Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bread and Circuses


On the previous two occasions Canada has hosted the Olympics, I was thrilled by the prospect of the Games and filled with a mix of national pride and that “family of man” camaraderie the Olympic movement is supposed to symbolize.  This time not so much.

The official commencement of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games celebration was marked yesterday by the arrival of the Olympic torch in Victoria.

Over the next 45 days the flame will be carried from one end of the country to the other (and presumably back) by 12,000 proud Canadians we’re told are honored to have been chosen to represent their nation and all that the Olympic spirit represents.

Like sponsorship money.

Earlier in the week, CTV, supposedly cash strapped but somehow still able to shell out $90 million for the right to become the official host broadcaster for the Games, (more than double what CBC paid for the far more lucrative, longer and more sports filled 2008 Summer Games) brought us live coverage of the Olympic flame being lit in Panathenian stadium in downtown Athens. 

During this, the commentator referred to “the sacred flame” being prepared for its journey here from its home “in Ancient Greece”. How the Olympic movement became a recognized religion or the method by which such holy fire would travel through time from Ancient Greece to our modern era remained unexplained in the welter of hyperbole already being rolled out by whoever is writing this crap for CTV.

The rest of the network’s crack team of Olympic embedded journalists immediately swung into action from morning show through hard newscasts to gossip mongering magazine hosts to let me know every detail of the flame’s flight and the exciting journey it would take into the hearts of Canadians once it got here.

torch plane

Here we see the flame enjoying an in-flight meal of Oxygen. I believe the sacred flame has the aisle seat while its backups cope with a lack of leg room. In contrast to recommended Canadian flight safety standards, however, none of the flames appear to be wearing seat belts.

What CTV’s meat puppets glossed over in their excitement was that 2500 of our 12,000 torch bearers would be employees of CTV, the Globe and Mail and other corporate entities who have ponied up the cash to pay for the torch run.

In other words, what has been presented to us for months as a generous corporate contribution to national pride is really little more than a tax-deductable marketing expense.

More than 100,000 Canadians applied for the honor of carrying the torch, agreeing in the process to pay their own expenses to get to whichever 300 metre strip of pavement had been designated as their portion of the route.

But 2500 of them, including eager school children, former Olympic athletes and anybody who worked for a rival media outlet were turned away, so the likes of “e-Talk” hosts Ben Mulroney and Tanya Kim could take their gossip show on the road.

torch boat

Above, the cast of CTV’s new series “Splash Park Boys” carries the torch.

Speaking on Canada’s foremost sports program, Bob McCown’s “Prime Time Sports”, Globe columnist and torch runner Stephen Brunt defended his journalistic integrity by saying, “This is all part of the machinery of the Olympic Games and the money machine that is the Olympic Games”.

In other words, don’t expect to see Mr. Brunt wade in on the recent revelations by China’s Sports Minister that he got IOC President Jacques Rogge elected on the condition that he land China the 2008 Summer Games or that the IOC head has since been quite vocal in his support of the Chinese crackdown in Tibet.

Or maybe, just don’t expect his column to be featured all that prominently if he does.

Didn’t Mr. Brunt lose as many tax dollars on the failed Toronto 2008 bid to this corruption as the rest of us?

Or is that all just part of the “money machine” that is the Olympics too and forgivable now that some Canadian company (like his own) is finally making a buck off it?

The full text of the discussion can be found here in Prime Time’s Monday podcast. McCown’s website also hosts a column by William Huston stating that Globe editors were so concerned about the negative backlash of all this that they pulled a torch relay section that was supposed to run in today’s paper.

I’ve always been a fan of Mr. Brunt’s writing, particularly his superb books, so it’ll be interesting to see if he skews far from what was offered in today’s G&M by their first torch bearer, Gary Mason. After describing a relay organizer who gets teary eyed just talking about the torch, Mr. Mason offers the following…

“Our group represented a true cross-section of Canadians. There were former Olympians, such as skier Allison Forsyth. There were moms running for daughters who had died. An aboriginal teacher and a diabetes researcher. There was Morgan Tierney, a former UBC goaltender, who spent four years on her hockey team and didn't play a regular season game, though she got into the team's last playoff game of her final season.

Lloyd Robertson, the CTV anchor, also ran with us.”

Gee, let’s not miss a chance to slip in that corporate reminder, huh, Gary? One big happy family doing all we can to tug the national heartstrings for ratings.

Mr. Mason also mentions the many who cheered him along the route, while failing to remind his readers that one of them could have had his place in the spotlight --- if only they’d had his company’s money and connections. His full column is here.

torch demo

Elsewhere in the paper of record, reporters describe upset children who didn’t get to see the flame pass by because…

“About 400 anti-Olympic demonstrators wound through the downtown core. The zombie-themed march zig-zagged unpredictably through the streets, keeping police on the move to keep rush-hour traffic at bay.”

Interesting journalistic slant isn’t it? Globe and Mail sponsored torch runners “a true cross-section of Canadians”. Anybody opposed --- Zombies.

It’s sad that the values of the Olympic Games have apparently fallen so out of favor that their worth can only be realized through the furthering of somebody else’s corporate agenda. Although this isn’t the first time that’s happened.


The original torch relay was conceived by Adolf Hitler as a way of promoting the dominant Aryan race propaganda of the 1936 Berlin Games and carried through the capital cities of European countries he would subjugate not long after, symbolically reminding the world that all roads would soon lead to the home of the true master race.

You don’t hear CTV mentioning that they’re following in Hitler’s footsteps in their import dripping coverage of the torch relay. But by having their staff doing the running their message is much the same. Some of us are more important than the rest of you. Some of us are better than you. Some of us have a rightful place in the spotlight you paid for --- just like we have a right to more of your money through carriage fees to bring you even more of our endless, self-referential, self-aggrandizing drivel.

And those rights don’t just include basking in the warmth of a sacred flame and a snazzy tracksuit and toque.

Although the province of British Columbia has a shortage of H1N1 vaccine, it was revealed that the Torch relay team (including a phalanx of “Zombie-fighting” cops who surround the runners every step of the way) was at the front of the needle line, vaccinated prior to far more at risk groups like pre-school children, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions that would have made them expendable to the inventor of the original torch relay --- and apparently just as easily shunted aside by those in charge of the current one.

“Bread and Circuses” were a mainstay of the Roman Empire as it crumbled, with one Emperor after another keeping a restless populace placated by free loaves of bread and free admission to their Gladiatorial spectacles. The process continues today --- except for the “free” part. Now we all pay the freight ($6 Billion and rising for Vancouver 2010) so the Emperors can be entertained.

And that process apparently includes co-opting respected journalists, making sure your network stars trot through tiny towns towing a “Support Local TV” banner and otherwise pretending this is all just the way the world works nowadays so you might as well just enjoy it.

Well, you know what I’m going to enjoy most? I’m going to revel in all those scrubbed “wouldn’t say poo if they stepped in it” CTV celebs and jock-sniffers showing off a torch that was clearly designed to represent the host Province’s major export in the form of a giant stylized aluminum BC Bud Marijuana joint.2010 torch


I can’t wait for Ross Rebagliati to take a final toke off it before handing it to Senator Nancy Greene to light the official Olympic flame in 45 days.

Can a solution to the Nation’s deficit be far behind?

I’m also going to take comfort in the knowledge that people now know that each CTV Celebrity and Globe and Mail columnist running the torch represents one kid in a wheelchair, one Canadian whose father died of Cancer or one past or future Olympic athlete who was denied a chance to express their personal love of their country in the name of Corporate greed.

Way to thank the people who buy your product, guys! 

And then I’m going to root for a Men’s Hockey Final between Russia and Sweden.

Not just because it looks like both those two countries will have a better team in Vancouver than we will. Not just because all that foreign content will more accurately reflect normal prime time programming on CTV. But because it might make the network finally realize that you can’t buy blockbuster ratings, no matter how much you stack the deck in your favor.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

CBC Stops Covering The News

Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper caused a frisson of outrage among the country’s chattering classes by stating that he didn’t watch Canadian television news. Many of these were the same people who had cheered vociferously when American President Barrack Obama declared that he didn’t watch the most popular newscast in his own country.

