Friday, April 30, 2010

Pool Standings Wk2: What the Halak Happened?

Capitals Maple Leafs Hockey

Oh look! It’s the Washington Capitals getting ready to play soccer. Hey, maybe they’ll actually be better at that…

Whew! More than 24 hours after one of the biggest upsets in hockey history and its still hard to believe it happened. How does one of the most powerful offensive juggernauts in the league get shut down by a goalie who asked to be traded mid-season because he wasn’t getting any ice time?

But Washington is gone, taking huge bites out of a lot of poolie rosters (including mine)!

Well, we all look like super-macho, sports wizards now, don’t we boys?

Aren’t you glad you got into this pool so you could get your pants pulled down in public this way?

Since last we talked, Buffalo, Ottawa, LA, Phoenix, Colorado and Nashville have also left the building. And despite all the contests that were supposed to be foregone conclusions, not one turned out that way and every one of the departed put up a damn good fight.

I guess Washington did too. You can’t really say a team choked when a hot Goalie like Jaroslav Halak just solidly bars the door. Even Capitals owner Ted Leonsis seemed to have understood that a Cup just wasn’t fated this year. A guy who normally sends more Tweets than Kevin Smith, he hasn’t been heard from since Game 6 last Tuesday.


So now we move on to Round Two, down to eight teams.

In the East, Montreal faces Pittsburgh while Philadelphia takes on Boston. Out West, Detroit laces up against San Jose while Vancouver hopes to exact revenge on Chicago for knocking them out early last season.

Too early to start thinking about an All-Canadian final? Maybe. But the two local teams remaining seem to be rounding into shape at exactly the right time.

And after all the unexpected drama of Round One, does anybody really want to predict that any of these Division semi-finals are a lock?

What I will confidently prognosticate is that the current standings in the Infamous Writers Pool are in for a severe shakeup over the coming week.

Mike Foster takes over the lead at the end of Week 2. But only by a single point while a lot of guys within striking distance have lost as much as half of their team.

Meanwhile, there are players in the bottom half of the standings with far better chances at making a quick rise through the ranks. It’s never over around here until it’s over. And you never know when Fate is suddenly going to smile in your direction…

Or make you look like Alex Ovechkin’s dentist…

The Standings at the End of Week Two

pool stand 22

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Biting The Hand That No Longer Feeds Me


I’m honored to hand over this space once again to a very special guest. Writer, comedian and comic troubadour Peter Wildman. A member of the legendary comedy group “The Frantics” a radio staple for years on CBC Radio before transferring to television with the series “4 On The Floor”.

In addition to bringing to life such comedy icons as Mr. Canoehead, infecting the country with the catch phrase “Boot to the Head” and songs like “Vagina Bound”, The Frantics Goon Show chaos spawned several comedy specials and mini-series.

Individually or in various combinations, working both before and behind the camera, “The Frantics” continue to find laughs on Canadian television through a long list of successful shows that include “Prisoners of Gravity”, “Puppets Who Kill” and “The Red Green Show”.

Peter continues to crack me up on a daily basis through the music and weirdness he contributes to Talk640 on the Corus radio network.

So what better guy to provide some insight into the current state of TV comedy in Canada.

Over to you, Peter:

With the TV season winding down, and production season firing back up, it’s time to pause and tend to the creative carnage around us and see what has survived and what didn’t. 

I don’t do a lot of drama.  I prefer comedy.  And at the risk of sounding  like an old comedy fart, I have to say It’s been a very disappointing year for TV comedy in Canada. 

It’s not for lack of effort.  There’s a lot of good people showing up to do a good job.  But I feel their struggle is in vain because of a larger issue not being addressed. 

This feels like about the right time to tell a story.  I have one, and it goes like this…

Many many years ago when “The Frantics” were in the midst of shooting “Four On The Floor”, I was hobnobbing with Don Ferguson of Air Farce.  I don’t know where I was hobnobbing, I just know I was hobnobbing and it felt good. 

There were a lot of people around, I was finely attired, as was Don (he always had a thing for Italian knits), the beer was free and there was food to be eaten.  While I was demolishing a chicken satay Don shared with me his theory on how to be successful in Canadian television.  

Of course at the time, I was a young comedy Turk, can’t say I appreciated what he was saying, but I can still remember it.  The gist of Don’s wisdom was this: “It’s got to play in Brandon”.  And as corny as that may sound there is a pantload of evidence to support it.  

“Corner Gas”, “Air Farce”, “The Beachcombers”, “Red Green”, “Tommy Hunter”, “Front Page Challenge”, these are not high concept shows.  I myself may have at some point in time even described some of them using the word “cheesy”.  Oh, I just remembered “Hymn Sing” and “Rita McNeil” too. 

Like it or not, these shows were watched and loved in smaller cities and towns from coast to coast.  Those numbers from Lethbridge, Maidstone and Peterborough add up. 

That’s where the Canadian audience is.  It’s not Queen Street West in Toronto, or Robson Ave in Vancouver.  It’s all them folks in the middle. Whether intentional or not, the latest crop of shows have made no attempt to play to them

grandma 0

The numbers in for “Hiccups” would suggest that not many of the fine people in Yarmouth care about a life coach and an oddball children’s author.  And why would they?  It’s not something everyone can readily identify with. 

“Dan for Mayor” trips over itself trying to be clever.  It doesn’t need to be.  It’s a small town story, so play it as one.  I really want “Dan for Mayor” to work, but recently I was wondering if that bus from episode one might swing through town one more time and run over a couple more characters. 

And I know the horse is way out of the barn on this one, but I never could see the folks in 100 Mile House strapping themselves in for a weekly adventure of “Sophie”, the single Mom talent agent.  She’s a what?!?!?!

I’m not saying you have to spoon feed your audience, but you do need to know what’s going on in their world.  Comedy needs a certain amount of familiarity, and I’m just not seeing that in this year’s crop. 

The Kids in The Hall series “Death Comes to Town” I liked.  Unfortunately, the residents of Tweedsmuir didn’t agree with me.  The kids were at their outrageous best, going places that only the kids can go.  I especially liked the idea that there were only eight episodes. 

Which brings me to my second point. 

Is there a law somewhere that says we can have only one or two sitcoms at a time and these chosen few should carry the entire comedy burden of a nation?

I would much prefer to see more shows making fewer episodes.  We could cover the spectrum, from cheesy to edgy to kitsch.  And if a show does well, reward it with more episodes.  The ones that fail limp out of the room (along with the producers and executives), replaced by a fresh new idea. 

Of course, none of the above will change until we do something about the broadcasters…… but that’s a battle I’ll leave to the Legion of Decency. 

For now the comedy collective must regroup, retool, recast and recall the wise words of Don Ferguson.  I mean come on, how long was Air Farce around?  The guy knew what he was talking about. 

All comments on this post will be moderated by Peter Wildman.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dennis Hopper

dennis hopper

I met Dennis Hopper once --- for all of 15 seconds. But it’s a quarter minute that will forever stick in my mind.

I don’t know if I was really aware of him when he was one of Hollywood’s young studs in the 1950’s and 60’s. Back then, he was interchangeable with Nick Adams, Jeremy Slate, Adam Roarke or the guy with whom he’d be forever linked in the first movie he directed, Peter Fonda.

