Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

We made it through another one. And by now you should know the best way of getting through midnight –- imitate the New Year Baby…

Get Drunk

Get Noisy

Get Naked

In whatever order you choose.

Celebrate the best of 2014 and look forward to the promise of 2015.

And should the morning find you a little the worse for wear, pick one of the five hangover cures illustrated below. One of them will have you back among the living in no time…

Monday, December 29, 2014

Save Country Music

Sometimes the things you love go sideways. Sometimes a hero rises to make things right again.

I grew up around country music. The first records I bought were by Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton. Elvis and the Everlys came along to seduce me away, but they still had country roots, so I wasn’t really cheating –- and then something went wrong.

Country became sequined suits and big hair. Lounge Lizards in Stetsons and an endless stream of songs about big trucks.

Thank God, “The Beatles” arrived about the same time.

I mostly left Country behind. But something of what it had been still flowed through my veins and drew me to Leon Russell and the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Eagles.

Then sometime in the 80’s, New Country arrived. The sequins were mostly retired and there were artists singin’ my life and tellin’ stories corporatized Rock and Boy Bands could never understand.

I saw some great concerts over the next decade or two. Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, McGraw, Faith, Reba, Paisley, Strait –- and Brooks and Dunn.

Brooks and Dunn owned me. They had a musicality and a creative range that was constantly new and surprising –- and inspiring. Other people must’ve thought so too –- in 20 years, they charted 30 number one singles and sold tens of millions of albums.

And then –- they suddenly retired. While still on the upswing. Garth had taken a powder a couple of years earlier. Strait followed them last Summer. It was as if the good were gettin’ while the gettin’ was still…

And all us Country fans secretly knew why.

There was still a lot of great talent around. But the airwaves were dominated by real little trucks, cold beer, short shorts and sugar shakers. Every group that couldn’t make it as a Ramones cover band was suddenly hot in Nashville, all of them singing virtually the same song.

Tom Petty dubbed Country. “Bad Rock with Fiddles”. And he wasn’t wrong.

The Joker had Gotham by the throat and Batman had been paid not to show his mask on Music Row.

And then Ronnie Dunn decided he’d had enough. He hadn’t brought the magic of Country to millions only to see it pissed away like a warm Coors light.

He turned against the very industry that had made him rich and famous:

“I did it for 20 years, and I learned the mainstream way of doing things was just where ideas go to die… It got to the point where everything we thought was fairly innovative, we would get cut off at the pass. So it’s time.”

Time to kick some ass. Time for a grown up to take charge. Time for Music to matter more than money.

Ronnie Dunn’s first salvoes in his one man revolution were fired this week with a fantastic Facebook page entitled “Save Country Music” that illustrates the genre in all its artistry.

And he’s released a breathtakingly innovative album, “Peace, Love and Country Music”.

Here’s the first single. Despite the powers that be in Nashville it’ll probably still be number one before your New Year’s hangover has lifted.

Country Music has a champion. Garth’s already heard the call and kicked his walker to the curb. Artists like Eric Church and Zac Brown are cheering and I’m thinking you will be too.

This is what it means to care about what you do, to be a grown up artist and a grown damn man…

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 356: The Year In Review

Whatever Stephen Hawking might have to say, the best explanation of Time that I’ve heard came from Burton Cummings of the “Guess Who”.

It went something like “Time speeds up as you get older” and that was based on his experience that at Age 5 it took forever for his next birthday to come around because the wait amounted to a high percentage of the time he’d been around. But when you hit fifty that waiting time has been reduced exponentially.

Maybe he’s right or maybe I just got too busy to notice much else, but 2014 seemed to fly by. CNN is wall-to-wall this morning with panels of missing airplane experts, and I couldn’t turn it off fast enough, the cloying banality of their months ago search for MH370 still feeling like it was only yesterday.

I’ve reached a point where I neither compile or read year-end “Top Ten” lists anymore, mostly because they’ve stopped listing the films, books and music I thought were exceptional in favor of stuff I found ground-breaking when it first came around in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.

Us artist types (or maybe our publicists and critics) appear to have the worst grasp on how we got where we are creatively.

But that doesn’t mean that 2014 didn’t hold a lot of stunning moments, inspirational people and events that touched us all.

This is the best compilation I’ve found of what the year we’re about to vacate brought to our attention.  I’m not sure if it’s a fond reflection or encouragement to hurry up and move on.

I hope 2014 was special for you on some level. Mostly I hope that whatever dream or desire went unfulfilled will come to fruition in 2015.

Thanks for dropping by The Legion this year. I hope you’ve found enough worthwhile to come back as we move into the future.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!!!

santa gif

Bless us every one…

The Silent Bell

29 or 30 years ago I was writing and story editing a new CBS espionage series called “Adderly”. I had never worked so hard and couldn’t imagine having time to do anything else but catch some extra sleep.

Then I got a call from a guy I’d never heard of named Steve Scaini, who had an idea for a short film. A Christmas special for CBC. I tried to plead that I was up to my eyes in spies and international intrigue. But Steve persisted and I agreed to meet him.

What intrigued me most in our first meeting was that despite CBC being in one of their “we’re so broke we have no money for shows” periods, Steve had found a pocket the network didn’t know they had. A pocket with just enough cash to do a real-low-budget half hour.

I liked his idea and we both had a couple of other things in common, a huge love of movies and a particular affection for films by Frank Capra.

Both of us wanted to make the kind of “feel-good” features that Capra made famous.

So I said “yes” and a few weeks later “The Silent Bell” went into production and made it onto TV screens a couple of days before Christmas.

It won some awards and did well with audiences. So well the network had us do another real-low-budget Christmas special a year later. Then one for Easter and a couple of just generally Capra style feel-good stories, “The Silver Cloud” and “Calendar Girl”.

29 or 30 years later, Steve and I are still trying to make that “Feel-good” feature and might finally do it next year with “Ghost Train” .

But “The Silent Bell” still has a special place –- especially at Christmas.

I hope it fills you with the Spirit of Christmas and makes you feel good too.

Silent Bell from Spellboundfilms on Vimeo.

Monday, December 22, 2014


Like most people, I was introduced to Joe Cocker via the documentary feature “Woodstock” which, as a teenager, I must’ve seen a dozen times. I loved that movie so much I even bought tickets for my parents to see it with me.

Joe Cocker was only on screen for a few moments. But the performance was indelible, one of those explosive instances when you were treated to not only all the fiery possibilities of rock n’ roll but the birth of new star.

His was an energy so raw and emotive that you wondered how anybody could sustain it for a full set, let alone a career.

Around the same time “Woodstock” was affecting the culture, I was finishing theatre school, under the tutelage of a teacher who engrained a serious work ethic in his students.

Decades later, Bruce Springsteen would define his own approach to performing as a simple understanding that somewhere in his audience was somebody seeing him for the first time and somebody seeing him for the last. Both deserved the best show he could give them.

I learned the same thing. You gave 100% every night, no matter what. There was no such thing as a small audience, a matinee full of doddering Seniors or being down with the flu, dog-tired or bored with the show.

100% every time you stepped on stage. Joe Cocker embodied the code completely.

There’s probably no better example of that than a film he made a year after “Woodstock” entitled “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” a Rock-doc chronicalling what has often been called “The greatest Rock Tour of all time”.

It features Cocker on the road with Leon Russell, a band that would form the core of “Derrick & The Dominoes” and the likes of Rita Coolidge working as a back-up singer.

