Sunday, May 31, 2009


They go by a lot of different names, film society, movie club, cinemateque; the places where you can see films that won’t play the multiplexes and may never even arrive at the local Art House. In Paris, a city that has has more movies showing on any given day than any other city in the world, it might be a hole in the wall on the Champs Elysees, still screening Hollywood Film Noir classics years after their last North American appearance was in a Video store remainder bin.

They are the places where those who love film gather to worship, celebrate or learn the craft.


When I was 15, I joined the Regina Film Society. It was my chance to put on a black turtleneck and act all precocious, angsty and sophisticated. They met every other Sunday night through the winter at the Roxy theatre, a place I’d probably been the previous day, most likely to see an Audie Murphy Western double feature. I loved movies and I believe, back then, it was also the only way you could see one on a Sunday.

Most everybody else was a University type. They had beards and berets and read the British film magazine I’d only seen at the library and knew what words like “Auteur” and “Verite” and “mis-en-scene” actually meant. There was wine and cheese beforehand and everybody was too cool to ask if you were old enough to imbibe. And because it was a film society, there was also nobody saying you couldn’t gaze longingly at all the European boobies.

The film society exposed me to sub-titles, movies from countries I’d never heard of and guys playing chess with death. It allowed me the awesome experience of seeing “Citizen Kane” for the first time and the way it was meant to be seen -- on a gigantic screen. And it took me to places geographically and emotionally that Hollywood had never implied even existed.

Within a few weeks, I realized that people didn’t have to tell stories the way Hollywood did to get under your skin. To this day, there’s a shot in Kineto Shindo’s “Onibaba” that still makes my blood run cold.

Other film makers like Fellini and Truffaut showed me that there was more to life and movies than Hollywood had prepared me to expect.

Today, when pretty much anything is available whenever the fancy strikes, it’s probably hard to understand either the attraction or need of an online version of the Cinematheque.

But that same ease of availability comes with a plethora of material we’re told we “need” to consume to remain cutting edge or simply current and the films that might open us up to new experiences or just change how we think about movies or storytelling get lost in the flood.

Enter “The Auteurs”, a site that’s been in Beta for a while but officially launched last week during the Cannes Film Festival.

The Auteurs is a venue that combines the streaming of both classic and unavailable works of world cinema with an online film community. Here you can not only be stunned by the haunting austerity and back-looping structure of Masaki Kobayashi’s “Harakiri”, you can Twitter it directly to a friend so they can watch it too.

And it’s all free – creating even more hours you don’t have to waste watching endless summer re-runs or vainly searching the shelves of some nearby video store.

And since most of The Auteurs offerings come from the famed Criterion Collection, a simple HDMI cable link from your computer to the television allows you to see these films in their original pristine glory.

The Auteurs even programs theme collections so you can catch up on the works of a specific director, nation or genre.

And what’s more – it’s all free.

What you can watch on “The Auteurs” is limited somewhat by your location with a different menu of available features determined by your IP address. But new films arrive with regularity and the site’s online blog keeps you updated on the distribution agreements that need to be untangled before they can bring a new cinema classic to your computer.

However, there are already dozens available to view, many otherwise impossible to find and most capable of altering what you think movies are or what they can do.

Here you’ll find films with not only unpredictable endings, but beginnings and second acts you didn’t see coming as well. You’ll be introduced to a level of originality and creativity that’ll be in short supply during the FX heavy summer to come. And you’ll learn things about people in faraway places that will change how others may want you to perceive them.

Instead of trolling the web for a couple of appetizers today, visit “The Auteurs” sign up and enjoy a satisfying full course meal prepared somewhere outside your cinematic comfort zone. You’ll be very glad you did.

And enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, May 29, 2009


We’re into the final stretch and the two teams of Gladiators we watched last year are waiting in their separate Vomitoriums to battle anew. Since the time of Caligula, the sight of old adversaries strapping on their armor to seek revenge or a reprise of victory has held a certain additional excitement.

Yeah, it’s fun to see somebody new get a shot, but the storylines in a battle rejoined are brimming with possibilities.

cup preview

Sydney Crosby seems to be on a mission, hungry to prove he really is “The Next One”. Evgeni Malkin has transformed from a guy with a cold to somebody hot as a pistol.

On the other end of the ice, Marion Hossa faces the team he abandoned after last year’s final flanked by a handful of guys with fistfuls of championship rings who know this is the last time they will play for the ultimate prize. How’s that for motivation?

Meanwhile, closer to home, the “Infamous Writers Hockey Pool” has reached a point where only the top half dozen remain in the running. The Current standings being:

1 Moviequill 179

2 Will Pascoe 177

3 Michael Foster 172

4 Mark Wilson 166

5 Brian Stockton 161

6 Allan Eastman 159

6 Peter Mitchell 159

8 David Kinahan 158

8 John Callaghan 158

10 Barry Keifl 154

11 Larry Raskin 151

12 Scotty William 129

13 Will Dixon 124

14 Wil Zmak 123

15 Jeff Martel 121

15 Jim Henshaw 121

17 Daryl Davis 101

18 Denis McGrath 71

So we need to drop something new into the mix.

Dasheill Hammett’s advice to writer’s stuck with what to do next was “When in doubt, have two guys bust through the door with guns.”

Around here we bust through the door with “The Props”

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a little history.

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

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

wayne gambles

You might be wagering on the coin toss (Janet Gretzky's favorite -- seen here at Caesar's Palace with absolutely non-betting Hockey Great One Wayne) or if a touchdown is made by a player whose jersey number is over 30. "Props" are also not one bet options. You need to pick at least a half dozen. The odds of collecting are infinitesimal.

But then, you can't put a price on a good time, can you?

So here's how the "Infamous Writers Pool Hockey Props" works.

There are six bets. All are related to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Some require sports knowledge. Some only require guts! The player with the most correct answers wins. And a special piece of Canadian Hockey memorabilia (currently treasured by Yours Truly) will be awarded to the winner.

Should there be a tie -- uh -- we'll figure that out if there's a tie. But this contest is definitely going to come down to the final game! Entry is open to all current pool players, everybody who’s been kicking themselves for not getting in on the original action and anybody else who just needs to boost their self image.

