Saturday, December 30, 2006

Midseason Report Card - Dec. 30, 2006



Starting from scratch

New Year’s Day always brings a clean slate to the TV business. Some networks will make the most of that. Others will just give us more of the same old stuff.

By Eric Kohanik

You may not realize it, but you’ve just been through hell.

Well, it wasn’t REALLY hell. It was just the worst week of the entire TV year.

There are a lot of things in the REAL world that are far more horrific to endure than that, of course. For the TV business, though, the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day is always a truly dark time.

It is often nicknamed “The Dead Zone.” It’s the week when such things as The Kennedy Center Honors and the start of the World Junior Hockey Championships always end up being the best things on TV.

Fortunately, it always seems darkest before the dawn. And things start to perk up somewhat this week, when New Year’s Eve trots out its array of celebratory specials, while New Year’s Day serves up everything from The Tournament of Roses Parade to that annual plethora of college-bowl games.

New Year’s Day isn’t really the midpoint of the TV season, but it is a time when the TV industry shrugs off the disasters of the fall and looks ahead to its hopeful newcomers.

The 2006-07 TV season started off as one of the most promising in years. That feeling didn’t last long, though.

New series began falling by the wayside in short order as network executives swung the cancellation axe swiftly – and often mercilessly.

CBS cancelled Ray Liotta’s crime series, Smith, after only three telecasts. It did the same with its replacement, a medical drama about brain surgery that starred Stanley Tucci but had the idiotic title of 3 LBS.

NBC, meanwhile, whacked Kidnapped and Twenty Good Years fairly quickly; Fox did thesame with Happy Hour, Vanished and, after waiting just a bit longer, Justice.

As for ABC, it opted to put Six Degrees and The Nine “on hiatus,” with vague promises of them returning.

As each TV season begins in the fall, American network executives keep preaching how they intend to show patience and let all of their good shows find their audiences. By New Year’s Day, of course, we find out they’re just a bunch of liars.

Canadian TV executives tend to go to the other extreme. Because it costs them so much to develop Canadian shows, they tend to keep almost anything they’ve produced on the air, even if virtually no one is watching. Most of CBC’s schedule is living proof of that.

At least New Year’s Day brings with it a clean slate and a new resolve to do better. That’s even more true in the TV business than it is in each of our personal lives.

Some networks are jumping into things right away this week; others are rolling out their new attractions and their stellar returnees over the next couple of weeks.

And, of course, all of them are promising to give us what they believe is truly the best.

For a little while, anyway.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Podcasts and Broadband - Dec. 23, 2006



A new era for television

A year ago, podcasts and broadband streaming were relatively unknown TV entities. A year from now, it may be TV channels that are part of the unknown.

By Eric Kohanik

I’m thinking of getting rid of my TV.

No, it’s not some big job protest or anything like that. It’s just that I’m watching a lot more TV on…well, not on a traditional TV set.

I’ve been watching a fair bit of TV on my video iPod lately – which seems kind of strange because, a little more than a year ago, the mere mention of a “podcast” would bring puzzled looks to faces around me whenever I would mention it.

Now, video podcasts are the only way I ever get to catch news anchor Kevin Newman doing his Gemini Award-winning work on Global National. It’s also the only way I regularly check out Charlie – er, make that CharlesGibson anchoring the ABC World News, too. And it’s the only way I have time to see Brian Williams – the AMERICAN one – doing the NBC Nightly News.

When I’m not watching TV on my iPod, I’m watching it on my computer. I play DVDs of shows on my computer. I’m watching more and more episodes of current TV series on it, too, thanks to shows that are now being streamed on the Internet.

After a ridiculously lengthy delay, Canadian TV networks have finally jumped on the broadband craze, streaming both Canadian and American shows on their websites.

In the fall, Global began streaming episodes of such American shows as Survivor: Cook Islands, 1 Vs. 100 and Deal or No Deal on

Never content to be beaten at anything, CTV cut a deal with an American TV studio to bring such shows as The O.C. and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip to a portion of that it calls the CTV Broadband Network.

CTV has even taken things a step further. The network makes episodes of its homegrown TV shows – Corner Gas, Whistler, Instant Star and Degrassi: The Next Generation – available on its broadband outlet. In fact, this season’s premiere of Degrassi was online for a whole week before the show aired on conventional television.

This is only the beginning, too. Will podcasts and broadband streaming overtake today’s conventional channels? Probably. I got a clear indication recently, when the PVR/digital-cable box that is hooked up to my TV messed up and recorded only a portion of the Christmas episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip a couple of weeks ago.

It was maddening – until the realization sunk in that the episode was available on the Internet. So, I watched it again from the beginning – on my computer, not my TV.

Will I actually get rid of my cable box andTV set? Not yet. One thing is clear, though: the big shift is gathering momentum. And the TV universe could change quite rapidly.

Last Christmas, nobody knew that much about podcasts and broadband streaming.

A year from now, it may well be those old, familiar TV channels that are the things nobody knows much about anymore.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Survivor: Cook Islands - Dec. 16, 2006


Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006; CBS, Global


Let's tally the votes

Too often, Survivor’s winners haven’t really deserved their victory. It’s starting to make the whole season feel like a huge waste of time.

By Eric Kohanik

It has only been around since the summer of 2000. And yet, in many ways, it’s difficult to believe that Survivor has survived for as long as it has.

