Sunday, June 01, 2014

Defiance returns


Showcase -- Thursdays, beginning June 19


Julie Benz Gets Set To Take
Her Character Down
A Darker Path As "Defiance"
Rolls Out Its Second Season

By Eric Kohanik 

Somehow, the future never seems to be pretty in the world of science-fiction TV shows. And Julie Benz says there are good reasons for that.
“I think, with the sci-fi genre, we're able to explore issues that we're all faced with today,” the 42-year-old actress points out. “We're able to explore them in a deeper, darker way.”
Benz is no stranger to the deeper, darker realm of the horror/thriller/sci-fi genre. Perhaps still best known for her role as Rita on Dexter, her TV credits also include such other gems as Roswell, Supernatural, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Buffy's spinoff/sequel, Angel.
“I love working in 'genre' material, I really do,” says Benz. “The given circumstances are so extreme that they really challenge you, as an actor, to bring them to life and make them believable. And that is exciting.”
Benz's most recent “genre TV” job has been in Showcase's sci-fi adventure, Defiance. Filmed in Toronto, the series is set in a radically transformed Earth in the not-too-distant future, where the city of St. Louis has been renamed as Defiance, a town where humans and extraterrestrial species manage to live side by side.
Much of the core action in Defiance revolves around Joshua Nolan, played by New Zealand native Grant Bowler. Nolan is a former marine who became the town's chief lawkeeper during the show's first season. At Nolan's side for much of the show has been his adopted alien daughter, Irisa, played by English actress Stephanie Leonidas. Others in the cast include Canadian actors Graham Greene and Jesse Rath.
The Pittsburgh-born Benz plays Amanda Rosewater, the mayor of Defiance who ended up losing her bid for re-election as the series wrapped up its first season. The show's season finale also saw the disappearance of Irisa, as well as Amanda's sister, Kenya (Canadian actress Mia Kirshner).
According to Showcase, Defiance was the channel's No. 1 program in 2013. The series kicks off its second season on June 19 (moving to Thursday nights this season), with the residents of Defiance in turmoil in the aftermath of the town election.
Meanwhile, Nolan is out in the badlands on a quest to find the missing Irisa, a storyline that the show's producers have already been priming viewers for online (on, via five “webisodes” entitled Defiance: The Lost Ones.
As the new season of Defiance opens, Amanda is setting off on a journey of her own as well, embarking on “a much darker path,” according to Benz. “Amanda starts in a completely different place than where she ended at the end of Season 1,” she explains. “Her sister disappeared. She lost her job. And she has to redefine herself in a town that is redefining itself. It's nine months later and she's really struggling. She's having a hard time. You get to see her start to unravel a bit.”
Although Amanda is no longer the mayor of Defiance, that won't necessarily keep her out of the political scene. “I don't think Amanda could ever be separated from the town,” Benz laughs. “I think the town is always a part of her. Her love for the town of Defiance is always going to be present, no matter what role she has in the town. I don't think she could ever fully be away from the politics of the town.”
Benz has been pleased with the fan response to the first season of Defiance. She has also been pleased with her character's journey on the show.
“I love Amanda's strength,” says Benz. “And that she's still feminine but very strong. She is basically surviving in a very masculine world. Even though she's the heroine, she's not perfect. She's deeply flawed. She's an alcoholic. She obviously has commitment issues. She's very controlling. Sometimes, her idealism gets in the way. She's extremely flawed, but she's still a woman. We don't really see many female characters that can be as flawed as she is and still be loved.”

Defiance – Showcase – Thursdays, beginning June 19

(Published in Channel Guide Magazine -- June 2014.)

The MMVAs Celebrate Their 25th Anniversary


Much, CTV -- June 15

Street Party

CTV Hops On Much's Bandwagon
As The MMVAs Celebrate
Their 25th Anniversary

By Eric Kohanik 

When it comes to star-studded street parties, there aren't many in Canada that are as rousing – or as rockin' – as the one MuchMusic has been throwing year after year in downtown Toronto.
In fact, the MuchMusic Video Awards have been partying on for an incredible quarter of a century.
Every June, multitudes of exuberant music fans flock to the corner of Queen and John Streets to get a close-up look as MuchMusic cranks up the energy – and unleashes big-time star power – at its annual celebration. This year's 25th-anniversary edition of the MMVAs hits MuchMusic on June 15. And, as usual, viewers will get primed beforehand with the MMVA Red Carpet Special.
For the first time, though, the cable channel's corporate cousin, CTV, is jumping on the bandwagon, simulcasting this year's entire extravaganza live from coast to coast on its broadcast network, as well as on its CTV GO mobile app.
“It's a really great opportunity to put the show on a bigger platform,” says Sheila Sullivan, the longtime executive producer of the MMVA telecast. “That's great for the artists. It's great for the Much brand.
“The great thing about it is the CTV simulcast will ensure [that] millions of music fans – who might not have ever had the opportunity to watch the MMVAs on Much – can now watch it on CTV. It opens the MMVAs up to an entirely new, broadened audience, which is just perfect. The more people that can tune in and see this street-party spectacle, the better.”
This year's anniversary show will have “a nod” to previous MMVAs, but it won't dwell on the past. “It won't be too nostalgic,” Sullivan promises. Instead, viewers can count on a show featuring some of the music world's biggest names as performers. There will also be a stellar lineup of presenters to do their usual thing, as well as adding a few surprises.
“I've done enough [MMVAs] to remember most of the exciting things that have happened during the show over the years,” says Sullivan. Past years have had their share of dazzling moments, ranging from Lady Gaga's bra-shooting fireworks to Flo Rida making his way onto the MMVA stage via zip-line.
Sullivan and her team are still busily assembling this year's final list of performers and presenters – a task that has been ongoing since last fall. “We start talking to labels and to talent in the fall so that we can get it on the calendars of artists that we're hoping will come to the show to perform,” Sullivan explains. “We want to be on their calendars first. We're looking for the biggest and the best names. We are looking to give our audience exactly what they want to hear.”
Apart from the talent lineup, Sullivan says there is one other big challenge to putting on the MMVAs every year – the show's outdoor setting.
“When you're indoors, you can rehearse all day long in the dark,” Sullivan points out. “We can rehearse only from 9:30 to 11:30 because, at 9:30, it's finally dark and we can see what it's going to look like on TV. But, at 11:30, we have a noise curfew. And the weather, of course, is a big concern.”
Although storms have dampened some MMVA celebrations, the show has had surprisingly good luck with the weather over the past 25 years. “We have – and it's going to happen again this year, for sure!” Sullivan insists, knocking on wood. “I wish it was something I actually did have more control over.”
Sullivan does have control of the show, though, and she remains confident that it will be bigger and better than ever.
“We do try and take our production value to another level each year, as well as trying to ensure that we're featuring artists who our audience is listening to and loving right at this moment,” Sullivan stresses. “And that's certainly what we'll be aiming to do again this year.”

