Saturday, May 31, 2008


It took a couple of games to get started, but it looks like we're in for an astonishing final few frames of hockey. Audience numbers for Game 3 in the USA were some of the highest ever seen for the sport, indicating, for example, that the entire population of Pittsburgh was tuned in.

And since that game may have been the best of the entire season, it may mean the six Canadian teams will not have to continue paying the freight for the entire league, as was revealed this week. You simply can't watch these games and not see more drama and excitement than you get on "American Gladiators".

I have to say that the minute Pittsburgh Goalie Marc Andre Fleury tripped on his opening game entrance and I saw Evgeni Malkin's eyes rolling around like a horse in a burning barn -- the actor in me went, "I think we got us a bad case of opening night jitters here." And when you have a particularly bad opening night, it doesn't take much to bring the jinx back at the next performance.

But now that's out of the way and there's also some pretty good "bad blood" flowing thanks to Gary Roberts and Tomas Holmstrom and a few others, I'm predicting this one's going seven. And it only takes a quick look at my place in the standings to gauge my powers when it comes to seeing the future.

1 Will Pascoe 175
2 Scotty William 172
3 John Callaghan 169
4 Jeff Martel 166
5 Laurie Nyveen 161
6 Brian Stockton 157
7 Denis McGrath 153
8 Wil Zmak 149
9 Peter Rowley 147
10 Michael Foster 146
11 Will Dixon 145
12 Mark Askwith 143
13 Juniper 142
14 Mark Farrell 129
15 Larry Raskin 125
16 Robert de Lint 109
17 Jim Henshaw 73

Whether this series ends up going 5 games or 7, it'll all be over except for the endorsement deals by the end of next week. So those of us not in the top 4-5 better start packing the prize you were planning to send to the winner.

Since I'm on the road, prizes for 2nd and 3rd place as well as the "Props" contest (currently being led by Will Dixon and Laurie Nyveen) will be delivered at the end of June.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


One of the best dividends offered by these newfangled innertubes is the ability to maintain contact with the key elements of your life while you're elsewhere. I'm not just talking e-mail, instant messaging and catching up on the local newspaper.

I mean you can be baking on a beach in Australia and not missing the final game of the Stanley Cup, or, in the case of an Australian friend of mine, selling snow blowers out of a chilly Newmarket storefront while the laptop monitor keeps updating a half dozen surfcams on the Queensland coast.

Any writer who understands the craft will testify to the importance of "Place". The location of a story, where the characters come from and unique local mores have the most powerful and profound effect on the telling of the tale.

Transpose "All the King's Men" from New Orleans to New York and it's a completely different dynamic. Have Tarzan's parents shipwreck on the coast of British Columbia and you're into a whole new mythology.

Therefore, many of my local touchstones in Toronto and the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) go a long way toward making me who I am. One of the most important is a guy named Mike Stafford. Because Mike keeps me in touch with the Truth.

Mike's a morning talk show host on Talk640, a radio station that's a little more hip and edgy than what normally passes for a talk format in most markets. Mike's show runs Monday to Friday from 10-12. Then he takes an hour for lunch and comes back at 1:00 pm. That final hour may contain a new topic, but it usually features a revisit of the morning's most controversial item, now informed by email comments that have been sent to the station and the new angles Mike's unearthed in the interim.

What addicts me to Mike Stafford and makes him essential to my day is his unerring ability to cut through the media or political spin of a story to what it's really about. Stafford's background research and his understanding of the elements at play in our society are impeccable.

Every one of his waking hours must be or has to have been spent reading, learning, net surfing and doing all those things really wise people do to make sure they're not being "played" by somebody and to help them gravitate unerringly to the truth of what's really going on.

That operational clarity is enhanced by a spew of pop culture references that would make the writers of "Pinky and the Brain" look like they were phoning it in and a sense of humor that could teach any sitcom room a few lessons.

But most importantly, Mike offers a level of common sense that is refreshing in an era operating on spin, unapproachable sacred cows and countless Emperors with no clothes. Even when he's making an argument I don't agree with, I know he's in a close orbit to the truth, so you have to give his take it's due.

In many ways, he feels like one of those guys you grab a beer with from time to time, who listens to your rants and tribulations and immediately fits your world back into its proper perspective, reminding you of what really matters and offering some pointers for staying on the right path.

Luckily, in the same way the internet gives us all a direct link to our hometowns, it affords the opportunity for our local heroes to be exposed to a wider audience. You can listen to Mike anywhere in the world by clicking the station link above or you can read his blog which always deals with far more important issues than those I write about.

So, Stafford, if you're reading this (and given those Google Alert options, you just might be) I'm out of town and stupid busy for the next month. But once my world gets straight again, I'm looking you up and buying you a beer.

A man devoted to honesty, truth and laughing at life in the same moment deserves at least that from one of those you've touched.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Don't get nervous, I'm talking about television...

This was the first decent weekend in Newmarket, Canada's "Venice of the North" about a half hour from the center of the universe.

It was also "Yard Sale Saturday" in my neighborhood, meaning all the residents I hadn't seen for snow drifts all winter were making their first appearance while simultaneously trying to empty their basement into somebody else's garage.

In addition to catching up with the locals I traditionally use this weekend to conduct my own straw poll on who's watching what TV shows.

Coincidentally, the May 24 weekend here, Memorial day in the USA, is the official end of May Sweeps and the previous TV season and also the date when our television networks take credit for past triumphs and roll out the PR for next season's offerings.

So you know the marketing machine has already been spewing all the "winners and losers", "best ofs" and "soon to be a hits". Stats I know all my frozen at home neighbors have been following with eager interest.

Only -- they haven't.

Okay, so my straw poll only had a sample group of 25 families on a couple of adjoining streets, some of whom don't speak much English, so it doesn't represent the full demographic spectrum of the nation.

