Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Konrad Punted


A football team employs a kicker for two reasons --- to score points and to punt. If his team isn’t in a position to score or even improve its field position, the kicker punts the ball away. This gives his team the opportunity to regroup while the opposition tries to regain the yardage they lost through the punt. Often, punting the ball earns your team even greater advantage than they had before.

Last week, in rendering its long awaited “Decision” on the state of Canadian television, it’s universally agreed that the CRTC punted, issuing their ruling as a Proposal for the future of Canadian TV instead of an edict and leaving the major issue for a Federal court to decide.

But in punting, they may finally have confirmed what team they are really playing for…

Moments after the “Decision” was rendered, several intelligent industry players, including screenwriters Karen Walton and Denis McGrath, warned their various blog and Twitter followers to take into account the source of all analysis and reporting on the details. Tens of Millions of potential profits were riding on the public reaction and the major players all had media outlets spinning the results to their own advantage.

They were prescient warnings, for within moments CTV was reporting it had won the “Save Local TV” battle and John Doyle, TV critic of the network’s conglomerate newspaper, the Globe and Mail, was extolling the virtues of the decision under the title The CRTC Justifies Its Existence. A day later, he continued by scolding the CBC for complaining at being shut out of the potential financial windfall.

Not long after, Phil Lind, Vice-Chair of Rogers Communications, the country’s largest cable company, argued that, “Cable bills will rise dramatically, but the extra money won’t go to Canadian programs. It will go directly to Hollywood to underwrite CTV and Global’s efforts to win the rating wars.”

And while ACTRA predicted the death of Canadian drama, the Writers Guild of Canada and the CFTPA felt they had “been heard”.

The Proposed structure for the future of Canadian broadcasting stipulated the following major points.

1. Private Broadcasters have the right to charge fees for formerly free-to-air broadcasts on cable and satellite.

2. Private broadcasters have the right to Blackout signals for which they own Canadian rights.

3. “Programs of National Interest” replaces Priority programming and is redefined to comprise only drama and comedy, feature documentaries and Award shows.

4. 30% of network gross income must be spent on Canadian programming (5% on Programs of National Interest).

5. Total Canadian Content on Canadian networks reduced from 60% to 55%.

7. Reduced restrictions on where a network’s Canadian Production spend is exhibited. With as much as 25% movable anywhere within the conglomerate holdings.

8. CMF investment no longer counted as part of broadcaster programming spend.

Few of the industry stakeholders addressed how the proposal would affect the Public, the people the CRTC was founded to serve and has a Parliamentary mandate to protect. Even the Commissioners themselves didn’t see fit to address the audience impact until the next day, when they confidently predicted the Public would be okay with it. Rising cable fees hadn’t driven them from to turn off the TV so far, so why would the future be any different…?

Let’s start with that odd observation because the last available figures from 2006 reveal that cable/satellite subscriptions have declined from a high of roughly 77% of all Canadian homes in 1999 to below 65% in 2005. Where do those numbers come from? A CRTC report that the Commissioners obviously didn’t bother to read, but which you can find here.

Has that level of penetration declined further since 2005? Well, this isn’t that scientific a survey, but last summer I became the first guy in my neighborhood to put up an HD Antenna that brings in 32 Channels, including all the content from US networks that private Canadian networks could soon start forcing cable companies to black out. In the half hour it took me to walk my dog this morning, I counted 20 of them within a couple of blocks of my home.

Meanwhile, another report issued this week concluded that Canadians are now spending more time online than watching television, with some of that time spent accessing television style entertainment from the web.

So, I wouldn’t say Canadians are all that eager to pay increased fees to get the same level of programming or maybe even less choice. That opinion is apparently shared by Commissioner Michel Morin who issued a scathing minority report in which he stated, that the CRTC was defending "the interests of the industry to the detriment of consumers who, for their part, remain powerless."

Okay, so where does this leave us?

In my opinion --- nowhere.


Because I don’t think most of what’s been proposed will ever even come to pass.

For starters, the imposition of “value for signal” fees has to be ruled on by the courts. So, there’s a chance the revenue the broadcasters insist they need to survive will be ruled something the CRTC can’t grant them.

Without it, the broadcasters are already on record as saying they can’t continue to provide their current levels of service. And that means a lot of the percentages of gross going into Canadian programming spend will just continue to get eaten up by news and other local requirements.

And even if the courts rule the fee can be collected, there’s currently a government in power who only months ago reversed a CRTC ruling on mobile phones to encourage lower fees. And if there’s one thing that politicians know makes the electorate angry, it’s an increase in their cable bills.

If the broadcasters get over those two hurdles, they face another that nobody seems to have considered. By the time the court rules, Shaw Communications will have acquired a controlling interest in the Global network and its partner specialty channels. Shaw thinks better management practices will eliminate the need for any “value for signal’ fees. As noted above, Rogers, owner of another group of stations, feels the same.

If these two don’t charge additional fees for their programming, that leaves CTV as the lone broadcaster looking for extra money. And since you can get CTV in almost any major market with an HD antenna or even rabbit ears, how many people are going to happily pay that extra fee?

Bill Brioux, a TV analyst utterly opposed to the imposition of such fees from the get-go, currently has a poll on his site which (as of this morning) indicates 43% of respondents won’t countenance any “value for signal” fees and another 24% who’d unplug from cable if their bill goes up by more than $10. Those living in Ontario may or may not be aware that their cable bills are already increasing by 8% with the introduction of the HST Tax on July 1.

It would appear we’re rapidly approaching a point where many will be looking at alternatives to continuing to pay for the lacklustre service re-broadcasters like CTV provide.

Unlike most of the CTV or CanWest friendly newspapers that played up the CRTC press release of last week on the $116 Million “losses” our free to air broadcasters suffered last year (perhaps softening us up for the “Decision”), Brioux reminded his readers that half of that “loss” could be ascribed to CTV overbidding for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics, with the rest accounted for by increased spending on American programming and the relentless “Save Local TV” Ad campaign.

So far the best line on this whole issue also comes from Brioux, “The CRTC is defending the right of Canadian Broadcasters to black out ‘Gossip Girl’!”