Late in the film, after dozens of electric Cocker performances, the camera follows the band into their dressing room. People laugh and joke, pass around bottles and joints, ready to kick start the after-party.

Cocker sits alone, drenched in sweat, sopping it up with a towel, unable to speak or engage anyone. Utterly spent.

I’d never seen that level of commitment and doubted he’d make it to 30.

But he did. And although I never got to see him in his prime, sometime in the 80’s he played a small nightclub in the North end of Toronto.

I made it to the remote (at least for me) location a couple of songs into the first set and opened the door to see a much depleted Joe Cocker on the tiny stage, backed by a disinterested band, playing for a bunch of drunks wrapt in conversation and oblivious to the legend onstage.

I stayed for one song, watching a man whose talent had been diminished terribly by alcohol and drugs struggle to perform, his once awesome engine running on little but fumes. Not wanting to witness the train-wreck or be left with my illusions shattered, I left to make the long, cold journey home.

Cocker would later get his demons enough under control to record several more hits and thrill live audiences. Perhaps an example of learning to give 100% off-stage as well as on. Or maybe realizing that Life is short with little of it is spent in the spotlight.

Joe Cocker died today at the age of 70. Some say it was a result of lung cancer and others that he passed from nervous exhaustion.

Part of me hopes it was the latter, a fitting end for a man who not only blazed in like a comet but had the courage and fortitude to relight his fire when it threatened to go out.

A moment from “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”…

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 355: A Christmas Carol

Everybody has a Christmas Carol they love. And one they can’t fricken’ stand!

With the favorites you can find yourself immediately transported from the most dire mood or circumstances to one of peace on earth and goodwill to men. Your tune just so fully embodies all that the season stands for.

But the same Carol that says it all for you brings out the Grinch in others. And with everybody and their chipmunk putting out a Christmas album, the song might work but the rendition doesn’t.

Past Christmases here at The Legion, we’ve hosted Christmas concerts of our favorites and posted those submitted by readers.

What we’ve never done is offered 20 different versions of the same Carol – because – y’know  - that could get tedious.


It’s done by the irrepressible Anthony Vincent, the voice of Ten Second Songs. This may not be your favorite Christmas Carol. But I’m sure there’s a version in here that’ll put you in a Christmas mood. If only for ten seconds.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Great Dictator

This is a story of how far Hollywood has fallen. How far it has strayed from the true spirit of cinematic artistry. How much it has become the purview of the bureaucrat and the bean counter, given to making the safe choices and decisions that don’t make any waves.

As the story goes, Charlie Chaplin and French writer/director Rene Clair sat next to each other at the New York Museum of Modern Art screening of Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi Classic “Triumph of the Will”.

When the film ended Clair was in tears. Chaplin was beside himself with laughter and immediately set to work writing “The Great Dictator”, his satirical take on Adolf Hitler and his Fascist minions.

His film would see Chaplin producing, writing and directing as well as playing the dual roles of his Hitler character, Adenoid Hynkel, and a Jewish barber who lives in Hynkel’s fictional dictatorship of Tomainia.

Chaplin, though beloved worldwide, was no fan of Fascists. And they didn’t have much use for him either. After seeing the comedian mobbed by fans during a 1931 visit to Berlin, Nazi supporters dubbed him “a disgusting Jewish acrobat” even though Chaplin wasn’t Jewish.

Most of Hollywood was aware he was out to skewer the Fuhrer and German diplomats and distributors made it clear to several studio heads that the vast German market might become unavailable to Hollywood should Chaplin’s film be released.

But Chaplin had his own studio and wasn’t swayed by entreaties from other moguls. Despite being English, he also didn’t give a moment’s thought to the British government’s decree that his film would not be shown in the UK so as not to upset international relations.

He simply ploughed ahead. Filming began in September of 1939, one week after War had been declared and was completed six months later. It was Chaplin’s first all-talking film and editing and post production took up the entire Summer of 1940.

During this time, Chaplin worried that audiences would not be interested in an anti-war comedy during wartime. But stories of Nazi atrocities against European Jews continued to bubble in the public consciousness, so he persevered.

The film was released in October of 1940 and became not only an instant hit but the largest grossing film of Chaplin’s career. Even in the midst of the Blitz, more than 9 million tickets were sold in England alone.

According to a recent BBC documentary “The Tramp and The Dictator”, Chaplin also personally dispatched a print to Hitler and the real life dictator was confirmed to have screened it –- twice.

Today, the film retains a 92% “Fresh” rating and a 95% Audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry in 1997 as being "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant".

Consider this next to today’s decision by Sony to shelve the Seth Rogan take on another great dictator “The Interview”. It’s a telling indictment of how the entertainment industry now operates.

Chaplin would not be laughing. And sadly, neither are we.

The Narrative

Politicians or the media are often accused of developing a "Narrative" to advance a certain agenda.

This means that their agenda drives what stories are reported or given priority as well as the shading or spin they receive. Stories which counter or disprove the Narrative are downplayed or outright ignored.

That’s because everything within a “Narrative” has to fit with the truth somebody needs you to believe.

To be honest it seems like a lot of work. Especially these days when the endless reach and archive of the Internet makes it easy for somebody with an alternative agenda or truth to counter whatever Narrative is being constructed.

A couple of days ago, Politico, a Washington based media outlet which focuses on the U.S. Congress, lobbying, media and the Presidency published an interview with Barack and Michelle Obama wherein they described racial slights they have endured.

Among these was an anecdote Mrs. Obama recalled about her interaction with another shopper during a much publicized visit to a Target store during her husband’s first term in office.

In the Politico interview, it is offered as an example of what Black Americans still have to deal with in what’s been called a more equal and “Post-Racial America”.

And yet, the same story had a completely different and humorous spin when the First Lady related it to David Letterman in 2012.

Why is a tale that was funny and charming so recently, now an example of what’s wrong with the country?

Surely the Narrative can’t be that desperate for confirmation…

The story begins at 4:40…

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 354: Here’s To Waiting…

Surfing in Canada in November…

Recovering from Pneumonia in December…

Some people need to realize they’ve reached an age when it’s better to watch the action with a drink in their hand..

Here’s to waiting…

At least until it’s fricken warmer…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Piper’s Lament

This crossed my path this morning. The writer swears it is true…

As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man.

He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery in the Nova Scotia back country.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn't stop for directions. I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight.

There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch. I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late.

I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play. The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around.

I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man.
And as I played "Amazing Grace", the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together.

When I finished, I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car.
Though my head was hung low, my heart was full.

As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say,
"I never seen anything like that before, and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.”

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 353: Underwear

I was in a play once where I made my entrance in a kilt, the sight of which unhinged another character so badly he drew a gun on me and demanded “Whatcha got under there?”

My nervous reply was “Underwear…”

He gestured angrily to the kilt, “Under THERE!”

Which elicited the same response, “Underwear.”


A cheap laugh to be sure. But nobody’s ever successfully accused me of being above them.

Although most of us wear underwear, for some reason the sight of somebody with their trousers down has been a staple of comedy probably from the time undergarments were invented.

And, of course, the more garish the boxers the less chance the laughter will be brief.


It’s as if there’s some special insight into our psyche that is implied by the first thing we step into in the morning.

Guys are always asked “Boxers or briefs?” as if that uncovers some hidden aspect of our personality. But as a guy who alternates and even opts for commando in warmer weather, I have absolutely no clue as to what that might be.