But they range in occupation from construction workers to teachers and chemical engineers and stay-at-home moms. Some drive pick-ups and a few roll in a BMW or a Lexus. The youngest respondants were in their teens and the oldest was 82.

Who says Neilsen is not my middle name?

But I have a feeling their answers to my TV questions might be reflective of the bigger picture. And that possibility has me a little worried.

Of the 60 - 80 people I spoke with on Saturday, not one, not a single solitary one had a "favorite" show. Nobody had an "Appointment Television" appointment with anything.

Nobody had heard of "Gossip Girl" or that "90210" was coming back. Nor did I see anyone make a note of those titles so they could Google them later.

The lady next door, who I know had a crush on Dr. McDreamy last year, didn't watch much of "Grey's Anatomy" this season. She started to feel she'd seen it all before, skipped a few weeks while she took a cooking class and then found herself flipping channels when McDreamy wasn't in the scene.

The kid who was addicted to "Lost" and "Heroes" felt they started "f**king with" him and spent his evenings on the net instead. He couldn't stop talking about the cool stuff he's doing on "Second Life".

Sure there were people who watched "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars" but mostly because "There wasn't anything else on" and even they weren't regulars. One had discovered Patrick O'Brian and was working his way through those volumes. Another had invested money with two African women on Kiva and spent her evenings following their progress.

The Cambodian couple watches DVDs her mother ships over. The Russian brothers have a dish that picks up Hockey and Football from Kazakhstan. The Iranian family buys pirate disks at the Pacific Mall while the High School Download Demon offered me a copy of "Crystal Skull" commenting that it wasn't that good. He meant the movie not the quality of the P2P screener.

Of course some of "the guys" were watching hockey. A few of the women try to catch "Oprah" between soccer mom duties. And the geek who works for the Ontario government is "addicted to Question Period".

But as far as the mainstream goes, I could count the number of times somebody mentioned "House" or "30 Rock" or "CSI" on one hand -- for all three combined.

Now, I understand that because people know I'm in the business, they might have felt they should answer with something that "defined" their personality. But I honestly got the feeling that those Plasma screens in their living rooms and dens were being turned on less often -- and most likely to watch something picked up at Blockbuster.

What became really troubling was when I asked about Canadian shows. One guy had seen "Corner Gas" a couple of times and a pair of teenagers had the first seasons of "Trailer Park Boys" on DVD. That was it.


If you'll recall, last weekend saw CBC's Hockey version of "Test the Nation" duking it out with the CTV movie "Elijah" for local viewers. Not one person was aware of either of them. This was interesting since the ads for the former run almost non-stop on CBC and ads for the latter -- okay, I didn't see any on CTV either...

More importantly, none of my poll participants had any interest in watching them once I told them what they were.

Now for the kicker --

I mentioned the recent CRTC hearings and the possibility that they may soon be paying $5 or $6 more for their Canadian channels. Most were unaware of that. But the answer was unanimous. "No, I won't!"

Some insisted they'd cancel their cable subscriptions and others suspected they'd just drop that second receiver in the bedroom or cut a program bundle or two.

But they're not going to pay more and more for programming they are already watching less and less.

When the talk turned from television to what was really on their minds it was what you would expect, rising gas prices, higher food costs and the prediction they'd be paying a lot more to heat their homes come next winter.

No matter their incomes, these people are feeling squeezed. The marketing concept that they can always be milked for a few more drops appears to be losing its presience.

For those of us involved in creating the coming season and dissecting the entrails of the network offerings, it would seem we need to begin discussing something far more important.

Why doesn't our audience care anymore -- and how do we get them back?

Saturday, May 24, 2008


The hardest thing to find in life is balance. Labor with reward. Dreams with realization. Dedication with appreciation.

And too often lately (perhaps as ever) it feels like the contributions of artists to our society are valued less than other forms of commerce.

When I was acting, I learned a kinship with others who toil to entertain the public. Athletes, professional wrestlers, circus performers, musicians, we're all in the same line of work. What we do all comes down to the abilities within our own bodies.

And because of that, there's a thread in our genetic codes that was written in the days when entertainers were outcasts, reviled for not contributing to the productivity of the state, at first by not planting and harvesting and then by not giving their bodies over to the factories and mills.

Believe it or not, I remember a time when you had trouble renting an apartment in Toronto if you said you worked in the theatre. And listing your profession as that of a musician or actor meant paying a month in advance for phone service.

But that little string of genes we carry, despite cellular memories of being burned at the stake or driven from villages after singing for an undelivered supper, still leads us to believe that by physicalizing some human truth, we enrich and enhance the lives of our fellow man.

And few understand just how hard we do have to work to provide what others consume during their moments of relaxation.

I can't conceive of what it must feel like to be married to a writer, wondering if that sudden silence or distant stare is creativity or something I said. I don't know how anyone who leads a normal life copes with the rattling of a keyboard that can roll relentlessly through the night or a long weekend because the muse is working or a deadline looms.

I can't comprehend the amount of time and sweat it takes to get to the Cirque du Soleil, or become a Tiger Woods or a Brett "The Hitman" Hart. But I remember reading a study in theatre school that said an actor playing Hamlet burns more energy in a single performance than a steel worker does during an eight hour shift. And I know the utter mental, physical and spiritual exhaustion that envelopes me at the end of a season of writing or producing.

Which brings me to these guys.

I don't believe there's enough money in the world to reward the amount of work what you're about to see requires. I do know it's a bit strange and some of you may feel a little "icky" watching it. But, as the opening words of the Mahabarata promise, "You will be a different person at the end of this."

Because that little fibre of DNA that inhabits performers is right. Performance is truth. Even if it only tells us how hard it is to find balance.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, May 23, 2008


With the Pool standings unchanged since Will documented the official placement after the semi-final round, I won't be doing a pool report this week.

But I want to remind you that time is running out to enter the incredibly challenging Hockey Props contest. Entries must be received before 8:00 pm Eastern on Saturday.

