Sunday, May 26, 2013

CTV's The Listener: Back For Season Four

"I never thought we'd hit a second season," Craig Olejnik, star of CTV's The Listener is saying on the phone.
"But here we are talking about the fourth season. There's a story there, really."
The Listener's fourth season revs up Wednesday May 29 at 10 p.m. and indeed it's a surprise given the disastrous premiere year.
The series about a telepathic paramedical Toby (Olejnik) took a direct hit with unfavorable critical reviews and outright rejection by NBC which ran the Toronto-made series five times before pushing the cancellation button.
"The comments were hurtful," admits Olejnik. "I haven't read any since then."
CTV persevered in showing the entire first year but Olejnik says he was "as surprised as anyone" when the order for a second season came through.
The second season took forever to come together and when filming commenced the basic narrative thread had been changed.
"We started off as a serial and were now a procedural. I think that saved the show."
Season Three offered its own surprise: the show finally started registering with audiences notching average audiences of 1.2 million viewers a week. There had been constant growth ever since its debut but only with Season Three could The Listener be termed a bona fide hit.
"Finally!" laughs Olejnik. CTV stuck with the show and so did Shaftesbury Films's cagey executive producer Christina Jennings who refused to panic after the initial whiff of very bad news.
Previewing the first new episode is a lesson in plot reconstruction. The team are off to Vancouver on an assignment --a costly trip for any series.
"Actually only exteriors were shot in Vancouver," says Olejnik's co-star Lauren Lee Smith. "The rest was done in Toronto and it's very seamless."
What emerges is a great, tension filled chase saga as the team must race against the clock to prevent a brilliant but mad young student from blowing up the center of the city.
By now Olejnik has settled down to give a compact, precise turn and he's ably paired with Lauren Lee Smith as Sgt, Michelle McCluskey as head of the RCMP's Integrated Investigative Bureau.
"I joined in season two," she tells me. "It's the hardest TV series I've been on, 13-hour days are the norm compared with eight hours I'd spend on CSI."
For the 2003 season Smith co-starred on CSI and compares the experience as "on CSI I had a small role and I'd sometimes have to wait for hours to do my scene of the day.
Yes, it's a well oiled machine, the second unit does a lot of the work. But you can't argue with success, yes, there's a formula but done to the hilt.
"On Listener I'm in many of the big scenes, the days are longer. But it's for 13 episodes not the 22 on CSI.  But on CSI I'd get a charge just driving to Universal studios every day."
Olejnik was only 14 when he planed his breakout role opposite Helena Bonham Carter in the film Margaret's Museum made in Nova Scotia.
"I just aced the audition, I was exactly what they wanted and it made me realize this was where I could be. But there were hard times afterward when I had to go back to high school and I left for a bit and lived with Ken Welsh and his family. I did return to finish high school and then moved to Vancouver."
The story is true that originally Listener producers felt Olejnik's piercing blue eyes were too blue and thought maybe he should wear contacts --these days those blue eyes are one of the show's talking points among fans.
Smith had her own trajectory on her way to The Listener.
In 2005 at the start of her career she co-starred in the explicit fil romance Lie With Me acing the part of a blue collar worker and she followed with fine work in the TV drama The L Word ( 2004-06).
"I became familiar with controversy early on," she laughs. But just as compelling was the CBC series Intelligence (2006) before she hit the mainstream with CBS's CSI in 2008.
Olejnik, 33,  says his four seasons on Listener "has been an amazing education how the business operates.  It's been my university. One day it seems I was playing beach volleyball in Vancouver with a young unknown named Erik Karpluk and now she's guesting on the series I'm starring in. Amazing."
Smith , 32, who made three movies this year in her hiatus says working 13 episodes a year "gives me the space to do other projects.  It's certainly not as fatiguing as working on  22 episodes a season."
"I think with Listener we're now hitting our stride. There's excitement we might get an order for a fifth season"
Adds Olejnik. "I didn't think a second season was possible and now I'm hoping for a fifth. In one way I liked not knowing--it makes us all work better."
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rookie Blue Back For Fourth Summer Run

