With Love, U.S. Network TV

Ever since the writers guild went on strike south of the border people have been anticipating the arrival of U.S. networks, come calling for our home-grown productions. It now appears that time has come.

CBS has picked up 13 episodes of Flashpoint, a new CTV police drama that is expected to air in May or June, giving some indication of how long the strike (or at least its fallout ) is expected to last.

Flashpoint is breathlessly described as "an emotional journey into the tough, risk-filled lives of a group of cops in the SRU (Strategic Response Unit). They're unique cops that can do what ordinary cops can't: rescue hostages, bust gangs, defuse bombs, climb the sides of buildings and talk down suicidal teens. Members of a highly-skilled tactical team, they're also trained in negotiating, profiling and getting inside the suspect's head at the very emotional breaking point (the "flashpoint") that triggered the crisis. They'll do whatever it takes to diffuse the situation to try to save lives — all in a day's work."

This is the first new scripted series to be ordered by a U.S. network since the WGA walked out last November. The show will get around picket lines by using Canadian writers and actors, including Enrico Colantoni (the father on Veronica Mars) and Hugh Dillon. The Writers Guild of Canada is affiliated with the WGA and has stated that "their fight is our fight," but this show likely falls outside of any strike mandate.

In any case, CBS seems pleased: "It just worked," a CBS executive told Variety. "It hit all the right buttons for us. And we had a great meeting with the producers, who already had story ideas for another four or five episodes."

Flashpoint has also overcome the perceived shortcomings of Canadian projects, with one insider assuring that the show's production values "will be as good as any American production." Nice.

Other productions could follow. Peter Raymont, a co-founder, producer and writer at White Pine Pictures, an independent Toronto-based production company, told the Financial Post that he is "optimistic" his CBC drama The Border — about an elite border security unit confronting international crime, terrorists and trafficking — will be sold to a U.S. network after a series of meetings this week in Las Vegas.

I wouldn't be surprised to see jPod snapped up too — perhaps not by a major network, but I could see it working on one of the specialty stations.

So the writer's strike giveth and taketh away. Hopefully the success of Canadian productions won't be used as a reason to keep U.S. writers out on the picket line and when it all gets settled Canada won't return to its second-class status.

(Originally posted on The Ampersand.)

Get The Lead Out

They better start looking for the world's biggest eraser. The world's largest pencil, a 22,000-pound, 76-foot-long version of the classic No. 2., is now at the City Museum in St. Louis.

The core is made of 4,000 pounds of graphite (pencils never actually containing real lead) and was made by Ashrita Furman, a 53-year-old health food store manager from New York for his meditation teacher. Perhaps he had to meditate on why his student was so strange.
"Meditation has given me the inner strength to do these improbable things," Furman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "True, a lot of what I do is crazy, but it gives me a chance to spread the message of meditation."
The monstrous writing implement will tower over the previous record holder, a 65-foot version that stands outside pencil manufacturer Faber-Castell's Malaysian headquarters.

The pencil is not Furman's first run at the record book. He claims to have set 181 Guinness Records and to currently hold 74 including the world record for world records and the fastest time up Toronto's CN Tower on a pogo stick.

(Originally posted on Posted)

The Negotiating Table

Family Guy's Seth Macfarlane doesn't have a lot of faith in the faith in either side of the writers' strike...

007's Quantum Leap

The 22nd chapter of the James Bond saga was announced today — Quantum of Solace. I'm not so crazy about the title, but it still beats Octopussy.

Already there are complaints of the "worst title ever" variety, by people who suffer under the delusion that they titles are usually masterpieces. Take a look, there are as many hits as misses.

Co-producer Michael Wilson told the BBC that the name had only been decided upon a few days ago, so I don't know if this poster is real or not, but I like the look, so there it is.

The title is in reference to the last remaining element in a relationship after love has died, before the inevitable split. Daniel Craig told reporters that author Ian Fleming defined a quantum of solace — it means, roughly, a measure of comfort — as "that spark of niceness in a relationship that if you don't have, you might as well give up."