Interesting comparison that, how one head of state is placing himself out of touch by not getting his news from the same sources as the majority of his constituents while the other is not --- for doing the same thing.

But Mr. Harper’s problem might soon start afflicting more and more of us since, as of last night, CBC Television made it clear that it wasn’t covering the news anymore either.


After months of tinkering and weeks of excited promotional announcements, CBC debuted its revamped and modernized “CBC News Network” on Monday, climaxing in the debut of the new nightly news hour “The National”, hosted by Peter Mansbridge.

The old nightly news hour was also called “The National” and was also hosted by Peter Mansbridge, so it would seem they didn’t revamp and modernize everything.

But it was clear from the opening seconds that they’d gotten rid of the lengthy intros and the big honking news desk. In the hour that followed, it also became clear that they’d also gotten rid of anything that could be construed as news.

Now, I’m all for change. And I totally get that everything needs a fresh coat of paint or a new approach from time to time. But what appeared on Canadian TV screens last night was little more than a white flag, a surrender of anything that could be labelled journalism in favor of offering style over substance.

The opening story, the one old Pete needed to make sure we got before anybody even had a chance to reach for the remote, was the arrival of Swine Flu vaccinations. After a summer of flogging the Federal government for dragging its feet on getting the population immunized, for supplying aboriginal outposts with body bags instead of hand sanitizer and not properly promoting the coming danger, the CBC suddenly didn’t seem to know what spin to put on the story.

We were shown endless lines waiting for hours to be immunized in Calgary. Didn’t these people know that kids and pregnant women were supposed to go first? Then to a Vancouver clinic where there were no lines because they only got 80 doses for their population of hugely at-risk aboriginal women and addicts with HIV. Okay, it turns out they could get a shot if they just walked a couple of blocks to a Public clinic or waited until next week when another shipment arrived, but according to the reporter aboriginal women and folks with HIV won’t do that.

Okay, so I’m getting confused. Is the problem too much demand and not enough shots or…

Never mind.

We move fast on the New National so it’s on to Toronto, where, despite a poll that says half of us don’t think we need a shot, everybody was being urged to line up as soon as possible by the local director of public health, who, although not being a kid or a woman who appeared pregnant or even aboriginal was interviewed while getting a shot that I had just been led to believe could have been better used on some junkie with AIDS in Vancouver.

I think…

Isn’t the News supposed to make you less confused about what’s going on?


Was the CBC’s take that the drug distribution system was messed up? Were a panicked population not co-operating out of fear of the impending pandemic? Was it that the elites were elbowing aboriginal women out of line to make sure they were safe? Do we really need to get a shot or don’t we?

Couldn’t tell you. Because under the new “Let’s get on with it” format we were already moving on to story number two.

No context. Little content. Why? I guess it interrupts throwing all these important stories at you as fast as possible.

All the news that can possibly fit or something like that.

Okay, so…

Story #2 was a poll showing that 80% of Canadians had no interest in next week’s visit of the Prince of Wales.


That’s important News?

And if 80% of us already don’t give a fuck why is it the CBC’s second lead?

No idea.

But we still got 2 or 3 minutes of some British newspaper editor opining that it was “the worst possible news” for the Royal family.


Do you think it’ll stop them acting like pompous assholes?

Nobody asked.

Toward the end of those three minutes, however, the CBC reporter glossed over one astonishing tidbit, that Canadians pay more per capita to support these inbred aristocrats than the British.


But did anybody at the CBC add any more information on that? Nope. Instead, Mansbridge lowered his tone to one of hushed concern and asked “Does the Palace know?”

Does the Palace know?!!!

Dude! your reporter already said 80% of your audience doesn’t fucking care!!! Why would we give a flying fadoo what the Queen thinks?

Could you ask about the money?


Moving on.

Story #3: Frank Stronach wants a weaker dollar.


Could it be because it might cost him less to borrow money from American Investment Banks to buy Opal from Germany?

Again, and despite having the new host of the flagship business show on the revamped network present in person, Pete didn’t ask. And she didn’t act like she’d have known anyway. Instead they both gushed at how cool it was to stand around doing the news instead of doing it sitting down and moved on.

Oh, and a note here to CBC Production --- if you’re going to shoot Peter Mansbridge standing up instead of sitting behind a desk, could somebody either tailor his cuffs or get him to hitch up his pants during the commercial breaks? I mean, if all’s you got’s style, get it right. Just sayin’.

Story #4: was protestors in Ottawa disrupting the House of Commons. No footage of the incident because the cameras in the House didn’t catch it. No details on the Bill they were yelling about either. Apparently six of them were fined 60 bucks.

Six people fined sixty bucks and it’s story #4.

Other news out of Ottawa yesterday was of a Conservative Senator under investigation for fixing government contracts. Elsewhere in the country, the Mob apparently has a stranglehold on Montreal City Hall and the Quebec construction industry. In world news, massive car bomb attacks killed 155 people and injured more than 500 in Iraq and Fidel Castro’s sister admitted she was a CIA mole.

None of that made the CBC National news on Monday night, let alone was deemed more newsworthy than 6 idiots in Ottawa being fined 60 bucks.


Story #5: Jerry Moyes agrees to sell the Phoenix Coyotes to the NHL. Mansbridge comments that this likely means the team will not end up in the hands of Canadian Hockey wannabe Jim Balsillie.


I guess Pete’s been so busy learning how to stand around with one hand in his pocket that neither he nor any of the show’s many producers was aware that an Arizona court had ruled Balsillie was ineligible to get the team and Jim himself had announced he was giving up more than two weeks ago.

But tonight that’s suddenly “new” News.

Mansbridge then got into what appears to be a new rapid fire format that repeated a couple of times, allotting about 10 seconds each to three or four stories in a row, offering absolutely nothing beyond a couple of brief sentences of copy.

Again, no context. No detail. No insight. All those things CBC News with its several hundred million dollar a year budget is supposed to offer that other competitors and the Internet cannot.

We then moved on to a series of what I think are supposed to be feature reports even though they’re really short. In these segments, female correspondents turn up like wet-behind-the-ears cub reporters called into Editor Pete’s office to talk about their awesome day of newsgathering.

First up was “What’s in our drinking water?” Turns out it’s a antibiotic resistant bacteria. Now that’s news!

Except it’s not.

Seems it might be a problem in 20 years, if the scientists we were shown working on a solution don’t find one.

So….this might be news in 20 years.

Not now.


And after Peter goes all Fox News on how “brutal” the bacteria looks in the slide show we got, the reporter buttons her own apparently now complete non-story with --- and I quote --- “Just drinking the water won’t make you sick. But Superbugs, IF they do develop, they CAN BE serious --- especially to the SICK.”

Before the next feature with Wendy Mesley, which has been hyped three or four times now, because she’s like a CBC Star, we get another quick hit story.

Ontario has imposed a cell phone law prohibiting all but hands free systems while driving. I live in Ontario so I’ve already been bombarded with this for weeks. And I doubt many people in the rest of the country care.

But CBC augments this snippet by letting me know the province has also revamped the Amber Alert laws so cops can issue one if they simply “believe” a child has been abducted. And they also don’t have to have a description of the abductor or the kidnap vehicle anymore…

Um, excuse me, Peter, but could somebody let me know how that works? I got Bluetooth, so if I’m driving and see an Amber Alert, I can call. But if I don’t have a description of the Perp or know what kind of car he’s driving, do I just dial 911 if I see any kid in a car?

But Mansbridge has no time for such nonsense. He’s already got a reporter in Winnipeg going “in-depth” on all the stupid things people do in their cars.

Said reporter starts out sitting in a cruiser with a 20 year Winnipeg cop who’s “seen it all” to watch for people doing stupid stuff. And the cop promises that we won’t have to wait long.

