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.”