The film begins "literally an hour after the last film left off," says Wilson. "We thought it was an intriguing title and referenced what happened to Bond and what is happening in the film." Quantum finds 007 learning more about his betrayal by Vesper Lynd and lookin for some payback. "He had his heart broken at the end of the last movie and that certainly is a spur for him in this one," added Craig.

"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't revenge in his heart. But it's more than that. That spurs him on, but that's not what the movie is. It's not a revenge movie. It's about him figuring a few things out."

Hopefully not. The last revenge-based Bond, Licence to Kill, was a disaster. A Bond out to murder, overrun by his emotions, was so out of characters. Of course it could have had something to do with the unloved Timothy Dalton too.

The relaunch of of the Bond franchise with Craig in 2006's Casino Royale was a stunning success, as the producers took a character and an film icon that was growing long in the tooth and dragged him into the new century by returning to his past. The film was darker and less gadget obsessed, having more in common with the stunning Bourne series than the preceding installment, Die Another Day. Hopefully lightning can strike twice — we'll know in 10 months.

The Scientologist's Last Supper

I can't believe it took me so long to check The Gallery of the Absurd for a version of the Last Supper and fourteen did not disappoint with The Scientologist's Last Supper: "It clearly shows Tom Cruise as Christ, but leaves several other questions unanswered. For instance, who is the mysterious woman seated to His left and why is she smiling like that? Could she be his...gasp...wife? Is that a Jenny Craig-approved cupcake Kirstie Alley is grabbing? John Travolta is wearing loafers and he's floating - what does this mean? How did Will Smith get mixed up with this bunch? So many questions, so few answers."

Though painted in January 2007 it dovetails nicely with the extra craziness of Cruise's feverish advocation of The Church of Scientology, leaked this January (2008) on all sorts of sites.

I've added this version and another nine takes on Da Vinci's masterpiece into the ever-expanding Suddenly Last Supper, bringing the total to 44 so far. Included in this update are versions from Battlestar Galactica, the pantheon of rock gods and the X-Men.

Now That's a Wine With Class!

Way, way back in the 1980s, as I was discovering the joys and evils of alcohol, I made my first foray into a liquor store to try and get some booze for a weekend party.

My theory was that if I asked for assistance and said I was getting something for my parent's anniversary (yes, I was a terrible kid) that they wouldn't card me. I also figured I needed to get something classy to back up my story. The only thing I'd ever heard of was Spumante Bambino, which was advertised constantly on TV by a woman dancing about singing about the wonders of this dirt cheap, super sweet wine. (see above)

I'd given it very little thought since then, until I realized the woman dancing in the ad is currently staring as the mother in Douglas Coupland's jPod. Sherry Miller was back in my life again. I spent that night chugging the bottle of Spumante in the back of a car and ended it in a snowbank outside the dance I can't remember. Woo, hoo, underage drinking!

But even that wasn't my first introduction to Miller. She was also a host of The Polka Dot Door in the early '70s and I'm sure I must have seen her, even though they never saw me when looking through that door. She showed up again in an ad for Turtles in the early '80s, singing the infectious tagline, "I love Turtles." In a nod to that iconic line, the first episode of jPod was named I Love Turtles.

Just as fascinating to me is the fact that both of these commercials are on YouTube. Who has this stuff laying around and decides to digitize and post it? Weird, but I love it.

Kim Cattrall: Booth Babe

Sex and the City sexpot Kim Cattrall made an appearance at the Detroit auto show on Sunday, to push the latest Mercedez-Benz model and shill for its appearance in the upcoming SATC film, expected this May.

Cattrall played it to the hilt, blathering on about the Vision GLK's "rugged design, the masculine qualities, the assertiveness and those bulges in all the right places. It is a tight little package."

While on stage Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG, decided to get a good look at what his product placement bought him.

Golden Turd: Live Blogging the Globes

People demonstrate against the writers' strike outside the Beverly Hilton where the Golden Globes awards were announced at a press conference.No red carpet, no stars, no speeches, monologues or interpretive dances. Can it even be called an awards show? It’s time for the writers strike version of the 2008 Golden Globes:

9:01 - A nice fade to black photo of a previous award ceremony with the explanation of why the glitzy show was cancelled.

