Friday, November 16, 2007

Revenge of the nerds - The Big Bang Theory





Revenge of the nerds

The Big Bang Theory is really smart in all the
right places. That's why it should appeal to
the geek that lurks within all of us.

By Eric Kohanik

There was this one particular scene back in the Halloween episode of The Big Bang Theory that made me laugh out loud.

Actually, there are a lot of scenes in the show that tend to do that.

If you haven’t seen The Big Bang Theory yet, you should give it a shot. The series revolves around two nerdy geniuses named Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki), who live across the hall from a hot babe named Penny (Kaley Cuoco).

Much of the comedy revolves around how these super-intelligent guys are anything but smart when it comes to basic social skills and human interaction. Sheldon doesn’t really see this as a problem or dysfunction, but Leonard does. He struggles to smarten himself up socially. He is spurred on, in part, by a crush he has on Penny.

In the Halloween episode, Sheldon and Leonard – along with their equally geeky pals, Howard (Simon Helberg) and Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar) – are set to attend a costume party thrown by Penny. After the four guys first meet up wearing the same comic-book-hero costume (The Flash), they regroup wearing a variety of outfits, with Sheldon dressed up as “the Doppler effect.”

Maybe it’s because I was a math and science nerd in high school, but the subtle brilliance of that bit made me laugh. (It would take too long to explain the Doppler effect, so look it up in a dictionary.)

The Big Bang Theory is full of such subtle brilliance, from its title right on down to the names of the two lead characters – a salute to the late Sheldon Leonard, the pioneering TV producer who gave us The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Hand the credit for this brilliance to executive producers Chuck Lorre (who is also the creative force behind Two and a Half Men) and Bill Prady. They have delivered a show that is smart and silly in all the right places.

The Big Bang Theory isn’t exactly a big hit. The show averages only 8.9 million viewers a week, putting it in 45th place in the Nielsen ratings in the United States. In Canada, meanwhile, the series plods along on CTV’s second-string team of A-Channel stations.

The show deserves better marks than that. Galecki and Parsons have developed solid and polished comic timing, with Helberg and Nayyar backing them up ably as needed. As for Cuoco, her comedic exuberance always lights up the screen as a nice counterbalance to the dweeb factor on the show.

The Big Bang Theory has surprised me. Initially, I figured this might be one of those shows that was “too smart for the room.”

Fortunately, though, CBS gave the series an early pickup for a full season. Maybe that’s evidence that network TV executives are smarter than we thought.

Or maybe they simply recognized early on that there really is a bit of geek lurking within all of us.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Canadian Network Upfronts - June 2, 2007



Talking the talk

Ah, June! It's that time of year when Canada's
TV networks love to forget past blunders
and invite advertisers to bank on the future.

By Eric Kohanik

There’s nothing like the sweet smell of the first week of June in the Canadian TV business. 

It’s that time of year when Canadian TV networks like to forget what sort of screw-ups they were last season and, instead, focus everyone’s attention on how brilliant they’re going to be in the TV season that lies ahead.

American networks have already done that. They spent the middle of May assembling and announcing their new fall schedules. They trotted out their lineups and stars for advertisers and the media at their splashy “Upfront” presentations in New York City.

This week, it will be the Canadian networks taking their turn in Toronto.

Some have already jumped the gun. Convinced that it absolutely has to be the first kid on the block to break the news every year, CBC showed off its fall programming plans – such as they are – last Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, network executives from CTV, Global, CHUM Television and other Canadian TV outlets were still recovering from having spent the previous week-and-a-half in Los Angeles at the L.A. Screenings. That’s the annual feeding frenzy that has program buyers from around the world wheeling and dealing to buy American TV shows.

This practice is particularly important for most Canadian TV channels because they would much rather rake in huge profits by buying and airing new American shows than flush their money away on developing new Canadian ones. It’s a shame, really.

Anyway, Canadian networks pay only a fraction of what NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and The CW dish out on licence fees for the same shows. Still, big American shows cost big American dollars. But that’s OK, because those big American shows haul in even bigger Canadian advertising bucks. And so, the final days of the L.A. Screenings are a tense and hectic exercise for Canadian TV execs as they jockey to assemble the best lineup of American shows possible. 

This week, Canadian broadcasters will show off the results of their L.A. spending sprees at big presentations meant to convince ad buyers that their money would really be much better spent with one particular network rather than any of the others.

Never mind that the past season was disastrous in so many ways. Or that most of last year’s new shows failed. It’s time to start all over again. The future is all that matters. 

Oh, and sign right here.

The chief rivals in these dog-and-pony shows are CTV (which does its big thing Monday) and Global (which follows suit Wednesday). They’ll each put the best spin they can on what they’ve got for next season. They’ll ply advertisers with food, booze, door prizes and, in some cases, even money.

It’s all part of talking the talk. And part of that sweet smell that fills the Canadian TV business every June.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hidden Palms - May 26, 2007



Still a peach of a pair

Gail O'Grady and Sharon Lawrence were
memorable on NYPD Blue. Now, they're back
together in the mysterious confines of Hidden Palms.

By Eric Kohanik

There’s a great little TV reunion that takes place on the screen in Hidden Palms, a kitschy new mystery-drama series that makes its way to the tube this week.

It’s a reunion that involves two of my favourite actresses: Gail O’Grady and Sharon Lawrence

The two co-stars actually worked together “60 years ago,” O’Grady quips, during the early years of NYPD Blue. That series featured Lawrence as Sylvia Costas, a tough prosecutor who clashed with – and later fell for – world-weary police detective Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz). 

O’Grady, meanwhile, attracted plenty of attention for her role as Donna Abandando, the buxom, poofy-haired precinct receptionist during the show’s first few seasons. 

The actresses have followed different career paths since those days. O’Grady spent three seasons as wife and mother Helen Pryor on a nostalgic drama called American Dreams. She followed that with a rather short-lived run in an unsuccessful real-estate-office sitcom called Hot Properties

In between, O’Grady has chalked up anumber of memorable guest stints, including a two-episode turn on Two and a Half Men last season and a recurring run this season as Gloria Weldon, the super-hot judge who has a tough time keeping her hands, or other body parts, away from lawyer Alan Shore (James Spader) on Boston Legal.

As for Lawrence, her career journey has included TV movies and series appearances, too. Among them was a onetime guest shot on Boston Legal and a recurring turn on Desperate Housewives as Maisy Gibbons, the randy suburbanite whose sordid encounters with Rex Van De Camp (Steven Culp) ended up putting him in the hospital.

Hidden Palms is a dark, mystery-filled drama fuelled by suicide, scandal and murder. The brainchild of Dawson’s Creek producer Kevin Williamson, it focuses lots of energy on contrasting the idyllic resort lifestyle of Palm Springs, Calif., with dark secrets that lurk beneath its facade.

There are also plenty of nubile young bodies romping around all over the screen.