I will admit, however, that the first time I visited a Walmart I noticed a display of boxer shorts under a banner reading “Leisurewear” -- and a little voice inside me excitedly whispered, “These people understand you”.

Somebody who knows a ton about underwear is blogger and entertainer Jenna Marbles, who has spent years explaining the fairer sex to guys –- and probably other women as well.

A couple of days ago, she posted an explanation of the personality traits indicated by different female undergarments.

Since we’re entering the office party season and all that those affairs entail, I thought it might come in handy for some.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Giving Tuesday

It’s perhaps fitting that following the consumer excesses of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there would be a day designated as “Giving Tuesday”.

The concept is kinda like the original version of Boxing Day where the wealthy would celebrate Christmas and the following day box up both the uneaten feast and the items their gifts had replaced and ship them off to those in need.

Maybe with much of the Christmas shopping out of the way, it’s an opportunity to remind yourself of the true meaning of the season and the reality that it truly is better to give than receive.

The cool thing about Giving Tuesday is you’re not required to support any given charity, cause or person in need. You give what you want where you want.

Or you can just give of yourself. Help a sick friend run errands. Take out the garbage for the elderly woman down the street.

Just do something to exhibit that the season has arrived – and maybe continue that spirit for the next three or four weeks to bring some light and warmth as our natural world gets colder and darker.

If you’re short on ideas, Indiegogo has a whole list of great places to start. My personal favorite is here.

And maybe what Westjet has done for its third consecutive year will further inspire you.

No matter what you do, rest assured it will not be insignificant to somebody in need of your gift.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 352: The Unheard Voices

Fourteen weeks ago, I wrote a post about the reaction to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

It was based on my experiences shadowing cops while writing and producing the CBS TV series “Top Cops” and my belief that this was an example of the “Killer Cops targeting young Black Males” narrative on social media would ultimately be revealed as false.

I also suggested people wait to hear the whole story before reaching conclusions.

For having those opinions I was widely branded as out of touch and insensitive at best and a Racist at the other end of that scale.

No doubt, I’ll be getting more of the same after what follows. Once people have become invested in a position, it’s difficult to shift their perspective.

But for what it’s worth…

Here we are three and half months later. A Grand Jury has ruled that the officer in the case did not act inappropriately and a St.Louis County investigation has revealed that several witnesses knowingly falsified their statements or went along with the “Killer Cop” narrative for fear of reprisal.

But the narrative continues. And the haters, the race baiters and the media cheerleaders of doom continue to stoke the fire. They all say they’re doing it to create a teachable moment or encourage change.

But I wonder if they’re only listening and reacting to each other and not paying attention to the people who actually live, work and police in towns and neighborhoods like Ferguson.

It’s tough living in a tough part of town. It’s just as hard to be charged with providing law enforcement there. The vast majority in both of those communities just want to get through their day without encountering any more crap than they already have to deal with.

But few in the media and, it seems, fewer with an activist agenda have any time for what those two communities know from experience.

Because what they know doesn’t fit with the accepted narrative and suggests a more complicated path to peace and understanding.

Maybe it’s time those unheard voices got to say their piece.

Maybe it’s time more of us listened.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Forgotten Movies

Recently, Esquire Magazine published a list of 15 “Forgotten Films”, movies they felt had been undeservedly ignored and required an opportunity to be re-discovered.

Among them is a film I’ll never forget –- because its failure brought down a Canadian film I was in that barely ran through a projector thereafter.

The year was 1973 and the film on Esquire’s list is “Scarecrow”. It had the finest of credentials, a critically acclaimed director, an experienced writer and producing team, as well as Hollywood’s two hottest stars, 1971 Oscar winner Gene Hackman and 1972’s star of “The Godfather” Al Pacino. 

The Canadian film it impacted was called “The Supreme Kid”, a first feature for its writer/director, a first time producer, not much money and four relative newcomers onscreen.

The film starred Frank Moore, fresh from playing the lead in the Toronto production of “Hair”. Helen Shaver, making her screen debut. A wonderful Vancouver actor, Don Granbury, and a grizzled vet with two features and a CBS pilot under his belt –- me.

Nobody working on “Scarecrow” had ever heard of us (perhaps still haven’t) and we didn’t know anything about their movie. Yet the two films could have been fraternal twins.

Oh, the stories differ, but the themes and milieu are identical. Both were about drifters and the hobo life. Both explored that world by having an experienced king of the road take a young protégé under his wing to teach him the ropes.

Al and I were the protégés. We even wore the same hat.

“Scarecrow” was released first. And it bombed. Ours was ready a few weeks later. But distributors looked it over and said, “Scarecrow didn’t make any money. Why would we take a chance on this?”

So “The Supreme Kid” got a couple of screenings here and there, won some awards at a few European Festivals and then –- it faded away.

I saw “Scarecrow” in a nearly empty Toronto theatre when it opened. I don’t recall the reviews or why the theatre was so empty. Mostly I remember thinking, “We did a scene like that –– and like that –- and like that one too”.

And I was new enough and naive enough to walk out thinking, “Well, they’re kinda the same. But maybe people will like our version.”

And Esquire’s assessment is correct, “Scarecrow” was undeservedly ignored. Along with the rest of the films on their list, it’s well worth your time and attention.

As for “The Supreme Kid”, who knows. Somebody sent me a glitchy VHS copy pulled from a 16mm print maybe ten years after it was made. For all I know it’s the only remaining copy.

I chose the scene below because most of the rest won’t make a lot of sense unless you know what comes before. It’s also because it was the only shoot day during a month of filming in Vancouver when it didn’t seem to be pouring rain.

And it was fun. I hope it’s fun for you too.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 351: Zombie Roaches

I finally figured them out.

For as long as I’ve been an adult, I’ve been confounded by bureaucrats. I’m sure that at a certain level they’re wonderful human beings who enjoy their friends, love their families and when it comes to most things are no different from you and me.

But mostly they’re the bane of our existences, quietly gathering in windowless rooms to construct some arcane policy or design a new form to fill out that will leave the rest of us confused at best and broken of wallet and spirit at worst.

No matter who we elect to govern, they remain, impervious to examination or elimination.

And somehow their numbers continually increase. Even more mysteriously, they thrive while the very industries and enterprises which they regulate struggle or wither.

But a trio of recent events has finally explained they and how they operate to me.

The first part of the puzzle arrived in the form of several videos of MIT professor Jonathan Gruber bragging on how important and integral he was to drafting the US Affordable Care Act (commonly known as “Obamacare”).

Whether or not you embrace the way Americans have chosen to dispense health care, it was still unsettling to watch a bureaucrat relate the process of concocting a law in a manner so obtuse nobody could see its flaws or understand how it really worked.

The impression given by Gruber is that this is the only way the rest of us can be correctly governed. Because not only do we not know what’s good for us, we’d be opposed to such good if the process were open and honest.

It’s like the way Telefilm and the CRTC work in Canada, convincing us high ratings or box office numbers are not the real measure of success and/or that the Canadian broadcast system has the best interests of artists and audiences in its dark and venal heart.

The second piece of the puzzle arrived in the form of a comment by an American journalist outraged at Gruber’s assertion that “You can’t handle the truth”.

He described bureaucrats thus, “They make life more complex. And then they become this leeching new class of people who profit from the very complexity they are imposing on society”.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Why else would somebody sit in a windowless room pushing paper all day –- if there wasn’t ongoing financial security waiting at the end of the process?