That’s not to say the reality show isn’t good anymore. In fact, there are loyal fans who would insist that the latest, 13th version of the show – Survivor: Cook Islands – has really been the best one yet.

But how much life is there really left in the whole Survivor franchise?

I swore to myself that I would try to avoid Survivor as much as possible this time around. I succeeded several times, but not because I’m tired of the show itself.

I’m just tired of who ends up winning.

Ever since the original Survivor (which has since been rechristened Survivor: Borneo in some circles and Survivor: Pulau Tiga in others) aired in the summer of 2000, there have been two renditions of the show each year: The Australian Outback and Africa in 2001; Marquesas and Thailand in ’02; The Amazon and Pearl Islands in ’03; All-Stars and Vanuatu – Islands of Fire in ’04; Palau and Guatemala – The Maya Empire last year; and Panama – Exile Island and Cook Islands this year.

As for the winners, they include, in chronological order: Richard Hatch, Tina Wesson, Ethan Zohn, Vecepia Towery, Brian Heidik, Jenna Morasca, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Amber Brkich , Chris Daugherty, Tom Westman, Danni Boatwright and Aras Baskauskas.

While some of those names have become famous for various reasons, a lot of them don’t mean a thing to most of us anymore – which makes me wonder why they ever meant anything to us at all.

In any case, yet another name will be added to the winners’ list on Sunday night, when Cook Islands wraps up its run with the usual overblown combination of two-hour finale and one-hour reunion show. But this one will be an important effort.

Last spring’s climax of Panama – Exile Island proved to be, well, anticlimactic, naming yet another winner who, based on the televised gameplay, really didn’t seem to deserve the million-dollar prize.

That’s happened far too often on Survivor. And it’s a letdown that makes the show’s entire season feel like a waste of time.

There have been several twists and format tweaks over the years. Producers have even done tiny things, like changing the show’s opening this season, with each episode’s recap leading into an additional teaser before the opening credits roll. (For therecord, I liked the old opening better.)

Such tweaks merely spruce up the cosmetics of the show. What really needs tweaking is the Survivor finale.

Whether Cook Islands will be able to avoid another disappointing outcome remains to be seen, of course. But then, the last thing Survivor really needs is for loyal viewers to feel they’ve wasted their time – again.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Brothers & Sisters - Dec. 9, 2006

Sundays; ABC, Global


All in the family

It doesn’t have the draw of Desperate Housewives. Yet, as it turns out, there’s a lot more to pull you into the drama of Brothers & Sisters.

By Eric Kohanik

My job is to watch TV. I’m not supposed to have favourites, really. But there are shows I do tend to check out regularly – almost as a sort of guilty pleasure.

Brothers & Sisters is one of those shows.

The drama series weaves its stories around the Walkers, a wealthy and tight-knit – yet dysfunctional and damaged – Kennedy-esque family in California that made its millions in the fruit business.

The head of the clan, William (Tom Skerritt), ended up dying in the opening episode. Ever since then, wife Nora (Sally Field) has been striving to keep the family united, while eldest daughter Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) has been put in charge of the family business.

It’s been a tough chore for both because the normally admirable William had mysteriously pilfered millions from the company pension fund before his death. He also had a mistress named Holly (Patricia Wettig) and, as it turns out, an illegitimate daughter.

There’s a trio of brothers in the Walker family. Tommy (Balthazar Getty) is the moody company/family guy who, as it turns out, happens to be sterile. Kevin (Matthew Rhys) is the family lawyer who is gay and, as it turns out, the one who seems to be getting the most “action” on the show. And Justin (Dave Annable) is a young military veteran who is the most fragile of the bunch and, as it turns out, is being recalled by the army.

Rounding out the Walker brood is daughter Kitty (Calista Flockhart). She tends to stick out because she is a TV personality and, as it turns out, a staunch Republican in a familybrimming with Democrats.

Oh, there’s also Nora’s brother, Saul Holden (Ron Rifkin), who, as it turns out, now seems to have a thing going with Holly.

The holidays are approaching as Brothers &Sisters serves up its first yuletide episode this week. Naturally, Nora goes overboard in trying to lessen the pain of loss for her family. And, although Sarah is on the verge of replacing the pension money and saving the family business, her quest, as it turns out, is about to run into major curves.

Soapy storylines? Sure. Absorbing? Yes.

Brothers & Sisters hasn’t been a ratings powerhouse, though. Season-to-date Nielsen numbers through Nov. 19 put the show in 25th place among all primetime shows on American networks. That’s a far cry from the No.1 ranking that its lead-in, Desperate Housewives, has chalked up this season.

And yet, in many ways, these characters and stories seem far more interesting.

I’ve liked Brothers & Sisters right from the time I previewed the original pilot episode. That pilot never aired because executive producers Ken Olin and Jon Robin Baitz wanted to retool the show to “improve” it.

In most cases of such extensive tinkering, the producers usually fail.

In this case, as it turns out, they succeeded.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Simulcasts - Dec. 2, 2006



Please adjust your set

There's something terribly wrong with the simulcast picture in Canada. Maybe it’s just time to cut the ties that bind us.

By Eric Kohanik

During last month’s municipal elections in Ontario, some major Canadian broadcasters turned their election coverage into webcasts on the Internet.

They did this instead of daring to interrupt American ratings-sweeps programming for something as trivial as focusing on those who will actually shape the future of the communities in Canada’s largest TV market.