O’Grady and Lawrence play two very different mothers of teenaged boys wrapped up in the mystery. Unlike NYPD Blue, in which they rarely had scenes together, Hidden Palms gives the two seasoned actresses plenty of opportunities to interact onscreen. 

“On this show, we’re actually good pals,” Lawrence says. “I get to wear the big hair and she’s the one who looks as if she has a bit more reasonable sense in her brain.” 

O’Grady, meanwhile, was simply happy about “working with another actor that you respect.” It was an added plus, she says, to work with “an old buddy” as well.

“To have an opportunity to get onto the same cast for another show?” O’Grady says. “We were thrilled.”

Saturday, May 19, 2007

American Idol - May 19, 2007



Hitting the high notes

The good news is that American Idol wraps up
this week. The bad news is that
Canadian Idol is just around the corner.

By Eric Kohanik

After weeks of showcasing vocal performances that have ranged from heavenly to horrific, American Idol will finally wrap up this week.

The bad news associated with this, of course, is that there is another season of Canadian Idol just around the corner.

Now, that’s not to say Canadian Idol (which, at press time, was due to begin its new season the first week of June) isn’t a series worth watching. Even if it does have Ben Mulroney as its host.

No, it’s just that all this Idol worship is just getting to be too exhausting. And, frankly, the franchise may need a bit of a break.

This week’s two-part finale of American Idol will hit its peak on Wednesday night as the show crowns a sixth champion to join the ranks of Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Hicks

Of course, this season of American Idol was fraught with peculiarities. While talented competitors kept falling by the wayside, a dedicated “vote for the worst” campaign actually managed to keep the woeful Sanjaya Malakar in the race for longer than anyone could have imagined.

Ultimately, sanity prevailed. When it came down to this season’s Final Four – Blake Lewis, Jordin Sparks, Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones – any of them would have made a credible champ. 

Still, the Sanjaya campaign was a curious phenomenon that magnified what happened with nerdy competitor Kevin Covais last year. It spiced up interest in the show. But one of these days, that sort of effort may crown a real loser as the show’s ultimate winner.

Of course, there are those who would say American Idolhas really done that a coupleof times already. With such runners-up as Clay Aiken (who lost to Studdard in the second season) and Katharine MacPhee (edged out by Hicks last year) showing a ton more popularity than their victorious rivals, it’s not always clear that Idol fans really know what they’re doing when they pick a winner.

Canadian Idol has had mixed results with its four champs, too. Ryan Malcolm, Kalan Porter, Melissa O’Neil and Eva Avila have experienced varying degrees of success. With the show’s fifth season now waiting in the wings, it remains to be seen what vocal joys and horrors await viewers this time. 

Unfortunately, Canadian Idol always takes a backseat to its American counterpart. This summer, the show will also have to share a good deal of CTV’s reality-TV-show spotlight. The network has two new American reality shows on its docket – a filmmaking contest called On the Lot (premiering Tuesday) and a swashbuckling adventure game called Pirate Master (due May 31).

Maybe Canadian Idol could use its own Sanjaya movement to help spice things up a bit this summer. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

NBC Movie Of The Week - May 12, 2007



Everything old is new again

It's not surprising to see NBC bring
movies back to Sunday nights.
In the TV world, everything that
goes around comes around.

By Eric Kohanik

There was a time when Sunday nights were huge movie nights for all TV networks.

Those were the days when ABC, CBS and NBC ruled the roost on the American TV scene. They were the days when the “world television premiere” of a theatrical movie was a really big deal for a broadcaster – the days before cable channels, pay-per-view, video on demand, DVDs, cellphones and the Internet came along to milk every last drop out of any flick around.

During the mid-1980s, all three of the big American networks had movies on their Sunday-night schedules. The practice began to change with the arrival of the Fox network. In 1987, Fox turned Sunday – its only evening of primetime programming at the time – into a showcase for TV series.

The success of that move gradually prompted other networks to slot series into Sunday nights. NBC steadfastly resisted the change, however, even as ratings for movies continued to spiral downward.

In fact, during a casual conversation on a TV press tour in Los Angeles back in the mid-1990s, I asked a top NBC executive at the time why the network didn’t try airing series instead of movies on Sundays.

The guy laughed in my face. Series just don’t work on Sunday nights, he said. 

Of course, it’s a much different Sunday night on the tube these days. NBC finally relented in the fall of 2001, becoming the last big American network to drop the Sunday movie tradition. 

In the TV world, though, everything that goes around comes around. And programming trends always swing back and forth, particularly if a network is struggling.

So, it’s not surprising to see NBC making the switch to big Sunday-night movies again. Along Came Polly got the ball rolling a couple of weeks ago. Shrek jumps into the berth this weekend. And Nicolas Cage’s escapades in National Treasure will fill NBC’s movie slot next Sunday. 

The decision comes from Vince Manze, an old-school NBC veteran recently named to a newly created position of “president of program planning, scheduling and strategy.” 

Sunday is “the place where we used to do events and miniseries,” Manze explained to The Hollywood Reporter recently. According to Manze, putting movies back onto Sunday nights “accomplishes two things: building events and serving as counter-programming to what the others are doing.” 

Manze claims that NBC doesn’t have big ratings expectations for its Sunday-night flicks, particularly since they’re up against such shows as Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters on ABC and Cold Case and Without a Trace on CBS.

If NBC’s strategy proves successful, who knows? Others may follow suit. And that old programming pendulum may just swing back the other way yet again.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Riches - May 5, 2007



American dreamers

The Riches is a dark drama series
about a family of con artists.
You just never know what's going on
with the folks next door.

By Eric Kohanik

Some call them “gypsies.” Others refer to them as “tinkers” or “travellers.”

Most of us would simply know them as con artists.

Meet Wayne and Dahlia Malloy. They’re an average-looking American couple (played by British actors Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver) with three wholesome-looking American kids. The Malloys are making their way across the countryside in a mobile home. But things aren’t always as they seem.

Actually, in the case of the Malloys, things are never as they seem. So, when Wayne shows up at a high-school reunion in the opening scene of The Riches, you soon realize he is up to no good.

The Riches is a difficult series to sum up. Just know that it’s dramatic. It’s dark. It’s deliciously good. And you should watch it.

As the opening episode progresses, there are some twists of fate that befall the Malloys. For starters, Dahlia has been in the slammer and is just getting out. She also has a nasty little crack habit, which doesn’t help. 

After a violent run-in on the road with members of Dahlia’s extended family, the Malloys narrowly escape a car crash with a couple named Doug and Cherie Rich – who, as it turns out, are moving to a new house they’ve bought in Louisiana. 

The Riches never make it because they die in the crash. So, the Malloys do what they do best. They rob the bodies of their belongings. They assume Doug and Cherie’s identities. And they try to escape their past and pursue a new American dream.

The Riches is the creative brainchild of Dmitry Lipkin, a Russian-born playwright who first pitched his idea a few years ago.

