts to CSI reruns (however popular)? It was supposed to be a high end channel.
Citytv originally got its license by promising to be a local, local station with its centerpiece the three hour prime time City show.
Global promised to get its license a huge number of Canadian content shows and hired away the likes of Pierre Berton, Bernie Braden and Don Harron to make them. Six months later the Ontario weblet was facing bankruptcy and all those fine shows were cancelled.
CBC under CHCH made fundamental errors that destroyed much of its uniqueness.
First there was the recruitment of American consultants to jazz up the venerable The National. Respected veteran reporters were retired and host Peter Mansbridge uncomfortably plopped into a set resembling a singles bar.
And ratings predictably plunged.
When CBC is left to be CBC it does just fine. Whenever I'm in the cavernous and largely empty production centre on Front Street west I'm reminded of the horde of bureaucrats still shuffling around.
If CBC is to make cuts those not directly responsible for making programs should be the first to go.
And then that gigantic production center could be sold off. The huge studios on the top floor have always been under used --my old friend Emmy-winner Norman Campbell told me he never actually made a show in the studios named after him because it had become too expensive.
Look, having a Tea Party prime minister who just hates public broadcasting can't help matters.
But CBC will survive this latest round of cuts. It may even emerge stronger and more relevant, we'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Titanic: The Aftermath Well Worth Catching

I made a resolution last week not to watch any more Titanic TV centenary specials.
The sameness of the material was beginning to get to me.
And then along came a preview DVD of Titanic;The Aftermath and it presented the tragedy from an uniquely Canadian perspective.
So I got hooked all over again. This two-hour docvudrama looks at the events from an entirely different perspective.
It takes up the story after the gigantic ocean liner has sunk and shows how a remarkable bunch of Canadians operating out of Halifax managed to get to the site within days to retrieve as many floating corpses as possible.
And just to make the material dramatically relevant for contemporaries it presents several of the descendants of those who perished that fateful night and shows how their family histories were forever changed.
We may know the outcome but there's a tremendous amount of suspense in this chase to reach the site and gather the bodies.
The docudrama is a model of precise editing and solid research. It plays out so very well because every detail is true.
Hats off to writer-director Marion Milne who has done an outstanding job aided by crack cinematographer Andrew Muggleton.
The dramatic portions rings true because of the fine group of Canadian actors including Richard Donat as John Henry Barnstead who was in charge of finding the bodies and identifying them. The techniques he pioneered during this mass catastrophe were still in use at the time of 9/11 and his success is all the more remarkable considering the lack of DNA techniques at the time.
each body was given a name tag and a number and hand sewn mortuary bags encased each body.
Bodies were numbered and the condition of the body listed and the approximate age, weight and height was taken down including identifying marks, clothes and personal effects which were transferred to individual sealed bags to prevent looting.
When the bodies were transferred to a makeshift Halifax morgue Barnstead had a photograph taken of each victim's face for identification purposes.
Helping every step of the way was Cayain Frederick Larnder (played by Gary Levent) who had sequested local undertakers to begin embalming the corpses while the ship was still at sea.
As experts tell us the bodies would have already begun decomposing by the time rescue ships discovered them three days later.
There simply were not enough coffins for every body to be sent to Halifax and dozens were buried at sea --a practice later heavily criticized.
The most famous man to perish was millionaire John Jacob Astor who was returning from an European honeymoon with his heavily pregnant bride --his son Vincent offered the reward of $10,000 if the body was recovered --and it was.
Months later Mrs. Astor gave birth to their son but Vincent Astor was not pleased and remained estranged from his brother for the remainder of their lives. All this is told by John Jacob's grand daughter.
We also hear about the fate of band player Jock Hume, who was training to be a great violinist and played on until he perished. He left behind a tearful and pregnant fiancee whose story is painfully recounted by her grand son standing by the Halifax grave site of the grand father he never knew.
There are so many surprises in this dramatically masterfully recounted true story. You really owe it to yourself to watch.
MY RATING: ****.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why Isn't Mad Men On Canadian TV?

