Monday, February 22, 2016

Wolverine Documentary: A CBC-TV First

I freely admit I knew next to nothing about wolverines.
And then I watched the preview tape of CBC-TV's Nature Of Things documentary: Wolverine: Ghosts Of The Northern Forest.
For the very first time anywhere wolverines are shown in their native habitat and these are not the quick, blurred  shots usually glimpsed in other documentaries.
You can watch and judge for yourself: the amazing hour premieres on CBC Thursday February 25 at 8 p.m.
Now as soon as I saw it was the latest production from famous Canadian wildlife cinematographer Andrew Manske I just knew I wouldn't be able to stop watching until the hour was over.
Manske is one of the adornments of his special craft --he even won a 2013 Emmy for work on National Geographic's Untamed Americas series.
This time he set himself an almost impossible task.
Wolverines are notoriously shy of humans and some veteran naturalists working in Alberta for decades have never had more than a quick shot of one running through the woods.
This hour is constructed as a sort of video diary with Manske front and center.
He tells us what he and other specialists know about wolverines which is sketchy at best.
Manske in 2010 had set up a motion sensor camera that recorded the only extended footage he's ever gotten.
This time out he is more determined as he sets up a blind near a frozen river  in northern Alberta where wolves have recently killed a young moose --wolverines are notorious scavengers and their incredible sense of smell will surely guide them to the spit.
But for a long time nothing happens although there's time to be entranced by the other animals dropping by including ravens.
In the U.S. wolverines are on federal endangered lists, in Canada there's still a reluctance to act.
The shots of Manske slowly going slightly batty in his blind are rather priceless --anybody else would have abandoned the project but just as he's reluctantly considering decamping a female wolverine appears and then her two youngsters also show up.
Manske even gives them names: Bandit (mother), White Tips (daughter), Shaggy (son).
The film then segues into a geography lesson about how the animals use the landscape.
We see scientists trying to set traps in pine boxes so wolverines can be tagged and their comings and goings recorded --that takes a beaver carcass to entice them.
But at the end of the experiment 33 wolverines have been equipped with satellite collars so their where abouts can be studied.
We learn beavers are a wolverine delicacy --in the frigid winters they can even dog into frozen beaver huts on the quest for prey and Manske also shows how one mother used an empty beaver den as her birthing lair.
No film maker has ever done any of this before --this is not boasting but the plain truth and makes the hour compulsively viewable.
It also reaffirms Nature Of Thing's preeminent role on Canadian TV in a season where all TV things Canadian seem to be dwindling fast.
Strong NOT ratings are demonstrating Canadians have a strong predilection for Canadian subjects if done as well as this.
Watch it and you'll know more about the Canadian wolverine than you ever thought possible.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

First Dates' Valentines Special: Very Cute Indeed

So there I was at a very swank dinner party and as usual I was lamenting the lack of Canadian series on Canadian TV channels.
"I watch First Dates all the time," said the woman opposite me, dressed in her chic Chanel pantsuit and a very famous author indeed.
I'd heard of that one but was playing catch up.
But now I've just watched the two specials First Dates has reconfigured from past episodes titled tantalizingly enough Worst Dates.
Check them out for yourself on Sat. Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. and on Sun. Feb. 14 at noon and again at 5 p.m. on Slice, Got that?
And I'm finding this series very cute but also a bit cringe worthy at times as very nice couples find they are not suited for each other and in Blythe Dannerese decide to consciously uncouple.
The setting is the very swank "in" Vancouver restaurant Earls Yaletown in the trendiest section of Vancouver.
I'm told producer Toby Dormer stations dozens of hidden cameras all over the place to capture every moment.
I'm told hundreds of Vancouverites were set up this way and none of them had any idea who they were meeting. Talk about blind dating gone wild.
Now a neighbor who is hooked on the show explained that nothing ever seems rehearsed at all. Some of the contestants are gorgeous, others less so.
In short this isn't your average cookie cutter reality outing where the desire is to embarrass the heck out everyone into multiple accusations.
I really liked the atmosphere and how eager to please everyone seems.
In fact several subjects say they have been here before and were found wanting by other blind dates.
It's the complete lack of rehearsal that makes each encounter both touching and rather sweet.
A whole heck of a lot of footage must have been shot just to get those brief moments of self realization.
the way almost all seem awkward at first is perfectly realized.
And they all seem genuinely inclined to ask good questions and try to make their partner feel at home.
Of course this turns viewers into mini-voyeurs but in a rather nice way.
Very quickly we can see there's a complete lack of chemistry in some couples while others are cautiously optimistic some genuine emotion can be discovered.
I would think most had a very interesting time. But a few seem genuinely crushed when rejected.
When it comes time to plan future dates some of the curt refusals just stunned me.
I couldn't help myself but I most identified with the exterminator who so desperately desired a relationship in his thirties.
But others who've seen more episodes identified with others.
And one constant fan told of the desperate gal who even tried to pick up the bartender.
Worst Dates is the best --or make it the best of the worst--of these encounters, a serio-comic salute to Valentines Day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bitten Is Back For Season 3