This came just as an interesting story ran in The Hollywood Reporter. It singled out the woes of CTV in particular, with Canadian correspondent Etan Vlessing pointing to the fact that, although Fox had cancelled Justice, the courtroom drama starring Victor Garber was actually faring well for CTV in Canada, reeling in about a million viewers a week.

A similar scenario befell CTV with Smith, a dark crime drama that cast Ray Liotta as the leader of a group of thieves. Although it did well in Canada, low ratings in the United States prompted CBS to whack the show.

It’s not unusual for American shows to be more popular in Canada. That was certainly the case for The West Wing. It has also been true for such reality series as Survivor and Rock Star.

It was the cancellation of Justice, though, that highlighted a lingering problem here.

“Fox’s cancellation,” Vlessing’s story pointed out, “underlines just how much Canadian broadcasters are at the mercy of the U.S. primetime schedule on which they depend for ratings and advertising revenue.”

Therein lies the rub. Canadian channels buy U.S. shows from the same studios that sell them to American networks. But, because American outlets pay more, they get to call the shots on whether a show survives.

Canadian networks are merely along for the ride. Rather than aggressively developing strong Canadian dramas and comedies – regardless of cost – as a crucial investment in their own future, most Canadian channels still rely on buying American shows and then sitting back to watch advertising dollars roll in. They just love to hang on for that ride.

More frequently, the ride is getting bumpy. When shows end up scheduled at the same time on different U.S. networks, Canadian channels have to juggle. So, we end up with scheduling decisions like The Office being shelved by Global, or The O.C. and Grey’s Anatomy showing up at odd times on CTV.

Usually, Canadian networks strive to air U.S. shows at the same time as American networks. In such cases, cable regulations allow an American channel’s signal to be deleted and substituted with the Canadian signal.

It’s a shoddy game that artificially inflates audience numbers for Canadian broadcasters. Bigger audiences mean more advertising bucks, of course. It’s easy money – too easy.

Maybe it’s time to do away with those simulcast regulations. As Ontario’s municipal-election coverage showed, there’s something definitely wrong with that whole picture.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Charlie Brown Christmas - Nov. 25, 2006



'Tis the season

A Charlie Brown Christmas is still the holiday special by which all others are measured. It didn’t start out that way.

By Eric Kohanik

Maybe it’s a sentimental thing – you know, something you’ve grown up with and still look forward to every year.

Or maybe it’s just the fact that they don’t make ’em like this anymore.

In either case, when it comes to Christmas TV specials, there’s only one that readers ask me about every year: A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Never mind that you can rent or buy the DVD and watch it any time. It’s that traditional over-the-air TV broadcast that still prompts parents to gather the kids around the tube to watch.

It’s comfort television.

It was back on Thursday, Dec. 9, 1965, that viewers got their first look at A Charlie Brown Christmas. And when cartoonist Charles M.Schulz had good ol’ Charlie Brown and the rest of his Peanuts pals seek out the true meaning of Christmas, little did he know that the result would be a holiday special by which all others would be measured.

It’s funny how a mid-1960s saga of a little bald-headed kid and his animated friends still captures everyone’s imagination today. In fact, it didn’t look that way at first.

Network executives at CBS, where the show originated, were mortified by the final product that was delivered to them. They were convinced it would bomb.

The fact that the debut telecast was going to pre-empt Gilligan’s Island didn’t please them, either. Nevertheless, A Charlie Brown Christmas was an instant hit and would become the first of many more Peanuts specials. And, although it may not be the most polished of the bunch, many say it’s the best.

What makes A Charlie Brown Christmas continue to twinkle is more than its simple storyline or its crudely animated characters. Schulz had recruited an American jazz musician named Vince Guaraldi to come up with the soundtrack for the special.

Guaraldi created memorable arrangementsof such songs as Christmas Time Is Here and wrote what would become a signature Peanuts tune, a jazzy little piano number called Linus and Lucy.

As for the TV production itself, that was digitally remastered to spruce it up for a 40th-anniversary telecast last year. The result was a surprisingly vibrant reawakening.

For many years, it was an annual fixture on CBS in the United States and CBC in Canada. That all changed a few years ago, when ABC managed to grab the broadcast rights in the U.S., while YTV snagged the Canadian ones.

This year, viewers will actually have several chances to catch A Charlie Brown Christmas. ABC rolls out its telecast Tuesday night. YTV will wait a little longer, airing it Dec. 17 and then again on the 20th.

And, of course, there’s always the DVD.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Seinfeld - Nov. 18, 2006




Gone, but not forgotten

It’s been more than eight years since the Seinfeld gang said goodbye. But the show’s impact is still significant on the air– and on DVD.

By Eric Kohanik

Here’s a little something to makeus all feel a little older.

It has been eight years and six months – plus a handful of days – since NBC and Global aired the final original episode of Seinfeld.

It was Thursday, May 14, 1998. And although Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) and his offbeat pals – Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander) and Kramer (Michael Richards) – officially “left” the air that night, they’ve been on TV ever since.

Ironically, Seinfeld was only on the air for eight years, which means the series has already been in syndicated reruns for longer than it spent as a primetime network fixture.

I’m reminded of all this because the seventh season of Seinfeld hits the DVD world on Tuesday, courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. It’s a four-disc boxed set that includes all 24 episodes from that season.

Squabbles over money between Seinfeld and his co-stars had prevented the series from making a DVD debut until 2004. They have all made up for lost time since then. There are two seasons to go after this.