“I wanted to write a show about a family who pretends to be someone they’re not,” Lipkin recalled during a press conference in Los Angeles. “I always felt that’s sort of what I was doing in my own life.” 

Immigrating to the United States when he was 10, Lipkin’s family settled in Louisiana. His upbringing in the swampy South made him want to “capture that oddness and that kind of outside perspective on America.”

According to Lipkin, there are 20,000 to 30,000 known “travellers” in the U.S. Their existence intrigues him.

“It’s just a fascinating idea,” he says. “In a time where everybody’s ‘on the grid,’ these guys are off the grid completely.” 

The opening episode of The Riches does a good job of exploring the subculture of “travellers” and their sense of morality, while future episodes delve into the culture clash that arises between the Malloys – er, make that the Riches – and their unsuspecting neighbours.

“We know this exists,” Izzard says. “For year after year, you can be next door to someone, and you don’t know what’s going on with them.

“So, check your next-door neighbours.”

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Grey's Anatomy - April 28, 2007



Doctor's orders

ABC needs a cure for its programming woes.
A Grey's Anatomy spinoff might be
just the right medicine.

By Eric Kohanik

When TV networks have a big hit series on their hands, they often try to see if they can get lightning to strike twice.

And, often, that means spinning that hit off into a new series.

Sometimes, networks get the idea as the original show comes to an end. That’s how Cheers was spun off into Frasier.

Unfortunately, that’s also how Friends gave birth to Joey.

More and more, however, networks are taking existing TV hits that still have lots of mileage left in them and turning them into “franchises” that lead to new shows. That’s how NBC took Law & Order and came up with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. It’s also how CBS took CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and spun it off into CSI: Miami, which then spawned CSI: NY.

ABC is desperate to find that sort of franchise, too. The network toyed with one idea last season, in an episode of Boston Legal, a show that is itself a spinoff from a previous ABC legal drama called The Practice. The episode, which featured guest star Robert Wagner, was set in the Los Angeles offices of the fictional law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt. But it didn’t really go anywhere.

The need seems even more pressing for ABC this season. Such established shows as Desperate Housewives and Lost have clearly lost much of their heat this season. And many of the network’s new series – Help Me Help You, Big Day, Day Break, The Knights of Prosperity, In Case of Emergency, Justice, The Nine, Six Degrees and October Road – have more or less fizzled. So, ABC really needs something big.

Enter Grey’s Anatomy.

Clearly one of the most compelling ensemble dramas on TV today, Grey’s Anatomy gets better with each passing week. ABC is even rerunning episodes of the Thursday drama on Friday nights, with moderate success. It seems to be a natural breeding ground for a credible spinoff.

So, pay attention to this week’s episode of the show. It is meant to set the stage for exactly that to happen.

The star-studded two-hour instalment weaves much of its storyline around Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh), the dishy ex-wife of the show’s resident “Dr. McDreamy,” Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey). A relative latecomer to the medical team that populates Seattle Grace Hospital, Montgomery is now facing a decision about leaving their ranks, thanks to a tempting job offer that comes her way in Los Angeles.

Of course, whether or not she accepts the offer and moves away will depend on whether or not network executives will want to go for a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff.

Given ABC’s lousy track record this season, it’s a pretty safe bet they will.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

DVDs, DVRs and TV Viewership - April 21, 2007



Strategic viewing

So, a TV network is cancelling new shows that look intriguing?
No sweat! Thanks to DVDs and DVRs, there are a number of ways around that problem.

By Eric Kohanik

The coming week’s roster of DVD releases has an interesting collection of TV series in the mix.

Sure, there are the usual, memorable classics. Fox Home Entertainment looked back to 1978 to unearth the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati as a three-disc package. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, meanwhile, reached back to 1975 to deliver the first season of One Day at a Time as a two-disc set.

Paramount Home Video went all the way to 1970 to put the first season of The Odd Couple onto five discs. On the other hand, Warner Home Video only went back to 1995 to come up with the first season of The Drew Carey Show as a four-disc collection.

What truly caught my eye, though, is Sony’s release of a three-disc rendition of a series from the current TV season: Kidnapped.

A drama that starred Jeremy Sisto, Timothy Hutton and Dana Delany, Kidnapped premiered Sept. 20 on NBC and Global, aiming to unfold its fictional conflict – the abduction of a teenaged son of a wealthy New York family – over the course of an entire season.

Trouble is, the show didn’t last long enough to finish its story on the air.

It’s such a shame. Every year, network executives keep promising to show patience for new shows when it comes to letting them find their audiences. Then, when the shows don’t take off right away, they get yanked.

It’s odd, too. By the time a series makes it to the air, it has been extensively “tested.” Scripts have been read by dozens of individuals. Cast members have been paraded in front of both studio and network brass for approval. And the finished show has been screened by studios, networks and focus groups that give lots and lots of feedback.

With all that input, it’s astounding that so many new shows still bite the dust so fast. It’s the loyal viewers who always get the short end of the stick, of course. And it’s frustrating for them. So, it’s no surprise that some are coming up with clever solutions.

A co-worker and another acquaintance recently revealed to me, quite coincidentally, that they have developed similar viewing strategies. Rather than watch a new series when it airs, they record all the episodes of the show on a VCR or DVR and then just leave them there, unwatched, until they are certain the show won’t be cancelled.

If the series sticks around, they sit down for marathon viewing sessions of the recorded shows until they’re all caught up. If the show does get whacked, they simply erase the episodes, content that they haven’t wasted hours of their lives for nothing.

TV executives always bemoan the decline in traditional TV viewership, but many are actually fuelling that fire. The more quickly they cancel new shows, the more they convince viewers not to bother watching new shows.

After all, those viewers can just record them and wait. Or just wait for the DVDs.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hockey Night In Canada - April 14, 2007



Let's make a deal

The NHL has a nasty habit of grovelling to
American networks while sticking it to
Canadian ones. It’s all part of the
power play of hockey on TV.

By Eric Kohanik

Hey, it’s mid-April! And, in theTV universe – the Canadian TV universe, that is – it means the annual ritual of Stanley Cup hockey playoffs has begun.

It’s a nightly ritual at first. Then, it eases up. Still, the ritual will stretch from now until mid-June, when sane people’s thoughts are focused on anything but a midwinter sport.

Over the course of the next two months, National Hockey League playoffs will throw CBC’s topsy-turvy program schedule into even greater disarray than usual. But this is actually a good thing.

There had been widespread fear in the halls of the taxpayers’ network that it might all change after next season. Having already lost curling and Canadian football (starting in 2008) and the 2010 and 2012 Olympics to CTV, the folks at CBC were nervous. In fact, there had been industry-wide speculation for months that CTV was determined to snag the rights to Hockey Night in Canada – no matter the cost.