Entries must be sent to anytime between now and the first faceoff of the first game on Saturday night.

Your six Hockey Propositions are:

1. The 2008-2009 Stanley Cup winner will be decided in:

a) Four Games

b) Five Games

c) Six Games

d) Seven Games

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

a) Less than 20

b) 20 to 30

c) More than 30

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

a) One

b) Two

c) Three or More

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

a) Correct

b) Incorrect

For non-Canadian players -- CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" is streaming all games here, usually in more languages than English.

5. The Leading Scorer in the series will be:

a) Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit)

b) Johan Franzen (Detroit)

c) Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh)

d) Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh)

e) Other

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

a) One of the first six players to hoist the Cup

b) The Seventh to Twelfth player to hoist the Cup

c) One of the remaining players to hoist the Cup

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Like a lot of writers, I’m a big fan of conspiracy theories. Not because I actually believe any of them. But because they so perfectly exemplify the “What if…” premise that begins the formation of every good story.

Apparently, mass tragedies like 9/11, the Boxing Day Tsunami and most assassinations so disrupt the foundations some people cling to that “Shit Happens” just isn’t an acceptable explanation. They need to believe that some dark force planted demolition charges, was testing low frequency weapons or paid the New Orleans mob to accomplish a shadowy, despicable plan for world domination.


During one of my sojourns in LA, an insomniac neighbor turned me on to “Coast to Coast” the late night syndicated radio show, then hosted by Art Bell and now by George Noory, which explores all aspects of the supernatural and the unexplained as well as the conspiratorial goals of the mysterious “They”.

It became one of my favorite diversions, one to be especially savored during late night drives in the middle of nowhere.

Thanks to “Coast-to-Coast”, I know enough about the Bilderbergers, Shape shifters, Ghost Walkers and UFO bases under the South Pole to realize that if even a handful of “them” were real, they’d be seriously getting in each others way at subduing or victimizing humanity.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve also never seen any group of more than three that was able to keep a secret.

But every now and then, one of the theories I’ve heard on “Coast-to-Coast” collides with current events and I begin to wonder “What if…”


Tuesday morning I woke to a radio report that Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean had partaken of raw seal during a visit to Rankin Inlet, which is in our Arctic Territory of Nunavut (next door to our other Northern Territory Therestavut).

My first reaction was “Eeeew!” and then the newsreader went on to describe the Queen’s representative specifically asking for a chunk of the animal’s barely lifeless heart.

An image immediately leapt to mind, one that had absolutely shocked me when I first saw it -- that moment in the 1984 series “V” when friendly and attractive alien visitor “Diana”, played by Jane Badler, suddenly unhinges her jaw and swallows a live Guinea Pig.

As any Sci-fi fan knows, this moment reveals the true nature of the peaceful, helpful visitors (they’re really lizards) and their Earthly agenda (eating us).

Years after she’d freaked the crap out of me, I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Badler when she guested on “The Lost World”, the TV series Peter Mohan and I created. She described how that one moment made her an instant International sensation, eliciting contact by several fans insistent that lizard people really did live among us.

Then as Tuesday’s news report went into detail of the Seal swallowing, the Vice-Regal bloodstained hands, the eager participation in gutting the animal, the gushing gastronomic review “It tastes like Sushi” -- I suddenly remembered a guy I’d heard on “Coast to Coast” by the name of David Icke.

In a theory that lives up to his surname, Icke believes that the human race is ruled and controlled by the Illuminati; in his reality, a race of reptilian humanoids that includes George W. Bush, Queen Elizabeth, Kris Kristofferson and Boxcar Willie – all of whom can shape-shift after consuming human flesh.


Now on the face of it, Icke’s hypothesis is patently absurd, Kristofferson being the most obvious weak link in his chain of logic.  I mean, seriously dude, any lizard who toured as often as Kris does with Willie Nelson would have long ago been turned into a nice pair of boots.

But “What if…” there’s some truth to Icke’s premise?

I mean, Princess Diana told friends she’d seen the Royal family shape shift and Corgis are almost bite-sized and Michaelle Jean is the Queen’s representative in Canada.

And while the Governor General may have been letting the Ruskies know what they’re up against if they try challenging our Arctic sovereignty; the official story is that she chowed down on an Inuit delicacy to show solidarity in the face of the impending European Union ban on Canadian slaughtered seal products.


The EU had already issued an exception for seals hunted by Canadian aboriginal tribes. So the Governor General didn’t have to eat the little sea mammal’s still warm heart…

Which means…

Oh My God…She Wanted To!!!!

There she was on her hands and knees, wallowing in the blood and gobbets of flayed flesh and her lizard mind just took over!

Wait! Wait! Get a grip! I’m getting carried away here.

The Governor General has been to the Arctic 5 times before this. She’s never gutted a seal or even harpooned one once in all that time, let alone carved out its heart. If she really were a reptilian, surely we’d have seen some proof of such blood lust on one of those other Northern sojourns.

Although -- they say there are a lot fewer Polar bears than there were when she came to office…


No, this is just too twisted to be the reasoned action of a normal person. Admit it, the woman really is a little strange. She’s hot and exotic and married to an ugly old white guy for starters. I mean, what’s up with that?

And she specifically asked "Could I try the heart?". Nobody offered it. Hell, any Newfoundlander will tell you the best part of a seal is the flipper. That’s what any sea mammal gastronome serves up to honored guests.

Only deranged Ugandan dictators and Mayan Priests bent on ruling their people through fear have hungered for an organ that doesn’t taste anything like sushi.


No wonder an EU spokeswoman has already called the event "too bizarre to acknowledge." and used it to elevate our Vice Regal’s status to “The Sarah Palin of Canada”.

Do they have any idea how insulted some people at the CBC are going to be by that comparison?!? It’ll be Greg Gutfeld and Billy Bob Thornton all over again. We’ll have Monarchists on “Cross Country Check-Up” describing which fork Royal protocol requires for still bleeding bits of flesh.

And others in the Canadian milieu might connect some other dots… Sarah Palin –> Ultra-Conservative –> Stephen Harper –> Granted a Career saving Prorogue of Parliament by –> Governor General Michael Jean.