In other words a Canadian regulator is making sure a Hollywood studio continues to earn a foreign sale of its programming.

And here’s my question on both the blackout issue and the few Canadian shows I now get from our private broadcasters…

Will they also black out the online version that goes up a few hours after the terrestrial broadcast?

And more important --- if CTV wants me to pay an additional $1 a month to watch “Hiccups”, “Dan For Mayor” and “The Bridge” does that mean I have to pay to see them online as well? Or will there be some kind of two-tier system whereby CTV subscribers get the online version free and others do not?

How’d you like to be the IT guy or lawyer navigating that broadcaster/cable/rights holder swamp --- a swamp that got even more complicated with new CMF rules that won’t fund TV shows that don’t have a significant online component.

How do you tell taxpayers they funded your show and the web presence and they still have to pay some more to access it?

Can you not see more and more people actively looking for alternatives to a cable or satellite feed…?

Luckily, the Google/Sony box will be available about 4 months before any of this can even be put into effect.

All of which kind of makes the rules on Cancon, shows of National interest and how it all gets paid for close to moot.


But to touch on them briefly…

As referenced in the post from last Friday --- can someone please explain why our broadcasters can exhibit their Canadian programming over any part of their broadcast systems, but don’t have to include those same enormously profitable Specialty channels in any calculation to determine whether they needed “value for signal” fees in the first place?

And what’s with Award shows being classed as “Programs of National Interest”? Except for the Juno Awards, the Much Music Awards and maybe the Canadian Country Music Association soiree, our award broadcasts elicit a resounding National Disinterest. Why show support for drama and not the arts which the successful Award shows celebrate like Music and Variety?

Or are Award shows tucked in there so Ben Mulroney’s Red carpet interviews still qualify? And could that be expanded when all of this gets re-argued at the Fall license renewal hearings so our nets get to keep the cheap Gossip magazine shows that can deliver more of that 5% spend in-house.

While others may make the case that the reduced total Cancon requirement and deduction of CMF investment still means the nets will spend more on their Canadian shows, the industry seems to be voting otherwise.

Days after the new proposals were released, CORE Digital declared bankruptcy and laid off 150 staff. Children’s producer Cookie Jar downsized by another 35, while other companies further diminish or merge to survive. In Saskatchewan, the SCN network announced it will be going dark permanently, eliminating one more domestic market.

Cancon Production was down by 12% last year. And since these new proposals don’t become concrete for another year and after the next round of license renewals, we have no more industry stability than we had before they were announced.

Indeed the private networks are already re-iterating their demand for new money in order to make the 2011 deadline for converting the nation to digital transmission. The Federal Government has already said that won’t come from them. Nor will whatever is required to convert to 3D broadcasting which debuts in much of the rest of the world this summer.

Can you not envision the CRTC knuckling to broadcaster needs once more this Fall when the threat to close more stations will not revolve around local news but HD signals and the only way the deadline can be met will be by reducing that 30% of gross to 20 or maybe even 15 and that 5% to 3 or the 2% its hovered near for the past decade.

If the courts and federal government don’t rule in favor of “value for signal” fees or there is a consumer backlash to elevated cable bills, you know the broadcasters will once again get whatever they want.

And this proposal, which is not a final decision, is their way of getting the punted ball back. Proving, to me at least, that the CRTC has been playing for them all along and not the rest of those involved in the industry, be they creators or the viewing public.

When the kicker for a football team loses his kicking foot he’s either fired or traded away. The same should be true for a regulatory commission who either can’t or won’t adhere to their Parliamentary mandate.

It’s time for Federal Heritage Minister James Moore to either fire or trade Konrad von Finckenstein and the rest of the CRTC Commissioners. They were appointed to serve the Public but have repeatedly chosen to play for a different team. Our industry can’t survive their continual broadcaster favoritism and the endless uncertainty that creates within the industry.

It’s time for a change.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 112: The March Blues

In England it’s said that April is the cruellest month. In Canada it’s March and April. This is the time of year when warm weather teases and Winter refuses to loosen its grip. One day you’re walking around in a T-shirt, the next you’re back in the parka.

Forecasts drive you nuts, promising warmer weather Thursday --- make that Friday --- okay, let’s say Monday…maybe.

It’s enough to make the strongest man come down with a case of the Blues.

And while “The Blues” themselves may have been born in the deep South, nurtured by men who never saw snow and had deeper reasons for clawing at the bitter pills Life had served them; trust me when I say that even the palest Canadian looks out his morning window at yet another dull day and “gets” The Blues.

When I first moved to Toronto in the early 1970’s, there was a thriving Blues scene. Clubs up and down Yonge Street showcased incredible bands like “Powder Blues”, “King Biscuit Boy” and “The Lincolns”, led by inimitable bassist Prakash John. “The Downchild Blues Band” literally lived at Grossman’s tavern, where you could spend $2 for a pitcher of beer on a Saturday afternoon, listening to set after set, while guys like Taj Mahal were doing the same in a chair leaned up against the back wall.

I literally worked side by side with Morgan Davis as he scraped together the stake to cut his first album. David Wilcox and Billy James busked on street corners. Long John Baldry moved here from the UK and must have sent letters home, because it was soon commonplace for bands like “Savoy Brown” to show up for a gig at The Brunswick House while “The Rolling Stones” made the city their second home.

There are so many people I could choose to give you a taste of the current Canadian Blues scene. Morgan Davis keeps whipping up great music like “Waffle House Blues”. Prakash John still plays with “The Lincolns” but has also fathered a second generation of Rythmn and Blues brilliance in his son Jordan.

But I think the guy the rest of the world most needs to meet is Matt Andersen. This is a young man from New Brunswick with immense talent. It’s been said that while the Blues have to be sung from your balls, Matt Andersen sings them from Nature’s own balls.

This morning, when Nature must feel like its nuts are hanging from a brass monkey and the sun is never coming back, Matt’s version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” is about as fitting as it gets.