The seventh season was noteworthy on a lot of fronts. It started with the engagement of George and Susan (Heidi Swedberg) and ended with Susan succumbing to the effects of bad glue on envelopes.

The season’s episodes featured such classics as The Soup Nazi, The Sponge, The Rye, The Calzone and The Bottle Deposit. The mere mention of those episode titles easily brings smiles of recognition to Seinfeld fans.

In many ways, though, the seventh season had a big cultural impact. It popularized the phrase “No soup for you!” and it made such terms as “spongeworthy” and “Schmoopie” part of the popular lexicon of the day.

The season was the final one for executive producer Larry David, who then concocted Curb Your Enthusiasm. The season’s SoupNazi episode was written by Spike Feresten, now a Saturday-night talk-show host on Fox.

But the season also featured some onscreen guests who would later make an impact on the TV landscape. There was Jerry’s car-stealing mechanic, for instance. He was played by Brad Garrett, who would go on to star in Everybody Loves Raymond.

There was a guest stint by Debra Messing, playing an estranged wife on whom Jerry set his sights. Messing, of course, would later set her sights on Will & Grace.

And, of course, there was Elaine’s bitter rival, a “braless wonder” named Sue Ellen Mischke. She was played by Brenda Strong. Relatively unknown to viewers back then, Strong has now found a different niche –and plenty of fame – as Mary Alice Young, the narrator who guides viewers through each episode of Desperate Housewives.

So, even though Seinfeld is long gone, its impact is definitely not forgotten. And its influence is still felt in many ways.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Product Placement - Nov. 11, 2006




Marketing madness

Product placement is bad enough. Now, TV shows are dancing around with product removal, too. How much more are viewers willing to swallow?

By Eric Kohanik

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting more and more weary of TV being nothing but one big commercial.

Product placement is a big culprit behind this feeling. Any time a brand nameor company logo pops up in a show, you can bet your grandmother’s pension some company has paid to have it there.

It might be the bottle of beer a character asks for. Or it might be a car that shows up just a little too prominently in a scene.

The sports world has long been a den of such prostitution, of course. Just look at the boards at any National Hockey League game, or the playing surface – and even the players’ jerseys – in a Canadian Football League telecast. The world of auto racing? Don’t get me started on that.

TV dramas and sitcoms used to be above such whoring. But not anymore. The increasing use of PVRs/DVRs that allow viewers to skip through commercials has prompted marketers and advertisers to find “new” and “innovative” ways to rub our noses in their logos during the actual shows.

Product placement isn’t “new” or “innovative,” of course. In the early 1980s, when Steven Spielberg was making ET: The Extra-terrestrial, the script called for the cuddly alien to develop a sweet tooth for a certain candy. Spielberg wanted to be realistic and use M&Ms, but the company that makes them wouldn’t give its permission.

So, Spielberg’s crew went to the folks who made Reese’s Pieces. When the movie came out, sales of that candy skyrocketed.

Now, companies actually PAY to have theirproducts show up in movies and TV shows. Even TV commercials are starting to do some weird double-dipping, placing one company’s product within another company’s ad.

It’s not only the product placements that bug me more and more these days. There’s a product REMOVAL that is also starting to stick out like a sore thumb.

It happens when a producer hasn’t been able to get a company to pay to have its product on a show. And so, familiar-looking beer cans are suddenly altered to just say “Beer” on them; pop cans just say “Cola.”

What’s really bad, though, is how shows are now starting to pixellize logos to make them fuzzy and unidentifiable, just because nobody paid to get that logo into a shot.

This poked me in the eye during an episode of Dancing With the Stars a couple of weeks ago. In a pre-recorded segment, contestant Monique Coleman and a gal pal wereout shopping and cruising around in a convertible Volkswagen New Beetle. But the VW logo on the hood had been electronically smudged to make it look like a no-name car.

Now, this may work on any nondescript car,but a VW Bug? That’s a pretty distinctive set of wheels. Who are they kidding?

I suppose the moral of the story is you just can’t trust ANYTHING you see or hear on TV anymore. But how much more of this marketing madness can viewers really stomach?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Devil's Brigade - Nov. 4, 2006




The Power of The Force

Present-day soldiers setout to experience life in the Devil’s Brigade.What they encountered was a lot tougher than they had imagined.

By Eric Kohanik

They were officially known as the First Special Service Force.

To many people, though, the soldiers who made up an elite Canadian/American military unit during the Second World War came to be known as “The Devil’s Brigade.”

Formed in 1942, the unit was glorified by Hollywood in 1965, in a movie of the same name that starred William Holden, Cliff Robertson and Vince Edwards. The men who made up the actual unit have never cared much for that flick, though, largely because it exaggerated so many of its characters and storylines, the way Hollywood tends to do.

The real story behind the First Special Service Force is much more compelling. And, as Remembrance Day approaches next weekend, it’s fitting for History Television to relive the tale in a project called Devil’s Brigade.

I’ve heard a lot of stories about the First Special Service Force over the years. My father-in-law, Joe Dobrucki, was actually a member of the unit. But the first in-depth stories I ever heard came from his fellow veterans at some of the annual reunions of the First Special Service Force Association.

Getting Joe to talk about his experiences was always much tougher. It wasn’t until the afternoon of one Remembrance Day – back in 2001 – that he really opened up as we sat around the dining-room table.