And as those connect-the-dotters will tell you – Stephen Harper is Bush Lite and Bush is a Reptilian and…

…one can only wonder who’s next on the menu at Rideau Hall.

gg and mascots

Monday, May 25, 2009


“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.” – Sir Walter Scott (albeit sounding a lot like Shakespeare).

It turns out I may be a lot smarter than I think I am. Not to mention there’s a little bit of Kreskin in me. (No, not that part – his predicting the future thing).

In fact, if I had just a little less self-respect, I could probably be making a pretty good living as a consultant.

You see, I was starting to type this, felt I was about to repeat myself, did a search and discovered I’d not only said it but had gone into great (and, of course, interesting) detail on how Canadian TV was about to take a dirt nap if it didn’t change its ways, predicting the dire outcome practically to the day.

You can read it here. Actually you might want to give the whole of February 2008 a read as it relates to the current debate. Man, I was fricken “On Fire”.

Hopefully, however, if I ever do combust, it won’t be in the proximity of anybody from CTV or Global. I have a feeling even urine would suddenly be in short supply.

Which brings me back to local TV and the pissing contest between the networks and the rest of us.

don't tax

As promised, CTV held their big coast-to-coast festival of panhandling and the Cableco’s responded with full page ads (many in the very papers owned by the network conglomerates) rightly pointing out that “carriage fees” won’t do a damn thing to improve, let alone save, local programming.

I say “rightly pointing out” because the problems facing local television and television in general have been pretty obvious to anyone working in this industry for several years. And they’ve been brought to a crisis here by the greed, lack of vision and privileged arrogance of the people running our networks.

But instead of admitting they were both self-absorbed and asleep at the switch, CTV and Global instead concocted a very large lie, blaming their problems on an economic downturn and competition from specialty services.

Unfortunately, the attention they’ve brought to themselves is making those lies unravel, revealing that the only ones endangering local TV are the guys threatening to close or sell their own stations while failing to even mention that network TV suffered an overall audience loss of 16% this season.

That February 2008 post referenced above was a NATPE Convention (attended by 35,000 broadcast execs) update which included a seminar on a multi-million dollar TV ad campaign that had been spiked after all the product had been advertised and sold on Craigslist in just five hours – for free. The same post got into the rise of internet TV services and the coming ability to further access television on mobile phones that was also much discussed at the confab.

All those futuristic scenarios are now common currency and it’s not like anybody even half paying attention couldn’t have seen them coming or realized the need to address them in a very aggressive fashion.

ipod abc

But I don’t recall noticing anybody from CTV or Global at those seminars nor any of the dozens that were also available on revitalizing local markets. As usual, they were glad-handing at the booths of their American content suppliers with the lavish buffet tables, prepping for the May shopping trip that would see them spend more than $700 million on US programming.

Other execs were probably back home negotiating with investment bankers to shore up the huge spend that they had just made or were about to make acquiring the competition. 

Meanwhile, programming purchased the season before was still sitting on network shelves un-broadcast because it had been acquired merely to keep it out of the hands of the competition.

And in Toronto, massive renovations of CTV’s newly acquired CITY building at Queen and John were underway. Renovations which included expensive upgrades to the executive offices and a private elevator to the fifth floor which eliminated the need to encounter any of the working plebes who would soon be fired.

One wonders how much of that money could have been spent on “local programming”.

But none of that is mentioned now so the Big Lie that successful cable operators are bleeding them dry can become the only talking point.

One wonders if the journalists at CTV were instructed to avoid or marginalize any mention of what really got their networks into the bind and for which their local stations are now being turned into poster children.

ctv head

Throughout Saturday, those anchoring the CTV “Newscasts” kept steering the conversations back to their company’s personal corporate need, bravely steamrolling past the factual realities explained by the experts they were interviewing.

None of those reporters ever asked -- if local programming was so damned valuable it justified a monthly tithe from their viewers – how come those same local stations were only worth a buck to their owners – or had to run shuttles from nearby Seniors homes to populate their demonstrations of support.

One of my favorite moments during this beg-fest was an interview with Christopher Waddell, the Carty Chair of Business and Financial Journalism at Carlton University, which can be found here.

In case smarter executives at CTV than the guy who kept talking about seeking “renumeration” (sic) from the cable companies take the interview down I’ll summarize…

Of course, if they do take it down, it’ll kind of prove the Cable operators’ argument that they’re only presenting one side of the case, won’t it?

At any rate, Waddell’s main point was, “While local Television is in trouble at the moment, specialty channels are making rates of return of more than 20%” and CTV and Global own almost all of those; essentially illustrating that the whole point of having a big conglomerate is so the strong parts of the company can support the weaker parts to maintain the competitive advantage the less profitable cousins still bring them.

The good professor also pointed out that CTV and Global have made zero commitment to put the money they want to collect from carriage fees into actual local programming.

Nor have they offered a single idea on what their plan is to improve local programming, combat or embrace the internet, recapture advertising, revitalize their own prime time product, etc, etc, etc.

Instead, they just want us to give them a bunch of money to keep doing what they’re doing when what they’re doing obviously isn’t working.

And no matter how many like-minded experts appeared, CTV just kept cutting back to some weather guy serving a hot dog or sportscaster posing with a local notable reminding us they would soon disappear without our (financial) support.

ctv 2

In addition to the faux journalism, we endured the spectacle of politicians turning up to support an argument they’d studied about as deeply as Bill C-10, the film censorship debacle they unanimously passed and then sheepishly admitted not even having read a year ago.

CTV made a meal out of Justin Trudeau and Jack Layton turning up to offer their party’s support.

The former committed a sin of omission by failing to mention his Liberals were in power when the television industry was decimated in 1999 and remained in charge for many years thereafter, yet did nothing to help the artists it now recruits to defeat a different government’s apparent indifference to the arts. 

The latter likewise voiced support for networks who continue to make working people in the thousands suffer for their capitalist mistakes.

And is it just me, or does Jack always look like his real agenda is he’s got a spare pair of nipple clips in his pocket and he’d enjoy your grimace if he could get you to wear them?