Think of it --the two best American TV series Mad Men and Breaking Bad--and neither is on Canadian TV.
And that's deliberate I do believe.
Instead we're inundated with terrible U.S. reality shows, mediocre dramas, sitcoms that last but a few weeks.
But all are simulcasted so the Canadian network can black out the incoming U.S. signals and substitute the Canadian one --the one with Canadian commercials.
Such is the sad state of Canadian television these days.
Because Mad Men and Breaking Bad run on the little seen AMC network which runs as an extra cost channel in Canada there's been no sale of either show to any network up here for years.
Mad Men finally made it back Sunday night on AMC after a 17-month hiatus.
The first two hours were not up to expectations.
There's been so much hype it was with a feeling of letdown that the first new episode ran.
It was mostly a house keeping episode although the complete absence of January Jones's pivotal character of Betty Draper wasn't even explained.
The date has been fast forwarded to May, 1966, and the more the series segues away from the Fifties the darker it gets.By 1966 the war in Vietnam is heating up and the race situation has the U.S. facing riots in the big cities.
In fact, the Civil Rights movement erupts right outside the windows of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Don (Jon Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Pare) have married and we instantly know it's a case of the newley weds not really knowing each other.
Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and wife Trudy have moved to the burbs and have a new baby.
Also with a newborn is Joan (Christina Hendricks) --remember her medical husband is off in Vietnam and the real father is Roger Sterling (John Slattery).
Pare really strutted herself in the pivotal scene where she throws a 40th birthday party for Don and gets her head chewed off because he hates the idea.
It's a chance for Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) to get drunk and lament the amount of work she's been doing to make Heinz beans.
At the conclusion it's painfully apparent this new couple really have nothing in common outside of vigorous sex. One again Don Draper has failed to understand himself or the people near him.
I just think all the participants --writers and actors --were off their game. Perhaps they were rusty after such a long vacation.
Peggy's pitch to Heinz had some spark. Pare's sexy dance at the party was oo-la-la, je pense. Joan's newfound motherhood found her bored and distracted and with an old fashioned mother who disapproves of her returning to work at all.
That was a very strange scene where Joan brought her baby to work and at one point left him with Peggy and Pete --who had a child that was placed out for adoption, remember?
But the whole two-hour thing was lacking in the rich ironies we've come to expect.
It was framed by the ordeal of blacks at the time --at the end the reception room is flooded with blacks who've heard SCDP masy be easing its restrictive hiring practices.
Hopefully by next week MM can bounce back to being provocative, ironical and occasionally funny. The rhythm of the show remains way off but that's understandable.
But admit it, wouldn't you rather be seeing Mad Men on Canadian TV than the latest Kardashian reality thing or a forgettable American copy cat procedural show?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Can Kiefer Sutherland Turn Touch Into A Hit