It's not everyday that Canadian TV ventures into the supernatural.
Way, way back I can remember being on the set of the CTV hit (Forever Knight.
It was in 1996 and Geraint Wynn Davies was a blonde vampire.
Also on the set that day was a young Kristin Lehman now starring on CTV's Motive.
And more recently I had the chance to chat up pert Tatiana Maslany on the set of  Orphan Black.
And then there's Bitten which returns to Space for Season 3.
You can catch the first new episode Friday February 12 at 10 p.m.
To say that Bitten has been an unalloyed hit from the beginning would be a bit of a stretch.
But I've kept watching right along.
It was created by Daegan Fryklind also responsible for Motive, The Listener and she knows how to keep people hooked and watching week after week.
This  series is based on the series of books called Women Of The Otherworld which I have yet to read --Kerlly Armstrong wrote them and has a huge following --on U.S. TV the series is carried on Syfy.
Laura Vandervoort is stunning as Elena Michaels --yes she's beautiful but also has the acting chops to make us believe.
Also making significant contributions are Greyston Holt, Greg Bryk, Steve Lund,  and Genelle Williams.
Poor Elena is a female werewolf and there's a lot of stuff about balancing that and trying to find peace.
There's the sense of constantly being on the run and some of the nastiest physical confrontations as prey are beaten, punched and even hanged into submission.
Shots of wolves running through forests are almost poetic but the story does not depend on fancy special effects.
Rather it's the sense of uneasiness that's always there.
These human wolves run as a pack, they have to stick together or they'll be taken down and no outsiders can be trusted.
The look of each episode is spectacular and I think this is the contribution of  production designer Rory Cheyne and director pf photography Craig Wright.
Also, veteran David Wellington directed the first two new hour episodes asnd he knows how to keep us hooked.
I keep hearing this will be the final block of 10 one episodes which surprises me as it has made Space vastly competitive --Space is number one among Canadian specialty channels--but Bitten must be one of the most expensive Canadian series in cable TV.
I've been told this decision was made at the beginning of production of the third season meaning a complete resolution will wind up this exciting series.
Revelations come pounding forth and I liked the way John Ralston steals scenes as the enigmatic Russian werewolf  Sasha who has been on the run for 30 years and is unknown to other wolves in the area --his scenes with Laura Vandervoort as Elena have the snap and cracle of great dramatic tension.
And if Bitten does as well as I suspect in Season 3 just maybe Space will reconsider its termination notice --after all werewolves are notoriously difficult to kill off.
Bitten was produced by No Equal Entertainment and Hoodwink Entertainment for eOne.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The State Of Canadian TV, Part II