Join in because it's the last chance at experiencing the excitement of Hockey before we're into 4 months of mostly baseball. Unless you get a chance to meet "Clark, the Canadian Hockey Goalie"...

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Like a lot of people, I've long had a fascination with the Kennedys. Not a "People" magazine, NY Times best seller list fascination. But rather, I've been intrigued by a family that for all its wealth and privilege provided their nation with three sons who reached the pinnacles of power by championing the needs of others.

I know the argument can be made that they were also philanderers, backroom political brawlers and often used their wealth and privilege to less than noble ends. But I lived through the thousand days of "Camelot" when John Kennedy was president and it really was an age when you felt a change in the world and hope for the future.

I had a paper route for the Regina Leader Post when I was a kid and I will never forget delivering the evening newspaper on November 22, 1963 after JFK was killed in Dallas. The front page had a big red headline that screamed "Kennedy Slain!" and every single subscriber on my route was silently waiting on their front steps to take it from me. Many were in tears. The feeling that something special had been taken from us was palpable.

Five years later, not long after his brother Bobby was assassinated as well, I was in Washington on a freezing December morning and made my way to the eternal flame that burns over John Kennedy's grave at Arlington cemetery. The only ones there were me and two Marines guarding the site. The feeling that the flame marked more than a final resting place was overwhelming.

I've written about Bobby Kennedy before and in many ways his philosophy of life has guided the way I've lived my own. Asking "Why not?" instead of "Why?" and accepting that some will read questioning the status quo as rebellion or bitterness instead of an honest desire to find something better.

Ted Kennedy was the only one of the Kennedy brothers I actually met -- when he invited himself along on my honeymoon.

I first got married in 1976 and we honeymooned in St. Kitts long before it became a tourist mecca. One afternoon we took a side trip to its sister island of Nevis, and visited the stone house where Thomas Jefferson had been born. There was a beautiful sailboat anchored nearby and the Guide told us it belonged to Teddy Kennedy, who'd signed the guestbook the day before.

I'd kind of written Teddy Kennedy off at that point. Any aspirations of becoming president had drowned with Mary Jo Kopechne, the aide/mistress/whatever he had left to die after his car went off a bridge at Chappaquiddick Island. His lame explanation of what had happened that tragic night made him the butt of jokes by stand-up comics and an infamous ad in the National Lampoon.

Like most, I thought he'd half retired, content to spend his remaining days as the fat and mostly silent senator from Massachusetts.

The next night, we were in Antigua, slowly making our way back home, and went to a restaurant in the harbor. I, once again, noticed the Kennedy boat moored nearby and when we were seated, a team of waiters hurriedly pushing tables together to accommodate a large group. That group turned out to be Ted Kennedy, his wife and kids and a few guests. Ted sat right behind me, excusing himself as he squished his girth into his chair and scrunching me in the process.

Throughout dinner, any movement he made ricocheted off me and I finally made some smart ass comment about the place not being big enough for the both of us. He laughed and suggested we just shift our table to join theirs, offering a bottle of wine to smooth the transition. So we did.

He was a polite and florid man, with the feel of someone who had spent a great deal of recent time in the company of his family and needed a break. We didn't talk about anything of importance, unless you class sailing, the Caribbean or seafood in that category. When he discovered we were on our honeymoon, he immediately offered an invitation to sail around the island the next day.

I think that invitation had more to do with my ex-wife than my conversational skills. She was smokin' hot and he was -- well -- a Kennedy.

Next morning, we arrived at the dock and were ushered aboard, given some quick instruction on our sea duties and set sail. Kennedy manned the wheel and barked orders with the kids, other guests and ourselves jumping to fulfill the commands.

Late in the afternoon, he and I ended up sitting together and, unsure if I should bring up the topic, I finally mentioned how much I had admired his brothers. I felt uncomfortable doing that, knowing the discomfort it might cause as well as the accepted wisdom was that he hadn't reached their level of achievement.

But his reaction was the same as any man who has lost a cherished family member. And suddenly, maybe for the first time in my life, I became aware that the public persona we're presented on those who are famous or celebrated persistently fails to acknowledge that they're just people and not really any different from the rest of us.

We talked about both John and Bobby, but I got the feeling that Bobby's loss had been a deeper personal hurt. We also talked about what it was like to be a US Senator and he was quite open about the long and trying process of creating and passing laws.

I began to get an inkling of just how dedicated he was to his "craft" and that the shallow concerns of the media and political pundits mattered far less to him than the job he was trying to do.

It was a wonderful day and I was sorry to say good-bye when we docked that night. To be honest, if I were American, I would have become a confirmed Kennedy supporter for the rest of my life. He gave my ex a hug and admonished us to call if we were ever in Washington, all of us knowing the remote chance of that happening.

But it did.

In 1991, Kennedy was embroiled in the hearings to determine if Judge Clarence Thomas should be appointed to the Supreme Court. This was the infamous "Long Dong Silver" scandal in which one of Thomas' aides had accused him of sexual harassment. I was in Washington working on FBI stories for "Top Cops" and decided to visit the circus.

I had a letter from the FBI introducing me as a reputable person. When I showed it to the security officer at the metal detector in the Capitol rotunda, he quietly steered me around the device not wanting to cause a fuss "just in case you're armed".

I watched the hearings from the gallery. Kennedy sat quietly through it all, white haired and noble looking now, but obviously fully concentrated on the proceedings and weighing every syllable of testimony.

After about an hour, I'd had enough and decided to leave when the committee took a break. Kennedy was in the rotunda when I returned and noticed me with one of those "Do I know you?" looks. I nodded and walked over, re-introducing myself.

He either remembered me or gave that impression with the smoothness of a professional politician. I asked if he'd been sailing lately. He shook his head, gesturing to the nearby Thomas and saying, "I've been to busy with this..." managing to stop himself before saying anything that might be politically incorrect and at the same time putting more disdain into an adjective than I'd ever encountered.