Talking to a gaggle of Canadian TV producers and one series emerges that's the envy of all.
It's Rookie Blue which is back for its fourth season as a summer pick up series carried on both ABC and Global.
Trouble is the Rookie Blue formula hasn't worked for such Canadian shows as The Listener, The Firm, Chasing Hope and Combat Hospital.
All these series crashed and burned in the ratings when shown on U.S. networks.
In the  case of Combat Hospital Global pulled out of a second season whereas CTV has continued production of The Listener which is back for another summer run next week.
Rookie Blue is that marvel --a Canadian show that has U.S. legs.
Part of the appeal lies in the cast of promising young Canadian actors including Gregory Smith, Missy Peregrym, Charlotte Sullivan, Matt Gordon and Peter Mooney.
They're all bright, photogenic and ever so eager as the rookies.
I liked meeting them when I was on the set the first season.
I also enjoyed chatting up two of the executive producers, Ilana Frank and Tassie Cameron during season  two.
Perhaps if the series persists much longer a title change would be in order --to Sophomore Blue?
Because you can't be a rookie forever can you?
Aaron Spelling had the same problem explaining why he continued to run a series called The Rookies. He persisted so long that the Canadian actor Michael Ontkean suggested being a rookie for years on end was debilitating for an actor.
Let's be explicit here: Rookie Blue is never going to be in the category of a NYPD Blue --it lacks the crackling dialogue and desperate situations.
But that's exactly part of the game plan of the cagey veteran executive producers Ilana Frank and David Wellington who once conspired on The Eleventh Hour a Canadian TV series that did not make it to U.S. network TV.
I'd say that Rookie Blue is a sort of Grey's Anatomy blended with the daily travails of policing. Sort of Adam-12 with romance added.
Let's look at the first new episode which takes up last year's plot--Andy (Peregrym) and Nick (Mooney) are on a six month undercover meth operation.
Both accepted the assignments without telling their romantic partners --Sam (Ben Bass) or Gail (Sullivan).
And guesting is the wonderful Louis Ferreira on vacation from his weekly role on Motive.
Then Andy and Nick must return to more mundane duties and try telling their mates what happened and why they were away for so long.
In other words the dynamic here is the relationships.
There's some genuine suspense in this hour but it's not the way a NYPD Blue would go. And that's because RB is really a 9 p.m. show and it's the raw emotions of love that are being peddled.
But this season ABC has decided to run it at 10 meaning Global will oblige by simulcasting.
One of the biggest characters in the series is the city of Toronto with all its diverse neighborhoods.
But it's also apparent these rookies are growing up fast.
They're still acting like starry teenagers in the love department.
But on the beat they're now seasoned professionals.