They were all blond Hollywood actors relegated to bit-parts in big films while carving out a cult following in biker movies and low-budget westerns rarely seen beyond the drive-in circuit.

A buncha rebellious James Dean clones in a town already lousy with them.

Hopper came by the image more honestly than most, however, having been a close friend of Dean and working with him in both “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant”.

That generation was full of actors with wild streaks, hard-partying reputations and defiant attitudes that cemented bad-boy personas as they collided hard with a Hollywood establishment reluctant to embrace the social changes rolling in around them.

One night on the set of “From Hell to Texas”, veteran director Henry Hathaway decided to break Hopper of his “Method” approach to his role, forcing him to do repeated retakes of an emotionally difficult scene.

The creative clash went on for 15 hours, leaving both men exhausted and Hopper close to a nervous breakdown when Hathaway finally called “Print” on Take 80.

You didn’t even question a director’s vision back then and 24 hours later Hopper was blacklisted by every studio in LA.

But he still refused to dial back his talent and take the bit others wanted to force between his teeth. He waited them out, studied photography and with Marlon Brando’s help got into The Actor’s Studio, perfecting his grasp of The Method.

He returned to California, working steadily in episodic television and in 1969 managed to pool $350,000 together with friends Terry Southern, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson to make a little movie called “Easy Rider”.

It’s hard to describe the revelation that film was when it exploded onto the scene in the Summer of 1969. But it completely captured the spirit of the time while opening the creative floodgates of what would become “The New Hollywood”.

It also made “Old” Hollywood’s Boys Club take notice when its initial theatrical run finally ended in early 1972 with a box-office gross over $60 Million.

Hopper was suddenly a white hot Hollywood property, wealthy beyond imagination and with his pick of any studio project.

Instead, he chose to go to Peru to shoot a small and profoundly personal film, “The Last Movie”. Sixteen months after it wrapped, Studio execs turned up at his Taos, New Mexico home to find out why the edit was taking so damn long.

They were appalled by the finished product Hopper screened for them. And although the film took first prize at the Venice Film Festival, it got only a limited release by his studio before he was once again exiled.

I saw “The Last Movie” in a Toronto grindhouse at a midnight screening attended by myself and three drunks sleeping in the last row. It was a difficult piece to be sure. But it was also an inspired and challenging work.

Over the years that followed, Hopper became an actor of jarring intensity, wholeheartedly embracing the “crazed outcast” persona he and the studios had mutually created. His roles in “Apocalypse Now”, “Blue Velvet”, “Speed”  and “Waterworld” firmly cemented that image.

But along the way there were also small gems of awesome originality like “Kid Blue”, “The American Friend”, “Rumble Fish” and “Hoosiers” --- not to mention a scene shared with Christopher Walken in “True Romance” that is an acting lesson for the ages.

He also directed films of rare imagination like “Out of the Blue”, “The Hot Spot” and “Colors”.

It was shortly after the release of “Colors” that the encounter between he and I occurred, in the midst of some overcrowded post movie premiere party, with everyone (including the two of us) in tuxedos.

The crush of bodies suddenly parted in front of me and there he stood, slight and a little lost looking, maybe even scared. He trailed in the grip of a determined starlet who was dragging him somewhere. Our eyes met and I said, “I loved ‘Colors’”.

He nodded graciously. “We’re a small contingent,” he said as she pulled him past.

“I loved ‘The Last Movie’ too”, I responded. He tugged the starlet to a halt, turned back, studying me.

“Now, that’s seriously narrowing the field”. Then he gave me a warmly appreciative smile as the crowd closed back in between us. And he was gone.

What makes you remember moments like that?

He wasn’t the biggest star I’d ever met, nor somebody with whose lifework I’d formed a close connection.

It wasn’t that momentary grasping of a touchstone of my youth either. By that point in my life I’d done a movie with Nicholson and spent a night on a beachfront patio trading stories with Fonda ( the true icon of my teen years after “The Wild Angels”).

No, I think it was that feeling an artist sometimes conveys that you have understood him. Not understood the work he was best known for but one of the unsung pieces that truly came from his heart and represented what he wanted to bring into the world. And what’s more, such appreciation has been rare and therefore is equally appreciated.

As I write this, Dennis Hopper is dying, his time shortened and his fire dimmed by Prostate Cancer. His legacy, meanwhile, suffers further indignity from the talons of the Gossip Vultures, endlessly reporting his deathbed divorce and the struggle to retain control of his assets.

It should surprise no one that a man of Hopper’s passion rages at the dying of the light. Nor is there anything unusual in one, whose output was so diminished by those who controlled his time in the industry, seeking what rewards he did earn will go to those who most matter to him.

But that’s not the bite-sized fast food version of entertainment news that sells these days. Sold, for the most part, by conglomerates whose provenance includes the same studios and players who demonized Hopper throughout his career.

In their edit suites and databases, Hopper’s obituary is already ready to run, no doubt reminding those who encounter them that another Hollywood “Bad Boy” or “Mad Man” has finally been brought to heel.

So while others may remember catch phrases like “Mommy!” from “Blue Velvet”, “Boys, boys, boys!” from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” or the endlessly quoted “I ate so much pussy in those days my beard looked like a glazed donut.”

I choose to remember the Dennis Hopper who wasn’t crazy but simply cared deeply about “The Work” and possessed the world’s gentlest eyes, the softest smile and the heart of a lion.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lazy Sunday #116: Up There Cazaly!

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs in full flight, most of Canada loses interest in what else is going on in the world of sport. Even concurrent basketball championships and the beginning of soccer and baseball seasons are only on the periphery of our awareness.

Little surprise then that few (if any) are following a just as thrilling sport on the other side of the planet.


Wait a minute! Did a Canadian just say there was a sport as exciting as hockey?

Yes, he did. And anyone who has seen Aussie Rules Football live would tell you the same. I once asked an Australian why they called the game they invented 150 years ago “Aussie Rules” and he said it was because “Assault and Battery” was already taken.

My own opinion is, in the oddly warped way they have of looking at the world, Australians applied the word “Rules” to a game that doesn’t appear to actually have any.

We always giggle at Americans who try to tell us how violent NFL football is. But as one who’s been there I can honestly say the physical mayhem of Australian Rules Football makes our own revered Canadian game look like a no-contact kids league. I don’t think these guys even wear a cup! As if they could actually get one under those skimpy shorts in the first place.

Oh, I’m sure there’s a rule book somewhere. But like the one for hockey, hardly anybody’s actually read it and penalties are only called when things are getting particularly out of hand.

How else do you explain that the playing field or “pitch” officially must measure 150 metres (or more) in length and 135 metres (or more) in width. Trust me, once they’ve staked out the field, the rest of the officiating is just as casual.

There are all kinds of terms you need to know to follow Aussie Rules football. Words like “Torpedo” and “Mark” and God help you if you don’t know the difference between a “Goal” and your “Behind”. Even the players have indiscernible handles. They play positions like “Back Pocket”, “Half Forward Flank” and “Ruck Rover”. I think that last one is the guy who goes for meat pies at “The Half”.

Like all games, Aussie Rules has its own fan culture as well.

The meat pie is their version of a hot dog. I think it’s made with pretty much the same ingredients, just not ground up as much and therefore more visible to the eye and palate. They’re always overcooked and served far too hot in order to kill whatever might still be living inside them. That’s why everybody you see eating one in the stands is washing it down with a very large cup of Lager.