I'm not discounting Kiefer Sutherland's considerable acting skills--after all I first met him when he made his groundbreaking Canadian feature Bay Boy way back in 1984.
But I was totally taken with his new series, Touch, when it had a one episode 67-minute run in January followed by a complete half season tonight at 9 on Global TV and Fox TV.
I mean it's totally different from the frenetically paced 24 which made Sutherland such a huge TV force.
But I'm not sure where Touch can go and that's the problem.
Sutherland stars as Martin Bohm, a guy from New York whose wife perished during 9/11 leaving him along to look after a son Jake (David Mazouz) who is 11 but had never talked. Plus the boy cannot stand to be touched.
Part of my problem with the series lies with its brilliant creator Tim Kring who created the marvelous series Heroes which had a brilliant first year and then tanked.
Torch is about ordinary people behaving extraordinarily. Which is fine but how will that work week after week.
And I'm worrying the same thing might happen with Touch as happened to Heroes.
The concept is very ambitious. And Sutherland is so completely different from Bauer it seems at first glance we're watching a different actor.
I'm sure Sutherland with his clout must have demanded Kring stick with the series until all its considerable kinks get ironed out.
I'm not going to ruin the story for you except to say it expects a lot out of the TV viewer. but can an ambitious show make it in today's lowest common denominator market? Stay tuned.
First of all viewers have got to let go of 24 and all that implied. Evidently Sutherland himself cannot let go because he's going to make a movie version during his hiatus.
Look, I've known a lot of TV stars who told me they returned to TV too soon after their first big effort.
In between Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby Robert Young was in the flop Window On Main Street which he told me he thought was his best ever effort. And in between Our Miss Brooks and The Mothers In Law Arden made her favorite one The Eve Arden Show which lasted half a season.
Later on John Ritter had the same problem with Hooperman after his monster hit Three's Company typecast him in goofy comedy. And Bonanza's Lorne Greene could never escape from the Ponderosa through such flops as Griff and Battlestar Galactica.
So Sutherland's hunt for a new show may be premature.
It's like viewers still think of Sutherland as a commanding action oriented guy named Jack Bauer and with the reruns and boxed DVD sets that means type casting at least for a few more seasons.
Look, I want you to give Touch a chance. Over several weeks at least. It's the kind of quality drama we rarely see on the main networks these days.
MY RATING: 8881/2.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Am I Ready To Re-Board The Titanic?

Just what is so special about the Titanic whose sinking 100 years ago spawned a veritable industry of books, movies and now an epic TV miniseries?
I mean how many films about the Lusitania's sinking have you ever seen? I rest my case.
That's why I hesitated about popping in Global TV's preview DVD of Titanic, the latest version of the disaster but one with a real pedigree: it was written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.
And I watched the first two hours (of four) quite contentedly because of the spin Fellows has put on the events.
He re-sees the actuality through the prism of a social historian, pointing out to us how class conscious British society was in 1912 and how so many of the first class
Don't forget that the first episode of Fellowe's Downton Abbey opened wuth a description of the sinking of the Titanic so it's a subject which already fascinated the writer. passengers survived compared to the folks in Second Class.
His portrait of society in Belfast in 1912 is etched in acid --here religious intolerance meant few fully qualified Catholic tradesmen were allowed to work on the fittings and one master electrician only did it so that he could book steerage for his family and escape to a New World hopefully free of such prejudice.
But Titanic like The Borgias is also a Canadian co-production meaning much of the postproduction was done here and a few Canadian actors (Linda Kash, Noah Reid, David Eisner) are also onboard that fateful night.
The main sets including most of the ship's interiors were constructed on Budapest sound stages and the recreation of that era is lavish and completely believable. It looks far more expensive than any other recent TV miniseries.
And a fine bunch of mainly British actors headline this production.
Linus Roache is a fictional Lord Monton whose philandering ways are well known by his Anglo-Irish wife (Geraldine Somerville).
Steve Waddington is second Officer Lightroller. James Wilby is the White star executive Bruce Ismay who pointedly would not go down with the ship. Sylvestra Le Touzel is Mrs. Duff Gordon. David Calder is Captain Smith.
I watched the first two episodes so far and was constantly amazed at the high quality of this production but I disagree with Fellowes' decision to show the disaster from the different perspectives of various people on board. To me by the second episode it becomes slightly anti-climactic.
Also, all the people on board should be real people and not fictional as is the case with Roache's character.
Points are made from the beginning that the final work on Titanic was rushed and perhaps even substandard and may have not been up to scratch. And the way the various classes of passengers were treated was indeed a microcosm of British society at the time.
Besides this Titanic James Cameron's massive movie version is getting a relaunch in 3-D --I felt the hokey fictional romance was entirely inappropriate.
And beginning on April 9 National Geographic Channel recognizes the centenary with the documentary Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron followed on April 10 with a revolutionary new theory Titanic: Case Closed.
And on Sunday April 15 History Television presents Nazi Titanic about the making of the 1942 Nazi propaganda film all about the sinking commissioned by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
Got all that?
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

TV Pilots of 2012: Who Really Cares?