In the rest of the world, March comes in like a Lion and goes out like a lamb. Here (with props to Dennis Miller or Bill Murray) it comes in like a Lion and leaves like a Sasquatch on bad drugs. Use this to get you through…

And Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Bits and Pieces

It’s been a far too busy week over here at the Legion, so blogging has suffered. I’m also still laboring with the CRTC “Decision”, which is actually a kinda proposal which may or may not still be up for revision come this Fall’s license renewals. But I promise to get on top of that this weekend and have a deconstruction by Monday.

cowboy and calf

One thing about the so-called decision confuses me, however. (Actually several things do, but one in particular) And it’s something I haven’t seen addressed in any of the press coverage (biased or non) and stakeholder reactions that I’ve read.

During the whole “Save Local TV” campaign, the networks all claimed they couldn't cross-collateralize their earnings to prop up their local stations. And we all know that if they did, their profitable specialty channels would more than offset the losses of those Free-to-Air stations.

Yet, what's now proposed is that they will soon be able to schedule their produced Canadian programming across all parts of their conglomerate, not placing any of it on their main networks if they so desire.

So --- how come the broadcasters are recognized as a whole herd of related channels when it's advantageous to them but seen as helpless stray calves when they need us to ride in and rescue them with fees for carriage?

It doesn't compute...

--- unless the Commission is once again abandoning its Parliamentary mandate and protecting broadcasters instead of the public.

But let’s leave all that for next week.

Meantime, I wanted to drop three little tidbits that crossed my computer screen today that you might want to consider or partake in over the weekend.

To begin, Telefilm darling, Atom Egoyan, will release his star-studded film “Chloe” today. According to the Box-Office Mojo website, this is the American theatre count for its debut…

new releases

What does it tell you about the kind of films Telefilm finances when Canada's foremost Auteur gets 2400 fewer theatres than "Hot Tub Time Machine" and 3700 fewer than a kid’s film?

Have any of their confabs on popularizing Canadian film ever considered that maybe funding a few low-brow comedies or family films might make it possible to have even more money coming in to spend on the Festival and Art House fare that doesn’t have a hope of ever making a dime?

Plus creating a thriving production industry and perhaps English language box-office to boot…

Although, when I suggested that the above image should be tacked up in every single Telefilm cubicle, a local wag, who’d probably prefer to remain nameless quipped, “No, they’d see it as a badge of honor. Look...306 screens! That's 300 more than ‘One Week’!"

Please see “Chloe” if that’s your taste or you feel it really will help turn the industry around.

But if you want to see some good movies in the “Art” category this weekend, slip on over to The Auteurs where you can stream nine past winners of the Cannes Film Festival for free --- after filling out a quick (and also free) registration form. The films include:

          Amacord (Italy 1974)

          L'Avventura (Italy 1960)

          Dancer in the Dark (Denmark 2000)

          Fat Girl (France 2001)

          Mon Oncle (France 1958)

          Harakiri (Japan 1962)

          Divorce Italian Style (Italy 1961)

          Tulpan (Germany 2008)

          Our Beloved Month of August (Portugal 2008)

This mini film festival is sponsored by Stella Artois, so maybe pick up a six pack of those delicious bevvies to accompany (and say thanks for) the streaming.

And finally, if you need to find me on Sunday night, I’ll be parked in front of the tube with a couple of cold Molson Canadians for a film that’ll probably never play the Art House circuit. CBC’s “Keep Your Head Up, Kid!” – the biopic of Canadian hockey icon Don Cherry airs at 8:00 pm.


I’ve had the good fortune to read the script as well as catch bits and pieces of the finished film and its makers need to be commended for not only telling a great ‘warts and all’ tale but of bringing realistic hockey action to the screen. Don’t miss it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What He Said...

We think so much alike that sometimes I feel fellow Regina raised filmmaker Trevor Cunningham is my illegitimate offspring. If that's somehow actually the case, he luckily got his looks from his mother...

I first found Trevor a little over a year ago when his original blog SECRET LAB X began trending in the same subject loops as my own. Reading him for the first time was one of those rare moments in life where you realize you're neither crazy nor as out there as you thought you might be.

Like that other Regina creative icon, Will Dixon, Trevor brings a regional perspective to the discussion of all things Canadian TV and film that is a breath of clean prairie air carrying the kind of hard nosed realism that wouldn't be out of place in a Hollywood studio, but sadly is within the corridors of Canadian media power.

Trevor is a guy that everybody who actually wants to make a film or TV show in this country should be reading. He has a new self titled site up and running now that you can find here or over to the right on my sidebar.

Hopefully, he'll soon archive the fine things he concocted back in the Secret Lab. But for now you can read his take on the collapse of the Saskatchewan film industry and what it portends for the rest of the country if we don't --- well --- wake the fuck up.

Sometime Monday (or today since that's when most of you will be reading this) the CRTC will release its far too long awaited report on Canadian Television, including its decision on "fee for carriage" or "value for service" or whatever other bureaucratese is chosen to least offend those with their hands out.

Whatever that decision is, it will signal a major change in the way media business is done in this country. That might be good for some of us. And it just as easily might be very bad.

Days after the CRTC decision, the Canadian Media Fund will drop the other shoe. We already have a good idea what sound that one's going to make when it hits. So it might well be time for each of us Creatives to do some of the soul searching Trevor is suggesting.

In anticipation of all this, I've spent the weekend examining some of those new options myself. For starters, I want to recommend two that you all should take into consideration.

First, there is this interview with Jeff Lipsky, co-founder of October Films and independent film pioneer and icon on what he sees coming down the road.

And all of you thinking of escaping into cyberspace with your pencils and moleskin might want to pick up a copy of Internet Guru Jaron Lanier's YOU ARE NOT A GADGET.

By reading a guy who's correctly predicted the online future (pretty much since its invention) you'll discover that those wise bureaucrats at the CMF who have designed what will be our Canadian web tomorrow are so wrong it's almost criminal.

But those in Ottawa who would govern our lives have been wrong before, haven't they?