Spurred on by the aftermath of what happened on Sept. 11 that year, Joe finally spoke in greater detail of the intense training and other gruelling things he and his fellow soldiers endured as young men embarking on wartime missions that were perceived by many others as being impossible.

It turned out to be Joe’s last Remembrance Day; his revelations on that afternoon seemed even more meaningful as a result.

One thing was always certain in my mind all along, however. This was one tough unit.

Its mission was to shock the enemy with quick, lethal strikes. Its members – sometimes nicknamed “the Black Devils” – were skilled in parachuting, mountain-climbing and deadly hand-to-hand combat, often wreaking their havoc on the enemy at night.

Devil’s Brigade zeroes in on 15 present-day soldiers as they go through the paces of the same training endured by the original soldiers more than 60 years ago. Outfitted with the same uniforms and equipment, the men then attempt to execute one of the missions the unit carried out in Europe.

It’s not an easy exercise for them. In fact, over the course of the four-part, two-night documentary series, one soldier almost dies, while four others end up hospitalized. Two more discover they just can’t cut it.

Rounding out Devil’s Brigade are interviews with real veterans and archival footage that retraces the history of the First Special Service Force and its accomplishments. It’s an eye-opening TV journey – and a fitting salute to Joe and the rest of that powerful Force.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The O.C. - Oct. 28, 2006




Passing The Torch

Producers are promising a reinvented and rebooted version of The O.C. this season. That’s just as well. The old gang was getting a little stale.

By Eric Kohanik

There’s a lot that has gone on since the last time we checkedin on the gang at The O.C.

And, gosh, you can’t help but feel sorry for some of them.

Take that fish-out-of-water former bad boy, Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie), for instance. When last we saw poor Ryan, he was rushing to the aid of his beloved Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton), who was involved in a horrifying – and, it turns out, fatal – car mishap.

Gosh, and all this after all the joy and laughter of everyone having just graduated from Harbor high school.


Time does march on, though. And as the fourth season of The O.C. opens this week, the joys and sorrows of their journey through high school are becoming a fading memory for the crowd of young adults.

And so, it’s time for some retooling.

The O.C. has actually gone through an interesting journey. The series premiered on Aug. 5, 2003, and immediately became one of that year’s hottest hits.

That heat cooled down pretty fast, though, with the show gradually sagging in popularity as it got bogged down with a growing number of characters and soapy subplots.

But that’s all going to change this season, promises executive producer Josh Schwartz. His creative team has been busy refocusing the series on its core ensemble.

“I believe our fans will find this focus on our core characters and their relationships really satisfying,” Schwartz declared in a media release trumpeting the show’s return. “The show has been reinvented; rebooted. Personally, it feels like The O.C. is back.”

Translation: the fans were finding the old gang was getting kind of stale.

As the “reinvented” and “rebooted” season opens, Sandy and Kirsten Cohen (Peter Gallagher, Canada’s Kelly Rowan), seem happier than ever. As for Marissa’s mom, Julie(Melinda Clarke) – well, she’s not so happy.

Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson) is now a student at Brown University in Rhode Island, where she has turned into a loopy tree-hugger, thanks to a mentor named Ché (Everwood grad Chris Pratt, who will stick around for a few episodes).

As for Seth Cohen (Adam Brody), he has become a lonely guy, working at a comic-book store, watching golf with Dr. Neil Roberts (Michael Nouri) and hanging out with the Newpsies.


Anyway, there’s some other retooling in store. It’s clear that a torch is being passed.

Autumn Reeser (as Taylor) and Willa Holland (as Marissa’s sister, Kaitlin) are now series regulars. And watch for pop star Chris Brown to show up this season as a band geek who befriends Kaitlin at Harbor.

Will romance follow suit for them?

Hey…this is The O.C., after all.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The World Series - Oct. 21, 2006




Playing hardball

Sports playoffs always wreak havoc with TV schedules. But the annual baseball break also gives networks a chance for other kinds of gameplay.

By Eric Kohanik

Baseball playoffs finally settle into World Series mode this week. And that’s a significant moment– not just for baseball, but forthe TV season in general.

In many ways, sports playoffs are always areal pain in the neck for those of us in the TV business. Playoffs tend to wreak all sorts of havoc with network schedules and individual TV series.

Every spring, for instance, hockey playoffs wipe out CBC’s entire primetime schedule for almost two months (something CTV really ought to consider should it actually attempt to snag Hockey Night in Canada next year).

Baseball playoffs have a different sort of impact on the TV landscape in the fall. They tend to ruin any sort of momentum that new shows have struggled to build up in their first few weeks of existence.

That’s why Fox – the network that owns American TV rights to baseball playoffs and the World Series – launched its new season earlier than everyone else again this year. It rolled out the return of Prison Break, alongwith the premieres of such high-profile newcomers as Justice and Vanished, way back in August. The move was supposed to crank up enough story momentum and viewer interest in those shows to help them survive the ritual of being benched for baseball’sfinal onslaught.

It’s a strategy Fox used with Prison Break last year, and it worked well enough to try it again this time around.

In Canada, meanwhile, the impact of baseball playoffs and the World Series is a little different. Television rights here belong to Rogers Sportsnet, an all-sports cable outlet that would probably rely on televising tiddlywinks tournaments if it didn’t have baseball.

