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.