So, it was with a huge sigh of relief that CBC’s top brass announced late last month that they had hammered out a six-year agreement with the NHL to keep HNIC in its stable right on through to the end of the 2013-14 season.

CBC didn’t disclose the money involved, but industry analysts have pegged the price at around $85 million per year, up considerably from the $60-million annual levy CBC is reportedly paying now.

“For the record, this was a good deal for the NHL,” league commissioner Gary Bettman crowed at a Toronto press conference as the agreement was announced.

It’s a pretty greedy deal for the NHL, too – especially when you consider how the league grovels, hat in hand, whenever it negotiates with big American TV networks. Shortly after the CBC announcement was made, NBC – which has national network TV rights to NHL games in the United States – announced it also had a deal with the league.

The peacock network’s agreement is simply a one-year extension of its current pact, which gives it the rights to a weekly game as well as the Stanley Cup finals.

For this, NBC pays nothing up front. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Instead, the network simply tosses the NHL a chunk of the advertising money it gets from its game telecasts.

That’s a lousy deal for the NHL. But then, what do you expect? This is a league with a propensity for whoring itself whenever it comes to chasing the elusive American audience while sticking it to Canadian fans and Canadian TV networks.

Don’t feel sorry for the CBC, though. The only reason any TV network spends big money to get something is because there’s even bigger money to be made by having it.

After all, “the CBC” just wouldn’t be “the CBC” without NHL hockey on its airwaves for nine months of the year.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Sopranos - April 7, 2007

Sundays; HBO (U.S.)
The Movie Network (Eastern Canada)
Movie Central (Western Canada)


Mad about the Mob

After all these years, Tony Soprano is still struggling to find some answers. And it's still so much fun to watch him search for them.

By Eric Kohanik

Let me tell you about my first face-to-face encounter with Tony Soprano.

I talked about it once before, shortly after it happened. But I have to bring it up again now.

It was on the streets of New York City, way back in September 2000. Little did anyone know then that, a year later, the Big Apple – and the entire world, for that matter – would be turned upside down by terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

On this sunny September day, Tony Soprano – er, make that actor James Gandolfini – was making his way from his dressing-room trailer outside the former bakery/warehouse that is now Silvercup Studios.

He was heading to the set to do a scene for HBO’s The Sopranos. Dressed in a light-grey suit, a pink shirt and a silk tie, Gandolfini fixed me with a cold stare that made him every bit as intimidating as the mob boss he plays on TV.

The publicist who was with me warned me ahead of time not to talk to Gandolfini if it looked as if he was in character.

“Hey,” I mumbled meekly as his eyes met mine. “How you doin’?”

He simply nodded and kept going.

Later that day, executive producer David Chase summed up what he thought was at the core of his show’s success.

“It’s because of James Gandolfini,” Chase told me. “I think there’s something about him in this role that is just a lot of things to a lot of people. I think the story of Tony Soprano, as embodied by James Gandolfini, is very touching because he’s struggling and trying to make sense out of life.”

The Sopranos begins its final season on pay TV this weekend, with the first of nine episodes. After watching the first couple of them, it’s clear that Tony is still trying to make sense out of life.

Of course, it’s a different Tony now. Touched by a near-death experience last year, he found a set of questions to ponder then. As this season clicks into gear, he grapples with a few more.

Fearing that age is finally catching up with him, Tony now questions his legacy, the loyalty of those close to him and his line of succession in the “family” business. The issues are exacerbated by the heat being put on him by the cops – and by ill health that has befallen jailed rival mobster Johnny (Sack) Sacramoni (Vincent Curatola).

It’s hard to say where Tony will end up as The Sopranos moves toward its grand finale. I can’t wait to see, though. After all these years, it’s still a joy to watch him.

Coming face to face with Gandolfini on a New York street, it was easy to see why.

“He has eyes that are just a mile deep,” Chase explained then. “There’s so much pain, and love, and joy in his face. And people love watching him.”

That’s as true today as it was back then.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Trailer Park Boys - March 31, 2007

Premiering Monday;
and Sunday, April 8; Showcase (Canada)


The Boys blaze a new trail

Technology continues to change the way networks roll out TV series to viewers – even when it comes to Trailer Park Boys.

By Eric Kohanik

You should probably be warned right now about the TV return of the Trailer Park Boys.

No, it’s not because parents need to protect impressionable young viewers from the adventures of Julian(John Paul Tremblay), Ricky (Robb Wells) and Bubbles (Mike Smith).

Er, well, maybe.

Nevertheless, with a bigscreen movie behind them and a book set to be released, the boys are finally launching the seventh season of their TV series. The season will debut April 8 on Showcase, the Canadian cable channel that is the show’s home.

Of course, saying that is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the TV world. In fact, the reason we’re telling you about the return of Trailer Park Boys a week earlier than we normally would is that the new season actually premieres on the Internet this week.

Taking a page from the rollout strategies of other TV networks, Showcase is streaming the season premiere of the Canadian series at starting Monday.

That’s almost a whole week before audiences get to watch it on that old-fashioned gizmo called a television set. Subsequent episodes will be available online Monday mornings, after they have aired on TV.

And, at the other end of the TV spectrum, the series has been shot in HDTV this season, giving it a new, widescreen flavour.

Now, I’m a big fan of my HDTV, but I’ve actually become more of a fan of watching shows online or via other high-tech platforms. It’s probably because I’ve seen too many TV network executives make stupid scheduling decisions over the years.

VCRs and DVRs/PVRs have helped viewers seize control of schedules. You can watch shows whenever you want, not when some network suit thinks you should watch. But alternative platforms (DVDs, the Internet, iPods, cellphones…you name it) mean you can watch whenever and wherever you want – like in an airport or on a bus. That puts even more control in viewers’ hands.

Unfortunately, Canada is still lagging behind in delivering big TV shows online. Part of the problem is Canadian TV channels don’t own the American shows with which they tend to pack their schedules, so they can’t stream them until someone hammers out a deal for the rights. And that’s taking a long time.

The Canadian version of iTunes is pitiful in that regard, too. While the American site is brimming with hit TV shows that can be downloaded (for a price), Canada’s version still has zilch to offer TV fans.

To be fair, Global and CTV have cut deals to offer some American shows on their websites. But a lot of other Canadian channels haven’t. And the longer this takes, the more likely it is that the audiences they’ll need to reach in the future will have found other ways to get their favourite shows.

For now, though, they have those Canadian Trailer Park Boys to keep ’em laughing.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rebranding TV Channels - March 24, 2007



A simple Slice of Life

Consultantskeep convincing TV channels to change their names. Maybe those channels should just spend their money on making good shows instead.

By Eric Kohanik

I’m always amused by TV channels that reinvent themselves.

They’re not alone in this, of course. Newspapers and magazines all go through makeovers occasionally. And Internet sites have also begun a pattern of periodically updating themselves.