CBC Has Much To Celebrate

Suppose CBC threw a big celebratory party and the guest of honor was a no show?
That's exactly what happened yesterday at CBC's Toronto headquarters as CBC rolled out the red carpet for its fall season of shows.
But the person directly responsible for all this hoopla went missing.
That would be ace programmer Kirstine Stewart who just jumped ship to become president of Google Canada.
But Stewart's fingerprints are all over the fall schedule.
For one thing CBC is building on success not failure for the first time in years.
A number of its hour long dramas are returning amid a higher ratings boom.
Let me start with the now venerable family series Heartland back for a near record seventh season.
I spoke to the two personable stars at the launch --Amber Marshall and Graham Wardle --who look remarkably young for such seasoned veterans.
But they're also facing the problem of success in being closely identified with such a huge TV  hit.
Marshall told me she now has her own magazine and doesn't at all resent such a close identification with the character of Amy.
Wardle says he's guested on an episode of Supernatural for some contrast and just hopes the series continues delivering solid family entertainment.
"About being type cast I'll deal with that in the future."
Then it was onto Murdoch Mysteries which is also in Season Seven --not bad for a period drama that got dumped a year ago by Citytv.
In an unusual move CBC picked the series up and it now is recording record high ratings.
"Even the City reruns are way up in the ratings," jokes star Yannick Bison.
I recall I first interviewed Bisson on the set of the 1984 TV flick Hockey Night when he was 17.
"Actually I was 15," Bisson interjects.
He took over the role when it switched from TV movies (starring Peter Outerbridge) to the hour long drama format.
"This season we hit 1901," Bisson says meaning the death of Queen Victoria must be dramatized.
The set of Murdoch has had to be cut up and shipped to another film site twice and Bisson jokes "each time when it is reassembled it looks better with the additions."
And, yes, Murdoch does have a U.S. audience."We're on Netflicks already --I know from the fan mail."
Next up I'm chatting with Allan Hawco who is celebrating the fact "We survived on Sunday nights, the most competitive night of the week, yeah I know."
As a reward CBC is plopping ROD into the Wednesdays at 9 time slot.
"Ratings should pick up," Hawco is saying. optimistically. And he promises that Gordon Pinsent will be back "and maybe also Paul Gross if he can fit it into his schedule."
Hawco says the show is well received abroad "even in Britain where they wonder if my accent is Irish. It certainly is not."
ROD, he believes, succeeds because of its characterizations. "It's solidly Newfoundlander material. Selling it abroad is the icing on the cake."
And now over to Cracked which is the baby of the series bunch moving into its second season.
The first season was "hectic" allows star David Sutcliffe who returned to Canada for the role of Detective Aidan Black.
He started his acting career in T.O., moved to L.A. 14 years ago  and has worked consistently (his U.S. last series was Private Practice).
"I'd agree the first few episodes were somewhat disjointed," Sutcliffe allows. But the show grew cohesive by the week.
Shouldn't Cracked really be a 10 p.m. show? I ask and Sutcliffe nods. But, of course, CBC News reigns supreme at 10.
"I'm amazed at the amount of violence we dramatized given it was on at 9 p.m. and on the CBC."
Cracked gets a new lady lady in Brooke Nevin who is best known as Ted Danson's daughter on CSI.
And just to point out not everything on CBC is a returning favorite.
New series include the comedy The Best Laid Plans,  the crime drama Crossing Lines starring William Fichtner (Prison Break), a show about antiques titled Four Rooms and the reality series Recipe To Riches.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

BBC's Father Brown: Well Worth Catching

When the DVD previews of the new TV version of Father Brown arrived I elected to take a pass.
It was a horribly bad call I'm ready to admit.
First of all I'd loved the original TV series made in 1976 starring film fave Kenneth More and I just couldn't see Mark williams in the lead.
Then there was the disconcerting news the stories had been updated to the Fifties and firmly situated at Kembleford in the Cotswolds.
Weren't the original stories set all over the place?
But curiosity finally got the better of me and I plopped in the first two episodes.
And I'm now admitting to making a big mistake. Father Brown is rather fun of its kind and William aces the character as far as I'm concerned.
Up first is a juicy tale of sexual shenanigans and murder. called The Hammer  Of God. Well, it's as juicy as could be allowed back in the Fifties.
This English village as an all white enclave where the only differences allowed are between the Catholic Father Brown and his Anglican counterpart.
 There's a cute celebration to mark the instillation at the Anglican church of a new bell ringing device.
And at the subsequent tea party what should happen but a rather violent murder: the local bad boy gets his head bashed in by an anvil borrowed from the village smitty.
Williams' Brown is sheer delight. He's a very nosey parker indeed  and one who delights in the pleasures of this life including nibbling on the award winning strawberry scones and chattering away to the well dressed ladies in attendance.
Pitted against this comical figure is the suitably dour Inspector Valentine (Hugo Speer) who must doggedly run through all the suspects, the motives, the means of murder.
It doesn't help that the blacksmith's perky wife Elizabeth has already made a false confession because she believes her husband did it.
And added are the regulars: the luxurantly dressed Lady Felicia (Nancy Carroll),  the gossipy church secretary Mrs. McCarthy (Sorcha Cusack) and the hard working Polish refugee turned housekeeper Susie (Kasia Koleczek).
The mystery gets solved in a suitable leisurely fashion --there was no CSI in those days, of course.
Father Brown is a luxuriant exercise in Fifties revivalism. The cars look spotless, the village is graffiti free, the little shoips spin and span. Who wouldn't want to live there?
Everybody knows everybody else --the mayhem committed here is ever so gently applied. Even the killer has a point or two about him.
Father Brown, simply stated, hasn't enough to do, he's forever interfering in everybody else's business.
People who enjoy all those Agatha Christie remakes will willingly watch Father Brown.
There's a certain feeling of safeness here. Those who seem to be suspect are one by one ruled out.
The murder weapon is unusual. The setting by a babbling brook is perfect.
And at the end everybody gathers for one more great tea party. What fun!
By my count there are seven more new episodes to run over the next month and a half.
I know I'll be watching. You should try this one out, too.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Was TV's Golden Age Really Silver?