So start by reading Trevor and maybe thinking about finally letting go of daddy's hand and taking a couple of baby steps on your own for a change.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lazy Sunday #111: Thin Ice

It's finally Spring in this part of the world. That doesn't necessarily mean we're already in T-shirts and tossing back cold ones on the patio. Winter around here can seldom have been confidently dispatched until the end of May.

But the ice and snow are melting and that marks the beginning of all the warnings about thin ice and reminders that if you do fall into some stream or river, you've only got a couple of minutes before hypothermia sets in.

Instead of inspiring care and caution, this is a sign to some of the locals that you'd better get in the last of the winter thrills.

We've already lost a couple of kayakers in my hometown and further West, Spring avalanches are claiming snowmobilers in tragic numbers.

Snowmobiling is a sport that can be hazardous at the best of times. Each winter several of the heavy machines go through lake and river ice, taking riders to a cold and quick end. These things do not float...

Unless you work at it.

The following video was shot just a few miles from my home. The practice illustrated is frowned on and for the most part illegal. But for some Canadians it's the only way to give Winter a final "We beat you again, Big Guy!" before parking the snow horse and launching into whatever warm weather thrills inspire you.

Please don't try this at home. But take a few moments to sample. And Enjoy your Sunday.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The St. Paddy's Day Sick Note

I know all my friends of Irish and Wannabe Irish persuasions will be well into the Guinness, Bushmill's and Jameson's tonight. So I offer the following as public service when Thursday morning comes around and you need to find an excuse to book off work.

Have yourselves a lovely time and "May the Good Lord hold you always in his hand and never close his fist too tight".

SlĂ inte!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Guy With The Movie In His Head


I don’t usually do reviews, but I’m breaking that rule today because I want to talk about CTV’s new cop drama “The Bridge”.

Prior to its debut, the series was hyped as “polarizing” and “controversial”. But I sensed something else in the pilot, something I can only describe as disturbing and ultimately destructive.

There’s a lot I don’t pretend to speak on with much authority. But one topic I understand fairly well is cops. I’ve written police pilots for all of the major American networks and a couple up here. Almost all were shot, a couple turned into successful television series, one wildly so.

During four seasons of “Top Cops” on CBS, we did 96 episodes comprising 3 stories per week, each a faithfully recreated true crime. The process of making sure those stories retained their authenticity was intense.

I logged hundreds of hours on ridealongs in high crime neighborhoods in several American cities. Days were spent shadowing detectives or federal agents, nights in cop hangouts, noting the special things they knew about criminals and the rest of us. Learning, perhaps most of all, what made them tick.

Some were good cops and some were bad. Their ranks were comprised of decent and dedicated men and women as well as racists, misogynists, sadists and malcontents. Sometimes those less laudable attributes didn’t interfere with the way they did their jobs.

Sometimes they did.

During our four season run, I attended funerals for cops whose loss cut the hearts out of their departments. I watched corruption scandals tarnish an entire force. Mostly I remember one Latino officer, standing before a mob during the Rodney King riots, refusing to anger as he was repeatedly spat upon by people who would never know how hard he’d fought for them.

None of us can fully comprehend what these people try to scrub off before they go home.

But some don’t wash it away. They turn it into something else.

It was easy to write stories about these cops. Audiences like heroes who are straight-shooters. They like flawed heroes and anti-heroes. And they even connect with those who do the right thing despite their imperfect nature.

What they don’t accept are heroes who are dishonest, who pretend to be something they’re not.

Our story process on “Top Cops” began with a team of journalists led by true crime writer and novelist Lorenzo Carcaterra, best known for “Sleepers” later made into a Barry Levinson film starring Brad Pitt, Billy Crudup and Robert DeNiro, as well as the superb cop novel “Apaches”.

If a cop and his story rang true for Lorenzo, we pitched it to CBS. If approved, the premise faced a second hurdle in Executive Producer, Sonny Grosso, a former NYPD detective immortalized in “The French Connection” and “The Seven Ups”. Sonny approached each story and script as he would questioning a suspect.


“You’re supposed to do this. Why’s he doing that?”, “Nobody makes that kind of connection. He’s left something out.” and “Bullshit! She’s making this up!”

Once a police officer and his story got past those two guys he had to deal with me. I was the one who had to make audiences engage, no matter how unfamiliar the story felt compared to all the cop dramas they had seen.

dirty harry

The officers we eventually dramatized ran the gamut from those you’d immediately trust with your life to ones whose dark motto was “Plug ‘em and plant ‘em!”. All of their approaches worked when it came to creating arresting drama.

The guys we stayed away from, were the ones who knew their lives would somehow look all right if they could see them on the silver screen.

Some were flamboyant story tellers. Others seethed in silence. They had hand tooled leather jackets or signature accessories. They drove cars connected with cops named “Bullit” or “Starsky and Hutch”. Everything about them said, “I’m already a movie. Shoot me!”

They went out of their way to let you know you could never understand the secret codes of policing and that the only reason you could sleep safely at night was because “I’m out there”.

They were keepers of some sacred flame only they could comprehend. You could never build a story around them, because the foundation wasn’t solid. You never knew what the story was trying to accomplish. And if you didn’t --- how could the audience?

Which brings me back to “The Bridge”.

The series is the brain child of Craig Bromell, described thusly by Susanne Boyce, President, Creative, Content and Channels, CTV Inc.:

“Craig Bromell is one of the most galvanizing figures in the history of policing in Canada. We look forward to working with him on THE BRIDGE, and bringing to Canadian audiences a distinct and authentic view of life behind the scenes of a modern police force.”

Said distinct and authentic view is based on Bromell’s experiences as head of the Toronto Police Union during the 1990’s. Aaron Douglas (BSG), plays series lead Frank Leo, a no nonsense cop elected head of his police union. In the pilot, like Bromell in real life, Leo leads a wildcat police strike and gets into confrontations with police brass and other forms of authority while fighting for his union brothers.

A CTV Press release describes what’s coming in future episodes as follows:

“Frank Leo begins his quest to put street cops first and clean up the force from the ground up. But the old boys’ network running the police force and the city’s self-serving politicians are not about to sit idly by while a former street cop makes up his own rules. Frank walks a thin blue line as he battles wiretaps and a concerted campaign to bring him down, letting nothing stop him from fulfilling his unwavering vow that when cops are in trouble, the union will be there.”