9:02 – On to the supporting actress category just like a regular show. Isn’t this supposed to be a press conference? I’ve been to press conferences and they don’t look like this.

9:04 – Cate Blanchett wins for her portrayal of Dylan. And there is no applause, nothing. The hosts are just yammer on like low-rent Mary Hart clones. Wow, this is so terrible.

9:06 – They are just flying through the categories. Already I regret all my bad mouthing of the previous over-the-top ceremonies. I had no idea it could be so much worse.

9:10 – Jamie Pressly doesn’t win for Best Supporting TV Actress. Too bad, she such a lunatic on My Name is Earl.

9:14 – Ah, even the hosts Billy Bush and Nancy O'Dell are calling it a special, not a press conference. I wonder if the Writers Guild would have picketed this if they had known? Does Billy Bush really count as a news reporter? NBC should be ashamed. (Update: Seems that the press conference was a separate event and this was a news special reporting on it. What were they thinking?)

9:16 – Ratatouille beats out The Simpsons Movie for best animated film. That’s what you get when you wait 19 years to come out with a film that should have been made more than a decade ago.

9:19 – What is La Vie en Rose? Isn’t that a lingerie shop? Anyway, Marion Cotillard wins and so much for Ellen Page's vaunted great Canadian breakout. Not to say that she hasn’t broken out, she just won’t have to worry about trying to capitalize on a Globes win during a writers strike.

9:24 – On to some bigger movie awards. Javier Bardem wins for No Country For Old Men – good call. He should win the Oscar too. Why are they following that with trivia tidbits? Are the researchers all on strike too? All you need to "host" these days is a toothy smile and a fast connection to the Internet Movie Database.

9:31 – Look at that, we’re halfway done. A regular show would have presented two awards at best so far. Still a terrible experience though.

9:25 – Billy Bush dumps on the Coen brothers, for no particular reason: "For a Coen Brothers film, people are actually going to see it."

9:32 – David Duchovny wins for a TV comedy. I remember that guy. I wonder if they really are going to make a second X-Files film?

9:35 – Ricky Gervais’ show Extras wins for Best TV Comedy. Expect to see it remade in weeks and aired on the network that throws the most money at all of those pre-written scripts.

9:37 – Tina Fey wins for 30 Rock. Well-deserved, she’s hilarious. Are people really not watching this show? What is wrong with you? Go rent or download it, now!

9:43 – The Coen brothers lose out for Best Director and Billy Bush continues his hate-on for him. What is going on there? Did they snub him on a red carpet or turn him down at a casting call?

9:45 – The coolest man on earth wins for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. My first regret of the night – I would have loved to see Johnny Depp accept for Sweeny Todd.

9:47 – Sweeny Todd wins for Best Musical or Comedy. Wow, that make them a real Oscar contender. I really need to get out of the house and see that…

9:52 – Its funny, with all the awards appearing equal in this format, the TV winners aren’t getting buried on the show, as usual. And Mad Men wins – does anyone reading this even get AMC?

9:54 – They show a clip of Angelina Jolie swimming in a see-through gown. It’s the best they will be able to do all night, which, thankfully, is almost over.

9:55 – Julie Christie wins for Away From Her, Sarah Polley’s full-length directorial debut. Go Canadian content!

9:57 – Daniel Day-Lewis wins for Best Actor in a Drama. Of course you could have looked this up on the Globes site an hour ago.

9:59 – Atonement wins for Best Drama and the show wraps it up with some pointless banter and we’re out. Seems letting a news organization run the show makes sure it is finished on time. Though what that hour-long debacle had to do with news is beyond me.

10:02 I spent more time in the bathroom with the stomach flu the other week than this show took to air, and had more fun too. The producers of the Oscars must be terrified right now.

The Frogfather

Don Vito Frogeone does a favor for Fozzarino Bearzinni. One day he will ask a favour in return...

Generation XBox

Douglas Coupland makes his first foray on to the small screen tonight, with the debut of jPod, an adaptation of his novel of the same name.