The fan culture for “Footy” is just as strange as the one surrounding hockey must appear to the uninitiated. Although those who criticise Don Cherry or the Hockey Night panels should have a look at something from Down Under called “The Footy Show”.


Like the game it profiles, this enormously popular weekly review doesn’t seem to follow any rules either. For starters, it runs 105 minutes. How does that fit any logical television schedule?!? What’s more, most of the participants make Don Cherry look politically correct and Mike Millbury completely sane.

You literally cannot tune in without seeing some panel made up of one guy who’s drunk, one who thought it would be fun to go on national television in drag and another guy looking to get even with somebody else for an elbow that broke his nose in 1983.

I recall one segment that included a star player being dry-humped by somebody in a kangaroo suit and a live link from the red carpet opening of a Tom Cruise movie where Tom was unceremoniously shoved out of the way so the interviewer could get to some Ruck Rover from the Tasmanian State League.

Outta me way, Cruiser! There’s ‘Buckets’!”

The Canadian equivalent would be Ben Mulroney straight-arming Atom Egoyan so he could talk to the 3rd string goalie from the Barrie Colts.

And come to think of it, maybe that’s another example of why Australian television is more entertaining than our own…

But seriously…(as if I half wasn’t just there)…

We’re five weeks into a brand new AFL season. A few of the games are broadcast here, but you can catch them all online at . The added benefit to that is (given the International date line) many run early Saturday or Sunday morning when there’s not much other live sport available besides the endless running around known as soccer.

Which brings me to this week’s video.

While there are all kinds of AFL highlight reels, hardest hits and best fights videos all over the web, there are also collections of the songs of Aussie Rules. Teams have songs. Fans have songs. And every year the network broadcasting the games finds a new theme. No “Are You Ready for Some Football” or decades long Hockey Night theme for these guys.

The first of these anthems arrived in 1979 and to my mind it’s still the best. “Up There Cazaly” was inspired by star player Roy Cazaly. It sold more copies than any Australian record up to that time and went on to be the theme of Bruce Beresford’s “The Club” a year later.

Sample it to capture the flavor of a sport that deserves more attention. And Enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Week One Standings: Kovalchuk Shines!

brodeur golf

Hey, look who got an early tee time this morning!

Why it’s Martin Brodeur! Considered the most experienced Goalie in the NHL and this season’s shutout leader.

I wonder if he’s playing with his brother…

Okay – not many of us saw this coming! Five games into the first round of the Playoffs and the vaunted New Jersey Devils are the first to fall – to a team that squeaked in on the final day of the season – in a shootout.

And I’ll bet Martin’s boss isn’t all that happy to have spent umpteen million dollars to rent the League’s most wanted free agent and formerly prolific goal scorer to take them to the Cup final either.

Here’s an exclusive portrait of Ilya Kovalchuk taken during last night’s game. Feel free to download it for your wall of heroes.


Boy, how’d you like to be that guy’s agent this morning? “I know I said $100 Million. But he buffs your car and validates parking now.”

It could have been two teams going down last night, but Ottawa managed to survive a triple overtime and get to Game 6. For all of you guys who picked Sidney Crosby for your pool, I wouldn’t look on that as a loss so much as another night to collect more easy pickin’s. 13 points in 5 games! This guy’s about a month away from changing Wayne Gretzky’s last name to “Who?”

Which brings me to the Western Conference, where Wayne must really be enjoying how well the Phoenix Coyotes are handling Detroit. Here’s a team he nurtured and mentored at the bottom of the league for so many heartbreaking seasons and the minute he stepped away from the bench…Er…

I wonder if Wayne can get a table next to Pete Rose in one of those Vegas “Buy an Autograph” stores? I’m sure Janet wouldn’t mind the change of scenery.

But seriously…

These early games have been great. That Boston – Buffalo game the other night and Game Two between Chicago and Nashville were classics. And when did you ever think you’d hear “Nashville” and “Classic” in the same hockey sentence. Way to go Music City! Something tells me you might be over the hump and here to stay.

It’s too early to start thinking we might see a Phoenix-Nashville Western final. And while it wouldn’t play well in Winnipeg and Hamilton, it would be great for the game.

Also playing a great game are Larry Raskin and Mike Foster, sharing the lead for the first pool report. Still early days and you guys near the bottom don’t need to give up yet. If Vancouver or Detroit continue to stumble, fortunes could be quickly reversed.

We might know how some of that shakes out by Monday when a flu-ravaged (make that epically hung over)  Uncle Willis should be back to give you the next update. Until then, Good luck and keep enjoying the best part of the season!

The Infamous Writers Pool Standings as of this morning:

pool stand 1

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Steal Your Pain

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”


These are difficult times.

And though it’s intended to inspire discussions on the realities of the current Canadian film and TV business, a lot of what I write on this blog gets interpreted as concentrating on the negatives.

But while I do spend more time examining problems than offering solutions, the reason for that is simple.

There are a lot of problems.

And they deserve a rigorous examination instead of simply being accepted as unchangeable. Meanwhile, most of the solutions remain tightly held in the hands of folks who, in their own self-interest, don’t seem inclined to apply them.

But after writing the “New Zealand” post below and receiving the responses I did, I feel the need to offer something more positive. There are simply too many of you seeking solutions you can perhaps help initiate.

So here goes…

In that previous post, I asked disingenuously why other countries could make programming audiences wanted to see but we couldn’t. I say disingenuous, because --- I already knew the answer.

Our industry doesn’t take advantage of great Canadian literature that could be turned into miniseries. It doesn’t look for ways to counter “Band of Brothers” or “The Pacific” with identical tales from our own history. It doesn’t search for fresh ways to exploit either proven talent or new arrivals with obvious potential.

And it doesn’t do all of those things for the same reason.

It doesn’t have to.

Yes, there are all kinds of Canadian content rules. But those have been so warped over the years that they no longer reside in the same ballpark where they were intended to govern the game.

At its base, we are an industry that was constructed over the centuries to make the human condition more bearable. We serve by helping people inhabit worlds they haven’t personally experienced. Our other services include making them laugh, assuaging their guilt, creating empathy, revealing the consequences of actions and providing catharsis.

But the system that evolved and thrives in Canada has become about doing the least that’s expected as cheaply as possible while maximizing access to as much Public funding as can be had.

All those services the audience comes to us to receive are not part of our delivery system’s inventory.

Today, over at “TV Feeds My Family”, Bill Brioux offers a definitive example of all that. And it’s further proof of why we can’t waste any more time or energy hoping Canadian TV Execs, politicians, CRTC Commissioners or funding bureaucrats will eventually want to make television better.

A decade of regulatory mismanagement, skewed funding priorities and broadcaster myopia have pretty much decimated the industry we used to have. So…

We need to build a new one.

That means we have to let the old models go and create new ones that deliver what the audience craves from us.

I’m not talking about all that online, cross-platform, trans-media stuff. Because it is, as you’ve probably noticed, already being sucked into the bureaucratic “We’ll decide what gets made and dole out the funding” maw.

Recently, even some among the industry’s chosen have begun to recognize the game is rigged against them. That would include the hierarchy at the CBC and TVA, one of whom recently penned a guest editorial on realizing that money collected from Cable fees to fund new programming is now distributed using a weighted system where 45% of your score depends on your “historical access to funding”.