The 2014 MuchMusic Video Awards – Much, CTV – June 15

(Published in Channel Guide Magazine -- June 2014.)

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Unusually Thicke


Slice -- Wednesdays

Unusually Thicke

Alan Thicke Offers Viewers 
A Peek Behind The Curtain

By Eric Kohanik 

Alan Thicke likes to keep busy. And he has come up with lots of ways to do that.
“I describe it as a 'productive insecurity,'” the 67-year-old native of Kirkland Lake, Ont. jokes over the telephone from his ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif. “You don't wait for the phone to ring. You have to be proactive and you go out and try to create things.
“My background was as a writer. That was the first thing that I was really able to make a living at. Consequently, I've always been able to create some credible pitch or idea that would, at the very least, garner some meetings and put you in the right offices. I never took it for granted that I could be in the gym or by the pool and get 'that call.' I was out promoting and creating. And much of what I tried to do in that vein, fortuitously, got green-lighted. So, it's given me a good life.”
Thicke's accomplishments are numerous, ranging from credits as a writer (Fernwood 2-Night), game-show host (Pictionary) and talk-show emcee (The Alan Thicke Show, Thicke of the Night) to theme-song composer (Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life), sitcom actor (Growing Pains, Hope & Gloria, How I Met Your Mother) and even reality-show participant (Celebrity Wife Swap).
Thicke's latest idea goes back into the world of reality shows – or, rather, pseudo-reality shows. He admits that a show capitalizing on the popularity of his son, singer Robin Thicke, would have been “an easy sale,” but he opted for something different: Unusually Thicke, a series for the Slice network in Canada that was also picked up by the TV Guide Network in the U.S.
Although it does feature cameo appearances by Robin as well as Thicke's eldest son, Brennan, Unusually Thicke is a reality/sitcom hybrid about Thicke's day-to-day life with his third wife, 39-year-old Bolivian-born fashion model Tanya Callau. Rounding out the show's core is Carter Thicke, the 16-year-old son from his second marriage.
“We always knew that we had kind of a Modern Family cast here,” Thicke explains. “We had the older, more reserved patriarch. We had the hot Latin wife, decidedly younger. And we had a cool, envelope-pushing teenager. That was the basis for us saying, 'Well, what could we do with this group that would make sense?'”
According to Thicke, several people were “sniffing around” with reality-show ideas. “We kind of held out for what I thought would be a more original, inventive, challenging format,” he says. “That was to combine the real-family 'cast' with a sitcom format. I thought if we took real stories from our real lives and embellish those in a story-telling format such as a sitcom, then maybe we'd have something that's a little different, a little bit of a hybrid.”
The dialogue in Unusually Thicke is not scripted, but episodes are mapped out to enhance storylines. “We had to plan a lot of scenes in order to tell stories instead of just letting stories happen,” Thicke explains. “We wanted to be proactive storytellers, not passive storytellers.”
Thicke also wanted to set the record straight on his family life. “It really does kind of pull back the curtain on much more of Alan Thicke in real life than Alan Thicke the sitcom actor,” he says. “I think that people who see this family together, some will be surprised. I'm clearly older than my wife and we deal with things and have situations which are not typical. Our age difference does create challenges.
“I like to think that I'm grounded enough from my family history in Kirkland Lake to appreciate where I came from and try to teach my kids that sense of normalcy or decency or gratitude. But we are clearly living the good life here and I think part of the challenge here is how you balance all of those opportunities and influences.”

Unusually Thicke – Slice – Wednesdays

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine -- May 2014.)

Colin & Justin's Cabin Pressure


Cottage Life Television -- Tuesdays

(Cottage Life Television's national free preview
continues until May 31.)

Northern Exposure

"Colin & Justin's Cabin Pressure" Takes The Scottish Design Duo To New Highs (And Lows) 

By Eric Kohanik 

Eastern Canadians tend to call them cottages; Westerners tend to refer to them as cabins. 
By any name, though, there are common elements. Vacation homes can be fabulous. They can also mean a lot of unexpected work – and expense.
Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan have certainly discovered that in their latest TV adventure. Although May usually heralds the opening of cottage season across Canada, McAllister and Ryan have already been priming viewers steadily since mid-March via Colin & Justin's Cabin Pressure, a sometimes-misadventurous joyride into the world of cottage ownership. 
Canadians have been familiar with the 46-year-old McAllister and the 47-year-old Ryan through various avenues. Longtime fixtures on British TV, the Scottish design duo brought their flair to North America a few years ago, using Canada as the production base for an HGTV series called Colin & Justin's Home Heist. That led to “Colin & Justin Home,” a line of housewares and lifestyle products that have found shelf space in Winners, HomeSense and Marshalls stores across Canada. 
The merry Scotsmen now have their focus back on Canadian TV screens. This time, though, that focus has migrated north. Colin & Justin's Cabin Pressure follows McAllister and Ryan to the shores of Ontario's Lake Muskoka, where they took the considerable plunge of buying (with the help of close friends named Cherri and David) and renovating a log-cabin-style cottage into a dream vacation home.
“It's been a total labour of love,” McAlister says. “Looking back on it, we're just so, so excited. You own a cottage and you just become so invested in it. And I think that's something that Justin and I are very keen to get across on the show.”
Already familiar with the posh Muskoka region from previous vacations, McAllister and Ryan opted to pool their financial resources with their friends in order to buy in. After attending a Cottage Life consumer/trade show in Toronto to learn about cottage ownership, they ended up appearing at a subsequent edition of that show to talk about their plans. That, in turn, led the fledgling Cottage Life television network to approach McAllister and Ryan about chronicling their journey on TV.
“It was one of those things that happened,” says Ryan. “We didn't desperately go out and chase it; it just kind of landed in our lap. And it made a lot of sense.”
Adds McAllister: “If you're looking for sports, you go to a sports channel. We loved Cottage Life magazine. It is so beloved in Canada as one of those great brands. It just felt right.”
Filmed last year, Colin & Justin's Cabin Pressure follows the pair as they uncover one surprise after another. Although their cottage seemed perfect and in no need of repair at first, that soon changed.
“What we found out was that what we thought [was] a 'beauty queen' cottage was absolutely nothing short of being a pig in lipstick,” Ryan concedes. “Everything we thought we were buying was rotted. Everything we wanted to have in the cottage was falling apart."
Although the 13-episode series is about half-way through their reno project, Colin and Justin's Cabin Pressure still has plenty more in store for viewers as the real-life cottage season gets rolling in the weeks ahead. Still, cottage life “is not all fun and games,” says McAllister. “Thankfully, there are more highs than lows. And, at the end of it, there is a pot of gold!”