Every year around this time when I was TV critic for The Spectator or The Toronto Star --for 38 years --I'd write a column about the most promising TV pilots for the fall season.
It made for good copy and got readers all hot and bothered until they realized every September that the best concepts never make it past the the pilot stage.
It's universally agreed the best ever U.S. pilot was for a show called Tenspeed And Brown Shoe starring Jeff Goldblum and Ben Vereen which premiered in January 1980 and was dead by June of the same year.
What happened? All the money and all the plot was spent on the pilot. When the actually series started up it was terribly humdrum.
Ask the big bosses at CBS what was the most challenging pilot of recent years and more than likely they'll say Crazy which starred The Practice's Lara Flynn Boyle and was about life inside a private sanitarium where the medics are crazier than the patients. The acting was top. the script impeccable but CBS passed because the feeling was the material was just too challenging.
Over at ABC there's the grudging acknowledgement that the web financed the pilot for CSI and then declined to pick it up believing the story line demanded too much of its viewers.
CBS which needed a smart series Thursdays at 10 p.m. picked it up and two subsequent sequels CSI: Miami and CSI: NY. And ABC has been on the hunt for smart, sassy series ever since.
NBC financed a Chicago-based legal pilot starring the fantastic actor David Tennant from Dr. Who who apparently was in top form. But one look at the finished product convinced the peacock proud network it was simply too complicated for ordinary viewers.
Think of the pilot craze this way: Mary Tyler Moore began her vaulted CBS sitcom with no pilot but with a firm order for 26 episodes the first year. And the show is now acknowedged as one of TV's best ever.
Later on Mary tried two more sitcoms for CBS: Mary and Annie McGuire and both flopped badly although the pilots had tested successfully with audience groups.
I remember one day during the TV Critics tour in L.A. in 1990 when an NBC vice president told a bunch of us he had a dog in his library he wanted to show us. "It's about nothing!" he groused and it was the pilot for Seinfeld which had been sitting on a shelf for six months.
When NBC finally ran it Wednesdays at 9:30 it bombed but executive producer Rob Reiner later told us he got on his knees and begged for a better slot. NBC re-ran the show that summer Thursdays at 9:30 and a number one show was born.
This year the big trend involves bringing in fresh faces from outside the U.S.
Aussie Jesse Spencer has the lead in a CBS pilot called Chicago Fire. Aussie Rachael Taylor is set for the soap 666 Park Street. Brit Janet Montgomery has the lead in Baby Big Shot and another Brit Theo James has the lead in CBS's pilot Golden Boy. Irish Amy Huberman has the lead in the NBC comedy Animal Kingdom And Canadian Colin Ferguson stars in the Fox comedy pilot Like Father.
Now that I've managed to scare you half to death I can report that ABC is high on a new sitcom starring Doris Roberts as one of three sisters running a Texan diner.
Or that Sarah Chalk is in another ABC sitcom called How To Live with Your Parents For The Rest Of Your Life.
ABC even has a pilot based on the old British hit Only Fools And Horses. Let's' hope it succeeds better than the last remake of a U.K. hit --Prime Suspect.
ABC has yet another reworking of Beauty And The Beast in the works plus Captain Jack, John Barrowman has signed for a soap set in an 1895 hotel called Gilded Lilys and Toronto's Scott Speedman is part of a nuclear submarine team being pursued by NATO in Last Resort.
CBS has very little need of replacements Johnny Lee Miller to play a modern Sherlock stumbling around New York city in Elementary. THe success of a British version now on BBC is strange. CBS also says Mira Sorvino has signed to play an ordinary mom turned state trooper in Trooper.
NBC which needs help anywhere it can get it has a comedy starring Bill Pullman and Brittany Snow set in the White House. And Roseanne Bar and John Goodman are co-starring once again in a trailer trash comedy called Downwardly Mobile. Matthew Perry in Loss is a sportscaster trying therapy sessions. And Sarah Silverman has written a comedy about her single life called Susan 313.
Will any of these make it?
A few will, most will quickly be forgotten.

