Saturday, October 25, 2008

HBO Canada - Oct. 25, 2008



Channel flipping

Pay TV subscribers have always
longed to have HBO in Canada.
Now, they weill finally be able to get it.
Well, sort of.

By Eric Kohanik

There was a time when only a handful of pay/cable channels populated the TV landscape. 

Now, there are so many that, whenever another one launches, it’s usually greeted with a ho-hum shrug by those who cover television.

Except for this week. That’s because HBO is finally arriving in Canada. 

Well, sort of. 

Canadian pay TV subscribers have always longed for HBO. That longing is what has fuelled much of Canada’s pay TV industry.

Over the years, it also helped nurture an entire industry of black-market and grey-market satellite dishes across the country. 

Starting Oct. 30, though, Canadians willbe able to get HBO legally. 

Well, sort of.

See, it’s not really HBO. It’s a Canadian adaptation – a couple of existing channels masquerading as the famed American icon.

Pay TV in Canada started a quarter of a century ago, following a formula similar to HBO in the U.S. There were three national English pay TV channels in Canada then: First Choice, Superchannel and C-Channel.

The first two were competing movie channels; the third was a “culture” channel that had programs with a high-class appeal. 

C-Channel didn’t last long. And the two remaining services found their only hope for survival would be to split the Canadian TV market right along the Manitoba-Ontario border, with First Choice taking the east and Superchannel saddling up in the west. 

Still, HBO was nowhere to be seen in Canada. At least, not legally. The two Canadian pay channels eventually took on new names: First Choice became The Movie Network (or TMN), while Superchannel rebranded itself as Movie Central.

Canada’s pay-TV scene recently got a newplayer – a national network called, wait for it, Super Channel. But, hey, that’s a wholeother story we’ll save for some other time. 

Multiplex and video-on-demand technology have broadened the reach of both TMN and Movie Central over the years. Both of them even cut deals long ago for the rights to show most HBO programming in Canada. 

But Canadian TV fans continued to long for HBO itself – to the point where the CRTC had actually considered opening Canada’s protectionist doors to let the American channel in. 

In a crafty countermeasure, though, the parent companies of TMN and Movie Central took pages from Canwest Global’s deal for E! and CTV’s partnership with MTV. They teamed up to snag rights to the HBO brand and are now rechristening two of their existing multiplex channels (MMOR in the east and MC4 in the west) as HBO Canada.

So, technically, Canadian viewers will have HBO available to them this week – even though it’s really a Canadian version that will have to air homegrown programs as well.

But at least Canadian TV viewers can now finally stop longing for America’s beloved HBO.

Well, sort of.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

TV Variety Shows - Oct. 18, 2008



On with the show

They say that variety is the spice of life.
Now, some networks are hoping that variety
can spice up an otherwise bland TV season.

By Eric Kohanik

There was once a time when the primetime variety show was a big mainstay in the TV world.

It was a holdover from the days of vaudeville houses and the early years of network radio.

Every TV network tended to have at least one primetime variety show to spice up its scheDule. There were classics like Your Show of Shows and The Milton Berle Show, better known as The Texaco Star Theater. And there was Toast of the Town, which was later much more widely known by its new title: The Ed Sullivan Show.

There were many others over the years: The Dean Martin Show, This Is Tom Jones, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The Hollywood Palace…the list goes on and on.

The last of the big network variety shows? That was probably The Carol Burnett Show, which actually finished its run 30 years ago.

These days, TV variety shows tend to take the form of talent competitions – shows like Dancing With the Stars or America’s Got Talent. Or they are sketch-comedy shows that have found a niche during latenight hours – shows like Saturday Night Live.

But the bigtime network variety show may be in for a primetime comeback before long. In July, Fox announced plans to roll out a traditional TV variety show with a rather untraditional twist.

The network recruited Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne and two of their dizzy offspring, Jack and Kelly, for a new show tentatively titled The Osbournes: Loud and Dangerous. Set to debut during the holiday season, it is supposed to mix music performances with comedy sketches and what Fox describes as “game-show competitions.”

Fox signed up for six episodes of the Osbourne project. Whether there will be more after that will depend on how audiences take to the first batch of shows.

Over at NBC, meanwhile, network executives announced a couple of weeks ago that they had signed Rosie O’Donnell to host Rosie’s Variety Special, a primetime effort that is scheduled to hit the air Nov. 26. The live, hourlong special is supposed to feature musical acts, comedy skits, celebrity guests and what NBC is billing as “a giant primetime give-away.” If the special proves to be popular, NBC plans to turn it into a regular weekly show in 2009.

Can O’Donnell and the Osbournes turn variety shows back into the TV mainstays they once were? Hey, you never know. After all, who’d have thought that quiz shows and amateur talent competitions – both powerhouse genres during TV’s early years, too – would make the big comebacks they have?

One thing is certain. Networks are always looking for new ideas that can become hits. And, in the TV world, you know that, at some point, everything old is new again.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

TV Season Report Card - Oct. 11, 2008



Cheers and jeers

The new TV season is only a month old. 
And, already, it's clear there are things on 
the tube that are - and aren't - working well.