You ever notice how hard it is to fire bureaucrats, even when they cost us billions by screwing up? And what else but some kind of sinister manipulation of the system allows that to happen?

Ever notice how the number of Canadian films (for example) decline year by year while the number of bureaucrats supervising their production or financing increases?

It used to be you’d go to film or television celebrations and meet other artists. Now it’s primarily people with government jobs partying beyond the velvet rope.

Part three dropped into my lap today while attending a TED conference. It was a talk about parasites.

Which, when combined with puzzle piece one and puzzle piece two, explains everything.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 350: Burnsy

Every Canadian has gotten a traffic ticket or worse from a cop who looked like Pat Burns. A face that said, “Seen it all. Heard it all. Nothing you’re gonna say or do will surprise me.”

In fact, Pat had been a motorcycle cop for a few years in Gatineau, Quebec before he found his true calling –- coaching hockey. And ironically, he was brought into the game by the same Hockey God, Wayne Gretzky, who would break his heart a decade later.

Burns began his coaching career with the Gretzky owned Hull Olympiques in 1984 and was hired as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens four years later, taking them to the Stanley Cup finals in his first season.

In 1992, Burns came to Toronto to coach the Maple Leafs becoming the match that sparked one of the most explosively joyous seasons in the team’s history.

At that point, hockey crazy Toronto had been without a Stanley Cup run for 25 years. The city had endured a quarter century of defeat and humiliation. Burns put an end to all that with the help of stars like Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Felix Potvin.

They got within a game of the final. A Canadian classic showdown with arch-rival Montreal stolen by a blatant missed call on the aforementioned Wayne Gretzky.

As devastating as the loss was to Leaf fans, Burns had given the city back its self respect and no man was more greatly loved among those wearing the Blue and White.

At the time of that Cup run, I was writing and producing “Top Cops” for CBS, a series that dramatized true crime stories. Doug Gilmour’s sister-in-law worked for us and his dog Harley used to come in with her of a morning and curl up on the couch in my office until Doug picked him up after practice.

That led to us calling Pat in to see if we could do one of his stories on the show.

I was expecting a tough, no nonsense intimidating guy. But the one who arrived was funny, personable and engaging. And while we wanted to tell the story of Pat going undercover in a Maximum security prison to bust a drug operation, he demurred, saying it wasn’t that big a deal.

Now even those unfamiliar with prisons knows how dangerous it must be for a police officer to be locked inside, unprotected amid a population where there’s a very good chance he could be recognized.

No matter how much we flattered and cajoled, you could see Burns gently but firmly dig in his heels and we realized that his past life was in the past and all that really mattered to him was the here and now.

A couple of years later, I was sitting behind the Leaf bench in LA as they were getting their butts handed to them by Gretzky’s LA Kings. I began berating him for something and he turned to give me the finger.

I don’t know if he recognized me or not, but Leaf Manager Cliff Fletcher was sitting nearby and when Burns was fired two days later, I concluded that Fletcher had reasoned, “Gee, if one of those idiot fans in LA can see we have a coaching problem, maybe we do have a coaching problem.”

But my intrusion on Burns career didn’t slow him down. He moved on to Boston where he won his third “NHL Coach of the Year” trophy. And not long after he took the New Jersey Devils to a Stanley Cup.

Burns passed away from Cancer in 2010. And tomorrow he will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, a city that still loves him more than any coach the Leafs have had before or since.

No matter what some idiot fan in LA might have to say.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Return of the Drive-In Movie

Johnny Rockets Drive-In

Search “Drive-In” on this site and you’ll find out just how much I love Drive-In movie theatres.

They were big when I was a kid and you attended pre-pyjama’d so you’d nod off after the first feature and your folks could steal a little Mommy-Daddy time.

In my teens they were a necessity, for all those reasons that Drive-Ins remain the stuff of legend and burrowed a special place in our now no longer teenage hearts.

But with the rise of the VCR, DVD other new technologies of convenience as well as the changing economics of the movie business they went away.

At one time, there were over 5000 Drive-In theatres in Canada and the US. Barely 6% of them are still hanging on.

And with the advent of cheap HD home screens and Surround sound, not to mention online access to pretty much any genre that used to be the date-movie-make-out-inducing reason d’etre for their existence, nobody believed the Drive-In would last.

But their number is about to double.

The Johnny Rockets hamburger chain has announced it will construct more than 200 new 500-700 car Drive-In theatres over the next three years.

The venues will feature 4K digital projection, high quality sound as well as access to a wider menu than is offered at most theatres and the option to have your snacks delivered right to your car.

All of this is great news for people who love the Drive-In experience. And it could be beneficial to all movie-goers since those audience members who insist on talking, texting, taking a phone call or updating Facebook during a movie won’t be intruding on you anymore.

But it might also be great news for those of us who make movies as well. As late as the 1980’s and early 90’s, it was still possible to finance a genre picture with not much more than Drive-In audience appeal.

Much of the teen horror, low-budget action and cult canon had its origins in cobbling together a deal with Drive-In chains. And who’s to say that won’t be possible with a company that has deep research into the interests of their own customer base.

Links between the makers of consumer products and movies have been around for a long time. And I’m not talking about the free toy promotions that fast food outlets regularly coat-tail to blockbuster features.

Pizza companies have included package codes that access either film downloads or VOD features. A microwave popcorn maker is running one such promotion right now.  So it seems plausible that product placement could easily evolve into direct funding of films that might play into some hamburger chain’s demographic.

What all this underscores more than anything else is that some corporations still understand the profit potential and power of movies and in getting behind a distribution model that works for them, could be creating new markets for us.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 349: Farmer With A GoPro

I grew up in the middle of the Canadian prairies. Farm country as far as the eye could see -– which, given the 360 degree horizon, was about as far as it’s possible to see.

Everybody you knew either farmed or depended on farmers for their livelihoods. Sons of toil raised from tons of soil to sort of quote P. G. Wodehouse.

And although the growing season was short, it encompassed all twelve months of the year.

In Winter, farmers prepared, repaired equipment, readied the seed, stocked up on fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide.

In spring they planted, hoping the last snow had really been the last.

In Summer, they sweated. Praying for more rain or less hail.

In Fall, they harvested 24/7. Wives and kids were pressed into service. Every free hand and each minute counted to bring the crops in before the cold returned.

And all of this took place far from the public eye. Nobody saw how hard they worked or how long –- just so the rest of the world could eat.

A few years back, while visiting Saskatchewan, I noticed that while little about the job had changed, some of the tools had.

Farmers called up weather forecasts on their Blackberries. Supplies were ordered over diner eggs and coffee on an iPad. Tractors now as big as Transformers were tricked out with GPS screens and Sirius radios (tuned to Outlaw Country or the Rider game of course).

Lately, it seems, one prairie farmer also availed himself of a GoPro camera, finally allowing those who’ve never been on a farm in the middle of nowhere to experience how that chunk of the world puts in its time.

It’s really quite inspiring.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The CRTC Blinks

Oddly –- given the wall-to-wall coverage accorded to the recent CRTC/Netflix showdown at the Gatineau Corral, the following has barely raised a Spockian eye-brow in today’s media reports…

Yesterday, speaking to the Vancouver Board of Trade, CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais said the following:

“There is one thing I can share: ‘Regulating’ Netflix is the least of our concerns.”

WTF? After all those threats and everything? Really?