It was exactly 43 years ago that I arrived at The Globe And Mail for my second stint as a summer entertainment reporter.
There I was, eager, callow, hard working when I landed the plum assignment of covering the TV beat, substituting for the great scribe Blaik Kirby who was on extensive leave.
It was the golden age of Toronto's TV criticism so far as I was concerned.
Blaik held down the G&M fort although he also had to double as the paper's nightclub critic.
His proud boast was he watched as little TV as possible.
In fact when I once asked executive editor Dick Doyle why TV wasn't a full time beat Doyle drawled "I'm hoping it will all go away."
Over at the mighty Star Patrick Scott had reigned supreme as the nastiest critic on the block. His acid tinged review of a Sammy Davis Jr. show included the line about a one-eyed black Jew that was a new low in Canadian journalism as far as I was concerned.
But Scott had recently jumped ship to become a roving critic --his first posts were coming in from Australia.
So he was replaced by Jack Miller who'd been TV critic at The Hamilton Spectator since 1954 --I believe he was the first in all of Canada but Gordon Sinclair once told me he'd been there first.
The Telegram had Bob Blackburn as wily an old coot when it came to discussing the biz aided and abetted by entertainment editor Roy Shields who had once been the star's TV reporter.
First up for me was an assignment to cover the CBC's buying spree in Los Angeles.
In those days CBC had the money and position to buy any American show it fancied for the fall.
Programming pooh-bah Thom Benson would lounge by the pool at L.A.'s ritzy Beverly Wilshire hotel and have the programmers come to him with their wares.
Prices were ultra low. Benson boasted to me of his multi-year deal to nab Mary Tyler Moore for $2,500 an episode --today a Top Ten sitcom sells for over $100,000 an episode.
Note: Mary was such a stickler that when CBC insisted she records ads for her show debuting on CBC she balked at the line "8:30 in Newfoundland" and phoned the editor of the St. John's Telegram to ask how he pronounced Newfoundland.
Shows that Benson didn't wan? He'd say "Ship 'em to CTV" and the buyers would rush off to try to interest CTV president Murray Chercover in Benson's left overs.
Chercover stayed down the street at the less luxurious Beverly Hilton.
Sometimes a left over could become a smash --CTV had the first year rights to Laugh-In but Chercover spurned a three-year contract because he wasn't sure how the public would react to such skits.
When it took off Benson coldly bought away the rights for the second season --and three more years after that much to Chercover's rage.
In those days with cable TV still in its infancy there was no such thing as simulcasting.
Benson would likely plop a MTM on a day or so before its American run in a stunt he called "prerelease".
After CTV had shifted through its needs the bottom of the barrel shows would go to CHCH. In fact some shows back then never did get a Canadian release.
When I once asked Chercover why in those days there was no CTV fall launch he shrieked "Kid, my big Canadian shows are Littlest Hobo and Headline Hunters. You want me to promote that stuff?"
Over the next few years I'd dutifully trek out to CFTO's Agincourt studio to get on the set of such CTV Canadian content as Stars On Ice, Half The George Kirby Comedy Hour, The Pat Paulsen Show, Simon Locke MD, Police Surgeon. On the set of Pig "N Whistle I interviewed legendary dancer Jessie Matthews.
But I also dutifully covered CHCH's Canadian content outings with on set visits to Party Game, The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein, Ein Prosit and The Palace.
Remember any of those?
I remember hanging out with Rita Moreno and Shelley Berman on the Hamilton set of a game show the name of which escapes me. It was the pilot and never was seen-- except by me.
When I mentioned it decades later to Moreno she broke into a sweat and stammered "You saw THAT?"
My CBC set visits were equally composed of the good, the bad and the ugly.
I was on the set of a new series starring Barry Morse and Lois Maxwell titled Sleuth. The pilot seemed OK but it was never aired. and no further episodes were made.
Other CBC series I frequented early on include Delilah with Toby Tweed (she was a lady barber), a Frankie Howerd outing that cast him as a landed immigrant opposite Barbara Hamilton as his land lady,
 a Kate Reid drama accidentally wiped by a technician and never seen, a police movie with U.S. imports Stefanie Powers and James Franciscus.
Hey, I could go on and on.
Obviously things have changed. Canadian programmers are now in L.A. buying up all new and returning U.S. series to be simulcast. They'll spend so much that there won't be much left for their Canadianb content shows.
Hey, that line sounds very familiar.
It seems to me more Canadian shows were being made way back then.
And it was my job to see them all which was kind of fun of in a strange sort of way.
But here's my question: Which era was golden for Canadian talent?
Forty years back or today?
I know but do you?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Seth Meyers To Replace Jimmy Fallon