It’s surprising that it has taken so long for one of his book to be made into a show (or even a movie for that matter), as his work has always been very cinematic and filled with ironic, angst-ridden dialogue. Perhaps jPod just leant itself to a weekly series, with its of-the-moment setting in a Vancouver video game company and a cast of dysfunctional, cube-dwelling 20-somethings.

The book is something of a return to form for Coupland, with the material reading like a kissing cousin of Microserfs, which explored a similar group of young office workers set adrift in the world of technology. Though while Microserfs was set in Seatle, jPod is clearly a creature of Vancouver, delving into the worlds of basement grow-ops, biker gangs, absentee Asian landowners and the thriving film industry.

Will it work? I’ve got high hopes. Two years ago I saw Everything’s Gone Green at the Toronto film festival, a feature that was directed from a Coupland script, and it played like a discarded chapter of jPod. It captured both the atmosphere of Vancouver and the spirit of Coupland’s characters. Which is the best that I can hope for the series.

On paper, it’s a winner — Coupland, video games and the CBC. How did this not happen sooner? The casting of Growing Pain’s Alan Thicke as the main character’s roguish father is either a piece of brilliant counter casting or a sop to those viewers who need name they recognize to tune in. Time will tell.

So far the previews are mixed. The Post’s critic gives it a withering shrug while the Toronto Star is over-the-top enthusiastic. I’m just happy that someone has turned to Coupland as source material and that people are talking about original Canadian TV and are planning on tuning into the CBC.

Shut It Down: Hollywood’s a Union Town

What if they held an awards show and nobody came? We won’t have to wonder for long as Sunday’s Golden Globe awards ceremony has been reduced to a mere press conference by the ongoing writers strike.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual love in is the latest and largest casualty in the ongoing labour dispute between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood producers over residuals.

The writing, so to speak, had been on the wall for the bloated mutual masturbation for weeks, as the WGA promised to picket the red carpet and the Screen Actors Guild said its members were loathe to play strikebreakers in their frocks and tuxes. So the Hollywood Foreign Press pulled the plug on the ceremony and plans to have the winners announced by news presenters. The WGA still plans to picket and nobody will collect the awards, make speeches or show up. Whee!

I say good riddance. The HFPA, made up of 90 or so freelancers that may or may not actively cover the entertainment industry, has about as much editorial heft as your average Facebook group. But somehow their trophy has been embraced by studio publicists and agents and grown into a bloated beast that purports to be a beacon of taste and talent.

Out of touch? Full of itself? What a perfect target for the guild to take down. Watch out Oscar, you’re next.

Your Medium Is Dying

Ha ha. From E Pluribus Wiggum - watch it now before the killjoys at Fox shut the clip down again. How do they not understand that a viral video of The Simpsons at this point in its run is a good thing?

Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink'

It's been 12 years since Bill Watterson retired his whimsical strip Calvin & Hobbes and there is still a hole in the comics page to this day. There are some fun comics (Get Fuzzy, Sherman's Lagoon and Canadian talents Fisher and Pooch Café) but nothing has been able to replace the precocious, imaginative Calvin and his stuffed, but very much alive tiger, Hobbes.

For 10 years Watterson's strip was the highlight of the comics page and he helped shake up what had become a stale art form. The pages were filled with stale offerings that had run their course but still plodded along - I'm looking at you Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Hägar the Horrible and Shoe, to name just a few.

Calvin came on the scene along with contemporaries Bloom County, Bizarro and The Far Side that were nothing like what else was in the newspaper. Calvin was often lost in his own universe that allowed Watterson to draw worlds filled with dinosaurs, aliens and anthropomorphic snowmen. He could be a hellion but also a sweet kid who just needed a hug from his mom. In short, he was a little boy.

Watterson also wrapped up the strip when he felt he couldn't keep up the quality any longer. The same was done by Gary Larson and Berkeley Breathed (though he kind of slid on that). I respect that artistic decision and it is a lesson many a strip could emulate (see the list of strips above), although I missed their absences.

I still miss Calvin's cardboard box transmogrifier, Spaceman Spiff and, of course, Calvinball, my most favourite of sports. But that's what the book collections are for. Or read 25 Great Calvin and Hobbes Strips for a quick refresher.