“Whether we choose to attack these disruptive services or learn from their success will be our regulatory decision to make and ours alone.”

In other words. The CRTC will do nothing on Netflix, Google, Youtube, Crackle and the rest in the foreseeable future.

Blais then went on to assert that, despite the opinion of many critics, he was not a dinosaur.

Just like Shaw, Rogers and Bell –- who don’t think they’re dinosaurs either.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

When It’s Your Turn In The Barrel

There’s an old Showbiz adage that applies to every part of life which goes something like –- “Be nice to people on the way up. Because you’re going to meet them again on your way down”.

We all get a turn in the barrel.

Your great new TV series gets a time slot where it’s crushed by the competition. The night before the movie you’ve poured your heart into opens, your star gets caught selling drugs to school kids. Your latest pitch goes into development at the CBC.

And then you’re looking around for friends to help you move on.

If you’ve got any friends left -- after your attitude and behavior on the way up was arrogant, self-entitled or otherwise boorish, selfish or dismissive.

Over the last few years, a lot of people have been troubled by the divisive language and tactics of American politics. It seemed that the contempt of one side for the other knew no bounds.

Last night, the American electorate stepped up and took a side in that battle, in the process putting their president in the barrel.

And as of this morning, the losing side has been talking about Bi-Partisanship, co-operation and compromise. Words they hadn’t used much when they were the guys with all the power.

Not long ago, a US newspaper put together a list of all the names the White House and its media supporters had used for those who were either members of the Republican party or in some way opposed to the President’s policies.

These included:

Enemy, paranoid, greedy, Bible-thumping, gun-toting, fear-mongering, racist, sexist, bigot, birther, redneck, homophobic, xenophobic, global-warming denialists, anti-science, Neanderthal, barbarian, terrorist, hobbits, member of the Flat Earth Society, Nazi, bully, Yosemite Sam hillbilly, beer-toting, pot belly, church going, small-minded, whack-job, Evangelical, gun nuts, wing nut, knuckle-dragger, clueless, Teabaggers, narrow-minded, evil, redneck freaks, judgmental, backwards, sick, anti-intellectualist, slut-shaming, slimebuckets, forced-birther, neocons, Zionist, neo-Confederate, wild nasty hard-right fringe, extremist, sewer rats, wacko birds, bitter clingers, misogynist, you suck, Obamaphobic, chirper, white nativist, crazies, creepy azz cracka, unpatriotic, white grievance, dumb, cracker, white devils, rabid, squealing political pigs, anarchist, fanatics, extortionists, lemmings, gangsters, murderers, banana republicans, fakers, ideological crusader, Cruzites, anti-government idealoges, fraud, Taliban, arsonist, suicide bombers, suicidal lemmings, spoiled children, hostage takers, overlords, Jihadist, blowhard, religious fanatic, freedom fiend, kidnappers, Jesus freaks, dangerous, troglodyte, from the Planet of the Apes, resurrection of the Confederacy, lemmings with suicide vests, anarchy gang, idiots, wife abusers, frightened white people, right-wing loonies, tea-hadist, tea-tards, segregationist, freaking retarded, morally disgusting, Confederate flag-waving, breeders, Robert E. Lee lovers, Southern white radicals, losers, violent rapist, blathering idiots, climate change deniers, way crazy, racist killers, rabid animals, Cro-magnon, cave dwellers, narrow-minded, toddler, headless chicken brigade, monkeys, morons, virus, teapub, Christofascists, healthcare repealers, gun-crazed, wide-eyed creatures, bed-wetting kidult, climate fool, Trotskyite radicalists, Dixiecrats, willfully ignorant fucksticks, anti-Obama, Huns, nutcases, pseudo-militia of gun-toting nutcases, lunatic, and radical terrorist…

That’s a lot to come back from.

No matter how big and important you’re getting in life, never forget that the barrel awaits.

Everybody gets a turn inside.

And the people you met on the way up are the only ones who can get you out.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Lazy Sunday #348: Ambition

It’s apparently been a bad week for those who dream of travelling to the stars.

Over the last few years, the US government decided that it could no longer justify the expense of space exploration and cancelled most of the NASA program that had inspired a generation and taken us to the Moon and beyond.

Thus the North American exploration of space was outsourced to private contractors and for-profit corporations. Some saw that as the death of a dream and others as a chance to make some money while keeping the dream alive.

After the launch explosion of a cargo rocket to the International Space Station and the crash of Virgin Galactic’s Space Tourism craft, the media theme has been that the exploration of Space has flamed out or been pushed far, far into the future.

In other words, the promise of my youth that I would travel to Mars in my lifetime is an empty one and I need to revise the bucket list.

Why do the News media spend so much time discouraging us?

If you ask me, it’s their way of making sure we keep watching the news instead of going out there to make it.

Because here’s a piece of news I bet you didn’t here anything about during all the exploding spaceship stories –- ten days from today, we’re landing on a comet.

For all the life changing scientific advancements the exploration of space has so far accomplished, the real purpose is to find intelligent life and maybe even find planets where we and other life forms might survive and thrive.

Because. let’s face it, the Earth isn’t going to be here forever.

As far as humans are concerned, life can only be sustained with water and comets offer a clue to not only where water might exist in the universe but could explain how the water and maybe even Life on our own planet came to be.

To answer those questions, the European Space Agency launched a probe in 2004 to chase down and land safely on a comet zooming through space.

Most of the scientists involved in what’s known as the Rosetta Mission thought the odds of accomplishing that ridiculously complex task were beyond our current technology. But they gave it a shot anyway and a few days ago Rosetta caught up with a comet and began transmitting photos of its target.

On November 12th, it will land a probe on the comet’s surface and gather data revealing not only what it’s made of but what part of the universe it came from.

It’s a pretty spectacular reminder that the human hunger to discover the truths of our existence and our ambition to overcome whatever obstacles lie in our path will not be dismissed.

You can find a great primer video on how the Rosetta Mission works here. But the NSA has also released a short video to explain why we as a species do so much of what we do.

It’s called “Ambition” and it applies to so much more than the exploration of Space.

Ignore the news. The meek shall inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the Stars.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 347: Deep Fried Tequila

It’s said there are two kinds of people --- those who drink Tequila and those who start to dry heave at the sound of the word. And I’ve been in both camps.

My first experience with Tequila was almost my last. I was on tour in some remote Canadian city where there was virtually nothing to do on your day off.

Another member of the cast and I found a movie theatre playing some Peckinpah film that featured the salt, shot and lemon ritual which made Tequila famous.

Only we’d never seen it before and it looked like fun. Certainly a lot more fun than we’d been able to find in our current locale.

So after the movie we found a liquor store and after searching the back, the clerk found a single dusty bottle of Jose Cuervo.  Did I mention we were in the middle of friggin’ nowhere?

We had less trouble finding lemons and salt and returned to our hotel to teach the rest of the cast what we’d learned.

I mostly don’t remember much after that. Save for the part where I hugged a toilet for what seemed like forever.

For years after that, whenever I caught even a whiff of the evil brew, my stomach would go into contractions and I had to hang onto something until the cold sweat abated.

And then somebody got me to try a Tequila Sunrise and the healing began.

I’m still careful with Tequila, as any sane person should be. But if you’re on any beach, primed to party or just need to unwind after a particularly rough day –- Tequila’s a fine place to start.

And now you can deep fry it.