But apparently we do, because what follows is a montage of people doing stupid stuff, most of it from Youtube clips that went viral two or three years ago.


This is the new CBC News Network!?! Youtube clips and a reporter describing what he once saw this one time – at band camp…

Anyway, the cop buttons that piece, warning people not to do anything stupid – which apparently they already weren’t because he and the reporter didn’t actually shoot any original footage.

Okay, Peter announces we’re getting to Wendy Mesley’s feature soon – right after a gadget CBC has been “scrutinizing” that doesn’t cure cancer. Only it turns out that this story will be appearing --- uh --- later in the week…

Then ten seconds on the Karadich genocide trial, another ten on people in Pakistan starving, five for the new elections in Afghanistan and about the same for 14 American soldiers and DEA agents killed there.

Um – isn’t all of this more newsworthy than people driving while having sex and drinking water that isn’t really dangerous?

Isn’t this still the respected world news service that all our tax dollars have supposedly paid for?

Apparently not.

Instead, Peter does a stand-up interview with former Canadian General Rick Hillier who’s got a new book out, about things that went on in Afghanistan five years ago and then buttons the interview by letting us know that Gen. Hillier will be interviewed for a much longer time and in far greater depth on “The Hour” which is coming up in, uh, less than fifteen minutes…

So --- why did The National bother? Slow news day? The guy was already in the building, so what the hell?

Geez, aren’t ratings for “The Hour” low enough without cutting them off at the knees like this?

Never mind.

Moving on.

To the weather.

Okay, I’m Canadian. I love weather. What’s coming tomorrow?

Don’t know.

The entire weather report is about a tropical storm bearing down on the Philippines.

I kid you not.


And our trusty meteorologist then throws things back to Mansbridge with “That’s your forecast. Back to you, Peter.”

Lady, it’s not my forecast! I don’t live in Manila. And neither does anybody else who’s watching!

By now, I just want to see this Wendy Mesley story they keep hyping and try to find an actual newscast.

But first, Mansbridge has to pepper me with another flurry of ten second stories. The internet will soon allow non-Latin domain names. Great. Including me, how many people watching this show don’t write in Hindi? NASA animation shows astronauts arriving on the moon in 2015. Good. Still lots of time to plan the party. And somebody pretended a meteor landed in Latvia. Wow, bizarre Baltic hoaxes are now important news stories at the CBC.

But finally, it’s time for Wendy Mesley. And her big feature is about people who are profiting from the Swine flu. Okay. Goddamn opportunist sonsabitches! Let’s have at ‘em!

But it turns out the profiteers are Glaxo, who made the vaccine that was so damn important in the lead story. And Purell, who’ve sold $22 Million in hand sanitizer since the CBC started hyping the importance of hand washing last Spring.

Guys, this isn’t news. And they aren’t profiteers. Where are the scam artists and the cheerleaders of doom?

They don’t name any. Instead, Wendy puts on a Hazmat suit she bought online (probably with your tax dollars) and goes to a bookstore to buy a book on keeping your kids from getting sick.


The National even adds a bouncy whistling theme to all this so you know it’s supposed to be really funny even if it’s not.

Done with her little bookstore prank, Wendy then goes online to show you all the other silly stuff you can buy to keep the flu at bay.

Not only was Wendy’s exposé complete bullshit, I’m sure it cheered up the family of a 13 year old Boy in a Toronto suburb who died of Swine Flu earlier in the day.

I’m certain it must have also offered some insight to the kids on his hockey team and school he went to who are now under quarantine.

Perhaps it will lighten the load of the relatives of a ten year old girl from London, Ontario, also a Swine Flu victim, who will be buried tomorrow.

But then, those kids died far from the centre of CBC news coverage in downtown Toronto, so nobody at The National probably even noticed.

Mansbridge’s response to this utterly insensitive tastelessness --- and I quote --- “Good story. We can expect more of these?”

Wendy: “You bet” chirped out with the glee of somebody who’s just realized that trivializing the news is way more fun than actually reporting it.

Jesus Fucking Christ, Wendy! You’re better than this!

You already divorced this Mansbridge ass clown once! What’re you doing co-signing his bullshit?

You used to be one of the CBC’s best reporters. Why are you suddenly trying to become the next Samantha Bee?

I reached for the remote. But there was only one more story to go, so why not see if the new format could somehow redeem itself.

And this is where we went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Mansbridge introduced the tale of a Venezuelan Symphony conductor who has apparently set the music world on fire. And he’s about to be interviewed by Jian Gomeshi of CBC radio’s “Q”.

Wait, isn’t that the same radio station that stopped playing Classical music because they said nobody listened to it anymore? And isn’t the CBC the same company that fired all of its classical orchestras for the same reason?

Is somebody having a change of heart? Is Classical music making some kind of profound return to popularity?

Don’t know.

Y’see, first Pete and Jian talk about how astonishing this guy is and Gomeshi goes on at length about what an amazing interview he just did. Then we get the interview.

Or rather, one sentence of the interview.

One single sentence.

Then it’s back to Gomeshi and the news that you can hear the whole thing on CBC radio on “Q” and it’ll be repeated on the National “later in the week”.


Guys this is not news. It’s self-promotion and the kind of news omission and trivialization even Fox News doesn’t stoop to presenting.

This is abject, ”We don’t have a fucking clue about what’s important anymore!” and “We also have no idea what we’re doing!”

I finally turn the shit off, having officially watched my last CBC TV newscast.

What’s the point? I can learn more in five minutes surfing the Internet. And it won’t cost me and the rest of the country hundreds of millions in taxes that might be better used --- I don’t know --- maybe getting Swine Flu vaccine distributed in a more timely and organized fashion so 10 and 13 year old kids don’t have to die.

It’s clear that CBC News has completely lost its way. No wonder the journalistic rank and file have already publicly rebelled.

And no wonder the Prime Minister doesn’t bother watching.

Maybe he’s not as out of touch as some at the CBC would have you believe.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 90: Book Porn

When a screenwriter finishes a script, he doesn’t have to go to a lot of trouble making it presentable. # 5 Brads. 20 lb. Hammermill paper. Maybe a cardstock cover (I recommend “Proscript” – they come pre-punched).

Some screenwriters, at the end of a series or later in their careers when they want to remind themselves that they actually had a career, will bind their produced scripts in leather with a gold imprint approximating the final product’s title font.

The unproduced scripts stay in a drawer awaiting the inevitable “Have you got something with a woman in jeopardy that can be shot in Bulgaria?” call from your agent.

But there are people who take the printed page further, pulling you up with inspired awe.

Such is what follows.

For those who love books, who cherish a rainy afternoon exploring musty shelves of long forgotten masterpieces, this is “Book Porn”.

And I have a feeling even those who have traded paper for a Kindle, audiobooks or MP3 downloads may feel a twinge of loss or even a whispered “Really? Daddy wants…”

Only $4600 a copy.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Balloon Boys

If I could interrupt for a moment…

balloon boys

And now back to “E-Talk Daily”…

Monday, October 19, 2009

Not Evil Just Wrong –- Okay, Maybe A Little Evil

There was a little publicized but potentially game-changing event on the Internet last night.

Big Hollywood”, a site you can link to from my list on the far right – and to some also far right in their own show business outlook, held what they billed as the largest movie premiere in history, streaming Irish documentarians Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney’s “Not Evil Just Wrong”.

McAleer and McElhinney’s film is a response to Vice President Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar winner, “An Inconvenient Truth” and was made after the filmmakers challenged that film’s “facts” in a British court, eventually receiving a High Court ruling that 9 key points in the Gore film were patently false.

“Not Evil Just Wrong” details those falsehoods as it explores what McAleer calls “The true cost of Global Warming hysteria”. And despite what you may think, it is a long way from the work of somebody in the habit of wearing a tinfoil hat.

The film features respected activists such as Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore, now fighting against what he sees as the growing immorality of the environmental movement as well as a long list of legitimate scientists, including the two Canadians who discovered that Gore’s now famous “Hockey Stick” graph of spiking world temperatures was the result of a mathematical error and not actual Global warming.