The objective for all of them, of course, is to attract an audience they wouldn’t get otherwise. At least that’s what high-priced media consultants keep telling them.

Radio stations are a prime example of this exercise. They change IDs more frequently than some people change their underwear.

The trend is hitting a growing number of TV channels now, too. Earlier this month, Life Network – a Canadian cable outlet dedicated to lifestyle shows – wiped out its entire history and rebranded itself as Slice.

Kitschy names are popular on the American cable scene, with such handles as Flix, Fuel, Fuse, Spike, Starz and E! dotting the TV landscape.

Such monikers are de rigueur in Canada, too, with names like Space, Scream, One and Star! littering the lineup.

There have been many amusing rebranding efforts over the years. After dallying with multiple identities, including one called ONtv, Hamilton’s CHCH-TV finally just became CH. The brand would eventually overtake other CanWest Global stations in Victoria, Montreal, Kelowna and Red Deer.

The CH exercise inspired CHUM Television to take Toronto’s Citytv brand westward to its stations in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Victoria. When CHUM realized its previously renamed “New” stations – The New VI (Victoria), The New RO (Ottawa-Pembroke),The New VR (Toronto-Barrie), The New WI (Windsor, Ont.), The New PL (London, Ont.) and The New NX (Wingham, Ont.) – weren’treally that “new” anymore, it rechristenedeach as A-Channel.

Ironically, A-Channel was the name CHUM dumped in Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. One market’s trash, it seems, is another market’s treasure.

More recently, CTVglobemedia (formerly Bell Globemedia) renamed CTV Travel asTravel + Escape, likely because the specialty cable channel had escaped viewer attention. Last year, meanwhile, CBS and Warner Bros. merged two American networks – The WB and UPN – into The CW (as in CBS Warner).

Judging from its performance this season, maybe they should have called it The WC.

Back here at home, CanWest Global turned a cable channel called Prime into TVtropolis. That’s quite a mouthful, so insiders are now starting to refer to it as The Trop – which sounds more like a case of something you might pick up at a house of ill repute.

Then again, TV is full of ill repute. What those media consultants always forget is that viewers really just want good shows, not silly new channel names.

And that’s just a simple fact of Life – no matter how you Slice it.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Dancing With The Stars - March 17, 2007

Premiering Monday; ABC, CTV


Rumba To The Rescue

American Idol managed to boost Fox's sagging fortunes this season. Now, Dancing With the Stars is set to do the same for ABC.

By Eric Kohanik

Much in the same way that American Idol came along just at the right moment to save Fox’s bacon this season, now we have Dancing With the Stars making its return just in the nick of time for ABC.

The network has been flopping around like a dying fish on a beach this season. A slew of disastrous new shows and creative mis-steps in some of its returning hits have led to a downward spiral in the ratings for ABC, which has slipped to third place from the top spot it had occupied last season.

That will all change, of course, as Dancing With the Stars waltzes its way back.

I’ve been a sucker for the show ever since the mid-point of its first season, despite the uproar that surrounded a flawed voting and judging system back then that led to General Hospital star Kelly Monaco beating out Seinfeld alumnus John O’Hurley. A subsequent, wrestling-style rematch proved to be equally silly, crowning O’Hurley as the winner but satisfying no one inthe end.

Producers then revamped the show’s scoring system, giving more weight to viewer votes. That almost proved disastrous, too, when NFL veteran Jerry Rice – a popular guy but a mediocre dancer – actually outlasted dazzling WWE starlet Stacy Keibler in the second season, and almost defeated the guy who ultimately (and deservedly) won: 98 Degrees band member Drew Lachey.

Last season raised the bar further. Although popular NFL star Emmitt Smith emerged victorious in the end, runner-up Mario Lopez gave him a heck of a run for his money.

There was plenty of drama along the way last season, including the unexpected marital split of country singer Sara Evans. And, of course, there was the obvious hypersexual heat that emerged between Lopez and his professional dance partner, Karina Smirnoff.

So now we arrive at the fourth season of Dancing With the Stars. And it’s bound to be full of drama and suspense, too.

For starters, there’s a built-in reigning champion in professional dancer Cheryl Burke, who guided Lachey and Smith to victory.

There’s kind of a built-in villain, too, in contestant Heather Mills, the estranged missus of much-beloved music idol Paul McCartney. As the show’s first participant with an artificial limb, Mills will pique everyone’s interest on several levels. My guess, however, is that she won’t be dancing to any Beatles songs.

The other contestants initially ranged from the obviously able-bodied – boxer Laila Ali, model Paulina Porizkova and Olympic speed-skater Apolo Anton Ohno – to the obviously comical – country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus and Sopranos alumnus Vincent Pastore.

Unfortunately, Pastore pulled out of the show at the 11th hour. Too bad. Just think of all the “Big Pussy on the dance floor” jokes that were already waiting in the wings.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Andy Barker, P.I. - March 10, 2007

Premiering Thursday; NBC


Side By Side

Andy Richter hasn't exactly done a lot of memorable stuff on TV lately. At least he still has Conan O'Brien pitching for him.

By Eric Kohanik

I’ve always thought that Andy Richter made a huge mistake when he left Late Night with Conan O’Brien back “in the year 2000.”

As Conan O’Brien’s sidekick, Richter had been a nutty presence on Late Night since 1993. And the pair of them came up with some of the most outlandish – and fun– bits ever seen on latenight talk shows.

But Richter wanted to focus on an acting career instead. The decision resulted in a handful of forgettable movie roles and TV guest stints, not to mention a couple of his own unsuccessful comedy series – a clever effort called Andy Richter Controls the Universe and a stinker called Quintuplets.

The third time might be a charm for Richter, though. He gets another shot at prime time this week via Andy Barker, P.I., a new comedy series that casts Richter in the title role of a struggling accountant who reluctantly ends up as a private investigator after he rents an office that had previously been occupied by a real detective.

It was actually O’Brien who threw a lifeline to his old sidekick with this series. O’Brien and fellow executive producer Jonathan Groff had initially sold NBC on the idea of the show before they thought about getting Richter to star in it.

“Jon Groff and I had been talking about this storyline without Andy in mind,” O’Brien revealed during a press session in Los Angeles. “We were talking for a while about it when we both had the same thought, which is, ‘We’re talking about Andy Richter!’”

Although Richter insists that his two previous series failures haven’t made him gun shy, he does acknowledge some trepidation.

“I do have sort of a survivor’s syndrome,” Richter concedes. “I cannot enjoy or like anything that I’m involved in because [I feel] it will just get murdered. I just finally thought, ‘Well, whatever happens, happens. All we can do is make the show that we’regoing to make.’ And I feel like this is the best primetime work I’ve ever done.”

If Andy Barker, P.I. doesn’t survive, it won’t be for the lack of opportunity, or a decent timeslot. NBC has put the show into its Thursday lineup, nestled between Scrubs and ER in the berth formerly occupied by Tina Fey’s comedy, 30 Rock (which is taking a break).