I mean – why wouldn’t you…

What follows is the perfect snack to hurry your Halloween, Grey Cup, So-Long Indian Summer, American Thanksgiving or any other holiday season party into action.

I offer two recipe videos. Although the recipe is incredibly simple and the same in both. The first catches the mood Deep Fried Tequila inspires, while the second offers a more sensible approach.

Either way, you are in for a treat.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why Isn’t The CRTC Regulating Movie Theatres?

Until not too long ago, movies were delivered to theatres in heavy metal cans. They arrived on planes, trucks, trains or buses to be carted up to the projection booth and threaded onto the movie house projector.

But that doesn’t happen anymore.

Now, virtually every motion picture theatre in Canada (and indeed around the world) has been converted to digital. Kodak even recently announced that it will stop manufacturing movie film altogether next year.

The movies you pay to see at your neighborhood multiplex now arrive either on a hard drive or –- most often -- they are streamed to the theatre over the Internet -- you know, just like Netflix sends their movies into your home.

Over the last while, Canada’s Broadcast Delivery Units (BDUs) have lobbied our Federal regulator, the CRTC, to regulate Netflix and force it and other OTT services to carry a prescribed percentage of Cancon while at the same time paying into the Canadian Media Fund.

They argue that Netflix, by producing its own original content, and arriving on TV screens by way of the same cable their shows do, is operating as a broadcaster.

But if the CRTC wants to decide that Netflix’s online delivery system means they must adhere to Cancon rules, why are they not applying the same logic to feature film distribution and requiring Canadian theatre owners and/or the studios who supply them to meet the same Cancon rules and pay into the same production fund?

Because the arguments that our BDUs are using to define Netflix just as accurately define every single American, British, Australian, French (and so on) studio.

Via their 300Mb/sec secure streams, these studios or their distributors are sending content into Canada while taking huge profits from the country and returning nothing to the domestic production industry.

Every single charge levelled by those who support regulating Netflix applies to every single new feature film being beamed into the country by Warner Brothers, Paramount, Disney and every other studio or distributor with a movie in a Canadian theatre.

Why do they get a pass while the CRTC browbeats Google and Netflix on behalf of the BDUs?

Why are these OTTs called “parasites” while Disney (which uses exactly the same tech to service Canadian theatres) uses its CRTC appearances to fear monger -- threatening to pull out of the country rather than see its content unbundled?

Either the CRTC is playing favorites, doesn’t fully understand how new media functions or has revealed itself once again as looking out for the interests of Canadian BDUs and broadcasters over the consumers (and film creatives) they are mandated to protect.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lazy Sunday #346: Something From Nothing

As most Canadian networks tread the safe and narrow with their new season’s programming or once again find a way to imitate what’s been done before, HBO continues to break new ground.

Friday saw the debut of the 8 part series “Sonic Highways” featuring the band “The Foo Fighters” tracing America’s musical roots and using that exploration to inspire new music.

Each week the band visits a different city and during one week of interviews and jam sessions with local notables constructs a new song which is recorded in an iconic studio.

It’s a remarkable concept executed brilliantly. If you don’t subscribe to HBO, find a way to steal it. This is one series worth being sent to video pirate jail.

Given this week’s announcement that HBO will soon begin offering an online streaming version of its service, it’s also a reminder of how those who intend to remain leaders in the industry use creative innovation to drive their continued prosperity.

And -- how those who continue to copy rather than try something new will find themselves left even further behind.

“Sonic Highways” first episode is set in Chicago, tracing that city’s connection to the Blues through Classic Rock bands like “Cheap Trick” and punk pioneers “Naked Raygun” examining how their music reflected the city and how the city in turn evolved the musicians who made it their home.

It makes engaging connections between the generations that have come and gone in the Windy City from Muddy Waters to Grunge, climaxing with a song whose lyrics reprise the highlights of what has been revealed in the previous hour.

What follows is a sampling of the series, followed by “Something From Nothing”, the song inspired by Chicago’s musicians.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Pirate Radio

By now, virtually every Canadian is aware of the stare-down going on between Netflix and our broadcast regulators, the CRTC.

But there’s a similar confrontation concurrently flying under most of our media’s radar between the self-same CRTC and a group of radio stations in Vancouver.

These stations, unlike Netflix, have their offices, control rooms and the boardroom where they meet with their accountant to sign their business and income tax checks in Vancouver. They have dozens of Canadian employees and spend most of their airtime covering Canadian issues.

But the transmitters sending their signals to audiences in BC’s lower mainland are across the border in Washington State, so they don’t have broadcast licenses.

And the CRTC has a problem with that.

Because it seems these radio stations are providing content to their Canadian audiences without an approved broadcast license.

Now what’s different about these Canadian stations is that they are all broadcasting to South Asian audiences in their native tongues.

So we’ve got yet another group who consider themselves underserved by our traditional broadcasters.

And the CRTC appears to need to bring them to heel like Netflix.

The Commission claims its main problem is that other broadcasters are losing Ad revenue to these Punjabi stations.

Kind of the same argument that’s been put forward for years by Canada’s private broadcasters with regard to the CBC. And yet we don’t see the CRTC acting on any of those beefs.

So what’s this really all about?

If you ask me, it directly parallels the Netflix situation. Broadcasters annoyed that somebody else is competing for an audience they’ve either ignored or undervalued.

While this once again exemplifies how the CRTC ignores its mandate of consumer protection to support the needs of the broadcast hegemony; it also reveals that like government bureaucrats past, they’ve realized that unless they pull on the jackboots, their power will be eroded.

Take for example, England in 1964…

Broadcasting there was tightly regulated. Whether or not they owned a radio or TV, citizens were required to pay a broadcast tax. A tax, they were assured, spent to provide them home-grown content. 

Vans with a rotating antennae on their roofs roamed the streets of British cities and towns, searching for those who were receiving radio and TV signals but had neglected to pay their tax.

Then, as now, artists were under the impression that this was how their jobs were created, nurtured and protected.


This was also the era of “The British Invasion”. An explosion of creativity in the form of “The Beatles”, “The Rolling Stones”, “The Yardbirds”, “The Kinks” and hundreds more.

But the government ran the BBC, almost the only radio and TV available, and BBC Radio allotted a mere two hours a week to Pop music.

And refused to change.

The greatest era in British musical history was virtually unavailable in its own country.

The powers in British broadcasting and government had decided that they knew better what was right for the country than the people to whom they answered.

And then –- along came “Radio Caroline”.

It’s name inspired by a Life magazine photograph of JFK dancing with his daughter Caroline in the oval office, symbolizing a playful disruption of government; Radio Caroline was a radio station aboard a ship anchored in International waters off the British coast.

Unlicensed and unregulated, it broadcast Pop music to an audience that averaged 22 million listeners per day.

The government was outraged, doing all it could to bring the ship and its backers to heel. And even though the ship was finally silenced in 1968, it changed British broadcasting and benefitted a group of artists with a level of income and notoriety they wouldn’t have had if the government had its way.

Like Netflix and BC’s Punjabi stations, Radio Caroline simply stood up for the belief that the consumer has the right to enjoy the content they want when and wherever they want it.

And if the audience and the content provider are happy with their arrangement, Government has no right to stand in their way.

Its time for the CRTC to be mothballed, so more of us can serve the audience we’re part of instead of having bureaucrats decide what we really should see and hear.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 345: All About That Bass

Paul Revere died last week. No, not the one from the famous ride. He would’ve been well over 200. This guy’s real name was Paul Dick (and yeah, if that was my name I’d have changed it too).