Friday, March 16, 2012

See I told You: Rosie Is Toast

I warned you months ago that Rosie O'Donnell's new talk show was a bust.
The new show went through various format changes, one sign it might be headed to a quick demise.
And it didn't help that the show was running on Oprah's new network OWN. I can't find many people who admit to ever watching OWN even when Oprah is on.
Why Rosie ever left her morning talk show syndicated by Warners beats me.
She had phenomenal ratings, big guests like Tom Cruise and huge ratings.
but she did leave and then came that controversial stint on The View where she sometimes bucked the authority of its octogenarian host Barbara Walters.
And nobody talks back to Barbara and survives sitting next to her.
Rosie went from that show amid a blaze of publicity--didn't Barbara once refer to Rosie as "my problem child"?
Well, Rosie added sparks to that show rarely evident on The View these days.
With her stint for Oprah (another powerful woman who must be obeyed) Rosie started off saying she wouldn't be doing a celebrity thing where stars come on to promote various products.
And she didn't. Trouble was she couldn't find a suitable format replacement.
Some of the shows I found interesting --like a two parter over a breakfast table as she traded anecdotes with fellow stand up queen Kathy Griffin.
Another big night was a one-on-one with struggling comedienne Brett Butler who answered every question by turning to the audience and talking quickly.
The last figures I saw had Rosie averaging 190,000 viewers. For the entire U.S.A. Which is catastrophic even for a struggling new cable weblet.
Of course Oprah immediately texted: "I thank Rosie for joining me on this journey." Which is so Oprahesque. What journey?
Heck, it was a talk show that flopped.
Actually I felt the show was slowly getting better. The silly game show part was dropped. The audience was pared down to 70 hearty souls for a more intimate look. And also it was cheaper to produce.
Rosie says she's going back to her New York roots but what can she do next? She's tough talking, very smart --is there no platform for her on TV?
Perhaps as late night's first female standup comedy host? Or as Barbara Walter's ultimate replacement on The View --but that might happen years from now.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Age Of Anxiety Looks At Our Pill Popping Culture

I grew less anxious when I discovered Ric Esther Bienstock is the producer of the challenging new documentary The Age Of Anxiety. It's on CBC-TV's Doc Zone Thursday night at 9.
The Emmy Award winner has this knack of taking a difficult and diffuse topic like today's anxiety related culture and making us understand some of the key debating points.
And being able to accomplish all this in something like 45 minutes.
She's taken a topic all of us are wondering about as we go about our business: whether we have become a nation of pill poppers and if indeed we need all that medication in the first place.
I'd suggest a rash of celebrity deaths due to prescribed medications has a lot of people on edge. Bienstock choses her subjects wisely: a concerned New York city mom stressed out by living and working in the capital of high anxiety, a female college student stressed out as exams loom on the horizon, a guy at a computer who wonders if any other past society ever experienced such high levels of stress.
And Bienstock has gone out and garnered a rafter of leading experts. But her editing skills are so smooth we forget for awhile that what we're watching is the inevitable parade of talking heads.
One indicator such a film is timely comes with the announcement that in 2013 a new edition of Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (DSM) is coming out a full year behind schedule. What will it list as disorders? Apathy syndrome? Parental alienation? Internal addiction?
At one New York party Bienstock captures a group of chic and trendy couples all completely familiar with the language of psychological distress and eager to discover which disorders they may possess.
And Bienstock also goes after the smooth and sophisticated campaigns by PR firms designed to entice susceptible TV audiences into thinking that they need the next wonder drug. How Plaxil was marejeted is an astonishing case study of producing a market for something new.
The experts summoned forth include Patricia Pearson whose book A Brief History Of Anxiety was the jumping off point for the film, University of Toronto medical historian Edward Shorter, renowned David Kupfer, chair of the DSM task force, Harvard University's Arthur Kleinman, Daniel Carlat who wrote Unhinged and Allen Frances who chaired the last DSM task force.
And Bienstock manages to get a lot of information out of them without seeming to over load viewers with too much fancy details, an admirable feat in itself.
Scott Harper wrote and directed it for Associated Producers and the way it is made ensures a wide audience outside of Canadian TV.