This comic nostalgia all came about when I happened across space coyote's (Nina Matsumoto) version of a classic Calvin & Hobbes scene, with philosophical namesakes instead of the characters. (Check out her manga version of The Simpsons)

From space coyote: "Few historians know of the heartwarming friendship between French Reformation theologian John Calvin and English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the latter of whom may or may not have been real, considering he was not even born yet."

These Are A Few of My Favourite Things

No list, just a few of my pop culture faves from the year that was. Happy New Year everyone, hope it brings you something entertaining...

The computer-geek turned secret agent series is the true heir to Alias’ average-joe spy mantle (if not necessarily the action component). The creators must have watched Jennifer Garner’s cancelled series and wondered how it would play as a comedy. Just fine, as it turns out. Zachary Levi plays Chuck Bartowski with a balance of befuddlement, charm and intelligence and appears both genuinely amazed and terrified at his head full of highly classified national intelligence. Favourite new show of the year.

Tonight we will film in BLUESCREEN! If this is the future of CGI and digital backlots, then I say viva technology! It was visually stunning, creating a world that couldn’t otherwise exist on screen and the most unique film experience of the year for me. While the historical veracity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/300_film#Historical_accuracy) of the depiction of the Battle of Themopayle has been questioned, that seems an unfair load for a comic book adaptation to bear. It is there for entertainment (and for me to make Spartan Babies!)

Amy Winehouse
One of my favourite performances of the year was by Amy Winehouse. Back in the summer, before she spiraled out of control, she came into Sympatico’s Orange Lounge and just tore off four, stripped down versions of her songs. It was brilliant — with a simple backing her lyrics and voice shone through. Check out You Know I’m No Good. (And c'mon Sympatico, when are you going to allow embeding of videos?)

Last Suppers
One of my favourite posts of the year started on a whim and snowballed from there. In writing about McDonalds I found a parody of The Last Supper with Ronald as Christ. From there I know have 35 versions, covering everything from Star Wars to Sopranos and I have another dozen waiting in the wings for some elusive downtime.

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows
With the completion of the seventh and final Harry Potter novel, J.K. Rowling closed the book on the boy wizard and a pop culture phenomenon. A fine ending to the series, but it turns out it may not be the end of that world. Here’s hoping.

Eastern Promises
Director David Cronenberg Russian mob drama was part Donnie Brasoco, part Sopranos and grittier than both of them. Made me wish it was an ongoing series.

The Writers Strike
Who knew labour disruptions, union negotiations and picket lines could be so entertaining? The scribes who pen the tube’s best and worst shows have be on strike since early November, mostly over residual rights for web broadcasts. The first casualties were the late-night talk shows, which were off the air immediately, but they will all be returning within days, but only David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production company has signed a deal to use writers. That should be tough on Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel and the like. Hopefully it won’t harm Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert (the only shows I can handle), but even they are allowed to write, as they are part of the Writers Guild. Too bad anyone has come back before the strike was settled, but the Letterman side deal is a brilliant tactic. As for the rest of the shows, most made it through to the Christmas break without difficulty, but January will show the strikes real impact. Except on me. My DVR still has the full seasons of Dirty Sexy Money, Reaper and Pushing Daisies waiting for me. So stay strong, strikers!

My Name Is Earl
Earl shook up their format this year by sending Earl to prison in what turned into a parody of Prison Break. While the grim Burrows brothers of Prison Break spiraled deeper into a moral morass, the Hickey’s are sprucing up the prison and helping gang members find love. Hmm, it’s better than I make it sound.

30-Second Bunnies
Don’t have time to actually see a film? There are always the bunnies. The occasional mini-reenactments always leave me happy and hoppy. The James Bond medley broke the 30-second rule, but was worth the whole minute-plus runtime.

30 Rock
Pure comedic genius that consistently makes me laugh out loud. I’m glad Alec Baldwin didn’t leave the show and that Tina Fey buried Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

As alway, check out the fabulous lists of list at Fimoculous, everything from the Top 10 List of Reputations in Crisis to the Top 10 Sexy Geeks. You'll be there for hours.