But baseball playoffs still affect Canadian broadcast networks such as Global and CTV, which are generally addicted to having American shows from networks like Fox on their primetime schedules. They have to scramble a little to fill in any gaps caused by the annual “baseball break.”

Fortunately, the scramble starts to subside this week, with such Fox series as Prison Break, Standoff and Happy Hour gettingback in the groove with new episodes. By month’s end, things everywhere will be back to normal. Or, at least as normal as things can get in the TV world.

The baseball break also gives all networks a chance for some other key gameplay. It’s the time when American networks assess how their new shows are doing and deteRmine what schedule tinkering needs to bedone to improve things.

If there are cancellations to be made, this is often the time for those to surface. In fact, CBS’s Smith has already bitten the dust, while NBC’s Kidnapped moves to Saturdays and will end after its 13-week run.

Watch for a slew of casualties to come.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Knights Of Prosperity - Oct. 14, 2006



What's in a name?

Sure, a rose by any other name may still smell as sweet. But sometimes,even a bunch of title changes can’t keep a lousy TV show from stinking up the place.

By Eric Kohanik

Sometimes, a title can make or break a TV show.

A title has to reach out and grab a viewer’s attention – and hang onto it.

A lot of shows have one-word titles: Survivor, Supernanny, Vanished, Jericho and Kidnapped are examples.

Of course, it helps if that single word also has only one syllable: Friends, Cheers, Cops, House, Bones, Shark and Lost.

Sometimes, a one-word title is accompanied by “The” – The Office, The Unit, The Apprentice, The Bachelor, The Sopranos – presumably to distinguish the show from others around it.

Sometimes, titles use acronyms – letters that form a single word but stand for many more: ER, CSI, NCIS and M*A*S*H.

And sometimes, the acronyms are paired with “The” – like The O.C. – creating a double whammy.

Sometimes, titles use numbers to stand out: 60 Minutes, 24, 20/20, 30 Rock, Nanny 911 – and even the wacky Numb3rs.

And, sometimes, titles just rely on simple clichés: Without a Trace and Close to Home are a couple of examples of current shows that took that route.

Producers and TV networks spend a lot of energy coming with the right titles. Sometimes, the original ends up getting tweaked: Seinfeld started out as The Seinfeld Chronicles, for instance. And, this season, Justice started out as American Crime, the title of the show within the show.

Perhaps the wildest title exercise this season stems from The Knights of Prosperity. It’s a horrible new comedy series that casts Ottawa native Donal Logue as a schlubby, middle-aged janitor who recruits a group of losers to rob Mick Jagger’s luxury apartment in order to finance their individual dreams.

Jagger’s guest stint is the only good thing inthe pilot episode, which tends to come offmore like a cheesy made-for-cable movie.

The series was originally pitched to ABC assomething called Let’s Rob Jeff Goldblum. When Goldblum didn’t materialize but Jagger showed interest, the title was changed to Let’s Rob Mick Jagger.

Then, after someone realized that title would limit things – after all, what would happen after they robbed him? – the title was changed to Let’s Rob…, leaving the dooropen for others to be robbed in the future.

Ultimately, it became The Knights of Prosperity, which is what the would-be thieves end up calling themselves. But even when executive producer Rob Burnett was promoting the show to the press in Los Angeles back in July, he still wasn’t sure about it.

“If anyone has suggestions for a title, we’reopen to them,” Burnett quipped before providing a more serious explanation. “We felt The Knights of Prosperity was, at least forus, the best way to market this.”

The title stinks – but then, so does the show. Maybe Burnett is onto something.

Sometimes, no amount of title-changing can make a bad show good.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

30 Rock / Twenty Good Years - Oct. 7, 2006





Laughing matters

Comedy styles can be as different as night and day. For proof, check out a couple of newcomers in this week’s TV lineup.

By Eric Kohanik

It has often been said that comedy is a funny thing.

Not “ha-ha” funny. We’re talking funny in an “unusual” sense.

The business of TV comedy is like that these days. In fact, American comedy series are in the midst of an interesting transition.

It used to be that most, if not all, American sitcoms used a standard format of production. That format involves multiple cameras that simultaneously film a show as it is being played out in front of a studio audience.

The format was actually pioneered by Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy in the 1950s. It has remained basically unchanged ever since.

There have been a few variations. All in theFamily and its spinoffs were shot on videotape rather than film. But most other sitcoms – everything from Happy Days and Cheers to Seinfeld and Friends – basically used the multi-camera film format.

In recent seasons, TV comedies have been switching to a single-camera production format. It’s the same way that most movies are made – one camera films a scene from one angle and then the entire scene is repeated as the camera is set up to film the action again and again from various other angles.

Several comedies – Get Smart, M*A*S*H and Sports Night, to name but a few – used that format in the past, but American networks would often insist on adding canned laughter to the shows, basically because they thought television audiences weren’t smart enough to know where the funny stuff was.

That’s all changing now. Thanks to the success of such shows as The Office, My Name Is Earl and Everybody Hates Chris, most of today’s best new comedy series are forgoing studio audiences and laugh tracks, deeming them as dated relics of the past.

The two styles of TV comedy can be as different as night and day. And, interestingly, NBC gives viewers a bit of a lesson in both of them this week, thanks to back-to-back premieres of two new series on Wednesday night.

First up, 30 Rock is a wry, single-camera comedy that spins its fictional stories around what goes on behind the scenes at a TV show. Saturday Night Live graduate Tina Fey tops a good cast that includes Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski.