Those, like me, who actually lived through the Bromell era in Toronto might not see what he did as “crusading” for any kind of truth or justice. It was a time when many within the force as well as law abiding citizens felt that the four words painted on the side of Toronto Police cruisers, “To Serve and Protect” no longer applied to anyone who wasn’t a rank and file union member.


It wasn’t unusual for some who spoke out against Bromell and the Union’s tactics to face real or implied intimidation from Toronto police officers. Fodder for great drama to be sure. And television audiences have matured sufficiently that whether the union crusader envisioned by Bromell was an ethical to a fault Frank Serpico or Vic Mackay of “The Shield” he’d have their attention.

But that’s not what’s on view in “The Bridge”.

Instead, we’re presented with a nebulous code of ethics that changes with the frequency of the commercial breaks. Cops are regularly shown behaving completely immorally and then proudly defended by the Frank Leo character.

In the series second episode broadcast last Friday night, somebody mentions that one of Leo’s Union members is a wife beater. Leo spits back a defense that silences the critic, “Spousal abuse doesn’t make him a bad cop!”

That scene comes moments after he's argued that some other cops buying counterfeit goods doesn't make them bad cops either.

By the episode’s end he’s traded the life of a cop even a Union boss can’t defend to a Russian mob boss to buy protection for a former partner who’s in prison for killing his wife. Of course, her death was “an accident”…

internal affairs

If any of this is an actual reflection of Bromell’s time in the Toronto Police Service, it might help explain why entire communities and large areas of the city stopped co-operating with the cops on their streets, allowing street gangs and drug trafficking to establish a grip that may never be broken.

But I’m quite confident in saying there’s barely anything in “The Bridge” that ever really happened --- except to some guy with his own private movie playing in his head.

The entire series operates on a level of paranoia and self-delusion that beggars belief. Leo and his fellow officers are downtrodden and abused by all those of higher rank. Every Captain and Deputy Chief practically sneers with venality while twisting their Snidely Whiplash moustaches --- and those are just the women!

But the caricatured characters aside, the events within the show have such a tenuous grasp on believability that they make “CSI: Miami” look like a reality show.

Among the plots in the two hour pilot are an ominous black pick-up truck that keeps mowing down homeless people yet remains unscarred by all the flying bodies and debris. When the vehicle is finally cornered, five of our “heroes” pump 68 shots into it without reloading, killing an old lady they didn’t know was inside.

Despite having had an ID on the vehicle and owner for what seems like forever, this takedown causes much anguish for our cops when it’s learned there is no blood or fibre evidence because the vehicle has been repainted.

Well, duh!

But things work out when we learn the old lady had been befriending homeless people, took out life insurance policies on them and then had them squished.

Like the dumbest adjuster on “Crash & Burn” wouldn’t figure that one out.

Not that he’d have to, because nobody ever seems to get any hard evidence on anybody on “The Bridge”. If one of our inner circle of cops says it, it’s true. Anything said by anybody ranked higher than a Sergeant is a lie.

Make that a vicious lie designed to ruin some poor cop’s life and career.

bad lieut

One of the other plots in the pilot concerns a “bad cop” who is robbing drug dealers. Throughout, everybody on the force is searching for three missing uniforms. Despite the fact that “Bad Cop” already has one (and why he’d therefore have to steal one more than he needs is never explained) --- absolutely nobody seems to notice some of the robberies involve a real police car that either isn’t missing or isn’t that important to them.

But the “A” story revolves around Frank becoming radicalized and taking on the entire “rotten at the top” police force.

Upset by the suicide of his training officer, he pressures the department into a full police funeral. In a real police force, the insubordination exhibited here would either be forgotten because of his relationship with his training officer, or it would earn him a new assignment designed to humiliate or bore him into resigning.

But in Frank Leo’s world it leads to wire taps and fellow officers being strong-armed into getting dirt on him.

Why? He’s a fucking nobody!

Oh, wait. No. He’s the guy with the movie in his head that somebody’s trying to put onscreen --- and still have it make sense.

As Frank’s war with the brass escalates, he goes to bat for two fellow officers suspected of police brutality. Despite an official autopsy report indicating the cops had nothing to do with the death of the kid they were arresting, some mysterious “They”, who are only out to get our cops, is circulating a video tape that makes them look bad.


Because if they don’t Frank has no motivation for calling a wildcat strike. When he first pitches the idea, another cop is justifiably concerned, asking, “Won’t it endanger the public?” Leo’s uncontested response, “Not if it’s a Union thing!”

You see, I guess there’s a criminals Union that we don’t know about because we’re not cops and if the cops go out they just phone up the head of the Criminals Union and ask their members not to cross any picket lines or make any of their “brothers and sisters” look bad…

Who writes this shit?

And who thought it was a good enough idea to shoot?

Anyway, “complications ensue” and pretty soon cops are wearing wires to get shit on other cops and other cops are not wearing wires because that would be tellin’ and eventually the Chief gets a line on the bad cop who’s been robbing drug dealers.

Does he have him arrested?


He meets Frank, now head of the Union, to get his okay to kill the guy. Because instead of arresting a bad cop and maybe proving that there’s a need to keep his troops under his thumb, it’s now more important to corrupt Frank by getting him to okay the killing.

Which Frank does.

Only he doesn’t because he then goes and arrests the guy before the police hit squad can arrive.

Honest, you can’t make this shit up --- unless you’re that guy with the movie in his head.

I’m sure there was a way to take the original premise for “The Bridge” and turn it into something that doesn’t look as absurd as it does. And I don’t know if the fault in that lies with the original concept, or those who signed on to help create it, eschewing whatever artistic ethics they might have for a pay check.

Or maybe it was those who green-lit its production in the first place.

Somehow, one, all or a combination has created a show that doesn’t want to admit what it is, can’t comprehend why it is and doesn’t even dare tell you where it is.