Colin & Justin's Cabin Pressure – Cottage Life – Tuesdays
(Cottage Life's national free preview continues until May 31.)

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - May 2014)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Go ahead: Play The Canadian Open at Glen Abbey

Today is Opening Day at the world-famous Glen Abbey Golf Course in Oakville, Ontario. And, although the weather isn't exactly co-operating today, things are bound to get better. So, let's revisit a few tips now in order to prepare you for your upcoming visit to Glen Abbey.
(First published in The Hamilton Spectator, July 26, 2013.)

The Right Way To Play 
The Canadian Open

A starter's perspective on 
the ins and outs of Glen Abbey

By Eric Kohanik
Special to The Hamilton Spectator 
Welcome to Glen Abbey. My name is Eric and I'm your Starter today. You're going to have a great time.”
For five seasons, I've used those words to introduce countless guests to the first tee of the course that is home to this year's Canadian Open. And as the pros get down to serious competition in Oakville, it should be no surprise that any golfer following the action would get the urge to play the Jack Nicklaus-designed course that is hosting the Open for the 26th time.
As a starter and a play coordinator (that's what marshals are called at Glen Abbey), I've encountered players from around the world who have made the pilgrimage to “The Abbey.” Many are thrilled and even awestruck, as if they are standing on the most hallowed ground.
But there are a few things you need to know when you go to play Glen Abbey.
There are no white tees, for instance. The red tees play 5,346 yards. The blue tees, at 6,224 yards, are usually challenging enough for beginners and those with double-digit handicaps. The gold tees clock in at 6,622 yards, while the black (pro) tees add up to 7,273 yards.
As for the holes, there's a twist. As in 2009, the front nine holes have been reconfigured for the tournament, so things will look different when you play your version of the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey.
To help you out, here's a quick, starter's guide to the course and some of its most memorable (and difficult) holes:

No. 1 (No. 8 at the Open) – Par 5
This hole is simply memorable because it's the first hole you'll play at Glen Abbey. First-timers get excited just standing on the tee box, often snapping photos as souvenirs. The hole is often called an "easy" Par 5. The pros play it as a Par 4 during the Open.

No. 2 (No. 9 at the Open) – Par 4
The No. 1 handicap hole has a big tree that comes into play off the tee. It can be tough to reach the green in only two shots. An extra club is a good idea on the approach, thanks to a sand trap at the left front of the green. The green is also smaller than it appears from the fairway. 

No. 3 (No. 7 at the Open) – Par 3
Wind comes into play, while bunkers and pin placement on the narrow green can easily spell trouble. The hole doesn't look tough, but the pond between the tee and green gobbles up 15,000 golf balls a year. More than a few have been mine.

No. 7 (No. 4 at the Open) – Par 3
Another hole over water that looks easy but isn't. If the wind is brisk, it can mean a difference of two or even three clubs.

No. 9 (No. 6 at the Open)
A pretty finish to the front nine, this Par 4 is similar to the Par 5 that finishes the back. The fairway slopes toward a pond that is in front of the green, so a long drive can be trouble. The hole is ranked as the third toughest on the course. It's also rated as one of the toughest on the PGA Tour.

No. 11 – Par 4
The second-hardest hole is also Glen Abbey's signature hole, and one of the most picturesque golf holes around. An elevated tee leads you down to the first of five valley holes. From the gold tees, it's about a 220-yard carry reach to the fairway (although the elevation does give your shot extra distance). From the blue and red tees, the perfect shot is usually aimed over a large tree on the left side of the fairway. A wide section of 16 Mile Creek runs in front of the green, so your approach may need a lot of carry, too.

No. 13 – Par 5
The mid-way point of the valley, this hole crosses 16 Mile Creek not once but twice. Once you get to the green, things don't necessarily get easier. A deep swale to the left of the green can easily mess up your game. 

No. 14 – Par 4
Ranked as one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour, this hole plays completely different from the gold and black tees than from the blue and red tees. An undulating green adds to this hole's charm and challenge.

No. 15 Par 3
It's rated as the easiest hole on the course. Uh-huh. Sure. Depending on the pin placement, the elevated, two-tier green could leave you with one of the toughest putts you'll face. 

No. 17 Par 4
There are 17 sand traps adorning this hole. That's right, 17. Oddly enough, the tee shot from the golds actually seems easier than from the blues. A funky, U-shaped green can cap off this adventurous hole in a unique way. 

No. 18 – Par 5
This the home of the famed Tiger Trap, which led to a shot by Tiger Woods during the 2000 Canadian Open that still ranks as one of the most famous in golf history. No wonder a lot of first-time visitors throw a ball in there to try out their 6-irons. 