Them that already have continue to get. Those with new ideas get a smaller shot at being included.

But even though they can see their demise is closer than they had thought, most of the TV people concerned continue to spin ratings to try and stave off the inevitable.

The system takes care of its own needs first. And by not rocking their own leaky lifeboat, some may have a future with the networks that survive.

So if we want to have a real industry that actually does what it was intended to do, it’s up to us.


You bet.


Not at all.

In fact, all it will take is going back to the principles that brought most of you to this business. That, and starting to put your own production model in place.

Let me tell you about the most rewarding moment of my professional career.

It didn’t have anything to do with cashing big cheques, getting appreciative calls from network presidents or being handed an award.

It came the afternoon before shooting commenced on the first feature film I’d written.

The producer hosted a get together for the cast and crew. And as I floated in the pool, exhausted from the months it had taken to write the script and get the project together and knowing I still needed to turn up the dial a notch in the morning, one overwhelmingly feeling held sway --- all these people were making a movie because I’d had the courage to face a blank page and type “Fade In:”.

Last weekend a former Canadian network exec confirmed one unspoken reality of the business. If it’s already made or comes in financed, they’ll probably buy it.

All those point charts, regional directives and resumes of the principals which are endlessly debated during their development processes don’t matter a bit when they are holding ready to broadcast material.

They’re as tightly squeezed as the rest of the economy. And when MGM can’t raise all it needs to make the next James Bond film and “Avatar” is being released on DVD while it’s still making a millions a week in theatres, it indicates that any content available to be exploited will find favor somewhere.

All the talk of demographics and their “brand” disappears when all they need to do is write a cheque. They do it in Hollywood all the time and they’ll do it for you as well.

So just make something. Something of your own.

Don’t try to figure out what “they” want or what might advance a career in that world.

Do something that matters to you.

Honestly, could it be any worse than waiting a year to hear if they liked the pitch or if it meets some government social agenda?

If your passion lies in the direction of that series of detective novels the publisher will only sell to a US studio, go tell them that call isn’t coming in this year and maybe not the next. So they can do a deal with you or pray the remainder bin returns are healthy.

If you’ve got a script, go find your own crew and the best cast you can get to return your calls.

Surround yourself with like minded Creatives. Offer to help with their project if they’ll help with yours --- and mean that.

Do one thing. Give it all your energy. Don’t compromise on the promise that giving away power to someone else will make it easier for you.

You know that saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow”? There is some truth in it. There will never be enough money and it may not arrive when you most need it. But it eventually materializes.

Stop playing the “Find a local broadcaster to trigger funding” game. Stop giving the time of day to producers juggling 20 other projects. They sap your time and your resolve. Their world is collapsing.

But the audience need for the services we provide is stronger than ever. In fact, it’s growing.

If you build it. And it’s made with honest intent. They will come.

Not right to your door. Never as many as you hoped. But you will find your audience.

You may have to go searching for them. But they are not a myth or a mystery. They’re out there and they’re not much different from you.

Go where you are needed. Go where your work can be realized. There is no future in a place where you are not wanted or appreciated.

In closing, let me leave you with a parable…



You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now you must go back and tell the people that this IS the Hour.  And there are things to be considered:  Where are you living?  What are you doing?  What are your relationships?  Are you in right relation?

“Where is your water?  Know your garden. It is time to speak your Truth.  Create your community.  Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

“There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.  They will try to hold on to the shore.  They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination.  The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open and our heads above the water.

“And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history we are to take nothing personally, least of all, ourselves.  For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

“The time of the lone wolf is over.  Gather yourselves!!  Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.  All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

“We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

“This could be a good time!”

Monday, April 19, 2010

Aeroplan: What Was The Point Again?


I travel a lot. And that means I fly and drive a lot. And like most people, I belong to a lot of programs that offer me reward points for doing those things as well as staying in certain hotels, buying a specific brand of gasoline or shopping at partnered stores.

One of the leading purveyors of reward points in Canada is Aeroplan and over the years I’ve collected a phenomenal number.

The promise that comes with those points is that someday you can cash them in for free trips, free car rentals, free gift certificates and free merchandise. And since most of us are adult enough to know that few things touted as free are actually “free” free, we know there will likely be some trade offs in order to benefit from the points we’ve acquired.

Those could be “black out” days, which mean no reward point flights are available. Or there are only a limited number of seats on a given flight and when they’re gone you’re out of luck.

Some banks provide a way around that if you purchase a credit card that comes with an annual fee. In other words, pay a couple of hundred bucks for the opportunity to access credit charges in the 19% range and you’re good to go.

Somehow that has never struck me as being an economically sound strategy. But I also have despondent accountants with lurid tales of what passes for rock solid financial planning in my world.

Last weekend, however, I got a lesson in using Aeroplan points that made me wonder – just what’s the point of collecting their points again?

My car threw a proverbial shoe, needing a new part that for reasons too complex for anybody but a mechanic with dollar signs dancing in his eyes to understand has to come from Europe.

Only because of that volcano projectile vomiting in Iceland, the few planes making trans-Atlantic crossings were loaded with more important things than car parts.

Faced with a busy weekend, I figured I’d just do a three day rental from the national chain a couple of blocks away. I’ve done it before. Their cars were great and the weekend rates even better. Usually, I got a three day rental for $100 – plus points that translated into future free rental days.

But the place nearby had just closed. And in going online to find somewhere else, I found a friendly update from Aeroplan, along with a reminder that I could use their points to rent a car from Avis.


Now, for some of the reasons mentioned above, I’ve never used my Aeroplan points. The life of a self-employed freelancer is notoriously hard to plan well in advance.

I once did try to buy gas cards for a long road trip. But the nice lady who answered their phone told me they would take 4-6 weeks to arrive. I thought that was odd because when I’ve done the same thing with Airmiles, the plastic turns up within a couple of days. So, once again, I had passed.

Thursday night, I looked at my well into six figures point total and figured I’d see how many it would cost to rent a car from Avis. I was astonished. I could get a great car for the whole weekend, available immediately, for 14,000 points; a mere drop in my bucket of points booty.

There was a small snag when I pressed the checkout button. A new window popped up, asking if I wanted to spend an additional 75 points to offset the greenhouse gasses I’d be burning with my rental car.

Considering just how much ecological damage a sub-compact’s CO2 emissions might do compared with a sub-Arctic mountain blasting debris 11 kilometres into the stratosphere and already blanketing much of Europe with carbon residue, I passed on saving the planet.

My reservation was quickly confirmed and just as quickly 14,000 points disappeared from my grand total.

Next morning I went down to Avis to pick up my car.

Now normally when I rent a car, I don’t bother with insurance. That’s because the transaction’s on my Visa card (for which I also earn Visa points) and it provides insurance coverage. But when you’re paying with points --- you’re not insured. So I needed to buy insurance.

How much did that cost? $85.00

So instead of renting all-inclusive somewhere else at $100, I had just used 14,000 Aeroplan miles to save myself a grand total of $15.

Thanks good people of the orange card. Lesson learned.

And you got me wondering if the whole reward points industry is less about actually rewarding people for being brand loyal than it’s a way for banks to sell more credit instruments and the corporations involved to appear more customer friendly than they actually are.