As the series went to camera, CTV reiterated its “Flashpoint” commitment to no longer hide the Canadian roots of the shows it was partnering with CBS to produce. But somewhere along the way, that got lost too.

But perhaps damaged most of all is the reputation of our industry. Canadians don’t get that many chances to produce hour long dramatic television, especially the kind that has a chance to connect with a popular audience. And I fear, “The Bridge” if it ever manages to escape across the border, will provide many with further proof that we’re just not ready for Prime Time.

And that’s a terrible shame that could have been easily avoided.

Making good television is not just about making the deal work. It’s not about trying to look “edgy” and “polarizing” and “controversial”.

It’s about putting creative decisions in the hands of producers who are story tellers, people who write and create, those who know you can’t trust the guy with the movie in his head.

Truth is always stranger than fiction --- because fiction has to make sense. And that movie running in some guy’s head usually only makes sense to him.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 110: Bring Out The Gimp!

(***Warning***: This Sunday’s Sermon contains fire and brimstone!)

A couple of years ago, somebody talked me into buying tickets to a dinner and movie premiere benefiting Tourette Syndrome research. They couldn’t afford a big Hollywood blockbuster, so the film being presented was a Canadian one that didn’t have a distributor yet.

Think of it as a multi-purpose Charity evening.

The dinner was great with half of each table populated by people afflicted with the condition. And you got used to the occasional “inappropriate” outburst. For some reason, those began to escalate as we took our seats in the theatre and the head of the charity approached the mic onstage. The first thing he said was, “If you freaks don’t settle down, we’re not going to show the movie!”

The place dissolved in laughter.

Everybody likes being treated just like everybody else.

Last month I attended a Sportsman’s dinner for a group that sponsors programs for kids whose families can’t afford organized sports. In attendance were several alumni who’d been given the chance to play and had gone on to successful careers in the NHL, CFL and Major League baseball.

Also present were two young men in wheelchairs, preparing to go to Vancouver to compete in the 2010 Paralympics. While everybody sought out the sports heroes to get their autographs, the athletes themselves wanted to meet the Paralympians.

No matter what we’ve accomplished in life, we all want to know what it takes to attain the same goals when the odds against you are “impossible”.

The guys in the chairs shared what they’d endured to achieve their dreams and listening to them was both humbling and inspiring. No matter how tough you think Life is treating you, there’s always somebody being dealt a much tougher hand --- and turning it into something wonderful.

So when the Vancouver Winter Olympics sparked this country as few events ever have, I looked forward to seeing what effect the Paralympic Games would have on us. But unfortunately, most of the events will transpire unseen.


Like the characters pictured above, CTV executives seem to fear what might happen to them when somebody says, “Bring out the gimp!”

Prior to the Games in Vancouver, the network’s Olympic Broadcast Consortium promised the best and most comprehensive coverage ever broadcast. And there is no doubt they delivered --- on the Olympic portion.

When it comes to competition for physically challenged athletes, however, CTV has reverted to its corporate self, flushing all of its recent brand enhancement to get back to its real job --- rebroadcasting shows made in other countries rather than contributions by members of their actual audience.

Initially, it decided not to live broadcast the Opening Ceremonies of the Paralympic Games. A decision which Paralympic officials called a “slap in the face” to every athlete in the movement. Eventually, CTV caved to higher principles or the looming PR disaster and did a live broadcast. But only in British Columbia.

The rest of us had to wait for a tape delayed version that aired in the desolate early Saturday afternoon time slot.

It was a move that meant the opening Canada/Italy sledge hockey game, which had originally been scheduled to run live also had to be tape delayed and moved later --- or well after the time anybody with Internet access or a radio already knew the outcome.

A CTV exec said they had no choice. There were “contractual obligations” to providers of other programming which had to be honored.


If you’re a regular reader of what’s posted here at “The Legion”, you may recall a little something that made its way here several months ago. It discussed the redacted minutes of in-camera meetings CTV and Global held with the CRTC last Spring.

During those meetings, our private broadcasters whined about not having any choice as to when programming ran because they were at the mercy of scheduling decisions made by their American suppliers. They also grumped about having to purchase a half dozen ratings dogs from these insensitive American devils in order to get the highly valued programs --- which was also why they didn’t have any room for local product on their airwaves.

Despite admitting that Hollywood actually administers their networks, these same people will be screaming loudest if the government ever decides to open up Canadian broadcasting to foreign ownership.

To any rational person, CTV’s handling of the Paralympic Games comes down to a simple discriminatory and despicable formula:

Olympic Athletes = perfection. Paralympic Athletes = Eeeew! Who wants to see that!!! 


After endless days of cooing over Olympian Alexandre Bilodeau’s brother with Cerebral Palsy and a sight challenged Cross Country skier, CTV revealed it had only been toying with an enlightened attitude. When it came to showing athletes facing personal physical challenges, they just knew we’d find that way too icky!

From the scrubbed faces on “Canada AM” offering chipper lifestyle tips to late night news anchors gushing, “You’re not going to believe this!” before presenting a video clip that’s been on the Internet for days, CTV seems to live in a world where its entire audience resides in a comfy bungalow with a white picket fence and watches them while dining on a white bread sandwich of thinly sliced Velvetta.

Everything about the place reeks of a soccer mom mentality that doesn’t want to deal with the way the world is but the way it would be if we all spent our lives in an upscale Galleria. One without Handicap parking.

“Oh, that’s so gross! They get all the best spots! Doesn’t anybody know I’m in a hurry here?”


What’s also interesting is what CTV didn’t pre-empt in the Eastern time zone for the first Paralympic Games ever held on Canadian soil. “Ghost Whisperer”. “Medium” and “The Bridge”. In other words, people who are mentally odd (as in a woman who communicates with the dead, another who foresees the future and a cop suffering from delusional paranoia) but are still physically “hot” looking.

In other markets, they would have had to pre-empt “E-talk” or “Access Hollywood” both breathlessly covering yet another Hollywood drug abuser who bit the dust. But of course, he was making a comeback, “looked great” and had a bright future of American films before him.