Can somebody who votes NDP please take this guy aside and explain that Tommy Douglas stood for more than the convenient photo op!

At any rate, the weekend’s over and the begging will be replaced in a day or two by announcements of all the great new shows these two supposedly cash strapped networks have again paid millions for in LA.

And while I was struck by how many “Save Local TV” ads CTV was running, the true measure of the state of our industry was on show in Global’s promos this weekend. For they were endlessly hyping the return of “Big Brother” – the American version.


Now “Big Brother” is about as easy and cheap a concept to execute as exists in reality TV. All you need is a dozen people you try to avoid at the gym, a house wired with cameras and a couple of books of 1950’s party games. Each week, the least interesting house member (hard as that may often be to accurately determine) is voted off until only one person remains.

Yet, despite the format being franchised to great financial success in virtually every country in the world, Global can’t be bothered to spend either the effort or expense to create a Canadian version. Even though it might earn a little money (maybe a lot of money) it’s still easier for Global to purchase and run the American version.

And that’s what’s really being hidden by the “Save Local TV” Big Lie.

Those currently running CTV and Global have never cared about local programming or Canadian programming or any other kind of programming. They were so consumed by the easy money of rebroadcasting foreign fare that they didn’t think they had to do anything more than slap their own logo in the bottom corner of it.

And now that they do, they don’t have even the first clue as to what local programming is or how to start delivering it. They just want us to keep giving them enough cash so they can continue hiding their indifference.

And as usual, the truth seems to be more easily found in the blogosphere, where you can find more on the issue from coast to almost coast.


As if there were any remaining doubt as to the agenda of CTV, I offer the following:

VICTORIA - Last week's British Columbia election would have been an excellent opportunity for Victoria's 'A' Channel to demonstrate the importance of local television, but the station ran big American shows instead.

Parent company CTV is part of a Help Save Local Television campaign that's appealing to the public to pressure federal regulators to allow them to start charging cable companies to carry their signal.

“The future of local television broadcasting, including your station, is at stake,” according to CTV's campaign website. “Local news is the foundation of the Canadian broadcasting system. If we cut local roots, we lose something invaluable as a nation. At CTV and ‘A’, we want to see local television continue to strengthen our communities.”

So what kind of coverage did 'A' Channel Victoria provide on election night?

As the polls closed, according to the schedule on the station's website for the day, they showed Reaper: To Sprong With Love. At 8 p.m., when other stations were beginning to report results, it was American Idol, followed by Fringe: There's More Than One of Everything. Finally, at 10 p.m., they broadcast the popular Dancing With The Stars.

'A' Channel reporters provided feeds to the Vancouver CTV affiliate. It did not, however, provide the in-depth coverage focused on Vancouver Island and Victoria races that it did in 2005.

Station manager Jim Blundell did not return phone messages left before or after election night. Nor was anyone immediately available at CTV's head office in Toronto.

So – one of our National networks does not even curtail its American programming to cover a provincial election in the capitol of one of the Country’s largest provinces. You can read the full report in The Tyee.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Turns out Mathew Modine and I have the same favorite joke.

And he tells it very well.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Cowboys -- or watch this clip before they're all growed up in the first place.

And enjoy your Sunday.


Friday, May 22, 2009


Thank God it’s Friday and I can finally talk about something important. The Hockey Pool…

The Third Round -- always the toughest because everybody’s tired, everybody’s hurt and the thought of being this close to the final showdown makes every tiny error seem like a career ender – looks like it might be shaping up to be a short one.

Home teams have ruled so far with Detroit taking the kids from Chicago to school and Pittsburgh living up to Sidney Crosby’s pre-season pledge to “…never be in this photograph again”.

Part of Pittsburgh’s secret would seem to be Evgeni Malkin actually showing up this year. He claims his inspired play is the result of his mom, who has come over from Russia to cook him homemade soup before every game. If mama lugs her pail of Borscht to Raleigh, I fear my Cinderella ‘Canes may be done.

But then, maybe this down home theme will swing to favor the young guns in both series, extending the round and probably helping CBC make up some ratings ground after being hockey-less for a whole week.

Even closer to home, Michael Foster has retaken the lead from last year’s champ, Will Pascoe, with dark horse Moviequill tightening the race. By the time Uncle Willis updates next week, we should know if they’re going to be battling it out the rest of the way or making room for some new blood.

Mama Malkin can you spare a bowl for a half child of the motherland?

1 Michael Foster 165

2 Will Pascoe 163

2 Moviequill 163

4 Brian Stockton 154

5 Mark Wilson 150

6 John Callaghan 149

7 Peter Mitchell 147

8 Barry Keifl 146

9 Allan Eastman 145

10 David Kinahan 144

11 Larry Raskin 142

12 Wil Zmak 122

13 Scotty William 121

14 Will Dixon 117

14 Jim Henshaw 117

16 Jeff Martel 109

17 Daryl Davis 98

18 Denis McGrath 71

Thursday, May 21, 2009


open house

Once again I'm overwhelmed by the response to something I've written.

Bill Brioux, DMc, Cunningham, Michael Geist and Inside the CBC, thanks so much for the links and kind words for the post below this one. Your readers have been flooding over here in an obvious endorsement of their trust in your opinions.

Just one thing – and don’t take this personally, because I know it’s accepted web-speak -- aren’t you getting as tired as I am of every passionate dissertation on something being called a “rant”?

Similarly, I don’t have a lot of “anger” in my life. Especially since I gave up Golf. Plenty of righteous indignation to be sure. But the thought of climbing on top of a water tower with a sniper rifle or picking up somebody’s kids after school never crosses my mind.

Like the Geriatric industry, which continues to terrify Seniors more than assist them with terms like “Dementia” and “Panic buttons”, we’ve got to find more appropriate terms to describe people simply speaking out on the things they believe in.

The Internet may have started with a bunch of unable-to-get-a-date geeks sharing their frustrations at “The Well”, but we need to evolve beyond our Neanderthal ancestry and its rituals.

And to you thousands of new faces peeking in at the Legion, if you didn’t get here via one of the above links, do check them out. There are a million interesting voices in this naked industry and I’m merely one of them.