Mr. Dick was a restaurateur in Idaho, who played piano and dreamt of being a rock star. A dream he shared one night while picking up burger buns from the local bakery. A bakery which employed another aspiring rock star named Mark Lindsay.

The two hit it off, called up some garage band pals and went to LA where they became “Paul Revere and The Raiders”, dressed up in American Colonial duds and ready to fend off the latest British Invasion with a string of huge hit songs.

During my teen years I spent a couple of weeks on the road with “Paul Revere and The Raiders”. It wasn’t an “Almost Famous” thing. But it was fun.

Paul’s death brought back a lot of memories and I spent a couple of hours on Youtube re-listening to the songs they had made famous.

I don’t know what it is about Pop. But for all the great Classic Rock and Country that has become my soundtrack, a great Pop song still gets me right where I live.

What constitutes a great Pop song for my money is simply a song that sounds fresh and new –- and happy. Sometimes there’s a great riff or a lyric. But mostly it’s just a distillation of pure creative joy.

Somebody just going for it and having fun, not caring whether anybody else gets it or not.

But a lot of people do get it. Usually millions of them.

In the last few weeks there’s been a lot of controversy about one of this Summer’s great Pop songs “All About The Bass”.

That’s a song written by Meghan Trainor, a kid from Nantucket who dreamt of being a rock star, but figured she didn’t have the looks.

She wrote country songs for a while and then hooked up with a record producer who thought she should stretch a little.

So she wrote a song that made the rounds of hot female vocalists from Rhianna to Beyonce. But nobody bit, so Trainor and her producer pal decided to record it themselves.

Just another kid from nowhere with rock star dreams –- and like Paul Revere and Mark Lindsay –- a keen ear for what was fresh and new and happy.

Although all of that doesn’t fit with what is hip and cool and all that these days, it’s a formula that still works. Because fresh and new and happy touches something deep inside all of us.

And always will.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

And for a taste of “Paul Revere and the Raiders” try here.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 344: The Talking Dead

One of the best series on television, certainly the best at delivering suspense and horror, returns next Sunday. And this season, “The Walking Dead” promises to reveal where and how the Walker phenomenon began.

The secret of any successful series rests in either never changing anything (“Two and a Half Men”) or continually upping the stakes.

And when you make a major revelation such as the one “The Walking Dead” promises, the fan boys will inevitably be all over you if the explanation offered doesn’t fit with some obscure moment back in Episode One.

For me, that’s the reason “Lost” and “Twin Peaks” climaxed to such mass disappointment. Both had gone so far to hide what they were up to that ultimately no solution could satisfy those paying attention.

I’m betting the writers on “The Walking Dead” are smarter than that. Unless of course, their reveal is something like what follows…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Betting On Canadian TV

Now and then, I wander into a Casino. Since I mostly live in Canada, where wagering is government run, I don’t stay long.

That’s partly because our politically correct casinos seriously dial back the fun factor, designating where you can drink and how noisy you’re allowed to be.

In addition, there are stickers and signs all over the place reminding you that there are better ways to spend your money, you might not know when to quit and you’re marginally irresponsible just by being in the place.

But my short durations are mostly because, as with all state bureaucracies, Canadian gaming locations are structured to separate you from your money as quickly as possible.

Unlike Las Vegas, you seldom see big winners in a Canadian Casino. Even people walking out carrying more cash than they came in with are hard to come by.

A Vegas Casino Manager once explained to me that this is because when the House regulates itself, it can decide how little it’s going to pay out based on its current needs.

And as we all know, our governments are constantly “in need”.

Plus -- as our Provincial Lottery and Gaming Corporations constantly remind us, their profits fund hospitals and schools and kid’s sports, so you should actually feel good about losing.

But one thing I noticed on a recent trip to my local den of iniquity was how many of the slot machines were based on well-known TV series.

Some replicate TV game shows like “Deal or No Deal”, “Jeopardy”, or “The Price Is Right”. Apparently, “Wheel of Fortune” just became the highest earning slot machine of all time.

But there are also games using images, film clips and motifs familiar to all of us from “I Dream of Jeannie”, “The Munsters”, “Sex and The City”, “Cheers” and even “Judge Judy”. And it’s easy to see the appeal.

For most players, sitting in front of those spinning reels is not far removed from watching television. And it’s not a stretch to presume they pick those machines based on both an affection for the show and the belief that Herman Munster or Jeannie wouldn’t actually try to hurt them by taking all their money.

And of course, Judge Judy always plays fair…

But it got me wondering about the other gambling industry that Canadian governments control –- the TV business.

It’s just as risky as Casino wagering, hardly anybody wins and those that do don’t usually walk out the door with much. And in some locales, lottery profits even find their way into production budgets.

So why aren’t Canadian shows on Canadian Casino slot machines? Is their no quota on Cancon there? Given how much money these places vacuum from Canadian pockets, shouldn’t there be?

Has J-P Blais not looked into this? Isn’t there a casino in Gatineau not far from the very offices of the CRTC?

A few years back, I put up a post about all the money our Lottery corporations were paying out in royalties to US studios so that they could issue scratch and sniff tickets based on well known movies.

Does anyone know how much MORE money is leaving Canada so the nice folks from the care home can be bussed in to turn over their pension cheques to “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “CSI: Miami”?

Couldn’t those royalties be going to CBC or CTV to be recycled into new Canadian shows?

Why not a slot based on “The National” where Peter Mansbridge simultaneously charms or lulls people into plugging in quarters to cover his six-figure stipend as well as re-open some foreign news offices?

If people don’t think the kids from “Happy Days” are out to empty their wallets, wouldn’t they feel the same about the folks from “Corner Gas”?

And who better to set off those flashing lights than the gang from “Flashpoint” or those whacky “Trailer Park Boys” ?

Casinos could even appeal to regional sentiments by featuring a local show. I mean, “The Republic of Doyle” could be bringing money to The Rock forever.

Everybody wants to know how we’re going to finance TV shows once most of us cut the cord and turn to Netflix. And this is the perfect solution.

Less government money going to Hollywood and a new way for Canadians to give their nickels to home-grown talent instead of routing it through Mr. Rogers and Mr. Shaw first.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 343: The Gunfighter

The launch of the new TV season is well underway. And we’re being inundated by promos for all the new and returning shows, all of them knowing they’ve got to catch our attention quick or risk an early departure.

Most of these shows drive home their premise in these ads, making sure we know exactly what we’ll be getting. Others play coy, hinting at what might be in store, leaving it to our imaginations.

Among the latter group is CBC’s new series “Strange Empire” a Western featuring mostly female characters and promising to upend “Western conventions”.

Now, there’s probably no genre with more conventions than the Western and there’s almost as long a line of movies and TV series which have played around with them.

Sometimes, with “Blazing Saddles” or “F Troop” taking a different tack has proven quite successful. And now and again, a film such as “A Million Ways To Die In The West” comes along to suggest it’s maybe better to leave well enough alone.

However, all of those titles are comedies and from what I can glean from the “Strange Empire” promos, the intent is to tell a serious Western story quite seriously.

That’s a bigger challenge for audiences and after watching the “Strange Empire” trailer here, I started wondering if you maybe might want to get really good at a genre before you went about upending it.

Still -- I hope it goes well for them –- at least as well as upending Western conventions worked for director Erick Kissack and writer Kevin Tenglin’s brilliant little film “The Gunfighter” winner of the Audience Award for Best Short Film of the LA Film Fest.