With its prime time lineup crumbling away there's still a bright spot for NBC.
And that's late nights.
Despite the Conan O'Brien dust up the peacock proud network remains number one.
Leno's Tonight show consistently out ranks Dave Letterman on CBS.
But lately ABC's Jimmy Kimmel with a movie to 11:30 has proved he might overtake his elderly competitors.
And  NBC has already announced Leno's replacement: it's Jimmie Fallon.
And now comes the surprise replacement for Fallon at 12:30: it's SNL's long running comic Seth Meyers who is also the head writer.
NBC Entertainment chair Bob Greenblatt calls Meyers "one of the brightest, most insightful comedy writers and performers of his generation."
Said Meyers: "I only have to work for Lorne Michaels for five more years before I pay him back for the time I totalled his car."
Michaels will continue as executive producer of the talk show as well as become executive producer of the tonight Show when it moves back to New York.
Talking to the New York Times Meyers, 39, said he had regrets about leaving SNL after 12 successful seasons.
The transitions are scheduled for next February right after NBC's Winter Olympics coverage from Sochi, Russia.
In April NBC announced Fallon will take over from Leno which remains the most popular late night talk series.
For months Meyers has been discussed in industry circles as the most obvious candidate. Fallon is also a SNL veteran. Meyers thus has experience in working in front of TV audiences.
Last year Meyers almost defected to the syndicated talk show circuit when Regis Philbin left his morning show. That job finally went to Michael Strahan.
Meyers has promised he'll remain on SNL until next January. Then he'll begin shotting test shows before his February debut.
And need I point out Canadian TV does not have a sigle late night show as competition?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

It's TV Cancellation Time!