But if you feel the way I feel about local television in Canada, I’d also like you to think about doing something else…

In their campaign for “Carriage Fees” or ‘saving Canadian broadcasting from drowning’, as they’d like to more positively package it, CTV is holding several Open Houses at their local stations this weekend.

I’m going.

And if you’re a Canadian writer, director, producer or performer (or just anybody who wants to see better television here) you should go too.

This issue is far too important to allow the PR flacks and Marketing people to re-focus the discussion into some narrow, constricted pen where Ivan Fecan and Leonard Asper can make doe-eyes at you like calves about to become veal if the public doesn’t pay their ransom.

“Please save us – Pull-eeeeze! It’s only 50 cents a month ------- for now.”

As the in-camera CRTC minutes addressed in the last post revealed -- despite their multitude of black lines -- there are many pro-active measures our networks could be making to save themselves before they need to beg for your money.

tv studio 1950

If you live in Toronto, local CTV affiliate CFTO’s Open House is Saturday from 11 am - 3 pm (401 & McCowan). It’s easy to spot from the highway and I’m sure they’ll put an inflatable Gorilla on the roof to go along with the BBQ’d weenies they’re cooking up for the kiddies.

This is CTV’s chance to introduce you to some of their local stars. Their website includes a subtle reminder to bring your camera.

But it should also be an opportunity for the thousands of local TV industry and creative types to ask CTV execs why they fill their ‘A’ Channel shelf space with “Supernanny” and “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” instead of Canadian programming that couldn’t help but be more original and just might have some international resale value that would put cash in CTV’s pocket.

Perhaps some of you Arts Community executives who speak so eloquently to the deaf ears of the CRTC would like a chance to share those sentiments with viewers who don’t understand why they get so little for what they pay on their cable and tax bills.

Maybe some of the hundreds of people recently laid off by CTV will turn up too and remind the public that CTV’s parent company actually earned millions last year and most of those smiling guys in Golf togs and VP name tags even received bonuses while their staffs were turned into the street so the orchestrated begging for your cash could begin.

And hey, if you’re a member of the GTA Tamil Community – THESE are the actual people who might get your message out. Come talk to them on Saturday so the rest of the city can finally get down the street to buy groceries.

Look, I’m not trying to cause trouble here. And I’m not going to formally organize any kind of protest. You should be there simply because it matters to you.

I’m just saying that if we really are in danger of losing television as we know it, then maybe we all ought to share our opinions. And the public needs to hear more than one side of the argument.

Hey, Jim Shaw, maybe you could take the afternoon off from happily castrating bulls and CRTC Commissioners and head on down to CTV Calgary to let the public know what kind of improvements they can expect once you buy the ‘E’ affiliates in Red Deer and Kelowna.

C’mon, Dude, you know you want to. You must be tired of watching those poor kids in Winnipeg twist in the wind. Just give ‘em enough money to keep CanWest ahead of the bank for another week and I’ll bet you’ll finally have your own network.

Konrad von Finckenstein! Looking for an excuse to get out of another boring Saturday lunch at Michel Arpin’s Book Club?

CTV Ottawa’s Open House runs from 10 am – 1 pm. They’re promising to show you “What it takes to run a local TV station”. Maybe you can even meet local GM Louis Douville and listen to a live version of the plea he makes for his right to not have any competition at all here.

Norm Bolen, you live in Ottawa now! Surely you can tear some of your CFTPA members away from their Beavertails to offer an alternate opinion. Buddy, I know better than most just how awesome you can be with a bullhorn.


In Regina, their open house is Saturday from noon – 4 pm and they’ve already promised the “CTV Balloon” will be flying proudly atop the station to help you find it. They’re also saying a display of “historical materials” from their last 50 years will be on view.

Gee, I wonder if that will include the awesome locally produced “Our Gang Club” I loved when I grew up there.

Now there was a show that couldn’t have cost more than a hundred bucks an episode, repurposing cheap material from another generation into a show that kept 10 year olds glued to the TV and completely up to date on the goings on in their town.

Maybe some of you folks in Regina can ask why they don’t make even a cheap local kids show anymore or why so many of the program feeds you watch include local ads from Pizza Parlours and Auto Body shops you can’t patronize because they’re two provinces away in Windsor.

Is nobody in the booming Saskatchewan economy buying ads in Regina or is it just cheaper for CTV to forego all that and send you the Windsor feed?

And Tony in Windsor – Mi Fratello - stop trying to re-think mama’s recipe for calzone. There might be another reason those thousands of people CTV says are watching your ads aren’t coming in for a taste.

From coast-to-coast-to-coast, if your local station is an ‘A’ Channel, just go in and give those folks a hug. They don’t deserve the way they’re being treated by CTV or like still having to run “America’s Funniest Home Videos” any more than you do.

I could go on. But the point is, go here to find out what your local station is up to and attend.

Maybe instead of signing another pointless petition, you could also just phone your local MP and ask them to attend as well.

What better way to find out what the people really feel.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009



The image above is taken from the published minutes of the in-camera sessions of the CRTC’s license renewal hearings last week. The entire document is available here.

Don’t rush to grab it in the hope it will finally give you some much needed insight into what’s really going on in Canadian television. Because those blacked out lines are repeated on virtually every one on the report’s 251 pages.

One wonders why anybody bothered to create, publish and distribute so pointless a document. But then, that doesn’t matter. It’s not their money. It’s just another example of how your tax dollars get spent so others can continue to play by themselves in the Canadian broadcasting sandbox.

It’s further proof that – you can’t handle the truth.

Of course, it was printed because CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein is running a more open and accessible Commission.

Yet, even in the midst of a discussion on the apparent “very survival of television as we know it” that will impact all of us personally, not to mention the billions we’ve already invested in and may need to further feed the broadcast system, we’re not allowed to know what the people in charge are doing or even if they have the first clue about what they’re doing in the first place.

Doesn’t matter. They’re in. You’re not. Membership is open to current members only.

More than anything else, what the document makes abundantly clear is the close and clubby nature of the regulator/broadcaster relationship. Like all secret cabals, they have information that can only be known to a few within their ranks and jokes the rest of us shouldn’t be allowed to hear.