Enjoy Your Sunday…

The Gunfighter from Eric Kissack on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Netflix Finally Changes Everything

Thank the sweet baby Jesus, the year or more of “Let’s Talk TV” in Canada has come to a close – at least the “Let’s Talk” part anyway.

And after watching the CRTC Hearings over the last couple of weeks, the strongest feeling I got was – “What was the point if you didn’t intend to listen to Canadians anyway?”.

For all of the intimate and online discussion groups and surveys and invites for submissions, the Commission panels were made up of pretty much the usual suspects –- craft guilds, consumer advocates and the Broadcast delivery units so the Commissioners could hear what really worked best for them.

And while the promised intent was to look at the best way to “unbundle” channels as well as make sure Canadians not tethered to a cable system had access to Cancon, the discussion inevitably devolved into what the usual suspects required and not what the public had said they wanted.

Unbundling (despite being a specific consumer priority of the current government) would (in the mind’s of the usual suspects) cost jobs and programming and diminish production funding. And providing Cancon to the untethered could only happen were something to be done about the entity most of the young and/or untethered have already embraced –- Netflix.

Much was made of the appearance of a Netflix representative on the final day of hearings, when the Commission demanded confidential corporate information and became outraged when Netflix said “Okay, but can you guarantee its confidentiality?”.

CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais went ballistic at the suggestion the regulator could not keep such information on the down low –- even though it has occasionally been required to release similar info when an intervener successfully argues it might be in “the public interest”.

Oddly, he also seemed to have forgotten he gave exactly such a guarantee to the Disney Corporation a few days previous.

Perhaps thus revealing his hissy-fit as being more about looking out for the interests of broadcasters (who agreed with the Disney position) rather than protecting those of the consumers he was appointed to serve.

Anyway, a lot of demanding and setting of hard deadlines followed. All of which Netflix ultimately ignored to the chagrin of supporters of the Commission and the relief of Canadian TV watchers.

In the end, what the hearings revealed is that what really needs to change about Cancon in this country is the way it is financed.

The current nanny-State solution operates such that money goes from BDUs to a Government supervised fund from which it then returns to the BDU owned channels to spend as they see fit. And the current level can’t be sustained when Canadians are cutting the cord and embracing online delivery of content.

As British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once observed about  Socialism – “Sooner or later you run out of other people’s money” –– and so the current method of funding Cancon similarly appears to have run its course.

And a lot of Canadians insist they never got either the programming they wanted or their money’s worth to begin with.

So where do we go from here?

If you ask me the solution is staring us right in the face. It’s a scary solution for many, but one we need to embrace quickly and rewire the system accordingly.

The solution is Netflix.

Or perhaps more correctly, the Netflix model. Give the consumer what they want, when and wherever they want it.

Anyone who owns an AppleTV, Roku, Sony or Boxee unit is aware there are a myriad of Netflix copycats out there already. From Crackle to Flixter to Youtube to offerings (currently blocked in Canada) from Amazon, Yahoo, Hulu and others.

Services offering sports and news and music are available too. On any evening the owner of a smart TV can access everything from SkyNews to KTLA to college sports or MMA from Bahrain.

Meanwhile, some of the drama and comedy content currently Geo-blocked is already being produced right here, created by Canadians –- and fully financed by an offshore OTT service because there is an audience the entity is certain will pay for the product and create a profit worthy of the risk involved.

In other words, the consumer is allowed to pay for what they want to watch rather than funding channels which may only have one or two or zero programs in which they have any interest.

“But”, I can hear the detractors cry, “What will happen to BookTV or Etalk or OUTtv if we all don’t pay for it!”. Sadly, the same thing that happens to anybody who makes a donut or screwdriver not many people want.

Yet, Netflix already offers more Cancon than most of us could find on the entirety of our local broadcast system of an evening. What’s more, it does not pretend to offer a genre, like History Channel or A&E which schedule precious little of the content suggested by their monikers.

Nor do those operating by the Netflix model retain or reorder new seasons of content for which the audience has precipitously dwindled merely because it reaps some hidden regional tax credit making production even cheaper, or fits some social engineer’s idea of what’s “good” for us.

This is a system based on one requirement, giving the audience what it is willing to pay for. And wouldn’t our current system benefit by following that one simple rule?

How likely would it be that fewer people would cut the cord or want their channels unbundled if the channels offered original content or non-copycat programming unavailable elsewhere?

But for as long as the current system has been in place, Canadian broadcasters have seemed averse to creating original content.

And of late, they’ve rerouted funding earmarked for production to reruns, declined to promote series beyond their premiere seasons and even suggested producers purchase ads on their own shows to make them viable.

And if you think any of that is untrue you’re probably a CRTC Commissioner who thinks Canadian broadcasters need further protection.

Indeed, you have to ask why the question, “When will we see a Canadian ‘House of Cards’?” was only asked of Netflix and not every other broadcaster appearing before the Commission.

It was almost like the CRTC was admitting it had given up the hope of such programming ever being delivered by a Canadian broadcaster.

So why don’t we go back to what the CRTC was originally designed to do –- to make sure Canadians have Canadian media options. Let them simply rule on how many hours of Cancon must be delivered during the various day parts to assure those options and then get out of the way.

Why don’t we have whatever funding comes from government or BDU’s flow directly to production companies who would then offer their produced content to whichever channel outbid the others for it –- exactly the way Canadian broadcasters now deal with CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX…?

Perhaps we find a way to incentivise private investment in production since the Netflix model reveals that there are now many new media players (and more on the horizon) in search of original content.

Does it cost us Culturally? Doesn’t it cost us more if Canadian Creatives can only find employment based on their regional availability or ethnic background or on series hamstrung by low budgets and limited to 8, 10 or 13 episodes a year?

All of that means we need to alter our Nanny-State approach, our welfare system for Cancon. And making such changes has historically been a good thing.

There was a time (and not so long ago) when you could only buy a drink in Toronto on a Sunday if you first purchased a meal. It was a way of keeping the Lord’s Day holy by reducing the public consumption of alcohol.

But all it really did was reduce the number of people employed in Taverns and the amount of disposable income going back into the community –- and maybe made those (perhaps like CRTC Commissioners) who saw themselves as pillars of the community, feel a little more self-satisfied.

Is public drunkenness in Toronto rampant on Sundays since the law was repealed? Hardly.

Will Cancon disappear if it isn’t government sponsored? Just as hardly.

If the current generation of Canadian Creatives has done nothing else (and they have) they’ve made it patently obvious that Canadians want to watch Canadian stories. How it is still possible for Network execs to crow about ratings in the millions in Public and still argue before the CRTC that the audience doesn’t really want that much Cancon?

How much further might we get if the broadcasters simply had an hourly quota of it to fill and it was up to actual Canadians who’ve chosen to create in their own country for their own countrymen to come up with the shows?

Netflix won’t be going away anytime soon. Nor will anybody be requiring that you watch two Canadian made Youtube videos before you can link to whatever else you want to watch.

And anybody arguing either of those as beneficial is simply handing Stephen Harper his next majority government. Because advocating against the gougers in cable and mobility is a proven political winner.

Canadians, via their massive embrace of Netflix, have clearly voted for freedom of choice. It’s time for our broadcasters to find their way into that game and get rid of a system which holds back the hands of the clock instead of reaching for the future.