As for whether Richter finally has what i ttakes to be a big success on primetime TV, only time will tell. But at least Richter still has his old pal, O’Brien, faithfully by his side.

“I don’t know what makes anybody a series star,” O’Brien says. “To me, Andy has always been one of the most likable presences that I’ve seen on television. You see Andy on TV and you like him. I think he’s a terrific actor; he’s very funny. And I think, in this show, he’s the heart of the show. He’s trying to do the right thing.

“I know that I’m not giving you the wise-ass answer, but I think that’s where it starts.”

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Wedding Bells - March 03, 2007

Premiering Wednesday, then moving to Fridays; Fox


Tales from the quipped

David E. Kelley has always had a knack for telling funny stories. And he has plenty of funny stories to tell when it comes to The Wedding Bells.

By Eric Kohanik

Executive producer David E.Kelley knows there are some funny wedding stories out there.

In fact, the tale of his own wedding – in 1993, to actress Michelle Pfeiffer – is one of them.

“The funniest part about my wedding is that I had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Kelley quips during a press conference with reporters and TV critics in Los Angeles. “My wife was so sensitive to the idea that paparazzi might invade the process and ruin it that she kept all the details secret from everybody – including me.

“I remember sitting ‘backstage,’ if you can call it that, right before I was about to walk down the aisle – and not having any idea what was about to happen! I thought, ‘I wonder if I’m losing control of my life by getting married.’ But it worked out well.”

It certainly did. So, too, has the way Kelley tends to spin his yarns. His dry personal wit and humour have always struck a favourable chord with me. So have the many quirky elements that have come to be the trademarks of his TV shows.

A former lawyer in Boston, Kelley’s work in the TV world began with him writing for L.A. Law back in the 1980s. He then moved on to create some of the most memorable series on TV: Doogie Howser, M.D., Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Public – and, of course, his current TV fixture, Boston Legal.

Kelley’s new project is The Wedding Bells, a comedy-drama that teams Teri Polo, KaDee Strickland and Sarah Jones as the Bell sisters, a trio of wedding planners whose bridal business tends to attract offbeat characters.

Regular viewers of Boston Legal will surely detect some familiar faces in The Wedding Bells. (Look for Delta Burke, who recently did a guest arc on Boston Legal, to pop up in the opener.)

Familiar faces have become a recurring element in Kelley’s series, for a number of reasons. “There are some times a role is written and I know an actor’s rhythms and talents and want to go back because I feels afe with that actor,” he explains. “Other times, it’s just through the casting process and the casting director will say, ‘This particular actor you’ve worked with before is perfect for this role,’ and I’ll agree or won’t agree. But the truth is you take the talent wherever you can find it.”

Well, not everywhere. Although Kelley has drawn on a proven talent pool for The Wedding Bells, his wife never seems to be part of that pool.

Naturally, it’s another funny story.

“Well, I think it’s best that we have divergent paths,” Kelley says, a wry smile creeping across his face. “She’s a bit controlling with her career and what she likes to do. And I’m a bit controlling in mine.

“I like to be senior management – and that never, never happens in her company.”

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? - Feb. 24, 2007

Premiering Tuesday; Fox, Global


Reality Check

Quiz shows tend to come and go on TV. But does the boog tube actually have room for something called Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

By Eric Kohanik

When it comes to reality TV, most people would agree that Mark Burnett has been a master of that domain.

The British-born executive producer has given TV viewers such successful reality franchises as Eco-Challenge, Survivor, The Apprentice and Rock Star. Last summer, he turned his attention to the Internet and came up with a hit game show there, too, called Gold Rush.

Of course, Burnett has also given viewers a few bombs, including The Casino, The Restaurant and The Contender. To be fair, The Contender really only bombed on network television. American cable viewers have continued to see new seasons of the reality-boxing show on ESPN.

Burnett has a couple of new irons in the reality fire for the summer. On the Lot will pit aspiring filmmakers against one another in a competition to win a Hollywood studio contract.

Also on Burnett’s production slate for the summer is the recently announced Pirate Master: The Adventure Begins, which will feature contestants living on a pirate ship and competing for a million-dollar bounty. Think of it as a cross between Survivor and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Both On the Lot and Pirate Master have already been scooped up in Canada by CTV – which, oddly enough, seems determined to unseat Global as the primary Canadian home for American reality-TV crap.

But I digress. Right now, the focus is on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? It’s a quiz show that seems to want to prove, once and for all, that your average American adult is actually dumber than your average fifth-grade American kid. Well, duh!

The show, which has been picked up by Global, has recruited longtime blue-collar comedian Jeff Foxworthy as its host. Presumably, Foxworthy is smarter than a fifth-grader – although we’re not really sure of that.

If all else fails here, though, Foxworthy can always launch into his trademark jokes: “You might be a redneck if…you’re not smarter than a fifth-grader.” Yuk. Yuk. Yuk.

As we’ve seen on Survivor and his other shows, though, Burnett is a master carnival barker, populating his reality creations with colourful competitors who provide plenty of entertainment value – not to mention the occasional bit of freak-show appeal.

Fox is doing its part for the carnival here, too. The network is scheduling three preview episodes of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? this week, in the slots following American Idol on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The series then takes over the timeslot previously occupied by The O.C. on Fox’s Thursday-night schedule.

Quiz shows have really been a part of television ever since the medium was born. And they tend to experience a resurgence everyonce in a while.

This isn’t a typical quiz show, of course. But if anyone can make it work, it’s Burnett.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Jane Show - Feb. 17, 2007

Thursdays; Global


See Jane Run

Canadian TV shows need good timeslots. Some networks get that notion, while others just pretend they care about protecting Canadian culture.

By Eric Kohanik

Canadian TV shows often still have a lousy reputation with Canadian TV audiences.

You could probably blame the CRTC, the regulatory body more formally known as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

You could probably also blame television welfare funds set up by governments that keep telling us Canadian culture (whatever that is) needs to be protected.

Their efforts have resulted in an overwhelming number of awful Canadian series, not to mention a boatload of forgettable documentaries and other filler, most of which attract audiences that are probably smaller than you could fit onto a backyard skating rink.

Once in a while, though, a Canadian series manages to stick its head up out of that sea of mediocrity in order to merit a bit more attention. CTV’s Corner Gas, Showcase’s Trailer Park Boys and Global’s Falcon Beach spring to mind. So, too, does a mildly amusing little comedy called The Jane Show. The brainchild of Teresa Pavlinek and longtime collaborator Ralph Chapman, The Jane Show revolves around a “plain Jane” named Jane Black (ably played by Pavlinek). Jane is a woman who gave up her dreams of being a writer in order to get an office job at a liquor-distribution company called Spirits.

The Jane Show began its second season a couple of weeks ago. Much of the first season dwelled on Jane coming to grips with office life. This season continues her journey as she contends with the kooky co-workers who have now become her friends.