By Eric Kohanik

It has only been a few weeks since thenew TV season officially got rolling. But it has already become clear. There are shows, both new and old, that are – and are not – working for me this fall.

So, what’s doing it for me?

Dancing With the Stars (Mondays andTuesdays; ABC, CTV): The calibre of talent is better than ever. In fact, the first week saw routines that were already miles ahead of the final weeks of some earlier seasons.

The Big Bang Theory (Mondays; CBS): Jim Parsons’ stints as the socially clueless Sheldon get more ingenious each week.

Californication (Mondays; The Movie Network, Movie Central): Hank Moody (David Duchovny) and those around him keep hitting one wall after another. It’s so much fun to watch them pick up the pieces.

90210 (Tuesdays; The CW, Global): OK, don’t laugh. Nobody expected it to be good because it didn’t have to be; the show had a built-in audience. And that actually makes it kind of a pleasant surprise.

The Rick Mercer Report (Tuesdays;CBC): Mercer is a brilliant satirist, even if the elements of each instalment of his show are getting way too familiar and predictable. At least the federal election is providing plenty of new ammunition.

Survivor: Gabon (Thursdays; CBS, Global): OK, if ever there were a show made for HDTV, this is it. Too bad it took so long.

Weeds (Sundays; Showcase): Quite simply, it stars Mary-Louise Parker. Enough said.

The Bonnie Hunt Show (weekdays; Citytv): Despite its cheesy opening titles, Hunt’s warmth on this daytime gab showputs TV’s latenight talkers to shame.

There’s plenty that’s not working for me this season, too. The leading offenders?

Mad Men (Sundays; AMC, A): The first season was so fabulous. But sometimes, there are such long, silent moments this season that you can’t figure out what’s up.

Desperate Housewives (Sundays; ABC, CTV): Executive producer Marc Cherry reset the clock, moving things ahead five years to get rid of story screw-ups. After only two episodes, though, the show has already painted itself into a creative corner again.

Knight Rider (Mondays; NBC, E!): Sorry. Maybe a supercharged car would be way more appealing if gas were cheaper.

Saturday Night Live (Saturdays; NBC, Global): No matter how good it gets, how come cast members still don’t know how to read lines on cue cards without making it so obvious that they’re reading cue cards?

So You Think You Can Dance Canada (various days; CTV): I LOVE it, but I feel sorry for it. As the debut week of Dancing With the Stars and Grey’s Anatomy illustrated, if CTV’s American shows have something big going on, the network will quickly treat this as a second-class refugee. If only Canadian broadcasters had the balls to put Canadian shows ahead of American ones …

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Corner Gas - Oct. 4, 2008



Gas Pains

The final season of Corner Gas will mean 
a return to square one for its cast members. 
Even for a veteran like Eric Peterson.

By Eric Kohanik

I’ve always had a tremendous respect for Eric Peterson.

No, it’s not because of his first name. It’s because he is truly one of Canada’s most compelling actors.

My respect for Peterson stretches way back to the late 1980s and early ’90s, when I would simply gobble up his performances as Leon Rabinovitch, the scrappy, left-wing lawyer he played on Street Legal, a CBC drama series that was set in a downtown Toronto law office.

You can still catch reruns of Street Legal on cable, every weekday on Canada’s version of Bravo. Originally, though, CBC aired the show on Friday evenings, as a lead-in to its simulcasts of CBS’s Dallas.

Yes, this was back when TV was worth staying home for on Friday nights.

Peterson has done a ton of TV guest stints since his Street Legal days, popping up on shows ranging from Touched by an Angel and Da Vinci’s Inquest to Puppets Who Kill and two Trudeau miniseries, in which he portrayed the legendary Tommy Douglas.

Peterson has done a lot of theatre work, too, which he refers to as his “steady employment.” For the past few years, though, his steady employment has been the role of Oscar Leroy, the crabby dad of Brent Leroy (Brent Butt) on CTV’s Corner Gas.

Oscar has become a Canadian TV icon. His exclamations of “jackass!” have become as much of a signature for him as “meathead!” became for Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) on All in the Family.

Corner Gas begins its sixth – and final – season on Oct. 13. According to Butt, the show won’t be going out with a bang. When the final episode wraps up, it will be just the end of another day in the fictional Saskatchewan town of Dog River.

For Peterson, though, the end of Corner Gas will mean things have come full circle.

“I’m a Canadian actor, you see,” the amiable Saskatchewan native told me as we huddled in the corner at a CTV media event in Toronto back in June. “Now, I go back to square one again. Once the series is over, I go back to looking for work. I’m back to scale salaries. But that’s my life.”

It will be the life of most of the Corner Gas cast. But then, it’s the plight all actors face – even a respected veteran like Peterson.

“People aren’t banging my door down, Canadian producers, to get me to do things for them,” Peterson smiles. “So, on that level, when the series is over, it’s quite a bucket of cold water in the face again.”

Like most actors, Peterson says he is “always thinking about what the next job is going to be.” So, is the next role he wants to tackle going to be a comedy or a drama?

“The next role I want is just a role,” Peterson laughs. “I don’t even dare think of choosing, making a demand. Basically, you never get far above, ‘I’ll do anything they want me to do.’ “