However you feel about the Climate Change debate, “Not Evil Just Wrong” offers arguments worthy of being discussed. But despite months of trying, its producers had been unable to find an American distributor willing to buck the prevailing Green mood in Hollywood and bring it to your local Cineplex. 

Therefore, Big Hollywood decided to cut through the Big Media blockade and make it available free online. The stream I was watching hit well over 9500 by the film’s end and the overall response for all streams offered was just North of 46,000 good enough for Big Hollywood founder Andrew Breitbart to announce the debut of a sister site “Big Environment” at the Q&A that followed the screening.

And that’s one of the reasons I think this was a game-changing event.

In his book, “Here Comes Everybody”, Internet Guru Clay Shirky predicted that we were at the end of the era where content could be controlled by the gatekeepers of the media, and that day has clearly arrived.

From the struggles of politicians with news outlets they don’t like to broadcasters angling to save their skins by suddenly pretending to care about local television we’ve entered a world where nobody can control who hears what anymore.

Perhaps Al Gore really is a selfless crusader desperately trying to make sure there is a planet for his children and grandchildren to enjoy. But perhaps he’s also somebody making sure his privileged position in the world isn’t undermined by having too many others seeking to enjoy the same lifestyle.


Last night, what was screened for anyone who cared to watch, was a fairly persuasive argument that many in the Green movement either don’t know what they are talking about or are trying to soft sell the enormous world wide problems their agenda may create.

Who knows, next week, somebody might start telling people the truth about the Canadian “Save Local TV” debate that has both broadcasters and Cable companies pitching half-truths and outright lies to what was once, but is no longer, a captive audience with no other alternatives for learning the real facts.

And just maybe that might lead to more people than just the Bloc Quebecois asking where all those Millions Canadians invested in Cinar actually went and why nobody in Ottawa wants to open that scary can of worms.

And perhaps the week after that, some Canadian movie the taxpayer funded and no distributor will spend money to promote will be made available to its investors, who may enjoy it and start asking for the real reasons nobody wanted them to see it.

No financial return in that last prediction? Well, we’ll see. Because last night’s stream of “Not Evil Just Wrong” also marked the launch of a DVD marketing campaign hoping to benefit from word of mouth arising from last night’s presentation.

Y’see, we’ve reached a point where its harder to shut people up, harder to withhold the fruits of their labors or to scare them into doing what you want with predictions of flooded planets, drowning polar bears and swarms of killer bees.

Remember the Killer Bees? Are they still coming? Shouldn’t they have been here by now?


Where all this moves from a free speech and access to information issue to one with a darker shade and larger implications is the major point made in “Not Evil Just Wrong”, a point that makes you realize the title is an outright lie and the filmmakers know it.

It’s a point brought home in a moment featuring environmental spokesman Ed Begley, who chokes up on learning of someone else’s innovative Green project and later in an interview assures the filmmakers that he was truly moved by his colleague’s initiative. After the camera is turned off and the filmmakers have walked away, Begley’s still live microphone picks him up chortling about being an actor and thus able to realistically fake an emotion.

The film then details past environmental initiatives and how their well-meaning intentions resulted in millions of third world deaths and doomed countless others to lives of hopelessness and poverty.

In the process, it becomes patently obvious that many in the Green movement are well aware of what has been done in the name of or resulted from their work and that for a few of them Cap and Trade, emission controls and promoting organic solutions are just one more way they’ll get rich while others suffer.

The Climate Change debate is not over. But control of the media most certainly is. And the parallels between one attempt to dupe the public and others being perpetrated by those who own and control Big Media are impossible to miss.

Like many in the Green movement, there are those in Canadian television who are also well aware of what has been done in the name of or resulted from their work.

And despite the fact that the Canadian Media Fund and others in our government may not have realized that online initiatives and Internet content are no longer merely “experimental” in nature, it’s clear to many of us that they are rapidly becoming the only option for Canadian creatives who seem to have no place in a system run primarily for the enrichment of people who don’t care about much beyond their own wealth and well-being.

The day when we can be easily played on any subject may soon be over.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 89: The Sunday Funnies


When I was a kid, Sunday mornings before you had to get ready for church were filled with the Funny Pages.

The Regina Leader-Post, my newspaper of record at the time, actually didn’t publish a Sunday paper. But the Saturday edition came with a thick insert of full color cartoons that my brother and I stashed unread until the next morning.

We’d get up and turn on the radio, where a couple of the local DJ’s would giggle and snicker and read the comics to you. They had theme songs for each section and described every panel in exquisite detail, in case you didn’t have the comic section or you might have missed the hidden visual joke in the bottom right hand corner.

The show filled up an entire hour with nothing but two guys cackling over the adventures of “Pogo”, “Blondie”, “Superman” and whoever else graced the hand drawn pages of newspapers back then. It was an hour that allowed harried parents to sleep in while inventing what may have been the first multi-media entertainment format.

And I just realized that in describing this I’ve handed CanWest or some other low-rent Canadian broadcaster another hour of inexpensive programming they won’t have to pay writers to create…

…although they’ll probably need to find a way to own, synergize and vertically integrate all the cartoons first…

…and not just in their executive offices…Ba-Dump-Bump!


What was great about the combination of that radio show and those funny pages was the way they attracted you to characters and stories you might otherwise have never allowed yourself (or been allowed) to be exposed to and also helped you to appreciate them.

Walt Kelly’s “Pogo”, for example, was not a comic strip for kids. But it lead off the Leader Post comic pages (and therefore the show) and it was obvious by how much fun they had with the stories that the DJ’s liked it a lot. This was political and social satire of the first order and far above my head. But the sense you got was that this was something other people really enjoyed and maybe you should bookmark it for future reference.

Later in life, when I was able to decipher who the Pogo characters really were and what their “swamp talk” meant, I understood why J. Edgar Hoover had gone so far as to have FBI cryptographers search for “hidden messages” in the content.

But additionally crammed into those brightly colored pages were more story variety and differing styles of humor than can be found in any night of prime time television programming.

There was the whimsy of the Disney strips and the Wisdom of “Peanuts”. There was the classy family fun of “Hi and Lois” and slapstick of “Dennis the Menace”. And there were also serial adventures set in the worlds of fantasy and pulp like “Superman” and “Red Ryder”.


There were also a couple of strips the guys on the radio skipped, such as Milt Caniff’s “Terry and the Pirates” probably because it would have taken an entire hour just to get through the dark plots, complex visuals and lengthy dialogue.

As a trivia note, at the time I was exposed to them, many of those strips were inked by Sonny Grosso, a budding New York cartoonist who became the French Connection Cop, then technical advisor on “The Godfather” and later producer of several TV series.

An avid consumer of these strips also couldn’t help noticing over time that the same joke you laughed at one week in “Beetle Bailey” might pop up again later in “Mutt ‘n Jeff”. But each had a completely different approach to the material, a point of view skewed by its inner reality and an alterantive visual style in which to sell the punch line.

In a way, those competing strips were a triumph of style over content, less concerned with what they were saying than how they said it and always aware that they had to engage and excite you in the process.

The color comic sections have either disappeared from today’s newspapers or remain only as a shadow of their former selves. Maybe they’re not cost effective anymore. Maybe the level of creative talent they require has moved to greener pastures.

But what we’ve lost is not just the fleeting enjoyment they offered, but the easy exposure to a story or visual style one audience or another hasn’t previously embraced.

That social aspect of Cartooning is among the many elements of the craft explored in detail by Robert Mankoff, cartoonist, cartoon editor of the New Yorker and creator of The Cartoon Bank in a documentary available online at Big Think and excerpted below.

It’s a wonderful exploration of what’s funny and why and almost as much fun as reading (or listening to) the funny pages themselves.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Hole In Daddy’s Arm

“There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don't stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios…”

                      -- John Prine (“The Ballad of Sam Stone”)


On Wednesday, I was invited to attend a conference ostensibly billed as my opportunity to learn about and comment upon the newly established and still working out the wrinkles Canada Media Fund, the Federal Government’s new program to assist in the finance of television programming and projects designed to take advantage of the burgeoning “New Media” frontiers.