Not that I’m implying Aeroplan is in any way deceptive in how they run their program. But given that my bank always seems to add a couple of new service fees right after they announce Gajillion dollar quarterly profits and revelations that Goldman-Sachs is alleged to have helped defraud Billions, I’m just not sure anybody connected with any financial operation really has anything other than self-interest in their hearts.

That suspicion may make me seem incredibly naive. For further evidence, I would again refer you to the accountants above.

But whatever the answers to my questions are, I’m left with somewhat of a dilemma.

Having unsuccessfully tried more times than I can count to make my flight schedule align with an open Aeroplan seat. Having little interest in waiting several weeks to gas up. And not really being in need of most of their seasonal deals on patio furniture --- what am I going to do with all these friggin’ points?

I know I could contribute them to one of Aeroplan’s many charities, but why does it have to be their charity?

So help me out.

Let me know how to best or most wisely dispense with more than 100,000 Aeroplan points.

If you want me to cede them to you, just give me a good reason or a worthwhile swap.

I’m serious.

Because after this weekend, I’m really not sure why anybody bothers collecting them. And I certainly won’t be going out of my way to acquire any more.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 115: The Last Rodeo

There’s lots of great music on television tonight. A new episode of the breathtakingly good “Treme”. The Juno Awards from the Rock. But my love of good drama and patriotic spirit will both have to be set aside because tonight marks the beginning of “The Last Rodeo”. 


The Academy of Country Music is also broadcasting its awards show tonight, which will feature Brooks & Dunn, the most successful duo in any musical genre, the night before they embark on their final tour.

Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn were just a couple of struggling singer-songwriters in Nashville before somebody decided to stick them together in 1991. Since then, every single one of their 16 albums has gone multi-platinum, delivering countless hit singles while they almost continually toured the world.

I’ve been to a lot of concerts, Country and otherwise, and I can say without a doubt that I’ve never seen any artists have as much fun doing what they do as these guys.

So, why quit? In the statement they released last summer to their fans, they kept it simple. "This ride has been everything and more than we could ever have dreamed. If you hear rumors, don't believe them. It's just time.”

Whether Brooks & Dunn win any of the awards they’re nominated for tonight won’t matter. They have nothing left to prove.

But if you’ve got a “Hillbilly Bone” in your body, you know its time to turn up and show your appreciation.

In honor of the occasion, here’s Brooks & Dunn’s latest hit followed by a taste of their inimitable concert style.

There are lots of Canadian dates on the upcoming final tour and you can find tickets here. Even if you’re not a Country fan, you won’t regret the experience for a moment.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Only In America

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Even New Zealand Kicks Our Ass


We need to talk…

This weekend, screenwriters from across the country will gather in Toronto for the Writers Guild of Canada National Forum. A mix of elected representatives, industry experts and committed scribes, they’ll engage in an intense and free-ranging discussion of issues facing the local writing community.

And there’s a lot of important stuff for them to hash out. Recent changes in regulatory policy, impending broadcast licence renewals, transmedia, crossplatform, development funding and much more.

But if they’ve got a moment, I hope they might also ruminate on the creative conundrum that’s bugging me this morning.

How come the rest of the world is making television people want to watch and we’re not?

Take New Zealand.


I kid, Kiwis. Some of you know me and understand how much I like you and your country.

New Zealand, like Canada, shares the geographic misfortune of being right next door to a comparative media behemoth. In their case, it’s Australia. And for years, the best and brightest NZ creatives crossed the Tasman Sea to work in the much busier film and TV world of OZ.

One night in Auckland, a cab driver told me that New Zealanders weren’t all that troubled by the migration as it was raising the average IQ of both nations.

That export of talent began to change when the “Lord of the Rings” cycle filmed there. Every time we took a haitus on “Beastmaster” many in our cast and crew pools boarded planes to pick up a few days on those epics. Many continued to make the trip when Hollywood discovered the unnatural beauty of the place and shipped over more projects.

That has led to one of the unexpected breakthrough hits of the current TV season “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” which, though peopled with creatives from around the world ( including Toronto screenwriter Miranda Kwok) primarily features New Zealand talent.


If you haven’t been watching “Spartacus”, you need to start. Over its first 13 episodes it has exhibited everything a writer needs to learn about creating, sustaining and evolving a television concept.

For its first few episodes, the series clearly showed its raw creative roots in bad gladiator movies and the graphic novel, F/X excess of “300”. But through a combination of inspired writing, committed performers and an unapologetic grasp of its genre, it has quickly found a rabid following.

The twist endings, precisely motivated but still unexpected character turns combined with dialogue that’s part Shakespearean part grindhouse, not to mention sex far hotter than the overly self-conscious “Californication” have resulted in an exhilarating hour of television.

Indeed, I’ll confidently predict that the penultimate episode of Season One will become required viewing for anybody designing a season recap, finale set-up and/or tease for Season Two.

Early on, I began to wonder why “Spartacus” was being shot in New Zealand. The series makes little or no use of the local landscape. In fact, most of it takes place in front of tightly contained sets or a green screen. That means there had to be some kind of a “deal” making the location preferable to others more convenient to the producers.

And since the added costs of working a distant location usually offset any tax credits or currency fluctuations, that means that somebody down there thought “Spartacus” was worth having on the national resume.

How does a country with fewer than 5 Million people have the courage to make that creative decision, when a country 7 times its size (Canada) somehow can’t?

And “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” is but one example of our creative reticence and risk aversion. Across the television landscape, Canadian production is falling further and further behind the mainstream.


I've watched the opening episode of "Treme" four or five times now. HBO apparently shared my initial reaction that David Simon has already surpassed his work on “The Wire”, because they picked up Season Two on the basis of public reaction to the pilot.

Here’s a show that doesn’t make the smallest attempt to provide you with any character background or dramatic frame of reference and leaves you an hour later with a complete understanding of who its people are and why their future journey is imperative to your own life.

And Khandi Alexander, all I can say is: I don’t know if you already have a husband or a boyfriend. But if you want another one, my email’s in the top right corner of this page.

Meanwhile "Justified" just keeps taking the rules of building a series world and fucking with them. Every single scene crackles with fresh approaches as familiar images, character types and reliable cop show stories are reworked into something you’ve never seen before.

I swear there are moments where lead actor Timothy Olyphant does a perfect imitation of Clint Eastwood for the first half of a line and then with what’s becoming a trademark smirk transitions through “Smokey and the Bandit” to “Deadwood” and beyond.

This is a series that knows exactly what its audience has come to see --- and will get around to that when it damn well feels like it.

A few years ago, shows like these would have been defined as “pushing the envelope”, examples of the concepts you can get away with on pay or cable services that the rest of television can’t do.

But we’ve rapidly reached the point where they’re not somewhere in the stratosphere, they’re the basic audience bar of expectation.

Toss in "Breaking Bad", "United States of Tara", "Weeds", "Mad Men", "Big Love","Pacific", “Sons of Anarchy”, "Burn Notice" and others and you quickly get to 20 or 30 shows we can't even run promos for in one of our dramas without being embarrassed by the comparison.

You can't go by a few weeks of ratings but, on average, more people are watching one of those series in Canada than "18 to Life" or "Dan for Mayor".

And that’s despite the fact that they are broadcast on networks with a tenth of the audience reach of CBC or CTV.

We're getting left in the dust and there isn't one local buyer of content who communicates any desire to attain that new basic level of execution.