And for those who appreciated Corey Haim, I’m not saying what befell him isn’t tragic. But you gotta wonder how much of what fuelled his need to escape was having to watch talentless humanoids like Ben Mulroney gleefully savage he and his contemporaries on a nightly basis.

Most of us just drink. Artists like Corey needed stronger painkillers.

“The Day of the Locusts” has arrived.


At any rate, officially, CTV just had to keep selling its American and imitation-American programming into the ratings abyss of Friday night instead of spending its own money presenting people who’ve had to find more courage and resilience within themselves than most of us will tap in a lifetime.

Is there any doubt that the Opening ceremonies of the Paralympics would have rated substantially higher than the more or less a million who tune in for “The Bridge”? Of course there isn’t. But that’s why CTV’s business model is broken. The place is run by people as afraid to engage reality as the phantom audience they think is watching.

If you want to see the Paralympic Games live, instead of the occasional tape delay that may or may not turn up on one of the conglomerate’s channels, you can find them streaming at paralympic sport.tv

And if somebody at CTV wants to learn a little more about how those with physical challenges can inspire and educate, they need look no further than this segment of CBC’s “The Rick Mercer Show”.

Try and treat somebody better today. And Enjoy your Sunday.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

They Made Some Changes At Telefilm

death in the garden

Heritage Minister James Moore finally pulled the trigger on naming a new Executive Director for Telefilm Canada late yesterday.

To the surprise of the cognoscenti, he didn’t pick Michel Roy, who was considered a lock for the position until he offered up a kinda dumb idea I talked about a little further down this page.

I’m not going to claim any credit for Monsieur Roy’s loss in this affair. That should go to the members of ACTRA and other like minded believers in Canadian talent who made it clear they just weren’t gonna co-sign his brand of Bullshit anymore.

I’ve always believed that given enough time, enough room or enough rope, those who pretend to know what’s best for artists will always reveal their true colors and do to themselves what they’d intended for somebody else.

Petard, hoist away.

Not many of us know much about Telefilm’s new ED, Carolle Brabant, the first woman to head the agency. But I have a sense that she’s now well aware that the talent portion of her programs has a dedication to their industry and their country that deserves to be listened to more than it has in the past.

Whether this is a watershed moment in Canadian film may not be determined for a while. But it seems like we’ve taken a turn in a better direction.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 109: The Philip DeFranco Show

Internet surf bums and others well travelled in cyberspace read the title above and muttered, “Why’s he writing about this? This isn’t new.”

Most of the rest of you, especially those in Canadian broadcasting anxious to expand online, went, “Who?”

First, who is Philip DeFranco – and then what makes him important this week.

Philip DeFranco lives in the showbiz hotbed of Atlanta, Georgia. In 2006, as an adjunct to his final exams at East Carolina University, he created a video blog entitled “sxephil” and posted it on Youtube. Less than 48 hours later, it had accrued 450,000 hits.

Phil then began posting three or four times a week. So many people began searching for his content that he became one of Youtube’s first paid “partners”; the guys the site shares ad revenue with because they bring in so much traffic.

By 2008 he had been voted Wired Magazine’s “Sexiest Geek” and created a web of online diversions inspired by his vid-blogs, which he claims now earn him $250,000 per year.

Meanwhile, almost 4 years after the first one, those Monday to Thursday video posts continue to attract a daily audience of over 1.2 Million viewers.

What does Phil do on his show?

Mostly he spends 4 minutes talking about whatever pops into his head. What’s in the News. Politics. Showbiz. Life in general.

He also asks a “Question of the Day”. These inspire hundreds of video responses which also get posted on Youtube while driving other discussions on other blogs, chat forums, social networks, facebook, twitter, etc, etc, etc.

In other words, one guy, working initially from a dorm room and now from a bedroom in his home, with technology no more complex than a webcam and video editing program, is engaging an audience with content Canadian funding bureaucracies are marshalling millions of dollars to study and experiment in reaching on behalf of our television networks.

Phil’s fans would be much the same audience that Canadian broadcasters have been claiming for years that they don’t have the wherewithal to attract.

And all of this is creating a cottage industry here as forums are planned (I got two invitations Friday alone) where (for a nominal fee, of course) Canadian creatives can meet Internet “experts” who will tell them how to find an audience in this new and confusing multi-platform age.

I got a better idea.

Just watch Phil.

He gets it.

He understands his audience.

More people respond to his ridiculous question of the day than access any of the online presences of any of our broadcasters.

According to all sources, www.cbc.ca currently outperforms all other Canadian broadcasters online. Yet, to quote an email I got this week from one web marketing consultant who calibrates who’s surfing where…

"...cbc.ca has a tiny audience unless you measure it using a monthly reach metric; but monthly reach just gives everyone a large PR number to throw around.  Their audience is minuscule.”

Well --- there you go --- proof positive that we need to throw a few million at the problem and get those numbers up, right?


Proof that we just need gatekeepers with more imagination in pure creative as opposed to pure greed.

Would what Philip DeFranco is doing translate to every comedy and drama series that wants to expand its reach across other platforms?

Of course not.

But any Showrunner and writing team immersed in their creation could certainly recognize where some of what he does connects with what they do and take it from there.

But because our networks are loath to take risks, both creative and financial. And because it’s always easier to whine until the government gives you money, we’re already three years behind some guy with ADD and a student loan laptop.

And in the end, the money that drips from the public tap will come with rules and restrictions while simultaneously turning off most other potential revenue streams. More work for bureaucrats. Less for those who need the work.

Watch Phil instead. And enjoy your Sunday. 

Monday, March 01, 2010

Hey, Let’s Blame Those Sorry Ass Canadian Actors!


While the rest of us were busy watching the Winter Olympics, Telefilm Canada finally figured out why we don’t go to see Canadian movies.

Apparently, it’s because of all those crappy, no-talent Canadian actors.

Not the ones who star in “Battlestar Gallactica” or “24” or “Lost” or “Juno” or “Super Bad” or pretty much anything else produced in America that Canadians watch on TV, pay for at the box office or rent as DVDs by the millions.

No, we’re talking about those other Canadian actors. And as soon as we can get rid of those slackers, people will be flocking to the local Cineplex to participate as we tell our own Canadian stories to ourselves.