There were about 300 of us. Independent Producers. Documentary Filmmakers. Creative Guilds. Broadcasters. And pioneers in the realms of interactive entertainment, game design, online content and other enterprises trying to bring Canadian innovation and creation to the Internet.

It was a very genteel affair. There were curried soups, Italian sandwiches, tofu nibblies for the Vegetarians in the crowd and fancy pastries. There were screens for Powerpoint presentations, whiteboards for scrawling and a mass of microphones to make sure every question and comment was recorded.

At the centre of the room was a circular table with microphones where volunteers from each of the gathered groups could be specifically questioned on various topics by the facilitators and representatives of the new Canadian Media Fund.

These were mostly the same people who have administered the Canadian Television Fund for many years and are now charged with preparing the industry for the new rules and regulations that will govern what drama, comedy, documentaries and children’s programming gets made in this country.

The whole thing was a well orchestrated bureaucrat’s fantasy. And in true “The Bureaucrats are running things” fashion, the first thing that those of us already tech savvy learned was – the room had no internet access.

No tweeting colleagues across the room. No googling additional information on anything discussed. No fact checking. No showing somebody your Youtube video. No comparing what you were being told today with emails on your home computer from yesterday when the nice lady at the CMF had assured you they were really “on your side”.

Speaking one on one, they’re always “on your side”, aren’t they? That’s how bureaucracy works. You think you’re being taken into confidence, when you are simply being taken.

Somewhere around the 7th Century BC, Sun Tsu, author of “The Art of War” the most important book ever written about dealing with crisis and conflict and those who would govern others warned, “When bureaucrats prosper, the people are harmed”.

And for the next few hours we were duly harmed. Disabused of any notion that this new fund will actually finance any innovative activity in new media. Made to realize that there will be less money in this diluted pot of public money for actual production of television. Instructed to give up any hope for a turn around in the industry.

Oh, they were gentle with us, repeating the mantra that nobody was going to get everything they wanted, slathering us with lubricants so it wouldn’t hurt as much when the penny finally dropped and what was being “recommended”, “seriously considered” or “mandated by the Heritage Department” was finally revealed and we all knew that the creative community and Canadian taxpayer were once again going to be royally boned in order to feed the insatiable hunger for free money of our nation’s broadcasters. 

“But the morphine eased the pain,
And the grass grew round his brain,
And gave him all the confidence he lacked,
With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back…”

While the chipper CMF people kept insisting that no final decisions have been made, a simple read of the detailed handouts made it clear that creating and supporting even more revenue streams for the broadcast networks was a fait accompli.

Not only do our broadcasters already get a major portion of their program financing from the Canadian Taxpayer, not to mention such handsome regulatory gifts as simultaneous transmission, increasing commercial minutes, genre protected specialty channels, Local programming funds to pay for the one hour of news they do each day and the incessant consideration of “carriage fees” --- under the new CMF they’re going to get even more.

Broadcasters will now be able to access public money to produce their own “in house” programming. They’ll receive funds to set up and operate the online streaming of the programs they produce. And unless I’m completely misinterpreting the lines we were carefully coached to read between, the shows they produce with taxpayer money won’t even have to have many Canadians in them.

The fund created by Parliament to “tell Canadian stories” will instead finance stories written by writers who aren’t Canadian and star actors who live in Hollywood. The next time a picture like the one below appears in the newspapers, it’s quite likely the only actual Canadian content will be the Heritage Minister.


Keeping Canadian television series that are funded with public money 100% Canadian was the first item on a top ten wish list I was given by the Writers Guild of Canada. Number two on that list was a request that CMF regulations be relaxed so Canadian writers can write science fiction stories that “take place in a generic or fantasy setting that is not identifiably foreign”.

That should give you some idea of how much control bureaucrats in Ottawa now have over what gets written in this country.

Please, sir – permission to write my own ideas? I mean, it may not take place in Toronto, but it’s a really good story…

Nope. Not if you want Public money.

However, if your program schedule is wall-to-wall with American Science Fiction, American cops, American soldiers fighting in Iraq, American reality Shows and American celebrity gossip, you can have almost as much Canadian tax money as you want. With these new “in-house” regulations, CTV, CBC and CanWest are well on their way to getting tax credits for just telling you what the weather is.

And when they stream that weathercast online, you’ll pay for it some more.

And when they send it to your iPhone, you’ll pay twice. Once for the stream and once for the air time you used. And likely both to the same conglomerate that owns the TV channel and your cell phone company and still seems to need government welfare.

And while the Canadian public is constantly told by this Federal government and our business leaders that we need innovation and imagination to get our country to the forefront of the high tech future, the insatiable need of our broadcasters to have control of the vast majority of the new media funds makes that an impossibility.

Like a junkie who needs ever larger doses of Heroin to get high and lets his kids starve to get his fix, our broadcasters have successfully lobbied the Heritage Department and the Canadian Media Fund to make sure almost none of these public funds go to anyone actually trying to innovate any form of new media.

Our broadcasters’ addiction and the apparent willingness of our Government to feed it is literally destroying any chance that we’ll ever be a player in any high tech future.

This country already lags much of the world in almost every aspect of new media production and delivery. More money is made by 16 year old kids designing iPhone Apps in other parts of the world in one day than is earned by our new media creators in an entire year.

Without an intervention, where somebody in government has the courage to finally tell our broadcasters to start putting their enormous profits back into their own research and development and their own business instead of spending it to buy more companies they can unsuccessfully synergize and vertically integrate with, Canada will soon be so far behind the rest of the world in this department that we’ll never catch up.

It was patently obvious to everybody in that room that our media fund bureaucrats had been doing what the broadcasters have demanded for so long that they were completely incapable of conceiving how money from the fund could be used for projects that don’t need a broadcaster in the first place.

Mobile Apps, Gaming, Interactive Content, IPTV all had no handholds in the new regulations their developers could even grab onto. And why should that be surprising! The people who run the CMF still don’t get why “The Trailer Park Boys”was a success, insisted they didn’t want to “de-stabilize” an Independent Production community that went flying off the rails years ago and didn’t laugh out loud when somebody making documentaries insisted their work shouldn’t be judged by audience ratings but by how much they had healed the world.

“And the gold rolled through his veins
Like a thousand railroad trains,
And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,
While the kids ran around wearin' other peoples' clothes...”

Over coffee later, I met people from the new media tribe who could have been my kids or my grand kids, as boggled as the clutch of screenwriters my age were as to why a fund established to foster creativity had so little actual room for it (or them) and yet had all the money in the world to pour into broadcaster coffers.

Maybe it’s too soon to say what I’m about to say. Maybe I’m tired and I’ve just had too many years of taking the rap for bad Canadian shows when I know most of the good ones never even got the chance to be on the air.

But I know that while I was in that meeting, other meetings were being held across town as CanWest assured its staff that they haven’t really gone bankrupt and they’ll all be back bringing more American entertainment into Canadian homes real soon.

So maybe I gotta say it…

If you’re under 30 and want a career in television or new media. Leave now.

I don’t know where you should go. I don’t know if your best destination is LA or Australia or London or Hong Kong. But leave now. And once you get where you think you can make a go of it, write James Moore, our Heritage Minister, and let him know that his country will have to do without your innovation and your imagination. Tell him you wanted to stay, but these junkies were stealing all your stuff and even taking the food off your shelf in the fridge, although they had more than enough of their own.

Tell him you’ll come back if he can get the broadcasters off the public teat, get them to clean up their act and contribute to society and the business the way the rest of us do, instead of being the self-centred pigs that they are, squeezing producer budgets so some shows aren’t even paying people minimum wage or they’re working for credits.