This week Ted Kennedy suffered a seizure and his prognosis for a full recovery is not good. Between Robert Byrd's tears and the partisan comment "I wouldn't want to be that tumor", you get the impression that Ted Kennedy's time in the corridors of power is coming to a close.

Whatever history may say about him, my impression is that he was a decent man. Not a perfect one to be sure. But one who tried to do something worthwhile with the time he was given on this planet. In some ways, it's fitting that one of his last public acts may have been his endorsement of Barack Obama, a man who shares the spirit of Hope that imbued his brothers.

And if, amid all the "Kennedy Curse" nonsense and tabloid reporting that will inevitably follow his remaining days, somebody bothers to check; I think they'll discover that what Ted Kennedy ultimately accomplished in life is more than both of his far more famous brothers combined.

May good winds find your sails, Senator Kennedy. I'm happy I had the chance to cross your path.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


YES! The Stanley Cup Finals are here! And no matter where we placed our hearts or money, I think we're all feeling like the two best teams made it through and this might be a Cup for the ages. Okay, so one team's jersey features wings attached to wheels and the other has flightless birds, neither with any connection to either masculine semiotics or sport -- but I'm sure it means something special!

Over at Will's Place, he figures the pool's a two player race. But here at Optimism Central, we're gearing up for a whole new contest. Get ready for the world's first edition of Hockey Props!

Betting on sports has been around as long as there have been guys who needed to pump up their self-esteem by proving they were right about something. And for centuries money changed hands based on who won or lost a contest. Then Las Vegas and the Superbowl were invented. Pretty soon the smart guys who ran the Casinos realized that while you could make millions on who won the Superbowl, you could make Billions with side wagers.

So "Proposition Betting" was created to give us degenerates an opportunity to blow our money on outcomes nobody in their right mind can confidently predict.

You might be wagering on the coin toss (Janet Gretzky's favorite -- seen here at Caesar's Palace with absolutely non-betting Hockey Great Wayne) or if a touchdown is made by a player whose number is over 30. "Props" are also not one bet options. You need to pick at least a half dozen. The odds of collecting are infinitessimal. But then, you can't put a price on a good time, can you?

So here's how the "Infamous Writers Pool Hockey Props" works. There are six bets. All are related to the Stanley Cup Finals. Some require sports knowledge. Some only require guts! The player with the most correct answers wins. And a special piece of Canadian Hockey memorabilia (currently treasured by Yours Truly) will be awarded to the winner.

Should there be a tie -- uh -- we'll figure that out if there's a tie.

But this contest is definitely going to come down to the final game!

Entry is open to all current pool players and anybody else who needs to boost their self image. Entries must be sent to anytime between now and the first faceoff of the first game on Saturday night.

Cunningham, you KNOW you gotta be a part of this one!

Your six Hockey Propositions are:

1. The 2007-2008 Stanley Cup winner will be decided in:

a) Four Games
b) Five Games
c) Six Games
d) Seven Games

2. The total number of goals scored in the Final series will be:

a) Less than 20
b) 20 to 30
c) More than 30

3. The number of Octopi (Octopusses) flung on the ice on Opening night in Detroit.

a) One
b) Two
c) Three or More

4. "Hockey Night in Canada" icon Don Cherry always confidently predicts the winner of each game prior to the opening faceoff. For the FOURTH game of the series, he will be:

a) Correct
b) Incorrect
c) Politically incorrect while making his prediction

For non-Canadian players -- CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" is streaming all games at

5. The Leading Scorer in the series will be:

a) Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit)
b) Pavel Datsyk (Detroit)
c) Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh)
d) Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh)
e) Other

6. The Captain of the winning team is the first player to hoist the Stanley Cup and skate a victory lap. The Cup is then passed to each member of the winning team. And it's usually passed to someone the player with the Cup feels is deserving OR his roomie. The Goalie of the winning team will be:

a) One of the first six players to hoist the Cup
b) The Seventh to Twelfth player to hoist the Cup
c) One of the remaining players to hoist the Cup

Tough enough? C'mon, suck it up! How often are you gonna get a chance like this?

And one last thing about the actual Pool. I know it hasn't been as exciting as we'd hoped. But it's still had more going for it than some of the promotions the NHL thinks up. I mean, we could have been whiling away the playoffs with stuff like this.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


There's a "Battle of the Bands" in my neighborhood this weekend. Turns out my hometown is a hotbed of budding rockers, most notably the Tokyo Police Club, now touring the US and appearing in the UK later this month.

Back in the day, in Regina, our Battles of the Bands were held in a place called the Trianon Ballroom. It was a fading dance hall that had seen its best days just after WWII. Used to the likes of Glenn Miller and Guy Lombardo, it was primarily hosting wedding receptions by the time I moved into town.

But now and then, a touring rock star would roll through and, the Ballroom being the only real venue available, the Swing era music stands labelled "TB" were shunted into the wings to make room for amps, drum kits and electric pianos.

Guys like Bobby Vee, who lived just over the border in South Dakota and Thunder Bay's Bobby Curtola were regulars, drawing crowds of pompadored and pony-tailed teens to dance under the ballroom's chipped but still operational mirror ball.

The first rock n'roll show I ever saw was at the Trianon and featured Buddy Knox. Knox had one big hit in 1957, "Party Doll" and by the time I attended his concert 7-8 years later had churned out several more forgettable hits like "Lovey Dovey" and "Hula Love".

But in our world, he was a star. He'd grown up with Buddy Holly, toured with Elvis, held the record for most appearances on "American bandstand" and had been on The Ed Sullivan Show a couple of times.

He had a rockabilly sound, like most of the bands that came out of Texas back then. Still partly country but with enough extra they could get their records played at both ends of the radio dial.