Monday, March 12, 2012

My Extreme Animal Phobia Scares Me

My Extreme Animal Phobia premiered on U.S. TV back in October.
It's a six-part hour long series that every week takes patients on a week long journey into confronting their innermost fears. about animals they've encountered.
On the first hour four people are profiled.
There's Tom, 40, who has been terrified of rodents every since he was a young boy.
He's so paranoid he has his young kids open the garbage can before he tosses out the garbage --who knows there might be a rat lurking just under the lid.
Then there's pert and sassy Jackie who is deathly frightened of dogs, any dog. She won't even visit her best friend's house because dogs also live there.
Cameron, 21, desperately wants to move to New York city but there's a problem --the mere sight of a pigeon causes him to scatter.
And then there's 60-years-young ()()()( who has this phobia about snakes. She won't take her shoes off out of doors and dreams about snakes slithering up and out of the faucet when she's taking a bath.
They all need help or rather tough love. And they get it in abrasive doses from Dr. Robin Zasio who explains that these phobias result from chemical imbalances in the brain. There's no way getting around these fears except by directly confronting them.
For Tom it involves tossing a bucket of dead rodents into the animal cages at the zoo.
For Jackie it's getting closer and closer to man's best friend.
To Cameron it involves putting his hand in a cage and petting a pigeon.
For Ramona, 61, it involves going back to her room and finding it filled with stuffed snakes and not getting freaked out.
Usually I'm no big fan of Realty TV which I firmly believe is mostly made up.
But these four people are not acting for the cameras, I believe. To the contrary they all want to get up and run for hell.
What keeps them on camera is Dr. Zasio's insistence they stick it out or they'll never be free of their phobias. And they've lived with this problem for ever so long.
Cameron must venture inside a pigeon feeding pavillion where thousands of birds live and he must fill the troughs with food and water as they fly all about him.
And he finds the birds are basically harmless and only interested in getting their next meal.
Ramona must sit in her bath tub and allow Dr. Zasio to bring in a 10-foot yellow python and hold on to it while the good doctor exits.
And she finds the snake harmless and probably just as scared as she is.
Jackie learns to hold dogs on leashes in the park and not be frightened.
And Tom is confronted by the reality of 50 mice and rats let loose in his room --all of which he must pick up and place in cages.
There are lessons to be learned here for all of us. But I'm not sure who I was rooting for sometimes --the terrified humans or the beleagured animals.
When last glimpsed Cameron is sitting with his parents in a park in New York city feeding --you guessed it pigeons.
And please alert me if slippery, furry spiders are ever showcased. I'm so afraid of them you see.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Missing: TV's Best Midseason Replacement Series