So, there you have it: a guide to your own version of the Canadian Open. Of course, there are a number of other things every starter will tell you when you play Glen Abbey – things like repairing ball marks on greens, replacing or filling divots on the fairways and always making sure you keep up with the group ahead of you. But then, we'll save those for when you actually get there. 

Eric Kohanik is a freelance writer and former Spectator reporter. 

(First published in The Hamilton Spectator - July 26, 2013.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Andrea Martin in "Working The Engels"


Global -- Wednesdays

On Set With "The Engels"

Andrea Martin Is Playing Things
For Laughs Again

By Eric Kohanik

It doesn't happen as often anymore. Every once in a while, though, people still come up and tell Andrea Martin they're surprised she isn't actually a Canadian.

“It used to happen a lot more,” the 67-year-old Martin concedes. “I have a house in Toronto. And my kids were born here. And my career started here, really. I guess I'm a 'landed immigrant.' I consider myself to be a 'North American.' I feel privileged to have worked all over North America.”

Born in Maine, Martin has been surrounded by Canadians for years. She got her big break in Toronto in a 1972 stage production of Godspell that featured such Canadians as Eugene Levy, Victor Garber, Martin Short and Paul Shaffer. After that, she worked with the likes of Dave Thomas and John Candy in the Toronto chapter of Second City. That, in turn, led to a sketch-comedy series called SCTV: Second City Television, where Martin's roster of characters most notably included the indomitable Edith Prickley.

It's been almost 40 years since SCTV first hit TV screens. And Martin admits she often looks back fondly. As for a possible SCTV reunion, Martin waves off the idea.

“It was a special time,” she reflects. “We are all very protective of what we accomplished then.”
Martin has assembled many credits since those days – on TV, in movies and on stage. She is now back on TV in Working The Engels, a comedy series for Global that was also picked up in the U.S. by NBC.

The chance to do TV again was something Martin had been thinking about for a while. “I had spent a lot of time on Broadway doing Pippin,” she says. Her work as the title character's grandmother, Berthe, in the revival of the play won a Tony Award last year for best performance by a featured actress in a musical.

“Before that, I had done my one-woman show on stage,” Martin continues. “Doing all of that for such a long time was exhausting, so I was looking for something different. But I wasn't sure how long I would be able to be in Toronto. Then, this came along and it all worked out.”

Working The Engels is a broad comedy that casts Martin as Celia “Ceil” Engel, the matriarch of a family left in the lurch when Ceil's husband dies and leaves his law firm without a leader. Fortunately for Ceil, her youngest daughter, Jenna (Kacey Rohl), is qualified to run the practice. Unfortunately for Jenna, Ceil insists on working there, too. So do Jenna's pill-popping sister (Azura Skye) and her bad-boy brother (Benjamin Arthur).  

For Rohl, whose credits include mostly dramatic roles in such series as Hannibal and The Killing, the chance to tackle something comedic was a dream. “There aren't a lot of comedy productions in Vancouver,” the 22-year-old B.C. actress says. As for working with Martin, Rohl beams: “I've been like a sponge. I've learned so much.”

Meanwhile, Martin has lots of praise for her co-stars. “The chemistry was there instantly,” she says.

On this particular day, the show is near the half-way point in its 12-episode production schedule. Martin and Skye have been blocking out a hip-hop routine for an episode, improvising something different for every take. In the director's chair, trying to piece it all together, is none other than Jason Priestley.

Working The Engels also has an impressive guest roster in front of the camera for its debut season. Among the pack: Short, Levy, Jayne Eastwood, Colin Mochrie, Jennifer Irwin and Wendy Crewson.

Having familiar friends come back to work with her is something special for Martin.

It also makes her feel like things have come full circle.

“I feel almost like I've gone back to the beginning of my career,” Martin smiles. “We used to shoot SCTV at Global; this is for Global. I used to drive myself to the studio then; I drive myself to the studio now. Not much has changed in 40 years.”

Working The Engels – Global – Wednesdays 

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine -- April 2014.)

Paul Campbell stars in Spun Out


CTV -- Fridays

Spun Out

Star Paul Campbell Hammers Away At His Career -- In More Ways Than One

By Eric Kohanik

Paul Campbell never thought he would be an actor.

“To be perfectly honest, my whole life, I thought I was going to be a carpenter,” the 34-year-old Spun Out star explains. “I started right out of high school. I started framing houses. But Vancouver is rainy eight months out of the year, and I got sick of being cold and wet.”

Born and raised in B.C., Campbell now divides his time between Canada and Los Angeles. And he likes to display his skills in some surprising ways.

If you want proof, check out the tongue-in-cheek mini-biography Campbell wrote about himself on It's a clever entry that claims he made a deal with the Devil when he was 18 to trade his soul for a hammer.

“I still can't believe that one slipped by them,” Campbell laughs. “One of the biggest moments of my entire career is getting that bio up on IMDb.”

One of the other big moments right now is Spun Out, a CTV comedy series that revolves around Campbell as a copywriter at a public-relations firm populated by a quirky collection of characters. The show's ensemble includes Al Mukadam, Holly Deveaux, Rebecca Dalton, J. P. Manoux and Darcy Michael. Dave Foley rounds out the cast as the boss of the firm.

“Foley is such a pro,” Campbell says. “He walked into it like he'd been doing it for a million years. He is such a veteran and he is such a great member of the team. Just simply observing him, I probably learned more than I ever could taking any sort of acting classes.”

Nevertheless, it was a simple acting class that changed Campbell's career path.

“A friend of mine was taking some acting classes and said, 'Hey, this is really fun. You should come and do this,'” he recalls. “So, I took an acting class and that was it. I went back to work the next week and said, 'Guys, I'm packing up my tools and going to theatre school.' And I did.”

Six months after graduation, he landed his first major TV role, in the 2004 reincarnation of Battlestar Galactica. A steady stream of other credits have followed, including roles in NBC's 2008 revival of Knight Rider and a 2011 series for Showcase called Almost Heroes. Although that show was also a comedy, Spun Out is the first TV series Campbell has done in front of a studio audience.