For most of his career, Knox spent 11 months of the year on the road, playing one nighters in places like the Trianon or any bar or honky-tonk that was within driving distance and had an open booking. The trappings of modern rock stardom were still decades away. There were no private jets, stadium shows or armies of record executives marketing the crap out of their artists.

Buddy and his band traveled and slept in a beat-up Winnebago, eating late night hamburgers in truckstops and selling 45's and 8x10 glossies at the door.

I'd like to say that first Rock 'n Roll show and Buddy's appearance were memorable, but they weren't. I remember him wearing a gold lame shirt and no shoes, because it was a "sock hop" night and he'd been up dancing with some female fans while the opening act was playing.

He opened and closed with "Party Doll", did his other hits and a few covers of current offerings on the rock and country charts. I was maybe 13 and what impressed me most was how much he sweated for a guy who didn't seem to be moving around a lot.

I passed by the local auditorium this morning as a couple of beat up vans disgorged amps, drum kits and electric pianos. The kids doing the unloading looked like they were probably the musicians who'll be playing later. And they didn't look much different from the guys in Buddy's band.

It got me thinking that no matter how much the music changes, the spirit and the people making it are pretty much the same. Kids that don't quite fit in. A desire to say something about their hopes and dreams and what's fun to them. Maybe a chance to find some people who are like-minded or just want to have a good time too.

Alan Freed was right. "Rock 'n Roll will never die". And maybe it's going back to what made it so special when it first appeared, coming from the streets instead of being concocted in a corporate office and massaged by a marketing firm. I think both Buddy and the Tokyo Police Club would like that.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Buddy Knox

The Tokyo Police Club

Friday, May 16, 2008


WELL -- things just got way more interesting for all those Canadian TV execs who've traveled to LA to purchase their Fall simulcasts.

Not only are they having to make their picks from scripts and outlines instead of finished pilots with already approved marketing plans; but in a couple of cases, they'll need to figure out how to fit them into the alloted timeslots -- as well as how to pay for them.

The FOX network has announced it will air two of its new drama series, J.J. Abrams’ “Fringe” and Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse,” with reduced commercial breaks. Both series will only make room for five minutes of commercials per hour, about half the normal dosage.

“It’s a simple concept and potentially revolutionary,” Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori said. “We’re going to have less commercials, less promotional time, and less reason for viewers to use the remote. We’re going to redefine the viewing experience.”

I'll say. And it's going to be particularly interesting to see how the Canadian networks handle this shift. You see, they've been crying poor to the CRTC for so long that last summer the Commission granted them the right to program ADDITIONAL commercial time.

Yes, in one of its particularly anti-consumer moves, the Regulator (who's job it's supposed to be to protect the rights of the viewing audience) allowed Canadian nets the right to insert 12 to 14 minutes of commercials per hour.

And the networks apparently need every second of that time, because they were back in Gatineau last month whining that they were still losing money and needed to start charging for formerly free to air services to stay afloat.

When I was producing "Eerie, Indiana" for FOX KIDS and GLOBAL, the difference in commercial times between the two networks was only a minute, so we had to deliver two different cuts, the FOX version being one minute longer.

In TV terms, a minute is a long time and we had to make sure our minute didn't include any plot points or character beats because they wouldn't be seen by the Canadian audience. But whatever tap-dancing we did also couldn't bog down the story telling.

From a budgetary point of view, we also had to place the additional minute at the top or tail of an act break so we didn't have to endure a costly remix on a significant amount of the show.

Because "Eerie" was a comedy with a couple of goofy kids, it was relatively simple to add a few jokes or a piece of physical humor that wouldn't detract from the viewing experience of any Canadians who'd never see those segments.

But that won't be an option when the difference in program content is 7 to 9 minutes or 15-20% of the episode.

The two series will have to either be edited to fit the Canadian format or allowed to overlap into the next time slot.

The former approach would likely alienate an audience who will know they can purchase the full show the next day on iTunes or stream the unexpurgated version from another source.

The alternative is probably even more terrifying to a Canadian network suit -- because overlapping the hour will create a conflict with whatever American series they've scheduled to simulcast following "Fringe" or "Dollhouse".

Remember, these guys aren't usually buying full nights from one network. They're mixing and matching from all of the Big 4 (and elsewhere).

Therefore that overlap could allow viewers a few minutes to sample the American feed from its original source before its usurped by the simulcasting Canadian channel -- and most remotes go searching if the first five minutes of a show haven't grabbed the viewer.

To additionally compound the problem for Canadian broadcasters, FOX is placing a premium on the ads for "Fringe" and "Dollhouse" feeling they are two of their "must see" shows of the season -- and of course to pay for the additional content of the programs and the fewer commercial slots.

That'll likely mean a certain amount of branding, like Ford has done with the season openers of "24".

I'm not sure those same sponsors (or a Canadian equivalent) will be willing to lay out larger ad fees to reach the much smaller Canadian audience.

Boy oh boy -- wouldn't it just be easier to make Canadian shows instead?


The pool standings have not altered much since Dix finally got around to updating them yesterday. Three days late, but then he is a busy development exec with Super Channel -- the network which hasn't actually created any programming since its launch last fall.

But I'm sure things are looking up over there since my good friend Jim Shaw stopped dicking around with their "must carry" status and finally made them available to Western Canada.

Although the story I hear -- not from Will, he's much too discreet, something the blog world would benefit from him addressing -- anyway, the story I hear is Lucky Jim parked Super Channel on a part of the dial inaccessible to anybody without a new HD dish and/or receiver.

Available from your friends at Shaw for the low, low introductory price of $66.95!

Much as I pled Jim's case over at Blogtalkradio last week, he really is a Dick.

I wonder how this is playing up in Gatineau? Or are all the CRTC Commissioners now taking lessons in working with Netscape and Eudora so they can get a handle on this Interwebs thing they now want to regulate?