After all, if they revealed how the system really works – why, somebody else might be able to do it better.

In another country, this kind of document would be about water boarding. And although that might feel appropriate to those of us who’ve endured the torture of trying to get a show on the air at a Canadian broadcaster, it has no place in the public forum of a supposed democracy, let alone for a meeting between a regulator mandated as a public watchdog and broadcasters dependent on the public purse.

They have the secret meetings. You pay the dues.

help save

CTV has been running a very public campaign asking people to write their MP asking Parliament to toss local TV a life preserver. How about sending your federal representative this CRTC document, appended by a personalized “WTF?”

Maybe you can also let your MP know that BellGlobeMedia Inc., of which CTV is a partner, earned a 9.7 % operating profit in 2008 to the tune of $214 Million, a year in which the CRTC itself also found that their local news operations “showed a healthy overall profit”.

You might want to additionally inform them of what Commissioner Leonard Katz reveals in his opening question to CTV’s Ivan Fecan on Page 2 after referring to a CTV document which reads:

“Despite robust economic cycles in the postwar era, the ‘A’ channels have consistently lost money for almost 20 years. CTV GM states that as a group these stations were never profitable under CHUM ownership when they routinely lost between $12 million and $17 million annually.”

Katz asks the obvious question: “So if that is the case and it has been 20 years since the ‘A’ Channels have made money, if at all. 20 years ago there weren’t 400 stations out there. There wasn’t the economy we have today. If they haven’t made money, can someone deduce that maybe these stations are not viable in these cities no matter what you do?”

Good question.

Unfortunately a bunch of black lines hide the answers.


But Canadians are growing more aware that we seem to have a lot of business types here who can’t maintain their pre-eminence or privileged lifestyles without a government handout. 

Whether you’re a broadcaster, a car manufacturer or a Billionaire shopping a hockey team you don’t even own to whichever municipality will pony up an arena you won’t have to pay for, those with apparent money and power keep asking us to forego much needed roads, bridges and hospitals so they can trade real live hockey players or hire their wives to produce dancing shows.

Some in government are referring to this process as “picking winners from losers”, but it’s really “picking losers from losers”. A form of capitalist triage in which the contracts of elite bankers are honored while those of guys on assembly lines are not.

It’s an emergency ward system where incompetent management has its life support plugged into your savings account instead of being turned off and where the Salvation Army is literally trotted out to pluck at your local station heartstrings so the son of a Prime Minister who pocketed envelopes stuffed with cash in ritzy hotel rooms can tell you what Paris Hilton said to some Porn star in the toilet of a Hollywood booze can.

Like Colonel Jessup in Aaron Sorkin’s “A Few Good Men”, it seems Konrad von Finckenstein believes he stands on a wall defending us from God knows what and would rather we were relieved he was up there, just said “Thank you” and went on our way.

Katz’s almost desperate plea -- “I was just hoping we could find somewhere in the past when it was profitable and I can sort of say let’s take a look at what made it work at that point in time and can we re-create that…” is answered with lines of redacted comment that give you the clear feeling that responding to logical questions like that wasn’t on the agreed agenda.

In a later section of the minutes, the discussion turns to what the networks spend on the American programming that is the apparent source of all/most/whatever sounds best of the Canadian networks’ profits.

big money

And here the Commissioners are informed that despite spending hundreds of millions each year in Hollywood, our networks don’t actually know what the programming they bought will cost them until the American networks broadcasting those shows tally up the number of times they themselves showed them.

As CanWest’s Barbara Williams puts it, “You are trying to establish a budget and stay in control of that budget, when you are really, completely dependent on the US network’s scheduling”.

Gee, is she saying that American networks already direct and control the budgets and scheduling of the same broadcasters that the CRTC doesn’t allow them to have ownership in up here?

In the same category of discussion, CTV’s Ivan Fecan agrees with Von Finckenstein that he bought the ‘A’ Channels as a way of using up all the lower value shows he’s forced to purchase from American studios in order to get his hands on one of their hits.

So, the Americans control not only budgeting and scheduling but CONTENT as well? And still we have autonomous Canadian networks?

I’m sorry, but I’m just not buying that CTV and CanWest are on the same buyer level as some poor schmuck who owns eight drive-ins in Arkansas and has to allow himself to be ass-raped in one of the back rooms of Lowe’s Santa Monica during AFM, forced to buy three zombie flicks filmed in a weekend and a remake of “Drums Along the Mohawk” just so he can get that cheerleader movie where some really hot chicks take their tops off.

I mean maybe Fecan’s argument explains why “According to Jim” is still on the air. But are you really telling me that Canwest sits at a table with a couple of hundred mil in front of them and are told that if they want “House” they also need to buy a season of “Flipper: The Next generation” and a couple of Deanna Durbin movies???

“Lenny, Bubee, she’s from your home town! Tell ‘em it’s Cancon!”

dee 2

Throughout the process, CTV and Global reiterate that the current television business model is broken, yet they apparently don’t take the first obvious step in fixing it. If the American studios and networks are in the same desperate straights (as our nets insist they are), how come they can’t pry a better deal out of them?

But No. Our nets continue to allow themselves to be led to the Hollywood casting couch.

While other businesses are demanding and getting cost certainty, they continue to be dictated to by their American suppliers. Nor do they insist on identical terms when they sell Cancon to a US network. Whatever terms the US partner wants are agreed to – except on script notes and casting and all of that other stuff on the Canadian produced shows, of course.

Of course.

And despite all this, CanWest’s Barbara Williams assures the Commission that they can use their “Leverage” with the studios to mitigate costs.



What becomes clear is that Canadian nets still fail to see that the way around their problems is the same strategy most European nations have used to end-run the Hollywood studio insistence on owning it all -- to produce programming they can own and sell.

But I’ve been beating that drum since I started writing this blog and it seems CTV and Global would rather swallow lye than make a couple of dollars from their own labor.

It makes you wonder if their development people aren’t really working as hard as they claim, maybe aren’t good enough to come up with a hit more than once every few seasons – or if part of those purchase packages is a non-compete clause that says you get “House” as long as you don’t make a potentially competing medical show or can distribute “CSI” only as long as your own cop shows don’t spend a lot of time wrestling with forensics.