Who knew it was just that simple?

At least it is if you’re as simple minded as Michel Roy, the current head of Telefilm. 

Monsieur Roy, the latest in a long line of Buffoons who’ve been in charge of plotting the straight-to-the-iceberg course of the Canadian film industry, came up with the following idea --- though probably not all by himself --- and fired off a quick press release urging the government to ease restrictions on allowing foreign stars to appear in publicly-funded movies.

That’s right, your tax dollars may soon be spent hiring American talent in Hollywood since Michel believes including more US movie stars for our films will bolster Canadian movies at the box office.

God, it just makes so much sense, doesn’t it?

Think of how audiences would have flocked to “Rub ‘n Tug” if only Tom Cruise had replaced Don McKellar in that seedy massage parlour!

Imagine the line-ups if Tom Hanks had been in “Passchendaele”. Hell, that battlefield sex scene and stations of the cross climax wouldn’t have seemed anywhere near as ludicrous with Tom in the role!

And what about “Where The Truth Lies”? It could have been transformed from major financial disaster to boffo hit if it had only starred Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth!

Oh, wait --- it did

Gee, two big foreign stars like them and that movie still went in the toilet!?!

Doesn’t that kinda disprove M. Roy’s moment of brilliance right out of the gate?

Perhaps something else kept people from buying tickets to all those movies. Something like lame scripts, poor direction and bizarre development decisions by incompetent Telefilm bureaucrats, who wouldn’t know an entertaining film if they sat through one.

Roy insists, "We just can't go on this way!" deploring the Billion dollars Telefilm has poured into the domestic industry in the last decade without increasing audience numbers; somehow blissfully unaware that the bulk of that money went to producers and artists who had already repeatedly failed to attract an audience and yet had no trouble hitting up Telefilm for tens of millions more for their next failure.

Hey, maybe this is a ploy to finally stop Atom Egoyan from hiring his own wife to be in all his movies or prevent Paul Gross from featuring himself in everything his company produces --- but, I doubt it.

No, I’ve detailed how that whole sorry process works before. You can find it here. But it’s now obvious that in order for the Losers gravy train to keep rolling somebody has to take the fall and Michel Roy has decided that it should be our actors.

Nobody knows who they are anyway, so who’s going to notice! Right?

But in making his proposal, Telefilm’s top executive reveals his woeful ignorance of how the film business actually operates.

For starters, the current tax rules require that the lead actor or the second lead be Canadian.

But there isn’t a producer or entertainment lawyer in the country who can’t draft a contract which pretends that an American star is earning less than his Canadian counterpart when he’s in fact pocketing much more through side deals and payment categories buried in other parts of the budget.

We could do it anytime we wanted.

Would we need to worry that Telefilm might uncover such irregularities?


I once hired some forensic accountants to look over a production I found troubling. Their first question after examining the records --- “Where’s the government in all this?” They simply couldn’t believe that all the irregularities they uncovered had been missed by the people supplying the public funding and supposedly assuring it was spent responsibly.

I’m telling you, these Telefilm folks are about as out of their depth as they can get.

And none of us will ever learn what Telefilm knows or doesn’t know about why their endless list of money losing projects really lost money.

Because as a Crown Corporation they don’t have to answer to us or even respond to Freedom of Information requests.

And although at least one well-known producer has acknowledged in court and under oath that he kept one set of books for Telefilm showing profits and another for investors showing losses, no one at Telefilm has ever stepped forward to explain how that might work.

But back to those US actors who are going to save us…

If Michel Roy actually knew the business he’s in, he’d know that there are only a handful of American stars who can provide Hollywood studios with even the slimmest level of comfort that they can recoup their movie investments. None are guaranteed box-office magnets. Nobody is anymore. Those days are long gone.

And none of those “comfort level” stars have salary quotes anywhere near what Telefilm can afford to pay in the first place. So it won’t be Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts assaying the role of a manic depressive Forestry worker contemplating suicide in snowbound Timmins. It’ll be the guy who hasn’t worked since “That 70s Show” was cancelled.

We went through all of this once before in the real 1970’s when half of our movies starred Lee Majors and Alex Karras and still didn’t make a dime. Heck, even the ones that starred Richard Harris, James Coburn and Charles Bronson didn’t make money.

And that’s because they were really bad movies – selected for funding and coddled through development by Telefilm executives just as dumb as this one.

What’s more, there are dozens of well known Canadian actors who have achieved success in Hollywood. Has Roy ever wondered why none of them are clambering to be in any of the films his agency finances?

The answer to that is patently clear. Either their agents know the material Telefilm is backing isn’t good enough or those actors worked with Telefilm’s “favorites” when they lived here and have no intention of ever doing so again.

Perhaps this is just another ill-conceived policy decision that only ends up making guys like Bill Brioux happy, because it supplies him with even more stories of Canadian actors who couldn’t buy work here yet become wildly successful in LA.

But all of that aside, the simple truth is that when the only way a Canadian government official can fulfill his mandate of creating work opportunities for Canadians is by putting more of them out of work, he needs to resign.

Or be fired.

And I’m hoping that’s what Heritage Minister James Moore will do once Monsieur Roy gets around to making his pitch.

I’m a supporter of the Conservative Party and this weekend I got a video email from Senators Mike Duffy and Nancy Greene-Raine gushing over Canada’s performance at the Winter Olympics and reminding me that as far as the Conservatives were concerned “All Canadians are Champions!”

Although I’ve never believed people actually fall for that sort of happy horseshit, I guess it works. But, I’m sorry, you don’t get to say stuff like that if you’re going to turn around and immediately eliminate our actors from the equation.

Because if the Heritage Department accedes to Telefilm’s flight of fancy, it will fully acknowledge that the Conservative party really doesn’t care about Canadian artists.  That cost them a majority in the last election and it will ensure they won’t get one the next time around.

So how about just putting Michel Roy out of work instead. He obviously doesn’t know how to do his job and I’d bet money one of the failed producers he’s been covering for all these years will find something for him to do.