By contrast, Twenty Good Years is a much broader sitcom that stages the bulk of its action in front of a studio audience. The series casts Jeffrey Tambor and the always-larger-than-life John Lithgow as two lifelong pals who are hit by a midlife crisis and, as a result, set out to make the most of the 20 good years they have left.

The two shows are substantially different in appearance, tone and substance. And both have pros and cons to the way they do what they do.

Together, though, they offer TV buffs a great chance to see what a funny thing television comedy really is.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Nine - Sept. 30, 2006




The drama of trauma

The Nine explores what happens to ordinary people caught in an extraordinary situation. The result isn’t always a happy one.

By Eric Kohanik

There are at least a dozen new serialized dramas on the tube this fall. And that means it’s going to be awfully difficult for viewers to keep all the stories straight.

If there’s a show that deserves a bit of time and effort, though, it’s the one that is probably the best of the bunch – an oddly titled drama called The Nine.

The solid ensemble piece revolves around nine people who get caught in the middle of a botched bank robbery that turns into a terrifying, 52-hour hostage ordeal. Told mostly in flashback, the series is a tension-filled, complex journey from start to finish.

Producers admit The Nine is a complicated show, but creator and co-executive producer K.J.Steinberg says it was actually spawned by a friend’s real-life experience.

“He was on a horrible date with a girl,” Steinberg recalls. “They were walking home from that date, and a car pulled up, and a guy got out, and he put a gun in their faces, and he said ‘Give me all your money.’

“They did so. The guy pulled the gun out of their faces, got in the car and drove away, just leaving them there, standing, hearts beating furiously.”

When Steinberg heard the story, it intrigued her, but in an unusual way. “The first question I thought to ask was, ‘Are you stillseeing her?’” she recalls. “Because, after you know that people have survived, what you want to know is, ‘God, how did that event affect you?’ And, ‘Did it bond you to this person in a way that you never would have bonded if you hadn’t experienced this brush with death together?’”

It’s those types of questions that The Nine hopes to explore each week. Helping out with that exploration is a top-notch ensemble cast that includes Tim Daly, Chi McBride, Kim Raver, Scott Wolf and John Billingsley.

The ordeal of Steinberg’s friend had an uplifting result. “The moral of the story is, they are getting married,” she explains.

The stories don’t all have such happy endings in The Nine, and that’s what provides fuel for much of the drama.

“I thought that, in some ways, it was almost a 9/11 parable,” reflects Daly, who plays a cop caught in the crisis. “This horrible thing happens and, suddenly, your view of the world – and the way you look at your kids and the way you look at time and your life – is different. Everyone has, in their lives, moments of tragedy. How people respond to it is very interesting.”

Raver, who plays one of the hostages, takes the sentiment to another level. “Also, how you THINK you would respond to it,” she says. “For the characters, it’s going to be an interesting dynamic of ‘What were the decisions that I made inside, and how do I now bring it to my outside life?’ That conflict is what’s going to create some of the drama.”

It also makes the journey so worthwhile.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Class / Jericho - Sept. 23, 2006




Second chances

There’s always a lot of hoopla about the first episodes of new series. But it’s the second ones that really tell the tale of whether those shows will survive or fail.

By Eric Kohanik

You can never really tell if a TVshow is going to be good until you watch its second episode.

Which is why this week is a crucial one in the TV industry.

The 2006-07 TV season officially got rolling on Sept. 18 for the big American networks. That’s the day Nielsen’s weekly ratings measurements began for the new season.

Although a few new series did trickle in before that, it was last week that REALLY counted. And that’s why we saw the first really major wave of new series.

Last week’s ratings will matter a lot to the big networks, but it’s the ratings of this coming week – when new shows roll out their second episodes – that will be scrutinized extra closely. Often, those ratings will determine which new shows will survive and which ones will die. In some cases, the doomed ones may get axed right away.

It’s all a numbers game, with millions of dollars in advertising revenue riding on each ratings point. That’s why the second episode of any series has got to be great.

Producers spend a lot more time, effort and money to make the first episode – known as the pilot – really impressive. After all, that’s the episode that determines whether a show even gets onto a network schedule.

It’s also the one given to advertisers, affiliates and (last, but not least) TV columnists, who all hand down their assessments. When it comes to the second episode (and each one after that), the weekly grind of production doesn’t afford the same luxury of time or money. So, the second instalment has to be able to hold viewer interest without it.

CBS sent out advance screeners of second episodes of a couple of its new series to critics recently. It was a smart move – and a sign the network has faith in both shows.

The Class, CBS’s new Monday-night comedy, showed an appealing spark in its pilot. A creation of the producers who gave us Friends, the new series – about a class of third-graders who reunite 20 years later –has a quirky, colourful cast and takes amusing swipes at everything from friendship, infidelity and latent homosexuality to depression, suicidal tendencies (who’d have thought THAT could ever be funny?) and cruel twists of fate. The second instalment falters a bit, but there is clearly a lot more to explore with this new batch of “Friends.”

Jericho, CBS’s Wednesday mystery-drama, began its journey last week, too, basing its enthralling story on a nuclear holocaust that has apparently devastated the countryside. The big questions: How bad is that devastation and why did it happen? This week’s second episode has some answers, but poses even more queries to keep us coming back.