I mean, how do you think things might work in the Canadian television industry if it actually were either regulated or un-regulated?

If it were truly REGULATED then Shaw couldn't pull this shit.

But what passes for regulation also includes "Tier 1" and "Tier 2" and "Category A" and "Category B", plus "must carry" and "carry if you sorta feel like it" clauses all with their own sliding content percentages and who knows what the fuck else that nobody (including the CRTC) can follow.

So Shaw and Rogers and Bell can all stall a newcomer, move channels at a whim and delete access or limit it until whoever they own or have a side deal with gains some advantage.

I also hear "NCIS" is now coming to History Television -- and that show is totally made up! But still nobody is allowed to compete with their well protected genre.

Maybe I'm naive, stupid and just plain wrong, but I can't see any of this happening with DE-regulation.

In that world, nobody gets a BDU monopoly either and it's subscribers who finally get to drive the bus. If the audience wants Bollywood movies or a Gay channel or nothing but UFC on a Friday night, that'll be what gets on the dial.

Sure, maybe Shaw will only offer their own shopping channel and Rogers may only offer theirs. But as the consumer figures that out (the old fashioned way through word of mouth or seeing what their neighbors are getting) that'll get settled too. If the Rogers channel is selling Cubic Zirconium and Shaw isn't then they'll get the product from the manufacturers and eventually most of the shopper subscribers.

And if somebody programs real history instead of the fake stuff, it might be what sells best to that suddenly free to make a choice demographic.

Sorry, but this system deserves to be blown up. If it isn't, new players like "HD" or "Out" will never get a shot at an audience and guys like Shaw and Ted and whoever runs the Borg at Bell will continue to throw their weight around with impunity.

Distribution has always been the choke hold and somebody has to break that grip.

And speaking of breaking a chokehold -- I'm making some upgrades to the Pool.

The current contest and rules will remain in effect, but we're adding something else to rekindle the fire. It'll be open to current players and anybody else who wants in on the amazing thrill ride that has been this year's pool.


The current standings as Detroit and Pittsburgh apply their own version of the Jim Shaw chokehold:

1 John Callaghan 159
2 Scotty William 158
3 Will Pascoe 156
3 Jeff Martel 156
5 Laurie Nyveen 151
6 Brian Stockton 142
7 Michael Foster 140
8 Denis McGrath 138
9 Juniper 136
10 Peter Allen Rowley 135
11 Mark Askwith 134
12 Wil Zmak 133
13 Will Dixon 130
14 Larry Raskin 119
15 Mark Farrell 117
16 Robert de Lint 98
17 Jim Henshaw 69

Pool 2.0 debuts for the final round of the Stanley Cup.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


This promises to be an interesting week in Hollywood. Because something's about to happen there which has never happened before. Canadian networks will be selecting the new series they'll be buying and simulcasting -- for the most part -- sight unseen.

In an effort to control the spiraling cost of producing pilots (most of which never make it to air) the US nets have opted to greenlight several new series before a single frame of footage has been shot. That's a risky proposition, but one they're stuck with this season.

The WGA strike pretty much canceled completion of scripts which would have pilot-shot in February, or made the shooting of those that were ready problematic because no additional changes could be made to the material on set. And -- with the possibility of a SAG work stoppage looming at the end of June -- if new series don't go right into production there will be few completed episodes available to open the season.

So that means schedules are being announced now that feature shows for which there are no confirmed casts, no showrunners and staff and in some cases not even a finished script.

Mistakes in the buying process could cost Canadian networks millions. And since they all appeared before the CRTC last month to affirm how precarious their financial situations were, a goof by any of their executives dispatched to Hollywood could be corporate suicide.

Choosing pilots that will become hits is far from an exact science. The history of television is littered with pilots which, because of concept, cast or creators with a winning track record, were considered slam dunk winners.

Anybody remember the much vaunted and quickly history concepts that were "Cop Rock", "Couples", "Mullholland Drive", "Quarterlife"...etc...etc...etc...?

Anyone with fond memories of "The Chevy Chase Show", "The Court" with Sally Field, Tony Curtis and Roger Moore in "The Persuaders"?

And every TV icon from Norman Lear to Steven Bochco to Aaron Sorkin has endured his turn in the barrel.

I've written a dozen pilots for US networks. Six made it to series. And the path from concept to final cut was always far from a smooth ride. William Goldman's Hollywood adage "Nobody Knows Anything" is never truer than in manufacturing a television pilot.

In some cases, the budget changed and key scenes had to be scrapped, shot more economically or completely re-imagined. Desired Actors became unavailable or were replaced after scene tests and the material had to be reworked to play to the strengths of the replacements.

Once or twice a secondary cast member shone and additional scenes were added to enhance their presence. Once or twice the reverse happened when a lead didn't live up to expectations.

From the first moment you watch dailies, the writers and producers become involved in a balancing act attempting to steer the pilot back to its original course and at the same time directly into the teeth of anything new and positive that's coming to light.

And from production designers to editors to composers, unforeseen elements were contributed to the vision or failed to deliver the desired result.

Of course, all of this was always accompanied and/or complicated by network notes. A development exec would be uncomfortable with a line reading and question an entire story arc. A VP of programming wouldn't like the lead actor's hair and demand some alternate choices. The company president might catch the latest blockbuster on the weekend and want a change in tempo or tone.

Once or twice somebody's kid would say something cute or hook into a new trend and we'd have to work that in.

The creation of a pilot is not unlike the gestation of any other living creature. The initial concepts of the participants are combined like strands of DNA. The nutrients of the talents consumed in the process begin to shape it, revealing its faults and strengths. Additional revisions are made to mend the missteps and facilitate what's working.

Even when the creatives and their network supervisors are "finished", the shaping of a pilot is still not done.