If you’re over 30…

Maybe the best thing is to go to your nearest Tim Horton’s and see if you can get on the night shift. There might be a chance you can get some writing in around 4:00 a.m. when the rubbies are all snoozing and the bagels the Bureaucrats will be buying to go with their morning coffee are still in the oven.

I know it’ll take you longer writing that script if you’re working at Tim’s. But at least you’ll have one ready once the Bureaucrats realize that if the broadcasters are getting all the money then nobody probably needs them to do any fund managing anymore.

The creatives in this country and the taxpayers are the ones suffering now. But you people from the CMF who spent the day annoying, patronizing and marginalizing us will be next. Because when Daddy needs to fill that hole in his arm, everybody and everything else will sooner or later disappear.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Casting Couch Diaries


Last week, it was David Letterman admitting to multiple “affairs” with members of his staff, including some of his female writers.

This week, Jimmy Kimmel revealed he was sleeping with one of his writers.


Simultaneously, the gossip pages were speculating that “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner had decided to stop sleeping with one of his writers and she had subsequently left the show.


Now, if one wanted to take this series of events less seriously, you could wonder:

a) Wow, TV writers must really be hot stuff, huh?

b) Have none of these guys heard that old Hollywood Joke -- “Didja hear about the Polish Actress? She slept with the writer!”

c) Is this “people who work together sometimes sleep together” somehow news to anybody?

Look, I’m not condoning the practice of the rich and powerful having sex with people who work for them. And certainly not if they abuse their positions of privilege to seduce people who feel pressured to satisfy their boss’s desires.

But the way the mainstream media has jumped all over this issue and begun rooting out new versions of the story makes me think that before we’re through they’ll be outraged upon learning that Lucy was sleeping with Desi…

John Doyle of the Globe and Mail was among many who used the Letterman story to write an impassioned piece defending the honor of the ladies of our industry. You can find it here. And I gotta say that I don’t disagree with many of the sentiments Mr. Doyle shares in his column.

And as much as Mr. Doyle and I have disagreed on other issues in the past, the one thing I sense is that he is a Gentleman of the old school and chivalrous to a fault. However, when he and others depict my show business workplace as one where the powerful endlessly feed on “the needy and vulnerable”, I feel an obligation to point out that’s there are such things in the world as Free Will and personal morality.

We all draw our own lines in the sand.

There are some things each of us won’t do under any circumstances. What I’m okay with and what you find acceptable may be completely different. There’s no harm done to either of us unless one coerces the other into moving or crossing their line.

My lines are fairly clear. I don’t sleep with anybody I’m working with. Never have. Fairly certain I never will. Down the road a little later, sure. When we’re punching the same time clock – not gonna happen.

In my view it just complicates things for everybody involved, making all of us tiptoe around things that may need to be dealt with head on, both those in the relationship and everybody else we’re working alongside.

In my 35 plus years in show business, I’ve been hit on by male and female producers, casting directors, agents, directors, lead actors and actresses and various members of the crew. The first time I was officially saddled with an Executive Producer credit, I attended a casting session with an elderly director where not one but two of the beautiful ladies auditioning included the scene Sharon Stone is most famous for as part of their presentation.

After the second actress left the room, the director smiled and said, “It’s nice to feel wanted, isn’t it?”. My wife made a far more pragmatic observation, “You poor thing! From now on you’ll never know if they really like you or they just want a job!”

And for most of us, that’s the reality of contemporary show business. The opportunities are there. Some people take advantage. Some use sex to climb the ladder of success. Sometimes some of us are left to wonder, “Did I just get fucked or did I just get fucked?”

Maybe I’m only speaking from my own experience, but most of the women I know in this business have their heads screwed on pretty straight. There aren’t a lot of Damsels in Distress. And if somebody is making them feel “icky”, both the law and the majority of people in their workplace are willing to take their side.

On two occasions, I’ve fired men who worked for me after they refused to discontinue their unwanted advances on women who worked for the company. And sadly, on a couple of others, I’ve lost valued members of my crew because they chose to work for somebody who was less of a heel.

Free will and personal morality.

Yes, I’ve taken angry phone calls from my own bosses when I wouldn’t give them the phone number of an actress who was working for us at 2:00 a.m. or give them her hotel room number so he could “send flowers”.

And I’ve also heard that catch in the voice of an actress when I’ve called late at night because my assistant has gone home and there’s just nobody else around to let her know her call time has changed.

We all know some men in the business try to take advantage.  But it goes the other way too.

One of the worst tongue lashings I ever got was from a female Producer after letting her know her personal “masseuse” was not going on the payroll. Another tried to get me fired upon hearing that the stunningly handsome young man she’d met at the gym was not going to be one of our stunt men.

This depiction of film sets as places where slimy producers give shrinking violets no choice but to surrender their innocence wrongly discredits us all. Somehow the media just don’t want to accept that we’re actual adults and capable of making the tough decisions adults sometimes have to make.

It also doesn’t take into account the nature of most production environments. People work a 12 – 18 hour day with regularity. Sometimes that goes on for months. The people you work with become the only people you see, the only people you interact with and the only ones with whom you share your feelings. That and the pressure of the machine pushes people closer. Sometimes it leads to happy marriages. Sometimes it leads to relationships that never would’ve (or should have) happened under any other circumstances.

There used to be this old Hollywood joke…

Q: Have you ever cheated on your wife?

A: Does Location count?

For me that perfectly captures the reality of production. There’s no other outlet. There’s no escape. Shit happens.

And precious little of it is without full consent from all the parties involved.

I remember a very respectable actress collapsing on the couch in my office after a particularly stressful week had led to one hell of a Friday night party I had missed. “How was the party?” I asked. “Somebody should’ve bought more condoms.” was her tired reply.

The other thing I want to say about all this is that I’m fairly certain that what was going on on “Late Night” and those other shows was fairly well known to most of the people involved and that the vast majority of the men and women working on those shows were not unlike me and had lines in the sand about not sleeping with those they worked for or with.

If Mr. Letterman’s activities or those of Mr. Kimmel or Mr. Weiner had been adversely affecting the show, the interactions of the rest of the staff or were creating a “Toxic” workplace, somebody would have brought it to their attention.

And that wouldn’t have taken extraordinary courage or selflessness. It’s simply the mark of professional.

People who are good at what they do and also have a certain pride of career or character know they’ll get another job. They also know that life’s too short for more than the normal load of bullshit. And they know that they either have to change the corporate culture or leave before any of the stain gets on them.

David Letterman wouldn’t hear any of that from his boss Leslie Moonves, who had a very open affair with one of his employees before leaving his wife for her, and he wouldn’t hear it from Sumner Redstone, who runs the whole damn conglomerate, for identical reasons. But he would have heard it from any number of people he depended on or was closer to than the women who shared his bed.

That would suggest to me that nobody was really being hurt – unless they’d allowed themselves to move their own lines in the sand.

What is news to me, however, is that this apparently doesn’t go on in newspaper offices, around morning talk shows, inside car dealerships, at real estate offices, or banks or hospitals.

Because, take it from me – it is. And as long as the people involved are okay with it, I’m sure the rest of us can get on with our lives.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 88: The Animal Sanctuary

My apologies for the lack of posting this week, but it’s been kind of busy up here, just North of Hollywood North. First of all, my dog’s in-laws dropped over for the week.


That’s my friend, Dusty, on the Left, her Mom on the right and Grandma sandwiched in the middle.

Anybody who owns a dog knows they don’t really require that much work. Maybe less than an hour a day to do the actual feeding, watering and maintenance part. Walk and play time additional and often non-negotiable, of course.

Add two more dogs and the time consumption increases exponentially, especially the navigating of three extremely happy to be outside animals on three leashes.

Our lives were complicated on day one of the visit when they suddenly stopped galloping around the wilderness that backs onto our home, freezing stock still and then converging on a grove of trees. I thought they’d sensed the arrival of some local wildlife, maybe a deer or racoon, hopefully not a skunk or the pack of coyotes that had already been howling at that night’s full moon.