There aren’t many second chances in life, but the TV world does offer a few. Some new shows manage to make the most of that opportunity. For others, their secondchance may well be their last.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Men In Trees - Sept. 9, 2006



On the comeback trail

A few years ago, Anne Heche was making headlines for the wrong reasons. Now, her new TV series may finally make them for the right ones.

By Eric Kohanik

Anne Heche knows what it’s like to be…uh…crazy.

In fact, she wrote the book on the subject.

Her 2001 memoir, entitled Call Me Crazy, retraced the harsh details of her dysfunctional and abused existence as a child and laid bare the inner demons that have shaped her life and career.

Heche first became the subject of tabloid headlines in 1997, thanks to her romance with comedienne Ellen DeGeneres. The gossip cranked up to a fever pitch just hours after they split in 2000, when a dishevelled Heche ended up hospitalized after showing up on a stranger’s doorstep, rambling on about a spaceship coming to take her away.

With such an offbeat past, it seemed like one of the most profound makeovers in history to see Heche all relaxed and smiling in July, this time fielding reporters’ questions at the Television Critics Association’s network press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

Now married for five years (to cameraman Coley Laffoon) and a mom to a four-year-old son named Homer, the 37-year-old Heche has the spotlight on her again. Only this time, her job is getting all the attention.

That job is Men in Trees, a remarkably entertaining comedy-drama that gets a preview telecast on Tuesday before settling into its regular slot on Friday nights.

The series casts Heche in a smart turn as Marin Frist, a bestselling author and relationship guru who gets booked for a speaking engagement in Alaska. On the way there, she discovers that her loving fiancé has actually been a cheating horn dog.

Emotionally battered and bruised, Marin tries to pull her life back together. In the process, she realizes that the Alaskan frontier is the perfect place to do that.

Men in Trees (the title is explained in the opening episode) is somewhat reminiscent of a 1990s TV show called Northern Exposure, but the premise is considerably different.

Although set in Alaska, it is actually filmed in Vancouver and in Squamish, B.C. – surroundings that Heche has found to be inspiring, both for the show and herself.

“I had been trying to find something that really suited my personality and was, basically, irresistible,” Heche says. “This script came along, and I felt that it was so wonderful and such a great combination of humour and drama.”

Heche sees a lot of her own journey in her character, too. “I feel that Marin, at heart, is like I am, at heart,” she says. “She believes that everyone deserves love. The rug gets pulled out from under her and she has to question everything that she believes.

“I find that interesting. I think self-exploration is one of the journeys in life that we are blessed to be able to have. To be able to do it with humour and, hopefully, grace is what I think this show allows us to do.”

And there’s nothing crazy about that at all.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The New Fall TV Season - Sept. 2, 2006




Welcome to the fall fare

There will be a lot of great serials to munch on this season. That is, if you have an appetite – and the time– for all of them.

By Eric Kohanik

Programming bandwagons come and go in the TV world. And this fall, the serialized drama is the one that networks have jumped onto with full force.

It’s a trend that began with such hits as 24, Lost and Prison Break, all of which have stories stretching out over a long period.

This season, there are at least a dozen new weekly series following the serialized formula of storytelling. It’s good news and bad news.

The bad news, of course, is that most new shows don’t even make it to the end of the first season. That could leave millions of viewers dangling with unresolved storylines.

It probably bodes well for DVD sets of such shows. At least there, viewers will be able to feast on the leftover episodes.

But the good outweighs the bad this fall. The good news is that TV is serving up one of its strongest lineups in years.

What’s leading the pack? The buzz is huge for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (Sundays; CTV and Mondays; NBC, starting Sept. 17 and 18). Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry top a fantastic cast in a drama that goes behind the scenes of a fictitious sketch-comedy show similar to Saturday Night Live.

On the comedy front, SNL fixture Tina Fey is tackling more or less the same theme, although not nearly as well, in a behind-the-scenes comedy called 30 Rock (Wednesdays; NBC and Saturdays; CTV, Oct. 11 and 14).

Other good news? Big-name stars will really light up the screen this fall.

Leading that pack: James Woods as one mean s.o.b. of a lawyer in Shark (Thursdays; CBS, Global, Sept. 21). There’s also Anne Heche as a motivational speaker who heads to Alaska to escape a cheating fiancé in Men in Trees (Fridays; ABC, Citytv, previewing Sept. 12). And Calista Flockhart and Rachel Griffiths play siblings at the core of Brothers & Sisters (Sundays; ABC, Global, Sept. 24).

Big names highlight the comedy side, too. Ted Danson is back as a group therapist in the clever Help Me Help You (Tuesdays; ABC, CH, Sept. 26). And, if broad comedy is really your thing, you may just be able to stomach John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor as two aging pals in Twenty Good Years (Wednesdays; NBC, Oct. 4).

As for all those serialized dramas, there are many that can whet your appetite. Watch for the tales of nine bank-robbery hostages to unfold in The Nine (Wednesdays; ABC and Saturdays; CTV, Oct. 4 and 7) and the cosmic connections that link the characters of Six Degrees(Wednesdays; Global and Thursdays; ABC, Sept. 20 and 21).

Check out Donnie Wahlberg as a fugitive on the lam in Runaway (Mondays; The CW, Sept. 25). And keep an eye out for Dana Delany coping with the abduction of her teenaged son in Kidnapped (Wednesdays; NBC, Global, Sept. 20).

We’ll explore most of these as the fall unfolds. For now, let the season begin.