“It's the first time I've done it for an extended period,” he says. “It really is the most thrilling way to do comedy. What excited me about this project is I love the idea of Canadians making great comedy. There is so much great talent in Canada. I was really, really happy to get on board.”

Campbell wasn't on any particular quest to do a sitcom when Spun Out came along. He was basically looking for his next job. “That's the life of an actor,” Campbell points out. “You're always looking for the next thing." 

That hasn't dulled his passion for acting, though. “Every day that I'm on set is my favourite day,” Campbell says. “I've never had a day that I wasn't thrilled to be working, whether it was a dramatic piece or a TV-movie or a big film. It doesn't matter where I am and who I'm working with. I love my job. I love what I do.”

That's not to say Campbell has given up carpentry. “I still love woodworking,” he concedes. “I do it all the time.”

In fact, since Spun Out wrapped production on its debut season, Campbell has been honing his craftsmanship down in L.A. “I build furniture,” he says. “And I build custom skateboards for people. Just sort of whatever interests me at the time.”

Spun Out – CTV – Fridays

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine -- April 2014.)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bomb Girls: Facing The Enemy


Global - March 27

The Final Chapter

Those Feisty "Bomb Girls" Wrap Up 
Their Saga With A TV Movie

By Eric Kohanik

The setting is a mostly empty, 114-year-old building that once housed a fabric mill known as the Imperial Cotton Company in the industrial north end of Hamilton, Ont. On one of the upper floors, part of the vast space has been transformed into a grimy old gymnasium, where a boxing ring is ensconced in plumes of smoke. Inside the ring, two women are duking things out as throngs of beer-swilling, fedora-wearing men cheer them on.

If it all looks like a moment plucked from some bygone era, that's because it is.

Welcome to Bomb Girls – The Movie, a two-hour production that continues – and wraps up – the storyline of the once-popular Canadian TV series.

Originally designed as a six-episode drama in 2012, Bomb Girls ended up growing to 18 episodes that continued into a second season. The series revolved around a core group of four women – played by Meg Tilly, Jodi Balfour, Ali Liebert and Charlotte Hegele – who worked in a Canadian munitions factory during the Second World War.

The series attracted a dedicated following of fans who cried foul when Global cancelled the show last year. Protests eventually led the network to greenlight a TV-movie to wrap up the saga.

This particular day of filming finds the tomboyish Betty McRae (Liebert) as one of the two females in the boxing ring. When the stylish Gladys Witham (Balfour) makes an appearance in the crowd and spots Betty, it causes a bit of a distraction, in more ways than one.

For Balfour, the chance to revive the role of Gladys was one she eagerly awaited.

“It feels great,” she says during a break. “We're obviously dealing with a bunch of new subject matter, but it still feels like coming back to familiar territory. There's an element of comfort in coming 'home' and there's a sense of community to the show, which is part of what I love so much about it.”

Born and raised in South Africa, Balfour graduated from the University of Cape Town in 2009 before she and her family moved to B.C. Her list of credits includes various TV projects, including a role this season in CBC's political comedy-drama, The Best Laid Plans. Nevertheless, Balfour is still best known for her work as Gladys.

“She's kind of the role of a lifetime, particularly in the way they keep writing her and developing her,” Balfour says. “Every year, I get to tackle a real sense of growth in her. She has so many colours I get to play with – like vulnerability and fear and sensitivity and insecurity. And then I also get to play with a sense of courage. It's a really cool range of things that I get to play, so I count myself lucky.”

Written by Donald Martin and directed by Jerry Ciccoritti, Bomb Girls: Facing The Enemy picks up the storyline six months after the events at the conclusion of the series. There have been changes in all of the women's lives. In some cases, the changes are significant.

“It's bit of a tricky time for Gladys,” Balfour explains. “She is longing to see her best friend. And, you know, the central theme of Gladys' life is this inescapable loneliness that she deals with a lot of the time.”

While the primary purpose of Bomb Girls: Facing The Enemy is to tie up loose ends from the series, it also takes the show's plot a bit further. And that thrilled Balfour and her castmates.

“We were obviously all really sad when the show was cancelled but very aware of how lucky we are to get to do this,” Balfour points out. “I think many shows see themselves being cancelled and don't get this opportunity.

“It not only serves us an opportunity to tell the story some more, but also serves us an opportunity to get a little bit of closure, for us as well as for the audience. It's a nice opportunity to get to see everyone one more time.”

Bomb Girls: Facing The Enemy – Global – March 27

(A portion of this story was published in Channel Guide Magazine - April 2014.)

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Enrico Colantoni is back in Remedy


Global -- Mondays

Finding Middle Ground

Enrico Colantoni Straddles The Fence Between 
Comedy And Drama In "Remedy"

By Eric Kohanik

Enrico Colantoni admits he sometimes feels out of place when it comes to his career.

“I am still a man without a home,” the 51-year-old actor half-jokes inside his dressing-room trailer in downtown Toronto. “I have kids in Los Angeles. I have parents in Italy. But right now, there's nothing more rewarding than feeling appreciated by the people that I was born into. I was born in Canada. There's something huge about that. I don't think I would have done it any differently.”

Born in Toronto, Colantoni graduated from the Yale School of Drama in the U.S. and carved out a career in American television, from such comedies as Hope & Gloria and Just Shoot Me! to dramas including Veronica Mars and Person of Interest. But it was his five-year stint back in Canada, as tactical-police-squad sergeant Greg Parker on CTV's Flashpoint, that added another twist.

“Parker was fantastic. He was wonderful to play,” Colantoni recalls. “But after leaving that show, all I yearned for was something a little lighter.”

Longing for stuff on the other side of the fence isn't new for Colantoni. “I like exactly what I'm not doing in the moment,” he concedes. “A day didn't go by on Just Shoot Me! where I wouldn't go, 'I want to do something dramatic, single camera.' The good thing is I always get what I ask for.”

Colantoni figures he has found a good compromise in a new Global series called Remedy. The show revolves around fictional Bethune General Hospital, where the adventures of those interacting on the upper floors of the hospital occasionally intersect with the misadventures that occur in the basement of the building. Colantoni tops the ensemble as Dr. Allen Conner, the chief of staff who spends most days on the upper decks of Bethune General. At the opposite end is Frank Kanaskie (Patrick McKenna), who works in the basement as the supervisor of transport and housekeeping.