This week the Banff Television Festival, perhaps the world’s most respected annual conference on the state of television, announced the nominees for its “Rockie” awards, celebrating excellence in World television.

The only Canadian nominee in the Comedy category is “Little Mosque of the Prairie”, a show that has seldom even tried to be funny, let alone succeeded at it.

In the Drama category, our lone nomination is that "Blood Diamond" rip-off, "Diamonds" -- which was really a co-pro we enabled as the minority partner.

In one of the new web categories, the best face we can show the world is apparently -- “The CTV Olympic Torch Cam”.

And while there’s a “political” element to most awards, enticing some to attend with a trophy or nomination or there’s horse-trading among juries to give everybody some recognition they can trumpet at home; more and more it appears we’re on the nominee list because we’re the host.

Banff has in the past also honored some of the true geniuses of television. But this year the Lifetime Achievement award and Award of Excellence will go respectively to William Shatner and the guy who invented "So You Think You Can Dance".


For me this only confirms where our problem lies.

From the point of view of those who make the green light decisions, Canadian television is not about serving an audience, creative originality or even producing content that can compete equally with the rest of what’s out there.

For the most part, Canadian TV has become doing the least that’s expected as cheaply as possible while maximizing access to a complex web of Public funding.

There is no thirst for national success, no hunger to acquire major international sales, no willingness to risk.

If there is going to be any future for any of those screenwriters gathering in Toronto this weekend, we need some kind of "Own the Flatscreen" campaign. And without the Public, government or network will to get behind that idea, we’re going to have to find some way of triggering it ourselves.

The kind of great television being made elsewhere can only be replicated here if we become the first ones demanding that better work be done.

And if that doesn’t happen, it really won’t matter what transmedia models and licencing policy we come up with.

Because the audience will be watching something else.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Unleash Your Inner Mogul

Who says you need actors to make a movie? Why have your vision messed with by a director? A crew you need to pay? Network notes? Money to rent equipment and buy day old donuts on the craft service table? Forget it.

All of them are history.


Things of the past along with, “We don’t do period.”, “The horror market is over-saturated” and “Nobody cares about growing up Ukrainian in Winnipeg.”

Never again will an under-funded government program or change in bureaucratic policy torpedo your dreams.

Everything and everybody standing in the way of that brilliant script mouldering in your top drawer from becoming a film – or at least a youtube clip – is no longer a problem.

Now -- “If you can type, you can make movies”.

That’s the claim of a Xtranorml, a software developer offering a free download you can use to get that scene you just wrote on its feet.

Maybe it’ll help you figure out what isn’t working. Maybe it won’t. But it’s a lot more worthwhile than using a break to see if your Farmville cow needs milking.

Years ago, somebody sent me a primitive animation program that did much the same thing.

I was working a cop show at the time and used it to put an aardvark and chicken in a pink convertible squad car. Brought to life with the bad “Back up? I’m not waiting for back up” dialogue you’ve seen in every D2DVD hardboiled cop movie, the Aardvark bailed to get killed leaving the chicken to explain what happened to arriving carload of heavily armed hippos.

Like any software program, what Xtranormal offers is only as good as the talent of the people using it. This won’t make you Cecil B. DeMille. Although, if you’ve noticed how dated and overstated “The Ten Commandments” has become with time --- it’ll come close.

Simply install the free download, choose from a variety of visual styles and actors and feed in your script.

Then sit back and watch the oddly fascinating take on the material that results. Trust me, I’ve had real actors and directors come up with worse executions of what I wrote – or thought I wrote.

There is a growing selection of finished “films” on any number of websites dedicated to Xtranormal movies. Many of them are at least worthy of a Humpday coffee break screening.

So, unleash your inner Mamet --- sorry, UNLEASH YOUR INNER MAMET and give it a shot.

It might even help you discover why nobody else is interested in your masterpiece.

Or that you really are on the verge of creating one.

Like this…

H/T Joel Scott

Monday, April 12, 2010




The Stanley Cup Playoffs, the greatest spectacle and the toughest trophy to win in all of professional sport!


And while signs like this spring up all over the country as my hapless Leafs miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year; once again it is time to separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the real heroes from the wannabes and poseurs.

This is where those with hockey smarts and the courage of their convictions can also shine. Because next to getting stitched up on the bench and playing with a broken leg, the most venerable tradition in the quest for the Stanley Cup is the "Hockey Pool"!



Will Dixon and I have been in hockey pools at least as long as we've known each other. No matter where we are or what we're doing, we have honored our on-ice warriors season after season by picking who we feel are the best among them and putting a little money on their sweaty behinds.

Three seasons back, being thousands of miles apart and with most of the people with whom we regularly communicate passing through our blogs, we cooked up this little plan to hold our hockey pool online. It was an astonishing success! Last year was awesome. And this year it's going to be even bigger and better.

Because we’ve got one new rule designed to shake things up a bit!


You join "The Infamous Writer's Hockey Pool" by sending me an email at with "POOL PICKS" in the subject line between 8:00 AM EST Monday (today) and 7:00 PM EST Wednesday night (April 14/10) when the first pucks drop in Pittsburgh and New Jersey.

In your email, list the 10 skaters and 2 Goalies who make up your team. They can be members of any of the 16 teams competing in the opening round.


This year, at least THREE of your picks must come from one team. Three skaters, two and a goalie, your choice. The point is to make a small commitment (25% of your roster) to a team you think is either going to win it all, go deep or roll up a lot of points.

The scoring is as follows:

For every goal or assist scored by your skaters you earn 1 point.

Every time your goalie wins you also earn a point and seven points each time he earns a shutout.

Shutouts in Stanley Cup play are rare and skaters will always earn more points than a Goalie, but this is a way of evening things up.

The 12 players you choose are yours for the entire tournament. As the teams your players represent fall by the wayside, they cease earning you points, but their totals remain a part of your total. In the end, the poolie with the most points wins.

I'll post your team online. From then on, you can check your progress by going HERE. All players will be provided with a password so they can check their progress throughout the playoffs.

Once you're inside the pool site, you'll see all the information on the poolies and their teams. You'll also receive a twice weekly update of the pool standings, which either Will or I will post for all the world to see on our blogs.

See -- easy and fun! The only thing missing is the chance to share the beer and wings and make fun of each other's choices. Anybody who wants to open a Facebook group to handle the trash talk or Twitters their opponents has our blessing.

Now, playing in a hockey pool is very simple but a certain amount of strategy is involved. I've seen poolies pick players from teams that exited early still win because those players racked up so many points in the early going. I've also seen poolies with terrible picks come out on top because they had a hot goalie in their pool.

Like everything else in the game, it's ultimately up to the hockey gods.

If you're new to pools or the game, you can learn more on who you should pick by visiting TSN or Sportsnet.

tonsil hockey


Well, since gambling is technically illegal, and the entrants are going to come from a lot of disparate currencies, we've decided that your entrance fee must be something either related to your career or a sports souvenir you've gathered along the way.

Once the winner is decided, all entrants must ship he or she a DVD of a film they made, an autographed script, their Bobby Orr lunchbox or even that old Honus Wagner baseball card that's just gathering dust in grandpa's desk.

There will also be prizes for the poolies finishing 2nd or 3rd as well as side contests along the way.

There are no other restrictions to participating. Just join up, pick your players and set aside your victory swag.

Both Will and I are looking forward to playing with with you!