Wow --it really was a whole back when I was on the set of the ABC series Sisters and watched newcomer Ashley Judd do a scene. Like 1991 I'm figuring.
Now Judd is slated to make her TV series comeback in Missing an action-jammed effort that plays like a snappy sequel to Lost.
Only this time Jack Bauer is played by Judd's tenacious character Becca Winstone.
And she's kicking some serious butt.
If one believes the ABC press package Judd does all her own stunts which includes a lot of running up and down the cobbled streets of Rome, getting tossed, thrown and stabbed at by various revolutionaries and reacting in kind by stomping, tossing and cracking as many bones as she can find.
In the first episode I counted five or six possible cliffhangers and I'd like to warn ABC to treat their star with a little more compassion or she'll be in traction for many months to come.
In short she is a Jack Bauer for our times.
In the first episode we watch as a slightly fraught Becca waves good bye to her only son who is off to Italy to study. But she seems more upsety than the ordinary mother would be. Is she hiding something?
That's because Becca is no ordinary housewife.
She's a former ace CIA agent who has deep connections with this organization all around the world. And when she doesn't get the information needed she jets over to take care of the deteriorating situation herself.
Most U.S. series are shot on back lots either in the U.S. or Canada.
Missing goes on actual locations --mostly European --every week meaning the costs are sky high but the authenticity is in every shot.
As Becca investigates she finds her son's rooms, his half eaten breakfast and begins the first of her "Perils of Pauline" escapes from a hired assassin.
By the way the first cliff hanger that ends the first episode is a basut. And I can't possibly reveal it here.
Written by Gregory Porier, directed by Steve Shill, the hour whistles by. A lot of information is given out that may be useful later on: turns out both Becca and her dead husband (Sean Bean) were CIA types --but is thehusband really dead? Or will Bean keep appearing only in flashbacks?
Cliff Curtis as CIA head of European operations is right properly skeptical that Becca has been a stay-at-home home for the past decade --after all she's been training to be in peak physical shape. But for what?
To get Judd on board ABC agreed to shoot only 10 episodes the first season and no more than 13 if a second season is ordered. Each hour will be set in a different European city as more aspects of Becca's life are revealed.
But once she finds her son will the series be over? How long can she go on searching without TV viewers losing interest?
But ABC bought the series based on the first script and without the usual pilot.
Subsequenr hours have to include more "down" time. Wartching the first made me feel exhausted.
We'll have to see how the next few episodes unfold before knowing of the series' fate. And top production values of the first hour will be difficult to replicate every week.
MY RATING: ****.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Terra Nova And TV Extiction

Almost all the hugely hyped new TV series of the season are getting mowed down one by one.
The latest to get bumped off is Fox TV's Terra Nova.
Ratings were unspectacular and the huge costs of the show forced Fox to cancel after just one disappointing half season.
This was the show where the dinosaurs were the best actors while the humans were just cliched types.
Good for the actual studio 20th Century Fox in saying the series will be shopped to other networks.
It's too expensive for cable networks but what about a possible pay TV window?
To be truthful the show was a muddled mess from the beginning opening strongly and then wasting all its dramatic points. It fared much the same as The River. Too much dough was spent on the look of the show and not enough on getting viable scripts.
The two-hour finale tried to reverse all of that and was the only satisfying chapter and based on that Fox had to ponder whether the show was worth saving or not.
Fox has just cancelled its Monday night series of eight great years House. And another Monday night show Alcatraz which started off so strongly has been dripping away in the ratings ever since.
I'm among those viewers who think Terra Nova could have been saved early on. It was too clearly aimed at younger kids with nothing much offered to the all important tween and teen markets.
The plot inconsistencies certainly disturbed the nerd niche market --they never got attached to this one as they should have. It has also been said there was little to get really frightened about.
Characterization was certainly poor --this family was a cardboard creation.
And, yes, it's strange but some buffs thought the effects cheezy.
I interviewed star Jason O'Mara when he was starring in another series that never made it (InJustice). Why wasn't he better promoted and should not his character have been front and center throughout?
Anyway Terra Nova is now history.
And look for pink slips to soon be delivered to the likes of Pan Am with veteran shows Cougar Town, Parenthood and even Fringe facing the ratings hammer.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Giving Operation Unplugged A Chance