“There's a lot of an Upstairs, Downstairs dynamic to this show,” Colantoni says. “That's the tone of the show when those two worlds meet. Allen is constantly battling two worlds. I think that's what's going to set it apart from other medical dramas.”

The interactions often have comical consequences, which appealed to Colantoni. “The biggest reason I wanted to do it, from an acting perspective, is that there is comedy in it,” he explains. “It really is a hybrid. It's not the comedy of Just Shoot Me! It's not the drama of Flashpoint. It's right in the middle.

“There's an undertow to this show that makes me laugh. It's either built in with the dynamic of the relationship of the family members or, sometimes, it's just blatant comedy. That's what intrigued me.” Colantoni is also tackling other chores on Remedy; he is directing the sixth episode.

“To be able to see something from that perspective, it turns the light bulb back on,” Colantoni says. “Doors that were closed to me at one time are now open for me on this show. That just makes me feel like I'm welcome, that my opinions have value, that I have a stake in it. It's the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

“That's why I came back to Canada. I've gotten to play historic figures, heroic figures and, now, I'm allowed to direct an episode of a television show in its first season – in its first season! – which is unheard of and generous beyond everything I've ever experienced. That's what I love about being home.

“I'm Canadian again. I'm here. I want to stay,” Colantoni says, and then adds with a smile, “unless somebody wants me back in the States.”

Remedy – Global – Mondays

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - March 2014.)

Canadian Screen Awards / Juno Awards


CBC - Sunday, March 9 

CTV - Sunday, March 30

Move Over, Oscar!

Canada Gets Set To Roll Out Red Carpets 
For The Junos And The "Screenies"

By Eric Kohanik

Down in Hollywood, the Oscars will get the usual lion's share of attention when they hit the tube on March 2. North of the border, though, the lights are shining on two Canadian spectacles striving to stake out their own claims on the airwaves.

The 2014 Canadian Screen Awards return to CBC on March 9. Nestled inside Toronto's Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, the awards are still in their relative infancy, this being only their second foray into the densely populated arena of televised award shows.

Already nicknamed the “Screenies” around Canadian industry circles, the Canadian Screen Awards were born last year, after the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television merged its existing prizes for Canadian movies (the Genie Awards, launched in 1980) with the accolades handed out for English-language Canadian television (the Gemini Awards, launched in 1986). The merger was accentuated by the launch of Canadian Screen Week, an annual celebration leading up to the award show.

Veteran actor/comedian Martin Short is back to host the CSAs again this year, thanks in part to his energy-filled turn at the helm of last year's inaugural broadcast.

The 2014 Juno Awards are set to grab their own chunk of the Canadian TV spotlight. This year's awards return to CTV on March 30. This time around, the setting is Winnipeg.

Juno Week celebrations will include another Juno Cup celebrity-hockey game, a two-day JunoFest music showcase and several other attractions. Capping off the week, of course, is the award ceremony at Winnipeg's MTS Centre.

In addition to saluting the year's top Canadian music achievements, the show will pay tribute to this year's Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees: Blair Thornton, Fred Turner, Randy Bachman and Robin Bachman, better known for many years as Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

While the Junos and the “Screenies” likely won't come close to the glitz and worldwide attention of Hollywood's biggest night of the year, that doesn't matter. Canadian viewers can expect both award shows to pack a unique punch of their own. 

The 2014 Canadian Screen Awards – CBC – March 9
The 2014 Juno Awards – CTV – March 30

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - March 2014.)

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Cityline Celebrates 25th Anniversary


City -- Wednesdays

City -- February 25

Blasts From The Past

Tracy Moore Marks The 25th Anniversary Of
"Cityline" With A Walk Down "Memory" Lane

By Eric Kohanik

It's “Fashion Friday” on Cityline and the studio audience is buzzing inside City's production centre in downtown Toronto.

Minutes before taping begins, host Tracy Moore chats up the crowd before choosing one person to undergo a makeover that makes jaws drop at the end of the show. After the taping is done, exhilarated audience members file out, still abuzz over what they've seen – and over their gift bags containing products highlighted on the show.

“I want to sit in that audience and get those prizes,” Moore jokes later.

Cityline has been a daytime staple for a quarter-century, growing from a local show to a popular fixture across Canada. With most episodes featuring themes – including “Around the House,” “Family Day,” “Home Day” and “Fashion Friday” – the show has built its following with the help of a lengthy roster of lifestyle experts who make regular guest appearances.

Cityline will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a primetime special on Feb. 25. Hosted by Moore, it will showcase highlights pulled from Cityline's archives.

“It's going to be a walk down memory lane, for sure.” Moore says.

At the helm of Cityline for just over five years, the 39-year-old Moore is the third regular host in the show's history. Although Dini Petty headlined the show when it launched, it was Marilyn Denis who was the face of Cityline from 1989 until 2008.

Amid the complex division of media assets after ChumCity (then City's parent company) was acquired by CTVglobemedia (now Bell Media) in 2007, Denis (also a morning-radio co-host on Toronto's CHUM-FM) ended up in CTV's bullpen. The network eventually launched The Marilyn Denis Show in 2011, using a format similar to Cityline.

Citytv and Cityline, meanwhile, became part of the Rogers media empire. After Denis' departure in May 2008, the show used a series of guest hosts before making Moore the regular host in October.

“It's been a good run,” Moore reflects. “I don't even think we thought it was going to be this amazing. It's really turned out well.”

A married mother of two, Moore started her career as an intern at CTV before becoming a videographer at CBC. She worked in news at CBC Newsworld (now called CBC News Network) and Toronto 1 (now known as Sun News) before jumping to City's Breakfast Television as its reporter and backup news anchor. After taking time off to have her first child, Moore decided to switch gears, becoming one of Cityline's guest hosts before landing the gig as regular host.