At any rate, my favorite moment in this whole sorry affair occurs on pages 144-145, wherein the Commission Chair offers the following:

in camera 3

Unfortunately, “…what Ms. Williams just explained to me” has been redacted. So I, my fellow artists and the Arts Guilds the Commission Chair speaks of have no way of understanding her argument.

Or perhaps – of REFUTING it…

But then, we don’t matter to this Commission any more than the public does. And that’s made crystal clear over and over during CRTC hearings.

Writers Guild of Canada Executive Director Maureen Parker can explain a half century of Broadcaster “betrayal” of her membership and MP Cheryl Gallant can detail how her constituents in Pembroke were consistently lied to by CanWest. But those submissions are not explored while this document illustrates that the Commission feels enormously educated by whatever the broadcasters have to say.

Perhaps, in the final analysis, Konrad von Finckenstein and the CRTC are the ones who can’t really handle the truth…


in camera

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Luckily, it's a long weekend (at least here in Canada) so you've probably got time to take on one of my favorite looooong songs.

Back in my rock 'n roll years, radio DJ's loved the long song. The first I remember was Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone", a story I imparted a while back. But then I moved on to "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida", Vanilla Fudge's "You Keep Me Hangin' On" almost anything by Pink Floyd -- and, of course, the grand daddy of 'em all -- Don Maclean's "American Pie".

That song always reminds me of my first summer in Toronto because CHUM-FM's all night DJ, the inimitable David Pritchard, would play it every night. It was not only a great song, it probably gave David the chance to hit the john and make a fresh pot of coffee to see him through the night.

Yesterday, I was getting groceries and "American Pie" kicked in on the supermarket speakers. It lasted the length of my shopping spree and got me wondering if the feature length song might become a victim of the ADA iPod generation's need for quicker fixes.

And that would be a shame, because while most songwriters can get their point across in the requisite 3 minutes or less, great ones can do amazing things if you give them just a little more bandwidth.

James McMurtry wrote and recorded "Choctaw Bingo" in 2002. But as long as it's been around, I'd venture few of you have heard it. Yet, it's story telling at its best in a genre (Country music) that I've grown to love for what it can teach writers about telling stories.

The son of novelist James McMurtry, the singing offspring probably has story telling embedded in his genes and it shows from opening line to closing coda. In concert, he refers to this composition as an homage to the crystal meth industry, an apt description of the song's complete celebration of "badass".

More infectious than Swine Flu and loaded with lyrics linking Texas football to the small arms trade and picturesque phrases like "Sister twisters", which once heard never leave your memory or your vocabulary, "Choctaw Bingo" just might be the best drivin' song ever.

This is time far from wasted. And perhaps made even better if you are. Enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, May 15, 2009


chicago wins

Round Two is over and it’s on to the Conference finals. In the West, two “Original Six” teams will compete to move on. In the East, twin sets of relative newcomers who’ve been recent runners up go at it. On both sides of the bracket, one team of stars and veterans will face a gang of speedy young guns. This is turning into a Stanley Cup Playoff for the Ages.

Don Cherry and CBC can drop all the F-bombs they want, but who really cares if there isn’t a Canadian team in the final four! Chicago has more Canadian players than anyone else in the League, not to mention the most guys from Saskatchewan. The All-Canadian kid captains Pittsburgh and the Staal brothers will be going head to head on the Atlantic coast. But that’s not what really matters. We’re dealing with the geography of Heart, here. Anybody who worships at the altar of their local Chamber of Commerce is missing the point.

pittsburgh wins 

While Jim Balsillie figures out all kinds of new ways to be a Dick, the kids who play the game demonstrate the kind of values you can really be proud of embracing.

Am I the only one who looks at all these NHL backroom business dealings and sees the same guys who convinced Gordie Howe a team jacket was a terrific playoff bonus, sold fake Roman coins and screwed Carl Brewer out of his pension?

And people say all the Goons are on the ice.

detroit wins

In Pool news, we have our first casualty. It’s a good thing Mr. McGrath is busy, because he’s out of players and will watch the rest of the festivities from the deepest depths of the basement. Don’t be too quick with the catcalls, however, because three or four of you look to be joining him soon.

Don’t despair, DMc! At the end of this round “The Props” are coming back! A chance for all you one-time Boston, Vancouver, San Jose and Washington fans to redeem yourselves.

And for prizes too!!!

Sometimes I’m so much like “Ellen” it scares me.

carolina wins

Anyway. The standings at the end of two full rounds are listed below. Savour your lofty perches while you can and expect a lot of movement over the course of Round Three.

I’m not sure how much hockey will have been played by the time Uncle Willis updates next. But I have a feeling it’ll be even better than what we’ve seen so far.

The Standings



Michael Foster



Will Pascoe






Brian Stockton



Barry Keifl



John Callaghan



Mark Wilson



Allan Eastman



Peter Mitchell



David Kinahan



Larry Raskin



Wil Zmak



Scotty William



Will Dixon



Jim Henshaw



Daryl Davis



Jeff Martel



Denis McGrath


Monday, May 11, 2009


I spent a couple of days shooting in my old home town this weekend. Actually we had two shoots on the go, one in Regina and one in the middle of a Hamilton thunderstorm. I hear the dailies on that one are awesome.

And I gotta tell you -- working without endless form filling funding or network letters all this “broadcast model is broken” talk must be testing any bank’s confidence in bridge financing  -- is truly freeing.

This is my first ‘more than a fly-by’ visit to the old stompin’ grounds in a couple of decades so, of course, much has changed. Familiar haunts are gone and others have altered to the unrecognizable.

But one thing struck me at almost every turn – because there was one at literally every one of them – the tattoo parlour.

Now, I know tattoos are as common as earrings everywhere these days. But Regina’s still a fairly small and conservative town and I wasn’t seeing any ink on any of the people I was around.

I started thinking that maybe I just hadn’t seen enough of them naked, so I asked -- (if they had a tattoo, not if I could see them naked).