Game on!!!!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 114: Chelsea Lately

All guys like to climb into bed with a good lookin’ woman. My own personal bent is good lookin’ women who are also intelligent and funny. That’s why, lately, I’ve been climbing into the sack with Chelsea Lately.


For those who like to curl up with another late night talk show host, all I can say is --- you’re missing one of the quickest and funniest shows on television.

In all the recent fooforah about late night hosts, nobody mentioned the best one in the bunch.

For me, Conan was always hit and miss. Moments of brilliance surrounded by a lot of hyper edginess that never paid off. I gave up on Leno years ago, tired of tired jokes I’d heard in high school being grafted onto the morning paper, often literally.

Dave’s great but the shtick’s getting old and although Craig Ferguson is the best of the bunch, if I’m still awake when he comes on it’s because I’ve got something better to do.

John Stewart and Stephen Colbert offer a different kind of comedy brilliance. But if I haven’t been keeping up with current events or haven’t bought some of the “partisan spin”, I sometimes feel left out.

“Chelsea Lately”, hosted by comedian and actress Chelsea Handler and written by a massive writing room equally staffed by men and women, is just going for laughs, while being about the only thing worth watching on E!.

Like all talk shows, it opens with a monologue. But soon it zips to a panel of comedians commenting on pop culture and moves on to some filmed sketches and a celebrity interview. Ms. Handler’s sidekick throughout, her Ed McMahon or band leader foil, is Mexican midget Chuy Bravo.

Needless to say, the emphasis is not on politics or being anywhere near politically correct.

This morning I’ve added two recent clips to give you a flavor of what goes on. First up is a monologue. To be honest the only one I could find that you’d class SFW. The second interview clip might be less so, but it’s a great example of a Q & A style I can’t imagine any other late night host even daring to contemplate.

It’s also Canadian content, featuring actress Jennifer Love Hewitt…

What? She’s not Canadian! What’re you talking about? The woman’s on CBC 10 hours a week! Name me any other Canadian actor who gets that kind backing from our nationalist to a fault National broadcaster!

Seriously, can you believe the numbnuts running that place, complaining about a $12.5 Million cut to their Canadian show budget when they spend a multiple of that sum on buying low brow American series!

Hey, Mr. Stursberg --- Can I call you Dick? Okay, so Dick, just stop spending taxpayer money in Hollywood and you’ll have even more than you had last year for your shows!

Honestly, it doesn’t have to be this hard!

Here’s Chelsea. Enjoy your Sunday.


Jennifer Love Hewitt

Thursday, April 08, 2010

What Fresh Hell Is This?

Taking a coffee break on the afternoon of April 1, I noticed a benign looking little notice in the newspaper. It was a tiny box at the bottom of the page requesting comments on a CRTC Public Proceeding labelled “2010-141”. What peaked my interest was that it was an application from Canwest appearing barely a week after the Commission had opened the door for that network and others to apply for “Value for Service” fees.

The Broadcasters had spent a week crowing over their victory and the financial windfall to come while the rest of the industry combed through the entrails of the “Decision” to figure out what it really meant for the future of Canadian TV programming and the ability of Creatives to earn a living within it.

Lawyers and executives for the Canadian Film and Television Producers Association, Writers Guild of Canada, ACTRA and the Directors Guild of Canada reached a consensus that while the 5% decline in Canadian content was a loss, a requirement that 30% of network gross income must be spent on Canadian programming (5% on Programs of National Interest --- ie: drama) might stall any further decline in local production and could --- if the networks didn’t play games --- even incrementally increase work opportunities.

So, we should cautiously go along with this. And hopefully, once the nets and cable-co’s found a price point amenable to the Public, a bright new day might dawn. After all, the network campaign for fees had made it clear that they really wanted to “Save Local TV”.

And then I read “2010-141”.

The basic intent of the application is to provide Canwest specialty channels HGTV, Showcase, TVtropolis, MysteryTV, Discovery Health, Food Network, Life Network and The History Channel with “additional programming flexibility consistent with the Commission's policy set out in Regulatory frameworks for broadcasting distribution undertakings and discretionary programming services – Regulatory policy, Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2008-100, 30 October 2008”.


Well here’s what “Additional Programming” you’d be getting on just one of them…

food proposal

The lists are almost identical for each of the other 7 Specialty channels. And that lower box explains the trade, one two hour movie for 72 hours of programming that may have nothing whatever to do with the Genre or program schedule with which you associate the Channel or why you subscribed to it in the first place.
Ready for Religion, Sports and Kids programming on Mystery?

What do you think of having more Religion, Sports and Music videos on Discovery Health?

Maybe pro sports and music videos on History?

How about dance on Food?

Stand-up comedy and renovation game shows on HGTV?

Of course that additional 72 hours of something else also means you’ll be getting a whole lot less of what you used to tune in that channel to find.
Looks like the plan is to take whatever is spent on one genre channel and then program it on as many of the others as possible. Because basically, it will make all of those specialty channels look almost identical to the free one which now calls itself Global.

This is how Canwest is planning to get around the new rules. And it was submitted to the CRTC weeks prior to the end of March “decision” on Value for Service. 

And the Commission, in its wisdom, chose not to reject it out of hand for going against the spirit of any number of terms of licence and scheduled a hearing.

They also published their notice seeking interventions 2 weeks before the receiving window closes and in the middle of almost everybody Public and industry still trying to figure out what their last “Decision” really meant  -- if it ever becomes policy.

Given the revelations that have come out in the last few days about how much the CRTC ignores its own studies and reports while both Broadcasters and Cable Companies play fast and loose with rules that were intended to protect the consumer and support a domestic film industry, there can be no other conclusion but that this group of Commissioners has completely abrogated their mandated responsibilities.

For its part, Canwest made it clear in their last shareholders meeting that they intended to repeat programming across as many of its platforms as possible. Their thinking is not designed to provide value for service, but to make you pay 3, 4 or 5 times to receive the same programming. And often that will be programming you are currently watching for free in return for submitting to a few commercials.

The broken business model is going to be utterly shattered in the hope that’ll get it working again.

Nobody seems to have paused to consider that when you can see the same thing on eight different channels, maybe you don’t need seven of them anymore.

Maybe with the internet, you don’t need any of them --- or a game playing Cable provider to boot!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Tipping Point

prairie wind

There’s a welcome breeze from the West today in the form of a brilliant post from Will “Chinook” Dixon.

Will parses the ongoing (make that endless) process of developing and instituting broadcast policy in this country from the point of view of how it’s devastating those who are supposed to be around to create content once the smarter folks in Ottawa figure out just what that content is going to be.

You can savor the Prairie Prince here.

To be honest, there have been moments lately when I’ve felt that the broadcaster endgame in all this is to starve us all out of the business so they can appear before the CRTC one day and ask for their Cancon to be reduced to zero because --- well, there doesn’t seem to be anybody making any!

And if what Uncle Willis has to say doesn’t make you want to sign up for Bartender school (Hey, at least the drinks are handy) then you might want to read this little tidbit from Broadcaster --- Canada’s Communications Magazine --- reporting a CRTC Audit proving that Cable companies have not even come close to living up to their Community Channel requirements.

The investigation (conducted from 2002 to 2005) discovered that all the systems weren’t meeting their 30% public access requirement while one didn’t have any of that content at all.