The series rolls out a clever episode this week about a reality-show winner hired by Spirits to raise the company’s profile. Jane is disgusted by this; her co-workers are thrilled. The sentiments soon reverse themselves.

The Jane Show isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it is cute and smart. More important is the fact that it’s getting a decent shot.

Canadian networks often do stupid things. They’re addicted to the easy money that comes from simulcasting American shows, so they often burn off Canadian fare in the summer. Last year, CTV’s preposterous summer run of Whistler – a series set in B.C.’s winter ski season – was a prime example.

At other times, networks staunchly proclaim their support of Canadian programming, but then air that programming on nights when U.S. networks have nothing worth simulcasting. CTV has banished new seasons of two Canadian shows –Robson Arms and Jeff Ltd – to Saturday nights. (The network killed off The Eleventh Hour and Cold Squad with a similar move a few seasons ago.)

At least Global has given The Jane Showa high-profile midweek berth. That’s good. If Canadian culture needs protection, it also needs good timeslots – particularly on the schedules of Canada’s private TV networks.

It seems odd to see Global emerging as the one taking the leading role there.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Serialized Dramas - Feb. 10, 2007



Serial Killers

Networks have been battered by the failure of serialized shows this season. That means more conventional series will surface in the fall.

By Eric Kohanik

Television networks have a bad habit of jumping on the same bandwagon at the same time.

Back in the fall, that bandwagon was the serialized drama, a trend accelerated by such hits as 24, Lost and Prison Break. Their success spawned more than a dozen new shows this season that followed a serialized storytelling formula.

Most of this season’s serials fell by the wayside rather quickly. Basically, there were just too many of them – a fact many TV columnists pointed out at the start of the season.

“I think you were right to acknowledge the overabundance of serialized shows,” Kevin Reilly, NBC’s entertainment president, told the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour last month. NBC’s big effort in the genre, Kidnapped, was yanked fairly quickly after it premiered. “Kidnapped was a big disappointment to us,“ Reilly admits. “That was very painful.”

Most TV executives say the problem with this season’s failed serialized dramas was their tone, which followed mostly dark subjects: abductions (Kidnapped and Fox’s Vanished); bank robbery (ABC’s The Nine); murder (ABC’s Day Break); and grim stories of relationships (ABC’s Six Degrees).

Stephen McPherson, ABC’s entertainment president, says such shows were asking a lot of their audiences. “We loved the shows creatively,” he says. “I don’t look back in hindsight and say, ‘Boy, we should have done this differently.’ It may have just been timing.”

The timing did work out in some way for NBC, which found success with Heroes, a fantasy-adventure series that ended up “completely defying the logic,” Reilly says. “Highly serialized, highly complex – and it’s the breakout hit of the year!”

Having been battered by the failure of most of their serialized dramas, the networks are looking at more conventional show formats for next fall.

“As we go into development this year, we have more stuff that is procedural or closed-ended in that sense,” McPherson explains. “I think you’ll see things in that mix a little bit more.”

NBC is following a similar strategy. “We do have some serials coming back on,” Reilly says. “Nothing is highly serialized or as demanding as Heroes.”

Still, not everyone is giving up on serials.

“We are really experimenting and trying a lot of different projects,” explains Nina Tassler, entertainment president at CBS, whose big serialized effort, Jericho, is set to return to the air with a recap episode this week. “For us, the serialized form, we’re not as deep into it as, say, ABC is,” Tassler says. “We’re still in the learning curve.”

Reilly echoes the sentiment. “Sometimes, it’slightning in a bottle,” he says. “Serialization is one of the biggest hooks that we have into an audience, so we’re not running away from that.

“We are balancing it out a little more.”

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Deal Or No Deal Canada - Feb. 3, 2007

Sunday and Thursday; Global


Great expectations

There was a tidal wave of response from viewers for a Canadian version of Deal or No Deal. It just goes to show that, if you build it, they will come.

By Eric Kohanik

Howie Mandel loves to expect the unexpected.

“I’m very comfortable with discomfort,” the 51-year-old Canadian host of Deal or No Deal tells me as we sit down for an interview in his Toronto hotel suite. “I want the discomfort of not knowing what’s going to happen next. That’s exciting.”

Mandel certainly didn’t expect his show to become as popular as it has. And he certainly didn’t expect a Canadian version of it.

It was back during the first weekend of last May that The Watcher took a close look at the overwhelming success of Deal or No Deal. The premise, we noted then, was simple: 26 numbered briefcases containing cash prizes that range from one cent to a million bucks. Contestants pick one case and then, with the help of Mandel, they work through the rest, revealing the money they passed up. Tension builds. Luck – and only luck – ends up determining the outcome.

Although the American version of the show premiered in December 2005, the format actually originated in Britain almost five years ago and has since spread to more than 35 countries that have all come up with their own versions of the show.

We ended that column in May bemoaning the fact that Canada wasn’t in that crowd, thanks to the lazy tendency of our broadcasters to simply buy and air American versions of TV shows. “Maybe it’s too much or too silly to wish for,” the column sighed, “but maybe someone should gamble on a Canadian version of Deal or No Deal, too.”

We didn’t expect anyone to pay attention.

Actually, network executives claim their plan for Deal or No Deal Canada was already in the works before The Watcher came up with that suggestion. Sure. Whatever.

What’s important to note here is the wave of applications from would-be contestants that flooded Global from across Canada after it unveiled plans for the show. A similar reaction arose when the network announced a cross-country search for briefcase models.

It just goes to show that, if you build it, they will come. In droves.

They’ll probably come in droves for the telecasts, too. Global is wisely using Super Bowl Sunday as the launching pad for its run of Deal or No Deal Canada, airing the first of five planned episodes right after the National Football League championship wraps up. The four remaining instalments will air on subsequent Thursdays.

As for what you can expect, well, count on the unexpected. “That’s what’s exciting about our game,” Mandel says. “It can turn. It’s like a roller-coaster. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

What is sure to happen, though, is that Deal or No Deal Canada will be a hit. If it is, maybe someone will gamble on doing even more episodes of the show.

That’s the least we should expect.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

TCA Press Tour - Jan. 27, 2007

Pasadena, Calif.


When opportunity knocks

Some have a gloomy outlook on TV's future. Others regard the shifting sands in the TV landscape as an exciting circumstance to be seized.

By Eric Kohanik

The Television Critics Association’s semi-annual network press tour is many things to many people.

Held in Los Angeles every January and July, the event brings together 200 reporters, critics and columnists from media outlets across the United States and Canada. For them, it’s mostly a chance to preview new shows, talk to network executives and mingle with stars.

For producers and networks, meanwhile, the TCA press tour is often a chance to crow about plans for the future – that is, when there’s something good to crow about. Even when there isn’t, though, networks put the best spin possible on what lies ahead.