Nobody was marked. So now I had a real mystery.  A mystery that deepened when I saw racks of Saskatchewan Roughrider “temporary tattoos” in a local Sporting goods store.

sask tat 2

If Regina’s most beloved symbol wasn’t worth sacrificing a little epidermis to exhibit, what was?

When I broached the subject with local expert and apparent fellow blank slate in the body art department, Uncle Willis, he recalled hearing that Regina had the highest per capita number of tattoo parlours and Chinese restaurants in the country.

Now it’s not hard to have the highest per capita anything in Saskatchewan, since you’re dividing whatever you’re analyzing by next to no people in the first place. But the Chinese restaurant part of Will’s recollection made sense.

That’s because when the province was crisscrossed with railroad tracks to haul away all those acres of wheat, many of the workers were Chinese and many of them settled in the small towns they passed through and opened restaurants.

If there’s a restaurant in any prairie town, odds are it’s still Chinese.

But nothing Willis and I speculated explained a tattoo explosion so vast there should be a local Crown corporation called SaskTat to culturally promote the craft.

wheat tat

So, when there were breaks in shooting, I visited a couple of the ink outlets and asked.

The first one claimed to have been the first shop in town and didn’t really know what had attracted all the rest -- but remarked that many of them were very good.

The second illustrator admitted learning his craft in a prison work release program, which struck me as oddly prescient of the penal system. But he claimed he “honestly didn’t have a clue” where his customers came from, insisting they inhabited “all walks of life”.

I got this odd feeling that both artisans I spoke with weren’t comfortable with my question. And neither chose to extend the conversation. So the mystery remained one until very late on my last night in town.

One of the things I’ve always liked about Saskatchewan is that there isn’t a lot of cliquish behavior. Not a lot of these people don’t talk to those people or somebody’s more important than somebody else.

There’s an equality and sense of brotherhood there that comes from a land that can be harsh at times and where you’re taught from birth to look out for and after your neighbors.

So it didn’t strike me as odd when the record producer sitting on one side of me in a Country bar introduced me to the Judge sitting on my other side.

I mentioned my mystery to “His Honor” and the question didn’t phase him one bit.

“It’s the gangs,” he said, “When they’re not spilling blood they’re spilling ink to mark their status.”

It made sense.

My once sleepy and trouble free home town now regularly battles to top the country in murders, car thefts and violent crime. The downtown core is beginning to resemble the “donut syndrome” of American cities where people have fled ravaged city centers for the safety of the suburbs.

And that socially disrupted center with all its unclaimed turf has now become home to the “Native Syndicate”, “Indian Posse”, “Crazy Crees” and many other violent gangs.

indian tattoos

Most people put gang crime down to poverty and alienation and that’s all true. But so are a laisse-faire attitude toward drugs and a feeling that it’s politically incorrect to lean on folks who are more sociopath and psychopath than member of a definable race or culture.

I’ve spent a lot of time in gang ravaged neighborhoods of American cities and the people most victimized by them are their own. The people most harmed are the ones they most appear to champion.

And perhaps worst of all, their very presence prevents the rest of the community from reaching out to those most in need.

Intimidation is the gangs’ most powerful weapon and it infects everyone from those under their thumbs to politicians afraid to appear insensitive to tattoo artists who know silence is good for business.

But unlike most American cities, Regina has a history of co-operation and caring that (combined with the current economic boom) still offers an opportunity to save it.

My hometown is a place that has given this country a lot from art and culture to bio-research and medical care that have made all Canadians what we are.

And for far more people than me, it’s too special to lose.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Friday, May 08, 2009



How long is it going to take for the people who make newspapers to realize you can’t read them on a plane anymore?

They offer stacks of them for free when you park your car, check in at the airline and go through the gate. Which is all well and good if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill before your flight. But once you’re in the air -- forget it.

Airline seats are now so crammed together, it’s almost impossible not to be in a sexually compromising position with the people sitting next to you, let alone open and/or even try to fold back the normal sized broadsheet.

Put two people in adjoining seats with the Globe and Mail or the National Post and there’s more elbow work than you get from Chris Pronger.


I mean, do I really need an 8x10 front page color glossy of Manny Ramirez like I got this morning? The man’s just another juiced baseball doofus. Why does he need to be on the front page, let alone that big? Or have the steroids made an 8x10 the smallest photo you can take of him?

And speaking of this morning’s Globe and Post – is it too much to ask for the score from a game that ended 8 hours before I got to the airport? I know you guys pride yourself on being more “in-depth” than other media. But hey, there’s no “in-depth” when you don’t have the story in the first place.

What’s the point of being big, wide, unwieldy – AND – empty?

You could shrink your paper, save a few trees, save some ink, save gas on the delivery trucks, and still have room for all those car ads with print too small to read in even the VistaVision version.

I’m also thinking these newspaper guys have picked up the studio script fetish for white space.

Today’s Globe column by Dave Shoalts (who, credit due, said the Coyotes were going bankrupt months ago) is six columns wide, including one column of white space featuring a two line internet poll on who’ll win that battle, Jim Balsillie  or Gary Bettman.

How can any sane editor type person read the comment thread of any Globe article and then decide it’s imperative to print how those dough heads voted in a poll!!??!!

So, big newspapers – thanks for the free copies this morning. But I’ll get my news in a more timely and convenient manner from here on.

And the first airline to supply their passengers with a Kindle gets my business for life.


Anyway – back to the important white space – the ice.

We’re halfway through the Marathon. the games this week have been nothing short of breathtaking in all four series.

This week’s standings in the pool:

1 Brian Stockton 106

1 Michael Foster 106
Barry Keifl 102

4 Moviequill 101

4 Will Pascoe 101

6 John Callaghan 97

7 Peter Mitchell 96

8 Wil Zmak 94

9 Mark Wilson 91

10 Larry Raskin 88

11 Scotty William 86
Allan Eastman 85
David Kinahan 84
Jim Henshaw 78

15 Will Dixon 72
Denis McGrath 67

16 Daryl Davis 67

18 Jeff Martel 66

Don’t forget to check your early week update from Willis. We might have a couple of victors by then, but something tells me all of the 2nd round series are going the distance.