I was writing a pilot for CBS and meeting with my development exec on the afternoon they screened "Due South" for the first time. He was late getting back to the office and was obviously troubled. I asked what was bothering him. They'd liked the show, but some in the room had voiced concerns that the concept might insult Canadians. I'd already seen the pilot and didn't understand how that was possible.

"We make fun of all these Canadian institutions," he said, "The dog's named after one of your Prime Ministers." I assured him we'd find that funny.

I doubt my vote of confidence was a deciding one in getting "Due South" on the air. But given his uncertain mood that day, I've always wondered what would have happened if I'd suggested my countrymen would be offended.

The best pilot I ever wrote ("Gangsters" also for CBS) never made it to air. Copies were passed around LA for weeks, privately screened by agencies and for groups of trusted friends as those who would decide its future tried to determine if it would be accepted by the public or ignite another debate about violence on television.

Ultimately, despite almost universally positive responses, they decided they were stepping outside their audience's comfort zone and passed.

And even when these decisions are final, the baby that's been created keeps changing.

The final product may replicate the original blueprint but it has also become a reflection of the imaginations of everyone involved. And now the audience gets into the mix.

Because of their response or lack of it, the pilot evolves as the season progresses. Ultimately it looks no more like it's first incarnation than a baby at birth resembles the person it becomes. For, like people, pilots are ultimately formed by their experiences, how they are nurtured and how they are perceived by others.

So, no matter what their creative skills, industry experience or read of the audience mood, the Canadian buyers in LA this week will be taking even bigger chances than they usually do.

Perhaps it'll make them want to rethink simulcasting and shoot some pilots of their own.

Saturday, May 10, 2008



Cans of whoop-ass are stacked in the corners!


The air's more electric than a SunTV feed on Star Choice!


Stephane Dion investigating Biker Chix will pale by comparison!


Yes -- don't miss the TV, EH? Blogtalkradio broad/pod-cast this Sunday for the heavyweight Smackdown everybody's been waiting for! DMc and Me, mano-a-mano on the subject of the CRTC.

Yeah, us Bloginistas will be putting the MOTHER in Mother's Day!

In my corner, the inimitable Jim Shaw, my very own "Miss Elizabeth", fresh from snapping out the lights of local broadcasters coast-to-coast (all within the current CRTC regulations).

DMc will be fighting for "Robin: the Boy Wonder" and "Jor-El" (Lenny Asper and Ivan Fecan as you kids know them). They're both fresh from -- uh -- defending the need to keep those regulations...

Confused? Imagine how confused you'll be when we get through with the topic!

Host Diane's so excited, she's even saved us for last!

But don't tune in late because the preliminary rounds featuring the creators of "Durham County", "Messy Life" doc maker Josh Freed and Mark Bishop of "Emily Yeung" fame, all promise to be SMOK-IN'!


Wheee-Doggies! Where's my spandex Speedo!

Friday, May 09, 2008


Back in the day when CBC regularly pulled down a couple of million viewers for its shows, yet still trailed the competition, they invented something called the "Entertainment Quotient". (At least that's what I remember it being called). It was this bogus random sampling of their audience which claimed that while only a few people were actively watching their product, they were enormously entertained by it.

Audience share 15% - Entertainment Quotient 98.6%. Or in other words, "If you cut back our funding, these folks vote and will be really pissed with you."

While the EQ was an obvious scam, it kept many CBC producers ensconced in plush offices without forcing them to actually produce anything -- much like our current broadcasters hope the proposed 50 cent levy per formerly free-to-air channels will do in future.

But EQ did make a valid point. If they're excited and entertained, you can depend on them coming back. Which brings me to this week's report on the hockey pool and the need I feel to try to make things more exciting...

Dix raised a good point about the pool in his Monday Report. It's just going to go stagnant for the duration because everybody still in it has almost identical rosters and outside of the few left standing who'll bobble back and forth with the lead, our EQ is dropping like a stone.

We realize that's because neither one of us has the brains to figure out a draft that would be fair to all players, given how far afield everybody is and that there was no way to set a specific time for picks to come in on the usual first come, first served basis.

So I'm looking for any ideas you guys might have on perking this contest up.

Some pools allow trades or a redraft in the final round. But neither Will or I think that's fair to the folks who got on top by following the original rules.

I mean, we could entice them by allowing everybody to replace two or three fallen warriors or even give the top five or six a point bonus as a bribe.

Hey, we're in showbiz, for crying out loud. It's not like we have to have integrity or anything...

So far my best plan is to start some side bets, set a few props or initiate a second pool for the final round. At the very least, it'll give me a reason to drop by my own site on pool days.

This week's standings (zzzz):

1 John Callaghan 140
2 Jeff Martel 137
3 Scotty William 134
4 Will Pascoe 132
4 Laurie Nyveen 132
6 Brian Stockton 127
7 Michael Foster 126
8 Juniper 122
9 Mark Askwith 120
10 Denis McGrath 119
11 Peter Allen Rowley 116
12 Will Dixon 111
13 Wil Zmak 107
14 Larry Raskin 105
15 Mark Farrell 103
16 Robert de Lint 82
17 Jim Henshaw 59

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Last year, acting on a complaint filed by Writers Guild of Canada Executive Director Maureen Parker, the CRTC ordered Canada's History Television to cease all broadcasts of "CSI:NY" as the regulator had found them "...not appropriate programming for the specialty channel".

Alliance-Atlantis (History Television's owner) politely declined to do that, perhaps secure in the knowledge that there are no guidelines for dealing with a Canadian broadcaster who violates their terms of license.

There was some more bureaucratic back and forth and, perhaps not wishing to piss off a regulator who was about to rule on their (necessary for survival) sale to CanWest, History finally agreed to drop "CSI:NY" from its schedule as of January 1, 2008.

This week, more through bad luck than design, I've found myself in the company of another History Television staple that seems just as "not appropriate."