Coming from a news background, Moore says it was “about a year-and-a-half” before she felt comfortable in the role. “It's such a big show that, for the first few months, you're trying to figure out who these guest experts are, what the tone is supposed to be, and how to deal with a live audience,” she says. “Doing a live lifestyle show is about instant reaction and that's a tough transition. It took a few months to really understand how Cityline connects with viewers.”

Cityline's longtime supervising producer, Chrissie Rejman, disagrees with how soon Moore caught on. “It was over the course of a month,” Rejman insists. “Tracy was laughing. She was forgetting that she was 'interviewing' somebody and, instead, she was having a conversation. That was the difference. That's what we looked for.”

Rejman is effusive in praising how Moore connects with viewers – and the studio audience. “What Tracy is absolutely fantastic at is she's always willing, after the show, to have her photo taken,” says Rejman. “That personal contact with everybody is a really important ingredient.”

For her part, Moore says she is just trying to be herself. “With television being the way it is right now, people need a little bit of levity with their information,” she says. “This is what I get from the audience.

“They have a date with us every morning. They trust us. And we take that very seriously.”

Cityline – City – weekdays
Cityline 25th Anniversary Special – City – Feb. 25

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - February 2014.)

CBC is back in Olympic spotlight


CBC and other channels - Beginning Feb. 7

Going For Gold

After Almost Six Years On The Sidelines, 
CBC Jumps Back Into The Olympic Spotlight

By Eric Kohanik

It's been close to six years since CBC was the official Canadian broadcaster for the Olympics. And, for CBC Sports Weekend host Scott Russell, sitting on the sidelines for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2012 Summer Games in London wasn't easy to stomach.

“It was, personally, tough to be out for two Olympics,” Russell admits. “Although I went to Vancouver and to London, it was in a much different role. We're so happy to be back in the Olympic broadcasting business at CBC. We couldn't be more excited.”

CBC once had a lengthy run of Olympic coverage. Before the CTV/Rogers Olympic Consortium scooped up rights to Winter 2010 and Summer 2012, CBC had billed itself as “Canada's Olympic Network” since 1996, broadcasting the Winter Games in Nagano (1998), Salt Lake City (2002) and Turin (2006) as well as the Summer Games in Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).

CBC unveiled its broadcast team for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi at the network's headquarters in Toronto back on Oct. 30 as it kicked off a 100-day countdown to the opening ceremonies on Feb. 7. Chief news anchor Peter Mansbridge and Hockey Night in Canada veteran Ron MacLean will cohost coverage of the ceremonies from Sochi's Fisht Olympic Stadium. CBC's English-language Olympic telecasts will then be split into four major dayparts.

Diana Swain and David Amber will co-host Olympic Morning each day, while Russell will man the anchor desk for Olympic Daytime. MacLean will take on evening hosting duties on Olympic Primetime, while Andi Petrillo and Andrew Change will co-host Olympic Overnight.

Time-zone differences will be a major factor. Many live events will air during the mornings and afternoons in Canada. And that will actually put Russell and his Olympic Daytime telecasts into a “prime” spotlight.

“There's a lot going on in that time slot and that's perfect,” Russell says. “We'll be moving around from venue to venue in order to capture as many things as we can that are going on, live.”

CBC's mainline TV coverage will be supplemented by TSN, TSN2 and Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet One as well as CBC News Network. Radio coverage will be divvied up between CBC Radio and TSN Radio, while French-language TV coverage will be split between Radio-Canada and RDS.

Meanwhile, online coverage at will also offer a wide variety of video content. Most notable among that will be live online streaming of Olympic competitions.

There have been a lot of technological and social-media innovations since the last time CBC was Canada's official Olympic broadcaster. And Russell admits that will mean new challenges.

“I mean, the last time we covered the Olympics, in Beijing, I'm pretty sure that the iPad didn't exist,” Russell jokes. “I'm also positive that Twitter was not a factor, right? So, this immediacy is a challenge. And the multi-platform situation is also a challenge.

“But I think it's something we've concentrated on at CBC. The way we approach Sports Weekend is now very much a multi-platform strategy. And that's the way Canadians want to consume the Olympics. They need the information as it happens.”

CBC has high ratings hopes for its coverage in Sochi. No wonder. Canadians have always had a fondness for the Winter Games.

“We have this feeling of being a winter nation,” Russell muses. “We are able to race down the mountains, to play on frozen ponds. So, yeah, these are Games that we are comfortable with. And we are comfortable being at the head of the class in the Winter Games.

“I think that's the way the country is built. We are a country of extremes. Our geography lends itself to playing outside in the winter, and to hockey and skiing and curling and all of these things that are about us as Canadians. And so I think it's only natural that, when it comes to the Winter Games, we sit up and take notice.”

2014 Winter Olympics – CBC and other channels – beginning Feb. 7

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - February 2014.)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Murdoch Mysteries


CBC -- Series premiere Jan. 5;
Mondays beginning Jan. 6

Top Cop

Yannick Bisson Continues To Shine As 
The Artful Detective Of "Murdoch Mysteries"

By Eric Kohanik

It's a sunny fall day and there is much to celebrate inside Toronto's Sullivan Studios.

Production is almost done on another season of Murdoch Mysteries. Over on the police-station set, Yannick Bisson is wrapping up his scenes as William Murdoch, the Victorian-era detective whose artful sleuthing helps solve the cases facing the Toronto Constabulary each week.

“It seems everything gets the most intense and the most difficult in the last week,” the 44-year-old Bisson concedes during a break.

A 30-year acting veteran, Bisson has a fondness for Murdoch. “It's certainly been the most rewarding role yet,” the Montreal native says. “We've had some pretty big setbacks happen for him. There's been a bit of a glass ceiling for him in terms of how far he can go in his career. Between that and romance, he's taken a few hits.”

Bisson is backed by a solid ensemble, including Thomas Craig as Inspector Thomas Brackenreid, Jonny Harris as Constable George Crabtree, Hélène Joy as Dr. Julia Ogden and Georgina Reilly as Dr. Emily Grace. Nevertheless, Bisson grapples with certain challenges.