In addition, commercials were often double the allowable limit while there were so many Cable promos at times that one Rogers outlet was cited as providing programming "similar to an hour long promo of their services."

Not that we didn’t suspect the cable companies were bending the rules as much as the broadcasters they vilify. But what’s astonishing here is that this report was in the hands of the Commission well before all the recent back and forth over cable fees and local TV.

And not one of those high paid idiots brought it up.

They just sat silent while representatives of Rogers and Shaw made lengthy arguments about how much they contribute to their communities and even pitched the concept of local broadcast funding being open to their community stations.

That comes on the heels of the recent revelation further down this page that the Commission hadn’t read its own report indicating more and more Canadians are abandoning cable while claiming the public won’t have a problem paying higher subscription fees since they haven’t up to now.

It’s becoming clearer to anybody paying attention that the current Commissioners of the CRTC aren’t at all current with what’s going on in the industry that they regulate, nor have they been for some time.

And that means that unless they’re all replaced, we’re going to have to find some other way out of this mess.

The usual Canadian response in these circumstances is to run to Daddy (ie: the government) but no matter how many times we march on or send busloads of our leading lights up to Ottawa to meet MPs and bureaucrats, that doesn’t seem to work either.

It’s time we admitted that our elected representatives maybe aren’t as bright as we’d like or they’d like us to believe they are.

Every time one level or another of politicians votes themselves a raise, we hear the phrase “It’s necessary to attract intelligent people to the job!”. Let me ask you – how well does that appear to be working so far?

Although the following is an American example, I think it speaks to the kind of people who often attain elected office and why we can’t depend on them to figure out issues foreign to their experience or more complex than cutting a ribbon.

Meet Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA). That’s Democrat from Georgia not Director’s Guild of America. Although I sense if Hank was a director he’d be one of those who’s okay with the possessory credit.

Government and Government regulators are not going to save our industry. That’s going to be up to us. So head on over to Will’s place and read what he’s got to say. And then let’s start tossing around some ideas.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The University of Zero

“If from the many truths, you choose one and follow it without question; it will become a falsehood and you – a fanatic.”

That’s one of my favorite quotes, from a  philosopher whose name I can never remember much less spell when I do.

They used to study philosophy at Universities in Canada. There used to be classes in Logic and the works of great thinkers, humanitarians and artists too. All manner of concepts and ideas were discussed, debated or passionately argued. Sometimes a consensus was achieved. Sometimes it wasn’t. Students, professors and guests on campus agreed to disagree and continue their exploration of the issue. Those who disagreed at least considered the opposing view.

I’m sure all of that still happens in most of our halls of higher learning. In others, I’m no longer sure.

ottawa finger

“Since arriving in Canada I've been accused of thought crimes, threatened with criminal prosecution for speeches I hadn't yet given, and denounced on the floor of the Parliament (which was nice because that one was on my "bucket list").

Posters advertising my speech have been officially banned, while posters denouncing me are plastered all over the University of Ottawa campus. Elected officials have been prohibited from attending my speeches. Also, the local clothing stores are fresh out of brown shirts.

Welcome to Canada!” – Ann Coulter

A couple of week’s ago, American conservative pundit Ann Coulter was prevented from speaking at the University of Ottawa after Police determined protests by students had reached a point where a peaceful assembly was not possible.

Although I lean toward conservative points of view on a lot of issues, I can also be found to the Left of Che Guevara on others. And I’ve never found Ms. Coulter to be of laser-like intelligence.

But sometimes she’s funny.

Not as consistently funny as Jon Stewart, Bill Maher or Lewis Black, slipping into partisan rants more often than they do. But she often offers a skewed or new perspective that does shine some light.

Maybe, like Country music or Curling, she’s an acquired taste. Certainly she’s polarizing and controversial. I’ll even credit her with holding views and spewing quips other people find offensive.


Prior to her arrival in Ottawa, Ms. Coulter received a letter from a U of O Provost suggesting she bone up on what constitutes “Hate Speech” under Canadian law.

“Apparently Canadian law forbids "promoting hatred against any identifiable group," which the provost, Francois A. Houle advised me, "would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges."

At the risk of violating anyone's positive space, what happened to Canada? How did the country that gave us Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd and Catherine O'Hara suddenly become a bunch of whining cry-babies?”

With that last comment, Ms. Coulter offers one of those keen observations I was talking about.

What has happened to us?

Where and how did our once legendary willingness to think outside the box get corralled into only holding discourse along narrower, more accepted paths?

I’m not talking about making the land safer for holocaust deniers, racists or misogynists. But I’m starting to wonder what’s gained when magazine columnists and night club comics are being hauled before Human Rights Commissions for “upsetting” somebody in their audience. 

It’s a syndrome I encounter almost daily on this blog. And it’s something I see happening with growing regularity when fellow screenwriters, bloggers and other people in my industry take on a current issue, critique a new TV series or even disagree with the opinion held by one of our Guilds, associations or local institutions.

Even when we’re JOKING, there always seems to be somebody either demanding an apology or dropping a dime on you, in the hope some authority figure can whip you back in line.

Our culture seems to have become one in which, if I don’t happen to find “Little Mosque on the Prairie” funny, I must be in favor of bombing civilians in Iraq.

We’ve become this almost “1984” society where not getting your news from Peter Mansbridge implies you must be hearing it from Bill O’Reilly and are therefore suspect on any number of levels.

And God forbid you should question the motives of any group someone else is hoping might one day throw them a bone.

We seem to have a lot of people quite willing to defend those who have no more use for them than any of the other junkyard dogs they employ for that purpose. And while their hair-trigger startle response to the slightest of slights isn’t going to affect me much, it does lead to the heartbreak of reading far too many emails thanking me for saying something the writer --- just --- can’t.

I’ve posted before about how counterproductive silence really is. But I do understand that some will never have the confidence or courage to say what they really want to say. That’s sad, inevitably allowing situations to grow worse. But it pales beside taking it upon yourself to silence someone else.

More and more, having opinions which have nothing to do with vilifying any race, gender, sexual preference or creed, but simply imply you’re not running with the herd are considered “offensive”.


The Canadian Human Rights Act ensures that everyone can live free from discrimination. Yet somewhere along the way, its official mandate seems to have been adjusted to gives us the right to live without ever being offended.

Human Rights Commission spokespeople regularly parse the difference between “freedom of expression” which is guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and “freedom of speech”. In the words of one of HRC Investigator, “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value”.

Gee – isn’t that kinda Xenophobic? Maybe even “promoting hatred against an identifiable group” – like Americans?

During the debate about the Coulter non-debate, a lot of people pointed out that the University of Ottawa had recently hosted Israel Apartheid Week during which all kinds of far from Conservative speakers were given a podium. According to many, this led to a lot of “offensive” things being said.

But somehow nobody on the campus seemed to have a problem with those views.

Last Sunday night, two Ottawa University students determined to be Jewish sympathizers by another group of Students were attacked with a machete.

I wonder if anybody on campus is going to have second thoughts about what happens when we only hear one side of a debate. Or did those two students, like Ann Coulter, only get what they “deserved”?


The victim of the Ottawa Machete attack is interviewed here. Not much that hasn’t been covered by most news outlets. Except for what he says in the last minute of the interview. Tune in at 08:52 to have your mind completely blown by what passes for journalism on Canadian television these days.