It turned out they’d found a couple of kittens shivering in the bushes. They were about a week old, according to the emergency clinic vet, and not likely to pull through without a lot of care. I bought a can of Kitty formula, willing to give it a shot. He told me that I also had to make them urinate and defecate, something the mother cat accomplishes by licking their butts. I said I wasn’t quite that committed to saving them. He told me a damp cloth would work as well.

Turns out I didn’t need a damp cloth. I also didn’t need to keep watch to make sure they were comfortable or warm enough. The makeshift kitty box in the kitchen was immediately surrounded by three large female sheepdogs, all making sure these tiny members of a completely different species got the care and attention they needed.

Butts were licked. Sleeping forms gently nuzzled. Bodies groomed and guarded. Sometimes they took turns. Sometimes all three silently hovered in case they were needed. Even though I did the feeding, I did it with an attentive audience that wasn’t above nuzzling my arm into a better position or nosing away the bottle so nobody was overfed.

daphne's kitties

By the time the in-laws went home, the new arrivals had clearly weathered the worst of their storm and the neighborhood kids had delivered the addresses of good homes nearby willing to take in a new addition to the family.

It’s funny how this all works. Dogs normally loving to chase cats and neighbors who suggest a pet’s too much trouble suddenly showing a side of themselves you never expected.

But then, we all tend to do what’s unexpected sometimes and it often leads to further unexpected results. You go somewhere you would never be caught dead and discover how much fun it is. You taste something you’ve always turned up your nose at and realize what you’ve been missing. You talk to somebody you really have no interest in, soon you’re friends and sometimes you’re more than that.

I think in the end, we’re all lost kittens or those who know it’s not really going to kill us to help. And we all take away more from the experience than we had or were before.

Everybody needs a good friend --- or another one.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 87: Kick Out The Ladder

“Now if you run into a tough situation, it’s very tempting to say, ‘Well let’s just not do this or let’s take the easy path’. But when all you have is the hard path, you just keep going.”

Looking around at the current state of the world, the economy, the future, it’s fairly clear that there are some hard paths ahead. Indeed, taking one hard path or another may be all that we have to choose between.

Certainly, that’s the case for those of us working in film and television. Distribution models are collapsing, pools of development money are shrinking, license fees from broadcasters cover what was once the budget line item for feeding the crew.

The money we used to depend on hasn’t disappeared. Instead, it’s primarily being used to finance the debt most main stream media conglomerates took on to buy up their competition. One rogue moment in the economy and suddenly they’re strapped.

And then they get further strapped by having to hire people who don’t know their business but get paid a whole lot of money to manage debt.

Think of it as getting a job, using your new found salary to lease a car and then getting fired. Life isn’t over and you’ve got some savings. But you’ve also got these car payments. Instead of employees living two pay checks away from being on the street, the companies they work for are now in the same situation.

In days like these, a lot of well-meaning politicians and self-help gurus come along with platitudes like, “When you’re in a hole – stop digging” and “tighten your belts" until we can get “shovels in the ground” --- which sounds a lot like continuing to dig a deeper hole.

Maybe we need to put our shovels down and start looking around for a different tool.

If there are going to be fewer outlets for our work, even fewer places to pitch our ideas and nothing to live on while creating and crafting what will finally get you out of this mess, then some new approach has to be found.

But how do you find it?

At Honda, one of the few car makers not asking for a government hand-out or facing imminent failure because of current realities, and always one of the most innovative at making cars better, the engineers have a philosophy called “kicking out the ladder”.

What that means is --- you climb a ladder to the second floor. Somebody takes away the ladder that provided your support and a way of escape. Now what do you do? The idea is that giving you no options creates new thinking and new solutions.

“Kicking out the ladder” is one of a series Honda has placed on a new video site, designed to teach you new ways of problem solving so you can realize your own dreams.

And these are far from boring corporate videos.

Watching a Honda executive with a decided Bushido streak describe what “Kick out the ladder” really means is the kind of delicious moment that makes you want to learn everything these guys have to offer about thinking outside the box.

So, kick out the ladder.

Find a new path to realizing your dreams.

And enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Remember This For Later


Sometime tonight, CKX-TV in Brandon, Manitoba will stop transmitting.

The sale of the local CTV affiliate to Bluepoint Investments fell through yesterday. The new buyer, who was acquiring the operation lock, stock and barrel for $1.00, couldn’t reach an agreement with Canadian Satellite providers to carry its signal.

In a communication, CTV President Ivan Fecan said, "Brandon, like many of our smaller stations, is not carried by satellite companies, who say they don't have room for all of Canada's local TV stations, while finding plenty of room for foreign channels."

More on the delicious irony of that in a moment.

For now, the sad reality is that a station that has served its 124,000, mostly rural, customers for 54 years and employs 39 people will be no more.

A brand new $150 million fund to support local programming won’t help.

A sudden doubling and tripling of ratings for the new CTV season won’t help.

A CRTC ruling allowing CTV to fit even more commercials into those awesomely successful new shows won’t help.

Even Jim Shaw, a man with far deeper pockets than Bluepoint, couldn’t help --- and he was the first to back out of a similar dollar sale last June.

Despite his massive cable empire, Jim knew the economic reality of Brandon and all our other struggling local markets. Most of the customers are rural. And the only way to get a package of TV channels to them is via satellite.


What satellite company serves Brandon?


Who owns Expressvu?

Why its the same company, CTV-Bell-GlobeMedia-Teachers-Pension-Plan-Whatever-Else, that owns CTV.


Wait a minute!?!

Am I telling you that while CTV is leading the Canadian broadcaster charge for more Public funding and carriage fees from each and every television watching household to “Save Local Television”, one of its own stations is going under because another division of the self same company doesn’t care if it goes broke, and the guys who run the whole operation don’t care either because they’re still making hundreds of millions of dollars in profit?


But wait. There’s more. There’ll be blood shooting out of your eyes before I’m done here!

God, I feel so Glenn Beck right now!

Last month, Expressvu began charging its customers another $1.50 a month to cover its contribution to that aforementioned fund to save local television. Even though they don’t carry most of the stations that are in trouble, and their non-carriage is one of the major reasons why those stations are struggling.

Ergo, their customers are paying for services they don’t get and couldn’t if they wanted to!

And the ones who live in Brandon are being charged for services that aren’t even there!

Since I used to subscribe to Expressvu, I happen to know that they have room for several VOD Porn channels. And apparently those are of more value than the 10 or 20 that would keep hundreds of local Canadian TV employees working and hundreds of thousands of Canadians informed with regard to what is going on in their small cities and towns.

I guess it’s better that Canadian Tax dollars and subscriber fees be paid to purchase Quaaludes and Champagne in Woodland Hills, California than to inform a Manitoba farmer that they’ll be frost on Saturday night so you better get the crops in.

But Expressvu makes way too much money selling Porn to bother with the needs of Brandon or any other Canadian city. And since Ivan Fecan shares in some of that money, he’d obviously rather the folks in Brandon were jerking off instead of knowing what went on in City Council.

And seriously, if you were running the company and wanted to depict yourself as the saviour of Canadian TV, wouldn’t you argue for the replacement of one  Anal Intruders channel to make room for your own affiliate before blaming phantom outside agitators?

But Mr. Fecan didn’t. That’s why  he said, “Foreign channels” and not “Masturbation movies”.

And what he meant was “American channels” not Al-Jazeera, Telemundo or the BBC.

Mr. Fecan has a way with words, or at least fuzzing any mention that his channels carry the exact same stuff as those bad-for-Canada “foreign channels”.


By happenstance, I made a gas and burger stop in Brandon on the day Blueprint bought CKX. It was headline news in the local paper, with quotes from the mayor, local business people and the new owners about how great this was for the city. Not only had jobs and local pride been rescued, but Blueprint was promising it would follow the “Go Local” mantra that has been the philosophy of successful small TV stations around the world.

They were promising many hours of local news, locally produced programming to serve the agricultural base of nearby communities and maybe even broadcast home games of the city’s beloved hockey team, the Brandon Wheat Kings.