So there I was at my favorite Greek restaurant on Danforth Avenue with three of my favorite people involved in Canadian TV: a veteran publicist, a veteran actress and a well known producer.
Here are highlights of our lunch time conversation.
ME: Who wants to start as we dissect the current state of Canadian TV?
ACTRESS: Well, the plunge in our dollar is great news for people like me. I'm hearing of a dozen projects from the U.S. coming across the border in the spring and summer. You remember that year in the Eighties when we had wall-to-wall American TV movies and miniseries shooting everywhere?
ME: I do! The Star had a photographer line up all the talent at the staircase of the Sutton Place hotel and I think we had over 40 name American actors hugging each other.
PRODUCER: In actual Canadian productions the future is very dire indeed. Look, I admire those CTV drama series Saving Hope and Motive both of which are disguised a bit so they can be sold to the U.S. But stories that are unabashedly Canadian? Forget it. Americans aren't interested which leaves European buyers and they usually only pay a pittance for Canadian shows.
PUBLICIST: For me the times are very difficult. Whoever would have forecast the complete melt down of TV Guide Canada, once the biggest magazine in the nation? Then Southam discontinued TV Times. And Toronto Star's Starweek is produced out of Florida.I have troubles selling any stories on Canadian series I can tell you.
PRODUCER: Every year the three major Canadian networks venture to Hollywood to buy up each and every U.S. fall series. They pay a pittance in terms of actual cost of production. What they also get is all the attendant publicity from such U.S. mags as Entertainment Weekly and all the on air publicity on all the U.S. morning shows. We have few TV talk shows in Canada to publicize local series.
PUBLICIST: Both Global and Bell have their own versions of daily entertainment shows but one rarely sees a rival network getting any publicity. That's why I was pleasantly surprised the other day to see CTV's Ben Mulroney interviewing cast members of the returning CBC series X Company. That almost never happens!
ACTRESS: I submit to you we do have bona fide Canadian stars the Canadian public like and admire: Sonja Smits, Art Hindle, Wendy Crewson, Gordon Pinsent, Nick Campbell, Paul Gross, Michael Riley. My husband asked for a boxed set of This Is Wonderland a few Christmases back and I was shocked to learn only the first season was out on DVD.
ME: Series never on DVD include ENG, Beachcombers, Paradise Falls. A farmer in Wisconsin once wrote to me he'd recorded Power Play when it played on UPN in the States and made up his own boxed set which he sold for awhile on the Internet --he said he's sold over 250 boxed sets.
ACTRESS: The winner of the Gemini awards for best series acting would invariably go to talent who looked a bit lost up there because their series had already been cancelled.
ME: How many local stations do you think wull follow CHCH into declaring bankruptcy?
PRODUCER: Maybne 30 stations are teetering. Local news commitments don't make money any more. Teenagers in my family just don't watch regular TV stations. They transfer everything to their devices and watch later. When CHCH went under it was the tip of ann iceberg.
PUBLICIST: For me the lack of publicity on currently running shows is just awful. CTV and CBC regularly dump their young publicists and hire even younger ones who are under six month contracts and have no contacts they can alert about new shows.
ME: And yet I'm still watching Murdoch Mysteries, X Company, Nature Of Things. I still mourn Elwy Yost who got a new generation interested in old movies. He was irreplaceable. When Lloyd Robertson retired as CTV news anchor I wondered if Lisa LaFlamme would make it and she has! And I'm wondering how long CBC's Peter Mansbridge can hang on. When I started writing my TV column for The Spectator in 1970 CBC's anchor shared a studio with The Friendly Giant.
ACTRESS: A pal of mine was doing scholarly research in the CBC archives --she viewed dozens of classics that can't be shown today because the copyright has run out. So Canadian TV has few Canadian reruns --there's no collective sense of history. Instead we watch American reruns. I'm told The Beachcombers can never be reissued because nobody is sure who owns the rights anymore.
PRODUCER: Maybe the new Trudeau government will take pity on us. After all newspapers are quickly disappearing. And so is Canadian TV. Setting up a funding system would help and perhaps turning newspapers and local stations into non-profits might go a long way. We can dream can't we?