"JAG", an American prime time series that debuted on CBS in 1995 and later transferred to NBC to complete its 10 year run, currently airs 3 times a day for a total of 15 times a week on History Television.

For those unfamiliar with the format, "JAG" follows the adventures of military lawyers within the American Judge Advocate General's office. The fact that there really is an American Judge Advocate General's office is about as historically accurate as the show gets.

"Jag" is basically an exercise in actor eye-candy juxtaposed with military hardware, mom, Old Glory and apple pie, as well as stuff blowing up real good. It features a talented Canadian star and several Canadians in the roles of producers, writers, directors and guest stars. It's standard issue prime time that doesn't strive to be anything more than that.

Somewhere around season 3 or 4 of "Jag", I had the opportunity to sit in with its writers as they broke stories for the coming season. Even in what was its series infancy, there was a feeling that they'd already covered most of the possible stories for their chosen arena -- not to mention the stock footage and outtakes that could be cadged from various Paramount feature films with a military setting.

So the day was spent trying to cobble together a tale from a list of "wants" showrunner Don Bellisario had called in from Hawaii. I may be wrong, but I don't think the episode created that day ever garnered an Emmy or Humanitas nomination.

This week, on the three episodes I've encountered so far, JAG's lead character, Cmdr. Harmon "Harm" Rabb, foiled a military coup in the Philippines, almost captured a middle-eastern terrorist involved with drug traffickers in Paraguay and became a crop duster in order to help a teen aged girl come to terms with the death of her mother.

None of those plots were historically accurate.

In fact, none could even remotely be considered dramatizations of any real events. Although some were obvious retreads of TV plots going back to the early 1950's.

Since its debut, History Television has spent most of its time passing off cheaply purchased programming as being of historical importance.

Early in their mandate, I recall a dour History Television hostess appearing after the final fade of the 1968 Clint Eastwood/Richard Burton WWII opus "Where Eagles Dare" to opine that while there had never actually been a commando raid like the one depicted, nor a "Castle of Eagles" that was the film's main locale, Adolf Hitler did have a Bavarian mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden.

It was the equivalent of running "Lassie Come Home" and then meeting the terms of your broadcast license by telling viewers that Hitler once owned a dog.

Unfortunately, "CSI:NY" and "Jag" aren't anomalies in the History Television schedule. They're the norm.

Among this week's movie offerings on History Television are "Last Man Standing", a Bruce Willis remake of Sergio Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars", which was a remake of Kurosawa's "Yojimbo", the Samurai version of the Dashiell Hammett novel "Red Harvest" -- all works of fiction.

Also showing is "Rounders", a very non-historical drama about poker and "Blown Away" which concerns a fictional IRA bomber turned loose on America.

Of added interest is that all of these films were originally distributed by History's corporate parent Alliance Atlantis, examples of the repeated bicycling of the same titles among all of their specialty channel holdings, no matter what the genre.

On the series roster, we have David Milch's take on the American frontier, "Deadwood", which features a lot of bare breasts and cowboys saying "Fuck" and HBO's "Rome" which features a lot of bare breasts and gladiators saying "Fuck". Language issues aside, I'm pretty certain these aren't historically accurate either -- unless I'm mistaken and both the Dakota territory and Ancient Rome had access to silicone implants.

As if this lack of actual History, on a channel that wrapped itself in that mantle when it received its broadcast license, wasn't already damaging enough to the credibility of the CRTC and the broadcaster's own reputation; we had the recent spectacle of CanWest management arguing for genre protection at the CRTC.

God help the Nation if some newcomer who wanted to air real history were allowed to impinge on History Television's monopoly of broadcasting the fake kind!

Was I the only one who found it odd that not one of the Commissioners reminded them of a licensing violation that had infringed on the genre protection of other specialty channels -- many of them also owned by CanWest and still following the same Alliance Atlantis bicycling of their own library content over several channels?

Quite clearly, History Television has abrogated any right to claim "History" as its genre and Ms. Parker should be running her "CSI:NY" complaint through a computer doing a search/replace with "JAG".

Or she can send it to me and I'll file the paperwork. Why should she get to be the only one who goes down in History for revealing the Canadian broadcasting establishment to be as fake as it is!?!

Sunday, May 04, 2008


It's been one or two of those weeks. The sales and marketing people who control the media flexing their muscles, desperately grasping to hang onto meal-ticket models that are inexorably slipping from their cold, dead fingers.

Canadian Broadcasters bereft of the ability to create try to claim their mere presence is the stuff of nationhood and worthy of increased income. American mega-corps angle for another strike in the production industry to make their bottom lines appear blacker than they really are. And new media marketers stand shaken and angered by the realization that the demographics they're selling include people who are not who they say they are -- thus revealing that social network sites are not the perfect captive marketplace they predicted.

All three insist that we need them, that Art can't exist without their version of commerce. It's an old story. A lie created by people who will go hungry unless their lies are believed by artist and audience alike.

Great Art and the creation of new forms of art has often come from artists who died penniless while the marketers who got between them and their audience prospered. The audience gladly rewarded them for their talents. But the guys in the middle took so much there was nothing left for the creators.

It might've been a lanky guitar picker sitting at a Mississippi crossroad planting the seeds of Rock n' Roll. It might've been a New Orleans Coronet player named Buddy Bolden who played so hard blood dripped from his horn. He'd end up buried in a pauper's field, but his new art form -- Jazz -- would inspire generations.

Van Gogh never sold a painting. Hemingway wallpapered a Paris garrett with rejection letters. Record executives told Mick Jagger to go back to business school.

The media conceit is that we need the men in the middle. But we don't anymore. We're entering an age when Art can flourish without paying the exorbitant vigorish of the suits.

Close your eyes. Listen to the notes Buddy Bolden inspired. Relish the moment of you and the artist alone on Cantelope Island. The day of the locusts has passed. From here on, they're working for us -- or they're not working at all.

Enjoy your Sunday.