There was another new series debuting the same night as the Canadian reality series Operation Unplugged.
So I watched it and didn't give OU a chance.
Call it my natural antipathy to Reality TV. But that's not the way at all to cover the TV beat however crowded the schedule becomes.
Oh, I started hearing about it from readers of this column and friends.
So I finally relented and watched the DVD preview and I'm liking what I saw.
I like this one because it's so relentlessly Canadian. The eight participants are all Canadian and so are the venues.
And we get to learn life lessons about what it means to be a Canadian.
What's there not to dislike about this one I ask you.
Th host is understated adventurer Alan Bishop and his tests for the eight will take us through some of the magnificent national parks of Canada.
The collection of contestants also has a strangely humorous aspect as many are modern techology fanatics who worry what their lives will be like without constant tweeting and texting.
They form a nicely ecclectic mixture of personality types: balded Kammer Kinnarath, 27, who calls himself a gadget dude. Described as "wedded to the web" is Jillian Storey, 20.
Scott Simons, 19, is a compulsive gamer while Alana Obey , 30, is a text fanatic but also dead scare of the water.
Vanessa Pampalon, 21, is a social network diva and Daniel Paluzzi, 21, is a smartphone slave.
Catherine Lebel, 26, is described as lost in cyber space while the oldest Chris Miekle, 42, is described as a digitally distracted dad.
The premiere found the gang at Nova Scotia's overpoweringly beautiful Kejimkujik National Park and a journey back into time to the early 1800s when British soldiers from the Citadel in Halifax would sojourn here to hunt and fish.
Two such tourists are provided and the eight must treat them as any gentlemen of the period would be treated --by building tents, paddling the canoes around for transportation, even making them teas and dinners the tourists would demand --and all without any modern accoutrements.
Watching them try to build a tent from scratch or saw a log is fun of a special kind. But it also reminds us what kind of wilderness once completely dominated the Canadian landscape.
On this week's episode on Tuesday March 6 they venture into Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park in Quebec for a series of water based adventures.
Next week they're in Bruce Peninsula National Park and on March 20 are in Saskatchewan's Motherwell Homestead National Historic Site.
I happily admot I was wrong prejudging this one and I promise to watch every week from now on.
And you should do the same.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Should Smash Be Re-Titled Crash?

Four weeks ago NBC plopped two new series onto its schedule.
Smash got wildly enthusiastic reviews while The Voice was less well received.
And now?
Smash is crashing wile The Voice is up almost 50 per cent in ratings and is now in a a tie with American Idol as most watched musical series of the week.
How could this happen?
I previewed Smash and thought it highly original and well acted although I wondered how it might fare in the great American heartland where few people have had the opportunity to pay $100 a ticket to watch a Broadway musical. Also, my spies in L.A. told me a whole hunk of the total budget was spent getting the pilot just right meaning subsequent episodes would not be produced to such a high quality.
And that's exactly what happened.
When I watched last week's episode with guest star Nick Jonas I couldn't believe how predictable and ordinary the show had quickly become.
Every soap opera cliche was unveiled, there was no dramatic momentum, it was a real chore having to watch for the entire hour.
Last week the cheerfully unpretentious The Voice garnered 14.9 viewers for NBC while Smash crashed to a new low of just 6.6 million.
When I talked to an old friend in Buffalo she said it was a case of NBC not knowing its audience.
NBC made the same mistake this fall in presenting a new version of the British TV hit Prime Suspect only to see it spectacularly flame out in the ratings.
A friend at CBS told me there's a reason his network sticks with tried and true procedurals which in some cases having been running for a decade or more.
It's this truism: it's getting harder and harder to mount a new series because viewers simply do not have the time they once did to sample the new wares and stick with a series until it finds its bearings.
We live in a TV universe of 100 competing channels. And there are other ways to watch TV shows these days from Netflix to YouTube to Rogers On Demand. So TV ratings are stalled if not actually falling for conventional networks and will continue to do so.
Two seasons back NBC cancelled all its 10 p.m. dramas to make way for the new Jay Leno show --a programming disaster it has yet to surmount.
That means all its 10 p.m. dramas are necessarily new and enticing viewers back is going to be a long haul.
NBC's new fare this season included The Playboy Club (already cancelled) and The Firm which has been a ratings bust from the beginning.
NBC has a new programming czar in Bob Greenblatt who has been realistic about the network's short term failures.
If he wants a role model he should look to CBS which remains solidly number one in the ratings based on unexceptional procedurals which do not ask to much of the audience and delivery dependable thrills week after week.
Maybe Smash was too good for network TV, maybe it would have fared better on cable --except that the weekly budge was too high for Showtime or HBO.
NBC has said the show will probably be renewed for a second season but moved to another night. There simply isn't anything in development quite ready to replace it.