This year’s January press tour had its share of that. With traditional TV viewership in a continued decline while alternative platforms continue to grow as a home for programming, the sands of the TV landscape are continuing to shift. Some see it as a gloomy scenario; others see positive aspects.

“The only things we can be certain of in our business, entertainment in general, in the next five years is that people will go to watch movies in dark rooms with other people,” executive producer Mark Burnett quipped at a press conference for The MTV Movie Awards, which he will oversee, and turn into a live broadcast for the first time, on June 3. “[But] I think there’s nothing certain about the future of the type of television we’re going to watch.”

The creative force behind such TV franchises as Survivor, Rock Star and The Apprentice, Burnett has also had success recently with Gold Rush, an online interactive game “show” he created last year.

“Whatever [television] is in the future, it’s some convergent, interactive experience,” Burnett declares. “Things are happening so fast in technology. But I don’t have any doom and gloom. You know something? I see only opportunities. That’s not a bullsh--answer. That’s how I really think.”

As for the TV opportunities viewers face in the short term, this month’s TCA Press Tour rolled out a lot of dismal offerings. But there were a few gems thrown in as well.

CBS has one of the most promising entries in Rules of Engagement, which premieres Feb. 5. It’s a comedy that casts Oliver Hudson as an engaged guy who gets a few oddball lessons in love from a jaded married neighbour (?Seinfeld grad Patrick Warburton) and a footloose single pal (David Spade).

Rules of Engagement is everything that Brad Garrett’s Fox sitcom, ’Til Death, has tried to be this season, with one significant difference: this one is actually good.

As for what other good things may await TV, Burnett sees it in a five-year time frame.

“Going five years ahead,” Burnett says, “nothing in television will be the same. [But] I don’t think anyone can dictate what that is.

“I don’t know in five years. And, honestly, beware of the people that say they know.”

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Prison Break / Heroes - Jan. 20, 2007

Monday; Fox, Global
Monday; NBC, Global

Back to business.

Shuffling the deck

Networks have been doing a lot of tinkering with their schedules this season. In the end, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

By Eric Kohanik

Although most of us are still mired in the depths of winter, Hollywood is already focusing on next fall.

Mid-January usually marks the beginning of pilot season, when American networks actually start assembling the new programming they hope will become part of their schedules next fall and winter. Pilot season stretches all the way to May, when the networks unveil their fall lineups to advertisers at splashy presentations in New York City. Between now and then, the TV world will be a flurry of activity, deal-making and, of course, schedule-shuffling.

The big American nets have already been shuffling the deck pretty frequently this season as they scramble to dump programming misfires and try to find saviours that will keep viewers coming back.

In October and November, a slew of serialized dramas, both newcomers and returning shows, went on hiatus. In some cases, it was meant to keep viewers on the hook until the hot shows come back. In other cases, the move was simply designed to get rid of really bad shows before they do even more damage.

In any case, those serialized dramas are now starting to trickle back onto schedules. Fox brings new episodes of Prison Break back to the tube on Monday, picking up the elongated story of Michael (Wentworth Miller), Lincoln (Dominic Purcell), T-Bag (Robert Knepper) and the rest of those prison fugitives where things left off at the end of November.

NBC, meanwhile, has steadily been teasing viewers with reruns of Heroes over the past month in order to whet the appetites of that show’s loyal fans. The network finally stops messing with those folks this week and brings the rookie fantasy drama back with new episodes on Monday night as well.

There’s plenty of other shuffling going on. A lot of networks seem to have so few good shows that they end up filling gaps in their lineups by running the same episode of their hit shows twice. ABC has been following that practice on Fridays almost all season long, rerunning instalments of its Thursday gems – Ugly Betty, Grey’s Anatomy and Men in Trees – on Fridays in an attempt to plug the holes in what continues to be a leaky primetime schedule.

Network programmers at Fox, meanwhile, are trying out Brad Garrett’s struggling new comedy series, ’Til Death, on Sunday this week, in hopes that the network’s high Sunday viewership (thanks to The Simpsons and company) might get viewers to return and check the sitcom out in its regular slot on Thursdays. In fact, Fox will be trying that double-pump tactic again next week, too.

Sometimes, though, there really is no amount of schedule tinkering that will actually fool viewers into believing that a bad show is actually good.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

24 / American Idol - Jan. 13, 2007

THE 24
Sunday and Monday; Fox, Global
Tuesday and Wednesday; Fox, CTV

A strong one-two punch for a struggling network.

Just in the nick of time

Here we go again! Jack Bauer faces another bad day, while Paula, Randy and Simon brace themselves for another parade of bad singers.

By Eric Kohanik

January seems to have come along just in the nick of time for the battered executives at the Fox network.

The fall TV season turned out to be one bad day after another for those execs. It was a nightmare of failed new series (Justice, Vanished, Happy Hour) and struggling new shows the network has kept on the air (’Til Death, Standoff). Even worse were the ideas that didn’t make it. (Remember the O.J.Simpson debacle?)

So Fox programmers can’t help but be excited about the one-two punch they have in store for viewers this week.

Leading the way, of course, is Jack Bauer.Now there’s a guy who really knows what it’s like to have a bad day.

Jack has had a few really bad days. In fact, they’ve been the worst days of his life. And viewers have seen each one played out over the past five TV seasons on Fox’s Emmy-winning 24.

When last we saw Jack Bauer – played, of course, with Emmy-winning, steely intensity by Kiefer Sutherland – he had reached the end of the fifth worst day of his life. He had been nabbed by enemy agents and was acaptive on a slow boat to China.

And as the sixth worst day of Jack’s life begins to unfold this week, we’re about to find out that a lot has happened since then.

In fact, it’s almost two years later and Jack has been the victim of a lot of torture in thattime. Physically and emotionally, he has sunk just about as low as he can go.

Fox rolls out the sixth-season premiere of 24as a two-parter Sunday and Monday. It will be one of the most star-studded seasons in the show’s history.

Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart, who scored lots of critical accolades last season as the evil U.S. president and first lady, will put in return appearances. Also back in the picture are Mary Lynn Rajskub, James Morrison, Jayne Atkinson and DB Woodside.

This season will see a parade of new faces, though. James Cromwell joins the cast as Jack’s estranged father. The rest of the stellar lineup will include: Chad Lowe, Regina King, Rick Schroder, Peter MacNicol, PowersBoothe, Harry Lennix and Alexander Siddig.

Of course, it’s a different parade of talents that judges Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell encounter as American Idol begins its sixth season this week.

The formula is well known by now, of course. The first few episodes of the show offer highlights of auditions that took place in the summer and fall. After that, the show clicks into performance mode as it wends its way toward crowning the next Idol in the spring.

Viewers always seem split on which portion of the show’s run they prefer. Either way, they tend to watch it all, making the entire show seem stronger than ever.

And, no doubt, that will suit those battered Fox executives just fine.