Friday, February 8, 2013

Hollywood Suite: Canadian TV's Biggest Secret

I've written about Hollywood Suite a few times already and the response from readers of this column has always been the same.
Here's a sampling:
"I never heard of it."
"Where can I sign up?"
"I've already got Turner Classics and AMC. So I've covered, right?"
Hollywood Suite has to be the best kept secret in town because it's a new configuration of four movie classic channels battling to get on the all powerful cable TV monopolies that control our viewing habits.
HS is an independent company owning and operating four HD channels that specialize in uncut and commercial free movie classics available for the price of around $6.00 a month.
The channels: Warner Films, MGM Channel, Sonny Movie Channels and AXN Movies.
This month and March as well Hollywood Suite has a free previews running on both Rogers and Cogeco.
"We're already on Bell," reports HS's vice president of programming Ellen Baine who I first knew in her days as VP at CHUM-City--when it was at 229 Queen West and programmed the best movies in town.
"We solved our problems with Rogers," Bain reports. "But we still have band width problems with Shaw. Rogers which dominates in Toronto is having previews on Channels 486,487,488 and 490."
Codgeco's previews of the four channels are on Channels 872,873,874 and 875.
When I checked with Rogers I found I had to sign up for HD service before I could access the HS previews.
 And there are many Luddites like me out there wondering what HD will add to the already expensive Rogers service.
Baine is perfectly cast as one of HS's key programmers. In a past life, she knew the ins and outs of the City movie collection but say "It has all changed in the past few years. Right now Warners owns MGM titles. Getting Rocky movies is easy. Other titles like The Terminator are harder because of bankruptcy deals."
Baine says the Monty Pythons are hard to track down because the original owner lost the rights.
"Our schedule is 25 per cent Canadian. Yet trying to find an HD copy of Goin' Down The Road has been impossible. Other  Canadian titles are floating all over the place."
And what about competition with Turner Classic Movies?
"There is none. Yes, we do show Casablanca, classics like that. We're generally into far more recent movie fare. Turner tends to run everything from way, way  back."
Highlights this month include exclusive coverage of 2013 Film Independent Spirit Awards on Sat. Feb 23 on The Sony Movie Channel. Andy Samberg is the host.
The week of Feb. 18 highlights Oscar nominated best pictures: including Gone with the Wind, Marty, Ben-Hur, The Apartment, Rocky, Annie Hall, Silence Of The Lambs, The English Patient.
Says Baine "We're having a Sandra Bullock week, a Johnny Depp triple bill, a Jeff Goldblum week --there are many fans of his work. Of course we have the Bonds."
One of Baine's finds was the Beatles' movie Magical Mystery Tour which had never been shown on North American TV.
I asked her if about using the original Brian Linehan City interviews when one of the movies he was covering is on HS.
"We looked into that and unfortunately the copies which were transferred are not of broadcast quality."
But what about TVO's Elwy Yost who generally used film instead of videotape?
How about it you HS folks?
Another big concern: Isn't being placed so high up on the cable dial a real hindrance to attracting new subscribers?
"No, I know some people who start clicking at around 500 because that's where their type of channels exist."
Baine says in February HS" will have the Die Hard movies. And because the bones of Richard III have been discovered why not the 1983 movie with Ian McKellen as the hunchbacked king.
"We'll have a salute to true stories, a Clint Eastwood festival, I think we cover the last 30 years of cinema the most.
"What we are, really, is all about the modern movie classics."

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