“It's always been relatively easy to do,” he says of recreating the show's historical feel. “You show up and they've got these great clothes that sort of bundle you in. You flip across the parking lot onto a set that they've put so much effort into. The scripts are so wonderful. You really do step out of your trailer and step back in time.

“That part is easy. The toughest part for me is the endurance. In one day, we do three times the average person's workday, just by virtue of the hours, the intensity and the speed that we work at. So, in five months, you can get burned out. You have to take care of your body. You've got to stay fit, exercise a lot, get out in the sun and recharge.”

The end of any show's season is enough to fuel a wrap party. But there are a lot more reasons to celebrate now.

Based on the Detective Murdoch novels by Maureen Jennings, Murdoch Mysteries is now in its seventh season, but only its second on CBC. The show had been in the domain of Rogers Broadcasting, airing on its chain of Citytv stations. Although it was successful, Rogers executives decided the series no longer fit their revamped City brand. They pulled the plug after the fifth season.

“It was definitely a low point,” Bisson told a Toronto crowd of fans in November, after a screening at the inaugural Canadian International Television Festival. “We had done five years. We had good ratings, really solid ratings. It was real disheartening. It was discouraging.”

That didn't last long. According to producers, CBC called 24 hours after Rogers ditched the show.
A ramped-up publicity campaign by CBC took “Murdoch Mysteries” to new heights of popularity last season. The network then boosted the usual 13-episode order to 18 this season. After a break for the Winter Olympics next month, the series will resume with its extra instalments.

“It's certainly a new outlook,” Bisson says back on the set. “It's been fun doing the show for somebody who wants it.”

With 1.6 million viewers (including regular TV, on-demand viewing and online streaming), Murdoch Mysteries is Canada's top-rated homegrown drama. But its reach goes farther. The show airs in more than 100 international markets – including the U.S., where it was recently picked up by Ovation, which is airing all 96 episodes of the seven seasons under a different title: The Artful Detective.

Whatever the moniker, the exploits of Detective William Murdoch and company continue to shine brightly. And although Bisson has worked in the U.S., the Murdoch Mysteries resurgence has refuelled his passion for Canadian TV.

“I think, artistically, we have much, much better product,” Bisson says. “Also, you know, I'm a Canadian. I'm very much loyal to that. I'm very much a proponent of the Canadian industry. It has given a lot to me. And I have a lot to give back.”

Murdoch Mysteries – CBC – Mondays

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - January 2014.)

The Best Laid Plans


CBC -- Series premiere Jan. 5;
Mondays beginning Jan. 6

Party Animals

Ottawa's Backroom Shenanigans Get 
A Playful Political Jab In "The Best Laid Plans"

By Eric Kohanik

Jonas Chernick admits he hasn't really paid much attention to the scandals, backroom dealings and other political-party shenanigans that take place on Parliament Hill.

“I can honestly say that, while I knew that went on, it wasn't something that I've ever had an interest in personally,” the 40-year-old Winnipeg-born actor confesses. “I'm not the most political person. I keep myself aware of what's going on. And, of course, I vote. But I'm not a political junkie.”

Nevertheless, when the chance came along to play the political junkie at the core of The Best Laid Plans, Chernick didn't waste any time. He began his campaign to land the role with full force.

“I kind of lobbied for it at first when I heard that the show was going into production,” explains Chernick, who is perhaps best known for doing triple duty as writer, producer and star of a 2012 Canadian movie called My Awkward Sexual Adventure.

“I said, 'I know the story. I know the character and I think I'm right for this.' It was kind of a match made in heaven right away. I really feel like this is one of the best projects I've ever been involved in.”

The Best Laid Plans is a six-episode series that premieres Jan. 5 on CBC, with the remaining instalments airing on Mondays, beginning Jan. 6. Based on the novel of the same name by Terry Fallis, the series takes a lighthearted look at the behind-the-scenes lunacy that often infiltrates the political arena in Ottawa.

The production casts Chernick as Daniel Addison, a down-to-earth guy with a Ph.D. in English who has a passion for teaching but has been working as a speechwriter for George Quimby (Mark McKinney), the Leader of the Opposition.

An ethical guy at heart, Daniel gets overwhelmed by the backroom hijinks of the Hill, not to mention certain backroom "manoeuvring" involving his girlfriend, Rachel (Sarah Allen). And so, he decides to head back into the academic world, where he would be safe from the backstabbing he has endured. Or, at least, so he thinks.

Blackmailed into completing one final assignment by his boss – Quimby's chief of staff, Bradley Stanton (Raoul Bhaneja) – Daniel agrees to recruit and work for a candidate who will challenge the stronghold of a longtime political incumbent (Peter Keleghan). He soon discovers that finding a suitable candidate – or even a less-than-suitable one – isn't so easy.

Many current comedy series rely on documentary-style formats that have characters being “interviewed” to offer comments on their storylines. The Best Laid Plans takes a slightly different approach, using a more traditional theatrical device of breaking down the “fourth wall” by having Daniel (who also narrates the story) turn directly to the camera in various scenes.

“That was really fun and unusual,” Chernick recalls. “I had never done that before. I'm a real fan of that style. One of my favourite movies ever was Ferris Bueller's Day Off. That was the first time I became aware of that storytelling strategy. I spent a lot of time in my prep thinking about and exploring my character's relationship with the audience. That was a unique and exciting discovery for me – and really fun to play.”

The Best Laid Plans is brimming with familiar faces. Among them: Eric Peterson (Corner Gas), Jodi Balfour (Bomb Girls), Leah Pinsent (Made in Canada), Sonja Smits (Traders) and, of particular note, screen veteran Kenneth Welsh – who, without giving too much away, puts in a show-stealing performance as Daniel's gruff and grizzled landlord, Angus McLintock.

Chernick is effusive in his praise for Welsh. “Ken is literally a living legend,” he says. “He is one of the greats in the industry. Acting with him, across from him, is like a master class in film acting because he is truly a natural. When the cameras are rolling on him, anything can happen.

“It's just miraculous to be there with him when that magic is happening.”

The Best Laid Plans – CBC – Series premiere Jan. 5; 
Mondays beginning Jan. 6 

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - January 2014.)