These were all things CTV had the money to do, but had decided to squeeze in some more “CSI” clones from one of those foreign devils channels instead. Clones which CTV could then second and third window throughout their conglomerate owned specialty channels to maximize profits and reduce the need to produce any local content --- funny how the black line items in that CTV conglomerate’s budget get shared around the company while the red line ones don’t.

But then, they’ve got you paying for those, don’t they?

As usual, the jobs lost in Brandon, and Red Deer earlier this summer, plus the personal indebtedness of everybody who kicked in to save their jobs at the local Global affiliate in Victoria, can be laid directly at the feet of the CRTC.

The Federal Government’s very own Heritage Committee, after hearing from the very same group of Usual Suspects who had pleaded the very same “Save Local TV” case before the CRTC many times, specifically asked the CRTC to take the profits and losses of the ENTIRE holdings of the broadcasters into account when devising a solution.

Later, the Heritage Minister himself publicly reminded them that their job was to look after the needs of the Canadian Public – which would include the 124,000 people about to be without a local TV station in Brandon.

But the CRTC ignored all that and did what they always do. Only this time, they just didn’t bend over for the Broadcasters, they showed them where to put the umbrella.

So tons more money was earmarked to be taken from satellite companies and cablecos with no guarantees from broadcasters that they’d keep local stations open in return or create one more minute of local programming or news.

And the broadcasters took that money without mentioning that the real problem wasn’t that people weren’t watching or were watching something else, it was that they couldn’t see local programming even if they wanted to.

Would it be too hard to tell Expressvu that if they want a semi-monopoly on Satellite TV in this country, they have to serve the whole country?

We do that with Air Canada, requiring them to provide feeder service from smaller spots on the map for the protective perks they’re given. We require people to pay for Public schools even if they don’t have kids, and to support health care even if they never get sick.

For all the breaks we give broadcasters and those operating our Broadcast Delivery systems, is it to much to expect access to local television in return?

And maybe some honesty from everybody instead of all the corporate games.

One last thought for Ivan Fecan.

Replace some of that speech of yours a little and you’d get…

"This Canadian TV show, like many of our series, is not carried by CTV, who say they don't have room for all of Canada's local production, while finding plenty of room for foreign product."

Now you know how the creatives in this country feel.

Not nice when the shoe’s on the other foot, is it?

You think you, us and the BDU guys might all be further ahead if we worked on that?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Rammstein’s Pussy

A couple of weeks ago, I had the misfortune of being invited to a screening of Lars Von Trier’s “Antichrist”, the film that “scandalized” Cannes, opened the “serious film” section of the Toronto International Film Festival and is now the hot topic of debate at the far more intellectual New York Film Festival.

"Grotesque masterpiece” or "offensively misogynistic" --- which ad blurb will sell more tickets? Would including rusty scissors with the Deluxe DVD pack be too much?

After mulling over my own reaction to the film, which was far from positive, I think I’m just happy that Von Trier is finally getting professional help for the severe depression that apparently plagued him to a debilitating level through production.

This is an enormously talented artist capable of powerful and challenging work. It would be rewarding to see him able to do that without being distracted by the demons he’s been fighting.

That said, I wondered if much of the most controversial content in “Antichrist” was an artist coping with those demons, doing what he felt was necessary to engage his audience or breaking through the cultural noise to get his work noticed in the first place. I’m speaking, of course, of the lead actors’ genitals.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with sex scenes on film even the ones where things get explicit. I did a ton of them as an actor myself. Most of those sequences were designed to titillate or explore sexual issues, and the making of them had little to do with actual sex.

Part of that is because sex on film is mostly about getting sprayed with glycerine so you look sweaty, ice cubes between takes to keep nipples erect and contorting bodies into positions even the Kama Sutra never imagined to accommodate the camera.

Therefore, I don’t know if that’s really Willem Dafoe’s dick or Charlotte Gainsbourg’s kitty doing the heavy lifting in “Antichrist”, or if Von Trier used stand-ins, stunt players or prosthetics. What mostly concerned me was how needlessly tacked on the explicit shots all seemed.

It must have felt that way to Von Trier as well because he delivered what he termed “Catholic” and “Protestant” versions of his final cut. The latter being the more explicit --- and, of course, the only version purchased for film festivals and distribution.

But hey, we all know what really sells, don’t we?

There used to be very clear lines demarcating what was mainstream, soft core and hard core and artists made their own decisions about which of those fields they wanted to work. Sometimes their decision came with condemnation or negated the possibility of moving from one realm to another. Porn stars didn’t do guest spots on TV shows and if an “A” list actor strayed too far into other territory he wasn’t “A” or even “B” list anymore.

In fact, it was often possible to track a performer’s decline as they moved from high budget films to lower levels to soft core. Nobody seemed to go the other way without plastic surgery and a change of identity.

Nowadays, Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson appear pretty much anywhere either plying or implying their original porn skills. Television’s top rated comedy “Two and a Half Men” does entire episodes revolving around the hiring of hookers and porn film imagery permeates just about every successful series and film.

Porn culture has very clearly established a significant foothold in our industry. The general reaction to “Antichrist” makes me think we haven’t reached the point where explicit sex is expected by a mainstream audience. But it’s certainly far from being outright rejected.

And that makes me wonder where we’re going to have to go next.

Where producers used to negotiate for nudity or the parameters of using a body double, will we soon need to be defining which sex acts our actors will participate in and with whom they will or won’t do them?

Will young actors be told that in order to work at their craft they better get used to screwing whoever plays opposite?

And will we all have to go down the same path the Porn industry has been forced to take since it more or less gained respectability 30 years ago by depicting sex in a more and more graphic and degrading way?

I believe I got some insight into the answers to those questions a few day’s ago, when an advertising and promotions website sent me a music video entitled “Pussy” by one of Germany’s most successful Rock bands --- Rammstein.

Rammstein has garnered immense international success with such hits as “Du Hast” and “Engel”. They’ve been nominated for Grammy Awards and are known for a stage show and pyrotechnical display that rivals everybody from “Kiss” to “AC/DC” and has been witnessed by millions of fans. They’re as big as you can get in their homeland and well up there everywhere else.

And now they’re doing Porn.

Maybe that shouldn’t surprise me. I’ve always thought Rammstein’s music was kinda Heavy Metal as performed by The Tubes. And surfing through television channels in Europe will inevitably bring you into contact with German made pornography, which can best be described as --- in a word --- blunt. In most of their explicit sex, he’s a storm trooper and she’s Poland.

But while Rock ‘n Roll has always been about sex, from Howling Wolf promising “Smokestack Lightning” to Chrisie Hynde splayed across the hood of a Chevy to most of what debuted this morning at the iTunes store, the majority of it has been “suggested”, left to your imagination or presented in a manner where how much you 'get it' defines how cool you really are.

Not anymore.

And you know that the bar has either been raised or lowered, depending on your perspective.

In order to compete, does Gene Simmons have to start doing a little more with that tongue?

Does Angus Young finally lose the shorts --- literally?

Because no matter what they and others have achieved or created and might come up with in the future, somebody else is going to be getting all the attention by following Rammstein’s example.

I’m afraid we can’t dismiss all this as just a blip in the zeitgeist. Youtube may be able to keep taking the Rammstein video down as fast as it’s posted. But other competitive sites don’t seem to have a problem accepting the traffic --- and neither do their advertisers.

I think this is a game changer. Anytime a mainstream artist, be it Willem Dafoe or Rammstein, decides a certain approach will find them an audience, that decision resonates through the rest of the culture.

Maybe I’m wrong. But I’d appreciate knowing where my logic has gone askew.

Therefore, here’s Rammstein’s “Pussy”. Definitely NSFW and probably out of place in a lot of other environments too. You can find it here if Blogger asks me to maintain a certain decorum or my own sense of what should be on this site gets the better of me.

But somehow I don’t think I’ll be getting too much direct feedback from readers asking me to remove it.

Because this is where we are. And this may be what many of us have to become to survive.