This is the time of the year when the big old American networks cancel all those series that just aren't working.
For NBC and ABC it's been tough seasons. For CBS riding high in the ratings there's some pressure to prune old shows that might nose dive any season.
Next week there are the upfronts in New York city with all those bright new series.
Most of NBC's schedule tanked and the cancellations are huge: Whitney is gone (hurray!) plus  Matthew Perry's flabby sitcom Go On, 1600 Penn and the weekly anemic Brian Williams news mag  Rock Center. And Happy Endings is gone, the sole NBC sitcom I liked.
Trouble is that much house cleaning deprives NBC of any building blocks to future success.
The New Normal seemed to be the only freshman sitcom to survive hardly a vote of confidence in the NBC creative team. And then late last night The New Normal got bounced, too. It was a much heralded recreation by Ryan Murphy of Glee.
NBC's sole new hit: The Voice.
Bad news for NBC comes in the departure of the new series The Family Guide.
NBC picked up a spin-off of the semi-hit Fire Hunks called predictably Police Hunks.
And NBC has finally cancelled Smash which was enjoyable melodrama the first season. Then it got cleaned up with the best characters disappearing and became boring and predictable.
Smash was a personal favorite of NBC  entertainment head Bob Goldblatt who even hired the second team to revap it.
Moving the series to Saturday nights marked the death of that one.
CBS has finally decided not to renews CSI:NY for a 10th season. The series had an abbreviated run with only 17 new episodes this year.
However flagship CSI will be right back at it this fall.
CBS says it reluctantly cancelled two new series: Vegas which started hotly and then petered out plus Golden Boy which was expected to be a breakout hit.
Also gone is the workhorse sitcom Rules Of Engagement which was plopped into holes in the schedule but never got strong ratings.
ABC's already dumped series include 666 Park Avenue (which I liked), Private Pracrtice, Zero Hour and Last Resort.
And ABC has now sent out pink slips to Body Of Proof with Dana Delany, How To Live with Your Parents, Malibu County with Reba McEntire and Red Widow.
Season winner CBS has picked up four new sitcoms: the Anna Faris show Mom about a  newly sober gal living in the Napa Valley.
Then there's Will Arnett in The Millers. Another is called We Are Men --details to follow.The one that seems hopeful has Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar in Crazy Ones.
Josh Holloway has a new CBS drama called Intelligence about a man with a computer brain.  Another CBS drama Hostages stars Toni Collette and Dylan McDermott.
That's all I know so far.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Never ever Do This At Home: Scary TV

I'm trying to figure out what age group the new TV series Never Ever Do This At Home is geared to attract?
The 9 p.m. time slot is too late for the impressionable kids who might like watching a house burn down.
But the approach is too funny for the scientific minded.
My conclusion: it's for the kid in all of us, you know the sensation when you're watching fireworks specifically the one where the school house burns down.
The new Canadian made series debuts Monday May 6 at 9 p.m. on Discovery with back-to-back half hour episodes.
Basically the two funny co-hosts, Teddy Wilson from Innerspace and Norm Sousa from The Sketchersons conduct their madcap experiments with everyday items which carry warning signals most of us usually stay clear of.
This is a format that has proved popular on many European TV networks. This is the English language version and it should have a long run provided the hosts don't blow each other up.
In each episode the two hosts disregard the warning statements for an anything goes attitude.
The setting is a beautiful nineteenth century farmhouse immaculately kept up. That is it looks beautiful until these two dunderheads get through with it and turn it into a charred ruin.
I wonder if the owner had insurance against two TV nincompoops trying to self implode in the kitchen?
First up we're told fireworks should only be set off in a vacant field far from buildings.
But this twosome ignite fireworks inside the farm house. Destruction reigns and thankfully the local fire fighters are there to put out the glaze. But watching all those fires started is sort of fun. Particularly if you're a  budding pyromaniac.
Putting two soup cans on the stove and turning up the heat might seem just silly.
Except that at camp when told to cook the beans for supper that's exactly what I did only to have the cans explode and the beans get stuck to the ceiling.
One can of soup bursts so much faster than the other. Am I giving away too much plot?
Then the boys get hold of a gigantic frozen fish, too big to be placed in a conventional microwave oven.
So they decide to build their own using a close that they "paper" with tin foil that will bounce the waves off many microwaves.
I started shuddering a bit about then because one false move and a person could get burned right badly.
The fish does get cooked. Sort of. But there's a distinct stink that the boys notice. We never see them sampling their cooked meal.
At the end of each experiment an expert comes in and tells us what has happened.
And special cameras can capture all the action at 2,650 frames per second for those truly beautiful shots of combustion.
It all makes for a fast paced 21 minutes per episode. The cagey executive producer is veteran John Brunton for Insight Productions which made the 13 episodes based on a format devised by Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
Later episodes promise us a death match between a toaster and a popcorn maker, how to make spaghetti in a washer/dryer and brewing coffee in a water tank.
But I'm still wondering what happened to the farmer who lent out his beautiful home and then came home to this mess.